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CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 2:1. It was noised.—It was heard, He is in the house, or at home. Perhaps the house already mentioned, viz. Simon’s (Mark 1:29); but more probably His own homestead.
Mark 2:4. Come nigh unto Him.—Bring (him) to Him.
Mark 2:5. Thy sins be.—Have been forgiven thee. Doubtless the man himself was more anxious about his state in the sight of God than about his bodily ailments.
Mark 2:7. Blasphemies.—Why doth this man talk thus? He blasphemeth! They had yet to learn the truth revealed in John 5:19.
Mark 2:10. Power.—Authority, i.e. a moral right. The use of the term “Son of Man” implies a claim on the part of our Lord to forgive sins rather in His mediatorial than in His Divine capacity. And as the Father sent Him vested with this authority, so does He in due time hand it on to His earthly representatives and vicegerents (John 20:21-23).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 2:1-12
(PARALLELS: Matthew 9:1-8; Luke 5:17-26.)
The paralytic borne of four.—What, it has been asked, was the real purpose of Christ, in those mighty works of healing which consumed so much of His time and strength on earth? What was their relation to His great plan for the world’s redemption? Evidently they were not intended to reduce, by direct interference, the sum-total of the world’s suffering. Had that been their object, we should have been forced to admit they have quite failed to attain it, for the difference they have made in the amount of human woe is infinitesimal. Moreover, we can see for ourselves that that would not have been a worthy object. Pain and misery are not here for nothing; they are sent here by God Himself, to accomplish a definite work in the world—a good, merciful, and Divine work; and they cannot be spared until that work is completed. We must therefore look elsewhere for the key to our Lord’s ministry of healing. And we find it in the incident now before us. “That ye may know that the Son of Man hath authority on earth to forgive sins”—for this purpose it is that Jesus saith to the paralytic, “Arise and walk.” Possessing this key to the meaning of Christ’s works of mercy, we can follow Him through the long succession of them, as He goes about doing good and healing all that are oppressed of the devil, and can find in them all, not only the sign and proof of His power to save from sin, but the example and illustration of His way of saving. Here we see the two antagonists confronted. In Jesus Christ we see God manifest in the flesh; and in the maladies and visible infirmities of men we see sin manifest in the flesh. In the infinite diversity of these—palsies, blindness, leprosies, epileptic convulsions, demoniac madness—we have set before us, in no dark parable, the Protean phases of human sin. We hear the authoritative word of absolution, cleansing, healing; we witness the act of faith by which he who asks receives. These mighty works are a continual parable, in which the whole life of Christ sets before us the kingdom of heaven in its infinite mercy and all-victorious power.
I. The faith exhibited by the paralytic’s friends.—It was quite a common occurrence for sick persons seeking help from Christ to be brought into His presence by those who had the care of them (Matthew 4:24; Matthew 9:32; Matthew 14:35-36; Matthew 15:30; Matthew 17:14-18); and after His ascension the same thing was experienced by the apostles (Acts 5:16). In the present instance the sick man was so utterly helpless that he could only be moved by four persons carrying him on his pallet. But when they reached the house where Jesus was a new difficulty arose, the crowd before the door being too great to admit of their entrance. What was to be done? An ordinary degree of faith would have given up the attempt, and the mournful procession would have returned home as it came. But these men were not so easily daunted. They had the faith which can “remove mountains”; and a mountain of difficulties and discouragements it did indeed remove. “When they could not come nigh unto Him for the press,” they went up on the housetop, carrying their burden with them; and being come just over the place where Jesus was, they actually stripped off the roof, perhaps at the risk of causing danger or inconvenience to those below, and let the paralytic down with his pallet into the midst before Jesus. They adopted an expedient which few would have thought of, and still fewer attempted, so earnest was their desire for their friend’s recovery, and so strong their confidence in Christ’s power and willingness to satisfy that desire. Unbelief would have raised countless objections. “What is there peculiar in your case, that you should take such an extraordinary method of making it known? Others, besides you, have suffering friends. Wait, and take your turn with the rest. Have patience till the crowd disperses, and Jesus is free to attend to you. Or go home now, and return to-morrow. Such behaviour as this makes you look more like housebreakers than humble petitioners. What will the owner of the house say to such wanton destruction of his property? What will the Lord Himself say to this forcible intrusion into His presence?” To every objection urged these men turned a deaf ear; and at length they received their reward for thus taking the kingdom of heaven (as it were) by storm. Jesus recognised in their action, not an outrage upon decency and propriety, but an exceptional expedient to meet exceptional difficulties; not presumptuous forwardness requiring to be checked, but energetic perseverance deserving every encouragement. “Seeing their faith, He said”—what? nothing to them, they needed no commendation, they were sufficiently rewarded by hearing His gracious words addressed to their friend; and to him Jesus said, not, “Son, thou art healed of thine infirmity,” but, “Son, thy sins are forgiven thee.”
II. The power claimed by the Divine Physician.—To cleanse the soul as well as to heal the body. It was in the latter capacity only—as the Healer of physical maladies—that Jesus was usually resorted to. There is but one instance on record of His being sought exclusively for the pardon of sins (Luke 7:37-50). So corrupt had the whole nation of the Jews become, so self-satisfied and unspiritual, that it was the rarest thing possible for any of them to realise that the true mission of Jesus was not to restore the body, but the soul—to save His people from their sins. Now what could bring this truth before them more emphatically than the course He pursued with respect to this paralytic? To another impotent person, whom He had restored, He said, “Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee” (John 5:14)—implying that his affliction was the result of his sin. Here the same truth—that spiritual disorders lie at the root of bodily ones—is not only declared, but proved; for instead of saying, “Son, thou art loosed from thine infirmity,” Jesus says, “Son, thy sins are forgiven thee.” As much as to say,—What you really want is not so much bodily health as spiritual soundness. The faculties of your soul are in direr need than the limbs of your body. It would be of little use for Me to raise your physical frame from that pallet, unless I were at the same time to free your higher nature from the bonds that hold it down. The true physician is he who goes to the root of the disorder, who renovates the constitution and makes the patient a new man. That is what I profess to do. You come to me, craving health, and I offer you in addition salvation: “Son, thy sins are forgiven thee.” So spake the Saviour, and doubtless no sooner had He spoken than the plague of the man’s heart was healed. Still no visible effect followed. There he lay, stretched on his pallet, while the scribes were reasoning among themselves upon the astounding claim implied in the words Jesus had just used. But the matter was not to end there. As far as the efficacy of the word spoken was concerned, it was immaterial whether Christ adopted the form, “Thy sins are forgiven thee,” or, “Arise and walk.” If He intended to bestow health of body as well as forgiveness of sins, then both would certainly accrue in any case. But it was not immaterial whether the truth expressed in the words, “Thy sins are forgiven thee,” should be only taught, or proved as well as taught. It was of the most supreme importance that all men should know that “the Son of Man hath authority on earth to forgive sins,” and not merely to remit the punishment of them. Turning, therefore, again to the paralytic, but intending His words more for the objectors than for him, Jesus said, “Arise, and take up thy pallet, and go thy way into thy house.” In these words the Saviour deliberately staked His claim to forgive sins, which the scribes could not test, upon His ability to heal, which they could test. The bodily disorder obeyed the mandate as promptly as the spiritual malady had already done (Mark 2:12). Thus was manifested, in the most striking manner, the close connection between sin and suffering; and thus was proved the supreme authority of Jesus Christ, not only in the world of nature, but also in the realm of grace.
III. The parabolic teaching of this miracle.—While the restoration of fallen humanity must be at the outset an inward and a spiritual thing, it is not complete until the entire man has been renewed by the power of the Incarnate God, who shall transfigure even our body of humiliation unto conformity with His body of glory (Philippians 3:21).
The penances of life.—Penance is the necessary consequence, the inseparable accompaniment of sin; and though God’s mercy may pardon and absolve the penitent from the guilt of sin, and so remit its eternal punishment, yet there is a temporal punishment which remains, and must remain, as a witness to the essential evil of sin. When we gaze upon the Cross we see there, in the Passion of Jesus, the great penance of sin which He bore for us; but He has left us a cross to bear, He has called us, as members of His body, to share in His work: and in nothing is this more manifest than in the penance which follows forgiven sin.
I. We have to bear as a penance the consequences of the sins of the Church (Colossians 1:24).—
1. In the sorrows which come to us from the lack of zeal, and therefore lack of power in the Church. 2. In the difficulties with which the Church has to contend in restoring primitive doctrine and practice.
3. In the poverty of the sacramental and spiritual life of the Church in so many of our parishes.
II. We must expect penance to follow even on forgiven sins.—
1. The penitent drunkard or roué, who has injured his health by dissipation, has still to bear the consequences of his sins in this life, in physical weakness and disability.
2. The gambler or spendthrift, who has squandered his patrimony in pleasure and excess, has to endure poverty.
3. The criminal, who has lost his character and reputation by legal exposure, though the guilt of his sin be pardoned, has to satisfy the law’s demands, and even after that to put up with many a humiliation as the fruit of his sin.
III. This law holds good in every class of sin—that which is known only to God, as well as that which is manifest also before man. And part of our repentance must consist in our willingness, lovingly, cheerfully, and patiently, to bear the penance of forgiven sin. When our Lord absolved this man, He imposed a penance: “Take up thy bed, and go unto thy house”—possibly bringing on him (as it did on another, John 5:10) the criticism and condemnation of his neighbours for his apparent violation of the Sabbath. So with us; when sin is absolved, its temporal results are often left as a penance.
1. In moral weakness, and therefore the necessary surrender of much that is lawful, but for us not expedient, in the avoidance of occasions of temptation, in the giving up of dangerous companions.
2. In the return of the old temptations to worry and distress us, but by God’s grace to develop in us the opposite virtue.
3. In having to bear the immediate consequences of our sin, perhaps in poverty, pain, or humiliation.—A. G. Mortimer, D. D.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 2:1. When Christ is in the house—
1. Good men will be attracted to it;
2. Bad men will be benefited in it;
3. Divine benediction will rest upon it;
4. Beneficent ministries will flow from it. Those who have Christ in their home do not act like other people; their motives are purer, their charities more disinterested; they carry with them a radiance which tells of an unworldly source of joy, and proclaims the blessedness of dwelling under the shadow of the Almighty.
Fragrant flowers cannot be concealed, and there is a fragrance about Jesus that always reveals His presence. Light cannot be hidden, and there is so much light in Him that it shines out at every window and through every chink and crevice of the house where He abides. Love itself is invisible, but wherever it dwells it produces such effects that its presence soon becomes known. It makes people gentle, kindly, thoughtful, unselfish, and fills them with new desires to do good, and to serve and bless others.—J. R. Miller, D. D.
Mark 2:3-12. Palsy is not so painful as cancer, nor so loathsome as leprosy, nor so fatal as cholera; but it is a disease which renders the patient eminently helpless. There are persons affected with spiritual palsy who never fall into glaring sins, and yet remain inert and without the power of religious decision. It is vain to expect such people to “turn to Christ.” It is the mission of the Church to bring to Christ those who are too helpless in spiritual indifference to seek Him of their own accord (Luke 14:21-23).—W. F. Adeney.
Mystical sense of the incident.—In one of the allegories attributed to Hugo de S. Victor the following view is given of the whole history: “The house in which Jesus was entertained stands for the Holy Scripture. The crowd who would not let the paralytic be introduced sets forth the multitude of empty thoughts which hide the sight of God from the sinful soul. The roof is uncovered when the sublime and mystical sense of Scripture is laid open. Here the paralytic is brought into the presence of Jesus: there his sin is forgiven him, he is called son, and commanded to take up his bed and walk; for when a man truly comes to the knowledge of God, God heals him by His grace from all that he has done amiss, and calls him a son by adoption, and commands him to take up his bed by subduing the flesh, and to walk by means of good works.”
1. Those who would be healed by Christ must come to Him. It is not enough either
(1) to hear much of Christ, or
(2) to seek help of those who are near Christ.
2. There are some who could never reach Christ unless helped by others.
3. The selfishness of some who are enjoying Christian privileges is one of the greatest impediments to the spread of the blessings of the gospel among those who are as yet without them.
(1) There are some so eager to seek consolation and peace for their own souls, that they leave no room for such as are palsied and blind and leprous with sin to receive needful care and help.
(2) The sinners and the sick, not the whole and the righteous, have the first claim on Christ’s care. The Church should be more solicitous for the salvation of the world, and less absorbed with the desire for her own comfort.
4. Earnest perseverance in seeking Christ will overcome the greatest difficulties.
(1) We must expect difficulties—(a) In bringing others to Christ. (b) Possibly in coming to Christ ourselves.
(2) Difficulties are sent—(a) To test our earnestness. (b) To awaken our intelligence. (c) To arouse our energy.
(3) Christ is always accessible, though not always with ease.
Mark 2:5. Soul-healing first.—Here we notice a remarkable advance on the teaching accompanying the miracles hitherto recorded by St. Mark 1:0. The Saviour, before giving relief to the body, attends to the needs of the soul. We cannot doubt that this paralytic was a conscience-stricken man—that he knew his sufferings were owing to his own misconduct—his loss of vital energy having been brought about by a course of enfeebling self-indulgence. The Saviour read the mute confession of his penitent heart, and hastened to assure him of its acceptance in the sight of Him who pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent and unfeignedly believe. We are not told what amount of faith he possessed; but however undefined it may have been, it would at any rate include some real conviction of Christ’s right to speak in the name of God.
2. The faith of the four bearers is specially emphasised. It is, as Dean Luckock says, a fact full of mystery, but full also of consolation, that not a few of the gifts of healing and restoration were obtained through the faith and prayers, not so much of the sick and afflicted themselves, as of their relations and friends. See Matthew 8:13; Matthew 15:28; Mark 5:36; John 4:50. Surely this dependence of man upon his fellow-creatures was intended to foreshadow the great mystery of redemption through Another’s blood. And what can be more encouraging for us to know than this: that whenever we bring others to the feet of Jesus to be healed of their soul-sickness—whenever we offer up “the prayer of faith” which we are assured “shall save the sick,” we are associating ourselves in deeds of mercy and acts of intercession with the Great High Priest? Dr. Edersheim well draws attention to the fact, that by first speaking forgiveness Christ not only presented the deeper moral aspect of His miracles, as against their ascription to magic or Satanic agency, but also established that very claim, as regarded His person and authority, which it was sought to invalidate. In this forgiveness of sins He presented His person and authority as Divine, and He proved it such by the miracle of healing which immediately followed. Had the two been inverted, there would have been evidence, indeed, of His power, but not of His Divine personality, nor of His having authority to forgive sins; and this, not the doing of miracles, was the real object of His mission.
The soul’s need met by Christ.—For most of us the wounds of life are seldom wholly clean. Evermore the self-reproach or the inevitable self-accusation mingles with our trouble. There is poison in most of the wounds from which we suffer. We cannot always tell others of the poison which yet we know is lodged in the wound; and yet here we need, perhaps, the greatest sympathy; and here we lie outside our brother’s reach. But here the Divine wisdom meets our needs: “Thy sins be forgiven thee.” It is like a healing touch, cleaning the edges of the wound.—Bishop Boyd Carpenter.
Mark 2:7. Forgiveness of sin.—
1. The fact that God forgives sin.
(1) Stated (Exodus 34:6-7; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Psalms 86:5; Psalms 130:4).
(2) Illustrated (Psalms 32:5; Matthew 9:2; Luke 7:48).
2. The meritorious ground on which God forgives.
(1) Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:14; 1 John 2:12; Acts 10:43; Romans 3:24-25).
(2) What has Christ done that God forgives for His sake? (Hebrews 9:22-26; 1 Peter 3:18; Isaiah 53:5-6).
3. The conditions in us necessary to forgiveness.
(1) Faith (Acts 13:38).
(2) Repentance (Acts 3:19).
(3) Confession (1 John 1:9).
(4) Forsaking sin (Proverbs 28:13).
4. The perfection of this forgiveness of God.
(1) Sins are blotted out (Isaiah 43:25).
(2) Totally removed from sight (Isaiah 1:18).
(3) Forgotten for ever (Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 10:17).
5. The consequences of forgiveness. We have—
(1) Life (Colossians 2:13).
(2) Blessedness in the soul (Psalms 32:1-2; 1 John 5:10).
(3) Praise in the heart (Isaiah 12:1).
(4) The fear of God (Psalms 130:4; Jeremiah 33:8-9).
(5) Reconciliation with God (Luke 15:12; Luke 15:32).
(6) Peace with God and joy in the hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:1-2).—J. A. R. Dickson.
The ungodly change the best medicines into poison, and pervert the holiest truths.
The slanderer’s custom is, not to try to ascertain the speaker’s meaning, but by some means to pervert and wrest his words.
Mark 2:8. The scribes had accepted the dogma that access to other men’s thoughts was a mark of the Messiah. This sign the Saviour will supply by disclosing to them their unfriendly suspicions. In this way their unbelief and malice were left without excuse. An auspicious opportunity now opened, by which they might enter the realm of truth, but they missed it. At least one sign of the Messiah Jesus had; but they muzzled reason, that she should not speak—they blindfolded understanding, that she might not see. A door of escape from perplexing doubt was opened, but they would rather dwell among the tangled thorns than enter the Eden of light and rest.—J. T. Davies.
Christ’s delicate sensibility.—This fine quality of mind, this delicacy, this sensitiveness which unconsciously photographs character with a look, usually belongs to the more subtile minds of women. It is a Divine quality. Some men have it to a high degree. The Saviour had it to an unspeakable degree. His delicate sensibility, His perfectly sympathetic heart and mind, are as impressive as the conscious quicksilver to catch a faultless image of our life, our troubles, our fears and doubts. His being in heaven does not impair His power to know us and sympathise with us. Therefore He is the true father confessor, the great priest, to whom we can go with assurance.—R. S. Barrett.
Mark 2:10. Present pardon for sin taught by Christ.—
1. Christ here enforces a doctrine that had been lost sight of by the Jews—the doctrine of present pardon for sin. They relegated forgiveness to the next world and the day of judgment: He insists that it may be enjoyed now, even while the chastisement is in progress; nay, the chastisement itself may be the means of preparing the heart to receive it.
2. This grace of pardon is dispensed by Jesus Christ as the Son of Man—as the Head of the new creation of redeemed humanity. It is the virtue that necessarily flows from Him, to all His members, cleansing the soul, instilling peace, and establishing fellowship with God.
3. The ordinary channels for the conveyance of this Divine gift are the ministry and the sacraments of the Church “which is His body.” See John 20:22-23; 1 Corinthians 5:3-5; 2 Corinthians 2:10-11.
Mark 2:11. Christ’s message to sick souls.—To every sick soul, whose cure He undertakes, He says, Surge, tolle, ambula. Our beds are our natural affections. These He does not bid us cast away, nor burn, nor destroy. Since Christ vouchsafed induere hominem, we must not exuere hominem. Since Christ invested the nature of man and became man, we must not pretend to divest it and become angels, or flatter ourselves in the merit of mortifications, not enjoined, or of a retiredness, and departing out of the world, in the world, by the withdrawing of ourselves from the offices of mutual society, or an extinguishing of natural affections. But “Surge,” says our Saviour—Arise from this bed, sleep not lazily in an over-indulgence to these affections; but “Ambula”—Walk sincerely in thy calling, and thou shalt hear thy Saviour say, “Non est infirmitas hæc ad mortem”; these affections—nay, these concupiscences—shall not destroy thee (Matthew 21:8; Titus 2:14).—John Donne, D. D.
Mark 2:12. A new experience.—That argument was perfectly logical; it was an induction, yet it led them to a result curiously the reverse of theirs who reject miracles for being contrary to experience. “Yes,” they said, “we appeal to experience, but the conclusion is that good deeds which it cannot parallel must come directly from the Giver of all good.” Such good deeds continue. The creed of Christ has reformed Europe, is awakening Asia, has transformed morality, and imposed new virtues on the conscience. It is the one religion for the masses, the lapsed, and indeed the sick in body as truly as in soul; for while science discourses with enthusiasm upon progress by the rejection of the less fit, our faith cherishes these in hospitals, asylums, and retreats, and prospers by lavishing care upon the outcast and rejected of the world. Now this transcends experience: we never saw it on this fashion; it is supernatural.—Dean Chadwick.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 2
Mark 2:1. Christ’s presence cannot be kept secret.—We cannot give lodging and entertainment to such a personage as He is without it being seen of others. He is not an ordinary visitor; and though no state ceremonies accompany Him, there is that about His whole customs which arrests attention. We may have occasional visitors whose amiable dispositions and influences refine and improve us; but they cannot do for us what a visit from Christ does. They cannot, by their own strength and love, confer on us spiritual blessings. His company is the best; it not only makes time pass pleasantly, but it makes us ready for eternity. His songs not only make the heart merry, but they make it new. Now this cannot be, and nothing of it be seen or known outside. We soon tell upon ourselves; we soon let out the secret; and it is then “noised abroad” that we have Him beneath our roof-tree. Oh, happy is that house in which He lodges!—John Macfarlane, LL.D.
Christ’s presence manifest.—“Travelling on the Lake Lugano,” says one, “we heard one morning the swell of the nightingale’s song, and the oars were stilled on the blue lake as we listened to the silver sounds. We could not see a single bird, nor do I know that we wished to see—we were so content with the sweetness of the music.” Even so it is with our Lord; we may enter a house where He is loved, and we may hear nothing concerning Christ, and yet we may perceive clearly enough that He is there; a holy influence streaming through their actions pervades the household, so that if Jesus be unseen, it is clear that He is not unknown. So anywhere that Jesus is, and though you do not actually hear His name, yet the sweet influence which flows from His love will be plainly enough discernible.
Mark 2:3. Moral paralysis.—In one of our city hospitals a young woman of beautiful face and form had lain motionless for many months. Except for the brightness of her face and the action of the hands, her body was apparently dead. Yet she spoke with great confidence of her restoration to health at some future time, and was enthusiastic in planning good works then to be executed. A physician remarked that it was the saddest case he had ever witnessed. It was a paralysis, not of the flesh, but of the mind: it was a moral paralysis. The will itself had lost its power, of action. She could plan for the future, but not mill anything at the present moment. After a few months the inactivity bred fatal disorder, and she passed away. This a picture of the moral paralysis of many.
Man’s helplessness.—How helpless man is to save himself from the disease of sin may be illustrated by Æschylus’ Prometheus Bound; by Virgil’s Laocoön with his sons in the coils of the great serpent; by the young man in Paris, who was examining a guillotine, and, from curiosity, lay down on the plank under the knife, and found himself fastened there, unable to escape without aid from others.
Mark 2:4. Eastern roofs.—“When I lived at Ægina,” says Hartley, in his Travels, “I used to look up not infrequently at the roof above my head, and contemplate how easily the whole transaction of the paralytic might take place. The roof was made in the following manner:—A layer of reeds, of a large species, was placed upon the rafters; on these a quantity of heather was strewed; on the heather earth was deposited, and beaten down into a solid mass. Now what difficulty would there be in removing first the earth, next the heather, and then the reeds? Nor would the difficulty be increased if the earth had a pavement of tiling laid upon it. No inconvenience could result to the persons in the house from the removal of the tiles and earth; for the heather and reeds would stop anything that might otherwise fall down, and would be removed last of all.”
The power of faith.—Faith can make a passage through the sea, level martial ramparts, make iron swim, trample on fire unhurt. It will find a key to open every lock, a saw that can cut through every iron bar. As water will, in some way, find its proper level, so true faith will find its way to its source—even to Christ.
Mark 2:5. Progression in Christ’s miracles.—The day begins softly, beautifully, progressively. In the early morn it peeps from behind the hills, tinges the sky and the sea with its rosy colours, and advances until there is cloudless splendour, so that the day, when at its meridian, may be said to be perfect. Thus softly, beautifully, and progressively rose the Sun of Righteousness on the dark world of humanity. His first miracle was one of quiet and gentle beneficence: He turned water into wine; and thus He brightened domestic joys before He went forth to mitigate human sorrows. After this He went about all Galilee, healing all manner of bodily disease among the people. Then He rose higher in miracle-working—He re-throned prostrated reason, and set demoniacs in their right mind. At last He manifested forth His glory as God by pardoning the soul. Indeed, just as every human disease was a symbol of the moral condition of the soul, so every miracle He wrought on the body was a token of what He would do for the soul, and what, in fact, He did in the majority of instances: hence His miracles were double—body and soul were healed at the same time, as in this case.
The good news of pardon.—When Bishop Patteson was quite young, he used to say that he wished to be ordained, because he longed to say the Absolution, and thus “make people so happy.” The son of one, and the nephew of another, of England’s most eminent judges, he knew well what a verdict of “not guilty” implied to a prisoner on his trial; and this knowledge he had been taught to apply to spiritual matters.
Mark 2:10-11.—Christ the Pardoner.—One of our modern novelists has written the story of a man who was haunted with remorse for a particular sin; and though sometimes weeks would pass without the thought of it, yet every now and then the ghost of the old transgression would rise before him to his infinite discomfort. It is the story of almost every human life. Sin is not something which a man commits and has done with it. It becomes a part of his being. His moral fibre is changed; his moral stamina is weakened. A traveller soon drives through the malarious air of the Roman Campagna, and is out of the poisonous atmosphere; but during his brief transit disease has found its way into his blood; and even though he sits under the cool shadow of the Alps, or on the shore of the blue Mediterranean, the inward fever rages and burns. A man sins, and in sinning introduces disease into his moral nature; and even though he abandons his evil courses the old malady works on. The forgiveness of sin which is so thorough and central that it rids a man of the power and guilt of sin—who is competent to give us that? No specific of man’s devising, no course of moral treatment, can effect that. There is only One, Jesus Christ, who has power on earth to forgive sin in that complete and efficient fashion. And that is His chief glory, and constitutes His principal claim upon us.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 2:14. Receipt of custom.—Toll-house. “Capernaum was the landing-place for the many ships which traversed the lake or coasted from town to town; and this not only for those who had business in Capernaum, but for those who would there strike the great road of eastern commerce from Damascus to the harbours of the West.”
Mark 2:15. Publicans.—Tax-collectors, the local agents of the Roman “publicani” or revenue officers, who farmed the taxes from the government. Everywhere throughout the Empire they were hated for their rapacity and dishonesty; but among the Jews especially were they abhorred, as being the representatives of a heathen, hostile, and victorious power.
Mark 2:17. To repentance.—Omit these words, imported from Luke 5:32.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 2:13-17
(PARALLELS: Matthew 9:9-13; Luke 5:27-32.)
The call and feast of Levi.—
I. A seaside walk hallowed by sacred instruction.—Christ never wasted His time or opportunities in idle reverie or sentimental contemplation of the beauties of nature. He made every scene yield food for mind and soul. And, asks Mr. Spurgeon, can we not do something for Jesus on the sands? If so, let us not miss such a happiness. What situation and surroundings can do better for earnest, loving conversation with our friends concerning the welfare of the soul? A few words about the sea of eternity and its great deeps, a sentence or two upon the broken shells and our frailty, upon the Rock of Ages and the sands of time, may never be forgotten.
II. A gracious call met by unquestioning obedience.—It is said that the publicans had tenements or booths erected for them at the foot of bridges, at the mouths of rivers, and by the seashore, where they plied their detested craft—levying from their countrymen the dues of the conqueror, and adding insult to injury by the extortions they commonly practised. Doubtless the tax-office by the seashore of Capernaum was a very important one, and Levi by this time a wealthy man adding daily to his gains. We need not suppose this was his first encounter with Christ; he may already have been a disciple in a general sense. But now the time has come for him to break away from his old life altogether, to abandon his business and his riches, and to adopt voluntary poverty for the rest of his life. It was a great sacrifice that was demanded of him, and few who heard the call given would be prepared to witness his ready obedience. From his case we may well learn to be very slow in passing judgment on others: however unlikely their character and position in life may appear to us, we know not what methods Christ may be employing to lead them to Himself. From the example of Levi we learn also, that we must be prepared to find our religion a costly thing. Had Levi replied, “Lord, let me continue my profitable business for a while; be satisfied with the homage of my heart,” surely Christ would have answered, “Whosoever there be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, and followeth after Me, he cannot be My disciple.” Now what was required of Levi is required, in a certain very real sense, of all. In every heart of man there is by nature the love of riches, or of what riches will purchase: covetous desires; love of self-indulgence in some shape or other; longings after something which is just beyond our reach; allowing our minds to run upon schemes which we would carry out if greater means were allowed, rather than reflecting what sort of use we make of what we have already. These are the things we are required to renounce (as Levi to give up his rich profession) for Christ’s sake.
III. A social meal marred by ignoble objections.—Levi’s first act is a manifestation of gratitude. He is eager to extend to others a share of the blessedness that has befallen himself. Accordingly he makes a great feast, and invites his old associates and friends to meet the Master at his house, earnestly desiring that they also may become followers of Christ. And the Master understood and appreciated his motive. As the physician is found where pain and sickness are, so Christ came to the dark, dull, ignorant, lost corners of the earth. Anywhere would He sit down, in any company eat and drink, especially in that of the most despised, because there He found those very souls, the lost and the rejected of men, whom He came expressly to seek, and, if they would, to save from themselves, and their own corrupt and miserable condition. But certain “scribes of the Pharisees,” who, intent to pry into Christ’s private life, had followed the guests into the dining-room (a common custom in the East), were filled with indignation at His sitting down to meat with a whole company of publicans, and that too (see Mark 2:18) on one of the fast days of the week. They must needs interpose with their crude criticisms. What cared they that His very presence was medicinal—banishing foul words and thoughts from all breasts save their own—bringing pure air and sunshine into the fetid atmosphere—an outward and visible sign of Divine grace and love? All they concerned themselves with was the maintenance of the barriers erected by their narrow-minded, self-satisfied exclusiveness. They could not conceive of any one sitting at meat with publicans and sinners from higher motives than the mere enjoyment of social intercourse; it never occurred to them that what Christ sought was not viands, but hearts—not to receive the meat that perisheth, but to bestow the true bread from heaven which endureth unto eternal life. Crafty cowards that they were, they uttered their cavil to the disciples rather than to the Master Himself; but Christ at once accepted the challenge and set the matter in the right light. Where else should the physician be found but in the hospital? what else should he be doing but attending to the ailments of his patients?
IV. A great claim advanced by the criticised Teacher.—“In calling Himself the Physician of sick souls,” says Dean Chadwick, “Jesus made a startling claim, which becomes more emphatic when we observe that He also quoted the words of Hosea, ‘I will have mercy, and not sacrifice’ (Matthew 9:13; Hosea 6:6). For this expression occurs in that chapter which tells how the Lord Himself hath smitten and will bind us up. And the complaint is just before it, that ‘when Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah saw his wound, then went Ephraim to Assyria, and sent to King Jareb: but he is not able to heal you, neither shall he cure you of your wound’ (Hosea 5:13 to Hosea 6:1). As the Lord Himself hath torn, so He must heal. Now Jesus comes to that part of Israel which the Pharisees despise for being wounded and diseased, and justifies Himself by words which must, from their context, have reminded every Jew of the declaration that God is the Physician, and it is vain to seek healing elsewhere. And immediately afterwards He claims to be the Bridegroom, whom also Hosea spoke of as Divine. Yet men profess that only in St. John does He advance such claims that we should ask, ‘Whom makest Thou Thyself?’ Let them try the experiment, then, of putting such words into the lips of any mortal.”
V. A pertinent question raised by puzzled friends.—It was a very different spirit from that of the scribes which prompted John’s disciples (Matthew 9:14) to ask, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but Thy disciples fast not?” They were perplexed to find Jesus, whom their master had taught them to regard with the deepest reverence, feasting on a fast day. They remembered, perhaps, that in the Law the Day of Atonement was the only fast prescribed; and it may have begun to dawn upon them that there was more genuine religion in the non-observance, on the part of Christ and His disciples, of the elaborate system which had by this time degenerated into a pure formality, than in their own strict adherence to it. In reply Jesus takes the opportunity to lay down the principle which should regulate all religious life and its expression—the principle of naturalness, and not artificiality. “There is a time to every purpose under heaven: a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” The Baptist himself had said, with reference to Him, that “the friend of the Bridegroom, which standeth and heareth Him, rejoiceth greatly because of the Bridegroom’s voice.” To make that a time of fasting—when they were basking in the sunshine of the Bridegroom’s presence—would have been quite incongruous, if not hypocritical. And after all no one need grudge them their day of gladness, for it would soon be succeeded by the night of bereavement—“and then shall they fast.” So, we know, it happened in the Church’s earliest and purest time. When, e.g., Paul and Barnabas were separated for the work to which the Holy Spirit had called them, the word came to those who were “ministering to the Lord and fasting” (Acts 13:2). St. Paul ordained presbyters, after prayer with fasting (Acts 14:23); speaks of himself as being “in fastings often” (2 Corinthians 11:27); and speaks of ministers commending themselves to God “in labours, in watchings, and in fastings” (2 Corinthians 6:5). And ever since fasting has been enjoined by the Church as the natural expression of heartfelt contrition for sin, and a fit instrument for the subjection of the lower to the higher nature; but not as a meritorious act entitling him who practises it to the favour of God. This latter was the idea with which fasting had become associated in the minds of the Jews; and in order to stamp it with His disapproval Christ adds the parables or similitudes of the piece of new cloth, and of the new wine that must not be poured into old bottles. Christians were indeed to fast, as Jews had fasted; but with them the ordinance was to have a different and far higher significance. It was no longer to be regarded as part of a law of works, part of a servile duty rendered to a despot; it was now to be a spiritual sacrifice offered by spiritual men to a spiritual Father, capable with His blessing to be the means of strengthening and purifying the soul. Fitly, therefore, do we pray in the Collect for the First Sunday in Lent, that God would give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey His godly motions in righteousness and true holiness, to His honour and glory.
Mark 2:17. Not the righteous, but sinners.—A motley crowd met at Levi’s feast. There were men of his own class—“publicans”: the small district officers who collected the tolls and customs for the great officials over them, who farmed the taxes from the Roman Government; a greedy, extortionate set, whose main object in life was to fill their own pockets by cheating those above and blow them alike. There were others present even less savoury than these to the nostrils of the of Capernaum—“sinners”: open transgressors who made no pretence of virtue, but sinned as it were “with a cart-rope.” With such companions, we are told, “Jesus sat at meat.” It was, then, we may be sure, no riotous feast. Jesus was not lending His countenance to their sinful ways. They had been induced to come to see and to hear this wonderful Teacher, and in His presence (depend upon it) they were subdued, restrained, softened. No one would take a liberty or say a vile word before Him. Christian charity would have rejoiced to see these people so changed, even if but for the time. Yet there were some near by who were terribly shocked at the sight. Instead of feeling glad that so many sinners were on the road to amendment through intercourse with Christ, they could only wonder that One so excellent would adventure Himself into such evil company, and run the risk of legal pollution in consequence. The great aim of most of these scribes and Pharisees, in passing through the world, was to hold aloof from everything and everybody that could contaminate them and render them ceremonially unclean. No wonder they were scandalised at the scene in Levi’s house, and exclaimed, “How is it that He eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?” They put their angry question to the disciples, but the Lord Himself took up the challenge and gave them their answer. “They that are whole have no need,” etc. They were silent. What could they reply? He whose conduct they presumed to criticise had come as a Physician of souls: the idea was quite new to them; they had never looked on publicans and sinners as people who could be cured: of course it was just such depraved persons that were most in need of a Physician. He had “come to call sinners to repentance”: certainly it was just people like those around Him that were most in need of such a call. They, the scribes and Pharisees, were “the whole,” “the righteous”: the Physician and the call were useless to them!
I. Who are the “righteous” whom Christ did not come to call?—
1. The expression has been taken to denote those who had truly reformed their lives, and who carefully endeavoured to abstain from all known sin. But though this may be a very correct definition of righteousness in general, it scarcely applies here. Our Lord cannot have meant that there were persons living at that time to whom the call to repentance—the very watchword of Christianity—was altogether unnecessary; for we know that “the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” was ordained to be preached to all men without exception.
2. There are two meanings which may be attached to the word “righteous.”
(1) It may have been used by Christ in a figurative sense, without any reference to the actual state of the world, and without even the supposition of there being any such persons as “the righteous” really in existence. Thus His meaning may have been: “You ask Me why I associate with sinners. I answer, that My commission is to sinners. To them, and for them, I am sent. Righteousness is not the qualification required in those to whom I am carrying relief. The righteous, therefore, if such there be, are not included in My charge.”
(2) It may have been intended to carry a reproachful admonition to the hearts of the self-justifying Pharisees. “Yes, I do eat with publicans and sinners. Amongst them, whose guilt is confessed, and who make no pretence of sanctity, I may perhaps find the willing hearer, the patient learner, and the penitent disciple. But upon you whose hearts are blinded by conceit—upon you whose minds are so fully occupied with admiration of your own perfections that there is no room for anything else,—upon you My calls to repentance would be lost; and therefore to you they need not be addressed.” Such an interpretation may seem inconsistent with the usual mildness of our Lord’s discourse; but it corresponds with the style which He seems to have invariably adopted in addressing the scribes and Pharisees, whose duplicity of character and affectation of sanctity excited His constant displeasure and drew down upon them His severest reprobation.
II. What is the “repentance” to which Christ came to call sinners?—
1. Repentance is sorrow for sin. The true servant of Christ must ever feel a regret, a deep, abiding regret, that by his transgressions he has offended a God to whom he is so greatly indebted. This feeling will accompany him through life. He will never be found feeding his imagination with the fancied virtues of his heart, or the supposed graces of his conduct. If he does well, he thanks the God who enabled him to do it, and leaves it to that God to accept his humble service—never forgetting that he has been, and is, a sinner.
2. Repentance is also amendment of life. He who regrets that he has sinned will follow up that regret with endeavours to sin no more. Fixing his gaze on the Divine standard of purity, he will strive unceasingly to attain to it. By that standard he will repress his passions, model his desires, guide his judgment, and correct his practice.
3. Repentance is, in short, a change of heart. The whole tide of the penitent’s affections is reversed. He loves what he formerly hated, and abhors that which was formerly his delight. Was he but lately captivated with the charm of sinful pleasures? They are now his abomination. Did he dislike and loathe the reasonable service of his Maker and Redeemer? He now finds in it his solace, his hope, and his ground of rejoicing.
4. But is repentance the same in all minds? Far from it. To him who has long held out against the kindly warnings of conscience, and resisted the gentle solicitations of the Spirit of grace, which would have led him into the path of peace—to him, in truth, repentance is a contest, a trial hard and sore, which may more appropriately be called a “conversion.” His very principles of action, and the whole temper of his mind, must undergo a complete transformation. But to the avowed and sincere servant of Christ, who has never broken loose from the hallowed circle in which he was placed at baptism, repentance is not a work of so violent a nature; it rather proceeds with the quiet tenor of a gentle stream, ruffled by an occasional unevenness. The mind of the faithful Christian needs not the severe penance of the hackneyed sinner; yet has it reason to be often looking back, confessing its errors, rectifying its conduct, and taking refuge in the “Fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness.”
III. Consider the necessity and reasonableness of repentance as a condition affixed to salvation.—
1. God could not, consistently with every part of His Divine character, bestow eternal life on sinners without repentance. Wisdom, justice, compassion, holiness—all the attributes of Deity—are equally concerned in this work. No measure, therefore, however gracious in its tendency, must be adopted at the suggestion of one of these attributes which may by any possibility interfere with the free exercise of another. A God of mercy may forgive; but a God of wisdom, justice, holiness, must (so to speak) deliberate as to the manner and measure of His forgiveness. Scripture, therefore, in declaring repentance to be indispensably necessary to salvation, declares that which we can ourselves see to be alone worthy of the Great God, the Giver of all law, and the Just Judge of all the earth.
2. Could we conceive the Son of God, in His capacity of Mediator, interposing His merciful intercession between offended Majesty and unrepentant sinners? A mediator is bound as much to protect the honour of one party as to promote the interests of the other. How then could Jesus, with due regard for His Father’s dignity, plead for creatures who still persisted in their rebellion against Him? How could He present His own blood and His own righteousness in behalf of those who still delighted in the enormities which brought Him to the Cross? What would this be but to betray the honour of the Eternal Father, to prostitute the merits of His own death, and to defeat the whole end and purpose of His atonement?
3. The same truth is equally manifest with reference to the sinner himself. For without that alteration and improvement in temper and habits, which by the Holy Spirit is wrought in us through repentance, heaven itself would possess no attraction for fallen man. There would be an absolute contradiction between the nature of the happiness and the person to be admitted to it. The future life of glory is no scene of carnal or corporeal delights—no place of enjoyment for the senses. Its beauties are all of the moral kind; its pleasures such as the spiritually-minded, and none others, can appreciate. The objects of those pleasures are God, ourselves, and our fellow-creatures made perfect with us. The state of the soul will then be such as results from a virtuous and well-governed will, and a noble command of all the inclinations and affections—from an exalted understanding, an enlarged knowledge of God, His attributes and works, and a perfect perception of His wonderful dispensations of wisdom and mercy towards His creatures—from the love of Him, and the ever-pleasing sense of being beloved by Him. This is to be happy, because this is to be good. The contrary state—the state of unrepented sin—is misery, be one’s outward circumstances what they may. Heaven itself could not remedy the evil. The one and only source of relief is a change of disposition, of principles, of practices—in one word, repentance.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 2:14. Levi—Matthew.—There can be no question that the “Levi” of the Second and Third Gospels is the “Matthew” whom the First Evangelist mentions so modestly (Matthew 9:9). The previous occupation is the same; the call is the same, in time, place, manner, and result; the feast is the same, the guests and spectators, the questions and answers. That our Lord should have bestowed upon Levi the additional name Matthew—“gift of God”—is in accordance with what we are told of most of the other apostles. Respecting his previous history we know nothing; but it is reasonable enough to suppose that, like Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Philip, he had been under the instruction and discipline of the Baptist, and so was not by any means indifferent to religion. For indications that there had been some unusual religious movement among the publicans as a class, see Matthew 21:31; Luke 3:12-13; Luke 7:29.
“Sitting at the receipt of custom.”—
1. In business.
(1) Exacting more than is fair from employees.
(2) Bestowing too great assiduity on the amassing of wealth, to the detriment of both body and soul.
2. In general behaviour. Pride and ambition—demanding obeisance and deference, instead of practising the virtues of humility and meekness.
3. In domestic concerns. Expecting all household arrangements to fit in exactly with one’s own convenience or caprice.
4. In pleasure. Greedily pursuing things that cannot bestow lasting happiness.
Incidental services to men.—There is here a lesson to us, that we are to be always on the outlook for the good of men whom we are passing by in the various ways of life. Whereever we see a man we see an opportunity of speaking a word for Christ, and of calling men to a higher life. Courage and prudence are equally required in the discharge of these incidental services. There is a modesty that is immodest, and there is a forwardness which is but the courage of humility.—J. Parker, D.D.
The greatness of Divine grace, which can make of a publican an apostle.
1. According to Jewish traditionalism, the publican was an excommunicated person; but he is now called to assist in founding the communion of Christ.
2. He was an apostate from the people of God; but called to be one of the pillars of the Church of God.
3. He was an instrument of oppression; but becomes an instrument of glorious liberty.
4. He was a stumbling-block and a byword; but becomes a burning and a shining light.—J. P. Lange, D.D.
Christ’s diligence an incentive to us.—Gracious Lord, how diligent art Thou in doing good! how negligent are we in receiving it!—who art fain to look us out, and often makest that which seems mere chance to be a blessed occasion to us of spiritual improvement and of eternal assurance, and turnest accidents into special instances of love and intimacy, if we do but as we should do, regard Thy goings, observe Thy looks, and obey Thy calls.—A. Littleton, D.D.
The Divine call.—God has created us by His power, and designed us by His wisdom, and preserves us by His mercy for greater and nobler ends than to serve the wicked world and sinful flesh; nor is He wanting by His grace to afford every one sufficient means for his spiritual conduct. He passeth by us often when we are not aware of Him; He looks upon us and we see Him not; and He calls us by checks of our own conscience, by motions of His Holy Spirit, and by the preaching of His Word: but we stop our ears against Him, and will not hear; and when He cries to us, “Follow Me,” we sit still and mind Him not. Oh, let us open our eyes to behold Him, our ears to hear Him, and our hearts to receive Him!—Ibid.
Mark 2:15. Levi’s feast.—
1. The gratitude of the believing heart for the blessings of salvation will manifest itself in gifts to the Lord:—Zaccheus; Mary of Bethany; the woman that was a sinner; Lydia; the converts on the day of Pentecost.
2. The earnest believer will not be ashamed to confess Christ before his former associates and fellow-workmen. The Church has great need of men like Hedley Vicars, who laid down his Bible on the mess room table in the presence of his brother-officers, as an unmistakable token of the change that had come over him.
3. The converted man will be anxious about the conversion of others. He goes forth as Christ’s soldier to win captives from the enemy. Naturally he begins the campaign nearest home.
4. The Christian religion, in order to accomplish its glorious mission, must descend to the most degraded, and by its own inherent power raise them up.
Mark 2:17. Who are “the righteous”?—A glance at a concordance will prove that both Old and New Testaments constantly speak of men as “righteous.” God loves to give us credit for being that which He foresees us capable of becoming, even though we have got only a few steps on the road as yet. “The righteous” are simply those whose intention is pure. Sinners we all are, and must be; but wilful sinners we need not be. We may have been thoughtless many a time, and, in consequence, surprised into folly and sin; but if we at once own and lament our frailty, He is not extreme to mark what is done amiss; and whilst by His grace we keep ourselves from presumptuous sin (Psalms 19:13) our names are enrolled among the righteous, and He imputes not our iniquities to us.
The Divine Physician.—
1. Sin is sickness of the most dangerous kind.
2. Repentance is the first step towards the healing of the soul.
3. Christ is the soul’s Physician, for whose skill no case is too hard.
4. The more grave our state, the more anxious is Christ to restore us to spiritual health.
How to do good.—From this answer we may see—
1. Duty of doing good avowedly—not going about it in an indirect manner, as if we were making an experiment, but boldly and distinctly, approaching it with a set purpose of spending our best energy upon it.
2. We may see it to be our duty to go to those who are least cared for. We are only working in the line of the Saviour’s mission as we begin at the very lowest point in the social scale. We cannot do fundamental and permanent good by beginning at the top or in the middle; we must get down to springs and causes, we must begin at the very deepest point of human apostasy and work our way steadily upward; there is a temptation even in Christian work to stop short of the lowest depth of human necessity.
3. Jesus Christ shows it to be our duty to associate with those whom we seek to save: He sat with them, He talked to them, He asked them questions, He made Himself their personal friend, and so attained over them personal supremacy. This practice levels a deadly blow at the theory of doing good by proxy. It is comparatively easy to send other men on errands of mercy, but we are only working in Christ’s spirit in so far as we are prepared to go ourselves and openly identify our whole influence with the cause of fallen men. Where there is this intense personal consecration, there will, of course, be a disposition to engage as much co-operation as possible; our duty is to see that we do not find in co-operation an excuse for personal negligence.—J. Parker, D.D.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 2
Mark 2:14. Attractive power of Christ.—If steel filings be mixed with dirt and a magnet be applied, it will attract the steel to itself, and draw it away from the grosser particles. Thus does Christ draw men from that which is earthly and polluting.
Christ our Guide.—With my brother I was once climbing the Cima di Jazi, one of the mountains in the chain of Monta Rosa. When nearly at the top, we entered a dense fog. Presently our guides faced right about and grounded their axes on the frozen snowed slope. My brother, seeing the slope still beyond, and not knowing it was merely the cornice overhanging a precipice of several thousand feet, rushed onward. I shall never forget their cry of agonised warning. He stood a moment on the very summit, and then, the snow yielding, he began to fall through. One of the guides, at great risk, had rushed after him, and seizing him by the coat, drew him down to a place of safety. So Christ is our Guide amid the mists and the difficult places of life. It is not ours to go before Him. Where He leads we may go. When He stops, we should stop. It is at our peril if we go a step beyond.—Newman Hall.
God often calls men in strange places.—Not in the house of prayer, not under the preaching of the Word; but when all these things have been absent, and all surrounding circumstances have seemed most adverse to the work of grace, that grace has put forth its power. The tavern, the theatre, the ball-room, the gaming-house, the race-course, and other similar haunts of worldliness and sin, have sometimes been the scenes of God’s converting grace. As an old writer says: “Our calling is uncertain in respect of place, for God calls some from their ships, and some from their shops; some from under the hedges, and others from the market; so that if a man can but make out unto his own soul that he is certainly called, the time when and the place where matter little.”
Christ’s effectual call.—We read in classic story how the lyre of Orpheus enchanted with its music not only the wild beasts, but the very trees and rocks upon Olympus, so that they moved from their places to follow him; so Christ, our heavenly Orpheus, with the music of His gracious speech, draws after Him those less susceptible to benign influences than beasts and trees and stones, even poor, hardened, senseless, sinful souls. Let Him but strike His golden harp, and whisper in thy heart, “Come, follow Me,” and thou, like another Matthew, shalt be won.
“Follow Me.”—Aulus Gellius tells us a story of one Protagoras, who, being poor, was forced for a livelihood to carry burdens. One day he had got some chumps on his back, which he was bringing to town for fuel. Democritus, a famed philosopher, meets him; admiring his contrivance, how he got that rude parcel of stuff together in that order, for his further satisfaction bids him lay down his bundle, untie it, and do it up again. He does so, and that with such method and artifice, that the philosopher perceiving by this essay he had a logical head and an ingeny fit for science, told him, “Come, young man, you must along with me; you are fit for greater and better things than this you are about.” He takes him along with him, maintains him, breeds him up in philosophy, wherein he proved subtle, and in some degree eminent. It was the same case with Matthew here, if I may make comparison. He was puzzling and pelting himself in a sorry employment. Our Saviour comes by and finds him sitting at it; He fetches him off with a gracious call, as if He had said, “Come, leave this sordid and scandalous employ; I have greater and nobler service for thee. Follow Me.”—A. Littleton, D.D.
Mark 2:15. Sinners drawn to Christ.—Travelling along a country road on a hot summer’s day, you may have noticed the people before you turn aside at a certain point and gather around something that was yet hidden from you. You knew at once that it was a clear, cold spring that drew them all together there. Each of them wanted something which that spring could supply. Or you have seen iron filings leap up and cling to the poles of a magnet when it was brought near to them. The attraction of the magnet drew them to itself. So sinners were drawn to Jesus; they felt that in Him was all fulness, and that He could supply their need.
The converted seeking to convert others.—It is thought that Matthew wished to introduce his friends and old companions to Christ. Colonel Gardiner, after his conversion, finding that his former friends considered him mad, invited them to meet him, and pleaded the cause of religion with such force and strength of reasoning, that one cut short the argument with saying, “We thought this man mad, and he is in good earnest proving us to be so.”
Mark 2:16. Religious prejudice.—Happily, in our age and country, though prejudice of class is not yet done away with, there is not much left to give an idea of the intensity of the religious prejudices and sectarian divisions of the ancient East. Giant Prejudice now can do little more than sit grinning at the pilgrims and biting his nails at them because he cannot come at them; and it is hard for modern occidental imagination to conceive of him as he moved and acted in full social and political power. But one example will do. Read Leger’s Histoire de Piémont, and learn the cruelty, brutality, and obscenity practised on the poor Waldenses; and then imagine how the Pharisees felt toward Jesus, who received sinners and ate with them. The lower the grade of knowledge and culture (and most of the Pharisees were probably illiterate), so much the more savage were the feelings and actions of the persecutors, though their cruelty was not refined in proportion to their savageness. In modern times this religious prejudice exists, and strongly too. There are certain sects still in Palestine and Syria who will buy and sell with you, but not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you. They are often the dirtiest of the dirty, but they hold your clean touch defilement. As when, in certain parts of India, one ventures to clear his throat in the street, all the shops near by are immediately shut up; so, in some places, an unlucky touch by a Christian will defile a handful of figs, a bunch of grapes, a melon; or perhaps even a whole basket of fruit.
Mark 2:17. God welcomes sinners.—As the story goes, a certain generous but eccentric nobleman sometimes asked not only the high-born and wealthy but the squalid and poor to his feasts. Previous to one of these occasions, a courtier had the misfortune to tear or to stain his dress. How was he to appear now at his benefactor’s table? After some thought he came to a wise conclusion. These were his words, “If I cannot go as a nobleman I will go as a beggar.” Say the same to Him who spreads the gospel feast. Never mind though you cannot go as a saint; go as a sinner. You will be welcome.
Christ saves sinners.—Luther says: “Once upon a time the devil said to me, ‘Martin Luther, you are a great sinner, and you will be damned!’ ‘Stop stop!’ said! I; ‘one thing at a time. I am a great sinner, it is true, though you have no right to tell me of it. I confess it. What next?’ ‘Therefore you will be damned.’ ‘That is not good reasoning. It is true I am a great sinner, but it is written, “Jesus Christ came to save sinners”; therefore I shall be saved! Now go your way.’ So I cut the devil off with his own sword, and he went away mourning because he could not cast me down by calling me a sinner.”
All are sinners.—I remember a gentleman taking exception to an address based upon the words of God concerning Jew and Gentile, that both are guilty before God. I remarked, “But the Word of God distinctly says, ‘There is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God’ ” (Romans 3:22-23). My friend replied, “Do you mean to say that there is no difference between an honest man and a dishonest one, between an intemperate man and a sober man?” “No,” I remarked; “I did not affirm that there was no room for comparison between such cases; but my position is, that if two men were standing here together, one an intemperate man and the other a sober man, I should say of the one, ‘This man is an intemperate sinner, the other is a sober sinner.’ ” My friend did not know how to meet the difficulty, but answered, “Well, I don’t like such teaching.” Very quietly I replied, “Then I will make some concession, and meet your difficulty. I will admit that many are ‘superior sinners,’ and that you are a superior sinner.” I shall not soon forget my friend’s expression of countenance when he had taken stock of the argument.—Henry Varley.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 2:18. Used to fast.—Were fasting, on that very day.
Mark 2:20. Taken away.—There lurks in the original expression a hint of the violence and pain with which the separation would be fraught.
Mark 2:21. A piece of new cloth.—A patch of undressed cloth. “The patch supposed is an unfulled piece of cloth. It is the business of the fuller to make the cloth full and compact by precipitating the process of contraction.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 2:18-22
(PARALLELS: Matthew 9:14-17; Luke 5:33-39.)
“The children of the bridechamber.”—Marriage, if any time, is a season of festivity and joy. To promote these purposes is the object of inviting certain friends of the bride and bridegroom to attend its celebration. To fast or assume a stern aspect on such an occasion would be little short of an insult. Now Christ here compares Himself to the bridegroom, and His disciples to these companions or friends. The Baptist had suggested the same comparison before (John 3:29). His disciples stood and heard Him all the time of His sojourning upon earth, and rejoiced greatly because of His voice. That was their holiday-time. If it was not so to the world at large, to the Pharisees, etc., it was because they were not of the Bridegroom’s party.
I. The character of Christians, as “children of the bridechamber.”—This implies—
1. Dignity. This is an honourable office. Those whom a man invites to his wedding are not merely his friends, but such friends as he specially delights to honour. And are not Christians highly honoured by being chosen out of the rest of mankind to receive” the light of the knowledge,” etc. (2 Corinthians 4:6)? See also 1 Peter 2:9; John 15:16. “This honour have all His saints,” by the mere circumstance of their election; but this is greatly enhanced if we consider what it is they are elected to (Romans 8:17). The “children of the bridechamber,” though they performed many personal offices for the bridegroom, were yet far from being considered in the light of menials, but rather of equals and companions: and so says the Saviour to His disciples (John 15:14-15).
2. Subordination to and entire dependence upon Christ. The “children of the bridechamber” have no existence but in relation to the bridegroom (John 3:29). Even so Christians are absolutely nothing without Christ (John 15:5). What a ridiculous character is a friend of the bridegroom thrusting himself forward as a principal person, acting an independent part, pretending to be something when he is nothing, instead of taking every opportunity of exalting and magnifying the bridegroom, even at his own expense! And such is the Christian who glories in himself, or fails to refer everything to his Lord and Master.
3. Duties and responsibilities. The “children of the bridechamber” must be always in waiting. While the term of their service lasts they are a part of the family, and the bridegroom’s house is their home. So Christians attend continually upon the Saviour; “follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth”; wait on Him in the way of His judgments, ordinances, sacraments; ever “looking unto Jesus,” and conforming their life and temper to the example set by Him.
II. The general temper of Christians, as rejoicing in the Lord always (Mark 2:19).—
1. The presence of the Divine Bridegroom, the converse of Him who spake as never man spake, was to our Lord’s immediate followers as a continual feast.
2. The same should now be true of Christians in general; for although, in one sense, the Bridegroom is taken away from us, where is He? See 1 Peter 3:22. This cannot be the “taking away” to which He refers, as an occasion of mourning to His friends; since He Himself said, at another time (John 14:28). Not only if we love Him, but if we love ourselves, we shall rejoice at this temporary separation. Whatever accession of dignity or influence accrues to the Bridegroom, His friends are sure to reap the benefit of it. Nor, because He is in heaven, is He the less present with us on earth. This is a great mystery, but an infallible and most comfortable truth. See John 14:18-19; Matthew 28:20.
III. The occasional seasons when Christians mourn and fast.—
1. This cannot refer to any temporal afflictions; for we are expressly told that no worldly tribulation or distress is able to separate us from the Saviour; but that it is in the nature of such things rather to endear Him to us the more, and to make us the more worthy of His love.
2. We must therefore understand by these words times of spiritual trouble and heaviness, such as will occasionally happen, in this imperfect state, even to those who have the best reason to “abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost.” The Bridegroom Himself had such seasons. See Matthew 4:1-2; Mark 14:33-36. It is evident, then, that our spiritual garments will not be always white, and that tears may be shed in a bridal chamber. Let us, at such seasons, have recourse to the divinely appointed means of grace, in the assured confidence that, if rightly improved, these occasional interruptions of our wonted cheerfulness will minister to our more abundant consolation in the end.
3. Hitherto we have had in view those dark and distressing times of the soul which come unsought, of which we cannot give a satisfactory account, and which it is our duty as much as possible to bear up against. Other times there are when we should rather invite than resist the entrance of sad thoughts into our hearts. The solemn season of Lent is one of these, and especially the Holy Week with which it ends, when we commemorate the Passion and Death of our Redeemer.
Fasting.—It is quite clear, to start with, that no practice of this kind can be an end in itself; it must be a means: equally clear that it must be a spiritual means to a spiritual end—a means by which the spirit may control the body, so as to fashion it into its noble destiny of being a spiritual body; that so the whole man may be moulded for the service, and, in some sense, into the likeness, of God, who is a Spirit.
I. It is a method of bodily discipline.—It aims at making us like God, who is a Spirit, and who, as such, is superior to and able to control material things. It trains us in the power of detachment, in the power of saying “No,” not only to the sins of the flesh, but to its indulgences; it recalls the command, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” and the example, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me”; it keeps the body braced for action, and prevents luxuries from growing into necessities. It is in St. Leo’s favourite phrase a “præsidium,” a protection to the spirit against the encroachments of the body—asking us, with importunate persistency, whether we have our body well in hand, whether we should be ready for a call to do missionary work in some part of the Master’s kingdom which is not yet civilised. We need this protection for our own sakes, with its reminder of the need of fasting from all sin; and we need it also for the sake of the poor and of the Church, that we may have the means and the will to help their necessities. It is interesting to note that, in the recently discovered Apology of Aristides, one of the characteristics attributed to the early Christians is that, if they have not enough money to help a poor brother, they fast two or three days, that they may supply the needy with their necessary food; and St. Leo constantly insists on the duty of a liberal benevolence being the accompaniment of fasting. Detachment, bodily discipline, sympathy with the poor, liberality—these are virtues which spring from fasting; yet most assuredly fasting did not spring from the desire for them. We shall miss its true value if we stop at these. We must go deeper still.
II. It is also the expression of sorrow—and, for the Christian, of sorrow for sin: it becomes thus a great training in the true nature of penitence and the right purposes of sorrow. Why was it that our Lord expected His apostles to fast? It was because He was to be taken away from them. And why was He taken away? Because of sin. The Incarnation, which might have been like a perpetual joyous intercourse of Bridegroom and bride, was marred and checked by sin. And in what sense can the Bridegroom be said to be taken away from us now, so that we should mourn? He is gone wherever our sin has grieved His Spirit and driven Him from our hearts. The Christian life should be one of joyous service, of conscious spiritual communion with the Master; and who can say how different it is for many of us, with selfishness and ill-will marring its beauty, so that we get only now and then faint glimpses of what a loyal and loving service of the Master might be? Now the reason of this is sin, our own sin, our past sin, our present sin, whereby we have crucified the Son of God afresh. Friday has to be a Good Friday in every week, giving us time and quiet to learn “that individual and detailed knowledge of our own personal sinfulness, whence the real love of our Redeemer can alone flow.” The most fatal enemy of the spiritual life is self-complacency, and the recurring fast day is our protection against this; “the wound of our just remorse needeth touching” very often. We need to be reminded that nothing less than the Death of the Son of God was sufficient to redeem us from our sins, that those sins were real acts of our own will affecting our whole nature, so that we can never be as though we had not sinned, but must always be penitent before God, always on our guard against the temptations which have proved fatal to us, prepared beforehand for any suffering which God may send us in consequence of our sins, and willing to welcome it as His means of purifying our souls. It is not—God forbid!—that the atonement on the Cross was insufficient; but it is that we ought to feel and act as those whom He has redeemed, to share His hatred for sin, to war against it actively in our own persons—to be like our God, who is a consuming fire.
III. The reason for common Church fasts on fixed days.—George Herbert has tersely put it, “The Scriptures bid us fast, the Church says now”; and the reason for this is not only that so brother helps brother to keep up his spiritual life, and that the common action of the Church is more prevailing with God, like its common prayer, but it is also a reminder that we have to be not self-centred in our penitence, but to fast and sorrow for the sins and shortcomings of the whole Church.
IV. Fasting does not end in itself; it is always in the Church’s system a preparation. It was the preparation for baptism as early as the second century. An almost universal instinct has regarded it as the fit approach to the Holy Communion. After Friday comes Sunday with its worship and Communion. After Lent comes Easter. This fact seems to say: grief, weakness, sin—these are not the end. We sorrow that we may know the power of the Resurrection; we feel the touch of human weakness that we may rest on spiritual strength, and know that power is perfected in weakness; we recall our sinfulness that we may realise the love of the Atonement. Fasting does for us the work which that good man, the clergyman, did for the simple maiden in Tennyson’s poem: “He showed me all the mercy, for he showed me all the sin.” And it keeps joy Christian. Christian joy has to stand in relation to Christian grief. If we have learnt to grieve for sin, we shall rejoice for the triumph of righteousness. If we have mourned for the failures of the Church, our joy will rise above selfish family prosperity into delight in the progress of the Church.
V. Two words of caution.—
1. Remember Mr. Keble’s advice, “Keep a medical conscience, either in your own bosom or in that of some friend who may be trusted.” “Fasting sometimes causes a distressing reaction: if you have reason to fear that, you had better use hard and unpleasant diet than actually going without.”
2. It was especially in connexion with fasting that our Lord insisted on the break with the old spirit of Judaism. Our fasting may not be a mere form—a desire to win God’s favour—a trust in ourselves. It must be done in love and gratitude, with desire to imitate our Lord, with prayer to Him that it may be united with His fasting, and get all its virtue from Him.—W. Lock.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 2:18. A common evil.—It is a posed persons observe such days of Pharisaic and very common evil that men are very much more troubled about setting others right in their living than about correcting their own.—Starke.
The busybody begins by talking about others, and comes afterwards to himself but makes the best of his own case (1 Timothy 4:8).—P. Quesnel.
All men not alike.—It is spiritual pride when, in matters which God has left to our freedom, people try to make others regulate themselves by their rules. What benefits one man’s soul may harm another’s.
Mark 2:20. The right use and end of fasting.—When godly and well-disposed persons observe such days of abstinence in a right manner, and to a right end; when they look upon fasting not as an essential part of natural or revealed religion, but only as an auxiliary or instrumental duty; when they do not rest in it as absolutely and in itself good, but make use of it as a proper help for the better performance of those duties, which are strictly and properly acts of religious worship; when they do not acquiesce in the bare outward performance of this duty, or think they have discharged it as they ought, till by the use of these means, and God’s blessing upon them, they have attained those graces, to which these means ought to be subservient; when they strive thereby to mortify the flesh, and to subdue the lusts thereof, to spiritualise the soul, and to dispose it for more exalted acts of devotion; when to these ends they choose to set apart those days which they find have been set apart to the same ends by the generality of Christians in all ages; when they are willing to keep up a custom which they find hath been kept up by all or by most of the Churches of God; when they dutifully comply with the usages of that Church in which they live, and are afraid of despising the lawful commands of their superiors; when, how strict soever they are towards themselves, they are not rigorous in their censures of others who do not think themselves bound to the same observances; when they do not hope by abstinence at some times of the year to compound for criminal excesses at other times, but are temperate and sober through the whole course of their lives, and at some stated periods sequester themselves more than usually from the business and from the pleasures of this world, that they may more freely and uninterruptedly attend to the concerns of the next; when they are in their consciences fully persuaded that one day or one meat of itself is not more holy, more pure, or more clean than another, but that all days and all meats be of their own nature of one equal purity, cleanness, and holiness, and yet on some days abstain from some meats not as in themselves unlawful, but as less subservient to the keeping under the body and bringing it into subjection; when they do not rigorously tie themselves up to fixed and unchangeable rules, from which they may in no case swerve, to the ensnaring and perplexing of their consciences, but in things of themselves indifferent use such a latitude as may neither entrench too much on Christian liberty, nor on the other side open a gap to licentiousness,—when, I say, sober, judicious, and devout Christians observe the fasts of the Church with these cautions, restrictions, and limitations, such an observance cannot be justly accused of superstition, cannot indeed be condemned without superstition. Such an abstinence as this our Church recommends; such, if we shall practise with the same intentions, with the same piety and moderation, as she recommends it, we shall thereby reap great benefit to our souls, and the better prepare and dispose them for the reception of God’s grace here, and the communication of His glory in the world to come.—Bishop Smalridge.
Mark 2:21. Consequences of false conservatism in the Church.—
1. These attempts at tailoring in spiritual matters are opposed even to common sense and every-day practice.
2. The old forms are destroyed by the new life, and the new life by the old forms.
3. The work of destruction is continued while they clamour against destruction, until the new and the old are finally separated.—J. P. Lange, D.D.
The threefold mark of the new life.—
1. It assumes a definite outward form.
2. It cannot continue in the false and antiquated forms.
3. It must create for itself corresponding forms.—Ibid.
Mark 2:22. Form and spirit.—As the wineskin retains the wine, so are feelings and aspirations aided, and even preserved, by suitable external forms. Without these emotion would lose itself for want of restraint, wasted, like spilt wine, by diffuseness. And if the forms are unsuitable and outworn, the same calamity happens—the strong, new feelings break through them, “and the wine perisheth, and the skins.” In this respect how many a sad experience of the Church attests the wisdom of her Lord; what losses have been suffered in the struggle between forms that had stiffened into archaic ceremonialism and new zeal demanding scope for its energy—between the antiquated phrases of a bygone age and the new experience, knowledge, and requirements of the next—between the frosty precisions of unsympathetic age and the innocent warmth and freshness of the young, too often, alas! lost to their Master in passionate revolt against restraints which He neither imposed nor smiled upon.—Dean Chadwick.
Christian development.—The old stage-coaches could not have been utilised for steam-engines; the new thoughts respecting locomotion required new machinery. So did the thoughts of Christ require new habits and practices. These were not fully initiated by Christ, but He laid down the basis of all subsequent Christian development.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 2
Mark 2:21. External reform insufficient.—We may try from without to make human character lovely; but there is sin in its very fibre, and the blemishes will ever work out and mar all. The only way is to have a new heart, and then the beauty will be real and will endure. A mother lost by death a lovely and precious child—her only child. To occupy her heart and hand in some way about her vanished treasure, and thus fill the empty hours, she took up a photograph of her child and began to touch it with her skilful fingers. Soon, as she wrought, the features became almost lifelike. The picture was then laid away for a few days, and when she sought it again the eyes were dimmed, and the face was marred with ugly blotches. Patiently she went over it a second time, and the bewitching beauty came again. A second time it was laid away, and again the blotches appeared. There was something wrong in the paper on which the photograph had been taken. There were chemicals lurking in it which in some way marred the delicate colours, and no amount of repainting could correct the faults. So is it in human lives. No outside reform is enough, for all the while the heart is evil within, and it sends up its pollution, staining the fairest beauty. The change that is permanent must be wrought in the heart.—J. R. Miller, D. D.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 2:23. Began, as they went, to pluck.—A very good rendering, though free. Cp. Latin “iter facere,” French “faire chemin.” From LXX. in Judges 17:8, it is clear that the classical distinction between ὁδὸν ποιεῖν, “to make a road,” ὁδὸν ποιεῖσθαι, “to make a journey,” must not be pressed in Hellenistic Greek. Such a piece of wanton mischief as “to make a road” through the corn by plucking the ears would never have been tolerated on any day, let alone the Sabbath. Nor would the action attributed to the disciples have sufficed “to make a road”: for that, they would have had not to break off the ears, but to break down the stalks.
Mark 2:26. In the days of Abiathar the high priest.—This seems, at first sight, to contradict 1 Samuel 21:1-6, where Ahimelech, the father of Abiathar, is mentioned as the high priest who gave the loaves to David. Many attempts have been made to reconcile the two passages; the most successful is, perhaps, that of Bede: “There is no discrepancy, for both were there, when David came to ask for bread, and received it: that is to say, Ahimelech, the high priest, and Abiathar, his son; but Ahimelech having been slain by Saul (very shortly after), Abiathar fled to David, and became the companion of all his exile afterwards. When he came to the throne, Abiathar himself also received the rank of high priest, and the son became of much greater excellence than the father, and therefore was worthy to be mentioned as the high priest, even during his father’s lifetime.” An elaborate and ably expressed argument in favour of another explanation will be found in McClellan’s New Testament, vol. i., pp. 671, 672.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 2:23-28
(PARALLELS: Matthew 12:1-8; Luke 6:1-5.)
The Sabbath and its Lord.—The malignity of the Pharisees being now fully aroused by Christ’s disregard of their scrupulosities and conventionalities, they are henceforth to be found constantly dogging His steps, watching His every action, catching up His every word, in order that His influence with the people may be neutralised, or at least lessened. Especially on the Sabbath were they careful to shadow Him wherever He went, for there was no clearer proof of His divergence from current tradition than as regards the observance of the rest-day. “On no other subject,” says Dr. Edersheim, “is Rabbinic teaching more painfully minute and more manifestly incongruous to its professed object. For if we rightly apprehend what underlay the complicated and intolerably burdensome laws of Pharisaic Sabbath observance, it was to secure, negatively, absolute rest from all labour, and, positively, to make the Sabbath a delight. The Mishnah includes Sabbath desecration among those most heinous crimes for which a man was to be stoned. This, then, was their first care: by a series of complicated ordinances to make a breach of the Sabbath rest impossible. The next object was, in a similarly external manner, to make the Sabbath a delight. A special Sabbath dress, the best that could be procured; the choicest food, even though a man had to work for it all the week, or public charity were to supply it,—such were some of the means by which the day was to be honoured, and men were to find pleasure therein. The strangest stories are told how, by the purchase of the most expensive dishes, the pious poor had gained unspeakable merit, and obtained, even on earth, Heaven’s manifest reward. And yet, by the side of these and similar strange and sad misdirections of piety, we come also upon that which is touching, beautiful, and even spiritual. On the Sabbath there must be no mourning, for to the Sabbath applies this saying: “The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and He addeth no sorrow with it” (Proverbs 10:22). The object which Rabbinism vainly strove to attain by the multiplication of restrictions, Christ set Himself to accomplish by a totally different method. Brushing aside all later accretions of traditionalism, He provoked the inquiry, What was the original law and design of the Sabbath?
I. The accusation by the Pharisees.—Right gladly would they have accused the disciples of theft, had there been the slightest vestige of excuse for doing so; but the law made express provision for the satisfying of hunger when passing through corn-fields (Deuteronomy 23:25). But that any one should take advantage of this merciful provision on the Sabbath horrified them—or they pretended it did. According to them, such an action involved at least two sins: the plucking the ears was equivalent to reaping, the rubbing in the hands to sifting or winnowing! And yet, had the owner of the field wanted, in harvest-time, to shift any of his sheaves, he had only to lay on each a spoon in common use, when, in order to remove the spoon, he might also remove the sheaf on which it lay! To men who spent their time in the invention and study of puerilities of this kind, it mattered nothing that the disciples were really hungry, and that abstinence would occasion far greater unrest of body and mind than the infinitesimal exertion of plucking and rubbing a few ears of corn. “Sabbath means rest—rest of spirit as well as of body—rest from all that is carnal and selfish, and the surrender of the whole being to God in spiritual worship. But these zealots were restless in their endeavours to overcome One whom they hated, and their hearts were rankling with jealousy and envy, instead of swelling with praise and prayer.” How pitiful it is when men seek to substitute elaborate ceremonial for the sacrifice of the inner being!
II. The answer of our Lord.—Christ meets the objectors on their own ground, and shows how, even if it were admitted that the disciples had broken the letter of the law (which they had not done, but only the Rabbinic gloss), they were amply justified in doing so. An eminent scholar, on being asked his opinion of certain classical editors, once replied, “They know the rules; but they do not know when the rules are right, and when they are wrong.” So it was with these Pharisees. They had every minutest detail of the Mosaic Law at their fingers’ ends, so far as the mere letter was concerned; and even their excessive zeal in interpreting and expanding its provisions need not have led to any serious harm, had they only exercised the same care with respect to its spiritual side. But this they had now lost sight of altogether. Christ, therefore, in His reply, ignoring all minor issues, insistence upon which would only have been certain to prejudice and embitter them still further, brings them face to face with the great principle which they themselves admitted—that when two laws clash, the higher one overrides the lower. “A single Rabbinic prohibition is not to be heeded,” they said, “where a graver matter is in question.” Bearing this in mind, we can see how impregnable was the position that Christ took up on behalf of His disciples. David and his followers, when at extremity, had eaten the shewbread, which it was not lawful for them to eat, but only for the priests, and yet they were held blameless, Jewish tradition vindicating their conduct on the plea that “danger of life superseded the law.” From St. Matthew (Matthew 12:5) we learn that our Lord followed this up with another argument drawn from the Temple usages. “What,” He asks, “were the multiplied sacrifices, and incense-burnings, and washings, but so many breaches of the letter of the law? Had they not given birth to the proverb, ‘There is no Sabbatical rest observed in the sanctuary’?—and yet no one ever thought of blaming the priests.” Nor does any blame attach to the disciples, who were but acting upon the same principle—that the greater obligation overrules the lesser, that all ceremonial observance is subordinate to human necessity, that God prefers mercy to sacrifice.
III. The true law of Sabbath observance.—
1. “The Sabbath was made.” The setting apart of one day in seven for rest from labour and special religious effort is no haphazard arrangement of human invention, but God’s own beneficent gift to His weary creatures. It is stamped with Divine sanctity and authority.
2. “The Sabbath was made for man”—to subserve his highest interests and promote his spiritual welfare. Now since man is a complex creature, with a tripartite nature (1 Thessalonians 5:23), it is necessary to provide for him as such, not ignoring either his physical or his social or his religious needs, otherwise the end for which the Sabbath was made will be frustrated. It is related in the life of a pious Presbyterian minister of this generation, how his home looked upon a public park in the suburbs of a crowded city, and how, when he saw some of his fellow-citizens taking a quiet walk for the sake of fresh air and innocent relaxation on a Sunday afternoon, he wondered that the earth did not open her mouth and swallow them up! The same spirit was manifested by the inhabitants of St. Kilda a few years ago, when they subjected some shipwrecked people to agonies of hunger rather than permit a ship, with provisions on board, to land on what they called “the Sabbath,” i.e. the Lord’s Day! Well might they have been asked, “Have ye never read what the Lord’s disciples did, when they had need and were hungry; how, going through the corn-fields on the Sabbath, they plucked the ears of corn, and rubbed them in their hands, and ate; and how the Lord defended them for so doing, and declared that the Sabbath is not man’s master, but his servant?” And as to the other instance mentioned of Sabbatic intolerance, may we not say, with Dean Luckock, that it is not only permissible but a manifest duty to furnish the masses with the means of bodily recreation, and to draw them from their squalid homes into pure air which will invigorate the frame; and no less a duty to elevate their tastes, to offer them, as far as possible, variety of scene and relief from the monotony of their daily drudgery?
IV. The supremacy of the Son of Man over the Sabbath.—“The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath”; and as its Lord He exercises the right to eliminate from it all that is merely Judaic, and to re-establish it in its original simplicity and benignity. During His earthly ministry He makes it the day not of idle self-contemplation, but of gracious words and blessed deeds. Then after death—His mission to the spirits in Hades having been accomplished on the Sabbath (1 Peter 3:18-20; 1 Peter 4:6)—He chooses the first day of the week for His resurrection; and that day has ever since been observed by His followers as the Lord’s Day—His peculiar possession, and their peculiar privilege—a day which is a thousand times more precious and sacred to them than the Sabbath could ever be to a Jew. The Sabbath was but the shadow of good things yet to come; on the Lord’s Day especially (though far from exclusively) the believer realises that these good things have now come, and that he is already a partaker of them in Christ. He therefore regards the weekly rest-day as a boon of unspeakable value, for which he is indebted to his Saviour. To him, indeed, all days are equally holy: he does not imagine for a moment that God requires of him a better service or a purer soul on one than on another; but while striving to serve God truly all the days of his life, he thanks God particularly for every opportunity afforded him of withdrawing for a season from the turmoil of worldly business, and devoting himself without distraction to the things of the Lord.
Mark 2:23-28. The Sabbath and the Lord’s Day.—I. The first principle embodied in the Lord’s Day is the duty of consecrating a certain proportion of time, at least one-seventh, to the especial service of God. This principle is common to the Jewish Sabbath and to the Christian Lord’s Day. “Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath Day” means for us Christians, “Remember that thou keep holy one day in seven.” Keep the day holy; consecrate it. Such consecration implies two things: a separation of the thing consecrated from all others, and the communication to it of a quality of holiness or purity. To this idea of the especial consecration of a section of time, it is objected that in a true Christian life all time is consecrated. The answer is that the larger obligation of love is not ignored because the smaller one of duty is insisted on. All a Christian’s time is properly consecrated time; but practically, in many cases, none would be consecrated unless an effort were made to mark a certain proportion of it by a special consecration. The case is parallel to that of prayer. Our Lord says that men ought always to pray, and not to faint. The apostle says, “Pray without ceasing.” And the life of a good Christian is, no doubt, a continuous prayer: the spirit of prayer penetrates and hallows it; each duty is intertwined with acts of the soul which raise it above this earthly scene to the throne and presence of Christ. But, for all that, in all Christian lives stated times of prayer, private as well as public, are practically necessary, if the practice of prayer is to be consistently maintained. And in like manner the especial consecration of one day in seven does not involve an implied rejection of the rights of Jesus Christ over all Christian time. It is like those small payments known to the law, which do not profess to give an equivalent for that which they represent, but only technically to acknowledge a much larger claim; it implies that all our time belongs to God, although, considering our weakness, He graciously accepts a prescribed instalment or section of it. And apart from its importance in the life of the servants of God, the public setting apart of a certain measure of time to God’s service is a witness to His claims borne before the world, and calculated to strike the imaginations of men. From this point of view, our English Sunday, whatever may be said about mistakes in the detail of its observance, is a national blessing. It brings the existence and claims of God before the minds even of those who do not make a good use of it. And religious foreigners have not seldom told us that it fills them with envy and admiration; and that we shall do well to guard that which, once lost, is certain to be well-nigh, if not altogether, irrecoverable.
II. A second principle represented in the Lord’s Day is the periodical suspension of human toil. This is closely connected with that of the consecration of time. In order to make the day, by this prohibition, unlike other days, in order to make room for the acknowledgment of God on it, ordinary occupations are suspended. Here again we have a second principle common to the Jewish Sabbath and to the Christian Lord’s Day. In the Old Testament a variety of particular occupations are explicitly forbidden on the Sabbath: sowing and reaping, gathering wood and kindling a fire for cooking, holding markets, every kind of trade, pressing grapes, carrying any sort of burden. In a later age the Pharisees added largely to these prohibitions. They held it unlawful to pluck an ear of corn in passing through a corn-field, or to assist and relieve the sick; although they ruled that an animal which had fallen into a ditch might be helped out, that guests might be invited to an entertainment, and that a child of eight days old might be circumcised. There were thirty-nine Rabbinical prohibitions on the Sabbath, of which one limited a Sabbath-day’s journey to two thousand cubits, and another forbade killing even the most dangerous vermin, while a third proscribed the use of a wooden leg, or a crutch, or a purse. These and other prohibitions illustrate the tendency of mere law to become, sooner or later, through excessive technicality, the caricature and the ruin of moral principle. And it was against these Pharisaic perversions of the Sabbath that our Lord protested by act and word, reminding His countrymen that the Sabbath was made for the moral good of man, and not man for the later legal theory of the Sabbath. But the broad principle of abstinence from labour, however misrepresented in the later Jewish practice, was itself sacred; and it passed into the Christian observance of the Lord’s Day. We see this plainly in notices of the observance in the early times of the Christian Church. Thus Tertullian, writing at the end of the second century, calls the day both Sunday and the Lord’s Day; says that it is, a day of joy, and that to fast on it is wrong; yet adds that “business is put off on it, lest we give place to the devil.” And thus when, under Constantine, the Imperial Government had acknowledged the faith of Christ, and Christianity made itself felt in the principles of legislation, provision was very soon made for the observance of the Lord’s Day. Even four years before the Council of Nicæa, Constantine issued an edict ordering the judges, the town populations, the artists and tradesmen of all kinds, to cease from labour on the Lord’s Day. He allows agricultural labour to go on, if the safety of crops or the health of cattle depends on it. And when we examine the Codes of the Emperors Theodosius and Justinian, in which the experience and traditions of the great Roman lawyers are combined with and modified by the softening influences of Christianity, we find that the observance of the Lord’s Day is carefully provided for. Works of necessity, whether civil or agricultural, are allowed; others are forbidden. Public spectacles of all kinds and the games of the circus are suppressed. And the great teachers of the Church in the fourth and fifth centuries did what they could to second the imperial legislation by exhorting the faithful to abstain from works or sights which profaned the Holy Day of the Christian week. This insistence on a day of freedom from earthly labour is not inconsistent with a recognition of the dignity and the claims of labour. On the contrary, it protects labour, by arresting the excessive expenditure of human strength; and it raises and consecrates labour by leading the workman’s mind to acknowledge the Source and Support of his exertions. It is sometimes asked why this abstinence from labour should be dictated to us; why each man cannot make a Sunday for himself, when his strength or health demands it. The answer is, Because, in a busy, highly worked community, unless all are to abstain from work, none will abstain; since, in point of fact, none can afford to abstain. This is the principle of the Bank holidays: the State comes in to do for labour four times a year, on a small scale, what the Church does on a large scale every week; it essays to make a general rest from work possible by an external sanction. If the sanction of the Sunday rest from toil were to be withdrawn, it would, in a civilisation like ours, go hard, first with labour, and then, at no distant interval, with capital. The dignity and obligation of labour are sufficiently recognised in the precept, “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all that thou hast to do”; and the health and happiness and moral well-being of the labourer are secured by a seventh day, in which the labourer is to” do no manner of work.”
III. Thus the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day agree in affirming two principles: the hallowing a seventh part of time, and the obligation of abstinence from servile work on one day in seven. But are the days identical? May we rightly call the Lord’s Day the Sabbath? These questions must be answered in the negative. Observe that the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Lord’s Day, while agreeing in affirming two principles, differ in two noteworthy respects. First, they differ, as has already been implied, in being kept on distinct days. The Sabbath was kept on the last day of the week: the Lord’s Day is kept on the first. The change was made because there was an imperative reason for making it. For the Lord’s Day and the Sabbath Day differ, secondly, in the reason or motive for observing them. The Sabbath was the weekly commemoration of the finished work of God. It brought before the mind of the Jew the ineffable majesty of the Great Creator, between whom and the noblest work of His hands there yawns an impassable abyss. Thus the Sabbath observance, apart from its directly sanctifying effect upon individual life, was the great protection to the Jews against the idolatry with which they came in contact in Egypt, in Phœnicia, in Babylon, and against the Greek modes of thought which tried them so sorely at Alexandria and in Palestine under the Macedonian kings of a later time. The Christian motive for observing the Lord’s Day is the resurrection of Christ from the dead. That truth is to the Christian Creed what the creation of the world out of nothing is to the Jewish. The Lord’s Day marks the completed Redemption, as the Sabbath had marked the completed Creation. The Resurrection is also the fundamental truth on which Christianity rests; and thus it is as much insisted on by the Christian apostles as is God’s creation of all things by the Jewish prophets. Not, of course, that the creation of all things by God is less precious to the Christian than to the Jew; but it is more taken for granted. In Christian eyes the creation of the world of nature is eclipsed by the creation of the world of grace; and of this last creation the Resurrection is the warrant. The Jewish Sabbath stands in the same relation to the Lord’s Day as does Circumcision to Christian Baptism, as does the Paschal Lamb to the Holy Communion, as does the Law to the Gospel. It is a shadow of a good thing to come. It is only perpetuated by being transfigured, or rather it is so transfigured as to have parted with its identity. Christians stand no longer at the foot of Sinai, but by the empty tomb in the garden outside Jerusalem.
IV. The cessation of ordinary work is not enjoined upon Christians only that they may while away the time, or spend it in aimless self-pleasing, or in something worse. The Lord’s Day is the day upon which our Lord Jesus Christ has a first claim. On this great day every instructed Christian thinks of Him as completing the work of our redemption; as vindicating His character as a Teacher of absolute truth; as triumphing over His enemies; as conquering death in that nature which had hitherto always been subject to its empire; as designing, now that He has overcome the sharpness of death, to open the kingdom of heaven to all believers. It is unlike any other in the week; and the sense of this finds its natural expression in prayer and praise. A well-spent Lord’s Day should always begin with that supreme act of Christian worship in which we meet Jesus verily and indeed, the only public service known to the early and Apostolic Church—the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Redeemer. What the practice of our fathers in the faith was within a few years after the apostles had gone to their rest, we learn from the celebrated letter of Pliny to Trajan. “The Christians,” he says, “are accustomed to meet together on a stated day, before it is light, and to sing hymns to Christ as God, and to bind themselves by a Sacrament, not for any wicked purpose; but never to commit fraud, theft, or adultery—never to break their word, nor to refuse, when called upon, to deliver up any trust.” This was his impression as a heathen, looking at the sacred service from without, and gathering its nature from Christian language about it which he imperfectly understood. How Sunday was kept by Christians about the year 140 is very fully described by Justin Martyr. He says that on that day there was an assembly of all Christians who lived either in town or country; that the writings of the apostles and prophets were read; and that prayer was offered, and alms were collected, and the Holy Sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood was celebrated. As we descend the stream of time, illustrations become more numerous. But in the early Church of Christ it was taken for granted that a Christian would observe the Lord’s Day, first of all, by taking part in that solemn Sacrament and Service which the Lord had Himself ordained. Those who begin their Sundays with the Holy Communion know one of the deepest meanings of that promise, “They that seek Me early shall find Me.” Not that it is wise or reverent to suppose that all the religious duties of a Sunday can be properly discharged before breakfast, and that the rest of the day may be spent as we like. No Christian whose heart is in the right place will think this. Later opportunities of public prayer and of instruction in the faith and duty of a Christian will be made the most of, as may be possible for each. Especially should an effort be made on every Sunday in the year to learn some portion of the will of God more perfectly than before; some truth or aspect of His revelation of Himself in the Gospel; some Christian duty, as taught by the example or the words of Christ. Without a positive effort of this kind a Sunday is a lost Sunday: we shall think of it thus in eternity. Where there is the will to seek truth and wisdom there is no difficulty about the way: books, friends, sermons, are at hand. We have but to be in earnest, and all will follow. When the religious obligations of Sunday have been complied with, there are duties of human brotherhood which may well find a place in it: kind deeds and words to friends, visits to the sick, acts of consideration for the poor, are in keeping with the spirit of the day. Above all, it should be made a bright as well as a solemn day for children: first solemn, but then and always bright, so that in their after-life they may look back on the Sundays of childhood as its happiest days. And in itself there would be no harm if, for those who live in towns, museums and picture-galleries could be open on Sundays, just as the fields and the gardens are open to those who live in the country; for Art, like Nature, is to each one of us what we bring to it. The danger of such proposals is that, to realise them, Sunday labour must be employed, in some cases on a very considerable scale; and this would too easily lead the way to its employment for other and general purposes, and so to the abandonment of an essential characteristic of the Lord’s Day.—Canon Liddon.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 2:23. Lessons.—
1. Christ never bribes men to become His disciples. Although when occasion arose, He would work a miracle to feed a multitude, He here leaves His followers to stay their hunger as best they may.
2. It is not said that Christ Himself partook of this frugal meal. Probably He refrained from doing so, at the cost of personal discomfort, rather than give offence to His enemies.
3. But while thus declining to use His own right to the full, He will not hinder others from the enjoyment of theirs. On this principle St. Paul afterwards acted (1 Corinthians 10:0).
The disciples were poor; but they preferred to suffer hunger with Christ rather than enjoy affluence without Him.—Heubner.
Mark 2:24. Lessons.—He who has only the knowledge without the spirit of the law very often opposes when he thinks he is defending it.
2. Pharisaical pride makes men set themselves up for judges of everything, and require an account of everything to be given them.
3. When a man is once full of himself, he decides confidently, especially-when it is to condemn others.
4. Those who love to domineer are not content to exercise their authority upon their own disciples, but would fain bring those of others under their dominion.—P. Quesnel.
Why did not these Pharisees give them bread, and so prevent their doing that to which they objected? We might also fairly ask, How came they to see the disciples? Did they not break the Sabbath by setting a watch over them?
Mark 2:25. Superficial reading prejudicial.—An old preacher was once heard to say, “The Word has mighty free course among many nowadays, for it goes in at one of their ears and out at the other.” So it seems to be with some readers—they read a very great deal, and yet they do not read anything. Their eye glances, but their mind never rests. The soul does not light upon the truth and stay there. It flits over the landscape as a bird might do, but builds no nest. Such reading is worse than useless; it is positively prejudicial to the mind.
Mark 2:27. “The Sabbath was made for man.”—
1. For man as man—whether Jew or Gentile. It was set apart by Divine sanction from the beginning, not merely from the time of Moses, when God only reminded His people of that which had existed long before. The law of six days’ work and one day’s rest is wrought into the very constitution of humanity, and cannot be ignored with impunity.
2. For man as he is—not for man in a fancied state of perfection. To worship God every day in spirit and truth, to raise each day to the level of a Sabbath, is no doubt the goal to be aimed at; but if such a commandment had been given to the Jews, and no day specially separated from the others, they would have ended by reducing all to a dead level of worldliness. They needed the Sabbath as a help to their devotion, and we in this busy age need it too. From the consecration of one day to God, we learn by degrees to consecrate to Him every day, every hour.
Reasons for Sabbath observance.—The following are the reasons given in the Old Testament for the observance of the Sabbath:
1. In memory of the Creation, and of God’s rest from His work (Exodus 20:11).
2. To protect those whose time is at the disposal of others (Deuteronomy 5:14).
3. In memory of the deliverance of God’s people (Deuteronomy 5:15).
4. As a sign between God and His people of their sanctification by Him (Ezekiel 20:12). So now the weekly Lord’s Day, with its Eucharistic celebration, is the great testimony to the Church’s perpetual union with her once crucified but now reigning Head.
The consecration of one day in seven to uses other and more sacred than those of the rest, is ordained by a law which lies a long way behind either the religion of Christ or the religion of Moses. That law is embedded in the very constitution, physical, mental, and moral, of human nature; and as human nature has awakened to its consciousness and its significance, just in that proportion has it ennobled and advanced itself. The first nations in the family of nations to-day are those who, whether early and quickly, or slowly and late, have learned to hallow one day and keep it sacred; and the loftiest achievements in arms, in literature, in science, in philanthropy, in missionary enterprise, and in social advancement, belong to that Anglo-Saxon people whose observance of Sunday is to-day the wonder and the admiration of every intelligent traveller.—Bishop H. C. Potter.
The Continental Sunday a failure.—It is one of the most remarkable facts of our time that those older nations from which some of us propose to borrow our habit of disregard for the Lord’s Day are striving at this very moment with most impressive earnestness to restore the earlier sacredness of that day. In Germany, in Switzerland, and in France there are already organisations of serious and thoughtful men who are seeking to banish the Continental Sunday. They have seen, on the one hand, as any one may see in France to-day, that the removal of the sacred sanctions, which with us hold the first day of the week in a kind of chaste reserve, have eventuated not merely in degrading it to the level of a vulgar holiday, but also of degrading and enslaving him for whom its privileges were, most of all, designed—the wearied, over-worked, and poorly-paid labouring man. He is a person out of whom the most is to be got, and if he can work six days he may as well work the seventh also, so long as there is nothing to forbid it. Such a condition of things may not directly threaten those of us who are protected by wealth from the necessities of daily labour; but if ours is this more favoured condition, all the more do we owe it to our brother-man who is less favoured to see to it that he shall have every sanction with which the law can furnish him to guard his day of rest from being perverted and revolutionised into a day of toil. And if he himself does not see that the more we assimilate Sunday to other days by the amusements, the occupations, the teaching and reading and thinking with which we fill it, the greater is the danger that ultimately we shall lose it altogether, the more earnestly are we bound to strive to disseminate those sounder ideas which shall set this first day of the week and its devout observance before our fellow-men and women of the labouring classes in its true light, and so help and teach them how not to lose but to keep it. We may declaim as we please in behalf of a philosophy which makes all days holy to the universal worship of humanity by making no day holy to the worship of a personal God; but the decay of stated times and seasons for the offering of that worship presages a day when neither God nor man, neither life nor property, neither human weakness nor human needs, have any rights nor any scantiest respect. To learn that fact we need go back no further than the history of France in 1788.—Ibid.
Mark 2:28. Son of Man.—
1. Glorious name that, which Jesus Himself loved most—indeed, we may say to the exclusion of all others—“Son of MAN”; thus identified with the whole race in its joys and sorrows and manifold experiences: a sympathetic bond of union linking to Himself each member of the wide human family.
2. Christ—the Incarnate God—had not only assumed the form and designation of the “Son of Man,” but, as such, He belonged to no exclusive or distinctive nationality. He claimed and asserted a worldwide brotherhood. The sun in the material heavens is the illuminator of no one specific region or section, but of the entire earth: every nation, and kindred, and people, and tongue are served heirs-to his radiance—” nothing hid from the heat thereof.” So was Christ “the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” He took in all climes, all blood, all ages, all civilisations.—J. R. Macduff, D.D.
Christ’s lordship over the Sabbath.—Nothing can show the Divine nature of our Lord more clearly than that He is above such a law of God, so that He should modify it, relax it, change it at His pleasure. He exercised but a small part of this authority when He freed His disciples from the yoke of its burdensome Pharisaic observance. He exercised His lordship over the day far more royally when He by His Spirit made the day of His resurrection the weekly religious festival of His Church. By this He gave it altogether a new character. Henceforth it is a day not of mere rest, but of renewed life—the life of His own resurrection; and so its characteristic ordinance is not the slaying of beasts, but the life-giving celebration of the Sacrament of His own Risen Body.—M. F. Sadler.
The freedom of Christ’s service.—The service of God, and the service of the Temple, by universal consent, superseded the Sabbath law. But Christ was greater than the Temple, and His service more truly that of God, and higher than that of the outward Temple—and the Sabbath was intended for man, to serve God: therefore Christ and His service were superior to the Sabbath law. Thus much would be intelligible to these Pharisees, although they would not receive it, because they believed not on Him as the Sent of God. But to us the words mean more than this. They preach not only that the service of Christ is that of God, but that, even more than in the Temple, all of work or of liberty is lawful which this service requires. We are free while we are doing anything for Christ: God loves mercy, and demands not sacrifice; His sacrifice is the service of Christ, in heart, and life, and work. We are not free to do anything we please; but we are free to do anything needful or helpful, while we are doing any service to Christ. He is the Lord of the Sabbath, whom we serve in and through the Sabbath. And even this is significant, that, when designating Himself Lord of the Sabbath, it is as “the Son of Man.” It shows that the narrow Judaistic form regarding the day and the manner of observance is enlarged into the wider Law, which applies to all humanity. Under the New Testament the Sabbath has, as the Church, become Catholic, and its Lord is Christ as the Son of Man, to whom the Body Catholic offers the acceptable service of heart and life.—A. Edersheim, D.D.
Christians are lords of the Sabbath.—We also are, in our measure, “lords of the Sabbath,” which was made for man; we have a Christian liberty, which, remember, implies a deep Christian responsibility, to regulate our method of observing the Sabbath, under God’s general laws, so as to make it to ourselves not a burden, but an exceeding spiritual blessing. This liberty indeed is ours, only in proportion as we are living as real members of Christ, having His mind, and in our deeds being like Him. So far as we are sinful we forfeit our privileges, even as a life of slavery makes men unfit for freedom; we may require the constraints of a law, and lose the full enjoyment, the perfect blessing, of the Lord’s Day. But still Christ’s words show us what we should aim at and desire; they teach, us how to look on our Sundays, as blessings for which we may thank God; and stir us up to use them, not by any formal rules, still less by any gloom or compulsion, but freely and thankfully, for our blessing and happiness both of body and soul. They were made for us; and we, by God’s grace, are lords over them, only under Him who is God and Lord of all.—Bishop Barry.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 2
Mark 2:27. Benefit of the rest-day.—Man! man! this is the great creator of wealth. The difference between the soil of Campania and Spitzbergen is insignificant compared with the difference presented by two countries—the one inhabited by men full of moral and physical vigour, the other by beings plunged in an intellectual decrepitude. Hence it is that we are not impoverished, but on the contrary enriched by this seventh day, which we have for so many years devoted to rest. This day is not lost. While the machinery is stopped, while the car rests on the road, while the treasury is silent, while the smoke ceases to rise from the chimney of the factory, the nation enriches itself none the less than during the working days of the week. Man, the machine of all machines, the one by the side of which all the inventions of the Watts and the Arkwrights are as nothing, is recuperating and gaining strength so well, that on Monday he returns to his work with his mind clearer, with more courage for his work, and with renewed vigour. I will never believe that that which renders a people stronger, wiser, and better can ever turn to its impoverishment.—In The Life of Frank Buckland, the eminent naturalist, who devoted himself so thoroughly to the scientific and practical study of the river and sea-fisheries of Great Britain, there is the following testimony to the value of Sabbath rest: “March 1866.—I am now working from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and then a bit in the evening—fourteen hours a day; but, thank God, it does not hurt me. I should, however, collapse if it were not for Sunday. The machinery has time to get cool, the mill-wheel ceases to patter the water, the mill-head is ponded up, and the superfluous water let off by an easy, quiet current, which leads to things above.”—In one of the most densely populated parts of the city a gentleman lately visited the house of a poor, hard-working, infidel cobbler. The man was busy at his last, and had scarce time to look up at his unwelcome visitor. “That is hard work.” “It is, sir.” “For how many hours a day have you to labour here—twelve?” “Yes, and more, sir. I am never off this seat under a fourteen or fifteen hours’ spell of it.” “That is sore toil for a bit of bread.” “Indeed it is, sir; and very thankful am I when the week’s end comes. What would become of me, and the likes of me, without that rest?” “And who, friend, think you, gave you that rest? Came it by accident, or arrangement, or how?” There came no answer to that: the cobbler hung his head; the man was honest; the sceptic was ashamed.—An agricultural labourer named Alègre, about sixty years of age, was arrested during the French Revolution, and put in prison for not having worked on a Sunday. A week after his release he presented himself, dressed in his Sunday clothes, before the Committee. On being asked what he wanted, he replied that he was getting old, and that when he had worked all the week he was tired out and wanted rest, so that if he went to labour on Sunday he should rob his employer, and that therefore he preferred to come and be put in prison. The Committee, who no doubt thought the man had come to make a denunciation, were nonplussed at the strange humour of this singular request, shrugged their shoulders, and bade their petitioner go about his business.—William Wilberforce said, “I can truly declare that to me the Sabbath has been invaluable.” When Sir Samuel Romilly, Solicitor-General during Fox’s administration, committed suicide, Mr. Wilberforce said, “If he had suffered his mind to enjoy such occasional remission, it is highly probable that the strings of life would never have snapped from over-tension.” The celebrated Castlereagh, who was Foreign Secretary in 1812, committed suicide in 1822. Wilberforce said, “Poor fellow! he was certainly deranged—the effect probably of continual wear of the mind and the non-observance of the Sabbath.”—After all, the question is not so much one of the safety and well-being of life and property as of the higher well-being of the personal soul. A great statesman is reported to have said to one who sought of him an interview concerning secular matters on the Lord’s Day: “I must keep one day in which to realise what I am and where I am going!”—A world without a Sabbath, says Mr. Beecher, would be like a man without a smile, like a summer without flowers, like a homestead without a garden. It is the joyous day of the whole week.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Mark 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
Eve of Ascension