Matthew 11:16
Our Lord must have watched the children at play in the market-place, and have been grieved when a discontented spirit had been manifested by some of them. He had seen how no effort on the part of their companions could move these obstinate children from their sullen mood. And now he finds the behaviour of the children to be typical of that of their parents. Elder people may learn from children. The unconventional manners of children may reveal something of the character of the age, or something of human nature itself, that is too often hidden under the veneer of mere fashion.

I. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO SATISFY THE UNSYMPATHETIC. The disagreeable children can be enticed by no action of their companions. They will not dance to the gay music nor join in the mock mourning. A third method would be equally unsuccessful, because they are not to be pleased. They are sitting; there is always something wrong with children when they sit down for long; the life has gone out of them. Similarly there are people who are dissatisfied with all methods of religious work. Old staid methods are dull and gloomy to them; new and more lively methods are unseemly and irreverent. From the sobriety of the Quakers' meeting to the unrestrained fervour of a Salvation Army meeting they cannot discover any worship to suit them, and they find fault with all ways of conducting Church services. If some one could invent a new style of worshipping God this would be of no use for the discontented people. Their discontent lies deeper. The children had no mind to play; these people have no mind to pray. Therefore we shall not reach them by new methods. They are in a hopeless condition unless we can touch their hearts and lead them into a better state of mind. It is useless to pander to their prejudices. Perhaps at present all we can do is to pray for them.

II. UNSYMPATHETIC PEOPLE MISTAKE AUSTERITY FOR INSANITY. In our Lord's day these people could only explain John the Baptist by saying that he was possessed by the devil. There are men and women to whom the very idea of self-denial is absurd. They have always lived a self-indulgent life, and they cannot understand why anybody in his senses should do otherwise. Such people have not the least conception of the high claims of duty. Moreover, they do not understand the darker sides of life. To them Gethsemane is a perfect enigma.

III. UNSYMPATHETIC PEOPLE MISTAKE SOCIABILITY FOR SELF-INDULGENCE. The very people who say that the austere prophet is mad, when they see Christ, who is not austere, accuse him of laxity of conduct. This is enough to show that their opposition is insincere, or at least that it springs from their own state of mind, and not from any defect in those whom they presume to criticize. It is much to learn that the highest religion is not ascetic, and yet that it is not self-indulgent. The real reason why Jesus ate and drank with all sorts of people was not an indifference to moral distinctions, a hunger for popularity, or a love of ease - all vices utterly foreign to his character. It was just his brotherly love seeking to help and bless everybody. We cannot understand the story of Jesus till we catch his spirit. Then we see that the safest protection against the evil of the world is not ascetic isolation, but a self-forgetting life spent for the good of our fellow-men. - W.F.A.







But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets.
The Great Teacher on the watch that He might spiritualize what passed before Him; He was probably standing in a Jewish market-place when He uttered these words. The Jews used the pipe at marriages and funerals. This instrument of music, therefore, like our church bells, served alike for the joyful and mournful occasion.

I. THE APPLICATION OF THE PASSAGE TO THE JEWS. There was a marked difference between the ministry of the Baptist and that of our Lord; John presented piety under the form of austerity; Jesus, on the contrary, mingled freely with the people. Thus was brought to bear upon the Jews a great variety moral assault. Both were unheeded. The Baptist had been too repulsive, and now the Redeemer was too conciliating. If they had melancholy music, they wanted lively, and if they had lively they wanted melancholy. They were like sullen children resisting all efforts to interest them.

II. THE APPLICATION OF THE PASSAGE TO OURSELVES. God's dealings with sinners are still mixed.

Boanerges and Barnabas are sent. If the preacher is vehement, then you say that frightening men is not the right way of dealing with them; if he is pathetic, you say there ought not to be an attempt to master the feelings without carrying the judgment. The occurrences of daily life are so many endeavours on the part of the Almighty to win men from unrighteousness. Both prosperity and adversity; men resist the combination.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

Our Lord clearly charges upon those to whom He personally preached, that they were childish in their treatment of religion.

I. HOW INCONSISTENT AND CAPRICIOUS ARE MANY OF THE OBJECTIONS TO CHRISTIANITY. They assume contradictory forms. Look at some of these objections.

1. "A Divine revelation," say such men, "ought to exhibit a Divine power." Is it reasonable to say that Christianity has no power because its work has not been completely finished in eighteen centuries? Then he does not believe in any superhuman power which rises above the laws of nature. The very man who said the gospel wanted power!

2. You find the same principle in regard to the way in which such men treat the evidence on which Christianity is based. Men do well to look to foundations. They object to evidence of religion in books, and cry for something to affect the moral nature; but if you point him to characters changed by religion he says that he " does not believe in a religion that depends for proof on inward experiences."

3. But nowhere is this determination not to be pleased so apparent as in their judgment of the personal character and conduct of Christians. Fidelity to truth may not please men, but, by God's blessing, it will save them.

II. CHRISTIANITY ADMITS OF VARIETY IN INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER AND WORK.

1. Variety in experience.

2. In doctrine, too, Christianity admits of variety.

3. In Christian work the religion of Jesus admits of great variety of individual peculiarity.

(Bishop Cheney.)

Have you never attempted the culture of certain plants which " refuse to hear the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely"? Trust to the showers to furnish them sufficient moisture, and suddenly you find their leaves are drooping as if a drought had cursed the soil. Try to refresh them with water, and you find the roots softening with decay, and the leaves incrusting themselves in mildew. Put them out in the open border, where nature manifests her kindest care, and the sun scorches them like the breath of a furnace. Remove them where a friendly shrub offers its shade, and forthwith they spindle up with a pale and ghastly growth, at once worthless and unhealthy. Fit types of many of the objections with which the faith of the Saviour has been met from the beginning!

(Bishop Cheney.)

And above all, in Christian work the religion of Jesus admits of great variety of individual peculiarity. Rising before the dawn you saw the morning star climb slowly up the purple ladder of the eastern sky. It had its work to do. God gave it that work. But no one expects it to light the world and turn darkness into day. That the rising sun must do. Even so widely different was the work of John the Baptist and Jesus the Sun of Righteousness. Both were to work the works of Him who sent them — but in ways utterly unlike.

(Bishop Cheney.)

In the great print-works of the land are men whose only duty is to make new patterns to be impressed upon the white surface of the snowy cotton. The countless combinations of colours which the kaleidoscope presents are reproduced in an infinite variety of designs. The men whose vast wealth is invested in looms and spindles comprehend human nature, and they know that it demands variety. Just in proportion as tyranny has established its supremacy, it has tried to reduce all the race to a single pattern. The idea of beauty which has filled the mind of despots has always been that of the Dutch gardeners, who clipped and pruned trees that nature would have made lovely in luxuriant growth till each one was precisely like every other. How different when our Lord Jesus Christ came to establish His supremacy. Two men could hardly have been more widely different than Jesus of Nazareth and John the Baptist.

(Bishop Cheney.)

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. He is too strict or too yielding; too gloomy or too happy; too cautious or too bold; too shrewd or too simple. Let not such judgments of men disconcert or discourage any who with an honest heart endeavour to be true to Christ.

(D. Fraser, D. D.)

There are three great periods in religion.

1. The period of law; in which the motives are hope and fear — hope of reward and fear of punishment.

2. The period of the gospel; in which the motive is simply the love of what is good without regard to personal results.

3. The transition period, which is that of John the Baptist; when there is the light of the gospel, and yet the terror of the law behind it; in which men, though they love God a little, are still afraid of Him.

When a man's conscience is pulling one way, and his heart is pulling him another way, nothing pleases him. If you ask him to do his duty, and tell him what he ought to be, his conscience assents, but he does not like it. If, on the other hand, you make excuses for him, and tell him he is all right, then his feelings are soothed, but his conscience remonstrates, because he knows you are wrong in saying so. Selfishness is thus always ill at ease, and has no inward unity so long as there is any conscience left.

The trouble is in the men themselves, and not in the institutions that surround them. They are like sick children. Whatever the nurse may bring, whether it be of food, or of drink, or of some object of amusement, the child pushes it pettishly away. Nothing suits the child. It is not because the picture is not beautiful; it is not because the drink is not cooling and palatable; it is not because the food is not good; it is because the irritable nerve is such that nothing seems good, no matter how good it may be, and nothing seems desirable, no matter how attractive it may be. And there are hundreds of men in every community who refuse to bow down the pride of their nature, and who refuse to accept the service of Christ, because of the heart that they carry in them, although the reasons which they allege are reasons of exterior religion.

(H. W. Beecher.)

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