Spiritual Meaning of




Matt. 11:16-17.

But with what can I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the markets, and calling to their fellows, and saying, We have piped to you, and you have not danced; we have mourned to you, and you have not lamented. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He has a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.

According to the letter, the expression, this generation, means the people who lived at that time in Judea; but according to its spiritual sense, it means the state of the church among that people, in regard to their reception of the eternal truth, for such is the spiritual idea of generation, whenever the term occurs in the Word of God, inasmuch as that Holy Book treats only of spiritual generations, which are those of goodness and truth, and not of natural ones, which relate only to this world and the flesh.

This generation is said to be like children sitting in the markets, because, by children, or, as it is expressed in the original, infant boys, are not here to be understood children, or infant boys, but the things signified and represented by them, which things are nothing else but the truths of innocence, which were at that time revealed from Heaven to the Jewish people, in order to make them a church, or the people of God.

These children, or infant boys, are represented as sitting in the markets, because by the markets are figured natural minds, or the common states of the life of natural men, which are therefore called markets, because all the goods and truths contained in the Word of God are there presented for purchase, and every one, who is so disposed, may there become a purchaser, and thus acquire the eternal possession of those heavenly blessings. It is on this account that mention is again made of a market-place in the parable of the householder who hired labourers into his vineyard, where it is written, that he saw others standing idle in the market-place, for by standing idle in the market-place, is signified, that they neglected to cultivate the natural mind, by preparing it for the insemination and growth of the Eternal Truth. In the present, parable, however, it is not said that the children were standing idle in the markets, but that they were sitting there; because, by the term sitting, whenever it occurs in the Sacred Scriptures, is always expressed a state of the will, or love, as the term standing is uniformly applied to express a state of the understanding or thought.

It is further written of these children, or infant boys, that they were calling to their fellows and saying, We have piped to you, and you have not danced; we have mourned to you, and you have not lamented.

The term here rendered fellows, is expressed in the original by a word which properly signifies companions; and companions, according to the spiritual idea, are all such as are associated with each other by knowledge and acquaintanceship, but not so much by love and friendship. When, therefore, the children are represented as calling to their fellows (or companions), it is to denote that they addressed themselves to the intellectual principle, in order to secure its attention to the truth of innocence, of which they were the representative figures. It is therefore written, that they called and said; because, calling is an expression which relates to the will-principle, or love, as saying is an expression which relates more to the understanding, or truth, and therefore the two expressions are combined, with a view to point at that heavenly marriage of love and wisdom, or goodness and truth, which constitutes the very life and soul of the Revealed Word, and is accordingly marked, even in the letter in numberless instances.

The term piping, is expressive of the affection of good with which truth is taught, and which it is intended to excite. For such is the spiritual signification of all instruments of music, whenever they are mentioned in the Word of God, that they are all applied to denote affection, but with this difference, that the wind instruments are applied to denote the affection of good, and the stringed instruments to denote the affection of truth. Thus, when it is said. Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; praise Him with the psaltery and harp; praise Him with the timbrel and pipe; praise Him with stringed instruments and organs; praise Him upon the loud cymbals; praise Him upon the high-sounding cymbals-(Ps. 150:3, 4, 5) – it is to denote that the Lord is to be worshipped from every affection, both of good and of truth. The piping, therefore, above spoken of, has relation to the heavenly affection which influenced the truths, signified by the children; and when it is added, you have not danced, it is to denote further, that a reciprocal affection had not been excited in those to whom the truths were addressed. For dancing, according to its literal signification, is a motion of the body, corresponding with the musical sounds by which it is excited, and thus, according to its spiritual signification, it denotes an affection of the mind, corresponding with the affection by which truth is addressed to it, agreeably to which sense of the word it is written, Let them praise his name in the dance, (Ps. 149:3). to teach the instructive lesson, that man ought to glorify His Maker by receiving the truths of His Holy Word with a corresponding affection. To the same purpose it is written in another place, You have turned for me my mourning into dancing, (Psalm 30:11). denoting that heavenly truth was received with the heavenly affection which it is calculated to inspire. When, therefore, it is said, as in the present case, You have not danced, nothing else can be meant, according to the spiritual idea, but that the truths of Heaven had not excited a correspondent affection.

These words, We have mourned to you, and you have not lamented, are contrasted with the foregoing; and, therefore, as by piping was signified the heavenly affection with which truth was communicated from above, and as by not dancing was denoted that it had not been received with correspondent affection, so by mourning is signified truth communicated without affection, and by not lamenting is further denoted that the truth so communicated had not produced reciprocal and correspondent mourning.

Jesus Christ explains the nature and quality of this kind of truth in his illustration of this parable, where he says. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, he has a devil. For John, as a teacher of truth, represented the Holy Word, but then he represented it as to a lower or more external order of truth than what was afterward taught by the Incarnate God; on which account he bears this witness concerning himself, I indeed baptise you with water to repentance; but He that comes after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire (Matt. 3:11). For it deserves well to be noted, that the written Word of God contains truth of several orders and degrees, adapted to different minds, and to different states of the same mind, answering to the several instruments in husbandry, by which also those orders and degrees are expressed in the Sacred Records, such as the plough, the harrow, the sickle, the threshing instrument, the fan; all of them useful in their several places, because all of them serviceable for the production of heavenly love and charity, and its incorporation in human minds. John the Baptist was a representative figure of one of these orders of truth, namely, the lowest, or most external, adapted to the state of natural minds, to convince them of sin, and lead them to repentance, but not fitted to communicate any heavenly good with interior truth; on which account it is said of John that he came neither eating nor drinking, to denote that by this order of truth, no interior good of heavenly love and charity, with its attendant truth, could be appropriated. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, opened a new order of interior truth, which, being more closely connected with heavenly love and charity, gained more interior admission into human minds, and communicated to them a measure of the heavenly Spirit in which it originated; on which account it is said of Him, that He came eating and drinking, to denote that both the good and its truth might be incorporated into the life of man.

It is written, that of John they say. He has a devil, and of Jesus Christ they say. Behold a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.

These words are another proof how difficult it is to adapt heavenly truth to the general reception of mankind, and how prone men are to frame excuses against admitting it, by vilifying both it and its teachers. Thus, in the present instance, the apparent severity of the truths taught by John the Baptist, is imputed to a diabolical agency, whilst the more consolatory and cheering doctrines delivered by the Great Saviour, are reprobated as allowing too many indulgences, and giving too much liberty to offenders against its sanctities. Nevertheless, the Divine remark which closes this parable, that Wisdom is justified of her children, must for ever remain true; because the children of wisdom are all those who are born of wisdom, not according to a figure of speech only, but in the greatest truth and reality, inasmuch as they are born of God, or of what the Apostle calls incorruptible seed, by the word of God which lives and abides for ever (1 Peter 1:23). These children, therefore, are taught by their Divine Parent to see that truth is of several orders and degrees, which may, in general, be distinguished into two, namely, truth of judgement, and truth of comfort, or, to express it otherwise, truth opposed to, and combating, evil, and truth cherishing and communicating good; the former being apparently harsh and severe, thus apparently separated from good, whilst the latter is soft and consolatory, and thus apparently nearer to good. Accordingly, as in the building of a house, there are variety of workmen, and an equal variety of tools or implements of workmanship employed; so in the building of that most grand and magnificent of all houses, the House of God, or His Church here on earth, a like variety of spiritual artificers are employed, and likewise of spiritual tools and implements of building, agreeably to what is written in the Prophet, So the carpenter encourages the goldsmith, and him that smoothes with the hammer him that beat the anvil, saying, It is ready for the soldering. He fastened it with nails that it should not be moved (Isaiah 41:7). The children of wisdom, therefore, justify their Divine Parent in this application of a variety of tools to effect her own blessed purposes, and especially in her adapting the two distinct dispensations of truth above referred to, namely, the piping and the mourning; the one figurative of the consolatory doctrine delivered by the Great Redeemer; and the other, of the apparently more severe and austere doctrine taught by His forerunner.

We are taught by this parable, that the Almighty applies a variety of instruments to effect His saving purposes, and that His Holy Word is accordingly stored with a variety of heavenly truths, suited to different persons, and to the same person at different times. We learn, further, that this variety may be distinguished, in general, into two orders of truth; one of which is attended with the love and joy in which it originates, and which it is calculated to inspire; whilst the other appears harsh, austere, and, so far from promoting joy, is productive rather of sorrow and severe suffering. We are instructed yet further, that, in a corrupt state of the Church, both these orders of truth are unattended to and rendered ineffectual, but that by the children of wisdom they are seen to be alike profitable, because proceeding from the same divine mercy, and productive of the same divine effects. Let us resolve, therefore, to attend carefully to these two distinct orders of truth, and to keep our ears ever open to their heavenly sound, whether it be that of piping or of mourning, that so, in the one case, we may be found dancing, and in the other lamenting. Thus will each order of truth become a friend and benefactor, whilst by the piping we receive consolation and support, and by the mourning are led to a more vigorous repentance and sorrow for our sins: and thus, finally, may we hope to rank amongst those pure and heavenly beings, of whom it is written, Wisdom is justified of her children. Amen.