The next day, when they came down from the mountain, Jesus was met by a large crowd.
I. STRIKING CONTRAST. We can scarcely imagine a greater contrast than that which is here presented between the scene on the mountain and that in the plain below - the tranquillity of the one, the tumult of the other; the calm repose of the one, the unrest of the other; the blessedness of the one, the distress of the other; the gladness of the one, the sadness of the other; the glory of the one, the gloominess of the other; the heavenly quietude of the one, the unseemly wrangling of the other; the happiness of the one, the misery of the other; the ecstatic rapture of the one, the excruciating pain of the other; the confidence and comfort of the one, the disputatious unbelief of the other. The contrast was just that which we can conceive to exist between the holiness of heaven and the sinfulness of earth. The contrast is transferred to the canvas and made visible and palpable in the great picture of "The Transfiguration," by Raphael.
II. DESCRIPTION OF THE ILLNESS. This illness may be distributed into three elements - the supernatural, the natural so called, and the periodical. By the supernatural we understand the demoniac possession. This poor boy was under the influence of a foul and fiendish spirit that made him deaf and dumb. The natural element, if natural may be applied in any sense to a state that is abnormal and unnatural because the result of sin, consists in the fearful manifestations, consisting of epileptic fits, madness, convulsions, grinding the teeth, foaming at the mouth, and pining away. The periodical element is the fitful paroxysms, the crises of which were synchronous with the changes of the moon, so that "demoniac "and "lunatic" were both applied, and properly applied, to this peculiar case.
III. A DOUBLE PERSONALITY. The change of subject with respect to the verbs used in this description brings into view a startling fact and exhibits a strange complication. Two personalities, or two personal agencies, are here combined, and the union between them is so close and complete that the transition from the one to the other is as singular as sudden. Thus the first two verbs descriptive of the sad condition of this wretched sufferer have for their subject, though not directly expressed, yet distinctly implied, the demon. He it is of whom the poor father of the unhappy boy says "Wheresoever it taketh him" - or, more literally, wheresoever it seizeth (καταλάβῃ) him - "it teareth, or dasheth down, or breaketh (ῤήσσει) him." This is very graphic, and as terrible as graphic. The demon so convulsed the lad as if he would dislocate the entire frame or dismember his whole body, breaking limb from limb. But the remaining verbs in the description, as it passes rapidly from the agent to the sufferer, require a different subject; for it is only the boy of whom it can be said, "He foameth," "grindeth his teeth," "becomes parched" (ξηραίνεται), or" pines away." The same curious commingling of terms - some applicable to the demon, and others the possessed to occurs in describing the paroxysm which came on when the lad was brought into our Lord's presence. In the expression, "when he saw him," the participle is used, and is in the masculine gender, so that it appears to refer to the boy, and if so, it must be used absolutely; but if it apply to the unclean spirit, the word πνεῦμα, spirit, is neuter, and thus it must be constructed ad sensum, and indicate the personality of that spirit; in either ease, there is an irregularity of construction arising from this unusual blending of personal agencies. Further, when the demoniac or the demon saw Jesus, the demon or unclean spirit grievously tore (ἐσπάραξεν, from σπάω, whence spasm, and signifying "to pall to pieces," not the same verb as that used in ver. 18) or convulsed the poor demoniac; while he fell on the earth and wallowed (akin to the Latin volvo), that is, rolled himself (κυλίω equivalent to κυλίνδω, used of rolling in the dust, in token of grief), foaming.
IV. THE ARRIVAL OF JESUS ON THE SCENE. Soon as the crowd saw him, they were quite amazed - perfectly astounded, the prepositional element in the compound verb implying the greatness of their astonishment. But what caused their excessive amazement? It might be
(1) the suddenness of the appearance of one whom they had been looking for in vain; but now that they had ceased to expect him, all at once, to their surprise, he is seen approaching; or
(2) it is concluded by some, on rather slender grounds, that the term used does not denote mere surprise, much less joyful surprise, at the sudden and unexpected appearance of the Savior, but rather a degree of alarm or perplexity on account of expressions to which utterance had been given in the dispute between the disciples and the scribes in our Lord's absence, and in reference to his power of casting out devils. There is much more probability
(3) in the opinion that the astonishment was occasioned by some remnant of the heavenly radiance still beaming on and brightening his countenance. This view is strongly supported by the analogous case of Moses, of whom we read that, on his descent from Mount Sinai, "the skin of his face shone," so that Aaron and the children of Israel "were afraid to come nigh him." If this explanation be accepted, there is in the two cases a similarity and a dissimilarity: the brightness of Moses' face made the onlookers afraid, and deterred them from approaching him; the heavenly splendor that still lingered on the countenance of the Savior affected the spectators in the very opposite way, attracting them to him. Accordingly, while some waited for his approach, as appears from St. Matthew's account, which speaks of his coming to the multitude, others, detaching themselves from the crowd, sallied forth to meet him, running to him, as we learn here from St. Mark; while St, Luke informs us that on his coming down from the hill much people met him. The accounts of St. Matthew and St. Luke are thus harmonized by St. Mark's statement, from which we rightly conclude that part of the crowd went to meet him, and part waited where they were for his approach. Their salutation, including, as we think, welcome and friendly greeting, if not from the scribes, at least from the rest of the crowd, is opposed to the notion of perplexity or alarm referred to in (2). Our Lord's popularity with the multitude had not yet suffered any diminution, nor begun to wane. He finds on his arrival that a somewhat keen discussion had been going on between two parties very unequally matched - the scribes, with their general learning and special Biblical lore, on the one hand, and his disciples, illiterate and imperfectly enlightened, on the other. The surrounding crowd, divided, most likely, in sentiment, and acting as partisans - some favoring the disciples and some the scribes - expressed approbation and disapprobation accordingly. The subject of disputation may be readily inferred from the sequel. Meantime our Lord asks the scribes with authority, "What question ye with [rather at, or against (πρὸς)] them?" or, better perhaps," Why question ye with them?" What proper ground is there for such acrimonious questioning? What sufficient reason can be shown for it? But another reading, having the reflexive pronoun, is represented by the margin - "among yourselves," or "with one another;" in which case both scribes and disciples are addressed in common.
V. APPLICATION OF THE DEMONIAC'S FATHER. To our Lord's interrogatory, one of the multitude, or rather one out of (ἐκ) the multitude, stepping forward, volunteers an answer. He felt that his child's misfortune had given occasion to the altercation, in which the disputants had waxed warm, if not angry, and that it devolved of right on him to make the requisite explanation. Another and a more urgent reason calling for his interference was his paternal solicitude. "I brought [ἤνεγκα. He aorist] some short time ago my son to thee;" such had been his intention, as he had not been aware of the Savior's absence. "I spake to thy disciples, in thy absence [ἵνα. denoting here the purport of what he said, as also the purpose for which it was said]. He that they should drive the demon from my son; but they could not;" while it must be observed that this verb is not an auxiliary, nor even a part of δύναμαι but a stronger term (ἴσχυσαν) which, preceded by the negative, means that they had not strength enough for such a difficult operation. After stating, in reply to a question of our Lord about the length of time the. suffering had lasted, that his son had been afflicted in this shocking manner from childhood, he went on to enumerate other aggravating circumstances of the affliction, to the effect that the demon often cast him into the fire and into the waters to destroy him. He then concluded with the remarkably earnest appeal, "If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us." The expression βοήθησον (from βοὴ. cry, and θέω, to run) is very significant, being equivalent to "hasten to our cry for help;" it is more than succor (from sub and curro, to run). He which means to run to one's aid; it is "run to our aid at our earnest, urgent cry for help." The compassion is taken for granted, being expressed by a participle; and it also is a very expressive word, denoting the yearning of the bowels or heart in tenderness and pity.
VI. THE SAVIOUR'S ANSWER. Our Lord utters a reproof on the ground of their want of faith. In that reproof he includes his own disciples, the scribes who had been in conflict with them, and the father of the afflicted boy - one and all comprehended in the "faithless generation" of that time. The failure of the apostles to drive out the demon had been a matter of humiliation to themselves, and of exultation to those hostile scribes, who had, no doubt, made the most of this case of unsuccess; and that failure had been owing in part to weakness, if not want, of faith. The scribes all along had acted the part of obstinately incredulous sceptics. The distressed father, earnest as he was, and eloquent as he was in his appeal, betrayed much weakness of faith, saying, "If at all thou canst - if in any way thou canst," or "if thou canst do anything." This refers the matter of cure to the power of Christ; the leper resolved the cure in his case into the will of Christ, "If thou wilt, thou canst." How prone we are to circumscribe the Savior by our own narrow conditions! and yet he shows us demonstratively that he is above and independent of all such limitations. He proved to the leper his possession of the will, and to the demoniac's father his possession of the power; and to us, through both, his ability as well as willingness to do to us and in us and for us "exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think." The limitations are all on one side - all on our side, and are owing to the weakness of our frail and naturally faithless humanity. The possession in the present instance had been from childhood. The distress was thus of comparatively long standing; it had become chronic; it was an apparently hopeless case. It had defied the power of the disciples, and baffled their utmost skill and strength. While this failure had lowered them in the estimation of the crowd, and left them at the mercy of the biting taunts of the sarcastic scribes, it at the same time lessened still more the faith of the unhappy parent. The cure, therefore, which our Lord effected in this seemingly hopeless, certainly desperate case, holds forth encouragement to the weakest and the worst - those morally so - to apply to him.
VII. HIS APPLIANCE. The first direction is, "Bring him unto me: you have tried the power of my disciples; I now invite you to try mine. You have been disappointed by their failure; but I will remedy that failure by my favor to thee and thine. You have been disheartened - too much disheartened; I now bid you take heart of hope. His next step was to secure the confidence and strengthen the faith of the father; and for this purpose he employs his own words and
(1) according to the common reading he said to him the (τὸ) saying, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to [or possible to be done for] him that believeth." But
(2) the word πιστεῦσαι is omitted in three or more of the oldest uncials, in several versions, by the critical editors Tregelles and Tischendorf, and by Meyer and some commentators; and with this omission the sentence reads, "Jesus said unto him, As for thy If thou canst, all things are possible to him that believeth." And
(3) some, putting the acute on the antepenult πίστευσαι. He take it to be imperative aorist middle, and translate, "Believe what you expressed by your If thou canst, all things are possible to him that believeth." Again,
(4) others take it interrogatively," The If thou canst? or What? If thou canst? " so that the sense is as if he asked, "Is this what you say?" or, "Do you really mean this?" The man's own words were thus thrown back on him, and by this judicious retort he is brought to understand that faith in the Savior's power and propitiousness is a prerequisite for the bestowal of the boon he sought; he is also brought to feel that the hand of faith must likewise be outstretched for the reception of spiritual benefits and blessings; at the same time he is made conscious of the great deficiency - the entire inadequacy of his faith for the attainment of the favor he is so anxious to obtain. Suspending his petition on behalf of his son, but resuming his request with the same term and now in his own interest, he called aloud, with eyes brimful of tears - if this reading (μετὰ δακρύων) is accepted, at all events - affectingly and touchingly, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." He affirms the possession of belief, but that belief is so weak as to be scarcely worthy of the name; that he has some faith, but that faith is small, exceeding small, like a grain of mustard seed. Persuaded that his faith is too insignificant to satisfy the condition, he prays
(1) for its increase; in other words, he seeks to be helped against his unbelief. Another interpretation, though advocated by some good and great men, to the effect,
(2) "Help me, notwithstanding the weakness of my faith," has but little, we think, to commend it to favor and acceptance. Now at length all is ready for the beneficent operation; the people are running together to the place, or running together yet more (ἐπὶ. He denoting intensity or addition). He when our Lord addressed the unclean spirit in terms of stern rebuke, and words of unmistakable authority, saying, "I" [ἐγώ expressed, and so emphatic and distinctive] - I, thy Master; I, whose authority you cannot evade; I, whose word of command you dare not disobey; I, not my disciples, who were nonplussed by the strange and sudden outburst of thy fiendish malignity; I order thee to come out of him at once, and never again to enter into him.
VIII. THE COMPLETENESS OF THE CURE. The command to "enter no more into him" may be attributed to the weakness of the father's faith - to assure him there would be no relapse, to convince him there would be no return of the paroxysm; it may also be owing in part to the malignant obstinacy of the foul fiend, who now, after crying aloud, and after convulsing the poor boy's whole frame with a horrible spasm, came out of him, leaving him all but dead, so that the many said he was dead. The great primary act of expelling the demon had been accomplished, but the effect of his long dominion over the lad, and the shock to his system at departure, left him so thoroughly exhausted and prostrate that a second miracle was required to supplement the first. In consequence, our Lord seized him by the hand, or seized his hand, and lifted him up, so that he stood upon his feet well and sound and strong, as though the whole had been but the memory of a troubled dream. An explanation was subsequently given to the disciples touching their inability in the present case, and their want of success in the exercise of a gift which had been bestowed, and which had been most probably effectual in other instances. The explanation appears to have respect to the character of the demon, and the conduct of the apostles themselves. First, there is mention of "this kind," by which some understand
(1) the race of demons in general - "the race of all demons," according to Euthymius; others limit the expression to
(2) a special kind of spirits, peculiarly obstinate and stiffnecked, and consequently more difficult to be driven out; while a recent authority on the subject suggests that the reference is to
(3) a class of demons which manifested their presence by unexpectedly sudden and frightfully severe outbreaks, and for the expulsion of which the exorcist or physician operating required uncommon presence of mind and strength of nerve, as well as vigorous exercise of faith. But, waiving a discussion of this doubtful kind, and merely expressing our preference for the second of the opinions stated, we may notice briefly a strange term employed here, namely, go out (ἐξελθεῖν). If the statement in which this word is used is to be interpreted literally, the meaning appears to be that demons of this kind could not go out, even if they would, of the persons possessed by any other means or in any other way than in the use or by the exercise of prayer and fasting. If this be the real, as it is the literal meaning, it is a circumstance of a strange, inscrutable kind; and, among matters more or less mysterious, it is not the least so. We may, however, give to the words a freer interpretation and take them in the more ordinary sense, that this kind can be expelled by nothing but by prayer and fasting. The conduct of the apostles themselves had most to do with their powerlessness to cast out the demon in this instance. They had received the requisite power, as we read in Mark 6:7 that, in sending them forth by two and two, he "gave them power over unclean spirits;" but they had neglected the discipline indispensable to the efficient and successful employment of that rower. Two circumstances in close connection with this neglect are assigned as the cause of failure - weakness of faith is mentioned by St. Matthew, and neglect of prayer is hinted by St. Mark. We may regard them as standing together in the relation of two joint causes, or rather as cause and effect in relation to this matter - neglect of prayer being the former, and debility of faith the latter.
1. We learn the important duty of parental solicitude for the spiritual as well as, or rather more than, for the bodily, well-being of their offspring. In the case of the Syro-phoenician woman we saw how she identified herself with her afflicted daughter, saying, "Lord, help me!" Here likewise the father of the demoniac makes common cause with his child, in the words, "Have compassion on us, and help us!" Especially should we travail, as in birth, till Christ is formed in their heart, and till by grace they are enabled to renounce the devil and all his works.
2. Great importance attaches to the element of time. The demon got possession early of this sorely distressed boy, and the demoniac power seems to have grown with the child's growth, and to have strengthened with his strength, so that dispossession had become next to an impossibility. The apostles were not competent to the task, and when our Lord, in the exercise of his almighty power, expelled him, it was only after he had made horrid havoc of the lad's system, frightfully convulsing him and leaving him half-dead. So, if Satan unhappily gain the ascendant in a young heart, he will do his best to blight the whole life; he will hold his dominion with tenacity, and, if possible, to the end; he will seat himself firmly on the throne of the affections, and exercise a despot's sway; his dethronement will be attended with the greatest difficulty; and if, by Divine mercy, his power is at last overthrown, it will cost pain of body, distress of mind, and grief of heart. Oh, how careful young persons should be to guard against the solicitations of the evil one, and to resist his power! How determined not to yield to his temptations, and to vanquish youthful lusts that war against the soul! How resolved, by the aid of Divine strength, to keep him out, remembering how difficult it is to get him out once he has gained an entrance, and especially if he has gained it early!
3. Every gift that God bestows should be diligently cultivated, and husbanded with care. The power bestowed on the apostles was, as we have seen, lost through their own remissness. Faith required to be kept in healthy exercise and active vigor; devotion and self-denial were required for its maintenance. The neglect or undue performance of these left them weak before the power of the evil one, and caused them to be humiliated in the presence of their enemies. Thus it was with the apostles and miraculous gifts. How much more is such likely to be the case with ordinary persons in the exercise of ordinary gifts! We greatly need to use all the means that tend to strengthen faith; above all, we must pray earnestly, in the beautiful words suggested by this passage "Lord, increase our faith;" avoiding at the same time any and every indulgence that might weaken faith or slacken prayer.
"Restraining prayer we cease to fight; 4. This passage cannot legitimately apply to any attempt at working miracles in the present day. The age of miracles is past. The power thus possessed by the apostles was not to continue, and needed not to continue, after the great purpose for which miracles had been bestowed had been attained. Faith and prayer and fasting cannot of themselves confer the power; they were needed to sustain it only where it had been bestowed; they were required for its successful exercise where it did exist. 5. The greatness of the believer's privilege is immense, yet not without certain well-defined limits, "All things are possible to him that believeth:" this appears to comprise at once omnipotence in action and universality in possession. To the former we have the parallel statement of St. Paul, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me;" or rather, "in (ἐν) Christ that giveth me inward strength (ἐνδυναμοῦνται);" and thus the strength as to its source is obtainable by virtue of living and lively union with Christ, while as to its nature it is spiritual. But the reference is rather to what it is possible for us to get than to do; and so all things are ours, for "we are Christ's, and Christ is God's." There are here two limitations which, though not expressed, must be implied: (1) The first limitation restricts the "all things" to things truly beneficial - beneficial spiritually as well as temporally, beneficial for eternity rather than for the brief relations of time; they are such things as are thus of real benefit, when regard is had to the believer's condition and present position. (2) The second limitation has respect to the circumstances of others, that is to say, of those with whom we come into close contact, or with whom we have to do and deal in the affairs of life. All things are thus possible to be attained by the believer, as far as they are consistent with his real benefit, and compatible at the same time with his relations in the widest sense - relations to his Father in heaven and to his fellow-man on earth. Such is the potentiality of faith - it extends to all things; such, too, is its practicability, excepting only such things as, at the present or in the long run, do not comport with his own personal good, as also with his relation to God, whose glory is paramount, and to his fellow-man, whose good, as well as our own, we are in duty bound to seek. - J.J.G.
4. This passage cannot legitimately apply to any attempt at working miracles in the present day. The age of miracles is past. The power thus possessed by the apostles was not to continue, and needed not to continue, after the great purpose for which miracles had been bestowed had been attained. Faith and prayer and fasting cannot of themselves confer the power; they were needed to sustain it only where it had been bestowed; they were required for its successful exercise where it did exist.
5. The greatness of the believer's privilege is immense, yet not without certain well-defined limits, "All things are possible to him that believeth:" this appears to comprise at once omnipotence in action and universality in possession. To the former we have the parallel statement of St. Paul, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me;" or rather, "in (ἐν) Christ that giveth me inward strength (ἐνδυναμοῦνται);" and thus the strength as to its source is obtainable by virtue of living and lively union with Christ, while as to its nature it is spiritual. But the reference is rather to what it is possible for us to get than to do; and so all things are ours, for "we are Christ's, and Christ is God's." There are here two limitations which, though not expressed, must be implied:
(1) The first limitation restricts the "all things" to things truly beneficial - beneficial spiritually as well as temporally, beneficial for eternity rather than for the brief relations of time; they are such things as are thus of real benefit, when regard is had to the believer's condition and present position.
(2) The second limitation has respect to the circumstances of others, that is to say, of those with whom we come into close contact, or with whom we have to do and deal in the affairs of life. All things are thus possible to be attained by the believer, as far as they are consistent with his real benefit, and compatible at the same time with his relations in the widest sense - relations to his Father in heaven and to his fellow-man on earth. Such is the potentiality of faith - it extends to all things; such, too, is its practicability, excepting only such things as, at the present or in the long run, do not comport with his own personal good, as also with his relation to God, whose glory is paramount, and to his fellow-man, whose good, as well as our own, we are in duty bound to seek. - J.J.G.
Master, I beseech Thee, look upon my son.I. OUR HOPES ARE ALL AWAKENED. Here is a poor youth, but bad as he is, terribly possessed as he is, he is coming to Christ. Prayer has been offered for him by his father, and Jesus is near. All looks well! For a hungry man to be coming to a dinner is not enough: he must actually reach the table and eat. For a sick man to be coming to an eminent physician is hopeful, but it is not enough; he must get to that physician, take his medicine, and be restored. That is the point. To be coming to Christ is not enough: you must actually come to Him, and really receive Him; for to such only does He give power to become the sons of God.
II. OUR FEARS ARE AROUSED. "As he was a-coming, the devil threw him down, and tare him." How does the devil do this? Well, we have seen it done in this way: When the man had almost believed in Christ, but not quite, Satan seemed to multiply his temptations around him, and to bring his whole force to bear upon him. I have known in addition to all this that Satan has stirred up the anxious one's bad passions. Passions that lay asleep have suddenly been aroused. Moreover, the man has become thoughtful, and from that very fact doubts which he never knew before have come upon him.
III. OUR WONDER IS EXCITED. This cure was perfected at once, and it remained with the youth. The Saviour's cures endure the test of years. "Enter no more into him" preserved the young man by a life-long word of power. I never dare to preach to anybody a temporary salvation.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)I. THE DEVIL'S DOINGS. When this child came to Christ to be healed, the devil threw him down and tare him.
1. First of all he does this by perverting the truth of God for the destruction of the soul's hope and comfort.
2. But Satan is not very scrupulous, and he sometimes throws the coming sinner down and tears him by telling horrible falsehoods. Many a time when the soul is coming to Christ, Satan violently injects infidel thoughts.
3. Then if the devil cannot overcome you there, he tries another method; he takes all the threatening passages out of God's Word, and says they all apply to you.
II. THE DEVIL'S DESIGN. Why does he throw the coming soul down, and tear it?
1. Because he does not like to lose it.
2. Sometimes, I believe, he has the vile design of inducing poor souls to make away with themselves, before they have faith in Christ.
3. When the soul is coming to Christ he tries, out of spite, to worry that soul.
III. THE DEVIL'S DISCOVERY. I will give the poor sinner a means of detecting Satan, so that he may know whether his convictions are from the Holy Spirit, or merely the bellowing of hell in his ears.
1. In the first place, you may be always sure that that which comes from the devil will make you look at yourselves and not at Christ.
2. You may discern the devil's insinuations in another way; they generally reflect upon some attribute of God.
IV. Now, in the last place, we have to consider THE DEVIL'S DEFEAT. How was he defeated? Jesus rebuked him. Beloved, there is no other way for us to be saved from the castings down of Satan but the rebuke of Jesus.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)I. SPIRITUAL POWER IS NEEDED FOR THE CASTING OUT OF DEVILS. We, weak men, in our own strength cannot successfully grapple with evil in ourselves or others. You may charm the serpent for a little time. You may tame the wild beast. You may put him into a cage and restrain him in many ways. The sweet music of David did charm to rest the evil spirit of Saul. But the grim fact remains that the foul fiend is not cast out. Every generation has witnessed the failure of man in this unequal struggle with evil. All the forces of civilization are called into eager requisition in the conflict — art, and education, and refinement, and philanthropy, and social reform, and the administration of law. The failure is confessed by the deepest and purest spirits of the Grecian culture. In Rome an iron will entered into conflict with evil, but the failure was more conspicuous still than in Athens. In the East the religious instinct, often under the guidance of gloriously gifted men, has laboured to cast out the spirit of evil. But all the centuries and all the generations have sunk in hopeless failure. We are forced to return to the plain, simple teaching of God's Book, that we need a power not our own, the power of God to overcome.
1. We need this spiritual power to cast evil out of ourselves. You have often tried self-denial. You have tried occupation and work. You have tried religious duties. You have tried the practice of moral precept.
2. But in like manner we need spiritual power to cast the spirit of evil out of others. The early disciples found it so.
II. THERE IS NO TRUE SPIRITUAL POWER WITHOUT FAITH. Let us observe, that in order to lose spiritual power it is not necessary to commit a flagrant sin. Samson committed a flagrant sin and lost his strength. The disciples were guilty only of this, that their faith was not vigorous and growing, yet they stand before the world shorn of their strength as completely as Samson when he shook himself as at other times. Observe, again, that the disciples themselves do not appear to have been conscious beforehand of this departure of power. They come down to the scene of work, and like Samson they wist not that their strength had departed from them. Doubtless in their failure it did not occur to them to suspect themselves. What, then, is the first condition of true spiritual power? It is the possession of a living and growing faith. Who are the men who have wielded great spiritual power in all ages? They are the men of faith. The men of unbelief die and are forgotten, even their gifts and accomplishments only serve to build their tomb or write their cold epitaph. But the men of faith are the heroes of the race and the kings of the Church of God. It is given to them like Israel to be princes, having power with God and with men. It is the men of faith who subdue kingdoms, and work righteousness, and stop the mouths of lions. Faith imparts power because it lays hold of the truth, and it is the truth which purifies. It imparts power because it quickens and inspires all the faculties of the soul. It imparts power because it establishes an alliance between God and man, by which Divine help is given in moments of need. It imparts power by means of its innate courage and invincibility.
III. THERE IS NO LIVING FAITH WITHOUT EARNEST PRAYER. The sequence of spiritual ideas is simple and beautiful. The evil spirit could not be cast out without special spiritual power. Power could not co-exist with unbelief. And now unbelief can be extinguished only by prayer. This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. In these practical and bustling days there is abundant recognition of the value of what is called a working Christianity. Why could not we cast him out? The weeping mother feels the bitterness of this question as she witnesses her wayward boy disregarding her counsels and rejecting her reproof. Why could not I tame the evil passion and guide the wandering feet? Or the sabbath-school teacher wails out the despairing confession of failure at the end of years of busy work with his class. O think, what conquests lie before us if in Christ's name we be endued with new power from on high.
(S. Prenter, M. A.)
I. WE FIND THIS PRINCIPLE CONFIRMED BY THE WHOLE HISTORY OF FASTING, IN THE SCRIPTURES, AND IN THE CHURCH, FROM THE CHRISTIAN ERA DOWNWARD.
1. We turn, first, to the Jewish Church. It is not affirmed whether the patriarchs knew anything of fasting as a religious service; but Moses, in entering into the Mount, to commune with God concerning the foundation of the Old Testament Church, for forty days abstained from food — of course by Divine direction, and by miraculous aid. It is quite remarkable that the three persons who appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration had all performed this extraordinary fast of forty days — Moses, Elijah, and Christ. If, now, we look at the several occasions on which it was employed by the devout members and eminent leaders of the Jewish Church, we shall receive a strong impression that it has some connection with the higher exercises, attainments, and achievements, of piety, or with cases of especial appeal to the Most High. When Saul was buried, having been the first King of Israel, and having been slain ingloriously, the people assembled to recover his insulted corpse, and decently inter it. Then they fasted seven days. When David's child was dangerously ill, he lay on his face, and mourned, with fasting and prayer. The psalmist, speaking of the afflictions brought on him by his enemies, says, "I humbled my soul with fasting." The great day of atonement, when the people brought their sins particularly to mind, was a day of fasting. Another use of it was to prepare the mind for specially intimate communion with God, or for very important service to the Church. Ezra's fasts had reference, too, to great reformations; and, in 1 Samuel 7:6, we find a fast to have been the first stage in one of those glorious revivals which refreshed and preserved the ancient Chinch. Another occasion was the looking to God for especial help. When the eleven tribes were driven to the necessity of punishing Benjamin, almost to extermination, they "went up, and came unto the house of God, and wept, and sat there before the Lord, and fasted that day until even." So, when Haman had procured the terrible decree that was to annihilate the Jewish people, Esther, with her maids of honour, gave themselves to fasting and prayer for the deliverance of their people; and with what success, you remember.
2. If we now follow the history of fasting into the times of Christ, the apostles, and the early Christian Church, we see it having the same solemn import and connections. We begin with the Great Exemplar. Jesus did many things as a Jew, or a worshipper under the old theocracy, because that system was not yet abolished. In such matters He is not an example, only so far as the spirit of obedience and order is concerned. But this fasting was not Jewish. It obeyed no law of Moses. It was human. It was spiritual in the highest degree, and a most fitting opening to His glorious ministry, and His wondrous life as the Saviour of men. After the apostolic times, the Church preserved fasting; and, at length, when aiming to fix a uniform observance of sacred seasons, she set apart the time supposed to be the same as that of our Saviour's fast and temptation in the wilderness, to be solemnized with the anniversary exercise of abstinence. And I believe all her eminent men, of every communion, have been distinguished for this exercise. I do not remember any of any age who considered it as obsolete or useless. Down to the time of the Reformation, no true Christian any more thought of neglecting fasting than prayer. After the Reformation we find two classes: those who chose to confound the Romish abuse with the institution itself, and so despised it; and those who practised it in primitive simplicity. And I repeat my impression that the men most eminent for piety, in every blanch of the Protestant Church, used this means of grace. What, then, is —
II. THE NATURE OF FASTING AS A RELIGIOUS EXERCISE?
1. It is a spiritual service. "Is this the fasting or day for soul-humbling that I have chosen; the mere bowing down of the head like a bulrush, and spreading sackcloth and ashes under him?" No. He says: I require you to fast in spirit; to cease from your injustice and cruelty. So that the abstinence from food, more or less rigid, is but a means to a spiritual end. It may often, indeed, be bodily beneficial to omit a meal, even in good health; but that is not a religious service, it is a medical regimen.
2. Fasting is in no way a meritorious service, nor a magical instrument.
3. It is the expression of an earnest religious purpose. The heart of him who fasts aright is, at the time, peculiarly concentrated. The heart is fixed on one great object, with peculiar earnestness of desire. Moses did not fast for the sake of laying up a store of merit for himself, or for some other person. The founding of God's Church; the promulgation of Jehovah's law; the opening of a new stage in the work of redemption; these were the mighty charges lying on his soul. And he fasted, as a natural means of aiding his self-abasement and his spirituality of mind. This earnestness of purpose is seen not only in being fixed on a definite object; but also in the consecration of time and person to that specific object. That is an eminent advantage. Our life is wasted with vague intentions and scattered labours; OUT consciences are cheated with good resolutions that we never find time to execute. By making the object definite, the mind is concentrated, clear, calm, and strong. By fixing the purpose, the character is rendered firm. By executing it, the conscience assumes its proper ascendency, and something definite is attained and accomplished. There is gain in another direction by this setting apart time to accomplish a definite object. Hindrances are removed.
4. It is consonant with peculiar degrees of repentance. Repentance includes a distinct contemplation of our personal sins. To that, such a season is very favourable. It includes sorrow for sin. Indeed, the natural effect of sorrow is to diminish the appetite for food. There is also in repentance a congeniality with fasting, because both express a kind of holy revenge against sin.
5. Fasting accords with a season set apart for peculiar efforts to attain to personal holiness.
6. Fasting agrees, too, with the peculiar exercise of love to Christ. He peculiarly desires that we remember His sufferings. "Do this in remembrance of Me." His fasting was a part of His suffering, and a part in which we can imitate and share with Him.
7. A peculiar fitness in making a fast to accompany our peculiar onsets on Satan's kingdom. The first thing we need, in waging the battles of the Lord, is to believe that there are any battles to fight; that Satan and his demons are realities. Then we need to know that they are too formidable for us; and yet that they are not invincible. This kind can be driven forth, but it must be "by fasting and prayer." We can become the organs of the Spirit of God by fasting and prayer. We must look to God in our attacks on Satan. And religious fasting is an acceptable service. He accepted it of Moses and Nehemiah, of Jesus and of the apostles. We see how the Church is to become efficient.
(E. N. Kirk.)1. Satan endeavours thus to throw down by suggesting perplexing considerations regarding the supposed magnitude of the worldly sacrifices that must be made by the returning sinner.
2. The devil endeavours to throw down the Sinner that is awakened and a-coming to Christ, by false representations of the life of godliness, as if, through imaginary moroseness and austerity, it were adverse to happiness.
3. The devil also endeavours at times to throw down the awakening sinner, by raising doubts in his mind, whether his sins are not too many and aggravated to leave him in hope of their being forgiven.
(J. Allan.)is dead."
(F. Whitfield, M. A.)I. JESUS INVITES MEN TO BRING ALL THEIR TROUBLES AND BURDENS TO HIM.
II. HE ENCOURAGES US TO BRING TO HIM NOT ONLY OUR OWN INFIRMITIES, BUT THOSE ALSO OF OUR DEAR ONES.
III. HE SYMPATHIZES WITH US IN, AND IS ABLE TO SAVE US FROM, NOT SPIRITUAL TROUBLES ONLY, BUT THOSE ALSO WHICH ARE PHYSICAL AND TEMPORAL.
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