Then He left them, got back into the boat, and crossed to the other side.
I. THE CHARACTER OF THE DEMAND DEPENDS UPON CIRCUMSTANCES. It may be made in an honest, inquiring spirit, or in order to injure religion. In the former case too much consideration can hardly be given to it, as it is the indispensable preliminary to rational conviction, and the gospel offers evidence for its claims. The spirit in which the inquiry is made may be determined by:
1. The character of those who inquire. Bad men may be genuine inquirers, but it is well to know their antecedents. Christ could read the underlying design of the Jews. It may reasonably be expected that inquirers should give some proof of their sincerity, especially if already furnished with many evidences.
2. The kind of sign asked for. Here it was "a sign from heaven," i.e. differing from the miracles and previous manifestations of Christ. This implied that they were insufficient, and indirectly pronounced judgment upon the previous words and works of Christ. A question may sometimes reveal a more thorough scepticism than a dogmatic denial. Whilst apparent liberty is given as to what particular sign might be produced, there is really a tone of dictation and unseemly assumption.
II. SUCH A DEMAND EXPOSES THE REPRESENTATIVES OF CHRISTIANITY TO STRONG TEMPTATION. They are invited to criticize God's methods of revelation, and to despise the "means of grace." A position full of unbelief and presumption may insensibly be assumed, such as that of Moses at the rock: "Must we fetch you water out of this rock?" (Numbers 20:10). They may be induced to attempt to "force the hand" of God. The crime of such a proceeding could only be equalled by its folly. As if those who are insensible to the cross of Christ could be converted by a thunderbolt or a merely supernatural spectacle! It is for Christ's servants in times of popular excitement to preach the old truths, and to appeal to every man's God. The improbability of sensationalism producing belief is a growing one. "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31). So we may now add, "If they believe not One who has risen from the dead, neither will they believe, though he were to be manifested to them in heaven itself."
III. EVEN WERE IT DESIRED IT WOULD BE REFUSED. "This generation" represents all who ask in a similar spirit.
1. Because the. evidence for Christianity is spiritual, not carnal; moral, and not material.
2. Because the patent, outstanding facts of the gospel are sufficient:
(1) For the conversion of sinners; and
(2) for the confirmation and edifying of saints.
3. Because it is part of the punishment appointed to such inquirers that they shall ask and not receive, and seek and not find.
4. Because it may become a means of turning attention back to the evidence that has been despised or ignored. It is high time our philosophical inquirers began to inquire why their researches have produced no fruits in evidence or conviction as yet. Why is it that whilst the evidence for the gospel is at least equal to that for any other matters of history, it is yet disbelieved when they are accepted? Is not the reason a moral rather than an intellectual one? - M.
Seeking of Him a sign from heaven, tempting Him.I. THE UNREASONABLENESS OF THIS REQUEST.
1. In other matters they were not scrupulous of evidence — tradition.
2. They had the signs of the times — consisting in a combination of events giving fulfilment to their own Scriptures,
3. They had His miracles — unquestioned.
4. They had, even signs from heaven — At His baptism.
5. It was not evidence that was wanting.
6. Neither is it so yet.
II. THE DENIAL OF THEIR REQUEST.
1. Not because such a request would, in other circumstances, have been sinful. Gideon. Hezekiah.
2. But because it was unnecessary, it would not have convinced them, it was asked out of malice.
3. Our request must be for necessary things, from right motives.
III. ACCORDING TO THE OTHER EVANGELISTS, CHRIST POINTED THEM TO THE SIGN OF THE PROPHET JONAS.
1. There are several points of resemblance between Christ and Jonas.
2. The point referred to by Christ was, no doubt, His resurrection.
1. Religious curiosity is not to be mistaken for religious necessity.
2. Religious confidence is not to be won by irreligious ostentations.
3. Religious appeals are not to be addressed to the eye, but to the heart. In applying these points show what Christ gave in comparison with what He refused. He gave bread, sight, hearing, speech, health; He gave His life, yet He refused a sign! Understand that, in some cases, not to give a sign is in reality to give the most solemn and dreadful of all signs.
(Dr. J. Parker.)i.e., to make unlawful and needless proof of His Divine attributes, such as Power, Providence, Justice, Mercy, etc. This sin is committed —
1. By limiting and restraining God's actions to ordinary means and secondary causes: tying Him to these, as if without them He could not or would not perform those things which He has promised to the godly or threatened against the wicked.
2. By neglecting the ordinary means appointed by God for the good and preservation of our souls and bodies, and relying upon God's extraordinary power and providence to provide for us. Apply this to such cases as — abandonment of earthly calling; needlessly exposing oneself to danger; rejecting the means of grace.
3. By living and going on in any sin contrary to the Word of God, thereby making proof of God's patience, whether He will punish or wink at disobedience.
(G. Petter.)I. First of all, we discover the same SYCOPHANCY OF SPIRIT among sceptics now as was noticeable among the ancient Jews. The significant question those people asked concerning Christ was, "Have any of the rulers believed on Him?"
1. One of the maxims of the Talmud was this: "My son, give more heed to the words of the rabbis than to the words of the law." Thus they pressed human authority above inspiration, and exalted traditions above the revelation from God.
2. Our times are not much better. Little men appear to imagine their proportions are vaster when they stand in the awe-inspiring shadow of big men. Hence we find all the motley company of sceptics aping masterly leaders, and trying to make the majesty of their intellects show most impressively.
3. Rabbis (in this sense) ought not to count for much with Christian people: "One is our Master, even Christ." What God's children are examining is truth, and not men. It must be remembered that there never was a system of even confessed error, no matter how miserable or how vile, that did not for the time being have some able advocates. We do not need to go back to Marcion's day, nor to Basilides' day, to illustrate this. Gibbon was gifted, and Brigham Young was a man of power — and Satan himself was one of the brightest of God's angels.
4. Meantime, the cry lifted as to the supreme ability of not a few of these leaders of modern scepticism might as well be toned down to moderation.
II. Next to this sycophancy of spirit, we discover that modern doubt has for its characteristic THE SAME DISPOSITION TO CRITICISE GOD'S WORD which prevailed in Herod's time. Our Saviour's charge was, "making the Word of God of none effect."
1. Those Pharisees and Sadducees had only the Old Testament, but they kept picking at it. The general principle of interpretation was very frankly avowed in those days: "The Bible is like water, the traditions are like wine; but the commentaries are like wine which has been spiced."
2. The modern attack is just like this. The combat with opposers is not now that of theological philosophy, but of biblical criticism.
3. It is impossible to stop the mouths of carpers. The apostles themselves had to deal with strong and inveterate opposers. There were persistent Pharisees and indefatigable Sadducees. Paul himself even could not put down these disputants at will so completely that they should not harangue the populace. He could refute every argument, and overturn every position; but when he had silenced sense they kept up the uproar. Thus they made their sorry exhibition at Ephesus (see Acts 19:32-34).
III. In the third place, modern doubt is characterized, like the ancient scepticism Jesus rebuked, by an AIMLESS DRIFTING into a series of continual disbeliefs. This was the ground for our Lord's most terrible denunciation: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he is made, ye make him two fold more the child of hell than yourselves."
1. Those old sects seem all to have known this tendency to reckless wandering in speculation, for they tried to force a system of checks at each exposed point against free thinking.
2. This generation of doubters in our time are as wandering in their purposes, and quite as devoutly blind in their career. The moment one begins to question, that moment he begins to travel. Yet is it seriously to be doubted whether he is going ever to reach that portal of God's truth he talks of so glibly.
3. There is no settled direction which modern scepticism chooses. If there were, we might welcome the drift as perhaps being in the line of the truth, and indicating progress. But it makes one think of the eddies over the meadows after a freshet; it is unsafe to try to sail because nobody knows the channel. A thoughtful man would like to know beforehand where he is going.
4. It is best, also, to settle the value of an argument drawn from an example.
IV. This thought will find a further illustration, when we go on to consider a fourth characteristic of modern doubt: namely, THE EXTREME MALIGNANCY OF TEMPER with which those who turn from the Christian faith afterwards attack its defenders.
1. Renegades are always the most belligerent allies on the other side.
2. It is often to advantage to read up the antecedents of some of our most prominent unbelievers. "You know who the critics are?" asks a shrewd character in Lord Beaconsfield's story; "they are the men who have failed in literature and art." Find an extremely ill-tempered disputant anywhere nowadays, who begins with innuendo and continues with abuse, and the explanation may be given almost instinctively this man did not succeed in the old life, and is angrily trying to retrieve his fortunes by attracting attention in a new.
3. For the temper of unbelief is simple selfishness.
4. Hence, there is no safety in yielding even just a little. "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways." Belief will not suffer itself to be divided.
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
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