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Bible Dictionaries

Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

The Children of Capernaum Playing at Marriages and Funerals in the Market-Place

IT is the market-place of Capernaum and it is the cool of the day. The workmen and the workwomen of the town are sitting in the shade after the work of the day is over, and the children, having been released from school, are boisterously engaged in their evening games. 'Come,' cries a leading boy, 'Come and let us have a marriage. This here will be the bride's house, and I will be the bridegroom, and we will all get our lamps lighted, and we will go to the bride's house to bring her home to my house.' 'No,' shouts another. 'No. We had a marriage yesterday, when you were the bridegroom. Let us have a funeral today. And I will be the dead man, and you and you and you will take me up and carry me out of the gate, and all the rest will come out after us lamenting and mourning and weeping.' But the bridegroom would not have a funeral, and the dead man would not have a marriage, till a quarrel arose, and till their fathers and mothers had to separate their children and take them home. And till One who had sat in the market-place and had seen it all, arose and went out into the hill-country and was all that night alone and in prayer. And as He looked on Capernaum He wept and said, "And thou, Capernaum, whereunto shall I liken thee, but to thine own children playing in the market-place, and calling to their fellows, and saying-We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced: we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented."

The childhood shows the man,
As morning shows the day,-

sings Milton about the childhood of our Lord. And that childhood scene in the market-place of Capernaum already shows the coming manhood and womanhood of those contending children. And it shows, not their childhood and manhood and womanhood alone, but our own childhood and manhood and womanhood also. The self-will and the bad humour and the obstinacy and the faultfinding of those Capernaum children in the marketplace, and of their parents in the synagogue, are all held up before us in this glass of God, looking into which we are instructed to see, not our own children only, but our grown-up selves also. Just because a marriage was proposed by one playfellow his neighbour would not have a marriage. He would have a funeral. His little wilful heart at once rose up within him to resist his neighbour's proposal. He would have a funeral that day and in nothing but a funeral would he take any part. The marriage game was surely a far more delightful game than the funeral game. But it was not delight that he was now set upon; it was his own will and his own way. "The cause is in my will," said Cæsar. "I will not come. Let that be enough to satisfy the senate." And it was enough that this little Cæsar of Capernaum said that he would not have a marriage but a funeral. Immense libraries have been written, first and last, on the will: and that by our very ablest and very best men. But behind Cæsar's will in Rome, and behind this little tyrant's will in Capernaum, no philosopher or theologian of them all has ever been able to go. We see self-will every day and we taste the bitter fruits of it every day. But why the human will should be so incurably evil, that is past the wit of our wisest men to find out. An evil will is the true mystery of iniquity, till the whole world is one huge marketplace of Capernaum, and all owing to your evil will and mine. I will not play with you unless I get my own will and way in everything. And you will not play with me unless you get your own will and way in everything. "He is a very nice man when he gets his own way," said one of yourselves the other day when he was praising one of yourselves. And Elizabeth, as we are told, was a very nice queen when her bishops tuned their pulpits to keep time to her dancing. But when they tuned their pulpits to the truth she showed herself a very virago. She would play at churches with them every day, and all day, if they would but play to please her. But if they did not, they would know the consequences. To how many things, both in church and in state, and both at home and at play, has Cæsar given us the one true and complete key-"The cause is in my will. Let that satisfy the senate."

It was the mother of the dead man of last night who came with her son in her hand to our Lord as He was preparing to preach in the market-place next morning. 'Master,' she said, 'I saw all Thy sorrow and shame over my son last night. I watched Thee all the time and I knew all that was in Thy thoughts about him. But they were not such sad thoughts as mine were. And now I have brought my little son that Thou mayest lay Thy hand upon him and make him a new heart. And if not, I would rather he had never been born; I would rather see him a dead man indeed, and carried out of the city on his dead bier, than live to see him grow up as he began last night.' And Jesus had pity on her. And He laid His hand on her little son's head, and said, 'Blessed be the son of such a mother. For of such mothers, and of the sons of such mothers, is the kingdom of heaven.

They that have my Spirit,
These, said He, are mine.'

Now my brethren, if you and I have grown up, and are growing old, without having been blessed of God with a new heart: that is to say with a gentle, humble, meek, affable, and complying heart: if we are come to manhood and womanhood with a hard and stony heart: a proud, self-willed, obstinate, despotic, and tyrannical heart still within us-how is it all to end? and when? and where? We cannot be content, surely, to go on and on with such an evil heart within us, making ourselves miserable, and making all who have to do with us miserable also. And if the New Testament is true; if we suddenly die with such a heart still in us, it will be to be devils for ever ourselves, and the playfellows of devils for ever. If we are hardening our hearts against God and man, and are set on having our own will in everything; if we go about tyrannising over everybody, and making everybody suffer from our insolent temper, what is there in death, or after death, to give such as we are a new heart? There are abundance of promises in death and after death to the meek, and to the sweet, and to the submissive, and to the self-surrendering, and to the self-sacrificing. But I have not found any such promises and consolations to the high-minded, and the sour-tempered, and the quarrelsome, and the self-asserting-have you? I have met with not a few warnings and threatenings and divine denunciations against such, both in this world and in the world to come. And you must have met with the same. And to all such among you, amid scenes of misery caused by your wicked temper and your tyranny, your own conscience must have told you to your face that you are the man. Now what are you doing to alter that? Or are you doing anything? And are you content to go on as you are, with such a heart as yours and you taking no step to mend it? Yes, what step are you taking to mend it? For even if you came to Him to whom that Capernaum mother came, He would only say to you what He said to her, and what He said to her far-off fathers and mothers through His servant Ezekiel. "Repent," He will say to you, "and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so your iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed, and make you a new heart, and a new spirit, for why will you die? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God; wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye." Come away then, and let us look at some of the times and the places when and where you must set about making yourselves a new heart; that is to say, a broken, contrite, chastened, tender, yielding, companionable, heart.

"How shall a man like me ever become of an affectionate and companionable temper?" asks Epictetus, the Stoic professor, at his students in his lecture-room in Nicopolis. And this is the answer he gives himself in their hearing. I take his answer out of the notebook of one who was present. And I take Epictetus because our Lord said, "And thou, Capernaum; they shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down in the kingdom of heaven, while many of the children of the kingdom, such as thou and thy children are, shall in nowise enter into it." "How," asks the old Stoic, "shall a man like me ever become of a truly noble and divine disposition?" And he answers himself in this way. "Every man is improved by the corresponding acts. The carpenter is improved by the acts of carpentry. And the orator is improved by the acts of oratory. But if a carpenter slovens over his work he will never become a good carpenter. And if an orator does not speak better and better every time he rises to his feet he will soon be hissed out of the pulpit. And in religion and morals it is the very same thing. Thus, modest actions preserve and improve the already modest man, and immodest actions destroy him. Shamelessness strengthens the shameless man, faithlessness the faithless man, abusive words the abusive man, angry words and angry acts make the man more and more a man of anger, and avaricious acts end in making a man a miser." And the great Stoic has line upon line, and precept upon precept to his scholars in this all-important matter. For in another page of Arrian's notebook I come upon this-"Every habit and faculty is maintained and increased by the corresponding actions. The habit of walking by walking, and the habit of running by running. If you would be a good reader, read; if a good writer, write. Lie down ten days and then attempt a long walk, and you will see how your power of walking has gone from you. Generally, then, if you would make anything a part of your character, practise it. When you have been again angry today, you have not only been again angry today, but you are all that the more open to anger tomorrow. Till today's anger, and tomorrow's anger, and the next day's anger, will all unite to make you an absolute savage to all who live near you. But if you wish not to be such a savage, do not do the acts of a savage, but the acts of a gentleman. Do not feed your savage temper by savage words and savage actions. Keep your bad temper in hand, till you can count the days on which you have not been angry. I used to be in a passion every day at something or somebody, now every second day, then every third, then every fourth day. But if you have intermitted thirty days without an explosion of anger, make a thanksgiving sacrifice to God. If you escape for two or three months, be assured that you are in a very good way. Great is the combat, divine is the work; it is for freedom, it is for happiness, it is for holiness. Remember God, and go on." So far Epictetus.

Are you then a self-willed, proud-hearted, intolerant, and tyrannical, man? Or are you a virago of a woman? And would you be a gentleman and a gentlewoman? Epictetus has told you the way tonight. Butler has told you the same way in your own tongue, but Epictetus was beforehand by two thousand years. Gentlemanly acts will end in making you a gentleman, and nothing else will. No man was ever born a gentleman; no mere man. But multitudes have made themselves gentlemen and gentlewomen. And that on the Epictetus-principle of acts, habits, character. The next time, then, that opinions and proposals differ where you are concerned, seize you this assurance, that God Himself has brought about that difference of opinion, and those conflicting proposals, with His eye set on you. Opinions and proposals are nothing to Him: but you, and your moral character, and your Christian conduct are everything to Him. Tonight yet, and before you have slept this scripture of His off your mind, and tomorrow, to a certainty, two opinions and two proposals will be tabled before you, and that in order to put it to the proof if you have paid any attention tonight. In order to see if your visit to the playground of Capernaum, and to the mountain of prayer above Capernaum, has done you any good. Be you ready. Be you prepared. Play you the man that moment. If it is a marriage that is proposed, put yourself at their disposal. Say that you will undertake to see the registrar and the minister. Do not mention the other engagements you had made for that week and that day. But put them all off till you have seen this marriage carried smoothly and sweetly through. And after you have seen them away to their honeymoon, you will be far happier in your lonely lodging than if you had been the bridegroom himself. Do it and see! At any rate, there will be better than bridegroom-joy in heaven over you because this playground of Capernaum has not been lost upon you tonight.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'The Children of Capernaum Playing at Marriages and Funerals in the Market-Place'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. 1901.

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