Since we are creatures prone to extremes, we need to be constantly on our guard against permitting the pendulum of life swinging too far over to the right hand or to the left. Even a virtue will degenerate into a vice—if it is not duly controlled; as justice untempered by mercy, or mercy ignoring the requirements of righteousness. It is only as our character is formed and our conduct is regulated by the Word of God, that a due balance will be preserved. If on the one hand miserliness be condemned, "there is one who withholds what is right" (Proverbs 11:24), so prodigality and wastefulness is equally reprehensible: "Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost" (John 6:12). If callousness and hard-heartedness, being "without natural affection" (2 Timothy 3:3), is a mark of moral degeneracy; so to be carried away by his emotions is unfitting to a saint: We are bidden to mortify "impurity," as well as "evil desires and greed" (Colossians 3:5).
In view of what has just been alluded to, it is fit that we should point out that if on the one side we find the Scriptures reprehending curiosity—yet on the other, they contain many examples wherein a spirit of inquiry was Divinely rewarded. It is the idle, carnal, profitless curiosity which is disallowed; while it is the reverent and practical inquiry—which issues from a holy ambition—that is encouraged. There is a wide difference between a vain inquisitiveness, and a sincere desire to obtain fuller knowledge of what is pleasing to God and will prove to be profitable unto the soul. The query of Zacharias unto the angel, "How shall I know this?" (Luke 1:18), proceeded from unbelief—but when the mother of our Lord inquired, "How shall this be?" (Luke 1:34), she voiced a befitting perplexity. Pilate's "What is truth?" (John 18:38) issued not from a heart that desired to be taught—but "How shall a young man cleanse his way?" (Psalm 119:9) expresses a genuine longing to learn how to overcome evil.
When Abraham said, "Lord GOD, what will you give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?" (Genesis 15:2), that was neither the language of unbelief nor the query of impertinent curiosity—but the breathing of honest perplexity and reverent inquiry. Consequently, the Lord did not rebuke him for his impudence—but favored him with a gracious revelation. When the angel of the Lord appeared unto Moses in a flame of fire out of the bush and he said, "I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt" (Exodus 3:3), he spoke "as one inquisitive and bold in his inquiry" (Matthew Henry, 1662-1714), as is clear from the Lord's response. But when, on a later occasion, he made request, "Show me your glory" (Exodus 33:18), he was very far from asking for the gratification of any natural desire; rather, he was anxious for a better and clearer revelation of Jehovah, and the same was granted unto him.
"Then John's disciples came and asked him: How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" (Matthew 9:14). The occasion was when Matthew, recently called by Christ, had made a feast of thanksgiving, of which our Lord and the apostles partook (Matthew 9:9-11, and compare Luke 5:29). Unlike the questions of the scribes and lawyers—the Pharisees and Sadducees who sought only to ensnare the Savior —this inquiry was a desire to resolve their perplexity. It is clear from John 4:1-2 and Matthew 11:2-14 that the followers of John the Baptist continued during our Lord's ministry to form a separate body. They followed the rules which John had laid down for them, so that they had their own days of fasting and their own forms of prayer (Luke 11:1). It was because Christ's disciples fasted not—so different from the conduct of the master they revered—they asked this question. It was answered not with sternness—but with gentleness.
"Are you the one who was to come—or should we expect someone else?" (Matthew 11:3). Poor John was languishing in prison—not singing praises as the two apostles in the Philippian dungeon (Acts 16)—but dejected, disappointed at the non-appearance of the Messianic kingdom. Apparently, his disciples had free access to him (Luke 7:18) and brought word to him of the ministry of Christ. Though His preaching attracted great multitudes, and though He performed startling miracles—yet all things continued as before—there was neither deliverance for John, nor for the Nation. Under this perplexity, his heart was sick from hope deferred (Proverbs 13:12), he took the only wise course and sent to Christ, asking—almost in despair, "Are you the one who was to come—or should we expect someone else?" (Matthew 11:3): If so, why do the wheels of Your chariot tarry? In His answer, Christ declared that the promised One had come: His miraculous works evidenced it. But above the signs and wonders, "to the poor the gospel is preached" (Luke 7:22), His kingdom was to be one of pardon of sin, and peace of conscience! "Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me" (Matthew 11:6) was a warning for John to find no stumbling-block in the humiliation of Christ and the spiritual nature of His kingdom.
"Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?" (Matthew 17:10). The scribes believed in and taught a literal fulfillment of Malachi 4:5, so the apostles were puzzled over the brief appearing and then the disappearing of Elijah, when Christ was transfigured. If Elijah was to come and prepare the way, why had he appeared on the mount for a moment only? Wisely did they spread their problem before Christ, for He never discouraged any one who sought Him in honest perplexity. His answer (Matthew 17:12) was a repetition of what He had said in Matthew 11:13-14. Men were expecting the re-appearing of the great Tishbite as the forerunner of Christ, hence the question asked of John (John 1:21), a vacant chair is still placed for him at all the great Jewish solemnities. But the true meaning of Malachi 4:5 had been intimated by the angel in Luke 1:17, confirmed in Matthew 11:14—if they really accepted John's message, they need look for no further fulfillment of Malachi 4:5, for the Baptist's message continues unto the end: Acts 17:31; 2 Peter 3:9.
"He who has ears to hear—let him hear" (Matthew 11:15) was always used by Christ where something more than natural perspicuity was required, namely, spiritual discernment—without that, prophecy is a sealed book.