Matthew 11Our blessed Saviour having sent forth his twelve apostles in the foregoing chapter, to plant and progagate the gospel, we find him, in this chapter, following them himself in that great and necessary work; He departed to teach and to preach in their cities. Christ, the great Bishop and Shepherd of souls, sent not forth the apostles as his curates, to labour and sweat in the vineyard, whilst he took his ease at home; but he followed them himself: his word of command to them was, Praite sequar; Go ye before, I will follow after.
Note, 1. That preaching of the gospel is a great and necessary work, incumbent upon all the ministers of Christ, let their dignity and pre-eminence in the church be what it will. None of the servants are above their Lord.
2. That if there be a distinction betwixt teaching and preaching, as some apprehend, they are both the work of Christ's ministers, who are obliged from their master's example to perform both: teaching is in order to the conversion of sinners, and preaching in order to the edification of saints.
It was not for John's information that he sent his disciples to Jesus, but for their satisfaction; that he was the true and promised Messiah; John was assured of it himself by a sign from heaven at our Saviour's baptism, Matt 3:17. But John's disciples out of great zeal to him their master, envied Christ himself, and were unwilling to believe any person greater than their master, (Archbishop Tillotson, vol.5) therefore John, out of a pious design to confirm his disciples in the belief of Jesus being the true Messias, sends them to our Saviour, to hear the doctrine which he taught, and to see the miracles which he wrought.
Learn hence, What a pious desire there is in such as know Christ experimentally themselves, to bring all that belong to them to a saving acquaintance with him. Archbp. Tillotson, Vol. V.
Observe here, 1. The way and means which our Saviour takes for the conviction and satisfaction of John's disciples, that he was the true Messias; he appeals to the miracles wrought by himself, and submits the miracles wrought by him to the judgment of their senses; Go and shew John the miracles which you hear and see.
Observe, 2. The miracles themselves. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the deaf hear, &c. Christ was all this in a literal sense, and in a mystical sense also; he was an eye of understanding to the ignorant, a foot of power to the weak: he opened an ear in deaf hearts, to receive the word of life: and the poor are evangelized, that is, turned into the spirit and temper of it; the gospel; the rich hear the gospel, but the poor receives, that is, they feel the powerful impressions of it: as we say, such an one is Italianized, when his carriage is such as if he were a natural Italian. The passive verb enagzelizonrai denotes, non actum predicationis, sed effectum evangelii pradicati; the good effect which the gospel had upon the hearts and lives of the poor, transforming them into the likeness of itself.
Learn, It is a blessed thing, when the preaching of the gospel has such a powerful influence upon the minds of men, that the temper of their minds and the actions of their lives are a willing transcript of the spirit and temper of the holy Jesus.
Note, That as it was prophesied of the Messias, that he should preach the gospel to the poor, Isa 61:1. accordingly they were the poor whom Christ preached unto; for the Pharisees and Rabbies neglected them as the people of the earth, Joh 7:49. And Grotius says, that they had a proverb, That the Spirit of God never rests but upon a rich man. Besides the Pharisees and Rabbies doctrines, which they preached, were vain traditions, allegorical interpretations, and cabalistical deductions, which transcended the capacities of the vulgar, so that they could profit very little by repairing to their schools, and by hearing their interpretations of the law; and therefore our Saviour, in the close of this chapter, calls the people off from them to learn of him, Come unto me, &c. Matt 11:28
Our Saviour here, by pronouncing them blessed that are not offended in him, doth intimate the misery of those who stumble at him, and to whom he is the rock of offence. Some are offended at the poverty of his person, others at the sublimity and sanctity of his doctrine. Some are offended at his cross, others are offended at his free grace: but such as, instead of being offended at Christ, believe in him, and bottom their expectations of heaven and salvation upon him, are in a happy and blessed condition: Blessed is he that shall not be offended in me.
Our Saviour having given satisfaction to John's disciples, next enters upon a large commendation of John himself.
Where observe, 1. The persons whom he commended him before; not John's own disciples, for they had too high an opinion of their master already, and were so much addicted to John that they envied Christ for his sake: Behold baptizeth, and all men came unto him. Joh 3:26 It was a great eve-sore that Christ had more hearers and followers than John; therefore not before John's disciples, but before the multitude; Christ commends John; for as John's disciples had too high, so this multitude had too low an opinion of him, possibly because of his imprisonment and sufferings. There was a time when the people had high thoughts of John, but now they undervalued him.
Learn thence, The great uncertainty of popular applause; the people contemn today whom they admired yesterday; he who today is cried up, tomorrow is trodden down. The word and the ministers are the same; but this proceeds from the fickleness and inconstancy of the people: nothing is so mutable as the mind of man, nothing is so variable as the opinion of the multitude.
Observe, 2. The time when our Saviour thus commended John; not in the time of his prosperity and greatness, when the people flocked after him, and Herod got him to court and reverenced him; but when the giddy multitude had forsaken him, and he was fallen into disgrace at court, and had preached himself into a prison: now Christ vindicates his innocency, and maintains his honour, proclaims his worth, and tells the people that the world was not worthy of such a preacher as John was.
Learn thence, That Christ will stand by, and stick fast to, his faithful ministers, when all the world forsake them. Let the world slight and despise them at their pleasure, yet Christ will maintain their honour, and support their cause; as they bear a faithful witness to Christ, so Christ will bear witness to their faithfulness for him.
Observe, 3. The commendation itself. Our Saviour commends John
1. For his constancy; he was not a reed shaken with the wind; that is, a man of an unstable unsettled judgment, but fixed and steadfast.
2. For his sobriety and high measures of mortification; he was no delicate, voluptuous person, but grave, sober, and severe; he was mortified to the glory and honour, to the ease and pleasures of the world, John wrought no miracles; but his holy conversation was as effectual as miracles, to prevail with the people.
3. For his humility; he might have been what he would, the pople were ready to cry him up for a Messiah, the Christ of God; but John's lowly spirit refuses all; He confessed and denied not, saying, I am not the Christ, but a poor minister of his, willing, but not worthy to do him service. This will commend our minstry to the consciences of our people, when we seek not our own glory, but the glory of Christ.
4. Our Saviour commends John for his clear preaching and revealing of Christ to the people. He was more than a prophet, Joh 11:9 because he pointed out Christ more clearly and fully than any before him. The ancient prophets saw Christ afar off; John beheld him face to face; he prophesied of him; he pointed at him, saying, This is he.
Whence learn, That the clearer any ministry is discovering of Christ, the more excellent it is.
Our Saviour having highly commended John in the foregoing verses, here sets bounds to the honours of his ministry, adding, That though John was greater than all the prophets that went before him, seeing more of Christ than all of them, yet he saw less than them that came after him. The meanest evangelical minister that preaches Christ to come, is to be preferred before all the old prophets, who prophesied of Christ to come. That minister who sets forth the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, is greater in the kingdom of heaven, that is, has an higher office in the church, and a more excellent ministry, than all the prophets, yea, than John himself.
The excellency of a ministry consists in the light and clearness of it. Now though John's light did exceed all that went before him, yet he fell short of them that came after him; and thus he that was least in the kingdom of grace on earth, much more that is least in the kingdom of glory in heaven, was greater than John. Not that the meanest Christian, but the meanest evangelical prophet, or preacher of the Christian doctrine is greater than John; partly in respect of his doctrine, which is more spiritual and heavenly; partly in respect of his office, which as to preach Christ crucified and risen again; and partly in respect of divine assistance, for John did no miracle, but the apostles that succeed him went forth, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.
Add to this, that the Holy Ghost fell not upon John, and he speaks not by any extraordinary inspiration of the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven, as the apostles did; thus he that was least in the kingdom of heaven was greater than John.
Our Saviour goes on commending John's ministry from the great success of it: it had that powerful influence upon the consciences of men, that no soldiers were ever more violent and eager in the storming and taking a strong hold, than John's hearers were in pursuing the kingdom of heaven. Never any minister (before) discovered the Messiah and his kingdom so clearly as John did; and therefore never was there such zeal to press into the kingdom amongst any as the hearers of John had.
Learn hence, 1. That the clearer knowledge any people have of the worth and excellency of heaven the more will their zeal be inflamed in the pursuit of heaven.
2. That all that do intend and resolve for heaven must offer violence in the taking of it; none but the violent are victorious; they take it by force. Which words are both restrictive and promisive. They are the violent, and none other that take it; and all the violent shall take it. Though careless endeavours may prove abortive, vigorous prosecution shall not miscarry.
There is also another exposition of those words; The violent take the kingdom of heaven by force: that is, the publicans and sinners, and poorer sorts of people, who were looked upon by the scribes and pharisees as persons who had no right to the blessings of the Messiah; these, as violent invaders and bold intruders, embrace the gospel, and do as it were take it by force from the learned rabbies, who challenged the chiefest place in this kingdom: and accordingly our Saviour tells them Matt 21:31.
The publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you; for you believe not John coming to you in the way of righteousness, but the publicans and harlots believed him, when at the same time the Pharisees and lawyers rejected, &c. being not baptized of him.
Here is still a farther commendation of John. The law and the prophets till the coming of John, did foretell the Messiah, but not so determinately, not so nearly, not so clearly as John did: and accordingly, he was that Elias which Isaiah and Malachi foretold should be the barbinger and forerunner of Christ. But why hath John the Baptist the name of Elias? Possibly because they were alike zealous in the work of God; they were alike successful in that work, and they were alike persecuted for their work: the one by Jezebel, the other by Herodias.
Our Saviour in these words describes the perverse humour of the Pharisees, whom nothing could allure to the embracing of the gospel, neither John's ministry nor Christ's.
This our Saviour sets forth two ways.
1. Allegorically, Matt 11:16-17. 2. Properly, Matt 11:18-19.
By way of allegory, he compares them to sullen children, whom nothing would please, neither mirth nor mourning; if their fellows piped before them, they would not dance; if they sung mournful songs to them, they would not lament: that is, the Pharisees were of such a censorious and capricious humour, that God himself could not please them, though he used a variety of means and methods in order to that end. Neither the delightful airs of mercy, nor the doleful ditties of judgment, could affect or move their hearts.
Next, our Lord, plainly interprets this allegory, by telling them, That John came to them neither eating nor drinking; that is, not so freely and plentifully as other men, being a very austere and mortified man, both in his diet and in his habit: and all this was designed by God, that the austerity of his life, and severity of his doctrine might awaken the pharisees to repentance: but instead of this, they censure him for having a devil, because he delighted in solitude, and avoided converse with men: is either an angel or a devil, either a wild beast or a god.
John being of a free and familiar converse, not shunning the society of the worst of men, even of the Pharisees themselves, but complying with their customs, and accompanying with them in their sins; but the freedom of our Saviour's conversation displeased them as much as John's reservedness of temper; for they cry, Behold a man gluttonous.
Christ's affability towards sinners, they call approbation of their sins; and his sociable disposition, looseness and luxury.
Learn hence, 1. That the faithful and zealous ministers of God, let their temper and converse be what it will, cannot please the enemies of religion, and the haters of the power of godliness; neither John's austerity, nor Christ's familiarity, would gain upon the Pharisees. It is our duty in the course after all their endeavours to please all, we shall please but very few; but if God and conscience be of the number of those few, we are safe and happy.
Observe, 2. That it has been the old policy of the devil, that he might hinder the success of the gospel, to fill the minds of persons with an invincible prejudice against the ministers and dispensers of the gospel.
Observe, 3. That after all the scandalous reproaches cast upon religion, and the ministers of it, such as are wisdom's children, wise and good men, will justify religion; that is, approve it in their judgments, honour it in their discourses, and adorn it in their lives. Wisdom is justified of her children.
Our Saviour having gone through the cities of Galilee, preaching the doctrine of repentance, and confirming his doctrine with miracles, and finding multitudes, after all his endeavours, remain in their impenitence, he proceeds to upbraid them severely for their contempt of gospel-grace: Then began he to upbraid their cities, &c.
Where observe, 1. The cities upbraided, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum: in their pulpits he daily preached, and those places were the theatres upon which his miracles were wrought; other cities onlyheard these saw; but where he preached most, he prevailed least; like some fishermen, he catched least in his own pond.
Observe, 2. What he upbraids them for; not for disrespect to his person, but disobedience to his doctrine; because they repented not. The great design of Christ both in the doctrine which he preached, and in the miracles which he wrought was to bring men to repentance; that is, to forsake their sins, and live well.
Observe, 3. Whom he upbraids them with; Tyre and Sidon, Sodom and Gomorrah, nations rude and barbarous, out of the pale of the church, ignorant of a Saviour, and of the ways to salvation by him.
Learn, that the higher a people rise under the means, the lower they fall if they miscarry. They who have been nearest to conversion, and not yet converted, shall have the greatest condemnation when they are judged. Capernaum's sentence shall exceed Sodom's for severity, because she exceeded Sodom in the enjoyment of means and mercy. The case of those who are impenitent under the gospel, is of all others the most dangerous, and their damnation shall be heaviest and most severe. Sodom, the stain of mankind, a city soaked in the dregs of villainy: yet this hell upon earth shall have a milder hell at the last day of judgment, than unbelieving Capernaum, as the next verse informs us, Matt 11:23.
This city lying under greater guilt than the rest, Christ names it by itself, without the rest; nay he doth not only name it, but notify it, as being lifted up to heaven by signal favours and privileges, namely, Christ's presence, Christ's preaching and miracles.
Observe, 1. Capernaum's privileges enjoyed, though a poor obscure place in itself, yet she was by the person, ministry, and miracles of Christ, lifted up to heaven.
Learn thence, That gospel ordinances and church privileges enjoyed are a mighty honour and advancement to the poorest persons and obscurest places.
Observe, 2. An heavy doom denounced, Thou shalt be brought down to hell: that is, thy condition shall be as sad as that of the worst of men, for thy non-proficiency under the means enjoyed.
Learn thence, That gospel-ordinances and church-privileges enjoyed but not improved, provoke Almighty God to inflict the sorest of judgment upon a people. Thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shall be brought down to hell.
Observe here, 1. That there shall be a day of judgment.
2. That in the day of judgment some sinners shall fare worse than others. There are degrees of punishment among the damned.
3. That the worst of heathens, who never heard of a Saviour, nor ever had an offer of salvation by him, shall fare better in the day of judgment than those that continue impenitent under the gospel. Christ here avouches, that Capernaum's sentence shall exceed Sodom's for severity.
In these verses our Saviour glorifies his Father for the wise and free dispensation of his gospel-grace to the meanest and most ignorant; whilst the great and learned men of the world undervalued and despised it.
By wise and prudent, Christ means worldy-wise men, particularly scribes and pharisees from whom God in judgment did hide the mysteries of the gospel, and said ye shall not see; because they had closed their eyes, and said, ye shall not see.
By babes, understand such as are at the greatest distance in natural consideration from a capacity for such rich and heavenly manifestations. By hiding these things from the wise and prudent, we are not to understand God's putting darkness into them, but his leaving them to their own darkness, or denying them that light which they had no desire to see; plainly intimating, that God judicially hides the mysteries of heavenly wisdom from worldy wise men.
Learn, 1. That till God reveals himself, his nature and will, no man can know either what he is, or what he requires; Thou hast revealed.
2. That the wise men of the world have in all ages despised the mysteries of the gospel, and therefore been judicially given up by God to their own wilfull blindness; Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent.
3. That the most ignorant and most humble, not the most learned, if proud, do stand ready to receive and embrace the gospel revelation: thou hast revealed them unto babes.
4. That this is no less pleasing to Christ, than it is the pleasure of the Father; Even so, Father, as it seemed good in thy sight. As if Christ had said, Father, thy election and choice pleaseth me, as being the choice and good pleasure of thy wisdom.
In this verse our Saviour opens his commission, and declares, 1. His authority; that all power is committed to him, as a Mediator from God the Father.
2. His office; to reveal his Father's mind and will to a lost world. No man knoweth the Father, but the Son; that is the essence and nature of the Father, the will and counsel of the Father, only as the Son reveals them.
Learn, That all our saving knowledge of God is in and through Jesus Christ; he, as the great Prophet of the church, reveals the mind and will of God unto us for our salvation; and no saving knowledge without him.
Here we have a sweet invitation, backed with a gracious encouragement: Christ invites such as are weary of the burden of sin, of the slavery of Satan, of the yoke of the ceremonial law, to come unto him for rest and ease; and as an encouragement assures them, that upon their coming to him they shall find rest.
Learn, 1. That sin is the soul's laborious burden; Come unto me, all ye that labour. Labouring supposes a burden to be laboured under; this burden is sin's guilt.
2. That such as come to Christ for rest must be ladden sinners.
3. That ladden sinners not only may but ought to come to Christ for rest; they may come, because invited; they ought to come, because commanded.
4. That the laden sinner, upon his coming, shall find rest. Come, &c.
Note here, That to come unto Christ in the phrase of the New Testament is to believe in him, and to become one of his disciples. He that cometh unto me shall not hunger, he that believteh on me shall not thirst. Joh 6:35.
Here note, That the phrase of take the yoke is judaical; the Jewish doctors spake frequently of the yoke of the law; the yoke of the commandments: and the ceremonies imposed upon the Jews are called a yoke, Acts 15:10.
Now as Moses had a yoke, so had Christ.
Accordingly, observe, 1. Christ's disciples must wear Christ's yoke. This yoke is twofold; a yoke of instruction; and a yoke of affliction; Christ's law is a yoke of instruction; it instructs; it restrains our natural inclinations, it curbs our sensual appetites; it is a yoke to corrupt nature; this yoke Christ calls his yoke, Take my yoke upon you: 1. Because he, as a Lord, lays it upon our necks.
2. Because he, as a servant, bore it upon his own neck first, before he laid it upon ours.
Observe, 2. That the way and manner how to bear Christ's yoke must be learnt of Christ himself. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; that is, learn of me, both what to bear, and how to bear.
Observe, 3. That Christ's humility and lowly-mindedness, is a great encouragement to Christians to come unto him, and learn of him, both how to obey his commands, and how to suffer his will and pleasure. Learn of me, for I am meek.
Observe here, 1. Christ's authority and greatness; he has power to impose a yoke, and inflict a burden. My yoke; my burden.
2. His clemency and goodness, is imposing an easy yoke, and a light burden. My yoke is easy, my burden is light: that is, my service is good and gainful, profitable and useful; not only tolerable but delightful; and as is my yoke such is my burden: The burden of my cross, both light, not absolutely, but comparatively; the weight of my cross is not comparable with the glory of my crown.
Learn, That the service of Christ, though hard and intolerable to corrupt nature, yet is a most desirable and delightful service to grace, or renewed nature; Christ's service is easy to a spiritual mind.
1. It is easy, as it is a rational service; consonant to right reason, though contradictory to depraved nature.
2. Easy as it is a spiritual service; delightful to a spiritual mind.
3. Easy, as it is an assisted service; considering that we work not in our own strength, but in God's.
4. Easy, when once it is an accustomed service; though hard to beginners, it is easy to progressors; the further we walk, the sweeter is our way.
5. Easy, as it is the most gainful service; having the assurance of an eternal weight of glory, as the reward of our obedience.
Well therefore might our holy Lord say to his followers; My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
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