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CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 12:1. A place for the winefat.—Simply a winepress; or (more exactly) winevat, i.e. the receptacle under the winepress proper. Probably ὑπολήνιον is here used to denote the whole apparatus, which was often hollowed out of a sloping rock. A tower.—A stone building some twenty feet high, with a flat roof, where a sentinel was posted to protect the vineyard from depredators. It would also serve as a residence during the vintage season. Into a far country.—Too strong: ἀπεδήμησε is just went from home.
Mark 12:4. See R. V.
Mark 12:6. Most pathetically put in the original: There was yet one he possessed, a son beloved; he sent him last to visit them, saying. They will feel ashamed of themselves in presence of my son.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 12:1-12
(PARALLELS: Matthew 21:33-41; Luke 20:9-18.)
The husbandmen and the vineyard.—In this parable our Lord seeks to convince the Jews of the sinful state of the nation, and to warn them of the terrible judgments they were bringing on themselves. These features will be dwelt on more fully in the next Outline; the following more general lessons may be enforced here.
I. This parable condemns injustice between man and man.—It assumes that a man has a right in that which belongs to him, and exposes the wickedness of those who attempt to take the law into their own hands. It goes dead against such teaching as has led to bloodshed and misery in Ireland, and can only result in ruin wherever it is put in practice.
II. This parable enforces solemn spiritual lessons.—
1. We are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:10; 1 Corinthians 6:20). The soul is a vineyard, and we have no right to neglect or misuse it. Every talent entrusted to us must be employed for the glory of God, and in obedience to His commands.
2. The Lord of the vineyard has afforded us every opportunity for right cultivation, and He expects us to render a due return. “No man is elected to any advantage over his fellows for his own sake or enjoyment. He is rather in the position of one to whom finer and more powerful instruments are given, that by their possession he may be the servant of all the rest.”
3. Obedience must be the voluntary submission of our free choice; and God will not be satisfied without this.
The Stone which the builders rejected.—Those whom our Lord addressed had not only “read this scripture,” but had been accustomed to apply it to the proper person—not David himself, but David’s Son and Lord, the Messiah. So that here, as elsewhere, Christ covertly takes to Himself that office and dignity which, out of consideration for their prejudices, He forbore openly to assume. After His ascension, when there was no longer any reason for reserve, His apostles affirmed the same truth in the plainest terms (Acts 4:10; Acts 11:0; 1 Peter 2:7).
I. The rejection of Jesus Christ by the Jewish nation.—They were “the builders,” a people specially set apart to preserve the knowledge of God in the world. This they had done—carried up the structure to a certain height above the ground, as far as their materials would go. But now, on there being presented to them a Stone, a chief Corner-stone, just what they required to complete the edifice, they cast it aside with derision and contempt. And in so doing they unwittingly fulfilled prophecy (Acts 13:27).
II. The exaltation of Jesus Christ, notwithstanding their rejection.—We cannot, like Stephen, see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. But we may behold the visible kingdom and Church of Christ, as it was instituted at Jerusalem immediately after His ascension, and continues to this day. We may trace the marvellous progress of this institution in the pages of the inspired narrative, so far as that narrative extends. Proceeding onwards, we may view “the kingdoms of this world,” one after another, “becoming the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ,” and the religion of the Crucified firmly established and consolidated in the world.
III. The Divine agency to which this is to be ascribed.—From whom, if not from God, could a work so truly Divine, so far surpassing all human powers and conceptions, proceed?
1. Consider it as a gift (James 1:17; Romans 6:23; John 3:16).
2. Consider it as a signal defeat and disconcerting of the counsels of men (Psalms 33:10; Job 5:13; Psalms 76:10).
3. Consider it as still proceeding, and recognise “the Lord’s doing” both in the rejection and the reception of Jesus Christ, and of the doctrine which He brought down from heaven, and sealed with His blood.—F. Field, LL.D.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 12:1. God’s care for Israel.—Canaan was a vineyard enclosed (Exodus 15:17; Psalms 44:2; Nehemiah 9:23-25; Psalms 80:8-11). Lines of demarcation were laid down between the people of Israel and the surrounding nations, partly because the idolatries practised by those nations were so defiling and infectious that even the chosen nation could not be trusted to mingle with them on free terms. They were forbidden to intermarry with other people. Moreover they were isolated by their geographical position: the desert of Paran bounded their southern states; the Mediterranean Sea, the west; the rugged mountains of Lebanon, the north; and their eastern frontier was a water boundary. A vineyard required unceasing care and attention; so every facility was furnished the children of Israel to become a nation of saints.—J. H. Morgan.
The soul, God’s vineyard.—The soul, according to one figurative sense of this parable, is the vineyard of God. When He created it, He planted it; He set a hedge about it, which is that of His commandments. The winepress is the representative sacrifice which causes the blood of Christ to flow into it. The tower is the Church, the house of prayer, in which the soul, being raised from the earth, is secure from its enemies, and finds in the Word of God arms strong enough to overcome them. Our soul is not our own: God, who is the creator, is likewise the proprietor of it. We hold it of Him, as it were, by lease, only that we may cultivate it, and render to Him the fruits which it is capable of producing by His grace. Let us take great care that we be not found, either not having any at all, or claiming the property of them to ourselves.—P. Quesnel.
Mark 12:3-9. The wicked husbandmen.—
1. Injustice to men results from unfaithfulness to God.
2. The wicked expect to profit by the removal of the righteous.
3. What is good passes from those who will not use it to those who will.
4. Those most honoured by God have not been most honoured by men.—J. H. Godwin.
The form of this parable.—At most this parable is but an old theme worked up with new variations. Every one who heard it knew what the vineyard with its hedge, winepress, and tower signified, and who the vinedressers were, and who the servants sent for the fruits. These phrases belonged to the established religious dialect of Israel as much as the words pastor, flock, lambs of the flock, Zion, etc., do to ours, used by us all without consciousness that we are speaking in figures. In adopting this form of presentation, therefore, Jesus was not so much speaking in parables as using the recognised authority of written prophecy against His opponents, a most appropriate procedure when the question at issue respecied His personal authority.—A. B. Bruce, D.D.
The design of this parable.—The design is to signalise the contrast between the spirit of the owner and that of the men to whom the vineyard was entrusted. The owner has an eye to fruit; the details depicting the construction of the vineyard all point towards fruit as the chief end, and they are enumerated for no other reason There is a hedge, that the vines may not be spoiled by wild beasts; a press and vat, that the grapes may be squeezed and the juice preserved; a tower, that the ripe fruit may not be stolen. The didactic significance of these particulars is not, as in the original form of the allegory in Isaiah, that all has been done that could be done for the vineyard, so as to make the owner free from blame, but that all has been done with one object in view, viz. the production of fruit. In keeping with this emphasising of fruitfulness as the reason of the existence of the vineyard fully equipped for the purpose, is the reiterated persistent demand for the fruit when the season came round, as also the intimation of the owner’s purpose, on conclusively ascertaining that no fruit was to be forthcoming, to entrust his vineyard to others. On the other hand, what was the temper of the vinedressers? Was it that of men who wished to keep the fruit to themselves instead of giving it to the owner? No; but rather that of men who never thought of fruit, but only of the honour and privilege of being entrusted with the keeping of the vineyard. They were triflers, men utterly devoid of earnestness, and the practical purpose of the property committed to their charge they habitually forgot. The hedge and the press and the tower might as well not have been there. When the servants came for the fruit they were simply surprised. “Fruit, did you say? we have occupied the position of vinedressers, and duly drawn our wages: what more do you want?” Such was the actual fact in regard to the spiritual heads of Israel. They had been entrusted with a valuable institution—an elect nation furnished with good laws, and meant to be a holy nation, a people to God’s praise. And speaking generally, they had lost sight of the end of Israel’s calling, and had made no use of the means provided for its attainment. They had occupied their position for their own glory; taken pay and done no work. They had committed the sin to which privileged classes have ever been prone—that of thinking only of privilege, and forgetting duty.—Ibid.
Application of this parable to Christians.—A rich vineyard, planted and fenced, is let out to us by the Divine Owner. The Bible, the Church, and the ministry have been provided and preserved for us. These blessings are not ours by right; we are tenants at will. We cannot truly enjoy the produce of the vineyard unless we reserve a portion for the owner. Those fruits enrich us most when returned to the Giver. They cannot be presented directly to Him, but they are made payable to the poor and His ministers. His Son has come to claim them, and is now waiting for our supreme reverence, trust, and love. “See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh.”—J. H. Morgan.
Mark 12:6. The treatment due to Christ from sinners.—It might have been presumed that sinners would treat Christ kindly, from—
1. The Divinity and glory of His nature.
2. The perfect excellence of His character.
3. The reasonableness of His claims.
4. The goodness of His intentions.
5. His known ability to save.
6. His power to destroy.
7. Their own necessities. One might sooner expect a beggar to spurn a palace, or a dying man to refuse the touch that would bring him life and health.
The Mission of the Son.—As He reached this point of the parable we may well believe that a thrill of blended joy and horror shot through the heart of Him who spake as never man spake, and loved as never man loved. For now He has to speak of Himself, and of His Father’s grace as shewn in and through Him. There was yet one, a well-beloved Son; and He last of all was sent by the all-enduring Lord of all. Must not His whole being have thrilled with deep and sacred joy at the thought that His Father loved Him, loved Him well and much, loved Him most of all for the love which prompted Him to lay down His life for the sinful race which hated and rejected Him? Amid all the sorrow and darkness which confronted Him, must He not have been consoled and upheld by the conviction that the God who had spoken to men in sundry fragments and divers ways by the prophets in times gone by, was now speaking to them by the Son whom He had “appointed heir of all things,” and was about to reveal to them the very fulness of His grace, His kindness and philanthropy—that even the death of the Cross was ordained by His Father, and was part of the plan by which He would yet draw all men unto Himself? And yet, as He turned from God to men, as the thought of His rejection, of all He had suffered and was still to suffer at the hands of these lawless upholders of law, must He not have been profoundly appalled by the sense of that guilt which He came to take away? He had long and often spoken of His death to His disciples, striving to prepare them for it; but now, for the first time, He predicts His rejection and death to the people at large, and in especial charges the rulers and priests, who had already in secret council conspired to put Him to death, with the guilt, with “the deep damnation of His taking-off.” If they could He could not, face that guilt unmoved; and as He put into the mouths of those wicked husbandmen the words, “This is the heir; come, and let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours”—if the priestly rulers (who, to keep their “place,” had determined to murder Him)—if they started as at the voice of an accusing and impersonated conscience, to which all their guilty secrets were known, how must He, who loved even them, have been grieved and appalled at a wickedness so stiff-necked and stupendous as theirs!—S. Cox, D.D.
Mark 12:7. The Son known and rejected.—
1. Jesus claims to be the Heir of God. In acting for God He acts for Himself. It is nature and relationship, not mere official dignity, that underlies this title and that is implied in the parable.
2. Jesus implies that this was known by these Jewish leaders. Their condemnation was, that, knowing Him to be the Son of God, they slew Him. They had a conviction that Jesus was the Christ, but they would not let their mind dwell upon it. There are thousands who have a haunting suspicion that Jesus deserves a very different kind of recognition from that which they give Him.—M. Dods, D. D.
Denial in spite of conviction.—Beneath many an obstinate denial of Him lies a secret confession or misgiving, which is more truly the man than the loud negation. And such strange contradictions are men, that the secret conviction is often the very thing which gives bitterness and eagerness to the hostility.—A. Maclaren, D. D.
“The inheritance shall be ours.”—Fatal mistake! The inheritance was theirs, and in slaying the Heir they cast themselves out of it.—Prof. F. J. A. Hort.
Mark 12:10-11. The rejected Stone.—The psalmist, in these two verses, is held to have referred to an incident in the building or in the rebuilding of the Temple. A stone which after examination the builders had rejected and cast aside as unworthy of a place in the foundation, had proved, when re-examined, to be of such noble quality that it was used as a corner-stone in the cornice, at an angle where two walls met, and was thus exalted to a conspicuous place of honour. Such a reversal of skilled human judgment was held to be the Lord’s doing, a marvel which called for admiration and praise. As it was with the rejected stone, Jesus implies, so will it be with the rejected Son. “You priests and rulers have rejected Me; you are about, as you think, to cover Me with shame and dishonour; but God is laughing at you, and at the shallow cunning you mistake for policy and wisdom: He will have you in derision; He will lift His despised and rejected Son into a place so lofty and honourable as that all the world may see Him, and praise the God who has exalted Him.”—S. Cox, D.D.
God’s truth overcoming human opposition.—It is very remarkable how often this has been repeated in the history of the Church—how great religious movements have been frowned down, if not actively opposed, by those in high places, which have afterwards subdued all opposition. In our own times, in this very century, this has occurred twice. First, the great evangelical movement in the Church of England was set at naught by the builders, though it was the assertion of the primary truth of personal religion—that each soul must have a personal apprehension of Christ, and look to Him with the eye of a living faith; and then the great Church movement was almost unanimously rejected by the bishops between 1840 and 1850, though it was the assertion of the truths patent through all the New Testament, that the Church, though a visible organisation, is the mystical body of Christ—that it is a supernatural system of grace, and that its sacraments are the signs of grace actually given in and with the outward sign. In neither of these cases did “the builders” discern the strength of the principles asserted, and foresee that they must win their way, though the formularies of the Church, of which these builders were the exponents and guardians, assert very unmistakably both these truths in conjunction, viz. spiritual apprehension of Christ, and sacramental union in His body.—M. F. Sadler.
Christ is to His Church a stone, which is solid by His immortality, white by His purity,—a principal one, as being her Head; a foundation-stone, as Author and Finisher of the faith; and a corner-stone, as being the band and union of all His members. They whose business it is to build the spiritual edifice are sometimes so unhappy as to reject the most lively and excellent stones. But God will certainly take care to reserve them their proper place, and to put them into the building.—P. Quesnel.
Mark 12:12. Reproof should be welcomed.—Men almost instinctively resent reproof; they do not like plain truths about themselves. Light hurts weak eyes; honey burns sore throats. Lais, the Corinthian beauty, broke her mirror because it shewed her wrinkles. This is foolish. I ought to be grateful to any who help me to know myself. When I remember how I shrink from reproving another, I ought to feel deeply indebted to the man who has brought himself to the point of reproving me. Some one has said that no man can be perfect without either a watchful enemy or a faithful friend. Let us value the faithful friend. He may not tickle our vanity, as does the honey-tongued flatterer, who, like Vitellius, worshipped Jehovah at Jerusalem and Caligula at Rome; but he will make us stronger and purer.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 12
Mark 12:2. “At the season.”—That was when the clusters were ripe, or perhaps it means the usually arranged period when the tenants, having gathered their grapes, and pressed their clusters, and sold their casks of wine, were able to pay the agreed amount of the profits. The plan seems to resemble the system called metayer in France, where the landowner supplies the land and seed, etc., according to an agreement, and the labourer supplies the culture, and at harvest-time receives for himself two-thirds of the crop, and pays over the other third to the landowner.
Mark 12:3-9. Insecurity of life in unsettled times.—The insecurity of life is reflected by the fierce lawlessness of the peasants who had possession of the vineyard; for that must have been a wild time of which it could be said that they beat, stabbed, or stoned both bands of slaves, ending by killing even the householder’s son. Nor is it a less vivid indication of general social demoralisation to find the injured owner represented as coming and destroying the criminals, without any reference of the matter to a court of law. The parable must be true to possibilities, else it would have failed to impress, and hence may be accepted as implying a very unsettled state of society in Palestine in those days, at least in districts away from Roman posts. The hideous misery entailed on the whole land by the long civil wars of local pretenders, and, still more, by the awful struggles of the rival claimants to the throne of the world, had brought over wide regions, not in Palestine alone, but in every province of the all-embracing Roman Empire, a dissolution of society, and the destruction of once flourishing communities, which made it the great task of the peaceful age of Augustus to rebuild ruined cities, to bring back to cultivation provinces once filled with a thriving population and rich in all rural industries, to repress and extirpate the lawlessness following in the train of such prolonged social convulsions, and to restore order and the sanctities of a secure public and private life. Over Palestine and Western Asia, including Asia Minor, there was, in fact, a state of things to redress which in a measure anticipated that of the civilised world at large in the fifth century, when the safest retreat of robbers, or the most lonely haunt of the solitary monk fleeing from the evils of the world, was in the ruins of what had not long before been a rich and populous city. Or, if we seek a parallel in modern history, there was such a state of things as remained over Central Europe after the close of the Thirty Years’ War, the scars and ruin of which are not even yet effaced, after nearly two hundred and fifty years.—C. Geikie, D.D.
Ingratitude.—At the battle of the Alma, in September 1854, a wounded Russian was calling piteously for water. Captain Eddington, whose heart was kind and charitable, ran to him, and, stooping, gave him a drink. The wounded man revived. The captain ran forward to rejoin his regiment, when the wretch fired and shot him who had befriended him in time of need.
Mark 12:6-7. God’s longsuffering.—The axe carried before the Roman consuls was always bound up in a bundle of rods. An old author tells us that “the rods were tied up with knotted cords, and that when an offender was condemned to be punished the executioner would untie the knots one by one, and meanwhile the magistrate would look the culprit in the face, to observe any signs of repentance and watch his words, to see if he could find a motive for mercy; and thus justice went to its work deliberately and without passion.” The axe was enclosed in rods to shew that the extreme penalty was never inflicted till milder means had failed; first the rod, and the axe only as a terrible necessity.
Divine forbearance.—The Macedonian king, Alexander the Great, who, as in one triumphal march, conquered the world, observed a very singular custom in his method of carrying on war. Whenever he encamped with his army before a fortified city and laid siege to it, he caused to be set up a great lantern, which was kept lighted by day and night. This was a signal to the besieged, and what it meant was that as long as the lamp burned they had time to save themselves by surrender, but that when once the light should be extinguished, the city, and all that were in it, would be irrevocably given over to destruction. And the conqueror kept his word with terrible consistency. When the light was put out, and the city was not given up, all hope of mercy was over. The Macedonians stormed the place, and if it was taken all were cut to pieces who were capable of bearing arms, and there was no quarter or forgiveness possible. Now it is the good pleasure of our God to have compassion and to shew mercy. But a city or a people can arrive at such a pitch of moral corruption that the moral order of the world can only be saved by its destruction. It was so with the whole race of men at the time of the Flood, with Sodom and Gomorrah at a later period, and with the Jewish people in our Saviour’s time. But before the impending stroke of judgment fell God always, so to speak, set up the lamp of grace, which was not only a signal of mercy, but also a light to shew men that they were in the way of death, and a power to turn them from it.
God’s final effort.—I remember one of the poets hath an ingenious fancy to express the Passion, wherewith he found himself overcome after a long resistance—that “the God of love had shot all His golden arrows at him, but could never pierce his heart, till at length he put Himself into the bow, and darted Himself straight into his breast.” Methinks this doth some way adumbrate God’s method of dealing with men. He had long contended with a stubborn world, and thrown down many a blessing upon them; and when all His other gifts could not prevail, He at last made a gift of Himself, to testify His affections and to engage theirs (Isaiah 5:4; Romans 8:32; Hebrews 1:3; Titus 2:14).—H. Scougal.
Christ’s reception from men.—Surely a servant of the government may risk himself in the very heart of a convict prison alone, if he is the bearer of a royal pardon for all the inmates. In such a case it would not be necessary to look out for a man of rare courage who might dare to carry the proclamation to the convicts. Give him but the message of free pardon, and he may go in unarmed with all safety, like Daniel in the den of lions. When Christ Himself came to the world—the great convict prison of the universe—came the Ambassador from God, bringing peace—they said: “This is the heir; come, let us kill Him!” He came unto His own, and His own received Him not; and the servant is not greater than his Lord.
Mark 12:9. Responsibility.—Daniel Webster was once called upon at a dinner-party in his own house to specify what one thing he had met with in life which had done most for him or had contributed most to his success. After a moment he replied, “The most fruitful and elevating influence I have ever seemed to meet with has been my impression of responsibility to God.”
Mark 12:10. “The headstone of the corner” is a keystone. A keystone is the wedge-shaped stone which keys or binds together the sides of an arch at its top. There is an ancient story that the Temple-builders, in absence of the architect, threw away a keystone because of its peculiar shape. It would not fit anywhere in the walls. Finally its proper place was found, and it was raised to the top of the arch. “The stone which the builders rejected became the head of the corner,” the keystone of the arch. A beautiful illustration, frequently used, of the rejection and exaltation of Christ. The rejection adds lustre to the glory. Every rejection of Christ turns out the same way: whether rejected by Caiaphas, or Nero, or Voltaire or Paris Commune, He is ever found, ever raised, ever placed higher in the fabric, the headstone of the arch. He has no other place. He fits nowhere else. He is not one fine stone along with the rest, Confucius, Buddha, and Mahomet. He is the keystone, different in kind from the rest. This or nothing. His place is at the top. The whole fabric of history holds Him up to view. He binds together the arch. Without Him the arch must fall in. Without Him the arch is an unsolved problem. He is the keystone; He solves the problem and locks the arch. He is the keystone of history. Previous history comes up to Him on one side, and subsequent history on the other side, and He unites them. He is the centre of history. He is the keystone of religion. Religion is the arch which bridges the chasm between heaven and earth. The God-man touches each side: His Divinity touches the heaven side, His humanity touches the earth side, and the arch is completed, the bridge is effected.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 12:13. To catch Him in His words.—The chief priests and scribes and elders having signally failed in their last attempt (chap. Mark 11:27-33), now send a band of Pharisees and Herodians, in the hope that they may be able to entangle and ensnare Him in an argument.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 12:13-17
(PARALLELS: Matthew 22:15-22; Luke 20:19-26.)
Question as to tribute money.—One part of the business of a teacher of Divine truth is to be ready to resolve doubtful cases submitted to him relating to duty and conscience. Especially a teacher professing to come with a message straight from God to men would be regarded as a kind of living oracle, at whose mouth any one who had a question to propose might seek a solution of it. There are, however, two conditions which such a teacher might reasonably demand from those who came to consult him: first, that he should not be appealed to in mere private matters and personal differences, which might be settled by the proper tribunals (Luke 12:13-14); and, secondly, that there should be, on the part of the questioner, a sincere desire to know what is right that he may choose it, and to learn the will of God that he may do it. It was in this latter qualification that the inquirers we are at present concerned with were deficient.
I. A foul plot.—“The chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders” (Mark 11:27), being afraid, after their signal defeat, to enter the lists with Jesus any more, now “send unto Him certain of the Pharisees and Herodians, to catch Him in His words.”
1. They doubtless thought this a very clever move, and congratulated one another upon the secrecy with which their arrangements had been made. But somebody had gained admittance into their counsel who was not of it. Let the plotters of mischief and those who take counsel together against the innocent know this assuredly: that there is nothing hidden from the Lord; that when every precaution has been taken, and every possibility of human treachery guarded against, “a bird of the air shall carry the voice,” etc. (Ecclesiastes 10:20).
2. Christ’s enemies were constantly holding secret meetings to devise His ruin. It required many a midnight conclave, many a sitting with closed doors, to hatch the foul plot which ended in His death. But now all those things which were spoken in the ear in closets are proclaimed upon the housetops.
3. The object of the present plot was “to catch Him in His words.” They could not have employed a more likely device. Nothing is easier than to entrap a person of a frank, unsuspicious, straightforward character into saying something which may artfully be turned to his prejudice. God’s saints in all ages have been persecuted in this way (Psalms 65:5; Psalms 6:0; Isaiah 29:21).
II. An insidious compliment.—
1. “A man that flattereth his neighbour,” etc. (Proverbs 29:5). So these hypocrites, designing to entrap Christ, try to put Him off His guard by a compliment to His character.
2. With many persons this ruse would have succeeded. There is a class of men who pride themselves on speaking the truth, regardless of consequences; whence it often happens that to the fear of being thought capable of fear they sacrifice that very truth which they profess to prize so highly.
3. To attempt to entangle Christ by so poor an artifice only shewed how far they were from knowing Him. He was certainly all that they said: He did “teach the way of God in truth”; He did “care for no man”; He did “regard not the person of men.” But no more did He regard the opinions of men, or care for establishing such a character of Himself amongst men. And as for those who offered Him this incense, He knew that they “did but flatter Him with their lips, and dissemble in their double heart.”
III. A captious question.—
1. To understand the entangling nature of this question, we must remember the ambiguous condition of the Jews, as a nation, at this time. It was not independence, because they were under the military authority of a Roman governor; nor was it a state of absolute bondage, since they were allowed to retain their own laws and customs, and to exercise a certain judicial power through their high priest and Sanhedrin. It was, in fact, a condition of real subjection, with just such concessions as might soothe the wounded vanity of a fierce and high-spirited race. Observe how sensitive they were to any allusion to their lost liberties (John 8:33). Now the most galling thing of all, and that which reminded them most painfully of their real condition, was the tribute. Cæsar could afford to leave them a shew of liberty, but not to forego his taxes. The Jews, on their part, looked upon the payment of custom or tribute to a foreign power as an act of treason against Jehovah. They did pay it, but under protest—because they could not help themselves.
2. The question now proposed to Christ by His enemies was one which, they judged, must receive from Him either an affirmative or a negative answer. If He should decide in the affirmative, He would be placing Himself in opposition to the almost universal feeling of the Jewish nation. It would be considered not only an unpatriotic but even a blasphemous decision, and as such would be fatal to His influence with the people. If, on the contrary, He should pronounce against the lawfulness of paying tribute, He could be handed over to the magistrate on a charge of sedition.
IV. An ignominious defeat.—
1. “He, knowing their hypocrisy”—pretending to entertain conscientious scruples which they did not feel, and, while professing to seek advice, having no other object but to turn Christ’s answer against Himself, whatever it might be—instead of giving a direct reply, desires to see the tribute money. And they bring him a denarius—a silver coin bearing on its face the head of Tiberius Cæsar, the reigning emperor, with his name and title.
2. This proceeding of Christ’s was well calculated to excite curiosity, and to keep His hearers in suspense. We can fancy we see the little circle of spectators drawing closer together, looking now upon the questioners, now upon the piece of money, now upon the lips of Him who was expected to break the silence. And He does so in the memorable words, “Render to Cæsar,” etc.
3. Christ does not give a direct answer to the question asked. The question was, “Is it lawful?” not, Is it necessary? or, Is it expedient? but, “Is it lawful to give tribute to Cæsar, or not?” This question could only be answered by shewing that there is nothing in such a payment inconsistent with the law of God, or with that allegiance which, as the people of God, they owed to a greater King than Cæsar. Christ neither shews this nor even asserts it. And why? Because that would have been to do the very thing they wanted, and to fall into the trap they had laid for Him. To a captious question He returns an evasive answer. They sought a handle against Him, and He gives them something they cannot lay hold of. His reply is so framed as neither to injure Him with the people nor to compromise Him with the magistrate.
4. Still the question remains—” Is it lawful,” etc. To which a sufficient, though not a direct, answer may be gathered from Christ’s action and words. For it is a general maxim that the money current in any country determines the power to which allegiance is due. When the Jews deluded themselves with the idea that they still preserved their independence as a nation, this Roman coin bore witness against them. When they boasted of being the people of God, “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” they ought to have remembered that by God, the same God whom they acknowledged for their King, did other kings reign, and princes decree justice. “He changeth the times,” etc. (Daniel 2:21). At one time He had brought foreign princes against this very people to oppress them in their own land; at another He had caused them to be carried away captive to a land that was not theirs. And He had forewarned them of a time when “the sceptre” should finally “depart from Judah,” etc. (Genesis 49:10). That time was now come. This very image and superscription, to those who read it aright, plainly declared so. While they were arguing and disputing whether it was lawful to pay or not, Cæsar’s collectors were gathering in his taxes. This was a state of things which could not be mistaken. None but the wilfully blind could fail to see that to resist the power was, in this case, to resist the ordinance of God.
5. But, lest this rule of “rendering to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s,” should appear to countenance the smallest violation of the sacred rights of conscience, we must remember that it is not the whole of Christ’s answer. He goes on to give a second rule which guards and limits the first; or rather, the two together must be considered as a single rule, and so applied to every case of conduct. God has His rights, as well as Cæsar. There need not be any opposition or interference between the two; and there was none here. Should it be otherwise, should the things of Cæsar in any case be contrary to the things of God, no man can doubt which of these must give way.
6. Note, in conclusion, the comparative urgency with which these respective claims are enforced upon us. Cæsar is pressing and peremptory: God is gentle and persuasive. Cæsar listens to no appeal: God is pitiful and easy to be entreated. It is Cæsar’s policy to put down resistance and disobedience at once, by the immediate punishment of the offender: it is God’s principle to forbear and suffer long, “not willing that any should perish,” etc. Such being the respective dispositions of these two powers, it needs little knowledge of human nature to tell which of them is more likely to obtain his due. As we look around, we observe that human laws, strictly enforced, are generally obeyed; while the most flagrant violations of the law of God, the most wanton denials of His claims, go unpunished, if not unregarded. Such being the case, it is surely incumbent on all who would see the things of Cæsar rendered to Cæsar, and unto God the things that are God’s, to throw all their weight into the lighter scale. Cæsar needs no advocate; he will take care to get his own: but God depends, for the enforcement of His claims, upon the zeal and earnestness of those who advocate them.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 12:14. Testimony of adversaries to Christ.—That a man may speak freely the truth, he must have knowledge, zeal, boldness—all which Christ’s adversaries ascribe to Him here.
1. Knowledge of the truth, in that He was a “master and taught the way of God.”
2. Zeal and love to the truth, in that He was “true, teaching truly.”
3. Boldness, in that He “respected not the person of any.”—Dean Boys.
The commendable parts of a good pastor.—
1. He must be for his learning a “master”—able to teach, apt to teach, a guide to the blind, a light to them that are in darkness.
2. He must be “true”; which some apply to pureness of life, but others think the words “and teachest truly the way of life” expound the clause “Thou art true.”
3. He must not utter his own dream, or the vision of his own heart, but “teach the way of God” (1 Peter 4:11).
4. He must have certainty of doctrine, teaching the truth aright (Jeremiah 23:28; Romans 12:6).
5. He must be stout in delivering God’s ambassage (Ezekiel 2:6).—Ibid. Suspicious blandishments.—The old word is, “Full of courtesy, full of craft.” When ye see too glittering pretences in unapproved persons, suspect the inside (Psalms 28:3; Amos 7:12-13; 2 Corinthians 1:12).—Bishop Hall.
Mark 12:15. Hypocrisy exposed.—Christ, as God, seeing their hypocritical humour, and understanding their treacherous intent, accommodates His answer to the foul malice of their mind, not to the fair words of their mouth, objecting against them four faults especially.
1. Folly. “Why?” For if I am (as you say) “true,” then I am God, because every man is a liar, and only God true, yea truth itself; and if I be the Son of God, I can easily make your wisdom foolishness.
2. Treachery. “Why tempt ye?”
3. Ingratitude. “Why tempt ye Me, who teach unto you the way of God truly, desiring often to gather your children together?” etc.
4. Dissimulation. “Ye hypocrites.” Having thus in a trice confounded them, He proceeds in the next clause to confute them, even by their own words and deeds, as the soldiers of Timotheus were wounded with the points of their own swords (2Ma. 12:22).—Dean Boys.
Mark 12:16-17. Coinage a token of authority.—It has been ingeniously and not irrationally suggested that our Lord’s sanction of the payment of tribute money to Cæsar may afford a hint to Christians of the point at which they may conscientiously yield obedience to a fresh civil authority. If that authority is so recognised that its coin is admitted as the medium of exchange, its tenure may fairly be considered as a fait accompli.
The King’s image on the heart.—The heart of the believer should be a golden coin, so graven with loyalty and love to the Heavenly King that there ought to be no hesitation in answering the question, “Whose image and superscription is it? “
Church and State.—Consider the respective rights of Church and State in property, and the duty of men who may at the same time be members of the Church and subjects of the State to regard the rights and vested interests of both. In discriminating between those mutual well-defined rights and vested interests in property, the question of our Lord comes in, helping us in the knowledge and performance of our twofold duty, in our twofold capacity as members of the Church and subjects of the State.
1. Whose is this image and superscription, we ask on the one hand, of all temporal things which belong unto Cæsar? The answer is Cæsar’s image and superscription. Then our duty is to render such things unto Cæsar.
2. Whose is this image and superscription, we inquire on the other hand, borne upon the Church’s possessions? The answer is God’s. His sacred superscription is upon them. To God they were consecrated. Their use was given to His Church and her ministers and members, not for general purposes, but for God’s honour, glory, worship, and for the spiritual and ecclesiastical uses of all subjects of the kingdom, who will use them on the lines laid down in her terms of communion exclusively for and consistently with these purposes.
Religion no enemy to government.—Among all the stratagems of the devil, tending to the undermining of religion and the subversion of the souls of men, though there cannot be any more unreasonable, yet there was never any more unhappily successful, than the creating and fomenting an opinion in the world that religion is an enemy to government, and the bringing sincerity and zeal in religion into jealousy and disgrace with the civil powers (Luke 23:2; Acts 17:6; Acts 23:4-5).—Bishop Seth Ward.
Loyalty of early Christians to the emperor.—We pray for the safety of the emperors to the eternal God, the true, the living God, whom emperors themselves would desire to be propitious to them, “above all others, who are called gods.” We, looking up to heaven with outstretched hands, because they are harmless, with naked heads, because we are not ashamed (1 Corinthians 6:7), without a prompter, because we pray from the heart, constantly pray for all emperors, that they may have a long life, a secure empire, a safe palace, strong armies, a faithful senate, a well-moralised people, a quiet state of the world—whatever Cæsar would wish for himself in his public and private capacity (Jeremiah 29:7; Daniel 6:21; 1 Timothy 2:2; 1 Peter 2:13-17).—Tertullian.
Mark 12:17. “They marvelled.”—His remark concerning the superscription and image on the coin, as connecting the tribute with civil authority, and the opposition which He makes between such demands and the things belonging to God, intimate a new character in the Messiah’s theocracy, in which the ecclesiastical should no more interfere with the civil rule, or the obedience of the subject to the human magistrate be inconsistent with the obedience of the believer to God. Cæsar’s dominion was to be one, Christ’s another. Jesus was a king, but not of this world.—S. Hinds.
Innocence the best protection against craft.—Craft is ever one of the arts of the wayward; they who believe in it find it needful to employ it. At first sight it seems as if the children of truth and simplicity must be at the mercy of the unscrupulous. What happens here should reassure us. If we are true-hearted and transparent, no craft will avail against us.—R. Glover.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 12
Mark 12:16. God’s image stamped on man.—We can often tell what a thing is for by noticing its make. The instructed eye of an anatomist will, from a bone, divine the sphere in which the creature to whom it belonged was intended to live. Just as plainly as gills or lungs, fins or wings, or legs and arms declare the element in which the creature that possesses them is intended to move, so plainly stamped upon all our natures is this, that God is our Lord, since we are made in a true sense in His image, and that only in Him can we find rest. If you take a coin, and compare it with the die from which it has been struck, you will find that wherever in the die there is a relief, in the coin there is a sunken place, and conversely. So there are not only resemblances in man to the Divine nature which bear upon them the manifest marks of his destiny, but there are correspondences, wants, on our side, being met by gifts upon His; hollow emptiness in us being filled, when we are brought into contact with Him, by the abundance of His outstanding supplies and gifts.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
The defacement of God’s image in man.—You sometimes get into your hands money on which there has been stamped, by mischief, or for some selfish purpose, the name of some one else than the king’s or queen’s which surrounds the head upon it. And in like manner our nature has gone through the stamping-press again, and another likeness has been deeply imprinted upon it. The image of God, which every man has, is in some senses and aspects ineffaceable by any course of conduct of theirs. But in another aspect it is not like the permanent similitude stamped upon the solid metal of the penny, but like the reflexion, rather, that falls upon some polished plate, or that is cast upon the white sheet from a lantern. If the polished plate be rusty and stained, the image is faint and indistinct; if it be turned away from the light, the image passes. And that is what some of you are doing. By living to yourselves, by living day in and day out without ever remembering God, by yielding to passions, lusts, ambitions, low desires, and the like, you are doing your very best to scratch out the likeness which still lingers in your nature.—Ibid.
Mark 12:17. Religion and business.—Have you, a Christian, two sources of happiness—God and the world? Then you are wrong, for to you God ought to be in all the world that you appropriate, and all the world God’s. Do you use the adjectives “spiritual” and “secular” in describing your enjoyments? Is prayer spiritual, that is the Great Spirit’s gift, while an evening in a picture-gallery is secular, that is man’s gift? Why, God gives the latter as truly as the former. If you are living on the high plane of your privilege, you see God in all things that you are permitted to build into your life. Have you spiritual needs, as for instance help in resisting temptation, and secular needs, such as help in sickness? There is only One Helper everywhere. You watch against temptation—and pray; you call the physician in sickness—and ought also to pray. Are you able to manage the mortgage alone, but unable, as you think, to save your soul? In fact you, without God, are as powerless in the one case as the other; you cannot cross your office threshold without Him, nor sign a draft. There are not two worlds here below to the Christian, one God’s realm and the other man’s. He is all in all. Colloquially it is harmless, but in the secret heart it is wicked to distinguish to oneself between spiritual and temporal possessions. Your faith and love are God’s, and so your house, your gold. Men say business is business and religion is religion. No. Business is religion and religion is business.—E. J. Haynes.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 12:19. “The statute must be regarded as relative to some exceedingly offensive matrimonial condition which had prevailed, probably polyandry. When such a custom has unhappily got ingrained in the habits of a degraded people, it is not possible to induce them to leap, at a bound, to a lofty pinnacle of marital purity. The ascent must be gradual; the utmost that can be achieved by progressive legislators is to take one step at a time.” See Dr. J. Morison’s note in loco, from which the above is quoted.
Mark 12:24. Do ye not therefore err.—Is it not on this account that ye wander in a maze, because … Instead of accusing them point-blank of error, and so alienating them still farther, our Lord deals with them as if they had come in good faith to have a difficulty solved; and He at once points them to the true source of their pretended perplexity—ignorance of the Scriptures.
Mark 12:26. See R.V.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 12:18-27
(PARALLELS: Matthew 22:23-33; Luke 20:27-38.)
Christ’s argument against the Sadducees.—The Sadducees were a libertine sect of the Jews who, for the sake of indulging their lusts, and to remove the dread of an after-reckoning, thought proper to reject the belief of a resurrection and a life to come. But yet, to save appearances, and to keep up an outward shew of religion among their countrymen, they professed a great regard to the same common Scriptures as the oracles of God, and sought out colours from those very Scriptures whereby to countenance or seemingly to authorise their wanton and wicked opinions. They came to our Lord, and propounded a captious question to Him, grounded upon Moses’ law, artfully insinuating as if Moses himself must have been in their sentiments. Our Lord in reply corrected their fond mistake in judging of a life to come by the life that now is, when circumstances would be widely different. In this world, where mankind go off and die daily, there is a necessity of a constant and regular succession to supply the decays of mortality. But in a world to come, where none die any more, the reason then ceases, inasmuch as there will be no occasion for any further supplies. Our Lord, by thus distinguishing upon the case, defeated the objection; but to shew further how ill the Sadducees had contrived in appealing to Moses as a favourer of their sentiments, He reminds them of a famous passage in Moses’ law which was directly contrary to their principles, being indeed a full and clear proof of a resurrection and future state.
I. What the distinguishing principles of the ancient Sadducees really were.—They denied a future state; they did not allow that the soul survived the body. They looked upon the doctrines of a resurrection and future state to be so nearly allied, or so closely connected with each other, that they might reasonably be conceived to stand or fall together. Wherefore they denied both, as on the other hand the Pharisees admitted both. There is one difficulty in St. Luke’s account of the Sadducees (Acts 23:8), relating to their denial of the existence of angels. Other accounts of Jewish writers are silent on that head; and it might seem very needless for the Sadducees to clog their cause with it, since it was sufficient for their purpose to reject only the separate subsistence of human souls; and it is odd that they should run so flatly counter to the history of the Old Testament (which is full of what concerns angels) when they had really no great necessity for it, nor temptation to it, so far as appears. But perhaps they thought it the shortest and surest way to reject the whole doctrine of spirits, or at least of created spirits, and so to settle in materialism, after the example of some pagan philosophers; and therefore they at once discarded both angels and separate souls. And as to the Old Testament standing directly against them with respect to angels, there are so many various ways of playing upon words, especially in dead writings, that men resolute to maintain a point (whatever it be) can never be at a loss for evasions. Possibly, however, St. Luke, knowing that the word “angel” had been used to mean no more than a human soul, might mean only to say that the Sadducees rejected the doctrine of the resurrection and the other doctrine of separate souls, whether called angels, as by some, or spirits only, as by others. This account will appear the better when it is considered that St. Luke says the Pharisees admitted both. Both what? There had been three things mentioned, if angel makes a distinct article. But if angel there means no more than a human soul, then the articles are reduced to two only; and so it was very proper to say both, namely, both the resurrection and the separate state of the soul.
II. Inquire why our Blessed Lord chose to confront the Sadducees with a text out of Moses’ writings, rather than out of any other part of the Old Testament.—Some have given it for a reason of our Lord’s choice, that Moses’ books were the only ones which the Sadducees received as Canonical Scripture. But the fact is disputable at least, if not certainly false. Others say that our Lord chose to confute them out of the Book of the Law, as being of prime value and of greatest authority. And that indeed is a consideration not without weight. But I conceive that we have no occasion to look far for reasons, when the text itself, with what goes along with it, sufficiently accounts for the whole thing. The Sadducees had formed their objection upon the books of Moses, claiming Moses as a voucher on their side. In such a case it was extremely proper and pertinent (if it could be done) to confute them from Moses himself. It was vindicating Moses’ writings at the same time that it was doing justice to an important truth. Our Lord therefore applied Himself entirely to the clearing up Moses’ sentiments in that article; and He effected it two ways: first, by observing that what the Sadducees had cited from him did not prove what they wished for; and, secondly, by shewing that what he had taught elsewhere fully and clearly disproved it.
III. Consider the force of our Lord’s argument, which was then so clearly apprehended at first hearing by friends and adversaries, and admired by all.—The words which the argument is grounded upon occur in Exodus 3:6 : “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” “I am,” not, “I was.” God was then God of those three patriarchs, the latest of whom had been dead above a hundred and seventy years. Still He continued to be their God. What could that mean? Is He a God of lifeless clay, of mouldered carcases, of dust and rottenness? No, sure. Besides, with what propriety of speech could the ashes of the ground be yet called Abraham or Isaac or Jacob? Those names are the names of persons, not of senseless earth; and person always goes where the intelligence goes. Therefore Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were still living and intelligent, somewhere or other, when God declared He was still their God—that is to say, they were alive as to their better part, their souls. He is not a God of the dead, but of the living; therefore the soul survives the body. Therefore the Sadducees, who denied the separate subsistence of souls or spirits, were confuted at once, and that by a very clear and plain text, produced even from the books of Moses. But it will be asked, “How does this prove the resurrection of the body, which was the point in question?” I answer that was not the only point, nor the main point, though it follows this other, as I shall shew presently. But even if the argument really reached no further than what I have mentioned, yet it was a very considerable point gained, and the rest was not worth disputing. What they were afraid of was a future account. Now whether men shall give an account in the body or without the body, it would come much to the same; for still there would be an account to be given, and there would remain the like dreadful apprehension of a judgment to come. Here lay the main stress of the dispute; and therefore when our Lord had undeniably proved a future state, He had gone to the very root of the Sadducean principles, and if they once yielded thus far they might readily grant the rest. For if it be considered that death was the punishment of sin, and that every person remaining under that sentence and under the dominion of death still carries about him the badges of the first transgression and the marks of Divine displeasure, it cannot reasonably be supposed that the souls of good men whom God has owned for His shall for ever remain in that inglorious state, but will some time or other be restored to their first honours, or to what they were first ordained to in paradise before sin entered. Wherefore since God is pleased to acknowledge Himself still God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it is highly reasonable to presume that He will in due time restore them to their original privileges, removing from them the chains of death by reuniting soul and body together in a happy and glorious resurrection. Thus the same thread of argument which our Lord began with, and which directly proves the immortality of the soul, does also in conclusion lead us on by just and clear consequences to the resurrection of the body.—Archdeacon Waterland.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 12:24-27. Christ’s reply to the Sadducees.—
1. God is able to preserve old forms of life and to produce new.
2. Marriage, birth, and death belong only to the earthly life.
3. The mission of Moses was confirmed by the testimony of Christ.
4. They who are now dead to men still live with God.—J. H. Godwin.
Mark 12:26. The fulness of Scripture.—How much more there is in Scripture than at first sight appears! God spoke to Moses in the burning bush, and called Himself the God of Abraham; and Christ tells us that in this simple announcement was contained the promise that Abraham should rise again from the dead. In truth, if we may say it with reverence, the All-wise, All-knowing God cannot speak without meaning many things at once. He “sees the end from the beginning”; He understands the numberless connexions and relations of all things, one with another. Every word of His is full of instruction, looking many ways; and though it is not often given to us to know these various senses, and we are not at liberty to attempt lightly to imagine them, yet, as far as they are told us, and as far as we may reasonably infer them, we must thankfully accept them (Psalms 119:96).—J. H. Newman, D.D.
Mark 12:27. The Divine estimate of death.—In the Infinite view there is not a cemetery in the universe, not a grave on any globe that gleams in the sky. For there is no cessation or interruption of life caused by that which seems to us death. The body, as He looks upon it, is the spirit’s garment only; and however we are called to meet death—whether by slow disease or by water or by fire or by tempest, at the end of years or in youth or in the full powers of manhood, on the sick-bed or the battle-field—to His vision it is but the stripping off of a robe and the liberation of the clothed essence into higher forms of being.—T. Starr King.
Effect on character of belief as to future life.—The belief in a fuller life beyond the grave must influence character indefinitely. Even in days before Christianity, among heathens, it did so. Herodotus tells us of a tribe among the Thracians who believed themselves immortal. “The men of this tribe,” he says, “were the bravest and the most honourable.” It cannot but make a difference whether our hopes end with the grave or not.—W. R. Hutton.
The communion of saints.—Long before light and immortality were brought to light by the gospel, the greatest moral philosopher of the ancient world discussed this question of the relation of the dead to the living in memorable words, and he came to the conclusion that to suppose the departed unmindful of the friends who survive them is too heartless a notion to be entertained. Truly and spiritually, in all the essentials of unity, the departed are with us and we with them: we are still members of the same family of God; one and the same roof is still over us; they have but passed into a brighter and better compartment of the same great home and house of Christ; and whatever they are doing, beholding or enjoying, we cannot believe that they cease to think of us or to pray for us; nay, we cannot but suppose that they think of us now with a purer interest and a deeper love than was ever possible here. Few things are more remarkable than the contrast between the faith of the Church and our practice. Many of us are far behind the heathen in fidelity to our dead. We profess to accept the glorious consolation which is ours through the Risen Christ; we profess to believe that they are all living in God, and that we are one with them, that the whole Church this side the veil and beyond it is one and the same household; and yet we sink into chill indifference, we suffer new interests, new excitement, new faces, to usurp their place and to turn into solemn mockery the hopes and regrets we once inscribed upon their grave. I suppose there can be little doubt that the chief cause of that habit of mind which has made the communion of saints so unreal is the modern disuse of prayers for the departed. They are all but banished from our devotions. For thousands of years, let it be remembered, prayers for the dead were a part of the instituted service of God’s people; they were in use among the Israelites hundreds of years before Christ; they were in use in the synagogue and Temple worship in which He was wont to join, and they are used by the Jews to this day. They are to be found in every ancient liturgy of the Christian Church which has come down to us. But, whatever be the decision to which we see our way on this particular point, let us realise the duty and the blessedness of strengthening by all legitimate means our faith in the indestructible bond which knits in holy communion and fellowship the whole redeemed family of God. We talk and act as though we on this side of the veil constituted the whole Catholic Church; we forget that the majority is elsewhere, that we are but a fraction of it: we forget the great cloud of witnesses gathered during the ages growing day by day, the unseen multitude which no man can number: we think but seldom of that paradise of God, that land of the living, where loyal hearts and true stand ever in the light. Ah, brethren, it is we who are in the shadows and the darkness, not they. Let us be true to their memories: let the thought of what they are and where they are be a continual inspiration; let it lift us above the earthliness and littleness of the present, and shed more and more over mind and heart the solemnising powers of the world to come.—Canon Duckworth.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 12
Mark 12:18-27. Universal belief in immortality.—Almost every religion which has gathered adherents from among the different tribes of men has not only affirmed the doctrine of a future life, but has inculcated it—if not as a basis of morality, as a promise of reward for virtue and right living. “In all the leading nations of the earth the doctrine is a tradition handed down from immemorial antiquity, embalmed in sacred books which are regarded as infallible revelations.” You will find it in some form as well in the ancient religions as in those of later times. Brahminism teaches it; so does Mohammedanism. It forms part of the Confucian theology, and is one of the chief features of the revelation of Christianity. Amid the apparent Nihilism and Atheism of the teaching of Buddha there are gleams of light on the great problem of an immortal future. The Zendavesta unfolds a state beyond death in which man’s destiny is the consequent result of character; and when the Persians decorated the splendid walls of Persepolis, they embodied in sculpture the dominant dogma of their faith—the doctrine of ever-lastingness. In the theology and religious symbolism of ancient Egypt the doctrine of immortality held a most conspicuous place. It was not a dream of the Egyptian priesthood, but a fixed and firm persuasion of the people. And the natives embalmed their dead not merely to preserve them from putrefaction, but as significant of eternal continuance. When we come to Greece and Rome, we find the idea so mixed up with all that is best in the literature of these great nations that we cannot help seeing how largely it affected the faith and hope of the leaders of learning, philosophy, and religion. The best of the Greek poets caught sight in imagination of their favourite heroes transported beyond the waves of death’s dark river—immortal in a land of life. They sang of the Elysian plains, where the εἴδωλα καμόντων—the shadowy images of the dead—moved in a world of shadows, and of “the Islands of the Blest where Achilles and Tydides unlaced the helmets from their flowing hair.” It has been thought that the organisation of the Greek mysteries was the outcome of the nation’s best aspirations for immortal life. The conception of an immortal future so possessed the best of Rome’s philosophers and orators that they declared the troubles of life unworthy to be borne “unless man had within himself the assurance of an after-destiny.” Cicero represents Cato as thus addressing his young friends Scipio and Lælius; “No one shall persuade me, Scipio, that your worthy father, or your grandfathers, Paulus and Africanus, or many other excellent men whom I need not name, performed so many actions to be remembered by posterity without being sensible that futurity was their right. And if I may be allowed an old man’s privilege to speak for myself, can you imagine that I should have submitted to so much painful toil by night and by day, in the forum, in the Senate, and in the field, had I apprehended that my existence and reputation were to terminate with this life? But … I feel myself transported with delight at the thought of again seeing and joining your father, whom on earth I highly respected and dearly loved.… Oh! glorious day when I shall be admitted into the assembly of the wise and the good, … when amidst the happy throng of the immortals I shall find thee also, my son, my Cato, best, most amiable of men.” Seneca—one of Rome’s greatest philosophers—writing to Marcia to console her on the loss of her son, says: “The sacred assembly of the Scipios and Catos, who have themselves despised life, and obtained freedom by death, shall welcome the youth to the region of happy souls.” Centuries before that Cyrus, addressing his sons, as he lay on the bed of death, had given utterance to the same assurance: “Do not imagine, oh, my dear children! that when I leave you I shall cease to exist. For even when I was yet with you my spirit you could not discern; but that it animated this body you were fully assured by the actions I performed. Be assured that it will continue the same, though you see it not. I can never suffer myself to be persuaded that man lives only while he is in the body, and dies when it is dissolved, or that the soul loses all intelligence on being separated from an unintelligent lump of clay; but rather that on being liberated from all mixture with the body, pure and entire, it enters upon its true intellectual existence.” In the Phædo Plato describes Socrates as calmly discussing with his friends, in his last moments, the conditions of the immortal state into which he was about to enter. “Those,” he says, “who have passed through life with peculiar sanctity of manners are received on high into a pure region, where they live without their bodies to all eternity, in a series of joys and delights which cannot be described.” When some reference was made to the interment that was to follow the fatal draught, he replied: “You may bury me if you can catch me.” And then, with a smile, and with an intonation of unfathomable tenderness, he added: “Do not call this poor body Socrates. When I have drunk the poison I shall leave you, and go to the joys of the blessed. I would not have you sorrow at my hard lot, or say at the interment, ‘Thus we lay out Socrates’; or, ‘Thus we follow him to the grave, or bury him.’ Be of good cheer; say that you are burying my body only.”
Mark 12:27. Heaven the land of the living.—A dying lady once said to her brother who was about to take his leave of her without any hope of seeing her again in this world: “Brother, I trust we shall meet in the land of the living. We are now in the land of the dying.”
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 12:28. The scribe’s question was—Of what nature is the first commandment of all? Has it to do, that is, with Sabbath observance, or with circumcision, or with sacrificial rites—or what?
Mark 12:30. Note the prep. ἐξ, before “heart,” “soul,” “mind,” “strength.” The whole of man’s complex being is to go out in love to God. “The measure of our love to God is to love Him without measure.”
Mark 12:32. Finely (answered)! Teacher, Thou hast spoken from (the standpoint of) truth, for He is one, etc. This seems to suit both text and context better than R. V. rendering.
Mark 12:34. Discreetly.—With νοῦς or discernment—“having his wits about him,” as we say.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 12:28-34
(PARALLEL: Matthew 22:34-40.)
Christ’s interview with a scribe.—The character of the scribes and Pharisees, as a body, is held up by our Lord to the abhorrence of all who would serve God in spirit and in truth. See Matthew 16:6-12; Matthew 23:1-36. But experience teaches that no general description of a class of men, however just, is applicable to every individual in it. We are not, therefore, surprised to find here a notable exception to the rule—a scribe who entertains such worthy notions of religion as to win the commendation of Christ.
I. The occasion.—The Pharisees and the Sadducees had, one after another, put questions to our Lord, for the purpose of catching or ensnaring Him in His talk. He, seeing through their hypocrisy, gave them such answers as neither satisfied them nor afforded them a handle to use against Him. Then one of the scribes, struck with the appositeness of His replies, determined to put a question of his own, to try whether He who had so properly silenced the crafty and malicious would be as ready with a suitable answer to an honest and serious inquirer.
II. The scribe’s question.—“Which is the first commandment of all?”
1. If his object was to test the merits and attainments of this new Teacher, and to see whether He had a correct notion of that law which He professed to expound, he could not have put a more appropriate question. It would be a parallel case if, in the present day, a professing Christian were to be called upon to state which is the greatest and most distinguishing doctrine of Christianity, or its most excellent privilege. Those persons who are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth,” would either be unable to answer at all, or would answer in such a way as to prove that they were destitute of any clear and comprehensive views of Divine truth.
2. This question was one very frequently discussed in the schools of the Rabbis; and from many of them it received answers very wide of the mark. Some said the commandment relating to the Sabbath was the greatest of all; others set the highest value on the laws relating to sacrifices, or to purifications. This scribe appears to have come to a sounder conclusion, and to have been anxious to discover whether this new Teacher would confirm him in it.
III. Our Lord’s reply.—This question being honestly put, Christ meets it in a very different manner from that in which He had silenced His enemies. Without hesitation, and without ambiguity, the Oracle of Divine truth delivers His infallible sentence.
1. Whereas the question referred to one commandment only, our Lord in His reply brings forward two. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” He says, is the first commandment. But the mention of a first naturally suggests a second, without which the first might appear incomplete. It is true that the love of God, if perfect and sincere, will constrain us, by a moral necessity, to love our brother also. Still, in a matter of so much practical importance, it is desirable that there should be no room for cavil or mistake. Therefore He proceeds: “And the second is like,” etc.
2. “There is none other commandment greater than these.”
(1) In comprehensiveness. Whatever commandments may be added to these, can they require of us anything greater than is already required by these?
(2) In fundamental importance (Matthew 22:40). These are the two great principles upon which all statutes, ordinances, and judgments, which can be given or conceived, are based. Take away the obligation of these two, and it will be impossible to maintain the authority of any others.
IV. The scribe’s remark upon Christ’s answer.—
1. His language is that of a man who, having long considered the subject, and come to a conclusion not generally accredited among those of his own set, at last meets with one whose opinion agrees with his own.
2. In declaring his conviction that the observance of these two commandments “is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices,” he does not mean to imply that burnt offerings and sacrifices are nothing. To him, as a Jew, they were much. They were that wherewith man should “come before the Lord, and bow himself before the high God”; they were the suitable recognitions of the Divine bounty; and, what is still more to the purpose, they were the means appointed by God Himself for the acknowledgment and atonement of sin. What, therefore, though God had declared that “to obey is better than sacrifice,” since He had also declared that sacrifice was necessary to supply the deficiencies of obedience, and thus it became, in fact, a part of obedience! It was not for a Jew to ask how the blood of bulls and of goats could take away sin, or how that Great Being who owned “every beast of the forest and the cattle upon a thousand hills” should condescend to accept a bullock out of his house or a he-goat out of his folds. It was enough for him to know that God in His wisdom had provided for the continuance of these things till He came into the world who should provide a real sacrifice for sin, and by one offering perfect for ever them that are sanctified.
V. Christ’s commendation of the scribe.—Here is—
1. An approbation of the scribe’s remark. It was a “discreet” answer, i.e. moderate and judicious. If, in his admiration of inward and spiritual religion, he had spoken contemptuously of forms and ceremonies, we should have said his meaning was good, but his language indiscreet. As it was, however, he hit the happy mean of exalting the one without degrading the other. He shewed no disposition to disparage the most literal compliance with every jot and tittle of the ceremonial law; he was only anxious that the body and the spirit, the form and the substance of religion, should be estimated in their proper order—first purity of heart, and then scrupulousness of obedience. This was exactly in accordance with Christ’s own teaching (Matthew 23:23).
2. A commendation of the individual himself. “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God,” i.e. thou art in a favourable state of mind for embracing the gospel.
(1) The honesty of intention which distinguished this scribe was a very important qualification for his reception of the truth.
(2) His spiritual conception of religion was an even more valuable preparation. A Jew thus enlightened had, to a certain extent, forestalled the gospel; he would find most congenial to his mind those very sayings of Christ which to others were the hardest of all (Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7; Mark 2:27; Mark 7:15-23; John 4:21; John 4:23).
Love to God and one’s neighbour.—
I. The nature and properties of love.—
1. It is a passion of the soul, that inclines it to unite to the thing beloved.
2. Its properties are chiefly these two:
(1) A desire to please, and
(2) A desire to enjoy.
II. The double object of love.—
1. The first and great object of our love is God.
(1) He is “the Lord”; and so His power and sovereignty may command our affections.
(2) He is “our God,” in covenant and relation to us; and so His kindness and nearness to us may engage us to love Him.
2. The other object of our love is our neighbour. He is to be loved by us—
(1) Chiefly for God’s sake, whose creature, child, and servant he is (1 John 4:20-21).
(2) For our own sake, because he has the same nature as ourselves (Proverbs 22:2).
III. In what measure these two are to be loved.—
1. The loving of God with all the heart, etc., denotes both the sincerity and integrity of our love to Him.
(1) The sincerity is signified by its being from the heart; what springs from thence is commonly sound and sincere.
(2) “With all thy heart,” etc., denotes the integrity. God will admit of no rival with Him in our affections. Though He loves a broken He hates a divided heart.
2. “Thy neighbour as thyself”—that is, with a like though not always with an equal affection; for every one being nearest to himself may be allowed, first, to consult his own welfare. Charity begins at home, though it must not end there, but must extend to all that are round about us, making our own desires the measure and standard of our dealing with others, doing all that good to others which we would have done to us, and avoiding all that evil to any which we ourselves would be unwilling to bear.—M. Hole, D.D.
Christ’s first and second commandments.—
I. How is the love of God said to be the first commandment?—
1. It is so in order of time, the love of God being the first thing to be taught and learnt of all that come to Him; for all true religion begins with it and is founded upon it: it is the first step we are to make towards our Maker, and that will lead us on to all the other parts of our duty and obedience to Him.
2. It is the first in order of nature, as being the root and spring of all other virtues. He that truly loves God will fear Him above all things, will trust Him in all conditions, will honour Him in all his actions, will worship Him at all times, and in a word will serve and depend upon Him in the whole course of his life.
II. How is the loving our neighbour the second and like unto the first commandment?—
1. In respect of the authority that commands it, and our obligation to observe it, which is the same in both.
2. In respect of the ground and motive of our obedience, which are some Divine perfections residing in God and communicated to His creatures. Our love to man is grounded upon the love of God; and we depart not from the love of our Maker by loving our neighbour, but rather heighten and increase it; for it is for God’s sake, and on His account, that we pay this affection to His creature.
3. In respect of the extent and comprehensiveness of it; for as the love of God includes the whole of that duty and homage we owe unto Him, so the love of our neighbour comprises all the good offices we are to pay unto him.
4. In respect of the reward and punishment that attend the keeping and breaking of it, which is the same in both. See Matthew 25:31-46.—Ibid.
Completeness of character in serving God.—Jesus took this questioner back to the familiar beginning of things—to a well-worn platitude of the Jewish system—and, leading this man to old and familiar ground, made him work the old machinery with a new leverage, as the life of Christ fulfilled the old command, and lighted up the letter of the Mosaic economy with the spirit of the new-found Christian faith.
I. By loving God with all our heart we mean the placing of our affections upon Him. By the heart we mean love, emotion, the vitality of the tender, responsive, emotional side of our being. But you say, “How can I love God, for I have never seen Him?” A mother who had lost an only child in her brooding grief adopted an unknown child in a foreign mission school. The Arab boy was at first an unknown quantity to her. She assumed that the child was and the child became in time real to her. Not her reason but her affections were set upon the child who took the place of her own lost one. She loved him with all her poor broken heart, and by-and-by they met, each having saved the other. In the same way, dear friends, you must assume that God is, until He becomes real to you. You must love Him who is unknown, in the light of all His righteousness, until He becomes known to you. Your affections must grow towards God; they must lead the way to Him, for the rest of our nature always follows the leading of the heart.
II. By loving God with all the soul we mean giving to God and His service that which is the very essence of a being, the internal, animating principle of our lives. What we mean by soul is that essence or spirit within us which is regardless of matter. The power of the soul is a very different quality from the power of the heart. We may defend a cause or a person, or throw our lives into a certain current, because the soul compels us to that course of action, regardless of the heart. The power of the heart is in idealising another. The power of the soul is in idealising some hidden strength within ourselves. You love your darling child with all your heart. You love the cause you have at heart with all your soul. This is what is meant by soul—it is the rising above all the hindrances and limitations of our physical and material nature. Brethren, that is the kind of strength in us which God wants. It is that which we ought to give to Him, and which is always a great and commanding power when we find it ruling a strong character in the religious life.
III. By loving God with all the mind we mean putting into exercise our reasoning faculties with regard to Him. God can never be real to you unless you have real and definite thoughts with reference to Him. Begin with the fact of Jesus Christ, study out the meaning of the Christian Church, take in the grasp of the religious instincts and the moral faculties, study out God in history, believe in a definite Holy Ghost, and you will find that the mind will grow by what it feeds on, and that God will be a reality to your mind, when your mind has a real grasp upon God.
IV. By loving God with all our strength is meant the co-ordination of our powers and faculties in such a way as to shew the force of our character, the energy of our entire nature, the putting of our energies into exercise, and the command of our own personality over our mere circumstances and surroundings. We mean by the exercise of all our powers, through the unit of the individual will, what Frederick the Great meant when speaking of William Pitt. He said, “England has been a long time in labour, but she has at last brought forth a man.” In the same way heart and soul and mind, when they become united with a definite will and purpose, produce that strength which shews itself in action—that belief which becomes a living force when it is translated into a life! How is it, then, that this wholeness of service ensures us against restlessness and unbelief and sin? The answer is very plain. Do you not see that if you have this much of the bulk of your nature on the side of the service of God, if God is real enough to you to claim a real and honest portion of your nature in every department—in heart, in soul, in mind, and in strength—there will be no trouble either in your belief in Him or in your service for Him? You will have exalted the spiritual side of your nature over the tyrannous rule of the body with its material demands, and you will be living upward to God instead of downward towards self; and the Being who had claimed and has received your affection, your soul, your mind, and your concentrated force of living will give you as a reward those returns of a spiritual life which grow to great results in cur life in exact proportion to our daily practice.—W. W. Newton.
Mark 12:34. Obedience to God the way to faith in Christ.—In these words we are taught, first, that the Christian’s faith and obedience are not the same religion as that of natural conscience, as being some way beyond it; secondly, that this way is “not far”—not far in the case of those who try to act up to their conscience; in other words, that obedience to conscience leads to obedience to the gospel, which, instead of being something different altogether, is but the completion and perfection of that religion which natural conscience teaches. Indeed, it would have been strange if the God of nature had said one thing and the God of grace another, if the truths which our conscience taught us without the information of Scripture were contradicted by that information when obtained. But it is not so; there are not two ways of pleasing God; what conscience suggests Christ has sanctioned and explained; to love God and our neighbour are the great duties of the gospel as well as of the law; he who endeavours to fulfil them by the light of nature is in the way towards, is, as our Lord said, “not far from Christ’s kingdom”; for to him that hath more shall be given.
I. Consider how plainly we are taught in Scripture that perfect obedience is the standard of gospel holiness.—Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 7:19; Philippians 4:8; James 2:10; 2 Peter 1:5-7; John 14:21; Matthew 5:19. These texts, and a multitude of others, shew that the gospel leaves us just where it found us, as regards the necessity of our obedience to God; that Christ has not obeyed instead of us, but that obedience is quite as imperative as if Christ had never come; nay, is pressed upon us with additional sanctions; the difference being, not that He relaxes the strict rule of keeping His commandments, but that He gives us spiritual aids, which we have not except through Him, to enable us to keep them. Accordingly Christ’s service is represented in Scripture, not as different from that religious obedience which conscience teaches us naturally, but as the perfection of it. We are told again and again that obedience to God leads on to faith in Christ, that it is the only recognised way to Christ, and that therefore to believe in Him ordinarily implies that we are living in obedience to God (John 6:45; John 3:21; John 7:17; John 15:23; John 8:19; 1 John 2:23; 2 John 1:9; 2 Corinthians 4:4).
II. If we look to the history of the first propagation of the gospel, we find this view confirmed.—The early Christian Church was principally composed of those who had long been in the habit of obeying their consciences carefully, and so preparing themselves for Christ’s religion, that kingdom of God from which the text says they were not far (Luke 1:6; Matthew 1:19; Luke 2:25; John 1:47; Luke 23:50; Acts 10:2; Acts 10:13; Acts 10:17). But it may be asked, “Did Christ hold out no hope for those who had lived in sin?” Doubtless He did, if they determined to forsake their sin. When sinners truly repent, then indeed they are altogether brothers in Christ’s kingdom with those who have not in the same sense “need of repentance”; but that they should repent at all is, alas! so far from being likely, that when the unexpected event takes place it causes such joy in heaven (from the marvellousness of it) as is not even excited by the ninety-and-nine just persons who need no such change of mind. Of such changes some instances are given us in the Gospels, for the encouragement of all penitents, such as that of the woman, mentioned by St. Luke, who “loved much.” And, moreover, of these penitents of whom I speak, and whom, when they become penitents, we cannot love too dearly (after our Saviour’s pattern), nay, or reverence too highly, and whom the apostles, after Christ’s departure, brought into the Church in such vast multitudes, none, as far as we know, had any sudden change of mind from bad to good wrought in them, nor do we hear of any of them honoured with any important station in the Church. I have confined myself to the time of Christ’s coming; but not only then, but at all times and under all circumstances, as all parts of the Bible inform us, obedience to the light we possess is the way to gain more light (Proverbs 8:17-20; Luke 16:10; Mark 4:25).
III. Some of the consequences which follow from this great Scripture truth.—
1. First, we see the hopelessness of waiting for any sudden change of heart, if we are at present living in sin. To all those who live a self-indulgent life, however they veil their self-indulgence from themselves by a notion of their superior religious knowledge, and by their faculty of speaking fluently in Scripture language, to all such the Word of life says, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked”; He tries the heart, and disdains the mere worship of the lips. He acknowledges no man as a believer in His Son who does not anxiously struggle to obey His commandments to the utmost; to none of those who seek without striving, and who consider themselves safe, to none of these does He give “power to become sons of God.”
2. But, after all, there are very many more than I have as yet mentioned who wait for a time of repentance to come, while at present they live in sin. For instance, the young, who think it will be time enough to think of God when they grow old, that religion will then come as a matter of course, and that they will then like it naturally, just as they now like their follies and sins. Or those who are much engaged in worldly business, who confess they do not give that attention to religion which they ought to give, who neglect the ordinances of the Church, who allow themselves in various small transgressions of their conscience, and resolutely harden themselves against the remorse which such transgressions are calculated to cause them; and all this they do under the idea that at length a convenient season will come when they may give themselves to religious duties. All such persons do not, in their hearts, believe our Lord’s doctrine contained in the text, that to obey God is to be near Christ, and that to disobey is to be far from Him. How will this truth be plain to us in that day when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed! Now we do not believe that strict obedience is as necessary as it is. We put something before it, in our doctrinal system, as more necessary than it; one man puts faith, another outward devotion, a third attention to his temporal calling, another zeal for the Church—that is, we put a part for the whole of our duty, and so run the risk of losing our souls. These are the burnt offerings and sacrifices which even the scribe put aside before the weightier matters of the law. Or, again, we fancy that the means of gaining heaven are something stranger and rarer than the mere obvious duty of obedience to God: we are loath to seek Christ in the waters of Jordan rather than in Pharpar and Abana, rivers of Damascus; we prefer to seek Him in the height above, or to descend into the deep, rather than to believe that the Word is nigh us, even in our mouth and in our heart. Hence in false religions some men have even tortured themselves and been cruel to their flesh, thereby to become as gods, and to mount aloft; and in our own, with a not less melancholy, though less self-denying, error, men fancy that certain strange effects on their minds, strong emotion, restlessness, and an unmanly excitement and extravagance of thought and feeling, are the tokens of that inscrutable Spirit who is given us, not to make us something other than men, but to make us, what without His gracious aid we never shall be, upright, self-mastering men, humble and obedient children of our Lord and Saviour. In that day of trial all these deceits will be laid aside; we shall stand in our own real form, whether it be of heaven or of earth, the wedding garment or the old raiment of sin; and then how many, do we think, will be revealed as the heirs of light, who have followed Christ in His narrow way, and humbled themselves after His manner (though not in His perfection, and with nothing of His merit) to the daily duties of soberness, mercy, gentleness, self-denial, and the fear of God?—J. H. Newman, D.D.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 12:28-31. The scribe’s question, or catch, was a common one among the learned of that day; and this answer of Jesus was the recognised solution of it. Long before now another lawyer, when asked by Jesus, “What is written in the law? How dost thou read it?” had replied in similar terms (Luke 10:25-27). So that our Lord’s answer was not original, was not His private solution of the problem; it was the common and accepted solution among the students and masters of the law, as indeed this master himself confesses in the next verse. The only wonder to those who heard it from the lips of Jesus was how He came to know it, He who had “never learned,” never sat at the feet of any of their rabbis or passed through any of their schools. An ordinary layman would have been posed by it. For neither “the first and great commandment,” nor “the second, which is like unto it,” was contained in the Decalogue, though obedience to them was far “more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” The first, that which enjoins love to God, is only given incidentally, in a summary of human duty contained in Deuteronomy 6:5; and, again, Mark 10:12. The second, that which enjoins love for our neighbour, is hidden away among a crowd of Levitical enactments of the most minute and burdensome kind (Leviticus 19:18). It took some knowledge of the law, therefore, to find these two commandments at all; and much knowledge, much spiritual insight and a deep sympathy with the animating spirit of the Hebrew law, to discover that they were the first and best commandments of all. And it shews, I think, what a real genius for religion the Jews had, that even the hide-bound rabbis and scribes had discerned for themselves that love—love to God and man—is the end of the commandment and the fulfilling of the law. But, though they would have used the very words which Jesus used, would they have used them in the same sense? They would have selected—they had selected—the same two commandments as the great commandments; but did they see in them the meaning that He saw? We know they did not. To them this answer was only the right answer to a legal catch; to Him it was the supreme fact of human life. For what else had He come into the world but just this?—to induce men, by revealing God’s hearty love for them, to love Him with all their hearts, and their neighbours as themselves.—S. Cox, D.D.
Christ’s two commandments and the Decalogue.—Have the two commandments of Christ superseded the ten commandments of Moses? Yes and No: they abolish only by fulfilling them. So long as we are compassed about with infirmity, and come short therefore of the full height of the charity of love, it is very meet, right, and our bounden duty to bear in mind the commandments of the law, and to enforce ourselves to obey them. And yet, if we could but keep the two commandments, what need should we have of the ten, or of any other commandment? How can any man who loves God with all his heart have any other God besides Him? How can any man who loves God with the whole of his mind, with full and clear intelligence, make unto him any graven images, any idol, and bow down before it? How can any man who loves God with all his soul take the name of the Lord his God in vain? How can any man who loves God with all his strength forget to hallow every day to His service, and not only the seventh? Or how can any man who loves his neighbour as himself fail to honour all men, and not only his father and mother, or do any murder, or commit adultery, or steal, or bear false witness, or covet anything that is his neighbour’s? Within the compass of these two commandments the whole law does hang and move: love is the fulfilling of the law; and he that walketh in love both walks at large (i. e. in liberty) and keeps all the commandments of God.—Ibid.
True religion.—True religion can be no disjointed, fragmentary affair. As the forest tree is one tree, though it have a myriad branches and twigs and leaves, because it has one root, so the true religious life must be one because it can have but one root—supreme love to God.
2. True religion engages the whole man, mind and soul and affections, while the strength and power to carry out its behests are not wanting. The intellect and the emotions, the spiritual nature, and the will and force to make the Spirit effective are all drawn upon.
3. Philanthropy is not religion; but there can be no true religion without philanthropy. We love God whom we have not seen because we have learned to love our fellow-men whom we have seen, and our love to our fellow-men is intense and pure and active in proportion to the strength of our devotion to the Lord our God.
4. True religion is an active influence, leading us to do as well as think, to act as well as feel.
5. While true religion demands our all, it demands no more than any one can give. No experience that is beyond us is demanded. No angel’s love, no seraph’s might, not the devotion of the ripened saint unless his years and experience have been attained, but “with all thy heart and soul and mind and strength, and thy neighbour as thyself.”—F. E. Clark.
Guidance in the religious life.—These words of Christ form a noble guide for the religious life. You are concerned with religion in many of its varied aspects. You are interested in thoughts about God and His relation to the world and man; you give expression to your spiritual aspirations in one and another form of worship; you bear your share of the Christian activity of the congregation; and you can never escape from the demands made upon you for Christian conduct. Forget not what religion according to Christ means. Take heed lest you be so engrossed with its mere accidents that you lose sight of its substance. Strive that you may grow in love to God and man. Despise not creeds and theologies, but so use creed, theology, and Bible that you may gain that deeper insight into God and God’s ways with men which will waken a deeper love. In recoil from a ritualism which sets more store by the means than by the end which is subserved by the means, do not rashly sit too loosely to forms of worship, but so use these forms that they may serve to bring you nearer God and nearer man. In the sphere of Christian duty beware of the letter which killeth, rise above mere obedience to external law, and ever seek in your relations with others to have a fresh baptism of that love by which alone the law of Christ can be fulfilled. And in the work you undertake in Christ’s Church on behalf of others be not content with their acceptance of a creed, with their participation in religious worship, or with the observance of the respectabilities of social life; strive to lead them into the love of God and man; and that you may be successful in that work grow yourself in that love, for love is begotten by love.—D. M. Ross.
Mark 12:29. The unity of God.—What a massive and reassuring thought! Amid the debasements of idolatry, with its deification of every impulse and every force, amid the distractions of chance and change, seemingly so capricious and even discordant, amid the complexities of the universe and its phenomena, there is wonderful strength and wisdom in the reflexion that God is one. All changes obey His hand which holds the rein; by Him the worlds were made. The exiled patriarch was overwhelmed by the majesty of the revelation that his fathers’ God was God in Bethel even as in Beersheba: it charmed away the bitter sense of isolation, it unsealed in him the fountains of worship and trust, and sent him forward with a new hope of protection and prosperity. The unity of God, really apprehended, is a basis for the human will to repose upon, and to become self-consistent and at peace. It was the parent of the fruitful doctrine of the unity of nature which underlies all the scientific victories of the modern world. In religion St. Paul felt that it implies the equal treatment of all the human race (Romans 3:29).—Dean Chadwick.
Mark 12:30. Loving God with heart, soul, mind, and strength.—We know what love is in the relation of husband and wife, of father and children, of friend with friend; and from time to time any thoughtful Christian asks himself somewhat sadly, “Do I, with the same reality of love, love God?” If we would endeavour to get some answer to this question in regard to ourselves, let us examine carefully this passage.
1. To love God with all my heart means that I do deliberately direct my life consciously to God as its first end, and that not generally only, but in detail also. I seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness in the small ordinary transactions of life as well as in the great movements of my life.
2. The soul or life means the sum of the faculties. There is the life of a plant, which means the sum of its faculties—the power of absorbing moisture, developing the leaves, the flower, and the fruit. There is the life or soul of the animal; that is, in addition to its powers of assimilation, digestion, and reproduction—powers also of movement and expression of sound—there is the sum of faculties, which is the life of the animal. And there is the sum of the faculties which belong to man in addition to those which the animal shares—those rational powers which constitute the true life of humanity. In part those powers belong to all men; in part they are the peculiar endowment of special individuals, as each of us has from Almighty God his special gifts and powers. To love God, then, “with all our soul,” is to take stock of the faculties which God has given us, and deliberately as we realise what they are with increasing assurance as life goes on to direct them one by one and altogether to the service of God.
3. “To love the Lord our God with all our mind” is to direct our faculties of intellect to knowing what we can of God. Let us run through the various traits of the being of God which He has revealed to us. There is, first, His revelation in nature. It is a scene which, by captivating the spiritual imagination and faculties of man, discloses something of the mind and spiritual being of that God who is at work in it: power, wisdom, beauty; and not so only, for this scene is also a storehouse of truth. Everywhere God is appealing there to the mind of man, informing it, enlightening it. God is there disclosed in His power, in His beauty, in His truth. And yet we have but begun to estimate what we can know of God. There is that other great natural witness—the witness of conscience. So it is when man within himself becomes conscious of the altogether new work of self-revelation. God is disclosed in righteousness. And then, once more, there is the moral character remaining, which is the argument of the psalmist: “He that made the eye, shall He not see? He that planted the ear, shall He not hear?” And our great poet Robert Browning has taught men to argue—He that made love and righteousness the character of man, must not He in Himself be greater than this moral work? So it is with men. They look to human nature, and see in what is best in man once more the order of the uncreated God. And yet what a wild scene this human nature is! How are we to discriminate between what belongs to human nature, between love and cruelty, between justice and tyranny? How shall we know what here is proper to human nature, and what is but the corruption of it? At this point there comes in the rectifying disclosure which God has given of Himself in the humanity of our Lord. Jesus Christ, our Master, gives us the true standard of human nature. There we see what belongs to man, and what is only the corruption of the gift of God. And yet in Jesus Christ is not only the disclosure of perfect manhood—it is the disclosure, under the conditions of our humanity, of perfect Godhood. He in man is very God. We look at His life, His forbearance, His patience, His gentleness, His self-sacrifice, and we see nothing else than forbearance and patience and gentleness—very God. So it is with point after point. Gradually we sum up what we can know of God, His power, His beauty, His truth, His righteousness, His love, His self-sacrifice—that being of God which is summed up in St. John’s words: “God is love.” And yet one step more. In thus disclosing to us His character God has revealed to us something at least of His own being. We could not conceive of God at all in blank, monotonous solitude. We could not conceive of a personal God living in the enjoyment of spiritual life in monotonous solitude. There can be no life, no knowledge, no will, if there be no relationship, if there be no fellowship. But as God has come nearer to us in the person of His Son, He has disclosed to us something of those inner relationships which obtained eternally in His being—the relation of Father and Son and Holy Ghost.
4. With all our strength! What does that add to the other? This surely: that everything in human nature degenerates very rapidly into routine is an experience with which we are all only too unhappily familiar. Therefore to love the Lord our God with all our strength is again and again to make fresh beginnings in the love of God—again and again be as one who has not yet begun at all to learn the lesson of religion, so that new force of vitality may in each successive epoch of our life, in each successive morning of our life, be put into the service which we offer to God.—Canon Gore.
Love to God.—
1. The sentiments and actions wherein love to God is chiefly exhibited. It implies in general to regard Him from intimate conviction as our sovereign good, as the source of all our happiness; to delight more in Him than in all things else; to prize and covet His favour and fellowship above all things; and diligently to make it our business to be well pleasing to Him.
(1) Frequent meditation on God is the first particular by which the religious man evinces his love to the Supreme Being, and shews it to be operative in him.
(2) The delight with which the religious man attends on public as well as private worship is the second particular whereby his love to God appears and shews itself active.
(3) An enlightened and active zeal for the honour and glory of God is the third particular whereby the love towards God is manifested and effectively displayed.
(4) A constant and earnest endeavour to please God by a willing and unlimited obedience to His commands is the fourth particular whereby the love towards God is displayed and shewn to be effective. This, in fact, forms the most essential part of it.
(5) The love of God must manifest itself by a sincere and effective love of our neighbour. God is infinitely superior to all necessities. We cannot augment His perfection, or give Him anything which He has not first given us. But He has rational creatures who bear His likeness, He has children, He has friends and subjects here on earth, whom we may effectually serve, to whom we may be useful in various ways, whose temporal and eternal prosperity we may promote. These He recommends to our love, to our care, to our relief.
(6) Lastly, the love of God displays itself in sincere aspirations after heaven, where we shall be more intimately united with Him, and partake of His good pleasure in a superior degree.
2. How our love to God should be constituted, or what qualities it should possess, for being genuine. “With all thy heart, soul, mind, strength.” These accumulated expressions, which apparently denote the selfsame thing, serve generally to shew the sincerity no less than the force and degree of the love which we owe to God. They give us to understand an undissembled, an ardent, an effective, and a constant love, captivating as it were the entire soul, setting all its capacities and energies in motion, and becoming a ruling affection.
(1) It must be sincere.
(2) We must love God above or more than all things else.
(3) We must love all else that merits our esteem and affection, principally in regard and in reference to God as the author of it.
(4) Our love to God must be firm and immutable.
3. The reasons which oblige us to such a love towards God. Love is founded on the excellency of its object, or on the close relations wherein we stand towards it, or on the benefits which we receive from it, or on the good we have to hope for from it. In regard to our love for God all these reasons unite together; and who does not perceive how strong and indissoluble they render our obligation to it?
(1) Where is the being that is more excellent, more venerable, more amiable than God? Does He not comprise in Himself whatever is beautiful, good, perfect?
(2) Consider the close relation wherein you stand towards God, and the multitude, the greatness, the high value of the benefits you have received from Him. He is our Creator; we are the work of His hands. He is our Sovereign, and we are His subjects. He is our Father, and we His children.
(3) Add the intrinsic excellency and the manifold utility of this virtue. (a) What can more delightfully employ the soul of a reasonable and virtuous being; what is more adapted to elevate and enlarge his capacities and powers; what can procure him a more pure, a more noble, a more sensible pleasure, than the love of a God who possesses all the prerogatives and attributes which only merit love in the supreme degree, without limitation and change; who is the ever-flowing and inexhaustible fountain of light, of life, of joy, of happiness; whose goodness and grace continue for ever and ever; and who will never cease to bless His friends and worshippers, and to make them happy? (b) What is more adapted to facilitate to us the practice of all the virtues, the discharge of all our duties, than the love of God? (c) What is more adapted to comfort us in all adversities, to render us firm and undaunted in every danger, and to give us the most certain hope of the completest happiness, than love towards God?—G. J. Zollikofer.
The meaning of this commandment for us is nothing less than this: that we are to cherish and maintain within ourselves an enthusiastic devotion to the highest vision that is vouchsafed us of the Eternal Reality, the Eternal Love, the Eternal Beauty.—R. J. Fletcher.
Mark 12:31. Duty to neighbour.—Christ sums up all God’s law, all man’s duty, in the word “love.” The love of God and its manifestation in the love of man.
1. The strictness of the commandment and the frequency of its iteration.
(1) Here it is put forth as the compendium of the law, and again Romans 13:8.
(2) The breach of charity is a bar to the acceptance by God of ourselves and of our work (Matthew 5:23-24; 1 John 3:14).
(3) It is the new commandment given by Christ on the most solemn occasion (John 13:34-35).
(4) It has attached to it the promise that its fulfilment shall cover a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).
2. Its twofold channel of operation.
(1) Alms-deeds and the corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, harbour the stranger and needy, visit the sick, minister to prisoners and captives, visit the fatherless and widows, bury the dead.
(2) Intercession and the spiritual works of mercy: to instruct the ignorant, correct offenders, counsel the doubtful, comfort the afflicted, suffer injuries with patience, forgive offences and wrongs, pray for others.
3. Its scope and limit.
(1) It is to be universal in its scope, reaching even to our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 10:29-38).
(2) Its limit: we are to love our neighbour as ourself; not more—a warning to those who neglect the cultivation of their own spiritual life for the active ministrations of Church work; but not less—a warning to those who think only of the needs of their own soul.—A. G. Mortimer, D. D.
Motives to universal charity.—
1. Wouldst thou love all mankind as thy brethren, rejoice in them and think of them with complacency, say sometimes to thyself, “God loves them; He designs their good; He showers His benefits upon them; He rejoices in them as the work of His hands, as His creatures, His children; He beholds them with complacency.”
2. Wouldst thou love all mankind as thy brethren, rejoice in them all, and think on them with complacency and esteem: in the judgment that thou passest on them be not biassed either by the homeliness of their figure, or the meanness of their apparel, or the humble situation in which they are placed, or by single actions, foolish or wicked, which they commit. Nothing of this detracts from the inherent worth of the man, his native grandeur and dignity, his essential excellences.
3. Wouldst thou awaken and confirm in thy soul the principle of love, inward, cordial love towards all mankind, as towards thy neighbours, frequently resolve in thy mind the various and generally useful connexions in which they all stand with thee and with human society at large. Not one is entirely useless, or absolutely and in all respects injurious to society, and no one can or will be so at all times and in every situation.
4. Wouldst thou excite and cherish in thy heart this universal charity, judge, esteem thy brethren, mankind, not merely by what at present, in this their infant state, they are and afford, but by what in all future times on every higher step of their existence they may and will be and afford.—G. J. Zollikofer.
Mark 12:32-34. The excellence of the moral law.—
I. The great practical duties of the law are supremely excellent.—
1. They are good for their own sake; whereas the institutions of the ceremonial law were good only as means to an end.
2. They can be performed only by a renewed heart; whereas the institutions of the ceremonial law may be performed by the most abandoned of mankind.
II. They are such as must commend themselves to the conscience of every candid inquirer.—
1. Are they reasonable? What can be more reasonable than that we should love Him who is infinitely lovely, and who has so loved us as even to give His only dear Son to die for us?
2. Are they conducive to our happiness? Wherein does the happiness of heaven consist but in the exercise of love?
3. Are they perfective of our nature? The want of love is that which debases us even lower than the beasts that perish. No words can describe the full malignity of such a state. But let a principle of love possess our souls, and it instantly refines all our feelings, regulates all our dispositions, and transforms us into the very image of our God.
4. Are they instrumental to the honouring of God? We know of no other way in which God can be honoured, because these two commandments comprehend the whole of our duty. But by abounding in a regard to these we may and do honour Him.
III. An approbation of them argues a state of mind favourable to the reception of the gospel.—When there is a readiness to approve the boundless extent of these commandments, there must of necessity be—
1. An openness to be convinced of our lost estate.
2. A willingness to embrace the offers of salvation.
3. A readiness to receive and improve the aids of God’s Spirit.—C. Simeon.
Mark 12:34. Not far from the kingdom.—
I. What is it to be near the kingdom?—There are habits of life, traits of character which bring us nigh—
1. A moral life.
2. Interest in religion. The Holy Spirit guides all sincere seekers of truth.
3. Knowledge of Scriptures. This is a long step nearer Christ. The seed lies ready for the sun and rain.
II. What is it to be in the kingdom?—
1. Answer supplied in narrative. To know that to love God and man is more than all mere rites is to be near the kingdom. To have that love in the heart is to be in the kingdom.
2. To enter the kingdom love must be shed abroad in the heart. This love enters when we believe God’s love to us. The last step into the kingdom is then faith—belief in God’s love to me. God’s love enters the soul like a cascade, as we believe it. Then rises up our love to God, like the spray, the vapour-cloud of the fall, that fills our life with beauty, as the mossy banks of the cascade are full of flowers and ferns. Our love to God is the return of God’s love to its source. This love shews itself to our neighbour; if not, it does not exist.
III. Why do men not go all the way?—
1. They love some secret evil. A hidden anchor holds the vessel when the tide is flowing.
2. They are not in earnest. It is necessary to “strive.”
3. They procrastinate; they lack the final act of decision; they miss the flood-tide which would have led to salvation.
IV. The responsibility of stopping short.—
1. It is full of danger. To feel “near the kingdom” breeds the presumption, “I can enter any time.” Where despair of salvation slays one soul, presumption slays a thousand.
2. The position cannot be maintained; the habits of life, the traits of character, which bring us near, will fade, unless we ask Christ to guard them. We shall drift farther every year from heaven.
3. It is fatal. “To be almost saved is to be altogether lost.”—J. H. Hodson.
Nearness not possession.—It is with the kingdom of God as with other kingdoms—kingdoms both objective and subjective—to be almost in possession is not sufficient. A man may be almost in possession of a fortune, but that adds not to his credit at the bank. A man may be almost honest or almost sober, but that will be no recommendation to a position of trust and responsibility. And as with these, so with the kingdoms of mental force, health, and social influence; nearness is not sufficient.
I. A man is not necessarily in the kingdom of God because an intelligent inquirer.—Christ does not shrink from being questioned; but let us discriminate between questioning with a view to information and questioning with a view to disputation. Moreover it is worthy of notice that when Christ pronounces upon a man’s condition that man does not farther presume upon his mere knowledge. “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” What then? “No man after that durst ask Him any question.”
II. A man is not necessarily in the kingdom of God because he knows truth when he hears it.—Twice over in the narrative we find this scribe tacitly saying Amen to the utterances of Christ. But a man may do that and yet have no affection for Christ as Saviour. This man was thoroughly orthodox. But it is quite possible to make a false god of orthodoxy. At all events theoretical orthodoxy is not enough. A man may be ready “to stand up for the truth,” nay, ready to die for it, and yet be only “not far from the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 13:3).
III. A man is not necessarily in the kingdom of God because he can answer questions bearing upon Christianity.—We fear that not a little confidence is reposed in questions having only a very remote bearing upon religion. A man may know the creed without knowing the Christ, and the catechism while yet he knows nothing of charity, Farther, a man may answer according to the letter of Scripture and yet be only “not far from the kingdom of God.” We must repent, confess, believe, and serve.—J. S. Swan.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 12
Mark 12:30. Love, the most important thing.—“Father,” asked the son of Bishop Berkeley, “what is the meaning of the words ‘cherubim’ and ‘seraphim,’ which we meet with in the Bible?” “Cherubim,” replied his father, “is a Hebrew word, signifying knowledge; seraphim is another word of the same language, signifying flame. Whence it is supposed that the cherubim are angels who excel in knowledge, and that the seraphim are angels likewise who excel in loving God.” “I hope, then,” said the little boy, “when I die I shall be a seraph, for I would rather love God than know all things.”
Mark 12:31. Loving neighbour as self.—A good old clergyman, living on the borders of Salisbury Plain, was admired by his bishop for having performed “the greatest act of charity of which he had ever heard.” It will amuse you to hear what that act was. When the Rev. Samuel Settle—for that was his name—required a new suit of clothes, he used to send for the parish tailor to measure him; and when the number of inches had been correctly noted down, he would add, “Make the things a size larger than the measure, Grant.” Did he like his clothes very loose, do you think? Not a bit of it; but his reverence was a particularly small man, and the poor old parishioner to whom he usually gave his cast-off garments was a size larger. Now do you see the reason for the order to the tailor, and do you wonder at the bishop’s praise? Which of us would choose our coats or dresses to suit another person? Verily good old Mr. Settle—now gone to his rest—did love his neighbour as himself.
Mark 12:34. “Not far from the kingdom.”—When, after safely circumnavigating the globe, the Royal Charter went to pieces in Moelfra Bay, on the coast of Wales, it was my melancholy duty (says one) to visit and seek to comfort the wife of the first officer, made by that calamity a widow. The ship had been telegraphed from Queenstown, and the lady was sitting in her parlour expecting her husband, with the table spread for his evening meal, when the messenger came to tell her he was drowned. Never can I forget the grief, so stricken and tearless, with which she rung my hand, as she said, “So near home, and yet lost!”
Half a point off the course.—Almost is not sufficient. A gentleman crossing the English Channel stood near the helmsman. It was a calm and pleasant evening, and no one dreamed of a possible danger to their good ship. But a sudden flapping of a sail, as if the wind had shifted, caught the ear of the officer on watch, and he sprang at once to the wheel, examining closely the compass. “You are half a point off the course,” he said sharply to the man at the wheel. The deviation was corrected, and the officer returned to his post. “You must steer very accurately,” said the looker-on, “when only half a point is so much thought of.” “Ah, half a point in many places might bring us directly on the rocks,” he said. What avails being almost right, if destruction is the end?
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 12:35. Jesus answered.—For the earlier part of the conversation see Matthew 22:41-42.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 12:35-37
(PARALLELS: Matthew 22:41-46; Luke 20:41-44.)
Our Lord’s question concerning the Messiah.—
I. The place where He propounded His question.—Why did He choose such a public place as the Temple to oppose the scribes’ opinion and doctrine? That by putting them to silence in such open manner He might bring the greater shame and disgrace upon them and their doctrine, they being malicious enemies of the truth; and withal that He might gain the more credit and authority with the people to His own person and doctrine.
1. In that Christ used so much to frequent the Temple, being a public place, whither all sorts of people much resorted, to the end He might there have occasion of doing the more good, both by His doctrine and miracles, as also by reforming abuses there, and by opposing and refuting errors: hence observe that we also ought to take the best opportunities of time, place, and persons, where and amongst whom we may do most good, and bring most glory to God, in our place and calling.
2. In that Christ was now teaching in the Temple, and so used to be much and often at other times to teach the people there publicly: hence learn whither to resort if we would hear Christ and be partakers of His doctrine, viz. to the public place of God’s worship.
3. In that Christ did not only teach and deliver sound doctrine in the Temple at this time, but did also oppose erroneous doctrine: hence gather that ministers of the Word are not only in their public ministry to teach true and sound doctrine, but also to oppose and confute contrary errors, as occasion is offered (Titus 1:9; Titus 1:11).
II. The manner of Christ’s opposing and confuting the opinion of the scribes.—
1. He propounds their opinion and questions the truth of it.
(1) That He might by this means take occasion to confute and overthrow that common and gross error held not only by the scribes and Pharisees, but also by the greatest part of the other Jews, touching the person of the Messiah.
(2) That by this means He might have occasion to confirm the faith of His disciples in the truth and doctrine of His Godhead.
(3) Having lately commended one of the scribes for answering discreetly, therefore now He takes occasion to propound this question, thereby to stir up both that scribe and others also to a diligent search after the true knowledge of the Messiah.
2. He objects against them a place of Scripture.
(1) All errors, and erroneous opinions and doctrines of men, in matters of faith and religion, are to be opposed and confuted by Scripture, and by grounds and reasons taken from thence.
(2) The prophets of the Old Testament spoke of Christ the true Messiah, and of His kingdom and glory, and the manifestation of it, long before it was fulfilled.
(3) The writers of Holy Scripture were extraordinarily directed and assisted by the Holy Ghost.
3. He applies those words of David to His purpose.
(1) The Person who is said here to have called and advanced Christ to this high degree of glory and authority, viz. God the Father.
(2) The Person called and advanced to this glory—Christ the true Messiah. (a) There is a distinction of Persons in the Godhead, though but one God in nature and essence. (b) The truth of Christ’s Godhead, in that David calls Him his Lord. (c) The nature of true faith—to make particular application of Christ to the believer. “My Lord.” (d) How we ought to receive and embrace Christ—not only as Redeemer and Saviour, but also as Lord and Master.
(3) The ground or cause of Christ’s advancement to this glory, viz. the eternal purpose and decree of God the Father, ordaining and appointing Him unto it.
(4) The advancement itself. (a) To the highest degree of glory, honour, and dignity, next unto God the Father. (b) To the full possession and administration of His kingdom and government over the world, and especially over His true Church.—G. Petter.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 12:35-36. Faith can reconcile apparent opposites.—Faith alone, which knows what Christ is by His Divine nature, and what He is become by His mercy, knows how to reconcile the seeming contradictions which are in this Divine compound, God-man: Son of David, by His birth according to the flesh; and Lord of David, by His eternal birth in God His Father, as also by the rights of His third birth, namely, His resurrection, which placed Him at the right hand of His Father.—P. Quesnel.
A counter-question.—Thus the Saviour intimates it is not robbery to claim equality with God, and intimates that no merely human Saviour would meet the deep wants of man.
I. In all ages men have longed for a Divine and human Saviour,—one who, as man, would be near and sympathetic; as God, omnipotent and enduring. David’s psalm is a clear expression of what all religious men have dreamed of. An incarnation of a helpful God is the hope of the Hindoo peoples.
II. None less than God can be a spiritual and eternal Saviour.—We want a son of David, but one whose name is “Lord,” and whose natural seat is “at God’s right hand.”—R. Glover.
Mark 12:37. Christ’s popularity with the masses—All through the Gospels there are indications of Christ’s popularity with the masses as distinguished from the classes. Why? Where lay the charm? In the aspect, the matter, the spirit of the Man? Perhaps in all together. It is difficult to give a full account of popularity, to explain why one man can do what he wills with an audience, while another is utterly helpless. There may be subtle physical causes at work, as well as intellectual and moral ones. But the thing is not altogether a mystery; the teacher’s power can be explained in part. Looks count for something—the kindling eye, the play of thought and emotion in the face. A genial manner goes a long way to conciliate favour, revealing itself in a kindly smile and a warm, hearty tone of utterance. But the secret of power lies mainly in what a man says—in his thoughts as a revelation of himself, his convictions embodied in speech. Eloquence is not an affair of manner or of style or of gesture; it is the whole man—all that is within—speaking out: the mind, heart, soul, spirit, finding utterance for itself in words. It is this on which the Evangelists remark in reference to Christ’s power over His audience (see Luke 4:22; Matthew 7:28-29).—A. B. Bruce, D.D.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 12:39. Uppermost rooms at feasts.—Chief places in the suppers—the most important meal of the day, and the most fashionable entertainment.
Mark 12:40. Greater damnation.—A heavier sentence or doom than that awaiting other sinners. Christ always denounces the hypocrite as a villain of double dye.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 12:38-40
(PARALLELS: Matthew 23:13-39; Luke 20:45-47.)
Character and conduct of scribes denounced.—
I. Their loud professions of sanctity and their ostentatious devotions are censured.—Long prayers may sometimes be the outcome of deep feeling and many needs; they may, as in the case of the scribes, be a cloak for sin. Long robes, like long prayers, may be a profession with which nothing spiritual corresponds.
II. Their love of pre-eminence is blamed.—Both in “Church and State” they loved to be supreme, and in all social relations they sought the honour which cometh from man.
III. Their cruel rapacity is held up to obloquy.—The bereaved and defenceless were their victims.
IV. Christ predicts the condemnation of such sinners, and at the same time puts the people on their guard against them.—Against the wrongs and cruelties, the assumptions and errors of such pretenders, the Good Shepherd would fain protect His feeble and defenceless sheep.—J. R. Thomson.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 12:38-40. Needful cautions.—I. In that our Lord warns the common people, and His own disciples too, to beware of following the evil and corrupt life and example of the scribes, we may gather that there is much danger of infection to the people of God by the evil and corrupt lives of such as are called to be public pastors and teachers of the Church, when they do not live answerably to this calling, but loosely, profanely, wickedly.
2. Christians must take heed of being corrupted by the evil example and practice of such as are outwardly called to the ministerial office, and yet are men of corrupt and vicious life. Though they may and vicious life. Though they may and ought to hear the doctrine preached by such, and to embrace and follow it, so far as they preach the truth (Matthew 23:3), yet they must beware of following the evil example and practice of such pastors.—G. Petter.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 12
Mark 12:38-39. The Synagogue of Ambition.—There is the Synagogue of Ambition, whose bond of union is the lust of place and of power. Let Diotrephes be its representative, who “loved to have the pre-eminence,” and whom St. John censured for this ambitious temper, which tempted him, though nominally a member—perhaps a minister—of the early Church, violently to reject the best Christians. What are not men ready to do to gratify an inordinate and insatiate ambition! You know how the old Romans built their military roads. They projected them in a mathematical line, straight to the point of termination, and everything had to give way, there could be no deviation. And so on went the road, bridging rivers, filling up ravines, hewing down hills, levelling forests, cutting its way through every obstacle! Just so men set their lust upon self-emolument, some height of ambition, the attainment of place, rank, power, and hew their way toward it, not minding what gives way. No obstacle is insurmountable; health, happiness, home-comfort, honesty, integrity, conscience, the law of God, everything is sacrificed to the god of ambition.
Mark 12:40. A devourer of widows’ houses.—In the town of L—resided a prosperous and pious sadler. He had a wife, but no family; and at her entreaty he took into his home a boy, a relative of his own. The wife tended him, mothered him, taught him. He learned the business, and grew up to his manhood. Before that time the wife became a confirmed invalid from rheumatism, and soon lay helpless in one room, when her husband was stricken with acute disease and lay dying in another. Under solemn promise to the dying man, and with great shew of piety, the young man secured that all the property should be left to him, solemnly pledging himself to care lovingly for that invalid wife to her last day. No sooner was the husband laid in his grave than that young man turned the poor invalid out of house and home, and even compelled her to find money among her friends with which to purchase the very furniture she brought to the home at her marriage. And, broken-hearted, the poor woman soon died in a stranger’s shelter. They say that man is prosperous to-day. Who of us would change lots with that “devourer of widows’ houses”?
Prayers judged by weight, not length.—God takes not men’s prayers by tale, but by weight. He respecteth not the arithmetic of our prayers, how many there are; nor the rhetoric of our prayers, how eloquent they are; nor the geometry of our prayers, how long they are; nor the music of our prayers, the sweetness of our voice; nor the logic of our prayers, nor the method of them; but the divinity of our prayers is that which He so much esteemeth. He looketh not for any James with horny knees through assuidity in prayer; nor for any Bartholomew with a century of prayers for the morning, and as many for the evening; but St. Paul, his frequency of praying with fervency of spirit, without all tedious prolixities and vain babblings, this it is that God makes most account of. It is not a servant’s going to and fro, but the despatch of his business, that pleases his master. It is not the loudness of a preacher’s voice, but the holiness of the matter and the spirit of the preacher, that moves a wise and intelligent hearer. So here, not gifts, but graces in prayer, move the Lord. But these long prayers of the Pharisees were so much the worse because thereby they sought to entitle God to their sin, yea, they merely mocked Him, fleering in His face.—J. Trapp.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 12:41-44
(PARALLEL: Luke 21:1-4.)
A celebrated contribution.—The “collection” is generally considered to be commonplace. Jesus, in this passage, clothed it with sublimity. He immortalised the famous farthing. The two mites are transformed into two angels, and they seem to watch over the contribution chest of the Church as the cherubim did over the Ark of the Covenant. Jesus was memorable for seeing the many in the one, the much in the little, the sublime in the simple. The smallest act may embody the greatest principle. The mites of the poor widow rise to the transcendent height of latent martyrdom—“even all her living.” She gave all that her life depended upon. One step more and the gift would have been life.
I. True religion is sometimes under disadvantageous circumstances to develop itself.—
1. True religion is to be developed. Piety is composite, consisting of principle and action. As rays to the sun, branches to the tree, the stream to the fountain, so conduct is to the heart, its natural and necessary outcome.
2. The possessor of true religion is sometimes unfortunately situated. The condition of woman, and especially of a widow, in the East was deplorable. Her portion was oppression.
3. Contrast between principles and position makes the development of religion difficult. The widow had the will, but not the means, to give. She was a princess in heart, but a pauper in hand.
II. True religion will develop itself in spite of adverse circumstances.—This “poor widow” displayed—
1. Consciousness of ability to give. God created all beings with the power to realise the design of their existence. This is pre-eminently true of man. He has soul, will, affections, emotions, conscience, body, privileges, motives, and example.
2. Conviction of duty to give. Every one under the law was commanded to give. None was exempted. The principle still remains under the new dispensation. Individual effort is everlasting. No proxy in religion. “Follow thou Me.”
3. Practical promptitude to give. She contributed gloriously, and the tinkling of her tiny tokens has reverberated throughout the universe. The making power of the two mites has been felt in all the collections of Christendom ever since.
III. The display of true religion in spite of adverse circumstances wins the hearty commendation of Christ.—Christ reports a farthing. He is alone in this. The sum was small, but it was an indication of profound feeling and great sacrifice. It was full of self-denial. The others of their much gave a little, but she of her little gave all. There was no suffering in their offerings. Religion was secondary to riches. Gold superseded God. If there is no sacrifice in our deeds, they are valueless in a moral sense. The widow went her way after depositing her gift, and probably never knew that she was observed. Perhaps it will be so with thee. Do thy best and thou shalt reap. Do thy best in the family, the business, the school, the Church, the world. Time is short. Work is urgent. Recompense is sure.—B. D. Johns.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 12:41. The Church treasury.—
1. The Church treasury.—
1. Its supreme importance. The Church can no more succeed without its treasury than can a mill, factory, workshop, farm, or store.
(1) Church edifices can neither be built nor maintained without money.
(2) The ministry is sustained by the treasury.
(3) All the benevolent work of the Church waits on the treasury.
2. The treasury measures the love of Christ’s people for Him. Self-sacrifice. Money is the principal representative of value.
II. The people who cast money into it.—
1. “The multitude.” “None empty.” “Every one lay by,” etc.
2. Jesus saw how much, etc.
3. How rather than what. “Cheerful giver.” “Willing mind.” Many gave from purse only; she from heart. Custom—love.
Mark 12:42-44. The greatness of the widow’s gift.—
I. The greatness of a gift cannot be determined by its absolute amount; it can be truly ascertained only by a moral standard.—
1. The first index on this moral standard points to the ability to bestow. The widow had given more than the wealthy in proportion to her ability. Their contributions were as much less than their living as the widow’s mites, which were “all her living,” were less than their gifts of gold. And, even while they stood at the Temple, their servants were busy in their rich dwellings, preparing savoury viands against their masters’ return. But the widow’s habitation was desolate in her absence; the fire had gone out upon her hearth; and she must return not to a luxurious feast, but to an empty board. In such circumstances abundant indeed was her contribution.
2. A second mark upon this standard indicates the disposition that prompts the gift. There may be no generosity in the most magnificent bequest, while a soul overflowing with love may accompany the humblest present. Here indeed is a sense in which her offering was greater than those of the worldlings. It was greater in her own soul. Small indeed was their gift in the estimation of their own secret thought. Inferior was its weight in the scales of conscience, but great and glorious the integrity and joyfulness of the widow’s spirit.
3. There is still another index on this moral standard which determines the greatness of a gift. This index points to the good effect resulting from the gift. How many hearts has this lofty spirit of the poor widow, thus celebrated by Christ, inspired with the same self-forgetful love and impelled to the same noble conduct! Viewed in its ultimate influence, then, her gift was greater than theirs; and, thus regarded, we may even say it was absolutely greater. For if we consider all the effects of her example in cherishing a true benevolence and leading others to be bountiful even the sum of the rich men’s benefactions would dwindle and fade into nothing before the greatness and splendour of offerings devoted to the cause of religion which have grown, as an immense harvest from invisible seed, out of the widow’s mites. She gave not only to the Temple at Jerusalem, but to every Christian temple under the heaven whose foundations have since been laid. By a single act of self-denial she has been charitable to the whole world; and for what she did, in humility and sorrow that she could do no more, the whole world will confess itself under obligations and be grateful.
II. This subject naturally suggests an absolute truth, apart from the particular case presented in the text.—
1. We may say, generally, it is not great but small things, not imposing but humble deeds, that make up the great sum of good influence. Look at all the great associations for the support of government, education, philanthropy, religion. It is not the talents, but the mites, by which they are nourished.
2. In regard to our own characters we may say the mites are more than the talents. It is not what we think and feel and do on extraordinary occasions that makes the bulk of character, but the silent and steady accumulation of our every-day desires and motives and habits of life. Religion consists not in spasmodic efforts, but persevering industry—not in doing much at one time, but all we can at all times. Think not thy little, if it be all thou canst, will be despised: think not thy much, if it be less than thy ability, will be accepted.—C. A. Bartol.
Unconscious fame.—She knew not that any had seen it: for the knowledge of eyes turned on her, even His, would have flushed with shame the pure cheek of her love; and any word, conscious notice, or promise would have marred and turned aside the rising incense of her sacrifice. But to all time has it remained in the Church, like the perfume of Mary’s alabaster that filled the house, this deed of self-denying sacrifice. More, far more, than the great gifts of their “superfluity,” which the rich cast in, was, and is to all time, the gift of absolute self-surrender and sacrifice, tremblingly offered by the solitary mourner. And though He spake not to her, yet the sunshine of His words must have fallen into the dark desolateness of her heart; and though perhaps she knew not why, it must have been a happy day of rich feast in the heart when she gave up “her whole living” unto God. And so perhaps is every sacrifice for God all the more blessed when we know not of its blessedness.—A. Edersheim, D.D.
Uncoined charity.—The humblest and feeblest among us may cast in their mite wherever there is a sick bedside to be prayed by, ignorance to be enlightened, or misery to be relieved. There are many widows still among us in heart like her who left her all in the treasury. May their useful and estimable class extend and persevere! True to their principles of doing all unto the Lord, and of giving in secret, may no apprehension of the scorn of the world, nor any misgiving of their doing good because the good they do seems small in amount, check their hands or chill their hearts: many a midnight prayer ascends for them from sleepless but grateful sufferers, many a blessing poured forth for them by helpless lips is registered on high; and still, when the Lord looks up to view how men are filling His treasury, He sees certain poor widows casting in thither their mites; and passing by unheeded the rich men’s gifts, He fixes on them the praise of real charity.—R. L. Browne.
A rule of giving for the rich.—Different circumstances require different management, and there is a way of coming up to the poor widow’s attainments without doing exactly as she did. If a rich man were to give away his whole estate, and reduce himself to poverty or to hard labour, this would not only be doing as much, but a great deal more than the poor widow did; for she did not make any such great change in her circumstances, nor did she sink her state or condition at all lower than before. Her example therefore, or our Lord’s applauding it, is of no force as to obliging any one to throw himself out of that rank, station, or condition of life wherein God has placed him. Nor does the instance of the text oblige a man, when in a thriving way, to dispose of all the overplus, all the clear gains, at the year’s end: for how then could he go on to support that rank and station he is in, and to provide for his family? The poor widow might, by what she did, straiten herself for a day or two, and after that be in as good a condition as she was before. But were any trading or thriving men to give away all their increase, they would soon find their affairs run backwards, and would not be able to recover them. Well, then, how must we state the case with a rich man to make it answer to this in the text? The rule of proportion, I conceive, is this: that the richer sort, in order to give the more away in charity, should be content to practise some degree of self-denial, in like manner as the poor widow did. Let them retrench unnecessary expenses at least, abridge their pleasures, shorten their diversions, cut off as much as possible from the pomp and pride of life, to spend upon the poor. Besides this, let them not be oversolicitous as to futurities, providing handsomely for their children, or raising their families. The poor widow trusted God for her own necessary subsistence rather than make no offering at all to the treasury. And thus much at least may be expected of every man: that he contribute according to his perfect circumstances; and that no anxiety, either for himself or his children after him, ever hinder him from doing in proportion to what he at present enjoys. Be content with a moderate provision rather than grow covetous and defraud the poor; for, after all, God’s providence is the best security and His friendship the richest treasure we can have.—Archdeacon Waterland.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 12
Mark 12:41-42. The widow’s mites.—In my pastorate at Wyoming, Pa., a brother Pettibone, since deceased, a man rich in faith, charity, and good works, cast five dollars into the church treasury every Lord’s Day; a poor widow cast into the same treasury five cents each Sunday. She was very poor, and, to provide for her six fatherless children, took in washing every week. Brother Pattibone came to me one day, and asked me to say to this widow that the church officers felt she ought not to pay anything for the support of the church; and, he added, “tell her that I will pay the five cents extra each week for her.” I called, and performed my errand as delicately as I could; but never before or since did I learn a lesson that taught me, as I was then taught, what it meant to give. As she heard my story the tears came to her eyes, and she answered: “Do they want to take from me the comfort I experience in giving to the Lord? Think how much I owe to Him. My health is good, my children keep well, and I receive so many blessings I feel that I could not live if I did not make my little offering to Jesus each week.” I left her humble dwelling, feeling that Providence had ordered the incident, to teach me a never-to-be-forgotten lesson, that giving is absolutely essential to true Christian discipleship and worship, and that our giving and all other acts of worship will be judged not by the amounts we give, nor the professions we make, but by the spirit, the motive of our giving and doing.—R. W. Van Schaick.
The gifts of the poor.—Jewish tradition, though it ever and painfully thrusts forward the reward, has some beautiful legends, allegories, and sayings about the gifts of the poor. One is to the effect that if one who is poor doeth charity, God says of him: “This one is preventing Me. He has kept My commandments before they have come to him. I must recompense him.” In Vayyikra, R. 3, we read of a woman whose offering of a handful of flour the priest despised, when God admonished him in a dream to value the gift as highly as if she had offered herself. The tractate Menachoth closes with these words: Alike as regards burnt offerings of beasts and those of fowls [those of the poor] and the meat offering, we find the expression “for a sweet savour,” to teach us that to offer much or to offer little is the same, provided only that a person direct mind and heart toward God.—A. Edersheim, D.D.
Mark 12:43-44. Liberality must correspond with means.—Sir Thomas Sutton, the founder of the Charter House, was one of the wealthiest merchants of his day. Fuller tells how he was overheard one day praying in his garden: “Lord, Thou hast given me a large and liberal estate; give me also a heart to make use of it.”
Oracles are said to have more than once proclaimed that the hecatombs of noble oxen with gilded horns, that were offered up ostentatiously by the rich, were less pleasing to the gods than the wreaths of flowers and the modest, reverential worship of the poor. In general, however, the service of the Temple had little or no connexion with morals, and the change which Christianity effected in this respect was one of its most important benefits to mankind.—W. E. H. Lecky.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Mark 12". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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