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CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 1:1. Beginning.—For best commentary on this see Luke 16:16. Law and prophets ended with John, who heralded new régime. Gospel.—Good tidings, from God to man, of redemption and peace; purposed from before foundation of world; proclaimed from Fall onwards, as man could receive it; now fully unveiled and offered to all by Jesus Christ. The Son of God.—Probably genuine, although omitted by א and some Fathers.
Mark 1:2. In the prophets.—Read, In Isaiah the prophet. Remainder of verse, quoted from Malachi 3:1, must be regarded as a parenthesis. “The Evangelist’s mind went rapidly through it, and fixed its attention on the contents of the earlier and more remarkable oracle lying behind.” Only here, and in chap. Mark 15:28 (the genuineness of which is doubtful) does Mark himself cite from Old Testament. In chaps. Mark 4:12; Mark 7:6; Mark 11:17; Mark 14:27, he places on record quotations made by Jesus.
Mark 1:7. One mightier.—He who is mightier; the Sovereign whose ambassador 1 am, the Potentate whose orders I carry out.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 1:1-8
(PARALLELS: Matthew 3:1-12; Luke 3:1-20; John 1:19-28.)
The preparation for the gospel.—With trumpet-blast—short, sharp, triumphant—St. Mark introduces his Divine Hero, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah.” Wasting no time on preliminaries, he at once strikes the keynote of his theme—“the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Well is he called “Marcus,” a hammer, who begins by aiming such a powerful blow at the inherent scepticism of the human heart, and then follows it up with the workmanlike skill observable throughout this book! Determined to leave no room for mistake concerning the person of his Master, he at once accords to Him His full title, “Jesus Christ, Son of God.” Jesus—the Saviour; Christ—the Divinely appointed Prophet, Priest, and King of men; Son of God, Revealer of the Father, Incarnate Deity. Peter’s great confession was in almost the same words (Matthew 16:16).
I. The origin of the gospel in heaven.—
1. Not man’s thought, but God’s. To destroy the works of the devil, and devise means that His banished ones should be restored to Him, was far beyond the conception of any but the Creator.
2. The mode of carrying out this grand scheme was equally Godlike. The Creator became Himself a creature—God came to us in man—hiding His glory under the tabernacle of human flesh, which He assumed, in order that we might realise His nearness, believe in His goodwill towards us, and be incorporated into Him.
II. The preparation for the gospel on earth.—
1. This began in the first promise to Adam and Eve, in their sacrificial offerings, in the bleeding lambs of Abel’s altar, and in the simple worship of the patriarchs.
2. It began afresh in the Mosaic legislation, in the ceremonial law, etc.
3. It began once more in the predictions of the prophets, who declared in words the gospel which the law shadowed forth in acts. And the last of these prophets was John, the greatest of them all, and the nearest to the kingdom.
III. The Forerunner of the gospel and his ministry.—
1. The Baptist’s mission had been foretold. The herald of Jesus had himself been heralded long before; and the appearance of one answering to the prophetic announcements was to be the sign that a Greater than he was at hand.
2. The Baptist’s preaching was suitable for the time—positive, straightforward, unmistakable. It could never be said of him, as was said of a certain modern minister, that he spent six days in the week asking himself, “What on earth shall I preach about?” and sent the people home on Sunday asking themselves, “What on earth did he preach about?” John stood boldly forth as a preacher of righteousness, in the midst of a perverse and crooked generation.
(1) In his stern, weird cry, “Repent ye,” he made a personal appeal for personal action, and a particular line of conduct—not simply general good behaviour. Whatever sin has hitherto reigned in the heart, the opposite virtue must now take its place; otherwise, the kingdom cannot be received.
(2) By baptism he pledged men to carry out in their life the discipline necessary to make them ready for the kingdom. This rite served to prepare them to accept a system in which sacramental means of grace were to hold a prominent place.
(3) Besides repentance and baptism, particular confession of sins was exacted by John. And this was doubtless private confession; for it is highly improbable that they publicly confessed sins, the knowledge of which would instruct others in all sorts of evil, pollute their minds with all sorts of filthiness, and in very many cases give the enemies of those so confessing the power of accusing them before the law as long as they lived.
3. The Baptist’s preaching proved a great success. Never before had the souls of the people been so stirred. And although comparatively few took the further step of enrolling themselves under Christ’s banner during His lifetime, yet amongst those few were several of the apostles; and we know not how much of the Church’s growth after Pentecost is to be attributed to the Baptist’s faithful ministry.
4. The personal appearance of the Baptist was in perfect harmony with the truths he proclaimed. Bede says he used a dress more austere than was usual, because he did not encourage the life of sinners by flattery, but chid them by the vigour of his rough rebuke; he had a girdle of a skin round his loins, for he was one who crucified his flesh with the affections and lusts.
5. The self-abnegation of the Baptist is the greatest proof of his real nobility. Such was his popularity, that he might easily have become the founder of a new religious sect; for his disciples could not bear to think of his ministry as merely the preface or introduction to that of Another. But John himself never wavered in his testimony, never dreamt of arrogating to himself any honour; but maintained, with unswerving fidelity, that he—though he could claim high rank among his countrymen, as the son of one of the heads of the courses of the priests—was but the messenger of One for whom he did not think himself worthy to perform the most menial service, One who would baptise not merely in the waters of Jordan, but in the fire of the Life-giving Spirit.
1. Thank God for His mercy in the gospel.
2. Attend to God’s message by the lips of men.
3. Make diligent and reverent use of the means of grace.
4. Illustrate and exalt the gospel by your life. So you may be the means of preparing others to welcome Christ.
Mark 1:4-8. John’s baptism, and Christ’s.—The question which perplexed the chief priests and scribes and elders (Mark 11:30-33) need cause us no difficulty, because Christ Himself acknowledged and sanctioned His forerunner, and set His seal on the legitimacy of John’s baptism, by submitting to it Himself. We find, moreover, in the preaching of John a strong circumstance in his favour. For who ever heard of an enthusiast, a self-inspired prophet, studiously disparaging himself, and seeking to fix the attention of the world on some greater Person who should come after him?
I. John’s account of his own baptism.—
1. He baptised “with water”—a well-understood sign of moral purification (Isaiah 1:16; Ezekiel 36:25; Psalms 51:2; Psalms 51:7).
2. He baptised with water “unto repentance” (Mark 1:4 : cf. Matthew 3:11), i.e. to the end that men should repent, amend their lives, and “bring forth,” etc. (Matthew 3:8).
3. Was there any inward and spiritual grace in the baptism of John, of which the washing with water might be considered as a sign? We are obliged to answer in the negative. The ceremony itself was well calculated to make an impression upon those who submitted to it; but the same may be said of many other rites, which have nothing spiritual or supernatural about them. Such impressions may easily be accounted for, and furnish no proof that there has been any extraordinary exertion of Divine influence.
4. The baptism of John, though (like the law of Moses) it “made nothing perfect,” yet prepared the way for “the bringing in of a better hope,” and of a more efficacious baptism.
II. John’s prophecy concerning Christ’s baptism.—
1. He states the manner of Christ’s baptism—“with the Holy Ghost.” Not that “water” should not also be employed in this greater baptism; without this there can be no baptism at all. But here is the difference. John baptised with water only: Christ should baptise with water and the Spirit (John 3:5). The Holy Ghost is unsubstantial and invisible; we can no more be baptised with the Spirit alone than we can with “the wind, which bloweth where it listeth.” If this operation is to be visibly performed on us, there must be some vehicle through which the Holy Ghost is communicated to our souls; and water, the emblem of purity, is the most convenient and natural sign of that spiritual grace which cleanses and purifies the heart.
2. Consider now the effects of Christ’s baptism.
(1) It washes away all past sins and defilements in him who is baptised (Acts 22:16). This is the first grace of baptism; and even if it were the only one, who would not be astonished at the powerful operation of so simple a rite! Who would not confess that He in whose name, and by faith in whose name, water is made to wash away sins, must indeed be mightier than John or any other mere human interpreter of the will of God! Above all, since the effect is as beneficial as it is astonishing, who would not wish to partake of this inestimable gift of God in Christ Jesus!
(2) It not only washes away all former pollutions, but it cleanses the heart itself, and purifies that turbid fountain out of which flow all the issues of life. A physician turns his attention, in the first place, to the immediate relief of his patient, and endeavours by suitable remedies to check the progress of the disorder; but when that is done, then comes the glory of his art, which is, to improve the general state of the patient’s health, and get rid of those causes and tendencies which might bring on the complaint afresh. Even so has Jesus Christ, the Great Physician of the soul, invented this remedy of baptism, by which He not only cures the present disease, but renews, as it were, the moral constitution of man. By the “washing of regeneration” we are “born again, not of corruptible seed,” etc. (1 Peter 1:23).
(3) What baptism necessarily confers on all who are the subjects of it—whether old or young, hackneyed in the ways of sin or as yet innocent of it—is not actual holiness, but only the capacity of becoming holy. The man who is thus regenerated may, if so disposed, return to his former courses and become as dead in sin as before. But now it is no longer the fault of his nature. He can no longer exclaim with the unregenerate, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me,” etc. (Romans 7:24). He has been delivered. Before baptism he was incapable of pleasing God; now he is not incapable. Before baptism there was “a law in his members, warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin, which was in his members.” Now there is no such law, and no such captivity. In short, before baptism, whatever evil he may have done, he had this excuse to plead: “It is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me.” Now he has no such excuse.
(4) If any one be disposed to think that it is a small thing to be made capable of becoming holy unless we be actually established in holiness, let him consider this: What must it be to labour under a positive incapacity of working out our salvation; to know that if we should exert ourselves ever so much we could never, by any possibility, please God; that our best actions and intentions would be infected with the taint of our nature, and, instead of being acceptable to God, must necessarily be offensive to Him, as partaking of the nature of sin?
3. From all this there arise two inducements to holiness and righteousness of life.
(1) The former things are forgiven thee; go, and sin no more. What does it profit a man to have his debts cancelled, if he begin immediately to run up a fresh score, and to involve himself in heavier liabilities than those from which he has been delivered? Shall not the last state of that man be worse than the first? See Ezekiel 24:13.
(2) When thou art baptised, thou art “born again” of the Spirit: see that the rest of thy life be answerable to this beginning. The old man is put off: put off his deeds also. Thou hast purified thy soul through the Spirit; ask thyself, therefore, what qualities should spring out of a cleansed and renewed heart. The works of the flesh are manifest; the fruit of the Spirit should be so also.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 1:1. Beginnings.—
I. Human life is full of beginnings.—St. Mark is constantly drawing attention to this. See chap. Mark 1:45; Mark 4:1; Mark 5:17; Mark 6:7; Mark 14:65; Mark 15:18.
II. All beginnings are full of interest.—They afford great scope for speculation as to the progress and end.
III. The gospel is the greatest beginning the world has ever seen.—It is God’s crowning work and supreme revelation.
IV. The gospel is a beginning without an end.—The “Sun of Righteousness” will never set. But though without end, the gospel is not without completion. See Isaiah 53:11; 1 Corinthians 15:28.
A wonderful beginning.—What a wonderful beginning of things is here! The gospel! Had he recorded the beginning of the work of justice and wrath to make an end of sinners, we should not have been surprised, after reading the story of sin and ingratitude recorded in the Old Testament; but instead we have the beginning of the dispensation of love and mercy to sinners—a beginning which was the end of the old dispensation of law, types, and shadows, and the bringing in of the substance of all that God had promised man in grace from the foundation of the world. What a humble beginning it was! One man, one voice—and both man and voice in the wilderness. Not a mighty prince, but a prophet-man, clad in camel’s hair, with a leathern girdle about him. How differently from the coming of an earthly prince did Jesus appear to take up His ministry! Yet as we proceed we shall see the reason for this strange and simple “beginning of the gospel.” It was because it was the beginning of the gospel, not of the kingdom; the beginning of the grace of God, not of the ceremonial pomp of a formal worship; the beginning of a dispensation which was to reign in the hearts of men, not in external paraphernalia of worship.—G. F. Pentecost, D.D.
The strong Son of God.—The first words of In Memoriam might be taken to describe the theme of Mark’s Gospel. It is the “strong Son of God” whom he sets forth in his rapid, impetuous narrative, which is full of fiery energy; he delights to paint the unresting continuity of Christ’s filial service.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
The title “Son of God,” besides here, is given—
1. By Gabriel (Luke 1:35).
2. By the devil (Matthew 4:3; Matthew 4:6).
3. By demons (Matthew 8:29).
4. By apostles (Matthew 14:33).
5. By Peter (Matthew 16:16). By John (John 20:31; 1 John 3:8; Revelation 2:18).
6. By Paul (Romans 1:4; 2 Corinthians 1:19; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 4:13).
7. By author of Hebrews (Hebrews 4:14, and whole argument of chap. 1).
8. By the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:37). A fair deduction from Philip’s teaching, even if the words are spurious.
9. By Christ Himself (John 10:36; Luke 22:70).
Mark 1:2-3. Preparation for Divine visitation.—
I. The two dispensations are in reality one.—John is the connecting link between them.
II. The Divinity of Messiah was plainly foretold.—See Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1.
III. The function of a prophet is here clearly stated.—“A voice”—God’s messenger and mouthpiece, going only where God sends him, saying only what God bids him. Dedicate your lips to God, and He will fill them with grace and truth.
IV. The willingness of God to visit man is evident.—He only waits for the obstacles to be removed—hardness of heart, and contempt of His word and commandment (Revelation 3:20). A readiness to have Him come into our lives and straighten them is the preparation of heart needed to receive Him
Mark 1:3. John a voice, not an echo.—Goethe has said in one of his pregnant sentences, “There are many echoes in the world, but few voices.” John Baptist’s power lay in this—that he was a voice, and not an echo. The people of Israel had long been accustomed to religious teachers who were only echoes—echoes of the more distant past when Moses and the prophets spake the word of the Lord with living voice, and yet more frequently echoes of the teaching of some recent rabbi, himself an echo and unreal. Their temple courts in which they disputed the law, their synagogue in which Moses was expounded, were but as whispering-galleries in which men, surrounded with shadows, listen to sounds that belong not to the living world at all. But at length the accents of a living voice fell upon the nation’s ear. A religious teacher appeared who dealt with realities, and not with semblances. He spoke as a living man to living men in an actual world.—Jas. Brown, D.D.
The need of our time is for voices,—voices which are not echoes, living voices speaking the living truth, out of the depths of a living experience, and in the living language of living men; voices preaching mercy and not sacrifice, righteousness and not burnt offerings, faith and not outward cleansing; voices bringing good tidings of blessed possibilities for a sin-stricken world, of the coming of a kingdom in mercy and in judgment, which are not two, but eternally and for ever one; voices bearing witness for the Christ—the Incarnation of divinest righteousness and divinest compassion, the Redeemer of the fallen, the Helper of the helpless, the Brother of us all; voices whose accents are not hard and dogmatic and pitiless, but as of men who have wrestled, nay, who perchance are wrestling still, with sorrow and doubt and fear.—Ibid.
The voice of the Baptist was a voice of severity.—His doctrine was as stern as his raiment was rough. He proclaimed repentance—the axe to the root, the fan to the corn, the chaff to fire. He must, by plainness and boldness of speech, level mountains and exalt valleys, and so prepare a way for the approach of the Messiah. The corruption of human nature was a wound of long standing, that must be lanced before it could be healed. Sharpness of speech, like a ploughshare, must cleave deep and break up the stubborn ground of human pride, and make the heart soft and tender to receive the blessed seed of Divine love.
Highways through the hearts of men.—Crossing this mighty continent of ours not long ago, by means of that last marvel of our American engineering, whose daily track-laying, as I have been told, was wont to beat the slow-moving waggon-trains of emigrants that marched beside it, I found myself again and again exclaiming “What grander calling could there be than thus to write one’s name in iron across the unsullied page of those virgin western prairies, as part-builder of the highway that shall bind together Pekin and Paris, London and San Francisco, the commerce of Calcutta and the manufactures of Manchester, in one bright zone, whose central gem shall be our own American metropolis!” And yet there is a grander calling. May it be yours and mine to braid it in with whatsoever toil or study is ours; to build those other highways through the stony hearts and desert lives of men, over which the Master Builder shall at last come back again, to claim this world and all its treasures for His own; to bear along the paths that Christian labour has cast up the saving message of God’s love, and so, by steadfast conquest of all sin and ignorance, to open wide the gates for His enduring sunshine!—Bishop H. C. Potter.
The Lord’s pathway.—If I can only place one little brick in the pavement of the Lord’s pathway, I will place it there, that coming generations may walk thereon to the heavenly city.—Bishop Phillips Brooks.
Mark 1:4. Repentance.—To sum up the business of repentance in a word, the wise man (Proverbs 28:13) has reduced it to two heads—to confess and forsake our sins. St. Bernard almost as short and not much unlike, Dolere præterita, Cavere futura; to grieve and be displeased with ourselves for what is past, and to take better heed for the time to come. It must be a repentance from sin as well as for sin; it must be of thoughts as well as deeds, of errors in judgment as well as miscarriages of life; finally, it must bring forth fruits, and be accompanied with works meet for repentance. To repent, to cry peccavi, and go on still in the same sin, to be always craving God’s mercy, and never stand in fear of His justice, is in short but to mock God and our own souls to boot. Further, our repentance must be proportionable to our offences. Greater sins must be taken to heart with greater regrets. The more scandalous and notorious any one’s faults have been, the more signal must his conversion be, and the more exemplary his conversation. The longer we have continued in any ill practice, the more lasting must our exercise of repentance be. Chronical and habitual distempers must be put into a course of spiritual physic. To shut up all: repentance, as ’tis a necessary duty, so ’tis a great privilege. None so perfect but need it; none so bad but may attain it: witness the penitent thief, the publican, the prodigal.—A. Littleton, D.D.
Mark 1:4-5. A rite, message, and reception.—
I. A great message.—
1. The duty urged: repentance.
2. The motive: the nearness of the kingdom, with righteous laws and heavy penalties.
3. The privilege proclaimed: setting free from sin.
II. A novel rite.—
1. John’s baptism—far superior to the ritual lustrations of the Jews—foretold the purification of heart and mind which would result from the washing away of sin in the blood of Christ (cp. 1 Peter 3:21).
2. It expressed a backward look at guilt, and a forward look to mercy.
III. A striking reception.—There was that about him which attracted the attention not merely of the common people, but also of the political and religious leaders (Matthew 3:7).
1. His prophetic voice broke a silence of three hundred years.
2. His announcement of the kingdom kindled Messianic expectations.
3. His manifest sincerity induced searchings of heart. If, like John, we would “reach the masses,” we must first have something worthy to say, and then say it straight out.
4. We must recollect that this was the great Sabbatical year of the Jews; the people were less busy than usual; the whole land was at rest; a religious atmosphere was breathing around them; and so the awakened multitudes swept forth from their homes on every hand. Bethabara, the little fording-place north of Jericho, was thronged with excited listeners out of all classes and social conditions, eagerly jostling each other in defence of truth or tradition.
The character of the Baptist’s ministry.—There can be no doubt concerning the general character of the Baptist’s ministry. It departed in every particular from the ordinary and orderly ministries of the time. Judged by our standards, or by those then prevailing, it was distinctly sensational. It aimed to arouse, alarm, denounce, scourge. And its effects were in accordance with its aims. If we should describe them in the phraseology of our own time, we should say that there was in that part of Syria a great religious awakening, and it would be to misrepresent the whole situation if we did not go on to say that the greatest religious movement that the world has seen turned, as its first hinge, upon this same religious awakening. There have been repetitions of it all the way along. Whether it is Peter the Hermit, or Francis of Assisi, or Savonarola, or John Huss, or John Wesley, the thing is too familiar to be ignored or wholly disesteemed; and no effort to distinguish between great national or ecclesiastical movements, occurring at long intervals, and an agency to be employed in connection with the ordinary on-going of parish life, though such a distinction is one which we are bound to recognise, can dismiss from our rightful consideration such agencies as the latter. In one sense the case of a parish and the case of a Church or a nation are widely different; but in another they are identical. The same slumbrous torpor, the same deadness to spiritual truths, the same triumph of the spirit of worldliness over the Spirit of Christ, exist in the one as in the other. It is, after all, only a question of extent or degree; and the exigencies of parochial life in particular communities often make that necessary, in some single congregation, which, under other circumstances, may widely, if not universally, be necessary.—Bishop H. C. Potter.
Mark 1:5. Confession of sin.—There is a twofold confession of sins necessary in the practice of repentance.
I. To God.—
1. It must come from a feeling heart, touched with sense of sin and grieved for it; not verbal, or from the teeth outward.
2. It must come from a hatred and loathing of the sins confessed, not from fear of punishment merely: Saul, Pharaoh.
3. From hope of mercy, else we witness against ourselves: Jude 1:4. Free and voluntary, not forced from us; else it is not pleasing to God.
5. It must not be only in general terms, but there must be a laying open of our particular known sins, so far as we can remember them.
II. To men.—Not always necessary, but in some cases only.
1. When by our sins we have offended and scandalised men—either the Church in general, or some particular persons.
2. When any sin lies heavy on our conscience, so that we cannot find ease or comfort. In this case it is necessary to open our hearts, and to acknowledge that sin which troubles us, to some faithful pastor, or other Christian brother, who may minister spiritual advice and comfort to us.—G. Petter.
Confession of sin hindered by Satan.—God knoweth all, saith Ambrose, but yet He looketh for thy confession. God is never more ready to cover than when we lay open. The fox, say our books, taketh his prey by the throat, so to stop all noise; and the devil, that fox, by all means hindereth holy confession, and bringeth men to deal with their souls as men use to deal with old rusty armour, either never or once in a year or two formally and superficially to scour it over. But as a thorn in your finger will grieve you still till it be had out, so will sin in your conscience still vex till it be acknowledged and confessed. If we have offended man, reconciliation to him is necessary. But to thy God speak all, saith Chrysostom, even whatsoever thou art ashamed to speak unto man, for He expecteth thy voice, although He knew it before, and He will never upbraid thee as man will.—Bishop Babington.
Mark 1:6. The habits of the Baptist.—
1. The Baptist’s habits were thoroughly in harmony with his surroundings in the wilderness, also with the absorption of a man with such a mission.
2. His unusual style of dress was probably adopted with the deliberate intention of sending men’s thoughts back to Elijah (2 Kings 1:8 : cp. Zechariah 13:4).
3. His manner of living was a protest against the prevalent worldliness and luxury, especially of the religious leaders (Mark 12:38; Luke 7:25).
4. One inured to such a life could afford to be perfectly fearless and independent, having little to lose by opposition of the great, or to gain from their favour.
5. John’s outward appearance fitly symbolised the rigour and austerity of the old dispensation. Jesus, the Mediator of the new and better covenant, as fitly “came eating and drinking,” etc.
Mark 1:7. The humility of the Baptist.—The highest buildings have the lowest foundations. As the roots of a tree descend, so the branches ascend. The lower the ebb, the higher the tide. Those upon the mountains see only the fog beneath them, whilst those in deep pits see the stars above them. The most fruitful branches bow the lowest.—John Trapp.
Christ is “mightier” than John.—
I. In essential being.—Son of God, and God the Son, as well as Son of Man.
II. In word.—John was but “a voice”: Christ is the Eternal Word (John 1:1).
III. In works.—John 10:41.
IV. In spiritual efficiency.—The Baptist’s success was all due to Christ’s power working with and in him (John 1:16; John 3:27).
V. In ministerial rites.—The baptism in water was but a faint foreshadowing of the cleansing fire of the Holy Spirit.
Mark 1:8. A symbol of moral purification.—The Baptist started from the Messianic hope as the one thing remaining to the nation promising a better future; but he perceived what had to be immediately done in connection with it, according to the requirements of the true religion, and he was the first man consistent and daring enough actually to do it.… Every individual had to prepare himself for the true kingdom, and as a regenerate man, receptive simply for everything that is pure and good—as a man who will not start back from the Highest One should He come—look for the mysterious but certain coming of the Lord.… The submersion in the depth of the flowing water by the hand of the Baptist became the most effective, visible, and sensible symbol of the moral purification of this generation.… And this deep submersion, by the hand of a confessor, with this strict confession of sin, this vow and this absolution, of which it was meant to be the symbol, and this whole preparation for the Messiah, was something which had never before existed, and was the most striking sign of that mighty change of mind which was now about to be wrought in Israel more fully than before.—H. G. A. Ewald.
The Holy Spirit’s baptism.—The nature of the Spirit’s baptism.—
1. As the Spirit of truth, He enlightens the soul (John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:10-11).
2. As the Spirit of holiness, He purifies the soul (2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Titus 3:5).
3. As the Spirit of life and power, He imparts spiritual life, and animates the soul with strength to resist temptation.
II. How the Spirit’s baptism is communicated to us.—“Except one be born of water and the Spirit,” says Christ, “he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Thus He links together the outward visible sign and the inward spiritual grace. Holy baptism, then, as practised in the Christian Church, is not a mere rite or ordinance, a door, so to speak, admitting into a state of grace, but that, and something much more, even a sacrament, a medium or vehicle of conveying Divine grace itself. At “the font of regeneration” the person baptised is made a member of Christ, and by virtue of that membership a child of God, and by virtue of that adoption into Divine sonship an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.
III. The results that should follow the Spirit’s baptism.—
1. Careful instruction of the neophyte. “Disciple all the nations.” How? “Baptising them.” What next? “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Human agency in the Church must develop and translate into life the Divine energy implanted in baptism.
2. Perseverance in the faith. This includes—
(1) Diligent and continuous effort to attain “the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
(2) Earnest endeavour to correct and abandon all that is wrong in action, word, and thought.
(3) Ready compliance with the will of God in all things, with vigour and resolution of mind to speak, work, and suffer for the truth.
(4) Complete reliance on Christ alone—and not on any external apparatus or means of grace—for all that we need to make us “meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.”
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Mark 1:1. The beginning of the gospel.—In the old days of the South, a negro slave and preacher bad an infidel master. The master said to the slave one day, “You are a preacher, Sam?” “Well, I tells about Jesus some, massa.” “Well, if you are a preacher you ought to understand the Bible. Now tell me what does this mean?” And he opened the Bible and read, “And whom He did foreknow, them He did predestinate”—words that have puzzled wiser heads than the poor slave. “Well,” said the slave, “massa, where is it?” “It’s in Romans,” said the master. “Oh, my dear massa! I will explain dis ’ole business to you. It is very simple. You begin with Matthew, and do all the dear Lord tells you to do there; and then you go on to Mark, and Luke, and John; and when you get to that place it is easy enough, but you can’t begin there.”
The gospel seen, though never heard.—A poor Chinaman came to a missionary to ask for baptism. When asked where he had heard the gospel, he answered he had never heard the gospel, but he had seen it. He then told of a poor man at Ning-po who had once been a confirmed opium-smoker, and a man of violent temper. This man had learned about the Christian religion, and his whole life was altered; he gave up the opium, and became loving and amiable. “Oh,” said the candidate for baptism, “I have not heard the gospel, but 1 have seen it.”
Mark 1:2. Eastern roads.—The Western traveller who first sees the wretched, difficult, dangerous tracts which answer for Eastern roads, will wonder, first, that they are passable at all, and, second, that they can be as frequently travelled as they are, and yet show so little trace of the animal’s feet. Long after he has ceased to think that he must dismount at any passage seemingly impassable on the back of his animal, long after he has become accustomed to mounting and descending places far more difficult and dangerous than going up and down stairs on horseback, he will wonder whether he can be really on the road, since t ere are so few signs of travel. Loose stones which certainly ought to be thrust out of the way persistently keep their impertinent place; larger stones are wedged in for a few feet, just as if a brook had made its way along and washed away the earth, so that a succession of slips and stumblings meet the traveller for ages, where a half-hour’s work would have left a good passage for ever. It is only when going over smooth rocks, where the horses’ feet have worn an actual gutter, scarcely twice the width of a hoof, and that often by just sliding, that one realises that he is on the beaten road. Beaten: the very Oriental word for a road means just that very thing—something beaten; and the word has just about as exact a coincidence with the English word as can be in all its other uses. The horses know it.
Mark 1:4-8. John Baptist the model prophet and ambassador.—Of timidity he knew no thing. He had the fear of God within him and no other fear: the Divine honour and glory, with a singular abnegation of all self-honour and self-glory. Stranger and enemy to all tortuous ways and sinister policy: loyal to principle, without deflection or compromise. He said what he meant, and meant what he said—undeterred by frowns and sneers, false etiquette and conventionalisms: his one thought and aim to unmask hypocrisy, and vindicate the cause and claims of righteousness. He felt it his special mission to expose the degenerate and effete forms of religious life. In doing so he spared neither regal purple, nor hierarchal robe, nor rabbinical phylactery, if underneath these lurked iniquity and vice. It was like the réveille which wakes up at sunrise the sleeping camp; or like the trumpet-blast or beat of drum preparatory to the battle-charge.—J. R Macduff, D. D.
The Baptist in advance of his age.—John was in the kingdom of grace, like those gifted men in the world of thought, or in the world of practical life, who are always ahead of the mass of people around them; they have the inspiration not of supernatural grace, but of natural genius, itself a gift of God, but of a different order of value and of power. They are like lofty mountains whose summits the sun has already lit up, while he has not yet risen to shine upon the plain beneath. Truth has come to them before it has come to the mass of men around them. It has come to them as to its predestined forerunners. The speculative truth which everybody will recognise ten years hence they see now; but then they are alone on their watchtower, and if they say what they think, it is only to be smiled down as enthusiasts. The practical discoveries of which everybody will proclaim the high importance in another generation these men advocate now amid the discouraging criticisms of friends who advise them not to risk capital upon a wild venture. The social improvement or the public reform which nobody will think of challenging when it has become at no distant date law or custom they plead for now, when it is denounced either as reaction or revolution, when it is generally unpopular.—Canon Liddon.
Artistic representations of the Baptist.—Artists who have attempted to paint a picture of the Baptist, getting their idea of his appearance from a profound study of his character, have represented him as a man having a supernatural look on his face, with eyes that seem as if they saw far away, and the countenance of one who carries at the same time a great burden and a great joy. Perhaps more nearly than any other who has ever lived he answers our ideal of a messenger of God.
Socrates preparing the may for Christ.—Marsilius Fiscinus bestowed on Socrates the title of the John the Baptist of the Old World. To go still further, as some have done, and compare the Greek philosopher to the great Ensample of perfect love and perfect holiness, the Lamb of God, the Son of Man, seems to us, to say the least, scarcely reverential or Christian. But the mission of Socrates, like the mission of the greatest of prophets, was to prepare the way, to make straight the paths for Him who brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
Treofold aspect of repentance.—Like Janus Bifrons, the Roman god looking two ways, a true repentance not only bemoans the past but takes heed to the future. Repentance, like the lights of a ship at her bow and her stern, not only looks to the track she has made, but to the path before her.
A startling message.—The message “repent,” in the state in which he found men, was like a peal of thunder at midnight. The nation was like a suddenly awakened city, in fixed terror gazing upon black window-spaces fitfully and incessantly ablaze with lightning-bursts, awaiting in quivering dread each frightful following peal. It was midnight. The light was coming; but John was not that light. He came to waken men. To awaken he was a voice.
Repentance implies change of mind and life.—One of Luther’s happiest moments was when, reading in his Greek Testament, he found that repentance meant a change of mind rather than penance-doing. A captain at sea discovers that by some mistake the steersman is steering the ship directly for the rocks. How is the danger to be avoided? By scrubbing the decks or setting the men to the pumps? No! these things are good enough in their own time; but if the ship is to be saved, one thing must be done—her course must be changed. So the captain utters a few quick words, and the ship turns and speeds away from the danger. John’s preaching was in like manner a call to men to turn from the dangerous rocks of sin, and to make for the only safe haven. Repentance results in change of action. Just as the whole ship turns in obedience to the helm, so the change of mind produces a change of life. Here comes in the well-known story of the storekeeper who could not recollect the sermon; she only knew that after it she went straight home and destroyed all her light weights. A Hindu candidate for Christian baptism was asked what evidence he had to offer of his conversion. “Formerly,” he said, “I was proud and delighted in evil, but since I heard the words of Jesus I delight in these things no more.’
Repentance the way to heaven.—In the neighbourhood of Hoddam Castle, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, there was once a tower called the “Tower of Repentance.” What gave the tower its name we are not told, but it is said that an English baronet, walking near the castle, saw a shepherd lad lying upon the ground, reading attentively. “What are you reading, lad?” “The Bible, sir.” “The Bible, indeed!” laughed the gentleman; “then you must be wiser than the parson. Can you tell me the way to heaven?” “Yes, sir, I can,” replied the boy, in no way embarrassed by the mocking tone of the other; “you must go by way of yonder tower.” The gentleman saw that the boy had learned right well the lesson of his book, and, being rebuked, he walked away in silence.
Mark 1:6. The girdle.—The girdle was useful in many ways. The soldier carried his scimitar, his dagger, and in later days his pistols—the merchant his money—the scribe his writing implements, in his girdle. It served to keep the garment together, and enabled the wearer to tuck it up short when engaged in any active operation; so we read of Elijah that he girded up his loins before he ran (1 Kings 18:46), and our Lord impressed it upon His disciples that they should be always girded, i.e. active, ready, and prepared for any emergency (Luke 12:35 : cp. Ephesians 6:14; 1 Peter 1:13).—W. F. Shaw.
Power of self-denial—John came to denounce luxury, and soft clothing, and sumptuous fare, and he was a living example of the austerity which he called for. And how many preachers have been prompted to imitate him! SS. Martin and Dominic, Anselm and Borromeo, and a host of others, have themselves worn the same externals of severity, as the surest way of recommending the self-denial they sought to inculcate. And though such asceticism is deprecated in the nineteenth century, history bears abundant witness to its power in the past. It was from a hard life in the desert that SS. Gregory Nazianzen and Basil came forth to preach with such success; and Simon Stylites was by no means a solitary instance to show men of active lives and varied occupations, how even kings, burdened with imperial cares, were eager to seek counsel and direction from a lonely and austere ascetic.—Dean Luckock.
Mark 1:7. John’s inferiority to Jesus.—We have seen on some beautiful morning the sun rising in glory out of the east, and the moon still fair and bright in the west. This is what I think of when I think of Jesus and the Baptist. The rising sun, the setting moon. One increaseth, the other decreaseth. Not because they antagonise each other, but because the inferior fades before the superior splendour. One closes the dispensation to which it belongs—the night. The other opens the dispensation which belongs to it—the day. One has the beauty of a recluse; the other comes to mingle with the activities and sorrows and joys of men. One gives borrowed light; the other is light in its essence. One gives light that is transient; the other stores light and heat in everything that it touches. The one is negative—preaching repentance; the other is constructive and productive—founding a kingdom.
Mark 1:8. The soul without the Spirit.—A modern writer compares the Church, or the soul, without the gift of the Spirit, to—
1. Iron wire laid for a telegraph. It is powerful only when attached to the battery. The later invention of the electric light would make the comparison still stronger. The points, or the fine wire of the lamp, are dark and cold till the connected battery makes them give forth a light which suggests the sun itself.
2. He compares them also to water, which, when cold, is solid, brittle ice: “gently warmed, it flows; further heated, it mounts to the sky”; and he might have added that, with still greater heat, it becomes steam—the greatest working force known.
3. So, “an organ filled with the ordinary degree of air which exists everywhere is dumb. Throw in, not another air, but an unsteady current of the same air, and sweet, but imperfect and uncertain, notes immediately respond to the player’s touch; increase the current to a full supply, and every pipe swells with music.”
Need of the Spirit.—Here is a noble ship.… The forests have masted her; in many a broad yard of canvas a hundred looms have given her wings. Her anchor has been weighed to the rude sea-chant; the needle trembles on her deck; with his eye on that Friend, unlike worldly friends, true in storm as in calm, the helmsman stands impatient by the wheel. And when, as men bound to a distant shore, the crew have said farewell to wives and children, why, then, lies she there over the self-same ground, rising with the flowing and falling with the ebbing tide? The cause is plain. They want a wind to raise that drooping pennon and fill these empty sails. They look to heaven; and so they may; out of the skies their help must come. At length their prayer is heard.… And now, like a steed touched by the rider’s spur, she starts, bounds forward, plunges through the waves, and, heaven’s wind her moving power, is off and away, amid blessings and prayers, to the land she is chartered for. Even so, though heaven-born, heaven-called, heaven-bound, though endowed with a new heart and new mind, we stand in the same need of celestial influences.—T. Guthrie, D. D.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 1:10. Straightway.—εὐθέως. Mark’s constant use of this word of transition shows how full his heart was of his subject. It would appeal to the prompt, energetic spirit of his Roman readers. He (i.e. Jesus) saw.—The Baptism over, He was engaged in prayer (Luke 3:21), and then the vision was vouchsafed. The heavens opened.—Rending. Same word used of rending of veil of temple and rocks at the Crucifixion (Matthew 27:51). The Spirit like a dove descending.—This was seen also by the Baptist (John 1:32-33), and was the sign by which he recognised in Jesus the Lamb of God. It was His solemn inauguration as the Messiah (Acts 10:38). A dove.—Fit emblem of His gentle rule.
Mark 1:11. A voice from heaven.—Heard again at the Transfiguration (Mark 9:7), and in the temple court (John 12:28). In whom I am well pleased.—In whom I decreed for good, the “good” being man’s redemption purposed by God in Christ from all eternity. In Mark 1:10-11, we behold all Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity working together to accomplish man’s salvation.
Mark 1:12. The Spirit driveth Him.—The human soul of Jesus, which shrank from the cup in Gethsemane, would naturally shrink also from close contact with the prince of evil. But, abhorrent as such an encounter was to His pure and holy nature, it could not be avoided. Nay, it must needs be the first act of His official life. The Second Adam must triumph where the first Adam fell.
Mark 1:13. With the wild beasts.—Far from human habitation and companionship. Nothing was wanting to complete the loneliness of our Divine Champion in His first combat with the enemy of souls. The angels ministered.—Doubtless both to His bodily and spiritual wants. “He who would not turn stones into bread was now fed; He who would not call upon angels to uphold Him in rash confidence was now sustained by them; He who demanded worship for God alone received homage from these servants of God.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 1:9-13
(PARALLELS: Matthew 3:13 to Matthew 4:11; Luke 3:21 to Luke 4:13; John 1:29-42.)
Christ’s preparation for ministry—“The beginning of the gospel” advances here another stage. “The Coming One” has come. The Son of God takes His place in history as Son of Man, and proceeds to “fulfil all righteousness,” identifying Himself in every possible way with the race He has come to redeem and save.
I. Christ is prepared for ministry by baptism.—
1. He was about thirty years of age at the time (Luke 3:23)—the age at which the Levites entered upon their work (Numbers 4:3). Hitherto—with the exception of an occasional visit to the capital—His life had been passed in seclusion at Nazareth, the Scriptures His daily study, the deep problems of human sin and misery His constant thought. Now He prepares to stand forth as the Champion of humanity by confessing their sins and expressing their repentance.
2. The place—on the eastern bank of the Jordan, near Jericho—to which Jesus came from Nazareth to be baptised was full of historic memories, carrying the mind back to the greatest of the judges, and one of the greatest of the prophets. There the Israelites crossed the Jordan dryshod, and entered with Joshua the promised land (Joshua 3:0); there Elijah, accompanied by Elisha, smote the stream with his mantle and opened a passage through its rapid waters (2 Kings 2:8).
3. But why should Jesus submit to the baptism of John? If we could answer this question fully, we should be well on the way to solve the mystery of the Incarnation. We can only dimly perceive some of the motives for this amazing condescension.
(1) Although the Sinless One, Christ was baptised with the baptism of repentance, because He chose—for us men and for our salvation—to be reckoned amongst sinners as if He were one Himself, and to receive the outward sign of the cleansing away of that evil and defiling thing in which He had no part.
(2) Although John’s superior in nature, Christ received baptism from him as if He had been inferior in office, for He was now dedicating Himself to His great work as the Second Adam and New Head of the race.
(3) Although King, Messiah, and not merely a subject in the heavenly kingdom, it was yet fit that He should be anointed for His own place in that kingdom; and who was so fit to perform that office as he who had prepared the way before Him?
(4) Moreover, by Himself receiving baptism, He “sanctified water to the mystical washing away of sin.” This was the beginning of that sacramental system which naturally flows from, and is the extension of, the Incarnation. Hitherto baptism had been but a sign, a figure, an emblem; henceforth it was to be a means, a channel, for the conveyance of Divine grace: hitherto God had been conceived of as far away in heaven; now He was to be regarded as having come down to make His abode amongst men.
4. Here, for a brief moment, the veil was drawn aside which shrouds the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The voice of God the Father is heard from heaven, God the Holy Spirit is seen descending through the opened heaven to earth, and God the Son is incarnate on earth in the likeness of our humanity, as the link between it and heaven.
II. Christ is prepared for ministry by temptation.—
1. A special interest belongs to this chapter of Christ’s life, because the narrative can only have been derived from His own lips, no human eye having witnessed His contest with the powers of evil.
2. From the waters of baptism He proceeds at once into the fires of temptation. This was no accident in His life, but part of the Divine plan for His equipment as our Representative and Head. Just when Satan’s fury was at its height—the heavenly attestation of Christ’s Sonship ringing in his ears—the Holy Spirit urges Jesus forward to the battle. Both the combatants realise that it is a matter of life and death—that if Satan be worsted now, it is the beginning of the end of his rule over men. He lays his plans accordingly, with the utmost skill and craft.
3. The scene of the encounter, if tradition may be trusted, was the wilderness of Jericho, the Quarantania of later days; a region full of rocks and caverns, to which hermits have often resorted, and whither pious pilgrims still wend their way, believing that a vivid realisation of their Saviour’s victory will be helpful to themselves. Some suppose, however, that Christ was carried by the Spirit into the more distant desert of Arabia, to the place where Moses and Elijah had fasted and held communion with God (Exodus 34:28; 1 Kings 19:8-18), and where afterwards St. Paul passed a season of seclusion and prayer (Galatians 1:17).
4. How far was it possible for Christ to be tempted? The following answer, condensed mainly from Dr. Liddon’s Divinity of our Lord, may help to place this matter in a true light.
(1) We must here distinguish between (a) direct temptation to moral evil, i.e. an appeal to a capacity of self-will which might be quickened into active disobedience to the will of God; and (b) what may be termed indirect temptation, i.e. an appeal to instincts per se innocent, as belonging to man in his unfallen state, which can make obedience wear the form of a painful effort or sacrifice.
(2) Jesus was—(a) Emmanuel (Matthew 1:23), Himself God the Saviour; (b) Son of God (Luke 1:35), implying a pre-existent superhuman personality in Him.
(3) This union of the Divine and human natures in Christ was not fatal to the perfection of either. But it was inconsistent with the presence of anything in Christ’s manhood that could contradict the essence of the perfect moral Being, i.e. the holiness of God. If He could have sinned, the Incarnation would have been a phantom. The sharpest arrows of the tempter struck Him, but, like darts lighting upon a hard polished surface, they glanced aside. Moreover, as it would seem, the personal union of the two natures in Christ involved, at least, the sight of the Beatific Vision by His humanity; and if we cannot conceive of the blessed as sinning while they worship around the throne, much less can we conceive it in One in whom “dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”
(4) But the union of Christ’s manhood with His Godhead did not exempt it from simple human instincts, such as, e.g., a shrinking from bodily pain. See Hooker, E. P., Luke 1:48. Upon Christ’s human will in its inchoate or rudimentary stage of desire, uninformed by reason, an approaching trial might so far act as a temptation, as, e.g., to produce a wish that obedience might be compatible with escape from suffering. But it could not produce, even for one moment, any wish to be free from the law of obedience itself.
(5) Questions: (a) Is this statement consistent with Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 5:7? Yes: see Hebrews 7:26; 1 John 3:5. Scripture denies the existence, not merely of any sinful thinking or acting, but of any ultimate roots and sources of sin, of any propensities or inclinations, however latent and rudimentary, towards sin, in Christ. When therefore Scripture speaks of His perfect assimilation to us, it must be understood of physical and mental pain in all their forms, not of any moral assimilation. (b) Is this account consistent with the exigencies of Christ’s redemptive work? Certainly. He is not less truly representative of our race, because in Him it has recovered its perfection. His victory is none the less real and precious, because, morally speaking, it was inevitable. Nay, He could not have been the Sinless Victim, offered freely for a sinful world (1 Peter 3:18), unless He had been thus superior to the moral infirmities of His brethren. (c) Does not such an account impair the full form of Christ’s example? We gain in the perfection of the moral Ideal thus placed before us, to say nothing of the perfection of the Mediator between God and man, more than we can lose in moral vigour, upon discovering that His obedience was wrought out in a nature unlike our own in the one point of absolute purity. (d) But does not such an account reflect upon Christ’s moral greatness, and practically deny His moral liberty? No. The highest liberty does not imply the moral capacity of doing wrong. God is the one perfectly free Being; yet God cannot sin. The real temptation of a sinless Christ is not less precious to us than the temptation of a Christ who could have sinned would be. It forms a much truer and more perfect contrast to the failure of our first parent. It occupies a chief place in that long series of acts of condescension which begins with the Nativity and ends on the Cross. It is a lesson for all times as to the true method of resisting the tempter. Finally, it is the source of that strength whereby all later victories over Satan have been won: Christ, the Sinless One, has conquered the enemy in His sin-stained members.
1. Seasons of special grace are often succeeded by seasons of special difficulty and trial; therefore, “be not high-minded, but fear.”
2. Solitude and separation from the world are no more free from spiritual danger than a state of intercourse with one’s fellow-men.
3. While ever praying, “Lead us not into temptation,” and being careful not to run into it of one’s own accord, the Christian must remember that when he is tempted it is his duty to fight, and by God’s grace overcome.
4. Christ fought the battle, and gained the victory, with the very weapons that are in the hands of all Christians; and He now waits to succour all them that are tempted.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 1:9. The Jordan, says Dr. Otts, has so many peculiarities that it cannot be compared with any other river on the face of the globe. It is the one sacred river of Scripture—the only one. It has never been navigated, and it empties itself into a sea that has never had a port. It springs out of the snows that rest upon the lofty tops of the heaven-aspiring mountains, and it rushes madly through its narrow and ever-descending valley until it empties itself in a sea that is far below the level of all other seas. It is full of life, but after running its short career it suddenly dies away in the lap of death. At its sources, and for a long way down its course, its waters are as clear as crystal; and flashing in the sunbeams, they look like a flowing stream of molten silver; but before losing itself in the sea of death, its waters become muddy, as if filled with the filth of earth. Flowing into a sea in which no life can live, and which its unceasing flow never fills, it is a fit symbol of human life, ever descending and becoming corrupt, and finally plunging into the gulf of death which swallows up all streams flowing into it, and is never filled. In this stream was Jesus baptised, symbolising the glorious fact that He has entered the stream of our human life to redeem our souls from the sea of death into which all human life flows.
Mark 1:9-10. The baptism of our Lord.—
1. By His own conduct and example Christ here teaches us to “fulfil all righteousness.” He would have us ready and eager in our work for God—doing not as little but as much as we possibly can, determined to exceed rather than fall short.
2. By His own submission to baptism at the commencement of His ministry, He teaches us that this is the manner in which we also must begin to be His disciples.
3. As it was on His coming up out of the water that the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, so He teaches us to believe that in the sacrament of regeneration the babe baptised with water is baptised also with the Holy Spirit, who then cleanses the soul and makes it partaker of a new, even a Divine nature, by incorporation in the body of which Christ is the Head.
Christ’s baptism an epoch in His own consciousness.—We must not imagine that every day was the same to Christ, or Christ the same on every day. He had His great moments, as we have. We call the supreme moment when the soul awakens to God, and the man realises manhood, conversion. What this experience signifies to us, the moment symbolised by the baptism signified to Jesus, only with a difference in degree which His pre-eminence alone can measure. It marked His awakening to all that was involved in Messiahship; and such an awakening could not come without utmost tumult of spirit—tumult that only the solitude and struggle of tht wilderness could calm. The outward expresses the inward change. Before this moment no miracle; after it the miracles begin and go on multiplying. Before it no speech, no claim of extraordinary mission, only Divine and golden silence; after it the teaching with authority, the founding of the kingdom, the creating of the world’s light. Before it the carpenter of Nazareth, the son of Joseph and Mary, doing, in beautiful meekness, the common duties of the common day; after it the Christ of God, the Revealer of the Father, the Life and the Light of men. Now He who became so different to others had first become as different to Himself. What was soon to be revealed to the world was then made manifest to His own soul.—A. M. Fairbairn, D. D.
Mark 1:10. The Holy Ghost at the baptism of our Lord.—In pictures of Christ’s baptism one sees Jesus standing in the shallow water of the river, John from a shell or vessel pouring water on His head, and the Dove hovering over Him. The impression conveyed is that the Holy Ghost descended from heaven and lighted upon Christ during the performance of the rite, corresponding to, and a visible token of, the regenerating influence of the Spirit in Christian baptism. Yet the language of the Gospels gives no support to this idea. They all agree that the descent of the Spirit occurred after Jesus had been baptised, and when He had come up out of the river. St. Luke adds that the Holy Ghost assumed a bodily form, and that it was while Christ prayed that the descent took place. We may account for the general mistake in the artistic representation of this transaction by the prevailing notion which from primitive times has connected the Holy Spirit with the grace of baptism, and which saw in the details of the baptism of Christ a plain proof of this connexion. Of course there is a great truth in this idea, but it is not necessarily conveyed by the fact of Christ’s baptism; and if we hold this truth, we derive our belief from other sources, and not from this incident properly regarded. The general opinion is given, e.g., by Hilary: the Dove settles on the head of Jesus, in order that we might know that at our own baptism the Holy Spirit descends on us, and that we are bedewed with the unction of celestial glory, and are made the sons of God by adoption in Christ. But Jesus did not come to John’s baptism that He might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. John’s baptism did not impart grace. It was merely a formal ceremony, witnessing to the inward desire and striving of the heart. The water was a sign, and nothing more; it carried no inward and spiritual grace. Had the Holy Ghost descended as is represented in popular pictures, it would have indicated that what is true of Christian baptism was also true of John’s rite; and this we know is not the case. The baptism of John was from heaven; it was a preparation for entrance into the new kingdom; emptying Himself of, or voluntarily obscuring, His Divinity, Jesus constrained John to perform the initiatory rite, thus fulfilling all righteousness. His private life, so to speak, ended in Jordan; the consecration to His mission was to follow. So issuing from the river, He stopped upon its bank, and prayed, and the Holy Spirit descended from heaven in a bodily shape, and rested upon Him, and the heavenly voice proclaimed Him Son of God, in whom the Father was well pleased. Thus was He announced as Messiah; thus did He receive the fulness of the Spirit for His Messianic work; thus by the unction of the Spirit was He consecrated Messiah-King. One naturally sees here a lesson concerning the Christian ministry. Not natural endowments, not the ordinary grace that accompanies baptism, equip a man to exercise the office of minister in the Church of God, but the special gift of the Holy Ghost bestowed and received for this end. I would submit a further thought concerning the spiritual life and well-being of individual Christians. As Christ was not prepared and commissioned for His work without the additional effusion of the Holy Ghost, so the Christian needs the added gifts of the Spirit to fit him for his duty as the servant of Christ. If we look to the early records of the Church, we find that apostolic teachers were not satisfied with leaving to their converts only the grace which they obtained by baptism; they supplemented this by conferring upon them further good things. A practical comment on our passage in the Gospel is afforded by a transaction mentioned in Acts 19:2-6. Surely they are not to be contemned who see here a cogent argument for the practice of confirmation. To fit the neophyte for the battle of life, to enable him to play his part as Christ’s faithful soldier and servant, he needs a fresh outpouring of the Spirit with His sevenfold gifts.—W. J. Deane, M. A.
Christ comes in the strength of gentleness.—Through the ages Christ’s strength has been the strength of gentleness, and His coming has been like that of Noah’s dove with the olive branch in its beak, and the tidings of an abated flood and of a safe home on its return. The ascetic preacher of repentance was strong to shake and purge men’s hearts by terror; but the stronger Son comes to conquer by meekness, and reign by the omnipotence of love. The beginning of the gospel was the anticipation and the proclamation of strength like the eagle’s, swift of flight, and powerful to strike and destroy. The gospel, when it became a fact, and not a hope, was found in the meek Jesus, with the Dove of God, the gentle Spirit, which is mightier than all, nestling in His heart, and uttering soft notes of invitation through His lips.—A. Maclaren, D. D.
The Holy Spirit came as a dove,—a gentle, joyous creature, with no bitterness of gall, no fierceness of bite, no violence of rending claws; loving human houses, associating within one home; nurturing their young together; when they fly abroad, hanging in their flight side by side; leading their life in mutual intercourse; giving in concord the kiss of peace with the bill; in every way fulfilling the law of unanimity. This is the singleness of heart that ought to be in the Church; this is the habit of love that must be obtained.—Cyprian.
Mark 1:12-13. Lessons.—
1. We in entering upon our Christian vocation ought so to behave ourselves as Christ did in entering upon His mediatorial office. He retreated from the world, and by that retreat He virtually declared that He had nothing to do with the world. Those therefore who are called to the preaching of the gospel, or to any other the like duty, are by this example taught to wean themselves from the things of this world, and to renounce whatever may hinder them from the performance of that duty, to which they are called.
2. Christ willingly follows whither the Spirit leads Him; and what His Father commands Him that He undertakes with all alacrity: we in the like manner ought cheerfully in all things to comply with God’s will and pleasure; nothing ought to deter us from a steady performance of our duty; nor hunger, nor thirst, nor deserts, nor devils ought to be terrible to us, whilst we are safe under the conduct of Christ and His Spirit.
3. Christ soon after He was baptised was led into the wilderness to be tempted. After we have listed ourselves amongst Christ’s soldiers, we must not expect to be idle, but must prepare ourselves for battle. Christ armed Himself against the assaults of the devil by fasting; this armour He Himself did not want, but He therefore put it on, that we might learn how to arm ourselves against our spritual enemies.—Bishop Smalridge.
Mark 1:13. Jesus was tempted.—
I. That He might sympathise with us in our trials, and assist us in our times of need.—The mariner who has once been cast on an inhospitable shore hastens with greater ardour to the relief of a shipwrecked crew than the callous inhabitant of the land who has never known the dangers of the deep. The orphan knows best how to mourn with his friend the loss of a parent; the bereaved parent most tenderly sympathises in the death of a brother’s child. As we feel in ourselves, so we judge of others; and it is a consolation to us, not only that our Saviour was of the same nature and constitution as ourselves, but that hardships, miseries, and temptations of the same kind were suffered by Him, and in a manner more severe than human nature is generally called to endure. We trust that He has learned to sympathise with us, and that His sympathy will teach Him to relieve.
II. That we might learn from His example how to resist temptation and to conquer.—The only weapon that He used was the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, which is equally available for us to wield. It furnishes us with the plainest directions for holiness of life, and the most powerful motives to obey them; it shows us clearly the pitfalls in our path, and how to avoid them; it animates us with visions of heavenly things, and wondrous promises to such as overcome.
III. That we might be convinced that this is God’s appointed path to perfection.—God has had one Son without sin, but no son without temptation. Christ’s trial consisted in the invitation to accept a lower ideal than the highest, to be content with a dazzling carnal glory instead of winning His way through divinely appointed sufferings to eternal renown. He was shown how He might turn out of the steep and stony path of sacrifice into the smooth and easy road of earthly pomp and grandeur—how with the world’s weapons He might win the victory. But He sternly and emphatically refused to entertain the tempter’s suggestion; and His refusal is a clarion call to us to remain loyal to our better selves, to trust implicitly the high convictions of our souls, to take up the cross and in it find the crown. It is not he that shirks the battle, but “he that endureth to the end,” who shall be “saved”: i.e. completely emancipated from all evil around and within, and presented faultless—unimpeached—before the throne.
Three prominent points in our Lord’s temptation.—
1. The relation of the supernatural to the natural in Himself; or, on the other side, His relation to God as His ideal human Song of Song of Solomon 2:0. The relation of God to the supernatural in His person, and the official in His mission.
3. The nature of the kingdom He had come to found, and the agencies by which it was to live and extend.—A. M. Fairbairn, D. D.
Jesus the representative Man.—Jesus is here the representative Man, the Source and Head of the new humanity, the Founder of the kingdom that is to be. When He triumphs, it triumphs. When He is victorious, all are victorious that live in and by Him. And His victory, as it was for humanity, was by humanity. The supernatural energies that were in Him He did not use for Himself. In our nature, as in our name, He stood, fought, conquered. How perfectly, then, is He qualified to be at once our Saviour and Example!—Ibid.
Christ with wild beasts and angels.—
I. The companionship of the wild beasts.—
1. Not only a graphic indication that the place was wild and desolate, but also a reminder of the dominion over the lower creatures given originally to man, and doubtless exercised by our first parents unfearing and unfeared.
2. Nor can we doubt that the fiercest denizens of the wilds would become tame and gentle in the presence of “the Second Adam, the Lord from heaven”—the dumb animals rebuking the madness of all who recognise Him not!
II. The ministrations of the angels.—
1. The connexion between the three worlds—Earth, Heaven, Hell—is closer than we think.
2. Let the thought of our invisible friends banish all fear of our spiritual foes.
Christ manifested as Monarch of all.—
1. Of hell’s minions, whose assaults He triumphantly repels.
2. Of earth’s fiercest inhabitants, whose wild passions are subdued in His presence.
3. Of heaven’s angels, whose delight it is to minister to Him.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Mark 1:9-11. Christ the rainbow of the new covenant.—The baptism of our Saviour stands us under the gospel, instead of the same comfort, which the rainbow afforded unto the old world. The rainbow is a reflexion of the sunbeams in a watery cloud, and was ordained as a sign of pacification (Genesis 9:13) that God’s anger should no more strive with man. Such a rainbow was Jesus Christ (Revelation 4:3). Look upon Him, not standing majestically in a cloud above, but wading, like a humble servant, into the waters of Jordan beneath; look upon Him, how He sanctifies that element, which was once a means to drown the world, and now is made a means to save it; look upon Him in that posture, as a rainbow in the water, and you may read God’s sure covenant with His whole Church, that His anger is pacified in His well-beloved Son, and that He will be gracious with His inheritance (John 1:29; Ephesians 2:14; 1 Peter 3:21).—Bishop Hacket.
A further revelation of the Godhead.—There are some of our ancient cathedrals, such as York and Lincoln, crowned with triple towers; yet when seen afar off in the blue distance, only a single mass of building can be discerned; but when advancing on our journey nearer, we nerceive that there are towers, though perhaps we cannot clearly trace their form or number—but when we arrive yet closer, we can see and admire the grand central tower, and the two western campaniles in all their grace and majesty. So the old world was taught first to recognise the Unity of God; then as the ages passed away the Second and the Third Persons of the Trinity were revealed; and at last in the fulness of time we behold the glory of the Most Sacred Trinity made manifest to men! When the Incarnate Redeemer went down into Jordan, the heavenly light of the Divine Spirit descended “as a dove,” whilst the Father’s voice proclaimed His almighty sanction!
Mark 1:9. The fellowship of penitence.—A strange thing happened a few years ago in an American court of justice. A young man was asked if he had aught to say why the extreme penalty should not be passed upon him. At that moment a grey-haired man, his face furrowed with sorrow, stepped into the prisoner’s box unhindered, placed his hand affectionately upon the culprit’s shoulder, and said, “Your honour, we have nothing to say. The verdict which has been found against us is just. We have only to ask for mercy.” “We”!—there was nothing against the old father; yet in that moment he lost himself, and identified his very being with that of his wayward boy. So in His baptism Christ pushes His way to a place beside us, lays His hand upon the sinner’s shoulder, and bears the shame and sorrow with him.
Mark 1:12-13. Quarantania.—This wilderness has been identified, by the voice of tradition, in the Greek and Latin Churches, as that wild and lonely region between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, called in modern geography Quarantania. It is an extensive plateau, elevated to a considerable height above the plain of Jericho and the west bank of the Jordan; and hence the literal accuracy of the expression in St. Matthew, that Jesus was “led up” into the wilderness. Travellers have described it as a barren, sterile waste of painful whiteness, shut in on the west by a ridge of grey limestone hills, moulded into every conceivable shape; while on the east the view is closed by the gigantic wall of the Moab mountains, appearing very near at hand, but in reality a long way off, the deception being caused by the nature of the intervening ground, which possesses no marked features, no difference of colour on which to fix the eye for the purpose of forming an estimate of distance. Over this vast expanse of upland country there are signs of vegetation only in two or three places, where winter torrents have scooped out a channel for themselves, and stimulate year after year into brief existence narrow strips of verdure along their banks. The monotony of the landscape and the uniformity of its colouring are varied only when the glaring afternoon sun projects the shadows of the ghostly rocks across the plain, or, at rare intervals, when a snowy cloud, that seems as if born of the hills themselves, sails across the deep-blue sky and casts down on the desolate scene the cool, dark mantle of its shade. A more dreary and lonely scene it is impossible to imagine.—H. Macmillan, D.D.
Great temptations.—The story of the Temptation is peculiar, but not wholly unique. It is not without its parallel in human experience, not without its analogue in literature and history. The great heroes whom the world reveres have passed through similar experiences of test and trial. Thus, in the legends of the East, there is brought to us the story of the temptation of Buddha on that night when all the powers of evil gathered around about him to assail him by violence or to entice him by wiles.
“Nor knoweth one,
Not even the wisest, how those fiends of hell
Battled that night to keep the truth from Buddh:
Sometimes with terrors of the tempest, blasts
Of demon-armies clouding all the wind
With thunder, and with blinding lightning flung
In jagged javelins of purple wrath
From splitting skies; sometimes with wiles and words
Fair-sounding, ’mid hushed leaves and softened airs
From shapes of witching beauty; wanton songs,
Whispers of love; sometimes with royal allures
Of proffered rule; sometimes with mocking doubts,
Making truth vain.”
So, in the mythology of Greece, we have the story of the temptation of Hercules. Pleasure comes to him in wanton but bewitching form, and bids him follow her, and promises him the cup of pleasure and that he shall drink of it. She will strew his path with flowers all the way, and accompany him with song and dancing. Wisdom comes to him with sterner voice—with beauty, indeed, but with solemn and almost forbidding beauty—and calls him to combat and to battle that he may win manhood. So in the later history of the Church is the strange, mystical story of the temptation of St. Anthony, with its wiles and its enticements, with its demons inviting to sin by smiles, and its demons tormenting with red-hot pincers. In human history we find the same or like record. We have like temptations in the lives of John Wesley, of Luther, of Xavier, of Loyola. Open the page of history where you will, and you can hardly find the story of any great, noble, prophetic soul that has not had its hour of battle with the powers of darkness. As in the story of Napoleon the Great, concerning whom history tells us that for two long months he struggled over the question whether he should divorce his faithful wife and take another that he might build up a European dynasty, and came out from his chamber after the last night of battle with a face so pallid, so wrought upon by the struggle, that it was as no face he ever shewed after the hottest battlefield of Europe. But love went down before the hope of ambition in that battle; and the devil won.
Tempted like as we are.—It is recorded of the great soldier, the gallant Montrose, that finding his followers ill provided with armour, he stripped off breastplate, and steel cap, with his stout leathern coat, and rode into battle in his bared shirtsleeves, at the head of his men, to show them that he scorned to use defences of which they could not avail themselves. Even so our Great Captain laid aside the panoply of heaven, and as a man entered into the conflict.
Temptation following on privileges.—Pirates, when they see a ship set sail for a rich cargo to foreign parts, keep away, and take no notice of her; they let her go by in peace; but when she is coming back from that foreign port, laden with rich goods, the case is very different. Then the pirate uses all his efforts to take that ship, and leaves no means untried. So with us; after Holy Communion the devil knows that we are very dear to God, and have received Christ.
Satan vanquished.—There is in Tintern churchyard, not far from the grand ruins of the abbey, a defaced and broken tombstone, grass-grown, and whereon only one sentence can be read; it consists of these striking words—“I tread Satan under my feet,” not a word more; it is the record of an unknown fight, and a nameless victory over the wiles of the devil. Such may, through Christ’s help, be one day the triumphant exclamation of us all.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 1:14. John was put in prison.—Delivered up. Same word used of our Lord’s betrayal by Judas. “Such honour have all His saints.” Jesus came into Galilee.—From Jerusalem, where He had been teaching most of the time since His baptism (John 2:13 to John 4:3).
Mark 1:15. Repent ye, and believe.—We have an echo of this Divine keynote in the first sermon preached by Peter at Pentecost (Acts 2:38).
Mark 1:16. As He walked.—As He was passing along by the seashore towards Capernaum, He encountered four disciples of the Baptist whom He had previously met and impressed (John 1:35-42 : cf. Luke 5:1-11). Casting a net.—Casting about (a hand-net) in the sea. Here is one of the many graphic touches in this Gospel which betray the source of Mark’s inspiration. Who but one of the two men engaged in the business would have thought of putting it in this way?
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 1:14-20
(PARALLELS: Matthew 4:17-22; Luke 4:14-15; Luke 5:1-11.)
Christ’s early Galilean preaching and first disciples.—What St. Mark here records is not the beginning of Christ’s ministerial work, but His first preaching in Galilee. St. John alone fills up the gap between our Lord’s temptation and the imprisonment of the Baptist. From him we know of the Baptist’s testimony to Jesus at Bethabara (Bethany, R. V.) beyond Jordan, and the impression it made on some of his disciples; of the marriage feast at Cana of Galilee; of Christ’s first passover at Jerusalem, cleansing of temple, and discourse with Nicodemus; of His continued ministry in Judea, baptising by His disciples, and receiving further testimony from the Baptist (chaps, 1–3). Then St. John mentions, in common with the other Evangelists, Christ’s departure from Judea into Galilee after the Baptist’s imprisonment; but he supplements their narrative by telling us of the incident on the way at Jacob’s well near Sychar, the discourse with the woman of Samaria, and the gaining of many believers among the Samaritans; stating also as an incidental reason for Christ’s going to Galilee, that the Pharisees had heard that “Jesus made and baptised more disciples than John” (Mark 4:1-41).
I. The Forerunner’s public ministry is closed.—
1. The last time we heard of the Baptist, he occupied a position of peculiar honour. His popularity was great, his influence permeating all classes of society. It looked as if the nation had come to its senses, and was ready to welcome its King. But, alas! the impression proved but transitory; the King, when they saw Him, proved very different from what their carnal fancy had painted; and so in bitter disappointment they turned from the Forerunner who (as they deemed it) had misled them, and took no heed when Herod seized and shut him in prison.
2. But the Baptist, although imprisoned, is not silenced. If he has been stopped working for God, he can still suffer in His cause. Moreover, even in prison he is able to direct his disciples to “Him who should come” for the solution of their difficulties (Matthew 11:2-3). And in the conscience of Herod (and doubtless of many others) his faithful testimony continued to ring long after his death (Mark 6:14; Mark 6:16).
II. The One mightier than he takes the Forerunner’s place.—
1. No man’s service is essential to God. Though the workman be buried—whether in prison or the grave—He can and will find means to carry on the work. What we often regard as hindrances to the Lord’s cause are really its greatest helps. It is not possible for a man to be “cut off in the midst of his usefulness,” as we term it. He cannot be cut off till his work is done, and it is time for him to make way for his successor. God never makes a mistake in these matters, and He is never off guard.
2. The world will never succeed in suppressing the truth. The gospel has come here to stay; and no power on earth—or in hell—can dislodge or muffle it. Every religious persecution since the world began has resulted in the overthrow of the assailants and the firmer establishment of those assailed. The blood of the martyrs has in every case become the seed-plot of the Church, for its further development and ultimate triumph.
III. The message of Jesus is a distinct advance upon that of the Baptist.—
1. While still enforcing repentance, He announces further that the time which was formerly said to be at hand has now arrived, and the gospel which He preaches must not only be believed, but believed in—relied upon as the panacea for every human ill. Faith is the hand on earth which grasps and holds on to the Divine hand reached down from heaven to strengthen and to aid.
2. He takes steps for the establishment of the kingdom of God. Few things are more striking, as a revelation of God’s method, than the measured tread with which Christ went forward to this grand enterprise. The Jews in general were eagerly desiring a liberator, who should gird his sword upon his thigh, and through bloodshed restore to them something of their ancient prestige. But Jesus is a Man of peace; His rallying cry bids them turn their weapons against no extraneous foe, but against their own darling lusts and passions. He calls upon them to repent; to change their minds, hearts, hopes, ambitions; to put off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and to put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness; to accept the truth, which alone can make them free. For this purpose the kingdom of God is at hand; and in Him who speaks (though He does not tell them so) they behold its King. Such doctrine could only be received by a few here and there in the nation, and to them alone does He make His revelation in its fulness.
3. What is the kingdom of God?
(1) This inquiry is most important; for the kingdom—(a) is revealed to us by God; (b) is the principal subject of Christ’s teaching throughout His entire ministry, most of His parables being illustrative of it; (c) is specially emphasised after His resurrection (Acts 1:3).
(2) The origin of this kingdom may be clearly traced. (a) The Mosaic economy was the kingdom of God in embryo. See Matthew 8:12; Acts 4:11; Acts 7:38; Romans 9:4; Romans 11:17; Hebrews 12:22-24. That which existed Christ came to expand, extend, and perfect (Matthew 5:7). But this work was like a new creation, a new birth of the kingdom (Luke 14:16). (b) The kingdom of God is therefore spoken of as “to come” by the Baptist (Matthew 3:2), by our Lord (Matthew 4:17; Matthew 14:18), by the apostles during their first mission (Matthew 10:7), and just before the Ascension (Acts 1:6). (c) Immediately after Pentecost the kingdom is spoken of as now come (Acts 2:16-47), and henceforth it is generally called “the Church.”
(3) The nature of this kingdom may be ascertained from the figures under which it is represented in Scripture, (a) A state (civitas) (Matthew 5:14). (b) A family, of which God is the Father (Ephesians 3:14-15). (c) The vineyard of God (Isaiah 5:1, etc.; Matthew 21:33, etc.). (d) A vine (Psalms 80:8, etc: cp. John 15:1-2). (e) A flock and a fold (Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34:11, etc.; John 10:0). (f) A body, the Head of which is Christ (Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:18), and which the Holy Spirit inhabits (John 14:17; cp. 1 Corinthians 12:13). (g) The fulness of God (Ephesians 1:22). From all this it clearly follows that the claims and rights of the Church are the claims and rights of Christ through His body: what is done to the Church is done to Christ. While she may suffer persecution (John 16:2), and men may reject her to their own hurt (Isaiah 60:12), or may be deprived of her on account of their sins (Matthew 21:43), yet she cannot be destroyed, for Christ is always with her (Matthew 28:20), and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her (Matthew 16:18).
IV. The calling and training of disciples are marked features in the ministry of Jesus.—
1. The manner of their calling is deeply instructive.
(1) He honours diligence in lowly occupations. He thinks, not of the work, but of the spirit in which it is done.
(2) He chooses the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty, … that no flesh should glory in His presence.
(3) He demands self-sacrifice from the very beginning. If any one be inclined to urge that it was not much these men left, let him remember it was their all. And there is no tempting bait dangled before their eyes to lure them on. The promise of “twelve thrones” was not made till long afterwards. All they are offered is, that if they follow Jesus He will make them fishers of men, like Himself.
2. As to their training, let these facts be noted.
(1) Christ deliberately makes provision, from the first, for the perpetuity of His kingdom.
(2) He bestows personal attention on the spiritual education of those who are hereafter to be His earthly representatives and vicegerents.
(3) He puts them in a position to testify as to His words and works.
1. Trust in God, who is all-sufficient for any and every emergency.
2. Use every possible means and occasion for furthering God’s work.
3. Despise none of the ordinances of Christ’s Church. 4. The following of Christ is to be preferred to the business of the world.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 1:14. The audience first addressed by our Lord.—Did Jesus, it has been asked, first address Himself to a small circle of acquaintances, or did He teach in public from the beginning of His ministry? The latter is more likely. It does not seem probable that He began to work in secret amongst a few individuals; for although He would at any time gladly go out of His way to restore a single wanderer to the path of virtue, yet, after all, His message was designed primarily for the whole nation. Moreover, publicity was as much in keeping with the character of the age as with our Lord’s intention; and He could not fail to find abundant opportunities of speaking to the populace.
The kingdom a gospel.—Jesus Christ preached the kingdom of God as a gospel: rightly understood it is not a despotism, it is not a terror; it is the supremacy of light, of truth, of love.—J. Parker, D.D.
Mark 1:15. The kingdom of God—
I. The nature of true religion, here termed “the kingdom of God.” St. Paul defines it in Romans 14:17.
1. It is well known, that not only the unconverted Jews, but many who had received the faith of Christ, were, notwithstanding, zealous of the ceremonial law (Acts 21:20).
2. In opposition to these, the apostle declares, that true religion does not consist in any outward thing whatever; that although it naturally leads to every good word and work, yet its real nature lies deeper still, even in “the hidden man of the heart.”
(1) “Righteousness”: see Mark 12:30-31.
(2) “The peace of God,” which God only can give, and the world cannot take away; the peace which “passeth all understanding,” all barely rational conception; being a supernatural sensation, a divine taste, of “the powers of the world to come”; such as the natural man knoweth not, how wise soever in the things of this world; nor indeed can he know it, in his present state, “because it is spiritually discerned.” It is a peace that banishes all doubt, uncertainty, fear.
(3) “Joy in the Holy Ghost”—joy wrought in the heart by the ever-blessed Spirit. He it is who works in us that calm, humble rejoicing in God, through Christ Jesus, “by whom we have now received the atonement,” and who enables us boldly to confirm the truth of the declaration (Psalms 32:1).
3. This holiness and happiness, joined in one, are sometimes styled “the kingdom of God,” and sometimes “the kingdom of heaven.”
(1) It is termed “the kingdom of God,” because it is the immediate fruit of God’s reigning in the soul.
(2) It is called “the kingdom of heaven,” because it is (in a degree) heaven opened in the soul (see 1 John 5:11-12; John 17:3).
4. And this kingdom is “at hand.” These words, as originally spoken, implied that “the time” was then fulfilled, God being “made manifest in the flesh,” when He would set up His kingdom among men, and reign in the hearts of His people. And is not the time now fulfilled? The kingdom is not far from every one of you.
II. The way to the kingdom.—
1. “Repent”: that is, know thyself—the inbred corruption of thy heart—the bitter streams of vanity, ambition, covetousness, and all kinds of lusts flowing from it—the actual sins of which thou art continually guilty—and the just reward of thy inward and outward wickedness. If to this lively conviction of thy utter guiltiness and helplessness there be added suitable affections—sorrow of heart, for having despised thy own mercies—remorse, and self-condemnation, having thy mouth stopped—shame to lift up thine eyes to heaven—fear of the wrath of God abiding on thee—earnest desire to cease from evil, and learn to do well,—then “thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” One step more, and thou shalt enter in.
2. “Believe the gospel.”
(1) The gospel, in the widest sense, means the whole revelation made to men by Jesus Christ, and sometimes the whole account of what He did and suffered. The substance of all is (1 Timothy 1:15; John 3:16; Isaiah 53:5):
(2) “Believe” this, and the kingdom of God is thine. By faith thou attainest the promise. Only beware thou do not deceive thy own soul, with regard to the nature of this faith. It is not merely a bare assent to the truth of the Bible and Creeds, but, over and above this, a sure trust in God’s mercy through Christ.—John Wesley.
The requirements of the kingdom of God.—
1. An assertion: “The time is fulfilled”—the time of patriarchs, prophets, types and figures, etc.
2. A prediction: “The kingdom of God is at hand.”
(1) Foretold by Daniel.
(2) Not in word, but in power; subduing passions of men, and enmity of demons.
(3) Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
(4) Of this kingdom there is no end.
3. A twofold duty.
(1) “Repent.” This includes—(a) sorrow for, confession of, and fleeing from sin; (b) striving after holiness.
(2) “Believe the gospel.” God’s free gift, in spite of man’s ill desert. Embodied in Christ. Look to Him for—(a) pardon, (b) renewal, (c) heavenward impulses. And give God the glory.
The distinctive qualities, aspects, and relations of the kingdom are thus stated by Dr. A. M. Fairbairn:—
1. It is present, an already existing reality, none the less real that it was unseen, undiscovered by the very men who professed to be looking for it (Luke 6:20; Luke 17:20-21; Matthew 20:1).
2. It is expansive, has an extensive and intensive growth, can have its dominion extended and its authority more perfectly recognised and obeyed (Matthew 6:10; Matthew 13:3-8; Matthew 13:19-23.)
3. It does its work silently and unseen; grows without noise, like the seed in the ground. And its intensive is as silent as its expansive action. It penetrates and transforms the man who enters it (Matthew 18:1-3; Luke 18:17; John 3:3-5).
4. It creates and requires righteousness in all its subjects (Matthew 6:33; Matthew 5:19-20).
5. It is the possession and reward of those who have certain spiritual qualities (Matthew 5:3; Matthew 5:10; Matthew 18:4).
6. It is without local or national character, can have subjects anywhere, has none for simply formal or hereditary reasons (Matthew 8:11; Matthew 21:31; Luke 13:29).
7. It is at once universal and individual, meant to be preached everywhere and to every one, to comprehend the race by pervading all its units (Matthew 24:14).
8. It is to be an everlasting kingdom, to endure throughout all generations.
Faith and repentance.—Faith and repentance keep up a Christian’s life, as the natural heat and radical moisture do the natural life. Faith is like the innate heat; repentance like the natural moisture. And as the philosopher saith, if the innate heat devour too much the radical moisture, or, on the contrary, there breed presently diseases, so, if believing make a man repent less, or repenting make a man believe less, this turneth to a distemper. Lord, cast me down (said a holy man upon his death-bed) as low as hell in repentance, and lift me up by faith into the highest heavens, in confidence of Thy salvation.—John Trapp.
Mark 1:16. The Sea of Galilee fills a large place in the life of Jesus; on its waters and around its shores most of His mighty works were done.
1. It was originally called the Sea of Chinnereth, either from its shape resembling a harp, or from a town of that name near by (Numbers 34:11; Joshua 12:3; cp. Joshua 19:35).
2. It was afterwards called the Lake of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1), which some consider a corruption of the earlier name; but it is more likely to have been so called from the Plain of Gennesar, so rich in beauty and fertility, on its western shore.
3. The name Sea of Galilee was derived from the province which bordered on its western side (Matthew 4:18; Mark 7:31).
4. Another name was the Sea of Tiberias (John 21:1), from Tiberias, which, although only recently founded by Herod Antipas in the time of our Lord, had become a large and flourishing town by the time St. John wrote.
5. The name given it at the present day, by Jews and Christians alike, is the Sea of the Messiah. To Christians it is the Sea of the Messiah who has come, to Jews the Sea of the Messiah for whom they still vainly look.
6. The industries engaged in were “agriculture and fruit-growing, dyeing and tanning, with every department of a large carrying trade; but chiefly fishing, boat-building, and fish-curing. Of the last, which spread the lake’s fame over the Roman world, before its fishermen and their habits became familiar through the gospel, there is no trace in the Evangelists. The fisheries themselves were pursued by thousands of families. They were no monopoly; but the fishing-grounds, best at the north end where the streams entered, were free to all. And the trade was very profitable.” See article by Prof. G. A. Smith, in Expositor, May 1893.
The chosen lake.—The Jewish Rabbis had a tradition which they expressed thus: “Seven lakes have I created, saith the Lord; but out of them all I have chosen none but the Lake of Gennesaret.” How have these words been fulfilled, in ways of which the Rabbis never dreamed! It is the chosen lake of Providence. Its dimensions are not large. It measures only thirteen miles by six. It does not lie high up above the ordinary homes of men. Nay, it is in a strange depression on the globe—more than six hundred feet below the level of the sea. Yet it is the fountain-head of a living water that has flowed equally to palaces and huts, and that has quenched a thirst in souls of all conditions beyond the power of this world’s wine.—T. Starr King.
Christ’s activity in doing good.—Walking was His constant exercise, to find out objects of spiritual and corporal mercy. This account St. Peter gives of Him, that “He went about,” walked over all the country ere He had done, beginning from Galilee; but He did not walk only for the walk’s sake. “He went about,” says he, “doing good, and healing all manner of diseases.” He “went about,” as the sun goes his round, to dispense light and warmth, to communicate life and vigour to everything his active beams light upon. All His steps, whither ever He went, dropt fatness. Oh, may every pious soul not miss to meet Him in His walks! And sure enough it may, it shall do so, if itself continue to keep in His ways. So unwearied was His love, that, even to His bodily weariness, with indefatigable pains He walked up and down, to scatter health to the sick and salvation to sinners. He took a survey of the whole country, measured it with His own paces, and streamed forth blessings wherever He came. It fared with all places, with all persons, that touched Him, or He them, that came near Him, or that He came near, as it did with the woman that had the issue of blood, that they found virtue come from Him. And so it was here.—A. Littleton, D.D.
Mark 1:16-20. The Master’s call answered.—
I. The Master’s call.—
1. It is a call first to discipleship, and then to apostleship. Personal holiness must precede Christian usefulness. Faith must go before works. Let the heart first be given to Christ, and the dedication of hands, feet, tongue, and brain will naturally follow. To reverse this order is to mistake root for fruit, cause for effect.
2. It is a call to cast in one’s lot with Christ, and receive the impress of His life. How could we talk of self-sacrifice in connexion with Christ’s service, if we realised that He only asks us to relinquish what is ruinous to our souls, in order that He may fill us with the riches of His heavenly storehouse?
II. The servants’ answer.—What these men replied in words we know not; but their action was full of the best eloquence.
1. It was a prompt decision. Ready obedience is at the same time the easiest and the most valuable.
2. It was a lasting decision. These men had then little idea of all that was involved in following Christ and becoming fishers of men. Yet, when the full import of their choice became known to them, they never flinched, or looked back with regret to the things they had given up; for in Christ they found every satisfaction of life intensified a thousandfold—nay, they learnt that without Christ earth’s fairest scenes and chief delights are as a howling wilderness or as a neverresting, shoreless sea. Let us, like them, hear when Christ speaks, obey when Christ commands, believe when Christ promises, and follow whither Christ leads.
Christ and His servants.—
1. Christ is the preparer of His servants: “I will make you”—how much was involved in that promise!
2. Small beginnings compatible with sublime results.
3. The claims of God override all other claims—the sons left their father.
4. The discharge of common duties the best preparation for higher calls—two were casting the net into the sea, and two were mending their nets. The transition from one duty to another need not be abrupt. The humblest duty may be very near the highest honour.
5. The place of the servant is after the Master—“Come ye after Me”; they are not invited to equal terms—they must walk in the King’s shadow.—J. Parker, D.D.
Jesus and John.—Jesus, in the silent conflicts of the wilderness, prepares for the open conflicts of life—takes the place of John, delivered to death by the carnal mind.
1. The history: a testimony—
(1) that He honoured the Baptist;
(2) did not fear the enemy;
(3) was faithful to His people and vocation.
2. The doctrine:
(1) The witnesses of the kingdom cannot be destroyed;
(2) After every seeming triumph of the kingdom of darkness still stronger heroes of God come forward.
3. Christ is always Himself victorious at last in every scene.—J. P. Lange, D.D.
The mighty calling of the Lord.—
1. Gentler than any human request.
2. Mightier than any human command.
3. Unique as the victorious wooing of heavenly love.—Ibid.
The calling of Jesus.—
1. To one thing—into His discipleship and the fellowship of His Spirit, or to the Father.
2. To many things—to discipleship and mastership, to co-operation, to fellowship in suffering, and community in triumph.—Ibid.
The spiritual and the worldly vocations of Christians.—
The twofold earthly companionship of the disciples a foundation for the higher.—
1. Companions in fishing—companions in fishing for men.
2. Brethren after the flesh—spiritual brethren.—Ibid.
The Christian and ecclesiastical vocations in harmony with the sacred natural obligations of life.—Ibid.
Christ’s glance.—One glance of the Lord, and He knows the heart under its rough garment.—Bauer.
The brotherhoods of life.—The world is covered with a network of brotherhoods. The first and simplest relationships run on and out in every direction, and multiply themselves till hardly any man stands entirely alone.
1. The cause of this interwoven network, this reticulation of life with life, is the whole system of nature by which each human being takes its start from another human being, and is kept, for a time at least, in associations of company and dependence with the being from whom it sprang and with the other beings who have the same source with it.
2. Such relationships are full of mutual helpfulness and pleasure.
3. One final cause or purpose of this interlacing of life with life, by natural and indissoluble kinships, may be just this—the providing, as it were, of open communications, of a system of shafts or channels piercing this human mass in every direction, crossing and recrossing one another, through which those higher influences, which ought to reach every corner, and every individual of the great structural humanity, may be freely carried everywhere, and no most remote or insignificant atom of the mass be totally and necessarily untouched.—Bishop Phillips Brooks.
Mark 1:17. Four kinds of apostles.—There are four sorts of apostles, according to Jerome.
1. Some are sent only from God, and not by men.
(1) Immediately from God the Father, as the prophets under the law (2 Peter 1:21), Jesus Christ (John 20:21), and the Baptist (John 1:6) in the beginning of the gospel.
(2) Immediately from God the Son, in His state mortal, as the twelve (Matthew 10:5): in His state glorious, as St. Paul (Acts 9:15).
2. Others are sent by men, and not by God: as they who being unworthy both in respect of their bad learning and worse living, yet crowd into the ministry, by alliance, favour, or simony.
3. Others are neither chosen of God, nor called by men: as the false prophets (Jeremiah 23:21; John 10:1).
4. Others are both chosen by God and called by men (Acts 20:28; Acts 14:23).
Jesus calls us.—
1. O’er the tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea.
2. From the worship of the vain world’s golden store.
3. From each idol.
4. In our joys and sorrows, days of toil, and hours of ease.
Fraternity.—Christ loves not singularity; He called not one alone. He loves not schism either between them whom He calls; and therefore He calls persons likely to agree—“two brethren.” So He began to build the synagogues, to establish that first government in Moses and Aaron—“brethren”; so He begins to build the Church in Peter and Andrew—“brethren.” The principal fraternity and brotherhood that God respects is spiritual brethren in the profession of the same true religion (Exodus 4:14; Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).—John Donne, D.D.
Association in work.—Single endeavours seldom prosper: many hands make the work both quick and sure. They can be no friends to the happy estate of a family or Church that labour to cause distractions. Division makes certain way to ruin (Luke 10:1; Acts 11:30; Acts 13:2; Acts 15:2; Acts 15:39-40).—Bishop Joseph Hall.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Mark 1:14. Eastern prisons.—In the East imprisonment means a far harder fate, as a rule, than we can realise. At Gaza I saw a crowd of men caged up in a small barred space, with no room to move, and no means of attending to they personal cleanliness; and at Rome, the Tullianum, below the Capitol, still shews, in its subterranean horrors, the dire misery inflicted in antiquity, on persons accused, whether innocent or guilty. John, however, must, at times, have been allowed to sit—perhaps in another Gaza cage—where he could see and be seen, for his disciples could converse with him.—C. Geikie, D. D.
Mark 1:15. After John comes Christ.—The human heart is a castle; repentance is the gate that opens to admit the gospel. If that gate is not opened, heaven’s artillery must flame forth against it. Christ comes to the loyal heart as a welcome guest, to the rebellious as a conquering king. What the water cannot purify, the fire must burn.
The longer repentance is delayed, the harder it becomes.—Blot a copy-book all over, and you will find it a hard matter to erase the marks. Twist the growing sapling, and you will never be able to straighten it, when it is grown. Here comes in the story of the boy whose father drove a nail into a post for every fault, and took one out for every good action. Once it happened that the post was entirely cleared. “Ah, father,” said the boy in tears, “the marks are left!”
Low in repentance, but high in faith.—An old saint, on his death-bed, once used this remarkable expression: “Lord, sink me low as hell in repentance; but”—and here is the beauty of it—“lift me high as heaven in faith.” The repentance that sinks a man low as hell is of no use except there is the faith that lifts him as high as heaven, and the two are perfectly consistent with each other. Oh, how blessed it is to know where these two lines meet—the stripping of repentance, and the clothing of faith!
Christ’s watchword: Repent!—In His recorded career the close student can find every modern character met by Christ and instructed. In these cures of sick souls is there a common base-line of operations? If you look in at a watchmaker’s window, you find the repairer doing a different thing to almost every watch. One wants a new mainspring, but otherwise is in good order; another has no fault with the mainspring, but wants new jewels. Another has neither of these faults, but a broken crystal. At least we may say there is no one fault which in every watch demands repairing. The souls of men which Christ repaired, are they like the watches, each righted in different ways, and only casually presenting the same defect? Is Zaccheus repaired as to avarice, and otherwise not touched; Paul as to intense bigotry, a very different fault you see; the outcast as to chastity; Nicodemus as to his opinions, but otherwise not, and not needing? Is Christ’s salvation patchwork? Or is there in every soul which the Restorer set right one and the same radical fault, treated in reality in the same way, though with different outward methods of approach? To every man He said, “Repent.” It is the common base-line of cure. It is as if the mainspring was broken in us all.—E. J. Haynes.
“Repent.”—Christ began His ministry with that word, preaching it. Think what it is to preach “Repent” to a promiscuous audience. Are there none who need not the message? You are a physician, and before you stand three men. You preach a cure to them, feeling no man’s pulse, nor taking other diagnosis. “Diet, gentlemen. Be careful of your food, that’s the cure.” “But, doctor,” objects the first man, “that applies to the next man, for he has gout; I, however, have a broken leg, and the third man a cataract on the eye.” Multiply the three men by one hundred. It is the city hospital. How absurd this curing at arm’s-length, standing at one end of the ward, with one word. Not a specific hospital, not if all its sufferers had trouble of the eye, could be so treated. Yet Christ stood and preached to hundreds of sick souls, and sent His ministers to do likewise, with one word, “Repent.” Every man needs then to repent; it is the beginning of the cure, if the Physician is to be believed.—Ibid.
The salvation of man depends upon his subjection to the rule of God.—To a ship’s company who have mutinied and deposed their captain, who alone knows how to steer the vessel, there can be no deliverance from tempest or from rocks, except by their submission and renewed allegiance. To a world fallen into disbelief and disobedience, there can be no hope except through the obedience of faith. To a revolted world groaning and travailing under the usurper’s heel, there can be no gospel but the glad tidings of the reign of God.
The gospel call.—There is a touching poem by Felicia Hemans, in which she describes a Crusader who has been taken captive by the Saracens, and who, whilst chained in the dungeons of some fortress in Palestine, hears the sound of a Crusading squadron passing through the valley beneath the towers of the castle where he lies in fetters. He listens to the tramp of the horsemen, the murmur of their words, and the high, clear notes of the trumpets, as they ring out with a challenge as they pass along, and then those notes grow fainter and weaker and pass away altogether. Not so, however, with the trumpet voice of the gospel’s call. Again and again it summons the sinner to repent and believe—to escape by God’s grace from the dungeon of evil habits, and to obey the call of God.
God demands belief.—“What does that mean?” said a Christian disciple to an elder brother, as he referred to a certain passage of Scripture. “What does it say?” was the answer. He read the passage over. “It says so and so.” “Well, then, it means what it says.” This first lesson in Scriptural exposition is one of the most important that can be learned. A preacher of the gospel once addressed a note to another minister, inquiring, “How do you interpret such and such passages?” The answer was about as follows: “Dear sir, I do not interpret God’s Word; I believe it, and I advise you to do the same.”
Mark 1:16. The Sea of Galilee.—Dr. Tristram, describing his approach to the Sea of Galilee from Nazareth, says: “For nearly three hours we had ridden on, with Hermon in front, sparkling through its light cloud-mantle, but still no sight of the Sea of Galilee. One ridge after another had been surmounted, when on a sudden the calm blue basin, slumbering in placid sweetness beneath its surrounding wall of hills, burst upon us, and we were looking down on the hallowed scenes of our Lord’s ministry. We were on the brow of a very steep bill. Below us was a narrow plain, sloping to the sea, the beach of which we could trace to its northern extremity. At our feet lay the city of Tiberias, the only remaining town on its shores, enclosed by crumbling fortifications, with shattered but once massive round bastions. Along that fringe, could we have known where to find them, lay the remains of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Opposite to us were the heights of the country of the Gadarenes, and the scene of the feeding of the five thousand. On some one of the slopes beneath us the Sermon on the Mount was delivered. The first gaze on the Sea of Galilee, lighted up with the bright sunshine of a spring afternoon, was one of the moments of life not soon or easily forgotten. It was different from my expectations; our view was so commanding. In some respect it recalled in miniature the first view of the Lake of Geneva, from the crest of the Jura, as it is approached by the old Besançon road—Hermon taking the place of Mont Blanc, the Plain of Gennesaret recalling the Pays de Vaud, and the steep banks opposite the bold coast of Savoy. All looked small for the theatre of such great events, but all the incidents seemed brought together as in a diorama. There was a calm peacefulness in the look of these shores on the west, with the paths by the water’s edge, which made them the fitting theatre for the delivery of the message of peace and reconciliation.”
Fishermen make ready converts.—It is a singular fact that the fisher caste have been in every country in India the earliest converts to the Roman Catholic Church, so much so as to render it worthy of inquiry, whether it be only a coincidence, or the result of some permanent and predisposing cause. Is it that there is an habitual tendency to veneration of the Supreme Being in “those who go down to the sea in ships, and see His power in the great deep”? Or is it that, being a low caste themselves, the fishers of India and Ceylon acquire a higher status by espousing Christianity? Or have they some sympathy with a religion whose first apostles and teachers were the fishermen of Galilee?—Sir J. E. Tennant.
The casting-net is a fine web of strong material, generally beautiful in every workmanlike respect. When open, it is either circular or more or less conical. Its rim carries leaden weights, to sink it to the bottom when thrown. It is often used from boats, and that even when a seine is used at the same time; but still oftener from the rocky shore. The fisherman runs along the rocks with his net on his arm, drawn up into a rope-like bundle, and wound about above his wrist. His motions are very stealthy as he nears the place to throw; his net is taken into his hand, with the slack so disposed as to work just as he wants it; sometimes using one hand, sometimes two hands, for the throw. As he comes to the spot, instantly the net flies off, expanding from a lean, wet swab to a circle, and thus goes down upon and into the water, with little splash; perhaps close by, perhaps thirty feet away. Scarcely has the net touched the water before the thrower is in after it; for if he was not already naked his garment is off in a twinkling. He dives down, gathers up the net by its edge, and then comes back, to take out the fish and wrap them up in the bosom of his garment.—Prof. I. H. Hall.
Mark 1:17. Ministers are fishers.—A busy profession, a toilsome calling, no idle man’s occupation, as the vulgar conceive it, nor needless trade, taken up at last to pick a living out of. Let God’s fishermen busy themselves as they must, sometimes in preparing, sometimes in mending, sometimes in casting abroad, sometimes in drawing in the net, that they may “separate the precious from the vile,” etc. (Jeremiah 15:19; Matthew 13:48); and no man shall have just cause to twit them with idleness, or to say they have an easy life.—John Trapp.
The minister as a fisherman must fit himself for his employment.—If some fish will bite only by day, he must fish by day; if others will bite only by moonlight, he must fish for them by moonlight.—Richard Cecil.
Fishers of men.—I have known a congregation so full of kindly Christian workers that in the low neighbourhood in which they worked they got the nickname of “Grippers.” Some, hearing the name, thought it must be a new sect, but it only marked the old apostolic quality. All Christians ought to pray for this power of catching souls. It is not violence, loudness, or terror that gives it; but love, goodness, the clear and strong convictions that come from following Christ.—R. Glover.
Christ’s power to shape men.—In a rough stone, a cunning lapidary will easily foresee what his cutting, and his polishing, and his art will bring that stone to. A cunning statuary discerns in a marble stone under his feet, where there will arise an eye, and an ear, and a hand, and other lineaments to make it a perfect statue. Much more did our Saviour Christ, who was Himself the author of that disposition in them, foresee in these fishermen an inclinableness to become useful in that great service of His Church. Therefore He took them from their own ship, but He sent them from His Cross; He took them weatherbeaten with north and south winds, and rough-cast with foam and mud; but He sent them back soupled, and smoothed, and levigated, quickened, and inanimated with that spirit which He had breathed into them; He took fishermen, and He sent fishers of men.—J. Donne, D. D.
Mark 1:18. Following Christ at cost to self.—In 1695 Madame Guyon was imprisoned in the Castle of Vincennes, on her refusal to abandon her religious convictions, and cease to preach Christ to her friends. To her brother, who besought her to throw off her religion, she wrote, “If your house, my dear brother, had been made of precious stones, and if I could have been treated and honoured in it as a queen, yet I should have forsaken all to follow after God.” It is said of Nebridius that he left his native country, where he lived in great luxury, forsook friends and kindred, to go into a foreign city to live, in the most ardent search after truth and wisdom. He forsook all to become a disciple of wisdom. So must we make everything else of a secondary nature, and give Christ the firstfruits of our hands, hearts, hopes.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 1:21. Capernaum was at that time a flourishing commercial town on north-western shore of lake. A customs station, with military quarters. Its synagogue was the gift of a centurion (Luke 7:5). Here Jesus healed Simon’s wife’s mother, the centurion’s servant, and a paralytic; called Levi from the toll-house; and discoursed on humility, and on the bread of life.
Mark 1:22. Not as the scribes.—They could only insist on the observance of petty rules invented by men like themselves; whereas He dived deep down to eternal principles, which bore the manifest impress of the Divine approval. Moreover, His teaching—unlike theirs—was exemplified to the letter in His pure and holy life.
Mark 1:23. With an unclean spirit.—In, i.e. in the power of—subject to—influenced or possessed by. The demon had apparently obtained complete ascendency over the wretched man, whose whole mind was now given up to uncleanness. But, as to this, see note by Dr. Maitland on pp. 32, 33.
Mark 1:24. Let us alone.—This exclamation was probably imported here from Luke 4:34, where it signifies the demon’s resentment at Christ’s interference. What have we to do with Thee?—What common ground is there between us? Truly, none whatever. They were far as the poles asunder—the “unclean spirit,” and the “Holy One of God.”
Mark 1:25. Jesus rebuked.—The Saviour endorses the demon’s admission of the infinite distance which separated them morally the one from the other, and refuses to accept at his mouth even so much as an acknowledgment of His own Divine claims. Throughout His ministry Christ never for a moment countenances anything that might be construed into a truce with Satan or his emissaries—anything that could give colour to the sneer of the Pharisees that by the prince of demons He cast out demons.
Mark 1:27. What thing is this?—What is this? New teaching with authority! He commandeth even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him!
Mark 1:30. Lay sick of a fever.—Was prostrated with a burning fever. Intermittent fever and dysentery, the latter often fatal, are common Arabian diseases.
Mark 1:32. At even.—When the disappearance of the natural sun announced the close of the Sabbath, the Sun of Righteousness arose with healing in His wings.
Mark 1:33. All the city was gathered.—What a picture would linger in Peter’s memory of this unwonted assemblage in front of his own house!
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 1:21-34
(PARALLELS: Luke 4:31-41; Matthew 8:14-17.)
A Sabbath in Capernaum.—I. Two places compete for the honour or shame of being the site of Capernaum—Tell Hum at the northern extremity, and Khan Minyeh at the north-western corner.
1. At the former there have been found the remains of a synagogue built of white marble, the style of which belongs to the Herodian period; and the following circumstance respecting it may be worthy of consideration. It appears to have been usual to carve over the doorway of these buildings an emblem, which, in every case known save one, was “the seven-branched candlestick,” signifying that they were set apart chiefly for illumination or instruction. The one exception is at Tell Hum, where the carving represents “the pot of manna” surrounded by a vine and cluster of grapes. Now it was in the synagogue at Capernaum that Christ delivered His discourse about the “manna” and the “living bread which came down from heaven”; and it has been conjectured, with some show of reason, that He who so frequently based His teaching on some object in sight at the time, may have brought the conversation round to this point on purpose, because the unusual emblem formed so happy an illustration of His subject. See John 6:24-59.
2. Dr. Otts, a recent American traveller, writes as follows, in support of the claim of Khan Minyeh:—Without entering into the controversy, or presuming to dogmatise, we settle down on Khan Minyeh as the site of “His own city,” in which was the Jesus-house, contemptuously called, in His day, by the unbelieving Jews, “the house of the heretic,” and ever since known as such in tradition. In this city Jesus had a house. It is spoken of in the Gospels as “the house,” and was doubtless known by His friends and foes as “the Jesus-house.” It may have been a hired house, like that in which Paul lived and preached at Rome, engaged and maintained by His friends and followers as the place where He met with His disciples, and received all who sought the benedictions of His holy ministry. It seems that when He first went to Capernaum to make His home there, He lodged with Peter while this house was being procured and prepared for His use; and while staying in Peter’s house, He healed his wife’s mother of a fever, etc.
II. The synagogue was a term applied both to the congregation of Jews in a provincial town, and to the place where it assembled—on the Sabbath for worship, and during the week for instruction, discussion, and administration of justice. The origin of this institution is lost in obscurity. As far back as the time of Samuel there were meetings of bands of prophets for praise and prophesyings (1 Samuel 10:5; 1 Samuel 19:20), which pious Israelites would doubtless attend. In the days of the kings people resorted to the prophet of the time for instruction at certain seasons (2 Kings 4:23). The only Old Testament mention of religious meeting-places other than places of sacrifice—if, indeed, the reference be not to religious feasts rather than religious houses—is in a Psalm (Psalms 74:8) of Maccabean date. Jewish tradition ascribes the establishment of synagogues to Ezra and Nehemiah. After the return from captivity they assumed a prominent place in the Jewish ecclesiastical system. The order of service was far less conventional than that of the Temple, distinguished strangers being frequently invited to read and expound (Acts 13:15). Thus the synagogue was a notable exception to the rigid formality which was sapping the life out of Judaism, and formed a rallying-point for the propagation of the Christian faith. Christ made constant use of the synagogue both for private devotion and for teaching purposes (Luke 4:16).
III. The teaching of Christ in the synagogue at Capernaum struck His auditors with amazement, as it had done before at Nazareth (Luke 4:14-30). It is not unlikely that He repeated now the substance of what He said then: declaring that His mission was to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord—the jubilee, in which God offers forgiveness of sins and deliverance to sinners; and that this blessing was for all, of whatever nation, who would turn from their sins and trust in God. To all this He may have added some of those imperishable sentences which were afterwards gathered up in the grand charter of the heavenly common wealth which we call the Sermon on the Mount. Such teaching as this—at once so simple, so gracious, so comprehensive, so Divine—could not fail to create a sensation in the hearts of people accustomed only to the pedantries and quibbles of the scribes, who only darkened counsel by words without knowledge. How had the commandment of God been emptied of all meaning by their puerile hair-splittings on every conceivable subject that bordered on religion without touching its inner essence! how had they bewildered the minds of the simple by their endless arguments and speculations and refinements, and by their wearisome appeals to this authority as against that! With Jesus it is altogether different. He moves on a plane as far above theirs as the heaven is higher than the earth. When He speaks, it is to utter truths that find their unmistakable echo in every human soul; when He teaches, it is to quote the opinion of no earthly authority, but to lay down the eternal law of right and wrong as Himself the Word of God. And what He preaches to others, He practises Himself; while He points, He also leads. Not so the scribes: they said “Go,” but went not themselves.
IV. A striking result of Christ’s preaching manifests itself immediately. The hush of awe which testified to the strong impression made by Christ’s discourse in the synagogue, is abruptly disturbed by shrieks of rage and fear proceeding from one of the auditors who is manifestly under the dominion of the powers of evil. Here we are brought face to face with the profound and solemn problem of demoniacal possession. The phenomenon cannot be explained away by saying that our Lord merely accommodated His language to the mistaken ideas of the time, for we find that He deliberately made it part of His disciples commission to “cast out demons” (Matthew 10:8), and afterwards gave thanks to the Father for their success in this part of their work (Luke 10:17-18), while on another occasion He reproved them for having failed to expel an evil spirit (Matthew 17:21). We must, then, decline to identify these demons with mere physical and mental diseases—a theory which in any case would be insufficient to account for the double personality so manifest in nearly every instance on record, and conspicuously in the text, where at one moment the man, at another the demon, gains the ascendency. In one of his better moments the poor wretch made his way to the synagogue, the very last place that the demon would willingly have permitted him to enter; but when there the demon, goaded to fury by the presence of Christ, asserts his supremacy over his victim, even while he fears that it will be to his own undoing. “Involuntarily, in his confessed inability of disguise or resistance, he owns defeat, even before the contest. ‘What have we to do with Thee, Jesus of Nazareth? Thou art come to destroy us! I know Thee who Thou art, the Holy One of God.’ And yet there seems already an emergence of the consciousness of the demonised, at least in so far that there is no longer confusion between him and his tormentor, and the latter speaks in his own name. One stronger than the demon had affected the higher part in the demonised. It was the Holy One of God, in whose presence the powers of moral destruction cannot be silent, but must speak, and own their subjection and doom. The Christ needs not to contend; that He is the Christ is itself victory. But this was not all. He had come not only to destroy the works of the devil. His Incarnation meant this—and more: to set the prisoners free. By a word of command He gagged the confessions of the demon, unwillingly made, and even so with hostile intent. It was not by such voices that He would have His Messiahship ever proclaimed. Such testimony was wholly unfitting and incongruous; it would have been a strange discord on the witness of the Baptist and the Voice which had proclaimed Him from heaven. The same power which gagged the confession also bade the demon relinquish his prey. One wild paroxysm—and the sufferer was for ever free.” See Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus, book iii., chap. xiv., for a thoroughly reverent and learned discussion of this difficult subject.
V. The house of Simon and Andrew is the next scene of our Lord’s ceaseless activity. On this memorable Sabbath a sudden attack of violent burning fever, such as is still common in that neighbourhood, had prostrated Simon’s mother-in-law. That St. Peter was a married man, who continued to live with his wife after his call to the apostolic office, has been made the occasion of many a bitter gibe at the Roman See. But surely with great want of fairness, for the celibacy of the clergy is nothing more than a matter of discipline, one of those minor points which any branch of the Church has a right to exact from its ministers if there be reason to think God’s work may thus be done more effectively. It is evident from 1 Corinthians 7:0. that St. Paul was strongly in favour of celibacy, whenever and wherever possible, in the then condition of society; and the Roman See has simply applied to a particular class the general principle approved of by the apostle. In thus doing the Roman See may be acting wisely or unwisely—that is a question which must be decided entirely on its own merits; but the fact that St. Peter happened to be a married man has nothing whatever to do with it. St. Peter’s wife is said to have been named Perpetua or Concordia, to have been a faithful convert, to have accompanied Peter in his apostolical journeys, and to have died a martyr for the faith of Christ during the persecution of Nero, her husband supporting her in the last struggle, and comforting her with the words, “O my wife, remember thy Lord who died for thee, that thou mightest gratefully shed thy blood for Him” Now to return to Peter’s wife’s mother. Our Lord, as soon as He is told of her illness, restores her by a touch. “He held the woman’s hand to give life,” says Petrus Chrysologus, “because Adam from a woman’s hand had received death. He held her hand in order that what the hand of the presumer had lost, the hand of the Author might restore. He held her hand, that the hand might receive pardon which had plucked the sentence of death.” And the cure is perfect. The woman who an instant before lay in a consuming fever rises as if from refreshing and invigorating sleep, and at once goes about her usual household duties, making the best possible use of her recovered health by ministering to the wants of Him who gave it.
VI. The day’s work is not yet over; for the news of the Divine Benefactor’s marvellous power has rapidly spread throughout the town, and there is a universal desire to profit by His presence among them. True, the Blessed Physician has a short respite, since it is the Sabbath, on which day journeys must not be taken and burdens must not be carried. But no sooner does the sinking sun proclaim the close of the Sabbath, than Christ’s privacy is invaded by a surging mass of anxious people who have brought their sick and demonised friends to seek His aid, and of course their number is soon swelled by crowds of onlookers full of curiosity to witness the unwonted spectacle. “And all the city,” says St. Mark, “was gathered together at the door”: can we doubt that in this exclamation we have the very words of St. Peter, the master of the house, who at the time must have been puzzled to think what was best to do or how the multitude was to be got rid of? But it matters not to the Saviour—so utterly regardless of His own comfort and ease is He—how many there may be; for every emergency He is equally ready, to every cry for succour He makes the same response. “He cast out the spirits,” St. Matthew tells us, “with His word, and healed all that were sick; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.” What encouragement is here for all: for those “who are any ways afflicted or distressed in mind, body, or estate,” to bring to Jesus all their woes; and for those who have friends or neighbours ignorant or heedless of the Saviour, to proclaim to them the blessed tidings of His pity and His love! But, alas! how little do we realise that Jesus can cure, and wishes to cure, every infirmity of our fallen nature—from the great fever of our sin-sick souls, down to the hasty tempers and uncharitable thoughts which mar the characters of so many professing Christians, and yet cause them so little concern!
Mark 1:23-26. The plea of evil, and its rejection.—
I. The plea of evil (Mark 1:24).—
1. It is the plea of personal evil. The carnal mind asserts its right to be, and insolently rages when confronted with the claims of truth and love and righteousness—rages most of all when confronted with the beauty of Jesus Christ.
2. It is the plea of public evil. The moment reformers attempt to deal with any social wrong, any pernicious institution, custom, trade, or law, they are attacked after this fashion.
3. And when evil dare not claim absolute immunity, it pleads for toleration and delay. “What have we,” etc. The last thing to be expected from evil is that it will tamely abdicate. Let us be sure that it never quits its hold until after struggles which shake to their foundations personal, social, and national life.
II. Some characteristics of this plea.—
1. It is specious. The demon has closely identified himself with the human, and it is cleverly represented that the devil is the man’s friend, Christ his enemy, and whatsoever is done against the demon is done against the man. So blinded are the minds of them that believe not, that they regard an attack on the devil’s kingdom as an invasion of their own rights, a confiscation of their own riches. Wickedness is never friendly to anything that concerns the rights, safety, or enrichment of humanity, and when the devil becomes an advocate it is the wolf pleading for the lamb.
2. It is impudent.
(1) This world is not the devil’s world, but God’s. The desert must apologise for itself, not the garden of spices; the black weed, not the lily or the rose; the cesspool, not the crystal river or the sea of glass.
(2) In the development of this world the devil plays no essential part. Evil has no rights.
3. It is cruel (Mark 1:26). Can we let evil alone in ourselves—that which dims our eye, enervates our resolution, sears our conscience, destroys our affections, shatters our wing, blasts our hope? Can we for any consideration whatever let sin alone in our children? Sensitive as we are to their welfare, we cannot leave them a prey to the dark passions which destroy body and soul in hell. Can we let the heathen nations alone? Idolatry, infanticide, sutteeism, hook-swinging, slavery, cannibalism, are sufficiently terrible customs to let alone, and yet they are but a few red bubbles on a vast sea of sorrow whose depths God alone can sound. Are we to let alone the evils which afflict our own community? Intemperance, lust, war, tyranny, and other vices are filling our land with woes too deep for tears.
III. Christ’s rejection of this plea.—
1. “Hold thy peace” (Mark 1:25). Here is the voice of contempt. Christ speaks to principalities and powers as to a dog. Where a spark of reality, sincerity, promise, existed, Christ was infinitely patient and sympathetic; but there was no place for argument here, because in pure wickedness there is no truth, no reason, no hope.
2. “Come out of him.” Here is the voice of authority.
1. Evil is to be cast out of humanity. The whisper of Christ prevails against all the wrath and rage and roar of hell.
2. Evil is to be wholly cast out. Nothing is rational in dealing with evil but the severity that breaks it off suddenly, that condemns it utterly, that pursues it to the death.
3. Evil is cast out in Christ.—W. L. Watkinson.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 1:21-22. An authoritative Teacher and His audience.—I. An authoritative Teacher.—
1. Dignified in manner.
2. Original in matter.
3. Convincing in argument.
4. Consistent in practice.
II. An astonished audience.—They might well be astonished at—
1. The range of His intellectual gifts.
2. The wealth and force of His illustrations.
3. His acquaintance with the human heart and conscience.
4. His deep knowledge of the Divine law.
Christ stood distinguished in these points among others from all the Rabbis who had been, or then were, in Israel.
1. The relation between His person and His word. The Teacher made the truth He taught. His teaching was His articulate person, His person His incorporated teaching.
2. The consciousness He had of Himself and His truth; its authority and creative energy. He was, at the first as at the last, at the last as at the first, certain of the reality of His words and claims, of their endurance and triumph.
3. His knowledge of His truth and mission was throughout perfect and self-consistent. His progress was not a series of tentative efforts, of mended mistakes, but an orderly movement to a consciously conceived end.
Mark 1:22. Christ’s independence of thought.—It was as if an English judge, instead of implicitly following precedents in all his decisions, were to discard any reference to even the most weighty, and speak, it might be, in direct opposition to them. No judicial luminary dares or dreams of such a thing, his greatest audacity leading him no further than to venture on some timid advance in a new deduction from earlier “Cases.”—C. Geikie, D.D.
The failure of the scribes as teachers.—The scribes failed, first, in the matter; they delivered not the doctrine of God: secondly, in the manner; they taught coldly and without zeal: thirdly, in the end; they taught in pride and ambition, seeking their own and not God’s glory.—E. Leigh.
Teaching enforced by personal religious character.—While the scribes leaned upon the authority of others, and quoted chapter and verse for all they taught, Jesus spoke straight out from Himself the truth that was embodied in His own life, leaving it to find an echo in the hearts of the truth-loving and God-revering. His teaching impressed itself upon the populace, mainly because it was backed up by a personal religious character; the teaching of the scribes failed mainly because it lacked this—because they did not in their own lives act out what they taught. The one thing essential above all else is to be ourselves living the truth that we desire others to embrace. It has been reserved for Christianity to present to the world an ideal character, which, through all the changes of eighteen centuries, has filled the hearts of men with an impassioned love; has shewn itself capable of acting on all ages, nations, temperaments, and conditions; has not only been the highest pattern of virtue, but the highest incentive to its practice; and has exercised so deep an influence that it may truly be said that the simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers, and all the exhortations of moralists.—W. E. H. Lecky.
Teaching with authority.—
1. Men will teach well only as they teach under Christ.
2. Authority is impossible apart from association with the Master.
3. Authority of tone must come from intensity of conviction.
4. Hearers know the voice of authority.
5. The Christian teacher is to show his supremacy over all other teachers.—J. Parker, D.D.
Mark 1:23. Unclean spirits.—I do not see anything in the history of those spirits, or of the persons possessed by them, which should lead to the use of the epithet “unclean” in any such sense as we should think of assigning to the word. If we could imagine the evil spirits or demons thus represented as wandering on earth to be the impure spirits who left their own habitations, we might perhaps suppose that they were characterised and described, not by the acts of their vagrant humiliation, but by the sin that had led to it. This, however, does not seem to be consistent with the idea of their custody; and I am more inclined to believe that the uncleanness, or impurity, relates to their mixed nature; not purely human, or angelic.—S. R. Maitland, D. D.
“In an unclean spirit.”—There is dreadful meaning in the preposition here used—“a man in an unclean spirit,” as if his human self was immersed in that filthy flood. The words embody three thoughts: the fierce hatred which disowns all connexion with Jesus; the wild terror which asks or affirms Christ’s destructive might over all foul spirits; and the recognition of Christ’s holiness, which lashes unholiness into a paroxysm of mingled despair and hate.—A. Maclaren, D. D.
Demoniac possession is not an organic or bodily disorder, a kind of hallucination or mental alienation, or one of the nervous affections, as rationalist critics have pretended in defiance of the Scripture; it is a particular condition of the mind, a psychological disorder. The presence of a demon in certain men neither absorbs nor yet destroys their personality. The individuality is indestructible and inviolable. God Himself, who could destroy everything, as He has created everything, destroys nothing and does not allow destruction. The most violent Satanic action only affects the organic and lower faculties, the imagination and the senses of the unfortunate victims; their freewill may be enchained for a moment, but only when voluntarily surrendered. The man possessed of a demon is under the dominion of a spirit which tyrannises over him, suspends or fetters his liberty, deprives him of the normal control of his body and limbs, speaks by his mouth and deranges his feelings. The abnormal state of his faculties is not due to an unhealthy condition of the brain or to organic disturbances; it is born of the violent and disturbing action of a superior will; it is a result and not a cause. Hence the healing of one possessed is beyond the power of medicine; it can only be effected by the moral influence of one spirit on another. It is true that actual illness, as a rule, accompanied demoniac possession. Certain senses were often paralysed; the man possessed of a demon could not see, could not speak; he was subject to convulsions or epileptic fits; but we have no authority to confound these maladies with the possession itself. All that we can say, after the closest examination of the texts, is that the mischief introduced into the organic life of the victim may have been originated by the violent action of the spirit which tormented him: so intimate is the connexion between mind and body, that organic disturbances lead to mental troubles, just as mental troubles engender organic disorders.—Father Didon.
Mark 1:24. The spiritually disturbed consciousness a figure of the curse of sin—
1. In its destruction and contradictions.
2. In its restraint.
3. In its despair.
4. But also in its dim feeling of its misery and of the coming of its Saviour.—J. P. Lange, D.D.
The characteristics of the wicked.—
1. Knowledge without love.
2. Hatred to Christ, and withal flattering acknowledgment.
3. Pride even to madness, and yet impotent fear and flight.—Ibid.
The antithesis of heaven and hell.—
1. Peace of soul, and passion (the devil assaults first).
2. Collectedness, and distraction.
3. The spirit of mercy, and the spirit of torment
4. Dignity, and degradation.
5. Victory, and prostration.—Ibid.
The name “Jesus of Nazareth” given to Christ—
1. By early disciples (John 1:45).
2. By the demons.
3. By the multitude (Mark 10:47).
4. By the soldiers (John 18:5; John 18:7).
5. By the high-priest’s servant (Mark 14:67).
6. By Pilate (John 19:19).
7. By the angel at the sepulchre (Mark 16:6).
8. By the two disciples on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:19).
9. By Peter (Acts 2:22; Acts 3:6; Acts 4:10; Acts 10:38).
10. By Christ Himself after the Ascension (Acts 22:8).
Mark 1:25-26 The unclean spirit silenced.—
1. An evidence of Christ’s Divine commission.
2. A proof of Christ’s goodwill to men.
3. A declaration of the great object of Christ’s incarnation—to destroy the works of the devil.
4. An indication of Christ’s determination to refuse all quarter to the minions of hell. One cannot believe that His rejection of their testimony was prudential only, whatever possibility there may have been of that charge of complicity which was afterwards formulated. The thought of allowing Himself to be indebted to them for help of any kind would be most abhorrent to Him. And must He not still regard as contamination every truce with evil of whatever kind—every gain accruing to His cause by fraud, injustice, or suppression of the truth?
Mark 1:27. Cured by a word.—What caused such astonishment was not so much the fact itself, as the way in which it was performed. Such cures, it seems, were not unknown to the Jews, but they were due to the virtue of the prayers, sacred formulæ, incantations, and invocations of their exorcists, and, probably, more often to the accommodation of the spirits themselves. Jesus did not appeal to any extraneous force, He only had to speak one word; He commanded, and the unclean spirit passed out subdued, ejected by a superior will.—Father Didon.
Mark 1:30-31. Christ wrought miracle to relieve Himself from the common burdens of humanity.—These indeed pressed the heavier upon Him because He uplifted their weight from other men; and it is in his narrative of this very day’s events that St. Matthew applies this principle to His mastery over disease (Mark 8:17). All the more, He relieved with especial promptness the distresses of those who were near to Him—of His hosts when their wine failed, of His followers threatened by hunger, of His disciples alone upon the waters, of those whom He loved in Bethany. Thus He was, in temporal as in spiritual trouble, the Saviour of all men, yet especially of them who believe. And therefore He is prompt to respond to this appeal for one whom He must have known, and whom His disciples evidently loved—an appeal at once so fervent and so delicate, so free from dictation, that it was equally well characterised as “beseeching Him” and as “telling Him of her.”—Dean Chadwick.
Personal compassion.—The same character is to be recognised in the spiritual work of Jesus, even to this day. It is still a personal compassion which cools the worse and deadlier fevers of the soul; still when invoked He bends over us, and our healing is due to no mechanical grace, but to His own direct act of love; and still it is ours, when healed, to minister to Him and to His people.—Ibid.
Contact with the individual.—
1. The individual case as well as the case of the multitude should be regarded as worthy of attention.
2. Bodily diseases as well as spiritual ailments are within the sphere of our solicitude; we are to be philanthropic as well as spiritually-minded.
3. We are to put ourselves in personal contact with those who suffer.—J. Parker, D.D.
Mark 1:34. Christ’s miracles of healing may be regarded—
1. As proofs of His Divine mission, Messiahship, and Godhead.
(1) They were such as no man could have wrought without direct aid from heaven.
(2) They were such as the prophets had predicted would be wrought by the Messiah (Isaiah 53:4; Isaiah 35:5-6, etc.).
(3) They were wrought with an air of authority such as no mere man would dare arrogate to himself.
2. As a means of overcoming prejudice, and so securing a favourable reception for His message. His attention to their bodily interests, and His success in dealing with physical maladies, induced men to believe in His solicitude for the welfare of the soul, and to have confidence in the spiritual treatment He prescribed.
3. As an encouragement to believing prayer. Christ is as really in our midst to-day, as He was that Sabbath in Capernaum; and He is every whit as ready to sympathise and as able to succour. But He cannot work for us and with us and in us, unless we trust Him implicitly and without reservation of any kind. “Lord, increase our faith!”
4. As examples for our imitation. The whole apparatus now at work for the relief of suffering and for the care of sufferers—hospitals and infirmaries, asylums and homes—is the direct fruit of Christianity. Does it not become us, according to our ability and opportunity, to give such institutions our cordial support? Innumerable cases of suffering and disease come constantly before us. While we carry the sufferers in the arms of faith and prayer to God, let us do what we can to alleviate their pains by self-denying effort, and so prove that our prayers are the outpouring of tender, sympathising hearts.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Mark 1:23. An unclean spirit the essence of pollution.—It is not every unclean thing that offends the sight, while the slightest stain upon some things will excite in us deep dislike; the feeling depends entirely upon the nature of the thing, and the purpose to which it is applied. We pass by an unclean stone unnoticed.… But rising a step higher in the scale of creation, to an unclean plant, we become conscious of a slight emotion of dislike, because we see that which might have pleased the eye and have beautified a spot in creation disfigured and useless. An unclean animal creates our dislike still more, for instead of proving useful in any way it is merely a moving pollution. But an unclean human being excites our loathing more than all; it presents our nature in a light so disgusting that it lessens our pity for him if he be miserable, and excites in us ideas of disease, contamination, and pain. But an unclean spirit—it is loathsome above all things. It is the soul and essence of pollution; it is the spectacle which excites the deep dislike of God Himself.—F. F. Trench.
Mark 1:25-26. Restored harmony.—The legend runs that there once stood in an old baronial castle a musical instrument upon which nobody could play. It was complicated in its mechanism, and during years of misuse the dust had gathered and clogged it, while dampness and variations of temperature had robbed the strings of their tone. Various experts had tried to repair it, but without success, and when the hand of a player swept over the chords it woke only harsh discords and unlovely sounds. But there came one day to the castle a man of another sort. He was the maker of the instrument, and saw what was amiss, and what was needed for its repair, and with loving care and skill he freed the wires from dust, and adjusted those which were awry, and brought the jangling strings into tune, and then the hall rang with bursts of exquisite music. So with these souls of ours, so disordered by sin, that everything is confusion and at cross-purposes: it is not until their Divine Maker comes and attempts the task of repair and readjustment that they can be set right and be made capable of the harmonies for which they were originally constructed.
Mark 1:27. God is against disease.—Remember that the men who said this did not look then, as we look now, on Jesus as Son of God. What they saw was a son of man with power over the subtlest form of disease; and from that day man began to realise that God had “given this power unto men,” and that the disease that walketh in darkness or destroyeth at noonday should by man be met and conquered. Nor was this all the glad tidings of the new gospel of the Great Physician. Men saw Him who claimed to be one with the Father, going about doing good, and healing all manner of diseases among the people. Then, thought they, God is against disease; it is a Godlike thing to destroy it. And when the Christian world awoke to a further consciousness of the cause—viz. that these bodies of ours are made in God’s fair image, and built to be the temples of the Holy Ghost, are not our own, but are bought with a price, and belong unto the God who hath redeemed us—then the Christian world arose in enthusiasm, and determined to seek and save not only the dying souls, but the dying bodies of men also. Hospitals for victory over death arose, where before had only been public buildings to victory in battle over fellow-men.—H. D. Rawnsley.
Mark 1:32-34. Christ’s care for humanity.—If we may reverently compare this scene with its modern analogies, it bears less a resemblance to anything that occurs in the life of a clergyman than to the occupation of a physician to a hospital on the day of his seeing his out-patients. There is, indeed, all the difference in the world between the best professional advice, and the summary cure such as was our Lord’s. But we are, for the moment, looking at the outward aspects of the scene; and it shows very vividly how largely Christ’s attention was directed to the well-being of the bodily frame of man. Now it would be a great mistake to suppose that this feature of our Saviour’s ministry was accidental or inevitable. Nothing in His work was accidental: all was deliberate, all had an object. We may infer with reverence and with certainty that His first object was to shew Himself as the Deliverer and Restorer of human nature as a whole: not of the reason and conscience merely without the imagination and the affections—not of the spiritual side of men’s nature, without the bodily; and, therefore, He was not merely Teacher, but also Physician; and therefore and thus He has shed upon the medical profession to the end of time a radiance and a consecration which are ultimately due to the conditions of that redemptive work, to achieve which He came down from heaven teaching and healing.—Canon Liddon.
Godlike works.—When one of the greatest of God’s heroes, one of the most illustrious saints of Christendom, made an oration—preached, as we should say, a funeral sermon—concerning a brother, holy and heroic, whose soul was in paradise—when Gregory of Nazianzum would show unto the people how, though Basil rested from his labours, his works did follow, and he being dead yet spoke—he pointed towards the hospital which Basil had built, and said, “Go forth a little out of the city, and see the new city, his treasure of godliness, the storehouse of alms which he collected; see the place where disease is relieved by charity and by skill, where the poor leper finds at last a home! It was Basil who persuaded men to care for others; it was Basil who taught them thus to honour Christ.”—Dean Hole.
Christ the centre of attraction.—Leaving the Paris Exhibition as the sun went down, I noted an electric light that, revolving round and round, shot its ethereal pencilled rays far across the sky, touching with a momentary radiance the vegetation or the buildings across which they passed; and looking up I noted innumerable sparks wavering, vibrating in the illumination. For a moment I could not think what this meant, for there is scarcely any scintillation, and certainly no sparks, thrown off from the electric light. Then in an instant it occurred to me that these bright lights were myriads of insects attracted from the dark ocean of air round, and which, protected from the burning luminary by the strong glass, were safely rejoicing in the ecstasy of those beams. So here, around the beams of spiritual light and love that radiate from the Saviour, the innumerable hosts of suffering, struggling men and women of that day come within the field of our vision.—J. A. Picton.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 1:35. A great while before day.—How Mark loves to emphasise the ceaseless activity and devotion of our Blessed Lord!
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 1:35-39
(PARALLELS: Matthew 8:16-17; Matthew 4:23-25; Luke 4:40-44.)
The mutual relations of prayer and work.—Hitherto St. Mark has depicted in glowing colours the untiring activity of Him who “went about doing good” among men, instructing their ignorance, removing their woes, and infusing new hope into their burdened hearts. Now he fills up the picture with a view of Jesus in solitary communion with His Father, lifting up His eyes unto the heavenly hills from whence came His daily inspiration and motive-power.
I. Christ’s prayers in general.—Eighteen times our Lord’s own prayers are spoken of in the Gospels, bringing out the following facts respecting them.
1. His habit of prayer (Matthew 14:23; Mark 1:35; Mark 6:46; Luke 3:21; Luke 5:16; Luke 6:12; Luke 9:28; Luke 11:1).
2. His blending of thanksgiving with prayer (Matthew 11:25; Luke 10:21; John 11:41).
3. His use of intercession in prayer.
(1) For friends (Luke 22:32).
(2) For enemies (Luke 23:34).
(3) For Himself and His disciples as one with Him (John 17:0).
(4) His complete submission to the Father’s will (Matthew 26:39; Mark 15:34; Luke 22:42; John 12:27).
II. Christ’s prayer on this occasion.—
1. The time selected—“the morning, a great while before day.” No time could be more favourable for private communion with God—the body refreshed by its recent repose, the mind in its vigour, the passions at rest, the whole surroundings so calm and tranquil. The saints in every age have loved to give their freshest thoughts to God, and to seek His aid before the duties of the day begin.
2. The scene—“a solitary place.” Besides taking delight in the common prayers of the Church, and lifting up the heart secretly even in the most public thoroughfares, the man of God has his private oratory, into which he enters and shuts the door, and pours forth his soul in the presence of his Heavenly Father, laying bare his most secret feelings, confessing his inmost faults, making known his every trouble and desire.
3. Our Lord sets us here a notable example of prayer in spite of hindrances. After so laborious a day as that just closed, and with the prospect of another equally trying, the Saviour must have sorely needed rest. But aching limbs and weary mind are to Him as nothing in comparison with the longing of His pure and holy spirit for the refreshing streams of heavenly grace. And so, giving but few hours to sleep, He rises long before daybreak to pray.
III. Prayer and work.—With Christ these two things were always closely associated. Prayer was to Him the sequel of one day’s work, and the prelude of another. He will not on any account forego His daily devotions; but, on the other hand, He will not let them interfere with His work for God. There are some who think they may be excused from prayer because they are so busy; and others who think that God will be pleased with prayer in lieu of work, as the sole business of their lives; but the example of Christ rebukes all such trifling. It is only in combination that either prayer or work will gain the Divine approval, and draw down a blessing on ourselves and others. It is related of Colonel Gardiner that he used constantly to rise at four in the morning, and spend his time till six in private meditation and prayer, in which he acquired such fervency of spirit as, says his biographer, “I believe few men living ever attained. This certainly very much contributed to strengthen that firm faith in God, and reverent, animating sense of His presence, for which he was so eminently remarkable, and which carried him through the trials and services of life with such readiness and with such activity; for he indeed endured and acted as if always seeing Him who is invisible. If at any time he was obliged to go out before six in the morning, he rose proportionally sooner; so that, when a journey or a march has required him to be on horseback by four, he would be at his devotions by two.” There is a sentimentalism abroad which says, “Work is prayer.” So it is. And yet if we work without secret and constant prayer our work will be powerless. Work is only prayer in so far as it is done in a prayerful spirit. There must be distinct work and distinct prayer. We must pray in order to work, and work because we pray.
Mark 1:36-38. Jesus in request.—
I. Though Jesus had withdrawn, the interest and excitement created by His miracles continued in Capernaum (Mark 1:37).—
1. His miracles had taken the form of temporal benefits. They might look for more of these.
2. His miracles might prompt them to take Him by force, and make Him a king.
3. Erroneous notions of Christ still lead many to follow Him.
(1) Some, like the Jews, seek temporal advantages.
(2) Some come for the pardon of retained sins.
(3) Some come to purchase salvation by the performance of ceremonies.
(4) Some come to accompany others.
II. Such interest seems to have gratified the apostles (Mark 1:36).—
1. They loved their Master, and rejoiced in His praise.
2. They shared in the reputation of their Master.
3. They went to Christ, thinking to gratify Him.
4. They went to Christ, perhaps supposing that He would take advantage of His popularity to set up His kingdom.
5. They seem to have gone to induce Him to return to Capernaum.
6. Gratification with the world’s favour indicates a low standard in a believer or a Church.
III. Christ refused to return to Capernaum, on the ground that He had to preach elsewhere (Mark 1:38).—
1. In so far as the people of Capernaum were concerned;
(1) He had preached to them the gospel.
(2) He had confirmed His doctrine by miracles.
(3) He would not gratify a vain curiosity.
(4) He would not work miracles merely to confer a temporal good.
(5) Let us examine our motives for asking Christ’s presence.
2. He had to preach the gospel to others.
(1) He was the King of the Jews, not the ruler of a city.
(2) He was the Shepherd and Bishop of souls, not the pastor of a congregation.
(3) The Jews were to be dealt with nationally in judgment, and therefore nationally in mercy.
(4) Let Christ still preach everywhere.
(5) Let us not limit Christ’s presence.—Jas. Stewart.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 1:35. Christ’s habit of prayer.—Some have stumbled at the Saviour’s habit of prayer, as though it derogated from His Divine character that He should make petitions to God: they have explained it by saying that He prayed not from want, but for example’s sake. But away with such explanations: let us embrace the mystery; let us not care to explain it; and let us say, as we may say without passing the bounds of truth and without detracting an iota from our Saviour’s glory, that being perfect man He did that which perfect man ever ought to do—namely, find His chief joy and His chief source of support in communion with His Father in heaven.—Bishop H. Goodwin.
Prayer before work.—Our Lord in all His great works commenced with prayer. The same religious habit was common with the heathen. In all undertakings of moment they began with consulting or propitiating the gods: not only if they were about to engage in any expedition, or to encounter an enemy, or to form a treaty; but scarcely is there to be found a poem of any length in which the aid or inspiration of some reputed divinity is not invoked. It was reserved for the Christian—the disciple of Jesus, the decrier and improver of Gentile fashions—to discard prayer from his breast and home. It is the Christian by name that enters on matters of the first importance to his country, his neighbour, or himself, that ventures upon the thousand perils and hazards which threaten his health, fortune, and comfort by day, and the secret evils which walk by night, and all without prayer; often, without a single aspiration to Him whose providence noteth even a sparrow’s fall, and in whose hands are the issues of our weal and woe. What wonder if God forsake those who never acknowledge their dependence on Him, but on the contrary habitually demean themselves as if they were the sole or chief contrivers and builders of their fortunes!—A. Williams, M. A.
Mark 1:37. All men seek for Christ.—All ages and all lives have sought for Christ. The prophecy that bespeaks Him is no mere feature of the Jewish Scriptures. It is part of the equipment of the human heart. Messianic prophecy is the deepest department of psychology. The search for Christ is the profoundest fact of human life. Every life that has any moral value seeks for something by the aid of which it can rise above itself, of something which shall redeem it from its littleness, heal its sicknesses, answer its prophecies, and take its unrest away. In every human heart there is beneath all the carelessness and indifference the Christ-want—a want which men seek to satisfy in a thousand ways, or to forget in the whirl of life and the dissipation of trifles. Deep down in our mystic life—no matter how careless, or shallow, or slight we be—there is an unfulfilled prophecy for Jesus Christ. No man is so shallow, superficial, or bad as never to have felt in his heart of hearts, in those solemn hours that come to every man, the impulse of this prophecy. What else is the meaning of the hero-worship of bygone days but the declaration that man seeks a strength without, that each life is not self-sufficient, that it seeks for something perfectly holy, yet perfectly human, to which it can give itself up? The shrines of heroes and martyrs at which men and women have prayed—what are these but witnesses to the fact that human nature seeks its Christ, seeks by its worship of goodness or power to get back the goodness or the power it lacks? The whole travail of human life is its search for Christ; the pathos of life is the pursuit of the false Christs; the equation of life is solved, the prophecies of life fulfilled, when the soul finds its Christ—when the soul of man returns to its rest in God.
The true disciple always knows where to find the Master.—The disciples knew the habits of their Lord: they knew that in some hidden place He could be found in the early hours of the day; at all events, they knew that Jesus Christ would be found in the path of usefulness or preparation for usefulness. Do men know where they can find us? Are our Christian habits so distinct and unchangeable that our friends can with certainty explain our position?—J. Parker, D. D.
Mark 1:38. Christ’s eagerness to reach as many souls as possible.—He will not wait for people to come to Him, but hastens to carry the gospel to them. Thus He teaches us to make the most of our lives and opportunities, to scatter the seed of grace as widely as we can, to press forward with the tidings of God’s love with unflagging zeal.
The preaching of the kingdom of God was Christ’s vocation.—
1. Concerning Himself, as He who was come to save men.
2. Concerning the true righteousness which avails before God.
3. Concerning the worship of God in spirit and truth. Within these limits it was His vocation to spread that kingdom as far as He could.—F. Schleiermacher.
“Therefore came I forth.”—Christ does not mean that for this end He had come into the world, but that for this end He had come during the night from His house to the spot where He had been composed and tranquillised; and not that such was the intention with which He had come hither, but that such was the Divine purpose in His coming—that He had been brought hither to be composed and tranquillised, not for Himself, not for His personal benediction, but to be prepared and equipped for further ministry; that He had found comfort in the solitude, only to enable Him to be a Comforter. This is the true Christ-spirit, the feeling that nothing is given to us for ourselves, but for our helpful effluence thereof; that the raison d’être for all we have and are is service, sacrifice.—S. A. Tipple.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Mark 1:35. The early morning.—If you would see a likeness of heaven on earth, you must look for it in the early morning. The day then seems new-born; there are all sorts of beauteous sights and sounds; the air is balmy, the dew glistening on the open flowers like diamonds. Birds are singing their matin praises; cattle lowing, etc. Men, too, are scarce astir, and no evil passions exciting your peaceful contemplations. It is, indeed, a time for communing with God. The spiritual analogy or correspondence of the morning is also striking. It denotes a new state in the regenerate life, and this is a direct gift from the Lord, who is called in God’s Word the “Morning Star,” and “a morning without clouds.” All great workers have been early risers. Dr. Doddridge ascribed the preparation of most of his works to the circumstance of his rising at five o’clock every morning, saying that this course pursued for forty years would add ten years to man’s life. Dr. Homer observes that “there is a certain loveliness and a salutary or even curative influence in the morning atmosphere beyond that of any other portion of the day.” Those who habitually lie late in bed are generally the drones and dawdlers of society. This kind of self-indulgence is enervating to both body and mind, and we ought to watch and pray against it, as against a deadly sin.—O. P. Hiller.
Morning praises.—When St. Francis of Assisi used to hear the birds sing in the morning, he would say to his brethren, “Our little winged brothers are already praising their Creator, and are singing Him a song of gratitude for the new day that is shining above them. Shall we allow ourselves to be put to shame by the birds?”
Morning is the golden hour for prayer and praise.—The mind is fresh; the mercies of the night and the new resurrection of the dawn both prompt a devout soul to thankfulness. The buoyant heart takes its earliest flight, like the lark, toward the gates of heaven. One of the finest touches in Bunyan’s immortal allegory is his description of Christian in the chamber of Peace, “who awoke and sang,” while his window looked out to the sun rising. If even the stony statue of heathen Memnon made music when the first rays of the dawn kindled on its flinty brow, surely no Christian heart should be dumb when God causes the outgoings of the morning to rejoice.
Prayer should be the key of the day and the lock of the night.—At night it is our covering; in the morning it is our armour: so at all times it defends us from the malice of Satan, our own subordinations and betrayings, the unequal weather the world assaults us with, and preserves us in the favour and esteem of Heaven (Psalms 132:1-5; Psalms 119:148; Psalms 143:8-12; 1 Samuel 13:12).—O. Feltham.
Retirement with God is the only preparation for success, and the only medicine for failure. The secret of all strong souls lies in those times of loneliness when they were bound hand and foot as captives to the Everlasting Will. We deride such nowadays; call them mystic, contemplationist, fanatic. But if it were anything but religion, people would not laugh. Tell them of Demosthenes living in a cellar, with head half shaved to prevent his appearing in public, and there will be admiration: was it any wonder that he became an orator? But let a man be as bent on becoming a saint, let him give up one hour’s frivolous talk in order to commune with his Father in secret, then we suspect that such an one is becoming righteous overmuch. Mind, no one complains of a man being anxious to be wise overmuch, rich overmuch, healthy overmuch; he may burn the midnight oil and study, watch the markets and scheme, frequent the gymnasium and develop his muscle, and no one will find fault; but to spend time on what is at least as important as wisdom, wealth, and health, and in a sense involves them all—this is fanatical, and not to be encouraged or approved. We miss much through our want of separation from the world, and through our deficiency in insulation, or, which is the same word, in isolation. If we go into a science laboratory and examine the great brass machines for holding electrical charges, we find that they are all mounted on glass feet. These are the insulators; and if it were not for them, no electricity would remain on the surface; as it is, electricity is hard enough to keep in charge, even with the best insulators. And we know sometimes what it is to have life and power pass into us from above, but we do not know how to retain it, because we have never learnt true retirement of heart and insulation of life. Some one spoke to John Nelson, making unfavourable comparison of John Wesley with a prominent religious teacher of the day; and Nelson replied, “He has not stayed in the upper room like John Wesley.”—J. Rendel Harris.
Mark 1:38. Opportunities.—Cromwell said that it was his aim not only to strike while the iron was hot, but to “make the iron hot by striking!” Some men wait for opportunities, and others make opportunities and circumstances wait upon them.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 1:44. Say nothing to any man.—Our Lord desired to check, as far as possible, the tendency on the part of the populace to regard Him as a mere wonder-worker, because such a reputation would inevitably blind men to the primary object of His Divine mission, which was not the healing of the body, but the salvation of the soul. For a testimony unto them.—He would afford the Jewish authorities no pretext for asserting that He set Himself above the law.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 1:40-45
(PARALLELS: Matthew 8:2-4; Luke 5:12-16.)
A parable in a miracle.—Christ’s miracles are called wonders—that is, deeds which, by their exceptional character, arrest attention and excite surprise. Further, they are called “mighty works”—that is, exhibitions of superhuman power. They are still further called “signs”—that is, tokens of His Divine mission. But they are signs in another sense, being, as it were, parables as well as miracles, and representing on the lower plane of material things the effects of His working on men’s spirits. This parabolic aspect of the miracles is obvious in the case before us. Leprosy received exceptional treatment under the Mosaic Law, and the peculiar restrictions to which the sufferer was subjected, as well as the ritual of his cleansing, in the rare cases where the disease wore itself out, are best explained by being considered as symbolical rather than as sanitary. It was taken as an emblem of sin. Its hideous symptoms, its rotting sores, its slow, stealthy, steady progress, its defiance of all known means of cure, made its victim only too faithful a walking image of that worse disease.
I. The leper’s cry.—Mark connects the story with our Lord’s first journey through Galilee, which was signalised by many miracles, and had excited much stir and talk. The news of the Healer had reached the isolated huts where the lepers herded, and had kindled a spark of hope in one poor wretch, which emboldened him to break through all regulations and thrust his tainted and unwelcome presence into the shrinking crowd. Mark’s vivid narrative shows him to us, flinging himself down before the Lord, and, without waiting for question or pause, interrupting whatever was going on with his piteous cry. Misery and wretchedness make short work of conventional politenesses. Note the keen sense of misery that impels to the passionate desire for relief. A leper with the flesh dropping off his bones could not suppose that there was nothing the matter with him. The parallel fails us there. The emblem is all insufficient, for here is the very misery of our deepest misery, that we are unconscious of it, and sometimes even come to love it. The worse we are, the less we know that there is anything the matter with us; and the deeper the leprosy has struck its filthy fangs into us, the more ready we are to say that we are sound. Oh! if the best of us could see himself for once, in the light of God, as the worst of us will see himself one day, the cry would come from the purest lips, “O wretched man that I am! who will deliver me from the body of this death?” this life in death that I carry, rotting and smelling foul to heaven, about with me, wheresoever I go. Note, further, this man’s confidence in Christ’s power. “Thou canst make me clean.” He had heard all about the miracles that were being wrought up and down over the country, and he came to the Worker, with nothing of the nature of religious faith in him, but with entire confidence, based upon the report of previous miracles, in Christ’s ability to heal. If we turn from the emblem to the thing signified, from the leprosy of the body to that of the spirit, we may be sure of Christ’s omnipotent ability to cleanse from the extremest severity of the disease, however inveterate and chronic it may have become. Sin dominates men by two opposite lies. I have been saying how hard it is to get people’s consciences awakened to see the facts of their moral and religious condition; but then, when they are awoke up, it is almost as hard to keep them from the other extreme. The devil, first of all, says to a man, “It is only a little one. Do it; you will be none the worse. You can give it up when you like, you know.” That is the language before the act. Afterwards, his language is, first, “You have done no harm; never mind what people say about sin. Make yourself comfortable.” And then, when that lie wears itself out, the mask is dropped, and this is what is said: “I have got you now, and you cannot get away. Done is done! What thou hast written thou hast written; and neither thou nor anybody else can blot it out.” Hence the despair into which awakened consciences are apt to drop, and the feeling, which dogs the sense of evil like a spectre, of the hopelessness of all attempts to make oneself better. Brethren, they are both lies: the lie that we are pure is the first; the lie that we are too black to be purified is the second. Christ’s blood atones for all past sin, and has power to bring forgiveness to every one. Christ’s vital Spirit will enter into any heart, and, abiding there, has power to make the foulest clean. Note, again, the leper’s hesitation: “If Thou wilt.” He had no right to presume on Christ’s goodwill. He knew nothing about the principles upon which His miracles were wrought and His mercy extended. But his hesitation is quite as much entreaty as hesitation. He, as it were, throws the responsibility for his health or disease upon Christ’s shoulders, and thereby makes the strongest appeal to that loving heart. We stand on another level. The leper’s hesitation is our certainty. We know that if any men are not healed it is not because Christ will not, but because they will not.
II. The Lord’s answer.—Mark puts the miracle in very small compass, and dilates rather upon the attitude and mind of Christ preparatory to it. Note three things—the compassion, the touch, the word. As to the first, is it not a precious gift for us, in the midst of our many wearinesses and sorrows and sicknesses, to have that picture of Jesus Christ bending over the leper, and sending, as it were, a gush of pitying love from His heart to flood away all his miseries? Show Him sorrow, and He answers it by a pity of such a sort that it is restless till it helps and assuages. We may rise higher than even this, for the pity of Jesus Christ is the summit of His revelation of the Father. The Christian’s God is no impassive Being, indifferent to mankind, but One who in all our afflictions is afflicted, and, in His love and in His pity, redeems and bears and carries. Note, still further, the Lord’s touch. With swift obedience to the impulse of His pity, Christ thrusts forth His hand and touches the leper. There was much in that; but whatever more we may see in it, we should not be blind to the loving humanity of the act. All men that help their fellows must be contented thus to identify themselves with them and to take them by the hand, if they would deliver them from their evils. Remember, too, that according to the Mosaic Law it was forbidden to any but the priest to touch a leper. Therefore in this act, beautiful as it is in its uncalculated humanity, there may have been something intended of a deeper kind. Our Lord thereby does one of two things—either He asserts His authority as overriding that of Moses and all his regulations, or He asserts His sacerdotal character. Either way there is a great claim in the act. Still further, we may take that touch of Christ’s as being a parable of His whole work. It symbolises His identifying of Himself with mankind, the foulest and the most degraded; and in this connexion there is a profound meaning in one of the ordinarily trivial legends of the Rabbis, who, founding upon a word of Isaiah 53:0, tell us that when Messias comes He will be found sitting amongst the lepers at the gate of the city. So He was numbered amongst the transgressors in His life, and “with the wicked in His death.” He touches, and, touching, contracts no impurity, cleansing as the sunlight or the fire does, by burning up the impurity, and not by receiving it into Himself. Note the Lord’s word: “I will; be thou clean.” It is shaped, convolution for convolution, so to speak, to match the man’s prayer. He ever moulds His response according to the feebleness and imperfection of the petitioner’s faith. But, at the same time, what a ring of autocratic authority and conscious sovereignty there is in the brief, calm, imperative word, “I will; be thou clean”! He accepts the leper’s description of power; He claims to work the miracle by His own will, and therein He is either guilty of what comes very near arrogant blasphemy, or He is rightly claiming for Himself a Divine prerogative. If His word can tell as a force on material things, what is the conclusion? He who “speaks and it is done” is Almighty and Divine.
III. The immediate cure.—Mark tells, with his favourite word, “straightway,’ how, as soon as Christ had spoken, the leprosy departed from him. And to turn from the symbol to the fact, the same sudden and complete cleansing is possible for us. On account of Christ’s sacrifice, whose efficacy is eternal and lies at the foundation of all our blessedness and our purity until the heavens shall be no more, we are forgiven our sins, and our guilt is taken away. By the present indwelling of that cleansing Spirit of the ever-living Christ, which will be given to us each if we seek it, we are cleansed day by day from our evil. We must come to Christ, and there must be a real living contact between us and Him through our faith, if we are to possess either the forgiveness or the cleansing which is wrapped up inseparable in His gift. Further, the suddenness of this cure and its completeness may be reproduced in us. Trust Him and He will do it. Only remember, it was of no use to the leper that crowds had been healed, that floods of blessing had been poured over the land. What he wanted was that a rill should come into his own garden and flow past his own door and refresh his own lips. And if you want to have Christ’s cleansing you must make personal work of it, and come with this prayer, “Unto me be all that cleansing shown!” Or rather you do not need to go to Him with an “If” nor a prayer, for His gift has not waited for our asking, and He has anticipated us by coming with healing in His wings. The parts are reversed, and He prays you to receive the gift, and stands before each of us with the gentle remonstrance upon His lips, “Why will ye die when I am here ready to cure you?” Take Him at His word, for He offers to us all, whether we desire it or no, the cleansing which we need.—A. Maclaren, D. D.
Mark 1:40-45. Christ’s healing touch.—What purpose did the touch of Christ serve? Perhaps we shall be helped in replying, if we think of how much tenderness and pathos the Gospel narratives would be deprived if this small feature were taken from them. The touch of Christ seems still to bring Him into contact with humanity; it falls into harmony with the whole story of His condescending sympathy.
I. In touching the sick Christ fixes and confirms faith in Himself as the Healer.—It is in condescension to a human weakness that He lays His hands on diseased folk. We believe in little that we cannot see. Pain and sickness are so sensible that we look for equally sensible tokens of the energy of the restorer. Christ came into the world to heal sicknesses; and faith in Him, as Healer, was essential to the cure. By His touch He fixed men’s thoughts upon Himself; this was the pledge of healing by which He stimulated and confirmed their faith. Christ’s touching the sick is then a symbol of that condescension to our weakness in which He still appeals to us, fixing our thoughts upon Himself, revealing His infinite power and ever-gracious purpose, arousing us by some special mode to contemplate what virtue is in Him, but which, without these special revelations, we should fail to see. Miracles themselves are such a condescension; in the miracle Christ “touches” us, that we may see how entirely and blessedly the universe is under His control. We may see this, too, as one among the reasons of Christ’s incarnation—“the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” that “touched” into attention we might behold “the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Christ was in God, before God was incarnated in Jesus Christ. The love and sympathy, the reverence and righteousness, the trustiness and truth—in one word, the grace that so moves and wins us in Jesus, dwelt in the bosom of the Father from before all worlds. But how could we have ascended up on high to bring Christ down from above? how could our world-dulled eyes have beheld, or our carnal hearts have trusted, the grace that is in our God? It needed to be not simply revealed to us as a heavenly doctrine, but embodied in an earthly form. And so it “drew from out the vast and struck its being into bounds.” Christian experience, again, will furnish us with many illustrations of the mode in which Christ condescends to our weakness in pursuing His purpose to save us. We none of us believe that there are times and seasons with Him. He is as ready to save us the first hour we hear of Him as He can be at any subsequent time; He “waiteth” to be gracious unto us, with hand ever stretched out, and with voice ever pleading, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” And yet how full is Christian biography of instances of Christ’s falling in with our expectation and using special events, special times, as the mode in which to heal us. The cares of life, the responsibilities of early manhood, the solemnity of parentage, the softening influences of bereavement, the terrors of pestilence, the fear of death—He makes all these the means of extending His grace to souls. He gives us the very sign we wish for, that we may believe that He is Himself making us whole.
II. See in Christ’s touch of the sick His answer to our craving for sympathy.—Those who have had much to do with the sick—who have seen how, in their tossings to and fro, a hand laid on theirs can quiet them—who have heard them say, “Sit there in the light, where I can see you”—who remember their restless craving for some token that they are being cared for, how they ask to be turned from side to side, that their pillow be smoothed, or the curtains drawn, or some little attention paid which makes their bed really no easier, but soothes them—will see in the touch of Christ a virtue beyond what it has as the appropriate sign of healing. They will understand that this token of sympathy had much to do with the faith in Himself as Healer, which Christ sought to cherish; for the sick have very little confidence in the power to help them of those who are not tender in their help. Some of us would do well to visit the sick, that we might learn what possibilities of suffering are in man, and be made more thoughtful, more tender-hearted. There was no need of Christ’s learning such a lesson, no need of awakening His sympathy. But we did need to have that sympathy revealed to us. And here, again, we are met by the wondrous doctrine of the Incarnation. Christ is with us, not only helping us, but feeling with us; knowing exactly how to succour, because He knows exactly how the burden presses on us. How the gospel lights up and fills with meaning such passages as these: “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him. For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are but dust.” “He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of His eye.” Man’s craving for God’s sympathy is here met, the very craving we are sometimes ready to stigmatise as a weakness. “They brought unto Christ infants, that He should touch them; but when His disciples saw it, they rebuked them.” “What good can a touch do them? Silly mothers to long for, to find any satisfaction in a touch!” But Jesus rebuked His disciples, and took the children in His arms and blessed them. There are very many things that, like the touch of the children, do not seem to us of much use, but still we are weak enough to long for them. And we have a Father in heaven who is good enough to meet that weakness. Christ has made us understand the Fatherhood of God. He would have us not stiffly, severely good, but frank and natural with Him. The touch was not needed for healing, but it was a comfort to be touched by Christ; and “Jesus put forth His hand, and touched him, and said, I will; be thou clean.”
III. See in Christ’s touch the symbol of Christ’s bearing our infirmities and carrying our sins.—This is, after all, the sublimest meaning of our text. He “touched” our nature in all its pollution; He shrank not from it, but took it upon Himself, and bore its shame and suffering. A thousand will subscribe to a hospital for one who will live with the idiot or deformed; a thousand will pay the doctor and the nurse for one who will enter the cottage of the squalid sick and spend one night there. It needs much schooling of self to suppress the instinct of revolt at sickness hideously before us. Turn now and read of Christ, that He “touched” the sick and healed them. You will see that in His dealing with bodily disease He did but symbolise how entirely He had taken human sinfulness to Himself.—A. Mackennal, D.D.
Mark 1:43-45. Be silent.—
I. This is not at all the command we should have expected; and we cannot but ask, therefore, for the reason of it. Can it be that a very common conception of Christian duty is after all inaccurate and misleading, and that it is not every convert’s first and great duty to bear verbal witness to the Saviour who has redeemed him? It may be that this is an inaccurate and a misleading conception of Christian duty; and for myself I think it is. But, assuredly, there were other reasons for our Lord’s prohibition; and it may be well to look at these first.
1. Doubtless one reason why Christ enjoined silence on many of those whom He had healed was, that He did not as yet wish to draw on Himself the public attention. He came not to strive, and cry, and make His voice heard in the streets. He desired to go quietly about His work, sowing seeds of truth and grace which might hereafter bring forth fair fruit abundantly.
2. Another and more special reason in this case was, that He wished the leper to discharge a special duty, viz. to bear a “testimony to the priests.” As yet they were prejudiced against Jesus of Nazareth. They thought of Him as a zealot, a fanatic, who had swept away corruptions at which they had connived, by which they had profited. Probably they feared that He might set Himself to destroy, rather than to fulfil, the Mosaic Law, or that He might undermine their authority with the people. Now if the leper had done as he was bid, if he had held his peace, if he had gone straight to Jerusalem and told the priests that Jesus had sent him to them in order that they might examine him by the Mosaic tests and say whether he was clean, and if he had taken them the offerings which Moses had commanded the cleansed leper to present before the Lord, he would have carried them “a testimony” which could hardly have failed to produce a happy effect on their minds. First, his very healing would have testified that Jesus wielded a Divine power, and then the deference of Jesus to the law and to the priesthood would have predisposed them in His favour.
3. But besides these, we cannot but feel that there must be some reason in our common human nature for this constant injunction to silence, that our Lord must have been thinking of the spiritual welfare of men when He forbad them to bear public witness to His marvellous works. One such reason is to be found, I think, in the very different estimate put on miracles by Christ and by the Church. It is only of late years that the more thoughtful students of the Word have come to suspect that miracles are a burden which the gospel has to carry rather than wings of proof which bear it up. But however we may regard them, our Lord and His apostles laid very little stress upon them. To the leper, possibly, nothing was so grand, nothing so desirable, as the power to work miracles; but Jesus knew “a more excellent way,” and held not love alone, but almost any ethical and spiritual virtue, to be worth far more than tongues, or prophecy, or the faith that can only remove a mountain. For this reason, therefore, among many others, He bade the leper “say nothing” of the miracle “to any man.” Consider, too, how religious emotion evaporates in talk, how virtue goes out of us in the words we utter. Is it not always better to obey than to talk about obedience, to show love than to profess love? Obviously, though no doubt he thought to honour Christ by “much publishing” what He had done, this man was not strong enough for that form of service. To what good end did he honour Christ with his tongue, while he dishonoured, by disobeying, Him in his life? See what harm this leper did, though doubtless he had none but a good intention, what an ill return he made for the grace of Christ. By touching the leper Christ had become a leper, in the eye of the law. The kind hand laid upon him not only healed him, but drew him from the desert into the city, and readmitted him to the society of men. And the leper rewarded his Healer by driving Him out of the city into the desert. Simply because his foolish tongue would wag, “Jesus could no more openly enter into a city, but was” compelled to remain “without in desert places.” Could we have a more convincing illustration of the danger of disobedience, however pure and generous its motive may seem? Yes, for it is a still more bitter proof when we find that by our own fluent religious talk, and the easy but eager profession by which we honestly meant to serve Christ, we have alienated from Him those who stand nearest to us and know us best.
II. How came this leper to disobey the word of the Lord?—This ought not to be a puzzle to you, and could not be if you were thoughtful students of your own hearts. Have you yet to learn that it is much easier to brace oneself for great endeavours than to maintain a faithful discharge of simple and lesser duties? easier to suffer death, for example, in some great cause than to set such a watch over the lips as never to offend? easier to make a great sacrifice for some worthy end than to keep one’s temper under the slight frets and provocations which every day brings with it? A great faith is not always a patient and submissive faith. We should also remember into what fatal languors great spiritual excitement is apt to react. The leper who, face to face with Christ, could live or die for Him, but no sooner quits His presence than he cannot even hold his tongue for Him, is but a glass in which we may see ourselves and read a warning against our own peril.—S. Cox, D. D.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 1:40. Various attitudes of men towards Christ.—In Mark 1:27 we found men putting questions regarding Christ’s power; in Mark 1:40 we find a poor sufferer seeking to avail himself of Christ’s curative energy. This marks the great difference between various classes of society in relation to the work of the Saviour. One class is content with looking, wondering, and perhaps admiring; another class must test His power in direct personal experience.—J. Parker, D. D.
Christ inspires trust.—This incident shows the trust which the ministry of the Saviour had inspired in the minds of sufferers, specially so in the case of the leper; the leper lived under the most terrible restrictions, yet his heart rose to the point of trust and love when he heard of the wonderful works of this new Man.—Ibid.
Personal faith in Christ.—This man did not merely believe that Jesus Christ could cleanse a leper, but that He could cleanse him! It is very easy to believe for other people. There is really no faith in such impersonal, proxy confidence. The true faith believes for itself first, and then for others.
Sickness and the soul.—Sicknesses and diseases, says an old writer, are often necessary to the soul’s health. God knows this better than we; wherefore we ought to resign ourselves into His hands, and not to ask for health and relief absolutely, but conditionally, as it shall please God, and as it shall conduce to our spiritual good.
Mark 1:40-42. Leprosy.—Leprosy was regarded as the symbol of sin and of judgment (Numbers 12:10; 2 Kings 5:26; 2 Kings 15:5; 2 Chronicles 26:20-23); also of inscrutable visitations (Job 2:7).
2. Recovery from leprosy was regarded as a symbol of salvation, as in the case of Naaman (2 Kings 5:2 : cp. Psalms 51:9, with Leviticus 6:7).
3. The uncleanness, the gradual destruction of the system, the disgusting appearance, and the unexpected recovery by a full outbreak of the eruption—and, again, the slow but sure progress of the disease, the isolation of those who were affected by it from the society of the clean, the infectious nature of the trouble, its long duration and hopelessness—presented a variety of views under which sin and guilt with its consequences and effects, even upon innocent individuals, might be symbolised.—J. P. Lange, D.D.
A signal instance of faith in Christ.—
1. In the cures wrought by Christ faith was ever the connecting link between cause and effect—the channel which conveyed the healing balm to the festering sore—the medium which brought the saving power of God to bear upon the suffering weakness of man.
2. Faith in the heart was ever accompanied by confession with the mouth and expression in the life. As men believed, so they spoke and acted.
3. This leper came to Jesus, besought Jesus, and confessed his faith in Jesus. So far, he acted like the blind men at Jericho (Matthew 20:29-34), and the father of the child with a dumb spirit (Mark 9:17-27). But this leper’s confession, unlike theirs, was made not in reply to any question put by Christ, but of his own voluntary motion. His soul was as full of faith as his body of leprosy. He had no doubt whatever as to Christ’s power to heal; yet in his great humility he would not dictate to the Divine Physician, but leave himself entirely in His hands: “If Thou art willing, Thou art able to cleanse me.”
4. To such an appeal the Saviour had but one answer—the echo of the suppliant’s cry: “I will; be thou clean.” And as He uttered these gracious words, to show that He could do what He would, and would do what He could, He “put forth His hand, and touched him,” and “immediately the leprosy departed,” etc.
5. Behold that leper—as he was, and as he is! The disease, how hopeless: the remedy, how sure: the application of that remedy, how simple: the cure, how speedy and complete! That hopeless disease was leprosy: that sure remedy, the power of Christ: that simple application, faith in Jesus: that swift and effectual cure, a new creation!
Mark 1:41. Christ’s touch.—The word “be clean” was sufficient for His healing: why then the touch? What an illustration of Divinity!
1. That He could touch pollution and be undefiled. The water of life is not fouled by the corruption of those who come to drink.
2. This was Divine sympathy. We can almost hear this leper say, “Lord, I am unclean, vile, sinful, and separated; no one can even touch me, for fear of pollution; oh, heal me!” We can almost feel the thrill as the healing tide responded to the word of Jesus, and the new love, like an electric current, came at His touch. 3. In all Christian work the loving hand should accompany the loving word. John B. Gough says of the man who was permitted to reach him, “After twenty years, I can feel the power and love of the hand that was laid upon my shoulder that night.” And the world has felt the touch, just as the multitudes who came to be healed felt the word and touch Jesus gave to the leper.
Christ’s helping hand.—Like a sunbeam passing through foul water untarnished and unstained, or like some sweet spring such as travellers tell us rises sometimes in the midst of the salt sea and retains its freshness and pours it over the surrounding bitterness, so Christ takes upon Himself our nature, and lays hold of our stained hands with the hand that continues pure while it grasps us, and will make us purer if we grasp it.
The symbolic teaching of this miracle is thus expressed by Bede: Typically, the leper represents the whole race of man languishing with sins, as this sufferer, full of leprosy, for “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” By the hand of the Saviour put forth—that is, by the Word of God become incarnate and touching human nature—they are cleansed from their old transgression, and are enabled to hear with the apostles the cheering words, “Now ye are clean, because of the word which I have spoken unto you”; and they who once, as abominable, were excluded from the city of God, are now brought within the Temple, and are presented unto Him who is a priest for ever, and offer for their cleansing their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God.
Christ touching the leprosies of humanity.—How often, in His human life, Christ repeated in the spirit what He here did in the body! When He ate with the publicans and sinners, endured the kiss of the fallen, sent away uncondemned the penitent adulteress, opened paradise to the dying malefactor, He was again and again touching the leprosies of humanity, touching them that He might make them clean. And when His Church went forth from the upper chamber, in the strength of His unseen presence and His Spirit’s guidance, and stood before the dying pagan world; when it confronted the hideous profligacy of Corinth or Antioch, and the frivolous scepticism of Athens, and the dark devil-worship of Ephesus, and the coarse brutality of Philippi, and the wild fanaticism of Galatia, and the pitiless cruelties of Rome,—then over and over again Christ touched the leper and made him clean; and through the tainted views of that polluted world there flowed out straight from Christ the resistless current of a new and purer life. The history of the first Christian centuries is the fulfilment of that of which this miracle was the shadow and promise.—John Ellerton.
The leprosies of modern society.—Think of the leprosies of modern English society, which some are afraid to touch, which too many have touched to their sorrow and ruin. Look at that great subject of popular amusements. There is plenty of corruption and disease there. But it is not copying Christ to stand aloof from it all and say, “Oh! these things are all so bad, so dangerous—the vice of the drama, the frivolity of fashionable pleasure, the immorality of popular fiction—these are so great, so corrupting, that we must ignore them; they are too bad for us to try to mend them.” And it is pitiful when the reaction from this moral cowardice comes, and bright young lives are carried along by pleasure; when with a sort of feeling that they are defying and separating themselves from the good and the serious, they touch that which defiles, and lose their purity of heart, their faith in Christ, their longings to be His for ever. We want men and women to deal with this question of amusement in a spirit of courageous faith—to say, “These things need not be bad, and ought not to be bad; and if we bring Christ’s touch upon them, we can and will purify them—purify our social life, our politics, our business, our commerce, our amusements, aye, and our Churches and our religious life too, for they too need the outstretched hand of Christ to make them clean.”—Ibid.
Dogmatic teaching of verse.—This verse was regarded by the early Church as a mine of dogmatic teaching, specially suitable for the confutation of heresy. To Photinus, who taught that Jesus was a mere man and in no sense God, was objected the word, “I will,” as indicating His claim to possess an almighty will, the power to heal at His own will. To Arius, who taught the inferiority of the Son to the Father, were objected the words, “I will; be thou clean,” as claiming equality of power. To Manichæus, who taught that Jesus did not possess a body in reality, but only in appearance, were objected the words, “Jesus put forth His hand, and touched him.”
Mark 1:42. The healing of the leper a sign of hope to the world.—
1. The Lord can restore, even where a case seems desperate.
2. He is willing to do it.
3. He does it by entering into fellowship with the sufferings of the world.
4. By His suffering He takes away ours.
5. He separates between sin and its counterpart, misery; thus taking away the strength of sin.—J. P. Lange, D. D.
Mark 1:44. The use and abuse of testimony.—There is no doubt real power in personal testimony, but it is quite possible we may lay too much stress upon it; and that is the danger in the present day. The young convert, before he has had any experience, is encouraged to tell forth his story, until there is this danger—that when the devil of unbelief is driven out, the devil of pride shall enter in, and the man begins to think that he has done something very great in trusting in Jesus. There is very great danger of pressing personal testimony too far. But there is real use of testimony. Our Lord seems to indicate it here: “Tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer,” etc. It would be far better for you to go to your house in solitude, to think over in silence what God has done for you, and there in your solitary chamber to pour out your thanksgiving to God. There is more real true work done in the stillness of solitude than if you go and publish abroad what Christ has done for you. But there is a testimony you must bring: “Go thy way, and shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded.” Not so much go and speak, but go and live; go and shew, not so much go and tell them I am a cleansed man, but let them see the anointed hand, the purified ear. Let them see the life-blood coursing through your veins, and that you have become as a little child, humble and faithful. Go and shew yourself to the priests. And who are they? Those most opposed to My claims, those who hate Me, as the Messiah. Go and shew thyself to My enemies; they will not care for your speaking, but it will be your life that will be a testimony to them. Then go and offer as a gift what Moses commanded. If Moses has told you to sprinkle your hand, your ear, your feet—your ear, your hand, and your foot, and every part of your body must be sanctified not now in obedience to some iron law, but as expressive of your heart’s gratitude for what Christ has done for you.—E. A. Stuart.
Christ’s command.—What our Prophet commands is no costly offering, no painful penance—a delightful service, a surrender which is a relief. That we offer and present our souls and bodies to Him—that we trust our way to Him and say, “I will follow Thee”—that we snatch ourselves away from the old tyrants, from whose hands He has rescued us, and watch against any hint of a return to them—that we be His who has bought us with His blood.
Mark 1:45. A fault to be guarded against.—The healed leper was like those who, out of thankfulness of heart indeed, but yet inconsiderately, neglect the inward commandment of the Holy Spirit, and make too much talk about the grace of God, to their own and others’ hurt.—Von Gerlach.
Imprudence better than apathy.—The case of those who in our own days are led to do things of which Christian prudence cannot approve is nearly parallel; they do what is not right, but yet it may be easily believed that their fault is in some cases more easily pardoned than the coldness and apathy of those who undertake to condemn them.—Bishop H. Goodwin.
Christ’s withdrawal.—Some have thought of this withdrawal as a kind of Levitical quarantine, in acknowledgment of the ceremonial uncleanness acquired by touching the leper, which became generally known from the report of the latter. Certainly the multitude had no scruples arising from this consideration, and it is more natural to suppose that Christ refrained from openly entering any city in order to avoid the applause of men, and the commotion which, at this moment, His presence would have excited. Those who really desired to be with Him for any high and sufficient reason would follow Him even into the wilderness; but He would not thrust Himself voluntarily into the idle throng, which, for any or no cause, is collected with little notice in a populous town.—W. J. Deane.
Retirement from the world.—The more a servant of God withdraws himself from the world, the more highly does the world esteem him, and the more likely is it to heed his admonitions.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Mark 1:40-45. Leprosy.—As to this disease observe: heat, dryness, and dust predispose to diseases of the skin everywhere, and all these causes are especially operative in Syria. Insufficient food assists their action; and boils and sores are apt to fester and poison the system. Leprosy is a disease found over a large tract of the world’s surface; it is found all round the shores of the Mediterranean, from Syria to Spain, in a virulent form, and in North and South Africa. It was carried to various countries in Europe by those who returned from the Crusades, and became prevalent even in England, in the times when our forefathers had no butcher meat in winter but what was salted, and little vegetable diet with it. In a form less virulent than in Palestine it exists in Norway, where the government supports several hospitals for lepers, and seeks to prevent the spread of the disease by requiring all afflicted with it to live—unmarried—in one or other of these. Probably salt fish in Norway forms the too exclusive food of the poor, as it also probably did in Palestine in the time of Christ. Mrs. Brassey found it in the islands of the Pacific. It is so common in India that when Lord Lawrence took formal possession of Oude, he made the people promise not to burn their widows, nor slay their children (the girls), nor bury alive their lepers.—R. Glover.
Leprosy.—You remember the story of the leper which Swinburne has woven into one of his most beautiful, most painfully realistic, poems. He tells about a lady at the French Court in the Middle Ages who was stricken with leprosy. She had been courted, flattered, idolised, and almost worshipped for her wit and beauty by the king, princes, and all the royal train, until she was smitten with leprosy. Then her very lovers hunted her forth as a banned and God-forsaken thing; every door in the great city of Paris was slammed in her face; no one would give her a drop of water or piece of bread; the very children spat in her face, and fled from her as a pestilential thing, until a poor clerk, who had loved the great lady a long way off, and had never spoken to her until then, took her to his house for pity’s sake, and nursed her until she died, and he was cast out and cursed himself by all the religious world for doing it.—J. G. Greenhough.
Mark 1:40. Growth of sin.—The Jews have a tradition about the growth of leprosy, that it began with the walls of a man’s house; then, if he did not repent, it entered his clothes, till at last it affected his body. So it is with the growth of sin. It begins with neglect of duty, it may be of prayer, or the warning voice of conscience is unheeded. Habits of sin are formed, till at last the soul that lets God alone is let alone by God.
No “if” in Jesus.—A little girl was awakened to anxiety about her soul at a meeting where the story of the leper was told. Well, this dear little girl, who was anxious, said, “I noticed that there was an ‘if’ in what the man said; but there was no ‘if’ in what Jesus said. So I went home and took out the ‘if,’ by my granny’s fireside, and I knelt down, and I said, ‘Lord Jesus, Thou canst. Thou wilt make me clean. I give myself to Thee.’ ”
Mark 1:41. Hand-help.—You know what it is to feel a man’s hand warm within your own; the cheer that comes from a good hand-shake of an honest heart is what?—why, it is this: that you feel the friend understands you and gives you hope; the spirit of your friend touches your spirit in the hand-grasp, and that hand-shaking is instinct with life. He might write and say good things, and true and helpful to you, but they did not seem to be half as good and true till he took your hand into his own. Or, again, you have need of a physician, and he writes you a prescription. The medicine does not do half so much good as the visit in which he took your weak hand in his own strong one, and shewed you by the way he held it that he meant to bring you through, God helping him. Yes, hope in the touch of a human hand of love, faith in the touch of a human hand of pity, cheer in the touch of a human hand of power—this is the doctor’s gift to his patient, and this was God’s gift in Christ to a poor, sin-weary, leprous world that felt there was need of healthier, happier life, and knew not where to turn for it.—H. D. Rawnsley.
Christ’s answer an exact echo of the request.—The echo which the mountain gives back to our cry is, as you must often have noticed, calm and pure and musical, however harsh or dissonant or strained our voice may be. Your cry or shout may rise to a piercing scream; but if you wait and listen, it comes back to you with all the discord and excitement strained out of it—comes back at times with a mystical force and sweetness and purity. And when the leper heard his passionate cry come back from the lips of Christ, must there not have been a heavenly sweetness and power in that gracious echo? Must he not have wondered how his poor words should have suddenly grown instinct with a celestial music and energy?—S. Cox, D. D.
Mark 1:45. Talkativeness a great evil.—He that cannot refrain from much speaking is like a city without walls; and less pains in the world a man cannot take than to hold his tongue. Therefore if thou observest this rule in all assemblies, thou shalt seldom err: restrain thy choler; hearken much, and speak little; for the tongue is the instrument of the greatest good and greatest evil that is done in the world (Job 2:10; James 1:19; James 1:26).—Sir W. Raleigh.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Mark 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12