Saturday, June 10th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Matthew 11". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ matthew-11.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Matthew 11". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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The general heading of the chapter may be given as: Jesus judging His contemporaries and Himself (A. B. Bruce, D.D.). Hitherto almost everything has been hopeful and encouraging in our Evangelist’s record of the Saviour’s ministry. But the path of the King is not to be a triumphal progress. It is to be a via dolorosa, leading to a cross and a grave. It is not at all to be wondered at, then, that the Evangelist should now give his readers some idea of the discouragements which met the King in the setting up of His kingdom on the earth.
1. The first of these which he mentions comes from a quarter from which least of all it might have been expected: John in doubt (Matthew 11:1-15).
2. The unreasonableness of the people (Matthew 11:16-19).
3. The unbelief of the cities (Matthew 11:20-24). How does the Saviour bear Himself under these repeated discouragements? The passage which follows will show (Matthew 11:25-30). See note below on Matthew 11:25 (J. M. Gibson, D.D.).
Matthew 11:1. He departed thence.—I.e. from the place from which He had sent forth the Twelve. Where this was St. Matthew does not tell us; but Matthew 9:36 makes it probable that it was not in Capernaum nor any other city, but from some spot in the open country where He had rested with them (Plumptre). Their cities.—Might seem grammatically to point to the towns where the Twelve had been, or to which they belonged; but probably used here vaguely for the cities of Galilee in general (ibid.).
Matthew 11:2. Prison—See note on Matthew 14:3. The position of the Baptist was, so far, that of a prisoner treated with respect. Herod himself observed him, and heard him gladly. Herodias had not yet found an occasion of revenge. His disciples came and went freely. Some of these were present when our Lord was teaching (Matthew 9:14), and were certain to hear of such wonders as those narrated in
9. (ibid.). Two of his disciples.—By his disciples (R.V.), a reading supported by the best MS. authority.
Matthew 11:6. Shall not be offended in Me.—Shall find none occasion of stumbling in Me (R.V.). Some had thought only of an avenging and triumphant Christ (Carr).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 11:1-6
Untaught disciples.—Hitherto in this Gospel we have met with little else than advance. The personal ministry of Jesus has prospered so far that He has just finished selecting and commissioning twelve special servants to aid Him in His work. But now we hear of words and actions which are symptomatic of doubt. A message is brought, and another is returned, which whisper it at the least. If we would rightly trace out the story of the Saviour’s ministry, we must consider them both.
I. The message brought.—A message remarkable, first, for the person it comes from. It is from “John the Baptist”—the forerunner of Christ—the man to whom Jesus of Nazareth had been pointed out as Messiah both by vision and voice (Matthew 3:16-17), and the man who, in turn, had pointed Him out to the faith of the world (John 1:29). More remarkable is it, next, this being so, for the question it asked. Ostensibly and generally that question asks, Who art Thou that art filling Syria—filling even my “prison” (Matthew 11:2)—with the fame of Thy works? More particularly, and in reality, it asks, Art thou the “Man,” or only His shadow? The end of the series, or only another step in it? The fulness of hope, or merely another postponement, not to say another disappointment as well? Most remarkable is it, however, for the state of things it implies, viz. a state of suspense which, in such a matter and circumstances, was a state of offence. Whether this was so on the part of the Baptist himself, shut up there in his unfriended prison, most are reluctant to hold. They rather believe that he asks thus for the sake of his disciples only, and to clear up their doubts on the subject. But, even so, it is surprising that his disciples should have such doubts to clear up. To think that he should have to send them to the Saviour Himself to settle their minds about Him. What has been the aim of his preaching amongst these disciples? What the subject of it? What the power of it? What the effect it produced? Apparently, the very message he came to teach has been so taught by him as not yet to be learned!
II. The message returned.—This is remarkable, on the one hand, in not being a direct answer at all. It does not say who Jesus was in so many words. It only does so in the way of inference. It is remarkable also in that it only points, in so doing, in the first place, at any rate, to the kind of knowledge which was already in existence. We are expressly told that John had “heard in the prison”—not improbably through some of his own disciples—of the works of Jesus. When he asks to know for the sake of his disciples (as is supposed) what he is to think of Him who wrought these marvels, he is simply referred to more of the kind. “Go and report to John what you are looking on now.” There is the first answer to what he inquires (Matthew 11:5). Are not these works which he has heard of just the things which the “Coming One” ought to do? The second answer also seems to be a reference to what was already known to the Baptist. We cannot but believe that he was familiar with that declaration of Isaiah 61:0 about the Messiah, which the Saviour, in the synagogue at Nazareth, once applied to Himself (Luke 4:15-21). Well, his messengers were to go and report what they had seen on this point also. They were to bid the Baptist, in fact, judge for himself on what he already knew and had read of; and so understand, therefore, that, employed as it should be, that settled the point about which he inquired. A view which is confirmed by the apparent purport of the solemn words which ensue (Matthew 11:6). As though He would say thereby to the Baptist, “Let thy disciples beware how they allow themselves to doubt about Me. Let them understand that they have evidence enough on the point as it is, and that, if there be anything which disappoints or perplexes them on what else they may hear about Me, they had better fall back upon that. Happy indeed for all who do so. Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Me” (Matthew 11:6).
1. How trying all this must have been to the Saviour.—There is a touch of reproach in these closing words which signifies this. How grievous to find doubt where He had looked for support! To be questioned about His mission where He had looked for testimony in its favour!
2. How instructive to all who favour His cause.—The disappointments and defections of these days sometimes tend to overwhelm us with fear. We may see from this that they are by no means new to the church. She has survived countless others before. She began with them in the time of the Saviour Himself. Scarcely indeed had He fully risen before such mists gathered around Him.
3. How encouraging also to some of those who are troubled by doubts!—Why are they so? For lack of light? Rather for not rightly availing themselves of the light which they have. There is that in Christ’s works which is sufficient to prove the truth of His words. There is more in “Moses and the prophets” (Luke 16:31) than men have found out as yet. “What is that in thy hand?” So it was that God Himself once confirmed faith (Exodus 4:2). So, in effect, it was here!
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 11:1-6. John’s doubting message to Jesus.—There was real, serious, honest doubt in John’s mind concerning Jesus; and doubt, be it observed, not in regard to the identity of the worker of the works reported to John with Jesus, but in regard to the nature of the works viewed as Messianic. That he was staggered by the character of the works is plainly indicated in the reflection, “Blessed is he that is not offended in Me.” Obviously John had stumbled at something in the public life of Jesus, and the something was just the works which Jesus, sent the disciples of John back to report to their master.
I. But why should John stumble at those works, so full of the spirit of love and mercy?
1. Just because they were works of mercy.—These were not the sort of works he had expected Messiah to busy Himself with; at all events so exclusively (see Matthew 3:10; Matthew 3:12). He had looked for judgment and beheld unaccountable patience, and the grim Hebrew prophet was astonished; none the less that his own forlorn plight brought very vividly home to his mind how evil the time was and how utterly ripe for judgment.
2. In his astonishment and doubt John was not only in harmony with his own antecedents, but with what we may venture to call the prophetic temperament.—The prophet, from the nature of his vocation, is a man more likely to have sympathy with manifestations of Divine righteousness than with manifestations of Divine long-suffering. When we say this we do not forget that there are splendid exceptions, notable above all the author of the second half of the Book of Isaiah, whether Isaiah or another. In one sense John was not wrong, for Israel’s judgment-day was not far off; and just on that account it was needful that the messengers of mercy should make a hasty run over all her borders, urging her with unwonted earnestness to repent. But be was too hasty and too impatient, and hence he was offended in Jesus.
II. The reply sent back by Jesus to John amounted to this, that the sure marks that He was the Coming One, the Christ, were just the very works which had awakened his (John’s) surprise (Matthew 11:4-6). It was a good reply, not only on its own merits, but from the point of view of Old Testament prophecy, as it claimed for Jesus, as marks of His Messiahship, some of the most outstanding features in the picture of the Messianic era drawn by that very prophet from whom John took his own watchword: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord” (cf. Isaiah 35:5-6; Isaiah 42:7, Ias. 61). Having recounted rapidly His mighty works, Jesus appended the reflection, “and blessed is he,” etc. The tone of compassion, rather than of severity or soreness, is audible in the utterance. Jesus felt keenly how much John missed by being in such a state of mind that that in His own work which was most Godlike was a stumbling-block to him. Translated into positive form the reflection means: “Blessed are they to whom the mercy and grace of which I am full, and whereof My ministry is the manifestation and outflow, are no stumbling-block but rather worthy of all acceptation.”—A. B. Bruce, D.D.
Matthew 11:2-5. The world’s King.—This chapter is a mirror wherein is reflected the restlessness of the age in which Christ lived. Even John seems to have shared this feeling to some extent; hence his question. In thinking of Christ’s relationship to humanity we must think of Him not merely as dealing with individuals here and there, but as dealing with the world as an organised whole.
I. Jesus Christ is the King of the world.—It is a familiar fact that Christ gave Himself this title. The Apostles and Evangelists also made it prominent. The charge laid against them in one place was that they said “there was another king—one Jesus.” What is a king? Does the putting of a crown on a man’s head make him a king? That depends upon what sort of a head it is which receives the crown.
1. Is not a king one who governs by the mighty influence of his personality—by the force of a commanding character? Many are called kings who are not kings; many are kings who have not the name. Kingliness is the true sign of the king, and judged by this criterion Christ is the greatest king who has ever appeared. This royal quality was put to the severest test. Art Thou the King? is virtually the question which John put. He had proclaimed the coming of the kingdom, but this does not yet look much like the King. I do not wonder at the doubt; we should have doubted too. But the fact that there was room for doubt supplied an additional opportunity of proving His real kingliness. The life of Christ was a revelation, in a thousand forms, of the kingliness of His person.
2. Another sign of real kingliness is the power to bless. Some are great by what they receive; the greatest are great by what they bestow.
II. The sphere of His kingship.—In words which belong either to a madman or to God, Christ says: “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.” He claims what all men desire for themselves and yet are jealous of in others. The expression is unqualified. Consider this power in regard to its operation on human life in two of its dimensions:—
1. Its depth.—Christ touches human nature not merely on the surface. The glory of His work lies in His power to change the heart itself into something it could not have been without Him.
2. Its breadth.—It goes without saying that if Christ thus acquire dominance over the hearts of men, His influence will also be felt in every department of their life. The questions of life, of death, of society, of politics, and of commerce are best understood by him who kneels at the feet of Jesus of Nazareth.
III. What should be the effect upon us of this view of the greatness of Christ’s kingdom?—One thing is certain; if we are to partake of the spirit of the King, and so belong to Him in the truest sense, our faith must not be a weak, effeminate thing, but a strong confidence, which sees all power arrayed on its side.—J. B. Stedeford.
Matthew 11:3-4. The supreme social Benefactor.—There are times when the old problems of human life seem to come back upon us more imperiously than ever. We cannot forget, for example, that nigh two thousand years have run their course since the night of the angels’ song; and what of our poor world to-day? If the world’s Saviour be indeed born, how is the world still thus? And so from our perplexity there goes up to Christ’s ear the impatient question of the Baptist, “Art Thou He that should come, or look we for another?” The point on which it is important we should fix attention is that, in answer to John’s perplexed inquiry, Christ simply pointed to His own method of working. To a lamentable extent there has been misapprehension and mistake on the part of the church and of Christian people as to the way of advancing the Divine kingdom.
I. Let us observe how the person of the Man Christ Jesus has been largely obscured.—When we turn to the gospel record we find a Christ who delighted in the name, “the Son of man,” and who abundantly proved His right to that name. But now we turn to history; and away back in the early centuries the clouding influence comes in. We find controversy raging so fiercely over dogmatic definitions of the nature of Christ, and men so intolerantly eager regarding His Divine glory alone, that His true and tender humanity fell quite into the background. Hence it came about that, in course of time, men and women began to crave anew for some more approachable mediator. Christ was so far, so high above them, so widely separated from poor, weak, burdened, sinful men and women that, though He might be the ultimate way to the Father, others must first form a way of access to Him; and so longing hearts groping about turned to the Virgin Mother, and to the saints, that they, in the first instance, might interpose and intercede; and a corrupt church, instead of feeling its way back to the manhood which had been ignored, sanctioned the dishonouring idolatry. Let us give thanks that a characteristic feature of the religious thought of our time is a return to the recognition of Christ in His true and tender human life. We are taking our ideas of His person, not from dogmatic systems, but from His own life on earth.
II. We are thus reminded how Christ’s method of working has been to a sad extent overlooked.—The usual method of exposition with reference to our Lord’s works of healing is this: These works are expressive symbols of the great spiritual work He came into the world to effect. But while His works of mercy may undoubtedly be viewed as symbols worthy of something more, have they not a reality of their own? They were themselves most real acts, instinct with the living breath of a most practical pity. But now, what as to the church’s way of following Christ? Has it adequately imparted and expressed through the centuries His spirit of earnest sympathy and helpful service? In our answer to such questions we must be on our guard against exaggeration. Time would fail me to tell of all the various ways in which the spirit of Christ, the Divine leaven, reveals its pervasive power in our modern social life, or of the countless agencies and institutions which bear growing testimony to its beneficent and abiding presence. But while truth and gratitude call for large acknowledgments we may not shut our eyes to the fact that the church’s energies and efforts have been to a large extent deplorably misdirected. Instead of steadily striving to carry on Christ’s saving work amidst the world’s millions it has earned for itself a reputation as a debating ground, an arena where gladiators fight to the death for their respective tenets, and where preachers show their skill in defining and dividing and drawing hair-splitting distinctions in regard to matters far apart from ordinary human interests. The great need of our time is that our abounding Christian profession be translated into Christlike lives.—W. R. Taylor, M.A.
Matthew 11:3. John’s question.—
I. What is the explanation of John’s doubt about Jesus?
1. No doubt it was in part his disappointment.—Jesus did not do the very things that John expected in the very way that John expected.
2. His own unhappy lot.—John seemed to have laboured, and Jesus entered into his labours and left him at the mercy of this profligate king. And these things entered into John’s soul, and perhaps made him a little bitter, and he wondered if the great King who was to come, just and victorious, had really come when things like that were really being done in the world; and despondency made him ask the question again and again, till it became unbearable, and he felt bound to put it direct to Jesus.
II. Notice how Jesus deals with this kind of question.—Practically He said to John: Yes, I am He that should come. He pointed to the works that He did, and how these works were the very things that the Coming One had been foretold to do, and left John to draw the inference. But Jesus adds another word, a word of warning to the doubter—“Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me.” Possibly in the prison John had begun to think too much about himself, to think that the kingdom of God could not have come because he was left in the dungeon to suffer and to die. Now Jesus had that very trial to bear Himself. He knew that His own path led straight to the cross, and He knew that that did not throw any shadow of doubt on His calling to be the Saviour of the world. So He says, “Blessed is the man who can look on Me who am meek and lowly in heart, and come without the axe and the fan; who can look on Me preaching glad tidings to the meek, healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, and raising the dead; who can see Me suffering for righteousness’ sake; who can do all that and not doubt.” Jesus warns us in this place that no man is too good to suffer for God’s sake; that no man’s life is too good a thing to lay down that the kingdom of God may come, and that it is a danger when what he has to bear for the kingdom of heaven’s sake makes a man wonder whether the kingdom of heaven is there or not.
III. Let us bring this question about doubting concerning Jesus down to our own time.—People wonder whether after all Jesus is the Saviour of the world, or whether there may not be something better to hope for than the gospel has really brought. What are the reasons, what are the forces that create that kind of doubt in people’s minds now?
1. One is this—it is the same as in John’s time—that we are standing at the beginning of a new age. Young people especially cannot help asking, Is Christ to be for us what He has been to our fathers? Is He still to preside in the future, as He has done in the past, over the growth of all that is worthiest and best in human nature? Is the gospel still to be the inspiration and the restraint of men? Or have we to put that away and look for something else? Now that kind of doubt one may call without offence, I think, thoughtless. One can only cherish that kind of feeling if he looks at the future vaguely, and does not look at Christ at all. But if we think of the new ideas that are really working themselves into prominence, we shall feel that almost all of them are really Christian.
2. Another kind of doubt arises out of ignorance. Sometimes people meet Christ at a particular place. They get one revelation of what Jesus is, very often that precise revelation that John had when he said, “Behold the Lamb of God,” etc. But then, although Jesus does bear the guilt of the race, that is not all He does, and that is not all we should find in Him. And if we do not go on to find more in Him, even what we have found will become doubtful. I suppose there is no kind of doubter more common than the doubter who has once been fervently evangelical. And that is not any fault at all of evangelicalism; it is the fault of some slothfulness or worldliness that has kept a man from improving his knowledge of Christ, and that keeps him walking not in the light of Christ’s presence, but in the light of some far away, and often fading, recollection of Christ.
3. This kind of doubtful question is often prompted still in good men and earnest men, as it was in John, by disappointment. Men lose temper when they see that God is so slow, that things do not go swiftly in their way; and they say, Art Thou He that should come? Is the thing we see salvation? It was a question that was put straight to Christ Himself, and He answered it. And the way He answered it was to point out that this trial of the partial failure of the gospel was one that He Himself had to bear. In this very chapter a little further down we are told, “He began to upbraid the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, because they repented not.”—Jos. Denney, D.D.
Looking for another Christ.—I find it rather hard to believe that John the Baptist’s faith was really shaken. With his severe ascetic habits, with the resoluteness of his nature in which will counted for quite as much as passion, and with his religious temper, which made more of righteousness than of emotion, a few months’ imprisonment could hardly have produced upon him an effect so disastrous. The real explanation seems to be that the Baptist’s conception of the Messiah included elements in it which it was difficult to bring together. The prophetic visions of the Christ were generally bright with glory, but they were sometimes clouded with intimations of struggle and of suffering. A Christ knowing nothing of sorrow was hardly the Christ that this sorrowful world needed; and the prophets felt sure that He must endure pain and humiliation. How the glory and the sufferings were to be blended they could not tell. And so John, in his earlier preaching, had spoken of the power and glory of the Christ. He was to found a kingdom; He was to be a mighty prince; He was to cut down the trees that did not bring forth good fruit; He was to burn up the sin of the world with unquenchable fire. Later on, after Christ’s baptism, John the Baptist began to speak of Him as “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world”; and I think it must have been difficult for John to understand how it should be possible for the Christ both to suffer and to reign, to bear the sin of the world and yet to be enthroned in glory. Some of the learned teachers of the Jewish race had speculated on the possibility of there being two Messiahs, a Messiah who should suffer, and a Messiah who should be enthroned in majesty and in splendour. This idea had not penetrated the popular mind, and there is no trace of it in the Gospels; but when John came to reflect in prison on all that the prophets had spoken of the Messiah’s glory, and on what, I imagine, Jesus had told him at the baptism about His being the sacrifice for the sins of the world, it is very possible that John began to wonder whether Jesus Himself would both suffer and reveal Himself to the world in glory. With unfailing faith in Jesus as the Christ, with an immovable conviction that He was all that He claimed to be, John may have been unable to see how He was to be at once a great Prince and the Lamb of God taking away the sin of the world; and so, in his perplexity, he sends two of his disciples to Jesus to ask Him whether He was the Christ that was to come, or whether they were still to look for another. That John should have sent to Christ Himself to solve the doubt, shows that his faith in Christ was unshaken.
I. There are times when, through the disappointments and failures of our personal religious lives, it may be necessary for us, in a sense, to look for another Christ than the Christ we have already known.
1. Some have been restless for months, perhaps years, about their sin. They have appealed to Christ again and again, and the peace of Christ has not come to them. They are almost ready to say, “Art Thou He that should come?” etc. Christ may reply to that question by pointing them, as He pointed the disciples of John, to the great triumphs of mercy by which they are surrounded.
2. Some have no trouble about forgiveness. Long ago they were able to bring their sins to the feet of Christ and leave them there. But their Christian life has not had the power and brightness they hoped for. I believe that this also often arises from a defective knowledge of Christ. He is a “Prince and Saviour.” He gives us a law that we must obey, and if we expect Him to keep His promises we must be willing to keep His precepts.
II. This question, or something very like it, may be suggested by the general condition and history of the world.—He came to save the world, and the world, or a large part of it, remains still unsaved. Well, do you look for another Christ? And, if you do, what kind of a Christ do you desire Him to be?
III. We do not look for the coming of another Christ, but the Christ whom we know will come in another form (Acts 1:11).—He will seem to some of us to be another Christ from the Christ that we once knew, a Christ whom we never expected to see, and in whom we had never believed. But He will come in His power and majesty, only to complete the work which He commenced in weakness and in shame, for it was always His purpose to assert the authority of righteousness, to get the will of God done, to defeat and destroy sin, to give to holiness a perfect and everlasting triumph.—R. W. Dale, LL.D.
Matthew 11:5. The gospel and the poor.—There must have been something very remarkable in the act of preaching to the poor if it was striking enough to be held forth as a proof of the Divinity of the Preacher. And it certainly was a contrast to the ways of those then in authority. By them the poor were despised. But our Lord most probably desired to call attention to the fulfilment of prophecy. Consider the fact related in the text:—
I. As a distinguishing mark of the Christian religion.—Heathen nations cared little for their poor. They might live or die. In some cases they were put to death. Selfishness was the only motive of their lives, and the burden of helpless people was not to be undertaken. But the motive of Christianity is disregard of self, and tenderness, gentleness, love, and kindness towards the sick and weak.
II. As showing the inclusiveness of the kingdom of heaven.—It does not consist of any one particular class. The rich and the poor are one in Christ.
III. As intimating the character of enlightened hearers.—It is those who are poor in spirit who alone accept the gospel (Matthew 18:3; Luke 18:14). Application: This fact brings consolation and encouragement to those who feel their weakness and to those who have nothing of their own. They are welcome to the Saviour, and the message of love is their inalienable heritage.—B. in “Homilist.”
Matthew 11:6. Offended in Christ.—
I. The causes of offence.—“Offended in Me.”
1. The strictness of Christ’s requirements.—Christ demands our whole service, our whole attention, our self-denial. His love is inexorable. To follow Him requires the renunciation of much that is congenial to human nature.
2. The painful consequences of a religious profession.—In ancient times it involved persecution. In the present day it courts sneers, domestic strife and bitterness. There is the dissevering of old companionships, the breaking off of old friendships. True, there are many encouragements. Many loving hands and tender hearts smooth the young convert’s first steps to heaven, but this does not remove the fact that much unpleasantness must be endured.
3. The apparent discrepancies of the gospel.—The true follower of Christ should remember that Scripture contains many things hard to be understood, that God does not reach the soul through the intellect, but through the heart, and that He leaves many things unexplained in order to test our faith.
II. The reward of constancy.—“Blessed.” This blessedness will consist of:—
1. The approval of Christ.—His smile of recognition will encourage. His “well done” will rejoice. His friendship will make up for the loss of all.
2. The participation in His reward.—This will include:
(1) Victory over all doubts. There is no triumph so sweet as victory over self and mental misgivings.
(2) A share in His kingdom.
(3) The enlightenment of the understanding and the clear manifestation of the Divine purposes. Application: To be offended in Christ is unreasonable as well as sinful. It seems inhuman to refuse infinite love, reject almighty power, and cast away unspeakable blessedness.—Ibid.
Beatitude of unfaltering faith.—These words imply that the temptation to unbelief is inward and experimental rather than speculative in its origin; it starts in a wounded affection rather than in the revolt of the reason and the understanding. It was not enough that the Baptist’s thought should be turned to the outward sign of Christ’s Messiahship. Christ’s message on that point only confirmed what he already knew by common rumour. The healing of mental tribulation must begin within. The most convincing sign will fail of its appointed end, unless the mind can be freed from the distress of its own entangling wilfulness and preconception, and made loving and loyal in its every fibre and sensibility. “Blessed is he, whosoever,” etc.
I. These words suggest a danger of secret and subtle disaffection of heart towards Christ that threatens to destroy faith. Our Lord felt how much there was in Himself and His plans that was out of harmony with the best opinion of the time. Whilst the most advanced mind of the old dispensation was staggered by His method, He knew He must inevitably become a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence to men at large, unless they could be warned against themselves.
1. The peculiarities of early education often give rise to this temptation of offence in Christ. The past twelve months of Christ’s ministry had been replete with proofs of His Divine authority; but the proofs were not of such a character, nor did they seem to attest the particular kind of Messiah, that John’s special education had led him to expect. We, too, have the prejudices of our own special education and standpoint.
2. This temptation is sometimes connected with the fact that Christ seems to abandon His friends to the most cruel suffering and oppression. The unbelief that starts in suffering rather than in a syllogism of the scribe has a special claim to sympathy and patient love. Christ dealt very tenderly and mercifully with that. Do we not sometimes fall into the temptation of thinking that Christ under-estimates our temporal well-being?
3. The limitations that hem in our love of the excitements and activities of public service often give rise to this peril. John cannot realise as yet that, as he has been Christ’s type and forerunner in his public teaching, he must now be type and forerunner likewise in his final suffering. And in our quieter paths some of us may be just on the point of stumbling for very similar causes. Our service seems lightly esteemed in the dispensation under which we are placed. Possibly we feel within us a capacity for effective religious enterprise, from the exercise of which we are cut off by some embarrassing condition in our lives.
4. This peril sometimes springs up because our knowledge of Christ comes through indirect and prejudiced channels. There had been scarcely any intercourse between the King and the herald who was sent to announce His coming. After the days of childhood Jesus and the Baptist probably only once saw each other face to face. Now this was a disability for John’s personal faith although a gain in the end to the cause of Christ. This offence may arise in us because we have to view Christ, in some of His relations, through crude, ignoble, small-minded representatives.
II. Consider the beatitude of the heart that is proof against this hidden temptation.—Christ knew just the measure of admonition and just the measure of encouragement His great servant needed; and He adjusted the one to the other, and each to the bleeding sensibilities of the prophet, with the silken touch of an exact science.
1. Not offended in Christ he proved the beatitude of an unwavering faith in the hour of trial. No curse that can poison human life is so deep and dire as the curse of a lost trust.
2. This beatitude includes full salvation from all the power and disability of sin. Herod’s captive began to see at last that the earthly kingdom for which he had pined was denied him only because its limits were too narrow to receive the vastness of the Messianic gift, and he was content to die that he might prove its unfathomed mysteries of blessing. Whatever secretly alienates us from Christ robs us of the benefits of that salvation He is appointed to achieve in us.
3. Not offended in Christ, John proved the beatitude linked with conformity to a higher plan of life than his own. If the temper of hidden loyalty be maintained, life will be worked out for us in agreement with counsels that will issue in higher honour and more abiding satisfactions than our own. John could not picture a future for himself other than of activity, heroism, unselfishness. But his own future would have been barren in comparison with that which God was ordaining for his trial and for his deathless renown. Remember, Christ is Master, you are servant.—T. G. Selby.
Matthew 11:7. And as they departed, etc.—Dr. Plumptre holding that the Baptist himself was really in doubt, and sent his disciples to Christ for his own satisfaction, remarks on this verse: “There was an obvious risk that those who heard the question of the Baptist, and our Lord’s answer, might be led to think with undue harshness, perhaps even with contempt, of one who had so far failed in steadfastness. As if to meet that risk, Jesus turns, before the messengers were out of hearing, to bear His testimony to the work and character of John.” A reed.—The imagery drawn from the rushes that grew upon the banks of the Jordan.
Matthew 11:8. Clothed in soft raiment.—Like the Roman officials in the palace, which, in those degenerate days, were Jerusalem’s pride (Gibson).
Matthew 11:9. More than a prophet.—Other prophets foresaw the Messiah, the Baptist beheld Him, and ushered in His kingdom; he was the herald of the King. Further, John was himself the subject of prophecy (Carr).
Matthew 11:10. Which shall prepare Thy way.—It is remarkable, that both St. Matthew and St. Luke, as well as St. Mark in another place (Mark 1:2), cite this prophecy of Malachi with the substitution of “Thy way before Thee.” In the original God is represented as speaking of Himself; in the citation He addresses the Messiah. The Lord thus, in applying the prophecy to Himself as Messiah, asserts His own Deity, as one with the Lord of Hosts who speaks through the prophet. The fact that this verse is quoted by all the three Evangelists in the same form—a form which does not correspond either with the LXX. or with the Hebrew—cannot be explained on the theory of quoting from memory. There is clearly some principle of quotation. Compare Lee’s “Lectures on Inspiration,” p. 358, Exodus 2:0 (Mansel).
Matthew 11:11. Least.—But little (R.V.).
Matthew 11:13. Prophesied until John.—John was “the last representative of those who belonged to the prophetic period of expectancy” (Wendt). John may fairly be regarded as the clasp of the two Testaments (Reynolds).
Matthew 11:14. Elias.—See Malachi 4:5. John was the personal duplicate of Elijah. There was in him the reproduction of the spirit and power of the Old Testament prophet (Morison).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 11:7-15
Undiscerning faith.—From the language found in the end of Matthew 11:5 it seems probable that a good many “poor” heard the reply of the Saviour to John. We know of these, as a rule, that they held John as a prophet, and had accepted his baptism (cf. Matthew 21:26; Matthew 21:32; Luke 7:29-30). Possibly, in now speaking to these same “multitudes” “concerning John,” the Saviour has this in His mind; and directs Himself, therefore, to teaching them, first, to think very highly indeed; and yet, secondly, not to think too highly of John the Baptist.
I. Very highly.—Very highly, first, as being a man of unusual force of character. This was felt about him from the beginning. No one, in going out to hear him, had expected to look on a “reed”—a man easily moved and shaken—and, as it were, without a will of his own—nor had they found him so. This was allowed; and, indeed, insisted on, too. To ask such a question was to answer it in the judgment of Christ. The same was true, in the next place, as to his signal independence of life. Who expected to find such a man in the “soft raiment” of a “court”; looking daily for the favour of “kings,” and not able, without it, to live? To ask such a question about this dweller in the wilderness was to answer it too. No man content with “locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4) could be very easily bribed. He was to be thought of very highly, once more, on account of his most distinguished prophetical gifts. Was he a prophet? He was very much more (Matthew 11:9). He was the immediate “messenger” of Jehovah Himself (Matthew 11:10)—the last figure in a long procession of such anticipators—the last to move forward of all such inspired predictors of Christ. No one before, in fact, had been greater than he in this question of prophetical gift. God had never spoken before by any human lips greater than his (Matthew 11:11).
II. Not too highly.—Not too highly, first, with regard to his position. After all, if he was at the summit of one set, he was beneath the feet of another. Previous inspired ones had, as it were, shown the door of life afar off. He had put his hand on its latch. Yet even this attainment, great as it was, was not greatest of all. It was not so great a thing as to open the door and pass in. It was not, therefore, in this sense, to be so great as was the very least of those who had really done this (end of Matthew 11:11). Not too highly, next, in regard to his message. His message had been to tell men of One who was coming. As it were, with all “the law and the prophets” behind him (Matthew 11:13) he had pointed still forward to Christ. His work had been, therefore, to prepare men for what that Coming One should declare. But, since then—perhaps, since his practical silencing—that fuller Light had appeared (Matthew 4:12-16). In other words, since that time “the kingdom of God had been preached” (Luke 16:16); and was “amongst” men (Luke 17:21) even now, with all its fullest mercy declared (see above Matthew 9:2). What had been the result? Why, that men had “pressed into it” (Luke 16:16), even “with violence” (Matthew 11:12), giving up “all for its sake” (Matthew 19:27); not excluding even, in some cases, the teaching of John (John 1:35-39). Let them remember this, therefore, in seeking to estimate rightly “the teaching of John.” Its chief glory lay in preparing for what was more glorious still. Even so, moreover, had it been taught in spirit in the mystical language of old. For what, in fact, was this great “messenger,” when he appeared, to be? Was it not, in fact, to be another “Elias” (Malachi 4:5-6)—an Elias “in spirit and power” (Luke 1:16-17)—an Elias in turning them back to the God of their fathers (1 Kings 18:37; 1 Kings 18:39), and preparing them for His truth? That is, therefore, “if ye will receive it,” how ye are to think of this man. That will teach you the exact truth both about him and Myself. That is, therefore, to be listened to by you—if anything is (Matthew 11:15).
This to the “multitudes” as they stood by at that time. This to us, also, who look on from afar. We have much in the Bible which is preparatory to the gospel. Taught by this passage, let us never dare to set it on one side; let us, rather, always seek to use it in that preparatory way. This is giving proper honour to all. The Saviour was able to say, “I have greater witness than that of John” (John 5:36). Yet He would have men think of it and use it, for all that, just as it was. It is thus, therefore, He would now have us make use of all the teaching which He has given to men in the past. The more correct we are about that, the more correct we shall be also about the fuller Light of the present. Even so we find to be true, in fact, in the researches of science. The “life” that is before our eyes is to be understood better—if we may not say indeed is to be understood only—by understanding the “life” of the past. This is true, moreover—perhaps most signally true—even of the “fossil life” of the past. For there is a sense in which all such “fossil life” lives in the life of to-day.
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 11:7-11. Absent friends.—I. Should be spoken of kindly by their friends.
II. Should be defended in their character.
III. Should be truly represented.—Biblical Museum.
Matthew 11:11. The greatness of John.—
1. Singular predictions were of him, more than of any of the prophets.
2. His bringing into the world had more extraordinary passages of providence than any of the prophets.
3. His authority and office to bring in a new sacrament were singular.
4. Besides the baptising of our Lord and converting of such multitudes, his ministry was countenanced with the clearest vision, and revelation of the ministry of the Trinity that ever was.
5. The sanctification of his person, from the womb to his martyrdom, was singular.
6. The clearness of his knowledge of the way of righteousness by Christ, and of the application of types of the Messiah unto Christ, as the true Lamb of God, was singular.—David Dickson.
The greatest.—A Christian is the highest style of man.—Pope.
Matthew 11:12. The storming of the kingdom.—In employing words suggesting the idea of violence, Jesus, though certainly not intending to express personal disapproval, did mean to point at features of the new movement which made it an object of a version, astonishment, or at least of doubt, to others. It may be well to particularise some aspects of the work of the kingdom which would, not unnaturally, wear an aspect of violence to minds not able to regard them with Christ’s eyes, though to Christ Himself they were the bright and hopeful side of an evil time.
I. We may mention, first, that which most readily occurs to one’s thoughts, viz. the passionate earnestness with which men sought to get into the kingdom, heralded by John and preached by Jesus; an earnestness not free from questionable elements, as few popular enthusiasms are; associated with misconceptions of the nature of the kingdom, and, in many cases, fervent rather than deep, therefore likely to prove transient—still a powerful, impressive, august movement of the human soul Godwards (see Luke 16:16, R.V).
II. From the volcanic bursting forth of religious earnestness in the popular mind, we may naturally pass to speak of another respect in which the kingdom of heaven may be said to have suffered violence, viz. the kind of people that had most prominently to do with it.—Publicans, sinners, harlots, the moral scum and refuse of society, such were the persons, who, in greatest numbers, were pressing into the kingdom, to the astonishment and scandal of respectable, “righteous,” religious, well-conducted and self-respecting people. Why, it was a revolution, society turned upside down; as great an overturn in principle, if not in extent, as when in France, in the eighteenth century, bishops, aristocrats, princes and kings were sent adrift, and sans-culottism reigned triumphant, believing itself to be in possession of a veritable kingdom of God. What wonder if wise and prudent ones looked on in wistful, doubting mood, and sanctimonious men held up their hands in pious horror, and exclaimed, Call you this a kingdom of God? Blasphemy!
III. The kingdom of God as it actually showed itself in connection with the work of Christ, differed widely from, did violence, we may say, to preconceived notions of what it would be—Not a few of those who actually entered the kingdom, in so far as they understood its true character, had to do violence to their own prejudices before they took the step. There were conversions, not unaccompanied with inward pain, not merely from sin to righteousness, but from ideal mistaken to rectified notions of the kingdom of God, from political dreams, noble, but destined never to be fulfilled, to spiritual realities.
IV. The kingdom of heaven may be said to have suffered violence in so far as its coming was promoted by the use of irregular methods and agencies.—In this respect John and Jesus were themselves stormers, though in different ways, to the scandalising of a custom-ridden generation. Let us make one or two reflections, suggested by the saying we have been studying, concerning Him who uttered it.
1. It is very evident that one who spoke thus had a very clear conception of the deep significance of the movement denoted by the phrase “the kingdom of heaven.” Christ knew well that a new world was beginning to be.
2. How calmly He takes it all.
3. Yet how magnanimously He bears Himself towards the doubters. “Violence”—the very word is an excuse for their doubts.—A. B. Bruce, D.D.
The kingdom of heaven taken by force.—The ministry of John contained these characteristics:
1. The preaching of repentance.
2. Wonderful directness and simplicity.
3. He bore clear testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ. Proposition: People who would enter into the kingdom of heaven must use violence; they must take it by force, or not have it at all. In proof of this I must refer:—
I. To the testimony of the sacred Scriptures.—“Work out your own salvation,” etc. “Strive to enter in,” etc. “Fight the good fight,” etc.
II. To the forces opposed to us.—
1. The spirit of human society.
2. Philosophies, falsely so called.
3. Forces within ourselves;
4. Spiritual wickedness in high places.
III. To the analogy of the departments of life.—I will make three other verses. The kingdom of wealth suffereth violence, etc. The kingdom of knowledge suffereth violence, etc. The kingdom of fame and honour suffereth violence, etc.
IV. To the grandeur of the reward.—The spiritual athlete stretches every sinew and at last heaven’s door is gained, a flash of glory meets the eye, and the faithful servant enters into the joy of his Lord.—Thos. Jones.
Peace by power.—This is to most readers a puzzling saying. Doubtless there is more than one line in which its truth runs.
I. This saying passes judgment on the state of mind in which a great many respectable people are too content to live.—They live like the luxurious heirs who take their ease upon the fortune which their hardworking grandfather amassed by a frugal and strenuous life.
II. It passes judgment also on the state of mind which many respectable people entertain towards energetic reformers.—What becomes of things that are let alone—your garden, your roof, your drain-pipes? But the reformer, without whom we should all be heathen savages to-day, is well scolded while doing his work, and well praised when his work is done. As Jesus said, one generation stones the prophets and another generation decorates their tombs. Fifty years ago William Lloyd Garrison was dragged through Boston streets with a rope around his neck, but now he forms an imposing statue in Boston’s noblest avenue.
III. It passes judgment, further, on the failure of moral force to work towards God’s kingdom.—Here the story of that tragic Thirty Years’ War, which well-nigh destroyed Germany, brings in its lesson. There was not enough moral force then in Germany to establish the fundamental truth of the kingdom of heaven, that men must respect each other’s consciences—the Catholic not to vex the Protestant, nor the Protestant the Catholic. The moral force failing, the physical force came in to do the necessary work. So came the Roman sword to put an end to the iniquities which, forty years before, when John and Jesus called for a reform, there was not enough moral vigour in the nation to abolish. Especially to every young man I would repeat the lesson of the poet Whittier’s life, as given in his own words, and illustrated by his own career: “Identify yourself actively with some righteous but unpopular cause.” “For the kingdom of heaven is forcibly won, and forceful are they that secure it.”—J. M. Whiton, D.D.
Pressing into the kingdom.—By the clearness of John’s preaching the gates of heaven and the way of the church were made so patent that men did not stand upon the bar and partition of ceremonies, or upon any orderly way of the proselytes coming into the church; but multitudes did leap over all the Levitical ceremonies, so that publicans, sinners, heathen, Levitically unclean, and the naturally loathed lepers did thrust themselves all in upon the company of converts, and upon the grace manifested by John’s doctrine; and, indeed, obtained grace to enter into the kingdom of Christ, by this their pressing themselves upon Him. Hence learn:
1. That the Levitical ceremonies were never appointed to hinder people from Christ, but to lead them to Him, and that, therefore, when the observance of these ceremonies might be a hindrance of people coming to Christ (as, e.g. so many days ought to pass ere a leper were legally purified, that he might come in the company where the word of God was preached); in such a case, God was not displeased that men violently ran over these impediments to come to God’s grace manifested in Christ.
2. Yea, the doctrine of grace being clearly revealed, no impediment of bygone sins or sense of unworthiness present, should hinder a humbled soul from entry into the kingdom of God. If we cannot remove impediments, let us set foot on them, and make stepping-stones of them, thrusting ourselves so much more on Christ’s grace, as we find ourselves unworthy; laying hold so much more on His offered salvation, as we find ourselves otherwise to be lost.—David Dickson.
Religious excitement.—Jonathan Edwards, speaking apologetically of the religious movements of his own time, remarks: “A great deal of noise and tumult, confusion and uproar, darkness mixed with light, and evil with good, is always to be expected in the beginning of something very glorious in the state of things in human society or the church of God. After nature has been shut up in a cold dead state, when the sun returns in the spring, there is, together with the increase of the light and heat of the sun, very tempestuous weather before all is settled, calm and serene, and all nature rejoices in its bloom and beauty.”—Works, vol. i., p. 372.
Matthew 11:15. Attention and obedience.—This was a favourite saying of our Lord’s.
I. It is an appeal for attention.—If we want to hear, not only must we have ears, but we must “give ear,” as the old English phrase runs; we must make some effort. We may be where there are loud noises constantly going on, and yet not hear them at all. A miller is said not to hear any of the noise inside his mill. He gets so accustomed to the continuous clamour that he never heeds it. In fact, there is a story told of a miller who slept night after night entirely undisturbed by this noise, but when his mill suddenly ceased working he was aroused by the complete silence! Have you not yourselves sometimes been reading quietly at home, and the clock on the mantelpiece has struck the hour, and so deeply interested have you been in your book, that you have not heard it at all, though you are sure the clock has been going all the time, and must have struck quite loudly? Thus we see that if attention is not given, but turned away, we do not hear, though we have ears. The first order of command that is given to soldiers after they have “fallen in” and stand in order is “Attention!” It is as much as to say, “Listen! Be ready for the next order!” “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear!” It is sad to think what is lost, at the time, by inattention; sadder still to think of the trouble we bring upon ourselves by it afterwards. Sometimes we miss what we can never regain.
II. Attention should be followed by obedience.—Christ requires us not only to hear His sayings, but to do them.
1. What vexation and unhappiness disobedience to parents causes in a home.
2. Obedience is a simple thing; you have but to listen to what you are told, and do it. The general in a battle has many things to think of, but the common soldier has only to do what he is told.
3. Yet, after all, obedience is not so very easy. Luther said, “I would rather obey than be able to work miracles.” This shows that he knew what a hard and yet noble thing it is to obey.
4. The first sin in the world was a sin of disobedience, the hateful forerunner of untold evil.
5. Christ set us an example of perfect obedience.
6. He described the fate of the obedient and the disobedient man in Matthew 7:24-27.—W. J. Foxell, M.A.
Matthew 11:19. Wisdom.—God regarded as the All-Wise. Justified.—Acquitted of folly. Children.—The Divinely wise. The spiritual recognise the wisdom of God both in the austerity of John and in the loving mercy of Jesus (Carr). But see R.V.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 11:16-19
Wilful perverseness.—From addressing the “multitudes” (Matthew 11:7) before Him, the Saviour naturally passes in thought to those not before Him at that time. Those present are but representatives of the larger mass to which they belong. What is to be said of that mass—of that Jewish “generation” of that particular day—when looked at as a whole? To it especially had come that message of the Baptist with its reference to Himself, of which the Saviour has just been speaking. What has been and is its attitude towards that message and its connections? Our Saviour’s reply to this inquiry consists of a familiar parable or picture, on the one hand; and a suitable application of it, on the other.
I. The parable itself.—This presents us, first, with a well-known locality. It is in the “market place”—a place open to all, and where all are accustomed to meet—that the scene of the parable lies. It presents us, next, with a well-known incident. The children of the place have met there, and are engaged in their sports (cf. the well-known passage in Zechariah 8:5). Their sport at this time is that of imitating their seniors, and “making believe” to be men and women themselves, and doing as they have seen done by those “grown-up.” One company of them, with this object in view, visits another company and invites them to “play.” They invite them to “play,” first, at being mirthful and joyful; to “make believe” that it is a season of gladness; and to respond to them therefore in a similar strain. But this the other company refuse to do. They will not “dance” in response to their “piping” (Matthew 11:17). They are not inclined to that at this time. Thereupon the first company, being still anxious to “play,” at once alters its rôle. It pretends now that the time is a mournful one; and puts on the usual tokens of sorrow and mourning; and invites the other company to respond in like manner. But neither does this, again, meet the wishes of those unaccommodating play-mates. If they disliked the first, they dislike the other as much. There is no pleasing them, in fact, whatever is planned. Do what you will, you can’t content them.
II. The application of the parable.—This is at once very simple and very natural. According to it the company of children thus twice invited to “play,” but both times in vain, represents the men of that “generation.” The call to be “sorrowful” and “mournful” which came to that company, represented the message of the Baptist to that “generation.” It was a message of austerities and of sternness (John himself “came neither eating nor drinking,” Matthew 11:18); an earnest call to immediate repentance; an invitation to “mourn.” And it had been received, on the whole, in the same spirit as the similar invitation had been in the parable. It had been pronounced, on the whole, that is to say, to be an unseasonable invitation; so much so, in fact, that men had virtually said of him who brought it, that he must be “mad” to press it just now (see end of Matthew 11:18). The other invitation, that to be joyful, represented the message of the Saviour to the men of that day. Instead of being characterised by austerities it had been characterised by a suspension of them (see above Matthew 9:14) which had already scandalised some. The Saviour Himself, moreover, in delivering it, had “come eating and drinking,” it might be said. He had certainly “sat at meat” (Matthew 9:10) with some who were not conspicuous, to say the least, for their abstemiousness in such matters. And, above all, perhaps, instead of only calling them to “repentance” and “mourning,” He had both declared and sealed in a most open manner the fullest forgivenness of guilt (Matthew 9:1-8). Neither, however, had this invitation been more to the taste of that age. Like the children in the parable they had refused this as well as the other. If the other was too austere, this was too easy. If John was mad, Jesus was worse (Matthew 11:19). Any way, in both cases, the upshot was one. The “generation” which heard both the Baptist and the Saviour rejected them both! And maligned them both, too!
What do we learn from this condition of things? Amongst other lessons of great importance we seem to learn:—
1. That questions of truth are not questions to be decided by vote.—It is unquestionable, we see, that the men of their own generation thought the teaching of both John and Jesus to be utterly in the wrong. It is just as unquestionable that these same men were utterly in the wrong in so doing.
2. That questions of truth may be decided by the testimony of facts.—As a matter of fact, to what did the comparative severity of John bring men in the end? To repentance and Jesus (see Matthew 3:5-6; John 1:29, seq.). As a matter of fact to what did the abounding mercy of Jesus bring men in the end? To forgiveness and renewal; to the presence of God and fitness for it; to deliverance from both the guilt and the bondage of sin (Acts 3:26; Romans 8:1-4, etc.). So by these their “works” (R.V.) did both these “children” of “wisdom” justify their claim to that name.
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES.
Matthew 11:16-19. Unreason.—This sort of unreason shows itself again and again.
1. Men will find fault with Christ and Christianity, put the matter how you will.—Prejudice can always find some objection; and proud men who do not like John because he preaches repentance, do not like Jesus because He not only preaches repentance, but brings gratuitous salvation to the heart and to the home.
2. The attitude of Christians toward society is not seldom made a ground of censure by persons who have a good deal in common with the Pharisees and rulers of the Jews. They are too unsocial or they are too social. The critics are hard to please. If a Christian be reserved in his habits and a lover of retirement, they describe him as narrow and ungenial. If he be frank and accessible, they shake their heads over his worldliness and inordinate love of society. He is never quite right in their eyes. Let not such judgments of men disconcert or discourage any who with an honest heart endeavour to be true to Christ. The Lord Himself is our Master and our Example.—D. Fraser, D.D.
Playing in the market-place.—
I. Jesus takes notice of children when they are playing.—What we call little things are sometimes very much noticed by great people. The great Son of God takes great notice of little children, because He knows that upon one of them may depend very great things. Your actions at play are noticed by Christ, and when nothing wrong is said or done, He loves to see you having a merry game.
II. Jesus noticed that among the children playing in the market-place there were some who were sulky.—They would play at neither weddings nor funerals. These cross children, like some children now, were very good at one thing—they were good at finding fault. Some children are very much given to this bad habit; they find fault with their food, with their lessons, with their parents’ commands, even with their games. Perhaps some playfellow wants to play a game at hide-and-seek. They find fault with that. Then blind-man’s-buff is proposed. They don’t like that. And so they go on, finding fault with every game that is proposed instead of finding fault with themselves for being so very disagreeable.
III. Jesus here uses what the children did to teach men and women what they ought to do and what they ought not to do.—He says, “Whereunto shall I liken,” etc. “It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling,” etc. And in Matthew 11:18-19, He tells us why He so compares them. Neither the stern John nor the gentle Jesus pleased these people. They found fault with God’s servant and with God’s Son. And what lesson can we learn from this? Do you not see that God wants to bring people to Christ both by what is sad and by what is glad.—W. Harris.
Matthew 11:19. Wisdom justified of her children.—I. If wisdom was justified in the cases both of John and Jesus, it follows that wisdom is compatible with various ways of life.—Wisdom was justified both in John and the Son of man—God’s wisdom in sending them, such as they were; their wisdom in being what God meant them to be. John’s work as the forerunner of Messiah was one involving rough tasks and demanding a stern will. It became him to come neither eating nor drinking, an austere ascetic, by the very exaggerations of his self-denial protesting against all forms of sensualism. On the other hand, the law of congruity required Jesus to come eating and drinking, and dressing like other people, within the limits of the innocent. For Jesus was the “Son of man,” and as such it became Him to be in all sinless respects like unto His brethren, that He might get close to them, and find His way into their hearts with His gospel of mercy, and the peace of forgiveness, and the rest of a new heart and endowed with rightly ordered affections. Wisdom was justified through His own lips; for His apologies for so living, to them that examined Him, are among the wisest as well as the most beautiful of His utterances. And wisdom, in the person of Jesus, was justified also by her children, i.e. by those who received the benefit of His grace.
II. Wisdom is not a time-server, seeking to please the world by following its fashion.—Both Jesus and John came so that their generation was extensively displeased with them. Herein the true, Divine, heaven-born wisdom differs from the wisdom of the world, the very essence of which consists in time-serving. True wisdom cares more for ultimate than immediate results, has faith in the future, and prescribes to a man as his first duty the expression of conviction, the forth-putting of the Divine force that is in him, regardless of the immediate consequences, at least comparatively.—A. B. Bruce, D.D.
Wisdom and her children.—
I. The various manifestation of truth to man is ascribable to the highest wisdom.
II. Wisdom has a certain class of men on earth who are to be regarded as its offspring.—The children of wisdom are those who have been regenerated by the doctrines which wisdom dispenses. They see things in the light in which wisdom points them out, and they pursue a course of life agreeable to that which wisdom directs. They are the children of wisdom, having a spirit of reverence and obedience for that heavenly wisdom displayed everywhere in the Bible.
III. These children of wisdom thoroughly approve of the truth in whatever form it comes.—The dark and bright sides are both approved. They have experienced the worth of both sides.—D. Thomas, D.D.
Matthew 11:21. Sackcloth and ashes.—In the East, it was common for mourners to put on a black garment which resembled a sack, with holes for the arms, and to strew ashes upon the head. The symbol of mourning and of repentance (Lange).
Matthew 11:23. Hell.—Hades (R.V.), denotes a far-down subterranean region and so used figuratively to express a position of the utmost abasement (Wendt). The antithesis of heaven; the lowest as contrasted with the highest position (Mansel).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 11:20-24
Invincible unbelief.—Three cities are made to stand out here among all the cities of Galilee. One of these is made to stand out in a similar way amongst these three. We shall examine what is said of them here as they are thus separated by the Saviour; considering the first two in the first place, and the remaining third in the second.
I. The first two.—These are by name Chorazin and Bethsaida, and are believed to have been situated, the one on the western shore of the Lake of Gennesaret, and the other, probably, at its northernmost point, and on each side of the river Jordan as it there enters the lake. They are compared by the Saviour with two others, Tyre and Sidon, on the borders of the far larger Mediterranean Sea; but not belonging in any way to the land and people of Israel. Of Chorazin and Bethsaida, as compared with these well-known cities, the Saviour here, in the first place, implies a good deal. In temporal matters, e g. He seems to imply that the two Jewish cities thus named were so far like the Gentile cities in question as to be places, as these were, of no little success in the pursuit of commerce and wealth. In spiritual matters, on the contrary, He implies clearly that they were not at all alike; and that Chorazin and Bethsaida had had advantages in this respect which had been wholly confined to themselves; the teaching and the “mighty works” which had abounded in them having been wholly unknown in the other two. From this the Saviour goes on to declare very much more. He opens to us, as it were, the secret door of the hypothetical and contingent. He declares to us what would have been had things been otherwise than they were; and does not hesitate to say what Tyre and Sidon would have done had they had the advantages which they had not. On this point He is, indeed, peculiarly outspoken and clear. They would not have done, He says, as had been done by those other two cities. They would not have refused to “repent” (Matthew 11:20). Still less would they have refused with the same continued impenitence, notwithstanding all that was done. On the contrary, He says, they would have “repented long ago,” and that openly and in “ashes” (Matthew 11:21). In a word, all would have been present in their case, that was so conspicuously absent in the case of those others. Finally, from this the Saviour goes on to a higher step still. He does not hesitate even to forecast the issues of the day of all days. He tells us exactly how it will be with those He is speaking of in that time of judgment and light. How the people, e.g. that had the less light will not then be held responsible for more than that light; and will not, therefore, be called on to suffer beyond a certain amount. Also, how, all the same for that (cf. πλὴν, nevertheless, Matthew 11:22) and however bad that certain amount may be to them—and it is not spoken of, be it observed, as being anything else—worse still will be the doom of those who used greater light to worse ends. It is a terrible picture, and need not be dwelt on. But it must not be slighted, or put to one side. “I say unto you that it shall be more tolerable (!) for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you” (Matthew 11:22).
II. The remaining third.—The parallel here is on the same lines with—but considerably in advance of—the preceding one. This is true, in the first place, as to the cities compared. If Tyre and Sidon, among the cities outside of Israel, had been specially warned and denounced by the prophets of God on account of their abundance and “pride” (see Isaiah 23:0; Ezekiel 26:0; Ezekiel 27:0), much more had this been so of that one city specified now (Genesis 13:13; Genesis 19:0; Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 3:9; Revelation 11:8). The very place of that city, in fact, had been for ages past a standing testimony against it (Jude 1:7). On the other hand, if Chorazin and Bethsaida had been places favoured singularly and above others by the presence, and teaching, and miracles of the Saviour, even more so, in all respects, had been “His own city” (Matthew 9:1) Capernaum. In this respect, indeed, it might be said to have been—or, possibly, because of this, had itself supposed that it would be—“exalted unto heaven” (Matthew 11:23). No greater privileges of that kind could very well be. Also, in regard to the cities compared so are the declarations here uttered about them. More is taught, e.g. about the case of Sodom than had been of those others. Of them, it is said, that if they had had the light, it would have led them to repent. Of Sodom it is taught, that if she had had the light, she would have repented to good purpose. In other words that her repentance would have been accepted, her sentence reversed, herself spared to that day (Matthew 11:23). Even more terrible, therefore, is that which is finally told us in this connection about the last day. Briefly put, it is this, that of all “intolerable” sentences passed in that day of abiding decision, none will be worse than that passed on those who have received most and profited least. No name of shame, in that day of shame, will be lower than theirs. “Howbeit I say unto you,” etc. (Matthew 11:24).
How much light is thrown by these words of Jesus:—
1. On the breadth of His mercy.—Not only Israel, but those outside it; not only their doings, but what they would have done also—are thought of and allowed for!
2. On the intensity of His love.—He is far more grieved for these guilty Galilean cities than they are for themselves.
3. On the supreme dignity of His person.—Nothing is worse for any than neglect of Himself! Nothing that He declares can be ever set aside! Nothing can be removed that He has once fixed. All that He declares about all is to be as He says (cf. John 16:9; John 5:22; Acts 17:31, etc.).
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 11:20-30. Christ’s voice.—
I. The voice of sad upbraiding (Matthew 11:20-24).
II. The solemn voice of thanksgiving (Matthew 11:25-26).
III. The majestic voice of self-attestation (Matthew 11:27).
IV. The pleading voice of universal invitation (Matthew 11:28-30).—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Matthew 11:20-24. Mighty works.—
I. That God vouchsafes a greater manifestation of Himself to some men than to others.
II. That the design of all these mighty works is man’s spiritual reformation.
III. That the mighty works which would prove effective to reform some have no saving effect upon others.—Does not this show—
1. The diversity in souls.
2. The moral freedom even of depraved souls.
3. The sovereignty of God in His dealings with men.
4. That we must not depend too much upon “mighty works” to convert.
IV. That the guilt of the unconverted is measured by the Divine works that have been done amongst them.
V. That the relative degree of guilt belonging to sinners will fully appear on the day of judgment.—D. Thomas, D.D.
Matthew 11:20. The true test of success.—We see the Son of man mourning over comparatively wasted labour. There were Galilean cities, with Capernaum at their head, in which He had spent much of His time, and done most of His mighty works. Great blessings had been conferred, great joy created. But there was not repentance, and all the other fruit of our Lord’s ministry failed to meet His desire. This fact shows us what in the judgment of Jesus is the high and true success.
I. Glance at what took place in Capernaum, at the spirit the people manifested, and at the great amount of good that was done.—
1. By going through the four Gospels and making a complete history of Capernaum, in relation to our Lord’s ministry, we find the conduct and the experience of the men of that city were in happy contrast to the experience and conduct of men in most other cities embraced by His labours. E.g. cf. Matthew 13:58. Surely, if the people had lacked sympathy with our Lord’s benevolent purpose, if they had lacked confidence in His healing power, if they had lacked thankfulness for the blessings He conferred, He would not in their midst have done “most of His mighty works.”
2. Who can fully realise the joy there must have been in Capernaum while our Lord was ministering there? If we had heard that He was going to speak concerning the city and His ministry in it, we should have gathered about Him, expecting to see His countenance lit up with triumph, and to hear His lips pour forth exultant strains. His countenance was dark, His tones were sad, His heart was bleeding, for the great end of His ministry had not been secured.
II. The lessons which this one fact teaches us are very obvious. In our Christian labour, whether at home or abroad, we must not be satisfied with results that did not satisfy Christ. The evangelical history will be sure to be repeated wherever the gospel is preached. Miracles will not be wrought, but, by processes that work just as certainly, though more slowly, temporal good will be created. We may use these temporary results as an instrument for securing the end. The end is not temporal prosperity, but spiritual life; not the refinement of society but the conversion of the individual.—Charles Vince.
Matthew 11:23-24. Capernaum and Sodom.—
1. The honour of a town is the gospel; and where it is most clearly preached, that place is exalted most and made nearest heaven.
2. Means of grace if they avail not unto true conversion, do bring a man deeper in the state of condemnation.
3. Abuse and contempt of the gospel, impenitent unbelief, and disregarding the offers of God’s grace do weigh heavier in God’s balance than the grossest sins against the law.—David Dickson.
Matthew 11:25. Answered and said.—A Hebraism for “spake and said” (Carr). But Dr. Monro Gibson observes: “As we read, first of the doubts of John, then of the thoughtlessness of the multitudes, and then of the impenitence of the favoured cities by the lake, is there not a question in our hearts, becoming more and more urgent as each new discouragement appears: What will He say to this? What can He answer?” (Expositor’s Bible). Prudent.—Understanding (R.V.). The understanding is a born atheist (Jacobi).
Matthew 11:28. Come unto Me, etc.—These words derive their significance from the preceding assertion of our Lord’s unity with the Father. It is only as God that He is able to give rest to the souls of those who are weary with the burden of sin and of the law (Mansel). Labour, etc.—Imagery borrowed from the agriculture of the time and place (D. Thomas).
Matthew 11:30. Easy.—The Greek has a wider range of meaning—good, helpful, kind, profitable (Plumptre).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 11:25-30
Invincible meekness.—The “season” here mentioned was one, apparently, of disappointment and gloom. The doubtful faith of the “disciples of John” (Matthew 11:1-6); the general unbelief of that “generation” both in Jesus and John (Matthew 11:15-19); and the especial perverseness of those “cities” for which the Saviour had done the most (Matthew 11:20-24)—had all been present to His mind. What did it all mean? Clearly, to Christ, that God did not intend His mission to have more than a limited scope. In other words, that God did not intend the blindness of those so-called “wise and prudent” who rejected the message of His Son to be removed by its means; but that He rather intended its truths to be “revealed” only to those whom they regarded as “babes” (Matthew 11:25; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26, etc.). This was the truth which that “season” had begun to make plain. How our Saviour accepted it, in the first instance, and how He acted on it in the second—are what we have now to consider.
I. How our Saviour accepted this truth.—In the first place, with what expressions of meekness! The Saviour’s language is not that of merely reluctant acquiescence. “I submit because I can do nothing else.” Nor yet that of merely dutiful but sorrowful resignation. “I submit because I feel that I ought.” It is the language, rather—the express language—of satisfaction and joy. “I thank Thee—I praise Thee (R.V.)—for what Thou hast done.” In the next place, we may see with what reality of meekness the Saviour accepted these facts. This is evident from the reason given for His expressed satisfaction and praise. Why was this appointment so pleasing to Him? Because He found it to be pleasing to God—pleasing to Him towards whom He stood in the relation of Son. This was the exact reason—this, in fact, the only assigned reason—why it was pleasing to Him. “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight” (Matthew 11:26). To His spirit that was almost more than enough. Lastly, we may see with what depth of meekness this submission is made. Who is this that thus rejoices in being limited thus? He is One so great that the Father Himself has entrusted all into His hands; so great, again, that no one knows Him fully except the Father Himself; so great, once more, that only He, and those whom He pleases to teach, can know the Father Himself (Matthew 11:27). Yet, of all these “crowns”—and all involved in them—He openly divests Himself here. Distinctly claiming them all, He as distinctly accepts them all only in submission to His Father. Thus to be limited is part of His mission. It is, also, to Him, its chiefest privilege. Also, to Him, its crowning joy. No one is greater—no one meeker—than He!
II. How He acted upon it.—With what marked alacrity, in the first place. There is a beautiful abruptness about the beginning of Matthew 11:28. From speaking of His glory and greatness, the Saviour turns suddenly to His duty. Is it so—though being such as He is—that He is sent unto “babes”? Unto “babes,” at once He will go. Unto “babes,” to those that are “weary,” and so in need of His help. Unto “babes,” to those “heavy laden” also, and so confessing their need (cf. Matthew 9:13; Revelation 3:17-18). All such He invites at once to “come” unto Him (Matthew 11:28). With what precision and fulness, in the next place. Come unto Me and you shall have just that which your special condition requires. Are you weary? Here is “rest.” Have you no help in yourselves? Here is all in Me. Trust Me, in short, to do for you just that which you need. Trust Me, also, to do it for you without lacking or doubt. Whatever may be the case with others, I will give it unto you (end of Matthew 11:28). Also see, finally, with what admirable consistency the Saviour acts in this case. Where would He have those who listen to Him find this contentment and “rest”? Where He has found it Himself. He seems to say to such, in short, as on another occasion (John 13:13-15), you “see what I have done.” How I, on my part, have submitted to a “yoke”! How completely and meekly I have done so! How bright has been the result; what seemed most exacting having turned out most full of joy in the end! I counsel you, on your part, to do the same kind of thing. Take this “My yoke” upon you! Learn to do in this as I do. Believe Me your doing so will cause you to be in this as I am. “Rest” indeed shall be yours.
Two principal stages of Christian experience seem portrayed to us here.
1. There is some rest—there is much rest—even in first “coming” to Christ.—In this sense he that has once believed has “entered into his rest” (Hebrews 4:3). In a certain wholesome and most true sense he rests from his “works.” In an equally wholesome, though different sense, he rests from his “sins.” And he rests, especially, and of course, from his harassing fears. It follows, therefore, that merely to have come into the great Sinbearer’s presence, merely to have accepted His offer—to have tasted His mercy—to have committed all to His grace (2 Timothy 1:12)—is the day-break of peace. The sun “has risen” where this is true of the soul (Romans 5:1; Romans 8:1, etc.).
2. On the other hand there is a fuller rest, even a “rest to the soul,” in having done more; in having thereby become conformed to His likeness; and especially in being conformed to it in that respect which is spoken of here. Good it is to have reached the presence of the Saviour at all. Better still, because a sure proof of this, to have reached His image as well. Best of all to have done so in this innermost matter of “will.” “Even Christ pleased not Himself” (Romans 15:3). Be that also our mark! Rest of this kind is rest from “self”—and so, from everything else!
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 11:25-27. Christ’s thanksgiving.—Is it to be a thanksgiving, then, after such a series of disappointments and vexations? Even so. As He has looked to the cities of the plain His voice has been a wail; now that He looks up to His Father wailing ceases, and thanksgiving takes its place. So will it always be to faith which is genuine and deep enough. It is only when we look below and around that we are depressed. When we look up we are strong. “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills,” etc. (Psalms 121:1-2). Was it the remembrance of this passage at the time of need which suggested the form of His thanksgiving: “I thank Thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth”? Surely we have heard the living original of that grand apostolic word, “In everything give thanks”; for if “at that season” (R. V.), the Saviour of men found occasion for thanksgiving, we may well believe that at any season, however dark, we may find something to stir our hearts to gratitude; and the very exercise of thanksgiving will bring a deep spiritual joy to set against the bitterest sorrow, even as it was with our Lord, who, as St. Luke informs us, “rejoiced in spirit” as He lifted up His soul in thanks to God that day. What, then, does He find to be thankful for?
I. He discovers a cause for gratitude in the very limitation which occasions His sorest disappointments.—“I thank Thee … because Thou hast hid these things,” etc. There is of course the cheering thought that amid the general unbelief and rejection there are some childlike souls who have welcomed the truth. Some are fain to make this the sole cause of thankfulness, as if He meant to say, “I thank Thee, that though Thou hast hid,” etc. But there is no authority for introducing this little word. The Saviour gives thanks, not merely in spite of this hiding, but because of it. It is true, indeed, that He uses the language of resignation, “Even, so Father,” etc., which makes it evident that the fact that so many of the wise and intelligent rejected His gospel presented a real difficulty to His mind, as it has done to earnest souls in all ages. But while it was, no doubt, enough for Him to feel sure that it was right in the sight of God, we are not without indication in what follows, that His faith not only led to resignation, but enabled Him to see for Himself that it was wisely ordered. For what is the great object of the gospel? Is it not to dethrone self, and enthrone God in the hearts of men? It is clear, then, that if it had in any way appealed to pride and self-sufficiency, it would have defeated its own end. Suppose the revealing of things had been to the wise and prudent as such, what would have been the result? The kingdom of heaven would have become a mere scholarship prize. And, however good a thing scholarship may be, and however important that it be encouraged, this is not the work of the Christ of God. His gospel is for all; so it is addressed not to the great in intellect, which would confine it to the few, but to the lowly in heart, which brings it within reach of all, for the very wisest and greatest in intellect may be, and ought to be, meek and lowly in heart. Indeed, is it not to the meek and lowly heart that even truths of science are disclosed? A man who approaches nature with a preconceived theory, about which his mind is already made up, is sure to miss the mark. In this connection one sees the special appropriateness of the reference to “the Lord of heaven and earth.” The principle is one which is not restricted in its range; it runs all through nature. Still more appropriate is the appeal to the Fatherhood of God. It is not for the Father to be partial to His clever children, and leave the less favoured ones to shift for themselves. So the more one thinks of it, the more in every point of view does it seem good and necessary that these things should not be made known to the “wise and understanding” (R.V.), as such, but should be revealed to “babes,” to those of childlike spirit.
II. The next great thought which comes to the relief of the Saviour in His discouragement is that, while there are barriers in the heart of man, there is no barrier in the heart of God, no limit whatever to the outpouring of Divine love and grace. “All things are delivered unto Me of My Father.” Even at the time when it is borne in upon Him that men will have none of Him, He exults in the thought that He has everything for them. As He thinks over it His heart yearns over the orphaned children of men, and He exults in the thought that He has for them the revelation of the Father’s heart and home, with enough and to spare for all His children (Matthew 11:27). Then follows such an outpouring of heart as there never has been before (Matthew 11:28-30).—J. M. Gibson, D.D.
The Johannine character of this passage.—The passage seems to me just one solitary flower testifying to the presence in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke of the same root of thought and feeling, which everywhere blossoms in that of St. John. It looks as if it had crept out of the fourth Gospel into the first and third, and seems a true sign, though no proof, that however much the fourth be unlike the other Gospels, they have all the same origin.—Geo. Macdonald, LL.D.
Matthew 11:28-30. Christ’s universal invitation.—
I. The twofold designation of the persons invited.—They are such as “labour and are heavy laden.” These two expressions cover the active and the passive sides of our need. The former refers to work which, by reason of excess in amount, or distastefulness in kind, has become wearisome toil. The latter points not so much to the burden of duties or tasks as to the heavy and painful experiences which we all, sooner or later, have to carry—the burdens of sorrow and care. Both have a deeper significance when viewed in relation to God’s law of righteousness. There are painful and futile efforts to keep the law, which weary the doers; and there is the sore burden of failure, guilt, and habit, which bows down men’s backs always, whether they know it or no.
II. The twofold invitation.—“Come unto Me” and “Take My yoke upon you.” The former is faith; the latter, practical obedience. The former is the call to all the weary; the latter is the further call, which they only who have come will obey. The whole sum of practical obedience is further set forth as “learning of Him.” The imitation of Jesus is the one commandment of Christian morals; but it should never be forgotten that such imitation is only possible when His Spirit dwells in us and makes us like Him. There may be as much weariness and bondage in imitating Christ without His life in us, as in any other form of trying to work out our own righteousness.
III. The twofold rest.—Perhaps the variation in the form of the promise in the two clauses is intended to carry a great lesson. “I will give you rest,” seems more appropriate to describe the rest consequent on our first coming to Christ, which is simply and exclusively a direct bestowment, and “ye shall find rest” more fitted to describe a repose which is none the less His gift, though it is dependent on our practical obedience, in a way in which the former is not. There is an initial rest, the rest of faith, of pardon, of a quieted conscience, of filial communion with God; a rest involved in the very act of trust, as of a child sleeping secure on its mother’s breast. But there is a further rest in bearing Christ’s yoke. Obedience delivers us from the unrest of self-will. To obey an authority which we love is repose. It brings rest from the tyranny of passion, from the weight of too much liberty, from conflicting desires. There is rest in Christ-likeness. He is meek and lowly; and they who wear His image find in meekness tranquillity, and some quieting from His deep calm hushes their spirits. Such rest is like God’s rest, full of energy. His yoke is easy, and His commandments are not grievous, not because He lowers the standard of duty, but because He alters the motives which enjoin it, and gives the power to do them. Christ’s yoke is padded with love, and His burden is light, because, as St. Bernard says, it carries the man who carries it.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Matthew 11:28. Christ’s call to the weary.—This verse is frequently misquoted, as if “weary and heavy-laden.” This only brings out half its truth. The call would then be only to one side of human weariness, whereas it is to both—to the labouring as well as to the heavy-laden, to the active as well as the passive side of human weariness, to those weary in doing as well as those weary in bearing.
I. To the weary in active life.—“Come unto Me all ye that labour.”
1. To the weary worker.—We are too fond of spiritualising Christ’s words. He addresses the literal labourer and offers real rest.
(1) To the individual. The weary workman; tired business man. He gives body-rest, nerve-rest, mind-rest, because He gives spirit-rest.
(2) To the class. In the degree in which the community comes to Christ it finds rest both in and from labour. The spirit of Christ in human society allays the fever and fret.
2. To the weary worshipper.—
(1) Weary in religious observances. Some from custom. Need to come to Christ as well as to church; then there is rest and refreshment in worship. Others come as a duty. “Come to Me,” not to forms and ceremonies (Matthew 23:4). Religion an inward thing; love and devotion to a Person. No rest in mere ritualism.
(2) Weary in self-reformation. In struggle with evil tendencies or bad habits. Defeated and disappointed. Christ gives double rest—rest of pardon and rest of power.
3. To the weary worldling.—The sated pleasure-seeker or society-monger, who cries with the wisest and weariest of worldlings, “Vanity of vanities.”
II. To the weary in passive life.—“Come unto Me all ye that—are heavy-laden.” There is the weariness of still life as well as that of active life.
1. To those with a physical burden.—
(1) The aged. These have borne the burden and heat of the day, and feel the weight of years. Rest in faith, in contemplation.
(2) The feeble. Christ will give the rest of resignation and of quiet service.
(3) The suffering (see Matthew 11:5). Rest to soul and ease to body. The spirit of Christ is in social, sanitary, and medical science for the mitigation and abolition of suffering. To the incurable He cries, “Come unto Me,” in heaven—where the weary are at rest.
2. To those with a mental burden.—
(1) The careworn. Christ cures carking care, gives rest from worry. “Your Heavenly Father knoweth,” etc.
(2) The sorrowful. He comforts.
(3) The doubting. To weary doubters. “Come unto Me.” “If any man will do His will,” etc. Come to a loving divine Person, not to creeds and arguments!
3. To those with a spiritual burden.—They need deliverance from the guilt and power of sin.
(1) The call is wide as human misery, yet limited to the weary. If you are not yet tired of the world, of self and sin, it is not for you. You will not listen.
(2) But listen, ye weary! He who calls knows the weariness of doing and bearing. He was the weariest that ever walked the earth. He bore the burden of a world’s sin.—S. E. Keeble.
Christ our rest.—“I will rest you.” This is the literal translation, which means more than “give you rest.” It is not as if rest were a blessing He could bestow as a friend would make a present which might be retained after the giver had gone. Rest is not so much what He gives to us as what He is to us; and so He says, not “I will give you rest,” but, “I will rest you” (i.e. “I will be your rest).—J. M. Gibson, D.D.
“I.”—In “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” there is a picture drawn of a slave, weary and worn with toiling in the sultry sun. One quotes the words “Come unto Me all ye,” etc. “Them’s good words,” is the response, “but who says ’em?” Obviously all depends on that.
Matthew 11:29. The lowly Teacher.—When Jesus sought disciples He professed Himself meek and lowly in heart. What was the attraction of this claim?
1. It was a promise to be kind and patient with slow learners.—In His school the lessons are often hard; the Teacher never is. We cannot learn from the brilliant. They dazzle us; they do not instruct us. We cannot learn from the austere; terror paralyses our slow faculty, and we lose heart to go on. But we may learn from One who, however far above us, is lowly of heart, who, however slow He finds us, never loses patience, but remains meek.
2. It was the claim of a Teacher who was also a Learner.—No human teacher is great if he is not learning. Over the teaching of Jesus our Lord, to whom all things were delivered of the Father, no cloud of error can rest. But in the days of His flesh He was a Learner. Though He were a Son, He learned obedience by the things that He suffered, and all His schooling is in His memory still.
3. It was proof that He loved the slow, dull scholars.—“Love never boasteth of herself.” Is it so? Then how did He say: “I am meek and lowly of heart”? Should He not have left another to praise Him? Nay, He never was so meek and lowly as when. He professed Himself such. Love opens her mouth and speaks the truth when she is claiming the place where she can render fittest service.—W. R. Nicoll, LL.D.
The yoke of Christ.—Have you ever noticed where this direction comes? It comes after the invitation, “Come unto Me.” It comes after the promise, “I will give you rest.” Christ’s yoke is:—
I. His will.—Salvation may be looked upon as a series of acceptances. We accept His pardon, His righteousness, His rest. We accept also His will. Our study now is, not what we shall choose, but, what is it that He has chosen for me?
II. His rule.—Liberty in Christ does not mean freedom from control; that would be lawlessness. Christ sets us free by translating us out of the reign of sin into the reign of grace. The best way to be free from sin’s dominion is to be well under Christ’s control.
III. His discipline.—We are under His correction and instruction as well as His protection. We are in His school. To take Christ’s yoke is a voluntary act and means submission and obedience.—Evan H. Hopkins, M.A.
A teacher should be meek.—The story is told of one of our most gifted poets, that when a little lad of six he was sent to what was called a “charity” school. Sensitive and timid, frightened at the master’s look and voice, and at the cane, without which nothing was done in those days, he could only tremble over his lesson, and blunder tearfully instead of saying it, going back beaten and bewildered to try again. Little wonder that he came to think himself as stupid as the master said he was, and despaired of ever knowing anything. At last the master’s patience was exhausted, the scoldings and the canings were alike in vain. Seizing the little fellow angrily, he thrust him out of the school, and sent him home as too dull to learn anything. The frightened child hid himself in his mother’s arms, and sobbed out all his grief. Then she sat beside him and patiently taught him his letters, and bore with a hundred failures, and praised his occasional success, and so led him on until he was a scholar almost before he knew it.—M. G. Pearse.
Matthew 11:30. Christ’s yoke and burden.—The yoke of Christ is easy, and His burden light:—
I. Because we bear it with the approbation of conscience.—The yoke which is borne by a good conscience is always light; the burden which does not consist of sin is never heavy.
II. Because it is borne in love.—Love lightens labour, lessens adversity, sweetens care, and is unconscious of a yoke which otherwise would be heavy. When we are murmuring within ourselves at the cost of our Christianity, it is because we have not yet realised the value of Christ.
III. Because it is borne with the help of the Spirit of God.
IV. Because His burden becomes lighter the longer it is borne.—That which required effort at first is at length done with ease and enjoyment. Nobody will believe that until he has experienced it. But every Christian knows that it is true.
V. Because we are sustained under it by a good hope.—Heaven and endless happiness are before us, and the assurance that they are reserved for us, while we are kept for them, steadies us beneath a weight which else might bear us down.—W. M. Taylor, D.D.
Christ’s burden light.—Somewhere in Schiller’s poems a beautiful story is told illustrative of what I wish to tell you The story says that when God made the birds He made them with gorgeous plumage and sweet voices, but without wings. They knew not how to soar but how to sing, and the story runs that God laid wings on the ground and said, “Take these burdens and bear them.” They took them up on their backs, and struggled along with them, folding them over their hearts. Presently the wings grew fast to their breasts, and spread themselves out, and then they found that what they had thought were burdens were changed to pinions. So there are many things which God imposes upon us which seem too heavy for us to bear, but if in the name of Jesus, we take them up, we shall find they grow fast to us and become pinions.—A. T. Pierson, D.D.