Matthew 11:1

I. THE MOTIVE OF THIS INQUIRY OF JOHN'S is not at once apparent. What was causing him perplexity, if not disappointment, about our Lord? He was disappointed because the works he heard of were not the kind of works he had himself expected the Messiah to perform. His own work had been to denounce prevailing iniquities, and to predict the advent of One who should cleanse with fire where he cleansed with water; who would come in the same spirit as himself, but with a mightier manifestation of it; One who would lay the axe to the root of the tree of evil, and quickly execute judgment in Israel. His whole soul went forth with expectation, and there was nothing to meet it. He had learned how short a time would be given to any one who was resolved to root out evil from the land. Why, then, this passive inactivity on the part of Jesus? Why was he content to go about in villages, helping beggars, speaking with uninfluential sinners, while the nation groaned under foreign tyranny and cried for its king? From this doubting inquiry of John's we may learn several things, as:

1. How entirely Jesus had to depend on himself. What must have been the clearness of aim and stability of purpose which could put aside not only the popular expectation, but the grave judgments and suggestions of men like John?

2. John's state of mind shows how apt people are to allow their own distresses to distort their views of Providence. When things go against us, and the despotic laws of the world move on and pay no respect to our prayers or our piety, we are apt to admit doubts where all was plain and sure to us.

3. When we ourselves are not used in God's work, we are tempted to think he is doing nothing. If a religious movement goes on without us, we think of it critically and with suspicion.

4. We see here how insignificant the effects of the gospel always seem. John saw only what he thought a good doctor could rival.

II. THE ANSWER SENT BY JESUS TO JOHN becomes at once intelligible so soon as the nature of the inquiry is understood. The important item in the report was the preaching of the gospel to the poor. it had always been recognized as characteristic of the Messiah that the poor were to be gladdened when he came. He would not overlook those whom all other governors overlooked. This was equivalent to saying that no human necessities were beyond the relief he brought. He was to bring in a religion available for all men - for those who had nothing but humanity to recommend, aid, or support them. Until his kingdom was fully established this could only be a proclamation of good news, and so works of beneficence went hand in hand with the preaching, to show that the promise was not mere word. The miracles were thus actual proclamations. To the report of what they saw and heard the messengers were to add the words, "Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me." As if he would say, "I have chosen my methods of action. Blessed is he who understands the characteristic features of the kingdom and can rejoice in them. Blessed is he who does not take offence at the Saviour of the world because he comes with mercy and not with judgment. Blessed is he who understands that the most penetrating, lastingly efficacious powers in the world are forgiveness, tenderness, and pitiful ministering to the common wants." This word of warning applies to several kinds of misapprehension.

1. There are those to whom it seems unintelligible that Christ's work is so slow, that he is so tardy in making any marked impression on the world, that things should go on so much as if he had no power in heaven or on earth. In times of need they are tempted to ask, "Art thou he that should come?" But blessed are ye who, thus tempted, are able to accept Christ's way, not in sullen resignation, but believing that it is unintelligible to you only because his aim is higher than yours, his love greater, his wisdom more unclouded, his methods more radical. He will not always explain; he expects you will trust him warmly and lovingly, and so grow to understand his spirit; he will trust you for coming at last to see as he sees, and he leaves with you this loving word.

2. Christ here shows in what spirit he meets honest doubt about his Person and work. He knew that beneath that question of John's, which so shocked the bystanders, there was a heart more capable of loyalty to him than was to be found in any of those who gave their easy assent to claims they scarcely understood. That question of John's was of more value to him than the unreasoning hosannas of thoughtless followers; for through that question he saw a man in terrible earnest, to whom the answer was eternal life or eternal darkness. Nothing can be more contemptible than the doubts which are paraded, as if to doubt were an intellectual achievement, as if the man who lives in doubt were in a more advanced stage than he who has found the truth. Of such doubters, who question truth not that they may be answered, but for the sake of display, we have more than enough in these days. But there are also doubters, like the Baptist, whose doubt is wrung from an agonized heart, whose whole happiness is bound up in the question they put, and who, if Jesus be not the Christ, will sink in infinite despair. They try to fit in Christ's Word and salvation to what they actually find in their own life; they try to make Christ's rule as real as their own worldly business, and find themselves forced to wonder whether Christ is indeed meaning to rule on earth. Then Christ shows them that the power he desires on earth is just that power he is actually and all round putting forth, in bringing light to darkened souls, life to the dead. This is the real work he came to do, and by doing which he proves his claim. If anything were needed to prove the absence of resentment with which our Lord viewed John's question, it is his defence of John from the reflections of the people. He points out to them that he had never been a man with whom the idea of weakness could be associated - a reed shaken with the wind. He was the very last whose opinion would be moulded by his position. But it was of small moment what they thought of John as a man compared to their right understanding of the comparative value of the preaching of John and the preaching of the kingdom - of the difference between the reformation urged by John and the regeneration proclaimed by himself. In order sharply to mark this he says, "Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." He was a true prophet, yea, more than the greatest prophet bad been, but all his zeal for righteousness, for the unflinching application of the Law, bad, as it now appeared, unfitted him to appreciate the temper and spirit of the new era. Any one in the kingdom animated by the characteristic spirit of love is greater than he. It is not so much a comparison of any individual with John as of the new era with the outgoing era. It is rather the instrument than the man that is spoken of. John could point out a thousand wrongs that needed to be redressed, a thousand sins that must be abandoned; but Jesus, without much denunciation of sin, gave men a love for himself that ejected the love of sin. John put the righteousness of God in the front of his teaching; Jesus put the love of God. And he who has the smallest tincture of the spirit of Jesus has more influence than one who has the inflexible righteousness of John. - D.

Art Thou He that should come?
I. THE INQUIRY MADE BY THE BAPTIST. It was suggested by the incredulous state of his disciples.(1) Because if Jesus was Messiah He had not exerted His power for the deliverance of John from prison;(2) Because they observed that our Saviour had as yet made no public claim to the title; and(3) Because the manner of our Saviour's life and conversation had less appearance of sanctity than the life of their master.


1. AS to the manner of it. It is not direct and positive, but enables them to answer their question themselves.

2. As to the matter of it. Three things deserve to be weighed by us.

(a)The remarkable gradation and rise there is in the particulars there mentioned;

(b)The appositeness of it in relation to the inquirers;

(c)The general force and evidence of the argument contained in it.

(Francis Atterbury.)

I. They must be above the known powers of all natural causes.

II. They must he done publicly and in the face of the world, that there may be no room to suspect artifice and collusion.

III. The. doctrines which they are brought to vouch must be every way worthy of God.

IV. They should carry marks of good-will and beneficence to men.

V. It is the more convincing if such miracles were foretold, and

VI. If there be no appearances of self-interest and design in the worker of such miracles.

(Francis Atterbury.)

It will appear odd that John should entertain any doubt, or require any satisfaction about this matter .... John sent this message, not from any doubt which he himself entertained of the matter, but in order that the doubts which his disciples had conceived about it might receive an answer and satisfaction from the fountain head. From our Lord's answer we are entitled to infer that —

I. The faith which He required was a rational assent and faith founded upon proof and evidence. These were given in His miracles.

II. Our Lord's miracles distinguished Him from John.

III. Our Lord distinctly put, the truth of His pretensions upon the evidence of His miracles.

IV. Our Lord fixes the guilt of file unbelieving Jews upon this article, that they rejected miraculous proofs which ought to have convinced them.

(W. PaIey.)

I. THE EVIDENCE WHICH OUR SAVIOUR GIVES OF HIS BEING THE TRUE MESSIAH, and to prove this three things were necessary: —

1. To show that He was sent by God, and had a peculiar commission from Him, by the miracles which He wrought.

2. This will more clearly appear by the correspondency of the things here mentioned with what was foretold by the prophets concerning the Messias.(1) It was foretold of the Messias that He should work miraculous cures (Isaiah 30:4-6);(2) That He should preach the gospel to the poor (Isaiah 61:1);(3) That the world should be offended at Him (Isaiah 8:14).


1. Consider how the poor came to be more disposed to receive the gospel than others. They had no earthly interest to engage them to reject the Saviour. They enjoy little of the good things of this life, and are willing to entertain good news of happiness in another.

2. What those prejudices are which the world had against Christ. That He wrought miracles by diabolical skill; that He kept company with sinners; that He profaned the Sabbath.

(J. Tillotson, D. D.)

I. The prophets declared that the Saviour should be Himself the Everlasting God (Micah 5:2).

II. The family of the Messiah was foretold (Isaiah 11:1).

III. The prophets foretold the time at which the Saviour should be born.

IV. The place of the Saviour's birth was foretold.

V. The character of the Messiah was the subject of prophecy.

VI. The offices the Messiah was to sustain for His people were foretold by the prophets.

VII. The prophets plainly foretold the manner of Christ's death, resurrection, and exaltation. Application: —

1. To those who treat with unholy mirth this sacred season.

2. There may be some whose faith in the incarnate Son of God is assaulted by Satan, and perplexed by cruel doubts.

3. There are those who have been effectually taught by the Spirit to believe in Him who came in the flesh. "No man can say that Jesus is the Christ but by the Holy Ghost."

(E. Blencowe, M. A.)

I. THE WORD OF THE LORD STANDS FIRM. Forty centuries had passed since the promise of the seed of the woman had been given.

II. THE WORK OF THE LORD GOES ON. Men may not understand it; His own servants may be perplexed about it. But there is the secure ongoing of the eternal plan.

III. THE CONSUMMATION COMETH — all that pertains to Messianic work He will perform. God has no cause for haste.

(J. A. Seiss, D. D.)

I. JOHN'S DOUBT. The subject of the doubt — the Messiahship of Jesus.


1. What he did not do. He did not boast of His doubt. He was not content to remain in this state of-doubt without making an effort to rise out of it.

III. CHRIST'S ANSWER TO JOHN'S DOUBT. John's question is, in substance, the question of to-day. But the answer of Jesus is distinct, calm, dignified.

(Dr. Ritchie.)

I. That there is No SIN IN DOUBTING. Some doubts are sinful, when born of irrational prejudices, or bred of unregulated life. But doubt, of its own nature, cannot be sinful. Must be hesitation till evidence be sufficient.

II. But FAITH IS BETTER THAN DOUBT. We are never encouraged in Scripture in cultivating an inner habit of intellectual or moral scepticism. Doubt is only a means to faith.


1. In any attempt to subdue scepticism, regard should be had to the proximate cause of it, or to the real cause of it. Much perplexity has a physical cause. The gospel for the body: rest, change, ocean, may remove this. Doubt has intellectual cause; not to be forced down by acts of will, but by prayer for more light. There are doubts which have a moral origin. Let conscience speak and remove them.

2. That nearly all doubts concerning Christ or Christian truth, ought to be brought in some way before Christ Himself, and given as it were into His own hand for solution. Christ's reply to the Baptist was clear, prompt, convincing. It is an argumentative reply; fresh evidence is presented. Christ's work is always open to examination, and testifies to His Messiahship; if it does not then do not believe.

(A. Raleigh, D. D.)

What would be thought of a chemist who should conduct an experiment, day after day, making a number of little variations in his method, but always withholding the deciding element from the crucible, or else persistently refusing to look at the result? Or, what would be thought of a merchant, always reckoning up his figures, but never writing down the final sums? Or, what of a captain who should sail his ship in a circle? Or, of a traveller always on the road, never reaching home or inn?

(A. Raleigh, D. D.)

Martin Luther, of a kindred .spirit with the Baptist, and with a like task to perform, had many days of despondency, and passed through many conflicts of unbelief. He writes: "One may overcome the temptations of the flesh, but how hard it is to struggle against the temptations of blasphemy and despair." Again: "Having all but lost my Christ, I was beaten by the waves and tempests of despair and blasphemy." Bunyan, who, with his wonderful imagination, could body forth the things unseen and spiritual, as if he could see them with his eyes, hear them with his ears, and touch them with his hands, had many conflicts with unbelief. "Of all temptations I ever met with in my life," he says, "to question the being of God and the truth of His gospel is the worst, and worst to be borne. When this temptation comes it takes my girdle from me, and removes the foundation from under me. Though God has visited my soul with never so blessed a discovery of Himself, yet afterwards I have been in my spirit so filled with darkness, that I could not so much as once conceive what that God and that comfort were with which I had been refreshed."

As it is in clear water, when it is still and transparent, the sun shines to the very bottom; but, if you stir the mud, presently it grows so thick that no light can pierce into it. So it is with the children of God: though their apprehensions of God's love be as clear and transparent, sometimes, as the very air that the angels and glorified saints breathe in heaven, yet if once the muddy humour of melancholy stirs they become dark, so that no ray of comfort can break into the deserted soul.

(Bishop Hopkins.)

Colton declares that in moments of despondency Shakespeare thought himself no poet; and Raphael doubted his right to be called a painter. We call such self-suspicions morbid, and ascribe them to a hypochondriacal fit; in what other way can we speak of those doubts as to their saintship, which occasionally afflict the most eminently holy of the Lord's people!

Here is One evidently, who is not afraid of the light. He will not seek the homage of superstition. Depend on it, Christ is glad of the science of to-day, and its investigations, when carried on in the spirit of reverence and earnestness. He is glad for the broadening light, and for every new coign of vantage whence we can look at Him. Shall we, then, be afraid of the light? When we take a rose, a lily out of the garden, we put it in the clearest light that all its beauty may be seen. We are not afraid of the light for it. We say, "Get the microscope, and let its lenses concentrate the rays upon these flowers of God, and they will glorify Him all the more." Shall it not be so with this Rose of Sharon, this Lily of the Valley! Ask your question! Push your inquiry! Who is afraid of it? Not Christ. Not we.

(J. Brierley, B. A.)

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