And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then?…
I. JOHN DISCRIMINATES BETWEEN THE EASE-HARDENED, SELFISH, AND SCARCELY REACHABLE PHARISEES AND HIGH-PLACED REPRESENTATIVES OF OFFICIAL JUDAISM, AND "THE MULTITUDES" (Matthew 3:7).
II. HE RISES ABOVE THE PREJUDICES AND ANTIPATHIES OF THE PUBLIC OPINION OF HIS COUNTRYMEN IN A REMARKABLE WAY. Publicans. Soldiers.
III. HE IS EMINENTLY REASONABLE IN HIS REQUIREMENTS. Whilst he counsels the owner of "two coats" to show the reality of his avowed "change of character" and new-born life, of which repentance is the sign, he still leaves him "one"; and the man having food he would not have starve whilst he relieves, or that he may relieve the starving, but share only. There was no communism, no sinking of the individual in the mass, or rights of property in the properties of right. Simply a proof of unselfishness, of caring for others, is set before the first inquirers. He puts his finger unerringly on the besetting sin. When I was in Palestine and Syria, and Asia Minor, and the dominions of Turkey generally, I felt that if to-day a John the Baptist were to have the old question asked him by the pashas and other tax-farmers, his answer would go to the root of the evils that are bleeding to death the entire dominions of the sultan. One gets a glimpse herein of how far-reaching really, though local and personal seemingly, was the Baptist's answer and counsel, "Extort no more," etc. I can well conceive that some of those who had asked, "What shall we do?" must have winced under the plain-spoken answer. The answer must have darted like a lightning bolt across the inquirers' lives, at once illumining specific acts, and by the immediate encompassing darkness and silence, as John passed to his next group of inquirers, shutting them up to self-examination and self-abasement. The same observation applies to the counsel addressed to the soldiers. They, too, had a "besetting sin." The teacher warns them that he knows all about them, and their violent, outrageous, evil ways, when set free from discipline, and on semi-marauding expeditions. And so he sends home to their consciences the brave and needed counsel, "Do violence," dec. The last thing demanded all John's high-hearted courage and fidelity to the truth, to put it so unqualifiedly. Here again, in all probability, if not certainty, he spoke to men's "businesses and bosoms." There were secret or more audible complaints, murmurs, accusations. John has heard these, has inquired into them, has come to a conclusion on the matter: and so they get it articulately, and without touch of currying favour: "Your wages are sufficient — you are well paid for all that you do — be content." Your mere enthusiast, your mystic, your man preoccupied about his functions and dignities, never would have been thus solid-sensed, thus practical, thus reasonable.
IV. HE IS CONVINCING IN HIS COUNSELS. AS with our Lord (generally) "the people," and "the publicans," and "the soldiers," gave assent and consent by silence. To us, on the first blush of it, John's advice has the look of a come-down from the molten warnings and accusations that immediately preceded, and out of which the inquiries were born. But their silence showed that to them the counsels were adequate, not trivial; wen to the root of their necessities. They recognized — and we shall do well to follow in their steps — that Christian life is not made up of so-called great things, or evidenced by ecstasies, and high and higher emotion, but is constituted of habitual putting into our "walk and conversation," in DEEDS which we profess to know and believe. The most evangelical preacher and teacher may fearlessly answer, as John the Baptist did, every-day and ordinary inquirers, with no fear of not thereby "preaching" or "teaching" the gospel. For it was of these very exhortations that it is written, "With many other exhortations, therefore, preached he good tidings unto the people." These answers enshrine living principles for all time. To-day, with so much giving out of what we can spare and never feel it, when the very thing is to feel it, we need to be recalled to the first answer, to the gospel fact that our generosity must be after this type, of taking the coat off our back (if need be) to let our brother-man have "one," as we still have; and that we are to feed others, not with food different from our own, by paltry gradation of inferior, inferiorer, inferiorest, and a mocking thought, "It's quite good enough for the like of them," but with our very own food. It would again overturn tables, ay, in God's own house, and all through the commercial world and the learned professions, if John's second answer were but vitalized by present-day acceptance and influence, "Extort no more," &c. In different ways and degrees extortion — taking advantage of opportunity and circumstance — is a still wide-reaching sin. You that call yourselves Christians, and haste to be rich, beware! Then, in conclusion, how burning and high-hearted was the third answer — to the soldiers. As Dr. Reynolds put it: "There is room to suppose that the answer previously given to the publicans might be regarded by the soldiers as some kind of justification for their own high-handed acts. John tore off the cloak which their professional position was drawing over their selfishness, and he bade them terrorize no one, and bring no vamped-up worthless accusation. The professional soldier of modern times might be offended by such plain speaking. Armed authority is always open to the temptation of working on the emotion of physical fear."
(Dr. A. B. Grosart.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then?