Part 1

Section 24—Matthew 11:21, 23.

Wo unto thee, Chorazin! wo unto thee, Bethsaida! for 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. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works which have been done in thee had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.

These words are frequently insisted on[1] as proving man's ability to repent, believe, and convert himself; and that unfrustrable and irresistible grace is not necessary to these things; and that faith, repentance, and conversion, are not produced by it. But,

1. Here is no mention made of faith and conversion, only of repentance; and that not spiritual and evangelical, but external and legal; such as was performed in sackcloth and ashes, and by virtue of which Sodom might have remained unto this day; for though a repentance is not unto eternal salvation, yet it is often attended with temporal blessings, and is the means of averting temporal judgments, as in the case of the Ninevites, and may be where the true grace of God is not; with the want of this Christ might, as he justly does, upbraid the cities where his mighty works had been done, and the Jews, in Matthew 12:41, and 21:31, 42,[2] which might have been performed by them, though they had no power to repent in a spiritual and evangelical sense, to which more is required than the bare performance of miracles. See Luke 16:31.

2. These words are to be understood, as Grotius[3] observes, in a popular sense, and express what was probable, according to a human judgment of things; and the meaning is, that if the inhabitants of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, had had the advantages of Christ's ministry, and of seeing his miracles, as the inhabitants of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum had, it looks very likely, or one would be ready to conclude, they would have repented of their flagitious crimes, which brought down the judgments of God upon them in such a remarkable manner; as these ought to have done, particularly of their sin of rejecting the Messiah, notwithstanding all the evidence of miracles, and convictions of their own consciences, and so probably sinned the sin against the Holy Ghost. And therefore,

3. The words are an hyperbolical exaggeration of their wickedness, such as those in Ezekiel 3:5-7, showing that they were worse than the Tyrians and Sidonians, who lived most profligate and dissolute lives; than the inhabitants of Sodom, so infamous for their unnatural lusts; yea, than any others, if there were any worse than these under the heavens; and therefore would be punished with the worst of punishments, verses 22, 24. In much the same way are we to understand, Matthew12:14, and 21:31, 32, where Christ upbraids the Jews with the want even of an external repentance for their sin of rejecting him, though they had such a full proof and demonstration of his being the Messiah; and therefore were worse than the men of Nineveh, who repented externally at the preaching of Jonah; yea, worse, notwithstanding all their pretended sanctity and righteousness, than the publicans and harlots, who went into the kingdom of God, attended on the outward ministry of the word, believed John the Baptist, and gave at least an assent to what he said concerning the Messiah as true.

4. These words can be no proof of God's giving sufficient grace equally to all men, which is in some effectual to conversion, and in others not; seeing the men of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, had not the same advantages and means, or the same grace, as the inhabitants of these cities had, if the mighty works done among them are to be called so. Besides, where persons have the same external means of grace, and the same outward advantages, and one truly repents, believes, and is converted, and another not; this is owing not to the will of man, but the sovereign grace of God, as appears from verses 25, 26: —At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes; even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.


[1] Remonstr. in Coll Hag. art. 3. 4. p. 218, Act. Synod. p. 120 etc; Limborch. 1. 4, c. 13, sect. 6, p. 370; Whitby, p. 173; ed. 2. 169.

[2] Whitby. p. 174; ed. 2. 170.

[3] In loc.

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