Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE PICTURE OF CHRIST. We see him assailed by the tempter, wrestling with the fiend, and flinging the monster at every bout. Jesus tempted in the wilderness appears Very different from the Christ seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Here some remarkable features of his nature and work are unveiled.
1. His perfect humanity. Plainly Jesus was a Man. He lacked nothing that is truly and essentially human. Fie had a human soul to be tempted, as well as a human body to suffer hunger. In the temptation he comes down to the level of our poor, toiling, fighting humanity. Thus all the grandeur of his Divinity does not remove one jot from the completeness of his humanity.
2. His brotherly sympathy. "He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15), in order that he might be able to succour the tempted (Hebrews 2:18). This was his apprenticeship to his office of High Priest. He understands our battle with evil, for he fought a similar battle himself.
3. His redeeming work. Christ came to overthrow the works of the devil. He began by facing and conquering the spirit of evil himself. Satan had never been completely vanquished before. The utter rout of his forces in this battle in the wilderness must have left him weakened for all future encounters.
4. His victorious purity. Christ was tempted, yet he did not fall. He came out of the ordeal tested and revealed in his sinless strength. Now it cannot be said that the goodness of Christ is only perfect because he had not an opportunity to do wrong. He was met by the strongest possible inducements to sin. Yet he resisted them. The result was all gain. It was good for Christ to be tempted. Therefore he was led by the Spirit to the wilderness.
II. THE REVELATION OF TEMPTATION.
1. Temptation may come from without. St. James shows how it often springs up in our own hearts from the evil lurking there. Old sins shed seeds which spring up as new sins. But this is not the only way in which temptations arise, or the first man could not have been tempted, nor could Christ. Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent, and Christ was tempted by the devil.
(1) Therefore a good man is not to expect to be free from temptation.
(2) Temptation is no sign of sin. The tempted need not accuse themselves of guilt in their being liable to temptation. Sin only begins when we yield to temptation in our own wills.
2. Temptation lays hold of innocent desires. Christ was tempted by sinful appeals to what was innocent within him. He was tempted to gratify natural desires - hunger, etc., but in a wrong way. He had not our indwelling sins to urge him to evil, but he had greater powers to keep in control. It would seem that, with the descent of the Holy Spirit at his baptism, there had come the consciousness of his great and awful power to work miracles. His temptations were inducements to abuse that power for selfish ends. Every new acquisition is a new ground for temptation; every enlargement and growth of faculty carries with it fresh possibilities of evil - and also, if the evil is resisted, of good. - W.F.A.
I. WHAT THIS BAPTISM OF TEMPTATION REALLY MEANS AND AMOUNTS TO. It means a testing, practical investigation into
(1) the moral direction of a man's will; and
(2) the strength of it in that direction.
The present associations of the word and the thing temptation in the minds of us all are perhaps almost without exception of an unfavourable kind. It arises from the fact that temptation in the original example of it, and in the infinite majority of all cases from that time to the present, issued in disaster. Our way, therefore, is both to dread it for ourselves, and to attach a bad name to it. But if the issue of the original temptation had been the opposite of what it was, and had the amazing majority of all succeeding cases taken pattern of it, we can easily imagine how the mere utterance of the word would have availed to strike a joyous key-note; and the word itself been the watchword of noble endeavour and enthusiastic effort. Till Jesus, however, the word knew no association of this kind. It is, then, in this sense that Jesus and temptation are brought into relation. His moral bent and the strength of it are to be as really and as fairly tested as were those of the first Adam. Nor is it less evident that, while the temptation-test of the first Adam was presented to him in the simplest possible form, and when he was no way "a-hungred," that of the second Adam is described in brief in that threefold form which stands for all the rest as regards its matter, and with every accompanying circumstance of aggravation.
II. AT WHOSE INSTANCE THE DATE OF IT WAS DETERMINED. Though Jesus was always moved by the Holy Spirit, yet it is here with distinct emphasis said, "He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil." In that dimmest background of time to which the garden of Eden belongs, it is at present impossible to institute comparison between the age of Adam and that of Christ on the days of their temptation respectively; but it may be held that there is a ripe time, an exact time, in the life of every man, known to the Spirit and appropriated by the Spirit, for the critical temptation of life. It is true that we cannot say that temptation is, except in a few cases, the final, deciding one, so far as time is concerned; but perhaps oftener than men think it is to solemn truth the crucial one, the one on which hinge many succeeding victories, each made easier, or disgraceful defeats, each less regretted and less striven against. Surely it is legitimate and real source of comfort for all those who seek the right, and would do faithfully the battle with the tempter, to have this view of the time and occasion of the battle put before them on such high authority, that they are adapted and timed of the Spirit. It may also well be observed here that so surely as the Spirit led, so meekly Jesus followed. He followed without resistance, without murmur, and without shrinking, so far as his own conflict or humiliation in meeting such an enemy was concerned. Calm submission before conflict, steadfast determination to encounter the enemy in the path of our life, and unfaltering trust in the Stronger than self, - these are the omens that go before the successful as well as the valiant spiritual warrior.
III. THE PLACE OF THE TEMPTATION. It can scarcely be sustained that the "wilderness" (described here by the same word as in vers. 1 and 3 of the previous chapter) denotes absolutely desert tracts of country. It must probably mean the same as in the former chapter, the thinly inhabited and vaster pastoral stretches of country. There can be no doubt, however, that some point is to be understood as made in this kind of scene or theatre being appointed for Christ's temptation. In the world's actual life the occasion of temptation abounds in the crowd and in the solitary place. It is still a study and a question in which it may abound most. On the other hand, perhaps, it may be held - and in analogy with much else in matter quite different - that though in the crowded city temptation may be yielded to most recklessly, yet conflict, and the fiercer and more prolonged conflict, and remorse, and the fiercer and more prolonged remorse, find solitude to a special degree their thriving ground, and make it all their own as battle-ground. The analysis would be of this kind. In the wilderness:
1. The larger force and number of the spiritual powers of the individual will have the chance of coming into action. The calculating will be more and more manifold with the effect of making the consenting more deliberate.
2. The position will be a clearer one of antagonists just opposed to each other, the one with no help from friends on which to fall back; the other when he would do his worst, with no hindrance arising from a sense of intimidation, as conscious that others are onlookers, and they such as sympathize with his victim, not with himself. The sense of isolation will be a weakness to the assaulted; the sense of unobservedness will be added unscrupulousness to the assaulter.
3. The feelings of the tempted will be naturally and almost inevitably highly stimulated, probably often in a morbid condition. It would need a spirit to which all goodness and all strength were already native to remain uninfluenced by the associations or, otherwise put, the non-associations, of the wilderness. Nevertheless, the victory once won, these shall leave the victor stronger than if all surroundings had been in his favour.
4. Though the trial must be in these aspects severer, yet, everything considered, it will also be the fairer test of the person in his own real self.
IV. THE PERSON OF THE TEMPTER. It is stated with distinctness that Jesus was led up - was led up by the Spirit, was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness, was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness in order to be tempted, i.e. meet the ordeal of temptation, and this at the ministration of "the devil." The naturalness and very harmony of the verse and the narrative are with a ruthless gratuitousness set at nought if we are not at liberty to learn here
(1) the personality of the devil, as a thing upheld by the authority of the New Testament. We learn
(2) that our great Head and Leader, the second Adam, the Captain of our salvation, the Author and Finisher of our faith; was ordained to meet the ordeal of temptation, in what must be considered. the most direct and the most fierce and concentrated form. We may very probably be justly reminded here
(3) that both the genius of temptation at the first, as temptation is constituted in the present Life, originated with Satan, and also that it is still and always really his peculium, in whatever disguised and sugared form of circumstance, apparent accident and the like, it may seem to address us. Temptation now, like painful labour and the sweat of the brow, has in secondary and derived aspects its points of interest, its uses of advantage, and even phases to ask admiration. But primarily, none of these things can be credited to it. We may be reminded
(4) that Satan is probably never far to seek or difficult to be found. Jesus is "led up of the Spirit into the wilderness," but not in consequence of any appointment with Satan to meet him. He is sure to be found. - B.
role of a spiritual King.
I. THE TEMPTATION TO USE HIS MIRACULOUS POWER FOR HIS OWN SUSTENANCE AND COMFORT. Absorbed during all these days in thought and mental conflict, the claims of intense bodily hunger at last make themselves felt. He finds himself faint, far from any dwelling where he could get food; ready to perish, and too giddy, sick, and spent to seek for relief. But he carries in his own Person the power to turn the very stones of the untilled hillside into bread. Why should he not use this power? Because he has taken the nature of man, to live a human life under human conditions, and were he to relieve himself of every threatening danger and evade every difficulty by a quick appeal to his supernatural power, this entrance into human life would be a mockery. His freedom from sin would have been no example to us if the danger and discomfort of resisting sin and living righteously were only in appearance. (Compare the chapter in 'Ecce Homo,' on Christ's credentials: "This temperance in the use of supernatural power is the masterpiece of Christ. It is a moral miracle superinduced upon a physical one... The kind of life he prescribed to his followers he exemplified in the most striking way, by dedicating all his extraordinary powers to beneficent uses only, and deliberately placing himself for all purposes of hostility and self-defence on a level with the weakest.") Every young man looking forward to his career should bring himself to the measure here presented. I have certain gifts, means, capabilities, by which I can secure comfort and position in the world. For whose benefit am I to use what I have? He would be a fool who feared to bid every young man choose as Christ chose. You foresee discomfort, the obscure and dingy ways of poverty; you foresee what you would sum up in one word, "starvation." But choose as Christ chose, and though you may make what men will call a very poor thing of life, or lose it, you will find life eternal. Let no parent be so ill a counsellor as to turn away a son from generous self-sacrifice. Every man has his time of temptation; and once committed to certain courses of choice, is hampered.
II. THE TEMPTATION TO WIN THE PEOPLE BY AN ASTOUNDING FEAT. The vulgar seemed to expect that the Messiah would leap from a pinnacle of the temple. And now that Jesus was proclaimed, how could he more readily win the people's assent to his claims? He had not been in a hurry to proclaim himself, but now something must be done. The leap had no horror for Jesus; had it been warranted, he would not have feared it. It was an easy method compared to the tedious instruction; the slow, disappointing appeal to right feeling; the weary ministry he actually chose. How often must this temptation have returned when he met stupid, prejudiced, contemptuous people! How easy to refute their accusations by stupendous miracle! But to work a miracle merely to show that he had the power, to give a sign to those who merely asked for a sign, Christ constantly refused. His miracles had always another motive and a real occasion. Miracles did convince men of his Messiahship, but only when they saw that the miracles were dictated by loving consideration of the actual necessities of the men about him. And suppose such a leap, or any other such marvel, had been the manifestation of God! How feeble, how incongruous a testimony! Shall we ourselves take the quick road or the slow one? Shall we force God's providence? Are we to make opportunities for ourselves, or to wait till God gives us occasion? Shall we expect God's help when we have not used the ordinary means for escaping from danger or attaining our object (not used the stair to get down from the pinnacle)? We tempt God when we neglect the ordinary means.
III. THE TEMPTATION TO BE AN EARTHLY, NOT A SPIRITUAL KING. No one ever felt so much capacity to govern well, to reform social abuses, to lift a people to the pinnacle of glory. He felt in himself a power he must have longed to exercise for men's temporal welfare. Satan whispered, "You have come to bind men in a universal brotherhood, but it is hopeless to effect this by acting on men individually and spiritually. Men do not care to be delivered from sin; they do not wish to be led back to God, and you will never make the world what you wish it. But make an earthly kingdom for yourself; that is possible; no mere shadowy imagination. The people are now waiting for a leader who will throw off for them the Roman yoke, and lead them to dominion." We know this temptation in its petty appeals to our avarice or love of display, to our hankering after posts of influence, to our desire to be known. We know it also when we wish Christ had provided for his people earthly good as well as spiritual. Nothing but a preference for what is spiritual will secure us against the temptation to wish, either for ourselves or others, what constitutes the glory of this world.
1. Temptation is possible without sin. Until the will consents, sin is not committed. Our Lord was tempted, yet without sin.
2. The depth and reality of our Lord's humiliation. His ability to sympathize is founded on his being of one nature with us, and living a life unsheltered from the temptations which assail us. - D.
Mark 1:13). The text describes only the acme at the close of the forty days. It is given as a specimen of the wiles of Satan, and forms an epitome of all the temptations he has ever contrived. From it we learn -
I. THAT SATAN IS ARMED WITH FORMIDABLE POWERS.
1. Probably he appeared in an assumed shape.
(1) For he appeared to the manhood of Christ. He is introduced as "the tempter," but not named. Jesus did not give him his name until the tempter had fully discovered himself as the god of this world (ver. 10).
(2) This was not the only instance in which Satan assumed a disguise. He tempted Eve under the form of a serpent. After the fall he enshrined himself in men. Demoniacs. Some suppose that Satan appeared to Jesus in the character of a scribe, as he appealed to the Scriptures. He "fashioneth himself into an angel of light" (cf. Zechariah 3:1; 2 Corinthians 11:14).
(3) Beware of the devil in disguises. In men: "One of you hath a devil." In good men: Peter (Matthew 16:23).
2. Probably he literally transported the body of Jesus.
(1) Jesus was in "the wilderness." Certainly not a rural wilderness in the vicinity of Bethabara; for he was in solitude, and "with the wild beasts" (Mark 1:13). The presumption, then, is that it was "the wilderness of the people;" for what other could be distinguished as "the wilderness"? Analogy also suggests the desert of Sinai, for there Moses and Elijah also had "fasted forty days" (cf. Exodus 34:28; 1 Kings 19:8).
(2) Thus, then, the "prince of the powers of the air" would have hurried the body of Jesus, as in an elemental chariot, over an interval of two hundred and fifty British statute miles, in order to "set him on the pinnacle of the temple." Philip was carried by the Spirit of God from the desert of Gaza to Azotus (Acts 8:39; see also 1 Kings 18:12; 2 Kings 2:16; Ezekiel 3:11-15).
(3) From the holy city Satan then carried Jesus away to the summit of "an exceeding high mountain." Could this have been that "high mountain" upon which the Transfiguration afterwards took place? It is noteworthy that, in the Transfiguration, with Jesus appeared in glory Moses and Elias, who, like him, had fasted (Matthew 17:1-3). If Hermon was that mountain, then about a hundred miles would have been traversed. If Nebo, whence Moses viewed the promised land, then about twenty-five, miles.
(4) With such an adversary it is obviously our wisdom never to contend single-handed. We have the promised help of God. With all our armour we should be armed with "all prayer" (Ephesians 6:13-18).
3. He wrought wonderfully upon the imagination of Jesus.
(1) This must have been so, if, as some suppose, Jesus had been simply carried by Satan mentally from the wilderness to the holy city, and from thence to Hermon or some other eminence.
(2) But from the mountain summit he certainly wrought wonderfully' upon the imagination of Jesus when he "showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them." Luke adds, "in a moment of time." Such a view of the tetrarchies of Palestine as could be obtained from Nebo or any other mountain summit scarcely comes up to the description, "all the kingdoms of the world," or "all the kingdoms of the inhabited earth" (see Luke 4:5, Greek). The panoramic effect Wrought by Satan upon the phantasy of Jesus was wonderful.
(3) Herein we are warned never to cherish an evil imagination. If we yield ourselves to the power of such a master of image-working we place ourselves at the mercy of the impersonation of cruelty.
II. THAT SATAN WIELDS HIS ENERGIES WITH SUBTLETY.
1. He selects a wilderness as the theatre of his operations.
(1) A wilderness, in the natural sense, is a wild, uncultivated waste. Such certainly was the desert of Sinai. In the metaphorical sense it is a state of mental solitude, depression, perplexity, or suffering.
(2) In such a state Satan finds us at a disadvantage, and then plies his arts with vigour. When the spirit is bruised he would excite in us rebellious thoughts of God and harsh thoughts of men.
2. He practises adroitly upon our necessities.
(1) Our Lord was "an hungered," and Satan tempted him to supply his need by supernatural means. If he finds us an hungered he may tempt us to supply our need by illicit means. He would have us justify thievery under the plea of necessity.
(2) The temptation is to distrust Providence. That Providence cannot lack resources which fed a nation in the wilderness for forty years. Angels in due time ministered to Jesus - brought him food (cf. 1 Kings 19:4-8).
(3) "Man does not live by bread alone." The animal part of the man lives on bread; the nobler part of the man is nourished by faith in the Word of God. The spirit must not be starved in unbelief to supply the wants of the body. Be that feeds the soul will feed the body also (Matthew 6:33).
3. He turns our weapons against us.
(1) If we say, "It is written," Satan also will say, "It is written." He will take care to put his own interpretation upon the Scripture he quotes. Therefore we must say, "It is written again." To do this we must study the Scriptures. The Scriptures are the best interpreters of themselves. To the comparison of spiritual things Satan has no answer. Ignorance is danger.
(2) If we profess to trust in God, Satan will tempt us to trust in our faith alone. "Cast thyself down: for it is written," etc. He would push our confidence to the extreme of presumption.
4. He "bids up" for the soul of the good.
(1) He will, if possible, subvert us with trifles. Satan has a malignant pleasure in vanquishing and destroying us with trifles.
(2) Where trifles will not serve, he bids higher. To Christ he offered "all the kingdoms of the world." The bribe which Christ refused Antichrist accepts (cf. Revelation 13:2, 4, 8).
(3) Every man has not his price. There have been those who have laid down their lives for the truth. The race of the martyrs is not extinct.
III. THAT GOD SUPERINTENDS THE CONFLICTS OF HIS SAINTS.
1. He strengthens them for the battle.
(1) "This is my beloved Son Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit," etc.
(2) So the Transfiguration, wherein the pores of the body of Jesus were avenues for the streaming glory, was preparatory to that ordeal of agony in Gethsemane, wherein the same pores became the avenues for his blood.
(3) In your conflicts remember your baptisms. "Do not question the validity of your baptism because it was succeeded by a fierce temptation" (Dr. Parker).
2. He permits temptations for gracious ends.
(1) Christ was Divine, therefore invulnerable. Why, then, was he "led up of the Spirit" to be tempted? For our benefit. That he might be our Exemplar.
(2) Temptations are our educators. Who can grow in patience, in long-suffering, in courage, without trial?
3. He retains Satan under his control.
(1) Satan was permitted to convey Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple (Alford supposes this to have been the royal portico of Herod, overlooking at a fearful height the valley of Jehoshaphat). Satan was not permitted to push him over. He was permitted to convey Jesus to the summit of the mountain. He was restrained from dashing his foot against a stone.
(2) The will of God, as a chain, limits and restrains the evil one. This Satan confesses (cf. Luke 4:6). Remarkable illustrations of this principle are furnished in the history of Job (Job 1:12; 2:6).
4. He gives final victory to the faithful.
(1) The "forty days" of our Lord's temptation in the Wilderness correspond to the "forty years" of Israel's pilgrimage. This is evident from the allusion to the manna (cf. vers. 1-4 with Deuteronomy 8:3). Both may be taken as representing the pilgrimage of life.
(2) As the temptation became fierce at the close of the forty days, so may we expect fierce assaults towards the close of our pilgrimage.
(3) But Satan will leave us at death. "Then," viz. at the end of the forty days. "Then," viz. when Jesus resolutely avowed his complete devotion to God - "the devil leaveth him."
(4) The rout. of Satan is the signal for the ministry of angels. With a convoy of angels the victorious Spirit ascends to heaven. - J.A.M.
Ezekiel 8:3; Acts 8:39; Revelation 1:10 suggests a state of ecstasy. As Bushnell expresses it, "The fact is signified that the Spirit, coming here upon him in the full revelation of his call, raises such a ferment in his bosom of great thoughts and strangely contesting emotions, that he is hurried away to the wilderness, and the state of privacy before God, for relief and settlement."
I. THE IMPULSE AS A NATURAL SUGGESTION. If we place ourselves in our Lord's circumstances, we shall realize that we should have felt and acted precisely as our Lord did. Compare his action when the news came of John Baptist's death. At once he said to his disciples, "Come ye into a desert place, and rest awhile." There is no more natural feeling than the desire for seclusion when the heart is oppressed with great and anxious thoughts. Illustrate by the impulsive flight of Elijah into the desert of the Tih, by St. Paul's flight into the desert of Arabia, and by our Lord's seeking seclusion in Gethsemane. That there was a certain intensity in our Lord's impulse after his ordination is sufficiently explained by the unusual character of the descent of the Spirit on him. We need not hesitate to say that he was moved by his own desires.
II. THE IMPULSE AS A DIVINE OVERRULING. God may be in our impulses. He often is. He works through them. They are in the Divine sanctifying. This truth is even explicitly stated: "The Spirit witnesseth with our spirit." This, indeed, is the higher truth apprehended by the devout soul, who can see, and is always glad to see, the Divine in things, God working in what seems, to casual view, merely human work. The difficulty may be suggested, that we may easily be subject to delusions if we follow our impulses. In reply it may be said:
1. There is no danger, if we are open-souled, sincere, as Jesus was.
2. If we are trustfully seeking Divine guidance, as Jesus was.
3. If we are prepared to use the divinely provided tests, which will reveal any mere self-seeking in our impulses. - R.T.
wrong. Olshausen says, "The temptation of Jesus took place in the depths of his inward life," in the sphere of his soul. By way of introduction, the probable scene of the temptation may be described, with a view to bringing out the effects of nature on sensitive, poetical minds. Illustrate the influence of the awful silence, and towering mountain-forms, of Sinai on Elijah. The Apostle John gives the great world-forces of temptation as "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride Of life" (1 John 2:16). Read our Lord's temptation in the light of St. John's terms.
I. THE LUST OF THE FLESH; OR, THE TEMPTATION THAT COMES THROUGH MAN'S APPETITES AND PASSIONS, The force of the first temptation lies in the natural cravings of hunger and thirst; these set men on intense endeavour to satisfy the craving. With the consciousness of possessing miraculous power, our Lord was tempted to use his trust for the relief of his own needs. Illustrate by the hungry man who is tempted to steal. The claims of the flesh may urge us to do what we know is wrong.
II. THE LUST OF THE EYES. Temptation through the intellect. Conscious mental superiority may lead men to deceive their weaker fellows, and deceive themselves, by persuading themselves that such deception is for their good. There is a special temptation for the intelligent.
III. THE PRIDE OF LIFE. Pride in the command and use of worldly forces, state, class-privilege, equipage, soldiers, etc. To Christ the temptation came in this form: "You are superior; you know you are superior; assert your superiority, and men will bow down to you." - R.T.
I. THE TEMPTATION THROUGH HUNGER.
1. The tempter waited for Ms opportunity. For forty days Jesus fasted in the wilderness. All this while the tempter delayed, like a wild beast crouching in the bush and waiting for a favourable moment to pounce on his prey. Would that Christians had Satan's patience in watching for souls!
2. The tempter chose a weak moment. When Christ was exhausted by lack of food. Physical weakness may indicate the moment of approaching temptation; much more probably it will come in times of spiritual weakness.
3. The tempter worked on a strong natural appetite. Hunger. This is a fundamental appetite in all living animals. When it is keenly excited it will turn the gentlest beings into wild beasts. Beware of a hungry man!
4. The tempter suggested an easy satisfaction. The famished man is haunted by tantalizing visions of food. Nothing is more natural than that the stones of the wilderness should suggest the idea of the bread they resembled in form and colour!
II. HOW IT IS MET.
1. By an appeal to Scripture. In dark moments we cannot trust our own thoughts, for temptation is sophistical. Then, like Christ, we may find the advantage of a familiar knowledge of the Bible. If he needed this extraneous aid - he the Sinless! much more do we whose thoughts are dark and foolish.
2. By imparting a new current of thought. Here was the use of the recollection of Scripture. So long as his mind rested on his physical condition he could not but fed the terrible force of the temptation. By a great effort of will he turned the current of his thinking into another channel. Knowing the Bible from early days, he found a helpful scriptural idea flashing through his mind.
3. By consideration of the dignity of man. The suggestion of the tempter is degrading. Christ rises above it by considering the true greatness of man. This is not a method which he only can follow, because it is not the dignity of the Son of God, but the dignity of man, that he thinks of. Every man may avail himself of the same bracing thought. There is a higher life than that of the body. Man is more than a feeding animal. In his true self he is not wholly dependent on bread.
4. By a reflection on man's chief food. Man needs more than bread, and man can feed his soul on the better food even while his body is fasting. Probably the very purpose of Christ's fast was that he might give himself wholly to feeding his higher life on the Word, the truth of God. - W.F.A.
Deuteronomy 8. - part of the language spoken by the lips of Moses, but dictated by the Spirit of God for the admonishment of his people. The words occur in that impressive review which Moses took of the career of the people whom he had led like a flock through the wilderness, when now the time was approaching for those wanderings to cease, and for the entrance into a land flowing with milk and honey. In the review Moses makes particular reference to the apprehensions the people had suffered under of starvation amid their hunger in the wilderness; and he distinctly says God had permitted them to suffer hunger for the purpose of "humbling them, and proving them, and of knowing what was in their heart." A lesson, however, was to be learnt, not merely from their hunger, but also from the way in which it was to be removed. When they should have first felt right well what hunger was, they were to be fed with a food which they knew not, nor their fathers before them. That unknown food was to teach them that human life does not depend exclusively on the known and seen, the touched and tasted and handled, but on the Word, the sovereign Word, of God; or, as it is more fully expressed elsewhere, "on every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." This new food was in a double sense unknown, and the object of wonder to them; for they knew neither how nor whence it came, nor what it was when it had come. Perhaps it may seem rather remarkable that Jesus should put away and promptly reject the temptation by a mere quotation, and one found in such a comparatively humble connection. But we must remember, on the other hand, that it was little enough of a quotation, really speaking; it was little else than his own original language - Moses rather the person who quotes. Meantime Jesus honours the Bible, reminding us how it is a storehouse of truths and principles, the application and practice of which it is ours to find. The temptation of Jesus is one of the deep things of his life, of Scripture, and even of our world. There is something in it which at present we fail, and are sure to fail, to compass. Be it so. There is also much in it that we can compass; much fraught with spiritual instruction and practical service for us. Else it would not have been here, and in the very foreground of three out of the four Gospel narratives. There is often a little confusion in some people's minds as to the phrase, "a man is tempted;" for it does confessedly sometimes mean that a man feels working guiltily within him the temptation presented to him. But otherwise it strictly means, simply that the matter of temptation has been presented to him, been tried upon him, to its utmost power to influence or fascinate has sought to bewitch him; yet, perhaps, though it charmed never so wisely, charmed all in vain. It is in this latter sense only that Jesus "was tempted." Whatever could smile after the manner of a tempting would smile on him; whatever could frown would frown; whatever could have the remotest chance of making his heart's perfect rectitude tremble but one moment like the needle to the pole, hovering one moment uncertain, tried its most subtle, but utterly in wain. Open as the heart of Jesus was beyond any other to all love, goodness, kindness, pain, it also resented more immediately and more thoroughly the faintest touch and impress of evil than any other nature. This immediate resentment of the challenge of evil was what kept the soul of Jesus so free from a finger-mark's impress or soil; while some, detracting thereby from the meritoriousness of Christ's victory over temptations, have assumed that, because he resisted so immediately, it was the symptom of a stoical absence of feeling! Jesus Christ had just submitted to the baptism of water, and received that of the Holy Ghost. He was now to receive the baptism of temptation, while in no far distance awaited him that of blood and untold agony.
(A) Notice in the attack of this, the first of the three recorded temptations, that -
I. IT PURPORTED TO BASE ITS FORCE AND PLANT ITS ATTACK, IN FAITH OF THE WEAKNESS THAT LURKS IN BODILY APPETITE. Jesus was prepared, presumably, not to resist and conquer, but rather to yield, by reason of being "a-hungered," and, if the expression be allowable, fiercely so. Compare the essence of this temptation with that presented to our first parents, which rested not on hunger, but on the attraction of indulgence and inviting, luscious food; again, with that of Esau; and with that of the Israelites.
II. SATAN APPEARS IN ORDER BY HUNGER TO TEMPT TO EVIL DISTINCTLY. When God tempted the Israelites by hunger, he did not tempt by evil, for hunger is not in itself any evil in the sense of being sinful; nor did he tempt to evil, for he would have been infinitely more pleased that the end of that tempting should have brought honour and confirmed strength to the people. But in the present instance, while it is not Satan who makes Jesus "a-hungered," it is he who comes, in the day of Jesus' fierce hunger, to attempt what worst thing he can get out of that hunger.
III. THE POINT OF THE TEMPTATION LAY IN SUGGESTING AND SOLICITING THE SATISFYING OF A PERFECTLY INNOCENT APPETITE, BUT IN A MANNER AND BY A METHOD UNWORTHY OF JESUS. At the first blush of the thing, the evil feature in the temptation may not seem so patent. But the unerring eye unveils it at once.
1. Christ can do things which he nevertheless won't do. It is a reminder for us all that we have no right always to do the thing for which we may have the resources of abundant might. It is like a man saying, as men often have said, with as infinite wrongness to their own soul as supreme complaisance, that "he has a right to do what he likes with his own money" - a speech most infidel! We have no right to do what we "like," but only what's right!
2. Not only can Jesus do things he won't do, but also he won't do for himself what he will do for others. He can make stones bread; he can make stones cry out; he can make the stones of the temple walls utter forth his praise; he can out of stones raise up children to Abraham. But he will not command stones to become bread for himself; this, doubtless, the reason, that he will let faith, and patience, and bodily endurance, and the highest style of trust, have each its perfect work. Not to do so is to him, clearly and distinctly, sin.
3. When Satan now tempts Jesus through the appetite of the body, natural and innocent as the appetite was, there was something yet more natural to him, viz. to wait - to wait with trust; to wait, with perfect trust and perfect filial love, the great Father's time. He well knew him who fed Elijah by the raven; who fed also ravens and sparrows at all times; and for his feeding would he wait, Had Jesus on this occasion fallen back on his power for the behoof of himself, he might as well have done so again, and then again and again. No longer would he have been suffering Man for and amongst us suffering men! No longer patient Man amongst us impatient; pattern Man amongst us who so needed such a Pattern! No longer would he have been One learning sympathy by fellow-experience and the sharing of our lot and our weakness! No; all the contrary; not a day but would have distanced him further from us, and increased most decisively our sense of isolation from his majestic self. We should have felt overpoweringly how absolute our inability to be "like him." Painfully a-hungered, then, as Jesus was, the temptation was powerless, rebounding as the arrow from the rock; his strong fortitude builded partly at least on this foundation, "Man liveth not by bread alone, but by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God."
(B) Notice in the answer of Christ to this, the first of the three temptations - .
II. THE SOURCE OR SECRET OF THIS DECISIVE PROMPTNESS. It was one simple and very imitable thing. It was the living, speaking Word of God that was in Christ. He knew that Word by memory, and in all the faith and love of his heart. And he knew it, not as a dead letter, but as a working, useful, trusty force.
III. THE METHOD OF THE ANSWER.
1. By the barest statement, and that in quotation, of the fallacy that the question of bread was a supreme question in man's life, he scouts that fallacy at once off the ground. It becomes ludicrously dwarfed to its just proportions, and it takes not a moment to do it. "Man lives not by bread alone."
2. By one suggestion of the right direction in which to look, he lays bare the very basis of the truth in that matter. Not only so, a whole vista of truth and thought seems to stand revealed. The creative, paternal Word seems to be heard proclaiming itself in its manifold, myriad tones of thoughtful, providing, loving care. And the omens of its future utterances seem to be caught. Whatever we may think of our lives, and however little; however we may estimate, misestimate, use, misuse, or fail to use them; we live subject to "every word of God." The breathing of God is on our life. How will that Word some day reverberate in all our inner ear, and in all its new-born power to hear, which now finds in but our outer ear echoes often so hollow! Let us now open our most listening ear to it. Its burden is hope, promise, mercy, and eternal life. - B.
I. HUMAN TEMPTATION THROUGH BODILY CRAVINGS. It is the first form that human temptation took. Eve saw that the fruit of the tree was pleasant, and good for food. It is the universal form of temptation, but it is the lowest; it belongs to man as an animal. Beneath the temptation of bodily appetite, the glutton, the drunkard, and the sensualist have fallen in all the ages. The first sphere of conflict for the spiritual being man is that animal nature in which he is set in order to sustain earthly relations. That bodily organization ought to be his servant; it is ever striving to be his master, and seeks to secure its end by subtleties of craving and allurement. Easily men have been led to think that the body itself is evil. But the wrong lies in the unbalanced will, which fails to restrain and control bodily appetite.
II. THE LAW OF TRIUMPH OVER TEMPTATION COMING THROUGH BODILY CRAVINGS. The soul is of more value than the body. A man is not a body; all that is true is that he has a body. A man's life is not the material thing, eating and drinking; that only sustains the animal nature. A man's real life consists in obedience to the will of God, as he may come to know it; and if that means starving the body, the body must be starved. - R.T.
I. MAN AS A SPIRITUAL BEING. The older division of the human being was into "body" and "soul;" it is now more precisely divided into "body," "animal life," and "spirit;" sarx, psyche, pneuma. Body and life we have in common with the animals; and we share with them all the common experiences and needs. But man is a spirit, an immortal spirit, dwelling in and using the animated body. We are spirits, and have bodies. It is true that we are variously affected by our bodily relations; but even as the eternal Spirit dwells in, and controls, the material sphere, so man, the spirit, dwells in, and controls, the limited sphere of his body. Then the claims of the spirit which man is must always stand before the claims of the body, of which he has only a temporary occupancy.
II. THE FOOD FOR MAN AS A SPIRITUAL BEING. Complication arises in considering this matter, because the food for the spirit has to come mainly through the bodily faculties and receptivities. But there is a clear distinction between the food which simply supplies bodily hunger, the indulgence that satisfies bodily appetite, and the food which nourishes emotion and affection, and cultures the conscience and the will. Take the sensual man and the spiritual man, and show how differently they stand related to daily food for body and mind. The food of a spiritual being is spiritual. It goes into the term "obedience," which includes submissions, humilities, affections, communings, service, praise, devotion, etc. Let a man first feed his soul, and the fed soul will put into safe and wise regulation all feedings of the bodily appetite. - R.T.
I. PRESUMPTION. Note the perseverance of the tempter: foiled in one attack, he immediately makes another. Observe his versatility: seeing that one line of assault is ineffectual, he shifts his basis. Consider the special characteristics of the second temptation.
1. Favourable circumstances. The devil sets Christ on the pinnacle of the temple. That this was probably done in vision, or even only in imagination, does not affect the essential nature of the temptation. Mentally such was the condition of Christ, and the force of any temptation is largely dependent on the state of mind of its victim.
2. A primary doubt. "If thou art the Son of God." This thought, repeated from the first temptation, shows how doubt may be used as a door to sin.
3. A Scripture quotation. Christ had quoted Scripture; the devil can do the same - but with a difference. Christ perceived the true meaning of the words he cited, and used them aright; the tempter made an unworthy use of Scripture, and he did it by simply insisting on its literal meaning. A false light on truth may turn it into a lie.
4. A dreadful fascination. Many have felt the impulse to throw themselves down from a cliff or a high building. With Christ this was immensely aggravated by the thought that surely God would not let his Son suffer any harm.
5. A masterly rebuff. Again Jesus quotes from the Old Testament. Scripture must be interpreted by Scripture. One truth cannot be inconsistent with another truth. A Divine promise can never justify what God has forbidden.
6. A vital lesson. There is a limit to the security of faith. It is useless to trust God when we are off the path of duty. We have no right to expect God's protection in dangers which we manufacture for ourselves, he who courts temptation invites his own ruin.
II. AMBITION. Yet once again the indomitable enemy of souls rallies his shattered forces and hurls them on the Saviour in a last mad assault.
1. An open attack. Disguise is now useless; so Satan scorns any longer to use it. There is a certain fascination in ugliness. If serpents do not glide up to their victims unseen, they approach them most openly, paralyzing them with horror; sin itself has a hideous attractiveness in its naked blackness.
2. A powerful appeal. Christ is to have the world for his possession. He comes to be the King; here is his kingdom, and an easy way of reaching it.
3. A diabolical condition. To worship Satan. This is just to make evil principles the rule of life. Such principles lie very near to the hand of the public man. Macchiavellian politicians cannot see how they are to be avoided. Pander to the passions of men, and you will win their applause - that is gaining kingdoms by the worship of the devil.
4. A bold rejection. We need not behave to the tempter with courtesy. It is dangerous to treat with him. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." It needs an effort to do this. With Christ it meant the rejection of all worldly success and the deliberate choice of the way of the cross. Yet this choice is rewarded by angel-ministry. - W.F.A.
hunger. According to this very supposable theory, we must expect to find the second temptation addressed to the nature of Jesus one that moves in a higher sphere, and not less generic in its type. It evidently is so. It speaks not to the need of a body, but to the ambition of life, and of a higher sort of life - that, in one word, of power. Inadequate as this word is as an exhaustive description, yet perhaps it contains the essence of the matter in hand. Thought, active thought, and the very sense of energy, beg some exhibition of themselves. And as their first wonder of exercise is over matter, so they postulate some typical instance hereof. No greater discipline, no severer chastisement, occurs in this world to life than its confinedness within the conditions of matter in general, and of the body in particular. And what may be called the mind's ambition is never more proudly gratified than in some leading instance of victory, or apparen victory, over the usual conditions of matter or of the human body itself. Notice, then -
I. THE INCIDENCE OF THIS TEMPTATION It may be set forth generally as above. More particularly,
(1) its subtleness;
(2) its special fascination for some temperaments;
(3) its plausibleness, as able to clothe itself with a shadow of greatness, and to redeem itself from the associations of low kinds of desire;
(4) its rapid and imperious habit of growth, may be enlarged upon. The wonderful lessons and examples the life and conduct of Jesus afford as to the safeguards that real power and necessary wielding of it require, may be pointed out. Hence his own
(1) extremely conspicuous economy of miracle;
(2) his meekness most genuine;
(3) his perpetual resignation of, abnegation of, and even refusal in so many words of the offer of, the forms of power (that tinsel which is in many instances large part of the whole question), that come not merely as the fruit of influence over fellow-men, but of mastery over unconscious matter. Of the vanity of miracle, accordingly, and even of the vanity of might, there was not a trace in Jesus. Satan then aimed this temptation within spiritual domain; within spiritual domain with which it is incontestable Jesus had of necessity great familiarity; and in one of the most seducing forms of it - for it was proposed that Jesus should instance himself as at one and the same time subject and object of an unwonted energy; and finally as one authorized to pose as the charmed of angels and the favourite of Heaven. On the other hand, as the combatants in this temptation were only the two, without spectators, we do not think any part of the temptation consisted in the suggestion of a short and royal road to fame, and to the conviction of priests or people in the matter of the Messiahship of Jesus.
II. THE AGGRAVATION OF THE ATTACK AS DELIVERED IN QUOTATION OF SACRED, SCRIPTURE PROMISE, AND PROMISE MOST DIFFERENTLY DESIGNED. Dwell on the odiousness of the presumption that wrests sacredest promises to the humble into the suggestion, the justification, the very plea for daring danger on the part of the proud and self-opinionate. Point this same thought by speaking of the deeper meaning of the promise. The angels' charge is to be understood, not merely as sovereign against great and surprising dangers and violent accident, but against the mere hurt of a mere foot against a mere stone. Possibly note should be made also of the supposition that Satan borrowed the idea of couching his language of temptation in Scripture quotation from Christ's own use of quotation in repelling the first temptation.
III. THE REPLY OF JESUS TO THE TEMPTATION.
1. It is a genuine instance of retort.
2. It is pre-eminently short, conclusive, and unchallengeably absolute.
3. It puts for the first time, into words of the most forcible deliverance, the enormity of the act and the sin involved in an illegitimate, whether a careless or a reckless, challenging of the promises of God. These may be challenged, often enough are challenged, by deed rather than word; in the way they are thought of or calculated upon, far more than in the language used with respect to them. And to do these things is to offer "to tempt God." God is not the proper Object of temptation at any time, under any circumstances. Man is the right object of God's temptations, which are right temptations and useful, and adapted by infinite capability of knowledge and wisdom; but the converse never. - B.
I. MEN'S AMBITIONS. Every man ought to have his ambition. He ought to mean something in life; he should set an aim before him. No man ever accomplishes anything unless he has ambition. Because the word has been misused is no reason why we should refuse to recognize its possible good use. Ambition may be an inspiring, ennobling force. Using the term in relation to Christ, we may recognize his ambition to save and bless the people of his day, and in the end all humanity. He would be the Messiah they needed.
II. MEN'S AMBITIONS PROVING TEMPTATIONS. This they do:
1. When they are simply self-seeking. Low-charactered ambitions are sure to lead men astray. Wealth, pleasure, fame, are sure to affect men's spirit and conduct; they always deteriorate men when they are made the life-aim.
2. When they set men on unworthy schemes. This was the kind of suggestion made by the tempter to our Lord. "Float down from the corner of the temple; men will think you have come down out of heaven, and accept your Messiahship at once." Ambitions provide perilous temptations when they suggest "schemes" and "dodges" and "deceptions."
III. MEN'S TEMPTATIONS THROUGH AMBITIONS MASTERED BY RELIGIOUS PRINCIPLE. This is the force of Christ's answer. A good man will only gain his ambitions on honest lines. A right-minded man feels that any attempt to deceive man is really that wicked thing, an attempt to get an advantage of God. - R.T.
I. ANGEL-CHARGE. There will always be two ways of dealing with the references to angels which are found in the Word of God.
1. The one way will be taken by the practical-minded, who can be content with the surface of things, and to whom facts are just facts. These will always people the unseen world with personal beings, who are conceived as constantly engaged in Divine ministries, and who have sometimes actually come into the field of human vision. "Are they not ministering spirits," etc.?
2. The other way will be taken by the mystical-minded, who cannot imprison their minds in forms, who are always seeking essences, spiritual realities, the things which gain varying embodiments for the apprehension of the human senses. To these, angels will seem to be personifications of the many Divine forces and influences that affect men's lives. God caring for us, God working for us, is for them the fact; angel-charge is for them the appearance. All join in recognizing that angel-charge is God with us as our Helper.
II. THE LIMITS UNDER WHICH ANGEL-CHARGE IS SET. "I being in the way, the Lord led me." It is always assumed that we are trying to go right and to do right. God helps those who mean to be obedient. The self-willed, those who, like Ephraim, are "joined to their idols," God lets alone. The angels are removed if a man persistently resolves to "follow the devices and desires of his own heart." "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land." There is, however, the gracious truth of the Divine overruling, even of man's infirmity and wilfulness, of which, in this connection, clue account needs to be taken. - R.T.
first temptation was aimed at Jesus in the matter of the appetite of the body. The second in that of the audacious ambition of a daring mind, whose pride of self and of thought would court every presumption whatsoever. The third is an immediate assault on the properly spiritual nature of man, which involves first of all conception of duty, of religion, and of its grandest presentation in commandment the first, for ever and ever the first! It "goes without saying" that no description more brief, comprehensive, true, addresses itself to the fixing of what it is that is amiss with man than this - that he forgets that he is estranged from his being's first glory, the worship of its Creator, Father, sovereign Owner, God. And when this is well remembered, that one type of temptation should be recorded in this direction is what we should entirely expect. It may be held probable that the eighth verse goes a long way to give a satisfactory clue as to how far the details of the scenery of these temptations are to be read literally. It is plain that here they cannot be read so absolutely. None the less, in our opinion, is the groundwork in this case itself most real; in other words, we believe the scene was the summit of a high mountain, although even the narrowest exegesis of the expression "all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them," may be too wide for literal construing. Notice in the description of this temptation that -
I. IT BEGS THE VANTAGE-GROUND, THE ENHANCING CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE IMPRESSION, LENT BY ACTUAL SIGHT. That this kind of consideration may legitimately be set to the credit of Christ's combined nature is sufficiently shown by the numerous occasions in which we find such things as these - that his "tears," his "deep anger," his immeasurable "grief," reached their climax respectively when his eye actually "beheld" (the city), "saw (her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her), looked round about" (upon them, being grieved, etc.). For those even who believe that the temptations of Jesus were conducted only in vision, the words "actual sight" may still have their meaning.
II. IT WENT DIRECT TO THE SUBSTANCE OF THE WORK WHICH BROUGHT CHRIST TO EARTH, THE SECURING OF THE KINGDOMS OF THIS WORLD. To give what facility may be possible to any conception of the feasibility of Satan's fulfilling the offer of his tempting, we might imagine that he meant he would "give all the kingdoms," etc., in the sense of utterly retreating himself from the conflict; and from the endeavour, at present too successful, to win the world for his own. On the other hand, we know by what very different method, of the Passion and blood of Christ, the victory was to be won, and Satan to be dispossessed of his hold.
III. IT ASSERTS (Luke 4:6), WHAT CHRIST AT ALL EVENTS DOES NOT DENY OR CHALLENGE, A CERTAIN ABSOLUTE HOLD ON THE WORLD ON THE PART OF SATAN, AND BY SOME SORT OF RIGHT. It is a thing supremely worthy of note that, in so small a compass as the description of the facts of the temptation, a place should thus be found for the recognition of a phenomenon so inscrutable, and so undeniably embedded in the facts of the world, in the statements of Scripture, and in the very grain of universal theology.
IV. IT PRESENTS ITSELF IN TEMPTATION'S ABSOLUTE, ESSENTIAL, FORM. The essential crucial question in all temptation of moral matter is this - Will a man bow down from himself, from his God, to worship untruth, to do the thing called sin, to honour the thing called evil, to act the thing called a lie, to worship Satan? These things, all mystery apart, arc to" worship." Satan, and not to "worship the Lord God."
V. IT GETS ITSELF ITS ANSWER, POSITIVE AND SWIFT. This twofold answer is revealed.
1. The instinctive resentment of the nature: "Get thee behind me, Satan!"
2. The unqualified confession of the philosophy of that resentment: "It is written," i.e. written in reason, in conscience, in the Word: "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve." - B.
I. WHAT THE LORD JESUS COULD DO. Seeley says, "The mental struggle is still caused by the question how to use the supernatural power. Nothing more natural than that it should occur to Christ that his power was expressly given to him for the purpose of establishing,, in defiance of all resistance, his everlasting kingdom." Clearly see that Christ's miraculous power placed all the world-forces at his command. He might have used them to found his Messianic kingdom. He would have used them if that had been God's will. It was not God's will, so for him to have used them would have been to serve the devil. This temptation comes to all who are born with genius, who are conscious of power in any direction - Is that genius to be self-ordered or divinely ordered?
II. WHAT THE LORD JESUS WOULD DO. Worshipping the Lord God is no mere act of homage; it is the life of obedience to the Divine will; the ordering of conduct by the Divine rule. The powers Christ had could only be used for God's purposes, in God's way. - R.T.
as the representations of Scripture, that -
I. THE THRICE-DENIED SATAN IS DAUNTED, AND LEAVES OFF AWHILE AT LEAST HIS TEMPTING. Contrast this with the thrice-denied Jesus (Luke 22:61), not then daunted, but with an intense love recalling Peter by a look.
II. THE NEED OF CHRIST WAS A REAL NEED. The "ministry" given now to him was probably in answer both to
(1) his bodily exhaustion by hunger, and
(2) his soul's weariness - a weariness not resulting from any supposed severity in the shape of struggle to overcome temptation, but from the" exceeding trouble" of the aspect of sin, of the presumptuous challenge of sin coming so near, and of the inevitable ruffle of perfect purity under the mere glare of the incarnation of impurity and evil.
III. THE MINISTRY OF ANGELS IS A FACT, AND THE KNOWN GRANT OF SUCH MINISTRY AT DIFFERENT TIMES TO MEN IS ALL THAT IS NOW PROFFERED TO CHRIST HIMSELF!
1. This instance of fact, with a hundred others, helps to corroborate our information as to the reality of Christ's humanity.
2. It is a fresh conviction for all of the watchful unforgettingness of supreme sympathy and divinest compassion.
3. It should greatly help to dignify our sense of the value and the adaptedness of the help and the solace vouchsafed to us, of the conflict, anxiety, vexation, and the irritation of a contact with the world, from which we should so often prefer to be saved, if things were left to our choice.
4. It may well be accepted as the expression and earnest of the calm after all storm is over, and the Divine feeding and succour after all work, trial, life's-length duty are laid down for the last time on earth. - B.
I. CHRIST COMES TO PEOPLE SITTING IN DARKNESS. Here is the prophet's image - a land of gloom, its inhabitants seated disconsolately and helplessly, not having enough light to arise and do their work, or any heart to bestir themselves and seek for such a light, till it suddenly.bursts upon their surprised and startled gaze.
1. What is the darkness? Primarily, ignorance. Without Christ we do not know God or ourselves, our duty or our destiny. From this ignorance comes a sense of dull bewilderment, and that sinks down to the deadness of despair. Or if there is external cheerfulness, the benighted soul shrinks into torpor and death. In this state the greater darkness of sin invades the conscience, and sits like a brooding raven hatching baleful birds of the night.
2. Who are the people? The immediate reference is to the inhabitants of Northern Palestine - those unfortunate Israelites who were the first to forsake the God of their fathers, and the first to fall under the rod of the heathen oppressor. Now we see two great classes of dark souls.
(1) The pagan nations. Here there opens before us the vast field of foreign missions - dark in spiritual ignorance, error, and superstition; dark too in sin, for "the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty" (Psalm 74:20).
(2) The heathen of Christendom. Many of these do not know the bare elements of the gospel; many more have no spiritual perception of its power and life; and multitudes live in benighted regions of moral corruption.
3. What are these people doing! They sit - that is all. They seem to be content with their condition. A strange lethargy has taken possession of them. This is partly inevitable; for they cannot illuminate their own dark souls.
II. THE ADVENT OF CHRIST IS THE DAWNING OF A GREAT LIGHT.
1. The light does not arise out of the darkness. The idea of the prophet is that the people of the dark north see the light that is rising in happy Judaea - so splendid and far-reaching is its radiance. Christ appeared as a Jew. Even to the Jews he came not as they expected, and his work drew none of its splendour from their goodness or their theology. The sun is not dependent on the candle-factory for its illuminating properties.
2. The light penetrates to the most remote regions. There is no limit to the penetrating power of light when this is not counteracted by the intervention of some opaque body. Every star radiates light through the whole universe. The light of Christ is for the darkest places of the earth. In our own day it has reached the heart of "darkest Africa;" it is penetrating the dense populations of China; it is spreading like a grey dawn over the vast empire of India; it shines in diamond points on many a remote island of the southern seas; and still, in spite of shameful darkness, it is brighter in England to-day than ever it was.
3. The light calls to repentance and heralds the kingdom of heaven. Christ took up the Baptist's message - beginning just where his forerunner had left off. The light of Christ reveals the sin of man. When we see Christ we see the door into the kingdom of heaven. Christ sheds light to bring men to repentance, and to guide them into the kingdom. - W.F.A.
I. THE OCCASION OF THE CALL. Driven from Nazareth, our Lord repaired to the busy western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Through this district ran the great caravan-roads; and several important towns gathered all kinds of tradesmen. Herod the tetrarch had his court in Tiberias. The valuable fishings in the lake gave employment to many. Courtiers, soldiers, tax-gatherers, watching the caravans and fisheries, fishermen, women reputable and disreputable, filled the shore with movement and life. Crowds were readily attracted by the new Teacher. And our Lord, seeing the fields thus white to harvest, recognized that the time was come for selecting labourers to reap.
II. OBJECT OF THE CALL. "I will make you fishers of men." The fishermen would not at once see what he meant by this. Knowing that he was founding a kingdom, they may have supposed he would make them a kind of recruiting officers to assist him in enlisting others, as he had enlisted them. But his purpose was clear to himself; and what he here did as if casually was carefully deliberated. He meant to form a society coextensive with humanity and lasting as the world. He meant to introduce into every nation a new religion. He meant to convert all men to his own way of looking at things. And he was resolved to accomplish this purpose, not by committing his ideas to a book which could be verified as his to all time, and from which each generation might receive unadulterated his very ideas, but by means of living men, who by word of mouth should tell men about himself and his kingdom, and by their life show what a Christian is. To accomplish this great object they were to cast their net and to angle. They were to study men's ways and habits, to circumvent and gently constrain them, to wile and attract them to their own good, to show the untiring patience, skill, and study of professional fishermen. God is the great Fisher of men, patiently accommodating himself to the suspicious, intractable ways of the sinner, playing him and humouring him, but ever drawing him onwards towards himself. Note our wild rushes back to freedom, our sullen retreat under the cold stone of doubt, our petulant refusal to be led on. Compare, too, the parable of the net.
III. THE PERSONS CALLED. Everywhere the world was preoccupied by religions rooted in centuries of tradition and national memories, by philosophies buttressed by great and cherished names, by venerable institutions and local prejudices. To what kind of men will Jesus commit the exceptionally arduous enterprise of establishing his own kingdom as supreme over all? Nicodemus, the Pharisee of position? The instructed scribe who sought to follow him? The grateful nobleman whose child he had saved from death? He turns for help to quite another class. One of the earliest called was a publican: as if some modern reformer should secure the help of an actor or a tavern-keeper. This choice at once brought on him a storm of indignation. But he had no misgivings. He knew these fishermen were ignorant, and would easily be foiled in argument by a clever scribe. But they had the one essential requisite of thorough attachment to him. He knew them also as disciples of John, sober, God-fearing men, who were waiting for the kingdom.
IV. IMMEDIATE RESULT OF THE CALL. "They immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him." They were to be fitted for their work of preaching Jesus by knowing him thoroughly. For this purpose they must live with him, and see how he works, and learn his mind and method. They must leave that glittering pile of fish they were already calculating the value of; they must leave their accustomed way of winning their daily bread; they must abandon their father, and go where Jesus went. The physical following of Jesus which was required of the apostles is not required of all Christians; but all Christians are required to love Christ above all, and to accept his will as supreme law.
V. ENCOURAGEMENT GIVEN TO THE CALLED. Luke relates that our Lord stimulated the faith of these fishermen by a miraculous draught of fishes (Luke 5:1-11). This helped them to take the step he invited them to take.
1. For it showed them he could provide for them. Does not our refusal to listen to the call of Christ, and unflinchingly follow where he leads, arise chiefly from the fear that by so doing worldly loss of one kind or other (pleasure, advancement, gain, comfort, renown) will be occasioned us? This miracle reminds us that Christ can easily give us more than all self-seeking toil of our own can achieve.
2. But the miracle encouraged them to believe he could make them fishers of men. If in their own calling he could give them successes they could not for themselves achieve, much more would he ensure their success in the calling which was peculiarly his own. He confirmed his promise by a symbol which spoke volumes to them. And when we shrink from duties to which we are plainly called, it is encouraging to remember that our Lord, who calls us to them, can give us success where all professional skill would avail us nothing. - D.
I. THE MELANCHOLY CONDITION OF THE CHRISTLESS.
1. They sit in darkness.
(1) What a miserable picture! The felon in his dismal dungeon. The traveller benighted in a craggy wild.
(2) Such morally is the condition of the "Gentiles." Shrouded with the triple night of ignorance, superstition, vice. "Galilee of the Gentiles." Twenty cities of Galilee were given by Solomon to Hiram (1 Kings 9:11). Though these were twenty years later restored to Solomon, the Phoenicians would still largely mingle with the Jews there (2 Chronicles 8:2). The Cuthaeans with whom Shalmaneser replaced the Israelites taken into captivity stocked Galilee as well as Samaria proper (2 Kings 17:24). Though under the Maccabees the Jews subdued the Cuthaeans, they did not expel them. "The way of the sea" was a high-road from Syria into Egypt, and Strabo had reason to say that this country was inhabited by Egyptians, Arabians, and Phoenicians.
(3) The Jews in general, and those of Galileo in particular, were woefully degenerate at the time of Christ's coming (John 1:5). There is no deeper darkness than that of apostasy.
2. Their darkness is the "shadow of death.
(1) The death of perdition is called outer darkness." Those involved in it are shut out permanently from the holy universe.
(2) The "shadow" of death is the dominion or influence of the infernal world. It is a synonym for the "power of Satan" (Acts 26:18). The expression is used for the grave, and for the obscure abodes of the departed spirits of the wicked. The state of sin is the very gloom of hell upon earth (comp. Psalm 91:1 with Psalms 107:14).
II. THE SUFFICIENCY OF CHRIST AS A SAVIOUR.
1. life is the Messiah of prophecy.
(1) His appearance in Galilee was ignorantly used to discredit this (see John 7:41, 52).
(2) Yet the appearance of Messiah in Galilee was the very thing the prophets required. Matthew cites Isaiah to this effect. Mode refers the first four or five words of the ninth chapter of Isaiah to the last verse of the chapter preceding. In this he is in agreement with the Chaldee Paraphrast and Jerome. He translates the prophet thus: "According as the first time he made vile (or debased) the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali; so in the latter times he shall make it glorious." Then follow the words quoted by Matthew, "The way of the sea by Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles," etc. No prophecy of Christ is clearer than this of Isaiah (Isaiah 9:1-7), and it requires that "Galilee" should be the place of his ministry.
(3) Jesus accordingly was brought up at Nazareth, and afterwards resided principally at Capernaum. In Galilee the principal events of his ministry occurred. His birth, indeed, was at Bethlehem of Judah, and his death at Jerusalem, which also agreed to the requirements of prophecy.
2. The Messiah of prophecy is the Saviour of men.
(1) His presence brings light. "The heathen writers," says Eisner, "represented the arrival of some great public benefactor in a place, as a new light sprung up in the midst of darkness." John was a "burning and shining light," but he burned and shined in the fire and light of Christ. Herod imprisoned John, but he could not imprison John's light. No tyrant can imprison sunbeams. He may shut them out; he cannot shut them in.
(3) He is the Saviour of the whole world. His light is not limited to the Jew, though his mission was first to the Jew (Matthew 15:24). He went to Capernaum "that it might be fulfilled," etc. This is one of those passages which Lord Bacon says, "have a germinant accomplishment." An instalment was fulfilled when Jesus exercised his ministry in Galilee. That ministry there was also a presage of what will yet occur when the "whole earth shall be filled with his glory."
III. THE TERMS OF HIS SALVATION.
1. The first thing is repentance.
(1) The source of true repentance is conviction of sin. This comes to us through the shining of the light of Divine truth. "That which maketh manifest is light." The conscience is rendered sensitive by the quickening beams of Divine truth.
(2) The evidences of a true conviction of sin are
(a) sorrow for sin,
(b) confession of sin,
(c) forsaking of sin.
(3) If we refuse the light it will leave us. Jesus left Nazareth because the people there rejected him. After his temptation Jesus went from Judaea into Galilee (John 1:43; John 2:1). Thence he returned to Judea to celebrate the Passover (John 2:13). Then he baptized in Judaea, while John baptized at AEnon (John 3:22, 23). After the imprisonment of John, Jesus returned to Nazareth. Here the people rejected his testimony and sought to kill him. So he left them (Luke 4:16, 29-31). Beware how you trifle with the Light of life.
(4) Let Capernaum know the day of her visitation. Else, "exalted to heaven" by the presence of Christ, she may be "thrust down to hell" by his absence. Privileges bring responsibilities. The brightest blessings, by misimprovement, are converted into the blackest curses.
2. This repentance is in prospect of the kingdom.
(1) The kingdom of heaven here is the gospel dispensation as opposed to the Mosaic.
(2) It is, moreover, the faithful acceptance of the gospel as opposed to the preparatory repentance (cf. Mark 1:15). Otherwise it is the perfecting of repentance in faith. Faith is here preached, though the term is not used.
(3) Furthermore, the kingdom of heaven here is hearty submission to the rule of Christ;
(a) in the heart (Luke 17:21);
(b) in the life;
(c) at any cost. Jesus took up the preaching of John when John was cast into prison.
It is Christ-like to be baptized for the dead.
(4) Jesus adopted the dispensation of John as "the beginning of his gospel" (see Mark 1:1). There is no true Christian faith without repentance and reformation. - J.A.M.
I. A MAN'S SUCCESSOR CARRIES ON A MAN'S WORK. Work out three Scripture illustrations.
1. Joshua, as Moses' successor, carried on Moses' work. That work was the removal of Israel from Egypt, and its settlement in the promised land.
2. Elisha, as Elijah's successor, carried on Elijah's work. The confession of the lip at Carmel had to be made the confession of the life; and that meant quiet, persistent, family work throughout the land.
3. The Lord Jesus carried on the work of John the Baptist. Penitence is but a beginning, a preparation for righteousness. The Lord Jesus led penitent souls on to the joy of pardon and the power of holiness.
II. A MAN'S SUCCESSOR CARRIES ON THE WORK IN HIS OWN WAY. True succession never destroys individuality. Joshua differed from Moses, Elisha differed from Elijah, the Lord Jesus differed from John. It is often noticed that successors in statesmanship, in offices, and in pulpits, are usually strongly contrasted men. Marked individuality is found to be quite consistent with continuity in aim and service. We best fit to our places, we are found even to fit in best with others, by being our own true selves. If we see clearly the relation of John to Jesus, let us be willing also to see clearly the relation of Jesus to John. - R.T.
Matthew 14:3-5; and lastly, after all the history of Jesus visiting the synagogue of that Nazareth "where he had been brought up," given us in Luke 4:16-31, the proper chronological place of our vers. 13-16 is found. The one chief fact of history revealed by these verses is to the intent that Jesus, for whatsoever reason, takes up his abode in Capernaum; and certainly one chief moral significance is exhibited as attaching to that fact, namely, that so far from being an enlightened place, or a little more enlightened haply than some others, it was in and of itself, as also of the announcement of signal prophecy, the head-quarters and metropolis of darkness. The place wan dark, the district was dark, the people were dark - they even "sat in darkness." This spot was the principal residence of Jesus, this district the principal scene of his ministry, and "mighty works" and "gracious words." Notice in this prophetic announcement, now reduced to fact -
I. A SPLENDID ILLUSTRATION OF ONE LEADING METHOD FOLLOWED BY CHRISTIANITY FOR THE REGENERATION OF MANKIND. The Light comes to the darkness, though it take the darkness a long time to "comprehend" it.
II. A CONVINCING ILLUSTRATION OF THE GENUINELY CONDESCENDING CHARACTER OF THE FOUNDER AND EXEMPLAR OF CHRISTIANITY. The personal Light comes to those thick-covered and sunk in the very degradation of darkness, and endures patiently all the consequence.
III. A CONSUMMATE ILLUSTRATION OF THE THRILLING RESPONSIBILITY THAT GATHERS UPON MEN ON WHOM CHRISTIAN GIFT IS BESTOWED. Light itself is offered them - the light of
(1) correct information about themselves;
(2) correct instruction about their Help and Deliverer;
(3) perfect holiness and goodness;
(4) a perfect Example and Model;
(5) the unseen future and eternal. These are the things that make responsibility. - B.
Matthew 3:1), and while now Jesus himself does the same, the charge to utter it was not committed to "the twelve" (Matthew 10:7), nor to "the seventy" (Luke 10:9). The reason, perhaps, is this, that the work of these disciples was intentionally didactic rather than dogmatic for the present, while all the weight of the solemn responsibility of appealing to men's souls and awakening them would strictly attach to the prophet John the Baptist, and to that "greater Prophet" "like unto him," Jesus. The text informs us, now at all events, that Jesus does not only teach but preach, does not only work mighty works, but demand a hearing for mighty appeals of a direct and personal nature, and practical results from them. Remark -
I. THE UNIQUE NOVELTY ONCE OF THIS SHORT, SHARP SUMMONS FROM THE SPEAKER'S STANDPOINT. The world knew many a "cry " before this - perhaps never before one like this, except in the case of the older prophet-appeals, and those almost exclusively addressed to their own people. Nevertheless, Noah's preaching to the old world, and Jonah's preaching to Nineveh, are fair samples of the real summons to men, on the rights of things, on eternal rights, to "repent." However, the present appeals of John the Baptist and of Jesus began the sound that was to travel the world round, to penetrate the densest Gentile masses, and never cease its reverberatings in human ear. We may remark distinctly
(1) upon the peculiar attitude of the man who thus addresses a fellow-man;
(2) upon the ground and warrant that he must claim for holding this attitude, if he does so rightly;
(3) upon the very serious responsibility that he ought to feel, and the "constraint laid upon him" lest he but usurp what does not belong to him;
(4) upon the unfeigned and deep dependence on unseen force he should feel and acknowledge. For in regard of all of these points it may be said that there is no assumption so great as that which is manifested when one man, facing his fellow-men, speaking into their ear, presumes to penetrate to all that is highest, deepest, most solemn, most enduring, in them and their soul, and commands them to "repent."
II. THE STRANGE SURPRISE OF IT ON THE EAR OF THE HEARER. The command itself is to altered thought, altered love, altered life and works. For:
1. It is the typical, the grandest interference with the individual's love, nature's instinct, habit's easy and determined leaning, and the universal world's pronounced preference, manifested all unequivocally in favour of the doctrine of laissez-faire.
2. It is all this, where it must needs be felt
(1) most penetratingly, - for each individual man is called on to set his own house in order;
(2) most sensitively, - for the house is that wherein his innermost self has its haunt;
(3) most comprehensively, - for outside and inside, what is most seen and most withdrawn from sight, have to be set in order; nay, diligent search and inquisition of self have to be made with pain, smart, sacrifice, self's denying, if the contemplated alteration, reformation, repentance, are really wrought.
3. It is all this, from a personal presence unambitious in its outer appearance, unimposing, untempting, and certainly unwinning.
III. A CERTAIN OSTENSIBLE GROUND UPON WHICH THE SUMMONS IS URGED. The ground may be called ostensible, but only for one reason - that by the vast majority it would be counted more ostensible than real. The eye that should see furthest, the thought that should pierce deepest and comprehend most, would well understand the genuineness, force, tellingness, of the plea, "For the kingdom of heaven is at hand." This announcement purported to describe in brief the more light, the purer light of knowledge now coming to earth; the clearer and the much more catholic revealing of the Father and his love to men, now to dawn on earth; and the more spiritual and inner methods by which justice, holiness, goodness, were to become the familiar study and search and possessions of humanity. The plea, therefore, is of the nature of inducement, The inducement is that which comes
(1) of new opportunity;
(2) of great encouragement in the fresh suggestions of the almighty Father's persevering watchfulness over his children on earth;
(3) of splendid prospect, when the methods that now should be were compared with past methods;
(4) of the suggestion of solemn added responsibilities, if vast increase of privilege were not responded to by increase of effort. - B.
I. THE HONOUR THUS PUT ON JOHN. It is usual to represent John's work as superseded by Christ's. It is not so. His work was carried on by Christ. The "repentance" he demanded was shown by Christ to be the permanent demand which must be made of every man in all the ages. John never dies; his voice is never silenced; he reappears at Pentecost. "Repent and be converted." John is no mere passing voice. He speaks to the world to-day. His message is. seen to be God's message for humanity when it gains repetition from the lips of the Lord Jesus. "Of those born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist."
II. THE HONOUR THUS PUT ON REPENTANCE. It is seen to stand permanently in the very forefront of the Divine requirements. It is the strait gate at the very head of the Christian way. When the way of salvation is represented as easy, as a weak yielding of the Divine love, it is well to remember that door of repentance which blocks the entrance. So many now take up Christian profession on the persuasion of mere passing emotion, without any soul-humblings through repentance. John and the Lord Jesus gave the first place to repentance. No man can ever apprehend what Jesus is, as the Forgiver of sin, who has not learned of John what is repentance of sin. The weakness of so-called gospel-preaching nowadays is the absence, of Johannine demands of repentance, which both the Lord Jesus and his apostles made. - R.T.
I. THE FISHERS.
1. Their relationship. Brothers. Family union is consecrated by Christ.
2. Their class. Christ was a carpenter; the first apostles were fishermen; St. Paul was a weaver. Surely, then, the working classes of all people ought to be interested in Christianity. If social arrangements mean anything in religion, these classes should be the first to claim the gospel as their own. Why are so many of them the last to do so?
3. Their work. The life of the sea was a good discipline. These theologica; students of Christ had no preliminary "arts course." Nature was their university; hard toil and danger made their discipline. They were not educated as scholars; they were schooled as men. It is best to have. both trainings, but we can more easily dispense with the first than with the second.
4. Their immediate occupation. They were at work - casting a net. We are never so fit for Christ to meet us as when we are doing our daily duty.
II. THE CALL. In St. John we see that these men already knew Christ (John 1:40-42); but they had not yet learnt that he would wish them to be his constant companions.
1. The essential character of the call.
(1) From Christ. He is not willing to be alone in his great work. He seeks associates.
(2) To individual men. All are invited to his grace (John 7:37). But separate men are called to separate spheres of work. How, then, shall we recognize our call when it comes, seeing that Christ is no longer with us in the flesh? By the opening of a door, by the consciousness of a gift, by the conviction of conscience.
2. The twofold contents o/the call.
(1) To follow Christ. This comes first. Only they can serve Christ who follow him. We must first be Christians if we would do Christian work. The most Christ-like are the best fishers of men.
(2) To win men. This is better than catching fish in the lake. Thus Christ promotes his disciples. Note the practical aim - so intelligible in Christ's manner of presenting it to fishermen. Much spiritual energy is dissipated by vagueness. We beat the air for want of an object. But true Christian work is practical. It is to fill the gospel net.
III. THE RESPONSE,
1. Its promptness. "Straightway," etc. There is no excuse for delay when Christ calls. The fisherman may say he is not fit to be an apostle; but not he but Christ is the Judge of his fitness. There is no time for delay. The harvest is plenteous, and the labourers are few.
2. Its absoluteness. They left all. Christ does not call all his people to abandon their secular occupations, but when such a call comes, there is no excuse for parrying it. The obedience must be unconditional.
3. Its action. They did not merely assent verbally. They followed Christ. Our Christianity is seen, not in the creeds we profess, but in the way in which we go. - W.F.A.
John 1:38-42, we may regard the present passage as giving the account of the formal and final call of the four disciples named Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Note may also be taken of the circumstance that these four were all fishers. Notice -
I. THE CALL ITSELF IN THESE ORIGINAL EXAMPLES OF IT. And under this general head consider:
1. What it is in the essential meaning of it. The meaning is self's entire, willing, glad surrender to a new dominant love, to a new devoted life, and to these without end.
2. What it is in certain accidents of it.
(1) It is a great novelty as it falls on the ear of the person called. He has been called in a thousand other ways in life, but he hears himself now called to stand and surrender his deepest, realest self to a Person.
(2) It speaks great pretension as it passes the lip of the Person who utters it forth; and that pretension is just, will stand scrutiny and hold all its own.
(3) It is not futile; meets prompt obedience; and can afford to explain that obedience, as all its due, free from tyranny, free from jugglery, free from mere expedience, policy, or self-interest.
(4) It is a distinct proclamation of sovereignty on the part of him who calls, and of responsibility entailed on him who is called.
II. THE LANGUAGE IN WHICH THE CALL IS UTTERED FORTH. Show how utterly unprofessional, untechnical, inartificial; and yet more, how, while already simplest of the simple, even this borrows illustration - illustration from life's familiar scenery.
III. THE OCCASION UTILIZED FOR A CALL SO GREAT, SO EVENTFUL. It is an occasion when the man concerned is found in the most ordinary, perhaps unhonoured and unloved, labours of his work-day life. - B.
I. THE VOCATION.
1. The call was to the Christian ministry.
(1) The persons now called were already disciples of Jesus. They were, in the first instance, disciples of John, and upon John's testimony to Jesus they accepted Jesus as the Christ of promise (see John 1:35-42). John does not mention the name of the second disciple of the Baptist who followed Jesus, which is presumption that it was himself. Nor does he tells us how, doubtless, he brought his brother James, as Andrew brought his brother Simon.
(2) The call here, then, was not to piety, but to work. Some call to holy service has come to you. Have you heeded it? Have you discerned in it the voice of Jesus? Have you neglected it?
(3) Hitherto their discipleship was consistent with secular business. They were with Jesus at Cana. They accompanied him to Jerusalem, and were with him in Judaea. Yet they kept hold of their trade.
(4) Now they are to be separated from the secular.
(a) They have to forsake their property. They left their nets and boats by which they had their living.
(b) They have to sacrifice their worldly prospects. Simon and Andrew, when called, had their nets in the sea; but they did not wait to haul them in. The call of Christ to work for him, like the call of death, breaks the thread in the shuttle before the piece is woven.
2. The call was a promotion from the secular to the spiritual.
(1) The fishermen are to become "fishers of men." Their business henceforth is to be with men - rational, emotional, immortal, God-like men. How much is a man better than a fish?
(2) Their employment henceforth is to be eminently beneficent. Their fishing is not to be the gaining of a living by the death of God's creatures. It is to save the precious life of men by bringing them out of the waters of worldliness. It is to transfer them from an element foreign to their true nature, and brighten them with the congenial prospects of a blissful eternity.
(3) Note: ministers of Christ are out of their calling when they fish for wealth. Though the Lord hath ordained that they that preach the gospel should live of it, the minister who makes merchandise of his office proves himself to be a hireling (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:14-16; Hebrews 13:17).
3. It was a call to holy association.
(1) In the first place, a more intimate and constant association with Jesus. If ministers have not closer communion with Christ than other persons the fault is their own. Their very profession brings them into the closest relations to him, as they lead the devotion of the Churches, and carry the messages of God to men. The message of the true minister is not simply from the written Word, but, in the written Word, from the living God.
(2) It is also a call to ministerial brotherhood. Here we have the disciples called in couples. So when Jesus sent them forth to preach he sent them in company - "two and two" (Luke 10:1). Twelve of them were constituted into a college of apostles.
(3) The religion of Christ is eminently social. Disciples congregate in Churches. Churches congregate into a universal Church. This "Church of the Firstborn" is associated with "an innumerable company of angels" (Hebrews 12:22, 23).
II. THE VOICE.
1. It is a voice of authority.
(1) The words are peremptory and without preamble. Follow me; literally, "Come behind me." It is the same voice that said, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden." The same that said, "Lazarus, come forth!"
(2) The words are inspiriting. "And I will make you fishers of men." Here already the "kingdom of heaven is likened unto a net" (Matthew 13:47). "Fishers of men" (cf. Jeremiah 16:16; Ezekiel 47:8-10). Memorably fulfilled (see Acts 2:41).
(3) Those who follow Christ take a difficult way. The example is high. Yet the way is made easy, viz. by his companionship, guidance, help.
2. The authority of the voice is certified.
(1) The claims of Jesus are the highest. He claims to be Messiah. Immanuel. But here is no presumption.
(2) He has the seal of prophecy. Born at the right juncture, when the Roman power was at its zenith (Daniel 2:44). Born in the right place, Bethlehem of Judah (Micah 5:2). Brought up out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1). A resident of Nazareth (Judges 13:5; 1 Samuel 1:11). The Prophet of Galilee (Isaiah 9:1-7). Had the testimony of Elijah (cf. Malachi 4:5; ch. 11:13, 14).
(3) He had already wrought many miracles. He had turned the water into wine at Cana. He had read the heart-secrets of Simon, of Nathanael, of the woman of Samaria. He had wrought "signs" at the Passover in Jerusalem (John 2:23). He had healed a nobleman's servant at Capernaum.
(4) Have you duly considered the authority of that voice of Jesus which hath called you to his service? Have you duly weighed the responsibility of refusing him that speaketh from heaven (Hebrews 12:25)?
III. THE PERSONS CALLED.
1. They were not men of rank.
(1) Social rank is much esteemed by men. "Have any of the rulers believed on him, or of the Pharisees?" was the confident question of the unbelieving Pharisees (John 7:47-49). Had Jesus followed the wisdom of this world, he would have enlisted the rabbis.
(2) He makes the weak things of the world to confound the mighty. "On the humble shoemaker's bench Carey laid the foundation of the British Baptist Missions. John Newton found in his congregation an unfriended Scotch boy, whose soul was then aglow with new-born love to Christ. He took him to John Thornton, one of those noble merchants whose wealth, whose piety, and whose beneficence increased together. They educated him; and that boy became Claudius Buchanan, whose name India will bless when the names of Clive and Hastings are forgotten. John Bunyan was a gift of poverty to the Church. Zwingle came forth from an Alpine shepherd's cabin; Melancthon, from an armourer's workshop; Luther, from a miner's cottage; the apostles, some of them, from fishermen's huts" (Dr. J. Harris).
2. But they were men of character.
(1) They were religious men.
(a) Disciples of the Baptist. Therefore repentant as to sin, expectant as to salvation.
(b) Disciples of Jesus. Those are welcomed to the joys of faith who have been disciplined to repentance.
(2) They were industrious men. Jesus found them busy at their callings. Christ does not want louts for ministers. Some of them were letting down their nets; others were mending theirs. Ministers are best employed either in preaching or in study.
(3) They were men of decision. Jesus called. "Straightway" - "immediately," they responded. They had something to lose. They did not hesitate to lose it. They lost nothing. They gained everything. - J.A.M.
John 1. we learn that these men were previously called to discipleship. It was well that they should have a time of fellowship with Christ before they were further called to the service of Christ. Observe how the full idea of the Messiahship was gradually unfolded, stage by stage. Our Lord never hurried. He set a noble example of "doing the next thing;" and all the Divine plan for him gradually but surely unfolded. These men were fishers. Our Lord used a figure which was quite familiar to them, and would be very suggestive. These thoughts would surely have come to their minds. As the fish have to be gathered, to be skilfully gathered, and to be persistently gathered, so have men. Christ wants us to fish for men as, during these long years, we have fished in this lake for fish. Here will come in careful descriptions of the boats, nets, and methods of the fishermen of Galilee.
I. MEN HAVE TO BE GATHERED. Morally, and in view of their independence and self-willedness, men are like the fishes that roam free in the water, going this way or that at their own pleasure. But this freedom is moral peril. There are foes for men in their freedom, as there are for the fishes. Gather the fish and deliver them from their foes. Gather the men into the allegiance of Christ, and so deliver them from evil.
II. MEN HAVE TO BE SKILFULLY GATHERED. Few occupations involve more skill than fishing. The fisherman must judge the weather, decide on his net or line, adapt his bait, and know the habits of the creatures. So the Apostle Paul, as the great gospel fisherman, would make himself" all things to all men." Illustrate by the conversions recorded in the New Testament, pointing out how different were the methods used in each case in order to effect the ingathering.
III. MEN HAVE TO BE PERSISTENTLY GATHERED. Because there is a natural resistance which is too often successful, and must be dealt with again and again. Show where the fisher-figure fails. They who fish for men gather them in order that they may be everlastingly saved. - R.T.
I. THE WORK OF CHRIST.
1. It was itinerant. John the Baptist stayed in the wilderness, while the people flocked to him; Jesus went about among the people, seeking them. Thus we see his sociability, his graciousness of spirit, and his desire to include many in the blessings he brought.
2. It was not revolutionary. Christ preached in the synagogues. He was not yet excommunicated, and he used his privilege of access to the public assemblies of the Jews in order to link on his new teaching with the old truth and piety of Israel.
3. It was instructive. "Teaching." Christ based his synagogue instructions in the exposition of Scripture (Luke 4:16-21).
4. It was declaratory. "Preaching." This was heralding the advent of the kingdom, and it seems to have been done in the open air - in streets and market-places and by the seashore. Christ desires all to hear the call of his gospel.
5. It was healing. First came the teaching and preaching; for these were most important. But Christ was both merciful and powerful. He had compassion on sickness, and he had power to cure it. His gospel is for this world as well as for the next, for physical amelioration as well as for spiritual salvation.
II. HIS POPULAR FAME.
1. Its early origin. In Galilee Christ immediately rises into popularity. His very aspect was gracious; his words were beyond comparison with any other teaching; his miracles were as beneficent as wonderful. It is not surprising that he was popular. All who know his grace and goodness have reason to adore and love him.
2. Its wide circulation. It passed beyond the borders of Galilee, and through all Syria. It is even now spreading through the world. Yet it is strange that nearly two thousand years should have passed before the greater part of mankind has even heard of his name. That name is not the private property of the select few. He has come to be the Saviour of the world.
III. THE CONDUCT OF THE PEOPLE. The fame of Christ was not lost on those who heard it. It is useless merely to know of Christ, his work, and his gospel. The knowledge is useful just in proportion as it leads to action. Now, the action of the multitudes who were affected by the renown of Christ was twofold:
1. Bringing the needy to Christ. It is one of the marvellous effects of Christ's work in the hearts of men that he induces them to bring others to him. The compassion of Christ spreads, through those who know him, out to the needy. A true Christian must be an evangelist.
2. Following Christ. Multitudes felt the spell of his presence, and were drawn to him with an enthusiasm of devotion. In too many cases this was but a superficial, temporary movement. It is possible to follow Christ by outward action in Church-life, and not to be his true disciples inwardly. The inward following is just the very heart and essence of Christianity. A Christian is not one who merely believes certain things about Christ, but one who also follows him. - W.F.A.
John 21:25 looks not in vain for its ample justification. We have in the present verses the statement of what may be well regarded as early omens of the future achievements of Christ, of the Spirit of Christ, of the movement and force which he set going. Numerous as these drops, they were still but the first drops of the universal shower, that should finally make the whole earth bring forth her full increase. The bare historic statements of these verses may be viewed as most significant omens of the genius and of the triple functions of Christianity. For -
I. IT TEACHES. It teaches in such senses as these following:
1. It arrests prevailing moral errors. Each several "beatitude" may be regarded as a leading and most conspicuous and literal illustration of this. Long-standing, long-grown, and closely grown moral misconceptions and eidola of human life and society it quietly strips off.
2. It offers positive truth; both of such things as unspoiled reason and pure philosophy and the cautiously studied lessons of human life and experience might of themselves point out, as well as of such things as belong to the sphere of genuine revelation.
3. This positive truth which it offers is of the moral distinctly, and therefore of the really and the for ever abiding. It is of the kind that belongs to the framework, not of the shorter life, our present rudiments of life, our present mental scope and horizon; but while touching, brightening, dignifying, all these growths and tributaries of life, it makes direct for the heart - that home of human life, that hearth of human nature, for which and round which all the rest whatsoever subsists.
II. IT PREACHES UNIQUE GOOD NEWS. The "gospel of the kingdom" is what it proclaims, first, last, and without end. That is, the good tidings of a new, unparalleled, unprecedented kingdom on earth; the kingdom of the kind known in heaven on earth. The sort of rule that characterizes the goodness, enlightenment, love, and willinghood of heaven comes to offer itself, and to make itself at home, on earth. This rule had, perhaps, always been whispered of, had always been whispering itself, in men's better heart and moods; but now it is announced with emphasis, with authority, with Divine manifestation.
III. IT HEALS. Thus:
1. It leaves out no part of human nature, disdains no interest of the present form of human life. The body is a most veritable element in every calculation of human nature. None but the shallowest and most artificial philosophy will leave it out of the reckoning. Scripture does not leave it out. As the work of God, and a masterpiece of organization, its effectiveness, health, comfort, are honoured by Christianity.
2. It compassionately regards all the variety of the sickness, infirmity, and deeper disease of the human body. The miracles of Christ prefigure (and only in miniature, miracles though they were) all the wide ameliorative influence of Christianity down through the ages. The miracles of Christ honour God's work, the marvellously made and curiously wrought body of man, as well as subserved the present comfort of those who lived in his time, and prefigured the impulse that should be given by the Spirit of Christ to the beneficent growth of science.
3. It is its own witness. And this it is still. This it will ever increasingly be. For all that it avails for the body, it will speak its own worth. For all that it does for mind and soul, it wins, and will ever win, its own triumphs. It begs no favour. It begs nothing but what its merit imperially demands. - B.
Jesus is the Worker. He exercised his personal ministry chiefly in "Galilee." This was in pursuance of prophecy (Isaiah 9:1-7).
I. HIS GOSPEL CAME IN WORD. "Teaching... preaching."
1. He taught in synagogues.
(1) We may admire the providence that prepared the synagogue. Synagogues, as some think, originated about the time of the Babylonish captivity. (Psalm 74:8). Others give them a more venerable antiquity, associating and identifying them with the proseuchae or open groves, from the earliest times used as oratories, or places for prayer (cf. Exodus 3:1; Joshua 24:26; 2 Chronicles 1:3; Luke 6:12; Acts 16:13).
(2) Jesus availed himself freely of the liberty to teach afforded in these. They were, "places of concourse," in which it was proper "Wisdom should lift up her voice" (Proverbs 1:21). The people accustomed to assemble in them would be educated to listen. The reading of the Scriptures in them afforded a fine opportunity for introducing the message of the gospel. We should be quick to improve providential facilities.
(3) The disciples of Jesus followed his example in using synagogues. The result was, in many cases, that synagogues became gradually converted into Christian churches (James 2:2). The forms of worship were generally continued, only with the addition of the Supper of the Lord. Merciful are the destructions effected by conversion.
2. He preached in the open air.
(1) In this Jonah was his type (Jonah 3:2 4). Jesus might have issued a proclamation. He "went about" in person through the two hundred cities and towns of Galilee. His interest in our welfare is deep and earnest (cf. ch. 5:1; 10:27; 11:1).
(2) He proclaimed his kingdom.
(a) "The kingdom." That with which no earthly kingdom can compare. Supreme in splendour. Destined to survive all others.
(b) The kingdom of grace. "Gospel" - glad tidings. The original name for our religion. Whoever receives it proves it to be so. "The gospel is the charter of that kingdom, containing the King's coronation oath, by which he graciously obliges himself to pardon, protect, and save his subjects. It contains also their oath of allegiance, by which they oblige themselves to observe his statutes and seek his honour" (Henry).
(c) The passage through the kingdom of grace into the kingdom of glory.
II. HIS GOSPEL CAME WITH POWER.
1. He healed all that he met with.
(1) The skill of the most accomplished physicians is baffled by particular diseases. No malady resisted the power of Christ. He cured the chronic, the acute, the intolerable.
(2) His cures were complete. No miracle of Christ was ever called in question by those who witnessed it. Some were malicious enough to ascribe the miracles he wrought to Satan, but their reality was confessed (cf. Matthew 11:4, 5; John 3:2; John 5:36).
2. He healed all that were brought to him.
(1) Amongst these were the epileptic. The word translated "lunatic" does not describe mental disorder, but a bodily disease on which the moon was supposed to exercise periodical influence (cf. Matthew 17:15). Our Revisers, accordingly, render the term by "epilepsy." Paralysis also owned his power. So likewise spasmodic torments.
(2) These typical maladies may be taken as descriptive of typical moral evils. The miracles evinced the power of the Worker to remove also the corresponding moral maladies.
(3) Those who hear the fame of Jesus should come to him for spiritual healing. Those who have experienced his healing power should invite their neighbours to the Healer.
3. Even the devils were subject to him.
(1) Demons amongst the heathen were not generally evil, but, in their estimation, good spirits, whom they worshipped as gods. Amongst the Jews the term was restricted to evil spirits.
(2) Evil spirits actually possessed human beings. So far from demoniacs being simply epileptics, as some suppose, these are distinguished here (cf. Acts 5:16). Personal actions are ascribed to demons. Christ addressed them as persons.
(4) It is not surprising that Satan should have been permitted, at the period of the advent of Messiah, to exercise this power and malignity against men. It was the time for the bruising of the heel of the woman's Seed - "the hour and power of darkness." It afforded an illustrious opportunity to the Saviour of men to display his superior power in crushing the serpent's head.
III. HIS GOSPEL WAS WITH MUCH ASSURANCE.
1. His miracles were demonstrative.
(1) They were wrought "among the people" - openly, in the light of day. There was no machinery of obscure theatres - no possibility of collusion. Many were healed - all that came, all that were brought; and the healed were to be seen everywhere among their friends.
(2) They were characteristic as the works of Messiah (see Isaiah 35:5, 6). The miracles of Moses were chiefly plagues - works of judgment - suited to the terror of his dispensation. These of Christ were miracles of mercy (Hosea 11:4). The goodness of his works was calculated to lead men to repentance John 10:32; Romans 2:4).
2. Hence the spreading of his fame.
(1) It spread throughout Syria - through the whole extent of that Roman province of which Palestine was a part. Hence the people from Decapolis, that portion of Syria north of Galilee, so called because it contained a group of ten cities, the metropolis and most ancient of which was Damascus.
(2) Great multitudes from all parts followed him. He deserves the attention of universal man. He deserves the universal attention of the faculties of every man.
(3) Those who came for healing had spiritual instruction. They were like the Syrian of earlier times (2 Kings 5:15, 17). They were like Saul, who, seeking the asses, found a kingdom. The kingdom they found was heavenly. Faith gains assurance in the preaching of the King. - J.A.M.
illustrative of his work, not as his proper work. The healing mission of Jesus may be set in three forms.
I. TO CALL ATTENTION. It is a singular fact that almost immediately on Christ's beginning his ministry he was followed by crowds. He could not have gathered them as a moral Teacher. Nicodemus shows us what arrested attention. "No man can do these miracles that thou doest except God be with him." So the healings made a sphere for Jesus, in which he could do spiritual work.
II. TO SHOW HIS SPIRIT. Contrast with that of the Pharisees, who despised the people; and with the Eastern physician, who demands ruinous fees. Jesus sought the poor and the sick, and did his best to help them for nothing. It was a revelation of love to man.
III. TO INDICATE HIS MISSION. Which bore relation to the great sin-disease of the soul, and was illustrated in these healings, deliverings, and redeemings, which bore relation to men's bodily disabilities. All disease is fruitage of sin. Christ came to deal with sin, both in root, and branch, and flower, and fruit. - R.T.