Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE MOTIVE OF THIS INQUIRY OF JOHN'S is not at once apparent. What was causing him perplexity, if not disappointment, about our Lord? He was disappointed because the works he heard of were not the kind of works he had himself expected the Messiah to perform. His own work had been to denounce prevailing iniquities, and to predict the advent of One who should cleanse with fire where he cleansed with water; who would come in the same spirit as himself, but with a mightier manifestation of it; One who would lay the axe to the root of the tree of evil, and quickly execute judgment in Israel. His whole soul went forth with expectation, and there was nothing to meet it. He had learned how short a time would be given to any one who was resolved to root out evil from the land. Why, then, this passive inactivity on the part of Jesus? Why was he content to go about in villages, helping beggars, speaking with uninfluential sinners, while the nation groaned under foreign tyranny and cried for its king? From this doubting inquiry of John's we may learn several things, as:
1. How entirely Jesus had to depend on himself. What must have been the clearness of aim and stability of purpose which could put aside not only the popular expectation, but the grave judgments and suggestions of men like John?
2. John's state of mind shows how apt people are to allow their own distresses to distort their views of Providence. When things go against us, and the despotic laws of the world move on and pay no respect to our prayers or our piety, we are apt to admit doubts where all was plain and sure to us.
3. When we ourselves are not used in God's work, we are tempted to think he is doing nothing. If a religious movement goes on without us, we think of it critically and with suspicion.
4. We see here how insignificant the effects of the gospel always seem. John saw only what he thought a good doctor could rival.
II. THE ANSWER SENT BY JESUS TO JOHN becomes at once intelligible so soon as the nature of the inquiry is understood. The important item in the report was the preaching of the gospel to the poor. it had always been recognized as characteristic of the Messiah that the poor were to be gladdened when he came. He would not overlook those whom all other governors overlooked. This was equivalent to saying that no human necessities were beyond the relief he brought. He was to bring in a religion available for all men - for those who had nothing but humanity to recommend, aid, or support them. Until his kingdom was fully established this could only be a proclamation of good news, and so works of beneficence went hand in hand with the preaching, to show that the promise was not mere word. The miracles were thus actual proclamations. To the report of what they saw and heard the messengers were to add the words, "Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me." As if he would say, "I have chosen my methods of action. Blessed is he who understands the characteristic features of the kingdom and can rejoice in them. Blessed is he who does not take offence at the Saviour of the world because he comes with mercy and not with judgment. Blessed is he who understands that the most penetrating, lastingly efficacious powers in the world are forgiveness, tenderness, and pitiful ministering to the common wants." This word of warning applies to several kinds of misapprehension.
1. There are those to whom it seems unintelligible that Christ's work is so slow, that he is so tardy in making any marked impression on the world, that things should go on so much as if he had no power in heaven or on earth. In times of need they are tempted to ask, "Art thou he that should come?" But blessed are ye who, thus tempted, are able to accept Christ's way, not in sullen resignation, but believing that it is unintelligible to you only because his aim is higher than yours, his love greater, his wisdom more unclouded, his methods more radical. He will not always explain; he expects you will trust him warmly and lovingly, and so grow to understand his spirit; he will trust you for coming at last to see as he sees, and he leaves with you this loving word.
2. Christ here shows in what spirit he meets honest doubt about his Person and work. He knew that beneath that question of John's, which so shocked the bystanders, there was a heart more capable of loyalty to him than was to be found in any of those who gave their easy assent to claims they scarcely understood. That question of John's was of more value to him than the unreasoning hosannas of thoughtless followers; for through that question he saw a man in terrible earnest, to whom the answer was eternal life or eternal darkness. Nothing can be more contemptible than the doubts which are paraded, as if to doubt were an intellectual achievement, as if the man who lives in doubt were in a more advanced stage than he who has found the truth. Of such doubters, who question truth not that they may be answered, but for the sake of display, we have more than enough in these days. But there are also doubters, like the Baptist, whose doubt is wrung from an agonized heart, whose whole happiness is bound up in the question they put, and who, if Jesus be not the Christ, will sink in infinite despair. They try to fit in Christ's Word and salvation to what they actually find in their own life; they try to make Christ's rule as real as their own worldly business, and find themselves forced to wonder whether Christ is indeed meaning to rule on earth. Then Christ shows them that the power he desires on earth is just that power he is actually and all round putting forth, in bringing light to darkened souls, life to the dead. This is the real work he came to do, and by doing which he proves his claim. If anything were needed to prove the absence of resentment with which our Lord viewed John's question, it is his defence of John from the reflections of the people. He points out to them that he had never been a man with whom the idea of weakness could be associated - a reed shaken with the wind. He was the very last whose opinion would be moulded by his position. But it was of small moment what they thought of John as a man compared to their right understanding of the comparative value of the preaching of John and the preaching of the kingdom - of the difference between the reformation urged by John and the regeneration proclaimed by himself. In order sharply to mark this he says, "Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." He was a true prophet, yea, more than the greatest prophet bad been, but all his zeal for righteousness, for the unflinching application of the Law, bad, as it now appeared, unfitted him to appreciate the temper and spirit of the new era. Any one in the kingdom animated by the characteristic spirit of love is greater than he. It is not so much a comparison of any individual with John as of the new era with the outgoing era. It is rather the instrument than the man that is spoken of. John could point out a thousand wrongs that needed to be redressed, a thousand sins that must be abandoned; but Jesus, without much denunciation of sin, gave men a love for himself that ejected the love of sin. John put the righteousness of God in the front of his teaching; Jesus put the love of God. And he who has the smallest tincture of the spirit of Jesus has more influence than one who has the inflexible righteousness of John. - D.
Psalm 105:8; 1 Corinthians 9:16). He "made an end of commanding." The instructions of Christ are complete. Then "he departed to teach," more privately, "and preach," publicly, "in their cities." His ministry leaves men without excuse. "Now when John had heard in prison," etc. We have here -
I. THE INQUIRY OF JOHN.
1. As to its occasion.
(1) Jesus wrought the works of the Christ. Miracles were expected of Messiah (see John 7:31).
(2) He wrought them in the cities of Galilee. The cities of Galilee were the cities of the disciples (cf. ver. 20, etc.; Acts 2:7). Jesus took care of their cities while they visited others - perhaps the cities of Judaea. He does not allow the interests of those who do his work to suffer. The remotest connection with Christ is attended with blessing. Even the ungodly enjoy civilizing influences where the religion of Jesus is in the air.
(3) The fame of the Messianic works reached John in his prison. It was carried to him there by his own disciples (see Luke 7:18). So John saw with gladness the fulfilment of his own words, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). He was truly "the friend of the Bridegroom."
2. As to the matter.
(2) It concerned his identity. Jesus met the general expectation as to his lineage. He was "of the house and lineage of David" (cf. Psalm 132:11; Jeremiah 23:5; Luke 2:4; John 7:42). As to the place of his manifestation. His birth was at Bethlehem (see Micah 5:2). His ministry chiefly in Galilee (see Isaiah 9:1, 2). As to the time. It was approaching the completion of Daniel's seventy weeks, viz. of years (Daniel 9:24, etc.). Moreover, Jesus did the works of the Christ, as we have seen.
(3) Yet the inquiry is raised, "Do we look for another?" Many prophecies describe the coming of Messiah in glory; but Jesus came in humiliation. For this reason, overlooking the fact that many likewise describe his coming in humiliation, Jesus was rejected by the Jews, and they still indeed "look for another."
(4) The imprisoned John, who was yet to be beheaded, was the fitting forerunner of the Christ in his advent in suffering and death (see ch. 17:12). Elijah, in full form, who cannot be imprisoned, will herald the second advent of Jesus in power.
3. As to the reason.
(1) Was it that John doubted? His prophetic impulses, taken together with his repeated testimonies, forbid this supposition (cf. John 1:6-8, 33-36; John 3:26; John 5:32, 33). The confidence of John was not shaken by his sufferings. He was not "a reed shaken by the wind" (ver. 7). John knew that the works, of which he had heard in the prison, were "the works of the Christ.
(2) It was rather that the disciples of John questioned. Like the majority of their countrymen, they might have stumbled at the meanness of the birth of Jesus and the humility of his station (see ver. 6). They might also have questioned as to why, if Jesus were the Christ, he did not deliver their master from prison. Doubters may ever find occasions.
(3) But why did John send his doubting disciples to Jesus? He judged that to be the true way to fix their wavering minds. All doubters should take the hint. Instead of conversing with Voltaire, let them converse with Jesus. Let them honestly study his Word. By earnest prayer let them seek the light of his Spirit upon it.
II. THE ANSWER OF JESUS.
1. It was indirect, yet decisive.
(1) It differed in form from his express answers upon other occasions. To the woman of Samaria he said, I that speak unto thee am he." To the man who had been born blind he said, "Thou hast both seen him, and he it is that speaketh with thee." To the high priest, when adjured, he said, "I am [the Christ, the Son of the Blessed]: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven" (ch. 26:63, 64:; Mark 14:61, 62; John 4:26; John 9:37).
(2) The form of the answer on the present occasion was suited to the temper of the questioners. It was an appeal to evidence. Jesus encourages the use of reason in religion. He recognizes the province of private judgment.
2. It was an appeal to testimony.
(1) "Go and tell John the things which ye do hear." They were now in the region in which "most of his mighty works were done" (ver. 20). They had the best opportunity for examining witnesses.
(2) They could take evidence respecting the raising of the daughter of Jairus; and they had the report of the raising of the son of the widow of Nain (see Matthew 9:25, 26; Luke 7:17, 18, etc.). The rabbins held that "in the land where the dead should arise, the kingdom of the Messiah should commence."
3. It was also an appeal to sense.
(2) Certainly they heard the gospel preached to the poor. This was a new thing. The scribes, like the heathen philosophers, courted the rich, and treated the poor and ignorant with contempt (John 7:49). To preach the gospel to the lowly was a Messianic mark (cf. Isaiah 61:1 with Luke 4:18; also Zephaniah 3:12; Zechariah 11:11). The Son of David was to be the poor man's King (see Psalm 72:2, 4, 12, 13).
4. The Messianic miracles were parabolic works.
(1) The blind receiving sight was not only a proof that Jesus was the Christ, but also a specimen of the power which Messiah claimed to enlighten the prejudiced and error-blinded mind. In both senses, the opening of the eyes of the blind is God's prerogative (see Psalm clxii. 8).
(2) He that made the lame to walk can give steadiness and consistency to the limping and irregular life.
(3) The cleansing of the leper set forth the power of Christ to purify the soul from the corruption of sin.
(4) Making the deaf to hear, he evinced his power to reduce to obedience the most obstinate.
(5) In raising the dead, he proved himself the source of spiritual life also to the dead in trespasses and sins."
5. It was an appeal to experience.
(1) To be offended in Christ, after appealing to us with such convincing evidence, would be a great unhappiness. How melancholy has been the history of the unbelieving Jew! That many should be offended is an actual mark of Messiah (see Isaiah 52:14).
(2) Happy is he who is not offended with the lowliness of Jesus. Whether in his Person or in his disciples. To rise above such offences is to many a difficult lesson.
(3) Those who drink into the spirit of the humiliation and sufferings of Jesus will also share in his future glory. - J.A.M.
during the period of absence of the twelve, after they had been "commanded," that John was beheaded. The entire current of tiffs chapter, that seems so exceptional in its character in some respects, is blown upon and troubled, as it were, by that presence, an ever-disturbing one, the phenomenal one, of unbelief. Notice -
I. A PROPHET'S FORESEEING OF THE WORKING OF UNBELIEF, POSSIBLY EVEN BEING TOUCHED WITH A FEELING OF IT HIMSELF; AND HIS PROVISION AGAINST IT, WHETHER FOR HIS PEOPLE ALONE OR FOR, THE SAKE OF HIMSELF AND THEM. It is stud by Jesus Christ here that a greater prophet had not arisen than John the Baptist. He had heralded Christ; he had baptized him; he had announced and pointed to him as "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world," and worthily had he already confessed him and the truth before the gainsaying and the ungodly. It is just conceivable that, in his prison and bonds, stone untoward wave of doubt may have crossed his peaceful breast. But it is all the more unlikely, whereas we read that it was when he heard through his disciples of the mighty works of Christ that he sent the question, "Art thou he that should conic, or do we look for another?" Again, as his end drew near, it was certainly not merely plausibly, but justly and really likely, that his anxiety for the informed faith, and the strong, firm faith of his disciples, should be quickened. Had the evangelist made one comment of his own that the reason of John, when he sent his interrogation to his Lord and Master, was "to the end that" his own little flock, soon to be as sheep without their Shepherd, "might" the rather "believe," and might not fail to know the one, only good Shepherd, this old question would never once have been stirred. That neither of the evangelists does this need be no surprise at all to us, unless indeed it might be to a suggestion of our too easily awaking unbelief, oscillating as we so often are, between unbelief and credulily. And see, therefore," the mighty works," say his disciples to John; and he to them again, "the mighty works;" and he sends two of them to Jesus, and he also, having done afresh all a glorious circle of mighty works, while they witnessed, he, of his own abounding sweet grace, grace to teach, and grace to help, and grace to guard the astray, and to confirm the weak, takes up the word, and re-echoes it home to the prison - "the mighty works!" - these "that I do bear witness of me." And, at all events, we are not told that the mission and the return message were in vain. If it were so, that John himself needs for the last earthly agony one more reviving word. of the Holy One, he has it; and for their life his followers and disciples have it. Was it, indeed, a last word of recognition of his servant by the Lord and Master and Saviour of him, that there was added the benediction, "And blessed is he who shall not be offended in me"? John the Baptist was too near the blessing now to let it slip; too near to be permitted to let it slip, or to slip himself from the grasp, or be plucked from the hand of that Saviour. The works of Christ, the works of Christianity, the works of the Christian, and the works of the man who says he is such, but in works denies it, are, and shall be to the end, the test of each respectively.
II. THE: UNEXPECTED OCCASION THAT CHRIST, EVER WATCHFUL, UTILIZES, IN ORDER TO DIRECT AND TO AID THE BELIEF OF "THE MULTITUDES." John the Baptist had roused a vast amount of attention in the nation. He had not failed in a jot of the accomplishment of the work he had been appointed to do, and had been announced centuries past, as appointed to do; nor had he failed in the realization of the character, and all that belonged to it, which was prophesied as the mark of him. It appears (ver. 7) that "multitudes" had been present while Jesus had given audience to the deputation from John the Baptist, and had given answer to them also. Christ had, of course, ever approved of the attention that the nation had given to the appearance and preach-of his forerunner. But of what use, and to what end was it, that they gave attention to that herald if they proceeded no further, if they did not "come to him"? The threefold question of Christ leads up now to this, and bears, strictly upon tile question of the people's belief. The question is, "What was it ye went out into the wilderness to see?" They went out in wondering, excited throngs. They heard a preacher of novel utterance; they saw a personage of unusual habit and diet; some believed and some believed not, but all had their thoughts, and all talked and argued. When confronted with the question, it was impossible to them to answer that they had gone out for nothing; impossible fur them to admit that they had. gone out to see a mere natural product, a mere native of the desert, stunted grass, or a trembling barren reed, the habitat of which was the sandy or rocky wind-blown waste. It was equally impossible for them to plead that they had gone there to see the luxury, wealth, show of social life - the diametrical opposite of the desert; this every one knew was not there, and had not been there by any accident now. No, they could not deny that they had been out to see a prophet; and the further truth was, the prophet, allowed and incontestable - for it was "he of whom it was written," in their well-known and prized prophetic oracles, "Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, to prepare thy way before thee." They had flocked out to see John the Baptist, and "he it was who had testified of him. What an introduction for those multitudes to Christ! Why should they not now, mighty works" and all else added, "believe on" and "follow" him? And Christ adds, the youngest true convert of the Church, the tyro in the school of the Church, the as yet unfledged apostle, is greater than he, more blessed, and with still nobler career before him. What a call of grace! What an inspiration to be offered to human ear! And how true, that in a certain sense the knell of prophecy had ceased, and yielded place to the ringing tidings of the Church of the kingdom ] Its doors had been open but for a short time, but what press into it had there been, and how eagerly had the longing, craving, starving, and determined taken possession of its blessed shelter and hope!
III. THE METHOD WHICH CHRIST DID NOT HESITATE TO USE IN ORDER TO CHARACTERIZE GENERALLY THE CONDUCT OF THE UNBELIEVING OF THAT GENERATION. He used a similitude which, plainly as it must speak to any type of national mind, was probably additionally telling and significant to those for whom he then in the first instance spoke. A picture of the perversity of children suffices to portray this. The music of Christ is not listened to, nor the wail of warning of John; neither the stern rigour of this, nor the winning attractiveness of that! Such as these, who is to seek them, who to win, who to save? Dwell on the fact that Christ consents to condescend, by all and various method, to ply the stubborn, the rebellious, the hard-hearted, the "stiff-necked." What patience is this that instructs, but also argues and pleads, and by each avenue of approach to mind, to heart, to temper, to make his urgent and pitiful appeal! At last, where are the children of disobedience? But Wisdom's children justify their name and parentage.
IV. THE DISTINCT DENOUNCING OF JUDGMENT, WITH THE ANNOUNCING OF THE DAY OF JUDGMENT, FOR THOSE WHO RESISTED AND REFUSED THE TEACHING AND INTENT OF "THE MIGHTY WORKS" WROUGHT BY HIM. The lips that loved mercy, and belonged to a heart that supremely loved mercy, speak thus forth that very reason, because they love mercy, and the day of judgment was not yet come. The Lord "mourns for towns where the wonders of Divine power had been most manifestly set forth, which once had the mystery of God, and which might have brought forth the fruit of virtues." The Saviour's "Woe'!" is denunciation indeed, but denunciation mingled with the most pathetic of grief. Tyre and Sidon had indeed trodden under foot the law of nature, and "without cause;" but these towns, after that they had transgressed the natural and the written Law, also make light of those "mighty wonders" which had been wrought among them.
V. THE CALM OUTFLOW OF THE SON'S PERFECT SYMPATHY OF PRAISE TOWARD THE FATHER. Dwell on:
1. The title by which the Father is addressed, as "Lord of heaven and earth" - once the Maker of both, ever the Ruler and Disposer of both, but withal to be adored as the Uniter of the one to the other. It is a reminiscence of the prayer Jesus taught: "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven."
2. The perfect consent and harmony that the known counsel and will of God the Father receives of the Son.
3. The matter which now serves to illustrate this, viz. the revealing to the childlike, the poor in spirit, the pure, the meek, of those things, deep as hell and high as heaven, which their souls were indeed able to receive, and which became "more abundant life" in them; and the withholding them from others, viz. those whose blindness, but self-sufficiency, could only misconceive, misrepresent, adulterate them, and increase their own condemnation.
4. The fact that Christ utters no vindication, but does speak perfect acquiescence in the sovereign sight and sovereign will. Dwell also generally on the symptoms suggested by this pause, this personal episode, so full of feeling, occurring in the midst of the current of all that was transpiring in the crooked and perverse generation. What did it mean? How close it seemed to bring heaven down to earth, and what absolute and real inter-communion!
VI. THE ENDING OF ALL THE ARGUMENT AND EXPOSTULATION' WITH UNBELIEF BY THAT UNSURPASSED INVITATION AND OFFER, OF SURPASSING GRACE, "COME UNTO ME, ALL THAT LABOR," ETC. First, note the covering, forgiving love Of this call. It is as though the memory of his own mission, and the supremest object and end of it, flashed again fresh upon the wonderful vision already of the Saviour, partly as he had threaded the way that day through the subterfuges of unbelief, and partly as just now for one moment of elysian communion he had addressed himself to the Father. Second, note the breadth and the length of that call - "Come to me, all that toil and are heavily burdened (do not translate "All ye). Those that day, and in that place, who had tangled themselves in the meshes and the excuses of unbelief; those far and wide, as the good tidings should travel to them, of an all-sufficient help; those down through all the ages of time who had toiled, to take nothing, and had overburdened themselves, to break their own strength; - to all these the invitation of this surpassing grace is given. Thirdly, note the intrinsic, inherent, unconscious right and claim involved in the invitation on the part of him who gives it. There is no mistaking the word of it; it is Come to me." Fourthly, note the engagement entered into. "I will give you rest" - rest from biting care; rest from bitter memory; rest from the chagrin of vain and wasted toil; rest from a reproaching conscience; rest from remorse. Who ever offered to enter into such an engagement except he who now did so? And he only can perform it. What tribute to his faithfulness to that offer, invitation, assurance, would millions, absolutely untold, render and present from that day to this! Lastly, note the more developed form of the simple call, "Come to me." It is this: "Take my yoke on you," and the burden I bear with it. The yoke is easy, the burden is light; for I am meek, and give my neck meekly to the yoke, and the burden follows, lightly weighing. These are of the highest things to be learned on earth of Jesus. Nor is there honour to compare with this - to wear the yoke that he wore, and wear it like him; to bear the burden he bore, and bear it like him. So have we learned of Jesus, and so shall learn, more and more. - B.
the works of Christ. Archbishop Thomson says, "Many Fathers are pleased to say that John had no doubts himself; that his faith was too strong for that, and that he only sent the two disciples to Jesus that they might have their faith refreshed by a stronger draught than their own master could administer. I cannot and do not believe it. There can hardly be a doubt that in thus sending his disciples to inquire of Jesus he wished to satisfy a doubt and a misgiving that had sprung up in his mind. 'Why this tarrying? Why this great delay? Why not proclaim the truth upon the mountaintops and in the city that Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, is come, that the people might bow down to him, and then rise as one man to shake off the Roman yoke?' It was his own misgiving. The faith is still there, but clouded over for the moment by a certain doubt, 'Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?'" Archbishop Trench explains the force of the term "works" as applied to our Lord's miracles. "A further term by which St. John very frequently names the miracles is eminently significant. They are very often with him simply 'works.' The wonderful is for St. John only the natural form of working for him who is dwelt in by all the fulness of God. He must, out of the necessity of his higher being, bring forth these works greater than man's." "These miracles are the fruit after its kind which the Divine tree brings forth; and may, with a deep truth, be styled the 'works' of Christ, with no further addition or explanation."
I. THE PECULIARITIES OF THE CHRISTIAN MIRACLES. It is well to remember that the Christian is not the only set of miracles; their characteristic features can best be seen on comparing them with others, especially those recorded, with more or less authority, in ecclesiastical history. Note these peculiarities:
1. The miracles of Christ were kept within remarkable limitations. The fewness, not the abundance, surprises us. Christ's restraint of miracle is far more surprising than his working miracles at all.
2. The miracles of Christ were purely philanthropic in their character. The apparent exceptions are proofs of the truth, for they were philanthropic to the disciples, parts of their spiritual training.
3. The miracles of Christ were in full harmony with the character and words of their author.
4. Less is made of the miracles of Christ as credentials than we should have expected.
II. THE PURPOSE OF THE CHRISTIAN MIRACLES. The true way to the vindication of the miracles is to show that the reason of a thing affords the best proof of its existence. Some of the heavenly bodies have been discovered, not by sight with the help of the telescope, but by the reason for their existence, which was found in the force of their gravitation, and the aberration of certain neighbouring bodies. It was first shown that they must be there, and then it was found that they were there.
1. The miracles were a necessary part of Christ's mission. He was both Redeemer from sin and Giver of life. His was really a spiritual work; not, therefore, immediately apparent to human vision. He must, in some outward palpable form, illustrate his higher work. He did the outward work of healing bodily disease and driving out evil spirits that he might lead men to look to him for spiritual healings and redeemings.
2. The miracles were also a necessary part of Christ's revelation. He had a mission, and was a revelation. The Father-God was set before men in Jesus Christ. He was "God manifest in the flesh." Christ's character must show men what the Father is; and Christ's works - his miracles - must show men what the Father does. - R.T.
I. THE SUBJECT OF THE DOUBT. This was most fundamental. Was Jesus the Christ or not? No doubt can be more serious than this. There are many questions which cannot be answered, and people are not to be called sceptics because they do not see all truth. It is impossible to think on the great problems of existence without the most perplexing surmises, and yet while all these unsettled ideas may pass through the mind, it is still possible for faith to be fixed on a rock with a deep conviction of God, and a calm trust in Christ. But we must be clear and decided on these two points - not theoretically, but practically. We cannot understand the Trinity, and we may be quite unable to comprehend the Incarnation. Still, it is of vital importance to know whether indeed Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Saviour of the world, whether we can come to God through him and trust him as our eternal Redeemer.
II. THE RECEPTION OF THE DOUBT. A doubt as to the end of his work is in the mind of the Baptist. Had he made a mistake in pointing to Christ? Consider this man who entertains such a thought.
1. A prophet. Inspiration does not prevent personal weakness. Advanced knowledge will not secure us against the invasions of doubt. An apostle was a doubter (John 20:25).
2. A good man. John the Baptist was no deceiver of the people. His heart was right with God. Yet he doubted. Doubt is not sinful in itself. 3..A privileged man. John had known Christ, had baptized him. Yet he doubted. It is not enough to know Christ after the flesh.
4. A religious leader. It is possible for a great religious teacher to be in error. Does the pope ever have a doubt? Certainly it is foolish for preachers to assume infallibility. Sympathy with doubters by confession of difficulties would be a tie of union between teacher and learner. Yet the pulpit is not a place in which to air one's doubts. If the teacher is in serious uncertainty as to his message, is he not a blind leader of the blind?
III. THE CAUSES OF THE DOUBT. How dared the black thought venture to roost in the mind of the great prophet?
1. In disappointment. Jesus had not developed into the Messiah John had expected. The promising career of the Nazarene seemed to be passing into a simple ministry of preaching and healing. But John had a mistaken idea of the Messiahship. Sometimes doubts arise from the disappointment of erroneous religious notions.
2. In adversity. John lay in prison - he who all his life had lived in the wilderness! We need not be astonished that he was depressed.
3. Without full grounds of assurance. John never had been exactly a Christian. There is much doubt infecting the border-land of Christian faith.
IV. THE TREATMENT OF THE DOUBT.
1. Confession. John did not deny it; he did not hide it in shame; on the contrary, he clearly expressed it. We have half conquered our doubts when we have distinctly stated them.
2. Inquiry. John did not rest satisfied with doubt. He sought a solution of his difficulty.
3. Resorting to Christ. John sent to Christ. We can best learn about Christ by going straight to Christ. It is wise to bring our doubts to him. He meets doubt by showing his great works. To-day the answer to doubt is the work of Christ in the world. - W.F.A.
I. JOHN DEALING WITH HIS OWN DOUBTS.
1. Thinking them over in his own heart. It is certain that John had occasional glimpses, at least, of the higher and more spiritual aspects of Messiah's mission; but it is equally certain that he never shook himself quite free from those temporal notions of Messiah which were the characteristic of his age. The teaching and healing, and the very gentle ways, of Jesus, did not at all match the idea of Messiah which he had formed. The Jewish nation was not likely to be delivered from Roman bondage by such a man. Perhaps, after all, the work of Jesus was only preparing work, like his own had been.
2. Talking them over with his disciples. They might well be more puzzled than he, for they had none of those prophetical visions which had been vouchsafed to him. Evidently the talk did not mend matters. It even seemed to increase the uncertainty, and it made John feel that something must at once be done. Neither thinking doubts over, nor talking doubts over, ever helps us very much. Too often they grow big by brooding; and so much de ends on the friends whom we choose for the talk.
II. JOHN TAKING HIS DOUBTS TO THE LORD JESUS. He would have actually gone himself, but he could not. So he sent two disciples, that he might see through their eyes and hear through their ears. Our Lord solved the doubts by, in effect, saying, "You find a difficulty in recognizing me because you are hindered by wrong ideas concerning the character of Messiah's mission." A Messiah who heals, delivers, and saves, exactly fits a forerunner who called to repentance. John's doubts fled when he learned to say, "He is the Messiah, he must be the Messiah, for I see that his moral and spiritual work is precisely the carrying on, the completion, of that moral work of mine." - R.T.
power; he was opening the eyes of the blind; he was making the lame walk; he was cleansing the lepers; he was unstopping the ears of the deaf; he was raising the dead. Must he not, then, be the Messiah? Nicodemus properly argued, "Rabbi, we know that thou art a Teacher come from God, for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him." And yet it may be that this was not our Lord's precise point. Indeed, John knew all about these miracles, and it was because he could not make up his mind about them that he sent the inquiry. It may be that our Lord fixed the attention of the messengers on the kinds of persons for whom he was working, and the character of the work he was doing for them. And we can see that just this would be the most suggestive and helpful answer for John. It would show him that Jesus was Messiah in a spiritual sense. "It might seem, at first sight, as if the thing that would make fitting impression on John was the display of Divine power in these miracles of healing and restoration. It would seem as if John would be bound to argue that he must be Divine who could do such mighty works. But that is only the surface-teaching of the miracles. The prominent thing in our Lord's response is his pointing out who it is gets the benefit of his work; it is as if he had said, "See all you can, but be sure to notice and to tell John this - it is the blind who are being blessed; it is the lame, it is the lepers, it is the deaf, who are being blessed; it is the poor who are being savingly blessed." It is as if the Lord had said, "Be sure and point out to John the character of my work; that will be an all-sufficient answer to his question." Jesus worked for those who were sufferers because of sin. He came to be "God saving men from their sins." Jesus did not touch national disabilities, social struggles, class weaknesses, or political contentions; these things formed no sphere for him. Where sin had been, there he went. Where sin was, there he came. What sin had done, that he strove to remedy. So the suffering made for him a sphere. The ignorant, the poor, the perishing, were ready for his gospel. - R.T.
I. THE GREATNESS OF JOHN AND HIS WORK. He is unhesitating in the praise and admiration he bestows. Challenging comparison with any hero of old time, the conclusion still is, "There hath not risen a greater." And the distinctive greatness of his character was only in keeping with the unique importance of his work. This is indicated when he says of John that he was more than a prophet - a messenger preparing the way, an immediate forerunner. Up to John's time the prophets and the Law had prophesied; now the kingdom was not pointed at, but stormed and possessed. It is no longer a hope, it is a present reality; the kingdom is come. The land which had seemed very far off to the older prophets was there for whosoever had faith to win it. [By the unusual expression he employs, our Lord apparently intends to emphasize the two ideas,
(1) that only men of earnestness and vigour can win the kingdom, and
(2) that in the entrance there is much disorder and tumult.
1. Of the first of these Bunyan is the best expositor, in his picture of the man who with his drawn sword made his way into the palace. Bunyan knew that it is only by the men that can stand blows and the sight of blood that the kingdom is won even now. Many, indeed, are they who still bar the entrance, and they fight with every variety of weapon.
2. In periods when appeal is made to the elementary forces of human nature, much that is indecorous, much that is illegal, is apt to be done. And when the religious life of a community is trying to shape for itself new forms, there always come to the front men of violence, men of the type of Luther, who disgust men of taste like Erasmus, but who are the fit instruments for taking by assault the new stronghold in which faith is to find refuge. The Pharisees were shocked to see the kind of people who crowded after Jesus, and the manner of their following. We are warned, therefore, to judge no movement by its superficial unseemliness and disorderly ways, but by the underlying principles which are really its moving power.
II. Diverse as were the types of character exhibited by John and Jesus, and by their message, both were unsatisfactory to the mass of the people. John demanded of them a righteousness which seemed impossible; and Jesus was still more unsuitable, even unintelligible - a mere good-natured time-server, indifferent to the sorrows of his people so long as he could be tolerably comfortable. John has nothing but stern denunciation - we have piped unto him, but not a step will he dance. Jesus goes to the other extreme; has no ear for any of our national sorrows, and seems quite able to be happy, though overtaxed and under foreign rule - we have mourned unto him, and he has not lamented.
1. There are people who live at feud with their generation because they cannot get their own whim petted, their own idea responded to. They cannot fall in with any of the religious movements of their time, and find in the market-place of life only food for their own disappointed vanity. The children of Wisdom, on the contrary, justify the wisdom which moves religious leaders to adopt differing methods. They see in John a congruity to his work. In one who was impartially to criticize all classes, and be an embodied conscience to the whole community, there was wisdom in showing, even in his outward aspect, that he was prepared to lead the way in stern repression of self-indulgence, and superiority to the influences of fashion and worldly expectation. It is quite true he is extreme, one-sided, a man of one idea, but much of the most important work in the world is effected by men of one idea, who are blind to all else but the one thing they have to do. Similarly, a free, cheerful intercourse with men became him whose work it was, not to reveal one aspect of God, but his whole attitude towards men, and whose nature it was to be every man's Fellow, the Son of man. If Jesus is not only to convince of sin, but to save his people from their sins, how can he do so save by loving them and moving among them, and giving them his hand to help them?
2. Goodness may manifest itself in various forms of life, and we must judge men's manner and conduct by the work they have to do. Our heavenly Father is pleased with modes of life as diverse as the natures he has bestowed on us, and we need not condemn ourselves or others on the ground that our goodness does not express itself in a certain conventional form.
3. The man who makes his own tastes and expectations the measure of the religious movements of his time is apt to make mistakes fatal to his own religious growth. He will get no good from any of the movements that stir and advance other people, and he will get all the harm, the hardening of the heart, the self-righteous vanity, the hypocritical blindness to the truth, which must result from opposing the work of God in his own generation. Let us be sure we are giving our serious conviction and fullest energy to some form of life we are persuaded God approves, that we are not playing at religion like children in the market-place. Seek God in the way that commends itself to your conscience, bug be sure it is him and not your own method you adore, and when you have found him try and see him in all and through all and over all. - D.
I. THE FEATURES OF A GREAT CHARACTER.
1. Deep and earliest conviction.
(1) John was no "reed shaken with the wind." The reed, hollow and pliant, was a fit symbol of levity and inconsistency (see Isaiah 36:6).
(2) In the marshes of the wilderness were many reeds; and John was among them, but not of them. Had he been a fickle character, he would not have had his immense following. For, however reedlike the multitude may be, they are led, for good or ill, by the stronger will. Many went out "for to see" - led by curiosity. So still are there many who attend the ministry of the gospel "for to see" and to be seen.
(3) John was not the creature of circumstances. He made circumstances bend to righteousness. He would not dishonour his conscience to purchase liberty or life; he carried his integrity to the prison and to the block.
(4) His testimony concerning Christ was like himself, decisive and unwavering. "He confessed, and denied not; and he confessed," and still he stuck to it (cf. John 1:20; John 3:28). Nor does he now, in prison, waver; for his object in sending his disciples to Jesus was not to settle any doubt in his mind, but to fix their faith.
2. Superiority to vulgar ambition.
(1) Some derive their greatness from their clothes. They affect "soft clothing." They are dependent for their distinction upon the skill of their tailor or dressmaker. Such weakness was not in John, whose raiment was rough and strong - camel's hair and leather. A man's character may be seen in his dress. The man in the rough clothes may be "great in the sight of the Lord" (Luke 1:15).
(2) Some derive their greatness from their surroundings. "They that wear soft raiment are in kings' houses." The address of the courtier, like his dress, is flattering. John, the son of a chief priest, might have been a courtier had he chosen; but his sphere was in the wilderness.
(1) As Elijah behaved before Ahab and Jezebel, so did John, who came in the spirit and power of Elijah, behave before Herod and Herodias. He would not wink at the sin of Herod because he occupied a throne; nor would he conciliate the favour of Herodias by silence when she should be reproved.
(2) Integrity was more to him than meat and drink. "John came neither eating nor drinking" (cf. ver. 18; Luke 1:15). lie was a sell-denying man. Those who live a life of mortification are the less likely to be lured away from the integrity of religion.
4. The favour of God.
(1) This is the surest mark of greatness, for God cannot flatter. Jesus waited until John's disciples had retired before he pronounced his eulogy upon John.
(2) John when in prosperity bore testimony to Jesus. Jesus now, John being in adversity, bears testimony to John. The judgment of God is not influenced by the judgments of men.
(3) The testimony of Jesus to John came when John had finished his testimony. Judgment comes when our work is done (John 12:26). However consistency may suffer in the running, it will win at the goal.
II. THE TOKENS OF A GREAT PROPHET.
1. He was a prophet whose coming was predicted.
(1) He was predicted by Isaiah and Malachi (see Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5). lie was also predicted in the same quality by his father Zecharias, who was instructed by Gabriel (see Luke 1:17, 76-78). As a prophet predicted John stands alone.
(2) John "came in the spirit and power of Elijah," not in his person. The latter he disclaimed. The absence of the article in connection with the name of Elijah (ver. 14) shows this to be an autonomasia, or that he is the typical, not the actual, Elijah.
(3) He fulfilled the character of Elijah as described in prophecy.
(a) As forerunner to Messiah;
(b) appearing before the destruction of the second temple, to which Messiah was to come;
(c) as preaching repentance to turn the hearts of the wayward children to the faith of the fathers;
(d) all this before the coming of the day of judgment upon the nation.
(4) Elijah in person, however, will yet come to restore all things. Had the Jews received John as the forerunner of Jesus, had they repented to receive the gospel, then John would have been Elijah to them. Gospel truths must be received. Elijah in spirit introduced Jesus in humiliation at his first coming; Elijah in person, as the Jews still expect him, may introduce Jesus when he comes again, or herald his advent in glory.
2. John was the last and greatest of the prophets.
(1) "All the prophets and the Law prophesied." The Law prophesied of the gospel in its types. Christ began from Moses to interpret the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:27).
(2) "Prophesied until John." John's testimony was the complement and completion of all the rest. Thence, being turned into history, prophecy ceased to be prophecy.
(3) The Old Testament in Malachi ends with Elijah; the New, in Mark, begins with Elijah again. The fulfilment of prophecy begins with John, who began to unfold, the sublimer system of the gospel (see Luke 16:16).
(4) John was more than a prophet. He was God's messenger. He was to go before the face of Immanuel. Our honour lies in our nearness to Christ. John testified to the Person of Christ.
III. THE LIMITS OF HUMAN GREATNESS.
1. John was the greatest of all that had arisen.
(1) "Among them that are born of women." A personage was introduced to the first Napoleon as the son of an eminent man. "Nay," said the sagacious emperor, "do not tell me who was his father, but who was his mother.
(2) The expression, born of women," or naturally born, may be in contrast to the Son of God. Of the kingdom of heaven Jesus is the King.
(3) The superiority of John to his predecessors may be limited to his official distinction as the harbinger of Christ.
2. Yet is he surpassed by the least in the kingdom.
(1) The least in the kingdom of glory surpasses the greatest upon earth. There are degrees of greatness there. Here we are "lower than the angels; "there, "equal unto the angels" (see Psalm 8:5; Luke 20:36).
(2) The least of the prophets of the gospel is greater than John. The first preachers of the gospel worked miracles; but "John did no sign" (John 10:41). Every gospel minister declares the blessings already come of which John preached only the near approach (cf. Matthew 13:7; Luke 7:28).
(3) The least saint under the gospel, in possessing the higher gifts of the Spirit, has a richer experience than John enjoyed. (cf. Zechariah 12:8; John 3:31-34). The saint is not only "born of a woman," but also "born of God" (John 1:13). John did not know all those matters which a catechumen learns now from the Apostles' Creed.
(4) There is a progress in which human greatness evermore surpasses itself.
3. Since John men rush into the kingdom.
(1) Conspicuous in the rush are the poor, the publicans and the sinners - those who, according to the scribes, would have little right. "It is no breach of good manners to go into heaven before our betters" (Henry).
(2) He that will enter into the joys of salvation must be in earnest. He has to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. Earnestness in such a battle must be violent.
(3) "Since John." His ministry, which lasted about two years, was very successful. The thousands who embraced the gospel were probably roused by the ministry of John. - J.A.M.
I. THE GREATNESS OF JOHN THE BAPTIST. All parties of Jews had agreed in honouring the wonderful prophet of the wilderness. He had now passed from his popular work to the seclusion of a dungeon, and the frown of the government was upon him. In his lonely imprisonment he had been visited by distressing doubts, and Jesus had just heard of his difficulties. But all the more did our Lord delight to honour his forerunner, and now that John was seen at the greatest disadvantage, Jesus, magnanimously passing by the slight offered to himself, described him with language of the highest possible honour.
1. John was great as a man. His life was lofty, simple, unselfish, and devoted.
(1) He showed fearless courage in standing before a king and denouncing royal wickedness.
(2) He showed deep humility in giving place at the height of his popularity to an obscure New-Comer.
2. John was great as a prophet. His influence was felt throughout Palestine and even beyond its borders. Alone, but a voice crying in the wilderness, he thundered against the prevalent evils of all classes, and succeeded in spreading an earthquake-wave through society.
3. John was great in preparing for Christ. This was his peculiar function, and herein lay his unique supremacy. He was the last of the pro-Christian prophets, and he prepared the soil for the new seed of the Word of Christ.
II. THE OBVIOUS INFERIORITY OF' THE LEAST CHRISTIAN. It would be a piece of inordinate vanity for a commonplace Christian to pretend that he was in himself superior to John the Baptist. There are very imperfect Christians who yet cannot be denied the name of followers of Christ.
1. These people are inferior in character. Compared with John the Baptist, they are cowardly, selfish, and worldly.
2. These people are inferior in gifts. They are not prophets. They see no new truth; they speak no Divine words; they do nothing remarkable, and very little that is at all helpful to their fellows.
III. THE SECRET OF THE CHRISTIAN GREATNESS. Obviously this does not consist in personal goodness or attainment. It is purely a result of new advantages. It is like the elevation of the dwarf on the giant's shoulders. The rider will reach the goal first if he is on a swift horse and is contending with a foot-runner, although he may not be so agile. Modern ammunition and military tactics give the soldiers of Europe and America an immense advantage over barbarous warriors, although the latter may in some cases equal them or even surpass them in strength and courage. The least Christian has certain advantages which were beyond the reach of the greatest prophet.
1. The knowledge of Christ. The context shows that John had not reached this knowledge. Yet it is the heritage of every Christian.
2. The life from Christ. The Christian is redeemed, and to him a new life is given. Christ is in him.
3. The baptism of the Holy Spirit. The world waited for that in waiting for the advent of Christ. Christians live under the new dispensation of the Spirit. John belonged to the servitude of the Law; Christians enjoy the sonship of the gospel. - W.F.A.
good are just as truly criticisms as those which bring out the bad. Here we have one of the few estimates formed by our Lord which have been preserved in the Gospels. Everybody had talked about John. Everybody had formed some opinion concerning him. It was generally recognized that he was a Jehovah-prophet. What our Lord's disciples thought of him we can only surmise. The impressions they were likely to take, from his sending this message of inquiry, our Lord sought at once to correct.
I. WAS JOHN VACILLATING? This would be the first impression of the disciples. John had most plainly testified to Jesus as Messiah. On the ground of his testimony, some of them had joined Jesus; and now he seemed to be doubting his own work, and making them doubt. The man was "a reed, shaken by the wind." The reed is a familiar type of uncertainty and instability. A broken reed is one of the most helpless things. Jesus rejects such an explanation. There was no real vacillation indicated by John's inquiry; only such passing doubt as depression brings.
II. WAS JOHN BECOMING SELF-INDULGENT? This was rather amalicious suggestion, but the great Heart-reader knew that some one was fashioning it in his heart. "John has had so much to do with courts, he is evidently getting spoiled, and losing his spiritual sensitiveness in self-indulgence." Jesus rejects that explanation as altogether unreasonable. True, John is in a palace; but he is in its prison, not in its banqueting-hall. There in the prison his clothing is as rough as it was in the desert.
III. WAS JOHN ONLY A PROPHET? This was a supercilious suggestion. "Don't make too much of John. He was sent to preach and baptize; that was his prophetic work, and when it was done he was done." The idea was that his opinion about Messiah really did not matter. Jesus scorns this view; declares John to have been "more than a prophet," and proceeds to give his own positive criticism. John was at once great and little. Great because he was announcer of Messiah. Little because he never stepped over the borders of Judaism to become a member of Messiah's kingdom. John's weakness and uncertainty resulted from this - he looked on Christ from outside his kingdom; a man must come inside if he would appraise it truly. - R.T.
gentle. If Jesus meant to establish the Messianic kingdom, John felt that he would have to put more force into it. So Jesus, thinking of this idea of John's, says, "It is the common mistake men have made ever since that vigorous ministry of John's. Everybody seems to think the Messianic kingdom is to be established by violence. They are all tempting me to use force." Men were disposed violently to hurry the kingdom into premature existence. They will have it now. They will take it by storm. ]PGBR>
I. MEN'S WAY OF GETTING THE KINGDOM. Because the only kingdom they could realize was an outward one, some good they could possess, some liberty, some position, some rights and privileges, some wealth which they could gain and hold, therefore they thought they must grasp, and push, and strive, and fight. These are men's ways of getting all kinds of outside good. Illustrate by the crowding and pushing to get the benefits of our Lord's healings. To get something men can be violent; each striving to be first, and the "violent taking by force."
II. CHRIST'S WAY OF GETTING MEN INTO THE KINGDOM. He evidently trusted to first getting the kingdom into them; for to him the kingdom was inward, a state of mind and heart, a gracious relation with God, character moulded to the Divine image, and then conduct ruled by the Divine will. From our Lord's point of view there was no room for physical force, though plenty of room for moral energy. Violence was altogether unsuitable; indeed, as he taught in the sermon on the mount, the gentle and submissive elements of character, rather than the strong and forceful, made ways into his kingdom. The best comment on our Lord's words here - a comment which brings out clearly enough that he is rebuking the violence of those who use force, and in no way praising it - is found in the familiar but most gentle and gracious words of vers. 28-30. - R.T.
I. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO SATISFY THE UNSYMPATHETIC. The disagreeable children can be enticed by no action of their companions. They will not dance to the gay music nor join in the mock mourning. A third method would be equally unsuccessful, because they are not to be pleased. They are sitting; there is always something wrong with children when they sit down for long; the life has gone out of them. Similarly there are people who are dissatisfied with all methods of religious work. Old staid methods are dull and gloomy to them; new and more lively methods are unseemly and irreverent. From the sobriety of the Quakers' meeting to the unrestrained fervour of a Salvation Army meeting they cannot discover any worship to suit them, and they find fault with all ways of conducting Church services. If some one could invent a new style of worshipping God this would be of no use for the discontented people. Their discontent lies deeper. The children had no mind to play; these people have no mind to pray. Therefore we shall not reach them by new methods. They are in a hopeless condition unless we can touch their hearts and lead them into a better state of mind. It is useless to pander to their prejudices. Perhaps at present all we can do is to pray for them.
II. UNSYMPATHETIC PEOPLE MISTAKE AUSTERITY FOR INSANITY. In our Lord's day these people could only explain John the Baptist by saying that he was possessed by the devil. There are men and women to whom the very idea of self-denial is absurd. They have always lived a self-indulgent life, and they cannot understand why anybody in his senses should do otherwise. Such people have not the least conception of the high claims of duty. Moreover, they do not understand the darker sides of life. To them Gethsemane is a perfect enigma.
III. UNSYMPATHETIC PEOPLE MISTAKE SOCIABILITY FOR SELF-INDULGENCE. The very people who say that the austere prophet is mad, when they see Christ, who is not austere, accuse him of laxity of conduct. This is enough to show that their opposition is insincere, or at least that it springs from their own state of mind, and not from any defect in those whom they presume to criticize. It is much to learn that the highest religion is not ascetic, and yet that it is not self-indulgent. The real reason why Jesus ate and drank with all sorts of people was not an indifference to moral distinctions, a hunger for popularity, or a love of ease - all vices utterly foreign to his character. It was just his brotherly love seeking to help and bless everybody. We cannot understand the story of Jesus till we catch his spirit. Then we see that the safest protection against the evil of the world is not ascetic isolation, but a self-forgetting life spent for the good of our fellow-men. - W.F.A.
generation here rebuked is the race or succession of obstinately impenitent Jews headed and represented by the scribes and Pharisees. We are reminded -
I. THAT THE JUDGMENT OF GOD COMMENCES IN THIS WORLD.
1. The wicked are here convicted by the truth.
(1) The conceited scribe, who affected the wisdom of the sage, and the proud Pharisee, who affected the purity of the saint, are together humbled to the dust by being likened to querulous and pettish children, so utterly unreasonable and foolish that they can be pleased no way. Upon the principle, The greater the truth the greater the libel," the justness of the rebuke is its sting.
(2) They waywardly rejected the testimony of John, who came in the habit of austerity (see Luke 1:15), preaching the self-denial of repentance and reformation. Note: The habit of a minister should agree with the matter of his ministry. To justify themselves, the Pharisees said of John, "He hath a devil." Note: The best actions of the good may become the worst of their accusations with the wicked (see Psalm 69:10). But truth searches the conscience.
(3) They rejected likewise the ministry of Jesus, whose habit was social, affable, and familiar, in keeping with that grace which distinguished his gospel from the message of John. Note: The true minister will, upon occasion, pipe as at a funeral or pipe as at a wedding (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:22; 1 Corinthians 12:6, 11). To justify themselves, the Pharisees said of Jesus that he was "a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners." Note: Unparalleled excellency is not proof against the reproach of tongues. Envy and malice may give an odious colouring to the noblest conduct.
(4) The simile of the children in the market-place accuses the impenitent Jews with treating the solemn messages of John and of Jesus as unrealities. For the piping of the children was but dramatic as they played at funerals and weddings. The sinner persuades himself that what he is unwilling to imitate does not come from God. So he distorts facts, carps at virtue as "extreme," and turns virtues into vices. But all this aggravates his accusation.
2. The condemnation of the wicked is the commendation of the good.
(1) "Wisdom is justified of her children." Christ is "Wisdom" itself. The disciples of Jesus are the "children" of wisdom (see Hebrews 2:13). Such were the "publicans and sinners" who received the messages which the Pharisees refused.
(2) The children of Wisdom justify the ways of Wisdom. They see the austere ways of John to be in good keeping with his mission; and what the Pharisees attribute to the devil they discern to be of God. So likewise the friendly, social ways of Jesus. To the upright in mind everything is good, as everything is evil to the vicious in heart.
(3) Those only truly justify Christ, "the Wisdom of God," who receive wisdom from him and exercise it in union with him. There must be an internal witness before there can be an internal belief. External evidence cannot carry internal conviction. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God."
(4) Wisdom is justified of her children when the fruits of wisdom bear testimony before men to the excellence of the principles that give them birth. The children of Wisdom are charged with the very character and credit of Christianity. It depends upon them to extend or diminish its influence in the world.
(5) Wisdom justifies her children.
3. The providence of God has its rewards.
(1) Tyre and Sidon, heathen cities of Phoenicia, were notable for their pride, luxury, idolatry, and their cruel and selfish exultation against Israel in the day of his reverses (see Ezekiel 18:2-6, 15, 16; Ezekiel 26:2; Ezekiel 27:3). They were warned by the Hebrew prophets, but repented not. The Babylonian invasion brought down their pride.
(2) Sodom, for her licentiousness, was destroyed by a tempest of fire from heaven.
(3) The cities of Galilee, specially favoured with the presence, teaching, and miracles of Jesus, were, for their impudence, doomed; and so complete has been their destruction, that their position is now uncertain.
II. THAT THE JUDGMENT OF GOD WILL BE COMPLETED IN THE WORLD TO COME.
1. Justice is not fully vindicated in this world.
(1) In many cases the righteous suffer from the hand of the wicked more than the wicked suffer from the hand of God in providence. There is a balance of equity to be adjusted between the righteous and the wicked.
(2) So is there a balance of equity to be adjusted between the wicked and the wicked. Desperately wicked persons escape punishment, or suffer it slightly, while others far less culpable suffer it in severity. Tyre and Sidon have yet to settle accounts with Chorazin and Bethsaida. So has Sodom with Capernaum.
(3) Only at the last day, when all the lights of all the ages come together, will it be possible to settle all the cross-accounts of humanity.
2. Tendencies of character will be considered in the judgment to come.
(1) In the scrutiny of motives it will be seen who was more or less impenitent; who would or would not, with increased light, have repented and reformed. It will be inquired not only how bad men are, but how much worse they would be with increased facilities for sinning, and how much better they might have been but for their own fault.
(2) Then it will be pleaded against the impenitence of Chorazin and Bethsaida that had Ezekiel, when denouncing the sin of Tyre, confirmed his prophecy by such miracles as Jesus wrought, there would have been repentance. It might have been a repentance like that of Nineveh, induced by fear; yet even that would be such a recognition of God as was wanting in the cities of Galilee. It will likewise be pleaded against the impenitence of Capernaum that had Lot wrought miracles he would not have seemed to the men of Sodom as one that mocked. Determined infidelity, the result of perverse false reasoning and self-righteous pride, was not the sin of the heathen cities.
3. There will be a righteous apportionment of punishment to the degree of guilt.
(1) Those who, like Capernaum, are exalted to heaven in opportunity, and still cleave to the earth, then they shall sink into hell. Capernaum was even more highly blessed with opportunity than Chorazin and Bethsaida, and its sin and misery are proportionately greater.
(2) The enlargement of the faculties through the preaching of the gospel will be an increased capacity for reward or punishment. What a terrible punishment will be the reproach in hell of having missed the opportunity of getting to heaven!
(3) But who can estimate the turpitude of that impenitence which is the very sinfulness of sin? No temporal punishment is sufficient to mark its heinousness. Hence even Sodom, which was destroyed by fire from heaven, will have to come up again for punishment. Though the men of Sodom will have been damned more than four thousand years, yet are they still to come up for a final doom.
(4) Will there not be a classification of characters at the judgment? How else will corporations such as Sodom and Tyre and Capernaum appear? May not the licentious be grouped under the heading of Sodom; the proud under the designation of Tyre; and the obstinately wicked under the style of the cities of Galilee? In what sense was Moses gathered to his people in contradistinction to his brother Aaron, who was gathered to Ms people (cf. Deuteronomy 32:50)? - J.A.M.
I. A GENERATION THAT WOULD NOT BE DRIVEN TO GOODNESS. The element of fear was prominent in John Baptist's work. He demanded, he threatened, he prophesied of judgment to come. But that fickle generation responded in moments of excite-merit, and then tired, and fell back on their old self-indulgences. They were like children, who were induced to play at funerals, but soon tired of the mock solemnity, and wanted a change. And the generation did but illustrate an abiding characteristic of humanity. Force soon wearies men; fear soon becomes familiar; threats cease to alarm; the terror of the gospel may open hearts; but if something does not follow the terror that can satisfy hearts, they will soon shut again, and closer than ever.
II. A GENERATION THAT WOULD NOT BE DRAWN TO GOODNESS. John drove; Jesus drew. Jesus entered into all the common spheres of men, bringing cheer of sympathy and help. He was everywhere a Joy-bringer. And yet the generation soon tired of him; even as children tire of playing at weddings. They tire because they cannot have altogether their own way. That was the secret of the fickleness of the generation. They wanted John to be what they wished. They wanted Jesus to be and do and say just what they wished; and they were like sulky children who could not get their own way. John and Jesus both had to be what God would have them be. - R.T.
criticize the methods of John and Jesus; the story of the ages fully justifies the wisdom of those methods.
I. WISDOM USES VARIOUS AGENCIES. "The spiritual unfoldings of wisdom in the religions world are manifold." John moves you by his fear and terror; Jesus moves you by his quiet goodness. John's wisdom thunders; the wisdom of Jesus flows out in mild words. Men "wonder at the gracious words which proceed from his mouth." Through the intellect God appeals to you in one way; and through sympathy in quite another way. How sweetly gentle is electricity in the growth of lilies, and in the generation of birds, bees, butterflies! But in certain conditions it gathers itself up, and flashes in lightning, accompanied with terrible artillery. "Wisdom in John Baptist was ascetic and sincere; in Jesus it was freer, gentler, and sweetly social" (Pulsford). We can never fairly judge an agency until we see how it stands in its relation - what it does, what it is calculated to do. Then what seems insignificant and even unsuitable is plainly seen to be an inspiration of wisdom.
II. WISDOM IS JUSTIFIED IN THE ADAPTATION OF ITS AGENCIES. Estimate fairly what John had to do, and his austerity and severity are fully justified. Estimate fairly what Jesus has to do, and his friendliness and readiness to enter into the common spheres of life are fully justified. Wisdom is justified in all her methods and changes.
III. WISDOM ONLY FALLS TO JUSTIFY ITSELF TO A RIVAL WISDOM. "The children of pride and self-will justify Wisdom in no form. They puff up their own conceit by complaining of every mode in which she presents herself. John comes to them grave enough, earnest as life and death, smiting at the roots of their hereditary nature; but they say, ' What a gloomy fellow!' Jesus comes, bland and winning, ready to sit at table with every class of men; but they say, ' He is fond of a good dinner and his wine.' So that neither can John break them from their old habits, nor Jesus attract them to the Divine-human life." - R.T.
I. THE GREATNESS OF THE PRIVILEGES. NO places on earth had been more privileged than these Galileean towns. Here Jesus had lived and worked; here his greatest miracles had been performed, and every miracle was an object-lesson setting forth before the eyes of men the blessings of the kingdom.
1. Privileges of knowledge. The inhabitants of these cities had heard the gospel from the very lips of the Saviour. They had seen the spirit of his life and the laws of the kingdom in everything he did. They who dwell in Christian ]ands have privileges denied to the heathen. Still more have the children of a Christian home. If we have known Christ from our childhood, have been trained in Christian truth, have seen the work of Christ in the society in which we have lived, ours is the condition of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum.
II. THE NEGLECT OF THE PRIVILEGES. These cities had heard, but they had not heeded. They had seen, but they had not followed. The gospel had come to their doors, but the foolish people had not received it into their hearts. The explanation of this indifference is given in the earlier verses of the chapter. The negligent people were unsympathetic - they were like listless children sitting in the market-place. Their condition is representative of that of multitudes in our own day. The labours of the Church are expended on them in vain. They have had the truth of Christ's gospel preached in their ears time after time. Yet to them it is nothing. Their very familiarity with the words only seems to render them callous to the meaning. They could pass an examination in religious knowledge with credit; some of them have done so, and have won high places and carried off prizes. Yet they are utterly indifferent to Christ. Here is an appalling condition! It is due to the hardening effect of sin or to the deadening that comes with wilful worldliness. If men and women will absorb themselves in questions of money-making, amusement, and fashion, they cannot receive Christ or feel the blessedness of his gospel.
III. THE MELANCHOLY DOOM OF THOSE WHO WASTE GREAT PRIVILEGES. The cities are to be cast down. The prophecy of Christ has been literally fulfilled. All three cities have disappeared, and have left scarcely a ruin behind. Or at least there is a dispute as to what ruins may be identified with them, and Capernaum in particular has occasioned much trouble to the map-makers. The neglect of Christian privileges cannot continue for ever. He who has buried his talent will most assuredly be called to account for it. Then the doom will be proportionate to the privileges neglected. The vices of the three cities of Galilee may not have reached the hideous blackness of the wicked cities of the plain, nor the notorious corruption of Phoenicia. But the greater privileges will be thrown into the scale and will weigh it down. Decorous, respectable people who enjoy Christian privileges and neglect them will be more heavily condemned than the most degraded heathen. - W.F.A.
e.g. says, "Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called;" and this not as if God were jealous of the wise, or had some special dislike to men of education, but because the mind of the educated man has difficulties in the way of his acceptance of the gospel from which the uneducated is happily exempt. When we are introduced to truths which the intellect is too small to comprehend, we are tempted to reject them because the ordinary methods of inquiry fail us. Few men of intellect escape the mental perplexity and suffering which this entails. There are truths which we must accept in faith, on the word of him who is better informed than we, and whom we know to be true. Intellect has its place and its function in connection with Christian truth; but in point of fact and as matter of history intellect has not discovered God. Christ has done so, and that man makes best growth in Christ's school who has humility enough to accept his teaching. But while our Lord was thus on all hands met by repulse and unbelief, he had one unfailing source of comfort. The Father knew who he was - that he was no misled enthusiast, no pretentious blasphemer, but God's own Son. Again, men might despise his unconventional teaching, mistaking genuine simplicity for ignorance of high matters, they might upbraid him with contradicting the received teaching about God, but he could say truthfully, "No man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him." By this consciousness did he stimulate himself again to return, and once more to seek to convince men of the Father's love. And there was a third element in this sustaining consciousness. Judged by his present success, he seemed feeble and of small influence, yet he reminded himself that "all things were delivered unto him of his Father." He was to be God so far as men and this world were concerned. Men might ignore him and deny his teaching, but they could not prevent him from raising the dead, from rebuking the winds and waves, from returning their contempt with compassion, their hatred with love, from living righteously and lovingly so as to be a light to all generations. They could not prevent him from accepting God's Spirit and living in his humanity as the perfect image of the Father, and thus exercising an influence on human affairs that deepens as the world grows. But the practical outcome of our Lord's experience of the hostility, suspicion, and contempt of men was not merely to confirm his own consciousness of his fellowship with the Father, but also to lead him confidently to invite to himself all who found life laborious and burdensome. And that he does this at the very moment when we should have naturally expected to find him most hopeless, is not without significance. He has been compelled by the cold reception given him to revise his claims, to cross-examine his own consciousness of a Divine commission, and the result of this is the tenderest and most assured invitation to weak and weary men that ever fell from his lips. It is not the cheerful and over-confident utterance of a happy moment; it is the sober, weighty, reasoned deliverance of one who has pondered the matter all round, and who promises only what he knows he can stand to and make good. He bids you consider that you may have rest. However defeated and soiled with the dust of conflict, however paralyzed and dismayed your heart, however weary of the little that comes of all your striving, to you he offers partnership with himself. He will make all things a school, in which you will be encouraged by his presence, and from which you shall pass into that full maturity and fitness for all the future which begin in meekness and lowly carrying of his yoke. - D.
Luke 10:21). Therefore we see that our Lord is not thinking only or chiefly of children, but rather of the childlike. To these God has revealed great truths which he has not given to the worldly wise. So, following the context of St. Matthew, we are reminded that the citizens of Capernaum and other towns missed the truth which a handful of fishermen had laid hold of. At first the gospel began to spread among the lower classes of the Roman empire. The same is seen in India to-day.
I. WHY THE REVELATION IS HIDDEN FROM THE WISE. This cannot be owing to an arbitrary decision of God without need or reason. We must look for the explanation in the character and conduct of the wise. Now, it is not to be supposed that our Lord would depreciate intellect as such, because that would be to speak ill of one of the great works of God; moreover, he had a great intellect himself. Neither could he wish to discourage mental activity, to praise indolence and carelessness of thought. Where, then, do the disadvantages of the wise lie?
1. The wise have no special privilege in regard to religious truth. This does not reach us through intellectual efforts, nor does it rest on a foundation of scientific or literary acquirements. The child and the philosopher, the simple and the learned, must find God's greatest truth in the same way, and that a way as open to the babe in intellect as to the intellectual giant.
2. The wise are tempted to look in the wrong direction for religious truth. The man of science cannot easily escape from the thraldom of his scientific methods; the scholar is often so buried in his learning that he finds it hard to lift up his eyes from his books - and, alas ] the truth he most needs is not in them; the thinker cannot escape from the notion that he by his thought must reach truth more readily than those who have not his trained faculties, and he tries to climb to religious truth on the aerial ladder of speculation.
3. The wise are in danger of pride. It is difficult for them to confess their ignorance and helplessness. The truly wise are perhaps most ready to do this; but Christ rather referred to those who accounted themselves wise or who had a reputation for wisdom, such as the scribes.
II. HOW THE REVELATION IS REVEALED TO BABES.
1. We must remember that it is a revelation. The truth of Christ is not a product of human thinking, nor is it a discovery that men have to make for themselves. It could never be got by the pursuit of science or learning. It is a gift of God, and he can give it as readily to a babe as to a wise man.
2. This revelation only comes to those who are receptive. A feeling of wisdom is rather one of fulness and satisfaction. It is necessary, however, to feel empty and needing light and guidance. Now, the childlike soul is just in this condition.
3. The knowledge of truth is conditioned by faith. Some despise religious faith as lacking in foundation, and treat knowledge or even doubt as superior to it. But this is to misapprehend religious faith, which is not the acceptance of a creed, but trust in a Person. We want grounds for this confidence, but when we trust God we are prepared to receive his revelation, and the most childlike are the most ready to trust him. - W.F.A.
Luke 19:42); things pertaining to -
I. THE HIGHEST KNOWLEDGE.
1. The knowledge of the Father.
(1) As the "Lord of heaven and earth." Thus known, he is recognized as the Source of all created things. Moreover, he is so constantly recognized as never to be merged or lost in second causes. He is the Ruler as well as the Creator of all.
(2) As the "God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:3). This knowledge recognizes the relationship of the Father to the Son in the mystery of the Incarnation. It moreover recognizes the covenant relationship in which the Father stands to the Son.
(3) As "our Father," viz. in respect to our creation in his image and his care over us in nature (Genesis 1:26; Matthew 5:45). In respect to our redemption through the Son of his love, by which we receive adoption into his family and renewal in his likeness.
2. The knowledge of the Son.
(1) This knowledge recognizes the reality of his manhood. It was no phantom. He was "bone of our bone."
(2) It recognizes also the reality of his Godhead. Those who only saw the manhood of Jesus never saw the Son of God. The discernment of the Father dwelling in him is essential to our seeing him as the Son (see John 14:8-11).
(3) The knowledge of the Son of God recognizes the beatification of the manhood in the Godhead. Christ as God is one with the Father; as Mediator he receives his power and glory from the Father (cf. ver. 27; ch. 28:18; John 5:22, 27). We are encouraged to deliver our souls for their salvation into the hands into which the Father hath delivered "all authority and power" (see Zechariah 6:13).
II. THE METHOD OF ITS COMMUNICATION.
1. It is not attained by natural reason.
(1) Deists boast of the powers of reason, and plead for natural theology. They would substitute this for the theology of the Bible.
(2) But where would our natural theologians be but for the Bible? There are no natural theologians where the Bible has not been before them. Clearly, therefore, they credit their reason with the hints which they got from the Bible, whether they acknowledge it or not.
(3) But, after all, how far has their natural theology carried them? In its chapters they discourse of the Creator. But what about the Fatherhood of God? What about the Son of God and the Saviour of the world? These are matters about which sinners need to be certainly informed.
2. It is attained by Divine revelation.
(1) To this source we are indebted for the Bible. The evidence upon this subject is ample. The fact that there are no natural theologians without the Bible shows that human reason is not its source.
(2) "No one knoweth the Son, save the Father." The mystery of the Incarnation is only perfectly known to God. "Neither doth any know the Father, save the Son." The being and attributes of God are only perfectly known to Christ.
(3) These great subjects are only known to us just so far as they are revealed. We are drawn to the Son by the Father (John 6:44). The Son reveals himself by personal manifestation to the believer. This is a higher evidence than that of the miraculous works of the Father (see John 14:11).
(4) The happiness of man lies in his knowledge of God. It is "life eternal" (see John 17:1-3). There is no comfortable intercourse between a sinful man and a holy God but through the one competent Mediator (see John 14:6).
III. THE PERSONS WHO ARE HONORED WITH IT.
1. Not the "wise and understanding.
(1) This phrase is used in irony. The reference is to the scribes and Pharisees, who were wise and understanding," viz. in their own conceits. They looked down upon the common "people who knew not the Law" as "accursed;" while they themselves, confounding the traditions of the elders with the Law, made the latter void. And so wise and understanding were they in their care net to be deceived by appearances, that they failed to discern the Messiah whom they sought.
(2) There are many who in our day expose themselves to the same irony. Some of the darkest upon spiritual questions are amongst the great scholars in human literature and science (see 1 Corinthians 1:21). And some have taken a leading part in opposition to the transcendent truth (see 1 Timothy 6:20).
(3) Such persons become subjects of judicial blindness. "Thou hast hid these things from the wise and understanding." Spiritual ignorance comes as a punishment upon obstinate unbelievers (cf. John 12:39, 40; Acts 28:26, 27; Romans 11:7, 8).
(4) Moreover, Christ thanks the Father for this judicial dealing. Note: We must not let false compassion displace in us a proper jealousy for the justice and honour of God. Thanksgiving is the proper "answer" to dark and. disquieting thoughts. And mercy may be thankful for a judgment that is mingled with mercy in hiding from the obstinate a knowledge which would aggravate their doom.
2. The revelation is to babes.
(1) This is a Jewish term for unlearned persons (see Romans 2:20). It is, therefore, applied to the disciples of Jesus, who were simple men (cf. Psalm 8:2; Matthew 21:15, 16; Acts 4:13; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10). In this sense "to our children" belong "things that are revealed" (Deuteronomy 29:29).
(2) To the simple people Jesus gives his invitation, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." The poor people are first called who groan under the burdens heavy and grievous to be borne, of laws and traditions laid on their shoulders by the scribes and Pharisees (see Matthew 23:4; Acts 15:10). If the Pharisee would himself come to Jesus, he must first become a babe (see Matthew 18:3).
(3) These only will implicitly submit to the guidance of Jesus who labour for the "rest" of his love. Others will seek rest in titles, riches, pleasures, extremes of ambition and avarice. They do but increase their unrest. True rest is in the "meek and lowly" heart - the heart that is in sympathy with the blessed heart of Jesus.
(4) Those only will take the yoke of Christ upon them who feel the burden of sin. The distressing sense of guilt and depravity. Taking upon us the yoke of Christ is submitting to him as our Ruler (cf. 1 Kings 12:10; 1 Timothy 6:1). If he releases us from the drudgery of sin, it is that we may serve him in the bonds of truth and love. One yoke gives place to another; we cannot be "as gods" - independent.
3. The revelation is heavenly.
(1) Its rest is glorious. Rest from the weary ways of sin. For the wicked there is no rest. The peace that passeth understanding. The anticipation of heaven.
(2) Its yoke is easy. It is the sweet yoke of love. "It is a yoke that is lined with love" (Henry). The commandments of love are not grievous. The gospel law is the liberty of the purest love. It is a wonderful contrast to the bondage of sin (see Deuteronomy 28:47, 48; Isaiah 10:27; Daniel 9:24).
(3) Its burden is light. It is sweet to the loyal servant to know that the cross he bears is Christ's. The love of Christ lightens the burden, and so he sustains it himself. "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he will sustain thee (Psalm 55:22). He will carry thyself and thy load. Thou art thyself thy load (cf. Isaiah 43:2; Isaiah 63:9; Daniel 3:25; 2 Corinthians 1:5; 2 Corinthians 4:17). - J.A.M.
I. GOD REVEALS TRUTH FREELY, BUT WITH DISCRIMINATION. Jesus spoke quite freely; anywhere, everywhere, on all occasions, he dropped the seeds of Divine truth; and yet he observed that only some of the seeds went into the soul, germinated, and brought forth fruit. This found expression in his parables. This was sometimes a distress to him. Freely he had preached in Galilee, but the fickle people heard him for a while, and then turned against him. Capernaum saw his mighty works, but evil influences closed the avenues of faith, and the well-to-do, and the Pharisee proud of his religion, and the scribe proud of his learning, united to leave him alone to be the Friend of the poor, who "know not the Law." In the manner characteristic of the pious Jew, and eminently characteristic of himself, Jesus saw the workings of Divine wisdom in this. His revelation of God was proving a touchstone; God was making the truth tell on some, and fail in making its way to others. And apostles saw the gospel to be "a savour of life unto life, and of death unto death." Preached to all, the gospel is reserved from some.
II. THE DISCRIMINATION CONCERNS THE CHARACTER OF THE PROPOSED RECIPIENTS. Not their circumstances. Truth is not reserved for the poor only. The contrast presented by our Lord is between guileful, self-satisfied man and simple, receptive child. He does but give expression to a recognized universal law of teaching. The man who thinks he knows will not learn. The man who feels that he does not know is glad to learn. But our Lord searchingly suggests, what we well know to be the case, that these two men represent types of character. It is not that the one knows and the other does not know; it is that the one is guileful and conceited, and feels as if he knew; while the other is humble and diffident, and feels as if he did not know. Christ's revelation of the Father, and the redemption, never can be interesting to any but simple, childlike souls. - R.T.
No man cometh unto the Father but by me." Then we see the meaning and point of the closing verses of the chapter. Jesus really says, "Come unto me, and I will teach you how to be a son with his Father; and you will find that is rest to your souls."
I. THE RELATIONS OF THE SON AND THE FATHER. It would be to miss the point altogether to bring in ideas concerning what is called the "eternal Sonship." Our Lord is not thinking of his abstract and absolute Divine relationships. He was a Man; as a Man he was a Son; he was a model Son, a firstborn Son. His Sonship was a headship, a leadership; after him come a multitude of sons who, with him, call God their Father. In the expressions our Lord uses we can find two things characteristic of the relations between the Son and the Father; and representative-of the proper relations between every son and the Father.
1. Intimacy. "Truly our fellowship is with the Father." Observe, however, that our Lord speaks of it as a present intimacy, fullest confidence, mutual confidence, between the Father and the Son, though the Son was a Man in earthly spheres.
2. Trust. The Father fully gave all the earth-concerns, the redemptive earth-concerns, into the hands of his Sou. In this, too, representing the trust he still puts in all who are sons in his Son.
II. THE COMPETENCY OF THE SON TO REVEAL THE FATHER. "The Son will reveal him." This will open out simply by showing how Jesus reveals
(1) the Divine holiness;
(2) the Divine pitifulness;
(3) the Divine power;
(4) the Divine love.
But it needs to be seen that Christ reveals the Father by what he was, even more than by what he said or did. - R.T.
I. THE BLESSING IS REST.
1. In what it consists. The soul of man in weariness and unrest craves for peace and repose. This is more than the outward calm of quiet circumstances. Many have that who are victims to a storm of unrest within - ship-wrecked sailors tossing on the waves of their own passions. The true rest is not idleness. While the heart is at rest the hand may be at work. We can never work so well as with a restful mind. Neither is this rest a state of mental torpor. The mind may be wide awake, but calm and at peace - like the sea when its waves are still, and yet its deep waters teem with life, and great fleets sweep over its surface.
2. For whom it is designed. Those who labour and are heavy laden. Some people are naturally restful, constitutionally placid. But Christ desires to bring rest to troubled souls. He has sympathy for the toiling multitude; he brings peace to those whose lives are burdened. This may apply especially to those whose toil is inward - in the effort to overcome temptation, and who are heavily laden with the weight of sin.
II. THE BLESSING OF REST IS TO BE OBTAINED BY WEARING THE YOKE OF CHRIST. Let us see what this involves.
1. A personal approach to Christ. Jesus begins his words to the weary with the gracious invitation, "Come unto me." Let not any heartbroken, despondent person hold back in fear, for the invitation is just for him. "Arise; the Master calleth thee!" But he cannot receive the blessing until he goes to Christ. Rest begins in personal contact with Christ.
2. Submitting to the rule of Christ. Some have thought that by his reference to the yoke our Lord meant to indicate that the weary might yoke themselves to him, and that he and his tired disciple might walk under the same yoke - the greater part of the weight of which he would bear. Certainly there is some yoke to be borne by Christ's disciple. We do not escape from restlessness by plunging into lawlessness and self-will. On the contrary, our self-will is the source of our deepest unrest. When this is conquered we shall be at peace. Therefore the service of Christ, which involves the suppression of self, is the way of inward restfulness. To bear his yoke, nay, even to carry his cross, is to find rest. While we look for personal comfort and escape from duty, we are miserable and restless; when we cease to think of our own ease and give ourselves up to Christ's service, to bear his yoke, we find peace.
3. Following in the way of Christ. They who would have rest must learn of Christ. Then the rest does not come in a moment. It will be obtained just in the degree in which the great lesson is learnt. Further, this is a lesson in meekness and lowliness. Then rest will come in proportion as we become meek and lowly like Christ. - W.F.A.
I. A BURDEN.
1. Some are laden with sin.
(1) Guilt. Their bad life is set in array against them. The Spirit of God comes to them in the Law, in the Gospel, by the ministry, over an open grave.
(2) Depravity. Vestiges of vanity, of pride, self-will, selfishness.
2. Others groan under the distresses of life.
(3) Temptation. Satan takes advantage of our depression.
(4) Persecution. Permitted to wean us from the world. To prepare us for a better.
II. A RELIEF.
1. Christ offers pardon to the guilty.
(1) He gives rest to the conscience; removes the sense of guilt.
(2) He gives peace to the heart.
2. Christ offers purity to the unholy.
(1) This his merits have purchased.
(2) His Spirit is efficient.
3. Christ offers grace for the needy.
(1) He will remove the thorn in the flesh,
(2) or he will enable us to rise above the affliction.
III. THE MEANS.
1. We must go to Christ.
(1) We may go to church without going to Christ.
(2) We may go to the Lord's table without going to Christ.
(3) We must have a personal interview and acquaintance with him.
To this end we must seek him. In his house; at his table; at the footstool of his throne.
2. We must approach him humbly.
(1) In the contrast of his glorious purity we sink abashed.
"I loathe myself when God I see, (2) We should pray for the grace of his Spirit. 3. We must approach him obediently. (1) By ceasing to do evil. Every idol must be thrown down. (2) By learning to do well. Acts of justice. Acts of mercy. Habits of truth and goodness. 4. We must approach him believingly. (1) Realize Christ here - now. (2) Realize that he is here, and now ready to remove your burden. (3) You will soon realize that his service is rest - present, everlasting. How lamentable that all do not come to Jesus! Angels lament this. Good men lament it. There is no excuse for those who will not seek such a blessed Saviour. - J.A.M.
(2) We should pray for the grace of his Spirit.
3. We must approach him obediently.
(1) By ceasing to do evil. Every idol must be thrown down.
(2) By learning to do well. Acts of justice. Acts of mercy. Habits of truth and goodness.
4. We must approach him believingly.
(1) Realize Christ here - now.
(2) Realize that he is here, and now ready to remove your burden.
(3) You will soon realize that his service is rest - present, everlasting.
How lamentable that all do not come to Jesus! Angels lament this. Good men lament it. There is no excuse for those who will not seek such a blessed Saviour. - J.A.M.
alone. It was a yoke meant for two. It could only be borne aright when disciples and he bore the yoke together. Illustration may be taken from the yoke fitted to the shoulders of the two oxen that drew the Eastern plough. That yoke was only easy for each ox as they both cheerfully bore it together. So with the yoke of Sonship. It did not lie easy on Christ's shoulder unless his disciples bore it with him. It never could lie easy on their shoulder unless he bore it with them. It is true that rest comes for man in the spirit of sonship; but it is also true that it does not come to man in a lonely sonship - only in a sonship fully shared with Christ.
I. A YOKE FOR ONE. "Take my yoke." There must be a sense in which our Lord's yoke was his own, and could be shared by nobody. And there is a sense in which each individual man must "bear his own burden." But Christ and we have more that is common to humanity, than that is unique to ourselves. We can and do "bear one another's burdens." There is a tendency to exaggerate the uniqueness of our Lord's experience. It is healthier and wiser to dwell fully on the commonness of his experience and ours. The piece of the yoke on Christ was exactly his piece, and had its peculiar pressure; but it was only part of a yoke, which really lay on two shoulders.
II. A YOKE FOR TWO. "Take my yoke upon you," and let us share it together; then it will grow light and easy for us both. Can we bear Christ's yoke with him? Yes, if we understand aright what that yoke was.
1. it was honouring God in a gracious human life. We can share in that.
2. It was revealing God as the loving Father, in a beautiful human Sonship. We can share in that.
3. It was doing the Father's work, and seeking and saving the wandering and lost sons and daughters. We can share in that. And the strange thing is that lifting up and sharing Christ's yoke is the way to rest, the only way. Rest for any man can only come out of finding the Father in heaven. No one can find the Father until he gets the Spirit of the Son into his heart. Jesus seems to say, "My rest is in being a Son; my yoke is the yoke of Sonship. Bear my yoke, and you too shall find rest unto your souls." - R.T.
love. We and these whom we love bear yokes together. My friend bears mine, and I bear his.
I. OUR YOKE, AND THE WAY IN WHICH CHRIST TAKES IT. Our sins, our cares, our sorrows. Estimate what these are to Christ by what they are to us. Never think they become lighter because our Lord takes them on himself. But what a relief to us that shifting of our yoke is! Christ takes it:
1. Wholly. We need keep none for lonely bearing.
2. Cheerfully. Making us feel as if it were be that was benefited by the taking.
3. Lovingly. As if he would melt and win us by the taking.
"'Tis enough that he should care; II. CHRIST'S YOKE, AND THE WAY IN WHICH WE TAKE IT. 1. Yoke of Christian profession. 2. Yoke of Christian living. 3. Yoke of Christian duty. 4. Yoke of Christian affliction. These go to make up Christ's yoke, as it can become our yoke. We too often beat' it half-heartedly, as a sort of must. Persons will sometimes say, "Oh yes, I submit, for there is nothing else I can do." But a true submission is willing submission, whether anything else can be done or not. Or we bear Christ's yoke carelessly, as though nothing were involved in the bearing, not even the supreme honour of our Divine Lord. How different Christ's yoke for us appears and is! We never really find out what it is while we only look at it. We know it when we lift it up on our shoulder; then we find that the "yoke is easy, and the burden light." - R.T.
II. CHRIST'S YOKE, AND THE WAY IN WHICH WE TAKE IT.
1. Yoke of Christian profession.
2. Yoke of Christian living.
3. Yoke of Christian duty.
4. Yoke of Christian affliction.
These go to make up Christ's yoke, as it can become our yoke. We too often beat' it half-heartedly, as a sort of must. Persons will sometimes say, "Oh yes, I submit, for there is nothing else I can do." But a true submission is willing submission, whether anything else can be done or not. Or we bear Christ's yoke carelessly, as though nothing were involved in the bearing, not even the supreme honour of our Divine Lord. How different Christ's yoke for us appears and is! We never really find out what it is while we only look at it. We know it when we lift it up on our shoulder; then we find that the "yoke is easy, and the burden light." - R.T.