Luke 3:10
In these verses we have brought into view four aspects of religious truth.

I. THE FUTILE. The Pharisee, if he were charged with any evil course, consoled himself with the thought that he was a "son of Abraham;" to his mind it was everything with God that he was lineally descended from the father of the faithful, and had been admitted by the rite of circumcision into the "commonwealth of Israel." John, anticipating the doctrine of Jesus Christ, demolishes this delusion. That, he tells his audience on the banks of Jordan, is a matter of very small account with Heaven; that is not the criterion of character; that is not the passport to the kingdom of God. Let no man think to build on that poor foundation. Not genealogical connection with the best of men (see John 1:13), not admission by outward rite into any visible community, decides our state before God. If we appear before him, and have no better plea than this to offer, we must prepare for his dismissal. All that is fleshly, all that is circumstantial, all that is outward and unspiritual, falls short of the Divine requirement. It does not bring us into the kingdom of heaven.

II. THE DIFFICULT. "God is able of these stones," etc. Nothing could be easier than for Almighty power to raise up children unto Abraham - to bring into existence more children of privilege. He had bet to "speak, and it would be done; to command, and it would come forth." But it was quite another thing to win the disobedient and the disloyal to filial love and holy service, to bring the hard of heart and the proud of spirit to penitence and confession of sin, to conduct the feet that had long been walking in paths of selfishness and guilt into the ways of wisdom and of worth. This is a work in the accomplishment of which even the Divine Spirit employs many means and expends great resources and exercises long patience. He teaches, he invites, he pleads, he warns, he chastens, he waits. And on this great, this most difficult work, this spiritual victory, on which the eternal Father spends so much of the Divine, we surely may be well content to put forth all our human, strength.

III. THE SEVERE. "Now also the axe is laid unto the root... is hewn down, and cast into the fire." John intimates that a new dispensation is arriving, and with its coming there will come also a more severe sentence against disobedience and unfruitfulness. The shining of the fuller light will necessarily throw far deeper shadows. They who will not learn of the great Teacher will fall under great condemnation. The useless trees in the garden of the Lord will now not only be disbranched, they will be cut down. It is a very solemn thing to live in the full daylight of revealed religion. With every added ray of privilege and opportunity comes increase of sacred responsibility and exposure to the Divine severity.

IV. THE PRACTICAL. (Vers. 10-14.) Real repentance will show itself in right behavior, and every man, according to his vocation, will take his rightful part. The man of means will be pitiful and generous; the man in office will be just and upright; the soldier will be civil; the servant will be faithful and be satisfied with the receipt of what is due to him; the master and the mistress will be fair in their expectation of service; the father will be considerate of his children's weakness; the children will be regardful of their parents' will. And while the right thing will be done, it will be done reverently and religiously, not only as unto man, but as "unto Christ the Lord." - C.







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.)

The voice crying in the wilderness had awakened an answering echo in the breasts of the multitudes. The axe which God was already laying at the root of the tree was the Roman Conqueror of the land, and the tree fell when, with great slaughter, Jerusalem was taken, and of her goodly temple not one stone was left upon another. Well might the people tremble as their consciences, quickened from their long lethargy by the stern and powerful preaching of this Elijah of later days, awoke to the sense of their moral and spiritual degradation. For the moment, as often before in their history, this greatly-sinning, though highly-favoured people seemed ready to repent. They listened to John's burning words, and cried out to him, "What shall we do then?" It was the right question to ask, if only they had been possessed of the abiding spiritual conviction and the strength of purpose which would have enabled them to turn John's answers to good account. It was the question of Saul of Tarsus, of the Philippian jailor, of the multitude on the day of Pentecost. And it is the question which every awakened soul must ask, cannot help asking. Three classes came to John with this question. The answers which he returned to them were one and all directed against the vices and temptations peculiar to his questioners as respective classes. Doubtless from our Christian standpoint there is something defective in these utterances. To fulfil all these behests would not, it will be said, make any man a Christian. But it must be remembered that John himself was not a Christian. Great though he was, the least in the kingdom of heaven was greater than he. He was a preacher of righteousness. Upon him, last among men, the mantle of the old prophets had fallen. And his words are the echoes of those which had been spoken so long before: "Is not this the fast that I have chosen," &c. (Isaiah 58:6, 7). John's preaching of repentance was intended to pave the way for the Christian doctrine of the righteousness which comes by faith. And when at length Christianity did come and preach to men, it had something more to say than either John or any of his predecessors, but not one word of that Old Testament inculcation did it unsay, for it had not come to destroy, but to fulfil. John's words were true, though they were not the whole truth. And the world has not yet grown so wise, or generous, or honest, as to have risen above the need for such moral teaching as this. The answers of John to these conscience-stricken inquirers contain underlying principles suitable to men of all callings, and in all ages, who desire to lead sober, righteous, and godly lives.

I. THE PURSUIT OF ONE'S SECULAR CALLING AND DAILY OCCUPATION IS NOT INCOMPATIBLE WITH THE DESIRE TO LEAD A RELIGIOUS LIFE. John does not say to these questioners, "Quit your callings for others in which you will be less exposed to difficulty and danger"; but "Do the right thing in the situation in which you find yourselves." Even as Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 7:24), "Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God." While there are some perhaps among the many employments which obtain amongst men, in which no Christian man can consistently engage, for most of us, and for ordinary circumstances, the advice is good and sound, " Do not quit your occupation or grow restless and uneasy in it, as if you could not serve God honestly in it as in another. But see to it that you serve God in it, and that meanest duties are done from highest motives."

II. OUR RELIGION OUGHT TO ENTER INTO AND FIND ONE OF ITS GREAT SPHERES OF ACTION IN OUR DAILY LIFE AND BUSINESS. If business is not incompatible with religion, it is only because it is possible for us, and demanded of us, that we infuse the spirit of religion into our businesses. The difference between our Sundays and our week-days to be done away, or at all events lessened, not by degrading Sunday to the level of other days, but by elevating them to its level, in regard to the spirit we breathe, and the principles that govern us, and the consciousness of God's presence with us.

III. WE MUST BRING THE SPIRITUAL STRENGTH WHICH GOD GIVES US TO BEAR CHIEFLY AGAINST THE TEMPTATIONS TO WHICH WE ARE PECULIARLY EXPOSED. Some of our temptations arise out of our own evil hearts. Others are incidental to existence in a world like this. Against these general onslaughts we have all in common to strive. But there are temptations peculiar to us as individuals, or as members of a certain class — arising from the circumstances in which we are placed, and the positions we hold. It was so with the publicans and soldiers who came to John, and his advice to them was, "Oppose yourselves with all your might to the besetments which assail you in your respective callings." And what is true of the peculiar dangers arising from position and circumstance is true also of those which have their origin in personal disposition and temperament. Let us all strive so to live that men shall not be able to point to glaring inconsistencies in our lives — that they may see that our religion is no mere profession, but a living power, which has all our life and thought and conduct under its sway, which can sanctify the trivial round and common task, and transmute the base metal of our ordinary acts and occasions and duties into the gold of the cheerful obedience of loving hearts and consecrated lives.

(J. R. Bailey.)

— I remember one of my parishioners at Halesworth telling me that he thought "a person should not go to church to be made uncomfortable." I replied that I thought so too; but whether it should be the sermon or the man's life that should be altered so as to avoid the discomfort, must depend on whether the doctrine was right or wrong.

(Archbishop Whately.)

Do you not know that a man may be preached to liturgically and doctrinally, and never be touched by the truth, or understand that to which he listens? Suppose I were to preach to you in Hebrew, how much would you understand? Now, when I preach so that a banker, who has all along been sitting under the doctrinal preaching, but has never felt its application to his particular business, feels the next day, when counting his coin, a twinge of conscience, and says, "I wish I could either practise that sermon or forget it," I have preached the gospel to him in such a way that he has understood it. I have applied it to the sphere of life in which he lives. When the gospel is preached so that a man feels that it is applied to his own life, he has it translated to him. And it needs to be translated to merchants and lawyers, and mechanics, and every other class in society, in order that all may receive their portion in due season.

(H. W. Beecher.)

When Massillon preached at Versailles, Louis XIV. paid the following most expressive tribute to the power of his eloquence. "Father, when I hear others preach, I am very well pleased with them; when I hear you, I am dissatisfied with myself." The first time he preached his sermon on the small number of the elect, the whole audience were, at a certain part of it, seized with such violent emotion, that almost every person half rose from his seat, as if to shake off the horror of being one of the cast-out into everlasting darkness.

(Percy.)

It was a beautiful criticism made by Longinus, upon the effect of the speaking of Cicero and Demosthenes. He says the people would go from one of Cicero's orations, exclaiming, "What a beautiful speaker! What a rich fine voice! What an eloquent man Cicero is!" They talked of Cicero; but when they left Demosthenes, they said, "Let us fight Philip!" Losing sight of the speaker, they were all absorbed in the subject; they thought not of Demosthenes, but of their country. So, my brethren, let us endeavour to send away from our ministrations the Christian, with his month full of the praise — not of "our preacher," but of God; and the sinner, not descanting upon the beautiful figures and well-turned periods of the discourse, but inquiring, with the brokenness of a penitent, "What shall I do to be saved?"

A man doesn't need to be rich before he shows whether he is generous or not. Nor is a man's generosity to be limited to one-tenth of his income. Dividing one's scantiest store with others is a duty, quite as clearly as giving out of one's abundance. A great many wish that they were rich, in order that they might be generous; but unless one gives freely while he has little, he could not give freely if he had much. Generosity often diminishes with one's growing wealth; it never, never, never increases with one's worldly accumulations. And mark you, the giving which tells in God's ears is giving to the destitute; not giving to friends and relatives who already have something. Most of the holiday giving, and the birthday giving, and the free-hearted and open-handed giving, in this world, is to those who are already well-to-do in life. That is all very well in its way — as a means of pure personal enjoyment; but it is not charity, not any sign of a love toward God. If you would show that you are God's children, and would do your duty as in God's sight, let him that hath two coats give to him that hath none, and let him that hath meat do likewise.

(H. C. Trumbull.)

The Jews of the first century always wore the tunic and mantle or robe. These were the two indispensable garments. As a rule the Jew had at least two complete suits in his possession that he might be able to change often. A man must be very poor to have only one cloak; and yet this is what Christ enjoined on His disciples. According to Luke's Gospel He said one day: "If any man would go to law with thee and take away thy cloak, let him have thy coat also." This precept can be understood; a robber would naturally lay hold first of the outer garment. But Matthew puts it the other way: "If any man will take thy coat, let him have thy cloak also." Under this form it is harder to understand, and we may well suppose that in transcribing the copyists have misplaced the two words coat and cloak.

(E. Stapler, D. D.)

People wondered why George Briggs, Governor of Massachusetts, wore a cravat but no collar. "Oh," they said, "it is an absurd eccentricity," and they said, "he does that just to show himself off." Ah! no. That was not the character of George Briggs, Governor of Massachusetts, as I might intimate by a little incident which occurred at Pittsfield, Mass., just after a meeting of the American Board of Foreign Missions. My brother was walking on one side of the Governor, and on the other side of the Governor was a missionary who had just returned from India. The day was cold, and the Governor looked at the missionary and said, "Why, my friend, you don't seem to have an overcoat." "No," said the missionary, "I haven't been able to purchase an overcoat since I came to the country." Then the Governor took off his great cloak and threw it around the missionary and said, "I can stand this climate better than you can." Governor Briggs did not do anything just to show off. This was the history of the cravat without any collar. For many years before he had been talking with an inebriate, trying to persuade him to give up the habit of drinking, and he said to the inebriate, "Your habit is entirely unnecessary." "Ah!" replied the inebriate, "we do a great many things that are not necessary. It isn't necessary that you should have that collar." "Well," said Briggs, "I will never wear a collar again if you will stop drinking." "Agreed," said the other. They joined hands in a pledge that they kept for twenty years, kept until death. That is magnificent. That is gospel, practical gospel, worthy of George Briggs, worthy of you. Self-denial for others. Subtraction from our advantage that there may be an addition to somebody else's advantage.

(Dr. Talmage.)

When a Christian lady once came to Carlyle and asked what she should do to make her life more useful, he replied," Seek out some poor friendless lassie and be kind to her."

One of the best things said by the late George Peabody is this, spoken at a reunion at his native town: — "It is sometimes hard for one who has devoted the best part of his life to the accumulation of money to spend it for others; but practise it, and keep on practising it, and I assure you it becomes a pleasure."

"What shall we do?" each asks in turn. Observe the Baptist's method in reply. He was able to answer that question because he had a firm hold of a few fundamental principles — righteousness, equity, love. That was his charm, his power, his resource. He was not political, but he dealt with politicians; nor military, but he dealt with soldiers; nor mercantile, but he dealt with finance; hence we may learn, by the way, the relation of the pulpit to politics. Unless the preacher can raise politics out of the sphere of party spirit, let him keep silence; but when a Government policy infringes on the moral plane, when and where it can be tested by common principles of righteousness, equity, and love, then its policy is as much the preacher's sphere of comment as murder, theft, or selfishness. If any Government, e.g., is culpably indifferent for years to the state of Ireland, and can only be roused to activity by Parnellism: when I observe that the Indian budget, upon which hangs the well-being of distant millions, is proverbially discussed by an apathetic group in an empty House: when I see the men of Parliamentary authority combine to crush out the risings of freedom in Egypt with brute force, simply because influential speculators want a high rate of interest for their money on an iniquitous loan — why, it is time to ask, "ought the pulpit to keep silence?" Certainly not. The policy infringes on the moral sphere, and has to be judged by the same Divine principles to which the Baptist invariably appealed. Aye, and I will go further and say that the temper of political debate is also a matter for pulpit comment. When public time is wasted, crises at home and abroad neglected, and the whole tone of the House lowered because two political gladiators want to have a stand-up fight, and the honourable members are content to form a ring, is such wanton fooling as that in high places not to be arraigned by those who profess to view party conduct by the light of a morality which seems unknown to party politics?

(H. R. Haweis, M. A.)

John's touch was throughout light but firm, and quite infallible in particulars, just because he appealed to simple and universally intelligible principles of right and wrong. Listen to his answer to the people generally. "You want to know what to do? Do the right thing now. There's a man without a cloak, the sun's going down, he's over-heated, he'll catch fever — you've got an extra wrap, give it him. That woman yonder is fainting for a little food, she was so eager to be baptized she forgot her provision basket — you have more than you want, give her some. To the publican, or portitor, who paid so much to the Government for the right of collecting the taxes, and then got as much more as he could by squeezing the people: "You tyrants, you extortioners, every one knows your trade, and is willing to give you your margin of profit; well, don't exact more." To the soldiers: "You Jacks-in-office, don't levy blackmail by threatening to accuse innocent persons. Don't use the prestige of the Roman arms to oppress the civilian in the provinces, and don't mutiny and keep striking for higher pay; respect the people whom you ought to protect, and the master whom you profess to serve." This was pretty smart and practical teaching. The man of the crowd could not go home and say that the man of the desert knew nothing about him. He could go home and "repent"!

(H. R. Haweis, M. A. .)

The Baptist's answer to the question of the people, "What shall we do?" is exceedingly remarkable if we consider that John's mission was to prepare the way for Christ. If this question were put to many amongst ourselves, who profess to lead men to Christ, they would answer — "You can do nothing. All works of men in your unreconciled state are displeasing to God. You can in no way, by any works of your own, further your own salvation. It is the worst of errors to think so." But the Baptist, filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb, gives an answer implying the very reverse. It is — "You must do something. You must do what is in your power. You can, at least, give food and raiment to the poor starving creatures around you. Begin with this. If you begin thus with denying your selfishness, God will soon show you a more excellent way — the way of grace in His Son. But till that Son comes and reveals Himself to you, do what your hand finds to do. Do some good to your fellow-creatures. The way for you to obtain mercy is to be merciful." Now, in saying this, did St. John in the least degree swerve from his mission of preparing the way for Christ by preaching of repentance? No, not for a moment. When the people asked him what they were to do to avoid the wrath to come, it was a plain sign that God had touched their hearts with some degree of repentance, and this repentance was no repentance at all unless it cut at the root of their selfishness, and every unselfish, self-denying act would deepen it. Notice, also, that St. John said this to the masses. Instead of saying to them, "You have little to give, and so God will excuse you from contributing," he says to them, "Whatever you have that you do not absolutely need, give it." Looked at in this light, the words are very strong, very searching. If they make such a demand on the crowds, what do they make on the few who have abundance of this world's goods? Of course such words as these of the Baptist are to be understood in the light of common sense: men are not to give, to enable others to be idle. The best commentary on the passage, according to , is 2 Corinthians 8:13, 14.

(M. F. Sadler, M. A.)

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