And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign…
Reading the Old Testament, we observe that the Lord in the olden time condescendingly gave signs to His servants, when He saw that it would be for their good. Doubtless if again there should come a necessity for signs to any of God's servants, such tokens would be given them. If there should ever be a time when it was not possible for Christians to walk by faith alone, or when it would be more to the honour of God that their confidence should be somewhat assisted by marvels and tokens, then would God go out of the ordinary way once again and His people should receive miraculous seals. In no case is such a thing at all necessary under the gospel dispensation, which is so enriched with plainest evidence, that to add more would be to hold a candle to the sun, or pour water into the ocean. In addition to this first remark, let us add that signs have been given, and yet have not wrought faith in those who have seen them; and there is no necessary connection between seeing signs and believing that which the signs attest.
I. I shall ask your attention while I DESCRIBE THE PERSONS who are an evil generation that seek after a sign. We have among us many individuals who are aware that they are sinners, and are conscious of their guiltiness to such an extent as to be very uneasy as to their condition. They clearly perceive that sin will be punished by the Great Judge, and they are much afraid of the wrath to come. They anxiously desire, moreover, to find salvation; and, having long listened to the gospel, they are not ignorant of the way in which salvation is obtained; they understand the gospel in the letter of it to the highest degree. They are not unbelievers in any of the doctrines of the gospel; but illogical as their state is, they still remain unbelievers, with all this belief about them, and justify their remaining in unbelief by telling you that if they felt this, or if they saw that, or if this happened, or if the other thing occurred, then they would believe in Jesus, but not until then. They make different demands. There are some, and these are generally the most uneducated, who expect to experience remarkable dreams or to behold singular visions. Others we have met with, who suppose that in order to being saved they must feel some very peculiar physical sensation. Now you must not look for this. You must not put physical contortions or sensations as a test before the Lord, and say you will not believe in Him otherwise. These I hope are rare cases, but in very frequent instances I have met with people who will not believe in Jesus Christ to the salvation of their souls because they have not felt wretched enough. They have read in certain books of holy men who, when they were seeking a Saviour, were broken in pieces under the ponderous hammer of the law. They turn to such biographies, and they find the subjects of them uttering language similar to the book of Job, or to the words of Jeremy in the Lamentations. Ah! poor demented one, to desire misery, and to make your own wretchedness, and even your own unbelieving and wicked thoughts of God to be a kind of preparation for faith in Jesus Christ! It is a most insanely wicked thing, and yet many, many, many persist in unbelief because they think they are not wretched enough. Running to the other extreme, I have met with others who would not simply trust Christ because they were not happy enough. They have heard of the Christian's joys, and the peace, like a river, that evermore abideth, and they have said, "If I could get this peace, if this deep calm ruled in my spirit, then I could believe." As much as to say, "If I saw the wheat full grown in the fields of my soul, then I would begin to sow", whereas the sowing must precede the reaping. I have met with some who would not believe in Christ because they could not pray eloquently. "Oh," they have said, "if I could pray like So-and-So, to whom we have listened with the greatest pleasure at the prayer-meeting, then I could put my trust in Christ, and there would be some hope for me!" I have known others who must feel precisely like certain eminent saints have felt many years after their conversion, or else they cannot believe that they are saved. They will reach down the life of some holy man who had mastered his passions by long years of mortification, who had come to live near to God, and whose life was the heavenly life on earth, and they will mentally vow, "I must be just like this man," say they, "or else I cannot believe in Jesus." They say, in fact, to the Heavenly Physician, "I am sick and ready to die, but, Good Physician, Thou must make me as strong as Samson at once and on the spot, or else I will not receive Thy medicine," just as if the perfect spiritual cure of the soul were not a lifelong work of grace.
II. I shall now, secondly, SHOW THE FOLLY OF SUCH CONDUCT. YOU are seeking a sign, one of these which I have described, or some other.
1. You seek what is quite unnecessary. What do you want a sign for? You want, you say, a token of God's love. What token of God's love to you can ever be wanted, now that He has given His only-begotten Son, first to live on earth, and then to die in pains extreme, the just for the unjust, "that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life"! I blush for you, that you should ask any token of God's love while Jesus Christ is before you, for herein is such love as nothing else can ever equal. What do you want a sign for? Why, to show, you say, that there is mercy for you. How do you need that? The very fact that you are alive shows how merciful God is!
2. You are also asking for useless signs. What evidence could there be now,, for instance, in mere dejection of spirit? You want to feel miserable you say: what evidence would that be of your salvation? It seems to me that you are like a man who would say that he would catch hold of a rope if he could sink so many fathoms deeper in the ocean, or that he would avail himself of a dispensary if his disease were so much worse. How strange that a rational man should talk thus! Despair is no help to faith. Sinful doubts cannot assist you to Christ; they may most effectually keep you from Him. are you not also seeking most unreasonable things? To ask a sign from God when He pledges His word seems to me to be out of all reason. You are a beggar, remember, and we have an old proverb that beggars must not be choosers; above all, how dare a beggar demand a sign before he receive an alms?
III. I shall now want a few minutes more, and your very serious attention, while I now LAY BARE YOUR SINS, your grievous sins.
1. My dear hearers, in the first place, you make God a liar. Is not this the testimony of the Holy Ghost, "He that believeth not hath made God a liar"?
2. In the next place, you insult God's sovereignty. He has a right to give signs or not, as He wills; but you do, as it were, say, "Thou shalt give me a sign or else I will be damned. I will not have Thy mercy if I cannot have it in my own way: great God, I will not be saved unless I can feel as I want to feel." O fling away this accursed pride of yours, and kiss His silver sceptre, and say, "Lord, save me as Thou wilt. I believe, help Thou my unbelief."
3. I must tell you what is more, you are acting the part of an idolater. What does an idolater do? He says, "I cannot believe in an unseen God; I must have a golden calf or an image, that I can see with my eyes and touch with my hand." You say just the same. You cannot believe God's naked word, you demand something you can feel, something you can see. Sheer idolatry.
4. Do you not see, moreover, that you crucify the Saviour? Those who nailed His hands to the tree were not greater sinners, even if they were so great, as you are who say to Him, "Bleeding Saviour, I believe that Thou hast died on the cross; I believe that Thy blood could cleanse sin, but I cannot trust Thee to do it; I have no confidence in Thee; I cannot, will not trust Thee. I trust my husband, but I cannot trust my Saviour; I trust my child, but I cannot trust my God; I trust my minister, but I cannot trust the Son of God exalted in the highest heavens." Why, this is crucifying Him — this is treating Him as a dog only should be treated.
IV. YOUR DANGER In danger of death: you admit that, and now suppose you die in the state you are in. Why, you are almost saved; you are awakened, you are aroused, you have many good desires, but a man who is only almost saved will be altogether damned. There was a householder who almost bolted his door at night, but the thief came in; a prisoner was condemned to be hanged, and was almost pardoned, but he hung on the gallows; a ship was almost saved from shipwreck, but she went to the bottom with all hands on board; a fire was almost extinguished, but it consumed a city; a man almost decided remains to perish in the flames of hell. So is it with you; except you believe, all these things which you possess of good desire and emotion, shall be of no service to you at all, for "he that believeth not shall be damned."
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet.