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Feeding the Four Thousand
Here we have a special exemplification of the philanthropic spirit of Christ. In Christ, philanthropy was not a sentiment but a controlling power, not a dream but a fact Some of the more striking suggestions of this paragraph are these: (1) Two different methods of dealing with social problems, "send the multitude away;" that is one method, "give ye them to eat;" that is another. We often have the remedy at hand while we fruitlessly seek it afar off. No man knows the range of his resources. This applies to mind, money, influence, to all the aspects of life. A man's resources, looked at from the outside, may be as a grain of mustard seed; but planted, used, put into right conditions, etc. The disciples took an insufficient view of their resources, taking the account from the various evangelists, they said, "We have five loaves, we have but five loaves, we have but five barley loaves; we have but two fishes, we have but two small fishes." Lower and lower they sink in their representation of their resources, a picture of men who have no faith. The life that is in a man multiplies the resources that are outside. (2) The entire fulness of Christ in relation to all human need. He said, "Bring them hither to me." Christ cared for the bodies of men; and his religion can never be unmindful of social, secular, commercial, and physical questions. The whole man came originally from God, and to the end of time the whole man must be profoundly interesting to God. All our resources must be taken to Christ if we would make them truly availing to the necessities of men. We hardly yet understand Christ's relation to material questions. "Let the people praise thee.... Then shall the earth yield her increase." Man loses no bread by praying over it. The principle may be extended no life spent in true devotion is wasted. If Christ "looked up to heaven" while using the things of earth, shall we use the things of earth as though there were no heaven? (3) The compatibility of carefulness with the greatest bounty, "They took up of the broken meat that remained seven baskets full." God will not suffer loss. He makes use of every sunbeam now that fell upon the first morning of time, and the dew which glittered in Eden sparkles in the rainbow of to-day. God is the most exacting of economists.
Among the miscellaneous remarks suggested by this paragraph may be named: (1) Christ's power in all the wildernesses of time. (2) The impossibility of loneliness or want in fellowship with Christ. (3) The union of religious exercises with daily engagements. (4) The Giver of earthly bread is also the Giver of heavenly bread. (5) The man who is prepared to give himself is prepared to give all lower property.
There need not be any difficulty in receiving this statement. If a man will closely examine himself he will find that in his own life there have been interpositions and deliverances, unexpected and thrilling manifestations of bounty which verify this narrative, and show that in every life the miraculous element is most positive and influential.
Look at the incident (1) As showing that trials may arise through following Christ. The multitude had nothing to eat! Whatever the motive of the outsiders for following Christ, they did follow him, and in following him they were exposed to inconvenience and trial. There is no trial now in following the Saviour. Show the pitifulness and absurdity of modern whining in this matter of suffering. Following Christ is now the most successful habit of society, outside following, not vital, spiritual, self-sacrificial following.
Look at the incident (2) As showing how the impossible may become the possible. From the standpoint of the disciples, etc. From the standpoint of Christ, etc. We should always have a view of our own, but should not always act upon it. Our own view should show us the vastness and solemnity of life; should show us also our personal incompetence to meet its great necessities. Looking at these two things we shall be humbled, humbled even to the point of despair. On the other hand, we should act on the view of Christ. We must connect ourselves with the supernatural, if we would really have dominion over all the wants and tumults of human life. God's views are to be carried out in God's strength. Now and again God sets us to do some great thing which startles us: it is so much out of proportion to our resources: we think God must have made a mistake! We often find ourselves uttering the tone of surprise in looking at unexpected demands upon our strength. This really does us good. It is well for a man to be startled out of himself, to be taken to the very limit of the possible, and to be told by God to throw himself over into the impossible. It was so, practically, in this case. Hear the startling word, Feed four thousand people with seven loaves and a few small fishes! This kind of demand in life does us good because it leads us to cast ourselves entirely upon the Infinite. Sometimes it is said by men in the kingdom of Christ, who have to deal with great and difficult questions, "We are bound to look at these things as business men:" in a very superficial sense this may be true, but as a rule of Christian enterprise it is a profound and most mischievous fallacy. The disciples looked at this question as business men! What was it that the disciples forgot? God! So with ourselves: we persist in ignoring the divine element.
Look at the incident (3) As showing how much superior is the man of ideas to the man of loaves. The man of loaves said, "It cannot be done;" the man of ideas said, "It must be done!" See how a man may be dwarfed by the material! The soul perishes in the absence of spiritual aspiration and communion. Don't live in your business, live beyond it, and descend upon it from the highest spiritual elevation. Loaves are for one world; ideas are for the universe. Of necessity the material must limit the power and hope of its believers: on the other hand, the spiritual ever lures the mind to enterprises higher and higher. This holds good of purely intellectual energy, how much more of energy that is religious as well as intellectual!
Look at the incident (4) As showing that the spiritual vindicates itself from the charge of wastefulness. With such power to multiply loaves, why be so careful about fragments? The one is the counterpart of the other. The spiritual is not the waste, but the accumulation of power. The crumbs of one meal should be the germs of another. The most liberal was also the most economical. In the universe there is nothing wasted, though the bounty be so liberal, and the feast so long-continued.
10. And straightway he entered into a ship with his disciples, and came into the parts of Dalmanutha.
11. And the Pharisees came forth, and began to question with him seeking of him a sign from heaven, tempting him.
12. And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation.
13. And he left them, and entering into the ship again departed to the other side.
The multitude did not ask for a sign, yet one was given: the Pharisees specially desired a sign, and no sign was granted. Mere curiosity should never be gratified by the Christian interpreter. There is no real necessity in human life which will be left unsupplied by the Saviour, when an apparent want is not supplied by him, we may be assured that the want was apparent only, and by no means real. The text may be taken as the basis of a discourse upon the refusals of Christ We often speak of what he gave: we might speak also of what he withheld. The words of the Old Testament are applicable to Jesus Christ. "No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly." The refusals of Jesus Christ were governed by three considerations: (1) Religious curiosity is not to be mistaken for religious necessity; (2) Religious confidence is not to be won by irreligious ostentation; (3) Religious appeals are not to be addressed to the eye, but to the heart. In applying, these points show what Christ gave in comparison with what Christ refused. He gave bread, sight, hearing, speech, health; he gave his life, yet he refused a sign!
Understand that in some cases not to give a sign is in reality to give the most solemn and dreadful of all signs!
14. Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, neither had they in the ship with them more than one loaf.
15. And he charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod.
16. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have no bread.
17. And when Jesus knew it, he saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened?
18. Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember?
19. When I brake the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? They say unto him, Twelve.
20. And when the seven among four thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? And they said, Seven.
21. And he said unto them, How is it that ye do not understand?
Christ gave the practical application of the refusal. This "beware" must be taken as the utterance aloud of the result of an unspoken process of reasoning. The address suggests three things: (1) That Christian thinking is to be conducted cautiously. Do not receive every suggestion that is offered. There is an enemy, beware of him! (2) That Christian thinking is not to be perverted by great names. The Pharisees and Herod! Socially, these were amongst the greatest names of the day. There are many great names now, such as priests, editors, leaders, etc. Look at the speech, not merely at the speaker. Doctrine, before men. (3) That Christian thinking is not to be degraded by liberalism and materialism. "It is because we have no bread." This was paltry. Some men's thinking is always downwards. They cannot understand figures of speech. Preachers should be careful, in condescension to general ignorance and occasional imbecility, to explain that when they say leaven they do not mean bread. It is most humiliating to give such explanations, but the Master gave them!
The 21st verse supplies a basis for a discourse upon the reproofs of Jesus Christ. There are reproofs which proceed (1) upon our forgetfulness of providences, Mark 8:19-20 ; (2) upon our bondage to the mere letter, leaven being mistaken for bread; (3) upon our abuse or non-use of faculties, "having eyes, see ye not? having ears, hear ye not?" There should be some difference between the eye of a beast and the eye of a man.
22. And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him.
23. And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought.
24. And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking.
25. After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly.
26. And he sent him away to his house, saying, Neither go into the town, nor tell it to any in the town.
This paragraph may be regarded as showing three views of Christ's work. (1) Christ's work as a salvation. The restoring of sight was a point on the brilliant line, the end of which was the salvation of mankind; so was every miracle of healing. (2) Christ's work as a process: the good work was not accomplished in this case, as in others, by a word, it was done gradually. It is so in spiritual enlightenment. All good men do not see God with equal quickness or equal clearness. (3) Christ's work as a consummation: "He was restored, and saw every man clearly." He will not leave his work until it be finished; if so be men beseech him to go on to be gracious.
It has been to some readers an occasion of surprise that Jesus Christ should not instantaneously have cured the blind man. We should, indeed, rejoice in the variety of Christ's methods of working. His every method, to say nothing of his purpose, is full of mercy. His method is adapted to the cases which it treats. Some men could not bear instantaneousness. How many men have been ruined by sudden prosperity? Think, too, how obvious and manifold are the advantages of processes: how man is taught: how possibilities are revealed: how sympathy is excited: how dependence is encouraged: how patience is sanctified. It should, further, be understood that as a matter of fact instantaneousness is the exception, and not the rule of divine procedure: if, therefore, there is to be any surprise, it should be at the suddenness, and not at the slowness of Christ's physical ministry.
27. And Jesus went out, and his disciples, into the towns of Cæsarea Philippi: and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am?
28. And they answered, John the Baptist: but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets.
29. And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ.
30. And he charged them that they should tell no man of him.
Another instance of a process as in opposition to a sudden result. The method of the inquiry, too, is a process: first, what do men say, and secondly, what do you say? The conversation may be taken in three points of view:
(1) Jesus Christ, the subject of universal inquiry. All men talk about him: he appears to all by the variety of his works and by the vitality of his teaching: as the Son of man he appeals to all men.
(2) Jesus Christ demanding a special testimony from his own followers. "But whom say ye that I am?" We are called to knowledge: we are called to profession: we are called to individuality of testimony. We are not to be content with taking part in common talk, and sheltering ourselves behind general opinion; having special privileges, we must have special judgments regarding Christ and his doctrine.
(3) Jesus Christ, revealed by his works rather than by verbal professions. See how the case might be paraphrased: "I have been with my disciples for a considerable period; they have known my spirit, and seen my manner of work: they have not been told in so many words who I am: my appeal has been conveyed through service and through doctrine: it is now time that they should have grown far enough in spiritual strength and spiritual discernment to know the mystery of my personality, I shall ask them therefore to declare my name and status."
Regard this as the true method of disclosing every individuality. A teacher may say, "I am a very great man, therefore believe me:" it is beginning at the wrong end: let the doctrine produce its own effect: let the works be such as shall compel observers to inquire, What manner of man is this?
In the light of this suggestion, see the value of the charge that the disciples should tell no man of him. Men must be conquered by great deeds, not by great names: men must be trained to strength by thought, inference, comparison, and moral discrimination; not by sudden and startling displays of personal glory. God himself has adopted this method. His glory has ever been shown through his goodness, his name has been approached through the beauty and splendour of his works.
31. And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
The disciples needed to be specially prepared for this disclosure. See the infinite and gracious wisdom of the course: as soon as they are strengthened by a distinct acknowledgment of his divine personality, they are called to bear the revelation of his sacrificial character! No sooner does he fully acknowledge his glory than he stoops to the depth of his sacrificial humiliation! To have told of the rejection and killing first would have overpowered the disciples: therefore (and herein are the subtle signs of his Godhead) he prepared them for the shock by the splendour of the supreme revelation, I am the Christ! The personality gave value to the sacrifice, and at the same time gave an assurance that for once death would be made a servant rather than a master.
Regard this verse as showing (1) Christ's foresight; (2) Christ's preparedness for his work; (3) Christ's dominion over events, "After three days rise again."
32. And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.
33. But when he had turned about, and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.
Peter rebuked Christ, and Christ rebuked Peter, an altercation of more than mere words. It is charged with practical truths: (1) Man's shortsightedness; (2) man's sentiment exaggerated; (3) man's audacity, to think he can help or save Christ!
On Christ's side: (1) He rebukes the oldest; (2) he rebukes the wisest, it was Peter who said, "Thou art the Christ;" (3) he shows that men are only worthy of him in proportion as they enter into his spirit.
34. And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
35. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it.
36. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
37. Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
38. Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him shall also the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels.
These words seem to mark an epoch in the Saviour's teaching. The announcement has all the formality and solemnity of a new beginning. The principle had been the same from the first, but it had not been plainly stated in so many words. Henceforth there is to be no mistake. The "follower" is not the man in the crowd who can hardly give any account of himself; who is there because other people are there; he is the man who carries a cross, who rules over himself in Christ's spirit, and takes the law of his life from Christ. At first, Christ said, "Follow me." Now he says, "If you will follow me, take up your cross." It is an enlargement in words, but there is no change of spirit. Still, it is beautiful to mark how the cross is introduced into the ministry of Jesus Christ. First of all he takes it himself, and then he says, You must do the same. This is following! Doing what Christ does, and doing it because of his example and command. Sometimes we find it extremely difficult to say the keyword of our meaning. Other words we can say easily enough, but how to get out the master-word that says everything at once! In Christ's case that word was "Cross." It has been a burden on his heart for many a day, and now he has spoken it out loudly. There are some words which if we do not say loudly, in high and hallowed excitement, we shall never say at all. The minister says words in public which he could never say in private; he speaks from the whirlwind what he could never say in a whisper.
The words in this paragraph, 34-38, are spoken with great energy, as if spoken in haste which never allowed the speaker to take breath. He had so much to say, and he said it every whit in one brief paragraph! See how much he spoke in that flashing moment:
(1) I am the leader of men, "whosoever will come after me."
(2) My leadership is based upon the principle of self-sacrifice.
(3) This principle is of universal application, "Whosoever."
(4) Though the principle is universal, the cross may be personal, "his cross:" what is a cross to one man may be no cross to another. Every man has his own cross: he may break it or carry it: he must carry it if he would follow me.
(5) The world says, "Save your life;" I say, "Lose it," but mark the conditions, "for my sake and the gospel's;" not suicide, but martyrdom; not recklessness, but courage.
(6) To lose the soul is to lose the world. To lose your eyes is to lose summer and beauty. To lose your hearing is to lose music and eloquence. To lose your soul is to lose all.
(7) There is a law of inversion operating in human affairs: one day I shall be ashamed of all who are now ashamed of me. I shall come in my glory, and in the glory of the Father. Strange conjunction of words, "Cross," "Glory."
In view of these words three things are clear: (1) That the application of Christianity to daily life is not easy; (2) that such application can only be made in the strength of him who demands it; (3) that whosoever makes such application will share the glory of the Son of man.
Our Saviour would have us use all our faculties. Christianity never forbids a man looking and listening and considering and concluding for himself. The great complaint which Jesus Christ made when he was upon the earth was that men would not look, would not hear, would not consider, would not sit down and think out for themselves great questions. They were traditionalists, they were believers in legends, and tales, and glosses, and ceremonies; but they would not use their faculties. Jesus Christ says, "Having ears, hear ye not?" you must hear something: what is it you hear? noise, tumult, uproar? but you ought to hear more, you ought to hear music, whispering voices, minor tones, winds that come down as if by stealth from heaven, fragrance-laden, and attuned to the very symphonies of the sky. Having eyes, what do you see? surfaces, appearances? What do you see in the city? a network of thoroughfares, a panorama of street-life, a great confusion of traffic? That is not the city. The city is within all that; it is in the home life, in the beneficence, in the purpose, in the education, in the discipline of the citizens; the citizens are the city. "Having eyes, see ye not?" You see broad differences; but a beast could almost tell the difference between night and day. Things are not classified into right hand and left hand, and are not thus roughly distributed; there are fine distinctions, gradual shadings, colours that run into one another and run out of one another again, making strange alternations of expression and suggestion and symbol: why do ye not see the fine lines, the microscopic lines? it is there that the difference is to be really found. When difference comes to be a mere vulgarity, then anybody can be trusted with it; but as to critical difference, the soul needs to be trained, taught, inspired. The natural man receiveth not the things that are of God, for they are spiritually discerned. The naked eye is assisted by the lenses of inspired reason and inspired faith. So our Saviour would have us use every faculty we have: be up and stirring, ask questions, knock at doors, insist upon answers, show yourselves to be enthusiastic students, and God will give you some reply. He never answers indifference; he pays no heed to patronage; he is deaf to mere eulogium: but how he listens to the sighing of the broken heart, and to the prayer of him that is ill at ease! We are face to face, therefore, with a teacher who means to prosecute his inquiries to the end. Men do injustice to Jesus Christ if they suppose that he never wants them to ask any questions or raise any difficulties or state any doubts: he says, Empty your heart, be your own very self; if you are blaspheming, out with it; if you are doubting, speak your doubt; if you are wondering, tell like a little child what your wonder is. Thus he would deal frankly with men and lovingly; he would handle them like a creator, he would bless them like a saviour. Yet what a false impression exists regarding him! To go to church is now considered by some people to be a species of weakness. To read the New Testament is considered to be a kind of attention to ancient literature that no man of ample and complete scholarship would like to neglect. It should be otherwise, never man spake like this Man. We should hasten to where he teaches as hungering men would rush to bread, and thirsting men would speed and almost fly to water, to fountains, and wells in the desert. Let us commune with him awhile; if he will touch us we shall feel the glow in our hearts.
We are called to sight, to discernment, to careful critical readings of all things; so the Saviour would challenge us, and say to men who are hastening along the road, See ye not that there is an end as well as a beginning to things? Men do not see the end; they see the beginning, the frothing glass, the glittering gold, the immediate pleasure. Who sits down and counts costs and reckons up and says, The sum total of this is and then states the whole in plain figures? It would seem to be part of our policy to shut our eyes, and to butt at things with a deadly fatalism. Why do not men hold up their heads, and look, and perceive, and penetrate, and detain things until they have been analysed and examined and cross-examined, and made to bear frank and complete testimony? If your religion has come into your souls without cross-examination and practical test and severest handling, let me say plainly that you have no true religion; you are simply giving house-room to a mocking and burdensome superstition. Look at the end; mysteries will then be solved, perplexities will then be disentangled, embarrassments will be smoothed down, and all things that have troubled even the conscience will be made to stand up in simplicity and be invested with self-vindication. To a little fellow-traveller I once said, "We may save a great deal of this journey by taking this cross-lane," a little path which lay like a diagonal across the field, "shall we go?" He was a little philosopher; said he, "I always find " it was a short "always," but it was the only always he had "that there is something at the other end, a wall to climb over, or a ditch to leap over, or something very hard to do at the other end;" so he preferred taking the longer way round. I wish we could lay that more to heart. There are easy roads, tempting paths, and we say, Why not thus, and so, and be home almost at once? And, lo, at the other end we find we are in a blind alley, or there is a pit, or a ditch, or a high hedge, over which to leap or through which to force our perilous way. If men would look at the end as well as at the beginning they would be saved from a good deal of rash adventure.
See ye not that in the structure and economy of nature one thing bears upon another, that there is nothing alone, isolated, by itself, but that everything is part of something else; and that therefore we stand within a system of Providence? We do not always see how things are to connect themselves one with the other. Occasionally we have said, This is a solitary instance, and must be regarded as such, and must be wholly neglected with regard to all possible issues. Yet in seven years' time that very solitary thing has come up and said, You will need me now: I have been waiting all this time; this is your opportunity; if I were not here you could not complete the case; you neglected me once, but to-day I am a necessity. We cannot escape the idea that there is a Providence. We may write it with a little p or a large P; we may call it Force, or Fate, or Necessity, or Mystery: but there it is, an invisible Hand that puts things together, that stretches itself out beyond common lines to bring back things that have been ejected. There is a shaping hand. Each man may see it in his own life. Do not throw your experience away. It would be like murdering your best friend; nay, it would be a species of suicide. What is a man but his experience? What is to-day but the gathered past, the culmination of the centuries that are gone? Who made you, directed you, nursed you? Who was kinder than mother, gentler than nearest friend? Who opened the gate when you had lost the key? Who saved you in the peril, the danger, the household extremity, when there was no light and when no voice could be heard but your own, and that voice was lifted up not in thanksgiving but in agony and distress? Some of us could not go back from this testimony. If we did we should write upon our hearts Liar, Coward, Ingrate, unfit for the society of the beasts that perish. We have had strange lives; they have been wondrously handled and directed; and we are here to say that many things that we thought were hard and cruel, and at the time intolerable, were amongst the richest of our treasures, the most sacred of our possessions and memories. But Providence means two things; it does not stand by itself; if it may be represented as having two hands it lays one hand upon Creation and the other hand upon Redemption. Only a Creator could be a true Father in all this ministry of Providence. The one necessitates the other. Only he who created the world can guide it. We may have to take it back to him again and again that he may pay attention to it, because we have spoiled part of its mechanism. He alone knows all its intricacy, all its economy, and he alone can guide it and bring it to its proper issues. If God care for one blade of grass, he must redeem the world. This is the sublimity of his love; it does not end upon little things; it begins upon them to show that it means still greater sacrifice. If God built one rosebud he built the heavens; and if he made man he meant to save him: and it will go hard if Omnipotence be worsted. I know not what will happen; no man may make conjecture into a dogma, and set up his own speculations as authoritative conclusions; but it will go hard if God do not win at the last. No man can tell when the last is. God never gives up, until he finds the case utterly hopeless. Yet has he given to man the power of electing at last to be lost. What controversies God and man will have we cannot tell, but man has the dread power of telling God to his face that he has elected to be damned.
See ye not that there is a great difference in the functions, the gifts, and powers of men? Who made all this difference? It cannot be self-arranged. Self-arrangement of this kind would be scouted in all things material: why should it be admitted in things that are immaterial, intellectual, spiritual, and that lie close upon the metaphysic line that is not far from the existence of God himself? Let us say that every building in the town elected its own shape. Not a child that can go to school but would smile at the foolish idea. Let us propose to the child that the pillar said it would be a pillar, and the window a window, and the lamp a lamp, and the beam a beam, and that thus it was all settled, see how the little one chuckles his unbelief, and looks upon you as a species of intellectual fool. Am I then to look upon society and say Painter, poet, farmer, merchant, preacher, you arranged all this among yourselves? Nothing of the kind. If men are going along the right line of development they are carrying out a divine economy. The poet never could be anything but a poet. The adventurer never could be anything but an adventurer. You cannot keep an explorer at home; you may attire him in the clothes of civilisation, and set him down by your fireside with the very nicest book that has lately been issued from the press, and you may whisper to one another that you think he is now likely to remain at home. He will never remain at home. The spirit of travel is in him. He would crush his destiny if he remained at home longer than to please us for a moment or two. He must be off, child of the wind, child of the sea, he is at home in the wilderness, in the black continent, in the far-away places of the earth; otherwise he is not at home. All this difference makes society possible. If we were all alike we could not have society It is because we differ that we can cohere; it is because we are nor alike that we can hold companionship one with the other. This makes society tolerable. Without it society would be intolerable, because it would be monotonous, flat, blank; no man would have any idea different from any other man, and all speech would be useless. And this makes society progressive. We live by friction, we live by attrition; it is because we have conflict, controversy, contention, that we advance in our highest education and complete our spiritual manhood under the inspiration and guidance of divine providence. If men do not see these things, these things will become to them mysteries, elaborate confusions, stunning and stupefying bewilderments. Keep your eye open and watch, and see how cunningly he works who builds the stars and paints the flowers. He doeth all things well; give him time; pray to him with your patience; praise him with your forbearance; show your confidence in him by your long-suffering, by the end he elects to be judged.
See ye not that all this wondrous economy of nature and life is marked by a very marvellous system of compensation? so that the little may be great, and the great may be little; he that hath much may have nothing over, and he that hath little may have nothing under, and the very frailest life known to us has its own palace, and its own crown, and its own sceptre, and its own unique ability. What a study is here! Along this line men may meet with revelations every day. The microscope writes its own bible; the telescope unfolds its own revelation. There are some poor weak animals that in the daytime have an almost contemptible appearance, but they can see in the dark and you cannot; you must judge by the night as well as by the day. You cannot tell how very contemptible you look in the night-time when you are stumbling about and do not know where you are; and the creatures you laughed at in the hours of the daylight are looking at you and wondering how you dare venture out at all. There are creatures that have enormous strength, and there are other creatures that have no strength at all, but they have all but infinite cunning, and they do not fear your mightiness; they will make no noise or demonstration, and yet they will overturn you, and bring you to ruin. There is a power of cunning as well as a power of muscle. The whole scheme of nature is written over with the word Compensation. One bird wants to be an eagle, but the Lord says, You have got something the eagle would like to have. Some poor things look very feeble on land, but they become poetical symbols of grace when they move into the water. Is there a more ungainly figure than that of a swan trying to walk? It attracts universal attention; it is smiled at as a very grotesque thing: but the moment that same swan presses the waves poets come to write about it, and painters come to paint it, and people say, How exceedingly graceful! There are compensations all through and through nature. You, for example, are very poor: but look how cheerful you are! Your cheerfulness is worth who shall say what it is worth? What hope you have! How you sing in the night-time! How in the coldest winter day you come upon men like a cheerful fire! Is no consideration to be paid to that? You have no social standing; but look what health you have! what a digestion! what a monstrous digestion! Is that to be set down in cyphers? Is no account to be made of that? Reckon up your mercies. You are not tall; but how alert you are! You have no vigour in muscular fight; but what sagacity you have in counsel! Draw the balance well, be just to God. What bird shall fight the eagle? None. Yet there is a bird that shall drive the eagle mad; and the eagle cannot get at it. Which is the smallest bird? The hummingbird, and the hummingbird can kill the eagle. The eagle would strike a lion, but the hummingbird is so small that the eagle cannot get at it. Naturalists have told us that the hummingbird, dear little ruby throat, settles on the head of the eagle, and pecks out the feathers one by one; and the eagle flies away, mad with agony, screaming through the infinite arch; it is only a little hummingbird that is just taking the feathers out, and pecking away at the head all the time. "Fly away," says the hummingbird, "I like this very much." If the eagle could get at that hummingbird we know what would happen. Alas! that parable has more interpretations than one. It is your little trouble that bites you. You could fight a whole court of lawyers, but some little care lays hold of your head and takes such interest in you that sleep is an impossibility; and a man dies for want of sleep. The conies are a feeble folk, but they make their houses in the rock. Spiders have been found, saith the proverb, in kings' houses. Other animals that are very weak in themselves go forth in bands, all together, then how mighty they become! There is a locust that has defied an army of soldiers, a beetle that has beaten a standing army, that has gone forth night and day and eaten up all the crops; and soldiers have had swords and sabres and spears and guns, and none can tell how many other weapons of war, and the beetle has still gone on eating. It is a curious system in which we live. It never made itself. Is there anything more melancholy than that a man should go through the world blind? "Having eyes, see ye not? " that a man should go through a whole day's history and have nothing to write about at night? that a man should walk through the city, and have seen nothing of poverty, necessity, sorrow, pain? This is to lose the world; this is to lose all that is best in life.
One great question may sum up the whole: See ye not a difference, large and vital, between Christ and every other teacher? Compare them. Jesus Christ is always willing to be compared, to have a true opinion formed, to have himself tested by the spirit which he inculcates, and the conduct which he inspires. What has done for the world what Christianity has done? Let us be just. We have seen what was done for Terra del Fuego by Thomas Bridges; we have seen how a place which British ships of war were forbidden to touch has become a civilised and Christian garden through the ministry of Christ. Have you seen a remarkable book called "Metlakahtla," edited by Henry S. Welcome? No man can read that book without becoming a Christian. Everything may be risked upon that one testimony. The Metlakahtlans are described in that book as amongst the most ferocious and murderous tribes on the North Pacific coast men of intellectual capacity though in barbarism; men civilised enough to be able to make very cunning workmanship in bracelets and jewellery; men philosophical enough to find that fire may be produced by friction; men civilised enough to get mad by drinking rum. One man, William Duncan, had it laid upon his heart that he would like to teach the people Christianity. His thought was laughed at and scorned. The people who were approaching the frontier had to build strong fortifications, and to watch them night and day lest these ferocious and murderous people should break through and work havoc and ruin in so-called civilised life. William Duncan still had his dream of evangelisation. He enlisted the services of one who could initiate him into the mysteries of the language of Metlakahtla. He found it a picturesque language, full of metaphorical colour and image and force; he studied it, made a phonetic representation of it for there was no written language and acquainted himself so far with it as to be able to tell a little plain simple tale. He told the people he wished to tell them about the white man's God, if they would allow him. He went a step at a time, cautiously, little by little; and without professing now to give the detail of the wonderful volume, the end was a garden of the Lord, every man subdued; within thirty years the whole place transformed, transfigured. And if certain metaphysical Christians had not gone there the simplicity of the Metlakahtlans would have remained uncorrupted. It is when your unbalanced theologian or mere metaphysician wants to vex the human mind with distinctions that are not vital that great Christian labour is brought to an unhappy end. But there stands the fact. The Metlakahtlans were found in this condition; a man goes amongst them with nothing but a warm heart and a clear conception of Christ's work, and the end is civilisation, education, an interest in spiritual things, a falling down before the Cross of Christ, and an acceptance of Christ as the God and King and Saviour of men. Who did it? What was his name? Buddha? No. Mahomet? No. What was his name? "Jesus Christ the Son of God." He never loses his power. To-day he will make the wilderness to blossom as the rose. Why not tell the world this, and turn its wildernesses into smiling fruit-fields?
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Mark 8". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17