Luk_7:31-32; Luk_7:35. And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like? They are like unto children sitting in the market-place, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept.
But wisdom is justified of all her children.
THOUGH man is distinguished from all other animals by the faculty of reason, he is far from submitting readily to its dictates. In things that are agreeable to his mind he is easily persuaded: but where he is at all swayed by prejudice, or passion, or interest, he cannot be prevailed upon, even by the clearest arguments, to embrace truth, or to fulfil his duty. Thus it was with the Pharisees in our Lord’s time; on which account he compared them to perverse children, who could not be induced by their companions to participate in their amusements, notwithstanding every endeavour on their parts to accommodate themselves to their wishes [Note: It was customary to use pipes both at marriages and at funerals; at the one in cheerful, at the other in plaintive strains. And the children, in their play, are supposed to represent first the festivity of a marriage, and afterwards the lamentations of a funeral: in neither of which could they get their companions to join them.].
In this parable our Lord intimates,
The reception which his Gospel meets with—
God has used a great variety of means in order to recommend his Gospel—
[He published it to the Jews under types and shadows, and gradually unfolded it to them in a long series of prophecies. When the time came for its more general promulgation, he sent the Baptist to prepare their minds, and the Messiah himself to preach it to them, and to confirm his word by miracles without number. He endued also a few poor fishermen with miraculous powers, and sent them to publish the glad tidings, that their divine mission being unquestionable, their testimony might be universally received. Nothing was wanting that could in any wise promote the acceptance of the truth.]
But in every place the Gospel has been rejected by those to whom it has come—
[The Jews rested in the letter of their law, but hated the spirit of it; they embraced the shadow, but rejected the substance. By whomsoever the Gospel was preached, or under whatsoever form, the great majority of that nation could not be prevailed upon to receive it. Thus at this day, the truth of God is generally disregarded and despised. Men, it is true, profess to be followers of Christ, and to approve of his religion: but they are not suitably affected with it in any respect; they neither rejoice in its promises, nor are humbled by its threat-enings; “if we pipe to them, they will not dance; and if we mourn to them, they will not lament.” Notwithstanding there is such a transcendent excellence in the Gospel, and such an exact suitableness to men’s necessities, yet we still have reason to complain, “Lord, who hath believed our report?”]
It is a matter of no small importance to ascertain,
The true ground of this reception—
The ostensible ground is, that the Gospel is not properly administered—
[The Jews could not confute the arguments of the Baptist or of Christ; but they took occasion from the peculiarities of each to reject their testimony. John, agreeably to the dispensation under which he ministered, was austere in his manners; and Christ, agreeably to the dispensation which he came to introduce, was affable and social: yet, so far were the people from being pleased with either, that of one they said, “He hath a devil;” and of the other, “He is a glutton and a drunkard.”
Thus it is at this time: men will not say, “I hate the Gospel, and therefore will not attend to it;” but they will find fault with the persons who administer it; and make their peculiarities a plea for despising their message. At one time they represent the ministers of Christ as speaking too much about faith, and thereby depreciating morality: at another time, as insisting so strongly on good works, that they drive men to despair. Sometimes they will object to the truth because it is not read to them from a written discourse: and sometimes because of the earnest and impressive manner in which it is delivered. Even the virtues whereby ministers endeavour to adorn and recommend the Gospel, are often made occasions of offence; and the strictness of their lives, the condescension of their manners, and their assiduity in labours, are stated as grounds of heavy complaint. And as no terms were too opprobrious to be applied to the Baptist and to Christ, so there is no name so ignominious, nor any treatment so harsh, but it is thought a proper portion for every faithful servant of the Lord.]
The true ground, however, must be found in the perverseness of mankind—
[We, at this distance of time, see clearly enough the perverseness of the Jews in their treatment of Christ and his Apostles: but we are not aware of the same principle operating in ourselves. Nevertheless the truth is, that we have imbibed notions, which we do not like to have controverted; and have adopted practices, from which we will not recede. The Gospel proposes humiliating doctrines which we are too proud to receive; and self-denying rules of conduct which we cannot endure to follow. Hence we must either acknowledge that we ourselves are wrong, or find some reason for rejecting the truth. But we cannot altogether profess ourselves infidels and despise the Gospel as a fable; we therefore are constrained to blame the mode in which it is administered, and to condemn the preachers of it in order to justify ourselves. But the real ground of our conduct is, that “we love darkness rather than light;” and, if Jesus Christ himself were again to preach to us, the same conduct which he formerly pursued would give the same offence to his hearers, and be made a pretext for rejecting his testimony.]
But in the close of the parable, our Lord suggests,
The encouragement which ministers, notwithstanding this reception, have to preach the Gospel—
The Gospel of Christ, when justly stated, is the truest “wisdom”—
[It is called by St. Paul, “The wisdom of God in a mystery:” and the wisdom of God does indeed beam forth in every part of it, whether we consider the mysteries it reveals, or the mode of its administration. Who can contemplate the method prescribed by God for effecting our reconciliation with him, or for fitting us to enjoy his presence, and not be filled with rapture and amazement? The more we consider the satisfaction of Christ, or the agency of the Spirit, the nature of faith or the beauty of holiness, or, in a word, the union of God’s glory and man’s happiness in the whole scheme of redemption, the more shall we be overwhelmed with wonder at the depths of wisdom contained in it.
The progressive steps also by which it has been dispensed, together with the means by which it has been confirmed and propagated, yea, even the manner in which it has been brought home with power to our own hearts and consciences, will furnish abundant matter to increase our admiration.
And must not the consideration of this be a rich encouragement to ministers under all the contempt and obloquy with which they and their ministrations are regarded? Yes, they know that what the world account foolishness is indeed the wisdom of God [Note: 1Co_1:23-24.]; and that “if they be beside themselves, it is to God [Note: 1Co_4:10 and 2Co_5:13.].”]
Moreover, the children of wisdom will assuredly receive their testimony—
[They are “the children of wisdom” who are willing to “sit at wisdom’s gates,” and to obey her dictates; and, such are to be found in every place, notwithstanding the generality prefer the ways of sin and folly. Now “of all these” the Gospel will be approved, embraced, “justified.” They will shew to the world, both by their profession and conduct, that it is indeed “worthy of all acceptation.” While others pour contempt upon it, these will be nourished by it; and while others make it a stumbling-block, over which they fall and perish, these will be rendered by it “wise unto salvation.”
What can a faithful minister wish for more? He knows that his labours shall not be altogether in vain, but that there shall be some who shall be saved by his means, and be “his joy and crown of rejoicing” for evermore: and this far outweighs all the injuries and insults, which in the discharge of his office, he meets with at the hands of a perverse ungrateful world.]
To improve this subject, observe,
What enemies are men to their own happiness!
[What end had the Baptist or Christ in view, when they preached to the people? Was it to raise a party? to get a name? to gratify their own vanity? Was it not rather to instruct and save mankind? Yet, men every where set themselves against them. And of what concern was it to John or Christ that they were called by opprobrious names? But to those who thus despised them it was of infinite moment; because they thereby ensured and aggravated their own eternal condemnation. Thus it is of small concern to us to be loaded with ignominy and reproach: but to those who thus requite our labours, it is an awful matter; for they despise their own mercies, and accomplish their own ruin. Let those who are thus disposed, remember, that they are far greater enemies to themselves than they are to us.]
What a blessing is “an honest and good heart!”
[They alone who possess this gift can profit from the Gospel. With such a disposition men will overlook the little peculiarities which there may be in those who minister the word, and will endeavour to derive benefit from the word they hear. They will consider that every minister has his proper gift; and that the method which they disapprove, may be well suited to others. They will be thankful that the glad tidings are sent to them; and will receive the word with the affections suited to it [Note: Act_17:11.]. They will either “dance or weep” according as the subject calls for humiliation or joy. Thus, instead of rejecting the counsel of God against themselves, they will “justify God [Note: ver. 29, 30.]” by an unfeigned acknowledgment of his truth, and a ready compliance with his will.
Let us then cultivate this disposition; so shall that which is to many “a savour of death unto death, be to us a savour of life unto life [Note: 2Co_2:15-16.].”]