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The Church Pulpit Commentary Church Pulpit Commentary
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Mark 6". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ cpc/ mark-6.html. 1876.
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Mark 6". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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THE SUPREMACY OF CHRIST
‘From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto Him, that even such mighty works are wrought by His hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not His sisters here with us? And they were offended at Him.’
So they asked of old; so we ask to-day. For is He not wholly one of ourselves—a Man of our flesh and of our bone? ‘Whence, then, and why?’ Surely a natural question enough, and never was it asked more anxiously or more nervously than to-day. For we in our day have had specially opened to us the Gospel of the humanity of Jesus.
I. Man’s Brother.—How near it has brought Him to us! How real, we feel now, was the surrender of Himself to the limitations of the narrow and local situation! How deep and complete was the process by which He emptied Himself, and took our nature, and talked our language, and shut Himself up in our temporary frontiers, and confined Himself to our round of thoughts, and conformed to the shape of our historical conditions! We start, sometimes, in sudden alarm as the solid actuality of it all comes home to us. It is like a new revelation, with its strong and swift surprise. The Incarnation had been to us but a phrase. We had never imagined that it was so downright and physical a fact as we now see that it must have been. Yes! We start back sometimes in alarm. Yet we recover heart as we recognise the extraordinary gain of the nearness, of the neighbourhood, of the brotherhood into which it has brought Jesus Christ. He had been so mystically remote, so unactual, so visionary, as we first learned of Him through our Creeds. Now we see that it is true in a sense that we had never dreamed of, that He became as one of us, and was on all points tempted like as we are, and was touched with our infirmities.
II. Man’s Master.—It is just here that a new wonder begins to reveal itself, a secret begins to open. This Man, Who was so near, Who was so like the others, so brotherly, so utterly natural, began to take up before man’s eyes such a strange aloofness. He showed Himself so solitary; He was in possession of such unaccountable resources; He assumed such a unique supremacy; He had knowledge which could not be explained; He drew on some hidden fountain of His own; He claimed and exercised an authority for which there was no obvious and intelligible justification. What is it? What does it mean? He dwells apart; He takes counsel with no one; He never classes Himself with other men; He stands over them; He refuses all identification; He speaks out of some far-away pre-eminence. The Gospel story is the record of the growth of this strange singularity—this remote and solitary pre-eminence. He Who begins as man’s Brother shows Himself more and more as man’s Master, as his sole supreme Lord.
III. Man’s King.—His claim is paramount. His authority cannot even be challenged; it cannot submit to criticism. It repudiates, of necessity, all offers from without. It cannot allow itself to be influenced or modified. And the nearer you come to Him the more you find that this is true. It is this total isolation of Jesus on earth among men which makes the Gospel story so impressive. He is come so near, He has made Himself ours; yet what we learn, what we feel, is that He is perfectly separate from us; that not one of us for one moment moves on His level. He draws upon resources of which we have no cognisance, and possesses knowledge which lies outside our experience or proof.
( a) Men are judged at last wholly according to their relationship to Him. ‘I was hungry, and ye gave Me meat … and ye gave Me no meat.’
( b) His appeal to the universal sense of sin. Never for an instant does He exhibit the slightest consciousness of that which is the inevitable experience of all other men. He cannot class Himself among their sinful ranks. He stands wholly outside their sickness of soul, and this is why He can heal them.
( c) His knowledge of the Father is not a knowledge for which He wrestles and strives with other struggling men, gaining a higher insight than others by force of a more prevailing effort. Nay, He delivers it, He assumes it, as an experience possessed by Him alone and with utter certitude.
IV. The keyword.—Once again we are driven back on to the keyword of Christianity: Transfiguration. He takes all as it stands, and, without altering what it is, nevertheless changes it from glory to glory. Without in any way ceasing to be what it is, by nature or substance, His humanity became other than it was. Nothing is gone, nothing is destroyed, nothing is perverted, nothing is de-naturalised; but, for all that, it is a new thing, a new creature. There is nothing else like it, it stands alone; and yet there is no point at which we can leave go of the human nature and reach out for something that we call Divine. The Divine is seen within the human. The Divine revelation is made through the transfigured flesh. Go nearer and nearer to your Brother, Jesus, and you draw nearer and nearer to Christ. Press closer and closer to that Humanity, and lo! you find yourself adoring your God.
V. Nearness and neighbourhood had their own peculiar perils of old, when He was on earth. They retain that peril still. It was just because they knew Him so familiarly, and felt Him so close in ancient Nazareth, when they rejected Him. But by loving Him as a man we shall learn to fear Him as our Judge, to honour Him as our King, and to worship Him as our Lord God.
Rev. Canon H. Scott Holland.
‘The holiest of men may to all outward eyes appear exactly like other people. For in what does holiness consist but in a due fulfilment of the relative duties of our state in life, and in spiritual fellowship with God. Now the relative duties of life are universal. Every man has his own. That which makes one man to differ from another is not so much what things he does, as his manner of doing them. Two men, the most opposite in character, may dwell side by side, and do the very same daily acts, but in the sight of God be as far apart as light and darkness.’
THE POWER OF UNBELIEF
‘And He could there do no mighty work, save that He laid His hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them.’
What an idea it gives us of the wonder-working power of Jesus—that to ‘lay His hands on a few sick folk, and heal them,’ was not accounted as any very ‘mighty’ thing!
But I shall have to do more with what the Lord did not do, than with what He did. Great and many as are the things which God has done for every one of us, they are but as nothing in comparison with what He might have done, and with what He would have done, if only we had let Him.
I. The place was Nazareth, the most privileged spot of the whole earth; for there, of thirty-three years, Jesus spent nearly thirty. And there it is evident that His heart went forth to do ‘many mighty works.’ Yet in the minds of the men of Nazareth there was an unholy familiarity with holy things—with the name, and the person, and the work, and the truth of Jesus Christ. See the result. They had no faith—the material view destroyed the spiritual. They grovelled in the confidence of an outside knowledge till they became steeped in unbelief. No city ever disbelieved like Nazareth, and so we have the inevitable consequence, the essential retribution, ‘He could there do no mighty work.’
II. The counterpart.—With the whole face of truth—the sublime truth, the truth in Jesus—none upon the whole earth can be more familiar than you. You have looked at it—ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years. Have we come to treat these things as some very ordinary concern of daily occurrence? Has some truth been so long before our eyes that we have lost the sense of its power and majesty, and have no appreciation of its beauty? Are there not thousands and tens of thousands with us who are occupied with the accidental and the external?
III. There are two great truths which we must always lay down as fundamental principles. One is, that the love and beneficence of God are always welling and waiting, like some gushing fountain, to pour themselves out to all His creatures. And the other, that there must be a certain state of mind to contain it—a preparation of the heart to receive the gift—both, indeed, of grace, but the one, the moral condition of the soul, previous and absolutely necessary to the other. Before you can have the gift you must believe the Giver.
(1) ‘You have been engaged in some work to do good to a fellow-creature, and you have laboured long and hard, and you have not succeeded. Why? You have distrusted the issue. You thought you were distrusting yourself, but you were distrusting God. You said, “Who am I? how can I do this?” when you ought to have felt, “It is God’s work, it is for God’s glory; to it He has promised success, and therefore it will be, though I am all ignorance, and all weakness, and all sin.” But because of your want of faith, in you God could “not do the mighty work.” ’
(2) ‘You go to your knees in prayer, and, within the range of the promises, there is no limit to the answers which God has covenanted to that prayer. But you can tell of no success—you bring up your burdens, and you take them back with you again; your soul was cold and powerless when you began, and it is cold and powerless now that you have done. No sense of peace, no acquisition of strength, no light to the soul, has broken through the iron and the brass with which your heaven was sealed. The promises sound by you, but you cannot grasp them; your supplications seem to have found no entrance to God’s mercy seat. And why is it thus? You have not really believed that God was going to do what you sought.’
‘And He marvelled because of their unbelief.’
It is recorded twice, and only twice, that ‘Jesus marvelled.’ And it is remarkable that both times it was on a matter of ‘faith.’ Once, at its greatness; once, because it was so small.
I. All unbelief is an offence against reason.—The region of faith lies beyond reason; but reason takes us to the border, and shows us it is reasonable to go in. We can demonstrate, by close reasoning, that there is a revelation, and that the revelation is our Bible. And from that moment reason itself demands of us that we believe all that that Bible contains. Then the Bible admits us into the fields of faith. Once in the region of faith, reason stops. We are amongst the unfathomable, the mysterious, the incomprehensible. We have simply to accept. To reason here would be out of place.
II. What is faith?
( a) Faith realises. It makes unseen things realities to the mind; as great realities, and greater, than the objects of our senses; clearer than the things in which we daily move. It turns those unseen things into substances. It is the ‘substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’
( b) Faith appropriates. It makes those things our own. I see Christ on His Cross. He is very real to me. His blood is flowing. And I hear Him say, ‘This blood is shed for you. It is My life given instead of your life, that you may live, and never die. It pays all your debt. Your sins are cancelled.’ And as He says it, He looks on me, and I take it home to my heart of hearts, and I say, ‘Yes, Lord; I know it, I feel it; I am forgiven, my sins are pardoned, and I am free and happy. And I am safe. For Thou hast said it.’ That is faith.
( c) Faith is the mother of love. If I have it, I cannot help but love. I am forgiven. I am loved. And I love again. The ray must reflect itself. And that love makes holiness. It must speak; it must act.
This is faith’s pedigree. This is faith’s history.
III. Where is the secret of this strange marvel?—‘Mighty works’ are being done around you: many are converted; many are being raised to a new life; and the Mighty One stands at your door and knocks; and if He once came in, O what a change! from unrestfulness to rest! from ‘the wilderness’ to ‘the garden of the Lord.’ But unfaith has locked and barred the door. And there He stands! Perhaps He is going away to someone else! ‘He marvels at your unbelief.’
‘We can never be too much on our guard against unbelief. It is the oldest sin in the world. It began in the garden of Eden, when Eve listened to the devil’s promises instead of believing God’s words, ‘Ye shall die.’ It is the most ruinous of all sins in its consequences. It brought death into the world. It kept Israel for forty years out of Canaan. It is the sin which specially fills hell. “He that believeth not shall be damned.” It is the most foolish and inconsistent of all sins. It makes a man refuse the plainest evidence, shut his eyes against the clearest testimony, and yet believe lies. Worst of all, it is the commonest sin in the world. Thousands are guilty of it on every side. In profession they are Christians. They know nothing of Paine and Voltaire. But in practice they are really unbelievers. They do not implicitly believe the Bible, and receive Christ as their Saviour. Let us watch our own hearts carefully in the matter of unbelief. The heart, and not the head, is the seat of its mysterious power. It is neither the want of evidence, nor the difficulties of Christian doctrine, that make men unbelievers. It is want of will to believe.’
THE MISSION OF THE TWELVE
‘And He called unto Him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two.… And they went out, and preached that men should repent.’
Jesus chose the Apostles (see Mark 3:14) (1) to ‘be with Him’ for companionship and for instruction; and (2) to ‘send them forth to preach.’ They have been with Him about nine months; the time has come for a more thorough preaching of the Gospel in Galilee, and now He sends them forth.
I. The advantage of Christian company.—Our Lord sent forth His Apostles ‘two and two.’ Mark is the only Evangelist who mentions this fact. It is one that deserves special notice. There can be no doubt that this fact is meant to teach us the advantages of Christian company to all who work for Christ. The wise man had good reason for saying, ‘Two are better than one’ ( Ecclesiastes 4:9). Two men together will do more work than two men singly.
II. Clergy to be received.—Notice what solemn words our Lord uses about those who will not receive nor hear His ministers. He says, ‘it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.’ This is a truth which we find very frequently laid down in the Gospels. It is painful to think how entirely it is overlooked by many. Thousands appear to forget that it needs something more than mere abstinence from outward irregularities to save a man’s soul. They do not see that one of the greatest sins a man can commit in the sight of God is to hear the Gospel of Christ and not believe it—to be invited to repent and believe, and yet remain careless and unbelieving.
III. The burden of their message.—What was the doctrine which our Lord’s Apostles preached? We read that ‘they went out and preached that men should repent.’ The necessity of repentance may seem at first sight a very simple and elementary truth. And yet volumes might be written to show the fullness of the doctrine, and the suitableness of it to every age and time, and to every rank and class of mankind. It is inseparably connected with right views of God, of human nature, of sin, of Christ, of holiness, and of heaven.
THE POWER OF A GOOD LIFE
‘But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead.’
The Baptist had been slain in prison, but a new star was shedding light on all the land. Our Blessed Lord was doing unnumbered works of mercy, and Herod was alarmed. Note—
I. A good life is always the same.—A life of piety issues in like beauty and fragrance in all ages and in all parts of the world. When a man becomes a Christian he has not to do what has never been done before, but simply what his predecessors have done. He has not to strike out an original path, but to be a follower ‘of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.’
II. A good life never dies.—Persecution may kill the man, but it cannot blot out his memory, or destroy his influence. It is true that even in the ordinary course of things there are those removed by death whose continuance on the earth seems necessary to the progress of the Church. Yet how often do we find that, as from the ashes of the dead spring the heart for higher love and the arm for sublimer service?
III. A good life troubles the bad life.—A wicked man may do much to be at ease in his wickedness; he may drive away or kill the messengers of God; he may flatter himself that henceforth he can go on in his own way, neither fearing God nor regarding man; but at some point in his life a word will go blazing, rushing through his soul, a hand will smite him, a presence will confront him, and he will find that it is all in vain that he has attempted to confound the difference between right and wrong.
IV. A good life triumphs.—It triumphs:—
( a) Historically. Herod’s name is execrated; the Baptist’s extolled.
( b) In its influence. John was killed in the prison, but was alive in the palace.
( c) In its power. Herod’s kingdom passed away; the voice of the Baptist sounds aloud throughout the world to-day.
‘ “God buries His workman, but carries on His work.” When the Rev. C. S. Thompson died of his exertions in fighting the famine and cholera among the Bhils of Western India, four other missionaries, out of many who volunteered, were selected to carry on and extend the work. The whole of these, with the Rev. A. Outram and his wife, who worked in another part of the district, were invalided as the result of the painful sights, incessant labours, and unhealthy surroundings. The story is much the same in each case. One after another they were found by their colleagues battling on in spite of illness, and only induced to give up when the strain had reached breaking point. When they succumbed, another set were ready to take their place.’
THE WITNESS OF THE BAPTIST
‘John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.’
The Baptist sets an example of boldly rebuking vice, and patiently suffering for truth’s sake.
I. His boldness.—He does not spare the king. What excuses he might have made! ‘It would be a bit of bad policy to alienate the king, to lose his favour. While he was friendly, John had an opportunity of getting hold of so many people and handing them on to Jesus.’ Ah, how often we are deceived about this matter of popularity and of influence! We are so loath to lose influence, to stand by principle. We sacrifice the very object of which influence and popularity may be given for the sake of retaining it. For what is influence given? What is the worth of popularity save that it may be used?
II. He rebuked vice.—‘I will speak of Thy testimonies even before kings, and will not be ashamed.’ That was the motto of John the Baptist; that must be the law of the Christian Church, and of Christian men and women in whatever sphere or department of life. ‘Before kings’—even the uncrowned King Demos who utters his mandates in the daily press, or the king or queen of your own circle of society. The Christian religion has a code of morals just as imperious in its demands as the Christian creed. Do not be afraid of being thought bigoted or prudish. Raise the standard. There are many who will rally round it if only some one in the office, in the club, in the drawing-room, will have the courage to plant it.
III. The Divine law concerning marriage.—The special subject-matter of the Baptist’s witness was a protest on behalf of God’s law concerning marriage. It was in defence of the sanctity of family life and of domestic purity. Does that not come home with a special application to us in these days? There are divers influences working to undermine our high, our true conception of the dignity of family life, of the Divine law concerning marriage. The Divine law concerning marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others on either side. We are concerned with the Divine law. The Church must stand by that. The Church cannot give her benediction, she cannot admit to her high privileges and sacraments those who forsake or transgress the Divine law concerning marriage.
Bishop A. C. A. Hall.
‘From Josephus we learn that the Baptist was imprisoned at the castle of Machærus, on the east coast of the Dead Sea. This castle, however, is stated to have belonged to Aretas. But Aretas made war on Herod when the latter put away his first wife (the former’s daughter), and it is supposed that, in the course of the war, it fell into Herod’s hands. If Herod were at this time engaged in a campaign on the frontier, his headquarters might be at Machærus; which would account for the apparent quickness with which the order to behead John was carried out. Such an absence from Galilee would also account for his not hearing of Jesus till after John’s death. Subsequently, Herod’s army was totally routed by Aretas, which was regarded by the Jews as a judgment for the murder of the Baptist.’
WHERE HEROD FAILED
‘For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.’
There is no greater peril than the peril of playing with spiritual convictions, or than that of amusing ourselves with God’s truth, taking pleasure in hearing it, yet not making it the rule of action, or really doing anything to promote those objects.
I. Where Herod failed.—The story of Herod contains a remarkable instance of this. We can quite imagine with what emotions of alarm the lewd king may have heard the tale of the wild unearthly man, with his proclamation of a heavenly kingdom at hand, to whom the whole nation flocked. The impure Herod saw in John one whom the shadows of eternity appeared visibly to encircle. To hear of him was, as it were, to enter into the cloud, and as he entered, he feared.
II. Yet ‘he did many things.’—What those many things were which Herod amended at the bidding of John we vainly surmise. A few of the grosser corruptions of his foul course were perchance removed, but he could not be turned to a thorough reformation of his own life. The only voice which had ever stirred the better spirit within him was quenched in blood, and the last state became worse than the first.
III. Warnings.—From Herod’s history we learn ( a) how it may happen that a man who has manifested a certain interest in and deference to religion will yet turn against religion when it assails his cherished idol; ( b) how religious instruction, when not honestly followed out, becomes itself a snare.
‘What is it worth—to feel an abstract respect for religion? What is it worth—to like preaching, to be moved by preaching? What is it worth—to prefer to hear a strictly solemn ministry? What is it worth—to delight in pictures of truth? What is it worth—to do “many things” for conscience sake? All that Herod did! It is very evident that Herod was a weak character. Do not think little of weakness of character. It is the cradle of almost all that is wrong. He had strong convictions. He made a partial surrender of himself to God. But Herod never showed the marks of real conversion. His religion was wrong in its foundation. It was a religion of nothing but fear.’
‘And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison.’
The power of one sin. Remember Herodias! There was one admitted wrong affection (we do not read that Herod had any other), and yet that one wrong affection, daily allowed, was enough to countervail all John’s preaching, and all Herod’s resolving! It was quite compatible with many good feelings, and many religious actions; but it was incompatible with the comforting, sanctifying, saving grace of God.
The three miserable and invariable consequences of such a life of conflict and vacillation came on.
I. A reckless self-indulgence.—What an image does it not give us of the abandonment of licentiousness! The birthday rout—the daughter’s unblushing dance—the probably half-drunken oath—the riotous and cruel court—the mad, desperate, and horrid catastrophe of bloodshed within the prison walls—and the ghastly charger in a maiden’s hand! And this is he who used to sit so rapt at the preacher’s solemnising word!
II. A miserable cowardice.—Or look again at the crouching of his dastardly cowardice. He ‘fears’ his God, and he ‘fears’ his wife; but the ‘fear’ of the creature is greater than the ‘fear’ of the Creator, and he gives up his religion for a woman! He issues the order; though it be contrary to every better principle of his heart, he issues it, and commands the murder which, all the while, his soul abhors!
III. A perverted judgment.—Has not reason left her seat—is not the moral judgment of that unhappy man destroyed—when he is willing, for one guilty pledge to man, to break every pledge to God?
Do you see these things well? You see the hand of a man who, like yourself, plumed himself once on his soft, tender emotions; who, like you, drank in ‘gladly’ the Gospel sound; who, like you, ‘did many things’ for God; but like you, in opposition to conscience and the Word, retained one sin, and for that one sin’s sake incurred such guilt and wrath that the name of Herod is left but as a beacon by the way, to warn every future traveller over life’s deep waters!
‘Sin is the most expensive thing possible. It wastes money. It wears the body into decay. But, bad as these things are, there are even worse behind; for it blights the intellect and withers the moral nature of the man. It weakens the will; it blunts the conscience; it hardens the heart. It dries up all the finer feelings of the soul, so that ultimately all regard for truth and holiness and purity is gone. But worse yet. Sin is an enslaving thing. It becomes the master of the man who indulges in it, and sets him to do the hardest drudgery.’
THE REST BY THE WAY
‘And He said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while.’
Here we see that Jesus cares for those who work for Him. How may we find true rest, and real and permanent enjoyment in our hours of recreation?
I. Rest must be earned.—Jesus had been busily engaged in preaching in the villages of Galilee, and so had His disciples. Their rest was no mere accentuation of idleness, as so many so-called holidays are in these days of self-indulgence and luxury. In these hurrying, straining days, and in this unresting city, tired bodies and aching heads must have repose. Alas for those who never get it! But be sure of this—that the man who does not work cannot rest. True rest looks back on times of toil and of effort earnest and sustained.
II. Rest should give power for further service.—The withdrawal was only that they might ‘rest a while,’ and so be ready for work again. It is so with every man who works for God, whether it be in strictly religious effort or in the ordinary round of common duty. There are always fresh doors ahead to enter, fresh fields to win; and Christ calls us across the lake on to the mountain-top to rest with Him, but only that we may go back to the western shore, and down to the dusty plain, there to engage in bolder enterprise of effort and of service.
III. Rest in His presence.—The Master takes the disciples with Him. His word is ‘Come’—not ‘Go’—‘apart and rest a while’ with God in work, in times of pressing anxiety, of course when trouble comes and death looms near; but in pleasure, away and to make merry with our friends. Is that so? Can we say of our pleasures, ‘In Thy presence is the fulness of joy, and at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore’? Let us have done, once and for all, with the thought that in our hours of pleasure at least we may forget God and get away to make merry with our friends. Let us have done with the thought that His presence will dull any pure enjoyment or sadden any honest joy. Jesus Christ is willing to be with us ‘all the days’—the holidays as well as work-days.
—Bishop T. W. Drury.
(1) ‘ “The Lord rested.… Thou shalt rest.” We know that attempts have been made to ignore this principle because of its positive form, but they have always failed. At the French Revolution one item of reform was to alter the law of the Sabbath, but it came to naught. A still stranger instance of a very different kind is found in the Life of John Wesley, who, with all his goodness, was not always practical in the things of common life. We read that Wesley founded a boys’ school at Kingswood, near to Bristol, and himself drew up the rules of the school. Among them was the strange rule that the boys should have no holidays, no recreation, no games. It was to be all work and no play, and that produced not only dull boys, but it produced very naughty boys; and Wesley was sent for, and, in words which have become memorable in quite a different connection, said: “We must mend this, or we must end it,” and so it was amended by games being restored. Rest is necessary, because we are men; and, moreover, as men created in the image of God, we must rest as God rested.’
(2) ‘ “How shall I spend my holiday?” Do you really ask that question? Here is a certain test of true recreation. Do our amusements refresh us for future work? Can we look forward in them with real satisfaction to that work, and feel that they are fitting us for renewed labour, or do they tend merely to dissipate our powers? Do they send us back “like giants refreshed,” with minds eager and keen to spend and be spent in the work to which God has called us; or do we creep back unwillingly to work, like the schoolboy of bygone days, because our pleasures have left us limp and fagged, the worse and not the better for our so-called recreation? That is a test which all of us can apply to ourselves, only let us do it fearlessly and honestly.’
FED OF GOD
‘And He commanded them to make all sit down by companies.’
The subject of which I wish to speak to you is the need which comes to men of simply being fed by God, of ceasing from self-assertion, and simply being receptive to the influences which come to them from Divinity.
I. Life’s perpetual energy.—There is a danger for many men, if not for all, in the perpetual output of energy which so much of our life involves. Life is made up of tasks and problems. It is one process of education; the calling out of powers by their use. It is the tendency of all the practical necessities of life, the constant outward movement of activity. ‘All is going out, nothing is coming in.’ Is not that the dismay which settles down upon many an experience as it attains to middle life?
II. The blessedness of a pause.—This applies also to our sacred and religious occupations. Nothing so tends to keep God out of our lives as work for God done in a wrong and superficial spirit. The disciples as well as the stragglers from Capernaum, must have needed Christ’s call to sit down and be fed. The more earnestly you are at work for Jesus, the more you need times when what you are doing for Him passes totally out of your mind, and the only thing worth thinking of seems to be what He is doing for you.
III. Is it not possible to rest in working, so that in the very act which exhausts, I shall get my renewal and supply? Here is a man who is engaged in a wholly secular employment. At the same time he is a Christian man who loves Christ; but all the day he is busy at the office or the shop. He knows how his life is always out-going. What can he do? Once in a while he turns aside and leaves the business. He makes his Sunday genuinely sacred. He consecrates his hour of prayer. What happens then? The blessing surely comes. God feeds the docile and expectant life, and it returns to work purer, greater. Why are you selling your goods? If you can say, ‘Because it is my duty, in order that I may maintain my family, and serve my generation, and honour God by usefulness,’ then the act opens itself and becomes a Church—a gate of heaven. In every act, consciously and devoutly done for God’s sake, God gives Himself to the soul and feeds it in the act.
—Bishop Phillips Brooks.
‘There are races, and there have been times to which this need of rest and receptivity has been the most familiar truth. Open the record of the fourth century, and it is full of the pictures of hermits sitting on rough mountain sides, listening for the voice of God. Let your boat drop quietly down the Ganges to-day, and along its banks the silent figures sit like carved brown statues, day after day, with eyes open and fixed on vacancy, clearing themselves of all thought or desire, that being emptied of self they may see God. The East believes only too readily what the West finds it so very hard to accept, that no life is complete which does not sometimes sit trustfully waiting to be fed by God.’
MYSTERIOUS PASSAGES OF LIFE
‘And He saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them.’
He saw them ‘toiling’—the word in the original is very strong, wrought, tested, tortured—yet, nevertheless, continuing the task which seemed so hopeless, and persevering in the unequal combat, which all the while was producing the distress.
This Jesus saw then, and what does He see now?
I. The voyage of life.—We are all bound together in one holy fellowship, and our first duty is to advance and propel ourselves and each other—all the Church—to the appointed goal. And on that voyage, in which we are all bound, every one of us has his own appointed work to do—and that work is to each man a thing definite, and real, and hard.
II. Difficulties.—Who that has gone but a little on this course does not know how difficult grows the way, and how many are the things that rise up against him! And with all this there come the aggravations of a mind harassed and perplexed with the obscurities in which it finds itself involved; there is the painful questioning, ‘Is this the path?’ And then there comes that bitter sense of loneliness—no voice of love, human or Divine; early feelings lost, or going away with the lost Comforter; the breaking of all we used to lean upon; the miserable desolation; no prayers answered, no sorrow healed, no good done, no hearty responses—but all, above, below, around, on every side, all drear and silent! These are true passages of life.
III. God sends a word of comfort.—Jesus sees you. He sees every stroke of that hand, every heaving of that breast, every panting of that heart, every rolling wave, every disturbing gust, every hostile breath. Darkness and distance shut out Him from you, but they never shut out you from Him. That is the point; that is the whole trial; that is the exercise of faith. I cannot see my Saviour, but my Saviour does see me; and He sees me trying to please Him, and to reach the place where He has told me that I shall see Him.
‘If, like St. Peter, we fix our eyes on Jesus, we too may walk triumphant over the swelling waves of disbelief, and unterrified amid the rising winds of doubt; but if we turn away our eyes from Him—if, and as we are so much tempted to do, we look rather at the power and fury of those destructive elements than at Him Who can help and save—then we too shall inevitably sink. Oh, if we feel, often and often, that the water-floods threaten to drown us, and the deep to swallow up the tossed vessel of our Church and Faith, may it again and again be granted us to hear amid the storm, and the darkness, and the voices prophesying war, those two sweetest of the Saviour’s utterances—“Fear not. Only believe.” “It is I. Be not afraid.” ’
HEALED BY A TOUCH
‘As many as touched Him were made whole.’
I. The healed.—Those here noticed were evidently affected with a variety of diseases of body and mind. But whatever was the variety and inveteracy of their diseases, we are assured that they were made whole. As the material frame of those who were brought to touch even the hem of the Redeemer’s garment was restored to a state of the most perfect soundness, so the moral nature of those who experience spiritual renovation is healed and fitted for immortal life.
II. The source of healing.—The cure, whether it was the restoration of sight, or of hearing, or active power, or the casting out of devils, was effected simply by the silent but resistless virtue which passed from the Redeemer when His person or even the hem of His garment was touched. In this we have a most expressive and beautiful emblem or representation of the great fountain of moral healing essential for the diseased and sin-stricken nature of man. Spiritual soundness and strength, moral freedom and blessedness, are to be derived simply and exclusively from Him Who is become the great Physician of souls, the sole Fountain of internal purity and health.
III. The medium through which the healing influence was transmitted.—The cures which were effected on the sons and daughters of affliction gathered around the Redeemer were secured in the employment of such means as He sanctioned and approved. It was not the idle gaze of apathy and vulgar astonishment, but the struggle to come near Him—it was the touch of His person, or the hem of His robe, prompted and sustained by the conviction that He was mighty to save, that met with the benediction, ‘Go in peace, thy faith hath made thee whole.’
‘ “It was after a walk through the village of Ehden, beneath the mountain of the cedars,” wrote Dean Stanley, describing his visit to the East in company with King Edward VII when Prince of Wales, “that we found the stairs and corridors of the castle of the Maronite chief, Sheyk Joseph, lined with a crowd of eager applicants—‘sick people taken with divers diseases,’ who hearing that there was a medical man in the party, had thronged round him, ‘beseeching him that he would heal them.’ I mention this incident because it illustrates so forcibly these scenes in the Gospel history, from which I have almost of necessity borrowed the language best fitted to express the eagerness, the hope, the anxiety of the multitude who had been attracted by the fame of his beneficent influence. It was an affecting scene; our kind doctor was distressed to find how many cases there were which, with proper medical appliances, might have been cured, and, on retiring to the ship, by the Prince of Wales’ desire, a store of medicines was sent back, with Arabic labels directing how and for what purpose they should be used.” ’