Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. IT IS NOT EASY TO ACCOUNT FOR JESUS CHRIST. The very variety of the theories shows that the problem was not solved at a glance. It was evident to his contemporaries that our Lord was no ordinary man. And yet these people saw little more than his outer life. The teaching of his apostles and the revelation of Christ in his Church have brought out far greater marvels in his nature. It we accept him and his claims, his Divine nature and mission will explain all. But if we reject him we have still to account for him. And just here is the great difficulty for all unbelievers. It is not enough for them to urge certain objections against the Christian position. Christ remains the wonder of all history. How could the carpenter of Nazareth live and teach and work and revolutionize the world as Jesus did if he was only a village artisan?
II. MEN VAINLY TRY TO EXPLAIN THE NEW BY THE OLD. Herod thinks of the one great man whom he has known. Others recall the historic figures of Hebrew prophecy (Matthew 16:14). In all this there is no idea that God is surpassing antiquity; that he is making a new start with a greater revelation and glory than anything yet witnessed on earth. It was difficult to understand Jesus Christ - in part, because he was not a repetition of antiquity. So long as there was no idea of a new work of God, the New Testament gospel could not be entertained. The same mistake was made later and in another way by those Jewish Christians who wished to limit Christianity by tying it to the ordinances of the old Law; and the old mistake is repeated today by those who think that Christ must be explained by what we know of the ordinary workings of human lives and characters.
III. THE GUILTY CONSCIENCE INVENTS ITS OWN TORMENTOR. Herod's hypothesis is the creation of his conscience. The stain of blood is on his soul, and it colours all his thoughts. He is a murderer, and he is haunted by suspicions of the return of his victim. He cannot silence the voice of the faithful prophet. Although he has shut him up in a dungeon, although at the instigation of his wicked wife he has lawlessly murdered him, he cannot forget him, cannot elude his warning voice. There is no escape from the guilt and consequences of sin, except by the narrow door of repentance. A king may be a slave to the terrors of his own evil conscience.
IV. THE REJECTION OF CHRISTIAN TRUTH IS OFTEN ACCOMPANIED BY THE ACCEPTANCE OF A FOOLISH SUPERSTITION. Herod could not bring himself to accept the claim of Christ; yet he was willing to believe in a most extraordinary alternative. In early ages multitudes who rejected the Christian gospel yielded to the spell of ridiculous charlatans in the profession of magic. Today we see the negation of the gospel accompanied by a ready belief in what is called "spiritualism." There is no superstition so abject as the superstition of scepticism. It is the greatest mistake to suppose that the unbeliever is always walking in the white light of reason. Christian faith is the true way of escape from unchristian superstition. To believe in Christ as the Son of God who has risen from the dead is the best security for intellectual sanity in religion. - W.F.A.
first, he was tempted to put him in prison, and yielded to the temptation; and how, secondly, he was snared on by his own sin, in first, second, and third degree, till he put him to death by beheading him. Notice this career in its simplest steps of sin.
I. A MARRIAGE ALLIANCE INCESTUOUS, ADULTEROUS, AND AT THE EXPENSE OF A HALF BROTHER.
II. A GOOD MAN IMPRISONED FOR HOLY TESTIMONY AGAINST THIS, MADE IN THE UNDENIED DISCHARGE OF HIS DUTY AS A PROPHET OF RELIGION.
III. BY THAT IMPRISONMENT, NOT ONLY CRUEL PRESENT INJUSTICE DONE TO THE VICTIM, BUT THE WAY PAVED FOR THE PERPETRATION OF YET WORSE CRUELTY AND INIQUITY.
IV. UNDER THE STIMULUS OF DEBAUCHERY, A BOASTFUL AND RECKLESS PROMISE MADE.
V. UNDER THE BLINDEDNESS OF DEBAUCHERY, A SNARE LAID, WHICH TOO EFFECTUALLY FITTED IN WITH RISKS ALREADY SELF-HAZARDED AND SELF-CHALLENGED.
VI. THE SNARE ENTERED WITH VAINLY HEARD, VAINLY UTTERED REMONSTRANCES OF CONSCIENCE.
VII. IN THAT SNARE A TERRIBLE FALL; AND IRRETRIEVABLE HARM BOTH DONE AND TAKEN.
VIII. LATER ON, CONSCIENCE CALLING ON A VERY FAITHFUL ALLY CALLED MEMORY, STARTLED AND GALVANIZED INTO LIFE BY CIRCUMSTANCES AND EVENTS THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN, AND EVEN EASILY MIGHT HAVE BEEN, ALL MATTER OF INTEREST AND JOY - CREATORS AND STRENGTHENERS OF PEACE INSTEAD OF DISTURBERS AND DESTROYERS OF IT. - B.
1. That wherever a person forms connection with one less scrupulous than himself, he puts himself at a great disadvantage for living righteously. This pressure becomes extreme when the connection is so close as that of marriage. And many a marriage of this kind involves the parties in difficulties as trying if not as tragic as those which now involved Herod.
2. Again, we see the tendency of sin to spread and injure many. The sensualist often lays the flattering unction to his soul that, however vile his sin may be, he at least injures only himself. When Herod laid aside his self-respect and allowed his passions to be inflamed by the dancing of a wanton, he was not conscious of injuring any one. But before the sun was set his coarse profligacy had suddenly thrust itself into the most sacred life, and carried ruin with it. And in a thousand ways do sins of the flesh, which we flatter ourselves shall hurt nobody but ourselves, make us much wickeder than we wish, and carry us to consequences disastrous to others as well as to ourselves.
3. It is in our Lord's treatment of Herod that we see the full result of this passage in his history. When brought before his judgment seat he would not vouchsafe a word to his judge. By his treatment of John, Herod had forfeited his right to judge our Lord. Any interest he now professed in Jesus was false. He played round the margin of higher things, and flattered himself he would one day take the plunge; but this trifling only hardened his heart, and had made him incapable of understanding the gravity and importance of the matters that were brought before him. This is no unusual experience. Many men deal so shiftily with conscience, and constantly make enjoyment their real end in life, that there is left in them no capacity for earnest spiritual thought and feeling. Had Herod saved John's life and braved the anger of Herodias, he would probably have saved the life of Jesus also. But since that first opportunity of playing the man, he had steadily fallen, till he not only sacrificed a greater than John, but was unconscious of the enormity of his guilt. To such a man what could our Lord have to say? Here we may discern the reason why many men who seem to be inquirers after truth are left in darkness. They omit the preliminaries. Like Herod, who said nothing about John's death, they neglect to do the obvious duties that daily call them. They do not act on the light they have, and therefore they get no more. By trifling with former convictions and dealing insincerely with conscience, they reach that molt appalling of human conditions, in which they cannot receive help even from him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Turning now to the heroic figure in this tragedy, we are struck first with the completeness given to John's character both by his rebuke of Herod and by his death. All Jews were more or less scandalized by the conduct of the king; but, so far as history informs us, none were honest enough or bold enough to tell him how his conduct stood related to the Law. (Compare conduct of courtiers of Henry VIII. when asked if his divorce were lawful.) Such freedom from fear and favour as John's is rarely attained, and attained only by those whom the truth makes free - by those who are themselves living so true a life that all personal interests are eclipsed by the steady shining of the truth. That must shine whatever else goes out. We may be tempted to ask - What good did John do by his boldness? He did not make Herod repent, and he only made things look more hopeless for the righteous. And so with ourselves, the good we attempt is not done, and we ourselves are permanently injured. Were it not better for us to turn forever away from those unattainable heights which only heroes can climb? But:
1. John could not have helped rebuking Herod. He was sent to turn people to repentance. Herod invited him, and he must speak.
2. Are we sure John's conduct was fruitless? It is by admiration of such heroic acts that men are practically brought within sight of a spiritual world, in presence of which all earthly glory and gain seem poor and tarnished. It is through such acts that we are enabled to believe in the righteousness of God. Righteousness becomes a new thing when it assumes a visible form upon earth, and condemns our unrighteousness with irresistible force. Lastly, it is true direct success did not attend John's efforts; and if we are to act righteously and courageously, we must not do so in expectation that such conduct will always bring us in this life outward comfort and personal safety. But let no one think of his own life as so commonplace, so padded round with social safeguards and comforts, that no act of heroism can ever be required of him. Acts requiring true moral courage and absolute self-sacrifice are called forevery day, and your day and opportunity will no doubt also come. And out of very feeble and commonplace material heroes are made by John's fundamental quality, fidelity to Christ. It is knowledge of Christ and sympathy with him, loyalty to him and genuine love for him, which carry the soul forward to greater things than otherwise it could dare. - D.
I. THAT THE HAUGHTIEST DESPOT IS HIMSELF RULED BY THE MEANEST THINGS.
1. What is meaner than vile passion?
(1) Capricious lust ruled the destinies of Herod. The king is ruled by the beast. The beast excites the murderer. The man is bedevilled.
(2) "He that ruleth his heart is greater than he that taketh a city." Brute force may take the city. Brute force may imprison the saint. Moral force rules the heart. It vanquishes sin. It vanquishes Satan.
2. What is meaner than the pander of vile passion?
(1) This Herodias was. A despicable woman, who could abandon her living husband to consort with his brother.
(2) The tetrarch was the creature of that wretch. He consented to her stipulation that he should divorce his lawful wife. He became a murderer to please her.
(3) How much lower can the despot sink? Let those who would be honourable eschew despotism. Be admonished by the "dog in office;" by the "beggar on horseback."
II. THAT THE DIVERSIONS OF THE WORLD ARE COMMON OCCASIONS OF SIN.
(1) This in the abstract is innocent. There are religious festivals.
(2) Excesses have to be avoided (see Proverbs 23:31-33).
(3) The folly of the fool comes out of his merry heart. There cannot be a better glass, wherein to discern the face our hearts, than our pleasures; such as they are, such are we (Bishop Hall; see Proverbs 10:23; Hosea 7:5).
(1) This may evince a holy excitement, as when David danced before the ark. His dancing would be the hilarious stepping of a soul full of holy triumph.
(2) The dancing of Salome was of another kind. The dancing of the ballroom is a pernicious invention to excite criminal passion. It has often led to the sacrifice of chastity, and to murder afterwards to conceal shame.
(3) Christian mothers who send their daughters to the dancing school should remember the mother of Salome (cf. 2 Chronicles 22:3).
(1) The company of the good is from the Lord. It was none the less edifying to the disciples of John because a prison was the place of meeting.
(2) The company of the wicked is from the devil. It is none the less demoralizing when the meeting place is in a palace.
(3) Tyrants will have flatterers for their courtiers. They hate reprovers. John's words were rough like his raiment (see 1 Kings 22:8; Proverbs 9:8; Proverbs 15:10-12). The prisoner is not bidden to the feast.
(4) Unlike the princes of Jehoiakim (see Jeremiah 36:25), the guests of Antipas had not the spirit to protest against the oaths or the murder, and so they became accomplices in both. To their notions of honour the Baptist's head must be sacrificed.
III. THAT A PARTIAL SURRENDER TO TRUTH IS NO SECURITY AGAINST CORRUPTION.
1. Herod for some time spared John's life.
(1) In the first flush of his resentment for John's reproof, he was minded to put John to death. In this, too, he was encouraged by Herodias. But he was restrained by his fear of the multitude, "because they counted John as a prophet."
(2) The fear of man is to the wicked a greater restraint than the fear of God. Men fear to be hanged for what they fear not to be damned (see Ecclesiastes 7:17). The fear of man restrains; the fear of God constrains.
2. He even listened to John's sermons.
(1) The consequence was that he had a new motive for sparing John's life, which was still coveted by Herodias. He now "feared John, knowing. that he was a righteous man and a holy, and kept him safe."
(2) He heard John with a conviction which "much perplexed him; and he heard him gladly" Wicked men are not insensible to the beauty and power of great principles. Many such listen gladly to faithful gospel preaching.
(3) He went further; "he did many things" at the instance of John.
3. But he did not forsake all his sins.
(1) He retained Herodias. How many things in the way of reformation will men do while they hold to the sin that easily besets them!
(2) He detained the Baptist in prison. There he lay for eighteen months - a term equal to that of his public ministry. Thus was the tyrant responsible for the crime the public ministry of that great re. an might have prevented.
(3) The sequel was that, though "the king was sorry," yet he murdered his monitor to gratify his mistress.
IV. THAT THE WICKED HAVE TO DREAD RETRIBUTIVE RESURRECTIONS.
1. Crime distorts the conscience.
(1) "The king was sorry."
(a) Sorry at his banquet. Note: Sorrow accompanies the joys of earth.
(b) Sorry that he had pledged his oath to the damsel when he saw the consequence. How human passion contradicts itself! Now war is waged for an inch of land; now half a kingdom is sacrificed to the will of a young coquette! (Quesnel).
(2) But his honour was at stake. "Herod had so much religion as to make scruple of an oath - not so much as to make scruple of a murder" (Bishop Hall). Can a wicked oath justify a wicked deed?
(3) "For the sake of them that sat at meat with him" (cf. Mark 6:21). The law of honour would condemn Herod as a coward if he did not keep his oath. Yet was he such a coward that he would rather brave the anger of God than the contempt of vain men. So he murdered a great prophet for very tenderness of conscience!
(4) "The king was sorry." Men enter on a new stage of crime when the restraints of fear yield to self-indulgence. A new step in sin is seldom made without compunction. A guilty man is ever miserable under the power of self-accusation, reproach, and remorse.
2. Phantoms arise frown the distortion.
(2) The guilty conscience is quick in its conclusions. Herod saw in the miracle worker John the Baptist whom he had beheaded risen from the dead. Blood cries from the conscience of the murderer. He cannot rid himself of that gory visage.
(3) Where now is the Sadducee? The "leaven of Herod" is understood to be the doctrine of the Sadducees (cf. Matthew 16:6; Mark 8:15). They denied the resurrection (see Acts 23:8). But Sadduceeism staggers when conscience is awake.
(4) The resurrections of the conscience, however, are premonitory of those of the last day. John will yet in verity confront Herod before the bar of God. - J.A.M.
I. THE PROPHET'S FIDELITY. John the Baptist was a prophet of repentance. His was a difficult task, because he aimed at making it effective. It is easy to denounce sin in the general; no one will be affected. It is safe to accuse the weak of their wickedness; they cannot retaliate on their censor. Therefore the temptation is to take one or the other of these courses; but the first is useless, and the second mean and cowardly.
1. John denounced particular sins. He did so with the various classes who came to his baptism. The animus of Herodias' hatred springs from the fact that his shaft went home to one great and shameful act of wickedness.
2. John fearlessly accused the great. He was not stern with the miserable outcast, and meek with the sinner in high places. Pharisees could rail at the weeping penitent and be silent about the sin of the harlot-queen. John preached to the court; but he was no court preacher. The faithful prophet must denounce the sins of princes as well as those of peasants.
II. THE PRINCESS'S SHAME. In the flush and splendour of her youth, the highest-born maiden of the land lowers herself to perform a disgraceful dance under the gloating gaze of a company of half-drunken men of pleasure. The sin of the guilty mother is already bearing bitter fruit in the shame of her ill-trained daughter. We are appalled at the contrast between the lofty character of the faithful prophet and the miserable state of the princess on whose young soul the bloom of innocence is so early destroyed. The ruin of natural modesty prepares for a more horrible evil - callousness in brutal crime. Thus the loss of the pure simplicity of maidenhood leads to the hardened heart of unwomanly cruelty. None are so cruel as the dissolute.
III. THE QUEEN'S VINDICTIVENESS. It was the king's sin that John denounced, for that was the first evil; and the prophet was a man, and one who dared to bring a vile deed home to its true author. But naturally the queen feels the sting of the reproach most keenly. Then, instead of admitting its justice and humbling herself, she turns on the preacher like an infuriated tigress. Her very ferocity shows that her conscience has been wounded. When people will not repent at the word of a faithful admonitor, they flame out in a rage against him as though he were their mortal enemy. If they did but see the truth they would own him as their best friend.
IV. THE KING'S WICKED WEAKNESS. Herod himself had some respect for the prophet. He even kept him, as he might have kept an actor or a singer, to amuse his idle hours; or perhaps be was somewhat drawn to the serious teaching of John. Yet he weakly yielded to the bloodthirsty demand of the daughter of Herodias. He was moved by two considerations.
1. His oath. But it was a gross error to suppose that his oath could be made to demand compliance with the savage request made to him under it, for the most awful oath cannot bind a man to do wrong.
2. His fear. He dreaded to be thought weak by his guests. In this he revealed the very weakness he wanted to avoid. There is no cowardice so despicable as that which does wrong from fear of ridicule. - W.F.A.
I. A MAN WHO KNEW THE RIGHT. We are often confused because, though we may know the right, there are special circumstances in each particular case which disturb our judgment. We can see the abstract right, but it is difficult to see the right in just this case. It cannot be right that a man should have his brother's wife. And yet advisers at court may make out that high policy makes that necessary in this case. Compare Cranmer helping Henry VIII. to secure his shameless divorce. John the Baptist listened to no excuses of policy, which were but excuses of passion. He knew the right.
II. A MAN WHO SPOKE OUT THE RIGHT HE KNEW. So often we "keep silence in the evil time." We think we can do no good by speaking out, and may only bring trouble on ourselves. The men who have influenced the generations are the men of strong convictions, who could not keep silence. John, on this occasion, might have been cautious; he might have spoken like a courtier, eased his message, spoken carefully, and taken care not to offend. His mission was to the conscience of the wicked king. There shall be no trimming in his message; it shall smite right home. It is bald, bare, strong, uncompromising. "It is not lawful for thee to have her." People are sometimes what they call "faithful," but they are only irritating and humiliating. True faithfulness is conscience rousing.
III. A MAN WHO SUFFERED FOR THE RIGHT HE SPOKE. Not really at the hands of Herod. Really at the hands of Herodias, the unscrupulous woman who was the Jezebel to this Ahab. A man who fears the personal consequences of witnessing to the right, or doing the right, will never stand beside rugged, faithful John in the Divine approval. - R.T.
I. A SURRENDER OF JUDGMENT. A man should always consider and decide before he promises. A man may surrender his judgment to God. He may yield his judgment in discussion with his fellow men, because a better judgment may be given. But he may never give away his judgment, and let some one else judge for him. Then a man is weak, unmanly. By unlimited promise Herod surrendered his manhood, his right to control his conduct.
II. AN OPPORTUNITY FOR THE UNSCRUPULOUS. Their trouble always is that their plans may be considered, weighed, judged. So their scheme always is to get things carried through before they can be thought about. "Tomorrow" is the weakness of the undecided, and the ruin of the unscrupulous. If Herod had said, "We will see about the promise tomorrow," John Baptist would not have lost his head. That unlimited promise broke the barriers down; and unscrupulous Herodias pressed her opportunity.
III. A CURSE ALIKE FOR THOSE WHO GET AND THOSE WHO GIVE. Is it possible for us to estimate the moral effect of this abominable transaction on Herodias and Salome? The worst thing that can ever happen to us is to be successful in some shameless enterprise. Salome's life was a horror, almost worse than that of Herodias. Then estimate the misery of Herod. His conscience that ever reminded him of the head in the charger. His dreadful fears that John had risen from the dead. Never promise without knowing what you promise. - R.T.
result of action. Repentance concerns the wrong of action.
I. REGRETS ARE VAIN WHEN CHARACTER IS WEAK. Undisciplined people are always full of regrets; but they do them little or no good. Herod was sorry that he had made that unconditional promise. But he was too weak to refuse to do the wrong to which it led. The weak fear of man extracted the order for the beheading; he was ashamed before that assembly to recall his too hasty promise. "Like most weak men, Herod feared to be thought weak. It was not so much his regard for the oath which he had taken, but his shrinking from the taunt, or whispered jest, or contemptuous gesture of the assembled guests, if they should see him draw back from his plighted word." When the character is weak it is
(1) always sensitive to public opinion;
(2) it is always subject to the sway of stronger characters.
Herod may be as sorry as he pleases, but his regret is helpless and vain. Public opinion will drag him on into crime, and so will the shameless companion of his sins.
II. REGRETS ARE VAIN WHEN CIRCUMSTANCES ARE MASTERFUL. A man may be sorry, and may even try to put right his wrong, yet find all his efforts in vain. The man who plays with the fates will be dragged on to his doom by them. It is easy to set going a train of circumstances, but even the strong man vainly tries to check their unfoldings; they become masterful; and he must see the misery he has made, and be punished by seeing it. Our life is so ordered that good, sooner or later, inevitably unfolds good; and evil, sooner or later, inevitably unfolds misery. Let a man do the prudent, the thoughtful, the self-restrained, the good, and he will never know the misery of vain regrets. - R.T.
Matthew 15:32-39) and Mark (Mark 8:1-9) only. Lead to the consideration of this miracle by dwelling briefly on -
I. THE MOTIVES OF THIS MIRACLE, There was one leading motive - a kind human compassion, a condescending memory of the bodily want of the multitude of people, and a gentle consideration of the same. We may imagine that the mixture of "women and children" among the repeatedly mentioned "five thousand men" will have added to the feeling of thoughtful pity in Christ. But beside this predominating incentive, it may well be that this occasion proffered itself, considering certain peculiar characteristics of the miracle (for which see next head), as a most fit occasion for such a miracle, as would be adapted to utilize itself, in the most direct moral service, like an acted discourse, for instance. It was a wide spoken discourse indeed for thousands upon thousands, who never heard so plainly as when they were now thus fed; nor were open to blame, in anything like all cases, for its being able to be thus said. This multitude scattered again from this sacred spot to their homes over wide stretches of their country, what sermons they would take with them, and what memories would again and again warm up in their hearts! And yet again, the occasion was one of special import for the small circle of disciples. Philip, for one, was "proved," and we need not doubt that all the other disciples were both proved and reproved, when they learned the truth to very reality of that word, "They need not depart; give ye them to eat." And forthwith, after the commission, were furnished with the means to execute it, and did execute it, and distributed that true shadow of a sacrament, to say the least of it, from the very fingers of the Lord of all sacraments.
II. THE MIRACLE ITSELF. There is a sense in which every miracle is not merely a wonder of Power, but an inscrutable wonder of power. We cannot pass from the limited finite power, over the border into the unlimited, without confessing that, though we gaze at or gaze into the unbridged abyss, it is an abyss, and we can nothing else than only gaze! But the character of some miracles lends itself to help our imagination, to guide and give strength to our weak power of thought. And we say within ourselves that a fever stayed by a word, palsy and paralysis cured, a blind eye, a deaf ear, a dumb tongue re-energized, and even water converted into wine, are wonders of power more easy to track than that a solitary loaf of bread find another at its side by an absolute fresh act of creation in a moment and by a word. This once seen through, the multiplication may seem to follow more easily on the level of some other miracles. But this is not to be "once seen through." Notice, again, of this miracle, that it was neither one of the absolute necessity of the heart of mercy allied with the hand of might, nor one of such very secondary character of kindness and goodness (it is said with all perfect reverence) as when for the purposes of a marriage feast water was made wine. Christ divinely and humanly pitied the fainting hunger of the men who had long lingered around him, and of their women and children; but when he made the water into wine we cannot say it was similar pity. Again, we are not told at what point the miraculous multiplication of the bread took effect - under the "blessing," and at the "breaking" of the five loaves and two fishes in the hands of Christ, or as the disciples distributed, or as the people ate. Though we are not told it, this is one of the untold things that we can scarcely find difficulty in supplying; and this without charge, or any self-charge even, of presumptuousness. We need not suppose unnecessary wonders, such as that the little original store and stock of material could be handled by those who distributed, when parted into several thousand minute portions. Even this would point to the increase as taking place in the blessing and under the manual acts of Christ. Again, we are not told of any expression either of surprise or of any other kind upon this subject, as made by any of the multitude either at the time or subsequently, or by any disciple, such as might give us a suggestion, or throw light upon it. Again, we are not told what time it took, or what sort of difficulty, if any, the disciples encountered in their work of distributing to some hundred companies of those set down, in parties of fifty each. That the large multitude were thus arranged speaks design of itself, and we can see the disciples threading their way with their distributing baskets, by aid of the passages, and, so to say, the aisles left. There were some eight hundred to be ministered to by each of the twelve disciples. Nor have we any statement as to how and where the "women and children" got their portions; the suggestion of our vers. 19-21, nevertheless, would leave us in no practical doubt that they were grouped in the companies of the fifties and hundreds (St. Mark). With all these things untold, the miracle itself stands confessed in its simplest grandeur, in its irrefragable evidence, and for its welcome satisfyingness - some through it to acknowledge "that Prophet that should come into the world;" some to show tomorrow that they were thankless for the moral feast, even if they had eagerly partaken of the literal one; but some also, we cannot doubt it, and we know not how many, to remember it for days and years to come, and to speak of it far and wide with grateful heart and tongue.
III. THE MULTIFORM PARABLE THAT IS INCORPORATE WITH THIS MIRACLE.
1. It is a parable of Christ feeding the wide world.
2. It is a parable of Christ feeding that world by the human instrumentality of his servants, his disciples, his apostles, those some certain called from the mass, and called by him, and "sent forth" by him.
3. It is a parable of what effect Christ's "blessing" can have and shall have on his own appointments, his own appointed provision, his own appointed "means of grace," his own appointed methods of distribution, and his own ordering of his Church and its ministers.
4. To devout, thoughtful, reverent faith, surely it constitutes itself, it welcomely forces itself, into a parable of a sacrament - the sacrament in "one kind" for the fulness of time was not yet come - the sacrament of the food of the blessed body of the Lord himself! How many a time has the individual, humble, and praying believer lighted on what should seem some small morsel of Divine truth, and of the Divine Word, and as he meditated, how it opened, how it refreshed his fainting state, how it filled his eye, and feasted his highest powers of feeling and of imagination! And how many a time have the true ministers of Christ, the bishops and pastors of the flock of God, begun to think and begun to speak upon what seemed a word, a sentence, a verse, but it has increased under meditation, under prayer, under the familiar, common, sometimes despised "preaching" of Christ's last charge and commission, and under the realization of the priceless "blessing" of his last promise, while multitudes have listened, been divinely fed, learned to love and to adore and to live a new life, and the human feeder and the fed all been satisfied! - B.
1. He was there out of the jurisdiction of Herod.
(1) Antipas, instigated by Herodias, had recently beheaded the Baptist, and might have been moved to proceed against Jesus, who he suspected was his victim risen from the dead (see vers. 1, 2). Jesus could have secured himself by Divine power, but, as our Exemplar, he chose to do so by human prudence. It is lawful in times of peril to fly from persecution when we have no special call of God to expose ourselves to it.
(2) Herod desired to see Jesus, but was unworthy of that honour. So, when afterwards they came face to face, "Jesus answered him nothing" (cf. Luke 9:9; Luke 23:8, 9; cf. also the case of Saul and Samuel, 1 Samuel 15:35; 1 Samuel 20:24).
3. He intended to spread before the multitude a table in the wilderness. He knew that the people would follow him. Note: Jesus sometimes leaves us that we may follow him. He lures us into spiritual solitudes to show us there the wonders of his compassion and goodness. The scene is before us.
I. THERE ARE THE GUESTS.
1. They are many.
(1) Seldom do we hear of a banquet spread for ten thousand. There were "about five thousand men." They were easily reckoned, for they were ranged in companies of fifty. "Beside" these were the "women and children."
(2) Yet these thousands were only representative of the thousands of millions who are daily feasted upon the bounty of Divine providence. Also countless millions of animated organisms. "Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing."
(3) They were also representative of the host for whom God has provided the bounties of his grace. From these none are excluded who have not excluded themselves.
2. They are earnest.
(1) Their interest is excited by the "signs which Jesus did on them that were sick" (see John 6:2). They travelled round the lake on foot, many of them a distance of about four miles.
(2) They brought with them their sick to be healed. Perhaps, in some cases, sought his healing for those at their homes too invalided to be carried. Certain it is that Jesus required faith for healing. It is equally certain that "he had compassion on these, and healed their sick." He "healed them that had need of healing" (ver. 14; Luke 9:11).
(3) They are earnest in attention to his teaching. Luke tells us that Jesus "received them, and spake unto them of the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:11). From the texts of his power he unfolded his wisdom. Such is the effect that they are scarce restrained from proclaiming him king (see John 9:14, 15).
3. They are needy.
(1) This fact is recognized in the prudence of the disciples (ver. 15). Note: Disciples are often more apt to show discretion than faith.
(2) If they need the bread that perisheth, how much more do they need that which endureth to everlasting life! Jesus "had compassion on them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd" (Mark 6:34). The poor people were woefully neglected by the Pharisees and scribes.
(3) "They have no need to go away." In their eagerness after Jesus they had forgotten their ordinary food; but Jesus had not forgotten them. "Seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
II. THERE IS THE TABLE.
1. It is spread in the wilderness.
(1) The disciples did not yet properly estimate the resources of their Lord. Instead of looking to him for the supply of their wants, like Israel in the desert, they were for returning to Egypt. Are there now no disciples in that prudent apostolical succession?
(2) When the Lord said, "Give ye them to eat," still they did not properly consider who it was that spake to them. They now looked to their own resources and found them utterly inadequate. In this error also the disciples have many successors.
(3) Soon, however, they discovered that the God of Israel was among them. The five loaves and two fishes were so multiplied that the thousands were satisfied, and the fragments left were greatly in excess of the original store. Hallelujah!
2. This recalls an earlier scene.
(1) Every reflective person in that company would be reminded of the earlier miracle when their fathers in the wilderness were fed from heaven with manna. Even the desert was suggestive. Moreover, "the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh" (see John 6:4), and many in this company were on their way to Jerusalem to celebrate that feast, so significantly recalling the history of the Exodus.
(2) Who, then, but the same God of Israel, who fed the fathers with that heavenly bread, is this Jesus who now feeds their children no less miraculously?
3. This also anticipates a later scene.
(1) This broken bread was a type of the Bread of life, to be broken for the spiritual nourishment of believers (see John 6:26, 27). "By it" Jesus "proclaimed himself the Bread of the world, the Source of all life, of which there shall be enough and to spare for all evermore" (Trench).
(2) The Lord gave the bread to denote the life we have in communion with him. The identity of the teaching in the argument of Jesus upon this miracle (see John 6.), with the teaching of the Eucharist, cannot be missed.
(3) This, by parity of reasoning, invests with new interest the corresponding miracle of the multiplication of the wine at the marriage (see John 2:1-11). The communion of Christ is the cheer of our joy as well as the food for our need.
III. THERE IS THE SERVICE.
1. The King heads his table.
(1) "We have here but five loaves, and two fishes." God often permits his servants to be brought low that they may have the more frequent opportunities of trusting him.
(2) "Bring them hither to me." If we bring our frugal fare to Jesus for his blessing, he will make it a sufficiency for the body and a sacrament to the soul (cf. Psalm 37:19; Haggai 1:9). He clothes himself with a body that he may encourage us to depend upon him for the supply of our bodily wants. He takes special care of the bodies of those who are engaged in his service.
(3) "Looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake." God's creatures must be received with thanksgiving (see 1 Samuel 9:13; Acts 2:46, 47; Acts 27:35; 1 Timothy 4:4). But the blessing of Jesus was more than a thanksgiving.
2. The disciples are the servitors.
(1) They are commissioned to order the multitude into companies (see Luke 9:14). These fifties are representative of the Churches of Christendom, which are presided over by the ministers of Christ. What Christ designed for his Churches he signified by his servant John (Revelation 1:1-4).
(2) They were commissioned to give the loaves to the multitude. Receiving the bread of life themselves, they are strengthened to minister it to others. Through their hands the multitudes are to receive it from the Lord (cf. ch. 24:45; 2 Corinthians 5:20; 2 Corinthians 6:1).
(3) The bread multiplies in their hands. Herein the Word of God proves itself to be the living bread. So it is like seed. The living Word is the life of the word preached. As seed is multiplied, not by hoarding, but by sowing, so is the Word. "There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth." Note: What we give in charity should first be given to Christ, that his blessing may multiply its benefit. They that have little must relieve others out of that little, that they may have more.
(4) They are instructed to "gather up the broken pieces which remain over, that nothing be lost" (John 6:12). What they gave they received back manifold. There were "five loaves," one forevery thousand men; they gathered up twelve hand baskets full, one for each apostle. They had also fragments over from the fishes (see Mark 6:43; Luke 15:17). - J.A.M.
I. THE IMPULSE TO SEEK LONELINESS. This perhaps always comes first. Sorrow sends us into retirement. The stricken care to see nobody. Leave them alone in their grief. This is illustrated in two scenes of Christ's life.
1. In the case before us, when Jesus received the sad news of the violent death of a friend and fellow worker. He wanted to be alone. He went into quietude. He passed across the lake, to the lonely eastern side, away from the pressure of the crowds. Silence, separation, are the felt needs of such an hour.
2. In the case of Gethsemane, when Jesus was in immediate anticipation of calamity, and overwhelmed with mental distress. Then he sought the quiet of the garden, the shade of the olives, and even separation from the trusted three. None may see the Man in his sublime soul wrestlings. He must be alone.
II. THE IMPULSE TO SEEK COMPANY. This is quite as marked. The stricken man wants to be alone, and yet cannot bear to be alone, he wants to feel that friends are near; that he can reach them. He must sometimes speak out the woe to them, or it would grow unendurable. This is illustrated in the same two scenes of Christ's life. In the first, our Lord must have the apostolic company with him. "Come ye into a desert place, and rest a while." In the second, he must feel that the chosen three were close at hand. Truly a "fellow feeling of our infirmities." - R.T.
I. JESUS HAS COMPASSION ON BODILY DISTRESS. He had manifested this compassion earlier by healing the sick who were brought out to him in this remote region; and now the sight of the weary multitude touched his heart, as it became apparent to him that the evening shadows would find them far from home and without the means of providing themselves with their evening meal
1. The motive of Christ was compassion. This was the motive of his life work and of his atoning death. He came into the world because he took pity on the world's misery. The same motive moved him in particular actions. This is the grand Christian motive. The passion of pity is a peculiarly Christ-like feeling that seems to be rising among us in the present day.
2. The trouble was bodily distress - hunger. Then it is a Christ-like thing to feed the hungry. We are not to neglect men's bodies in caring for their souls.
II. JESUS HELPS THROUGH EARTHLY MEANS. He utilized the existing provisions. He did not create food out of nothing, but he wrought with the loaves and fishes already in hand. They were few, but he did not despise them, for they were invaluable in affording a foundation for his miracle. Christ now uses the instruments of human work. We have to contribute our share, and if we selfishly or despairingly refuse to do so we have no right to look for his blessing.
III. JESUS PRODUCES WONDERFUL PROVISIONS. We do not know how the miracle was wrought; we cannot even conceive of it. But we do not know how God makes the corn to grow in the fields. Nature only seems to us less wonderful than miracle because we are familiar with her external aspect and her visible processes. But behind all nature, as behind every miracle, there is the unfathomable mystery of life and being which God only understands. It is enough for us that our Lord is not thwarted, that there is nothing to which he sets his band in which he fails. He is powerful as well as pitiful. We bemoan the distress we cannot aid. When Christ is moved with compassion he helps effectively.
IV. JESUS SATISFIES THE HUNGRY. He gave no princely banquet, but mere loaves and fishes - the common barley loaves of the poor, the familiar fishes of the lake. His object was not to pamper jaded appetites - that was not needed in the keen mountain air; he simply fed the hungry. Moreover, he gave what he received, and of the same kind. He will bless our work according to its character and quality. He gives the increase, but it is according to the seed we sow - "after its kind." Surely this miracle is more than a miracle; it is a sacrament, a sacred symbol, as our Lord shows in the discourse that follows in St. John's account (John 6.). Christ is the real Bread of life, feeding hungry souls. - W.F.A.
I. JESUS IN PRAYER.
1. He was much in prayer. No doubt he thus obtained spiritual refreshment after the toils and vexations of the day. Here he found the joy of communion with his Father without distracting influences. To Jesus prayer was a necessity; it was also a joy. He could not have treated it as a formal duty. If Christ could not live without prayer, is it possible for the Christian to be healthy in the neglect of it?
2. He prayed in solitude. He hated the showy prayers of the religious people of his day, ostentatiously offered up in the marketplace, primly uttered in the synagogue. He hungered to be alone with God. He found God among the mountains.
3. He prayed at critical moments. E.g. at the grave of Lazarus, in Gethsemane. Now there was great danger of an insurrection which would wreck his plans. To him, too, the third temptation may have returned, and he may have sought strength to overcome it. Prayer is most valuable in the soul's hardest struggles with temptation.
II. THE DISCIPLES IN TROUBLE. Away from their Master they were overtaken by a tempest. It would seem that they were rowing up north in order to take Jesus on board at a spot further along the eastern shore. Therefore it was for his sake that they were facing the contrary wind, for had they turned directly homewards they would have been able to run before the gale. Trouble may come upon the servants of Christ in their very efforts to keep near him and to serve him.
III. THE COMING OF CHRIST. In that wild, dark night, while the wind lashed the sea to fury, it must have howled with fearful blasts among the rocks of the wilderness where Jesus stood alone in his prayer, and then he must have recognized the danger this would mean to his disciples. He was never selfish in his devotions. It was his habit to permit the interruption of his most sacred hours of retirement by some cry of distress, some appeal for help. So he came down to his disciples on the sea. It must have been an act of faith on his part to venture on the black, boiling waters. But faith was working through love. The sea must be risked in an unheard of miracle to save his friends out on its waste of waters. It is not surprising that the disciples could not believe their eyes, and mistook their Saviour for a spectre. Sometimes his deliverances are quite as unexpected, and almost too good to be believed. It is difficult for our faith to keep pace with his far-reaching grace.
IV. ST. PETER'S ADVENTURE. This singular sequel is quite true to the character of the apostle. His impetuosity, his enthusiasm for Christ, his failure to measure his own weakness, are all in accordance with what we know of "the prince of the apostles." But perhaps in the incident we may detect a touch of humour. There was no necessity for the apostle to walk on the water. Yet Christ indulged his whim and permitted it to be a means of revealing Peter's weakness, and of introducing one source of strength. Foolish, needless, and even ridiculous adventures may be turned to good ends. We learn to know Christ even by means of the follies of which we are heartily ashamed. - W.F.A.
and the multitude; and of the two for obvious and natural reasons, perhaps more so for the former than for the latter. But, letting alone the teaching force of it, that foregoing miracle had for its practical object the benefit of the five thousand with women and children, allaying their hunger and bringing home to their hearts - of what ever character those hearts - some sense of and some persuasion of the thoughtful consideration of the Lord. For the small number of the twelve disciples there was never any great difficulty - probably never any at all - in supplying "all their need." But the present miracle was one for the disciples themselves. It was good alike for their body and soul. It may, perhaps, be said to have been in higher kind also, even as limb and life are ever of more import than the satisfying of hunger, though this may be intense. Though we are not at all bound to find herein the reason of its following so distinctly in each account upon the other, yet the link of thought may be helpful. And far is it from being out of analogy with the truth, that he who so cares for the vast flocks scattered, needy, distracted with fear, or callous with indifference, shows no small proportion of that care in also caring for the shepherds and bishops and pastors of the flock, whom he has set, and whom he ever still is setting, over them. It certainly is so in the history now before us. Notice here -
I. AN INSTANCE OF CHRIST SENDING HIS SERVANTS TO TRY THEIR WAY BEFORE HIM TO FEEL AND TO TEST THEIR OWN QUANTUM OF STRENGTH AND RESOURCES; AND OF HOW, THEN, IN SUCH CASES HE IS WITH THEM, AND OVERTAKES THEM TO THE VERY MOMENT OF THEIR REAL NEED. Distinguish with emphasis such cases from those in which forwardness and self-confidence and unsafe zeal lead the way. And notice what room there is in the dispensation of the Spirit for full account to be taken of this principle. How needful it is, how desirable it is, for us often to feel that there is One who trusts us to go onward awhile, and apparently as though by ourselves, but whose eye and whose love are none the less ever near to us! And notice, further, that these are not for a moment to be counted artificial devices of the vast and infinitely wise superintending Providence, even though for wise and high ends. There were reasons why the disciples were sent onward before Christ.
II. AS INSTANCE OF A CERTAIN APPARENT CONSPIRACY AND ACCUMULATION OF THE DIFFICULTIES OF NATURE CONTENDED WITH, BY THE INCREASE OF CONSCIOUS HUMAN EFFORT AND TOIL; AND YET WITHOUT AVAIL, OR WITH VERY LITTLE AVAIL. Darkness, wind, and stormy waves were all "contrary" to the disciples; but they rowed where sails would not serve; and they toiled; and yet there came the hour when the most that they could say for themselves and their effort was that they did not retreat, that they could just hold their way. But this was much to be able to say.
III. AN INSTANCE OF THE FIRST APPEARANCE OF HELP BEING JUDGED TO BE EITHER AN EMPTY FORM, OR A FORM, IF NOT EMPTY, CHARGED WITH SOME SPECIES OF ADDITIONAL FEARFULNESS. Remark that the version, "a spirit," is not most correct to the word used, or probably to the real description of the alarm excited in the minds of the disciples. Nor can any justification be adduced from the passage of any scriptural warrant for belief in certain superstitions. It may be said to be Scripture, on the other hand, which defines spirit, and determines the reality of spirits, and does not deny, indeed, that spirits may take "phantom" appearances, but in this place certainly does not state it. The word is not the same as that used, e.g. in Acts 12:15, nor does it point in the same direction.
IV. AN INSTANCE OF THE BOUNDLESS GENTLENESS OF THE PITY, "LIKE AS A FATHER'S," WITH WHICH THE LORD DISPELS HIS SERVANTS' FEAR, AND REPLACES IT WITH ALL THE EXULTATION OF AN UNEXPECTED EXPERIENCE OF COMFORT AND REPOSE.
V. AN INSTANCE OF A GLORIOUS EPISODE OF FAITH, AND THE FAITH THAT SIGHTS IMITATION AND LIKENESS. Faith is the very father of great thought and great enterprise for some; for others it is patient endurance of the storms, and the vanquisher of fears, and exquisite rest from anxiety. But in its noblest attempts, it knows no measure and owns no limit, while it keeps its firm look on its Lord. It partakes of the omnipotence of its unseen object.
VI. AN INSTANCE OF AN INGLORIOUS LAPSE OF FAITH. The cause of this very plainly marked here - the eye turned away from its great object, and confused by the difficulties of sense.
VII. AN INSTANCE OF A VERITABLE SCRIPTURE PHOTOGRAPH OF THE CHURCH OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST IN THE TUMULT, THE DARKNESS, THE STORM OF THE WORLD - BUT SAFE; CHRIST NEAR IT, THE EYE OF CHRIST ON IT, CHRIST HIMSELF IN IT, AND ITSELF AT LAST WITH HIM IN THE HAVEN. - B.
Christ's mindfulness of them. His appearance showed them that no interests of his own, however distracting, could make him oblivious of them and their necessities; it showed them also that nothing could prevent him from bringing them the aid they required. Is it not likely that a great part of his prayer through the night was occupied with them and their individual temptations to deny him and go with the multitude? And it were well if we could attain to the knowledge they now acquired regarding Christ's mindfulness. We seem at times to be so entirely delivered over to unsympathetic and almost unintelligent agents and influences, that it seems impossible the help of one so spiritual can penetrate to us or avail us aught; but he can make himself understood by the dullest forces of nature, and can find his way to us through the wildest turmoil. The men who had taken the wild fury of wind and sea as a part of the day's work, and had without any quickening of pulse faced the dangers they were professionally familiar with, are appalled at once and together by the single Figure that approaches them without menace or noise. They saw in it a whole world of unconceived possibilities, and coming at that hour when already they were hard pressed, they concluded it came as the herald of doom. God's way of helping us is often so different from the one we have planned, that when it comes we murmur instead of being grateful. The transport of reaction finds expression, as usual, through Peter. We need not try to account for the extraordinary request he now made, further than by saying that it was due to the sudden joy of meeting the Friend in whom was all safety, after a night of such tension and toil and disturbance of thought. And the Lord approved Peter's impulse, else he would not have bid him come, and eventually does not rebuke him for attempting the thing, but for not succeeding. Impulse has its fit place, only it needs to be strongly backed. There are things now that need to be done, but which will seem as impossible as walking on the sea except to the eye of warm feeling. This unreasoning impulse of Peter's, too, penetrated more deeply into the nature of miracle than a good deal of our would be wisdom penetrates. For it saw no reason why the miracle should not be evinced in Peter's person as well as in Jesus'. And our Lord, by ascribing Peter's failure solely to lack of faith, implies that any one with faith enough could walk on the sea just as he himself did, He himself did it by faith. But did our Lord mean that if only a man believed he could walk on the water, this would give him power to do so? Certainly not. Faith is needed, but a legitimate occasion is also needed. It is harmony, identification with God and his will, that give power to work miracle. The miracles of our Lord are, therefore, a great promise to human nature; in the Person of Jesus it was shown what that nature is capable of when in its right and normal relation to God. But the results of faith did not last one moment beyond the faith itself. Peter's fear for one moment excluded faith; the waves shut him off from God, and at once he sank. We do not by once believing receive the Spirit in retention as our own; the Spirit proceedeth from the Father and the Son, and only while connected with the Son does the Spirit flow from him to us. We fail and sink as soon as we separate ourselves and begin to live by ourselves and for ourselves. We are strong with a strength far beyond our own when we live in God, with his will at heart and intending to work as his hand in the world. But that is the perfect human condition, habitually realized by our Lord alone. There is a lower condition consistent with salvation - the condition in which Peter, conscious of his weakness and seeing his danger, cries, "Lord, save me!" Is there any part of your life, any matter of thought or conduct in regard to which you feel that you are sinking, and must shortly be overwhelmed altogether? then consider the prompt, willing, efficient help that answers the cry. The lasting result of this incident on the disciples was their deepened conviction of our Lord's Divinity. How are we to arrive at that conviction; to feel that our proper attitude is one of worship, and that in his presence we are secure against all calamity; that for rest of mind and spirit, for education of conscience, for fulness of help in all for which we are insufficient, we need go no further than him? I do not suppose that this one miracle would have convinced that boat's crew; but their minds had been gradually accumulating material for understanding him, and this incident was but a more brilliant light set in front of that material, and which gave the right reading of it. The same material, or nearly the same, is available for us. Let us be patient, sincere, and hopeful. These men who were with him from day to day did not all at once reach the joy of recognizing in the Friend they had learned to love their God and Saviour; but their experience of his love, his truth, his wisdom, his power, gradually separated him in their thoughts from all others and gave him the highest place. - D.
I. THAT JESUS IS A PARTY TO THE TROUBLES OF HIS DISCIPLES.
1. These are often induced by their own folly.
(1) After the miracle of the loaves the multitudes were eager to proclaim Jesus as their national King. From what we learn from John (John 6:15), it would seem the disciples were more disposed to second their wishes than to aid their Master in his efforts to send the people away. In this they were moved by the ignorant prejudices of the times. Note: The ignorance of his disciples has ever been a trouble to Christ.
(2) This was the occasion of their having to embark and put to sea, and consequently of their having to encounter a terrific storm. Note: We may expect to encounter afflictions and perplexities when, from whatever motives, we are so foolish as to oppose the will of Christ.
2. Satan has a malignant hand in them.
(1) Evil spirits are concerned in the mischief of destructive storms. The history of Job shows what power Satan has over the elements when he is permitted to use it. When our Lord, in another storm, "rebuked the winds and the sea" (see Matthew 8:26), did he not recognize blameworthy intelligence as working behind these elements?
(2) The closing petitions of the Lord's Prayer, "And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one," show that not only is Satan, in some of his agencies, concerned in every mischief, but that he is so of set malignant purpose. It shows, moreover, that our defence is prayer.
3. Jesus has a benevolent hand in them.
(1) He constrained his disciples to enter the boat and put to sea. This was to relieve himself from their embarrassing sympathy with the prejudices of the multitude. This in itself was a benevolence. It put them out of the way of working further mischief.
(2) He knew, when he constrained them to enter that boat, that they would have to encounter the storm. He permitted the evil spirits to exert their power upon the elements, or, otherwise, commissioned those elements to war. But his design here also was benevolent. It taught the disciples:
(a) That those who will not submit to the ruling of Christ's wisdom will have to sail without him in the voyage of life.
(b) That in voyaging without Christ the way is difficult and perilous.
(c) That the policy of their ignorant prejudice in making Christ a civil Ruler, if carried out, would, instead of bringing the tranquillity they pictured to themselves, bring them into a political hurricane.
(3) If, then, Jesus is a party to the troubles of his disciples, and that his hand in those troubles is benevolent, let us bless him for them. Let us also be quick to learn the lessons they are intended to teach.
II. THAT JESUS IS PRESENT WITH HIS DISCIPLES IN THEIR TROUBLES,
1. He is present in spirit when invisible.
(1) When he had dispersed the multitudes "he went up into the mountain apart to pray." He knew the temper in which his disciples had sailed; he foresaw the coming storm; he remembers them in prayer. By that intercession the malignity of Satan is restrained, and the fury of the winds and waves so moderated that the lives are preserved.
(2) And if Jesus from that mountain height could see and sympathize with his disciples in that tempest, so does he still, from the height of heaven, see and sympathize with his followers in every trouble of their lives.
2. He is present, moreover, in power.
(1) In the crisis of extremity that power is seen. The disciples were now "about five and twenty furlongs" from the shore, in the centre of the inland sea, and the storm most distressing. Just then Jesus "came unto them, walking upon the sea."
(2) That blessed presence is as powerful as it is timely. The Egyptian hieroglyphic for impossibility was a man's feet walking on the sea. Things impossible to men are possible with God (cf. Job 9:8). In this miracle the law of gravitation is inverted, and the liquid waves are converted into an adamantine way.
(3) Now he enters the boat. Behold, instantly, all is calm!
III. THAT CREDULITY IS THE COMPANION OF UNBELIEF.
1. The heart is slow to discern Christ.
(1) There he is walking upon the sea, yet is he not identified even by his own disciples. Why did they not recognize him instantly? Who else could it possibly be?
(2) But they deemed this too wonderful to be Christ. What, too wonderful for that Blessed One who in this very lake district - at Chorazin, Bethasaida, Capernaum - had wrought so many miracles! Who on this very sea had stilled a tempest with a word! Who but a few hours earlier had feasted ten thousand upon five barley cakes! Yet such was the fact (see Mark 6:52).
(3) Are we more quick to discern Christ in the wonders of providence than the apostles were to recognize his presence in the wonders of this history? How seldom do we see deeper than the second causes of things!
2. It mistakes him for a phantom.
(1) "And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is an apparition; and they cried out for fear" (cf. Acts 12:15).
(2) This "fear" suggests that they even mistook Jesus for a demon or evil spirit. How frightful are the distortions of the credulity of unbelief!
(3) The disciples were terrified at an apparition which was designed for their salvation. When in their extremity they "cried out for fear," then came their relief. By a word, "It is I; be not afraid," the deepest fear is turned into the highest joy (cf. Psalm 112:4). The calm now succeeds the storm in the soul.
IV. THAT NATURAL RESOURCES ARE USELESS IN SPIRITUAL CONFLICTS.
1. Seamanship failed in this storm.
(1) Several of the disciples were brought up as fishermen, and knew how to handle the oar (Mark 6:48). But here they were at their wits' end, so furiously was the sea working in the storm. This was not purely an elemental strife; it was a spiritual conflict, brought about for spiritual purposes.
(2) Their salvation was of the Lord. He laid the storm. We too shall exclaim, "Of a truth thou art the Son of God," when he tranquillizes the mind which the prince of the powers of the air had disturbed and troubled. Only in so far as the love of Christ is in us can we worship him as Love.
2. The swimming art failed in these waves.
(1) Peter's fault was not his courage when he said, "Lord, if it be thou" - since it is thou - "bid me come unto thee upon the waters." Courage is fearlessness, and intelligent fearlessness is faith. Faith is the opposite of doubt and fear (cf. Mark 5:36; Romans 14:23; James 1:6).
(2) The Lord permits us to try our strength that we may discover our weakness. Peter in the ship was bold; timid on the angry sea. Men are often confident in speculation, diffident in practice.
(3) Peter was borne up on the water in proportion to his faith, as the children of Israel were victorious as the hands of Moses were held up (Exodus 17:11). "The true position of every disciple is this: So to see the deep that is beneath him as to lose all confidence in himself, and so to see the Saviour that is near him as to lose all terror of the billows" (Anon.).
(4) Peter was a good swimmer (see John 21:7), but he trusts not to his swimming in this peril. Those who rely on grace lose confidence in nature. Christ is the sufficient confidence of his saints. - J.A.M.
I. THE EVIDENT NECESSITY FOR THE CONSTRAINT. "As the evening was coming on, Jesus commanded the disciples to return home to Capernaum, while he sent the people away. They were reluctant to go and leave him alone in that desert place; probably remonstrated against his exposing himself to the coming storm and the cold night air, and reminded him that he would have many miles to walk round the head of the lake, and must cross the Jordan at Bethsaida before he could reach home. To quiet their minds, he may have then told them to go on toward Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd, promising to join them in the night, which he intended to do, and actually did, though in a manner very different from what they expected. Still they were reluctant to leave him, and bad to be constrained to set sail. In this state of anxiety, they endeavoured to keep near the shore between this and Bethsaida, hoping, no doubt, to take in their beloved Master at some point along the coast. But a violent wind beat off the boat, so that they were not able to make Bethsaida, nor even Capernaum, but were driven past both; and when near the Plain of Gennesaret, at the northwest corner of the lake, Jesus came to them walking on the sea." This illustrates well the surface explanation of these events; but it does not satisfy, because it does not give any reason for our Lord sending the disciples away. Why did he not keep them to help him in dismissing the crowd?
II. THE REAL NECESSITY FOR THE CONSTRAINT. We must look below the surface, and then some interesting things come to view. The miracle of feeding the thousands excited the people, and led them to regard Jesus as the delivering Messiah, and there and then proclaim him as the expected King. And our Lord's disciples, instead of repressing this excitement, were carried away by it, and would have joined in this mistaken acclamation. Herein lies the explanation of the following things.
1. Their uselessness as helpers in dismissing the excited crowd, seeing they were themselves excited.
2. Christ's determination to get them out of the way.
3. Their unwillingness to go.
4. Our Lord's constraint.
5. The revelation of his mystery and spirituality, in the walking on the sea, as corrective of the material notions to which they were giving room. - R.T.
1. Anxiety concerning the excitement of his disciples because the devils had been subject to them on their first mission.
2. Distress on hearing of the violent death of John.
3. Effort to put personal feeling aside in order to teach and heal the crowds who gathered at his landing place.
4. The spiritual strain of expending miraculous force in multiplying the few loaves.
5. Excitement at the dangerous intentions of the people to make him king.
6. Annoyance at his disciples when they would take part with the people.
7. Necessity for acting promptly and vigorously in checking the beginnings of mischief.
8. Pain to find his disciples still imprisoned in material conceptions of him and of his mission. Surely when all was over, the disciples were on the lake, and the last lingerer of the crowd well out of sight, Jesus must have been utterly exhausted, and needed some soothing, healing balm. Where could he get it? He knew. He shows us the place of soothing. It is the place of prayer.
I. PRAYER SOOTHES BY ENABLING US TO CAST OUR CARE ON GOD. The simple soothing mission of prayer is not often dwelt on. It is too much treated as a means of getting something. Its best blessings may be said to be the good things it does for us, rather than the good things it obtains for us. Prayer allays excitement. Prayer soothes the worried. Prayer quiets the restless. Prayer stills our atmospheres. And all because it just means telling God. If we begin to tell excitedly we soon fall into the deep peace which his presence and sympathy always breathe.
II. PRAYER SOOTHES BY ASSURING US THAT GOD CARES FOR US. And that, of necessity, means the mastery of the circumstances that trouble us. We are in the midst of difficulties, and they worry; they seem to be masterful. We go to God in prayer, and feel that he is in the midst of them, ruling and overruling; and we are calmed and rested. There are no real difficulties. "Greater is he who is for us than all who can be against us." - R.T.
(1) Lord of Nature in all her moods;
(2) of death in all its stages;
(3) of devils in all their forms of mischief;
(4) of souls in all their spiritual needs.
Now, by this walking on the sea, he would reveal to them something of the mystery which belonged to his own Person. And this particular revelation was called for by the fact that the disciples had encouraged the attempt of the people to make their Master a merely earthly king (John 6:15).
I. CHRIST'S BODILY PRESENCE DID BUT ILLUSTRATE HIS SPIRITUAL PRESENCE. It should be clearly seen that our Lord was with his disciples in a double sense. He was with them spiritually, just as he is still with us; but, besides that, he was with them in bodily relations, in ways that could be apprehended by their senses. That bodily presence was given to teach them what the spiritual presence is and involves. The record of that bodily presence is preserved that it might do the same thing for us. Christ, by coming on the sea, taught the disciples two things.
1. That he would be with them when they could not see him.
2. That they must not wonder if he came to them in strange forms and manifestations. He was teaching them how to use their wings in the spiritual atmosphere, as the mother bird teaches her fledgelings.
II. CHRIST'S BODILY PRESENCE WAS PRESENTLY TO PASS INTO A SPIRITUAL PRESENCE. The first suggestion was the loss of bodyweight which enabled Jesus to walk on the water. The second suggestion was the passing of the bodily into the spiritual at the Resurrection. The third was the passing of the spiritual body beyond the apprehension of the senses at the Ascension. The illustrative bodily presence has gone now, and gone forever; the reality of the spiritual presence of Christ is the possession and the glory of his Church today. - R.T.
I. ST. PETER ATTEMPTED AN IMPOSSIBILITY. There is nothing that men regard as so impossible as "walking on the sea." Men can walk on the narrowest ledges of the loftiest cliffs, or on the thinnest ropes, but not on the water. The Egyptians, in their hieroglyphics, were wont to represent an impossibility by painting the figure of a man with his feet walking upon the sea. St. Peter saw this impossibility overcome by his Master. A sudden thought seized him. He should like to do what his Master did. It was a child's wish; but it showed love and trust. He spoke it out. The Master said "Come," and he tried to do the impossible. A nobler man than those who never had such thoughts, and never made such attempts.
II. ST. PETER BEGAN TO SUCCEED WITH HIS IMPOSSIBILITY. A man can walk steadily along a very dangerous place if he looks up at the steadfast sky. He will be giddy if he ventures to look around or to look down. It is thus always in the spiritual spheres. St. Peters can always walk safely, even on the treacherous waters, so long as they look up and away to the steadfast Christ. They will fail and fall as soon as they look around, or down, or within. And the reason is that man is strong when he leans on another, but weak when he trusts to himself. The impulsive man leans for a minute and is strong; then impulse fails, and he is, like Samson, weak as other men.
III. ST. PETER SOON FAILED WITH HIS IMPOSSIBILITY. If he could have kept his eye and mind fixed on Jesus he would have succeeded. But he thought of the wind; and the wind took the place of Jesus. Jesus quickened faith; the wind quickened fear. Faith makes a man strong. Fear wholly unnerves. What St. Peter needed for success was "staying power of faith." Keeping on trusting. Keeping on "looking off unto Jesus;" "patient continuance in well doing," - R.T.
I. THE NAME "SON OF GOD" DOES NOT REPRESENT OUR FIRST APPREHENSION OF CHRIST. It is intended that the humanity of Christ should make the first impression upon us. At first sight he is the "Man Christ Jesus." St. John is even supremely jealous of the truth that "Jesus is come in the flesh." It may be doubted whether any arguments for the Divinity of Christ can be effective until the truth of his humanity has been fully apprehended. What requires to be seen clearly is that the humanity of Christ cannot be fully and adequately set forth without producing the conviction that he was more than human. What the orthodox party needs to secure is a complete representation of our Lord's humanity. Imperfect representations have laid the basis of erroneous doctrines concerning our Lord's Person. We begin with his full humanity.
II. THE NAME "SON OF GOD" REPRESENTS ADVANCED CHRISTIAN ATTAINMENT. Hardly in the instance now before us, which is better regarded as an anticipative exclamation of what would be more intelligently and more considerately stated by and by. We have also to remember that the Jews commonly spoke of tradesmen as "son of the trade," and these disciples may but have intended a figure for the good man, the "Son of God." But the term was subsequently used with its fullest meaning. It represents the advanced spiritual apprehension of Christ. He is "the Son of God with power." The conviction of the Divinity, or Deity, of Christ is seldom or ever reached by arguments. It is the conviction which comes to men by personal dealings with Christ; personal experiences of his power. At first we know him as our Saviour; by and by we know him as our God. - R.T.
I. A TRUE SYMPATHY WITH HUMANITY. The evidences of this are:
1. A knowledge of what it is. This is expressed in the single word "sick." And this implies:
(2) Disability, viz. in every part of our nature.
2. An estimate of what it ought to be. This also may be expressed in the single word "healthy." And this implies:
(1) That the elements of our nature work together harmoniously.
(a) As to the organs of the body;
(b) as to the faculties of the intellect;
(c) as to the will and the affections of the heart.
(2) That consequently there is strength and competence in all our powers.
(3) Moreover that there is happiness.
(a) The sense of immunity from pain;
(b) the sense of vigour.
(4) And there is life. This is more than existence. Physically, it is existence under the best conditions. So, morally, it is union with God.
3. A yearning for its regenerations. This is the crucial point. There are theorists who have noble conceptions of what men ought to be, who do not endeavour to exemplify their ideal, nor to induce others to do so. Such a theorist may be a devil.
II. AN ACTIVE PUBLIC SPIRIT. This is evinced in:
1. The quick discernment of the presence of the Healer.
(1) The men of Gennesaret recognized Jesus as soon as he landed on their shore. He had been amongst them before. Gennesaret, the ancient Chinnereth (see Deuteronomy 3:17; Joshua 19:35), the district in Lower Galilee in which Capernaum was situate (cf. Mark 6:53; John 6:22-25). Probably they had been amongst those who witnessed the miracle of the loaves on the preceding day.
(2) They were more noble than their neighbours, the Gergesenes, who "besought Jesus that he would depart out of their coasts," for they welcomed him among them. Note: If Christ were better known he would be better trusted, and not rejected as he is too often.
(3) The discernment of the day of opportunity is an important step towards its improvement (cf. Luke 19:24; John 1:10). It is better to know that there is a prophet amongst us than that there has been one (see Ezekiel 2:5).
2. The prompt gathering into that presence of the sick.
(1) The men of Gennesaret lost no time, but sent instantly messengers through all parts of the surrounding country to advise the sick that the Healer had arrived. Note: Those who know Christ should preach him.
(2) If these men of Gennesaret had tasted of the loaves, and that this zeal was an effect of the miracle upon them, this lesson is suggested, viz. that the inward reception of the truth will create a desire for the removal of outward evil. When the word comes into the heart it will renovate the life.
(3) The zeal of the men of Gennesaret was transfused into their messengers. Mark gives a graphic description of their activity (see Mark 6:53-56).
3. The earnest supplication of the Divine blessing.
(1) The religious is the truest philanthropy.
(a) Religion benefits the body. Its precepts conduce to health. Their violation is the chief cause of disease.
(b) Religion benefits the soul. The soul is the grander part. The philanthropy which terminates in the body is imperfect.
(2) It is prayerful. "They," the men of Gennesaret, "besought Jesus that they," the sick, "might only touch the border of his garment." Note:
(a) The prayer was importunate. "Besought him."
(b) It was mixed with faith. "That they might only touch." The virtue was not in the garment, but in the touch, which, as an act of faith, was to be rewarded.
(c) It was mixed with gratitude. Eastern people show respect to their princes by kissing their sleeve or skirt.
(3) They were evidently influenced by the example of their countrywoman. For she was of Capernaum who introduced this idea of touching the hem of the garment (see Matthew 9:20-22). The precious ointment which was upon the head of Jesus ran down to the skirts of his garment (Psalm 133:2).
(4) "As many as touched were made whole." If ministers could cure bodily diseases they would have many clients; for, unhappily, men are commonly more concerned about the body than about the soul. The cure of disease, morally considered, is the removal of evils and errors, by which the faculties recover their true tone and balance, and the mind becomes enriched with truth and goodness. - J.A.M.