Saturday, June 3rd, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Mark 1". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ mark-1.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Mark 1". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ. These words mean, not the title of the book, but the commencement of the narrative; and so they depend upon what follows, namely, "as it is written" (καθῶς for ὠς), "even as it is written." The words "the gospel of Jesus Christ" do not signify the book which St. Mark wrote, but the evangelical teaching of Jesus Christ. St. Mark means that the gospel announcement by Jesus Christ had such a beginning as had been predicted by Isaiah and Malachi, namely, the preaching of John the Baptist, and his testimony concerning Christ, to be fully laid open by the preaching and the death of Christ. The preaching of repentance by the Baptist was the preparation and the beginning of the evangelical preaching by Christ, of whom John was the forerunner. It has been well observed that St. Matthew and St. John begin their Gospels from Christ himself; but St. Matthew from the human, and St. John from the Divine, generation of Christ. St. Mark and St. Luke commence from John the Baptist; but St. Luke from his nativity, and St, John from his preaching. The words, the Son of God, are rightly retained in the Revised Version, although they are omitted by some ancient authorities.
Even as it is written in the prophets. The weight of evidence is here in favor of the reading "in Isaiah the prophet." Three of the most important uncials (א, B, and L), and twenty-six of the cursives, have the reading "Isaiah." With these agree the Italic, Coptic, and Vulgate versions. Of the Fathers, Irenaeus quotes the passage three times, twice using the words "in the prophets," and once "in Isaiah the prophet." Generally the Fathers agree that "Isaiah" is the received reading. The more natural reading would of course be "in the prophets,'' inasmuch as two prophets are quoted; but in deciding upon readings, it constantly happens that the less likely reading is the more probable. In the case before us we can hardly account for "Isaiah" being exchanged for "the prophets," although we can quite understand "the prophets" being interpolated for "Isaiah." Assuming, then, that St. Mark wrote "in Isaiah the prophet," we may ask why he mentions Isaiah only and not Malachi? The answer would seem to be this, that here the voice of Isaiah is the more powerful of the two. But in real truth, Malachi says the same thing that Isaiah says; for the messenger sent from God to prepare the way of Christ was none other than John, crying aloud and preaching repentance as a preparation for the receiving of the grace of Christ. The oracle of Malachi is, in fact, contained in the oracle of Isaiah; for what Malachi predicted, the same had Isaiah more clearly and concisely predicted in other words. And this is the reason why St. Mark here, and other evangelists elsewhere, when they cite two prophets, and two or more sentences from different places in the same connection, cite them as one and the same testimony, each sentence appearing to be not so much two, as one and the same declaration differently worded.
John came, and preached the baptism of repentance. John came, that is, that he might rouse the people to repentance, and prepare them, by the outward cleansing of their bodies, to receive the cleansing of their souls through Christ's baptism, which was to follow his. So that the baptism of John was the profession of their penitence. Hence they who were baptized with his baptism confessed their sins, and thus made the first step towards the forgiving mercy which was to be found in Christ; and the seal of his forgiveness they were to look for in his baptism, which is a baptism for the remission of sins to all true penitents and faithful believers. Christ's baptism was, therefore, the perfection and consummation of the baptism of John.
Clothed with camel's hair. This was a rough, coarse garment, characteristic of the doctrine which John taught, namely, penitence and contempt of the world. Camels abounded in Syria. And a leathern girdle about his loins. Not only the prophets, but the Jews and the inhabitants of Syria generally, used a girdle to keep the long flowing garment more closely about them, so as to leave them more free for journeying or for labour. Thus our Lord says (Luke 12:35), "Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning." And he did eat locusts and wild honey. The insect called the locust (ἀκρὶς) was permitted to be eaten (see Le John 11:22). It was used as food by the common people in Judaea. The Arabs eat them to this day; but they are considered as a common and inferior kind of food. They are a sign of temperance, poverty, and penitence. The wild honey (μέλι ἄγριον) was simply honey made by wild bees, either in the trees or in the hollows of the rocks. Isidorus says that it was of an inferior flavour. Both these kinds of food were consistent with the austere life and the solemn preaching of the Baptist.
The latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. This was the menial office of the slave, whose business it was to take off? and put on the shoes of his master, stooping down with all humility and respect for this purpose. Thus John confessed that he was the servant of Christ, and that Christ was his Lord. In a mystical sense the shoes denote the humanity of Christ, which by its union with the Word became of the highest dignity and majesty. St. Bernard says, "The majesty of the Word was shod with the sandal of our humanity."
I baptized you with water; but he shall baptize you with [or in] the Holy Ghost. It is as though he said, "Christ will pour his Holy Spirit so abundantly upon you, that he will cleanse you from all your sins, and fill you with holiness and love and all his other excellent graces." Christ did this visibly on the day of Pentecost. And this he does invisibly in the. sacrament of Holy Baptism, and in the rite of Confirmation, which is the completion of the sacrament of Baptism. John baptized with water only, but Christ with water and the Holy Spirit. John baptized the body only, Christ baptizes the soul. By how much, therefore, the Holy Spirit transcends the water, and the soul excels the body, by so much is Christ's baptism more excellent than that of John, which was only preparatory and rudimentary. If it be asked why it was needful that our Lord should be baptized with John's baptism, the best answer is that given by Christ himself, "Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness;" it becometh us—me in receiving this baptism, and you in imparting it. Christ was sent to do the whole will of God; and as in his circumcision, so in his baptism, "he was made to be sin for us, who knew no sin."
Straightway (εὐθέως) coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened (σχιζομένους); literally, rent asunder. The word εὐθέως occurs more than forty times in this Gospel, and is so characteristic of St. Mark that, in the Revised Version, it is uniformly rendered by the same English synonym, "straightway." He saw. Elsewhere we are told (John 1:32) that St. John the Baptist saw this descent. The earliest heretics took advantage of this statement to represent this event as the descent of the eternal Christ upon the man Jesus for personal indwelling. Later critics have adopted this view. But it need hardly be said here that such an opinion is altogether inconsistent with all that we read elsewhere of the circumstances of the Incarnation, and of the intimate and indissoluble union of the Divine and human natures in the person of the one Christ, from the time of the "overshadowing of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Highest." The Spirit descending upon him at his baptism was not the descent of the eternal Christ upon the man Jesus. It was rather the conveyance to one who was already prepared for it as God and man, of office and authority as the great Prophet that should come into the world. St. Luke says particularly (Luke 3:21) that it was when Jesus had been baptized and was praying, that the Holy Spirit descended upon him; plainly showing us that it was not through the baptism of John, but through the meritorious obedience and the prayer of the Son of God, that the heavens were "rent asunder," and the Holy Spirit descended upon him.
Driveth him (ἐκβάλλει); literally, driveth him forth. That Holy Spirit, which not long before he had received at his baptism, impelled him with great energy; so that of his own accord he went forth, armed with Divine power, into the desert, that there, as in a wrestling-place, he might contend alone with Satan. There Christ and antichrist met, and entered upon the conflict upon the issue of which our salvation depended.
Forty days tempted of Satan. St. Mark gathers up the whole temptation into this one sentence; and the passage would seem to imply that the three temptations recorded by St. Matthew and St. Luke were not the only trials through which our Lord passed during those forty days, although they were no doubt the prominent and the most powerful assaults upon our Redeemer. And he was with the wild beasts (μετὰ τῶν θηρίων). This shows the extreme solitude of the place. It shows also the innocence of our Lord, that there, in that wild and desolate district, amongst lions, and wolves, and leopards, and serpents, he neither feared them nor was injured by them. He dwelt amongst them as Adam lived with them in his state of innocence in Paradise. These wild beasts recognized and revered their Creater and their Lord. And the angels ministered unto him. This, as we learn from St. Matthew (Matthew 4:11), was after his temptation and victory. Some have thought that Jesus became known to the devil as the Son of God, by the reverence and adoration of the angels. Thus Jesus showed in his own person, when alone he had striven with Satan and, had overcome him, that heavenly comfort and the ministry of angels are provided by God for those who overcome temptation.
Now after that John was put in prison (μετὰ τὸ παραδοθῆναι); literally, was delivered up. This was our Lord's second coming into Galilee. Galilee had been specially designated as the scene of the Divine manifestation (see Isaiah 9:1, Isaiah 9:2). The land of Galilee, or of Zebulun and Naphtali, had the misfortune to be the first in the sad calamity which fell upon the Jewish nation through the Assyrian invasion; and, in order to console them under this grievious affliction, Isaiah assures them that, by way of recompense, they, above the rest of their brethren, should have the chief share in the presence and ministry of the future promised Messiah. It seems probable that our Lord remained some time in Judaea after his baptism. From thence he went, with Andrew and Peter, two of John's disciples, into Galilee, where he called Philip. And then it was that he turned the water into wine at the marriage feast in Cana. This was his first coming out of Judaea into Galilee, related by St. John (John 1:43, etc.). But the Passover brought him back into Judaea, that he might present himself in the temple; and then occurred his first purging of the temple (John 2:14). Then came the visit of Nicedemus to him by night; and then he began openly to preach and to baptize (John 3:26), and thus incurred the envy of the scribes and Pharisees. Therefore he left Judaea, and departed again into Galilee; and this is the departure here recorded by St. Mark and by St. Matthew (Matthew 4:12). Hence it came to pass that it was in Galilee that Christ called to himself four fishermen—Andrew and Peter, James and John.
The time is fulfilled; that is, the time for the coming of Messiah and of his kingdom. The kingdom which had been shut for so many ages was now to be reopened by the preaching and the death of Christ. The time is very accurately indicated. St. Matthew tells us (Matthew 4:12) that "when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee;" and then presently afterwards he adds, "From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand." The time and place are also accurately specified by St. Peter (Acts 10:36, Acts 10:37), where he tells Cornelius that "the word of peace, preached by Jesus Christ, was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached.'' It was necessary that these circumstances should be carefully detailed, because they were among the proofs of the Messiahship of Jesus. Elias must come first; and he had come in the person of the Baptist, although the prophecy probably awaits its full accomplishment in the actual reappearance of the great prophet of Israel before the second coming of our Lord. Repent ye, and believe the gospel. These words may be regarded as a summary of the method of salvation. Repentance and faith are the conditions of admission into the Christian covenant. Repentance has a special reference to God the Father, and faith, to Jesus Christ the eternal Son. It is in the gospel that Christ is revealed to us as a Saviour; and therefore we find Jesus Christ, as the object of our faith, distinguished from the Father as the object of our repentance. Repentance of itself is not sufficient—it makes no satisfaction for the Law which we have broken; and hence, over and above repentance, there is required from us faith in the Gospel, wherein Christ is revealed to us as a propitiation for sin, and as the only way of reconciliation with the Father. Without faith repentance becomes despair, and without repentance faith becomes only presumption. Join the two together, and the faithful soul is borne onwards, like a well-balanced vessel, to the haven where it would be.
Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee; a better reading is (καὶ παράγων), and passing along. Our Lord came up from the south, passing through Samaria, till he reached Cana of Galilee. He then passed along by the seashore towards Capernaum; and on his way found the four disciples whom he had previously nominated, but who were now engaged in their calling of fishermen. St. Mark then relates the circumstances of their call in the exact words of St. Matthew, which were in all probability those of apostolical tradition ('Speaker's Commentary'). It will be seen that St. Mark's account, in this introductory portion of his Gospel, is very concise, and that there are many things to be supplied from the first chapter of St. John; as, for example, that after our Lord's baptism by John, and afar his fasting and temptation in the desert, the Jews sent messengers to the Baptist, to inquire of him whether he were the Christ. John at once confessed that he was not the Christ, but that there was One even then among them, though they knew him not, who was indeed the Christ And then, the very next day after, Jesus came to him, and John then said to those around him, "Behold the Lamb of God!" Upon this two of John's disciples at once betook-themselves to Jesus. The first was Andrew, who forthwith brought his own brother Simon, afterwards called "Peter," to our Lord. Again, the day after the, our Lord called Philip, a fellow-citizen with Andrew and Peter, of Bethsaida. Then Philip brought Nathanael. Here, then, we have some more disciples nominated, who were with Jesus at the marriage in Cana of Galilee. Then Jesus retched again into Judaea; and those disciples "nominate," as we might call them, went back for a time to their occupation of fishermen. Meanwhile our Lord, while in Judaea, wrought miracles and preached, until the envy of the scribes and Pharisees constrained him to return again into Galilee. And then it was that he solemnly called Andrew and Peter, and James and John, as recorded by St. Mark here. So that St John alone gives some account of the events of the first year of our Lord's ministry. The three synoptic Gospels give the narrative of his public ministry, commencing from the second year. He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea. (βάλλοντας ἀμφίβληστρον ἐν τῇ θαλάσση). Such was the text underlying the Authorized Version; but a better reading is (ἀμφιβάλλοντας ἐν τῇ θαλάσση). St. Mark thinks it unnecessary to mention the net at all; though doubtless it was the ἀμφίβληστρον, or casting-net. When our Lord likens his gospel to a net, he uses the figure of the drag-net (σαγήνη), a net of a much larger size. But whether it be the casting-net or the drag-net, the comparison is a striking one. It is plain that, in the pursuit of his calling, the fisherman has no power to make any separation between the good fish and the worthless. He has little or no insight into what is going on beneath the surface of the water. So with the "fisher of men." He deals with the world spiritual and invisible; and how, then, can he be fully conscious of the results of his work? His work is pre-eminently a work of faith. It may be observed here that St. Mark, in this earlier part of his narrative, speaks of St. Peter as Simon, though afterwards (Mark 3:16) he calls him Peter. We may also notice here, once for all, St. Mark's constant use of the word "straightway" (εὐθέως or εὐθὺς). This word occurs no less than ten times in this chapter. In the Authorized Version the word (εὐθέως)is rendered indifferently by various English synonyms, as "forthwith," "immediately," etc.; whereas in the Revised Version it has been thought fit to note this peculiarity or mannerism in St. Mark's Gospel by the use of the same English synonym, "straightway," throughout this Gospel. The Holy Spirit, while guiding the minds of those whom he moved to write these records, did not use an overpowering influence, so as to interfere with their own natural modes of expression. Each sacred writer, while guarded against error, has reserved to him his own peculiarities of style and expression.
Mark 1:19, Mark 1:20
The calling of James and John, the sons of Zebedee. St. Mark hero mentions that they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants (μετὰ τῶν μισθωτῶν). This mention of the "hired servants" is peculiar to St. Mark. He often follows the narrative of St. Matthew; but he adds little details such as this, here and there, which show that he knew St. Matthew's narrative to be true, and also that he was an independent witness. This circumstance here incidentally mentioned shows that there was a difference in position in life between Zebedee's family and that of Simon and Andrew. It appears that all Jews had free right of fishing in the sea of Galilee, which abounded in fish. Zebedee, therefore, whose home seems to have been at Jerusalem, had a fishing establishment in Galilee, probably managed by his partners, Andrew and Simon, during his absence. But he would naturally visit the establishment from time to time With his sons, and especially before the great festivals, when a larger supply of fish than usual would be required for the visitors crowding to Jerusalem at that time. (See 'Speaker's Commentary.')
And they went into Capernaum; literally, they go into Capernaum (εἰσπορεύονται). St. Mark is fond of the historical "present "tense, which often adds life and energy to his narrative. Who go into Capernaum? Our Lord and these four disciples, the elementary Church of God, the nucleus of that spiritual influence which is to spread wider and wider unto the perfect day. It does not follow that this going into Capernaum took place on the same day. They would not have been fishing on the sabbath day. The synagogue here spoken of was the gift of the good centurion of whom we read in St. Matthew (Matthew 8:5) and St. Luke (Luke 7:2). Thus the first synagogue in which our Lord preached was the gift of a generous Gentile officer. It was an emblem of the union of Jews and Gentiles in one fold.
They were astonished at his teaching (ἐξεπλήσσοντο ἐπὶ τῇ διδαχῇ). The verb in the Greek is a very strong and expressive one; it is a very suitable word to express the first impressions of utter amaze-sent produced by our Lord's "teaching." There were several things which caused his teaching (δίδαχη) to differ from that of the scribes. There was no lack of self-assertion in their teaching; but their words did not carry weight. Their teaching was based chiefly on tradition; it dwelt much on the "mint and anise and cummin" of religion, but neglected "judgment and mercy and faith." Christ's teaching, on the contrary, was eminently spiritual. And then he practiced what he taught. Not so the scribes.
Thus far St. Mark's narrative bears the character of brevity and conciseness, suitable to an introduction. From this point his record is rich in detail and in graphic description.
And straightway there was in their synagogne a man with an unclean spirit. According to the best authorities, the sentence in the Greek runs thus, Καὶ εὐθὺς ἦν ἐν τῇ συναγωγῇ αὐτῶν· And straightway there was in their synagogue, etc. This word "straightway" adds much force to the sentence. It marks the immediate effect of our Lord's preaching. A man with an unclean spirit. The words are literally, "a man in an unclean spirit" (ἐν πνεύματι ἀκάθαρτῳ); in his grasp, so to speak; possessed by him. There can be no reasonable doubt as to the personality of this unclean spirit. The man was so absolutely in the power of this evil spirit that he seemed to dwell in him; just as the world is said by St. John (1 John 5:19) to lie "in the evil one" (ἐν τῷ πονηρῷ). And he cried out. Who cried out? Surely the unclean spirit, using the possessed man as his instrument. In the case of a true prophet, inspired by the Holy Spirit, he is permitted to use his own gifts, his reason, and even his own particular manner of speech; whereas here a false and lying spirit usurps the organs of speech, and makes them his own.
The expression, Ἔα, incorrectly rendered Let us alone, has not sufficient authority to be retained here, though it is rightly retained in the parallel passage in St. Luke (Luke 4:34), where it is rendered in the Revised Version "Ah!" or "Ha!" If rendered, "Let us alone," or "Let alone," it must be assumed to be the imperative of ἐάω. It will be observed that this cry of the unclean spirit is spontaneous, before our Lord has addressed him. In real truth, the preaching of Jesus has already thrown the whole world of evil spirits into a state of excitement and alarm. The powers of darkness are beginning to tremble. They resent this intrusion into their domain. They feel that One greater than Satan has appeared, and they ask, What have we to do with thee? Wherein have we injured thee, that thou shouldest seek to drive us out of our possession? We have nothing to do with thee, thou Holy One of God; but we have a right to take possession of sinners. Beds says that the evil spirits, perceiving that "our Lord had come into the world, believed that they were about at once to be judged. They knew that dispossession would be their entrance upon a condition of torment, and therefore it is that they deprecate it." I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God. St. Mark is very careful to bring out the hidden knowledge possessed by evil spirits, which enabled them at once to recognize the personality of Jesus. It was given to them by him who has supreme power over the spiritual as well as the material world, to know as much as he saw fit that they should know; and he was pleased to make known as much as was needful. "But he made himself known to them, not as he makes himself known to the holy angels, who know him as the Word of God, and rejoice in his eternity, of which they partake. To the evil spirits he made himself known only so far as was requisite to strike with terror the beings from whose tyranny he was about to free those who were predestinated unto his kingdom and the glory of it".
Hold thy peace, and come out of him. It was necessary that our Lord should at once assert his absolute power over the evil spirits; and not only this, but also that he should show that he had nothing to do with them. Later on in his ministry it was objected to him that he cast out devils by the prince of the devils. Then, further, the time was not yet arrived when Christ was to be publicly proclaimed as the Son of God. This great truth was to be gradually unfolded, and the people were to be persuaded by many miracles. But at present they were not prepared for this, and therefore our Lord charged his apostles that they should not make him known.
And when the unclean spirit had torn him; and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him (καὶ σπαράξαν αὐτὸν). The Greek word σπαράσσω may be rendered in the passive to be convulsed. It is so used by medical writers, as Galen. It could hardly here mean physically "laceration," for St. Luke (Luke 4:35) is careful to say that "when the devil had thrown him down in the midst, he came out of him, having done him no hurt." At all events, the expression indicates the close union of the evil spirit with the possessed man's consciousness and with his physical frame. And the manner in which he departed showed his malignity, as though, being compelled by the supreme authority of Christ to leave the man, he would injure him as far as he was able to do so. But the power of Christ prevented him from doing any real injury. And all this was done
(1) that there might be clear evidence that the man was actually possessed by the evil spirit;
(2) that the anger and malice of the evil spirit might be shown; and
(3) that it might be manifest that the unclean spirit came out, not of his own accord, but constrained and vanquished by Christ. We may observe also that the power of Christ restrained him from the use of any articulate words. While he was in possession he used the possessed man's organs of speech; but when he came out there was no articulate speech—it was nothing but a cry.
What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? The now generally approved text gives a different rendering, namely, What is this? a new teaching! (Τί ἐστὶ τοῦτο δὶδαχη καινή). If this is the true reading—and there is excellent authority for it—it would mean that the bystanders inferred that this new and unexampled power indicated the accompanying gift of a "new teaching," a new revelation. Nay, more, it indicated that he who wrought these miracles must be the promised Messiah, the true God; for he alone by his power could rule the evil spirits.
All the region round about Galilee; more literally, all the region of Galilee, round about; and the best readings add "everywhere" (πανταχοῦ εἰς ὅλην τὴν περίχωρον τῆς Γαλιλαίας). This is, of course, said by anticipation.
They came; a better reading is, he came (ἤλθεν). St. Matthew and St. Luke speak of this house as the house of Simon Peter only; but St. Mark, writing probably under St. Peter's direction, includes Andrew as a joint owner with Simon Peter.
Mark 1:30, Mark 1:31
Lay sick of a fever (κατέκειτο πυρέσσουσα). St. Luke (Luke 4:38) uses a stronger expression, "was holden with a great fever" (συνεχομένη πυρετῷ μεγάλῳ). There were marshes in that district; hence the prevalence of fevers of a malignant character. There is no mention of the wife of Peter by name in the New Testament. We may infer, from the fact that his wish's mother lived with him, that he was the head of the family. St. Paul (1 Corinthians 9:5) intimates that he was a married man, and that his wife accompanied him on his missionary tours. According to the testimony of Clement of Alexandria, and of Eusebius (Luke 3:30), she suffered martyrdom, and was led away to death in the sight of her husband, whose last words to her were, "Remember thou the Lord." St. Mark here tells us that Jesus came and took [Simon's wife's mother] by the hand, and raised her up. St. Luke (Luke 4:39) says that "he stood over her and rebuked the fever." Immediately the fever left her. The word "immediately" (εὐθέως), familiar as it is to St. Mark, is here omitted by the best authorities. But the omission is of no importance; for the fact that "the fever left her," and that she was at once strong enough to "minister to them," proves that it was not like an ordinary recovery from fever, which is wont to be slow and tedious.
At even, when the sun did set. It was the sabbath day; and, therefore, the sick were not brought to our Lord until six o'clock, when the sabbath ended. When the sun did set (ὅτε ἔδυ ὁ ἥλίος). St. Luke's phrase is (δύνοντος τοῦ ἡλίου), "When the sun was, so to speak, submerged in the sea." So in Virgil, 'Aeneid,' lib. 7.100—
"... qua sol utrumque recurrens
the popular idea being that, when the sun sets, it sinks into the ocean.
Mark 1:33, Mark 1:34
The whole city was gathered together at the door. This would probably be the outer door in the wall, opening into the street; so that this need not be regarded as a hyperbolic statement. It is evidently the description of an eye-witness, or of one who had it from an eye-witness. He healed all that had need of healing, and he suffered not the devils to speak, for the reasons. assigned at Mark 1:25.
And in the morning, at great while before day, he rose up and went out, and departed into a desert place, and there prayed. Our Lord thus prepared himself by prayer for his first departure on a missionary tour. This would be the morning of the first day of the week. A great while before day he left the scene of excitement. That was not a time for preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom. The miracles attracted attention to him, but they were not the object for which he came. They were necessary as means of stirring and awakening men's minds, and of fixing their attention upon him and upon the great salvation which he came to reveal. So he left the miracles to do their subordinate work; and he himself went into a desert place, that he might pray with more quiet and less distraction. He retired that he might escape the applause of men, which they were ready to lavish upon him after seeing so many miracles; that he might thus teach us to shun the praise of men. Let us learn from Christ to give the early morning to prayer, and to rise with the dawn of day, that we may have time for meditation, and give the firstfruits of the morning to God. The early morning is favorable for study; but it is specially dear to God and his angels.
And Simon and they that were with him followed after him κατεδίωξαν the word implies an "earnest pursuing." They that were with him would doubtless include Andrew and James and John, and probably others whose enthusiasm had been kindled by Simon Peter. St. Luke, in the parallel passage (Luke 4:42). tells us that "the multitudes sought after him, and came unto him, and would have stayed him, that he should not go from them."
All are seeking thee. The "thee" is here emphatic (πάντες ζητοῦσίσε).
Mark 1:38, Mark 1:39
These two verses indicate the extent and duration of our Lord's first missionary journey. It must have been considerable. He preached in the synagogues. This would be on successive sabbaths. According to Josephus, Galilee was a densely populated district, with upwards of two hundred villages, each containing several thousand inhabitants.
The healing of the leper is recorded in all the three synoptic Gospels; but St. Mark gives more full details. From St. Matthew we learn that it took place after the sermon on the mount; and yet not at the very close of his missionary circuit, St. Luke (Luke 5:12) says that the diseased man was "full of leprosy" (πλήρης λέπρας). The disorder was fully developed; it had spread over his whole body; he was leprous from head to foot. This leprosy was designed to be specially typical of the disease of sin. It was not infectious. It was not because it was either infectious or contagious that the leper was bidden under the Jewish Law to wars others off, in the words," Unclean! un-clean!" It was in some cases hereditary. It was a very revolting disease. It was a poisoning of the springs of life. It was a living death. It was incurable by any human art or skill. It was the awful sign of sin reaching unto death; and it was cured, as sin is cured, only by the mercy and favor of God. No wonder, then, that our Lord specially displayed his power over this terrible disease, that he might thus prove his power over the still worse malady of sin. St. Mark here tells us that this leper knelt down (καὶ γονυπετῶν). St. Matthew says (Matthew 8:2) that he "worshipped him," (προσεκύνει αὐτῷ); St. Luke says (Luke 5:12) that "he fell on his face" (πεσὼν ἐπὶ πρόσωπον). We thus see that the scriptural idea of worship is associated with some lowly posture of the body. But with this worship of the body, the leper offered also the homage of the soul. His prostration of himself before Christ was not merely a rendering of honor to an earthly being; it was a rendering of reverence to a Divine Being. For he does not say to him, "If thou wilt ask of God, he will give it thee;" but he says, "If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." It is as though he said, "I know that thou art of equal power with the Father, and therefore supreme Lord over diseases; so that by thy word alone thou canst remove this leprosy from me. I ask, therefore, that thou wouldst be willing to do this, and then I know that the thing is done." The leper had faith in the Divine power of Christ, partly out of his own inward illumination, and partly by the evidence of the miracles which Christ had already wrought. If thou wilt, thou east. Observe the hypothetic expression, "If thou wilt." He has no doubt as to Christ's power, but the words, "If thou wilt" show that his desire for healing was controlled by resignation to the will of God. For bodily diseases are often necessary for the health of the soul; and this God knows, though man knows it not. Therefore, in asking for earthly blessings, it behoves us to resign ourselves to the will and wisdom of God.
Observe in this verse that Jesus stretched forth his hand and touched the leper. Thus he showed that he was superior to the Law, which forbade contact with a leper. He touched him, knowing that he could not be defiled with the touch. He touched him that he might heal him, and that his Divine power of healing might be made manifest. "Thus," says Bode, "God stretched out his hand and touched the human nature in his incarnation, and restored to the Church those who had been cast out, that they might be able to offer their bodies a living sacrifice to him of whom it is said, 'Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Molchisedec.'" I will; be thou clean; literally, be thou made clean (καθαρίσθητι). It is well observed here by St. Jerome that our Lord aptly answers both the petitions of the leper. "If thou wilt;" "I will." "Thou canst make me clean;" "Be thou made clean." Indeed, Christ gives him more than he asks for. He makes him whole, not only in body, but in spirit. Thus Christ, in his loving-kindness, exceeds the wishes of his supplicants, that we may learn from him to do the same, and to enlarge our hearts, both towards God and towards our brethren.
Straightway—St. Mark's favourite word—the leprosy departed from him. There is no interval between the command and the work of Christ. "He spake, and it was done." His will is his omnipotence. By this act Christ showed that he came into the world as a great Physician, that he might cure all diseases, and cleanse us from all our defilements. The word "straightway" shows that Christ healed the leper, not by any natural means, but by a Divine power which works instantly. He is alike powerful both to commend and to do. St. Matthew says here (Matthew 8:3) that straightway "his leprosy was cleansed" (ἐκαθαρίσθη αὐτοῦ ἡ λέπρα). There is here what is called a "hypallage," or inversion of the meaning, which is, of course, that "he was cleansed from his leprosy."
And he straitly charged him. The Greek verb here (ἐμβριμησάμενος) has a tinge of severity in it, "he strictly [or sternly] charged him." Both word and action are severe. He straightway sent him out (ἐξεβάλεν αὐτὸν). It may be that he had incurred this rebuke by coming so near with his defilement to the holy Saviour. Christ thus showed not only his respect for the ordinances of the Jewish Law, but also how hateful sin is to the most holy God.
See thou say nothing to any man. St. Chrysostom says that our Lord gave him this charge, "to shun ostentation, and to teach us not to boast of our virtues, but to hide them." It is evident that he wished to draw the thoughts of men away from his miracles, and to fix them upon his doctrine. Go thy way, show thyself to the priest; the priest who in the order of his course presided over the rest. Our Lord sent him to the priest, that he might be seen to recognize their special office in cases of leprosy; and further, that the priest himself might have clear evidence that this leper was cleansed, not after the custom of the Law, but by the operation of grace.
But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to spread abroad the matter. It seems difficult to blame the man for doing what he thought must tend to the honor of his Healer; though, no doubt, it would have been better if he had humbly obeyed. And yet it was to be expected that the knowledge of our Lord's mighty works would be published by others. In this particular instance the effect of this man's conduct was probably unexpected by himself; for it led to the withdrawal of Christ from Capernaum. The crowds who were attracted to him by the fame of his miracles would have hampered him, so that he could not have exercised his ministry; for even in the desert places they sought him out, and came to him from every quarter.
It should be noticed here that this first chapter of St. Mark embraces, in very condensed form, about twelve months of our Lord's public ministry, from his baptism by John. And it is a record of uninterrupted progress. The time had not then come for the opposition of the scribes and Pharisees and Herodians to show itself. It was, no doubt, wisely ordained that his gospel should take root and lay hold of the hearts and consciences of men, as it must have done in the minds of the Galilaeans more especially, before it had to encounter the envy and malice of those who ultimately would bring him to his cross.
The beginning of the gospel.
"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God." The writers of the first four books of the New Testament are called evangelists, because they gathered up, put into writing, and published to the world the accounts of the Lord Jesus which were current among the first Christians, and which were constantly repeated by the first preachers of our religion. They did this under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and their treatises come to us with Divine authority. Not only is the record credible; it is such that it claims our attention, and demands and justifies our faith. Of these four evangelists, Mark is one—doubtless the "John whose surname was Mark"—of whom we read in the Book of the Acts that his family resided in Jerusalem, and that he himself was a fellow-labourer with the Apostle Paul. It has generally been held that Mark was especially under the influence and guidance of Peter. The opening sentence of his Gospel is brief, striking, and full of meaning and of Divine truth.
I. Observe the SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BEGINNING OF THE GOSPEL. Matthew and Luke begin their narratives with a relation of the circumstances of the birth of our Lord; John commences with the pre-existence of the Word; Mark, whose treatise is the shortest, opens with the inauguration of our Lord's ministry. This second Gospel begins with Christ's baptism, and closes with his ascension. "The beginning" suggests the time when the gospel was not. Before the gospel was the Law. "The Law and the prophets," said Jesus, "were until John; since that time the kingdom of God is preached." What a different world it must have been to live in when there was no gospel!—at least in the full, the Christian, meaning of that term. "The beginning" suggests a foretold and appointed time. It was in the fullness of the time that the promised Messiah appeared, at the conjunction of national and of universal history foreseen by the Omniscient and indicated in prophecy. Accordingly the sacred historian at once appeals to the writings of Malachi and Isaiah to show the real continuity of sacred history. Nothing of God's appointment occurs haphazard; he sees the end from the beginning. "The beginning" points on to the completion. "Better," says the wise man, "is the end of a thing than the beginning;" yet the beginning is necessary to the end. It was so with the earthly ministry of Christ. It grew in solemnity and spiritual power as it approached its period; yet the earlier stages were preparatory for those which followed, and indispensable. That Christ's ministry dated—according to apostolic teaching—from the baptism of John, is apparent from Peter's language upon the occasion of the choice of a twelfth apostle, from his discourse before Cornelius, and from Paul's discourse at Antioch of Pisidia.
II. Observe the SIGNIFICANCE OF THE GOSPEL—the term By which the substance of the Christian record, is here designated. The meaning, generally speaking, of the term is "good news," "glad, welcome tidings." But the Christian use of the terra—which has absorbed all the meaning attaching to this glorious word—is special. The gospel is the designation of the facts and doctrines of Christianity. We look for these facts and doctrines in the writings of Mark and of the other three evangelists. The gospel was spoken in words, e.g. as here. The gospel was embodied in deeds and sufferings, e.g. in this record of Mark, the gospel of power. The gospel came from God, who alone was able to impart the blessings it promised. The gospel came to men—sinful, needy, helpless; who, without a gospel, must have remained in wretchedness. The gospel proclaimed pardon for sin, peace for the conscience, renewal for the whole nature, guidance and strength for the spiritual career, salvation, and life eternal.
III. Observe the SIGNIFICANCE OF THE APPELLATIONS HERE APPLIED TO HIM who is the Author, the Theme, the Substance of the gospel.
1. He is denominated Jesus—the name he bore as a human being, suggestive, therefore, of his humanity, yet in itself implying that he was the Salvation, the Help, of Jehovah.
2. He is denominated Christ—an official name, denoting his anointing and appointment by God to the discharge of the Messianic offices, as the Prophet, Priest, and King of men. (Note that the combined name, Jesus Christ, does not occur elsewhere in the first three Gospels.)
3. He is denominated the Son of God—a designation which impresses upon us his divinity and authority. Whereas Matthew opens his Gospel by showing that Jesus is the Son of David, a fact of special interest to the Hebrews, Mark takes a higher flight. These three appellations together present us with a full, delightful, instructive, and spiriting representation of our Saviour's nature and mediatorial work and qualifications.
1. You need this gospel.
2. This gospel is sufficient for you.
3. This gospel is adapted to you.
4. This gospel alone can bless you.
5. This gospel is offered to you.
The ministry of the forerunner.
This evangelist enters, upon his treatise with no further preface than is to be found in the first verse. He has to tell the good news concerning Jesus Christ the Son of God. And he begins his narrative at once, with an account of the ministry of that grand, heroic prophet, whose great distinction it was to be the herald of the Messiah, and whose greatness was in nothing more apparent than in this—he was willing to be superseded by his Lord, and to be lost in him: "He must increase, but I must decrease."—In these verses we have—
I. A GLIMPSE OF THE FORERUNNER'S PERSON AND CHARACTER.
1. He was a priest. This we learn from St. Luke's narrative of his parentage and birth. John owed something of the respect and acceptance he met with to this fact. Yet his ministry was not sacerdotal, though his education and his associations must all have fitted him to testify to "the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world."
2. He was a Prophet. As Christ himself bare witness, "a prophet, yea, and more than a prophet." He spoke forth the mind of God. He did not sacrifice for the people or reason with them; he declared to them the message he had received from heaven.
3. He was an ascetic in the wilderness. In his dress and mode of life he resembled Elijah the Tishbite. He lived in the wilderness of Judaea, and in the wilder parts of the valley of the Jordan. His raiment was of cloth woven from coarse camel's hair; his food was that of a child of the desert, "locusts and wild honey." He wore no soft raiment; he was no reed shaken by the wind. Independent alike of the luxuries of life and of the approval of his fellow-men, he lived apart.
4. He was a fearless, faithful preacher. He did not ask—Is this message what the people wish to hear? but—Is this the word of the living God? When the Divine commission was entrusted to him, no power on earth could prevent him from fulfilling it.
II. A STATEMENT THAT HIS MINISTRY WAS PROPHETICALLY FORETOLD. Mark quotes from Malachi, the last of the prophets, "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he will prepare my way before me." He quotes from Isaiah, "The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God." The forerunner was himself conscious of this; for, disclaiming Messiahship, he claimed to be the voice of the King's herald. Jesus, too, made the same assertion, "If ye will believe it, this is Elijah, which was to come." All was ordered and predicted beforehand by the wisdom of the Most High.
III. A view OF HIS REMARKABLE SPIRITUAL MINISTRY. John did no miracles. But he spoke with a Divine authority; and he exercised an influence which was felt throughout the whole nation, and which was an historical and recognized fact. The elements of his ministry were these:
1. The prediction that the kingdom of God, or of heaven, was at hand.
2. An appeal to repentance, based upon the approach of the new kingdom.
3. The administration of a rite symbolical of spiritual purification.
IV. An INSIGHT INTO THE REMARKABLE RESULTS OF THIS MINISTRY.
1. A general and profound impression was produced.
2. The most sinful classes shared in this moral awakening.
3. The religious leaders of the community were led to interest themselves in his message.
4. The political rulers of the land came to some extent under his influence.
5. The ardent and religious youth were at once attracted and awed by the presence and ministry of the prophet. The choice spirits of the generation rising up, the flower of the Hebrew youth, became his disciples.
6. There resulted a widespread conscience of sin, and a hope and desire for a great Saviour.
V. A DESCRIPTION OF HIS GREAT OFFICE AND FUNCTION. Above all, John was the forerunner and the herald of the Messianic King, even Jesus. Even before he met his cousin, before he administered baptism to him, he bore witness concerning him. He witnessed:
1. To his personal superiority, speaking of him as" One mightier than I."
2. And to his ministerial superiority; for while John's baptism was one with water unto repentance, that of Jesus was "with the Holy Spirit and with fire." Events proved the truth of this testimony.
APPLICATION. To receive the witness of John is to acknowledge the Messiahship of Jesus, to yield heart and life to the Saviour, seeking through him the forgiveness of sins, the renewal of the heart, and the consecration of the whole being.
The baptism of Christ.
As this evangelist commences his treatise with what he terms "the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ," it is natural that our Lord should first be introduced by him as devoted to his ministry of benevolence in the rite of baptism; for this incident in our Saviour's life is justly held to have inaugurated his public work. What a hold the event has taken upon the Christian mind may be seen from the vast number of pictures in which the religious artists of all Christian countries have depicted the baptism. A striking scene for a painter, and a delightful theme for the preacher!
I. The baptism of our Saviour exhibits HIS RELATION TO THE FORERUNNER. The ministry of the herald preceded that of the King. Jesus was yet in the seclusion of Nazareth when John was attracting multitudes of all classes, and from all parts of the land, to his teaching and baptism in the Jordan valley. When Jesus came to John it seemed, to ordinary judgments, that the less came to the greater, the obscure to the famous. But it was not so. To all around the relation between the two was unknown. Nevertheless, to the two it was clear enough. The forerunner knew that his mission was temporary and introductory, and that "the coming One" should eclipse his light as the sun extinguishes the bright morning star. Hence the reluctance of the Baptist to do anything which might seem to militate against the just dimity of the Being in whom he recognized the Messiah. "I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?" This was the Person whose shoe's latchet he had declared himself unworthy to unloose. A slave would untie the thong of his master's sandals and bear them in his hand; John deemed even such an office too honorable for himself to discharge for the anointed King of mankind. It was not only in the presence of Jesus that John felt thus; the constant conviction of his mind was this, "I must decrease, but he must increase." But the witness was not all on one side. Jesus also bore testimony to John. In the very act of submitting to the baptism of the prophet, he acknowledged that prophet's greatness and ratified his claims. And he, in express words, testified to John's unique position, as predicted by the ancient prophets, and of the man himself and his character and work declared, "Of men born of women there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist."
II. The baptism of our Saviour exhibits his relation to the human race. There seems to be no way of explaining and justifying this historical fact except by admitting that Jesus was specially the representative man. In endeavoring to explain, to account for, the baptism of our Divine Saviour, we are met with a serious difficulty. The baptism of John was unto repentance and with a view to the remission of sins. Men came, and were invited to come, to receive the symbol of a cleansing which, being spiritual, could only be wrought by a spiritual process. The publicans, harlots, and soldiers, whose conscience accused them of sin, in coming to John's baptism, confessed their wrong doing and ill desert, and professed their desire, by repentance and reformation, to escape from the trammels of evil and to live a holier life. They were warned that mere feeling, mere conformity, mere profession, mere water baptism, were all insufficient, and, if alone, worthless; and they were directed to bring forth fruit meet for repentance. Now, in the case of such persons, and, we may add, in the case of all the members of a sinful, guilty, race, a moral purification was and is indispensably necessary. But what reason, what appropriateness, what meaning, could there be in the reception of a baptism such as this by the sinless Saviour of the world, the holy and faultless and beloved Son of God? What need had he to confess and to ask pardon for sin? He had no sin to confess, no repentance to work out. If he required no spiritual purifying, to what purpose should he undergo the rite of lustration? The only answer seems to be that Jesus did this, not as a personal, but as an official and representative act. The circumstances of Christ's life and death are not to be understood unless we bear in mind that he acted and suffered as the second Adam, as the federal head and representative of humanity, as the Son of man. So regarded, we can to some extent understand the answer of our Lord to the remonstrance of the baptizer. It became him, as our Mediator, "to fulfill all righteousness." He had mixed with the sinful population; he was to live among and to minister unto the victims of sin; he was to be betrayed into the hand of sinners; he was to be numbered, in his death, with the transgressors; he was, in a word, made sin for us, though he knew no sin. As, then, he had in infancy been circumcised, though there was no sinful nature to be put away; as he was to be put to death as a malefactor, though no fault was found in him; so he was baptized, though he had personally no need of purification, no sins to wash away. He was our Representative in his birth and ministry, in his death and burial, and, none the less, in his baptism by John in Jordan.
III. The baptism of our Saviour exhibits HIS RELATION TO THE DIVINE FATHER. At the commencement of the ministry of Jesus it was appropriate that an attestation of his mission should be given from above—not only for his own sake, but rather for the sake, first of John, and then of those to whom in consequence John should bear witness. Thus the forerunner was able to declare, "I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God." There were probably no spectators of our Lord's baptism, and we are indebted to John himself for the record of what happened and of what became the accepted tradition among the early Christians.
1. Observe what was seen. It was as Jesus went up out of the river, and whilst he was praying, that the marvellous sign was given. The heavens were rent asunder and opened, indicating the interest taken in the Redeemer's career by the great God of heaven himself, and the Spirit, in the form and with the swift, gentle, hovering movement of a dove, descendes upon Jesus. How beautiful an emblem of the Divine power of the ministry which was thus inaugurated, and solemnly, sacredly blessed from above! Surely it is significant that Christ should be represented as the Lamb of God, and the Holy Spirit as the Dove from heaven. A lesson as to the gentleness and grace characteristic of Christ's gospel.
2. Observe, further, what was heard. Language proceeded from the opened heavens, indicative of the Divine approval and complacency. Notice
(1) the statement of relation and dignity, "Thou art my beloved Son;" and
(2) the statement of satisfaction and approbation, "In thee I am well pleased."
1. Learn hence the Divine dignity of Emmanuel.
2. And, at the same time, his humility and condescension.
3. Let this marvellous combination of all mediatorial qualifications in the person of Christ encourage your faith in him and your devotion to his cause.
Mark 1:12, Mark 1:13
The temptation of Christ.
The portal by which our Lord entered upon his earthly ministry has two pillars—the baptism and the temptation. In his baptism the Saviour was visibly and audibly approved by God the Father. In his temptation he was manifestly put to the test by the power of evil. Consecration and probation were thus the two elements in the Redeemer's inauguration, by which he was dedicated to the earthly ministry of humiliation, obedience, and benevolence. Mark's narrative of the temptation is brief, but suggestive.
I. The evangelist notes THE DIVINE IMPULSE which led Jesus to the place appointed for this spiritual encounter. The same Spirit who had just descended upon him like a dove now drove him forth, as with the impulse of a lion, as upon the wings of an eagle, to endure the great probation. The reason of this is to be found in the Divine intention that the Son of man should partake, not only in our human nature, but in our human experience. He did not shrink even from so keen a contest as that which awaited him. Led, driven, by the Spirit, the Divine Christ met his foe at the appointed spot, as the champion of humanity, in single combat, to submit to the fiercest assaults of Satan.
II. In the fewest words is described the scene of the temptation. We often encounter the tempter in the crowded streets and in the thronged assembly. Yet those who, like the monks of Egypt, have fled to the desert to escape his assaults and elude his wiles, have ever found their error. No place is secure from spiritual conflict or from sinful suggestion. But our great Leader chose to wrestle with the adversary alone, without the countenance of human virtue or the sympathy of human friendship to assist him. This was challenging the foe to do his worst. They met face to face. The only companions of Christ in the desert solitude were those wild beasts, whose presence emphasizes the awful loneliness of the spot.
III. THE tempter is mentioned by name. Satan was the foe with whom the Saviour engaged in this spiritual conflict. The tempter was brought into immediate contact with the Holy Being upon whom he exercised all his devices in vain. In ordinary cases the enemy of souls employs his emissaries, Perhaps supernatural, certainly in many cases human. Scripture teaches us that our adversary is "as a roaring lion, going about seeking whom he may devour." We, as Christians, should not be ignorant of his devices. Sometimes he is transformed, as it were, into an angel of light. But let us not be deceived; the temptation betrays whence it comes, however it may be disguised by subtlety and craft.
IV. The evangelist records THE PERIOD of our Lord's temptation. It lasted for forty days—a period agreeing with the term of very memorable events in the life of our Lord's illustrious predecessors, Moses and Elijah. A prolonged probation, repeated assaults, variety of spiritual warfare, and a decisive issue,—all were rendered possible by the protracted period to which this desert seclusion was extended. The several temptations which occupied this term are recorded in detail by the other evangelists, Matthew and Luke.
1. A temptation appealing to ordinary bodily wants.
2. A temptation appealing to spiritual pride.
3. A temptation appealing to ambition and the love of power.
V. St. Mark implies, what the other evangelists explicitly record, our SAVIOUR'S VICTORY.
1. It was gained by a holy character. The prince of this world came, and had nothing in him.
2. By a resolute and determined opposition. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you."
3. By the use of the weapons of Scripture. If the devil quoted the Word, as he can for his purposes, Christ had ready the appropriate reply, couched in the words of inspiration.
4. It was a complete victory; for the tempter was foiled at every point.
5. Yet it was a victory which did not preserve the assailed from a renewal of attack. The devil left him for a season, only again to return to do his worst and again and finally to fail.
VI. The period of conflict and resistance was succeeded by ANGELIC MINISTRATIONS. The Son of God was encompassed by the services of these messengers from heaven, from his birth to his agony, and from his agony to his resurrection and ascension. How natural that those beings who minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation should minister to him who is salvation's Author and Giver! And it is instructive to find that, as the agency of temptation was not a human agency, so the ministrations which followed were not human ministrations. In what way the angels tended their Lord and did him service, we are not told; whether, as poetic fancy has feigned, by spreading for him a table in the wilderness, or by soothing his spirit by their sympathy as he emerged from the scene of unparalleled conflict and unparalleled victory.
1. Let every man expect temptation; it is the common lot, from which the Son of man himself was not exempt.
2. If temptation does not come in one form it will come in another; the tempter adapts himself to age and sex, temperament and education, position and character.
3. Let the Christian, when tempted, remember that he has the sympathy and may look for the succor of the High Priest, who was tempted as we are, though without sin.
4. Let the Saviour's mode of meeting and resisting the tempter be prayerfully pondered and copied; the Scriptures furnish the Christian's armoury, "The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God,"
Mark 1:14, Mark 1:15
The Divine Preacher.
Christ was known as a Prophet before he was manifested as the Priest and the King of humanity. He came preaching. In these verses is related the fact of a ministry in Galilee. The occasion was the cessation of John's ministry; the place, that northern province which had been foretold as the scene of the Messiah's labours, and in which he had passed the years of his youth. We have here put upon record the substance of the Saviour's preaching.
I. CHRIST WAS A PREACHER. This fact seems to imply three things.
1. That Jesus regarded men as intelligent, responsible beings. He did not seek to awe or terrify them by portents. He did not attempt to cajole them by complying with their sinful tendencies and prejudices. He did not appeal to superstition. He treated men as beings having an understanding to be convinced, a heart to be affected, a moral nature rendering them susceptible to Divine motives and capable of willing obedience.
2. That Jesus had confidence in his message. It was not with that assumption of authority which disguises conscious weakness; it was not with the hesitation which betrays suspicion of the weakness of the cause; it was with the confidence of one who speaks forth words of truth and soberness,—that the great Teacher spoke.
3. That Jesus had the assurance that his message would be accepted. His was not a fruitless enterprise. He came with a Divine commission, which should not, could not, be frustrated. His words should not pass away; all should be fulfilled. And Christ's gospel is still to be promulgated in the same manner, in the same spirit. Christ's ministers are called upon to preach—to preach Christ crucified—to preach, whether men will hear or forbear. The religion of our Saviour is one which appeals to what is best and purest in human nature enlightened by the Spirit of God.
II. CHRIST, AS A PREACHER, MADE AN ANNOUNCEMENT.
1. An appointed time for a Divine visitation had now arrived. "Known unto God are all his works from the foundation of the world." There is a season for every step in the Divine procedure. That the advent of the Messiah, and the setting up of a spiritual kingdom, and the bringing in of an everlasting righteousness, were all foreseen and foretold, we are distinctly assured. This, the period of Christ's ministry, was "in the fullness of the time."
2. The kingdom of God was at hand. Not that the Most High had abdicated his rightful throne; but he had long. suffered the rebellion of men, and had not interfered with the tyrant who had usurped dominion. The evils of this unjust tyranny had now been made apparent. It was time, according to the counsels of God, that rightful authority should be asserted and re-established. Little as the Prophet of Nazareth seemed, to ordinary eyes, the Prince who should defeat the foe of God and man, this was the character in which he came to earth, the work and warfare he came to accomplish.
3. Christ preached the gospel of God. Good news for mankind: an amnesty for rebels, the favor of the Divine Sovereign, peace between heaven and earth, salvation for sinners, and eternal life for the dead,—such was the theme of this Messianic proclamation. In preaching the gospel our Lord could not but preach himself, for he not only brought the gospel—he was the gospel.
III. CHRIST ADDRESSED TO MEN AN EXHORTATION—A SUMMONS. A preacher has not only truth to state, good news to proclaim, but he has counsel to offer, a requirement to make. As here succinctly recorded, the preaching of Christ enjoined upon men two precepts.
1. They were summoned to repentance. This is a universal condition of entering into the benefits of Christ's kingdom. This change of heart, of thought, of purpose, is a change indispensable to the highest privileges. It is the preparation of spirit which, on the Divine side, is regeneration. "Except a man be born again [afresh], he cannot see the kingdom of God." The condition of repentance is one binding through all time. There are flagrant and notorious sinners, who must be brought to penitence and contrition before they can receive the forgiveness which God has pro-raised and which Christ has secured. There are unspiritual professors of Christianity, who have the form of godliness without the power, who must be led to see the sandy foundation upon which they build before they can seek and find their foundation upon the Rock of Ages. There are backsliders, who have gone back religiously, who have lost their first love, and have ceased to do their first works, who must repent before they can enjoy the pleasures and privileges of religion. Christianity makes no compromise with sin, has no flattery for sinners. Her voice rings through the wilderness and the city, and her demand is this—Repent!
2. They were summoned to belief of the gospel. This is a condition which respects the relation and attitude of the mind towards God. Those who credit God's promise alone can experience and enjoy its fulfillment. Faith is ever represented in Scripture as the means of appropriating what has been provided by Divine grace. A condition this both honorable to God and spiritually profitable to the believer. Faith is the Divine path to acceptance and pardon, to life and immortality. Christ demanded and deserved faith.
APPLICATION. This is a gospel for sinners. It is they who need a gospel, sunk as they are in sin, exposed as they are to condemnation and destruction. This is a gospel for you. Whoever you are, you need it; and, in your heart of hearts, you are well aware that it is so. God sent his Son that you might be saved. Christ gave himself for you. Unto you is the word of salvation sent. Christ has suffered that you might escape, has died that you might live. In him there is for you pardon for the past and strength for the present and hope for the future. "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." This is a gospel from God. Only he could send news adapted to the case of sinners, and he has sent such news. Here is the expression of his deepest sympathy, his tenderest solicitude, his most fatherly love. Coming from him, the gospel cannot be an illusion; it may be trusted. It is the wisdom of God and the power of God unto salvation. Yet, what is this gospel to those who believe not? Good news to those who reject it is all the same as bad news. There is every reason, every motive, for believing it. Christ will be glorified, God will be rejoiced, angels will sympathize and sing with gladness, and you will be saved. The gospel is worthy of belief in itself, and it is exactly and perfectly adapted to you. Believe it, and believe it now!
Fishers of men.
It was an incident of great moment in the history of Christianity and of the world—this, the calling by our Lord Jesus of his followers and apostles. Christ did not mike many converts; but the few he did make made many, so that, in selecting and appointing them, he was sowing the seed of a great and eternal harvest. He probably called these four more than once—first during the ministry of the forerunner, again as in the text, and a third time when he commissioned them formally to act as his apostles.
I. Observe WHO THE MEN WERE WHO WERE CALLED.
1. Their position in life; they were from the industrial classes. Not only did the Son of God choose himself to be born and brought up among the labourious and comparatively poor, he selected his immediate attendants, his personal friends, the promulgators of his religion, from the same rank of life. He took the form of a servant; he was known as "the carpenter's son;" it was asked concerning him, "Whence hath this man learning?' Luke indeed was a physician, and Paul a scholar, but the twelve seem to have been of lowly condition and surroundings.
2. Their occupation; they were fishermen. Theirs was, no doubt, a common calling among the dwellers by the shores of the Galilean lake. There may have been some moral qualities, such as reverence and simplicity, which fitted these men for their new calling and life.
3. In relationship they were united by family ties; for these four disciples were two pairs of brothers. Simon and Andrew, and likewise James and John, were not only called together, but seem to have been associated together in an evangelistic ministry, when our Lord sent his disciples forth "two and two." Natural kindred and affection were thus sanctified by community in Christian calling and service. The two pairs were friends, comrades, and associates in labour.
4. They were, at all events in some instances, specially prepared for this calling. Certainly some and probably all of these four were previously disciples of John the Baptist, who, in their hearing, had witnessed to Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus thus honored his forerunner by receiving disciples from his training.
II. Regard THE CALL HERE RELATED.
1. The Caller was the Divine Christ. An inestimable privilege to hear from those lips a gracious summons such as this I It is a sacred responsibility to hear the voice of Christ speak to ourselves with words of invitation, command, or commission.
2. The manner of the call deserves attention; it was with authority. Simple and few were the words, but they were the words of One whose utterances carried with them their own authority—an authority acknowledged at once by the conscience of those to whom it was addressed.
3. The import of the call was most momentous—"Follow me!" This call seems to have been addressed to these men on more occasions than one. They were directed to follow Jesus that they might listen to his teaching and observe his mighty works, that they might be qualified for the solemn commission which was to be entrusted to them upon the Saviour's ascension.
III. Remark THE PROMISE GIVEN in connection with the call. These Galilean fishermen should become "fishers of men." Our Saviour here takes advantage of the deep resemblances between natural processes and human activities on the one hand, and spiritual realities on the other. The sea in which Christian ministers are called to toil is this world, is human society, with all its uncertainties, vicissitudes, and dangers. The fish they seek are human souls, oftentimes hard to find and to catch. The net which they let down at the Divine command is the gospel, fitted to include and to bring to safety all souls of men. The skill and patience and vigilance of the fishermen may well be studied and imitated by those who watch and labour for souls. To enclose within the net is to bring souls within the limits of the privileges and motives, the laws and hopes of the gospel. To land what is taken is to bring the rescued safely into the eternal security of heaven.
IV. The RESPONSE TO THE CALL is deserving of our observation.
1. There was cheerful compliance. No objection, no hesitation, no condition, not even an inquiry; but willing, contented obedience to a summons felt to be authoritative and binding.
2. This compliance was immediate. So should all respond whom Christ invites to come after him. Not a moment should be lost in choosing a lot so honorable, so desirable, so happy.
3. It was self-sacrificing. They left their nets, their kindred, their occupation, readily giving up all in order that they might follow Jesus. It was a condition which the Master now and again imposed, to prove the sincerity of his people's love, devotion, and zeal.
1. For preachers and teachers of the gospel. Remember what is the vocation with which you are called. Let this be the acknowledged end you set before you—to be fishers of men, to gain souls.
2. For hearts of the gospel. Remember that Christ has called you and is calling you. The burden of his appeal is this—"Come ye after me!" And, when saved, seek that you may be the means of saving others.
3. For those who, hearing the voice of the Lord Christ, are disposed to obey his call. Bear in mind that he demands a complete surrender, that he will not be satisfied unless the heart is dedicated to him, unless, with the heart, all that we have is yielded to his service. There is sure to be something in the way of obeying the Divine and heavenly call. You will, like the fishermen of Galilee, have something to give up in following Christ. Be prepared for this, and count the cost. But, for your soul's sake and for the sake of your salvation, let nothing hinder you from faith and consecration. "Count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord."
Mark 1:21, Mark 1:22
Christ's authority in teaching.
This passage informs us of three circumstances connected with our Lord's early Galilean ministry.
1. It was exercised largely in Capernaum, a populous and busy town on the western shore of the Lake of Galilee. This fact exhibits Christ's resolve to mix with the people and to seek their enlightenment and welfare.
2. It was exercised specially on the sabbath days. In this Christ practically asserted his own principle, "The sabbath was made for man." Although a day of physical rest, it was stamped, by the Lord's action, as a day for spiritual activity and influence.
3. It was frequently exercised in the synagogues. These were not, indeed, of Mosaic institution, but had sprung up since the Captivity, and were especially connected with the professional labours of the scribes. They were a sign that the Hebrews cultivated an intellectual religion. The practice of regular religious instruction was sanctioned by the great Teacher, when he attended the synagogues, conformed to their usages, and took advantage of the assembling of congregations in them to exercise his ministry of teaching.
I. CHRIST FULFILLED HIS SPIRITUAL MINISTRY AMONG MEN LARGELY BY TEACHING.
1. This was a recognition of man's intelligent, rational nature. Our Lord did not appeal so much to men's fears as to their reason, their gratitude, their love. Instruction is the debt which every generation owes to its successor, and which the wise owe to the ignorant. The more the ministers of Christianity appeal to the intelligence of their hearers, the more do they follow the example of their Master.
2. It was an assertion of his own office. He claimed to be "the Light of the world." And this was in virtue of his very nature. He was "the Word of God," uttering the thought, expressing the mind, of God. There is something deeply affecting and truly encouraging in this representation of the incarnate Son of God, going about teaching the ignorant, the poor, the uncared for.
3. It was a revelation of Christ's own character. What condescension, gentleness, sympathy, were manifest in the quiet, patient manner in which the Lord frequented these lowly edifices and taught those simple congregations!
II. CHRIST'S TEACHING WAS RECOGNIZED AS AUTHORITATIVE.
1. In this it contrasted with the teaching of the scribes, who were the acknowledged and professional instructors in religion of the people of Israel. But they were expositors of the sacred books; they repeated and enforced the traditions of the elders. There was little or nothing original in their lessons; whereas Christ spoke from his own mind and heart, and acknowledged no master, no superior.
2. There was authority in our Lord's presence and manner. From the impression which his teaching made upon strangers, from their recorded testimony, it is clear that there was a Divine dignity in his aspect and his speech; "Never man spake like this man."
3. There was authority in the substance of his teaching. Truth has an authority of its own, an authority which is often, when questioned by the lips, confessed in the heart. Our Lord's revelations of the Father, his expositions of the spiritual nature of religion and morality, his insight into human nature, his predictions of the future,—all alike impressed his hearers with a sense of his special, unique authority.
4. This quality in our Lord's teaching was confessed by the conscience of men. It was not that the people were simply awed by his manner and language. What was best in their nature did homage to him. They could not question his wisdom, his justice, his insight, his compassion.
III. CHRIST'S AUTHORITATIVE TEACHING PRODUCED A PROFOUND IMPRESSION. This is described as astonishment, amazement. The novelty of the style, the tone, the matter, of our Lord's teaching, to some extent accounts for this. The unprecedented power of his discourse was, however, the chief cause of this general wonder. There were occasions when astonishment led to repugnance, and the people would fain shun the presence of One so awful; but there were instances in which astonishment glowed into admiration and kindled into faith. And this last is the proper and intended result. If we are to have a Teacher, let us welcome One who speaks with authority; if we are to have a Saviour, who so fit as One mighty to save? if we are to submit to a Lord, a King, may it be One whose right it is to reign!
St. Mark's Gospel has been characterized as the Gospel for the Romans, as the Gospel of Power, as the Gospel of the Resurrection. The symbol denoting this second evangelist is the lion. There has always been a feeling that the dignity and majesty, the might and victory, of Emmanuel are in an especial manner set before the reader in this one of the four Gospels. Certainly the first chapter strikes the key-note of this strain. Jesus appears as the mysterious Lord, who with authority summons fishermen to forsake their nets and follow him; who teaches with authority in the synagogues, and awakens the amazement of his hearers; who with authority commands the unclean spirits, and they obey him; whose authority rebukes the fever and heals the leprosy; who by the magnetism of his power and love gathers the people from every quarter into his gracious presence, to hear his authoritative voice, and to receive a thousand blessings from his beneficent and powerful hands. In one word, he appears before us, at the very outset of his ministry, as "One that had authority."
I. How CHRIST'S AUTHORITY WAS ASSERTED. That we may understand that Christ claims authority, we must refer to the gospel narrative, in which his words are recorded, his character delineated, and his ministry related. Does he assert authority? Is he such a Being that his claims demand attention? Was his authority for a season only, or was it intended to subsist through all time and in eternity? Was his an authority local in its range, or universal as the presence of mankind on earth? That Christ possessed and exercised authority during his earthly ministry admits of no dispute or question. Satan himself confessed it; for Jesus spurned his assumptions, resisted his temptations, and sent him who claimed the lordship of the earth defeated and uncrowned from his holy and authoritative presence. Angels recognized it; for they came to minister to his wants, and stood in countless legions ready, at a word, to rescue and to honor him. Demons felt it, and quailed beneath his glance, did homage to his supremacy, and fled at his rebuke. Nature knew it; and the winds were hushed and the sea was calmed at his authoritative word, bread multiplied in his hand, and water at his bidding turned to wine, trees withered at his breath, the very grave gave up its dead at his command, and the gentle air floated his gracious form to heaven. His enemies were conscious of his superiority; for they were abashed and silenced by his reasoning, they fell backward at his look. Men generally acknowledged him to be other and higher than themselves; "Never man," said the officers sent to apprehend him—"never man spake like this man;" Pilate and Pilate's wife were under the mysterious spell of his Divine authority; and the Roman centurion was constrained to exclaim, "Truly this was the Son of God!" His friends were sensible that he was to them more than a friend; at his summons they forsook their callings and their homes, they attempted impossibilities with confidence, they consecrated their powers and they hazarded their lives for the mission to which he called them. But he had greater witness than that of man. The works which he performed, they testified to him. The seal of God was set upon his actions. The voice of God honored the Holy One and Just; heaven itself was opened, and from the excellent glory came the attestation and the approval of the Most High, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!" and there was added the demand which sanctions the authority of Emmanuel over universal man, "Hear ye him!" The Jews sometimes felt that Jesus of Nazareth was laying claim to a special and unrivalled authority. His bold and thorough cleansing of the temple is a case in point. How came he to take upon himself so remarkable a function as this? Who was he that he should do what none of the great officials ventured upon? We cannot wonder that "the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things, and who gave thee this authority?" The only explanation was that Jesus was lord of the temple because he was the Son of God. And this lordship he asserted when he predicted the destruction of the material sanctuary, and when he, using it as a symbol of his body, foretold the rebuilding of the temple of God in three short days. Another case in point is his assumption of the Divine prerogative of pardoning sin. When Jesus publicly assured the believing paralytic that his sins were forgiven, this language aroused the indignation of the scribes and Pharisees. "This man blasphemeth! Who can forgive sins but God only?" The only reply of our Saviour to these insinuations was the performance of a miracle, that, as he phrased it," they might know that the Son of man had power on earth to forgive sins."
II. Upon WHAT IS CHRIST'S AUTHORITY BASED? It is not all authority which the enlightened and the free, the honorable and the just, can regard with reverence. Much that bears the name may fairly be treated as usurpation. And even just authority may deserve only a partial reverence; it may be admitted, but admitted with reserve. Authority is of different kinds, for it rests on different bases. The authority of the tyrant over his subjects, of the conqueror over the vanquished, rests on force and fear the authority of the priest over the devotee rests on superstition and assumption; but the authority of the teacher over the scholar is the authority of wisdom, and that of the potent over the child is the authority of care and love. There is authority which is natural, and authority which is conventional. Some authority it is virtue to recognize; other authority it is baseness and dishonor not to resist. Authority is excellent and admirable when there is a right to command, when there is an obligation to submit and to obey. To understand aright the authority of the Lord Jesus, we must divest our minds of their habitual notions of civil authority. Government is not only right, it is necessary, it is ordained of God. But it has regard only to human actions. It is not the business of the civil ruler to influence men's beliefs upon science, or philosophy, or religion, but to induce them to industry, independence, order, and peaceableness. And the sanctions governors employ are not so much moral as external and physical. Fine, imprisonment, death,—these are their weapons. Occasionally rewards, in the shape of distinctions and honors, may be added, but the system is mainly one of penalty. A submission to Christ's authority is nothing if it is not willing, cheerful, cordial. Too often human authority is asserted with harshness, is acknowledged with slavishness. None of our Redeemer's subjects bow the knee whilst the heart is unyielded, offer the homage of the voice whilst the spirit is in rebellion. Men may do this under some influences; but let them not be deceived; it is the authority of men to which they bow, not that of Christ! By virtue of what quality, of what possession, had Jesus Christ authority? For us there is one great and all-sufficient answer—He was the Son of God. It was upon this ground that he based his own claims. "I and my Father," said he, "are one." "Say ye of him whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest! because! said, I am the Son of God? "The works which My Father hath given me to do, bear witness of me that the Father hath sent me." In fact, Christ so often and so plainly asserted his unique authority that he came to refuse any further explanations or formal claims. He answered inquiry by inquiry, and boldly declared, "Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things." Truth has authority over man's understanding, and Christ's words, his declarations and revelations, have the authority of truth. He claimed to have told them the truth which he had heard of God. Our nature is framed to recognize and to rest in truth; and, since Christ is "the Truth," he is exactly adapted to our mental necessities and desires, to afford them full and final satisfaction. Christ wields the authority attaching to a holy and benevolent character. The human heart always renders homage to goodness, though there may be motives which prevent that homage being manifested and expressed. We instinctively honor and reverence those whom we feel to be better than ourselves. Now, in the case of our Saviour, it was Divine, incarnate goodness which appeared before men and moved among them. A perfect man, he went about doing good; and, both by his pure and gentle character, and by his unselfish, compassionate life, he commanded the reverence and constrained the allegiance of men. An authority this far nobler and worthier than that derived from a splendid retinue and a glittering throne, a mighty army and a sounding name. The conscience of the Christian acknowledges the claims of the sinless Emmanuel. The heart confesses the unrivalled authority of his tender pity, his unselfish love. Power, apart from righteousness, enkindles resentment and arouses resistance. But goodness and benevolence, with the resources of Omnipotence at their command, summon our hearts to a willing surrender and our lives to a glad obedience. Our will, our whole nature, acknowledge the authority of the Saviour's law. When he was upon earth his disciples obeyed unquestioningly the mandates they could not always understand, and undertook with alacrity service for which they felt themselves utterly unqualified. And each awakened and enlightened hearer of the gospel gives utterance to his foremost and earnest desire in the words of the trembling rabbi of Tarsus, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" When once we know ourselves and him, we feel that none other has the right to our loyalty, our love, our devotion. When we hear his voice, it carries with it its own authority to our heart.
III. OVER WHOM CHRIST'S AUTHORITY EXTENDS. The answer to this question is suggested by what has been already said regarding the instruments, so to speak, of the dominion of Jesus Christ. If truth and righteousness, love and sacrifice—spiritual influence, in a word—be the source of his authority, we feel at once that his reign is not primarily and chiefly one over actions and observances. It is far more deep-seated and efficient, far more adapted to the moral nature of man and the moral authority of God. Christ's authority is over the spiritual nature of man, and it is supported by spiritual sanctions. Not so much what men do, as what they are, and why they act, and how they feel, is of interest to the Lord of hearts. His appeal is to what is intellectual, to what is moral, in man. It is not his aim to induce men to wear one uniform, to utter one cry, but rather to share one spirit—his own, to live one life—that of God. He designs to bring every thought into captivity unto obedience to Jesus Christ, Yet it is important to remember that, constituted as man is, it is impossible that he should acknowledge an authority over his conscience and heart which will have no sway over the actions and habits of his life. The individual life will be cast into the mould of Christ's mind and will. Society will own practically the rightful and controlling sway of Jesus. "All power is given unto him."
IV. THE ADVANTAGES WHICH CHRIST'S AUTHORITY SECURES. Is it to be desired that the authority of the Saviour should be generally and indeed universally acknowledged? What are the fruits of obedience? what the influences of his reign? Are they such that we may look forward with hope and prayer to the submission and subjection of mankind to him whom we "call Master and Lord"? When the authority of the Saviour has been acknowledged by the soul, and when he is habitually exercising this authority over the whole nature, the results are most blessed. Happiness is not in wilfulness and unbridled licence, but in subjection to a Law, holy, approved, and willingly accepted. This is true liberty, when the soul finds an authority it can bow before and obey with the harmony of all its faculties, Christ's is the perfect law of liberty, and where this prevails and reigns there is peace and joy; for there freedom and obedience are one, yoked together by spiritual and most welcome bonds. The widespread and universal acknowledgment of the Redeemer's authority is the one hope for the world's future. To thoughtful man can look forward to a universal empire of force, to the prevalence of a supreme military authority. What, then, is to put an end to wars and fightings amongst men? They are not for ever to afflict and curse the world. It is only in the reign of righteousness and benevolence that the dreams of poets shall be realized, the forecastings of prophets fulfilled, and the prayers of saints shall be answered. "In the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that he is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
V. HOW THIS AUTHORITY OF CHRIST AFFECTS THOSE WHO HEAR THE GOSPEL, To some the authority of the Redeemer may be an unwelcome theme. They would rather hear of his grace than of his dominion. Yet it is well to see and feel that each is essential to the other in a perfect and Divine Saviour. Instruction, to be satisfactory, must be authoritative. Consolation comes most effectually from him who wields the. scepter of dominion, and who is able to rebuke and to master all our foes and to sanctify all our trials. Many hearers of the gospel in these days think little of the rightful and supreme authority of the Lord Christ. Preachers and writers of religious books are accustomed, to lay great stress upon the love of the Redeemer, and to spend their energies in inducing sinful, weak, needy hearts to respond to Christ's love, and to accept his salvation. And this is quite right. But it is not right to overlook the just claim of Christ upon the faith and obedience of men, to keep out of sight the truth that men have no right to disbelieve and disobey the Son of God. No doubt it is for our interest and our happiness to be Christians. It is also our sin and our shame if we are not Christians. There have been parents among the poor who have thought that they were doing the teachers in Sunday schools a favor in sending their children to receive religious instruction; and this notion has arisen from the extreme and benevolent desire of teachers to bring the young into their classes. And in like manner it seems that there are many persons who think that they are quite at liberty to receive the Saviour or to reject him; that if they welcome the gospel and seek the fellowship of a Christian Church they will be bestowing an important favor upon those who present to them the invitations of the gospel. But, as the child renders no favor in doing his father's will, as the poor man renders no favor in accepting the bounty of his benefactor, as the subject renders no favor in obeying his country's laws, so the sinner, in listening to the gospel, obeying its summons and submitting to the Son of God, is far from rendering a favor. He is receiving a gift in his abject poverty; he is passing from the prison doors into light and liberty; he is acknowledging the just authority of an omnipotent Friend—a Saviour, not only gracious, but supreme, Divine!
Christ's authority over spirits.
After a condensed narrative of the events introductory to our Lord's ministry, Mark proceeds to relate, in circumstantial detail, miracles performed in Capernaum and the neighborhood, forming a cycle of the greatest importance; for by these miracles the interest of the population of Galilee was excited, whilst the hostility of the scribes and Pharisees was gradually aroused. Mark's is the Gospel of Power—his emblem is the lion. He tells the story of Christ's miraculous ministry with marvellous vigor and minuteness. The first miracle he records is the dispossession of a demon, impure and violent, yet unable to resist the authority of the Lord of the universe. This is well put in the forefront of the battle.
I. CHRIST'S AUTHORITY IS ACKNOWLEDGED BY THE SPIRIT. 1, Not willingly, but of constraint. The demon recognizes, in the great Healer and Master, the "Holy One of God," i.e. the Messiah. Shrinking from his presence—anxious to avoid the encounter—the evil spirit nevertheless cowers before the Lord. When multitudes of the race which Jesus came to save knew him not, neither confessed his rightful claim, this demon was compelled to cry, "I know thee who thou art!" Happy omen for humanity—the foe of God and man recognizes the irresistible Warrior and Conqueror!
2. There is an anticipation of the issue of the conflict, "Art thou come to destroy us?" What prescience is here! Scribes and Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians, Jews and Romans, persuade themselves that they can destroy the Son of man. The demons know that the Son of man is their Destroyer! It is a just description of the Saviour's work—he comes to "destroy the works of the devil," to vanquish the foe, to cancel the sin, to release the sinner, to restore the captive of Satan to the liberty of the servant of the Lord.
II. CHRIST'S AUTHORITY IS ASSERTED AND EXERCISED BY HIMSELF. Salvation involves antagonism: the bondman can only be released by the defeat of the tyrant; the strong man must be bound that the spoil may be recovered. The Lord Jesus had met with and vanquished the prince of evil; he was now to contend with his servants. Accordingly, Christ, who rebuked the winds and the waves—elements producing discord in nature—rebukes also the evil and unclean spirit. It is a witness that the soul of man is not the fit and divinely ordered home and dwelling of the agents of the power of evil. Silence! Hence! Begone!—such is the bidding of Heaven to the emissaries of hell found encroaching upon the domain which is not theirs.
III. CHRIST'S AUTHORITY IS PRACTICALLY SHOWN AND PROVED, The unclean spirit is reluctant to quit his hold upon his prey. Satan cannot see his subjects liberated and his empire wane without resistance and resentment. But there is no withstanding the power of Emmanuel. The struggle is apparent in the convulsions with which the frame of the possessed is torn, and in the cry of anguish which is forced from his lips. But there is only one issue possible. The demon quails beneath the Master's eye, shudders at the Master's voice, and yields. Oh, happy omen of a great salvation! How often is this illustration of Christ's delivering power to be repeated in the Divine ministry, and through the dispensation of redemption and of grace!
IV. CHRIST'S AUTHORITY IS ADMITTED WITH AMAZEMENT. The rendering of the revisers is full of meaning and vivacity: "What is this? a new teaching!" or, as others read, "A new doctrine with authority!" The point is that miracle and doctrine are justly regarded as one and the same. The listeners to his discourses felt the authority of his words; the spectators of his miracles felt the authority of his works. We distinguish between the two, but Christ's contemporaries evidently saw, the identity more clearly than the diversity. From his teaching they learned that the authority of his miracles was that of a wise and holy Being; from his beneficent miracles they inferred that all his Divine lessons were fraught with a heavenly energy, and proceeded from the mind of God. Their minds were evidently incited to inquiry, to consideration, to reflection. Who will not bow before an authority so just and so Divine as this?
V. CHRIST'S AUTHORITY BECAME THE THEME OF WIDESPREAD INTEREST AND FAME. Mark puts this dispossession of the demoniac forward as the first great miracle of this cycle, and represents it as the means of diffusing throughout Galilee an interest in the ministry of our Lord. Jesus thus became known as a Teacher, as a Saviour, as a Being of compassion and grace. Tidings of such a Prophet, of such a Benefactor, could not be other than a gospel to Israel and to mankind. What sacred and grateful and tender associations would mingle with the people's memories and thoughts and expectations regarding Jesus of Nazareth!
1. Behold a picture of the power of Satan and of sin over the nature of man.
2. Behold a proof of the authority of Christ, when he enters upon a struggle with the power of darkness dwelling in human spirits.
3. Learn a lesson of encouragement as to the personal and universal results of the great moral conflict of the world.
Christ's domestic ministry.
Wherever Jesus went and amongst whomsoever, he took with him a heart sensitive to the appeal of human need, suffering, and sin; he took with him a hand open to give, stretched out to help and deliver. In city and country, among Jews and foreigners, with high and low, in the society of men, women, and children, he was always the same—the Helper, the Comforter, the Healer, the Friend of man. For the brief but pictorial and tender narrative in these verses we are doubtless indebted to the memory of the grateful Peter, himself a witness of the miracle, and one who profited by it in his own family and household.
I. The DISCIPLES SOON REAP THE REWARD OF THEIR OBEDIENCE AND SELF-SACRIFICE. How readily had they responded to the Master's call, "Follow me"! How readily had they left their boats and fishing-nets, their daily occupations and their gains! So they had come into close relations with Jesus; so he became a guest in Simon's house. This led to the miracle here recorded, in which the Lord more than recompensed them for any loss they might have incurred. Christ often calls upon us for some self-denial and sacrifice; but he never does other than reward a hundredfold, even in this time, those who obey.
II. PETER LEARNS A LESSON OF HIS MASTER'S POWER AND WILLINGNESS TO SAVE. We know enough of Simon to understand that his nature was very receptive of impressions, very responsive to sympathy. What a lesson for him was this—which the Saviour vouchsafed to teach him so early in his discipleship—of the compassion and grace of his Lord! And what a preparation for the apostolate, yet so far in the future! First impressions are often the strongest. And we know that of all the twelve Peter was, in the course of the Lord's ministry, the first to confess his Divine dignity and Messiahship. Surely this was the maturity of the seed now sown at Capernaum.
III. CHRIST PROVES HIS SYMPATHY WITH HOME SUFFERINGS, AND BLESSES HOME LIFE. His ministry was indeed chiefly fulfilled in public; yet in the homes of Simon, of Levi, of Lazarus, he proved his interest in the domestic life of his friends. He entered into family feeling, and consecrated family life. It was sometimes said to him, "He whom thou lovest is sick." It was an appeal to which he was never indifferent. Christ is ever mindful of our family cares and anxieties, sorrows and joys. Let him "abide with us," and he will lighten our dwellings when they are clouded with trouble and with grief. When, like Simon's household, we "tell him" of the need and sorrow of those we love, his help is near.
IV. CHRIST EXERCISES HIS DIVINE POWER TO BANISH DISEASE. The action of our Lord in performing this miracle deserves attention. He does not stand at a distance and utter words of exorcism, banishing the fever with an authoritative rebuke. Quite the reverse, he takes the sufferer by the hand and raises her up. An illustration of our Saviour's personal ministry, of the way in which he has ever come into contact with individual cases of need, of his tender and yet authoritative manner. It is not the religion of Christ, it is Christ himself who saves. And he ever saves by stretching forth the hand of help, and raising, elevating, the suppliant and penitent from the prostration and helplessness of sin. As the fever left this suffering woman, so all spiritual malady is banished at the bidding of a mighty, gracious Saviour.
V. AFFECTIONATE GRATITUDE PROMPTS TO PERSONAL SERVICE AND MINISTRATION. If our Lord made this house his home in Capernaum, Peter's mother-in-law must have had many opportunities of showing her thankfulness and love. Like many other devoted women, she took pleasure in showing how highly she honored and how gratefully she loved her Lord. It is a law of moral life that those who are aided, healed, and pardoned shall love him to whom they owe so much; and shall show their love by grateful ministrations. They may not have the opportunity of ministering to Christ in the body; but the principle he propounds is this, "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me."
1. Let us, like Simon, welcome Christ into our houses, our homes.
2. Let us, like this household, tell the Saviour of those members of the family who have special need of him.
3. Let us place all confidence in Christ's power and willingness to bless.
4. Let us, healed and pardoned by Christ's grace, take every opportunity of showing our gratitude, by engaging in his service; and, by ministering to his people, let us minister to him.
The Healer of multitudes.
It was the hallowed evening of a memorable day The Lord Jesus had taught in the synagogue, consecrating the sabbath by worship and by spiritual instruction, and creating in the popular mind an impression of his unique authority. He had cast out the demon from a wretched sufferer; he had healed Simon's wife's mother of a raging fever;—all these instances of his power were related through the dwellings of Capernaum, and the popular excitement was great. No wonder that at sunset, when the sabbath was over, and it was lawful to do so, the multitude sought out the sick and maimed among their kindred and companions, and the miserable demoniacs; brought them to the house of Simon, where Jesus was staying; and entreated the compassion and the succor of the Prophet of Nazareth.
I. In the sufferers brought to Jesus we have A REPRESENTATION OF THE WIDESPREAD AND VARIOUS ILLS THAT AFFLICT MANKIND. If all the diseased and mentally afflicted of any town were brought together to one spot, what a distressing scene would be exhibited! When the sick and the demoniacs of Capernaum were gathered together on that sabbath evening, they may be said to have exemplified the state of our sin-stricken humanity. To him who looks below the surface, this human race, apart from Christ, offers a spectacle with which no hospital, no pest-house, could compare. Moral disorders, Satanic influences, display themselves in a thousand forms, each having its own loathsomeness, its own anguish, its own curse. "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint," etc. Fever, leprosy, palsy, possession,—each may indicate some special aspect of sin.
II. In the conduct of those who brought the sufferers to Christ we have A REPRESENTATION OF THE BENEVOLENT MINISTRATIONS OF THE CHURCH, There were those who had neither strength, knowledge, nor courage to come of themselves to Christ; their pitying and thoughtful friends led or carried them into his sacred presence. So the Church, which cannot of itself save the world, may nevertheless bring the multitudes unto Christ, may, in a sense, bring Christ to the multitude. An honorable vocation this—to lead the morally disordered and distressed into the presence of the Divine Healer, of him who said, "The whole need not a physician, but those who are sick. I am come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Some by preaching, some by private ministrations, some by example, and some by precept,—all in the same spirit of compassion for perishing souls, may lead sinners to the Redeemer.
III. In the multitude we discern A FORECAST AND EARNEST OF THE APPROACH OF SIN-STRICKEN HUMANITY TO THE SAVIOUR. What a sight—"all the city gathered together at the door" of Jesus! Men are learning the powerlessness of every other helper, the hopelessness of every other refuge and confidence. Heathenism and Mohammedanism are proving the futility of their claims; infidelity and atheism are showing that they can render no real service to mankind. At the same time, men are learning that, whilst there is salvation in no other, there is salvation in him. And they shall come, flocking like doves to his windows, like pilgrims from the east and from the west to his shrine, until this vast humanity shall gather into the presence, implore the aid, and know the power of the Divine Redeemer.
IV. In the cures effected we have AN EXEMPLIFICATION OF THE ACTUAL POWER OF THE SAVIOUR TO HEAL AND BLESS. The evangelist does not here dwell upon details, but he mentions two great classes of patients, the diseased and the demoniacs. Over sufferers in mind and body the Lord Jesus displayed his healing authority and grace. There was no case beyond his power. The faith of the applicants was rewarded, the report of their friends was justified, the authority of the Saviour was exemplified, the fame of his ministry was confirmed and extended. What happy households were to be found in Capernaum that night, which had long known pain, anxiety, and despondency! An encouragement surely, to all afflicted by the bondage and the curse of sin, to apply to Jesus for relief, for forgiveness, and for blessing. It does not matter what form your spiritual need and suffering have assumed; it does not matter for what length of time you have been the slave of sin; if you come to Christ you shall surely learn that "he is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him." The purpose of our Saviour's advent and mediation includes all cases of sin and need. The power of the Redeemer is unlimited. The compassion of Jesus is unexhausted. As of old, "he has compassion on the multitudes." The promises of our Lord are large enough to include every case. "Come unto me, all ye," etc.
Prayer and work.
We are told concerning our Divine Lord, that "it behoved him in all things to be made like unto his brethren." This indeed is implied in his designation, "Son of man." Our nature is both contemplative and active; the life of a religious man is distinguished alike by devout meditation and communion with God, and by consecrated and energetic labour in God's service. It was the same with our great Leader. The passage before us presents the Lord Jesus in both these aspects, both in prayer and in work.
I. CHRIST'S PRAYER. It is recorded that, at several crises in our Saviour's ministry, he prayed.
1. As to the character of Christ's prayers, we know that they were unlike ours in that they could not contain confession, contrition, and repentance; and they were like ours in containing thanksgivings, and also as expressing filial communion and uttering supplication.
2. As to the occasion of Christ's prayers, it is the fact that special mention is made of our Lord's appeals to the Father, in connection with the more solemn and significant acts of his ministry. So here, it was in the midst of publicity, of widespread interest, of strenuous labours, that Jesus prayed.
3. The time chosen is remarkable. Very early in the morning, before the stir and movement of daily life began, the early, waking, morning hour was consecrated to fellowship with the Father.
4. The scene of this prayer is observable. Jesus sought seclusion; he retired to a desert place. It is possible and it is desirable to pray in the assemblies of saints, and to pray in the crowded thoroughfares, to him who seeth in secret. Yet there is appropriateness in retirement and seclusion for special supplications in seasons of special need. The prayer offered on this occasion could not be put upon record, for it was offered in solitude. We know from the "intercessory prayer" recorded by John how fervently our Lord could pray. On this occasion he must have sought strength for the Galilean ministry, and a blessing upon the people, who were more ready to behold his miracles and to profit by them than they were to imbibe his spirit and receive his teaching.
II. CHRIST'S WORK. The prayer occupied the early morning, but the day was to be spent in toil. Our Lord's example gives no countenance to the practice of those who deem the beginning and the end of religion to consist in devotions. Prayer fits for work, and work necessitates prayer.
1. Christ's labours were suggested by men's needs and entreaties. What he had done had stirred up hope within the breasts of others, and "all men sought for him." Not always from the highest motives, yet with a faith and earnestness creditable to the suppliants, men sought Christ's help.
2. Christ's labours were regarded by him as the fulfillment of Divine purpose. "Therefore to this end came I forth." He did the will of the Father; this was his meat and drink. It gives dignity and happiness to our toil when we can regard it as the work which the Father has given us to do.
3. Christ's labours were prompted by a universal and untiring benevolence. There were "the next towns" to be visited; there was "all Galilee" to be evangelized. Only a large heart could take a survey so comprehensive, and cherish a compassion so vast. It was enough for him that sin and misery abounded; he had come "to seek and to save that which was lost."
4. Christ's works were adapted to many-sided nature and to the multiform needs of men. Men were ignorant; he must teach them. Men were hopeless; he must cheer them with good tidings. Men were sick and suffering; he must relieve and heal them. Men were subject to Satanic sway he must set them free. Men were sinful; he must pardon, cleanse, renew them.
III. THE CONNECTION BETWEEN PRAYER AND WORK.
1. It is a divinely appointed connection. There are those who would have Christians confine themselves to prayer, who think that to attempt to work for the Lord is the same as taking matters out of his hands, who tell us that the Lord will carry out his counsels without our help. That God can do so we believe, but that he will do so is contrary to all his Word. On the other hand, there are those who sneer at prayer as unreasonable and useless, and who preach the gospel of work—of prayerless work—of work without any reference to him who gives the power and who assigns the aim of labour. The Scriptures direct us to conjoin the two. Christ gives us in his own person an example of the harmonious conjunction of both.
2. By prayer may be discovered the exact work which Providence entrusts to us. There is no better prayer for the beginning of the day than this, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" You may not clearly see what is the way of service in which the Lord would have you walk. There may open up before you two paths, and you may be uncertain which is that selected for you. In seeking to decide such questions, it is right to make use of your reason, and to take counsel of wise friends. Yet, whilst using human means, it is necessary to seek Divine guidance. "Commit thy way unto the Lord." A voice shall be heard saying, "This is the way; walk ye in it." Not by magic or miracle, but by clear indications of providence, the answer is given from above.
3. By prayer is gained encouragement and strength for work. The magnitude of the service may make us more conscious of the feebleness and ignorance of the servant. Our heart may sink within us as we contemplate our helplessness. But prayer can make the weakest strong. By prayer the impossible becomes the practicable. Prayer makes us feel that the power of Omnipo-fence is at our back. The fainting spirit is refreshed by communion with Heaven. The feeble arm is nerved for what seemed an unequal fight. The Holy Spirit—the Comforter, the Helper—is bestowed upon the suppliant, and his strength is no more his own, but God's. Then he exclaims, "I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me."
1. Let the hearers of the gospel remember that the work, the suffering, and the prayers of Christ were all for their salvation.
2. Let them imitate the spirit and conduct of those of whom we read that they sought Jesus: "All men seek for thee." If you wish to know the counsels of God, the preaching of Jesus will declare them to you. If you wish to experience the saving grace of God, you may through Christ find it for yourself.
3. Let the spirit of the Lord Jesus—his prayerfulness and his untiring zeal—serve as a model to every servant of his. Like him we must pray with sincerity, if like him we would work with diligence.
"All are seeking thee." It is man's nature to seek. Men are seeking many things. Some things they seek and find, other things they seek in vain, whilst there are things they seek, first to find and then to lose again. The impulses of our constitution respond to the appeals made from without. There is a mysterious personal attraction which renders some men the object of the quest of their fellows. But none has ever so been sought as was and is the Lord Jesus. Men, when spiritually awakened, attracted by the promises of the gospel and influenced by the Holy Spirit, seek for Christ, and, when they find him, find all things in him.
I. WHAT IN MEN LEADS THEM TO SEEK CHRIST? There are many motives inducing to this inquiry and endeavor, just as when Jesus was on earth.
1. Curiosity leads men to seek him. During our Lord's ministry, especially the earlier ministry in Galilee, there occurred, now and again, a rush to Jesus. Crowds followed him even into the deserts and the mountains. They came from far and near. And not only the populace, but the leaders of the people, were curious to see the Prophet of Nazareth; and Pharisees invited him to dine with them, and asked their friends to meet him. The novelty of Christianity no longer acts amongst our population; but in regions where the gospel is for the first time preached, this motive operates, and many "inquirers" are drawn, simply by their desire for some new thing, to seek a knowledge of the Saviour.
2. Admiration leads men to seek him. Even sinful men confess the beauty of holiness, and the young and ardent and aspiring feel the marvellous attraction of a character with. which no other can be compared. There is so much of meanness and selfishness in humanity, that the presence upon earth of one morally noble and perfectly benevolent charms some choice and fervent souls, and draws them to our Lord.
3. Need and suffering lead men to seek him. When Jesus was on earth there came to him the hungry to be fed, the sick to be healed, the suffering to be relieved, the ignorant to be taught, the anxious to secure his interposition on behalf of their friends and comrades. Human want is perennial; and there are wants which the world can never supply, hearts the world can never fill. Where Jesus is known as the Dispenser of Divine compassion and bounty to the souls of men, men will be drawn to him.
"Far and wide, though all unknowing,
Pants for thee each mortal breast;
Human tears for thee are flowing,
Human hearts in thee would rest."
4. Sin and a sense of ill desert and need of pardon lead men to seek him. Sinners, who were repelled from the formal and self-righteous, were attracted to the gracious and compassionate Redeemer. Often from his lips issued the merciful and authoritative words," Thy sins be forgiven thee!" Sin has not ceased; its burden and its curse are stilt felt. And there is none but Christ who has power upon earth to forgive sins. No wonder that men come to him. In him the sinner meets with the pity of a tender heart and the authority of a Divine power.
II. WHAT IN CHRIST LEADS MEN TO SEEK HIM?
1. Foremost must be placed the fact that he seeks them. He came to seek and to save the lost. Had he not first come forth upon this quest, never would the needy and sinful children of men have gone forth to meet him. If "we love him because he first loved us," we have sought him because he first sought us.
2. His invitations and promises. He has both bidden men seek his help, and has assured them that they shall not seek in vain. "Come unto me" is his invitation; and the assurance is added, "Ye shall find rest unto your souls."
3. His power to respond to their appeals, and to satisfy their wants. They who seek and find not are discouraged from further quest. It is never thus with those who apply to Jesus. Here the words hold good, "Seek, and ye shall find."
4. His benevolent disposition renders it easy and congenial for those who seek good gifts to seek them here at the hands of Jesus; for in seeking him, the suppliant is seeking the gifts of his hands as well as the love of his heart. And our need and urgency are exceeded by his readiness to confer all real blessings.
APPLICATION. How should men seek Christ?
1. Sincerely and seriously. The sincere soul will seek, not his merely, but himself.
2. In faith, not as doubting whether he may now be found, but as assured of his spiritual nearness.
3. Seasonably, which is as much as to say, at once. "Now is the accepted time." We need him now, therefore we should seek him now.
4. Perseveringly, "watching daily at his gates." It is a life-long quest, and, though he be found to-day, none the less must he be sought to-morrow. The "seeking" must be continued, until we see him as he is.
The leper healed.
Among the many miracles wrought by the Divine Physician upon the bodies and minds of suffering mankind, the evangelists have selected certain as types of the Saviour's spiritual work, as well as illustrations of his beneficent ministry. Every class of sufferers seems to represent some special aspect of sin and need, and every recorded miracle seems to convey some special lesson concerning the Healer's grace and power. Let this narrative be thus regarded, and we find here—
I. A SYMBOL OF HUMAN SIN AND MISERY. Leprosy was evidently so regarded among the Jews, and upon Divine authority, as is clear from the detailed directions given in Leviticus for its treatment by the priests. A loathsome, spreading, and generally incurable disease, leprosy was regarded with universal repugnance and disgust, and lepers were excluded from ordinary human society and banished from ordinary human dwellings. This disease, therefore, has always been regarded as emblematical of sin, which lays hold of man's moral nature, cripples and disables it, spreads to every department of his being, and is by human means altogether incurable. It renders the subject of it unfit for the society of holy beings, and unworthy of a place in the Church of the living God.
II. The conduct of this leper is AN EXAMPLE OF BELIEVING APPLICATION TO CHRIST. We observe:
1. Approach to the Saviour. Though lepers were not permitted to come into the neighborhood of their fellow-men, this man drew near to Jesus, with the boldness inspired by necessity and hope.
2. There was reverence. He knelt, he fell on his face, he worshipped the Master; thus evincing his sense of inferiority and need, and his conviction of Christ's authority.
3. There was faith; for his language implies this, "Thou canst make me clean." Not perfect faith, but sincere and in accordance with what he had heard of the great Healer.
4. There was entreaty. He besought Jesus, as one who felt that here was his only hope, "Here I live, or here I die."
III. The record describes CHRIST'S POWER TO SAVE. The unusual fullness of the narrative gives us an insight into the movements and operations of Divine mercy.
1. Our Lord's action is traced to compassion, which stirred within his Divine heart—the source of all our salvation, the ground of all our hope.
2. Contact with the sufferer was the means and the symbol of healing. What Naaman expected Elisha to do to him, that Jesus did to this sufferer—laid his hands upon the place, and recovered the leper. How often is our Saviour represented as thus condescendingly and compassionately coming into personal contact with the wretched and sinful! It is the spiritual touch of the Redeemer that heals the sinner's maladies and banishes his woes.
3. Jesus exercises his authority, utters his Will, pronounces the sentence of release, "I will; be thou clean!" What simplicity, majesty, authority, in the Saviour's language! It is thus that he addresses every believing suppliant, that he rewards the faith of every lowly applicant. No voice but that Divine voice can give this assurance and pronounce this sentence of liberty.
4. The healing is effected by him who is Lord of nature. No failure attended the Saviour's ministry of compassion. The leper's doubt, if he had any, was as to Christ's willingness, not as to his power. The result proved that there was no deficiency in either. The leprosy departed, and the man was cleansed. Christ's is ever a full and complete salvation; for he is "mighty to save."
IV. THE SAVIOUR HERE SANCTIONS THE OPEN EXPRESSION OF GRATITUDE. In bidding the cleansed leper go to the priest and present the customary offering, Jesus not only magnified the Law and conformed to custom, he also approved a grateful spirit, and commended the public acknowledgment of Divine mercy. It is well that we should "pay our vows unto the Most High," that we should "bring an offering, and come into his courts." He is the God who "healeth all our diseases," and every signal interposition on our behalf ought to be gratefully and publicly acknowledged.
V. We remark in this narrative the working of AN IMPULSE TO CELEBRATE AMONGST MEN THE MERCY OF GOD. Our Lord had reasons for enjoining silence upon this healed leper. Yet he would not be displeased with the grateful and benevolent spirit which led him to publish and blaze abroad the matter. Every Christian must exclaim, "The Lord hath done great things for me, whereof I am glad!" "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!"
VI. We see the issue of this miracle in THE INCREASING FAME OF CHRIST and the increasing number of applicants to him for relief and help. The tidings of this marvellous cure awakened such public attention to Christ's power and grace that he could not for a season fulfill his ministry in the crowded towns, but retired to secluded spots, where, however, he might well be sought and found by those who were drawn to him, not by an idle curiosity, but by a conviction of his power and grace, and by the urgency of conscious need.
"Moved with compassion."
There is something in human nature which draws men towards the great, the powerful, the prosperous—an impulse not altogether good. And there is something which attracts men towards the good and pure—a holy and admirable impulse. But there is yet another tendency, which impels souls towards the needy, the sorrowful, the sinful; and this is all Divine. For "God has gladness for those who are glad, and pity for those who are sad." We see this last-named impulse, in all its beauty and power, in the character and the ministry of Emmanuel.
I. THE IMPULSE OF COMPASSION WITHIN THE SOUL OF JESUS.
1. Observe what excited this emotion; it was ever the too familiar spectacle of human want and suffering, trouble and sin. Passio leads to compassio. Moving about among the people and accessible to all comers, Jesus could not but meet with innumerable cases of human misery, fitted to excite feelings of profoundest pity. The helpless babe, the untaught and neglected multitude, the powerless paralytic, the loathsome leper, the foaming lunatic, the furious demoniac, the crippled beggar, the blind, the deaf, the dumb, the bereaved widow, the mourning sister, the sinful woman, the dying thief,—all these alike were the object of Christ's commiseration and sympathy.
2. Ponder the emotion itself. To some minds it seems that to attribute such feeling to Deity derogates from the dignity of God. But Christianity reveals to us something nobler, and worthier of our worship and our love, than an impassive and impersonal Law presiding over the destinies of the universe. If the Old Testament represents in words the long-suffering and tender mercy of Jehovah, in the New Testament God in Christ lives among men, susceptible to all their wants and woes, touched with a feeling of their infirmities. If the Old Testament astonishes us by the declaration concerning God, "In all their afflictions he was afflicted," the 1%w Testament depicts one" moved with compassion," who asserts, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father."
II. THE PRACTICAL EXPRESSION OF COMPASSION. Sentiment is divinely implanted in the human breast; but it is implanted as the root from which actions and habits corresponding with it are designed to grow. Those have been well denounced by the poet—
"Who, nursed in mealy-mouthed philanthropies,
Divorce the feeling from her mate, the deed.
Compassion is represented in the text as a principle of action. The Lord Jesus did feel, he did sigh over, human sorrows, and groan over human unbelief, and weep over human ingratitude. But his feelings did not evaporate thus; they acted as the motive-power to deeds of charity and of helpfulness. When "moved with compassion," Jesus "stretched forth his hand," and healed, saved, and blessed the object of his gracious commiseration. He was not only tender to feel, he was mighty to save. The very names by which he is known are a monument of his practical compassion—he is the Redeemer and the Saviour of mankind.
III. THE HUMAN RESPONSE TO THE DIVINE COMPASSION OF CHRIST. A quality so beautiful in itself and so benignant in its operation cannot but exercise a mighty power over the whole nature of those for whose benefit it is displayed. Accordingly, we find that our Lord's pity has exercised such a power in two directions.
1. Christ's compassion becomes the spring of a new moral life in the hearts of his people. When Jesus brings to a soul gladness and peace, can it be matter of wonder that gratitude, love, and devotion become principles of a new nature, a new life? What more natural? "The love of Christ constraineth us."
2. Christ's compassion becomes the inspiration and the example of the compassion of his Church. It is not enough to admire; we are called to copy. Compassion is a" note" of the Christian life, a feeling to be cherished, a habit to be formed. Thus our Lord has introduced among men a new standard of virtue and a new type of character. If the influence of such parables as the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan has been great, what must have been the influence exercised by the incarnation and the sacrifice of Christ ? The function and office of the redeemed Church of Emmanuel is, being moved with compassion, to minister unto mankind, and to bring the weary, the suffering, and the sinful unto him who never breaks the bruised reed nor quenches smoking flax.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
"The beginning of the gospel."
Very simple and natural. There is hardly any preface. The narrator seems impatient to get into the very heart of his subject. This should ever be the instinct of the preacher. Ingenuously, yet with perfect inductive force, he shows that Christianity claims respect and acceptance as being connected with the highest aspirations and purest sentiments of morality.
I. THE SUBJECT STATED. "The gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." This title, if title it ought to be called, is very full and felicitous. It is Jesus who is the great subject of the "gospel." The latter is used here in a transitional sense, i.e. not simply of "good news," or "glad tidings," but rather of" account," "history," of the great facts of salvation.
1. The gospel concerns a great Personality. His name, which was to be "as ointment poured forth," is twofold. Jesus is his ordinary human name; his official dignity is indicated by the term "Christ" or "the Christ," i.e. the Anointed. As Messiah, he occupied relations more than human, and therefore the addendum (supported by preponderating manuscript authority), "the Son of God." The Hope of Israel was, if prophetic language is subject to reasonable canons of interpretation, more than a saint or a seer; he was partaker of the Divine nature as truly as of the human, and thus fitted to mediate between the Father and his alienated children.
2. The existence and gradual manifestation of this Person are of great and gladsome consequence to the world. It is worth while to know what he was, did, and suffered, as thereby may be discovered the meaning and the method of salvation. For this reason the account of them is preserved and commended to men.
II. UNDER WHAT ASPECT IT IS REGARDED. As something coming into existence, beginning to be, in time. We are invited, so to speak, to consider how it grew. The greatest religions have not been sudden inventions. Christianity is no exception to the rule. The interest of the mind is excited by the prospect of tracing the genesis of so great and so remarkable a phenomenon, as one might seek to follow a river to its source, or speculate as to the origin of a world. One knows, must know, more about the nature of a thing when it is thus studied. But it would be easy to lose one's self in curious conjecture, in myth and legend of the prehistoric past, without any extension of actual knowledge. In the various ways in which the evangelists account for or trace out the origin of the gospel, there is always a use more or less apparent. In practical subjects speculative researches usually turn out to be aberrations. But Mark, who is the most realistic in his tendency of any of the New Testament writers, save perhaps James, contents himself with indicating proximate origins, but in such a way as to suggest in the strongest possible way the supernatural as the only possible explanation or key.
1. It was foretold. The coming of this Person was the chief burden of prophecy. He was the Hope of the ages. The many statements of the prophets are, however, passed over by Mark in favor of two, one being introductory (verse 2) and the other of chief importance (verse 3). It is said, "in Isaiah the prophet," because the attention of the writer went through and beyond the first quotation, which is from Malachi, and riveted itself upon the second, from Isaiah. That such words should have been spoken so long ago was a proof of the Divine character of Christ's mission.
2. Moral preparation was needed for it. John the Baptist's work was a preparatory one, upon the heart and conscience. As a whole it is termed, from its chief rite, "the baptism" of John; and its end was repentance.
3. The personal preparation of its great subject was also essential. His fulfilling of the Law in John's baptism, and his inward spiritual endowment and illumination, ensuring moral victory, spiritual maturity, and the fullness of the Messianic consciousness, are therefore described. All these are a very small portion of the whole gospel as given by Mark; he passes with light, firm touch over each, and then launches his readers upon the great river of Christ's doings and sayings, issuing inevitably, as he ever hints and suggests, in the tragedy of Golgotha. The fullness and intensity of the narrative sensibly increase as the great catastrophe is approached, and the end throws its light back upon the faintest and most obscure "beginning."—M.
The ministry of John.
I. OF WHAT IT CONSISTED. In each Gospel the descriptions are very general, and look as if they had been foreshortened in order to give due prominence to the gospel narrative that had to follow. Yet a fairly complete impression may be received of his main doctrines and rules of discipline. Generally in his ministry there are four elements discoverable.
1. Exhortation. A direct appeal to the moral sense, the chief note of which was "Repent." It is a sharp word often repeated, refinement upon it being likely only to dull its edge. It meant, primarily, "to think after another," then "to change one's mind or opinion," the faculty addressed being that of moral reflection (nous). Accordingly we read of repentance "unto acknowledgment of the truth" (2 Timothy 2:25), "toward God "(Acts 20:21), "from dead works" (Hebrews 6:1), and "unto life" (Acts 11:18), or "unto salvation" (2 Corinthians 7:10). The two last expressions correspond with that of Mark, "unto remission of sins." The idea involved is intellectual as well as moral, thought being exercised as well as feeling. The mind is to be twisted back upon itself; spiritual resolution is demanded according to new principles. "Take a right view of sin—your sin—and quit it." John thus prepared men for Christ by making them prepare themselves, casting down every imagination and every high thing that stood in the way the coming King was to use for his glorious "progress."
2. Ceremony. There was but one rite—baptism; not created for the occasion, but simply adopted out of the multiform ceremonial of Judaism. Its use is explained by its symbolic suggestiveness of the spiritual change John sought to produce. The physical purifying set forth the spiritual, and was ineffectual without it.
3. Example. He himself was what he desired others to be. His habitat—the wilderness—was a protest against the corruption of the cities, and indeed of the whole social fabric. He dwelt apart, as being thus better able to seek God and serve him. His personality, too, was eloquent of the same truth. With clothing the coarsest and least comfortable, and food the simplest and cheapest, he maintained a strong, flee, independent life, consecrated in Nazarite-like vows to God.
4. Prophecy. Not only a backward but also a forward look was implied in his teaching. It was by virtue of the coming of Another that all these moral acts were to be rendered valid and effectual. The atonement of Christ, as a prospective thing, is therefore the key-stone of all John's preaching. Not the baptism, the ascetic life, not even the "repentance," was in itself a saving principle. These only availed as they brought men to him who baptized not with water but with the Holy Spirit. His whole ministry did not confer, but simply prepared for, "the remission of sins."
II. ITS RELATIVE, SIGNIFICANCE. It was, therefore, not of absolute or independent value, but only auxiliary to the advent of Christ. He stood midway between the Lair and the Gospel. In this light, his recognition of the "Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" is at once the linking on of his ministry to Christ's, and its consummation and disappearance in it.
III. ITS RESULTS. Not substantive or permanent. A deep effect was produced upon Jewish life, but it did not last. Yet, in many instances, notably within the circle of the apostles, it was the preliminary stage, the "strait gate and narrow way," into the Divine life which Jesus brought. John's message exerted a far-reaching influence, thrilled the nation in all its classes and tribes, and then died away in ever fainter echoes, amidst the returning indifference or spiritual opposition to the Truth. It was not, therefore, useless; rather in the highest sense was it effectual only as it succeeded in making itself unnecessary for the further progress of those who received it. "He must increase, but I must decrease."—M.
John's baptism and Christ's.
I. THE GRAND RELIGIOUS NEED OF MAN IS PURIFICATION. The existence of so many ceremonial religions is a presumption in favor of this. They all speak of offenses in man which require expiation. But the knowledge of the true character of sin is revealed by the Law (Romans 3:19). Sin itself, of course, exists anterior to the knowledge of the Law of Moses, because of the "law of God written upon the heart." In Psalms 14:1-7 the universal depravity of the Jews of the age in which the psalmist wrote is very absolutely, declared; and St. Paul, in Romans 3:10, etc., quotes it freely, in proof that Jews as well as Gentiles are under the power of sin. "As his argument is at this point addressed particularly to the Jew, he reasons, not from the sense of sin or the voice of conscience, but from the Scriptures, whose authority the Jew acknowledged. The Jew would, of course, admit the inference as to the state of the Gentile world" (Perowne). The first aim, therefore, of every real religion must be the removal of sin, because:
1. The sense of guilt estranges man from God. Under this feeling of alienation the heart hardens, and the tendency is to cast off the authority of all Divine sanctions.
2. Indwelling sin corrupts and perverts the moral mature. The vision of God is obscured, and as he is the Fountain of moral obligation and perception, moral distinctions become uncertain and confused. Right and truth are not desired for their own sakes; there is no genuine enthusiasm for them. On the contrary, the heart is already biased and bribed on behalf of evil. "Evil, be thou my good," expresses the final stage to which the corruption of the heart may attain; and:
3. Sinful habit and inherited tendency enfeeble the will. This moral weakness may coexist with the clearest perceptions of right and wrong (Romans 7:14-19).
II. RELIGIOUS MINISTRIES ARE TO BE TESTED BY THEIR POWER TO EFFECT THIS,
1. It is the general pretension which they make in common. There may be supernatural evidences, etc., to recommend them, but the practical ground upon which they base their claim to reception is really that, in some way or other, they can settle the question of sin between man and God. To judge them upon this point is not, therefore, to do them an injustice.
2. The standard is common and within human experience. In the measure in which they wean man from sin and reconcile him to the Divine Being, they prove their ability to make good their pretension. A religion whose followers have low moral ideas, or are not in the habit of practising what they profess, must be discredited as a moral power.
3. There are various respects in which this purifying power may show itself:
(1) Spiritual rest. This arises from a sense of forgiveness and of reconciliation with God. In other words, when the consciousness of guilt is removed and the sanctions of righteousness have been honored, the soul is satisfied and loses its fear and dislike to God, trusting, and in time loving, him.
(2) Moral inspiration. If sin has truly been overcomes and the relations of the soul with God are satisfactory, there will be hopefulness and vigor in the discharge of duty, resignation and patience in suffering, and a disposition to do good.
(3) Change of character and conduct. He who did evil and delighted in it will then find his joy in righteousness and holiness. There will he manifest "the fruits of the Spirit," and there will be "no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness."
III. How THE SUPERIORITY OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION IN THIS RESPECT IS TO BE EXPLAINED.
1. Because it was spiritual and not ceremonial. John anticipated the explanation in his prophecy concerning Christ. He was not, like himself, to baptize with water, but with the Holy Spirit. Now, John's baptism was most significant, perhaps the most significant of the rites of the ceremonial law. Enforced by his moral earnestness, it also exercised a powerful spiritual effect. But it did not produce that which he preached, viz. repentance, in any inward and enduring manner. It was only indirectly spiritual. Duty was powerfully suggested by the symbol, and, where spiritual influence was at work, in many instances a morn! change was produced. But there was, so to speak, no command over that spiritual influence, no ensuring its operation upon the heart. What was needed was something that would go directly to the heart, and renew the moral nature. It is only in the communication of greater spiritual power than existed before that this can take place. A strong moral nature like John's was felt whilst it appealed to men, but, when its immediate influence was withdrawn, the impulses and emotions to which it gave rise died down again. Christ, on the other hand, furnished moral power in the communication of truth under vital and vivid representations. From the fullness of his own spiritual life also there was a constant overflowing of grace and strength. He spake as never man spake; his authority was felt; his example inspired. It was the meaning and spirit of everything he revealed. The conscience was strengthened, and the moral nature filled with new light and life. "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and know that thou art the Holy One of God" (John 6:68).
2. Because it was the communication of Divine life and power. He "baptized with the Holy Ghost." An awful and mysterious expression? The Spirit of God was set free by the atoning work of the Saviour to operate upon the heart and conscience of man. By purifying the outward man John sought to impress men with the sense of their spiritual impurity, and their need of forgiveness and inward cleansing. But only Christ could give purity of heart. He gave life; he inspired. The inward man was renewed, "created after God, in righteousness and true holiness." "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."—M.
The baptism of Jesus.
One of many proofs of the wide influence of the Baptist's ministry. He came from Nazareth of Galilee. The multitudinous baptism of John was a fit occasion and background for the special and peculiar baptism of Jesus. The awakened national conscience represented for the nonce the general confession of sin by the individuals of mankind saved through the gospel. Christ's baptism was—
I. A FULFILMENT OF LEGAL RIGHTEOUSNESS. It was one ceremony of the Law taken as representative of the spirit and essence of the whole ceremonial system. Inasmuch as it involved a confession of sin, he by undergoing it
(1) humiliated himself; and
(2) identified himself with the sinful nature of the race.
Whilst condemning in his pure spirit the sin of man, he yet takes his place with sinners, as one with them in their penalty and their hope.
II. A FULFILMENT OF SPIRITUAL CONSCIOUSNESS.
1. Through plenary reception of the Holy Spirit. This was the same Spirit in which he had already been living, but given now "without measure." Inspiration ensues upon conscious acts of obedience and righteousness; true spiritual baptism is given to those who submit willingly to the positive requirements of God's Law. This was
(1) the completion of the Divine-human consciousness; and
(2) the communion of God and man, of heaven and earth. The (violently and suddenly) rent heaven symbolized this.
2. Through Divine attestation. It was a voice to John, but much more to Jesus himself. Through this experience he realized that the attitude he had assumed, and the career upon which he was about to enter, were approved of his Father. The favor and acceptance therein declared were also, by implication, a recognition of his perfect personal purity. It was not as a sinner that he submitted to baptism, bat as the sinner's Friend and intending Saviour.—M.
Mark 1:12, Mark 1:13
Great moral problems are suggested by the temptation. Mark does not describe the nature of it, but leaves the imagination and cognate experience of his readers to fill up the spaces, or, having a different object from the other evangelists, he, supposing the details furnished by them well known, contents himself with an epitome. But it is an epitome of a very vivid and pregnant kind. The salient points alluded to by him are—
I. THE PREDISPOSING CAUSE OF IT. The temptation, singularly enough, follows "straightway" upon the baptism, in such a way as to establish the fact of a close connection between the two events; and that Spirit which crowned with its descent the act of obedience is the direct cause of Christ's being tempted. Is not this inconsistent with what we learn of God from the Bible? He is not, we are told, tempted of evil, "neither tempteth he any man."
1. It was necessary to the purpose of Christ's coming into the world that he should be tempted. As a portion, therefore, of his mediatorial experience and perfecting, it was quite fitting that the Spirit, through whom he had come, should lead him forward to each chief point of trial in his career. It is conceivable that one should approach evil from the side of an evil heart already predisposed to yield. But it belongs to the virtue of Christ's position as one tempted that he was led into it by the Spirit. It was—to translate a part of the meaning of this into familiar speech—it was "from the highest motives" that he submitted to temptation.
2. It was not the Spirit that tempted him, but it was through being in the condition induced by the indwelling of the Spirit that he became exposed to temptation in its most terrible forms. It is only as being in a higher spiritual state than that to which one's circumstances correspond that they can be truly said to tempt him. The greatest temptations are revealed in the highest spiritual experience, even as darkness by light. We can never appreciate the power of Satan until we look at him from a state of holiness and devout illumination.
II. THE AGENT OF IT. Mark uses the peculiar word "Satan," instead of "the devil," as in the other Gospels. The choice of this term may have been determined by a desire to emphasize the special character of the devil as "the adversary" whom he was to overthrow, or simply by an instinctive sense that thereby the personality, and the identification of that personality with the historic Satanic principle of revelation, would be made clearer. It was with no secondary being that Jesus wrestled, but with the prince of darkness himself. In such an encounter the conflict must needs be a duel, and even then was it determined beforehand in favor of the Son of God. But the allurements employed were necessarily of the most subtle and grandly representative character. It was a final trial of strength, upon which the future of salvation depended.
III. THE ASSOCIATIONS OF IT. The forty days in the wilderness reminded men of the similar fasts of Moses and Elijah. The wild beasts may have been an unconscious reproduction of the conditions of the Paradisaic temptation. The society of the wilderness was of the most contrastive and representative character: the Spirit—Satan; wild beasts—angels. As to the "wild beasts", Plumptre says, "In our Lord's time these might include the panther, the bear, the wolf, the hyena, possibly the lion." The implied thought is partly that their presence added to the terrors of the temptation, partly that in his being protected from them there was the fulfillment of the promise in the very psalm which furnished the tempter with his chief weapon, that the true child of God should trample underfoot "the lion and the adder," the "young lion and the dragon" (Psalms 91:13). De Wette considers this to be "a mere pictorial embellishment." Lunge holds that Christ's attitude "is a sovereign and peaceful one towards the beasts: they dare not hurt the Lord of creation, nor do they flee before him. Jesus takes away the curse also from the irrational creation (Romans 8:1-39.)." As to the angels, we are not to regard them as assisting him in his conflict with Satan, but succouring him in his exhaustion after it. He holds his court, as it were, on the very battle-field. In token of his victory, heaven pours itself forth in its fairest and best on the spot that but a little before was the ante-chamber of hell.—M.
The call of the disciples; or, work and higher work.
I. ORDINARY WORK OF MEN AND THE EXTRAORDINARY ARE (HERE) PUT IN THE SAME LINE. It is no small presumption in favor of Christ's divinity that he chose common men—workmen—for his intimate disciples. What link could there be between the transcendent task of the apostleship and that mean calling in which they were engaged? He alone saw a connection, and not a merely fanciful one. He indicated it and proceeded upon it. The idea was familiar to the prophets, and to Greek literature (as in the 'Dialogues of Lucian,' etc.), but not in the same application. The resemblance he suggested is broad and deep. It was while they were working that he called them. What a practical, spiritual gain for all toilers is this revelation!
II. THEY ARE SHARPLY DISTINGUISHED AND ABSOLUTELY SEPARATED. As connected by analogy, it is implied that they are separated in fact. Not by confounding the sacred with the secular calling is either benefited. That they are not the same is shown by:
1. A difference of object. "For men." The means must therefore be different, and the entire method. Luke uses a word meaning "to catch alive? The fishers of men were not to snare them, but to win them to something worthy of them; and not for selfish ends, but through love and Divine good will. So interpreted, how grand is this vocation!
2. A distinct call. Christ asks—bids them "come after him. Were there any previous inner witnessings which this endorsed and strengthened? This call was no simply picturesque or accidental occurrence; it was an essential condition of their assumption of apostolic service. The difference between their new duties and their old ones was so profound that only a distinct inward voice could warrant the transition from the one to the other. Christ spoke to the heart as well as to the ear, and his word was a determining one.
3. Altered circumstances. He would take them away for a time from the associations of the fish-net. They would have to cease looking at life as "making a living." As God's workmen, they would be his dependents. They would have to live by faith, that they might walk by faith.
4. Special preparation. "I will make." What they had done or learned would not qualify them for what they were to do. He alone could teach them the new craft; and only as they drank in his spirit could they hope to succeed in it.
III. TOPASS FROM THE ONE TO THE OTHER IS ONLY POSSIBLE THROUGH OBEDIENCE, SELF-SACRIFICE, AND CLOSER FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST. Even as he calls them their preparation and discipline commence. It was a sharp trial, but salutary and wise.
1. Obedience. They were to go at once if at all, without question, and finally.
2. Self-sacrifice. This was begun by "leaving all and following" Christ, as Peter phrased it. The will of the flesh, "the will to live," the whole self-life,—had to be renounced.
3. But their life would be a fellowship with the Master. This would compensate for every toil and trial. But it would also necessitate continual exercise of sympathy, spiritual insight, and resolute fidelity.—M.
The authority of Jesus.
A note of Christ's work as a whole, which occasioned remark amongst his contemporaries. Not so much what he did, as how. A grandeur of nature and manner. Nothing is so difficult to define as authority, especially when it is a personal attribute.
I. How IT SHOWED ITSELF.
1. From the outset of his career. The Capernaum synagogue, where his boyhood had been passed, did not daunt him. The ordinary circumstances, which tend to dwarf even great men, did not detract from his greatness.
2. It showed itself especially in two directions, viz. teaching and spiritual healing.
(1) Teaching. "He taught—spake—as one having authority." An indefinable yet absolute difference existed in this respect between him and the customary teachers of the people. They went back upon prescription and tradition, the sentences of the rabbis, the legal interpretations received in the schools. They would refer back to some great name, or some generally acknowledged opinion, as a lawyer collects his instances; but their own opinion was seldom or never fortheoming; if it was, it was tentative, unoriginal, and uninfluential. Now, Christ had quite a different tone. He referred to the sentences of the Jewish schools only to condemn them, and he did not hesitate to range himself alone against all the weight of tradition. "Ye have heard that it hath been said,… but I say unto you;" "Verily, verily, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away."
(2) Action. Look at this special case, the man with the unclean spirit. He shows mastery from the very first. His word is a command, and there is no flinching or compromise. Nor is the order despised; he said, and it was done.
3. It gave a character to his entire work. "What is this? a new teaching! with authority he commandeth even the unclean spirits, and they obey him;" or, "A new teaching with authority (or power)! He commandeth," etc. In the whole round of duties, and undertakings connected with his mission, it is observable, and its effect is to draw attention and impress.
II. To WHAT IT WAS NOT. This was the problem which presented itself, which was meant to present itself, to the men of his day. That it was no accident of manner or any mere assumption of superiority is shown by its results. And the general bearing of Christ was meekness itself. It was due to nature rather than office, to personal relation with God.
1. To absolute spiritual insight. He saw and knew what he was speaking about in its ground and essence. It was therefore unnecessary for him to sit at any man's feet, or to borrow wisdom of any teacher.
2. To absolute trust in moral power. This arose from his identifying himself with it. He did not only speak about truth; he was "the Way, the Truth, and the Life." "I and my Father are one." The display of superior physical strength did not appall him, nor was he discouraged by suffering or death.
III. WHAT IT ARGUED.
1. His divinity. This "unknown quantity" in Christ was as unmistakable as it was immeasurable. Out of the depth and fullness of his own spiritual life he must have spoken. The Divine element is therefore an inevitable inference. "Never man spake like this man."
2. His power to save. "Even the unclean spirits" obeyed him. It is the moral or subjective side of temptation on which the real weakness of man exists; and just there Christ is omnipotent. He can cure the sick soul and restore moral tone and energy. And his words are an unerring guidance and discipline for the soul: "Lord, to whom can we go? Thou hast the words of eternal
The leper's petition.
I. THE GENERAL WORK OF CHRIST, WHEN IT IS KNOWN, ENCOURAGES THE MOST FORLORN AND DESPERATE. The nature of leprosy and the law concerning it.
II. SINCERE FAITH, EVEN WHEN IMPERFECT, EVER MEETS WITH THE SYMPATHY AND HELP OF CHRIST. "If thou wilt, thou canst." He believed in his power, but was uncertain as to his willingness. The spirit of the Saviour was therefore concealed from him. Yet Christ answered his prayer. (There is no evidence that the leper identified the will with the power.)
III. CHRIST'S METHOD OF RESTORATION IS ADAPTED TO THE SPECIAL MORAL CONDITION OF THE SUBJECT OF HIS MERCY. It was his sympathy and willingness that had to be demonstrated to the poor leper. This is done by the assurance, "I will;" and the touch (braving ceremonial defilement and physical repugnance). So, in saving men from their sins, their defects of character and experience are met by special revelations and mercies. A complete and perfect faith in Christ is the evidence and guarantee of perfect salvation.
IV. SPECIAL EXPERIENCES OF DIVINE GRACE DO NOT FREE FROM LESSER DUTIES, BUT RATHER INCREASE THEIR OBLIGATION. The Law was to be honored. Civil and religious obligations were enjoined. There was a public use in the rules that were imposed, and it was well they should be observed.
V. MERCY MAY BE RECEIVED WITHOUT ITS OBLIGATIONS BEING FULLY REALIZED OR OBSERVED. The leper was cured, but not perfectly. He had not learned the obedience of faith. His inattention to Christ's request created a serious inconvenience and hindrance in prosecuting the work of salvation amongst others. Those who have received benefits from Christ should attend implicitly to all that he enjoins. "Ye are my friends, if ye do the things Which I command you" (John 15:14). The spiritual blessings of Christ are dependent on perfect subjection to his will.—M.
Christ and the demons.
I. THE FEELINGS THE QUESTION BETRAYED.
1. A sense of inevitable relation. His presence at once discovers them; there is no escape when he is near. Their true character is more strongly and unmistakably manifested, as darkness is revealed by light. A positive sense of relation to his person and work is called forth. How far may this have been a witness within themselves personally—in their own individual consciousness? how far a merely constitutional instinct? how far due to connection with the personality of the possessed? That it was beyond their own control is evident. They were unwilling witnesses to his power, and their obedience was not due to loyalty or attachment. So whenever the truth is manifested, it addresses an instinct in intelligent nature which cannot be wholly indifferent to it.
2. Conscious unlikeness and antagonism. Being what they were, they could not acquiesce in what he was or did. His presence was judgment and torture to them. They had the keenest perception of his purity and sinlessness, without being attracted by it; on the contrary, their opposition was only the more excited and extreme. The opposition was that of hell and heaven in their essential principles.
3. Fear and apprehension. A moral awe and dread attended the consciousness of such holiness, the awe which moral authority inspires. It is akin to what is felt towards God. But there was also "a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation." Their empire was not only in jeopardy, it was already doomed. And they must stand or fall together "Art thou come to destroy us? " How? By dismissing them to Hades. "But even in Hades Christ does not leave their empire to the demons. Thus it was by the destruction of their empire generally. Certainly it was by dismissing them to the Gehenna of torment (according to which the expression in Matthew [Matthew 8:29], the Hades of torment, is to be explained)" (Meyer). In this the sinner is one with the demon.
II. THE ANSWER IT IMPLIED. The possessed one who asked the question knew it had but one answer. Christ had nothing whatever to do with the demons, and they had nothing whatever to do with him. They had nothing to do with him:
1. As agents and representative of evil. At a later date he could say, "The prince of the world cometh: and he hath nothing in me" (John 14:30). None had ever convinced him of evil. So from the mouth of the demons themselves was the great calumny, afterwards so diligently promulgated, "He hath Beelzebub, and, By the prince of the devils casteth he out the devils" (Mark 3:22), answered by anticipation. There is no key that will unlock the mystery of his devoted life save that of simplicity of purpose and infinite love.
2. As moral beings. There was the clearest knowledge of his character and dignity. "The demons who were in those possessed seem to have perceived sooner than the rest who Jesus was (yea, sooner even than most of the men with whom he walked at that time)" (Bengel). "The Holy One of God" (cf. Psalms 16:1-11.) was Christ's "concealed designation," a Messianic identification which implied spiritual insight or knowledge (John 6:69; John 10:36; Revelation 3:7). Knowledge without love How fruitless! They knew him as the Holy One of God, but not as their Saviour. Belief and obedience, but no salvation! So near, yet so far! How was this?
(1) Because there was no inward loving acceptance of him as their moral ruler.
(2) This was probably due to the utter corruption of their moral nature. They had become wholly evil, even whilst they perceived the uselessness and misery of sin. They knew the good, but had lost the power to will it. Even to this may any moral being come who continues in sin, or rather continues out of Christ. There is no tenderness in Christ's tone to the demons, only rebuke. A day is coming when the blasphemer, the hypocrite, the liar too, will be silenced. It is from such a fate that Christ would save us whilst yet it might be said of us, "And this is life eternal, that they should know thee, the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ" (John 17:3).—M.
"The region … round about."
I. THE POSITION OF THE CHURCH.
1. Centre of the world's life.
(1) This by virtue of what she is, the principles of righteousness which she inculcates and practises. These "doctrines of the cross" are keys to the chambers of power and authority. They are the true solution of the mysteries of human life. Questions of biography or of history, of individual lives or of eras, can only be understood from their underlying and determining spiritual principles—the relations of man to the Divine. Because of this connection of righteousness with the laws of the universe, Christian faith and virtue are the conditions of true possession and influence, whether in the region of the material or that of the spiritual. The beatitudes illustrate this truth. Only to the central principle does the world yield up its wealth. Herein, too, lies the reason of the Church's responsibility and stewardship. She holds what she has, not for herself alone, but for others. Her power is a moral one, as being guardian of the best interests of man.
(2) This by virtue of her relation to Christ, He is the Centre of humanity, and in him all things are created and sustained. It is, however, only through doctrines and belief that vital connection with him is maintained. Being, so to speak, "in Christ," she is his representative in proportion to her faithfulness and vitality. It is as constituted of individual members, each believing in Christ and living in him, that this character belongs to her, and not from any mystic corporate prerogative. What is true, therefore, of the Church, is so because, in the first instance, it is true of individual believers. Christ himself is the great attractive force of the Church; "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me."
(3) This by virtue of her present circumstances. Although not of the world, she is in it, sent into it, and kept there. The great reason of her institution is that she may influence—evangelize—her neighborhood. For a season in the midst of the world, as Christ was in its midst, she is to radiate forth light and life upon mankind. The minister, "of the whole city center," is typical of the spiritual temple in the midst of world-life.
2. A moving center. Wherever our Saviour went he carried on his work in "the region round about," and "they came to him from every quarter" (Mark 1:45). In the same manner must it be with his followers. Like him, they must go about continually doing good. Christian work is not exclusively associated with a special place or building, a sacred day or an official service; it is inseparable from the individual personality of the believer, and must constantly proceed wherever he is.
3. A multiplying center. The powers of the individual believer increase and multiply. His command of new truths, and attainment of fresh spiritual life, add to his facilities and capacities for usefulness. And every person added to the faith is a new evangelist, with a sphere and fitness of his own. It is the glory of Christianity thus to propagate itself. The "Society of Jesus" was described as "a sword, with the handle at Rome and the point everywhere." The ideal this represents is only realized in the spiritual society of Jesus—the Church saved through his blood, and in all her members, loyal and loving, carrying out the great commission, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15).
II. THE FIELD OF THE CHURCH.
1. Always at hand. The sphere of the Christian is described from himself as a center. He can never escape it or be destitute of it. He ought to be always ready and furnished for his work, however peer or ignorant he may be; for "our sufficiency is of God." "Of whom are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." Even the one talent is given for use and service. Men often lose themselves in vague dreams and extensive ideas. For this reason it may be, as Bishop Butler suggests, that we are first told to "love our neighbor"—a duty which develops into many graces. It is a bad sign when the immediate neighborhood, the family, the servants, the friends, etc., of a professing Christian, are neglected.
2. Practically infinite. It is undefined save at its center. Each region is a center to others. The pressure of spiritual responsibility is as constant and necessary to the Christian's soul as that of the atmosphere in relation to his body. The ever-increasing and widening vistas of possible usefulness are occasions of inspiration and ennoblement to the earnest worker.
3. Constantly varied. New subjects of Christian solicitude present themselves, new adaptations of spiritual truth and agency. The adaptability, capacity, and sympathy of the Christian ought to be continually developing. And when "the region round about" has received its due labour and attention and prayer, there is ever some "region beyond" whither the hastening feet of the Saviour have already made a way.—M.
The history era prayer of Christ.
I. ITS IMMEDIATE OCCASION.
1. To be found in connection with his work. It was incessant. Fresh claims upon his attention and compassion were continually being made. Only the day before "all the city" had been "gathered together at the door." The exercise of his healing power was a drain upon his emotional and spiritual nature, and the fatigue of the work, which lasted from morning to night, must have been a severe tax upon the delicate organization of the Saviour. He needed rest.
2. To be found in the excitement attaching to it. He was at the beginning of his ministry, and it was full of novelty and uncertainty. As the supernatural power of Christ displayed itself, the people began to broach ideas of a temporal sovereignty. A profound impression was produced upon the public mind, and vast crowds attended him wherever he moved. The corruption and depravity of the human mind, too, must have become increasingly manifest to him. The problem of salvation never could have seemed more distressing or difficult. And, in the midst of his occupation, the contrary currents of worldly thought and human ambition must have been felt by him.
II. ITS ULTIMATE REASON. The circumstances of fatigue and excitement in themselves would not account for the anxiety displayed by Christ to secure opportunity for devotion; it is as associated with his unique personality and aim that they acquire significance. For it is only as arising from personal longing and necessity, that such a departure from the scene of his labours can be understood. We are not to suppose that it was done for an example; the whole proceeding would thereby be rendered too artificial and self-conscious. And yet the action itself was exemplary in the highest degree. Its value as a pattern for our imitation consists in its very absence of self-consciousness. We cannot help asking, "What was the place held by prayer in his spiritual life?" "How was the practice of devotion related to the inward needs-be of his nature?" It was not simply a reaction of overwrought feeling or an instinctive craving for emotional relief and variation. By his entire spiritual constitution he was intimately related to the Father. The filial bond was infinitely strong, tender, and intense. His true life was twofold—a giving forth of himself to man, and receiving from God; the latter was necessary to the efficiency of the former. He said, "I can of mine own self do nothing," and therefore he ever sought communion with his unseen Father:
1. For restoration of spiritual power.
2. To maintain the elevation of his feeling and purpose.
3. For comfort and encouragement.
III. How IT WAS PREPARED FOR. There is a climax in the text; an impression is thereby conveyed of inward trouble, leading to painstaking effort, which results in final relief and comfort.
1. He sought the Father early. "Very early, in the midst of the night," is the literal force of the words. His first impulse toward heavenly communion was obeyed. The thoughts which had kept the night wakeful were not corrupted by the new associations of another day. Are the first impressions of our minds on awaking Divine or human? of heaven or of earth? Do we earnestly seek to know first of all God's will, and strive to realize his presence? He who so prepares for the work and intercourse of the day will not be overtaken or surprised by evil. Better lose a little sleep than the restful communion of the Father.
2. His departure was secret. There was no consulting with flesh and blood. There are inward promptings and voices concerning which no earthly advice should be asked. It is possible that "Simon and they that were with him" were not a little disconcerted and annoyed that they had to seek for him; but even their presence would have been a hindrance. The solemn yet fascinating individualism of true prayer is not realized as it might be. Secret prayer is the background of earnest and real common prayer. In this matter we have not only the example but the injunction of Christ (Matthew 6:6).
3. Not only the actual presence of men but human associations were avoided. "He departed into a desert place." Such a situation, as formerly the weird solitudes of the Quaritanian Desert, harmonized with his spiritual mood. Wide upland spaces, far withdrawn, brought him nearer to the Unseen and Eternal, afforded larger views, spiritual as well as physical, and favored the ideality and inwardness that are essential to a great spirit.
"The silence that is in the starry sky,
The sleep that is among the lonely hills,"
were an anodyne to his fretted and troubled heart; in nature he met God. Such a spot could only have been found at a distance, and this is further implied by the circumstance of the others following after him, and their message, "All are seeking thee." Lessons:
(1) Opportunities for secret prayer will be prized and even created by devout minds.
(2) If the purest and grandest moral Being the world has seen needed such communion with his Father, how much more such as we?
(3) God must be sought diligently, and before all else, if he is to be sought effectually.
(4) How difficult of access and realization is the oratory of the soul, where devotion may be free from earthliness, continuous and uninterrupted! ― M
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
Mark 1:14, Mark 1:15
The ministry of mercy.
Our text reminds us of the significant fact that Jesus began his ministry in Galilee, and not in Jerusalem, as the Jews might have expected of their Messiah. In the city where the sacred temple stood there was far less of the earnestness and simplicity which our Lord sought for than among the rural peasants and fishermen. Hence his work was begun and was largely continued in a district which was poor and despised. This, however, was only in harmony with much that we know of God's methods; for "his ways are not as our ways." As the Creator of all things, he has placed some of the most beautiful products of nature in obscure spots. We find them in secluded dells, or in the depths of the earth and sea, or they are hidden under the curl of a leaf, or buried in a pool among the rocks. Some of the noblest Christians are to be found in quiet spheres of which the world knows nothing; and some of the highest work has been done for our Lord in obscure villages, or in lands out of the range of tours and trades. Besides this, the selection of Galilee as the earliest scene of our Lord's ministry was an indication of its nature. It was a tacit rebuke to the carnal expectations current among the people concerning their Messiah; and, in giving an opportunity to the degraded and despised provincials, it showed that he had come "to seek and save that which was lost." Several significant facts respecting his ministry are suggested by the text, namely—
I. THIS MINISTRY FOLLOWED UPON A TIME OF TERRIBLE TEMPTATION. The verse immediately preceding this puts in vivid contrast temptation in solitude and ministry in public. Loneliness of spirit is a fit preparation for publicity of life; and our Lord, who was in all points made like unto his brethren, deigned to share this experience. Joseph was a solitary prisoner before he became a ruling prince. Moses passed from the splendours of Egypt to the quietude of Midian before he became a leader and lawgiver. David was a persecuted exile before he was ready for enthronement. Paul was three years in Arabia before he was the apostle to the Gentiles. Our Lord spoke of such inward preparation for outward work when he said to his disciples, "What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light; and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops." Public work is only safe when preceded by private prayer. True teaching can only come from those who are first taught of God. Without personal experience of inward struggles and victories, we shall never speak to others with power or sympathy. But if we would get the benefit of solitude, if we would achieve victory over self and sin in our own hour of temptation, we must be like our Lord, who was baptized before he was tempted, who was filled with the Holy Spirit before he fought with the evil spirit. Then out of such an experience we can speak lovingly and helpfully to others.
II. THIS MINISTRY SUCCEEDED THE SILENCING OF JOHN. Our text very pointedly suggests that the public appearance of the Lord occurred immediately after the ending and completion of the Baptist's work. The words are significant: "After that John was cast into prison, Jesus came." God will never let his work fall to the ground. If one noble witness to the truth is removed, another springs up in his place. If persecution silences one voice, another at once takes up the testimony. So when the disciples of John were most helpless and disheartened, and were beginning to scatter, suddenly the Lord of life stepped down into their midst, and rallying them round about himself, proved that he could do far more towards the victory than any fabled Achilles among his Greeks. Therefore let us reflect that when we or our fellow-workers fail or are removed, God can raise up others to accomplish his purpose; and let us cheer ourselves with the thought that when heart and flesh fail he himself will appear amongst us. It was "when John was cast into prison" that "Jesus came."
III. THIS MINISTRY STRUCK THE KEY-NOTE OF MERCY. We must remember that our Lord came forth amongst the people as one humanly and divinely great, endued with power beyond all others. Yet by that wonderful self-restraint which always characterized him (Matthew 26:53; John 18:36) he brought no immediate retribution on those who were foes both of God and man. Herod, for example, by his imprisonment of John, had done a wrong against conscience and against God, as well as against that faithful servant of the Most High. But Christ raised no revolt against the tyrant, which would have hurled him from the throne he desecrated; nor did he threaten or curse him and his followers. He came preaching "the gospel," proclaiming the glad tidings, calling upon all—ay, even Herod himself—to repent and believe, and so receive salvation. This was 'the key-note of his ministry, and was heard throughout it, even to its last chord; for on the cross he prayed, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
IV. THIS MINISTRY PROCLAIMED THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A KINGDOM. "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand." The long waiting for deliverance was over. God, in the person of his Son, had come to establish a kingdom, in which the Divine love and power and will would be revealed as never before. The forerunner had been making the way straight, and now the King had come and was ready to rule over all who would welcome him. This kingliness of Christ is one of the special characteristics of the revelation given to us through Mark. Matthew presents the Messiah who fulfilled ancient predictions; Luke describes the Son of man in his pitifulness and graciousness; John proclaims the Divine Word, who was in the beginning with God, and who himself was God; but Mark, instructed possibly by Peter, who dwells so much on the kingdom in his Epistles, begins by announcing "the kingdom of God is at hand." Christ shall reign for ever, over all nations and kindreds and tongues; and each one of us is invited to bow to his scepter and submit ourselves to his gracious rule, that ours may be the bliss of those who shouted "Hosanna!" and not the curse of those who cried "Crucify him!" To enter that kingdom we are called upon to "repent and believe the gospel;" to change our minds and ways, to turn from sin to God, from self to Christ, and to trust and follow him in whom the glad tidings are incarnate.—A.R.
Mark 1:16, Mark 1:17
Christ's call to busy men.
Simon and Andrew were just beginning their day's work by casting their net into the sea, and at that critical moment, when, if ever, delay would seem excusable, Christ called them to follow him. But he had already won their hearts, and they were only waiting for such a summons to come, "and strait-way they forsook their nets, and followed him." In their daily work these fishermen had acquired devotion, patience, and enterprise, which were now to be consecrated to nobler service, when, as fishers of men, they would gather spoil from the restless, dreary sea of human life. A call coming to men in the midst of their daily business reminds us of the following truths:—
I. THAT HONEST WORK FITS FOR HIGHER DUTIES. Those who are indolent in the world are not of great use in the Church. If men are not fit for ordinary work, they seldom are fit for Christ's service. Our Lord does not call the indolent aesthetes, who would gaze on a lily for hours in a languid rapture, but he summons men with capacity, self-rule, vigor, and tact. God has ever chosen such. If he would have a lawgiver, he calls one who is as diligent among the sheepfolds in Mid, an as he had been in the schools of Egypt. If he would tell the world of his future kingdom, he inspires a statesman like Daniel, who already has upon him the cares of a great empire. If he would speak Burning words to his people, he summons to his service the herdman who drives his cattle home in the gloaming down the hillside of Tekoa. So here, Christ calls Matthew from the receipt of custom, and these four fishers from their boats. In the daily plod, in the monotonous round of life, above the whirr of human traffic a voice speaks, saying, "Come ye after me."
II. THAT DIGNITY AND BLESSING ARE TO BE FOUND IN DALLY TOIL. Toil, once a cuisse, has been transformed by Christ Jesus into work which is a source of blessing to the world. In nature we can only regain a wilderness to order and beauty by unremitting toil; and only by long labour do we repossess ourselves of rule. The exquisite flowers in the hothouse are signs of human skill as well as of God's gift. The rich harvest-fields, which whisper of abundance, are nature's response to work. Wherever idleness is supreme, fertile lands become the lairs of wild beasts, and man, who was appointed to regal right, starves amid profusion. Besides, work is good for society, as it was good for those disciples to be thrown together so as to share perils and successes, for thus mutual love and confidence arose. Society is most compact and stable when built upon a foundation of industry—every class recognizing its dependence on another, as stones in the living temple. That home is the happiest, too, in which self-indulgence is a stranger, and where mutual sympathy is felt in the efforts of all.
III. THAT IN ORDINARY OCCUPATIONS WE MAY REALIZE THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST. His sympathy with the busy none can question. He himself spent more time in ordinary work than in public teaching, tie gave his presence to his disciples (both before his resurrection and after it) when they were on the lake working for a living. Still he is to be found, not in the dreams of the mystics or in the cell of the hermit, so much as in the heart of him who must be busy with the world's work and yet prays to be free from its spirit. Conscious of his nearness, we shall not do our work carelessly; we shall not lower the standard set Before us in his Word; we shall never shrink from rebuking wrong-doing, even when it is customary; and there will be constant joy within our hearts amidst all turmoil, so that we can say," I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth." Beware of going steadily on with work without any thought of Christ, as if self was your king and the world your home. You may prosper so greatly that others will envy your skill and "good luck;" but the day of reckoning will surely come; the law of retribution will not sleep. Reaping only what you have sown, your largest gain will prove your deepest loss.
IV. THAT CHRIST IS CALLING ALL TO LOFTIER SERVICE. It is necessary to labour, for the supply of physical wants, but there are other and higher responsibilities resting upon us as parents, employers, teachers, and friends. With wonderful condescension our Lord describes the nature of his service, by figures drawn from the scenes with which his hearers were most familiar. If people followed him for the sake of the bread which perisheth, he spoke to them of the "Bread of life;" and if a woman was drawing water at the well, he spoke to her of "living water." He led the Magians to him by "a star;" and taught these fishermen by their fishing, telling them that hereafter they should "catch men," not, indeed, for death, but for life. This was a beautiful image for all time. The sea represents the wide world, which seems dark and deep as we stand on the fringe of its mystery, wonderingly. The fish are emblematic of those lost to the sight of some in the higher world, as they wander amid oozy weeds and treacherous rocks. The net pictures the truths and warnings of the gospel, which lay hold on men, and, gathering them together, raise them into a new element, in which they can only live when they have a new life. As "fishers of men," we want patience and hope, for we know little or nothing of the result of the toil as yet. We only know that the net is cast, but the draught is not yet counted upon the shore. It is ours to "mend" the net, to have it well in hand, to cast it in a likely place, and then to wait and watch and pray.
Quote Keble's hymn beginning—
"The livelong night we've toiled in vain;
But at thy gracious word
I will let down the net again:
Do thou thy will, O Lord."
The home and the synagogue.
This passage, which gives an account of a sabbath spent in Capernaum, shows us the manner in which many unmentioned sabbaths were spent by our Lord and his disciples. Whithersoever Jesus went we should follow him, translating into modem habits the principles which underlay his actions. Consider—
I. THE SYNAGOGUE WHICH JESUS ENTERED. Its worship, unlike that of the temple, was not specially ordained by the Mosaic code. It was the outcome of earlier and more habitual devotions, to which the tents of the patriarchs had not been strangers. Side by side with the ornate, national ritual that enshrined the spiritual truths which, as the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us, were fulfilled in the work of Jesus Christ, this more homely worship continued. Its form sometimes varied, yet it constantly ministered to the religious instruction of the people, and expressed their devotional feeling. In such services our Lord from his childhood took part, and his apostles used them for the propagation of Christian truth amongst their fellow-countrymen. As the synagogue represented the abiding religious worship of the people, we will consider what it was to our Lord and his disciples.
1. It was a place of worship. It is noteworthy that, so far as we know, Jesus Christ never neglected the ordinary worship in which the people united. If any might have found an excuse for doing so, it certainly was he. Self-sufficient in the fullness of his Divine life, he required no help from such extraneous means. With his spiritual insight he could see the formalism and unreality of many about him, and knew the terrible extent to which false teaching misrepresented the character and the ways of God. But he did not turn from the synagogue with contempt, nor did he make the place a scene of theological strife. He himself, the Sinless One, was present there amongst a sinful people, and he devoutly joined with them in prayer and praise. The remembrance of this should serve as a rebuke to those who, in our day, neglect the sanctuary. Their spirituality may be such that they can meditate profitably in their home or in the fields; their intelligence may be so great that no human teacher can help them; yet they do not surely compare with him who was the wisest Teacher and lived the loftiest life the world has ever known, and yet went into the synagogue every sabbath day, "as his custom was."
2. It was a place for teaching. During the service of the synagogue an opportunity was given to any worshipper present to speak a few words on the interpretation of the Scriptures (Acts 13:15). Of this liberty the apostles often availed themselves. In this they followed their Lord. It is stated in Mark 1:21 that Jesus "taught" on this sabbath, and we do not wonder that the people "were astonished at his teaching." He showed the spiritual significance of the events in Old Testament history, which were too often merely subjects of national boasting. He drew his illustrations, not from rabbinical books, but from the lake and the fields, from the housewife's employments and the merchant's trading. And as he spoke the weary found rest, the eager seekers had a revelation of God, the anxious lost their burdens, and a hush came over the assembly as if the peace of heaven was brooding there.
3. It was a place of comfort. Help and deliverance came even to the poor demoniac, whose obscene ravings and hideous shrieks disturbed the worship and, interrupted the teaching that day. He found that the synagogue was "the house of God and the gate of heaven" to his enslaved spirit. So has many a man, possessed by sin, had deliverance wrought for him where Jesus is. The disciples also knew that comfort was to be found in worship. Hence Simon Peter was there, although he had illness at home such as would detain many a Christian from public worship. What to some would be an excuse was to him a call to the house of God, as the place of rest for anxious hearts. There songs of praise may lift us up as on angels' wings, and Christian teaching may prove as the Bread of life to our hungering hearts.
II. THE HOME WHICH JESUS BLESSED—"the house of Simon and Andrew." These two brethren appear to have removed from Bethsaida, possibly because of marriage connection with the place or for their convenience as fishermen.
1. It was a home with ordinary associations. There was nothing special or distinctive about it or about others which our Lord frequented, and in which he did some of his mightiest deeds and spoke some of his most weighty words. His presence gave sanctity to domestic associations from the time of his first miracle (John 2:2) to the hour when he made himself known in the home of Emmaus (Luke 24:29). We are not to sever ourselves from them—even Peter did not (Mark 1:30; 1 Corinthians 9:5)—but should rather seek to recognize and welcome Jesus amidst them. It is a happy thing when there is family peace and love such as seem to have prevailed in this home. A "wife's mother" would occupy a difficult and delicate position, but such had been her wisdom and gentleness, her sympathy and constancy, that she had now the love of all, and therefore, directly Jesus entered the home, her illness and need of help prompted the urgent and united prayer he so gladly answered.
2. It was a home in lowly life. A fisherman's house—not the stately palace of a Herod. In contrast with our Lord's humility and graciousness, how paltry seems the ambition of those who would make any sacrifice to get a stately establishment or to push their way into higher social circles! A palace often hides from the world aching hearts and wasted lives, while a cottage may be the home where love and peace are constant, because Jesus is in the midst.
3. It was a home significant of higher fellowship. The Christian Church sprang rather from the homes of the people than from the temple at Jerusalem. If it had originated in the temple, sacramentalism would have found more justification than it does in the New Testament. But the temple was not frequented by the great Teacher to the extent we might have expected. His Church met in the homes of Capernaum and Bethany. The relations between his disciples were to be those of brothers and sisters, bound together, not by law, but by love. Let us, then, try to make the Church a home, and thence the voice of our gracious Master will speak with effectual power to a weary world, saying, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."—A.R.
Mark 1:32, Mark 1:33
Christ the Healer.
The healing of Peter's wife's mother, following on the cure of the demoniac in the synagogue, aroused the whole city of Capernaum. Believing that what this good Physician could do for one he could do for all, crowds of suppliants gathered around our Lord on the evening of the sabbath day. In this incident we see—
I. THE GRACIOUSNESS OF THE SAVIOUR.
1. His accessibility. Whether in the synagogue or in the house, whether in the glow of noonday or in the cool of eventide, he was always ready to meet a case of need where there was faith and expectancy. He was not like a popular physician, with whom the patient makes a previous appointment, in whose ante-chamber he waits till exhausted, and whose fee cripples his means. At any time, "without money and without price," Christ would heal the sick. He is "the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever." Even though the shadows of life's evening are falling around the sin-sick soul, it is not too late to offer the prayer, "Jesus, Master, have mercy upon me!"
2. His consideration. His varied methods of cure showed his readiness to meet the special circumstances of each. Thus, he took Peter's wife's mother "by the hand," perhaps because she was delirious and could not understand his words, or because she was weak and needed the confidence which that expectant hand-grasp would give. Similarly, he touched the eyes of the blind, and his disciples took the cripple by the hand (Acts 3:7). Christ still adapts himself to men's peculiar necessities. To some a word of promise inspires hope, in others a word of warning awakens thought. A sermon may arouse to penitence, a mother's love may win to Christ, a grief may make serious, or a joy may bring a man on his knees in thankfulness. Happy is it when, in all of these or in any of these, Christ appears to the soul.
3. His sympathy. This was of the essence of his work. Matthew here appropriately applies to him the words of the prophet, "Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses;" by which we understand that there was nothing perfunctory or mechanical in his healing work. He felt every case, and came in living contact with the soul he cured. His touch was not merely physical, it was an outgoing of soul. Hence he "sighed" when he cured the blind; he "felt virtue" going out of the hem of his garment; he "wept" and "groaned" at the grave of Lazarus; and all this was not because the effort was great, but because the effort was needed. In harmony with this we read in verse 41 that, when the leper came, Jesus being "moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him." He did this although he knew that it involved him in ceremonial defilement; but he was willing to make the leper clean, even by contracting uncleanness himself. In that we have a sign of what St. Paul meant when he said, "He was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."
II. THE EAGERNESS OF THE SUPPLIANTS. She who was ill of fever in Peter's house could not plead for herself, and therefore others interceded for her, and not in vain. Encouraged by this, parents brought their children, sons their mothers, and "they brought unto him all that were diseased."
1. Some were physically diseased. Laid aside from activity, a burden instead of a support to others, suffering pain which made days and nights wearisome, invalids would be thankful to those who bore them in their strong arms to Jesus' feet. We may do the like for our sufferers, and if restoration to health is not given, serenity of heart will be. The voice of Christ will be heard amidst the storm of their trouble, saying, "It is I; be not afraid." Blessed by his presence, if they recover they will go back to the world as those who have been on the borders of heaven, or if they enter the dark valley, he will fulfill the promise, "I will come again, and receive you to myself."
2. Some had spiritual disorders. It was sin which lay at the root of all suffering. Christ came to put it away by the sacrifice of himself. By his removal of the effects he gave a sign of the removal of the cause. If we have those dear to us who are tied and bound by the chain of their sins, let us bring them to Jesus, earnestly, tenderly, patiently, hopefully. Those who through drink seem demon-possessed, those feverish with anxiety, those so morally stained that men of good repute avoid them as though they were leprous,—may all find hope and help in Christ.
3. Some felt their own need of blessing. They did not wait for others to bring them. The leper, for example, of his own accord came kneeling to Jesus, feeling that he could make him clean. The Law could only separate the leper from others and pronounce him clean after restoration; but Christ had purifying power, such as the Law never had. Similarly now, outward restrictions may check wrong-doing; the moral influence of friends may restrain us, and vows and resolves may prove of service; but the heart is only turned from sin when God answers the prayer, "Create within me a clean heart." It is just short of that acknowledgment and cry that many halt, though others have done for them all that they can; and Jesus waits for faith and prayer that he may say, "I will; be thou clean."—A.R.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
I. THEY ARE THE FULFILMENT OF LONG HOPES. Human nature is ideal; it is a creature of wishes and of hopes, and made for enjoyment. The love of the living God is at the root of all our instincts. Faith is our expression of the sense of this. It begets hope amidst suffering and sorrow, sustains the soul in patience. God seeking man, man in turn seeking God,—this is the secret life of Scripture and of history. History is sacred because it is the reflection of the vast spiritual struggle of man to apprehend God, of God to apprehend his creature. "I will not let thee go except thou bless me!" is the cry of man. "I am found of them that seek me!" is the answer of God.
II. HOPE DIES DOWN IN SIN AND MISERY, AND CAN ONLY BE REMOVED IN REPENTANCE. Pessimism and despondence spring from unfaithfulness. Men are not living the life which begets hope. Palestine was depressed, conquered and unhappy. John proposes no political change, but a moral change. Man can endure outward ills, and seek for their removal, if the hearts are only happy. The inward emancipation, the "remission of sins," is what we all need. No other "franchise "will really do much for us without this. In order to have the kingdom of God, there must be an energy in the soul to grasp it. The nerveless hand cannot raise the food to the lips. "In order to possess God, we must have something that is capable of possessing God." The Possibility of repentance is itself glad tidings, virtually including all others.
III. SERIOUSNESS AND SOLEMNITY THE PROPER MOOD OF EXPECTATION.
1. This typified in the ascetic character of the Baptist. Thought and self-denial, prayer and fasting, low living and lofty aspiration,—this is the ground from which the fairest flowers of joy spring. Not upon any soil barren of thought are they found.
2. In the rite of baptism. It expressed the new will of the people-decision, renunciation of the old, the putting on of the white dress of purity in preparation for the Bridegroom. The confession of sin and the mercy of God are coincident.
3. In the attitude of reverent waiting. A mighty One is at hand. The mission of the Baptist was in itself incomplete. The symbolism of his apparel and way of life had a significance behind it. So had the outward baptism of water. To this mood the gospel would ever bring us. Revelation is inexhaustible. The secrets of history in the nation and the individual have not been all told. Every day is a new day, every morrow will bring its gladness to the soul that believes.—J.
The consecration of Jesus.
I. THE GOOD OF CUSTOM. Honoured by his submission to baptism. This is an example. Custom is the sacred link between past and present. Old customs, sacred rites, should be kept up; only abandoned when. they no longer teach truth, but more falsehood than truth. Rebellion against custom for rebellion's sake is vicious individualism. Compliance with the beauty of order is the mark of a loyal and loving spirit.
II. THE SYMBOL IS PRECIOUS, NOT FOR ITS FORM, BUT ITS CONTENTS. We speak of a "beautiful word," but it is the thought conveyed by it that shines. So of a" sacred rite;" but the one sacred thing is the spiritual belief signified, the real union of the soul with God. Upon the meek spirit the gentleness of Heaven descends. The "meekness and gentleness" of Christ is the grace of the lowly and obedient heart. The delight of God is in those human traits which resemble and reflect Jesus.
III. TRIAL FOLLOWS CONSECRATION. The Spirit of God is given to prepare for service; and the call to this is not long delayed. All trial is for good. There is no needless torment of the spirit in God's school. Only in conflict do we really learn reality.
"When the fight begins within himself,
A man's worth something. God stoops o'er his head,
Satan looks up between his feet. Both try.
He's left himself in the middle; the soul wakes
And grows. Prolong that battle through his life
Never leave growing till the life to come!"
Solitude is a necessary element in trial. (See Robertson's sermon on the 'Loneliness of Christ.') Life is a drama on which angels and demons look with intensest interest. Evil is ever near; succor never far off.—J.
Call of disciples.
I. CALLING MEANS SEPARATION. We cannot prove any calling without separation. The merchant must separate himself from the easy-chair and the book, the student from society, the soldier from home. One main object is enough for most men. Few can properly pursue the ministry and business at the same time.
II. THE CALLING IMPLIES A CALLER. Not our fancy, whim, passion, but Divine will. To some that will is made known clearly and directly; they cannot mistake. To some not so directly. But need any mistake, if they make it a rule to be ever fulfilling the duty of the moment? It is a mistake to think too much on the point. True thought is God realizing himself in us. True action is God willing to do in and through us. Never resist a pure impulse; never turn from a voice that speaks to what is disinterested in you.
III. To TAKE TO A HIGHER WAY OF LIFE ALWAYS MEANS THE GIVING UP OF A LOWER. God confounds our avarice by his generosity. We cling to all we can hold; want to keep incompatible things—to be learned but not poor; to have as much of the world as possible, yet not be worldly; to live in self-indulgence, yet earn the reputation of saints. But God teaches us that our surrenders are no less profitable than our seeming gains. The provincial fisher becomes the apostle to the world. The things that are unseen are more than all that are seen.—J.
I. BONDAGE OF BODY AND SOUL OUR NATURAL CONDITION. We are fettered and distressed in our fetters. Disease is a bond; habitual ideas of one kind or another are bonds to every man. The mystery of evil possession we cannot fathom; what we know is that our imagination is a tyrant. "Fixed ideas" harshly govern us, irritate our passions. We long for freedom, yet cannot shake them off.
II. THIS RESTRAINT MUST BE PUT AN END TO BY DIVINE POWER. A tyrannous idea of sin or sorrow will only yield to a larger and stronger idea—to a new fact. A bad temper only to be driven out by the "expulsive force of a new affection." All conversion means this. The darkness is the absence of light, and the tyranny of dark beings is the absence of light in the soul. When we see and believe that the living God means our freedom by the truth, the fetters of the mind fall away. What was real in one way in connection with the local personal activity of Jesus, is universally true of the activity of God in the soul. Truth is one in all its forms: the truths of science, of morals, of art, of health. Reverently let us recognize all as works of God Incarnate, having authority over unclean spirits.—J.
The progress of health.
I. It IS IDENTICAL WITH THE PROGRESS OF CHRISTIANITY. For Christianity is the embodiment of the wisdom of the physician, the power of the Creator, the compassion of the God. These wonders are really revelations of law. Were the will of God the only factor in the case, we could hardly imagine how suffering could be. But there is our will also. The truth, so far as we may conjecture, seems to be that in the nature of things evil cannot be as a rule overcome without the co-operation of the individual free-will. On the other hand, without the operation of the living love of God, any removal of ill seems inconceivable.
II. CHRISTIANITY WILL NOT ADMIT ANY QUESTIONABLE AID IN THIS WORK. NO recognition of evil powers, of compliments or testimonials from them. Christian work is vitiated when it courts bad alliances. Better to go on single-handed than in fellowship with those whose aims are not ours. One voice out of time spoils the chorus. One detected interest paralyzes the nerve of benevolent enterprise. Suffer not the demon of policy to speak in our councils.—J.
I. FOR THE WORST EVILS THERE IS A REMEDY. If not always in the physical, yet ever in the spiritual sphere. They are cured in effect when they are balanced by some weight of good in the soul.
II. IT IS HALF-WAY TO THE REMEDY TO KNOW WHERE IT LIES. The leper knew, and was not ashamed to seek it at the right quarter. Many know who or what will do them good, but are too proud to ask or ashamed to own their need.
III. CHRIST IS THE ALL-HELPFUL ONE. This is ever the representation of him. He wills, God wills, our recovery and our health. Do we then will it? It is an essential condition that we should.
IV. TRUE BENEVOLENCE AND TRUE GRATITUDE ARE UNOSTENTATIOUS. Christ is the example of the former; it is questionable whether the leper is the true type of the latter. He will not obey the word of his Deliverer. He cannot suppress the desire to talk. To prate about others' goodness may really spring frown egotistic motives. It is pleasant to be the hero of a tale. Though the leper's conduct is not to be seriously blamed, it illustrates a certain frivolity of mind. And the lesson is taught that "still waters run deep," and thankfulness is best cultivated in silence.—J.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
"The gospel" is a revelation of the Divine love; the "beginning" of it is therefore hidden in the depths of the eternal love of God. The whole gospel was buried, the end from the beginning, in the Divine purpose; and it was contained seminally in the first promise. Every Divine promise is equal to the event. But the manifestation of the gospel in time, or the historic "beginning of the gospel," is the theme of this prologue. Thought of within the limits of history, the "beginning" is a preparation. The messenger is sent to "prepare the way of the Lord." This preparation is twofold—historical and personal.
I. THE HISTORICAL PREPARATION IS A PREPARATION FOR THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE GOSPEL. The historic preparation must be traced from the moment when the first gentle word of promise mingled, half unheard, with the first words of judgment and condemnation, forwards to that moment in which "the time" was "fulfilled," and the word was heard, "The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel." The true disciple, always a listener and a learner, whose eyes are not holden, and who is not "slow of heart to believe," will gladly learn that "from Moses and from all the prophets, the things concerning" his Lord may be "interpreted;" and he will search "in all the Scriptures" for the hidden or open references to him. The preparation by the prophets was not the mere utterance of the word, "Make ye ready the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." Their denunciations of sin, their preaching of righteousness, their promises of forgiveness tea repentant Israel, their assurances of a restored prosperity rising into the delineation of a kingdom of holiness and peace, were elements of preparation. And the unique history of the holy nation, "beginning at Moses," and the concurrent histories of surrounding kingdoms, were parts of the same great preparation. And even before Moses, Abraham, through all the gloomy mist and the confusion of wild times, saw a day of peace and gladness and health, and, with largeness of heart and noble unselfishness, "rejoiced to see it," though he knew his sun would long have set ere that bright day arose. Yea, "he saw it and was glad," and by his testimony against idolatry, by his avowal of the one true and living God, and by his sacrifice and obedience, he helped to "prepare the way," as did every seer and believer and righteous man, each in his measure, as far back as Abel. Thus "all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John," in whom the historic preparation was completed. He, than whom there had not "arisen a greater," cried," Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." So we humbly trace the Divine preparation by means of prophets and seers and righteous men, and also by a Divine overruling of the works of the wicked. The voice of the herald being ever sounded, if not ever heard, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord." But the gospel, which came to men by a prepared way, must be received by men in a prepared spirit.
II. THE PERSONAL PREPARATION IS A PREPARATION FOR THE RECEPTION OF THE GOSPEL. The external, historical preparation terminated in a word, a cry, a gracious preaching, "the voice of one" to whom "the Word of God came." Amid the dreary waste of the wilderness, where the signs of natural convulsion typified the needed moral upheaving, this man, rugged in speech as in dress, of few but earnest words, his tongue a burning flame, his fingers wetted for baptizing with the cooling waters of the brook, lifted up his voice and cried aloud his one message. It was a clear and definite cry, contained in the one word, "Repent." This was his one great demand of the ungodly around him, It is the one word now to be uttered in the bearing of all who have not entered the heavenly kingdom. It is the word which follows the awakening judgment, and precedes the comforting gospel.
1. Repentance, a change of mind leading to a change of life, follows upon reflection, and the deep Spirit-wrought conviction of the sinfulness and wrong of the past. St. Paul describes it as "toward God." No two words could better describe it. If the heart, the thoughts, the steps, have been toward evil, in repentance they turn "toward God."
2. Repentance is declared by confession of sins, a voluntary acknowledgment that the deeds of the past life have been evil. Of that past it is an open repudiation; it is a self-condemnation.
3. Repentance is attested by the beginning of a new life, by "the fruit worthy of repentance."
4. Repentance is sealed in baptism, This is a profession, a promise and pledge, of entering upon a new path. It is also the authorized seal and surety or earnest of the blessing the repentant one seeks. It is not that blessing, but it is the pledge and seal of it. Baptism is "unto repentance;" repentance is "unto remission of sins." When baptism is the true sign of the one, it is the certain pledge of the other; but it is not to be confounded with either, nor with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which a mightier One will impart. Baptism does not bestow remission of sins or the baptism of fire, but it pledges the bestowment of both. So does John " prepare the way" for his Lord.
(1) Let every one who is living in sin hear the authoritative cry, "Repent ye;" and know that if the fire of the Spirit burn not up repented sins as chaff, it will burn into the conscience with its unquenchable flame.
(2) And let every truly repentant one know that the outer sign is the indubitable pledge of admission into "the kingdom of God," and of participation in all the blessings of that kingdom. It is the seal of the Christian covenant. Then in him the gospel has had its true beginning.
(3) The next duty for the repentant one, for which he by repentance is truly prepared, is to "believe the gospel," when he shall be baptized "with the Holy Ghost." But for this John must give place to Jesus, for whom he prepares the way in the hearts of his people. The preparation then, without and within, is complete. This is the true "beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ." It is begun historically; it is begun personally.—G.
The official preparation.
"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ" embraces yet another element. The preparation of "the way" of the Lord is followed by the preparation of the Lord himself. This we must name—The preparation of the Messiah, the Christ.
I. The first step in this preparation is THE ASSUMPTION OF THE HUMAN NATURE. "The Word became flesh." "It behoved him," who" took hold of the seed of Abraham," with a view to raise it up, "to be made like unto" them whom he would call "his brethren." And" since they are sharers of flesh and blood, he also himself in like manner partook of the same." Never will the world exhaust the mystery of the Incarnation. No event in human history can equal the grandeur or significance of this. "He was made man" is a greater truth than "he suffered and was buried." It was an infinitely greater condescension to become man than to pass through the lowly shades of human history. The humble home, the toilsome endurance, the poverty, the suffering,—all fall below "Jesus was born in Bethlehem." This event is the most stupendous of all events in the history of the human race.
II. The second step in this preparation is THE PASSING THROUGH THE LOWLY CONDITIONS OF THE HUMAN LIFE. The words of the ninth verse turn our thoughts back to silent days of preparation going forward in the house of the carpenter at Nazareth of Galilee, wherein he passed into and passed through and honored all the stages of human life from infancy to manhood, and where he sanctified the condition of helpless weakness, of ignorance, of submission, of toil, and of honest labour; sanctified the home and the workshop, and the relationships and intercourse of common village life; exalted the lowly lot, and thereby every lot. This was another element of that likeness to "his brethren ' which it behoved him to assume. During this period the glory of his person was shrouded. Men had not yet been permitted to behold "the glory as of the only begotten from the Father," in which he was unlike his brethren. Yet he dwelt among men, the Incarnate Word, "full of grace and truth," though not yet "made manifest to Israel." In that tabernacle the true Shechinah was hidden. "He was in the world, and the world knew him not." A few who, with Simeon, "were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem," by prophetic intuition, saw in him the salvation "prepared before the face of all people; a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel." In Nazareth "he was subject unto" father and mother, the honored mother keeping "all the sayings in her heart" that concerned him.
III. A third step in this preparation is THE SUBMITTING TO ALL, THE ORDINANCES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. Righteousness does not consist in an attendance upon ordinances, but consists not without it. John, who probably knew the character of Jesus better than any saving only Mary, hesitates when he presents himself for baptism; he even "hinders him" with the words, "'I have need to be baptized of thee,' so much better art thou, so much higher; and yet 'comest thou to me?'" He who though "separated from sinners," had daily mingled with them; who had submitted to every ordinance of the Lord for man's sake, "was circumcised the eighth day," was presented in the temple, that they might "do concerning him after the custom of the Law;" who at twelve years of age, and doubtless in succeeding years, "went up after the custom of the feast," would now "fulfill" this "righteousness" also. He passed through all in fellowship with the sinful, and for sinful ones, paying his tribute of duteous attendance on the Divine ordinance, leaving here "an example" that we should do as he had done. As one has said, "He who now comes to this baptism is not a sinner, but a righteous man, who needs neither repentance nor pardon. It is he who for us fulfils all righteousness, who, born of a woman and made under the Law which was given to the unrighteous, has already hitherto observed and performed all the commandments of the Lord to Israel, and for that very reason now subjects himself to that baptism which was ordained of God as the concluding commandment of the old covenant, through which is the transition to the new." £
IV. The fourth step in this preparation is THE PUBLIC AND OFFICIAL DESIGNATION OF MESSIAH. Yes, truly the transition; for now is the manifestation to Israel to be made, and the open, authoritative designation of him "who from the foundation of the world" bad been in Heaven's counsels designated. When so suitable a time as when fulfilling all righteousness? Then, "coming up out of the water, he"—and, as we learn from St. John, the Baptist also—"saw the heavens rent asunder, and the Spirit as a dove descending upon him;" while a voice from heaven proclaims to him, and proclaims through him to all, "Thou art my beloved Son." Now is "Jesus of Nazareth anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power," officially called and set apart. Now the mystery of the Divine Name, in the historical development to the world of the trinity of the Godhead, is more fully than ever before disclosed. John, having seen, bears his "witness that this is the Son of God." Presently his works also will bear witness of him, that the Father hath sent him.
V. But meanwhile a yet further step in this preparation is needed. "To this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil." Therefore must he be TEMPTED OF THE DEVIL. The devil is man's great adversary, Satan. All evil embodies itself in him. The Redeemer of men must taste—drink—this bitter cup; to a pure nature perhaps of all the bitterest. Full forty days he must needs fast in the wilderness. Oh, the buffetings of those days, of which three examples stand out prominently before us; when, lo! he is so bowed down that angels are sent to "minister to him." Then, "having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the Author of eternal salvation."
From all may be learnt:
1. The perfectness of his human nature, with its experiences, its sympathy, and its example.
2. His perfect Divine nature.
3. His perfect fitness to be the Mediator, the Comforter, the Saviour of the world.—G.
The fishers of men.
An interval of time elapses, the incidents of which, momentous in the great history, are recorded in the other Gospels, e.g. John's testimony to the Lamb of God (John 1:19-34), the gathering of the first disciples (John 1:35-51), the marriage at Cane (John 2:1-12), the cleansing of the temple (John 2:13-25), the conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21). "Now after that John was delivered up, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe in the gospel." Truly a "beginning" is made. "All things are now ready;" and the Master himself cries aloud with his own voice, "Come." Oh, wondrous grace! The Divine call to the Divine feast! God calling men to himself, to receive mercy, blessing, life! Ever since and to the end will both "the Spirit and the bride say, Come." O Israel, "if thou hadst known in this day, even thou!" Simon and Andrew, James and John, already called to be disciples, but still pursuing, as should every disciple, their daily industry, are now called to be apostles, to forsake home, father, nets, avocations, and gain, to follow the young Rabbi with obedient steps and imitative carefulness, that he may "make" them "to become" (without which making of the Master none can become) "fishers of men." In this incident may be seen:
1. The greatness of this calling.
2. Its imperative demand.
3. An illustrious example of obedience.
I. THE GREATNESS OF THIS CALLING is not to be exaggerated. To "catch men"—by no trick, but by the Word of the Lord and by the aid of the Lord, who brings fishes to the nets of toilers on the sea—is to bring them up out of the deep wide sea, the world, into Christ's net, the Church, that they proving good may be gathered into vessels. It is to draw men from evil, to teach them heavenly truth, soul-renewing and saving truth, to guide them into the paths of peace, to encourage and help them in the maintenance of righteousness, to bind in bonds of brotherhood, to incite to holy charity, to build them up in knowledge and doctrine, and so to fit them for useful service on earth and for the felicities of the heavenly life on high. Oh, sacred calling! How immeasurably above all callings! How honorable the work! How honored the men!—honored, not by the distinctions that may be gained, but by the work itself. This toil is heavenly, often most heavenly when most hard, most fruitful when most despised and apparently least successful, as was that of the great Master.
II. For all time, and for the instruction of all apostles and servants who must, "for the kingdom of God's sake," forsake all and follow him, this simple incident, told in half a score lines, is ample. THE IMPERATIVE DEMAND is heard in the deep conscience in the warm, pitiful sympathy of the obedient disciple, ready to lay down life and all for the Master's sake and in his cause; it is a call coming, not from the lips, but from the wretched, sinful lives of the wicked in the world around, or from the wilds of heathen darkness, superstition, and loss afar off; from the Church, that is quick to discern the signs of fitness, tender in feeling the claims of the needy, and watchful to behold the favoring conjunction of circumstances. But the call, "Follow me," never comes from the lips of Jesus by way of the attractive position amongst men, of emolument, ease, or honor. If the words are heard thence proceeding, they are simulated. Let him who so hears beware! The true call is imperative. It cannot be relaxed even for the sake of "friends at home." Nay, others must bury the "dead father" rather than the solemn "Follow me" be unheeded.
III. To illustrate this, the quick OBEDIENCE here so ILLUSTRIOUSLY EXEMPLIFIED is definitely expressed. "They left their nets … they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants." For ever they left must be the true test of sincere devotion. If men leave a broken net for a whole one, and only to catch fishes, the world which has read this story knows the deceit, and does not acknowledge the Divine call. Generally the Church is pure. The earthly gain is not great; the burden is heavy, Who follow this Master must cleave to his doctrine, and struggle to defend it, and bear the painfulness of maintaining the faith in presence of many difficulties and rude suggestions of doubt, and the severe treatment of men who do not intend to be cruel and wicked, but who severely try the hearts of humble believing servants with "doubtful disputations." But the servant must stand by the Master; ah, and stand by his cause when he is not near; stand by it when it seems to be failing, as well as when it seems likely to prevail. The true fitness to be a "fisher of men" is to "leave all;" for most truly here the Master saith, "Whosoever he be of you that renounceth not all that he hath, he cannot be," in the truest and best sense, "a fisher of men." How cheering to these fishers must have been the prophetic testimony of the great ingatherings which rewarded the letting down the net "on the right side of the ship!" Yet how much harder then to leave that net
The illustrative example of Christ's work.
No sooner is the great work begun than a strikingly illustrative example of its true character and beneficent power is presented. It was in Capernaum, which, so far from being "exalted unto heaven," would hear the curse, "Thou shalt go down unto Hades." And it was "the sabbath day;" therefore of a surety "he straightway … entered into the synagogue." Now, in his "Father's house," he is doing the great work he came to do, "to bear witness of the truth." Here are all Divine things—the Lord's day, the Lord's house, the Lord's Son, the Lord's Word. Truly "the kingdom of God" is come. It is a typical example. Here we learn that Christ's work is:
1. A work of teaching.
2. A conquest of the evil spirit.
3. A healing of human infirmities and sufferings.
This threefold work finds its ample and beautiful illustration here.
I. In the synagogue he TAUGHT. This is his chief, perhaps his greatest, work. His kingdom he will rule with truth; with truth he will wrest its alienated portions from the usurper. This is his one weapon of antagonism against all evils. He himself is "the Truth." His was no second-hand, derived truth. He was a perpetual spring of new truth—an authority in all matters of truth. "Truth is in Jesus," and this his manner would betoken. Well might the hearers stand "astonished." Christ calmly spoke truth—the truth. This was ever his sword. By it the heart is pierced; men are convicted "in respect of sin" by it; the truth brings peace, for it brings the knowledge of salvation; the truth reveals the way of life; the truth unveils the future. All truth he taught. "Out of his mouth proceedeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations? The wise soldiers of the cross to-day preach the Word; the wise servants scatter truth, for it is the only seed from which the kingdom of heaven will grow.
II. Following hard upon the utterance of truth is CONFLICT WITH THE SPIRIT OF EVIL, which, being a spirit of error, truth disturbs. Then the great conflict is seen. The "unclean spirit" has nothing in common with Jesus, the pure One, as is declared in "What have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth?" No; these are mutually exclusive, mutually destructive. The spirit of evil is revealed.
1. It is an "unclean" spirit.
2. It is a spirit of antagonism to truth.
3. It is a malignant; spirit, "tearing" its victim till he cries aloud.
4. Till Jesus speaks, it dominates over the entire life of its victim.
5. But in his presence it is a conquered spirit.
"With authority he commandeth even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." There is no power, in earth or in Hades, above him. Christ's word then, now, and always, casts out the evil spirit.
III. But men suffer many pains and sorrows. Ignorance, folly, mistake, sin,—all combine to expose the tender flesh to injury. It is the holy mission of the Son of man to HEAL HUMAN INFIRMITIES, to dry up the fount of human sorrow, to wipe the tears from human faces. The prostrate mother-in-law of his chief apostle is named to him as he leaves the synagogue, "and he came and took her by the hand, and raised her up; and the fever left; her, and she ministered unto them." He has shown his relation to truth as its Fountain, to the evil spirit as its Conqueror, to disease as its Healer. Lo! the need of his presence and work is demonstrated. The cool of the day affords suitable time, and "they bring unto him all that were sick, and those that were possessed with devils." Of them, "he healed many that were sick with divers diseases, and cast out many devils." Oh, gracious visitation! Well might "all the city be gathered together at the door." What a holy excitement! What a day of grace! This but typifies the healing power of his word and doctrine. At once we learn that Christ stands opposed to human suffering. But disease is the natural consequence of broken law. It is the just retribution following disobedience. Is Christ opposed to law? No, he heals disease and casts out devils, as he commanded his disciples to do:
1. By his word and spirit bringing men to obedience to law.
2. By the sick being brought in penitent faith to him, when the moral end of the sickness is truly answered.
3. By ministrations of that charity which Christian teaching awakens and sustains.
4. By his own Divine word of blessing upon the efforts of men to learn and keep the laws of nature, which are his laws. Thus "the gospel of Jesus Christ" begins. For its end we wait. The seed-corn is cast into the earth. The harvest will follow.—G.
The cleansing of the leper.
The work and wonders of the previous day created so great an excitement that he early rose, "a great while before day," for calmness and the refreshment of solitude and prayer, and finding "a desert place," he there "prayed." O hallowed ground! Simon and his companions follow, and finding him, say, "All are seeking thee." But he "came forth to preach," therefore he would go "elsewhere," and the marvellous account given is, "He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out devils." In the course of his tour "there cometh to him" one of the many in whose bodily infirmity preachers and teachers have always seen the type of the spiritual sickness; "there cometh to him a leper." He is alone, for the multitude avoid him. Attention must not be diverted from these two—the sufferer and his Saviour.
I. THE SUFFERER AND HIS APPEAL. Leprosy is thus described: "The most terrible of all maladies, a living death, a poisoning of the springs, a corrupting of all the humours, of life; a dissolution little by little of the whole body, so that one limb after another actually decayed and fell away. The Jews called it 'the finger of God.'" They knew no cure for it. His "beseeching" cry is heard as he draws near, and ere he falls, kneeling, where so many afterwards knelt, at the feet of Jesus. He has heard of the fame of the Rabbi, for it has spread afar. With piteous words he cries, "If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." What an inversion of this is much of the faith of to-day! The goodness of Jesus all acknowledge, but many deny his power to heal. This man knew only what had been reported to him—the power. He had not yet gazed into the tender eyes that beamed upon him. He had not yet heard the calm and gentle voice that breathed the tenderest love of the tenderest of all souls. But he will hear it. He had not felt the pressure of that hand of power; but, strange to say, he on whom no friendly hand has rested for long, will feel its healing touch. It needed not the cry to pierce to the heart of the great Healer; the sight was enough. But the words "thou canst" denote a faith which indicates the needed preparation. But the appealing "If," and "If thou wilt? Oh, if all depended upon that alone, how many more would be healed! Once it was said "If thou canst;" when the quick reply, "If thou canst," both rebuked the doubt (pardonable under the circumstances) and threw back upon the questioner the sense of weakness. Here is no doubt of the power; but "wilt" thou? So the unclean, corrupt, slow-dying sufferer appeals to the Lord of life, and love, and power. It is not wrong to say "If thou wilt." It is a lower form of "Thy will be done."
II. The humble cry turns us from the sufferer to THE SAVIOUR, to learn his compassion, to see his touch, to hear his word of power, and to witness its instant effect.
1. Jesus was "moved with compassion." What had not the world to hope from that "compassion"! What may it not still hope from it I We could hope much from compassion such as many good souls would show; but what from his compassion! What depth; what tenderness; what yearning; and what power! Happy he who commits himself to the compassion of Christ.
2. With quickness" he stretched forth his hand, and touched him." There was comfort in that, for all others fled from him. But it was a touch of acceptance and assurance, having many moral lessons. "I do not despise thee." His touch had compassion in it, perhaps more than power, though "power" went forth from him when others touched even his garments.
3. The true power, however, is in the word, "Be thou made clean." It is a command to that body and to disease. The disease, Christ's servant of judgment, obeys: "the leprosy departed from him;" and the body obeys, putting on its new robes of health, the flesh as of a little child—"he was made clean." Can faith desire more? He who would learn to have faith must stand near and see, and let the "works bear witness." Faith is God's gift, like the dew of the morning, as silently, as wondrously given. Again let it be said, if men would have faith they must come to the Word; the air is full of blessing when the word of Christ is vibrating in it; and it will distil as the dew upon the chill, sad heart. How great a miracle! yet typical of "greater works" yet to be done. It is easier to say to the body, "Be thou made clean," than to say it to the soul. But now a command, having within it a touch of sternness, "He strictly charged him,… Say nothing to any man: but go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing the things which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them." Alas! even gratitude could not conquer joy. His new life, his whole flesh, forbade silence, and he "began to publish it much." It was almost excusable, yet not entirely. For Christ's words must be obeyed at all cost. The Lord's ways are best, as is here proved. Disobedience brings its inconvenience. The cities suffered by the man's error. Ah, every city suffers by every man's error. Jesus could not "openly enter;" he must hide "in desert places." But "they came to him from every quarter."
Thus may all afflicted in body or soul learn:
1. To offer their cry to him, who, even if they err in their methods, will not despise their prayer.
2. That Christ willeth to heal all, and is able.
3. That his compassion is never unmoved in presence of human woe.
4. That the humble appeal to him will surely meet with a helpful response.
5. That the best return is to suppress their own inclination, and, even with crushed feelings, obey his minutest word; for so is his purpose best answered.—G.
HOMILIES BY J.J. GIVEN
Parallel passages: Matthew 3:1-12; Luke 3:1-18.
The ministry of John the Baptist.
I. THE BEGINNING OF ST. MARK'S MEMOIR.
1. The commencement. It is a remarkable circumstance and a curious coincidence that the first words of this Gospel are an echo of Peter's confession, in that confession, as recorded by St. Matthew, Peter expresses his belief in the very remarkable words, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." In nearly the same words St. Mark commences his narrative: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2. Difference of construction. The words of this first verse may be taken
(1) as the title of the entire book; or
(2) in construction with the following verse, "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was as it is written in the prophets;" or
(3) even in connection with the fourth verse, the second and third being parenthetic; that is, "The beginning of the gospel … was John baptizing."
3. Omissions. After a brief but indispensable introduction, touching the ministry of the Baptist, the evangelist hurries on to his concise but clear and comprehensive narrative of our Lord's public life, beginning with his baptism by John. He passes over the four events of the Saviour's childhood—the circumcision and presentation in the temple, which are recorded by St. Luke, as also the visit of the Magi and the flight into Egypt, mentioned by St. Matthew. He passes over the only recorded incident of his early days—the one event which constituted the dividing line between his childhood and youth, when, at his second appearance in the temple, he disputed with the doctors, and in connection with which we have his first recorded utterances, "How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" St. Mark also omits the lineage of our Lord, by which St. Matthew connects him with the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, and likewise that other genealogy, which St. Luke traces still higher up, connecting him with Adam and so with humanity itself, including Gentile as well as Jew. In the whole four Gospels there is only one single verse descriptive of our Lord's childhood, which reads as follows:—"The child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom [or rather, 'waxed strong, becoming filled with wisdom']: and the grace of God was upon him;" while one other verse contains the record of his youth, "Jesus increased [rather, 'advanced'] in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man." All we know for certain of our Lord's life, up to the time of his manifestation to Israel, may be summed up in the few following facts:—Dutifulness to his earthly parents in childhood; diligence in business as a carpenter, like his fellow-men, in youth and early manhood; devotion to his heavenly Father all through his childhood, youth, and man-hood—from his earliest to his latest breath. St. Mark overleaps all the preceding period, and makes our Lord's entrance on ministerial life the starting-point of his Gospel. It is as though, impatient of delay, he hastened onward to the mighty issue, and acted on the well-known principle—
"But to the grand event he speeds his course,
And bears his readers with resistless force
Into the midst of things."
4. Practical observations.
(1) Long, labourious preparation is needed for the life-work, when that work is to be a noble one, and that life a real success. It was thus with Moses; it was thus with Jesus; it was so with Luther and Other reformers; it has been so all down the centuries with the men who have blessed the world and benefited their race.
(2) The example of our Lord dignifies honest industry and ennobles daily toil.
(3) A spurious sentimentalism, like the apocryphal Gospels, is apt to busy itself more with the childhood and youth than with the manhood and ministry of the Saviour.
II. THE GOSPEL.
1. Meaning of the term. The original word rendered "gospel," or "good news," meant in Homeric times a reward given to the bearer of good news, or a sacrifice offered on account of good news; but in gospel days it signified the good news itself.
2. Its embodiment. This good news centres in a Saviour whose proper name is "Jesus"—indicating the nature of his work, "for he will save his people from their sins;" his official title is "Christ"—the Messiah, or Anointed One, promised to the fathers, and thus solemnly inaugurated in the high functions, prophetical, priestly, and kingly, which he was called to discharge; while his designation of "Son of God" implies his two—fold qualification, namely, dignity of nature and possession of power for the accomplishment of the great redemption, God's remedy for sin. The good news is inseparable from the person of the Saviour—at once human and Divine, from the works he did, from the truths he taught, and from the sufferings he endured; and thus it is embodied in him.
3. Its extent. Its range is most extensive, including salvation for the lost, life for the dead, grace for the guilty, pardon for the penitent, bread of life for the hungry, and living water for the thirsty soul. Good news! no wonder the evangelist is in a hurry to make known such good news.
4. Its essence. The essence of the gospel may be expressed in a few sentences; its sum and substance may be compressed into the compass of a few short statements of Scripture; yea, the whole is contained in that single Scripture, "It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners;" or in that other Scripture, "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin;" or in that third Scripture, "The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
5. Its epithets. The epithets applied to it are instructive, as indicating some of its many features. It is "the gospel of peace," for its contents proclaim "peace on earth and good will towards men," as well as "glory to God in the highest." It is called "the gospel of salvation," because it saves as well as sanctifies. It is styled "the glorious gospel," from its glorious influences—enlightening the understanding, purifying the heart, renewing the will, regenerating the soul, sanctifying the whole man—body, soul, and spirit; while at the same time it elevates the mind to God and heaven and eternal things. It is "the everlasting gospel," for it is still the same, though change and alteration are the very essence of this world; it remains the same amid all the ups and downs of time; and its blessed results are durable as eternity itself. It is "the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God," for he is the Alpha and Omega of it; he is the Source from which all its benefits and blessings flow; he is the Guide to the ways and means by which we become partakers of the same. Whether, therefore, we consider it as the gospel of God, or the gospel of his grace, or the gospel of peace, or the gospel of salvation, or the glorious gospel, or the everlasting gospel, or the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, it justifies its claim to be the "godspell," or glad message, or good news, which the name implies.
6. Its effects. Good news, then, is the subject to which the evangelist, at the very outset, calls our attention. Good news! Oh, how the heart beats in the prospect of good news! How the pulse throbs in expectation of good news! How many a heart beats wildly when the postman's knock comes to the door! How many a bright eye becomes still brighter when the precious little letter, which brings good news from friends abroad or friends at home, is put into the hand! Now, the best news that ever fell on the ear, or met the eye, or gladdened the heart, of mortal man, is this gospel of the Son of God. It has quickened many a dead soul; it has gladdened many a sad heart; it has filled many a drooping spirit with joy unspeakable; it has led many a pilgrim of earth onward and upward to the glories of heaven.
III. UNION OF THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT SCRIPTURES. In verses 2, 3, the evangelist binds together as in one volume, and unites with better than clasps of gold, the Old Testament and the New. He brings into closest connection the canon of the former with that of the latter. They are, indeed, the twin lips of one and the same Divine oracle. Accordingly, he bridges over the chasm of four hundred years between the last prophet of the Old Testament and the first prophet, or rather precursor of the Saviour, in the New. The ministry of John and the mission of the Saviour had been expressly foretold by the prophets Isaiah and Malachi—the prediction of the former was primary, that of the latter secondary and subordinate. Consequently, treating Malachi's as prefatory and introductory, announcing the messenger and his function, he fixes attention mainly on that of Isaiah, as containing the message itself, and the actual ministry with which the forerunner was charged. The name of Malachi is therefore omitted, for the correct reading, as given by the critical editors is, no doubt, "in Isaiah the prophet."
IV. THE VOICE THE PROPHET HEARD. The prophet Isaiah, as we may picture his position, is looking away, with straining eyes, into the distant future of his people; he is listening, with outstretched neck and ears eagerly attentive, for any intimation of their redemption; but in vain. No vision is granted, no promise vouchsafed. He does not, however, despair; he keeps looking and listening and longing for something to strengthen his faith or encourage his hope. All is hushed around, and again he listens with bated breath; but hark! at length he hears a sound. It is a voice away in a distant desert land; it is waking the echoes of the wilderness. "It is the voice of one crying." It is just a voice, and seemingly nothing more—not unlike that bird of which the poet writes—
"Shall I call thee bird,
Or but a wandering voice?…
Thrice welcome, darling of the spring!
Even yet thou art to me
No bird; but an invisible thing,
A voice, a mystery."
We must not confound John with the voice, as those who translate the expression of the prophet, "a voice crying;" but understand the voice as his chief characteristic or main peculiarity, as in secular authors we read of the strength of Hercules, the virtue of Scipio, the wisdom of Laelius, or as when Cicero in a disparaging sense affirms that, on the removal of Catiline, he had nothing to fear from the drowsiness of Lentulus, or the corpulence of Cassins, or the mad rashness of Cethegus.
V. DISTRICT OF JOHN'S MINISTRY. Kings, when setting out to visit the remote provinces of their kingdoms, were usually preceded by heralds to announce their approach and pioneers to prepare the way—removing obstacles, clearing away impediments, and so making rough places smooth; bridging streams, filling up valleys, levelling hills, and so causing a straight, direct road to take the place of a circuitous and devious route. Some preparation like this was made for Alexander the Great when he marched to the Indus, and more so still for Semiramis in her progress through Media and Persia. Likewise in Vespasian's march to Galilee a detachment was appointed "to make the road even and straight, and, if it were anywhere rough and hard to be passed over, to plane it, and to cut down the woods that hindered their march." The necessity for such preparatory measures would be increased in a desert district without roads, or with roads so bad as to be almost impassable. When Jehovah restored the Hebrew exiles from Babylon to their own land, the region through which they had to pass was dreary and desolate, and in some places pathless. To the preparation of a way through the difficulties of such a district for the returning Hebrew exiles, with the great king at their head, the words of the prophet primarily referred. This, like other great events in the cycle of Jewish history, was, no doubt, typical of that moral waste in which the people were when Jehovah came again for their redemption in the person of Messiah. Very appropriately, therefore, did John choose for the scene of his ministry the wilderness of Judaea. This comprehended the eastern slope of the hills from Jerusalem and Hebron, down the Jordan valley to the western shore of the Dead Sea and the banks of Jordan—a wild region, in many places rough, rugged, and rocky, with sparse, if any, population, some spots of pasture-ground, and few or no trees. Here it was that the Baptist made his appearance (ἐγένετο)—"comes forth" (παραγίνεται, St. Matthew). A difficult work awaits him in preparing Messiah's way: humble and contrite ones are to be elevated; proud and lofty spirits to be brought low; the crooked ways of crafty men to be made straight; rough, untutored natures to be softened; and moral obstacles of every kind to be removed, in order that, the way being thus prepared, the march of Prince Messiah might be unhindered.
VI. DISTINGUISHING RITE OF THE BAPTIST'S MINISTRY.
1. Proselyte baptism. In connection with the ceremonial law of the Jews, there were "divers washings." Such baptisms or ablutions were practiced by them from the earliest period of their polity. Originally appointed by Divine authority, they were incorporated as part and parcel of the national religion. Their design was an important one, for they were intended to serve as symbols of that purity which was required in all true worshippers of Jehovah. On the eve of the giving of the Law to Israel, and of that people's gracious admission into covenant with God, a great national assembly took place—the various Hebrew tribes spreading over the desert and round the base of Sinai, the Lord directed Moses, saying, "Go unto the people, and sanctify them to-day and to-morrow, and let them wash their clothes, and be ready against the third day: for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon Mount Sinai;" while, in consequence of and in obedience to this direction, "Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and sanctified the people; and they washed their clothes." Further, when strangers from among the surrounding nations embraced the Jews' religion, they were washed as well as circumcised; and that washing was called "baptizing unto Moses," or proselyte baptism. This rite, notwithstanding the assertion of some to the contrary, appears to have existed before our Saviour's time, and to be evidently implied in several passages of the New Testament. It was, moreover, a rite which sprang naturally out of the opinion commonly current among the Jews that all mankind were in an unclean condition, and so incapable of admission into the covenant of Israel, unless and until they were baptized or washed, in token of being purified from their state of moral uncleanness.
2. Position of John's baptism. But what, it is necessary to inquire, was the position occupied by the baptism of John? What was its relation to other similar ablutions? In reply we answer that the baptism of John was neither proselyte baptism on the one hand, nor Christian baptism on the other. It was not proselyte baptism, for that was administered only to proselytes, that is to say, converts to the Jewish faith, whereas John baptized Jews; and this alone will account for the misgiving and alarm which the baptism of John caused to the Jewish authorities. Hence the question of the Pharisees, as recorded in John 1:25, "Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?" The prophet referred to, it may be remarked in passing, was probably Jeremiah, whose revivescence as a forerunner of Messiah the Jews expected, believing, according to an old legend, that he would restore, or reveal the hiding-place of, the ark of the covenant, the tabernacle, and the altar of incense, which he had hid in Pisgah, at whatever time God should gather his people together. The Pharisees could have readily understood the baptism of Gentile proselytes into the Jewish faith, and such baptism by John could have produced no uneasiness and caused no alarm. Instead of occasioning pain, it would have given them pleasure, as the admission of converts into the Jewish Church by such baptism would have contributed to their own ecclesiastical importance, and tended to augment the numerical power of their party. But the disquieting circumstance about it was that it was Jews whom John baptized; and what were they to make of that? What were these zealots for Judaism to think of the administration to Jews of a rite which had only been administered to Gentile proselytes; and the administration of which was either the formal introduction into a new faith or the first inauguration of a new dispensation? It was this that aroused their fears and excited their apprehensions. They saw clearly that John's baptism was the dawn of a new dispensation—a dispensation destined, as they rightly suspected, to subvert in a certain sense, or at least supersede, the old. In their alarm they accordingly ask, "If thou art not that Christ himself, who, we are taught to believe, will inaugurate a new dispensation; nor Elias, his forerunner; nor that prophet, be it Jeremiah or some other of the old prophets who shall reappear on earth at Messiah's advent;—why baptizest thou then, seeing it is not Gentile converts to Judaism, but Jews themselves, that are admitted to your baptism?" John's baptism, then, was not proselyte baptism. Neither was it Christian baptism, as we learn from Acts 19:1-41 at the beginning, where certain disciples at Ephesus, who had been baptized into John's baptism, were rebaptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. "Unto what then were ye baptized?" asks Paul. "And they said, Unto John's baptism. Then said Paul, John verity baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." With this agrees the sentiment of an ancient Greek Father, the purport of which is that John's baptism was more than Jewish baptism, for it involved repentance as well as water baptism; it was less than Christian, for it was not with the Spirit, as Christ's was.
VII. DOCTRINE PREACHED BY THE BAPTIST. The doctrine he preached was the doctrine of repentance for the remission of sins. He called their sins to mind, summoning them to confession and contrition; while this proper sense of, and sorrow for, sin showed them their need of a Saviour and prepared them for his salvation. In token of repentance commenced and to be continued, and of the power of him whose reign was now beginning, to cleanse the truly penitent from all sin, he baptized them with water unto repentance. Thus, while John proclaimed the advent of the new dispensation, he prepared for it and prefaced it by a most appropriate and significant rite. On this Theophylact comments as follows:—"But whither did this preaching of repentance lead? To the forgiveness of sins, that is, to the baptism of Christ which had the forgiveness of sins."
VIII. DRESS OF THE BAPTIST. Everything was in perfect keeping with the strange surroundings of the Baptist. His dress, his diet, and his discourse were all in harmony with the desert where he ministered. His dress was neither gorgeous nor gay like that of a king's herald; it was of the coarsest and roughest kind. His garment was made of cloth of rudest texture, woven out of camel's hair; he was girded not with the rich linen or highly ornamented girdle of the Oriental, but with a cincture of untanned hide, like the prophets' raiment of early times; just such as Elijah wore, and such as Zechariah speaks of when he refers to the rough garment as the proper prophetic costume, and as such assumed by false prophets in order to deceive.
IX. DIET OF THE BAPTIST. His diet was as plain as his dress. His food was not sumptuous, but of the simplest sort; scarce sufficient to keep soul and body together—the honey of the wild bee, which he found in the fissure of the rock or clefts of trees, and the locusts of the wilderness. The honey was not that which exuded from trees, but the veritable product of wild bees; nor were the locusts the sweet pods of the locust tree, but the real locusts still used for food by the Bedouin of the desert. "He also," says Thomson in 'The Land and the Book,' "dwelt in the desert where such food was and is still used; and therefore the text states the simple truth. His ordinary 'meat' was dried locusts—probably fried in butter and mixed with honey, as is still frequently done. The honey, too, was the article made by bees.… Wild honey is still gathered in large quantities from trees in the wilderness, and from rocks in the wadies, just where the Baptist sojourned, and where he came preaching the doctrine of repentance."
X. DISCOURSE OF THE BAPTIST TO THE COMING CROWDS.
1. Audience addressed. The persons who went out to John's ministry are described by St. Luke as crowds or multitudes (ὄχλοι); but they are distinguished by St. Matthew as comprehending two component parts, or two contending sects, namely, Pharisees and Sadducees, that together made up the main body of the nation. To the Gentiles, for whom St. Luke wrote, the distinction would have little meaning and no interest; to the Hebrew Christians, for whom St. Matthew wrote, it would convey the fact that the crowds that flocked to the Baptist's ministry were made up of the two religious sects of Judaism promiscuously. In his audience were Judaeans and Jerusalemites—people from the country and the capital; and dwellers in all the region round about the Jordan (περίχωρος), Samaritans, Galileans, Peraeans, and Gaulonites.
2. His discourse denunciatory. His discourse breathed the spirit of a reformer and evinced the power of a reformer. He denounced most scathingly the ritualistic Pharisee and the rationalistic Sadducee—traditionist and scripturist alike; high and low, rich and poor. He spared the shortcomings of no class, the iniquities of no rank, and the sins of no individual. The plea of ancient privilege and of pious ancestors he treated with scorn, telling such as resorted to those refuges that God could, and would if necessary, raise up children to Abraham out of the stones that lay scattered through the valley, or the shingle that strewed the strand of the Jordan, or those huge boulders—those memorial stones which Joshua had set up near the bank of that historic river. This expression, by the way, though apparently harsh, may allude to Isaiah 51:1, Isaiah 51:2, "Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. Lock unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you."
3. His discourse menacing. He threatened the vengeance of heaven on all who refused to repent and return to God. The woodman's axe was already brandished to fell the trees that continued barren. The axe was brought into unpleasant proximity to such trees—not to the branches merely, but was laid to the very root; in fact, lies at it (κεῖται). The fatal blow was ready to be struck at any moment. In view of anger so imminent, he urges all to flee from the wrath to come—to repent, and not only profess, but prove, their repentance real by fruits answerable to such profession; "If then (οὖν) you are as anxious as you seem to escape that storm of future wrath, bring forth fruit suitable to genuine penitence."
4. His discourse effective. The various classes that had resorted to his ministry were roused to a sense of danger. The terror of the alarmed multitudes took shape in the question, "What, then, shall we do?" Just as on the day of Pentecost, the men of Israel, pricked to the heart, addressed themselves to Peter and the rest of the apostles, asking, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" And just as the Philippian jailor, in his wild alarm, trembling and falling down before Paul and Silas, cried out, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
5. Directions to different classes. The reply in this case inculcated a lesson of charity and sympathy—the person who had two tunics or under garments (χιτῶνες), besides his outer garment (ἱμάτιον), was to impart to the poor starveling who had not even one. So with food of all forms and every kind (βρώματα) as well as raiment. Such were the directions addressed to the multitudes (ὄχλοι) while the difference between these directions and those addressed to the two following classes deserves notice. To the former (the multitudes) he said, "Do good;" to the latter (publicans and soldiers)he said, "Abstain from evil;" to the one the direction is positive, to the other negative. To the former he said, "Learn to do well;" and the latter, "Cease to do evil." The publicans again, who were looked on as trading on their country's degradation, he forbade to continue their unjust exactions and dishonest dealings; while the soldiers on their march (στρατευόμενοι), whether those of Antipas marching against his father-in-law Aretas, or otherwise, he commanded, in reply to their numerous and earnest inquiries (ἐπηρώτων imperf.), to forbear extortions either by threats or false accusations—neither to concuss the poor by the former, nor force money out of the pockets of the rich by the latter: also to be content with their wages (ὀψωνίοις; literally, boiled fish, rations, soldiers' pay).
XI. FORMAL, ANNOUNCEMENT OF MESSIAH By this time the crowds assembled round the Baptist were on the tiptoe of expectation. At this period expectations of some great deliverer were rife both in Gentile lands and among Jewish people. It is not strange, then, that the multitudes who had listened to the instructions of the Baptist reasoned within themselves whether haply John himself were the Christ. He had already, it may be presumed, given a definite answer to the priests and Levites deputed by the Sanhedrin to ascertain his claims. But now he feels called on to make a more public announcement.
1. Transition. All along he never once lost sight of his office as harbinger or herald (κηρύσσων) calling attention to the coming One. Yet gradually the office of herald was merging in that of the evangelist; hence the employment of εὐηγγελίζετο in the parallel passage of Luke, at the eighteenth verse. Ever more and more John seeks to turn attention from himself to Jesus, to whom he acknowledges himself as inferior in rank as in office. The meanest slave that brought his master's sandals, or stooped down in lowliness to undo the latchet that bound them, stood to the mightiest earthly master in a higher relation than John to Jesus; while the work of the latter was proportionately superior.
2. Superiority. The one administered the symbol, the other the thing signified; the one baptized with water, the other with the Spirit; the one was a light as of a lamp (λύχνος) kindled by, and reflecting, a borrowed light, the other was that central source of light (φῶς); the one was the morning star, soon to wane, and wishing to wane, before the other, who was the sun himself going forth in his strength.
"Where is the love the Baptist taught,
The soul unswerving and the fearless tongue?
The much-enduring wisdom, sought
By lonely prayer the haunted rocks among?
Who counts it gain His light should wane,
So the whole world to Jesus throng!"
Parallel passages: Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-23.
The baptism of our Lord.
I. DIFFICULTY. There is something singular, to say the least, in the baptism of our Lord. In that solemn inauguration of the Saviour, as he entered on his public ministry, a difficulty is encountered. That difficulty respects the significance of the rite in relation to the spotless Son of God. Water, when applied to the person or used in the way of ablution, is employed as an element of cleansing. But the idea of cleansing necessarily carries along with it the notion of defilement. The thought of pollution, from whatever source derived, or in whatever way contracted, or in whatever it may consist, is inseparably connected with it. Cleansing has as its natural and necessary correlative uncleanness either expressed or implied.
II. INAPPLICABLE TO OUR LORD. Yet the Saviour was not only holy, harmless, and undefiled in life; but at his birth and in the very nature of his humanity, he was free from every taint and unsullied by the least stain of sin, as it is written, "Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God," or more literally, "Therefore also that which is born of thee, being holy, shall be called the Son of God." It is probable that the Baptist felt at once the awkwardness of his own position, and the incongruity of administering to One so perfectly pure and undefiled a rite which, as the symbol of cleansing, implied a previous condition or natural state of impurity and defilement.
III. THE BAPTIST'S RELUCTANCE. In view of the circumstance just mentioned, as well as of the overwhelming superiority of the Divine applicant, John expressed such extreme lothness to administer the rite. Nay more, that reluctance took the form of a somewhat firm refusal: "But John," we read, "forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?" The imperfect διεκώλυεν may imply the commencement, that is, began to prevent, or be used de conatu of the endeavor to prevent, while the prepositional element imports activity and earnestness in the effort. It was only after a remonstrance on the part of the Saviour, and after he had pointed out to John the propriety of the course, that the Baptist yielded. The reason alleged by our Lord, while it was sufficient to overcome the scruples of the Baptist, is serviceable to us in inquiring into the nature of the ordinance then administered. True, that reason is expressed in somewhat general terms, as follows:—"Thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness;" but wherein this righteousness consisted, and holy it was fulfilled, we proceed briefly to investigate.
IV. PRIESTHOOD OF CHRIST. It will be borne in mind that our Lord, though a priest after the order of Melchisedec, and superior to that of Aaron, was nevertheless the great Antitype of the Aaronic priesthood. The priest of the Aaronic order was typical of the great High Priest of our profession. The rites of consecration in the one case may, therefore, be regarded as helpful in elucidating the mode of inauguration in the other.
V. CEREMONIAL OF CONSECRATIONS. At the ceremonial of consecrating the Aaronic priest, there was
(1) anointing with oil, and
(2) washing with water.
The oil was emblematical of the Spirit, the water of separation from all that would unfit for the service of the Holy One; the anointing with oil signified the bestowal of the needful endowments, the washing with water the impartation of the necessary moral qualities; the one has reference to the gifts, the other to the graces, required for the proper and efficient discharge of the priestly functions. It was thus with the type, while, in the case of the Antitype, the figure was realized in the fact; the sign gave place to the thing signified. In other words, the unction of the Spirit took the place of the anointing with oil; the washing with water, which in reference to the Levitical priest denoted the necessity for purity in the service of God, and entire separation from anything that would defile, implied, in relation to the Redeemer, the actual possession of that purity in its highest perfection, and of that separation from all possibility of defiling or contaminating influence.
VI. REFERENCE TO PRIESTLY CHARACTER.
1. Accordingly, the baptism of our Lord had respect to the priestly character he sustained, not to any human imperfection that required to be repented of, or impurity that needed to be removed; so that the righteousness which it behoved to fulfill was conformity to the rite of priestly consecration; while the type merged in the antitype, and the figure gave place to fact. He was now about thirty years of age (the Levitical period) when he began his ministry.
2. Another explanation solves the difficulty by giving prominence to the representative character of Christ. He came as the representative of a people guilty in God's sight, and morally unclean; and as he afterwards bore their sins in his own body on the tree in order to expiate their guilt, so now he was baptized vicariously because of their uncleanness, in token of his purpose to purge away their filth. "He was baptized," not as though in need of it himself, but on behalf of the human race; and such is the opinion of Justin Martyr. He was made in the likeness of sinful flesh—made sin for us, and so numbered with and treated as a transgressor.
3. Other explanations of the matter, still less probable, have been given, as for example
(1) that it was the perfection and proof of humility; and
(2) that it was for the purpose of being made manifest to the people, and that in presence of so great a concourse the Baptist might bear testimony to his Messiahship; which appears to be the view of Theophylact.
VII. THE PRESENCE OF THE TRINITY. At the baptism of our Lord the three Persons of the blessed Trinity were present or represented. The voice of the eternal Father came ringing down out of the cleaving heavens as they were rending asunder; the Holy Spirit in dove-like form descended; the beloved Sou was the subject of the former, and the recipient of the latter. Thus Father, Son, and Holy Spirit inaugurated the Christian dispensation at its commencement; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit impart the grace and bestow the blessings of this dispensation during its continuance; while Father, Son, and Holy Spirit shall share the glory at its close. And so in the beautiful words of the TeDeum—
"The holy Church throughout all the world doth acknowledge thee;
The Father of an infinite majesty;
Thine honorable, true, and only Son
Also the Holy Ghost, the Comforter."
VIII. THREEFOLD TESTIMONY. Thrice during our Lord's public ministry a voice from heaven testified to his Messiahship—once at his baptism as just noticed; once on the Mount of Transfiguration; and once during Passion week, in the courts of the temple, as we read in the Gospel of St. John, John 12:28, "Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again."
IX. TRIPLE RECORD. Again this acknowledgment of the Father puts honor on the Divine Word, for, from the three leading divisions of it—the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms—that acknowledgment is taken. The words, "Thou art my Son," are taken from the second Psalm; from Genesis, the first book of the Law, Genesis 22:1-28, we have the expression, "My beloved Son;" while in the Prophets, namely, Isaiah 42:1, we find the remaining clause, "In whom I am well pleased."
X. CHANGE IN THE BAPTIST'S PREACHING. The Galilean valley and the Judaean desert were far separate. Though closely allied by kinship, and more closely still by oneness of spirit, John and Jesus had grown up apart; their first actual contact was at the baptism of the latter. Personal acquaintance there had been none; or if there had, it did not contribute to the Baptist's recognition of his Messiah. Either by a conversation of which we have no record, or by direct revelation immediately before the baptism, the important fact was made known to the Baptist. Be this as it may, one very remarkable effect resulted from it. The style, and indeed the subject, of the Baptist underwent an entire change. Previously his manner had been denunciatory; subsequently it became conciliatory. Before he had borrowed his imagery from the harsh features of the surrounding desert—the rude rocks, the poisonous vipers, the barren tree; or from the rough ways and works of agricultural life, such as may have existed on the verge of the wilderness—the threshing-floor, the winnowing implement and the worthless chaff. But now he tempers and softens his mode of speech with figures from the sanctuary and its service—the lamb slain, the sin sacrifice, and the expiation. We hear no more of viperous broods—vipers themselves and sprung from vipers; no more of fruitless trees, fit only for the fire; no more of stones taking the place of sons, that is, of abanim becoming banira; no more of the sifting and separating process by which the good groin would be garnered and the worthless residue gathered into heaps for burning. On the other hand, we read of the Lamb as the Sin-bearer, and salvation as the blessedness secured; in other words, we have the blessed truth first uttered by the Baptist's lips, "Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!" The legal has given place to the evangelical. The first phase—equally needful and equally useful, it is true—of the Baptist's preaching is exhibited by the synoptists; the second—softer, sweeter, and superior in tone and tendency—by the penman of the fourth Gospel, the evangelist and beloved apostle John.
XI. THE BAPTIST'S FUNCTION THREEFOLD. The commission of the Baptist embraced three functions:
1. Herald-like, he was to prepare the way for the coming King by calling men to repentance.
2. He administered, on their full confession equivalent to making a clean breast of it), the rite which served as a pledge that their conviction of sin was real and their service sincere—that, in fact, they wished to act in conformity with such a direction as that of the prophet, "Wash you, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes." In all this, however, they might merely have an eye to the penal consequences of sin, and to that sweeping storm of coming wrath to which sin exposed them; and thus proceed no further than legal repentance.
3. But a yet higher office was to announce the kingdom of heaven as come down on earth, and point to the advent of its King; in other words, to direct the eye of faith to Messiah as the great Sin-sacrifice and the only Saviour. Repentance alone, especially of the legal kind referred to, could not merit the remission of sins; neither could baptism, nor yet the combination of both together: the real meritorious cause was the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God—the Lamb slain; while faith, that faith from which true evangelical repentance is never separate, was the link of union between the soul of the penitent and his Saviour. Thus John virtually preached faith as well as repentance; for his repentance-baptism derived its whole meaning and validity from faith in Christ. Evangelical repentance commences with Christ, the cross, Calvary, and is "the tear in the eye of faith" directed thereto, for, looking to him whom we have pierced, we mourn. Of this we have tolerably plain proof in the words of St. Paul (Acts 19:4), "Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, in Christ Jesus."—J.J.G.
Mark 1:12, Mark 1:13
Parallel passages: Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13.—
I. THE REALITY OF THE TEMPTATION. The above passage of St. Mark, and the parallel passages of the other Gospels, contain the record of one of the most remarkable transactions in the Word of God. It records the temptation of the Son of God. It describes not a fiction but a fact—not a phantom scene, such as a poet's fancy delights to paint, nor a daydream that merely passed through the imagination of the Saviour, but a literal and historical reality. The whole is a narrative of a mysterious yet actual event. It is Satan, personally, that acts the part of the tempter; it is the Saviour, personally, who is tempted; it is the Word of God that is the armoury furnishing the celestial weapons by which the temptation is resisted and the tempter foiled.
II. THE FACT OF THE TEMPTATION AND ITS IMPORTANT BEARINGS.
1. Proof of its reality. That the event here recorded was an actual fact, a real transaction, is proved by the different expressions employed by the evangelists. Thus, St. Luke says he "was led by the Spirit;" St. Matthew, that he "was led up of the Spirit;" and St. Mark, that "the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness." Similarly Ezekiel, among the captives on the banks of the Chebar, says of himself, "The Spirit lifted me up, and took me away;" so Philip was caught away by the Spirit of the Lord; so also John was "in the Spirit on the Lord's day."
2. The Saviour's first conflict. The temptation was our Lord's first conflict with that enemy whom he came to contend with and to conquer. It was at the same time the last part of his preparation for his work and warfare. It made him aware of the dangerous devices of the adversary; of the mistakes that would certainly mar, and of the mismanagement which might possibly make his undertaking miscarry. His person, his work, his deportment, were all concerned. In his person identified with the human as well as the Divine, he was debarred from using the resources of the latter to raise him above the common wants and sinless weaknesses of the former; and in remembrance thereof he says, "Man shall not live by bread alone." Self-abnegation, not self-gratification, was the law of his life. In his work he behoved to stand aloof from the ways of the world, eschewing the plans and plots, and all those many means of questionable character, by which men have struggled for dominion and grasped at glory. The spirit of his work was non-conformity to this world; the nature of his kingdom was spiritual, not of this world; the way to reach it was self-sacrifice; the crown was to be gained, but only by the cross. In his deportment there was to be no ostentatious display of close kinship with the eternal Father, no proud presuming on that high relationship, no capricious exercise of Divine power. In due time he would be "declared" the Son of God with power. Accordingly he repels this assault with the strong language of intense abhorrence, if not indignation, saying, "Thou shalt not tempt out and out (πειράσεις) [to an extreme altogether intolerable] the Lord thy God."
3. The weapon he wielded. Once and again, moreover, the lesson of his childhood—the section of the Jewish Law that was written on the frontlet and thus familiar to every Hebrew youth—he called to his timely aid, and held up to the tempter as the old standing Scripture (γέγραπται, equivalent to "it stands, written"), the ever-abiding truth never to be departed from.
4. The key to the narrative. The key to the entire narrative is contained in the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews 4:15, "We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin;" and again in the same Epistle, Hebrews 2:18, "For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted." From these Scriptures we learn that the design of Christ's mission to mankind was twofold; it was not only to make an expiation for our sins by his death, but to be a perfect example for our imitation in his life. He was tempted, therefore, in order that he might be an example to us when called to encounter temptation. He was tempted, moreover, in order that he might be able to sympathize with and succor us when tried and tempted; as the poet has beautifully as well as truly said of him—
Touched with a sympathy within,
He knows our feeble frame;
He knows what sore temptations mean,
For he has felt the same.
Then let our humble faith address
His mercy and his power,
We shall obtain delivering grace
In every trying hour."
5. Forewarned. In the conflict of the Saviour with Satan, as narrated in the Gospels, we have the prototype of, and precedent for, the perfect believer, showing us what manner of adversary we have to contend with, how he fights, how he is resisted, how he is overcome; showing us also the arena on which we have to maintain the struggle, what weapons we must wield, how certain our victory will be when we use those weapons aright, as well as the true source of conquest and of triumph, on which we are to depend. Now, there is much truth in the old proverb, "Forewarned is forearmed;" and if this be true of conflicts where carnal weapons are employed, it is also true of that spiritual conflict which every Christian has to carry on with the great enemy of God and of goodness—of the soul and of salvation. Accordingly, the passage under consideration warns us of the adversary and of his devices, that we may not be ignorant of them; of the boldness of his assaults and the mode of his attacks; of what he did in a green tree; and of how much more powerful the fire of his temptation may be expected to be in a dry; of his repeated attacks on him of whom we read, "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me." How much more severe and repeated attacks of this great adversary may be expected by us, in whom a wicked heart within and a wicked World without combine to render temptation successful! For who among us has not felt the truth of the sentiment—
"A wicked heart and wicked world,
With Satan are combined;
Each acts a too successful part
In harassing my mind"?
6. Forearmed. Further, the lesson of the passage arms us with weapons of resistance and defense, which, if used duly, diligently, and dutifully, will enable us to resist the devil and force him to flee from us. It implies, moreover, the important duty incumbent on every Christian to guard against all appearance of evil, to check the first risings of evil in the heart, to resist the first suggestions of the evil one, to watch and pray, and apply God's Word, that we may not enter into temptation. And all this the more, that Satan's onsets are so daring and his designs so murderous; his arguments so specious and his schemes of ruin so subtle; his plan being our enslavement to himself and sin, while his purpose is to pay us the hard-earned wages of transgression. "What fruit had ye then," asks the apostle, "in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death."
III. THE FORMS OF THE TEMPTATION IN GENERAL.
1. Striking similarity. There is a remarkable and instructive similarity between the temptation of the first and that of the second Adam; and also a vast dissimilarity. The similarity consists in the means and manner of the temptation; but a world-wide difference is presented in the result. There are three powerful principles of human nature, of which Satan takes advantage, and to which he adapts his temptations. These principles are "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" spoken of in Scripture. These have been called this world's Trinity. By means of these Satan tempted the first Adam, and succeeded; by the same means he attempted to ensnare the second Adam and failed. In tempting the first Adam he plied him with the lust of the flesh; for the tree of knowledge of good and evil, of which God had forbidden man to eat, was good for food, and so fitted to gratify the lust of the flesh and lead to the indulgence of carnal appetite. He tried him by the lust of the eyes; for the forbidden tree was pleasant to the eyes, and so adapted to gratify their lust and produce covetousness. He tried him by the pride of life; for it was a tree to be desired to make one wise—to make man as God, knowing good and evil, and so suited to the pride of life, prompting and fostering pride of heart. In all this Satan succeeded. He knew the baits to lay, and when and how to lay them. Besides, the first Adam was of the earth, earthy, and we, alas! have all borne his image; for "as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, so death has passed upon all men for that all have sinned." Now, as Satan had been so successful with the first Adam, it is not to be wondered at that he should try the same mode of procedure in framing his temptation for the second Adam. Accordingly, he tries him first by the lust of the flesh, tempting him to change stones into bread, and so moving him to the indulgence of appetite. Next he tries him by the pride of life, tempting him. to throw himself down from the temple's pinnacle, and so, in sight of the inhabitants of the holy city, to prove his deity and show forth his glory, employing the upbearing protection of glorious angelic hosts. Thus Satan does his best to move the Saviour to the sin of pride. Once more he tries him by the lust of the eyes, exhibiting to his vision a panoramic view of all the kingdoms of the world, or showing them to him stretched out before his eyes in widespread perspective. He offers him all these and all their glory, and so he endeavors to move him to covetousness. We have here followed the order in which the temptations occur in St. Matthew's narrative.
2. Dissimilarity of sequel. All Satan's temptations were in vain as regarded our Lord. The first Adam fell in Eden, a garden the fairest and loveliest ever planted on earth; the second Adam overcame triumphantly on the bleak and dreary wild. A paradise of earthly glory was lost by the first; the paradise of God was secured for us by the second.
3. Special adaptations. But not only did these temptations of our Lord correspond to the three forms of temptation which brought death into our world and all our woe; they correspond to the three portions of man's composite nature, that is to say, body, soul, and spirit. The body needs bread to satisfy its natural cravings, and the temptation is to procure it independently of Providence. The soul is also appetitive, though in a different direction, and in its outlook contemplates a wide sweep and vast dominion; the temptation is to secure all this at a single bound, overleaping the wearisome way of suffering and self-sacrifice. The middle place between the purely carnal and the purely spiritual is this visual illusion. The spirit rules in man over body and soul, and so liability to pride opens the way to temptation; and here the temptation is to put to the test his eternal Sonship, and to prove by one splendid miracle the truth of his Messianic claims. Thus the appeal was to appetite, to avarice or aggrandizement, and to ambition; in other words, to poverty, power, and pride;—following, as we do here, the order of St. Luke's Gospel
4. Reason of this difference of arrangement. But why is this difference of arrangement between St. Luke and St. Matthew, the former reversing the relative position of the second and the third temptations as recorded by the latter? Why change the order? Mill's solution is, perhaps, the right one; at all events, it is very plausible and very probable. It is to the effect that while the flesh is the first avenue of assault in all men, the tempter varies his tactics in the case of the other two, and in accordance with the difference of temperament, leading some by the way of pride to ambition, but others, in reverse order, along the road of ambition to pride.
IV. THE FEATURES THAT DISTINGUISH EACH TEMPTATION IN PARTICULAR.
1. Individual traits of the first temptation. The exact gist of the first temptation is, "If thou art the Son of God, exercise thy lordship; if the Son of God, prove thy possession of that power; if the Son of God, what profit is there in this Sonship? What good will this birthright do you?" Now, a compliance with the suggestions of the tempter would have been practical denial of that very Sonship and virtual distrust of the Divine Fatherhood. While we do not and cannot dispense with bread, we must depend on God as Israel of old waited for the word that brought them food. This is in strict accord with the training of the Saviour's childhood as shadowed forth in that portion of Deuteronomy, namely, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, that formed the frontlet already mentioned, and in entire harmony with his own teaching in the sermon on the mount, where he says, "For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things." The evil one—at once Satan the adversary, and Diabolos the accuser—now puts forth all his power. The temptation had doubtless continued all those forty days of fasting (πειραζόμενος, present participle implying such continuance), but now it culminated.
(1) The scene suitable for Satan's purpose. The scene of this first temptation is placed by some at Quarantana, but by others it is transferred to Sinai. The former is much the more probable. And so the scene was a district of country that lay eastward of Jerusalem, overlooking the valley of the Jordan, and not far from the place where Jesus had been baptized by John in the waters of that river. It was very wild and very dreary and very desolate. This much might be inferred from the name of " wilderness" by which it was designated, but especially from the additional circumstance supplied by St. Mark, that he was there "with the wild beasts," which laired, no doubt, in the thick brushwood along the banks, or among the caves of the neighboring hills. In addition, therefore, to the natural horrors of the place, were those wild beasts with hungry jaws and glaring eyes and frightful cries, just waiting to seize him as their prey. Few, if any, human feet had trod this particular portion of that wild; no human habitation stood there; no village, or town, or city was to be found in its immediate vicinage. Consequently no supply of the necessaries of life was obtainable there; no food, no refreshment of any kind, was to be had there. Take in connection with all this that our Lord had fasted forty days and forty nights, and we must admit that such place and such a time and such circumstances were the best possible for the success of such a temptation as that with which Satan first plied the Saviour.
(2) Possibilities. doubt it was easy for him who was "declared the Son of God" with power, who could multiply a few loaves and fishes into food for multitudes, who could transform the water-pots of Cana into vessels of wine, to turn the loaf-like stones of the wilderness into actual loaves (ἄρτοι) of wholesome bread. Further, it was but natural for him to do so when he was suffering such severe privation, when pained with the pangs of want, when distressed by hunger, which, as the old saying has it, "will breakthrough stone walls." Moreover, was it not right to do this when no other way of relief appeared accessible, and when ordinary means of sustenance were out of reach? Not so, however.
(3) Things ever so plausible not therefore proper. A thing may be ever so plausible in the eyes of man, and yet not proper in the sight of God. Notwithstanding all the plausibility of Satan's suggestion, had the Saviour yielded he would have been forestalling the providence of God; shown distrust in the provisions of that providence; renounced the exercise of patience; doubted the resources of that heavenly Father who had commissioned the voracious raven to bring flesh to his prophet, who long before had supplied his people's wants without their sowing or reaping, and that in a wilderness and for forty years, raining down bread from heaven every morning throughout that period round the camp of Israel. Still more, he would have been renouncing that abnegation of self—that poverty, humility, suffering, and sorrow, which were all, and more, included in the conditions of the covenant. He would have put aside the bitter cup of suffering without raising it to his lips, much less draining it to the dregs. He would have faltered at the first step, and so defeated the whole undertaking. Interests of greatest moment were at stake: the life or death of millions was in the balance; the weal or woe of countless human beings was depending on the decision of that moment; souls immortal were to be saved or sacrificed by the action of that hour.
(4) The Saviour victorious. Angels, we doubt not, looked to see the issue, perhaps in terrible suspense; but it lasted not an instant. The conflict in this case is scarcely commenced, when the Son of God comes off the conqueror and Satan is repelled. The sword of the Spirit was the instrument of victory. The tempter is reminded that man is not dependent on bread alone; there are many other things called into existence by God for human food, and everything so appointed, be it root, or fruit, or berry, or tuber, or plant, or acorn, will, by the Divine blessing, serve the end. Besides, while the body is still craving and saying, "Give, give," there is another part of man, which must be supplied with spiritual nourishment, and which it is death to neglect. The soul lacks spiritual food. It feeds on the hidden and heavenly manna.
(5) Practical use of this first temptation.
(a) To see the subtlety of Satan's snares. We may now look at the practical bearing of this first temptation expressed in the words, "Speak a word of power in order that these stones may become bread or loaves—speak them by a word of power into bread;" though ἵνα with the subjunctive is not for the infinitive after εἰπὲ in the sense of command, but as Stolz translates, "Sprich ein Machtwort damit dicse Steine Brod werden." If we reflect on the antecedents and the accompaniments of this temptation, we cannot conceive of anything more specious. The time was that moment when he began to be an hungered; when the sinless cravings of appetite began to be felt; when, in instructive parallelism with Moses at the promulgation of the Law from Sinai, and with Elias at its restoration on Carmel, the Saviour at the fulfillment of the Law and the introduction of the gospel fasted forty days and forty nights. By entering in this manner on the activities of his great mediatorial work, he teaches us, by the way, the importance of retiring for fasting, meditation, and prayer before commencing any very important duty in the service of God. The time was thus well chosen; for when the Saviour, being subject to all the sinless infirmities of humanity, began to feel the gnawings of hunger, just then Satan, who is as vigilant as he is malignant and murderous, took advantage of the moment at which appetite, after being so long whetted, had become keenest, and urged the change of stones into bread to meet the wants of nature. But the place as well as the time appeared to second the speciousness and seeming propriety of this suggestion. It was just such a place as that of which the Psalmist says, "They wandered in a wilderness in a solitary way … Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them." Nothing eatable could be obtained; no esculent of any kind was to be met with. The circumstances also added to the speciousness of Satan's suggestion, and seemed to render the working of a miracle as proper as it was plausible. The Saviour had been declared and openly acknowledged as the Son of God. He is alone in a desert, hungry, without any possibility of supply, and yet "the Son of God with power." In such a case it was natural enough and reasonable enough to all human seeming for Satan to say, "If you really possess the power, why not exert it at a time when it is so much needed, and in a place where it is so indispensable, no suitable supply being otherwise procurable? If. the Son of God, and in want, why not utter a creative word and relieve that want? If invested with sufficient ability, why not Speak an omnific word and display that ability? If capable, why not work a miracle when it is so necessary, and when there can be nothing wrong in the act; for to turn stones into loaves of bread is in itself no more amiss than to turn water into wine?" Thus tempted Satan. Thus by plausible and powerful reasonings he backed his temptations.
(b) To shun those snares is the next practical use to be made of this temptation. However specious and subtle, it is our interest as well as our duty to shun them; and the more specious and subtle they are, the more needful it is to be on our guard against them. Oh, how subtle the tempter is! He takes advantage of our circumstances, he takes occasion from our wants, he adapts his assaults to our weaknesses. The poor and needy he tempts to discontent, sometimes even to dishonesty. Are you poor? Then, says Satan, scruple not to supply the necessities of nature. Are you unable to rise in the world by fair means? Then use foul. Are you in low circumstances? Then try the tricks of trade. Are you necessitous? Then employ dishonesty in your dealings, or resort to fraud in some shape, or even have recourse to force. Are you given to appetite? Then Satan will tempt to excess in food, or drink, or both. "Use the world," says God. "Abuse it," says Satan. "Be temperate in all things," says God. "Never mind," says Satan, "live while live you can, eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow you die.'" His temptations too, as we have seen, are most plausible. He often seems to be urging us to what is good and proper, or even to what tends to promote the glory and honor of God. But the more plausible a temptation is, and the more appearance of good there is in it, the more dangerous generally it is, and the more destructive it may prove. In the temptation we are considering, had the Son of God yielded, and by miracle turned stones into bread, however justifiable the act at first sight appears, besides betraying distrust in Providence and disregard of the Divine will, he would have failed in the exercise of submission, and so in setting an example to his followers. God will have his children, when they are in want, to wait on him and wait for him; Satan tempts them to do neither. God assures his people that he is merciful and gracious—that he knows our frame, and will supply our wants in his own good time and way; Satan tempts to hard thoughts of God, and to doubt or distrust his paternal care. God witnesseth with our spirits that we are his children, just as he had done to the eternal Son; Satan strives to weaken that testimony, and tempts us to question our sonship. God tells us that afflictions not only consist with, but come from, his fatherly hand, for "whom he loveth he chasteneth;" Satan tempts us to regard them as evidences that God has forgotten or forsaken us.
(c) Scripture is the sword of the Spirit we must wield. Now consider the Saviour's reply to this first temptation. He might have met the tempter with a positive declaration, "I am the Son of God." He might have asserted his lordship over him. He might have subdued him instantly by Almighty power. But in so doing he would only have left us an exhibition of omnipotence to astonish us, not an example to attract us. On the contrary, he takes away the ground of the temptation by appealing to the Divine Word. His answer was, "It is written [stands written], Man shall not live by bread alone, but, by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God," or more simply, as in St. Luke, "by every word of God." Thus he put honor on the Divine Word, and at the same time put into our hand a weapon of greatest power for our individual defense. He shows, moreover, that, though man ordinarily lives by bread, yet that any word proceeding out of the mouth of God, anything created by God's word and by that same word commanded to be used for food, will serve the purpose. "He can either," says Bishop Hall in his 'Contemplations,' "sustain without bread, as he did Moses and Elias; or with a miraculous bread, as the Israelites with manna; or send ordinary means miraculously, as food to his prophet by the ravens; or miraculously multiply ordinary means, as the meal and oil to the Sareptan widow." Christ, therefore, needed not to turn stones into bread; he only needed to trust in his heavenly Father for a seasonable and suitable supply. Hence we learn that, while bread is the staff of life, God's blessing is the staff of bread. We may want bread, and yet be nourished by some other means; we may have bread, and not be satisfied. In our greatest abundance we must not think of living without God; in our greatest indigence we must learn to live upon God. Ordinary means of succor and support may fail or be cut off; the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no meat; yet are we to rejoice in the Lord and joy in the God of our salvation.
(d) Spiritual life needs nourishment suited to it. Bread, by the Divine blessing, supports the life of the body; but there is a higher style of life that needs for its sustenance more than bread, and which bread alone cannot maintain. There is the life of the soul, the life of the immortal spirit; that spiritual life depends for support on every word of God. "Thy words were found," says the prophet, "and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart;" and Job says, "I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food;" while the Saviour himself says, in reference to the same life, "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work." And if we would live this truer, higher, nobler life, we "must all eat the same spiritual meat," feeding on the Word of God and following the will of God.
2. The special character of the second temptation. This second temptation is an appeal to avarice or aggrandizement or covetousness. As Moses saw the land of promise from the top of Pisgah, so Satan brings the Saviour to "an exceeding high mountain." A mountain is still pointed out as the mount of the temptation. Its name is Quarantana, and its height nearly two thousand feet. "It is distinguished," says Kitto, "for its sere and desolate aspect even in this gloomy region of savage and dreary sights. From its summit Satan shows him "all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. Whether by "world" is to be understood the Holy Land, then divided into several petty principalities; or the Roman empire, comprising many conquered kingdoms as its provinces; or the world in its widest sense, we stop not to inquire. Neither do we attempt to explain what power of optics commanded such a prospect, or how the horizon widened and widened till the world, with its political divisions as well as physical features, spread out, before the two solitary spectators on you mountain-top, like an unfolded chart; or how especially all this was accomplished in a moment or second (literally, point) of time. The Scripture states the fact, and we believe it; the how of it we are not curious to discover, nor do we think it necessary to define. Some think the whole subjective; we take the whole to be objective. Milton, it is true, speaks of the specular mount, and amplifies the scene descried from it, as a poet and a scholar; and there is good reason to believe that his realistic interpretation is in accordance with Scripture representation, as he sings—
"Here thou behold'st
Assyria, and her empire's ancient bounds,
Araxes and the Caspian lake; thence on
As far as Indus east, Euphrates west,
And oft beyond, to south the Persian bay,
And inaccessible, the Arabian drouth."
(1) Attempt to realize the stupendous spectacle. The imaginings of the poet had their foundations in fact. Looking to the right, they saw the cities and countries peopled by the numerous children of the East—the once powerful empire of Persia, the equally powerful and still more ancient Babylonia, the distant India, and the remote Chinese. Looking northward, they saw the nomadic hordes of Scythia stretching far away towards the frozen arctic regions. Westward they saw the many provinces conquered by Roman valor and then subject to Roman rule, the sunny shores and isles of Greece, the amalgamated races that peopled the Italian peninsula, the savage tribes of Germany, the gallant men of Gaul, and the far-off inhabitants of Britain. Southward they saw the unconquered Arabs, the polished Egyptians, the sunburnt dwellers of Ethiopia, the Lybians bordering on the desert, and other sable sons of Africa. "All these shall be yours at once, and without an effort on your part, if you fall down and worship me, or rather do homage before me."
(2) Satan's title. What claim, we may well ask, had Satan on these kingdoms? What right dared he to assert over them? His claim was that of usurped dominion, for it is only by usurpation and for a little space that he is god of this world. No doubt he affirms, "It has been entrusted to me;" and he is called "the prince of this world," and "the prince of the power of the air" His right is only, however, that which sinful men have given him—that of slaves to a tyrant master—conceded to him by those whom he leads captive at his will. "Those myriad idolaters are mine, he said. "Those unbelieving Jews are mine. Those sinners of every tribe, and race, and name are mine; they are of their father the devil, and my bidding they are prompt and prepared to do." Thus spake, we may conceive the usurper Thank God! his surpation will one day end, his works shall be destroyed, he himself for ever bruised and his power broken. But he presumed to add, "To thee will I give this power and all the glory of them."
(3) His disingenuousness. He showed the fair side of all. He kept away in the background the foul ways and sinful means by which kingdoms often have been won, the bloody battles, the cruel massacres, the wicked plots, the diplomatic schemes, by which crowns have been gained; the cares that attend them, the anxieties that perplex them, the thorns that line them, for often "uneasy rests the head that wears a crown." All this Satan is ready to give. But why act so disingenuously? Why not state the drawbacks? Ah! this is never Satan's way. He shows the best part of the picture; the darker background he keeps out of view. He exhibits the fascinations of sin; he conceals its bitterness. He recounts its pleasures, not its pains; its seductions, not its sorrows; its allurements, not its sufferings and its sadness. Besides, his promises are lies. He never keeps his word; he never means to do so; he never performs his promise.
(4) The Saviour's indignant rejection of Satan's offer. No wonder the Saviour, wearied of Satan's intrusions, of his impertinence, of his insolence, of his insults as well as assaults, repels him rudely, saying," Get thee behind me, Satan for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve."
(5) Satan's dupes and dependants. Satan is, no doubt, a mighty prince; his hosts are the world-rulers of the darkness of this age, his bait the love of power. The world-rulers (κοσμοκράτορες), the Pharaohs, the Herods, the Caesars, snatched at that bait, accepting the evil one as their master. And so he tempts the Saviour too, as though he said, "Why not be a king like other kings? Let your kingdom be of this world; I object not to its being the greatest and the mightiest; otherwise I will oppose thee." Thus far Satan. But the Holy One again repels the evil. one by Scripture. Again he appeals to the lesson of his childhood—the words of the frontlet, recognizing the allowance due to God.
(6) Practical lesson from the second temptation. Satan is still lavish in his offers and liberal in pressing them on all. He offers the world, its praises, its profits, its pleasures; but he must have a quid pro quo, a full equivalent. He insists on your making a return for his favors, on your reciprocating his benefactions. He wants you to worship him. He will have you sacrifice your soul in his service. Disguise it as he may, he will have nothing else and will accept nothing less. Satan is proverbially good to his own; but that goodness is only seeming, and even in its seeming short. The way of duty is the way of safety. For though evil triumphed for a time, though the day of its downfall were far distant or not to be dreamt of, though there were no such thing as retribution, and though no period of redress appeared likely; still to be guided by the Divine Word, to imitate the Saviour, and to render allegiance to God alone, will be found in the end the happiest, the wisest, and the best.
3. Nature of the third temptation. It is an appeal to ambition or pride. Some, however, are of opinion that this is a temptation to an experiment in order to test whether the Divine presence or the Divine protection pertained to Sonship, rather than a temptation to an effort in order to gain power and popularity with the people. In favor of this view is the history from which the tempter is answered. The people had called in question the Divine presence, saying, "Is the Lord among us or not?" They required a supernatural proof to assure them of it. Similar conduct on the part of the Saviour to that of Israel on the occasion referred to would have been sinful distrust. Here, as afterwards, he could have bidden to his side legions of angels; but in either case he forbore. Obedient trust in God and determined opposition to Satan were the principles that guided the conduct of the Saviour, and that ultimately gained the day.
(1) The acme of Satan's subtlety. The pinnacle or battlement of the temple was, doubtless, the royal portico built by Herod and "overhanging the ravine of the Kedron." It stood on the very edge of the precipice and towered up to an immense height. From the top of this giddy eminence Josephus tells us that no eye could see the bottom. "Cast thyself down," said Satan, "and the Jews, who are on the look-out for a temporal prince, will take you at once, and make you their king, and render ready homage to thy scepter. Cast thyself down, and other nations, who are all expecting some great potentate to appear in order to usher in an age of unexampled blessing, will all make common cause with them, and form one united and world-wide empire. Thus Jew and Gentile, in happy harmony, shall bind the diadem of royalty round thy brow, and so crown thee Lord and ruler of all. In any case," says Satan, "and whatever be the result, you lose nothing by the experiment. You run no risk by the attempt; for is it not written, 'He shall give his angels charge over thee to keep thee'?"
(2) Suppression of Scripture. Ah! here is the masterpiece of the evil one. Here we see how he can adapt himself to the exigencies of every case. Here we see his skill in imitation. Here, after the example of the Saviour, he appeals to Scripture. "What," says an old divine quaintly, almost quizzically-'' what is this I see? Satan himself, with a Bible under his arm and a text in his mouth." But then he misquotes by suppressing part of the sentence, and so altering the sense of the whole. Undoubtedly God had promised," He shall give his angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways;" but this latter clause Satan found it convenient to omit. Thereby we are taught that the way of duty is the way of safety; wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness and paths of peace. When we walk in these ways God has promised to keep us safe. Off them we jeopardize ourselves every hour. "Not so," says Satan. "Go where you like, walk as you like, take my word for it, you are safe." Thus Satan misquotes, misinterprets, and misapplies. Thus he said to our first parents, in direct contravention of God's word, "Ye shall not surely die." Thus was he "a liar and a murderer from the beginning." Thus he continues to lead men blindfold to the brow of the precipice, and bids them cast themselves down, telling them there is no danger, and assuring them of safety. Thus he plunges men in misery. Thus he brings them to perdition. Thus he sinks them in the deep abyss.
(3) His tactics are still the same. "Cast yourself down," he says to some; "sin is an easy and safe descent. The way of virtue is hard and uphill; don't trouble yourself about it. Cast yourself down, wallow in your beloved lust, take your fill of your besetting sin; God is too merciful to mind it, or at least to punish it. Cast yourself down before the god of gold, like Israel before the golden calf, that you may be elevated in worldly rank and be exalted among thy fellows." Again, to children of God he says," Cast yourselves down. The gospel mystery of sanctification is slow work and a roundabout way; try penances, fastings, macerations, pilgrimages, will-worship, and thus expedite it." Perhaps he waxes bolder and says to another, "You are a child of grace: once in grace always in grace; you may indulge in sin with impunity, or that grace may abound, or that God may get glory and you more grace by repentance. Cast yourself down; the sin you dread is a trifle-is it not a little one?" These are only a few specimens of Satan's subtle snares and manifold devices. To those in high places he whispers, "Cast yourselves down. Place is before principle; expediency rather than consistency." To others again, "Cast yourselves down. Become slaves to luxury, or sensuality, or vice; your means warrant it, the circumstances justify it. Cast yourselves down. Thousands do worse, while few do better, and it will be all the same in the end."
(4) The third repulse. That pinnacle was a high place, and high places are slippery places; they are difficult places; they are dangerous places. Comparing this temptation with the former, we are reminded of the wise man's words, "Give me neither poverty nor fiches." Our Lord's reply repulsed Satan in this quarter also. It was, "Thou shalt not tempt [literally, out and out, or to an extreme] the Lord thy God." You are not to run unbidden into danger; you are not to run against the thick bosses of Jehovah's buckler; you are not to pray, "Lead me not into temptation," and then dash into it; you are not to venture into a perilous position, where neither necessity, nor Providence, nor duty calls you; you are not to plead the covenant of God while you disregard its conditions; you are not to appropriate promises that in no way apply to your character or conduct.
1. The battle of life is largely a battle for daily bread. In far northern regions it is extremely difficult; in the tropics it is exceedingly easy. It has been well remarked that neither extreme has conduced much to the world's progress; it is for the most part the dwellers in the temperate zones, where labour for the support of life is only ordinarily difficult—equally removed from the extremes of severity and facility, that have helped onward the march of civilization, of science, of art; in a word, human improvement and human culture.
2. As we are to watch as well as pray to avoid temptation, so we are to labour as well as pray for daily bread—labouring as if all depended on our work, praying as though work formed no factor in the process.
3. The first temptation tended to carnal appetite and distrust of Providence; the last, to ambition and proud presumption on the Father's protection. The first presupposes want; the last, abundance. The first teaches a lesson to the poor; the last, to the rich. And just as the wilderness was suitable to the first, so the world-famed city was a proper place for the last; for Jerusalem was the glory of Palestine, the pride of all the land, while "the temple was the glory of Jerusalem, the pinnacle the highest point of the temple."
4. Observe the extremes in Satan's temptations—the first was to despair and to distrust in Providence; the last, to pride and presumption. The tenor of the final suggestion was, "Cast thyself down. If thou art supported by his providence, thou wilt be sustained by his protection. Cast thyself down. When people see thee fling thyself from the high precipice and receive no hurt, all men will then own thy Godhead and acknowledge thy Divine commission. Jerusalem and the Jews will acknowledge it and admit thou art more than man—even ' the Messenger of the covenant,' coming suddenly and sublimely to his temple. The work of Messiahship shall be facilitated and shortened; while every one will be at once convinced of thy claims. Besides, when, or where, or how, could a better opportunity be had for declaring publicly and powerfully thy glory and thy Godhead, thy dignity and design?" And yet the arch-tempter was signally foiled and the Saviour gloriously victorious. He bruised Satan's head; and in Christ and through Christ we—even we shall, by Divine grace, be enabled to bruise Satan, and that speedily, under our feet.
5. Satan, having completed every temptation, that is, every typical form of temptation, as though all temptations are resolvable into one of the three, "departed from him," but only for a season, or rather until an opportunity (ἄχρι καιροῦ), that is to say, until another opportunity should occur or some new opportunity present itself, either by way of suffering or situation—negative endurance or positive enticement.
6. Angels ministered to him. The necessity for this arose from the desert district in which he found himself. The statement in St. Mark's narrative that "he was with the wild beasts" is generally understood to imply that the region was wild in the extreme, desolate, and full of terrors, like Virgil's "Vitam in sylvis inter deserta ferarum lustra domosque traho;" may it not rather, or also, assign a reason for the ministering of angels mentioned in the next clause, as rendered absolutely necessary from the total absence of all human help and distance from all the resources of civilized life?
INTERVAL. Between the temptation, according to St. Mark's brief record, and our Lord's Galilean ministry many things had taken place, as we learn from the evangelist John. Into that interval a Judaean ministry of rather uncertain duration and of much importance must be interjected. We are dependent entirely on the fourth Gospel for the narrative of that ministry. But, though unrecorded by the synoptists, it is nevertheless implied and referred to by them.
CONNECTING LINKS. In the intervening period the following circumstances transpired:—
1. The testimony of the Baptist to Jesus, already referred to; the adhesion of two of John's disciples to Jesus, Andrew bringing his brother Simon to him; our Lord's return to Galilee, where Philip findeth Nathanael and bringeth him to Jesus; the marriage in Cana.
2. Our Lord's first Passover at Jerusalem as the Son of God, the Messiah promised to the fathers, together with the expulsion of the traders; his discourse with Nicodemus, who came to him by night; his leaving Jerusalem, but remaining some time longer in Judaea; further, a final testimony of the Baptist; his setting out for Galilee after John's imprisonment; his discourse with the woman of Samaria at Jacob's well, near Sychar, as he passed through Samaria on his way to Galilee; his return to Cana and cure of the nobleman's son at Capernaum; his rejection at Nazareth and settled abode at Capernaum.—J.J.G.
Mark 1:14, Mark 1:15
Parallel passages: Matthew 4:17; Luke 4:14, Luke 4:15.—
The Galilean ministry.
I. HIS PREACHING BEGAN IN GALILEE. Though our Lord's public ministry may be regarded as having commenced at that Passover at Jerusalem to which reference has been already made, yet his public appearance as a preacher was in Galilee. The place, the date, the subject are all distinctly marked by St. Peter in the tenth chapter of the Acts, at the thirty-seventh verse, as we read, "That word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching the gospel [good tidings] of peace by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all)—that saying ye yourselves know, which was published throughout all Judaea, beginning from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached."
II. A FAVOURABLE FIELD. Now commence our Lord's labours among the towns and villages of Galilee—a sphere of operation of the most promising kind at that period. Of the four provinces of Palestine in the time of Roman rule, while Judaea was south, Samaria central, and Pereea east, Galilee was in the north. Originally it comprehended only a limited circle or circuit, as the name Galil imports, round Kedesh-Naphtali, including the twenty towns which Solomon gave to Hiram, but it grew into much larger dimensions till it included the four northern tribes, Asher and Naphtali, Zebulun, and Issachar, embracing an oblong twenty-five miles from north to south and twenty-seven from east to west. It was divided into Lower and Upper Galilee; the former district consisted mainly of the plain of Esdraelon or Jezreel, and the latter, containing the district between the Upper Jordan and Phoenicia, was called Galilee of the Gentiles because of its mixed population—Greeks, Arabs, Phoenicians, as well as Jews. This northern province of the Holy Land in the days of our Lord was studded with towns and even cities, had a thriving population, and abounded in hives of busy industry. Speaking of our Lord selecting this district as the scene of his labours, the late Dean Stanley says, "It was no retired mountain-lake by whose shore he took up his abode, such as might have attracted the Eastern sage or Western hermit. It was to the Roman Palestine almost what the manufacturing districts are to England. Nowhere, except in the capital itself, could he have found such a sphere for his works and words of mercy." The husbandman that tilled the fields, the merchantman that traded in the towns or villages, the fisherman that plied his craft on the waters of the lake, and labourers standing in the market-place,—all these and many such abounded in this populous region; and while easily accessible, and willing to wait on our Lord's ministry, they were more free from prejudice—less bigoted and less exclusive than their brethren of the southern province.
III. THE DISTRICT POINTED OUT IN PROPHECY. Ancient prophecy had marked this region out as that where gospel light would shine most brightly. These northern tribes, Zebulun and Naphtali, had soonest sunk into idolatry through the influence of their idolatrous neighbors, the Phoenicians, on the west, and had suffered sorest from Assyrian invaders from the east, most of them having been carried captive by Tiglath-pileser and their land repeopled in large part by strangers. The prophet, however, in order to console and in some measure compensate, foretold a good time coming in Isaiah 9:1, Isaiah 9:2, which rightly rendered reads thus: "There shall not hereafter be darkness in the land which was distressed; as in the former time he brought to shame the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, so in the time to come he bringeth it to honor, even the tract by the sea [i.e. the western shore], the other side of Jordan [the eastern side], Galilee of the nations [i.e. district north of the sea]. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined." Thus henceforth the scene of the Saviour's ministry lies by the Jordan, the Lake of Gennesaret, and in Galilee of the Gentiles—
"What went ye out to see
O'er the rude sandy lea,
Where stately Jordan flows by many a palm,
Or where Gennesaret's wave
Delights the flowers to lave
That o'er her western slope breathe airs of balm?
"Here may we sit and dream
Over the heavenly theme,
Till to our souls the former days return;
Till on the grassy bed,
Where thousands once he fed,
The world's incarnate Maker we discern."
IV. THE SUBJECTS OF OUR SAVIOUR'S PREACHING. The precursor had been imprisoned in the castle of Machsaerus, some nine miles east of the Dead Sea, in the district of Persia; but the Prophet himself takes up the work. Thus it ever is. God buries his workmen, but carries on his work. The great theme of the Baptist, as we have seen, was repentance and correspondent reformation, yet with faith implied. The theme of repentance was resumed by Jesus, but with the other doctrine of faith not implicitly but explicitly taught. The doctrine of faith now comes into prominence—the doctrine of faith, and that not merely hare credence or simple assent to the good news, but faith in—reliance on the gospel as the great and only means of safety and salvation. He proclaims, moreover, the advent of Messiah's reign. That critical epoch had now come; that greatest era in all human history had arrived.
V. DIFFERENCE IN THE USE OF TWO SYNONYMOUS TERMS. The kingdom is usually called by St. Matthew the "kingdom of heaven," and not "kingdom of God," lest the latter expression might confirm the Jews, for whom in the first instance the evangelist wrote, in their erroneous apprehension of it as a great kingdom of a worldly and temporal kind, as by a Hebrew idiom the name "God" is joined to anything excessively great or extremely grand; thus, we read of the "river of God," of "the cedars of God," and other similar expressions. By St. Luke, on the other hand, it is called the "kingdom of God" and not the "kingdom of heaven," lest the Gentiles, for whom this evangelist specially wrote, should misapprehend the expression as countenancing local divinities, as they were accustomed to gods and goddesses of different localities or quarters of the universe, such as Naiads, Nereids, Dryads, Hamadryads; gods of the ocean and of rivers; deities of the ethereal and infernal regions. This kingdom had been foreshadowed by Daniel in his vision of the great world-powers.—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 4:18-22; Luke 5:1-11.—
The call of the first four disciples.
I. PREVIOUS AND LESS FORMAL CALL. Our Lord now calls to his side the first four disciples—Andrew and John, Peter and James. With the former pair he had already made acquaintance when they were disciples of John the Baptist. The account which St. John in his Gospel gives of the matter is complementary, and throws light on it, enabling us to understand more clearly how it was that these two brethren showed such alacrity and readiness in now obeying the Saviour's more formal call, and in following him. Andrew was one of the two disciples whose attention the Baptist directed to Jesus as "the Lamb of God," and John was in all probability the other, though, with his usual reserve, he does not name himself in the narrative. These two were privileged to spend a day with Christ, by special invitation, from ten o'clock in the morning, if we adopt the modern reckoning; otherwise from four p.m. Andrew was the means of bringing his brother Simon Peter to Christ, and John may have rendered the same signal service to his brother James. In the interval between the first and this more formal call, these disciples had returned to their daily duties, biding their time till the Master would require their more special and active services.
II. THE MISSIONARY SPIRIT OF ANDREW. The Christian spirit is in its very nature missionary. As soon as Andrew, with whom in one sense the Christian Church begins, got good for his own soul, he wished to share it with others; soon as he found Christ for himself, he set about making him known to others. His charity, too, begins at home, for he does not rest satisfied with the great discovery he had been favored with, nor does he selfishly keep it to himself, he immediately goes in quest of his own brother, to communicate to him the good news. But though charity in his case began at home, it did not confine itself to such narrow domestic limits. On two other occasions we find Andrew similarly employed in bringing persons to Christ. It was he that brought the lad with the five barley loaves and the two small fishes to Christ, as we read in John 6:8. Not only so; it was Andrew who, in company with his townsman Philip, introduced to the Saviour those Greeks who, having come up to worship at the feast, expressed their earnest wish for that interview, saying, "Sir, we would see Jesus." And now that Andrew, in the fullness of his brotherly affection, had brought Peter to Christ, Andrew and Peter were bound together ever after, in a dearer, because a double, bond of brotherhood. Here is an example worthy of imitation, and that not only by the brethren of the same family, but by dwellers in the same neighborhood and members of the same community, who may have shared with us in the amusements of childhood or the employments of youth, or who still walk side by side with us in manhood on the journey of life. Nay, as far as in us lies, by proxy, if not in person, we must seek to be instrumental in brining our fellow-creatures of every name and clime to the foot of the cross, and in thus winning the world for Christ.
III. THE EMPLOYMENT OF THESE DISCIPLES. While Andrew and Peter were brothers and joint-occupants of the same dwelling—as we learn from John 6:29, owing to St. Mark's attention, to minute details—we are informed by St. Luke that James and John were partners in trade (κοινωνοί), i.e. in a sort of fishing firm, with Simon, and so sharers in the general profits of the little company. They were also fellow-workers, for they are called, some verses earlier in the same chapter, sharers in the work. Diligence in business, whatever our employment may be, is an important duty, and one which God is sure to acknowledge and bless; while Satan is ever ready to find mischief for idle hands to do. Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, when the angel of the Lord, appearing unto him in that bush that burned with fire and yet was not consumed, sent him to bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt. Gideon was threshing wheat by the wine-press, to hide it, when he was summoned to save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Saul was making search for the lost asses of his father, when he was taken by Samuel and anointed with oil to be captain over the Lord's inheritance. David was tending a few sheep in the wilderness, when God called him to the high office of shepherd of his people Israel. Elisha was "ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth," when Elijah cast his mantle upon him in token of his becoming his assistant and successor in the prophetic office.
IV. THE PLACE OF THEIR WORK.
1. Name of the lake. "The Lake of Gennesaret," as St. Luke accurately calls this sheet of water so famous in sacred story, is termed" the Sea of Galilee" by St. Matthew and St. Mark, "the Sea of Tiberias" also by St. John, and in the Old Testament "the Sea of Chinnereth," i.e. harp-like in shape, of which "Gennesaret" may be a corruption, if the latter word be not derived from two Hebrew words meaning "gardens of princes" (ganne satire) or "garden of Sharon" (gan sharon); while it gets the designation "of Galilee" from the province in which it is situated and that of " Tiberias" from the Roman emperor Tiberias, in compliment to whom the town Tiberias was so named by Herod Antipas, its founder. From this, too, comes the modern name by which the lake is sometimes named Bahr-al-Tabariyeh.
2. The shape and size of the lake. We have already referred to its shape as resembling a harp. It is somewhat oval, and very like a pear in form; while its length is twelve miles and a quarter by six and three quarters in breadth at its widest part. The depression of the lake is remarkable—. between six hundred and seven hundred feet below the level of the Mediterranean Sea. Its waters, reflecting the blue of the sky above, are clear, transparent, and sweet to the taste; while all sorts of fish, largely contributed by the numerous streams that enter it, abound therein.
3. Scenery and surroundings. The margin of the lake is surrounded by a level beach, here covered with smooth sand or small shells, there strewn with coarser shingle, and discernible as a white line encompassing the lake. This beach (αἰγιαλός), so often mentioned in the Gospels, while laved on one side by the bright waters of the lake, is fringed on the other side in many parts by shrubs and oleanders with their rosy-red blossoms. From this shore-line rise gradually in most places the surrounding hills, though to no considerable height, with brown outline but ever-varying tints; while away in the distance are seen in white lines along the sky the snowy peaks of Hermon; also on the eastern side the undulating table-lands commencing in Gaulonitis run southward from Caesarea Philippi down to the Yarmuck, and onward through Peraea. But coming close to the lake and commencing at Kerak, we proceed northward to the hot springs, near to which extend the ruins of Tiberias now Tabariyeh. This was the noble city where once "the Jewish pontiff fixed his throne," and where the Sanhedrin was established; where, moreover, existed for three centuries the metropolis and university of Judaism. Near this place are steep rocks and a mountain approaching the water's edge. Further north we reach Magdala, now a miserable village called Mejdel, where Mary Magdalene had her home. It is situated at the southern extremity of the plain of Gennesaret, now called El Ghuweir, "the little hollow." Here again the mountains recede, and this plain on the north-western shore of the lake is formed; its extent is two miles and a half long and one mile broad. It is now covered with brushwood and some patches of corn, though once so celebrated for fertility and beauty. The description of it by Josephus has been often quoted; it is as follows:—"One may call this place the ambition of nature, when it forces those plants that are naturally enemies to one another to agree together. It is a happy contention of the seasons, as if every one of them laid claim to this country; for it not only nourishes different sorts of autumnal fruits beyond man's expectation, but preserves them a great while. It supplies man with its principal fruits, with grapes and figs continually during ten months of the year, and the rest of the fruits, as they become ripe together, through the whole year; for besides the good temperature of the air, it is watered from a most fertile fountain." The abundant waters that irrigate this plain proceed from a large round basin of antique structure, called Ain-el-Medawara, or Round Fountain; or according to others, from the fountain called Ain-et-Tabiga. At the other or northern extremity of the plain are the ruins of Khan Minyeh, marking, perhaps, the site of ancient Chinnereth, but wrongly identified by some with Capernaum Close to this is the Fountain of the Fig Tree, called Ain-et-Tin, with its rather indifferent water; and a quarter of an hour further in the same direction brings us to the little bay and great spring of Tabiga, supposed, as we have seen, by some to be that of which Josephus speaks as watering the plain of Gennesaret. A mile and a half further northward we find the ruins of Tell Hum, rightly identified, as we think, with the ancient Capernaum, Kerr-ha-hum being changed into Tell Hum by abridging the termination into hum, and substituting for Kerr, a village, Tell, a heap, when a heap of rubbish was all that remained of it. If Tell Hum be in reality Capernaum, then Kerazeh, two miles and a half from the lake, and about two miles north from Tell Hum, is Chorazin. Two miles further onward bring us to mounds and heaps of stones called Abu Zany, at the northern mouth of the Jordan, identified by the author of the ' Land and the Book' with Bethsaida of Galilee—the native place of Andrew and Peter and Philip; while on the opposite bank are ruins which the same writer considers to be Bethsaida Julias. With the east side of the lake we have less to do, and the very few spots on that side of any importance have less interest for us. There is the very fertile and well-watered plain of Butaiha along the north-east shore of the lake, which bears a close resemblance to the plain of Gennesaret on the north-west shore. There are besides the ruins of Khersa, the ancient Gergesa, on the left bank of the Wady Semakh; the remains of Gamala, on a hill near the Wady Fik; and the ruins of Um Keis, the ancient Gadara, a long way southward.
4. State of matters at present. In the days of our Lord and his disciples the fisheries yielded a profitable revenue, while one, perhaps two, of the villages on its shores, viz. Western and Eastern Bethsaida, "house of fish," got their names therefrom. The white sails of vessels, amounting to some thousands, were seen in its waters, from the ship of war or merchantman down to the fishing-smack or pleasure-boat. Its surface was astir with life and energy and joy. Now a single miserable bark is all that furrows its waves, and even that is sometimes difficult to procure. The noise and bustle and activities of numerous villages and towns are hushed in unbroken silence.
5. The sacredness of this district. Here indeed is holy ground. "Five little towns," says Renan, "of which humanity will speak for ever as much as of Rome and of Athens, were, at the time of our Lord, scattered over the space that extends from the village of Mejdel to Tell Hum;" the towns he refers to are Magdala, Dalmanutha, Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Chorazin. Elsewhere he says," We have a fifth Gospel, lacerated, but still legible (lacere, mais lisible encore)," in the harmony of the gospel narrative with the places therein described. It was here Jesus called his first disciples; it was here he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; it was here from its deck he taught the pressing crowds that lined the shore; it was here he walked upon the waters; it was here he stilled the storm; it was here, after his resurrection, he was known to the disciples by the great draught of fishes; it was here he directed them to bring of the fish thus caught and "come and dine." "What," says Dr. Thomson in 'The Land and the Book,' "can be more interesting? A quiet ramble along the head of this sacred sea! The blessed feet of Emmanuel have hallowed every acre, and the eye of Divine love has gazed a thousand times upon this fair expanse of lake and land. Oh! it is surpassingly beautiful at this evening hour. Those western hills stretch their lengthening shadows ever it, as loving mothers drop the gauzy curtains round the cradle of their sleeping babes. Cold must be the heart that throbs not with unwonted emotion. Son of God and Saviour of the world! with thee my thankful spirit seeks communion here on the threshold of thine earthly home." Still more beautiful and touching are the verses of the sainted McCheyne on the sea of Galilee, of which, though so well known, we venture to cite the three following
"How pleasant to me thy deep blue wave,
O Sea of Galileo!
For the glorious One who came to save
Hath often stood by thee.
"Graceful around thee the mountains meet,
Thou calm reposing sea;
But ah, far more! the beautiful feet
Of Jesus walked o'er thee.
"O Saviour I gone to God's right hand!
Yet the same Saviour still,
Graved on thy heart is this lovely strand
And every fragrant hill."
V. MANNER OF THEIR WORK AND ACTUAL ENGAGEMENT WHEN CALLED, Simon and Andrew were actually engaged in fishing when the Master called them; James and John were mending, or rather preparing (καταρτίζοντας), their nets. Here we are taught the right use and proper economy of time. When not actually engaged in the labours of our calling we may do much in preparing for it, either taking necessary rest and refreshment for our bodies, and so acquiring vigor by repose, or in getting our apparatus or equipments of whatever kind in readiness for the resumption of labour. Different kinds of nets. Three kinds of nets were used by the Galilean fishermen. There was the δίκτυον, the most general name for any kind of net, and derived from δίκω, I cast, a word akin to δίσκος, a quoit. It is sometimes used figuratively in the LXX., as παγίς is in the Pauline Epistle in the New Testament. Nets of this sort John and James were repairing when they were summoned by the Saviour. There was the ἀμφίβληστρον, from ἀμφί, around, and βαλλώ, I cast—the casting-net spreading out in a circle when cast into the water, and sinking by weights attached. From its circular shape it enclosed whatever lay below it. There was also the σαγήνη, from σάττω σέσαγα, I load, which was a sweep-net of wide reach, and included a wide extent of sea. Hence it is used, according to Trench, in a parable, "wherein our Lord is setting forth the wide reach and all-embracing character of his future kingdom," and where neither of the other two words would have suited as well or at all.
VI. READY AND UNRESERVED COMPLIANCE. No sooner had our Lord said, "Hither, after me," as the original words literally mean, than these four brethren, James and John, as well as Simon and Andrew, at once obeyed the summons. St. Mark's words here are very expressive—they went away or off behind him—and imply the completeness with which they separated themselves from previous connections and severed themselves from past pursuits, as also the entire devotion with which they joined their new Master and commenced their new calling. They do not seem to have entered into any worldly calculations as to their present maintenance or future prospects, or to have counted the cost of the sacrifice they were called to make; neither did they consult with flesh and blood, or take into account considerations such as carnal policy is apt to suggest. They left all at once and for ever. What if their boats and nets were comparatively of small value or little worth in the estimate of the rich? Still to these fishermen the sacrifice was great, for it involved their worldly all.
VII. THE GOODNESS OF THE MASTER. Hardly, if ever, does Christ give us a precept that he does not add a promise to encourage us to, and help us in, the performance. If he bids us come to him, however weary and worn, sad and suffering and sorrowful we may be, he promises to give us rest; if he bids us take his yoke upon us, he assures us it will be light; if he bids us seek, he promises we shall find; if he urges us to ask, he promises we shall receive; if he presses us to knock, he pledges his word that it shall be opened to us; and so of all the rest. Thus it is here, when he summons them to forsake their humble occupation of fishermen, he gives them the appropriate and characteristic promise to make them "fishers of men."
VIII. INSTRUCTIVE INCIDENT. True religion, instead of cutting the ties of kinship, as a rule consecrates them. Times of persecution, indeed, may separate us from the nearest relatives and dearest friends; for, unless we love Christ more than the nearest and dearest, we are unworthy of him. Still, such cases are exceptional. Here a beautiful circumstance is brought to our notice by St. Mark. John and James, when leaving their father Zebedee to follow their Master, were not forgetful of the claims of filial piety and natural affection. They did not leave their aged father helpless, but with "the hired servants." From this the obvious inference is 'that he would be still enabled to continue his ordinary business, and pursue his usual avocation as heretofore.
IX. INTERESTING INFERENCE. There is good reason to infer that, for his station in life, Zebedee was, as it is called, well to do. If not rich, he was not positively poor. He was in the happy mean which the wise man sought when he said, "Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor and steal, and take the name of my God in vain." The boats and nets and hired servants bespeak the possession of at least a competence for one in his humble position yet honest walk in life.—J.J.G.
Parallel passage: Luke 4:31-37.—
The healing of a demoniac the synagogue of Capernaum.
I. SYNAGOGUE SERVICE. It was the sabbath, and our Lord was teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum. The service of the synagogue was simple. In addition to the prayers, there was the reading of the Divine Word. First came the Parashah, or lesson of the Law; then followed the Haphtarah, or prophetical section. Hence we read, in the account of our Lord standing up to read in the synagogue of Nazareth, that the roll of the Prophet Isaiah was further given him (ἐπεδόθη), that is, in addition to the lesson of the Law already read, he was handed the prophetical section, to be read as the second lesson. Any competent person might be invited by the ruler of the synagogue or elders to discharge this duty, and afterwards address "a word of exhortation to the people," as in Acts 13:15.
II. OUR LORD'S OBSERVANCE OF THE SABBATH. Our Lord honored the Lord's day, the house of God, and the ordinance of preaching which God has appointed for the instruction and edification of his people, as also for the explanation and enforcement of his Holy Word.
III. HIS MODE OF TEACHING. He was teaching, and, as we are told, "with authority, and not as the scribes." His method of teaching differed from theirs. Instead of appealing to precedents or citing the traditions of ancient rabbis, our Lord taught with independence, originality, and freshness, enforcing what he taught by his own authority. The matter of his teaching also differed from theirs. Instead of subtle, useless distinctions, almost evanescent differences, and trifling puerilities, he expounded the great things of God—his kingdom, grace, and glory. Still more than the mode of teaching or the truth taught was the manifestation of power in proof of, or at least accompanying, his teaching. The power by which he confirmed, and the evidence which he adduced in attestation of the truth, was something new and strange and unequalled. Hence the subsequent question, "What new teaching with respect to power?" or, "What new and powerful teaching is this?" for so we must read with the critical editors rather than with the received text, "What thing is this? What new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits;" because "with authority" would regularly be ἐπ ) or μετ ἐξουσίας, rather than κατ ἐξουσίαν His teaching was accompanied with a novel exercise of power, not merely over the minds of men, but over beings of another race and belonging to a different sphere, even the spirits of evil. For one discharging the office of teacher to exercise such authority, and to put forth such power in commanding, coercing, and controlling such spiritual agencies, was unprecedented, and naturally enough led to the inquiry or exclamation we are considering. It may be observed that in some copies of the Italic Version the "and" in the clause "and not as the scribes" is omitted, but erroneously, for the copulative is used of things different rather than of opposites. In case of things not merely different, but opposite or contrary, the omission of the copula is admissible, as in the next chapter at Acts 13:27, "The sabbath was made for man, [and] not man for the sabbath," though the English Version inserts "and," and Tregelles reads the clause with καί. On this occasion, then, of our Lord's teaching in the synagogue, the healing of the demoniac was effected.
IV. REALITY OF DEMONIACAL POSSESSION. The subject of demoniacal possession has been so fully and frequently discussed that little remains to be said on it. Certain it is that, to any unprejudiced reader of the Gospels, such possession must appear an undeniable reality. This man in the power (ἐν) of an unclean spirit addresses Jesus, "What have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth?" literally, "What is common [κοινόν understood] to us and to you?" In Acts 5:1-42 Jesus commands the unclean spirit to come out of the man; and in the Gospel of St. Matthew (Matthew 8:32) he suffers the demons to go away into the herd of swine. There can be no reasonable denial, then, of the actual personality of these evil spirits. Their presence and personality are distinctly and decidedly recognized in such Scriptures as those just mentioned.
V. NATURE OF THIS POSSESSION. The poor demoniac had, it would seem, a sort of double consciousness. His own will was dominated by a superior internal agent, who held him in terrible thrall. There was the human personality of the man possessed, as in the ease of the Gadarene demoniac, who, when he had descried Jesus afar off, ran and worshipped him; there was the demoniac personality, or personality of the evil spirit, at the same time, which, employing the instrumentality of the man's organs of speech, cried with a loud voice, "I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not." This possession was not disease, nor was it madness; it was not physical alone, nor mental alone; it was not corporeal merely, nor spiritual merely; but a strange and shocking combination of both.
VI. WHY WAS DEMONIAC POSSESSION CONFINED TO OUR SAVIOUR'S THE OF SOJOURN ON EARTH? The most perplexing question perhaps in relation to this matter is, Why was it that such possession occurred just at the time of our Lord's ministry on earth—apparently neither before nor since? Several answers have been given to it, such as the prevalence of certain diseases, whether bodily or spiritual, at particular periods of the world's history; the climactic pitch which moral disintegration and social disorganization had reached at the time of Christ's appearance on earth; the check given to such possession by the introduction of Christianity; our ignorance of cases of the kind that may still exist. There may be an element of truth in each of these; still they are each and all inadequate as an answer to the difficult question propounded, and we must seek for a more satisfactory solution in some other direction.
VII. SATAN'S POWER. The discrowned archangel, called now Diabolos the accuser, again Satan the adversary, is the acknowledged head of these daimonia or daimones. He is still, as we have seen in connection with the temptation, the prince of the power of the air, and the prince of this world to a lamentable extent. His knowledge is immense, yet he is not omniscient; his power is enormous, yet he is not almighty; his presence is little short of ubiquitous—"going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it"—yet he is not omnipresent; his resources for evil and for injury are amazing, yet they are not absolute. Happily, he is limited to some extent and restricted in some ways; he is not by any means infinite.
VIII. AN IMITATOR. With all his knowledge and power and resources, he is only an imitator at the best, and a destroyer at the worst. What God made he marred, as far as permitted to do so; what the Saviour does, he imitates. Accordingly, when the Son of God became incarnate, Satan or his subject-demons became incarnate too—at least, to the extent of entering and taking possession of the bodies of men. Again, when the dispensation became distinctly spiritual—when, after the Saviour's ascension, the Spirit was sent down—Satan confined himself also more to spiritual influences; that is to say, such influences as he still exercises over the spirits and minds of men.
IX. RECOGNITION AND CONFESSION OF THE SAVIOUR BY SATAN'S SUBJECTS, It need be no matter of surprise that, in person or by proxy, he is here found in the house of God, for such has been his practice from days of old. In the ancient time, when the sons of God came together and presented themselves before the Lord, Satan came among them and put in an appearance too. Nor can it be reasonably doubted that he continues his custom of frequenting the place of religious assemblies still. To the present hour he is sometimes with the preacher in the pulpit, sometimes with the hearer in the pew, though in neither case to help, but, whether with preacher or auditor, to hinder and to hurt. So in the instance before us.
X. THE SAVIOUR'S REFUSAL OF SUCH ACKNOWLEDGMENT. His acknowledgment of the Saviour is sternly rebuked. "Be muzzled (φιμώθητι) and come out of him! "was our Lord's indignant command. The acknowledgment, we therefore conclude, was either the expression of fawning fear, or rather an effort of fiendish malice to compromise the Saviour's character, as though in league with Satanic power and the spirits of evil. If so, our Lord's acceptance of such acknowledgment would have tended to discredit his mission and to damage his work. Demons knew him, for Satan, their chief, had followed him on his mission of mercy to man. He had dogged his steps as if to find out his true relationship—if indeed he was the Son of God—and to foil and frustrate, as far as practicable, his redemptive work. He had encountered him in the wilderness, and by his own defeat had learnt with certainty that he was in truth the Holy One of God.
XI. A KNOWLEDGE THAT IS NOT SAVING. Though demons knew and confessed the Son of God, they had nothing to do with him, so that they could truly say, "What have we to do with thee?" Sad thought! These lost ones had nothing to expect at his hand but further, fuller, and final destruction. Alas! that any should know Christ as these evil spirits, acknowledge him, and yet have neither part nor lot in the matter! There is a knowledge that does not save, for it lodges in the head and never touches the heart; it makes itself known by profession, but never manifests itself in practice. There is a faith that only genders fear, but never gains forgiveness nor goes the length of favor; for devils believe and tremble. Blessed be God for the truth which, brought home to the understanding and heart and conscience by the Holy Spirit, saves the soul: "This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent"!
XII. SATAN AND HIS SERVANTS EVERMORE EVIL. The unclean spirit was coerced into obedience. When reluctantly compelled to obey, he resolved to work all the mischief possible. He tore or convulsed (σπαράξαν) the man, "threw him (ῥίψαν) in the midst," as Luke informs us, but yet had no more that he could do, for he was obliged to come out without doing him any real or permanent bodily injury (μηδὲν βλάψαν). "It is much easier," says an old divine, "to keep him (Satan) out than to cast him out." And now heaven had acknowledged the Messiah; hell, as we have just seen, had to own him; while it remained for earth to confess its King.—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 8:14-17; Luke 4:38-41.—
The cure of Peter's wife's mother and others.
I. FEVER OF A VIRULENT TYPE. That St. Peter was a married man appears not only from this mention of his mother-in-law, but also from the reference of St. Paul (1 Corinthians 9:5), "Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?" But, near and dear as Peter was to She Saviour, he was not exempted from the common lot; his home was visited with sickness. Nor was it a mere slight indisposition. Fever of almost any type is a painful, wasting, and distressing malady. The present attack was one of no little severity, for St. Luke, a physician by profession, and so capable of accurate diagnosis, calls it a great or violent fever (πυρετῷ μεγάλῳ). "Anon they tell him of her." The persons who did so may have been Peter and Andrew, who had come to reside at Capernaum, and who, as St. Mark with his usual particularity here informs us, were joint-occupants of one house after they had removed from Bethsaida ("place of fishing "), their native place. Or it may have been the domestics; or rather, perhaps, the subject is left indeterminate. In any case, it was the right thing to do. At any time of sickness, and whatever be the nature of the disease, we should first go to God, then to the physician; first have recourse to prayer, then to the use of means. Similar in spirit is the injunction, "Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the Church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord."
II. THE MOVE OF CURE. The cure was another manifestation of Divine power, as well as of human sympathy, on the part of our Lord. There are several graphic touches of a very interesting kind, especially in the description of the cure, by St. Mark. Our Lord approached the sufferer (προσελθών); St. Luke interjects the additional detail that he stood over her (ἐπιστὰς ἐπάνω); he raised her up (ἤγειρεν); he took hold of her by the hand (κρατήσας τῆς χειρὸς αὐτῆς). We cannot fail to be struck with the tenderness and compassion and sympathy of our blessed Lord with the poor sufferer. A word from him would have been quite as effectual. He did indeed rebuke the disease but he did not stop there. Had he done so, there would have been apparently less of human interest, less of tender sensibility, and altogether less of that affectionate fellow-feeling that so touches the heart of suffering humanity.
III. THE EFFECTUAL NATURE OF THE CURE. It was immediate. He had no sooner taken her by the hand than the fever left her. The cure was miraculous; not that the disease was incurable, or past the power of ordinary physicians, but from the manner of the cure—a touch of the hand, and its immediacy: "Immediately the fever left her." Still more, she was relieved of, or rather saved from, the prostration, often extreme, in consequence of fever. Her convalescence was instantaneous. No weary weeks of waiting for returning strength, no administering of restoratives to the exhausted frame, no slow or gradually perceptible increase of physical energy; at once, immediately, she arose and engaged in her usual routine of household duties.
IV. THE DUTY OF DEVOTING OUR RENEWED HEALTH AND RESTORED STRENGTH TO GOD'S SERVICE. She ministered unto them; that is, to Christ and his disciples. This is the great end and the sanctified use of affliction. When the visitation is removed, we are to employ ourselves with renewed zeal in the Divine service. We are to make some suitable return for the mercy experienced, and show our gratitude for the benefit bestowed. "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies."—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 8:16, Matthew 8:17; Matthew 4:23-25; Luke 4:40-44.—
A Physician for both body and soul.
I. CURES OF DISEASED PERSONS AND DEMONIACS.
1. The time specified. It was now evening, and the sun had just set; and so the sabbath—for it was the sabbath day, as we know from Luke 4:21—was considered past. The people now felt at liberty, without encroaching on the sacred rest of that holy day, to bring their sick for healing. Another reason is assigned by some for delaying till evening, to the effect that the noontide heat was then over and the cool of evening come, and so the infirm could be brought with less risk and more convenience. A motley group of invalids. There was a general turn-out of the townspeople, so that the whole city seemed gathered together to the door of the dwelling, while they had brought with them all that were diseased and demoniac. What a motley multitude must have been there! The consumptive were there, with pale face or hectic flush; victims of incurable cancer were there; persons with the burning heat and the parched lips, or in the very delirium, of fever, were there; the palsied, the dropsical, the epileptic were there; patients having diseases of the heart, of the lungs, of the head, of the spine were there; the lame, the dumb, the blind, were there. Some were able to walk, some were on crutches, some were mounted on asses, and some carried on pallets by friends or neighbors. Demoniacs, too, were there, whether those whose souls were subject to demoniacal influence, like the "damsel possessed with a spirit of divination," of whom we read in Acts 16:16; or those whose bodies were inhabited by evil spirits; or those, as was generally the case, whose souls and bodies were both under the fearful control of the evil one.
2. The number cured. "He healed many that were sick," says St. Mark. Why not all? Theophylact answers the question by supposing that he healed many instead of, all, for the all were many;" but this would seem to require an article before πολλοὺς, and also one before κακῶς ἔχοντας, viz. the many that were diseased. Perhaps we may understand it of the limitation of time, that is to say, he healed all that there was time for, as it was already eventide when the process began; or perhaps we may suppose the restriction occasioned by the absence in some cases of the conditions of cure, just as we read of a certain place (Mark 6:5) that "he could there do no mighty work." The parallel passages of the other two synoptic Gospels seem to favor the first explanation, as in St. Matthew we read that he "healed all that were sick," and in St. Luke that "he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them."
3. Prohibition of demoniac testimony. He had already rebuked an unclean spirit that volunteered his unwelcome testimony. He forbids their speaking at all, because they knew him—not as the margin has it, "to say that they knew him," which would require λέγειν instead of λαλεῖν—for one reason, lest he should appear to be in collusion with them, and lest countenance should thus be given to the calumny of the Pharisees, and also lest, if believed when happening speak truly, they might be more readily credited when uttering the most fatal falsehoods.
4. Origin and history of the name. The history of the name demons is somewhat curious, and as follows:—Δαίμων—derived from δαήμων, skillful, and so implying superior knowledge, or from δαίω, I dispense, as if able to distribute destinies, and so superior in power—was at first nearly synonymous with θεός, except that the latter signified a particular god or person; while the former meant rather a deity with respect to power; then an inferior deity, or semi-god, an agency intermediate between God and man; in plural, departed spirits of the good, and so tutelary deities or lares; next, any departed spirits or manes. In the New Testament the term signifies, not the spirits of the departed, but those evil spirits or fallen angels "who kept not their first estate," who are distinguished from the elect angels, and of whom we read that "God spared not the angels that sinned." They are subject to Satan, but, like him, they can only act by permission of God, and in their operations they can neither contravene the laws of nature nor interfere with human freedom and responsibility. Powerful for evil as they undoubtedly are, leading men captive or working on the children of disobedience, they, like their head, have only such power over man as men themselves consent to or concede them. Hence Augustine says truly, "Consentientes tenet, non invitos cogit." Further, the violation of the rule of neuters plural being constructed with verbs singular in ἤδεισαν, comes under the first of the two following exceptions, that is, when neuters imply persons, as τέλη, magistrates, and so individuality or plurality of persons is signified; or in case of inanimate objects, when individuality or plurality of parts is signified.
5. Devotion of spirit. To extraordinary diligence in business our Lord added singular devotion of spirit. After a fatiguing day in the synagogue, then with the sick who in such numbers resorted unto him, he at dawn of day next morning retires for secret devotion and spiritual communion with his heavenly Father. At daybreak, or "when it was day," as St. Luke expresses it, or more exactly, according to St. Mark, "early, while it was quite in the night" (πρωὶ ἔννυχον λίαν)—at that early hour, intermediate between night and day, before the light of day has fully dawned or the darkness of the night quite departed—he withdrew to some lone and barren spot in one of the ravines or mountains, or under some sheltering rock in the district of Capernaum, to be alone with God. There he continued in prayer (προσηύχετο, imperfect). How beautifully our Lord instructs us by his practice as well as his precept to enter our closet and shut to the door, and pray to our Father in secret! He further shows us the necessity of prayer to maintain the life of the soul and obtain the help of heaven, to prepare us for our daily duties and for faithful diligence in the discharge of those duties. At the same time he commends the early morning for this exercise of devotion, when the feelings are fresh, the spirits in the fittest frame, and the mind free from the distractions so common in the after-part of the day.
6. Interruption. But, early as was our Lord's matin-hour, he was not secure from interruption. The people (ὄχλοι, crowds) sought him, as St. Luke informs us, while Peter and his companions, as St. Mark tells us, with characteristic impetuosity and affectionate eagerness pursued him—actually pursued him, as though he had fled away and escaped from them. The word κατεδίωξαν is literally "hunted down" or "for;" that is, they pursued him closely, followed hard upon his tracks. But it is occasionally used in a good sense, as here; thus it is used in the Septuagint Version of Psalms 23:6, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow (καταδίωξει) me."
II. CIRCUIT THROUGH GALILEE.
1. Evangelistic tour. Peter and those with him were evidently proud of their Master's great and increasing popularity, for when they had found him they tell him gladly, perhaps with somewhat of exaggeration, "All men seek for thee;" or, as in St. Luke, "were earnestly seeking (ἐπιζήτουν) him, and tried to detain him (κατεῖχον)." They evidently wished to keep to themselves or to the city of their habitation a monopoly of their Lord's services. But he, unmoved by praise, uninfluenced by popularity, disabuses their minds of their narrowness in selfishly seeking to localize him in Capernaum, city though it was, calmly informing them of his purpose to itinerate throughout the villages or country towns of that then populous district. At once he puts his plan into execution, assuring them that the great object of his mission was not merely to plant the gospel in one spot or one solitary district, but to propagate it in all places, far off as well as near—" for therefore came! forth." This last expression is restricted by some to his coming out of the city of Capernaum, or out of the house, or out into the desert place, on the ground that, if the reference was to the general object of his mission, the verb would be simply ελήλυθα, not the compound which occurs here, or rather that παρὰ, or ἀπὸ, or ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ, would be employed, as in several passages of St. John's Gospel (e.g. John 8:42; John 13:3; John 17:8), to convey that meaning. The expression is, no doubt, somewhat indefinite, perhaps purposely indefinite, and so susceptible of either a more general or more specific sense; but by comparing the corresponding passage in St. Luke (i.e. "because unto this have I been sent") we are shut up to the larger and higher and inclusive sense. The whole of the sentence is more fully expressed by St. Luke, and is to the effect, "because to the rest of the cities also I must declare the glad tidings of the kingdom of God." Accordingly, in pursuance of his great object, he went forth "and came preaching into their synagogues, into the whole of Galilee, and casting out the demons," as the words (in the critical editions) are literally rendered. The number of such synagogues and the extent of the enterprise may be estimated from the statement of Josephus in relation to the great number of towns and villages with which Galilee was studded, and the exceeding populousness of the Galilean provinces in the days of our Lord. He writes ('Bel. Jud.,' 3:3, 2), "Moreover, the cities lie here very thick; and the very many villages there are here are everywhere so full of people, by the richness of their soil, that the very least of them contain about fifteen thousand inhabitants."
2. An important variant. We may not, however, dismiss this part of the subject without drawing attention to a very interesting and important various reading which, on the authority of codices א, B, C, L, Q, R, and of the Syriac and Coptic versions, substitutes Ἰουδαίας for Γαλιλαίας, as the Judaean ministry of our Lord, which is, no doubt, assumed and implied by the synoptists, is nowhere else expressly mentioned by them.—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 8:2-4; Luke 5:12-16.—
The cure of a leper.
I. THE DISEASE OF LEPROSY REPRESENTS THE DISEASE OF SIN. Of all the diseases that have found their way into this world in consequence of sin, and which have afflicted the human race, there is, perhaps, none more dreadful than that of leprosy. It was peculiar to Egypt, and native in that country, but passed into Palestine, and prevailed over Syria and Arabia also. It was common among the Jews, as we learn from several passages of Scripture, thus, in the Gospel according to St. Luke we read, "Many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet." The Hebrew name tsaraath is from a root which means to strike, smite, also to roughen; and thus it may mean either a stroke or a rough swelling; while the English name of leprosy, coming from the Greek λέπρα, and that from λέπις, a scale, signifies "the scaly disease." The two sure signs of leprosy were the whitening (where it reached) of the usually dark hair of the Oriental, and the deepening of the disease below the skin. It was usually denominated nega, stroke, or hannega, the stroke or wound; this implied that it was directly inflicted by and immediately proceeded from the hand of God; it was also always considered as a punishment for sin. It need scarcely be added that it was a disease of the most virulent kind, and was a striking emblem of sin.
1. It was hereditary; so with sin. That leprosy was hereditary, we may infer from the punishment of Gehazi, concerning which it is written, "The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee and unto thy seed, for ever." So also we read of David's imprecation of leprosy on the descendants of Joab, on account of his murdering Abner, saying, "Let there not fail from the house of Joab one that hath an issue or is a leper." In like manner, the leprosy of sin has been inherited from the first parents of our race, and has continued hereditary throughout every succeeding generation. This remains true, whether we hold the doctrine of immediate and antecedent or mediate and consequent imputation in reference to the guilt of Adam's first sin; that is to say, whether we hold with the generality of the Reformed Churches that, in consequence of Adam having been the covenant head and representative of his descendants, the guilt or punishableness of his first sin was incurred by them, antecedently to their own actual transgressions, and that the corruption of their nature was the first part of that punishment—which is known as the doctrine of antenatal forfeiture; or whether we agree with Placseus and the New England root theory, which, denying the doctrine just stated, affirms that, while Adam was punished for his own sin, his descendants are not punishable for it, but derive from him corrupt natures by ordinary generation, and so, sinning after his example, are punished for their own sin, their progenitor's sin being thus punished "mediately through, and consequently to, their own sin in compliance with his example." Even this modified view refers the origin of man's sin to the natural descent from Adam, the organic root, so that, as the sap of a tree passes from the root along the trunk and through the branches and on to the smallest twigs, inherited corruption or derived inherent depravity is traceable, not as a penal consequence of Adam's sin, but a natural consequence of generation by or descent from him. Even on this low ground, according to which the imputation of Adam's first sin is denied, it is admitted that original sin is the inherent hereditary corruption of nature or depravity derived from Adam, just as leprosy, its sorrowful but striking symbol, was hereditary to the fourth generation at least. An exceptional view, it must be acknowledged, was held by Pelagius and his followers, who denied that man's moral character had suffered any injury from the Fall, or that men were born with less ability to do the will of God or discharge their duty to him than Adam; and by consequence denied the necessity of Divine grace or any special Divine agency, except indeed to enable men to perform more easily what they could accomplish, though less easily, without it, being thus capable of and by themselves of attaining to a perfectly holy life. Such doctrines, being evidently opposed to the whole scope and many plain statements of Scripture, were condemned by the Council of Ephesus, a.d. 431, having been vigorously combated and confuted by Augustine till his death in the preceding year, a.d. 430; and thenceforth they disappear till after the Reformation, when they were revived by the Socinians. But even the semi-Pelagians admitted original sin to the extent, at least, that man's moral nature is more or less corrupted by the Fall, and by consequence stands in need of special Divine assistance. Two facts in connection with the introduction of sin, or the entrance of moral evil, into our world are undeniable: one is the painful fact that the leprous taint of sin is found more or less on every human being; the other is equally unquestionable, namely, that man at his creation could not have had that taint, for a polluted creature could not have proceeded from the hands of a pure and holy God. The truth of revelation, then, remains unassailable, when it teaches that man, by disobedience to his Maker, introduced sin, and by sin destroyed himself.
2. The leprosy was (according to some authorities) fearfully contagious; so is sin. It has not only passed, as already intimated, by inheritance from generation to generation, but it passes by contagion from one individual to another individual, or to a number of individuals, for one sinner destroys much good. It spreads from family to family, from house to house, from one homestead to another, yea, from country to country; for "evil communications corrupt good manners." In its transmission through the generations from the Fall to the Flood, it propagated itself so rapidly, and spread so fast and so far that its violence became uncontrollable, and nothing could check or stay its virulence; the only remedy that remained was to sweep away and swallow up in the waters of the Deluge that race of moral invalids, tainted as they were with this inveterate and deadly distemper. And even the waters of the Flood were powerless to cleanse from this moral corruption, or to wash away the stain of this sin-leprosy. Again, soon after this great catastrophe the taint of this old leprosy exhibited unmistakable symptoms, breaking out afresh, and reappearing even in the head of that privileged family which the ark had saved; for Noah, we read, having planted a vineyard, "drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent." We are aware that the contagious nature of leprosy is disputed by some, but we prefer the view commonly held on the subject.
3. Leprosy was small at its first appearance; so, too, is sin. Leprosy commenced with a rising in the skin of the flesh, or a single bright spot. It was so small at the beginning as to be barely perceptible. A few specks or reddish spots on the skin were all that appeared at the outset. These spots became more numerous; they grew larger, bleaching the hairs that came in their way; they overspread the body, crusting it with leprous scurf or shining scales; sores and swellings ensued. For a long time it seemed only cutaneous. But it did not stop with the skin; it penetrated deep down. It ate its way to the bones, it attacked the joints, it reached the marrow. The blood is corrupt, portions of the extremities mortify and drop off, a wasting away supervenes, till the poor leper, mutilated and disfigured, presents a shocking sight—a hideous spectacle, when dissolution at last brings him to a welcome grave. How dreadful was all this! And yet how like the leprosy of sin! It also is little in its beginnings, but it makes gradual, sometimes rapid, progress. No one has become entirely vile all at once. At the first appearance of the leprosy of sin in childhood, it is a mere spot—a small speck. The beginning may be some slight evasion of parental authority, some trifling act of disobedience; or it may be some small departure from strict truth; or it may be, perhaps, a petty act of pilfering, an insignificant instance of dishonesty; or it may be a little outburst of childish passion. It appears so small a matter that the indulgent parent or guardian overlooks it as unworthy of notice—at all events, undeserving of punishment; or the kind friend laughs at it as a mere childish trick. But oh! let it never be forgotten that that trifling disobedience, or small fib, or petty theft, or little ebullition of passion is the first breaking out of a spiritual leprosy—the first manifestation of the plague-spot of sin. And who can set limits or bounds to a seemingly small transgression, once it has been repeated and repeated until it has grown into a habit? Who can tell where that single sin will end? Who can check its onward progress? What can resist its downward sweep when, like the rushing of the roaring torrent, or with more than the impetuosity of the mighty waterfall, it overbears and overcomes all resistance, hurrying its hapless victim downward to perdition?
4. Leprosy separated those afflicted with it from society; so does sin. As might be reasonably expected, leprosy, from its loathsomeness, the ceremonial uncleanness which it produced, as well as its infectious nature (if rightly judged to be so), excluded from society and rendered its victims a terror to all who saw or met or came near them. Thus we read in Leviticus 13:45, "The leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Tame, tame, Unclean, unclean." Here there are four unmistakable signs, which, when combined, served as a sufficient deterrent to any wayfarer or unwary person that might through ignorance or inadvertence approach the leprous person, and thereby catch infection, or at least contract ceremonial defilement. The bare head, with locks dishevelled; the garment rent from the neck to the waist; the beard, man's ornament, covered in token of grief;—were the ordinary signs of mourning for the dead or any great calamity; while the bandaged chin, and muffled lips uttering in doleful accents the melancholy cry, "Unclean, unclean!" was a warning which the most unwary passers-by were not likely to neglect at the time or ever after to forget. But it is further added, "He shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be." From other passages of the Word of God, we learn that they were not only separated from intercourse with others, but dwelt in a separate house, companied together, and were cut off entirely from the house of God. What a dreadfully deserted condition! Their nearest relatives shunned them, their dearest friends dreaded them, the tenderest ties were sundered by this loathsome disease of leprosy. Their touch was feared and fled from, for it was the touch of contagion; their company was shunned, for it imparted uncleanness and defilement; their very breath was dreaded as the pestilence, for it was the breath of disease and death. Here, in all this, is a sad symbol of sin. It separates between us and our God; it excludes us from his presence and privileges, from his friendship and family; it shuts us out from the society of his saints, from their benefits and blessedness; and, unless cleansed in God's own way, it will shut us out at last finally and for ever from his heavenly temple, for "without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie." When King Uzziah became leprous in the house of the Lord, "the priests thrust him out from thence, yea, himself hasted also to go out, because the Lord had smitten him." If we could suppose the possibility of an unrenewed sinner being admitted into heaven—if for a moment we might suppose the occurrence of a thing impossible, for the unclean shall never enter there—would not the pure spirits of that upper sanctuary rush upon that unholy one with deepest indignation, thrusting him out at once from thence, and hurling him over the high battlements of heaven? Yea, would not such a one himself, Uzziah like, haste to get away from so pure a place, and to escape from such holy companionship? for heaven would not be heaven, and could not be heaven, to an unregenerate soul. How terrible the sinner's condition, shunned as he is by the saintly, dreaded as he is by the pure and holy, separated from fellowship and communion with God on earth, shut out from the enjoyment and glory of God in heaven, secluded from all that is holy and happy both here and hereafter, and last of all and worst of all, shut up with the spirits of the lost—shut up with the filthy, the fearful, the unbelieving and abominable; shut up with the devil and his angels; shut up with companions in misery, whose very companionship, apart altogether from "the worm that dieth not and the fire that is unquenchable," would be in itself a hell!
5. Leprosy was incurable by human power; sin is so likewise. The disease of leprosy, as we have seen, proceeded immediately from the hand of God, and so it was the hand of God alone that could remove it. No human power, no means that man might use, no medicines of any kind could avail aught, either for the relief or removal of this fatal malady. This will, perhaps, account for the circumstance of St. Matthew giving such prominence to our Lord's cure of the leper by recording that miracle first. The first miracle publicly performed by our Lord was the changing of water into wine, as we read, "This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee." But St. Matthew, writing immediately for the Jews, records this miracle of our Lord's curing the leprosy first: though not first in the order of time, he gives it the precedence notwithstanding, because it was best calculated to impress his countrymen with the possession by Jesus of Divine power, and so of a Divine commission, since it was their fixed belief that none but God could effect a cure. Hence the King of Israel said, "Am I God, to. kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy?" In like manner the miracle which St. Luke, writing for the Gentiles, records first, was the cure of a demoniac, which proved the power of Jesus over those demons or deities which the Gentiles worshipped. Hence, too, as may be observed in passing, it is that because the word demon was equivocal in its meaning among the Gentiles—sometimes denoting a good and sometimes an evil spirit—St. Luke restricts the meaning to the latter by the epithet "unclean" (ἀκαθάρτον); but St. Matthew never so employs it, and does not need to employ it, as the term had only the one sense of evil spirit among the Jews. Now, it is the same with the disease of sin. It never gets cured of itself; no mortal man can recover himself from it; no human being can restore the individual suffering from its pollution; no created power can heal this leprosy of the soul. God alone can deliver from this spiritual disease; the blood of Christ alone can cleanse from its defilement.
II. THE CLEANSING OF LEPROSY REPRESENTS THE FORGIVENESS OF SIN. There is a remarkable and instructive contrast between the cleansing of a leper, recorded in the Old Testament, and the cleansing of the leper mentioned in the Gospels. That contrast holds both between the respective applicants and the different means of cure adopted. Naaman's conduct—for his is the case referred to—presents a true picture of the natural heart proud and unhumbled. Had he been commanded to do some great thing, he would have readily complied; but the process prescribed by the prophet was too simple, the mode of cure too easy, and Naaman too proud to descend to it. He became wroth, and went away. The leper in the passage before us is determined to dare or die; he defies the law of limitation which prohibited his approach or address to his fellow-men, and restricted him within certain bounds to prevent his contact with the living; thus, breaking through the cordon sanitaire, he makes his way to Jesus. Again, the prophet in the former case prescribed certain means, saying, "Go and wash in Jordan seven times." Here Jesus simply speaks the leper into health.
1. The respectful application of the leper to our Lord. This is clearly seen when we combine the expressions in the different narratives. St. Matthew states generally that he worshipped him (προσεκύνει). The word employed, coming from a root which means to kiss, kiss the hand to, as a mark of respect and homage, conveys the idea of obeisance or reverence to one greatly superior. St. Mark further informs us that he fell on his knees to him (γονυπετῶν); while from St. Luke we learn that, in his extremity and earnest entreaty, he fell on his face prostrate before him (πεσὼν ἐπὶ πρόσωπον). With like humility, reverence, and earnestness must we come to Jesus. Like the leper, we must come in humility, feeling that we are nothing and that Christ is all. We must come in earnest, feeling the desperate nature of our disease and our hopeless, perishing, and lost condition without him. The lepers of Samaria ventured at all hazards to fall into the host of the Syrians, "If they save us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die." We must also with like reverence and decision approach. It was an act of profound homage, as to a superior, on the part of the leper, not yet perhaps of worship in the higher sense as to a Divine being; but we, with superior knowledge of his claims, must acknowledge him as our Lord, worship him as our Messiah, bow in homage at his feet, and embrace him as our Saviour. Thus approaching him as lowly penitents, humble suppliants, and polluted transgressors, we, too, shall experience his power, and realize the preciousness of his salvation.
2. The reception of the leper by our Lord. St. Luke, with his customary medical exactness, tells us that this was a leper of no common kind, but one afflicted with the worst type of the disease, the sorest stage of it—he was full of leprosy (πλήρης λέπρας). St. Mark, again, makes us acquainted with our Lord's deep feeling of compassion for this poor sufferer (σπαλαγχνισθείς). "He stretched out his hand to him and touched him." By that touch he inspired the man with confidence, who believed in his power to cleanse, but doubted his willingness to risk contagion or ceremonial defilement; by that touch he proved himself "Lord of the Law," and exempt from its ritualistic restrictions; by that touch he broke through the ceremonialism which had usurped the place of true religion among the degenerate Jews of that time; by that touch, perhaps, he gave a sensible sign that healing virtue had already proceeded from him, and that the leper was virtually cleansed; by that touch he showed, as if by symbol, that he himself was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, and yet remained unsoiled by sin.
3. The response of our Lord to the application of the leper. The application of the leper shows
(1) the prevalent opinion about this malady, that it was not a mere disease, but a defilement; and therefore he speaks of cleansing (καθαρίσαι) rather than cure. But
(2) the application implies faith in the Saviour's power. He did not question the Saviour's ability, he only doubted his willingness to exercise that ability on his behalf. He did not say, "If thou canst," but "If thou wilt, thou canst." The form of conditional sentence by which the leper expresses his mind of the matter is that of probable contingency (ἐὰν with the subjunctive), and so not a mere supposition. This unquestioning faith in Christ's power was faith of no ordinary kind; it was faith in his power as something more than human. This leper was painfully conscious of his disease; he knew that the "finger of God" had touched him; he must have been convinced that no earthly power could cleanse or cure him, and therefore, when he confessed his belief in Jesus' power to effect it, he must have attributed to him vastly more than human potency—in a word, not less than power Divine. The term of address, Κύριε, is more than respect—it is belief in his Messiahship. True, he doubted the will; he feared, and no wonder, lest the foulness of his disease, its loathsomeness, its extremely disgusting nature, its thorough repulsiveness, might act as a deterrent, and prevent the much-desired relief. But no, Jesus meets him on his own ground; he responds to him in his own chosen terms; he employs in reply the very words. And thus, by his hand outstretched in kindness, by the touch of tenderness, by the look of compassion, and now by the words he uses, and the tone, perhaps, in which he utters them, he at once reassures the sufferer, and at once and for ever removes his suffering. The leper had said, "If thou wilt;" Jesus replies, "I will." The leper had said, "Thou canst cleanse me;" Jesus responds, "Be cleansed." He spake the word, and healed him; he gave the command, and the leper was cleansed. The scales fell off, the swellings subsided, the sores were healed, the unnatural whiteness gave place to the hue of health, his skin became fresh as that of a chubby child. The words of Ambrose
(3) have been often repeated; they are worth remembering, and are as follows:—Volo dicit propter Photinum; imperat propter Arium; tangit propter Manicaeum; Photinus held Christ to be a mere man; Arins maintained his inequality with the Father; and Manichaeus asserted he was only a phantom without human flesh.
4. Relation of this to ourselves. In coming to Christ we must
(1) have faith in his power. All we can expect from an earthly physician is that, with his knowledge of the healing art, he will do the best he can; that he will exert his medical skill to the utmost; that he will leave no means or medicines unapplied. But, with all his skilfulness and integrity of purpose and earnest desire to effect a cure, the appliances may be unavailing, the utmost exertions unsuccessful, and the disease may prove fatal. The soul's leprosy is beyond the power of any earthly physician; it baffles all human skill, and, if uncured, it ends in eternal death. We bless God there is one, though only one, Physician in heaven above or earth beneath that has power to cleanse and cure. In coming for cure we must
(2) acknowledge our dependence on his sovereign will. We have no claim on him, nothing to recommend us to him, no merit to plead; we must refer all to his will, depend wholly on his mercy, trust his unlimited grace, cast ourselves at his feet, saying with the leper, "If thou wilt, thou canst." But
(3) no one ever applied to him in this way whose application was in vain; no one ever came to him humbly and sincerely that was sent away uncured; no one ever came to him for cleansing that went unblest away. "Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out." Once more,
(4) while at the first we refer everything to the will of the Physician, we must ever after in everything yield obedience to that will and follow his directions, however mysterious or humbling they may be, whatever self-denial or self-sacrifice they may require. "See thou say nothing to any man; but go thy way, show thyself to the priest;" such is the direction given to the leper, now cleansed and cured. It has been well said, in reference to our Lord sending the leper to the priest, that "though as God he had just showed himself above the Law, yet as man he came to fulfill the Law." But why command him "to say nothing to any man"? To teach the avoidance of boasting and of ambition to his followers, according to Chrysostom; lest the crowd, attracted by and astonished at his miracles merely, should not allow sufficient opportunity for teaching, according to Beza; lest the report of the miracle might outrun him, and the priest, through ill will or envy, refuse to pronounce him cleansed, according to Grotius and others; other reasons have been assigned, e.g. the avoidance of tumult and excitement, or the subordinate place of miracles in his ministry; it was rather to lose no time in conversation about the cure, but to regard it of prime importance and claiming first attention to get his cleansing attested by the priest and to prove his gratitude by works rather than words, presenting the offering enjoined in the Law recorded in Le Mark 14:4-10. "The customary salutations were formal and tedious, as they are now, particularly among Druses and other non-Christian sects, and consumed much valuable time … Another propensity an Oriental can scarcely resist, no matter how urgent his business, is, that if he meets an acquaintance, he must stop and make an endless number of inquiries, and answer as many." But
(5) the testimony desired was official proof of the reality of the man's cleansing by the scrutiny and certificate of the priest; or it was to prove the Saviour's reverence for the Law; or perhaps even for a testimony against the people, because of unbelief in not acknowledging his Messiahship, notwithstanding all his mighty works.
1. No bodily disease is one-millionth part so terrible in its ravages as sin, of which leprosy is such a special and striking type; none so dreadful in its results, or so destructive in its consequences. It darkens that spirit in man that once reflected so purely and perfectly the image of the Creator; it defiles the fountain-head of thought and feeling; it destroys the health and happiness of the soul.
2. Our Lord is able to deliver from this disease and save from sin. This miracle, as a sort of acted parable, plainly and impressively teaches this. He spake the omnific word that cleansed the leper though the exercise of his volition was all that was needed, for he had already touched him, to showy, perhaps, that the foul disease was gone. He is as willing as he is able, he is as ready as he is powerful, his love being great as his power. He is more willing to heal than we are to seek and accept the blessing.
3. He is not only willing, but waiting to bestow on us present and immediate blessings. Present pardon and purity and peace, immediate grace and instant loving-kindness, instantaneous spiritual health, as well as future everlasting happiness, are among the boons which he stands waiting to confer.
4. Present application is our duty as well as our privilege. The present is his accepted time; he is willing to receive us now, he is waiting to cleanse us now, he is ready to bless us now. Present opportunities may not return, present impressions may be effaced and never renewed; his spirit will not always strive, his salvation will not be offered evermore.—J.J.G.