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1.—THE QUESTION RAISED.
ST MATTHEW XI. 20-24.
“ 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.” Then why were those mighty works not done ? Is it not the will of God that none should perish, but that all should come, through repentance, unto life? Does not He Himself plead with men, saying, “ Why will ye die?” And yet the Lord Jesus, who knew what might have been as well as what had been, solemnly declares that even the guilty inhabitants of Sodom and of Tyre and Sidon would have been brought to repentance and life had they witnessed the mighty works wrought in the favoured cities of Galilee! Why were they not permitted to witness them, then ? Can we blame them, will God condemn them, and condemn them to an eternal death or an eternal misery, because they did not see what they could not see, because they
did not repent, when the very means which would infallibly have induced repentance were not vouchsafed them ?
A momentous question this ! few questions are more momentous. It is a question which demands an answer, even though we cannot hope, as I suppose we cannot, to reach a full and complete answer to it while we are compassed about with the limitations and infirmities of this hindering mortality. The complete answer would imply a complete apprehension of the entire scheme of Providence, a complete knowledge not only of the whole story of time, but also of the
Divine motives and purposes of which that story is a - vast and manifold illustration. And such knowledge
is too wonderful for us,—too high for us to reach, too broad for us to grasp. But some answer we must have, some considerations which at least lighten the burden of this pressing and momentous problem.
First of all, then, let us attempt to lay hold on the words which have raised this problem—to trace out the order and sequence of thought in this suggestive but obscure saying of our Lord's.
In Verse 20 we read, “ Then began he to upbraid —to reproach—the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not.” Then ! When ? When his mind was occupied with the thought (Verse 19) that the Divine Wisdom would be justified of all her children. That Wisdom had sent forth many of her sons to turn the men of Galilee from their sins,—heroes, statesmen, prophets, poets ; from the old-world patriarch to the modern rabbi, a long succession of holy men bad spoken to them, all delivering the same Divine message, but delivering it in divers manners,—Wisdom changing her modes and tones, and becoming all things to all men, that she might win the more. And last of all, and to crown all, the Baptist had come, and the Messias : John, solitary and austere, keen, incisive, stimulating as the frost of winter ; Jesus, sociable, friendly, bountiful, as sweet and genial as a summer's day. But whatever the form which Wisdom assumed, whatever the tone in which she spoke, the men of Galilee found somewhat to allege against her. In her child John she was too austere, too exacting; he was a devil of a man, frowning on all the sweet and kindly uses of life. In her child Jesus she was too sociable, too pliable, too ready to condone and to share the indulgences of the worst and most despised of men. He had a devil, too, but a gluttonous and wine-bibbing devil, not a solitary and ascetic devil like John's.
This was the attitude which they assumed towards the Divine Wisdom that so graciously strove and pleaded with them, an attitude of captious and yet inveterate hostility. And now Christ sees that men possessed by
so settled an hostility to every form of Wisdom and Righteousness as that they translate them into their very opposites, must be nearing the end of their course. As they will not repent and live, let Wisdom change her voice and note as she will, nothing remains but that she should vindicate the children whom they have rejected and condemned, by shewing that it was by her inspiration that they had spoken, and that all they had said on her behalf was true. Those who would not repent unto life when denounced by John and invited by Jesus, and held that they needed no repentance, must be left to die; their very death in sin proving that they did need to repent before they could live. As they had left Wisdom no other way of justifying herself, of proving herself to be the true wisdom, and the course she indicated the only wise course, she must take this way of justifying both her children and herself.
In Verses 21 and 23, three of the cities in which Wisdom had uttered her voice, and the mighty works of Christ had been done, are named as samples of the other cities of Galilee—Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum. And all these are now mere names to us, and nothing more. So utterly has the prediction of Christ been fulfilled, at least on its lower earthlier side; so intolerable was the judgment which fell on these wicked cities, and so completely were they destroyed