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"Whereunto Shall I Liken This Generation?"

(Matthew 11.16)

Mankind, in its generations, has been likened to a great ocean, whose waves break, generation after generation, upon the shores of eternity. With this similitude the words of Scripture are in agreement, for in Revelation 17.15 the angel said unto John, "The waters which thou sawest ... are peoples, an4 multitudes, and nations, and tongues."

Upon the great expanse of the ocean mighty influences constantly operate: springs from beneath, tides and currents and the winds of heaven which blow upon it all exert an influence. Its surface may be calm and tranquil or be agitated by storm and tempest. In Isaiah 57.20, 21 we read, "But the wicked are like the troubled sea; for it cannot rest, and its waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked."

In the generations of mankind also there are continual movement and change because of powerful influences which operate either from above or from beneath. These have a profound effect upon the peoples either for good or for evil.

"The fashion of this world passeth away" (1 Corinthians 7.31).

The fashion in dress changes from generation to generation. So also the moral and spiritual standards, recognized and accepted by one generation, may be discarded by the generation following, and this applies in a very wide field. The trend of contemporary thought in polities, science and religion is constantly in process of modification or change. This is by no means confined to these modern days, but has been in operation since earliest times.

While the Lord Jesus rejoiced in God's habitable earth and His delight was with the sons of men, yet there can be no doubt that He was deeply concerned about that particular generation of men and women among whom He lived and moved while here on earth, and to which He referred, again and again, in the course of His ministry. As He surveyed the scene before Him and took note of the way in which those around Him reacted to the great movements of the times, He gave expression to the words of Matthew 11.16

But whereunto shall I liken this generation ? " In answering this question the Lord in His wisdom drew from the children of the rising generation an illustration wherewith to rebuke others who had arrived at years of experience and responsibility. It is like unto children sitting in the market places, which call unto their fellows, and say, We piped unto you, and ye did not dance; we wailed, and ye did not mourn." Children are quick to respond to the spirit of their companions, either in joy or in sorrow. In the varied experiences of life a bond of sympathy unites the young, a bond which fails to operate, to a great extent, in later years, when selfish interests too often hinder the outflow of more generous impulses. The force of the Lord's rebuke lay in the fact that the generation to whom He was speaking had failed to respond to those who had spoken the word of God to them, that is, John the Baptist and the Lord Himself. And yet the divine wisdom which operated in and through them was justified by its results, even though, when judged by human standards, these seemed disappointing and disproportionate to the effort expended. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold, a gluttonous man, and a wine bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! " (Matthew 11.18, 19).

Here the Lord points out some of the signs of the times and of great spiritual movements that were operating at that time; we refer particularly to the Lord's ministry and to that of John. In the opening verses of Matthew 11 the Lord eulogizes His fore-runner and speaks in the highest terms of the work of His great servant; and there can be no doubt that for a time John's ministry had a profound effect upon the minds of men. He was unflinching and fearless in his declaration of the truth ; he was not a place-seeker nor a time-server. John was not a popular preacher. He did not conform to the accepted standard of the times, either in dress or speech, nor yet in the message he proclaimed. His fearless witness to the truth ultimately brought him into conflict with authority. Finally Herod "laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife. For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her". And later "he sent, and beheaded John in the prison" (Matthew 14.3, 4, 10).

The Lord, in contrast to John, was not an ascetic, but one who enjoyed social intercourse with men and women, and although He was separate from sinners, He, in the grace of His heart, ever was accessible to them.

The record of the four evangelists shows, as we have already stated, the failure of the nation to respond to the revelation of God's will for them in not bringing forth fruits worthy of repentance, and in not subjecting themselves to the word and will of God. It was sadly true of them, as it had been of a former generation, "The harvest is past, the summer is ended. and we are not saved" (Jeremiah 8.20).

"Then began He to upbraid the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, because they repented not. Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes" (Matthew 11.20, 21).

Here, in some of the most solemn utterances that ever fell from His lips, the Lord discloses the extent of Israel's failure and the depths to which they had fallen as a consequence. The neglect of great spiritual privileges can only bring retribution and judgement, and Israel has experienced these in great measure, and even yet their cup of woe is not full. "And thou, Capernaum, shalt thou be exalted unto heaven? thou shalt go down unto Hades: for if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in thee, it would have remained until this day" (Matthew 11.28). The fires of judgement that destroyed those great cities of antiquity have long since died out, but there is a day coming when sinners who have heard the word of God and rejected it will suffer the vengeance of eternal fire according to the righteous judgement of God. In that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom and for Tyre and Sidon than for those to whom the Lord was speaking.

As we turn from the past to the present, and view modern conditions in the light of God's word, the question again presents itself and presses for an adequate answer, "What shall we say of this generation ?" It is undeniable that within the life span of the present generation of mankind great and far-reaching developments have taken place. We live in a day of material prosperity undreamt of by our ancestors. The advance of science, allied to man's inventive genius, has placed at his command sources of power which have revolutionized production, and increased to an enormous extent the wealth of the nation, and have helped to provide in this land social services that are the admiration of the world.

It must also be acknowledged that material prosperity has not brought men nearer to God, but rather the reverse; and with the many it is a case of receiving the gift, and forgetting the Giver, so that the truth of Romans 1. 21, is verified, "Because that, knowing God, they glorified Him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened".

The "family altar" which kept the lamp of faith burning in many family circles by daily prayer and the reading of the Scriptures has, with many today, lost its appeal. The spiritual life of the nation has been well-nigh swamped by the worship of Mammon, in the nationwide craze for gambling, and the easy way of making money. The old standards of integrity, honest dealing, justice and righteousness have fallen down. In the realm of scientific achievement in the exploration of outer space, while it is evident that progress has been made, it is also clear that extravagant claims are being made, particularly in the daily newspapers, that are not justified by results. May we who are the people of God seek to maintain a balanced view of such matters with the Scriptures to guide us. "Ye therefore, beloved, knowing these things beforehand, beware lest, being carried away with the error of the wicked, ye fall from your own stedfastness" (2 Peter 3.17).

Precious above measure is the sure foundation of peace and security found in the written word of God. In contrast to this word what uncertainties there are in the findings of merely human wisdom That wisdom tells us what certain phenomena will be ages hence. The coming of the Son of Man to judge the world for its sin and unbelief will make foolish the calculations of scientific minds which tell of " foundations and effects " that will exist millions of years to come. No one who knows what it is but must value true science; but the veriest absurdities are being taught in its name.

The prevalence of crimes of violence and the rising tide of lawlessness are among the disquieting features of the days in which we live, particularly among the rising generation. Lack of self-discipline, the breakdown in home life, and also a desire for a greater measure of freedom, or " self-expression," as it is termed, are contributory causes.

Moreover, there is the solemn declaration of Scripture in Genesis 6.8 : "My Spirit shall not strive with man for ever," and it would appear that the rising generation are reaping the bitter fruit of the failure of their fathers to acknowledge and revere the Bible and its teaching. In the last century there were great spiritual movements that were, without doubt, in large measure the result of the operation of the Holy Spirit. It is no exaggeration to say that, resulting from this work, many thousands of souls were saved. There is little evidence of such movements today. When a nation rejects the light of the Scriptures, to what can it turn but to materialism and infidelity?

In view of the foregoing how precious and significant are the words of the Lord which follow in Matthew 11.25-30! "At that season Jesus answered and said, I thank Thee, 0 Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes: yea, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in Thy sight." Then, as the One to whom all things have been delivered of His Father, He now closes His address in the ever-memorable words of verse 28-30.

Like a great rock, unchanging and eternally secure amid the surging tide of life around Him, He now issues His great invitation and appeal, "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

As from the safe retreat of the Lord's presence, we view the restless sea of humanity today and witness the unavailing efforts of the leaders of men, whether social, political or religious, to create a better relationship among their fellows. How true of many of them are the words of Jude, "These are ... clouds without water, carried along by winds; ... wild waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame," but of Him it is recorded, "0 God of our salvation which stilleth the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the tumult of the peoples" (Psalm 65.5, 7).