And they said to him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees…
We have here -
I. AN HONEST DIFFICULTY FAIRLY AND EFFECTUALLY MET. It was in no carping spirit that the disciples of John came to Jesus. We do not detect a trace of ill will in their question. It was a spirit of surprise and perplexity that dictated it. They had always thought that fasting was an essential feature of true piety. Their master John had encouraged them in this idea; but they looked in vain for this feature in the doctrine of Christ. What could it mean? Our Lord met this inquiry in a very different way from that in which he might have done so. He might have said, "Where, in the books of Moses, is fasting enjoined on the people of God? On what day in all the year, excepting the Day of Atonement, is this practice prescribed? Is it not a tradition of men rather than a commandment of God?" But Jesus did not meet them thus. He said that his disciples did not fast because fasting on their part would be untimely, unsuitable, and therefore unacceptable. "Can the children of the bridechamber," etc.? "You would not have men fast when they have every reason for feasting? you would not have men show themselves miserable when there is every ground for gladness? you would not have my disciples do such violence to their spiritual nature? You do not act," Christ goes on to say, "with such unnaturalness and incongruity in other departments of life; you do not bring together things that do not agree with one another; you do not put unwrought cloth on an old garment; you do not put new unfermented wine in old skins that will not stretch; if you did, you would pay the penalty in spoiled clothes and spilled wine. Why should, you do anything that is unfitting and incongruous in the realm of religion? If you do, you will have a serious penalty to pay. No; let my disciples rejoice while they have occasion to be glad; the days will come soon enough when they will have a heart for grieving: then will they fast in those days."
II. AN INDICATION OF THE TRUE TONE OF CHRISTIAN SERVICE. The disciples were glad of heart because their Master was "with them." To be the close companions of Jesus Christ is reason enough for a prevailing spiritual joy. As his disciples, indeed, there are certain special sources of sorrow - grief at the sin and misery of mankind, regret at our own slowness of growth and slackness of zeal, etc. But for us as his followers is
(1) the joy of faith;
(2) the joy of fellowship;
(3) the joy of service, the delight of doing good, the blessedness of giving health and peace and hope to those in spiritual weakness and trouble;
(4) the joy of hope, of immortal blessedness. Is it for us, with such a heritage in possession, and with such a prospect as this, to comport ourselves as if we were fatherless, friendless, portionless? Is it for us to go on our way homewards and heavenwards as if we were being conveyed to prison or were going into exile? Not gloom but gladness, not dreariness but delight, should be the prevailing note of our Christian life.
III. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE FITTING IN THE SPHERE OF THE SACRED. We learn this, in the text, from the unwisdom of the unfitting in the sphere or' the secular. "No man putteth," etc.; if he does, he spoils his garment, and he spills his wine. So in the sphere of the spiritual: if we force the sorrowful spirit to assume the tone of the happy; or if we reverse this unnatural process, and compel the happy to affect to be sorrowful; or if we require the young to manifest piety in the forms that are suitable to the mature; or if we insist on those who have been trained in godly and virtuous habits showing the same form of repentance which we demand of the vicious and the gross; - we may secure a result which gives us momentary satisfaction, but we shall have a penalty to pay further on. The unnatural is always a mistake. God does not desire to be served in ways which are not fitted to the spirit which he has made, or are not appropriate to the circumstances in which his providence has placed us. Let there be no forcing in the sphere of the sacred. Do the fitting, the congruous thing, and you will do the right and the acceptable thing. "Is any merry'? let him sing psalms. Is any afflicted? let him pray." Is any filled with a sense of the value of this life? let him give himself heartily to holy usefulness. Is any weary and worn with the strife and burden of life? let him find cheer and comfort in anticipating the rest which remaineth for the people of God. Do not try to regulate your spiritual life by any calendar; let it flow on in joy or sorrow, in active service or patient waiting as the hand of God is laid on the springs of your human spirit, and is directing the course of your earthly life. Not the hard, cast-iron service of constraint, but the free, spontaneous service of the full and overflowing heart, is that for which our Lord is looking, and with which he is well pleased. - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: And they said unto him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink?