I cannot….or I WILL not?

“By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?”  Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.  Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’  But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet.  So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”  Mark 11:28-33 ESV

J. C. Ryle has a hard-hitting commentary on these verses:

It is a melancholy fact, that dishonesty like this is far from being uncommon among unconverted people. There are thousands who evade appeals to their conscience by answers which are not true. When pressed to attend to their souls, they say things which they know are not correct. They love the world and their own way, and like our Lord’s enemies are determined not to give them up, but like them also are ashamed to say the truth. And so they answer exhortations to repentance and decision by false excuses. One man pretends that he “cannot understand” the doctrines of the Gospel. Another assures as that he really “tries” to serve God, but makes no progress. A third declares that he has every wish to serve Christ, but “has no time.” All these are often nothing better than miserable equivocations. As a general rule, they are as worthless as the chief priest’s answer, “We don’t know.”

The plain truth is that we ought to be very slow to give credit to the unconverted man’s professed reasons for not serving Christ. We may be tolerably sure that when he says “I cannot,” the real meaning of his heart is “I will not.” A really honest spirit in religious matters is a mighty blessing. Once let a man be willing to live up to his light, and act up to his knowledge, and he will soon know of the doctrine of Christ, and come out from the world. (John 7:17.) The ruin of thousands is simply this, that they deal dishonestly with their own souls. They allege pretended difficulties as the cause of their not serving Christ, while in reality they “love darkness rather than light,” and have no honest desire to change. (John 3:19.)

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