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SINNERS WILFUL AND PERVERSE.
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,
have not danced ; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept. For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine.; and ye say, He hath a devil. The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners ! But Wisdom is justified of all her children.—Luke vii. 31–35.
If we ever find infinite wisdom apparently at a loss, it is when she would describe the unreasonableness and perverseness of sinners, or devise proper means to reclaim them. Thus we find her saying to God's ancient people, O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for thy goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away. In a similar manner Christ here represents himself as at a loss how to describe the perverseness and obstinacy of his hearers. Whereunto, says he, shall I liken the men of this generation ? and to what are they like? As it is, however, impossible, that the infinitely wise Saviour should ever be really at a loss, he immediately fixes upon a similitude, which strikingly illustrated their character and conduct. They are, says he, like children sitting in the market place, and saying to their fellows, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto
you, and ye have not wept. To see the force and appositeness of this comparison, it is necessary to recollect the manner, in which weddings and funerals were solemnized among the Jews. At their weddings, a procession was formed, preceded by musicians, playing cheerful tunes, and dancers, who accompanied and kept time to their music. At their funerals also they had mourners, who performed solemn and mournful airs, or uttered cries, lamentations, and other expressions of grief. These various ceremonies the Jewish children were accustomed to imitate in their amusements. Sometimes they played cheerful tunes, and rejoiced as at a marriage feast; at others, they uttered mournful sounds, and affected to weep, as at a funeral procession. Sometimes, however, children, who wished to amuse themselves in this manner, found their companions peevish and unwilling to join with them. If they piped and rejoiced, as at a wedding, these ill humored companions would not dance ; if, to please them, they changed their strain, and mourned, as at a funeral, they would not weep and lament. Hence they complained, as in our text, that it was impossible to please them, they would neither do one thing nor another. Similar to the temper and conduct of these perverse chilaren was that of the Jews in the Saviour's time, and similar has been the conduct of sinners ever since. To trace this similarity, is my present design.
I. The companions of these perverse children employed various means to conquer their obstinacy and persuade them to join in their amusements. So God has employed a great variety of means to persuade sinners to embrace the gospel. He has sent judgments to subdue, and mercies to melt them ; arguments to convince, and motives to persuade them; threatenings to terrify, and invitations to allure them. In different parts of his word he has exhibited divine truth in every possible variety of form. In one place it is presented plainly to the mind in the form of doctrines; in another, it is couched under the veil of some instructive and striking parable ; in a third, it is presented to us in a garb of types and shadows; in a fourth, it is illustrated by the most beautiful figures ; and, in a fifth, exemplified in some well drawn character, or interesting portion of history. In a word, he addresses
us, by turns, in language the most plain and simple, the most grand and commanding, the most pointed and energetic, the most sublime and beautiful, the most impressive and affecting, the most pathetic and melting. God and men, this world and the next, time and eternity, death and judgment, heaven and hell,-these rise successively to our view, portrayed in the most vivid colors, and exhibited in various forms, while the whole created universe is put in requisition to furnish images for the illustration of these awful realities; and the infinite wisdom of God himself is exerted, if I may so express it, to the utmost, in devising and employing the most suitable means to impress them upon our minds, and cause them to affect our hearts. Thus he has addressed himself, by turns, to our eyes and to our ears, to our understandings and consciences, to our imaginations and to our affections, to our hopes and to our fears; and caused divine truth to seek admission to our minds by every avenue, to try every possible way of access.
Corresponding to these various means, and to the different modes of instruction adopted in his word, are the various gifts and qualifications, with which he furnishes those, who are sent as his ambassadors to men. As he knows the different tastes and dispositions of men, and the modes of address best adapted to convince and persuade them, he endues his messengers with a great diversity of gifts, so that, by one or another of them, every class of hearers may be gratified. He sends some ministers, who are sons of thunder, well qualified to awaken, rouse, and convince the careless ; while others, like Barnabas, are sons of consolation, and fitted to comfort the feeble minded and support the weak. Some he furnishes with clear, penetrating minds, and strong reasoning powers, that they may perspicuously state, and ably defend the doctrines of revelation, answer objections, and, by sound arguments, convince the gainsayers. To others he gives warm feelings and lively imaginations, that they may urge divine truth upon the hearts and consciences of their hearers, in a more forcible, impassioned and impressive manner. On a third class he bestows the faculty of presenting truth to the mind in a mild, insinuating, persuasive way, by which it steals into and melts
the heart, descending upon it like the dews of heaven, or silent showers, which water the earth. Thus, how diversified soever are the tastes.and dispositions of men, all may, in turn, be gratified, in consequence of the variety of ministerial gifts, which God employs for the conversion of sinners and the edification of his church. Thus the healing medicine of divine truth is presented to the vitiated palates of sinners in every possible variety of form, or to allude to the comparison in our text, thus do different ministers address their hearers in different strains, sometimes endeavcring to allure them to embrace the gospel, by comparing it to a marriage feast; and, at others, attempting to terrify them to fly to it, by bringing into view the solemnities of death, and the awful scenes which follow it.
II. Notwithstanding the different means employed with these perverse children, they would not be prevailed upon to comply with the wishes of their companions. We have piped unto you, say they, but ye have not danced ; we have mourned unto you, but ye have not lamented. Precisely similar is the conduct of impenitent sinners. Notwithstanding the great variety of means, which God employs to persuade them to embrace the gospel ; and though, as our Saviour teaches us, these means are no less adapted to produce the effect than a message from the dead, yet still they perversely refuse to comply. Reason with them--they will not be convinced ; set motives before them—they will not be persuaded ; address their hearts—they will not be affected ; appeal to their consciences—they will not feel guilty ; attempt to excite their fears—they will not be alarmed ; endeavor to allure them to Christ by promises and invitations—they will not come. Beseech them, weep over them, expostulate with them in the most affectionate and pathetic manner ; set good and evil, life and death, hell and heaven, judgment and eternity before them in every form—they make light of all, and go their ways, one to his farm, and another to his merchandize. În vain have prophets prophesied ; in vain have apostles preached ; in vain have angels descended from heaven; in vain has the Son of God appeared on earth, and spoken as never man spake ; in vain has the eternal Father proclaimed from heaven,
This is my beloved Son, hear ye him :-still sinners will not hear, they will not come to Christ for life, they will neglect the great salvation of the gospel. Thus it always has been, thus it still is, and thus it always will be, while the heart remains what it and almighty grace is not exerted to subdue it.
III. The reason, why these perverse children could not be persuaded to comply with the wishes of their companions, was, that they were out of humor, or, for some other reason, felt indisposed to gratify them. Similar is the reason, why sinners will not be persuaded to embrace the gospel, by all the means which God employs for this purpose. They do not come to Christ for life, because they will not. Their proud, selfish hearts, are full of enmity and opposition to God, and therefore they will not be reconciled. It is the gospel itself, which they dislike; and, therefore, how various soever may be the forms, in which it is presented, how clear soever the light, in which it is displayed, they still reject it. It is because I speak the truth, says our Saviour, that ye believe me not. This, however, sinners are, by no means, willing to acknowledge. They are afraid to confess, even to themselves, that it is hatred of the truth alone, which prevents them from embracing it. They, therefore, attempt to excuse themselves, by imputing their rejection of the gospel to some other cause; and to no cause do they impute it more frequently, than to the faults of its professors, or to something in the manner or conduct of those, who preach it. Thus, we learn from our text, did the Jews. John Baptist came neither eating, nor drinking; that is, he lived in the most frugal, abstemious manner, and, as a preacher of repentance, was reserved in his deportment, and severe in his rebukes. Hence they said, He hath a devil ; that is, he is a morose, visionary, melancholy man, little better than one distracted, who knows not what he says. Our Saviour, on the contrary, came eating and drinking; he associated with men in an affable, familiar manner, with a view to instruct them, and for the same benevolent purpose visited and conversed with the most abandoned characters. His perverse hearers then changed their tone, and cried, Behold a man gluttonous, and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. In a