Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. In the history and development of the incarnate Son this event must have had. its high import. What is personal to himself, however, is almost entirely hidden. Of the "talking" we hear only one word. The two men, "which were Moses and Elijah," "the founder and the great defender of the old dispensation," "spake of his decease. Very soon after the days were well-nigh come that he should be received up, and "he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem." Henceforth his steps tend to the Cross.
II. But, whatever purpose was answered in respect of Jesus himself, the revelation most assuredly was, in the highest degree, important to the disciples, and through them to the Church at large.
1. Here is beheld the harmony, the unity, of the Law and the prophets and the Christ.
2. Here, within the "bright cloud" which "overshadowed them," though "they feared as they entered into it," they were made "eye-witnesses of his majesty;" they witnessed the "honor and glory" which "he received from God the Father."
3. They heard the "voice," and heard it "come out of heaven," which bore testimony for all to receive: "This is my beloved Son." In this lay the "honor and glory" which "he received." So thought that one of the three who declared, "It is good to be here," and who would fain have built tabernacles on this "holy mount." This testimony had already been borne when, at the baptism, "a voice out of the" same "heaven" declared to him, "thou art my beloved Son." Here the witness is of him to others: "This is my beloved Son;" and with the additional word of command, "Hear ye him." Once again afterwards, when the Father glorified his Name, there came "a voice out of heaven" directly speaking to him; though, as he declared, "this voice hath not come for my sake, but for your sakes." How truly might he say of all that he received, "not for my sake, but for your sakes"! Now, not to Peter only, but also to James and John, is it revealed," Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Now they with him share this blessedness which "flesh and blood" could not impart; now we, and with us all the Church, rejoice in the knowledge of this primary truth. How our hearts long to see his glory and hear the heavenly voice, and dwell on "the holy mount" of vision! And yet, how "good" soever it might be, it is better for the cultivation of our hearts in righteousness, and far better for the suffering, sinful world, that we go down into the valley to struggle with the evil spirit, and by faith and love and obedience glorify our living Head, and seek a meetness for those "tabernacles" which are not made by human hands. - G.
I. THE TRANSFIGURATION.
1. Allusions to the Transfiguration. The scene described in the above parallel passages is as singular as solemn. There are,
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES. At an interval of six or eight (Luke) days from Peter's confession and the teaching of the cross. "Into a high mountain," i.e. into some glen or secluded spot in the mountain. As there is no mention of any movement southward, and distinct assurance that they did not at this time go into Galilee (Mark 9:30), the notion of Tabor being the mountain is unfounded. The slightness of its elevation, and the circumstance that its summit has been a fortified spot from the earliest times, render it almost certain that it was not the scene of the Transfiguration. All the evidence is in favor of Hermon, the snow-clad, sentinel-like peak in which the Anti-Libanus range culminates. Its name means "the mountain," and it is spoken of in the Old Testament as "holy." Its cool slopes and upland solitudes would afford congenial retirement to the weary Christ. It was mental trouble he had to overcome, and this he sought to do in prayer and Divine communion. For this reason, and the signs afforded by the rest of the chapter of the day having well begun as they descended, it has been supposed it was a night scene. He was wont to pray during the night, and the disciples were "heavy with sleep." It gives a peculiar character to the occurrence to suppose this to have been the case. But that they were fully awake when the vision appeared, Luke again assures us. The duration of the vision is not suggested; probably, as in dreams, time was an inappreciable element.
II. THE INCIDENTS.
1. Transformation. "He was transfigured before them," etc. The change described by the Greek word is literally one of form, but this must not be pressed. "It was a change in the externality of the person," says Morison; "a kind of temporary glorification, effected no doubt from within outward, rather than from without inward. It would reveal the essential glory of the spirit that 'tabernacled' within, its glory at once in that lower sphere that was human, and in that higher sphere that was Divine" ('Practical Commentary,' in loc.). The general brightness of his appearance is noted by the three evangelists, Matthew comparing his face to the sun, and his garments to the light. Mark speaks of the fuller's white in his description of it. The face is referred to by Matthew and Luke, and all three refer to the garments. Luke tells us it occurred "as he was praying."
2. Association with Moses and Elias. They were seen by the apostles, but did not purposely present themselves. They were talking with him, and Luke tells us the subject of their converse: "his decease which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem." They were representatives of the righteous spirits in Hades, the world of the unseen, of disembodied spirits; representatives, too, of the Law and the prophets. They had laid the foundations of the kingdom of righteousness which he perfected. They spoke of his death as the grand means of the fulfillment of the hopes of immortality, they themselves having in the manner of their own "exodus" afforded the shadow and prophetic type of which his was the substance. He is in essential, spiritual oneness with them.
3. Peter's suggestion. Outcome of zeal, but not according to knowledge. It is seemingly enough for him to see his Master on terms of equality with those great spirits of the past. There is an undiscriminating comprehension in his proposal; a desire also to extend the duration of the ecstasy in which he and his companions were. It breaks the grand harmony of the evolution of the scene, and yet is full of instruction.
4. Divine attestation. The three accounts agree in the words, "This is my Son: hear ye him." Matthew and Mark have also "beloved," for which Luke substitutes "my chosen;' and Matthew alone adds, "in whom I am well pleased." The words are but human renderings of the unspeakable "voice." They prove that the great Centre of attention and attraction for the Church is Jesus, not Moses or Elias.
5. Restoration of Christ to his usual appearance. The distinguished associates of his glory vanish. The vision was no "baseless fabric," but it was over, and now the spectators must return to common life and mundane duties. Jesus "was found alone;" "Jesus only."
III. THE LESSONS. These are innumerable, and we must content ourselves with a few of the more prominent. There was revelation for both Christ and his disciples. A new light was thrown upon past and future, and the fear of death was broken. But the whole scene is best understood as a revelation and glorification of Christ. The Divine Father has glorified his Son, and thereby attested him to himself and to confidence of believers. This was the "sign from heaven" vainly asked by the unbelieving Pharisees, and now granted to the thrice leaders of the apostles. And a corresponding revelation will take place in the experience of every true child of God, whereby his faith shall be confirmed, and he shall be "sealed unto the day of redemption." The yearning, praying, aspiring spirit of the Son at last, in foretaste, attains; and he and his followers are strengthened. The personal glory, the sublime association with the precursors of the kingdom in the toast, and the transcendant commendation, leave no room for doubt in the heart of the true believer. The evidence is intuitive, but it is spiritually complete.
2. The loftiest tendencies and aspirations of the Law and the prophets are fulfilled in the "obedience unto death of the Divine Son. They spake with him of his decease;" it was evidently central to their thoughts. The religious hopes of the past were to be satisfied in that way alone; by that alone was the righteousness of God to be satisfied. Self-sacrifice is the spirit of both Law and prophecy. To them the profound mystery of the hereafter was solved in the spirit of his death and in his resurrection; "life and immortality were brought to light" in him. It is as associated with them and representative of them that he looked forward to his dying. The manifestation of the Divine Son is therefore of universal significance, and relates itself to all that was highest and most spiritual in ancient religious movements.
3. What God did for his Son on this occasion he will do for all who vitally belong to his "Body. Even as the bodily frame of Christ was transfigured, and partook of the inward glory of his spirit, so shall all in whose nature his grace is found appear with him in the glory of the resurrection. The spiritual law is manifest and certain, and it is evidently the same in the believer as in his Lord. Glory of spirit must sooner or later appear in glory of external appearance, and the body shall partake in the blessedness of the spirit. - M.
I. SPECIAL FAVOURS FOR SPECIAL SERVICES. The three disciples had given up all to follow Christ, had submitted them. selves entirely to the Divine will. Only to such consecration is the deeper vision of truth granted, and ascent to the loftiest heights of spiritual enjoyment.
II. DIFFERENT ASPECTS OF CHRIST'S APPEARANCE.
1. He wore one appearance for the multitude, another for the circle of disciples. In the multitude he was the Prophet and the Wonder-worker; to the disciples the Friend and familiar Teacher. The multitude felt that he must be a great Man; the disciples knew him to be the Anointed One and Divine.
2. Among the disciples themselves: there was the familiar and ordinary, the extraordinary and unusual aspect of Christ. Here he passes out of the earthly medium of vision into one of celestial and supernatural glory.
"How nigh is grandeur to our dust! 3. The manifestation of Christ is one in which extremes meet. The Man of sorrows, the beloved Son, delighted in of God. The lowly Teacher and Missionary of the kingdom of God; the enthroned Messiah. The Man, the God, and "both together mixed." 4. We cannot always enjoy the higher views in their clearness and brilliancy. After the vision and the voice, they look round and see "Jesus only!" Well for those who can ever see and find in Jesus of Nazareth the highest revelation they need of the Divine majesty and the Divine love. - J.
3. The manifestation of Christ is one in which extremes meet. The Man of sorrows, the beloved Son, delighted in of God. The lowly Teacher and Missionary of the kingdom of God; the enthroned Messiah. The Man, the God, and "both together mixed."
4. We cannot always enjoy the higher views in their clearness and brilliancy. After the vision and the voice, they look round and see "Jesus only!" Well for those who can ever see and find in Jesus of Nazareth the highest revelation they need of the Divine majesty and the Divine love. - J.
I. JESUS OUTLIVES HIS RECOMMENDATIONS. He is ever more, far more, than he appears to be. Some things and persons have nothing remaining when you strip the pretense and tinsel away. The radiance subsides into damp mist, and the glorious brightness proves but bottle-glass. It is this overmastering intrinsic worth and power of Jesus which explains his enduring influence. Eloquent advocacy has been engaged in his cause, great ideas have been associated with him, his claims have been attested by miraculous powers and signs, and ever and again the background of the Divine mystery from which he emerged has revealed itself, and a multitude of external proofs etc., are forthcoming when required; but he himself is greater than them all, and contains their latent possibilities within himself. When excitement, etc., are over, there still remains the power to elicit faith and constrain personal attachment. He himself is the ultimate verification of the faith of his disciples.
II. NOT THE SIGN OR MARVEL, BUT CHRIST IT IS THAT SAVES. The former only provisional, the latter permanent. The familiar, continuing, sympathizing Christ. The crucified One; the risen again; and in spiritual presence the Dweller in the heart of faith. It is this Christ whose power is felt within, a vital energy and a moral impulse; an Interpreter of the mysteries of life and death.
III. HE ALONE IS SUFFICIENT FOR OUR NEED. There is an unhealthy longing for dainties in things spiritual as in bodily satisfactions. His teaching, his example, his sympathy, his perfect sacrifice, are ours if we but believe. God his testified his approval and acceptance, and commends him to us. Our own experience will seal and confirm the prophecies and attestations of others: "Now we believe, not because of thy saying; for we have heard him ourselves; and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world" (John 4:42). - M.
I. HOW ARE WE TO EXPLAIN THE HOLD WHICH THE HARD SAYINGS OF CHRIST HAVE UPON THE DEVOUT MIND? Their "keeping" the saying was doubtless for the most part a voluntary thing, yet there was also a sense in which it was involuntary. The subject it concerned awed and interested them, and they could not, if they had wished to do it, throw off its fascination. And so it is with the other hard sayings; that which is to be said of this may be said of them.
1. Because of relation with similar experiences. Many a time had the actions of Christ, or their own spiritual history, presented enigmas that refused to be summarily explained. They were continually stumbling upon some new, strange thing. They had just come out of a scene of which the wisest and soberest of them might well wonder whether it was fairyland or fact. And they were conscious of deep yearnings and aspirations to which the Savior's words seemed to answer as the key to the lock. These had evidently something in common. The doctrines of Christianity may be difficult for the carnal mind to construe, but they appeal to a deep, universal, albeit depraved, human consciousness, which forbids their being at once dismissed from the thought.
2. And the sense of mystery is itself an element of fascination. The mind goes forth freely after the infinite and eternal in speculation and fancy, if not in serious moral interest. If there be but a substratum of apparent fact upon which thought can build, the sense of a mystery lying beyond is congenial to man; and he will continually return to it in efforts to penetrate it. This is why - at least, one reason why - the world around us never pails upon our senses. Its commonest things are steeped in wonder of the unknowable, if we but take one or two steps onward in the study of them.
3. In addition to this, the disciples knew that no mystery was uttered by their Master without some gracious meaning in it, which would sooner or later be made known. The hardest doctrine was, they felt, closely connected with their welfare, and would be seen to be so by-and-by. And Christians have experienced the same ever since. Our daily life is, if we be thoughtful, the best expositor of the deep things of grace, and keeps hovering within our horizon many an angel of revelation ready to deliver his message in due time.
II. HOW SHOULD THESE BE DEALT WITH? The disciples "kept," i.e. held fast, the saying; thus affording an example to all true Christians.
1. We should continually endeavor to understand or learn their meaning. Sometimes simple communion with one's own heart will be enough; or, again, it may be necessary to discuss them with others of a kindred spirit. Many of the happiest hours of life are so spent. Not that we shall always succeed; very often there will remain an element of the infinite or the unknown that will trouble us.
2. But when human wisdom fails, Divine wisdom may be invoked. "They asked him," and he cleared away the difficulty to the extent to which they made it known. To the praying soul the light will come in ever-increasing fullness. More light will break forth from the book of earthly experience, and from the written Word of comfort and revelation. And when the mystery still remains insoluble, the Spirit of Jesus will give us faith and patience until "the day dawn, and the day-star arise in our hearts," and we know even as we are known. - M.
I. RESERVE AND DELAY IN THE UTTERANCES OF TRUTH. There is an economy and an order in the kingdom of God. It is constantly observed by Christ. Certain truths there are always and everywhere to be made known; others must wait their time. As we are not to pry into the secrets of God, so neither are we hastily to blab them. Peculiar personal revelations should be treated with delicacy, not made an affair of the news-room or the market-place. The hour will come when our holiest memories, our deepest convictions, will be extracted from us by the need of the time.
II. ILLUSIONS OF RELIGIOUS THOUGHT. The prophecy concerning Elijah (Malachi 4:5) was misunderstood, being taken literally. It was fulfilled in the person of the Baptist (John 1:21; Luke 1:17). John came to restore the Jewish people from the wrong teaching and preachers of later times, to the earlier and better lessons of the Law and the prophets. Another illusion was that the Messiah was to be a glorious earthly sovereign, and exempt from suffering. The scribes overlooked the predictions concerning the sufferings of Christ. So has every age its illusions; and God in every age fulfils himself unexpectedly. Even out of the humble and the lowly, the base things of the world, he causes his purpose to unfold, his power to be made manifest. The spirit of prophecy teaches that suffering belongs to the present service of God. - J.
Christ's manner of dealing with exceptional difficulties in spiritual service.
I. ACCREDITED SERVANTS OF CHRIST WERE BEING DESPISED AND DISCOURAGED. (Vers. 14-18.)
1. Their spirit was being daunted. The people ceased to respect them, and the scribes began to turn the failure to account as an argument against their Lord. What could they say or do? Their Master was absent, and they were at their wits' end. A situation with its parallels in every age of the Church. Moral phases of individual, social, and national life which seem to defy remedy or even amelioration. Difficulties and failures in mission work, etc.
2. Their usefulness was at a standstill. The enemies of their cause had now the upper hand, and they were pressing them with objections and sneers. Perhaps they were even asking why their Master had gone away so mysteriously, and left them to cope with difficulties for which they were unequal. It was high time Jesus should come to their rescue. And lo! as the thought arose within them almost despairingly, he appeared! "The multitude, when they saw him, were greatly amazed." He had come just at the right moment, as if he divined the need for his presence.
II. THEIR MASTER MADE THE DIFFICULTY AN OCCASION FOR SPIRITUAL REBUKE AND INSTRUCTION.
1. To the people, or generally. He laments their want of faith, and slowness to receive the things of God. They had the highest reasons for faith - his works and himself - in their midst, and yet would not believe. He gives vent to the feeling of weariness and moral disgust which overcame him, and in the face of which he still labored and forbore. The want of faith, only immediately manifested towards the disciples, was in reality towards himself. That was the root and spring of their readiness to cavil, and their questionings and arguments.
2. To the father. His conversation with Christ is made by the latter a perfect spiritual discipline. Already the dealings of God had been experienced in his home and heart, and that which has been begun is carried to a successful issue. It is amongst the compensations of great sorrows that, if they do not themselves induce a high spirituality of mind, they, at all events, help us to feel our need of the Savior. There was a preparatory work already done, and Christ wastes no advantage thus gained. Having signified his willingness to undertake the cure, he begins to question the father, partly as an expression of sympathy, partly to show the true character of the case. In this he succeeds in eliciting an expression of the sceptical spirit of the man: "If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us." Here there is room for a commencement, and the Savior repeats in grieved astonishment, "If Thou canst! It was a qualification that had no business in such a request, and it showed how poor was the spiritual life or power of the man. He then declares the grand condition of all his cures, All things are possible to him that believeth;" which in this connection meant that all the blessings Christ conferred were given only in response to faith, but where that was there was no limit with regard to their bestowal. He did not mean that any request, of whatever kind it might be, would be granted if it were only accompanied by faith, but that all requests that were the outcome of a Divine faith, and consequently subject to its conditions - as, for instance, their being agreeable to God's will - would be granted, however hard they might appear to man. This remark awoke the slumbering spiritual nature of the father, whose love for his son was also at work to quicken his susceptibilities, and he cried out, "I believe; help thou mine unbelief." There is great difference of opinion as to the true meaning of these words, and no certainty would seem to be attainable; Yet that they reveal a low, self-contradictory spiritual state is evident. Still, progress is perceptible. He at least knows his shortcoming, and has asked for its removal. That was probably effected by the cure of his son, which took place, not because of satisfaction with the father's confession - a very faulty one at best - but through desire to prevent tumult, etc.; for when "he saw that a multitude came running together," he quickly completed the miracle. But even in his expedition there is no hurry. The whole scene is solemn and expressive, and must have had a strong influence on all who looked on.
3. To the disciples. A call to a more intense and elevated communion with God. Prayer (and fasting) was a means to that. Faith is thus seen to be a condition both of getting good and doing good. It is because Christians live habitually on such a worldly plane that they lack power. Oneness in heart and life with God would remove "mountains." This power should be sought by all.
III. HE MADE IT ALSO AN OCCASION FOR MORE SIGNAL DISPLAY OF HIS GLORY. The delay, failure of disciples, gradual extraction of all the circumstances of the case from the father, etc., all tended to increase the moral effect of the final exercise of power. His authority as the moral Governor of the universe, and Destroyer of the works of the devil, is also vindicated in addressing the demon. Not less, but far more, awful are the effects of sin upon the soul. Its expulsion is a work of Divine power and grace, and exhaustive of the nature in which it has dwelt. It is for Christ to raise up and revivify the poor wreck, the spiritual impotency that survives. So are the failures of weak disciples retrieved, and where disgrace is, humanly speaking, inevitable, the glory of God is revealed. The servants of Christ may despair of themselves, but never of him. - M.
I. ON THE SAD CAPACITY OF THE HUMAN LIFE FOR SUFFERING AND DEGRADATION.
II. ON THE GLORIOUS POWER OF CHRIST TO HEAL AND RESTORE THE UTMOST DISORGANIZATION AND DEGENERATION OF THE HUMAN LIFE. It is an instance of his "power over all the power of the enemy." With such a picture before their eyes, who need hesitate to come to Jesus, in any need whatsoever? But the greatest teaching lies in the words spoken to the disciples in reply to their demand as to the reason why they "could not cast it out," - "because of your little faith."
III. For us and for all, a third teaching, on THE POWER OF PRAYER AND FAITH, lies openly on the face of the Lord's words to the distressed father. It is impossible to read the Gospels without learning that in Christ's view the exercise of Divine power over the suffering human life is often suspended on the attainment of certain conditions on the part of the sufferers. There is a fitness of things. Suffering and need seem to come of departures from the Divine order. The voluntary return to that order is most aptly, perhaps most easily, expressed by "faith." It indicates the lowly submissiveness of the spirit. It is the plasticity of the clay which truly prepares it for the hand of the potter. It is the least, and yet the best, self-fitting work that can be done by any who would experience "the power of the Lord to heal." It is at once the acknowledgment of the human impotence, need, and receptivity; it is the symbol of departure from all other and competing helpers; it is an acceptance of the Lord himself, and in and with him the germ of all healing, whether of body or soul. - G.
I. WANT OF SPIRITUAL POWER IS CAUSED BY WANT OF FAITH. Faith is a mighty word in the gospel. It really includes all the energies of knowing, feeling, and willing; it is the entire affirmation of the man in favor of truth, goodness, and love. It is life in the power of God. In a sense it is unnatural to be without faith, for it is the pulse of the world. If we have not this we are weak, we cannot move a step beyond the bounds of actual: knowledge - can take nothing for granted.
II. FAITH, WHEN WEAK, BECOMES DIMINISHED BY ASSOCIATION WITH THOSE WHO HAVE NONE. We become cowards or braver in company: pessimists or optimists. We trust in the good order of the world as God's, or give up everything for lost to the devil. "God desires from all eternity cheerful and brave sons," says Luther. Let us keep company with cheerful and trustful souls.
III. ON THE OTHER HAND, STRONG FAITH IS COMMUNICATIVE AND INSPIRING (J. H. Godwin). Tell an invalid he is looking ill, and you make him feel worse. Tell him he is improving, and his faith in his physical future will revive at the brighter picture. We are governed by imagination, and faith is a kind of imagination. It is exposed to the most contagious influences for health or disease. Whenever a strong deed is done, or mighty word spoken -
"Our hearts, in glad surprise,
IV. FAITH IS THE CONDITION BOTH OF DOING AND RECEIVING THE HIGHEST GOOD. Faith gives a mental picture, distinguished from other mental pictures in that it is as good as reality to him who views it. Now, we must have the distinct idea of a good to be received before we can place ourselves in the attitude to receive it; or of the good to be done and the possibility of doing it, before we can set about attempting it. The question then arises - Can faith be commanded by the will? The answer is - Not directly. "Paint a fire, it will not therefore burn." But the rebuke of Jesus implies that the disciples ought to have had faith. And the lesson is that faith may indirectly be obtained, be promoted, fostered, and preserved by communion with God. - J.
I. STRIKING CONTRAST. We can scarcely imagine a greater contrast than that which is here presented between the scene on the mountain and that in the plain below - the tranquillity of the one, the tumult of the other; the calm repose of the one, the unrest of the other; the blessedness of the one, the distress of the other; the gladness of the one, the sadness of the other; the glory of the one, the gloominess of the other; the heavenly quietude of the one, the unseemly wrangling of the other; the happiness of the one, the misery of the other; the ecstatic rapture of the one, the excruciating pain of the other; the confidence and comfort of the one, the disputatious unbelief of the other. The contrast was just that which we can conceive to exist between the holiness of heaven and the sinfulness of earth. The contrast is transferred to the canvas and made visible and palpable in the great picture of "The Transfiguration," by Raphael.
II. DESCRIPTION OF THE ILLNESS. This illness may be distributed into three elements - the supernatural, the natural so called, and the periodical. By the supernatural we understand the demoniac possession. This poor boy was under the influence of a foul and fiendish spirit that made him deaf and dumb. The natural element, if natural may be applied in any sense to a state that is abnormal and unnatural because the result of sin, consists in the fearful manifestations, consisting of epileptic fits, madness, convulsions, grinding the teeth, foaming at the mouth, and pining away. The periodical element is the fitful paroxysms, the crises of which were synchronous with the changes of the moon, so that "demoniac "and "lunatic" were both applied, and properly applied, to this peculiar case.
III. A DOUBLE PERSONALITY. The change of subject with respect to the verbs used in this description brings into view a startling fact and exhibits a strange complication. Two personalities, or two personal agencies, are here combined, and the union between them is so close and complete that the transition from the one to the other is as singular as sudden. Thus the first two verbs descriptive of the sad condition of this wretched sufferer have for their subject, though not directly expressed, yet distinctly implied, the demon. He it is of whom the poor father of the unhappy boy says "Wheresoever it taketh him" - or, more literally, wheresoever it seizeth (καταλάβῃ) him - "it teareth, or dasheth down, or breaketh (ῤήσσει) him." This is very graphic, and as terrible as graphic. The demon so convulsed the lad as if he would dislocate the entire frame or dismember his whole body, breaking limb from limb. But the remaining verbs in the description, as it passes rapidly from the agent to the sufferer, require a different subject; for it is only the boy of whom it can be said, "He foameth," "grindeth his teeth," "becomes parched" (ξηραίνεται), or" pines away." The same curious commingling of terms - some applicable to the demon, and others the possessed to occurs in describing the paroxysm which came on when the lad was brought into our Lord's presence. In the expression, "when he saw him," the participle is used, and is in the masculine gender, so that it appears to refer to the boy, and if so, it must be used absolutely; but if it apply to the unclean spirit, the word πνεῦμα, spirit, is neuter, and thus it must be constructed ad sensum, and indicate the personality of that spirit; in either ease, there is an irregularity of construction arising from this unusual blending of personal agencies. Further, when the demoniac or the demon saw Jesus, the demon or unclean spirit grievously tore (ἐσπάραξεν, from σπάω, whence spasm, and signifying "to pall to pieces," not the same verb as that used in ver. 18) or convulsed the poor demoniac; while he fell on the earth and wallowed (akin to the Latin volvo), that is, rolled himself (κυλίω equivalent to κυλίνδω, used of rolling in the dust, in token of grief), foaming.
IV. THE ARRIVAL OF JESUS ON THE SCENE. Soon as the crowd saw him, they were quite amazed - perfectly astounded, the prepositional element in the compound verb implying the greatness of their astonishment. But what caused their excessive amazement? It might be
(1) the suddenness of the appearance of one whom they had been looking for in vain; but now that they had ceased to expect him, all at once, to their surprise, he is seen approaching; or
(2) it is concluded by some, on rather slender grounds, that the term used does not denote mere surprise, much less joyful surprise, at the sudden and unexpected appearance of the Savior, but rather a degree of alarm or perplexity on account of expressions to which utterance had been given in the dispute between the disciples and the scribes in our Lord's absence, and in reference to his power of casting out devils. There is much more probability
(3) in the opinion that the astonishment was occasioned by some remnant of the heavenly radiance still beaming on and brightening his countenance. This view is strongly supported by the analogous case of Moses, of whom we read that, on his descent from Mount Sinai, "the skin of his face shone," so that Aaron and the children of Israel "were afraid to come nigh him." If this explanation be accepted, there is in the two cases a similarity and a dissimilarity: the brightness of Moses' face made the onlookers afraid, and deterred them from approaching him; the heavenly splendor that still lingered on the countenance of the Savior affected the spectators in the very opposite way, attracting them to him. Accordingly, while some waited for his approach, as appears from St. Matthew's account, which speaks of his coming to the multitude, others, detaching themselves from the crowd, sallied forth to meet him, running to him, as we learn here from St. Mark; while St, Luke informs us that on his coming down from the hill much people met him. The accounts of St. Matthew and St. Luke are thus harmonized by St. Mark's statement, from which we rightly conclude that part of the crowd went to meet him, and part waited where they were for his approach. Their salutation, including, as we think, welcome and friendly greeting, if not from the scribes, at least from the rest of the crowd, is opposed to the notion of perplexity or alarm referred to in (2). Our Lord's popularity with the multitude had not yet suffered any diminution, nor begun to wane. He finds on his arrival that a somewhat keen discussion had been going on between two parties very unequally matched - the scribes, with their general learning and special Biblical lore, on the one hand, and his disciples, illiterate and imperfectly enlightened, on the other. The surrounding crowd, divided, most likely, in sentiment, and acting as partisans - some favoring the disciples and some the scribes - expressed approbation and disapprobation accordingly. The subject of disputation may be readily inferred from the sequel. Meantime our Lord asks the scribes with authority, "What question ye with [rather at, or against (πρὸς)] them?" or, better perhaps," Why question ye with them?" What proper ground is there for such acrimonious questioning? What sufficient reason can be shown for it? But another reading, having the reflexive pronoun, is represented by the margin - "among yourselves," or "with one another;" in which case both scribes and disciples are addressed in common.
V. APPLICATION OF THE DEMONIAC'S FATHER. To our Lord's interrogatory, one of the multitude, or rather one out of (ἐκ) the multitude, stepping forward, volunteers an answer. He felt that his child's misfortune had given occasion to the altercation, in which the disputants had waxed warm, if not angry, and that it devolved of right on him to make the requisite explanation. Another and a more urgent reason calling for his interference was his paternal solicitude. "I brought [ἤνεγκα. He aorist] some short time ago my son to thee;" such had been his intention, as he had not been aware of the Savior's absence. "I spake to thy disciples, in thy absence [ἵνα. denoting here the purport of what he said, as also the purpose for which it was said]. He that they should drive the demon from my son; but they could not;" while it must be observed that this verb is not an auxiliary, nor even a part of δύναμαι but a stronger term (ἴσχυσαν) which, preceded by the negative, means that they had not strength enough for such a difficult operation. After stating, in reply to a question of our Lord about the length of time the. suffering had lasted, that his son had been afflicted in this shocking manner from childhood, he went on to enumerate other aggravating circumstances of the affliction, to the effect that the demon often cast him into the fire and into the waters to destroy him. He then concluded with the remarkably earnest appeal, "If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us." The expression βοήθησον (from βοὴ. cry, and θέω, to run) is very significant, being equivalent to "hasten to our cry for help;" it is more than succor (from sub and curro, to run). He which means to run to one's aid; it is "run to our aid at our earnest, urgent cry for help." The compassion is taken for granted, being expressed by a participle; and it also is a very expressive word, denoting the yearning of the bowels or heart in tenderness and pity.
VI. THE SAVIOUR'S ANSWER. Our Lord utters a reproof on the ground of their want of faith. In that reproof he includes his own disciples, the scribes who had been in conflict with them, and the father of the afflicted boy - one and all comprehended in the "faithless generation" of that time. The failure of the apostles to drive out the demon had been a matter of humiliation to themselves, and of exultation to those hostile scribes, who had, no doubt, made the most of this case of unsuccess; and that failure had been owing in part to weakness, if not want, of faith. The scribes all along had acted the part of obstinately incredulous sceptics. The distressed father, earnest as he was, and eloquent as he was in his appeal, betrayed much weakness of faith, saying, "If at all thou canst - if in any way thou canst," or "if thou canst do anything." This refers the matter of cure to the power of Christ; the leper resolved the cure in his case into the will of Christ, "If thou wilt, thou canst." How prone we are to circumscribe the Savior by our own narrow conditions! and yet he shows us demonstratively that he is above and independent of all such limitations. He proved to the leper his possession of the will, and to the demoniac's father his possession of the power; and to us, through both, his ability as well as willingness to do to us and in us and for us "exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think." The limitations are all on one side - all on our side, and are owing to the weakness of our frail and naturally faithless humanity. The possession in the present instance had been from childhood. The distress was thus of comparatively long standing; it had become chronic; it was an apparently hopeless case. It had defied the power of the disciples, and baffled their utmost skill and strength. While this failure had lowered them in the estimation of the crowd, and left them at the mercy of the biting taunts of the sarcastic scribes, it at the same time lessened still more the faith of the unhappy parent. The cure, therefore, which our Lord effected in this seemingly hopeless, certainly desperate case, holds forth encouragement to the weakest and the worst - those morally so - to apply to him.
VII. HIS APPLIANCE. The first direction is, "Bring him unto me: you have tried the power of my disciples; I now invite you to try mine. You have been disappointed by their failure; but I will remedy that failure by my favor to thee and thine. You have been disheartened - too much disheartened; I now bid you take heart of hope. His next step was to secure the confidence and strengthen the faith of the father; and for this purpose he employs his own words and
(1) according to the common reading he said to him the (τὸ) saying, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to [or possible to be done for] him that believeth." But
(2) the word πιστεῦσαι is omitted in three or more of the oldest uncials, in several versions, by the critical editors Tregelles and Tischendorf, and by Meyer and some commentators; and with this omission the sentence reads, "Jesus said unto him, As for thy If thou canst, all things are possible to him that believeth." And
(3) some, putting the acute on the antepenult πίστευσαι. He take it to be imperative aorist middle, and translate, "Believe what you expressed by your If thou canst, all things are possible to him that believeth." Again,
(4) others take it interrogatively," The If thou canst? or What? If thou canst? " so that the sense is as if he asked, "Is this what you say?" or, "Do you really mean this?" The man's own words were thus thrown back on him, and by this judicious retort he is brought to understand that faith in the Savior's power and propitiousness is a prerequisite for the bestowal of the boon he sought; he is also brought to feel that the hand of faith must likewise be outstretched for the reception of spiritual benefits and blessings; at the same time he is made conscious of the great deficiency - the entire inadequacy of his faith for the attainment of the favor he is so anxious to obtain. Suspending his petition on behalf of his son, but resuming his request with the same term and now in his own interest, he called aloud, with eyes brimful of tears - if this reading (μετὰ δακρύων) is accepted, at all events - affectingly and touchingly, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." He affirms the possession of belief, but that belief is so weak as to be scarcely worthy of the name; that he has some faith, but that faith is small, exceeding small, like a grain of mustard seed. Persuaded that his faith is too insignificant to satisfy the condition, he prays
(1) for its increase; in other words, he seeks to be helped against his unbelief. Another interpretation, though advocated by some good and great men, to the effect,
(2) "Help me, notwithstanding the weakness of my faith," has but little, we think, to commend it to favor and acceptance. Now at length all is ready for the beneficent operation; the people are running together to the place, or running together yet more (ἐπὶ. He denoting intensity or addition). He when our Lord addressed the unclean spirit in terms of stern rebuke, and words of unmistakable authority, saying, "I" [ἐγώ expressed, and so emphatic and distinctive] - I, thy Master; I, whose authority you cannot evade; I, whose word of command you dare not disobey; I, not my disciples, who were nonplussed by the strange and sudden outburst of thy fiendish malignity; I order thee to come out of him at once, and never again to enter into him.
VIII. THE COMPLETENESS OF THE CURE. The command to "enter no more into him" may be attributed to the weakness of the father's faith - to assure him there would be no relapse, to convince him there would be no return of the paroxysm; it may also be owing in part to the malignant obstinacy of the foul fiend, who now, after crying aloud, and after convulsing the poor boy's whole frame with a horrible spasm, came out of him, leaving him all but dead, so that the many said he was dead. The great primary act of expelling the demon had been accomplished, but the effect of his long dominion over the lad, and the shock to his system at departure, left him so thoroughly exhausted and prostrate that a second miracle was required to supplement the first. In consequence, our Lord seized him by the hand, or seized his hand, and lifted him up, so that he stood upon his feet well and sound and strong, as though the whole had been but the memory of a troubled dream. An explanation was subsequently given to the disciples touching their inability in the present case, and their want of success in the exercise of a gift which had been bestowed, and which had been most probably effectual in other instances. The explanation appears to have respect to the character of the demon, and the conduct of the apostles themselves. First, there is mention of "this kind," by which some understand
(1) the race of demons in general - "the race of all demons," according to Euthymius; others limit the expression to
(2) a special kind of spirits, peculiarly obstinate and stiffnecked, and consequently more difficult to be driven out; while a recent authority on the subject suggests that the reference is to
(3) a class of demons which manifested their presence by unexpectedly sudden and frightfully severe outbreaks, and for the expulsion of which the exorcist or physician operating required uncommon presence of mind and strength of nerve, as well as vigorous exercise of faith. But, waiving a discussion of this doubtful kind, and merely expressing our preference for the second of the opinions stated, we may notice briefly a strange term employed here, namely, go out (ἐξελθεῖν). If the statement in which this word is used is to be interpreted literally, the meaning appears to be that demons of this kind could not go out, even if they would, of the persons possessed by any other means or in any other way than in the use or by the exercise of prayer and fasting. If this be the real, as it is the literal meaning, it is a circumstance of a strange, inscrutable kind; and, among matters more or less mysterious, it is not the least so. We may, however, give to the words a freer interpretation and take them in the more ordinary sense, that this kind can be expelled by nothing but by prayer and fasting. The conduct of the apostles themselves had most to do with their powerlessness to cast out the demon in this instance. They had received the requisite power, as we read in Mark 6:7 that, in sending them forth by two and two, he "gave them power over unclean spirits;" but they had neglected the discipline indispensable to the efficient and successful employment of that rower. Two circumstances in close connection with this neglect are assigned as the cause of failure - weakness of faith is mentioned by St. Matthew, and neglect of prayer is hinted by St. Mark. We may regard them as standing together in the relation of two joint causes, or rather as cause and effect in relation to this matter - neglect of prayer being the former, and debility of faith the latter.
1. We learn the important duty of parental solicitude for the spiritual as well as, or rather more than, for the bodily, well-being of their offspring. In the case of the Syro-phoenician woman we saw how she identified herself with her afflicted daughter, saying, "Lord, help me!" Here likewise the father of the demoniac makes common cause with his child, in the words, "Have compassion on us, and help us!" Especially should we travail, as in birth, till Christ is formed in their heart, and till by grace they are enabled to renounce the devil and all his works.
2. Great importance attaches to the element of time. The demon got possession early of this sorely distressed boy, and the demoniac power seems to have grown with the child's growth, and to have strengthened with his strength, so that dispossession had become next to an impossibility. The apostles were not competent to the task, and when our Lord, in the exercise of his almighty power, expelled him, it was only after he had made horrid havoc of the lad's system, frightfully convulsing him and leaving him half-dead. So, if Satan unhappily gain the ascendant in a young heart, he will do his best to blight the whole life; he will hold his dominion with tenacity, and, if possible, to the end; he will seat himself firmly on the throne of the affections, and exercise a despot's sway; his dethronement will be attended with the greatest difficulty; and if, by Divine mercy, his power is at last overthrown, it will cost pain of body, distress of mind, and grief of heart. Oh, how careful young persons should be to guard against the solicitations of the evil one, and to resist his power! How determined not to yield to his temptations, and to vanquish youthful lusts that war against the soul! How resolved, by the aid of Divine strength, to keep him out, remembering how difficult it is to get him out once he has gained an entrance, and especially if he has gained it early!
3. Every gift that God bestows should be diligently cultivated, and husbanded with care. The power bestowed on the apostles was, as we have seen, lost through their own remissness. Faith required to be kept in healthy exercise and active vigor; devotion and self-denial were required for its maintenance. The neglect or undue performance of these left them weak before the power of the evil one, and caused them to be humiliated in the presence of their enemies. Thus it was with the apostles and miraculous gifts. How much more is such likely to be the case with ordinary persons in the exercise of ordinary gifts! We greatly need to use all the means that tend to strengthen faith; above all, we must pray earnestly, in the beautiful words suggested by this passage "Lord, increase our faith;" avoiding at the same time any and every indulgence that might weaken faith or slacken prayer.
"Restraining prayer we cease to fight; 4. This passage cannot legitimately apply to any attempt at working miracles in the present day. The age of miracles is past. The power thus possessed by the apostles was not to continue, and needed not to continue, after the great purpose for which miracles had been bestowed had been attained. Faith and prayer and fasting cannot of themselves confer the power; they were needed to sustain it only where it had been bestowed; they were required for its successful exercise where it did exist. 5. The greatness of the believer's privilege is immense, yet not without certain well-defined limits, "All things are possible to him that believeth:" this appears to comprise at once omnipotence in action and universality in possession. To the former we have the parallel statement of St. Paul, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me;" or rather, "in (ἐν) Christ that giveth me inward strength (ἐνδυναμοῦνται);" and thus the strength as to its source is obtainable by virtue of living and lively union with Christ, while as to its nature it is spiritual. But the reference is rather to what it is possible for us to get than to do; and so all things are ours, for "we are Christ's, and Christ is God's." There are here two limitations which, though not expressed, must be implied: (1) The first limitation restricts the "all things" to things truly beneficial - beneficial spiritually as well as temporally, beneficial for eternity rather than for the brief relations of time; they are such things as are thus of real benefit, when regard is had to the believer's condition and present position. (2) The second limitation has respect to the circumstances of others, that is to say, of those with whom we come into close contact, or with whom we have to do and deal in the affairs of life. All things are thus possible to be attained by the believer, as far as they are consistent with his real benefit, and compatible at the same time with his relations in the widest sense - relations to his Father in heaven and to his fellow-man on earth. Such is the potentiality of faith - it extends to all things; such, too, is its practicability, excepting only such things as, at the present or in the long run, do not comport with his own personal good, as also with his relation to God, whose glory is paramount, and to his fellow-man, whose good, as well as our own, we are in duty bound to seek. - J.J.G.
4. This passage cannot legitimately apply to any attempt at working miracles in the present day. The age of miracles is past. The power thus possessed by the apostles was not to continue, and needed not to continue, after the great purpose for which miracles had been bestowed had been attained. Faith and prayer and fasting cannot of themselves confer the power; they were needed to sustain it only where it had been bestowed; they were required for its successful exercise where it did exist.
5. The greatness of the believer's privilege is immense, yet not without certain well-defined limits, "All things are possible to him that believeth:" this appears to comprise at once omnipotence in action and universality in possession. To the former we have the parallel statement of St. Paul, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me;" or rather, "in (ἐν) Christ that giveth me inward strength (ἐνδυναμοῦνται);" and thus the strength as to its source is obtainable by virtue of living and lively union with Christ, while as to its nature it is spiritual. But the reference is rather to what it is possible for us to get than to do; and so all things are ours, for "we are Christ's, and Christ is God's." There are here two limitations which, though not expressed, must be implied:
(1) The first limitation restricts the "all things" to things truly beneficial - beneficial spiritually as well as temporally, beneficial for eternity rather than for the brief relations of time; they are such things as are thus of real benefit, when regard is had to the believer's condition and present position.
(2) The second limitation has respect to the circumstances of others, that is to say, of those with whom we come into close contact, or with whom we have to do and deal in the affairs of life. All things are thus possible to be attained by the believer, as far as they are consistent with his real benefit, and compatible at the same time with his relations in the widest sense - relations to his Father in heaven and to his fellow-man on earth. Such is the potentiality of faith - it extends to all things; such, too, is its practicability, excepting only such things as, at the present or in the long run, do not comport with his own personal good, as also with his relation to God, whose glory is paramount, and to his fellow-man, whose good, as well as our own, we are in duty bound to seek. - J.J.G.
I. The SPIRIT WHICH CHARACTERIZES THE BELIEVER.
1. Confidence and fearlessness. The true believer will never say, "If thou canst." The greatest difficulties will not seem insuperable, and the testimony of sight and ordinary experience will be distrusted. Inward weakness and uncertainty will be conquered. The one thing of consequence will be, "Is this promised?" "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13:15; cf. Habakkuk 2:17).
2. It is to be distinguished from self-confidence. There is no immediate reference to self in such a conviction; it bases itself upon the unseen and eternal, the laws and promises of God. Hence we may speak of the humility of faith.
3. It is exceptional and divinely produced. Most men are guided by their ordinary experience. When that experience is deliberately set aside or ignored, it must be because of some fact or truth not visible to the natural mind. But such a discovery would be equivalent to a Divine communication. The faith which proceeds upon this must, therefore, be supernaturally inspired. It cannot exist save in one conscious of God, and of a peculiar relation to him.
II. THE POSSIBILITIES OF FAITH. If not wholly dependent upon the actual experience of the power of faith, the confidence of the believer is nevertheless greatly sustained and strengthened by it. Resting in the first instance upon the consciousness of One mighty to save, whose help is promised and assured, and concerning whom it may be said, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" the man of faith will also prize every indication that God has been with man. For he is assured from within and from without that the possibilities of faith are:
1. Unlimited - because it identifies itself with the power of God. Faith is the union of the spirit of the believer with him in whom he trusts. It ensures nothing less than his interest and help. The weakest child of God can secure his aid. "If God be for us, who can be against us?"
2. Unlimited - save that it subjects itself to the will of God. Just as God is omnipotent and yet incapable of unrighteousness, so the faith of the believer will only avail for things pleasing to his heavenly Father. But, then, it never desires any other. The promises of God, however, declare the direction in which Divine help may be certainly expected; and there are countless instances in which the believer can plainly discern the lawfulness and propriety of the objects for which he pleads.
(1) The work of faith is ever blessed.
(2) The prayer of faith is never denied; for if the answer do not assume the form expected, it will nevertheless prove to be substantially, and under the best form, the blessing that is required. And fervent, earnest, repeated prayer is unmistakably encouraged by the teaching of Christ. It is for Christians not to pray less, but more and more importunately, only leaving the particular mode in which the answer is to come to the wisdom and love of God.
3. Unlimited - as illustrated ia Scripture and the biographies of godly men. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is a magnificent confirmation of the promises of the Lord; and them can be no better exercise than the study of the answers to prayer recorded in the Word of God and the lives of saints. - M.
and fasting (margin). The little faith" must have approached closely to "unbelief," or to no faith, for the Lord adds, "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed... nothing shall be impossible to you." A little thought will compel us to learn much concerning the influence of faith and of prayer, if not also of fasting, in the work assigned to the disciples and in the general and ceaseless conflict with evil. That there was some hindering cause palsying the strength of the disciples is obvious. But recently Jesus had "given them power and authority over all devils," "and to cure diseases," and they are suddenly powerless in the use of that authority. That they may have been cherishing feelings which were inconsistent with so sacred a trust, the subsequent record plainly declares. But our attention is riveted on the words of our Lord in his demand for prayer and faith; and we learn at once, that the bestowment of great authority, even with high endowments, does not set aside the necessity for cherishing suitable conditions of mind in order to the effective discharge of the duties which that authority imposes. The calling to be apostles, the investiture with power to cast out devils and to cure diseases, does not release from the necessity to be clothed with humility - to live in that spirit of withdrawment from the world, and communion with the Father, which "prayer," even if not joined with "fasting," implies. The mere symbols of office are useless in the spiritual realm. Rank in these hierarchies conveys no might. Yea, though the very "power" be given, and given by Christ himself, no presumption of personal freedom from the need of the lowliest spirit may be entertained. As Christ's own power was arrested by the "unbelief" of those amongst whom he would do "many mighty works," so the "power" entrusted to apostles is defied by "the unclean spirit" if the minds of those apostles are not freed from unbelief, and not raised to an alliance with heavenly powers by prayer. Entangled in nets that beset even their feet, exposed to temptations that rudely assail even them, they, though armed by the great power and authority of the kingdom, become weak, and are as other men. Hence we learn that in the spiritual kingdom -
I. THE MERE AUTHORITY OF OFFICE IS INSUFFICIENT FOR DOING GREAT WORKS IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. Apostles, prophets, preachers, teachers, rulers, are all taught that there is a condition of heart needed as well as an investiture of office.
II. NO ENDOWMENT OF POWER OR GIFTS SETS ASIDE THE NECESSITY FOR LOWLY SPIRITUAL EXERCISES. For while these acknowledge and minister to lowliness of heart, they bring their possessor into a true and living sympathy with the heavenly kingdom, and make him a meet channel for the conveyance of its healing grace. No mere talent suffices.
III. FAITH AND PRAYERFULNESS DESCRIBE THE TRUE CONDITION OF THE SOUL OF HIM OF WHOM IT IS TO BE SAID, "THOU HAST POWER WITH GOD AND WITH MAN, AND HAST PREVAILED." The spiritual, who wield spiritual weapons, must maintain a spiritual sensibility. This cannot be maintained without that true fasting which is a with-drawment from the spirit of the world, or without that prayerfulness which is a true communion with the Father, or without that faith which is the real might of the soul. These are steps in the spiritual progress; the final attainment being, not the feeble word on the lip, "Come out of him," but that perfect oneness with the Divine which, while it acknowledges the human impotence, makes the feeble man a true and fit instrument of the Divine power. For by that power alone, after all, is the devil cast out. - G.
hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12). It is due to this permanent characteristic of evil in human nature that such difficulties are met with as the text explains.
I. EXCEPTIONAL DIFFICULTIES IN SPIRITUAL WORK.
1. Occasioned by
(1) a peculiar intensity of indwelling evil. We cannot explain it, but it is full of stubbornness, subtlety, and power of resistance. There is a mysterious sympathy, it may be, between the sinner and the special sin that besets him, or prevents his yielding himself to Divine grace. And this may go the length of
(2) total enslavement of the nature. Like the epileptic of the story, not only the body but the spirit may be enthralled. The will is so weak that it is practically powerless. The external ministries of the Church are insufficient to deliver, unaccompanied as they are by any strong desire for salvation on the part of the sinner. It sometimes happens, too, in more general work, that a spirit of opposition displays itself, or circumstances are persistently unfavourable. The Christian toils on, but his efforts are like the dashing of himself against a rock, or the ploughing of the sand. There are none of God's people who are strangers to such experiences, which are:
2. From their very nature unexpected. The spiritual worker goes on with comparative or even brilliant success for a time, and then encounters sudden breakdown. The reason of this in most instances is, that a great proportion of Christian work is all but mechanical. It consists in a routine of duties; its results represent a sum total of indirect and sometimes unconscious agencies; religious institutions are originated perhaps in an impulse once imparted but not repeated, and are carried on thus far by their own momentum." There occurs all at once a check, and a sense of helplessness and humiliation ensues, involving the baffled worker in spiritual perplexity. Such difficulties are:
3. Not an unmitigated calamity. They have their uses in the Divine economy. When searching of heart is induced, and hidden sins are revealed, or absence of direct communion with God is made manifest, or pride and self-sufficiency are brought low, they have accomplished a good and necessary work.
II. HOW ARE THEY TO BE OVERCOME?
1. The means. "Prayer," or, in the Authorized or peculiar, but general. Could devils, then, come out by anything else than prayer, when man was the exorciser? It would almost seem as if the disciples had done their work hitherto by virtue of an external commission, using the name of Christ as a sort of talisman. This was sufficient for ordinary cases, but whenever one out of the usual occurred they were at a loss.
2. The reason for its necessity. The immediate occasion for the Master's admonition probably was the increasing laxity of the disciples in personal prayer, their outwardness, and their failure to grasp the essential principles of his kingdom. But there was a more profound reason for the advice. The servant of God should be in complete sympathy and oneness with his Master, and that can only be cultivated by frequent acts of devotion and the exercise of a constant faith. It is not in his own strength that difficulties are to be met, but in Christ's. But that can only be imparted through fellowship with his spirit, which depends for its efficiency and depth upon repeated acts of the spiritual nature. The disciple by this rule is called into conscious personal fellowship with God, whose power will only then be granted. Oneness with God is the secret of spiritual power.
3. The came principle applies to the whole fife of the Christian. True success depends upon vital spiritual effort, upon conscious co-operation with God, and consequent fasting from self. If we would not be taken at unawares we must be watchful, in constant actual exercise of faith, and uninterrupted personal communion with God. We are in danger of making too much of the external and accidental element in religion; we can never make too much of him who "worketh in" and through "us to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). -
words are concerned, it was the same gospel as that which woke the nations at Pentecost; yet it was as if still-born; an abstraction; a mystery past finding out. It is a sad monologue; a recitative upon a minor key. Reasons for this failure and ineffectiveness -
I. IT WAS NOT UNDERSTOOD. From human standpoint all but incomprehensible; as it certainly could not have been originally conceived by man. A mood and sentiment too elevated for ordinary moral natures. An important consideration in determining the question as to who founded Christianity - Christ or his disciples. The "prophet" must not discourse in an unknown tongue.
II. IT COULD NOT BE UNDERSTOOD UNTIL IT WAS ACCOMPLISHED. Intelligence, moral perception, and spiritual illumination waited upon the finished work. It was, so to speak, a moral creation, which beforehand only the Author could comprehend, and afterwards still he alone perfectly. Each step in the evolution of it, up to a certain point, only deepened the mystery. When Christ realized his work of salvation in act, his people began to realize it in thought and experience.
III. AND THEN ONLY COULD IT BE UNDERSTOOD THROUGH THE SPIRITUAL LIFE IT CALLED FORTH. Christ had to evoke the very faculty by which the plan and spirit of his work were to be discerned. It is "unto Jews a stumbling-block, and unto Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:23, 24). The world by wisdom knew it not, "but we received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us by God Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged" (1 Corinthians 2:12 -14). It is not until we learn the true character of God, and, in the light of that, the nature of sin, that we can from the heart approve of the career of Jesus as "the way of salvation." - M.
I. UNWELCOME OUTLOOKS SHOULD BE FIRMLY FACED. 'Tis not well to hide the head in the sand, like the ostrich, and try to fancy danger absent because not seen. For, if faced, the worst prospect loses at once half, and presently all, its terrors.
II. THE WILL OF GOD IS TO BE RECOGNIZED, EVEN IN THE WICKEDNESS OF MEN. It is by conflict that his will is wrought out. Outbursts of crime represent only one side of great living forces, and onward moving facts.
III. UNWELCOME TRUTHS NEED TO BE REPEATED, BUT NOT FOR ALL. There is an esoteric and an exoteric in Christianity. We do not tell children all we know of life. But there is an age, and there are persons, to whom all should be told that we know. Let truth be economized and wisely administered. - J.
I. SECRECY. "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven." Every man has a work to do, and a time allowed him to do it in. Every man, moreover, is immortal till that work is done, and God's will with him accomplished. In like manner there was a time allotted for our Lord's mission on earth. There was a time fixed for his ministry of mercy to man. When the fullness of the time was come, he made his descent into our world; when the work he came to do was done, and when the proper period again arrived, he took his departure from our world. The appointed interval of his sojourn on earth no enemy could shorten by one day, no power could abridge it by a single hour; nothing could interfere with it, so long as "his hour was not yet come." Yet, notwithstanding this, our Lord never neglected the use of such means as were proper for the prolongation of his stay on earth till his great work should be performed, and the destined period completed. Accordingly, we find him at one time returning to Galilee, and "walking no more in Jewry, because Jews sought to kill him." Afterward, when Herod's attention had been directed to him, and his abode even in Galilee had thus become somewhat insecure, we find him withdrawing to the more remote and less populous districts of that province. We are, moreover, informed that subsequently he had gone yet further from contact with his enemies, passing beyond Galilee into the Phoenician territory. This he did in order, it would seem, to escape observation, for while there he "entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid." This course our Lord pursued for various reasons. While each particular occasion on which he courted privacy had its own specific reason, we can state in general the motives that seem to have influenced him in this direction. As already intimated, he avoided such publicity as would bring him into hostile conflict with his enemies, so as to precipitate the crisis, and hasten his death, before the proper and purposed period. Again he sought seclusion, now for required rest, oftener for more time and better opportunity of instructing his apostles for their future work and important mission. But while our Lord thus sought seclusion to prevent any interference either with the space of his ministry or with the plan of instructing his apostles, there was another eventuality which he carefully avoided, namely, any attempt on the part of the people to make him a king; as, after the miracle of feeding the five thousand, we read that, "when Jesus perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone." This was no very improbable contingency. In a moment of excitement, under the influence of enthusiasm, yielding to the impulse of popular feeling, they might attempt to place him at the head of a rebellion, if not a revolution, against existing authorities, and try to restore to Israel the temporal kingdom which Israel so ardently, though mistakenly, sought. This would have been a result greatly to be deprecated. It would have left a stigma on the Savior's name, and caused a suspicion about his design, both of which would have been most detrimental to the interests of that spiritual kingdom - the kingdom "not of this world," which he came to set up. Accordingly, we find that when he had restored the deaf mute, he charged them that "they should tell no man." Again, when he cured the blind man at Bethsaida, he sent him away to his house, saying, "Neither go into the town, nor tell it to any in the town " - any townsmen he might chance to meet on his way home. Also, after the Transfiguration, "he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead." And now that they passed along (παρεπορεύοντο) through Galilee, "he would not that any man should know it." Even an apparent exception is easily accounted for: nor is there any real discrepancy between the injunction he laid on them after the restoration of the deaf mute (ch. 7.). He to "tell no man," and the direction he gave the demoniac (ch. 5.). He to "go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee." No doubt it was the same district of Decapolis where both commands were given: but on the latter occasion our Lord was about to leave the district in question, so that there was no risk of his ministry being obstructed by the matter being blazoned abroad; on the former occasion he was going to tarry for a time in the same region, and hence he resorts to the precaution necessary under circumstances which were thus quite different.
II. HE FORETELLS HIS DEATH. There were three great epochs in our Lord's ministry. The first was that of miracles, by which he attested the divinity of his mission; the second was that of parables, by which he developed the nature of his kingdom; and the third was that of suffering, by which he made satisfaction for the sins of his people. The miracles began with that at Cana; the parables, properly so called, began somewhere about the commencement of the last year of the Savior's work and ministry. Though his parabolic teaching began at this period to assume a more formal shape, he had all along employed on certain occasions parabolic utterances of a briefer sort. Thus, for example, in the sermon on the mount the agreement with one's adversary there recommended is of the nature of parable; the similitude of the wise and foolish builders, with which that sermon closes, is still more distinctly parabolic; while subsequently, and before the beginning of his regular method of strictly parabolic instruction, we find such proverbial or brief parabolic representations as that of the new patch and the old garment, and that of the new wine and the old bottles, Besides that of the creditor and the two debtors. Still, from the period indicated, his teaching by parables became more frequent and methodical The reasons of our Lord's adopting this method are such as the following: -
1. The harmony existing between the kingdom of nature and that of grace, and the similarity in their laws of development.
2. The adaptation to our nature of the historical element, real or ideal, contained in them.
3. The amount of truth communicable in this way to the dull apprehension of the disciples.
4. Their helpfulness to memory by linking the spiritual truth to some familiar natural object, the frequent occurrence of the latter always suggesting the former; and:
5. A judicial Veiling of the truth because of past dulness and indifference. The constant theme of his teaching henceforth consists of his sufferings and death, as is implied in the imperfect tense (ἐδίδασκε. He "he kept teaching") here used.
III. PREVIOUS INTIMITATIONS ON THE SUBJECT. The previous intimations had been obscure. There had been the intimation of the Baptist when he pointed the Savior out as "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). He and in the repetition of part of the same at ver. 36. He had himself given several figurative intimations of it, as when he spake of his death by violence, and his resurrection in three days under the similitude of the demolition and rebuilding of a temple. "Destroy," he said, "this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." This had occurred at the celebration of the first Passover after the commencement of his public ministry. Again, in his discourse with Nicodemus, he represented his crucifixion as an uplifting, and its beneficial effects by a comparison with Moses' lifting up the serpent in the wilderness, when the bitten Israelite looked and lived. Another intimation of his death, and the first allusion to that event recorded in this Gospel (St. Mark's). He is the removal of the bridegroom, of which he said, "The days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them" (Mark 2:20; Matthew 9:15). Also, after the feeding of the five thousand, in the synagogue of Capernaum he made a reference to it in the words, "The bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." But the first clear and distinct declaration is that of the preceding chapter (ch. 8.) He when "he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again."
IV. SIMILAR DECLARATIONS IN THE PRESENT AND SUBSEQUENT CHAPTERS. The first public, or at least the first direct and unreserved announcement of his sufferings, death, and resurrection, was made, as recorded in the preceding chapter, after the disciples had been convinced of, and Peter had confessed, his Messiahship, saying, "Thou art the Christ." On that occasion we learn from the fuller report of St. Matthew that our Lord warmly commended Peter's confession, but soon after, as both St. Matthew and St. Mark inform us, found cause to condemn his indiscreet and unwelcome rebuke. The commendation is contained in the words, "I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church." The latter clause of the promise just cited has, as is well known, excited no little controversy, and called forth a variety of interpretations.
1. Augustine will have it that the rock on which the Church is built, according to the Savior's promise, is Christ himself.
2. Chrysostom maintains that the confession of faith in Christ, that Peter had just given utterance to, is the rock on which the Church is based. We admit the show of reason and the plausibility with which both opinions have been expressed and enforced; still we cannot concur in either. Chrysostom's explanation is chargeable with overlooking the context. So to some extent, though less so, is that of Augustine; but the latter rests, besides, on a very doubtful distinction between two words which are frequently used in classical writers as interchangeable. According to this interpreter its import would be, "Thou art Peter (πέτρος) a small stone; but I am Christ, a strong Rock (πέτρα). He and on this Rock, that is, myself, I will build my Church." In the Aramaic there is one word (Kipho) for Peter and for rock, just as in French there is one word for both - Pierre, Peter, a man's name, and pierre, a stone or rock. But in Greek there are the two words already mentioned, viz. πέτρος and πέτρα. He so that in this play upon the word there is a slight variation in the Greek, without, however, real difference of meaning. Even admitting the distinction between the two words, which has been questioned, if not entirely disproved, the explanation is evidently forced. We require to look more closely at the context as furnished by the eighteenth verse itself, and by the sixteenth. As recorded in the latter, Peter's answer was, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Our Lord, after expressing approval of Peter's reply, and assuring him that the truth contained in it was the outcome, not of human discovery, but of Divine revelation, takes occasion to state another and no less important truth, and that in a form accommodated to the statement of Peter, "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter [πέτρος. He a rock], and upon this rock (πέτρα) I will build my Church;" that is to say, - You have made a good and true confession in acknowledging my Messiahship and divinity; I also, in my turn, will confess what I have in store for you in connection with my Church.
3. Your name is significant - it means a rock; and according to your name will be the nature of your work. With the foundation of the Church you will have much to do. On your preaching of the faith which you have just professed its foundation shall be laid. Similarly, elsewhere we read that the Church is "built on the foundation of apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief Corner-stone;" whereas apostles and prophets are only the foundation in so far as they themselves, knit together with and cemented to Christ, lay the foundation by their exhibition of Christ and declaration of the truth concerning Christ. It is as though our Lord had said to Peter, Among Jews and Gentiles your work is appointed you. Among the Jews on the day of Pentecost your proclamation of the selfsame faith, which you have just confessed, will lay the foundation of the Christian Church; while to Cornelius the same gospel preached by you will inaugurate a similar blessed result among the Gentiles, introducing the first-fruits of the Gentile world into the Church. Still more, to the united Church of the believing Jew and converted Gentile I shall promise and provide security from all the devices of the most wily, and all the assaults of the most Satanic, foes.
V. WHY IS THIS COMMENDATION OMITTED BY ST. MARK? It has often been remarked that many things redounding solely to the honor of St. Peter are omitted by St. Mark; while at the same time his infirmities are fully and faithfully recorded by the same evangelist, extenuating circumstances being less noticed by this evangelist than by the other synoptists. An example of this is furnished in the case before us. The blessing pronounced on him because of this noble and brave confession of the Christ, the Divine origin of his knowledge and faith, the promise just considered, and the further promise of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, are all omitted by St. Mark. But the rebuke to which he soon after subjected himself is carefully recorded. Many instances of both kinds occur. This is one of those incidental circumstances that go far to confirm the voice of history in regard to the relation in which St. Peter stood to St. Mark and his Gospel, namely, that the latter penned his Gospel, as disciple and by the dictation, to soma extent, of the former. If so, and we think it extremely probable, we have proof herein of the veracity of the one and the humility of the other.
VI. REPETITION OF THE PREDICTION. Reverting to the subject of the Savior's sufferings, so plainly announced in the eighth chapter, we have a repetition of a similar announcement in this ninth chapter, and another, again, in nearly the same terms in the tenth chapter. These repeated as well as direct and unreserved declarations on this subject - a subject so distasteful and saddening to his disciples - show their unwillingness to associate the idea of death with the Messiah, their tenacity in clinging to a temporal king and worldly kingdom, their slowness and lothness to apprehend or accept the notion of a spiritual, unworldly kingdom. The idea of a suffering Messiah has, therefore, to be dinned into their ears and impressed on their hearts by frequent and earnest reiterations. Nor has this subject lost aught of its importance or interest even for ourselves and at the present day; while the faithful inculcation of it is as much a duty and a necessity now as when our Lord in person urged it so solemnly and so often on the mind and heart of his sorrowing disciples. Though the cross was a stumbling-block to the Jews, and foolishness to the Greeks, it is still the power of God, and the wisdom of God, to the salvation of every believer. The way to the crown is still by, and only by, the cross; humiliation precedes glorification. The preacher of the gospel cannot dwell too frequently or too earnestly on a theme that bulked so largely in the sight of the Savior himself. The doctrine of Christ's suffering for us to put away our sins - suffering, "the just for the unjust, to bring us to God" - cannot be too much insisted on; neither can we be too often instructed in the duty of giving ourselves fully, freely, and for ever to him "who loved us and gave himself for us." If, moreover, Christ was "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross," in all its shame and with all its pain, it surely behoves us, in daily, holy obedience, to take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow him. - J.J.G.
Mark 10:35-41), were circumstances that soon attracted the attention of the others, and gave rise to discussion as to relative superiority. In dealing with this unseemly dispute, our Savior showed -
I. THAT IT WAS A QUESTION THAT OUGHT NOT TO BE ASKED AMONGST CHRIST'S FOLLOWERS. (Vers. 33, 34.)
1. His question elicited no reply. They were ashamed that he should have detected them. It was evidently contrary to his spirit, as they felt, although they might be unable to explain.
2. That it is foreign to the genius of Christianity is further shown by the evils it has created within the Church. A vast percentage of the failures and scandals of Christians has arisen from this contention, whether carried on in silence or expressed, Nevertheless that it is deeply seated in human nature is shown by its persistency from age to age. A motive of action we are ashamed to confess when a sense of Christ's presence is upon us cannot be a right one. And in proportion as the presence of the Master's spirit is felt, it is suppressed or destroyed.
II. THE PRINCIPLE BY WHICH IT SHOULD BE SETTLED WHEN IT ARISES. (Ver. 35.) "If any man would be first, he shall be last of all, and minister of all." This is, and probably was meant to be, slightly enigmatical. Without altering the future of the sentence ("he shall be") into the imperative ("let him be"), as some, without sufficient warrant, have done, it is still possible to read in it several distinct meanings. It might mean that that was to be the penalty of such presumption; that God would so regard presumptuous men; that this was a discipline to which they should subject themselves; that the avenue to official pre-eminence was the greatest serviceableness and humility; or, lastly, that the highest excellence in the kingdom of God is his who abases and forgets himself altogether in the benefit and advancement of others. It is in the last sense that Christ should be understood, if we are to take the general spirit of his teaching for our guide. In the Christian the Virtue and usefulness are ends in themselves, and not stepping-stones to external, official pre-eminence. At the same time, there is a colourable suggestion, supported by experience, in the first three interpretations. The second last is the spirit of the Roman curia, which in literal expression looks so like the precept it contradicts. The sitting down of Christ, and his summons to all, prove the importance of the lesson.
III. AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE PRINCIPLE. (Vers. 36, 37.) "A little child," perhaps one of Peter's family. He gives an example in his own behavior, simply and ingenuously, by embracing the child.
1. The lowliest in the kingdom of God should receive the purest sympathy and consideration. This is the most disinterested and unselfish service. The noblest deeds in God's world are of this kind: "Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27). We can "receive" to the heart when we cannot to the home; to kindness and love when we cannot to great earthly advantage.
2. The motive which distinguishes this conduct from ordinary human tenderness and affection. It is to be "in my Name," i.e. "on account of me," impelled by my example and spirit, and for the sake of my cause. It is only a "grace" or quality of the regenerate nature as he inspires it.
3. So regarded, the object of our love and compassion is really the representative of Jesus and of God. Christ has thus commended the children and the poet to the care of his people. And their sympathies thus awakened and directed are to be looked upon not as supplementing the deficient provisions of the Divine love, but only, in our own degree and measure, expressing and executing the infinite, loving Will of "our Father in heaven." Herein, therefore, the lowliest service and the highest coincide. "See that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 18:10). - M.
glory," "glory as of the only begotten from the Father." He had also begun to show unto them that "he must suffer many things," and "be killed," making them "exceeding sorry." And he had spoken to them of the time "when the Son of man should have risen again from the dead;" but "what the rising again from the dead should mean" they understood not. Now by silent and hidden byways, secretly, for "he would not that any man should know it," they passed through Galilee and came to Capernaum. Jesus, taking advantage of this quiet, "taught his disciples" concerning the dark future that loomed upon him. But their minds seem to have been preoccupied, and "they understood not the saying." Scarcely had they entered the house when he demanded of them, "What were ye reasoning in the way?" Shame covered their face, the searching question revealing the power of him before whom all hearts be open. They were dumb before him, for "they had disputed one with another in the way who was the greatest." The distinction conferred upon the three, or the signal honor paid to Peter, may have been the occasion for this dispute, fanned perhaps by the anticipation of the decease at Jerusalem. Possibly there may have been an assumption of superiority on the part of one in that little republic. But such a spirit must be instantly crushed; and on the dark human background must the principles of the true heavenly kingdom be thrown forward. In calmness "he sat down," and solemnly "called the twelve" to him, and laid down as a principle to be then and for ever remembered, that in his house, or kingdom, or brotherhood, things are different from what they are in ordinary communities of men. And strange as the paradox may seem, the lowest is the highest, the most laborious servant is the true lord, the least is the greatest. "If any would be first, he shall be last of all, and minister of all." Further to impress this truth upon the hearts of the men who were contending for the highest room, the chief seat, the father's place in the house, "he took a little child" - the least in the house, and the furthest removed from the head; lower even than the servants, for they command the little children - "and set him in the midst," The Lord's sermon from this visible text is elsewhere recorded at length. The lesson for us to ponder, and often to ponder, for we are in great danger of forgetting it, is - He is the chief, the greatest, the first, in the kingdom of heaven who does most service in it. The honor is not to him who sits at the head of the table - any feeble one can do that; but to him who, girt with a towel, waits on the rest - to him who sees the true greatness of the kingdom; who so discerns its lofty, spiritual, and heavenly character, as to learn his own littleness in presence of it; who perceives that its highest end and aim is reached in rendering the utmost service to men. He who has seen the "Lord and Master" of all girded with a towel, stooping to wash and wipe the feet of his servants; he who has most of this his Master's spirit, who follows most closely in his Master's steps of toilsome, self-sacrificing service; he who, like his Master, does the most and the hardest work in the house; - yea, he is really and indeed the chief, the greatest, the first, in the house. And so, in truth, is it in all houses and in all kingdoms; the truly great are the laborers, the men who always see the kingdom to be greater than they, and, seeing the aim of the kingdom to be greater than the kingdom itself, are lowly enough and great enough to serve that aim, and have their greatness and most honor-able place, not in medals, and decorations, and plaudits, and rewards, but in the deep if hidden fact, that the kingdom's welfare has been most advanced by them, that they have saved it from ruin or advanced it in honor, prosperity, and blessing. Then let every one seek eagerly the first, the highest place; but let every toilsome servant know that, in Christ's view, that is most prized which is furthest from self-adulation, from empty vanity, from indolent glorying in place; that he who most obeys, who hardest works, who lowliest walks - he, even he, is chief. This is the highest tribute paid
(1) to all lowliness of mind,
(2) to all diligent industry,
(3) to all willing, self-sacrificing service to the common good. - G.
I. THE EXAMPLE OF CHILDREN. They are humble and trustful in the presence of superior wisdom. Man not always so, but ought always to be so.
II. THE SECRET OF POWER LIES IN SERVICE. Command others by being useful to them. Rise in a community by working your way through all the grades of service, from the lowest to the highest.
III. TO STOOP IN LOVE IS TO RISE IN HONOUR. Jesus puts his arms around the little ones and around the weak, and is enthroned in the dependent heart of mankind.
IV. THE SCALE OF SERVICE, AND THE INCLUSION OF THE LOWER IN THE HIGHER. The order of duty is not to begin with the high and the remote, but with the lowly and the mean. "God is served by obedience to Christ, and Christ by kindness to the least and lowest who belong to him" (Godwin). - J.
I. ANOTHER OMISSION. In the first line of the thirty-third verse we approach the subject of the tribute money; but in St. Mark's narrative we only approach it, and that in the state-merit, "he came to Capernaum;" but in the parallel section of St. Matthew we read of the demand for the tribute money, of Peter being commissioned to procure it from "the fish that first cometh up," of the exemption Jesus might have claimed but waived, and the reason of his doing so. Here, again, St. Mark omits the part of the narrative which relates to the honor conferred on Peter by our Lord, when he commissioned him to work the miracle by which the tribute money was procured from the fish's mouth. But, though St. Mark omits this portion of the recital, the preceding and succeeding portions are coincident with those of St. Matthew. The peculiar relation of the apostle to the evangelist, already considered, can alone account for the omission.
II. GROUND OF LEGITIMATE EXEMPTION, In Matthew 17:24, 25, we read, "When they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your Master pay tribute?" Then at the last clause of the twenty-fifth verse, our Lord asked Peter, "What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?" A slight amount of archaeological knowledge makes this plain. The word "tribute" in the twenty-fourth verse is τὰ δίδραχμα; the word "tribute" in the twenty-fifth is κῆνσον; while "custom," a word of kindred meaning, is τέλη. Also in the twenty-seventh verse, the word στατὴρ. He or "shekel," rendered "piece of money" in the English version, occurs. The starer, or shekel, equivalent to two shillings and sixpence of our currency, was the exact amount of tax payable by two. Now, there is a very wide and important distinction: between these terms, and a distinction necessary to be kept in view for the right understanding of the passage. For
(1) the δίδραχμα were equal in value to the Jewish half-shekel, or some fifteenpence of our money, and may be called a sacred tribute or annual contribution paid by every male among the Jews, from twenty years of age and upwards, for the support of the temple at Jerusalem - to defray the general expenses, to provide the sacrifices and other things required for the service. The persons who collected it were not the civil tax-gatherers, called publicani, or rather portitores; nor, indeed, was the tax a civil one at all, but a sacred one. From overlooking this fact, the point of the argument is liable to be missed, as it actually has been by several of the Fathers. It is briefly, though correctly, developed by Alford, in the following sentence: - "If the sons are free, then on me, being the Son of God, has this tax no claim." It requires, however, to be somewhat more fully and plainly exhibited. In order to set the matter in a clear light, we premise
(2) that the κῆνσος. He for which St. Luke employs the classical Greek term φόρος. He was a poll or capitation tax, like the Roman tributum; while by τέλη are to be understood the toll or customs duties, which are identical with the vectigal of the Romans. Further, let it be borne in mind that Peter's confession of faith that Jesus was "the Christ, the Son of the living God," had been made, being recorded in the sixteenth chapter, and so had preceded the present conversation. Our Lord now argues from analogy that he was entitled to, and might fairly claim, exemption. In doing so, he asks Peter this question, "What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own sons, or of strangers?" It is here admitted by implication that civil rulers have a right to impose taxes for the support of civil government, but that, in exercising this right, they impose taxes on the other members of the state, not on the members of their own household. When king levy taxes, or have them levied in the ordinary constitutional way, they impose them on their subjects, not on their sons. Peter had confessed Jesus to be the Son of God; the tax demanded was for the support of God's house; according to the principle of action among earthly kings, God, the great King of heaven and of earth, while requiring contributions for the maintenance of his service from his subjects, would exempt his own Son, for, from his position of Sonship, which the apostle had recently acknowledged, and from the principle of taxation in which he had just acquiesced, it was necessarily inferred, "then are the sons free." Not as a mere member of the Hebrew race, or as an ordinary Jew, but from his dignity as the Son of God, in the highest and most exalted sense, our Lord might have claimed exemption from the tax in question. This was the gist of his reasoning: but he waived his right; and proceeds to explain to Peter the ground on which he foregoes his privilege, saying, "Lest we should offend them," or more plainly in the Revised Version, "Lest we cause them to stumble;" in other words, lest he and his disciples should be regarded as indifferent to, or be charged with, neglect of the house of God and the maintenance of its service. - J.J.G.
I. WHY DID JESUS CALL THE CHILD TO HIM?
1. Because there was something in the child which Jesus liked. We do not call to us and take into our arms those we hate and avoid. It was not sinlessness that Jesus saw in the child, but simplicity. He was something like what Jesus himself had been in the home at Nazareth, when he was subject to his parents, and so sweet, humble, and gentle that every one loved him. Children are not perfectly innocent; they do many things that are wrong, and need to be forgiven. Jesus did not say to the child, "You can do without me," but, "Come to me." So, when he saw the young man who said he had kept the commandments, Jesus "loved him;" yet he did not leave him as he was, but bade him go and sell all that he had.
2. Because there was in the child something he wanted. He wanted the child's love. "My son, give me thine heart." The way to be loved is to love; and Jesus loves us, not as crowds, but as individuals. Each can say with Paul, "He loved me, and gave himself for me." The child knew this from the look and tone of the Lord.
3. Because there was something he hoped to do for the child. He meant to save him. To be saved from sin involves something more than being forgiven. If bad temper asserts itself, you may be forgiven for an outburst; but it rises again and again. Jesus would conquer that temper so that it should never trouble you any more.
II. WHY DID THE CHILD GO TO JESUS? He might have hesitated and said, "He does not mean it;" or, "The disciples are rough, and will push me back, or laugh at me;" or, "Perhaps I had better wait a little, till I am older." Instead of this, he went at once, and went as he was. There are reasons why you, as children, should go to him.
1. Because conscience says you need him. Conscience is more sensitive, and speaks more clearly in childhood than in age; and this is an evidence that childhood is the appointed and the best time to hear God's voice.
2. Because affection says you need him. Some children feel much secret grief because they have an impression that no one cares much for them. Their brothers and sisters are more popular than they are, so they are always supposing that they are being slighted. Or perhaps they are at school, and are thoroughly homesick among strangers. How pleasant it is to feel that One who is always near loves you personally, intensely, fervently! and how naturally should your love flow forth responsively to him!
3. Because energy says you need him. A child is naturally active. The fingers itch to touch what is forbidden, to try what is unknown; and mischief often results from no evil intention. All that pent-up energy is from God; stored up for the doing of life's work, and the bearing of its burdens. And the Lord wants in his kingdom these vigorous frames and powerful minds, that he may sanctify and bless them - that the children may lead off the hosannas in which the world will join in the New Jerusalem.
4. Because hope says you want him. Every child has some hope of becoming better and greater. It is a sign that Paradise is lost, but that heaven is possible, else we might be satisfied. Many boys and girls have quiet times, little spoken of to others, when they say, "I wish I could be better; that I could get over this evil habit; that I was steadfast, pure, and true; that I loved God, and was glad he loved me." That is the time when Jesus is near, when he stretches out his arms and says, "Come unto me;" and in answer to the secret prayer he will take the little one in his arms, put his hands on him, and bless him. - A.R.
I. MARKS OF HIS TRUE SERVANTS. The general link between the several classes is his "Name," i.e. conscious oneness and sympathy with him as the Son of God and Savior of the world. Accepting that as the test, he lays down:
1. A general principle of comprehension. (Ver. 40.) It is negative. If a man does not oppose him, he is to be considered as an ally and a friend. There is no neutrality in man's relations to Christ. This was especially the case in that age: the devil was too active in human nature to suffer any opposition to be undeveloped. The powers of darkness and of light were in deadly antagonism, and all who were aware of the conflict were certain to have their sympathies engaged for the one side or the other. This seems a dangerous principle, and apt to lead to entanglement or disaster. "Divinely dangerous." Yet is it the teaching of the Spirit of God, and beautifully harmonious with it.
2. That those are his servants who do mighty works in his Name. This mere statement suggests how profoundly the work of Christ was leavening the community. There were many besides his professed followers who were influenced by his spirit.
(1) That they should be able to do these works (which were of a miraculous nature) showed that they must already be in communion with his spirit. To cast forth devils could not be to further the cause of their prince, or to be aided by him. And so of the complementary work of awaking spiritual life in conversion, etc. Such work is manifestly of God, and these results prove his presence and approval.
(2) The honor and cause of Christ will be dear to such, even as to those more openly and professedly connected with him. Christ's servants do not work magically, by the mechanical force of dark formulas, but by sympathy and moral oneness with him.
3. That sympathy and help towards a disciple, as such, is itself a proof of discipleship.
(1) The slightest sign of this spirit is to be welcomed in faith and hope, as a firstfruits of greater things to come.
(2) But in itself it is already truly a great service, and as such will be certainly rewarded. It seems almost more precious, in its connection, than the "mighty works;" for these may sometimes incommode, and be mingled with much error and evil, but the merciful kindness is ever serviceable, and flows from no other fountain than the heart of God.
II. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH THESE ARE TO BE REGARDED. The child of grace is to be trustfully disposed, and ready to put a charitable construction upon the merely negative behavior of men. And, moreover, it is to be recollected that the principle is not one of judgment, but of policy. "Jesus would impress it upon his disciples that they must honor and protect the isolated beginnings or germs of faith to be found in the world" (Lange). Towards all who do not oppose Christ there is to be an attitude of hopeful and trustful encouragement (cf. Matthew 11:42).
1. Christian acknowledgment. "Forbid them not." Involving
(1) brotherly recognition - not mere toleration:
(2) fostering and protecting care;
(3) devout thankfulness and humility.
2. Remembering their retaliation to the same Master.
(1) He acknowledges them;
(2) he will afterwards reward them;
(3) we shall be sternly and awfully judged if we "cause them to stumble." The word for millstone indicates the larger stone-mill, in working which an ass was generally employed, as distinguished from the smaller hand-mill of Luke 17:35. The punishment was not recognized in the Jewish Law, but it was in occasional use among the Greeks (Diod. Sic., 16:35), and had been inflicted by Augustus (Sueton., 'Aug.,' 67.) in cases of special infamy. Jerome states (in a note on this passage) that it was practiced in Galilee, and it is not improbable that the Romans had inflicted it upon some of the ringleaders of the insurrection headed by Judas of Galilee. The infamy of offending one of the ' little ones' was as great as that of those whose crimes brought upon them this exceptional punishment. It was obviously a form of death less cruel in itself than many others, and its chief horror, both for Jews and heathen, was probably that it deprived the dead of all rites of burial (Plumptre, in 'New Test. Com.'). This punishment, such as it was, was but a shadow of the more terrible penalties of the spiritual state. - M.
I. THE FAITHFUL ACKNOWLEDGMENT AND REWARD OF THE LEAST SERVICE RENDERED TO THE DISCIPLES IN THE NAME OF CHRIST - even "a cup of water to drink." Very wide apart are the two works, the "Wasting out devils" and the giving "a cup of water to drink." The one act may be performed by a mere child in age or in grace; but the other is the work of the man in grace and years. That the disciples were in the wrong in forbidding him who did the greater work, is shown by the assurance that he who does the less is acknowledged and rewarded by the Lord of all. Did not the disciples know that the casting out of devils was service done to them? Were they as ignorant as so many to-day are, not knowing that in the conquest of evil every one's best interests are advanced? Intimately is the well-being of one bound up in the well-being of all. The human body is not more closely knit and compacted together than is human society. To do good to any part is to do good to the whole. And each part suffers in the suffering, or loss, or injury of any other. Then by whomsoever or howsoever devils are cast out, let every true lover of his race and every wise lover of himself rejoice. Such a worker is not "against us," but "for us."
II. THE EQUALLY FAITHFUL PUNISHMENT OF ANY WHO SHALL CAUSE ONE OF THE LOWLIEST - one "of the least of these little ones that believe on me" - To STUMBLE. But a rude interference with any worker of good is an offense against that good Lord, from whom alone men have power to do good. Here not only were devils cast out, but they were cast out in the Name of Christ. Plainly this was a servant of Christ, and a disciple, acknowledged as "one of these little ones that believe on me," to whom the Lord had given "power and authority." An that power was being used obediently. How serious a stumbling-block was thrown in the way of his obedience by the authoritative prohibition of the (possibly jealous) disciples! But how great the penalty - worse than to have "a great millstone hanged about his neck," and to be "drowned in the depth of the sea"! So jealously does the Lord of all guard the interests even of "little ones." It were better for a man to lose his own life in time than to lead another astray, so that he should lose the life eternal; better for them both. But what was the greater evil to which the layer of stumbling-blocks Was exposed? Was it not the certainty that the Lord would do with his own body What he taught the disciples to do with theirs? - "cut off" the "hand" or "foot," "cast out" the "eye" that caused the body to stumble, whomsoever that foot or eye or hand might be? Was the foot cut off when Judas was severed from the body, and cut off to save the body, so that through all ages, of the twelve chosen, one must be wanting? Sad was the possibility, severe the warning; but how merciful and gracious! Men act on the principle, and sever a limb to save a life. So in spirituals should it be.
III. THE WISDOM OF EVERY DISCIPLE UTTERLY RENOUNCING WHATEVER MIGHT CAUSE HIM TO STUMBLE, OR BE A STUMBLING-BLOCK TO OTHERS. For every disciple the principle holds good. It is wise to forego anything that threatens the true life rather than lose that life. To retain all and i be "east into hell" - not into the mere hiding, or hidden place, but into "the unquenchable fire," the fire into which the spirit will be cast; worse than that, into which the body may be thrown, the real Gehenna, not the symbolical one - is to lose all. "To enter into the kingdom of God," having suffered the loss of that which was dear as an eye, a hand, or a foot, "is good" indeed in comparison with being "cast into" that "hell." There is a final fire, a fire that "is not quenched," which is punishment. And there is a present temporary fire, a salting fire, which is corrective and disciplinary. To this the cutting off the hand corresponds. It is a pain-giving, fiery ordeal, with which every one in God's good way is "salted." And there is a salt of self-denial, which leads men to be "at peace one with another." It is held in the thought, which the "many ancient authorities" teach, that if any one would be a true sacrifice to GOd he must faithfully apply the fiery salt to the green, cankerous wound and burn out the evil, lest the evil burn out and burn up the life. - G.
extremely opposed to the ends and purport of the kingdom.
I. INTOLERANCE. That is, the hindering of good, because the good is not done in our way. Christianity says the good deed justifies itself. Coming from a good source, it is not likely to be associated with evil opinions or teaching. Any one who does good nowadays may be said virtually to do it in the Name of Christ. To do good one need not, cannot, pass out of the Christian atmosphere. And experience of history confirms the statement of Christ. Good men really love him, whatever difference there may be in their mode of conception of him and statements about him. All that is done for love's sake is virtually and really done in his Name.
II. CAUSING SIN IN OTHERS. Involuntarily people may take offense, "stumble" at what we do or say. We cannot help false inferences being drawn, nor turn bad reasoners or conduct into good, nor weak brethren into strong. But we can avoid doing what we know will hurt others. If we are reckless in this respect, the will and the intelligence are involved in guilt.
III. DELIBERATE PREFERENCE OF PLEASURE TO RIGHT. The old story of the man who defended his dishonesty by the plea, "One must live," has its meaning for us. The judge replied to the culprit, "I do not see the necessity." So with the Christian: luxury is not a necessity; pleasure is not a necessity; even life in the lower sense is not a necessity; but only life in the higher sense - a good conscience, a soul in purity and integrity. It is ever a good bargain to part with a sin, and a losing business to compromise with a lust.
IV. SIN CAN ONLY BE CURED BY SUFFERING. Sin is in the intelligence want of principle; in the will want of energy for, true self-realization. Our mistakes and troubles throw us upon the true principles of conduct, on the moral law of God. The fallacy of expecting blessedness by false methods leads us back to the true. Stern but kind is the discipline by which God uproots our follies and trains us for himself. - J.
I. THE KEY-NOTE OF THE PASSAGE. The sentence which appears to furnish the key to the understanding of this instructive and interesting passage is contained in the following short sentence: - " He that is not against us is on our part," or, as it stands yet more concisely in St. Luke, "He that is not against us is for us."
II. A seeming contradiction. The statement just quoted from the Gospel of St. Luke (Luke 9:50) appears to be at variance with another statement further on in the same Gospel, where, at the eleventh chapter and twenty-third verse, it is written, "He that is not with me is against me." The discrepancy, however, is only apparent. In order to perceive this, we must consider the occasions on which the words recorded were respectively spoken; for, as our Lord and his apostles usually adapted their language to the occasion, we shall thus best learn the design with which each of those sentiments was uttered. Accordingly, we learn that some one not consorting with Christ or his apostles was, nevertheless, casting out devils in the Savior's name, and that John forbade him. Our Lord sets John right in the matter by saying, "Forbid him not;" that is, do not interfere with any who may be attempting anything good in my name. And then he assigns the reason; for "he that is not against us is for us;" he who is not directly opposed to us is rather to be regarded as on our side; he who is not preventing our progress may be looked upon, at least negatively, as promoting it. Just as is intimated by the Apostle Paul on a certain occasion, even though envy and strife should be the impelling motive, if Christ is preached his cause is advanced, and "I therein do rejoice." So here we may fairly understand the words of the Master to mean - Whosoever this man may be, or whatever may be his object, he is weakening Satan's kingdom by casting out devils, and therefore, so far from being against me, he must be looked upon as an auxiliary in the great war against the great enemy of man. Besides, by such forbearance as I thus counsel, he may be drawn into closer and more effective co-operation against the common adversary. Such is the plain meaning of the passage before us. On the other hand, in the second passage, our Lord had been charged by the hostile, cavilling Pharisees with casting out devils by Beelzebub the prince of devils. This charge had called forth the rejoinder of our Lord, that "every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation." Such would be the case if Satan cast out Satan. The only reasonable alternative was that the Savior was casting out devils by the Spirit of God, and so the kingdom of God had come unto them. He follows up this reply by a warning against lukewarmness and an exhortation to decision, that the crisis had come when men must choose sides, that they must elect to take part with God or with Satan. Neutrality was impossible. In view of two kingdoms so opposed, there was no possibility of belonging to both; nay, there was no middle ground between loyalty and rebellion. If not on the side of the Savior, he must be on the side of Satan; if not a subject of the former, he must be a slave of the latter, and so an enemy to the cause of Christ: "He that is not with me is against me."
III. THE SAME SUBJECT VIEWED FROM A PRACTICAL STANDPOINT. The one text implies that men may take different roads to the same place, or reach the same point by different routes. This is true morally as well as geographically. It condemns the narrowness that refuses to tolerate want of uniformity, and commends forbearance towards all who in reality serve the same Master and seek the same object, viz. the glory of God, though their forms may be diverse, their modes of worship different, and even their creeds divergent in expression. The other text affirms that, in the natural and increasing conflict between good and evil, our hesitation to unite with the good is tantamount with adhesion to the evil. The one text does not insist on uniformity, the other inculcates unity. Again, conformity to the same standards is not an indispensable condition of Christianity, as we infer from the one text; but cordiality in embracing Christ and espousing his cause is of its very essence. We are taught by the one that there may be many folds, though there is but one flock; but by the other that, as there is but one Shepherd, union to him is indispensable to membership in his flock. Further, the one makes charity to others imperative, provided they have the same great end in view, however divergent the means adopted for its attainment; the other requires of us decision for ourselves in seeking that end. - J.J.G.
I. THE DUTY OF CHRISTIAN BENEFICENCE is asserted throughout Scripture. Under the old dispensation, the blessedness of him who considers the poor was exemplified in the experience of Job, and of the widow of Sarepta, and of multitudes besides. The duty was made still more clear in the New Testament; and this is noteworthy, because the disciples of our Lord were themselves poor, so that no one of them could give out of his superabundance; and even of our Lord himself this was true, though he so often showed that it was more blessed to give than to receive. On this principle the Church acted. Spontaneously Barnabas sold his estates to aid those who were in special difficulties because they were cast out of trade and home, and his example was contagious. There was no law passed that Christians should do this; but though as a compulsory law it would have been an unsound dictum for all times, it was right and good when Christians, moved by pity for their poor persecuted brethren, distributed as every man had need. Spontaneity gives worth to such acts. He who thus gives, though it be but a cup of cold water, shall not lose his reward.
II. THE OBJECTS OF CHRISTIAN BENEFICENCE. All less favored than ourselves have a claim, not necessarily on our money, but on our help and sympathy, in some form, when an opportunity comes for service in Christ's Name.
1. Human relationship has its claims on us, and he who does not "provide for his own," even though he benefits some religious organization, fails in his duty to his Lord.
2. Neighbourhood has claims on us. No follower of Christ can be like the rich man, who would give alms to be seen of man, but would let poor Lazarus die at his gate, fighting for crumbs with the dogs.
3. Fellowship in the same Church has claims on us, though those needing our aid may be least in knowledge, least in capacity, least in attractiveness, or least in desert.
4. But we are to do good unto all men, though especially to such as are of the household of faith. Christ died for all, and in his Name, for his sake, in his spirit, we must seek to aid them, even though it only be by a cup of cold water.
III. THE REASONS FOR CHRISTIAN BENEFICENCE are numerous, but we may mention one or two.
1. All we have is from God. His providence has made us to differ. Our birth, our inheritance, our education, our natural capacities, - these are in no sense the results of our own creation or choice. He who gave us these, demands that we should use them in part to promote the peace and the comfort of those for whom his Son died. "Freely ye have received, freely give."
2. Our superabundance is for others. When our cup runs over, the droppings are not for ourselves but for others. When our harvest is gathered, room must be made for gleaners as well as for reapers. Waste is against God's law. The breath we throw off from our lungs is wanted by nature. The rain poured down so lavishly is not lost. The refuse flung on the soil is to reappear in new forms. All nature rebukes the waste and extravagance of which we are often guilty; and Ambrose has well said, "It is no greater sin to take from him that rightly possesseth than being able not to give to him that wanteth." - A.R.
I. Love to the little ones. Christ's little ones are either young believers or weak believers. A kindness shown them is accepted by Christ as done to himself. Even a cup of cold water will be rewarded. However much they may be despised by men or neglected in the world, they are dear to God and near to the Savior's heart; while angels of highest rank are commissioned to guard them - even angels who are privileged to stand in the immediate presence of the great King; for "in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven." Angels of all grades have a twofold function - they worship and they minister; they worship in the heavenly sanctuary the Father everlasting (λειτοργικὰ). He they wait for ministry (εἰς διακονίαν) to man on earth. But those of most exalted dignity are the guardians of Christ's little ones.
II. CONSEQUENCES OF OFFENCES. The sin of offending one of these little ones is great in proportion to Christ's love to them. How careful men should be, and how cautious, not to put a stumbling-block in the way of these little ones! The sin of turning weak believers or young Christians aside from the truth, or from the faith, or from the path of purity, or a career of virtue, by evil advice or bad example, or by casting doubt on the Word of God, or by insinuating sceptical notions, or by mockery of Divine things, is a sin so great that a preferable alternative would be for the person guilty of it to have a millstone of large size, turned by an ass (ὀνικὸς). He lying around his neck, and himself cast into the sea. Such is the fearfully emphatic declaration of the guilt and danger of scandalizing or offending the youngest child that believes, or the weakest Christian.
III. OTHER OFFENCES. Our Lord passes by a common law of suggestion to speak of offenses by ourselves and against ourselves. The hand may offend by doing wrong, the foot may offend by going on what is wrong. But if the most serviceable member, as the hand, do amiss, or the most useful member, as the foot, walk astray, or the most precious member, as the eye, look with delight on objects sinful and forbidden, then there must be no hesitation in divesting ourselves of such rather than risk the fearful fate of those who are tormented in the Gehenna of fire, "where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched."
IV. SALTED WITH FIRE. This difficult expression is taken by some as a promise and by others as a punishment. In the former sense, fire is taken in the signification of purifying and preserving, and this twofold property it shares with salt. Salt preserves from putrefaction, fire purifies from corruption. The Sacrifice of old required to be offered with salt. According to the Law in Leviticus 2:13, the meat offering was to be seasoned with salt, and salt was to be offered with all offerings. So, when we present ourselves living sacrifices to God, we may be purified by fiery trials; we may be called to pass through the fire of affliction, perhaps of persecution, certainly of self-denial. But thus purified by fire, like the sacrifice on the altar, salted with salt, we shall be saved. This gives a good sense, but does not suit the context. In the second sense, fire is taken to mean punishing and preserving. Six times does the evangelist represent unceasing torments by unquenchable fire; and as the salt applied to the sacrifice was the symbol of preservation, so fire here is symbolical of preservation, not, alas! from punishment, but for punishment, so that the undying worm and the unquenchable fire, instead of annihilating, preserve while they punish. Here is a fearful figure, and a terrible warning!
V. PEACE. They are exhorted to keep the salt of moral purity and covenant concord rather than have the salt of fiery punishment, and, as the effect and evidence thereof, to be at peace among themselves, and so avoid the strife for pre-eminence and the discord of ambition. - J.J.G.
I. ILLUSTRATED BY:
1. Relative importance of float which is sacrificed and that which is saved. They are as parts to the whole: as external limbs or members compared with the entire nature, or central ego. "Our Savior of course specifies hand and foot only for rhetorical purposes. It is a fine, bold, graphic way of bringing home to the imagination and the bosom the idea of what is near and dear to our natural feelings. He speaks in hieroglyphics" (Morison). They represent also our natural lust, tendencies, and carnalized faculties.
2. Terrible consequences to the wicked in the world to some. "Gehenna;" "the Gehenna of fire." "Originally it was the Greek form of Ge-hinnom (the Valley of Hinnom, sometimes of the "son" or the "children" of Hinnom), and was applied to a narrow gorge on the south of Jerusalem (Joshua 15:8)" (Plumptre). It became the common cesspool and place for consuming filth. Dead bodies of great criminals were probably cast forth without burial into it; and fires were continually burning for the destruction of the offal. It is, of course, only a type of the punishment of the lost. "There is a commingled reference to two modes of destruction - vermicular putrefaction and fire. When men's bodies are destroyed, it is generally either by the one agency or by the other. Both are here combined for cumulative rhetorical effect. And the dread climax of the whole representation is found in the ceaselessness of the twofold operation" (Morison). There are two elements in this. destruction, viz.:
(1) internal corruptions - "their worm;" and
(2) external consuming forces - "fire."
Both of these are to be understood of their spiritual analogues.
II. MORALLY STIMULATIVE BECAUSE OF APPEAL TO FREE-WILL AND SPIRITUAL AGENCY OF MAN. These considerations would have no weight but for this. Just as one can cut off a hand or a foot, and pluck out an eye, so one can restrain erring desires and affections, and curb unruly appetites. This is the sin of the ruined one, viz. he is stir-ruined. And all corrupting influence one exerts, returns upon himself to his own destruction. Self-sacrifice is, therefore, the only way of salvation. The power to do this is given by Christ. "It is better to make any sacrifice than to retain any sin" (Godwin). "The meaning is not that any man is in such a case that he hath no better way to avoid sin and hell [than being maimed]; but if he had no better, he should choose this. Nor doth it mean that maimed persons are maimed in heaven; but if it were so, it were a less evil" (Richard Baxter). - M.
I. OF WHAT IS THE HAND AN EMBLEM?
1. Companionship. We shake hands with those to whom we are introduced or with whom we are friendly, not with those who are unknown or hostile. If we have quarrelled, and reconciliation has been effected, the outstretched hand is a sign that we are reconciled. It is often said that a man is known by his friends, and it is perhaps equally true that he is made by his friends, especially in the time of youth, when character is plastic and habits are readily formed. Some communication with others is a necessity of school and business life; but friends may be chosen; and it is of the last importance that they be chosen well. Yet Christians will sometimes form a lifelong companionship with those whose worldliness will inevitably lead them astray from the ways of God. "If thy hand" in such a companionship "cause thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast it from thee."
2. Work. The hand is the medium through which we put forth our skill and strength. Daily work may have "holiness to the Lord" written on it, or may be the means of spiritual injury. There are shops in which dishonesty is a necessity; there are positions young girls are called upon to fill which cannot but injure their modesty and purity; there are undertakings which can only succeed by a sacrifice of truth. Whatever their external and material advantages, these are amongst the causes of offense which our Lord calls on us to sacrifice.
II. OF WHAT IS THE FOOT AN EMBLEM? By it we make progress. It may be taken, therefore, as a figure for getting on in the world. Parents are sometimes too eager for this on their children's behalf. They are like Lot, who sought the place of prosperity and was regardless of its temptations. It were far better to be less swift to attain wealth and position than to have the terrible awakening that will come to many at last. "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
III. OF WHAT IS THE EYE AN EMBLEM? Through it most offenses to the soul's purity come. Fatal has been the issue with many of "seeing life." David saw, lusted, and fell into adultery and murder. Eve saw, longed, and put forth her hand and took the forbidden fruit, and so came death into the world, and all our woe. Achan saw the garment and the gold, and covetousness led him to disobedience. Better to have been blind than to have seen that. How many nosy fall into evil ways who assure any one remonstrating with them that they are only going to that place of temptation because they wish for once "to see what it is like" There are books, too, which, from the doubts they insinuate or from the morality they implicitly commend, should be abjured. It may be sometimes an intellectual loss, but it results in larger gain; and the law of the gospel is that which is here, and which St. Paul repeats in the words, "Mortify therefore your members which are upon earth." - A.R.
A man's foes are they of his own household." The allusion to the hand, the foot, and the eye indicate that the causes of Sin are found in our own nature; that evil is natural to us as the use of these members. Sins spring from within: "Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts." When acts are repeated, habits are formed which become part of ourselves. Then these habits are allowed for and excused by others, so that we no longer get our attention directed to them as otherwise we might do. A notoriously selfish man is not asked to help others; a passionate or suspicious temper becomes regarded as a personal peculiarity. Yet, though it seems a part of ourselves, God says, "Cut it off, and cast it from thee."
I. GOD'S TREATMENT OF SIN IS RADICAL. We naturally shrink from the severe method indicated here. Who has not suffered an agony of pain rather than apply to the surgeon or dentist, although it must come to that at last? Nothing short of amputation of evil habit will save the life of the soul. Some are satisfied that they have confessed, received absolution, and done penance at the bidding of a human priest. Others are told to exercise discretion even when the taste and smell of intoxicants are sources of peril, and their only hope is to cut them off. Many excuse the young in their follies, and say, "They must sow their wild oats." Ay, but they will never plough them up, and no subsequent sowing will alter the effects of the first. "Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap." Now, if we see deformity in a child which will mar its beauty for life, the pain he would immediately suffer would not prevent our cutting it off; and if there be a moral weakness or an evil habit that deforms spiritual beauty, the treatment must be as radical. When the moth is in a garment, the careful housewife does not leave a few and run the risk. When a man is bitten by a mad dog, the hot iron will sear the flesh, though it causes agony. When a child dies of diphtheria, the clothes are burnt and the little toys, which the mother would gladly keep, lest the other children should take the infection. The house is purged so as by fire. The treatment is severe, no doubt; but Christ did not come to lead us in the path of ease, but of serf-denial. He knew that it was not painless to cut off the hand or the foot and to pluck out the eye, but he declared it was better to suffer what was represented by this than that the man with all his powers should be cast into hell. If this word comes as the sword of the Spirit to cut your heart in twain -
"Oh, throw away the worser part of it, II. GOD'S CALL TO OBEDIENCE IS URGENT. 1. We are urged to this for the sake of others. What anxiety would be relieved and what joy would be imparted to Christian friends if, by the transforming power of God's Spirit, you were delivered from evil! Besides this, by delaying repentance you may be causing others to stumble. There is a word in this passage about children - little ones, young people who may be influenced by you for evil. If you laugh at serious impressions, jeer at another as a saint, discourage earnestness, and lead to felly or guilt, - take heed, for it were better that a millstone were hanged about your neck than that such a crime should curse you. Parents especially can hold back their children from evil, and encourage them to good, if they prayerfully seek to do so. By allowing sceptical or immoral literature, by encouraging worldly companionships, they may foster a life of sin, and check the life of God in the soul. Still more power have they by example and personal influence. 2. We are urged to this for our own sakes. Christ was the King of Truth. He never deceived, misrepresented, or exaggerated. Ponder, therefore, his solemn words, "It is better for thee to enter life maimed," etc. This is not a literal description of hell. It is an allusion to Isaiah 66:24, where the prophet describes apostates from Jehovah lying outside the holy city in the valley of Hinnom, where refuse was cast, and the worm of corruption died not, and the fires of destruction were not extinguished. This was used as an emblem of "everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord." Figurative as the language is, it is ominous, and warns us against the untold terrors which await the impenitent - the retribution which follows unrepented sin. A man may escape the consequences of sin here, but the punishment must ultimately come. True, "God is merciful." But when a man on the sea-shore disregards warning, and the tide comes in, his cries and prayers are of no avail, and soon his dead body is flung up as a useless waif. He has defied the merciless law of a merciful God. Put yourself in harmony with that law and it brings benediction, but oppose it and it brings destruction. The amazing sacrifice of Christ is only explicable on the theory that sin has effects beyond those which are visible here. "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" - A.R.
II. GOD'S CALL TO OBEDIENCE IS URGENT.
1. We are urged to this for the sake of others. What anxiety would be relieved and what joy would be imparted to Christian friends if, by the transforming power of God's Spirit, you were delivered from evil! Besides this, by delaying repentance you may be causing others to stumble. There is a word in this passage about children - little ones, young people who may be influenced by you for evil. If you laugh at serious impressions, jeer at another as a saint, discourage earnestness, and lead to felly or guilt, - take heed, for it were better that a millstone were hanged about your neck than that such a crime should curse you. Parents especially can hold back their children from evil, and encourage them to good, if they prayerfully seek to do so. By allowing sceptical or immoral literature, by encouraging worldly companionships, they may foster a life of sin, and check the life of God in the soul. Still more power have they by example and personal influence.
2. We are urged to this for our own sakes. Christ was the King of Truth. He never deceived, misrepresented, or exaggerated. Ponder, therefore, his solemn words, "It is better for thee to enter life maimed," etc. This is not a literal description of hell. It is an allusion to Isaiah 66:24, where the prophet describes apostates from Jehovah lying outside the holy city in the valley of Hinnom, where refuse was cast, and the worm of corruption died not, and the fires of destruction were not extinguished. This was used as an emblem of "everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord." Figurative as the language is, it is ominous, and warns us against the untold terrors which await the impenitent - the retribution which follows unrepented sin. A man may escape the consequences of sin here, but the punishment must ultimately come. True, "God is merciful." But when a man on the sea-shore disregards warning, and the tide comes in, his cries and prayers are of no avail, and soon his dead body is flung up as a useless waif. He has defied the merciless law of a merciful God. Put yourself in harmony with that law and it brings benediction, but oppose it and it brings destruction. The amazing sacrifice of Christ is only explicable on the theory that sin has effects beyond those which are visible here. "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" - A.R.
I. HOW SPIRITUAL PURITY IS PRODUCED AND SUSTAINED, 1, "With fire:" a figurative term, relating itself to the fire that is not quenched of the preceding passage, and the description of the baptism of the Holy Ghost (Matthew 3:11, 12). "Even when manifested in its most awful forms, it is still true that they who 'walk righteously and speak uprightly' may dwell with 'everlasting burnings" (Plumptre). "Thy God is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24); and that to the evil in his people, as well as that out of which they are taken. This may refer
(1) to the general spiritual experience of the child of God as subject to the influences of the Holy Spirit;
(2) to Divine chastisement;
(3) to "the spirit to which our Savior refers in vers. 43-48, the spirit that parts, for righteousness sake, with a hand, a foot, an eye (Morison). It is an alternative fire," "which indeed scorches the sensibility to agony, but which in the end consumes only what is bad, and leaves the soul freed from those moral combustibles on which the penal fire of Gehenna could feed." "He is preserved from corruption, and consequent everlasting destruction, by the fire of unsparing self-sacrifice (ibid.).
2. This is the universal experience of true. Christians. Because it is essential to the Divine life in the soul, if indeed it be not rather identical with it. Have we endured this scourging," without which no son is received by our Father? Is this our spirit? Herein we can examine ourselves.
II. ITS INFLUENCE. It affects:
(2) collectively. Have suit in yourselves, and be at peace one with another. Purity of aim and spirit will obviate misunderstandings, and allay bitternesses between true believers.
2. Their sacrifices. It is in a sense the spirit of Christ's sacrifice communicated to theirs. As it was a law of the Levitical code that "every sacrifice should be salted with salt," so it is a law of the spiritual life, fulfilled through the spirit of self-sacrifice communicated to the particular act and object of sacrifice. This applies to the whole outcome and expression of the spiritual life of the children of God, their thought, word, action, as well as to their gifts to the cause of Christ.
3. The general life of the world. "Ye are the salt of the earth." An indirect and incomplete, but still a positive blessing to the world of the unconverted. For this constant renewals of grace are required, from a source independent of ourselves. Watchfulness, prayer, ceaseless self-sacrifice in the spirit of Christ. - M.