World Wide Study Bible


a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary

15Let anyone with ears listen!

16 “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,


‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;

we wailed, and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

Woes to Unrepentant Cities

20 Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. 21“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23And you, Capernaum,

will you be exalted to heaven?

No, you will be brought down to Hades.

For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.”

Select a resource above

Christ's Testimony of John.

7 And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?   8 But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.   9 But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.   10 For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.   11 Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.   12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.   13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.   14 And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.   15 He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

We have here the high encomium which our Lord Jesus gave of John the Baptist; not only to revive his honour, but to revive his work. Some of Christ's disciples might perhaps take occasion from the question John sent, to reflect upon him, as weak and wavering, and inconsistent with himself, to prevent which Christ gives him this character. Note, It is our duty to consult the reputation of our brethren, and not only to remove, but to obviate and prevent, jealousies and ill thoughts of them; and we must take all occasions, especially such as discover any thing of infirmity, to speak well of those who are praiseworthy, and to give them that fruit of their hands. John the Baptist, when he was upon the stage, and Christ in privacy and retirement, bore testimony to Christ; and now that Christ appeared publicly, and John was under a cloud, he bore testimony to John. Note, They who have a confirmed interest themselves, should improve it for the helping of the credit and reputation of others, whose character claims it, but whose temper or present circumstances put them out of the way of it. This is giving honour to whom honour is due. John had abased himself to honour Christ (John iii. 20, 30, ch. iii. 11), had made himself nothing, that Christ might be All, and now Christ dignifies him with this character. Note, They who humble themselves shall be exalted, and those that honour Christ he will honour; those that confess him before men, he will confess, and sometimes before men too, even in this world. John had now finished his testimony, and now Christ commends him. Note, Christ reserves honour for his servants when they have done their work, John xii. 26.

Now concerning this commendation of John, observe,

I. That Christ spoke thus honourably of John, not in the hearing of John's disciples, but as they departed, just after they were gone, Luke vii. 24. He would not so much as seem to flatter John, nor have these praises of him reported to him. Note, Though we must be forward to give to all their due praise for their encouragement, yet we must avoid every thing that looks like flattery, or may be in danger of puffing them up. They who in other things are mortified to the world, yet cannot well bear their own praise. Pride is a corrupt humour, which we must not feed either in others or in ourselves.

II. That what Christ said concerning John, was intended not only for his praise, but for the people's profit, to revive the remembrance of John's ministry, which had been well attended, but which was now (as other such things used to be) strangely forgotten: they did for a season, and but for a season, rejoice in his light, John v. 35. "Now, consider, what went ye out into the wilderness to see? Put this question to yourselves." 1. John preached in the wilderness, and thither people flocked in crowds to him, though in a remote place, and an inconvenient one. If teachers be removed into corners, it is better to go after them than to be without them. Now if his preaching was worth taking so much pains to hear it, surely it was worth taking some care to recollect it. The greater the difficulties we have broken through to hear the word, the more we are concerned to profit by it. 2. They went out to him to see him; rather to feed their eyes with the unusual appearance of his person, than to feed their souls with his wholesome instructions; rather for curiosity than for conscience. Note, Many that attend on the word come rather to see and be seen, than to learn and be taught, to have something to talk of, than to be made wise to salvation. Christ puts it to them, what went ye out to see? Note, They who attend on the word will be called to an account, what their intentions and what their improvements were. We think when the sermon is done, the care is over; no, then the greatest of the care begins. It will shortly be asked, "What business had you such a time at such an ordinance? What brought you thither? Was it custom or company, or was it a desire to honour God and get good? What have you brought thence? What knowledge, and grace, and comfort? What went you to see?" Note, When we go to read and hear the word, we should see that we aim right in what we do.

III. Let us see what the commendation of John was. They know not what answer to make to Christ's question; well, says Christ, "I will tell you what a man John the Baptist was."

1. "He was a firm, resolute man, and not a reed shaken with the wind; you have been so in your thoughts of him, but he was not so. He was not wavering in his principles, nor uneven in his conversation; but was remarkable for his steadiness and constant consistency with himself." They who are weak as reeds will be shaken as reeds; but John was strong in spirit, Eph. iv. 14. When the wind of popular applause on the one hand blew fresh and fair, when the storm of Herod's rage on the other hand grew fierce and blustering, John was still the same, the same in all weathers. The testimony he had borne to Christ was not the testimony of a reed, of a man who was of one mind to-day, and of another to-morrow; it was not a weather-cock testimony; no, his constancy in it is intimated (John i. 20); he confessed and denied not, but confessed, and stood to it afterwards, John iii. 28. And therefore this question sent by his disciples was not to be construed into any suspicion of the truth of what he had formerly said: therefore the people flocked to him, because he was not as a reed. Note, There is nothing lost in the long run by an unshaken resolution to go on with our work, neither courting the smiles, nor fearing the frowns of men.

2. He was a self-denying man, and mortified to this world. "Was he a man clothed in soft raiment? If so, you would not have gone into the wilderness to see him, but to the court. You went to see one that had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; his mien and habit showed that he was dead to all the pomps of the world and the pleasures of sense; his clothing agreed with the wilderness he lived in, and the doctrine he preached there, that of repentance. Now you cannot think that he who was such a stranger to the pleasures of a court, should be brought to change his mind by the terrors of a prison, and now to question whether Jesus be the Messiah or not!" Note, they who have lived a life of mortification, are least likely to be driven off from their religion by persecution. He was not a man clothed in soft raiment; such there are, but they are in kings' houses. Note, It becomes people in all their appearances to be consistent with their character and their situation. They who are preachers must not affect to look like courtiers; nor must they whose lot is cast in common dwellings, be ambitious of the soft clothing which they wear who are in kings' houses. Prudence teaches us to be of a piece. John appeared rough and unpleasant, yet they flocked after him. Note, The remembrance of our former zeal in attending on the word of God, should quicken us to, and in, our present work: let it not be said that we have done and suffered so many things in vain, have run in vain and laboured in vain.

3. His greatest commendation of all was his office and ministry, which was more his honour than any personal endowments or qualifications could be; and therefore this is most enlarged upon in a full encomium.

(1.) He was a prophet, yea, and more than a prophet (v. 9); so he said of him who was the great Prophet, to whom all the prophets bear witness. John said of himself, he was not that prophet, that great prophet, the Messiah himself; and now Christ (a very competent Judge) says of him, that he was more than a prophet. He owned himself inferior to Christ, and Christ owned him superior to all other prophets. Observe, The forerunner of Christ was not a king, but a prophet, lest it should seem that the kingdom of the Messiah had been laid in earthly power; but his immediate forerunner was, as such, a transcendent prophet, more than an Old-Testament prophet; they all did virtuously, but John excelled them all; they saw Christ's day at a distance, and their vision was yet for a great while to come; but John saw the day dawn, he saw the sun rise, and told the people of the Messiah, as one that stood among them. They spake of Christ, but he pointed to him; they said, A virgin shall conceive: he said, Behold the Lamb of God!

(2.) He was the same that was predicted to be Christ's forerunner (v. 10); This is he of whom it is written. He was prophesied of by the other prophets, and therefore was greater than they. Malachi prophesied concerning John, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face. Herein some of Christ's honour was put upon him, that the Old-Testament prophets spake and wrote of him; and this honour have all the saints, that their names are written in the Lamb's book of life. It was great preferment to John above all the prophets, that he was Christ's harbinger. He was a messenger sent on a great errand; a messenger, one among a thousand, deriving his honour from his whose messenger he was: he is my messenger sent of God. His business was to prepare Christ's way, to dispose people to receive the Saviour, by discovering to them their sin and misery, and their need of a Saviour. This he had said of himself (John i. 23) and now Christ said it of him; intending hereby not only to put an honour upon John's ministry, but to revive people's regard to it, as making way for the Messiah. Note, Much of the beauty of God's dispensations lies in their mutual connection and coherence, and the reference they have one to another. That which advanced John above the Old-Testament prophets was, that he went immediately before Christ. Note, The nearer any are to Christ, the more truly honourable they are.

(3.) There was not a greater born of women than John the Baptist, v. 11. Christ knew how to value persons according to the degrees of their worth, and he prefers John before all that went before him, before all that were born of women by ordinary generation. Of all that God had raised up and called to any service in his church, John is the most eminent, even beyond Moses himself; for he began to preach the gospel doctrine of remission of sins to those who are truly penitent; and he had more signal revelations from heaven than any of them had; for he saw heaven opened, and the Holy Ghost descend. He also had great success in his ministry; almost the whole nation flocked to him: none rose on so great a design, or came on so noble an errand, as John did, or had such claims to a welcome reception. Many had been born of women that made a great figure in the world, but Christ prefers John before them. Note, Greatness is not to be measured by appearances and outward splendour, but they are the greatest men who are the greatest saints, and the greatest blessings, who are, as John was, great in the sight of the Lord, Luke i. 15.

Yet this high encomium of John has a surprising limitation, notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. [1.] In the kingdom of glory. John was a great and good man, but he was yet in a state of infirmity and imperfection, and therefore came short of glorified saints, and the spirits of just men made perfect. Note, First, There are degrees of glory in heaven, some that are less than others there; though every vessel is alike full, all are not alike large and capacious. Secondly, The least saint in heaven is greater, and knows more, and loves more, and does more in praising God, and receives more from him, than the greatest in this world. The saints on earth are excellent ones (Ps. xvi. 3), but those in heaven are much more excellent; the best in this world are lower than the angels (Ps. viii. 5), the least there are equal with the angels, which should make us long for that blessed state, where the weak shall be as David, Zech. xii. 8. [2.] By the kingdom of heaven here, is rather to be understood the kingdom of grace, the gospel dispensation in the perfection of its power and purity; and ho mikroteros—he that is less in that is greater than John. Some understand it of Christ himself, who was younger than John, and, in the opinion of some, less than John, who always spoke diminishingly of himself; I am a worm, and no man, yet greater than John; so it agrees with what John the Baptist said (John i. 15), He that cometh after me is preferred before me. But it is rather to be understood of the apostles and ministers of the New Testament, the evangelical prophets; and the comparison between them and John is not with respect to their personal sanctity, but to their office; John preached Christ coming, but they preached Christ not only come, but crucified and glorified. John came to the dawning of the gospel-day, and therein excelled the foregoing prophets, but he was taken off before the noon of that day, before the rending of the veil, before Christ's death and resurrection, and the pouring out of the Spirit; so that the least of the apostles and evangelists, having greater discoveries made to them, and being employed in a greater embassy, is greater than John. John did no miracles; the apostles wrought many. The ground of this preference is laid in the preference of the New-Testament dispensation to that of the Old Testament. Ministers of the New Testament therefore excel, because their ministration does so, 2 Cor. iii. 6, &c. John was a maximum quod sic—the greatest of his order; he went to the utmost that the dispensation he was under would allow; but minimum maximi est majus maximo minimi—the least of the highest order is superior to the first of the lowest; a dwarf upon a mountain sees further than a giant in the valley. Note, All the true greatness of men is derived from, and denominated by, the gracious manifestation of Christ to them. The best men are no better than he is pleased to make them. What reason have we to be thankful that our lot is cast in the days of the kingdom of heaven, under such advantages of light and love! And the greater the advantages, the greater will the account be, if we receive the grace of God in vain.

(4.) The great commendation of John the Baptist was, that God owned his ministry, and made it wonderfully successful for the breaking of the ice, and the preparing of people for the kingdom of heaven. From the days of the first appearing of John the Baptist, until now (which was not much above two years), a great deal of good was done; so quick was the motion when it came near to Christ the Centre; The kingdom of heaven suffereth violencebiazetai-vim patitur, like the violence of an army taking a city by storm, or of a crowd bursting into a house, so the violent take it by force. The meaning of this we have in the parallel place, Luke xvi. 16. Since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. Multitudes are wrought upon by the ministry of John, and become his disciples. And it is

[1.] An improbable multitude. Those strove for a place in this kingdom, that one would think had no right nor title to it, and so seemed to be intruders, and to make a tortuous entry, as our law calls it, a wrongful and forcible one. When the children of the kingdom are excluded out of it, and many come into it from the east and the west, then it suffers violence. Compare this with ch. xxi. 31, 32. The publicans and harlots believed John, whom the scribes and Pharisees rejected, and so went into the kingdom of God before them, took it over their heads, while they trifled. Note, It is no breach of good manners to go to heaven before our betters: and it is a great commendation of the gospel from the days of its infancy, that it has brought many to holiness that were very unlikely.

[2.] An importunate multitude. This violence denotes a strength, and vigour, and earnestness of desire and endeavour, in those who followed John's ministry, else they would not have come so far to attend upon it. It shows us also, what fervency and zeal are required of all those who design to make heaven of their religion. Note, They who would enter into the kingdom of heaven must strive to enter; that kingdom suffers a holy violence; self must be denied, the bent and bias, the frame and temper, of the mind must be altered; there are hard sufferings to be undergone, a force to be put upon the corrupt nature; we must run, and wrestle, and fight, and be in an agony, and all little enough to win such a prize, and to get over such opposition from without and from within. The violent take it by force. They who will have an interest in the great salvation are carried out towards it with a strong desire, will have it upon any terms, and not think them hard, nor quit their hold without a blessing, Gen. xxxii. 26. They who will make their calling and election sure must give diligence. The kingdom of heaven was never intended to indulge the ease of triflers, but to be the rest of them that labour. It is a blessed sight; Oh that we could see a greater number, not with an angry contention thrusting others out of the kingdom of heaven, but with a holy contention thrusting themselves into it!

(5.) The ministry of John was the beginning of the gospel, as it is reckoned, Mark i. 1; Acts i. 22. This is shown here in two things:

[1.] In John the Old Testament dispensation began to die, v. 13. So long that ministration continued in full force and virtue, but then it began to decline. Though the obligation of the law of Moses was not removed till Christ's death, yet the discoveries of the Old Testament began to be superseded by the more clear manifestation of the kingdom of heaven as at hand. Because the light of the gospel (as that of nature) was to precede and make way for its law, therefore the prophecies of the Old Testament came to an end (finis perficiens, not interficiens—an end of completion, not of duration), before the precepts of it; so that when Christ says, all the prophets and the law prophesied until John, he shows us, First, How the light of the Old Testament was set up; it was set up in the law and the prophets, who spoke, though darkly, of Christ and his kingdom. Observe, The law is said to prophesy, as well as the prophets, concerning him that was to come. Christ began at Moses (Luke xxiv. 27); Christ was foretold by the dumb signs of the Mosaic work, as well as by the more articulate voices of the prophets, and was exhibited, not only in the verbal predictions, but in the personal and real types. Blessed be God that we have both the New-Testament doctrine to explain the Old-Testament prophecies, and the Old-Testament prophecies to confirm and illustrate the New-Testament doctrine (Heb. i. 1); like the two cherubim, they look at each other. The law was given by Moses long ago, and there had been no prophets for three hundred years before John, and yet they are both said to prophecy until John, because the law was still observed, and Moses and the prophets still read. Note, The scripture is teaching to this day, though the penmen of it are gone. Moses and the prophets are dead; the apostles and evangelists are dead (Zech. i. 5), but the word of the Lord endures for ever (1 Pet. i. 25); the scripture is speaking expressly, though the writers are silent in the dust. Secondly, How this light was laid aside: when he says, they prophesied until John, he intimates, that their glory was eclipsed by the glory which excelled; their predictions superseded by John's testimony, Behold the Lamb of God! Even before the sun rises, the morning light makes candles to shine dim. Their prophecies of a Christ to come became out of date, when John said, He is come.

[2.] In him the New-Testament day began to dawn; for (v. 14) This is Elias, that was for to come. John was as the loop that coupled the two Testaments; as Noah was Fibula utriusque mundi—the link connecting both worlds, so was he utriusque Testamenti—the link connecting both Testaments. The concluding prophecy of the Old Testament was, Behold, I will send you Elijah, Mal. iv. 5, 6. Those words prophesied until John, and then, being turned into a history, they ceased to prophecy. First, Christ speaks of it as a great truth, that John the Baptist is the Elias of the New Testament; not Elias in propria persona—in his own person, as the carnal Jews expected; he denied that (John i. 21), but one that should come in the spirit and power of Elias (Luke i. 17), like him in temper and conversation, that should press repentance with terrors, and especially as it is in the prophecy, that should turn the hearts of the fathers to the children. Secondly, He speaks of it as a truth, which would not be easily apprehended by those whose expectations fastened upon the temporal kingdom of the Messiah, and introductions to it agreeable. Christ suspects the welcome of it, if ye will receive it. Not but that it was true, whether they would receive it or not, but he upbraids them with their prejudices, that they were backward to receive the greatest truths that were opposed to their sentiments, though never so favourable to their interests. Or, "If you will receive him, or if you will receive the ministry of John as that of the promised Elias, he will be an Elias to you, to turn you and prepare you for the Lord," Note, Gospel truths are as they are received, a savour of life or death. Christ is a Saviour, and John an Elias, to those who will receive the truth concerning them.

Lastly, Our Lord Jesus closes this discourse with a solemn demand of attention (v. 15): He that hath ears to hear, let him hear; which intimates, that those things were dark and hard to be understood, and therefore needed attention, but of great concern and consequence, and therefore well deserved it. "Let all people take notice of this, if John be the Elias prophesied of, then certainly here is a great revolution on foot, the Messiah's kingdom is at the door, and the world will shortly be surprised into a happy change. These are things which require your serious consideration, and therefore you are all concerned to hearken to what I say." Note, The things of God are of great and common concern: every one that has ears to hear any thing, is concerned to hear this. It intimates, that God requires no more from us but the right use and improvement of the faculties he has already given us. He requires those to hear that have ears, those to use their reason that have reason. Therefore people are ignorant, not because they want power, but because they want will; therefore they do not hear, because, like the deaf adder, they stop their ears.

Christ Reproaches Chorazin, &c..

16 But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows,   17 And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.   18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil.   19 The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.   20 Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not:   21 Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.   22 But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.   23 And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.   24 But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.

Christ was going on in the praise of John the Baptist and his ministry, but here stops on a sudden, and turns that to the reproach of those who enjoyed both that, and the ministry of Christ and his apostles too, in vain. As to that generation, we may observe to whom he compares them (v. 16-19), and as to the particular places he instances in, we may observe with whom he compares them, v. 20-24.

I. As to that generation, the body of the Jewish people at that time. There were many indeed that pressed into the kingdom of heaven; but the generality continued in unbelief and obstinacy. John was a great and good man, but the generation in which his lot was cast was as barren and unprofitable as could be, and unworthy of him. Note, The badness of the places where good ministers live serves for a foil to their beauty. It was Noah's praise that he was righteous in his generation. Having commended John, he condemns those who had him among them, and did not profit by his ministry. Note, The more praise-worthy the people are, if they slight him, and so it will be found in the day of account.

This our Lord Jesus here sets forth in a parable, yet speaks as if he were at a loss to find out a similitude proper to represent this, Whereunto shall I liken this generation? Note, There is not a greater absurdity than that which they are guilty of who have good preaching among them, and are never the better for it. It is hard to say what they are like. The similitude is taken from some common custom among the Jewish children at their play, who, as is usual with children, imitated the fashions of grown people at their marriages and funerals, rejoicing and lamenting; but being all a jest, it made no impression; no more did the ministry either of John the Baptist or of Christ upon that generation. He especially reflects on the scribes and Pharisees, who had a proud conceit of themselves; therefore to humble them he compares them to children, and their behaviour to children's play.

The parable will be best explained by opening it and the illustration of it together in these five observations.

Note, 1. The God of heaven uses a variety of proper means and methods for the conversion and salvation of poor souls; he would have all men to be saved, and therefore leaves no stone unturned in order to it. The great thing he aims at, is the melting of our wills into a compliance with the will of God, and in order to this the affecting of us with the discoveries he has made of himself. Having various affections to be wrought upon, he uses various ways of working upon them, which though differing one from another, all tend to the same thing, and God is in them all carrying on the same design. In the parable, this is called his piping to us, and his mourning to us; he hath piped to us in the precious promises of the gospel, proper to work upon hope, and mourned to us in the dreadful threatenings of the law, proper to work upon fear, that he might frighten us out of our sins and allure us to himself. He had piped to us in gracious and merciful providences, mourned to us in calamitous, afflicting providences, and has set the one over against the other. He has taught his ministers to change their voice (Gal. iv. 20); sometimes to speak in thunder from mount Sinai, sometimes in a still small voice from mount Sion.

In the explanation of the parable is set forth the different temper of John's ministry and of Christ's, who were the two great lights of that generation.

(1.) On the one hand, John came mourning to them, neither eating nor drinking; not conversing familiarly with people, nor ordinarily eating in company, but alone, in his cell in the wilderness, where his meat was locusts and wild honey. Now this, one would think, should work upon them; for such an austere, mortified life as this, was very agreeable to the doctrine he preached: and that minister is most likely to do good, whose conversation is according to his doctrine; and yet the preaching even of such a minister is not always effectual.

(2.) On the other hand, the Son of man came eating and drinking, and so he piped unto them. Christ conversed familiarly with all sorts of people, not affecting any peculiar strictness or austerity; he was affable and easy of access, not shy of any company, was often at feasts, both with Pharisees and publicans, to try if this would win upon those who were not wrought upon by John's reservedness: those who were not awed by John's frowns, would be allured by Christ's smiles; from whom St. Paul learned to be come all things to all men, 1 Cor. ix. 22. Now our Lord Jesus, by his freedom, did not at all condemn John, any more than John did condemn him, though their deportment was so very different. Note, Though we are never so clear in the goodness of our own practice, yet we must not judge of others by it. There may be a great diversity of operations, where it is the same God that worketh all in all (1 Cor. xii. 6), and this various manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal, v. 7. Observe especially, that God's ministers are variously gifted: the ability and genius of some lie one way, of others, another way: some are Boanerges—sons of thunder; others, Barnabeses—sons of consolation; yet all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit (1 Cor. xii. 11), and therefore we ought not to condemn either, but to praise both, and praise God for both, who thus tries various ways of dealing with persons of various tempers, that sinners may be either made pliable or left inexcusable, so that, whatever the issue is, God will be glorified.

Note, 2. The various methods which God takes for the conversion of sinners, are with many fruitless and ineffectual: "Ye have not danced, ye have not lamented; you have not been suitably affected either with the one or with the other." Particular means have, as in medicine, their particular intentions, which must be answered, particular impressions, which must be submitted to, in order to the success of the great and general design; now if people will be neither bound by laws, nor invited by promises, nor frightened by threatenings, will neither be awakened by the greatest things, nor allured by the sweetest things, nor startled by the most terrible things, nor be made sensible by the plainest things; if they will hearken to the voice neither of scripture, nor reason, nor experience, nor providence, nor conscience, nor interest, what more can be done? The bellows are burned, the lead is consumed, the founder melteth in vain; reprobate silver shall men call them, Jer. vi. 29. Ministers' labour is bestowed in vain (Isa. xlix. 4), and, which is a much greater loss, the grace of God received in vain, 2 Cor. vi. 1. Note, It is some comfort to faithful ministers, when they see little success of their labours, that it is no new thing for the best preachers and the best preaching in the world to come short of the desired end. Who has believed our report? If from the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of those great commanders, Christ and john, returned so often empty (2 Sam. i. 22), no marvel if ours do so, and we prophecy to so little purpose upon dry bones.

Note, 3. That commonly those persons who do not profit by the means of grace, are perverse, and reflect upon the ministers by whom they enjoy those means; and because they do not get good themselves, they do all the hurt they can to others, by raising and propagating prejudices against the word, and the faithful preachers of it. Those who will not comply with God, and walk after him, confront him, and walk contrary to him. So this generation did; because they were resolved not to believe Christ and John, and to own them, as they ought to have done, for the best of men, they set themselves to abuse them, and to represent them as the worst. (1.) As for John the Baptist, they say, He has a devil. They imputed his strictness and reservedness to melancholy, and some kind or degree of a possession of Satan. "Why should we heed him? he is a poor hypochondriacal man, full of fancies, and under the power of a crazed imagination." (2.) As for Jesus Christ, they imputed his free and obliging conversation to the more vicious habit of luxury and flesh-pleasing: Behold a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber. No reflection could be more foul and invidious; it is the charge against the rebellious son (Deut. xxi. 20), He is a glutton and a drunkard; yet none could be more false and unjust; for Christ pleased not himself (Rom. xv. 3), nor did ever any man live such a life of self-denial, mortification, and contempt of the world, as Christ lived: he that was undefiled, and separate from sinners, is here represented as in league with them, and polluted by them. Note, The most unspotted innocency, and the most unparalleled excellency, will not always be a fence against the reproach of tongues: nay, a man's best gifts and best actions, which are both well intended and well calculated for edification, may be made the matter of his reproach. The best of our actions may become the worst of our accusations, as David's fasting, Ps. lxix. 10. It was true in some sense, that Christ was a Friend to publicans and sinners, the best Friend they ever had, for he came into the world to save sinners, great sinners, even the chief; so he said very feelingly, who had been himself not a publican and sinner, but a Pharisee and sinner; but this is, and will be to eternity, Christ's praise, and they forfeited the benefit of it who thus turned it to his reproach.

Note, 4. That the cause of this great unfruitfulness and perverseness of people under the means of grace, is that they are like children sitting in the markets; they are foolish as children, froward as children, mindless and playful as children; would they but show themselves men in understanding, there would be some hopes of them. The market-place they sit in is to some a place of idleness (ch. xx. 3); to others a place of worldly business (James iv. 13); to all a place of noise or diversion; so that if you ask the reason why people get so little good by the means of grace, you will find it is because they are slothful and trifling, and do not love to take pains; or because their heads, and hands, and hearts are full of the world, the cares of which choke the word, and choke their souls at last ( Ezek. xxxiii. 31; Amos viii. 5); and they study to divert their own thoughts from every thing that is serious. Thus in the markets they are, and there they sit; in these things their hearts rest, and by them they resolve to abide.

Note, 5. Though the means of grace be thus slighted and abused by many, by the most, yet there is a remnant that through grace do improve them, and answer the designs of them, to the glory of God, and the good of their own souls. But wisdom is justified of her children. Christ is Wisdom; in him are hid treasures of wisdom; the saints are the children God has given him, Heb. ii. 13. The gospel is wisdom, it is the wisdom from above: true believers are begotten again by it, and born from above too; they are wise children, wise for themselves, and their true interests; not like the foolish children that sat in the markets. These children of wisdom justify wisdom; they comply with the designs of Christ's grace, answer the intentions of it, and are suitably affected with, and impressed by, the various methods it takes, and so evidence the wisdom of Christ in taking these methods. This is explained, Luke vii. 29. The publicans justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John, and afterwards embracing the gospel of Christ. Note, The success of the means of grace justifies the wisdom of God in the choice of these means, against those who charge him with folly therein. The cure of every patient, that observes the physician's orders, justifies the wisdom of the physician: and therefore Paul is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, because, whatever it is to others, to them that believe it is the power of God unto salvation, Rom. i. 16. When the cross of Christ, which to others is foolishness and a stumbling-block, is to them that are called the wisdom of God and the power of God (1 Cor. i. 23, 24), so that they make the knowledge of that the summit of their ambition (1 Cor. ii. 2), and the efficacy of that the crown of their glorying (Gal. vi. 14), here is wisdom justified of her children. Wisdom's children are wisdom's witnesses in the world (Isa. xliii. 10), and shall be produced as witnesses in that day, when wisdom, that is now justified by the saints, shall be glorified in the saints, and admired in all them that believe, 2 Thess. i. 10. If the unbelief of some reproach Christ by giving him the lie, the faith of others shall honour him by setting to its seal that he is true, and that he also is wise, 1 Cor. i. 25. Whether we do it or not, it will be done; not only God's equity, but his wisdom, will be justified when he speaks, when he judges.

Well, this is the account Christ gives of that generation, and that generation is not passed away, but remains in a succession of the like; for as it was then, it has been since and is still; some believe the things which are spoken, and some believe not, Acts xxviii. 24.

II. As to the particular places in which Christ was most conversant. What he said in general of that generation, he applied in particular to those places, to affect them. Then began he to upbraid them, v. 20. He began to preach to them long before (ch. iv. 17), but he did not begin to upbraid till now. Note, Rough and unpleasing methods must not be taken, till gentler means have first been used. Christ is not apt to upbraid; he gives liberally, and upbraideth not, till sinners by their obstinacy extort it from him. Wisdom first invites, but when her invitations are slighted, then she upbraids, Prov. i. 20, 24. Those do not go in Christ's method, who begin with upbraidings. Now observe,

1. The sin charged upon them; not any against the moral law, then an appeal would have lain to the gospel, which would have relieved, but a sin against the gospel, the remedial law, and that is impenitency: this was it he upbraided them with, or reproached them for, as the most shameful, ungrateful thing that could be, that they repented not. Note, Wilful impenitency is the great damning sin of multitudes that enjoy the gospel, and which (more than any other) sinners will be upbraided with to eternity. The great doctrine that both John the Baptist, and Christ, and the apostles preached, was repentance; the great thing designed, both in the piping and in the mourning, was to prevail with people to change their minds and ways, to leave their sins and turn to God; and this they would not be brought to. He does not say, because they believed not (for some kind of faith many of them had) that Christ was a Teacher come from God; but because they repented not: their faith did not prevail to the transforming of their hearts, and the reforming of their lives. Christ reproved them for their other sins, that he might lead them to repentance; but when they repented not, He upbraided them with that, as their refusal to be healed: He upbraided them with it, that they might upbraid themselves, and might at length see the folly of it, as that which alone makes the sad case a desperate one, and the wound incurable.

2. The aggravation of the sin; they were the cities in which most of his mighty works were done; for thereabouts his principal residence had been for some time. Note, Some places enjoy the means of grace in greater plenty, power, and purity, than other places. God is a free agent, and acts so in all his disposals, both as the God of nature and as the God of grace, common and distinguishing grace. By Christ's mighty works they should have been prevailed with, not only to receive his doctrine, but to obey his law; the curing of bodily diseases should have been the healing of their souls, but it had not that effect. Note, The stronger inducements we have to repent, the more heinous is the impenitency and the severer will the reckoning be, for Christ keeps account of the mighty works done among us, and of the gracious works done for us too, by which also we should be led to repentance, Rom. ii. 4.

(1.) Chorazin and Bethsaida are here instanced (v. 21, 22), they have each of them their woe: Woe unto thee, Chorazin, woe unto thee, Bethsaida. Christ came into the world to bless us; but if that blessing be slighted, he has woes in reserve, and his woes are of all others the most terrible. These two cities were situate upon the sea of Galilee, the former on the east side, and the latter on the west, rich and populous places; Bethsaida was lately advanced to a city by Philip the tetrarch; out of it Christ took at least three of his apostles: thus highly were these places favoured! Yet because they knew not the day of their visitation, they fell under these woes, which stuck so close to them, that soon after this they decayed, and dwindled into mean, obscure villages. So fatally does sin ruin cities, and so certainly does the word of Christ take place!

Now Chorazin and Bethsaida are here compared with Tyre and Sidon, two maritime cities we read much of in the Old Testament, that had been brought to ruin, but began to flourish again; these cities bordered upon Galilee, but were in a very ill name among the Jews for idolatry and other wickedness. Christ sometimes went into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon (ch. xv. 21), but never thither; the Jews would have taken it very heinously if he had; therefore Christ, to convince and humble them, here shows,

[1.] That Tyre and Sidon would not have been so bad as Chorazin and Bethsaida. If they had had the same word preached, and the same miracles wrought among them, they would have repented, and that long ago, as Nineveh did, in sackcloth and ashes. Christ, who knows the hearts of all, knew that if he had gone and lived among them, and preached among them, he should have done more good there than where he was; yet he continued where he was for some time, to encourage his ministers to do so, though they see not the success they desire. Note, Among the children of disobedience, some are more easily wrought upon than others; and it is a great aggravation of the impenitency of those who plentifully enjoy the means of grace, not only that there are many who sit under the same means that are wrought upon, but that there are many more that would have been wrought upon, if they had enjoyed the same means. See Ezek. iii. 6, 7. Our repentance is slow and delayed, but theirs would have been speedy; they would have repented long ago. Ours has been slight and superficial; theirs would have been deep and serious, in sackcloth and ashes. Yet we must observe, with an awful adoration of the divine sovereignty, that the Tyrians and Sidonians will justly perish in their sin, though, if they had had the means of grace, they would have repented; for God is a debtor to no man.

[2.] That therefore Tyre and Sidon shall not be so miserable as Chorazin and Bethsaida, but it shall be more tolerable for them in the day of judgment, v. 22. Note, First, At the day of judgment the everlasting state of the children of men will, by an unerring and unalterable doom, be determined; happiness or misery, and the several degrees of each. Therefore it is called the eternal judgment (Heb. vi. 2), because decisive of the eternal state. Secondly, In that judgment, all the means of grace that were enjoyed in the state of probation will certainly come into the account, and it will be enquired, not only how bad we were, but how much better we might have been, had it not been our own fault, Isa. v. 3, 4. Thirdly, Though the damnation of all that perish will be intolerable, yet the damnation of those who had the fullest and clearest discoveries made them of the power and grace of Christ, and yet repented not, will be of all others the most intolerable. The gospel light and sound open the faculties, and enlarge the capacities of all that see and hear it, either to receive the riches of divine grace, or (if that grace be slighted) to take in the more plentiful effusions of divine wrath. If self-reproach be the torture of hell, it must needs be hell indeed to those who had such a fair opportunity of getting to heaven. Son, remember that.

(2.) Capernaum is here condemned with an emphasis (v. 23), "And thou, Capernaum, hold up thy hand, and hear they doom," Capernaum, above all the cities of Israel, was dignified with Christ's most usual residence; it was like Shiloh of old, the place which he chose, to put his name there, and it fared with it as with Shiloh, Jer. vii. 12, 14. Christ's miracles here were daily bread, and therefore, as the manna of old, were despised and called light bread. Many a sweet and comfortable lecture of grace Christ had read them to little purpose, and therefore he reads them a dreadful lecture of wrath: those who will not hear the former shall be made to feel the latter.

We have here Capernaum's doom,

[1.] Put absolutely; Thou which art exalted to heaven shalt be brought down to hell Note, First, Those who enjoy the gospel in power and purity, are thereby exalted to heaven; they have therein a great honour for the present, and a great advantage for eternity; they are lifted up toward heaven; but if, notwithstanding, they still cleave to the earth, they may thank themselves that they are not lifted up into heaven. Secondly, Gospel advantages and advancements abused will sink sinners so much lower into hell. Our external privileges will be so far from saving us, that if our hearts and lives be not agreeable to them, they will but inflame the reckoning: the higher the precipice is, the more fatal is the fall from it: Let us not therefore be high-minded, but fear; not slothful, but diligent. See Job xx. 6, 7.

[2.] We have it here put in comparison with the doom of Sodom—a place more remarkable, both for sin and ruin, than perhaps any other; and yet Christ here tells us,

First, That Capernaum's means would have saved Sodom. If these miracles had been done among the Sodomites, as bad as they were, they would have repented, and their city would have remained unto this day a monument of sparing mercy, as now it is of destroying justice, Jude 7. Note, Upon true repentance through Christ, even the greatest sin shall be pardoned and the greatest ruin prevented, that of Sodom not excepted. Angels were sent to Sodom, and yet it remained not; but if Christ had been sent thither, it would have remained; how well is it for us, then, that the world to come is put in subjection to Christ, and not to angels! Heb. ii. 5. Lot would not have seemed as one that mocked, if he had wrought miracles.

Secondly, That Sodom's ruin will therefore be less at the great day than Capernaum's. Sodom will have many things to answer for, but not the sin of neglecting Christ, as Capernaum will. If the gospel prove a savour of death, a killing savour, it is doubly so; it is of death unto death, so great a death (2 Cor. ii. 16); Christ had said the same of all other places that receive not his ministers nor bid his gospel welcome (ch. x. 15); It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for that city. We that have now the written word in our hands, the gospel preached, and the gospel ordinances administered to us, and live under the dispensation of the Spirit, have advantages not inferior to those of Chorazin, and Bethsaida, and Capernaum, and the account in the great day will be accordingly. It has therefore been justly said, that the professors of this age, whether they go to heaven or hell, will be the greatest debtors in either of these places; if to heaven, the greatest debtors to divine mercy for those rich means that brought them thither; if to hell, the greatest debtors to divine justice, for those rich means that would have kept them from thence.