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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Matthew 11



Other Authors
Verse 2-3


‘Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto Him, Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?’

Matthew 11:2-3

Of this very remarkable passage in John the Baptist’s life, very various views have been taken. Some think that John sent his disciples for their own sake. Others have thought that he did not feel sure that the person, of whom he now heard such wonderful accounts, was the Christ whom he baptized. Others are of opinion that John’s own mind went under a cloud. This is probably the true interpretation.

I. Times of doubt.—There are times when the very foundations tremble and shake! At such times, it will be an immense strength and comfort to know that the man who had been once the nearest to Christ—‘the greatest’—up to that period—‘of those born of woman,’ and who had known Christ, and seen Christ, and touched Christ, and baptized Christ, and done Christ’s work—that even he could question the simplest elements, and go through such a dark passage of soul. Through such a night it may be appointed to some of us, at some time in the distant life, to pass.

II. How to meet doubt.—It is well, therefore, to be preparing beforehand what you will do, that you may meet it, when it comes, deliberately.

(a) As soon as it comes, define it,—what it is. Deal with it discriminately. ‘What do I believe, and what do I not believe?’ Sometimes, in the attempt to fix the boundary line,—where faith stops and unbelief begins,—the depression vanishes.

(b) Define the cause.—‘Why am I thus?’ Is it at all physical? Is it the penalty of careless prayer? Or is it a permitted temptation?

(c) Deal very practically with what you have found. Settle at once any matter which is between your conscience and God. And then go and rouse yourself to some work.

(d) Do not indulge your doubt till you become enamoured of it, and like it, and pride yourself upon it. Tell it to your clergyman, or to any spiritual friend.

(e) Wrestle in prayer for light. It is an act of God’s sovereignty to make it come into your dark heart.

(f) Seek your evidences in Christ. Go straight to Him. Let Him be the answer to all your difficulties.

III. The restoration of faith.—Observe how Christ dealt with His doubting friend. He simply showed Himself as He really was. Three things were the restorer of John’s weak faith; and every doubting child of God—in his hours of cloud—will do well to draw the confirmation of his faith from exactly the same three sources. The work of Christ—the power of Christ—the character of Christ.

(a) The work of Christ. A finished salvation, a remedy provided for every sorrow of every sinner. Realise it.

(b) The power of Christ, the Omnipotence of the Son of God. Accept it.

(c) The character of Christ,—sympathy—sympathy even with fear;—sympathy with the darkest hour that ever fell on the heart of man. Appropriate it.

—The Rev. James Vaughan.


(1) ‘Was there no excuse for the Baptist? He was a prisoner for his constancy in speaking the truth and for his boldness in rebuking vice, to which the Collect for his Day alludes. It is said that the traveller may still see among the ruins of the keep on the summit of the hill, two dungeons, in one of which are “small holes still visible in the masonry where staples of wood and iron had once been fixed.” From this captivity no effort had been made by our Lord to free His appointed forerunner. Can we not understand how great must have been the strain upon the faith of the disciples as well as upon the steadfastness of John himself of such inaction?’

(2) ‘John, than which man a sadder or a greater

Not till this day has been of woman born,

John, like some lonely peak by the Creator

Fired with the red glow of the rushing morn.’

(3) ‘Be faithful unto death. Christ proffers thee

Crown of a life that draws immortal breath:

To thee He saith, yea and He saith to me,

“Be faithful unto death.”

‘Tho’ trouble storm around us like the sea,

Tho’ hell surge up to scare us and to scathe,

Tho’ heaven and earth betake themselves to flee,

“Be faithful unto death.”’



It is a strange, pathetic story—full of heroism, full of hope, full of doubt, full of faith.

I. An ever-present question.—It is a question which is ever being repeated; it is never obsolete or unmeaning; it is the greatest question in all the world. Is Christ still the Coming One? Is the Christian interpretation of nature and of history the true interpretation? What is the destiny of the creatures whom God made in His own image? So many voices are asking all around us—in society and in literature. And as the question is asked, will you not recall the way in which it was met by our Lord Himself?

II. The appeal to experience.—The appeal is to experience in the last resort. What are the things which you hear and see? What has this religion done for the world? Certainly the appeal can be made now with as much power as in the days of the Baptist. What do we know of the works of the Christ? Have we not seen something of a Divine power in the Christian heroisms of common life? Look round any of our great cities, and ask yourselves who are the men and women that do most for its welfare? Who are the benefactors of the society in which we live and move? We may be bold to say that as matters stand in modern life the service of man is only displayed on any considerable scale by the servants of Jesus Christ. ‘Go and tell the things which ye do hear and see.’

III. The revelation of the Living Christ.—But neither philosophy nor history nor common-sense observation of the world will entirely satisfy a soul that is seeking after the Living Christ. John had a deep-rooted belief and hope as to what the Redeemer of Israel was to be and to do. And the appeal to experience with which our Lord answered him had its power in this, that the works of Jesus corresponded to the vision of a Deliverer which John had before him. And so, when we ask of our Lord, ‘Art Thou He that should come?’ He answers us now as of old by bidding us think of His graces and His gifts in the light of our own personal desires and needs. This at least, One who can give us the victory over ourselves, through whose grace greed and selfishness and lust may be overcome. This at least, One who can speak to us, to whom we can speak, whom we can trust through silence and grief, One in whose love our poor lives may be transfigured and catch something of the light that comes from Him. And that all this is offered to you in Jesus Christ is the experience of countless multitudes. They tell you the things that they hear and see.

Dean Bernard.


‘It is often said that a dark mantle of doubt or scepticism has settled on young England. It may be so—I do not know. But this I do know: an age that is too idle and indifferent to question at all is far worse. There are honest doubters, like St. John the Baptist. Your idea of a Christian is probably very different from the Bible portrait of the saint. If you drew a picture of a Christian, it would be that of a very holy person dwelling hard by heaven’s door, filled with joy unspeakable, and the peace of God which passeth all understanding. That would be only half a picture. The Bible pictures are painted from real life, and so we find in that Book saints crying “out of the depths,” we catch the sound of tearful voices gasping in the darkness, “O Lord, I beseech Thee, deliver my soul!”’



There were among the Socinians of a former generation those who rejected the doctrine of our Lord’s Divinity, but who yet felt no difficulty in admitting the truth of some, if not all, of the supernatural facts of the Gospel history. Nowadays, instead of regarding the miraculous part of Christianity as the foundation on which the remaining part rests, this miraculous part is looked on by many as the overburdening weight under which, if it cannot be cleared away, the whole fabric must sink. If we will but surrender the Christian miracles we may still have Christ.

I. A contradiction in terms.—But is such a compromise possible? We cannot in judging of Christ’s miracles leave out the consideration, how did He judge them Himself? How did He teach others to judge of them? It suffices to refer to the story as recorded in the text. If the wonders related of Him are to be reduced to exaggeration, misconception, natural occurrences falsely attributed to supernatural causes, we must say that the mistake which His Church has made was made in His own lifetime, and was shared by Himself. A non-miraculous Christianity is as much a contradiction in terms as a quadrangular circle; when you have taken away the supernatural, what is left behind is not Christianity. Christianity requires faith in a supernatural person.

II. The one miracle.—There is in Christianity but one miracle, the appearance in the world of a supernatural person. It is contrary to experience that a Man should be able to give sight to the blind, that at His word the dead should return to life, that he Himself should die and be buried and rise again the third day. But if He of whom these things are asserted be more than man, our experience has nothing to say. The Christian miracles form a connected system; it is idle to reject one unless you reject the whole. If one can be admitted all the rest are credible.

III. A miserable halting place.—It is said that if you remove the doctrine of our Lord’s Divinity our religion will be the nobler. The contrary is so much the case, that if we cease to worship Christ as God we shall cease to call ourselves by His name at all. The question is whether our souls are more likely to be elevated by the worship of God, or by creature-worship. It is by contact with God’s Spirit that man’s spirit is sanctified. If it be the perfection of the Christian life to set Christ ever before us, to live as in His sight, to strive to be like Him, to consider how by our actions we shall best please Him—when we say Christ we mean God. But if Christ be man, to lead us to Christ is a miserable halting-place.

Professor Salmon.

Verse 4


‘Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see.’

Matthew 11:4

What answer did our Lord send back to the Baptist? It is very suggestive; He let the messenger see how Christianity lent itself to alleviating human sorrow.

I. Is Christianity true to its ideal.—How far has Christianity been true to the conception of it which Christ formed, wherein have we fallen short in our ideal living? What were the parting words which the Great Master whispered into the ears of the messengers when He sent them forth two and two on His errand? He said to them: Go and preach; say that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils, raise the dead. Freely ye have received, freely give. Christianity does not come to men with an indefinite message of the future, and with blind eyes to all the necessities and suffering of the present. It is the work of the Church to-day still to heal the lepers—moral and social, as well as physical lepers; to inquire into the causes which produce the evils and help to get rid of them.

II. The message of the Gospel comes as a ray of hope for time and for eternity. It takes hold of the present wrong and tries to set it right, and it gives a hope of a glorious immortality hereafter. The message of the Gospel in all its fullness is for the pale and stunted children of our overcrowded dwellings and, oftentimes, pestilent alleys of life. The message of the Gospel is to the honest, hard-pressed working-man who cannot find employment. It tells them not only of the rest for the people of God, but it says: ‘We are concerned, my brother, at this condition of affairs, and we will see, in God’s Name, what we can do to remedy the wrong.’ Christianity has accomplished a mighty work in the history of nations, and those who are foremost and best are those nations who have most adopted the teaching of the Gospel. No other teacher has ever done for mankind what Christianity has done with that new commandment of Christ’s—‘Love one another.’ Christ’s very credit is entrusted to us, and He longs for us to be the exponents of His idea of religion. What is that? To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world—that is religion.

The Rev. C. J. Procter.

Verse 6


‘And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me.’

Matthew 11:6

By religion, I mean the religion which Jesus taught, which has been handed to us by the Bible, and by the Church.

I. Reasons for the mistakes.—How is it that there have been, and are now, so many common mistakes about religion? There are two reasons:

(a) Religion is not a set of rules. It has to do with our actions, words, thoughts, motives, and the future, and these are matters which cannot be estimated by the same standards as your work.

(b) Most of us give so little attention to it. Can you say that you give as much thought in any one week to religion as you do to Saturday afternoon amusements; or that you have any such interest in it as you have in party politics? If your daily work received no more thought, it would go ill with you.

II. What are the mistakes?

(a) One mistake is that it is a system of spiritual fire insurance. The Bible says that Jesus came to save from our sins, not in our sins.

(b) Another error is that religion is a matter of mere forms and ceremonies. There are many so-called religious persons whose religion consists of mere forms and ceremonies. I do not believe that is true of the majority of Christian people. But forms and ceremonies have their place, not, indeed, as religion, yet to some extent its outward dress and expression. Religion is, at least in part, a clinging to, a love and devotion to God our Father.

(c) A third mistake about religion is that it is not sufficiently practical. We are charged with making it too much a matter of feeling, or at the best, mere domestic virtues; and that it has been trailed along the ground, like the proverbial red-herring, to draw men off the track of reform and freedom, which can be better achieved by politics than by religion.

III. The answer to these mistakes.—What answer have I to these charges?

(a) You have forgotten the fountain of the Christian religion—the life, words, actions, sufferings, and death of the Lord Jesus Christ.

(b) As to religion not being ‘practical,’ read the Sermon on the Mount. Would not this world be a far happier place than it is now if men would but carry out Christ’s teaching?

(c) The teaching of Jesus Christ is not for this life only; but it is also for the life to come.

(d) The religion of Jesus does certainly inculcate the milder and more domestic virtues. We cannot do without them. Acts of Parliament will not fill your house with grace, peace, and love. No; politics can do a great deal, but religion can do more. Cultivate it thoroughly, and you and your homes will be the better for it.

Canon C. Ll. Ivens.


‘All the good in the world comes from God, and is God’s doing. If we once let ourselves get into the habit of criticising and fault-finding, there is no saying where it may not lead us. Once fall into the habit of fault-finding, and you will never be able to do anything else than find fault, even though it be with what is good. And if you find fault with what is good, you find fault with the work of God; and are just in the temper of those who were offended, and found fault with the Lord Himself. Therefore it is that whenever a real Christian finds himself slipping into words of fault-finding about others, he stops short and finds fault with himself. All the good in the world is God’s doing, and of it all God says still.’

Verse 7


‘What went ye out into the wilderness for to see?’

Matthew 11:7

‘What went ye out for to see? A reed shaken with the wind? A man clothed in soft raiment? A prophet?’ Three classes of objects are here presented as contained in the ‘what went ye out for to see?’ (1) Nature as represented by the reed shaken with the wind. (2) The sensuous as represented by the soft clothing. (3) The intellectual and spiritual as set forth in the prophet.

I. A reed?—While John, like the reed, was agitated by the thoughts of his age and people, he yet gave that thought a direction and an object. The wickedness and hypocrisy of the people he rebuked; he was not carried away by them. Though he might have been a rabbi he did not covet to sit in Moses’ seat, but wrapping himself in the mantle of Elias, he went forth into the wilderness to warn and rebuke and teach—to turn the currents that were sweeping the reeds in different earthly directions to heaven and its requirements. The preacher to be of any use must be an inspired man. He must have bowed his head before the breath of the spirit. He must not bend his head at the beck of man’s hand, but utter God’s message of love with burning tongue.

II. Soft raiment?—Did you go out to see a man clothed in soft raiment? This question hints at the desire men have to see the voluptuous and the gay. Yet all these lovely things of earth are types of the more lovely in the heavens; and form beautiful surroundings of the soul that is the daughter of the skies travelling on earth to her home. If we could but use this world’s sceneries as the vestibules and approaches to the temple of the great God, the house of the great Father, we should do well.

III. A prophet?—The prophet who has had the vision of God, the teacher who reveals to us the economy of God, the master who can turn us from error and evil to truth and righteousness—he is the climax on which the eye of the traveller, or the admirer of nature, should rest with the utmost satisfaction. What matters it though his garb be mean, and his face homely, and his manners rustic. Go, and if you will have a master, take him, the rough-garbed, strong-souled man, to be your leader through the dismal gate of sorrow into the land of light. From the deep and dark ways of sin he will lead you to the holiness of heaven. There is just one other more worthy of your sight, and that is He who spoke the discriminative and commendative words.


‘Our Lord’s questions after the departure of the messengers, though incidentally vindicating John from a possible misapprehension, were evidently designed to remind the people of the means they had of themselves answering John’s question. The common explanation of the passage, as only a defence of John, ignores the form of the questions. It is not, “When ye went out, what did ye see?”—but, “What went ye out to see?” Probably the three questions may refer to three classes of people—the merely inquisitive, the worldly and self-seeking, the sincere inquirers; and the argument is—“Whatever your object in going, you found something very different: not a passing spectacle, not a source of earthly profit and pleasure, not even a mere stirring preacher; no, but the long promised ‘messenger,’ the expected ‘Elias’—and before whose face has he gone? whose way did he prepare? He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”’

Verse 11


‘Among them that are born of women there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist.’

Matthew 11:11

There is no subject more generally discussed amongst us than as to what really constitutes a great man. In what sense was St. John the Baptist ‘greater’ than other great men? Not in position; nor was there anything great about his outward life. He was not great in his achievements; and the silence that marked his life marked his death. In what, then, does greatness consist?

I. Fulness of personality.—It consists in what we are, rather than what we do. It does not lie in the earthly house of our tabernacle, which is to be dissolved, nor in the furniture of the tabernacle, the gifts, talents, powers of the mind. The Baptist was ‘filled with the Holy Ghost’; he ‘waxed strong in spirit.’ Personality in itself is weak, but personality indwelt by God is strong. In Him, and in Him alone, we become truly ourselves. Led by the Spirit the Baptist forsook the comforts of his home and dwelt in the desert.

II. In relationship to Christ.—A man’s natural greatness of soul receives an added strength through the influence of his relationship to others. A king’s son has the advantage of position added to the advantage of his own strength of character. The relationship of an ambassador to his country necessarily adds strength to any character he may have. The relationship of the Baptist to Christ, though not understood by others, was of unique importance. He was the forerunner of the King of kings. And yet, great as he was, ‘he that is but little in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’ That is the strange thing. What does it mean? Not greater in circumstance or events, but in relationship. The Baptist was of Christ, but not in Christ. He was Christ’s forerunner, but not Christ’s member. ‘He that is but little’ in the Kingdom of God—surely that applies to every one in this church—ought we not then to make ourselves felt in the parish where we live.

—The Rev. Dr. Walpole.


‘A man or woman may be great whose name has never been seen in any newspaper, whose name, indeed, is not known in the neighbourhood where he or she once lived; one, it may be, who has gone out to some foreign mission field, and long since been forgotten, and whom we hear of for the first time after many years in a brief dispatch which tells of his or her death. Such an one as Eleanor Chesnut, who was trapped into a cave at Lien Chan, and foully murdered by those she sought to heal with her medical skill and gospel of love. It may be that such an one is really greater than the great general who wins against overwhelming odds, than the statesman who guides the affairs of a great nation, than the orator who sways thousands by his eloquence. God sees not as man seeth. He regardeth not the outward appearance, but the hidden man of the heart.’



We remember Christ’s words when He said that even the lower ones in the kingdom should be ‘greater’ than John the Baptist. It was not merely that they should stand on a higher eminence—that is loftiness of position, not ‘greatness’ of nature—but their whole being should become more massive and noble and glorious. Let me point out three practical lessons.

I. Emulate the Baptist’s type of work.—He was a ‘voice’ for Christ. There was no thought of himself, but of Him. There was no pondering of his own greatness, but a habitual seeking of opportunity to proclaim the greatness of Jesus. O to be like him in these!

II. Realise our greater responsibility.—Very wonderful it was that John the Baptist should have struck so clear a note on the central fact and doctrine of Christianity, as ‘Behold the Lamb of God.’ With Christ’s work ‘finished’ and the full story completed, our message should be ampler.

III. Beware of assumption of excelling greatness.—At the basis of it there must be this, that we have ‘passed from darkness to light, from death to life,’ that we are ‘in the kingdom.’ Mere function, mere human recognition, will count for nothing beneath the eye of fire of Him with Whom we have to do.

The Rev. Alexander B. Grosart.


‘As our tidal rivers enlarge into bays and reaches of the sea by the sea’s simple flowing into them or communicating its own mass and strength and riches to them; so these relatively narrow beings of ours become spacious and Christ-like by the indwelling and sway of the Spirit with all the new and august “power” of the new kingdom.’

Verse 12


‘The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.’

Matthew 11:12

The preaching of John the Baptist was the point in which that change took place in God’s moral government of the world. His ministry introduced the genius of Christianity. At the same period, and rising from the same cause, another alteration became obviously necessary. The claim for admission into the covenant had hitherto been a national one: it now became a solely moral one. The prize is thrown open to universal competition. The whole world is called to press into the inner sanctuary. The question became only this:—Who loves Christ? Who loves Him most? So Christ laid down the law of the dispensation, under which we are placed, that ‘from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.’

I. Earnestness the key to progress.—We lay down, then, as our first principle, that earnestness is the soul to our religion, and the key to all progress. What we all want is, effort, stronger, more violent effort, because the promises of God are all to the efforts; and whatever be the signification of the words, ‘the Kingdom of Heaven,’ the rule obtains universally,’ the Kingdom of Heaven suffereth’—i.e admits of, i.e. is subjugated, i.e. yields itself to—‘the violent; and the violent, and only the violent, take it by force.’ We who hold the great doctrine of justification by faith only, are perhaps the more in danger of resting sometimes in an idle religion; and all the while, the great adversary, in his good generalship, seeing the advantage he obtains, encourages such a supposition. But the way is steep: the foe is powerful: the battle is to the death: the nerve must be set: the sword must be brightened: the foot must be firm: the grasp must be sure.

II. There are two ways of taking it.—There is a weak way, and a violent way of doing it.

(a) There is a faith, an educational faith, which we all have. And there is a faith, too, of the Eternal, which cannot rest so long as the hope of a promise has not been appropriated.

(b) There is an inner life of a man which goes on day after day, and without opposition. And there is a life within, full of enmity against contending influences.

(c) There is a prayer which consists in easy, oft-repeated cries. And there is a prayer, which is the out-pouring of thought, too deep for utterance and words.

(d) There is a life—decent, quiet, content to travel the beaten routine of daily duty. And there is a life of love, which burns with a zeal that cannot restrain itself.

All the promises of success are to the ‘violent.’ Why? Because God will always approve and exercise, that he may increase the grace out of which he is forming the glory of wearing the crown.… While everything is of grace, all the promises of God are to the bent mind, and the fine resolve, and the earnest and entire action.

—The Rev. James Vaughan.

Verses 16-19


‘Whereunto shall I liken this generation?… Wisdom is justified of her children?’

Matthew 11:16-19

The portrait of an age—that and nothing less is what is essayed in these sentences.

I. Christ’s indictment of His age.—It is set forth with transcendent skill. A simple incident, familiar in the town-life of the period, is fastened upon by the Master, His quick perceptions suggesting to Him its aptness for His purpose. In later life how hard is it to take seriously the dignified mummeries and solemn ceremonial with which the world seeks to disguise its hollowness! The child, with his clear soul and true-hearted simplicity, is often very much in earnest when at play; in the professedly serious work of the grown-up actors on life’s stage there is as often a great deal of half-conscious make-believe. And it has happened more than once in the course of history that a nation has become infected with a profound unreality. Its spiritual life has been poisoned at the fountain, and has exhausted itself in all kinds of hypocrisy and falsehood. Such was the age which Christ arraigned at the bar of judgment.

II. How was it made good?What instances did the Speaker adduce in proof of so grave a charge? In truth, for evidence in point, He had not far to seek. There were two messengers of righteousness whose treatment by that generation had been such as to invite the parable they had heard. The one, an ascetic, summoned the nation to an immediate and complete change. Wedded to its own evil life, it found the rule of the prophet of the wilderness was not after its mind, and hastened to record its sentence upon him—‘He hath a devil!’ The other was in habit and appearance a marked contrast to His great forerunner. He entered with ingenuous zest into the social enjoyments of the day, and lived, in outward things, much as others did. Surely they would approve this gentle Exemplar of humanity. Not so! With brutal exaggeration they cry, ‘Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber; a friend of publicans and sinners!

III. The ultimate appeal in all such loss.—The expression ‘and wisdom was justified by her children’ (St. Luke 7:35 has ‘of all her children’) is susceptible of an easy interpretation, and the reference to the classes of people (St. Luke 7:23) who accepted Christ’s teaching after they had accepted John’s, is manifest. In this case the phrase ‘was justified’ is clearly to be taken as meaning much the same as the negative one in Matthew 11:6—‘Shall find none occasion of stumbling.’ This application involves the appropriation of the term ‘wisdom’ to Himself. That is to say, He was the highest or most immediate embodiment of Divine wisdom. But when we have to convert ‘children’ into ‘works,’ a difficulty arises. There are some of course who would restore the identity of meaning in the two passages by understanding ‘works’ as a figurative term for ‘children,’ or vice versâ; either of these in itself a sense not very unlikely, and certainly by no means impossible. The context, however, must have some consideration, and in this case it has a special claim to attention, for Matthew 11:2 also speaks of ‘works’ as being the cause of John’s message to Christ, and Christ Himself points to ‘the things which ye do hear and see’ (Matthew 5:4) as the best evidence of His claims to be the Messiah. It would, therefore, appear as if we had in these parallel passages, would it not? the two halves of the original saying. A twofold proof such as this—one within the moral nature itself, the other external, in the region of utility—is not more conformable to modern habits of thought, than to the entire spirit and scope of Christ’s teaching. It is for ‘the children of the kingdom’ not only to have the witness within them, but to see for themselves, and to declare to others in the region of the outward and the visible, those ‘fruits of righteousness’ which are the signs and evidences of the ‘Kingdom that cometh not with observation.’

The Rev. A. F. Muir.


‘The disagreeable children can be enticed by no action of their companions. They will not dance to the gay music nor join in the mock mourning. A third method would be equally unsuccessful, because they are not to be pleased. They are sitting; there is always something wrong with children when they sit down for long. The life has gone out of them. Similarly there are people who are dissatisfied with all methods of religious work. Old staid methods are dull and gloomy to them; new and more lively methods are unseemly and irreverent. From the sobriety of the Quakers’ meeting to the unrestrained fervour of a Salvation Army meeting, they cannot discover any worship to suit them, and they find fault with all ways of conducting Church services. If some one could invent a new style of worshipping God, this would be of no use for the discontented people. Their discontent lies deeper. The children had no mind to play; these people have no mind to pray. Therefore we shall not reach them by new methods. They are in a hopeless state unless we can touch their hearts and lead them into a better state of mind. It is useless to pander to their prejudices. Perhaps at present all we can do is to pray for them.’

Verse 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.’

Matthew 11:19

The question whether the faith of Christ permits us to enjoy the good things with which God has stored this beautiful world is one which often presents itself to the conscientious mind. In the world as God made it, it is quite possible to live for God and our fellow-creatures while living in the full rich stream of good homely thought and activity, and that is clearly what our Lord intended: ‘I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil.’ The mediæval Church held that the whole value and meaning of genuine Christianity lay in renunciation; and then, finding this an impossible ideal for the great mass of mankind, they declared that, while the monastic notion was the highest and best, there was a mild kind of Christianity, without this strict and severe ascetic principle, which was to be sufficient for ordinary people. This is, of course, wholly inconsistent, for no two such systems are revealed in the teachings of Christ.

I. In the world.—The contrast which our Lord draws between the reception of Himself and John the Baptist is fundamental in this respect, and of the highest importance. If the duty of renouncing the gifts of God were the true meaning of Christianity, we should find the disciples, who followed their Master in all things so closely, taking such a view of His character. They did nothing of the kind.

II. The spiritualising of life.—What are the leading ideas of Christ’s message? Trust in God as our Father, the Kingdom of Heaven, repentance, humility, the forgiveness of sins, the love of our neighbour. That is the sphere into which His teaching leads. Beside such glorious principles there is no room for a system of restrictions and abnegations. Our Lord came to fulfil and spiritualise the law, not merely to replace one set of difficult restrictions by another.

III. Three enemies.—What are the three enemies of the Christian life against which our Lord speaks most strongly? They are—

(a) The lust of money.

(b) Anxiety.

(c) Selfishness.

IV. The aim of life.—When the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and renounced not the world, nor lived in the desert, but in the kindly homes of His brother men,—in all this He had one abiding and permeating purpose—and that purpose was love, love for the souls of men, love for the welfare of men, love that healed their sicknesses, love that comforted their sorrows.

Archdeacon Sinclair.


‘The common daily life is for most of us the life of struggle and poverty, and any example which can teach us how to feel a deeper trust, a gladder contentment, a lighter care, should be very precious to us. In this respect Luther, like other brave and holy men, had learned better than we do the meaning of our Lord and Master’s life. Ought we to consider poverty so great a curse, ought men to rebel against it so frantically, as though it were the worst of earthly evils, when we remember that it was this lot which Jesus Christ chose? Have the rich men done in this world one tithe of the good that has been done by poor men? When Martin Luther’s voice rang through the world, he had no income of his own. One suit of clothes served him for two years. For a whole year his bed was never made. “I was tired out,” he said, “with the day’s work, and lay down, and knew no more.”’

Verses 25-30


‘At that time Jesus answered and said … My burden is light.’

Matthew 11:25-30

Let us look at this remarkable passage sentence by sentence.

I. To whom the Gospel was revealed.—First, the Lord gave open thanks to His Father because of the class of persons to whom the Gospel was revealed. They had something which no book-learning could give. They believed in Jesus as their Lord and Master, and trusted Him implicitly.

II. A further truth.—Secondly, the Lord announces a further and perhaps a grander truth. The dignity of His position, and the glory of his office, are set forth in the words that follow—

(a) ‘All things are committed unto Me by My Father.’ What a far-reaching utterance! The Being Who had just been addressed as ‘the Lord (or possessor) of heaven and earth’—words which take us back to the days of Melchizedek—commits all things to the Son.

(b) But the Lord proceeds, ‘No one fully knoweth the Son but the Father.’ All full clear knowledge of the Lord Jesus is a matter of revelation from the Spirit of God to the spirit of man.

(c) ‘Neither doth any one fully know the Father, except the Son, and those to whom the Son chooseth to reveal Him.’ The light of Christ in the soul opens the eye to the glory of God, to His wonderful love, and to His eternal purposes. How little we should know of Him were it not for the manifestation of Himself in His only-begotten Son.

III. The comfortable words.—Did any one imagine from the strong words just uttered that ordinary human beings were debarred from coming into contact with this wonderful Being who was the Delegate of the Most High? Then, let them listen a little longer. The Lord speaks again, and he speaks for all time. ‘Come unto Me.’

The class of person specially aimed at in this invitation is thus described—‘All that toil, and all that are burdened.’ The voice of Jesus still rings out calm and clear, tender and strong. These words need very little exposition; what they really need is to be listened to and acted upon.

—Canon R. B. Girdlestone.

Verse 26


Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight.’

Matthew 11:26

The greatest thing which you have to do in life is to learn to say those words.

I. God’s discipline.—Perhaps God found you a character proud in intellect, resolute in disposition, tenacious of dignity, selfish in temper. Now see a moment, how He deals. He will take that proud mind of yours and He will baffle it till He has brought it down to the ground. And He will cross that selfish temper of yours, and punish you by rods of your own making, until you are willing to put yourself at His feet. And He will visit you in those irregular and inordinate affections, and He will disappoint you, until you acknowledge that the heart is His, and that He has a right to reign in it alone. And in every thing He will be as a Sovereign to you.

II. Look at the real developments of life.—You begin and go on in wilfulness and sin, and one or other of two things will happen. Either your mind runs on in a channel which gets further and further off from the mind of God, until it is prepared and ready to go on without God for ever—as wide asunder as heaven is from hell; or your ideas, your desires, your tastes, your judgment, gradually flow more and more into the courses of the Divine, until your whole moral being assimilates to Him.

III. The lesson of submission.—It sometimes happens that a providence meets a man of which he is inclined to say—‘This is the most difficult trial which could have been sent me to bear.’ It is an occasion when no other words will do but,—‘Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight.’ Or sometimes afflictions come, not in the ordinary way in which we are expecting them, but so very crowded together, and so very sweeping, and so utterly desolating that our minds are quite bewildered. Or, it may be that one has been taken from your side, who seemed, of all, to be the essential one. Yet there is nothing sublimer, even among the ranges of the blest, than when those simple words go up in their firmness, from one soul chastened—‘Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight.’

IV. Two suggestions.—To cherish such a feeling in the heart, our Lord’s words give us two suggestions—

(a) Take fatherly views of the character of God; (b) remember that the measure of all good is the mind of the Almighty.

The Rev. James Vaughan.

Verse 28


‘Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’

Matthew 11:28

This invitation addressed to a certain class. To the self-sufficient it has no attraction, but to every one with an unsatisfied want down in his heart, the words bring peace and hope.

I. Invitation from the living Christ.—When He says ‘come’ He means ‘Believe in My Love and trust Me as your Guide.’ We can never know peace of believing while we keep in touch with the world. Go to Him in the troubles of life.

(a) In poverty: worldly friends will forsake, but he says ‘Come; I will show you how I could live My Divine Life although I was poor.’

(b) In loneliness: the loneliness of Christ was of the worst sort, the solitude of spirit; and if we go to Him He will impart His secret—‘Yet I am not alone, the Father is with Me.’

(c) In discontent: when we weary and vex our souls Jesus comes and offers ‘rest.’ He shows us what His life was, and our grumbles die out. The cure for discontent is to have one aim to finish the work ‘which Thou gavest Me to do.’

II. Its permanence.—The invitation holds good to the last, and when our need is blackest Christ’s help will be brightest.

Dean Ovenden.


‘In the days of the Commonwealth, Princess Elizabeth, daughter of Charles I, was taken prisoner and placed in Carisbrook Castle. She languished there alone, separated from all the companions of her youth, till death set her free. One day she was found dead with her head leaning on the Bible, which was open at the words “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”’



The busy world not a happy or restful world. Why?

I. Outward trials and reverses.—Unexpected disappointments have crushed their hopes. They have been stung by unkindness of friends. Men are not always so cheerful as they appear. Many carry secretly the burden of a wearied and withered heart. Men often seek artificial relief, but they get no rest because they do not come to Christ for His rest. Whatever the trouble, there is no rest but in Him.

II. Minding earthly things.—We need not take any extreme case of inordinate indulgence. Enough that we take the common example of a worldly person. Whatever touches his earthly prospects touches the apple of his eye. Yet it never occurs to him that the whole pressure of his burden comes from a misplaced trust, of a seeking after happiness where God never intended he should find it. Christ calls men off from vain pursuits. Only in Christ and from Christ can the deep yearnings of the human heart be satisfied.

III. The burden of sin.—To those weary with a sense of deserved condemnation and casting about continually for a rest, the voice of Christ comes in the text. Christ honours an undivided trust, unshared with anything, looking unto Jesus away from all other reliefs.

IV. We need rest from the assaults of sin, temptations of the world, cares of life, fear of falling away from our hope; and these rests are all comprehended in text.

—Prebendary Daniel Moore.


‘In olden times, before printing was invented, the copyists laboured long and carefully at their manuscripts. Some texts, those I suppose they thought most important, were written in silver or gold or red or blue, and thus marked out from the rest. We have not Bibles now printed in divers colours, yet I am sure if our hearts have been illuminated by the Holy Spirit the sacred Book is all aglow with texts that have cheered or helped us. No verse I think is more worthy of being printed in gold or vermilion than this.’

Verse 29


‘Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me.’

Matthew 11:29

Just before our Lord spoke these words, He had declared His joy and thankfulness that intellectual eminence had nothing to do with the entrance into His school; that the mysteries of His teaching were hidden from the wise and prudent and revealed to babes. His Apostles maintain the same attitude. It might have seemed as though the triumph of Christianity must necessarily involve the depreciation of mental power. But in widest contrast with such a thought has been the actual course of the Church’s history.

I. No special privileges for intellect.—At the entrance into the Kingdom of God the human intellect is received now exactly as it was in the time of St. Paul. In and by itself, apart from the consideration of its use, it constitutes no claim to enter into the kingdom; it has no special privileges, no exceptions, no promise of a good place there. The intellect must be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ; it must take His yoke upon it. And then it shall learn of Him.

II. Things to be learnt.—‘Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me.’

(a) Humility. The faith of Jesus Christ presses upon us the resolute cultivation of humility.

(b) Seriousness. Christianity bears a great part in the growth of the intellect by making it serious. To realise that our search for truth is conducted in the sight of God should lift us at once above the temptation to be ostentatious, or mercenary in the use and exercise of intellect.

(c) Unselfishness. The intellectual life will surely gain in purity and strength if the heart that animates it is unselfish. We are told that the besetting troubles of education and of learning in our day are ‘hurry, worry, and money.’ If so, what a career is open for minds that are raised by the obedience of Christ and the example of His Cross high above this wasteful strife of tongues.

III. The result—personal influence.—To be humble, to be serious, to be unselfish, these are the chief obligations which Christianity imposes on the intellect; these are the conditions of its entrance into the service of the kingdom of Almighty God: and when the highest gifts of intellect are consecrated by union with these graces, the result is a power of personal influence which it would be difficult to limit.

—Bishop F. Paget.


‘“The education which I advocate,” said Professor Faraday, “has for its first and last step—humility.” I well remember hearing Mr. Darwin say about a writer who was much talked of, and who is apt to be at once very positive and wide-reaching in assertion, “Ah! I never read a page of him without thinking—there’s five or six years’ work for any one to see whether that’s true.” Humility and patience; these are the unfailing and characteristic elements in the temper of those who have really most advanced the empire of human knowledge.’

Verse 30


For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.’

Matthew 11:30

It is beautifully instructive how, in this incomparably winning invitation of Jesus, the call to rest, and the call to labour, are blended. The rest of faith, and the labour of love!

I. The easy yoke.—The ‘yoke’ of a Christian is not always necessarily ‘easy.’ Then how are we to reconcile the contradiction? Beyond a doubt, the explanation is to be found not in the character of the ‘yoke,’ but in the state and condition of the man who bears it. The secret lies not in the thing, but in the person.

The result is an act of Divine power. I shall scarcely exaggerate if I call it ‘a miracle.’ It is the fitting of the man to his position. The ‘yoke’ is hard till the love with it takes away the hardness. He who put it on walks at his side. And the yoke-bearer hears his Master’s voice, hears Him all the way.

II. The light burden.—Let us look at the great reason why God’s ‘burden is light.’ The ‘burden’ of sin is taken out of it! That heavy, oppressive, crushing ‘burden’ of unforgiven sin,—that is gone, quite gone. And when that ‘burden’ is taken off, whatever is left does not deserve the name. It would not be too much to say that the ‘burden’ of every ‘burden’ is the ‘burden’ of the sin that is in it! How can that ‘burden’ be heavy, which we bear with Christ? Do you think He will not take the largest share? Will He not take all your ‘labour’? Is not He the Burden-bearer, and the Care-bearer, no less than the Sin-bearer of all His people? Do not monopolise your sorrows. Do not drag your cross. Do not flinch from duty. Do not forget Who is carrying it with you, in you, and for you.

—The Rev. James Vaughan.


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Matthew 11:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 29th, 2020
the First Week of Advent
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