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Chapter 24. Divorce
"And He arose from thence, and cometh into the coasts of Judæa by the farther side of Jordan: and the people resort unto Him again; and, as He was wont, He taught them again. And the Pharisees came to Him, and asked Him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting Him. And He answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And in the house His disciples asked Him again of the same matter. And He saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery." Mark 10:1-12.
Bridging a Gap.
Some interval of time elapsed between the conversation recorded in the last chapter and the conversation we are now to consider. During that interval many things had happened. If we want to "fill in" this gap which Mark leaves in his story, we must turn to Luke and John. From a comparison of these other Gospels we find that in the meantime Jesus had sent out the seventy disciples; He had gone up to Jerusalem to the feast of Pentecost; He had retired from Jerusalem to Perea; He had again gone up to Jerusalem to the feast of Dedication; and once again, to avoid the murderous plots of the Jews, had gone away beyond Jordan, to the place where John was at the first baptising. It is probably just at this point that the question as to divorce is to be placed.
The Causes of the Question.
From John's account it is clear that the preaching of Jesus beyond Jordan was attended by more than ordinary success. It was probably, as Mr. David Smith suggests, the results of our Lord's preaching that stirred His enemies once again to activity. Perhaps they had flattered themselves that, when they had driven Him out of Jerusalem, they were finally rid of Him. But when they heard that the crowds were resorting to Him beyond Jordan, and that people in numbers were believing on Him, they were greatly perturbed, and it was not long before certain emissaries of the Pharisees appeared on the scene, with the deliberate object of thwarting Him in His work. The method they adopted was that of bringing to Christ a captious question, a question which would put Him on the horns of a dilemma, and, however He might answer it, might impair and imperil His authority. The question chosen dealt with divorce. "Is it lawful for a man," they asked, "to put away his wife?" i.e. at his pleasure, or, as it is expressed in so many words in Matthew's account, "for any cause?" And this they said "tempting"
Him; not because they really wanted guidance or instruction, but because they wanted to ensnare and trap Him in His speech.
The Conditions as to Divorce.
Now, to understand the special difficulties connected with a question like this, we must know something about the position of marriage and divorce in our Lord's time. The Mosaic Law had allowed divorce in case a husband found any "unseemly thing" in his wife. The phrase "unseemly thing" was ambiguous, and the Rabbis quarrelled violently amongst themselves as to its true interpretation. One school took the stricter and nobler view, that what the Law meant was that a wife could only be put away for unfaithfulness. Another held the meaning of the phrase to be that, if for any reason the wife had become distasteful to the husband, he could put her away, "for any cause." And so, as Mr. David Smith says in his Life of Christ, Rabbis had arisen who taught the people that if a husband for any reason conceived a dislike to his wife, or if he saw any other woman who seemed fairer in his eyes, or even if her cooking did not quite please him, for these and other reasons, equally trumpery, he was at liberty to send his wife away. Now, a lax doctrine of morals is always agreeable to the natural man, and the second was the interpretation currently received. Jewish society was accordingly disgraced by an appalling laxity in this matter of divorce. Family life was imperilled by it, and an intolerable wrong was done to womankind. It made woman the slave of man, putting the wife at the husband's mercy. For while she could not for any cause divorce him, he might for no cause at all divorce her, and cast her upon the world.
The Question Put.
This, then, was the question the Pharisees brought to Jesus. "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?" i.e. for any cause, as popular custom allowed. They made quite sure that whether Jesus said "Yes" or "No," He would lay Himself open to attack. For if He said "Yes," they could at once represent Him to the people as sanctioning a low morality, and holding baser views about marriage than some of their own teachers; and that would have been the end of our Lord's moral authority. On the other hand, if He said "No," they could represent Him as repudiating the authority of their own sacred Law, by which divorce was expressly allowed, and as thus in violent opposition to the popular sentiment. For the Jews cherished this facility of divorce as a signal privilege, accounting it a singular grace vouchsafed to Israel, and withheld from the Gentiles. Perhaps, too, they also hoped that, if He said "No," it would stir Herod to enmity. For Herod had put away his own wife, and married Herodias, his brother's wife, while that brother was still alive. They remembered that Christ's Forerunner had come to the dungeon and the block because of his plain and faithful speech on this very question. And they doubtless hoped that a plain answer from Christ might arouse Herodias again to fury, and so bring Christ to share in the Baptist's doom. All these calculations and hopes were in the minds of these Pharisees. They asked their question "tempting Him."
The Reply Given.
Our Lord in His answer first refers these plotting Pharisees to the authority they themselves recognised. "What did Moses command you?" He asks. They reply, "Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away." They take care to say nothing about the causes and reasons for which divorce was permitted. "For your hardness of heart," returns our Lord, "he wrote you this commandment." That is to say, Moses could go no further than he did in the way of regulating and restraining divorce, because the moral condition of the people would not allow it. All that Moses did was by way of putting a check upon divorce. He made summary dismissal impossible; he secured delay, by making a formal bill of divorcement necessary, and so gained time for reflection. It was a vast improvement over the laxity common before his day. But it was not a perfect law. It did not accomplish all Moses himself desired; but it was the best possible under the circumstances. Solon, the great Athenian law-giver, once said that his laws were not the best that could have been devised, but they were the best the Athenians could receive. And so Moses was compelled to adapt his marriage legislation to the moral condition of the Israelites.
The True Ideal of Marriage.
And then Christ proceeds to set forth the true ideal of marriage the Divine intention of the marriage relation. No consideration of popularity or of personal safety weighs with Him. Boldly, frankly, plainly, He declares what the relations between man and woman were meant to be. "From the beginning of the creation," He said (quoting the very words of Scripture), "male and female made He them." That is to say, God made man and woman complementary to each other, so that only in union with its opposite does either find its true perfection. There may be special reasons calling certain men and certain women to celibacy. But celibacy is not, as the Roman Church seems to hold, a higher state than marriage. Our Lord's plain teaching here is that God's plan and ideal was that man should find his perfection in a holy union with woman, and woman similarly in a holy union with man. "From the beginning of the creation, male and female made He them." "For this cause," Jesus says, "shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the twain shall become one flesh: so that they are no more twain, but one flesh" (Mark 10:6-8). The union of man and woman in marriage is so profound and vital, that husband and wife cease, as it were, to be two separate and distinct individualities, and become so merged together that they constitute one unit of being. Each becomes part of the very existence of the other, "so that they are no longer twain, but one flesh," "the two-celled heart beating with one full stroke." This union, down to the very foundations of being, and instituted by God, is not to be at the mercy of man's whims and caprices. Ideally and essentially, marriage is a permanent and indissoluble relation. "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Mark 10:9).
To those who heard it, this was a staggering reply. What, no relief from the marriage bond, even in case of insupportable incompatibilities? The disciples themselves were bewildered, and, when they got into the house, pressed Jesus further upon the point. They said (as Matthew tells us) that if the bond of marriage was an indissoluble bond, then it were better not to marry at all. But their questions and protests only evoke from our Lord another affirmation of the essential permanence and indissolubleness of the marriage relation. "Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her; and if she herself shall put away her husband, and marry another, she committeth adultery" (Mark 10:11-12). The wanton breach of this holy bond, the putting away of wife or husband for this and that reason, was, our Lord said, a violation of the seventh commandment. No "incompatibilities" suffice to dissolve this union. There ought to be no "incompatibilities." For marriage is not to be engaged in rashly, thoughtlessly or lightly, but advisedly, reverently, and in the fear of God. There is only one thing, according to our Lord's teaching, that can break the marriage bond, and that is the awful sin that poisons married life at its source. Short of that, marriage is indissoluble. "What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."
Christ as Defender of the Weak.
Here, apart from the main issue, let us remark how our Lord appears here as the defender of the weak. In the ancient world, no one suffered crueller wrong and indignity than woman. And here our Lord appears as the defender of woman and the lifter up of her head. Woman, according to our Lord's teaching, is not man's slave or toy, to be dismissed and cast off at the merest whim and caprice; she is man's complement and counterpart; and matrimony is a holy estate, in which woman has equal rights with man. The emancipation of womankind began with a declaration like that which is contained in these verses. The honour, respect, and chivalrous deference paid to woman to-day she owes chiefly if not entirely to the influence of Jesus.
And of the Family.
Our Lord appears here also as the defender of the family. In the long run the life of the nation, yes, and the prosperity of the kingdom, depend upon the life of the family. And the life of the family, again, depends upon the sacredness and sanctity of marriage. It needs no pointing out from me that laxity of marriage law inflicts irreparable injury upon family life. I think sometimes of what happens to the children when fathers and mothers divorce one another, as they do in some civilised countries to-day, for all sorts of flimsy and ridiculous reasons. What becomes of the children? And with what kind of a conception of morality are they likely to grow up? In speaking as He did, our Lord was safeguarding the interests of the children, defending the family, preserving the home, and so securing the very foundations on which the fabric of society rests.
A Present-day Need.
No subject needs to be more plainly and emphatically spoken about in our day than that of marriage. There is a growing tendency towards laxity in views about it. Divorces become ever more and more numerous. Legislatures are inclined to multiply the reasons for which relief from the marriage-bond can be obtained. Writers are busy making attacks upon the whole system of marriage. Novelists and women novelists amongst the most prominent advocate temporary alliances, or sing the praises of a promiscuous love which is nothing but gross and naked animalism. A certain school of social reformers repudiate marriage altogether. These are serious and menacing signs. You threaten the very life of the state when you relax the ties of marriage and weaken the family bond. There is nothing we want more than a new grasp of our Lord's teaching that there is but one moral law, and that law the same for man and woman. The sacredness of marriage ought to be a subject upon which we have no doubts. On this point it is well not to have an open, but a closed and settled, mind. Let no specious and plausible talk about "unhappy marriages" unsettle that conviction. The remedy for "unhappy marriage" is not greater facility of divorce, but increased thought and seriousness in the contraction of marriage. Laxity in this will mean rottenness sweeping in like a flood. It is ours to maintain and assert the more austere and exacting view of Christ. Marriage is an ordinance of God. It is meant for the perfecting of character. It is essentially and ideally permanent and indissoluble. "What... God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."
Chapter 25. Christ and the Children
"And they brought young children to Him, that He should touch them: and His disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily 1 say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And He took them up in His arms, put His hands upon them, and blessed them." Mark 10:13-16.
The Defence of the Child.
There is no hint in the narrative as to the exact time or place where this blessing of the children occurred. We are not to conclude that, because it follows upon the account of our Lord's conversation with the Pharisees about divorce, it must have happened on the same day or about the same time. All that we can say about it is, that it happened during our Lord's last journey southwards, and probably while He was still in Perea. But while I do not think that the contiguity of this passage about the children to the passage about divorce is meant to imply that both events happened the same day, or even the same week, I think the Evangelist set them down here side by side with a purpose. The connection between them is not chronological, it is one of idea and point of view. They are put down here the one after the other, because they both illustrate a certain aspect of our Lord's character.
A Defence of the Weak.
I have said that in defending the cause of woman in the matter of divorce our Lord showed Himself the defender of the weak and the oppressed, guardian of the family and family life. This story of the reception and blessing of the children sheds further light upon that gracious aspect of our Lord's character. Here too He appears as the defender of the weak. For what so weak and helpless as the little child, the babe? And in that cruel, ancient world, what so oppressed and abused and ill-treated as the child? You see a reflection of the ancient world's estimate of the child in the conduct of the disciples. The disciples "rebuked those that brought them." Babes, they thought, were beneath the notice of Christ. He could not be troubled with them. But He who never broke the bruised reed, who was always the defender of the weak and the oppressed, said, "Suffer the little children to come unto Me," and took them up in His arms, and blessed them (Mark 10:14).
And a Defence of the Family.
And here too He appears as the defender of the family. In the last paragraph He maintains the rights of the wife. In this paragraph He maintains the right of the child. Now there are three parties to the family husband, wife, child. The place of the husband was sufficiently safeguarded by the customs and laws of ancient society. But the wife was subjected to cruel wrong, and the child was often the subject of shameful neglect. By His teaching on divorce our Lord gave the wife her proper place in the family. By His love for the children He redeemed childhood from neglect, and made the little ones the object of loving regard and care. And so our Lord defended and safeguarded family life. The emphasis our Lord laid upon the family deserves to be called "extraordinary," says a noted American professor. Not only did He always express sympathy with domestic life in all its phases; not only did He display great reverence for women and tenderness for children; not only did He adopt the terminology of the family to express the relations between Himself and His followers, and even the relations between man and God, but the family was the only institution upon which Jesus laid down any specific legislation.
The Family the Social Unit.
All this emphasis upon the importance of the family arose from our Lord's sense of the vast part the family plays in the development of human character. To Him, the family was the social unit, and it was through the regenerated family that the regeneration of the world was to be effected. We need to learn of our Lord in all this. The home is the strategic point. Decay of family life spells ruin to the nation, and a stop to the progress of the Kingdom of God. Therefore we must do all we can to defend and safeguard it, to defend it against the menace to its integrity by the slackening of the marriage-tie, to defend it against the menace to its happiness and usefulness, from the neglect of the little child. The sanctified family is a pledge and promise of the redeemed world.
The Whole Duty of Parents.
And now, turning to the story itself, let us notice the part the parents played in this incident. "And they brought unto Him little children, that He should touch them" (Mark 10:13). There can be no doubt who the "they" refer to, viz., the parents of the children. I say "parents" deliberately, because fathers as well as mothers were evidently concerned in this. The fathers of these children have hardly had fair play at our hands. I have seen many pictures of this incident, but I cannot remember one which depicts a father as taking any part in it. But the narrative makes it plain that there were fathers as well as mothers present, for the participle in the Greek is in the masculine. Here, then, we have fathers and mothers bringing their children to Jesus, children young enough to be taken up in His arms. And the word which is translated simply "brought" in our version really means "offered." It is the word used of the "offering" of gold and frankincense and myrrh by the wise men to the infant Jesus. These fathers and mothers "offered" their little children to Christ. It was a solemn act of dedication and consecration. They "offered" little children to Him.
Duty where Unexpected.
And it was the parents of Perea who did this. Now Perea, the geographers tell us, was part pagan, as well as part Jewish. I have no doubt its people were despised and scorned by the proud Jews of Jerusalem. But some at least of the parents of Perea had sufficient insight to recognise that to be blessed of Christ would be the choicest gift that could fall to the lot of their children. It is worth noticing how the finest tribute to Christ, the finest illustrations of faith and love, occur amongst pagan and half-pagan people. It was the faith of the centurion that made Jesus marvel at its strength; it was in a Syro-Phenician woman He found a persistent love that would not be denied; it was in Samaria He met with the swiftest and most general response to His preaching; and now amongst those half-pagan people of Perea parents pay Him the finest tribute all through His career they "offered" their children to Him, that He might touch them. Here in parable we have the whole duty of parents to offer their children to the Lord; to consecrate them in their very infancy to Christ, to do as Hannah did with young Samuel, to grant them to the Lord all the days of their life.
A Duty often Neglected.
It is just here, in this critical and all-important duty, that many fond and loving parents fail. They take every care of their children's health and education and manners. They do their level best to further their worldly success. But many of them take little account of their children's souls. And yet that is really the supreme duty. You remember Angel Charity's cross-examination of Christian. It all gathered round this one point. Here are some of her questions. "Why did you not bring your children along with you? Did you pray to God that He would bless your counsel to them? Did you tell them of your own sorrow and fear of destruction? Did you not by your vain life damp all that you by words used by way of persuasion to bring them away with you?" Charity never asked Christian what he had done to promote his children's worldly prosperity. The crucial thing was, what he had done for their souls. We, to whom the charge of children has been given, may well take this to heart. If we were half as anxious to offer our children to the Lord as we are to educate them well, to place them well, to marry them well, there would be a different story to tell about some of our homes than there is at present; and the world would be a far sweeter and better place than it is. First things first; and the first duty of a parent to his child is this to offer him to the Lord.
The Hindering Disciples. Their Mistake.
"They brought unto Him little children, that He should touch them: and the disciples rebuked them." And this in spite of the stern and solemn warning about putting a stumbling-block in the way of a little one. Why did they rebuke the parents? Why did they try to hinder them from coming to Christ? Out of concern, says Dr. Salmond, for the Master's dignity and ease. Because, says Professor Warfield, the children did not need healing, and could not receive instruction. The disciples thought of Jesus as a Teacher sent from God, and a Healer. As these little children had no sickness or disease, and were too young to profit by the Lord's teaching, they thought it was putting Him to needless toil and trouble on their behalf for His notice. So they rebuked those that brought them, and rather roughly tried to thrust them away.
You may wonder that any men, and especially these men, could so misinterpret and misunderstand the Christ. But let us not be too hard upon them? Do we not sometimes commit the same tragic mistake? Are not some tempted to deny that the child can receive the Spirit of God; to think that children, while children, cannot come to Christ? If I am asked how soon children may become susceptible to the operation of God's grace, I must answer that I do not know at what time they are not. Beware, then, of slighting the spirituality of the child. Who are we, to say that this or that child is too young to come to Christ, seeing that this Holy Book tells us of a Jeremiah who was sanctified, and a John the Baptist who was filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother's womb?
The Welcoming Lord.
The disciples rebuked those that brought them, and were for driving them and their children away; but when Jesus saw it He was moved with indignation He took it ill, as our old English commentator expresses it, that the Twelve should so entirely misunderstand and ignore His teaching, should act so entirely contrary to every principle He had laid down and "said unto them, Suffer, permit, the little children to come unto Me; forbid them not; for of such is the Kingdom of heaven." "Suffer, permit, the little children to come." All sorts of people had in their time made their way into Christ's presence. As Dr. Glover says, Pharisees had come in their bitterness and hate to catch Him in His words: strings of sufferers the blind, the deaf, the halt, the leprous had come to Him to be healed; greedy people flocked out to Him because they ate of the loaves, and were filled; pious people pressed upon Him to hear His words of spirit and life; sinful people forced their way into His presence, and fell at His feet, praying that they might be forgiven. But no people ever came into our Lord's presence who were so welcome to Him as these little children. Suffer them to come, He said. And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands upon them, and blessed them.
The Children's Friend.
Here is our Lord as the children's Friend. The little ones were dear to His heart. "Feed My lambs" was the charge He laid upon the chief of His Apostles. And when He took the little ones up in His arms He took captive every parent's heart. "Remember this, my boy," said Hood Wilson's mother to him, on the day of his ordination, "every time you lay your hand on a child's head, you are laying it on a mother's heart." There is no aspect of the Lord Jesus that appeals with more constraining force to a parent's heart to-day than the sight of Him with the children in His arms.
The Children's Charter.
"For of such is the Kingdom of heaven." What a word was this! I have heard the charter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children spoken of sometimes as "the Children's Charter." But this is the real Children's Charter. It is this great word of Christ that has given the child his royal place. Here is the child's spiritual rank and heritage. "Of such is the Kingdom of heaven." "Heaven lies about us in our infancy," says Wordsworth; but that is not half so emphatic a statement as this of our Lord "Of such is the Kingdom of heaven." And this very dictum, which asserted the child's spiritual prerogative, has given him his earthly place of regard and affection and love. When Jesus said, "Of such is the Kingdom of God," He rescued the child from the neglect and contempt with which he was regarded in the ancient world.
The Child and Paganism.
Evidence abounds in the ancient writers to prove how children were neglected and abused. Heathenism had no place in its thought or care for child life. Exposure was a common practice; infanticide was counted no crime. Listen to just two or three extracts from Latin writers. Stobacus says, "The poor man raises his sons, but the daughters, even if one is poor, we expose." Quintillian says that "to kill a man is often held to be a crime, but to kill one's own children is sometimes considered a beautiful action among the Romans." And Seneca writes thus: "Monstrous offspring we destroy; children, too, if weak and improperly formed, we drown. It is not anger, but reason, thus to separate the useless from the sound." In those sentences you get the temper and spirit of the ancient world.
The Child in Christianity.
But Jesus rescued the child, and set him upon high; made him the object of loving regard and care, so that the very tenderest feelings of our present day gather and cluster around our little ones. And this He did by revealing the child's spiritual prerogative. Just as He redeemed the humblest of men from contempt, and broke the shackles of the slave, by revealing the infinite worth of the individual soul in the sight of God; just as He redeemed women from degradation, by revealing her as being, in God's sight, the complement and counterpart of man, so He redeemed the child by saying of him, "Of such is the Kingdom of God." The history of the past eighteen centuries has been a history of enlarging liberty and social amelioration. And all these liberating and ameliorative movements spring from spiritual sanctions. It is the new conception Christ gave of the place of the woman and the child, and even the slave, in the regard of God, that has gradually wrought out their emancipation and redemption. The child can never be neglected again. Here is his charter, "Of such is the Kingdom of heaven."
The Man as Child.
Then our Lord, having vindicated the child's dignity, went on to lay down this law, that only the childlike could enter the Kingdom at all. "Whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child, he shall in no wise enter therein" (Mark 10:15). It is not a case, as we think sometimes, of the child waiting till he becomes a man, it is a case of the man having to become a child again. The reference may be to the child's innocence; or to the child's simplicity; or to the child's humility. Probably, however, the main thought is the child's helplessness and utter dependence. We must "receive" the Kingdom of God as a little child. We are as helpless in the matter as a child in its mother's arms. The children of the Kingdom enter it infants for whom all must be done, humbly receiving, and doing nothing. "By grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). "The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).
"As a little child"; what regrets the very phrase stirs within us! What would we not give to shake off the defilements, the evil knowledge, the sinful entanglements the years have brought? Is it possible again to become as "a little child"? Yes, it is. "Ye must be born again," said Jesus, and He never gave a command which was not also half a promise. I read in the Old Book of a leprous man who at the command of the prophet of the Lord dipped seven times in Jordan, and his flesh came again, like unto the flesh of a little child. But there is a better fountain than Jordan, in which you and I can wash away the defilements of the years, and become again in soul and spirit like "a little child." "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7).
Chapter 26. The Rich Young Ruler
"And when He was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to Him, and asked Him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou Me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto Him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow Me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions." Mark 10:17-22.
This rich young ruler had come into contact with Jesus before; he must at any rate have heard Him preach, and have been profoundly impressed by Him. Mr. David Smith suggests that he may have been in the synagogue in Jericho, some three months before, when a certain scribe stood up, and, tempting Jesus, asked this very same question, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He had heard our Lord's controversy with that scribe; he had listened to that exquisite parable of the Good Samaritan, and the arrow of conviction had entered his soul. For three months he had been, as the old Puritans would say, "under concern." For three months he had been unhappy in his mind. He could bear the suspense and unhappiness no longer, so when Jesus was resuming His southward journey he ran forth and kneeled to Him, and asked Him, "Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17).
It was the very same question that the scribe had asked in Jericho; yet in what a different spirit it was asked. The scribe did not ask the question because he really wanted to know; he asked simply because he thought that this question might put Jesus in a corner. This young ruler asked it because it was the one thing above everything else he wanted to know, and felt he must know. You know that difference of temper and spirit. It is not unfamiliar in our own days.
All this comes out in the minute little touches of Mark's narrative. To begin with, it needed a great deal of courage and resolution to make this young ruler come at all. He was a man of some wealth all the Evangelists make a point of that; he was also, according to St Luke's account, a "ruler," i.e. probably a ruler of the synagogue. He was a young man, therefore, not simply of wealth, but of official and acknowledged standing. Now, I repeat, it was not easy for a young man of such a position to come to Jesus at all. For the wealth and officialism of Palestine had taken up an attitude of hostility towards Jesus. "Publicans and sinners" came together for to hear Him; it was comparatively easy for them. But this young ruler had to set his own class at defiance; he had to brave the anger and scorn of the official world to which he belonged.
His Eagerness and Courage.
There was intense eagerness in the manner of his coming. He "ran" to Him. He felt the business on which he came brooked no delay. It was pressing, urgent, vital business. "As He was going forth into the way, there ran one to Him" (Mark 10:17). And when he reached the Lord, regardless of all the proprieties, and careless of the scowls and frowns of his friends, he flung himself upon his knees in the dust before Him. "There ran one to Him, and kneeled to Him." Other rich men who felt the influence of Jesus, appear in frank and open courage to come far behind this young man. I cannot imagine Joseph of Arimathea bending the knee to Jesus in a public place. Joseph thought of his "honourable counsellorship," and kept his discipleship secret, for fear of the Jews. I cannot imagine Nicodemus doing this. Nicodemus believed that Jesus was a teacher sent from God. But he never said so openly. He too thought of his position and his reputation. I cannot imagine Nicodemus falling on his knees before Jesus in the public street, and calling Him "Good Master" in the ears of men. Nicodemus preferred to do his homage to Christ "secretly by night." But this young ruler cast all considerations of precedence to the wind. He risked his reputation. He risked the goodwill of his friends. It was vital that he should know the secret of eternal life, so down in the dust he went at the Lord's feet, braving all the shrugs and the jeers of the onlookers, crying out, "Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?"
His Sense of Need.
With all his courage and reverence for the Lord, the young ruler had a passionate desire to have his question answered, and to know the way of life. He was conscious of his need. He was keenly alive to the fact that he lacked something. He had kept the commandments, as he subsequently told Jesus. He had lived a blameless life. There was not a smirch or stain upon his character. Touching the righteousness which was in the law, he was blameless. And yet he was unsatisfied; his soul had no rest. He was like Paul in his Pharisee days, laboriously and punctiliously performing every legal duty, and yet finding out there was no righteousness by the works of the law, ready, although he had kept all the commandments from his youth, to cry, "Wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" All this sense of need, his dissatisfaction, his unrest, the trouble of his soul, find expression in his urgent and passionate cry, "Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" If only men and women in these days were half as concerned about eternal life as this young ruler was, and had half his courage in seeking out and confessing Christ!
Christ's Faithful Dealing.
Now, if I have rightly understood the character of this young ruler, and accurately portrayed it, he will seem just the kind of person to touch our Lord's sympathy, and to win from Him a ready and gracious response. "A bruised reed," the Evangelist says of Him, "shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench" (Matthew 12:20). But when I turn to the narrative I find Christ dealing coldly, harshly, almost sternly with this young ruler. Why was it? There is only one answer. Christ had a way of encouraging the weak and timid, and of checking the forward and impulsive, by confronting them with the stern facts, with the realism of the Christian life. As in the case of the scribe who wanted to follow Christ, to whom Christ said sharply almost, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head." And perhaps there was something superficial and facile about this young ruler; at any rate, Christ Jesus meets his impassioned inquiry with a preliminary objection. He said, "Why callest Thou Me good? none is good save one, even God" (Mark 10:18).
The Young Man questioned.
Controversy has raged about this sentence. The Socinian interprets it to mean that Christ disclaims the epithet "good," and argues from it that He totally disclaims any idea of being put on an equality with God. But that quite clearly cannot be the meaning of the sentence. For, according to that interpretation, it would amount to a denial not simply of Christ's divinity, but of His goodness as well. And, as we know from the whole tenor of the Gospels, Christ knew Himself holy, harmless, undefiled. This is certainly no confession of imperfection. Nor is it simply a rebuke to the young ruler for using a word without meaning it. Apparently the purpose of the question was to drive this young ruler back upon his foundations, to make him investigate his own half-formed beliefs, face the issues of his own confession. "You have called me 'good,'" He says. "Consider what your language means. 'Good' is a title which belongs to God. You have given it to Me. Do you really mean it?" Far from being a repudiation of sinlessness, and a disclaimer of Divinity, rightly interpreted this question becomes a challenge and a claim.
The Young Man answered.
And then our Lord proceeds to answer the young ruler's question. He refers him to the law of Moses. "Thou knowest the commandments, Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honour thy father and mother" (Mark 10:19). The answer was a grievous disappointment to the inquirer. For all these commandments he had punctiliously and painfully obeyed, thinking thereby to attain to peace. Sadly and wearily, therefore, he replied, "All these things have I observed from my youth. What lack I yet?" (Matthew 19:20). He knew there was something lacking. Spite of all his scrupulosity and punctiliousness, his heart was a stranger to peace and joy. The eternal life, the Divine life, the life he felt Jesus had, was not his. "What," he cried, "lack I yet?"
The Inexorable Demand.
And as the Lord looked at him, so earnest and appealing, His heart was touched. "He loved him," Mark says. Or it may possibly mean that He "kissed him." This young man, with the clean record and the hungry heart, appealed to our Lord's sympathy and affection. "Jesus looking upon him, loved him." And then He set before the young man the inexorable demand of the Kingdom, the stringent condition of eternal life. "One thing thou lackest; go, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow Me" (Mark 10:21). Now we must be careful in our interpretation of this demand of our Lord. It does not mean that every one who wants to lay hold on the eternal life must sell all his goods and give to the poor; it is not a general condition, but a demand made to meet the young ruler's case. Our Lord, like a skilful physician, diagnosed the disease before prescribing the remedy. He saw that this young ruler was suffering from a "divided heart" It wavered between love of God and love of gold. And there is never any peace for a divided heart; only war and strife and misery. "Sell whatsoever thou hast," Christ said to this young ruler, "and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven." In other words, He asked him to surrender to God an undivided heart.
Made of us also.
That is what God asks of us not the punctilious observance of external rites and ceremonies, but a surrendered heart. Thus alone are life and peace to be gained; not by the works of the law, but by the surrendered heart. Have we learned the lesson? I look around, and see much laboured "keeping of the commandments": a careful and exact obedience given to the moral law: a punctilious observance of the externals of religion. Yet people are not at rest. No; and they never will be along those lines alone. The experience of this young ruler, the experience of Paul himself, only illustrates the truth of the Apostle's saying, "By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Galatians 2:16). Peace only comes by way of a consecrated and surrendered heart.
The Great Refusal.
"Sell that thou hast, and give to the poor," said our Lord. But the demand was too much for the young ruler. He who, in his enthusiasm and eagerness, came "running" to Christ, went away with a face like a "lowering" sky, which forebodes "foul weather"; for he had "great possessions," and for those "great possessions" he sacrificed his Lord. Granted, it was a stringent demand. And yet the demand carried its compensations along with it. "Sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor," said Jesus, "and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow Me." The compensation outbalanced the sacrifice, for there was the blessed company of Jesus all the way; the inheritance incorruptible and undefiled at the last. But he clung to his gold, and sacrificed the company of Jesus, and the internal inheritance. "He went away sorrowful."
The Last View.
Some people find it hard to believe that so promising a young man, whom Jesus "loved," could really make a final refusal. They point out that he went away "sorrowful"; and they choose to think that, some time later, he chose the "better part" which here he refused. That may be so, though his present refusal made it harder for him later to choose aright. But, as a matter of fact, Scripture says nothing about a later acceptance. As far as Scripture is concerned, that is the last view we get of him. And many like him have thus "gone away." They would have been glad to have been Christians on easier terms, but this inexorable demand for sacrifice was more than they could bear, and they "went away." What about ourselves? Christ asks still for a completely surrendered heart He demands still the expulsion of everything that disputes the dominion with Him. What will you do? Will ye also go away? God give us grace to say with Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life" (John 6:68).
Chapter 27. Christ's Teaching About Wealth
"And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto His disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the Kingdom of God! And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God. And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible." Mark 10:23-27.
Why the Lesson was given.
The conversation here given followed immediately upon the incident of the rich young ruler, and was indeed suggested by it. The departure of the young ruler was the text, and these verses were the sermon Christ preached upon it. Or, if you like to put it in a slightly different way, in the preceding paragraph you have the story; in this paragraph Christ points the moral. The departure of the young ruler showed how fierce and strong are the foes that come between a man and eternal life. There is, as John Bunyan puts it, a crowd barring the way to the palace gate. And a man needs to be not only of a stout countenance, but also of a very brave heart, if he is to bid defiance to that armed throng, and say to the man with the inkhorn, "Set down my name, sir." We have all to "agonise," if we would enter in by the strait gate. And that is why, when the young ruler went away, "Jesus looked round about, and saith unto His disciples, how hardly" i.e. with what difficulty "shall they that have riches" or rather, "shall they that have the riches, the possessions of the world" "enter into the Kingdom of God!" (Mark 10:23).
The Lord's Look and Words.
"He looked round about"; withdrawing His gaze from the retreating figure of the young ruler, he turned it upon the Twelve. He knew that the love of money, which had caused the young ruler to make the "great refusal," was already doing its deadly work in Judas' soul. And perhaps it was on Judas' face the eyes of the Lord rested, as it was to Judas' heart and conscience that He spoke, when He said, How hardly with what difficulty shall they who have the good things of life enter into the Kingdom of God?
The Disciples' Amazement
"And the disciples," we read, "were amazed at His words" (Mark 10:24). They destroyed every notion about wealth the disciples had ever cherished. They had been brought up on the Old Testament; and there wealth is repeatedly spoken of as a sign of God's favour. So the Wise Man says of wisdom, "Length of days is in her right hand, and in her left hand are riches and honour" (Proverbs 3:16). Thus Christ's dictum overturned all their inherited ideas. They themselves were looking forward to material rewards to princedoms and dominions and thrones. And here Christ declares that that very thing which they had been taught to desire, and to regard as a proof of the Divine favour, was not a blessing, but something like a curse; not a help, but a hindrance, an almost insurmountable obstacle to the possession of the Kingdom. And here I prefer the reading noted in the Revised Version margin, which omits the words "those that trust in riches." According to the oldest MSS., what Jesus said when He saw the bewilderment His first remark had caused, was this, "Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God!" He enlarges His field of vision. He makes His first statement, "Children you notice the tenderness of His address "I said a moment ago, it is hard for the rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. It is hard for every one. There are barriers in every one's way. It is a strait gate and a narrow way for all. But it is specially hard for the rich. It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God."
The Camel and the Needle's Eye.
Attempts have been made to soften this figure of the camel and the needle's eye. Some have suggested that the word "camel" in the Greek is a mistake for "cable." And others, accepting "camel" as correct, have suggested that the "needle's eye" is to be understood as a small side-gate near the great gate in Jerusalem. But the phrase must be accepted just as it stands. It is exactly the kind of striking, hyperbolical figure in which an Eastern speaker would delight. Southey caught its spirit when he wrote:
"I would ride the camel,
Yea, leap him flying, through the needle's eye,
As easily as such a pampered soul
Could pass the narrow gate."
It is a proverbial expression, meant to represent vividly and memorably the extraordinary difficulty of discharging the responsibilities and overcoming the temptations of riches. So the Lord's answer to the disciples' wonder was simply to emphasize His former statement.
The Difference God makes.
The Lord's repetition of His statement only intensified the disciples' amazement. "They were astonished exceedingly," saying unto Him, "Then who can be saved?" They began to be dimly conscious of difficulties of which they had never before dreamed. Their minds had travelled beyond the cares of the rich. A new conception of the Kingdom began to dawn upon them. They began to tremble about any one's salvation. "Who then can be saved?" they asked. And Jesus replied, "With men it is impossible, but not with God" (Mark 10:27). If it depended upon men themselves, their own unaided efforts, their own righteousness, they would never gain the Kingdom. But with God all things are possible. With God to help, the impossible may become actual, and man, yes, even the rich man, may enter the Kingdom of God.
The Legitimacy of Wealth.
And now as to the light this passage throws upon our Lord's teaching about wealth. Upon the general subject I will say but one or two words. There is a school amongst us that asserts that Jesus condemned wealth altogether, and that a rich Christian is therefore a contradiction in terms. I think, from my study of the Gospels, that this school is quite wrong. Of course ill-gotten wealth is absolutely debarred to the Christian. Money made in dishonest ways, or gained by oppression, by sweated labour, for instance, is unchristian money. But I do not see how anyone can read the Gospels without finding that Jesus admits the legitimacy of wealth. It is implied in the parables of the Talents and the Pounds. It is implied here in this story of the young ruler. Jesus does not deny the man's right to his wealth. He only urges the surrender of it as the way to perfection. That is to say, the surrender of wealth is not an economic principle, it is simply in this case a matter of moral choice. Jesus does not enjoin the monkish vow of poverty upon His followers. Anthony, who, on reading the story of the young ruler, forthwith distributed to the villagers his large fertile estates, inherited from his father, sent his sister to be educated with a society of pious virgins, and then settled down to a rigidly ascetic life, was imitating the letter, and not the spirit of Scripture. And when Renan says that the monk is in a sense the only true Christian, he is repeating Anthony's mistake. Jesus nowhere holds that every Christian must sacrifice his wealth, and take the vow of poverty.
And its True Use.
Not only so, but our Lord obviously teaches that wealth may be made beneficent; that it can minister not simply to the good of others, but also to the good of a man's own soul. That is surely the whole teaching of the parable of the Unrighteous Steward. Men can make friends even of the unrighteous mammon. They can turn a thing so pregnant with peril as wealth into a great means of blessing. Surely we have seen illustrations of all this in the cases of men of whom our own days supply many striking and familiar examples whose wealth has been employed in a gracious, helpful and Christian ministry.
The Perils of Wealth.
But, while Jesus admits the legitimacy of wealth, and allows that money may be transfigured into a minister of grace, no one can read the New Testament with any attention without seeing that the main point He emphasizes is, not its legitimacy, nor its possibilities of gracious ministry, but its perils its menacing and deadly perils. Again and again He bids men be on the watch against the fascinations of wealth. He obviously regards mammon as the chief rival and antagonist of God in the affections of men. Again and again He bids men beware of covetousness. And perhaps His insistence upon the perils of wealth reaches its climax in the words, "It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God" (Mark 10:25).
Men absorbed in Wealth.
Now can we discover what, according to our Lord, are the perils of wealth that make Him so insistent in His warnings against it? I think we can. (1) First of all, our Lord saw that wealth had a strange but fatal power of absorbing the affections of the soul, and so becoming the rival and antagonist of God. That is what had happened in the case of this young ruler. God claims the first place in every soul. He will not take the second place; He will be loved best, or not at all. I dare say the young ruler thought he loved God best. But when the choice had to be made, it was his gold he loved best. He did not possess his riches, his riches possessed him. They had monopolised God's place. Living as we do in a materialistic age, we do not need any one to tell us that there are multitudes of mammon-worshippers all about us still, men who give to wealth the place in their hearts that properly belongs to God.
Men trusting in Wealth.
(2) A second peril which Christ saw attached to wealth was this those who had great possessions were always tempted to trust in them. Money has not only the power of absorbing the heart, it has also the power of satisfying it. Take the parable of the Rich Fool as an illustration. His barns and storehouses were full; he seemed quite immune against trouble and distress. "Soul, thou hast much goods," he said, "laid up for many years, eat, drink, be merry." The fact that he had such abundant wealth blinded him to his lack of spiritual things. He thought himself rich and increased with goods, and in need of nothing, and when he was ushered into eternity that night, he went into it as a blind and miserable and naked soul. This is no imaginary peril. The possession of earthly wealth may blind a man to his need of lasting riches. The man who has much treasure on earth is in danger of not feeling the need of treasure in heaven. And so the possession of "uncertain riches" often spells the ruin of the soul; and "great possessions" often mean the sacrifice of the inheritance incorruptible and undefiled. For the condition of receiving the "eternal life" is a sense of need. "He hath filled the hungry with good things." But those who have this world's goods often feel no sense of need, and so the rich go empty away. What profit is it for a man to have all his treasures on earth, when he himself is made for eternity? "Do you know," said a man I think to John Bright "he died worth a million." "Yes," replied Bright, "and that was all he was worth." What unutterable tragedy such a sentence hides! "All he was worth." And it had all to be left.
Men the Prey of Covetousness.
(3) Further, the possession of wealth is apt to beget a spirit of covetousness, and covetousness, is itself a sin, and the fruitful mother of sins. "Take heed," said our Lord, "and keep yourselves from covetousness." Covetousness, He knew, was one of the most deadly enemies of the soul. It warps and shrivels and deadens the soul. It makes it insensible to the higher and holier appeals. Men grow in fortune, and get further and further away from God. Their bank balances increase, and their stock of sympathy and pity and love diminishes. There is nothing like covetousness for stifling the religious life. It chokes the Word, so that there is more hope for the drunkard and the sensualist than for the man whom avarice holds in its grip. And not only is covetousness itself a sin, but it begets sin. "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil," says the Apostle (1 Timothy 6:10). It was so in the Lord's own day. Witness the Pharisees devouring widows' houses, and the priests turning the very Temple into a den of thieves. It is so now. Think what greed is doing in this land of ours. Most of the wrongs from which we suffer spring from this one bitter root. There would be scarcely any social problem left, if only men's hearts were delivered from this blighting and sinful love.
The Christian's Duty.
What, then, is the Christian man's attitude towards wealth? Wealth, remember, is a relative term. I have known the small patrimony of the poor as perilous to the soul as the mighty fortunes of the rich. Covetousness is not necessarily a matter of thousands or millions. Silas Marner with his small store of gold coins was as much a victim to it as any financier who is adding his thousand to thousand. What, then, is the Christian's duty towards his wealth, whether it be great or small? Must he deny himself of it? Not necessarily. But he must keep himself master of it. He must not let it master him. I have a friend who said to me that when he was about twenty-five years of age, when money began to come to him, he found he had to face the question whether he would be master of his wealth, or would let his wealth master him. He said that by God's grace he would be master of his wealth. It was no vain resolve; he holds his money with a loose grip; it is to him an agent for usefulness. He gives, as he puts it, pound for pound of his income to the Lord. He has made to himself friends of the mammon of unrighteousness. That is the way to treat wealth, whether large or small be its master. And with none of us must wealth be the aim of life. "Little children, guard yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21). It is the last word of Scripture. And mammon is the idol most of our people worship. But the new earth would be here, if we seriously heeded these words of Christ, "Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?... But seek ye first His Kingdom and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:31, Matthew 6:33).
Chapter 28. The Hundredfold
"Then Peter began to say unto Him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed Thee. And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My sake, and the gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last first." Mark 10:28-31.
The Impulsive Peter.
All the Evangelists notice that it was Peter who said this. It was just the kind of remark you would expect Peter to make. There were things Peter said which, on calmer reflection, he would have wished unsaid. But this habit nevertheless constitutes part of the charm of his character. His hot-headedness and impulsiveness make him the most open and transparent and human of the Twelve.
His question here arose directly out of the incident of the rich young ruler. He had heard our Lord demand of that young man that he should sell his possessions, and follow Him. He had seen the young ruler go away sorrowful. He had heard the Lord's startling comment that it was easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. And though for a moment, like the rest of the disciples, staggered by that austere saying, he quickly recovered his spirits, and with a great deal of self-satisfaction let his mind dwell on the difference between the conduct of the rich young ruler and that of himself and his fellow disciples. "We," he thought to himself, "have done the very thing which the Master asked the rich young ruler to do. We have done that hard thing; we have left all, and followed Jesus. Surely sacrifice so great and so difficult will win a rich reward?" The thought had no sooner formed itself in Peter's mind than, with characteristic impulsiveness, he was giving it expression. "Lo," he said to Jesus, "we (with an emphasis on the we: we, in contrast to the rich young ruler who refused to make the sacrifice), we have left all, and have followed Thee" (Mark 10:28). And Peter did not stop there, according to Matthew's account, for he went on to ask, "What then shall we have?" (Matthew 19:27).
It is very easy to criticise this question of Peter. For, when Peter asked, "What then shall we have?" he spoke in the very tone and temper of the hired servant. There is a touch of the sordid and the mercenary about it. "No longer do I call you servants," said Jesus on one occasion; "but I have called you friends" (John 15:15). But Peter here does not speak as a "friend"; he speaks as one who only works for wages, a "hired servant," and as one eminently pleased with himself. But when critics go on to object that Peter's all did not amount to much, that in his case there was no such sacrifice as was demanded in the case of the young ruler, they take a very different view of the case from that which Christ took. I do not find Christ ridiculing or disparaging the sacrifice the disciples had made, as scarcely worth mention. Christ never measured anything by mere bulk; He measures by the love and sacrifice involved. And so He joyfully acknowledged that these men had sacrificed their all, and, with a "verily" that was full of tender assurance, He promised them a reward that outran their wildest dreams.
The Master's Response.
To the Twelve themselves, according to Matthew's account, He promised that they should sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Peter, for the sacrifice of his boat and his nets, Matthew, for the surrender of his tollbooth, was each to receive a throne. And it was no delusive promise. The throne Christ gave was not perhaps the kind of throne the disciples expected. They wore none of the trappings of royalty, but no king that ever sat upon a throne wielded such sovereign authority as do these twelve humble men, who first heard Christ's call and followed Him. But Mark passes the special reward of the apostles' sacrifice by without notice, in order to lay stress on the reward Christ promises to every one who makes sacrifices for His sake. "Verily I say unto you," said our Lord, "There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or mother, or father, or children, or lands, for My sake, and for the gospel's sake, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life" (Mark 10:29-30).
The Divine Generosity.
In this overwhelming promise you will notice the Divine generosity of the reward. That is the way in which the Lord blesses a hundredfold. This is the way in which He compensates for sacrifice a hundredfold. The very magnificence of the reward has, as Dr. Bruce says, a sobering effect upon the mind. It tends to humble. For nobody, no matter what sacrifices he has made, or what devotion he has shown, can pretend that he has earned the "hundredfold." All talk of merit is out of the question here. When we have done our best if we are honest with ourselves we have to confess we have been unprofitable servants. The reward is so obviously out of proportion, as to make us realize it is not of debt, but of the Lord's mercy and grace. We do not earn these blessings; the free gift of God is eternal life.
The Doctrine of Rewards.
There are those in these days who say that in the Christian life we ought not to think of reward at all. Christianity, we are told, ought to be disinterested, and the man who is always thinking of the reward at the end is really turning his religion into a kind of glorified selfishness. Now there is an element of truth in this objection. If people were Christian simply for the sake of the reward, and not for love, they would not in any true sense be Christians at all. I sometimes wonder whether Peter was a real Christian, when he asked, "What then shall we get?" I am quite sure he was a real Christian when he said, "Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee." Our Lord Himself repudiated what I may call mercenary discipleship, when He charged the crowds with following Him only because they ate of the loaves, and were filled. A Christian is a man who follows Christ and obeys Christ and gives Himself to Christ for love's sake. But Christ never calls a man to an unreasonable service. The life Christ calls a man to, is the best life and the highest life, the rich life. And that is what the Christian doctrine of rewards amounts to; it is the assertion of the supreme reasonableness of the Christian life.
The Reality of the Reward.
But now as to the reality of this reward. It is an overwhelming promise is it a true one? This promise of a hundredfold now and eternal life hereafter, is it a mocking mirage, or is it a reality? Let us examine the promise for a moment. It falls into two parts. It promises reward now, and in the world to come. Now as to the promise of eternal life in the world to come, we have to take that on trust. We believe, we gladly believe, that for Christ's friends death does not bring life to an end. But life enters upon a new stage. It becomes larger, deeper, richer, fuller. It becomes life in the very presence of God, a life of perfect bliss. But that, as I say, we take on trust. As far as that portion of the promise is concerned, we walk by faith, not by sight.
The Promise of the Life that now is.
But in so far as the Lord's promise deals with this present world and this present life, we can bring it to the test of facts and experience. What then of the hundredfold which they who make sacrifices for Christ are to receive in this time? Does that get fulfilled? In answering this question we must beware of a bald literalism. A bald and naked literalism will make nonsense of this gracious word. Of course, Christ does not mean that for every house we give up we shall get a hundred houses given back to us. The promise essentially means this that discipleship means the immense and untold enrichment of life even now. Is that true? Absolutely and utterly true. It is true even of material things. Religion tends to prosperity. Godliness has the promise of the life which now is. But it is not on that low and rather sordid plane that I would argue the truth of this promise. The hundredfold comes to the disciple in other and better ways. "A hundredfold in this time." Is it true? Yes, says Dr. Bruce, if you take the long view; and he bids us notice how, through the sacrifices of Christian people, the little one has become a thousand, and the small one a strong nation, and the prophetic picture of an ever-widening Christian dominion has been to a large extent realised. But essentially the promise is true, not simply of the centuries and the generations; it is true of the individual. The Christian life means untold enlargement and enrichment. "All things are yours," cries Paul; "whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours, and ye are Christ's" (1 Corinthians 3:22-23). "I have all things, and abound," wrote the same great hearted Apostle (Philippians 4:18). He had stripped himself bare for Christ; he had stripped himself of home and friends and reputation and prospects; but Paul did not walk through life like a beggar, he walked through it with the proud step and light heart of one who had inexhaustible and unsearchable riches. "I have all things, and abound."
"With persecutions," the Lord adds. And we are not to read this phrase as if it were the bitter put in to counterbalance the sweet. The Lord means us to reckon persecutions as another item added to the inventory of the disciple's blessings. The hundredfold is realised, not in spite of persecutions, but to a larger extent because of them. The phrase carries us back to that other striking and memorable word, "Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven" (Matthew 5:11-12). "But," He added, "many that are first shall be last, and the last first." A man's place in the Divine order of precedence is not settled by length of service or conspicuous service. These twelve were the first in time, and the most conspicuous in position. It did not follow that they were to be the first in heaven. Judas by transgression fell, and went to his own place the first became last. The persecuting and blaspheming Saul, though born out of due time, came not a whit behind the very chiefest of the Apostles the last became first. In the external world every man finds his proper niche; every man is appraised at his true value. For God judges not by the outward appearance; He judges by the heart. Not by our conspicuous station, or by our Church standing, but by the amount of genuine love and sacrifice there is in our discipleship. "Many that are first shall be last"; it is a word of solemn warning. It is well we should examine our hearts, and ask ourselves where, judged by that test, shall we stand amongst the first or amongst the last?
The quotations at the head of Chapters are from the Authorised Version. Quotations in the body of the Commentary are mainly from the Revised Version.
Chapter 1. On the Way to Jerusalem
"And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid. And He took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto Him, saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles: and they shall mock Him, and shall scourge Him, and shall spit upon Him, and shall kill Him: and the third day He shall rise again." Mark 10:32-34.
The Sequence of Events.
A word as to the exact chronological position of this journey to Jerusalem. Mark's is, as you all know, the briefest of the Gospels, and we are not to conclude that incidents that follow one another in the narrative necessarily came immediately the one after the other. For the sequence of events, we must compare Gospel with Gospel. Now, as far as I can judge from a comparison with the other Gospels, and especially with St John, several notable events had happened since the incident of the rich young ruler and the subsequent conversation, and, amongst them, the raising of Lazarus from the dead. That astounding and overwhelming miracle had caused immense excitement, with the result that the Sanhedrim met together and deliberately resolved that they would put Christ to death. Jesus got to know of their resolution, and, inasmuch as His hour was not yet come, He departed into a city called Ephraim, about twenty miles to the north of Jerusalem. There apparently He remained for some time, until, indeed, His Passion drew nigh. Then of His own free will He journeyed back, to face His foes and meet His death. That is the exact point in our Lord's career to which this paragraph brings us. He is setting out on His last journey to Jerusalem. His hour has struck. It is no longer the hour for flight and concealment. It is the hour to go forth and drink the cup and bear the cross and die.
The Manner of the Going.
What a journey that was! Never in all human history was ever so wonderful and subduing a march undertaken as this! The wonder of it, the awe of it, smote those who witnessed it with amazement and fear. Look at Mark's vivid account, "And they were in the way, going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus was going before them." Usually, our Lord walked along in the very midst of His disciples, but on this last march He strode in front of them, He "was going before them." "And they were amazed," not simply because the action was unusual; there was about the attitude and appearance of Jesus that which filled the Twelve with wonder; "and they that followed," i.e. the larger crowd that always hung about the steps of Christ the multitude that pressed upon Him and thronged Him "they that followed were afraid."
The Obedient Christ.
I am not surprised that the disciples were "amazed," and the multitudes were "afraid"; for surely the sight of Jesus marching on to Jerusalem is an awe-inspiring sight. What a glimpse we have here of the obedient Christ! Obedience, from one point of view, is the key to the life of Jesus. It was the explanation He Himself gave of His conduct and actions. "Wist ye not," He said to His earthly parents, "that I must be about My Father's business?" (Luke 2:49). "I am come down from heaven," He said to the multitude, "not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me" (John 6:38). "We must work the works of Him that sent Me," He said on another occasion, "while it is day; the night cometh, when no man can work" (John 9:4). All through His life Christ submitted Himself absolutely and without reserve to the Father's will. He spoke the words the Father gave Him to speak. He did the works His Father gave Him to do. And there was no limit to His obedience. He shrank from no sacrifice or pain. He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
The Heroic Christ.
What a glimpse, too, we have here of the heroic Christ! He knew to what He was going. Not one item in the bitter tragedy of the garden and the judgment hall and the cross escaped Him. And yet deliberately and willingly He faced it all. The courage of the soldier on the battlefield wonderful as it often is pales beside the courage, the majestic and overwhelming courage, of the Son of God marching to the cross. The soldier faces wounds and death, but can always hope to escape them. There was no escape for Jesus. It was to death He marched, to a cruel death, to a shameful and bitter death, and yet He never hesitated or blenched. He steadfastly set His face, says St Luke, "to go to Jerusalem."
The Eager Christ.
What a glimpse we have here of the eager Christ! "He was going before them. " "I have a baptism to be baptized with," He said one day; "and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" (Luke 12:50). "How am I straitened!" There was a sense of urgency and pressure about our Lord's whole life; that urgency and pressure you see in His march to the cross. It was not the haste of fear. It was not the haste of a man anxious to get as quickly as possible over an ordeal from which he shrinks. Light is thrown upon this eagerness of our Lord, in Hebrews, where the writer says that, Jesus "for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising shame" (Hebrews 12:2). It was not a timid and shrinking and nervous haste; it was a glad and triumphant haste. He did not march in front as one who was broken or dismayed, else His disciples would have drawn near to comfort Him. He walked majestic.
That is the Christ we see in this incident the obedient Christ, the courageous Christ, the eager Christ, and the loving and sacrificial Christ. For why did He hasten to the cross? "All," as our old hymn puts it, "All to ransom guilty captives." All for love! "He loved me, and gave Himself for me." Well may we go on to say, "Flow, my praise, for ever flow."
The Amazed Twelve.
But I pass now from talking of the Christ revealed in this incident, to say just a word about the picture of the disciples we get here. The Twelve were "amazed," we read. Christ was continually giving them things to "wonder" at. When He gave utterance to that hard saying about the rich man and the Kingdom of God, the disciples, we learn, were amazed (it is the very same word). Their surprise then was at the Lord's speech; their surprise now is at the Lord Himself. It was at the staggering nature of His sayings, they wondered in Mark 10:24; it is at the majesty of His Person they wonder here. And what perennial sources of wonder those two are! The Lord's words constantly fill us with surprise. They are so fresh, so deep, so inexhaustible. Like those who first heard them, we are always "astonished" at His teaching. And the wonder of His Person surpasses even the wonder of His words. Christ is greater than His speech. As we study His life, some new revelation of His love, or wisdom, or majesty, or power is constantly filling us with the kind of "amazement" of which the narrative speaks.
The Anxious Multitude.
But it is not so much the description of the Twelve that invites notice, as the description the Evangelist gives of the more indiscriminate multitude. "And they that followed were afraid." It is the conjunction of these two almost contradictory statements that has struck me; they were "afraid," but still they "followed." "Forebodings of evil smote them, and filled them with vague terrors," says Dr Salmond; but yet they followed. They looked at Jesus striding on in front, and were filled with trembling fear; and yet they followed. There is a phrase in the Old Testament that seems exactly to describe the moral and spiritual condition of these people. Here it is: "Faint, yet pursuing" (Judges 8:4). You remember where it occurs. After Gideon and his three hundred had surprised the host of Midian by their night attack, the work of pursuit began. They allowed their foes no chance to re-form and give battle again. In hot haste they pressed them. They did not stay even to take food. Right up to Jordan, Gideon and his band kept up the work. Yes, and beyond Jordan they were still at it "faint, yet pursuing."
Not Men of the Stoutest Hearts.
And that was very much the condition of these unnamed friends and disciples of Jesus. These men were not cast in the heroic mould. They were not men like Paul, who, when his friends tried to dissuade him from making the journey to Jerusalem because bonds and imprisonment awaited him there, replied that he was ready not to be bound only, but also to die for the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 21:13). They were not men of the dauntless spirit of Martin Luther, who, when his friends warned him of danger if he persisted in going to Worms, replied that though there were as many devils in Worms as there were tiles upon the housetops, yet would he go. Dr Glover compares these men to John Bunyan, who, though he had just married a second time, and had a little blind daughter dependent upon him, and though he knew that a warrant was issued for his arrest if he should persist in preaching the Gospel, went to keep his engagement at the little village of Samsell. His wife, his blind daughter, his own liberty John Bunyan risked them all in his loyalty to Christ.
But like Mr Fearing.
But my own feeling is that these people find their real representative, not in John Bunyan himself, but in that Mr Fearing whom John Bunyan pictures for us with such inimitable felicity. You remember all about Mr Fearing a man made up of doubts and timidities. For about a month, the Dreamer tells us, he lay roaring at the Slough of Despond, not venturing to cross it, yet equally determined that he would not go back. And when he came to the wicket gate, there he stood shaking and shrinking, letting many another pass in before him, before he dared raise the hammer and give a timid knock. So it was also at Interpreter's door. He lay about in the cold a good while before he would adventure to call; yet he would not go back, "though the nights were long and cold then." He was compact of timidities and fears, yet he would not go back. He was faint; yet he continued to pursue. He was afraid; but he followed. And Mr Fearing at last won his way into the gates of the Celestial City. This was a crowd of Mr Fearings as they followed they were afraid.
They were afraid, but they followed. I find comfort in the thought that these men who followed Christ on His last journey were not strangers to fear. It brings them all very near to us. For most of us are much more like Mr Fearing and Mr Ready-to-Halt than we are like Mr Greatheart and Mr Valiant-for-Truth. "Fightings without and fears within" that is our condition. We, too, are full of timidities and hesitations. And yet, fears and all, let us follow. Faint though we are, let us pursue. Like Mr Fearing and Mr Ready-to-Halt, we shall win home at the last.
Made Bold by Jesus Christ.
"As they followed, they were afraid." And what was it kept them following, in spite of their fears? It was the influence of Jesus upon them. As they looked at Him, they were constrained to follow, though they were afraid. Here is the courage of Jesus, says one of the commentators, overcoming fear in the disciples. "Consider Him," says the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, "that endured such gainsaying of sinners against Himself, that ye wax not weary, fainting in your souls" (xii. 3). Consider Him; there is inspiration in the example of Christ. The vision of the heroic Jesus banished the cowardice out of their souls. It has done so for thousands. They went cheerfully to the stake and the block and the gibbet. "Who shall dream of shrinking," they said, "by our Captain led?" But I am not at all sure that it was a case of the Lord's courage shaming them out of their cowardice. I am inclined to think it was a case rather of love overcoming fear. These people felt it was worth while to be with Jesus, whithersoever He might lead them. They knew somehow that Jesus was their life. And so, though they felt vaguely that trouble was impending, they still clung to Him. They were afraid; but they followed. They were faint; but they pursued. And that is what will overcome fear for us love! Perfect love casteth out fear. Yes, even an imperfect love will overcome it. To feel that Jesus is our life, to feel that He has loved us, and given Himself for us, that will make us cling to Him, despite all the sufferings and trials His service may entail. Even though our hearts be as overwhelmed with fear, as John Bunyan's was in the days before he became a preacher of the Gospel, even though we feel that verse after verse of Scripture rises up to condemn us, we shall, like him, cling to Christ. "My case being desperate," he writes, "I thought with myself, I can but die; and if it must be so, it shall once be said that such an one died at the foot of Christ in prayer." That is it full of fear; but love keeps us following to the very end. This is the secret of the perseverance of the saints. "The love of Christ constraineth us."
The Journey's End and beyond it.
At a certain stage in the journey the Lord fell back, and took the Twelve aside, and told them what it was He was marching to. It was the third time He had announced to them His Passion. He did it this time with greater circumstantiality and detail than ever. "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man shall be delivered unto the chief priests and the scribes; and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him unto the Gentiles; and they shall mock Him, and shall spit upon Him, and shall scourge Him, and shall kill Him; and after three days He shall rise again" (Mark 10:33-34). It was not to a throne He was marching; still His ultimate triumph was sure. For while He spoke of death He also spoke of "rising again." But what lay immediately in front of Him was rejection, insult, and a shameful death. The prospect did not appal them. Not one of them drew back, save the son of perdition. They continued with Christ in His temptations. And it is a similar prospect Christ holds out before His followers still. His ultimate triumph is certain. Away yonder there is waiting a palm-branch and a throne. But immediately and now discipleship means tribulation, suffering, sacrifice, and the cross. Shall we draw back? No, though we be afraid, we will follow. Though we be faint, we will pursue. "We are not of them that shrink back unto perdition, but of them that have faith unto the saving of the soul" (Hebrews 10:39).
Chapter 2. The Sons of Zebedee
"And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. And He said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? They said unto Him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on Thy right hand, and the other on Thy left hand, in Thy glory. But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? And they said unto Him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: but to sit on My right hand and on My left hand is not Mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared." Mark 10:35-40.
A Strange Plea.
And its Explanation.
I suppose that no one ever reads this paragraph without considering how it came about that the sons of Zebedee could come to Jesus with so ambitious and selfish a prayer at this particular juncture. Jesus had just told them in plain and unmistakable language that He was going to be rejected, mocked, spat upon, scourged, killed; and these two disciples chose that particular moment to plead with Him for thrones. One would have thought that Christ's emphatic announcement would have banished from His disciples' minds this foolish dreaming. To find the explanation you must turn to Luke's Gospel.
Mr Prejudice at work.
This is the comment Luke makes, after narrating our Lord's solemn announcement of His passion: "And they understood none of these things; and this saying was hid from them, and they perceived not the things that were said" (Luke 18:34). "And they understood none of these things." You wonder why. The announcement was plain and straightforward enough. But in this matter of the cross the disciples were so wholly possessed by their own preconceived notions that they could not and would not take in the warning. You remember how John Bunyan, in his Holy War, puts Ear-gate into the charge of Mr Prejudice, who had sixty completely deaf men under him as his company, men eminently advantageous for that service, inasmuch as it mattered not one atom to them what was spoken in their ear either by God or man. That is only John Bunyan's picturesque way of saying that prejudice can make men dull and deaf to all warnings and appeals. Mr Prejudice and his sixty deaf men were, let us say, in charge of the disciples' ears in this matter of the cross. They were so steeped in materialistic notions of Messiah's empire, they were so completely possessed by their belief that Messiah's path ended in an earthly throne, that they closed their ears against every mention of the cross. Christ's words mystified them, no doubt. But they put them down as parables. They obstinately refused to take them in their plain and literal meaning. "They understood none of these things." We must remember all this, otherwise it is inexplicable how James and John should still be dreaming of thrones when Christ was contemplating the cross.
A Contributory Cause.
Probably we should bear in mind this fact also, that only a short time before Christ had worked that most stupendous and overwhelming of His miracles. He had raised Lazarus from the dead, after he had been in the grave four days. It was a sign that filled all who had witnessed it with wonder, and all who heard of it with excited anticipation. Jerusalem and Judæa were stirred from end to end. People began to ask whether any one but the Messiah could work such mighty signs as these. In a word, the people at large were ready to welcome and acclaim Jesus as Messiah, as indeed they did on the occasion of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The disciples knew all this. They were conscious of the kind of thrill there was in the air. They felt the throb of the popular expectancy. They made sure, therefore, that on the occasion of this visit to Jerusalem there would be some great apocalypse of our Lord's Messianic dignity and power, and that the Kingdom of God would immediately appear. And so, full of anticipations of this kind, at a certain stage in the journey, James and John, accompanied by their mother Salome Salome, indeed, being the spokeswoman came to Jesus with their request for the two chief thrones.
The Plea of the Two. And the Faith behind it.
"Master," they said, "we would that Thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we ask" (Mark 10:35). They wish Jesus to give them a kind of blank cheque. Eastern kings were occasionally wont, in their large and ostentatious way, to promise persons who had won their regard anything they might ask just as Herod promised Herodias' daughter anything, up to the half of his kingdom. Salome's two sons hoped to be dealt with thus. It was no doubt, as Dr Salmond says, "a large, bold, and inconsiderate demand." But let us do this credit to Salome and her sons the very boldness of the request shows that they believed that Christ had unlimited power. He wore nothing but the seamless cloak, but to this woman and her sons the seamless cloak could not hide His royal dignity. To them He was even now King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and all things were His to give. It was an inconsiderate, it was a foolish request, but there was faith behind it, a mistaken faith, perhaps, but, nevertheless, a great and magnificent faith.
A Large Request. With an Aim.
But Christ was no Eastern despot, bestowing His favours, so to speak, blindfold; and so He replies to the disciples' request with a question, "What would ye that I should do for you?" (Mark 10:36). He will have them state in definite and specific terms what it is they have in their mind. Perhaps James and John did not quite care to put into words what really was in their hearts. Possibly they felt a trifle ashamed of their own ambitiousness. But Christ, as Dr Morison says, will have these two disciples spread out, under the light of His observation and of their own reflection, what was lying in their hearts. And so they tell Him or perhaps Salome tells Him for them what it was they really wanted. "Grant unto us," they said, "that we may sit, one on Thy right hand, and one on Thy left hand, in Thy glory" (Mark 10:37). The murder was out. What these two men wanted was the highest station in the kingdom. They wanted specially, says Dr A. B. Bruce, "to steal a march on Peter." The primacy seemed to rest between themselves and Peter, for Jesus had obviously chosen out Peter and themselves as leaders among the Twelve. But the words spoken by our Lord to Peter at Cæsarea had rankled in their minds, and had made them fear that amongst the three Peter would be first. So here they try to steal a march on Peter, and beguile their Lord into promising the chief places in the kingdom to themselves. "Grant unto us that we may sit, one on Thy right hand, and one on Thy left hand, in Thy glory."
Now it is a very easy matter to criticise this request of these two disciples and their mother. Dr A. B. Bruce, in his Training of the Twelve, gives a long catalogue of the faults contained in it. It was a presumptuous request, he says, because it virtually asked Jesus their Lord to become the tool of their ambition and vanity. And it was as ignorant as it was presumptuous, showing that they were poles asunder from their Lord in their thoughts of the kingdom. And it was as selfish as it was ignorant. Their own self-aggrandisement was the burden of it. Yes, this request of the sons of Zebedee was all that. Almost every fault that could attach to a prayer stares us in the face in this brief plea.
The Lord's Reply. Taking Count of Faith. And of Courage. And of Love.
And yet, our Lord's reply is singularly mild and gentle. There is no indignant denunciation. If there is a tone of rebuke, it is of the kindest and tenderest. Can it be that Jesus saw something beside presumption and ignorance and selfishness in this prayer? Can it be that He saw something which was grateful to His soul? I think He did. And when I look again at this prayer, I can almost guess what it was. "Grant unto us," they said, "that we may sit one on Thy right hand, and one on Thy left hand, in Thy glory." It was a mistaken prayer, it was a foolish prayer. But there was, as I have already said, a superb faith in it. Whatever others might think of Jesus, these two men believed that He deserved the kingdom, and would yet receive it. Do you not think that this would be grateful to the heart of Christ, in view of the "rejection" at the hands of chief priests and scribes which He knew was soon to be His fate? And there was courage in it. Probably they did not understand what Jesus had just told them about the cross. They refused to take it literally. But I daresay they felt there was some sort of a crisis and conflict coming, and so it became a time when the feeble and craven-hearted abandoned Christ. But these men never dreamed of leaving Him. They take that moment of solemn warning to declare that, whatever might be in store, they attached themselves definitely and finally to the cause of Christ. And surely there was more than faith and courage in the prayer; there was also love in it. Here was the thing these two craved above everything else, to be near their Lord. It was not altogether that they wanted to be above Peter and the rest. They wanted to be near Christ. John, we are told, was the disciple whom Jesus loved. Between himself and Jesus there was a bond of closest and deepest affection. And it was the height of John's ambition, and of James' too, that in the glory the old close and tender relationship should still continue. There was deep and consecrated love in this prayer. That was heaven to these two men, to be close to Jesus. "Grant to us that we may sit, one on Thy right hand, and one on Thy left, in Thy glory." And so our Lord's answer was, as Dr Bruce says, "singularly mild." The selfishness and presumptuousness of it were distressing to Him, but the faith of it, and the courage of it, and the love of it, were grateful to His soul.
Ignorance in Prayer.
Now let us turn to look at our Lord's answer. "Ye know not what ye ask," He said (Mark 10:38). A throne is never a comfortable seat. "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." But never was such a throne as Christ's. For His throne was the bitter cross. They did not know what suffering and agony they were asking for, in asking for a throne by the side of Christ. It was an ignorant prayer. And of how many of our prayers could not our Lord say, "Ye know not what ye ask?" Especially is that so when we ask for great things for ourselves. We little realise what risks we run, and what a price has to be paid. In our ignorance it is, as Matthew Henry quaintly puts it, folly to prescribe and wisdom to subscribe to God.
The Cup and the Baptism.
Then our Lord puts the question to them, "Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink? or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" "The cup that I drink," "the baptism that I am baptized with," they are highly significant terms. They may refer, as some commentators think, the "cup" to inward agony; the "baptism" to outward and visible suffering. In which case it would be true to say, with Dr Glover, that the "cup" was fullest in Gethsemane; and the "baptism" was most overwhelming on Calvary, when all God's waves and billows went over the Redeemer's head. Or it may be, as Dr Chadwick suggests, that the "cup" may refer to sufferings voluntarily accepted, and the "baptism" to sufferings into which we are plunged. But the former is the better explanation. The baptism, the public shame and ignominy; the cup, the secret pain and sorrow. Anybody could see how awful a baptism Christ endured in the judgment hall and on the cross. Yet our Lord's bitterest pangs were not those caused by physical suffering, but those caused by agony of soul. "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me," who can fathom the desolation involved in that cry? That was part of the Lord's bitter cup. But take them together, and the "cup" and the "baptism" stand for the totality of our Lord's suffering. They stand also for the price of His throne. Christ did not inherit His throne. He won it. With His agony and bloody sweat, with His cross and passion, with His death and burial, He paid for it. And there is no throne in the spiritual realm except by paying a like price. That is the meaning of the question that Jesus puts to His disciples. "Thrones," He says, "are not to be had for the asking, Thrones are to be won and paid for. And this is the price sharing My cup and baptism."
The Price of Glory.
Suffering with Christ is the condition of being glorified together. We must be ready to be baptized with His baptism; we must be ready to suffer for righteousness sake; we must be ready to bear scorn and insult rude; we must be ready to face the world's hostility and contempt, in our allegiance to the will of God. And we must drink the Lord's cup. We must share in His agony for human sin. We must feel the pressure of it upon our hearts, as He did upon His. This is the condition of sharing the throne with Christ entering into the fellowship of His sufferings. In a character sketch of a certain prominent statesman, accounting for his ineffectiveness, in spite of his manifold gifts, the writer quoted a remark made by his tutor upon him while still a youth. "He wants the Palm without the dust." Perhaps that is what these disciples wanted. Perhaps that is what we want, the palm without the dust, the crown without the cross, the Throne without the agony and sweat. And what Jesus is saying here to these two disciples, and to His disciples for all time, is, that thrones in the spiritual realm cost their price. They can only be purchased at the price of the cup and the baptism.
The Answer to the Lord's Question.
"Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink? or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" asked Jesus. "And they said unto Him, "We are able" (Mark 10:39). And this answer, the commentators all unite to tell me, is almost as foolish and ignorant as their original request. "They knew not what they asked," says Dr Glover, "and now they know not what they say." And I suppose the commentators are right. It was a light-hearted and thoughtless answer. They would have spoken far otherwise, says Dr David Smith, "had they known whereto they were pledging themselves, had it been revealed to them that a week later their Lord would be lifted up, not on a throne, but on a cross, with a cross on His right, and a cross on His left. Their love for their Master would surely have kept them faithful; but they would have spoken with faltering lips, and their answer would have been a trembling prayer for strength to drink that bitter cup and endure that bloody baptism." Yes, I believe all that. And yet there was more than ignorance and thoughtlessness in this reply. There was honest purpose in it; there was heroic love in it; there was uttermost consecration in it. These two men felt ready to go anywhere and endure anything, to drink any cup, to be baptized with any baptism, for the Lord's sake. "We are able," they said. And Christ knew that, although they were ignorant of how bitter the cup was, and how bloody the baptism, they would not falter or quail. "The cup that I drink," He said to them, "ye shall drink; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized" (Mark 10:39, R.V.).
The Ambition Realised.
It all came true. I turn to the book of the Acts of the Apostles, and I read this, "Now about that time Herod the king put forth his hands to afflict certain of the Church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword" (Acts 12:1-2). That is where James' loyalty and zeal brought him to a premature and cruel death. First of all the apostolic band he was called to tread the martyr way. And he never faltered or quailed. If the old tradition be true, he went to his death like a conqueror to a triumph, like a king to his crowning; he drank his Lord's cup, and was baptized with his Lord's baptism. I turn to the Revelation i. and I read of John, the second of these brothers, an exile in Patmos, "for the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus." That is where John's love and loyalty brought him into loneliness and exile and imprisonment. And he never faltered or quailed. He drank of the Lord's cup, and was baptized with the Lord's baptism. And so I leave it to others to criticise their reply. I am subdued by the loyalty and courage, and utter devotion which they showed, and, as I think of them, the one going to exile, the other to the block, the prayer comes to my lips,
"To me, O God, may grace be given,
To follow in their train."
The Lord's Way With Us. Place in the Heavenly Realm.
These men asked for thrones, and instead of thrones they received the promise of a cup and a baptism. It is often so. We get from our Lord what we never asked for, what, in fact, we did not desire. We never ask for the bitter cup and the bloody baptism, but oftentimes God chooses them for us. And, like these two brothers, we sometimes come to thank God for giving us the things for which we did not ask, for we see that even these things work together for our good. But what of the thrones? What of the right hand and the left hand? "It is for them for whom it has been prepared." Place in the heavenly realm is determined, not by favour but by fitness. Christ can promise to every disciple a cup and baptism. But He cannot promise to any disciple the first or second place in heaven. Every man there gets the place he deserves. "His own place." It is for them for whom it hath been prepared. But this may be added though our Lord does not say it in so many words to drink the Lord's cup, and to be baptized with the Lord's baptism is the sure way to the throne. Our present light affliction worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Faithfulness unto death is the condition of receiving the crown of life. And that was in John's mind when he wrote that word in his Apocalypse, "He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with Me in My throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with My Father in His throne" (Revelation 3:21).
Chapter 3. Greatness in the Kingdom
"And when the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John. But Jesus called them to Him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimæus, the son of Timæus, sat by the highway-side begging. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, Thou son of David, have mercy on me. And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me." Mark 10:41-48.
The Attitude of the Jews.
"And when the ten heard it," i.e. heard the request James and John had made for the two chief places in the Kingdom, "they began to be moved with indignation concerning James and John" (Mark 10:41). How they heard it we are not told. Perhaps they overheard it, though that is scarcely likely. James and John were not eager to put their wish into precise and definite terms, even to their Master Himself. They had to be pressed to do it. I do not think they could have been brought to do it at all, if the other ten disciples had been standing by listening to them. The probability is they guessed that the two brothers were asking something for themselves. For when the two with their mother came into the presence of Jesus they took up the attitude of suppliants. They came, says Matthew, "worshipping Him." And when the other disciples saw James and John on their knees before the Master, they inferred that they were begging for something, and perhaps begging for something to the detriment of others. So when the whole incident was over they began to cross-examine the two brothers as to the subject of this private interview of theirs, and it was not long before they had wormed the ugly secret out of them. Then the ten "began to be moved with indignation against James and John." And no wonder. From their own point of view, it was a mean and rather despicable action of which James and John had been guilty.
Their Own Ambitions.
What a light this sentence throws upon the temper of the disciples! Why were they so angry over the action of these two disciples? Possibly because there was not a man of them who did not want the chief place himself. Christina Rossetti has a beautiful little poem, which she entitles "The Lowest Place":
"Give me the lowest place; not that I dare
Ask for that lowest place, but Thou hast died
That I might live and share the glory by Thy side.
Give me the lowest place; or if for me
That lowest place too high, make one more low,
Where I may sit and see, my God, and love Thee so."
But these disciples were in no mood for the lowest place. They wanted the highest. Ambitiousness was not the fault of James and John alone, it was the fault of the entire twelve; they were always quarrelling amongst themselves as to who should be greatest. It is a curious thing that the faults we most keenly resent in other people are just the faults to which we are specially prone ourselves. We have always, as the authors of Guesses at Truth say, "a sharp eye for a rival." It takes a conceited man to spot conceit in another; it takes a passionate man to detect bad temper in another; it takes a jealous man to discover jealousy in another. And so these ambitious disciples were quick to discover the ambitiousness of James and John, and were correspondingly irritated by it.
And the Anger it bred.
"They began to be moved with indignation concerning James and John," and so one fault begat another. That is one of the most terrible characteristics of sin it breeds. Sin never stands isolated and alone. A man cannot commit an act of sin and have done with it, so to speak. It brings with it a whole train of attendant sins. It often involves others in its lamentable and disastrous consequences. It is the latter result we see illustrated here. The selfish request of the brothers stirred up anger and bitterness in the hearts of the ten. It disturbed the kindly relationship hitherto existing. It bred the ugly feelings of jealousy and hate. It undid the work of the Lord.
The Lord's Intervention.
But Jesus did not allow the mischief to go far. "The ten began to be moved with indignation concerning James and John." But He did not allow them to get beyond the beginning. He did not wait till the indignation had developed into a heated altercation. Words might have been spoken and deeds done that would have created a breach beyond the possibility of healing, if Jesus had allowed the quarrel to develop. He nipped it in the very bud. At the first signs of indignation and anger upon the faces of the ten He called them to Him, and began to instruct them once again in the laws of greatness in His Kingdom.
He deals with them all.
He called them all to Him; not James and John alone, nor the ten alone, but the two brothers and the ten. For they were all in the same condemnation. They were all of them still in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity. They were all guilty of the same selfish ambitiousness. They all cherished the same material notions of greatness. So He calls them all to Him, and propounds to them once again the law of greatness in the Kingdom of God. I say "once again" advisedly. For, if you will turn back to chapter ix. Mark 10:34, you will see He had already given the same lesson once before. The disciples were amazingly slow scholars. It had to be "line upon line and precept upon precept" with them. But, happily, the Master was as patient as the scholars were slow. With amazing condescension He would repeat and repeat the lessons He had to teach. I can understand, as I read the Gospels, why Peter should say that "the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation" (2 Peter 3:15). So He repeated the old lesson on the law of greatness. In His Kingdom greatness comes to him who stoops to serve. "Ye know," He says, "that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it is not so among you; but whosoever would become great among you, shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you, shall be servant of all" (Mark 10:43-44). The King is the type of greatness in the world; the slave is the type of greatness in the Kingdom.
The World and the Kingdom.
It was the former kind of greatness James and John had asked for. It was the former kind of greatness the ten were keen about. Their idea of greatness was to occupy a high place, and to have multitudes beneath them, serving them. It was a Herod's pomp or a Pilate's state they coveted. But the ideals of the Lord's Kingdom are totally different. It is not the man who has most people serving him, but the man who himself serves the most people, who is greatest there. These disciples by their very self-seeking were really destroying their chances of high place. For not to the man who exalted himself above his fellows, but to the man who stooped to serve them would the chief place go.
Greatness by Service.
Have we learned the lesson? Greatness out in the world is often a matter of the accident of birth. High place is for some hereditary, going to those who have never occupied a servile position, but have always been served. I do not know that Jesus means here to criticise this arrangement. There are advantages in hereditary rank, and it seems almost inevitable that it should be marked by a certain amount of parade and state. All that Jesus is doing here is to say that greatness in His Kingdom is of an entirely different kind, and is won by different methods. Greatness in the eternal Kingdom is not a matter of rank or birth or favour; it is a matter of service. It cannot be inherited; it must be deserved. It cannot be bestowed as a favour; it must be won. And the mark of the great man in the Kingdom is not that he has multitudes of people waiting upon his beck and nod, but that he himself is everybody's minister and servant. We recognise this in the case of others; but the vital question is, Do we act upon that truth ourselves? Do we seek the real kind of greatness? It is strange how keen some are about earthly rank and station. But what do these things matter, after all? The only thing that matters is position in the eternal Kingdom. And that goes not to rank or station; it is not reached by favour or scheming. You must win it and deserve it by service.
Do we seek it thus?
"Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom," I hear the Lord say. That is the invitation I want one day to receive. Who are the happy people who get it? The people who have spent themselves in service. "I was an hungred, and ye gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took Me in; naked, and ye clothed Me; I was sick, and ye visited Me; I was in prison, and ye came unto Me" (Matthew 25:35-36). Are we busy in this holy service? Do we visit the sick, and feed the hungry, and befriend the stranger? Earthly rank is beyond the reach of most of us. But we may all of us, if we will, become great in the eternal Kingdom. The motto of our Prince of Wales is Ich dien I serve. That motto indicates the way to princely rank in the Kingdom of God. "Whosoever would be first shall be servant of all."
The Example of Christ.
Our Lord enforces His teaching by an appeal to His own example. "For verily the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). Let us look at the first statement. "The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister." There are two ideas here. (1) There is, first of all, the appeal to example. Jesus Himself had none of the marks of external rank and power. He was not born in the purple; He was born in a stable. He had not a multitude of servants to wait on Him; He was Himself a working carpenter. Jesus was not a Master; He was in the midst of men as one that served. He did not lord it over them; He ministered unto them. He was at everybody's beck and call. Take a sentence like this, "He had not leisure so much as to eat," and let its meaning sink into your minds. For what does it imply? It means that Jesus was so absolutely at the service of the needy and the sick that He had no time to think of Himself. Martha and Mary could send for Him; the Roman centurion could claim Him; Jairus could command Him; the Caananitish woman could lay hands on Him; and a multitude of others, halt and blind and dumb and leprous, could make their appeal to Him, and none in vain. Jesus was everybody's servant. He lived not to be ministered unto, but to minister. And in the very reminder there is an appeal. The disciples must be content to be what He was, "If I then, the Lord and the Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet" (John 13:14).
The Way to His Kingdom.
(2) There is, secondly, the suggestion that it was through ministry that Christ Himself was seeking His Kingdom. For let us never forget Christ was a King; and the establishment of a Kingdom was, from one point of view, the object of His coming. Yet it was not by "lording" it over men that He proposed to establish His Kingdom, but rather by serving them. It was, indeed, in His power to use the other method. He might have established an earthly kingdom, had He so wished. He might have rivalled the Roman procurator, or Herod, or even great Cæsar, in the matter of pomp and state, had He so willed. But He chose the path of service. And by that path He has entered upon a Kingdom such as no Herod or Cæsar ever knew. For that is what has given Christ His empire. He rules in innumerable hearts, because He loved men and served men to the uttermost. The cross was the last service love could render. To serve the race He loved Christ did not shrink from that last and uttermost sacrifice. And the cross has given Him His Kingdom. You remember how Paul couples the two things together. He became "obedient unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted Him, and gave unto Him the name which is above every name" (Philippians 2:8-9). That is it. He became "servant of all," and He is now the first of all. And that is the way to greatness for the disciple as well as the Master. There is no other path for us to the throne and the Kingdom, save the path He trod. No cross, no crown. But if we suffer with Him and serve with Him, we shall also be glorified together.
And now I pass on to dwell for a moment on the last clause in this great verse. "The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). "A ransom for many." "This great saying," remarks Dr David Smith, "has a priceless value." "It is only a metaphor," he says further, "but it expresses a truth which is the very heart of the Gospel, and without which there is no Gospel at all." Let us examine the saying, to discover if we can what is the truth which constitutes the Gospel which it expresses. All hangs on the meaning we attach to that word "ransom." What idea would the word "ransom" suggest to the disciples who heard Christ use it? Dr A. B. Bruce suggests that it would at once bring to their minds the half-shekel which every adult Jew paid into the Temple Treasury at Passion time, "a ransom for his soul unto the Lord." But Dr David Smith contends, and Dr Morison agrees with him, that it would inevitably suggest to the minds of the disciples another idea as well, viz. the price of deliverance paid for the redemption of captives. But, whichever explanation we prefer, the essential point remains the same. Our Lord represents His life as laid down in order to win redemption for many. It is a life given "instead of" many. And that life so given is the redemption price that sets the many free. Christ thinks of men as bond-slaves under sin; exposed to the doom and penalty of sin. And by His own death somehow or other He delivers men from this doom; He opens the way for a new relation to God, so that men are no longer criminals, but sons of God and heirs of eternal life.
The Doctrine and the Gospels.
It is said that there is no suggestion of a doctrine of the Atonement in the Gospels; that the doctrine of the Atonement as we know it is the result of apostolic and especially Pauline philosophising about the death of Jesus. It is true that in the Gospels you get no elaborated and articulated doctrine of the cross. That is not surprising. Christ had to die before the meaning of His death could be understood and explained. But, unless you wipe out sayings like these, it is simply untrue to say that Atonement is an invention of the Apostles. All that Paul says, and all that Peter says, and all that John says, is implied in a saying like this. For if the passage means anything at all, it means vicarious suffering. When John said, "Unto Him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins by His blood" (Revelation 1:5), he is only repeating what Jesus Himself says here. When Peter said, "redeemed, not with corruptible things, as silver or gold... but with precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish, and without spot" (1 Peter 1:18-19), he is only repeating what Jesus Himself says here. And when Paul says, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13), he is only repeating what Jesus Himself says here. He bought our freedom and our life by the sacrifice of His own. That was the object of His coming. People speculate as to whether Christ would have come into our world, had there been no sin. I do not know. All that I do know is, that it was to deliver us from sin that He actually came. "The Son of Man came to give His life a ransom for many." And He paid the ransom. He offered the one full and perfect oblation and sacrifice. He set men free from the law of sin and death. And that is the Gospel. There is no Gospel for a sinning world without it. But what a Gospel this is,
"Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood,
Sealed my pardon with His blood,
"The Son of Man came... to give His life a ransom for many."
Chapter 4. Blind BartimÆus
"And they came to Jericho: and as He went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimæus, the son of Timæus, sat by the highway side begging. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, Thou son of David, have mercy on me. And many charged him that he should hold his peace; but he cried the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; He calleth thee. And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus. And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way." Mark 10:46-52.
The Accounts of the Miracle.
How Reconciled. The Value of Divergencies.
I shall not discuss the differences between the various accounts the three Evangelists give of this particular incident. No two of them tell the story in exactly the same way. Matthew and Mark, for instance, both agree that the miracle took place as Christ was leaving Jericho. Luke says it took place as our Lord was entering the town. But even Matthew and Mark do not agree among themselves, for Mark only mentions one blind man, while Matthew says there were two. Various ingenious attempts have been made to reconcile these differences. The fact that Mark mentions only one blind man, while Matthew mentions two, may perhaps be explained on the ground that Bartimæus was far the more prominent and active of the two, and so overshadowed his companion that, in the memory of those who witnessed it, the miracle came to be specially identified with Bartimæus. But the discrepancy between Matthew and Mark on the one side, and Luke on the other, does not admit of such easy explanation. Bengel suggests that what really happened was this that Bartimæus made his first appeal to Christ as He entered the city, but that Christ did not answer his appeal then; so Bartimæus, taking a blind friend along with him, waylaid Jesus as He went out of the city the next morning; that this time his appeal was answered, and both he and his friend were cured. Others, again, convinced that the two accounts cannot be reconciled, say that what really happened was this, that there were two different miracles performed by Jesus at Jericho, one as He went into the city, and the other as He left it. This, however, is a suggestion of despair, and lands us in more and greater difficulties than it removes. There was only one miracle performed at Jericho. But if we cannot reconcile in every detail the accounts the Evangelists give us of it, that need not trouble us. The fact that there are slight divergencies in the various narratives does not discredit them; it does the very opposite, it adds to the weight of their witness. For quite obviously it shows that we have here three independent testimonies. If they slavishly copied one another in every detail, we should suspect that we had in them only three versions of one and the selfsame story. But the very divergencies and contradictions show that what we actually possess is three separate and independent accounts. And in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.
The Lord, the Needy One, and the Crowd.
Let us now turn to the story, as Mark, in his own vivid and characteristic way, tells it. There are three actors or sets of actors in it the Lord, the crowd, and Bartimæus. We may gather many a profitable lesson from a study of the conduct of our Lord in this incident. For every miracle that our Lord ever did is, as John says, a sign. It is an index to His character and spirit. It is a window into His soul. And His dealings with Bartimæus throw light upon His purposes of grace. "Thy gentleness hath made me great," says one of the Psalmists (xviii. 35). Bartimæus might well have taken that for his motto for the rest of his days. It is an illustration of how the gentleness of the Lord stooped to a poor blind beggar, and made life rich and glad for him. We might gather salutary lessons of warning from the conduct of the harsh and unfeeling crowd, that would fain have hushed Bartimæus' cries, and so prevented him from finding his Deliverer. Surely, if ever a crowd came near falling under that stern condemnation the Lord pronounced upon those who put stumbling-blocks in their brothers' way, this crowd did, when, as Bartimæus lifted up his voice and cried for help and healing, it bade him hold his peace. But it is upon Bartimæus I want to concentrate attention.
The Blind Man and his Hope.
It is interesting to notice that Mark is the only one who has preserved the name of Bartimæus for us. The probability is, as Archbishop Trench suggests, that by the Lord's gracious dealings with him, Bartimæus was drawn into the circle of the disciples, and was sufficiently well known in the Church of later days to make it a matter of interest to many that he, and no other, was the object of Christ's healing power. At the time at which we are introduced to him in this narrative, however, Bartimæus was only a blind beggar. He took his stand on the side of the road leading to Jerusalem. He chose that particular spot because of the number of pilgrims passing along on their way to Passover at Jerusalem. And Bartimæus knew, like the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, that there was a close and intimate connection between religion and philanthropy; that no persons were so likely to have pity on him in his blindness as those who had the love of God in their hearts.
The Passing Throng.
Pilgrims who usually travelled on that Jerusalem road went in companies, for it was a road of evil reputation. On this particular morning Bartimæus, with that quick and subtle instinct the blind possess, knew it was not an ordinary band of pilgrims that was passing. It may be, as some suggest, that instead of the singing and laughing groups that went by, this one moved on hushed and silent, still held in wondering awe by the appearance of the Christ. I am inclined myself, however, to favour a simpler and more obvious explanation, and say that it was the size of the crowd that communicated itself to Bartimæus. With that sharpened sense of hearing which often comes to the blind as a partial compensation for the loss of sight, Bartimæus knew it was no ordinary band, that it was a throng, a multitude. He seems to have made inquiries of some passer-by as to what all the excitement was about, and he received for answer the information that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. "And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth," Mark says, "he began to cry out, and say, 'Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me'" (Mark 10:47).
And "Jesus of Nazareth."
Now, something must be assumed, in order to understand this cry. Bartimæus must have heard of Jesus. And he must have heard also of His mighty works. Remember once again that, only a short time before, Christ had performed the mightiest of all His miracles, in raising Lazarus from the dead after he had been in the grave four days. That miracle had put all Judæa into a ferment of excitement. News of it had no doubt reached Jericho, and had come amongst others to the ears of Bartimæus. It had stirred hope within him. It had made him long that the same Jesus would come his way; for the Jesus who could raise a dead man to life could, he argued, restore sight again to his blind eyes. And now that very Jesus was actually passing, the Jesus who had raised Lazarus, the Jesus into whose presence he had longed to come.
The Blind Man and his Opportunity.
Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. It was the opportunity he had longed for, but scarcely hoped ever to obtain. Quick as a flash the prayer leaped to his lips, "Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me." And that is the first thing I want you to notice about Bartimæus, that he was a man who recognised his opportunity and seized it. Bartimæus was, as Dr Glover says, like those wise virgins whom our Lord speaks of in His parable. As soon as ever the cry is made that the bridegroom cometh, he trims his lamp of prayer and faith, and goes out to meet Him. He is like those servants who, when their Lord cometh, are found watching. He had often thought of Jesus; often prayed in his heart that Jesus might pass his way; and so, though the Lord came suddenly and unexpectedly Bartimæus was not unprepared. Supposing that Bartimæus had not seized his opportunity? He would never have had another, for Jesus never returned that way again. Bartimæus, if he had missed this opportunity, would have missed healing, sight, eternal life. All this is a commonplace about opportunity. The neglect of opportunity is often punished by the loss of it.
"There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries."
The Unready and their Loss.
There were two Saxon kings named Ethelred, and of the reign of the second of them Freeman says it was "the worst and most shameful in our annals. This country of ours was raided and harried in every direction. And the secret of the national disgrace and shame is to be found in the nickname they gave the king; they called him Ethelred the Unready." The unready man is always doomed to loss and shame. It is so in spiritual, as well as merely material things. That is why the Bible lays such stress upon to-day. That is why it insists that now is the day of salvation. That is why it makes a reiterated appeal to us to be ready. Opportunities of grace come swiftly and suddenly to us, and, if not seized, they pass. Jesus, for instance, came one day to a Samaritan village, and the inhabitants would not receive Him. John and James were so angry they wanted to call down fire from heaven. No, Jesus would have no fire from heaven. And yet those Samaritans were punished, sorely, terribly punished. For this is what I read, "They went to another village." Jesus left them. They missed their chance. And men may miss Christ to-day, unless they are ready to call to Him when He passes by them, and to welcome Him when He knocks at the door of their hearts. There comes to us gracious seasons of spiritual emotion. Noble impulses are stirred within us. Our hearts melt and become tender in response to some moving appeal. The Lord Jesus is calling us. But if we refuse to act. What happens.? The light fails and the glow cools, the gracious impulse departs, perhaps never to return.
Divine Patience and its Limits.
We glory in the patience of our Lord. The long-suffering of the Lord is salvation. But it is not a limitless patience. I read a solemn sentence like this, "My Spirit shall not strive with man for ever." And again, "Ephraim is turned to his idols, let him alone." I read of some folk whom the Apostle describes as being "past feeling," people whose opportunity is gone, Let us take warning by these statements. "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by." Let us cry to Him. Let us make our appeal to Him. Lest it should ever have to be said to us, "Jesus of Nazareth has passed by," and we should be classed amongst the "unready," who missed the tide, and lost their chance.
The Blind Man and his Faith.
Next let us see in Bartimæus a man of strong and vigorous faith. It comes out in the very words of the appeal he addressed to Jesus. The answer the passers-by gave to his question was that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. "Jesus of Nazareth;" so they spoke of Him. There is no suggestion that they saw in Jesus any glint of the heavenly and the Divine. But it is not Jesus of Nazareth Bartimæus calls him, "Jesus, Thou Son of David," he cries, "have mercy on me." "Thou Son of David!" this blind beggar gives Jesus the Messianic title. Physically blind though he was, he saw further into spiritual things than the multitude. He had heard about Jesus, about His wonderful words, and still more wonderful deeds. He had meditated upon it all in his heart. And while other people were quarrelling and debating who Christ was, this blind man had made up his mind that this Jesus Who was giving sight to the blind, and cleansing to the leper, and life to the dead, was none other than the promised Christ. Scribes and Pharisees spoke of Christ as an emissary of Beelzebub. Bartimæus was persuaded he was the long-looked for Messiah. And the faith of his soul expresses itself in his cry, "Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me!"
A Faith not daunted by Discouragement.
There are all shades of faith and unfaith recorded for us in the New Testament, from the blank unbelief of the Nazarenes and the hesitating and halting faith of the father of the demoniac boy, up to the centurion's superb and splendid faith, which compelled the wonder and admiration of our blessed Lord Himself. Bartimæus' faith was akin to that of the centurion. It was faith of the heroic and intrepid sort. And the strength and courage of Bartimæus' faith come out in this that it was not daunted by discouragement. When he began to cry out many rebuked him, Mark tells us, "that he should hold his peace." Some commentators say they rebuked him because they were offended by his application to Jesus of the Messianic title; but my own belief is that when they tried to hush Bartimæus, they thought they were being kind to Christ. Perhaps Christ had still that rapt and exalted expression on His face which, as we read in Mark 10:32, filled those who followed Him with wonder and awe. They felt that Christ had great concerns and cares of His own. And so, when Bartimæus cried out, they tried to silence him; they felt it was something like sacrilege to intrude upon Christ just then; they felt that it was an impertinence on the blind beggar's part to claim attention from One Who was obviously occupied with great thoughts and cares.
They were cruel to Bartimæus, in their efforts to be kind to Christ. It only showed, of course, how completely they misunderstood the Lord. We may write down this as axiomatic. We are never really kind to Christ if we are harsh or stern to the least of His people. Christ came to seek and save the lost, and we are defeating the very purpose for which Christ came, when we keep the least and the lost away from Him. Bartimæus, however, refused to be silenced. His faith was not to be daunted by discouragement.
The Faith that Wins the Blessing.
The effect of the rebukes of the crowd was this, according to Mark's account, "He cried out the more a great deal, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me" (Mark 10:48). Bartimæus' faith was a faith that bore up and pressed on, and persevered. And that is the kind of faith that wins the blessing. There are plenty of voices to bid us hold our peace when we cry to Christ. Worldly Mends laugh at us. Commonsense says that it is useless. A guilty conscience urges that it is impossible that Christ should notice us. We need the faith that can bear up against all these things. We shall reap in due season, if we faint not! You remember how John Bunyan stuck to his praying, in spite of sore temptation. This is how he describes his own experience, "Then the Tempter laid at me very sore, suggesting that neither the mercy of God, nor yet the blood of Christ, did at all concern me, therefore it was but in vain to pray. 'Yet,' thought I, 'I will pray.' 'But,' said the Tempter, 'your sin is unpardonable.' 'Well,' said I, 'I will pray.' 'It is to no boot,' said he. 'Yet,' said I, 'I will pray.' And so I went to prayer to God. And as I was thus before the Lord, that Scripture fastened on my heart. 'O man, great is thy faith,' even as if one had clapped me on the back, as I was on my knees before God." That is it exactly. It is the faith that will not be discouraged that gets the blessing. It is persevering and believing prayer that finds the answer. We fail because we are so easily daunted. Here is a prayer for us all: "Lord, increase our faith."
The crowd was for passing Bartimæus by, but as soon as his cry reached the ears of the Lord, He stood still, and said, "Call ye him." Our Lord never turns a deaf ear to the cry of need. And the very people who had before rebuked Bartimæus, now that Christ takes notice of him, change their tone, and say, "Courage, rise, He calleth thee." Bartimæus did not need a second invitation. With impetuous eagerness he cast away the outer garment that rather impeded his movements, and came to Jesus. And Jesus answered him and said, "What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? And the blind man said unto Him, Rabboni, that I may receive my sight (Mark 10:51). And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And straightway he received his sight" (Mark 10:52). Nearly every sentence in this colloquy suggests thought. But I pass everything by, just to say that here we see faith triumphant. Here we see prayer answered. Is any true, deep, earnest prayer ever unanswered? "Thou satisfiest the desire of every living thing," says the Psalmist (cxlv. 16). "Every one that asketh receiveth," says our Lord (Matthew 7:8), "and he that seeketh, findeth." So let us, as Dr Glover says, sow the seeds of prayer on the heart of God. There is no hard ground, or rocky soil, or thorny ground there. His heart is the good soil of tender and gracious love. Let us scatter the seed of prayer, and we shall get a harvest of blessing. According to our faith it shall be unto us.
The Man of Loyal Obedience.
A final word about the end of Bartimæus' history And he "followed Him in the way" (Mark 10:52).
One of the greatest sorrows of our Lord's life was that so many took His benefits without giving Him their hearts. "Were there not ten cleansed?" He asked one day. "Where are the nine?" They had accepted His gift, they neglected the Giver. He healed numbers of sick folk and leprous folk, and blind folk and lame folk, and palsied folk, during the years of His brief ministry. Where were they all, when Jerusalem rang with the cry, "Crucify Him"? Apparently there was not one grateful enough to lift up his voice on His behalf. But, however disappointed Christ may have been in others, He was not disappointed in Bartimæus; for this was the use Bartimæus made of his new found sight, "he followed Him in the way." He did not go home to his friends, he clung to Him Who had healed and saved him, "he followed Him in the way." His experience of Christ's mercy was followed by a life of obedience.
Is that Obedience Ours?
We too have experienced the saving mercy of Christ; are we following in the way? How many there are who receive Christ's benefits yet neglect Him still! Are we amongst them? "Happy," says Bishop Chadwick, "is the man whose eyes are open to discern and his heart prompt to follow the print of those holy feet." And so Jericho was kind to Christ. Jericho gave two new disciples to Christ. At the time when others were turning their backs upon Him, two men Zacchæus, the chief publican, and Bartimæus gave their hearts to Him as He trod the way that led to the cross. Are we also with them and following Him in the way?
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Jones, J.D. "Commentary on Mark 10". Jones' Commentary on the Book of Mark. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent