To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
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.
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.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.)
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.
(D. Fraser, D. D.)
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.
(H. W. Beecher.)
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