As John's disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the wind?
I. THE GREATNESS OF JOHN AND HIS WORK. He is unhesitating in the praise and admiration he bestows. Challenging comparison with any hero of old time, the conclusion still is, "There hath not risen a greater." And the distinctive greatness of his character was only in keeping with the unique importance of his work. This is indicated when he says of John that he was more than a prophet - a messenger preparing the way, an immediate forerunner. Up to John's time the prophets and the Law had prophesied; now the kingdom was not pointed at, but stormed and possessed. It is no longer a hope, it is a present reality; the kingdom is come. The land which had seemed very far off to the older prophets was there for whosoever had faith to win it. [By the unusual expression he employs, our Lord apparently intends to emphasize the two ideas,
(1) that only men of earnestness and vigour can win the kingdom, and
(2) that in the entrance there is much disorder and tumult.
1. Of the first of these Bunyan is the best expositor, in his picture of the man who with his drawn sword made his way into the palace. Bunyan knew that it is only by the men that can stand blows and the sight of blood that the kingdom is won even now. Many, indeed, are they who still bar the entrance, and they fight with every variety of weapon.
2. In periods when appeal is made to the elementary forces of human nature, much that is indecorous, much that is illegal, is apt to be done. And when the religious life of a community is trying to shape for itself new forms, there always come to the front men of violence, men of the type of Luther, who disgust men of taste like Erasmus, but who are the fit instruments for taking by assault the new stronghold in which faith is to find refuge. The Pharisees were shocked to see the kind of people who crowded after Jesus, and the manner of their following. We are warned, therefore, to judge no movement by its superficial unseemliness and disorderly ways, but by the underlying principles which are really its moving power.
II. Diverse as were the types of character exhibited by John and Jesus, and by their message, both were unsatisfactory to the mass of the people. John demanded of them a righteousness which seemed impossible; and Jesus was still more unsuitable, even unintelligible - a mere good-natured time-server, indifferent to the sorrows of his people so long as he could be tolerably comfortable. John has nothing but stern denunciation - we have piped unto him, but not a step will he dance. Jesus goes to the other extreme; has no ear for any of our national sorrows, and seems quite able to be happy, though overtaxed and under foreign rule - we have mourned unto him, and he has not lamented.
1. There are people who live at feud with their generation because they cannot get their own whim petted, their own idea responded to. They cannot fall in with any of the religious movements of their time, and find in the market-place of life only food for their own disappointed vanity. The children of Wisdom, on the contrary, justify the wisdom which moves religious leaders to adopt differing methods. They see in John a congruity to his work. In one who was impartially to criticize all classes, and be an embodied conscience to the whole community, there was wisdom in showing, even in his outward aspect, that he was prepared to lead the way in stern repression of self-indulgence, and superiority to the influences of fashion and worldly expectation. It is quite true he is extreme, one-sided, a man of one idea, but much of the most important work in the world is effected by men of one idea, who are blind to all else but the one thing they have to do. Similarly, a free, cheerful intercourse with men became him whose work it was, not to reveal one aspect of God, but his whole attitude towards men, and whose nature it was to be every man's Fellow, the Son of man. If Jesus is not only to convince of sin, but to save his people from their sins, how can he do so save by loving them and moving among them, and giving them his hand to help them?
2. Goodness may manifest itself in various forms of life, and we must judge men's manner and conduct by the work they have to do. Our heavenly Father is pleased with modes of life as diverse as the natures he has bestowed on us, and we need not condemn ourselves or others on the ground that our goodness does not express itself in a certain conventional form.
3. The man who makes his own tastes and expectations the measure of the religious movements of his time is apt to make mistakes fatal to his own religious growth. He will get no good from any of the movements that stir and advance other people, and he will get all the harm, the hardening of the heart, the self-righteous vanity, the hypocritical blindness to the truth, which must result from opposing the work of God in his own generation. Let us be sure we are giving our serious conviction and fullest energy to some form of life we are persuaded God approves, that we are not playing at religion like children in the market-place. Seek God in the way that commends itself to your conscience, bug be sure it is him and not your own method you adore, and when you have found him try and see him in all and through all and over all. - D.
What went ye out into the wilderness to see?
1. Is it what is generally called amiability? Is it "a reed shaken by the wind?" a character that bends at the first expression of adverse opinion? Is this the character that wins the human heart? That which really draws us to itself is the man who is strong enough to resist with tenderness.
2. Are we, then, generally attracted by the attributes of high station? "Clothed in soft raiment." Few people are insensible to the attraction of high station; it has often the charm of old associations and achievements. But does it draw our hearts? His life may contradict the high ideal his position would lead us to expect; and these decorations are outside the man.
3. Is it mental power which most powerfully affect us? Many a man bows down to intellect who would not to wealth. Intellect is attractive, but its attraction is not universal; it is not powerful; there are large regions of heart in our nature where it does not touch. Intellect may forfeit its power by being divorced from goodness — "More than a prophet."
4. The feeling which is always inspired by a great religious soul of whose consistency we are well assured, but which we only half understand. Such a character lives before us evidently in constant communion with God while shrouding from the public eye much which our curiosity would fain explore. Without analyzing their feelings, the multitude felt that in coming near to the Baptist they were like men who stood at the base of a mountain which buries its summit in the clouds of heaven. John was not discredited by his imprisonment; he was a prophet still; so our Lord would have them understand.
(Canon Liddon.)I. THERE ARE THOSE WHOSE IDEA OF RELIGION IS A WEAK, VACILLATING, OR VAGUE PRINCIPLE. It has no strong hold in their minds or hearts. To how many is religion hardly more than a mere curiosity, or a transcient excitement, like wind blowing among reeds. But these words are meant to describe the preconceptions of the multitude respecting John. For, after all, it may be said of the mass of men that their feeling in regard to religion is not one of curiosity; there is a deep sense of something in the thing itself, and not in the mere manner of presenting it; but it is not held to be a strong principle, fitted for maturity, or, if they do not conceive it to be vacillating and weak, they hold it fitfully, or else it is merely in a traditional way that men hold religion; or perhaps religion is held by them because it is respectable.
II. THAT THERE IS A CLASS TO WHOM RELIGION IS MERELY AN AFFAIR OF SENTIMENT. They are represented by those people who expected to see the Baptist clothed in soft raiment. There are those to whom religion is a matter of aesthetic beauty. In another view, religion is to some a matter of soft raiment, from the idea that it is merely a matter of comfort and consolation. Others do not like a religion that has anything to do with agitation or reform. There are some who do not like to hear hard, sharp epithets from the preacher.
III. THERE ARE THOSE WHO REGARD RELIGION IN ITS SUPERNATURAL CHARACTER, They look for nothing less remarkable or worthy than a prophet. They view religion solely in its connection with miracles. The supernatural is not the exclusive element in religion; religion touches our common daily life. What is religion to you?
(E. H. Chapin.)
1. The irresolute; the soul which never can be got to take a decided line. But it puts off this necessary reformation; and so, although it has got a full flowery head of good intentions, they all blow away in the wills.
2. The backsliding; sincere in its weak, watery way, desiring to do what is right, but never able to stand alone — always falling for want of a prop.
3. The frivolous; unable to form a serious purpose, or take a grave view of its responsibilities. The frivolous mind is a mind outside the person; there is only emptiness within, and the mind is occupied only with externals. It is a more mischievous reed than the preceding; the winds that blow it about are fashion, folly, pleasure.
4. The timorous; a weak little rush, harmless, not noxious. It will not undertake a duty, lest it should not have strength to carry it on.
(S. Baring-Gould, M. A.)1. A light man, inconsistent, tossed to and fro; at one time, impelled by the words of flatterers, he asserts something; again, being driven by detractors, he denies it, as a reed is blown in different directions by different winds.
2. A man devoid of truth, virtue, and consistency — without stamina.
3. One who has no fruit of good works to show.
4. He who is delighted with, and feeds upon, the fluctuating pleasures of the world. For a reed is dry, yet it grows beside the waters.
I. To BE A BADGE OF PROFESSION. Profession is a great matter for two reasons.
1. Cases may happen in which profession is like to cost us dear.
2. We are bound to a profession, not in word only, but in deed. He is not a professor whose life is not a hymn to God. What are the excellences of the Christian profession? Sure principles of trust, or commerce, between us and God, for mercies of daily providence, pardon, and life, excellent rewards, and holy precepts of purity and charity. Now if we transgress any of these, we dishonour our profession.
II. To BE A SEAL OF THE COVENANT. On our part an obligation to obedience; God bindeth Himself to be our God, and we bind ourselves to be His people.
III. TO BE A PLEDGE OF HEAVEN.
IV. TO BE A SIGN, MEANS, AND PLEDGE OF OUR COMMUNION WITH CHRIST.
V. TO BE A MEANS OF OUR SPIRITUAL GROWTH AND NOURISHMENT.
VI. To BE A MEMORIAL OF CHRIST'S DEATH. VII. TO BE A PLEDGE OF HIS COMING. If these be the ends of the sacrament, you see what need there is of preparation.
(Thomas Manton.)I. THOSE THAT ATTEND UPON THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD SHOULD PROPOSE UNTO THEMSELVES SOME END WHY THEY DO IT.
1. Some propose no end at all.
2. Some propose ends downright sinful.
3. Some propose ends frivolous and trifling.
II. THOSE THAT PROPOSE A GOOD END MUST CALL THEMSELVES TO A STRICT ACCOUNT HOW THAT END IS OBTAINED OR LOST.
1. He must give such an account as a scholar to his teacher, of what he learns.
2. As a steward to his master.
3. As a debtor to his creditor (Matthew 18:23, 24).
4. As a malefactor to a judge (Matthew 12:36, 37).
III. THE STRICT ACCOUNT WE TAKE OF OURSELVES MUST BE FREQUENT. Inferences:
1. It is not the bare hearing of the best preachers that will save you.
2. Remove those hindrances which prevent any soul business.
3. Call yourself to account before and after hearing the Word of God.
4. Christ asks thee here in this world, that thou mayest stand at the last day, when there will be no time to rectify.
5. If you do not give Christ an answer which He will accept, it is vain to expect relief from any other.
(S. Annesley, D. D.)The time to praise: — Due praise is to be given to the good parts and practices of others; but rather behind their backs than before their faces, lest we be suspected of flattery, than which nothing is more odious. Aristobulus, the historian, wrote a flattering book of the brave acts of Alexander the Great, and presented it to him. He read it, and then cast it into the river, telling the author that he deserved to be treated as his book was.
(John Trapp.)A geologist and a botanist take a walk together. They go over the same country, but the geologist sees the lie of the strata, the botanist sees the wild flower under the hedge. So it is in the world of the moral and the spiritual. What we are spiritually all goes into our vision.
(J. Brierley, B. A.)
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