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Mark 8:1, Mark 8:2
The opening words of the first verse seem to imply that our Lord remained for some time on this, the north-east, side of the Sea of Galilee. The multitude being very great. The word here rendered "very great" is παμπόλλου, a word not to be found anywhere else in the New Testament. But according to the best authorities, the true reading is πάλιν πόλλου; so that the words would run, when there was again a great multitude. It has been supposed with some reason that, as an old ecclesiastical Lection began with this chapter, this may have led to the substitution of παμπόλλου for πάλιν πόλλου, in order to make the Lection more complete in itself, avoiding this reference to the context. In the original Greek construction the word ὄχλος, in the singular, is disintegrated in the next clause by a passage into the plural (καὶ μὴ ἐχόντων τί φάγουσι). This is properly marked in the Revised Version by the words, a great multitude, and they had nothing to eat. Our Lord has compassion on them. He desires not only to heal the sick, but to feed the hungry. We may here notice the burning zeal of the multitude. They were so intent upon hearing Christ, that they forgot to provide themselves with the necessaries of life. They continued with him for three days and had nothing to eat. Whatever small supplies they might have Brought with them at first were now exhausted; and still they remained, "esteeming his words to be more than their necessary food." Our Lord on his part was so. full of zeal for their good, that during all that time, with little interval, he had been preaching to them, denying himself rest, refreshment, and sleep. So true were those words of his, "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work."
For divers of them came from far. These words, as they stand in the Authorized Version, might be supposed to be an observation thrown in by the evangelist himself. But the correct rendering of ἥκασι, is not "came," but have come, or rather, are come and instead of τινὲς γὰρ at the beginning of the clause, the more correct reading is καὶ τινὲς. This change makes the clause almost of necessity to be a part of our Lord's own words going before. It was not until the third day that our Lord interposed with a miracle, when the people were absolutely without food, and would therefore feel more sensibly the blessing as well as the greatness of the miracle. Their extremity was his opportunity.
Whence shall one be able to fill these men with bread here in a desert place? St. Matthew (Matthew 15:33) gives the question thus: "Whence should we have so many loaves in a desert place, as to fill so great a multitude?" The disciples, measuring the difficulty by human reason, thought that it was impossible to find so many loaves in the desert. But Christ in this necessity, when human resources fail, supplies Divine; and meanwhile the disciples' estimate of the impossibility illustrates the grandeur of the miracle.
The seven loaves and the few small fishes appear to have been the modest provision for our Lord and his disciples. As he often retired into the desert, they were no doubt accustomed to carry small supplies about with them, though poor and scanty. In the former miracle of the multiplying of the loaves (Mark 6:35), we find that their stock consisted of five loaves and two fishes. It was, of course, just as easy for our Lord to multiply the smaller quantity as the larger. But he chose so to order it that the original quantity of food, as well as the number requiring to be fed, should in each case be different, in order that it might be evident that they were different occasions, although the miracles were of the same kind.
And he commandeth the multitude to sit down (ἀναπεσεῖν)—literally, to recline—on the ground (ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς); not the green grass, as before. It was a different season of the year. "He gave thanks." In this expression is included the recognition of the Divine power to enable him to work the miracle. Christ indeed, as God, was able of his own will and by his own power to multiply the loaves. But as man he gave thanks. And yet, as Dr. Westcott excellently remarks, "The thanksgiving was not for any uncertain or unexpected gift. It was rather a proclamation of his fellowship with God. So that the true nature of prayer in the case of our blessed Lord was the conscious realization of the Divine will, and not a petition for that which was contingent." And having given thanks, he brake, and gave to his disciples (ἔκλάσε καὶ ἐδίδου). Observe the aorist and the imperfect. The giving was a continual act, till all were filled.
And they did eat, and were filled (ἐχορτάσθησαν). Wycliffe renders it, "were fulfilled;" according to the original meaning of "to fulfill," namely, "to fill full." And they took up, of broken pieces that remained over, seven baskets—as many as there were loaves. In the record of the other similar miracle, the number of baskets corresponded to the number of the disciples. Here, as in the former miracle, far more food remained after all were fed than the original supply on which our Lord exercised his miraculous power; for each basket would contain much more than one loaf. The Greek word here rendered "basket" (σπυρίς) is a different word from that used for "basket" in the record of the other miracle (Mark 6:43). There it is κόφινος. The κόφινος was a hand-basket of stout wicker-work. The was a much larger basket, made of a more flexible material, perhaps "rushes," like our "frail." It was by means of such a basket, called in Acts 9:25 σπυρίς, but σαργάνη in 2 Corinthians 11:33, that St. Paul was let down through a window at Damascus. This supplies another evidence, if it were needed, that these two recorded miracles took place on different occasions. Cornelius a Lapido mentions an opinion that the σπυρίς was double the size of the κόφινος, a large basket carried by two.
He entered into a ship (εἰς τὸ πλοῖον)—literally, into the boat; probably the same boat which he had ordered to be in attendance upon him (Matthew 3:9)—and came into the parts of Dalmanutha. (Matthew 15:39) has "the coasts of Magdala;" more properly, "the borders of Magaden." This place was in all probability about the middle of the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, where now stand the ruins of the village of El-Mejdel.
And the Pharisees came forth—St. Matthew (Matthew 16:1) says that the Sadducees came with them—and began to question with him, seeking of him a sign from heaven, tempting him. They had already asked for a sign from heaven (Matthew 12:38); but now this miracle gives them occasion to ask again. For when they saw how greatly it was extolled by the multitudes who had benefited by it, it was easy for them to urge that it was an earthly sign, and might have been wrought by him who is called "the God of this world;" and so they insinuated that he had wrought this miracle as well as his other miracles by the power of Satan. Therefore they seek a sign from heaven, that he who dwells in heaven might thus bear witness that he came from God, and that his doctrine was Divine; the Pharisees probably meant that if he did this they would believe in him as the Messiah, and lead the people to the same faith. The Sadducees, who were practically atheists, thought that no sign could be given from heaven by God, seeing that in their opinion it was doubtful whether there was any God to give it.
He sighed deeply in his spirit (ἀναστενάξας) Another graphic touch of this evangelist; such as he had learnt in all probability from St. Peter. The word occurs nowhere but here. It is the outcome of grief and indignation, in which, however, grief predominates. There shall no sign be given unto this generation (εἰ δοθήσεται σημεῖον). This is a Hebrew idiom, based upon a form of taking an oath which prevailed amongst the Jews. The full form would be, "God do so and so to me, if so and so." Hence the hypothetical part of the clause came to be used alone, expressing a very strong form of denial or refusal.
And he left them, and again embarking—ἐμβὰς for ἐμβὰς εἰς τὸ πλοῖον—departed to the other side. Again and again our Lord crossed this sea, that he might instruct the Galileans dwelling on either side; in fulfillment of Isaiah 9:1, "The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,... by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light."
And they had forgotten (ἐπελάθοντο)—literally, they forgot—to take bread (ἄρτους); loaves. The conversation which follows took place on the boat while they were crossing. The passage would take perhaps six hours. And it was during that time that they would want food; for when they reached the port, they would find it in abundance.
Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. St. Matthew (Matthew 15:6) says, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees;" thus St. Mark identifies the leaven of the Sadducees with that of Herod. "Leaven" here means "doctrine." They were not to beware of this, so far as the Pharisees rightly taught and explained the Law of Moses; but only so far as they corrupted that Law by their own vain traditions, contrary to the Law of God, St. Luke (Luke 12:11) calls this leaven "hypocrisy;" because the Pharisees only regarded outward ceremonies, and neglected the inward sanctification of the Spirit. St. Jerome says, "This is the leaven of which the Apostle speaks where he says, 'A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.' Marcion and Valentinus and all heretics have had this kind of leaven, which is on every account to be avoided. Leaven has this property, that, however small it may be in quantity, it spreads its influence rapidly through the mass. And so if only a little spark of heretical doctrine be admitted into the soul, speedily a great flame arises, and envelopes the whole man."
According to the most approved readings, this verse should be read thus: And they reasoned one with another, saying, We have no bread. There is something very artless and simple in this narrative. Our Lord speaks of" leaven;" and the mention of this word reminds the disciples that they had forgotten to bring bread with them in the boat; and fearing lest Christ should direct them, according to his wont, to land on some desert shore, they were in some anxiety how they might obtain what they would need; and so they disputed among themselves; one, it may be, throwing the blame upon another.
And when Jesus knew it (καὶ γνοὺς ὁ Ἰησοὺς)—literally and far more correctly, and Jesus perceiving it—he saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? Jesus perceived the direction in which their thoughts were moving, by the power of his divinity. It is as though he said, "Why reason ye because ye have no bread, as though I was referring to natural things, and speaking concerning bread for the body, and wishing you to be anxious about that; as though I could not provide that for you, if nccessary, just as easily here on the sea as I did just now in the desert?" Dr. John Lightfoot says, "The rule of the Jews was very strict as to the kind of leaven that was to be used; and the disciples supposed that our Lord was alluding to this when he cautioned them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees." Perhaps they also thought that our Lord was conveying a silent reproof to them for not having brought a sufficient supply of bread with them. The whole incident, while it shows their transparent simplicity of character, exhibits also their dulness of apprehension.
Mark 8:19, Mark 8:20
Here St. Mark is as careful as St. Matthew to mention the details of the two miracles, even to the reference to the two kinds of baskets in which the fragments were gathered up. They had a distinct recollection of the facts, but they had failed to catch their spiritual import.
How is it that ye do not understand? A better reading here is οὔπω instead of πῶς ου). Therefore the words should run, Do ye not yet understand? It is as though our Lord said, "You ought to have perceived, both from my words and from my actions, that I was not speaking concerning earthly leaven or earthly bread, but concerning spiritual doctrine." St. Matthew here (Matthew 16:12) is careful to tell us that this reproof of Christ quickened their intellects, and forced them to understand.
This miracle is recorded by St. Mark alone. And he cometh to Bethsaida. A better reading is ἔρχονται for ἔρχεται, they come unto Bethsaida. Which Beth-saida? It seems most probable that it was Bethsaida Julias. This Bethsaida was in the tetrarchy of Philip, who improved and adorned it, and named it Julias, in honor of the emperor's daughter Julia. A reference to Verse 27 seems to make it quite clear that it must have been this Bethsaida, and not the Galilean Bethsaida on the other side of the lake. It is not surprising that there should have been, adjoining this great lake, more than one place called Beth-saida, i.e. the "place of fish." And they bring a blind man unto him, and besought (παρακαλοῦσιν)—literally, beseech—him to touch him. St. Mark is fond of the graphic present. There is here, as at Mark 7:32, something almost like dictating the mode of cure. They seem to have imagined that the healing virtue could not go forth from Christ except by actual contact.
And he took (ἐπιλαβόμενος)—literally, took hold of—the blind man by the hand, and led him—this is the rendering of ἐξήγαγεν; but a great weight of manuscript authority points to ἐξήνεγκεν as the better reading, brought him—out of the village (ἔξω τῆς κώμης). This Bethsaida was a village; but Philip had raised it to the rank of a city (πόλις), though it still seems to have retained its old appellation. Our Lord "led" or "brought" the blind man out of Beth-saida, for the same reason that he led the deaf and dumb man (Mark 7:33) away from the multitude:
(1) for the sake of prayer, that he might collect his mind, and unite himself more closely to God, and pray more intently and earnestly;
(2) that he might shun vain-glory and human praise, and teach us to shun it also. And when he had spit on his eyes—this act had a mystical meaning; it was the instrument by which his Deity operated—and laid his hands upon him, he asked him, Seest thou aught?
Here were three acts—
(1) the spitting,
(2) the laying of the hands on him,
(3) the questioning of him.
We gather from Mark 8:25 that our Lord's hands were applied to the blind man's eyes. From the analogy of the miracle in the last chapter (Mark 7:33), we may perhaps infer that our Lord touched the man's eyes with saliva on his finger, and that the hands were withdrawn before he asked him if he saw aught.
And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. He looked ups natural action. He instinctively looked in the direction of the source of light. The words in the Greek of the next clause are as follows:—βλέπω τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ὅτι ὡς δένδρα ὁρῶ περιπατοῦντας: I see men; for I behold them as trees, walking; that is, "I see something confusedly and obscurely, not clearly; for I see what I think must be men, and yet so dimly that they look to me like trees, only that I know that men move from their places, whereas trees do not." The word "walking" refers to the men, and not to the trees, as is evident from the Greek. This man, as yet partially blind, saw men as in shadow, magnified by the mist, looking much larger than they really were.
Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes, and made him look up—this is the Authorized Version rendering of ἐποίησεν αὐτον ἀναβλέψαι: but the better authenticated reading is simply καὶ διέβλεψε, and he looked steadfastly—and was restored, and saw all things clearly. Now, here it pleased our Lord, not suddenly, but by degrees, to give perfect sight to this blind man. And this he did
(1) that he might give examples of different kinds of miracles, showing that" there are differences of operations," and that he, as sovereign Lord, was not absolutely tied to any one particular method of working; and
(2) that he might administer his power in increasing measures, as the faith of the recipient waxed stronger; that so he might gradually kindle greater hope and desire in him. It may be that the spiritual condition of this blind man was one which specially needed this gradual method of treatment. Our Lord was a wise and skillful Physician. At first he healed him in part, as one who imperfectly believed; that he who as yet saw little with a little sight, might believe more perfectly, and so be healed at last more perfectly; and thus by this miracle Christ teaches us that for the most part the unbeliever and the sinner is by degrees illuminated by God, so as to advance step by step in the knowledge and worship of God. "By this miracle," says Bede, "Christ teaches us how great is the spiritual blindness of man, which only by degrees, and by successive stages, can come to the light of Divine knowledge." The experiences of this blind man in gradually recovering his eyesight show as in a parable the stages of the spiritual change from absolute darkness to glimmering light, and thence to bright and clear vision. Cornelius a Lapide says, "We see an example of this in children and scholars, who must be taught and instructed by degrees. Otherwise, if the master, impatient of delay and labour, seeks to deliver all things to them at once, he will overwhelm their mind and their memory, so that they will take in nothing; as wine, when it is poured into a narrow-necked vessel, if you attempt to pour in the whole at once, scarcely any will enter, but almost all is wasted." A Lapide adds the well-known Italian proverb, "Piano, piano, siva lontano."
This verse, according to the best reading, runs thus: And he sent him away to his home, saying, Do not even enter into the village. It thus appears that Bethsaida was not the home of this blind man. He might naturally have wished to exhibit himself in Bethsaida, where many must have known him, and to have sung the praises of his great Benefactor. But this was far from what Christ wished. He wished to be in seclusion. He had no desire to excite more than could be helped the idle curiosity of the multitude. His miracles were for the sake of his doctrine, and not his doctrine for the sake of his miracles. The whole character of his administration was retiring and gentle. "My doctrine shall distil as the dew." "He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any hear his voice in the streets."
Mark 8:27, Mark 8:28
And Jesus went forth, and his disciples, into the villages of Caesarea Philippi. This verse seems to corroborate the view that the Bethsaida just referred to was Bethsaida Julias. Caesarea Philippi lies at the roots of Libanus. Cornelius a Lapide says that it was originally celled Dan, the place where two little streams united, namely, Jeor and Daniel These two streamlets so united make the Jordan, whence the name Jeer-Dan, or Jordan. But since Pan, the God of shepherds, was better known to the Gentiles than Dan, a Hebrew tribe, it was hence called by them "Paneas.' It is celled Bahias at the present day. It lay at the extreme north, as Beersheba lay at the extreme south. Hence the phrase, "from Dan even to Beersheba." On this account many neighboring Gentiles, especially the Phoenicians, flocked to this city, as is frequently the case with border towns. And so Christ visited this neighborhood, not only because it presented favorable opportunities to him for teaching Jews and Gentiles alike, but also that he might speak more freely than he could have done in Judaea concerning a Messiah, whom the Jews expected as their king. in Judaea itself, and especially in the neighborhood of Jerusalem, it would have been perilous to speak on such a subject; for the scribes would at once have accused him to the Roman power that he was seeking the kingdom. The student who wishes for further information respecting the site of Caesarea Philippi may consult with advantage Stanley's 'Sinai and Palestine' (ch. 11., "The Lake of Merom and the sources of the Jordan" ). A more familiar derivation of the Jordan than that given by A Lapide is that of the "descender," from Jarad, "to descend." Our Lord went from Bethsaida Julias directly northwards towards Paneas, named by Philip the Tetrach Caesarea Philippi, to distinguish it from the other Caesarea in Samaria on the Mediterranean coast. It will be observed that he went into the villages of Caesarea Philippi, avoiding the city itself. In the way thither he asked his disciples,... Who do men say that I am? This incident is mentioned also by St. Matthew and St. Luke. St. Luke (Luke 9:18) says that he was alone praying, his disciples being doubtless not far off. According to this evangelist, our Lord says, "Who do the multitudes say that I am? "thus distinguishing them more particularly from his own disciples. The common people among the Jews knew that not long after the Babylonish Captivity the gift of prophecy had ceased amongst their nation. So they thought that Christ was not a new Prophet, but one of the old. They could not but see in him the renewal of the powers of the old prophets, their miracles and their teaching; but there were very few of them who believed that he was the Messiah. The great body of them were offended at his poverty and humility; for they thought that Messiah would appear amongst them with royal state as a temporal king. So that when some said, moved it might be by the sight of his miracles, "This is that Prophet that should come into the world," they did but give utterance to a momentary and fugitive feeling, and not a firm or abiding conviction. The mass of mankind are fickle, easily led to change their opinions. Perhaps some of the Jewish multitude thought that the soul of one of the ancient prophets had entered into Christ, according to the Pythagorean notion of the transmigration of souls; or perhaps they thought that one of the old prophets had risen again in the person of Jesus. For though the Sadducees denied a resurrection, the great body of the Jews believed in it. Some thought that Christ was John the Baptist, because he resembled the Baptist in age (there was only six months difference in ago between them), as he also resembled him in holiness and in fervor of preaching. It was but a short time before, that John the Baptist had been put to death by Herod. His character and actions were fresh in their memories; and Herod himself had given currency to the idea that the Baptist had risen again in the person of our Lord. Then there was Elijah. Some thought that our Lord was Elijah, because it was known that Elijah had not died, and because there was an expectation, founded on Malachi's prophecy (Malachi 4:5), that he would return. They thought, therefore, that Elijah had returned, and that our Lord was Elijah.
By this second putting of the question, our Lord warned his disciples that they who had been better instructed ought to think greater things of him than these. It was necessary that he should show them that these current opinions and floating notions were far below his real claims. Therefore he says with emphasis, But who say ye that I am?—ye, my disciples, who, being always with me, have seen me do far greater things than they; ye, who have listened to my teaching, confirmed as it has been by those miracles; ye, who yourselves also have been enabled to work many miracles in my name;—who say ye that I am? Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ. St. Peter here spoke as the mouthpiece of the rest. The suddenness and terseness of the answer is eminently characteristic of St. Peter. In St. Matthew's narrative it is given a little more in full, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." But the strength of the answer really lies in St. Mark's words, "Thou art the Christ," that is, the promised Messiah. What, however, St. Mark does omit hero—a circumstance not to be passed without notice—is the great blessing pronounced by our Lord upon St. Peter (Matthew 16:17-19) as the reward of his confession. The explanation of this omission is to be found in the fact that this Gospel is really for the most part St. Peter's Gospel, recorded by St. Mark. It has already been observed, that, as far as it is possible to do so, considering Peter's prominent position amongst the other apostles, he retires into the background. It was necessary that it should be recorded that he made the good confession of our Lord as the Messiah; but beyond this the evangelist suppresses all mention of the distinction subsequently conferred upon him, although the rebuke which he afterwards received is recorded in full. It is, moreover, a significant circumstance (noticed in the 'Speaker's Commentary') that this Gospel was written at Rome, and in the first instance for Roman readers.
And he charged them (επετίμησεν)—a strong word, implying almost rebuke, he strictly charged them—that they should tell no man of him. Why was this? There were many reasons for this reticence. The state of parties in Palestine was most inexpedient for such a disclosure at that time. Those who were favorable to his cause would have wanted at once to take him by force and make him a king. In fact, some of them made no secret of their intentions (John 6:15). Those, on the other hand, who were opposed to him were only watching their opportunity to destroy him. Moreover, his own disciples had yet many things to learn; and besides all this, faith in his Godhead would be easier when his death should have been followed by his glorious resurrection and ascension.
And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, etc. In St. Matthew's narrative he says (Matthew 16:21), "From that time began Jesus to show unto his disciples," etc.—from the time, that is, of this great confession; from the time when he had openly acknowledged to his disciples the truth of his essential Divinity; from that time he began to instruct them as to his passion and his death. There are two great principles of faith, namely,
(1) the Divinity and the humanity of Christ, and
(2) his cross and passion, whereby he has redeemed the world.
And it was necessary that the disciples should be thus instructed in his amazing dignity as the Son of God, lest, when they saw him put to death, they might doubt as to his Godhead. And after three days rise again. St. Matthew and St. Luke say, "on the third day"—the day of his death counting for one, and the day of his resurrection for another, with one clear day intervening.
And he spake the saying openly (παῤῥησία); literally, without reserve. This sudden announcement excited St. Peter. It was a new and startling communication. Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. The word προσλαβόμενος indicates that he "took hold of him," to lead him apart, as though to have the opportunity of warning him with the greater familiarity and secrecy. So say St. Chrysostom and others. Peter would not have his own confession of Christ thus evacuated, as it were; nor does he think it possible that the Son of God could be slain. So he takes him apart, lest he should seem to reprove him in the presence of the other disciples; and then he says (Matthew 16:22), "Mercy on thee, Lord (ἵλεώς σοι Κύριε): this shall never be unto thee."
But he turning about, and seeing his disciples, rebuked Peter. The words indicate a sudden movement (ὁ δὲ ἐπιστραφεὶς), accompanied by a keen searching look at his disciples. Then he singles out Peter, and addresses to him, in their presence, the severe rebuke, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not (οὐ φρονεῖς)—literally, thou mindest not—the things of God, but the things of men. The form of words is the same as that used by our Lord to Satan himself, when he was tempted by him in the wilderness. It reminded him of that great conflict. The visions of worldly glory again floated before him. The crown without the cross was again held out to him. This explains his language. Peter was indeed rebuked; but the rebuke was aimed through him at the arch adversary who was addressing him through Peter. Here is the striking significance of his "turning about." Peter was for the moment doing the tempter's work, and in "turning about" our Lord was again putting Satan behind him.
He called unto him the multitude with his disciples. This shows that there was an interval between what had just taken place and what is now recorded. Our Lord now, without any further special reference to St. Peter, delivers a lesson of universal application; although, no doubt, he had Peter in his mind. If any man would (εἴ τις θέλει) come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. This self-denial ought to extend to everything, even to life itself, which we ought to be willing to resign, if need be, for the sake of Christ. Take up his cross. It is as though he said, "Let him take up his cross, as I have borne my cross, that I might be the standard-bearer and Leader of all cross-bearers—I, who carried the cross on which I was to be crucified to the mount of Calvary." St. Luke (Luke 9:23) adds the words (καθ ἡμέραν), "daily:" "let him take up his cross daily;" thus showing that "every day," and often "at every hour," something occurs which it becomes us to bear patiently and bravely, and so on continually through our whole life. He takes up his cross who is crucified to the world. But he to whom the world is crucified follows his crucified Lord. This cross assumes various forms; such as persecution and martyrdom, affliction and sorrow of whatever kind, appointed by God; temptations of Satan, permitted by God for our trial, to increase our humility and virtue, and to make brighter our crown.
Because the cross is sharp and afflicting, our Lord animates his followers to bear it by the thought of its great and everlasting rewards. The meaning of the verse is this: he who by trying to shun the cross and to escape self-denial would save his life here, will lose it hereafter. But he who loses his life here for the sake of Christ, either by dying in his cause or by denying and mortifying his lusts out of love for him, he in the life to come shall find his life in the bosom of Christ and in eternal joy.
What doth it profit a man, to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (ζημιωθῆναι); literally, forfeit his life (ψυχή). The word ψυχή in the Greek, originally meaning simply "breath," as the sign of life, is of very comprehensive import, embracing not merely "the breath of life," but also the "soul," or immortal part of man, as distinguished from his mortal body, also the mind or understanding, as the organ of thought. "Life" seems here to be the best English synonym, as being, like the Greek ψυχή, the more comprehensive term.
In exchange (ἀντάλλαγμα) for his life. The Greek term here means an "equivalent," "a compensation." The" life," in its largest sense and meaning, defies all comparison, surpasses all value. It has been bought and redeemed with the precious blood of Christ; therefore the whole world would be a poor price for the soul of one man.
Our Lord here looks onward to the day of judgment. Whosoever shall be ashamed of me. "Whosoever:" the word includes all, whatever their position or circumstances may be. "Shall be ashamed of me;" that is, shall deny my faith, or blush to confess me here. Of him shall the Son of man be ashamed; that is, Christ will despise him, when he shall appear with power and great glory, in that sublime majesty which he gained by his death upon the cross. In this adulterous and sinful generation. It adds to the disgrace of being ashamed of Christ that the shame is manifested in the presence of the base and the worthless; and therefore our Lord exhibits the contrast between the mean and contemptible people in the presence of whom men are ashamed of him here, and the magnificent assemblage in whose presence he will be ashamed of them hereafter. The cross of Christ appeared to the great body of mankind to be shameful and contemptible. To the Jews it was a stumbling-block, and to the Greek's foolishness. Hence vast numbers, whether through shame or fear, did not dare to confess it, and still less to preach it. And therefore it is that St. Paul says (Romans 1:16), "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ."
The Giver of bread.
That the miracle of feeding the multitude should be repeated, and that two evangelists should record both events, is a testimony to the generous and considerate kindness of the Saviour, and to the instructive nature of the sign. We discern in this narrative an illustration
I. CHRIST'S ATTRACTIVE MINISTRY. A great multitude followed him to listen to his teaching, and were so absorbed in his words as to neglect attention to their bodily wants. Far from home, and without a supply of food, they hungered. Eating of the spiritual bread, they were satisfied in their souls. But they had bodily wants also.
II. CHRIST'S CONSIDERATE COMPASSION. A man himself, Jesus was touched with a feeling of human infirmities. He had known hunger. The people had come from far; they had remained in the neighborhood where he was for three days; their little stock of provisions was exhausted, and, should he send them away fasting, many might faint upon the road. All this Jesus thought of, and his sympathy was aroused. He had compassion, not only upon their souls, but upon their bodies.
III. CHRIST'S USE OF ORDINARY HUMAN RESOURCES AND MEANS. Jesus might doubtless have created bread of stones, as the tempter had once challenged him to do. But he chose to use what provisions were at hand, and to make the few loaves and fishes which the disciples held as a reserve of food, the basis, so to speak, of his miraculous action. The Lord does not despise, or dispense with, human means or human agencies. As on this occasion he directed his disciples to distribute the bread they had, so ever does he use his people and their powers and possessions as means of good to their fellow-men.
IV. CHRIST'S DEVOUTNESS IN THANKSGIVING. Being himself the Son of the Father, he yet, in the name of the dependent children, acknowledged the bounty and beneficence of the Giver of all.
V. CHRIST'S MIRACULOUS POWER. We are not told how it came to pass, but it is recorded that the four thousand found the slender provision sufficient for all their wants. When the Saviour provides, there is always enough and more than enough for all.
VI. CHRIST'S FRUGALITY AND ECONOMY. The Lord was liberal, but not lavish. There was no waste in his arrangements. The broken pieces that remained were gathered, and doubtless saved and used. Because he miraculously supplied what was needed, it did not follow that he would suffer anything to be wasted and lost.
Whence shall man's soul be fed?
God's creatures are altogether and for ever dependent upon him. It is not now and then only that our Creator and Lord interposes upon our behalf, to supply our wants and to relieve our distresses. There are times when we specially recognize, and occasions when we specially feel, his care. But his bounty and watchfulness are, in fact, unceasing. "In him we live, and move, and have our being;" "He openeth his hand, and satisfieth the desires of every living thing." Bread for the body, and bread for the soul, alike are `from him. Our daily bread is his daily gift, and our daily remembrancer of him the Giver. In most cases the provision is so regular, by reason of fruitful seasons, by which he fills us with joy and gladness, that men take the gifts of his providence as a matter of course, and are (in instances) only now and then reminded of their dependence when he withholds his bounties. Our souls equally wait upon him, and to them he also giveth "their portion in due season." The sinless beings above doubtless receive from him abundant spiritual good, in an unceasing stream. If our human spirits are not constantly and of course enriched by his Spirit, it is not that his loving-kindness is little or intermittent; it is because our sin prevents us from receiving what is, to believing, lowly, and obedient natures, ever accessible. There is, accordingly, something altogether special in the supply provided for the deep and everlasting needs of human spirits. The unfallen angels, by reason of their purity, have constant fellowship with God, and doubtless are daily fed from his presence, and drink of the stream of his life. But we—poor, sinful children of men—need to be dealt with in a way Divine wisdom alone can devise, to suit the emergency of our position. The plenty of the Divine granary must be brought to our perishing souls by a heavenly interposition and grace. It is in Christ Jesus, the Son of the Eternal Father, that the bread of God becomes the bread of man. Needy, and therefore longing for spiritual food; sinful, and therefore unable to obtain and partake of such food, except in the way Infinite wisdom and grace may open up to us,—we are in a pitiable case until the beneficent Father sends unto us a heavenly and all-sufficient supply. No fellow-creature can give what our circumstances demand and our nature craves; no fellow-creature can satisfy the necessities of one suppliant, far less those of the unnumbered race of humanity. "From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?"
I. This language suggests THE CRY OF THeE SPIRITUALLY HUNGRY FOR BREAD, Man cannot "live by bread alone." Unless he change his nature, or blunt its urgencies, and stifle its voice, it calls aloud for God.
"Far and wide, though all unknowing,
Pants for thee each mortal breast;
Human tears for thee are flowing,
Human hearts in thee would rest."
Oftentimes do men try to misinterpret this utterance, to persuade themselves that it is not God they want; that they are as the brutes, to which due fodder and litter and shelter suffice for satisfaction and enjoyment. When one looks upon the vain endeavours of misguided, self-deluded men, one cannot help crying aloud, in the memorable language of the Hebrew prophet, "Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not?" There is a deep-seated longing, a recurring appetite, which prompts all men in whom is any spiritual vitality at all to look for more than earth, than man, can give. We ask for truth, for without truth—and especially truth concerning God—is no satisfaction possible to the created soul. "Oh that I knew where I might find him!"—him, my Maker, Lord, and Judge; that I might know why he has made me, why he has stationed me here on earth, what is the purpose of his wisdom concerning me! Mock me not with dust and stones, but give me bread indeed, even the true knowledge of God! And as conscience assures each child of man that, if this God whom he fain would know take any interest in him, he cannot but remark his disobedience and his errors, the heart within calls aloud for the favor and acceptance of the great King. "How shall a man be just with God?" "Wherewithal shall I come into his presence? Will he "lift the light of his countenance" upon me, and be gracious to me? Must my sins be a barrier between me and my God; or can he, will he, overturn and cast them away, and admit me to his grace and fellowship and peace? Turning his regard inward upon himself, and perceiving his own helplessness in the struggle which is not to be avoided, the poor and feeble child of man asks for strength. How shall I gain strength for duty in times of weakness and temptation? How realize the intention of the Creator concerning me, that I shall enter into the conflict, sustain its toils, brave its dangers, and come forth victorious? And when the day of suffering and the night of sorrow come, can the human soul find comfort in the lessons of human philosophy, in the balm of human sympathy? Alas! these cannot suffice. Nor can aught truly soothe and effectually succor the weak and weary, the sad and lonely, the bereaved and dying, save the hand which fashioned the soul and made it susceptible to anguish—the heart that, by a Divine sympathy and consolation, heals the wounds that it permits. And when "heart and flesh fail," who but the Creator and Saviour can prove "the Strength of the heart, and its Portion for evermore" ? No human plummet can fathom the river all must cross, no human hand uphold the feeble, trembling feet amidst the dark, cold waters. Be sure of this: as long as man retains a nature higher than that of brutes that perish, so long as his heart is subject to grief, his life is surrounded by trouble, his nature prone to sin; so long he will ever and anon cry out for supernatural succor and comfort, and call upon his God. Spiritual hunger is no fancy of the sentimental, no artificial demand of the leisurely and cultivated. It is a fact—a fact which is not to be denied, and without considering which, our view of our human nature and our knowledge of ourselves must needs be incomplete and delusive. Bread for his soul man will ask for, and, unless he have it, he will hunger, pine, and perish!
II. This language suggests THE SILENCE OF THE WILDERNESS TO THIS APPEAL. Out beyond the Lake of Tiberius, away from towns and villages, in the solitudes of the green hillsides, how was the want of the multitude to be supplied? Blades of grass were not ears of corn, stones were not bread. "Here in the wilderness" was no answer to the demand of the hungering—none! The wilderness could only leave those to perish who trusted to its tender mercies. An emblem of the world's powerlessness to meet the case of our spiritually dependent and hungering race! The world is the scene of our trial and proving, the occasion of our manifold temptations. Of what use is it to look to it for sympathy, succor, strength, and salvation? It cannot satisfy you, search and prove it how you may. Is that rich and luscious fruit that hangs from yonder bough? Alas! it is the apple of the Dead Sea, dust and ashes between the teeth. Is that a lake of sweet, pellucid waters which gleams in the glowing sun in yonder hollow? Alas! it is the mirage of the desert, which mocks the thirsty travelers, offering them sand for water. So with the pretences of the world to satisfy the hungering soul. These pretences are vanity and delusion. Equally vain to help, though more honest, is the world, when its response is otherwise. It sometimes acknowledges its utter powerlessness: none to help, none to pity, none to deliver and to save I Whilst some who reject and despise the message of religion abandon themselves to selfish and worldly aims, and seek to still the voice of conscience and to repress the aspirations of the soul in the pursuits of pleasure, pelf, or power, there are others in whose breasts is no peace and no hope. They cry aloud in the wilderness; but no answer comes to them, save the mocking echoes from the hard, dead rock. No truth, no law, no grace, no hope, no heaven, no God! Such is their interpretation of the echoes of the desert. And we cannot wonder that, incredulous of every higher, better message, they abandon themselves to doubt, despondency, despair. From this cheerless and desolate prospect, let us turn to facts fitted to gladden every depressed and anxious heart.
III. The language suggests to us THE DIVINE PROVISION OF THE BREAD OF LIFE. When the disciples of Jesus asked him this question, "Whence shall one be able to satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?" they must have been thinking of their own inability. For they could not have forgotten how, not far from this very spot and not long since, their Master had fed five thousand men with five loaves and two fishes. If they had been there without him, they might have been as helpless as they were when the father of the lunatic boy brought his son into their presence, and entreated their compassion and aid. But the Lord Jesus was himself the answer to this inquiry. He had but to bless the bread, and distribute it by the hands of the disciples, and, for even so vast a multitude, there was "bread enough and to spare." Thousands were fed when Jesus was the Master of the feast. No miracles were more evidently and decisively than these of feeding the thousands, parables concerning Christ himself. St. John has recorded the discourse which our Saviour uttered in Capernaum, in which Jesus asserted his own mission and office and power. "My Father," said he, "giveth you the true Bread from heaven. For the Bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.… I am the Bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." In this language our Divine Lord evidently referred to that marvellous incident in the history of Israel when the wants of the people were supplied by daily provision of manna in the wilderness. More especially he brought before the minds of his hearers the great fact that the supply of human wants is due to the grace and interposition of God himself. Bread does not come to us from the wilderness, but it comes to us in the wilderness; and it is the Father above who sends it—none but he! Obviously, the figurative language in which Christ describes himself appeals to our best, purest, most sacred feelings. God is the Father, who will not leave his children without bread. He cares for his spiritual family, considers their wants, hears their cry, and in his wisdom and love secures for them all that he sees to be for their good. Our Lord Jesus Christ is himself the Divine provision for the needs of men. "He that eateth the flesh, and drinketh the blood of Christ, has life eternal." For it must be borne in mind that the heavenly Father who has given us his Son, has in him virtually given us all the resources of his boundless compassion and grace. "He who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" Do our hearts cry aloud for spiritual truth? God gives us this in Christ, who is himself the Truth—the revelation of the Father's mind and will. The heart that finds "Immanuel—God with us," finds God himself—for Christ is "the brightness of the Father's glory"—reads the writing of God's own hand, hears the utterances of Truth Divine. "He that hath seen me," says Christ, "hath seen the Father." Is our heart restless until assured of the forgiveness and the favor of our God? Hungry for the smile of Heaven, does it turn heavenward a wistful gaze? God in Christ gives us this first great necessity of the sinful soul. Jesus came to call sinners to repentance, but he came at the same time to assure the penitent of pardon—the purchase of his precious blood. What bread is to the hungry, that is pardon to the contrite, humbled, suppliant transgressor. And this is the gift of Christ, who came with "power on earth to forgive sins." Do we feet an inner craving for a strength which we do not find within ourselves—for a power which shall uphold us in the labour and the conflict of this earthly life? Not only to know the will of God but to do it—this is the want of man's soul. Power to do this is bread to his hungering nature. Do you not, indeed, when you best know yourselves, feel that truly to live you must have strength to live to God? And who but God himself can impart this strength? It is given in Jesus. Eat of this bread, and labour shall be sweet and work welcome. His meat and drink was to do the will of him who sent him, and to finish his work. And in his people is "the mind of Christ." Does not the sorrowful i and tempted soul—the soul oppressed by the infirmities of the flesh and the ills of life—hunger for a consolation not to be found from the wilderness? Who of us has not felt this, in seasons of grief and anxiety? Surely, God knows the heart which he has fashioned; he reads its laments, he witnesses its struggles, he comprehends its fears. It was to allay our anxiety, to assuage our griefs, that Jesus dwelt on earth, wept our tears, tasted the bitterness of our death; that he might be a "High Priest touched with the feeling of our infirmities." As long as "man is born to sorrow," so long shall the "Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief," be the dearest Friend the heart can know. Jesus is a "brother born for adversity."
"But what to those who find? Ah! This
Nor tongue nor pen can show;
The love of Jesus, what it is
None but his loved ones know,"
IV. This language suggests THE SATISFACTION FOUND BY THOSE WHO PARTAKE OF THIS SPIRITUAL FOOD. We read in the Gospel that, when the great Lord of nature and of men miraculously supplied the wants of the hungering crowds," they did all eat, and were filled." In this they prefigured all who, in every land and age, should feed by faith upon the Son of God. Of him it may truly be said, "He filleth the hungry soul with goodness." Three remarks may be made upon the power of the Lord Jesus to appease the spiritual hunger and to supply the spiritual wants of men. He is sufficient for each, sufficient for all, sufficient for evermore. Each soul, however drawn or driven to Christ—driven by the desperation of want, or drawn by the excellence and abundance of the Divine supply—finds in him all that he himself has promised. To believe, to trust, to love, to follow Christ,—this is to appropriate him, to prove and learn his Divine sufficiency. "He that cometh to me," says Jesus," shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." The same faith which first reveals Christ to the soul, and stays its hunger, is the means of attaching the soul to Christ and the means by which the soul finds in him all the fullness of God. For he of God is made unto his people "wisdom and righteousness, sanctification and redemption." The bounty of the Lord Jesus is unrestricted. As the vast multitude of his auditors were fed by his beneficence—as men, women, and children all ate and had enough, so that basketsful of fragments were taken up—so throughout this wide world its teeming and varied populations are all destined to find in him the Saviour of mankind. "I," said he, "if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." Untold myriads have feasted at the table of Christ, and none have risen hungry and dissatisfied. Still have the ministers of his grace the privilege of announcing to the starving children of men, "' Yet there is room.' Come ye in, that the guests may be many and the tables filled. 'Eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.'" Still further to enhance the conception of the preciousness of the great salvation, let it be remembered that it is an unfailing, an everlasting, an imperishable satisfaction which is to be found in Jesus Christ. He that eats of earthly bread and drinks of earthly streams hungers and thirsts again; but he who, by Divine mercy, feeds on heavenly food and drinks of the living water hungers and thirsts no more. For him is provided a perpetual feast, an immortal satisfaction and content. Generation succeeds generation, and age follows age. The experience of humanity is prolonged from century to century. Opportunity is given to every system, to every creed, to every philosophy, to deal with the deep and spiritual necessities of mankind. As one attempt of human wisdom succeeds another, and as each fails in its turn, we hear in our soul within us the cry arise, suggested by human effort and by human powerlessness, "From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?" There is no answer. None has been given; none can be given. Happy are we who hear a voice, Divine alike in sweetness and authority, rising above the plaint of the hungry, or breaking the silence of the baffled and the helpless, and uttering forth the welcome declaration of pity and of love, "I am the Bread of life" ! And happier still if, convinced of the sincerity and the power of this Divine and compassionate Benefactor, prompted by our human need, and guided by the Spirit of God, we respond, in faith and gratitude and poise, "Lord, evermore give us this Bread'!
This was not an isolated case of the demands on the part of the Jewish leaders that Jesus should work some miracle which they might receive as a sign from heaven. And it was not only during our Saviour's ministry that they preferred such a request. For Paul had occasion long afterwards to complain of the Jews that they "required a sign," and were dissatisfied with the doctrines and with the evidences of Christianity.
I. THE REQUEST OF THE PHARISEES. These men made a point of seeing Jesus, and seem, on this as on other occasions, to have come as a deputation from his adversaries.
1. What was it they asked? Not an ordinary miracle, for such Jesus had already repeatedly and publicly performed. It was a sign, not from himself, but from heaven. Any wonder he might work they would attribute to magic or to Beelzebub. But, such was their profession, if he would furnish them with some splendid celestial portent—if he would give bread from heaven or stay the sun in its course—then they would be convinced of his Messiahship.
2. Why did they ask such a sign? They were tempting, testing him—putting him to the proof. Had he complied with their wish, they would have seen in him the Messiah they wanted—one prepared probably to wield supernatural power for personal aggrandizement and for political dominion. Should he refuse, they would be confirmed in their rejection of his claims.
II. THE REFUSAL OF CHRIST. Observe:
1. The feeling with which he refused. "He sighed deeply in his spirit." Had they come asking for healing, relief, assistance, he would have joyfully complied; but it grieved him to the heart that they should come thus. And he read in their conduct the sign of a widespread carnality, unspirituality, and unbelief.
2. He disapproved of the spirit in which the request had been made. He was not only pained by it, he censured and condemned it. They who came, came to carp and criticize, and confirm themselves in their unbelief.
3. He had already given evidence enough to justify the faith of such as were candid and open to conviction. He had wrought miracles so many and of such a kind as might assure the thoughtful and spiritually susceptible that he was from God.
4. He knew that what they asked for, if granted, would not convince them. The deficiency was not in him; it was in themselves. The principle was applicable, "If they hear not Moses and the prophets," etc.
5. There was one great sign yet to be given, in God's time—a sign that should surpass all granted in the olden days; a sign that should leave all unbelievers without excuse—his resurrection from the dead.
The evangelists have left untold much which we would fain know, and they have recorded some things which our unwisdom would have dispensed with. The incident here recorded seems trivial, and the conversation arising upon it commonplace. Yet it was not without a purpose that two evangelists were directed to preserve this passage in our Lord's ordinary life.
I. THE WARNING WHICH THE DISCIPLES MISUNDERSTOOD. Christ's ministry of teaching seems to have been one long protest against the current doctrines and practices of the religious leaders of the time. The Pharisees were very generally formalists, and the Herodians secularists, and against both tendencies our Divine Lord's opposition was unceasing and uncompromising. Using figurative language, Jesus cautioned his disciples against the leaven, i.e. the influence, of such errors as were characteristic of these religious schools. Although they were so much in his society and so attached to his ministry, they were not deemed by the Master beyond the need of this wise and faithful admonition.
II. THE CONSTRUCTION WHICH THEY PUT UPON HIS WORDS. The word "leaven" reminded them of bread, and the thought of bread reminded them of their negligence in not having made proper provision for their journey. But their misunderstanding was scarcely due to their oversight; it was rather the consequence of their own slowness of mind to take in their Master's manner of speech. We do not trace impatience, but we do trace a certain dissatisfaction and reproachfulness, in the Lord's language: "Do yo not yet perceive, neither understand?" How often has Christ occasion thus to expostulate with his too unspiritual and inappreciative disciples! We often take Christ's words too literally, without that discernment and sympathy which a wise and gracious Master expects from his scholars.
III. THE CONSIDERATIONS BY WHICH CHRIST REPROVED THEIR MISUNDERSTANDING.
1. They should have known him better than so to misapprehend him. Where were their eyes, their ears, their heart? Had they been susceptible and active, surely a truer, a loftier judgment would have been formed of the Christ, the Son of God. In this case they would not have supposed that he was troubling himself or them with such a trifle as now excited their concern.
2. They should have better remembered the past, especially the occasions upon which the Lord had supplied the wants of multitudes in the exercise of his omnipotence. Such a recollection would have saved them from the misapprehension into which they had fallen.
APPLICATION. Christ's words are to be understood in the light of his nature and his works. To understand what Christ says we must think of him aright, and we must study his teaching in the light of the wonderful deeds which he has performed for the relief and the salvation of mankind. It is want of sympathy and of remembrance which often leads to misunderstanding. He that will do the Divine will shall know of the doctrine.
Sight for the blind.
Every form of human privation, suffering, and infirmity which came under the notice of Christ elicited his compassion and his healing mercy, and every such disorder was treated by him as a symptom of the moral malady which afflicts mankind. The diversity of his miracles of healing may serve to represent his power and willingness to restore our sinful humanity, afflicted with many and various ills, to spiritual soundness and health. In this miracle we observe—
I. A SYMBOL OF THE SPIRITUAL BLINDNESS OF HUMANITY. The blind man of Bethsaida may not have been born blind; but his sightless state was well known, and excited the commiseration of his neighbors and acquaintances, who led him to the great Healer and Enlightener of men, that he might touch and cure him. He is an emblem of this humanity, darkened in understanding, incapable of discerning truth, blind to moral beauty, to heavenly glory.
II. A SYMBOL OF SALVATION BY DIVINE CONTACT. Jesus treated this man in a way appropriate to his condition and infirmity. He appealed to the sense of touch, for there was no sense of sight to which to appeal. He led the blind man by the hand, took him apart, spat on his eyes, laid his hands upon him. All this was to make the patient feel that the Divine Physician was there, was interested in him, was working for his cure. It was to reveal his own presence and to call forth the sufferer's faith. And there is no salvation for any by merely hearing or reading about Jesus Christ. The spiritually blind cannot experience his illuminating power except by coming to him in faith. If he enter the heart, reveal his truth and love and power, come into immediate contact with the springs of the spiritual nature and life, then the mind, before insensible to the light of Heaven, begins to appreciate the great realities of being—the nature, the character, the will, of a holy God and Father.
III. A SYMBOL OF THE PROGRESSIVE CHARACTER OF SPIRITUAL ENLIGHTENMENT. The most noticeable feature of this miracle is the way in which the cure was wrought—gradually and progressively. Why Jesus did not effect the result at once does not appear. It may have been to teach us how difficult and slow is the process of human illumination, even by the gospel and the Spirit of God. As at first the man saw human figures, which appeared like trees, hut moved, so that even his half-recovered vision judged them men; so those to whom the light of the gospel first comes often discern but dimly those spiritual facts and relations which time and experience and Divine teaching will render more vivid and distinct. It is not to be expected that young Christians or recent converts shall understand all such truth as is comparatively clear to the mature and instructed. God's ways herein are like his ways in other departments of his government; order and progression are characteristics of his reign.
IV. A SYMBOL OF THE POWER OF CHRIST TO EFFECT COMPLETE ILLUMINATION. After the further application of the wonder-working hands of Jesus, it is recorded that the blind man "was restored, and saw all things clearly." So in God's light we shall see light. He hath "shined into our hearts." We shall "see God." The vision shall brighten here; and it shall be more than bright-it shall he glorious—hereafter.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
Seeking for a sign.
Christ knew at once what this meant. He "knew what was in man," and refused to commit himself to the pretended inquirers. We have a more difficult course to pursue.
I. THE CHARACTER OF THE DEMAND DEPENDS UPON CIRCUMSTANCES. It may be made in an honest, inquiring spirit, or in order to injure religion. In the former case too much consideration can hardly be given to it, as it is the indispensable preliminary to rational conviction, and the gospel offers evidence for its claims. The spirit in which the inquiry is made may be determined by:
1. The character of those who inquire. Bad men may be genuine inquirers, but it is well to know their antecedents. Christ could read the underlying design of the Jews. It may reasonably be expected that inquirers should give some proof of their sincerity, especially if already furnished with many evidences.
2. The kind of sign asked for. Here it was "a sign from heaven," i.e. differing from the miracles and previous manifestations of Christ. This implied that they were insufficient, and indirectly pronounced judgment upon the previous words and works of Christ. A question may sometimes reveal a more thorough scepticism than a dogmatic denial. Whilst apparent liberty is given as to what particular sign might be produced, there is really a tone of dictation and unseemly assumption.
II. SUCH A DEMAND EXPOSES THE REPRESENTATIVES OF CHRISTIANITY TO STRONG TEMPTATION. They are invited to criticize God's methods of revelation, and to despise the "means of grace." A position full of unbelief and presumption may insensibly be assumed, such as that of Moses at the rock: "Must we fetch you water out of this rock?" (Numbers 20:10). They may be induced to attempt to "force the hand" of God. The crime of such a proceeding could only be equalled by its folly. As if those who are insensible to the cross of Christ could be converted by a thunderbolt or a merely supernatural spectacle! It is for Christ's servants in times of popular excitement to preach the old truths, and to appeal to every man's God. The improbability of sensationalism producing belief is a growing one. "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31). So we may now add, "If they believe not One who has risen from the dead, neither will they believe, though he were to be manifested to them in heaven itself."
III. EVEN WERE IT DESIRED IT WOULD BE REFUSED. "This generation" represents all who ask in a similar spirit.
1. Because the. evidence for Christianity is spiritual, not carnal; moral, and not material.
2. Because the patent, outstanding facts of the gospel are sufficient:
(1) For the conversion of sinners; and
(2) for the confirmation and edifying of saints.
3. Because it is part of the punishment appointed to such inquirers that they shall ask and not receive, and seek and not find.
4. Because it may become a means of turning attention back to the evidence that has been despised or ignored. It is high time our philosophical inquirers began to inquire why their researches have produced no fruits in evidence or conviction as yet. Why is it that whilst the evidence for the gospel is at least equal to that for any other matters of history, it is yet disbelieved when they are accepted? Is not the reason a moral rather than an intellectual one?—M.
The leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod.
The parabolic habit of mind of Christ was essential to the setting forth of Divine truth to the comprehension of men; but as yet the persons who might have been expected to understand his teaching most thoroughly, were continually mistaking it. Whilst their Master discoursed of heavenly things, the thoughts of the disciples were upon the earth. There is nothing so reveals the moral and spiritual distance of persons from one another as the difference in their habits of mind.
I. HOW TOO GREAT A REGARD FOR OUTWARD THINGS BETRAYS ITSELF.
1. In over-anxiety. The disciples had by inadvertency omitted to take in a supply of bread ere leaving the shore, and their minds were full of trouble. They began to forecast the inconvenience to which it might expose them. Over-carefulness is a common feature of worldly character. It arises from too great self-dependence and too little faith in God. A certain, moderate attention to earthly wants is a duty, and will be bestowed by every well-regulated mind; but there are limits to be observed. "Be not anxious for your life," etc. (Matthew 6:25). It is a great aim of the spiritual life to be free from this bondage to minute worries and cares.
2. In failure to attend to or understand Divine things. The disciples were so taken up with this little matter that they utterly failed to perceive Christ's meaning, when he warned them against the Pharisees and Herodians. That they should be so was also a proof that they had forgotten the teaching of the two miracles of the loaves and fishes. For this Christ reproved them. His cross-questioning elicited the fact that the details of these miracles were still recollected; but the spiritual lessons had been completely lost. So to speak, these spiritual tours de force had been thrown away upon them. How hard a race has the Divine life with earthly concern and anxiety in the soul! There is a littleness in such habits of thought that effectually prevents the great ideas of the Divine kingdom from entering the mind. Herein is to be found the explanation of the failure of many services and sermons, which in themselves may have been faithful and devout enough: the hearers are occupied with worldly cares. "The cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the Word, and it becometh unfruitful" (Mark 4:19).
II. THE DANGER TO WHICH IT EXPOSES.
1. Christ, referring to the doctrine of the Pharisees and Herodians, warned against that conception of the Messiah, as one who was to be an earthly king, establishing a temporal dominion, which the leaders of Judaism held. The state of mind of the disciples was eminently favorable to such a view. In them it was only a tendency, in the Pharisees a fixed point of view; and thus the latter wholly missed the spiritual element in the Saviour's teaching. They were filled with visions of national restoration and individual aggrandizement; and failing to receive encouragement from Christ in these, "they were offended in him," and began to seek his destruction. The same danger still haunts the Church of Christ, the absolutely spiritual nature of the Divine kingdom having been one of the most slowly developed of Christian doctrines.
2. The power and the insidiousness of this point of view are suggested by the figure of "leaven." Leaven works slowly, but a very little affects a large amount. "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." To minds already prepared by habit and tendency in that direction, it would be a comparatively easy thing to adopt the worldly interpretation of prophecy given forth by the Pharisees. Indeed, if they were only let alone, the "leaven" was already within them, and would assuredly develop into the same fundamental heresy. To think thus of Christ and his kingdom is "to come short of it," to our own hurt and ruin; "for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Romans 14:17).—M.
"Do ye not understand?"
The last of a series of surprised, sorrowful, and indignant questions on the part of Christ.
I. SPIRITUAL UNDERSTANDING WAS A RESULT TO BE LOOKED FOR FROM CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE.
1. From the teaching of Scripture. It unfolds the will of God, and reveals his mind and character. It is the record of the spiritual history of man in the past. The lives of the Old Testament saints and the history of God's chosen people were intended to acquaint us with the principles of the Divine kingdom, and the purpose of God's dealings with men. "Now these things happened unto them by way of example; and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come" (1 Corinthians 10:11). "These are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God" (John 20:31).
2. From personal experience. In the case of the disciples, the teaching, example, and miracles of Christ were intended to reveal the merciful and loving purpose of God to redeem the world. This was to be
(1) the basis of a personal faith;
(2) a principle for interpreting the circumstances of life;
(3) an influence for delivering and elevating the human spirit.
The consistent lesson of Christ's works—especially of his crowning miracle of the loaves—was that men were to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all needful things of the earthly life would be added. Instead of being lost in anxious deliberations and "reasonings" about ways and means, the true disciple was to look steadfastly to the great end.
III. THE LACK OF IT IN HIS DISCIPLES DISAPPOINTED CHRIST. He was astonished and pained at their hardness of heart. The works specially intended to produce faith and understanding had hitherto failed of their legitimate result. We seem to detect in his tone:
1. Wounded feeling. He had yearned for spiritual companionship and co-operation. It was ever his desire to draw his disciples into a closer fellowship; but they were discovered to be unfit and unworthy of the privilege. It is as if, too, he was indignant that the honor and love of his Father should be suspected.
2. Apprehension. They were in a dangerous spiritual condition, ready to be the prey of every passing temptation. It was as if the foreboding, "When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8), had already flitted across his spirit.
III. IT IS AN ACQUIREMENT TO BE DILIGENTLY CULTIVATED.
1. How? By remembrance. The dealings of God with others are plainly set forth in Scripture; but every Christian has a special history of his own in which God has revealed himself. None of the incidents of that personal history should be forgotten. Let him remember all the way by which the Father has led him, the gracious interpositions and revelations that have marked it, etc. By meditation. These circumstances are to be pondered and studied, that their inward meaning may be discovered. Above all, we ought to consider "what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us" (l John 3:1).
2. Why? Because
(1) it is essential to the usefulness and happiness of the Christian;
(2) it may be increased. In some it can hardly be said to exist at all. Yet if there be faith as a grain of mustard seed it will grow, where diligence and prayerfulness are exercised. Of even those very men Christ at last declared, "No longer do I call you servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I heard from my Father I have made known unto you" (John 15:15). "He that doeth the will shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God."—M.
Restoring the blind to sight.
Illustration of Christ's—
I. WISDOM. He rebuked a vulgar curiosity, and perhaps baffled a Pharisaic intrigue. His privacy, so needful for bodily rest and spiritual preparation for the great conflict he felt to be impending, was thus preserved; and the course of teaching and working upon which he had entered was not seriously disturbed. The subject of the miracle was himself preserved from undue excitement with its attendant dangers. And shall we not suppose that a deeper and more spiritual understanding may have arisen between the Saviour and the recipient of his mercy during those solemn and deeply moving experiences which preceded his recovery? His deep, unbroken attention was secured as he felt the Saviour's touch and listened to his voice. By leading him away he tested and exercised his faith. By emphasizing the stages of recovery he made it clear to the man himself that it was no accidental occurrence, but a deliberate cure. And in the means used—so evidently inadequate to produce such a result—he showed how supernatural the power that was being exercised. The questions asked encouraged the man to put forth his own power as he received it, and thus to co-operate in the curative process. The final injunction to silence and home-going present the incident as a deep personal experience in the mind of the man, and as an evangelic message to those who were most likely to receive it in simplicity and gratitude.
II. MERCY. Although the shadow of death was falling upon the soul of Jesus, he was full of the instinct and will to save. There is scarcely any appreciable pause in his work; and retirement is not inactivity, but quieter, deeper, and more continuous, because more naturally prompted, action. Each case of distress as it arises receives his deliberate and careful attention. His diagnosis of the blind man's state must have been perfect. It was impaired original power that had to be restored, and the treatment corresponded to this fact. The interest of the Saviour in the case is as great as that of the saved. The sinister ends of those who brought the blind man, or watched to see what would be done, did not prevent him showing the mercy required. When the bodily cure had been completed, the spiritual welfare of the recovered one was carefully provided for. The aim is complete salvation in every sense of the word. What Christ does he will do perfectly.
III. JUDGMENT. Unworthy men were debarred from seeing the wonders of his saving power. They might have perverted the privilege to an evil end, and so injured themselves and the cause of Christ; so they were shut out. It is a fearful sentence against a place or a person when the spectacle of the Lord's saving grace is denied, and the things that make for peace are hidden from view.—M.
The Saviour's method in dealing with individual souls.
I. ISOLATES FROM DISTURBING INFLUENCES. The gossips and scheming politicians of the town of Bethsaida. Notoriety. The sense of importance. By his dealings with the sinner in conviction and repentance, he spiritually removes him to his own retirement. He is first brought to be with Christ, that by-and-by he may be in him.
II. HE ENCOURAGES AND CONFIRMS FAITH. By leading the blind man away, although as yet a stranger to him. By personal contact and operation, and by kindly words, the inner free-will and power of the patient were evoked. The means and the gradual working out of the cure were a demonstration of the Power by whom the miracle was wrought. The gradual realization of spiritual power in those being saved is a crucial evidence of Divine grace, and encourages belief in the ultimate accomplishment of a complete salvation.
III. HE EXACTS IMPLICIT OBEDIENCE. This was the highest exercise of a spiritual kind he had demanded. It was but a phase of the faith already called forth—"the obedience of faith." Having won the trust and confidence of his people, he proves and perfects that by directing the fulfillment of duties the reason for which may not be apparent. It is sufficient that he has commanded. The first use of the restored vision is to avoid those upon whom he had formerly depended—a hard task! The life Christ's people are bidden to lead may not commend itself to their judgment or desire, but it is best for their spiritual interests; and if Christ is to be a complete Saviour, he must be an absolute and unquestioned Lord.—M.
Curing spiritual blindness.
I. DELIVERANCE FROM BLIND GUIDES.
II. TRANSFER OF CONFIDENCE TO THE TRUE GUIDE.
III. REVELATION OF THE INVISIBLE POWER OF GOD.
IV. EXERCISING THE SOUL'S NEWLY ACQUIRED POWERS OF SPIRITUAL VISION,
V. GIVING SPIRITUAL DIRECTION FOR THE FUTURE.—M.
Peter's good confession.
The scene of this is worth notice. It lay to the northward of Bethsaida, amongst the villages in the neighbourhood of Caesarea Philippi. This town, on the site of the ancient Paneas (now Bahias), was built by the tetrarch Philip in honor of Tiberius Caesar, and is to be distinguished from the Caesarea of the southern Mediterranean seaboard of Palestine. The country was magnificent; wild, wooded, and mountainous, and dominated by the royal castle of Subeibeh. Here, too, was the chief fountain-head of the Jordan. It was a region where the utmost seclusion could be enjoyed, pending the great things which were to take place in the near future. Immediately behind the disciples were the great works which had occasioned such universal wonder and speculation concerning their Master; and they were in a position of comparative leisure and quietude duly to recall and meditate upon them. No better opportunity had hitherto presented itself for the crowning question of Jesus," Whom say ye that l am? "
I. THE IDENTIFICATION WAS DISTINGUISHED FROM SEVERAL ALREADY CURRENT. So marvellous was the career of Jesus, that all ideas of explaining on ordinary grounds had to be abandoned. In the popular mind the only personages corresponding to Jesus, save John the Baptist, were those of ancient Jewish history, the heroic ages of the theocracy. All were agreed that in him there was a revival or reappearance of the religious spirit of the best days of Israel.
1. The knowledge of these opinions rendered the judgment of the disciples highly conscious and deliberate, and therefore of great critical importance. Each of them, as it came to their ears, would doubtlessly be considered and weighed. The popular guesses would be compared with the full and complete experience of Jesus and his work, which they alone possessed, and one by one rejected. But they would serve to awaken their critical attention and their spiritual discernment—constitute, in fact, a sort of ascending scale according to which to adjust their own thoughts.
2. The certainty to which they had arrived, notwithstanding the variety of opinions of which they were aware, proves how overwhelming the evidence must have been upon which they based their conclusion. There is no hesitation in Peter's answer. And as spokesman of the twelve he utters their unanimous conviction. How much previous examination and interchange of views does that imply?
II. How was THIS CONCLUSION ARRIVED AT?
1. Not from unscientific guessing. From their peculiar circumstances this was impossible.
2. Not from information furnished by Jesus himself. There is no trace of hinting or suggesting on the part of the Master. His withdrawal from that course of policy which might have enabled him to take advantage of popular influence was against the idea of his being the Messiah of the people's dreams. It was in spite of his mysterious behavior, therefore, and in complete absence of any information furnished by himself, that they formed their opinion.
3. It was by a twofold process, viz.:
(1) Induction from their experience of his character and works. For this they were peculiarly fitted; and the searching training of the Master led them gradually but surely to make it. And they were well versed in Scripture.
(2) Inspiration of God. Elsewhere (Matthew 16:17) we read the declaration, "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." These two sources of information were not mutually exclusive, but mutually supplementary and confirmatory, as in every Christian mind to-day. Indeed, in a larger view of evidence the spiritual intuition—the most truly moral evidence of the conscience—is but an element of the general moral evidence upon which the induction is based. It is the conscience which is the ultimate judge of all spiritual questions the ordinary understanding cannot completely or satisfactorily settle.
III. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ITS ATTAINMENT.
1. It was but a recognition of certain correspondences between Jesus and the Messiah spoken of in Scripture. There was certainty and intelligent perception, so far as their knowledge went. But the full conception of his personality and work was reserved for the future. They knew that it was he of whom the prophets spoke, but about himself in his deeper nature and the spirituality, etc., of his work—in short, of what he was—they were not fully aware.
2. What they did arrive at altered their entire relation to him. A new, vague authority attached henceforth to him, and the future was full of a keen expectancy and interest. It gave a new meaning to every word and action proceeding from him, and prepared them for the special training and teaching which they had to receive as his apostles; just as the principle attained by induction of many facts, when its light is turned back upon them interprets them, and we see them as we could not before.—M.
Mark 8:29, Mark 8:32, Mark 8:33
I. WHEREIN IT CONSISTED.
1. In identifying Jesus with the Messiah and yet deprecating his sufferings. That Messiah should suffer was abundantly declared by the prophets. His death was the greatest testimony he could give to the righteousness of God. A comfortable, earthly, prosperous king could never occupy the spiritual position of the Christ; moral influence, the essential feature of the latter's reign, would be entirely wanting. To the thorough student of prophecy and contemporary life, Messiahship "connoted" suffering, not as an accidental but necessary qualification.
2. In identifying Jesus with the Messiah and yet assuming such an attitude and tone towards him. The utmost reverence and submission were not only due to his Lord, but would have been voluntarily rendered had he understood what was meant by his own declaration. In such a case he would never have presumed to dictate or chide.
II. TO WHAT IT WAS DUE.
1. Insufficient realization of what he knew. He had divined the true dignity of his Master, but what it involved was not yet felt. The doctrine is often correct when the sense of obligation it ought to produce is not awakened. A great spiritual truth may be perceived and adopted long ere its relations to practical life are recognized; just as a principle in mechanics or a law of nature. Deeper spiritual experience and more sympathetic agreement with Christ in his desire to abolish sin were needed ere this could take place.
2. Impulse and thoughtlessness. This was his temperament. He was a man of impulse and affection, rather than of calm, spiritual intuition, or careful, painstaking reflection. It was due to his forward and impulsive temperament that he generally spoke for the others, and was so confident respecting himself in the future. Christianity owes much to such spirits, but they have to be kept in check by more sober thinkers, and disciplined by the lessons of providence.
3. Worldly conceptions of the kingdom of God. Had he entertained purer and more spiritual hopes respecting his Master's work, the mischief of his impulsiveness might have been minimized, although it would still have been a source of danger. But with such habitual materialism of aim and desire (common to him with the others) he was constantly committing mistakes, and ready to compromise the cause of Christ. "This world has many Peters, who wish to be wiser than Christ, and to prescribe to him what it is needful to do" (Hofmeister). We ought riot to be too severe with Peter whilst we ourselves lean so much for the guidance of the Church to merely human wisdom, and set our own affections for particular persons, or for ourselves, above the well-being of the race; and estimate that well-being not from a spiritual but from a material standpoint.—M.
The Christ foretelling his own career.
I. HOW UNIQUE AND MARVELLOUS THE PREDICTION! It is a clear, consistent, even symmetrical scheme; as exquisitely balanced and progressively developed as any tragedy of Aeschylus or Euripides. A person who could ideally mark out such a future for himself could not have been mere man. The gospel challenges investigation because of the originality and Divine moral elevation of its conception. And by such statements as this it proves how closely the Old and New Testaments are interwoven, and sympathetically and ideally correspondent.
II. IT DEMONSTRATED THAT HIS SUFFERING AND DEATH MUST HAVE BEEN IN THE HIGHEST SENSE VOLUNTARY. He was still at a point where the future was in great degree within his own power. That he clearly knew what lay before him in the event of his continuing steadfast proved that his will was absolutely, divinely free. There were several alternatives within easy reach: these, comprehensively, he put from him in spurning Peter's interference. It is no fate that is blindly shaping out the destiny of a powerless victim; the necessity is a moral and spiritual one, consequent upon motives and aim deliberately preferred.
III. ONLY THE HIGHEST MORAL END COULD JUSTIFY SUCH CONDUCT. To suppose that earthly aims or selfish objects could have determined such a career is a palpable absurdity. Christ is, therefore, through all time, the type of noble self-sacrifice. But it is only spiritual motives and principles that can so inspire. And conscience justifies the sacrifice upon such grounds alone. Whilst we may be incapable of it ourselves, we feel, nevertheless, that it is not madness, but the fulfillment of the great end of our being, and its highest blessedness. If it be but fairly and fully regarded, it furnishes its own justification, and constitutes a judgment bar before which all so-called religious acts and schemes must stand or fall.
IV. BY MAKING THIS ANNOUNCEMENT CHRIST:
1. Tested the loyalty of his disciples.
2. Vindicated and revealed his own pure, unalterable spiritual resolution.
3. Furnished them with a support for faith and enthusiastic sympathy.—M.
Mark 8:32, Mark 8:33
This scene has, of course, certain features connected with it which cannot be imitated by ordinary persons, or by mere men. Christ exercised a Divine insight and authority. But there are certain principles illustrated. We see—
I. HOW IT PRESENTS ITSELF.
1. Under the guise of friendship. The love may be real in the individuals who are the instruments of temptation, but their knowledge is not sufficient, or their moral character not so, high as it should be. Many of the most terrible moral trials of life owe their power to this circumstance.
2. With great assumption of reasonableness. In Peter there was a domineering, "superior" tone. He spoke as one who knew the world, and the impracticableness of his Master's ideas. But even where this is absent there may be a latent contempt for religious aims, and an unconscious appeal to the utilitarian standards of conduct. With many persons the test of reasonableness in moral action is the immediate advantage of those immediately concerned, or the most directly pleasant course of procedure, or the attainment of some recognized worldly object.
II. HOW IT IS TO BE DETECTED.
1. By the aid of the Divine Spirit. There are necessarily many occasions for moral decision in which it would be impossible to assign reasons for the steps taken, because these are not clearly discerned; yet there may be moral certainty. It is the Spirit of God that is to guide us in such cases.
2. By comparing spiritual things with spiritual, e.g.:
(1) In moral questions we should distrust proposals which too readily fall in with our own desire for ease, or a pleasant life, or worldly advantage. It is not usual for great duties so to approve themselves.
(2) Suggestions are to be rejected which stand in the way of personal consecration, or interfere with moral duties and Divine impulses.
III. How IT IS TO BE OVERCOME.
1. By distinguishing between the agent or instrument and the inspirer. It was a painful thing for Christ to do, but he did not shrink from denouncing the spirit to which the suggestion was due, and the evil one who had used Peter as his tool. This detection, whether it be declared or not, is a great part of the victory.
2. With promptitude and decision. Christ turned his back upon the tempter. There must be no dallying or temporizing. Upon every moment that follows discovery of evil an eternity hangs.
3. By casting one's self upon the Spirit of God. In prayer: "Deliver us from the evil one." In abiding union and voluntary submission: "Not my will, but thine, be done." "Minding" the things of God, and having the whole attention and affection absorbed by them.—M.
The Master's summons to his disciples.
Like a commander addressing his soldiers. Full of clear vision and resolve.
I. THE AIM. It is the overcoming of spiritual error and Satanic influence, and the establishment of the kingdom of God.
II. THE CONDITIONS OF ITS ATTAINMENT. (Mark 9:34.) These are open to all. The multitude is addressed equally with the disciples. There appears to have been a disposition in many to join themselves to his fortunes. He therefore lays down the terms of his service, so that none may enter it without knowledge of its nature.
2. Cross-bearing. Not quite identical with the preceding, although involving it. "A Christian," says Luther, "is a Crucian" (Morison). "His cross," each having some personal and peculiar grief, sorrow, death, through which he has to pass. This cross he is to take up voluntarily, and to carry, long ere it shall have to bear him.
3. Obedience and imitation. There can be no self-assertion or private end to be sought by individual believers. "The footsteps of Jesus." It is a cross even as the Master has to be crucified. The same spirit and plan of moral life must be shown. He is our law and our example.
II. INCENTIVES. (Verses 8:35-9:1.)
1. Christ's example and inspiration. He says not "Go," but "Come." He goes before, and shows the way.
2. The endeavor to save the lower "self" will expose to certain destruction the higher "self;" and The sacrifice of the lower "self" and its earthly condition, of satisfaction will be the salvation of the higher "self." "Life," or "soul," is used here ambiguously. A moral truism; a paradox to the worldly mind. "It is in self-denial that we first gain our true selves, recovering our personality again" (Lange).
3. The value of this higher life cannot be computed. All objective property is useless without that which is the subjective condition of its possession. Righteousness is that which makes individuality and the spiritual nature precious, and imparts the highest value to existence. Every man has to weigh the "world" against his "soul."
4. Recognition of Christ on earth is the condition of his recognition of us hereafter. It is not merely that we are "not to be ashamed;" we are to "glory" in him. The recognitions, the "well done" of Heaven, the highest reward. Even here the great triumphs of truth confer honor upon those who have striven for them.
5. The triumphs of the kingdom of God are not long deferred. Some of Christ's hearers lived to see the overthrow of Jerusalem and the universal diffusion of the gospel. The spiritual vision is purified to discern the progress of truth in the world. Those victories which Christian morals and spirituality have already won within the experience of living Christians are an ample and abundant reward.—M.
Ashamed of Jesus and his words.
This warning is evidently called forth by the unholy presumption of Peter, and the wavering of the disciples divined by the penetrating spirit of Christ. He rebukes the spirit of false shame as a heinous offense against himself and his cause.
I. JESUS AND HIS WORDS AN OCCASION OF FALSE SHAME. The penalty attaching to unreal or unjustifiable feelings is that, sooner or later, they commit their subject to some egregious folly or inexcusable sin. This is a result of natural law.
1. Why should men be ashamed of Jesus? That they can ever be justified in such shame is, of course, impossible. But there are reasons that, human nature being what it is, explain the phenomenon.
(1) Their opposition to the spirit and conduct of the world. Fashion, custom, perverted and corrupted religion, the general principles upon which worldly men conduct their affairs, are alike condemned by the gospel. The wisdom, authority, and influence of the world are therefore arrayed against its teachings. The methods of the Divine life are in contradiction to those of the ordinary life of men. It involves humiliation and self-sacrifice. Christ, as the embodiment and central principle of this, is therefore "rejected and despised."
(2) The objects and aims of Christ's teaching seemed so remote, and so unsupported by the external evidences to which men are wont to appeal. What sign was there of a coming "kingdom," other than those with which they were already familiar? Never had wickedness appeared so secure and influential, or religion at such a discount. The same causes are at work in all ages; and to-day there are many evidences of the same spirit.
2. How does this shame manifest itself? In shrinking from open discipleship. Bringing an eclectic spirit to the teachings of the gospel. Making compromises with fashion, selfish principles, or demoralizing amusements and pursuits, etc.
3. What renders such conduct peculiarly heinous? The weakness of the cause of Christ, and the power and reputation of its enemies. Sin had never so lifted itself up against God. It was "a wicked and adulterous generation," and was to crown its apostasy by crucifying the Son of man. At such a critical time every individual had an influence that might affect the issue of the conflict, and gratitude and honor urged him to exercise it. Unbelief was at the root of the shame which many felt.
II. JESUS AND HIS WORDS JUDGING FALSE SHAME.
1. By the fulfilments of prediction. The destruction of Jerusalem, the sign of the inauguration of the kingdom of God, was at hand. Some of those addressed were to live to see it. And as in major historic events, so in minor ones. Every success attending Christian effort, every verification of Christian doctrine in experience, is a judgment of the unbelief which is ashamed of the gospel.
2. By exclusion from the blessedness and glory of Christ's advent. Just when such men have begun to see how unfounded their suspicions and doubts, and how real are the promises of Christ, they are unable to partake of them. They have no fellowships with the redeemed and glorified, are out of place and covered with confusion because of their guilt and folly. A personal element adds poignancy to their shame; they are openly repudiated by him whom all adore and glorify. A simple but terrible and inevitable retaliation, due not to vengeance, but to spiritual laws. The exposure will be overwhelming and absolute.—M.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
Christ's beneficence and economy.
I. CHRIST'S BENEFICENCE,
1. It embraces all human wants. He came to save from sin, but he also delivered men from its manifold effects. The dead were raised, the sick were cured, the hungry were fed. Herein signs were shown of the coming of that heavenly state in which the redeemed hunger no more, and wherein there shall be no more pain. The Church should seek to deal with human necessities as broadly as her Lord did—overlooking neither the temporal nor the spiritual.
2. It was not exercised as we should have expected. John the Baptist, "the friend of the Bridegroom," was not delivered from death, yet this crowd of men and women, who were so undeserving, were relieved from the pangs of hunger. He is kind to the unthankful and to the unworthy.
3. It was free from ostentation and from pride, A plainer, cheaper meal could scarcely have been given than this, of barley loaves and fish. The absence of luxury on this and on other occasions during our Lord's ministry is a rebuke to our self-indulgence. "Feed me with food convenient for me." As ostentation was avoided, so also was pride. Our Lord did not look dawn with contempt upon the pitifully small provision offered by the disciples—"seven loaves" and "a few small fishes." He did not put these aside and create afresh, as he might have done; but although he needed not to take the loaves, he did take them. Use to the utmost what God has already given you. Do the best you can with what you have. As you use any gift, it will increase as the loaves did which the disciples carried to the multitude.
4. It was accompanied by devout acknowledgment of God. Jesus gave thanks" over this labourer's dinner. God's presence will make the eating of common loaves a sacrament to us. Let us thankfully receive his gifts, and in his name distribute them, that our beneficence may be a humble copy of our Lord's.
II. CHRIST'S ECONOMY. On this occasion, as on that near Bethsaida, the evangelists tell us that the apostles gathered up the remnants of the feast; and, judging from John 6:12, we may be sure that on both occasions they were obeying their Lord's command. In God's gifts to man there is no waste, except where our ignorance and carelessness misuse them. The leaves of a tree are not mere ornaments, as was once imagined, but are means of nourishment; and when they fall and are driven by the wind into secret resting-places, they still enrich the soil. Not a drop of rain is wasted, fall where it may. Every year we are learning more and more that what was squandered as refuse from factories and sewers was meant by God for use. Science is following in the footsteps of these disciples of Christ.
1. Economy is needed in regard to the use of our daily food. This wealthy nation is peculiarly wasteful. Servants use extravagantly anything of which there seems plenty. Artisans are prodigal in expenditure when wages are good. The middle classes and the upper classes are increasingly luxurious. All this was rebuked when Jesus taught his disciples that, although he could multiply food so easily, they were humbly and patiently to take up the fragments.
2. Economy is called for in the use of all God's gifts. Physical strength we should husband, and not squander. In seeking wealth or honor, many a man lives to repent his disobedience to this law. The whole life is God's. We have no right to force into a few years what he meant to occupy its whole length, but are called upon to work thoughtfully and lawfully. There is a great waste of mental strength also going on amongst us. Some books and papers occupy the mind only to debase it. In education we ought to seek for ourselves and others well-trained and well-developed powers, so that nothing may be wanting to our complete manhood when we lay ourselves as living sacrifices on God's altar. Spiritual sensibility, also, is wasted when it evaporates in temporary excitement. The engines which make most noise are those which are doing nothing. When steam is up it must be used. So when feeling is aroused it must be turned into activity.
3. Economy is the more requisite when gifts are diminishing. At the end of an abundant feast little was left, yet even about it the Lord Jesus was concerned. Gather up what is left of former religious teaching, which is too often lost; of good resolutions, which have been broken again and again; of old beliefs, which have been shattered, and must be rearranged; of good reputation, although so little is left; of opportunities for Christian service, which may appear slight and casual, but fairly used will multiply and grow.—A.R.
The blind man of Bethsaida.
The variety of method adopted by our Lord in his acts of healing finds a striking illustration in the contrast presented between the cure of this blind man and that of Bartimaeus. The sight of the latter was instantaneously and perfectly restored, but it was otherwise with the former. If, as we believe, Christ's miracles were symbols of spiritual experiences, we must expect variety in these also; and we see them in the contrast existing between the sudden transformation of a profligate, and the religious life of one who from a child has known the Scriptures, and loved the things that are excellent. For the further elucidation of such truth, consider—
I. THE SUBJECT OF THIS MIRACULOUS CURE.
1. He was a blind man. Although light blazed around him, to him it was as darkness, and objects which appeared to others real and near were unperceived by him. Hence we often, and properly, speak of "moral blindness" or "spiritual blindness," by which we mean, that he who suffers that privation is incapable of discerning the moral or spiritual truths which are obvious to others. And the faculty which he lacks is something distinct from, although not independent of, mental perception. In other words, a man must have brains to understand spiritual truth; but he needs something more—a faculty of soul, to which St. Paul alludes when he says, "Spiritual things are spiritually discerned;" "The God of this world hath blinded the eyes of them that believe not."
2. He was brought by his friends to the Lord. Unlike him, they could see. They knew better than he did what he lost by his blindness. They could find their way to the place where Jesus was, and see his face. Another blind man could not have led him thither. It becomes parents, teachers, and friends, who are rejoicing in God's light, to bring others by pleading and by prayer to Jesus' feet.
3. He was willing to confide in the unseen Saviour. When Jesus took him by the hand, he did not withdraw it. In this wonderful Stranger, of whom he had heard so much, he had implicit confidence. His touch meant a blessing. How often, by our wilfulness and unbelief, we lose what by trustful waiting we might receive!
II. THE METHOD OF THIS MIRACULOUS CURE.
1. Jesus led him apart. He wished to have him alone. Separation, secrecy, solitude, often precede the reception of blessing from Christ. He takes us away from the multitude by illness, in worship, etc.
2. Jesus gave him glimmerings of light. He saw slightly and indistinctly. His companions, who had been left at a little distance, appeared to him to be moving, but seemed vague, large, formless, like trees waving in the wind. Perhaps this cure was gradually wrought because the man's faith was weak, and the slight change already experienced would strengthen his expectation, and make him ready for a fuller blessing. It is at least a beautiful type of the gradual illumination of the soul with light. Lydia was an example of this.
3. Jesus by repeated touch gave him perfect sight (Mark 8:25). He leaves nothing incomplete. He is "the Author and the Finisher of faith." The imperfect vision of earth will be followed by the perfect vision of heaven.—A.R.
The worldling and the Christian: a contrast.
Our Lord had just foretold his own sufferings, and now he goes on to speak of his requirement—that his disciples should be willing to follow him in the way of the cross. Soon they would be involved in persecution and trials, which they would be unprepared to meet unless they had wholly surrendered themselves to him. He never hid from his disciples what it would cost them to follow him. Again and again, when there were signs of defection on the part of the people, he gave the twelve an opportunity of leaving him if they wished to do so (John 6:67). Only whole-hearted service is acceptable to our Lord. It seems strange that his definite announcements of his sufferings, death, and resurrection should have been so imperfectly understood by his disciples. This can only be accounted for by the fact that they often took figurative language literally (Matthew 16:1; John 4:33; John 11:12), and literal language figuratively (Matthew 15:15-17; John 6:70). In this passage some of the distinguishing points between a worldling and a Christian are suggested, and by them we may test ourselves.
I. THE ONE FOLLOWS THE WORLD, THE OTHER FOLLOWS CHRIST. Our Lord speaks here of following him, i.e. doing what he did, going where he went, etc. In any doubtful sphere let us fairly and frankly ask ourselves—Would the Lord be here? He did not confine himself to the synagogue or to the temple, but dwelt in the home at Nazareth, worked at the carpenter's bench, sat at the wedding feast, went out on the lake with the fishermen, etc. In our innocent enjoyments and ordinary work we may still be following him. Suggest occasions on which there is a distinct choice between the worldly and the Christ-like.
II. THE ONE INDULGES HIMSELF, THE OTHER DENIES HIMSELF. A complete surrender of will is called for if we would truly serve Christ. Whenever his will points in one way and our inclination points in another, we must deny ourselves. This is an indispensable condition of following. The true denier of self is the true confessor of Christ. Wishes, tastes, and appetites must be restrained and (where obedience to the Lord requires it) denied by a Christian.
III. THE ONE CARES FOR WHAT IS OUTWARD, THE OTHER FOR WHAT IS INWARD. Many desire to "gain the world," and in the attempt use selfish and sinful means, such as the Lord spurned when they were offered to him (Matthew 4:9). But what seems to us to be "gain" we must learn to "count loss for Christ" (Philippians 3:7, Philippians 3:8). His disciples cannot be content with the outward show of happiness. Character to them is far more important than circumstances. If the world be gained, nothing is gained; if the soul be lost, everything is lost.
IV. THE ONE SEEKS EASE, THE OTHER RISKS THE LOSS OF IT. We want a test of the different courses which are sometimes presented for our choice. Speaking broadly, two are possible to us, and our use of the one as of the other proclaims what manner of men we are. The worldling asks, "Which is the pleasantest and easiest thing to do?" the Christian asks, "Which is the right thing?" and will choose that, whatever its issues.
V. THE ONE FINDS DEATH A LOSS, THE OTHER A GAIN. Our life reaches far beyond things seen. Death is the grave of earthly pleasures, but it is the gateway of heavenly joys.
VI. THE ONE WILL BE ASHAMED, AND THE OTHER EXALTED, IN THE DAY OF JUDGMENT. Christ speaks here of his coming again, "in the glory of his Father," as his Representative in judgment and as the Founder of a new heaven and earth, in which righteousness will dwell. Around him will be "the holy angels"—those servants of God who rejoice over the penitent (Luke 15:10), who minister to the saints (Hebrews 1:14), and who will finally execute the judgments of the Lord (Matthew 13:41). Then he who knows us altogether will separate us, according to his unerring judgment of our characters. All will awake, "some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt."—A.R.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
A sign from heaven.
"There was again a great multitude, and they had nothing to eat." Again Jesus had "compassion." Again are the disciples perplexed. "Whence shall one be able to fill these men with bread here in a desert place?" Speedily, of "seven loaves" and "a few small fishes" "about four thousand men, beside women and children, did eat and were filled," and "broken pieces remained over" to the extent of "seven baskets." Jesus left the miracle to give its own teachings—the great work to sink down into their hearts, while that he sought relief and rest, entering into the boat and coming "into the borders of Magadan." Perversely, the Pharisees, now joined by the Sadducees, came tempting him, putting him to the proof, "seeking of him a sign from heaven." They knew not that he had already put them to the proof by the signs already wrought, which, had they had eyes to see, would have led them to believe. He had, without words, proved that the veil was on their hearts. Had they been children of truth, how soon would they have acknowledged the truth! But now, with words, he would carry home to their hearts a conviction of their blindness in presence of spiritual things. "A sign from heaven," would ye? Quick are ye to discern the signs in the reddened sky of the morning or evening. See ye no red "signs of the times?" Do the passing clouds of heaven foretoken storm or calm? and do not the passing incidents of earth in the political or the social sphere, or the sphere of the individual life? Look around. Was it ever so seen in Israel as it is now seen? Your fathers did eat manna in the desert—is it not so now? Are not the words of the prophets finding their exact fulfillment in these hours? Are not "signs" abundant in the healed ones and in the wonderful words? Would ye have "blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke" ? Would ye have the sun "turned into darkness … the moon into blood" ? Verily the sun shall be darkened; verily the sign of blood shall be in the heavens and upon you. Alas! having eyes they saw not, and having ears they heard not. Then "deeply" from the heart of compassion and sorrow a sigh arose mingling with his words of astonishment and inquiry, "Why doth this generation seek a sign?" followed by the stern condemnation, "There shall no sign" such as they desire "be given;" though God's own sign—"the sign "—will not be wanting, nor be unseen by the watchers. Why will men "seek a sign?" Why "cannot" men "discern the signs"—even those which are always the peculiar and appropriate "signs of the times" ? The questions admit of one reply, for that age and this, and for every age. The answer is found—
I. In the prevalent spirit of unbelief. The strange closing of the eyes and shutting of the ears and hardening of the heart. And if the light abound the closed eye cannot see, and if the air be filled with angel-songs, or the voice of the Teacher lade the air with heavenly truth, the closed car admits it not. And though the hand of the Lord be present, the hardened heart receives not its impress. It is unmoved, untouched.
II. But why do not men believe? Is it that they cannot or that they will not believe? Alas! both. Some cannot because they have not been solely or sufficiently attentive to the Word, from the hearing of which cometh faith, or for a time they labour under the soul-hindering perplexity which some unresolved sceptical difficulty has involved them in. But these, being seekers of the faith, "shall find." They must be patient; for with our partial views of things we cannot suddenly quadrate all our truth with every suggested opinion, or point out the fallacy of that opinion. But some will not believe. In a foolish, even stupid—yea, wicked—resistance of evidence, they shut out the force of conviction; while others are hindered, being "slow of heart to believe," and therefore "foolish men."
III. Moral conditions affect the power of faith. Jesus showed this when he said, "How can ye believe which receive glory one of another, and the glory that cometh from the only God ye seek not?" And the self-seeking and world-loving, the evil and the sensual, the disobedient, and all who have "refused to have God in their knowledge," must gain both an indisposition and an inaptitude of mind to receive God's testimony in that spirit of faith which implies faithfulness to the truth when known. These are the "wicked and adulterous" to whom "no" special "sign shall be given;" for, refusing the many signs that are around, they will not be "persuaded, if one rise from the dead." But to all one! "sign" shall "be given"—"a sign which is spoken against," but which remains ever the one "sign" in heaven and in earth and in all "times," "the sign of Jonah the prophet."—G.
After the great miracle of the feeding of the four thousand, Jesus "entered into a boat with his disciples, and came."—for rest, probably—"into the parts of Dalmanutha. And they forgot to take bread." Had not emphasis been laid on their forgetfulness, we might have supposed they had been led to think "one loaf" enough; for if the Master could feed four thousand with seven loaves, surely he could feed twelve men with one! These men were yet but children in understanding, and Jesus, their watchful Guardian, therefore warns them against the spirit of the men who had recently made the strange demand from him for signs—"the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod," "the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees." Strangely enough, they think the reference is to "leaven of bread," which must find an explanation in the engrossment of their minds by the astounding miracle they had witnessed. And yet they see not the thing signified. Jesus, by a brief teaching on the two bread-miracles, draws them away from the "leaven of bread" to "the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducecs." Is this a lesson for all time? Was the leaven of Herod wholly put out of the house with his name? Do Sadducecism and Pharisaism still linger amongst men; and are the disciples of Jesus still exposed to their corrupting influence? It is but too true that these questions must be answered by one affirmative. Herod is described as "a frivolous, voluptuous, unprincipled man." His name symbolizes a morally vile life. Readers of the Gospels know well what the word "Pharisee" stands for—"the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy." The Sadducees, though less prominent, are not wholly unknown. Their rejection of great truths on no higher authority than their own opinion points at once to the dangerous tampering with revealed truths. These two rivals as schools were one in the evilness of their teaching so aptly alliterated as "unbelieving hypocrisy and hypocritical unbelief." They stood in united opposition to the Lord's Christ. Thus is the Church for all ages warned against evils that threaten the entire strength and the very existence of the life of the Spirit. Those evils are—
I. HEATHENISH SELF-INDULGENCE. Faith grows not in a heart given over to self-indulgence. "The Author and Perfecter of our faith" has made demand, in unmistakable terms, of all who would be his disciples: "Let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." Evil self-indulgence saps the strength of all faith. The highest evidence of the truth and authority of Christ's teaching is given to the obedient. "If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it be of God, or whether I speak from myself." Evilness of life puts men out of harmony with the truth; and as all disobedience is a denial of authority, it disposes men to desire that its authority may be questioned: while the continuous acknowledgment of the authority of the truth makes disobedience the more guilty. These "hold down the truth in unrighteousness." This spirit will support the second evil, namely—
II. SADDUCEAN SCEPTICISM. If scepticism were a true spirit of inquiry, or even that sensibility of faith that longs to know, and is eager to defend itself from deceit, it were a healthy guard against childish credulity. But if it become a proud self-sufficiency, a resolute resistance and despisal of truths that are apprehended only by faith—truths which by their very nature do not admit of scientific demonstration, or of truths that do not harmonize with preconceived notions—it then stands in the way of all holy and healthy influence from the highest truths that could reach the heart. It is the opposite of the hearing ear, of the childlike teachableness, There is a faith which is wrought in the heart by the truth's own testimony—the belief that "cometh of hearing," the hearing that is hearkening. But yet another danger lies in the path of the followers of Christ. It is—
III. HYPOCRITICAL PRETENTIOUSNESS. Here the truth is acknowledged, but neither the heart nor the life is true to it. It is unfaithfulness, deceit, hypocrisy. It is the vice against which the severest words that escaped the lips of Christ were directed. A "double-minded man is unstable," but a double-faced man is utterly unworthy. He is open to all seductions; he may become the tool of all evil, and all the time hiding the filthiness of his evil heart in a show of righteousness whose deceitfulness reduces it to the lowest grade of evil. Of this leaven all disciples from the earliest hour have been in danger. Even a little may be "hid" in the heart "till all is leavened.'" To how many of the disciples may it be said to-day, "Do ye not understand? ― G.
The gradual healing of the blind man.
In each of the many cases of healing there were, doubtless, peculiarities of incident of great interest to the healed, if not to us. But of only a few have we the details. Perhaps where we have them they have their more important relation to us than to the subjects of the healing themselves. In this case, as in others, the compassion of friends is called into play. "They bring to him a blind man, and beseech him to touch him." Not without service to us all is this little feature preserved. How may we who have proved his power to heal learn here the duty, the propriety, the encouragement to bring to Jesus, by kindly, leading hands, those who see not their way to him. Gently Jesus took the hand of the blind man in his, and led him away from the crowd, "out of the village"—itself a judgment to this Bethsaida. But oh, how beauteous a picture—Jesus leading the blind! This is itself a homily. Singular to us appear the actions of Christ, both here and elsewhere. But why did he "spit on his eyes" ? That he should work gradually and through the medium of outward signs was very becoming, if only to identify himself with the miracle. But who shall tell the thoughts they stirred in the hearts of the healed, for every one of whom Jesus cared! There was no need of spittle even to loosen the gummed eyelids, though such loosening may have been necessary, and needed no wasting of power by the doing it miraculously. Nor was there any absolute need of the touch of the hand; no, nor even at any time of the word. His will was enough. But he who chose to use his word or his touch or his breath here identifies himself with the miracle by the spittle. The progressive character of the work stands in contrast to the somewhat hasty "touch him." As there is no mention of faith (so generally commended where found) on the part of the blind man, it may have been but small, if there were any. Perhaps this may afford some reason why the healing was not instantaneous. It may have responded to the growing faith of the recipient—a seeing far more important even than beholding men and trees. Would no virtue come from the touch of that leading hand? Were no words spoken to awaken faith? Was there a Lydian spirit in the man "whose" eyes "the Lord' so gently "opened" ? We may not know. But to us the miracle is a type of many healings in our suffering, blind world, where faith and hope have need to be roused into activity by some measure of healing—some sign. And it may be that here the full trust of that half-hoping heart was gained by the very lingering of the light on the threshold of those half-opened eyes.
"For thou wouldst have us linger still
Upon the verge of good or ill,
That on thy guiding hand unseen
Our undivided hearts may lean."
Certainly we may learn, in the midst of the variety of the Lord's ways of working:
1. That it may please him to use many means to accomplish that which by a word, a touch, a look—or without—he could instantly effect.
2. That it may equally please him to detain hope till it is made strong by tried faith—the faith that is as severely tried by time as by fire.
3. That it may as truly please him to draw out the heart's love by its sense of dependence upon him. So is it by all those slow but beautiful processes of nature, which are the Lord's hands for ministering to us bread and wine.
4. And most assuredly may we learn not to despise the Lord's work while it is in process. For what seems to us to be but imperfectness of work or tardiness of method, may be his kind and gentle and instructive way of leading us to see things in their perfectness—even "all things clearly."—G.
The confession of Peter.
The brief record of St. Mark leads us to turn to the fuller statements of St. Matthew. Jesus tests the faith of his disciples "as they were able" to bear it. First, "in the way he asked, Who do men say that I am?" What is the general opinion? Then, more closely," But who say ye that I am?" It was a day of testing. There had been a general blindness. Immediately before he had occasion to say, "O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have no bread? Do ye not yet perceive?" But there was amongst them one discerning spirit; and he who "knew all men" saw the elevation of character, the quick perception, the sympathetic, sensitive soul. "Who say ye?" "Simon"—of whom it had been early said, "Thou shalt be called Cephas (which is by interpretation, Peter)," which is by interpretation, "Rock," or" Stone"—"Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." It is enough. Here is one who, seeing, can see the true character of the Sent of God; not a mere teacher, or rabbi, but the Hope of Israel—the long looked-for Christ, "the Son of the Blessed." The wise Master-builder stood ready to lay the firm foundation-stones of his enduring Church—"a spiritual house," built up of "living stones;" and in this first confessor, the first to acknowledge his exalted person and high office, in this man who is a rock, Jesus discerns the suitable stone to lay first on the prepared earth. "Thou," of whom it was once said, "Thou shalt be," now "art, Peter: and upon this rock I will build my Church." Not upon Peter's mere confession; not upon Peter apart from his confession; nor, indeed, upon Peter alone. For the Church of Jesus is not a column, a pillar, of stones. But of those "twelve foundations," of what afterwards was seen by one of them in be a city, and on which are the "twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb," this was the first to be. laid. Or of that "household of God," which is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief Comer-stone," this stone gained the honorable position of being laid immediately next to the comer. The house is spiritual, the stones are spiritual, the total idea is spiritual—every stone is a "living stone." Here is no dead body of rubbish; but spiritually discerning men, who, like Peter, can discern and confess The Lord's Christ. There need be no hesitation in acknowledging the high position assigned to Peter—the prince, the very primate of the apostles—by his Lord and ours. An immeasurable gulf lies between this and the assumption of the exclusive authority of Peter by Rome. Yea, though the improbability of Peter's ever having visited Rome were exchanged for a certainty that he both visited the city and founded its Church, yet would that claim be baseless. Nor does the putting into his hands "the keys of the kingdom of heaven," with which, by God's good grace, he opened the gates of the kingdom to Jews and Gentiles, which work, done on earth, was truly confirmed in heaven, give Rome the slightest warrant for her assumption,
I. The first great lesson for every Peter obviously is—TO SEEK A PENETRATIVE DISCERNMENT OF JESUS AS THE, CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD. The beholding Jesus, the Son of Mary, as the common eye may, is a primary step. A life so pure, so beneficent, so exalted, justly claims the attention of all. It stands pre-eminently above all It is out of the common category. But this is not the perfect view. There is more hidden in the word "Christ;" and this demands a fuller insight. Some, like Nicodcmus, acknowledge him to be "a Teacher come from God." But in their view he is only one of many; with whom Homer, and Shakespeare, and Dante and a thousand others rank as sent of God, and filled with the spirit of wisdom and understanding and all knowledge, like a Bezaleel of old, to work in all manner of work for the building up of an outer temple of God. But he stands alone in Peter's judgment, and in that of all who are "blessed" like Peter, in that the truth is revealed to them not by" flesh and blood," but by the "Father which is in heaven." But even this falls short of the final term: "Thou art … the Son of the living God." "God of God,… very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;" he "being the Effulgence of his glory, and the very Image of his substance." Yet let every discerning one acknowledge, "no one knoweth the Son save the Father."
II. A second lesson is for every one who sooth the Son as he is revealed of the Father, To CONFESS HIM IN PRESENCE OF THE WORLD'S ERROR, SELF-SEEKING, CONFUSION, AND SIN. This each, who having seen Jesus has seen the Father in him, is called to do. And thus shall the kingdom of heaven be opened more and more. Thus shall the great Church be extended, whose inviolable security is pledged to every one who, in the spirit of Peter, can hear and receive the assuring words, "The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it."—G.
Verse 31-ch. 9:1
Having elicited Peter's noble confession, Jesus puts the disciples to further proof by declaring that "the Son of man"—his own lowly title, contrasting so strangely with Peter's word—must "suffer," "and be rejected," "and be killed," "and after three days rise again." And this was said in no enigmatical or hidden way, but "openly." Whereupon the weaker side of Peter's character obtruded itself: he "took him and began to rebuke him." The Messianic hopes which had been expressed by the confession, and confirmed by the Lord's testimony to that confession, were contradicted, if not dashed to the ground, by the suggestion of a suffering and conquered Christ. "This shall never be unto thee." Now does Peter need correction. The strong word of which shows how good and bad may mingle in our present imperfectness. The great proto-confessor denies his Lord by denying the true spirit to Christ, and by opposing his earthly to the heavenly method of conquest—"the things of men" to "the things of God." In the yet imperfect heart, though, indeed, taught of God, this would be a prevailing of the "gates of Hades." Therefore we must say, "Be it far from thee, Lord." In presence of the disciples, for their instruction, as for Peter's correction, the Lord utters his displeasure in the strongest terms—terms quite sufficient to prevent any boasting on account of the previous honorable distinction. "Get thee behind me, Satan." So near the words spoken "to the evil one," "Get thee hence, Satan." One only word is needed to add to this by way of explication, "Thou art a stumbling-block to me;" and another word by way of application, "For thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men." Is it so, then, that "the things of men" stand in direct contradiction to "the things of God" ? That which is purely "of men" do; and all that is not "of God" is of the adversary, "Satan," and must be silenced. That silencing is effected by words which have ever since appeared as in letters of fire Over the gate of entrance to discipleship. And "the multitude" is "called" together to hear them. "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." How simple, yet how comprehensive! how easy, and yet how difficult, is this tri-unity of duty! In its simplest presentation it is:
1. A thorough, complete, continuous, self-denial.
2. A patient endurance.
3. A diligent obedience.
"With men this is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God."
I. It was not only during the early struggles of the Church of Christ, or merely in its conflict with the and-Christian world, that the disciple must needs "deny himself." It is the groundwork of all discipleship, and finds its necessity in the natural revulsion from the duties, the restraints, and the discipline of the gospel. That it should be more needful to urge the necessity for a total self-abnegation in the midst of an unfriendly, antagonistic worldly power, is obvious. But a spirit of self-indulgence is wholly removed from the idea of the disciple of Jesus. The habitual refusal to hearken to the appeals of the sinful self when those appeals contradict the voice of conscience, the inward echo of Christ's outward voice, is a rule allowing of no relaxation, even under the most favorable religious influences. The true idea of the disciple suggests the absolute, unconditional self-surrender—the whole life laid at the feet of the Master.
II. The subsequent words point to a buying of the life at the expense of the life. A paradox designed to awaken thought, and that finds its solution in the dual character of life. The outward and visible, the inward and spiritual; the life temporal, and the life eternal. In Jesus' view a man might suffer, be rejected of men, be killed, and yet truly "save his life" and "find it;" while, on the other hand, a man might save his life from the toils, the sacrifices, the self-inflictions and self-denials which discipleship would require, from the cruelties of men, from the death which human hands could inflict, and yet "lose his life"—lose life in the truest, highest, best, and therefore only real sense. Jesus saw that, so far from losing all, a man might gain all—all the world could give him—the "whole world" itself; yet all this might be at the forfeiture of the life. And if he forfeit his life, "what shall a man give in exchange for" it again? Once forfeited, it is forfeited for ever. There is no possibility of returning to regain it. Well were it, therefore, for his disciples to carry a cross daily, a symbol of dying to self, to sin, and the world, and in the patient endurance of that self-inflicted death to find the true life—the life in Christ, the life in the region of righteousness, and the pledge of a being "raised up" to life everlasting. Before the words were formulated, the disciples of Jesus attained the high estate, "I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me: and," with a reaching far and forward, "that life which I now live in the flesh, I live in faith."
III. It was in this spirit of unflagging obedience—even to a hard, self-restraining, self-denying, and self-crucifying rule—that the disciple was, with his far-reaching and fore-reaching vision, to "live in faith," anticipating the time when "the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and render unto every man according to his deeds." After these hard sayings with which Jesus had shaken the hearts of the disciples, and proclaimed to the "great multitude" the severity of his rule, he comfortingly assures them of the nearness of his kingdom, by declaring "some of them" should "in no wise taste of death" till they had seen it "come with power."—G.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Compassion for the many,
I. CHRIST'S COMPASSION FOR THE MANY CONTRASTED WITH THE NARROW HEARTS OF THE DISCIPLES.
1. Narrow hearts often are caused by narrow means. Alas! grinding poverty makes even naturally kind hearts indifferent to others' sufferings. Where there is "little to earn and many to keep," this will be so. There are circumstances in which the whole kindly current of the man's being is frozen, and he becomes utterly egotistic.
2. The Divine heart is of boundless compassion. All those ancient pictures of God as unwearied and unworn after all his creative activity, may be used of his redemptive activity. There is no exhausting the Divine intelligence, no draining the resources of the Divine heart.
II. CHRIST'S ACTION ON THIS OCCASION A PARABLE OF THE CALL OF THE GENTILES. The present feeding of the multitude differs from the former; the numbers given are different. Again, the present work was done after a long journey in heathen lands. "The one miracle was chiefly, if not entirely, for Jews; the other chiefly, if not entirely, for Gentiles. The feeding of the five thousand was an exceptional miracle, which Jesus had refused to repeat on behalf of Jews. It was therefore quite natural that the apostles should not at once receive the intimation of Jesus respecting what he was willing to do for the multitude. They spoke only of their own inability to supply the wants of the people; but they did not forget what he had done a few weeks before. There were only a few miraculous cures for the Gentiles, while those for the Jews were innumerable; and it might therefore be doubted if Jesus would now do for Gentiles what he had only once done for Jews" (J. H. Godwin). The Divine compassion and love exceed our noblest and largest thoughts, and are extended alike to all peoples.—J.
Craving for signs.
I. WHENCE THE CRAVING SPRINGS. "The Jews seek after a sign." It is the spirit we nowadays term "sensationalism." It is a natural desire for a certain pleasure of the mind. Fixed ideas, a sameness of mental representations, wearies and saddens the mind. Hence the craving for amusement, which gives change to the perpetual march past of the same old thoughts. The feeling is natural enough. The Jews, who had no science in our sense, and did not live in an interesting age like ours, wanted signs and wonders to amuse. We can understand the feeling, and allow it to be natural, but at the same time not religious.
II. CHRIST REFUSES TO FOSTER SENSATIONALISM.
1. The form of denial and refusal is very strong and emphatic indeed. (Mark 8:12.) Signs will be given to those who are ready to profit by them, not to gratify idle curiosity. How severely does Christ discountenance "sensationalism" in connection with his religion! He will have as little noise, as little rumor, finger-pointing, gaping of vacant crowd, as possible. "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation."
2. Besides, an express warning is given: against "the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod." This means much the same as the Pharisees and Sadducees, apparently. The political Herodians were many of them Sadducees. Again, the Pharisees and Sadducees had a certain common basis of teaching. Both were at once in opposition to Jesus and the aims of his kingdom. The Pharisees, strongly conservative of Judaism, would disparage Jesus and his works. The other party would object to any "kingdom of heaven," acknowledging only the Roman empire. The "leaven" means both the teaching and the spirit of it (cf. Matthew 16:12; Luke 12:1).
III. THE UNSPIRITUAL MIND CONSTANTLY MISUNDERSTOOD HIM. The disciples stuck at the word "leaven"—leaven-loaves. "We forgot to bring provisions with us!" The error was double. They caught at the sound instead of the sense. And they showed forgetfulness of the miracle they had so recently witnessed. "How is it that you do not consider?" Christ is just as much misunderstood to-day as he was then. We forget the spirit of Christianity; we blunder over its meaning. He says to us to-day, "How is it that you do not consider?" "Moral evidence is most profitable and proper for religious truth. Lower proof is desired when higher is disregarded and despised. Forgetfulness of the past occasions needless anxiety for the future" (J. H. Godwin).—J.
The blind man.
I. "THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST AWAKENS FAITH IN THOSE WHO ARE BROUGHT TO HIM BY THE FAITH OF OTHERS."
II. "BENEFITS ARE RECEIVED ACCORDING TO THE MEASURE OF FAITH IN HIM" (J. H. Godwin).—J.
Jesus the Messiah.
I. SOME MISTAKEN IDENTIFICATIONS OF JESUS. John Baptist; Elijah; a prophet; Jeremiah, according to Matthew. There was some truth here. They recognized the prophetic inspiration and power of Jesus. Truth in feeling, error in thought; Jesus was the greatest of the prophets, not reproducing his predecessors, but going beyond them. God hath spoken by his Son (Hebrews 1:1-14.).
II. A TRUE IDENTIFICATION. Peter's, "Thou art the Messiah," i.e. the Anointed of God (cf. Matthew 16:13-20). The Messiah includes Prophet, Priest, and King within his person and functions.
III. THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE IDENTIFICATION BY JESUS.
1. It is implicitly accepted here, as explicitly in Matthew 16:1-28 :Jesus claims to be Prince and Saviour of his people and mankind.
2. Yet it must not be made known. Probably the statement, "The Prophet Jesus is the Messiah," noised abroad, would have produced a false impression. When by his death all hopes of an earthly kingdom had been destroyed, it would not be so. "Only with a knowledge of his character would the statement at any time be beneficial; and from this it would receive the best and surest confirmation" (J. H. Godwin).—J.
I. PLAIN TRUTHS SELDOM WELCOME. He now spoke of suffering, rejection, even murder, at the hands of a conspiracy. The veil was drawn aside; at last it was seen what the Messiahship of Jesus meant. The same thing had before been expressed parabolically (John 2:19; John 3:14; John 6:51).
II. THE FLATTERY OF FRIENDSHIP. The honest-hearted Peter is endeared to us. He is so human; his feelings always on the right side, his intelligence often confused. How true his heart here! how wrong his thought! Suffering and death seem an evil to him, as to most of us. Not so to Christ. The mere suggestion that the real is to be preferred to the ideal, mere life to duty, self-interest to the kingdom of God, he spurns from him as the suggestion of a dark spirit.
III. SELF-RENUNCIATION. "Let him renounce himself!" says Christ to the recruit for his army, the would-be citizen of his kingdom. Deep words: the meaning behind them it requires a life to learn.
1. The resolve of egotism must end in failure. To determine to save one's life is to cast it away; to cast away one's life for the sake of the ideal is to save it. Christianity is the kingdom of the ideal.
2. In the spiritual sphere there is no real loss. Life is one, and is not "in the abundance of the things possessed." It cannot be "priced," nor bartered away. It is the man's very self.
3. To disavow our ideal is to incur eternal shame. There are the ideals of comfort, of luxury; the ideals of society; the ideals of God, of the spirit. We must take our choice. We may make a choice of the lower which shall exclude the higher, or of the higher which shall include all of worth an the lower. There is no other rule than "Seek first the kingdom of God!" If we i are ashamed to be true to our ideal, the time will come when we shall be put to shame in the presence of it. To disavow greatness when it comes to us under the guise of obsCurity, this is to ensure our being disavowed of greatness when it appears in its true and heavenly glory.—J.
HOMILIES BY J.J. GIVEN
Parallel passage: Matthew 15:30-12.
The Feeding of the for thousand
1. The feeding of the four thousand.
2. The sign sought by the Pharisees.
3. The leaven of the Pharisees.
I. OMISSION. Having pretty fully considered the feeding of the five thousand recorded in the sixth chapter, and its relation to the feeding of the four thousand narrated in the above section of this eighth chapter, we waive further notice of this subject, as the two miracles are in fact twin miracles, having much in common, and many circumstances so similar that, as we saw, some erroneously identified them. We may add, however, that on the former occasion the northern villagers would have made Jesus a king; the dwellers on the eastern shores make no demonstration. Further, the five thousand were fed after the return of the twelve; the four thousand after our Lord's return from the borders of Tyre and Sidon. In the former case, the disciples went away by sea and Christ retired to the mountain, but met them again at the fourth watch, as he walked upon the waters. On the present occasion the multitude had been with Jesus three days, and afterwards he departed with the disciples in the ship.
II. THE PHARISEES. At this juncture they had made common cause with their bitter opponents, the Sadducees; both together made a combined and desperate attack on our Lord. He seems to have avoided Bethsaida and Capernaum, which were further north, and to have landed near Magdala, now El-Mejdel, in the neighborhood and about three miles to the north of which was Dalmanutha, on purpose, it would seem, to escape from those inveterate enemies who appear to have made Capernaum or Bethsaida their head-quarters. Consequently they were under the necessity of coming in quest of him; for they "came forth, and began to question with him." Their ostensible object on this occasion was to seek of him a sign from heaven, but their real design was, in all likelihood, to entrap him. They were insincere as well as sceptical; and, had the sought-for sign been granted, it would not have overcome their deeply rooted prejudices and hypocritical pretences. The conduct of these wretched men was suicidal. Their curiosity craved a sign; their unbelief unfitted them for its performance, as also for its proper perception had it been performed. Besides, had there not been many signs? Had not a multitude of the angelic host celebrated Christ's birth on the plains of Bethlehem? Had there not been the reception by Simeon, and the response of Anna at his presentation in the temple? Had not the star appeared in the East? Had not the Magi followed its guidance to worship the infant Saviour and to present their gifts? Had not an audible voice from heaven acknowledged him at his baptism, it did as on two subsequent occasions? Had not the Spirit, in visible, dove-like form, descended upon him? Thus in the temple two pious Jews expressed their grateful acknowledgments and recorded their joy, confessing their Lord. Soon after, Gentile Magi, men of scientific knowledge and literary pursuits, came from a far-off Eastern land to pay their homage. Here we have at once Hebrew piety and Gentile philosophy uniting to do honor to the infant Saviour, and bow in humility at his feet. Here, too, we have male and female—that Godly old man Simeon and that holy, aged woman Anna representing their respective sexes in owning his Messiahship. So afterwards, on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when the crowd that went before and the crowd that followed after had cried, "Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!" the children in the temple responded, saying in the selfsame strain, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" Old and young, male and female, Gentile and Jew, thus unite their tribute to that Saviour whose mercy they need, whose grace they share, by whose work they are benefited, and in whose salvation they participate. But not so these captious, sceptical, false-hearted, and malignant Pharisees. On three other occasions we read of a sign being demanded—after the cleansing of the temple, the journey through the corn-fields, the feeding of the five thousand; so also on the occasion mentioned here. What was the nature of the sign for which they clamoured? The signs they sought were marvels of a garish kind—appearances in the sky, such as manna coming down from heaven, as they themselves intimated in John 6:1-71.; or the standing still of the sun and moon, or the sudden descent of thunder and hail, or some change of the atmosphere, as Theophylact suggests; or the calling down of fire and rain, or the receding of the sun's shadow on the dial, or some great, overmastering, and stupendous miracle. "They thought," says Theophylact, "he could not perform a sign from heaven, as one who in league with Beelzebub could only perform signs on earth." But had they not seen even greater signs than these? And, had they been favored with the signs of their own choosing, would they have been satisfied? There is no reason to believe they would. Our Lord, however, never gratified an idle curiosity, nor wrought a miracle to create wonder, but usually to supply some want or relieve some necessity.
III. THE DISCIPLES' WANT OF SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT. Our Lord, as we have seen, had to contend with the hostility of the Pharisees, their stubborn disbelief and ensnaring captiousness. In view of these, and of the subtilty of the temptation which claimed a miracle to prove his Messiahship, as also perhaps of the crisis that was hurrying on, there welled up from the depths of his heart that sigh of mingled patience and pity. But he had more to contend with than Pharisaic opposition and disbelief; he had the perverseness of his own disciples. If he had the stolid stubbornness of the Pharisees to encounter on the one hand, he had the stupidity of his own disciples to oppose on the other. On the one side there was sullen scepticism, on the other sad slowness of heart; on the one malignant frowardness, on the other wayward misconception. How often is the disciple of Christ similarly situated! He meets with open enmity on the part of Godless, Christless men, while unaccountably he finds obstacles thrown in his way by the professed friends of truth. If foes are bitter in their opposition, friends sometimes fail to render the expected and much-needed support—often, however, more from want of thought than want of will. But when distressed and depressed, what by fightings without and fears within, we have the example of our Lord to encourage us and keep us from desponding. If such things were done in a green tree, what may we not expect to be done in a dry?
IV. MEANING OF THE WARNING AGAINST THE LEAVEN. Our Lord broke off his interview with these hypocritical Pharisees abruptly, and re-embarked rather hurriedly. He abandoned them in their unbelief, renouncing and rejecting them as impracticable malignants. The disciples, whose duty it was to provide for their own and Master's wants, had somehow overlooked or neglected the duty that thus devolved on them. Either, owing to their hasty re-embarkation, they had forgotten (ἐπελάθοντο being used in a pluperfect sense) to provide bread before starting—a strange oversight after having collected seven large baskets (σπυρίδας) full of fragments; or, after landing, and when they had come to the other side, they forgot (ἐπελάθοντο having the ordinary past signification of the aorist) to take bread for their land-journey further, though they had had only one loaf with them in the ship. Our Lord, as usual, improving the occasion, and intending to guard his disciples from the subtle, insinuating errors and example of the Pharisees, warned them against their plausible but pernicious teaching, and in doing so he employed terms, as was his custom, suggested by recent occurrences. "Take heed, beware," he said, "of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod;" or, as Meyer understands the word (βλέπετε), "Take heed, turn your eyes away from the leaven of the Pharisees, and from the leaven of Herod;" or, as St. Matthew has it, from "the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees," so that Herod, from his Sadduceeism, may here, by way of eminence, represent that sect. Leaven, with the single exception of the parable of the leaven, is always used for evil of some sort, especially evil secretly working and silently diffusing itself; and hence, in preparation for the Passover, leaven was to be purged out of all the households of the Hebrews. Accordingly the leaven of the Pharisees, if used here in a specific and not in a generic sense, may he taken to denote hypocrisy, while the leaven of the Sadducees may signify misbelief, and that of Herod worldliness; and as the Sadducean creed allows full scope to worldly pleasures and pursuits, and because of their many points of contact, the two latter may coincide or change places; while the whole three are animated by one and the same spirit of opposition to God and true religion. Our Lord here warned his disciples against all doctrine, practice, or teaching of like character under the name of leaven. His disciples, in their low, grovelling notions, and through their slowness of spiritual apprehension, understood him to speak of bread in the literal sense, and of bread baked with leaven got from the Pharisees on landing. They supposed that the Saviour was warning them against anything of that kind that might corrupt them. How different the Master and the disciples! The latter allowed their thoughts to be too much engrossed with the bread that perisheth; the former had his mind occupied with the bread that endureth unto eternal life, and warned them against any teaching or any practice that might interfere with their possessing it. No wonder our Lord was somewhat sharp in his rebuke of their spiritual dulness, for, having eyes for the physical part of the miracles, they failed to see their spiritual import. They had eyesight only for the outward shell, but did not perceive the kernel. Hence it is that he inquires, Having ears, hear ye not?" and again, "How is it that ye do not understand?"
V. EXEGETICAL NOTE ON CERTAIN WORDS AND PHRASES IN THE PRECEDING SECTIONS.
1. The clause, "They have now been with me three days," is literally, There are now three days to them remaining with me. To the original expression thus exactly rendered has been cited the following parallel from the 'Philoctetes' of Sophocles Ην δ ἦμαρ ἤδη δεύτερον πλέοντί μοι: "It was now the second day to me sailing."
2. Instead of ἐν ἐρημία of St. Matthew, we have here in St. Mark ἐπ ἐρημίας, which is slightly different in sense, meaning, "In circumstances consequent on or connected with being in a desert."
3. In Verse 12 the received text reads ἐπιζητεῖ, which yields a very suitable sense, namely, seeks a sign in addition to those already given. The critical editors, Lachmann, Tisehendorf, and Tregelles, however, read the simpler verb ζητεῖ.
4. In this same verse there is a Hebraistic form of strong abjuration. The clause in our English Version is, "There shall no sign be given;" so also the Syriac has simply "not;" but the strict rendering is, "If a sign shall be given," which, resolved according to the idiom of the original, is," May I not live if a sign shall be given," or "God do so to me and more if a sign shall be given."
5. So also in the same verse, "he brake," that is, at once, because the verb is the aorist tense; and "kept giving," as the verb is imperfect.
6. The two participles meaning respectively "having given thanks" and "blessed" amount to nearly the same thing, and set us an example suitable, seemly, and seasonable of thanking God and asking his blessing when we partake of our daily food; in other words, of conforming to the time-honored practice of saying "grace," as it is called, before meals, by which we thankfully acknowledge the Giver, and ask his blessing on and with the gift.—J.J.G.
The healing of a blind man at Bethsaida.
I. SEVERAL MIRACLES OF A SIMILAR KIND. The miracle here recorded was performed at Bethsaida Julias, or the northern Bethsaida, on the route from the north-east shore of the lake to Caesarea Philippi. It is related by St. Mark alone. The peculiarity of this miracle of restoring sight to the blind is the circumstance of its being wrought at twice; that is to say, the cure was progressive or gradual. In the ninth chapter of St. John's Gospel we have the account of a like miracle of opening the eyes of a blind man; but one peculiarity of the miracle there recorded consists in the fact that the man on whom the miracle was performed had been born blind. There is again the opening of the eyes of two blind men near Jericho, recorded in St. Matthew (20.), one of whom only is mentioned by St. Mark (10.) and by St. Luke (18.), and called by the patronymic Bartimaeus, or the son of Timaeus. There is also the record of another similar miracle in the ninth chapter of St. Matthew, when our Lord, after putting their faith to the test, cured two blind men in the house whither they had followed him. Besides these specially recorded cases, we have several references of a general kind to our Lord's healing of the blind. The great number of instances of this kind is accounted for by the fact that blindness is a disease much more common in the East than in the lands of the West, while several causes have been assigned for that prevalence, such as the small particles of dust and sand impinging on the eye, and persons sleeping in the open air at night.
II. THE CONDITION OF THIS MAN. This man was blind, but, as we shall see, he had not been born blind—he was not blind from birth. He had become blind from accident or disease. At all events, he was destitute of that most valuable sense, the sense of sight. He had been long a stranger to the beauties of nature. "The light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to see the sun;" but that sun, that light, those beauties, those bright colors, those lovely forms that appear in the heaven above, in the earth beneath, in the waters round the earth—all, all had long been to him a blank. He was in that state which Milton, in the days of his blindness, so poetically and pathetically deplores—
"Thus with the year
Seasons return; but not to me returns
Day, or the sweet approach of ev'n or morn,
Or sight of vernal bloom, or summer's rose,
Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine;
But cloud instead and ever-during dark
Surrounds me, from the!cheerful ways of men
Cut off! and, for the book of knowledge fair.
Presented with a universal blank
Of nature's works, to me expunged and rased,
And wisdom at one entrance quite shut out."
We know not whether this blind man had wife or child. It is probable he had; and, if so, when he rose in the morning his wife ministered unto him, his children clung to his knees and kissed him while he blessed them. They led him forth to the street or elsewhere out of doors. He could feel them, but could not behold them. Their smiles, their tears, their bright eyes, and sweet faces were to him unknown and by him unseen. All the region round Bethsaida was charming—the glancing waters of the lake, the lovely flowers of the Galilean hills, were a sight worth seeing; but what were all these to this blind man? The district might as well have been dark and dismal, bleak and black; at any rate, a blank, a night without moon or star, midnight with its darkness visible, even "darkness that might be felt."
III. PECULIARITY IN THE MODE OF CURE. Here the peculiarity is twofold:
1. Jesus took him by the hand and led him out of the town.
2. The cure was effected progressively, or at twice. What reason can we assign for the former peculiarity? Why did he conduct him outside the town? Several reasons have been assigned. Some say that our Lord thereby meant to intimate the unworthiness, through unbelief, of the inhabitants of this town, or rather village (κώμη), and his consequent dissatisfaction with them; this, of course, is a mere conjecture. Others suppose, with more apparent reason, that, as the process of cure in this case was more than usually protracted, our Lord led the man out of the town in order to be free from interruption or any obstruction on the part of the crowd, just as in the preceding chapter he is said to have taken the deaf mute aside from the multitude. Bengel, with his usual ingenuity, conjectures the cause to be the Saviour's intention that, when the blind recovered sight, his eyes might rest on the more cheerful aspect of the sky and of the works of God in nature—that is, in the country—than of the works of man in the town. The thought is a beautiful one, but only the product of a fertile imagination. Of two remaining reasons, which have been suggested with considerable plausibility, one is the avoidance of witnesses on account of the somewhat disagreeable application of spittle, or saliva, to the person of the invalid, exactly as in the case of the deaf mute already referred to; and the other is that our Lord, by varying the mode of cure, "sometimes doing more, sometimes less, and sometimes nothing," signified his freedom from any fixed form of gesture or manipulation. Some, again, reject with regard to the saliva all these, holding that our Lord meant to graft the supernatural on the natural, the saliva being an ordinary medical application in such cases. We are rather inclined to adopt the view of variation, for the purpose of proving independence of any specific or stereotyped mode in such miraculous performance. With respect to the progressiveness of the cure a similar diversity of opinion prevails. Theophylact attributes it to the imperfect faith of the blind man himself, and of those who brought him to the Saviour; others imagine that on a sudden recovery of sight the man would have been unable to distinguish objects from each other. But to this latter, which proceeds on the assumption of his being born blind, it is sufficient to reply
(1) that this man had not been born blind, as is implied in the word ἀποκατεστάθη—he was restored to or reinstated in his once normal condition; and
(2) he was able to discriminate trees from men, so that he must have seen both before this blindness supervened. Before Berkeley's time visual distance was traced to an original law of our constitution, and considered an original perception; but the bishop proved, as is very generally admitted, that our information on this subject of the distance of objects is acquired by experience and association; while, if we judge of the distance of objects solely from the visible impressions on the retina, we fall into great mistakes. The case, too, of Cheselden, who had been born blind, appeared to confirm the theory of Berkeley, for when couched he at first had no correct notions of distances, but supposed all objects to touch and to be in close contact with the eye. It was gradually he corrected his visible by his tangible impressions, and gained a correct understanding of the situation of the objects that surrounded him, as well as of their shape and size. Had the blind man in this passage been thus born blind, we could readily concede the necessity of a gradual operation—first to get his eyes opened, and secondly to gain correct notions of the objects about him. No gradual miracle of this sort was required in the case of this man, because he had originally possessed the sense of sight and lost it. The true cause appears to be either an evidence on the part of the Saviour that he is not tied down to any particular mode of operation, but manifests his mercy in divers manners, according to his sovereign good pleasure; or, if this theory be not accepted, the cause may be assigned to the symbolic nature of the miracle, as exhibiting the gradual recovery of spiritual eyesight, the removal of spiritual blindness being, for the most part and with some rare exceptions, gradual and progressive.
IV. EXPLANATION OF TERMS WITH DIFFERENCES OF READING.
1. Our Lord led the blind man out, having taken him by the hand, which is a very expressive action, for it is a guide which the blind, whether physically or spiritually, so much need; and this is just the kind of guide here mentioned—a Divine and therefore infallible Guide. This guidance is expressed in the received text by ἐξήγαγεν, though some critical editors prefer ἐξήνεγκεν, equivalent to "conveyed out;" while in both the phrase "out of" is strongly expressed by the preposition in composition with the verb and the separate ἔξω.
2. The reading of the common text is properly rendered, "I see men as trees, walking;" that is to say, he saw men, but so indistinctly and at first apparently motionless, that they seemed more like trees; but then he saw them walking, and so discriminated them from trees. The expression is rather abrupt, but most accurate in describing the three stages indicated. The reading of the critical editions is different, and is rightly represented by the following rendering:—"I behold men, because as trees I see [them] walking.'' Even according to this reading the expression is abrupt, as significant of sudden and joyful surprise; as if he said, "I see men not much differing in shape and form from trees; but I know they are men, and not trees, for I see them in motion."
3. Succeeding this is the expression, he "made him look up," not "see again"—a signification of the word quite admissible, yet not in accord with the sense here; but for this whole phrase Tischendorf Tregelles and Alford read διέβλεψεν, "he saw clearly," that very instant (aorist); then, after restoration, he saw all things or all persons plainly—rather, continued looking on (ἐνέβλεπεν, imperfect, instead of ἐνέβλεψε, aorist) all things with clear vision.
4. The word τηλαυγῶς, from τῆλε, at a distance, and αὐγὴ, equivalent to "bright light," "radiance," and in the plural "beams of the sun," signifies generally "far-shining" or "far-seen;" but here, from shining in the distance, "far-sightedly," "clearly," "plainly."
5. An important distinction is made between ὄμμα and ὀφθαλμὸς in this passage, the latter being the organ of sight, and as such used by prose-writers, the former or more poetic word being here the sense or inner power of seeing; and so the latter is the instrument employed by the former.
V. The spitting and the application of the hands denote, according to Theophylact, word and work; they rather denote—the former the virtue proceeding from the Saviour, which restored the extinct sense of sight, the latter the rectification of the organ. Just as in the case of the person born blind, who was couched for blindness, the recovery here also was gradual; so with the spiritually blind we proceed gradually from one degree of light to another, from grace to grace, and from strength to strength. When the spiritually blind recover sight, they discern many things before shrouded in darkness, but not all things, nor even those many things with perfect clearness, or in their correct relations or relative proportions. We need the hand of Jesus to touch our eyes many a time before our spiritual eyesight is perfected; that sight, by the gentle touch of our loving, living Saviour, goes on improving till our dying day. We are in the hand of our Saviour just as this blind man; and as he led him forth, fully restored his sight, and sent him away frown his old associations, so we must give ourselves up to his guidance, depend on him entirely for full restoration of sight and other spiritual powers, turn our back on old sinful courses or companions, and go with our Lord whithersoever he leads us. The following! context exemplifies the gradual recovery of spiritual sight in those who identified Jesus with John, or Elias, or a prophet, and in the disciples who acknowledged him to be the Christ. The former had a glimmering of the truth; the latter saw its full-orbed clearness. The former only saw "men like trees, walking;" the latter saw it in this particular with perfect plainness.—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 16:13-24; Luke 9:18-23.—
Christ's prediction of his death and rebuke of Peter.
This section will be considered in connection with a like prediction in the following (ninth) chapter of this Gospel.—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 16:25-27; Luke 9:24-26Luke 9:24-26Luke 9:24-26.—
Secular profit and spiritual loss.
I. A CURIOUS CALCULATION. These verses present themselves in the light of an arithmetical calculation regarding profit and loss—a calculation as important as it is curious. In this calculation the soul is on one side, and the world on the other; secular matters on the one hand, spiritual concerns on the other. A calculation of this sort involves a difficulty, for there is no common standard to which we can bring things so different in their nature. There is no common measure by which we can simplify their comparison, and so better gauge their real relative proportions. They have no common factor; they stand prime to each other. But perhaps it were better to regard these verses as an allusion, not so much to a bare arithmetical calculation, as to a practical mercantile reckoning. It is customary with merchants and others, at some particular period of the year, to look into their books and see how they stand with the world, and how the world stands with them—to balance their accounts, ascertaining their profits and determining their losses. Now, the course thus pursued in secular may with still greater advantage be adopted in spiritual concerns, while the adoption of some such course seems suggested by the inquiry, "What shall it profit a man?"
II. SUPPOSED PROFIT. The supposed profit is here set forth to the greatest advantage. The supposed gain is the very maximum—the greatest possible. It is, in fact, much greater than any man has ever reached. That any one individual should gain the whole world is quite improbable—nay, it is almost, if not altogether, impossible. No man has ever gained so much, no man is ever likely to do so; no man nowadays ever dreams of such a thing. We read, indeed, of one in ancient times that made an approximation to it. We are informed that Alexander the Great subjected the surrounding hostile tribes to the arms of Macedon; conquered the provinces of Asia Minor, deciding the empire of all Asia in three great battles at Granicus, Issus, and Arbela; received the submission of Italian, Scythian, Kelt, and Iberian ambassadors; penetrated to the furthest limit northward, and overthrew the Scythians on the banks of the Jaxartis; pushed his victories far eastward, even to the Hyphasis or Sutlej; founded cities and planted colonies in the Punjab. And when at that point his progress was checked by the murmuring of his troops, and he was obliged to retreat to the Hydaspes or Jhelum, he built a fleet, sailed down the Indus to its mouth, and there, standing in view of the Indian Ocean,' and feeling he had arrived at the limit of his career, tears filled his eyes, and he wept because his victories were at an end, and there was no more for him to subdue—"no other world," say the old historians, "for him to conquer." But, if we examine the matter with any degree of accuracy, we shall find that this bold adventurer overran only a few countries of the then known world, and but a very inconsiderable portion of those immense continents and many islands which modern geographical discovery has added to the present huge dimensions of the globe. We have all heard of another in modern times who grasped at the scepter of universal empire, who rose rapidly from a lieutenant of artillery to captain, and from captain to colonel, and from colonel to general of division. Soon he became first consul for ten years, then for life, and afterwards ascended the imperial throne. The empire of France he increased by one-third; but what was that to the high-vaulting ambition of Napoleon? He must needs reign supreme and without a rival in Europe, and in prosecution of that gigantic scheme of conquest he actually added to his empire Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Hanover, the Hanse towns. He seized on Spain and Portugal, and set his kinsmen on foreign thrones. He sought Russia, but above all he sighed for England. He pounced on Egypt; thence, as the most potent point of attack, he fixed his eye on India. India once gained, the world, he thought, would be laid subject at his feet, and he its one and sole possesser. This, doubtless, would have been the result of its successful invasion. But the tide of fortune ceased to flow. To his failure in Spain succeeded his retreat from Moscow, next his defeat at Leipzig, then his banishment to Elba, and, last of all, his final and fearful overthrow on the plains of Waterloo. No. one individual has ever yet attained to the possession of the world; no one has advanced beyond a distant approximation to it. But let us for a moment fancy the supposition, to have become an accomplished fact. Let us suppose the wide empire of earth in the hands of one man; let us take for granted that the possession of the world—the whole world—is realized by a single individual; let us imagine all the benefits of that vast dominion—its conveniences and comforts, its riches and honors, its pleasures, praises, and profits, all at the command of one man.
III. THE DURATION OF SUCH PROFIT BRIEF. What then would be the continuance of such? Why, he would find it impossible to retain it for any considerable length of time. We cannot calculate with certainty on the continuance of any worldly possession during the whole of life; we cannot reckon on its lasting for even a few years of that life in advance; and, even if we could, we are not sure of life itself fur a single moment. "Life is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away;' "There is but a step between us and death;" "This night the soul may be required." There is no permanence of possession upon earth; there is no fixity of tenure here below. The heirloom handed down from father to son, and again from son to father, shall pass into strangers' hands. The hereditary estate, secure it as you may by deeds and settlements, will soon, notwithstanding all your caution, change proprietorship. The baronial residence will in time become a ruin grey, round which the ivy twines. Truly as well as eloquently has the poet said—
"The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve."
Our most cherished possessions must soon revert to others. It matters not how firmly we hold them; three, or fraud, or casualty, or imprudence, or disease, or death—one or other of these will wrench them from our reluctant grasp; and the question may be asked of us, as of the fool in the Gospel, "Then whose shall these things be?" If, then, we possessed the whole world, every instant we lived in it we should run the risk of losing it or leaving it, of being taken from it or having it snatched from us, of being compelled to give up the possession either by the open violence of enemies or the treacherous avarice of friends, by folly on our part or dishonesty on that of others, by some sudden reverse of fortune or by some sad dispensation of providence.
IV. THE ENJOYMENT OF IT IMPOSSIBLE. Further, if we had the whole world in actual possession, and were able to retain it in inalienable and never-failing proprietorship, still we could not enjoy it all. With all the progress of modern times, with all the advances of science, with all the forward strides of this nineteenth century, with all that geological research and chemical analysis and botanical skill have discovered, there are still many plants and many substances of which we know. not the nature, or at least have not yet learned the use. So long as the properties of any object remain unknown, it is manifest that that object itself cannot be enjoyed. And even if we knew all the qualities of every fowl of heaven, of every fish of the sea, of every plant that grows on the surface and of every mineral that is buried in the bowels of the earth, yet what use could any one individual make of them all? What a small portion of them would meet all the real necessities of life! How few of them would suffice for man's limited powers of enjoyment! How few of them would supply a substantial answer to that wide question, "What shall I eat, or what shall I drink, or wherewithal shall I be clothed?" If the cattle on a thousand hills were ours, if all the mineral wealth of the world were our own, if earth and all its store of gold and silver and precious stones were at our feet, if earth with all its fruits and flowers, its animal and vegetable productions, were at our disposal, what could one individual, possessing limited powers and capacities, do with them all? How could he enjoy them? Where would he store them that they might be safe? What, in a word, would they really profit him? Ah! how forcibly is the whole expressed in the simple lines!—
"Man needs but little here below,
Nor needs that little long."
V. THE UNSATISFACTORY NATURE OF IT. The world, if we possessed it all, and could retain it always, and enjoy it fully, would not satisfy us. We all know the possibility of being as much or more disappointed in a thing, as inconvenienced by being disappointed of it. Hope has its pleasures, and they are frequently as great, sometimes far greater than those of enjoyment. The poet, when he wrote of "the pleasures of hope," knew well that hope was one main source of human enjoyment. But in the supposed possession of the whole world that source of enjoyment would be cut off, as in that case man would have nothing to hope for. The distance, that lent its enchantment to the view, would be annihilated; desire would still be unsatisfied, and yet hope would be at an end. Besides, where is the rich man who is perfectly satisfied with his wealth, and who feels that it is a sufficient source of happiness? Where is the man of pleasure who can truly say that his pleasures have been without alloy? Where the ambitious aspirant who is not in feverish dread of the fickleness of popular favor? Where the heart that has not yearned for more than earth can furnish? Who has not felt that "aching void" which "the world can never fill" ? It is not in the increase of riches, nor in the accession of honors, nor in any augmentation of creature enjoyments, that true satisfaction is to be found: the wealth of this world cannot purchase it; the pleasures of sense and sin cannot procure it; honors bestowed by fellow-creatures cannot confer it. Nor yet do we mean to decry the importance of temporal things. We know that they can minister much to man; they can add to our convenience and comfort; they can furnish their quota to our enjoyment; they can supply enlarged means of usefulness; they can contribute to the decency and dignity of life; they can shield us from the distresses, and difficulties, and discomforts of poverty. But we deny altogether that they can prevent or remove the vanity and vexation of spirit that are inseparably associated with all worldly things. In the midst of all that this world can furnish men have been heard to cry out, if not in Words, at least in the sentiments of the patriarch, "I would not live alway." When this is the way with the prosperous worldling, often too has the child of God, amid the perplexities of life, cause to repeat the saying—
"I would not live alway; I ask not to stay
Where storm after storm rises dark o'er the way.
The few fleeting mornings that dawn on us here
Are enough for life's sorrows, enough for its cheer.
"Who—who would live alway, away from his God;
Away from you heaven, that blissful abode,
Where rivers of pleasure flow o'er the bright plains,
And the noontide of glory eternally reigns?"
VI. SPIRITUAL LOSS.
1. Practical bearing of all this. What, it may be asked, is the practical lesson from all this? It is to lead us to God as the end, and to Christ as the way to the Father; to show us the value of salvation, the importance of eternal things; to make us alive to the things of God; and, above all, to impress on us the worth of the soul and spiritual life. We have seen that if a man could possess the whole world he might still be unhappy—ay, perfectly miserable; fears harassing him, conscience tormenting him, afflictions overwhelming him, death overtaking him, and his worldly all departing from him amid "the swellings of Jordan." But in general men stop far short of what has been thus supposed. They are willing to lose the soul for infinitely less than the world: at all events, a small thing takes the place of all the World to the sinner, and is made the means of his losing the soul. Thus, to the drunkard, the indulgence of his passion for strong drink is the horizon that bounds the world of his happiness and of his hopes; while to gain his object he submits to the loss of his soul. So with the licentious; the gratification of their low lust is all the world to them, and to it they sacrifice the soul. "Avoid," says the apostle, "youthful lusts, that war against the soul." So with the ambitious; the attainment of the object on which their heart is set is their world of gratification, and, for the sake of it, they will not only run the risk of losing the soul, but rush upon sure destruction. We might enumerate many and various classes of sinners—the horse-racer, the gamester, the blasphemer, the liar, the murderer—all ruining their own soul for the sake of questionable pleasures; at all events, pleasures that last but for a season, and that perish in the using. With sinners of every grade the indulgence of sin is their world of gratification, their all of wretched happiness, for which they are every day throwing away their chances of salvation and deliberately damning their own soul. Oh, what fearful folly! What unspeakable madness! Oh, may we not with propriety appeal to that sinful man, to whatever category or class his sin belongs, and with all the earnestness of our nature plead with him to spare his own soul? Should we not urge him, with all the powers of persuasion we can possibly command, to part with his vice at once and fur ever, rather than plunge his soul into a hell of eternal misery?
2. Exegetical note.
(1) The word θέλη is not will "of future time, but will "connected with choice or purpose." It is correctly-rendered "would" in the Revised Version. The word is also distinguished from βούλομαι, which expresses a wish—mere willingness or inclination. Homer employs the latter for the former in the case of the gods, for with them wish is will. Thus the meaning is, "Whosoever may will [or choose] to save his life; "while in the next clause it is taken for granted that no one, of his own free will and choice, would desire to lose it, and therefore the expression is different, being literally, Whosoever shall (as a matter of fact) destroy (ἀπολέσει) his life.
(2) The word ψυχὴ is the bond of union between the body and the spirit in the triple trichotomy of "body, soul, and spirit" (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Viewed in connection with the body, it is the natural or animal life, but in its relation to the spirit it is the spiritual or higher life. Thus in one sense it is less than what we understand by soul, and in another sense it is more, comprehending not only the immortal life of the soul, but the never-ending life of soul and body when reunited.
(3) Ζημιωθῃ denotes forfeiture, and so it is correctly rendered in the Revised Version "forfeit;" while ἀντάλλαγμα (from the roots ἀντί, instead of, and ἄλλος, another) denotes one thing given in exchange for another, and so an equivalent or ransom, the idea being that if a man have lost, by way of mulct or forfeiture, his life or soul, what ransom will he be able to give in order to buy it back or redeem it? The expression in St. Luke is, "What is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and destroy himself" or "suffer forfeit?"
3. A celebrated choice. The fabled choice of Hercules has at least a useful moral. Two ladies of gigantic stature-one graceful and modest, with raiment white as snow, the other florid and affected; the former called Virtue, the latter Pleasure, though self-named Happiness, approached the youthful hero. The latter promised him the possession of all pleasures, and that his path in life would be strewed with flowers, if he chose to follow her, reminding him at the same time that the path of virtue was tedious and thorny; the former promised to make his name glorious to posterity, and introduce him at death into the society of the Gods, reminding him that the pleasures of the senses are the enjoyments of the brute, and that true pleasure springs from virtuous conduct. The hero, as the fable goes, did not long hesitate, but, giving his hand to Virtue, bade her be his guide, saying, "Lead on, and I will follow you."
VII. THE VALUE OF THE SOUL, OR EVERLASTING LIFE.
1. Value of the soul variously estimated. We may estimate the value of the soul in several ways; we may enumerate four of these as the most obvious. We may estimate it by the infinite price paid for it, by the immensity of its capacities, by its intrinsic worth, and by the immortality of its being.
2. The price paid. The price paid for the soul was a precious ransom price, "for the redemption of the soul is precious." That price was not "corruptible things, as silver and gold," but "the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." In him we have "redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace." On account of the soul Christ died; on account of the soul the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, is at work; on account of the soul the Word of God is given, the gospel is preached, and "the arm of the Lord revealed." Thus, from the pains God takes to save the soul, from the power the Spirit exerts to sanctify the soul, from the efforts Satan makes to destroy the soul, as well as from the blood which Christ shed to redeem the soul, we may infer the value of the human soul, and consequently infer the exceeding greatness of its loss.
3. Its intrinsic worth. Again, we think of its intrinsic worth. It is a scintillation of Deity; it is the breath of the Almighty; it is the candle of the Lord in man. "God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul." It was at its creation the image of its Maker as well as the masterpiece of his workmanship; it was stamped with the likeness of the Eternal. And though the superscription is sadly defaced by sin, it is an infinite spirit still, and the direct offspring of the Father of spirits.
4. Its immense capacities. When we reflect on its great capacities, we bethink ourselves of its capability of suffering, which is immense. No pain or' body is to be compared with the unspeakable anguish of the soul. There is, on the other hand, no pleasure of bodily organization to be compared with the intensely thrilling joyousness of the soul, when it delights itself in God, or meditates on his Word and works, or soars aloft in high and holy contemplation. Even a worldly poet, speaking of the happiness of thought, says, "I have oft been happy thinking." Besides, there is its wonderful power of development. The little that the lower animals possess is soon perfected; instinct flows in at once. The mind of man con-rains in itself the elements of almost unlimited improvement. As long as life lasts, accessions may be made to our knowledge, additions made to our attainments, new discoveries made in science, fresh advances in art. Better still, it is the very prerogative of the soul, as it is the very purpose for which its powers were bestowed, to glorify God on earth and be glorified with him in heaven, to enjoy him both here and hereafter, to see him and serve him, to hold converse with angels and glorified spirits, to have fellowship with Father, Son, and Spirit, to drink deep of the fountain of grace and love that wells up beside the throne of the Eternal.
5. The immortality of its being. Add to all this the immortality of its being. It is an immortal spirit; it is a flame that can never be extinguished; it is a light that can never be put out; it is unseen, but eternal. The babe that is only a span tong has a soul that will outlive this world. In the bosom of that babe, as it sleeps in the cradle, or hangs on the breast, is a soul that will last longer than sun and moon endure. When the elements shall melt with fervent heat, when the earth shall be burnt up, and the heavens rolled together like a crumpled scroll, that soul shall survive, and remain unhurt amid "the wreck of matter and the crush of worlds." Not so the body.
6. The shroud of Saladin. Who has not heard, or rather read, of that famous Asiatic warrior, Saladin? After subjugating Egypt, establishing himself as Sultan of Egypt and Syria, taking towns without number, and retaking Jerusalem itself from the hands of the Crusaders, this Moslem hero of the Third Crusade, and beau-ideal of mediaeval chivalry, had at length to yield to a still mightier conqueror. A few moments before he breathed his last, he ordered a herald to suspend on the point of a lance the shroud in which he was to be buried, and to cry as he raised it," Look, here is all that Saladin the Great, the conqueror, the emperor, bears away with him of all his glory." Thus all the honors and riches of this world, all bodily pleasures and gratifications, all earthly greatness, are reduced by death to the shroud and the winding-sheet; but the soul, immortal in its nature, and secure in its existence, "smiles at the drawn dagger "or other implement of death. From all these considerations may be inferred the immeasurable loss of the soul; for—
"What is the thing of greatest price,
The whole creation round?
That which was lost in Paradise,
That which in Christ is found.
"The soul of man, Jehovah's breath,
It keeps two Worlds in strife;
Hell works beneath its work of death,
Heaven stoops to give it life."
7. The full force of the question. What, then, we may repeat, shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world—and yet all! the gain any man can expect is infinitely less than that—and lose his own soul or higher heavenly life? What shall it profit him, if he shall make a little sordid gain, but lose his soul? What shall it profit him, if he shall indulge some degrading passion, and thereby lose his soul? What shall it profit him, if he gratify some vile lust, and by it lose his soul? What shall it profit him, if he swallow a few more intoxicating draughts, and in the end lose his soul? What shall it profit him, if he gratify a few more lusts of the flesh, and lose his own soul? What shall it profit him, if he enjoy a little longer the society of evil companions, or even the smile and favour of the great ones of the earth, and lose his soul ? What will it profit him, if he have a few more pleasures of any kind—pleasures that last so short a space, and satisfy so very little while they do last—and in lieu of them lose his own soul 9 Who is not, on due reflection, prepared to answer any such questions with the strongest negative? The angels in heaven, and the spirits of the just made perfect that are already there, if asked the same question, would declare, in tones of loudest earnestness and solemn emphasis, "Nothing, nothing!" Lost souls in hell, if malice prevented not, would assert the same. God the Father, who sent his Son to save the soul; God the Son, who suffered on the cross to redeem it; God the Spirit, who came to sanctify it; the Almighty undivided Three in One, would answer their own question in this passage by a negative that neither man nor angel, fallen nor unfallen, would gainsay, and that would wake an echo both in heaven above and in earth or hell beneath.
VIII. EXTENT OF THE LOSS.
1. This is an entire loss. The loss in question is an entire and unqualified loss. When Francis I. lost the important battle of Pavia, he described it by saying, "We have lost all but honour." And thus, though the disaster was overwhelming and the loss exceeding great, yet there was one qualifying circumstance—the preservation of honour intact and unsullied. Not so with the loss of the soul: there is nothing to qualify it, nothing to mitigate it. It is the loss of losses, the death of deaths—a catastrophe unequalled in extent, and unparalleled in its amount through all the universe of God.
2. A loss without compensation. The loss of the soul is a loss for which there is no compensation. The great fire of London consumed six hundred streets, thirteen thousand dwellings, and ninety churches, and destroyed property to the amount of seven and a half millions of pounds sterling. Yet that calamity was in some sort changed into a blessing; for the rebuilding of the city, in a superior style of architecture, and with more regard to sanitary arrangements, banished for ever the fearful plague which had previously made such havoc in that populous place. There is, besides, a well-known compensatory principle in the providence of God, so that, when a man loses his sight, the sense of hearing becomes more acute, and the perception of sounds more exact and accurate. The deaf mute, again, is said to have the sense of sight quickened; while the man both blind and dumb gains a more exquisite sense of touch. But the loss of the soul is a calamity for which there is nothing to compensate, and which nothing can countervail so as to make amends for it.
3. The loss is irreparable. Other losses may be repaired. The friend you love as your own soul may take an umbrage; he may misunderstand you, or you may be misrepresented to him;—
"Angry words will soon step in,
To spread the breach that words begin."
But let a proper explanation be given, and his friendship may be regained; or, if he continue obstinate, other and even better friends may supply his place. You may lose your health; you may be like the poor woman who had suffered so much from, and expended so much on, physicians without any improvement; but, under the blessing of Providence on the skill of yet another physician and the use of proper medicines, or by the intervention of the great Physician apart from any means, or when all means have failed, you may regain that inestimable blessing. You may lose your property, like Job when his cattle were lost, and when his children had perished, and want had come in like an armed man; yet, by years of patient industry and steady perseverance, under the Divine blessing, you may, like that same patriarch, gain double of all you lost. But oh! there is no reparation for the loss of the soul; that loss can never be retrieved, and can never be recalled. When Sir Isaac Newton had lost some most important and complicated calculations, the result of years of patient thought and investigation, by the burning of his papers, the loss to him was immense; and yet, with patience equal to his genius, he could say to the favourite animal that caused it, "Diamond, Diamond, thou little knowest the labour thou hast cost me!" But what is the loss even of years of patient philosophic investigation and profound mathematical research compared with the loss of a human soul, capable of conducting, in some degree, similar investigations, and of repeating and repairing, in case of loss, those investigations?
4. "Cast away." This is the expression in the parallel passage of St. Luke. Though it may serve in exposition, it is not quite exact. The word has rather the signification of having incurred a forfeiture; but, in sooth, a fearful forfeiture—a forfeiture that involves the fate of being cast away into that "blackness of darkness," unrelieved by any starlight of hope or sunshine of promise, and where no rainbow of mercy ever spans the sky. The heathen, without any proper notion of a future state, shrank from the death of the body, because they were then deprived for ever of the light of day. "There is a magnificent fullness of life," says Bulwer, "in those children of the beautiful Hellas. They ever bid a last lingering and half-reluctant farewell to the sun. The orb which animated their temperate sky, which ripened their fertile fields, in which they saw the type of eternal youth, of surpassing beauty and incarnate poetry—human in its associations, yet divine in its nature—is equally beloved and equally to be mourned by the maiden tenderness of the heroine or the sullen majesty of the hero. The sun was to them a familiar friend. The terror of the nether world lay in the thought that its fields are sunless." Oh, what shall we, to whom futurity has been revealed, then say of the second death, when the lost soul is cast away, through a fatal forfeiture of the light of heaven, into that sunless region where the "blackness of darkness" ever reigns, where it is consigned to the companionship of devils and the damned, where it sinks deeper and deeper into the bottomless abyss of misery," where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched"?—J.J.G.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Mark 8". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany