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Till they see the kingdom of God come with power. In St. Matthew 16:28 the words run thus: "Till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom." In St. Luke 9:27, "Till they see the kingdom of God." All these evangelists connect their record of the Transfiguration with these predictive words—a circumstance which must not be lost sight of in their interpretation. The question, therefore, is whether or how far the Transfiguration is to be regarded as a fulfillment of these words. One thing seems plain, that the Transfiguration, if a fulfillment at all, was not an exhaustive fulfillment of the words. The solemnity of their introduction forbids us to limit them to an event which would happen within eight days of their utterance. But there was an event impending, namely, the destruction of Jerusalem, involving the overthrow of the Jewish polity, which, coming as it did within forty or fifty years of the time when our Lord uttered these words, might reasonably have been expected to take place within the lifetime of some of those then standing there. And that great catastrophe was frequently alluded to by our Lord as a type and earnest of the great judgment at the end of the world. What relation, then, did the Transfiguration hold to these two events and to the prediction contained in this verse? It was surely a prelude and pledge of what should be hereafter, specially designed to brace and strengthen the apostles for the sight of the sufferings of their Master, and to animate them to endure the toil and the trials of the Christian life. So that the Transfiguration was an event, so to speak, parenthetic to this prediction—a preliminary manifestation, for the special advantage of those who witnessed it; though given also "for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come." Such were the views of St. Hilary, St. Chrysostom, St. Ambrose, and others. "When our Lord was transfigured," says St. Jerome, "he did not lose his form and aspect, but he appeared to his apostles as he will appear at the day of judgment." And elsewhere he says, "Go forth a little out of your prison, and place before your eyes the reward of your present labor, Which 'the eye hath not seen, nor the ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man.'"
Mark 9:2, Mark 9:3
After six days. St. Luke 9:28 says, "About eight days after these sayings." There is no real discrepancy here. There were six whole days that intervened between our Lord's words and the Transfiguration itself. Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John. He chose these three, as the leaders amongst the disciples, and he showed to them his glory, because he intended also to show them afterwards his bitter agony in the garden. This magnificent splendor—this "excellent glory," as 2 Peter 1:17 describes it—this, together with the voice of the Father," This is my beloved Son," would assure them that Christ was truly God, but that his essential Deity was hidden by the veil of the flesh; and that, although he was about to be crucified and slain, yet his Godhead could not suffer or die. It was an evidence beforehand, a prospective evidence, that he underwent death, even the death of the cross, not constrained by infirmity or necessity, but of his own will, for the redemption of man. It was plain that, since he could thus invest his body with this Divine glory, he could have saved himself from death if he had so willed. He taketh with him Peter, and James, and John. St. Peter's reference to the transfiguration (just alluded to) shows what a deep and abiding impression it made on his mind. St. James, too, was there, as one who was to be amongst the first to die for his sake. St. John also was with them, who, having seen the glory of the Son of God, which is subject to no limits of time, might be bold to send forth his grand testimony, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And bringeth them up into a high mountain apart by themselves. "It is necessary for all," says Remigius, "who desire to contemplate God, that they should not grovel amidst low thoughts and desires, but ever be lifted up to heavenly things. And thus our Lord was teaching his disciples that they must not look for the brightness of the Divine glory in the depths of this world, but in the kingdom of heavenly blessedness. And he leads them apart, because holy men are in intention and desire separated from evil, as they will be altogether separated from it in the world to come. For they who look for the glories of the resurrection ought now in heart and mind to dwell on high, and to seek these glories by continual prayer." Into a high mountain. A tradition of the time of Jerome identifies this mountain with Tabor, in Galilee. But there are two weighty objections to this view:
(1) that our Lord was at this time in the neighborhood of Caesarea Philippi, a considerable distance from Tabor, and
(2) that there is strong reason for believing that Tabor had at this time a fortress on its summit. It must be remembered that Caesarea Philippi was at the foot of Libanus; and the spurs of Libanus would present several eminences answering to the description, "a high mountain (ὄρος ὑψηλὸν)." The Mount of Transfiguration was in all probability Hermon, a position of extreme grandeur and beauty, its snowy peaks overlooking the whole extent of Palestine. "High up," says Dean Stanley, "on its southern slopes there must be many a point where the disciples could be taken 'apart by themselves.' Even the transient comparison of the celestial splendor with the snow, where alone it could be seen in Palestine, should not, perhaps, be wholly overlooked. At any rate, the remote heights above the sources of the Jordan witnessed the moment when, his work in his own peculiar sphere being ended, he set his face for the last time to go up to Jerusalem." Although compelled to dismiss from our minds the old tradition of Tabor as the scene of the Transfiguration, we still think of that mountain as near to Nazareth, where our Lord was brought up; and of Hermon, where he was transfigured, as we rejoice in the fulfillment of the old prophecy, "Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy Name." And he was transfigured (μετεμορφώθη) before them. The fashion of his appearance was changed. It was no illusion, no imaginary appearance, but a real transformation. It was the Divine glory within him manifesting itself through his humanity; and yet not that glory of Deity which no man hath seen or can see; but such a manifestation that the disciples might in some degree behold the glory and majesty, of Deity through the veil of his flesh. Nor, we may believe, did our Lord in his transfiguration change the essence or form of his countenance. But he assumed a mighty splendor, so that, as St. Matthew 17:2 tells us, "his face did shine as the sun." This splendor was not in the air, nor in the eyes of the disciples, but in the person of the Son of God—a splendor which communicated itself to his raiment, so that his garments became glistering (στίλβοντα), exceeding white; so as no fuller on earth can whiten them. This figure is taken from natural things. The first idea of "fuller" from the Latin fullo, is that of one who cleanses by "stamping with the feet." His business is to restore the soiled cloth to its natural whiteness. The evangelist uses an earthly thing to represent the heavenly. The heavenly Fuller gives a purity and a brightness infinitely exceeding the power of any "fuller on earth." It would almost seem as if the figure was one specially supplied by St. Peter.
And there appeared unto them Elijah with Moses. Moses and Elijah were there because Moses was the lawgiver of the old covenant, and Elijah was conspicuous among the prophets; so that they were the representatives, the one of the Law, and the other of the "goodly fellowship of the prophets. They appear together to bear witness to Christ as the true Messiah, the Savior of the world, prefigured in the Law, and foretold by the prophets. They appear to bear witness to him, and then to resign their offices to the great Lawgiver and Prophet whom they foreshadowed. Then, further, Moses died, but Elijah was translated. Moses, therefore, represents the dead saints who shall rise from their graves and come forth at his coming, while Elijah represents those who shall be found alive at his advent. Our Lord brought with him, at his transfiguration, Moses who had died, and Elijah who had been translated, that he might show his power over both "the quick and the dead." St. Luke 9:31 says that Moses and Elijah "appeared in glory, and spake of his decease (τὴν ἔξοδον αὐτοῦ) which he should accomplish at Jerusalem." They appeared in glory; the Divine splendor irradiated them. They "spake of his decease," literally, his departure—his departure not only out of Jerusalem, but out of this life, by his death upon the cross. The death of Christ was thus shown to be the ultimate end to which the Law and the prophets pointed. Even in that hour of his glory, on the Mount of Transfiguration, this was their theme; and thus the disciples were nerved to look with hope and faith to that which they had contemplated with dismay.
Peter answereth, and saith to Jesus. We learn from St. Luke 9:33 that this happened just as Moses and Elijah were departing. Peter was excited, and there was fear mingled with his excitement. He was bewildered. His first idea was to seek that they might remain, for he saw that they were just preparing to depart. Theophylact says upon this, "Do not say with Peter, 'It is good for us to be here;' for it behoves us ever, whilst in the flesh, to be advancing, and not to remain in one stage of virtue and contemplation, but to pass on to other degrees" It is, perhaps, too curious a question to ask how the three disciples knew them to be Moses and Elijah. The same Divine power which presented them with a vision of the other world gave them an intuitive knowledge on the subject. And we may, perhaps, infer from hence that in that world to come there will be not only recognition, but knowledge, at once imparted, of those whose faces we have not seen "in the flesh." St. Luke 9:32 says that Peter and his companions "were heavy with sleep (βεβαρημένοι ὕπνῳ)." It is probable that the Transfiguration took place at night. The whole manifestation would be rendered more conspicuous and striking amidst the darkness and stillness of night. But St. Luke is careful to add, "when they were fully awake (διαγρηγορήσαντες)." This word might be rendered, "having remained awake." But whichever translation be adopted, the intention of the evangelist is evidently to show that it was not in a dream or a vision of the night that they saw this. It was a great reality, on which they looked with open eyes.
They became sore afraid. There is a slight change of reading here. Instead of ἧσαν γὰρ ἔκφοβοι the best authorities give ἔκφοβοι γὰρ ἐγένοντο. A sense of great awe and terror overpowered the bliss and brightness of the scene. All the revelations of the other world strike terror, even though abated as this manifestation was by the presence of their dear Lord and Savior.
There came a cloud overshadowing them. The cloud enfolded them all, so that they could not be seen, it was so ample and dense, and yet so bright and shining. St. Matthew (Matthew 17:5) says it was "a ought cloud. The cloud was a symbol of the grandeur and unapproachable glory of God. The disciples were admitted within this cloud that they might have a foretaste of future glory, and that they might be witnesses of what took place under the cloud, and especially that they might be able to give evidence throughout all ages of the voice which they heard come out of the cloud from "the excellent glory" (the expression is equivalent to the Hebrew "Shechinah," and St. Peter says (2 Peter 1:18), it came from heaven), This is my beloved Son: hear ye him. But at the same time that this cloud was the symbol, it was also the veil of Deity, of the glory of Deity. "He maketh the clouds his chariot," says the psalmist (Psalms 104:3). Moreover, the cloud abated and subdued the splendor of Christ's appearance, which otherwise the mortal eyes of the disciples could not have borne. It will be observed that St. Mark omits the words, found in St. Matthew (Matthew 17:5)," in whom I am well pleased." So does St. Luke. But it is remarkable that they are found in St. Peter (2 Peter 1:17); from whence we might have expected to find them here. In St. Luke (Luke 9:35) the most approved readings give, "This is my Son, my chosen (ἐκλελεγμένος)." The words, "my beloved Son," are impressed upon us in order that epithets so sweet and endearing might kindle our love and devotion. "Hear ye him"—not Moses, who has now departed, but Christ himself, the new Author of a new Law. "Hear ye him" was not said when our Lord was baptized, because he was then only just proclaimed to the world. But now these words signify the abolition of the old dispensation, and the establishment of the new covenant in Christ.
And suddenly looking round about, they saw no one any more, save Jesus only with themselves. St. Matthew here says (Matthew 17:6), "When the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sere afraid. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid." St. Mark omits this; but in his characteristic manner states that which implies what St. Matthew has recorded. It was the "touch" of Jesus that caused them to look round about; and then in a moment they perceived that they were alone with Jesus, as they were before this manifestation began. The order of incidents in the Transfiguration appears to have been this: Our Lord is praying. The disciples, fatigued with the ascent of the mountain, are heavy with sleep; and Christ is transfigured. Then appear Moses and Elijah; and they are talking with Jesus about his exodus—his decease to be accomplished at Jerusalem. The disciples mused from their sleep by the supernatural brightness, and by the conversation, and now, fully awake, behold the glory of Jesus, and Hoses and Elijah talking with him. As Moses and Elijah are preparing for their departure, Peter, excited, enchanted, bewildered, and yet grieved to see that they were going, seeks to detain them by the proposal to make some temporary resting-place for them. Then comes the bright overshadowing cloud, and a voice out of the cloud, "This is my beloved Son: hear ye him." At the sound of this voice the disciples fall terrified to the earth. But they are soon comforted by Christ, and, looking up, they see him alone with themselves.
He charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, save when the Son of man should have risen again from the dead. They were not even to tell their fellow-disciples, lest it might cause vexation or envy that they had not been thus favored. The time of our Lord's resurrection would be a fitting opportunity for revealing this mystery; and then the disciples would understand and believe it, when, after his passion and death, which were an offense to them, they should see him rising in glory, of which event the Transfiguration was a type. For, by the Resurrection they would certainly know that Christ underwent the death of the cross, not by constraint, but of his own accord, and out of his great love for us.
Mark 9:10, Mark 9:11
Questioning among themselves what the rising again from the dead should mean; that is, his own rising from the dead, of which our Lord had just been speaking. No doubt the general resurrection at the end of the world was an article of faith with which the disciples were familiar. But they could not understand, when he spake of his own immediate rising from the dead. So their perplexities led them at last to ask him the question; or rather to make the remark to him, The scribes say that Elijah must first come; with a view to obtaining some clearer understanding. They had just seen Elijah in the Transfiguration, and they had seen him disappear. They wondered why he should have departed. They thought, it may be, that he ought to have remained, that he might be the forerunner of Christ and of his kingdom and glory, according to the prophecy of Malachi (Malachi 4:6). This the scribes taught; but they erred in the confusion of times, for they did not distinguish the first coming of Christ in the flesh from his second advent to judgment. The thought upon the mind of the disciples appears to have been this: They heard Christ speak of his own resurrection as close at hand, and they had seen the type of it in his transfiguration; and they thought that immediately after that, Christ's kingdom would come, and he would reign gloriously. Why, then, had not Elijah remained, that he might be his precursor? St. Matthew (Matthew 17:13) tells us that our Lord's words which follow showed the disciples that when he said that Elijah was to come first and restore all things, he meant them to understand" that he spake unto them of John the Baptist." Upon the question of a future coming of Elijah, it seems safest to confess our ignorance. The prophecy of Malachi was no doubt in part fulfilled in the coming of John the Baptist; but it would be rash to affirm that it may not receive another and more literal fulfillment before the second advent. A host of ancient Christian expositors have held that Elijah will appear in person before the second advent of Christ. St. Augustine, in his 'City of God' (20:29), says, "Not without reason do we hope that before the coming of our Judge and Savior Elias will come, because we have good reason to believe that he is now alive; for, as Holy Scripture distinctly informs us, he gas taken up from this life in a chariot of fire. When, therefore, he is come he shall give a spiritual explanation of the Law which the Jews at present understand carnally, and will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers; that is, the Jews who are the children will understand the Law in the same sense as their fathers the prophets understood it." Indeed, this is one of the principal reasons assigned by the Fathers for this appearance of Elijah, that he may convert the Jews.
And when he earns to his disciples, he saw a great crowd around them. High authorities support the reading adopted by the Revisers, when they came to the disciples, they saw a great multitude about them. "They" would thus mean our Lord and the three chosen disciples who had been with him on the Mount of Transfiguration. "They" came to the other disciples who had been left below. St. Luke (Luke 9:37) adds "On the next day, when they were come down from the mountain." This would seem to confirm the supposition that the transfiguration took place in the night. All the synoptists agree in placing the following immediately after the transfiguration. Scribes were questioning with the disciples who had bee left behind. As they had assembled in the neigh-where Jesus was, for the purpose of watching him. Their object in questioning with the disciples was doubtless to throw discredit upon Jesus, because they, disciples, had failed to work the miracle.
The multitude were favourably towards Jesus, and were glad that returned at an opportune moment to defend his disciples against the scribes. But why were they greatly amazed? The word in the Greek is ἐξεθαμβήθη. It seems most probable that they saw in his countenance, always heavenly and majestic, something even yet more Divine, retaining some traces of the glory of his transfiguration, even as the face of Moses shone when he came down from the mount (Exodus 34:29). It hardly seems likely that the amazement of the people was simply caused by our Lord having arrived at an opportune time to relieve his disciples of their difficulty. The Greek word expresses something more than would be satisfied by the fact of our Lord having come upon the scene just when he was wanted. Even if there were no remains of the transfiguration glory upon his countenance, the vivid recollection of the scene, of the conversation with Moses and Elijah, and the subject of it, and the voice of the Father, must have invested his countenance with a peculiar majesty and dignity. The same word, though without its compound (ἐθαμβοῦντο), is used further on in Mark 10:32 to express the amazement of the disciples, as he pressed eagerly onwards before them on his way to Jerusalem and to his cross. There was no doubt something then in his countenance which astonished them. The multitude running to him, saluted him. The scribes had not been able to shake their faith. In their view he was still "that Prophet that should come into the world."
And he asked them; that is, the multitude. The context shows this. The reading here is αὐτούς, not τοὺς γραμματεῖς.
One of the multitude answered him, Master I brought—the Greek is ἤνεγκα—unto thee my son. He brought his son, expecting to find Jesus; but failing in this, he applied to our Lord's disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they could not. St. Matthew (Matthew 17:14) says that the man came kneeling to Christ, "and saying, Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatic." The word in the Greek there is σεληνιάζεται. Etymologically, no doubt, "lunatic" conveys the meaning of the word most nearly. But the graphic description here of St. Mark cot-responds exactly to epilepsy, and to epilepsy acted upon by an unclean spirit, who in this instance deprived the sufferer of his speech. Lunatics were so called from the prevailing impression, not without foundation, that the light and the changes of the moon have an influence upon the body, and so act through the body upon the mind. This influence seems to be recognized in Psalms 121:6, "The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night."
Wheresoever it taketh him (καταλάβη); literally, it seizeth hold of him. This is the Greek word from which comes our "catalepsy," the active form of "epilepsy." It teareth him (ῥήσσει). This is doubtless the literal meaning. But there is much evidence to show that it means hero "it striketh or throweth him down." This is the reudering of the Peshito Syriac, and of the Vulgate. The same interpretation is also given by Hesychius as one of the meanings of the word. St. Luke (Luke 9:39) describes the symptoms thus: "A spirit taketh him, and he suddenly crieth out, and it teareth him (σπαράσσει αὐτὸν) that he foameth (μετὰ ἀφροῦ), and it hardly departeth from him, bruising him sorely." This it will be remembered is the record of one who was himself a physician. He grindeth his teeth, and pineth away (ξηραίνεται), as though the springs of his life were dried up. The father of the boy is here minutely describing the symptoms when the fit was upon him. He seems here to express the stiffness and rigidity of the body in the approaches of the malady. And I spake to thy disciples that they should cast it out; and they were not able. They had tried and failed. This failure is attributed by our Lord (see Matthew 17:20) to their want of faith; or rather to their "little faith (διὰ τὴν ὀλιγοπιστίαν ὑμῶν)."
O faithless generation. These words were no doubt intended primarily as a rebuke to the Jews and their scribes; though not without a glance at the weakness of faith of his own disciples. The words are the complaint of one weary of the unbelief of the masses and of the weakness of faith in even his own. Bring him unto me (φέρετε); literally, Bring ye him to me.
And they brought him unto him. The father, it would seem, was not able of himself to bring him, so fierce and violent were the paroxysms of the disorder. And when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him (συνεσπέραξεν)—it might be rendered, convulsed him—grievously. Observe the Greek construction (καὶ ἰδὼν αὐτὸν τὸ πνεῦμα), masculine participle with neuter noun. The sight of Christ stirred the evil spirit dwelling in the child. He was irritated by the presence of Christ; for he knew his power, and feared lest he should be cast out. Then came the last and most violent convulsion. He wallowed foaming. The word "to wallow" is probably from the Latin volvo. He rolled about in his agony. St. Gregory, quoted by Trench, shows how true all this is to nature; and that "the expulsion of a deadly evil from our spiritual being is not accomplished without a terrible struggle, followed in some cases by extreme prostration."
Mark 9:21, Mark 9:22
Our Lord asks the father, not the sufferer, which in this case would have been useless—he was but a lad, and he was dumb. Our Lord's question, How long time is it since this hath come unto him? was intended, not of course for his own information, but to inspire the father with hope and confidence. The father briefly answers, From a child; and then turns to a description of the perils to which his child was continually exposed through these paroxysms. And then, half doubting, half in despair, he says, If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us. It is as though he said, "Thy disciples have failed, perhaps thy power may be greater."
Mark 9:23, Mark 9:24
The most approved reading here is, not Εἴ δύνασαι πιστεῦσαι, but simply Εἴ δύνασαι, So that the English rendering is, If thou canst! All things are possible to him that believeth. Our Lord takes up the father's words. It is as though he said, "Thou sayest to me, 'If thou canst do anything!' Ah, that 'If thou canst!' All things are possible to him that believeth." In other words, our Lord said to him, "Believe in me, and your child shall be healed." It was right that Christ should demand faith in himself; for it was not fitting that he should confer his special benefits on those who disbelieved or doubted about him—that he should thrust his blessings on those who were unworthy of them. The answer of the father is touching and beautiful. Greatly agitated, he cried out and said (we might well suppose (μετὰ δακρύων "with tears," although the weight of evidence is against this addition being retained in the text), I believe; help thou mine unbelief. It is as though he said," I do believe; but my faith is weak. Do thou, therefore, increase and strengthen it; so that whatever there is in me of doubt or remaining unbelief may be taken away, and I may be counted worthy to obtain from thee this blessing for my son." Nor can we doubt that Christ heard a prayer so humble and so fervent, and took away from him the last remains of doubt and unbelief.
The multitude had been much excited by the dispute between the scribes and our Lord's disciples. And now, when they noticed that he had taken the father apart, as no doubt he had done, to question him they came running together (the word is ἐπισυντρέχει, an unusual word, meaning "they ran together to the place") where he was, crowding upon him. Then he came forward, and with a voice of sublime authority he said, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I command thee, come out of him and enter no more into him. The rest of the narrative shows how malignant and powerful this evil spirit was, who dared so to resist and defy Christ that, in his departure out of the afflicted boy, he almost robbed him of life. "Most unwillingly," says Archbishop Trench, "does the evil spirit depart, seeking to destroy that which he can no longer retain." And he quotes Fuller, who says that he is "like an outgoing tenant, that cares not what mischief he does to the house that he is quitting." Some have supposed that this was an evil spirit possessed of more than ordinary power as well as malignity, and that this was the reason why our Lord's disciples could not cast him out; so that this expulsion needed the mighty arm of One stronger than the strong. The words in the Greek are powerful, severe, and authoritative: "He rebuked (ἐπετίμησε) the unclean spirit, . Thou dumb and deaf spirit (τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἄλαλον καὶ κωφὸν), I command thee (ἐγώ σοι ἐπιτάσσω), come out of him, and enter no more into him." This explains our Lord's words when the disciples remarked afterwards, We could not out it out … This kind can come out by nothing, save by prayer; that is, this particular kind of malicious spirit. For there are different degrees of malice and energy in evil spirits as in evil men. The words "and fasting" are added in many ancient authorities.
This verse informs us that our Lord and his disciples now left the neighbourhood of Caesarea Philippi. Their route would be across the Jordan above the Sea of Galilee, and so by the usual track through Galilee down to Capernaum. Our Lord now wished for privacy, that he might farther instruct his disciples with regard to his sufferings and death.
For he taught his disciples (ἐδίδασκε γὰρ τοὺς μαθητὰς αὑτοῦ); literally, for he was teaching (imperfect) his disciples. The Son of man is delivered (παραδίδοται) The whole is present to his mind, as though it were now taking place. And they shall kill him (ἀποκτενοῦσιν). This is a stronger form of κτείνω. And when he is killed, after three days he shall rise again (ἀναστήσεται); literally, he shall rise up. Our Lord repeats this prediction, in order that, when these events actually took place, his disciples might not be alarmed or offended, or abandon their faith in him, as though he could not be the Messiah because he underwent so terrible a death. It will be remembered that, notwithstanding these repeated warnings from their Lord, when these events actually took place, "they all forsook him and fled." It was therefore necessary that this coming event of his crucifixion should be repeatedly impressed upon them, that they might thus be assured that he was willing to undergo this bitter death; that he was not going to his cross by constraint, but as a willing Sacrifice, that he might do the will of his Father, and so redeem mankind. Therefore he repeated all this in Galilee, when he returned from his transfiguration, and after he had cast out the evil spirit from the epileptic child, and so had gained to himself great renown. He would thus restrain the excited feelings of his disciples, and impress upon them the reasons for his journey to Jerusalem, and prepare them for the dread realities which were awaiting him there.
But they understood not the saying, and were afraid (ἐφοβοῦντο) to ask him; St. Matthew (Matthew 17:23) says, "They were exceeding sorry." They saw that something very dreadful was about to happen. Their Master's words and looks showed them this. But it was a mystery to them. All his words staggered them, but especially those which spoke of his rising again. They did not understand whether it was an entrance into a higher state or a restoration to a common life. They did not understand why he was to die, and how these words of his about his death could agree with those in which he had told them that his kingdom was at hand. Perhaps, on the whole, they inclined to the view most pleasing to them, that Christ would not die; for this was what they wished and most desired. And so they tried to persuade themselves that his words respecting his sufferings and death had some other hidden meaning; and were to be understood in a figurative sense and not a literal. But anyhow, they dreaded to ask him.
Mark 9:33, Mark 9:34
They have now reached Capernaum. And when he was in the house—the house, that is, which he frequented when staying in Capernaum—he asked them, What were ye reasoning in the way? The words "among yourselves," of the Authorized Version, are not found in the best authorities. St. Matthew (Matthew 18:1) does not record this question of our Lord, which brings to light the fact that they had been disputing by the way which of them should be the greatest. The Greek is (τίς μείζων) who was greater, that is, than the rest. It has been well noticed that this passage, given in substance in all the synoptic Gospels, is a striking evidence of the truthfulness and impartiality of the disciples. This dispute of theirs might easily have been suppressed as scarcely creditable to them. But in writing the Gospels the evangelists thought more of what exalted the Savior than what abased themselves. This dispute of the disciples shows how thoroughly they realized the nearness of his kingdom, and at the same time how much they had yet to learn as to the qualifications necessary for admission to it. It is not unlikely that the preference given by our Lord to Peter, James, and John may have given occasion for his contention.
And he sat down, and called the twelve. He sat down, with the authority of the great Teacher, to inculcate solemnly a fundamental principle of the Christian life. If any man would be first he shall be last of all, and minister of all. These words are capable of two interpretations. They might be regarded as analogous to our Lord's words elsewhere, "He that exalteth himself shall be abased;" as though they indicated the penalty which attaches to unworthy ambition. But it is surely far more natural to regard them as pointing out the way to real greatness, namely, by humble service for Christ's sake.
And he took a little child (παιδίον), and set him in the midst of them. St. Mark adds, what is not recorded by the other synoptists, that he took him in his arms. And taking him in his arms (ἐναγκαλισάμενος); literally, folding him in his arms; embracing him. It is probable that the house where he was was the house of Simon Peter; and it is possible that this little child might have been Simon's. A tradition not earlier than the ninth century says that this child was Ignatius.
Whosoever shall receive one of such little children in my name, receiveth me. Whosoever shall "receive;" that is, show him offices of kindness and charity. One of such little children; that is, such in simplicity, in innocence and humility, such as this little child is in age and stature. In my Name, that is, with special regard to my Name. He thus seems to link all that is good and beautiful with his Name; as all that is really good and excellent in man is a reflection of his goodness. St. Luke (Luke 9:48) says, 'Whosoever shall receive this little child in my Name receiveth me." Our Lord, therefore, speaks first, literally of a little child, and secondly, in a mystical sense, of those who are like little children; making that little child in his arms the figure and type of all those who are like little children. The sense, therefore, of his words is this: "Humility, which is the foundation and the measure of spiritual perfection, so pleases me that I delight in little children. And all who would be my disciples must become as little children, and so will they deserve to be received by all; for men will think that they receive me in them, because they receive them for my sake."
This verse, according to the best authorities, should begin simply, John said unto him—although in St. Luke (Luke 9:49) they stand, "And John answered and said"—Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name: and we forbade him, because he followed not us. The casting out of evil spirits was one of the foremost signs of apostleship; and what surprised St. John was that one who followed not Christ should have been able to work this miracle—a miracle in which, it will be remembered, the disciples had recently failed. It thus appears that our Lord's teaching had been so influential, that some, not reckoned amongst his disciples, had shown this proof of a strong and overpowering faith. We know that there were those in our Savior's time, of Jewish race, who cast out devils (Matthew 12:27). And Justin Martyr, in his 'Dialogue with Trypho the Jew,' states that while exorcism, as practiced by the Jews, often failed when it was attempted to be exercised "by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," was eminently successful when administered "by the name of the Son of God, who was born of a virgin and crucified under Pontius Pilate" (c. 85). That spirit has power over spirit in many mysterious ways is one of those truths which science has not yet been able to explain. To return, however, to the instance here alluded to by St. John, it should be observed that they who acted thus had faith in Christ; and that by thus acting with him and for him, though not amongst his recognized followers, they contributed towards his honor who, by means of these imperfect instruments, carried out the great purpose of his manifestation, namely," to destroy the works of the devil." Then further, the disciples forbade them not out of envy or hatred, but out of zeal for Christ, as though they were thus serving his cause and upholding his honor. But this was" a zeal, not according to knowledge." They had forbidden them, without having first taken counsel of their Master.
But Jesus said, Forbid him not. It is as though our Lord said, "Do not forbid him; do not hinder him from a good work—a work which does honor to me and to my cause; because, although he does not actually follow me as you do, he is nevertheless engaged in the same cause; he is celebrating my Name by the casting out of evil spirits. Therefore he is not opposing my Name; on the contrary, he is publishing and recommending it." Here is a warning against that exclusive spirit, which is eager for its own ends rather than for Christ's glory, and would limit the exercise of his gifts and graces to its own system or school, instead of inquiring whether those whom it condemns are not working in Christ's name and for the promotion of his glory, although it may be allowable to think that in some instances they might find a more excellent way.
For he that is not against us is for us. In St. Matthew (Matthew 12:30) we find our Lord using a somewhat similar expression, only in an inverted order. He there says, "He that is not with me is against me." The lesson which both these apothegms teach is the same, that there is no such thing as neutrality in reference to Christ and his cause. We must be either with him or against him. Dr. Morison on St. Mark in this place says, "When in applied morals we sit in judgment on ourselves, we should in ordinary circumstances apply the law obversely and stringently,' he who is not with Christ is against him.' But when we are sitting in judgment on others, into whose hearts we cannot look directly, we should in ordinary circumstances apply the law reversely and generously, ' He that is not against Christ is with him.'"
In my name, because ye belong to Christ. The reading adopted in the Revised Version is, ἐν ὀνόματι ὅτι χριστοῦ ἐστέ: literally, in name, that ye are Christ's; or, because ye are Christ's. The force of this observation seems to be this: "If he who gives you a cup of water to drink in my Name, and out of regard for me, does well, and shall be rewarded of God, much more shall he be rewarded who casts out devils in my Name." The disciples are thus taught that it is contrary to the whole spirit of Christianity to disparage works of beneficence, or to suggest unworthy motives for them (see 'Speaker's Commentary,' in loc.).
This verse stands out as the severe antithesis to what has gone before. As he who receives and encourages Christ's little ones and those who are like little children and believe in him, receives him, and so shall receive from him the glorious rewards of Heaven; so, on the contrary, whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in Christ is guilty of deadly sin; and it were better for him if a great millstone (μύλος ὀνικός)—literally, a millstone so large as to require to be turned by an ass—were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.
The hand, or the foot, or the eye represents any instrument by which sin may be committed; and it applies to those who may be the means of drawing us into sin. If your relative or your friend, who is useful or dear to you as your hand, your foot, or your eye, is drawing you into sin, cut him off from you, lest he should draw you into hell, into the unquenchable Gehenna. Gehenna, or the Valley of Hinnom, lay to the south of Jerusalem. Originally a pleasant suburb of the city, it became in later times the scene of the worship of Molech, "the abomination of the children of Ammon." On this account the valley was polluted by King Josiah. It thus became the receptacle of everything that was vile and filthy. These noisome accumulations were from time to time consumed by fire; and the things which were not consumed by fire were the prey of worms. Hence "Gehenna" became the image of the place of eternal punishment, where "the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched." These terrible images are conclusive as to the eternity of future punishment, so far as our nature is concerned and our knowledge reaches. They are the symbols of certain dreadful realities; too dreadful for human language to describe or human thought to conceive.
Where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched. These words are a quotation from Isaiah 66:24, and they are repeated three times in the Authorized Version. But the best ancient authorities omit them in the two first places, retaining them at verse 48. The metaphor is very striking as well as awful. Ordinarily the worm feeds upon the disorganized body, and then dies. The fire consumes the fuel, and then itself expires. But here the worm never dies; the fire never goes out. The words of Cornelius a Lapide on the original passage in Isaiah are well worth recording here: "I beseech you, O reader, by the mercies of our God, by your own salvation, by that one little life entrusted to you and committed to your care, that you will ever keep before your eyes the living memory, as of eternity and of eternal torments, so also of the eternal joys on the other side offered to you by God, and concerning which you here cast the die, and that irrevocable. Let these two things never depart from your mind. In this world, 'Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity.' Oh, what a void there is in earthly things! Oh, how vain is all our life without Christ! In the world to come, truth of truths, and all is truth; stability of stabilities, and all is stability; eternity of eternities, and all is eternity. An eternity in heaven most happy, in hell most miserable, ' Where their worm dies not, and the. fire is not quenched.'" St. Bernard says "the worm that never dies is the memory of the past, which never ceases to gnaw the conscience of the impenitent."
For every one shall be salted with fire; and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. According to the most approved authorities, the second clause of this verse should be omitted, although it is evident that our Lord had in his mind the words in Leviticus it. 13, "Every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt." Every one shall be salted with fire. "Every one." The statement is general in its application. There is no limitation. The good and the evil alike shall be "salted with fire." There is an apparent incongruity here. But it must be remembered that both the salt and the fire are here used in a metaphorical sense; and there is a fire which is penal, and there is a fire which purifies. In the case of the wicked the fire is penal; and the salting with fire in their case can only mean the anguish of a tormented conscience, which must be commensurate with its existence in the same moral condition. But there is a fire which purifies. St. Peter, addressing the Christians of the Dispersion (1 Peter 4:12), bids them not to think it strange concerning the "fiery trial" which was among them. This was their "salting with fire." Those persecutions which they suffered were their discipline of affliction, through which God was purifying and preserving them. This discipline is necessary for all Christians. They must arm themselves with the same mind, even though they may not live in a time of outward persecution. He who parts with the hand, or the foot, or the eye; that is, he who surrenders what is dear to him—he who parts with what, if he was only to confer with flesh and blood, he would rather keep, for the sake of Christ, is going through the discipline of self-sacrifice, which is often painful and severe, but nevertheless purifying. He is salted with fire; but he is pro-served by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
Salt is good; that is, it is useful and beneficial. This is true of the literal salt. Its wholesome antiseptic properties are universally recognized. But our Lord has before his mind in this whole passage the spiritual meaning. He is thinking of the salt of Divine grace, of the salt of a spirit informed and influenced by the Holy Spirit. He had already told his disciples that they were "the salt of the earth." Not, indeed, that they could deliver the earth from corruption—that was beyond their power. But when Christ had delivered it by his mighty sacrifice and the gift of his Spirit, it was their business, as it is the duty of all Christians, to keep it in a healthy state; so that by their wisdom and purity, their holy lives and holy teaching, they might season the whole world. But if the salt have lost its saltness (ἐὰν τὸ ἅλας ἄναλον γένηται), wherewith will ye season it? This insipid, tasteless condition of salt is familiar to travelers in the East Examples are to be found of largo masses of salt which "has lost its savor." Our Lord here applies this in a spiritual sense to his disciples. "If ye, my disciples, who are the salt of the earth,—if ye lose the true properties of salt; if your Christianity loses its heart, its quickening, stimulating influence; so that on account of the love of the world, or the fear of man, or through lust or ambition, you fall away from the heavenly doctrine and life;—who shall restore you to your former spiritual health and vigor? With what can salt itself be seasoned when its own chemical energies are lost?" Our Lord plays upon this figure of salt, and cautions his disciples, lest by any means they should lose the qualities of this mystic salt. Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace one with another. This sentence fitly winds up the whole. Have the salt of wisdom and purity, and of a Christian life, namely, humility, charity, contempt of the world, and especially peace. Do not be idly contending about place or position, as not long ago you were disputing (Mark 9:33). Our Lord foresaw that this kind of contention, these rivalries, and these ambitious aims, would prove a great scandal and a great hindranee to the progress of his Church in the future ages of the world. But he also knew that if his disciples in every ago would endeavor to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," their influence would be irresistible, and they would draw all men to them and to himself, the great Centre of attraction, and "the confidence of all the ends of the earth" (Psalms 65:5).
Observe the crisis of our Lord's ministry at which this marvelous and memorable incident took place. The period of novelty, of popularity, of prosperity, was past and gone; the period of hostility, of persecution, of endurance, was commencing. Already Jesus had forewarned his disciples of the speedy approach of his death at the hands of his enemies. And it seems as though this unique and impressive display of his proper majesty, and of the affection and confidence of his Father, came exactly at the needed conjuncture. It was for his own sake, that a vivid consciousness of Divine favor might go with him to the scenes of ignominy and of suffering which awaited him. It was for the sake of the nearest and dearest among his friends, that they might carry with them, especially in those trials of their faith and attachment which were coming upon them, a conviction concerning their master's nature and mission which might support them and preserve them, if not from weak defection, still from shameful apostasy. The close connection between the glories of the Transfiguration and the shame and wee of Calvary, is evident both from the narrative itself and from the central and critical position it occupies. Regarding the Mount of Transfiguration as a mount of witness, we observe—
I. THE WITNESS CHRIST HERE BEARS TO HIMSELF. The sun in heaven is his own witness, shines by his own light, tells of his own nature and power. So with the Lord Christ. When, amidst the darkness of the night, upon the slopes of Hermon, his garments glistened, and his face shone with a dazzling radiance, his proper glory shone through the disguise of his human weakness and humiliation. For once he appeared to be what he really was—the Son of the Father, and the Lord of the world. It was testimony very powerful and very effective, and produced its impression upon those who were privileged to behold that "great sight."
II. THE WITNESS HERE BORNE TO CHRIST BY THE LAWGIVER AND THE PROPHET. After Abraham, no personages in their history were more honored and venerated by the Jews than Moses and Elijah: Moses the giver of their Law, and Elijah the head and leader of their prophets. These two had not only in life fulfilled the will of God, they had at the close of their life-service been taken to himself by their Lord in very remarkable and singular circumstances. From the seats of the blessed, and in their vesture of immortality, these illustrious and glorified saints came to converse with the Son of God regarding the decease which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. They had foretold him, they had prefigured him, they now gave place to him; and what more appropriate than that they should thus tender to him their homage and their admiration?
1. They manifested interest in his mission, for this gave the meaning to their own—explained in the old economy much which would otherwise have been inexplicable.
2. They acknowledged his authority, for they had already testified to a Greater than themselves who should come, and their appearance on this occasion was an evidence of the reverential honor in which they held the Divine lawgiver, the Divine Prophet.
3. They anticipated his decease; the event which he had so recently foretold, and for which he was now so deliberately, so sacredly preparing—an event of stupendous magnitude in the history of our sinful humanity.
III. THE WITNESS BORNE TO CHRIST BY HIS FRIENDS AND APOSTLES.
1. It may be asked—Why was it appointed that the Transfiguration should be witnessed by so small and select a group, and in so secluded a spot? Why were not multitudes permitted to behold a spectacle so amazing in Itself, and so fitted to bring conviction to the minds of all beholders? Surely, it might be urged, no unbeliever, no caviller, could have withstood the evidence of our Lord's authority which such a scene afforded! It is recorded that the leaders of the Jews, the Pharisees, asked from Jesus a sign from heaven. This he refused them. But he allowed three favored friends to behold his glory, when the customary veil was in some measure withdrawn. What is the explanation of this? It may be replied that it was not in harmony with the plans of our Lord Jesus to overpower the senses of the people with some irresistible display of supernatural power and glory. This would not have been to secure a moral result by moral means. Jesus would not have valued the admiration which was withheld from his moral character and his benevolent life, but which was accorded to the effulgence of celestial glory, striking all eyes with amazement. But there was another reason for the limitation of the witnesses of our Lord's transfiguration. The highest revelations of God's wisdom and holiness and love are for those only who are prepared to receive them. You may walk round the outside of a vast domain, a splendid palace; you may make the circuit of the walls, you may see the tree-tops shaken by the wind, you may catch glimpses of the lofty roofs and towers of the lordly edifice. But how little do you know of the imposing palace and its enchanting environments! If, however, you are permitted to enter the gates, to tread the stately gardens, to explore the mansion, to look through the library, to admire the sculptures and paintings, and, above all, to spend hours and days in converse with the choice spirits who make the abode their home,—then you can form a judgment, and cherish an appreciation which, so long as you were on the outside, you would never have been able to do. So with the knowledge of every high and pure and noble soul. Such a one is only to be known by those who have sympathy with him, and opportunities of fellowship with him. It cannot be otherwise than that the ignorant, the vulgar, the selfish, should misunderstand him. In like manner, but in the highest degree, it needed some sympathy with the Lord Christ in order to judge aright of him. It seems likely that when Jesus took with him only his three most intimate and congenial friends to behold his glory upon the holy mount, he did so because none others were sufficiently advanced in spiritual knowledge and appreciation to be capable of partaking and profiting by the privilege. Even the bulk of his own twelve disciples would have been, at that time, out of place upon the Mount of Transfiguration. As for the scribes and Pharisees, and all the vulgar formalists who desired a sign, they had no spiritual eyes with which to see the vision which was then and there vouchsafed to three lowly fishermen, whose hearts the Lord had touched, and whose sight the Lord had cleansed and quickened.
2. The emotions with which the favored three were affected, when they beheld Christ's glory, deserve attention. There was awe: and this was honor-able to them, that they experienced the feeling of trembling reverence in a presence so august, and before evidence so majestic and convincing. There was delight: hence the exclamation and the proposal of Peter. They felt it "good" to be in such a scene and in such society, and they would fain have prolonged the precious opportunity, and dwelt for a season upon the mount.
3. The convictions which they formed may be known from the language of Peter in his Second Epistle, from which it is apparent that the Transfiguration produced upon the minds of the witnesses a profound and ineffaceable impression concerning their Master's dignity and authority.
IV. THE WITNESS BORNE TO CHRIST BY THE FATHER HIMSELF. In the voice which came from the Father we observe:
1. A declaration to be believed: "This is my beloved Son," Jesus was beloved:
(1) For the relation he sustained to the Father; for he was "the only begotten," and was by nature what no other human being can be affirmed to have been.
(2) For his congenial character; for he pleased the Father alway; his character embodied every moral excellence.
(3) For his willing obedience; for, as he had undertaken his mission in the spirit of the prophetic language, "Lo, I come . to do thy will, O my God," he acted throughout his ministry in a manner comformable to the just and holy will of God the Father.
(4) For his perfect submission; for he "learned obedience by the things which he suffered," and shrank not from any sufferings appointed, and refused not the cup which the Father gave. As God's beloved Son, he was "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."
2. An appeal to be obeyed: "Hear ye him!" As in the former clause the address is to the intelligent nature, so in this clause it is to the practical nature, of men. It is a Divine imperative. The appeal is to the sense of human obligation. Hear his teachings as your Master! Hear his promises as your Friend and Savior! Hear his commands as your Leader and Lord! Hear to rejoice, to respond, to obey!
1. Receive this witness concerning Christ. It is the witness of the most trustworthy of men, the most competent of observers; it is the witness of the Eternal Father, of him who cannot lie.
2. Repeat this witness concerning Christ. It is the vocation of the disciple to give testimony to the master. The Church is Christ's witness to the world. It is ours to tell who Jesus is and what he has done; it is ours to invite the faith, to require the allegiance of all mankind to him who is the Son of God.
The lunatic boy.
In Raphael's picture of the Transfiguration, which has often been called the greatest of all paintings, the foreground is occupied by a vivid representation of this marvellous miracle wrought by our Lord upon his descent from the mountain. The conjunction of the two incidents, which are in such striking contrast with each other, seems suggestive. The native glory of the Redeemer shone forth in the presence of the three favored disciples upon the holy mount. But the redemptive work of the Son of God is brought out most prominently by his mighty work of healing, in which he shows himself able to deliver a human sufferer from the agonies of a terrible disease, and from the clutches of a cruel foe. The one incident serves to bring out the other into a bolder relief; and the two must be taken together, in order that we may obtain a fair and complete view of the nature, and especially of the ministry, of Jesus.
I. OBSERVE THE DISTRESSING CASE OF HUMAN MISERY HERE PORTRAYED. St. Mark has depicted this whole incident with a graphic minuteness that cannot fail to impress itself upon the reader's mind.
1. The case itself is unique in the wretchedness of its symptoms. An epileptic boy, speechless, often convulsed and sometimes flung into the fire and the water, a sufferer in this way from childhood, and now wasting away from long-continued disease,—can a more affecting picture of human misery be painted than this? Add to all the particulars related the possession by an evil spirit; and the hopelessness of the case, the powerlessness of all human endeavors, becomes apparent.
2. The anguish of the father's heart is beyond description; his attitude, his language, declare his distress and his dejection.
3. The interest of the multitude is evident; a spectacle such as this could not fail to excite the commiseration and compassion of every feeling heart. Observe in this case a striking figure of the condition of the sinner as a captive of Satan, and of the state of this ungodly and sin-accursed humanity!
II. REMARK THE INABILITY OF ALL HUMAN MEANS AND AGENCIES TO RELIEVE THIS CASE OF WRETCHEDNESS. All that a father's watchfulness and care could effect had long been tried. Doubtless the best known and most skillful physicians had exhausted the resources of their art. But all had been in vain. And now the disciples of our Lord had been appealed to with earnest entreaties. In the absence of their Master upon the mountain they had put forth their endeavors, had exercised their authority. But all was in vain. It was the assertion of the father; it was the confession of the disciples themselves: "They could not cast out" the demon. And there is no power on earth that can deal effectually with the sinner's case—that can expel from this humanity the spirit of evil that has so long ruled, afflicted, and defiled it.
III. CONSIDER THE APPLICATION WHICH WAS MADE TO JESUS AS TO THE DIVINE HEALER. How spiritually significant and instructive is the approach of the suppliant father to the Christ! The importance attached to faith comes out in this narrative perhaps more prominently than in any other part of the Gospel. We recognize:
1. The demand for faith. The father states his case, describes the sufferings of his son, implores compassion, and entreats help. His qualification, If thou canst do anything," calls forth Christ's marvellous and memorable utterance: "If thou canst! All things are possible to him that believeth." This is, indeed, a repetition of the teaching of Scripture in every page. Faith is the posture of the heart which God approves, and which renders those who assume it capable of being blessed. Faith is the cry of the heart which God will never disregard or reject. And this condition comes out in a very impressive manner in this dialogue.
2. The assertion of faith. The poor father was driven to faith by need and suffering, by sympathy and despondency, by his repeated failures to obtain relief. He was drawn to Christ by his gracious and majestic presence as he came down from the Mount of Transfiguration. The leper had doubted the will of Christ to save; this father seems to have had confidence in the disposition and readiness of the Divine Teacher and Healer, and upon the suggestion and requirement of the Redeemer he exclaims, with fervor and with earnestness, "Lord, I believe."
3. The confession of unbelief. He doubts, or until now has doubted, Christ's power to save, as appears from his "If thou canst," and as he himself acknowledges in his cry, "Help thou mine unbelief." If he had not believed at all, he would not have come to Jesus; if he had believed firmly, he would have come with other words and in another spirit. This combination is very true to nature. There are degrees of faith even in the faithful Where is perfect faith in Jesus? Who has not had reason to cry, "Help thou mine unbelief;" "Increase my faith"?
4. The cry for help. The earnest applicant did not wait until his faith was stronger—until more assurances and encouragements were given. He pleads as for his life, for he pleads for his child. Hating his unbelief, he struggles against it. His appeal is the utterance of his heart, which has no hope and no resource save in Immanuel, the Son of God. An example this to all hearers of the gospel, and especially to the penitent, the doubting, the timid, and the tempted.
IV. REMARK THE HEALING GRACE AND POWER OF JESUS.
1. His compassion was excited. He might pause to call forth the father's faith; but he would not withhold his sympathy from the suffering.
2. His authority was exercised over the evil spirit; for he rebuked and bade the demon to come out, and this with a commanding voice, which even so potent an agent of evil could not resist.
3. His healing, gracious aid was extended to the boy. When the sufferer seemed as if dead, by reason of the exhausting convulsions in which the departing demon displayed his malicious power, the Lord of life took him by the hand and raised him up, and he arose. How beautiful and encouraging an illustration of our Lord's personal interest in, and spiritual contact with, those whom he commiserates, relieves, and saves!
1. There is no case of need, sin, and wretchedness beyond the power of Christ to aid.
2. There is no faith, however feeble, which will not justify an approach to Christ, and elicit his compassion and his willingness to help.
3. By spiritual discipline Christ's people may train themselves for grappling with every form, however extreme, of human misery and helplessness.
The evangelists have recorded that on several distinct occasions our Lord foretold, in the hearing of his disciples, what would be the close of his earthly career. It is evident, accordingly, that these predictions, though only partially comprehended at the time, nevertheless made a deep impression on the minds of those who listened to them. After all that Jesus had foretold had been fulfilled, his apostles naturally enough recalled his sayings, and pondered them in the light of actual events, and published among their fellow-disciples the communications which have been recorded in the Gospels.
I. THE OCCASION OF THESE REVELATIONS. This second declaration by the Son of man of his approaching death and resurrection was made not long after the first.
1. It was in the course of the journey from Caesarea Philippi through Galilee to the most ordinary scenes of his ministry that Jesus thus spoke to his disciples. They were apart from the multitude and the busy towns, where the great Healer was continually beset by applicants for relief and healing. There was quiet leisure, of which opportunity was taken by the Master to unfold anew to his disciples facts of tremendous import.
2. It was soon after the Transfiguration upon the mount—a display of his glory which must have enlightened the minds of his friends with regard to his nature, and must have disposed them to receive with deeper reflectiveness declarations concerning himself. That a Being so glorious and so remarkably in correspondence with celestial intelligences, and so intimately in the fellowship and the favor or the Eternal, should look forward to a fate so dread—this was indeed likely to provoke them to profound inquiry and meditation.
II. The SUBSTANCE OF THESE REVELATIONS. The matter of these very remarkable and repeated communications was threefold.
1. He foretold his apprehension by his enemies. That there were among the ruling classes at Jerusalem many who were violently opposed to his teaching and to his claims, must have been known to his disciples as well as to himself. But hitherto Jesus had eluded the efforts of his foes, and had always proved himself able both to refute them in argument and to defy their efforts to seize and kill him. But the Lord's express words assured them that the time was at hand when the foes, whose enmity and malice had hitherto been defeated, should prevail against the Holy One and the Just.
2. He foretold the violent death which his enemies should inflict upon him. He had saved many from death, and had raised some from the dead; strange it must have seemed to them that he himself should submit to be put to death by the violence of men! Why should he submit to power which he was evidently capable of defying? Why should he endure treatment from which he could certainly save himself? Why should he endure a fate which he might easily avert?
3. He foretold his resurrection after three days' submission to death. This must have perplexed them still more. To what purpose need he die if he intended so soon to revive? Why not rather avoid death than, first submitting to it, then prove himself superior to its power? Yet such a prediction was fitted to enhance their conceptions of his majesty and authority.
III. THE EFFECT OF THESE REVELATIONS UPON THE MINDS OF THE DISCIPLES, Very simply are we informed that:
1. They understood not the saying. The words which the Lord had used were simple and unmistakable; the events he had foretold were such as were familiar to their observation, or such as they were acquainted with from the Old Testament narrative. What was it that they failed to understand? Probably the consistency between such a prospect and the view they were forming of Jesus' Messianic character and glory, and the expectations they were cherishing of his speedily approaching kingdom. Their minds were utterly confused by declarations which accorded neither with their primitive nor their more mature apprehensions of their Master's nature and ministry.
2. They were afraid to ask him. There seem to have been times when the disciples stood in awe of their Master. It could not well be otherwise. Sometimes his grace and friendliness drew them to him, and the intimacy was as that subsisting among brothers; at other times the superiority of Jesus seemed to cleave a chasm of separation which they had not confidence or courage to bridge over by their approaches. They could not then even question him concerning the import of his own language.
IV. THE REASON OF THESE REVELATIONS.
1. Jesus intended thus to open the eyes of his companions to his own character. Such sayings as these must have awakened their renewed inquiry, "What manner of man is this?" Thus Jesus would impress upon them the fact that his nature and character, his kingdom and mission, were altogether unique.
2. Jesus intended, in some measure, to prepare them for the events which were about to happen. This was effected but partially; yet it would be a mistake to suppose that such teaching was lost upon the twelve. The events of the Passion did indeed amaze and dismay Christ's disciples, yet not to that extent which would have been the case had no such communications been vouchsafed.
3. Jesus designed to open their minds to the spiritual nature of his kingdom. What he foretold could not happen without dispelling, or at least weakening, many preconceived notions and expectations; and even before these things came to pass, some light regarding the unworldly and spiritual kingdom must have streamed into their dim minds.
4. Jesus purposed that, after he should have arisen from the dead, they should call to memory the sayings they had heard from him, and that their faith should thus be confirmed in his superior knowledge, and in the divinity of his purposes, so clearly conceived and so gloriously accomplished. Thus was provision made for their thinking aright of him who laid down his life for the sheep, and in due time and of his own accord took to him that life again.
Our Lord's ministry was not only to the people generally, but to his own disciples and friends; and even to these he had occasion sometimes to address language, not only of instruction, but of rebuke and expostulation. On the occasion here referred to, a serious fault was displayed among the chosen circle, which called for the Lord's interference and reprimand. At the same time the great Teacher pointed out to the erring a more excellent way. Ambition was the fault, and its appearance among the twelve occasioned our Lord's lesson in true greatness.
I. AMBITION AMONG THE FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST.
1. Notice its occasion. It seems as if recent events gave rise to the desire for preeminence among the friends and disciples of Jesus. The special commendation of Peter which the Master had recently pronounced, and the selection of the same apostle, with James and John, to witness the Transfiguration, probably prompted the aspiration and the discussion here recorded.
2. The exact form this disposition assumed. The twelve looked forward to the Messianic kingdom, of which they had come to regard Jesus as the divinely appointed Head, and in which they all expected to occupy posts of dignity and power. But who should be greatest? Who should be the chief minister under the Messianic King? Such was the matter in dispute, and that it should be so shows us how much the apostles had yet to learn.
3. The evil fruits of this ambition. It is quite in accordance with human nature that such a disposition should lead to disagreement and to contention. The twelve not only reasoned, they disputed; rivalry took the place of brotherhood. It is ever so; when the desire for preeminence and supremacy takes possession of men's hearts, farewell to contentment, harmony, and peace!
II. CHRIST'S REBUKE AND REMEDY FOR AMBITION. The observant eye of Jesus had remarked the wrangling which had gone on among his disciples, and his heart was pained. When he inquired into what had happened, they were ashamed and silenced; and he proceeded to unfold a principle which should operate, not in this company only, but throughout all periods of his Church.
1. Christ reveals the new and Christian law of greatness. Only those who are willing to be last of all, and ministers of all, shall be foremost in his kingdom. This was paradoxical, altogether in contradiction to the prevalent plan and principle among men in all grades of society, and in all communities, civil and ecclesiastical. It was exemplified most illustriously in the Lord Jesus himself. "Though he was rich, he became poor;" "He took on him the form of a servant;" "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister." In his own person—in his incarnation, his humiliation, his obedience unto death, even the death of the cross—our Lord furnished the one incomparable example of humility and self-denial, and laid the axe to the root of the tree of self-seeking and pride. It was a law containing within it its own sanction and power. The humiliation and self-sacrifice of the Lord Jesus were more than an example; they introduced a new motive of spiritual persuasiveness and constraint into human society. The cross of Christ has been the great moral power which has changed human society, and is now the one hope of human regeneration.
2. Christ enforces his new law of greatness by a striking symbol. Our Lord often taught by act, thus enforcing the lessons embodied in his words. On this occasion he took a little child, and preached an ever-memorable sermon from this beautiful and touching text. The infant was in himself a living and evident illustration of submissiveness, teachableness, and humility. And not only so; the infant furnished the great Teacher with the lesson he needed: "Whosoever shall receive one of such," etc. Instead of seeking to be preferred above their brethren, Christians are here taught to seek out, and to minister to, the lowliest and the feeblest; and the inspiriting assurance is added, that those who in the Master's spirit receive and aid the least of his disciples—the lambs of his flock, the babes of his household—shall be regarded as having rendered a service to the Christ himself; nay, as having "received" the Creator and Lord of all, even him who sent and gave his Son for the salvation of mankind!
1. Dispositions which we are ashamed to bring into the presence and under the notice of Christ, are by that very fact condemned, and must be at once repressed and checked.
2. Towards one another it behoves the disciples of Jesus to cherish sentiments of esteem and honor.
3. Towards the feeble and the obscure they should display the tenderest consideration, remembering that those who serve Christ's lowliest people serve Christ himself.
The judgment of charity.
It is clear, from this passage, that the influence of our Lord Jesus was wider than was known by his own immediate friends, and that his work was, even during his lifetime, advancing in directions of which they were not aware. Accidentally, as it were, we gain an insight into the progress of the kingdom of Christ outside the immediate circle of his acknowledged and professed disciples; and the incident which affords us this insight, at the same time presents to us truths and lessons of vast practical importance.
I. BIGOTRY IS HUMAN, AND CHARITY IS DIVINE. If any one of the twelve might have been deemed free from all suspicion of bigotry, surely it would have been John, often called" The Apostle of Love." Yet from this incident, and from his wishing upon another occasion to call down fire from heaven upon unbelievers, it is plain that, at all events during the Lord's ministry, he was wont to give way to an ardent, impetuous, violent spirit. In the view of a bigot, one who does not work in his own way is censured and condemned as unfit to work for God at all. The Lord Jesus proved his superiority to human infirmity by permitting and encouraging service which his followers would have forbidden.
II. OUTWARD UNITY AND CONFORMITY ARE NO SUFFICIENT TEST OF CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP. Men are naturally prone to lay great stress upon this. The complaint, "He followeth not with us," has not been confined to the first followers of Jesus. The "following," in such cases, means outward association and agreement in language, usages, forms of policy and of worship. But two considerations should check that narrowness which would limit discipleship to those who conform to established custom:
1. Some conform, who prove themselves to be lacking in the mind and spirit of Jesus Christ.
2. Some refuse, or neglect to conform, who display such spirit, and whoso actions show them to be Christ's.
III. ONE TEST OF DISCIPLESHIP IS THE SPIRIT IN WHICH MEN WORK FOR CHRIST. The stranger, to whom reference is made, is said to have done what he did it, Christ's Name, and the Lord declares that the presumption is markedly in the favor of one whose practice may be so denoted. What are we to understand by the expression, "in Christ's Name"? It is an idiom which involves more than lies upon the surface. The Name of Christ implies his nature, his character, his claims, his mission. What is done truly in his Name, is done from reverence towards him, from faith in him, from love to him, in reliance upon his grace, and with a view to his honor and his approval. Now, our Lord teaches us that they whose life is animated and governed, controlled and guided, by a constant reference to himself, are to be honored and encouraged. Such may have an imperfect acquaintance with the Lord Jesus, an insufficient apprehension of his nature or his work, an indisposition to consort with his professed followers. In all this it is possible they may be inferior to ourselves, though it is not certain. But this must not rouse us to bigotry, to conceit, and opinionated self-complacency. Let us recognize and admire the spirit which such "outsiders" may display, and wish them God-speed, and rejoice in their witness and in their work!
IV. ANOTHER TEST OF DISCIPLESHIP IS THE WORK WHICH MEN DO FOR CHRIST, This passage reminds us that:
1. It may be a mighty work or a power. This is not necessarily miraculous; it may be moral. The mark of God's finger may be upon the work. In our own state of society this "note" of true Christianity may sometimes be recognized among those who are unassociated with our Churches, and even among the "unorthodox."
2. It may be the casting out of demons. In the Gospel narrative this was literally the case. And in modern life there are many demons of ignorance, impurity, sloth, and selfishness, which need expulsion. And those who devote their time and energies to combating these ills, are doing the work of our Master, and will not be able quickly to speak evil of him. Let us rejoice, not only in their work, but in themselves.
3. It may be the giving era cup of cold water to Christ's people in Christ's Name. Not the magnitude, but the moral tendency, the inner motive of the act, is of importance in the sight of our Lord. If the act itself be kind and beneficent, that is sufficient to recommend it to us, and to make it acceptable to the Lord. There is an obvious harmony between a good work and the good spirit in which the work is performed.
V. A CANON OF JUDGMENT. It may be determined that the rule of verse 40, "He that is not against us is for us," refers to our judgment of others and of their actions. It is a wise as well as a charitable principle. It is a preservative against bigotry, and it is fitted to ensure equitable and considerate treatment of our neighbors. The rule elsewhere recorded," He that is not for us is against us," applies to ourselves, and warns us against lukewarmness in our piety and negligence in our service. Let us be stricter with ourselves, and more charitable with others, and we shall the better please our righteous and gracious Lord.
With these solemn words our Lord closed his arduous and faithful ministry in Galilee. Christ's language was usually language of grace and encouragement; but there were occasions, like the present, when he spoke words of faithful warning in tones almost of severity. Yet it should be noted that these admonitions were addressed to his own disciples, and were intended to quicken their spiritual sensibility, and to induce them to use with diligence the privileges with which they were favored, especially through their association with himself.
I. POWERS AND MEANS OF USEFULNESS MAY BECOME OCCASIONS OF SPIRITUAL OFFENCE. This is a very serious consideration. Increased privilege brings increased responsibility, and none can possess powers of body or of mind without being exposed by such possession to liability to unfaithfulness and to consequent deprivation.
1. Social intercourse and influence come under this general principle. Our Lord speaks of his disciples, and especially of the inexperienced and immature, as "his little ones who believe on him." We cannot be associated with such without affecting them for good or for evil. To cause them to stumble, to betray them into errors or into sin, is an offense against our Lord, and it would be better for a man to be flung with a millstone about his neck into the deep water, than so to offend against the Lord of the little ones.
2. Our active powers may become occasions of offense. The hand and the foot may be taken as emblematical of these pewees, the proper and intended purpose of which is undoubtedly their employment in works of justice and of charity and helpfulness. Yet these good faculties may cause their possessors to offend. The hands may work deeds of violence, the feet may lead into the way of sinners; and in such a case the purpose of the Creator is frustrated, and condemnation is incurred.
3. Sense and intelligence may be productive of harm as well as of good. The eye may fairly be taken as representing sense generally, and the apprehensive faculty. When the eyes wander where they should not, are closed when they should be open, or are open when they should be closed, they are an offense. When the intellect is directed to the wrong topics, or to the right topics in the wrong temper, its glory is dimmed, for its intention is thwarted, and it becomes a curse instead of a blessing.
II. THE ABUSE OF POWERS AND MEANS OF USEFULNESS WILL INVOLVE PUNITIVE SUFFERING AND RUIN. Under the rule of a righteous God, it cannot be that faithfulness and unfaithfulness, watchfulness and remissness, obedience and rebellion, will be treated alike. From the lips of the Lamb of God, the "meek and lowly in heart," language such as that which our Lord here employs is doubly impressive. Nevertheless, it is in mercy that the fruits of sin are shown to be apples of Sodom, that the wages of sin are expressly declared to be death. The figurative representations of the doom of the sinful are indeed terrific. This doom is worse than the vengeful overwhelming in the Lake of Galilee; it is compared to the casting out of corpses into Gehenna, below the walls of Jerusalem, where the fire consumed or the worms gnawed the unburied bodies of the dead. Such teaching leaves us in no doubt as to the view which the omniscient and most gracious Savior takes of the future and eternal prospects of those who desecrate their powers and misuse their opportunities in the service, of sin.
III. On the other hand, WATCHFULNESS AND SEVERITY WITH SELF WILL ENSURE THE BLESSING OF THE ETERNAL LIFE, AND THE HONOURS OF THE HEAVENLY KINGDOM. Even supposing that self is denied and crucified, that pleasures are foregone, that privations are incurred,—is all this worth thinking of with regret when the recompense of the faithful is borne in mind? What is this recompense? The Giver of life himself promises "entrance into life;" the Sovereign of the spiritual kingdom promises "entrance into the kingdom of God." If in some sense the saved are, in the process, exposed to a thousand ills and sorrows, still, though they enter lame and maimed and halt-sightless into the kingdom of life, of God, they do enter, and entering are for ever glorious and for ever blessed. It is promised that through much tribulation Christ's followers shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES. At an interval of six or eight (Luke) days from Peter's confession and the teaching of the cross. "Into a high mountain," i.e. into some glen or secluded spot in the mountain. As there is no mention of any movement southward, and distinct assurance that they did not at this time go into Galilee (Mark 9:30), the notion of Tabor being the mountain is unfounded. The slightness of its elevation, and the circumstance that its summit has been a fortified spot from the earliest times, render it almost certain that it was not the scene of the Transfiguration. All the evidence is in favor of Hermon, the snow-clad, sentinel-like peak in which the Anti-Libanus range culminates. Its name means "the mountain," and it is spoken of in the Old Testament as "holy." Its cool slopes and upland solitudes would afford congenial retirement to the weary Christ. It was mental trouble he had to overcome, and this he sought to do in prayer and Divine communion. For this reason, and the signs afforded by the rest of the chapter of the day having well begun as they descended, it has been supposed it was a night scene. He was wont to pray during the night, and the disciples were "heavy with sleep." It gives a peculiar character to the occurrence to suppose this to have been the case. But that they were fully awake when the vision appeared, Luke again assures us. The duration of the vision is not suggested; probably, as in dreams, time was an inappreciable element.
II. THE INCIDENTS.
1. Transformation. "He was transfigured before them," etc. The change described by the Greek word is literally one of form, but this must not be pressed. "It was a change in the externality of the person," says Morison; "a kind of temporary glorification, effected no doubt from within outward, rather than from without inward. It would reveal the essential glory of the spirit that 'tabernacled' within, its glory at once in that lower sphere that was human, and in that higher sphere that was Divine" ('Practical Commentary,' in loc.). The general brightness of his appearance is noted by the three evangelists, Matthew comparing his face to the sun, and his garments to the light. Mark speaks of the fuller's white in his description of it. The face is referred to by Matthew and Luke, and all three refer to the garments. Luke tells us it occurred "as he was praying."
2. Association with Moses and Elias. They were seen by the apostles, but did not purposely present themselves. They were talking with him, and Luke tells us the subject of their converse: "his decease which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem." They were representatives of the righteous spirits in Hades, the world of the unseen, of disembodied spirits; representatives, too, of the Law and the prophets. They had laid the foundations of the kingdom of righteousness which he perfected. They spoke of his death as the grand means of the fulfillment of the hopes of immortality, they themselves having in the manner of their own "exodus" afforded the shadow and prophetic type of which his was the substance. He is in essential, spiritual oneness with them.
3. Peter's suggestion. Outcome of zeal, but not according to knowledge. It is seemingly enough for him to see his Master on terms of equality with those great spirits of the past. There is an undiscriminating comprehension in his proposal; a desire also to extend the duration of the ecstasy in which he and his companions were. It breaks the grand harmony of the evolution of the scene, and yet is full of instruction.
4. Divine attestation. The three accounts agree in the words, "This is my Son: hear ye him." Matthew and Mark have also "beloved," for which Luke substitutes "my chosen;' and Matthew alone adds, "in whom I am well pleased." The words are but human renderings of the unspeakable "voice." They prove that the great Centre of attention and attraction for the Church is Jesus, not Moses or Elias.
5. Restoration of Christ to his usual appearance. The distinguished associates of his glory vanish. The vision was no "baseless fabric," but it was over, and now the spectators must return to common life and mundane duties. Jesus "was found alone;" "Jesus only."
III. THE LESSONS. These are innumerable, and we must content ourselves with a few of the more prominent. There was revelation for both Christ and his disciples. A new light was thrown upon past and future, and the fear of death was broken. But the whole scene is best understood as a revelation and glorification of Christ. The Divine Father has glorified his Son, and thereby attested him to himself and to confidence of believers. This was the "sign from heaven" vainly asked by the unbelieving Pharisees, and now granted to the thrice leaders of the apostles. And a corresponding revelation will take place in the experience of every true child of God, whereby his faith shall be confirmed, and he shall be "sealed unto the day of redemption." The yearning, praying, aspiring spirit of the Son at last, in foretaste, attains; and he and his followers are strengthened. The personal glory, the sublime association with the precursors of the kingdom in the toast, and the transcendant commendation, leave no room for doubt in the heart of the true believer. The evidence is intuitive, but it is spiritually complete.
2. The loftiest tendencies and aspirations of the Law and the prophets are fulfilled in the "obedience unto death" of the Divine Son. "They spake with him of his decease;" it was evidently central to their thoughts. The religious hopes of the past were to be satisfied in that way alone; by that alone was the righteousness of God to be satisfied. Self-sacrifice is the spirit of both Law and prophecy. To them the profound mystery of the hereafter was solved in the spirit of his death and in his resurrection; "life and immortality were brought to light" in him. It is as associated with them and representative of them that he looked forward to his dying. The manifestation of the Divine Son is therefore of universal significance, and relates itself to all that was highest and most spiritual in ancient religious movements.
3. What God did for his Son on this occasion he will do for all who vitally belong to his "Body." Even as the bodily frame of Christ was transfigured, and partook of the inward glory of his spirit, so shall all in whose nature his grace is found appear with him in the glory of the resurrection. The spiritual law is manifest and certain, and it is evidently the same in the believer as in his Lord. Glory of spirit must sooner or later appear in glory of external appearance, and the body shall partake in the blessedness of the spirit.—M.
The transition from the glory and the spiritual vision to the sober light of common day—from the Christ uplifted in the radiance of heaven, and waited upon by the greatest spirits of ancient Hebrew religion, to the humiliated form of the man Jesus—was a perilous one for ordinary mortals to pass through. But it was necessary. It is for faith to penetrate the spiritual significance of ordinary forms and appearances, and grasp the Divine. It is to faith, and faith alone, that God is manifest in the flesh.
I. JESUS OUTLIVES HIS RECOMMENDATIONS. He is ever more, far more, than he appears to be. Some things and persons have nothing remaining when you strip the pretense and tinsel away. The radiance subsides into damp mist, and the glorious brightness proves but bottle-glass. It is this overmastering intrinsic worth and power of Jesus which explains his enduring influence. Eloquent advocacy has been engaged in his cause, great ideas have been associated with him, his claims have been attested by miraculous powers and signs, and ever and again the background of the Divine mystery from which he emerged has revealed itself, and a multitude of external proofs etc., are forthcoming when required; but he himself is greater than them all, and contains their latent possibilities within himself. When excitement, etc., are over, there still remains the power to elicit faith and constrain personal attachment. He himself is the ultimate verification of the faith of his disciples.
II. NOT THE SIGN OR MARVEL, BUT CHRIST IT IS THAT SAVES. The former only provisional, the latter permanent. The familiar, continuing, sympathizing Christ. The crucified One; the risen again; and in spiritual presence the Dweller in the heart of faith. It is this Christ whose power is felt within, a vital energy and a moral impulse; an Interpreter of the mysteries of life and death.
III. HE ALONE IS SUFFICIENT FOR OUR NEED. There is an unhealthy longing for dainties in things spiritual as in bodily satisfactions. His teaching, his example, his sympathy, his perfect sacrifice, are ours if we but believe. God his testified his approval and acceptance, and commends him to us. Our own experience will seal and confirm the prophecies and attestations of others: "Now we believe, not because of thy saying; for we have heard him ourselves; and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world" (John 4:42).—M.
The saying that was kept.
The disciples did not understand their Master—a common experience. Why was this saying so difficult? It seems plain enough to us. But then we look at it after its accomplishment; they before that. And their rabbinic training taught them to look for something very different from what Christ seemed to be referring to. He spoke as if he alone was to rise again. They had been taught to think of the resurrection as universal, and altogether; not an experience of one here and another there. Moreover, their teachers had told them that Elias must first come. In fact, their habits of thought were all going in one direction, and this saying of Christ's in another. Yet, like fair and candid men, they did not dismiss the words as impossible of accomplishment or interpretation; but they "kept the saying."
I. HOW ARE WE TO EXPLAIN THE HOLD WHICH THE HARD SAYINGS OF CHRIST HAVE UPON THE DEVOUT MIND? Their "keeping" the saying was doubtless for the most part a voluntary thing, yet there was also a sense in which it was involuntary. The subject it concerned awed and interested them, and they could not, if they had wished to do it, throw off its fascination. And so it is with the other hard sayings; that which is to be said of this may be said of them.
1. Because of relation with similar experiences. Many a time had the actions of Christ, or their own spiritual history, presented enigmas that refused to be summarily explained. They were continually stumbling upon some new, strange thing. They had just come out of a scene of which the wisest and soberest of them might well wonder whether it was fairyland or fact. And they were conscious of deep yearnings and aspirations to which the Savior's words seemed to answer as the key to the lock. These had evidently something in common. The doctrines of Christianity may be difficult for the carnal mind to construe, but they appeal to a deep, universal, albeit depraved, human consciousness, which forbids their being at once dismissed from the thought.
2. And the sense of mystery is itself an element of fascination. The mind goes forth freely after the infinite and eternal in speculation and fancy, if not in serious moral interest. If there be but a substratum of apparent fact upon which thought can build, the sense of a mystery lying beyond is congenial to man; and he will continually return to it in efforts to penetrate it. This is why—at least, one reason why—the world around us never pails upon our senses. Its commonest things are steeped in wonder of the unknowable, if we but take one or two steps onward in the study of them.
3. In addition to this, the disciples knew that no mystery was uttered by their Master without some gracious meaning in it, which would sooner or later be made known. The hardest doctrine was, they felt, closely connected with their welfare, and would be seen to be so by-and-by. And Christians have experienced the same ever since. Our daily life is, if we be thoughtful, the best expositor of the deep things of grace, and keeps hovering within our horizon many an angel of revelation ready to deliver his message in due time.
II. HOW SHOULD THESE BE DEALT WITH? The disciples "kept," i.e. held fast, the saying; thus affording an example to all true Christians.
1. We should continually endeavor to understand or learn their meaning. Sometimes simple communion with one's own heart will be enough; or, again, it may be necessary to discuss them with others of a kindred spirit. Many of the happiest hours of life are so spent. Not that we shall always succeed; very often there will remain an element of the infinite or the unknown that will trouble us.
2. But when human wisdom fails, Divine wisdom may be invoked. "They asked him," and he cleared away the difficulty to the extent to which they made it known. To the praying soul the light will come in ever-increasing fullness. More light will break forth from the book of earthly experience, and from the written Word of comfort and revelation. And when the mystery still remains insoluble, the Spirit of Jesus will give us faith and patience until "the day dawn, and the day-star arise in our hearts," and we know even as we are known.—M.
The cure of the demoniac child.
This stands out in striking contrast with the halcyon hour on the mountain with which the three had been favored. Their brethren were experiencing a greater difficulty than they had ever yet known. But the discussion of the saying they had kept, formed for the three an intermediate step down into actual life, and daily events and troubles. Christ, on the other hand, appears to have received a greater fullness of Messianic consciousness and power through his transfiguration, as was his wont after similar retirements into spiritual seclusion. This incident affords a view of Christ's manner of dealing with exceptional difficulties in spiritual service.
I. ACCREDITED SERVANTS OF CHRIST WERE BEING DESPISED AND DISCOURAGED. (Mark 9:14-18.)
1. Their spirit was being daunted. The people ceased to respect them, and the scribes began to turn the failure to account as an argument against their Lord. What could they say or do? Their Master was absent, and they were at their wits' end. A situation with its parallels in every age of the Church. Moral phases of individual, social, and national life which seem to defy remedy or even amelioration. Difficulties and failures in mission work, etc.
2. Their usefulness was at a standstill. The enemies of their cause had now the upper hand, and they were pressing them with objections and sneers. Perhaps they were even asking why their Master had gone away so mysteriously, and left them to cope with difficulties for which they were unequal. It was high time Jesus should come to their rescue. And lo! as the thought arose within them almost despairingly, he appeared! "The multitude, when they saw him, were greatly amazed." He had come just at the right moment, as if he divined the need for his presence.
II. THEIR MASTER MADE THE DIFFICULTY AN OCCASION FOR SPIRITUAL REBUKE AND INSTRUCTION.
1. To the people, or generally. He laments their want of faith, and slowness to receive the things of God. They had the highest reasons for faith—his works and himself—in their midst, and yet would not believe. He gives vent to the feeling of weariness and moral disgust which overcame him, and in the face of which he still labored and forbore. The want of faith, only immediately manifested towards the disciples, was in reality towards himself. That was the root and spring of their readiness to cavil, and their questionings and arguments.
2. To the father. His conversation with Christ is made by the latter a perfect spiritual discipline. Already the dealings of God had been experienced in his home and heart, and that which has been begun is carried to a successful issue. It is amongst the compensations of great sorrows that, if they do not themselves induce a high spirituality of mind, they, at all events, help us to feel our need of the Savior. There was a preparatory work already done, and Christ wastes no advantage thus gained. Having signified his willingness to undertake the cure, he begins to question the father, partly as an expression of sympathy, partly to show the true character of the case. In this he succeeds in eliciting an expression of the sceptical spirit of the man: "If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us." Here there is room for a commencement, and the Savior repeats in grieved astonishment, "If Thou canst!" It was a qualification that had no business in such a request, and it showed how poor was the spiritual life or power of the man. He then declares the grand condition of all his cures, "All things are possible to him that believeth;" which in this connection meant that all the blessings Christ conferred were given only in response to faith, but where that was there was no limit with regard to their bestowal. He did not mean that any request, of whatever kind it might be, would be granted if it were only accompanied by faith, but that all requests that were the outcome of a Divine faith, and consequently subject to its conditions—as, for instance, their being agreeable to God's will—would be granted, however hard they might appear to man. This remark awoke the slumbering spiritual nature of the father, whose love for his son was also at work to quicken his susceptibilities, and he cried out, "I believe; help thou mine unbelief." There is great difference of opinion as to the true meaning of these words, and no certainty would seem to be attainable; Yet that they reveal a low, self-contradictory spiritual state is evident. Still, progress is perceptible. He at least knows his shortcoming, and has asked for its removal. That was probably effected by the cure of his son, which took place, not because of satisfaction with the father's confession—a very faulty one at best—but through desire to prevent tumult, etc.; for when "he saw that a multitude came running together," he quickly completed the miracle. But even in his expedition there is no hurry. The whole scene is solemn and expressive, and must have had a strong influence on all who looked on.
3. To the disciples. A call to a more intense and elevated communion with God. Prayer (and fasting) was a means to that. Faith is thus seen to be a condition both of getting good and doing good. It is because Christians live habitually on such a worldly plane that they lack power. Oneness in heart and life with God would remove "mountains." This power should be sought by all.
III. HE MADE IT ALSO AN OCCASION FOR MORE SIGNAL DISPLAY OF HIS GLORY. The delay, failure of disciples, gradual extraction of all the circumstances of the case from the father, etc., all tended to increase the moral effect of the final exercise of power. His authority as the moral Governor of the universe, and Destroyer of the works of the devil, is also vindicated in addressing the demon. Not less, but far more, awful are the effects of sin upon the soul. Its expulsion is a work of Divine power and grace, and exhaustive of the nature in which it has dwelt. It is for Christ to raise up and revivify the poor wreck, the spiritual impotency that survives. So are the failures of weak disciples retrieved, and where disgrace is, humanly speaking, inevitable, the glory of God is revealed. The servants of Christ may despair of themselves, but never of him.—M.
The omnipotence of faith.
This is a case in which the revisers have introduced a dramatic play of expression into what has seemed a merely conditional statement; and apparently with the authority of the best manuscripts. The words of Christ are seen to be those of surprise and expostulation. He sends back the qualification which the man had uttered, and asserts the virtual omnipotence of faith, and, at the same time, the dauntlessness of its spirit.
I. The SPIRIT WHICH CHARACTERIZES THE BELIEVER.
1. Confidence and fearlessness. The true believer will never say, "If thou canst." The greatest difficulties will not seem insuperable, and the testimony of sight and ordinary experience will be distrusted. Inward weakness and uncertainty will be conquered. The one thing of consequence will be, "Is this promised?" "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13:15; cf. Habakkuk 2:17).
2. It is to be distinguished from self-confidence. There is no immediate reference to self in such a conviction; it bases itself upon the unseen and eternal, the laws and promises of God. Hence we may speak of the humility of faith.
3. It is exceptional and divinely produced. Most men are guided by their ordinary experience. When that experience is deliberately set aside or ignored, it must be because of some fact or truth not visible to the natural mind. But such a discovery would be equivalent to a Divine communication. The faith which proceeds upon this must, therefore, be supernaturally inspired. It cannot exist save in one conscious of God, and of a peculiar relation to him.
II. THE POSSIBILITIES OF FAITH. If not wholly dependent upon the actual experience of the power of faith, the confidence of the believer is nevertheless greatly sustained and strengthened by it. Resting in the first instance upon the consciousness of One mighty to save, whose help is promised and assured, and concerning whom it may be said, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" the man of faith will also prize every indication that God has been with man. For he is assured from within and from without that the possibilities of faith are:
1. Unlimited—because it identifies itself with the power of God. Faith is the union of the spirit of the believer with him in whom he trusts. It ensures nothing less than his interest and help. The weakest child of God can secure his aid. "If God be for us, who can be against us?"
2. Unlimited—save that it subjects itself to the will of God. Just as God is omnipotent and yet incapable of unrighteousness, so the faith of the believer will only avail for things pleasing to his heavenly Father. But, then, it never desires any other. The promises of God, however, declare the direction in which Divine help may be certainly expected; and there are countless instances in which the believer can plainly discern the lawfulness and propriety of the objects for which he pleads.
(1) The work of faith is ever blessed.
(2) The prayer of faith is never denied; for if the answer do not assume the form expected, it will nevertheless prove to be substantially, and under the best form, the blessing that is required. And fervent, earnest, repeated prayer is unmistakably encouraged by the teaching of Christ. It is for Christians not to pray less, but more and more importunately, only leaving the particular mode in which the answer is to come to the wisdom and love of God.
3. Unlimited—as illustrated ia Scripture and the biographies of godly men. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is a magnificent confirmation of the promises of the Lord; and them can be no better exercise than the study of the answers to prayer recorded in the Word of God and the lives of saints.—M.
"And he said unto them, This kind can come out by nothing, save by prayer."
The work of the Christian Church essentially the same from age to age, although the external phase of it may change and pass away. "Casting out devils" sounds strangely on modern ears; its associations, whilst they are weird and picturesque, are too far away to seriously engage our attention. We are in the habit of dismissing it in an offhand fashion, as a form of religious activity necessarily confined to a transitional period of the development of Christianity, and having no relation to our own or any other age. But that is only a superficial view of the work of the gospel which will lead to such a judgment. "Casting out devils" is a task which belongs as much to the servant of Christ to-day as in the apostolicage. The particular form assumed by the "possession" may not be the same, but the fact of "possession" still continues; and the mission of the Son of God to "destroy the works of the devil" must be fulfilled, until human souls are freed from the thraldom to which Satan subjects them. In every sinful wish or thought Satan gains a foothold; in every sinful habit formed he may be said to "possess" the nature in which it exists. Until we regard sinful habits as not mere habits, but as involving the presence and power of the evil one, we need not expect to grasp or deal with the problem of evil in our world. In the work of converting human souls, we are contending not merely with those who are the immediate objects of our solicitude, but with a supernatural antagonist, holding them in subjection, and deeply skilled in the arts requisite for the maintenance of his influence. "For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12). It is due to this permanent characteristic of evil in human nature that such difficulties are met with as the text explains.
I. EXCEPTIONAL DIFFICULTIES IN SPIRITUAL WORK.
1. Occasioned by
(1) a peculiar intensity of indwelling evil. We cannot explain it, but it is full of stubbornness, subtlety, and power of resistance. There is a mysterious sympathy, it may be, between the sinner and the special sin that besets him, or prevents his yielding himself to Divine grace. And this may go the length of
(2) total enslavement of the nature. Like the epileptic of the story, not only the body but the spirit may be enthralled. The will is so weak that it is practically powerless. The external ministries of the Church are insufficient to deliver, unaccompanied as they are by any strong desire for salvation on the part of the sinner. It sometimes happens, too, in more general work, that a spirit of opposition displays itself, or circumstances are persistently unfavourable. The Christian toils on, but his efforts are like the dashing of himself against a rock, or the ploughing of the sand. There are none of God's people who are strangers to such experiences, which are:
2. From their very nature unexpected. The spiritual worker goes on with comparative or even brilliant success for a time, and then encounters sudden breakdown. The reason of this in most instances is, that a great proportion of Christian work is all but mechanical. It consists in a routine of duties; its results represent a sum total of indirect and sometimes unconscious agencies; religious institutions are originated perhaps in an impulse once imparted but not repeated, and are carried on thus far by "their own momentum." There occurs all at once a check, and a sense of helplessness and humiliation ensues, involving the baffled worker in spiritual perplexity. Such difficulties are:
3. Not an unmitigated calamity. They have their uses in the Divine economy. When searching of heart is induced, and hidden sins are revealed, or absence of direct communion with God is made manifest, or pride and self-sufficiency are brought low, they have accomplished a good and necessary work.
II. HOW ARE THEY TO BE OVERCOME?
1. The means. "Prayer," or, in the Authorized or peculiar, but general. Could devils, then, come out by anything else than prayer, when man was the exorciser? It would almost seem as if the disciples had done their work hitherto by virtue of an external commission, using the name of Christ as a sort of talisman. This was sufficient for ordinary cases, but whenever one out of the usual occurred they were at a loss.
2. The reason for its necessity. The immediate occasion for the Master's admonition probably was the increasing laxity of the disciples in personal prayer, their outwardness, and their failure to grasp the essential principles of his kingdom. But there was a more profound reason for the advice. The servant of God should be in complete sympathy and oneness with his Master, and that can only be cultivated by frequent acts of devotion and the exercise of a constant faith. It is not in his own strength that difficulties are to be met, but in Christ's. But that can only be imparted through fellowship with his spirit, which depends for its efficiency and depth upon repeated acts of the spiritual nature. The disciple by this rule is called into conscious personal fellowship with God, whose power will only then be granted. Oneness with God is the secret of spiritual power.
3. The came principle applies to the whole fife of the Christian. True success depends upon vital spiritual effort, upon conscious co-operation with God, and consequent fasting from self. If we would not be taken at unawares we must be watchful, in constant actual exercise of faith, and uninterrupted personal communion with God. We are in danger of making too much of the external and accidental element in religion; we can never make too much of him who "worketh in" and through "us to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).—
The gospel a source of sorrow and perplexity.
Something very grand and pathetic in those rehearsals of the drama of redemption. The great heart of Christ yearning for sympathy, and yet shrinking from the kind that was evoked; wondering, meanwhile, at the "hardness of heart" of his disciples, who "understood not the saying." How inexplicable this failure to affect their moral nature! So far as words are concerned, it was the same gospel as that which woke the nations at Pentecost; yet it was as if still-born; an abstraction; a mystery past finding out. It is a sad monologue; a recitative upon a minor key. Reasons for this failure and ineffectiveness—
I. IT WAS NOT UNDERSTOOD. From human standpoint all but incomprehensible; as it certainly could not have been originally conceived by man. A mood and sentiment too elevated for ordinary moral natures. An important consideration in determining the question as to who founded Christianity—Christ or his disciples. The "prophet" must not discourse in an unknown tongue.
II. IT COULD NOT BE UNDERSTOOD UNTIL IT WAS ACCOMPLISHED. Intelligence, moral perception, and spiritual illumination waited upon the finished work. It was, so to speak, a moral creation, which beforehand only the Author could comprehend, and afterwards still he alone perfectly. Each step in the evolution of it, up to a certain point, only deepened the mystery. When Christ realized his work of salvation in act, his people began to realize it in thought and experience.
III. AND THEN ONLY COULD IT BE UNDERSTOOD THROUGH THE SPIRITUAL LIFE IT CALLED FORTH. Christ had to evoke the very faculty by which the plan and spirit of his work were to be discerned. It is "unto Jews a stumbling-block, and unto Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:23, 1 Corinthians 1:24). The world by wisdom knew it not, "but we received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us by God Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged" (1 Corinthians 2:12-14). It is not until we learn the true character of God, and, in the light of that, the nature of sin, that we can from the heart approve of the career of Jesus as "the way of salvation."—M.
Who shall be greatest?
The selection of Peter, James, and John for exceptional association with Christ; the primacy of Peter suggested by the words of their Master on a certain occasion; and the spirit of the sons of Zebedee, shown in the request made by their mother, a little later, on their behalf (Mark 10:35-41), were circumstances that soon attracted the attention of the others, and gave rise to discussion as to relative superiority. In dealing with this unseemly dispute, our Savior showed—
I. THAT IT WAS A QUESTION THAT OUGHT NOT TO BE ASKED AMONGST CHRIST'S FOLLOWERS. (Verses 33, 34.)
1. His question elicited no reply. They were ashamed that he should have detected them. It was evidently contrary to his spirit, as they felt, although they might be unable to explain.
2. That it is foreign to the genius of Christianity is further shown by the evils it has created within the Church. A vast percentage of the failures and scandals of Christians has arisen from this contention, whether carried on in silence or expressed, Nevertheless that it is deeply seated in human nature is shown by its persistency from age to age. A motive of action we are ashamed to confess when a sense of Christ's presence is upon us cannot be a right one. And in proportion as the presence of the Master's spirit is felt, it is suppressed or destroyed.
II. THE PRINCIPLE BY WHICH IT SHOULD BE SETTLED WHEN IT ARISES. (Verse 35.) "If any man would be first, he shall be last of all, and minister of all." This is, and probably was meant to be, slightly enigmatical. Without altering the future of the sentence ("he shall be") into the imperative ("let him be"), as some, without sufficient warrant, have done, it is still possible to read in it several distinct meanings. It might mean that that was to be the penalty of such presumption; that God would so regard presumptuous men; that this was a discipline to which they should subject themselves; that the avenue to official pre-eminence was the greatest serviceableness and humility; or, lastly, that the highest excellence in the kingdom of God is his who abases and forgets himself altogether in the benefit and advancement of others. It is in the last sense that Christ should be understood, if we are to take the general spirit of his teaching for our guide. In the Christian the Virtue and usefulness are ends in themselves, and not stepping-stones to external, official pre-eminence. At the same time, there is a colourable suggestion, supported by experience, in the first three interpretations. The second last is the spirit of the Roman curia, which in literal expression looks so like the precept it contradicts. The sitting down of Christ, and his summons to all, prove the importance of the lesson.
III. AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE PRINCIPLE. (Verses 36, 37.) "A little child," perhaps one of Peter's family. He gives an example in his own behavior, simply and ingenuously, by embracing the child.
1. The lowliest in the kingdom of God should receive the purest sympathy and consideration. This is the most disinterested and unselfish service. The noblest deeds in God's world are of this kind: "Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27). We can "receive" to the heart when we cannot to the home; to kindness and love when we cannot to great earthly advantage.
2. The motive which distinguishes this conduct from ordinary human tenderness and affection. It is to be "in my Name," i.e. "on account of me," impelled by my example and spirit, and for the sake of my cause. It is only a "grace" or quality of the regenerate nature as he inspires it.
3. So regarded, the object of our love and compassion is really the representative of Jesus and of God. Christ has thus commended the children and the poet to the care of his people. And their sympathies thus awakened and directed are to be looked upon not as supplementing the deficient provisions of the Divine love, but only, in our own degree and measure, expressing and executing the infinite, loving Will of "our Father in heaven." Herein, therefore, the lowliest service and the highest coincide. "See that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 18:10).—M.
The comprehensiveness of Christ's service.
The connection with what preceded is to be sought in John's keen sense of having transgressed the spirit of the beautiful words just uttered. Christ Would acknowledge all who professed his name; John had to confess that he had forbidden such a one from working. This leads to Christ's indicating—
I. MARKS OF HIS TRUE SERVANTS. The general link between the several classes is his "Name," i.e. conscious oneness and sympathy with him as the Son of God and Savior of the world. Accepting that as the test, he lays down:
1. A general principle of comprehension. (Verse 40.) It is negative. If a man does not oppose him, he is to be considered as an ally and a friend. There is no neutrality in man's relations to Christ. This was especially the case in that age: the devil was too active in human nature to suffer any opposition to be undeveloped. The powers of darkness and of light were in deadly antagonism, and all who were aware of the conflict were certain to have their sympathies engaged for the one side or the other. This seems a dangerous principle, and apt to lead to entanglement or disaster. "Divinely dangerous." Yet is it the teaching of the Spirit of God, and beautifully harmonious with it.
2. That those are his servants who do mighty works in his Name. This mere statement suggests how profoundly the work of Christ was leavening the community. There were many besides his professed followers who were influenced by his spirit.
(1) That they should be able to do these works (which were of a miraculous nature) showed that they must already be in communion with his spirit. To cast forth devils could not be to further the cause of their prince, or to be aided by him. And so of the complementary work of awaking spiritual life in conversion, etc. Such work is manifestly of God, and these results prove his presence and approval.
(2) The honor and cause of Christ will be dear to such, even as to those more openly and professedly connected with him. Christ's servants do not work magically, by the mechanical force of dark formulas, but by sympathy and moral oneness with him.
3. That sympathy and help towards a disciple, as such, is itself a proof of discipleship.
(1) The slightest sign of this spirit is to be welcomed in faith and hope, as a firstfruits of greater things to come.
(2) But in itself it is already truly a great service, and as such will be certainly rewarded. It seems almost more precious, in its connection, than the "mighty works;" for these may sometimes incommode, and be mingled with much error and evil, but the merciful kindness is ever serviceable, and flows from no other fountain than the heart of God.
II. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH THESE ARE TO BE REGARDED. The child of grace is to be trustfully disposed, and ready to put a charitable construction upon the merely negative behavior of men. And, moreover, it is to be recollected that the principle is not one of judgment, but of policy. "Jesus would impress it upon his disciples that they must honor and protect the isolated beginnings or germs of faith to be found in the world" (Lange). Towards all who do not oppose Christ there is to be an attitude of hopeful and trustful encouragement (cf. Mat 11:1-30 :42).
1. Christian acknowledgment. "Forbid them not." Involving
(1) brotherly recognition—not mere toleration:
(2) fostering and protecting care;
(3) devout thankfulness and humility.
2. Remembering their retaliation to the same Master.
(1) He acknowledges them;
(2) he will afterwards reward them;
(3) we shall be sternly and awfully judged if we "cause them to stumble."
"The word for millstone indicates the larger stone-mill, in working which an ass was generally employed, as distinguished from the smaller hand-mill of Luke 17:35. The punishment was not recognized in the Jewish Law, but it was in occasional use among the Greeks (Diod. Sic., 16:35), and had been inflicted by Augustus in cases of special infamy. Jerome states (in a note on this passage) that it was practiced in Galilee, and it is not improbable that the Romans had inflicted it upon some of the ringleaders of the insurrection headed by Judas of Galilee. The infamy of offending one of the ' little ones' was as great as that of those whose crimes brought upon them this exceptional punishment. It was obviously a form of death less cruel in itself than many others, and its chief horror, both for Jews and heathen, was probably that it deprived the dead of all rites of burial" (Plumptre, in 'New Test. Com.'). This punishment, such as it was, was but a shadow of the more terrible penalties of the spiritual state.—M.
The value of deliverance from spiritual snares.
I. ILLUSTRATED BY:
1. Relative importance of float which is sacrificed and that which is saved. They are as parts to the whole: as external limbs or members compared with the entire nature, or central ego. "Our Savior of course specifies hand and foot only for rhetorical purposes. It is a fine, bold, graphic way of bringing home to the imagination and the bosom the idea of what is near and dear to our natural feelings. He speaks in hieroglyphics" (Morison). They represent also our natural lust, tendencies, and carnalized faculties.
2. Terrible consequences to the wicked in the world to some. "Gehenna;" "the Gehenna of fire." "Originally it was the Greek form of Ge-hinnom (the Valley of Hinnom, sometimes of the "son" or the "children" of Hinnom), and was applied to a narrow gorge on the south of Jerusalem (Joshua 15:8)" (Plumptre). It became the common cesspool and place for consuming filth. Dead bodies of great criminals were probably cast forth without burial into it; and fires were continually burning for the destruction of the offal. It is, of course, only a type of the punishment of the lost. "There is a commingled reference to two modes of destruction—vermicular putrefaction and fire. When men's bodies are destroyed, it is generally either by the one agency or by the other. Both are here combined for cumulative rhetorical effect. And the dread climax of the whole representation is found in the ceaselessness of the twofold operation" (Morison). There are two elements in this. destruction, viz.:
(1) internal corruptions—"their worm;" and
(2) external consuming forces—"fire."
Both of these are to be understood of their spiritual analogues.
II. MORALLY STIMULATIVE BECAUSE OF APPEAL TO FREE-WILL AND SPIRITUAL AGENCY OF MAN. These considerations would have no weight but for this. Just as one can cut off a hand or a foot, and pluck out an eye, so one can restrain erring desires and affections, and curb unruly appetites. This is the sin of the ruined one, viz. he is stir-ruined. And all corrupting influence one exerts, returns upon himself to his own destruction. Self-sacrifice is, therefore, the only way of salvation. The power to do this is given by Christ. "It is better to make any sacrifice than to retain any sin" (Godwin). "The meaning is not that any man is in such a case that he hath no better way to avoid sin and hell [than being maimed]; but if he had no better, he should choose this. Nor doth it mean that maimed persons are maimed in heaven; but if it were so, it were a less evil" (Richard Baxter).—M.
Mark 9:49, Mark 9:50
Christian purity—its origin and influence.
These verses have been the subject of much controversy. They are obscure and difficult'; but the context is of great assistance, and a uniform interpretation of the term "salted" in the first and second clauses of Mark 9:50 will do much to remove the hindrances in the way of construing them together. Manuscript authority is not strong enough to compel the rejection of either clause, although our revisers have omitted the latter. Everything turns upon the sense given to "salted." It is evidently "purified," "preserved from corruption," in the second clause. So ought it to be understood in the first. "Consumed "is a sense implied in the sense "purified," and secondary to it. The whole emphasis of the passage is thus in favor of Christian purification. Again, the second clause of Mark 9:50 does not appear to have been quoted merely in confirmatory or illustrative allusion, but as a statement of the consequence which will flow from the first; the conjunction having a slightly illative force.
I. HOW SPIRITUAL PURITY IS PRODUCED AND SUSTAINED.
1. "With fire:" a figurative term, relating itself to the fire that is not quenched of the preceding passage, and the description of the baptism of the Holy Ghost (Matthew 3:11, Matthew 3:12). "Even when manifested in its most awful forms, it is still true that they who 'walk righteously and speak uprightly' may dwell with 'everlasting burnings" (Plumptre). "Thy God is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24); and that to the evil in his people, as well as that out of which they are taken. This may refer
(1) to the general spiritual experience of the child of God as subject to the influences of the Holy Spirit;
(2) to Divine chastisement;
(3) to "the spirit to which our Savior refers in Mark 9:43-48, the spirit that parts, for righteousness' sake, with a hand, a foot, an eye" (Morison). It is "an alternative fire," "which indeed scorches the sensibility to agony, but which in the end consumes only what is bad, and leaves the soul freed from those moral combustibles on which the penal fire of Gehenna could feed." "He is preserved from corruption, and consequent everlasting destruction, by the fire of unsparing self-sacrifice" (ibid.).
2. This is the universal experience of true. Christians. Because it is essential to the Divine life in the soul, if indeed it be not rather identical with it. Have we endured this "scourging," without which no son is received by our Father? Is this our spirit? Herein we can examine ourselves.
II. ITS INFLUENCE. It affects:
"Have suit in yourselves, and be at peace one with another." Purity of aim and spirit will obviate misunderstandings, and allay bitternesses between true believers.
2. Their sacrifices. It is in a sense the spirit of Christ's sacrifice communicated to theirs. As it was a law of the Levitical code that "every sacrifice should be salted with salt," so it is a law of the spiritual life, fulfilled through the spirit of self-sacrifice communicated to the particular act and object of sacrifice. This applies to the whole outcome and expression of the spiritual life of the children of God, their thought, word, action, as well as to their gifts to the cause of Christ.
3. The general life of the world. "Ye are the salt of the earth." An indirect and incomplete, but still a positive blessing to the world of the unconverted. For this constant renewals of grace are required, from a source independent of ourselves. Watchfulness, prayer, ceaseless self-sacrifice in the spirit of Christ.—M.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
Christ and the child: a sermon to children.
The disciples of Jesus had been disputing amongst themselves which of them should be the greatest in his kingdom. Though they were ashamed to confess this, Jesus knew all about it; for he overhears even whispered and secret conversations, He rebuked their ambition by calling a little child to him, who was glad enough to come to One so loving; and taking him up in his arms, he bade his disciples become childlike, not caring for money and high positions, but being glad in the love of the Lord. Probably the child never saw Jesus again; but he would never forget him. Legend reports that his name was Ignatius, and that he grew up to be an earnest and devout man, who at last bravely died for the faith. But the treatment of this child by Jesus is only an example of his treatment of children now. He loves them, and they should love him.
I. WHY DID JESUS CALL THE CHILD TO HIM?
1. Because there was something in the child which Jesus liked. We do not call to us and take into our arms those we hate and avoid. It was not sinlessness that Jesus saw in the child, but simplicity. He was something like what Jesus himself had been in the home at Nazareth, when he was subject to his parents, and so sweet, humble, and gentle that every one loved him. Children are not perfectly innocent; they do many things that are wrong, and need to be forgiven. Jesus did not say to the child, "You can do without me," but, "Come to me." So, when he saw the young man who said he had kept the commandments, Jesus "loved him;" yet he did not leave him as he was, but bade him go and sell all that he had.
2. Because there was in the child something he wanted. He wanted the child's love. "My son, give me thine heart." The way to be loved is to love; and Jesus loves us, not as crowds, but as individuals. Each can say with Paul, "He loved me, and gave himself for me." The child knew this from the look and tone of the Lord.
3. Because there was something he hoped to do for the child. He meant to save him. To be saved from sin involves something more than being forgiven. If bad temper asserts itself, you may be forgiven for an outburst; but it rises again and again. Jesus would conquer that temper so that it should never trouble you any more.
II. WHY DID THE CHILD GO TO JESUS? He might have hesitated and said, "He does not mean it;" or, "The disciples are rough, and will push me back, or laugh at me;" or, "Perhaps I had better wait a little, till I am older." Instead of this, he went at once, and went as he was. There are reasons why you, as children, should go to him.
1. Because conscience says you need him. Conscience is more sensitive, and speaks more clearly in childhood than in age; and this is an evidence that childhood is the appointed and the best time to hear God's voice.
2. Because affection says you need him. Some children feel much secret grief because they have an impression that no one cares much for them. Their brothers and sisters are more popular than they are, so they are always supposing that they are being slighted. Or perhaps they are at school, and are thoroughly homesick among strangers. How pleasant it is to feel that One who is always near loves you personally, intensely, fervently! and how naturally should your love flow forth responsively to him!
3. Because energy says you need him. A child is naturally active. The fingers itch to touch what is forbidden, to try what is unknown; and mischief often results from no evil intention. All that pent-up energy is from God; stored up for the doing of life's work, and the bearing of its burdens. And the Lord wants in his kingdom these vigorous frames and powerful minds, that he may sanctify and bless them—that the children may lead off the hosannas in which the world will join in the New Jerusalem.
4. Because hope says you want him. Every child has some hope of becoming better and greater. It is a sign that Paradise is lost, but that heaven is possible, else we might be satisfied. Many boys and girls have quiet times, little spoken of to others, when they say, "I wish I could be better; that I could get over this evil habit; that I was steadfast, pure, and true; that I loved God, and was glad he loved me." That is the time when Jesus is near, when he stretches out his arms and says, "Come unto me;" and in answer to the secret prayer he will take the little one in his arms, put his hands on him, and bless him.—A.R.
Loving consideration for others and generous kindness to them are among the fruits of the Spirit and the signs of true discipleship. Their effects it would not be easy to exaggerate. The law of kindness for Jesus' sake is of all things the most likely to remove prejudices against Christianity, and to bring together those whose interests are separate, so as to ensure the salvation of society. Even on lower grounds, therefore, this law demands our obedience, for there is much in our social condition to cause anxiety to the Church. Questions once carefully ignored are being boldly discussed; classes of men whose ignorance and poverty made them political nonentities are now powers in the State. Capitalists and producers are discussing anew their respective rights; owners of land are being openly asked whether She proportion they have received of its value is not greater than their due. And in all these movements agitators are exaggerating claims, some of which have in them germs of right. Meanwhile it is to be feared that religion, as a factor in the settlement of such disputes, is being disregarded, and debate is rife whether indeed the Christian faith is longer credible. Anything which would suddenly change the relations of various classes, any outburst of the communistic or nihilistic spirit, would bring about far more evil than good. Evils must be abolished now as they were in the early days of the Christian faith. When slaves were held in cruel bondage, and profligacy assumed hideous forms, and accumulated wealth appeared side by side with abject want, Christ and the teachers who followed him aroused no servile war, but by word and life showed a more excellent way. They taught that the highest bliss was not in abundance of possessions, but in abundance of spiritual life; that the loftiest dignity was to be found not in the indulgence, but in the denial, of self; that all a man possessed he held as a responsible steward; and that those removed from others in social position were brothers and sisters to be cared for. All this was exhibited in the life of One who went about doing good, and was seen in its ultimate victory on the cross where Christ died for us, that we henceforth might live no morn to ourselves. One phase of this law of kindness is brought before us in our text, where its manifestation is recognized as a germ of discipleship.
I. THE DUTY OF CHRISTIAN BENEFICENCE is asserted throughout Scripture. Under the old dispensation, the blessedness of him who considers the poor was exemplified in the experience of Job, and of the widow of Sarepta, and of multitudes besides. The duty was made still more clear in the New Testament; and this is noteworthy, because the disciples of our Lord were themselves poor, so that no one of them could give out of his superabundance; and even of our Lord himself this was true, though he so often showed that it was more blessed to give than to receive. On this principle the Church acted. Spontaneously Barnabas sold his estates to aid those who were in special difficulties because they were cast out of trade and home, and his example was contagious. There was no law passed that Christians should do this; but though as a compulsory law it would have been an unsound dictum for all times, it was right and good when Christians, moved by pity for their poor persecuted brethren, distributed as every man had need. Spontaneity gives worth to such acts. He who thus gives, though it be but a cup of cold water, shall not lose his reward.
II. THE OBJECTS OF CHRISTIAN BENEFICENCE. All less favored than ourselves have a claim, not necessarily on our money, but on our help and sympathy, in some form, when an opportunity comes for service in Christ's Name.
1. Human relationship has its claims on us, and he who does not "provide for his own," even though he benefits some religious organization, fails in his duty to his Lord.
2. Neighbourhood has claims on us. No follower of Christ can be like the rich man, who would give alms to be seen of man, but would let poor Lazarus die at his gate, fighting for crumbs with the dogs.
3. Fellowship in the same Church has claims on us, though those needing our aid may be least in knowledge, least in capacity, least in attractiveness, or least in desert.
4. But we are to do good unto all men, though especially to such as are of the household of faith. Christ died for all, and in his Name, for his sake, in his spirit, we must seek to aid them, even though it only be by a cup of cold water.
III. THE REASONS FOR CHRISTIAN BENEFICENCE are numerous, but we may mention one or two.
1. All we have is from God. His providence has made us to differ. Our birth, our inheritance, our education, our natural capacities,—these are in no sense the results of our own creation or choice. He who gave us these, demands that we should use them in part to promote the peace and the comfort of those for whom his Son died. "Freely ye have received, freely give."
2. Our superabundance is for others. When our cup runs over, the droppings are not for ourselves but for others. When our harvest is gathered, room must be made for gleaners as well as for reapers. Waste is against God's law. The breath we throw off from our lungs is wanted by nature. The rain poured down so lavishly is not lost. The refuse flung on the soil is to reappear in new forms. All nature rebukes the waste and extravagance of which we are often guilty; and Ambrose has well said, "It is no greater sin to take from him that rightly possesseth than being able not to give to him that wanteth."—A.R.
Mark 9:43, Mark 9:45, Mark 9:47
Causes of stumbling.
"If thy hand … if thy foot … if thine eye offend thee." The passage from which these few words are chosen is stern and severe; yet it was uttered by the gentle Teacher who would not break the bruised reed. Christ Jesus was not like the Pharisees, punctilious over little things, so he would not have uttered these words needlessly. He was not ignorant of human temptations and weaknesses, but had the most perfect knowledge of our nature. He was not one of those scribes who would bind heavy burdens on others, and yet not touch them with one of their fingers, but was tempted as we are, and by a life and death of sacrifice endeavored to put away the sin of the world. Words stern as these, coming from One who had generous views of sinners and unerring views of sin in its nature and effect, deserve our serious consideration. Our Lord thought them so important that he now repeated them, although none who had heard them previously in his sermon on the mount would be likely to forget them. The general lesson taught is this—that it is better to die than to sin, and so to wrong ourselves and others; but we confine ourselves now to the causes or incitements to sin here suggested by the "hand," the "foot," and the "eye."
I. OF WHAT IS THE HAND AN EMBLEM?
1. Companionship. We shake hands with those to whom we are introduced or with whom we are friendly, not with those who are unknown or hostile. If we have quarrelled, and reconciliation has been effected, the outstretched hand is a sign that we are reconciled. It is often said that a man is known by his friends, and it is perhaps equally true that he is made by his friends, especially in the time of youth, when character is plastic and habits are readily formed. Some communication with others is a necessity of school and business life; but friends may be chosen; and it is of the last importance that they be chosen well. Yet Christians will sometimes form a lifelong companionship with those whose worldliness will inevitably lead them astray from the ways of God. "If thy hand" in such a companionship "cause thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast it from thee."
2. Work. The hand is the medium through which we put forth our skill and strength. Daily work may have "holiness to the Lord" written on it, or may be the means of spiritual injury. There are shops in which dishonesty is a necessity; there are positions young girls are called upon to fill which cannot but injure their modesty and purity; there are undertakings which can only succeed by a sacrifice of truth. Whatever their external and material advantages, these are amongst the causes of offense which our Lord calls on us to sacrifice.
II. OF WHAT IS THE FOOT AN EMBLEM? By it we make progress. It may be taken, therefore, as a figure for getting on in the world. Parents are sometimes too eager for this on their children's behalf. They are like Lot, who sought the place of prosperity and was regardless of its temptations. It were far better to be less swift to attain wealth and position than to have the terrible awakening that will come to many at last. "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
III. OF WHAT IS THE EYE AN EMBLEM? Through it most offenses to the soul's purity come. Fatal has been the issue with many of "seeing life." David saw, lusted, and fell into adultery and murder. Eve saw, longed, and put forth her hand and took the forbidden fruit, and so came death into the world, and all our woe. Achan saw the garment and the gold, and covetousness led him to disobedience. Better to have been blind than to have seen that. How many nosy fall into evil ways who assure any one remonstrating with them that they are only going to that place of temptation because they wish for once "to see what it is like" There are books, too, which, from the doubts they insinuate or from the morality they implicitly commend, should be abjured. It may be sometimes an intellectual loss, but it results in larger gain; and the law of the gospel is that which is here, and which St. Paul repeats in the words, "Mortify therefore your members which are upon earth."—A.R.
Mark 9:43, Mark 9:44
Better die than sin.
Christ is speaking here of injuries which we may do ourselves or others. Most men guard themselves carefully against physical injury. They insure against accidents, avoid miasma, and attend to the first appearance of the germs of disease. Yet sometimes they are like a commander who is on the alert against external assault, but is unsuspicious of treachery within. In a moral sense, it may often be said, "A man's foes are they of his own household." The allusion to the hand, the foot, and the eye indicate that the causes of Sin are found in our own nature; that evil is natural to us as the use of these members. Sins spring from within: "Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts." When acts are repeated, habits are formed which become part of ourselves. Then these habits are allowed for and excused by others, so that we no longer get our attention directed to them as otherwise we might do. A notoriously selfish man is not asked to help others; a passionate or suspicious temper becomes regarded as a personal peculiarity. Yet, though it seems a part of ourselves, God says, "Cut it off, and cast it from thee."
I. GOD'S TREATMENT OF SIN IS RADICAL. We naturally shrink from the severe method indicated here. Who has not suffered an agony of pain rather than apply to the surgeon or dentist, although it must come to that at last? Nothing short of amputation of evil habit will save the life of the soul. Some are satisfied that they have confessed, received absolution, and done penance at the bidding of a human priest. Others are told to exercise discretion even when the taste and smell of intoxicants are sources of peril, and their only hope is to cut them off. Many excuse the young in their follies, and say, "They must sow their wild oats." Ay, but they will never plough them up, and no subsequent sowing will alter the effects of the first. "Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap." Now, if we see deformity in a child which will mar its beauty for life, the pain he would immediately suffer would not prevent our cutting it off; and if there be a moral weakness or an evil habit that deforms spiritual beauty, the treatment must be as radical. When the moth is in a garment, the careful housewife does not leave a few and run the risk. When a man is bitten by a mad dog, the hot iron will sear the flesh, though it causes agony. When a child dies of diphtheria, the clothes are burnt and the little toys, which the mother would gladly keep, lest the other children should take the infection. The house is purged so as by fire. The treatment is severe, no doubt; but Christ did not come to lead us in the path of ease, but of serf-denial. He knew that it was not painless to cut off the hand or the foot and to pluck out the eye, but he declared it was better to suffer what was represented by this than that the man with all his powers should be cast into hell. If this word comes as the sword of the Spirit to cut your heart in twain—
"Oh, throw away the worser part of it,
And live the purer with the other half."
Christ "died to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself," and in his Name we are called upon to "crucify the world' with its affections and lusts."
II. GOD'S CALL TO OBEDIENCE IS URGENT.
1. We are urged to this for the sake of others. What anxiety would be relieved and what joy would be imparted to Christian friends if, by the transforming power of God's Spirit, you were delivered from evil! Besides this, by delaying repentance you may be causing others to stumble. There is a word in this passage about children—little ones, young people who may be influenced by you for evil. If you laugh at serious impressions, jeer at another as a saint, discourage earnestness, and lead to felly or guilt,—take heed, for it were better that a millstone were hanged about your neck than that such a crime should curse you. Parents especially can hold back their children from evil, and encourage them to good, if they prayerfully seek to do so. By allowing sceptical or immoral literature, by encouraging worldly companionships, they may foster a life of sin, and check the life of God in the soul. Still more power have they by example and personal influence.
2. We are urged to this for our own sakes. Christ was the King of Truth. He never deceived, misrepresented, or exaggerated. Ponder, therefore, his solemn words, "It is better for thee to enter life maimed," etc. This is not a literal description of hell. It is an allusion to Isaiah 66:24, where the prophet describes apostates from Jehovah lying outside the holy city in the valley of Hinnom, where refuse was cast, and the worm of corruption died not, and the fires of destruction were not extinguished. This was used as an emblem of "everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord." Figurative as the language is, it is ominous, and warns us against the untold terrors which await the impenitent—the retribution which follows unrepented sin. A man may escape the consequences of sin here, but the punishment must ultimately come. True, "God is merciful." But when a man on the sea-shore disregards warning, and the tide comes in, his cries and prayers are of no avail, and soon his dead body is flung up as a useless waif. He has defied the merciless law of a merciful God. Put yourself in harmony with that law and it brings benediction, but oppose it and it brings destruction. The amazing sacrifice of Christ is only explicable on the theory that sin has effects beyond those which are visible here. "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?"—A.R.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
A brief interval of six days occurs, "days of the Son of man," of which no record remains. How much of even this brief ministry to men seems to be lost! Yet is the account of each day to be given when, to every man favored with his presence and teaching, it is said, "Render the account of thy stewardship." The silence of the record is an appropriate prelude to the sublime event which follows. "He went up into a mountain to pray." "Peter, James, and John"—"the flower and crown of the apostolic band"—were the privileged three who alone witnessed the scene, though the few graphic words of the historian, "kept and told to no man until after the Son of man had risen from the dead," have presented to the eye of the Church in all ages a clearly defined picture of it. And yet in viewing it we are dazzled by excess of light. Few and simple must be our words. "He was transfigured," a word which is afterwards explained to apply to "the fashion of his countenance." It was "altered;" so St. Luke. St. Matthew adds, "his face did shine as the sun;" while "his garment became glistering, exceeding white," "white as the light," "so as no fuller on earth can whiten them:" Beautiful addition—so naive, so simple! That Divine nature, which in the incarnate body was always transfigured before the eyes of men, now burst forth to view, radiating from within; the hidden divinity shining through the veil of the flesh until its veil of raiment became radiant with light.
I. In the history and development of the incarnate Son this event must have had. its high import. What is personal to himself, however, is almost entirely hidden. Of the "talking" we hear only one word. The two men, "which were Moses and Elijah," "the founder and the great defender of the old dispensation," "spake of his decease." Very soon after the days were well-nigh come that he should be received up," and "he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem." Henceforth his steps tend to the Cross.
II. But, whatever purpose was answered in respect of Jesus himself, the revelation most assuredly was, in the highest degree, important to the disciples, and through them to the Church at large.
1. Here is beheld the harmony, the unity, of the Law and the prophets and the Christ.
2. Here, within the "bright cloud" which "overshadowed them," though "they feared as they entered into it," they were made "eye-witnesses of his majesty;" they witnessed the "honor and glory" which "he received from God the Father."
3. They heard the "voice," and heard it "come out of heaven," which bore testimony for all to receive: "This is my beloved Son." In this lay the "honor and glory" which "he received." So thought that one of the three who declared, "It is good to be here," and who would fain have built tabernacles on this "holy mount." This testimony had already been borne when, at the baptism, "a voice out of the" same "heaven" declared to him, "thou art my beloved Son." Here the witness is of him to others: "This is my beloved Son;" and with the additional word of command, "Hear ye him." Once again afterwards, when the Father glorified his Name, there came "a voice out of heaven" directly speaking to him; though, as he declared, "this voice hath not come for my sake, but for your sakes." How truly might he say of all that he received, "not for my sake, but for your sakes"! Now, not to Peter only, but also to James and John, is it revealed," Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Now they with him share this blessedness which "flesh and blood" could not impart; now we, and with us all the Church, rejoice in the knowledge of this primary truth. How our hearts long to see his glory and hear the heavenly voice, and dwell on "the holy mount" of vision! And yet, how "good" soever it might be, it is better for the cultivation of our hearts in righteousness, and far better for the suffering, sinful world, that we go down into the valley to struggle with the evil spirit, and by faith and love and obedience glorify our living Head, and seek a meetness for those "tabernacles" which are not made by human hands.—G.
The healing of the lunatic youth.
Descending from "the holy mount," where he had "received honor and glory from God the Father," a scene presented itself in direct contrast to "the majesty" of which the favored three had then been "eye-witnesses." Around the disciples "they saw a great multitude, and scribes questioning with them." They had suffered a painful defeat. One of the multitude had brought to them his son, having "a dumb spirit;" and he spake to the "disciples that they should cast him out; and they were not able"! A more pitiable object could scarcely be imagined. "From a child" he was "epileptic," and suffered "grievously;" "the spirit ofttimes" casting "him both into the fire and into the waters" as if "to destroy him;" and so dire was its influence over him that, as the father said, "wheresoever it taketh him, it dasheth him down: and he foameth, and grindeth his teeth, and pineth away;" "it teareth him that he foameth, and it hardly departeth from him, bruising him sorely;" and when it "taketh him" he, in inarticulate tones, "suddenly crieth out." To add to the sadness of the case, the spirit was "unclean," compelling its victim to acts of filthiness. The poor boy, too, suffered the grievous aggravation of being "dumb," so that he could not tell out his sorrows; and he was "deaf," so that no word of strengthening consolation could be spoken to him. It was almost a misfortune to him not to be blind, for he could contrast his sad state with that of other youths around him. The father, wearied and disappointed with long and daily watching—for it seized him "suddenly"—and unable to find relief, brought him to the disciples, and met the sad rebuke of their inability. "They could not" cast him out. As a last resource, with timid, wearied heart, and with a hesitancy that surely found its justification in the failure of all efforts to obtain relief, he brought him to Jesus, uttering the word so descriptive of timid doubt, "If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us." It is now that he who bears alike our sins and sorrows, who "bears with" our weakness and our ignorance, who, even in his greatest works, strives so to work as to teach, corrects the imperfect view of the father, and makes his demand even upon his faulty faith, gently rebuking his pardonable insinuation. "It is not, 'If I can,' but, 'If thou canst!'" And he adds for all ages the all-inclusive teaching, "All things are possible to him that believeth." Christ's words, even of correction, rouse faith. The assurance that "all things" were "possible" to faith drew forth from the tremulous lips the profession of faith, "I believe;" while the tearful eyes (margin) bore witness to the genuineness of the confession hidden in the lowly prayer, "Help," and therein forgive, "thou mine unbelief." It is enough. With his word, in presence of a "multitude" that "came running together," he cast out the dumb and deaf spirit, and commanded him to "enter no more into him." The scene is full of teaching:
I. ON THE SAD CAPACITY OF THE HUMAN LIFE FOR SUFFERING AND DEGRADATION.
II. ON THE GLORIOUS POWER OF CHRIST TO HEAL AND RESTORE THE UTMOST DISORGANIZATION AND DEGENERATION OF THE HUMAN LIFE. It is an instance of his "power over all the power of the enemy." With such a picture before their eyes, who need hesitate to come to Jesus, in any need whatsoever? But the greatest teaching lies in the words spoken to the disciples in reply to their demand as to the reason why they "could not cast it out,"—"because of your little faith."
III. For us and for all, a third teaching, on THE POWER OF PRAYER AND FAITH, lies openly on the face of the Lord's words to the distressed father. It is impossible to read the Gospels without learning that in Christ's view the exercise of Divine power over the suffering human life is often suspended on the attainment of certain conditions on the part of the sufferers. There is a fitness of things. Suffering and need seem to come of departures from the Divine order. The voluntary return to that order is most aptly, perhaps most easily, expressed by "faith." It indicates the lowly submissiveness of the spirit. It is the plasticity of the clay which truly prepares it for the hand of the potter. It is the least, and yet the best, self-fitting work that can be done by any who would experience "the power of the Lord to heal." It is at once the acknowledgment of the human impotence, need, and receptivity; it is the symbol of departure from all other and competing helpers; it is an acceptance of the Lord himself, and in and with him the germ of all healing, whether of body or soul.—G.
Mark 9:28, Mark 9:29
The conditions of success in spiritual work.
As might have been expected, "when he was come into the house, the disciples asked him privately," "How is it that we could not cast it out?" The reply is simple: "This kind can come out by nothing, save prayer." St. Matthew helps us to gain a clearer insight into the cause: "Because of your little faith." "Many ancient authorities add and fasting" (margin). The "little faith" must have approached closely to "unbelief," or to no faith, for the Lord adds, "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed... nothing shall be impossible to you." A little thought will compel us to learn much concerning the influence of faith and of prayer, if not also of fasting, in the work assigned to the disciples and in the general and ceaseless conflict with evil. That there was some hindering cause palsying the strength of the disciples is obvious. But recently Jesus had "given them power and authority over all devils," "and to cure diseases," and they are suddenly powerless in the use of that authority. That they may have been cherishing feelings which were inconsistent with so sacred a trust, the subsequent record plainly declares. But our attention is riveted on the words of our Lord in his demand for prayer and faith; and we learn at once, that the bestowment of great authority, even with high endowments, does not set aside the necessity for cherishing suitable conditions of mind in order to the effective discharge of the duties which that authority imposes. The calling to be apostles, the investiture with power to cast out devils and to cure diseases, does not release from the necessity to be clothed with humility—to live in that spirit of withdrawment from the world, and communion with the Father, which "prayer," even if not joined with "fasting," implies. The mere symbols of office are useless in the spiritual realm. Rank in these hierarchies conveys no might. Yea, though the very "power" be given, and given by Christ himself, no presumption of personal freedom from the need of the lowliest spirit may be entertained. As Christ's own power was arrested by the "unbelief" of those amongst whom he would do "many mighty works," so the "power" entrusted to apostles is defied by "the unclean spirit" if the minds of those apostles are not freed from unbelief, and not raised to an alliance with heavenly powers by prayer. Entangled in nets that beset even their feet, exposed to temptations that rudely assail even them, they, though armed by the great power and authority of the kingdom, become weak, and are as other men. Hence we learn that in the spiritual kingdom—
I. THE MERE AUTHORITY OF OFFICE IS INSUFFICIENT FOR DOING GREAT WORKS IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. Apostles, prophets, preachers, teachers, rulers, are all taught that there is a condition of heart needed as well as an investiture of office.
II. NO ENDOWMENT OF POWER OR GIFTS SETS ASIDE THE NECESSITY FOR LOWLY SPIRITUAL EXERCISES. For while these acknowledge and minister to lowliness of heart, they bring their possessor into a true and living sympathy with the heavenly kingdom, and make him a meet channel for the conveyance of its healing grace. No mere talent suffices.
III. FAITH AND PRAYERFULNESS DESCRIBE THE TRUE CONDITION OF THE SOUL OF HIM OF WHOM IT IS TO BE SAID, "THOU HAST POWER WITH GOD AND WITH MAN, AND HAST PREVAILED." The spiritual, who wield spiritual weapons, must maintain a spiritual sensibility. This cannot be maintained without that true fasting which is a with-drawment from the spirit of the world, or without that prayerfulness which is a true communion with the Father, or without that faith which is the real might of the soul. These are steps in the spiritual progress; the final attainment being, not the feeble word on the lip, "Come out of him," but that perfect oneness with the Divine which, while it acknowledges the human impotence, makes the feeble man a true and fit instrument of the Divine power. For by that power alone, after all, is the devil cast out.—G.
By slow steps Jesus had brought the chosen band of the disciples onward in that course of instruction which prepared them to ascend "the holy mount" and behold "his glory," "glory as of the only begotten from the Father." He had also begun to show unto them that "he must suffer many things," and "be killed," making them "exceeding sorry." And he had spoken to them of the time "when the Son of man should have risen again from the dead;" but "what the rising again from the dead should mean" they understood not. Now by silent and hidden byways, secretly, for "he would not that any man should know it," they passed through Galilee and came to Capernaum. Jesus, taking advantage of this quiet, "taught his disciples" concerning the dark future that loomed upon him. But their minds seem to have been preoccupied, and "they understood not the saying." Scarcely had they entered the house when he demanded of them, "What were ye reasoning in the way?" Shame covered their face, the searching question revealing the power of him before whom all hearts be open. They were dumb before him, for "they had disputed one with another in the way who was the greatest." The distinction conferred upon the three, or the signal honor paid to Peter, may have been the occasion for this dispute, fanned perhaps by the anticipation of the decease at Jerusalem. Possibly there may have been an assumption of superiority on the part of one in that little republic. But such a spirit must be instantly crushed; and on the dark human background must the principles of the true heavenly kingdom be thrown forward. In calmness "he sat down," and solemnly "called the twelve" to him, and laid down as a principle to be then and for ever remembered, that in his house, or kingdom, or brotherhood, things are different from what they are in ordinary communities of men. And strange as the paradox may seem, the lowest is the highest, the most laborious servant is the true lord, the least is the greatest. "If any would be first, he shall be last of all, and minister of all." Further to impress this truth upon the hearts of the men who were contending for the highest room, the chief seat, the father's place in the house, "he took a little child"—the least in the house, and the furthest removed from the head; lower even than the servants, for they command the little children—"and set him in the midst," The Lord's sermon from this visible text is elsewhere recorded at length. The lesson for us to ponder, and often to ponder, for we are in great danger of forgetting it, is—He is the chief, the greatest, the first, in the kingdom of heaven who does most service in it. The honor is not to him who sits at the head of the table—any feeble one can do that; but to him who, girt with a towel, waits on the rest—to him who sees the true greatness of the kingdom; who so discerns its lofty, spiritual, and heavenly character, as to learn his own littleness in presence of it; who perceives that its highest end and aim is reached in rendering the utmost service to men. He who has seen the "Lord and Master" of all girded with a towel, stooping to wash and wipe the feet of his servants; he who has most of this his Master's spirit, who follows most closely in his Master's steps of toilsome, self-sacrificing service; he who, like his Master, does the most and the hardest work in the house;—yea, he is really and indeed the chief, the greatest, the first, in the house. And so, in truth, is it in all houses and in all kingdoms; the truly great are the laborers, the men who always see the kingdom to be greater than they, and, seeing the aim of the kingdom to be greater than the kingdom itself, are lowly enough and great enough to serve that aim, and have their greatness and most honor-able place, not in medals, and decorations, and plaudits, and rewards, but in the deep if hidden fact, that the kingdom's welfare has been most advanced by them, that they have saved it from ruin or advanced it in honor, prosperity, and blessing. Then let every one seek eagerly the first, the highest place; but let every toilsome servant know that, in Christ's view, that is most prized which is furthest from self-adulation, from empty vanity, from indolent glorying in place; that he who most obeys, who hardest works, who lowliest walks—he, even he, is chief. This is the highest tribute paid
(1) to all lowliness of mind,
(2) to all diligent industry,
(3) to all willing, self-sacrificing service to the common good.—G.
The same spirit which had led to the disputing as to "who was the greatest," had prompted the forbidding of one who, in Jesus' Name, was "casting out devils." The only reason assigned for the authoritative prohibition was, "He followed not us." If to pride envy succeeds, and if hatred lurks near to envy, malice is not afar off. The simple correction, "Forbid him not," is supported by the assurance that such a one cannot quickly become an enemy—"speak evil of me;" and "he that is not against us is for us." This admonition is urged by a teaching which branches out in three directions, relating to—
I. THE FAITHFUL ACKNOWLEDGMENT AND REWARD OF THE LEAST SERVICE RENDERED TO THE DISCIPLES IN THE NAME OF CHRIST—even "a cup of water to drink." Very wide apart are the two works, the "Wasting out devils" and the giving "a cup of water to drink." The one act may be performed by a mere child in age or in grace; but the other is the work of the man in grace and years. That the disciples were in the wrong in forbidding him who did the greater work, is shown by the assurance that he who does the less is acknowledged and rewarded by the Lord of all. Did not the disciples know that the casting out of devils was service done to them? Were they as ignorant as so many to-day are, not knowing that in the conquest of evil every one's best interests are advanced? Intimately is the well-being of one bound up in the well-being of all. The human body is not more closely knit and compacted together than is human society. To do good to any part is to do good to the whole. And each part suffers in the suffering, or loss, or injury of any other. Then by whomsoever or howsoever devils are cast out, let every true lover of his race and every wise lover of himself rejoice. Such a worker is not "against us," but "for us."
II. THE EQUALLY FAITHFUL PUNISHMENT OF ANY WHO SHALL CAUSE ONE OF THE LOWLIEST—one "of the least of these little ones that believe on me"—To STUMBLE. But a rude interference with any worker of good is an offense against that good Lord, from whom alone men have power to do good. Here not only were devils cast out, but they were cast out in the Name of Christ. Plainly this was a servant of Christ, and a disciple, acknowledged as "one of these little ones that believe on me," to whom the Lord had given "power and authority." An that power was being used obediently. How serious a stumbling-block was thrown in the way of his obedience by the authoritative prohibition of the (possibly jealous) disciples! But how great the penalty—worse than to have "a great millstone hanged about his neck," and to be "drowned in the depth of the sea"! So jealously does the Lord of all guard the interests even of "little ones." It were better for a man to lose his own life in time than to lead another astray, so that he should lose the life eternal; better for them both. But what was the greater evil to which the layer of stumbling-blocks Was exposed? Was it not the certainty that the Lord would do with his own body What he taught the disciples to do with theirs?—"cut off" the "hand" or "foot," "cast out" the "eye" that caused the body to stumble, whomsoever that foot or eye or hand might be? Was the foot cut off when Judas was severed from the body, and cut off to save the body, so that through all ages, of the twelve chosen, one must be wanting? Sad was the possibility, severe the warning; but how merciful and gracious! Men act on the principle, and sever a limb to save a life. So in spirituals should it be.
III. THE WISDOM OF EVERY DISCIPLE UTTERLY RENOUNCING WHATEVER MIGHT CAUSE HIM TO STUMBLE, OR BE A STUMBLING-BLOCK TO OTHERS. For every disciple the principle holds good. It is wise to forego anything that threatens the true life rather than lose that life. To retain all and i be "east into hell"—not into the mere hiding, or hidden place, but into "the unquenchable fire," the fire into which the spirit will be cast; worse than that, into which the body may be thrown, the real Gehenna, not the symbolical one—is to lose all. "To enter into the kingdom of God," having suffered the loss of that which was dear as an eye, a hand, or a foot, "is good" indeed in comparison with being "cast into" that "hell." There is a final fire, a fire that "is not quenched," which is punishment. And there is a present temporary fire, a salting fire, which is corrective and disciplinary. To this the cutting off the hand corresponds. It is a pain-giving, fiery ordeal, with which every one in God's good way is "salted." And there is a salt of self-denial, which leads men to be "at peace one with another." It is held in the thought, which the "many ancient authorities" teach, that if any one would be a true sacrifice to GOd he must faithfully apply the fiery salt to the green, cankerous wound and burn out the evil, lest the evil burn out and burn up the life.—G.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Glimpses of the glory of Jesus.
I. SPECIAL FAVOURS FOR SPECIAL SERVICES. The three disciples had given up all to follow Christ, had submitted them. selves entirely to the Divine will. Only to such consecration is the deeper vision of truth granted, and ascent to the loftiest heights of spiritual enjoyment.
II. DIFFERENT ASPECTS OF CHRIST'S APPEARANCE.
1. He wore one appearance for the multitude, another for the circle of disciples. In the multitude he was the Prophet and the Wonder-worker; to the disciples the Friend and familiar Teacher. The multitude felt that he must be a great Man; the disciples knew him to be the Anointed One and Divine.
2. Among the disciples themselves: there was the familiar and ordinary, the extraordinary and unusual aspect of Christ. Here he passes out of the earthly medium of vision into one of celestial and supernatural glory.
"How nigh is grandeur to our dust!
How near is God to man!"
3. The manifestation of Christ is one in which extremes meet. The Man of sorrows, the beloved Son, delighted in of God. The lowly Teacher and Missionary of the kingdom of God; the enthroned Messiah. The Man, the God, and "both together mixed."
4. We cannot always enjoy the higher views in their clearness and brilliancy. After the vision and the voice, they look round and see "Jesus only!" Well for those who can ever see and find in Jesus of Nazareth the highest revelation they need of the Divine majesty and the Divine love.—J.
I. RESERVE AND DELAY IN THE UTTERANCES OF TRUTH. There is an economy and an order in the kingdom of God. It is constantly observed by Christ. Certain truths there are always and everywhere to be made known; others must wait their time. As we are not to pry into the secrets of God, so neither are we hastily to blab them. Peculiar personal revelations should be treated with delicacy, not made an affair of the news-room or the market-place. The hour will come when our holiest memories, our deepest convictions, will be extracted from us by the need of the time.
II. ILLUSIONS OF RELIGIOUS THOUGHT. The prophecy concerning Elijah (Malachi 4:5) was misunderstood, being taken literally. It was fulfilled in the person of the Baptist (John 1:21; Luke 1:17). John came to restore the Jewish people from the wrong teaching and preachers of later times, to the earlier and better lessons of the Law and the prophets. Another illusion was that the Messiah was to be a glorious earthly sovereign, and exempt from suffering. The scribes overlooked the predictions concerning the sufferings of Christ. So has every age its illusions; and God in every age fulfils himself unexpectedly. Even out of the humble and the lowly, the base things of the world, he causes his purpose to unfold, his power to be made manifest. The spirit of prophecy teaches that suffering belongs to the present service of God.—J.
I. WANT OF SPIRITUAL POWER IS CAUSED BY WANT OF FAITH. Faith is a mighty word in the gospel. It really includes all the energies of knowing, feeling, and willing; it is the entire affirmation of the man in favor of truth, goodness, and love. It is life in the power of God. In a sense it is unnatural to be without faith, for it is the pulse of the world. If we have not this we are weak, we cannot move a step beyond the bounds of actual: knowledge—can take nothing for granted.
II. FAITH, WHEN WEAK, BECOMES DIMINISHED BY ASSOCIATION WITH THOSE WHO HAVE NONE. We become cowards or braver in company: pessimists or optimists. We trust in the good order of the world as God's, or give up everything for lost to the devil. "God desires from all eternity cheerful and brave sons," says Luther. Let us keep company with cheerful and trustful souls.
III. ON THE OTHER HAND, STRONG FAITH IS COMMUNICATIVE AND INSPIRING (J. H. Godwin). Tell an invalid he is looking ill, and you make him feel worse. Tell him he is improving, and his faith in his physical future will revive at the brighter picture. We are governed by imagination, and faith is a kind of imagination. It is exposed to the most contagious influences for health or disease. Whenever a strong deed is done, or mighty word spoken—
"Our hearts, in glad surprise,
To higher levels rise,"
IV. FAITH IS THE CONDITION BOTH OF DOING AND RECEIVING THE HIGHEST GOOD. Faith gives a mental picture, distinguished from other mental pictures in that it is as good as reality to him who views it. Now, we must have the distinct idea of a good to be received before we can place ourselves in the attitude to receive it; or of the good to be done and the possibility of doing it, before we can set about attempting it. The question then arises—Can faith be commanded by the will? The answer is—Not directly. "Paint a fire, it will not therefore burn." But the rebuke of Jesus implies that the disciples ought to have had faith. And the lesson is that faith may indirectly be obtained, be promoted, fostered, and preserved by communion with God.—J.
Renewed prediction of death.
I. UNWELCOME OUTLOOKS SHOULD BE FIRMLY FACED. 'Tis not well to hide the head in the sand, like the ostrich, and try to fancy danger absent because not seen. For, if faced, the worst prospect loses at once half, and presently all, its terrors.
II. THE WILL OF GOD IS TO BE RECOGNIZED, EVEN IN THE WICKEDNESS OF MEN. It is by conflict that his will is wrought out. Outbursts of crime represent only one side of great living forces, and onward moving facts.
III. UNWELCOME TRUTHS NEED TO BE REPEATED, BUT NOT FOR ALL. There is an esoteric and an exoteric in Christianity. We do not tell children all we know of life. But there is an age, and there are persons, to whom all should be told that we know. Let truth be economized and wisely administered.—J.
The symbolic child.
I. THE EXAMPLE OF CHILDREN. They are humble and trustful in the presence of superior wisdom. Man not always so, but ought always to be so.
II. THE SECRET OF POWER LIES IN SERVICE. Command others by being useful to them. Rise in a community by working your way through all the grades of service, from the lowest to the highest.
III. TO STOOP IN LOVE IS TO RISE IN HONOUR. Jesus puts his arms around the little ones and around the weak, and is enthroned in the dependent heart of mankind.
IV. THE SCALE OF SERVICE, AND THE INCLUSION OF THE LOWER IN THE HIGHER. The order of duty is not to begin with the high and the remote, but with the lowly and the mean. "God is served by obedience to Christ, and Christ by kindness to the least and lowest who belong to him" (Godwin).—J.
There are some sins which are singled out for peculiar denunciation by the Spirit and Word of Christ. They are extremely opposed to the ends and purport of the kingdom.
I. INTOLERANCE. That is, the hindering of good, because the good is not done in our way. Christianity says the good deed justifies itself. Coming from a good source, it is not likely to be associated with evil opinions or teaching. Any one who does good nowadays may be said virtually to do it in the Name of Christ. To do good one need not, cannot, pass out of the Christian atmosphere. And experience of history confirms the statement of Christ. Good men really love him, whatever difference there may be in their mode of conception of him and statements about him. All that is done for love's sake is virtually and really done in his Name.
II. CAUSING SIN IN OTHERS. Involuntarily people may take offense, "stumble" at what we do or say. We cannot help false inferences being drawn, nor turn bad reasoners or conduct into good, nor weak brethren into strong. But we can avoid doing what we know will hurt others. If we are reckless in this respect, the will and the intelligence are involved in guilt.
III. DELIBERATE PREFERENCE OF PLEASURE TO RIGHT. The old story of the man who defended his dishonesty by the plea, "One must live," has its meaning for us. The judge replied to the culprit, "I do not see the necessity." So with the Christian: luxury is not a necessity; pleasure is not a necessity; even life in the lower sense is not a necessity; but only life in the higher sense—a good conscience, a soul in purity and integrity. It is ever a good bargain to part with a sin, and a losing business to compromise with a lust.
IV. SIN CAN ONLY BE CURED BY SUFFERING. Sin is in the intelligence want of principle; in the will want of energy for, true self-realization. Our mistakes and troubles throw us upon the true principles of conduct, on the moral law of God. The fallacy of expecting blessedness by false methods leads us back to the true. Stern but kind is the discipline by which God uproots our follies and trains us for himself.—J.
HOMILIES BY J.J. GIVEN
Parallel passages: Matthew 18:1-13; Luke 9:28-36
A glimpse of glory.
I. THE TRANSFIGURATION.
1. Allusions to the Transfiguration. The scene described in the above parallel passages is as singular as solemn. There are, however, two allusions to it in other books of the New Testament One is in St John's Gospel (John 1:14), And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." The other 2 Peter 1:16-18, "For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount." There is, moreover, an intimation of the same in the three preceding verses, where the apostle, speaking of his "decease," uses the same word (ἔξοδος) which is found in this passage and nowhere else in the same sense in the New Testament, and where he speaks once and again of his "tabernacle," saying, "As long as I am in this tabernacle," and "Shortly I must put off this tabernacle." As undesigned coincidents are acknowledged to be strongly corroborative of the truth of a narrative, so such allusive references as those just quoted are in the highest degree confirmatory of the reality of the awful event referred to.
2. Persons present. The persons permitted to witness this event were truly privileged individuals—of the chosen the more select, and of the loved the more beloved. This inner circle of the disciples consisted of Peter and James and John. They alone were present with the Savior the death-chamber of the daughter of Jairus, they alone were eye-witnesses of the Transfiguration, and they alone accompanied him in his agony.
3. Place of the occurrence. The place where the Transfiguration occurred was long believed to be Tabor, that solitary hill rising abruptly from the great plain of Esdraelon, the ancient Jezreel. This tradition, prevalent since the sixth century, has been set aside in more recent times. The locality last named as visited by our Lord was Caesarea Philippi, too far distant from Tabor and necessitating too great a change of place. It is certain that the summit of Tabor was occupied at the time in question by a Roman fortress, and did not afford the solitude which the event referred to presupposes. Besides, that town of Caesarea Philippi lay under the range of Hermon, so that one of the heights of that snow-capped mount was the most likely place. Hermon is the most conspicuous mountain in Palestine; hence its present name of Jebel esh Sheikh, the chief mountain. There is, moreover, an expression of comparison in one of the narratives, which points in this same direction, for the graphic touch of St. Mark, "white as snow," might well be suggested by the snowy cone of Hermon. It must, however, be admitted that the words of comparison (ὡς χιὼν) are omitted in א B, C, L, Δ, in several versions, and by most of the critical editors, though found א A, D, E, F, G, and eight other uncials; in the Syriac, Coptic, Gothic, and most of the Latin versions.
4. The time of the event. The time is specified by each of the three evangelists. Two of them, reckoning exclusively, specify a period of six days, and one of them, adopting the inclusive method, speaks of it as "about an eight days." This note of time, thus given in all the three narratives, has in it something surely special and significant. Nor is it to be passed over slightly, for the element of time in this instance is helpful, not only in tracing the sequence of events in the life of our Lord, but also in indicating in some measure the significance of the particular event here recorded. Peter had made his famous confession of the Christ, and had been commended for the words of truth he spoke. Our Lord had followed this up by foretelling his own death and passion. But now, instead of words of praise, he had to use the language of sharp rebuke, when Peter deprecated our Lord's sufferings, and, tempter-like, sought to divert his thoughts to an earthly kingdom, like those very kingdoms of the world and their glory which Satan had proffered in one of his great assaults. Afar these and other conversations about Messiah's work and the nature of his kingdom, a week or thereabouts had elapsed when the Transfiguration scene took place—a scene having an important bearing on the disciples at that crisis, on the Master in the near prospect of his passion, and on the Church at all periods and in all places.
II. Concomitants of The TRANSFIGURATION.
1. Mountain scenery. In the scenery of Scripture, as in the natural landscape, mountains form a conspicuous object. They are the spots so often selected for Divine manifestations, and so frequently signalized by solemn service or severe sacrifice. Why they have been chosen for such purposes we may be unable to explain. Whether it is that their sublime grandeur tends to elevate the thoughts from earth to heaven; or that their separation from the plains and valleys around promotes meditative seclusion, helping to shut out the world and leave the soul alone with God; or whether the fresh free air that surrounds their summits has a bracing effect upon the human spirit;—whatever be the cause, the fact of their selection remains the same. When Abraham, the father of the faithful, was summoned to surrender his son, his only son Isaac, whom he loved, the sacrifice was to take place on Mount Moriah. When God was pleased to appear to Moses in the bush that burned with fire and yet was not consumed, it was on Mount Horeb. When he came down in awful majesty at the giving of the Law, it was on the top of Sinai he descended. It was on bleak and barren Ebal the curses were pronounced; it was on fair and fertile Gerizim that the blessings were uttered; while at each curse and blessing the living voice of the mighty multitude rolled up the hillsides, pronouncing the long "Amen." On Carmel Elijah denounced the prophets of Baal, and destroyed the worship of that idol. It was on Mount Zion that the ark and tabernacle found a resting-place in David's day, and there in consequence was the center of Jewish religious service; though it was on Mount Moriah that the temple was subsequently built. From Pisgah Moses looked across the flood and gazed on the land of promise. On Nebo God took his servant home to heaven. So also our blessed Lord himself chose mountains as the scenes of his discourses, doings, and devotions. On the Mountain of the Beatitudes he delivered those blessed utterances contained in that wondrous sermon on the mount. On a mountain in Galilee he manifested himself after his passion; and from Olivet he ascended. And now he leads his disciples to that mountain apart; and so retirement, it would seem, was one ground of the selection of a mountain on this occasion.
2. The preparation. But more important than the place of transfiguration was the Savior's preparation for it. That preparation, we learn, was prayer. In every crisis of his history, and at every great event of his life, we find the Savior engaged in prayer. One main feature of his life on earth was prayer. When he was inaugurated by baptism, and when he formally entered on his own ministry, he prayed; for it is written, "It came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven opened." Before he set apart his twelve apostles to found his Church and propagate his doctrine, he spent a whole night in prayer. When he wrought his greatest miracle, "he lifted up his eyes in prayer and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always." During his agony in the garden of Gethsemane he prayed once and again, and a third time, with still-increasing earnestness. When he hung upon the cross he prayed, and prayed even for his murderers. As he ascended to heaven his hands were uplifted in holy prayer and heavenly benediction. And now that he is seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high he prays on behalf of his people; for he is our Advocate with the Father, and ever lives to intercede. In like manner, the purpose for which he ascended the Mount of Transfiguration was prayer: "He took Peter, and James, and John, and went up into a mountain to pray."
3. Peculiarity of the Savior's prayer. We must mark the peculiarity and purport of his prayer. It had this peculiarity, that one element of prayer was wanting—indeed, it must have been wanting. There were thanksgiving and petition, we know, but there could be no confession. He had no sin to confess, no contrition to feel for personal sin, no sorrow on that head to express, and so repentance in his case was impossible. Yet in his humanity, sinless though it was, he needed prayer. The purport of such prayer we are at no loss to discover. It included petition for himself and intercession for his people; while this spirit of prayer served as a pattern for all his followers, Not only was he an Expiation, but an Example; for he left us an example, that we should follow in his steps. The character of his intercession may be learned from his prayer for Peter, and his great intercession (John 17:1-26.) for all his followers in all times and in all lands. His petition for the cup to pass away from him had its answer in the power that sustained him in his agony, in the submission of his human will to the Divine, and in the angel strengthening him.
III. CHARACTERS CONCERNED.
1. Representative characters. In addition to the three favourite apostles, who were merely spectators but not actors, properly speaking, in this scene, we have Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, all of them in a representative character. Here were the Law-giver, the Law-restorer, and the Law-fulfiller. The Law was given by Moses; it was restored, after a time of sad defection, by Elijah; it was fulfilled in all its requirements by Jesus, who came expressly not to destroy the Law or abrogate the prophets, but to fulfill them both. They represented still more. Moses represented the Law and Elijah the prophets; both doing homage to Jesus, who represented the gospel, or rather Law and prophets merged in the gospel dispensation. Here, again, is one that never tasted death, but was transferred in a fiery chariot from earth to heaven. No doubt that very translation effected some change analogous to death. At all events, he may fitly represent those that are alive and remain till the coming of the Lord, who shall not sleep as others sleep, but who shall be changed; "for," saith the apostle, "we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed." Here, too, is one that died as mortals die, but how or where his body was laid to rest no one knoweth till this day; the only record is that "God buried him." Here, also, is One that died a violent death and by wicked hands; he died and was buried, his grave being made with the rich in his death. Thus we get a hint that it matters little how we die—whether by the decay of nature, or fell disease, or dread catastrophe, or the hand of violence; neither does it matter where or how we are buffed—whether in the country churchyard, or city cemetery, or the desert sands, or the depths of ocean; whether in the grave of the poor or mausoleum of the rich, whether in obscure privacy or with funereal pomp; in any case, if servants of God, we shall be compeers of Moses and Elijah, and shall appear with Christ in glory.
2. A foreshadow of heavenly fellowship. Once more, though the apostles were mainly present as witnesses, still they were representative men. They were publishers and preachers of the new economy, and thus representatives of the Christian dispensation. Here, last of all and greatest of all, was Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant and the Representative of all times. So in that heavenly state, of which the Transfiguration was merely a foreshadow, saints of all times and of all dispensations shall be found. Believers during the legal age, believers in the times of the prophets, believers in the days of the apostles, believers from then till now, and onward till the consummation of all things, shall be there; "They shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God." Even a philosophic heathen could exult in the prospect of meeting the shades of departed worthies in a future state. "What bounds," he exclaims, "can you set to the value of conversing with Orpheus and Musaeus and Homer and Hesiod? What delight must it be to meet with Palamedes and Ajax, and others like to them! Then we should experience the wisdom of that great king who led his troops to Troy, and the prudence of Ulysses and Sisyphus." Oh, how infinitely greater and holier is the joy with which the Christian can anticipate that grand gathering of all the faithful in Christ Jesus—patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and confessors, all who purely lived and nobly died; not only the one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed ones of all the tribes of the children of Israel, but "a great multitude, that no man can number," in that day when we shall "come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn, which are written in heaven!"
3. Recognition. Here it must be observed, in passing, that the apostles at once recognize Moses and Elijah, in what manner or by what means we cannot tell; whether from their discourse, or by information from Christ, or by some spiritual intuition, we do not know. At all events, we may fairly infer from this fact that in heaven there shall be distinct recognition; otherwise the crowded ranks of the celestial inhabitants would only present one vast collection of unknown and so less interesting faces. Other Scriptures confirm this. Thus Abraham seems acquainted with all the circumstances of Lazarus' life, and Dives knows the state of his brothers on earth. Paul gives us to understand that our mental faculties shall be enlarged and expanded. Can we imagine, then, that memory alone shall be impaired and diminished? Oh, what zest such recognition wilt give to the joys of heaven! Who is not alive to the pleasures of social intercourse on earth? With what satisfaction does a happy family surround the domestic hearth, or meet round the festive boardlWith what delight of family and friends is the wanderer, after long years of absence, welcomed to his native land! And oh, how great shall be the joy in heaven when the faithful minister meets those to whom he had preached the gospel, telling of heaven and leading the way! Or when the man of prayer meets those for whom he had offered supplication in seasons of danger, or difficulty, or distress, or disease, or at the hour of death! Or when the spiritual teacher, whether in sabbath school, or Bible class, or cottage meeting, meets those who had been once his pupils, but are now his companions in glory!
IV. CHANGE DESCRIBED.
1. The glory of his person Here we are to notice, in the first place, the glory of his person. From eternity he had been in the form (μορφῇ) of God. This had been his original form, but in the fullness of time he took upon him the form of a servant. Now for a while he resumes the form which he had laid aside. The form of a servant is changed back (μετεμορφώθη) into that of Deity. He "was transfigured before them" is the statement of St. Matthew and St. Mark. The veil of mortal flesh became transparent. The glory of the Godhead broke through the concealment. Like a sudden sunburst from behind the murky clouds on a dark and wintry day, there was a glorious outburst of Divine effulgence. It irradiated his body, it diffused itself over his whole person, it surrounded him with an atmosphere of brightness and beauty. Beams of heavenly light flashed from head to foot. The whole man presented an unearthly splendor. His appearance was a reflection of that glory which he had had with the Father before all worlds, and in which he appears among the inhabitants of heaven.
2. The change of his countenance. "The fashion of his countenance was altered" is the statement of St. Luke, who, writing for Gentiles, avoids the word transformed, or metamorphosed, on account of its association with heathenism; while St. Matthew explains the nature of that alteration by saying, "His face did shine as the sun." After Moses' interview with God on Mount Sinai, the skin of his face shone so that he was obliged to cover it with a veil as soon as his public official duty had been discharged. Similarly, when Stephen, the proto-martyr, was brought before the council, "all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel." But in the case of Stephen and of Moses it was a borrowed brightness, whereas the Savior's face shone with native irradiation. It was no reflected lustre, like that of the moon in the heavens, deriving all her light from the sun. The light and loveliness were all his own. The face soon to be marred more than any man, and his countenance more than the sons of men, possessed a brilliancy that was dazzling and that outrivalled the radiance of the sun at noon. That face, soon to be smitten and spit upon, and from which men hid in scorn and sorrow, now displayed a glory indescribable. The veil of humanity became too thin to hide the outshining of the divinity within. Like a magnificent temple grandly lighted up on every side and throughout its entire extent, from nave to porch and from dome to pavement, the Savior's face and entire person—the whole temple of his body—was brightened up and beautified with celestial glory.
3. The glistening of his garments. Even his garments shared this heavenly transformation. They brightened, they glistened, they dazzled. The sacred penmen seem at a loss for similitudes to give us a correct notion of a change so marvellous and glorious. "White as the light," says St. Matthew; "shining, exceeding white as snow," says St. Mark; "white and glistering "—white and flashing forth as lightning (ἐξαστράπτων)—says St. Luke. They lay both nature and art under contribution for the purpose of describing it. They became "white as snow," says one—white as the snowy peak of the neighboring hill with the sunbeams resting on it; "exceeding white," he says again, "so as no fuller on earth can white them." When St. John saw him in apocalyptic vision, his head and hair were white as wool. Ages before, when Daniel saw him in prophetic vision as the Ancient of days, his garments were white as snow. On the Mount of Transfiguration his human nature was closely assimilated to his Divine nature, in which he clothes himself with light as with a garment. Such was Christ on Hermon; what must he be in heaven? Such was he in his transfigured humanity; what must be his divinity revealed? What shall he be when, with face unveiled, we shall see him as he is? But, better and more blessed still, in that day we shall be like him. If, under a former portion of this subject, we caught a glimpse of our companionship in heaven, here we get a glance at our condition in the heavenly state.
1. One consequence common. Some of the consequences of the Transfiguration scene are general, and some special. There is one common to the saints of all times and of all climes. That transfigured body of Christ is the model and pattern of all the glorified. He is the Head, they are the members. "As we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." Here and now our bodies, though fearfully and wonderfully made, are bodies of humiliation. They are subject to many infirmities, liable to painful and even loathsome diseases, doomed to dissolution in a few years at most, while, worst of all, they contain the seed of sin, and their members too often are instruments of unrighteousness; "for I know," says the apostle, "that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing." But these bodies of humiliation shall be fashioned like- unto Christ's glorious body; these bodies, now "of the earth, earthy," shall be e evated to the condition of the heavenly; these bodies, now so frail, shall be endued with immortal health and vigor. Here and now the beauty of the fairest face soon fades; then the plainest face shall become beautiful, and that beauty shall be truly amaranthine. The features now saddened by sorrow, or marred by disease, or disfigured by age, shall become "bright as the sun when he goeth forth in his strength," bright as the Savior's on the Mount of Transfiguration, bright as the face of our Lord was seen by Peter and James and John at that time, bright as it always appears to the saints in glory. Every blemish shall be blotted out, every wrinkle shall be smoothed, every disease expelled, and all decrepitude for ever removed. Then, too, on the sightless eyeballs of the blind shall flash the light of an eternal day, the ear of the deaf shall be unstopped, the tongue of the dumb sing, and the lame man for ever lay aside his lameness. Moreover, the richest raiment of earth will be but rags when compared with those robes of brightness which the ransomed in heaven wear. In view of all this may we not exclaim?—
"Oh for the robes of whiteness!
Oh for the tearless eyes!
Oh for the glorious brightness
Of the unclouded skies!
Oh for the no more weeping
Within the land of love,
The endless joy of keeping
The bridal feast above!"
2. An immediate consequence. Another and immediate consequence was to reconcile the disciples to the sufferings of their Master, and sustain them amid their own. Then, as now, the Jews overlooked the first appearance of Messiah in weakness, through haste for his glorious second advent. Then, as now, their pride rebelled against the idea of a suffering Savior, in their anticipation of his glory. Then, as afterwards, they looked for a great temporal potentate, to whom all thrones would be subject and whom all sovereigns would obey. They antedated the glory of his reign. But this experience of heaven upon earth, of glory so surpassing was surely enough to make amends for those disappointed hopes. It was meant also to prepare them for the approaching crisis, to comfort them when it came, and to confirm their faith in his Divine majesty, even when, as a malefactor, he was nailed to the cross.
3. An additional consequence. Again, it not only helped to reconcile the disciples to the death of their Master, but doubtless went far to comfort Immanuel himself in the near prospect of his agony and bloody sweat, and of his cross and passion. Elsewhere we are informed that, "for the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame." This short space of heavenly enjoyment, coming in as a parenthesis amid the wearisome struggles and strivings of earthly life, would cheer him onward towards the end. The foretaste thus afforded of the coming glory that would crown everlastingly the brief sorrows of the present would sustain him in the approaching sufferings. The cloud of witnesses that surrounds the Christian in his pilgrimage serves as a motive to urge him on, so that, laying aside every weight, he runs with patience the race set before him; so these witnesses, representative of ten thousand times ten thousand, intensely interested in the Redeemer's work and intently looking on, would encourage the human spirit of the Savior, so that, braced with new alacrity, he would hold on the course appointed and pass through the baptism of blood. As his baptism was the commencement of his ministry, his transfiguration was his consecration to suffering.
VI. THE CONVERSATION HELD.
1. The persons engaged in converse. Here were two prophetic men, of whom one died and was buried by mystic hands, no one knew how or where.
"By Nebo's lonely mountain,
On this side Jordan's wave,
In a vale in the land of Moab,
There lies a lonely grave.
And no man knows that sepulcher,
And no man saw it e'er;
For the angels of God upturned the sod,
And laid the dead man there.
"And had he not high honor?—
The hillside for a pall;
To lie in state while angels wait,
With stars for tapers tall;
And the dark rock.pines, like tossing plumes,
Over his bier to wave;
And God's own hand, in that lonely land,
To lay him in the grave!"
The other never died, was never buried; but went straight from earth to heaven—
From his mortal vest,
He stept on the car of heavenly fire;
To prove how bright
Are the realms of light,
Bursting at once upon the sight."
And now these two visitants from the heavenly world have taken their place together on that lone mountain apart. Here also were three apostolic men—the foremost of the apostolic band: John, with his heart of love; James, with his high standard of law—both of them sons of thunder with outspoken courage; and Peter, honored with the keys that opened the door of faith to Jew and Gentile. "And why these?" asks the devout Bishop Hall, in his ' Contemplations on the Holy Scriptures.' "We may be too curious: Peter because the eldest; John because the dearest; James because, next Peter, the zealousest: Peter because he loved Christ most; John because Christ most loved him; James because, next to both, he loved and was loved most. I had rather," he adds, "to have no reason, but because it so pleased him. Why may we not as well ask why he chose these twelve from others, as why he chose three out of the twelve?" But with prophets and apostles, the foundation of the future Church, was Jesus Christ the God-man and the Church's chief Corner-stone. The converse, however, was confined to Moses and Elias and Jesus; the apostles were only listeners. One is naturally curious to know the subject that engaged the attention of that small but wonderfully select company. The subject must have been worthy of such an august assembly.
2. The subject of conversation. What, then, was the subject that occupied them? Was it political, embracing the gate of kingdoms, or the fall of dynasties, or fast-coming times of calamity and change? Was it the extent and power and future breaking up of the great Roman empire? Was it the subjection of Palestine to Roman rule, or the relation of the Tetrarch of Galilee to the Procurator of Judea? Nothing of all this. But if the subject was not political, was it one of Jewish casuistry, such as divided the schools of Hillel and Shammai, about binding or loosing? Was it in reference to the primary or derivative prohibitions of sabbath work—the avoth or the toldoth? Was it about the Halakoth or Hagadoth—the rules of jurisprudence or the legends illustrative of them, and both afterwards embodied in the Gemara? None of these, or such as these, was of sufficient importance to command their attention. We might, however, reasonably enough expect that it would be the beauties of heaven, with its gates of pearl, and streets of gold, and jasper wall, and foundations of precious stones; or the grandeur of its minstrelsy and melody of its songs; or the blessedness of the heavenly state and the ecstasies of its joys, or all the untold glories of the beatific vision; or the unspeakable magnificence of the heavenly hierarchy, with its thrones and dominions and principalities and powers. And yet it was none of these. It might have been the atmosphere of heaven brought down by Christ to earth, the perfection of his life when here below, the power of his miracles, the purity of his precepts, the preciousness of his promises, his words and works of benevolence. And yet it was none of these. It was perhaps a less inviting, but certainly not leas important, theme. Over and above what is common to all the evangelists, each contributes a part peculiar to himself. As St. Mark omits mention of the change that passed over the countenance of the Savior, and fixes attention on the garments so white and glistening; so St. Luke alone records the subject about which they discoursed. Our curiosity is thus gratified at least in part. True it is that, while we are made acquainted with the topic of conversation, the evangelist gives no hint of the conversation itself. And yet perhaps we have an echo of that conversation in the writings of those favourite apostles who were privileged to form the audience on that remarkable occasion.
3. A peculiar term. That most interesting subject was the decease he was to accomplish at Jerusalem. The expression is so remarkable, it is no way strange that attention has often been directed to it. Elsewhere in Scripture death is literally spoken of, or it is represented from its physical effect as "giving up the ghost," or it is euphemistically expressed as "sleep." This latter expression, however, is never applied to the death of Christ, for that death was no babe-like slumber—no gentle falling asleep. It was death in all its hideousness, in all its bitterness, with cruelly aggravated horrors and fearfully augmented terrors. In consequence of these sufferings the believer's death is now changed into sleep, and so we read that "them who sleep by (διὰ) Jesus will God bring with him." The death of the Savior is here set forth as an ἔξοδος, exodus or departure, so that the term would cover all that was peculiar in the exit of Moses, or Elijah, or Christ himself; while it is the result of his own voluntary act, and an event, too, in which he was more active than passive; and so the ordinary verb ἔθανεν is not used in his case. Likewise in the narrative of his death the evangelists use a similar expression, namely, ἐξέπνευσε, "he breathed forth," St. Luke and St. Mark; "he delivered up the ghost" (παρέδωκε), St. John; or "dismissed," sent away his spirit (ἀφῆκε), St. Matthew. The decease he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem was thus lifted up out of the rank of ordinary deaths, and raised by a whole heaven above them. It was a voluntary surrender: "No man taketh my life;" "I have power to lay it down," he said, "and power to take it again." It was vicarious as well as voluntary; for he suffered, "the just for the unjust, to bring us to God." It was valid for every expectant soul; because "to them that look for him he will appear a second time without sin unto salvation." It realized the types of the old economy, for it was the great antitype that finished all. It crowned the sacrifices under the Law; for "by one sacrifice he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." It fulfilled the promises of the past and guaranteed the bestowal of them all; for "he that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" It put new meaning into many otherwise dark and obscure statements of Old Testament Scripture. It was the death of deaths. It was the gateway to eternal life; it "opened the door of heaven to all believers." It was an offering; for he gave himself an offering and a sacrifice of sweet-smelling savor. It was a propitiation; for "we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the Propitiation for our sins." It was a ransom; for "he came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and give his life a ransom for many." Confessors took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, but that spoiling was the test of their own sincerity. Martyrs shed their blood unmurmuringly and even triumphantly, but the martyr's death was the preparation for the martyr's crown. Yet martyrs and confessors stood each in his own lot, suffering for themselves and by themselves. Not so Jesus; for others, not for himself, he drained the bitter cup; for others, not himself, he underwent the bloody baptism; for sins, but not his own, he endured the cross, despising all the pain and shame.
4. Character of their conversation. The subject, then, as we have just seen, was that death—a death which patriarchs, and priests, and prophets, and pious persons under the old dispensation looked and longed for; a death which not only fulfilled the predictions, but realised the typical institutions of the old economy; that death which was the complement of the legal economy and the consummation of the Jewish Church, and which, at the same time, formed the commencement of a new epoch and of a higher order of events. What a glorious subject! More glorious far than the fate of kingdoms or the fall of kings; more glorious than all the discoveries of science, or applications of art, or improvements of society. In their conversation on this high theme they spake, no doubt, of the nature of the decease to be accomplished: of its necessity, to realize types and fulfill prophecies; to "magnify the Law and make it honorable;" to save miserable man and glorify Almighty God, restoring peace between heaven and earth, and "by one sacrifice perfecting for ever the sanctified;" to overthrow the kingdom of Satan, and diffuse light and life and love through all the world; to extract the sting of death, "destroying him that had the power of it, that is, the devil," and throwing the radiance of heavenly glory over the darkness of the tomb. They conversed, no doubt, of the travail of the Redeemer's soul, and of his mediatorial reward in the eternal approbation of the Father, the salvation of the lost, and the praises of the redeemed for ever. Of all subjects this was the most important to men, the most interesting to Christ, and the most glorifying to God. This subject is still the great theme of the Church militant on earth, and the glorious song of the Church triumphant in heaven.
5. Apparently out of place. But glorious as the subject of conversation was, and edifying as the manner of that conversation was, it might in one sense seem inopportune. Hence says an old divine already cited (Hall, in his ' Contemplations'), "A strange opportunity! in his highest exaltation to speak of his sufferings; to talk of Calvary on Tabor; when his head shone with glory, to tell him how it must bleed with thorns; when his face shone like the sun, to tell him it must be blubbered and spit upon; when his garments glistered with that celestial brightness, to tell him they must be stripped off and divided; when he was adored by the saints of heaven, to tell him how he must be scorned by the basest of men; when he was seen between two saints, to tell him how he must be seen between two malefactors: in a word, in the midst of his Divine majesty, to tell him of his shame; and, while he was transfigured on the mount, to tell him how he must be disfigured upon the cross." So thought good Bishop Hall. But this subject is never out of place, it is never out of time. It is the theme of our praises both here and hereafter, and should the subject of our prayerful meditations till we feel its transforming power, and are "changed into the same image from glory to glory, even by the Spirit of the Lord."
1. St. Peter's proposal. "Let us make three tabernacles," said Peter, "one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias." Chrysostom thinks that Peter's object was to remain away from the holy city, and thus, by remaining on the mount and remote from Jerusalem, prevent the Savior's sufferings. God had tabernacled in Shechinah glory, why should not the Savior embody the same? But the expression of Peter was rather the expression of an ecstasy of delight—a plenitude of joy which words could not express. So great was his rapture that he wist not what he said. A little of the joy of heaven would be too much for flesh and blood—it would overwhelm us. Besides, Peter was overlooking the fact that the wilderness work and warfare must needs be resumed. The journey of life was not ended. Some droppings of heavenly blessedness had transported him into rapture, but the full wealth of its downpour was not yet at hand. He antedated the bliss of heaven, forgetting for the moment that he was still on earth. More sacrifice, more suffering, more sorrow, more self-denial, more days of toil and nights of trouble, must intervene before he crossed the Jordan and entered the promised land.
2. The effect of emotion. Peter's exclamation partook more of the emotional than of the rational. It was rather the offspring of ardent desire than of deliberate judgment. It proceeded more from the heart than from the head. But head as well as heart must be influenced by religion. If it were confined to the head, it would tend to formality; if to the heart, it might issue in fanaticism. On one hand, Peter's exclamation was quite excusable. "It is good for us to be here," a fine thing, a pleasant thing; not good in a moral sense, which is differently expressed (ἀγαθὸν), but good physically (καλὸν), which is the expression here. If there were a place on earth of which this might be said, it was that Mount of Transfiguration. It was, perhaps, the spot on earth nearest and likest heaven. There was a hill, an emblem of heaven, which is the hill of God's holiness. There were two saints, an epitome of heaven, representing as they did the quick and the dead—those alive on earth, and the dead raised up at the day of judgment. There was the Savior himself, in uncreated light and unveiled glory, at once the Source and Centre of heavenly blessedness. There was conversation such as may be presumed to be held among the redeemed in heaven, for the burden of their song is, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain." There, moreover, was temporary seclusion from the toil and turmoil of earth, from the business and bustle of the world, from the sorrows and sufferings of this mortal life and strife. There, too, was enjoyment of the unclouded sunshine and untroubled rest of heaven. There was a ravishing foretaste of the joys of heaven. No wonder, then, that Peter proposed to perpetuate the happiness, continue the enjoyment, and carry on the fellowship, erecting tabernacles and dwelling on the mount. But, on the other hand, there was something selfish, if not exclusive, in the proposal, for he was leaving behind his friends and fellow-worshippers on the plain below; he was speaking in forgetfulness of the bodies of the saints that slept; he was acting unreasonably in requiring Moses to forsake the Divine presence, after the uninterrupted enjoyment thereof during fifteen centuries, for a tent-like dwelling, and Elijah to forget the car of fire in which he had gone up, and now abide below; he was strangely overlooking the recent subject of discourse with which Moses and Elijah had been so occupied—the decease that was to be accomplished, the death to be endured, the redemption to be effected, the sacrifice to be offered, and the salvation to be procured. In entire obliviousness of, or indifference to, all this, his proposal was to forestall the future and have a present heaven upon earth. In momentary rapture he forgot he was still in a scene of pilgrimage and in a state of sojourn; he forgot he was a stranger in a strange land, which was neither his rest nor his home, and where no abiding city is to be found. He forgot that the Christian's life is a journey; and what traveler can reach his destination without the toil of travelling? He forgot life is a race; and where is the racer who is rewarded without a struggle, and who, without running, yet obtains the prize? He forgot that life is a warfare, in which a fight, a hard fight, is to be fought before the combat is ended and the conqueror crowned. It is only when we shall have fought the good fight, and finished our course, and kept the faith, that we may say with Paul, "Henceforth is laid up for me a crown of glory, which God, the righteous Judge, will give me at that day." But Peter wist not what (λαλήσῃ) he should speak: he wist not even what he (λέγει) actually does say so enraptured was he with delight, so carried out of himself by the extraordinary occurrence, and so bewildered with terror at the same time.
3. Due in part to sleep. Further, and finally, they had been "heavy with sleep," but either kept awake throughout it, or awoke after an interval, or rather started all at once into perfect wakefulness, now wide awake and fully alive to all that was seen or said. They had been asleep, wrapped perhaps in their abbas, according to Oriental fashion, on the ground, when the celestial light, bursting upon them, roused them thoroughly so as to witness all that transpired.
4. Miscellaneous remarks.
(1) The disciples thought this was the predicted coming of Elijah, but our Lord corrects their mistake, and tells them he had already come in the person of John the Baptist; and as the prediction relating to John has been fulfilled, a fortiori will the prediction of Messiah's sufferings be fulfilled. Thus the seemingly awkward clause, "and how it is written of the Son of man," is best explained (a) as a parenthetic exposition of the preceding clause, and an a fortiori confirmation of the succeeding one. There is, however, (b) another explanation which takes "how" as directly interrogatory; thus, "But how is it written of the Son of man? that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought;" so that, after the coming of Elijah had been stated, the object of Messiah's coming is specified by way of question and answer: "For what purpose is it written that Messiah cometh?" In order that he may come to suffer as a malefactor, not to conquer as a warrior.
(2) The apostles were sorely puzzled about "the rising from the dead." This does not refer to the general doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, which must have been known to them and believed by them; but they regarded that resurrection as far off, and understood, and rightly understood, our Lord to speak of a resurrection near at hand, affecting himself in some mysterious way which they did not then comprehend, and which they were only convinced of by that wondrous event itself when it actually occurred.
(3) The conversation before and the miracle after it he Transfiguration are equally recorded by all three synoptists. In the narrative the prostration through fear is peculiar to St. Matthew; the subject of conversation to St. Luke, as we have seen; while the sudden departure of the heavenly visitants, and the perplexed questioning about the rising from the dead, are only related by St. Mark.
(4) His teaching henceforth turned towards the cross; while his miracles between this and his passion were confined to five.—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 17:14-21; Luke 9:37-43
Healing of a demoniac youth, after the disciples' failure.
I. S TRIKING CONTRAST. We can scarcely imagine a greater contrast than that which is here presented between the scene on the mountain and that in the plain below—the tranquillity of the one, the tumult of the other; the calm repose of the one, the unrest of the other; the blessedness of the one, the distress of the other; the gladness of the one, the sadness of the other; the glory of the one, the gloominess of the other; the heavenly quietude of the one, the unseemly wrangling of the other; the happiness of the one, the misery of the other; the ecstatic rapture of the one, the excruciating pain of the other; the confidence and comfort of the one, the disputatious unbelief of the other. The contrast was just that which we can conceive to exist between the holiness of heaven and the sinfulness of earth. The contrast is transferred to the canvas and made visible and palpable in the great picture of "The Transfiguration," by Raphael.
II. DESCRIPTION OF THE ILLNESS. This illness may be distributed into three elements—the supernatural, the natural so called, and the periodical. By the supernatural we understand the demoniac possession. This poor boy was under the influence of a foul and fiendish spirit that made him deaf and dumb. The natural element, if natural may be applied in any sense to a state that is abnormal and unnatural because the result of sin, consists in the fearful manifestations, consisting of epileptic fits, madness, convulsions, grinding the teeth, foaming at the mouth, and pining away. The periodical element is the fitful paroxysms, the crises of which were synchronous with the changes of the moon, so that "demoniac "and "lunatic" were both applied, and properly applied, to this peculiar case.
III. A DOUBLE PERSONALITY. The change of subject with respect to the verbs used in this description brings into view a startling fact and exhibits a strange complication. Two personalities, or two personal agencies, are here combined, and the union between them is so close and complete that the transition from the one to the other is as singular as sudden. Thus the first two verbs descriptive of the sad condition of this wretched sufferer have for their subject, though not directly expressed, yet distinctly implied, the demon. He it is of whom the poor father of the unhappy boy says "Wheresoever it taketh him"—or, more literally, wheresoever it seizeth (καταλάβῃ) him—"it teareth, or dasheth down, or breaketh (ῥήσσει) him." This is very graphic, and as terrible as graphic. The demon so convulsed the lad as if he would dislocate the entire frame or dismember his whole body, breaking limb from limb. But the remaining verbs in the description, as it passes rapidly from the agent to the sufferer, require a different subject; for it is only the boy of whom it can be said, "He foameth," "grindeth his teeth," "becomes parched" (ξηραίνεται), or" pines away." The same curious commingling of terms—some applicable to the demon, and others the possessed to occurs in describing the paroxysm which came on when the lad was brought into our Lord's presence. In the expression, "when he saw him," the participle is used, and is in the masculine gender, so that it appears to refer to the boy, and if so, it must be used absolutely; but if it apply to the unclean spirit, the word πνεῦμα, spirit, is neuter, and thus it must be constructed ad sensum, and indicate the personality of that spirit; in either ease, there is an irregularity of construction arising from this unusual blending of personal agencies. Further, when the demoniac or the demon saw Jesus, the demon or unclean spirit grievously tore (ἐσπάραξεν, from σπάω, whence spasm, and signifying "to pall to pieces," not the same verb as that used in Luke 9:18) or convulsed the poor demoniac; while he fell on the earth and wallowed (akin to the Latin volvo), that is, rolled himself (κυλίω equivalent to κυλίνδω, used of rolling in the dust, in token of grief), foaming.
IV. THE ARRIVAL OF JESUS ON THE SCENE. Soon as the crowd saw him, they were quite amazed—perfectly astounded, the prepositional element in the compound verb implying the greatness of their astonishment. But what caused their excessive amazement? It might be
(1) the suddenness of the appearance of one whom they had been looking for in vain; but now that they had ceased to expect him, all at once, to their surprise, he is seen approaching; or
(2) it is concluded by some, on rather slender grounds, that the term used does not denote mere surprise, much less joyful surprise, at the sudden and unexpected appearance of the Savior, but rather a degree of alarm or perplexity on account of expressions to which utterance had been given in the dispute between the disciples and the scribes in our Lord's absence, and in reference to his power of casting out devils. There is much more probability
(3) in the opinion that the astonishment was occasioned by some remnant of the heavenly radiance still beaming on and brightening his countenance. This view is strongly supported by the analogous case of Moses, of whom we read that, on his descent from Mount Sinai, "the skin of his face shone," so that Aaron and the children of Israel "were afraid to come nigh him." If this explanation be accepted, there is in the two cases a similarity and a dissimilarity: the brightness of Moses' face made the onlookers afraid, and deterred them from approaching him; the heavenly splendor that still lingered on the countenance of the Savior affected the spectators in the very opposite way, attracting them to him. Accordingly, while some waited for his approach, as appears from St. Matthew's account, which speaks of his coming to the multitude, others, detaching themselves from the crowd, sallied forth to meet him, running to him, as we learn here from St. Mark; while St, Luke informs us that on his coming down from the hill much people met him. The accounts of St. Matthew and St. Luke are thus harmonized by St. Mark's statement, from which we rightly conclude that part of the crowd went to meet him, and part waited where they were for his approach. Their salutation, including, as we think, welcome and friendly greeting, if not from the scribes, at least from the rest of the crowd, is opposed to the notion of perplexity or alarm referred to in (2). Our Lord's popularity with the multitude had not yet suffered any diminution, nor begun to wane. He finds on his arrival that a somewhat keen discussion had been going on between two parties very unequally matched—the scribes, with their general learning and special Biblical lore, on the one hand, and his disciples, illiterate and imperfectly enlightened, on the other. The surrounding crowd, divided, most likely, in sentiment, and acting as partisans—some favoring the disciples and some the scribes—expressed approbation and disapprobation accordingly. The subject of disputation may be readily inferred from the sequel. Meantime our Lord asks the scribes with authority, "What question ye with [rather at, or against (πρὸς)] them?" or, better perhaps," Why question ye with them?" What proper ground is there for such acrimonious questioning? What sufficient reason can be shown for it? But another reading, having the reflexive pronoun, is represented by the margin—"among yourselves," or "with one another;" in which case both scribes and disciples are addressed in common.
V. APPLICATION OF THE DEMONIAC'S FATHER. To our Lord's interrogatory, one of the multitude, or rather one out of (ἐκ) the multitude, stepping forward, volunteers an answer. He felt that his child's misfortune had given occasion to the altercation, in which the disputants had waxed warm, if not angry, and that it devolved of right on him to make the requisite explanation. Another and a more urgent reason calling for his interference was his paternal solicitude. "I brought [ἤνεγκα. He aorist] some short time ago my son to thee;" such had been his intention, as he had not been aware of the Savior's absence. "I spake to thy disciples, in thy absence [ἵνα. denoting here the purport of what he said, as also the purpose for which it was said]. He that they should drive the demon from my son; but they could not;" while it must be observed that this verb is not an auxiliary, nor even a part of δύναμαι but a stronger term (ἴσχυσαν) which, preceded by the negative, means that they had not strength enough for such a difficult operation. After stating, in reply to a question of our Lord about the length of time the. suffering had lasted, that his son had been afflicted in this shocking manner from childhood, he went on to enumerate other aggravating circumstances of the affliction, to the effect that the demon often cast him into the fire and into the waters to destroy him. He then concluded with the remarkably earnest appeal, "If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us." The expression βοήθησον (from βοὴ. cry, and θέω, to run) is very significant, being equivalent to "hasten to our cry for help;" it is more than succor (from sub and curro, to run). He which means to run to one's aid; it is "run to our aid at our earnest, urgent cry for help." The compassion is taken for granted, being expressed by a participle; and it also is a very expressive word, denoting the yearning of the bowels or heart in tenderness and pity.
VI. THE SAVIOUR'S ANSWER. Our Lord utters a reproof on the ground of their want of faith. In that reproof he includes his own disciples, the scribes who had been in conflict with them, and the father of the afflicted boy—one and all comprehended in the "faithless generation" of that time. The failure of the apostles to drive out the demon had been a matter of humiliation to themselves, and of exultation to those hostile scribes, who had, no doubt, made the most of this case of unsuccess; and that failure had been owing in part to weakness, if not want, of faith. The scribes all along had acted the part of obstinately incredulous sceptics. The distressed father, earnest as he was, and eloquent as he was in his appeal, betrayed much weakness of faith, saying, "If at all thou canst—if in any way thou canst," or "if thou canst do anything." This refers the matter of cure to the power of Christ; the leper resolved the cure in his case into the will of Christ, "If thou wilt, thou canst." How prone we are to circumscribe the Savior by our own narrow conditions! and yet he shows us demonstratively that he is above and independent of all such limitations. He proved to the leper his possession of the will, and to the demoniac's father his possession of the power; and to us, through both, his ability as well as willingness to do to us and in us and for us "exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think." The limitations are all on one side—all on our side, and are owing to the weakness of our frail and naturally faithless humanity. The possession in the present instance had been from childhood. The distress was thus of comparatively long standing; it had become chronic; it was an apparently hopeless case. It had defied the power of the disciples, and baffled their utmost skill and strength. While this failure had lowered them in the estimation of the crowd, and left them at the mercy of the biting taunts of the sarcastic scribes, it at the same time lessened still more the faith of the unhappy parent. The cure, therefore, which our Lord effected in this seemingly hopeless, certainly desperate case, holds forth encouragement to the weakest and the worst—those morally so—to apply to him.
VII. HIS APPLIANCE. The first direction is, "Bring him unto me:" you have tried the power of my disciples; I now invite you to try mine. You have been disappointed by their failure; but I will remedy that failure by my favor to thee and thine. You have been disheartened—too much disheartened; I now bid you take heart of hope. His next step was to secure the confidence and strengthen the faith of the father; and for this purpose he employs his own words and
(1) according to the common reading he said to him the (τὸ) saying, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to [or possible to be done for] him that believeth." But
(2) the word πιστεῦσαι is omitted in three or more of the oldest uncials, in several versions, by the critical editors Tregelles and Tischendorf, and by Meyer and some commentators; and with this omission the sentence reads, "Jesus said unto him, As for thy If thou canst, all things are possible to him that believeth." And
(3) some, putting the acute on the antepenult πίστευσαι. He take it to be imperative aorist middle, and translate, "Believe what you expressed by your If thou canst, all things are possible to him that believeth." Again,
(4) others take it interrogatively," The If thou canst? or What? If thou canst? " so that the sense is as if he asked, "Is this what you say?" or, "Do you really mean this?" The man's own words were thus thrown back on him, and by this judicious retort he is brought to understand that faith in the Savior's power and propitiousness is a prerequisite for the bestowal of the boon he sought; he is also brought to feel that the hand of faith must likewise be outstretched for the reception of spiritual benefits and blessings; at the same time he is made conscious of the great deficiency—the entire inadequacy of his faith for the attainment of the favor he is so anxious to obtain. Suspending his petition on behalf of his son, but resuming his request with the same term and now in his own interest, he called aloud, with eyes brimful of tears—if this reading (μετὰ δακρύων) is accepted, at all events—affectingly and touchingly, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." He affirms the possession of belief, but that belief is so weak as to be scarcely worthy of the name; that he has some faith, but that faith is small, exceeding small, like a grain of mustard seed. Persuaded that his faith is too insignificant to satisfy the condition, he prays
(1) for its increase; in other words, he seeks to be helped against his unbelief. Another interpretation, though advocated by some good and great men, to the effect,
(2) "Help me, notwithstanding the weakness of my faith," has but little, we think, to commend it to favor and acceptance. Now at length all is ready for the beneficent operation; the people are running together to the place, or running together yet more (ἐπὶ. He denoting intensity or addition). He when our Lord addressed the unclean spirit in terms of stern rebuke, and words of unmistakable authority, saying, "I" [ἐγώ expressed, and so emphatic and distinctive]—I, thy Master; I, whose authority you cannot evade; I, whose word of command you dare not disobey; I, not my disciples, who were nonplussed by the strange and sudden outburst of thy fiendish malignity; I order thee to come out of him at once, and never again to enter into him.
VIII. THE COMPLETENESS OF THE CURE. The command to "enter no more into him" may be attributed to the weakness of the father's faith—to assure him there would be no relapse, to convince him there would be no return of the paroxysm; it may also be owing in part to the malignant obstinacy of the foul fiend, who now, after crying aloud, and after convulsing the poor boy's whole frame with a horrible spasm, came out of him, leaving him all but dead, so that the many said he was dead. The great primary act of expelling the demon had been accomplished, but the effect of his long dominion over the lad, and the shock to his system at departure, left him so thoroughly exhausted and prostrate that a second miracle was required to supplement the first. In consequence, our Lord seized him by the hand, or seized his hand, and lifted him up, so that he stood upon his feet well and sound and strong, as though the whole had been but the memory of a troubled dream. An explanation was subsequently given to the disciples touching their inability in the present case, and their want of success in the exercise of a gift which had been bestowed, and which had been most probably effectual in other instances. The explanation appears to have respect to the character of the demon, and the conduct of the apostles themselves. First, there is mention of "this kind," by which some understand
(1) the race of demons in general—"the race of all demons," according to Euthymius; others limit the expression to
(2) a special kind of spirits, peculiarly obstinate and stiffnecked, and consequently more difficult to be driven out; while a recent authority on the subject suggests that the reference is to
(3) a class of demons which manifested their presence by unexpectedly sudden and frightfully severe outbreaks, and for the expulsion of which the exorcist or physician operating required uncommon presence of mind and strength of nerve, as well as vigorous exercise of faith. But, waiving a discussion of this doubtful kind, and merely expressing our preference for the second of the opinions stated, we may notice briefly a strange term employed here, namely, go out (ἐξελθεῖν). If the statement in which this word is used is to be interpreted literally, the meaning appears to be that demons of this kind could not go out, even if they would, of the persons possessed by any other means or in any other way than in the use or by the exercise of prayer and fasting. If this be the real, as it is the literal meaning, it is a circumstance of a strange, inscrutable kind; and, among matters more or less mysterious, it is not the least so. We may, however, give to the words a freer interpretation and take them in the more ordinary sense, that this kind can be expelled by nothing but by prayer and fasting. The conduct of the apostles themselves had most to do with their powerlessness to cast out the demon in this instance. They had received the requisite power, as we read in Mark 6:7 that, in sending them forth by two and two, he "gave them power over unclean spirits;" but they had neglected the discipline indispensable to the efficient and successful employment of that rower. Two circumstances in close connection with this neglect are assigned as the cause of failure—weakness of faith is mentioned by St. Matthew, and neglect of prayer is hinted by St. Mark. We may regard them as standing together in the relation of two joint causes, or rather as cause and effect in relation to this matter—neglect of prayer being the former, and debility of faith the latter.
1. We learn the important duty of parental solicitude for the spiritual as well as, or rather more than, for the bodily, well-being of their offspring. In the case of the Syro-phoenician woman we saw how she identified herself with her afflicted daughter, saying, "Lord, help me!" Here likewise the father of the demoniac makes common cause with his child, in the words, "Have compassion on us, and help us!" Especially should we travail, as in birth, till Christ is formed in their heart, and till by grace they are enabled to renounce the devil and all his works.
2. Great importance attaches to the element of time. The demon got possession early of this sorely distressed boy, and the demoniac power seems to have grown with the child's growth, and to have strengthened with his strength, so that dispossession had become next to an impossibility. The apostles were not competent to the task, and when our Lord, in the exercise of his almighty power, expelled him, it was only after he had made horrid havoc of the lad's system, frightfully convulsing him and leaving him half-dead. So, if Satan unhappily gain the ascendant in a young heart, he will do his best to blight the whole life; he will hold his dominion with tenacity, and, if possible, to the end; he will seat himself firmly on the throne of the affections, and exercise a despot's sway; his dethronement will be attended with the greatest difficulty; and if, by Divine mercy, his power is at last overthrown, it will cost pain of body, distress of mind, and grief of heart. Oh, how careful young persons should be to guard against the solicitations of the evil one, and to resist his power! How determined not to yield to his temptations, and to vanquish youthful lusts that war against the soul! How resolved, by the aid of Divine strength, to keep him out, remembering how difficult it is to get him out once he has gained an entrance, and especially if he has gained it early!
3. Every gift that God bestows should be diligently cultivated, and husbanded with care. The power bestowed on the apostles was, as we have seen, lost through their own remissness. Faith required to be kept in healthy exercise and active vigor; devotion and self-denial were required for its maintenance. The neglect or undue performance of these left them weak before the power of the evil one, and caused them to be humiliated in the presence of their enemies. Thus it was with the apostles and miraculous gifts. How much more is such likely to be the case with ordinary persons in the exercise of ordinary gifts! We greatly need to use all the means that tend to strengthen faith; above all, we must pray earnestly, in the beautiful words suggested by this passage "Lord, increase our faith;" avoiding at the same time any and every indulgence that might weaken faith or slacken prayer.
"Restraining prayer we cease to fight;
Prayer keeps the Christian's armor bright;
And Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees."
4. This passage cannot legitimately apply to any attempt at working miracles in the present day. The age of miracles is past. The power thus possessed by the apostles was not to continue, and needed not to continue, after the great purpose for which miracles had been bestowed had been attained. Faith and prayer and fasting cannot of themselves confer the power; they were needed to sustain it only where it had been bestowed; they were required for its successful exercise where it did exist.
5. The greatness of the believer's privilege is immense, yet not without certain well-defined limits, "All things are possible to him that believeth:" this appears to comprise at once omnipotence in action and universality in possession. To the former we have the parallel statement of St. Paul, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me;" or rather, "in (ἐν) Christ that giveth me inward strength (ἐνδυναμοῦνται);" and thus the strength as to its source is obtainable by virtue of living and lively union with Christ, while as to its nature it is spiritual. But the reference is rather to what it is possible for us to get than to do; and so all things are ours, for "we are Christ's, and Christ is God's." There are here two limitations which, though not expressed, must be implied:
(1) The first limitation restricts the "all things" to things truly beneficial—beneficial spiritually as well as temporally, beneficial for eternity rather than for the brief relations of time; they are such things as are thus of real benefit, when regard is had to the believer's condition and present position.
(2) The second limitation has respect to the circumstances of others, that is to say, of those with whom we come into close contact, or with whom we have to do and deal in the affairs of life. All things are thus possible to be attained by the believer, as far as they are consistent with his real benefit, and compatible at the same time with his relations in the widest sense—relations to his Father in heaven and to his fellow-man on earth. Such is the potentiality of faith—it extends to all things; such, too, is its practicability, excepting only such things as, at the present or in the long run, do not comport with his own personal good, as also with his relation to God, whose glory is paramount, and to his fellow-man, whose good, as well as our own, we are in duty bound to seek.—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 17:22, Matthew 17:23; Luke 9:43-45.
Prediction of his passion.
I. SECRECY. "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven." Every man has a work to do, and a time allowed him to do it in. Every man, moreover, is immortal till that work is done, and God's will with him accomplished. In like manner there was a time allotted for our Lord's mission on earth. There was a time fixed for his ministry of mercy to man. When the fullness of the time was come, he made his descent into our world; when the work he came to do was done, and when the proper period again arrived, he took his departure from our world. The appointed interval of his sojourn on earth no enemy could shorten by one day, no power could abridge it by a single hour; nothing could interfere with it, so long as "his hour was not yet come." Yet, notwithstanding this, our Lord never neglected the use of such means as were proper for the prolongation of his stay on earth till his great work should be performed, and the destined period completed. Accordingly, we find him at one time returning to Galilee, and "walking no more in Jewry, because Jews sought to kill him." Afterward, when Herod's attention had been directed to him, and his abode even in Galilee had thus become somewhat insecure, we find him withdrawing to the more remote and less populous districts of that province. We are, moreover, informed that subsequently he had gone yet further from contact with his enemies, passing beyond Galilee into the Phoenician territory. This he did in order, it would seem, to escape observation, for while there he "entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid." This course our Lord pursued for various reasons. While each particular occasion on which he courted privacy had its own specific reason, we can state in general the motives that seem to have influenced him in this direction. As already intimated, he avoided such publicity as would bring him into hostile conflict with his enemies, so as to precipitate the crisis, and hasten his death, before the proper and purposed period. Again he sought seclusion, now for required rest, oftener for more time and better opportunity of instructing his apostles for their future work and important mission. But while our Lord thus sought seclusion to prevent any interference either with the space of his ministry or with the plan of instructing his apostles, there was another eventuality which he carefully avoided, namely, any attempt on the part of the people to make him a king; as, after the miracle of feeding the five thousand, we read that, "when Jesus perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone." This was no very improbable contingency. In a moment of excitement, under the influence of enthusiasm, yielding to the impulse of popular feeling, they might attempt to place him at the head of a rebellion, if not a revolution, against existing authorities, and try to restore to Israel the temporal kingdom which Israel so ardently, though mistakenly, sought. This would have been a result greatly to be deprecated. It would have left a stigma on the Savior's name, and caused a suspicion about his design, both of which would have been most detrimental to the interests of that spiritual kingdom—the kingdom "not of this world," which he came to set up. Accordingly, we find that when he had restored the deaf mute, he charged them that "they should tell no man." Again, when he cured the blind man at Bethsaida, he sent him away to his house, saying, "Neither go into the town, nor tell it to any in the town "—any townsmen he might chance to meet on his way home. Also, after the Transfiguration, "he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead." And now that they passed along (παρεπορεύοντο) through Galilee, "he would not that any man should know it." Even an apparent exception is easily accounted for: nor is there any real discrepancy between the injunction he laid on them after the restoration of the deaf mute (Luke 7:1-50.). He to "tell no man," and the direction he gave the demoniac (Luke 5:1-39.). He to "go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee." No doubt it was the same district of Decapolis where both commands were given: but on the latter occasion our Lord was about to leave the district in question, so that there was no risk of his ministry being obstructed by the matter being blazoned abroad; on the former occasion he was going to tarry for a time in the same region, and hence he resorts to the precaution necessary under circumstances which were thus quite different.
II. HE FORETELLS HIS DEATH. There were three great epochs in our Lord's ministry. The first was that of miracles, by which he attested the divinity of his mission; the second was that of parables, by which he developed the nature of his kingdom; and the third was that of suffering, by which he made satisfaction for the sins of his people. The miracles began with that at Cana; the parables, properly so called, began somewhere about the commencement of the last year of the Savior's work and ministry. Though his parabolic teaching began at this period to assume a more formal shape, he had all along employed on certain occasions parabolic utterances of a briefer sort. Thus, for example, in the sermon on the mount the agreement with one's adversary there recommended is of the nature of parable; the similitude of the wise and foolish builders, with which that sermon closes, is still more distinctly parabolic; while subsequently, and before the beginning of his regular method of strictly parabolic instruction, we find such proverbial or brief parabolic representations as that of the new patch and the old garment, and that of the new wine and the old bottles, Besides that of the creditor and the two debtors. Still, from the period indicated, his teaching by parables became more frequent and methodical The reasons of our Lord's adopting this method are such as the following:—
1. The harmony existing between the kingdom of nature and that of grace, and the similarity in their laws of development.
2. The adaptation to our nature of the historical element, real or ideal, contained in them.
3. The amount of truth communicable in this way to the dull apprehension of the disciples.
4. Their helpfulness to memory by linking the spiritual truth to some familiar natural object, the frequent occurrence of the latter always suggesting the former; and:
5. A judicial Veiling of the truth because of past dulness and indifference. The constant theme of his teaching henceforth consists of his sufferings and death, as is implied in the imperfect tense (ἐδίδασκε. He "he kept teaching") here used.
III. PREVIOUS INTIMITATIONS ON THE SUBJECT. The previous intimations had been obscure. There had been the intimation of the Baptist when he pointed the Savior out as "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). He and in the repetition of part of the same at Luke 9:36. He had himself given several figurative intimations of it, as when he spake of his death by violence, and his resurrection in three days under the similitude of the demolition and rebuilding of a temple. "Destroy," he said, "this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." This had occurred at the celebration of the first Passover after the commencement of his public ministry. Again, in his discourse with Nicodemus, he represented his crucifixion as an uplifting, and its beneficial effects by a comparison with Moses' lifting up the serpent in the wilderness, when the bitten Israelite looked and lived. Another intimation of his death, and the first allusion to that event recorded in this Gospel. He is the removal of the bridegroom, of which he said, "The days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them" (Mark 2:20; Matthew 9:15). Also, after the feeding of the five thousand, in the synagogue of Capernaum he made a reference to it in the words, "The bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." But the first clear and distinct declaration is that of the preceding chapter (Luke 8:1-56.) He when "he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again."
IV. SIMILAR DECLARATIONS IN THE PRESENT AND SUBSEQUENT CHAPTERS. The first public, or at least the first direct and unreserved announcement of his sufferings, death, and resurrection, was made, as recorded in the preceding chapter, after the disciples had been convinced of, and Peter had confessed, his Messiahship, saying, "Thou art the Christ." On that occasion we learn from the fuller report of St. Matthew that our Lord warmly commended Peter's confession, but soon after, as both St. Matthew and St. Mark inform us, found cause to condemn his indiscreet and unwelcome rebuke. The commendation is contained in the words, "I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church." The latter clause of the promise just cited has, as is well known, excited no little controversy, and called forth a variety of interpretations.
1. Augustine will have it that the rock on which the Church is built, according to the Savior's promise, is Christ himself.
2. Chrysostom maintains that the confession of faith in Christ, that Peter had just given utterance to, is the rock on which the Church is based. We admit the show of reason and the plausibility with which both opinions have been expressed and enforced; still we cannot concur in either. Chrysostom's explanation is chargeable with overlooking the context. So to some extent, though less so, is that of Augustine; but the latter rests, besides, on a very doubtful distinction between two words which are frequently used in classical writers as interchangeable. According to this interpreter its import would be, "Thou art Peter (πέτρος) a small stone; but I am Christ, a strong Rock (πέτρα). He and on this Rock, that is, myself, I will build my Church." In the Aramaic there is one word (Kipho) for Peter and for rock, just as in French there is one word for both—Pierre, Peter, a man's name, and pierre, a stone or rock. But in Greek there are the two words already mentioned, viz. πέτρος and πέτρα. He so that in this play upon the word there is a slight variation in the Greek, without, however, real difference of meaning. Even admitting the distinction between the two words, which has been questioned, if not entirely disproved, the explanation is evidently forced. We require to look more closely at the context as furnished by the eighteenth verse itself, and by the sixteenth. As recorded in the latter, Peter's answer was, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Our Lord, after expressing approval of Peter's reply, and assuring him that the truth contained in it was the outcome, not of human discovery, but of Divine revelation, takes occasion to state another and no less important truth, and that in a form accommodated to the statement of Peter, "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter [πέτρος. He a rock], and upon this rock (πέτρα) I will build my Church;" that is to say,—You have made a good and true confession in acknowledging my Messiahship and divinity; I also, in my turn, will confess what I have in store for you in connection with my Church.
3. Your name is significant—it means a rock; and according to your name will be the nature of your work. With the foundation of the Church you will have much to do. On your preaching of the faith which you have just professed its foundation shall be laid. Similarly, elsewhere we read that the Church is "built on the foundation of apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief Corner-stone;" whereas apostles and prophets are only the foundation in so far as they themselves, knit together with and cemented to Christ, lay the foundation by their exhibition of Christ and declaration of the truth concerning Christ. It is as though our Lord had said to Peter, Among Jews and Gentiles your work is appointed you. Among the Jews on the day of Pentecost your proclamation of the selfsame faith, which you have just confessed, will lay the foundation of the Christian Church; while to Cornelius the same gospel preached by you will inaugurate a similar blessed result among the Gentiles, introducing the first-fruits of the Gentile world into the Church. Still more, to the united Church of the believing Jew and converted Gentile I shall promise and provide security from all the devices of the most wily, and all the assaults of the most Satanic, foes.
V. WHY IS THIS COMMENDATION OMITTED BY ST. MARK? It has often been remarked that many things redounding solely to the honor of St. Peter are omitted by St. Mark; while at the same time his infirmities are fully and faithfully recorded by the same evangelist, extenuating circumstances being less noticed by this evangelist than by the other synoptists. An example of this is furnished in the case before us. The blessing pronounced on him because of this noble and brave confession of the Christ, the Divine origin of his knowledge and faith, the promise just considered, and the further promise of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, are all omitted by St. Mark. But the rebuke to which he soon after subjected himself is carefully recorded. Many instances of both kinds occur. This is one of those incidental circumstances that go far to confirm the voice of history in regard to the relation in which St. Peter stood to St. Mark and his Gospel, namely, that the latter penned his Gospel, as disciple and by the dictation, to soma extent, of the former. If so, and we think it extremely probable, we have proof herein of the veracity of the one and the humility of the other.
VI. REPETITION OF THE PREDICTION. Reverting to the subject of the Savior's sufferings, so plainly announced in the eighth chapter, we have a repetition of a similar announcement in this ninth chapter, and another, again, in nearly the same terms in the tenth chapter. These repeated as well as direct and unreserved declarations on this subject—a subject so distasteful and saddening to his disciples—show their unwillingness to associate the idea of death with the Messiah, their tenacity in clinging to a temporal king and worldly kingdom, their slowness and lothness to apprehend or accept the notion of a spiritual, unworldly kingdom. The idea of a suffering Messiah has, therefore, to be dinned into their ears and impressed on their hearts by frequent and earnest reiterations. Nor has this subject lost aught of its importance or interest even for ourselves and at the present day; while the faithful inculcation of it is as much a duty and a necessity now as when our Lord in person urged it so solemnly and so often on the mind and heart of his sorrowing disciples. Though the cross was a stumbling-block to the Jews, and foolishness to the Greeks, it is still the power of God, and the wisdom of God, to the salvation of every believer. The way to the crown is still by, and only by, the cross; humiliation precedes glorification. The preacher of the gospel cannot dwell too frequently or too earnestly on a theme that bulked so largely in the sight of the Savior himself. The doctrine of Christ's suffering for us to put away our sins—suffering, "the just for the unjust, to bring us to God"—cannot be too much insisted on; neither can we be too often instructed in the duty of giving ourselves fully, freely, and for ever to him "who loved us and gave himself for us." If, moreover, Christ was "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross," in all its shame and with all its pain, it surely behoves us, in daily, holy obedience, to take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow him.—J.J.G.
Parallel passage: Matthew 17:24-27.
The tribute money.
I. ANOTHER OMISSION. In the first line of the thirty-third verse we approach the subject of the tribute money; but in St. Mark's narrative we only approach it, and that in the state-merit, "he came to Capernaum;" but in the parallel section of St. Matthew we read of the demand for the tribute money, of Peter being commissioned to procure it from "the fish that first cometh up," of the exemption Jesus might have claimed but waived, and the reason of his doing so. Here, again, St. Mark omits the part of the narrative which relates to the honor conferred on Peter by our Lord, when he commissioned him to work the miracle by which the tribute money was procured from the fish's mouth. But, though St. Mark omits this portion of the recital, the preceding and succeeding portions are coincident with those of St. Matthew. The peculiar relation of the apostle to the evangelist, already considered, can alone account for the omission.
II. GROUND OF LEGITIMATE EXEMPTION, In Matthew 17:24, Matthew 17:25, we read, "When they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your Master pay tribute?" Then at the last clause of the twenty-fifth verse, our Lord asked Peter, "What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?" A slight amount of archaeological knowledge makes this plain. The word "tribute" in the twenty-fourth verse is τὰ δίδραχμα; the word "tribute" in the twenty-fifth is κῆνσον; while "custom," a word of kindred meaning, is τέλη. Also in the twenty-seventh verse, the word στατὴρ. He or "shekel," rendered "piece of money" in the English version, occurs. The starer, or shekel, equivalent to two shillings and sixpence of our currency, was the exact amount of tax payable by two. Now, there is a very wide and important distinction: between these terms, and a distinction necessary to be kept in view for the right understanding of the passage. For
(1) the δίδραχμα were equal in value to the Jewish half-shekel, or some fifteenpence of our money, and may be called a sacred tribute or annual contribution paid by every male among the Jews, from twenty years of age and upwards, for the support of the temple at Jerusalem—to defray the general expenses, to provide the sacrifices and other things required for the service. The persons who collected it were not the civil tax-gatherers, called publicani, or rather portitores; nor, indeed, was the tax a civil one at all, but a sacred one. From overlooking this fact, the point of the argument is liable to be missed, as it actually has been by several of the Fathers. It is briefly, though correctly, developed by Alford, in the following sentence:—"If the sons are free, then on me, being the Son of God, has this tax no claim." It requires, however, to be somewhat more fully and plainly exhibited. In order to set the matter in a clear light, we premise
(2) that the κῆνσος. He for which St. Luke employs the classical Greek term φόρος. He was a poll or capitation tax, like the Roman tributum; while by τέλη are to be understood the toll or customs' duties, which are identical with the vectigal of the Romans. Further, let it be borne in mind that Peter's confession of faith that Jesus was "the Christ, the Son of the living God," had been made, being recorded in the sixteenth chapter, and so had preceded the present conversation. Our Lord now argues from analogy that he was entitled to, and might fairly claim, exemption. In doing so, he asks Peter this question, "What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own sons, or of strangers?" It is here admitted by implication that civil rulers have a right to impose taxes for the support of civil government, but that, in exercising this right, they impose taxes on the other members of the state, not on the members of their own household. When king levy taxes, or have them levied in the ordinary constitutional way, they impose them on their subjects, not on their sons. Peter had confessed Jesus to be the Son of God; the tax demanded was for the support of God's house; according to the principle of action among earthly kings, God, the great King of heaven and of earth, while requiring contributions for the maintenance of his service from his subjects, would exempt his own Son, for, from his position of Sonship, which the apostle had recently acknowledged, and from the principle of taxation in which he had just acquiesced, it was necessarily inferred, "then are the sons free." Not as a mere member of the Hebrew race, or as an ordinary Jew, but from his dignity as the Son of God, in the highest and most exalted sense, our Lord might have claimed exemption from the tax in question. This was the gist of his reasoning: but he waived his right; and proceeds to explain to Peter the ground on which he foregoes his privilege, saying, "Lest we should offend them," or more plainly in the Revised Version, "Lest we cause them to stumble;" in other words, lest he and his disciples should be regarded as indifferent to, or be charged with, neglect of the house of God and the maintenance of its service.—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 18:1-5; Luke 9:46-48.
The lesson of humility.
The exquisite lesson of humility taught in the remainder of this section may be appropriately taken up in connection with the section of next chapter, where the lovely comparison of childhood is again employed.—J.J.G.
Parallel passage: Luke 9:49, Luke 9:50.
Rebuke of sectarian narrowness.
I. THE KEY-NOTE OF THE PASSAGE. The sentence which appears to furnish the key to the understanding of this instructive and interesting passage is contained in the following short sentence:—" He that is not against us is on our part," or, as it stands yet more concisely in St. Luke, "He that is not against us is for us."
II. A seeming contradiction. The statement just quoted from the Gospel of St. Luke (Luke 9:50) appears to be at variance with another statement further on in the same Gospel, where, at the eleventh chapter and twenty-third verse, it is written, "He that is not with me is against me." The discrepancy, however, is only apparent. In order to perceive this, we must consider the occasions on which the words recorded were respectively spoken; for, as our Lord and his apostles usually adapted their language to the occasion, we shall thus best learn the design with which each of those sentiments was uttered. Accordingly, we learn that some one not consorting with Christ or his apostles was, nevertheless, casting out devils in the Savior's name, and that John forbade him. Our Lord sets John right in the matter by saying, "Forbid him not;" that is, do not interfere with any who may be attempting anything good in my name. And then he assigns the reason; for "he that is not against us is for us;" he who is not directly opposed to us is rather to be regarded as on our side; he who is not preventing our progress may be looked upon, at least negatively, as promoting it. Just as is intimated by the Apostle Paul on a certain occasion, even though envy and strife should be the impelling motive, if Christ is preached his cause is advanced, and "I therein do rejoice." So here we may fairly understand the words of the Master to mean—Whosoever this man may be, or whatever may be his object, he is weakening Satan's kingdom by casting out devils, and therefore, so far from being against me, he must be looked upon as an auxiliary in the great war against the great enemy of man. Besides, by such forbearance as I thus counsel, he may be drawn into closer and more effective co-operation against the common adversary. Such is the plain meaning of the passage before us. On the other hand, in the second passage, our Lord had been charged by the hostile, cavilling Pharisees with casting out devils by Beelzebub the prince of devils. This charge had called forth the rejoinder of our Lord, that "every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation." Such would be the case if Satan cast out Satan. The only reasonable alternative was that the Savior was casting out devils by the Spirit of God, and so the kingdom of God had come unto them. He follows up this reply by a warning against lukewarmness and an exhortation to decision, that the crisis had come when men must choose sides, that they must elect to take part with God or with Satan. Neutrality was impossible. In view of two kingdoms so opposed, there was no possibility of belonging to both; nay, there was no middle ground between loyalty and rebellion. If not on the side of the Savior, he must be on the side of Satan; if not a subject of the former, he must be a slave of the latter, and so an enemy to the cause of Christ: "He that is not with me is against me."
III. THE SAME SUBJECT VIEWED FROM A PRACTICAL STANDPOINT. The one text implies that men may take different roads to the same place, or reach the same point by different routes. This is true morally as well as geographically. It condemns the narrowness that refuses to tolerate want of uniformity, and commends forbearance towards all who in reality serve the same Master and seek the same object, viz. the glory of God, though their forms may be diverse, their modes of worship different, and even their creeds divergent in expression. The other text affirms that, in the natural and increasing conflict between good and evil, our hesitation to unite with the good is tantamount with adhesion to the evil. The one text does not insist on uniformity, the other inculcates unity. Again, conformity to the same standards is not an indispensable condition of Christianity, as we infer from the one text; but cordiality in embracing Christ and espousing his cause is of its very essence. We are taught by the one that there may be many folds, though there is but one flock; but by the other that, as there is but one Shepherd, union to him is indispensable to membership in his flock. Further, the one makes charity to others imperative, provided they have the same great end in view, however divergent the means adopted for its attainment; the other requires of us decision for ourselves in seeking that end.—J.J.G.
Parallel passage: Matthew 18:6-9.
Christ's love to his little ones, and offenses.
I. Love to the little ones. Christ's little ones are either young believers or weak believers. A kindness shown them is accepted by Christ as done to himself. Even a cup of cold water will be rewarded. However much they may be despised by men or neglected in the world, they are dear to God and near to the Savior's heart; while angels of highest rank are commissioned to guard them—even angels who are privileged to stand in the immediate presence of the great King; for "in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven." Angels of all grades have a twofold function—they worship and they minister; they worship in the heavenly sanctuary the Father everlasting (λειτοργικὰ). He they wait for ministry (εἰς διακονίαν) to man on earth. But those of most exalted dignity are the guardians of Christ's little ones.
II. CONSEQUENCES OF OFFENCES. The sin of offending one of these little ones is great in proportion to Christ's love to them. How careful men should be, and how cautious, not to put a stumbling-block in the way of these little ones! The sin of turning weak believers or young Christians aside from the truth, or from the faith, or from the path of purity, or a career of virtue, by evil advice or bad example, or by casting doubt on the Word of God, or by insinuating sceptical notions, or by mockery of Divine things, is a sin so great that a preferable alternative would be for the person guilty of it to have a millstone of large size, turned by an ass (ὀνικὸς). He lying around his neck, and himself cast into the sea. Such is the fearfully emphatic declaration of the guilt and danger of scandalizing or offending the youngest child that believes, or the weakest Christian.
III. OTHER OFFENCES. Our Lord passes by a common law of suggestion to speak of offenses by ourselves and against ourselves. The hand may offend by doing wrong, the foot may offend by going on what is wrong. But if the most serviceable member, as the hand, do amiss, or the most useful member, as the foot, walk astray, or the most precious member, as the eye, look with delight on objects sinful and forbidden, then there must be no hesitation in divesting ourselves of such rather than risk the fearful fate of those who are tormented in the Gehenna of fire, "where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched."
IV. SALTED WITH FIRE. This difficult expression is taken by some as a promise and by others as a punishment. In the former sense, fire is taken in the signification of purifying and preserving, and this twofold property it shares with salt. Salt preserves from putrefaction, fire purifies from corruption. The Sacrifice of old required to be offered with salt. According to the Law in Le Matthew 2:13, the meat offering was to be seasoned with salt, and salt was to be offered with all offerings. So, when we present ourselves living sacrifices to God, we may be purified by fiery trials; we may be called to pass through the fire of affliction, perhaps of persecution, certainly of self-denial. But thus purified by fire, like the sacrifice on the altar, salted with salt, we shall be saved. This gives a good sense, but does not suit the context. In the second sense, fire is taken to mean punishing and preserving. Six times does the evangelist represent unceasing torments by unquenchable fire; and as the salt applied to the sacrifice was the symbol of preservation, so fire here is symbolical of preservation, not, alas! from punishment, but for punishment, so that the undying worm and the unquenchable fire, instead of annihilating, preserve while they punish. Here is a fearful figure, and a terrible warning!
V. PEACE. They are exhorted to keep the salt of moral purity and covenant concord rather than have the salt of fiery punishment, and, as the effect and evidence thereof, to be at peace among themselves, and so avoid the strife for pre-eminence and the discord of ambition.—J.J.G.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Mark 9". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany