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CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 14:1. Render: After two days was the Passover and the Azuma (or Leavenless Feast). The Passover was the lamb slain on the 14th Nisan (Exodus 12:6-11); the Azuma was the festival which began on 15th Nisan, and lasted seven days (Exodus 12:15-20).
Mark 14:3-9. This incident, which happened on the evening before Palm Sunday (chap. 11), is inserted here in order to explain the circumstances that led to Christ’s betrayal. It is recorded in a similar connexion by both Matthew (Matthew 26:6-13) and John (John 12:1-8). Another anointing is mentioned in Luke 7:36-50.
Mark 14:3. A woman.—See John 11:2. An alabaster box.—Omit “box.” Vases or phials for holding unguents were made at Alabastron in Egypt out of a stone found in the neighbouring mountains, and so the word came to be used of any vessel employed for a purpose of that kind. Spikenard.—Pure nard. Pliny says (Nat. Hist. xii. 26) that the nard leaf, especially the best, was often adulterated with a very common herb.
Mark 14:4-5. This indignant murmuring began with Judas (John 12:4). Three hundred pence.—Equal in purchasing power to £30 of our money—a “denarius” being the day’s wage of a labourer.
Mark 14:8. Come aforehand.—She took the initiative as to anointing, etc. The word occurs elsewhere only in 1 Corinthians 11:21, and (passive) Galatians 6:1.
Mark 14:10. To betray.—That he might deliver Him to them. Perhaps his thought was: “The Master Himself declares His death and burial are at hand. He has said over and over again that He must be delivered unto the chief priests. Why, then, should not I win their favour, and at the same time earn some money, by helping them to apprehend Him quietly?”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 14:1-11
(PARALLELS: Matthew 26:1-16; Luke 22:1-6; John 12:1-8.)
The anointing of Christ’s body to the burying.—
I. The feast and the anointing.—“Jesus, six days before the Passover”—the last Passover He was to celebrate with His disciples before He suffered—“came to Bethany, where Lazarus was,” whom He had, a short time before, “raised from the dead.” “There”—“in the house of Simon the leper”—“they made Him a supper,” at which were present, in different capacities, all three members of that family which is distinguished above all others as “the family which Jesus loved.” “Martha served,” i.e. attended to the preparation and management of the feast—an employment suited to her character and abilities, and deserving of praise rather than blame if confined within the bounds of a decent hospitality, and a proper attention to the comforts of the guests. Lazarus, the dead-alive, was “one of those who sat at table with” Jesus. Mary, the other sister, on this as on a former occasion (Luke 10:39), is found still “choosing the better part”: for which she draws upon herself, as before, the censure of those who could not appreciate her conduct, and the approbation of her Divine Lord. This time Mary, “having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious, brake the box, and poured it on His head,” anointed also His feet, wiping them with her hair—an action which, according to the habits of those days, expressed the highest possible respect and veneration for the Person so honoured. And not that Person only, but the whole company, came in for a share of the gratification which such a costly preparation of the apothecary’s art was adapted to convey to the senses; nay, so diffusive was the benefit, that “the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.”
II. The objection made by Judas and others.—All were benefited; but not all were pleased. There was one in particular whom neither the honour paid to his Master nor the enjoyment afforded to himself could restrain from giving vent to the ill-humour which this proceeding had excited in his breast (John 12:4-5); and his specious complaint is quickly taken up by others (Matthew 26:8-9). The objection, were it ever so valid in itself, was not so in the mouth of Judas, not being made in good faith (John 12:6). Our Lord and His disciples, on the principle that “the labourer is worthy of his hire,” subsisted on the contributions of the charitably-disposed. These were deposited in a box like that described in 2 Kings 12:9. Our Lord’s was a poor-box, both as receiving the money contributed for the support of such poor men as Himself and His immediate followers, and also because distribution was made out of it to those whose wants were more pressing than their own (John 13:29). This box was placed in the custody of Judas, our Lord’s design probably being to soothe and partially gratify his mercenary instincts, and thus save him from falling into those grosser offences of dishonesty and treachery which he afterwards committed. But so deep-rooted was his ruling passion, that the very expedient which was intended to keep him out of temptation only served to lead him into it: not content with having the keeping of the box, he also purloined its contents; and, so far from caring for the poor, actually embezzled the funds set apart for them.
III. The vindication of Mary by our Lord.—Judas, when he made this objection, spoke in bad faith, and therefore deserved no answer. But as there were others present, who may have sincerely thought that here was an extravagant outlay, and that the money might have been better spent, our Lord vouchsafes a reply, both for their satisfaction, and for the instruction of all to whom this gospel should come (Mark 14:6-9).
1. The judgment which had been passed on the proceeding was equally rash and uncharitable. Hasty censure is always to be avoided, especially in the presence of those more competent to express an opinion. If Mary’s conduct had been really blamable, there was One present who might have rebuked her with authority. But He did not. After that, to trouble or find fault with her was to cast reflexions on Him. If she was wrong in committing the act, He was wrong in permitting it. But He does not vindicate Himself—that was unnecessary. He interferes solely on the woman’s account. “Let her alone; why trouble ye her?” Munificence like hers, even if it were misdirected, should rather be encouraged than checked. Such examples are not likely to be generally followed. But was this woman’s liberality misdirected? Jesus emphatically declares it was not. “She hath wrought a good work on Me.” The cost of this ointment would have procured her many luxuries, which she has chosen to go without, in order that nothing may be wanting to the honour and gratification of her Lord. She has set an example of self-denial and consecration of her talents to the service of religion, much needed in a world where “all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.”
2. “The poor” having been mentioned, Jesus would not have it supposed for a moment that their interests were with Him a matter of secondary importance. Therefore, before going on to reveal the true significance and appropriateness of Mary’s action, He pauses a moment to shew that His approval and acceptance of her offering is by no means to be considered a disparagement of the proposed alternative. “There is a time,” He says, “for everything; and the present is a very peculiar time, and has a duty which can be performed at no other time. That duty is, to pay the last honours to the person of your dying Master and Lord. I go; but I leave the poor behind Me. Do them good, when you can do Me no more good.” Or rather, “Do them good, and you will still be doing Me good” (Matthew 25:40).
3. We are not to understand, by the words “She is come aforehand to anoint My body to the burying,” that Mary was aware of her Lord’s imminent death, or that she entertained any expectation of it. No reason can be assigned why she alone, of all His disciples, should have been able to penetrate the mystery in which everything connected with His death and passion was, up to that time, enveloped. Indeed, had she foreseen the events of the next few days, she would surely have kept this ointment a little longer, and poured it upon the lifeless clay, instead of the warm flesh and blood, of her beloved Lord. Jesus, therefore, in these words kindly puts a construction upon her action of which she herself had no idea, taking occasion, at the same time, to give a clearer intimation of coming events than He had yet done.
IV. The purposes for which this incident was recorded.—
1. First, and specially, as a just tribute of honour to the woman herself (Mark 14:9).
2. Secondly, in common with all Scripture, “for our learning.”
(1) Learn hence a lesson of generous self-sacrifice in the promotion of God’s honour and our Master’s cause. In such a cause there is room not only for liberality, but also for that unstinted profuseness which may, now and then, go beyond the mark, and require to be restrained, rather than stimulated, by those whose duty it is to direct it. See Exodus 36:5-6; Acts 4:34-37; 2 Corinthians 8:1-4.
(2) Remember that the poor are Christ’s peculiar legacy to His Church. Who would not feel honoured to be entrusted with such a charge? Who would not be anxious to acquit himself, to the utmost of his power, of the obligations of it?
(3) Since we have not our Lord Himself always with us, and can no longer do honour to His person, let us take every opportunity of shewing our dutiful respect for His memory. Mary “did what she could.” It was not in her power to avert the Great Sacrifice which was foreordained from before the foundation of the world, or even to retard it for a single day; but what she did was not the less “a good work,” nor she who did it the less blessed in her deed. Let us follow her example as best we may. If we cannot anoint our Lord’s body for the burying, let us at least embalm the memory of His precious death and passion in our heart of hearts, and let us thankfully receive those holy mysteries in which He is pleased to convey to us the spiritual benefits pertaining thereto.
Mark 14:6-9. Christ honouring loving service.—Of all who were present, no one seems to have taken the woman’s part except Jesus. But that exception made up for the lack of all else. He defended her from their attack; He vindicated the wisdom and rightness of her deed. But He did more. He uttered words revealing His appreciation, and securing its undying honour.
I. Jesus speaks of “this gospel.”—Gospel is a familiar term, but, like many other familiar words, it is often used without any idea as to what it means. To many the term expresses the summation of theology with all its abstractions and metaphysics—a subject that, as regarded by them, has little to attract, and as little to profit. To others the gospel means religion, and religion, as they regard it, with its impossible requirements and irksome ordinances. The gospel is simply God’s spell, i.e. God’s story. And just because it is God’s spell it is a good spell, the spell or story of Him who is pre-eminently the good. There are many gospels—endless varieties of good tidings, and of good tidings of great joy. Any news that brings gladness to the heart, any intelligence from near or far that relieves from fear and fills the mouth with laughter or with song is a gospel—that is, it is good news. But we do not call such news a gospel. We reserve that term for God’s news. It is not theology or religion, and it is nothing that is undesirable or hurtful; but it is the blissful announcement that Jesus lived and died and rose again on our behalf. It is the good news of a Divine and All-sufficient Helper for us who were without strength. It is the good news of Christ having done, in the grace of God, on our behalf, not only what we could not do for ourselves, but all that was needful to be done in order to our salvation. This is the gospel we preach. There are other good things, but this is the best.
II. Christ intimates that this gospel is to be preached in the whole world.—There are little gospels of men, human inventions sought sometimes to be put into the place of God’s gospel. They create a stir for a little while and within a little sphere, but it is only for a little while and within a little sphere. Our candles burn out, but the sun shines on. The gospel, however, is not only not to die out, but it is to be spread abroad. That is the work assigned to the redeemed Church, the duty to which it is specially called. Here a Church may be negligent; there one professing himself to be wise may urge what he deems to be a better way; yonder another may venture to go farther and condemn even the little that is being done to win the world to Christ; but all these things do not alter by a thousandth part the reality of obligation, do not recall by a shadow the “marching orders” given by the Leader of the redeemed hosts of God. Of course there are still those who tell us that charity begins at home; but it is getting to be discovered that they very truthfully describe their own charity—it begins at home, and it stays there, for it is a kind of weak invalid, not strong enough by any means to venture outside. They tell us that zeal for the foreign field leads to neglect of the home field, although, from all Christendom, they cannot quote one exception to the rule that as the missionary spirit grows in any Church it increases its home power and labour. The early Church did not first do all that could be done at home before thought was taken for those outside. It did not first spend all that it needed on itself, and then give the remainder, if remainder there happened to be, to the conquest of the world. It acted in a different spirit; for it acted in the spirit of Him who desired that this great gospel of love, this great story of salvation, should be spread throughout the whole world.
III. Love of Christ is the proof and test of discipleship.—The religion of Christ is distinguished by many features from all other professed religions, but by no feature more than this, that it demands love for its Author. It is true that not love but faith is the condition of salvation. But then faith is thus set as the condition only that love may be reached. There cannot be love till there is faith. Christ must be recognised, seen somewhat as He is, and believed in as worthy of trust, before love can be felt. Hence faith must precede love—faith, not love, must be the condition of salvation. But if faith be the condition of salvation, love is largely salvation itself. “Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
IV. The reward accorded by Christ to personal devotion.—It was a bold thing for any one to promise. It shews the marvellous self-consciousness of Christ that He pledged remembrance and fame. Such language on the lips of any mere man would be insufferable. The egotism would disgust; the bombast would anger. But Christ was no mere man. In the consciousness that He was more than man—that in Him as the Divine One was all that men could need—He bade men come to Him, proclaimed Himself their life and light, and declared that without Him they could do nothing. And so here He pledges immortality of renown. No one else could have done that. Only He who is Lord of all and the Father of the ages.—G. Gladstone.
Mark 14:10-11. Judas Iscariot.—There are three motives which lead men to attach themselves to a new movement. Men may be moved either by conviction, or by contagious enthusiasm, or by self-interest. To this last class belonged Judas.
I. In a double sense he came from without.—He came from a distance; his nature was never stirred by the passing sincerity of contagious enthusiasm. He threw in his lot with the followers of Christ with deliberation, and with faith, only so far as calculation is faith. He did believe that our Lord would achieve a great success; he may have believed, as others did, though with more self-interested speculativeness than others, that the new Prophet was the Messiah, the destined King. At any rate the venture is worth some risk. He joins the society. His gifts win for him a place among the foremost. Whenever good fortune smiles, he cannot fail to share in it. And good fortune seemed to smile. The great works of Christ and His mighty and enthralling words drew the people; they heard Him gladly. The impression of His greatness deepened and spread. Impression grew into expectation. Expectation became impatient. The Prophet Teacher must submit to the people’s will. They determined to take Him by force and make Him a king. All this Judas must have perceived; and the gladness of imminent success must have been his. But the attitude of our Lord at this moment must have surprised many. Instead of courting this popular movement, He retired from it. He withdrew Himself; and His withdrawal chilled the growing enthusiasm. Changes in the popular mood are readily gauged by those who touch the world on its financial side, and Judas’ position gave him opportunity of noticing the first symptoms of waning popularity. He felt the pulse of public opinion, and he knew when it began to beat with calmness; he could calculate that calmness might lapse into indifference. A little, a very little change in the popular temper, and the whole situation would be reversed; and Judas would find that he had cast in his lot with a losing and not with a winning cause. Now what would be the natural conduct of a person without any moral convictions under such circumstances? He must, to use a slang expression, hedge; so that, whatever happened, he would be safe to win. And this is precisely what Judas does. Without breaking with the party of Christ, he opens up negotiations with the other side. It is the precaution of worldly wisdom. Judas is the type of the man who has no principle. He is for God or for God’s enemies with equal readiness, so long as he himself is safe.
II. Judas did not fall at once and unwarned.—Characters grow: the features which attract or repel us are products of will and circumstances; for character is not a gift, but a formation. Judas had the same chances of better things which his brother-apostles had. There were mixed motives, no doubt, in the hearts of all. The comrades of Judas had weaknesses and worldly desires, even as he had; but they yielded themselves to the good influence which was so near them. But in Judas the self-interest was allowed to grow; he fostered it in thought; he nourished it by habitual embezzlements of the funds entrusted to him. Character grows from habits; and he adopted bad ones. This was not all. He thrust away from himself the helping hand which Christ’s love extended to him. From the earliest time to the latest moment Christ sought to save the traitor from himself. Let us recall Christ’s method. He did not receive recruits without caution. He sought to arm with weapons against self-deception those who volunteered to follow Him. Above all things, He made it clear that riches and worldly wealth were not to be looked for by those who would come after Him. Not unwarned then (we may well conclude) did Judas attach himself to Christ’s company. There were after-warnings also. Generally the tone of our Lord’s teaching respecting worldliness was one constant warning. But besides this there were utterances of our Lord’s which, in the light of Judas’ character, sound like direct and special efforts to awake him from his dream of self. We may, for example, read in the light of Judas’ designs the parable of the unjust steward. The faithless steward may secure for himself a refuge among those partners of his guilt whom he has placed under an obligation—yes, in the world, in earthly habitations, it may be so; but such methods will secure no welcome, when men fail, in eternal habitations. Or, again, the parable of the wedding garment had its message for the traitor. It was one thing to refuse to come to the wedding; it was another to come, and to come in the beggarly array of one’s worldliness. Still more emphatic is the warning given at the time when our Lord had by His action refused the kingdom, and when consequently doubts began to grow strong in the mind of Judas. “Did not I choose you the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” Must not the soul of Judas have whispered to itself, “It is I. To this image must I come if I allow this thing to gain the mastery over me”? Christ’s efforts to save His disciple sinking into such an abyss of baseness did not end here. As the crisis draws near, He puts forth fresh and final attempts to save him. “Ye are not all clean,” He said, at the time when it was not yet too late for the traitor to cleanse his fault. But the words of Christ wake no softening thoughts in the traitor’s mind. One more effort Christ will make. At the supper table He quotes the words, “He that eateth My bread hath lifted up his heel against Me” (John 13:18). Later still more explicitly, “One of you shall betray Me” (John 13:21). Even then it was not too late. The last step had not been taken by Judas. But, as with a man sliding down a steep place, the impetus of temptation was too strong. He takes the food from the hand of Christ. There is a treachery in the doing so; the Nemesis of base acts is further baseness. “After the sop Satan entered into him” (John 13:27). The crisis is passed at that moment. He will not turn back now. “That thou doest, do quickly” (John 13:27). “He went out straightway; and it was night.” An hour later his treason was an accomplished fact. The inward story of Judas’ life is a story of help refused and warning disregarded. The tender efforts of his Lord and Master to save him are put away.
III. How far did Judas understand these efforts of Christ on his behalf?—They were warnings to his spirit; the warnings were directed primarily, and at first exclusively, to the moral sense of the man. Christ did not wish Judas to be moved merely by motives of personal alarm, and under their influence alone to abandon his scheme. He sought to awaken the man’s moral sense against himself. But later He brings to bear upon Judas the force of the less worthy motive. He gives the hints of coming betrayal. But Judas, though warned, has dulled his soul by sin. The full significance of all that our Lord spoke does not reach him. Only at the very last, it appears, does he realise that he may be suspected, and even to the moment of the treacherous kiss he hopes that it is other treachery than his own which is known to Christ. Worldly wisdom outwits itself, as vaulting ambition overleaps itself and falls on the other side. The schemer imagines that he has covered the whole ground with his eye before he lays his plans, but there is always a blind spot in his field of vision. Indulging in a secret sin, and judging everything by the standard of his own interests, the sight of anything which conflicts with his interests exasperates Judas. This is the explanation of his astonishing and rash outburst of temper at Bethany. Although he veiled his real meaning by some words about the poor, yet the irritation which he displayed might have provoked suspicion. His speech was imprudent. It may be that he has aroused suspicion. This being so, it is high time that he should secure himself, and take those steps which will open to him retreat and good fortune should the Prophet of Galilee fail. He takes the step; he makes the bargain with the priests; he makes one fatal blunder—his greedy spirit compels him to accept the paltry and inadequate sum of money which was offered. But it is not part of his policy to forsake the discipleship of Christ. It is still possible that Christ may declare Himself with invincible might, and seize in some unexpected way the crown which He seems to have refused. He takes his place with the rest of the disciples. He will keep up the appearance of friendliness and loyalty to the last. Yes, even though it involves the crowning baseness of the hypocrite kiss. “Judas, betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48). Judas cannot doubt now that his treason is known. And yet, these other words, “Friend, do that for which thou art come” (Matthew 26:50); what might they mean? What might they not? His Master calls him friend, and seemingly acquiesces in what has been done. Can it be that his Master accepts the situation, and sees in it an opportunity for some splendid manifestation of power? Will victory dawn out of the hour of disaster? And if so, may not he, Judas, who devised this thing, yet be reckoned as an instrument of the triumph?
IV. All illusions are soon at an end.—His Master is condemned. All worldly hopes in that direction have disappeared. He has, however, the other side to depend on. He will be honoured as the means of what the priestly party will consider a national triumph. He visits the priests, and, with an affectation of misgiving, expresses doubts concerning his own action. Does he think that they will pamper and coax him, laugh at his misgivings, and belaud him as a patriot who has deserved well of the powers that be? He is quickly undeceived. In the eyes of the priests he is a paid spy, and nothing more. The scales fall from his eyes now. He has sacrificed place, credit, character, friends—and for what? Thirty pieces of silver—of what possible use are these to him? He flings down the price of blood. He goes out alone. He is alone indeed. He has no way to turn. He thought his skill had kept one door open to himself; but both doors are closed upon him. “What shall I do? I cannot dig: to beg I am ashamed.” Did the words come back to him now that his clever device had ended so disastrously? Did he now see that the habitations of worldly men were cruel? Did he see that worldly policy, however much it may be commended, is scorned in heaven? Was that which now, by his own action, seemed unattainable perceived at last to be most desirable? Does it dawn upon his mind now that there is a nobler victory in patience and weakness, even when it suffers, than in hard and unscrupulous triumph? Does that spiritual kingdom seem to his alienated spirit to be a land very far off when now at length he begins to guess at the beauty of its King? Struck down by the heavy blow of disappointment, failure, disaster, he realised now the measureless spiritual distance which he had placed between himself and his Lord. He was as a man placed upon a thin strip of coast, hemmed in behind by hard, unscaleable rocks, and fronting the inexorable waves of the incoming tide. He had no power to take up life again by repentance, and to seek to undo the past by earnest and humble work for others. There seemed nothing for it but to lay down that life which he had not the moral earnestness to value nor the moral courage to face.
V. Is the picture of Judas an unusual one?—Is it only once in a century or a millennium that such a character presents itself? A man possessed of sagacity and shrewdness learns to balance probabilities of success and to ignore the consideration of principle. Enthusiasm for right is inconvenient. Fidelity to conviction, to truth, to honour, interferes sadly with his worldly prospects. Conscience is a troublesome fellow-voyager. It is better that it should be put overboard. The only purpose of life is success. Is the picture far to seek? Yet, wherever such men are to be found, they are the incipient Iscariots of the world. Nay, such are already traitors at heart—traitors to themselves, to mankind, and to God. Absorbing devotion to self disintegrates the character. In the flood time of temptation it goes to pieces. Absorbing devotion to the other One than self, to Him who alone is the true centre of life, consolidates, strengthens, invigorates the character. Day by day those so devoted grow to firmer mould and nobler stature. They are in Christ’s hands, and none can pluck them thence. They fall not; they are founded on a rock.—Bishop Boyd Carpenter.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 14:1-2. The conspiracy of the priests.—As the priests, with whatever misgivings, had resolved not to recognise Jesus as the Christ, it was inevitable that they should conspire against Him. Not only had He worsted them in every controversy in which they had engaged Him, and put them to shame before the people whom they despised but courted—not only had He proved them to be ignorant of the very Scriptures of which they professed to hold the key: He had also denounced them as disloyal to their Master in heaven, and had invoked on them “woes” so searching and scathing as to pierce even their hard hearts, and to bring a blush even to their brows of brass. And the people had rallied to Him; He was “walking about” in the Temple as if it belonged to Him rather than to them, and enchanting the ears of those on whom they had always securely counted to listen with unbounded deference and admiration. There was not, in fine, room for them and for Him; as He increased they must decrease; and hence they met with a common determination to make an end of Him. Their private animosities were forgotten in the presence of a common danger; and Pharisees and Sadducees, Herodians and Hebrews, elders and scribes, priests and laymen, united for a time against Him who was shaking the very foundations of their authority and power. They met at the house of Caiaphas, hard by the Temple, on the evening of the very day (Tuesday) on which they had been worsted and put to shame. Of the course of their discussion we are told nothing; but the two decisions at which they arrived are recorded. They were
(1) that He must be put to death with the least possible delay; and
(2) that it would not be safe to proceed against Him until the immense multitude of pilgrims had left Jerusalem: “They said [they kept saying], Not during the feast, lest haply there should be a tumult of the people.” But at the very time at which they were saying, “Not till after the feast,” Jesus was forewarning His disciples that “after two days,” on the day on which the feast began, He would be delivered up and crucified! What, then, was it which led them to abandon their resolution, and constrained them to carry out not their own counsel, but “the determinate foreknowledge” of God? Before their meeting was over, as we learn from Luke, an event, wholly unexpected by them, had happened, which held out to them the hope of carrying out their cruel and wicked purpose sooner than they had anticipated, and without exciting the tumult which they dreaded. Judas Iscariot had at last made up his mind to betray the Master who had disappointed all his hopes of wealth and distinction; and, on gaining access to them, had covenanted to deliver Him to the priests secretly, “without tumult.” Providence itself would seem, to some of them, to have come to their help, although in the questionable shape of a thief and a traitor. Hence they rescinded their former resolution, and entered on a course in which they exactly fulfilled the prediction of Jesus. After two days He was delivered up to them, and crucified.—S. Cox, D.D.
Mark 14:3-9. The anointing at Bethany.—
1. In Christ’s company it is possible to have the extremes of character and disposition. The self-denying, loving woman, and the selfish and avaricious professing disciple.
2. Hypocrisy will always uncloak itself to sneer at deeds of loving sacrifice.
3. In Christ’s company the heart lovingly devoted to Him must be prepared for bitter trials. There are Judases and murmurers.
4. Right doing, based on simple, loving faith in Jesus, will be cherished and remembered by the Master, though despised by men.—J. E. Hargreaves.
A woman’s devotion to Christ—
1. Upon a public occasion. A great supper.
2. In time of danger. Near crucifixion.
3. After a great blessing. Resurrection of Lazarus.
4. Beautiful in its traits.
1. By one closely allied to Christ. Profession is not piety.
2. In a secular spirit.
3. In the name of philanthropy.
4. For his own benefit.
1. Christ prohibits interference with it.
2. He announces it as exactly seasonable.
3. He accepts it as sublimely useful. She did more than she thought. Goodness immortal in its results.—B. D. Johns.
Mark 14:3. Love the best motive for work.—It is not good to set about the performance even of right things from second-rate motives, for the action thus inspired must of necessity be second-rate also. We dwarf our best actions, and get into stereotyped modes of service, which tend to formalism, simply because we do not work from personal love to the living, personal Christ. See how Mary’s love operated. It would not let her be content with simply doing duty and acting after the precedent of others. Duty is very good when you can get nothing better, but after all it is a cold and somewhat stern mistress. He who works from a sense of duty generally seeks to get off with doing as little as he can, and will not undertake anything that is not prescribed. But he who works from the impulse of love is constantly trying how much he can do for Jesus. Had Mary waited for a precedent, she had never done this action which so gladdened the Redeemer’s heart. How much of the Christian effort of these days is mere imitation! Mary had her own reasons for loving the Lord, and she took her own way of shewing her love. So it ought to be with us. No human thing, no earthly model, no precedent, should shut out from our view the Lord, and to Him everything ought to be rendered. This will give inventiveness and originality to our piety, so that the offering brought by each shall have as much individuality and distinctiveness about it as there is about the fragrance of the lily or the perfume of the violet.—W. M. Taylor, D.D.
Mark 14:4-5. Christian liberality.—The nearest parallel in our own day is where lavish expenditure is made upon objects which, however intimately connected with the honour of religion, are yet not strictly necessary—such as the erection of new churches of noble design and costly construction, or the handsome and lavish adorning of the old. In such cases there is always some narrow-minded person ready to cry out, “Why this waste of what might have been given to the poor?” And though we do not desire to impute to any man other motives than those he avows, yet this we may safely say: that such objectors are not generally observed to care or to do more for the poor than those whom they condemn. Such an outlay as Mary’s was, may, it is true, arise from mere ostentation; and then it is liable to the charge not only of extravagance, but of hypocrisy. But when it is prompted by love unfeigned, and by a sincere desire to spare no expense in doing honour to the Greatest of Benefactors and the Best of Friends, it is not only commendable in itself, but it will always be found united with an equally unstinted expenditure on those objects which are strictly charitable. So true it is that “the liberal man deviseth liberal things”; whereas a covetous person is never without an excuse for saving his money, whether the Saviour’s person is to be honoured or His poor to be fed.
Profusion is not necessarily waste.—No one will doubt that there is a law of utility, a law of economy, which man must observe; but we must also learn that there are spheres of motive and duty where the rigid laws of utility will not apply and where economy is niggard. God teaches this in creation, where “Beauty and Utility walked hand in hand.” He teaches it in His Holy Word, where truth is unfolded to us clad in infinite loveliness.—H. M. Jackson.
All is not waste that looks like waste.—Had Mary been hindered from discharging herself of the emotion that swelled within her and panted for some escape, then there would have been waste. She would have been defrauded of increase in love. The permitted expression of it according to its own impulse nourished and fed it, and left her so much more qualified and provided to be a blessing to the poor. To let me have my way sometimes in expending freely upon a sentiment, a fine or tender sentiment, without reference to utility or thought of other and more serviceable channels in which my energy might flow—this is not waste, inasmuch as it helps to enlarge and elevate me, and thus conduces to render me more capable and prepared to do good.—N. R. Wood.
Mark 14:6-9. The law of Christian devotion.—Our Lord’s answer goes very deep into the whole subject of Christian consecration, both of self and of possessions.
1. He lays down first the great motive of it all—“she hath wrought a good work on Me.” The absolute singleness of its reference to Him made it “good.” The question is not, “To what purpose?” but “For whose sake?” Everything done from the impulse of simple love to Jesus Christ is “good.” All other devotion of powers or possessions is “waste.”
2. Christ next strips the cavil of its disguise, and shews its insincerity. The solicitude for the poor which had seized the objectors so suddenly would have ample opportunities to express itself. That “whensoever ye will” is a sharp prick to conscience, and is meant to disclose the insincerity of the care which is so occasional, though the misery which it affects to pity is so continual. True benevolence is not an intermittent fountain, but a perennial stream.
3. Farther, our Lord here lays down the principle that circumstances may arise when our supreme love to Him not only warrants, but demands, the temporary neglect of perpetual and ordinary objects of liberality, in order to consecrate all our resources on some great act, which shall worthily express our love, and can only be done once.
4. “She hath done what she could.” There our Lord lays down the measure of acceptable consecration. It is an apology or vindication of the form of the offering; but it is a stringent demand as to its amount. If Mary had had half a dozen more alabaster vases, which she kept unbroken, would she have been so praised? Capacity regulates obligation, both as to the manner and the measure. “Power to its last particle is duty.”
5. We have next set forth the significance which our Lord puts into the service which He accepts. “She is come aforehand to anoint My body to the burying.” Love is wiser than it knows, and the purposes which Christ can make its offerings serve are higher and sacreder than the offerer’s intent. “Lord, when saw we Thee—and visited Thee?” We—did we do that? If we take care of the motive, which is our end of the deed, He will take care of the result, which is His end.
6. Finally, we have Christ’s promise of perpetuity for the service which He accepts. If we lay our best in any kind at Christ’s feet, He will take our poor offerings and melt them down to form part of His eternal crown.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Mark 14:6. God enriched by man’s devotion.—Can we, in reality, add anything to God? Can we ever experience the sweetness of doing something for Him who has done all things for us? Yes; Jehovah is not satisfied with governing men: He cannot rest until He possesses their heart. And that heart must not be captured: it can only be won over, and so bestowed. Thus the Creator becomes a suitor to His creatures; beseeches them to understand Him; is enriched by their intelligence, impoverished by their dulness; is joyful in their affection, saddened at their refusal. And where is this better witnessed than at the supper table of Bethany?—B. H. Alford.
Mark 14:7. The problem, of poverty, and how to deal with it.—
1. The essential claim which this class of mankind has upon the common brotherhood is not one of “charity,” but is founded in religion; it is not a humane sentiment to be gratified, but a law of Christianity to be obeyed.
2. The poor may be considered in the light of Christ’s legacy to His Church in all ages. If there were no poor claiming our sympathy and kindly ministry, what a lack there had been in the training of the Christian graces!
3. We are to perform this high and sacred duty in testimony of our love to Christ, and in gratitude for His love and services in our behalf.—Homiletic Review.
The poor always with us.—If we are wise, we shall be thankful for our own sakes that this is so. The mere sight of them may remind us that this world is not only or chiefly for the rich and prosperous, that “the poor will never cease out of the land,” or even cease from forming the numerical majority of those who are to be sustained by it. The sufferings and distresses of the poor, and even their very follies and vices, may teach us a wholesome lesson, if we remember that they are men of like passions with ourselves, and that we possess our rational and moral nature in common with the most miserable and degraded of our species. But we shall derive little benefit from having the poor always with us unless we learn to consider them as partakers of the same spiritual privileges with ourselves, as fellow-members of the body of Christ—that body in which there is neither rich nor poor, bond nor free, but all are one in Christ Jesus. If we thus view our poorer brethren, we shall feel an interest in their welfare, both temporal and eternal, which no other consideration can excite in us. We shall not be content with bestowing a pittance of relief upon a few cases of distress, or contributing our quota to a few charitable institutions. “Putting on, as the elect of God, bowels of mercies, kindness, meekness, long-suffering,” we shall go forth, as ministering angels, into a world of sin and misery, carrying a healing balm wherever we go. We shall never turn away our face from any scene of distress, or our feet from the path which leads to it. We shall never refuse to “rejoice with them that do rejoice,” or to “weep with them that weep.” Thus soothing and relieving the sorrows of others, we shall forget our own; whispering comfort and hope to the wounded spirit of our brother, we shall lay up a rich store of peace and consolation within our own breast. We shall experience the truth of our Lord’s saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive”; and we shall” know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.”
Mark 14:10-11. Greed in its demoniac greatness.—
1. A child of perfected unbelief as to Christ, God, and mankind.
2. A father of treachery, which has often injured the saints.
3. A companion of avarice, envy, anguish, audacity, despair.—J. P. Lange, D.D.
Mark 14:11. The joy of the wicked is to have success in their crimes. But what joy is this? It is the joy only of a moment, which will be changed into everlasting sorrow. It was easy for our Blessed Saviour to have broken this sacrilegious and, as it may be called, simoniacal bargain by diverting this opportunity, which depended on Himself; but it was necessary that sin should be instrumental in the destruction of sin, and that the Author of life should die to destroy death and his empire.—P. Quesnel.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 14
Mark 14:3-9. Common things idealised.—Suppose that a cultured foreigner should walk over the ruins and examine the sculpture and paintings of a European city. Near the close of the day his soul is filled with a strange, undefinable joy. He has a feeling of awe mixed with gratitude to the God of such beauty and grandeur. It is a feeling to which he cannot give a name, and which he cannot shake off. Oppressed by it, he enters one of the ancient churches. At that moment the organ awakes in the gallery, and fills the twilight with its music. Now it sinks into the faintest whisper or rises into a tempest of melody, and he is entranced. The organ, to him, is not made of wood or metal, nor is its music simply the escaping of the air. It is the voice in which his strange and oppressive joy finds expression. It lifts into distinctness and invests with meaning the emotions which burdened his soul. And these emotions go out in its music as a well-defined and precious sacrifice to the God of the beautiful and the grand. Now as the organ became the voice through which the artist’s undefined joy became definite and went out in service to God, so Christ endowed the offering of Mary with voice and beauty and most heroic purpose, and then accepted it.—N.R. Hamer.
Shew love to the living.—Truly as well as beautifully has one said: “Do not keep all the alabaster boxes of your love and tenderness sealed up until your friends are dead. I would rather have a bare coffin without a flower and a funeral without an eulogy than a life without the sweetness of love and sympathy. Let us anoint our friends before-and for their burial. Post-mortem kindness does not cheer the burdened spirit. Flowers on the coffin cast no fragrance backward over the weary days.”
Self-sacrifice fruitful.—A Scotch woman, who had been in the habit of giving a penny a day for the missions, was given by a visitor a sixpence to buy some meat—a luxury which she had not lately enjoyed. But she thought to herself, “I have long done very well on porridge, so I will give the sixpence also to God.” This fact came to the knowledge of a missionary secretary, who narrated it at a missionary breakfast. The host and his guests were profoundly impressed by it, the host himself saying that he had never denied himself a chop for the cause of God. He thereupon subscribed £500 additional, and others of the party followed his example, till a large sum had been raised. It is probable that this poor woman’s sixpence was larger in God’s sight than the thousands contributed by these rich people, for she gave of her poverty, and they out of their abundance. There is nothing so fruitful as self-sacrifice.
Mark 14:4. False estimates of waste.—A Christian gentleman, when blamed by his partner for doing so much for the cause of God, replied, “Your foxhounds cost more in one year than my religion ever cost in two.” People sometimes complain of what they call “waste of life” in establishing Christian missions among savage people or unhealthy climates, e. g. in establishing or maintaining the Nyanza Mission the lives of Bishops Hannington and Parker, of O’Neill, Shergold Smith, Mackay, and several others have been sacrificed. But were those lives “wasted”? There, as elsewhere, it has proved that the “blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
Mark 14:6. Approval of Christ.—When Antimachus, an Ionian poet and musician, repeated one of his compositions before a large audience, his language was so obscure that all his hearers retired with the exception of Plato. Seeing this, he remarked, “I shall read none the less, for Plato is to me one instead of all.” How much more should the disciple of Christ be content with His approval!
Mark 14:7. Christian care for the poor.—When the deacon St. Lawrence was asked, in the Decian persecution, to shew the prefect the most precious treasures of the Church at Rome, he shewed him the sick, the lame, the blind. “It is incredible,” said Lucian, the pagan jeerer and sceptic, “to see the ardour with which those Christians help each other in their wants. They spare nothing. Their first legislator has put it into their heads that they are all brothers.” “These Galileans,” said Julian the apostate, “nourish not only their own poor, but ours as well.” In the year 252 a plague raged in Carthage. The heathen threw out their dead and sick upon the streets, and ran away from them for fear of contagion, and cursed the Christians. St. Cyprian, on the contrary, assembled his congregation, told them to love those who cursed them; and the rich working with their money, the poor with their hands, never rested till the dead were buried, the sick cared for, and the city saved from destruction.
Mark 14:8. Much result from small beginnings.—There was once a child in an English parsonage who shyly gave a sixpence of his very own to “the missionary deputation” as he sat at breakfast. The missionary spent the sixpence on a Prayer Book and took it out to Australia. One Sunday as he was waiting in his church, he saw a young girl peep into the building. He welcomed her with kind words, and finding she was a workhouse girl, sent out from England, who had got a situation at a farm twenty miles inland, he gave her the Prayer Book. Several weeks passed away, and one day a rough-looking man asked to speak to him. “Ain’t you the parson that gave our servant girl a Prayer Book?” His wife, it appeared, was very ill, and interested at hearing from the emigrant girl about the gift of the Prayer Book, sent to beg from the clergyman a pastoral visit. With some difficulty he managed this. The sick woman was comforted, and departed in the faith of Christ. The husband’s mind was impressed. He stirred up his neighbours to build a church at that outlying spot, in which to this day services and sacraments are celebrated. How much can be done even by a little effort!
“She hath done what she could.”—Not long ago, in an American city, there lived a woman who had once been proficient in her trade of dress and cloak-making, but a severe illness shattered her mind and quite unfitted her for pursuing it again. She could not endure to be idle and useless, and so would go about from house to house among the poor, to cut and fit their simple garments, always refusing to take any pay for her labours. “It is a great pleasure to me to do it,” she would say in her childlike way. “God has taken away a great deal of my health and a portion of my mind; I can’t go about among grand folks as I used to; I should get all confused with their rich trimmings, and make mistakes with their new patterns. I can’t be trusted with so much responsibility—it bewilders me. But I love to go from family to family among the poor, especially God’s poor. When I see the mothers worn out with overwork, I like to step in and say, ‘I’ve come in to sew for you a few days.’ When I know they stop going to church because their old Sunday gown isn’t fit to be seen, I like just to take it, and sponge it, and turn it, and set them going again. When I see the children staying away from Sunday school because the weather has got so cold, and their shawls are thin or their cloaks worn out, it makes me happy to wad up the old cloak again, and to do up warm jackets to wear under the thin shawls. It’s true,” she would add, “God doesn’t expect much of me, because He knows that my health is weakly and my mind unsettled, but when the end comes I would like to have Him say, ‘She hath done what she could.’ ”
Mark 14:11. A picture of Judas.—There is a picture in one of the Brussels galleries which possesses awful eloquence. The scene is laid near the Holy City. Night has flung its mantle over home and field and Temple. Three Jewish artisans are resting after toil beside the embers, glowing and lightsome, of a fire. In the foreground their work lies wellnigh done. That work is a cross. A man in full stature fills in the scene. His face is pallid, though strong. His lips seem as though sealed for ever. His eyes, dark and furtive, seem wild. His stride is long, his step firm. In his right hand he grasps a bag of money. As he makes his way to the Temple to fling the fiery pieces upon the pavement, he stumbles upon the workmen who are making that cross which is to be occupied by his innocent Master, and the knowledge of which is degradation and death to Judas.—Dean Lefroy.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 14:12. The first day, etc.—14th Nisan—Thursday in Holy Week. The previous day had been spent in seclusion at Bethany, which “was reckoned as regards religious purposes part of Jerusalem by the Rabbis, and the lamb might be eaten there, though it must be killed at the Temple” (Lightfoot, Hor. Heb.).
Mark 14:13. Two of His disciples.—Peter and John (Luke 22:8). A man bearing, etc.—It being essential to Christ’s plan that He should not be arrested before His celebration of the Passover, He did not divulge to His apostles until the last moment the place where it was to be held. Probably He had made some private arrangement with a trusty disciple living in Jerusalem to send a man-servant (instead of a woman, as was usual) for water at a particular time of day. Possibly the man-servant was also a disciple and in the secret.
Mark 14:14. The guest-chamber.—My lodging-place: κατάλυμα, rendered “inn” in Luke 2:7.
Mark 14:15. Furnished.—The couches for reclining on set in order and spread with carpets. Prepared.—Ready for the due celebration of the Passover, so far as the room was concerned—every particle of leaven having been cleared out. There make ready.—By procuring the lamb, the unleavened cakes, the cups of wine and water, the bitter herbs, and the sauce. Some of these would perhaps be provided by the master of the house, but there is great uncertainty as to what exactly took place.
Mark 14:16. The Passover.—An account of the ritual may conveniently be inserted here.
(1) Two or three flat cakes of unleavened bread, and four cups of red wine mixed with water, were placed before the master of the house, or the most eminent person present, who was called the Celebrant or President.
(2) All present having reclined, he took one of the cups, known as the “Cup of Consecration,” gave thanks, tasted the cup, and passed it round.
(3) Water was brought in, and the President washed his hands ceremonially.
(4) There were placed on the table the bitter herbs (lettuce, endive, beet, succory, horehound), the sauce called “Charoseth” (made of dates, raisins, figs, vinegar, etc., pounded and mixed together), and the Passover lamb.
(5) After again thanking God for the fruits of the earth, the President took a portion of the bitter herbs “the size of an olive,” dipped it in the Charoseth and ate it, and his example was followed by the rest.
(6) The second cup of wine was filled, after which began the “Haggadah” or “Shewing forth” (1 Corinthians 11:26). A child or proselyte inquired, “What mean ye by this service?” (Exodus 12:26), and the President answered according to a prescribed formula. The first part of the “Hallel” (Psalms 113, 114) was then sung, and the second cup solemnly drunk.
(7) The President again washed his hands (the rest doing so also), and taking two of the unleavened cakes, broke them, gave thanks, and distributed to the company. Each, on receiving his portion, wrapped bitter herbs round it, dipped it in the “Charoseth,” and ate it.
(8) The flesh of the lamb was then eaten.
(9) After thanksgiving, the third cup (“Cup of Blessing”) was handed round.
(10) Thanks were given for the food received and for redemption from Egypt, the fourth cup (“Cup of Joy”) was drunk, the second part of the “Hallel” (Psalms 115-118) was sung, and the company dispersed.
Mark 14:17. In the evening.—After sunset on Thursday—the beginning of 15th Nisan—the proper paschal night.
Mark 14:18. Sat.—Reclined on the divans. The original standing posture (Exodus 12:11) had long been abandoned. Render last part of verse: One out of you (among you, but not of you) will deliver Me—he that is eating with Me.
Mark 14:21. The order of the words in the last clause, and the intrinsic meaning of καλόν, incline one to render thus: An excellent thing were it for Him (the Son of Man) if there had not been born that man (the man who, while an apostle, becomes a traitor); and the meaning may perhaps be, that the burden pressing on Christ’s soul would have been infinitely easier to bear had His apprehension not come about by the agency of His own familiar friend. Earlier in the verse He exclaims, Alas for that man! thinking, apparently, of the self-reproach that would overwhelm Judas, almost the moment the deed was done.
Mark 14:22. Took bread.—One of the unleavened cakes lying on the table. Blessed.—Spoke the word for good; the word (λόγος), for good (εὐ). so in the Latin, benedicimus = we utter the word bene, i.e. bene fiat. “Cum Deus bene dicit, tum bene est: cum homo, tum ut bene fiat.” See the profound note by Prof. T. S. Evans on 1 Corinthians 10:16 in the Speaker’s Commentary. Eat.—Imported from Matthew 26:26, where genuine. A very natural addition, as of course it is implied. This is My body.—The copula means neither “represents” nor “symbolises,” but simply is. The Lord is pleased to establish the most intimate relation possible between the consecrated elements and His sacred humanity. The faithful communicant, when he receives the Eucharistic bread and wine, eats the flesh and drinks the blood of the Son of Man (John 6:53-56). It ought not to be necessary to add that “this is a great mystery,” and that the eating and drinking are purely spiritual acts—and, because spiritual, therefore most real and true.
Mark 14:23. Given thanks.—I.e. for εὐ or God’s good gifts of bread and wine: the idea of thanks is exhausted in the χάρις. So Prof. Evans on 1 Corinthians 11:24.
Mark 14:24. Of the new testament.—Omit “new,” and render: of the covenant—i.e. of the arrangement (διαθήκη) which God has graciously made for restoring to man his lost inheritance. From first to last God has entertained but one grand scheme of mercy to our fallen race; but this scheme, when our Lord spoke, had been manifested in its initial stage only (see Exodus 24:4-8), which was a shadow cast before of the great reality to be revealed in due time. Since, however, the Jews had mistaken the shadow for the reality, and were for the most part content to offer and rest in material sacrifices which could never take away sins, it became necessary to differentiate the true plan of salvation through the blood of Christ from the preparatory sacrificial system of Israel which merely typified it. This was done by terming the one the “old covenant,” and the other the “new.” See Jeremiah 31:31-34; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 9:18-22; Hebrews 12:24. But both here and in Matthew 26:28 the word “new” is not found. Shed.—Being shed: Christ was there and then offering His precious blood for the sins of the whole world. For many.—In behalf of many: ὑπέρ = super, over, the essential idea being that of a person bending over another—in New Testament never in a physical, always in a moral sense. The Redeemer bent His mind over many—even the whole race of men—when He laid down His life to effect their salvation (1 John 2:2).
Mark 14:25. See Revelation 19:9. Kingdom of God.—With the announcement of the kingdom’s immanence Christ’s ministry began (Mark 1:15); with the prophecy of that kingdom’s perfect consummation and bliss it fitly ends.
Mark 14:27. An hymn.—Second part of Hallel (Psalms 115-118.); for no doubt the first part (113, 114) had been sung in its usual place earlier in the evening.
Mark 14:27-31. See R.V. for reading and rendering.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 14:12-31
(PARALLELS: Matthew 26:17-35; Luke 22:7-38; John 13-17)
The Christian Passover.—It is a noteworthy fact that of the sacred times and seasons of the old economy we have nothing left but the Feast of the Passover. The perpetuation of that feast was provided for and announced in its original institution (Exodus 12:14). On the night when Jesus was betrayed He ate the Passover with His disciples, and at the same time established the Holy Communion as its successor. He thus rescued the Passover feast from among the vanishing shadows of the ceremonial economy, and gave it in a simpler form but with unbroken continuity a perpetual place among the ordinances of the new dispensation.
I. The original Passover feast was observed at night.—It was the night of the 14th Nisan. King and people were asleep, unmindful of approaching danger. But the Hebrews were awake; lights glimmered in their homes. They had been forewarned that in their behalf the Lord was about to make bare His arm. The years of their oppression were at an end. Staff in hand they crossed the threshold, passed along the streets and out through the gates into the wilderness, then on through toil and danger and weariness to the land of which the Lord had said, “Behold, I will give it you.” It was a darker night than that when our Lord hung dying on His Cross. At high noon the shadows closed around Him. Earth never saw so deep a darkness, nor was night ever pierced with a cry so dismal, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” His cry of abandonment was the signal of our deliverance. When His anguish had reached its utmost, we, healed by His stripes, passed forth into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
II. The Passover feast was kept within-doors.—This was true of no other of the great festivals. On other days the ties of kinship might be ignored, but on that day blood was always thicker than water. It was a time for praising the Lord because He hath set the solitary in families. The father presided; the children hearkened to his counsels and joined him in gratitude for the blessings of the roof-tree. The Holy Communion is our family feast. Here the Elder Brother takes our hands and places them in the strong grasp of the Infinite One, bidding us say after Him, “Abba, Father.” We here commune with one another in the household of faith and with Him who is the God and Father of us all.
III. The lamb was at the centre of the paschal feast.—It must be a lamb of the first year and without blemish. The four days previous to the Passover were set apart for careful inspection. The lamb was placed in the hands of judicious persons, who were instructed to see that there should be no spot nor blemish in it. By a providential coincidence the four days previous to our Lord’s crucifixion were days of peculiar trial. The eyes of many were upon Him to discover any possible spot or blemish. And when the preparation was over He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth.
IV. The blood of the paschal sacrifice was sprinkled on the door-posts and the lintel.—It was not enough that the lamb should have been slain. The head of the household must arrange for the sprinkling of the blood where the destroying angel might see it. For so it had been promised, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.” The Rabbis tell, in one of their sacred books, of a sick girl who on that memorable night was troubled with apprehension lest due precautions had not been taken. She called her father to her couch, saying, “Father, I greatly fear lest the blood hath not been sprinkled on the lintels of the door. I pray thee, see to it.” He laughed at her fears, but at her persistent entreaty he went and looked, and lo, his servant had neglected his task. The basin and the branch of hyssop were speedily brought, the blood was sprinkled, and the household saved. In like manner the merits of the Saviour’s blood are effective only for such as appropriate it. Faith is the condition of life. Faith is the hyssop branch that sprinkles the lintels of the door. The night is dark, the black-winged angel is above us; but we are quite secure if we have entrusted our welfare to the only begotten Son of God.
V. The lamb was eaten with bitter herbs and unleavened bread.—The bitter herbs were a reminder of the toil and weariness of Egypt. The unleavened bread was a symbol of the sinless life. The two together set forth the nature and necessity of repentance. For repentance is on the one side sorrow for sin, and on the other an abandonment of it. At the Holy Communion we remember with sorrow our Lord’s passion for us and with joy His breaking of our bonds. In memory of His sacrifice we renew in this sacramentum our vows of devotion and signify our abhorrence of and departure from sin. Wherefore Paul enjoins upon us to purge out the old leaven (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).
VI. The children of Israel ate their Passover with sandals on and staff in hand.—They were ready for the signal of departure. “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.”—D. J. Burrell, D.D.
The Holy Eucharist.—It is part of the manifold wisdom of God that His gifts, in nature and in grace, minister to distinct and, as it often seems, unconnected ends, manifesting thereby the more His own unity as the secret cause and power of all things, putting itself forward in varied forms and divers manners, yet itself the one cause of all that is. The element which is the image of our baptism cleanses alike and refreshes, gives health and nourishment and growth. And if in nature, much more in the gifts of grace. For therein God, not by will or by power only, but by Himself and the effluence of His Spirit, is the life of all which lives through Him. It is, then, according to the analogy of His other gifts that His two great sacraments have in themselves manifold gifts. Baptism containeth not only remission of sin, actual or original, but maketh members of Christ, children of God, heirs of heaven, hath the seal and earnest of the Spirit, the germ of spiritual life; the Holy Eucharist imparteth not life only, spiritual strength, and oneness with Christ, and His indwelling, and participation of Him, but, in its degree, remission of sins also. As the manna is said to have “contented every man’s delight and agreed to every taste,” so He, the Heavenly Manna, becometh to every man what he needeth, and what he can receive; to the penitent perhaps chiefly remission of sins and continued life, to those who have “loved Him and kept His word” His own transporting, irradiating presence, full of His own grace and life and love; yet to each full contentment, because to each His own overflowing, undeserved goodness.
I. The penitent’s joy, then, in the Holy Eucharist is not the less deep because the pardon of sins is not, as in baptism, its direct provision.—The chief object of the Holy Eucharist, as conveyed by type or prophecy, by the very elements chosen, or by the words of our Lord, is the support and enlargement of life, and that in Him. In type the tree of life was within the paradise of God, given as a nourishment of immortality, withheld from Adam when he sinned: the bread and wine wherewith Melchizedek met Abraham were to refresh the father of the faithful, the weary warrior of God: the paschal lamb was a commemorative sacrifice; the saving blood had been shed; it was to be eaten with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, and with bitter herbs, the type of mortification, and by those only who were undefiled. The manna was given to them after they had passed the Red Sea, the image of cleansing baptism, and, as He Himself interprets it, represented Him as coming down from heaven to give life unto the world, the food of angels and the holy hosts of heaven; the shewbread was eaten only by those hallowed to the priesthood (as the whole Christian people has in this sense been made kings and priests), and, when once given to David and those that were with him, still on the ground that the “vessels of the young men were holy” (1 Samuel 21:5). In verbal prophecy it is foretold under the images of the very elements, and so of strengthening and overflowing joy. See Proverbs 9:5; Psalms 22:26; Psalms 23:5; Psalms 4:7; Psalms 104:15; Isaiah 55:1; Song of Solomon 5:1. In all these varied symbols—strength, renewed life, growth, refreshment, gladness, likeness to the angels, immortality—are the gifts set forth; they are gifts as to the redeemed of the Lord placed anew in the paradise of His Church, admitted to His sanctuary, joying in His presence, growing before Him, filled with the river of His joy, feasting with Him, yea Himself feasting in them, as in them He hungereth. Hitherto there is no allusion to sin; it is what the Church should be, walking in the brightness of His light, and itself reflecting that brightness. And when our Lord most largely and directly is setting forth the fruits of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, He speaks throughout of one gift—life; freedom from death, life through Him, through His indwelling, and therefore resurrection from the dead and life eternal. See John 6:50-51; John 6:53-54; John 6:56-58. No one can observe how this whole discourse circleth round this gift of life, and how our Lord, with unwearied patience, bringeth this one truth before us in so many different forms, without feeling that He means to inculcate, that life in Him is His chief gift in His Sacrament, and to make a reverent longing for it an incentive to our faith. Yet although life in Him is the substance of His whole teaching, the teaching itself is manifold. Our Lord inculcates not one truth only in varied forms, but in its different bearings. He answers not the strivings of the Jews, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” Such an “How can these things be?” He never answereth; and we, if we are wise, shall never ask how they can be elements of this world and yet His very body and blood. But how they give life to us He does answer; and amid this apparent uniformity of His teaching each separate sentence gives us a portion of that answer. And the teaching of the whole, as far as such as we may grasp it, is this: That He is the living bread because He came down from heaven, and as being one God with the Father hath life in Himself, even as the Father hath life in Himself; the life then which He is He imparted to that flesh which He took into Himself, yea, which He took so wholly that Holy Scripture says He became it, “the Word became flesh,” and since it is thus a part of Himself, “Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood” (He Himself says the amazing words), “eateth Me,” and so receiveth into Himself, in an ineffable manner, his Lord Himself, “dwelleth” (our Lord says) “in Me, and I in Him,” and having Christ within him, not only shall he have, but he “hath” already “eternal life,” because he hath Him who is “the only true God and eternal life”; and so Christ “will raise him up at the last day,” because he hath His life in him. Receiving Him into this very body, they who are His receive life, which shall pass over to our very decaying flesh; they have within them Him who is life and immortality and incorruption, to cast out or absorb into itself our natural mortality and death and corruption, and “shall live for ever,” because made one with Him who alone “liveth for evermore.” But where, one may feel, is there here any place for the sinner? Here all breathes of holy life, life in God, the life of God imparted to man, the indwelling of the All-holy and Incarnate Word, the presence of God in the soul and body, incorruption and eternal life, through His holy presence and union with Him who, being God, is life. Yet although most which is spoken belongs to Christians, as belonging already to the household of saints and the family of heaven and the communion of angels and unity with God, still, here as elsewhere in the New Testament, there is a subordinate and subdued notion of sin; and what wraps the saint already in the third heaven may yet uphold us sinners, that the pit shut not her mouth upon us. The same reality of the Divine gift makes it angels, food to the saint, the ransom to the sinner. And both because it is the body and blood of Christ. To him its special joy is that it is his Redeemer’s very broken body, it is His blood, which was shed for the remission of his sins. In the words of the ancient Church, he “drinks his ransom,” he eateth that, “the very body and blood of the Lord, the only sacrifice for sin,” God “poureth out” for him yet “the most precious blood of His Only-Begotten”; they “are fed from the Cross of the Lord, because they eat His body and blood”; and as of the Jews of old, even those who had been the betrayers and murderers of their Lord, it was said, “The blood, which in their frenzy they shed, believing they drank,” so of the true penitent it may be said, whatever may have been his sins, so he could repent, awful as it is to say, the blood he indeed despised, and profaned, and trampled underfoot, may he, when himself humbled in the dust, drink, and therein drink his salvation.
II. In each place in Holy Scripture where the doctrine of the Eucharist is taught, there is at least some indication of the remission of sins.—Our Lord, while chiefly speaking of Himself, as the bread of life, the true meat, the true drink, His indwelling, resurrection from the dead, and life everlasting, still says also, “The bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” As amid the apparent identity of this teaching each separate oracle enounces some fresh portion of the whole truth, so also does this; that His flesh and blood in the Sacrament shall give life, not only because they are the flesh and blood of the Incarnate Word, who is life, but also because they are the very flesh and blood which were given and shed for the life of the world, and are given to those for whom they had been given. This is said yet more distinctly in the awful words whereby He consecrated for ever elements of this world to be His body and blood. “This is My body, which is given for you”; “This is My body, which is broken for you”; “This is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins”; “This cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you.” He saith not, “which shall be given,” “shall be broken,” “shall be shed,” but “is being given,” “being broken,” “being shed” (διδόμενον, κλώμενον, ἐκχυνόμενον), and this in remarkable contrast with His own words, when speaking of that same gift, as yet future, “The bread which I will give is My flesh, which I will give [ὃν ἐγὼ δώσω] for the life of the world.” And of one of the words used St. Chrysostom remarks how it could not be said of the Cross, but is true of the Holy Eucharist. “For ‘a bone of Him,’ it saith, ‘shall not be broken.’ But that which He suffered not on the Cross, this He suffers in the oblation for thy sake, and submits to be broken that He may fill all men.” Hereby He seems as well to teach us that the great act of His passion then began; then, as a Priest, did He through the Eternal Spirit offer Himself without spot to God; then did He “consecrate” Himself, before He was by wicked hands crucified and slain; and all which followed, until He commended His Blessed Spirit to the hands of His Heavenly Father, was one protracted, willing suffering. Then did He begin His lonely journey, where there was none to help or uphold, but He “travelled in the greatness of His strength”; then did He begin to “tread the winepress alone,” and to “stain all His raiment”; then to “wash the garments” of His humanity “with” the “wine” of His blood; and therefore does the blood bedew us too; it cleanses us, because it is the blood shed for the remission of our sins. There is, accordingly, an entire agreement in the Eucharistic liturgies of the universal Church, in prayer, in benediction, in declaration, confessing that in the Holy Eucharist there is forgiveness of sins also. Those of St James and St. Mark so paraphrase the words of consecration as to develop the sense that they relate not only to the past act of His precious bloodshedding on the Cross, but to the communication of that blood to us now. “This is My body, which for you is broken and given for the remission of sins.” “This is My blood of the New Testament, which for you and for many is poured out and given for the remission of sins.” Again, the liturgies join together, manifoldly, remission of sins and life eternal, as the two great fruits of this Sacrament. Thus in the prayer for the descent of the Holy Ghost on the sacred elements, “that they may be to all who partake of them to the remission of sins, and to life eternal”; or in intercession, “that we may become meet to be partakers of Thy holy mysteries to the remission of sins and life eternal”; or in the words of communicating, “I give thee the precious and holy and undefiled body of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and life eternal.”
III. Since, then, this Divine Sacrament has, as its immediate and proper end, union with Him who hath taken our manhood into God, and the infusion into us of His Spirit and life and immortality, making us one with His glorified humanity, as He is one in the Godhead with the Father, and, besides this, it is ulteriorly the cleansing of our sins, the refining our corruptions, the repairing of our decays, what must be the loss of the Church of the latter days, in which Communions are so infrequent! How can we wonder that love should have waxed cold, corruptions so abound, grievous falls have been among our youth almost the rule, to stand upright the exception, heathen strictness reproach Christian laxity, the Divine life become so rare, all higher instances of it so few and faint, when “the stay and the staff,” the strength of that life is willingly forfeited! How should there be the fulness of the Divine life, amid all but a month-long fast from our “daily bread”! It implies a life so different from this our commonplace ordinary tenor, a life so above this world as knit with Him who hath overcome the world, so angelic as living on Him who is angels’ food; an union with God so close, that we cannot mostly, I suppose, imagine to ourselves how we could daily thus be in heaven, and in our daily business here below—how sanctify our daily duties, thoughts, refreshment, so that they should be tinged with the hues reflected by our daily heaven, not that heavenly gift be dimmed with our earthliness—how our souls should through the day shine with the glory of that ineffable Presence to which we had approached, not we approach to it with earth-dimmed souls. It must ever be so; we cannot know the gift of God if we forfeit it; we must cease mostly even to long for what we forego. We lose the very sense to understand it.
IV. But, however we may see that our present decay and negligence should not continue, restoration must not be rashly compassed.—Sound restoration must be the gift of God, to be sought of Him in humiliation, in prayer, in mutual forbearance and charity, with increased strictness of life and more diligent use of what we have. He who alone can make more frequent Communion a blessing, and who gave such strength to that one heavenly meal, whereby through forty days and forty nights of pilgrimage He carried Elijah to His presence at the Mount of God, can, if we be faithful and keep His gift which we receive, give such abundant strength to our rarer Communions, that they shall carry us through our forty years of trial unto His own Holy Hill, and the vision of Himself in bliss. Let us each suspect ourselves, not others; the backward their own backwardness, the forward their own eagerness; each habitually interpret well the other’s actions and motives; so, while we each think all good of the other, may we all together, strengthened by the same bread, washed by the same blood, be led, in the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace and holiness of life, to that ineffable feast, where not, as now, in mysteries, but, face to face, we shall ever see God, and be ever filled with His goodness and His love.—E. B. Pusey, D.D.
The feelings suited to our last Sacrament,—The last words of a man of God, at the close of a religious solemnity, are regarded with peculiar attention. The parting warnings, counsels, and encouragements of such a man have counteracted the influence of temptations to folly, kept the mind steadfast in seasons of difficulty, excited to the most arduous duties, and reconciled the heart to the most painful separations. Our text presents to us the last words of the Lord Jesus at the observance of the Holy Communion—words rich in admonition and in comfort—words which have melted many a heart in pious affection, and inspired many a fearful soul with the most blessed hopes.
I. Consider these words as an intimation of our Lord’s speedy departure, and of the termination of all the present intercourse of His disciples with Him.—
1. Our Blessed Saviour made frequent references to His death during the course of His life. To reconcile His disciples to an event so necessary, He expatiates on its blessed results, and generally connects with it consequences of the most happy description both to Himself and to them.
2. The intercourse of our Lord with His disciples had been of the most affectionate kind. But that intercourse was now to close; from the circle of love and peace in which He now sat He was about to be removed into the assembly of the wicked, and to suffer all the ignominy and pain which their unrestrained malice could inflict.
3. Mark with what mild resignation our Lord contemplates this event. What was dear to Him in life He willingly sacrificed; what was painful in death He cheerfully bore.
4. Our Lord’s language intimates the necessity of His dying to His mediatorial glory and to the future happiness of His people.
5. Our Lord, in contemplating this as His last participation of the Holy Sacrament with them, may be viewed as anticipating the close of all that worship which was suited to His state of humiliation and suffering.
II. Consider the intimation our Lord gives of a reunion.—There are two considerations which stamp a peculiar beauty on this assurance. The termination of His intercourse with them was to be closed in a manner no way creditable to their attachment or their courage. His generous heart could forgive their weakness and cowardice, and friends and foes were the objects of a charity which was stronger than death. I may add that this promise of reunion, following so immediately the notice of His separation, shews, in a most affecting manner, how unwilling He is that His people should mourn in hopeless grief, and how ready He is to solace and to encourage. It has been much disputed to what place or scene our Lord refers as that of reunion with His disciples. Some have supposed that it refers to His renewed intercourse with them after His resurrection; and in this view it intimated to them that the death of their Master, to which they looked forward with so much terror, would only be a temporary subjection to the last enemy, and that He would rise in heart unchanged, with the same delight in their society and the same solicitude for their welfare as ever. But as it appears to me that our Lord meant to suggest the fullest consolation, it seems better not to limit the passage to an intercourse with them on earth, which was to lie in a few meetings during the space of forty days, but to consider it as pointing to the communion of the world of glory.
1. Considering it as referring to the heavenly state, this promise suggests that the reunion of the disciples with their Lord is certain. Men have often spoken of meeting their friends in heaven when parting with them in death; but they speak of a place whose gates they have no power to open, whose bliss they have no power to allot. It is in many cases the language of ignorance and presumption, which reason will not sanction, which conscience condemns; but the Speaker in the text is the way, the truth, and the life. Every heart is in His hands, every lot is in His sentence, every region is in His power, and all futurity is in His eye.
2. It intimates that this reunion should be in the most glorious place, even in the kingdom of His Father. It will take place in a scene where naught can occur either to embitter or to terminate it. In that kingdom the highest honours were destined for Himself; but to them, poor and despised as they now were, He would grant to share in His dignity, and to rejoice in His joy. His love deemed no abasement too low for Himself, and no exaltation too high for them.
3. It suggests that, when thus reunited, their intercourse should be most intimate and affectionate. In His intercourse with them here Judas mingled, though he had probably gone out before the institution of the Holy Communion; but in heaven there should not be one whose heart was not sincere in friendship, nor one whose presence should in the least check the freest disclosure of the Redeemer’s feelings. Here too the idea of the termination of this intercourse afflicted the disciples; but in heaven they should reign in life, never see their Saviour’s countenance less complacent, nor behold the last enemy but in his final destruction.
4. It intimates that in this reunion they should enjoy together the purest and most blissful delights.
(1) They shall enjoy these delights with the Saviour. His presence shall heighten the beauty of paradise, and render more delicious all that proceeds from its living fountains. In all the tokens of their Father’s complacency Ho shall share, and in all their attainments in excellence He shall be the pattern.
(2) The enjoyments of the heavenly state shall be the same in kind with those of the sanctuary on earth, however they may differ in degree. They are excited by the same objects and directed by the same spirit.
(3) These enjoyments in heaven shall, like the Holy Communion on earth, bear a direct reference to the Cross. Every feeling of rapture will attest its efficacy, every song of the redeemed celebrate its glory.
(4) Their reunion with one another is intimated in this assurance.
III. Consider these words as a memento intended for every observance of the Holy Communion.—At one Sacrament or another these words will be addressed to every pious communicant, and sooner probably to the most vigorous and. healthy than he is aware; for “we are strangers before God, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.” It would be proper that all of us should consider our situation in this light; for none can promise himself another solemnity of this nature, and none will improve this ordinance properly who does not observe it as his last Sacrament.
1. It should be received with resignation.
(1) It is made by Him who hath the power of life and death, and whose will it is both impious and vain to resist.
(2) The kindness of the manner in which He intimates this is another reason for resignation. It is with the voice of invitation and persuasion that He addresses you, rather than with that of authority.
(3) You cannot, in this scene, mark the resignation of your Lord to His Father’s will, nor hear Him saying, “The cup which My Father giveth Me, shall I not drink it?” and be disposed to rebel against the determination of His providence.
2. It should be received with gratitude. It shews His goodness to you that He apprises you of this event, that you may use all the appointed means of preparation for it. He wishes to save you from the anxiety and horror of those who shall be awakened from the sleep of security by the notice of His approach. 3. It should be received with love. Here we see Christ submitting to death to redeem us from destruction, laying open to us the kindness of His heart, revealing the everlasting felicity for which He hath destined us, and solacing Himself in the prospect of being happy with us for ever. That heart must be lost to all proper feeling which is not kindled into affection by this statement of the Saviour. It ought to be heard with increasing affection to our Christian brethren. Aged persons have been sometimes charged with implacability of temper, with brooding over the injuries of former times, and instilling their prejudices and animosities into their descendants; but let your conduct shew that you have fully imbibed the forgiving spirit of the Cross, and that every malignant feeling is extinguished within you.
4. It should be received with a determination to shew increasing diligence in preparing for our departure. Nobler objects solicit your affections; let them now engage your whole heart.
5. It should be received with hope of the felicity here promised. This is the promise of Him who is the faithful witness, and, while such love breathes in it, you cannot question His intention to fulfil it.—H. Belfrage, D.D.
Mark 14:26. The Hallel, and Jesus singing.—The best scholarship warrants us to assume that as Psalms 113-118 formed the Hallel or hallelujah songs of praise associated with the Passover, so the closing hymn sung by Jesus and His disciples was Psalms 118:0, as being that which rounded off the partaking of the fourth festal cup (“the cup of salvation”).
I. Psalms 118 opens with a burst of hallelujahs over the mercy of God.—The sum of these hallelujahs is, “O praise God for His mercies of old and now.” It is easy to understand how at that moment thoughts of the mercy of God would gird the Redeemer as with new strength to go forward to His appointed work. That work was to lay open the channel along which the mercy of God should flow “in righteousness” toward our fallen race. So that we cannot help feeling that it was Divinely ordered that this jubilant refrain should come in as part of the Lord’s last singing on earth. You remember how similarly this was the keynote of the dedication of the first Temple: “He is good; His mercy endureth for ever.” And so throughout. The great heart of the world—as of a sick, weary giant—ached for the ultimate manifestation of this mercy; and it could not but bring to the Lord a strange and awful joy that now at long, long last the manifestation was about to be made. I covet for myself and you all deeper insight into the wonder and grace, benediction and righteousness, of God’s ever-enduring and unchanging mercy in Christ Jesus. Grasping it, how may we dare to go to the guiltiest, even vilest, and whisper, “God loves you.” Behold the proof in the Cross, in the Crucified!
II. The suitableness to the Lord’s circumstances and to the continuous dangers of His Church (Mark 14:5-13).—It was the hour and power of darkness. Personally the shadow of Gethsemane was already blackening over His path. There lay before Him the betrayal—the arrest—the forsaking—the denial—the arraigning—the judgment—the suborned witnesses—the insults—the mockery—the loathsome spitting—the blows—the scourging—the condemnation—and, beyond, the spectre and spectacle of the ghastly cross. Is it not, then, affecting and yet again sustaining to find here written beforehand, in this last psalm of the Hallel, great words of strength and cheer (Mark 14:5-6): “Out of my distress”—plumbless, measureless distress—“I called upon the Lord: the Lord answered me, and set me in a large place. The Lord is on my side; I will not fear what man can do unto me.” We can again conceive the Lord flinging Himself on the vast breadth of these exultant words. Amid all dangers and tribulation the Church, like her Divine Head, may well find in this portion of the final Hallel psalm inexhaustible consolation. Martin Luther in the throes of the Reformation and of his own peril, and when even Catherine de Bora seemed to counsel retreat and compliance, turned to this psalm and “waxed valiant” as he sang (Mark 14:17), “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.” Let us not fear. The waves of the tempest-trampled sea may toss to and fro and make a mighty noise, but the blue heavens beyond the clouds are calm. God lives. God reigns. The once pale hand grasps the sceptre of the universe, and sways ebb and flow of event and circumstance to His “everlasting purpose.”
III. The joy set before the Redeemer and before us through Him (Mark 14:14-21).—Joy is the sublimation of sorrow. Sorrow opens the door for joy to come in. Sorrow and joy are strangely akin, or, as we say in Scotland and old English, “sib.” Sorrow turns into joy—not merely is followed by joy, but turns into it. So was it with the disciples. “Your sorrow shall be turned into joy”—the very event that seemed so black and calamitous becoming the centre and source of everlasting light. Some of you, doubtless, have seen Dore’s great picture of “Pilate’s Wife’s Dream.” Those of you who have seen it will remember that whilst the horrid cross in the foreground looms up large and hideous, yet away in the radiant distance that same cross is shewn transformed and glorified, and glorifying all that it shines upon. So if sorrow is deep, I think it leads to and issues in something deeper still, and that is joy. Hence in the Epistle to the Hebrews, by one of those deep glances into the heart of the mystery of things that make this letter so great, we have all this summed up (Mark 12:2). Be it yours and mine, like our Lord, to rest on this Hallel psalm and see all around us demonstration, that the Lord’s mighty prayer was no idle breath like “idle tears”: “These things I spake in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13).
IV. The great Messianic symbol (Mark 14:22-23).—As we turn and return on the favourite texts of Jesus, it moves and melts us to discover how they nearly all revolve around His redemptive work. The present is no exception. For we all carry in our heart of hearts the “exceeding great and precious promises” and teaching that set forth the Lord Christ as a “stone.” Even the glazing eye of dying Jacob beheld it (Genesis 49:24). And so Isaiah sang (Isaiah 28:16). It is therefore just what might have been expected, that earlier the Lord turned to those very words now before us, and uttered from them some of His most barbed and searching words to rejecting Israel. And as we to-day think of the supernatural structure—part on earth and part in heaven—that along the nineteen centuries has been raised on this one Stone, do we not thrill to the song of Christ’s last singing, and exclaim, “This is from the Lord: it is marvellous in our eyes.”
V. Finally, in Mark 14:25-29, we have thanksgiving. I can but accentuate Mark 14:27 : “Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.” Once more to the vision of faith this sacrifice has been set forth—once more it has been our privilege by the memorial symbols appointed to remember the Lord’s death “until He come.” And so as thus again we behold “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world,” thanksgiving may fitly close our service as thanksgiving closed His, as perchance falteringly He sang for the last time the Hallel of His own sacrificial death: “He filleth our mouths with songs.” In our outlook I see no call for despondency, I discern no omens of failure—I catch a light of glory on the mountain-tops that is descending to the plains, and is making the Cross still more refulgent, and rallying more and more myriads of tired feet and wearier hearts to the great broken heart. Yea, I see our blood-ransomed world girdled by mightier rings than Saturn’s, swung back into its primal orbit of unsullied light; and by-and-by we shall hear reverberating from sea to sea and from shore to shore (Revelation 11:15).—A. B. Grosart, D.D.
Mark 14:27-31. Man’s need of Divine support.—We are taught by our holy religion that man’s ability to perform the appointed duties of his Christian calling is derived from the co-operation and assistance of the Holy Spirit, which must be sought by humble and fervent prayer. Some, however, have entertained doubts on the subject, in consequence of their inability to discriminate between the natural movements of their minds and the influences of Divine agency, forgetting that we are required not to give account of the nature or extent of the assistance vouchsafed from above, but only to receive it thankfully and to use it diligently. Others have questioned the existence of such spiritual aid, because not conscious of their own need of it. To them this discourse is addressed.
I. The circumstances connected with the fall of St. Peter.—
1. If ever an unassisted mortal might have been expected to stand by his own strength, it was Peter—the Rock-man. The instructions he had received, the miracles he had witnessed, the variety of motives with which his intercourse with Christ must have supplied him, might have been considered almost as an equivalent for inspiration. Yet he fell. Betrayed by ignorance of his own heart and presumptuous confidence in his own resolution, he caused himself to be recorded for an everlasting memorial of human weakness and frailty.
2. The Master, as the time of His betrayal approached, with a view doubtless of consoling His disciples under their coming disgrace, gave them a previous intimation of it in the kindest and most soothing terms (Mark 14:27-28). The effect of this announcement upon the others is not recorded. Perhaps conscious of their own weakness, they remained silent; or perhaps, while inwardly trusting that they would be found ready for any emergency, they did not presume to express that confidence. Peter alone ventured to proclaim his imaginary fortitude (Mark 14:29). Christ thereupon revealed a lower depth even than desertion to which Peter would descend (Mark 14:30). Such seeming distrust of the sincerity of his attachment drew from the warm-hearted disciple a vehement protest (Mark 14:31). But in the hour of trial, how did he behave? Whence that equivocating answer, conveying falsehood under its most subtle guise (Mark 14:68)? Whence that second denial (Mark 14:70)? Whence that cursing and swearing with which the third accusation induced him to accompany the repetition of his assertion (Mark 14:71)? Alas! human nature must bear the shame of these reiterated falsehoods and blasphemies. Though selected for the apostleship, Peter yet remained dependent only on mortal resources, and in the hour of trial they proved utterly inadequate.
II. The admonition to be derived from St. Peter’s sad fall.—
1. Is there to be found a man who, in face of such an example, dares to refuse the proffered aid of the Holy Spirit, and to encounter life’s conflict in his own unaided strength? Let him attend to an exposition of the delusion under which he labours.
(1) Such a man may have persuaded himself that his reliance on his own strength is not the effect of presumption, but only of a fervent wish and sincere resolution to tread the path of holiness. But such we know was equally the disposition of Peter’s mind. On his first introduction to our notice we are even struck with his exceeding humility and self-abasement (Luke 5:8); and the same meek and modest distrust of himself is again evinced only a few hours before his fall (John 8:6-9).
(2) The self-confident man may imagine that there was a perverseness in the character of Peter from which he is himself free. But the Gospel history lends no countenance to such a theory. On more than one occasion the extreme openness and warmth of his disposition led Peter to so unreserved a discovery of the opinions and prejudices of his heart as exposed him to sharp reproof (Matthew 16:23; John 18:11). Yet we find that he was ever submissive to the correction and ever obedient to the direction of his Master.
(3) A man may flatter himself that he possesses a firmness, an energy, and a zeal which were wanting in Peter. But what reason has he for thinking so? He surely must have had no inconsiderable degree of firmness who merited and received from Christ the name “Cephas”; and he certainly could not be accused of want of energy and zeal who, when his Lord was arrested, instantly drew sword in His defence, and wielded it so effectually as to incur the displeasure of Him for whom he fought!
2. How, then, came Peter’s resolution to miscarry in the scene of his Master’s dire extremity? The reason seems to be this: he had grounded the execution of that resolution upon a sudden feeling of immoderate self-confidence,—nothing doubting but his will was in his own power, whether God’s grace assisted him or not; fully satisfied that what he had courage to resolve so honestly he had likewise ability to perform. He had not sufficiently considered that He who forewarned him of the failure of his resolution was the Searcher of hearts, and needed not that any should testify of man, for He knew what was in man—and what was not. Had he only reflected on the Master’s own declaration, “Without Me ye can do nothing,” the empty boast would have died away upon his lips, and given place to a humble petition for Divine assistance.
III. The need of prayer to ensure preservation from a like fall.—In contemplating the failure of a man who seems to have possessed all the elements of moral strength, and all the qualities requisite for a life of consistent integrity and undeviating holiness, are we not irresistibly led to the conclusion that our natural powers are insufficient for the work which we have to do, and that consequently an appeal must be made to heaven for grace to help in time of need? If we reach this conclusion by a comparison of ourselves with St. Peter in those faculties which we may be supposed to possess in common with him, must not the conviction of our insufficiency be increased tenfold, when we reflect that he must have had many opportunities and incentives to perseverance which we naturally cannot have? Yet he fell! His familiar association with Christ—hearing His words, witnessing His actions, and consequently receiving continual accessions of information and continual confirmations of his faith—must necessarily have enlarged his understanding and strengthened his judgment. Yet he fell! Who, then, at the distance at which we are placed by nature from intercourse with Christ, can possibly hope to stand alone? Who that sees an apostle vanquished will dare to go forth to the battle of life unaided by that Divine Spirit “without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy”?
Mark 14:29-31. How best to promote the accomplishment of our good resolutions.—Perhaps it is not taking for granted too much to suppose that few Christians have come to a due conviction of their own sinful weakness and infirmity of purpose without having themselves so fallen under some trying occasion or temptation as afterwards to bewail from the heart their own irresolution, and, like Peter, to go out and weep bitterly. For however strong the mind, however sound the faith, and however fixed and confirmed by habit the religious principles, there are occasions when the Christian’s armour seems to stand him in little stead. He appears taken by surprise,—either his situation is new to him, or the allurement unusually great, or the opportunity too auspicious, or the alternative attended by great dangers, or the advantage of compliance sure and important, or the favourable concurrence of circumstances not likely to occur again. One or other or even all of these considerations perhaps prompts him to decide quickly; and, alas! to determine wrongly. He falls, therefore, because he never contemplated such a trial of his strength; or having contemplated it, thought himself quite safe. But how, it may be asked, is such success to our best purposes and resolves to be secured, that we may be, as much as possible, prepared for every temptation—that we may, as far as human infirmity will permit, prevent “sin from getting dominion over us”—that we may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, “to stand”?
I. To give stability to our good resolutions we must be convinced of our own weakness as well as wickedness.—No man can be ignorant of his besetting sin—his peculiar bias towards some one vice, temper, or failing; and whatever it may be, to that he should principally direct his attention in forming his resolves. For without having made this part of his moral nature his especial study, without understanding clearly what little reliance he can place upon himself, in the case of allurement and temptation addressed to this his prevailing sin, his most deliberate purpose will avail him nothing. He will seek occasions and places and persons from which he never yet escaped without guilt, and thus perhaps continue to impute to circumstances the fault which belongs only to his own heart.
II. We must have minutely considered our former lapses and relapses before we presume to make a resolve.—The causes of our fall should be accurately ascertained, and the leading incitement to each relapse be singled out and set up as a kind of beacon to warn us effectually where our danger lies. The repeated practice of sin has made this admonition by no means difficult for the sinner to obey. For he has only to select any one transgression, and he will for the most part trace in it the usual course of his progress in the commission of sin. Above all, he will perceive that with each relapse his resolves have become less efficacious, the path to his favourite vice has become smoother, his compunctions less bitter, his heart more hardened.
III. The sense of your weakness and of your frequent relapses should induce such a distrust of your own strength as to deter you from exposing yourselves to trials which may be avoided.—It is easy to attribute to yourselves powers of resistance or forbearance and self-denial which are far beyond your present attainments in Christian discipline. Your resolves should therefore be made in all humility. Nothing too high and hard for your present strength should be attempted. We are all to expect trials; but it is a criminal degree of rashness to go out needlessly to meet them, and much more so when a little reflexion might teach us that we have not arms sufficiently strong for the encounter.
IV. There must be after every lapse an act of sincere and sorrowful repentance before we presume to make a fresh resolve.—Where there have been shame and confusion, and remorse and fear, there may be some promise of our “taking heed to our ways,” of our hating sin, of our “recovering ourselves out of the snare of the devil.” But when the sinner, in order to pacify at the moment the fearful misgivings that ever attend guilt, satisfies himself with the bare resolution to offend no more, what grounds can he have for accepting so insignificant a pledge of his own actual improvement?
V. Even after repentance we must not consider our resolves as any warrant of our safety without two other safeguards.—
1. The first of these is vigilance. Our minds must be thoroughly imbued with that important truth that ours is a life of warfare—that we are, as it were, in an enemy’s country. Our own corruption within and constant temptations without should keep us ever in the state of sentinels. For the greatest security for the sinner, after all, is to avoid every occasion of sin—to be beforehand in shunning the dangerous opportunity, the depraved associate, the convenient hour, the favourable situation.
2. The other principal safeguard to our resolves is prayer. We have only to be earnest and sincere in our applications to the throne of grace for spiritual aid, through the intercession of that Redeemer who is “able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God through Him,” and we shall not fail to receive the blessing that we ask.
VI. Among the religious offices which come in aid of the means above recommended, none is more efficacious than the “spiritual food and sustenance” properly received in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.—On no occasion does the heart of man come into closer intercourse with his God and Saviour; on no occasion does he draw more freely from the fountain of Divine grace. For he not only receives remission of his sins, and peace and comfort past all understanding, but he is endued with new vigour for his conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil; and all his holy purposes and resolutions receive the sanction and support of his approving Maker. Thus renewed in the inner man, he cometh forth from that holy ordinance as “a bridegroom out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a giant to run his course.”—A. B. Evans, D.D.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 14:12-16. Christ’s preparation for the Passover.—Not even Peter and John are to know beforehand the man’s name and address, lest, if Judas should suspect them of knowing, he should worm, or try to worm, the secret out of them. Perhaps he did suspect—perhaps he did try to get at their secret; but even Peter could not tell him what he did not know. In His love and pity, His love for them, His pity for Judas—to save them from a mistake they would have found it hard to forgive, and to hold him back from a sin which man has not forgiven yet, though we have no right to assume that Christ has not forgiven it long ago—He rendered it impossible for them to betray Him to Judas, and for Judas to betray Him to the priests. The incident, thus viewed, has many lessons for us.
1. Even when He seems most unlike Himself our Lord is most truly Himself, and is leading us where we would be, though by ways we know not, and which do not seem likely to lead us there.
2. His prescience extends to the minutest details as well as to the main lines and critical occasions of life: nothing which really concerns us is overlooked or forgotten by Him; no, not even the pitcher, or the cup of cold water we need to slake our thirst, or are carrying to a neighbour who needs it even more than we do.
3. If we love Him, and are bent on serving Him, He will save us from those innocent, because unconscious and unintentional, transgressions of His goodwill for us which must inevitably inflict their natural punishment upon us, however guiltless we may be—just as He saved Peter and John from innocently betraying a secret to Judas of which he would have made an evil use.
4. Even when we are traitors to Him in our hearts, when we are meditating some sin which will cast us from His grace, He will do all He can, short of forcing our will, to save us from our sin; He will place hindrances and impediments in our way as He did in the way of Iscariot, and will not abandon us to our evil hearts, until, against all the remonstrances and warnings of His love, we overleap all hindrances and plunge into what we know to be a path of death.—S. Cox, D.D.
Mark 14:14. Preparation for Christ as our guest.—At all seasons of the year, and on festivals and ordinary days alike, the question, which is at once a warning and an invitation, is addressed to each one of us, “Where is My guest-chamber?” And we, far more than the owner of that honoured house in Jerusalem, have had opportunities of knowing all that that question means. It is no guest-chamber built with hands that He needs, but the temple built without hands, which temple we are. If that hospitable disciple would do so much for His entertainment during a few hours, surely we may do as much when we aim at having Him for our guest for ever—throughout life and in eternity.
1. It must be an upper room, in the highest part of our being, the best that we have to offer to any one. It must be in our heart of hearts, where we can love Him, not in word and tongue, but in deed and truth, with all our soul and all our strength. There are those who think that they have done much if they have given Him a welcome in some transitory emotion of religious excitement. But these heated feelings are not the upper room, which is ever calm and quiet; they are more akin to the common hall, where noise and excitement are frequent.
2. It must be a furnished room and ready: furnished with those things which He loves, and which will enable Him to rest and abide—prayers and hymns, thanksgivings and intercessions, holy thoughts, kind words, and good deeds. “Alms all around and hymns within”—that is the atmosphere in which Christ can abide; and the heart that is furnished with these can offer Him a home in which He may bestow His goods. For Christ is no man’s debtor. If He comes as a guest He comes open-handed, and bestows blessings without measure or stint.
3. And therefore we must prepare a large room. As we are niggardly in what we offer to Him, so also we are half hearted and little-minded in what we ask from Him. We do not desire His graces enough, and we do not desire enough of them. We must open our hearts freely to receive the good measure, pressed down and shaken together, which He yearns to bestow. It is His own command, His own promise, which says, “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.”—A. Plummer, D.D.
Mark 14:17-19. A traitor among the twelve.—
1. In the holiest society on earth the unholy may have a place.
2. The highest goodness may fail to win to the obedience of faith.
3. There may be moral wrong without present consciousness.
4. The knowledge and appointment of God do not hinder the freedom and responsibility of man.—J. H. Godwin.
1. At first it seems strange to find a traitor amongst the select disciples of Christ. Yet there is nothing in this selection of a bad man to be an agent in carrying on a good design which is not in harmony with the general scheme of the Divine government. It is a condition of the visible Church that “the evil should be ever mingled with the good,” and that sometimes the evil should have authority and pre-eminence over the good. Thus the small circle of Christ’s select disciples presented a sort of epitome of the world into which they were to be sent and the Church over which they were to preside.
2. The next thing which challenges observation here is the unfruitfulness of this unhappy man under the extraordinary religious advantages which he enjoyed. We plainly see, in this instance, that mere means of grace, unaccompanied by an actual operation of Divine power upon the heart, are nothing. Even the Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, then for the first and last time administered by Christ Himself, and of which Judas was permitted to partake, as the type of all who should thereafter profane those holy mysteries, had no effect upon him, except to make him worse than before (John 8:27).
3. The commonness of the sinful lust by which Judas was enticed. What is there singular in a man’s rejoicing because his wealth is great, or desiring that it may be still greater? This is, in fact, the ruling passion of mankind. The desire of acquiring is one of the most powerful springs of human conduct. Rightly directed and strictly regulated, it is not only innocent, but laudable. Unregulated and misdirected, see what it leads to!—F. Field, LL.D.
Mark 14:18. A question of propriety as to quality and time of news.—Christ then breaks news at table that operates distressfully. He knew it would. That was a violation of hygienic law. At such times, to secure the best results, cheerfulness should reign. He who made the Sabbath for man would surely not thoughtlessly or wantonly establish a precedent the observance of which would be against man. It cannot be. The gospel tends to gladness. Its trend makes for the good of man as man, body and soul, in all the phases of his being. But there is a disturbing element in him. The otherwise beautiful equipoise, adjustment, and beneficent operation of the laws of human life have been rudely shattered by sin. Anarchical times demand different treatment from the “piping times of peace.” Just when and where the province of one law should be invaded in deference to another and higher were questions which the Saviour, we may be sure, in His own case settled righteously. That He had good reason therefore we may rest assured. But what that was we may not be so sure. Possibly the “needs be” was this: His hour was at hand. The goal was being reached without the unnecessary introduction of the miraculous either in forcing or retarding. God does not work by miracles when ordinary means will suffice. Were Christ to utter these words sooner, Judas might, humanly speaking, have perfected arrangements and precipitated matters. Jesus would then have been betrayed before “His time,” unless a miracle of prevention were wrought. Had He spoken them later, Judas might not have the requisite time to compass his plans and be on the ground at the right moment for “his hour,” unless a miracle of hastening were wrought. And then, again, these words may have been uttered at that moment to secure the absence of this disturbing element from the feast of love that was to follow.—Wm. M. Campbell.
Mark 14:19. The moving of conscience.—This question indicates a deep stirring of conscience, quickened by God. It is a question of which every human soul at some time or other is more or less cognisant, whatever may be the answer given to it. It is a question which is vital to any adequate conception either of the sinfulness of sin, or of the standard of personal duty, or of the ideal walk of the regenerate spirit with God.
I. Consider it in some of the various motives and intentions with which a human soul may conceivably put the question to God.
1. Clearly it may be put (God protect us from it!) in a spirit of insolent hardness. Thus Judas put it. A man to whom sin is not sinful, to whom self-gratification is the law of his being, who neither fears God nor regards man, may say, “Lord, is it I?” But he will not care for an answer, nor wait to hear it given.
2. It may be put also in a spirit of shallow and ignorant levity. We little know what possibilities of good and also of evil are hidden in our wonderful and complex nature—to what heights of goodness we may rise, into what abysses of infamy we may fall.
3. It is also the question of a holy self-distrust. There are so many pitfalls at our feet, such woful surprises, such mortifying recollections of hopes disappointed, opportunities neglected, duties omitted, blessings lost, that “Lord, is it I?” is often the aching, frightened question of a bewildered though honest spirit, fearful of losing itself in the mazes and obscurities of its unknown tendencies, and quite distinct from the morbid self-questionings of spiritual egotism.
II. There are circumstances which from time to time suggest if they do not compel it; and so sinuous and intricate are the windings of the human heart, so apt are even true natures to be deceived by refined sophistries, or encouraged to mistake transient emotion for the continuous action of dominant principles, that it is almost necessary for us, if we would adequately know ourselves, and habitually rule ourselves, to be forced to find ourselves out as we stand in the light of God.
1. The sight of a brother’s sin may be wholesome though humbling in making us recognise that only by the grace of God we are what we are. Had we been tempted as he was tempted, might not we have fallen perhaps lower? Or we may ourselves have been exposed to the fiery trial of temptation and been saved, yet so as “by fire.” We never knew till now how strong was the strength of God, how weak the weakness of man.
2. There are also occasions in life which, like mountain-peaks rising out of a level plain to break its monotony and form its landmarks, bring us face to face with hidden corners in our personal life, and make us feel with a thrill of gladness the good hand of our God upon us. Sometimes it is a special mercy, which makes us wonder how God can be so good to us.—Bishop Thorold.
“Is it I?”—It was a good sign that the first thought of each of them was about the possibility of his own sin. When a man foresees a great temptation that is coming, it is always better that, instead of turning to his neighbours and saying, as he searches their faces, “I wonder who will do this wicked thing?” he should turn to himself and say, “Is it possible that I am the man who will do it?” When the wind is rising, it is good for each ship at sea to look to its own ropes and sails, and not stand gazing to see how ready the other ships are to meet it. We all feel that we would rather hear a man asking about himself anxiously than to see him so sure of himself that the question never occurred to him. We should be surer of his standing firm if we saw that he knew he was in danger of a fall.
I. There are times in the lives of all of us, I think, when that comes to us which came here to Christ’s disciples.—Beneath us, as beneath them, the worst possibilities of our nature sometimes reveal themselves. Such times are not our worst times certainly. Often they are times which, by their very sense of danger, are the safest and strongest of our lives. But they are often moments that dismay us. They come in upon our self-complacency and shock it with their ominous presence.
1. One of them is the time when we see deep and flagrant sin in some other man. When some great crime is done, when through the community there runs the story of some frightful cruelty or dreadful fraud, I think that almost all of us are conscious of a strange mixture of two emotions, one of horror and the other of a terrible familiarity. The act is repugnant to all our conscientiousness; but the powers that did the act, and the motives that persuaded the doing of it, are powers which we possess and motives which we have felt. When you read the story of yesterday’s defaulter fleeing to-day, an exile and an outcast, or sitting gloomily behind his prison bars, it is not with an angel’s innocent wonder what a sin like this can mean; it is with the understanding of a man who has felt the same temptation to which this poor wretch has yielded, that you deplore his fate. With simple wonder an angel might walk through our State prison-halls; but a man must walk there full of humbleness and charity; for as the best man that ever lived finds something of common humanity in us which makes his goodness seem not impossible to us, so the worst of men stirs by the sight of his human sin some sense of what human power of sinfulness we too possess.
2. Another of the occasions which let us see our own possibility of sin, which open to us a glimpse of how wicked we might be, is when we do some small sin and recognise the deep power of sinfulness by which we do it. A pure, honest boy cheats with his first little timid fraud, and on the other side, the bad side of him, the door flies open, and he sees the possibility that he too should be the swindler whose enormous frauds make the whole city tremble. The slightest crumbling of the earth under your feet makes you aware of the precipice. The least impurity makes you ready to cry out, as some image of hideous lust rises before you, “Oh, is it I? Can I come to that?”
3. And yet another occasion when we become aware of our own bad possibility is the expression of any suspicion about us by another person. I think that for you or me to find our names linked to-morrow in this community with some great crime of which we knew that we were totally innocent must stir the mystery of our inner life, and make us see what capacity of sin is lying there. I think our disavowal of the sin that we were charged with would be not boisterously angry, but quiet and solemn and humble, with a sense of danger and a gratitude for preservation. I think that ought to be the influence. And even the boisterousness with which some men deny a charge against their characters is still a sign in a worse way of how their conscience has been touched. Would you want the clerk in your store to be charged with dishonesty, and not go back to his work, when the charge had been disproved, with a deepened perception of temptation and a quickened watchfulness and care?
4. By a strange but very natural process the same result often comes from just the opposite cause. Not merely when men suspect us and charge us with wrong-doing, but when men praise us and say that we are good, this same recognition of how bad we have the power to be often arises. A man comes up to our life, and, looking round upon the crowd of our fellowmen, he says, “See, I will strike the life of this brother of ours, and you shall hear how true it rings.” He does strike it, and it does seem to them to ring true, and they shout their applause; but we whose life is struck feel running all through us at the stroke the sense of hollowness.
5. Is it not also true that every temptation which comes to us, however bravely and successfully it may be resisted, opens to us the sight of some of our human capacity of sin? The man who dares to laugh at a temptation which he has felt and resisted is not yet wholly safe out of its power.
II. What is this but saying that in every serious moment of life the possibility of sin stands up before us?—None but the man who has no serious moments, none but he who makes all life a play, escapes the sight. To every other man—nay, may we not say to every man, since no man is literally always a trifler?—to every man at some time the clouds roll back, the spell is broken, and he sees what a power of being wicked as of being good belongs to him just as man.
1. Is it good for him to see this? Will it help him or harm him? That will depend upon the way it works in him. It may become in him either paralysis or inspiration. One man sees his danger, and stands powerless. Another man sees his danger, and every faculty is strung to its intensest strength. If the feet are set more resolutely toward goodness, and the hands lay hold more firmly upon help, it is good for us to know how wicked we may be, how great our danger is.
2. What is it that makes that difference? How is the consciousness of our danger prevented from becoming a depressing emotion and turned into an inspiring motive? It must be by opening the life upon the other side. It must be by realising the possibilities of our human life for good as well as for evil, by seeing and never forgetting how good we have a chance to be, as well as how bad we may become. This is the power of hope; and hope is the true master of fear. A merchant hopes to be rich, and the fear of being poor, instead of being a vexing anxiety, becomes the humble servant of his expectation, and helps him on toward wealth. The fear of death is terrible to a sick man until the hope of life and strength and activity opens before him; and then in his convalescence the fear of death has ceased to depress him as a feeling, and only remains with him as a motive to caution and watchfulness. Thus fear is always good when it has hope to rule it.
3. Now if you saw a young man overwhelmed with the sight on which our eyes have been fixed to-day; if you saw him so full of the consciousness of the power of sin in his life, the possibility of the badness that he might do and be, that he was wretched and paralysed,—what would you do for him? Would you try to make him forget what he had seen? Would you try to shut out the mystery of his life from him, and make him live again the life of narrow satisfaction in the present which he lived before he looked down into the deep gulf? You could not do it. But if you could, would it be well? Surely not. What you need to do for him is to make him lift up his eyes and see the heights above him. You want to make him like the climber on a ladder, who looks up and not down, who climbs not to escape the gulf below him, but to reach the top above him, and who feels the gulf below him only as a power that makes the hold of foot and hand on every round of the ladder which they strike more firm. Now it is the glory of the Christian gospel that in the treatment of man’s spiritual nature it preserves this true relation between hope and fear perfectly.
4. I suggested just now the analogy between our physical and moral consciousness, between our consciousness of the power to be sick and the consciousness of the power to sin. It is an analogy which illustrates what I have just been saying. There is a nervousness about health which is all morbid. It is full of imaginations. There are people who can never hear a disease described without thinking that they have it. They never hear a sick man talk without feeling all his symptoms repeated in themselves. You think of such a person and realise his wretchedness. Then you look away from him to a perfectly healthy man who seldom thinks about being sick at all. But yet he is something different from what he would be if there were no power of sickness in him. Unconscious for the most part, but now and then coming forth into consciousness, there is always present with him a sense of his humanity, with all the liabilities which that involves. He does not do what a man would do who had literally a frame of iron. And that is just the condition of the man with the healthy soul. He does not nervously believe, when he hears of any flagrant crime, that he is just upon the brink of that crime himself. He lives in doing righteousness, but all the time he keeps the consciousness that sin, even out to its worst possibilities, sin even to the cruelty of Cain, the lust of David, the treachery of Judas, is open to him.—Bishop Phillips Brooks.
Mark 14:21. A wail in the woe.—There is a wail in the word for “woe,” a tone of lament, if also a tone of reprobation. Indeed, we shall get nearer the meaning of the whole verse if we think of it as an elegy, rather than as a formal sentence on the traitor. Jesus could not lose even “the son of loss” without sorrow. That any man should be base enough to betray “the best Man that e’er wore flesh about Him” might well make even an angel weep. There must have been something good in Judas, or he would not have been “called to be an apostle”; but there must also have been something horribly mean in a man who, while affecting great love for the poor, could habitually steal from the purse which commonly held so little, but always a little for the destitute and helpless. And how could He who loved all men but mourn over one in whom much that was good and of fair promise had been blighted by a sordid selfishness and covetousness, one who had given place to the devil, and to the meanest of all devils, the most sordid of the spirits that fell? “Good for that man,” etc., was a proverbial expression of blended pity and blame, and must not be taken too literally, since nothing could be good or bad for an unborn man. It means simply that not to have been at all would have been better than to have become such a man as Iscariot was. And there are many of whom this might be said. Judas is not the only man who has been unfaithful to his ideal, nor the only man who has played the hypocrite and proved a traitor to Christ from selfishness and greed.—S. Cox, D.D.
The grace of God received in vain.—Judas was treated even as the rest of the apostles up to the moment of his defection. That he was meanwhile so ill disciplined in heart as to be robbing the common purse of his little fraternity almost certainly denotes that he had received this favour before he had become “like a little child”—that he was an exception, in short, to the general rule of the Messiah’s ministry while on earth, and of the Comforter’s dispensation ever since. It was an exception which, considered in all its bearings, was sure to be always remembered and recorded, and might therefore have been made and exhibited in a strong light for the purpose of shewing that the rule from which it was a departure was really no limitation to the free mercy of God in Christ. In the same manner as Adam’s fall proved that the whole human race were incapable of standing without Divine assistance added to their natural powers, even so Judas’ case was perhaps designed to shew that if in the recovery of fallen man the grace of God were more lavishly dispensed, if His Son while on earth or His Spirit now required of us no preparatory frame of heart and mind, we should not be the better for the removal of the apparent restriction in the offer of mercy. To man in that unprepared state of heart the grace of God would be the pearl thrown to swine.—S. Hinds.
Warning from the fall of Judas.—The Lord, when He pleases, can employ bad men in His service, and bestow splendid abilities and extraordinary spiritual gifts upon them, which He perhaps denies to His dutiful and beloved children. If it be asked why He does this, and why He permits hypocrites, covetous and deceitful workers, to appear among men as angels of light, it may be answered that He has a right to do what He will with His own, that He giveth no account of His matters, and that from what He has revealed of His character we ought to believe, whether we can always see it or not, that He is righteous in all His ways, holy in all His works, and wise in all His proceedings. But since the fact is so, that Satan can transform himself into an angel of light, and his ministers appear as ministers of righteousness, that Balaam can prophesy, Judas work miracles, and wicked men preach and pray with great eloquence, we ought to be aware of it, lest we be dazzled or misled, and therefore excited to covet splendid gifts instead of those graces of the Spirit which essentially accompany salvation, and mark us out as real members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven.—W. Richardson.
Mark 14:22-24. The Holy Communion.—When the earnest Christian kneels at the altar to take the Holy Communion, he performs a sixfold Acts 1:0. It is an act of obedience. Not a suggestion merely, not a time-honoured custom only, but a command, explicit, emphatic.
2. It is an act of remembrance. Not that Christ needed a memorial, but that we needed a memory.
3. It is an act of thanksgiving—a eucharist. This is worthy. Nations honour themselves in honouring their heroes. Thus Garibaldi is honoured in Italy, Luther in Germany, Napoleon in France. Thus Italy, and France, and Germany, and all Christian people honour the world’s Hero, the world’s Saviour, in this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, in this eucharistic feast.
4. It is an act of fellowship—a communion. We join with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven and of earth to magnify the glorious name of God.
5. It is an act of testimony. Every celebration of this Sacrament is one new link in the continuous chain of testimony that comes down through the ages from the upper chamber of Jerusalem. Every hand that takes this bread and cup joins hands with the unbroken chain of priestly hands that reach back to the pierced hands of Jesus.
6. It is an act of expectancy. We shew forth the Lord’s death till He come. We look back, and we look forward “till He come.” It is going up to the altar on the mountain-top and looking to the eastern sky to see if there be any sign of the coming dawn.—R. S. Barrett.
The Holy Communion the most solemn Christian service.—
1. If any one were to ask what is the most sacred, solemn, and consoling part of our religious service, that where God has gathered together most abundantly the greatest of His truths and the richest of His graces, where it is that in our life on earth we are brought nearest to heaven, and are most lifted up in heart and spirit, calmly and awfully to feel the presence of the God whom we serve, no well-instructed Christian would doubt how to answer. He would say at once, “In the Holy Communion.”
2. What is it that makes it so different from all other acts of prayer and praise? What gives it its matchless solemnity, its matchless savour of heaven, its deep comfort?
(1) It is the communication to us of the death and passion of Christ, and in it we are carried back for the time to that One Sacrifice, in which our own pardon was involved, and from which flowed God’s mercy to the world.
(2) It is the link and bond, while Christians are living in the flesh, between earth and heaven, the meeting-place between the redeemed and their Redeemer, out of sight, but not far off, the communion in which we are again and again joined to the risen and glorified Lord, who is the heavenly strength and life by which our spirits live.
(3) Here we have communion also with the whole Church of Christ. Here we who are so separated are one. Here we who most deeply sympathise with one another, and we who never could be brought on earth to understand each other, are practically joined in one; for both break the bread and pour the wine, and receive it as the token that the Lord had died for them, that the Lord hath pardoned us, that the Lord is nigh.—Dean Church.
The presence of Christ in the Eucharist.—
1. I say and confess with the Evangelists and with St. Paul that the bread on the which thanks are given is the body of Christ in the remembrance of Him and His death, to be set forth perpetually of the faithful until His coming.
2. I say and confess the bread which we break to be the communion and partaking of Christ’s body with the ancient and the faithful Fathers.
3. I say and believe that there is not only a signification of Christ’s body set forth by the Sacrament, but also that therewith is given to the godly and faithful the grace of Christ’s body—that is, the food of life and immortality; and this I hold with Cyprian.
4. I say also, with St. Augustine, that we eat life and we drink life; with Emissene, that we feel the Lord to be present in grace; with Athanasius, that we receive celestial food which cometh from above; the property of natural communion, with Hilary; the nature of flesh and benediction which giveth life, in bread and wine, with Cyril; and, with the same Cyril, the virtue of the very flesh of Christ, life and grace of His body, the property of the Only-Begotten, that is to say life, as He Himself in plain words expoundeth it.
5. I confess also, with Basil, that we receive the mystical advent and coming of Christ, grace, and the virtue of His very nature; the Sacrament of His very flesh, with Ambrose; the body by grace, with Epiphanius; spiritual flesh, but not that which was crucified, with Jerome; grace flowing into a sacrifice, and the grace of the Spirit, with Chrysostom; grace and invisible verity, grace and society of the members of Christ’s body, with Augustine.
6. Finally, with Bertram, I confess that Christ’s body is in the Sacrament in this respect—namely, as he writeth, because there is in it the Spirit of Christ, that is, the power of the Word of God, which not only feedeth the soul, but also cleanseth it. Out of these I suppose it may clearly appear unto all men how far we are from that opinion whereof some go about falsely to slander us to the world, saying we teach that the godly and faithful should receive nothing else at the Lord’s table but a figure of the body of Christ.—Bishop Ridley.
Christ’s presence in the Eucharist to unworthy receivers.—May we say, then, that Christ is really present in the Sacrament as well to the unworthy as to the faithful receivers? Yes, this we must grant, yet must we add withal that He is really present with them in a quite contrary manner; really present He is, because virtually present to both—because the operation or efficacy of His body and blood is not metaphorical but real in both. Thus the bodily sun, though locally distant for its substance, is really present by its heat and light as well to sore eyes as to clear sights, but really present to both by a contrary real operation; and by the like contrary operation it is really present to clay and to wax, it really hardeneth the one and really softeneth the other. So doth Christ’s body and blood, by its invisible but real influence, mollify the hearts of such as come to the Sacrament with due preparation, but harden such as unworthily receive the consecrated elements. If he that will hear the Word must take heed how he hears, much more must he which means to receive the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood be careful how he receives.—T. Jackson.
The mystery of the Eucharist.—The words, “Take, and eat: it is My body. Take, and drink: it is the cup of My blood,” understood in their true meaning, literally and without metaphor, are to human reason a mystery unheard of and impenetrable. The bread that Jesus offers to His apostles is no longer merely bread, but His body which is about to be sacrificed; the cup which He gives them to drink is no longer merely wine, but His own blood which is about to be shed. The apostles understood it so. They did not ask, “How can this be done?” In the simplicity and fulness of their faith, knowing that the power of the Master was boundless, and that the truth was in Him, they believed on His words, and partook of His body and His blood under the forms of bread and wine. What Jesus had said a year before to the people of Galilee at Capernaum (John 6:35, etc.), He realised on this day a few hours before His death. He taught them that He was the “Bread of Life,” that in eating of Him they should live; that if they ate not the flesh of the Son of Man and drank not His blood, they should not have life; that His flesh was the true meat, and His blood the true drink; that he who ate of His flesh and drank of His blood should dwell in Him. The people, shocked and scandalised, had turned away, asking ironically how He would give any man His flesh to eat. “How” was now explained.—Father Didon.
The significance of the Eucharist.—This scene contains the whole religion of Jesus. In this single moment of His life He realises it at one stroke in its perfection. He appears at once as Priest and Victim, as creating the eternal priesthood and the eternal sacrifice. He reveals without metaphor or parable the reason of His death. John had rightly called Him “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.” How are men to profit by the personal atonement which the Son of God comes to accomplish? They must be incorporated in the Victim who delivers Himself up and dies for their sakes. And Jesus requires not only that there should be a spiritual union with His spirit and His person—His design is a grander one. His aim is a spiritual and material union together; His design is that man, being both spirit and matter, body and soul, should be united in spirit and reality to His whole being—to the Son of God and the Son of Man—to His Divinity and His humanity, to His soul and His body. His design is that he should believe on His Word, and become through faith one and the same spirit with Him—that he should eat of His body and drink of His blood, and be incorporated in the flesh of the Son of Man.—Ibid.
The Eucharist an extension of the Incarnation.—Gregory Nazianzen defines the Eucharist, “a communion of the incarnation of God.” For in that He affirms the bread to be His body, and the wine to be His blood; by receiving this body and blood of Christ, and so changing it into the substance of our body and blood by way of nourishment, the body of Christ becomes our body and His blood is made our blood, and we become in a mystical manner flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone. And as in His conception of the Holy Virgin He took upon Him the nature of man that He might save man, so in His Holy Sacrament He takes upon Him the nature of every man in singular that He might save every man who becomes one with Him in the Divine Sacrament of His body and blood. His real incarnation was only in one, but His mystical incarnation in many; and hence comes this Sacrament to be an instrument whereby Christ is conveyed unto us, His benefits applied, and so our faith confirmed.—J. Mede.
The Eucharist is on the one side the perfection of the sustenance of life in personal communion, on the other a use of the products of the earth as instruments of communion, implying the necessity of taking the whole nature into communion if it is to be real, the symbols of creation and of the Lord’s body in one. The life of the disciples with Christ was exchanged for a life in Christ: they abode as branches in the Vine of which His Father is the Husbandman. The bread took for them the place of the body through which they had first learnt to converse with a living Lord. The wine took for them the place of the blood in which His life had dwelt. In that feast of blessing and thanksgiving, that joyful participation of accepted sacrifice, no life was found too earthly to be offered on the altar of the Cross, or to become a means of human fellowship and Divine communion.—Prof. F. J. A. Hort.
1. Communion is permanent, yet needs times of revival.
2. All Christian life is sacramental. Not alone in our highest act of communion are we partaking of heavenly powers through earthly signs and vehicles.
3. This neglected faith may be revived through increased sympathy with the earth derived from fuller knowledge, through the fearless love of all things.—Ibid.
Mark 14:22. Analogies between Christ’s body and bread.—
1. As bread is the strength and state of our natural life, so Christ is for our spiritual, being all in all.
2. As bread is loathed of the full stomach, but most acceptable to the hungry soul, so Christ is most welcome to such as “hunger and thirst after righteousness.”
3. As bread is usual and daily, so Christ should be to the Christian, feeding on that bread which came down from heaven, the soul’s ordinary refection.
4. As bread is made one loaf of many grains, so we that are many are one bread and one body, because we are all partakers of one bread.
5. As corn is cut down with the scythe, threshed in the barn with many stripes, torn in the mill with much violence, then bolted and sifted, last of all baked with extreme heat in the oven, and all this that it may be fit meat for our body, so Christ in His ripe age was cut down by cruel death, His body was whipped, His flesh rent asunder, His soul was as it were melted in the fiery furnace of God’s anger; and all this that He might become food for our soul, that we might eat of this bread and drink of this cup.—Dean Boys.
Mark 14:23-24. The blood of Jesus Christ becomes, through His goodness, milk for His children, a band of union to His members, the seal of His covenant, and the ransom of His slaves; and, on the contrary, through the wickedness of the imitators of Judas, it becomes to them a mortal poison, a sword of separation, the seal of their reprobation, and the cause of an eternal captivity.—P. Quesnel.
Mark 14:25. The new Passover.—Jesus never partook afterwards of the Passover—never, that we know of, celebrated the Eucharist with His disciples. It is said, indeed, that after His resurrection “He was known of them in breaking of bread”; but this can hardly be so applied. Rather say that the Holy Spirit of Christ is in His Church, which is His new body, even as His fleshy frame was when this declaration was made. When, therefore, after the descent of the Holy Ghost—when, at this day, a Christian congregation partakes of the new Passover, Christ is in the midst of them, they are His body and members in particular. He is then as truly present, and as truly a partaker in the ceremony of “drinking the fruit of the vine,” as when His Divine nature was united only with the Man Christ Jesus. In this sense He fulfilled His declaration to the apostles, and in this sense continues, in every age of the Church, to drink the fruit of the vine in His own kingdom, the kingdom of God on earth. He said that He would drink it new, because it was thenceforth to assume a new character and efficacy. He came not to destroy, but to fulfil, God’s former appointments—to make all things new.—S. Hinds.
Communion in heaven.—Let us take care to raise our hearts from the sacramental communion here on earth to the eternal communion in heaven, to be celebrated there not under veils or sensible symbols, but openly and without veils. The sight of truth, unveiled and perfectly disclosed to our eyes, is a torrent of delight and joy, which as it were inebriates the soul, makes it forget all the afflictions and miseries of the earth, and transports it out of itself, in order to its living only in the truth, upon the truth, and for the truth.—P. Quesnel.
Mark 14:26. Jesus singing.—That song is like an aureola encircling that little company in the gathering gloom. There is no concord between light and darkness, no real affinity between woe and song. One is from above, the other from beneath. One is a daughter of the skies, the other a child of perdition. Musical harmonies are not heard in the outer darkness, breaking sweetly on the ear amid the awful discords of despair. But heaven is a land of song. Joyous strains are heard constantly echoing in sweetest refrain over the “bright plains” of paradise.
1. Christ singing! And at such a time! The hour and power of darkness approaching. The agony of Gethsemane and the darkness of the Cross near. He knows it all, yet calmly sings. What a vision is here of holy confidence and anticipated triumph! Apparently Christ on the eve of defeat; the powers of darkness on that of victory. But He sings. Glad omen for the cause of redemption. Such singing does not indicate a discouraged leader or a defeated cause.
2. The disciples sang. This would have a tendency to neutralise the effect of the “exceeding sorrow” that oppressed them. It would prevent a panic until the “hour” had come.
3. In time of danger and in the face of the coming storm, how much depends, under God, on the leader! Napoleon in the hearts of his soldiers fights and wins an Austerlitz or a Jena. The spirit of Wellington pervades Waterloo and saves Europe. Jesus can sing on the eve of the Waterloo of the world’s redemption. Such a leader, such a spirit, such a song, animates His people to meet foes, “fight the good fight of faith,” and conquer. Blessed paradox! The darkest hours may still be bright with the light of the heavenly sun. The Eternal Father and Friend is “at the helm.”—Wm. M. Campbell.
The spirit in which to meet the trials of life.—Praise is an exercise in the spirit of which we should meet the trials of life. I use the term “spirit” as distinguished from the outward act, from the mere utterance of words or melody of sounds, and to guard against the idea that apart from those feelings of which it ought to be the expression and accompaniment any form of worship is entitled to the commendation given in Scripture to the exercise of praising God. The exercise is founded on a knowledge and belief of the Divine perfections; it is not so much a mechanical as a spiritual act—it is not the exercise of musical taste, but of devotional feeling—it is the admiring contemplation of the Divine perfections, expressed in the appropriate forms of inspired devotion. Be it yours to rise from the contemplation of second causes to the contemplation of the First Cause, in adoring admiration of Him who appoints and arranges all according to His unerring will. Be it yours to remember that the hand which removed the gourd you delighted in likewise bestowed it,—that the worm which withers has been sent by Him, not in wrath, but in love; not to leave your heads defenceless against the scorching sun or the pelting storm, but to lead you to abide in a safer and sweeter peace under the shadow of the Almighty. Trials thus met would be deprived of their sting. And did either your own interests or those of Christianity require that sufferings as great as those which martyrs have endured should be appointed you, encountering them in the same spirit, you would come out of them with the same triumph.—R. Brodie.
Mark 14:27. Christ the Shepherd—
1. As descending from ancient patriarchs who were shepherds. They were types of Him.
2. He knows His sheep, and marks them for His own (John 10:3; John 10:14). God sets His seal on them (2 Timothy 2:19).
3. He feeds their souls and bodies in green pastures (Psalms 23:0), and drives them to the sweet streams and waters of comfort by the paths of grace and righteousness.
4. He defends them from the wolf and enemies; they being timorous, simple, weak, shiftless creatures, unable to fly, resist, or save themselves.
5. He nourishes the young and tender lambs.
6. He seeks them when they go astray, and rejoices to find them.
7. He brings them to the fold.
(1) The fold of grace.
(2) The fold of glory.—T. Taylor, D.D.
Christ smitten, an example to us.—
1. He suffered for no necessity or desert, but by voluntary humility, whereas we deserve fiery trials.
2. He suffered not for His own cause, but ours; and shall not we for His?
3. He despised the shame; and why should not we?
4. The end of His Cross was the exaltation at God’s right hand; and we expect the same.—Ibid.
The sheep scattered.—Why were the disciples thus scattered?
1. Their own weakness and carnal fear made them fly to save themselves. They had not counted the cost of their profession. Nor had they yet received the Holy Spirit, which afterwards kept them strong and steadfast.
2. God in His wisdom would have Christ deserted, because He was to be known to tread “the winepress of God’s wrath alone.”
3. Thus it behoved the Scripture to be fulfilled, in regard of Christ Himself, who, voluntarily undertaking the grievous burden of our sin, must be forsaken by all for the time.
4. To teach us that all our safety depends on our relation to the Chief Shepherd. Without Christ we lie dispersed, ungathered, and forlorn.—Ibid.
Mark 14:28. The promised meeting in Galilee.—Why in Galilee?
1. That our Lord and His disciples may more surely enjoy one another without fear of the Jews, and that He may instruct them in the things concerning the kingdom of heaven.
2. Because Christ had more disciples and favourites in Galilee to whom He would familiarly offer Himself and manifest His resurrection than in Judea.
3. His disciples belonged to Galilee, and He would bring them to the place where He found them.
4. They must follow their calling till Christ came, and for the time before they can get into Galilee He will be there before them, waiting for them.—Ibid.
Christ going before.—It is a very great consolation to the diseased and infirm members to be assured that their Head will not abandon them when they fall, but that He will even go before them. If Jesus did not vouchsafe to come to meet us in the power of His new-raised life—that is, by powerful graces—how should we be able ever to rise and go to Him?—P. Quesnel.
Christ the Leader.—He is always going before His followers as an Infallible Teacher, as a Faithful Friend, and as a Mighty Leader; He went before Joseph to Egypt; He went before Moses to the land of Midian, and through the wilderness to the Promised Land; He went before Daniel to the lions’ den; He went before the three brave-hearted Babylonian nonconformists to the fiery furnace; He went before Paul to Rome and John to Patmos. And He will faithfully go before us in our paths of duty, in all our trials and temptations, and in sickness and death we shall find Him going before us.
Mark 14:29. The rashness of the heart.—When we love, we think ourselves capable of anything. Suffering or death seems nothing to us. Of all kinds of rashness, the most incurable and the most unreflecting, and at the same time the most excusable, because it is the most sincere, is not the rashness of the mind or the will, but the rashness of the heart.—Father Didon.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 14
Mark 14:18-19. Betraying Christ.—Upon the mouldering walls of the refectory at Santa Maria delle Grazie, in Milan, are the faded outlines of the most famous fresco in the world. It is the Last Supper of Leonardo da Vinci. The artist has taken the moment when the Master has said to His disciples that one of them would betray Him, and the disciples have started up and fallen into excited groups, and they are depicted in every variety of surprise and consternation, sorrow and self-searching. Is the artist right in so representing it? There was only one traitor amongst them, surely! Judas knew he meant to betray the Master; but the others were loyal men—nothing farther from their thoughts than handing over the beloved Lord to His persecutors and judges. I think, if you will reflect, you will see that the artist is right, for this reason—these men realised the possibilities which lay in their nature. They did not mean to betray, and yet they might be on the moment of betrayal. And all of us have understood how a sudden question applied to us, a sudden charge made against us, however unjustly, or a charge made against another justly, will sometimes reveal ourselves, as it were, and shew what we little suspected, that we were capable of enormities which, in our better moments, we condemned, and that we were even at that moment standing upon the very brink of a precipice, which is revealed to us by a lightning-flash. The artist, then, was probably right in shewing all the disciples equally anxious, though only one was conscious of treachery.
“Is it I?”—A preacher in a certain village church once gave an easy lesson in Christian ethics from the letters of the alphabet. It was to this effect: “You say, A lies, B steals, C swears, D drinks, F brags, G goes into a passion, H gets into debt. The letter I is the only one of which you have nothing to say.”
Mark 14:22-25. The Holy Communion.—All our churches contain the apparatus for a certain sacred ceremony. And this is no novel introduction; for when we examine the most ancient sanctuaries, or excavate the ruins of the oldest structures, we find this arrangement existing—nay, even when we descend into the catacombs of Rome, where, underground, the infant Church of Jesus worshipped in the days of persecution, we find due provision made for celebrating the Holy Communion. Up then almost to the very era of the Saviour’s mission do we trace this ancient institution, and every time we behold the Lord’s table standing in its appointed place we see an evidence of the truth of Christianity; for there is no way of accounting for its existence, or for the appearance of a new rite amongst the religions ceremonies of mankind, at a particular period, except by assenting to the truth of the gospel narrative that, on a certain eventful night, Jesus of Nazareth established the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood, and commanded it to be observed for an everlasting memorial.—Dr. Hardman.
Spiritual nourishment.—When General Grant took the Federal army at Chattanooga, it was feeble and dispirited because it was almost destitute. The food of the army was hauled with difficulty over mountain roads and the supply was totally insufficient. His first movement, on assuming command—and it was that which eventually led to victory—was to repair the railroads and open up communication, so that the army soon had everything it needed. There is a like necessity in the spiritual life of Christ’s army. We are worth very little in the service of Christ except as we are spiritually nourished. The soul is easily starved by lack of appropriate food. And our spiritual nourishment must come from Christ.
Sacramental grace.—Were a king to offer grants of land to any who would serve in a war for the defence of the country, it would be a foolish question, “Can we not obtain a grant without serving in the war?” The king might give a grant to some who served him in a, different way, but in ordinary cases he would not. God may save a man without the sacraments; but those who reject the sacraments are, to say the least, in great peril. There was a labouring man some time since in one of our northern towns who, owing to some mistake, had been misinformed as to the hour of service. He came when the celebration of the Holy Communion was just over, and when they came out of church they found him waiting sadly outside. The clergyman explained how the mistake had arisen, and expressed his sorrow for it. “Never mind, master,” said the man; but the poor fellow could not help adding, “only I did so build upon it.” He knew his own weakness, and his need of Divine grace and supernatural assistance; and so he was coming, not as if there was any virtue in the bare act of coming, not as if the Sacrament itself could save him, but because he had grasped the great truth that it is through the Sacrament that God imparts grace and strength and life to us His children, unworthy as we are of the least of His benefits.
The Eucharist a feast of consecration.—Here we renounce the idols of the world and put on more and more devotion to our God. Not long ago a foreign potentate was received with much pomp and circumstance by the Lord Mayor of London. He came along the Strand with courtiers and attendants to Temple Bar, at the borders of the old city, where the Lord Mayor met him and delivered to him the keys of London, so signifying that he was welcome not merely to the freedom of the city, but also to the custody of it. As we at this sacramental gateway of promise pass out into the larger and better life, let us turn over the keys to our Prince. Come in, Thou Blessed One I Come in and possess Thine own.
The Eucharist prized.—In times of persecution men would risk their lives to get their Communions. A hundred years ago, during the French Revolution, when religion was abolished by the French Parliament, when Sunday was done away with, the clergy were hunted into the thickets like beasts of prey, and none might conduct or attend a service on pain of death, did people go without this means of grace? No I From time to time a messenger hurried with a mysterious watchword from house to house. “The black swamp,” he would mutter, and pass on without greeting or farewell. But the persons addressed understood him. Shortly after midnight, men and women, dressed in dark clothes, would meet silently by the black swamp below the village, and there, by the light of a carefully guarded lantern, one of the homeless priests would give the Body and Blood of the Lord to the faithful of the neighbourhood. They all knew that at any moment, before the alarm could be given, the soldiers might be upon them, and a volley of grape-shot might stretch them bleeding and dying on the ground. What matter? Man might kill their body, but Jesus had said that He would raise them up at the last day.
Benefit of the Sacrament.—A poor woman was once asked by a neighbour what good she got by receiving the Blessed Sacrament. “Can you understand it?” asked her neighbour. “No,” said the woman, “I cannot understand it, I cannot explain it; but this I know, that I go to the altar empty and I come down full.”
The Holy Grail.—Such was the name given long ago to the actual cup out of which our Saviour dispensed the first Lord’s Supper. This cup, it was believed, had been taken up to heaven, but was revealed miraculously to every one whose heart was pure. And it was thought that the sight of this cup imparted pardon and peace to all who were favoured with a vision of it. This was the tradition believed by our forefathers, and there is a beautiful truth in it which all who consider may understand. For beneath the outward symbols of the Holy Eucharist there is a Divine reality which is seen only by those whose hearts have been purified. Everybody sees the bread and wine, but few see the Divine Flesh and Blood behind them that purchased salvation for us on the bitter cross. Long ago people used to set out on painful pilgrimages in the hope of seeing the Holy Grail. They prayed, they fasted, they wrought good works, they longed for a sight of the wonderful vessel that would give them blessing and joy. But these painful pilgrimages were needless. The Holy Grail was nearer than they thought. For the wonderful vision is to be seen at every Communion, and all we need to see it is a pure heart.
Mark 14:24. Bloodshedding as an expression of love.—A certain Asiatic queen, departing this life, left behind her three accomplished sons, all arrived to years of maturity. The young princes were at strife as to who should pay the highest respect to their royal mother’s memory. To give scope for their generous contentions they agreed to meet at the place of interment, and there present the most honourable gift they knew how to devise or were able to procure. The eldest came, and exhibited a sumptuous monument, consisting of the richest materials, and ornamented with the most exquisite workmanship. The second ransacked all the beauties of the blooming creation, and offered a garland of such admirable colours and delightful odours as had never been seen before. The youngest appeared without any pompous preparations, having only a crystal basin in one hand and a silver bodkin in the other. As soon as he approached he threw open his breast, pierced a vein which lay opposite to his heart, received the blood in the transparent vase, and, with an air of affectionate reverence, placed it on the tomb. The spectators, struck with the sight, gave a shout of general applause, and immediately gave preference to this oblation. If it was reckoned such a singular expression of love to expend a few of those precious drops for the honour of a parent, oh, how matchless, how ineffable, was the love of Jesus in pouring out all His vital blood for the salvation of His enemies!
Mark 14:26. Affliction, producing song.—In his Hunting for the Nightingale in England, John Burroughs tells of listening one black night to the song of the sedge-warbler in the hedge. It was a singular medley of notes, hurried chirps, trills, calls, warbles. When it stopped singing, a stone flung into the bush set it going again, its song now being so persistently animated as to fill the gloom and darkness with joy. Samuel Rutherford’s most gladsome letters are those from his prison. The saints have sung their sweetest when the thorn has pierced their heart.
The power of a hymn.—A little boy came to one of our city missionaries, and holding out a dirty and well-worn bit of printed paper, said, “Please, sir, father sent me to get a clean paper like this.” Taking it from his hand, the missionary unfolded it, and found it was a paper containing the beautiful hymn beginning, “Just as I am.” The missionary looked down with interest into the face earnestly upturned to him, and asked the little boy where he got it, and why he wanted a clean one. “We found it, sir,” said he, “in sister’s pocket after she died; she used to sing it all the time when she was sick, and loved it so much that father wanted to get a clean one to put in a frame to hang it up. Won’t you give us a clean one, sir?”
Mark 14:29-31. Mistaken self-complacency.—It was well said once by a remarkable man, and the words are worth remembering, “Bear in mind that you are just then beginning to go wrong when you are a little pleased with yourself because you are going right.” Let us watch against this as a snare of Satan, and endeavour ever to maintain the apostolic attitude: “In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than himself.” And let me caution you not to make the mistake of supposing that this self-complacency can be effectually guarded against by a mere use of the recognised theological expressions duly ascribing all the merit and all the praise to God. These are too often merely the garments of Spiritual pride, and by no means must they be mistaken for true humility.
Presumption.—Henry Winstanley, who built the first Eddystone Lighthouse in 1696, had such confidence in the structure that he expressed a wish that he might be in the lighthouse during the fiercest possible hurricane. In November 1703 he had his wish gratified; and the morning after the tempest not a vestige of the lighthouse remained.
Danger of presumption.—A scientific gentleman, deputed by the Government, was, not many years ago, examining the scene of a fatal explosion. He was accompanied by the underviewer of the colliery, and as they were inspecting the edges of a goaf (a region of foul air), it was observed that the “Davy “lamps which they carried were afire. “I suppose,” said the inspector, “that there is a good deal of fire-damp hereabouts.” “Thousands and thousands of cubic feet all through the goaf,” coolly replied his companion. “Why,” exclaimed the official, “do you mean to say that there is nothing but that shred of wire-gauze between us and eternity?” “Nothing at all,” replied the underviewer, very composedly. “There’s nothing here where we stand but that gauze wire to keep the whole mine from being blown into the air.” The precipitate retreat of the Government official was instantaneous. And thus it should be with the sinner; his retreat from the ways of sin—those “goafs” of poisonous air—should be instantaneous. Sir Humphry Davy’s lamp was never designed as a substitute for caution if accidentally or unknowingly carried into foul air, whereas many do so knowingly and habitually.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 14:32. Gethsemane.—I. e. Oil-press. The traditional site is a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives on the north-west, where still are to be seen eight olive trees, believed to be over two thousand years old.
Mark 14:33. Sore amazed.—Filled with consternation at the thought of all He must pass through ere He reached the goal. Very heavy.—Uncertain whether ἀδημονεῖν is derived from ἄδημος, “away from home,” or ἄδην “imeasily”: in either case it expresses the yearning of heart-sickness. The two words are most aptly chosen to depict the feelings of one “surrounded with sorrow,” as Christ Himself describes His position in next verse.
Mark 14:36. Abba.—The very word used by Christ. Peculiar to Mark. Take away this cup from Me.—His soul “exceeding sorrowful unto death,” Christ feared apparently that the agony He was enduring might snap asunder the thin thread of His life there and then. He therefore prays for strength to reach the Cross, there to complete the offering of Himself as a ransom for the sins of the world. This may be the meaning of Hebrews 5:7. Nevertheless not what I will, but what Thou wilt.—The sublime self-sacrifice of the preceding clause is intensified by this. He had said long before, “I, if I be lifted up, shall draw all men unto Me.” But it seemed, in the garden, as if He were not to be lifted up on the Cross after all—as if His life-work might be frustrated at the very last, by His physical strength not holding out long enough. Even to this He resigns Himself, if it be the Father’s will. See Expository Times, vol. vi., No. 10, pp. 433, 434.
Mark 14:41. The meaning of ἀπέχει being uncertain, and the punctuation being equally undetermined, Christ’s words here are susceptible of very different interpretations:
(1) Sleep and rest for the time that remains; he (the traitor) is far away. Then, after an interval: The hour has come, etc.
(2) Sleep and rest for the time that remains. Then, after an interval: Enough! the hour has come, etc.
(3) Are you sleeping and resting for the time that remains? Enough! The hour has come, etc.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 14:32-42
(PARALLELS: Matthew 26:36-46; Luke 22:39-46.)
The agony in the garden.—In our Litany we plead with our Lord by His agony and bloody sweat. From among the events of His life we thus select the agony in the garden as one of the most important. We bring it, if we may so say, to our Lord’s remembrance. We are convinced that it bore a prominent part in working out our salvation. The remembrance of it will operate to make Him grant our requests. No passage of His life is more mysterious; we should approach the topic with awe and reverence, taking as it were the shoes off our feet, because it is holy ground that we purpose to visit.
I. His sufferings on the Cross had not yet begun. What was the cause of this exceeding distress?
1. Chiefly, mainly, I believe, it was the grief of His whole life. He was in the place of sinners; He was the representative of sinners; He was suffering for sinners, bearing their punishment, and their punishment is that God hides His face from them; and the holier, the more loving, the more capable, the soul of the Christ was, the more bitter to Him was this punishment, which others deserved and He endured.
2. There were special reasons why the suffering thus produced should at this time press with extreme violence on His soul. He had completed other work; He had trained His apostles, finished the work given Him to do, had reissued the law, had fulfilled all types and prophecies, had revealed the Divine character, had exhibited the type of perfect manhood; and so the work of suffering and expiation alone remained. No more controversy, no more teaching—only endurance. The mind could no longer be diverted by other employment from that which lay before Him in the way of suffering.
3. All this suffering was foreseen, anticipated; it was not like our sufferings, which are mercifully hidden from us.
4. There are also other explanations of the horror of great darkness through which He now passed. He said a little farther on that it was the hour of His enemies and the power of darkness. We believe that Satan now put forth all his power to crush Him. Then we may also believe that the fear of death, the fear of all that was to come to body, mind, and spirit, all the agonising sufferings of the Cross, depressed the human soul of the Redeemer.
5. Again, He was denied those consolations which have made martyrs, under excruciating sufferings, triumphant. What is it makes a martyr meekly, gladly, patiently endure, though every nerve be racked? It is the infusion of God’s grace, a drop of the joy of heaven, a cordial sent by God on high to support the soul of His faithful witness. But this is just what was denied the Christ while bearing, as our representative, the burden of our sins.
6. We see, too, in the narrative the mark of another trial, viz. disappointment, owing to the failure of human support and sympathy.
II. What is to be learnt from this passage.—
1. This passage should impress on us that our salvation was no easy work. Creation, with all its wonders, might be effected by a word. He had only to speak, and it was done; but to recover mankind, to cancel sin, to extricate the race from Satan’s usurped dominion.—this was a task which cost much. This required the infinite descent, the inconceivable mystery of the Son of God emptying Himself, laying aside His garments of light, taking the form of a servant, humbling Himself to one descent after another, divesting Himself, as far as possible, of the exercise of the attributes of Godhead, acting through a created nature, submitting to humiliations, and laying Himself open to the keenest inroads of pain, spiritual, mental, and physical. Every time we plead with Him by His agony and bloody sweat, we should remember that our salvation cost Him pain, and that we must not expect ourselves without tribulation to enter into the kingdom of God.
2. We see the completeness of our Lord’s manhood. He took not only our body, but our mind, our most essential and distinctive quality, our will. He cries, “Not My will, but Thine.” He had therefore a will, as Man; and His perfection was that He bowed His human will, sacrificed it, adjusted it, subjected it to the Divine will.
3. We see that it is not wrong to make known our wishes to God in prayer. We may shrink from pain, we may ask to be spared suffering, so long as we do so in entire submission to the Divine will. We may ask that the cup of suffering may pass from us, if only we are willing to drain it cheerfully, when God signifies His will that we should drink it. And because we may have to give up our wills in a great matter, it is well to practise ourselves to get power over our will in smaller matters.
4. Observe our Great Master and Pattern called God His Father in the very crisis of bowing His human will to the greatest sacrifice that will of man ever made, to entire accordance, perfect submission to, and acquiescence in the Divine appointment, though it involved inconceivable sufferings: “Abba, Father.” May God produce in all of us a faith in the Fatherhood of God! Then we too shall be able to bear pain, to go into a crisis in faith, and to come out of it, as our Master did, unscathed.
5. Lastly, notice in this crisis that our Lord was not so engrossed with His own surpassing agony as not to attend to His disciples, and strive to rouse, stimulate, and shame them to better endeavours. He graciously makes allowance for them, acknowledges that the spirit is ready though the flesh is weak. He honours them by requesting their support and sympathy; He returns to them more than once; He rouses them at last that they may not be discredited by their negligence when the enemy is close at hand. Of those given Him, He will not lose one. May God give us grace to be, after His example, thoughtful for others, if God should be pleased to visit us with exhausting and engrossing sufferings!—Canon Burrows.
Gethsemane.—We may here learn our true attitude in suffering. The clouds which darken the sky of this transitory life have gathered over us all, and maybe their shadows fall upon some of you now. Adversity is an inheritance we cannot decline, forced upon us all, and forced because we have not sufficient grace to choose and bear it for virtue’s sake. Suffering—and by that I mean all the pains and trials, physical, intellectual, spiritual, which attack mankind—is inevitable. It may vary in degree and kind, but in some measure we all are its victims; and every doubt, every sick-bed, every grave, seals this true. There is no exemption, and the noblest hearts seem to hold the most; and looking ahead, we ask the question, not for the first time—
“Is it so, O Christ in heaven, that the highest suffer most,
That the strongest wander farthest and most hopelessly are lost,
That the mark of rank in nature is capacity for pain,
That the anguish of the singer makes the sweetness of the strain?”
It may appear strange that one cup should contain so much more of bitterness than another. The best and perhaps only way of coming to know the “Why?” of these things is to bear a right attitude towards them, and towards Him whose care never fails, whose wisdom never errs, whose love never changes. Affliction is not calamity to the one who knows how to bear it, but a mine of inexhaustible wealth; and though the sun may go down, yet to the one who can read the heavens even the night will bring its joyful truths. Remember there is another side to the cloud under which you dwell, and there is light and deliverance and an everlasting Father.
I. Christ’s suffering did not shake His confidence in God.—“All things are possible unto Thee; remove this cup from Me.” There was the recognition of God’s power. The night was dark, but He did not cry, “There is no light!” The cup was bitter, but there was no complaint or cruel charge. The burden was heavy, but weakness never suggested, “There is no deliverer!” Brethren, do we not feel condemned when we recall our weakness and unbelief, when overtaken by adversity? At times God lets His shadow fall upon us, and we think it cold and harsh and meaningless. But instead of concluding that the sun has been extinguished when he sets, instead of idle, weak complaints, making the time bitter unto us, let us labour to discover the treasure of His love in the severest stroke He deals us. As in nature, so in grace, there must be a change of seasons. When grim winter appears and closes the eye and damps the smile of mother-earth, clothing her in a snow-white shroud, and freezing her body hard and cold, think we that her life has gone and we must starve, for nature’s cupboard is empty and cannot be replenished? Nay; we remember it lay as helpless but a year ago; but creeping beneath the sun’s directer rays it day by day revived, and the spring and summer came, followed by ripe old autumn with his lap full of golden fruit. Oh, how often shall the Master save us ere we cease to be afraid? When shall we learn to trustfully repose, through hope and despair, through joy and sorrow, in that eternal principle of truth, “We know that to them that love God all things work together for good”? “All things are possible unto Thee; remove this cup from Me.” The prayer is, however, by no means complete here. There must be something more than the acknowledgment of God’s power. We may come to God and say, “Thou art able,” and He answering may declare, “I am willing.” But should He declare, “I am not willing,” what then? If there be nothing more than the acknowledgment of God’s ability, the result will be disappointment and unbelief; and according to the estimate we had of God’s ability there will follow this bitterness. “Howbeit, not what I will, but what Thou wilt.”
II. The complete submission of Christ’s will to the Father’s.—Christ has expressed the desire of His heart, He has prayed for deliverance; but He closes His petition, He interrupts His very agonies, He turns right round to the Father and bows in adoring submission to His will; and how He suffered it we know. This, brethren, is the true spirit of prayer. To pray is not to claim unconditionally, to ask what we want and selfishly require it. It is the soul’s request submitted to the will of God. We must remember our ignorance, the restive desires of our hearts, the circumscribed present only visible to us; and realising all this, and more, we must pray, but leave our prayer in His hands, not dictating what we would have God do, but beseeching Him to grant our requests as they accord with His will, which is our eternal welfare. And if the answer come as we call, if the blessing descend whilst we still linger at the throne of grace, let us be thankful. But, on the other hand, if no voice replies, if the long-sought blessing be delayed, yea, and if it be delayed for ever and never greets us, still let us be thankful, rejoicing to forsake our own desires when the wisdom of God beckons us away. Our disappointment is our gain; the frustration of our hopes is our everlasting benefit. The supreme purpose of our life should be to know the will of God, and our zealous care to gain this patient, gentle grace, submission, which quickly turns its face whichever way the current of God’s Spirit flows, and with swift obedience answers each movement of His will. The knowledge of His will interprets our duty, which is the fulfilment of that will. There are truths we do not know, we cannot know; and many are the things which are veiled from our sight, for the revelation of which we must wait. They lie beyond the haze which surrounds and circumscribes our vision here, in a clearer, purer atmosphere. A time will come, and come speedily, when this concealing cloud shall be the pathway for our feet, and when we shall begin to know these hidden truths; but believe me, brethren, that time will also tell us of eternal secrets yet unveiled, and we shall find a path for our abiding faith. Our pride and unbelief must be quenched, and the Father’s will must reign supreme, the song of our heart ever rising in clear notes to the attentive sky, “Not my will but Thine be done.” It was this complete submission which led the Saviour to His death.
III. The victory of the Cross was gained in Gethsemane.—The Crucifixion was public, but the Saviour bore it first in secret. The hardship and grief of the soldier is not as he stands in the midst of the fight, but as he takes one farewell glance at the window yonder, where his child waves its tiny handkerchief and his bereaved wife sobs her pain away. The trial of Archbishop Cranmer was not greatest when he stood in the curling smoke and thrust his hand in the devouring flame, but in the agony it cost him to go there. And it was even so with our agonising Lord. He saw the cruel Cross as He knelt in Gethsemane, He felt the wounds of the nails, and wept as He heard the cries of the mocking crowd He died to save. He saw and felt it all as He wrestled there. If we would discover the secret of our Lord’s strength, we shall find it in those nights of earnest prayer spent upon the green slopes of the mountain. Our prayers may cast us, as Daniel of old, in the lions’ den, but they shall close the lions’ mouths. And now what consolation is ours and what remaineth unto us? We are not left comfortless, brethren; the Saviour has provided for His absence. The Spirit comes as a heavenly messenger to remind us that we have interests beyond, a Father who loves, a Saviour who intercedes, a throne vacant, till we gain the shore.—S. W. Kay.
Mark 14:37. The hour of watching.—There is an unknown element in human nature which makes the sympathy of others a necessary factor in our life. A writer has told us that joy unshared loses half its glow, and that the weight of sorrow is threefold heavier if there be none to watch with the sufferer. Specially in our dark moments of spiritual need we cry aloud for just one soul, one only, to watch with us, that we be not left alone. We pity the man who has to take a solitary path through the world; and if we have known the deep privilege of walking through the sunlight and shadow of earth with some sympathetic human soul, we recognise in how terrible a blank moves the uncompanioned life.
I. This half-sorrowful and half-indignant cry is just one of those cries for sympathy, for friendship.—The Bible never hesitates to emphasise the true humanity of Christ—His anger; His sorrow, His pity, His hunger and thirst and weariness, His need of love and fellowship. He could face, with all the self-reliance of His loving purpose, the frown of His critics and enemies, the scribes and Pharisees, the lawyers and the Roman soldiers; but here in the solitude of the garden He could not face without remonstrance the loneliness of the human heart. He pleaded for one hour of watching with Him. He knew, no doubt, that His disciples could not help Him much. Their simple and childlike natures were too far from His for that; and it was not until He was taken from them that they even began to understand what He was. Certainly they never guessed what He was suffering. And we, had we been there, with all our larger knowledge and deeper insight—we should have been, if sleepless, at least as dumb as they. For this is one of the tragic colours in the picture, that, whereas we can trace clearly enough all those outward forms, we do not know the depth of all they represent. We cannot tell what He suffered for the sins of men. Into the depths of that story the world has never entered. That patience, that humility, that love, have never been felt, fathomed, or rightly understood even by the most sacred spirits of earth. A very immortality of pain is centred in that one short hour.
II. Does not the cry ring down to us across the ages like a peal of thunder?—
1. It is primarily in our own personal life that we are thus called upon to watch with Christ. To all of us there comes, sometimes in little things, sometimes in great things, a temptation, an impulse to do what we know to be wrong—a time when our spiritual principles, our Christian temper, is put to the proof, and the hour of trial comes to the Christ within us. It is then that we are alone like He was, in the sense that we have to face and conquer that temptation without help from others; it is then that He appeals to us most earnestly to watch with Him one hour, to watch until the temptation has passed, and we come out victorious. There is a moral truth of a very supreme value in the words “one hour.” For the temptation that is thus met in the spirit of Christ is a brief one. It loses its power over us, and every successful resistance of it makes it less formidable on its next return. That is the true watchfulness that watches not, like the old ascetics, that it may shun temptation, but, like Christ, that it may meet and subdue it. We see, in a word, that trial and temptation are rather less things to be shunned than blessings in disguise, angels with hidden wings. The first step, as Socrates has warned us, in spiritual progress is learning to know ourselves, our own powers and potentialities, just as the soldier learns the work of shield and spear and the measure of his own courage only in the heat of the fight. Above all, we learn our own weakness, and so open the way for fresh watchfulness. Temptation, thus used, becomes the great helper in human development. We grow larger under God’s discipline, and emerge from it with new faculties and a finer character. We have seen something of the deep things of God, and can never more shake off the vision of them. If we have thus watched with Christ, we are in a manner sharing His sufferings and receiving His sanctification; and though, if we are wise, we shall love good because it is good and hate evil because it is evil, quite apart from any results they bring, that may fairly be our hope and prospect in the hours when we are tempted. While, on the other hand, if we have slept in the time of trial, there is the miserable thought that we have disappointed our Master’s hope.
2. The appeal comes to us not only as individuals, but as members of the organic body we call “the Church.” Whatever may be thought of the very singular age in which we live, we are all agreed on one point, that it is an age of transition, a time whose thoughts and feelings and ideals are not fixed, permanent, complete. It is the one short hour in which we as Christians are called upon to watch with Him. And we can do it best not by engaging in theological disputes, still less by ignorantly rejecting the genuine results of historical or scientific research, or by trying vainly to smother the flame of free inquiry, but by more maintaining our Christian principles unshaken, by offering to men the sweet apology of a holy and self-devoted life, by making them feel that with us at least religion shall be a reality and not a form. Christianity is not a system of beliefs, but a life, a new life, in the world. “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” The thoughtfulness, therefore, and patience and self-devotion of our daily work may become the best apology for the Christian faith; for the new life that is thus lived in the spirit of Christ is an argument which men can neither answer nor ignore.—S. A. Alexander.
Mark 14:38. The nature and kinds of sins of infirmity.—One can scarce acquit the disciples of some degree of negligence and want of respect. But our Lord was pleased to put the mildest and most candid construction possible upon it. The night was far spent; sleep stole upon them unawares; and they were naturally slow and heavy, not apprehending how much depended upon that critical juncture. They intended no affront or disrespect to their Lord: they had a true and real, only not so lively and vigorous a concern for Him as they ought to have had; their spirit truly was willing, and they meant well; but yet, for want of quicker sentiments, they failed in the performance. It was natural infirmity which prevailed over their resolutions, which overpowered their very hearty and honest but languid endeavours.
I. What sins are properly sins of infirmity.—Their general nature is briefly described thus: that they are rather weak than wilful, having much more of frailty than of wilfulness in them. Something of wilfulness they must have, otherwise they could not be imputed as sins. But as the degree of wilfulness is small in comparison, and the frailty so much the greater, they have therefore their denomination from their most prevailing ingredient, and so are called sins of infirmity. They are a kind of slips, failings, or deviations, issuing from an honest and good heart, and carrying no malice prepense, no premeditated guile, no ill meaning in them—harmless almost as to the matter of them, and without any bad design. They are owing either to inadvertency, forgetfulness, surprise, strength of passion, or to the suddenness and violence of an unlooked-for temptation.
1. I begin with such as have respect to the inward thought. And here we are liable to offend two ways—either in not thinking as we ought to think, or in thinking as we ought not. Human frailty is too often and too sadly felt in what concerns the government of the thoughts. Who is there that does not often find distraction and wanderings and deadness at his prayers, private or public—but public more especially, as we there meet with more objects to divert the eyes and to turn off the attention? This kind of non-attention or absence of thought in religious exercises, so far as it is a sin (for it is not so always), is, generally speaking, a sin of infirmity, and no more. And it is then only to be reckoned among wilful sins, when a man makes a habit of it, and slothfully submits to it, without striving against it; or when it carries some contempt of the service with it, arising from some vicious principle of the mind. Besides the sin of infirmity now mentioned, I may name some others reducible to the same head,—such as the not thinking often enough or highly enough of God and His good providence; not having Him constantly in our thoughts, nor setting Him before our eyes; not attending to His calls, not regarding His judgments, nor being duly thankful for His mercies, etc. To these we may add, the not thinking how to lay hold of and to improve any opportunities we meet with of doing good in the world; and this through dulness, through inadvertency, or forgetfulness: for if we wilfully and designedly let slip the golden opportunity offered us, and despise the invitation, the sin is then wilful, and the offence presumptuous. Among sins of infirmity belonging to this head may be reckoned some kinds of unbelief, as both belief and unbelief respect the inward thoughts of the heart. Want of faith or trust in God’s words or His promises in some timorous minds may justly pass for a sin of infirmity. They despond and sink down in the day of adversity more than becomes them to do, as if they had forgot that the very hairs of their heads are all numbered, or as if they had never read that not so much as a sparrow falleth to the ground but by the order or with the permission of an All-knowing God. Hitherto I have been considering such sins of infirmity as respect the inward thoughts, in such cases wherein we do not think as we ought to think. There is another branch of the same head, which is the thinking as we ought not. The former is a sin of omission only, this of commission, both resting in the mind. When we are thinking of this world only, suppose in prayer-time or sermon-time, instead of thinking of a better, as most of us are apt to do—this, we hope, may pass for a sin of infirmity, if not chosen by us, nor designedly indulged. Sometimes profane, blasphemous thoughts will rise up in men’s minds; but if they be checked as soon as observed, and are not consented to, they are at most no more than sins of infirmity, owing generally to bodily indispositions. The same I say even of unchaste or malicious thoughts, if they are only short and transient, which abide not, which do not gain our consent, but are condemned by us as soon as perceived; they are then either sins of infirmity only, or not sins at all. For what the will or choice has no hand in is not imputable to us as a fault; it may be our misfortune. Too much warmth and eagerness, in some instances, is a sin of infirmity. Such, I suppose, was Peter’s eagerness, when he drew his sword, without staying for his Lord’s commission, and smote off a servant’s ear. To this head I may refer credulity or over-hasty belief, as being often a sin of infirmity and pertaining only to the mind. To the same head may be referred over-great carefulness or anxiety in respect of worldly things. Martha, a very good woman in the main, was yet careful and cumbered about many things more than she should have been; and she received a gentle rebuke for it from our Blessed Lord.
2. Many are our sins of infirmity in speech. Our greatest comfort is that several of them may pass for frailties only; and happy will it be for us if we go no farther. I am persuaded that even Peter’s denial of his Lord was rather weak than wilful; he was surprised into it, had forgot himself, and had not yet time to recollect. I should be willing to hope that hasty, heedless swearing, or taking God’s name in vain, in those who have unhappily got a habit of it from their childhood, may be but a sin of infirmity for some time; but to such as perceive it, and continue it, and use not all proper means and care to get the better of it, and to break the evil habit, to them it is wilful and deadly sin. Telling of lies I do not reckon among the sins of infirmity. It is, generally at least, a voluntary chosen thing. But varying a little from strict truth, or adding to it, as is sometimes done, undesignedly, hastily, forgetfully, in the making a report, if it be in things of slight consequence, that may be numbered among human frailties. Angry and passionate speeches may mostly fall under the head of infirmities; but bitter invectives, and irritating, injurious reflexions, made in cold blood, made deliberately, are without excuse. It would be endless to enumerate all the offences of the tongue which men are liable to. It is a difficult matter to talk much and well. Great talkers offend often, and they who say the least are generally the most innocent. Yet there may be a fault sometimes in being too reserved, shy, and silent—as when a man neglects to exhort or reprove his neighbour as occasions offer, or when he can patiently sit by and hear the name of God dishonoured or an innocent absent man abused without opening his mouth in defence of either. Such reservedness, in some cases, may rise no higher than a sin of infirmity; but for the most part we may more justly call it a wilful neglect, betraying meanness of spirit at least, or something worse.
3. I come now to the most material article of all, which concerns our outward actions. And here also we may offend two ways—either as neglecting to do what we ought, or doing what we ought not. Sins of infirmity are mostly seen in our manifold omissions and neglects, either forgetting what duties are incumbent upon us or performing them but in part. Hard would be our circumstances were we to give a strict account of all our omissions, or if much the greater part of them were not kindly overlooked by an All-merciful God, as pitiable frailties. Yet let not any man set light by omissions. Wilful omissions of known duties are wilful and presumptuous sins; and there are some kinds of omissions which will be always charged as wilful, and will be enough to exclude us from the kingdom of heaven, particularly if we omit or neglect to worship God or do good to man as our opportunities and abilities permit. I come next to speak of sins of commission, the doing what we ought not to do. Sins of this kind are mostly wilful; but some there are which may be justly looked upon as sins of infirmity. Drunkenness in righteous Noah, once only, might be a sin of infirmity. He was not aware of the effects of wine; he had not till then had experience of it; he was overtaken unawares, and surprised into it. I know not whether the like favourable excuse may not be admitted for others who may once unhappily fall into the like excess unawares. But, generally speaking, as the world now stands, a man can scarce be surprised into such excess or overtaken without his fault. Some have been weak enough to plead human frailty even for crying and scandalous sins, such as fornication or adultery or other sinful lusts. But all such pretences are vain. Sins of that kind never are, never can be, committed without great degrees of wilfulness. There are some other kinds of sins for which human infirmity is sometimes pleaded, and with very little reason—acts of hostility, assaults, beating, striking, wounding, and the like. Good men run sometimes into excessive warmth and zeal in the discharge of a duty or execution of an office. They may be guilty of indiscreet rigours, and push things too far—may be so afraid of not doing enough that they will even overdo, and be too officious or too severe, exceeding the bounds of Christian prudence, and doing hurt when they intended good. These and other the like indiscretions of good men are properly sins of infirmity, owing to inadvertency or surprise or to some natural weakness adhering to their particular temper, complexion, and constitution.
II. How far our spiritual state or condition is affected by the sins of this kind.—They do not exclude a man from the kingdom of heaven; they do not put him out of a state of grace, or out of favour with Almighty God. This may be proved several ways, both from Scripture texts and from the reason of the thing itself.
1. There are two or three special texts of Scripture which number up and recite such particular sins as will most certainly, if not repented of, exclude the offenders from the kingdom of heaven (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Matthew 25:41-43). Sins of mere infirmity are not the sins which either St. Paul or our Blessed Lord refer to as excluding men from the kingdom of heaven. They are quite of another kind from those now mentioned; and therefore they do not exclude the person from a state of grace, but are consistent with the love of God and the love of one’s neighbour, and so are not mortal or damning sins. They are the spots of God’s children, such as the best of men are not entirely free from, though they are not imputed to them.
2. There is the greatest reason and equity imaginable here shewn in making such distinctions between sins of infirmity and deliberate sins; because this is estimating of men according to their sincerity, and according to the turn of their hearts, of which God alone is the unerring Judge, and which He has chiefly respect to; because indeed the heart is the principal thing—the mind is the man.
III. What kind of conduct or management on our part is prudent or proper in regard to them.—
1. It concerns us to repent of them, that is, to express our sorrow and contrition for them, and to humble ourselves before God on the account of them. That they are sins is supposed, though not wilful or deliberate sins; and as they are sins, they will stand in need of pardon; and if they need pardon, they will also require repentance, which is the condition on which pardon is promised, and by means of which it will be given. But then the question is, “What kind of repentance?” First, a general repentance may suffice. We need not, we cannot be particular in all our sins of infirmity. Who can tell how oft he offendeth in this kind? We are not aware perhaps of one half or a tenth part of our failures, and therefore cannot particularly repent of them. And even those which we have been aware of, while fresh and new, yet easily slip out of our memories; and the very number of them, as they happen daily or hourly, is much too great to be distinctly considered or retained. But there is a farther difference between the repentance proper to wilful sins and the repentance required for human frailties. A man must not be content merely to confess and to declare his sorrow for wilful sins, but he must renounce and forsake them, and never rest satisfied till he has divested himself of them. But as to sins of infirmity the case is different. They are such as a good man may be content to live with and die with, and that because he never can entirely remove them from him. They are inseparable from flesh and blood, are interwoven into our very frame, and are as natural and necessary, in some degree at least, as it is to be weak or frail, unthinking or unobserving; or as it is to be liable to forgetfulness, fatigue, weariness, and the like.
2. We should farther add our devout prayers to God, to make us every day less and less liable to them, and not to impute them. The greater perfection we attain to, the more secure are we against falling back; and not only so, but we thereby become qualified for a higher and nobler reward.
3. We must use our best endeavours along with our prayers, to guard as much as possibly we can even against those smaller sins, lest they should lead to greater.—Archdeacon Waterland.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 14:32. Retirement for prayer.—An afflicted heart ought to shut itself up from men by retirement, and to open itself to God by prayer. Christ, as the Good Shepherd, does that first Himself which He enjoins His sheep to do, preventing temptations by prayer. He prays retired, not out of any necessity, but both out of obedience to His Father, who had prescribed this to Him as well as all the rest, and out of love towards us, whom He would instruct, edify, and redeem by this means.—P. Quesnel.
Mark 14:33-36. Christ’s agony in Gethsemane was consistent with—
1. The affection of God towards Him. He suffered as the Substitute of guilty man (2 Corinthians 5:21)—according to the Divine plan (John 5:22)—with satisfaction to God (John 10:17).
2. Voluntary consecration.
(1) Christ was equal with God, and therefore could not be coerced.
(2) Christ was loved by God, and therefore would not be coerced.
(3) Christ was devoted to God, and therefore needed not to be coerced. It was not the nails but His love that bound Him to the Cross. He died when He could have lived.
3. Purity of character. He did not suffer because He sinned.
(1) Men testified to His purity. Judas, Pilate, Peter.
(2) Fiends testified to His purity. “Holy One of God.”
(3) God testified to His purity. “Well pleased.”
4. Consciousness of power to overcome opposition. “The prince of this world shall be cast out.” “And I, if I be lifted up,” etc. “It is finished.”
(1) He was fully conscious of the arduousness of His work.
(2) He experienced the terrible penalties of His work.
(3) He never shrank from the consequences of His work.
(4) He finally accomplished the design of His work.—B. D. Johns.
Christ’s agony of soul on account of sin.—He was, so to speak, mentally robing Himself for the great sacrifice; He was robing, He was folding round His sinless manhood, He was laying upon a sinless soul the sins of a guilty world. To us, indeed, the burden of sin is as natural almost as the clothes we wear; it sits on us as lightly, and for long tracks of life, it may be, we think nothing at all about it; but to Him the touch which we take so easily was an agony even in its lightest form. And when we consider the weight and magnitude, the subtle penetrating poison, the dreadful importunity of the burden which He willed to bear, when we think of that festering accumulation of ages, the sins of the men before the Flood, the sins of Egypt and of Babylon, the sins of Sodom, of Moab, of Philistia, of Tyre, the sins of Imperial Rome, of barbarous heathendom, and then, worse than these, the sins of Israel—sins of disobedience and stubbornness, sins of scorn and ingratitude, sins of cruelty and hypocrisy—when we think of all that was suggested to the mind of the Son of David as He looked up from the mount there in Gethsemane, and beheld in the moonlight the eastern wall of the city which was rejecting Him, on the hill over against the very spot where He knelt—when we recall that which touches us more nearly, the sins of redeemed Christendom, and Christian Churches, of Christian nations, of individual Christians—your sins and mine, our sins against light and knowledge, our sins against grace, our sins against merciful warnings and wholesome fears, all of them most intimately present to Him,—can we wonder that His bodily nature gave way, that His passion seemed to have been upon Him before its time, and that His sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood falling to the ground?—Canon Liddon.
Christ in Gethsemane an example to us.—It is not at all times that even good Christians can enter into the meaning of this solemn scene; but there are mental trials which interpret it to us, and which, in turn, are by us, if we will, transfigured into heavenly blessings.
1. There is the inward conflict which often precedes our undertaking hard or unwelcome duty or sacrifice; there is no doubt of the obligation, and the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. The eye measures the effort which is required, the length and degree of endurance which must be attempted ere the work is really done; and as the eye traverses the field before it, all the quick sensibilities of feeling start up and rehearse their past by anticipation, and cling to and clog and embarrass the will—the will already, perhaps, sufficiently sluggish or reluctant—that they may hold it back from the road of duty. Ah! struggles such as this between inclination and duty may be at times sorrow for the soul even unto death. When they come on you, brace yourselves by watching, by praying with Jesus in Gethsemane, that you may learn to say after Him, “Not my will but Thine be done.”
2. Then there are forms of doubt respecting God’s goodness and providence which are a great trouble at times to excellent Christians. There are, of course, obvious sources of relief for this calamity—wise books, thoughtful friends; but the best remedy is to kneel in spirit side by side with Jesus in Gethsemane. It is a prayer such as was His prayer, which struggles on under a darkened heaven into the light beyond.
3. And then, quite distinct from doubt, there is a desolateness of the soul, which, for long intervals of time, sometimes makes God’s service distasteful even to the best Christians. They who experience it can but kneel in their Gethsemane with that oft-repeated prayer, “Oh, my Father, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what Thou wilt.”
4. Lastly, there is the approach of death, which may come upon us suddenly as a thief in the night, but may be also ushered in, as it generally is, by a preface of weakening health and lingering sickness. “I was sitting at luncheon,” said one of the best of Christ’s servants in this generation, “and I suddenly felt as I never did before. I felt that something had given way. I knew what it meant, what it must mean. I went up into my room; I prayed God that He would enable me to bear what I knew was before me, and would at the last receive me, for His dear Son’s sake.” It was the close of a life as bright as it was beautiful, only there was much to leave behind, warm and affectionate friends, and an abundance of those highest satisfactions which come with constant and unselfish occupation; but it was the summons to another world, and, as such, it was obeyed. Death is awful, and that first gaze at the break up of all that we have hitherto called life must ever have about it a touch of agony; and yet if Jesus in Gethsemane is our Shepherd, surely we should lack nothing. “Yea, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we shall fear no evil,” for He is with us who has gone before, His rod and His staff comfort us.—Ibid.
Comfort to us from Christ’s agony.—In our reverential contemplation of Christ’s human perfections we are apt to overlook the important fact that they were not the result even of His original human nature left to itself, but as it was influenced and perfected by the same holy comfort which He has imparted to all His disciples. “He was made in all things like unto us, sin only excepted.” The tears which fell on the grave of Lazarus flowed from the same source out of which in unregenerate man springs weak repining or sullen discontent; his unwearied industry in “doing good” was but that which the miser or the ambitious man employs to other ends; and the calm fortitude with which He endured insult, pain, and death was formed out of the very same qualities which, ungoverned and misdirected, brought the guilty robber to a cross by His side. The materials were all human and our own, the workmanship alone Divine. And is the Lord’s arm shortened? Will not the same God that worketh in us also enable us like Him perfectly to will and to do of His good pleasure, if only the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus? It is true, indeed, that to us the Holy Spirit is given by measure; still that measure is a measure of grace sufficient for us.—S. Hinds.
Christ’s craving for sympathy.—Tender touch of nature to make Him with the whole world kin. In any great trial this craving of companionship, if no more; if no hand can help nor voice can soothe, yet a motionless, silent companionship; who is a stranger to the desire? It begins in childhood, when two infants will walk hand in hand “in the dark” where neither would go alone. Do these two innocents calculate that the twain are more defensible against “the giant” than one? By no means. It is the embryo of that wordless hunger of the soul, developing as life broadens, and finding its most exalted manifestation in Gethsemane. Invalids, who have counted the strokes of midnight wakeful hours, conjured by the wall-flashes and flickers of dim lamps, and need no other service, cry out, “Father! Mother! Some one!” It is nothing, only to hear you answer that you are there. Then we sit by them, long and patiently, perhaps dozing disciple-like as we hold their hands, saying and doing nothing, but being—near them. Jesus knew, as the crisis approached, that the acme of sorrow must ever be met in solitude; but up to the outer vestibule of that solitude He brought the eight disciples, and to the last inner door He brought the three. Even when He must be alone, in conflict and victory, He yet emerges twice to feel the helpfulness of His beloved near Him. He wants our sympathy still in His warfare with sin on the earth. He who so wanted the society of men will have His own with Him where He is, at last and for ever.—E. J. Haynes.
Mark 14:35. Secret prayer.—The prayer of Jesus Christ was secret. He had withdrawn Himself from His disciples. They were not able to bear the sight of such a conflict. Even at this distant period we read of it with painful emotions. The transactions of the soul with God demand secrecy. A deeper humiliation may become us before God than it would be proper for any about us to witness. We do well, therefore, to seek opportunities of retirement, and should reserve large portions of our time for the purpose of drawing nigh to God.—O. A. Jeary.
“Fell on the ground.”—With His face to the earth—a posture betokening far more abasement and earnestness than even kneeling. That the Son of God should have prayed in such a posture teaches us the fearful darkness of that shadow of death which He had resolved to pass through on our account; that the Son of God should have prayed in such a posture teaches us that we must worship God with the worship of the body. What a reproof to those who would fain make a shew of prayer, sitting at ease, to see the Holy One of God prostrated on the ground!—M. F. Sadler.
Mark 14:36. Submission to the will of God.—There is no Christian grace which we have oftener occasion to exercise than that of an humble and patient submission to the will of God.
1. There are few moments of our lives in which we are not either under the pressure of some evil which lies heavy upon our minds, or under the apprehension of some grievous calamity which hangs over our heads and is ready to fall down upon us. In both these cases an entire resignation to the good pleasure of God is necessary, that we should without repining bear whatever He hath been pleased to inflict, and that we should have our minds well prepared to endure whatever He in His infinite wisdom shall think expedient farther to lay upon us.
2. Those who have taken the greatest care to arm themselves against the time of conflict find it sometimes difficult enough to stand their ground and to come off conquerors in the day of battle; but those who have in their prosperous state made no provision against adversity, those who fall into the midst of troubles defenceless and unarmed, those who are then to learn the hard duty of submission when they are called to practise it, will be much more at a loss how to bear up against evils unforeseen and unprovided against, and how to demean themselves in the needful time of trouble.
3. The difficulties with which we are to encounter during our pilgrimage in this world are very many and very great, so many that we may not hope by any foresight to escape them all, and some of them so great that without due preparation we cannot expect to be patient under them. Liable we are to be attacked with troubles of mind and with pains of body, with losses of our nearest and dearest friends, with the ruin of our estates, and with the blastings of our reputations: these we are obnoxious to in our own persons, and in the persons of those who are so closely tied to us by blood or by friendship, by affection or by interest, that what happens to them touches us as nearly and afflicts us as sensibly as what happens to ourselves.
4. Upon all these occasions which do so frequently occur, which are now, it is to be feared, present to many of us, and which to those who may think them at a very great distance may probably be much nearer than they imagine, submission to the will of God is a duty which we are called to exercise, and which therefore it concerns us to be well acquainted with and to be well prepared for.—Bishop Smalridge.
“Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me,” was the first thought that human frailty suggested even to our Blessed Saviour Himself; and therefore it cannot be blameworthy in us if upon the first hasty view of any great calamity ready to overtake us we do in the like manner desire and beg that we may escape it; but when we have time to consider and deliberate, we must bring our natural desires under a strict discipline, and curb them with the same restraint as Christ did: “Nevertheless, not what I will, but what Thou wilt.”—Ibid.
Christ’s two wishes.—Christ is not two Christs, but one; yet has He two wishes—a general wish, and a particular wish. His particular wish is to escape this suffering, His general wish that God’s will be done. The one is the wish for His own sake, the other the wish for God’s sake. The one is a temporary wish, the other an enduring wish. If Christ knew not before He prayed what was possible and what impossible, how much less likely is it that we should know?—Jas. Lonsdale.
Obedience learnt by suffering.—No one has ever learned obedience to the will of God, and joy in that obedience, except through suffering. He who endures because he must suffers only as a servant. He who endures only because he hopes to gain something by it is not a Christian at all. Christ’s submission is a lesson of utter unselfishness. “God has good ends in view for you,” we say, to console the sufferer. But God had ends in view in Christ’s sufferings, not for His Son, but for His Son’s enemies. He only has learned to suffer as a son who has found that the will of God is sweet even when it involves what is in itself bitter. To suffer gladly because it is our Father’s will is to have learned obedience. When that is learned, the Christian need not wait for great afflictions, but finds in every little trial, every disappointment, each daily cross and care, a discipline to bring him into richer revelations of sonship with God.
Mark 14:37. “Couldest not thou watch one hour?”—Probably many of us would be discomposed by an arithmetical estimate of our communion with God. It might reveal to us the secret of much of our apathy in prayer, because it might disclose how little we desire to be alone with God. We might learn from such a computation that Augustine’s idea of prayer as “the measure of love” is not very flattering to us. We do not grudge time given to a privilege which we love. Why should we expect to enjoy a duty which we have no time to enjoy? Do we enjoy anything which we do in a hurry? Enjoyment presupposes something of mental leisure. How often do we say of a pleasure, “I wanted more time to enjoy it to my heart’s content.” But of all employments none can be more dependent on “time for it” than stated prayer. Fugitive acts of devotion, to be of high value, must be sustained by other approaches to God, deliberate, premeditated, regular, which shall be to those acts like the abutments of a suspension bridge to the arch that spans the stream. It will never do to be in desperate haste in laying such foundations. This thoughtful duty, this spiritual privilege, this foretaste of incorporeal life, this communion with an unseen Friend—can you expect to enjoy it as you would a repartee or a dance?—“The Still Hour.”
Mark 14:38. Watching and prayer.—If we must watch and pray, to prevent and withstand temptation, let us not be surprised that so many enter into it and fall thereby: it is for no other reason but because there are very few who watch and pray in that manner and with that constancy which they ought. Prayer is necessary in order to watch, and watchfulness in order to pray; and both the one and the other are so to secure us from temptation. Peter was deficient in vigilance because he was so in prayer; and through the neglect of both he fell, being overcome by the fear of death and the love of life.—P: Quesnel.
Mark 14:39. The simplicity and plainness of Christ in His prayers is an important lesson, and of great use and advantage. A Christian who prays to God is not an orator who would persuade by his eloquence, but a beggar who would move to compassion by his poverty and humility. These speak plainly and without ornament. And Jesus speaks thus to God because He has clothed Himself with our humility and poverty.—Ibid.
Trouble—great, searching, overwhelming trouble—has no varied diction. Sorrow has but few words. These are syllabled by lips that are pale and quivering. There is a terrible concentration in grief. The soul that groans under its pressure is swathed in darkness, even amid the splendour of high noon. The light is gone. The stars glitter no more. The voices of the loving are unheard. Oh the frightful abstraction of woe!—Dean Lefroy.
Mark 14:41-42. The past and the future.—He had warned the disciples in vain to watch and pray, and now it was too late for that—all was over; the opportunity had slipped away from them and was buried in the past, so that, as far as this duty went, they might sleep on, for it must remain for ever undone. But then He turned away at once from this contemplation of the unchangeable, and pointing onward to present duty He said, “Rise, let us be going.” The one thing was beyond their control, and though they might mourn they could not alter it; there would be no answer to their endeavours but “Too late,” so that it behoved them now to turn at once to the courses which were still open.—J. Percival, LL.D.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 14
Mark 14:32. The Garden of Gethsemane.—There is a garden in the Alps surrounded by dizzy peaks, mighty glaciers, yawning crevasses. There one hears the gurgling waters far beneath one’s feet, like the moan of imprisoned spirits. The approach to that lonely island in a frozen sea is through a broken way of ice and snow and frost. The route lies in uncertainty and even peril. No leaf, flower, or shrub appears along the icy sea. But when the garden is reached, the gentian and the forget-me-not, the saxifrage and the rose, are found decking the solitude with beauty and the scene with life. So here this Gethsemane garden has its environment of height and depth—of shadow, dark, dreary, and deathlike—of light, faint and full; but as we, by faith and in love, approach reverently near to Him who gives it all its meaning, we gather those fruits and flowers which ripen best in an atmosphere which was sanctified by the presence of the Man of Sorrows, and which for that reason are likely to be refreshing to those who, living His life, breathe His Spirit.—Dean Lefroy.
In communion with God.—There was each morning, during General Gordon’s first sojourn in the Soudan, one half-hour during which there lay outside his tent a handkerchief, and the whole camp knew the full significance of that small token, and most religiously was it respected by all there, whatever was their colour, creed, or business. No foot dared to enter the tent so guarded. No message, however pressing, was carried in. Whatever it was, of life or death, it had to wait until the guardian signal was removed. Every one knew that Gordon, in there alone, was in communion with God.
Mark 14:33. Mutual sympathy.—Christ asked His disciples to watch with Him in Gethsemane. Tender touch of nature to make Him with the whole world kin. Two infants will walk hand in hand “in the dark” where neither would go alone. Invalids, who have counted the strokes of midnight wakeful hours, conjured by the wall-flashes and flickers of dim lamps, and need no other service, cry out, “Father! Mother! Some one!” We sit by them, long and patiently, perhaps dozing disciple-like as we hold their hands, saying and doing nothing, but being near them. Through the streets of Paris, between prison and block, the most desperate were often observed sitting upon the cart’s edge hand in hand. Triumph wants friends also. Jesus wants our sympathy still in His warfare with sin on the earth. He who so wanted the society of men will have His own with Him where He is, at last and for ever.—Haynes.
Mark 14:36. Resignation to the Divine mill.—Epictetus, a heathen philosopher, thus prayed, “Great God, use me henceforward according to Thy pleasure. I am altogether of Thy mind. It is indifferent to me how Thou dealest with me; I refuse nothing if Thou seest it good for me; lead me where Thou thinkest it convenient; clothe me in what garment Thou pleasest, whether it be whole or torn, either shall be welcome; whether Thou wilt have me to bear the office of magistrate, or lead a private life; whether Thou wilt have me to stay in my own country, or let me be driven into exile; whether Thou wilt have me rich or poor; in all this, by my equanimity, I will justify Thee before men.” This from the lips of a heathen is wonderful, and the more so because real Christians seldom reach such an elevation of soul. The King of Arragon (Alfonso) was once asked whom he considered the most perfect man; and he replied, “Him who receives all things, whether sad or pleasant, as coming from a kind and wise Father’s hand, with an even mind.” And so it is now; he is the most perfect Christian who is not lifted up by prosperity, nor cast down by adversity; who, whatever happens to him, still looks beyond second causes to God, the great first cause of all; who makes it his daily business to desire nothing but that which God appoints; and whose constant prayer is, that God’s will may be fully carried out, and accomplished in him, and in all his concerns. Edward Payson, who was a great sufferer, being asked if he saw any particular reason for a dispensation, replied: “No, but I am as well satisfied as if I could see ten thousand. God’s will is the very perfection of all reason.” Mr. Simeon, on his death-bed, telling an inquiring friend of his dependence upon God, said: “He cannot do anything against my will.”
“Thy will be done.”—It is related that when St. Gertrude used to say the Lord’s Prayer she would repeat the words “Thy will be done” several times over. One day, when she was praying in this manner, the Saviour appeared to her holding health in His right hand and sickness in His left. “Choose, My daughter, which you please,” said the Lord; to which she replied, “Thy will be done, not mine, O Lord.” Many an impressive homily on acquiescence to the Divine will has been written by sufferers. Richard Baxter was throughout life familiarised, as few are, with hours of sickness and prostration. Perhaps it was this habitual discipline of pain, causing him for long years to hover on the very border-land of death, which imparted so much pathos and fervency to his Saint’s Rest, and its realistic vision of “the better country.” Quaint and beautiful is his prayer—a formula of devout submission—to Him whose loving hand and wisdom he recognised in it all. “What Thou wilt; where Thou wilt; when Thou wilt!”
Mark 14:38. “Watch and pray.”—There is a custom among the Breton sailors, when launching their boats, to offer this prayer, “Keep me, my God; my boat is so small, and Thy ocean is so wide.” The life of a Christian may be likened unto a frail bark cast upon the mighty ocean, which unless rightly steered may run into some contrary current that will toss it about and turn its course. In this great ocean of ungodliness it is necessary to pray that the current of sin may not turn us from our course. “Pray that ye enter not into temptation”; and if ye do, “call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver Thee,” saith the Lord. Prayer is not enough. Like the Scots when they conquered the English at Bannockburn, or the English when they conquered the French at Creçy, we are to rise from our knees; to stand up and fight; to quit us like men; “having done all,” to stand. We are to put on the whole armour of God; and since we know neither when nor where the adversary may assault us, we are never to put it off. Live and die in harness,—using such precautions as some say Cromwell did against the assassin’s dagger—his dress concealed a shirt of mail. In the council-chamber, at the banquet, in court as in camp, he wore it always. Let the good man go to his workshop, counting-room, market, the place of business, and scenes of enjoyment, as the peasant of the East to his plough, where fiery Bedouins scour the land, and bullets whistling from the bush may suddenly call him to drop the ox-goad and fly to arms. The sun glances on other iron than the ploughshare, a sword hangs at his thigh, and a gun is slung at his back.—T. Guthrie, D.D.
Mark 14:39. “Spake the same words.”—The late Rev. W. H. Krause, of Dublin, was visiting a lady in a depressed state—“weak, oh, so weak!” She told him that she had been very much troubled in mind that day, because in meditation and prayer she had found it impossible to govern her thoughts, and kept merely going over the same things again and again. “Well, my dear friend,” was his prompt reply, “there is provision in the gospel for that too. Our Lord Jesus Christ, when His soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death, three times prayed, and spoke the same words.” This seasonable application of Scripture was a source of great comfort to her.
Mark 14:40. The power of sleep.—The most violent passion and excitement cannot keep even powerful minds from sleep; Alexander the Great slept on the field of Arbela, and Napoleon upon that of Austerlitz. Even stripes and torture cannot keep off sleep, as criminals have been known to give way to it on the rack. Noises which at first serve to drive it away soon become indispensable to its existence; thus, while a stage-coach, stopping to change horses, wakens all the passengers, the proprietor of an iron forge, who slept close to the din of hammers, forges, and blast furnaces, would wake up if there was any interruption to them during the night; and a sick miller who had his mill stopped on that account passed sleepless nights until the mill resumed its usual noise. Homer, in his Iliad, elegantly represents sleep as overcoming all men, and even the gods, except Jupiter alone.
Mark 14:41. The hour of crisis.—Often has the fate of kingdoms and empires been left to the decision of an hour, and that hour of inconceivable importance to millions. Often have the rights and the liberties, the freedom or the slavery, of a nation depended upon the result of a contest where valour and patriotism and magnanimity struggled hard amidst the clash of arms and the din of war; and their bosoms have beat with trembling anxiety, as from lip to lip the important announcement passed, “The hour is come.” But although we could put together all the interesting anticipations, all the distressing and conflicting hopes and fears, all the important deeds and destinies that were ever suspended upon any hour in the world’s history, they would instantly sink into insignificance compared with the vast and eternal interests of innumerable myriads which were suspended upon the results of that hour which our Saviour declares in the text to be at hand. The fate of kingdoms and empires is nothing compared with the fate of the universe, upon whose destiny it was to bear its decision for eternity.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 14:48. Thief—Robber, or bandit.
Mark 14:51. A linen cloth.—A sindon—either a garment or bed-covering made of linen or muslin manufactured in Sind.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 14:43-52
(PARALLELS: Matthew 26:47-56; Luke 22:47-53; John 18:1-11.)
The captive Christ and the circle round Him.—A comparison of the first three Gospels in this section shews a degree of similarity, often verbal, which is best accounted for by supposing that a common (oral) “gospel,” which had become traditionally fixed by frequent and long repetition, underlies them all. Mark’s account is briefest, and grasps with sure instinct the essential points; but, even in his brevity, he pauses to tell of the young man who so nearly shared the Lord’s apprehension. The canvas is narrow and crowded; but we may see unity in the picture, if we regard as the central fact the sacrilegious seizure of Jesus, and the other incidents and persons as grouped round it and Him, and reflecting various moods of men’s feelings towards Him.
I. The avowed and hypocritical enemies of Incarnate Love.—Again we have Mark’s favourite “straightway,” so frequent in the beginning of the Gospel, and occurring twice here, vividly painting both the sudden inburst of the crowd which interrupted Christ’s words and broke the holy silence of the garden, and Judas’ swift kiss. The passionless narrative tells the criminal and his crime with unsparing, unmoved tones, which have caught some echo beforehand of the Judge’s voice. To name the sinner, and to state without cloak or periphrasis what his deed really was, is condemnation enough. Which of us could stand it? Judas was foremost of the crowd. That the black depths of his spirit were agitated is plain from two things—the quick kiss, and the nauseous repetition of it. “Straightway … he kissed Him much.” Probably the swiftness and vehemence, so graphically expressed by these two touches, were due not only to fear lest Christ should escape, and to hypocrisy over-acting its part, but reveal a struggle with conscience and ancient affection, and a fierce determination to do the thing and have it over. The very extravagances of evil betray the divided and stormy spirit of the doer. That traitor’s kiss has become a symbol for all treachery cloaked in the garb of affection. Its lessons and warnings are obvious; but this other may be added—that such audacity and nauseousness of hypocrisy is not reached at a leap, but presupposes long underground tunnels of insincere discipleship, through which a man has burrowed, unseen by others, and perhaps unsuspected by himself. Much hypocrisy of the unconscious sort precedes the deliberate and conscious. How much less criminal and disgusting was the rude crowd at Judas’ heels! Most of them were mere passive tools. Half-ignorant hatred, which had had ample opportunities of becoming knowledge and love, offended formalism, blind obedience to ecclesiastical superiors, the dislike of goodness—these impelled the rabble who burst into the Garden of Gethsemane.
II. Incarnate Love bound and patient.—“They laid hands on Him.” That was the first stage in outrage—the quick stretching of many hands to secure the unresisting Prisoner. They “took Him,” or, as perhaps we might better render, “They held Him fast,” as would have been done with any prisoner. Surely the quietest way of telling that stupendous fact is the best! It is easy to exclaim, and, after the fashion of some popular writers of Lives of Christ, to paint fancy pictures. It is better to be sparing of words, like Mark, and silently to meditate on the patient long-suffering of the love which submitted to these indignities, and on the blindness which had no welcome but this for God manifest in the flesh. Both are in full operation to-day, and the germs of the latter are in us all. Mark confines himself to that one of Christ’s sayings which sets in the clearest light His innocence and meek submissiveness. With all its calmness and patience, it is majestic and authoritative, and sounds as if spoken from a height far above the hubbub. Its question is not only an assertion of His innocence, and therefore of His captors’ guilt, but also declares the impotence of force as against Him: “Swords and staves to take Me!” All that parade of arms was out of place, for He was no evil-doer; needless, for He did not resist; and powerless, unless He chose to let them prevail. The second clause of Christ’s remonstrance appeals to their knowledge of Him and His words, and to their attitude towards Him. He would have them ask, “Why this change in us, since He is the same?” Did He deserve to be hailed as King a few short hours ago? How, then, before the palm branches are withered, can He deserve rude hands? The third clause rises beyond all notice of the human agents, and soars to the Divine purpose which wrought itself out through them. That Divine purpose does not make them guiltless, but it makes Jesus submissive. We, too, should train ourselves to see the hand that moves the pieces and to make God’s will our will, as becomes sons. Then Christ’s calm will be ours, and, ceasing from self and conscious of God everywhere and yielding our wills, which are the self of ourselves, to Him, we shall enter into rest.
III. Rash love defending its Lord with wrong weapons.—Peter may have felt that he must do something to vindicate his recent boasting, and, with his usual headlong haste, stops neither to ask what good his sword is likely to do, nor to pick his man and take deliberte aim at him. If swords were to be used, they should do something more effectual than hacking off a poor servant’s ear. Christ and His cause are to be defended by other weapons. Christian heroism endures, and does not smite. Not only swords, but bitter words, which wound worse than they, are forbidden to Christ’s soldier. We are ever being tempted to fight Christ’s battles with the world’s weapons; and many a “defender of the faith” in later days, perhaps even in this very enlightened day, has repeated Peter’s fault with less excuse than he, and with very little of either his courage or his love.
IV. Cowardly love forsaking its Lord.__“They all forsook Him, and fled.” And who will venture to say that he would not have done so too? The tree that can stand such a blast must have deep roots. Their flight may teach us to place little reliance on our emotions, however genuine and deep, and to look for the security of our continual adherence to Christ—not to our fluctuating feelings, but to His steadfast love.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Mark 14:51-52. The young man in the linen cloth.—As Jesus was being led a prisoner through the streets of Jerusalem to the palace of Caiaphas, a certain youth, awakened probably by the uproar they made, sprang from his bed, seized the first wrapper that came to hand, and, hastily folding himself in it, ran out into the moonlight, to learn the cause of the disturbance. As he ran after and caught up the retiring group of officers, he saw they had a prisoner in their midst, and in the prisoner he recognised Jesus of Nazareth, the rabbi to whom no doubt he had listened with delight as He taught in the Temple and in the streets; for, we are told, he was following Him, not simply following the crowd. In Him his interest is so great, so obvious, that it compels him to remonstrate with the officers who had arrested Him, or to address words of comfort and hope to their Prisoner. For the officers, irritated by his too obvious sympathy with Jesus, lay hold upon him, and are about to arrest him as a follower of the Galilean Rabbi. But for this the young man is not prepared. He slips out of the linen robe, which they have grasped, and runs back, naked, to the house from which but a few moments before he had run out.
I. In all probability the young man was St. Mark himself, the writer of this Gospel.—
1. At least one other of the Evangelists, St. John, when he has to speak of himself, does not name himself, but speaks of himself in the indefinite way in which “a certain young man” is here introduced to us. So that, if the young man were Mark, it might well be that he would not name himself, but give some such indefinite allusion to himself as is here employed.
2. What is there in this incident to warrant, or even to account for, its insertion into the narrative, unless it be a personal interest? It is mentioned in no one of the other Gospels. It has no direct bearing on the story of Christ’s arrest and trial. If Mark himself was the young man that sprang up in the dead of night, and saw Jesus led by the officers to be tried by the high priest, we can understand with what profound interest he would afterward recall every detail of that incident, and how gladly, when he wrote his Gospel, he would connect himself, though in the most modest and unobtrusive way, with that supreme crisis in the history of his Lord and ours. Whereas, on any other hypothesis, supposing the young man to have been any one but himself, we can see no sufficient reason why he should pause to narrate so trifling an event.
3. The minute details crowded into this brief sentence look as if they could only be drawn from personal recollection. As we read it, if at least we read with an alert imagination, we can see the young man lying on his pallet; we can hear the brawl in the street that awakes him; we see him start up and snatch at the first covering that comes to hand, cast it hastily about him, run out into the moonlit street, recognise Jesus, and interfere impulsively with the officers in the execution of their duty; we see him roused to a sense of his danger as they lay rough hands upon him, and run away, leaving the costly linen robe in their hands. I have sometimes wondered whether there was any prophetic symbolism in the seeming accident that the young man should wrap himself in a sindon. The Lord Jesus was on His way to the Cross and the grave, though as yet no official sentence had been pronounced against Him. Was this fine linen web, this costly Indian fabric, which came so strangely and unexpectedly into the hands of His guard, an omen of what that sentence would be? Any Jew would have set the web aside to be a winding-sheet. Is the winding-sheet brought into the sacred narrative to indicate that Jesus was now about to die?
4. The mother of Mark, as we learn from Acts 12:12, had a house in Jerusalem; and it has been generally held that St. Mark was a native of this city, and dwelt in it until he became a missionary of the Cross: so that, unlike most of the disciples and friends of Jesus, he would be living in Jerusalem, and perhaps in that very street through which Jesus was led on the night of His betrayal. From the fact, moreover, that Mark’s mother had a house of her own in the metropolis, and that this house was spacious enough to be the habitual resort of the primitive Church, we infer that she was a woman of some wealth and consideration—a woman, therefore, in whose house a costly Indian fabric, such as the young man cast about him, might well lie ready to his hand.
5. The impulsive character of this young man—soon hot, soon cold, ready to dare all risks at one moment that he may follow Jesus, and ready at the next moment to abandon his sole and costly garment that he may escape the hands of the officers—accords entirely with what we know of the character of Mark as depicted by St. Luke.
II. Why was this incident recorded? What is there in it for us?—
1. It teaches us at least this lesson: that Christ has room in His service, and a discipline, for warm and impulsive natures; that even for these He can find some duty to discharge, some function to fulfil. St. Mark was a man of this kind—a man who was apt to begin to build without counting the cost. He was of an eager, sensitive, and impressible temperament, as the graphic touches which abound in his Gospel indicate; but, like most persons of this sensitive, impulsive temperament, he was fickle and unsteadfast. Probably his imagination was very keen and active, as in such cases it often is, and painted the beauty and heroism of a certain line of conduct very brightly, but painted just as darkly the terrors of the conflict which to pursue such a line of conduct would involve. And thus he would be easily moved to undertake enterprises which he was not strong enough to carry through. Even when he had grown older and was an avowed servant of Christ, Mark betrayed the same infirmity, the same unsteadfast poise of spirit between conflicting impulses, the same sensitive apprehension of the lions that lurk in the path of devotion to any great cause. He started with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, just as he rose from his bed to follow Christ to the hall of judgment through the streets of Jerusalem; but just as he forsook Christ when the officers laid their rude grasp on Him, so also he abandoned Paul and Barnabas before their work was well begun (Acts 13:13). His motive for abandoning them was the very motive which led him to abandon Christ—the fear of harm and loss. Paul and Barnabas were about to plunge into the wild mountains of Asia Minor, to encounter “perils of rivers and perils of robbers” among the lawless and marauding highland clans. Mark did not like the prospect. And so, just as they were about to face their gravest perils, and to win their greatest successes, he forsook them—deserted them, as St. Paul indignantly maintained—and returned to his mother’s comfortable house in Jerusalem. Yet even for this impulsive and inconstant man there was not only room but an appropriate discipline in the service of Christ. In his later epistles St. Paul speaks of Mark as “a fellow-worker in the kingdom of God,” and as “a comfort to himself”; and in his very last letter he describes him as being “profitable to him in the ministry.” We may be sure, therefore, that this man, once so impulsive, so unreliable, so driven by contrary winds and tossed, became, by the teaching and grace of Christ, a brave and single-hearted servant of the Lord whose service he had more than once abandoned.
2. As we recall the past, we cannot but see that our lives have not flowed on in a single steady current to an eternal goal; that they have been broken into many, and even into adverse, currents, some flowing in one direction, some in another, most of them losing themselves in mere marshes and bogs, instead of carrying health and fertility along their appointed course. We are conscious that unity has been wanting to our lives, so that they will not have left one, and that a strong and good, impression on the world, but many broken and even contradictory impressions. Our influence, as we readily acknowledge, has not been wholly good; it has not always helped to foster all the good growths springing up around us; it has told almost as often and as much for evil as for good. We feel that, like St. Mark, we have again and again abandoned the Master we profess and wish to serve. And at times we lose all hope of ever reaching that constant mind, that settled and steadfast loyalty to Him, that entire devotion to His service, which yet we long to reach, without which, should we fail to reach it, we are sure that we cannot know any true happiness or peace. At such times as these it will give us new heart to remember that even for Mark there was reserved a place in the service of Christ, and a discipline which enabled him to fill that place. For the Master will deal with us as He dealt with him. If we have any true love for Him, any sincere desire to live to Him, He will teach us by our very errors, and train us by our very failures, and make our dissatisfaction with ourselves a spur to a more constant and cheerful obedience.—S. Cox, D.D.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 14:43. Who are like Judas to-day?—Those who know their duty, feel the power of the truth, see the worth of Christ, recognise the privilege of the Christian life, and yet turn their back on all this and give themselves up as the slaves of their passions. Knowing perfectly the wrong they do, they do not hesitate to injure Christ for what they consider their advantage.
A picture of apostates.—We see here but too lively a picture of apostates, who have no sooner deserted from the Church but they persecute it, put themselves at the head of conspiracies against the higher powers, and breathe nothing but violence, rebellion, and treason.—P. Quesnel.
Mark 14:44-45. The kiss of treachery.—The kiss was a customary expression of mingled affection and reverence on the part of the disciples when they met their Master. To suppose that Judas deliberately selected an action which was as remote as possible from his then true feelings is an unnecessary supposition. It is more true to human nature to suppose that he endeavoured to appease whatever there may have been in the way of lingering protest in his conscience by an act of formal reverence that was dictated to him by long habit, and that served to veil from himself the full enormity of his crime at the moment of his doing it. In like manner the brigands in the south of Europe have been known to accompany deeds of thefts and deeds of blood with previous ejaculations whether of piety or superstition, and cases have been heard farther north of pickpockets when the thief and his victim have been kneeling side by side in a church or sitting side by side in a meeting-house. In these instances religion may be employed not simply as a blind to an immoral act, but as a sort of salve to a protesting conscience. The passing thrill of emotion seems to do something towards reducing the magnitude of the crime which accompanies it. The case of Judas has become a proverb for all those proceedings whereby, under the semblance of outward reverence for religion or of devotion to its interests, its substance or its reality is betrayed.—Canon Liddon.
The hardihood of evil.—Note:
1. The malignant influence of an evil leader.
2. The awful change in Judas. He might have been the leader of the twelve, of the holy company of disciples, and sinks to be the leader of this vile crew.
3. The hardihood of evil in kissing Christ: such resolute effrontery, such presumptuous invasion of that face before which earth and heaven shall flee away!
4. The infinite meekness of Christ. He requires us to endure the blow of an enemy. He endures the loathsome kiss.
5. As their number betrayed their sense of Christ’s greatness, so this kiss proclaims Him worthy of allegiance and of love.
6. The worst opponents of Christ are still those who betray with a kiss—such as those who oppose His claims while affecting to revere His character, and deny His Saviourship while acknowledging the excellence of His doctrine.
7. The depravity of human nature. For these men are our brothers. There is no sermon on the need of repentance can be so convicting as this narrative of what human nature has actually done.—R. Glover.
Mark 14:47. Worldly weapons.—In relation to the advancement of the Church of Christ, worldly views, a worldly temper, worldly methods, efforts to secularise in order to popularise, however well meaning, are but the swinging of swords, which, if unchecked, would nullify Scripture and bar the way of life to men. There is a law in our members warring against the law of our minds. As opportunity offers it eagerly puts a sword in our hands and commands the use of it. We obey too often, to our own and others’ spiritual injury and the hindrance of the sacred cause we represent and would help.—Wm. M. Campbell.
Mark 14:50. A bad deed by good men.—The apprehension of Christ in the garden was to the disciples a mystery. It confounded them. In their ignorance they were terrified, and deserted Christ. It was not want of love, but lack of courage. It was an eclipse, not an extinction, of their faith.
I. The disciples deserted Christ after promising not to do so?—
1. They had promised after being warned. “Ye shall be offended because of Me,” etc. Christ candidly spoke of suffering. “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.”
2. They had promised independently of each other. “If all men,” etc. “So said all His disciples.”
3. They had promised whatever would be the result. “Go with Thee to prison,” etc.
II. The disciples deserted Christ when He was in difficulties.—
1. The instability of the best human friendship.
2. The terribleness of Christ’s sufferings.
3. The necessity of Christians counting the cost.
III. The disciples deserted Christ, though He suffered in their cause.—This made them guilty of—
IV. The disciples deserted Christ, but He remained steadfast.—
1. The faithfulness of Christ.
2. The independence of Christ.
3. The courage of Christ.
4. The forbearance of Christ.—B. D. Johns.
Christ forsaken by His disciples.—
I. How weak is the resolution of fallen man!—Man, as originally formed by God, was capable of carrying into execution whatever his judgment approved or his will decreed; but it is far otherwise with us in our present state. How earnest are many, when lying on a bed of sickness, to redeem their time; and how determined, if ever they should recover, to devote the remainder of their lives to God! Yet they are no sooner restored to health than they go back to their former habits and companions, and leave to a distant period the performance of their vows. It is thus also with many after an awakening discourse: they see how vain it is to render unto God a mere formal or hypocritical service, and they resolve that henceforth they will offer Him an undivided heart. But their hearts are not steadfast in the covenant which they make, and their lives are little else than a series of reformations and declensions without any solid improvement in the Divine life.
II. What great evils are even good men capable of committing!—What ingratitude were these disciples guilty of in forsaking their Lord, when their presence might perhaps be of most essential service to Him? The unbelief also which they manifested on this occasion was highly criminal. They had been repeatedly told by Jesus that, after His death and resurrection, He would meet them in Galilee. This was equal to a promise on His part that they should be preserved. Moreover, at the very time when He was apprehended, He said in their hearing, “If ye seek Me, let these go their way.” This ought to have been regarded by them as a certain pledge of their security. But so completely were they overcome by fear that they could not think of safety but in flight.
III. How desirable is it to have just views of Jesus Christ!—Our Lord forewarned His disciples that their desertion of Him would originate in their misconception of His character and office: “All ye shall be offended in Me this night.” They had seen their Divine Master controlling the very elements themselves, from whence they had concluded Him to be the true Messiah. But now they behold Him bound and led away by an armed band, they begin to think that all their former notions were false, and that the expectations which they had founded on His numerous miracles were delusive. Jesus seemed to them now to be like Samson after his locks were cut: He was become weak as other men. Hence they could no longer repose any confidence in Him, but fled like sheep without a shepherd. And is it not thus with the ungodly? Wherefore do they despise Jesus, but because they know neither His power nor His grace?—C. Simeon.
Mark 14:51-52. Impulse.—
I. The excitement of impulse.—
1. In the best cause.
(1) Associated with the best being.
(2) Manifested in the best way. “Followed.” Christ alone to lead.
(3) Fired by the best spirit. Courage when all others fled.
2. By an anonymous person.
(1) The youthful are the likeliest to be impulsive. Passions are strong; curiosity eager; ambition powerful.
(2) Mere impulse is a very commonplace passion.
3. Abruptly displayed.
(1) Thoughtless in regard to appearance.
(2) Aimless in regard to design.
(3) Useless in regard to service.
II. The opposition to impulse.—
1. Association with Christ may entail danger. Needful to count the cost.
2. Impulsive natures need extraordinary prudence.
3. Those near to Christ most hated by the enemy.
III. The collapse of impulse.—
(1) No true love to Christ.
(2) Depended on His own strength.
(3) No fear of God.
(4) Love of life strong.
2. Desertion. Soon ripe—soon rotten.
3. Oblivion. Never heard of again.—B. D. Johns.
Christ’s care for His disciples.—This accident, which seems to be of no consequence, serves to discover the power of Christ, and His great care and concern for His apostles.
1. He thereby admonishes Peter that he ought to fly from the occasion and not expose himself to temptation, these people having a design to seize all the disciples of our Lord.
2. He by this discovers the same danger to the rest, and advises them likewise to flee.
3. He shews them that it was by His power that they escaped the danger.
4. That even that person who by their means is exposed thereto escapes from it by the appointment of Providence, and because He Himself would suffer alone.—P. Quesnel.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 14
Mark 14:47. Mistaken zeal.—The Saviour’s method is to conquer force by submission, violence by meekness, sin by the Cross. Yet many make this mistake, and defend a spiritual cause by carnal weapons. On a large scale the Crusades were an example of a continent ready to fight the devil in others with swords, without being ready to fight the devil in themselves with self-denial. All violence used in religion by inquisitors or by men impatient to enthrone the right is an example of Peter’s mistake. All hatred of those doing wrong, all vituperation of them, is a Peter’s sword. What Christ wants is some that can bear a cross with Him, not such as will draw a sword for Him.—R. Glover.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 14:53. With him were assembled.—There come with him, or There come together unto him.
Mark 14:54. The palace.—The court of the palace. At the fire.—Beside the light of the fire.
Mark 14:58. Within three days.—After three days: διά. For similar construction see Mark 2:1; Acts 24:17; Galatians 2:1.
Mark 14:72. When he thought thereon.—A good rendering, if ἐπιβαλών means having cast his mind over the matter. But, as this verb is used not many verses back (Mark 14:46) of a physical action, it may be best to adopt Theophylact’s explanation—having cast his mantle over his head. So (of recent English scholars) Dean Blakesley, Prof. Evans, and Dr. F. Field—a remarkable consensus of independent judgment on a knotty point.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 14:53-72
(PARALLELS: Matthew 26:57-75; Luke 22:54-71; John 18:12-27.)
Jesus before the Sanhedrin.—The Reformer, who had detected and exposed the prevailing abuses of Jehovah’s law; the Prophet, who had sternly rebuked the inconsistencies, hypocrisies, and vices of the degenerate men who sat in Moses’ seat; the Son of David, who appeared as a mean carpenter’s son of despised Nazareth; the King of the Jews, who came only as a Prince of Peace, whose servants would not fight against Roman dominion; the Messiah, who had not been anointed with oil of their choosing,—this Jesus was now in their power.
I. The pretended trial.—
1. As the supreme court of judicature in Israel, the Sanhedrin sat in judgment upon Jesus. But the men who were here assembled as His judges had already conspired against Him as His foes, and had resolved to arraign Him before the Roman governor as His prosecutors. This was enough to stamp their proceedings with injustice. But in order to the complete justification of truth, and for the warning of future ages, their guilt must become more heinous and more evident.
2. They could not justify to their own people the arraignment of a Jew before a Roman tribunal, unless that Jew should first have been condemned and excommunicated by themselves as a breaker of the Mosaic law. Hence the necessity for this pretended trial.
3. It was hurried on with indecent haste, conducted in the dead of night, with the omission of many legal forms: false evidence had been prepared by the judges themselves. But as truth is always consistent, falsehood seldom or never, it pleased God to confute these perjured witnesses by their own words. At length the high priest, disconcerted by the palpable failure of his plot, and impatient to arrive at his foregone conclusion, resorts to the unusual and unjust expedient of convicting the Accused out of His own mouth (Mark 14:61-64).
II. The evil principle which moved the Sanhedrin: party-spirit.—
1. The Sanhedrin had lost the power of life and death; its ancient privileges, curtailed under the Asmonean and Edomite dynasties, had been further diminished by the Roman emperors; and with power and privilege the dignity and influence of its members was all but gone. For the recovery of this influence, that is to say, for their own selfish aggrandisement, and not for the honour of God and the good of their country, these counsellors caballed, combined, conspired—formed a party, and acted together as a party.
2. At one time they had looked with hope to Jesus. They would have been glad to use Him as an instrument against the hated Romans, and when He had served their turn to fling away the lowly Nazarene as a broken tool. But Jesus would not join them. Nay, more, He unveiled their abuses, unmasked their hypocrisies, confuted their pretexts, baffled their devices, rebuked their sins. Therefore they regarded Him as an enemy, and agreed together to destroy Him.
3. Then was waged the warfare of an unscrupulous and infuriated party against one obnoxious individual. Spies were employed to entangle Him in His talk; snares were set; calumnies were circulated. But from His armour of proof all their shafts fell harmless. At length the traitor Judas presents himself; the bribe is offered and accepted; hasty preparations are made; witnesses suborned; the arrest effected; the trial-scene performed under cover of night, with the cruel issue which had been predetermined and concerted.
III. Distinguish between two kinds of party-spirit.—
1. There is an unrighteous party-spirit, which, as Christians, we are bound to eschew.
(1) All party-spirit is by the nature of the case unrighteous which espouses the cause of evil and falsehood: all which is enlisted against the honour of God—against His eternal attributes, truth, justice, holiness—against the gospel or the Church.
(2) Party-spirit in a doubtful or even in a good cause is unrighteous when it proceeds from wrong motives, is exhibited a wrong spirit, or served by wrong means.
2. If we would be most effectually secured by the grace of God against the influence of unchristian party-spirit, it must be by the possession of that party-spirit which is according to righteousness and true holiness. We are born into a world of warfare, and have no choice but to take a part. He that is not with Christ is against Him: he that gathereth not with Him scattereth. Let His name be our war-cry, His Cross inscribed upon our banner. Let His holy ark be erected in our heart, and the Dagon of worldly party-spirit will bow down before it and be broken.—Prof. B. H. Kennedy.
Peter’s fall and recovery.—In the whole history of our Saviour’s last sufferings, perhaps there is not a more affecting incident than the denial of Christ by Peter. The natural simplicity with which the story is told, and the striking circumstances with which it abounds, make the deepest impression upon the heart, and raise a tide of the most mixed emotions.
1. The sincere professions of fidelity which Peter made to Jesus, the zeal which he discovered in His defence, and the attachment which he manifested in following Him to the palace of the high priest, are circumstances which present this apostle in an amiable light, and recommend him to our love.
2. The cowardice with which he deserted his Master in the garden when the natural means of defence were taken away, the baseness with which he afterwards denied Him, and the obstinacy with which he persisted in that denial, shew the man in a very different point of view, and fill our minds with the strongest indignation.
3. The conduct of our Saviour in forewarning him of his danger, in restoring him to a sense of his guilt, and in admitting him freely to mercy, gives us the most exalted conceptions of our Saviour’s goodness, and fills our souls with just admiration.
4. The speediness of Peter’s repentance, the deepness of his contrition, and the tears of sorrow which he sheds melt our souls into compassion, and lead us to forgive this unfortunate man.
I. The fall of St. Peter.—
1. It affords a melancholy instance of human infirmity. Never did man enjoy greater advantages or make fairer appearances than this disciple. Was it not most natural to think that his faith and zeal, his courage and resolution, would have supported his mind, and carried him through the most fiery trial? But, alas! in the hour of temptation all his principles and resolutions forsook him; this great apostle fell; and in his fall has left an awful lesson to mankind, even to the most eminent Christians, that it is not in man who walketh to direct his steps—that we are not sufficient of ourselves, but that our sufficiency is of God.
2. Confidence and presumption, even in the most confirmed Christians, are very unpromising signs of steadfastness in religion. This was the rock upon which Peter first split, when he made shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience. Trust in God is one thing, and trust in ourselves is another, and there will always be as much difference in the success which attends them as in the powers on which they are founded. If we proceed on a sense of our own weakness, and a reliance on the Divine aid, we shall continue unto the end. But if, like Peter, we set out in our own strength, like him we shall soon be offended, and turn back.
3. Natural courage and precipitate zeal will not supply the place of Christian fortitude, and carry a man through the trials of religion. When St. Peter was surrounded with swords and staves, he was nothing dismayed; his heart and his hand went together in the cause of God. But he who could fight for his Saviour had not fortitude to suffer with him when matters came to extremity. It is vain to promise yourselves a superiority under any temptations, unless you lay the right foundation, by imploring the aid of God’s Holy Spirit, whose province only it is to confirm the faithful unto the end.
4. The danger of exposing ourselves to temptations, when we are not called by the providence of God. It was no doubt a concern for his Master which induced Peter to follow Jesus to His trial, and to venture into that dangerous place. But from whatever motive he acted, it could not be matter of duty in the apostle to thrust himself into the company of wretches where his presence could be of no use to his Master, and where his virtue could scarcely come off unhurt. Nay, the prediction of our Blessed Saviour, that He should be denied by Peter that very night, ought to have been sufficient warning to him to have kept at the greatest distance from a place where he was in the most imminent danger of being drawn into that very sin which he had been warned against.
5. How naturally sin hardens the heart, stupefies the conscience, and involves men still deeper in guilt! First, by confidence and presumption, Peter indecently and expressly contradicted his Master, when Jesus foretold the flight of His disciples, and the denial of Him by Peter himself; next, when his Master was about to be apprehended, driven by an intemperate zeal, he was guilty of a most rash and imprudent action in cutting off the ear of the high-priest’s servant, which might have caused not only himself but all the rest of the disciples to have been put to death on the spot. Immediately after, when he saw Jesus seized and bound, like the rest of the timid disciples, by an act of cowardice and ingratitude, he forsook his Master and fled. As soon as he had recovered himself, he inconsiderately thrust himself into evil company, in which he was exposed to that very temptation which Christ had warned him against. This was the unhappy occasion of all his subsequent sin and sorrow. Here, disarmed by his fatal security, he was quite unprepared to meet any trial, and of course yielded to the first attack. Scarcely had Peter ended this act of baseness when, going out into the porch, he accidentally heard the cock crow, the very signal of his fall. Might he not now have recollected himself, and gathered resolution to retract his falsehood, and to give an honest testimony to the truth? But, alas! when a man has made one false step, it is not so easy a matter to recover himself. One sin naturally, nay, almost unavoidably, leads to another; one lie frequently requires another to support the falsehood. And in this case the principle of shame, which was before the guardian of innocence, now bars the way to repentance; for men blush to retract the falsehood they have asserted, or to own the baseness they have committed. A second time Peter is charged with being a follower of Jesus; a second time he denies his Master. But he does not even, as before, rest with simple assertions of falsehood. In order to remove every ground of suspicion, he confirms his denial with an oath, calling upon the God of truth to witness his falsehood. To complete the disgrace of this unfortunate man, a third and a more pointed attack is made upon him. Two strong presumptions are adduced against him—that his speech proved him to be a Galilean, and that he had been seen in the garden with Christ. Peter was now tempted to the last degree; and in order to testify his innocence by resentment of their suspicion, he not only by assertions and oaths, but by dreadful imprecations on himself, abjured his Blessed Lord. He began to curse and to swear, saying, “I know not the man.” To aggravate his guilt still more, these denials of Christ were all made in the presence of the other disciples, who had also followed the Master to the palace of the high priest, and who could not be strangers to Peter’s falsehood and baseness. Nay, the last and most shameful denial was made in the presence of Christ Himself, who must have been more painfully wounded by this perfidiousness of Peter than by all the indignities and insults of His enemies. Lord, what is man, that Thou art mindful of him; or the son of man, that Thou visitest him! What is our boasted strength but weakness! And when left to ourselves, how do our firmest principles and our best resolutions melt like snow before the sun!
II. The recovery of St. Peter.—
1. The necessity of Divine grace, in order to the restoration of fallen saints, as well as to the conversion of habitual sinners.
2. Though good men may accidentally fall, yet, upon a speedy and effectual repentance, they will be restored to the favour of God.
3. Although the restoration of Peter furnishes matter of consolation to good men who have been seduced into a fault, it affords no ground of hope to presumptuous offenders who live in the deliberate practice of sin. If Peter’s crime was great in its nature, it was neither premeditated nor of long continuance. It was not so much the act of the man as the effect of sudden and violent temptation which unhinged his mind and threw him into utter confusion. The moment his Saviour gave him the signal he was obedient to the heavenly call. As soon as he recovered the powers of reflexion, he bathed his soul in the tears of repentance, and from that time became the same faithful and affectionate apostle he had been before. But what is all this to deliberate transgressors who make bold with sin and presume upon the mercy of God?
4. Though good men may accidentally fall, they are more easily reclaimed than habitual sinners. Their minds, not being hardened by sin, are awakened by the gentlest calls of the Spirit; and the sense of virtue revives upon the first motions and suggestions of conscience.
5. The sins of the best men, into which they fall accidentally, are expiated with the strongest sense of sorrow and affliction. When men are truly concerned, they do not consider what they are to get by their tears, or what profit their sorrow will yield. The soul must vent its grief; and godly sorrow is as truly the natural expression of inward pain as worldly sorrow is, however much they differ in their causes and effects. When therefore we find ourselves truly affected with a sense of our sins, and in earnest lament our ingratitude and disobedience to God, we have the best indication that the spirit of religion is still alive within us, and that we are not given up to a reprobate mind.—A. Donnan.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 14:54. “A far off.”—This is a most unwelcome revelation of the apostle. We see him separated from the Saviour. He is following, but not so closely as to indicate his association with Jesus. The adherent is being lost in the apostate. The disciple is being degraded to the level of a deserter. Love is being chilled to lethargy. The ice of the coward is freezing the soul of the Rock-man. Every appeal to love and to fidelity which was made in silence by the utter desolation of the Christ, every incentive to steadfastness which arose from the memory of his ardent and unreserved pledges, and from the transcendent importance of consistency, was consigned to oblivion. His leaden feet moved slowly towards the palace of the high priest.—Dean Lefroy.
Mark 14:57-58. False witness through misapplication of words.—The words laid to His charge might have been, and probably were, literally such as He had used. But the falseness of the evidence lay in the misapplication of them. Jesus had spoken of the temple of His body; the witnesses gave in the evidence as if He meant the Jewish Temple of stone. Hence it was no doubt that their evidence could not be made to agree, because each false witness would probably enough add something more which might go to prove the criminal meaning of those words—that they were so spoken, namely, as to apply to the holy building at Jerusalem. Even so we Christians—and it is a serious and fearful consideration—may be quoting the words of Divine truth, the very language of our Lord, and yet be guilty of false evidence. When, like the Jewish witnesses, we first frame a position, and then seek for texts of Scripture to support it, and apply these only in reference to the view predetermined on, are we not doing even the same?—S. Hinds.
Mark 14:60. The patience of Christ.—Jesus astonishes and confounds His judge by His silence and patience. But there is a very great difference betwixt confounding and converting. It is no small humiliation and mortification to see ourselves deserted by those who are most obliged to defend us. How much greater is it then to see them at the head of our enemies! This is what Jesus Christ teaches us to bear without bitterness, animosity, or the least desire of revenge.—P. Quesnel.
Mark 14:62. Christ’s testimony to Himself.—Why did the Lord, when thus adjured, break His silence? Some have thought it was out of respect to the office of the high priest, as the representative of God and the spiritual ruler of the people; and if we can separate the office from the character of him who held it, no more fitting opportunity could have presented itself. For here was the head of the nation, considered as a theocracy, demanding of One whose credentials shewed that He came direct from God who He was. This was the first time that Jesus was face to face with the chief minister of His Father’s religion. It ought not to have been so. His claims ought long ago to have been investigated, as to whether He really fulfilled the prophecies of the Messiah. But long ere this they had prejudged His case, and condemned Him. And now they sought not for the truth, but for that which might enable them to carry out their evil will against Him. He might, consequently, I think, if He had only looked to the motive of Caiaphas in putting such a question, have declined to answer. But the crisis had come. He must assert who He was, though He knew it would lead to His crucifixion.—M. F. Sadler.
Mark 14:63-64. The culpability of the Sanhedrin.—Some have been troubled with the thought that the judges of Jesus were conscientious. Was it not their duty, when any one came forward with Messianic pretensions, to judge whether or not his claim was just? And did they not honestly believe that Jesus was not what He professed to be? No doubt they did honestly believe so. We must ascend to a much earlier period to be able to judge their conduct accurately. It was when the claims of Jesus were first submitted to them that they went astray. He, being such as He was, could only have been welcomed and appreciated by expectant, receptive, holy minds. They were anything but that. They were totally incapable of understanding Him, and saw no beauty that they should desire Him. As He often told them Himself, being such as they were, they could not believe. The fault lay not so much in what they did as in what they were. Being in the wrong path, they went forward to the end. It may be said that they walked according to their light; but the light that was in them was darkness.—J. Stalker, D.D.
Mark 14:65. Christ dishonoured and suffering in His senses.—The image of the invisible God refuses not, for our sakes, to be dishonoured by the most unworthy treatment. All His senses suffer.
1. His sight, by their covering His face.
2. His hearing, by their blasphemies.
3. His smelling, by the nastiness of their spittle.
4. His feeling, by their buffeting Him, and the blows given by these servants.
5. His taste, by the blood which proceeded from these blows, etc. This is a dreadful motive of humiliation for the sinner, who seeks only to gratify his senses; and it is more so for the proud and revengeful person, who cannot bear the least injury, and is a mere idolater of his false honour.—P. Quesnel.
Mark 14:66-67. Peter discovered.—The place which the apostle occupied illustrates the reign of Providence in and over what we regard as trifles. He sat in such a position that either the glow of the fire or its light shone full upon his features. How often have we known of every arrangement being made to perfect some plan or scheme or purpose with the most studied care and the most anxious regard to design and to completeness, and yet all is undone by some simple trifle being omitted or disregarded as of no consequence whatever, and as being most unlikely to affect the issue the success of which commanded such attention, thought, and care! So here the golden glow of the fire or the flicker of the lightsome flame fell precisely upon the face of the one man in that group upon whom it was of the gravest consequence that it should not fall! And with his face thus illuminated and his very feature revealed, his affectation of indifference appeared to the maid to be the meanest dissimulation.—Dean Lefroy.
Mark 14:68-72. Constant falls.—At times perhaps, after reading the life of some holy man, we have ventured to think of stricter devotion and a closer walk with God; and then some ordinary temptation, some common fault, has brought us down from our dreams and shewn us what worms we are. We have gone forth in the morning relying on our steadfastness, and we have come home humbled and ashamed. We have felt sure that nothing could move us, and the merest opportunity was enough. We have risen perhaps from sinning, and abhorred ourselves, and been filled with disgust at our foolishness, and we have returned and sinned again. We have prayed against temptation, and we have run into it. At every Communion we vow ourselves Christ’s servants; at every Communion we have to repent of broken vows. We have knelt down and wept, and next week we have had to weep again. Our infirmity is miserable. We fall and fall again.—C. F. Secretan.
The temptation to deny Christ before men.—This is a common temptation. It is the first and earliest temptation of the young stepping out into the world. It is a boy’s temptation, when he first finds himself under a strange roof, and has to kneel down at night beneath the eye of a strange companion, and he feels uneasy, and half inclined to forego his accustomed prayers. It is the young man’s temptation, when he takes his place among his fellows, and too often finds himself, like Peter, surrounded by the enemies of his Lord—when he sees Jesus insulted, the holy name blasphemed, saintliness a byword, and the faith of his affection treated with mockery and contempt—when inquiring eyes are bent upon him to know how it is he does not echo their irreligious mirth. “Thou also art one of them. Thy speech betrayeth thee.” Then comes the trial of his constancy; then is it shewn what root he has in himself; then the eye of Jesus rests upon His young disciple, and good spirits watch what answer he will make to his blasphemers; then is the grace of God waiting too to help his infirmity, and enable that young Christian soldier to stand his ground with manfulness, and quietly but decisively declare himself for God and His truth against sin. “Yes, I am one of Jesus’ followers. I freely confess it. I care not who knows my mind. I believe in Christ. I make it my study to serve Him. I do scruple at an oath. I find no pleasure in the language of uncleanness. I am not used to talk so. I do not like such ways. I think them wrong. I hope I shall always think so.” And if you hardly find strength to speak out so boldly, and your heart fails you in your hour of trial, just when you should stand firm; if you feel inclined rather to laugh off the imputation of singularity, to disown the character of a disciple, and talk and jest with the rest,—oh! remember, “if we deny Christ, He will also deny us.”—Ibid.
Mark 14:71. Peter cursing and swearing.—This was no doubt the resurrection of an old fisherman’s habit, long since dead and buried. Peter was just the man likely to be a profane swearer in his youth—the headlong man of temper, who likes to say a thing with as much emphasis and exaggeration as possible. Old habits of sin are hard to kill. Till his dying day the man who has been a drunkard or a fornicator, a liar or a swearer, will have to keep watch and ward over the graveyard in which he has buried the past.
2. Yet there was a kind of method in the madness of Peter’s profanity. When he wanted to prove that he was none of Christ’s, he could not do better than take to cursing. It is one of the strongest testimonies to Jesus still that even those who do not believe in Him expect cleanness of speech and conduct from His followers, and are astonished if those who bear His name do things which when done by others are matters of course.—J. Stalker, D.D.
Mark 14:72. Thought leading to penitence.—
I. Peter alone.—Solitude is a test. It often shews the bent of a man’s mind. It is a critical time, and may issue in good or for evil. Satan watches for such occasions to war against the soul.
II. Peter thinking.—There is much thinking that is mere dissipation. Peter’s thought was earnest and practical. Such is necessary. Without it there can be no real life, progress, and achievement.
III. Peter thinking about his sin.—Such a subject is repulsive and painful. Sin in the abstract is so much more the sins of men, and especially of friends and kindred; but most of all our own sin. And yet thinking of our sins is right and necessary. We shall have to do it sooner or later; and it is infinitely better to do it in time than when too late.
IV. Peter thinking of his sin with penitential sorrow.—“He wept.” Tears not always true. There may be repentance without tears, and tears without repentance. But Peter was utterly sincere. His tears were the real expression of the grief and shame that wrung his heart. Shall we love what Peter so hated? Shall we indulge in ourselves what Peter found so bitter in its fruits?
V. Peter thinking of his sin with hope in Christ.—He “called to mind the word,” etc. But he would not stop here. Other words would be recalled, and especially that gracious word of promise and of hope (Luke 22:32). Besides, he could not but be conscious that the look of his Master indicated mercy more than judgment. That look pierced him through and through. It manifested not only knowledge and reproof and grief, but also love.—William Forsyth.
Peter’s case no exceptional one.—Cannot you remember in your own life brave resolutions and miserable fulfilments—promises which seemed easy to make, but which turned out so hard to keep? Cannot you remember what a picture you have sometimes drawn in your own mind of your intended resistance to temptation—how nobly and faithfully you imagined yourself, in your thoughts beforehand, sorely tried and proudly triumphing over the temptation? And cannot you remember, too, after the storm of temptation had passed over you, what a miserable shew you had actually made, how lightly you had been overcome, with what wretched weakness and stupidity and folly you had been provoked or terrified or enticed from your strong purposes of good? In the apostles we but see the reflexion of our own doings towards our Master.—Dean Church.
Recollection more needed than information.—Peter’s recollection of what he had formely heard was the occasion of his repentance. We do not sufficiently consider how much more we need recollection than information. We know a thousand things, but it is necessary that they should be kept alive in our hearts by a constant and vivid recollection. It is therefore extremely absurd and childish for people to say, “You tell me nothing but what I know.” I answer, “You forget many things, and therefore it is necessary that line should be upon line and precept upon precept.” Peter himself afterwards said in his epistles, “I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them.” We are prone to forget what we do know; whereas we should consider that whatever good thing we know is only so far good to us as it is remembered to purpose.—Richard Cecil.
Tears of contrition.—Who need be ashamed of tears wrung from him on his knees? Let sinners take shame rather for having no tears to flow, for repentance so moderate, for devotion so poor and low, for feelings so blunted by the habitude of sin, and hearts so dry and dead that they never want to relieve themselves by tears. We feel a little sorry, and think and look serious, and resolve to mend. We are not moved to weep. And yet a touching narrative will bring water into our eyes; our interest in a mere fictitious character will often moisten them. Shall our emotions of religion be so faint and feeble, our sense of sin so dull, as never to draw forth one tear? I am not for any affectation of religious feeling. I would make every allowance for a difference of temperament; but those of us, at least, who have wept for sorrow, how is it, I would ask, that we have never wept for sin?—C.F. Secretan.
Peter’s lifelong repentance.—Some say that, after his sad fall, he was ever and anon weeping, and that his face was even furrowed with continual tears. He had no sooner taken this poison but he vomited it up again, ere it got to the vitals; he had no sooner handled this serpent but he turned it into a rod, to scourge his soul with remorse for sinning against such clear light and strong love and sweet discoveries of the heart of Christ to him. Clement notes that Peter so repented that, all his life after, every night when he heard the cock crow, he would fall upon his knees, and, weeping bitterly, would beg pardon for his sins? Ah! Souls, you can easily sin as the saints; but can you repent with the saints? Many can sin with David and Peter who cannot repent with David and Peter, and so must perish for ever.—T. Brooks.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 14
Mark 14:61. Silence often more effective than speech.—” I have often repented having spoken, but I never have been sorry for having kept silent.” So said a friend in our hearing, and his words often are recalled to mind. There are occasions when duty bids a man speak, if he be a true man, a Christian man—when, unless he fling all fear of consequences to the winds, and utter words in behalf of truth, he will shew himself a coward. There are times, too, when it is his privilege to soothe anxiety and to comfort those in sorrow. Nevertheless, in spite of these and some other cases, silence frequently is wiser and no less effective than speech. Christ calmly and silently standing before the fuming high priest has been confessed through all the ages the nobler of the two. It falls to almost every one at times to encounter abuse. Bitter accusations are hurled at him, caused perhaps by misunderstandings. To listen in silence often is better evidence than anything else of the actual subjugation of one’s temper, and is the most effectual way of disarming an angry adversary.
Help from considering Christ’s endurance.—When Pollok the poet was a boy, he was of a passionate temper. Sometimes when offended, he allowed himself to fall into a rage, which was so violent that it was very painful to witness. About the age of fifteen a very striking change took place in his temper. This was observed for some time by his friends; and when at length he was questioned on the subject, his answer was, “While perusing the Gospels for myself, I was struck with the meekness and calm dignity of the Saviour under persecution, and I resolved henceforward to command my temper; and since that time, though I may feel anger, nothing ever puts me in a passion.”
Mark 14:62. Christ’s advent glorg.—Sometimes perhaps you have passed in the daytime through some public place where at night there was to be a magnificent exhibition of pyrotechnic art, and you have seen the figures that are to be lighted up as they stand ready for the exhibition. They are very plain and common-looking. You can see in the rude outlines the forms of men, the crown upon the kingly brow, and the jewels that flash from it; but there is no beauty and glory whatever about them. But wait till the eventide, till the sun goes down, and the master of ceremonies appears on the scene, and suddenly at the signal, perhaps of a trumpet-blast or a chorus of melody, the lights are turned on and a blaze of glory lights up the scene. Every figure stands out in radiant light, and the whole scene is illuminated, transfigured, and seems almost supernatural. So it will be when our Master appears, and these bodies of humiliation shall be lighted up with His brightness, and all the members shall shine with the beauty and majesty of their living Head, and He shall reveal all His glory in His heavenly bride.
Mark 14:66-71. Unguarded places most liable to attack.—A one-eyed doe used to graze near the sea, and always kept her blind eye next the water, as she thought her danger would only be from the land. But a poacher, when he discovered this, took a boat and shot her, and as she died the doe exclaimed, “O hard fate! that I should receive my death wound from that side whence I expected no ill, and be safe in that part where I looked for the most danger.”—Æsop.
Mark 14:72. God’s voice in common things.—In many ways and by many voices God pleads with us. There was a certain ungodly man who complained bitterly of the church-bell. He could neglect God’s service, he could in the insolence of wealth refuse to listen to God’s minister, but that bell as it rang forth day by day was echoed by his conscience and would not let him rest. God can make even a little bird preach a sermon for Him. Once a careless shepherd came down from the plains to waste in revelry and sin his hard-earned wages, and entered one of the cities of Australia. As he passed along the streets a wicker cage caught his eye, from which a captive lark, an English lark, brought across the ocean by some emigrant, was pouring forth its cheerful song; and at once by the magic power of association there came to his memory the old home far away, the village green, the grey church tower, the tender voice of his mother, the good advice of the kind old vicar, and by God’s help as he listened he paused, and then turned back determined to lead a better life.—George Macdonald, in his story of Robert Falconer, relates a well-authenticated incident of a notorious convict in one of our colonies having been led to reform his ways through going one day into a little church where the matting along the aisle happened to be of the same pattern as that in the church where he had worshipped with his mother when a boy. That old familiar matting recalled the memories of childhood, “the mysteries of the kingdom of innocence” which had long been hidden and overborne by the sins and sufferings of later years. It came to him like the crowing of the cock to Peter. It was the turning-point in his life. God has blessed the tick of the clock and the falling of a leaf to rouse in man’s breast a sense of responsibility. A thousand voices in nature call us to reflexion, but sometimes a simple incident in daily life has done so more effectually. The hard-hearted father who had listened to remonstrance and warning for many a year, was at last touched. He had heard most of the temperance orators of the day, but he continued the drink. One Sunday afternoon he took his little girl to the Sunday school, intending himself to go after more drink. At the door of the schoolhouse he put the child down from his arms, but observed that tears started into her eyes. “Why do you cry?” he asked. The little one sobbed out her answer, “Because you go to public-house, and frighten us when you come home.” It was enough. He never entered a public-house again. God can bless simple means to reach great ends.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Mark 14". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27