Great Texts of the Bible
Desire and Duty
And as he was entering into the boat, he that had been possessed with devils besought him that he might be with him. And he suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go to thy house unto thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and how he had mercy on thee. And he went his way, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel.—Mark 5:18-20.
The story of the healing of this man, usually called the Gadarene demoniac, is told in the previous verses of the chapter.
1. There is some uncertainty regarding the locality. The place is given in the manuscripts in three different forms—country “of the Gadarenes,” “of the Gergesenes,” and “of the Gerasenes.” Gadara was six miles from the Sea of Galilee, and therefore impossible. Gerasa was thirty miles away, and out of the question. Still, the probability is that we should accept the reading Gerasenes, and refer it, not to the city of Gerasa, but to an obscure place of the same name, close to the lake, which had been lost sight of. Gergesa may be a corrupted form of this name.
2. Before passing to the subject, notice that three requests, singularly contrasted with each other, are made to Christ in the course of this miracle of healing the Gadarene demoniac—(1) the evil spirits ask to be permitted to go into the swine; (2) the men of the country, caring more for their swine than their Saviour, beg Him to take Himself away, and relieve them of His unwelcome presence; (3) the demoniac beseeches Him to be allowed to stay beside Him. Two of the requests are granted; one is refused. The one that was refused is the one that we might have expected to be granted.
For, ah! who can express
How full of bonds and simpleness
How narrow is He,
And how the wide, waste field of possibility
Is only trod
Straight to His homestead in the human heart;
Whose thoughts but live and move
Round Man; who woos his will
To wedlock with His own, and does distil
To that drop’s span
The attar of all rose-fields of all love!1 [Note: Coventry Patmore.]
The Variety of Christ’s Instructions
Three distinct instructions given by Christ to His followers are found in the Gospels.
1. Sometimes He charged them to say nothing whatever about what He had done. In the end of this very chapter we find the injunction laid emphatically upon those who knew that He had raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead: “He charged them much that no man should know this.”
There are four special cases of this injunction to silence, and they occur after the healing of four of the greatest of human ills—dumbness (Mark 7:36), blindness (Matthew 9:30), leprosy (Mark 1:44), and death (Mark 5:43); to which must be added the command laid on the unclean spirits (Mark 3:12). And in two cases (Mark 1:44; Matthew 9:30) a particularly strong word is used to express a stern, urgent, even impassioned request or command.
2. He charged this man to go home and tell his friends. The explanation of the difference between the one command and the other is to be found in the circumstances. In the previous cases silence was necessary for Christ’s sake. In this case speech was necessary for the sake of the man himself. Moreover, the danger to the work of Christ in Decapolis was not as the danger would have been in Galilee.
3. He commanded His disciples after the Resurrection to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature (Matthew 28:19). In the early part of His ministry silence is enjoined that the work may not be hampered. But the work is saving souls, and the consideration for one soul makes an exception in the case of the demoniac. At the end, when the work is accomplished, the demand for silence is revoked. The order now is that the good news should be made known in all the world, and it is laid as a charge on every one of His disciples.
The Conflict between Duty and Desire
The great lesson of the text is here. And it is that (1) desire is not always duty, but that (2) duty must come before desire, and that then (3) desire and duty will agree together. The demoniac, no longer a demoniac, but clothed and in his right mind, desired to be with Jesus; but Jesus bade him go home and tell the story of his healing. He went, and found his great pleasure in telling the news, at which all men marvelled.
The request of the man commands sympathy. Had I been such as he, each man seems to say, it is the very boon I should have craved. The brief period of time between the healing and the departure seemed far too short to utter the gratitude welling up in his heart. It may be that he was not free from the fear that if the Great Healer departed, the old evil, which man had tried in vain to master, would anew take possession of him. He must live among the Gadarenes, an object of their dull curiosity, and of their unslumbering suspicion. He must live among those who would always remember him as the man at whose healing their herds of swine were destroyed, and who would bear him a grudge they could not forget. And most of all, his life would be lonely, his unique experience would shut him out from the intimate sympathy of any other. Present with Christ, listening to the voice that spoke his freedom and still thrills his soul, he has no further need. And yet he shrank—who would not?—from so speedy a separation from Him whose coming had been the cause of his salvation, whose presence was the source of his stability, whose departing, he perhaps feared, would prove the occasion of a new and direr bondage to evil.1 [Note: J. T. L. Maggs.]
“Howbeit, Jesus suffered him not.” There were arrears of duty owing to the neglected home-life, from which he had been a stranger for a long time (Luke 8:27). Besides, there were virtues which would find their most congenial soil in the very life from which he so naturally shrank. And, finally, there was some risk that in daily dependence upon Christ the man would miss the discipline which he needed.
There is a story of a poor but devout man who once came to a bishop of Paris, and said with a sorrowing heart, “Father, I am a sinner; I feel that it is so, but it is against my will. Every hour I ask for light, and humbly pray for faith, but still I am overwhelmed with doubts and temptations. Surely if I were not despised of God, He would not leave me to struggle thus.” The bishop answered him with much kindness: “The king of France has two castles in different situations and sends a commander to each of them. The castle of Mantleberry stands in a place remote from danger, far inland; but the castle of La Rochelle is on the coast, where it is liable to continual sieges. Now, which of the two commanders, think you, stands highest in the estimation of the king?” “Doubtless,” said the poor man, “the king values him the most who has the hardest task and braves the greatest danger.” “Thou art right,” replied the bishop. “And now apply this matter to thy case and mine; for my heart is like the castle of Mantleberry, and thine like that of La Rochelle.”
There is no better way of keeping out devils than working for Jesus Christ. Many a man finds that the true cure—say, for instance, of doubts that buzz about him and disturb him, is to go away and talk to some one about his Saviour. Work for Jesus amongst people that do not know Him is a wonderful sieve for sifting out the fundamental articles of the Christian faith. And when we go to other people, and tell them of that Lord, and see how the message is sometimes received, and what it sometimes does, we come away with confirmed faith.
But, in any case, it is better to work for Him than to sit alone thinking about Him. The two things have to go together; and I know very well that there is a great danger, in the present day, of exaggeration, and insisting too exclusively upon the duty of Christian work whilst neglecting to insist upon the duty of Christian meditation. But, on the other hand, it blows the cobwebs out of a man’s brain; it puts vigour into him, it releases him from himself, and gives him something better to think about, when he listens to the Master’s voice, “Go home to thy friends, and tell them what great things the Lord hath done for thee.”1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
“Master! it is good for us to be here. Let us make three tabernacles. Stay here; let us enjoy ourselves up in the clouds, with Moses and Elias; and never mind about what goes on below.” But there was a demoniac boy down there that needed to be healed; and the father was at his wits’ end, and the disciples were at theirs because they could not heal him. And so Jesus Christ turned His back upon the Mount of Transfiguration, and the company of the blessed two, and the Voice that said, “This is my beloved Son,” and hurried down where human woes called Him, and found that He was as near God, and so did Peter and James and John, as when up there amid the glory.2 [Note: Ibid.]
Not on some lone and lofty hill apart
Did Christ the Saviour render up His heart
For man upon the cross of love and woe;
But by the common road where to and fro
The passers went upon their daily ways
And, pausing, pierced Him with indifferent gaze.
And still the crosses by life’s highway rise
Beneath the blinding glare of noonday skies;
Still with the wrestling spirit’s anguished cry
Blends the light mockery of the passer-by,
While scorners, gathered at the martyr’s feet,
With railing tongues the olden taunts repeat.
We may not go apart to give our life
For men in some supernal, mystic strife,
Beside the common paths of earth doth love
Look from its cross to the still heavens above.
The refusal had a threefold message to the man—a message to his will, a message to his thought, and a message to his heart.
1. A Message to his Will.—For by the refusal of his request the man is to be educated to a necessary independence. It was not gratitude alone that prompted his wish to be near Christ. It was a haunting sense of insecurity. Those who have had experience of some of the aspects of nervous disorder know the terrible character of the fears which haunt the minds of those who are its victims. They lose self-reliance; they dread isolation. This man has been cured of his disease, but he fears the return of it if left alone. But Christ in His wisdom knows that it is best that he should be thrown on his own resources. He must resume the prerogative of his manhood, as a self-directing, self-controlling being. It is the method of all education, human and Divine. It is the method of the mother with her child; it is God’s method with man when He places him on the earth; it is the way Christ dealt with His Church.
2. A Message to his Thought.—The man’s thoughts were concentrated on his visible Healer. He must be taught to pass in thought beyond that which is seen and realise those spiritual powers of which outward things convey but a passing expression. He must walk by faith and not by sight. He must pass from the material to the spiritual. This step also has its analogy in all human education. We begin our education with the concrete. We learn to count by the use of coloured beads upon a wire; from these we pass to figures; from figures we go forward to algebraical signs and symbols. By the same method man has been taught to know God. St. Paul appealed to the Athenians to give over the worship of idols made with hands, and to worship Him in whom we live and move and have our being. Even the visible Christ must go away. It is expedient for us. “Touch me not,” He says to the eager Magdalene still; to Thomas, “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
3. A Message to his Heart.—Our Lord points out to the man that life is not for self but for others. Instead of the joy of being near Himself He gives him a duty—“Go home to thy friends.” Were the friends unworthy? Had they been more kin than kind? It may be so. But this man had met with a wonderful experience. He had gained knowledge of a love that did not look for return. He can now think with sympathy of those to whom this wonderful revelation is unknown. So every new power, and every fresh experience, carries with it responsibility. Love is contagious; nay, it is more, it is infectious. Freely we have received, freely we fain would give. Moreover, it is by self-forgetful effort among others that the man is to win his own independence. And again it is the method of all true education. The child is not merely told to try to walk. Some object to be reached is put before him. The pupil is not simply bidden to think. Some definite problem is submitted to his thoughts. Man’s powers of independence and self-reliance are drawn out by the necessity of work. And that the disciples might become assured of power, Christ set them to discharge their duty. Their task was to teach all nations.
It has been written, “An endless significance lies in work;” a man perfects himself by working. Foul jungles are cleared away, fair seedfields rise instead, and stately cities; and withal the man himself first ceases to be a jungle and foul unwholesome desert thereby. Consider how, even in the meanest sorts of Labour, the whole soul of a man is composed into a kind of real harmony, the instant he sets himself to work! Doubt, Desire, Sorrow, Remorse, Indignation, Despair itself, all these, like hell-dogs, lie beleaguering the soul of the poor dayworker, as of every man: but he bends himself with free valour against his task, and all these are stilled, all these shrink murmuring far off into their caves. The man is now a man. The blessed glow of Labour in him, is it not as purifying fire, wherein all poison is burnt up, and of sour smoke itself there is made bright blessed flame!1 [Note: Thomas Carlyle, Past and Present, chap. xi.]
iii. Duty and Desire One
“Go home to thy friends, and tell them”; and you will find that to do that is the best way to realise the desire which seemed to be put aside, the desire for the presence of Christ. For be sure that wherever He may not be, He always is where a man, in obedience to Him, is doing His commandments. So when He said, “Go home to thy friends,” He was answering the request that He seemed to reject, and when the Gadarene obeyed, he would find, to his astonishment and his grateful wonder, that the Lord had not gone away in the boat, but was with him still. “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel. Lo! I am with you alway.”
I said, “Let us walk in the field.”
He said, “Nay, walk in the town.”
I said, “There are no flowers there.”
He said, “No flowers but a crown.”
I said, “But the skies are black,
There is nothing but noise and din.”
And He wept as He sent me back,
“There is more,” He said, “there is sin.”
I said, “But the air is thick,
And fogs are veiling the sun.”
He answered, “Yet souls are sick,
And souls in the dark undone.”
I said, “I shall miss the light,
And friends will miss me, they say.”
He answered, “Choose to-night,
If I am to miss you, or they.”
I pleaded for time to be given.
He said, “Is it hard to decide?
It will not seem hard in heaven
To have followed the steps of your Guide.”
I cast one look at the field,
Then set my face to the town.
He said, “My child, do you yield?
Will you leave the flowers for the crown?”
Then into His hand went mine
And into my heart came He,
And I walked in a light divine,
The path I had feared to see.1 [Note: George Macdonald.]
The Home Missionary
1. The man’s first duty was to his own house. His tale was to be told first in his own circle. “Go home to thy friends and tell them.” It is a great mistake to take recent converts, especially if they have been very profligate beforehand, and to hawk them about the country as trophies of God’s converting power. Let them stop at home, and bethink themselves, and get sober and confirmed, and let their changed lives prove the reality of Christ’s healing power. They can speak to some purpose after that.
Many years ago, a friend of mine was taking an evangelistic tour through the Highlands of Scotland in company with a young friend, recently converted. When they came to the young convert’s native village, my friend said, “Samuel, you must speak to-night.” “I can’t,” was the reply, “I never said half a dozen words in public in my life.” “But you must; God tells me you are to speak to-night.” Accordingly, at the right moment, Samuel rose in the meeting and, in trembling awkward fashion, said, “Every one here knows me. Parents used to point their children to me, and tell them to be like me. They called me a model boy: but if I had died three months ago, I should have gone straight to hell.” My friend told me afterwards he could never forget how the power of God came down upon that meeting. But this was only Samuel’s first word for Christ. He has spoken many since. For a long period he has been a member of Parliament, and when a word needs to be said on behalf of the cause of God and truth in the House of Commons, Samuel is the man to say it. And, somehow, he makes people listen. But to-day he would trace the beginning of all that is useful in his public career to those few trembling words, falteringly spoken, in his native village.1 [Note: W. C. Sage.]
The fear was on the cattle, for the gale was on the sea,
An’ the pens broke up on the lower deck an’ let the creatures free—
An’ the lights went out on the lower deck, an’ no one near but me.
It is the story of a strong, regardless, ungodly man helpless among the cattle aboard ship in a fearful storm. He sees that he will certainly be horned or trod upon. And more pens broke at every roll—so he made his Contract with God.
An’ by the terms of the Contract, as I have read the same,
If He got me to port alive I would exalt His Name
An’ praise His Holy Majesty till further orders came.
So Mulholland was saved from the cattle and the sea, although sorely damaged by a stanchion, so that he lay seven weeks in hospital. Then when he was convalescing he spoke to God of the Contract, and this was the reply—
“I never puts on My ministers no more than they can bear.
So back you go to the cattle-boats an’ preach My Gospel there.”
“They must quit drinkin’ and swearin,’ they mustn‘t knife on a blow,
They must quit gamblin’ their wages, and you must preach it so;
For now those boats are more like Hell than anything else I know.”
I didn’t want to do it, for I knew what I should get,
An’ I wanted to preach Religion, handsome an’ out of the wet,
But the Word of the Lord were lain upon me an’ I done what I was set.
So the brave lad went on with his duty, turning his cheek to the smiter.
But following that, I knocked him down an’ led him up to Grace …
The skippers say I’m crazy, but I can prove ’em wrong,
For I am in charge of the lower deck with all that doth belong—
Which they would not give to a lunatic, and the competition so strong.1 [Note: Kipling, Seven Seas: “Mulholland’s Contract.”]
2. This recovered demoniac was one of the first home missionaries. And in regarding him as a home missionary, let us consider first his mission, next his message, and then his motive.
(1) The Mission.—It was a modest commission that he received. He was not required like Moses to guide the nation; he was not called with David to declare God’s faithfulness in the great congregation; he was not selected with Paul to confess Christ before kings. The Master set before him the open door of his own house. But we must not regard this domestic commission as less honourable than the wider vocation of evangelists and missionaries. Niagara makes a great noise; it is clothed with rainbows; it is celebrated by painter and poet: yet the fruitfulness of a country does not depend upon a cataract; the landscapes are kept green by ten thousand hidden streams which go softly.
(2) The Message.—“Tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee.” Little good is done by way of disputation and controversy; but to declare what God has done for our soul is a fruitful ministry anywhere. In the narrative of the demoniac as given by St. Luke, we read “Shew how great things God hath done for thee.” Character is to sustain testimony; those about us are to take knowledge that grace has cured our faults and infirmities, and enabled us to walk purely and graciously.
(3) The Motive.—The first motive is love to the Saviour. The next motive is love to the home and friends. A few years ago, in the British House of Peers, a certain speech was delivered on a question concerning the extreme limits of our Indian Empire. That speech just thrilled England from end to end. It was delivered by a plain man of action, who had done his duty in days gone by, and came to the gilded chamber to speak out his convictions. Some say he broke down, and lost the thread of his argument. Certainly, an average local preacher might display better command of language, and a board school pupil teacher might have corrected his faults of style. But just because he could say, “I love India,” the wisest and greatest of our land crowded to hear him. Perhaps some of us will consider that the speech was on the wrong side; that the India which the noble speaker loved was not that which most demands our affection; it was India’s governing classes rather than her starving millions. But we may learn from the effect produced, the kind of testimony that Jesus wants to-day. There are people in this world who respect you for what you are and what you have done. If you tell them in a few blundering sentences, “I love Christ; He loved me, and gave Himself for me,” no one can tell the effect of your poor stammering words. The great revival we pray for is waiting for just such testimony as this.
The Rev. J. B. Ely relates that an oculist just from college commenced business in the city of London, without friends, without money, and without patrons. He became discouraged, until one day, going down one of the streets, he saw a blind man. Looking into his eyes, he said, “Why don’t you have your eyesight restored?” The usual story was told of having tried many physicians and spent all his money without avail. “Come to my office in the morning,” said the oculist. The blind man went. When an operation was performed and proved successful, the patient said: “I haven’t got a penny in the world. I can’t pay you.” “Oh yes,” said the oculist, “you can pay me, and I shall expect you to do so. There is just one thing I want you to do, and it is very easy. Tell it; tell everybody you see that you were blind, and tell them who it was that healed you.”
Desire and Duty
Bacon (L. W.), The Simplicity that is in Christ, 154.
Burrell (D. J.), Christ and Men, 118.
Carpenter (W. B.), The Son of Man among the Sons of Men, 287.
Hutton (W. R.), Low Spirits, 140.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions. Mark i.–viii., 186.
Maggs (J. T. L.), The Spiritual Experience of St. Paul, 185.
Matheson (G.), Rests by the River, 151.
Oosterzee (J. J. van), The Year of Salvation, i. 167.
Sage (W. C.), Sermons Preached in the Villages, 85.
Sinclair (W. M.), Christ and our Times, 261.
Spurgeon (C. H.), New Park Street Pulpit, iii. No. 109.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xxxviii. No. 2262.
Watkinson (W. L.), Studies in Christian Character, ii. 127.
Welldon (J. E. C.), The School of Faith, 187.
Wilberforce (S.), Sermons, 1st Ser., 203.
Christian Age, xxxv. 354 (Meredith).
Christian World Pulpit, xxv. 163 (Beecher).
Clergyman’s Magazine, New Ser., iv. 303 (Chavasse).