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Oh that this misled and blindfolded world would see that Christ doth not rise and fall, stand or lie by men's apprehensions! What is Christ the lighter, that men do with Him by open proclamation as men do with clipped and light money? They are now crying down Christ... But the Lord hath weighed Him and balanced Him already: This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased: hear ye Him! This worth and weight stand still. It is our part to cry: 'Up, up with Christ, and down, down with all created glory before Him!' Oh that I could heighten Him, and heighten His name, and heighten His throne!
References. IX. 7. 'Plain Sermons' by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. i. p. 259. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark IX.-XVI. p. 7.
These words conclude St. Mark's narrative of our Lord being transfigured upon the Holy Mount St. Luke's words, concluding the same narrative, are very closely like those of St Mark, 'Jesus was found alone'. St Matthew's words contain this same striking expression: 'They saw no man save Jesus only,' but omits 'with themselves,' which St Mark uses to show how Jesus was found, identified by the three chosen Apostles, who were participators in that mysterious and glorious scene: St Peter, St James, and St. John. Of the three St James was not permitted to contribute to the New Testament, for he fell by the sword of Herod. St Peter refers in his Second Epistle in explicit terms to the Transfiguration; St. John in a passage in the opening of his Gospel speaks of the same event. This is a very striking and magnificent part of the Scriptures, and the event itself was a very striking and magnificent event in the Lord's life on earth, and the narratives of St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke are very striking and beautiful. The more we consider them the more do we see the import of the closing sentence. Evidently the three Evangelists were guided by the Holy Spirit to put particular emphasis upon that little sentence, 'Jesus only'. It cannot be by accident, it cannot be a mere coincidence, and it cannot be as it might have been if it had been mentioned by only one of the Evangelists only a subordinate phase of the Transfiguration. It is clear that this is one of the most solemn and suggestive passages in the whole Scriptures. Let us take a view of the Transfiguration as a whole, so that we may understand this concluding lesson of it.
I. Historical Meaning of the Transfiguration. We shall see that it was a very real event in our Lord's history. It is recorded in detail by three Evangelists and with absolute independence. Each Evangelist compares the brightness of Christ to three things. That shows how deeply rooted in fact it was. It was no fiction; it was no illusion, no mere vision. It was an actual sight seen by the eyes of the three chosen Evangelists. This was a great and real event, and it is only when you grasp what a real thing it was that you will understand the concluding meaning of it. We must lay hold of the fact that our Lord was transfigured visibly, physically, so that the brightness of His Transfiguration passed through His raiment. We must lay hold of the reality of the Transfiguration. Of what value is the reality of the Transfiguration? It is first of all valuable as history.
II. Doctrinal Significance of the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration is also important doctrinally. St. Peter said, in answer to our Lord, 'Let us make three tabernacles, one for Thee, one for Moses, and one for Elias'. But then came the Divine voice, which peremptorily forbade the making of the tabernacles. 'This,' said the Father's voice, 'is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased: hear ye Him,' and you will observe that whenever St. Peter refers to the Transfiguration he makes no reference to Moses and Elijah. He did not want to learn the lesson twice. 'This is My beloved Son: hear ye Him.' Now you see the meaning of the text, 'They saw no man but Jesus only'.
III. Personal Application. 'Jesus only with themselves.' Christ must be all in all to each one of us. That is the lesson of the Transfiguration. Our Lord Jesus Christ must be the chief among ten thousand. It seems as if St. Peter was thinking of the Transfiguration when he said, 'There is none other name under heaven given amongst men whereby we must be saved'. Jesus Christ must take first place before everything else. We must remember that Jesus Christ alone can save us. This is true, simple, evangelical religion. I think that is why the whole of the Evangelists wrote the text like this in order that they might put down their testimony to what the great voice of the Father meant What Jesus is this? This is the Jesus Who was transfigured. This is the Jesus Who can save, keep, console, and sanctify us, if we commit ourselves to Him in the simplicity of faith and the strength of obedience to that great word which is God's own word: 'This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased: hear ye Him'.
References. IX. 8. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlv. No. 2634. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark IX.-XVI. p. 11. IX. 14. J. McNeill, Regent Square Pulpit, vol. iii. p. 137. IX. 14-29. A. B. Davidson, Waiting Upon God, p. 163. W. M. Taylor, The Miracles of Our Saviour, p. 319. Archbishop Trench, Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord, p. 299. John Laidlaw, The Miracles of Our Lord, p. 278. IX. 14-32 and 43-48. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlix. No. 2844. IX. 17. H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiv. 1908, p. 216. IX. 17-20. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvii. No. 2731. C. Holland, Gleanings from a Ministry of Fifty Years, p. 190. IX. 19. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark IX.-XVI. p. 13.
The Price I Pay for Seeing Christ
I. This invalid only knew himself to be a weakling when he saw Jesus. There is nothing which rends the spirit like the sight of a high ideal. Spiritual stagnancy is the result of a low standard. There is a phrase we often hear: 'He is on very good terms with himself. We apply it to a man who has never had any rending of the spirit. I can never be on bad terms with myself as long as there is only one man within me. If in my heart there hangs the picture of a second self, a higher self, a self which mimics my errors and tells me how things ought to be done if there is in my soul a man who sings after me the song I have spoiled, reads after me the piece I have ruined, performs after me the service I have poorly rendered that presence makes me small. It puts me on bad terms with myself on wrestling terms, the terms on which Jacob stood with his angel.
II. It will not in the least soothe my struggle to know that I am the first man in the company, in the village, or even in the kingdom. There was not a man of his day so good as Jacob he was the chosen patriarch of God. But he was far below his angel the ideal of what he would like to have been. It was his angel that made him miserable.
III. When Paul met a storm at sea, the men of Malta said he must be a bad man. We are all apt to feel like the men of Malta When we see a storm-tossed spirit toiling with its own waves and battling with its own breezes, we say, Surely he is a child of the darkness! We are wrong; he is a child of the light It is only because he is a child of the light that he wrestles with the deep. He felt no discord till he heard the music. He knew no midnight till he saw the morning. He dreamed not of his mean attire till he gazed on the seamless robe. He got his cross from Christ, his ladenness from light, his burden from seeing beauty.
G. Matheson, Messages of Hope, p. 117.
References. IX. 20-22. J. S. Swan, Short Sermons, p. 242. IX. 21. H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiv. 1908, p. 216. IX. 22, 23. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvii. No. 2224. IX. 22-24. H. M. Butler, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. 1899, p. 81. IX. 23. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii. No. 474; vol. xxix. No. 1744. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark IX.-XVI. p. 22. J. M. Neale, Sermons for the Church Year, vol. ii. p. 193. J. W. Diggle, Sermons for Daily Life, p. 239. IX. 23, 24. J. Leckie, Sermons Preached at Ibrox, p. 362.
According to Dr. Oncken, Bismarck's last words were: 'Dear Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief, and receive me into Thy heavenly kingdom.' See also R. H. Hutton's Theological Essays, pp. 245, 246.
I have sometimes, in looking back on the doubts and questionings of this period, thought and perhaps even spoken of myself as an infidel. But an infidel I assuredly was not: my belief was at least as real as my incredulity, and had, I am inclined to think, a much deeper seat in my mind. But, wavering between the two extremes now a believer, and now a sceptic the belief usually exhibiting itself as a strongly based instinct, the scepticism as the result of some intellectual process I lived on for years in a sort of uneasy, see-saw condition, without any middle ground between the two extremes, on which I could at once reason and believe.
Hugh Miller, My Schools and Schoolmasters, xvii.
I think in these wonderful words we have four things the birth, the infancy, the cry, and the education of faith.
I. The Birth of Faith.
There are three elements here: eager desire, the sense of utter helplessness, and the acceptance of Christ's calm assurances.
This man knew what he wanted, and he wanted it very sorely. Whosoever has any intensity and reality of desire for the great gifts which Jesus Christ comes to bestow, has taken at least one step on the way to faith. Conversely, the hindrances which block the path of a great many of us are simply that we do not care to possess the blessings which Jesus Christ in His Gospel offers. If we saw things as they are, and our needs as they are, nothing would kindle such intensity of longing in our hearts as that rejected or neglected promise of life eternal and Divine, which Jesus Christ brings.
Further, we have here the other element of a sense of utter helplessness. If we understand what is wanted in order to bring one soul into harmony and fellowship with God, we shall recognize that we ourselves can do nothing to save, and little to help ourselves.
And the last of the elements here is listening to the calm assurance of Jesus Christ. He stands at the door of each of our hearts and speaks to each of our needs, and says: 'I can satisfy it'. His assurance helps trembling confidence to be born, and out of doubt the great, calm word of the Master smites the fire of trust.
II. The Infancy of Faith.
As soon as the consciousness of belief dawned upon the father, and the effort to exercise it was put forth, there sprang up the consciousness of its own imperfection. He would never have known that he did not believe unless he had tried to believe.
Thus, then, in its infancy, faith may and does co-exist with much unfaith and doubt. The same state of mind, looked at from its two opposite ends, as it were, may be designated faith or unbelief; just as a piece of shot silk, according to the angle at which you hold it, may show you only the bright colours of its warp or the dark ones of its weft.
There follows from that thought this practical lesson, that the discovery of much unbelief should never make a man doubt the reality or genuineness of his little faith.
III. Notice the Cry of Infant Faith. 'Help Thou mine unbelief.'
The lesson is that, even when we are conscious of much tremulousness in our faith, we have a right to ask and expect that it shall be answered. Weak faith is faith. The tremulous hand does touch. The cord may be slender as a spider's web that binds a heart to Jesus, but it does bind.
But let us remember that, whilst thus the cry of infant faith is heard, the stronger voice of stronger faith is more abundantly heard. The measure of our belief is the measure of our blessing.
IV. We have here the Education of Faith. Christ paid no heed in words to this confession of unbelief, but proceeded to do the work which answered the prayer in both its possible meanings.
Thus He educates us by His answers His over-answers to our poor desires; and the abundance of His gifts rebukes the poverty of our petitions, more emphatically than any words of remonstrance beforehand could have done. He does not lecture us into faith, but He blesses us into it.
A. Maclaren, The Wearied Christ, p. 125.
References. IX. 24. H. W. Mellowes, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 359. A. Cowe, ibid. vol. lxv. 1904, p. 286. H. E. Thomas, ibid. vol. lxxiv. 1908, p. 421. Morgan Dix, Sermons Doctrinal and Practical, p. 195. J. Martineau, Endeavours After the Christian Life (2nd Series), p. 48. H. Montagu Butler, Harrow School Sermons, p. 61. B. F. Westcott, The Historic Faith, p. 3. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark IX.-XVI. p. 33. Andrew Murray, The Children for Christ, p. 248. W. Page Roberts, Our Prayer Book, Conformity and Conscience, p. 192. C. H. Parkhurst, A Little Lower than the Angels, p. 186. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii. No. 1033; vol. 1. No. 2881. IX. 25. J. M. Neale, Sermons for the Church Year, vol. ii. p. 8. IX. 27. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Lessons for Daily Life, p. 128. IX. 28. James Denney, Gospel Questions and Answers, p. 39. IX. 28, 29. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlii. No. 2454. IX. 29. C. New, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. 1895, p. 248. R. T. Davidson, ibid. vol. li. 1897, p. 120. IX. 30, 31. H. Scott Holland, ibid. vol. liv. 1898, p. 193. IX. 30-40. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlii. No. 2494. IX. 30-50. W. H. Bennett, The Life of Christ According to St. Mark, p. 136. IX. 33. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark IX.-XVI. p. 54. IX. 33-42. Ibid. p. 44. IX. 33-37. George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons, p. 1. IX. 35. H. C. Beeching, Seven Sermons to Schoolboys, p. 1. IX. 35-37. D. Fraser, Metaphors in the Gospels, p. 157. IX. 36. H. Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxvii. 1890, p. 86. T. A. Sedgwick, Pœdagogus, p. 9. IX. 36, 37. Bishop J. Percival, Sermons at Rugby, p. 11. IX. 36, 37, 42. H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. 1894, p. 177.
Defenders of the Faith
A strangely pathetic interest attaches to a great disciple when we find him making a great mistake. For even loyal disciples are not infallible. Sometimes they seriously misrepresent the mind of Jesus, and have to be brought back to wisdom by the stern way of rebuke. Such a rebuke was once administered to John the beloved. And it was very necessary, for he had been betrayed by his zeal into a great error. He had misread the large charity of Jesus. He had taken it upon him to rebuke one who had been doing beneficent work in the name of Jesus; and Jesus had been constrained to rebuke him in the memorable words, 'Forbid him not'.
The attitude of John is remarkable; more remarkable still is the reason for that attitude. 'Master, we saw one casting out devils in Thy name; and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us.' One would have supposed that John might well have felt sure of this man, for he had given two indubitable proofs of being on the side of Jesus. He was casting out devils and was not that part of the very work which Jesus had commissioned His disciples to do? And he was doing this in Jesus' name, proving thereby that he was a believer in the power of that name and a disciple at heart; for, as Jesus said, no man could do a mighty work in His name and thereafter lightly revile Him. But John, with sublime indifference to these conclusive marks of discipleship, condemns and forbids him for no better reason than that 'he followeth not with us'. We would say it was amazing if we did not know that it was the way of the human heart always. It is indeed the commonplace of Church history. We forbade him, because he followeth not with us.
I. Apparently, then, it is possible for those who love Jesus dearly to misunderstand Him seriously, and to hamper the work of others who are serving Him with as much zeal as themselves and with more intelligence; for we cannot help feeling that the unknown man who owes his place in history to John's foolish rebuke, had an instinctive penetration into the essential conditions of discipleship far superior to John's own. For John's measure of discipleship was, at any rate for the moment, a purely external one he followeth not with us whereas this man felt that the true disciple is one who does the work of the Master, and that whether he follows with us' or not is a matter of the most utter indifference. Of course there were reasons at that time why John should have so completely, though mistakenly, identified the cause of his Master with that of His little disciple band; all the same, there is struck here the first note of that well-intentioned arrogance which has seldom been wanting in the history of the Church. It has too often seemed to the powers that be that because some one 'followeth not with us,' does not share their opinions or endorse their methods, he is necessarily wrong, and must therefore be denounced, censured, or excommunicated, as the temper of the age suggests; whereas all the time it may be he that is right and they that are wrong. He may be, by his actions or words, interpreting the spirit of his Master far more profoundly than they; and they may need the solemn rebuke, 'Forbid him not'.
II. In this spirit which is ever ready to rebuke unconventional service, there is something not altogether to be despised, for it is animated by jealousy for the honour of the Lord. Nevertheless, it is one of the most hateful sins of which a disciple of Christ can be guilty. For in insisting upon external standards, it displays a lack of insight into the real conditions of service; in rebuking a man who is doing the work of Jesus in the name of Jesus it displays an utter lack of charity as well as of intelligence; and in hampering the work of a sincere, devoted, and intelligent servant, it is injuring the work of Christ Himself, and retarding the progress of the world.
III. The spirit of Jesus is slowly working, and there are signs that the day is perhaps not so very far distant when men who are casting out devils in His name will be free to do their work serenely, none either daring or desiring to make them afraid. Then the true Church union will be consummated; for then men will be more eager to welcome than to forbid, more ready to accentuate the glorious hopes they share in common than the relatively trivial speculations which divide them. They will care more for the person of Christ than for a particular view of His person, and more for truth than for a specific formulation of it. So long as we refuse to welcome other disciples of Christ be they men or churches simply because they 'follow not with us,' we shall have to remain in an isolation that is anything but splendid the poorer for the lack of the resources and stimulus which they might bring us. When we recognize the relative unimportance of the things which separate us, and what Réville has called 'the inanity of all these discussions in matters which exceed the capacity of our intelligence,' then will be seen the folly of saying, 'We forbade him, because he followeth not with us'; and such a whisper will not be heard in all the land.
J. E. McFadyen, The City With Foundations, p. 87.
I remember one instance of Keble's narrowness extremely characteristic of him. A member of a family with which he had been intimate had adopted liberal opinions in theology. Keble probably did not know what these opinions were, but regarded this person as an apostate who had sinned against light. He came to call one day when the erring brother happened to be at home; and learning that he was in the house, he refused to enter, and remained sitting in the porch. St. John is reported to have fled out of a bath at Ephesus on hearing that the heretic Cerinthus was under the roof. Keble, I presume, remembered the story, and acted like the Apostle.
Froude's Short Studies, vi. p. 269.
References. IX. 38-42. J. Adderley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 284. IX. 39, 40. Newman Smyth, ibid. vol. xlvi. 1894, p. 38. IX. 40. Hugh Black, ibid. vol. lxxi. 1907, p. 20. W. J. Knox-Little, Church Times, vol. xxx. 1892, p. 338.
Prescott, in the opening chapters of his Mexico, observes that the magnificent table-land of forest-trees in Mexico had to be destroyed for prudential reasons. 'The early Spaniards made as indiscriminate war upon the forest as did our Puritan ancestors, though with much less reason. After once conquering the country, they had no lurking ambush to fear from the submissive, semi-civilized Indian, and were not, like our forefathers, obliged to keep watch and ward for a century.'
References. IX. 43, 44. J. E. Roberts, Studies in the Lord's Prayer, p. 94. R. J. Campbell, Sermons Addressed to Individuals, p. 151. IX. 43, 47, and 48. W. Leighton Grane, Hard Sayings of Jesus Christ, p. 179. IX. 49. George Jamieson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlii. 1892, p. 377. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark IX.-XVI. p. 55. IX. 49, 50. Stopford A. Brooke, Short Sermons, p. 30. IX. 50. E. E. Lark, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxii. 1902, p. 21. E. M. Goulburn, Occasional Sermons, p. 390. R. Waddy Moss, The Discipline of the Soul, p. 137. F. E. Paget, Sermons on Duties of Daily Life, p. 103. F. J. Jayne, Keble College Sermons, 1870-76, p. 229. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark IX.-XVI. p. 64. X. 1.-31. W. H. Bennett, The Life of Christ According to St. Mark, p. 144. X. 2-9. H. Hensley Henson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxix. 1906, p. 177. X. 6. J. Parker, Studies in Texts, vol. i. p. 84. X. 6-9. R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, vol. ii. p. 417. X. 7, 8, 9. J. Phillips Dickson, Church Times, vol. xxxvi. 1896, p. 640.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Mark 9". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany