"To what, then, can I compare the men of this generation? What are they like?
I. CHRISTIAN ABSTEMIOUSNESS. John came "neither eating nor drinking." He acted, no doubt, under Divine direction in so doing. But John was not our exemplar. We are not called to follow John, but Christ; and Christ came eating and drinking. Is abstinence, then, a Christian course? It is so; it is justified by the language of our Lord and by that of his apostles. He said that there were some celibates "for the kingdom of heaven's sake" (Matthew 19:12). And he urged upon men that they should pluck out their right eye, or cut off their right hand, rather than perish in iniquity (Matthew 5:29, 30). His apostle wrote that men should neither eat meat nor drink wine, if by so doing they put a stumbling-block in the way of another (Romans 14:21). And it is certain that we are acting in a strictly and, indeed, an emphatically Christian spirit when we:
1. Abstain because indulgence would be perilous to ourselves. This may relate to food or drink, or to any kind of amusement or occupation, to anything of any kind in which we find ourselves under a strong temptation to excess if we once begin.
2. Abstain because our abstinence will make the path of virtue or piety more accessible to others. Anything we can do, any privation we may accept, any habit we may form, by which we help men upwards and Godwards, must be an essentially and radically Christian thing.
II. CHRISTIAN PARTICIPATION. "The Son of man came eating and drinking." He was no ascetic; he was present at the festivity; he accepted the invitation to the rich man's board; he did not choose the coarser garment because it was coarser, or the severer lodging because it was severer; he did not habitually and conscientiously decline the gifts of God in nature. He knew how to decline them when occasion called for it (see Luke 6:12; Luke 9:58), but he did not do so regularly and as a sacred duty. Surely it was well for the world that he acted thus; for, had he sanctioned asceticism, we should have been continually oscillating, or everywhere divided, between an unamiable severity on the one hand and a degrading self-indulgence on the other hand. The wise and the true course is that of a Christian participation; this is a partaking of the gifts of God and of the sweets and enjoyments of earth, which is:
1. Sanctified by devout gratitude; by a continual and wholesome mindfulness that every good gilt is from above, and calls for a grateful and reverent spirit.
2. Controlled by a wise moderation; so that nothing is indulged in which is in the smallest degree excessive; so that no injury of any kind is done to the spiritual nature.
3. Beautified by benevolence; the participation by ourselves being very closely and constantly accompanied by the remembrance of the wants of others. "Eat the fat and drink the sweet," but be careful to "send portions to them for whom nothing is prepared." - C.
Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation.
1. The religion of the Baptist had been too hard for them because of its stern morality. It demanded outward purity. "We shall be better off with Christ," they thought. And they found themselves worse off than before. It was bad enough to hear that the whole of the outward life had to be reformed; it was ten times worse to hear that the inward life had to be reformed.
2. The religion of the Baptist had been too hard for them because of its demand for self-sacrifice. And lo! Christ was ten times more severe on this point than John. They turned away in wrath, but the little grain of conscience that still remained made them bitter. To relieve their conscience, they turned to abuse and vilify Him who had shown them a vision they could not bear. If they could put Him in the wrong, they might put themselves in the right. "Behold, then, a gluttonous man," &c. They were piped unto, and they had not danced. There is much the same sort of thing among men now.
3. Another class of men turned from the Baptist to look at the religion of Christ — the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees. These drifted out to John in the wilderness; the wave of religious excitement had sent its tide even into their land-locked harbours; one wonders what took these models of piety to John. He could not understand it; his astonishment was frank enough. "Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" When they found that John did not pay them snore attention than the rest, when they saw that he talked with the publican as he did with them, they turned back, saying, "He hath a devil." So the hypocrites among them thought they would hear what Christ had to say. He might do them more honour. He might recognize their proud position as leaders of religion. But alas! they were disappointed. I suppose no sharper or more indignant language was ever used by man against other men than the words with which Christ denounced them. As to the other class of Pharisees who were pious bigots, they found in Christ all that they had disliked in John multiplied tenfold. He would have nothing to do with them unless they came to Him and humbly confessed themselves sinners. Not among their ranks, but among unlearned fishermen and villagers He chose His special followers. He dined with the publicans; even at one of their houses He admitted the sinful woman to salvation. It was snore than could be borne. This was music no man could dance to. There are men of this sort at this time among us.
(Stowford A. Brooke, M. A.)
(S. Cox, D. D.)
I. THE GOSPEL IS SENT ONLY TO SINNERS.
II. IT IS RIGHT TO USE VARIOUS MEANS TO BRING MEN UNDER THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL. Look at the difference between the ministry of Jesus and that of John.
III. IN THE USE OF THESE MEANS IT WILL BE IMPOSSIBLE TO PLEASE EVERYBODY, John was a recluse, and they said he had a devil. Jesus came eating and drinking, and they said, "Behold a gluttonous man," &c.
IV. ALL TRUE PREACHERS OF THE GOSPEL MAY EXPECT OPPOSITION.
V. NEVERTHELESS, WE MUST NOT CEASE DECLARING THE TRUTH.
(A. F, Barfield.)
1. It shows us how uniform are the tendencies of human nature in all ages and times. Jesus, passing through the market of Nazareth, or Cana, saw the children playing their games, just as children play them now. The little Syrian boys and girls belonging to the great Semitic race, living eighteen hundred years ago, amid Asiatic customs and scenery, were just such little children as you and I saw playing on the common yesterday. They played games, imitating the customs of grown people; just as little children now play soldiers, play horse and driver, so they then played weddings and funerals.
2. It shows us Christ's habit of taking illustrations from everyday life. In His teachings there is nothing conventional, nothing formal. No fact in God's world is to Him common or unclean.
3. It also shows how much easier it is for good men, though differing in ideas, tastes, and methods, to agree in a mutual respect and sympathy, than for self-willed men to form any permanent union. No two were more unlike than Jesus and John; but they had a common aim. It was to do God's will; to make the world better. So they had a mutual respect for each other. There was a real union between them. John made the turning-point from the law to the gospel; his was the transition period, within sight of the gospel, yet with the terror of the law behind it. Such a transition period has continued in the Church down to our time. Perhaps the majority of Christians are now living, not under the dominion of law, nor yet in the kingdom of heaven, but in the dispensation of John the Baptist. But half-way convictions are not very satisfactory, and the remedy for this evil is to put both the law and the gospel in their right place. We cannot dispense with either, but we wish to distinguish between their sphere and their work.
(James Freeman Clarke.)I. THE CONTRARIETY BETWEEN THE CONDUCT OF CHRIST AND THAT OF JOHN, AS DESCRIBED IN THE TEXT, WAS RENDERED NECESSARY BY THE DIFFERING STANDPOINTS AND MISSIONS OF EACH. These descriptions — "neither eating bread nor drinking wine," and "eating and drinking" — are particular features, put for general character and conduct. John's abstemiousness and austerity befitted him as the last prophet of the Old Dispensation. Christ had come to establish a new order of things, to substitute for the bondage of the law the liberty of the gospel, to insist on inward purity as of in. finitely greater importance than outward observance. Specifically his eating and drinking meant —
1. His oneness with humanity.
2. The sacredness of common life and occupations.
3. That the natural appetites are to be reasonably and legitimately satisfied, not trampled upon.
4. That religion has its social side.
5. That it is possible to be in the world while not of it.
II. THE PEOPLE, WITH THEIR LEADERS, NOT RECOGNIZING THAT THIS DIVERGENCE WAS FITTING AND NECESSARY, MISJUDGED BOTH CHRIST AND JOHN. The really austere life of John was a reproach to the pretended austerity of the Pharisees, whilst the immaculate purity of Him who could yet suffer His feet to be washed by the tears of the woman who was a sinner rebuked alike their uncharitableness and their hypocrisy. Hence, not being willing to repent at the call of John, or to humble themselves at the command of Christ, they must, to be consistent in their hypocrisy, condemn alike Christ and John-pronounce them to be either immoral in life, or endued with power from below. But the point in which they most pointedly warn us not to copy their example is here — that they formed their judgments upon grounds so insufficient. Learn the danger of hasty judgments —
1. As regards the person judged.
2. Others, who might be benefited by him.
3. Ourselves. Prejudices hide the truth.
III. THE TEXT SHOWS HOW EASY IT WAS FOR THE MEN OF CHRIST'S DAY, AS IT IS FOR US, TO FIND AN EXCUSE WHEN ONE IS WANTED. HOW did the Pharisees, feeling conscious that they were wrong, excuse themselves the trouble of putting themselves right? They adopted the plan which is said sometimes to be resorted to by legal pleaders: "If you have a weak case, blacken your opponent's counsel." How true a picture of the way in which men generally treat unpalatable truth! Note some of the flimsy grounds on which many reject Christianity, or refuse to make a Christian profession, e.g., difficulties in the Bible; inconsistency in professing Christians.
(J. R. Bailey.)1. Poverty the common lot.
2. The happy endurance of poverty rare. The secret of its trust.
3. Besides these sweet virtues of resignation, trust and contentment, there is another which seems to me to become rarer and rarer — cheerfulness. Our age is not only perplexed but sad. There is not enough of enthusiasm and unselfishness left among us for hearty and wholesome laughter.
(Archdeacon Farrar.)e.g. If pleasure were essentially sinful, Stylites was the wisest of men. This not the kind of self-denial which Christ requires from us. Serious and earnest as He was, no one can say that He was a harsh or gloomy ascetic. Think of Him at the marriage-festival. Think of His friendly visits to the family at Bethany. Think of Him at the great feast in Levi's house. Think of His final interview with the disciples on the shore of Tiberias, when He accosted them with the words, "Children, have ye any meat? " and then, leading the way to a fire, "with fish laid thereon and bread," said to them, "come and dine." Christ never bids us give up anything that is good, unless it would keep us from something that is better. "The Son of man came eating and drinking." Ay, the very Man of Sorrows refused to join in the irrational worship of pain.
(A. W. Momerie, M. A. , D. D.)
But He also affirmed His pre-eminence
(A. M. Fairbairn, D. D.)
II. IMPARTIALITY. Not a friend only to the good.
IV. THE SPIRIT OF HELPFULNESS. Christ was the friend of those who were morally all wrong. It is to those whose lives have been a failure, whose natures, spiritually considered, are all in ruins, that Jesus comes in the spirit of friendly assistance.
(W. H. H. Murray.)I. THE COMPANIONS OF THESE PERVERSE CHILDREN EMPLOYED VARIOUS MEANS TO CONQUER THEIR OBSTINACY AND PERSUADE THEM TO JOIN IN THEIR AMUSEMENTS. SO God has employed a great variety of means to persuade sinners to embrace the gospel. He has sent judgments to subdue, and mercies to melt them; arguments to convince, and motives to persuade them; threatenings to terrify, and invitations to allure them. In different parts of His Word He has exhibited Divine truth in every possible variety of form. In one place it is presented plainly to the mind in the form of doctrines; in another, it is couched under the veil of some instructive and striking parable; in a third, it is presented to us in a garb of types and shadows; in a fourth, it is illustrated by the most beautiful figures; and, in a fifth, exemplified in some well-drawn character, or interesting portion of history. Corresponding to these various means, and to the different modes of instruction adopted in His Word, are the various gifts and qualifications, with which He furnishes those who are sent as His ambassadors to men. As He knows the different tastes and dispositions of men, and the modes of address best adapted to convince and persuade them, He endues His messengers with a great diversity of gifts, so that by one or another of them, every class of hearers may be gratified.
II. Notwithstanding the different means employed with these perverse children, THEY WOULD NOT BE PREVAILED UPON TO COMPLY WITH THE WISHES OF THEIR COMPANIONS. We have piped unto you, say they, but ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, but ye have not lamented. Precisely similar is the conduct of impenitent sinners.
III. THE REASON WHY THESE PERVERSE CHILDREN COULD NOT BE PERSUADED TO COMPLY WITH THE WISHES OF "THEIR COMPANION" WAS, THAT THEY WERE OUT OF HUMOUR, OR FOR SOME OTHER REASON FELT INDISPOSED TO GRATIFY THEM. Similar is the reason, why sinners will not be persuaded to embrace the Gospel, by all the means which God employs for this purpose. They do not come to Christ for life, because they will not.
(E. Payson, D. D.)I. OBSERVE GOD'S GRACIOUS DEALING WITH MAN. He useth all kind of means, sendeth men of several natures, austere John, and meek Christ. He turns Himself into all shapes to gain wretched man unto Him.
II. OBSERVE THE ORDER GOD USETH; FIRST JOHN, THEN CHRIST. John prepares the way, throwing down hills: "O ye generation of vipers" (Matthew 3:7). Oh, say they, this man is too harsh, I think he hath a devil. Then Christ comes with blessed: "Blessed are the poor, blessed are you that weep," &e. (Matthew 5:3, seq.). So He sent the law first, then the gospel; first He threatens, then promises.
III. OBSERVE THAT THE MANNER OF THEIR TEACHING IS DOUBLE, BY DOCTRINE AND LIFE, AND THESE AGREE, wherein observe it is good that life and doctrine should suit; for John's life was austere and retired, his doctrine was also tending to beat down the proud conceits of man. Christ came to all, conversed with all meekly and lovingly; and the reason of God's making use of men of severe dispositions is because of the different natures of men, whereof some can better relish one nature than another. Some love the hot and fiery nature, others delight in the meek spirit; and though there be diversity of gifts, yet they come from the same Spirit. Even as the diverse smells of flowers comes from the same influence, and the diverse sounds in the organs comes from the same breath, so doth the Spirit diffuse itself diversely, as it meets with diverse natures. Yet all tendeth to the perfecting of one work. And the papists shall never be able to prove their foolish austere vows of a solitary life, &c., to be preferred before communication and society, unless they will prove John better than Christ. And again, this should teach us to moderate our censures of the diverse natures and carriage of men, as knowing that God in wisdom hath appointed it for excellent use, and that all agree in the building up of the spiritual temple of the Church.
IV. OBSERVE THAT WHERE GRACE DOTH NOT OVERPOWER NATURE, NO MEANS WILL PREVAIL OVER THE OBDURATE NATURE OF MAN. Neither John nor Christ could work anything upon these Pharisees.
V. In the next place, observe, from the calumniation of the scribes, THAT REBELLION AND OPPOSITION AGAINST GOODNESS IS NEVER WITHOUT SHOW OF REASON; and men they will never go to hell, but they have reason for it. Austere John "hath a devil"; sociable Christ "is a wine-bibber." And the reason is, the pride of man, that will not be thought so foolish as to speak, or do anything without reason, and therefore when it is wanting they will feign one.
VI. For use therefore of this doctrine, LET US ACCOUNT IT NO STRANGE MATTER IF WE BE TRADUCED, DISGRACED, AND SCANDALISED, for it was Christ's and John's lot. Great slanders must be maintained from great men, such as them that sit in Moses's chair, the Pharisees and Scribes.
VII. LET US TAKE HEED WE TAKE NOT A THING IN THE WRONG SENSE AND OF VAIN PREJUDICE. Men are witty to lay stumbling-blocks in their own way to heaven. This preacher is too strict, that too mild; this too plain, that too poor. "But wisdom is justified of all her children" (ver. 35).
I. From the connection of these words with the former, by this word "but," we may observe, THAT IT IS THE LOT OF GOD'S TRUTH TO HAVE DIVERSE ENTERTAINMENTS IN THIS WORLD. Some will be children of wisdom, and justify it; others, as the Pharisees, will scandalise it. This is wisdom; and called so here by way of emphasis, showing it is the only excellent wisdom, which will further appear in these respects.
1. It doth arise from a higher beginning than all other wisdom whatever; for it comes from God's goodness and mercy.
2. The matter. It is a deep mystery. Christ, God-man; His nature, offices, and benefits.
3. It is more powerful than all other wisdom; for it transforms us. It makes us wise, and changes us from wicked, and makes us good.
4. It is better than the law, which was a killing letter. This gives life.
5. Furthermore, this wisdom is everlasting, and it is ancientest: intended before the world was. It is also inviolable. God will change the course of nature for His Church's sake; and sooner will He break covenant with the day and night than this covenant, which shall be for ever (Psalm 19:9).
6. The end of it is "to bring us home to God" (1 John 1:3).
1. From the doctrine we may observe, therefore, that those that follow the best rule, which is God's Word, and intend the best end, which is their own salvation, these are the most wise.
2. And, in the second place, let this persuade us to attend upon wisdom, be we who we will be, a publican, an extortioner, a persecuting Saul.
3. In the next place, observe the children of wisdom do justify it; that is, they receive it, approve it, defend it, maintain it.
(R. Sibbes, D. D.)I. I design, in the first place, TO EXPLAIN THIS PASSAGE.
II. HOW SHALL WE APPLY TO OUR EDIFICATION THE LESSONS WHICH THIS PORTION OF HOLY SCRIPTURE CONVEYS?
1. Let us consider it as a very unfavourable symptom of the state of our hearts, if we discover in ourselves a propensity to cavil at religion; and to impute blame to those persons, whether ministers of the gospel or individuals among the laity, who, by holiness of life and conversation, conspicuously demonstrate the power of faith.
2. If, through the influence of Divine grace, you have been brought to the love of religion, wonder not, nor be discouraged, when you hear the truths of the gospel slandered, or yourself made the theme of evil-speaking for their sake. Thus it always has been; and thus, until Christianity shall have established a more general dominion over the hearts of those who avow themselves her subjects, it always will be.
3. Justify wisdom, justify true religion, by manifesting yourselves to be her children.
4. If you thus justify wisdom, behold the hour approaches when before the assembled world wisdom shall justify you.
(T. Gisborne.)I. THAT THE PREACHING THE GOSPEL OF PEACE AND RECONCILIATION TO SINNERS MAY FITLY BE COMPARED TO SWEET AND SOUL-RAVISHING MUSIC.
1. Music hath its distinct notes, and that makes it melodious; so ministers should preach distinctly, not confusedly, for that makes no music. "If the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who shall prepare to the battle?" (1 Corinthians 14:8.)
2. He that would make sweet music, must not harp too much upon one string, or have only one distinct note. So a preacher that would, make right gospel-music, must not always preach upon one particular gospel truth.
3. It is a curious art to attain to the clear knowledge of music, and to be very skilful, or play well upon an instrument. So it is a most blessed spiritual art to know how to preach the gospel with all true spiritual wisdom; for as music is a mystery, so is the gospel a great mystery.
4. Some musicians make sweeter music than others, though all may have some skill in it; so some ministers make more sweet gospel music than others.
5. Music elevates the hearts of some people wonderfully; so the doctrine of the gospel tends to raise, nay, to ravish, the hearts of gracious persons.
6. But though music is sweet to some, others love it not, but cry, "Away with it, it makes our hearts sad."
II. THAT THOUGH THE MINISTERS OF CHRIST DO WHAT THEY CAN, OR STUDY WHAT WAYS AND METHODS THEY CAN, AND LIVE NEVER SO CIRCUMSPECTLY, YET THEIR PERSONS NOR THEIR MINISTRY SHALL BE ACCEPTED OF SOME PEEVISH AND FROWARD PEOPLE.
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