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Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible Kelly Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on Mark 4". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ wkc/ mark-4.html. 1860-1890.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on Mark 4". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://studylight.org/
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It is remarkable how tradition has contrived to injure the truth in touching the question of the method of the gospel we now enter on; for the current view which comes down to us from the ancients, stamped too with the name of one who lived not long after the apostles, lays down that Mark's is that gospel which arranges the facts of our Lord's life, not in, but out of the order of their occurrence. Now, that order is precisely what he most observes. And this mistake, if it be one, which notoriously had wrought from the earliest days, and naturally, therefore, to a large extent since, of course vitiated the right understanding of the book. I am persuaded that the Spirit of God intended that we should have among the gospels one that adheres to the simple order of the facts in giving our Lord's history. Otherwise, we must be plunged in uncertainty, not merely as to one particular gospel, but as lacking the means of rightly judging departures from historic order in all the others; for it is plain, that if there be no such thing as a regular order in any one gospel, we are necessarily deprived of all power of determining in any case when the events did really occur which stand differently connected in the rest of the gospels. It is not in any way that one would seek what is commonly called a "harmony," which is really to obscure the perception of the special objects of the gospels. At the same time, nothing can be more certain than that the real author of the gospels, even God Himself, knew all perfectly. Nor, even to take the lowest ground, on the part of the different writers, is ignorance of the order in which the facts occurred a reasonable key to the peculiarities of the gospels. The Holy Ghost deliberately displaced many events and discourses, but this could not be through carelessness, still less through caprice, but only for ends worthy of God. The most obvious order would be to give them just as they occurred. Partly, then, as it seems to me, that we might be able to judge with accuracy and with certainty of the departures from the order of occurrence, the Spirit of God has given us in one of these gospels that order as the rule. In which of them is it found, do you ask? I have no doubt that the answer is, spite of tradition, In the gospel of Mark. And the fact exactly agrees with the spiritual character of his gospel, because this also ought to have great weight in confirming the answer, if not in deciding the question.
Any person who looks at, Mark, not merely piecemeal, though it is evident in any part, but, much more satisfactorily, as a whole, will rise from the consideration of the gospel with the fullest conviction that what the Holy Ghost has undertaken to give us in this history of Christ is His ministry. It is now so much a matter of common knowledge, that there is no need to dwell long upon a fact that is generally confessed. I shall endeavour to show how the whole account hangs together, and bears out this well-known and most simple truth how it accounts for the peculiarities in Mark, for what is given us, and for what is left out; and of course, therefore, for his differences from the others. All this, I think, will be made clear and certain to any who may not have thoroughly examined it before. Here I would only observe, how entirely this goes along with the fact that Mark adheres to the order of history, because, if he is giving us the service of the Lord Jesus Christ, and particularly His service in the word, as well as in the miraculous signs which illustrated that service, and which were its external vouchers, it is plain that the order in which the facts occurred is precisely that which is the most calculated of all to give us a true and adequate view of His ministry; whereas it is not so, if we look at the object of either Matthew or Luke.
In the former the Holy Ghost is showing us the rejection of Jesus, and that rejection proved from the very first. Now, in order to give us the right understanding of His rejection, the Holy Ghost groups facts together, and groups them often, as we have had occasion to notice, entirely regardless of the time at which they occurred. What was wanted was a bright vivid view of the shameless rejection of the Messiah by His own people. It was needed, thereupon, to make plain what God would undertake in consequence of that rejection, that is to say, the vast economic change that would follow. It was necessarily the weightiest thing that had ever been or that could be in this world, the rejection of a divine Person who was at the same time "the great King," the promised expected Messiah of Israel. For that very reason, the mere order of the facts would be entirely insufficient to give proper weight to the object of the Holy Ghost in Matthew. Therefore the Spirit of God does what even man has wit enough to do, where he has any analogous object before him. There is a bringing together, from different places, persons, and times in the history, the great salient facts which make evident the total rejection of the Messiah, and the glorious change which God was able to introduce for the Gentiles in consequence of that rejection. Such is the object in Matthew; and accordingly this accounts for the departure from mere sequence of events.
In Luke, again, there is another reason that we shall find, when we come to details, abundantly confirmed. For therein the Holy Ghost undertakes to show us Christ as the One who brought to light all the moral springs of the heart of man, and at the same time the perfect grace of God in dealing with man as he is; therein, too, the divine wisdom in Christ which made its way through this world, the lovely grace, too, which attracted man when utterly confounded and broken down enough to cast himself upon what God is. Hence, throughout the gospel of Luke, we have, in some respects, a disregard of the mere order of time equal to that which characterized Matthew. If we suppose two facts, mutually illustrating each other, but occurring at totally different times, in such a case these two facts might be brought together. For instance, supposing the Spirit of God desired in our Lord's history to show the value of the word of God and of prayer, He might clearly bring together two remarkable occasions, in one of which our Lord revealed the mind of God about prayer in the other, His judgment of the value of the word. The question whether the two events took place at the same time is here entirely immaterial. No matter when they occurred, they are here seen together; if put out of their occurrence, in fact, it is to form the justest order for illustrating the truth that the Holy Ghost meant us to receive.
This general observation is made here, because I think it is particularly in place in introducing the gospel of Mark.
But God has taken care to meet another point by the way. Man might take advantage of this departure from the historical order in some gospels, and the maintenance of it in others, in order to decry the writers or their writings. Of course, he is hasty enough to impute "discrepancy." There is no real ground for the charge. God has taken a very wise method to contradict and rebuke the credulous incredulity of man. As there are four evangelists, so He has arranged it that, of these four, two should adhere to historical order, and two should forsake it where it Was required. Further, of these two, one was, and one was not an apostle in each case. Of the two evangelists, Mark and John, who generally maintain historical order, the most remarkable thread of events was not given by an apostle. Nevertheless, John, who was an apostle, adheres to the historical order in the fragmentary series of facts, here and there, in the life of Christ, that he gives us. At the same time that the gospel of John does not undertake to present a sketch of the entire course of Christ, Mark describes the whole career of His ministry with more particularity than any other. Hence it is that John practically acts as a kind of supplement, not to Mark only, but to all the evangelists; and we have, ever and anon, a cluster of the richest events, yet keeping to historical order. Not to speak of its wondrous preface, there is an introduction that precedes the account given in the other gospels, filling up a certain space after His baptism, but before His public ministry. And then, again, we have a number of discourses which our Lord gave more particularly to His disciples after His public relations were over. These are all given, as it appears to me, in the exact order of their delivery, without any departure from it, save only that we find a parenthesis once or twice in John, which, if not seen there to be a parenthesis, wears an appearance of a departure from the succession of time; but of course a parenthesis does not come under the ordinary structure of a regular sentence or series of things.
This explanation, I trust, will help to a general understanding of the relative place of the gospels. We have Matthew and Luke, one of them an apostle, and the other not, both of whom are wont to depart from historical order very largely. We have Mark and John, one of them an apostle, and the other not, both of whom likewise, as a rule, adhere to historical order. God has thus cut off all just reason on men's part for saying that it is a question of knowing or not knowing the facts as they occurred, some being eyewitnesses, and others learning the events, etc., otherwise. Of those that keep the order of history, one was, the other was not, an eye-witness; to those that adopt a different arrangement precisely the same remark applies. Thus it is that God has confuted all attempts of His enemies to cast the smallest discredit upon the instruments He has used. It is thus made apparent that (so far from the structure of the gospels being attributable in any way to ignorance on one side, or, on the other, to a competent knowledge of the facts), on the contrary, he was no eye-witness who has given us the fullest, minutest, most vivid, and graphic sketch of the Lord's service here below; and this in small particulars, which, as every one knows, is always the great test of truth. Persons who do not commonly speak the truth can nevertheless be careful enough sometimes about great matters; but it is in little words and ways where the heart betrays its own treachery, or the eye its lack of observation. And it is precisely in this that Mark triumphs so completely rather, let me say, the Spirit of God in His employment of Mark. Nor was it that Mark had earlier been a worthy servant himself. Far from it. Who does not know that, when he began his work, he was not always fervent in serving the Lord? We are told in the Acts of the Apostles that he deserted the great apostle of the Gentiles when he accompanied him and his cousin Barnabas; for such was the relationship, rather than that of uncle. He left them, returning home to his mother and Jerusalem. His associations were with nature and the great seat of religious tradition, which for a while, of course, ruined him, as it tends to ruin every servant of God who is similarly ensnared. Nevertheless, God's grace overcomes all difficulties. So it was in the personal ministry of Mark, as we gather from the glorious work Mark was afterwards given to do, both in other ministry (Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11), and in the extraordinary honour of writing one of the inspired accounts of his Master. Mark had not possessed the advantage of that personal acquaintance with the facts which some of the other writers had enjoyed; yet is he the one through whom the Holy Ghost condescended to impart the minutest, and at the same time the most suggestive touches, if I may so say, that are found in any view vouchsafed us of the actual living ministry of our Lord Jesus. Indeed, such was the current of his own history, as forming him for the work he subsequently had to do; for while at first there was certainly that which looked uncommonly like a false start, afterwards, on the contrary, he is acknowledged by Paul most cordially, spite of early disappointment and rebuke; for his company had been absolutely refused, even at the cost of losing Barnabas, to whom the apostle had special grounds of personal attachment. Barnabas was the man who had first gone after Saul of Tarsus; for assuredly he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost, and thus the more willing to accredit the great grace of God in Saul of Tarsus, when the new convert was regarded with suspicion, and might have been left alone for a season. Thus Saul had known literally in his own history how little the grace of God commands confidence in a sinful world. After all this, then, it was that Mark, who had fallen under the censure of Paul, and had been the occasion of separating Barnabas from that apostle that very Mark afterwards completely retrieved his lost character, and the apostle Paul takes more pains by far to reinstate him in the confidence of the saints, than he had done personally to refuse association with him in the service of the Lord.
Who, then, so fit to give us the Lord Jesus as the true servant? Choose whom you like. Go over the whole range of the New Testament; find out one whose own personal career so adapted him to delight in, and to become the suited vessel for the Holy Ghost to show us, the perfect Servant of God. It was the man that had been the faulty servant; it was the man whom grace had restored and made to be a faithful servant, who had proved how ensnaring is the flesh, and how dangerous the associations of human tradition and of home; but who thus, unprofitable at first for the ministry, became afterwards so profitable, as Paul himself took care to declare publicly and for ever in the imperishable word of God. This was the instrument whom God employed by the Holy Ghost to give us the grand lineaments of the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. Surely, as Levi the publican, the apostle Matthew was providentially formed for his task; and grace, condescending to look at all circumstances, uever deigns to be controlled by them, but always, while working in them, nevertheless retains its own supremacy above them. Even so in Mark's case there was just as great an appropriateness for the task God had assigned him, as there was in the call of the earlier evangelist from the receipt of custom, and the choice of one so despised of Israel to show the fatal course of that nation, when the Lord turned at the great epoch of dispensational change to call in Gentiles and the despised of Israel themselves. But if there was this manifest fitness in Matthew for his work, it would be strange if there were not as much in Mark for his. And this is what we find in his gospel. There is no parade of circumstance; there is no pomp of introduction even for the Lord Jesus Christ in this gospel, not even that style which is most rightly found elsewhere. It could not be that the Messiah of Israel was to enter among His chosen people, and be found in Israel's land, without due witness and clear tokens preceding His approach; and the God who had given promises, and who had established the kingdom, would surely make it manifest; for the Jews did require a sign, and God gave them signs in abundance before the coining of the greatest sign of all.
Thus it is that in the gospel of Matthew we have seen the amplest credentials from angels and among men of the Messiah, who then and there was born the King of the Jews, in Immanuel's land. But in Mark all this is with equal beauty absent; and suddenly, without any other preparation than John preaching and baptizing the voice of one crying in the wilderness, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord" at once, after this, the Lord Jesus is found, not born, not the subject of homage, but preaching, taking up the work which John not long after laid down, as it were, on going to prison. That setting aside of the Baptist (ver. 14) becomes the signal for the public service of the Lord; and, accordingly, the service of Christ is thenceforward pursued throughout our gospel; and first of all His Galilean service, which continues down to the end of chapter 10 I do not purpose tonight to look even at the whole of this Galilean ministry, but to divide the subject matter as my time requires, and therefore I do not now limit myself to the natural divisions of the gospel, but simply follow it according to chapters, as the occasion may require. We shall take it in two portions.
In the opening section or preface (of verses 1-13), then, we have here no genealogy whatever, but very simply the announcement of John the Baptist. We have our Lord then ushered into His public ministry, and, first of all, His Galilean labours. As He walks by the sea, He sees Simon, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea. These He calls to follow Him. It was not the first acquaintance of the Lord Jesus with these two apostles. At first sight it might seem strange that a word, even though it were the word of the Lord, should call these two men away from their father or their occupation; yet no one can call it unprecedented, as the call of Levi, already referred to, makes plain. Nevertheless, so it is that in the case of Andrew and Simon, as well as the sons of Zebedee, called about the same time, there was certainly previous acquaintance with the Saviour. Two disciples of the Baptist, one of them Andrew, preceded his brother Simon, as we know from John 1:1-51. But here it is not at all the same time or facts that are described in that gospel. In the call to the work, I have no hesitation in saying that Andrew and Simon were called before John and James; but in the personal acquaintance with the Saviour, which we find in the gospel of John, it is evident to me, that an .unnamed disciple (as I think, John himself) was before Simon. Both are perfectly true. There is not even the appearance of contradiction when the Scripture is rightly understood. Each of these is exactly in its proper place, for we have in our gospel Christ's ministry. That is not the theme of the gospel of John, but a far deeper and more personal subject; it is the revelation of the Father in the Son to man upon the earth. It is eternal life found by souls, and of course in the Son of God. This accordingly is the first point of contact which the Holy Ghost loves to trace in John's gospel. Why is all that entirely left out of Mark? Evidently because his province is not a soul acquainted for the first time with Jesus, the display of the wonderful truth of eternal life in Him. Another subject is in hand. We have the Saviour's grace, of course, in all the gospels; but the great theme of Mark is His ministry. Hence it is, that not the personal so much as the ministerial call is the one referred to here. In John, on the contrary, where it was the Son made known to man by faith of the Holy Ghost's operation, it is not the ministerial call, but the previous one the personal call of grace unto the knowledge of the Son, and eternal life in Him.
This may serve to show that weighty lessons lie under that which a careless eye might count a comparatively trivial difference in these gospels. Well we know that in God's word there is nothing trivial; but what might at first sight seem so is pregnant with truth, and also in immediate relation to God's aim in each particular book where these facts are found.
All things, then, they now forsake at the call of the Lord. It was not a question simply of eternal life. The principle, no doubt, is always true; but we do not in fact find all things thus forsaken in ordinary cases. Eternal life is brought to souls in the Christ who attracts them; but they are enabled to glorify God where they are. Here it is all abandoned in order to follow Christ. The next scene is the synagogue of Capernaum. And there our Lord shows the objects of His mission here in two particulars. First there is teaching "He taught them," as it is said, "as one that had authority, and not as the scribes." It was not tradition, it was not reason, not imagination, or the persuasible words of man's wisdom. It was the power of God. It was that, therefore, which was equally simple and sure. This necessarily gives authority to the tone of him who, in a world of uncertainty and deceit, utters with assurance the mind of God. It is a dishonour to God and His word to pronounce with hesitation the truth of God, if indeed we know it for our own souls. It is unbelief to say "I think," if I am sure; nay, revealed truth is not only what I know, but what God has made known to me. It is to cloud and weaken the truth, it is to injure souls, it is to lower God Himself, if we do not speak with authority where we have no doubt of His word. But then it is plain that we must be taught of God before we are at liberty to speak thus confidently.
But it is here to be noted, that this is the first quality mentioned in our Lord's teaching. This, I need not say, has a voice to us. Where we cannot speak with authority, we had better not speak at all. It is a simple rule, and abundantly short. At the same time it is clear that it would lead to great deal of searching of heart; but, I am no less persuaded, it would be with immense profit to ourselves and to our hearers.
The second thing was not authority in teaching, but power in action; and our Lord deals with the root of the mischief in man the power of Satan, now so little believed in the power of Satan over human spirits or bodies, or both. There was then in the synagogue the very place of meeting, where Jesus was a man with an unclean spirit. The demoniac cried out; for it was impossible that the power of God in the person of Jesus could be there without detecting him that was under the power of Satan. The bruiser of the serpent was there, the deliverer of the enthralled sons of Adam. The mask is thrown off; the man, the unclean spirit, cannot rest in the presence of Jesus. "He cried out, saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth?" In the most singular way he blends together the action of the evil spirit with his own "What have we to do with thee? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee, who thou art, the Holy One of God." Jesus rebukes him. The unclean spirit tore him; for it was right that there should be the manifestation of the effects of the evil power, restricted as it was before Him who had defeated the tempter. It was a profitable lesson, that man should know what the working of Satan really is. We have on the one side, then, the malignant effect of Satan's power, and on the other the blessed benignant might of the Lord Jesus Christ, who compels the spirit to come out, amazing all that saw and heard, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, "What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him." There was, we thus see, both the authority of truth, and also the power that wrought in outward signs accompanying.
The next scene proves that it was not merely displayed in such acts as these: there was the misery and the maladies of man apart from the direct possession of the enemy. But virtue goes out of Jesus wherever there was an appeal of need. Peter's wife's mother is the first who is presented after he leaves the synagogue; and the marvellous grace and power blended in His healing of Peter's mother-in-law attracts crowds of sick with every evil; so that we know all the city was come together at the door. "And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him."
Thus, then, the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ is fully come. It is thus that he enters upon it in Mark. It is clearly the manifestation of the truth of God with authority. Divine power is vested in man over the devil, as well as over disease. Such was the form of the ministry of Jesus. There was a fulness in it naturally, one need scarce say, which was suitable to Him who was the head of ministry as well as its great pattern here below, no less than, as He is now, its source from His place of glory in heaven. But there is another notable feature in it, too, as contributing to fill this instructive introductory picture of our Lord's ministry in its actual exercise. Our Lord "suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew Him." He refused a testimony that was not of God. It might be true, but He would not accept the testimony of the enemy.
But positive strength is also requisite in dependence on God. Hence we are told, "In the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed." There, just as there is the rejection of the enemy's testimony, so there is the fullest leaning upon God's power. No personal glory, no title to power that attached to Him, was the smallest reason for relaxing in entire subjection to His Father, or for neglecting to seek His guidance day by day. Thus He waited on God after the enemy was vanquished in the wilderness, after He had proved the value of that victory in healing those oppressed of the devil. Thus engaged it is that Simon and others follow and find Him. "And when they had found him, they said unto him, All men seek for thee."
But this public attraction to the Lord Jesus was a sufficient ground for not returning. He did not seek the applause of man, but that which comes from God. Directly it came to be published, so to speak, the Lord Jesus retires from the scene. If all men sought Him, He must go where it was a question of need, not of honour. Accordingly He says, "Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there; for therefore came I forth." He ever abides the perfect, lowly, dependent servant of God here below. No sketch can be more admirable, nowhere else can we see the perfect ideal of ministry completely realized.
Are we, then, to assume that all this was set down at random? How are we to account without a definite purpose for these various particulars and no others swelling the picture of ministry? Very simply. It was what God inspired Mark for. It was the Spirit's object by him. It is owing to a different design that we find other topics introduced elsewhere. No other gospel presents even the same facts after such a sort, because no other is thus occupied with the Lord's ministry. Thus the reason is most plain. It is Mark, and he alone, who was led of God to put the facts together that bear upon Christ's ministry, adhering to the simple natural order of the facts related, omitting of course what did not illustrate the point, but among those which did, keeping the events as they followed one another. Christ is thus seen as the perfect servant. He was Himself showing what service of God is at the beginning of His ministry. He was forming others. He had called Peter, and James, and Andrew, and John. He was making them fishers of men-servants, too. And so it is that the Lord presents before their eyes, before their hearts, before their consciences, these perfect ways of grace in His own path here below. He was forming them after His own heart.
Then, at the close of the chapter, the leper comes and, at the beginning of the next chapter, the paralytic man is brought (Mark 2:1-28). These we have had in Matthew, and we shall find the same in Luke. But here you will observe that the two cases are closer together. It is not so in Matthew, but in Luke. Matthew, as we saw, gave us the leper at the beginning of Matthew 8:1-34, and the paralytic man at the beginning ofMatthew 9:1-38; Matthew 9:1-38. Mark, who simply relates facts as they occur, introduced nothing between these two cases. They were, as I conceive, not long apart. The one followed soon after the other. and they are so introduced to us here. In the one, sin is viewed as the great type of defilement; in the other, sin is viewed as guilt accompanied by utter weakness. Man, utterly unfit for the presence of God, needs to be cleansed from his loathsome impurity. Such is the representation in leprosy. Man, utterly powerless for walk here below, needs to be forgiven as well as strengthened. Such is the great truth set forth in the paralytic case. Here too, with singular fulness, we have the picture of the crowds that were gathered round the door of the house, and the Lord, as usual, preaching to them. We have then a graphic picture of the palsied man brought in, borne by four. All the particulars are brought before our eyes. More than that: as they could not come nigh to Jesus for the press, the roof was uncovered, and the man is let down before the Lord's eyes. Jesus, seeing their faith, addresses the man, meets the unbelieving blasphemous thoughts of the scribes that were there, and brings out His own personal glory as Son of man, rather than as God. This latter was the great point in curing the leper; for it was an axiom that God alone could cure a leper. Such was the acknowledgment of Israel's king at a remarkable point in their history; such would have been the common confession of any Jew "Am I God?" This was the point there. God must act directly or by a prophet, as every Jew would allow, in order to cure leprosy; but, in the case of the palsied man, our Lord asserted another thing altogether, namely, that "the Son of man had power on earth to forgive sins." Then He proved His power over the most hopeless bodily weakness as a witness of His authority here below to forgive. It was the Son of man on earth that had power. Thus the one proved God had come down from heaven, and had really, in the person of that blessed Saviour, become a man without ceasing to be God. Such is the truth apparent in the cleansing of the leper; but in the paralytic healed, it is a different side of the Lord's glory. The servant of God and man in every case, here He was the Son of man that had power on earth to forgive the guilty, and prove its reality by imparted strength to walk before all.
Then follows the call of the publican. "As he passed by, he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him." Next, the Lord is seen at a feast in the house of him who was thus called by grace, which excites hatred in the slaves of religious routine. "When the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples" not to Him; they 'had not honesty enough for that "How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick." It gave the Lord an opportunity to explain the true character and suited objects of His ministry. To sinners, as such, went forth the call of God. It was not the government of a people now, but the invitation of sinners. God had delivered His people once; He had called them His son too, and called His son out of Egypt; but now it was a question of calling sinners, even if the words "to repentance" be given up as an interpolation derived from the corresponding passage in Luke, where its propriety is evident. The Lord gloried in the grace which He was ministering here below.
As the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast, this is the next scene, raising the question of the character of those whom Jesus was sent to call. The narrative presents all this in a very orderly manner, but still adhering simply to the facts. Then comes the question of mingling the new principles with the old. This the Lord pronounces quite impossible. He shows that it was inconsistent to expect fasting when the Bridegroom was there. It would argue an entire unbelief in His glory, a total want of right feeling in those who owned His glory. It was all very well for people who did not believe in Him; but if the disciples recognised Him as the Bridegroom, it were utterly incongruous to fast in His presence.
Hence, our Lord takes the opportunity of pursuing the subject more deeply in the observation that "no man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment, else the new piece that filleth it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse." The forms, the outward manifestation of that which Christ was introducing, will not suit, and cannot mingle with the old elements of Judaism, still less will their inner principles consent. This He enters on next: "And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles." Christianity demands an outward expression, agreeable to its own intrinsic and distinctive life.*
* Here is found one of the few exceptional dislocations, if not the only one, in Mark; for it would appear fromMatthew 9:18; Matthew 9:18, that while the Lord was speaking of the wine and the bottles the jailor Jairus came about his daughter. This is only given (in Mark 5:1-43) by Mark.
Mark 3:1-35. This theme is followed up by the two sabbaths, the first of these sabbath days bringing clearly out to view that God no longer owned Israel, and this because that Jesus was as much despised in this day as David had been of old. Such is the point referred to here. The disciples of Christ were starving. What a position! No doubt David and his men suffered lack in that day. What was the effect then as to the system which God had sanctioned? God would not maintain His own ordinances in presence of the moral wrong to His anointed, and those that clave unto Him. His own honour was at stake. His ordinances, however important in their place, give way before the sovereign dispositions of His purpose. The application was evident. The Lord Jesus Christ was a greater than David; and were not the followers of Jesus quite as precious as those of Jesse's son? If the bread of priests became common, when they of old were hungry, would God now hold to His sabbath when the disciples of Jesus lacked ordinary food? Besides, He adds, "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is Lord also of the sabbath." Thus He asserts the superiority of His own person, and this as the rejected man; and therefore the title, "Son of Man," is especially brought in here.
But, then, there is more which comes out on the second sabbath day. There was the presence of bitter helplessness among men. It was not merely, that the disciples of Jesus were in want, the witness of His own rejection, but in the synagogue He enters next was a man with a withered hand. How came this to pass? What was the feeling that could plead the law of the sabbath to keep from healing a miserable human sufferer? Had Jesus no heart, because their eyes were only open to find in His love an occasion to accuse Him who felt for every sorrow of man upon the earth? He was there with adequate power to banish all sorrow with its source. And therefore it is that our Lord Jesus, in this case, instead of merely pleading the case of the guiltless, goes boldly forward; and in the midst of a full synagogue as He sees them watching that they might accuse Him, He answers the wicked thought of their heart. He gives them the opportunity they desired. "And he said to the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth." There was no concealment for a moment. "He saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill?" Was He not the perfect servant of God, that knows so well the times? Here, then, instead of merely defending disciples, He challenges their wicked and evil thoughts in open congregation, and bore His witness that God's delight is not in holding to rules, when it would be for the hindrance of the displays of His goodness. Contrariwise, His act declares that no rules can bind God not to do good: His nature is goodness; let man pretend ever such zeal for His own law to keep man wretched and hinder the flow of grace. God's laws were never intended to bar His love. They were intended, no doubt, to put a restriction upon man's evil, never to forbid God from doing His own good will. Alas! they had no faith that God was there.
And it is remarkable, though not noticed at the beginning ofMark 1:1-45; Mark 1:1-45, that Mark does not enter upon the service of our Lord Jesus before presenting Him in verse 1 as the Son of God, followed by the application of the prophetic oracle, that He was really Jehovah. The only true servant was truly divine. What an illustrious testimony to His glory! At the start this was well, and rightly ordered, and in place most suitable; the more so as it is an unusual thought in Mark. And here let me make the remark in passing, that we have hardly any quotation of Scripture by the evangelist himself I am not aware that any positive case can be adduced, except in these prefatory verses of the gospel; forMark 15:28; Mark 15:28 rests on too precarious authority to be fairly regarded as an exception. There are some not infrequent quotations either by our Lord or to our Lord; but the application of Scripture about our Lord by the evangelist himself, so frequent in the gospel of Matthew, is almost, if not entirely, unknown to the gospel of Mark. And the reason, I think, is very plain. What he had in hand was not the accomplishment of Scriptural marks or hopes, but the fulfilment of the Lord's ministry. What he therefore dwells on was not what others had said of old, but what the Lord Himself did. Hence it is that application of Scripture, and accomplishments of prophecy, naturally disappear where such is the theme of the gospel.
However, again returning to the conclusion of the second sabbath day. Our Lord looks round about on these Sabbatarians with anger, being distressed, as it is said, at the hardness of their hearts. and then bids the man stretch forth his hand, which was no sooner done than 'it was restored. This goodness of God, so publicly and fearlessly witnessed by Him who thus served man, at once goads on to madness the murderous feeling of the religious leaders. It is the first point where, according to Mark's account, the Pharisees, taking counsel with the Herodians, conceived the design of killing Jesus. It was not fit that One so good should live in their midst. The Lord withdraws to the sea with His disciples; and subsequent to this it is that, while He heals many, and casts out unclean spirits, He also goes up into a mountain, where He takes a new step. It is one point of change in Mark's gospel, a step in advance of all He had hitherto done. Following upon the design of the Pharisees with the Herodians to destroy Jesus, the new measure He adopts is the sovereign call and appointment of the twelve, that He might in due time send them forth. Thus, He not merely calls them to be with Him, but He appoints them in a formal manner to the great mission on which they were to be sent out. The Lord now takes the conspiracy of two great enemies in Israel, the Pharisees and the Herodians, as an opportunity to provide for His work. He sees well in their hatred what was before Him; indeed, He knew it from the first, it need hardly be said. Still, the manifestation of their murderous hatred becomes the signal for this fresh step, the appointment of those that were to continue the work when the Lord should be no longer here in bodily presence Himself to carry it on. And so we have the twelve; He ordains them, "that they might be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach," etc. Ministry in the word has always the highest place in Mark not miracles, but preaching. The healing of sickness and the casting out of the devils were signs accompanying the preached word. Nothing could be more complete. There is not only evidence that we see the servant depicted here, but that the servant was the Lord Himself, even as we saw in the beginning of this gospel.
Thus there was the appointment of those He pleased to call for the due execution of His mighty work on the earth. At this juncture it is that we find His relatives so greatly moved when they heard of all the crowds no time to eat, etc. It is a remarkable and characteristic fact mentioned by Mark only. "When his friends heard it, they went out to lay hold of him: for they said, He is beside himself." It was mainly, I suppose, because of an entire devotedness which they could not appreciate; for just before we are told, that "the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread." To His friends it was mere infatuation. They thought He must be out of His mind. It must be so, more particularly to one's relatives, where the powerful grace of God calls out and abstracts its objects from all natural claims. Such it always is in this world, and the Lord Jesus Himself, as we find, had no immunity from the injurious charge on the part of His friends. But there is more; we have His enemies now, even the scribes that came from Jerusalem. "He hath Beelzebub," say they, "and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils." The Lord condescends to reason with them "How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand."
But thereon our Lord most solemnly pronounces their doom, and shows that they were guilty not of sin, as men say, but of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. There is no such phrase as sin against Him in this sense. People often speak thus, Scripture never. What the Lord denounces is blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Keeping that distinctly in view would save many souls a great deal of needless trouble. How many have groaned in terror through fear of being guilty of sin against the Holy Ghost! That phrase admits of vague notions and general reasoning about its nature. But our Lord spoke definitely of blasphemous unforgivable sin against Him. All sin, I presume, is sin against the Holy Ghost, who has taken His place in Christendom, and, consequently, gives all sin this character. Thus, lying in the Church is not mere falsehood toward man, but unto God, because of the great truth that the Holy Ghost is there. Here, on the contrary, the Lord speaks of unforgivable sin (not that vague sense of evil which troubled souls dread as "sin against the Holy Ghost," but blasphemy against Him). What is this evil never to be forgiven? It is attributing the power that wrought in Jesus to the devil. How many troubled souls would be instantly relieved, if they laid hold of that simple truth! It would dissipate what really is a delusion of the devil, who strives hard to plunge them into anxiety, and drive them into despair, if possible. The truth is, that as any sin of a Christian may be said to be sin against the Holy Ghost, what is especially the sin against the Holy Ghost, if there be anything that is so, is that which directly hinders the free action of the Holy Ghost in the work of God, or in His Church. Such might be said to be the sin, if you speak of it with precision. But what our Lord referred to was neither a sin nor the sin, but blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. It was that which the Jewish nation was then rapidly falling into, and for which they were neither forgiven then, nor will ever be forgiven. There will be a new stock, so to speak; another generation will be raised up, who will receive the Christ whom their fathers blasphemed; but as far as that generation was concerned, they were guilty of this sin, and they could not be forgiven. They began it in the lifetime of Jesus. They consummated it when the Holy Ghost was sent down and despised. They still carried it on persistently, and it is always the case when men enter upon a bad course, unless sovereign grace deliver. The more that God brings out of love, grace, truth, wisdom, the more determinedly and blindly they rush on to their own perdition. So it was with Israel. So it ever is with man left to himself, and despising the grace of God. "He that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness." It is the final stage of rebellion against God. Even then they were blaspheming the Son of Man, the Lord Himself; even then they attributed the power of the Spirit in His service to the enemy, as afterwards still more evidently when the Holy Ghost wrought in His servants; then the blasphemy became complete.
And this is, I suppose, what is referred to in principle inHebrews 6:1-20; Hebrews 6:1-20. Hebrews 10:1-39 seems to be different. Then it is the case of a person who had professed the name of the Lord utterly abandoning Him, and giving loose rein to sin. This is another form of sin and destruction.
In the case before us in the gospel of Mark, the enemies had shown their uncontrollable fury and hatred after the fullest evidence, and cast the worst imputation on the power they could not deny, but endeavoured to discredit to others by attributing it to Satan. It was clear that any, all other testimony after this was utterly vain. Hence, our Lord then turns to introduce the moral ground for a new call and testimony. The real object of God, the ulterior object in the service of Jesus, comes out. There was a testimony, and righteously, to that people in the midst of whom the Lord had appeared, where His ministry had displayed the mighty power of God in grace here below. Now our Lord intimates that it must be no longer a question of nature, but of grace, and this because of His mother and His brethren, who had been pointed out by some. "Behold," said they, "thy mother and thy brethren without seek thee. He answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them that sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother." In short, He owns no one henceforth because of any connection with Himself after the flesh. The only ground of relationship is the supernatural tie in new creation. Doing the will of God is the point. For this only grace avails: "the flesh profiteth nothing."
Therefore, in the next chapter, we are given a sketch of His ministry from that time down to the very end. Such is the bearing of this chapter. It is the Lord's ministry in its great principles under that aspect, and viewed not only as a fact going on (as we have had ministry in general before this), but now in its connection with this special work of God. "Of his own will begat he us by the word of truth." Hence we see Him forming a people, founded upon submission to the will of God, and therefore by the preached word of God; and this pursued to the very close of all, with a view of the difficulties of those engaged in that work, or in the midst of the trials from this world which always attend such a ministry. Such is the Mark 4:1-41. Accordingly the first parable (for He speaks in parables to the multitude) is of a sower. This we have very fully given us with its explanation. Then follow some moral words of our Lord. "Is a candle," He says in the twenty-first verse, "brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick?" It is not only that there is a word that acts upon the heart of man, but there is a light given (that is, a testimony in the midst of darkness). The point here is not merely the effect on man, but the manifestation of the light of God. This therefore should not be put under a bed to be concealed. God does not in ministry merely consider the effect upon the heart of man; there is much besides done for His own glory. There is the need not only of life, but of light; and this is what we have first of all light that germinates far and wide, and seed producing fruit. Part of the scattered seed was picked up by the enemy, or in some other way less openly hostile it comes to nothing. But after the necessity of life is shown in order to fruit-bearing, we have then the value of light; and this not only for God's glory though the first consideration, but also for man's guidance in this dark world. "Take heed what ye hear." Not only is there thus the word of God sown everywhere, but "take heed what ye hear." There is a mingling of what is dark and what is light, a mingling of a false testimony with a true, more particularly to be remembered when the question is raised whether there is a light from God. These Christians in particular have need to take care what they hear. They only have discerning power, and this therefore is brought in most appropriately after the first foundation is settled.
In the next place comes a parable peculiar to Mark. There is no part of his gospel which more thoroughly illustrates it than this: "So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come." It is the Lord manifesting Himself at the beginning of the work of God in the earth, and then coming at the end of it, all the intermediate state where others appear being left out. It is the perfect servant inaugurating and consummating the work. It is the Lord Jesus at His first advent and at His second, in connection with ministry. He commences and crowns the work that had to be done. Where is anything like this to be found in other gospels? Turn to Matthew, for instance, and what a difference! There we have, no doubt, the Lord represented as sowing (Matthew 13:1-58); but when in the next parable the harvest at the end of the age is brought before us, He says to the reapers, etc. It is not Himself who is said to do this work, but in that gospel the design requires us to hear of the authority of the Son of man. He commands His angels. They are all under His orders. He gives them the word, and they reap the harvest. Of course, this is perfectly true, as well as in keeping with God's aim in Matthew; but in the gospel of Mark the point is rather His ministry, and not authority over angels or others. The Lord is viewed as coming, and He does come; so that the one is just as certain as the other. Supposing, then, you take this parable out of Mark and put it into Matthew, what confusion! And suppose you transplant what is in Matthew into Mark, evidently there would not only be the rent of the one, but also the introduction of that which never would amalgamate with the other. The fact is, that all, as God has written it, is perfect; but the moment these portions are confounded, you lose the special bearing and appropriateness of each.
After this we hear of the grain of mustard seed, which was merely to show the great change from a little beginning into a vast system. That intimation was all-important for the guidance of the servants. They were thereby taught that material magnitude would be the result, instead of the work of the Lord retaining its primitive simplicity and small extent, spiritual power being the real greatness and the only true greatness in this world. The moment anything, no matter what it may be, in the Lord's work becomes naturally striking before men's eyes, you may rely on it that false principles have somehow got a footing within. There is more or less that which savours of the world. And therefore was it of great importance that, if their worldly greatness was to come, there should be a sketch of the great changes to follow; and this you find given in such an orderly manner in Matthew. This was not Mark's object, but just enough for the guidance of the servants, that they should know that the Lord would surely accomplish His work, and do it perfectly; as He began it well, so would He end it well. But at the same time there would be no small change effected here below, when the little sowing of the Lord should grow into an aspiring object before men, as man loves to make it. "And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: but when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it." This, therefore, is the only parable that is added here; but the Spirit of God lets us know that the Lord on the same occasion spoke a great many more. Others we have in Matthew, where full dispensational light was specially called for. It was sufficient for the object of our gospel to give what we have seen here. Not even the leaven follows, as in Luke.
But then, in the end of the chapter, we have another instructive appendix. It is no new thing for man's work to mar, as far as can be, the Lord's work to turn service into a means of lordship here below, and make great that which at the present time has its worth in refusing to part from the scorn and reproach of Christ. For the flock is not great, but little: till He return, it is a despised work of a despised Master. We have the dangers to which those engaged in His work would be exposed. This, I think, is the reason why the record is here given of the tempest-tossed vessel in which the Lord was, and the disciples, full of anxiety, trembled at the winds and the waves around them, thinking of themselves much more than of their Master. Indeed, they reproachfully turn to Him, and say, "Master, carest thou not that we perish?" Such, alas! are the servants apt to be heedless of His honour, abundantly careful for themselves. "Master, carest thou not that we perish?" It was little faith; but was it not little love too? It was an utter forgetfulness of the glory of Him who was in the vessel. It did, however, bring out the secret of their hearts they at least cared for themselves: a dangerous thing in the servants of the Lord. Oh, to be self-sacrificing! to care for nothing but Him! At any rate the comfort is this He does care for us. The Lord accordingly rises at that call, selfish as it might be, of glaring unbelief; yet His ear heard it as the call of believers, and He pitied them. "He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still." The wind ceased, and there was a great calm; so that even the shipmen feared exceedingly in the presence of such power; and said one to another, "What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
The next chapter (Mark 5:1-43) opens with a highly important incident connected with ministry. Here it is a single case of a demoniac, which makes the details all the more striking. In point of fact, we know from elsewhere that there were two. The gospel of Matthew, not in this only, but in various other cases, speaks of two persons; as, I suppose, because this fact fell in with his object. It was a recognized principle in the law, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word should be established; and he among the evangelists on whom, so to speak, the mantle of the circumcision fell, he it was who, speaking in view of the circumcision, gives the required testimony for the guidance of those in Israel that had ears to hear. Nothing of the kind was before Mark. He wrote not with any special aim of meeting Jewish saints and Jewish difficulties; but, in truth, rather for others that were not so circumscribed, and might rather need to have their peculiarities explained from time to time. He evidently had humanity before him as wide as the world, and therefore singles out, as we may fairly gather, the more remarkable of the two demoniacs. There is again no thought here of delineating the destinies of Israel in the last days, without denying an. allusion typically here to that which is fully drawn out there. But I apprehend the special object of this chapter is to trace the moral effects of Christ's ministry, where it is brought home in power to the soul. We have, therefore, the most desperate case possible. It is neither a leper nor a paralytic; nor is it simply a man with an unclean spirit. Here is the minute specification of a case more appalling than any we can find elsewhere in the gospels, and none describes it with such power and intense naturalness, or so circumstantially, as our evangelist.
"When he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains." All human appliances but proved the superior might of the enemy. "Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him." What a picture of dreary wretchedness, the companion of desolation and of death! "And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones." Utter degradation, too, weighed him down, the cruelty of degradation such as Satan loves to inflict upon man that he hates. "But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, and cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not. For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many." Again the same trait, one may just remark, appears here as before a most singular identifying of the evil spirit with the man. Sometimes it would seem as if it was but one, sometimes a kind of manifold personality. "He besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country." And the Lord accordingly casts the unclean spirits into the swine, which were destroyed.
However, it is not only deliverance, as we saw in Matthew, but there is the moral result on the soul. The people of the country come for now it is the testimony of the effects of ministry; they come to Jesus, and seeing him that was possessed of the devil and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind, they were afraid; and they that saw it told them how it befell him that was possessed of the devil, and also concerning the swine. Mark their unbelief! Man showed that he cared less for Jesus than for Satan or the swine. "When he was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed him that he might be with him" the natural impulse of a renewed heart, true of every saint of God. There is no believer, I care not how feeble he may be, who does not know this desire, unless he lose the sweet simplicity of truth, or, it may be, stifled by bad doctrine, such as putting him under law, which always produces fear and anxiety. But when a man is not poisoned by misuse of law, or other corrupt teaching, the first simple impulse of him who knows the love of Jesus is to be with Him. This is one reason why all Christians are spoken of as loving His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:1-22) Nor is it only a desire to be with Him, but that His glory should be made good everywhere. The soul right well knows that He who is so precious to the heart only needs to be known to others, only needs to be manifested before the world, to bring in the only power of blessing that can avail for such a world as this.
In the case before us, however, our Lord suffers him not. He shows that, no matter how true and right and becoming might be this sentiment of grace in the heart of the delivered man, still there is a work to be done. Those that are delivered are themselves to be deliverers. Such is the beneficent character and aim of the ministry of Jesus. If Jesus does His work, if He breaks the power of Satan that none else can touch, it is not merely that the delivered one should have his heart with Him, and forthwith desire to go and be with Him. In itself, indeed, it is due to his love, and it could not but be that he who has been taught of God what Jesus is, should long to be where He is. But as Jesus pleased not Himself, coming to serve God here below, so his sphere of service is in the place where he could tell others the great things which had been done for him. Accordingly the Saviour meets him with the words, "Go home to thy friends."
Mark it well, dear brethren; we are apt to forget the injunction. It is not merely, Go to the world, or, Go to every creature; but, "Go home to thy friends." How comes it that there is such difficulty, often, in speaking to our friends? Why is it that persons who are bold enough with strangers, are so timid before their household, relatives, connections? It often tells a tale which it is well to bear in mind. We shrink from the comparison which our friends are so apt and sure to make; who test our words -however clear, and good, and sweet by that which they have such abundant means of ascertaining in our daily ways. An inconsistent walk makes a coward, at least, before "our friends." It would be well if it really had the effect of humbling us before all. Were there genuine lowliness with fidelity before God, there would be courage, not only before strangers, but before "our friends." Here, however, the point simply amounts to this: The Lord would spread the message of grace, would send him to make it known to his friends; for it was clearly they who had best known in his case the awful and degrading power of Satan. They would, of course, be most interested in the men who were his familiars; and therefore there were special reasons, I doubt not, for it. For us, too, it is a good thing to bear it in mind. Not that a saved soul should only go to his friends; but it remains ever true and good that the secret of grace in the heart should send us to our friends, to make it known to those who have known our folly and sins, that they may hear of the mighty Saviour we have found. "Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee. And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him."
How sweet this identification of "Jesus" with "the Lord." "How great things the Lord hath done for him." The Saviour put it forth in the most general way, I believe, in uttering these words without special allusion to Himself. The man, on the other hand, I cannot doubt, was perfectly right. How often, when it may appear that there is a want of literal exactitude, in interpreting "the Lord" of "Jesus," there is in truth a better carrying out of the mind of God. Mere literalism would have held slavishly to the letter of the Lord's language. But oh how much deeper, and, withal, more glorifying to God it was, when the man saw underneath that great mystery of godliness the Lord in the servant's garb. He who was pleased to take the form of a servant was none the less the Lord. "He went and told how great things Jesus had done for him."
Then follows the account of the Jewish ruler of the synagogue, who fell at the feet of Jesus, and besought Him greatly to heal his dying daughter. Having dwelt on the scene elsewhere, I need say the less here. The Lord goes with him, intimating His specified ministry in Israel a work which goes down to the reality of death, under which they would be shown really to lie. But the Shepherd of Israel could raise from the dead. This seems to be the bearing of the case before us, and not a mere general inroad upon Satan's power, which became the occasion and justification, if one may so speak, of carrying victoriously the glad tidings of God's kingdom and goodness to man. This was true of the Lord's ministry even while on the earth, the place where Satan reigns. His temptation in the wilderness proved Him stronger than the strong man, and therefore He spoils his goods, delivering the poor victims of Satan, and making them to be the captors of him whose captives they were. But here we find that his heart, far from being turned away from Israel, yearned over their need, deep as it was. The call of Jairus is no sooner made than He goes to answer it. He alone could wake out of death's sleep the daughter of Zion; yet, ineffable grace! while on the road He is open to everybody. In the throng through which He had to pass was a woman having an issue of blood. It was a desperate case; for she had suffered much, and tried many physicians in vain. Such is the hapless lot of man away from God; human aid avails not. Where is the man who has had to do with what is in the world, and would not at once acknowledge the justice of the picture, the powerlessness of man in the presence of the deepest wants? But this was just the opportunity for One who, even as man ministering here below, wielded the power of God in His love. Jesus was the true and unfailing servant of God; and the woman, instead of seeking good from man as he is, and thus suffering more and more by the very efforts made to benefit her, unseen in the press behind, touches the garment of Jesus. "For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole. And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she wad healed of that plague." To have banished her ailment would have been too little for Jesus; for He is a perfect Saviour, and therefore is a Saviour not only for the body that had suffered so long, but for the soul's affections and peace. She got a better blessing than she sought. He not only staunched the issue of blood, but filled her trembling heart with confidence instead of the fear that had possessed her before. Nothing would have been morally right had she gone away with the reflection that she had stolen some virtue from Jesus. Emphatically banishing, then, all dread from her spirit, He says to her, "Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague." That is, He seals to her with His mouth the blessing which, as it were, her hand would else have seemed to have taken surreptitiously from Him.
Then, in the end of the chapter, the Lord is in the presence of death; but He will not allow death to abide His presence. "The damsel," said He, (and how true it was!) "is not dead, but sleepeth." Just so the Spirit says believers are asleep; as, "Those that sleep in Jesus God brings with him." Here typically Israel is viewed according to the mind of God. Unbelief may weep, and wail, and create all sorts of tumult, and with little feeling after all; for it can equally even then laugh Jesus to scorn. But as for Him, He suffers none to enter but chosen ones Peter, and James, and John, alone, with the parents. "And when he was come in, he saith unto them, Why make ye this ado, and weep? the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn." So the Lord takes the damsel by the hand, after He had turned the others out, and straightway at His word she arises, and walks. "And they were astonished with a great astonishment. And he charged them straitly that no man should know it; and commanded that something should be given her to eat." Why in this gospel more than any other does the Lord Jesus thus enjoin silence? I conceive it is because Mark's is the gospel of service. The truth is, brethren, service is not a thing to be trumpeted by those engaged in it, or their friends. Whatever is from God, and is done toward God, may be safely left to tell its own tale. It is what God gives and does, not what man says, that is the real point of holy service. Observe here, too, how the Lord, at least, perfect in every thing, not only does the work, but besides tenderly cares for her. There is the considerate goodness of the Lord to be remarked, that "something should be given her to eat." In every matter, even in what might seem the smallest, Jesus took an interest. Thus He bore in mind that the maiden had been in this state of trance, and was exhausted. Whatever be the occasion that calls it forth, is it not the greatest of all things for our hearts to know how Jesus cares for us?
In Mark 6:1-56 we have our Lord again now thoroughly despised. Here He is "the carpenter." It was true; but was this all? Was it "the truth?" Such was man's estimate of the Lord of glory; not merely the carpenter's son, but here, and here only, He is Himself the carpenter, "the son of Mary, and the brother of James, and Joses, and Judah, and Simon. Are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him." Beautifully, too, you may remark that, where there was this unbelief, our Lord would not remove it by dazzling feats of power, because there would have been no moral worth in a result so produced. He had given already abundant signs to unbelief; but men had not profited by them, neither was the word that He spake mixed with faith in them that heard it. The consequence is, that "He could there do no mighty work;" as here only it is recorded yes, of the man before whom no power of Satan, no disease of man, nothing above, or below, or beneath, could prove the very smallest difficulty. But God's glory, God's will governed all; and the display of perfect power was in perfect lowliness of obedience. Therefore this blessed One could there do no mighty work. It is needless to say that it was no question of power as to Himself. It was not in any wise that His saving arm was shortened; not that there was no virtue in Him longer, but there was the lovely blending of the moral glorifying of God with all that was wrought for man. In other words, we have not here the mere setting forth of the power of Jesus, but the gospel of His ministry. Therefore it is a weighty part of this, that because of unbelief He could do no mighty work there. He was really serving God; and if man only was seen, not God, no wonder that He could do no mighty work there. Thus, that which at first sight seems strange, the moment you take it in connection with the object of God in what He is revealing, all becomes striking, plain, and instructive.
And now He proceeds to act upon that appointment of the twelve, whom we saw, in Mark 3:1-35, He had ordained. "He called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth." It was in presence of the thorough contempt which had just shown itself that He gives them their mission. It was only when the extremest scorn fell on Him, so that He could do no mighty work there. He replies, as it were, in the most gracious and also conclusive manner, that it was from no lack of virtue, because He sends them two and two on their new and mighty errand. He that could communicate power, then, to a number of men the twelve to go forth and do any mighty work, certainly did not Himself want intrinsic energy, nor was it from any want of power to draw upon in God. Jesus invests them with His own power, as it were, and sends them out in all directions as witnesses, but witnesses of the ministry of Jesus. They were servants called after His own fashion; and so He commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; they were to go forth in the faith of His resources. Therefore, anything of human means would have been contrary to the very intention. In a word, we must remember that this was a special form of service suitable to that moment, and, in point of fact, rescinded by our Lord afterwards in very important particulars. In the gospel of Luke, we have carefully given us the change that takes place when the Lord's hour was come. It was not only that it was an hour come for Him, but it was a crisis for them, too. They had thenceforward to encounter a great change, because of the character of utter rejection, and, indeed, of suffering, on which the Lord was entering. He therefore cast them upon the ordinary resources of faith, using such things as they had; but as yet it was not so. On the contrary, the witnesses of Jesus to Israel were then going forth. It was in the face of unbelief against Himself, but unbelief answered by the fresh outflow of grace on His part, sending out messengers with extraordinary powers from Himself all over the land. And so He told them where to go, and "what place soever ye enter into an house, there abide till ye depart from that place. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city. And they went out, and preached that men should repent" a very important feature here added. John preached repentance; Jesus preached repentance, as did these apostles. And be assured, beloved friends, that repentance is an eternal truth of God for this time as much as for any other. There is no greater mistake than to suppose that the change of dispensation weakens (I will not say merely the place of repentance for every soul that is brought to God, but) the duty of preaching repentance. We are not to leave it after a perfunctory sort, contenting ourselves with the assurance, that if a person believes, he is sure to repent; we ought to preach repentance, as well as to look for repentance in those who profess to have received the gospel. At any rate, it is equally clear that the Lord preached it, and that the apostles were to do and did the same. "They preached that men should repent, and they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them."
Then we have Herod appearing upon the scene; and Herod, I take it, represents in Israel the power of the world its usurping power, if you please. However this be, there he was in point of fact, the holder of the world's power in the land, and ever, though not without qualms and struggles in the end, thoroughly opposed to the testimony of God. He was really hostile to it, not merely in its fullest forms, but at bottom also, in its first appearance and most elementary presentation. He had no love for the truth; he might like the man who preached it well enough, and at first hear him gladly; he might have many anxieties about his soul before God, and know perfectly well that he was doing wrong in his ordinary life; but, still, the devil managed to play the game so well, that although there was personal affection, or respect, at least, for the servant of God, the disastrous end comes, as it always will, when there is a fair trial in this world. No respect, no kindly feeling for any one or anything that is of God, will ever stand when Satan is allowed to work, and is thus free to accomplish his own deadly plan of ruining or thwarting the testimony of God. This is what those engaged in the ministry of Christ must expect to see attempted, and will do well to resist. If this be the point, as I apprehend, the reason of its introduction here is not obscure. The Lord was sending out these chosen vessels. In the presence of this new action of His in the work, we learn how the world feels about it; not merely the ignorant world, nor the religious parties with their chiefs, but the highly cultivated profane world. And this is the way in which they treat it. They have the outward power which Satan finds means to make them use. They kill the witness of God. It may be only a wicked woman who stirs them up to do the deed; but be not deceived. It was not a question of Herodias merely. She was but the tool by which the devil brought it about: he has his own particular way; and in this case we have not only the circumstances, solemn as they are, but the spring of all in the opposition of Satan to God's testimony. The issue of it is, that if wicked men have power to kill, even if reluctant, he whose they are somehow compels them to use their power, when the opportunity arises. Fear of man, and notions of honour, are strong where God is unheeded: what may not follow where there is no conscience? That old serpent can manage to entrap the most prudent, just as Herod here fell into the trap. For his word to a wicked woman, passed in presence of his lords, John's head was struck off, and produced in a charger.
The apostles come to our Lord after their mission, and tell Him the result of their mission; or as it is said here, "told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught." It was not very safe ground: it were better to have spoken of what He had taught, and what He was doing. As, however, the Lord corrects all most graciously, He takes them away into a desert place, and there He is found unwearied in His love. A hungry multitude was there. These disciples, only a little while before so full of what they had taught, and what they had done was it not a worthy emergency for their labours now? Could they not help in the present distress? They seem not so much as to have thought of it. Alone, at any rate, in this scene, our Lord Jesus brings out in the plainest possible manner their utter failure. Mark the lesson well. It is especially, when there was somewhat of boastfulness, after they had been occupied with their own doings and teachings. Then it is that we find them thus powerless. They were at their wits' ends. They did not know what to do. Strange to say, they never thought of the Lord; but the Lord thought of the poor multitudes, and in His richest grace not only spread a table and fed the people, but makes the feeble disciples themselves to be the dispensers of His bounty, as afterwards they must gather up what remained.
After this, again, we find them exposed to a storm, and the Lord, joining them in their troubles, brings them safely, and at once, to the desired haven. Therein follows the scene of joy where Jesus is recognized, and the abundant blessing that attended His every footstep where He moved. As surely as Jesus thus blessed the poor world then, such and far more will He prove Himself at His return after the world will have done its worst. I do not doubt that this carries us to the end, when the Lord Jesus will rejoin His people after their manifold and sore troubles, after all their proved weakness, as well as exposure to outward storms. As He was in the place He had visited, so He will be in the universal diffusion of power and blessing, when the tempest-tossed disciples shall have come safe to land.
Mark 7:1-37. But then there is another view necessary also in connection with ministry; we need to learn the prevalent feeling of the religious powers. Accordingly we have the traditionist in collision with Christ, as we had in the last chapter Herod with John the Baptist. Here it is the accredited leaders from Jerusalem, the scribes, before whom our Lord brings the most convincing evidence, that the principle and practice of their cherished traditions demoralise man and dishonour the word of God. The reason of the evil is manifest it is from man. This is enough; for man is a sinner. There is nothing really good but what is from God. Show me anything from fallen man which is not evil. Tradition, as being man's supplement, is always and necessarily evil. The Lord puts it together with what He afterwards brings out the condemnation of man's heart in all its depravity. There it is not only the mind of man, but the working of his corrupt feelings. This is not the time to dwell on this well known chapter, and the contrast it furnishes of Christ's display of God's all-perfect grace toward the greatest possible need the woman who came to Him on account of her demoniac daughter. The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by nation, who besought Him to cast forth the devil out of her daughter. But the Lord, trying her faith in order to give her a richer blessing, not only accomplishes what she desires, but puts the seal of His approval in the most striking manner upon her personal faith. "And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed."
Next we come to another tale, finishing the chapter, and strikingly characteristic of our gospel the case of one deaf and dumb, whom Jesus met as He departed from these quarters into Galilee. "And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him." Here again the Lord shows us a beautiful sample of considerateness and tender goodness in the manner of His cure. It is not only the cure, but the manner of it, that we have so strikingly brought out here. Our Lord takes the man aside from the multitude. Who could intermeddle with that scene between the perfect servant of God and the needy one? "He puts his fingers into his ears." What would He not do to prove His interest? "And he spit, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed." As He weighed the distressing results of sin, what a burden was upon His heart! It is a particular instance of the great truth we saw in Matthew the other night. With Jesus it was never bare power relieving man, but always His spirit entering into the case, feeling its character in God's sight, and its sad consequences for man too. The whole was borne upon His heart, and so, as here, He sighs, and bids the ears be opened. "And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it; and were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well." Such might be the motto of Mark. The utterance of the multitude, of those that saw the fact, is just what is illustrated throughout the entire gospel. "He hath done all things well." It was not only that there was the power fully adequate to accomplish all He undertook, but "He hath done all things well." He is the perfect servant everywhere, and under all circumstances, whatever may be the need. "He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak."
The next (Mark 8:1-38) must be our last chapter now, on which I will just say a word or two before closing. We have once more a great multitude fed; not the same, of course, as before. Here, not five thousand were fed, but four thousand; not twelve baskets of fragments remained over, but seven. There were outwardly less limits, and a less residue; but observe that seven, the normal number of perfection spiritually, is here. I consider, therefore, that contrariwise, and viewed as a figure, this was still more important than the other. There is no greater mistake in Scripture and, indeed, it is true in moral questions than to judge of things by their mere appearances. The moral bearing of anything you please is always of more importance than its physical aspect. In this second miracle the number fed was less, while the original supply was greater, yet the remainder gathered up was less. Apparently, therefore, the balance was greatly in favour of the former miracle. The truth is really this, that in the former case the intervention of men was prominent; here, though He may employ men, the great point is the perfectness of His own love, sympathy, and provision for His people, no matter what the need. It appears, therefore, that the seven has a deeper completeness than the twelve, both being significant in their place.
After this our Lord rebukes the disciples for unbelief, which comes out strongly now. The greater His love and compassion, the more perfect His care, the more painfully, alas! unbelief betrays itself even in the disciples, and yet more in others. But our Lord performs another cure, the record of which is peculiar to Mark. At Bethsaida, a blind man was brought. The Lord, for the express purpose, it seems to me, of showing the patience of ministry according to His mind, first touches his eyes, when partial sight follows. The man confesses in reply, that "he saw men like trees walking;" and the Lord applies His hand a second time. The work is done perfectly. Thus, not only did He heal the blind, but He did it well a further illustration of what has been already before. us. If He puts His hand to accomplish, He does not take it away until all is complete, according to His own love. The man then saw with perfect distinctness. Thus all is in season. The double action proved the good Physician; as His acting so effective, whether by word or hand, whether by one application or by two, proved the great Physician.
The close of the chapter begins to open the faith of Peter in contrast with the unbelief of men, and even with what had been working among the disciples before. Now, things were hurrying on rapidly to the worst. Peter's confession was therefore the more seasonable. The account differs very strikingly from what is found in Matthew. Peter is represented by Mark as saying simply, "Thou art the Christ;" while in Matthew the words are, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" "Hence you have no such thing in Mark as, "Upon this rock I will build my church." The Church is built not exactly on the Christ or Messiah as such, but on the confession of "the Son of the living God." Hence we may see how beautifully the omissions of Scripture hang together. The Holy Ghost inspired Mark to notice no more than a part of the confession of Peter, and thus there is only a part of the blessing mentioned by our Lord. The highest homage to our Lord in Peter's confession being omitted, the great change then at hand, which displays itself in the building of the Church, is consequently quite left out of Mark. There our Lord simply charges them that they were not to tell any man of Him,. the Christ. What an end of the testimony of His presence! The reason, too, is most affecting: "The Son of man must suffer many things," etc. Such is the portion of Him, the true servant. He is the Christ, but it is no use to tell the people so any more; they have heard often, and will not believe it. Now He is going to enter upon another work: He is going to suffer. It is His portion. "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."
After this point, He begins, in view of the transfiguration, to announce His approaching death. He gives it most circumstantially. He would guard His servants from supposing that He was in any wise taken by surprise by His death. It was an expected thing. It was what He knew, perfectly and circumstantially, before the elders and scribes did. The very people that were going to cause it knew nothing about it. They planned rather the reverse of the actual circumstances of His death. Still less did they know anything about His resurrection; they did not believe it when it came to pass; the Jews covered it up by a lie. But Jesus knew all about both, and now first breaks the tidings to His disciples, intimating that their path must lie through the same pathway of suffering. Christ's suffering is here viewed as the fruit of the sin of man, which accounts for the fact, that there is not a word said about atonement here. There never was a greater misconception in looking at Scripture than to limit our Lord's sufferings to atonement: I mean upon the cross, and in death. Certainly, atonement was the deepest point in the sufferings of Christ, and one can understand how even Christians are apt to overlook all else in atonement. The reason why believers make atonement everything is because they make themselves everything. But if they were not unbelieving believers, they would see that there is a great deal more in the cross than the atonement; and surely they would not think less of Jesus if they were to see more the extent of His grace, and the profundity of His sufferings. Our Lord does not speak of His death here as. expiating sins. In Matthew, where He speaks of giving His life a ransom for many, of course there is atonement substantially. Christ expiates their sins, and this I call atonement. But here, where He speaks of being killed by men, is that atonement? It is painful that Christians should be so shut up and confused. Were not God dealing in judgment with the Saviour of sinners, there would have been no atonement. His rejection by men, though taken from God, is not the same thing. And, beloved friends, this is a more important and more practical question than many might be apt to think; but I must defer further remarks for the present. We have before us a new subject the glory which our Lord immediately after speaks of in connection with His rejection and sufferings.