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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Mark 4

 

 

Verse 3-4

WASTED SEED

‘Behold, there went out a sower to sow: and it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up.’

Mark 4:3-4

The precious seed which fell to the right hand and to the left was wasted, because it fell on ground unprepared to receive it.

I. Waste a great fault and sin.—Wasted food, wasted money, wasted health, wasted time, wasted opportunities of doing and receiving good—these in their several ways are all sins against God and our own souls.

II. Yet constant waste going on.—There is in nature, in Providence, in the spiritual world, a constant waste going on, suggesting much of anxious and painful wonder.

(a) In nature. Might we not almost say that for one thing used ten are wasted? For every seed brought to maturity in plant or tree ten perish and are defeated? For every human body preserved through the accidents and risks of life to complete its term of earthly existence ten fall prematurely into disease and decay, and are abruptly cut off from that amount of enjoyment and of usefulness which might seem, theoretically at least, to be the birthright and inheritance of all into whose nostrils has once been breathed the creative breath of life?

(b) In Providence. Would we could stop here! Would that we could ascribe only to that part of God’s operations which we call nature, or at the utmost to that part of God’s operations which we call Providence, the manifestation of that principle of which we are speaking!

(c) In the spiritual world. Here—saddest sight of all—we seem to see it in its fullest development. How much of truth—precious life-giving truth—have we trifled away in our short lifetime! Let us awake to a better appreciation of the gift of the Word of Life, that we may at last hear unto profiting, and believe to the saving of our souls.

—Dean Vaughan.

Illustration

‘According to Jewish authorities there was twofold sowing, as the seed was either cast by the hand or by means of cattle. In the latter case, a sack with holes was filled with corn and laid on the back of the animal, so that, as it moved onwards, the seed was thickly scattered. Thus it might well be that it would fall indiscriminately on beaten roadway, or on stony places but thinly covered with soil, or where the thorns had not been cleared away, or undergrowth from this thorn hedge crept into the field, as well as on good ground.’


Verse 5

LACKING DEPTH

‘And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth.’

Mark 4:5

I. The beautiful exterior.—How many are there in the world of the class represented in the text! There is much about them, like the earth, which is good; much that appears to bear the stamp of Divine grace. We see an amiable temper, a sweet, natural disposition, a love of good things. This is the earth. Beneath the gilding, so lovely and attractive, there is concealed the stone. This is the true character of the heart, not the beautiful exterior. It is the ‘stony heart’ still—the old heart under a new covering.

II. The hidden stone.—And what is another phase of the stony heart? The seed falls and springs up quickly, but cannot take root, because of the hidden stone that hinders it. So it is with many. The seed falls, but what hinders it from taking root? Some stone of secret sin lodged in the heart. There is the secret lust the heart cannot renounce, some grasping covetousness it cannot give up, some carnal affection it cannot mortify, or some inveterate habit it is unwilling to overcome. These are the stones in many a heart. Man may not see them, but God does.

III. God requires depth in our religion.—It should grow where man sees it not. It should be casting its roots within the veil. On what depends the strength, the beauty, and the fruit of the tree? On its hidden roots. So with the Christian. What he is outwardly will depend on his hidden life before God. This is what we want now.

—Rev. F. Whitfield.

Illustrations

(1) ‘See that noble ship riding on the waves. Her yards are right, her canvas is spread, and there is a favourable breeze. Why sails she not out of the harbour? Why heaves she so restlessly on the waters? Down deep in the water, and concealed from every eye, is the anchor. This holds her fast. What avail favouring tides and breezes? Nothing whatever. Cut off the anchor, and then, with God’s breath helping her, she may move on. So it is with many a soul. There they are from year to year, and never move one step heavenward. The same in youth, the same in manhood, the same in hoar hairs. Why are they not in the race? Why still lagging behind in the world of sin and death? Ah, down deep in the muddy streams of the deceitful heart there lies the anchor of secret sin, holding fast the noble vessel that should be freighted with God’s glory and on its way to Canaan.’

(2) ‘The age we live in is a very superficial one. We live in a day when men can be Christians one day, and anything the next; when men can talk of the deep things of God in one breath, and the things of the world in the next; when the great aim of the many is just to save their character; to go with the worldling or the infidel up to that point. To advance beyond would stake their Christian reputation, otherwise they would soon do even that. It is an easy, indulgent, self-loving, half-hearted Christianity that surrounds us. The religion of the many is in the head and on the tongue, far more than in the heart.’


Verse 7

THE THORNS OF PROSPERITY

‘And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.’

Mark 4:7

Here we have an illustration of what may be the distressing effect of worldly prosperity upon the spiritual life.

I. ‘No time.’—One of the chief dangers of a state of general prosperity, especially when that prosperity is in a growing state, is the constant tendency to the entire occupation of time with merely secular duties, which rightfully should be devoted to the care and cultivation of religion.

II. Increase of pride.—Worldly prosperity invariably leads to an increase of pride, and thus the growth of the Christian virtue of humility is choked.

III. The love of luxury.—This generally follows increased wealth, and self-denial, which is demanded of the follower of Christ, finds no room for development.

IV. A worldly life.—Men become more and more ‘of the world’ as their fortunes increase.

Beware, then, of the thorns of prosperity.

Illustration

‘These Easter lily bulbs were the gift of a dear friend. I planted them in two rows, seventeen in all, to form a background for the other varieties. Two years after I saw one in the row nearest the fence falling short. I gave it a little extra care, dug about it, and enriched it a little more. Still it pined. At last its leaves grew sallow, and then they fell off altogether. It was indeed time to investigate the cause. So I dug carefully down, searching for grubs, for mole-tracks, for all-thought-of enemies. None of these were there. At last I found the bulb, sound, but shrunken, held fast captive in the meshes of another life. A wild clematis had sprung up at an adjacent post, and I had allowed it to remain that it might trail its dark-green leaves and wealth of bloom along the somewhat unsightly fence. But, though not shading the lily, or apparently crowding it above, the roots below had crept along instinctively to the richer soil around it, and at last encircled the bulb. There were the multitudinous golden fibres, each only a slender thread, but counting as they must have done by thousands, and all of them closing round and round the struggling bulb, until at last it was choked.’


Verse 8

GOOD SOIL YIELDS GOOD FRUIT

‘And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit.’

Mark 4:8

Here the seed falls in deep, well-prepared soil, and at harvest ‘the valleys stand thick with corn.’ When gathered in it is found to yield thirty, sixty, even a hundredfold, and the farmer rejoices.

Who are these? Those who have an ‘honest and good heart,’ made so by Him from Whom comes ‘the preparations of the heart in man’ (Proverbs 16:1), open to receive good; sincere, like Nathanael and Lydia. Proof of this shown by:—

I. Receiving the Word.—‘Thy Word have I hid in mine heart.’

II. Understanding the Word.—With heart and mind.

III. Keeping the Word, not letting it go, when world tries to draw away.

IV. Bringing forth fruit with patience.—Corn has many dangers to pass through, and a Christian has many trials and difficulties, but he who has an ‘honest heart’ perseveres and produces fruit, not all alike—different measures; some more, some less, but all should strive to bring forth more, remembering John 15:8. This fruitfulness is the proof of having the ‘honest heart.’

Rev. R. R. Resker.

Illustration

‘There will always be some persons in this state of soul where the Gospel is faithfully preached. Their numbers may very likely be few, compared to the worldly around them. Their experience and degree of spiritual attainment may differ widely, some bringing forth thirty, some sixty, and some a hundredfold. But the fruit of the seed falling into good ground will always be of the same kind. There will always be visible repentance, visible faith in Christ, and visible holiness of life. Without these things there is no saving religion.’


Verse 24-25

THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PEW

‘And He said unto them, Take heed what ye hear.… For he that hath, to him shall he given: and he that hath not from him shall be taken even that which he hath.’

Mark 4:24-25

Not without purpose was this warning given.

I. Perils in hearing.—These are many.

(a) Losing the Word, before faith has made it fruitful.

(b) A merely temporary faith, not counting the cost.

(c) The absorbing power of other things choking the Word, even though it has been once heard.

II. Fruitful hearing.—The lot of the seed describes the lot of him who receives the Word. ‘To him that hath’—as the fruit of his using—this his own increase; ‘shall more be given’—this the Lord’s increase (cf. parable of talents). Every attainment of truth a condition of meetness to gain other and deeper truth. So in all study and acquisition.

III. Those who hear not.—‘Him that hath not’—hath nothing more than was first given to him. From him shall even that be taken. Any one can ‘have’ what is given; only the diligent have more.

(a) The condemnation assumes the form of a removal of truth. It is naturally forgotten by him who does not use his understanding upon it. Disregarded truth (and duty) becomes disliked truth.

(b) In carelessness he puts it away from him. His measure is small; so he metes it to himself.

(c) To hear is a duty; to neglect duty brings God’s condemnation.

(d) He who does not receive the Kingdom of Heaven is ipso facto in the kingdom of evil. Continued departures from truth and duty leave the man farther from God, truth, heaven.

Illustration

‘Archbishop Grindal’s letter to Queen Elizabeth contains a striking passage on preaching: “Public and continual preaching of God’s Word is the ordinary means and instrument of the salvation of mankind. St. Paul calleth it the ministry of reconciliation of man unto God. By preaching of God’s Word, the glory of God is enlarged, faith is nourished, and charity increased. By it the ignorant is instructed, the negligent exhorted and invited, the stubborn rebuked, the weak conscience comforted, and to all those that sin of malicious wickedness the wrath of God is threatened. By preaching, due obedience to Christian princes and magistrates is planted in the hearts of subjects: for obedience proceedeth of conscience, conscience is grounded upon the Word of God, the Word of God worketh his effect by preaching. So as generally when preaching wanteth obedience faileth.” If this be the true purpose of the pulpit, how great is the responsibility of the pew!’


Verses 26-29

NATURAL LAW IN THE SPIRITUAL WORLD

‘And (Jesus) said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; … when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.’

Mark 4:26-29

The central thought of this parable is that God’s own Divine power is at work in God’s own Kingdom. ‘The earth bringeth forth fruit of herself’—not of herself apart from God, but apart from the man who sows the seed. He does his work; the seed springs up and grows he knows not how. So is the Kingdom of God.

I. The working of the Kingdom.—What hope have we that this Kingdom will come? What is our consolation in regard to it amidst all the discouragements of the time? The same hope and the same encouragement that the man has who casts his seed into the ground. The earth bringeth forth of herself apart from him. So that on the working of the Kingdom of God amongst men we fall back upon the same kind of forces as we do in the working out of our natural life. Everywhere men are dependent upon the great power which is working behind. In this day of material progress and trial we are apt to look rather at the organisations than at the spirit that breathes through them, at what men do rather than at what God does behind.

II. The need of patience.—In this great work of elevating the world the element of time must be taken into account, and we must wait with patience. The man sows his seed, but he does not see the harvest immediately. Corn takes time, but character is more precious than corn, and takes a longer time for its development. A man may be converted in a moment of time, but the development of his life must needs take many years. For the truth is, salvation means not merely delivering a man from sin and every evil thing, but building him into all nobleness. It is not merely the putting aside of what is weak and sinful, but the attainment of all that is noble and true. And you find that the attainment of power to a man of spiritual power is always a work of time.

III. The law of continuity.—Our Lord says that there is a natural law of continuity in the spiritual life as there is in other things. ‘First the blade, and then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.’ We can never do without any of the intervening stages.

(a) There is first the green blade trembling in the breeze, the stirring of spiritual life in the young disciple.

(b) There is next the green ear; and it seems sometimes as if there were very little value to be attached to it except for what comes afterwards. Sometimes a man thinks he is losing ground and going back, when, in point of fact, God is training him for higher service, and leading him to the heights of the Christian life.

(c) Then comes the time of the full ripe corn in the ear, the time which Bunyan sets before us in the picture of the land of Beulah. Beautiful the faith and love of the young disciple, but more beautiful still the faith and love of the aged Christian who has felt that Christ has been with him through the battle of life, has been with him in storm and in sunshine, and has brought him on his way to the city of God.

IV. The harvest.—If the principles at work in us, the powers that are most dominant, are Godlike, there will certainly come the harvest, and ‘then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.’

Illustrations

(1) ‘This parable is found only in the Gospel of Mark, and is one of the most brilliant examples of the perfect naturalness of our Lord’s teaching, and of the way in which He shows the underlying connection between the two worlds, natural and spiritual. At first sight it might seem as if there were but few points of comparison between these two, between the work going on, for example, in a cornfield and the work going on in a human soul. For while trees and shooting corn have power to grow, they have no power to will, while man has both. And it is this real power to will which is the determining factor in character and destiny. You can have a fixed and determined science of natural forces, but not of the forces of a man’s inner life. You can measure to a point the pressure of steam, but you cannot tell beforehand what may be the effect of a single speech or a single book upon a nation’s history. You may predict beforehand the return or the transit of a planet, but you cannot tell beforehand when the hour of a spiritual conflict may come in the life of your child. And yet while these worlds are so separate there is an underlying unity, and it is this unity which really springs out in the parable.’

(2) ‘John Wesley’s dying words are words of comfort to the Church in all the centuries. “Best of all, God is with us.” If He were not, our hope would be scant indeed.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

ATTRIBUTES AND USES OF THE DIVINE SEED

The seed springs and grows up from its own inherent vitality; and, moreover, it does so apart from and independently of human aid and instrumentality. Thus we have in the text two attributes of the Divine seed: (1) its native vitality; (2) its sovereign independence.

I. Its native vitality.—This important principle lies at the foundation of all missionary and evangelistic effort. We may find the illustration of the principle—

(a) In the teaching of Christ. Consider the humble, lowly origin of the Man Christ Jesus. Yet at this moment the six or seven great Powers which control the destinies of our race are by profession at least the followers of Jesus Christ. This is a phenomenon which exists, not a theory, but a fact—a unique fact in the history of the race, and can be explained on no other assumption than that of the inherent and superhuman vitality of the Divine Word.

(b) In the teaching of the Apostles. The work of the world has been commonly done by few; the great turning-points of history have often been the work of one man, e.g. Mohammed, Luther, Napoleon, and many others. As a rule, such men left no successors; it was as if nature had exhausted itself in the effort and could do no more. It was not so with the personality of Christ; He, indeed, stands alone, unique and unapproachable; but He left behind Him successors, second only to Himself in their influence upon the world; and that because their teaching was the reproduction and illustration of His own. Every page of apostolic history is an illustration of this truth—the vitality of the Divine seed.

(c) In the experience of believers. The fruit is the product of the seed, and every true Christian is thus a witness to the inborn vitality of the Divine Word. ‘Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth.’

II. Its sovereign independence.—The sower is represented as absenting himself after he has committed the seed to the ground, and the seed as growing up without any action or intervention on his part. What does this mean? The Divine seed when sown can, and often does, dispense with the co-operation of man because—

(a) It contains essential truth.

(b) Sets forth a Divine revelation.

(c) It is attended always by the ministry of the Holy Ghost.

It is, so far as man is concerned, sovereign and independent in its action.

III. The uses to which this lesson may be put are many and various.

(a) Its evidential value should not be lost sight of in a day of bold criticism and sceptical doubt. The Bible has become the battlefield of Christianity; and we need to look well to our defences. Those defences are neither few nor feeble; but to the Christian there are none perhaps so assuring, so convincing, as the self-evidential character of the Word of God.

(b) Its personal value is another consequence. The Bible has a voice for all men: ‘Unto you, O men, I call; and My voice is to the sons of man’ (Proverbs 8:4); but it speaks to the individual.

(c) Its universal ministry. The Bible for the world, and the world for the Bible, is an axiom of all missionary enterprise, at home and abroad. The individual agent is necessarily local and limited in its action, the Divine seed is unlimited and universal. ‘The field is the world,’ and our warrant for believing in the efficacy of such sowing is not only the inherent vitality of the seed, but also its sovereign independence.

Rev. Sir Emilius Laurie, b.d.

Illustration

‘“When a man preaches to me,” said Daniel Webster, the American statesman, “I want him to make it a personal matter, a personal matter, a personal matter!” And no doubt the more each individual can feel that he is the very person to whom Scripture addresses itself, that such is its versatility, such its wonderful adaptation to the ever varying needs of the human heart, that its eye, to use Keble’s illustration, like that of a portrait, is ever fixed upon us, turn where we will, the greater will be the profit we derive from it. “‘Thou art the man,’” writes Dean Stanley, “is or ought to be the conclusion, expressed or unexpressed, of every parochial sermon.”’

(THIRD OUTLINE)

‘WHAT IS YOUR GROWTH?’

Men, women, take your true measure.

I. Is it towards evil?—Look back to days when you gazed on life with the bright, expectant eyes of youth. Remember those ideals of yours—those resolves, those pure purposes—which you know were the upward strivings of the spiritual life-germ within you. But what growth has there been through the years? Are you more hard and proud, more selfish and shallow, more careless and cold than formerly? Is there rock below the root, and are there thorns about the blade? Do the weeds choke and strangle the life? Then beware lest your soul shall never recover its lost growth. There was one brilliant man who at the end of life wrote thus miserably:—

My years are in the yellow leaf,

The flowers and fruits of love are gone;

The worm, the canker, and the grief

Are mine alone.

Beware, I say, lest the worm of vain regret and the canker of useless self-condemnation be yours in that day when the growing-time of life’s opportunities shall have gone by you into the irrevocable past.

II. Is it towards good?—Are you truer, kinder, broader, more just and generous than before? Is the self-love weaker and the care for others stronger? Are you less earth-bound, less earth-satisfied, more heavenly-minded? You hardly like to admit so much. And yet you do love your neighbour better than in former days, and you can look up to God with fuller trust. Happy man! You are God’s husbandry, His tilled field, His planting. His grace is sufficient for you. He Who fulfils His purpose of growth in every living thing will not fail in His purpose of growth in your soul.

III. We were meant to grow.—Nothing on earth is lovelier than a child. But a child which never grew would be an abortion which must shrivel and die. Would the mother be content to have her babe always such? Nay; she nourishes it that it may grow. She looks for the ripening of its powers and for brave deeds nobly done. And can you think that the Eternal Parent is satisfied with poor, dwarfed, shrivelled-up souls? Nay; but He would lay us on His breast and feed us with Himself—‘Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.’

—Rev. C. H. R. Harper.

Illustration

‘Look into your own souls, and ask yourselves if the seed God has given to you has sprung up and borne fruit. The best of people will be the readiest to own how far the field of the soul has fallen short of the harvest-field, yet their lives are brighter and less unattractive than they once were; they know that they love where once they disliked, that they strive often to win those who dislike them to a better mind, that they strive to think well even of the unthankful and the evil; best of all, they know they have the power sometimes to draw souls, by the sweetness and gentleness of their lives, to Jesus Christ. They know what it is to be useful, too. They gladly comfort the sad, and try to raise the fallen; and they minister to the sick, and pray and watch by the bedsides of the dying. And, looking back over their lives, they can realise that there has been growth—growth in purity, in grace, in faith, in holiness.’


Verse 30-31

MARKS OF THE CHURCH

‘Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God?… It is like a grain of mustard seed.’

Mark 4:30-31

What are the characteristics of the Church which would possess the future? What are the conditions under which alone the mustard seed, which has grown so high already, shall fill the world?

I. Proclaims the love of God.—The future can only belong to a Church which believes and preaches the forth-reaching, energising, and active love of God. To be out of the warmth of the love of God is to be in the darkness, and how great is that darkness no one painted more clearly than Jesus Christ Himself. After all, why did God make anything except in love? No Church will save the world, and especially those thousand millions who have not yet had a chance of making up their minds as to the truth of Christianity, except a Church that believes and proclaims and lives out the love of God to every child that He has made.

II. Preaches a free salvation.—With the Gospel of the Love of God must go the message of a free salvation. It may be that in the past we may have allowed a legalising spirit to creep over the Church and therefore lost such great communities as the Wesleyans, because they thought the old bottles would not hold the new wine. But to-day, High Church and Low Church vie to preach a gospel of a free salvation, tidings so great that they dwarf into insignificance every dividing line that keeps them apart.

III. Possesses the historical ministry.—But it may be said: ‘Every orthodox Christian community in the world preaches the Gospel of the Love of God and of a free salvation’—in what sense are we justified to-day in the Anglican Communion in keeping our own organisation separate from the great non-episcopal bodies on the one hand, and the Roman Church on the other? We do not keep aloof from either in any spirit of unbrotherliness or pharasaical pride. We long to be one; we pray to be one; we honour and admire all that they have done for the cause of Christ. But in spite of this we are bound to maintain, in opposition to the great non-episcopal bodies, that the historical ministry cannot lightly be set aside in the Christian Church, that just as every plant has lines of its own on which it develops, so the Divine grain of mustard seed carries within itself the organisation by which it was meant to spread throughout the world. Again and again has this, as well as the Gospel of free salvation, been shown effective in the history of the Church. It was the ordered ministry and strong organisation of the Church which saved the Christian religion for Europe when the Goths burst upon Rome and swept it away; and it was the Church which, as a matter of fact, converted the conquerors. The Church of the future must undoubtedly possess the unbroken ministry and the historic Sacraments. ‘Hold fast that thou hast, that no man take thy crown.’

IV. Preserves the exact truth.—But I turn to the far more delicate question as to why we do not seek re-union under present conditions with that great historic Church which undoubtedly shares with us the gifts of an unbroken tradition and Sacraments consecrated by duly ordained ministers. To quote Bishop Edward King, of Lincoln, ‘the special function of the Anglican Communion is to preserve the exact truth. She much protests against any additions to, or subtractions from, the teaching of the Holy Scripture and the early and undivided Church.’ The Church of Rome appears to us to err in the use of authority in relation to the truth. The universal supremacy of a single see and the infallibility of an individual bishop are extreme instances of this. The ecclesiastical use of authority, in relation to individual conduct, seem to endanger the freedom of individual action. We wish people to say, ‘Now we believe, not because of thy saying, for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.’ I believe it would be difficult to state in clearer words the difference between the ‘fatherly’ authority as given to the Church by the Anglican Communion and the authority as taught and practised in the Church of Rome.

V. Unworldliness.—It must clearly and unmistakably and before all the world be unworldly itself. The mustard seed is planted in the earth, but it will never grow and expand and flourish without the light and air of Heaven. The greatest danger of the Church is worldliness. Only a Church whose weapons still are faith and hope and love and prayer can hope to win the world.

Bishop A. F. Winnington-Ingram.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE KINGDOM OF GOD

Here are two objects: a very minute seed and a very large plant. The great golden lily of Japan comes from a bulb no larger than the apple. We may apply the parable to—

I. The religion of Christ.—Its beginning was very small. There were two disciples of John the Baptist, and one of the two brought another to Christ, and then Jesus finds Philip, and Philip finds Nathanael, and so the Kingdom grew.

II. Any Christian enterprise.—Sometimes a tiny seed grows to a forest. ‘There shall be an handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon’ (Psalms 72:16). A handful of corn becomes a mighty harvest.

III. The Divine life in the soul.—‘How faint and feeble life may be! There is a child just taken out of the water—drowned. She is thought by all bystanders to be dead; they all say, “She is dead!” And as the eyes do not see, as the ears do not hear, as the heart’s beat cannot be felt, as the form is so still and ghastly, you might well suppose that life had flown. But, see! There is the faintest possible quiver of the lip—so faint that none have seen it but that anguish-stricken, quick-eyed mother! Precious sign; it means life! So there may be in your soul just a little quiver, just a faint pulsation of love to Christ, just a dawning interest in things Divine. Do not think little of it. Count it, rather, inestimable treasure. It is a germ of infinite potentiality; it is the minute seed of life eternal.’

—Rev. F. Harper.


Verse 34

ALONE WITH CHRIST

‘And when they were alone, He expounded all things to His disciples.’

Mark 4:34

There is nothing like the direct teaching of Christ. It makes everything so very plain, so individual, so precious. And the ordinance of the pulpit will be to very little good if it do not send you into the privacy of your own room, there to have it all over again from Him to your separate and salient heart.

I. The disciple’s privilege.—Let us take care that we lay its proper and comforting stress on that one full word: ‘When they were alone, He expounded all things to His disciples.’ Whenever you come to complicated things which you cannot untie, within you or about you—an involved truth, a baffling Providence, an unintelligible condition of your own soul—take it to that great Expositor. And this is one great privilege of being a disciple: all things shall be made clear to you. The world has its messages, but ‘He manifests Himself to you as He does not unto the world.’ Others may have the words of Christ, but you shall have His mind.

II. ‘Alone with Christ.’—To be alone with Christ there must be—

(a) A calm, quiet mind; it must not be pre-occupied; the inner life must not be a crowd of thought; but stillness, with room, free room enough for Christ. I am not ‘alone’ with a person, if a thousand other presences, as real as his, are there. It must be, to have Christ, a perfectly vacant place.

(b) A realisation that Christ is there with you. Why should you hesitate to accept it? He has said that He will be there; and His being, and therefore His presence, is spiritual, and consequently invisible. Therefore, simply believe it: ‘Christ is here; He takes a personal interest in me; because He takes the interest in me, He is now here to speak to me. I will shut my ears to all other things, that I may hear Him. I will close my eyes and see Him only. Now, my own loving Saviour and I are by ourselves.’

(c) Confidential communications. Tell Him confidentially all you have in your mind, and expect Him to tell you confidentially all He has in His mind for you. Whatever be the difficulty, the trouble, the fear, the question, the sin, name it, spread it, and whatever answer comes in return—and it will come, silently but consciously—take it as whispered to you and intended for you only. For you must meet Christ as your own personal friend, or you will not meet Him at all.

III. With Christ everywhere.—You will have been ‘alone’ with Christ in your room to very small purpose, if you have not learnt there the happy art of so carrying Him with you everywhere, that you can often be as ‘alone’ with Him in the crowd as you were in your privacy. Practise yourself to get apart from the busy scene about you, and to go down into the sanctuary of your own soul, and try to find and meet Christ only. No one can say how it elevates, and refines, and sanctifies, and sweetens the day. It is the thing which makes it heaven to live, to have learnt the secret how to be ‘alone’ with the Lord Jesus Christ anywhere.

Rev. James Vaughan.

Illustration

‘Our Lord justifies the parabolic form of teaching, which often served to veil the truth, on the ground that immediate revelation is not always desirable. Many things are concealed, both in nature and by art, though the concealment is by no means designed to be permanent. What striking illustrations of the principle are furnished in geology! Look at the almost measureless bed of coal, hidden for ages in the bowels of the earth, but designed by Providence to be revealed when necessity should arise. The precise time for the unveiling is not always easy to decide, because man’s knowledge is finite, but we rest assured that it will coincide with the need for its use. It is a principle worth bearing in mind when human efforts fail; for it is encouraging to know that such a result may be due simply to the fact that we have tried unconsciously to anticipate the pre-appointed time.’


Verses 35-41

CHRIST IN THE TEMPEST

‘And the same day, when the even was come, He saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side.… What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?’

Mark 4:35-41

Let us see what lessons concerning Christ and His Church may be gathered from this incident.

I. The terror of the disciples.—The Rationalism of the present day sees nothing in the narrative but the account of a passing squall. Yet, if this be so, is it not strange that all the Synoptists notice and record the terror of the disciples, which one would certainly not expect, inasmuch as these men, some of them born on the shores of the lake, had been accustomed to such sudden storms from early life?

II. The calm of the Master.—In His sleeping we have an evidence of His perfect humanity. This sleep of Christ illustrates the sleep which God gives His beloved ones. Then, mark the self-possession of His awaking. How startled most men would have been, had they been disturbed as He was, with that piercing cry, ‘Master, carest Thou not that we perish?’ But not so Christ, the God-man. In the midst of the wild disturbance and confusion around Him, He sits calm and self-possessed, ready to give counsel and comfort. Silent and trustful the disciples should have been, because of the certainty that all would be well, while the Lord of the winds and waves was with them in the ship. So should it be with the Christian, however great and at times overwhelming the troubles of his life may be. At such times, the Saviour would say to us, ‘Think of My love, and all it led Me to undergo for you; and is not that the pledge that “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee”?’

III. The ship a type of the Church.—In the ship Christians of every age have loved to see a type of the Church. Christianity has passed through many storms, which seemed to threaten total destruction. There were—

(a) The storms of political oppression, seen first in the repeated attempts to suppress religion by force in the first three centuries; then came the tempest of Mahomedism, which was followed in its turn by the storm of the French Revolution, when religion had to encounter the force of elements that threatened entire destruction.

(b) The waves of intellectual opposition and revolt, as exampled in the pitiless dialectics of the Alexandrian Philosophy; in the Renaissance, which was (at its first appearance) but a pure enthusiasm for Paganism; and then (in later times) through the rise of Deism in England and France, which was speedily followed by the Atheism that produced the French Revolution.

(c) The tempests of moral degeneracy, through which the Church of Christ has passed; for example, the scandals of the Corinthian Church.

Yet the Church has weathered all these storms; and how? By appealing to her Master, Who is always in her midst, even though at times He might seem ‘asleep on a pillow.’ What has been, may still be: ‘He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.’

IV. True also of individuals.—Many storms come down upon our lives:—

(a) From without, in a hopeless sickness, or a pinching poverty, or the blighting of some hope, or the faithlessness of some trusted friend.

(b) From within, from the strong tide of temptation to sin, or from the many harassing doubts and difficulties in religion, which so often threaten to shipwreck faith. None of these storms need ovewhelm us, for there is still One in our midst Who can say, ‘Peace, be still.’

Seek to be with Him, to recognise Him, to follow Him, to trust Him, to love Him: and, one by one, the troubles and difficulties which threaten to overwhelm will pass away.

Rev. G. W. Barrett.

Illustrations

(1) ‘In the time of our Lord, the Lake of Galilee was ploughed by vessels of many descriptions, “from war-ships of the Romans to the rough fisher-boats of Bethsaida, and the gilded pinnaces from Herod’s palace at Tiberias.” To-day, although the lake teems with fish, as of old, only three rickety boats are to be found. Nor can we wonder, if it be true that an exorbitant tax, equivalent to about £100, is levied by the Government on each boat. Of the most primitive type are the boats at present on the lake, and they doubtless recall to us the ancient form of boat which experience has proved to be most suitable to the peculiarities of this inland sea. They are rigged with a lateen sail, in shape like a bird’s wing, having the greatest width of canvas at the foot, and tapering off to a point at the peak. The upper part thus offers but little resistance to the wind, and so lessens the danger of capsizing in a squall, which would be extreme with the ordinary form of sail. On all sides mountains surround the lake, and render it liable to sudden storms. Gusts of wind sweep down the ravines, which act like “gigantic funnels” to draw down the cold winds from the mountains, and lash the placid surface into a fury in a few moments. At the stern is a small raised deck, where the steersman sits on a leather cushion. Here, it is stated by Mark in the graphic description of the stilling of the tempest, our Lord lay, when there came down a storm of wind on the lake. “He was in the stern, asleep on the cushion” (Mark 4:38, r.v.).’

(2) ‘Like as God said in the Creation. “Let there be light,” and there was light, so Christ now says, “Peace,” and the noise of contending elements ceases; also “Be still,” and the agitated waves sink into instantaneous rest; and the parallelism suggests that the authority in both cases is the same in kind.’


Verse 39

THE SECRET OF A QUIET MIND

‘And He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.’

Mark 4:39

No words can exaggerate the value and importance of a calm mind. It is the basis of almost everything which is good. Well-ordered reflections, meditation, influence, wise speech, right action, a safe youth, a life to purpose, a peaceful end, a holy, happy death—all embosom themselves in a calm mind.

I. How is a calm mind to be attained?—Is there a stilling influence anywhere which can hush the risings, and the changings, and the swellings of my soul? I believe, and am sure, that the one answer to the question is Christ. He, and nothing else but He, can really and effectually say, ‘Peace, be still.’

II. Consider Jesus as the stiller of the heart.—He was most eminently a still character. The greatest force of energy and the largest activity of mind and body are not only compatible with stillness, but they go to make it. The persons of the largest power and the most telling action are generally the quietest. They may owe it to discipline and drill—and perhaps Christ Himself did—but they show themselves reined in and well-ordered. But we cannot think of Christ, the Man who should not ‘strive’ or ‘cry,’ so unruffled in scenes the most exasperating; so mildly answering the most angry words, without the deepest impression of the steady balance of that adjusted mind. And to Whom, therefore, in a beautiful exercise of retributive justice, it belongs to create the stillnesses of the human heart.

III. The want of religious peace lies at the root of all that is trouble to the mind. A man at peace with God will necessarily be at peace with his own conscience. And if a man is at once at peace with himself, he will never have his feelings greatly moved and aggravated by any external things whatsoever. For if all is right with God, what does it much matter about all the rest?

IV. A man’s relation to the world.—The believer’s relation to God’s mind is peace and love; and, therefore, it will be peace and love to his fellow-creatures. And it is a very subduing and humble thing to feel pardon and love. There is nothing in the world so humbling as to be loved. And what are all tossings of the mind?—pride; and what is quietness?—humility.

V. It is the office and prerogative of Christ to give quietness.—And if He gives this, who then can make trouble! You may have a desperate conflict with some passion, but there is a greater with you than all that is against you—greater than that poor, weak heart of yours.


Verse 40-41

THE TWO FEARS

‘And He said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?’

Mark 4:40-41

A striking picture of two very different kinds of fear. The dissipation of the lower fear of natural cowardice rouses the higher fear of spiritual awe.

I. The lower fear.

(a) It rises in circumstances of physical danger. This is naturally alarming under such circumstances as those of the text.

(b) It is characterised by unbelief. This was plainly so with the disciples, who had their Master with them in the boat. Cowardice doubts Providence.

(c) It is overcome by the saving help of Christ. Christ stilled the tempest when His disciples called upon Him, and in spite of their querulous unbelief (see Mark 4:39), His grace is larger than our faith.

II. The higher fear.—This is quite a different kind of fear. In the Greek the difference is made the more apparent by the use of another word.

(a) It springs from a revelation of the superhuman. The marvellous power that could allay a tempest is regarded with awe and dread.

(b) It is characterised by wonder and admiration. We are awed before the sublime. This fear implies only a partial knowledge. But it is more fitting than the undue familiarity and caressing affection for Christ of some modern sentimentalists.

(c) It issues in a larger faith. The combined wonder and veneration are not inconsistent with trust. On the contrary, if there were nothing in Christ to inspire awe, there would not be enough in Him to encourage faith.

Illustrations

(1) ‘It is stated in profane history that on one occasion when Cæsar was on the ocean in a small vessel, a terrific storm came on. The oarsmen became greatly alarmed and discouraged; but the emperor quieted their fears and re-nerved their arms by reminding them that, though the sea was so storm-riven and threatening, their little bark contained the great Cæsar and his fortunes, and therefore would not, could not sink. If the Christian would but think, when the storm drives furiously, and the waves rise like mountains, “Christ is in the hinder part of the vessel, I therefore shall not perish,” there would at least be a calm within him like that of heaven itself!’

(2) ‘Among the few remains of Sir John Franklin that were found far up in the Polar regions there was a leaf of the Student’s Manual, by Dr. John Todd—the only relic of a book. From the way in which the leaf was turned down, the following portion of a dialogue was prominent: “Are you not afraid to die?” “No.” “No! Why does the uncertainty of another state give you no concern?” “Because God has said to me, ‘Fear not, when thou passest through the waters I will be with thee.’”’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Mark 4:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/mark-4.html. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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