Matthew 15
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
The omission with which the Pharisees here charge the disciples was that of a ceremonial observance on which they laid immense stress. Certain washings for purification had been commanded by the Law of Moses, but to these countless additions of a minute and vexatious kind had been added by the rabbis. Even when no defilement had been consciously contracted, the washings must be observed because, unwittingly, a man might touch what would defile him. Wherever in religion such human inventions are accepted as binding, they tend to become more prominent than the fundamental moral law. It was so in this case, and it is to this our Lord's words point. "By your tradition," he says, "ye make the Word of God of none effect. You put aside his commandment that you may keep your own tradition. You accept as the important things such trifles as these, while the truly great things of the Law you utterly neglect." But the evil of Pharisaism lay even deeper than this. The Pharisees were not mere formalists; those of Paul's type could honestly say that, touching the Law, they were blameless. Their mistake was that they thought their good actions made them good men. Our Lord came to give men clear perception and hold of the real distinction between good and evil. Men were not to be allowed to suppose the distinction between good men and bad was a slight one, that could be bridged over by a few acquired habits or formal observances. They were to be made to see that the distinction was deep as humanity itself; that their goodness must be one that would be eternal; not being the result of a superficial imitation, or attempt to satisfy the expectations or win the applause of men, but springing from the man's inmost self. To illustrate the principle that respect to human tradition tends to disrespect of God's Law, our Lord cites an instance well known to them. Under the guise of extra devotion to God, a man could evade the first of human duties by merely saying over anything he wished to keep, "Corban" - "It is devoted." This was monstrous, and the system which encouraged it manifestly "a plant which his Father had not planted." The principle which lies at the root of our Lord's teaching here he enounces in the words, "There is nothing from without a man that, entering into him, can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile a man." We may apply this in two ways.

1. To those who, under the guise of greater religiousness than that of other men, evade the common duties of life; who, in defending some trifle that hangs to the skirt of religion, do not scruple to transgress the broad laws of justice, truth, and charity which form its life. Every age has had its representatives of the Pharisees, the defenders of traditional religion, who have shown the same unscrupulousness and intolerance in defence of what they suppose to be religious truth. And when we consider the damage done to religion by such persons, and the difficulty of convincing them of their error, we do not wonder that no class was so frequently and so unsparingly denounced by our Lord. In every religious community there is a tendency to place the keeping of certain observances that are added to the Law above the Law itself; to consider these extra things as the marks of a religious man, and to call a man religious or irreligious according as he does or does not things that have as little to do with fundamental morality as the washing of hands before eating. We are apt, all of us, to pay attention to the means rather than to what is the great end of all religion; to wash our hands instead of our hearts. "These things ye ought to have done, but not to have left the others undone." All these things that are peculiar marks of religious people are good, but become enormous evils when out of proportion to the essential matters of the Law - of morality, of justice and truth between man and man, of love to God and to our fellows. Or:

2. We may consider the principle as enouncing the general truth that man's life is determined in all respects by what is within, not by what is without. Our Lord was sinless, not because he was not in circumstances of temptation, but because there was nothing on which temptation could fix. We lay the blame of our low spiritual condition, our actual fails, on our circumstances. But why is it these circumstances tempt us? Others pass through them without peril. The blame is within. We must seek for the remedy, also, within. The change that determines our destiny is a change in ourselves. - D.

The fame of the miracles and ministry of Jesus passed from Galilee to Jerusalem, whence came certain Pharisees and scribes, who were probably sent to watch him, and find matter of accusation against him (cf. Matthew 22:15, 16). "Jerusalem - the high school of hypocrisy. Rabbi Nathan says, 'If the hypocrites were divided into ten parts, nine would be found in Jerusalem, and one in the world beside'" (Stier). These zealots set up the traditions of the elders against the character and claims of Jesus. Their accusation is contained in the question, "Why do thy disciples," etc. 7 (ver. 2). The reply takes the form of a retort, an admonition, and an exposition; the former being hurled at the accusers, and the latter given for the edification of disciples and the people.

I. THE RETORT. "Why do ye transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?"

1. The appeal was followed up by an example.

(1) The instance cited is their violation of the fifth commandment. This enjoined, under the terra "honour," a dutiful respect to parents in taking care of and supporting them (cf. Proverbs 3:9; Numbers 23:17; 1 Timothy 5:3, 17). The neglect of parents is included under the expression cursing them, and was, according to the Law, a crime so heinous as to be punishable with death (cf. ver. 4; Exodus 21:17). Let our youth remember this.

(2) Under pretext of zeal for God the casuists managed to release themselves from this obligation. The device was to make a vow to devote to the temple treasury that which their parents might otherwise claim from them (see Mark 7:11). In this wickedness they sheltered themselves under the authority of their traditions, and thus made void the Law of God.

2. This was a triumphant defence of the disciples.

(1) It showed that the traditions in question were vicious, and therefore that no blame could justly be laid to the account of the disciples for disregarding them. It showed that they were, on the contrary, to be commended for protesting against them. If this was the worst thing alleged against them, they must have conducted themselves inoffensively.

(2) It was all the more incumbent upon the disciples to protest, since the Jewish doctors affirmed that the matter of their traditions had been originally delivered by God himself to Moses, and from him orally transmitted; that they are more excellent than, and consequently of superior obligation to, the Law itself.

(3) Note: The Council of Trent claims for the Romish traditions that "they are to be held with the same pious affection and reverence" as the Holy Scriptures (sess. 4, decr. 1). Brooks compares this addition of tradition to Scripture to putting paint upon a diamond. Luther likens the interpretation of Scripture by tradition to the straining of milk through a coal sack.

3. It was a heavy impeachment of the accusers.

(1) It put them to the worse. Whether or not the disciples had transgressed, their accusers are accused of being the chief transgressors. Those who have the beam in their own eye are not the persons to take the mote out of their brother's eye. Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. The Pharisees of every religious community take more pleasure in blaming others than in amending themselves.

(2) It branded them as hypocrites. What else are they who, under pretence of zeal for God, transgress his holy Law? They honoured him with the lip while their heart was far from him. Their heartless worship was "vain" - such as God could not approve. What vanity there is in the major portion of the religion of every age and clime (see James 1:26)!

II. THE ADMONITION. This was addressed to the disciples. "Then came the disciples," etc. (vers. 12-14).

1. The doom of the hypocrite is declared.

(1) They were offended at the truth. This was obvious to the disciples. Their pride was mortified. They were silenced. They had no reply. They nursed their wrath. Plain speaking never fails to offend the sinner who is unwilling to repent.

(2) They were blinded by the light. Their blindness was not involuntary ignorance, but voluntary error. They shut their eyes against the Light of the world, and were in consequence judicially blinded. So it fell out according to the prediction in Isaiah (see context in the prophet, Isaiah 29:14).

(3) They were doomed to be rooted out of the Church of God. He would not own them as his planting (cf. Isaiah 41:19; John 15:2). The sect of the Pharisees did not survive the destruction of Jerusalem. Every spurious plant will be rooted out of the Church in the judgment of the great day (see Matthew 13:30).

(4) Their membership will be transferred to the Church of the devil. The blind guides will fall into a pit (see John 9:40; Romans 2:19, 20). The well in the figure represents Gehenna. The pit of falsehood is the prelude to the pit of perdition.

2. Their dupes will share their doom.

(1) So it proved. The blinded nation were led on to crucify their King, and to blaspheme the Holy Ghost, and were, together with their guides, rooted out by the Romans (cf. Jeremiah 14:15, 16; Jeremiah 20:6). "How many men have ruined their estates by suretyship for others! But of all suretyship none is so dangerous as spiritual suretyship. He that pins his faith upon another man's sleeve knows not whither he will carry it" (Flavel).

(2) The crime and consequences of illegal impositions will be charged upon those who maintain as well as upon those who invent them (see Micah 6:16). God suffers one man to lead many to ruin.

(a) A rich profligate.

(b) An infidel.

(c) A man of learning.

(d) A politician.

(e) A teacher of heresy or of levity. If both fall together into the ditch, the blind leaders will fall undermost, and have the worst of it (Henry). But that will be slender comfort to the sufferers in the crush that will follow.

(3) The moral, then, is, "Let them alone." Avoid false teachers. Have no communion with them. A literal attention to these words of Christ produced the Reformation (see Hosea 4:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:14, 15). Be not satisfied with attending a place of worship. See that the teaching is of God (cf. 1 John 4:1). None but the blind will submit to be led by the blind.

III. THE EXPOSITION. This was given alike to the disciples and the people (vers. 10, 11, 15-20).

1. It distinguishes between Moses and the elders.

(1) The traditions were human. "The precepts of men," not to be confounded with the "doctrines" of God. Moses made a distinction in meats - the clean and unclean - but prescribed nothing respecting the eating with unwashen hands. This was a refinement of the elders. The ground of it was the possibility of the hands having touched something that might communicate legal uncleanness, and the contention that, since the Jews, like other Orientals, made great use of their fingers in eating, the uncleanness would be communicated to the food; then the food, taken into the system and assimilated, would defile the whole body. Hence such precepts as this of the Rabbi Akiba: "He that takes meat with unwashen hands is worthy of death."

(2) With these refinements the disciples had no sympathy. They rejected the casuistry that would make void the law of the fifth commandment. They did not scruple to eat with unwashen hands.

(3) But the multitude still needed enlightenment on this point. And how many nowadays scruple to communicate with unwashed hands, but scruple not to communicate with unwashed consciences! (Quesnel).

2. It distinguishes between the letter and the spirit of the Law.

(1) In the letter those who ate of unclean meat were unclean; but then the uncleanness was that of the meat; not moral, but ceremonial. Moreover, the Mosaic distinction of meats was not instituted for its own sake, but to point out the distinction between morn/ good and evil. Hence, when the ceremonial law ceased to serve this purpose, it became useless.

(2) These principles were now enunciated by Christ, and so commenced that spiritual teaching respecting the war between the flesh and Spirit unfolded in the writings of Paul (cf. Romans 7:18, 19; Romans 8:1, 2; Galatians 5:16-21).

(3) This was what Peter could not understand when he "answered and said, Declare unto us this parable" (ver. 15). He could scarcely believe his ears that a distinction in meats, in the abstract, availed nothing. His prejudices darkened his understanding; nor were they dispersed until nine years later, when he received the vision of the sheet (see Acts 10:15, 28).

(4) The spirit of the Law, then, is the all-important matter. Not that which goeth into the mouth, but that which cometh out of the heart. In religion the heart is everything. Religion is the union of the heart with God. The teaching of Christ here

(a) recognizes original sin. "Temptations and occasions put nothing into a man, but only draw out what is in him before" (Dr. Owen).

(b) Before evil becomes sin it must have the sanction of the understanding (see 1 John 3:4). - J.A.M.

Though the address of these visitors is put in the form of a question, it is not really an inquiry, it is a reproach. Therefore it was properly met, not by an explanation, but by another question, which brought to others' view, if not to their own, their bad mind and intent. These Pharisees could see clearly enough what they thought was a "mote" in the eye of Jesus. They must be made to feel the "beam" that was in their own eye. Who were these men, and what right had they to reproach Jesus? The Sanhedrin at Jerusalem regarded itself as the supreme ecclesiastical authority in the land, whose approval every teacher should secure, and whose inquiries every would be teacher must look for. Both John Baptist and Jesus acted in perfect independence of this central authority. Both were subject to its official inquiries. Of John we are told (John 1:19), "The Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?" John answered their inquiries in a very patient fashion. Jesus was sterner in his dealings with them, and denied their right, or their fitness, to make any such inquiries, which were but veiled reproaches.

I. AUTHORITY MAY GIVE A RIGHT TO REPROACH. The natural authority of the parent; and the social authority of the master and the king. But the authority must be rightly grounded. It must not rest on mere self-assertion, and it must be duly recognized and accepted. What authority could such a council as the Sanhedrin have over one who was a Prophet, a heaven sent Messenger? By all Israelite principles, he had the authority, and they should have heeded him.

II. SUPERIORITY MAY GIVE A RIGHT TO REPROACH. Superior knowledge; superior character. The competent man may reproach us, the saintly man may reproach us. Then had these visitors from Jerusalem either of these forms of right to reproach? Were they superiors of Christ in the knowledge of Divine things? Were they superiors of Christ in holy living? This at least may at once be tested. If they were really holy they would be jealous of God's honour and God's claims. That they were only sham holy, our Lord made clear enough by his searching question to them. They cared for forms and ceremonies, they cared little or nothing for truth, or righteousness, or charity. They would reproach another; they should have reproached themselves.

III. LOVE MAY GIVE A RIGHT TO REPROACH. No man rightly reproaches unless he loves. No man well receives reproach save from those whom he is sure are full of love to him. The vital wrong in the reproach of the text is this - there is no love in it. - R.T.

I. TRADITION COMES FROM AN INEXPERIENCED ANTIQUITY. The Pharisees and scribes showed reverence for it because it descended from the elders; but these elders were only men. It is common to attach the greatest weight to the oldest opinion. Yet it is not correct to look for wisdom in antiquity; because, as Bacon reminds us, we are the ancients, and they who lived before us belonged to the childhood of the race. Under the Divine education of man wisdom should be growing with the ages. We look back with amazement on a multitude of fantastic notions cherished by our forefathers which have become ridiculous in our eyes. There is one thought, however, to be set off against this. Ideas that have stood the test of time win a certain guarantee of their solidity in comparison with raw notions suddenly springing from the imagination of a new thinker. But that is only the case when those ideas are being constantly tested by experience and criticism; and it does not apply after tradition has become petrified and has attained the rank of a venerated idol

II. TRADITION IS MARKED BY HUMAN IMPERFECTION. The enemies of Christ greeted the elders with reverence; but our Lord replied by calling attention to a greater authority. They had honoured the elders, but they had dishonoured God. The tradition of the elders may deserve some reverence, but it cannot be compared with the commandment of God. Yet it was being preferred to that commandment. Tradition sometimes claims to be of Divine origin, handed down in the Church from the time of the apostles in a line of authorized teachers. If its claim could be proved, of course it would have an apostolic authority; but even then how could it be of superior value to the immediate utterances of the apostles recorded in the Scriptures? We have no warrant for believing, as the Gnostics taught, that an esoteric teaching of supreme importance has been thus handed down. The extravagant pretensions of Romanism, founded on the authority of tradition, which the Council of Trent declared to be of equal value with that of Scripture, warn us against the danger of trusting similar claims again.

III. TRADITION MAY BECOME AN EXCUSE FOR UNFAITHFULNESS TO DIVINE REVELATION. Thus it was with the Jews. The revelation they treated with contempt was that of the moral law. Parental claims were eluded on the plea of traditional usages. Nothing short of horrible hypocrisy was here practised. The plea that what was due to a needy parent could not be given because it had been already consecrated to God was quite false, inasmuch as the pretended consecration did not prevent the unnatural son from enjoying it himself. Thus tradition was a means of relaxing moral claims. The tendency to trust in tradition in the Christian Church has been sometimes associated with a casuistical treatment of simple obligations. The reason of this seems to be that while God's commandments are "exceeding broad" (Psalm 119:96), man's additions to them are dreadfully narrow. Thus tradition slides down to petty contrivances, and wastes its resources in miserable scruples. Christ would warn us to escape from the lowering and narrowing influence of this system of man's invention, by turning to the large, living, eternal, spiritual truth of the kingdom as he has revealed it to us. - W.F.A.

Human relationships involve obligations. Our relations with God bring the supreme obligations. But here is the patent fact - response to our obligations toward God always carries with it response to our natural obligations toward man. The pious man cannot be pious if he is unfaithful and unkind to his father and mother. All the professions men ever made would form no excuse for the neglect of our natural duties to our parents. And this tests the seeming religiousness of our Lord's time. Men might be very pious, but were they shirking their natural obligations? We can well imagine the indignation of our Lord when he found the misery that the shameless system of "corban" was working. A man wanted to shirk all responsibility for the well being of his parents, and yet keep the public repute of being a pious man; so he brought a gift to the priest, in presenting it used a particular formula, and wiped out all his obligations. The false religious sentiment of those times actually led to men's regarding such a man as extra pious. St. Paul is severe, with a very righteous severity, on such wickedness: "If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel" (1 Timothy 5:8).

I. SCHEMES DEVISED BY SELFISHNESS. These are specially hateful in relation to parents, because of their self-denials for our sakes in our earliest years. They take such forms as:

1. Leaving the neighbourhood or the country.

2. Spending all a man has on his own gratification.

3. Delaying present help under plea of the excuses that it will be wanted much more by and by. Selfish souls are marvellously clever at making excuses.

II. SCHEMES DEVISED BY TEMPER. There arise quarrellings and disputings in families, and these are made into reasons for refusing to fulfil natural obligations. It may even be that the conduct and character of parents make us angry, and lead us to threaten the withdrawal of our help. Character may make advisable readjustments of our ways of meeting our obligations, but even bad character cannot excuse our shirking them.

III. SCHEMES DEVISED BY SPURIOUS PIETY. Illustrate by a man who excuses his neglect of his father and mother by saying that he has had to give such a large subscription to the new church. Honourably meeting our human obligations is the sign and expression of piety. He deceives himself who claims to serve God while he is not doing his duty to his fellow men. - R.T.

Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. Sincerely enough, and with a view to helping the people to apply the revealed principles of truth and duty, the national teachers had begun to supply commentaries on, and applications of, the Holy Scriptures. These became ever more and more elaborate; controversies were excited by them, and an authority was claimed for the minute, man-made rule rather than for the comprehensive and searching principle. One part of our Lord's mission was to liberate men from the painful and worryful pressure of these man-made rules, and recover for man the genuine unalloyed moral force on moral beings of God's commands. It was sometimes necessary for him to be severe in dealing with the claims made on behalf of traditions. We can but little conceive how religion was affected, in our Lord's time, by a mere ritual that was so comprehensive, so minute, and yet so ridiculous, that it must have made men hate the very name of religion.

I. MAN-MADE RELIGIOUS RULES ARE ATTRACTIVE TO MEN. It may be said, to all men. It can with confidence be said, to some men. There are, in every age and society, persons who prefer to have their religion done for them; who cannot, and will not, bear the burden of personal responsibility. They ask to have their conduct arranged by rules. And there have always been those who were willing to meet their requests, and to claim authority for so doing. It is a seemingly easy way in which to get through the difficult business of religion, if only it could be made satisfactory; but that it can never be. In all ages, and today, the man-made rules are sure to "make the Word of God of none effect." They are sure to push God out of those direct and personal relations which he bears to each one.

II. MAN-MADE RELIGIOUS RULES ARE RUINOUS FOR MEN. If they could keep them as mere helps and guides, all would be well. But that is just what man has never been able to do. Man-made rules are always pushing out of their place, and into a place which does not properly belong to them. The following points may be worked out and illustrated.

1. Man-made rules shift the basis of authority in religion from God to man, from the true authority to an altogether false one.

2. Man-made rules exaggerate the place of self in religion. For the authority of man is only the authority of idealized self.

3. Man-made rules substitute a religion of hand (conduct) for the religion of the heart. - R.T.

Formality is always imperilling piety. The representation of religious truths in ritual and ceremonial is a necessary condescension to the weakness of men, who want material aid in their effort to grasp spiritual things. But material things have a constant tendency to enslave men. And the enslaving work is done with so much subtlety that many a man who is a slave to his rituals, and to his rules, thinks himself to be a free man today. But, worse than that, and the thing that so much distressed our Lord, when a man knows that all his spiritual religion is gone, he will keep up his ritual, and be more exact in obeying his rules, and try to persuade himself that "formality" will do instead of "spirituality." Then the searching Lord pleads, "This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me."

I. RELIGION IS EXPRESSION. We ought to "draw nigh unto God with our mouth, and to honour him with our lip." Religion is holy worship, wise ordering of conduct, bearing honourable responsibilities, taking part in Christian activities, bringing the body into subjection. No man can wisely or safely restrain the expression of religion. A faith which says nothing is no real faith. A love that does nothing is no real love. If there is life in the seed, the blade will appear above the soil. Secret religion is self-delusion. If a man is religious, it will get expression in his life and relations.

II. RELIGION IS FEELING. It is something that can get expression. It is a state of mind and heart. It is a spiritual relationship with the Divine Spirit, into which man, the spirit, has been brought. It is the quickening of the soul's love, and setting it wholly on God. It is the redirection of the soul's trust, and fixing it on God. It is the sanctifying of the soul's will unto the choice of God's will. "The kingdom of God is within you." Piety is a soul affair. Religion is the expression of piety in conduct and relation.

III. SINCERITY IS THE RIGHT RELATION BETWEEN FEELING AND EXPRESSION. Sincerity Christ asked for. Insincerity Christ denounced. Sincerity psalmists prayed for and prophets pleaded for. Weakness, incompleteness, failure, can be patiently borne; insincerity cannot be borne; nothing can be done with it. To a man's own self he must be true. To his fellow men he must be true. To God he must be true. A man must say, by lip and act, what he feels, and only what he feels. The vice of modern external religion is its utterance of more and better things than are really in men's hearts. - R.T.

The religious people in the time of Christ were right in being anxious to avoid defilement, but they made a great mistake in their idea as to its source, and therefore they went wrong in their notions of the evil thing itself.


1. On its own account. Children who have been brought up in the gutter have no idea of cleanliness and no desire for it; and souls that have habitually wallowed in filth do not perceive their own degradation until a new and better influence has been brought to bear upon them. Nevertheless, man, made in the image of God, cannot attain his true end while the Divine image is corrupted and befouled, and when a gleam of his better nature awakes he longs to be pure. The cultivation of the spiritual life brings a horror of defilement. For its own sake the soul then longs to be clean.

2. Because of the effects of defilement.

(1) Shame. The first perception of defilement seen side by side with purity sends a shock of shame through the awakened soul.

(2) Banishment from God. Without holiness no one can see God. Nothing unclean can enter heaven, i.e. the presence of God (Revelation 21:27).

(3) Blindness. The defiled soul is dark; it cannot perceive spiritual truth.

II. THE PERVERTED CONSCIENCE MISTAKES THE SOURCE OF DEFILEMENT. The root error of the Pharisees was externalism. The prim propriety of demeanour which characterized the professional saints of Jerusalem covered hearts as corrupt as any of the publicans' and sinners'. Yet the Pharisees thought themselves clean. They dreaded contact with a corpse, but they had little scruple in entertaining a corrupt thought. They would stop their ears at the sound of blasphemy, but they would give the reins to their tongues in malignant words. The evil of Pharisaism is by no means extinct today. Religious people dread to be found in association with questionable characters. They are anxious to be perfectly correct in the external observances of worship. They do not go to the extreme of the folly of the Pharisees, but they too often manifest the same spirit.

III. THE ENLIGHTENED CONSCIENCE PERCEIVES THE TRUE SOURCE OF DEFILEMENT WITHIN ITSELF. It is part of the work of Christ to arouse and guide the consciences of men. Thus he shows us that the real origin of defilement is in our own hearts. A black fountain will always pour out a black flood, do what we may to cleanse the stream; on the other hand, a spring of pure water will quickly wash away any casual defilement that falls into it. A man is not his environment. It is dangerous to be in the midst of corrupting influences; and yet a bed of lilies may grow out of foulest mire. A herd of swine will not be converted into a troupe of pure virgins by entering temple; they will only convert the sanctuary into a sty. The corruption of a bad heart will be detected in language and conduct. When these are unworthy they will reflect shame on the debased heart from which they come. It is the great lesson of Christ, needed much in our own day, that as the root of all evil in the world is the evil heart of man, the only radical cleansing must be that which washes the heart. We must have done with the superficial treatment of mere appearances. Christ's method is to renew the life within. - W.F.A.

It is quite possible to exaggerate in presenting the teachings of our Lord in these verses. We do so if we make too absolute the distinction between what goes into a man and what comes out of a man. Our Lord's illustration needs to be kept within its natural and proper limits. The Pharisees had objected to the disciples eating their bread with unwashen hands, their notion being that something causing ceremonial defilement might be upon their hands, and this taken in with the bread would make them ceremonially unclean. It was a ridiculous subtlety, and yet it had become quite an established notion. It was best met by such scorn as Jesus poured upon it. You cannot defile a man's soul by putting some dirt into his food; that may bring on disease in the man's body, but it cannot defile the man himself. Our Lord strikes hard at the insincerities of the Pharisee class, who were foul in speech, unclean in life, and self-seeking in relations, however anxious they were about ceremonial defilement. What came out of them - their speech, conduct, relations - these defiled them.

I. THE SECRET OF HUMAN DEFILEMENT IS THE WRONG INSIDE A MAN. A man is very largely responsible for the contents of his mind. True, he may have been placed in circumstances beyond his control which have brought evil associations; but the law is always working, that the things only are retained and effective on which attention is continuously and persistently fixed. Then we must have fixed our attention on what our minds now have in them, and so we must be responsible for their contents. Can we bear to look at the actual contents of our minds? How utterly unimportant ceremonial defilements seem in view of this real evil! A man is in a state of defilement, heart defilement, to begin with. From this may be shown the absolute need of regeneration.

II. THE FURTHER SECRET OF HUMAN DEFILEMENT IS THAT THIS INSIDE WRONG GETS STRENGTHENED BY EXPRESSION. If the foul things inside a man would just stay quiet, things would not be so serious. But they are persistently active, ever trying to get expression, to say something or to do something. And they become stronger and more active by every expression. How that which comes out of a man defiles him may be shown by indicating the way in which a foul thought, gaining utterance in a foul speech, becomes an act of the will; the man is made foul thereby. - R.T.

This is a startling image, vividly suggesting to our minds a most deplorable condition of society. While it was especially true of the official teachers of Israel in our Lord's time, it has never ceased to have an application to somewhat similar men. It may be applied to heathen priests, to the benighted leaders of superstition in mediaeval Europe, and, alas! to many in Christendom today who essay to guide others though they themselves cannot see the way of life.

I. THE BLIND LOOK FOR LEADERS. The consciousness of inability and the confession of it may not be recognized by superficial observers, because a certain surface pride tries to veil the deep diffidence and the yearning hunger for guidance that really inhabit the souls of men. The blindness of the multitudes that "knew not the Law" was but a shadow of the blindness of mankind generally. Ignorant of God, unable to comprehend itself, lost in the wilderness of thought, the mind of man seems to be eyeless, or at best dim-sighted and confused in its attempt to grasp spiritual truth.

II. THE BLIND MAY BE DECEIVED IN THEIR LEADERS. Their very blindness puts them under a disadvantage in judging of the worth of those who offer to guide them. Sounding words are no proofs of clear vision. Yet too often teachers have been accepted on their own terms and accredited by their self-assertions. Nevertheless, when one who sees arrives, it is possible for him and others to detect a mistake. The common people who heard Jesus gladly quickly perceived that his teaching had an authority which that of the scribes lacked.

III. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE LEADERS OF THE BLIND IS MOST SERIOUS. They are trusted men, and in proportion to their acceptance of confidence will be their responsibility. If they fail to carry out their promises their charges will suffer. But they too will fall into trouble. Men cannot guide others wrongly without going wrong themselves. Their fatal mistake is to pretend to be leaders of souls while they themselves are benighted, for it is possible to refuse the responsible function and to take the lower and humbler place of the blind who need guidance.

IV. IT IS MOST IMPORTANT THAT RELIGIOUS TEACHERS SHOULD KNOW THE TRUTH THEY ARE CALLED UPON TO TEACH. This idea is so obvious that it seems to be a waste of words to state it. Yet it is constantly ignored.

1. Special training is needed. In the present day the air is laden with questions concerning the foundations of the faith, and no one is fit to be a teacher of others who is not prepared to meet those questions. Though some of them may not be readily answered, at least the teacher must know how to give some guidance to the inquirer in his perplexity.

2. Divine light is needed. It is not enough for the teacher to have been trained in theological studies. These may have left him in a midnight darkness; and they will do so if he has not opened his soul to the light of God.

V. THE ONLY SAFE GUIDE IS JESUS CHRIST. He has clear vision, and he leads surely through all difficulties. We lean on the teaching of ignorant men when we might go straight to the teaching of Christ. With the Light of the world shining upon our path, we should be able to see, and yet this will not be possible if we are blind. Now, it is the great work of Christ not merely to guide the blind, but to give them sight, so that they may see their way and follow him by their own vision of truth. - W.F.A.

Jesus was beyond the borders of Palestine, on heathen soil. He had not extended his travels in order to carry his ministry to the heathen; but he was in retirement. He had left Galilee because the Galilaeans were in a restless state - many of them perplexed by his teaching and turning from him, and also because the official teachers were seriously impeding his work. After this our Lord never resumed his old open ministry by the seashore and on the hillside. Yet even during his retirement he could not resist the pleadings of a mother's love.

I. THE CONDUCT OF THE MOTHER. The vivid picture given to us by the evangelist sets before us a very remarkable character. Let us observe some of its most interesting features.

1. Devoted love. A mother is just absorbed in her devotion to her poor daughter. As is often seen, the very affliction of the child the more endears her to the mother. A mother's love is no mere sentiment, and it is not satisfied to expend itself in idle tears. It inspires a keen and energetic interest. The mother is lifted above her people, and is carried forward to attempt what others never thought of, because her love will not permit her to give up her hope and her effort.

2. Rare faith.

(1) The woman was a heathen. Yet, like the centurion of Capernaum, she had a faith greater than that of any Jew or Jewess. Thus, although our Lord's immediate ministry is to Israel, it is manifest, even while this is being carried out, that other peoples must share its benefits.

(2) She recognized the Messiahship of Christ. Though a heathen, she had learnt to share the hope of Israel. In the time of his exile, depression, and disappointment, she did not fail to recognize the very Christ of God.

3. Unyielding persistency. The wonder is that this woman would take no refusal; and yet shall we call it a wonder at all when we remember that she was a mother? Here is the greatest instance in all history of the victory of persevering prayer.

4. Quick inventiveness. Jesus was a Master of the fine art of repartee; but for once he gladly allows that his words are perfectly met and replied to, and he generously leaves the last word with his applicant, in this word there is a full admission of all Christ said, and no departure from perfect humility, and yet there is a brilliant shaft of wit as modest as it is effective. There is room for the quick intellect in the kingdom of heaven.

II. THE BEHAVIOUR OF CHRIST. On the surface this is mysterious and apparently ungenerous; but a fair consideration of the whole narrative will not leave any ground of complaint against it.

1. A true statement. The mission of Christ was to the Jews. This was a fact not to be gainsaid. Though he came for the salvation of the world, his method was to begin with Israel and to confine his personal labours on earth to the people who were to be his instrument for saving others.

2. A test of faith. Our Lord's discouragement of the applicant would have been unkind if she had been a weak and timorous person. But with his keen intuition of character he could see at a glance that she was a woman of courage and confidence. It was an acknowledgment of her good qualities that permitted the severe test to be applied to her.

3. A final blessing. In the end this eager mother got all she sought after, and therefore she had no complaint against Christ, but, on the contrary, good ground for thankfulness. Jesus Christ does not refuse any true applicant for his grace. He may seem to discourage at first, but in the end faith is always rewarded. - W.F.A.

The peculiarity of the incident here related is not the cure wrought, but the refusal with which the mother's petition was at first met. It did not need a sympathy such as our Lord's to urge him to dismiss this foul intrusion into the innocent and happy days of childhood; it did not need his hatred of evil to urge him to rebuke the Satanic malice, which could exult in attacking, not the aged sinner, but the pure child who knew nothing of the sources of disease and had no arguments to resist its terror. Who would not count it one of the best pleasures to be able to bring a suffering child from pain and terror to the sane and healthy joy of childhood? But our Lord answered never a word, and when urged to speak, his speech was more discouraging than silence. What is it, then, which justifies this conduct? It may have been his meaning from the first to grant the petition, and he put the difficulties in a harsh form that the woman might apprehend the value of what she asked. But what were the difficulties? His own reason was that he was not sent to any but Israelites. He sent his apostles to every creature, but his own ministry was confined to Israel. This people had been the object of a constant enriching care fur many generations, that at length the Messiah might come to them and through them bless the world; and to act in the end as if this made no difference would have been for God to stultify himself. It is only after the distinction between Jew and Gentile has been cordially accepted by the woman that her request is granted. In humbly and faithfully taking her place among the dogs, she took her place among the children of faithful Abraham. She had the faith which was the best possession of the Jew, and for the sake of which all their training had been given. Observe -

I. HER HUMILITY. Radically it was her humility which made her victorious. Quick in intellect and brilliant; resolute, capable, and even audacious, in obtaining what she set her heart on, she was yet humble. She was of the meek who inherit the earth.

II. IT WAS HER FAITH TO WHICH OUR LORD DREW ATTENTION. This woman alone was victorious over him in debate; but it is not her cleverness, but her faith, which delighted him when she snared him in his own words - her faith in his inability to refuse to do a kindness, and in his God-given power to do it.

III. WE SOMETIMES, LIKE THIS WOMAN, ASK GOD FOR SOMETHING WHICH HE MIGHT. TELL US IN THE FIRST INSTANCE IT WAS NOT LAWFUL FOR HIM TO DO. We break some natural law, physical or moral, and, broken hearted at the consequences, we cry to God. But he answers us never a word; there is no sign that we have spoken. We feel that we are receiving the wages of sin. Gradually and painfully and with deep humility we accept the position we have brought ourselves into, and learn to say, "It is better I should learn the rigour of this perfect and holy order of things than that I should at once have all I ask for."

IV. BEGINNING WITH THIS WOMAN BY LEARNING HOW LITTLE CLAIM WE HAVE, WE MUST WITH HER HOLD TO CHRIST TILL HE GIVES US ALL WE NEED. Can you have such reason to think you are not among Christ's people as this woman had? Did he not plainly tell her that he was not sent to her, and yet in the end yield all to her? You will find that by submitting yourself humbly to the laws you have broken, and to him whose laws they are, you do pass into a new condition, and other laws begin to work in your favour.

V. PARENTS MUST BE ENCOURAGED BY THE SUCCESS OF THIS MOTHER'S INTERCESSION. You may be able to make nothing of your child that strangely perplexes you by his conduct, but Christ can make something of him. In conclusion, have you sufficiently considered the blessedness of succeeding with Christ, of getting from him what you desire? He assures you that importunate prayer prevails. Whatever great trouble, he bids you come to him. He knows human life well, and does not underrate its difficulty. He assures you he can help you. He asks for no certificate of character. If you feel no want he can relieve, is not this itself a reason for seeking him; a proof that you are benumbed in spirit, and need the life he offers? - D.

So the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman is described by the Lord. The elements of that great faith are evident in the narrative.


1. In the discernment of evil.

(1) This woman saw that her daughter was possessed of a devil; that her faculties were under the power of an evil spirit. Her eyes were not blinded by maternal partiality. She clearly apprehended the terrible fact. Do Christian parents ever fail to discern that their unchristian children are vexed in spirit with a proud devil, an unclean devil, a malicious devil?

(2) She saw that her daughter was "grievously vexed." The demon, in this case, was of extraordinary malignity. Note: As in evil men, so in devils, there are varieties and degrees of malignity. Or the demon in this case had unusual scope allowed him for the exertion of his malignity.

2. In the discernment of the cure.

(1) This woman saw that the cure for her daughter was not within the ordinary physicians' skill. She may have come to this conclusion through experience. She may have come at it by reasoning. For devils are stronger than men.

(2) She saw it in the power of God. That power devils must acknowledge. That power she sought in Jesus. When she called him "Lord," she meant more than the complimentary Sir. She identified him as the Christ; for such is the meaning of the title "Son of David."

(3) She saw it in the mercy of God. The Messiah of prophecy is full of mercy. The fame of Jesus was in accordance with the promises. "Mercy," therefore, was her plea.


1. In conduct.

(1) This woman cried for "mercy." Here was no plea of right. Her hope was in the sympathy of a merciful heart. Nothing can touch that like the cry of misery.

(2) She cried "after" him (ver. 23) - followed at a distance, as unworthy to come too near. As a daughter of Canaan, her behaviour accorded with the condition of a servant (see Genesis 9:26).

(3) When she did come near, "she came and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me." In her the humble attitude of worship expressed truly its humble spirit.

2. In temper.

(1) She consented to the appellation of "dog." "Truth, Lord," was her humble reply. "Dog" here is opposed to "sheep." The clean animal in the Law was the type of the Israelite; the unclean, of the Gentile. She was a "Greek" or Gentile, "a Syro-Phcenieian by race" (Mark 7:25). She does not seem to have been a proselyte.

(2) It does not hence follow, however, that she was an idolater. Hiram, a king of her nation, had a hand in building the temple of Solomon, and was a lover of David, and blessed the God of Israel (see 1 Kings 5:7). Zarephath, where dwelt the worthy widow in the days of Elijah, was in the land of Sidon (see 1 Kings 17:9; Luke 4:25). Many Gentiles in those parts respected Judaism, and looked for the promised Messiah.

(3) If she understood the spirit of the Law, and the force of the promise which makes clean the Gentile believer, and constitutes him the child of Abraham's faith, she did not plead this. She accepted the title of "dog" in its spiritual as well as in its ceremonial signification. Note: Modesty is no restriction to greatness of faith (cf. Matthew 8:8, 9).


1. It will not miss an opportunity.

(1) Here was a golden opportunity. Jesus was "in the parts of Tyre and Sidon." He was "a Minister of the circumcision for the truth of God" (Romans 15:8), yet went to the limits of his commission to cast a look of pity over the boundary.

(2) Hearing of his vicinity she "came out." She did not wait until Jesus should cross over the border land. Had she done so, she would have missed her opportunity. Note: Many lose their souls by devising opportunities instead of accepting those provided for them by God.

(3) Abram had to come out of Ur in order to his inheriting Canaan. This woman had to come out of Phoenicia to inherit the blessing of Israel. So must the sinner leave his sins in order to find salvation. If he be in earnest he will not miss his opportunity.

2. Its heart is in its cause.

(1) This woman made her daughter's case her own. Her cry was, "Have mercy upon me." Her plea was as though she herself was sorely vexed with the demon that possessed her child. So she sought relief as for herself. "Lord, help me."

(2) Her importunity moved the disciples to plead for her: "Send her away; for she crieth after us." "O disciples! and does the voice of prayer trouble you? How little at present do ye resemble the Master! We never read of his being troubled with the cry of the poor and needy. And this is all that you have to urge, is it? Your charity amounts to just so much as that of some wealthy persons, who give a poor man a penny, not out of compassion, but in order to get rid of him!" (A. Fuller). But whether the motive of the disciples was that of the unjust judge or something more worthy of them, the earnestness of the woman cannot be mistaken.


1. It refuses discouragement.

(1) Jesus "answered her not a word;" still she cried. He knew the quality of her faith. We must not construe delay in answering our prayers into a refusal to answer them. It may be to draw out the quality of our faith. God proves that he may improve our faith.

(2) Jesus refused the intercession of his disciples for her; still she cried. "He answered her and said, I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." This silenced the disciples; not so the woman.

(3) Jesus "entered into a house, and would have no man know it," apparently to avoid her importunity. But "he could not be hid," for This woman followed him, and then "fell down at his feet" (see Mark 7:24).

(4) Jesus said, "It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to the dogs." This was the culminating point.

2. In the very heart of discouragement it finds encouragement.

(1) Never for a moment did she lose sight of her great argument, viz. that hers was the appeal of misery to Mercy itself. The more sensibly we feel the burden the more resolutely we pray for its removal. Christ himself in his agony prayed more earnestly. This plea of misery to Mercy remained in undiminished force.

(2) The quickness of her faith could even discover the presence of that mercy in the tenderness of tone behind the sternness of expression. Did not Jesus use the diminutive (κυνάρια), "little dogs"? Here was a leverage which she adroitly seized. The children are familiar with the little dogs, and have no objection to their eating the crumbs that fall from the table. "The spirit of faith suggests the best forms of prayer" (Bengel). It is, moreover, "their master's table." It cannot go ill with the dogs. "There is bread enough [for the children] and to spare" for the servants and the dogs (see Luke 15:17, 19). A crumb of Christ's mercy is sufficient to expel a malignant devil.

(3) So faith triumphed. "It resembled the river, which becomes enlarged by the dykes opposed to it, till at last it sweeps them away" (A. Clarke). "O woman." By faith the dog is already transformed into the woman. "Great is thy faith." "Jesus admires this faith to the end we may admire and imitate it" (A. Clarke). "Be it done unto thee even as thou wilt." There is faith in willing. "And her daughter was healed from that hour." Healed at her home (see Mark 7:307.

(4) Here was a gleam of that light which was to lighten the Gentiles; a presage of that mercy to be fully revealed after his death. Here also is a proof that the curse upon Canaan was only meant for those of his race who should follow his unbelief. The doom of corporate bodies does not necessarily fall upon all their individual members. True faith is saving evermore. - J.A.M.

Have mercy on me. The woman was wiser than she knew. She could bring no claim; as a foreigner she had no sort of right to our Lord's help. She made no pretence of having any claim, save the claim which every sufferer and every sinner may have on God's mercy. But that is the best of all claims; the one to which response is always assured. The sufferer and the sinner may fully hope in God's mercy.

I. THE CLAIM OF THE SUFFERER ON GOD'S MERCY. Mercy includes interest, pity, sympathy, consideration, and desire to help. The good man feels merciful toward the suffering creature; the father is merciful to the suffering children. God is merciful to the suffering being he has made. But God's mercy is assured because, to him, all suffering is the fruitage of sin; and God knows how the suffering has to fall on those who have not committed the sin. If God saw only sin, he would respond with judgment. He sees so much suffering following on sin, to which he can only respond with mercy. The child pleaded for was not suffering directly for sin. The mother's suffering was part of the race burden, and not distinctively her own. So, here, suffering claimed mercy. We might be led on to indicate that God's mercy can be shown to sufferers by prolonging the suffering as truly as by removing it. Mercy in its operation is ever guided by an infinite wisdom.

II. THE CLAIM OF THE SINNER ON GOD'S MERCY. Not a natural claim. There is no reason why God should bear with sinners in the nature of things. Every notion of government shows demand for justice. Officially God must deal justly. Mercy brings in the qualification that belongs to God's character. We see this in the case of a human magistrate. As a magistrate he has no mercy; he is strictly to apply the law. As a man, and as a character, he can bring mercy in to qualify the strict applications of law. It is well to remember that God never deals with men simply as an official. He is always a character, a noble character, and therefore "merciful and gracious." Lead on to show that the supreme interest of the manifestation of Christ, the supreme interest of such a scene as is now before us, lies in its revelation of the character of God, and especially its disclosure of the fact that God's having a character gives both sufferers and sinners a claim upon his mercy. - R.T.

Importunity: "Lord, help me. Quick wittedness: Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." The strangeness of our Lord's dealing with this woman has often been pointed out. But the story needs to be read in the light of the fact that our Lord's supreme work was work in character. In doing anything for the bodies of men our Lord really worked for their souls, and tried to make his healing bear a gracious influence on the minds, hearts, and dispositions of those whom he healed. And he seems to have kept the further aim before him of making the manner in which his miracles were wrought parts of his training of his disciples for their future mission. Those disciples learned so much just by watching how their Master dealt with individuals, such as this woman of Canaan.

I. OUR LORD SOUGHT TO BRING OUT IMPORTUNITY. This explains delay and seeming refusal. Remember how much our Lord thought of importunity. He commends it in prayer, by his parables.

1. It is a valuable sign of character. There is something in a man who can persist; who can set an aim before him, and refuse to be discouraged. It is all the nobler when the aim concerns the well being of another.

2. It is one of the best expressions of faith. The woman could not have kept on her plea if she had not fully believed that the Lord both could and would help her. So Jesus, by his mode of dealing with her, brought out to view her faith.

3. It is one of the best indications of the value of the thing desired. If we do not care much about a thing, we soon give up our pursuit of it. If it is to us a "pearl of great price," we keep on until we get it. The woman had all her heart in this healing for her daughter. Then how importunate in seeking salvation we should be! "It is not a vain thing for you; it is your life."

II. OUR LORD WAS GRATIFIED WHEN HE BROUGHT OUT QUICK WITTEDNESS. The woman's answer is an exceedingly sharp and clever one. She skilfully turned our Lord's reason for refusing into a reason for granting. Her word for "dogs" was cleverly chosen; it meant the "pet dogs of the house." They have a claim on the children's crumbs. And she pleads just for the crumbs for her "little pet dog." It will not take anything from the "children" to send her a crumb of blessing. Jesus seemed really pleased with the woman; there was a most gracious tone in his final reply. See how his dealing brought her character out; and showed the disciples how to deal with people so as to be the fullest possible blessing to them. - R.T.

There were several occasions on which our Lord specially praised faith; we may note what were the peculiar features of the faith which received these unusual commendations. Olshausen says, "Overcome as it were by the humble faith of the heathen woman, the Saviour himself confesses, 'Great is thy faith,' and straightway faith received what it asked. This little narrative lays open the magic that lies in a humbly believing heart more directly and deeply than all explanations or descriptions could do. In this mode of Christ's giving an answer to prayer we are to trace only another form of his love. Where faith is weak, he anticipates and comes to meet it; where faith is strong, he holds himself far off in order that it may in itself be carried to perfection."

I. OUR LORD'S NOTICING THE SIGNS OF FAITH WITHOUT SPECIAL PRAISE. A specimen case is the act of the four friends who carried the helpless paralytic on to the roof to ensure his getting into the presence of Jesus. It is said of them, "Jesus seeing their faith." On another occasion it is said of Peter, looking on the lame man, "perceiving that he had faith to be healed." The apostles follow the Master in looking for and recognizing faith. And this we fully understand when we regard faith as the necessary state of spiritual recipiency for Divine help and blessing.

II. OUR LORD'S NOTICING THE SIGNS OF FAITH WITH SPECIAL PRAISE. Two illustrative cases may be given. And it is remarkable that they both concern aliens, and not Israelites. This probably accounts for our Lord's feeling surprise, and giving it expression. The first is the Roman centurion, who sought Christ's healing for a servant. Everybody then, even those who believed in Christ's power, thought it essential that Christ should touch the sufferer. The centurion had faith to believe that Jesus could act through a simple commanding word. So of him Jesus said, "Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." The other case is that associated with our text. The Canaanite woman showed her strong faith by her persistency in overcoming obstacles; and of her Jesus said, "O woman, great is thy faith." In conclusion, the reasons for praising such faith may be given.

1. Full trust honours God.

2. Active and persistent faith reveals a state of heart that fits for receiving Divine healing and salvation. - R.T.

After his retirement to the north, Jesus seems to have returned for a short time to the scenes of his earlier labours in Galilee. His open public ministry had almost ceased, and his miracles were now for the most part rare, and only performed in response to some special appeal. But we have here one last occasion of widespread healing, crowning the public beneficence of Christ's earthly life.

I. OUR LORD'S PURPOSE. He went up the well known mountain where he had taught the people during his earlier ministry, and there he seated himself in preparation for further teaching. This was his aim, as the deliberate sitting down implied. But this was not what the people wanted; they were anxious for bodily healing. Now, we do not find that Jesus discouraged applications for the cure of sickness; he encouraged them by his generous response. Nevertheless, it must have been painful for him to see how much more anxious the people were to receive earthly blessings than to secure those higher spiritual blessings which it was the great end of his life work to bestow. He is always thinking first of the kingdom of God, and only adding the other things to it as secondary boons. His true disciples should learn a sense of proportion, and seek first what Christ is most anxious to bestow.


1. Great bodily distress. It is noteworthy that all the cases here specified represent diseases or defects in some bodily organ. They are not like the instances of fever, leprosy, or general paralysis that we have met with earlier. It would seem that these cases would be difficult to treat.

2. Variety of need. Though a certain common character belongs to all these cases, they still differ from one another very considerably. Yet they are all brought to Christ. He is not a specialist able only to treat one class of complaints. He welcomes and helps people whose needs are infinitely various.

3. Brotherly sympathy. The people brought their afflicted friends, leading the blind and carrying the lame up the steep, broken mountain path. It was the Christ spirit that helped these poor sufferers to Christ. There is room for largo mutual helpfulness in the kingdom of heaven. If we cannot save our brothers, we can bring them to the Saviour.

III. OUR LORD'S GRACE. The response was ready and sufficient. It is stated in few words, "And he healed them;" yet this is enough. The very laconic phrase shows that there were no qualifications, limitations, exceptions.

1. Healing. This was the chief miracle work of Christ. It was the symbol of his spiritual ministry (Luke 4:18). He comes to give eyes to the soul, and the hearing of Divine voices, and strength for the service of God.

2. Feeding. This is recorded in the following paragraph. Some needed healing; all needed feeding. Now, Christ, who cures sick souls, also nourishes healthy souls with the bread of life. They who bring others to Christ are themselves blessed by Christ.

IV. THE PEOPLE'S JOY. It is occasioned by the wonderful sight of the results of Christ's miracle working. Christ is honoured by what he does in the world now. We can see his spiritual miracles, and they are his best credentials. The effect on the people was twofold.

1. Amazement. "The multitude wondered." Yet they had come to seek these very boons! The sight of the reality was greater than the previous hope. Christ is truly named "Wonderful" (Isaiah 9:6).

2. Praise. The people saw the hand of God in this, and a spontaneous outburst of praise followed. Thus the work of Christ glorifies the Name of God. - W.F.A.

Matthew puts side by side with miracles of healing this miracle of feeding the four thousand, as if inviting us to read them in the light they reflect upon each other.

1. The first point of contrast is that, while the healing originated in the desire of the multitude who sought our Lord's help, the feeding originated with him, he being the first to notice the faint looks of many of the people. It were much to receive at Christ's hand all we ask for; but, in fact, we receive a great deal more. This miracle is a concrete proof that God knows what we have need of before we ask him, and that the Creator cares for his creature with a tenderness and sympathy which no human relationship rivals.

2. As the one class of miracles exhibits Christ's power to cure, the other reveals his power to prevent, human suffering. As it is a lowered vitality that gives disease its opportunity, so the only preservative against any form of sin is a strong spiritual life. Perhaps the gospel has come to be looked on too exclusively as a remedial scheme, and too little as the means of maintaining a healthy condition of spirit. It is men who have thirsted for righteousness all their lives who have served their generation best; and while we should not do less for the reclamation of the abandoned, we should rectify the balance by doing more to preserve the young from the misery of a wasted life. For every one our Lord healed, he fed ten. He presents himself not only and always as Medicine, but also as Food - as the Bread that nourishes true and eternal life. Bread a fit symbol, as showing -

I. THE UNIVERSAL NEED OF CHRIST AND HIS APPLICABILITY TO ALL. From the first God saw that so surely as we should all hunger and need bread, so surely should we need Christ if our souls were to live. In all that Christ calls us to, he is not putting a strain on our natures, but simply recalling us to that condition in which alone we can live with the ease and comfort of health, and in which alone we can finally and permanently delight.

II. CHRIST GIVES LIFE TO THE WORLD THROUGH HIS DISCIPLES. He distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down. It is a very grave truth that every one of us who has himself received spiritual life from Christ has thereby in possession what may give life to many human souls. We may give or withhold, but it is given not only to be consumed, but to be distributed. It is not the privilege of any one class of disciples, but of all.

III. FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST AS THE SOURCE OF LIFE IS REQUISITE BOTH FOR RECEIVING AND IMPARTING SPIRITUAL LIFE. That bread was offered was nothing; each man must use it for himself. Had any scoffed at the idea of our Lord's feeding the multitude with the few loaves he had before him, or refused to believe that bread so produced could have any nourishment in it, they must have remained unfed and faint. And it must have been trying to the disciples to do as they were bid, and advance each man to his separate hundred with his morsel of bread. But if they gave cautiously and sparingly to the first, they must soon have felt rebuked and their hearts enlarged. However slender our attainments or our power of influencing others, let us not be afraid of attempting to nourish some other soul; it is not what we have, but what Christ makes of it, that is to do good.

IV. CONSIDER THE ABUNDANCE AND THE ECONOMY OF CHRIST'S PROVIDING. Many might have despised to gather up the broken bread and bits of fish; have thought they must be hungry indeed who would use such food. Yes, and it is only the hungry soul God promises to satisfy. His food is plain, but it is nutritious, and they who must have fresh food or will take none will be disappointed.

V. THE CHARACTER IN WHICH CHRIST HERE APPEARS IS ONE WHICH WE MAY REMEMBER ALWAYS. Now, as then, he is considerate of our wants, mindful of our infirmities, quick to calculate our worldly prospects, and provide for us; simple, practical, earnest in his love. In his presence none need lack any good thing. "Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness." - D.

In this narrative there is no word of Christ recorded; yet the scene is full of animation. It is the animation of power. We have in it -


1. He sat upon the mountain. (17 Possibly Tabor. "The mountain," meaning some particular mountain which he was accustomed to frequent; for whenever it is spoken of at a time when Jesus is in Galilee, it is always distinguished by the article (cf. Matthew 4:18; Matthew 5:1; Matthew 13:54; Matthew 14:23; Matthew 28:16). "I suppose it was Mount Tabor" (Wakefield).

(2) Mountains were symbols of powers. So they are put for kingdoms. Thus the powerful kingdom of Babylon is described as a "destroying mountain" to be devoted to destruction (see Jeremiah 51:25). Places of power and authority within a kingdom are also compared to mountains (see Amos 4:1). Powerful obstacles to the progress of the gospel are described as mountains which have to be removed (see Isaiah 40:4; Isaiah 41:5; Isaiah 49:11). The exaltation of the kingdom of Christ above the kingdoms of the world is called the establishing of the mountain of the Lord's house in the top of the mountains and its exaltation above the hills (see Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:17. And the kingdom of Christ is described as a little stone destined to swell into a great mountain which shall fill the whole earth (see Daniel 2:35).

(3) The attitude of Jesus, seated upon this mountain, silently asserted his enthronement above all power, material and spiritual, secular and sacred.

2. Great multitudes came to him.

(1) See them streaming out from the surrounding towns and villages. Yet are these but portents of the millions through the ages to be influenced by his attractive power (see John 12:32). Surely this is that Shiloh to whom shall be the gathering of the people (Genesis 49:10).

(2) Some came to him. These were the more healthy. It is a sign of spiritual health when a man can come to Jesus in faith. Conspicuous amongst those who came would be those upon whom, on former occasions, Jesus had shown miracles of healing.

(3) Others were brought. These were the diseased who could not come without help. It is the purest benevolence to bring to Jesus, the Healer, in faith those who are morally diseased. Perhaps many who now bring the sick were formerly themselves brought as sick. So the attractive power of Christ is ever multiplying.


1. Physical maladies owned this power,

(1) The sick of all sorts were brought to him. Note: Sin has turned this world into a hospital.

(2) The spectacle moved his compassion as the accumulation of living misery was "cast down at his feet." The oratory of misery is eloquent in the ear of mercy.

(3) "And he healed them." Here was no case so malignant as to baffle the resources of this great Physician. As from the Mount of Beatitudes Jesus delivered in his memorable sermon lessons of wisdom, so now from this, probably the same mountain, he dispenses the blessings of his power.

2. The physical are typical of the spiritual.

(1) The lame. Lameness here is perhaps limited to the legs, and is thus distinguished from the maiming mentioned afterwards. Those are morally lame whose walk or conduct is irregular or inconsistent, or who cannot move in the ways of righteousness.

(2) The dumb. These are also generally deaf. And there are those who are deaf to the voice of God calling them to duty; and who have not the moral courage to confess the truth, or the moral disposition to praise God.

(3) The blind. Those the vision of whose understanding is blinded by prejudice. Those whose judgment is at fault through ignorance, error, or malignity. Moral blindness is voluntary, and therefore the more difficult of cure (see John 9:41).

(4) The maimed. These would include those who had lost a member; those who had lost the use of member, as by palsy; and those whose limbs were disabled by distortion through disease or accident (cf. Matthew 18:8; Mark 9:43). The morally maimed are those whose faculties are impaired or obliterated by sin.

(5) "Many others." As devils are legion, so are their possessions. The varieties of evil are legion as well as the number of their victims.

3. The miraculous is typical of the spiritual healing.

(1) See now the lame leaping for joy and walking steadily in the ways of God's commandments.

(2) Listen now to the dumb witnessing for Christ and singing the praises of the Saviour.

(3) Behold how the faculties and powers of the maimed have been restored. Is there not a new creation here?

(4) Witness how the blind eyes are opened to see the wonders of God's Law.

(5) All distortions of the soul are cured by the power of Jesus.


1. The people glorified Christ as God.

(1) His healing power was undoubtedly the power of God. For here is the reproduction of a hand or foot at a word or touch. Is not this creative energy? What power short of omnipotence can create?

(2) But Jesus wrought his miracles immediately from himself. In this case he could not have wrought by delegated power. Omnipotence cannot be delegated, for there cannot be two Omnipotents.

(3) How otherwise, then, could the people who "wondered" at the miracles glorify God without discerning Christ to be the Power of God?

2. They glorified him as "the God of Israel.

(1) They identified him as the very God of Jacob, who in human form wrestled with that patriarch and changed his name to Israel (cf. Genesis 32:24-30).

(2) They identified him as the God of the covenant people. The same Miracle-Worker who brought Israel out of Egypt. The same who gave them the Law from Sinai. The same who established them in the land of promise. The same who in the Shechinah enthroned himself in the temple as in the palace of his kingdom. The same who will restore again to Israel the kingdom. - J.A.M.

They glorified the God of Israel. Two points may be unfolded and illustrated. This effect was good so far as it went. This effect fell far short of what Jesus desired.

1. THIS EFFECT WAS GOOD SO FAR AS IT WENT. In a general way they praised God, who had given such power unto men. And it is always good to recognize the hand of God in our guidances, deliverances, and restorations, he is the Healer and Restorer; and we should always turn to thank the Source of blessing before we thank the agent whom God has been pleased to use. But to class Jesus among God's prophets, to make of him only an Elisha, was to keep in the region of commonplace, when God would have them step up into the higher region of revelation. It was an effect, to "glorify the God of Israel," but it was not the effect. It was a good beginning, but a bad resting place. It did not reach to apprehend the special meaning of Christ's miracles. Show that men still treat Christ in the same way. They thank God for the example of his life, for the teaching of his inspiring truths, and for the gracious deeds recorded of him; and there they stop. That is all - "They glorify the God of Israel." That does not go far enough.

II. THIS EFFECT SHOULD HAVE PREPARED THE WAY FOR A BETTER. After turning to praise God, these healed people should have resolutely fixed their attention on Christ, and tried to understand the Man who could do such mighty works. And this not as a merely curious inquiry, but with the distinct feeling that such a man must have a message; that his work could not end with opening blind eyes and unstopping deaf ears. Such things were signs of authority and power to do greater things. Israel knew well, from its history, that miracles illustrate messages and authenticate messengers; so they ought to have said of Christ, "Who is he?" "What has he to say?" It would be a deeply interesting subject of inquiry - What would have been the moral effects of our Lord's mission if his miracles had been entirely concerned with the healing of bodily infirmities, sicknesses, and disabilities? We may well fear that the people would have used the kind Doctor's gifts freely enough, and just satisfied themselves with "glorifying the God of Israel." - R.T.

Having let fall that crumb under the table, in the parts of Tyre and Sidon, Jesus returns to make a full feast for the children. When he had here performed miracles of healing, he proceeds to the performance of a miracle of feeding. The removal of evil is a prelude to the communication of good.


1. Quick to discern a need.

(1) "I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat." Three hours, under ordinary conditions, would be a long service; especially so should the dinner hour be invaded. But here is a service of three days, in which dinner is the last thought with the congregation. The Minister, however, able, and withal considerate.

(2) "They have nothing to eat." This world is a desert, where nothing can be found to satisfy the soul of man, but the salvation which Christ has purchased.

(3) Christ suffered the multitude to hunger, as Israel of old, to teach them great lessons (see Deuteronomy 8:3). That is sweet to the hungry soul which the full soul loathes. Fasting precedes feasting. Hungering and thirsting after righteousness is the prelude to being satisfied with the bounties of God's table.

2. Quick to provide against calamity.

(1) "They may faint in the way." Note: It is fitting and religious to give due attention to the wants of the body. "Our prayers should be for a sound mind in a sound body" (Juvenal).

(2) The wants of the body restrain the desires of the spirit. "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." Jesus still, from the loftier elevation of the mount of glory, compassionately sees.

(3) The compassion of Jesus provides for the everlasting future. Through his merciful provisions we may avoid the hungering and thirsting of perdition. The spiritual body of the better resurrection will have no wants to impair the desires of the spirit. "They hunger no more, neither thirst any more" (see Revelation 7:16-18). So can they "serve God day and night in his temple."


1. Its potency had been evinced. Within the year or two of his public ministry how many miracles had Jesus wrought! Yet how few that were not miracles of mercy!

2. Some of these were recent. Within these "three days" how numerous were the "lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others," the healing of whom "astonished" this multitude (see vers. 30, 31)]

3. The potency of the compassion of Jesus was now to receive additional illustration. Here are eight thousand hungry people. Four thousand men, "besides women and children," who were probably as many more. For the nourishment of these there are "seven loaves, and a few small fishes." But "they did all eat, and were filled;" and moreover of the fragments left there were seven hampers. The spyris was larger than the cophinus of the miracle. It seems to have been a load for a porter (see Acts 9:25). A hamper of fragments forevery loaf.


1. The circumstances of the miracle are instructive.

(1) "He gave thanks." In the former miracle with the five loaves "he blessed." It comes to the same. Giving thanks to God is a proper way to ask the blessing of God. Thanks given before taking food (see Acts 27:35) acknowledges his past bounty, craves his blessing upon the present, anticipates the future. All good comes from God. His blessing makes little go far.

(2) He used all the provision he had. God works miracles only, and in so far as there is necessity. So are we to use the means Providence sets before us. When these fail, then trust God. What his ordinary providence denies his miraculous power will supply. All spiritual blessings are immediately from God, so miraculous.

(3) The multitude sat down in faith. They saw but little. Yet took advice and prepared themselves for a banquet. So they were all "filled." Those whom Jesus feeds he fills (see Psalm 65:4; Isaiah 55:2). Not only was Jesus from Bethlehem; he is Bethlehem himself, the House of bread.

(4) He then "sent the multitude away." Though he had twice fed them, they must not expect miracles to give them daily food. Meanwhile he himself entered the boat and came to Magdala. He generally withdrew after working a miracle, lest the people should attempt to raise a sedition and make him a King (cf. Matthew 14:22; John 6:15). How different from the conduct of a pseudo-Messiah!

2. There are lessons in the service of the disciples.

(1) To them he first expressed his tender sympathy for the people. This was a mark of his friendship. The disciples of Christ know most of his goodness. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him" (cf. Genesis 18:17-19; Psalm 25:14; Amos 3:7; John 7:17; John 15:15).

(2) The communication was also intended to quicken their compassions, to teach them generosity, and to strengthen their faith. Their answer showed that they needed the lesson, "Whence should we have so many loaves." etc.? (ver. 33). "They walked in a world of wonders, spiritual and physical, where they felt strange, until the Holy Ghost came and brought to their minds all that Christ had done" (Olshausen, John 14:26). Forgetting former experience leaves us in present doubt. Here is no niggardliness of today in forethought for tomorrow.

(3) The disciples had the custody of the provisions. To them also is committed the custody of the bread of God's Word. They have had to shield it. from the vigilance of the anti-Christian destroyer.

(4) They are the dispensers of the Word of grace for the nourishment of the world. In their hands it multiplies both in the dispensing and in the store. - J.A.M.

They were corrective of the influence that was actually produced by the miracles of healing. The differences in the spheres and the character of our Lord's miracles is not sufficiently observed, he was no mere Eastern Hakim, with a wonderful panacea for all forms of bodily woe. He is too often spoken of as if this were his description. More importance needs to be given to our Lord's walking the water, stilling the storm, raising the dead, and multiplying the food supplies. It is competent for any man to plead that the healing gift is, like the artistic gift, the special endowment of individuals; and Jesus was a Man with an unusual gift of the healing power. No such explanation can be found for the miracles of supply, or for the miracles of control over nature. And we shall come back upon the miracles of healing with new and worthier ideas when we have rightly apprehended the miracles of supply. We have seen, in the previous homily, that Christ's doctoring work rather directed men's attention to the "God of Israel" than to himself, "God manifest in the flesh."

I. THE MIRACLES OF SUPPLY SET THE PERSON OF JESUS IN PROMINENCE. Illustrate by the effect of the wine making at Cana. That miracle "manifested forth his glory." Also by the other feeding of the thousands, which set Christ's Person forth so prominently that the people wanted, then and there, to make him king. Miracles of supply are stranger things, more difficult to explain, and more impressively related to the individual, than miracles of healing. Forth teem miracles of supply men go, saving to their neighbours, "What think ye of Christ? whose Son is he?" Compare the remarkable direction of the thoughts of the disciples to the Person and mystery of Christ, when he came to them walking on the sea.

II. THE MIRACLES OF SUPPLY SET THE SPIRITUAL CHARACTER OF THE WORK OF JESUS IN PROMINENCE. They belong to another and more suggestive region. Removal of disabilities may be a great thing, but renewal of life is greater. Food, to be taken into a man's body, and turned into life, is a revelation of Christ's higher relation to men. He is soul food; taken in by faith and love, he is turned into the soul's life. "He that eateth me shall live by me." - R.T.

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