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CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 3:5. With anger, being grieved.—His anger would be roused as He thought of the evil resulting to others from the bigotry and tyranny of their spirit; His pity, as He thought of the moral loss suffered by themselves in consequence thereof. Hardness.—Dulness. “Not the obduracy which cannot be impressed, but the obtuseness which cannot perceive.” They were blind to their own blindness, deaf to their own deafness; and also blind and deaf to the needs and woes of others. Compassion and kindness of heart were as much dried up in them as this man’s hand was in him.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 3:1-6
(PARALLELS: Matthew 12:9-14; Luke 6:6-11.)
A withered hand restored.—Again it is Sabbath—the day on which the Divine Son of Man specially delighted to bring joy to the souls and healing to the bodies of His suffering brethren. Again, too, the sleuth-hounds are on His track, thirsting for His blood; and this time the trap is so skilfully baited that they feel sure of securing their prey. Had the ingenuity of these religionists only been directed aright—had they thought half as much of the salvation of sinners as they did of the safeguarding of their wire-drawn casuistries—what a mighty work for God could have been accomplished! But, alas! religion meant to them nothing but a round of outward observances; they were “blind as owls to the light of God and true goodness, keen-sighted as hawks for trivial breaches of their cobweb regulations, and cruel as vultures to tear with beak and claw.” Here they stand now in the synagogue, gloating over the spectacle of affliction that meets their eye, for they are convinced that Jesus will set at nought any number of Sabbath traditions, rather than fail to relieve misery.
I. A pitiable object.—The man’s right hand was not only paralysed in the sinews, but withered up and hopeless. An old tradition recorded in the Gospel of the Nazarenes and Ebionites adds, that he was a stonemason by trade, and that he besought Jesus to heal him and relieve him from having to beg for his bread. Let us hope, for the credit of human nature, that those are mistaken who believe the Pharisees themselves had bribed the man to come there and place himself in the Saviour’s way.
II. A fearless challenge.—Jesus, fully aware of their hostile thoughts, as if to anticipate any action on their part, and make the matter as public as possible, bids the man—“Stand forth.” All is now excitement and expectation The looks of the audience pass rapidly from Jesus to the man, and from the man to the Pharisees, in the consciousness that a crisis is near. Then Jesus propounds a question, which in the nature of things admits of but one answer—a question which completely cuts the ground from under His enemies’ feet: “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill?” According to them, only actual danger to life warranted a breach of the Sabbath law. Jesus meets them, therefore, on their own terms, and shows how their own principles lead logically to the kind of Sabbath work that they condemn: “All good-doing to men’s bodies lies on the line of life; all withholding of good-doing lies on the line of killing, or of death. If it would be wrong, in the absence of higher claims, to withhold the good-doing that would save life, it must also be wrong, when the higher claims are still absent, to withhold the good-doing that may be needed to develop life into its fulness of vigour and beauty.” Such reasoning was unanswerable, and could only be met by silence on the part of those who were not prepared to endorse and commend it. If there was still a soft spot in the heart of any one of them, surely Christ’s words must have suggested the contrast between their murderous designs on Him, and His zeal for the life and health of all men. But no such thought seems to have entered their minds. They are speechless—not with conviction, but with conscious defeat.
III. A Divine look.—St. Mark, who, more than any other Evangelist, records the lights and shadows that swept over the Saviour’s countenance, tells us that “He looked round about upon them with anger, being grieved at the hardening of their hearts.” They had set themselves to prove Him guilty at all hazards, and the result was a gradual hardening of the heart, rendering them impervious to all spiritual impressions and impulses. The anger of Christ is directed against their sinful opposition to the truth, which was quite inexcusable; but His loving heart is full of commiseration for the men themselves, whose state of insensibility to goodness and compassion was truly perilous and pitiable.
IV. A life-giving command.—“Stretch forth thine hand.” There is no manipulation of the stricken member, no touch, no word of healing even; nothing but a simple direction to the man to do what was forbidden to none, but what had been up to that moment impossible to him; and in doing as he was bid, in making the effort to obey, the vitality returned, “and his hand was restored whole as the other.” Thus calmly and quietly does Jesus show His enemies how easy it is for Him to evade their best-laid plots; thus incontrovertibly does He prove His superiority to all the powers of evil. Observe, too, “that no offence to hypocrites, no danger to Himself, prevented Jesus from removing human suffering. Also that He expects from the man a certain co-operation involving faith; he must stand forth in the midst; every one must see his unhappiness; he is to assume a position which will become ridiculous unless a miracle is wrought. Then he must make an effort. In the act of stretching forth his hand, the strength to stretch it forth is given; but he would not have tried the experiment unless he trusted before he discovered the power. Such is the faith demanded of our sin-stricken and helpless souls—a faith which confesses its wretchedness, believes in the goodwill of God and the promises of Christ, and receives the experience of blessing through having acted on the belief that already the blessing is a fact in the Divine volition.”
V. An unnatural alliance.—The Pharisees—their pride humbled, their hopes disappointed, their hearts full of futile rage—first commune one with another as to what course they should now pursue, and then, calling together the Herodians, “took counsel against Him, how they might destroy Him.” Misfortune, according to an old saw, often brings men into strange company, and certainly it was so in this case. “In theology the Herodians, so far as they held any theological opinions, fraternised with the Sadducees, the latitudinarians of that day; in politics they were adherents of Herod Antipas, and so advocates of the Roman domination. To both these the Pharisees were diametrically opposed. Yet now they enter into an unholy alliance with those who were at once their political opponents and religious antagonists.” Lifelong hatreds are put aside for the nonce, in order that they may make common cause “against the Lord, and against His Anointed.”
1. As Christ’s actions and words were watched, so are ours.
2. As this man found Christ in the sanctuary, so may we.
3. As this man took Christ at His word, and did exactly what He bade him, so let us.
4. Let us learn further—
(1) For our warning—that not to do good is to do evil; and
(2) For our encouragement—that whatever good we attempt to do, Christ’s power will work with us and in us.
Mark 3:5. Hardness of heart.—It is a true rule and maxim in divinity that sins against the gospel are most heinous and of greatest provocation. As the sweetest and strongest wine makes the sourest and sharpest vinegar, so the choicest favours, if they be despised, provoke in God the greatest displeasure. Now the main sin against the gospel and grace of God is obstinate impenitency and unbelief—when we repel and put off from us the offers of God’s grace. And the root of that is the spirit of obduration and hardness of heart, when our hearts stand it out with God, and will not give way to the work of His grace. And this evil, more or less, in some degree or other, is in all men naturally; and this is that which our Saviour here discovers and reproves in His present auditors.
I. The parties affected with this great evil.—
1. Look upon them as men in the state of nature, and then the observation is thus much—that naturally every man’s heart is full of hardness and obstinacy. God created us in a far different condition: our spirits were tender; our hearts, hearts of flesh; the whole frame and disposition of our souls pliant and yielding to every good motion. But now, as sin hath depraved and corrupted us, our hearts are not stirred or affected with any of these. Doth God appear to us, we take no notice of Him: doth He send His Word to us, we give no credit to it, it seems a fable to us: doth He command us, we will not obey Him: doth He promise us, we will not be persuaded: doth He threaten us, we slight and. contemn it. A hard heart is like a brazen wall—shoot never so many arrows against it, it beats them all back again, they cannot enter: such is a hard heart; neither God’s Word nor His works, neither judgments nor mercies, can enter into it to make any impression. See how the Scripture describes and sets forth this hardness of heart (Ezekiel 11:19; Zechariah 7:12; Jeremiah 6:28; Isaiah 48:4). As they say of the disease of the stone, ’tis oftentimes hereditary; some children have drawn it from their parents, and been born with it: so this stone in the heart, ’tis an original evil; we are born in hardness of heart; ’tis our natural temper. Indeed, for natural and human affections we have flesh and tenderness. Self-love, ’tis quick of feeling, and so parents have their bowels to the fruit of their body; and, in point of humanity to others in misery, all are not hard-hearted; some are tender and pitiful: but in matters of God and spiritual duties, for the entertainments of grace, and the work of conversion, no stone, no adamant, exceeds us in hardness.
2. Look upon them as men living under the law. These men, whom the text speaks of, were not wild men and savages, but civil and orderly: yea, more than so, for their outward state, members of the visible Church, acquainted with the doctrine and discipline of Moses, they had the circumcision of the flesh, instructed in the law; and yet how doth Christ find them? Nothing changed or altered, not mollified or made tender; but dull, dead-hearted sinners for all that. See the state of the Jews (Jeremiah 9:26). Observe, ’tis not in the power of the law to alter or change us, to soften and mollify our hard hearts; that work belongs to Christ and His gospel, to His grace and Spirit. We see this work restrained to the new covenant; ’tis proper to the gospel (Jeremiah 31:31). The law teaches us, but the gospel enables us; that gives and works in us what the law requires of us (John 1:17). The law hath power of conviction, but ’tis the gospel only hath a power of conversion. The law, that’s the hammer that knocks at the door of our hearts; but the gospel, that’s the key that opens it, puts back the bar of obduration, and lets in grace and the Spirit into it.
3. These men were very forward in outward devotion, frequenters of the synagogues, great Sabbatarians, and yet under all this seeming sanctity Christ espies a dead, hard, wicked heart lurking. Observe, seeming and outside sanctity may go together, and consist with inward and spiritual hardness and obstinacy. ’Tis the true constitution of a hypocrite; he is all for the outside of religion—there he is excellent; he will outgo and exceed all others in show: but look upon his heart; he wholly neglects it; that’s full of hardness and stubborn impiety.
(1) ’Tis the easiest work. Outward observances in matter of religion, they cost but little pains; but to work upon the heart, and to bring that in order, that’s painful and laborious. As in the practice of physic or chirurgery, ’tis more easy to cure an outward hurt of the body, that is ill-affected or wounded; but an inward distemper, when a vein is broken, and it bleeds inward, the curing of this is a great deal more difficult.
(2) ’Tis natural for hypocrisy to leave the heart in hardness, because it employs all its care in dressing and trimming and adorning the outside. As those distempers that send all the heat of the body outward, and cause great flushings in the face, they hinder the inward concoction, cool, and dead the stomach and vital parts, that they cannot perform their functions: so hypocrisy sends out all the heat of their piety to the outside, causes great flushings of piety in the outward man, but chills and cools and deadens the life of religion in the heart.
II. Their sinful disposition.—Hardness of heart.
1. The subject of this evil quality is the heart. By heart we are not to understand that particular vital member of the body as in common speech we use to take it, but in the Scripture language: so it signifies the soul and spirit of a man. Thus Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 19:9; Matthew 15:19. The whole soul, and all the faculties of it, are perverted and hardened, dead and dull to any goodness, froward and obstinate to any good motion or holy action. As in a distempered clock, wherein both the spring and the wheels are out of frame, it cannot strike one stroke right.
(1) The mind and understanding, that’s over-grown with hardness and blindness. Eagle-eyed in worldly things, mole-eyed in spiritual.
(2) Our memory in matters of religion, how is that dulled and benumbed! how fluid! No retentive power in it for that which is spiritual. Let the seed of the Word be. sown in it; yet the devil comes and takes it out, that it can have no abiding in us.
(3) The will, of all others, how is that hardened, brawned, steeled! We may as easily remove mountains, pierce the rocks, melt the flint, as persuade and prevail with a hard, obdurate will.
(4) Our affections, which are quick and stirring in other matters, how dead and dull are they to spiritual duties!
2. The quality itself is called “hardness.” Now there is a threefold hardness of heart.
(1) There is, natural and inbred in us, a hardness of heart which we all bring with us into this world, which makes us so unteachable and untractable to any good.
(2) There is an acquired and a contracted hardness of heart, which increases that inbred and natural hardness—when custom in sinning begets in us a firm resolution to continue and persist and go on in sinning (Romans 2:5; Hebrews 3:13).
(3) There is a hardness inflicted by God, a penal and punishing hardness—when God punishes a wicked man with this spiritual judgment of a hard heart. The inquiry then would be, Wherein doth this hardness of heart consist? how shall we discern it? what are the properties and effects of it? Take these four following: (i) Durum non cedit. Those things that are hard, they are unyielding and impenetrable; whereas that which is soft will easily admit of any impression. But a stone, touch it, nay offer more force to it, and strike it, there is yet no yielding in it. And such is the condition of a hard heart, stubborn and impenetrable. Till this hardness be removed by the mighty hand of God, there is no working upon it; it will not give place to any means of grace that God hath appointed, though never so powerful. (ii) A second property and effect of a hard heart is, Durum non sentit; that which is hard and brawny is void of sense and apprehension. The tenderest flesh, ’tis of quickest apprehension; but a brawny heart is dull and insensible. Will you see the stupor and lethargy of a hard heart? Such a heart, no suggestions of Satan, though never so dreadful, affrights them—they startle not at them; no inspirations of God’s Spirit doth at all affect them—they perceive them not; the checks of conscience never move them; the guilt of sin doth not dare them or perplex them. They are like Solomon’s drunkard (Proverbs 23:24). (iii) Another property of a hard heart is, Durum non flectitur; that which is hard is inflexible. A stone may sooner be broken than bent: and such is the temper of a hard heart, no art or endeavour can bow or bend it. (iv) Durum repercutit. There is not only a not yielding in that which is hard, but there is a resistance, a contrary action repelling and driving back any action upon it. Smite a stone, and it will not only not yield, but it enforces the stroke back again. There is a redaction and repercussion in resistance; it will drive back the strength upon him that smote it. And this is the disposition of a hard heart; it will resist and oppose itself against any action of God, and strive against it. And this resistance will show itself in three particulars. (a) In stiffness, and pertinacy, and wilfulness of opinion. (b) In obstinate continuance in wicked courses. (c) In quarrelling and cavilling at any evidence of truth, if it makes against us; it will not suffer us to yield to the obedience of faith, or captivate ourselves to Divine truth, but will exalt itself against the knowledge of God.
1. Is every man’s heart by nature thus hard? It gives us the reason why so few men are effectually wrought upon by the means of grace, why so few are converted. ’Tis more wonder to see any to yield and turn to God. ’Tis easier to get oil out of a flint than a good thought out of a stony heart.
2. Is the heart of man so overgrown with hardness? It shows the reason why the work of conversion, even where ’tis begun, goes so slowly forward, why such small progress is made in the work of grace. Engravers upon stone cannot rid much work: they that point and polish diamonds use much grinding to wear away a little unevenness. The heart of man, ’tis like metal, not melted but with much fire and heat; and take it off the fire, it will soon harden of itself. Grace in the heart, ’tis not like heat in the fire, but like heat in the water: as long as there is fire under it, so long it retains heat; but take it off the fire, it will soon grow cold again.
3. Is every man’s heart overgrown with this callous obduration?
(1) Take heed of increasing it. (i) Be careful to avoid and abstain even from small sins; they may make up this evil of obduration. (ii) Especially be careful not to fall into more gross and notorious sins; they have a special force to harden the heart. Such sins waste the conscience, make havoc of grace, sear the conscience with a hot iron. (iii) Wouldst thou not increase this hardness of heart? Above all take heed of sinning against the light and evidence and dictates of conscience.
(2) Use all good means to remove it, and to get tender and feeling and softened hearts. (i) Complain to God, as to the Great Physician of thy soul, who alone is able to cure this malady. (ii) Then lay thine heart under the dint and stroke of the Word. That Word, enlivened by His Spirit, is a mighty instrument to bruise and soften and mollify the heart (Jeremiah 23:29). (iii) The daily practice of repentance is of great force to soften our hearts. A mournful heart will prove a mollified heart. There be two names given to repentance, which show the virtue of it to work upon the heart. (a) Compunction, that enters indeed, and goes to the quick. (b) Contrition, that bruises and breaks the hardness of heart, and makes capable of any good impression. A daily dropping upon a hard stone will pierce into it and wear it away: and so the daily distillations of penitential tears are of great force to wear away this spiritual hardness of an obdurate heart.—Bishop Brownrigg.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 3:1-3. The hand was made for work, but there are many withered hands in society. A celebrated German economist divides industrial history into three periods. In the first, nature was chiefly productive; in the second, human toil; in the third, capital. Inventions have changed the hand’s labour; there has been a withering of the hand before the onward march of inventive genius. The hand is still required to guide the machine, but there are many who consider toil a disgrace. Fathers once humble in life, but now rich, make the mistake of not training their children in the same industrial habits of life, and in a spirit of self-reliance. Children of the rich scorn toil by reason of their inheritance; while the poor, through envy of the rich, lose consciousness of the inherent dignity of labour. Unto all such Christ says, “Stretch forth thy hand”. “Six days shalt thou labour,” etc.—A. C. Ludlow.
1. Christ’s detection of human incompleteness. He instantly discovered that there was a man in the synagogue with a withered hand. The musician instantly detects a false note; the painter instantly detects an inartistic line; the complete Christ instantly detects the incomplete man.
2. Jesus Christ’s power over partial disease. The man had only a withered hand. In some cases Christ had to heal thoroughly diseased men; in this case the disease was local; yet in both instances His power was the same.—J. Parker, D. D.
Mark 3:1. Power of usefulness destroyed.—This man’s disease was not like the palsy, a type of universal inaction; nor like some consuming fever, a type of the way in which sin and vice pervert all the faculties of the soul; but there was a vivid picture of that infirmity which destroys a man’s power of doing anything well. The hand of man is one of those noble physical features which distinguish him from the brute. “The hand” is but another name for human skill, power, and usefulness, and for the studied adaptation of means to ends.
1. The bigotry of these Pharisees rendered them useless in the great kingdom of God, and destroyed their power of serving Christ.
2. Prejudices wither up some of the energies of men.
3. Past inconsistencies often wither up the power of service.
4. Easily besetting sins will paralyse the usefulness of any man who does not earnestly wage war against them.—H. R. Reynolds.
Withered hearts and hands.—If there were no withered hearts, there would be no withered hands; make the fountain clear, and the stream will be pure. A miser, an unfruitful Christian, a negligent ruler, a strong man who will not help in any good work—these are all mere withered hands.
Mark 3:2. Hollow profession.—Where religion has become a body of maxims and doctrines, without life or warmth or motion—where it is traditional observance handed down from father to son, “devotion’s every grace, except the heart”—where it is all intellect and no affection, all logic without love—its professors are always strict to “mark iniquities,” and mere trivial breaches of religious etiquette may reap worse punishment than gross sins.—G. Walker.
Mark 3:5. Lessons.—
1. It is the duty of a Christian to sorrow not only for his own sins, but also to be grieved for the sins of others.
2. All anger is not to be considered sinful.
3. He does not bear the image of Christ, but rather that of Satan, who can either behold with indifference the wickedness of others, or rejoice in it.
4. Nothing is more wretched than an obdurate heart, since it caused Him who is the source of all true joy to be filled with grief in beholding it.
5. Our indignation against wickedness must be tempered by compassion for the persons of the wicked.—T. H. Horne.
Christ’s look.—In that look there were two things—there were anger and grief, indignation and inward sorrow. His was not anger which desired evil to its object; no touch of malevolence was in it: it was simply love on fire, love burning with indignation against that which is unlovely. Mingled with this anger there was grief. He was heart-broken because their hearts were so hard. As Manton puts it, “He was softened because of their hardness.” His was not the pitiless flame of wrath which burns in a dry eye; He had tears as well as anger. His thunder-storm brought a shower of pity with it.
The only legitimate anger is a holy emotion directed against an unholy thing. Sin, not our neighbour, must be its object; zeal for righteousness, not our pride, must be its distinguishing character.—Dr. Arnot.
Christ’s feelings.—Everything that He touched burned that pure nature, which was sensitive to evil like an infant’s hand to hot iron. His sorrow and His anger were the two sides of the medal. His feelings on looking on sin were like a piece of woven stuff with a pattern on either side: on one the fiery threads—the wrath; on the other the silvery tints of sympathetic pity. A warp of wrath, a woof of sorrow, and a dew of flame married and knit together.—A. Maclaren, D. D.
What was hardening their hearts?—It was He! Why were their hearts being hardened? Because they were looking at Him, His graciousness, His goodness, and His power, and were steeling themselves against Him, opposing to His grace and tenderness their obstinate determination. Some little gleams of light were coming into their houses, and they clapped the shutters up. Some tones of His voice were coming into their ears, and they stuffed their fingers into them. They half felt that if they let themselves be influenced by Him it was all over, and so they set their teeth and steadied themselves in their antagonism.—Ibid.
Health by obedience.—The way of health lay in obedience. Had the man said, “No, I cannot”—had he debated, argued, “My arm is withered”—surely the power of Christ had been restrained and the man had gone to his grave a cripple. Christ speaks to us. He tells us to do what seems impossible—to repent, believe, love, pray, trust. If we will be saved, if we will have soul-health, it must come to us in the way of obedience.—G. Walker.
As we work God works.—If we pass the clear light of day through a prism, we get many coloured rays. Our scientific men tell us that these rays have different properties. Some carry more heat than others; some are full of chemical force, and others have special electric properties. Now if a man should say, “I will glaze my conservatory with different coloured glass; one compartment shall be red, another green, another blue, and so on; and I will pass my plants from one compartment to another, and play experiments upon them; and I will take the arrangement of light and shade into my own hands,”—you may imagine the result. He would make good scientific experiments, but he would have poor success as a gardener. He would not get flower or fruit in perfection. The “Light of Men” is full-orbed and many-rayed. To the healthy soul His light appears clear as the daylight. I fear we have sometimes too much spectral analysis in our heavenly things. We seek for sharp lines of demarcation. So one man will like the faith-producing ray, another the work-power, another the hope-power, another the will-producing influence. We seem to think, if we could but tinker up and amend the weak parts of our nature we might be saved. These works of mercy, these acted parables, all bring home to the heart one great truth, clear and pure as daylight. They present differences, but, amid all the difference, the one truth. They are full of the entire appeal of Jesus Christ to men. No matter what be our complaint, or special weakness, or sin; if all be diseased, be it ours to take Him in full reliance on His power and willingness to heal.—Ibid.
Instant action.—All that saved this man was that he did not stop to think. He proceeded as though there were no difficulties, and forthwith for him there were none. All Christ’s commands to unconverted men are in the present tense, which means that the command is issued without any allowance of time for comprehending the mysteries of salvation or for acquiring power to become a saved man. It is simply levelled to the range of the instant; not because thought is not advantageous in some circumstances, but because it is not in point here. Giving ourselves to Christ is not a matter of understanding what we are doing, but a matter of doing something, as when you tell your boy to raise his hand; he does not know how he raises his hand, and you know no more about it than he as regards the physiological intricacies of the act. And if he were to decline raising it until he understood the matter, you would tell him to do it first and understand at his leisure; your command was aimed at his will, and his resort to the intricacies of physiology only a side issue raised to divert your attention from his insubordination. God’s commands stand out of all relation to human power to grasp the problems, moral or theological, associated with obedience to those commands. God’s commands are like the pole-star, which with swift intuition finds out the magnetic needle as easily by night-light as by daylight, and beats upon it with relentless compulsion equally in the darkness and the sunshine. They are not a question of can, but of will; and with the will once trembling obediently on the verge of action, all needed resource of power is at its instant service.—C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.
Mark 3:6. The working of three determined and most mischievous powers.—
1. The power of prejudice.
2. The power of technicality.
3. The power of ignorance. Prejudice as against Christ: technicality as opposed to humanity: ignorance as forgetful of the fact that in morals as well as in physics the greater includes the less. Sabbath-keeping is less than man-healing.—J. Parker, D. D.
The madness of enmity.—
1. It thinks that it can destroy Jesus.
2. It does not see how deeply it condemns itself.—J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3
Mark 3:2. The world watches Christians.—“Now lads,” said the late Duncan Matheson, the Scottish evangelist, to a lot of boys who had been converted at his meetings, “the people here are not in the habit of reading their Bible to learn what God says to them, but I’ll tell you what they’ll read. They’ll read your lives and ways very carefully to see if you are really what you profess to be. And mind you this, if they find your lives to be inconsistent with your profession, the devil will give them this for an excuse in rejecting Christ.” Very true indeed are these words. Would that we could lay them more constantly to heart! The life of the professing Christian is the only book of evidences that many people ever read in reference to Christianity. The Christian professor’s life is thus the world’s Bible. When there are inconsistencies and flaws in it, then the world makes these a plea against religion. Let us remember that the world’s eyes are upon us. Let us keep our book of evidences clear and pure.
Mark 3:5. Anger checks wrongdoing.—It might at first appear well for mankind if the bee were without its sting; but upon recollection it will be found that the little animal would then have too many rivals in sharing its labours. A hundred other lazy animals, fond of honey and hating labour, would intrude upon the sweets of the hive, and the treasure would be carried off for want of armed guardians to protect it. And it might at first appear well for mankind if the principle of anger were not a part of our constitution. But then we should be overrun with rogues. The presence of anger, always ready to start forth when an injury is done or intended, has the effect of suppressing much gross impudence and intolerable oppression. The sting of noble anger applied to a dastard who has bullied the weak or injured the unoffending has a most salutary influence in restraining him for the future, and in warning his fraternity of the like punishment which is all ready for them. But man should control his anger as the bee does her sting. It is not to be perpetually projected on every possible occasion, but to be used only when impertinence, laziness, injustice, or fraud requires.—Scientific Illustrations.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 3:7. Mark several times notes the Saviour’s seasons of retirement from public notice, either (as in this instance) to escape the pursuit of enemies, or for rest, or to pray, or for conference with His disciples. See Mark 6:31; Mark 6:46, Mark 7:24, Mark 9:2, Mark 14:32-35.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 3:7-12
(PARALLEL: Matthew 12:15-21.)
Christ and His disciples.—While Pharisees and Herodians are hatching their plots against Him in Capernaum or the neighbouring Sepphoris, Jesus withdraws with His disciples to the purer atmosphere on the borders of the Galilean Lake. “It is His first retreat before opposition; and careful readers of the Gospels must observe that whenever the pressure of His enemies became extreme, He turned for safety to the simple fishermen, among whom they had no party, since they had preached no gospel to the poor, and that He was frequently conveyed by water from point to point, easily reached by followers, who sometimes indeed outran Him upon foot, but where treason had to begin its wiles afresh.”
I. The popularity of Jesus.—
1. Though rejected by the leaders both in Church and State, people flock to Him from all quarters: from North (“Tyre and Sidon”), South (“Judea,” “Jerusalem,” “Idumea”), East (“beyond Jordan”), and West (“Galilee”). “Even the Gentiles were beginning to rejoice in Him. In this following multitude we see a prophecy of the great truth that He should draw all men unto Him. There is that about Jesus which compels attention, and causes men to seek after Him. He is the real magnet of men.”
2. The motives of those who followed Him were doubtless very mixed. Many came out of sheer curiosity to witness His miracles; others were attracted by self-interest, hoping that they or their friends would participate in the blessings flowing from Him; but some few, we may hope, were drawn by higher considerations—because His teaching had found an echo in their hearts, and they thirsted for deeper draughts of the water of life.
II. The adaptability of Jesus.—He is equally at home everywhere, and never at a loss for expedients to meet exceptional circumstances. It is all one to Him whether He preaches from a ship or in the synagogue, so long as the great work of His ministry is not retarded. It would have been better for the Church in days not long gone by if she had shown more elasticity and adaptability to the needs of the times, if she had striven rather for unity of faith than for uniformity of practice.
III. Demoniac testimony refused by Jesus.—
1. He would not have men believe on Him on the testimony of evil spirits, but on that of God in Scripture, by His own words and works, and by the Spirit revealing this knowledge from the Father (Matthew 16:17; John 14:11).
2. The time had not yet come for a full revelation of Himself, even to His most intimate friends. Nothing is more noticeable in our Lord’s teaching than that Divine reserve by which the truth is kept in abeyance until men are ready to receive it. “This action of His may teach His followers to be discreet. Falsehood indeed is always evil, but at times reticence is a duty, because certain truths are a medicine too powerful for some stages of spiritual disease. The strong sun which ripens the grain in autumn would burn up the tender germs of spring.”
1. Christian effort, if rejected by some, will find acceptance from others.
2. No service, however trivial, is disdained by Christ, if the heart be pure.
3. How sad that, while unclean spirits acknowledge the supremacy of Christ, men deny and blaspheme His name.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 3:7. Jesus did not court martyrdom.—He had one great purpose in view, and He faced His enemies or withdrew from them, according as He could best accomplish His work. He was not afraid to go away, nor afraid to remain if need be. In many cases it is better quietly to withdraw from a hostile crowd, and do one’s work elsewhere.—F. N. Peloubet, D. D.
Mark 3:8. Crowds are not proofs but means of success.—The fame of the teaching and the miracles of Jesus brought great multitudes within reach of His influence. He could not go to them all, but they could come to Him. There is a legitimate popularity from earnest words and noble deeds.—Ibid.
How did Christ exercise His influence over great throngs?—
1. He never lowered the moral tone of His teaching.
2. He was never unequal to the increasing demands made upon His power.
3. He never requested the multitude to help Him in any selfish endeavours.—J. Parker, D. D.
Power of the gospel.—
1. No subject can draw such great multitudes as the gospel.
2. No subject can so deeply affect great multitudes as the gospel.
3. No subject can so profoundly and lastingly bless great multitudes as the gospel.—Ibid.
Mark 3:9. Christ nearer by removal.—This putting off from the shore and separating Himself from the crowd suggests to us a larger fact in the life of Jesus. He has gone away from the earth now to heaven, but He did so that He might the better save us. We know that in a vast throng only a few could even see Him, much less get at Him to touch Him. So we cannot help thinking how disadvantageous it would be for us had Jesus remained on the earth. How many of the poor, plague-stricken men of earth could have gone to Him, or rather how few could have gone to Him! But now that He is removed from the earth to heaven, He is where we may all see Him by faith, even from the ends of the earth, and “His word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart,” and all who hear His words and believe on Him are saved. In fact, just as Jesus was practically nearer to the multitude, both for sight and hearing, in that little boat than on land, so He is nearer to us now than if He had remained on earth—as near to the man in China, in India, or Africa as to us; and “all who call upon Him” are heard and saved.—G. F. Pentecost, D. D.
Mark 3:10. These miracles—
1. Illustrate and express in visible, tangible forms the lovingkindness of God, His goodwill toward men, His desire for their happiness, and His care to make them free from every evil.
2. The blessed effects of Christ’s mission proved it to be Divine. And to-day, as in those days, the convincing proof of Christianity is found in its beneficent effects. It makes everybody better who accepts it. The drunkard becomes sober, the selfish becomes generous, the vile becomes pure. Schools, colleges, education, hospitals, missions, all forms of benevolence, spring up wherever Christ is believed. Wherever there is the most Christianity, there is the most of all the things that raise and bless men. The map of the world is the proof of the Christian religion.
3. They manifest the power and presence of God in nature, and in His daily providence. Wherever any one act shews God’s presence, He is wholly present with all His power and all His love.—F. N. Peloubet, D. D.
Mark 3:11-12. The testimony of the demons.—The publication of Jesus’ real character and office by demons’ lips was only an act of spite. Their intention was to force on the antagonism between truth and error, between holiness and sin, and prematurely to bring this Divine history to a tragic close. Therefore Jesus declined this testimony. By the force of His mighty will He silenced these evil spirits; and hereby He demonstrates that it is possible to crush all hostility—human or Satanic—by the exercise of superior power. But His wisdom has discovered a more excellent way. The will which Divine power has created, Divine power can destroy. Better that Christ should not be made known than that He should be made known by unclean spirits. To be a true servant or preacher of Christ I must be clean.—J. D. Davies.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3
Mark 3:9. Waiting is a harder duty than doing.—In a certain battle a detachment of cavalry was kept inactive. It was hard for the men to do nothing but wait, while the fight was going on before them. At last, in the crisis of the battle, the command was given them to charge, and that body of fresh men, sweeping down like a torrent, turned the tide of battle. So, in the battle of life, waiting is often the surest means to victory. And it is comforting to know that where we see only the unsightly bud, God sees the perfect flower; where we see the rough pebble He sees the flashing diamond. Patient waiting and patient doing have at last their reward. The traveller who has patiently toiled up the weary passes of the Alps looks down at last with triumph on glorious Italy. Those who have sat by the bedside of a sick friend by night will know how gladly they welcomed the morning. The laurel crown which the victor at Olympia received was in itself of little value; it was prized as a sign of the victory that had come through hard strife. There is a great battle going on in the world—the strife between good and evil. In that strife we are engaged; and the harder the battle is, the sweeter will be the victory. During the battle of Waterloo, Wellington, it is said, took out his watch, and said, “I can hold out for so long. Blucher will be here within an hour, so victory is sure.” The Christian can in like manner dismiss all fear as to the result of the conflict in which he is engaged. Though the conflict be sore, though the sword pierce the soul, he knows that the Captain of salvation will not fail him.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 3:14. Ordained.—Made, or set apart. The twelve were now singled out for closer attendance upon Him, and special instruction in His method of work. Their solemn “ordination” came afterwards (John 20:21-22). Twelve.—“The number twelve symbolises perfection and universality. Three indicates what is Divine; four, created things. Three multiplied by four gives twelve, the number of those who were to go forth as apostles into the four quarters of the world—called to the faith of the Holy Trinity.”
Mark 3:17 Boanerger.—It is uncertain whether each of them bore the name “Son of thunder,” or whether “Boanerges” was a dual name given to the pair, as the name “Dioscuri” was given to Castor and Pollux. It is also uncertain why the brothers were thus named; but we may bq sure it was not in any case intended as a term of reproach. Perhap it was suggested by some peculiarity in voice or manner of delivery which arrested attention and lent conviction to their preaching.
Mark 3:18. Simon the Canaanite.—Cananite, or Cananæan. An Aramaic word, signifying zealot. See Matthew 10:4; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13. Jerome says that his name preserves a reference to the place of his birth (Cana) as well as to his zeal. “No name is more striking in the list than that of Simon the Zealot, for to none of the twelve could the contrast be so vivid between their former and their new position. What revolution of thought and heart could be greater than that which had thus changed into a follower of Jesus one of the fierce war-party of the day, which looked on the presence of Rome in the Holy Land as treason against the majesty of Jehovah, a party fanatical in their Jewish strictures and exclusiveness?”
Mark 3:19. Betrayed.—Delivered, or surrendered. Same word used in Romans 8:32 of the Father’s surrender of the Son, whom He “delivered” into the power of men, in order that He might “deliver” mankind from the power of Satan.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 3:13-19
(PARALLELS: Matthew 10:1-8; Luke 6:12-16.)
Choice and commission of the twelve.—It is recorded of Israel’s first king, while still in the zenith of his royal estate, that when he saw any strong man or any valiant man he took him unto himself, and thus recruited the ranks of the Lord’s host (1 Samuel 14:52). So here does the true King of Israel and of all men call to Himself twelve choice spirits—the best material to be found in His band of followers—in order that they may be trained under His personal supervision in the true principles of spiritual warfare, and form the nucleus of the heavenly kingdom which He has come to set up on earth. “The appointment of the twelve apostles was in an especial sense an act which marked the inauguration of that kingdom, an act by which our Lord represented the assumption of the powers which belonged to Him as the true Sovereign of the theocracy, for which all the institutions of Judaism were understood by the people of Israel themselves to have been but preparatory.” As at other critical times in His ministry, so now, the Pattern Man consecrates Himself to this great work by prayer (Luke 5:12). He also directs the whole body of the disciples to pray the Lord of the Harvest that He would send forth labourers into His harvest (Matthew 9:38); and ever since, from the ordination of Matthias to the present time, the Church has sought the special guidance of the Holy Spirit, by prayer and fasting, before proceeding to the laying on of hands.
I. The choice of the twelve.—The ministry in the apostles derived its origin and commission, not from the. Church or from the people, but from Christ. It was in the power of Christ to have called all His people together, and bid them choose their future rulers from amongst themselves; but He did not do so—they were chosen by Christ alone, who Himself designated them, and afterwards breathed upon them when He ordained them with full apostolic power. And when it pleased Christ to raise up two other apostles, it was by the Holy Ghost saying, “Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them”; and the latter expressly disclaims any commission from the people (Galatians 1:1).
II. The men chosen.—
1. The most noticeable thing is the disproportion between their natural abilities and the work they were set to do. All other great leaders of thought have striven first to secure the adherence of men “whose vigorous character or commanding position would give them a certain influence over the men of their time.” It was not so with Christ. “The channels through which His influence was to be conveyed were such as could contribute nought to its fulness; the fibres along which the electric current of His own impulsive energy was to run were to be simply passive in the transmission.” Passing by the courtier and the soldier, the noble and the sage, He selected His first ministers from classes not indeed oppressed by want, but lowly and unsophisticated and of little account in the world’s eyes.
2. Yet among the twelve, all drawn from the lower ranks of society, there was evidently great diversity of character. Each was a man of marked individuality. Notes on their personal characteristics will be found in the Outlines and Comments on the Verses
III. Their commission.—
1. “That they should be with Him”—observing His demeanour, and His manner of conveying instruction both by word and act; treasuring up in their minds the heavenly principles by which He was ever actuated; drinking in, little by little, some portion of the Divine Spirit which was given to Him without measure.
2. “That He might send them forth to preach”—to proclaim to all, high and low, rich and poor, the glad tidings of salvation through faith in Him.
3. “To have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out demons”—thus carrying on the war begun by Him against the devil and all his works, a war in which “there is no discharge” until the kingdom of darkness is utterly destroyed, and the kingdom of God and of His Christ is universally established in its place.
Mark 3:14. Unrecorded workers and heroes.—Half of these twelve are never heard of again as doing any work for Christ.
I. This peculiar and unexpected silence suggests the true worker in the Church’s progress—not man, but Christ.—Men are nothing except as instruments and organs of God. He is all.
1. How this should deliver us from all over-estimate of men, to which our human affections and our feeble faith tempt us so sorely!
2. What confidence it ought to give us as we think of the tasks and fortunes of the Church! One man with Christ to back him is always in the majority.
II. This silence of Scripture as to so many of the apostles may be taken as suggesting what the real work of these delegated workers was.—The one thing that must be found in an apostle was that he should have been in familiar intercourse with Christ during His earthly life, both before and after His resurrection, in order that he might be able to say, “I knew Him well; I know that He died; I know that He rose again; I saw Him go up to heaven.” For such a work there was no need for men of commanding power. Plain, simple, honest men who had the requisite eyewitness were sufficient. The sharpest weapon which any can wield for Christ is the simple adducing of his own personal experience. Christ is the true worker, and all our work is but to proclaim Him, and what He has done and is doing for ourselves and for all men.
III. We may gather the lesson of how often faithful work is unrecorded and forgotten.—
1. For most of us, our service has to be unnoticed and unknown. The earnestness and the accuracy with which we strike our blow are all important; but it matters nothing how far it echoes.
2. The magnitude of our work in men’s eyes is as little important as the noise of it. Were the Peters and the Johns more highly favoured than the others? Was their work greater in His sight? Not so. To Him all service done from the same motive is the same, and His measure of excellence is quantity of love and spiritual force in our deeds, not the width of the area over which they spread.
3. All service done for the same motive in the same force is of the same worth in His eyes. “Small service is true service while it lasts.”
IV. Forgotten work is remembered, and unrecorded names are recorded above.—
1. The forgotten work and workers are remembered by Christ.
2. The forgotten and unrecorded work lives, too, in the great whole. The fruit of our labour may perhaps not be separable from that of others, any more than the sowers can go into the reaped harvest-field and identify the gathered ears which have sprung from the seed that they sowed, but it is there all the same; and whosoever may be unable to pick out each man’s share in the blessed total outcome, the Lord of the Harvest knows, and His accurate proportionment of individual reward to individual service will not mar the companionship in the general gladness, when “he that soweth and he that reapeth shall rejoice together.”
3. The forgotten work will live, too, in the blessed results to the doers. Habits are formed, emotions deepened, principles confirmed, capacities enlarged, by every deed done for Christ, which make an over-measure of reward here, and in their perfect form hereafter are heaven. Nothing done for Him is ever wasted. “Thou shalt find it after many days.”—A. Maclaren, D.D.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 3:13-14. Christ’s call and man’s response.—
I. Christ’s call here is—
1. Addressed to those whom He has already tested.
2. A call to higher service and heavier responsibility. Hitherto they have been learners; henceforth they are to be teachers and healers as well.
II. Those called responded—
1. Of their own free will. The only constraint Christ ever uses is that of love.
2. Promptly. They answer to their names like soldiers at roll-call—only waiting for orders—ready to do or die.
3. Openly. Secret discipleship, besides being cowardly and mean, thwarts the very object Christ has in view—which is, the transformation of mere followers into apostles, the conversion of the world by the instrumentality of men.
Apostleship from discipleship.—Out of the heart of the discipleship came the apostleship.
1. Disciple means learner. The idea rests entirely between two persons, the teacher and the scholar. It involves nothing but the receiving of knowledge by some one docile mind. But apostle means missionary. Its idea is utterance or sending forth. What the disciple has drunk into his own satisfied soul, the apostle is to carry abroad, wherever there are men to hear it. When, then, Jesus turned His disciples into apostles, you see what an event it was. It was really the flowering of that gospel which He had been pouring into them through all their discipleship. The plant fills itself with the richness of the earth. No noise is made. The whole transaction lies between the plant and the rich earth that feeds it through its open roots. All is silent, private, restricted. But some day the world looks, and, lo! the process has burst open. Upon the long-fed plant is burning a gorgeous flower for the world to see. The earth has sent its richness through the plant to enlighten and to bless the world. The disciple has turned to an apostle.
2. Notice, when Jesus took this great step forward, He did not leave behind His old life with His disciples. He chose out of the number of His disciples twelve, whom also He named apostles. They were to be disciples still. They did not cease to be learners when He made them missionaries. The plant does not cease to feed itself out of the ground when it opens its glorious flowers for the world to see. All the more it needs supply, now that it has fulfilled its life. And so this great epoch in the Christian Church was an addition, not a substitution.
3. It is out of the very heart of the discipleship that the apostleship proceeds. It is the very best, the choicest, as we say, of the disciples that are chosen to be apostles. Always it is the best of the inward life of anything, that which lies the closest to its heart and is the fullest of its spirit, which flowers into the outward impulse which comes to complete its life. It is the most truly thorough learning which by-and-by begins to be dissatisfied with its own learned luxury, and to desire that all men should have the chance of knowledge. It is the most true refinement that believes in the possible refinement even of the coarsest man. The heart of any good thing is catholic and expansive. It longs to give itself away, and believes in the capacity of all men to receive it.—Bishop Phillips Brooks.
Mark 3:14-15. Christian privilege and power.—
I. The Christian’s privilege—
1. To preach, filling Christ’s place, doing Christ’s work, obeying Christ’s word.
2. The subject of this preaching. Proclaiming the advent of God’s kingdom on earth.
II. The Christian’s power—
1. In the manifestation of Christian sympathy for the afflicted.
2. In the uplifting of earnest prayer and supplication for the souls of men.
3. In the possession and disposal of his substance to compass both these objects, and exhibit by his works his faith.
The best endowment.—We need not regret that we have not the power to work miracles: we have something better. We have the living, life-giving Word of God. We have the promise of the Spirit; and by the Word and the Spirit moral miracles are being wrought every day. Preach and pray; plant and water: God will give the increase.
Sufficient equipment for every emergency.—At first the apostles had a smaller gospel (they had not got the Cross to preach) and a larger power of miracles; afterwards less miracles, but more gospel; but always a sufficient equipment. You have not to make bricks without straw; Christ gives you “power” for every duty.—R. Glover.
Mark 3:15. From temporal to spiritual.—How is it that the common-sense view of Christian Missions, on the principle of acting first on men’s secondary motives by relieving their temporal distresses, and as that principle is sanctioned by the practice of Christ and His apostles, has so much been lost sight of in the foreign operations of our Church? Of all human qualifications for a missionary’s Divine work, I should say that the knowledge of medicine was the most likely, under God’s blessing, to prove useful “to the furtherance of that gospel” which is the healing of men’s souls (Colossians 4:14; 2 Corinthians 8:18).—J. Ford.
Mark 3:16-19. The apostles.—
1. Points in which the apostles were alike.
(1) Social position: neither very poor nor very rich. Wealth, rank, high worldly position, are not necessary in order to employment and usefulness in the cause of God; and vice versâ.
(2) Mental attainments: neither very learned nor very ignorant. Scholarship, the very highest, may be consecrated to the service of Christ; but is not indispensable to Christian usefulness.
(3) Religious characters: in the main, sincere, yet defective.
(4) Business aptitudes. So far as we know, they were all called from real business life.
2. Points in which they were manifestly different. There was no one distinct mental type, and no one special mental characteristic is of exclusive or predominant importance for Christian service. All ministers are not of the same order of mind. Some are noted for the predominance of the imaginative; some of the logical; some of the metaphysical; some of the emotional; some, we might almost say, of the intuitional propensity or power. Souls are saved, instrumentally, by men as men, and not by men just as reasoners, scholars, poets, orators, etc.—G. J. Adeney.
The apostles were plain men who had not been perverted by the false philosophies, traditions, and morals of the day. They were mostly working men, business men, practical men, but of great variety of early training, and of business life. Some were poor; some were comparatively well off; some belonged to country villages, some to the city; several were fishermen; one was a publican, one a zealot. They were men of ability; there were great possibilities in them. Christ transformed common men into apostles, the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem, the leaders of the kingdom that was to transform the world. The charcoal was changed into diamonds. They were far from faultless, but the faults were flaws in a jewel, not the crudeness of the charcoal.—F. N. Peloubet, D.D.
Relationships among the apostles.—The difficulties connected with tracing the family descent or possible relationship between the apostles are so great that we must forego all hope of arriving at any certain conclusion. But these points seem clear. First, it appears that only the calling of those to the apostolate is related, which in some sense is typical, viz. that of Peter and Andrew, of James and John, of Philip and Bartholomew (Nathanael), and of Matthew the publican. Yet, secondly, there is something which attaches to each of the others. Thomas, called Didymus (“twin”), is closely connected with Matthew. James is expressly named as the son of Alphæus or Clopas. This we know to have been also the name of Matthew-Levi’s father. But, as the name was a common one, no inference can be drawn from it, and it does not seem likely that the father of Matthew was also that of James, Judas, and Simon, for these three seem to have been brothers. James is designated by St. Matthew as Lebbæus, from Lebh, a heart, and is also named Thaddæus, a term which we would derive from Thodah, praise. In that case both Lebbæus and Thaddæus would point to the heartiness and the thanksgiving of the apostle, and hence to his character. St. Luke simply designates him Judas of James, i.e. the brother (less probably, son) of James. Thus his real name would have been Judas Lebbæus, and his surname Thaddæus. Closely connected with these two is Simon, surnamed Zelotes or Cananæan, both terms indicating his original connection with the Galilean Zealot party. His position in the Apostolic Catalogue, and the testimony of Hegesippus (Euseb., H. E., iii. 11; iv. 22), seem to point him out as the son of Clopas, and brother of James, and of Judas Lebbæus. These three were, in a sense, cousins of Christ, since, according to Hegesippus, Clopas was the brother of Joseph, while the sons of Zebedee were real cousins, their mother Salome being a sister of the Virgin. Lastly, we have Judas Iscariot, or Ish Kerioth, “a man of Kerioth,” a town in Judah (Joshua 15:25). Thus the betrayer alone would be of Judean origin, the others all of Galilean; and this may throw light on not a little in his after-history.—A. Edersheim, D.D.
Three groups of apostles.—It can hardly be without significance that in all the apostolic lists they are divided into the same three groups.
1. In the first group we should naturally expect to find the men of the largest and strongest make—those whose capacity and force of character would fit them to lead the rest. And this expectation is justified. Peter and Andrew, James and John, are the natural leaders of the apostolic company. We might almost call them the Boanergic group, so marked and emphatic is the strain of passion in their service.
2. In the second group are the reflective men. Philip is the leader, and he was a man who would rather see than believe. They are excellent and thoughtful men, but they will not do much for the world apart from men of a more forward and adventurous spirit than their own.
3. The third we may call the Hebraistic or practical group.
(1) They held stoutly to the old Hebrew forms of truth and righteousness, and were at least as much Hebrew as Christian to the end.
(2) They were also men of practical gifts. This is especially seen in Judas—a man chosen to carry the bag because he was careful, prudent, busy, good at buying and selling, conversant with the world.—T. T. Lynch.
Mark 3:16. Simon, son of Jonas (Matthew 16:17; John 21:15-17), was surnamed Peter = a rock, by our Lord (Luke 6:14; John 1:42; Matthew 16:18 f.), was a fisherman by occupation (Matthew 4:18-19; Luke 5:3-12; Matthew 17:27; John 21:3); originally of Bethsaida (John 1:44; John 12:21), afterwards of Capernaum (Mark 1:21; Mark 1:29); a married man (Mark 1:30; 1 Corinthians 9:5); eager and impetuous, and with feelings easily roused (Luke 5:8; Matthew 14:28; Matthew 16:16; Matthew 26:33; Luke 22:61-62; John 13:6; John 13:9; John 13:37; John 21:7); one of the three with our Lord at the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:37), at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1; 2 Peter 1:16-19), and in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37). He denied our Lord with oaths and curses (Matthew 26:69-75), but was pardoned and restored (Mark 16:7; Luke 22:31-32; John 21:15-18); preached on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14; Acts 2:38); healed the lame man (Acts 3:4; Acts 3:6-7); spoke before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:8; Acts 4:19; Acts 5:29); reproved Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:3-4; Acts 5:8-9); was followed by multitudes (Acts 5:15-16); confirmed in Samaria (Acts 8:14; Acts 8:17); healed a man long sick (Acts 9:33-34); raised a dead woman to life (Acts 9:40-41); had a vision, declaring God’s will concerning the admission of the Gentiles (Acts 10:9; Acts 10:17); admitted Cornelius and his company into the Church (Acts 10:46-48); was reproved by St. Paul (Galatians 2:11-15). His death was foretold by our Lord (John 21:18-19), and he is said to have been crucified at Rome with his head downwards. He is known in Christian Art by the key or keys (Matthew 16:19).—W. F. Shaw.
Simon Peter.—In a Continental picture-gallery there are to be seen, side by side, the first and the last works of a great artist. The first is very crude and faulty; the last is a masterpiece. The contrast shows the result of long culture and practice. So in this verse we have two pictures. “Simon” shows us the rough fisherman of Galilee—ignorant, rash, blundering. “Peter” shows us the apostle in his Pentecostal strength—the courageous leader, powerful speaker, brave martyr. It is not hard, remarks an American writer, to take roses, lilies, fuchsias, and all the rarest flowers, and with them make forms of exquisite beauty; but to take weeds, dead grasses, dried leaves, trampled and torn, and faded flowers, and make lovely things out of such materials, is the severest test of skill. Yet that is what Christ is always doing. He takes the poorest stuff—despised and worthless, outcast of men ofttimes; and when He has finished His gracious work we behold a saint whiter than snow.
Mark 3:17. James and John, like Simon, were fishermen (Matthew 4:21-22; John 21:2-3), in somewhat better circumstances, possibly, than some of the apostles (Mark 1:20); surnamed Boanerges, or “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17), on account of their fiery zeal (Luke 9:52-55); were with our Blessed Lord at the house of Jairus, on the Mount of Transfiguration, in the Garden; were ambitious (Matthew 20:20-24), but did drink of Christ’s cup of suffering, and were baptised with His baptism of blood, James being a martyr in deed, John a martyr in will, James being the first of the apostles who was put to death for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s (Acts 12:2), John dying in extreme old age, the last of all the apostles, after having suffered persecution and exile to Patmos (Revelation 1:9), after having been cast into a cauldron of boiling oil and escaping unhurt, and after having drunk of a poisoned cup and felt no harm (cf. Mark 16:18). John lived on at Ephesus unto extreme old age, until men even began to say that he should not die (John 21:23), and until he was so feeble that he was obliged to be carried through the streets in a litter, when, as the Christians crowded round him to receive his blessing, his one constant word of exhortation to them was, “Little children, love one another.”—W. F. Shaw.
Mark 3:18. Andrew, one of the first two to follow Christ (the other was probably John), has been called “the usher” of the Apostolic College. It seems as if his strong point was a certain tact for bringing people together (John 1:42; John 6:8; John 12:22). Probably he was of an unobtrusive and a practical turn of mind, ready at all times to perform those little offices of kindness and love on which the happiness of life so much depends. He is said to have preached in Scythia and Sarmatia (i.e. Poland and Southern Russia), and to have suffered martyrdom by crucifixion at Patræ, in the north of the Peloponnese of Greece.
Philip was a sincere but timid seeker of the truth: one of those who can hardly walk alone in the world, and need the support and sympathy of a friend, in good report and evil report. The moment he has been found by Jesus, he goes and confers with a friend, and brings him to judge whether or no He be the Christ (John 1:45-46). He can hardly dare approach our Lord in behalf of some strangers without getting one of his brethren to go with him (John 12:22). It is said that he preached the gospel in Asia Minor more particularly, and suffered martyrdom at Hierapolis in Phrygia.
Bartholomew is generally supposed to have been the same person as Nathanael, who was a friend of Philip before they both became followers of Christ (John 1:45-46). St. John always couples Nathanael, as the other Evangelists do Bartholomew, with Philip; and while they never mention Nathanael, he never mentions Bartholomew, but speaks of Nathanael instead. He belonged to Cana of Galilee (John 21:2); was highly commended by Christ (John 1:47); and was one of the seven who saw the Lord by the Sea of Tiberias (John 21:1-2). He is said to have preached the gospel in Armenia, converted the Lycaonians, afterwards visited the extreme confines of India, and finally to have been flayed alive by order of Astyages, King of Armenia; for this reason he is represented in Christian Art with a flaying-knife, and often also as holding the gospel in his hands.
Obscure Christians.—Bartholomew was one of the obscure, unknown Christians. Yet these men make up the army of God. It is the aggregate of small things that makes life. It is the stream of pennies that fills the treasury of God. The numberless leaves make the forest; the innumerable sands bound the sea. Not brilliant efforts, but repeated efforts, carry on the world’s progress. Thread by thread the cloth is woven; rail by rail the bands of steel encircle the earth; brick by brick the city is built. The one-talented men, like Bartholomew, make the world and the Church. The important people are the privates rather than the generals, the machinists rather than the mechanics, the ploughmen rather than the agriculturists, the pioneers rather than the emigrant agents, the loomsmen rather than the overseers, the faithful men of mediocrity rather than the brilliant men of genius.
Matthew.—The choice of Matthew, the man of business, is chiefly explained by the nature of his Gospel, so explicit, orderly, and methodical, and, until it approaches the Crucifixion, so devoid of fire.—Dean Chadwick.
Thomas is mentioned four times in the Gospels, apart from the record in the lists of apostles. These notices show us—
1. His great love for Christ (John 11:16).
2. His inquiring spirit (John 14:5).
3. That he, like the rest, would not believe in the resurrection of Christ until he had actually seen Him (John 20:24-25).
4. That the sight of the Risen Lord not only restored his faith, but brought absolute conviction of Christ’s Godhead (John 20:28).
James the son of Alphæus or Clopas (John 19:25), and Mary the sister of the blessed Virgin Mary, hence called “the brother,” i.e. cousin of the Lord (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; Galatians 1:19), called also “the little” (Mark 15:40). We know little of him till after the Resurrection, when our Lord vouchsafed to appear specially to him (1 Corinthians 15:7), doubtless to instruct him in the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, and to the office of Bishop of Jerusalem, to which he was about to be chosen. For we find him occupying this position (cp. Acts 9:27, with Galatians 1:18-19; Acts 12:17; Acts 15:13; Acts 15:19; Galatians 2:9; Galatians 2:12; Acts 21:18), and indeed held in such esteem by the people of Jerusalem that he was called “James the Just.” He is the author of the Epistle which bears his name—was martyred by being cast down from the battlement of the Temple, stoned, and finally despatched with a fuller’s club, as he was praying for his murderers.—W. F. Shaw.
Mark 3:19. Judas.—In the life of Judas there was a mysterious impersonation of all the tendencies of godless Judaism, and his dreadful personality seems to express the whole movement of the nation which rejected Christ. We see this in the powerful attraction felt toward Messiah before His aims were understood, in the deadly estrangement and hostility which were kindled by the gentle and self-effacing ways of Jesus, in the treachery of Judas in the garden and the unscrupulous wiliness of the priests accusing Christ before the governor, in the fierce intensity of rage which turned his hands against himself and which destroyed the nation under Titus. Nay, the very sordidness which made a bargain for thirty pieces of silver has ever since been a part of the popular conception of the race. We are apt to think of a gross love of money as inconsistent with intense passion; but in Shylock, the compatriot of Judas, Shakespeare combines the two.—Dean Chadwick.
Judas among the twelve a sign of—
1. The all-endeavouring love of Christ.
2. The greatness of human depravity.
3. The dangers of the spiritual office (or of a mere external connexion with the Lord) without perfect fidelity in the spiritual life (an internal union with Him).
4. The aim and end of the Church—not a community of perfect saints, but of redeemed men.—J. P. Lange, D.D.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3
Mark 3:14. Preaching.—The more lax, the less laboured the style, the nearer it comes to colloquial language, the better. I am convinced that one of the things which make my ordinary sermons tell from the pulpit is this very circumstance—that I write precisely as I would talk, and that my sermons are as nearly as possible extemporaneous effusions.… When the Archdeacon and Mr. Watson say the sermon will (D.G.) do good, though not add to my character as an author, I hesitate not for one moment to publish: for what does my character signify? and how gladly would I sacrifice all its respectability as a writer, to do good to a single soul!—From a letter of Dean Hook.
Solemnity of preaching.—Dr. John Brown, speaking of a minister’s leaving his people for another pastorate, says that he mentally exclaims, “There they go! when next we meet it will be at the Judgment!”
Qualifications of a good preacher.—Ten qualifications are given of a good preacher by Luther. He should be able to preach plainly and in order. He should have a good head. Good power of speech; a good voice; and a good memory. He should be sure of what he means to say, and be ready to stake body and life, goods and glory, on its truth. He should know when to stop. He should study diligently, and suffer himself to be vexed and criticised by every one.
Mark 3:18. St. Matthew’s example led to one of the holiest lives recorded in the annals of the early Church. One of the most able and useful men in the North African Church was the Bishop Nulgertius. He had been a receiver of taxes, but one day it occurred to him, “May not I, like Matthew, become from a tax-gatherer a preacher of the gospel?” Accordingly he renounced his worldly employment, sought Holy Orders, and was ultimately a most useful bishop.
Mark 3:19. Judas an evidence to the worth of Christianity.—That which is most valuable and excellent in itself is most liable to be counterfeited. And it is no disparagement to a real diamond, a pure piece of gold, or a genuine bank-note, that they are liable to be imitated. We should act in the one case as we do in the other—be upon our guard against deception, learn to distinguish between the precious and the vile, and set a greater value upon that which we find pure and genuine.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 3:21. His friends.—His kinsfolk or near relatives. Beside Himself.—In an ecstatic state. They thought He was carried away by His zeal and devotion beyond all self-control.
Mark 3:22. Beelzebub.—Beelzebul, meaning either “lord of the dwelling,” or “lord of filth”—the title of a heathen deity, to whom the Jews ascribed lordship over evil spirits. “He hath Beelzebul” is equivalent to saying, “He is possessed not merely by a demon, but by Satan himself.”
Mark 3:27. Spoil his goods.—Snatch and carry off his vessels, or household treasures.
Mark 3:29. Hath never forgiveness.—Hath not forgiveness unto the age or æon of Messiah’s reign. In danger of eternal damnation.—In the grip of an age-long sin. None of the agencies employed by God for the conversion of sinners up to the time of the Second Advent are powerful enough to rescue such an one from the awful state to which he has reduced himself by his own deliberate choice. Here the Saviour leaves the matter, without revealing anything as to the man’s ultimate fate or the ministries of the future world.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 3:20-30
(PARALLELS: Matthew 12:22-37; Luke 11:14-23.)
Christ misunderstood and misrepresented.—The paragraph begins properly with the last clause of Mark 3:19 : “And they went into an house” [see R. V. for variations in reading and rendering]. Robert Stephens, who first divided the Bible into verses, began a verse with these words, as was right; but Beza set the fashion of adding them to Mark 3:19, which was unfortunately followed by the A.V. translators. They really begin the account of Christ’s fourth sojourn in Capernaum, some weeks after His selection of the apostles.
I. Misunderstood by friends.—They judged Him, observes Dean Chadwick, as men who profess to have learned the lesson of His life still judge, too often, all whose devotion carries them beyond the boundaries of convention and convenience. There is a curious betrayal of the popular estimate of this world and the world to come, in the honour paid to those who cast away life in battle, or sap it slowly in pursuit of wealth or honour, and the contempt expressed for those who compromise it on behalf of souls, for which Christ died. Whenever by exertion in any unselfish cause health is broken, or fortune impaired, or influential friends estranged, the follower of Christ is called an enthusiast, a fanatic, or a man of unsettled mind. He may take comfort from the thought that his Master was said to be beside Himself—and that, too, by His own friends—when zeal for God and love for souls kept Him too busy to think of bodily sustenance and rest.
II. Misrepresented by foes.—The scribes are quick to turn to their own advantage the admission of Christ’s friends that He is “beside Himself.” Unable to deny the reality, or the miraculous nature, of the cures He wrought (see Matthew 12:22), they insidiously suggest that while His own reason is dislodged Satan himself is in possession of its throne. As much as to say: “He is an incarnation of the Evil One, and by Satan’s own power He expels the subordinate demons.” No doubt that was possible. If Satan, at that particular period, was permitted to exercise, through his emissaries, a certain power over men’s bodies and minds, it is reasonable to suppose that he might still retain authority over those emissaries, and be able to recall them at any time he chose. The only question is, Would he be likely to do so? Would such a policy serve his purpose? To the elucidation of this problem Christ addresses Himself.
III. The scribes triumphantly confuted.—Whether the powers of darkness, presided over by Satan, be compared to a “kingdom,” from the wide extent of their influence, and the completeness of their organisation; or to a “house,” from the closeness of their intimacy, and the identity of their interests,—in either case division is fatal to them—subversive of their design, and destructive of their power. The kingdom is brought to desolation, the house falls to pieces, by the mutual jealousies and aggressions of their component members. Such would be the effect of Satan casting out Satan—of the chief of the devils co-operating with one who went about dispossessing and healing his victims. The conclusion was inevitable: that not Beelzebub, but God, was with Him who did these things; that the kingdom of Satan was being brought to nought, not by internal dissensions, but by external force—by the supervening of a stronger influence and more powerful Monarch.
IV. The true state of the case explained.—Still speaking under the veil of parable or allegory, Christ now draws a picture of a strong man living in the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. The illustration reminds us of the turbulent times of our own country a few centuries ago, when the knights and barons with their retainers, each in his stronghold, maintained an armed neutrality against all comers. But peace which is merely preserved by strength is liable at any moment to be disturbed and overthrown by greater strength. So here: the strong man is bound, his house invaded and plundered. In attempting to expound the inner meaning of this, it may be well to include the further details added in Luke 11:21; Luke 22:1. The “strong man armed” is Beelzebub or Satan: strong by natural endowments, a powerful spirit, who had already even dared to defy the Most High; strong also in “his armour wherein he trusted,” to enable him still to wage war, and after each defeat to reappear, if possible, stronger than before.
2. By “his armour” we may understand his agents, other wicked spirits, who, like himself, kept not their first estate; but, not being so strong and ambitious as he, naturally fell into a sort of dependence on him.
3. With the aid of these his active instruments Satan is enabled to “keep his palace,” i.e. to maintain his dominion over the souls and bodies of those unhappy men who have once been “taken captive by him at his will.” Every sinner may truly be said to be “possessed with a demon,” and sometimes with more than one, as Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2) and the Gadarene (Mark 8:30). So some are possessed by many sins, “serving divers lusts and passions”—divers, as directed towards different objects, but all having a common source and parentage—all “of their father the devil,” and ever ready to “do the lusts of their father,” as well as to co-operate with and inflame each other.
4. And who is he who proves himself stronger than this strong man, able to bind him and spoil his house? Not one of the same kind, another passion, a stronger devil; but an antagonist in nature and principle, as well as in act. Such was He who spoke these words. His great mission was to “destroy the works of the devil”; and His nature was Divine (see Isaiah 49:24-25; Isaiah 63:5). Throughout His ministry Christ invariably acted as a Victor in His dealings with the demons: commanding them with authority; rebuking them; not suffering them to speak; permitting them, as an indulgence, to enter into the lower animals, and wreak their impotent spite on those who had no souls to be destroyed or saved. He also enabled His servants to do the same (Mark 3:15; Luke 10:17). And ever since, though Satan is still permitted to “go about seeking whom he may devour,” he has been restrained from exercising his power in the way of bodily possession; and with respect to the influence which he may still exert over the spiritual part of us, he finds that he has to deal with One stronger than himself—even with Him who, having grappled with and overcome him once for all upon the Cross, is ever ready to renew on behalf of every individual soul the battle that He then fought for the whole human race. By virtue of that victory we are now His “goods,” His lawful “spoil,” His purchased possession; and so long as we fight under His banner we are secure. Satan cannot lay a finger on the man who is alive to the responsibilities of his Christian calling, who is diligent in the use of the means of grace, who lives in the atmosphere of prayer, who “takes unto him the whole armour of God,” “and fights the good fight of faith.”
V. The scribes solemnly warned.—Christ has submitted His claim, in an argument full of sweet reasonableness and touching forbearance, to the better judgment of His foes; but now He declares, with solemn emphasis, as being in possession of the secrets of the Almighty, the principles upon which the world of spirits is administered. He asserts that sin has its scale, its climax. There are sins of instinct, and of passion, and of ignorance. Where there is little light to be guided by, there is little light to sin against. The next step is where there is deliberation before the sin is committed. The last and worse stage is where not only the deliberate judgment is gone against, but the attempt is made to deny the principle of judgment in the soul itself. The hands of the watch move backwards; the lamp flags with the very abundance of oil; the man’s soul dies. Over against the words, “Repent! Be ye forgiven!” stand these—“Irreclaimable! Unforgivable!” These scribes had now wrought themselves up to such a pitch of hatred against Jesus, that they were standing, as it were, on the very brink of the precipice; and in the extremity of His love the Saviour utters this tremendous warning, to keep them from taking the fatal plunge. [In the Homilies that follow, this difficult subject is discussed from various points of view.]
The sin against the Holy Ghost.—
I. The dignity of the person of the Holy Ghost.—This is implied in the assertion, that whoso speaketh against the Son of Man may be forgiven, while he that speaketh against the Holy Ghost cannot. The power of Deity was inherent in the Incarnate Saviour; and He told the Jews expressly that it was by the Spirit of God that He cast out devils. Had He been a created Intelligence, would our Saviour have spoken as He does in the text? Had the Holy Spirit been inferior, in essential dignity, to the Father and the Son, would He have been joined with them in one name in the sacred form of Christian baptism? And would the new creation, the spiritual resurrection in the sinner’s soul, have been ascribed to His sacred agency?
II. The nature and design of the Spirit’s influence.—The Pharisees had sufficient light to remove their errors; and they had conviction enough to lead to a change of heart; but unhappily they resisted both light and conviction: pride and sensuality combined to close their eyes, and led them to spurn the offered grace of the Holy Ghost. Their dreadful sin lay in the act of not being convinced, when a heavenly influence was offered them, and in the blasphemy of attributing the works of Christ to diabolical agency.
III. The precise nature, and the accompanying evidences of the sin against the Holy Ghost.—Some have imagined that the words of blasphemy to which our Saviour refers constitute the essence of the unpardonable sin. But words, considered abstractedly, possess no moral quality whatsoever: it is only as symbols or indices of the mind that our expressions are criminal or otherwise. Again—It has been supposed that the sin against the Holy Ghost was confined to the period of our Saviour’s miracles; and that when the direct evidence arising from these was withdrawn, this sin could no longer be committed. The reverse, however, of this would rather appear to be the case: for our Lord does not tell the Pharisees that they were already involved in the guilt and doom attaching to the commission of the unpardonable sin: He rather cautions them to beware of plunging themselves into so dreadful a situation. In order, then, to guide us in endeavouring to ascertain in what cases the sin against the Holy Ghost may have been committed, we may lay down the two following positions: first, that the sin itself is a wilful resistance offered to the Spirit’s invitations and influence; and, secondly, that its tendency is to shut up the soul in judicial hardness and final impenitence. Both these positions are recognised in Hebrews 6:4-6, a memorable passage, bearing, I apprehend, upon the subject.
1. The Spirit offers to draw men, but they will not follow Him: He repeats His friendly solicitations again and again; but sensual passions or earthly affections absorb the accents of His monitory voice, until at length it dies away and is heard no more! It is not, I apprehend, because a man is too slothful, or too negligent, or even, in a certain sense, too earthly-minded, that he is in danger of fatally sinning against the Holy Ghost. It is because he hates the renovating power of that Divine Agent. It is because he rebels against the reign of grace and holiness in the heart. It is because he cannot endure the unrivalled supremacy of a spiritual principle bearing down the carnal propensities of the soul, and bringing into subjection every thought to the obedience of Christ.
2. I now go on to remark on that judicial hardness and final impenitence, the latter of which invariably, and the former with few if any exceptions, follows the commission of it. There is only one way in which a sinner can effectually close the avenues of reconciliation against himself, and secure his place beforehand in the regions of eternal woe: that way is by putting himself out of the reach of repentance—by resisting the motions of the Spirit, till they are finally withdrawn—by tampering with conscience, till her energies are paralysed, and he sinks, under a load of unpardoned guilt, into a profound lethargy.
1. Every sin is fatal in its tendency. If you are grasping the wages of unrighteousness—if you are the slaves of lust or intemperance—if the world, with its winning allurements, is enthroned in your hearts—or, in short, if you are neglecting the great salvation of Christ,—you are in danger of perishing everlastingly. Let your self-examination, then, be general, and not confined to one point.
2. This subject is replete with salutary caution. Many judicious persons have supposed that a degree of obscurity is permitted to hang around it, in order to put Christians upon their guard, and to lead them to beware of everything which might appear, in the slightest degree, to savour of the unpardonable sin.
3. Lastly, I speak to you in the language of encouragement. The darkest clouds are sometimes tinged with a bright and beautiful radiance. The contemplation of a sin which is pronounced to be unpardonable is certainly solemn, peculiarly solemn; but still, when taken in its proper connexions, it needs to alarm none but the wilful and determined transgressor. On the contrary, the subject forms an occasion of exhibiting, in the strongest light, the rich and abounding mercy of God. It shews us an Almighty Sovereign holding out a sceptre of peace, till the revolting rebel will no longer deign even to cast a look upon it. It discloses to us a Parent pleading with His undutiful children, till His voice dies away in the distance of their determined and fatal wanderings. What inexpressible consolation, then, the subject, rightly understood, affords to every anxious inquirer after mercy!—Wm. Knight.
Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.—I. What the sin or blasphemy against the Holy Ghost means, and wherein precisely it consists.—I said sin or blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, because some call it the sin against the Holy Ghost, though Scripture itself never calls it anything else but blasphemy, which is worth the observing. It lies in words, is committed by speaking, and particularly by evil-speaking, by reviling and defaming the Holy Spirit of God. There may be, and there have been, several offences committed against the Holy Ghost which yet do not amount to the blasphemy against Him specified in the text. There is such a thing as grieving the Holy Spirit, and quenching the Spirit, when men refuse to hearken to His counsels, to follow His motions, or to obey His calls. But this is not blaspheming Him. There is also what St. Stephen calls resisting the Holy Ghost, which is opposing Him with a high hand and rebelling against Him, and is a very heinous sin; and yet neither is that the same with blaspheming and slandering Him, which is what those Pharisees were guilty of. Ananias and Sapphira grievously affronted the Holy Ghost in telling Him a lie, either presuming upon His ignorance as not knowing it, or upon His patience as if He should have connived at it. But yet that was not so bad as what the Pharisees did in ascribing His works to the devil. The malicious telling a lie of Him, to defame and slander Him, was a more heinous offence than the telling a lie to Him under a weak and foolish persuasion. There is also another way of affronting the Holy Ghost, by vilifying His operations, which yet comes not up to the sin of the text. Upon the day of Pentecost, when the disciples, full of the Holy Ghost, began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance, there were some standing by who mocking said, “These men are full of new wine,” vilifying the operations of the Spirit as the effects of drunkenness. But the men who said it, said it perhaps wantonly or ignorantly, rather than spitefully or maliciously. But the Pharisees who are charged with being guilty of blaspheming the Holy Ghost, they very well knew that what they had seen done could not be accounted for in a natural way; and yet such was their spleen and rage against the gospel, that they chose rather to impute the miracles of our Lord to the devil than to acknowledge the Divine hand, which was so visible in them that they themselves could not but see it, had they been at all disposed to it. I may here also mention Simon Magus as a person who very highly affronted the Holy Ghost, when he offered money for the purchasing His miraculous gifts. But neither was that any such direct blasphemy against the Holy Ghost as what the text mentions; for he had some respect and veneration for the miracles he saw wrought and for the author of them, and was very far from imputing them to the assistance of the devil. The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost was something worse still than anything I have yet mentioned: it was defaming the Holy Spirit of God, and God Himself, under the execrable name of Beelzebub; it was reviling, and that knowingly and desperately, the Divine works as diabolical operations.
II. The heinousness of that sin.—It was a most wicked and impudent lie and slander upon the Holy Spirit, and was flying, as it were, in the face of God. One would think, when God Himself interposes, giving the Divine signal in plain uncontested miracles, that it might become all men to be mute, and to lay aside their otherwise unconquerable rancour and prejudice. But the Pharisees were so resolute and so outrageous in reviling everything that gave any countenance to Christ and His gospel, that they would not spare even God Himself, but called Him Beelzebub, spitefully defaming His most Divine works as being nothing else but diabolical impostures. They saw the miracles of our Blessed Lord, and were very sensible that they were real and true miracles: they knew also that they were wrought in direct opposition to the devil and his kingdom, having all the fair appearances possible of being Divine: nor would they have scrupled to have received them as Divine, had they been wrought by any one else excepting Christ or His disciples. But such was their envenomed hatred and inveteracy against Him and His, that, at all adventures, contrary to all candour or equity, and in contradiction to reason and common sense, they resolved to say, however scarce to believe (for they hardly could be so stupid), that He was in league with the devil, and that all His mighty works which He wrought in the name of God were the works only of Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. There could not be a more insolent slander, or a more provoking outrage against the Divine Majesty, than this. It was sacrificing the honour of Almighty God, and both the present and future happines of men, to their own private humours and party passions; being resolved to take up with any wretched cavil, any improbable and self-contradictory lies and slanders against God, rather than permit the honest and well-meaning people to believe in Christ Jesus upon the brightest evidence of His miracles.
III. Whether any sins committed at this day are the same thing with it, or which of them come the nearest to it.—
1. For the sake of the overtender and scrupulous consciences, I would observe, that roving, and which some call blasphemous thoughts, which rise up accidentally, and as accidentally go off again, are nothing akin to the sin which I have been speaking of, which consisted in premeditated lies and slanders against God, formed with design to obstruct or darken the evidences of the true religion, and to prevent others from looking into them or being convinced by them.
2. Even the atheists or infidels of these times can scarce come up to the same degree of guilt with the Pharisees of old, because they have not seen the miracles of Christ with their own eyes. Rational and historical evidence may be as convincing as the other, when duly considered; but as it strikes not upon the senses, it does not awaken the attention, and alarm every passion of the soul, in such a degree as the other does. For which reason the unbelievers of our times, though abandoned and profligate men, are not altogether so blamable in the opposition they make to Christianity as the unbelievers of old time were. Nevertheless, it must be said, that the obstinate rejecting the miracles of our Lord and of His disciples (which have been so fully attested), and much more the ridiculing and bantering them, and the endeavouring to run them down by lies and slander, is a very high and heinous crime, as well as horrid blasphemy; especially if committed in a Christian country, and in a knowing age, and where men have all desirable opportunities of learning the truth, as well as the strongest motives offered for submitting to it.—Archdeacon Waterland.
Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.—I. The blasphemy of speaking against the Holy Ghost appears to have been the sin which those scribes and Pharisees committed; for St. Mark expressly tells us that our Lord pronounced these words, “because they said, He hath an unclean spirit”; and He Himself declared (Matthew 12:28) that He had “cast out the devil by the Spirit of God,” i.e. by the Holy Ghost; so that if He exercised the power of the Holy Ghost in this miracle which He wrought on the blind and dumb man, the scribes and the Pharisees, who spake against this miracle, by ascribing it to an unclean spirit, or to the prince of the devils, did most certainly blaspheme or speak against the Holy Ghost.
1. It was a wilful and presumptuous sin; for though those scribes and Pharisees had not seen the miracle wrought by our Blessed Lord, yet they allowed and acknowledged it to have been wrought by Him, and not withstanding this they perversely ascribed it to the power of Beelzebub.
2. It was committed against God Himself, whether we consider the Holy Ghost as one person in the Divine Trinity, or even if we consider the Spirit of God as that whereby God the Father acted in such wonderful operations (Matthew 12:28).
3. It consisted in despising the word of God, and rejecting His gracious message of peace and pardon to mankind: for this miracle was performed, and wrought in evidence of our Blessed Lord’s Divine mission, in proof that the doctrine which He taught was from God, and that He Himself was the Messias who was to appear amongst the Jews, and was to make an atonement for the sins of all such as believed in Him, and qualified themselves for pardon by faith and repentance.
II. Why, and in what sense, this sin hath never forgiveness.—
1. For the explaining of this aright let it be considered that our Saviour spake this to Jews, and therefore probably suited His expressions to their law, and to the opinions then prevailing among them. And we find that the law of Moses appointed sacrifices for legal defilements, and for sins of ignorance against God, and appointed sacrifices in some cases and penalties in others for wilful sins against men (Leviticus 4:5, , Leviticus 4:6); but for the greater sins against God, such as wilful and presumptuous ones, the sentence of death was pronounced by God against all offenders of this sort, and there was no sacrifice or other means by which the punishment incurred might be taken off or suspended (Numbers 15:30-31; Numbers 15:35; Leviticus 20:10). And this is the very thing which St. Paul means when he says to the Jews, that by Christ all that believe are justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses. Where he plainly asserts that under the Jewish law there were crimes which could not be atoned for and forgiven; and if not under the Jewish law, then not under natural religion, because the Jewish law had that and all its advantages included in it. As to the first sort of sins taken notice of by Moses in his body of laws, viz. those of ignorance committed against God, and those of wilfulness against men, when the sacrifices appointed in such cases are commanded to be offered by an offender, the usual phrase is, “The priest shall make an atonement for him, and it shall be forgiven him.” So that such sins might well be called pardonable ones, there being a method prescribed for the atonement of them. But as to the other sort, that of wilful and presumptuous sins against God, by which His word was despised, such sins were properly unpardonable ones, because the Jewish laws had provided no sacrifice by way of atonement for them. And that the unpardonableness of this heinous sort of sins against God depends upon their having no sacrifice appointed for them appears from Hebrews 10:28. Now, to bring these observations home to the case before us, the blaspheming or speaking against the Son of Man, or against the Holy Jesus, in His personal capacity, and as man only, might be forgiven to these scribes and Pharisees, because by the Jewish law a provision was made for its expiation. But the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, or the Spirit of God, when it was a presumptuous sin, as this of the scribes and Pharisees was, had no pardon under the Jewish law. God was reproached, and His word was despised, and therefore the soul that thus offended was to be cut off from among His people. Nor was there any pardon provided for it under the gospel dispensation, because, when they thus blasphemed the Holy Spirit of God, by which Christ wrought His miracles, the only means which could redeem the adversaries of the truth from the Divine vengeance was the merit of Christ’s death applied to them by faith; and that benefit they wholly excluded themselves from in the very act of their sinning, which consisted in their rejecting the evidence which the Spirit of God gave of Christ being the Messias and Saviour of mankind. This was, as things then stood with them, an unpardonable sin, either in this age, the age of the Jewish law, or in the age to come, that is, the age of the gospel. But were the gates of mercy for ever shut against these blasphemers of the Holy Ghost? Was the sentence here passed upon them unalterable and irreversible in all cases? No, surely: for, as Athanasius observes, “Our Blessed Lord does not say that it shall not be forgiven to him that blasphemeth and repenteth, but only to him that blasphemeth; and therefore He must have meant this of one that continued in a state of impenitence; for with God no sin is unpardonable.” If such blasphemers could repent of that their heinous sin, no doubt but they might be forgiven it under the Christian covenant: and who can say of any man that all means of repentance are cut off from him? Our Lord said in as strong words as these are, “Whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father”; and yet but a little while afterwards, when Peter denied Him before men three times, and in the most obstinate manner, Christ was so far from rejecting him, that upon his weeping bitterly and repenting he was continued even in his apostleship, and was ever after one of the leaders in that blessed work of propagating the Christian faith. And it is highly probable that some of the three thousand whom St. Peter at his first preaching converted to the Christian faith had thus blasphemed the Holy Ghost in our Saviour’s days; for he describes them as those who “knew the miracles and signs” which God wrought by His Son, and notwithstanding this “with wicked hands had crucified Him.” And yet he calls upon them to “repent and be baptised for the remission of their sins,” and even encourages them to hope that upon so doing they “should receive that Holy Ghost” whom they had so often blasphemed in our Saviour’s miracles. We are certain, likewise, that among those who reviled Christ while He was hanging upon the Cross there were scribes who said, “He saved others, Himself He cannot save”; thereby acknowledging that He had wrought miracles in healing diseases, this perhaps before us in particular, and yet denying that He could “save Himself,” and consequently denying that what He wrought was by a Divine power. And yet we find that our Saviour prayed even for these scribes, saying, “Father, forgive them.” And surely that sin of theirs was not unpardonable upon their repentance, when Christ with His dying breath prayed for their forgiveness.—Bishop Zachary Pearce.
The sin against the Holy Ghost.—I shall never forget the chill that struck into my childish heart so often as I heard of this mysterious sin which carried men, and for aught I knew might have carried even me, beyond all reach of pardon; or the wonder and perplexity with which I used to ask myself why, if this sin were possible—if, as the words of our Lord seem to imply, it was probable even and by no means infrequent—it was not clearly defined, so that we might at least know, and know beyond all doubt, whether it had been committed or had not.
I. The two phrases “this [present] age” and “the coming age,” which our Lord here adopts, were perfectly familiar to the Jews, and had a clear and definite meaning on their lips. “This present age,” or “the age that now is,” was the age in which they lived, with all its apparatus of religious teaching and worship, the age of the Law and the Temple; while “the coming age,” or “the age to come,” was that happier time of which the advent of the long-promised Messiah was to be the sign and the commencement, although it could not fully come until Jesus the Christ ascended into heaven and poured out His Spirit from on high. So that what He really affirmed was, that there is a sin which is just as unpardonable under the Christian dispensation as it was under the Mosaic dispensation.
II. But what is this sin for which, at least in the present world, there is no forgiveness, or no provision for forgiveness? It is that wilful and invincible ignorance which refuses to be taught, that love of darkness which refuses to admit the light even when the sun is shining in the sky. They saw the light, and knew that it was light; and yet they loved darkness more than light, because their deeds were evil. Like the servants in the parable, they said, “This is the Heir,” only to add, “Let us kill Him, that the inheritance may be ours”—ours, and not His. Jesus “knowing their thoughts,” knowing too the desperate moral condition from which their thoughts sprang, simply warned them that it was desperate. They were deliberately sinning against light, against conscience, against all that was true and right and good; in a word, they were “speaking against the Holy Ghost,” the Spirit of all truth and goodness; and so long as they did that there was no hope for them.
III. So far, then, from giving us a dark mystical saying in which our thoughts are lost, our Lord simply states a moral truism, as we might have inferred from the casual and unemphatic manner of His speech. And the truism is that, since salvation is necessarily of the will, if men will not be saved, they cannot be saved; if they will not yield to the Divine Spirit when it moves and stirs within them, they cannot be redeemed and renewed by that gracious Spirit. Under whatever dispensation they live, they are self-excluded from the kingdom of heaven, by the one sin which is therefore called an “eternal” or “æonial” sin.
IV. That this unpardonable sin might be pardoned, that it was the sin, and not the men who committed it, which could never be forgiven, is clear: for many of the Pharisees who had long resisted the Spirit of God in Christ—and be it remembered that even Saul of Tarsus had long “kicked against the goads” which urged him toward the kingdom—afterwards repented of their sin, received His words, believed His works, and were welcomed into the fellowship of the Church. And even of those who never knew an earthly repentance, and of their doom in “the world to come,” this passage says absolutely nothing. It leaves us to our own conjectures, our own hopes; and neither approves nor condemns those who trust that in the world to come even those who leave this world impenitent may be taught “even against their will, and by means of a larger experience, the lessons they would not learn here; and so be brought to confess their guilt and folly, and be taken at last—so as by fire—into the arms” of the Divine Compassion and Love.
V. But where lies our danger of committing this sin against the Holy Ghost, our need therefore of the warning that, so long as we persist in this sin, pardon and salvation are impossible to us? We fall into this sin, must be my reply, whenever we consciously and wilfully resist the Spirit of truth and goodness—whenever, i.e., we see a truth and do not accept it, because it cuts our prejudices against the grain—whenever we know what is good, and yet do it not, because we love some evil way too well to leave it. To speak against any form of truth or any form of goodness which we inwardly recognise as good and true, or even suspect to be true and good, is “to speak against the Holy Ghost”: and, be it remembered, “deeds speak louder than words.” In our religious life we sin against the Holy Ghost if, as we read the gospel, we learn that in Christ Jesus we have precisely such a Saviour from all sin and uncleanness as we need—if, as we read, I say, conscience leaps up in approval of what we read and urges us to accept the offered salvation, and we refuse to listen because we are too engrossed with the outward affairs of life, or too attached to some of the forms of sin from which Christ would save us to part with them yet, we commit the sin which cannot be pardoned, and from which we cannot be saved so long as we cleave to it. Or, again, if after we have accepted, or professed to accept, His salvation, we catch glimpses of new and higher truths, and shut our eyes against them because we do not want to be at the trouble of revising and recasting our theological formulas—or if we are inwardly called to new and difficult duties, and turn away from them because they would impose a strain upon us or a sacrifice which we are not willing to bear,—in thus sinning against conscience we sin against the Holy Ghost. Nor is there any one respect in which we refuse to recognise truth as true or duty as binding upon us, whether in the formation of our political views or the discharge of our political functions, or in the principles on which we conduct our business, or even in the spirit in which we conduct our literary or scientific investigations, in which we do not or may not fall into this very sin. For the Holy Spirit is the Spirit from whom all true thoughts and all forms of goodness do proceed. To close our eyes to any truth, to neglect any duty, is not only to shut that truth out of our minds, and not only to lower and impoverish the tone of our life; it is also to grieve and resist that pure and gracious Spirit by whom we are made one with the Father and the Son; it is to impair the very organ by which truth comes to us, and to cripple the very faculty by which we are enabled for all dutiful and noble enterprise.
VI. There is still, however, one difficulty which must be met, and which I meet the more cheerfully because it will give an opportunity of noticing what is peculiar in St. Mark’s report of this great saying, viz. the phrase, “Whosoever shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is guilty of eternal sin.” The difficulty I am told is this: “When we read of a sin that cannot be forgiven whether in the Mosaic age or the Christian, we naturally assume our Lord to mean that it cannot be forgiven even when it is repented of; for no sin can be forgiven men until they repent; and our Lord is here drawing a distinction between one sin and all others. What, then, can this distinction be but this: that, though all other sins may be forgiven when men repent of them, this sin cannot be forgiven, let them repent of it how they may?” But we may ask those who urge this objection: How do you know that there are no sins which God will not forgive men even before they repent, and even though they should never repent, at least in this present life? We may suggest that our Lord is here drawing a distinction between outward overt transgressions which may be forgiven us on, or even perhaps apart from, repentance, and the inward sinful principle which can never be forgiven, but must be renounced and cast out. What is the sin which our Lord Himself compares, or contrasts, with the unpardonable sin? It is the sin of speaking against Himself, the gracious Son of Man. It is to deny that there was any manifestation of God in the God manifest in the flesh; in more modern phraseology, it is to deny that there is anything Divine in the Christian dispensation and faith. That, alas! is a sin only too common in our own days. There are intelligent and learned men only too many, and men whom, judged by any other standard, we should all pronounce to be honest and good men, who deny that God has ever given any immediate revelation of His will to mankind, who even doubt both whether any such revelation be possible and whether there be any God to make it. They may have been blinded by intellectual prepossessions or an inherited bent of mind: but are we to blame blind men because they do not see, and to accuse them of a wilful rejection of the light that shines from heaven? And if we do not, will God? The fault may be ours, rather than theirs. We may have turned the very light into a darkness. We may so have misrepresented our Master to them, that, instead of seeing Him as He is, they may have seen only that imperfect and misleading image of Him which we have made in our own likeness. If a man has honestly doubted, if he has followed the inward light and been true to the inward voice, and he should die before discovering that Christ is other and better than he knew, that He is indeed the true light of every man and the very brightness of the Father’s glory—if, that is, he should never repent in this world of his sin in speaking against and rejecting the Son of Man,—will his sin never be forgiven him, or will it not, rather, never be counted against him, however heavily he may reckon it against himself? On the other hand, if a man has not been honest in his doubts and denials—if, besides sinning against the God without him who sought to reveal Himself to him, he has also sinned against the God within him; if when reason or conscience said, That is true and you ought to believe it, or, That is duty and you ought to do it, he has refused to accept the truth, or do the duty which he felt to be clothed with Divine sanctions; if he has consciously shut out the light and refused to walk in it; if, in the language of our passage, he has added the sin against the Holy Ghost to the sin against the Son of Man, and if he should leave the world without repenting of his sin,—how can we deny that he has put himself outside the pale of forgiveness by making forgiveness impossible? What may become of him in that other, future, world we cannot say, we are not told, though we are still allowed to cherish the hope that new moral forces may be brought to bear upon him and may take effect upon him; all we can be sure of is that so long as he deliberately shuts out the light, the light cannot reach him—that so long as he refuses to part with his sin, he cannot be saved from his sin.—S. Cox, D.D.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 3:20. The strain of constant publicity.—In the crowd there is no moderation. They can go to a pitch of enthusiasm in one direction, or of animosity in another; but in the presence of Christ they cannot act with calmness. Nothing is so wearing as the excitement of constant publicity. Unless quiet alternate with the excitement of great gatherings, the body wastes, the nerve frets, the mind is jaded, and the soul itself goes stale and flat. Popularity has, accordingly, often a cruel kindness, which claims untimely and exhausting service from him whom it flatters with its approbation.—R. Glover.
Mark 3:21. The taunts of unbelievers.—It is very hard for the Christian to bear the taunts of unbelievers. It is difficult to work bravely on, without the sympathy of one’s fellows; it requires great grace not utterly to lose heart, to bear being called a fanatic, to be sneered at and scorned. To human nature such treatment gives keenest pain; yet God’s grace is sufficient to triumph in us. When we are sorely tried, let us not think of the discouragements, but of Jesus, who bore a shame and obloquy for us far deeper than we can ever bear for Him.
Opposition from friends is very common in the career of reformers and of those who depart from the ordinary course. History is full of instances. It is very frequent, too, in the case of those who, in irreligious families or societies, seek to become Christians. (See Matthew 10:24; Matthew 10:35-37.) Here is a severe test. But the only way in which this world can be improved and saved is by that faith, and character, and truth which will do right, no matter who opposes. They who when “at Rome do as the Romans do” in matters of conscience, will never change Rome into the city of God.
1. Unable to follow the highest moods of the soul.
2. Unable to see the spiritual meaning of outward circumstances.
3. Seeking to interfere with spiritual usefulness.
4. Seeking to reduce life to commonplace order. The sincere servant of Jesus Christ will take his law from the Master and not from public opinion.—J. Parker, D.D.
The zealous spirit.—A zealous spirit is essential to eminent success in anything. Perhaps there is the more need to insist upon this because enthusiasm is out of fashion. It is bad form nowadays to admire anything very warmly. To be strenuously in earnest is almost vulgar. Especially is this so in regard to religion. “Our Joe is a very good young man,” said an old nurse the other day; “but he do go so mad on religion.” That was the fly in the ointment—which spoilt all. Did not Pope say long ago, “The worst of madness is a saint run mad”? And he only put in terse and pithy speech what other people say more clumsily.
1. And yet how can one be a Christian without being an enthusiast? Indifferent, half-hearted Christians are not true Christians at all. The author of Ecce Homo cannot be said to exaggerate in his declaration that “Christianity is an enthusiasm, or it is nothing.”
2. And what good work has ever been wrought without enthusiasm? Said a great preacher: “If you want to drive a pointed piece of iron through a thick board, the surest way is to heat your skewer. It is always easier to burn our way than to bore it.” Only “a soul all flame” is likely to accomplish much in the teeth of the difficulties which beset every lofty enterprise.—G. H. James.
Mark 3:22. Zeal in opposing Christ.—These scribes came all the way from Jerusalem to oppose Christ. Had there been as much earnestness in propagating the truth as there has been in trying to check it, the whole world might by this time have been regenerated.
Satan versus Satan.—Would God that we might hear of strife and contentions in the ranks of the kingdom of darkness! If the public-house keepers might rise up against the gamblers; if thieves and swindlers might but take each other by the throat; if the managers of the horse-races might but begin to make war upon the organisers of the lottery schemes; if drunkards and seducers would but fall out; if only Satan might fight against Satan, and his kingdom fall into bitter, relentless, and uncompromising internecine strife, asking and giving no quarter,—then would it be a good day for this poor devil-ridden world. But no such good thing as this is happening, or ever will happen.—G. F. Pentecost, D.D.
1. Every argument of truth and evidence of Divinity can be explained away, if only you are bad enough to do it.
2. Falsehood, if indulged, may lead you to lie in the most sacred matters, and utter the most depraved blasphemy.
3. Man has ultimately only the single alternative—to be devout or superstitious; you must be a believer in God, or in a devil.
4. There is no knave who is not a fool; for if he were not a fool, he would not be a knave.—R. Glover.
Mark 3:23. Christ’s question.—Jesus has questions to ask as well as His opponents. Too much attention is given to the answering of questions. We listen to the “How?” and the “Why?” of the sceptic; but are we alive to the advantage that we should gain if we were to propose questions for ourselves?
Mark 3:28-29. Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.—Blasphemy, that is, speaking against. But thought is speech to God. “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter,” says Keats. Heard blasphemy is bitter: is unheard blasphemy less bitter to the ear of the Holy One? And speech is deed. Therefore, “by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit does not demand audible speech. At the very time Christ used this unparalleled language, He was replying to the inaudible speech of the Pharisees: “Knowing their thoughts, He said unto them.” So the essential thing is not in the speech, but in the object of it. “No man can do these miracles except God be with him”—that was the witness of the truth they knew. “He casteth out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils”—that was the lie to their own sense of right. And it was because of that deliberate lie against the light within them that Jesus told them of the sin that hath never forgiveness. Since the departure of Jesus from the earth, the Holy Spirit has been to men the inner light. Magnificent gift! Momentous responsibility! He takes the place of it within us. We no longer obey it, resist it, quench it: we obey, resist, quench Him. He is the Advocate, come to plead the cause of right within us, the cause of righteousness and judgment against us. He convicts the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment.—Expository Times.
Mark 3:29. The soul incapacitated for repentance.—Strength, Purity, Light, Life, and Love,—are not these the foundation pillars of the throne of God? And these are the words under which the nature and work of the Holy Ghost are revealed to us. Now suppose a man by an act of deliberate and conscious choice renounces this God of Holiness, this Spirit of Light, and Life, and Love,—saying, “These are things that I hate. Death and corruption are better than the life of God. His love I trample on and despise.” Imagine a man speaking to himself after this fashion, and proceeding to shape his life accordingly. Would not that be a kind of blasphemy which might well incapacitate the soul for repentance, and so, as a necessary consequence, for forgiveness?—W. R. Huntington, D.D.
The man who blasphemes against the God within him—who calls that right which he knows and feels to be wrong, and who, knowing the good, deliberately says to evil, “Be thou my good,”—is not to be forgiven in this age. No, verily: for this age has brought him all that it has to bring, and he has rejected it: the most penetrating and intimate ministries of Divine Grace have been vouchsafed him, and he has resisted them: let him feel the judgments of this age, since he will not accept its choicest gifts; let him pass out of this age only to enter into the discipline of the next: and as he suffers these æonial judgments, let him consider and reconsider himself, lest he also lose the ages beyond.—S. Cox, D.D.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3
Mark 3:21. The world’s estimate of Christian zeal. The Rev. Rowland Hill, on one occasion, strained his voice, raising it to the highest pitch, in order to warn some persons of impending danger, and so rescued them from peril. For this he was warmly applauded. But when he elevated his voice to a similar pitch in warning sinners of the error and evil of their ways, and in order to save their souls from a still greater peril, the same friends who before had praised him now pronounced him fool and fanatic.
Zeal.—When some one expostulated with Duncan Matheson, the evangelist, that he was killing himself with his labours, and ought to have rest, he replied, “I cannot rest whilst souls are being lost: there is all eternity in which to rest after life is done.”
Earnestness in work.—Soon after Dr. John Morison’s ordination, a neighbouring minister called on him, and said, “You are doing too much; you must take care that you do not overwork yourself.” “Depend upon it,” replied Morison, “the lazy minister dies first.” Six months later he was called to the death-bed of this same minister. “Do you remember what you once said to me?” asked the dying man. Morison could only reply falteringly, “Oh, don’t speak of that!” “Yes, but I must speak of it,” said his friend; “it was the truth. Work, work while it is called day, for now the night is coming when I cannot work.”
Mark 3:23-26. Christ’s actions prove His Divine mission.—When the Netherlanders broke away from the bondage of Spain, they still professed to be loyal subjects of King Philip, and in the king’s name went out to fight against the king’s armies. That was a kind of loyalty which Philip refused to recognise. The scribes professed to believe that the devil was content with loyalty like this—that, in fact, he hugely enjoyed the destruction of his own works by Jesus, and supplied Him with all the help He wanted in that line. A sane man does not burn his insurance policy, and then set fire to his house as a means of providing for his family. A loyal soldier will not undermine his own camp, and blow it into the air, as a means of increasing the strength of that camp. The captain who is anxious for the safety of his ship will not step down into the hold and bore a hole through the ship’s bottom. Nor will Satan join in destroying his own kingdom. That Christ came and destroyed the works of the devil shows that He is Satan’s enemy and Satan’s conqueror.
Mark 3:29. Penal element in punishment.—Punishment has surely an element which is purely penal—vindictive, if the word must be used, but with a Divine vindictiveness. And this seems to be the confession of the human heart in the most differing states of society. An Indian judge tells of the impression produced by a thief who cut off a child’s wrists merely to get some tightly fastened bracelets. As the maimed stumps were held up in court, a hundred voices cried, “Death is not enough.” In the south of France a monster amused herself with her paramour at the theatre, while her little boy was found slowly starved to death, with his cheek laid against a little dog which nestled close to him. Many cried, “The priests are right; there must be a hell.”—Bishop Wm. Alexander.
Unpardonable sin as to the body.—There is an unpardonable sin that may be committed in connexion with the lungs, or with the heart, or with the head. They are strung with nerves as thick as beads on a string; and up to a certain point of excess or abuse of the nervous system, if you rebound there will be remission, and you will be put back, or nearly back, where you were before you transgressed nature’s laws; but beyond that point—it differs in different men, and in different parts of the same man—if you go on transgressing, and persist in transgression, you will never get over the effect of it as long as you live.—H. W. Beecher.
No hope for those past feeling.—A man may misuse his eyes and yet see; but whosoever puts them out can never see again. One may misdirect his mariner’s compass, and turn it aside from the north pole by a magnet or piece of iron, and it may recover and point right again; but whosoever destroys the compass itself has lost his guide at sea. So it is possible for us to sin and be forgiven: recovery through God’s Spirit is not impossible. But if we so harden our hearts that they cannot feel the power of the Spirit, if we are past feeling, then there is no hope.
A terrible text.—In my first charge, when I was young and inexperienced, the very first grave task set me was to carry what comfort I could to my predecessor’s widow, a singularly devout and devoted woman, who, in the depths of her grief, had come to the conclusion that she had committed “the unpardonable sin,” or “God would never have been so hard with her.” No reasonings, no prayers, had the slightest effect upon her, or seemed so much as to touch the fixed idea she had taken to her heart. With an almost incredible ingenuity, she turned all grounds for hope into food for her despair. And in a few weeks she passed from my care into an asylum, only to be carried from the asylum to the grave. For years after I shrank from this text as if it had been guilty of murder. Such experiences bite deep.—S. Cox, D.D.
Shrinking from the commission of this sin.—A striking testimony to the power which these solemn words have had over the minds of men is afforded by the absence of this one sacred name, “the Holy Ghost,” from all the vocabularies of profaneness. It shows how men whom we are accustomed to call bad men have often, after all, more reverence for what is holy than we give them credit for having—nay, more than they credit themselves with having. They may have committed crimes innumerable, and may have boasted of them; still, notwithstanding this, they shrink from the commission of what is worse than any crime—the unpardonable sin. The shrinking is to their credit.—W. R. Huntington, D.D.
This sin consists not in words only.—I remember the case of a young man in college, who, having fallen into a morbid state of mind under the pressure of religious excitement, went out upon a lonely bridge at midnight, and shouted out into the darkness words which he supposed to be the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. It is not easy to believe that for doing this he fell under the fearful condemnation of which Christ speaks. On the other hand, it is not difficult to believe that the sin against the Holy Ghost may have been committed by persons who have never in any spoken utterance blasphemously used that awful name.—Ibid.
Paralysis of the soul.—It is told of some of the Hindoo ascetics, that they will at times, in compliance with a vow, keep a limb in a constrained position until the natural use of it is wholly lost and gone. May not the habitual putting of evil for good and good for evil bring on a similar paralysis of the soul? May not the devotees of the god of this world so keep the vows they make to him, as to rob themselves of the power to take the postures of a holier devotion?—Ibid.
“A sin that passes!” Lo, one sad and high,
Bearing a taper stately like a queen,
Talks in her sleep—“Will these hands ne’er be clean?”
“What’s done cannot be undone.” She walks by
As she must walk through her eternity,
Bearing within her that which she hath been.
“The sin that I have sinn’d is but one scene,
Life is a manifold drama,” so men cry.
Alas! the shadow follows thee too well.
The interlude outgrows its single part,
And every other voice is stricken dumb.
That which thou carriest to the silent dell
Is the eternal sin thou hast become.
The everlasting tragedy thou art!
Bishop Wm. Alexander.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 3:31. His brethren.—The word means nothing more than His “nearest male relatives.” Probably either the sons of Joseph by a previous marriage, or of the Mary mentioned in Mark 15:40. It is inconceivable that our Lord should have assigned His mother to the care of John, if she was the mother of four other sons.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 3:31-35
(PARALLELS: Matthew 12:46-50; Luke 8:19-21.)
Kinship to Christ.—Notwithstanding the organized opposition of the religious leaders, crowds continue to surround Christ, eagerly listening to His gracious words. But His friends and relatives, already convinced that “He is beside Himself” (Mark 3:21), now induce His mother to accompany them into His presence. The reason must have been, observes Calvin, “either that they were anxious about Him, or that they were desirous of instruction; for it is not without some good reason that they endeavour to approach Him, and it is not probable that those who accompanied the Holy Mother were unbelievers. The warmth of natural affection may have carried them beyond the bounds of propriety; but I have no doubt that they were led by pious zeal to seek His society.” One would fain believe that this estimate of their conduct is the true one, rather than the harsher judgment of Chrysostom, that the Blessed Virgin wanted to make a public display of her maternal authority. But, whatever the motive may have been, whether wholly innocent or partly blameworthy, Christ seizes the opportunity to set forth eternal truths of far-reaching import.
I. A sad fact.—“So far from blood relations being, as a matter of course, helpers and promoters of spiritual duty or lofty sacrifice in the home of which they are inmates, the history of all times goes to prove the very contrary; in the persecutions endured for the faith’s sake the daughter has risen against her mother, and the father against his son, and the house has been divided against itself; and the sword (not of the Spirit) has invaded it. We may have to choose between Christ and some one who, after the flesh, is as dear to us as our own soul. Which shall we go with? (Matthew 10:37.) A call to the mission field, or the preference of a quiet Christian life to a career of splendour and fashion, or a profession which implies the reproach of Christ rather than the riches of Egypt, has often disturbed families and parted kinsfolk” (Bishop Thorold).
II. A great principle.—Christ here declares most emphatically, that obedience, not privilege, constitutes true kinship to Him—that the spiritual fellowship which He came from heaven to establish, and which all may equally participate in, is a far higher and more precious thing than any mere earthly tie. So far, however, from in any way depreciating the natural relationships of brother, sister, mother, He adds to them fresh dignity and interest, by adopting them as fit terms for the description of His closest union and communion with believers. “It was not that He denied the claims of the flesh, but that He was sensitive to other, subtler, profounder claims of the spirit and spiritual kinship. He would not carelessly wound a mother’s or a brother’s heart, but the life Divine had also its fellowships and affinities, and still less could He throw these aside” (Dean Chadwick). As Bengel puts it: He contemns not the mother, but He places the Father first.
III. An abiding law.—“There is no tie so close, so holy, so blessed, so exquisitely tender, as that which joins one regenerate soul to another in the mystical body of Christ. The joy of the common salvation, the inheritance of the faith once delivered to the saints, the fellowship in the gospel, the inexplicable experience of the love which passeth knowledge, the hope laid up in heaven, the sympathy and zeal and ardour for the honour of the Saviour—these constitute an unity closer, surer, fonder, deeper, than the dearest earthly tie which human souls can know” (Bishop Thorold). The tender bonds of family affection can find stability nowhere but in Christ, the “Elder Brother,” who is the Only Begotten Son of the Eternal Father, from whom every family both in heaven and earth is named.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 3:31. The family visit.—We place this visit of the mother and brethren of Jesus immediately after His return to Capernaum, and we attribute it to Pharisaic opposition, which either filled those relatives of Jesus with fear for His safety, or made them sincerely concerned about His proceedings. Only if it meant some kind of interference with His mission, whether prompted by fear or affection, would Jesus have so disowned their relationship.—A. Edersheim, D.D.
Christ’s outside kindred.—They were without—that is, not in the inner circle of the crowd standing by Him and with Him, but on the outside of the crowd, loving Him, but wanting to get Him away from His present surroundings. They no doubt thought Him unwisely carried away with enthusiasm, and that He was spoiling or hurting His cause as well as imperilling His life. Jesus has many outside kindred—those who admire Him, and appreciate to some extent His sublime teaching on ethical points; but they do not understand Him as the world’s Saviour; especially they do not understand the significance of His death and His relations to all men irrespective of persons, and the nature of that new kingdom of men and women “born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, … but of God.”—G. F. Pentecost, D.D.
Weigh the calls.—This was a call to give up His work. We must be careful to weigh the calls that come to us. Even the calls of kindly consideration may need to be resisted.
Mark 3:33-35. Lessons.—
1. The power of interfering with others in such a way as to do good is a very rare possession.
2. Sometimes it is our duty to take a course that grieves dear friends. In such cases aim at doing as Jesus did—blending perfect gentleness with perfect firmness.
3. Nearness to Christ is a matter not of race, or place, or time, but of heart.
4. Let all seek this essential grace that was the root grace of Christ’s character—and live daily, hourly, doing the will of our Father in heaven.—R. Glover.
The false and the true family of Jesus.—
1. The one would watch over Him and His cause; the other will be watched over by Him.
2. The one would lead Him; the other will be led by Him.
3. The one would save Him; the other will be saved by Him.
4. The one would restrain and bring Him into danger; the other will be restrained and bound by His Word and Spirit.—J. P. Lange, D.D.
Mark 3:34. The Church’s relationship to Christ.—Christ here speaks of the relationship which the Church on earth can hold to Him.
1. It can be, as it were, a “mother” to Him—can, as that highly favoured and blessed among women, bear Him, again and again, to a perishing world which needs Him,—can, I say, be as she was, but is not, because lofty purity and lowly submission to God’s will are lacking.
2. Or the Church can be as those “brothers” were—those who tenderly cared for Him—those who misunderstood Him, and would fain protect Him from Himself—those who at length learned to believe in Him, and to suffer with Him, and to stand witness before kings for His sake: thus can the Church be, when it gets the brotherly heart, and thinks more of Christ than of self.
3. Notice that Christ did not say, when He spoke of the relationship man can hold to Him, “Behold My Father.” That is a position no man by himself, nor all men put together, can hold to Him. For the father’s position (and half the world’s evils, domestic, political, and religious, have arisen from forgetfulness of this) is the originating and governing position. The true son only then lives when he does the will of his father. And the Christ, who saves, admits no man’s right to stand in this governing, regulative position to Him.—J. W. Owen.
Mark 3:35. Christ’s spiritual kindred.—Wonderful words!
1. Think of it, busy toiler, far away, perhaps, from the home of your youth; a young man here in this city, it may be, with few friends. Here is an assurance of the Saviour’s brotherly kindness.
2. Or you may be a daughter trying to lift a mother’s burden or a father’s care. No matter how poor or needy, if you are doing God’s will, Christ calls you His sister.
3. You may be a wearied, perplexed mother, with many little ones, and disheartened with the work and burden of home, where the bitter and sweet mingle. Jesus calls you “Mother,” and makes Himself your “Son”!—E. P. Parker, D.D.
The gospel of the family of God.—We have had the gospel of the kingdom of God, and glad tidings it has been indeed; but have we not here something even better? It is much to be permitted to hail the Son of God as our King: is it not better still to be encouraged to hail Him as a Brother, to know that all that is sweetest and tenderest in the dear words “brother,” “sister,” “mother,” can be imported into our relation to Him? How it endears the heavenly relationship, and hallows the earthly!—J. M. Gibson, D.D.
The family of love and service.—All those who have been impelled by a higher inspiration, and those who, subjugated by God’s call, have dedicated their whole life to His service, will understand without difficulty these words of Jesus. Every strong conviction ends by taking possession of us; it overcomes and absorbs us, and tears us ruthlessly from everything else; it becomes our sole object, and outside it nothing seems to touch us: those who do not understand it are strangers to us; those who attack it are our enemies; those who love and serve it with us are our true, our only family.—Father Didon.
All to each.—He does not say that one of us is to Him as a “brother,” and another is to Him as a “sister,” and another is to Him as a “mother,” according to the several features of our different characters; but the man who “does the will of God,” the same occupies, at one and the same time, all those endearing relationships. He stands in the confidence of the “brother,” in the fondness of the “sister,” and in all the holy and respectful attachment even of a “mother.”—Jas. Vaughan.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3
Mark 3:35. The test of relationship is life.—If you go out into the woods in summer, you may see, high up on some tree, a branch with dry twigs and withered leaves. It seems to be a part of the tree. Yet, when you look closer, you find it has been broken away, and now it is only a piece of dead wood encumbering a living tree. The test of relationship with the tree is life—fruit-bearing. That is also the test of relationship with Christ. The power which binds the iron to the magnet is unseen, but real; the iron so bound becomes itself a magnet: the power that binds believers to Christ, and makes them members of Him, is as real, though also unseen.
All love in Christ.—Light is one thing, though comprising in itself several hues. All the fair hues of nature inhere in the light—so that where there is no light, there is no colour. Wherever the light travels, it disparts its colours to natural objects—to one after this manner, to another after that—the emerald green to the leaves—to the flowers violet, and yellow, and crimson. And in the same manner all love is in Christ, and is from Him, as its Fountain-head and Centre, disparted among the various relations of human life. A ray from His light struggles forth in the care of the father, in the tenderness of the mother, in the active support of the brother or friend, in the sister’s refined sympathy—nay, in the affectionate homage of the son. And this whole love, in all its manifold elements, is brought to converge, with unshorn beams, upon that thrice happy man or boy who does the will of God.—Dean Goulbourn.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Mark 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13