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In the last verse of the foregoing chapter we find how industriously our blessed Saviour withdrew himself from the concourse and throng of people which flocked after him from every quarter; and to show how little he affected the applause and commendation of the multitude, he left the cities and was without in desert places. Hereby giving his ministers an instructive example to decline vain-glory, and to shun popular applause. But now the words before us show that our Saviour having entered (privately, as is probable) into the city of Capernaum, it is presently, noised and reported that he was in the house, and a mighty concourse and throng of people are after him; insomuch that neither the house, nor hardly the streets, could contain them.
Thence learn, That such as least seek after honour and applause from men, are oft-times most famous and renowned. Our Saviour was so far from seeking the people's praise and commendation, that he came into Capernaum without observation, and betook himself to his dwelling-house there; but the more he sought to lie hid, the more he was taken notice of.
Honour flies from them that pursue it, and pursues those that fly from it. The way to be honoured, is to be humble. God seldom honours a proud man, by making him either eminently serviceable or successful.
Observe farther, The people being come together, our Saviour takes the opportunity to preach; And he preached the word unto them. Teaching his ministers by his example, to embrace all opportunities, in season and out of season, on the Lord's day and on the week day, to edify our people by our ministry, by our public exhortations, by our private instructions, prudent admonitions, and holy examples.
Here we have the relation of our Saviour's miraculous healing of one sick of the palsy at Capernaum.
Where observe, 1. The diseased and distressed person; one sick of the palsy, which disease being a resolution and weakness of the nerves, enfeebles the joints, and confines the person to his bed or couch. As a demonstration of Christ's divine power, he was pleased to single out the palsy and leprosy, incurable diseases, to work a cure upon such as were afflicted with them.
Now this person was so great a cripple by reason of the palsy, that he was borne of four. He could not go, nor was capable of being led, but was carried by four in his bed or couch.
Observe, 2. As the grievousness of the disease, so the greatness of their faith. The man and his friends had a firm persuasion that Christ was clothed with a divine power, and able to help him, and they hoped in his goodness that he was also willing to help him. Accordingly, the roof of the Jewish houses being flat, they uncovered some part of it, and let the bed down with the sick man in it into the room where Christ was.
Observe, 3. No sooner did they exercise their faith in believing, but Christ exerts his divine power in healing. And see the marvellous efficacy of faith; it obtained not only what was desired, but more than was expected. They desired only the healing of the body, but Christ heals body and soul too. Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee.
Thereby our Saviour shows them, that sin is the original cause of all bodily diseases; and consequently, that in sickness, the best way to find ease and deliverance from pain, is first to seek for pardon. The sense of pardon in some degree will take away the sense of pain.
Observe, 4. The exception which the scribes took against our Saviour for pronouncing that this man's sins were forgiven him. They accuse him of the sin of blasphemy: urging, that it is God's peculiar prerogative to pardon sin. Their doctrine was true, but their application false. Nothing more true, than that it is the greatest degree of blasphemy for any mere man to arrogate to himself the incommunicable prerogative of God, which consists, in an absolute and authoritative power to forgive sin. But then their denying this power to Christ of forgiving sin, which he had as God from all eternity, and as Mediator, God and man in one person, when here upon earth; this was blasphemy in them; the challenging of it, none in him.
Observe, 5. Our Saviour gives these scribes a twofold demonstration of his Godhead,
(1.) By letting them understand that he knew their thoughts: Jesus perceiving in his spirit that they reasoned within themselves. To search the hearts, and to know the thoughts and reasonings of men, but the prerogative of God only.
(2.) By assuming to himself a power to forgive sin; for our Saviour here, by assuming to himself a power to forgive sins in his own name, and by his own authority, doth give the world an undeniable proof and convincing evidence of his Godhead. For who can forgive sins but God only?
Observe, 6. The effect of this miracle upon the minds of the people; they marvelled and were amazed, but did not believe. They admire our Saviour for an extraordinary man, but did not believe him to be God.
Learn thence, That the sight of Christ's miracles is not sufficient to work faith in the soul, without the concurring operation of the Holy Spirit. The one may make us marvel, the other must make us believe.
Observe here, 1. The unwearied pains and diligence which our Saviour used in the execution of his ministerial office and calling; no sooner had he done preaching in Capernaum, and healing the sick of the palsy; but he goeth out thence to the sea-side to preach there.
O blessed Saviour! How perpetually wert thou employed in the labours of thy calling, in the service of thy Father, and for the good of mankind! Thou wentest about doing good, setting a pattern for all thy ministers to follow. How doth the example of thy laborious diligence at once instruct and shame us!
Observe, 2. The number of our Lord's disciples not being filled up, observe what a free and gracious, unexpected and undeserved, choice he makes. Levi, that is, Matthew, (for he hath both names,) a grinding publican, who gathered the taxes for the Romans, and was probably guilty, as others were, of the sins of covetousness, extortion, and oppression; yet he is called to follow Christ as a special disciple.
Learn thence, That such is the freeness of God's grace, that it calls and converts sinners unto Christ when they think not of him, nor seek unto him. Little did Levi now think of a Saviour, much less seek after him, yet he is at this time called by him.
Matthew, a publican, Zaccheus, an extortioner, Saul, a persecutor, all these are brought home to God, as instances and evidences of the mighty power of converting grace.
Observe, 3. Matthew's ready compliance with Christ's call; he arose, and followed him. When the inward call of the Holy Spirit accompanieth the outward call of the word, the soul readily complies, and presently yields obedience to the voice of Christ. Christ oft-times speaks by his word to our ears, and we hear not, we stir not; but when he speaks by his Spirit efficaciously to our hearts, Satan shall not hold us down, the world shall not keep us back, but we shall with Levi instantly arise and follow our Saviour.
Observe, 4. Levi, or Matthew, to show his thankfulness to Christ, makes him a great feast. Christ invited Matthew to a discipleship, Matthew invites Christ to a dinner. The servant invites his Master, a sinner invites his Saviour. We do not find, that when Christ was invited to any table, that he ever refused to go: if a publican, if a Pharisee invited him, he constantly went; not so much for the pleasure of eating, as for the opportunity of conversing and doing good. Christ feasts us when we feast him.
Learn hence, That new converts are full of affection towards Christ, and very expressive in their love unto him. Matthew, touched with a sense of Christ's rich love, makes him a royal feast.
Observe, 5. The cavil and exception which the scribes and Pharisees made at our Lord's free conversation. They censure him for conversing with sinners; he justifies himself, telling them, that he conversed with them as their physician, not as their companion. They that are whole need no physician, says Christ, but they that are sick.
As if our Lord had said, "With whom should a physician converse, but with his sick patients? Now I am come into the world to do the office of a kind physician unto men, surely then I am to take all opportunities of conversing with them, that I may help and heal them, for they that are sick need the physician: but as for you scribes and Pharisees, who are well and whole in your own opinion and conceit, I have no hopes of doing good upon you: for such as think themselves whole desire no physician's help."
From this assertion of our Saviour these truths are suggested to us,
1. That sin is the soul's malady, its spiritual disease and sickness.
2. That Christ is the Physician appointed by God for the cure and healing of this disease.
3. That there are multitudes of sinners spiritually sick, whole yet think themselves sound and whole.
4. That such, and only such, as find and feel themselves spiritually sick, are the subjects capable of Christ's healing.
They that are whole need not the physician, but they that are sick. I came not to call the (opiniatively) righteous, but the (sensible) sinner to repentance.
Observe here, 1. A great difference betwixt John's disciples and Christ's in the matter of fasting. John's disciples imitated him, who was a man of an austere life, and much given to fasting; therefore he is said to come neither eating nor drinking, Matthew 11:18.
On the other side, Christ's disciples follow him, who came eating and drinking, as other men did; and yet, though there was a great difference betwixt John's disciples and Christ's in matters of practice, they were all of one faith and religion.
Thence learn, That there may be unity of faith and religion among those who do not maintain an uniformity in practice. Men may differ in some outward religious observances and customs, and yet agree in the fundamentals of faith and religion. Thus did John's disciples and Christ's; the one fasted often, the other fasted not.
Observe, 2. In that the disciples of the Pharisees used to fast as well as John's disciples, we may learn, That hypocrites and wicked men may be, and sometimes are, as strict and forward in the outward duties of religion, as the holiest and best of christians; they pray, they fast, they hear the word, they receive the sacraments: they do, yea, it may be, they outdo and go beyond, the sincere christian in external duties and outward performances.
Observe, 3. The defensative plea which our blessed Saviour makes for the not fasting of his disciples; he declares that it was neither suitable to them, nor tolerable for them, thus to fast at present. Not suitable, in regard of Christ's bodily presence with them. This made it a time of joy and rejoicing, not of mourning and fasting.
Christ is the Bridegroom, and his church the bride; whilst therefore his spouse did enjoy his bodily presence with her, it was a day of joy and rejoicing to her, and mourning and fasting were improper for her. But when Christ's bodily presence shall be removed, there will be cause enough to fast and mourn.
Again, this discipline of fasting was not at present tolerable for the disciples; for they were raw, green, and tender, not fit for austerities; nor could bear as yet the severities of religion, no more than an old garment could bear a piece of new stiff cloth to be set into it, which will make the rent worse, if the garment comes to a stretch; or no more than old bottles can keep new wine.
As if our Saviour had said, "My disciples at present are tender and weak, newly called and converted; they cannot therefore bear the severities of religion presently; but ere long I shall leave them, and go to heaven, from whence I will send down the Holy Spirit upon them, which shall enable them to do all the duties which the gospel enjoins.
Now the intended lesson of instruction from hence is this, That it is hurtful and dangerous for young converts, for weak christians, to be put upon the severer exercises of religion, or to be urged to the performance of such duties as are above their strength. But they ought to be handled with that tenderness which becomes the mild and gentle dispensation of the gospel. Our Saviour here commends prudence to his ministers in treating their people according to their strength, and putting them upon duties according to their time and standing.
Observe here, 1. The poverty, the low estate and condition, of Christ's own disciples in this world; they wanted bread, and are forced to pluck the ears of corn to satisfy their hunger. God may, and sometimes doth, suffer his dearest children to fall in streights, to taste of want, for the trial of their faith, and dependence upon his power and providence.
Observe, 2. How the Pharisees (who accompanied our Saviour only with a design to cavil at, and quarrel with, every thing that either he or his disciples did) blame this action of the disciples, namely, the plucking the ears of corn on the sabbath-day.
Yet note, 1. It was not any theft which the disciples were charged with; for to take in our necessity so much of our neighbour's goods as we may reasonably suppose that, if he were present, and knew our circumstances, he would give us, is no theft. But it is the servile labour on the sabbath, in gathering the ears of corn, which the Pharisees scruple.
Whence observe, How zealous hypocrites are for the lesser things of the law, whilst they neglect the greater, and are superstitiously addicted to outward ceremonies, placing all holiness in the observation of them, neglecting moral duties.
Observe farther, 3. How our Saviour defends the action of his disciples in gathering the ears of corn in their necessity, by the practice and example of David. Necessity freed him from fault and blame in eating the consecrated bread, which none but the priests might lawfully eat. For in cases of necessity a ceremonial precept must give way to a moral duty. Works of mercy and necessity for preserving our lives, and for the better fitting us for sabbath-services, are certainly lawful for the sabbath-day.
Observe, 4. A double argument which our Saviour uses, to prove that the sabbath's observation may be dispensed with in a case of absolute necessity; 1. Drawn from the end of the sabbath's institution: the sabbath was made for man; that is, instituted of God for the good and benefit of mankind, both with respect to their souls and to their bodies. The outward observing and keeping of the sabbath is subordinate to the good of man, and therefore the good of man is to be preferred before the outward keeping of the sabbath.
2. Argument is drawn from the authority which Christ, the Institutor of the sabbath, has over it. The Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath; that is, he has authority and power, both as God and as Mediator, to institute and appoint a sabbath, to alter and change the sabbath, to dispense with the breach of it upon a just and great occasion; and consequently, acts of mercy, which tend to fit us for works of piety, not only may, but ought to be done upon the sabbath-day: which was the proposition which our Saviour undertook to prove.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Mark 2". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27