World Wide Study Bible
a Bible passage
21. If those mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon. As Tyre and Sidon, in consequence of their proximity, were at that time abhorred for their ungodliness, pride, debauchery, and other vices, Christ employs this comparison for the express purpose of making a deeper and more painful impression on his Jewish countrymen. There was not one of them who did not look upon the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon as abominable despisers of God. It is, therefore, no small heightening of his curse, when Christ says, that there would have been more hope of reformation from those places in which there was no religion, than is to be seen in Judea itself.
Lest any should raise thorny questions 4040 “Des questions curieuses et difficiles;” — “curious and difficult questions.” about the secret decrees of God, we must remember, that this discourse of our Lord is accommodated to the ordinary capacity of the human mind. 4141 “A la capacite et apprehension commune de l’entendement humain;” — “to the ordinary capacity and apprehension of the human understanding.” Comparing the citizens of Bethsaida, and their neighbors, with the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon, he reasons, not of what God foresaw would be done either by the one or by the other, but of what both parties would have done, so far as could be judged from the facts. The exceedingly corrupt morals and unrestrained debauchery of those cities might be ascribed to ignorance; for there the voice of God had never been heard, nor had miracles been performed, to warn them to repent. But in the cities of Galilee, which Christ upbraids, there was a display of very hardened obstinacy in despising miracles, of which they had seen a vast number without reaping any advantage. In short, the words of Christ convey nothing more than that the inhabitants of Chorazin and Bethsaida go beyond those of Tyre and Sidon in malice and incurable contempt of God.
And yet we have no right to contend with God, for having passed by others of whom better hopes might have been entertained, and displaying his power before some who were extremely wicked and altogether desperate. Those on whom he does not bestow his mercy are justly appointed to perdition. If he withhold his word from some, and allow them to perish, while, in order to render others more inexcusable, he entreats and exhorts them, in a variety of ways, to repentance, who shall charge him, on this account, with injustice? Let us, therefore, aware of our own weakness, learn to contemplate this height and depth 4242 “Ceste hautesse et profondeur des iugemens de Dieu;” — “this height and depth of the judgments of God.” with reverence; for it is intolerable fretfulness and pride that is manifested by those who cannot endure to ascribe praise to the righteousness of God, except so far as it comes within the reach of their senses, and who disdainfully reject those mysteries, which it was their duty to adore, simply because the reason of them is not fully evident.
If the mighty works had been done. We have said that these words inform us concerning the right use of miracles, though they likewise include doctrine; for Christ did not remain silent, 4343 “N’a pas eu cependant sa bouche close;” — “did not in the meantime keep his mouth shut.” while he was holding out to their view the power of the Father; but, on the contrary, miracles were added to the Gospel, that they might attend to what was spoken by Christ.
In sackcloth and ashes Repentance is here described by outward signs, the use of which was at that time common in the Church of God: not that Christ attaches importance to that matter, but because he accommodates himself to the capacity of the common people. We know that believers are not only required to exercise repentance for a few days, but to cherish it incessantly till death. But there is no necessity, in the present day, for being clothed with sackcloth, and sprinkled with ashes; and, therefore, there is not always occasion for that outward profession of repentance, but only when, after some aggravated revolt, men turn to God. Sackcloth and ashes are, no doubt, indications of guilt, for the purpose of turning away the wrath of the Judge; 4444 “A fin d’adoucir le Iuge, et destourner son iuste courroux;” — “in order to pacify the Judge, and to turn away his just wrath.” and therefore relate strictly to the beginning of conversion. But as men testify by this ceremony their sorrow and grief, it must be preceded by hatred of sin, fear of God, and mortification of the flesh, according to the words of Joel, (2:13,) Rend your hearts and not your garments. We now see the reason why sackcloth and ashes are mentioned by Christ along with repentance, when he speaks of Tyre and Sidon, to the inhabitants of which the Gospel could not have been preached, without condemning their past life, leaving nothing for them, but to betake themselves to the wretched apparel of criminals for the sake of humbly beseeching pardon. Such, too, is the reference of the word sitting, which is employed by Luke, Sitting in sackcloth and ashes; for it denotes “lying prostrate on the ground,”—a posture adapted to express the grief of wretched persons, as is evident from many passages of the Prophets.