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CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 6:1. His own country.—Native place, or town: Nazareth, the home of His youth. Rejected at an earlier stage in His ministry (Luke 4:14-30), He now returns in the character of a Rabbi followed by disciples, and makes one more attempt to gain an attentive and intelligent hearing.
Mark 6:3. They were offended.—Scandalised, a graphic word. Christ was to them like a scandal, i.e. a “trap-spring,” or “baited stick in a trap.” Their familiarity with His earthly antecedents blinded them to His Divine character, and hindered them from rejoicing in the liberty of the children of God, which He came to proclaim and to bestow on all who would receive Him.
Mark 6:5. He could there do no mighty work.—The door was barred by their unbelief and moral insensibility, for God never forces an entrance, but always respects man’s free-will.
Mark 6:6. He marvelled.—For besides being “Perfect God,” He is also “Perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting” (Athanasian Symbol).
Mark 6:7. By two and two.—A detail peculiar to Mark, who in his list of names does not group the apostles in pairs as the other Synoptists do—an undesigned coincidence worthy of notice.
Mark 6:11. Verily … that city.—Omit this sentence, probably imported from Matthew 10:15.
Mark 6:13. Anointed with oil.—This unction was clearly sacramental—“an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given.” It was both the symbol and the vehicle of blessings for body and soul. See James 5:14.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 6:1-13
(PARALLELS: Matthew 13:54-58; Matthew 9:35-38; Matthew 10:5-42; Luke 9:1-6.)
The Master rejected: the servants sent forth.—An easy day’s journey would carry Jesus and His followers from Capernaum to Nazareth. What took our Lord back there? Mark seems to wish us to observe the connexion between this visit and the great group of miracles just recorded; and possibly the link may be Christ’s hope that the report of these might have preceded Him and prepared His way. In His patient longsuffering He will give His fellow-villagers another chance. His heart yearns for “His own country,” and “His own kin,” and “His own house.”
I. We have here unbelief born of familiarity, and its effects on Christ—
1. They own Christ’s wisdom in His teaching, and the reality of His miracles; but the fact that He was one of themselves made them angry that He should have such gifts, and suspicious of where He had got them.
(1) We note in their questions, first, the glimpse of Christ’s early life. They bring before us the quiet, undistinguished home and the long years of monotonous labour.
(2) These questions bring out strongly what we too often forget in estimating Christ’s contemporaries, viz. that His presence among them, in the simplicity of His human life, was a positive hindrance to their seeing His true character.
(3) The facts on which the Nazarenes grounded their unbelief are really irrefragable proofs of Christ’s Divinity. His character and work, compared with the circumstances of His origin and environment, are an insoluble riddle, except on the supposition that He was the Word and Power of God.
2. The effects of this unbelief on Christ.
(1) It limited His power. The atmosphere of chill unbelief froze the stream. He “would have gathered,” but “ye would not,” and therefore He “could not.”
(2) He marvelled. All sin is a wonder to eyes that see into the realities of things and read the end; for it is all utterly unreasonable (though it is, alas! not unaccountable) and suicidal. To one who lives ever in the Father’s bosom, what can seem so strange as that men should prefer homeless exposedness and dreary loneliness?
II. The new instrument which Christ fashions to cope with unbelief.—What does Jesus do when thus wounded in the house of His friends? Give way to despondency? No; but meekly betakes Himself to yet obscurer fields of service, and sends out the twelve to prepare His way.
1. The gift of power. Christ gives before He commands, and sends no man into the field without filling his basket with seed-corn.
2. Their equipment. The minimum of outward provision is likeliest to call out the maximum of faith.
3. The disposition of the messengers. It is not to be self-indulgent. If ever a herald of Christ falls under suspicion of caring more about life’s comforts than about his work, goodbye to his usefulness.
4. The messengers’ demeanour to rejecters. Shaking the dust off the sandal is an emblem of solemn renunciation of participation, and perhaps of disclaimer of responsibility.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Mark 6:3, a. Does labour block the way to manhood?—I. “Is not this mighty worker and wise teacher a carpenter?” Well! and what then? Skill in handling the plane and driving the saw does not expel wisdom from the speech, love from the heart, and beauty from the life. The artisan may be the conqueror of himself and of his circumstances, a man of clear vision, high and enduring motive, and chivalrous philanthropy, as the sun may warm and fertilise the earth with one set of rays, and paint the “human face Divine” with another. It is undeniable that the Nazareth artisan is the true King of the ages and the rightful Lord of the souls of men.
II. But apart from the obvious and proved compatibility of even menial and monotonous toil with kindly feeling, generous impulse, strict integrity, and large usefulness, these disaffected Nazarenes might have dispelled their passion-fed prejudice by simply recalling the leading names of their typical history. “In the beginning” God had set the stamp of His approval on human labour, and all along had chosen as the chief toilers for the higher and spiritual welfare of Israel and the world those who were devoted to useful handicrafts or pastoral pursuits.
III. But it would be unfair to treat this jaundiced jeer, the outburst of the lowest and rudest thought of Galilee, as though it expressed the prevalent Jewish idea of labour. Far from it. Handicrafts were specially honoured amongst the Jews, and the occupants of the highest posts of learning and tuition were most familiar with the lower forms of human toil. The teacher of that Rabbi Hillel who died only a few years before the birth of Christ was in the habit of saying, “Love labour.” Another Rabbi said, “Great is labour, for she honours the Master.” A third, “When a man teaches his son no trade, it is as if he taught him highway robbery.” And we owe to the family of the far-famed Gamaliel the penetrating saying, “Beautiful is the union of the study of the law with some honest calling, for by the diligent pursuit of both a man is weaned from sin, but all study unaccompanied by work ends in vanity and draws sin in its train.”
IV. Now the strange and inexplicable thing is that this insane prejudice against handicrafts requiring hard muscular work as blocking the way to the higher grades of goodness exists and operates amongst us in this year with a force it never had in Palestine, and produces mischiefs that are positively incalculable. Only lately it was seriously contended that men in the East End of London with a scant cupboard and a life of forced daily toil could not be expected to be Christians, and echoes follow echoes which report nothing but the deeply rooted falsehood that so long as men have to toil to live they cannot live to and for and in God. I do not deny the heart-ache of many a labouring life, the fierce struggle to exist continued in many a home, the unbroken dulness, the leaden monotony, killing aspiration and deadening faith, the brutalising conditions often associated with toil. I know the workshop is infested with corruption, the atmosphere charged with falseness and impurity, and that often the work itself is hard and rough and ill-paid. I admit the worse, but I cannot close my eyes to the evidence of facts, and I dare not be false to God’s revelation of the sublime conquests possible to every man in and through Christ over the dullest circumstance or the most violently antagonistic lot. I am sure that labour is in the main wholesome and helpful, a defence from myriad temptations, a goad to usefulness, a contribution to the progress of the world, and perfectly compatible with the manliest life.
V. We might learn this from the long and thrilling history of toil at the back of us, for we have had apostles of labour like the brave Hollanders, who built their own country out of the sands of the sea, and created themselves into the manliest of men, and the most compact and independent of states by the act; martyrs to trade like Palissy the Potter; confessors and reformers like Richard Cobden, the manufacturer of calicoes; model men of business like the bookseller, Daniel Macmillan, and the “commercial” George Moore; and myriads more amongst the labouring poor, some of whom, I rejoice to say, I have intimately known and warmly loved, who, though they never gained any “social standing,” “wrought righteousness, subdued the kingdoms” of self and of home, “stopped the mouths of the lions” of vice and impurity, “quenched the power of the fires” of intemperance, “from weakness were made strong, waxed mighty in power” against domestic and social evils, and helped in turning to flight armies of aliens. Besides, does not everybody think Goethe is right when he says “an idle life is an anticipated death”? And must we not in our best moments admit that in spite of many drawbacks we owe lasting thanks to God for putting us where work is a necessity and a vocation the condition not only of a prolonged existence, but of a prolonged happiness? Labour is a benediction from God. Delitzsch, writing on Jewish Artisan Life, says: “All work worthy of the name is Godlike, for the world is one great whole in which everything acts and reacts. Each separate thing is but a stepping-stone to some higher end, and all things work out together the grand purpose of the whole.”
VI. But it is in the fullest life ever lived—a life unequalled in its sweet dignity and attractive familiarity, tender strength and daring meekness—a life from which moral grandeur never departs—it is from it we get the strongest witness that “labour” does not block the way to manhood. That life is set deep in the forests of human toil. The pattern character is in the pattern condition, to use it, to redeem it, to glorify it, to adjust it to Himself, to exhibit the spirit in which a man may convert his surroundings into a set of “angels on the way of life,” ministers inspiring and educating him, forces enabling him to partake more largely of the Divine nature.
VII. So far as we know Christ left the bench of the carpenter for the post of teacher and reformer. His work was His college. “He learnt obedience by the things He did and suffered,” and acquired fitness for His ministry of brief but measureless energy, tender pathos, broad sympathies, and heroic self-sacrifice. The lowliest tasks well done are the best preparations for helpful ministries to the world. “Labour” is not only not a block to manhood, but it is the best drill for some of its finest services.
1. Read, I beseech you, the handwriting of God on your daily toil. “In all your ways acknowledge God, and He will direct you in your goings” for a subsistence.
2. Breathe into your work the spirit of beneficence. Do not stop your vision at its details, but range in thought over its large issues; and as Daniel Macmillan, when a bookseller’s clerk, found solace from the conviction that he was aiding in the fight against ignorance and falsehood, and thus promoting the welfare of the world, so take care you never lose sight of the really helpful results of even the smallest honest and true work.
3. Be thorough in to-day’s work. Do the thing well that is near you. Carlyle, after he met Arnold at Rugby, said of this model teacher, “He is a hero—a man who knows his work and does it.”
4. Give a definite place to, and find special time and spheres for, the cultivation of your spiritual nature. Receive into your nature the power of Christ, and He will make the work of the bench a discipline for the consolation of the weary, the guidance of the perplexed, the assistance of the needy, and the helping of the world.
VIII. And is it from this religion founded by an artisan, born in poverty, whose apostles were fishermen and tax-gatherers, whom the “common people heard gladly”—is it from it and Him the toiling millions are turning away in indifference or despair? Do you blame the architect for the blunders of the builder? Will you censure the directors for the unknown intemperance of the “guard” that wrecks a train? Nor ought we to blame Christ Jesus for the faults of the Churches. It is not from Him you hear the cry that the weakest must be driven to the wall, the “fittest only must survive.” It is not from Christ you hear approval of the tyranny of capital over labour or of the selfishness of masters in their dealings with men. He bids masters and servants alike be fair and just, and commands a mutual recognition of brotherhood in the kingdoms of toil, and breathes into men the spirit that ameliorates the lot of the wretched, and prepares the way for the widest and most enduring prosperity.
IX. Above all, beware of the strong illusion which resides in the commonplace. Familiarity with Jesus as the Son of Mary and brother of Joses, as playmate and fellow-workmen, closed the eyes of the Nazarenes to the spiritual meaning of His life, and barred their hearts to the entrance of His saving power. A similar danger is before us. Goaded by Strauss and others, men like Robertson of Brighton have compelled us to sit with fixed and profitable gaze on the MAN Christ Jesus. The pulpits and the literature of the Church are full of the blessed reality of Christ’s humanness. Never was He more fully the Brother of men since He left the slopes of Olivet. But let us take “large views.” GOD WAS IN CHRIST, transfiguring menial toil by faithfulness, obedience, and worship; educing from smallest seeds large harvests, and from lowliest deeds grandest issues; reconciling all things in our world to Himself, and to us, by reconciling us to Himself; adjusting all human relations, revealing the brotherhood of all men, penetrating our social life with the spirit of thoroughness and unselfishness, and so making possible a world in which every man does a full man’s work with a clear spiritual aim, and so helps to establish a kingdom of righteousness and truth upon the earth.—J. Clifford, D.D.
Mark 6:3, b. Offended in Him.—
I. The astonishment of prejudice aroused.—
1. The prejudice of calling.
2. The prejudice of birth.
3. The prejudice of relationship.
4. The prejudice of familiarity.
II. The astonishment culminating in bitter jealousy and dislike.—Why should one occupying such a humble position and surroundings claim any pre-eminence over them? They could not deny. the majesty of the life, the greatness of the deed, and the sublimity of the utterance; yet the ever-recurring question was, “Is not this the carpenter?”
III. The protest which their astonishment and unbelief called forth (Mark 6:4).—This was an old proverb with a new application.
IV. The evil wrought by this blind prejudice in limiting the possibilities of Christ’s ministry among them.—Human receptivity is one of the essential conditions of Divine working among men.
V. The painful surprise awakened in Christ by their astonishment and unbelief.
VI. The good accomplished in spite of prejudice and unbelief.—
1. Healing a few sick folk. Poor sufferers were not shut out of His great sympathy, nor placed beyond the reach of His tender healing, by the unbelief of their neighbours.
2. Teaching in the villages. All that prejudice could do was to exclude its owners from the sphere of Divine operations.—D. Davies.
Mark 6:11. Punishments proportionable to sins.—In these words Christ doth not wholly excuse those wicked Gentiles; but neither doth He charge them with so great a degree of guilt as He doth the unbelieving Jews. The Gentiles’ gross ignorance of their duty might in some measure have been avoided by them, and was therefore justly to be imputed to them; but they had not the same opportunities and advantages of improving their knowledge, they had not the same means of conviction, they had not the same motives to reformation and amendment of life, as those men unto whom the gospel had been preached; and therefore, upon this account, our Lord is graciously pleased to make them as it were some sort of allowance and abatement. They are here represented not indeed as entirely blameless, but still as less blamable than others: they are not exempted from those sufferings that were due unto their sins; but these sufferings, we are told, shall be less severe than those which will be inflicted upon greater sinners.
I. In the next world some sinners will be more severely punished than others.—
1. Though this doctrine had not been expressly revealed to us in the Word of God, yet our own reason alone would have inclined us to have believed it; for the same arguments that are brought to prove that any punishments shall hereafter be inflicted upon any sinners, may also be urged to shew that some sinners shall have a greater share in those punishments than others: the same vindictive justice of God which inclines Him to punish the sins of the impenitent disposes Him likewise to observe some proportion in His punishments, and to allot the greatest degrees of misery to the greatest degrees of guilt. And even if the justice of God were not so clearly interested in this matter, yet these future punishments do themselves suggest to us this doctrine; and from the nature of them we may very reasonably infer their inequality. One great part of the punishment of hell consists in the remorse of conscience arising from the sense of guilt; and therefore, where the greatest guilt is, there must be the greatest remorse, that is the greatest punishment, from the sense of it. Another argument to prove the inequality of future torments may be this—namely, that envy, malice, and other vices are not only by the order of God attended with punishments, but in the nature of the thing necessarily create torment; and therefore, where these are in the most eminent degree, they must necessarily create the greatest torment.
2. This truth will appear still more evident if we consider the declarations God has been pleased to make concerning it in His Word. In the Levitical law God commands the magistrate to give the offender a certain number of stripes, according to his fault; and our Saviour hath taught us that He will observe the same method in the distribution and execution of His future punishments (Luke 5:37-38).
II. What those sins are which will expose men to the greatest suffering.—
1. These are, first, such sins as are in their kind most heinous—such as blasphemy, hypocrisy, murder, bloody persecution of God’s saints, unnatural lusts, and the like. These sins are, in the kind of them, so open and so provoking an affront to the great God of heaven and earth, and are besides so shocking to human nature. and to the first conceptions we are used to form of the distinction between good and evil, that a man must have perfectly rooted out of his mind all awe of God, all sense of religion, all regard to goodness, before he can harbour or encourage the least thoughts of them.
2. Those sins also will be most severely punished which are committed against the greatest light. The sins of Christians, of reformed Christians, of those of the best reformed Church, the sins of such who attend continually upon the ordinances of God, and come constantly to be partakers of the Supper of the Lord—such men as these have no pretence for their iniquity, no colour or excuse for their sins.
3. Those men also have just reason to dread the severest judgments of God who allow themselves in such sins as shew the greatest depravity of will—habitual, deliberate, presumptuous sins—sins which they take pleasure in, and love to see practised by others.—Bishop Smalridge.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 6:1. Meaning of the word “disciple.”—
I. The school.—
1. They are in the kingdom of God (John 3:5).
2. At the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:39; Deuteronomy 33:3).
3. The law brings us to Christ (Galatians 3:24).
4. To be in school is to be “in Christ” (Ephesians 4:21).
5. It is in the school that the instruction, training, and discipline take place.
6. “Come unto Me” precedes “Learn of Me” (Matthew 11:28-29).
II. The lesson.—
1. The truth to be understood (John 16:13-15).
2. The Person to be appropriated (Ephesians 4:20; Hebrews 3:14; 2 Peter 1:4).
3. The example to be followed (1 Peter 2:21; Philippians 2:5; Matthew 11:29; John 13:12-17; Luke 14:27).
III. The Teacher.—The Lord Himself (John 6:45).
1. His wisdom (Colossians 2:3).
2. His power (1 Corinthians 1:24).
3. His skill (Psalms 78:72; Psalms 32:8).
4. He can teach the heart (Hebrews 8:10; Hebrews 10:16).
5. He teaches us to profit Isaiah 48:17).
6. What He requires of those whom He teaches (Job 22:22; Psalms 25:9; Jeremiah 33:3; John 21:22).—E. Hopkins.
Mark 6:2. Christian doctrine.—
1. Christian doctrine applicable to all classes of men.
2. Christian doctrine calculated to excite the profoundest surprise.
3. Christian doctrine always conveying the impression of unique power.
4. Christian doctrine shewing the insignificance of the personality of its teachers. Even Christ Himself, according to the flesh, seemed poor and inadequate when viewed in the light of the wondrous revelations which He made to the world.—J. Parker, D.D.
Individuality of spirit, claim, manner, always provokes criticism. The glory of the highest revelation of Christianity is, that personality is superseded by spirituality. The speaker is to be forgotten in the speech. When both personality and doctrine are to be considered, the danger is that the former may be made to assume undue prominence. Instead of inquiring What is said? the inquiry will be Who said it? Personality is a mere question of detail in comparison with the truths which nourish and save the soul.—Ibid.
1. Men may acknowledge and wonder at the spiritual gifts and graces which they see to be in others, and yet themselves have never the more grace, but be utterly void of all sanctifying and saving gifts of the spirit.
2. It is the property of carnal men to tie the gifts and graces of God’s Spirit unto outward helps and means, as if the Lord could not bestow such gifts, or work such graces by His Spirit, without such outward helps.
3. So long as any remain hardened in their natural blindness and infidelity, no means will prevail to work faith or repentance in them, and to bring them to God, though the means used be in themselves never so powerful and excellent.—G. Petter.
Unbelief.—In our modern cant phraseology theirs might have been designated agnosticism and philosophic doubt. But philosophic it certainly was not, any more than much that now passes, because it bears that name; at least, if according to modern negative criticism, the inexplicable is also the unthinkable. Nor was it really doubt or agnosticism, any more than much that now covers itself with that garb. It was what Christ designated it—unbelief, since the questions would have been easily answered—indeed, never have arisen—had they believed that He was the Christ. And the same alternative still holds true. If “this One” is what negative criticism declares Him, which is all that it can know of Him by the outside—the Son of Mary, the Carpenter and Son of the carpenter of Nazareth, whose family occupied the humblest position among Galileans—then whence this wisdom which, say of it what you will, underlies all modern thinking, and these mighty works, which have moulded all modern history?—A. Edersheim, D.D.
Mark 6:3. “Is not this the carpenter?”—Certainly; yet that refutes nothing. It only helps to prove the claims of Jesus to be the Son of God. If He had been a learned rabbi or philosopher, it might have been said He had received His wisdom from men; but as He was only a poor village carpenter, He must have been taught of God.
1. This tells us how wisely Jesus spent His youth and early manhood—not in idleness, but in useful toil.
2. It teaches us that there is no disgrace in working at a trade. Marks of toil are brighter insignia of honour than jewelled rings and delicate whiteness.
3. It shows also the condescension of Christ. Though rich, He became poor, and even toiled for His daily bread. It assures us, therefore, of His sympathy now with those who toil. It is a pleasant thought that the hands that now hold the sceptre once wielded the hammer and the saw.—J. R. Miller, D.D.
The history of Nazareth has been repeated on a large scale in the history of Israel.—Israel, as a whole, also made the nearness of Jesus, His “not being afar off,” an occasion of unbelief and fall. This temptation, resulting from the constant beholding of the Holy One with common eyes, was pointed to in Deuteronomy 30:14 (cp. Romans 10:8). It is the temptation which besets the intimates and fellow-citizens of chosen spirits and great geniuses; which besets theologians in the daily study and service of the truths of revelation, ministers in their commerce with the ordinances of grace, and all the lesser officers of the house of God in their habitual contact with the externals of Divine things. It is the temptation also of ancient towns and Churches, which have enjoyed exalted privileges, and indeed of the whole Church itself (Luke 18:8).—J. P. Lange, D.D.
The offence of the Nazarenes on account of Christ’s humble origin a picture of all other offences in Him.
1. An offence—
(1) In His terrestrial state and existence.
(2) In His human lowliness.
(3) In His brothers and sisters with their human weakness.
2. Yet an offence which will leave us self-condemned, since it implies an admission of His wisdom and of His deeds.
3. A most fatal offence, since unbelief deprives us of the blessings of Christ’s wondrous works.—Ibid.
1. This should teach us to be well content to be abased in this world for Christ’s sake, seeing He, for our sakes, and to do us good, refused not to take upon Him so mean and low a condition.
2. It should move us to shew all humility towards our brethren in and for Christ’s sake.
3. It should restrain in us all ambitions and covetous desires of worldly greatness, honour, wealth, etc.—G. Petter.
The message more than the messenger.—If a message be sent to us from some great person, we look not so much at the person that brings it as at the message itself. So when ministers preach the Word of God to us, we must not so much have an eye to the outward quality of the persons that preach as to the doctrine itself which they deliver, the excellency and Divine authority whereof must move us to embrace and yield obedience to it.—Ibid.
Mark 6:4-6. How Christ victoriously contends with the unbelief of prejudice among His own countrymen.—
1. Prejudice everywhere opposes Him.
(1) In an impure and a gross apprehension of His dignity, as of a magical secret doctrine and art.
(2) In the reckoning up of all His earthly relationships, in order to urge them to the disparagement of His heavenly dignity.
(3) In a slavish community of envious and low judgment upon His life.
2. How the Lord lays hold of and overcomes this prejudice.
(1) He refers it all to a universal fact, which they might afterwards reflect upon.
(2) He does not forget, but heals, the few who needed and were susceptible of help among His scorners.
(3) He gathers up His influences, and withdraws.
(4) He causes the light of His presence to shine brightly throughout the whole district.—J. P. Lange, D.D.
Mark 6:4. Lessons.—
1. Good and faithful ministers of God are usually most subject to contempt and dishonour in the places where they are most familiarly known.
(1) Envy and emulation cause men often to repine at the honour and preferment of such as are and have been familiarly known to them, and perhaps also have been heretofore their inferiors or equals.
(2) Where ministers daily live and converse, they cannot but through human frailty discover some infirmities; and so their infirmities being most known in such places, hence it is that they are the more apt there to be despised.
(3) The daily presence and commonness of a benefit are apt to breathe a contempt and loathing of it.
2. Honour and good respect are due unto God’s faithful ministers wherever they live.
(1) They are spiritual fathers (1 Corinthians 4:15); therefore to be honoured.
(2) They are God’s messengers and ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20); therefore to be respected for the Lord’s sake who sends them.
(3) This wins reverence and authority to their ministry, causing it to be the more regarded, and become more profitable and effectual.—G. Petter.
Mark 6:5. The right atmosphere is wanting.—Fire cannot burn in a vacuum. His hands, indeed, were laid upon a few sick folk, and He healed them; but the mightier work of healing diseased minds and troubled hearts could not there be accomplished—that required stronger faith.
Mark 6:6. Jesus wonders at that at which He would have us wonder; and He takes notice of our faults, to the end that we may reflect upon ourselves. How much more strange and surprising are our own infidelity or unsuitable returns, after the instruction and miracles of so many ages!—P. Quesnel.
Nature, causes, and effects of unbelief.—
I. The nature of unbelief.—
1. Practical disregard of God’s Word and Commandments is really infidelity.
2. Afraid to receive the promises of God.
3. Fearing to take comfort from the Word of God.
II. The causes of unbelief.—
1. Voluntary ignorance (Romans 1:19-21).
2. Wilful resistance of conscience (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12).
3. A deliberate preference for sins (John 3:19).
III. The effects of unbelief.—
1. It rejects Christ, the Lord of Glory, and therefore deserves eternal punishment.
2. It leads the sinner further and further away from God.—H. M. Villiers.
The unbelief which comes between us and Christ is that state of heart and feeling which dislikes the strain and trouble of thinking of things out of this present world; which looks away from what is out of sight and to come, and is moved and impressed only by what is just before it—immediate interests, immediate pleasures, common customs. It is the unbelief of carelessness, deadness of soul, lazy, selfish indifference; which cannot understand how any one can be in earnest, so as to take pains and suffer trouble for the sake of things unseen; which cannot bring itself to think that God is in earnest and the work of serving and pleasing Him a real thing. It is the unbelief which comes of wishing to save ourselves trouble, of not thinking it worth while to force ourselves to attend, to think, to remember, to lay to heart. This is the unbelief which comes between us and the power of Christ to improve us, to strengthen us, to comfort us. What we will not have done for us that He cannot do.—Dean Church.
Mark 6:7-11. The sending forth of the twelve apostles, formally commissioned to preach the gospel of the kingdom of heaven, reminds us of that noble and wonderful stream which Ezekiel saw in vision proceeding from under the threshold of the Temple, at first but a small rivulet not more than ankle-deep, but which, as it went on its way, increased to a stream knee-deep, then up to the thighs, and afterward to a great river for a man to swim in, and carrying healing in its blessed waters whithersoever it flowed. Jesus is the True Temple of God, and in Him this stream of life rises, and through His apostles and disciples it flowed forth, at first a very small stream, but it has gone on widening and deepening until its waters have filled the whole earth, and whithersoever it has flowed it has carried life and healing (Ezekiel 47:1-9; Revelation 22:1-7; John 7:37-39). To-day it is the mightiest moral force in the world, and there are none to sneer at it except fools and knaves (though many still oppose its onward flow), while millions all over the world and among all peoples live to bless God for His love and for His unspeakable gift in Christ Jesus.—G. F. Pentecost, D.D.
A beginning only.—Mark significantly says, “Then Jesus began to send them forth”: for ever since that day He has been giving similar work, and qualifying similar representatives.
1. To go forth from the presence of Jesus.
2. To be willing to work together.
3. To be content with the use of moral influence. Men are to be urged, not forced.
4. To exercise self-denial and cheerful trust in God.—A. Rowland.
Mark 6:7. Two and two is a wise rule for all Christian workers. It checks individual peculiarities and self-will, helps to keep off faults, wholesomely stimulates, strengthens faith by giving another to hear it and to speak it, brings companionship, and admits of division of labour. One and one are morethan twiceone.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Jesus sends out His disciples by twos.—In the line of this need, and for its supply, woman, with her blessed ministries, is granted as a help-meet to man. He is made stronger and enters a larger and better life by her pure companionship. And this, too, outside of the sacred relation of husband and wife. They need each other’s mutual help, and are uplifted in the relation simply of man and woman. They complement and help each other to attain and enjoy higher good. In all this man’s need of going out of himself and the healthfulness of the mutual impact of true natures are recognised.—W. M. Campbell.
I. The power of Christian friendship.—
1. Sympathy: its immense help in enabling one to meet the difficulties, bear the trials, and do the work of Christian life.
2. Counsel: the advice of a wise friend, how valuable when in perplexity!
3. Love: its stimulating power.
II. The beauty of Christian friendship.—
1. Its unselfishness, eachstriving to help and make sacrifices for the other.
2. The common pursuit of noble aims, the common interest of Christian life.
3. The exchange of helpful thoughts on great subjects, the intercourse of minds enlightened by the knowledge of Christ.
III. The responsibility of Christian friendship.—Like all blessings, it has its dangers. It can be misused—
1. By weakly yielding to please a friend, instead of using the privilege of friendship to try to put him right.
2. By flattering a friend’s weakness, instead of pointing out and helping him to eradicate his faults.
3. By that absorption in one another which becomes a hindrance to the real work of life.—A. G. Mortimer, D.D.
Mark 6:8. God’s messengers.—
1. Such as are called of God to performance of great and weighty duties must free themselves from such impediments as will hinder them in those duties.
2. The best Christians may sometimes be called to a mean and poor estate, in which they may be destitute of necessaries for maintenance of this life.
(1) That God’s special providence and fatherly care may more appear in providing for them when outward means fail them.
(2) To try and exercise their faith in depending on His fatherly providence in their wants.
(3) To wean their hearts from love of earthly things, and to stir up in them the greater love and desire of spiritual and heavenly riches.—G. Petter.
Maintenance for ministers.—
1. It is not fit for ministers of the Word to be cumbered and troubled with the affairs of this life.
2. It is the ordinance of God that ministers should receive a sufficient maintenance from the people whom they are called to teach.—Ibid.
Mark 6:11. Lessons.—When we see God dishonoured by great and heinous sins, we ought to testify our utter dislike and detestation of them, some way or other.
(1) By an outward gesture and carriage (Acts 13:51; Acts 18:6; Nehemiah 5:13; 2 Kings 19:1).
(2) By our words, plainly and sharply reproving such sins, and denouncing God’s judgments against them (Ephesians 5:11).
2. The contempt of God’s ministers, especially of their ministry and doctrine, is an execrable and odious sin in the sight of God.
3. The sins of wicked men pollute the very ground on which they tread.—Ibid.
Severity or patience?—The whole conditions of work now are different. Sometimes, perhaps, a Christian is warranted in solemnly declaring to those who receive not his message that he will have no more to say to them. That may do more than all his other words. But such cases are rare; and the rule that is safest to follow is rather that of love, which despairs of none, and, though often repelled, returns with pleading, and, if it have told often in vain, now tells with tears, the story of the love that never abandons the most obstinate.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Mark 6:12. True repentance.—
1. Its nature.
(1) It is represented in Scripture both as the gift of God and as the duty of the sinner.
(2) It is inseparably connected with faith in Christ. It includes—(a) A genuine sorrow for sin. (b) An unreserved and ingenious confession of sin. (c) A firm purpose, through Divine grace, to walk in newness of life—a purpose that is proved to be sincere by the fruits it produces.
2. Its indispensable necessity. This is proved by—
(1) The universality of sin.
(2) The express command of God, and the awful threatenings He has denounced against the finally impenitent.
3. Motives and encouragements to the performance of this duty.
(1) The very call and command to repent may afford encouragement to returning sinners.
(2) The Word of God is full of the most encouraging and express promises to penitent sinners.
(3) The examples recorded in Scripture of sinners who obtained mercy, notwithstanding the peculiar greatness of their guilt.
(4) The unspeakable happiness which awaits the true penitent in a future and eternal world.—D. Black.
Mark 6:13. Miracles.—It was not magic that conquered disease and death. We must not assume that, because powers are beyond our own knowledge and control, they are therefore lawless and irregular. Order is heaven’s first law. Jesus violates no principle in restoring the dead to life, but works according to some higher, unknown, and more heavenly principle. It is the kingdom of heaven overcoming the kingdom of darkness. The apostles, after Christ’s ascension, preached One who had all power in heaven and on earth, who had come to deliver men from the plagues and adversaries tormenting them.
Power in common things.—There is a potency in the commonest things. God has ordered it so. He certainly will not ignore His own arrangement. Every cure wrought without the aid of magical art or imposition and quackery, wrought with the aid of remedies provided in the earth and air, wrought wisely, honestly, scientifically, is a new proof that One who in other times healed the bodies and souls of men is still at work, that He still gives knowledge and insight to those who seek it, enables them to look into the condition of their fellow-men, and to be the ministers to them of His own blessed, healing, life-giving power.
The healing art the gift of God.—We may claim all true powers of the healing art and all honest studies in physical science as the gifts of God, ever intended to be the instruments of extending and proclaiming the Redeemer’s kingdom over the earth.
Credentials of authority.—Throughout all the centuries Christians have been following in the footsteps of Christ in their ministry to the sick, the diseased, the devil-ridden, and the dying: thousands of hospitals for every manner of disease and affliction; nurses everywhere to care for the suffering; the white cross on the battle-fields; remorseless warfare against every form of evil, and successful warfare too. A Christlike life, sympathy, active and tender, with the suffering poor under all conditions, are the credentials of authority which Christ gives to us all now.—G. F. Pentecost, D.D.
The duties of a pastor.—Here is an emblem of the several duties of a pastor—namely, courageously to prosecute incorrigible sinners, to treat the weak with mildness, and to apply himself to all with zeal.—P. Quesnel.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 6
Mark 6:3-4. Ignorant prejudices.—The same blindness and folly appears on a smaller scale in our own day. Some years ago Professor Wilson wrote that “as the northern Highlanders do not admire Waverley, so, I presume, the south Highlanders despise Guy Mannering. The Westmoreland peasants think Wordsworth a fool. In Borrowdale Southey is not known to exist. I met ten men in Hawick who do not think Hogg a poet, and the whole city of Glasgow think me a madman.”
Mark 6:7. The Divine call.—The apostles are the Lord’s “sent ones,” models of Christ’s servants who do His bidding in all the ages. Still, the supreme need of all who engage in Christian work is a sense of the Divine call. We may, therefore, ask how such calls are likely to come to us in these our times. They often come in providential circumstances, which bring altogether unsought work into a man’s hands. In one of his letters Dr. Norman McLeod wrote in this way: “I have tried, at least for the last twenty-five years, to accept of whatever work is offered to me in God’s providence. I have, rightly or wrongly, always believed that a man’s work is given to him, that it is not so much sought as accepted, that it is floated to one’s feet like the infant Moses to Pharaoh’s daughter.” No man will want work who waits on Divine providence with a full purpose of heart to do what is shewn to be God’s will for him. They come in the consciousness of possessing gifts, and such consciousness often comes suddenly to men. A good man, called to reside in a fresh city, visited a Sunday school, and was asked to take charge of the infant class in the absence of the usual teacher. As he had the little folk before him, the thought came to him and possessed him, “Here is your life-work. This is what you have to do.” It was an inward impulse by the Spirit. In that work he has won good success. We limit our realisation of Divine calls by limiting our ideas of Christian work. When an army is going forth to war, what a multitude of great and small preparations are necessary! and how much the success of the expedition will depend on careful attention to the minute details! The credit of the triumph won does not belong to the soldier only; it is in part his who made the soldiers’ weapons and the soldiers’ clothes. In the Arctic Expeditions everything depended on the thorough faithfulness of each member in the things that were least. The cabin-boy had his part in the work as truly as the leader. David acted on this view of the claims of all who take any place in an enterprise, however lowly the place may be, when he insisted on having the spoil divided among those who “tarried by the stuff,” as well as among those who “went forth to battle.” We all need to recognise more fully than we have ever done, that the Divine call to work, and the Divine inspiration and grace for workers, come to givers, and collectors, and sympathisers, and those who pray, quite as truly as to those who preach and teach.
Support by companionship.—A father was walking one day in the fields with his two children. The wind was blowing over a fine field of ripe corn, and making the beautiful golden ears wave like the waves of the sea. “Is it not surprising,” said one of the children, “that the wind does not break the slender stalks of the corn?” “My child,” said the father, “see how flexible the stalks are! They bend before the wind, and rise again when the wind has passed over them. See, too, how they help to support each other. A single stalk would be soon bent to the ground, but so many growing close together help to keep each other up. If we keep together when the troubles of life come upon us like a stormy wind, we shall keep each other up, when one trying to stand alone would fall.”
Mark 6:8. Impediments.—Armies most amply furnished with stores and comforts are most inefficient. The Zulu hordes, with but spear and shield, held long at bay the well-provisioned and disciplined troops of England. Baggage is well termed “impedimenta.” It checks by just so much the quickness, and fosters by hardness. The soul heavily freighted with the luxuries and appliances of this life is at a disadvantage for the sudden movements and missions on which the Great Captain would send it.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 6:19. Had a quarrel.—Fostered a grudge. Her inward enmity only waited for an opportunity to break forth in open hostilities.
Mark 6:20. Observed.—Or preserved, i.e. guarded him. Did many things.—א, B, L, and Coptic read, he was much perplexed, which, however, hardly seems to harmonise with the next words,and heard Him gladly.
Mark 6:21.—Mark alone mentions the three classes of guests:
(1) Herod’s political magnates;
(2) the military dignitaries—“chiliarchs,” i.e. commanders of a thousand men;
(3) the grandees of Galilee—persons of substance and distinction.
Mark 6:22.—The reading best supported by MS. authority (א, B, D, L, Δ) is that of R.V. margin—“his daughter Herodias, thus making mother and daughter bear the same name. It would not be a conclusive argument against this that this child of shame is not otherwise mentioned in history. The circumstances of her birth would condemn her to obscurity, and she may have died young. Against the common reading it may be urged that in A. D. 29 Salome, who was left a widow in A. D. 34, might perhaps barely (but not more than barely) be described as κοράσιον; while the other reading would throw back the beginning of Herod’s connexion with Herodias to the year 20 or 21. This would then have to be reconciled with the history of his relations to the daughter of Aretas. Josephus says that at the time when Herodias joined him (which may, indeed, have been some little time after his first connexion with her) he had then been married to the daughter of Aretas for a considerable time (Antiq. Jud., XVIII. Mark 6:1; Mark 6:4). He also speaks of the repudiation of Aretas’ daughter as the beginning (be it observed) of the quarrel which led to the war between Antipas and the Arabian King in A. D. 36.”
Mark 6:25. By-and-by.—Instantly. Same word, ἐξαυτῆς, in Matthew 13:21; Luke 18:7; Luke 21:9.
Mark 6:26. Reject.—Disappoint, or break faith with.
Mark 6:27. Executioner.—The speculator was originally one whose duty it was to act as a spy or scout; then it came to be applied generally to any member of the armed body-guard of the Roman Emperor. Herod, who loved to imitate the customs of the Imperial Court, kept about him a company of speculatores to carry out his orders.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 6:14-29
(PARALLELS: Matthew 14:1-2; Matthew 14:6-12; Luke 9:7-9.)
Death and burial of the Baptist.—John the Forerunner, like the Master whose way he came to prepare, died by violence. Both died in the prime of life; both were slain by cruel hands. John had precedence of Jesus both in the time and the manner of his death; for while Jesus died as a malefactor on the Cross of shame, John died the death of a Roman citizen by decapitation. Moreover, while mocking crowds insulted Jesus as He hung in the agonies of torture, John’s death was instantaneous and in the privacy of a dungeon.
I. Faithful goodness on the part of the Baptist.—
1. John was pre-eminently a good man. The light of personal holiness shone in all he said and did (John 5:35). When Christ challenged the Jews concerning him, no man durst speak disparagingly of him. The verdict of the whole land was in his favour (Mark 11:30-32).
2. John’s goodness was essentially faithful goodness. He had the courage of his convictions. He dared to press goodness upon a corrupt land, and to enforce holiness among a degenerate people. Wherever he saw sin he denounced it unsparingly, without respect of persons or consideration of self-interest (Luke 3:7-14; Matthew 3:7-10). Even the palace did not escape his faithful testimony to the truth; and as the truth was unpalatable, his adherence to it brought him at length to prison and to death. Ease, honour, and pleasure might all have been his, if he would but abstain from interfering with the guilty Herod; but these he regarded as but dross in comparison with a good conscience and a holy life—nay, life itself he gladly relinquished rather than swerve a hair’s-breadth from his loyalty to God.
II. Cruel sin on the part of his enemies.—
1. In Herod sin gained power day by day. Though all history brands him as vile and despicable in his iniquity to an unusual degree, yet sin was not always so strong in him as it became at last. By self-indulgence it gradually mastered him, in spite of checks and warnings, and even of convictions.
2. Bad as Herod was, Herodias was infinitely worse. Terrible as it is to be a great sinner, what is that to being a great tempter? We may, from the force of temptation, be led wrong ourselves; but calmly, persistently, and in cold blood to say and do and plan things destructive to the welfare of others is diabolical.
3. Sin is always a cruel thing. See here how it so steeled the heart of what was once a woman that she counselled murder in the gay moments of a birthday feast. There had been days of innocence now long gone by, when Herodias was a girl, a child, an infant. As she played by her mother’s knee, who could have foretold that those prattling, laughing lips would one day frame such a demand as this (Mark 6:24)? The various stages which led her step by step to such an abyss of inhuman cruelty it is not now possible to trace; nor is that necessary, for the course of sin never varies in its main features, but is ever the same,—as it flows on, it gradually carries all before it; it ever deepens, increases, hardens, and pollutes, until all high principle vanishes, every tender feeling is eradicated, all self-rule is destroyed, and the wretched victim is henceforth the slave of Satan, bound and tied by the chain of sin with which he once thought he was only amusing himself.
4. The hideous nature of sin is still more evident in the case of Herodias. For not only had she herself arrived at a fearful stage of cruelty, but she had brought herself to teach her own daughter the same. Can there be conceived a lower depth of depravity than that?
III. Swift retribution on the part of conscience.—The tragedy was soon ended; but its consequences were not so easily got rid of. “No matter that Herod was by profession a Sadducee, with no faith in the resurrection; his creed was forgotten in the superstitious dread which the memory of his crime fostered. The shade of the murdered prophet haunted him wherever he went; it followed him even beyond the seas; and the fear it engendered became a by-word and a proverb in Roman society, and furnished material for the biting satire of Persius,—
‘But when the feast of Herod’s birthday comes,
Thou mov’st thy lips, yet speak’st not in fear,
Thou keep’st the Sabbath of the circumcised,
And then there rise dark spectres of the dead.’
IV. Last offices of love on the part of John’s disciples.—“Whether or not there be any truth in the tradition that Herod threw the head over the walls of the black fortress of Machærus, where the bloody deed was done, we may be certain that his cruel paramour, when she had once got into her possession her strange plaything, on its golden charger, would never think of gratifying his disciples by giving it to them for decent burial. So that we may, with perfect certainty, conclude, in thinking of that funeral somewhere among the lonely wilds, on the eastern side of the Dead Sea, that it was a mutilated corpse that these men took up, and that, wrapping it in the garment of camel’s hair, with which they were so familiar, they tenderly and sadly placed in some cave of the desert. But we can well believe that, though in one sense not before them, that noble head was ever present to their mind’s eye, with the flowing locks that had never been cut, with its tongue that had never faltered in its holy message, and its eyes that had never flinched before tyrant mob or tyrant king. The very fact that they were close at hand when those services were required of them, in this distant place, shews the depth of their attachment to him. If they could not share his prison, they could at least keep near it, and shew their devotion and their love by ministering to him even when he was in the clutches of the cruel Herod; and now, when the end had come, they were there, ready to do their part, tenderly and courageously. They took his body—his poor, headless body—and buried it. It may be that before they left, when they had carefully closed the cave in which their dead was placed, they rudely scratched upon the rock some epitaph in his honour. What was it? Methinks it might well be the words in which His Master bore testimony to him: ‘Among them that are born of women, there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist.’ ”
Herod and John.—General history is at once an entertaining and an edifying study. It brings before us human agents with their passions and pursuits, and arrests our attention, and promotes our advantage by the virtues and vices which it exhibits, with their opposite consequences. Biography, or the history of particular persons, is in a high degree interesting and improving. It is like turning the attention from a general group in painting, and directing it to a single portrait, where we not only mark how the colours swell from the canvas, but study the turn and expression of every feature, and arrive at a knowledge of the character and disposition.
I. The weakness and degeneracy of human nature, by which we can be led to commit deeds which we regard as in the last degree heinous.—In speculation, and when left to the unbiassed dictates of our own hearts, guilt is always the object of our abhorrence. In a particular manner inhumanity and cruelty strike us as crimes of a most odious description, and we shrink from them as disgraceful to our nature. But the cool convictions of the moral principle weighing the merit of actions in abstract theory, and the inflamed suggestions of passion rushing to its object in real life, are widely different from each other; and though perfectly friendly to virtue in speculation, we may be led in practice to the perpetration of deeds fearful for atrocity. Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation. Be not high minded, but fear. Strive, according to His working who worketh within you mightily. Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you.
II. The danger of bad counsel and bad company.—Herodias was the evident means of Herod’s great guilt. Of himself, it would appear that he was far from being an utterly depraved character. Though reproved by the Baptist, he had no wish to cast him into prison, nor would his anger ever have proceeded so far against him as to have taken away his life. But the artifices of her with whom he had connected himself in unlawful intercourse triumphed over his more amiable feelings, and in the end rendered him deaf to the remonstrances of conscience. Such is the usual effect of bad associates. If you have companions of this description, they will, how innocent soever or well disposed you may at present be, accomplish your destruction by availing themselves of all your weak and unguarded moments. They will not desist from their importunities till they have estranged you from God, and made you instruments of their unhallowed desires and passions. What have they to give that can be equivalent for such a sacrifice? The pleasures of guilt which awaken a foreboding that is never laid, though the pleasures themselves perish in the using.
III. The rapid progress of the sinner from guilt to guilt.—Herod not only continued in unlawful connexion with Herodias, but seized John for remonstrating with them, and cast him into prison. With this despotical stretch of his authority he was not long contented. The servant of God and the reprover of sin must not only be deprived of his liberty, he must be bereaved of his life. Do not suppose that the complicated guilt of this monster of iniquity can never become yours. Look into life, both low and high, and tremble for yourselves. In the humblest ranks of society you have repeated proofs of the progress of iniquity. There you see the artificer and the day-labourer, in their aversion to toil, ceasing to work with their accustomed regularity. Idleness involves them in want, and impels them to fraud and rapine, and every unlawful means of getting money. At length they lay hold of their neighbour’s person on the highway, and rob and plunder him, and murder him to escape detection. Ascend the scale, and you see similar results from similar beginnings. The libertine of fashion becomes at last fearless of God, and regardless of the rights and callous to the sufferings of his acquaintance. He contracts debts which he never intends to pay, ruins characters whom he promised to protect, seduces the unsuspecting from kindred and parents and home; and after being satiated with the pleasures of guilt, he abandons them without a scruple to poverty and misery. Extend your observations to the course of all the wicked, and you will see that when once men enter into the path of sin they seldom or never stop. But the vices not only spring out of each other, they increase perpetually in enormity. Herod began with an act of wrongful imprisonment; next he was guilty of a bloody murder; and, at an after-period, he surpassed even this complication of iniquity by insulting the last moments of Christ, and delivering Him into the hands of His enemies to be crucified as a traitor and blasphemer. Guard your heart; guard and fence your conduct; and beware of the repetition of any heinous act as certain to lead you to another still more heinous, till it end you in the extremity of guilt.
IV. The unspeakable terrors of an awakened conscience.—Impelled by passion and appetite, you may despise the monitor within, and rush on fearless of consequences. But all this obstinacy and intrepidity neither alters the nature of guilt nor ends the supremacy of conscience. The power of this moral ruler is suspended, not destroyed; and the recovery of its ascendency will prove to you most terrible. Then it will bring up your crimes, and marshal them in battle-array against you; and as the supposed return of the beheaded Baptist into life disturbed the heart of the king who murdered him, so shall they rack your soul with unspeakable horrors, and distract and drive you mad, with the prospect of final damnation.—W. Thorburn.
Imperfect reformation insufficient.—Herod’s proficiency in matter of religion.—
1. Herod’s preservation of John Baptist’s life, and sheltering and protecting him against Herodias’ malice. Wicked and unregenerate men may take such a liking to the Word of God, and be so affected with it, as to become maintainers and protectors and defenders of the servants of God that minister it to them.
2. The Word of God may so far prevail upon an unregenerate man as to work in him a fear and an awful regard, and to captivate him to the authority of religion in the servants of God.
(1) Did Herod stand in fear of John? ’Tis then no evidence of piety and goodness not to do evil for fear of others.
(2) Did Herod fear John, and keep within some compass and bounds of moderation because of John? In what case are they that are of his temper in the gospel, that could boast and profess that he neither feared God nor reverenced man? Licentious, audacious, profane wretches, such as those graceless Jews were, that, when they saw Stephen’s face shine like an angel, yet durst oppose him and offer violence to him.
3. A third effect that was wrought in Herod towards John Baptist is a worthy esteem and acknowledgment of John’s piety and sanctity, and those graces that were in him; he accounted him a just man and holy. Carnal and unconverted and sensual men yet can come thus far, as to have the virtues and graces that shine in others in a fair esteem and in some admiration.
4. There is a fourth effect wrought in Herod towards John Baptist—that is a reverent behaviour towards him. He observed him, had a care to please him in his demeanour; he would be loath to offend him as little as he could. A carnal, unconverted man may be so affected towards religion as to be willing to accommodate his carriage to the best content of the servants of God.
5. A fifth effect of John’s ministry in Herod is a willing attention to his preaching. “He heard him gladly.” Even an unregenerate man, living in a state of sensuality, may be a diligent, and constant, and willing, and ready frequenter of the preaching of the Word.
6. There is yet a further step of proficiency in Herod that was a very specious conformity to St. John’s doctrine. “He did many things”—yielded obedience to many instructions. An unregenerate man may come thus far, as to be won and persuaded by the Word to the performance of many good duties. Herod, it seems, yielded obedience to John’s preaching in many particulars.
(1) In his private conversation ’tis like he abstained from some vicious courses.
(2) In his public administration and government he listened to John in reforming of abuses, made many good laws for the well-ordering of his kingdom and repressing of vices.
(3) Was not wanting in ecclesiastical affairs. He countenanced John’s preaching, and assisted him against gainsayers and opposers. He did not only hear him gladly, but was persuaded by him to do, yea to do many things in conformity to his doctrine. ’Tis much to come thus far, not only to afford him audience, but to perform obedience: not to rest in the notional part, but to make some progress in the practical part of religion. Yet so did Herod and many others that never attained to true conversion, and so fell short of life and salvation.
II. The insufficiency of this his progress, and wherein it failed and came short.—
1. For his esteem and regard of John’s person and piety. ’Tis very questionable, as unsound, upon the suspicion of those false grounds, from which it did arise; and we may see three suspicious grounds of it.
(1) The first suspicious ground of this high esteem of John we may justly conceive was popularity. When religion is in request and grown into fashion, and becomes a matter of reputation, ’tis no great matter then to become an admirer and honourer of it.
(2) A second suspicious ground of Herod’s respect to John that makes it insufficient is policy. Herod was a fox, as our Saviour terms him. He thought it safe to hold in with John, to get him to the court, and to put countenance upon him; it would satisfy the people well.
(3) To make the best of it, a third ground of Herod’s good respect to John, that makes his proficiency to be insufficient, might be a natural ingenuity, a remainder of right reason and common honesty, which might be in Herod, and might move him to think well of John Baptist, and esteem worthily of him. Besides those things that are truly and properly spiritual, there are some excellences that do accompany piety and religion, that may be apprehended and well esteemed by mere natural men; and accordingly their natural ingenuity will affect and approve them, though they have no true relish of that which is indeed spiritual in piety and religion: thus deceiving their own hearts as if they loved religion for the sanctity of it. St. Gregory speaks excellently to this purpose: “Many a man deceives himself, and thinks he loves that in religion which indeed he loves not, but some other thing for it.” (a) Natural ingenuity will see and discern a great deal of innocence in religion. True piety and Christianity will make Christians unblamable, inoffensive, and of a harmless conversation, so that they gain a good report of them that are without. (b) Ingenuity observes a great deal of utility and profitableness in religion. Good Christians are not only harmless and inoffensive, but they are useful and helpful, and beneficial to the times and places wherein they live. (c) Ingenuity can observe a great deal of beauty and comeliness in religion. Piety, when it appears in the life of a Christian, is exceedingly lovely; as Solomon speaks, it makes the face to shine. It was not John’s piety that relished with Herod, but these condimenta pietatis which were as sauces and sweetenings unto it.
2. His diligent attention to John’s preaching and ministry: he heard him gladly. But even this forwardness falls short and will appear insufficient upon two suspicions.
(1) We have just cause to suspect his disposition out of which he did it. (a) All this his forwardness in hearing, it was but a passion, a pleasure, and a delight that he took, and that brought him on to give John the hearing. (b) His delight and joy was too forward. Some other motion and affection should have been stirred up in him. No question, John’s preaching, had it been suffered to work kindly, would have stirred up fear, and care, and sorrow, and repentance, and humiliation: we hear of none of these; but only Herod’s fancy was taken, and begat delight in him. The matter of salvation, ’tis not a jocund and a sporting work; it must be wrought out with fear and trembling. (c) He delighted in John’s preaching with the same affection that he shewed in other things. John preaches, and he pleases him; Herodias dances, and she pleases him,—no difference. A religious man, even in outward delights, rejoices spiritually; a carnal man, even in spiritual things, rejoices carnally. (d) It was a passion of joy in hearing the Word; but it was yet controllable, and easily overcome by another delight. His birthday joy, and his delight he takes in the damsel’s dancing, hath exceeded and overcome all the delight he took in John. Was Herod ever so much taken with John’s preaching as to yield to him so great a suit as he granted to his minstrel?
(2) The motives that made him thus attentive are very suspicious. (a) Was it not the novelty of John’s teaching that did thus delight him? Let John hold on for some time, all this forwardness will cool again. Tis but the crackling of thorns in the fire; a sudden blaze for a time, and soon out again. (b) Was it not some generality of truth that might give Herod content? No doubt John had many deep discourses in matters of divinity about the nature of God and the controversies of the times. And Herod can hear these discourses gladly. There is in many men a kind of spiritual lust in their understanding, that is much pleased with such high strains and contemplative discourses. (c) ’Tis like John’s preaching cleared a great doubt and scruple in Herod’s mind concerning the Messiah that had much troubled him. That Christ’s kingdom was not of this world, that Christianity teaches obedience to worldly powers and potentates, doth not disturb them, much less destroy them—this doctrine was welcome to Herod; he heard it gladly. (d) John had his thunderings against the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the priests, and scribes, and doctors of the law; he was a sharp reprover of vice and disorders; he taught the soldiers to be content with their wages, and not to mutiny. And Herod could hear other men’s faults taxed and reproved; it was music to him. (e) Were there not some personal excellences in John’s preaching that Herod delighted in—his wit, or elocution, or some graceful delivery?
3. The third thing considerable is Herod’s conformity to John’s preaching; he yielded to his doctrine in many things, and submitted to it. He was not a bare auditor, gave John the hearing only, but made some progress in practice too. John’s preaching prevailed with him, and made him do many things. Now, surely, a very specious conformity, had it not some suspicions and failings in it.
(1) This conformity is suspicious, because—(a) These many things which Herod did, they were some light, easy performances. He put himself to no great pain in this doing or forbearing. Canst thou mortify thy dearest sins, cross thy lusts, and strive against them? work thyself to the practice of those good duties that are painful and laborious? Such a conformity argues truth of grace in thee. (b) These many things which Herod did, ’tis like they were some plausible performances that the world will take notice of and speak well of; such make for Herod’s reputation in the world, and you may win him unto them. But try Herod with the more inward and private and secret parts of piety, that men cannot discern or take notice of; thy secret devotion and prayer to God, thy daily bewailing thy sins ’twixt God and thine own conscience, and the strivings of thy soul against sinful inclinations, thine alms in secret, as Christ directs,—oh! these make no noise, they are not matter of ostentation; and so Herod forbears them. (c) These many things that Herod did might be some civil and public and outward administrations, the redress of public abuses, some good orders published and enjoyed. No doubt many an honest cause sped the better for John, the course of justice went on more speedily. These good duties put Herod to no great trouble or pain. ’Tis more hard to mortify one bosom sin that thy soul delights in, than to bring thyself to the outward performance of the whole law of God.
(2) As the obedience of Herod was suspicious, so we find it to be failing and defective. He did many things, but yet fell short; he failed in other things; he dispensed with himself for some sins which he would not part with. This he would do, but that he would not do. ’Twas like Naaman’s conversion; he promises some duties in religion, but sues for a dispensation in others. “Herein God be merciful to me: this sin I cannot part with.” Whereas entire and universal obedience is only acceptable and of account with God (Psalms 119:6). Satan knows this so well that he can be content to have us yield to God in many things, only be true to Satan in some one thing. He knows one dram of poison may spoil all the wholesome ingredients, and make them deadly. One dead fly may taint the most precious ointment, saith Solomon. One sin unrepented of and retained in practice, the cherishing of one lust, will corrupt all other laudable and commendable duties. “As a bird,” saith Chrysostom, “if the snare catch but one of her feet, though her wings be free and ready for flight, yet she is taken, and becomes a prey to the fowler.” Or as Augustine compares it, “Though all the parts of our body be sound, save only one, that one diseased and ulcerous part may be deadly to thee. All the sound members cannot preserve life; but even one diseased member shall hasten thy death.” (a) See John’s fidelity. For all Herod’s forwardness, he will not abate him the commission of one gross sin. (b) See John’s simplicity. A politic man would have winked at this one fault of Herod, thought it wisdom to preserve his interest with Herod. “I may prevail much with him, if I hold good terms with him; many good causes may speed the better, if I hold fair with Herod; but to deal roughly with him, and affront him in his sin, may set him farther off—no good shall be done with him.” No; John’s piety abhors this policy. God allows no such compliances upon any such pretences. (c) See John’s importunity in admonishing of Herod. He tells him plainly of his sin. John must do his duty, though it cost him the loss of Herod’s favour—ay, and his life too. And so it did; and that will give you to see Herod’s deficiency, to what he falls, even to open persecution.
1. Bare formality in matters of religion is not lasting. It will wear off—like some waterish colours that are lightly laid on, will fade and vanish, are of no continuance.
2. One unmortified sin wilfully retained will eat out all appearances of virtue and piety.
3. An unmortified sin, rather than be crossed, will fall to persecution. Reigning sins will at last prove raging sins, and grow impatient of any reproof. Cast pearls and precious truths before fierce dogs, they will not only trample them under their feet, but will rend and worry you (Matthew 7:6). This is the dreadful downfall of unsoundness in religion. A false friend to religion will at last prove an open enemy to it.—Bishop Brownrigg.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 6:14. Lessons.—
1. The innocence and uprightness of God’s faithful servants are of great power to strike terror into their wicked enemies, and that not only while living, but even after their death.
(1) The best way for God’s servants to dismay their enemies is to walk in holiness and innocence of life.
(2) Beware of offering wrong to any innocent and holy servant of God, lest thy conscience terrify thee for it.
2. This is one effect and property of a guilty conscience: to disquiet and vex the heart with great terrors and fears—yea, often with vain fears for which there is no cause (Job 15:21; Isaiah 57:20; Deuteronomy 28:65; Leviticus 26:36; Proverbs 28:1).
3. Sin once committed lies heavy on the conscience, accusing and troubling it long afterwards (Genesis 42:21; Psalms 25:7).
4. Murder, or shedding of innocent blood, is such a sin as will lie heavy on the conscience of those guilty of it, breeding great terror to them (Genesis 4:13; Psalms 51:14).—G. Petter.
Mark 6:15. The speculators of society.—Conscience is hardly concerned in their case. They give themselves to the consideration of mere problems or puzzles. They represent, too, the persons who can talk about religious subjects without having any religious feeling. Religion is to them only a topic of the day. It is something to be remarked upon, and then dropped in favour of something else. There are men around ourselves who suppose that to admire a preacher is to admire Christ, and that to be critical about sermons is to be concerned about truth.—J. Parker, D.D.
The judgment of the world is very uncertain in all things, but extremely blind in those which relate to God. There are no conjectures so extravagant but men will have recourse to them rather than believe the Word of God: so corrupt is the heart of man, so true is it, that blindness is the just punishment of incredulity. These Jews, in their several judgments, afford us a lively representation of those pretended masters of reason who affect always singularity in their opinions, and who believe everything except truth.—P. Quesnel.
Mark 6:16. Conscience.—
1. Conscience will not be silenced by wealth or earthly surroundings.
2. A guilty conscience is troubled with not only real but imaginary troubles.
3. A guilty conscience will torment a man in spite of his avowed religious belief.—T. Kelly.
Conscience bribed.—We all of us do evil things that it is not hard for us to seem to forget, and with regard to which it is not hard for us to bribe or to silence our memories and our consciences. The hurry and bustle of daily life, the very weakness of our characters, the rush of sensuous delights, may make us blind and deaf to the voice of conscience; and we think that all chance of the evil deed rising again to harm us is past. But some trifle touches the hidden spring by mere accident. As in the old story of the man groping along a wall, till his finger happened to fall upon one inch of it, and immediately the hidden door flies open and there is the skeleton, so with any of us some merely fortuitous association may freshen faded memories and wake a dormant conscience. An apparently trivial circumstance, like some hooked pole pushed at random into the sea, may bring up by the locks some pale and drowned memory long plunged in an ocean of oblivion.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Unbelief and superstition.—There is a very close connexion, as all history proves, between theoretical disbelief in a future life and spiritual existence and superstition. So strong is the bond that unites men with the unseen world, that if they do not link themselves with that world in the legitimate and true fashion, it is almost certain to avenge itself upon them by leading them to all manner of low and abject superstitions. Spiritualism is the disease of a generation that disbelieves in another life. The French Revolution with its infidelities was also the very seed-field for all manner of quacks and impostors such as Cagliostro and the like. The time when Christ lived presented precisely the same phenomena. If Herod was a Sadducee, Herod’s Sadduceeism, like the frost upon the window-panes, was such a thin layer shutting out the invisible world that the least warmth of conscience melted it, and the clear daylight glared in upon him. And I am afraid that there are a great many of us who may be half inclined to regret supernatural religion and the thought of another life who would find precisely the same thing happening to them.—Ibid.
Mark 6:17. Persecution of the good.—
1. Think it no new or strange thing if in our times we see good and faithful ministers unjustly troubled and persecuted by those in authority, and that even for the faithful discharge of their ministry. Pray for them, and use all good means to help them.
2. Let all faithful ministers prepare and arm themselves for troubles and persecutions in the world (Matthew 10:24).
3. It should comfort and encourage faithful ministers to bear such troubles patiently, and not be dismayed at them, seeing they suffer no other but what the most excellent prophets and ministers of God have gone through before them.
4. See the wretched blindness and corruption of our nature, causing us to hate and persecute such as are called and sent of God to do us good—yea, the greatest good.—G. Petter.
The propensity of the heart to self-delusion.—It is not improbable that Herod, conscious as he was that he most unjustly detained John the Baptist in prison, applauded himself with complacency, and assumed in his own estimation great credit for virtue, because he had withstood the solicitations of Herodias for his death. Have you not also, while aware that you have lived under the habitual influence of some unchristian temper, in the habitual indulgence of some unchristian practice, proudly congratulated yourself on your goodness, because you have abstained from other crimes to which you were tempted? Have you not satisfied yourself for yielding to the one temptation by reminding your conscience that you did not yield to the other? Have not you hankered after a compromise with Divine justice, and meditated with complacent self-righteousness the production of a balance of imaginary merit to countervail the penalty of guilt? See Haggai 1:5; Isaiah 44:20; Revelation 3:17; Galatians 3:10. If example can affect you, look to that of Herod. Behold in him an illustration of the consequences entailed on perseverance in a single sin. In him behold a picture of that abandoned depravity of which perseverance in a single sin is naturally the forerunner. Is there an Herodias whom you will not put away? Let suitable temptations arise, and guilt equal to that of Herod may become yours.—T. Gisborne, D.D.
Mark 6:18. The duty of reproving sin.—
1. Ministers ought not to wink at sin in those of their charge, not to be silent at the committing of it; but to admonish and reprove the same as occasion offers, in public and private (2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 2:15).
2. Ministers must deal impartially in admonishing and reproving sin, not only in mean persons, but in the great ones.
3. Such as have a call to reprove sin in others should do it plainly and directly, shewing them their sin, and the danger of it by the Word of God, in such sort as they may be in conscience convinced of it.—G. Petter.
Mark 6:19. Hatred against reprovers.—It is very shocking, but is there nothing in our own hearts that can interpret to us this woman’s hate? Has the reproof of some cherished sin never stirred within us a feeling of bitter enmity towards the reprover? Doubtless we should shrink back in horror from the mere thought of murder; but, remember, the spirit of hatred, of revenge, whether it lead to murder or stop short at some lesser vengeance, is essentially the same (Matthew 5:21-22).—W. T. Wilson.
Mark 6:20. Vice respects virtue.—Feared John there in prison?—feared the helpless captive, bound and confined far from the sight of a friend? A trait how deeply true to the human soul! Yes, vice must respect virtue all the time: ever putting it to shame, counter-mining and insulting it, banishing it, loading it with chains, it must fearfully respect it. Is it not so? Whenever you have been the aggressor in any difference or quarrel with a fellow-man, though you may have added defence to defence, and piled vindication on vindication, have you been able, after all, to uproot a deep-seated regard even for him you differed with? When the passion and turbid commotion of the hour have passed by, has not that solemn regard subsided to the very bottom of your mind, and, in the light of transparent reflexion, made you ashamed of yourself, if not caused you to stand aghast at the wrong you see scored against you, as with the point of a diamond, on the page of your own heart?—C. A. Bartol.
Religion too costly for Herod.—Think of all the weary steps which Herod must retrace before he could be even on a moral level to start on St. John’s principles of religion. Perhaps in intense moments, when martyrdom was the consequence, it would have been in some ways easier to make a profession—to stand forth from the parody of baptism on the stage, and to own oneself converted and be torn to death—to jump down into the amphitheatre where men were fighting, and say, “You shall not do it,” and be cut to pieces—to be carried away by the impulse of a great movement, and die in the heat of enthusiasm. But in the quiet of a great lull, among people who are not intensely committed one way or another, to alter the mode of life, to cut away with their own hands the hindrances and barriers, to be known to have plucked out a right eye or to have cut off a right foot, to be earnestly preaching renunciation instead of a faint disapproval of things which we do not think are quite right, to be practising faith instead of an eclectic appreciation, an earnest practice of true religion instead of being “an honorary member of all forms of belief”—it costs a good deal, it means a good deal. Herod shrinks from it; giving up that bad connexion was not so much in itself, but it meant a good deal, and there was more than one person to be considered.—Canon Newbolt.
“Did many things.”—What those “many things” were which Herod amended at the bidding of John we vainly surmise. A few of the grosser corruptions of his foul court were perchance removed, or it may be John could hold back the stubborn king in some one occasional act of cruelty, or persuade him to pay some attention to the outward worship of God; but he could not, did not, win him to a thorough reformation of his own life. It was all surface work. The deep, ingrained depravity was not shaken off. There was pleasure in hearing truth—a partial obedience to truth—but not a thorough casting away of impurity and cruelty and fraud. And we know the result. The evil spirit, driven out in a measure, returned again. One day of excess, one hour of ungoverned passion, swept away the edifice of sand, and a crime which stamps him for ever in the ranks of the Pilates and Judases, the unjust judges and false friends, plunged his soul again into unutterable darkness. The only voice which had ever stirred the better spirit within him was quenched in blood, and the last state became worse than the first.—Bishop Woodford.
Herod and John.—Here are two men, each swayed by his past, each working out a future; living in the same age, within touch, as it were, of the same wonderful crisis of history—with the same God, the same nature, the same heaven to win, the same hell to avoid. And now under the same roof, and yet how separated in every possible way! With a value to the world which varied with terrible irony in inverse ratio to their outward circumstances! The one pledged up to the hilt to the service of God, the maintenance of principle, and the integrity of his life; the other a mere plaything of the world, tossed up and down like a cork upon its turbulent waters, the victim of every whim, the slave of every pleasure, hounded along by his lusts, his very principle of morality given in pawn to an adulteress; and yet with a lingering appreciation still left of a noble character when he saw one; the power of still snatching at an ornament which he had sense enough left to know was precious, as it was swept by on the waves. It was politic to shut up the open-mouthed prophet. Yes; but that was not all—he had liked to keep him by him. His stern words roused a delightful thrill of self-distrust; gave him, if we follow one reading of the passage, deep perplexity; perhaps even led him to do certain things, to take certain steps in the direction of right; and, at all events, it was a real pleasure to him to hear him speak on great and deep subjects. It might be just a link with a better past to have a prophet on the premises, albeit in the dungeon.—Canon Newbolt.
The downward path.—In our own days, amidst our own homes, there are souls taking the downward path, because they, like Herod, will not give up their besetting sin. Perhaps it is the seductive wine-cup, perhaps the perilous friendship of some sceptic. Perhaps it is the strange delusion which makes the happiness of some men—adding bid to bit of shining metal, of which they make no use; or that sin in disguise, the idolatry of self, making everything and everybody bow down to one’s own ease and comfort! One is reminded of the account given of the way in which old Westminster Bridge came to ruin. The stone-work piers on which the arches rested were built on piles of wood firmly driven into the river’s bed; but the scour of the ebbing tides, and the force of the currents, swept away the earth and gravel from around the piles, till they were no longer secure. So with the soul. We make firm resolutions, as we think, and for a time they last; but the powerful stream of temptation gradually loosens them, and the whole superstructure of the Christian life is ready to fall in pieces. Many a gallant ship has been wrecked by a simple leak; so one sin worked the ruin of Herod Antipas.—Dr. Hardman.
Mark 6:21. A convenient day.—A crime is more than half committed when it is once resolved on; a convenient day cannot be long wanting to a passion so violent and vigilant as revenge animated by an infamous love. The feasts of the world are days very convenient for sin, as the feasts of the Church are for piety. It is a great misfortune to be engaged to be at the former; a great imprudence not to provide against the infectious air which is there breathed; a great piece of unfaithfulness not to excuse ourselves from going when we can; and a very great folly to appear there without any manner of obligation.—P. Quesnel.
Mark 6:22. Lessons.—
1. How dangerous it is to make rash and unadvised promises!
2. How much wicked men are addicted to their sinful lusts, and what great account they make of them in that they are content, for the satisfying of them, to be at great cost and charge!
3. The cursed fruit and effect of sin and sinful lusts in such as are given over to them; that they even besot them and make them foolish, depriving them of sound reason and judgment (Hosea 4:11; Romans 1:21; Romans 1:28; Proverbs 7:22; Proverbs 23:35).—G. Petter.
Mark 6:25. Resist solicitation to sin.—Allow not yourself to be entrapped into sin by the solicitations and importunities of others, not even of your friends and your nearest relations, should you be unhappy enough to perceive tempters among them. You will not be urged, it may be presumed, to procure the imprisonment or the murder of another. But were tempters ever at a loss for grounds of temptation? If you are in poverty, may they not impel you to meliorate your condition by depredations on the property of a neighbour, or to excite charity by exaggerated representations of your distress? Are you moving in a higher sphere? May they not ensnare you into captivity to ambition, or seduce you into the habit of squandering in dissipation that sacred talent, time, entrusted to your charge? And whether you occupy a lower or a higher station, may they not encourage you to over-reach an ignorant or a careless man in a contract; to revenge yourself on some person who has offended you, or whom you envy, by spreading a slanderous tale to his disadvantage; to withhold reparation from those whom you have wronged; to surrender your heart to things temporal; to live not unto God and Christ, but unto the world and yourself? Stand prepared upon the watch-tower. Obey the Lord Omnipotent, not man. Resist the assaults of the devil, whatever be the instruments which he employs. Away with fear, with irresolution, with false shame. Be strong in the grace of Christ.—T. Gisborne, D.D.
Callousness in youth.—This is a picture of human sin more loathsome, it seems to me, than the other. For this damsel could have had no revengeful hate, no vindictive passion, rankling in her heart. The prophet had not rebuked her. Hers was a cool, deliberate, passionless cruelty—cruelty at which one shudders when associated with her age and sex; for if not with youth and girlhood, where should pity and compassion dwell? Doubtless Salome had a motive. Perhaps she feared the loss of her position and her pleasures, and fear can be quite as powerful an incentive to crime as revenge or hate. The prophet had unwittingly laid his hand upon this young girl’s world, and she turned again and stung him. Ah! believe me; youth, apparently so bright and fresh and winning, if you venture to touch its pleasures, can show a callousness, a steely hardness of the heart, which you would have deemed incredible.—W. T. Wilson.
1. How apt children are by nature to follow wicked counsel and advice given them by their parents!
2. The wicked make but a light matter of sin—yea, of great and grievous sins, such as murder.—G. Petter.
Mark 6:26. Herod’s dilemma.—The dilemma of Herod was the dilemma of a man whose conduct was governed not by the principles of an immutable morality, the eternal distinctions of right and wrong, but by a vague superstition and a miserable conventionalism. The petty rules and obligations which he recognised were below the requirements and emergencies of life, and therefore only served to betray him into sin.
1. Is it not strange to hear this man, face to face with crime, pleading the sanctity of an oath to justify his commission of it? What a moral bewilderment was that! Had Herod been a man of pure life and clear conscience, how long would such a monstrous sophism have entangled him? The guilt of such oaths consists in making and keeping them, not in breaking them. If they are registered at all, it is not in heaven, but in hell.
2. Reference to the opinion of the world, and deference to it, and conference with it, and preference of it above every principle and rule and law, human or Divine—is not this a tendency that grows upon us very, very fast?
3. Is idle sorrow ever availing? It did not save John. Will it save Herod at the day of judgment?—W. T. Wilson.
Conscience darkened by sin.—The pleasures which chiefly affect or rather bewitch the body, and by so doing become the pest and poison of the nobler and intellectual part of man, are those false and fallacious pleasures of lust and intemperance.… Nothing does or can darken the mind or conscience of man more.… Could Herod have ever thought himself obliged by the religion of an oath to murder the Baptist, had not his lust and his Herodias imprisoned and murdered his conscience first?… It seems his besotted conscience, having broken through the seventh commandment, the sixth stood too near it to be safe long.—R. South, D.D.
Herod’s duty plain.—The case cannot be supposed wherein a man should be so straitened as he could not come off fairly without sinning. Say a man through heat of blood made a wicked vow to kill his brother: here he hath, by his own rashness, brought himself into a seeming strait, that either he must commit a murder or break a vow—either of which seemeth to be a great sin, the one against the sixth, the other against the third commandment. But here is in very deed no strait nor perplexity at all. Here is a fair, open course to him without sin. He may break his vow, and there is an end. Neither is this the choice of the lesser sin; but only the loosening of the lesser bond—the bond of charity being greater than the bond of a promise, and there being good reason that (in terms of inconsistency, when both cannot stand) the lesser bond should yield to the greater. But is it not a sin for a man to break a vow? Yes, where it may be kept salvis charitate et justitiâ; then the breach is a sin; but in the case proposed it is no sin (Exodus 1:16, etc.; Judges 11:30-31; Acts 23:12).—Bishop Sanderson.
Mark 6:27. Guilty compliance.—Thus it has often been: what is noblest and best sacrificed, not to policy or necessity, or in the hot, fierce conflict of opposing issues, but in a mood of dalliance, and in compliance with what appeals to the baser part of our nature. There is cruelty in the brutal fury of a mob; there is cruelty in the vindictive apprehension of an imperilled order; but there is no cruelty equal to the cruelty of thorough worldliness—the light, careless gaiety which sends a prophet to the block because the wine flows, and the jest goes round, and the thrilling mazes of a voluptuous dance have fired the heart of King Herod.—W. T. Wilson.
Mark 6:29. Lessons.—
1. Such as have reaped spiritual good and profit by others do owe special thankfulness to them; and this thankfulness they ought to shew toward them by the fruits of it, in doing duties of love to them; and that not only in their lifetime, but even after they are dead.
2. It is a duty of love and mercy which we owe to our Christian friends departed this life, to be careful to bury them in good and decent manner, and with such honour and respect as is fitting to their persons.
3. God takes special care of the good name and credit of His faithful servants, even after they are dead and gone (Psalms 112:6; Proverbs 10:7).—G. Petter.
John’s mission fulfilled.—So ended to human eyes the life and ministry of St. John the Baptist. But if we regard this as the real end of all, we manifestly make an infinite mistake: St. John had made preparation for the coming of Christ, and now Christ was come, and so St. John was called to his rest, and his works followed him. And we may draw from his history this conclusion, applicable to our own times—namely, that when missionaries of Christ’s gospel lose their lives in the work, have their heads cut off, it may be, by savages, and when their bodies are buried in the tomb, the end is not yet; they have prepared the way for the coming of Christ, and their work will not be useless in the eye of Him whom appearances can never deceive.—Bishop H. Goodwin.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 6
Mark 6:16. Herod’s thoughts.—What were Herod’s thoughts? Not long before a remarkable poem had been written in which the hero is represented as having entered by the Sybil’s agency the dark regions of Tartarus, the abode of the spirits of the departed dead. There, crowding around him, are multitudes of shadowy forms, wearing the semblance of what they bore whilst on earth. Flitting in restless disquietude are the unburied dead; there, too, are parricides, dishonest trustees who have wronged widows and orphans, betrayers of the honour of wife and country, all showing in phantom face and visage that they are enduring the righteous retribution of the gods. And there, likewise, in more blissful regions are the ghosts who, when alive on earth, did good and honourable deeds. Amidst the throng he recognises his honoured father, whom, indeed, he had come to see, and he receives from him sundry admonitions as to the future of his race and country, and the duties thereby required. He inquires if the shades of the dead wish or are allowed to revisit the upper world, and the answer he receives seems to leave the question somewhat open, and is followed by a philosophical disquisition on the nature and origin of the creation. That poem was dedicated to Augustus, the immediate predecessor of Tiberius, the then wearer of the imperial purple, and had been rehearsed before him in the presence of his court. The poem, like all great poems, reflected not only the thoughts of the age, but the thoughts of human nature itself. Had Herod heard it or read it? Most likely he had. Was he acquainted with the history of the Sybil, and the Sybilline Oracles? If so, there would be no antecedent improbability in the reappearance of John the Baptist. Nay, similar apparitions were reported to have been actually seen. Thus the ghost of the mighty Cæsar was said to have appeared to his murderer, and to have summoned him to a meeting after the fateful field at Philippi. Jewish traditions told, too, of the apparition of the prophet Samuel to Saul with the awful message, “To-day shalt thou and thy sons be with me.” If, then, the Baptist were risen from the dead, no wonder that mighty works should shew forth themselves in him. But to whom should his first visit be more likely paid than to his murderer? and what would be the terrible nature of his message? In vain the licentious dances of voluptuous women, the flattery of his courtiers, the luxuries of his table! They could not stifle the whispers of the inward monitor; adultery and murder were ugly facts, and so Herod might have said with Juvenal,—
“If the anger of the gods be great, yet certainly it is slow;
If, therefore, they take care to punish all the guilty,
When will they come to me?”
Sat.xiii., l. 100.
Stings of conscience.—Henry of Essex, struck down in a duel, attributed his defeat to the imagined appearance of a knight whom he had murdered standing by the side of his adversar’. Speaking of the man who planned the massacre of Glencoe, Macaulay tells us that Breadalbane felt the stings of conscience. He went to the most fashionable coffee-house in Edinburgh, and talked loudly about what he had done among the mountains; but some of his soldiers observed that all this was put on. He was not the same man that he had been before. In all places, at all hours, working or sleeping, Glencoe was for ever before him.
Rustled by a breeze.—There is a species of poplar whose leaves are often rustled by a breeze too faint to stir the foliage of other trees. Noticing the fact one day when there was scarce a breath of air, Gotthold thought within himself, “This tree is the emblem of a man with a wounded and uneasy conscience, which takes alarm at the most trifling cause, and agitates him so that he knows not whither to fly.”
A guilty conscience.—King Theodoric could not endure the senator Symmachus, a good and virtuous man, so he caused him to be put to death. But after this proceeding he lost his accustomed high spirits, and took to looking gloomy and soliloquising apart. One day while at dinner, on a fish being served, he thought he saw the head of Symmachus attached to the body, and this optical illusion caused his death.—Bessus, while surrounded by his courtiers, suddenly drew his sword, and rushing at a nest of swallows, hacked the whole family to death. Having been allowed time to recover himself after this unwonted exertion, he was asked the reason for his sudden outbreak, when, in a virtuously indignant tone, he replied, “Did you not hear them reproach me with the murder of my father?” It afterwards transpired that he was really guilty of this crime.
Mark 6:18. Testimony before Kings.—On one occasion St. Hugh is reported to have said to King John, “I trust you mean what you say; you know I dislike lies.” He warned him also against trusting to a stone amulet which he wore round his neck, saying, “Trust not in that senseless stone, but in the Living Stone, the Lord Jesus Christ.” And at Fontevrault he pointed out to John a sculpture of the Day of Judgment, with a group of crowned kings being led away by demons to the smoking pit.
Mark 6:20. Reverence for the good.—We may be reminded perhaps of our own monarch Charles II., who certainly reverenced Bishop Ken and several others like him, and reverenced them because they were just men, but who could not shake himself free from his lusts and submit himself to their teaching.
Royal inability.—Palissy, the famous French potter, was imprisoned in the Bastille, when nearly eighty years old, on account of his religious opinions. The King of France visited him, and strove to make him recant. “My good man,” said the King, “you have been forty-five years in the service of my mother, or in mine, and we have suffered you to live in your own religion, amidst all the executions and the massacres. Now, however, I am so pressed that I have been compelled in spite of myself to imprison you; you will be burnt, if you will not be converted.” “Sire,” answered Palissy, “you have said several times that you feel pity for me; but it is I who pity you, who have said, I am compelled. That is not speaking like a king. I will teach you to talk royally. All your people and yourself cannot compel a potter to bow down to images of clay.”
Mark 6:25. Unwomanly women.—There is a similar instance in Roman history of a woman requiring the head of an enemy to be brought to her. Agrippina, the mother of Nero, who was afterwards emperor, sent an officer to put to death Lollia Paulina, who had been her rival for the imperial dignity. When Lollia’s head was brought to her, not knowing it at first, she examined it with her own hands, till she perceived some particular feature by which that lady was distinguished.
Mark 6:29. Relics of the Baptist.—At Sebaste (Samaria) a dungeon is pointed out as the place where the Baptist was beheaded, though Josephus says it took place in the castle of Machærus. At any rate he seems to have been buried at Samaria, “between two prophets,” Mandeville declares, “Elisha and Abdias.” In the time of Julian some pagans broke into the tomb, burnt the bones, and scattered the ashes to the winds. Some small portions were collected by the Christians, and sent to St. Athanasius at Alexandria, where the Emperor Theodosius, in 396 A.D., built a magnificent church for their reception.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 6:30-32
(PARALLELS: Matthew 14:13; Luke 9:10.)
Rest after work.—The disciples had just returned from the missionary journey through Galilee and Judea. Their Master had sent them out, by two and two together, six parties of them in all, to preach repentance and remission of sins.
1. You can fancy how they must have gone forth, all of them novices, and some of them young men. Imagine it, you who have not yet survived the memory of your own younger days: the new-born sense of our own importance, which accompanies our first attempt at responsible action; the childlike hopefulness to which no miracle of success seems impossible; all the bright illusions, all the golden dreams of youth—that time of life when every subject possesses so fresh an interest, when every effort seems so certain to succeed, when the sensation of failure is yet a thing unknown. And such a doctrine as they had to preach, and such a Master as they had to proclaim as the coming King! What could there be before them but rapid and complete victory?
2. They came back, we may imagine, with an immense deal to tell. No child that returns to its mother from a visit more overflowing with talk than they. “They told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught.” Here they had met an open and truthful mind; and what a pleasure it had been to instruct and encourage him! Here they had found a repentant yet desponding sinner; and how they had delighted to bind up his broken heart and to send him on his way rejoicing! And here they had encountered a captious gainsayer; and with what a clever repartee they had answered and silenced his objections! And what a ready hearing and how much success their words and efforts had obtained! They can hardly have failed to have told their Master another thing, which the seventy, who were sent out afterwards, reported, when they too returned—what mighty works they had done in His name. Nor would they fail to receive some such reply, half encouragement and half caution, as that which the seventy received (Luke 10:18; Luke 10:20). You can imagine much being said like this by that Master, still young Himself, and therefore naturally, as well as supernaturally, sympathising with the hopefulness of youth, cautious not to depress zeal, even while correcting its extravagance. “Yes,” He said, “the Spirit of good is stronger than the spirit of evil. Yes, Satan is falling from his high place of power, and he will fall. But do not boast of spiritual power; do not be exalted by spiritual success; rejoice, rather, that there is a place for all faithful labourers, the unsuccessful as well as the successful, in the dwelling of their Lord. When bright hopes are all faded, when success has turned to failure, when high gifts have deserted their former possessors, there will still remain for you a refuge and a home.” At the same time there came those words of kindly invitation, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while.” They were, in fact, to go with their Master and enjoy a well-earned holiday.
3. And so they embarked on the calm bosom of the Sea of Galilee, and raised their sail; and the light airs began to draw them off the land, slowly and dreamily, towards the lonelier country of the eastern side. There, let us think, are the thirteen upon the lake—the crew of twelve, each one of whom is an apostle, and the Captain, whom almost all now admit to have been the Ideal Man, whom we believe to have been God manifest in the flesh. Fresh airs are breathing on the weary brows; bright waters are rippling under the vessel’s floor; an open sky is bending over them, boundless as that love of God which they have been proclaiming; no shadow of approaching horrors has yet fallen on them, and all hearts are free and joyous, for not even Judas is a traitor yet.
4. It was from diligent labours for the good of souls that those disciples were invited to seek a temporary refuge. How much more needful must it be to seek such occasional retirements from the present hurrying world! God made the world—the world of society as well as the world of nature. Even this rapid world of the end of the nineteenth century has come into existence through His providence. The Great Steersman has not abandoned the helm, but is guiding it, through all the cross-currents and changing winds, to noble objects of His own. The evil in it is not original, and (happier still) it is not inseparable. It is of His ordering that we live our lives, in close and frequent communion with those fellow-creatures of ours who form our world for their good and for our own. In the world, though not of the world, our Lord bade His disciples be. Nevertheless in the world certain evils happen to us for which occasional retirement is the cure. Let us look at one or two of these, for which we seek a remedy.
I. The world confuses our self-knowledge.—The source of self-knowledge is reflexion; and little reflexion is possible amid the bustle of the world. It happens to us, as to the disciples in the gospel—there are many coming and going—employers, customers, clients, patients, parishioners, as the case may be. The trade, or business, or profession occupies nearly all our time. Family affairs often cause anxiety. Public business, politics, religion, charity, all solicit attention, which must be given from time to time. A hundred persons have to be spoken to, a hundred subjects considered. As soon as one business is despatched another comes to be transacted. Well for us if we can keep them distinct and separate, and not mix and muddle them all. All these are outside of our real selves, so that the mind engaged in them acquires an outward leaning, and seldom collects itself inwardly at all. So reflexion perishes, and with it self-knowledge. The cure of this is retirement.
II. During our intercourse with the world our wishes and objects grow more and more worldly—that is, they become confined and bounded by this present world. We cease to feel our own immortality, we cease to have intercourse with God, and then all our aims insensibly decline. Conscience and duty become less and less our rule. We are more and more guided by self-interest or personal inclination; and by even worse things, covetousness, ambition, revenge, our motives sinking gradually, so that we cannot tell when or how they change. It is in retirement that we must resist and repair declines like these.
The last evil I will name, whose proper remedy is retirement, is irritation.—Many things occur to ruffle and disturb. We become vexed and displeased, perhaps with actual enemies, perhaps with indifferent people, perhaps with our best friends. This is sure to be so. For all are sinful; and our respective faults and failings jar against each. Besides, all are short-sighted and imperfectly informed, and therefore we often mistake and misunderstand. For all these inward disturbances the remedy is retirement and reflexion. Enter into your closet and shut to the door, and pray to your Father which is in secret. Lay yourselves in the arms of Jesus; throw yourselves open to the eye of the All-seeing God. There breathe forth the wish, “That which I see not teach Thou me; if I have done iniquity, I would do so no more.” Your Father will teach you; He will guide your feet into the way of peace.—Archdeacon Rawstorne.
Lenten retirement.—We are most of us living, as many almost necessarily must live, in all the busy, anxious cares of a busy, anxious age, our duties or our business laying claim to every moment of our time, till the throng and crush of earthly things prevent us from coming near to touch the Saviour’s robe. Then it is that our solemn Lenten fast bids us come into our chambers and shut our doors, offers to the jaded, wearied soul a little rest, a short breathing-space in which we may gather strength to wrestle on, a moment’s retirement from that unceasing “coming and going” which makes up the greatness and the littleness of our life in the world.
I. Lent is a time of retirement—a special opportunity for being alone with God. As a nation we are becoming increasingly alive to the economic dangers, physical and moral, of a life without leisure. The deadening of spiritual energy, the choking of spiritual life and aspirations—these are the parallel dangers to the religious life which knows not the blessing of retirement. You will see, then, that by the rest of religious retirement we mean something different from that rest which belongs at all times to those who are living with God. For that is an abiding thing; this is occasional. Religious retirement means a withdrawing ourselves for a special purpose and at a special time, just as he whose life is the life of one. who is praying always has yet his special time of prayer, or as He whose life was lived in the full consciousness of God yet loved to withdraw Himself to the lonely mountain-top and spend whole nights in prayer to God.
II. The time that is to be dedicated to Lenten retirement must be “redeemed” time—time won, not from duties, but from pleasures. Just as fasting may not trench on that which is necessary to health, but may simply limit us in what we might do without, so in redeeming some special time for prayer and self-examination we must make up our mind to give up some luxuries Those few minutes we give, perhaps, to our social chat; the comfortable half-hour that we spend over our daily paper; the time we spend in unnecessary letter-writing, or the odd times we pass we hardly know how in mere do-nothingness—all these might be spared, or limited, and dedicated to God.
III. How will this help us in running our daily race?—
1. It will teach us self-knowledge. As we stand alone in the presence of God, every act stripped of the colouring which human praise and blame can give, without any of those secondary helps which the love of approbation and the desire to please so often lend us in the world, putting on one side those false standards by which we judge, the waxen wings which have borne us aloft hitherto melted in the rays of the sun—then we begin to know ourselves. And as we review our past spiritual life we see the shadows of selfish and interested motives darkening what once seemed clear and fair; our fancied love of God in that new light was but an aesthetic or poetical devotion to an ideal, our humility a skilfully concealed but now discovered pride; the very bright ones which seemed to guard our way are but as evil spirits in the form of an angel of light.
2. It is the great means of knowing God. For knowledge is born of intercourse and communion with its object. He who made man his study sought to learn his subject in the crowded market-place. And if we are to know God it must be by losing no opportunity of being with Him: with Him in those places where He has set His Name,—in His Church, and His Sacrament, and His Word; above all, in prayer.
IV. This knowledge of God and of ourselves which comes from retirement with God brings with it a new power for doing our duties in the world. The presence by which you seemed in your retirement to be flooded is the presence which shall go with you into the world. It is the ark of God which shall carry victory over the enemies, the real presence which transforms your very bodies into the temples of the Living God, the light which will brighten and make clear your earthly path, the continual source of strength and nourishment, preparing you a table in the very midst of your enemies, a fountain of living water springing up within you to quench the battle-thirst. In retirement and private prayer you have learnt what it is to be alone with God, and now in the roar and din of conflict you realise what it is to have God with you.—A. L. Moore.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 6:30. Duties of ministers.—
1. Ministers ought so to carry themselves in discharge of their calling, that they may approve their diligence and faithfulness unto Christ, who hath called them to that office.
2. Ministers ought so faithfully and conscionably to do the duties of their calling, that they may be able to give a good and comfortable account thereof unto Christ, who hath enjoined them those duties.—G. Petter.
Mark 6:31. The use of leisure.—
1. “Come.” This is the first principle in every time of leisure, such as it is fit for a Christian to take, that we should spend it in the presence and under the eye of the Master.
2. “Apart into a desert place.” Leisure for the overworked had better be sought among the works of God in nature than among the works of man.
3. “A while.” Such seasons of rest are only temporary, and are meant to nerve and brace us for work—our work, God’s work, Christ’s work. If it does not fit us for this, if it leaves us only discontented, selfish, and indolent, we have made a curse to ourselves out of a blessing.—John Ellerton.
Seclusion with Christ.—How much better would our work be done, how much more thoroughly our duty, how much healthier and more satisfactory would our worldly business be, if we could realise that that which is earthly can only bear beautiful blossom or rich fruit, when watered by the rains that fall from heaven; that the life must grow hard and barren which is cut off from its spiritual root; that Christ is ever calling us, amidst all our cares and engrossments to keep ourselves from being carried away on the flood of these, by preserving our personal fellowship with Him, and to come apart from the bustle of the world, into the silence and seclusion, where we may meet Him, and in the consciousness of His presence “rest a while.”—R. H. Story, D.D.
“Rest” for “a while” only.—This lesson is gladly learned, and too much practised. Requiescite pleaseth every man. The truth is, that the body and mind of man must after labour be refreshed with rest. But he which laboureth not is altogether as unworthy to rest as to eat. Again, such as will take rest and ease after labours must learn of Christ as well to measure their ease as their pains. He permitteth His disciples to take their rest; but He limiteth and restraineth His permission, saying, “Rest a while.” For by too much rest men are not made the more fit but the less willing to take pain.—Archbishop Sandys.
Leisure for communion with God.—I know how hard it seems to many to get room in their lives for a quiet hour. They are so compassed about with imperious demands and fretting details. “Would we could have it,” they say, “but it is impossible.” Well, it is often a great mercy when God takes such an one and lays him aside by sickness, where he must wait and be still, and is no longer oppressed with the feeling that he ought to be doing something. In that strange watch-tower of trouble his life rolls itself out before him, and he sees how brief it is, with the mystery behind it and the mystery before it, and God alone above all from everlasting to everlasting. Why should we compel the great Father thus to visit us with affliction ere we will find leisure to talk with Him and mourn for our shortcomings?—D. W. Forrest.
Solitude, says one, is the mother-country of the strong; silence is their prayer.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 6
Mark 6:31. Labour and patience.—Activity and the growth which comes by passive suffering ought always to make one single total life. Some of you will remember how in the old church at Innsbruck, among the magnificent bronze people who stand about the tomb of the Emperor Maximilian, is the great Godfrey of Boulogne, the illustrious Crusader. Upon his head he wears his helmet, and on the helmet rests a crown of thorns. The strange conjunction may mean many things. No doubt the crown of thorns is meant to represent the sacred cause, the rescue of the place of the Lord’s crucifixion and burial, for which the soldier fought. But is not such a union of symbols a perpetual picture? The helmet and the crown of thorns—activity and suffering, fighting and growing, the putting forth of energy and the drinking in of strength—these two were represented, not as coming in by turns, not as chasing one another into and out of the life, but as abiding together, making one temper, filling one character. It is the helmet and the crown of thorns worn together on the consecrated head that makes the noble, useful, growing life.—Bishop Phillips Brooks.
No leisure.—If a stranger enters a busy factory, he cannot help being struck with the bustle and activity that pervade the whole establishment. Here a powerful engine throbs and works; there are glowing furnaces and red caverns of fire. Here are wheels and spindles and revolving bands; there, hurrying to and fro with rapid steps and skilful hands, the workpeople, all hastening to accomplish their respective tasks. And there is much similarity in the condition of our ever-active modern life—when every day, and every hour, seems filled with business, and the seasons of relaxation are equally crowded with pleasures and excitements, so that we seem to exist under a system of “high pressure.” Ruskin’s blunt language calls it, “a machine-ridden and devil-driven age.” The rough sarcasm of the man who said to his fellow-labourer, who was longing for rest, “You’ll have time to rest when you are dead!” seems to give some idea of the business and activity of life in our great cities in this age. But there are many disadvantages that follow, for “he who lacks time to think lacks time to mend.”—Dr. Hardman.
Periods of repose.—For all organic life God has provided periods of repose, during which repair goes on in order to counteract the waste caused by activity. In the springtime we see movement and stir in gardens, fields, and hedgerows, which continues till the fruits are gathered in and the leaves fall; but then winter’s quiet again settles down over all, and nature is at rest. Even the flowers have their time for closing their petals, and their sleeping hours come so regularly, and yet are so varied in distribution among them, that botanists can construct a floral clock out of our English wild flowers, and tell the hour of night or day by their opening or closing. The same God who created the flowers and appointed the seasons ordained the laws of Israel, and by these definite seasons of rest were set apart for the people—the Sabbath, the jubilee year, and the annual festivals. Indeed, in every age and in every land, the coming of night and the victory of sleep are hints of what God has ordained for man.—A. Rowland.
Human claims paramount.—An old heathen philosopher bade his pupils beware of saying there was no time if a human claim was made upon their services. Never say “there is no time,” if there is a ministry of mercy to be rendered to your race. If you want to see how active men may become under the urgency of necessity, stand on Ludgate Hill, and see how human life is being exhausted, how the energies of many are being worn out. Amid the activities of a London commercial life, and with all the incentive that the promise of wealth and greatness and aught else may give, you will find no man who can give such a record of a day’s work as we find in the Gospels concerning our Saviour.—D. Davies.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 6:33-44
(PARALLELS: Matthew 14:13-21; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13.)
The multitude fed.—When Jesus came forth from a brief rest, He was confronted in the desert place by the familiar sight of sinful, weary, sick humanity. That they should come there was almost a miracle of His attractive power. At once, we are told, the streams of His mercy began to flow.
I. The compassion of Jesus.—A great multitude is always a moving spectacle. The pathos of life comes out before our imaginations, as we behold in it so many broken, disordered, disappointing, wrecked lives; so much that begins with gladness and ends in grief; so much sin, and the countless victories of death. Even the withered heart of Xerxes was touched, when he sat on a throne at Salamis and looked down on his army of a million slaves, all of whom, he said, would soon pass away. Then we must remember that the company gathered around Jesus was at that time peculiarly a sad one. They were there because they were in need and they felt the need. Weary with a long journey, pressing their claims on His attention, stretching out “lame hands” of questioning and doubt, lifting imploring eyes to meet His—what could quicker touch the fountain of His compassion? He was deeply moved. His face changed with mingled sorrow and love. Now, who were they? He had compassion on them because they were as sheep that had been over-driven and were fainting on the road. And He stood before them as the Good Shepherd, who was soon to lay down His life for the sheep. This brings us to dwell upon the attitude of the Holy One towards sin and towards sinners separately and in masses. That whole company, men, women, and children, were sinners. Because they were such, He had come into the world to save them; and we might presume that the supreme fact about them in His mind was their sinfulness and guilt. But this compassion at the sight of the crowd speaks to us of that other relation in which He could look at them, even as objects of pity, while they were objects of condemnation. They were offenders against the holy law, but at the same time they were lost sheep to be called home. But this pity, we observe next, took shape in forms of real helpfulness. It was not wasted in the heart, like the emotions that come and go as we read a novel or see a play at the theatre, and think our feelings are tender because they are moved by imaginary griefs. The compassion of our Lord took on a twofold form: one, that of setting in motion far-reaching works in the preaching of the gospel among the nations and the seed-sowing of distant harvests; the other, a nearer, simpler attention to immediate wants.
II. The power of Jesus.—” He bowed the heavens and came down “to the measure of commonest human need. The fact about this power that touches us most is that it is power to bless the world, and to bring salvation to the lost. Each miracle of our Lord’s was a sign of something farther, something more lasting and blessed. How soon all that desert multitude passed away from earth! How quickly the bread created by miracle perished! And yet it stood for that which is imperishable, and on which, if we feed as we all may, we shall never hunger again. Christ Himself is the Bread of God that cometh down from heaven and giveth life to the world. We may feed on it each moment and never exhaust the supply. He is not a luxury, but bread to be eaten freely and without satiety. The whole lesson is that of the Divine helpfulness for all our needs, and of the Divine fulness of supply.
III. The command of Jesus to His disciples in all ages.—Each step in the supply of the crowd with food is interesting to all who preach or teach the everlasting Word, because it reveals the natural unbelief and distrust with which we have to contend when many are to be fed by us and we are sure that our stock is not sufficient. Many a time, if you preach, when you look upon a company of men seated in God’s house to hear your voice, you will feel like Philip, and wonder whence provision is coming for so many. But if you bring your scanty loaves and fishes—if you bid the men sit down to receive, not your fancies nor wisdom, your eloquence nor knowledge, but heaven’s bread, and that only—you will find the old miracle repeated. You will take what Christ hands over to you and pass it on to others. You will be fed by what feeds them. You will say with them, when the feast is over, “Lord, evermore give us this bread.” For, after all, this and this only is our work—to give what is given unto us. We are not to despise hard labour in winning our supplies. They will not come to the lazy nor to the ignorant. We are called to seek a chastened spirit that discerns the true intent of the heavenly messages. We are to meditate on the Word and grow into its spirit and life. We surely must obey it, and so prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. But for the real conveyance of food from God to a soul we must rely on God Himself.—Edward N. Packard.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 6:33. Christ’s followers drawn by various motives.—
1. Some were drawn with the strangeness of those things which He wrought and taught amongst them. To whom in these our days we may compare them which haunt sermons for no other end but either vainly to hearken for news, or curiously to note what order and eloquence they may find in the preacher, or maliciously to take hold of things spoken, when they may by froward construction be drawn to an offensive meaning. These labour to their own loss: they are unprofitable followers.
2. Others followed Christ for bread. Such followers our times have brought out too many. So long as the gospel can feed, cherish, and maintain them, they are willing and glad to be professors of it; but when persecution cometh they shrink.
3. Sundry there were which followed for a desire which they had of bodily health. For Christ “went about healing every malady and every infirmity in the people.” We see by daily experience that the body is more cared for than the soul, the flesh than the spirit, the carcase than the mind.
4. The last and best sort of followers were such as followed Christ to hear His Word. This is that travail that chiefly is required of a Christian: “Seek first the kingdom of God.” This declareth us to be His children, to be His flock. “He that is of God heareth God’s Word.”—Archbishop Sandys.
The importunity of the crowd.—The fact thus revealed is worthy of observation, as a commentary upon the weary life of our Lord. He wished His disciples to retire to the desert to take some rest, but the people would let them have none. If the reasons which prompted them to follow Christ were really the love of His doctrine, then we may gain a lesson from their importunity, and we may be sure that, however much it might increase His labours, Christ would be pleased by such importunity. What displeases Christ is the quiet, easy indifference of those who care not for His presence, and will not put themselves out of the way to hear His words.—Bishop H. Goodwin.
Mark 6:34. The Church and social questions.—The virtue of compassion is the great discovery of Christ. The world’s pain and weakness were to the heathen a definite loss to society. It was only so much human waste. Christ believed in the usefulness of things, and utilised the rejected refuse of society. It was in this refuse that Jesus reared the tender plant of compassion. Fed upon sorrow and sickness, and watered with tears, compassion has redeemed the waste places, and made them blossom as the rose. Yet Christian compassion has been slow to overtake the whole field that claimed its energy and its labour. Compassion towards individuals was early developed as one of the first and finest of the Christian graces. Compassion towards the multitudes was, till lately, left uncultivated. This, no doubt, is partly to be accounted for by the fact that in Greece and in the Roman Empire the claims and interests of the State were paramount. The individual was sacrificed to society—so much so, that in Sparta sickness was regarded more as a crime than a misfortune. Weak children were quietly put out of the way, lest they should become a burden. In Rome the individual gave himself up in the arena of the Colosseum that the emperor and the people might enjoy the luxury of a fierce laugh or cry. As a rebound from this contempt for the sacredness of the individual, Christianity long confined itself to the salvation of the units of society. The masses, the multitudes, have to a great extent been neglected. But everywhere around us there are signs that the social conscience is being deeply moved. The trend of present-day activity is distinctly in the direction of redressing the wrongs and securing the rights of society. Now the question requires to be raised, What is to be the attitude of the Church towards the great problems relating to the social weal with which we are brought face to face? The answer is sometimes returned that the Church should confine itself to the duty of saving the souls of men; that she should only deal with men as individuals, and not with human society. Now this reply, which limits the sphere of Christian activity, requires to be looked at in order to see the poor conception of humanity and the paltry faith in Christ’s power which are at the root of it.
1. When we are told to confine ourselves to the care and salvation of the souls of men, we wonder how this can fit in with Christ’s idea of man. A great deal of His time was occupied in ministering to men’s bodies. To tell me that I am to save the soul of a man who is starving, or living in a filthy hovel, or almost worked to death, raises in my mind the query, “How is it to be done?” The physical and mental conditions under which a man exists have such an influence upon his spiritual condition that we must treat them all concurrently. Hence the justification for social work alongside of our evangelistic agencies.
2. Again, we are warned that the Church should confine itself to operating upon the individual, and leave social questions alone. What would you think of a man who advised a gardener to confine his attention to cultivating his plants, but not to heed the soil in which the plants had to grow? Society is to the individual what soil is to the plant. In order to save a man we must preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to him as an individual, but we must see that his Christian life is not next to impossible in the social surroundings in which he is compelled to live. The salvation of the individual and the salvation of society must go hand in hand. Now, if this be the case, the relation of the gospel to human life becomes more extensive and more complex than is generally supposed. Everything that affects the well-being of man is a proper subject of Christian inquiry.
3. But it is sometimes objected that the Church should have nothing to do with subjects that are under dispute, and upon which men, from interest or conviction, are divided. It is sufficient to reply that if the Church of Christ is only to deal with those things upon which men are agreed, her mission is useless, and her influence effete. The religious, social, and political life of the people is complex. The one shades into the other. Many of our social reforms cannot be secured without the aid of laws enacted by Parliament. Is the Church to be dumb because temperance, religious equality, sanitation, etc., have a political bearing? These social reforms affect the religious welfare of the country; and to stand still would be to betray the spiritual rights of the people.
4. Yet, when all this is said, we cannot but revert to the great truth that the chief aim of the gospel is to secure an inner change of heart. External changes are only enjoyed and secured after the great internal change, which is the crowning work of Christ’s mission.—Wm. Dickie.
A shepherd needed in all human societies.—Men must be organised, taught, disciplined. There are men Divinely qualified to interpret truth; they have insight, sympathy, and faculty of delicate and forcible expression. There are other men who can only receive what is given to them by God’s ministry. They are as sheep; they need a shepherd.—J. Parker, D.D.
Mark 6:39-40. Order in God’s work.—If we regard the feeding of the multitude as a parable concerning the work which the apostles were to do in the world afterwards, a parable of the spiritual feeding of mankind with the bread from heaven which Christ should supply them withal, then these orderly arrangements made by the command of our Lord are very full of instruction: the tendency of men, when they once realise the fact that they are surrounded by a hungry multitude, is to throw a piece of bread here and a piece there, to make irregular efforts to supply the wants which they perceive to exist; but this is not Christ’s way, and therefore it is not the wise way; order must in this, as in every other work of God, be the root of all success.—Bishop H. Goodwin.
Mark 6:41-43. This miracle illustrates—
1. The dealings of God in providence.
(1) Think of the number to be fed, and then look upon the corn-seed, cast into the ground, to supply bread for any one year, and you might well ask, “What are they among so many?” But God manipulates the seed in the soil, and then sends it forth as from His own hand, bread enough and to spare. The annual miracle is as great a wonder as the miracle wrought in an hour.
(2) God seldom works miracles when ordinary means will suffice; but when you have tried all, and men have given you up as a hopeless case, it is still right to go to God, the Great Physician. God sometimes sends food to the poor and needy in most unusual ways. It seems to them almost a miracle, but it would be a great mistake, if any were to infer from that, that if they only have faith they may neglect to plough, and to sow, and to work for their daily bread.
2. The way in which the world is to be fed with the Bread of Life.
(1) In the heart and soul of each man who receives this Bread it grows, so that there is not only enough for yourself, but also enough to distribute among your neighbours, and the more you distribute it the more it grows.
(2) This bread also resembles the Bread of Life in its overflowing abundance. There is room for all in the love of God. Lessons:
1. Christ commands nothing that He does not give us the power to perform.
2. Our resources will increase, if we make a diligent use of what we have.
3. The more you distribute, the more you yourself will possess. Every soul you bring to the gospel feast will enhance your own joy.
4. Jesus does not approve of waste.—A. Clark.
Christ the Restorer.—In no miracle of the gospel did Jesus actually create. He makes no new members of the body, but restores old useless ones. “And so, without a substratum to work upon, He creates neither bread nor wine.” To do this would not have been a whit more difficult, but it would have expressed less aptly His mission, which was not to create a new system of things, but to renew the old, to recover the lost sheep, and to heal the sick at heart.—Dean Chadwick.
Mark 6:41-42. Works out of the ordinary course.—The miracles which our Lord Jesus Christ wrought are in truth Divine works, and, from the things that are seen, awaken the human mind to contemplate and understand the invisible God. For He is such a Being as cannot be seen by human sight, and because the miracles by which He governeth the whole world and ruleth every creature are, by their frequency, little regarded, so that scarce any one thinks it worth his while to attend to and remark the wonderful and astonishing works of God, manifested in every seed and grain upon the earth. But of His mercy He reserved some things which He would do otherwise than in the usual course of nature, that they by whom His daily wonders were unobserved might have an occasion to admire, not when they saw greater, but more unusual works. For it is a greater miracle to govern and provide for the whole world than to feed five thousand men with but five loaves; yet while men pay little regard to the former, they are astonished at the latter, not because it is greater, but more unusual; for who is it that now feeds the whole world but He from whom a few seeds sown produce the plentiful sheaves; and the same power which gives that marvellous increase multiplied the loaves in the hand of Christ, who was Himself endued with all power. Those five loaves were a kind of seed, not indeed delivered to the earth for increase, but increased by Him who made the earth. The same Divine power which wrought the miracle with loaves and fishes instantaneously, works the greater miracles of nature gradually and with regularly appointed means.—Augustine.
Mark 6:41. “Blessed.”—There can be little doubt that the words which Jesus spake were those so well known: “Blessed art Thou, Jehovah our God, King of the world, who causes to come forth bread from the earth.” Assuredly it was this threefold thought: the upward thought (sursum corda), the recognition of the creative act as regards every piece of bread we eat, and the thanksgiving, which was realised anew in all its fulness when, as He distributed to the disciples, the provision miraculously multiplied in His hands.—A. Edersheim, D.D.).
Mark 6:43. The fragments that remained were greater in amount than the original loaves. This is true in relation even to temporal things, that the man who is reasonably liberal has more than the man who keeps all to himself. He may not have more wealth than the miser, though often he has that, but he enjoys more that which he has when he has given a portion to others: that which is left becomes more to him, and affords him more enjoyment than the whole would have done if he had retained it. But this is especially true in spiritual things.—A. Clark.
Gather up the fragments—
1. Of truth. Many a time, when a man has been really hungering after righteousness, he has found in some one truth which has fallen from his Master’s table exactly that portion which was required to satisfy his longings. As was once said by a dying man, great in human learning: “Give me now a single promise of Scripture, that I may hold it as an ear of corn, and rub it out in the hand of faith, and it is worth to me all my other knowledge.”
2. Of time. Who has not to weep for time which has not been used for its true purposes—for mercies little noted, for gifts abused, for vows forgotten, for sorrow that has not chastened and joy that has not sanctified, for numberless visitations of God that have passed over us and left no blessing behind?
(1) We have need to treasure up its very minutes, for they are fragments of a gift which God bestows.
(2) In course of time we become the result of the time we live.
3. Of the means of grace.
(1) Lord’s Day.
(2) Private prayer.
(3) Holy Eucharist.
4. Of duty. We are often apt to despise common things because they are so common, forgetting that we might lift them to a much higher dignity if we but infused into them a nobler principle, doing them as in God’s sight, by God’s help, and to God’s glory.—Canon Nisbet.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 6
Mark 6:34. Sympathy with the multitude.—In the troublous times of the French Revolution a speaker in the Corps Legislatif asked, “Why do not our great men, our priests and philosophers, move and save the people?” A solemn voice replied, “Because they are cast in bronze.” We who profess the service of Christ can never win the multitude until our hearts are clearly responsive to all their appeals for betterment of body and soul.
Mark 6:41. God the Provider.—A boy was once saying a grace before meat, which his Sunday-school teacher had taught him, when his mother, who was not accustomed to such things, said to him, “Why do you thank God for it? does not your father work for it?” But if the father had worked a thousand years he could not have made a grain of wheat, and it would have been an easy thing for God to deprive the father of the health and strength which enabled him to work, or to close the door through which he obtained employment and wages to purchase food; so that the boy was right, and we are all right when we pray to God and thank Him for our daily bread.
Mark 6:43. Wise economy.—Two men set out for a ten days’ journey across the desert. They each took ten loaves, a loaf for each day. The first day the younger man ate all he could, and then tossed the rest on the sand; but the elder man, having eaten sparingly, brought out two bags, into one of which he put all the crusts, and into the other all the crumbs. Day after day he did the same, and the younger man marvelled and smiled. But on the tenth day they discovered that they were still two days short of their journey’s end. And now the younger man had nothing whatever to eat! But the elder now brought out his two well-filled bags, and both of them were very thankful to eat the crusts that day, and the crumbs the next.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 6:49. A spirit.—A phantasm or apparition.
Mark 6:52. Hardened.—Become dull—insusceptible and irresponsible to spiritual impressions. See chaps, Mark 3:5, Mark 8:17.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 6:45-56
(PARALLELS: Matthew 14:22-36; John 6:15-21.)
Christ walking on the sea.—This incident stands alone, among the recorded acts of Jesus, as a peculiar manifestation of His character and dealings. In general Christ’s miracles were founded on the principle of relieving human want and misery, while also displaying Divine power. But here the object was different, as will appear from a careful consideration of the circumstances.
I. It had been a day of self-revelation on the part of Jesus.—The privacy which He had sought for the apostles and Himself having been invaded by the multitude, He had devoted Himself to teaching them “concerning the kingdom of God, and healing them that had need of cure” (Luke 9:11). He had also relieved, by a miraculous increase of food, the hunger of five thousand men,—thus demonstrating to the people at large that He was at least a Messenger come from God; and as such they acknowledged Him. To His more immediate disciples, however, it was necessary that He should now manifest Himself in a character of more unquestionable greatness; it was important that they should regard Him, not merely as One come from God, but as a Being closely connected with the Deity, in a union incomprehensible indeed, but undeniable. In this character, therefore, He determined to exhibit Himself to them. Accordingly “He constrained His disciples to get into the ship,” etc. The unenlightened multitude whom He had instructed and miraculously fed sought forsooth to make Him a King, in acknowledgment of the benefits He had conferred upon them (John 6:15); but He who afterwards freely offered Himself to those who came to compass His death shrank from the proffered glories of the world, and sent away those who would have forced them on Him.
II. When evening came, Jesus was alone.—Mark how He employs the solitude thus sought and obtained. “He departed into a mountain to pray.” His life on earth was a mixture of contemplation and action, of austerity and freedom: we find Him often where the greatest concourse was to be found—in market-places, synagogues, etc.; and we find Him also retiring from the crowd into a desert or a garden, and there employing Himself in all kinds of religious exercise and intercourse with His Father, in fasting, meditation, and prayer. Following His example we may doubtless lead public lives innocently and usefully, conversing with men and doing them good, mutually sowing and reaping the various comforts and advantages of human society. But since the pleasures of conversation when too freely tasted are intoxicating and dangerous, since the temptations which we thereby meet with are many and great (and even where the spirit is willing to resist, yet the flesh is often weak), we ought therefore to regulate and restrain ourselves in the indulgence of such enjoyments by periodical intermissions of them, to strengthen ourselves for such public encounters by our religious privacies, to retire from the world and converse with God and our own conscience, examining the state and fortifying the power of our soul in secrecy and silence.
III. Next morning Jesus joined His disciples.—Some three hours after midnight “He cometh unto them, walking upon the sea.” The fact surprises us: yet why should it? All elements are surely alike to Him who made them! “The progress of Divinity, within His own dominions, cannot be confined to humanly constructed roads or solid ground.” What wonder, then, that He who had so amply demonstrated His power upon the land should display it upon the waters also? Our surprise is but a result and an evidence of the weakness of our faith. The disciples during Christ’s absence had been “toiling in rowing, for the wind was contrary.” Doubtless that conflict of the elements had been stirred by Christ Himself, for the clearer display of His power, and the deeper conviction of His disciples. From the mountain where He prayed He had witnessed their distress; but for the benefit of their souls He delayed their rescue. So with ourselves. Often does the providence of God surround us with so dark a tempest of calamity that the prospect of relief would seem almost hopeless. Yet even in the darkest hour the eye of faith will pierce through the gloom to the regions of joy and peace beyond. Nay, are we not, through the whole of our present existence, in the situation of those wave-tossed disciples, sailing upon a sea of anxiety at the best, and of peril for the most part, in the hope of the appearance of our Lord? Is not that hope the only source of our light, the only anchor of our soul?
IV. The appearance of Jesus first terrifies and then consoles.—
1. The confession of weakness so faithfully recorded in Mark 6:49 is a sample of the candour which distinguishes Holy Writ. Had Jesus approached the ship in any ordinary manner, it would have been unaccountable that His disciples should not instantly have recognised Him; but the way in which He came of itself explains their misapprehension. They had never seen Him hold in abeyance the laws of nature with respect to His own body. The idea of His walking over the sea had never entered their minds; and consequently, in the absence of any rational explanation, they readily fell a prey to the weak suggestions of superstitious credulity. And if through that mere delusion of the imagination they were thrilled with horror and cried out in an agony of fear, though free from crime, what must the guilty conscience suffer in self-inflicted tortures even here, and what must be its torment of remorse hereafter!
2. The consoling voice of Jesus calms the storm—both stilling the waves of the sea and dispelling the tumult in the hearts of the disciples (Mark 6:50-51). And in similar accents does He address Himself to all who turn to Him believing (Matthew 11:28; John 3:16).
3. As to the degree in which we may, indeed must, repose our confidence in Him, the example of St. Peter on this occasion amply instructs us (Matthew 14:28-32). We are invited, nay bidden, to come to Jesus; and no sooner do we make the attempt than we are endowed with strength to enable us to come; and under the support of that celestial aid, without which we could do nothing, we advance nearer and nearer to the Eternal Source of light and life.
V. How far was Christ’s object accomplished by this miracle?—St. Mark tells us that they were struck with amazement at the moment, and then, “after that sudden ‘ecstasy’ was past, they continued more collectedly and thoughtfully in a wondering mood.” St. Matthew adds (Mark 14:33) that they “came and worshipped Him, saying, Of a truth Thou art the Son of God.” This was the impression which Jesus had wished to produce upon their minds, and the acknowledgment which He had sought to draw from their lips. In forming and in expressing such an opinion they were supported by the authority of Scripture (Job 9:8).
Mark 6:56. Touching the Lord.—Wonderful scenes must these have been,—the rumour of His coming; the preparations for it; the eagerness to be first; the gestures and cries to excite notice and pity; the gracious touch; the joyful exclamations; the thankful returning home. And we sing, “Thy touch has still its ancient power.” Let us ask some simple questions as to the meaning of that.
I. What is the virtue now?—
1. Not bodily healing—that is to say, not as it was given then. May I not then ask the Lord to heal me of my sickness, or my brother of his? I cannot do better. Let me seek the Lord through the physicians. The prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up. But the healing shall neither be instant nor quite certainly given.
2. The virtue now is soul-healing. The miracles of the Lord Jesus seem to have had two ends.
(1) They were demonstrative; by them Jesus of Nazareth was approved of God.
(2) They were also illustrative. When prophets foretold that the lame should walk and the dumb sing, they foretold what was literally done; but their language was also a figurative description of what Jesus would do for men’s souls.
II. What is the border of the garment?—In Revelation 1:0. St. John records his vision of the Son of Man. It is a vision of our High Priest clothed with a garment down to the foot. He is our Aaron—our Melchizedek rather. The unction of the Spirit flows down to the skirts of His garment. Is there not a threefold hem?
1. Prayer: “Lord, be merciful to me, heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee.” He who touches thus shall be made whole.
2. The Word of God: “Almighty God, who calledst Luke the physician to be an evangelist and physician of the soul, may it please Thee that by the wholesome medicines of the doctrine delivered by him all the diseases of our souls may be healed.”
3. The Holy Sacraments: We pray to the Lord, who laid His hands upon little children and blessed them, to wash and sanctify our children with the Holy Ghost. And just as it is most important for recovery and health that wholesome food in plenty be given to the sick, so He has provided that in the Eucharist we eat His Flesh and live by Him: “The strengthening and refreshing of our souls by the Body and Blood of Christ.”
III. What is the touch now?—
1. Not the mere use of means. It is the touch of faith and prayer which is blest. No means of grace should be used without prayer. The Lord, at His baptism, was praying (Luke 3:21). Apostles did not confirm or ordain without prayer (Acts 8:15; Acts 14:23). Not a superstitious but a believing use of the means of grace brings healing. The difficulty of faith when Jesus was among men lay in believing that He who seemed to be man only was God. Its difficulty now is that the Lord is withdrawn by the cloud of His ascension. But faith triumphs now as it did then.
2. The touch is a personal application. “I will yet for this be inquired of to do it for them.” Heaven for the asking; but we must ask; and, God knows why, how many, alas, stop short of the asking!
(1) Jesus has entered here; we were born in a Christian country. How shall we answer for it? We have owned Bibles all our lives; the house of God has stood open for us; the Lord’s Day has proclaimed to us that Jesus passeth by. What if after all we are not healed?
(2) The touch of these sick needed not to be repeated; the soul’s touch does. Where first we knew health, there it is our delight to resort continually.
(3) May we see the force of example here? Did the woman (Mark 5:27) set this happy fashion, and these follow her? Do not let us leave others without the help of our example, openly making application to the Lord that healeth us.
(4) See the power of intercession. It was friends here who laid the sick in the Lord’s way and besought Him. Effectual fervent prayer availeth much.—H. Thompson.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 6:45. Changes in life.—How unexpected and disheartening a change! A calm sunset; a sober livery of evening clothing the quiet vales; the rose and purple transfiguration of the mountain-tops; the peaceful rocking of the slumberous waves; the joy of feeding the five thousand with loaves and fishes multiplying in their hands; and now, behold, disappointed hearts and a stern struggle in gathering darkness against threatening winds and waves! What a picture of life it is! Improbable and unexpected changes come, bringing unrest, tempting us to be unsubmissive or even disobedient. The loom of life has been arranged to produce a pattern to our liking; the swift shuttle of time, flying through the warp of our human affairs, weaves awhile a fabric pleasing to us and others, and then, an unseen hand silently shifting all the machinery of life, strange threads and sombre colours begin to weave upon a pattern not yet disclosed.
Mark 6:46. Christ’s prayer.—The prayer here referred to was not so much a series of requests or petitions, as a state of rapt contemplation of God’s presence and a profound communion with Him. He spent those quiet hours in a Divine meditation, drinking afresh at the Eternal Springs, listening to the inspirations of the Father’s voice. The claims of honour and ambition which men made for Him were put aside and clean forgotten, as He entered into the secret place of the Most High and dwelt under the shadow of the Almighty. He saw then with clear vision His work stretch out before Him as the Redeemer of men, and knew that He must be made perfect through suffering ere God or man could crown Him.—D. W. Forrest.
Christ lived by faith.—As the Son of Man, made like unto His brethren, He too lived by faith. He was ever going up into His mountain of devotion and bringing down power and encouragement. It mattered not how clamant appeared the demands for outward service, He allowed nothing to rob Him of that frequent solitary fellowship. He was never so busy that He had no time for retirement. Without it His Mission had never been accomplished. And without it our life in Him will never be strong or deep.—Ibid.
Foundations out of sight.—Sometimes, perhaps, you have been impressed by the courage with which a man stood forth for truth and justice against a gainsaying multitude, or by the patience and submission shewn by one whose earthly hopes were blasted. You marvelled; but these men had in many an hour taken counsel of themselves, they had seen visions of God, and were sure how He would have them go, and that He would go with them. They knew whom they had believed. The foundations of Divine faith and life are, like all foundations, out of sight; but the character that you see and admire is based on them, and draws its strength from them. Therefore to rest even from good works may be a duty. There are some sweet souls whose devotion is such that they never can think it right to pause in their service, who are always finding some new claim on their sympathy, until they exhaust themselves. This ceaseless energy is not good either for their sake or for the work’s sake. Christ rested, simply sent the crowds away, many of them unhelped, and went up into His mountain; but when He reappeared it was with a double blessing.—Ibid.
Mark 6:48. Unable to come to Christ.—We are sometimes in a like position with the disciples. In spite of all our efforts we cannot succeed in fighting our way to Him. In the midst of temptation, when our spirit seems held down and cannot soar to the joy of faith, or in severe bodily suffering, which envelops the soul with the black veil of spiritual darkness, there is still indeed deep down in the heart a believing desire for the Lord’s help, but dark thoughts of temptations rise like black and heavy waves between Him and ourselves. The soul cannot come to Christ: this sometimes lasts a long while, and even till the hour of death. Relatives may then be standing in deep grief round the death-bed, and anxiously asking: “Is it possible that this soul is to die in the darkness of doubt? Is this disciple to be forsaken by the Lord in his last hour?” Oh no; beloved, learn here that when disciples, in spite of all their efforts, cannot come to their Lord, He comes to them.—E. Lehmann.
Hindrances turned into helps.—The stormy sea has been used far too often as a symbol of a troubled life for us to hesitate a moment about making application of that scene to those times in our lives when events seem lawless, uncontrollable by ourselves, like that shifting, fluid, restless sea. Those waves seemed to present an insuperable barrier to Christ’s advance, but by the power of the life that is in Him He transformed them into a means of progress. Every billow was made by Him a stepping-stone towards His disciples. It is not a fanciful dream, but a sober fact, that many of His people, by the power of that self-same life, have triumphed over their troubles, and have found them helps heavenward. The spirit is mightier than the body, the living stronger than the dead. The Christly spirit is the conqueror of materialism in thought and in fact here and hereafter, and your Lord can make your very hindrances, as you call them, your stepping-stones heavenward.—A. Rowland.
Mark 6:49. Christ not recognised.—They did not recognise Him, because He came to them in another manner from that to which they were accustomed. They took Him for a spirit announcing to them, according to the popular superstition, death and destruction, and they cried out for fear. So greatly may Christ be misunderstood by His people. We always think of Him after one fashion, and picture His coming according to our thoughts. If He comes otherwise, and approaches us, not in the way of prosperity, but upon the storm-tossed sea, we do not recognise Him and are afraid. When He draws nigh with hands full of blessings, He is welcome; but when He comes upon the waves of tribulation, we think it cannot be the Saviour. And yet it is He. What seems to us unmixed misfortune is often our greatest blessing. When we are afraid of perishing, He is just upon His way to preserve us.—E. Lehmann.
Mark 6:50. Christ’s words of cheer.—These words of Christ’s, once uttered on the earth, are blent henceforth with heaven’s eternal echoes. When the storms of affliction are raging; when the blasts of adversity blow; when the bolts of bereavement are falling, in dark and dreary days; when strength and pride are prostrate, and the lamp of life burns low; when dear delights and darling dreams are vanishing away; when the light of hope is dim, and the heart is sick with sorrow,—then for a time it seems as though our sky were for ever overcast, and the waters of grief were closing for aye above our heads. But there is One who rules the tempest; there is guidance in the waste of woe; there is deliverance deeper than disaster; there is a voice commanding, “Peace! be still.” Anon the clouds shall clear, the day shall dawn, the countenance of God shall beam; for sadness, loss, and dire dismay are sent to man for discipline, not for destruction. Yet a little while, and the anguish that has pierced the breast shall purify the soul; the helplessness of self-despair shall change to the rest of reliance; all the solitude shall smile, all the shadows be bright, and all the sounds of frantic fear and desolating doubt be whelmed in the sweet whisper of the Voice Divine, “It is I; be not afraid.”—E. M. Geldart.
Mark 6:51. Lessons.—
1. It is commendable that they were affected with admiration and reverent fear of these great and miraculous works of Christ.
2. It is discommendable that they exceeded due measure in this astonishment and admiration of the miracles themselves, without due consideration of Christ’s Divine power by which they were wrought.—G. Petter.
Mark 6:52. Want of consideration.—They failed in this consideration to the very end, and it was not until after the Holy Ghost was given them that their faith became equal to the demands upon it. And so it seems to be with disciples always. Our trouble is the dull heart, the slow apprehension, the little faith. We do not consider the providence which has its witness in our past experience. We fail to apprehend our Lord’s meaning in the questions which our circumstances, our work in the world, our obligations and duties, are continually putting to us. We miss the Divine purpose in the emergencies, the exigencies, which from time to time confront us. Least of all do we suspect that they are opportunities of faith—occasions for the exercise of spiritual power. Missions, charities, social reformations, and all the various forms of Christian enterprise—these things languish or fail chiefly because we, the disciples, cannot seem to get rid of the idea that man lives and must live by bread alone.—W. T. Wilson.
Christ’s training.—It is one purpose of the training of the school of Christ to beget confidence in His power and grace; and often this is done by bringing to light our lurking unbelief. And that is an hour of blessing for us when fateful events put before our eyes, in unmistakable ways, our lack of confidence in the Lord, and shame us into higher faith.
Hardness of heart.—
1. Hardness of heart is a main cause hindering the fruit and profit which we should reap by the means of grace.
2. There may be and is even in good Christians (yea, in the best) some degree of hardness of heart.—G. Petter.
1. The regenerate do in some measure see and feel their own hardness of heart, whereas the unregenerate have little or no feeling of it for the most part (Ephesians 4:19; Tim. Mark 4:2).
2. The godly not only feel but are unfeignedly grieved and humbled for their own hardness of heart; so are not the wicked.
3. The godly hate and constantly strive against it, using all good means to be rid of it, and to have their hearts softened more and more; not so the wicked, who bear with themselves, and willingly go on in hardness of heart (Romans 2:5).
4. Hardness of heart in the godly is a sin of infirmity; but in the wicked it is a reigning sin, bearing away, and prevailing in them.—Ibid.
Mark 6:53. Gennesaret—the modern el-Ghuweir—is that fine rich level tract of country which was the principal scene of our Lord’s earthly career. “Its nature is wonderful,” says Josephus, “as well as its beauty. Its soil is so fruitful that all sorts of trees can grow upon it; and the inhabitants accordingly plant on it all kinds. The temperature of the air is so well mixed that it agrees with the different kinds. Walnuts, which require cold air, flourish there in the greatest abundance; palm trees also, which grow best in heat; fig trees likewise, and olives, which require an air that is more temperate. One may call this place the Ambition of nature, where it constrains those plants which are naturally enemies to one another to agree together. It is a happy strife of the seasons, as if every one of them laid claim to this country, for it not only nourishes different sorts of autumnal fruit beyond men’s expectation, it preserves them a great while. It supplies men with the principal fruits, with grapes and figs, continually during ten months of the year, and the rest of the fruits, as they become ripe together, throughout the whole year.”
Mark 6:55. Helping others.—
1. In that this people shew their love by bringing the sick to Christ to be healed, we learn that it is a duty of love and mercy which we owe to such as are in misery and affliction, to afford them our best help and succour.
(1) We profess to be fellow-members of the same mystical body of Christ, the Church.
(2) We ourselves are subject to like afflictions.
2. How are we to help such as are in misery and affliction?
(1) By our prayers to God to give them strength, patience, deliverance, to sanctify to them all their troubles, etc.
(2) By comforting and strengthening them in all their troubles, that they may be better able to bear them with patience.
(3) By our best advice, counsel, and instruction.
(4) By providing for them the best outward means of comfort and help in our power.
3. True Christian love is diligent and painful in doing duties and services of love to others as occasion offers.
4. We ought wisely to observe and take the best opportunities of helping and doing good to such as are in misery and distress.—G. Petter.
Mark 6:56. Touching Christ.—The touch was—
7. Efficacious.—John Smith.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 6
Mark 6:45-51. The direction of the wind when Jesus walked on the sea.—During a recent visit to the Sea of Galilee, I naturally spent some time over the Gospel narratives connected with this historic piece of water, studying them with the panorama of mountain, shore, ravine, and lake spread before me. It seemed to me that in one connexion at least—that of Christ’s walking on the water—most of the commentaries I had read were at fault. Almost without exception they assume that the “contrary wind” which beset the disciples was a westerly wind, preventing them from reaching Capernaum on the west side. Now I believe that a study of the three narratives (Matthew, Mark, and John) bears out that the wind was actually from the east, and that the disciples were really pulling away from Capernaum, trying to get back to Bethsaida. In the first place, where was the Bethsaida spoken of in Mark? Most take it as the Bethsaida on the western shore, and translate πρὸς Βηθσαϊδάν as “towards Bethsaida”; but πρὸς may mean, as in the margin, “over against,” in which case the town must be sought for on the eastern side. Mr. Haskett Smith, in his latest edition of Porter’s admirable Handbook, p. 253, says that the true site of this Bethsaida is a village named Ms’aidieh—a name virtually identical in meaning—situated on the fertile plain of el-Batîheh, exactly opposite to Tell Hûm, which he identifies with Capernaum. The hills immediately behind this ruin are generally admitted to have been the most likely scene of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. If this be the true site, as there is every reason to believe, then the narrative becomes quite clear. At the conclusion of the feeding of the five thousand, then, Christ sent His disciples on board the ship with the intention of crossing with them to the other side. It is said, He “constrained them” to go on board. Why did He need to do so? Many say they too were carried away by the enthusiasm of the crowd, and would have liked to make Him a king (John 6:15), and the supposition is probable; but it may further be that, experienced fishermen as they were, they knew the signs of an approaching storm, and marvelled that their Master should compel them to go on board at such a time. Before a tempest on the lake there is usually a great sultriness in the air, the sky is murky and filled with misty, indefinitely shaped clouds, while the sun loses its brilliancy and appears of a pale sickly yellow. But Christ gave no reasons beyond the directions to pick Him up farther along the shore. Their ship (τὸ πλοῖον) was anchored a little off the shore, and communication was kept up by means of a single “punt” or “skiff,” πλοιάριον (John 6:22). Having got on board, the disciples sent back the skiff, and waited for their Master. But the storm burst upon them, and blew them far out across the lake towards the west. It was my good fortune while in Galilee to witness one of the most violent tempests seen for many years. I am aware that the majority of squalls come down the Wady Hammâm and are westerly in character; but the storm I witnessed came from the south, and after blowing for half an hour in that direction changed to the north-east. I was assured by the boatmen on the lake who had been in this tempest that the only resource for a boat caught in such a squall is to let her drift, till the first violence is spent, when rowing may be attempted. Such was, no doubt, the case with the disciples. They simply had to “scud” before the seas and furious wind, till the initial fury had somewhat spent itself, when they took to the oars and began the weary work of rowing back to Bethsaida. This they continued till the fourth watch of the night, toiling against the heavy breakers and, perhaps, dashing rain. But their toil was in vain; they drifted more than they rowed. Christ saw them βασανιζομένους ἐν τῷ ἐλαύνειν, and came walking on the water to meet them. Why did they not see Jesus till He was “passing them by”? (Mark 6:48). Simply because, if our supposition is correct, their backs were turned towards Him as He was coming with the wind, while they were toiling at the oars against the wind. Immediately on receiving Jesus into the boat, John tells us, “the ship was at the land whither they went” (Mark 6:21). The Evangelist gives no indication that the incident is to be regarded as a miracle, nor need we necessarily suppose it to have been one. John says they had rowed twenty-five or thirty furlongs when they were met by Jesus. But as they were drifting more than they rowed, they were close on the other side when Christ appeared. From Ms’aidîeh to Capernaum is just about twenty-eight furlongs, so that when they took Jesus into the boat, and the storm was hushed, it was straightway that their ship was ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, i.e. touching the shelving, gravelly beach. The shore had been obscured before, partly by the gloom of night and partly by the spray and spindrift, which is such a feature of these Galilean storms. In conclusion, I may say that the homiletic value of this exegesis appears to me greater than on the common view. The disciples in this case were not rowing away from Christ, but, filled with a strong love for their Master, and in apprehension at leaving Him alone on the desolate shore, were doing all they could to pull back to Jesus, even though at the expense of enormous labour to themselves. It is a splendid instance of devotion, and shews that the fishermen had risen much in moral courage since the time of their former craven fear when Jesus was on board, and when He stilled the tempest.—G. A. Frank Knight.
Mark 6:47-51. Two aspects of life.—In a gallery in Italy there are two pictures side by side by different artists. One represents a sea tossed by storms. Dark clouds hang over it, and the lightning-bolts pierce the sky, and the wrathful waves roll in fury. In the seething waters a dead human face is seen. The other represents a sea similarly storm-tossed; but in the midst of the angry waters is a rock, and in the rock a cleft with green herbage and flowers, and amid these a dove quietly sitting on her nest. These two pictures tell the whole story of human life in this world. The first is a story of life without Christ, unblessed by His presence and peace. There is storm everywhere, with no quiet shelter. The other shews the peace which Christ gives. There is no less storm. The waves roll as high. But there is peace. The rock represents Christ; it is in the cleft of the rock that the peace is found.
Man’s impotence.—The bowling wind, the raging waves, and the tossing, tremulous ship taught them what they needed to feel—their impotence. Ah! man in his season of prosperity and peace is prone to pride, disposed to cherish an overweening estimate of his character and position. It is a blessing when, even by a terrible tempest of adversity, this insuperable bar to improvement is removed, and the man knows himself. On one occasion the great Napoleon arranged to review his fleet off Boulogne. Seeing that a severe storm was impending, the admiral in command sent word to the Emperor, advising that the position of the ships should be altered. Napoleon demanded obedience to his first directions, and the vice-admiral obeyed. The storm burst in terrific violence. Several gun-sloops were wrecked, and over two hundred soldiers and sailors were obliged to battle with the angry sea for life, and few escaped. The Emperor at once ordered the boats out to rescue the drowning men, but he was told that no boat could live in such a sea. Then, in the strength of his determination, he ordered a company of grenadiers to man his boat, and springing into it, he exclaimed: “Follow me, my brave fellows! Push on! Push on!” In vain the poor soldiers struggled at the oars. “Push on!” cried Napoleon. “Do you not hear their cries? Oh, this sea! this sea! It rebels against our power, but it may be conquered!” Scarcely had the words escaped his lips when a mighty billow struck the boat, and sent it and its occupants with terrible force high up the shore, leaving them like a stranded waif. Thus was the proud monarch taught his impotence. Thus also is self-confident, self-important, self-conceited man often driven back by life’s storms—driven back upon the very first principles of a truly religious life—conscious weakness and necessary dependence.—J. H. Hitchens, D.D.
Divine help.—A lifeboat, with its precious cargo, was pitching and rolling in a fearful storm, when the old captain cried aloud to all, “Hold on! hold on!” The response came, “Ay, ay!” But there was one little voice which, in the sadness of despair, exclaimed, “I can’t hold on!” Instantly the strong arm of the captain was thrown around that trembling child, and he was safe. So when Jesus sees and hears that, notwithstanding our utmost efforts, we feel we need Him, and crave His Divine help, He hastens to our relief.—Ibid.
Thought for sailors.—As Christ went to the relief of His distressed disciples, so we who profess to value the religion of Jesus should be willing to do all we can for our sons of the sea. They are a noble race, our sailors. They are ever ready to do a kindness to a distressed fellow-voyager; they have extraordinary opportunities for spreading the truth; and they are called to exercise an untold amount of self-denial. A ship was once in distress. Though the angry sea dashed and foamed with terrible fury, yet some noble sailors put off to rescue the ship’s crew. After prolonged effort and peculiar danger, they succeeded in bringing the whole company safely to shore. A man of wealth, standing by the water’s side, as spectator of the men’s heroism, was moved “by the way they risked their lives. Pulling out his purse, he offered all the gold it contained to the coxswain and his men. The gift, however, was respectfully declined, the boatswain saying, “No, sir; we would save a man for nothing any day.” Brethren, shall we be backward when the souls of such brave men are to be saved?—Ibid.
Difficulty melting before endeavour.—How often hast thou found thyself, at the entrance into a duty, becalmed as a ship, which, at first setting sail, hath hardly wind to swell its sails, while under the shore and shadow of the trees, but meets a fresh gale of wind when got into the open sea? Yea, didst thou never launch out to duty, as the apostles did to sea, with the wind in thy face, as if the Spirit of God, instead of helping thee on, meant to drive thee back, and yet hast found Christ walking to thee before the duty was done, and a prosperous voyage made of it at last?—W. Gurnall.
Mark 6:48. Toil.—Half the ingenuity of mankind is expended in the attempt to avoid toil. The Lord’s constraint, then, which sometimes snatches us away from pleasant ease and compels us to endure some hardness of toil, is a thing to be thankful for. No doubt Robert and Mary Moffat, among the idolatrous and warlike Bechuanas of South Africa, needed the stern discipline of toiling and fruitless years as a preparation for the larger successes of later times. The ten long years of darkness, without a glimmer of the dawn, tried and proved a faith which was imperishable. Before one convert rewarded their labours, a friend wrote to Mary Moffat to ask what thing of use she could send to her, and was answered, “Send us a communion service; we shall want it some day.”
Toilers.—It is an interesting thing to look out from a suburban railway train, which enters London or any other large town on a high level, and as one rapidly passes along to catch a flying glimpse at the busy life beneath. Here one gazes down into a crowded street with its bustling throng—there one sees a factory with the spindles and machinery revolving behind the windows; or it may be we catch sight of the roaring fires of a foundry, or the humble toil of a washerwoman. But one general characteristic strikes the mind. It is a sense of the busy activity of men’s lives—that they are “toiling.” Now there is no reason why the idea of work should be an unhappy one. God in mercy has given mankind work to do, to make us useful and happy, and keep us out of harm; but the word “toil” implies the idea of over-work, of too much pressure, of too little time for rest and leisure; and many an excellent and hard-working man is in these days pressed beyond his powers, which is a great evil.—Dr. Hardman.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Mark 6". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27