Click here to get started today!
FULLNESS OF GRACE AND GOODNESS
‘I have compassion on the multitude.’
Let us take the miracle of Jesus feeding the multitude as showing the fullness of His grace and goodness ( Php_4:19 ).
I. The greatness of the multitude ( Mark 8:1).—We might think that this would interfere with the blessing, but in Christ God provides for the world ( John 3:16). Though many have come to the Gospel feast, still the invitation says, ‘Yet there is room’ ( Luke 14:22).
II. The greatness of the necessity ( Mark 8:1-Exodus :).—But the greatness of man’s extremity is necessary to display the greatness of God’s grace ( Isaiah 59:16). Israel learned this at the Red Sea ( Exodus 14:10); the disciples when they had been without Jesus the three days He was in the grave ( John 20:20-Hosea :). There were only seven loaves, which were quite insufficient to satisfy so many. And is not this the case with all human things? Will human wisdom satisfy? ( 1 Corinthians 1:20); will human riches? ( Matthew 19:22); will pleasure? ( Ecclesiastes 2:1). The soul longs for immortality—this alone will satisfy it ( Psalms 17:15).
III. The greatness of the Divine compassion ( Mark 8:2).—The first thought of their want, you see, springs from Jesus Himself ( Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 5:2). He is full of compassion, and ready to supply the comfort that is needed ( Psalms 145:8; 2 Corinthians 1:3-Deuteronomy :). This reminds us of the father seeing the prodigal a great way off, and running to him ( Luke 15:20).
IV. The greatness of the Saviour’s bounty ( Mark 8:6-1 Samuel :).—By His word and blessing four thousand souls are fed; and this miracle was repeated, showing that His favours are renewed to correspond to our necessities ( Lamentations 3:23; Isaiah 33:2; Psalms 34:9-2 Samuel :).
Thus in this simple narrative do you learn the fullness of Christ ( Colossians 1:19), that ‘God is able to make all grace abound toward you’ ( 2 Corinthians 9:8).
—Bishop Rowley Hill.
‘Because this miracle closely resembles one which preceded it by no considerable interval of time, some have asserted them to be one and the same. But this could not be, as the scene of the two miracles was different; the time, also, at which they were wrought was different, and the number of the multitude was different, as was the food provided for them. Moreover, the chiding of Christ of His disciples afterward sets the matter beyond all dispute or doubt ( Mark 8:19-Proverbs :). There are, it is true, many points of likeness, but there are also some points of unlikeness. In the duplicate miracle the numbers fed are smaller, the supply of food is larger, while the fragments remaining are fewer. The miracles, therefore, are separate acts of omnipotence. That the feeding of the multitude should be repeated, and that two evangelists should record both instances, is an emphatic confirmation of the thoughtful and generous kindness of the Divine Bread-Giver and a decided testimony to the instructive nature of His action.’
‘MAN’S EXTREMITY IS GOD’S OPPORTUNITY’
Such was their zeal that they continued with Him three days. To them His gracious words were esteemed more than their necessary food. But the time had now come when they must either be sent fasting to their own homes, or else a miracle must be wrought to meet their pressing need. Their extremity was verily His opportunity.
I. Christ’s compassion was touched.—His heart always moved before His hand; and the latter ever responded to the former. He did not think of Himself, albeit during that time, with but little interval, He had been either preaching to them or healing the sickly among them, denying Himself both refreshment and rest.
II. The unbelief of the disciples.—As usual, the disciples were full of unbelief; and they were as embarrassed at the thought of making provision for such a vast multitude as was Moses for the six hundred thousand footmen ( Numbers 11:21-Song of Solomon :).
III. Every need supplied.—The miracle was so broad that it embraced every one of them; it was exercised toward them regardless of the varieties of their moral character; it was directed to their lowest and highest need; and it was a sublime demonstration of His infinite love which would lavish the best blessings on sinful men both in time and eternity. And just as His disciples distributed to the people, so Christ now employs His ministers, who know the same wants and need the same blessings, to distribute them to others through the Sacraments and ordinances of His Church.
Our Lord experienced our human emotions. Note:—
I. The occasion of Christ’s compassion.—His heart was touched by
( a) The spectacle of human want and suffering.
( b) The wide diffusion of the need.
II. The qualities of Christ’s compassion.—It was
( a) Tender and sympathising.
( b) Practical and not sentimental.
III. The proof of Christ’s compassion.
( a) He interested His disciples in the state of the hungering multitude.
( b) He provided a supply suitable and sufficient for the wants of the thousands.
( c) He satisfied every hungering soul.
IV. Application.—See here a picture of
( a) The needs of the world.
( b) The grace of the Redeemer.
( c) The ministry of the Church.
(1) ‘We distinguish a twofold object in the miracles of Christ. The first a material one—the meeting of some immediate emergency, of some want of man’s earthly life which His love urged Him to satisfy; the other and higher one—to point Himself out to the persons whose earthly necessities were thus relieved as the One alone capable of satisfying their spiritual wants; to raise them from a single exhibition of His glory in the individual miracle to a vivid apprehension of the glory of His entire nature. Nay, it was to be a sign to all others, that they might believe in Him as the Son of God.’
(2) ‘May not the three days imply an earnest craving in some at least of this great multitude for spiritual food, so that in their eagerness to feed their souls, they forgot their bodily needs? But Jesus did not forget. They sought first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and that which was needful for the body was added unto them.’
BREAD IN THE WILDERNESS
‘From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?’
These words were the question of the disciples which drew forth the answer of beneficent miracle. These same words, in a deeper spiritual sense, are the question which the world has asked in all ages from the same Divine Compassion in regard to man’s pilgrimage through the wilderness of life.
I. The beneficent miracles.—The miracles of feeding the five thousand and the four thousand are, as miracles of the quasi-creative power, absolutely incomprehensible to us.
( a) They stand out, perhaps beyond all others, as wonders; while their meaning as signs of a Divine compassion and beneficence comes most easily home to us.
( b) They produced a wider and more startling effect than usual upon the mass of men. The multitude hailed Him with enthusiasm as the promised Messiah; they were ( John 6:15) prepared to take Him by force to make Him their king.
( c) The spiritual significance of these miracles is brought out with especial clearness by John in connection with the feeding of the five thousand. In our Lord’s subsequent discourses to His disciples and to the Jews ( John 6:26-Jude :) He draws out the whole tenor of that significance.
II. The wilderness of life.—How can men be supplied in this wilderness of pilgrimage with the bread which, like the angel’s food given to Elijah ( 1 Kings 19:6-Ruth :), shall sustain them in their journey to the mount of God’s unveiled presence?
( a) We may not exclude from our thoughts the ‘daily bread,’ of ‘all things needful for our souls and bodies’ here, for which our Lord bade us pray.
( b) But it is on the spiritual sense that the miracle, as interpreted by our Lord’s own teaching, would bid us lay stress. It is a ‘spiritual food and sustenance’ which He gives, or rather which He is to us; or, to use St. Paul’s fuller description, it is in Him that we ‘all eat the same spiritual meat, and all drink the same spiritual drink’—the meat for ‘the strengthening,’ the drink for ‘the refreshing’ of our souls. This great truth we realise in its fullest sense in the Holy Communion. Not only by faith, but by spiritual experience, we know that through it we have the indwelling of Christ in us, which is our eternal life.
( c) It is to all human life that His promise applies. ‘He that cometh unto Me shall never hunger, and He that believeth on Me shall never thirst.’
‘ “It is well known,” so runs the Homily, “that the meat we seek for in this Supper is spiritual food; the nourishment of our soul; a heavenly refection and not an earthly; an invisible meal and not bodily; a ghostly substance, and not carnal; so that to think that without faith we may enjoy the eating and drinking thereof, or that that is the fruition of it, is but to dream a gross carnal feeding, basely objecting and binding ourselves to the elements and creatures.… That when thou goest up to the reverend Communion to be satisfied with spiritual meats, thou look up with faith upon the holy body of thy God, thou marvel with reverence, thou touch it with the mind, thou receive it with the hand of thy heart, and thou take it fully with thy inward man. Thus, we see, beloved, that, resorting to this table, we must pluck up all the roots of infidelity, all distrust in God’s promises, that we make ourselves living members of Christ’s body. For the unbelievers and faithless cannot feed upon that precious body. Whereas the faithful have their life, their abiding in Him, their union and, as it were, their incorporation with Him.” ’
THE BREAD OF LIFE
The multitude are an emblem of humanity, the wilderness of the world, and Christ’s miracle of the provision amidst the world’s barrenness and emptiness of the Bread of Life, eternal life.
I. The powerlessness of the world to supply the deepest wants of men.
( a) There are needs and pangs of spiritual hunger.
( b) The wilderness is silent to man’s appeal.
II. Satisfaction through Christ.—Coming into the world He satisfies these wants, and enriches the poor and hungering souls of men.
( a) The true Bread of Life is not from or of the wilderness, but is nevertheless in the wilderness.
( b) Christ, as the living bread, communicates Himself to our souls.
( c) They who in the wilderness eat of this bread are satisfied.
( d) To eat of this provision in the wilderness is a foretaste of the feast above.
‘A lifeless body has no power of assimilating food. A feeble, living body can only assimilate a little, administered by degrees. But a body with the pulses of life beating strong and quick within it, a hungry and craving body, can assimilate it thoroughly and easily, and grow thereby. And the soul resembles the body. With a feeble, spiritual pulse we can apprehend Christ but feebly in the Holy Communion; but if there be a strong hunger and thirst after righteousness, a strong craving for the Bread of Life, a strong sense of spiritual poverty and indigence, a strong resolve formed in reliance on God’s grace, a strong faith which pierces the veil of things sensible and material, great will then be the comfort received from this Holy Communion, and in the strength of that meat we shall go forward, like Elijah of old, to the mount of God, the end and goal of our pilgrimage.’
HUMAN AGENCY AND GOD’S WORK
‘He asked them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven.’
Why did Christ ask that question? He Who could change the water into wine by a wave of His hand, by a whisper of His voice might have created and spread a banquet upon that grassy slope! But He would not. Why? Because a great solemn lesson would have been lost for all time.
I. God Himself depends upon human resources.—God will not save men by a miracle independently of themselves; He says to every single soul to-day, ‘What have you got? Bring what you have got, and I will stretch out My hand of blessing upon it.’ Do not we forget that this is God’s message?
( a) We go to God in prayer, and we forget that the first thing God says to us as we kneel down to pray is, ‘How many loaves have ye?’ What have you brought to those prayers of yours? What earnestness, what faith, what trust in God, what patience that can help you to wait for an answer? ‘How many loaves have ye?’
( b) We come to Holy Communion, and the same voice meets us there. We ask to be fed with the Divine food, but first God says, ‘How many loaves have ye?’ What faith, what repentance, what love and charity, what preparation for the Holy Feast? ‘How many loaves have ye?’
( c) And so through all life it runs: God always asks that question first. He will save no man independently of that man’s own personal effort.
II. The spirit of the miracle.—What was that spirit? for it speaks straight to the Christian to-day.
( a) The spirit of a wonderful tenderheartedness. ‘I have compassion on the multitude.’ That voice of God has never ceased to sound; there is not a single human being, at this moment, of whom He is not saying it. ‘I am so sorry for you in your sorrow, in your sin, in your struggles with temptations, in your home trials and burdens; I know them all, I have compassion still.’
( b) The spirit of hopefulness. The hopefulness of Christ was the very inspiration of the ministry of Christ. He never despaired of His task; He never despaired of a single soul, however dark that soul might be. The whole world might turn away from it, the whole world might condemn it, but Christ rose, from that glorious, beautiful hopefulness of His, above the darkest things of the world, and He saw in each one the possibility of rescue.
( c) There is the message of consecration: ‘Bring them hither to Me.’ That voice, too, has never ceased to sound; there is not one of you over whom it is not sounding: ‘Bring him—bring her to Me.’
—Bishop F. E. Ridgeway.
‘There are many people who are holding themselves back from the service of God because they will not hear the Saviour’s voice. “I have so little faith, so little holiness, I have so little time for service, I have so little money for alms, it is not worth my giving the time, the service, the money that I have.” And all the time the voice of Christ is rebuking us. Bring what you have got, don’t stop to think of how much more you might have; bring what you have got—your tiny fragment of faith, and repentance, and love, and desire for service, and prayer, and sacrifice—bring what you have, for God depends upon human resources. “How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven.” ’
THE DIVINE ECONOMY
‘He took the seven loaves.’
The narrative is full of incident, and is most instructive to any Christian believer. It shows the sympathy of Christ, His generosity, His compassion. But what I want to direct your attention to to-day is rather the Divine economy.
Why did He take the seven loaves? Is He not Lord of heaven and earth? Does He not feed the multitudes—the whole world? Why should He take the few loaves that the disciples had put together for their own nourishment? He did not want them. And so we have this instance of the Divine economy—that out of the past comes the present; that the Lord does not Himself act with spontaneity, but He takes that which has been and makes that which is.
I. In nature.—Notice this economy regarding the fruits of the earth. Where does the harvest come from? The remains of the last year’s harvest. The Lord takes the seven loaves of last year, or the harvest before, and gives us the seven loaves of to-day.
II. In man.—And what is true in nature is also true in the nature of man. Whence come the great men of the ages nowadays? Do they drop out of heaven like an aerolite by chance? No; they are the product of the age—of the time. When the art of printing gave the opportunity, there sprang to its existence literature—the finest literature of the English land—but it was the seven loaves that had passed.
III. In the Christian Church.—Well, then, what is true of nature and of men must be true of the Christian Church also? Certainly. Do we not sing in our evangelical canticle, ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel?’ Is Israel’s God our God? Yes; the same God. We bless the God of Israel. The Lord never came to destroy the Law but to fulfil it, and our altars do not run with the blood of beasts, because the Lamb of God has been slain to take away the sins of the world; but we love the old.
IV. In our spiritual experience.—And we go back and we say, Yes, we see the seven loaves in our spiritual experience. Have you never found the seven loaves in your spiritual experience? What about Judah and the slavery and the tyranny of sin? Have you never known that? What about the Red Sea and the passing to liberty through blood? Have you never known that? What about the weariness of the wilderness? Have you never known that? What about the manna that came down from heaven, so that we may eat angels’ food? Is that out of your experience? What about the seeing of the promised country? Have you never climbed the hill and looked at the valley of time, and seen the heavens open? What about the rolling of Jordan? Have you never thought of the river of Jordan, and how you and I have got to pass through the flood? What about the heavenly Jerusalem that is the Mother of us all? Seven loaves!—spiritual experience.
Rev. A. H. Stanton.
‘We must never allow ourselves to doubt Christ’s power to supply the spiritual wants of all His people. He has “bread enough and to spare” for every soul that trusts in Him. Weak, infirm, corrupt, empty as believers feel themselves, let them never despair while Jesus lives. In Him there is a boundless store of mercy and grace laid up for the use of all His believing members, and ready to be bestowed on all who ask in prayer. “It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell” ( Colossians 1:19).’
‘ALL THINGS COME OF THEE’
‘And they that had eaten were about four thousand: and He sent them away.’
We may always conclude that a miracle had a deep abiding spiritual effect when, of the persons upon whom it was performed, nothing further is recorded. Of the Syro-Phenician woman, of the nobleman, of the centurion, of Jairus and his daughter, we hear no more. When, then, we read of the four thousand merely ‘that He sent them away,’ we may conclude they departed with the blessing of God resting upon them.
I. Admonition.—We learn from this passage that the duty of God’s ministers is to admonish men, in the words of their Divine Master, not to labour merely for the meat which perisheth, but for the meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of Man shall give unto them. The ordinance of labour imposed upon man at the Fall is not only good for him, but a necessity, and there is no great need to exhort the mass of our people to labour for the meat that perisheth. To reconcile these two duties, herein consists the difficulty. In order to profit by the Lord’s instruction, and so prepare our souls to receive Him as the Bread of Life, we must find time for searching the Scriptures, for self-examination, meditation, and prayer. It is to those only who seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, that the supply of all necessary things for the body and the soul is promised.
II. And why will men not believe this?—Because, although this is the Divine promise, yet the fulfilment of it depends upon the Lord’s pleasure; and sometimes He sees fit to reduce men to the lowest distress before He extends to them His aid. The four thousand were three days in the wilderness before the miracle of relief was wrought. Our Lord thus tried His humble and devoted followers in the desert; so will He generally try and prove us before He visits us with His blessing; yes, in spiritual things as well as temporal.
III. ‘The earth is the Lord’s,’ but in the things of earth He gives us a property for threescore years and ten; and He condescends to receive back, as an offering from us, what He may at any time require for His service. When He gathers a congregation, He receives at our hands a house wherein He may meet His people in sacraments and ordinances; and He appoints His servant, the bishop, to take possession of the same in His Name; and when, at the Holy Eucharist, He makes a spiritual banquet for His people in the wilderness of this world, He requires us, first of all, to make an oblation to Him of what is required for the feast, even as He took the loaves from His disciples. Thus is the Lord provided: and then, at His Holy Table, round which perhaps only two or three are gathered together in His Name, the Lord Jesus, according to His promise, is present unto the end of the world. All comes from Him; it is He Who gives the sacred food, while employing the agency of His ministers to dispense His bounties to believers.
THE GRADUAL MIRACLE
‘I see men as trees, walking.’
This particular miracle is the parable of our times.
I. It is so in reference to the things of God.—We pray indeed for grace to live as we ought, in the careful avoidance of known sin, and the diligent discharge of known duty; but do we seriously expect an answer to this prayer? Do we believe that an influence, a guidance, a control, a suggestion, a presence—call it what you will—is vouchsafed, is maintained, is continued day by day and through each day, as the direct reply of God to this petition? What can we say more, in regard to all these things, than that at best we ‘see men as trees, walking’? that we have a dim, dull, floating impression of there being something in them, rather than a clear, bold, strong apprehension of what and whom and why we have believed?
II. It is so in reference to the things of men, to our views of life, and to the relations in which we stand to those fellow-beings with whom the Providence of God brings us into contact. The blind man must come to Jesus, and come in faith; and which of all of us has done so? It needs a desire to be saved, and it needs a willingness to be saved in Christ’s way, and it needs a consciousness of deep defilement, and it needs a conviction that His blood cleanseth from all guilt, and that His Holy Spirit can set us free from all sin, to bring a man under the healing touch even once. Power out of weakness, peace out of warfare, light out of darkness, sight out of dim, groping, creeping blindness—this it is to be the subject of the first healing. God grant us all grace to come for it to Him Who is still on His throne of grace to grant repentance and to grant forgiveness.
‘The man’s answer is in accord with later scientific discovery. What we call the act of vision is really a twofold process; there is in it the report of the nerves to the brain, and also an inference, drawn by the mind, which previous experience has educated to understand what that report implies. In want of such experience an infant thinks the moon as near him as the lamp, and promptly reaches out for it. And when science does its Master’s work by opening the eyes of men who have been born blind, they do not know at first what appearances belong to globes and what to flat and square objects. It is certain that every image conveyed to the brain reaches it upside down, and is corrected there. When Jesus, then, restored a blind man to the perfect enjoyment of effective intelligent vision He wrought a double miracle; one which instructed the intelligence of the blind man as well as opened his eyes. This was utterly unknown to that age.’
THE GREAT CONFESSION
‘Whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto Him, Thou art the Christ.’
This incident arose out of a conversatfon ‘by the way.’ Happy are those journeys in which time is not wasted on trifles.
I. The variety of opinions about Christ.—Every kind of opinion appears to have been current, excepting that one which was true. We may see the same thing on every side at the present day. Christ and His Gospel are just as little understood and are the subject of just as many different opinions now as they were then.
II. The great confession.—St. Peter witnessed, ‘Thou art the Christ.’ His strong faith was not stumbled by our Lord’s poverty and low estate. His confidence was not shaken by the opposition of scribes and Pharisees, and the contempt of rulers and priests. None of these things moved Simon Peter. He believed that He Whom he followed, Jesus of Nazareth, was the promised Saviour.
Bishop J. C. Ryle.
‘ “Whom say ye that I am?” Not one of us will get to heaven by what other people think and do; no use to us that other people serve God, it is what we think, what we do, how we serve Christ, and the lesson is a straight question for each of us. Who answered? Not “ they,” but St. Peter. Just at that moment he saw the truth; he was afraid of nobody, stopped to think of nobody, answered just what was in his heart, warm, as such an impulsive heart would be. “Thou art the Christ”—a rush of words, so quick that they must have come of sincere belief, and the sudden conviction sent by God that all the wonderful things he had seen Jesus do were of God. On a dark night out over the sea there is nothing to be discerned. Suddenly a flash-light—searchlight—shines out full and steadily, and all sorts of craft appear—boats which had been there all the time, but unseen because of the dark. The light revealed them! So it was the light of God the Holy Spirit, which on the sudden shined in Peter’s heart, and he knew and saw Jesus as God ( Matthew 16:17, and 1 Corinthians 2:10). Have we ever seen Jesus in that way? If not, it is because we are in the dark, our eyes cannot pierce the blackness of our sin, our habits, or it may be we are not looking! No light, however strong, could be of any use if we will not turn the way it comes. Peter was looking, so Peter saw; and we shall only have ourselves to blame if we end in the dark.’
WHO IS THIS?
In this utterance it is evident all the twelve concurred. It is difficult for us to understand how decided an advance they have now made upon the position they had formerly occupied, and in what manner the great truth dawned upon their minds. Mark’s brevity here condenses the fuller saying of the Apostle, as recorded in the other gospels.
I. What think ye of Christ?—Consider the immense importance of the answer to be given to this question which Jesus puts to all readers and hearers of the Gospel.
II. Only one answer.—There is an utter inadequacy in every answer to this question save one. Your view of Jesus may be a just and scriptural view as far as it goes; but this is insufficient, unless you give the answer which St. Peter gave and Christ accepted.
III. Complete satisfaction.—The true answer to this question, when sincerely given, and this alone, can afford complete satisfaction. Upon the Divine character and the Divine mission of Christ you may build your earthly life and your immortal hopes.
‘ “In the Creed” (as Augustine reminds us), “the Faith is given to Christians to hold in few words, that by believing they may be made subject unto God; having been made subject, they live rightly; by living rightly, may cleanse their hearts; with a cleansed heart, may understand what they believe.… Call thy Faith to mind continually, look into thyself, let the Creed be as it were a mirror unto thee. Therein see thyself, whether thou dost believe all which thou professest to believe, and so rejoice day by day in thy Faith. Let it be thy wealth—let it be, in a sort, the daily clothing of thy soul; for this Faith is at once a garment and a breastplate—a garment against shame, a breastplate against adversity. But when we shall have arrived at that place where we shall reign, no need will there then be to say the Creed. We shall see God. God Himself will be our Vision; the Vision of God will be the reward of our present Faith.” ’
THE GREAT REBUKE
‘Get thee behind Me, Satan.’
We see St. Peter who had just witnessed so noble a confession, presuming to rebuke his Master because He spoke of suffering and dying. We see him drawing down on himself the sharpest rebuke which ever fell from our Lord’s lips.
We have here a humbling proof that the best of saints is a poor fallible creature.
I. Here was ignorance.—St. Peter did not understand the necessity of our Lord’s death, and would have actually prevented His sacrifice on the Cross.
II. Here was self-conceit.—St. Peter thought he knew what was right and fitting for His Master better than his Master Himself, and actually undertook to show the Messiah a more excellent way.
III. Here was zeal without knowledge.—St. Peter did it all with the best intentions! He meant well. His motives were pure. But zeal and earnestness are no excuse for error. A man may mean well and yet fall into tremendous mistakes.
Let us learn humility from the facts here recorded. We see that it is but a little step from making a good confession to being a ‘Satan’ in Christ’s way. Let us pray daily: ‘Hold Thou me up; keep me, teach me, let me not err.’
(1) ‘ “Hinder me not,” still to the last,
The faithful heart will say;
“I must be striving, pressing on,
And work while it is day.” ’
(2) ‘The words of St. Peter were a snare and suggestion of Satan, tempting the devoted Saviour to avoid the sufferings and death by which it was God’s will that we should be healed. Satan it is, our adversary the devil, who continually to us also holds out the inconvenience and irksomeness of obedience. He it is who, on the other hand, suggests the pleasure of sin, its ease, its pretended safety.’
‘And when He had called the people unto Him with His disciples also, He said unto them, Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.’
Here is the one rule which binds us to-day. There are three points in it—they are not all the same—‘Let him deny himself,’ ‘Let him take up his cross,’ ‘Let him follow Me.’ A man may deny himself in no Christian spirit.
I. Self-denial is the secret of success in everything. The notion people have that the faculties of a man ripen by a certain amount of indulgence, is a mere deceit of Satan. Every one knows that the strength and perfection of a man—I do not speak now of religion, but of everything—comes out of self-denial.
II. There wants something more.—‘Let him take up his cross.’ The popular form of interpretation of this will not quite do. It is not that we should bear our sickness patiently, or our loss of fortune, or our loss of friends: it is an active something. He who presently marches before—you have it in the tenth chapter of Mark—walks before His disciples, steadfastly going towards Jerusalem, whilst they, mourning and perplexed, follow after Him; He is doing a voluntary act. And the taking up the cross must betoken, not mere endurance, but something active, and it means for us the doing our duty. That is the cross to the flesh, and the inclination, the purpose of duty, which we are bound to perform and to carry through.
III. And we are also to follow Him.—And here, again, is no repetition—to follow Him in His patient obedience to God, in His gentleness and goodness, but above all, in His love which embraces all mankind, and which ought to soften and sweeten every hour of every life that can justly be called Christian. Here, then, is the precept: ‘Deny thyself, bear thy duty, and bear it in the spirit of love and obedience in which Christ moved towards His death for us.’
(1) ‘The Church Pastoral Aid Society’s Magazine, acknowledging a poor pensioner’s gift, says that it is touching to hear of the self-denial of the Christian poor. “We confess that we acknowledge with peculiar pleasure the gift which has just come to us from a resident in one of the slum parishes aided by the Society in South London. In itself it is only a trifling sum—three shillings—but it represents in self-denial a really large amount, and who shall say that it does not come to us big with the possibilities of blessing behind it?” The Vicar of the parish, in sending it on, writes: “I enclose herewith postal order for 3s., the gift to the C.P.A.S. from one of my parishioners, a man who has only a very small pension for himself and his wife, but who has saved this out of it from the little he usually spends on tobacco.” ’
As in the natural character, selfishness and affection are two opposite principles, so in the spiritual life, self and the Divine love are the two great antagonists which do battle in man’s heart.
I. Aspects of selfishness.—It is evident that the selfishness of one man is not the same as the selfishness of another.
( a) There is a man whose self lies in his intellect. That man has to submit his own intellect absolutely to the teaching of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.
( b) Another man’s self is pleasure. That is the man who must be continually learning to say ‘No’ to himself. He must put the strongest rein upon the neck of his own desires.
( c) But there is another form of self, and the more dangerous, because it takes the aspect of religion. A man lays down for himself a certain way of salvation, and begins in his own strength, goes on in his own wisdom, and ends in his own glory, turning his self-complacent virtues into saviours. That is self’s stronghold—the last to be discovered and the most difficult of all to be conquered.
II. Taking up the cross.—‘What is the cross?’ What is it which a man is to ‘take up’? Not some very great thing, which is to come by-and-by. That is what people are looking for. There is some cross to-day—there will be some to-morrow. What is it? Have not you got far enough to answer the question for yourselves? If I speak generally, I should say that it is any afflictive dispensation. As, for instance, sickness, poverty, disappointment. But if I had to define it accurately, I should say it must be a trial which has something humiliating in it; something which brings a sense of shame; something which lingers; something which is painful to the old nature—for that is exactly what the cross was.
II. Follow Me.—And this I understand not so much as a separate command as something which determines the character of the other two. For what is it worth to deny one’s self how much soever, or to take up a cross however hard, if it be not done in reference to Christ—with an express and deliberate intention toward Christ?
‘To understand our relation to Christ we must bear in mind both His humiliation and His glory. The conjunction of these two experiences is warranted and required by our Lord’s own language of prediction, and by the recorded facts of the Gospel. He has already endured the Cross, despising the shame. He has already taken His place upon the throne; and His elevation to royal dignity is the pledge of His coming at the appointed time to judge mankind. We have to consider the twofold revelation, not only as matter of fact and belief, but as affecting our own religious position and prospects. It is made known to us that the manner in which we are related to Christ in His humiliation will determine the manner in which we shall be received by Him when He comes in His glory.’
PROFIT AND LOSS
‘For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?’
Christ does not ask men how they will answer at God’s bar for their lives, only how they will answer for their conduct to themselves, and how the gain and loss will stand at the final settlement.
I. The supposed gain.
( a) A limited use only of the world can be made. True, Christ speaks of ‘the whole world,’ and thus gives the worldling the benefit of the supposition that he can gain it entirely. But the gain of the whole world is an utter impossibility to any man; and were it a possibility, very little use could be made of it by him. Others must necessarily share in it.
( b) The gain of a world cannot satisfy a man. An outward thing, however great and grand it may be, cannot possibly fill the inward soul.
( c) The holding, moreover, is not for ever. Supposing a man could gain the whole world, his tenure of it is short indeed; and then, when a man seems to need the world most, it gallops away from him, and leaves him to his fate. When this happens, all former profit, real or supposed, is at an absolute end.
II. The actual loss.
( a) That of a man’s soul. But what is a soul? It is a man’s conscious being. God is the maker of the soul; and He made it in the likeness of the Triune, filling it with life and immortality. It is, therefore, the gem of creation—the wonder of the universe!
( b) The standard of its value. The worth of a thing is tested by the price any one thoroughly understanding it will give for it, or will require as an equivalent for it. But man cannot appraise the value of his own soul ( Micah 6:6-Judges :). God has done this for him in a wonderfully gracious and perfect manner ( John 3:16).
( c) The loss of it is beyond all calculation. As the worth of the soul immeasurably transcends all that material wealth and carnal grandeur of which the wildest ambition can form a notion, its loss, then, must rank next to the loss of its God!
‘Thus sublimely but mournfully Robert Hall describes the final solemnities of a lost soul: “What—if it be lawful to indulge such a thought—would be its funeral obsequies? Where shall we find the tears fit to be wept at such a spectacle? or, could we realise the calamity in all its extent, what tokens of commiseration and concern would be deemed equal to the occasion? Would it suffice for the sun to veil his light, and the moon her brightness? to cover the ocean with mourning and the heavens with sackcloth? Or, were the whole fabric of nature to become animated and vocal, would it be possible for her to utter a groan too deep, or a cry too piercing, to express the magnitude and extent of such a catastrophe?’
THE IMPORTANCE OF LIFE
This familiar passage is somewhat obscured in the Authorised Version.
I. There is a contrast to life and soul which the original does not contain. ‘Life,’ in Mark 8:35, and ‘soul,’ in Mark 8:36-Haggai :, are the same word, and ought to be translated by the same word throughout. The Authorised Version does not represent the distinction between the two words rendered ‘lose.’ In Mark 8:35 a man may lose his life in his master’s service; but he cannot ‘forfeit’ it ( Mark 8:36) except by his own default. The text teaches—
II. The paramount importance of life in its fullest and highest sense. Anything a man has may perish, but he remains; or, he may perish and his possessions survive.
III. The practical application.
( a) Have we the principle of real life in us?
( b) Nothing can compensate for loss of this true life.
( c) Life in Christ, the gift of God, by the merits of Christ.
Rev. Barton R. V. Mills.
(1) ‘When Lysimachus was engaged in a war with the Getæ, he was so tormented by thirst that he offered his kingdom to his enemies for permission to quench it. His exclamation, when he had drunk the water with which they furnished him, is striking. “Ah, wretched me, who, for such a momentary gratification, have lost so great a kingdom!” How applicable is this to the case of those who for the momentary pleasures of sin, part with the Kingdom of Heaven!’
(2) ‘There is such a thing as a man holding his soul in his own custody; and there is such a thing—and it is no matter of fiction, but it is a thing which is happening every day—there is such a thing as a man selling his soul to the devil! It is a fearful thing—that there should be going on, every day, a traffic in the world like this! a traffic, not of material commodities, but a traffic of souls! A little pleasure, a little money taken, and the prize actually given—a soul! an undying soul! a soul, with all its capacities of joy and anguish, for ever and ever!’
THE VALUE OF A SOUL
‘What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?’
The value of a soul!
I. How God has taught it.
( a) At Bethlehem I stand with the shepherds beside the Holy Child, I try to grasp the mystery of God Incarnate, and I cannot; my brain grows dizzy at the effort, when, lo! there comes to me one simple thought that is the solution of it all, that Child lying in His mother’s arms. Well, whatever else it means, I know that it means this, it is God’s message to the world, in the eloquence of childhood to tell me the value of my soul.
( b) At Calvary. I go to Calvary, and I try to grasp the mystery of the atoning sacrifice, and I cannot; and once more there comes to me the same solution. What means it but that it is God’s message to the world, written in the very blood, to tell me the value of my soul?
( c) At the altar. And still, when I go in and out amongst the ministries of the Christian Church, when I kneel to take the Sacrament, sometimes the thought arises in me, How can this thing be? and I put it away from me deliberately; or because I know my poor, my limited intellect cannot grasp the mystery of God, and I say, Well, this at least is one meaning of it, and to this I cling, that is, God’s message, repeated with wondrous patience, with wondrous persistence, to assure me of the value of my soul.
It seems to me that if these thoughts are the outcome of the Master’s question, then still another thought must follow.
II. The responsibility of the possessor for the great possession.—The thought of the value of my soul suggests to me the task of its education, its culture, its training. There is a spiritual power of perception. A wondrous thing that may be used or may be dulled and blunted by disuse. A wondrous power to catch the faint, far-off footsteps of my God in the history of my life; to hear the faintest whisper of His voice.
—Bishop F. E. Ridgeway.
‘I once read of a woman whose house was on fire. She was very active in removing her goods, but forgot her child who was asleep in the cradle. At last she thought of it and ran to save it, but it was too late. The flames prevented her crossing the threshold. Judge of her agony of mind as she exclaimed, “Oh, my child! my child! I have saved my goods, but lost my child!” So will it be with many who forget the “one thing needful.” ’
THE DISCIPLINE OF THE SOUL
It is extraordinary how many people seem not to know that the religious sense must be trained and exercised steadily, systematically, patiently, if it is to be of any use to us. The consciousness of the presence of God is not a thing to be gained lightly and easily. It must be striven for and worked for, we must make sacrifices to gain it. Have we done so already; are we doing so now?
The soul has its own organ—prayer. We cannot realise the presence of God without prayer, nor pray without realising the presence of God.
I will add a few practical suggestions as to the strengthening of our soul-life.
I. We must not pray by fits and starts.—An athlete who exercised his muscles assiduously one week out of three would not gain much in strength. We must be careful to pray and meditate every day, and, as far as possible, at stated times.
II. It is never wise to overstrain.—Prayer should be frequent, but short; and there is no need of irksome rules.
III. In work that should occupy the mind.—Give the mind to it. Offer your task to God when you begin and when you finish it, but do not interrupt it to pray or meditate.
IV. Build the practice of the presence of God upon the promised presence of Christ. I lay great stress on this. The promise, ‘Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world,’ is to be believed quite simply; and it is often much easier to pray to Christ, and to hear His voice in answer, than to address ourselves to God the Father. It is on account of this possibility of a real communion with Christ that we value so highly the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The strengthening and refreshing of our souls by the Body and Blood of Christ is the most blessed experience of the spiritual life. Many people miss this blessed experience because they persist in turning their backs on the Holy Table.
Rev. Professor W. R. Inge.
‘Man has this wonderful power of establishing relations with God, of entering into communion with Him. Of this there can be no reasonable doubt. The truly religious people of all ages and countries tell us that they know it is so. They know that to speak to God is not the same thing as to talk to oneself. They know that our prayers and thanksgivings are heard and answered. It is not evidence that can be tested or used to convince other people; it is too intimate and personal for that. But if we are ever tempted to listen to arguments against the reality of such communion with God, our heart, as the poet says, answers, “like a man in wrath, I have felt.” ’
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Mark 8". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12