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CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 7:3. Oft.—Literally, with the fist, hence vigorously. The idea is, that the Pharisees had inaugurated an elaborate and painstaking ceremonial, which was now adopted by the whole body of the Jews. The Evangelist may possible mean, that it was actually a part of the prescribed ritual to keep the one hand closed while the other was being rubbed with it.
Mark 7:4. Wash.—Either βαπτίσωνται, take a bath, or ῥαντίσωνται, sprinkle water over themselves. Have received to hold.—Accepted as suitable or worthy to retain (or hold fast).
Mark 7:11-13. For true reading and rendering see R. V. When an unnatural son wished, either in a temporary fit of passion, or under the goad of an abiding selfishness, to get quit of the importunity of a destitute father or mother, he had just to say, in reference to whatever was craved, Corban! and then not only was he released from obligation to assist his needy parent, but was actually bound, as by the highest authority, to withhold the desired relief. Nor was it necessary that he should actually make the offering to the service of God; he might keep it himself, or do anything he chose with it, save only that he must not give it to his parent! Could human ingenuity go further in the direction of annulling the Word of God?
Mark 7:18. Are ye so, etc.—Or, What! are ye also void of understanding?
Mark 7:19. It is difficult to determine whether the words purging (or cleansing) all meats are a part of our Lord’s discourse, or an explanatory addition by the Erangelist. The R. V., following Origen, Chrysostom, and Gregory Thaumaturgus, adopts the latter interpretation, reading καθαρίζων for the καθαρίζον of the Textus Receptus; and certainly the ἕλεγε δέ which immediately follows looks like an indication that the quotation of Christ’s words, after being broken off for a moment, is now resumed. “He saith … (and in so saying He cleanseth all meats). And He said further …”—Dr. Jas. Morison, however, while defending καθαρίζων as the true reading, thinks that it “must apparently refer to the draught, which, by receiving the refuse, draws off as it were the impurities of the food, or those elements that remain after the nutritive ingredients have been eliminated and assimilated.”—Mr. J. B. McClellan, on the other hand, decides against καθαρίζων, on the ground that although it has far the greatest external support, yet “as Wordsworth has noted, the itacism of ω and ο is so common in MSS. that this fact ‘is of little weight against the ordinary rules of grammatical construction,’ and, he might have added, against the certain requirements of the sense. It was not by the appeal and explanation to the disciples in our present verse, but by the original declaration to the multitude in Mark 7:15, that our Lord made all meats clean. Hence in the verse before us the masc. καθαρίζων is out of place in regard to our Lord. In every other reference it is grammatically untenable. With all confidence therefore we retain the neut. καθαρίζον, and construct it in apposition with the sentence.”
Mark 7:22. Covetousness.—The word is in the plural—πλεονεξίαι: “for this greedy lust of lawless having runs out on more lines than one: it is a moral monster of several tentacles: like the cuttle-fish, it puts forth many feelers armed with suckers. Avarice is a branch only of the root covetousness. Sometimes this pleonexy, or “amor sceleratus habendi,” is associated with adultery: but in that case it less denotes the lust of impurity than connotes a lawless desire to overreach one’s neighbour; for the adulterer defrauds the husband in seizing what is the husband’s property. In short, love of pleasure, and love of money, and love of power are but so many forms of this “unbridled and unhallowed possessiveness.” Wickedness.—Also in plural: villainies—active wrongdoing of all sorts. Jeremy Taylor explains it as “an aptness to do shrewd turns, to delight in mischief and tragedies; a love to trouble our neighbour and to do him ill offices; crossness, perverseness, and peevishness of action in our intercourse.” An evil eye.—Niggardliness as to one’s own possessions, and envy as to those of others. See Deuteronomy 15:9; Deuteronomy 28:54; Sir. 14:8-10; Tob. 4:7-9; Matthew 6:23; Matthew 20:15. Blasphemy.—Reviling either of God or man. Pride.—An overbearing attitude. Folly.—Senselessness or infatuation. Such is the true nature of all sin.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 7:1-23
(PARALLEL: Matthew 15:1-20.)
The tradition of men.—
I. Traditionalists conspiring against Christ.—
1. Their evil design. See John 7:1.
2. Their cunning method. They sought to bring in our Lord guilty of impiety by teaching His disciples to transgress the tradition of the elders.
II. Traditionalists confounded by Christ.—
1. By shewing that they taught for doctrines the commandments of men which were in opposition to the commandments of God.
2. By shewing the folly of these human traditions.
1. A sad tendency of human nature—to honour God with the lips while the heart is far from Him.
2. The manifestation of this tendency (Mark 7:8-9).
3. The real source of evil—the human heart.
4. The manifestations of the controlling power of the sinful heart (Mark 7:21-22).
5. Real defilement before God—that of the inner source of evil.—D. C. Hughes.
Christian controversy.—Christ, when on earth, maintained two descriptions of intercourse with the people: the one was of a friendly and social nature, such as a friend maintains with his friend, when a congeniality of mind, combined with a similarity of habit, is found to subsist between them; the other was controversial, when proclaiming the true character, mind, and will of His Heavenly Father in opposition to the false opinions entertained respecting Him by the scribes and Pharisees, who, while altogether uninfluenced by the spirituality of what they taught, nevertheless maintained such strictness in the form and selfish regard for the moral requirements of religion, that, being irreproachable in the sight of men, they vainly conceived they must be equally so in the sight of God, forgetting or being wilfully ignorant that, whilst men judged from the appearance only, His all-seeing eye penetrated within the veil, discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart. Respecting the first of these two, namely, our Lord’s social and friendly intercourse with men, we may well conceive the meek, the gentle, yet dignified Jesus a guest within the house of one of His disciples, unfolding the nature of God to those in company with Him, announcing Him a Spirit who cannot be deceived, and who claims from His creatures a “worship in spirit and in truth,” which, when rendered, He willingly accepts, and mercifully pardons their transgressions. But though there were some who gladly received Him, and listened with the purest joy to His holy conversation, they were comparatively but few, and for the most part humble in their circumstances; whilst the great majority—the wealthy, the noble, and the learned—stood opposed to Him, ever on the watch to entangle Him in His talk, and find something whereof they might accuse Him to their rulers, and so be rid of One whose arguments they could not meet, and whose positions they could not controvert; yet with the most uncompromising integrity did the Saviour stand His ground, exposing the falsehood, the fraud, the errors, or the hypocrisy of those who from their superior education ought to have been the first to recognise Him as Messiah and submit to His authority, combating wrong notions, rectifying mistaken principles, whenever or by whomsoever advanced. This controversial intercourse in no small degree characterised our Lord’s ministry; nor could it be maintained without incurring all that hatred and opposition which the exposure of falsehood and error is sure to draw down on the person whose sense of moral responsibility would prevail to incite to it; still, disagreeable as is the office of setting those right who have been all their lives wrong, it becomes a solemn obligation, because involving the exercise of that charity or love which will not suffer us to see an immortal being persisting in a course obviously opposed to the will of God without warning him of his danger. With the psalmist the true and faithful servant of Christ can say, “All false ways I utterly abhor.” Receiving his instructions from that Divine Master, he learns “to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints,” and “as a good soldier,” serving a good Master, to “endure hardness” in the contention, when others “oppose themselves” and “would pervert the right ways of the Lord,” knowing as he does that “there is no other name under heaven given among men [but Jesus Christ], whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12); nor can any man lay any other foundation on which to build his hopes for admission into heaven hereafter “than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). Thus does the Bible furnish one great saving truth, and one only, which men are called upon to receive, and which, if they reject, they reject at their peril. To proclaim God’s eternal and unalterable truth, whether men will hear or whether they will forbear, is charity—love unfeigned. Would it be charity to suffer some dear friend or relative to languish from day to day upon the bed of sickness and not administer the medicine which the physician’s skill had prescribed for a cure, lest it might prove nauseous and unpalatable? Would it be charity if, passing through a town at dead of night, and seeing a house on fire, we should refrain from rousing its inhabitants, through fear of disturbing their slumbers? Or would it be charity if, observing a blind man fearlessly to approach a precipice, we should be silent, suffer him to advance on his destruction, and not tell him of his danger? We protest against such charity as this. We prefer the discharge of our duty, as faithful ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ, commissioned to preach “repentance towards God, and faith in Him who has sent us”; we are ready, in maintaining the Lord’s controversy with His people, to endure the world’s misrepresentation. Nevertheless we do maintain that “our labour is labour of love,” “the work of faith,” the fruit whereof “is charity out of a pure heart.” Our Lord did not shrink from the work which the Father had given Him to do because of the misconstruction put upon His conduct by the enemies-of righteousness, nor was He restrained by the rude rebuffs of an insolent world; no, He loved even His cruel persecutors too well to suffer them to run upon their ruin without telling them the consequences which would inevitably result, should they pass from time to eternity without effecting their reconciliation with God, through Him, the only Mediator. In what moral darkness would the world now be plunged had error and falsehood been progressing for the last eighteen hundred years in a ratio similar to what it had been up to the period of the Saviour’s manifestation in the flesh, to detect and dissipate the fearful gloom by the shining of the glorious gospel of truth into the hearts of His people! An accumulation of falsehood such as dissolved the tie of filial affection and filial duty, on the child’s telling his aged and perhaps destitute parent that it was “Corban, that is to say a gift, by whatsoever” that parent might be profited by him, suffering the son “no more to do ought for his father or his mother”—thus permitting a corrupt and unnatural tradition, derived from sinful and selfish men, virtually to repeal the fifth commandment, given by God Himself, and the unwritten expedient of human policy to supersede the unalterable will of Jehovah, proclaimed with a trumpet’s tongue amidst thunderings and lightnings and smoke, which, the people seeing, removed and stood afar off. Had falsehood thus audaciously advanced, what bonds would have proved strong enough for uniting the relative positions of society, what barriers have restrained the overflowings of ungodliness, or checked the violation of natural affection, when thus sanctioned by uninspired and lawless traditions, usurping the sacred authority of God’s Holy Word? The scribes and Pharisees ranked the foremost in opposing our Lord in all His teaching; their principal error consisted in a superstitious regard for “the traditions of the elders”; and to such a length did they carry their veneration for this description of authority that there was scarcely a passage of any moment in the sacred records that was not frittered away, and its plain and obvious meaning lost in the false glosses put upon it by these unauthorised means, “making the Word of God of none effect” through their traditions: their scrupulous exactness regarding external cleanliness made them unconcerned respecting that which was of higher importance, though hidden and unseen—the heart—and for the cleansing of which one (who, had they remembered him as an elder, it would have been well) evinced such anxiety that he prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” Their spring of action, however, arising from a desire to be seen of men rendered them totally indifferent about any and everything not having human applause for its object, so that the heart, the inward part, where God requires truth to dwell, was overlooked and unattended to by them. Such were the practices and such the doctrine which our Lord on the present occasion set Himself to refute, shewing how injurious in its effect was every deviation from the written Word; for however useful the tradition of the elders might be for the well-regulating of society or establishing habits of personal cleanliness, yet it would be infinitely better to forego it altogether, than by adopting it cast a slight upon a much higher authority. To teach for doctrines the commandments of men was a most grievous error, and fraught with the most dangerous consequences, for which reason our Lord fearlessly condemns it, and nobly reproves those who, whilst professing an honour for God’s Word, would sanction a system which directly insulted it. “Well hath Esaias prophesied of you, hypocrites,” etc. Then instancing the case of the fifth commandment, Jesus proceeds to shew that it was not external cleanliness, or the neglect of it—washing the hands on certain occasions, or omitting it—not one sort of meat or another; in fact, “nothing from without a man, entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man.” What is in the heart the heart will, like a fountain, be sending up, until changed by Divine grace; for by nature it is a corrupt fountain, and consequently “from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts,” etc. Let us take any of these evil things which abide in the heart of the unconverted and natural man, and observe its process of defilement.
1. Look at covetousness, e.g. the love of money, justly called “the root of all evil.” What can debase the soul more than this all-absorbing lust?—hours, days, weeks, months, and years, nay, a man’s entire life, passed in contrivances whereby to increase his store of gold, involving too often falsehood and deceit in order to attain his object; and when attained, with what complacency does he regard his success! Nor does moderate success satisfy him, verifying the proverb, “Much must have more,”—religion discarded, its ordinances contemned, the Lord’s Day itself polluted, that nothing may impede his unhallowed pursuit of gain. Whence come the murders, the thefts, of which our Lord speaks? Come they not from covetousness? While other evils are partial in their operation, this takes no rest, knows no intermission, will have no repose. If the laws of the land protect the property of the owner from the aggression of the violent, and the penalty attached to the violation of the law restrains the covetous man from unlawfully attacking that which is another’s, yet how near will he approach the forbidden limit! If he is honest, he is hardly so; if he does bear restraint, ’tis with a bad grace: the evil lust of covetousness withers every generous sentiment; the sons and daughters of adversity may pine and die ere the sordid mind of covetousness would be moved to commiserate or relieve; nought is known but self; gold is the idol to whose service not only the bodily energies but the affections of the heart and all the faculties of the mind are devoted.
2. Consider, also, the countless impurities contained under the head “evil thoughts.” You are quite conscious of the vain ideas which run to and fro in the mind throughout the four-and-twenty hours of the day, so vain and evil that we should feel ashamed to speak of them to our nearest or dearest friend, and would be glad were they blotted from our memory the moment they recur to us; yet God searches and knows us, etc. (Psalms 139:1-4).
3. Look, again, at the insidious working of pride, often at the very moment when we think ourselves most humble,—at one time piquing ourselves upon the elegance or beauty of our persons; at another regarding ourselves with the utmost satisfaction on a comparison with some one whom we look down upon as an inferior, either in birth, or fortune, or education, or mental capacity. Examine one or all, or which you will, of “these evil things,” and, oh! what an abyss of defilement forms itself, fed by that corrupt stream which ever flows from that polluted source, an unconverted heart, “deceitful” as it is “above all things, and desperately wicked.” Well might Abraham call himself “sinful dust and ashes,” or Job exclaim, “Behold, I am vile,” or Isaiah, “I am a man of unclean lips”: for who can know the depths of its depravity? Jesus knew them, and in our text declares them. And yet there is nothing over which we can exercise less control than our thoughts: a thought, a foolish or a corrupt thought, rises in the heart, and, like the blood in the natural system, is in an instant propelled through every inlet of the mind, and has fastened itself on us ere we are aware; and such is the strength and subtlety of that fiend who suggests the evil thought, that it not infrequently happens that what we desire to think least about is that which, through his agency, we think most of. I see from this review of my natural corrupt heart, says the newly awakened sinner, that it requires cleansing, must have renewing, must be fully converted, before I should either like heaven or be received in thither. But what can I do? It is not in my power to change my heart, and so produce a new current of thought, which would make me relish the pure and holy enjoyments of the redeemed,—the work is superhuman. Beloved, you are quite right; the work is superhuman. But though powerless in ourselves, though the work of converting the sinner’s heart is superhuman, yet it is not impossible that Christ, by whom God the Father works, having put all things in subjection to Him, having given Him all power in heaven and in earth, power even to bend the stubborn and rebellious heart of His sinful creatures, He can cleanse and purify the fountain, so that the stream of thought shall run pure and holy. What says St. Paul, after confessing himself a wretched being, unable to deliver himself from the body of death, a naturally wicked heart? “I can do all things through Christ strengthening me.” Christ has changed and renewed the hearts of millions. The way in which He accomplishes this important change is worthy of attention. First He sends His Holy Spirit into the heart, whereby the sinner is enabled to take a view of that corrupt stream which flows from it, and upon an examination of the “evil things” spoken of in our text to feel its sinfulness, then acknowledge in prostrate humility those particulars which offend us most to the Lord Jesus Christ, not in the least palliating them, but laying them open to Him in all their fearful aggravations, till we abhor ourselves, and cry, Unclean! unclean! His next influence upon the heart is to make the sinner renounce himself as bankrupt in righteousness, and desire above all things the imputation of Christ’s righteousness as his only hope. From thence he is led to recognise Christ as greater in his behalf than he who seeks his destruction. These feelings grow with his growth and strengthen with his strength, until sin is hated and shunned; and though the remains of indwelling sin may tease and harass the Christian, yet it has altogether lost its supremacy in his heart. Thus is the poor sinner changed by the Holy Spirit from the power of Satan to the power of God, and from rejoicing in the perishing things of time and sense to rejoice in God his Saviour, who has done such great things for him: from that time, also his conversation is in heaven, from whence he also looks for the Saviour.—M. J. Taylor.
Insincerity in worship.—The great sin of hypocrisy, laid by our Saviour to the charge of the Jews in His time, had been charged, long before, upon the same people by Isaiah. A sin thus chargeable upon the same people at various periods of their history may justly be considered as a national sin. But then it must be borne in mind, that it was a sin on account of which it was not competent to the Gentile world, that is, to the great bulk of mankind, to reproach the Jewish nation, or, on account of their own exemption from it, to flatter or felicitate themselves. If the Jew satisfied himself with the outward confession of God and the lip-honour he paid Him, the Gentile world did not pay even that, but offered a debasing worship to idols. So far from being in a condition to look down upon the Jew, the Gentile had a great step to take to be even upon a level with him. The Jew was so far right that he believed in “one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” The Jews’ worship was, in form and externals, such as God Himself had appointed, and their notions of Himself such as He had taught them. How then is it spoken of with disapprobation instead of praise, both by Isaiah in his time and our Saviour in His? There was the outward shew, not the inward feeling; great professions, but little practice; long prayers, and cold hearts. A question then arises whether we of these times and this nation are concerned in our Lord’s remark. Now I hope there is neither flattery nor self-deceit in saying that it is not true of us in the same sense and degree as it was of the Jews. I find what I think to be error, wrongheadedness, an uncharitable and angry spirit, in the language and writings of men, on religious subjects, but little that I can presume to call insincerity. Then, again, the endeavour to make up by high professions and scrupulosity in little things for laxity in great things is a vain endeavour now. Men are disgusted by such attempts. They look with a more indulgent eye upon the open and avowed violator of God’s laws, than upon him who, by a shew of piety, would cover or make up for a selfish and licentious life. But although the sin of hypocrisy should not be chargeable, as a national sin, upon us at this time, in the same degree that it was upon the Jews in our Saviour’s time and in the time of Isaiah, it still remains for each man to ask himself whether it be chargeable upon him as an individual in any degree or sense. I fear we shall find that there is a sense in which it is chargeable upon us all.
1. I lay the case of the blasphemer out of consideration, as one that can consist only with an estranged state of the heart from God, and as one not falling within the range of our Lord’s observation, and I would ask whether we are not oftentimes forgetful of God, when engaged, not in things which He has forbidden, but even in things which He has commanded. When we pray, for example, are we then all of us, are we any of us, so attentive as we ought to be to the work we are about? It is the mind, the serious and attentive mind, that gives life to forms and effect to prayer. It is, no doubt, a difficult thing to keep the attention fixed upon the proper object of worship, and to prevent the intrusion of idle thoughts.
(1) One reason of this may be, that that object is invisible, and “no man hath seen God at any time.” It was, I presume, as an expedient to help attention, and as a resource against the difficulty we speak of, that image-worship came to be so much practised.
(2) Another reason is, that when we are engaged in our ordinary work-day business, we are wont, without ceasing from that business or neglecting it at all, to give the mind leave to range and wander through a variety of subjects. Practice has made us so perfect in those operations whereby we have long earned our bread, that we can perform them correctly with a degree of attention so slight that we are hardly conscious of exerting it. Now this is not only pleasant, but innocent, if the thoughts be employed upon things innocent. But this will not do in worship. If the mind is not in this work it cannot prosper. We can say our prayers, no doubt, as we can do other familiar things, with little exertion of attention, and give the thoughts leave to settle on other subjects; but when we do so we pray in vain, or, more properly speaking, do not pray at all. That is wanting which is essential to prayer—an attentive mind and an awakened heart. It has been recommended to those who lament their proneness to this wandering inattention in prayer not to clothe their private addresses to God with any words—not to say, but as it were to think their prayers to God. This advice proceeds upon the supposition that the method of using thought alone, unclothed in words, may prevent self-deceit, and make us at once perceive that if we are not praying internally, with the understanding and the feelings, we are doing nothing.
2. Again, we may be said to worship God in vain, and to draw nigh to Him with our lips while our hearts are far from Him, if we continue in sin, or intend so to do. The principal subject of a good man’s prayers is grace—the grace of God, and the help of the Holy Spirit to his naturally infirm endeavours to resist temptation. But such prayer is poisoned at its source, if it be not faithful, if it be not accompanied with a faithful and unreserved intention and willingness on the part of him who prays to part with his sins and with whatever causes him to sin.
3. These things make worship vain, and they spring from a defect in the heart, that is, in the disposition with respect to God, which it concerns us before all things to remove. It is to be removed by more positive and earnest endeavours than have yet been used to keep the mind intent upon its work, and by cries for the help of that Holy Spirit which is said to “help our infirmities,” especially in that work.—A. Gibson.
Zeal and diligence in false worship no ground of comfort.—
I. It is a vain and unprofitable sign to support and comfort ourselves by, that we are diligent in the worship of God, if not commanded by Him.—
1. It lieth as a necessary duty upon all to worship and serve God. Now this worship and service may be either internal, or external, or mixed, compounded of both: internal consists in our love of God above all things, faith and hope in Him, obedience to His commands, which Scripture preferreth before all external worship; external is that of adoration and inclination of the body, kissing the hand, bowing the knee, dedicating temples, altars, and offering of sacrifices; mixed is compounded of both these, such as calling upon God’s name by petition and thanksgiving.
2. This worship and service of God is not given to God because He needs it or is made more happy thereby. God is no more better by our worship than the fountain is because a man drinks of it, or the sun because a man seeth by the light of it. Such do not advantage the fountain or the sun, but their own selves. So God hath appointed this worship, not that He might receive good from us, but communicate good to us.
3. Such is the infinite excellency and majesty of God, that we are to tremble and greatly to be ashamed of any worship or service we tender to Him. The angels, that are not conscious to the least sin in themselves, but are pure above the sun, that cannot call themselves dust and ashes, yet cover their faces before God.
4. God only may appoint that worship which He will accept of. The deformity of an ape lieth in being so like a man, and yet not a man; so doth the loathsomeness of all false worship lie in this, that it imitateth the worship of God, but indeed it is not so.
5. Our Lord briefly lays down what is acceptable worship unto Him (John 4:22). To worship God in the spirit is to have a spiritual and holy inward frame of heart in all our addresses to Him. This is worshipping of God in a way the most of men are not acquainted with. Oh, it is a hard matter to have a spiritual man in prayer, hearing, and other worship! And indeed this is the soul and life of the service of God. The other way of worship is in truth, which by some is explained against hypocrisy and guile of spirit; for this God complaineth of, that they drew nigh with their mouths, but their hearts were far from God. Lastly, as a Father, they must worship, though humbly, yet not slavishly and servilely. Seneca speaketh of the superstitious, intimidated person, that while he worships God he provoketh Him.
6. Howsoever worship of God be commanded by Him, yet such is the nature of all moral duties that the obedience to them is required before any instituted worship. “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice”; go and learn what that meaneth, saith our Saviour: insomuch that comparatively to obedience God is said not to command these at all.
7. The heart of man is exceeding subtle and ingenious to palliate over all false worship: insomuch that there never were superstitious abuses of God’s worship, but that there have been learned men and wise men to plead for them.
II. Why men addicted to false worship, though they much admire themselves, yet are indeed vain men, and lean upon vain props.—
1. Because always such persons have the bitterest enmity against true godliness.
2. Here is no ground of confidence in these, because they are consistent with the ordinary practice of gross and sinful courses.
3. If a man may not rely or trust on the instituted worship of God, yea, nor on the graces wrought by God’s Spirit in us, then much less in a worship of his own. If thy own graces are not helmet strong enough to repel God’s wrath, then thy own voluntary worship is but as so many cobwebs, when a furious tempest bloweth upon them.
4. These are not to be relied upon, which are vain and unprofitable, and so frustrate of that end we expect. Now the text saith, “In vain do they worship Me”; other duties commanded by God, though they are not pillars to be leaned on, yet they are not vain. God saith not to Jacob, to seek His face in vain, but all this service is lost labour: “Who hath required all these things at your hands?” Now of all things to labour in vain in religious matters is the saddest expense of all. After all that zeal thou art never a whit the nearer heaven, thou art no more endeared to God. Thy state is noways spiritually advantaged: yea, though it be a fruitless labour one way, yet it is not another way; for there is a fruit of these labours, but it is bitterness and wormwood—God is more provoked by thee.
5. That which is a sad curse and fruit of former sins, that can be little comfort to any man that rightly considereth of things. Thus we say it is an absurd thing to be proud of clothes, for in that thou needest clothing it is an argument thou art fallen from integrity and innocency. But in this matter the curse of God is more wonderful upon thee, for all that admiration and applause of false worship is inflicted upon thee as a punishment, because thou hast not received the truth in the love of it.
6. These of all men are in a most unsafe estate (notwithstanding their security), because they are in a most absolute contrariety and indisposition for receiving of Christ, in whom only our souls have rest. Publicans and harlots went to heaven before the Pharisees. Why so? Because the former were sooner convinced of their sin, their undone estate, and so more willingly flying unto Christ.—A. Burgess.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 7:1-2. Fault-finding.—Those see most faults in others who have most themselves. None are such critics of small faults as those guilty of grave ones. Beware of fault-finding. He that censures others cures not himself.—R. Glover.
We must not always follow great men.—Those who for their place and calling should be greatest friends and favourers of Christ and His followers are often greatest enemies and readiest to oppose them.
1. See how unfit it is to tie ourselves to the example of great men in the Church in matters of religion—not safe always to follow them, for so we may with them become the worst enemies of Christ and His Church. 2. Admonition to great men in high place in the Church to use their dignity, place, and office to the honour of Christ and good of His Church.—G. Petter.
Mark 7:3-4. Lessons.—
1. It is the manner of hypocrites to tie others to their own practice and example in matters of religion, and to censure all uncharitably who do not conform to them even in trifles.
2. Hypocrites put religion and holiness in outward rites, ceremonies, and superstitious observances, and think that by performance of these they become holy and acceptable before God.
3. Superstition makes wise men become foolish, absurd, and childish, in busying and troubling themselves about trifles and toys.—Ibid.
Rabbinical washings.—The legal washing of the hands before eating was especially sacred to the Rabbinist; not to do so was a crime as great as to eat the flesh of swine. “He who neglects hand-washing,” says the book Sohar, “deserves to be punished here and hereafter.” “He is to be destroyed out of the world, for in hand-washing is contained the secret of the Ten Commandments.” “He is guilty of death.” It was laid down that the hands were first to be washed clean. The tips of the ten fingers were then joined and lifted up, so that the water ran down to the elbows, then turned down so that it might run off to the ground. Fresh water was poured on them as they were lifted up, and twice again as they hung down. The washing itself was to be done by rubbing the fist of one hand in the hollow of the other. When the hands were washed before eating, they must be held upwards; when after it, downwards, but so that the water should not run beyond the knuckles. The vessel used must be held first in the right, then in the left hand; the water was to be poured first on the right, then on the left hand; and at every third time the words repeated, “Blessed art Thou who hast given us the command to wash the hands.”—C. Geikie, D.D.
The “tradition of the elders” was an after-growth of the Captivity, originating not improbably with the Great Synagogue, out of which the Sanhedrin was developed. The reverence and care for Holy Scripture, revived by Ezra, and fostered by later scribes, were handed down from generation to generation, and treated with so much honour that the highest authority was sought for their origin. Some Rabbi, bolder than his predecessors, put forward the theory that God had given to Moses not only the Ten Commandments, but also at the same time a full explanation, even in the minutest detail, of all their applications. This Oral Law, he said, had been revealed by Moses to Aaron and his sons, and the memory of it was cherished and handed on without any loss or diminution in the progress of transmission. As soon as such a view of its origin had gained acceptance with the people, its authority became equally binding upon the conscience with that of the Written Law, and the estimation in which it was held even higher. In lapse of time it received its interpretation at the hands of the Rabbis, and the disquisitions, illustrations, and additions grew into a great body of doctrine; and after the Jewish motto “Commit nothing to writing” had been forgotten, these were all combined in a vast collection, under the title of Gemara, or Talmud. The publication in writing of the Mishnah itself, as the Oral Law was called, had preceded it by two hundred years. It was issued authoritatively by Rabbi Judah, the Holy, at the close of the second century of the Christian era.—Dean Luckock.
There were two familiar sayings among the later Jews which enable us to understand how widely traditionalism must have conflicted with the teaching of Christ. “The words of the elders,” they said, “are of more weight than the words of the prophets”; and, even more startling than this, “The Mosaic Law is as water, the Mishnah as wine, and the Gemara as hippocras” (a richly spiced drink, most highly esteemed).—Ibid.
The traditions of the elders were all, without exception, the product of the later ages of the Jewish dispensation in the time of its decay and fall, when it was at its worst; whereas the opinions and practices which are invidiously called “traditions” in these days, i.e. the opinions and practices of the earliest Fathers of the Christian Church, are the products of the earliest ages of the Christian religion, when it was at its best, and was least contaminated with the influence of the world from without, and kept most pure by godly discipline from within. The opinions of the Fathers on the interpretation of Scripture, when they can be ascertained, are far more likely to be in accord with its real meaning than any opinions or practices of later ages.—M. F. Sadler.
Mark 7:6-9. The external preferred.—It may seem almost incredible that men should leave the simple principles of righteousness for a region so barren and burdensome as that of external observances. But the secret is not difficult to find.
1. External acts can be seen and felt by oneself, and so can give complacency.
2. They can be seen by others, and thus can gain credit.
3. They are easier than walking with God. To approach Him needs the courage of purity and penitence; and to take His guidance requires perpetually the self-denial and consecration of faith.—R. Glover.
The abuse of ceremonies.—It cannot be too carefully noticed that no condemnation is passed upon these rites of purification in themselves. Had the Pharisees recognised their symbolism and deep moral significance, had Jesus been certain that when they washed their hands they thought of or prayed for purity of heart and life, He would have been the last person to rebuke them, however much they multiplied external forms and ceremonies. These are useful as stepping-stones to higher things; but the moment they begin to satisfy in themselves they become snares and lead to superstition.—Dean Luckock.
Mark 7:6-7. The whole Old Testament history was prophetic of Christ and of those around Him in this respect, that everywhere in the continually recurring contest between light and darkness, between truth and error, there were displayed the types of that which, in its highest energy, developed itself in and around Christ.—H. Olshausen, D.D.
Mark 7:9. Irony sometimes lawful.—In that Christ here, by this sharp irony or taunting speech, derides the gross superstition of the scribes and Pharisees, we may gather that it is lawful to deride and scoff at the sins and unlawful practices of others, especially at the gross and notorious sins of the wicked and ungodly. See 1 Kings 18:27; Isaiah 44:0. Yet some cautions are to be observed for the lawful use of such ironical reproofs of sin.
1. They must proceed from a holy and upright affection in such as use them, viz. from zeal for God’s glory, and hatred of sin, and not from private malice or revenge.
2. They must tend to the right end, viz. God’s glory, and the good of the party reproved, that by such a sharp and taunting reproof he may, if possible, be brought to be ashamed of his sin, and to be touched with remorse for it, as also to grow in dislike and hatred of it: not the disgrace of the person is to be sought, but the disgrace of the sin reproved, and the reformation of the person.
3. Such taunts and ironies are to be used against sin in due manner, i.e. after a grave and serious manner, not with shew of lightness or vanity.—G. Petter.
Mark 7:15. The heart the seat of defilement.—
1. Material processes cannot produce spiritual effects.
2. The true source of spiritual pollution is the heart. The internal translates itself into the external.
3. But the principle itself implies that the body may be defiled. See 1 Corinthians 3:16-17. The sins enumerated by our Lord (Mark 7:21-23) shew themselves in words and deeds, and defile the tongue, the eye, the hand, etc. They who commit them yield their members as servants of iniquity unto iniquity (Romans 6:19).
4. Our Lord did not sanction indifference to the use and abuse of food and drink, to habits of personal cleanliness and filthiness. The principle He lays down witnesses to the contrary. These matters are under our control, and indicate our tastes and tendencies, our desires, choice, will—in one word, our character.
5. No man, however, can put his heart right, or keep it right. For the first is needed the converting, for the second the sustaining and restraining grace of God. True morality needs a supernatural foundation and continuously bestowed Divine energy. The very idea of inward purity points us to the Holy Spirit and the new birth.—J. R. Gregory.
Mark 7:16. An important rule.—This rule must needs be of very great importance to Christians. For our Great Master—
1. Calls the people unto Him on purpose to tell them only this.
2. He requires of them a particular attention.
3. He requires it of every one of them without exception.
4. He exhorts them to endeavour thoroughly to understand it.
5. He lets them know that in order to do it they have need of a singular grace and a particular gift of understanding. It was for want of understanding this rule that the Jews still remained Jews, adhering to a mere external way of worship. It is for the very same reason that numbers of Christians, even to this day, serve God more like Jews than Christians.—P. Quesnel.
Mark 7:17. Dulness in spiritual matters.—
1. See here how great dulness and slowness of capacity there is, even in the best Christians, to conceive spiritual and heavenly matters when they are taught them.
2. The best should not be ashamed to acknowledge their own ignorance in spiritual matters to such as are able to teach them, that so they may be better informed and instructed.
3. It is commendable in Christians to move profitable questions unto their teachers or others.—G. Petter.
Mark 7:18. The Saviour refers to the material things that enter into a man through his mouth. His principle, however, is applicable, on a higher plane of reference, to spiritual things too which come in from without. These, however noxious, cannot of themselves defile a man. “The man within the breast” must act in reference to them before guilt can be contracted.—J. Morison, D.D.
Mark 7:19. Lessons.—
1. The wisdom of God shewn in the frame of man’s body, ordaining every part for necessary ends and uses. See how it should be in the body of the Church: there should be no unprofitable member, but even the meanest should so live as to further the good of the whole (1 Corinthians 12:25).
2. Howsoever the belly serves for necessary use in man’s body, yet it is for such use as is base and vile in comparison of most of the other parts of the body. See then the sin of those who serve and worship their belly, as if they were born for no other end but to eat and drink.—G. Petter.
Mark 7:20-23. Heart-defilement.—This is a hard saying, but our conscience acknowledges the truth of it. We are not the toy of circumstances, but such as we have made ourselves; and our lives would have been pure if the stream had flowed from a pure fountain. However modern sentiment may rejoice in highly coloured pictures of the noble profligate and his pure-minded and elegant victim; of the brigand or the border ruffian full of kindness, with a heart as gentle as his hands are red; and however true we may feel it to be that the worst heart may never have betrayed itself by the worst actions, but many that are first shall be last,—it still continues to be the fact, and undeniable when we do not sophisticate our judgment, that “all these evil things proceed from within.” It is also true that they further “defile the man.” The corruption which already existed in the heart is made worse by passing into action; shame and fear are weakened; the will is confirmed in evil; a gap is opened and widened between the man who commits a new sin and the virtue on which he has turned his back.—Dean Chadwick.
Mark 7:20. Inward corruption.—That which St. James saith of the tongue (Mark 3:6) is much more true of man’s corrupt heart, without the sanctifying grace of God renewing and changing it, and purging it from this natural filthiness and corruption of sin.
1. Labour to see and bewail this great corruption of our own heart. To this end examine and view our own heart often in the glass of God’s law. And we must deal thoroughly in searching out the corruptions of the heart, remembering how deceitful it is, and how hard to know it.
2. See what need for us to get our heart purged and cleansed from this sink and puddle of sin which is in it.
(1) By the power and efficacy of God’s sanctifying Spirit.
(2) By the ministry of the Word.
(3) Get true faith, apprehending God’s saving love and mercy in Christ.
3. See by this how great a work is the work of regeneration and sanctification, whereby the heart must be purged from such a world of wickedness and sea of filthiness. Such a work is not easily done, or soon. The whole time of our life is too little for doing it thoroughly.—G. Petter.
The thoughts.—Nothing seems of less consequence than a thought—so silent, swift, subtle, is it, and yet in that lightning-flash of the brain, in that throb of the heart, in that fiat of the will, in that airy nothing, all the vast things of man’s history, its grandeur and its grief, have their birth. The heart of man is the gateway of strange worlds, and through it are ever gliding thoughts fraught with infinite consequence to the individual and to the race. Let not the Church of God abandon that appeal to reason, to conscience, to the hearts of men, which is the true preaching of the gospel of Christ.—W. L. Watkinson.
Imagination.—Says Jacob Boehme in a deep passage, “All now depends on what I set my imagination upon.” Setting his imagination upon the kingdom of God, upon the highest objects, patterns, and callings of the spiritual universe, the believer conquers successively all selfishness and sensuality, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. All depends upon what we set our imagination—upon the ideals we choose. upon the vivid realisation of those ideals, upon the daily striving toward those ideals, upon the faithful, confiding surrender of the soul to those ideals.—Ibid.
Inward renewal needed.—We need all the faculties and powers of our inward being renewing. We need our conscience to bear us witness in the Holy Ghost; our imagination to eye supremest ideals of light and beauty, and urge its flight thitherto as the eagle seeks the sun; our will by virtue of a Divine strengthening to become imperative and invincible; our affections to be filled, dominated, by the sovereign love of God. Nothing but this new heart and right spirit will meet the case. Let us begin here, and all will be well. Out of the heart shall proceed good thoughts, and out of them all fair and noble characteristics and actions.—Ibid.
Mark 7:21-23. The things that defile.—At the head of the list Christ places the “evil disputings” so fresh in His memory from His encounter with the Pharisees; then adulteries and fornications, the outcome of a corrupt imagination; murders, which proceed from anger; thefts and covetousness, from secret promptings to overreach others and gain more than one has a right to; knaveries and fraud; lasciviousness or reckless insolence, which outrages the decencies of life; the malicious glance and slanderous tongue; the proud and haughty bearing which bespeaks the self-centred man; and last in the list, the comprehensive sin of foolishness, which embraces every senseless, wicked act.—Dean Luckock.
Mark 7:21. Evilthoughts.—Evil thoughts in the heart are like internal diseases of the body, very dangerous and very difficult of cure. Stealthy in effecting a lodgment, but most tenacious in maintaining their hold; singly appearing of little consequence, mere specks of human infirmity upon the soul, but soon spreading and leavening the whole being with their corruption, constituting our character and deciding our eternal state,—we cannot afford to make light of these enemies of our peace. A constant watchfulness against their approach, promptitude in repressing their incursion; the diligent study, the conscientious practice of every method that may help against their power,—this is the bounden duty of every Christian who sincerely desires to keep himself unspotted from the world, or to recover himself from the dominion of past sin. St. Paul speaks of God as “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart,” and declares that “all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” In the prophet we have God asserting this prerogative (Ezekiel 11:5). And so the psalmist appeals to His omniscience (Psalms 139:1). And thus we are told on the eve of the Deluge, Genesis 6:5-6. The indulgence of an evil thought is as much an offence against God as an injurious speech or a blow is an offence against our neighbour. Even under the Old Testament we have the wise man declaring, Proverbs 24:9. And in the New Testament, in the Sermon on the Mount, our Saviour still more expressly declares that the gospel law reaches to the thoughts and intents of the heart (Matthew 5:22; Matthew 5:28). And by this law shall we give account in the end. And it is just that it should be so. The prevailing character of our thoughts is the best index of our spiritual state. For it is not always what we actually do, but what we would do, if we could, what we wish for, and think about, and take delight in—this it is which constitutes our moral character for good or evil, and decides our state before God. Evil thoughts are the beginning and source of all iniquities. We think we are safe. We mean to draw back in time. But some sudden impulse takes us; our resolution gives way, and we fall headlong. And though, by mercy above our deserts, we do stop short of any flagrant act of sin, yet the mere indulgence of evil thoughts imprints a character and stamp upon the heart which years of sorrow and conscientious striving will often fail to obliterate. The soul becomes engrained with evil, and evil becomes connatural to the soul. It acquires a sad facility for uncharitable suppositions. It becomes wonderfully apt at finding fuel for its vanity in the most indifferent circumstances. It will contract fresh stains from objects upon which a purer mind would rest without experiencing any affection of evil; while grosser suggestions will fall upon such a diseased soul like sparks upon tinder, and inflame it into evil passions at once. And this will last on, when those sins have been utterly renounced, when the soul has checked itself in its wilfulness, and has turned sincerely to God, and is striving to walk daily in His fear, and to cleanse itself from iniquity; still will the shadows of his past life darken the repentant sinner’s path, and embarrass his efforts in religion; and in his holiest moments, even upon his knees, before the altar, will some train of evil thought start up suddenly, and take possession of that soul which has been used formerly to delight in them.
1. The most general, perhaps, are vain thoughts. Young people are most open to them, but they are congenial enough to all. We are all too apt to dwell with complacency upon the thing we excel in; we long for an opportunity of displaying our abilities; we please ourselves by imagining how much better we could have acquitted ourselves than a neighbour has done; we plan all sorts of schemes for the future, abandon ourselves to the most extravagant reveries, picture imaginary scenes and positions, and fancy how we should act in them. The habit of indulging such thoughts is weak and foolish indeed, but it is more, it is sinful. It is an artifice for gaining food for our vanity out of an imaginary future, when the ordinary tenor of our daily life yields too humble materials to please us. It dissipates our energies, it injures our religion, and estranges us from God.
2. In close connexion with vain thoughts we must place discontented thoughts. By overrating his ability, and by dreaming of the future, a man gets dissatisfied with his present lowly position, and thinks himself equal to something much more trying and important.
3. Next I may name uncharitable thoughts. We are all too apt to take dislikes, to impute motives, to rehearse over to ourselves the affronts we have received, to take pains to make out that we have been ill used, and be glad when we have fixed upon some reasonable ground for being angry.
4. But I have yet to name the most evil of all those evil thoughts which proceed out of the heart and defile a man; I mean impure thoughts—the most dangerous and the most difficult to conquer of all our inward corruptions; and yet one, it is to be feared, in which too many indulge without much compunction, thinking it enough so long as they abstain from grosser acts of shame. It is to this sort of evil thoughts that Bishop Beveridge’s words seem particularly to belong, when he recalls the experience he had had of the devil’s temptations, and the working of his own corruptions; by which he says: “I find that there is no sin I am betrayed into but what takes it rise from my froward thoughts. These are the tempters that first present some pleasing objects to my view, and then bias my understanding and pervert my will to comply with the suggestions. So that though the Spirit of God is pleased to dart a beam into my heart at the same time, and shew me the odious and dangerous effect of such thoughts, yet, I know not how or why, I find a prevailing suggestion within that tells me it is but a thought, and that so long as it goes no further it cannot do me much hurt. Under this specious colour and pretence I secretly persuade myself to dwell a little longer upon it; and finding my heart pleased and delighted with its natural issue, I give it a little further indulgence, till at last my desire breaks out into a flame, and will be satisfied with nothing less than the enjoyment of the object it is exercised upon.”
5. There are other evil thoughts less under our control. We are liable to be afflicted by blasphemous thoughts, by unbelieving thoughts, and by desponding thoughts, which may indeed owe their origin to past sins, but which may be injected by Satan, or induced by bodily weakness, or arise from ignorance or misapprehension of revealed truth. When our minds are thus disordered, we are not fit judges of our own estate, and our remedy is to have recourse to some discreet and learned minister of God’s Word, and to open our grief.
6. Against the other evil thoughts I mentioned our remedy lies more within our reach, and various rules may be given for resisting them. The first and most obvious is prayer—painstaking, earnest prayer. Avoid all occasions of sinning. Avoid the great snare of having time on your hands. Avoid vicious books. Forbear to read the details of crime in the public prints: they can do you no good; they may corrupt your mind with suggestions of evil. And when evil thoughts assail you, flee them at once. I do not advise any one to argue against them. Your plan is to turn your attention at once to something else; to go and do something, to think of something, different. And accordingly we must store our minds with subjects of meditation; we must get hymns and psalms by heart, or favourite pieces of Scripture; and directly an evil thought assails us, we must begin and say to ourselves one or other of these, and we shall so succeed in foiling the enemy of souls. And when we have sinned in thought, we should take notice of it in our nightly examination, and humble ourselves for it before God. We must strive, we must hope, and we shall overcome. We have the Spirit of God pledged to us to transform our affections and desires, to make us new hearts and new spirits, and bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.—C. F. Secretan.
Mark 7:22. An evil eye.—Oh, how can we hope with Job to “see our Redeemer,” with these eyes so vain, so proud, so wanton, so polluted, so prostitute! They had need be well washed with the eye-water of penitent tears, and then with the blood of Christ (Matthew 5:8; Psalms 119:37; 1 John 3:3; Job 31:1).—Bishop Gauden.
The eye the window of the soul.—The mind looks through the eye; so does the heart. Lactantius beautifully compares the eyes to glazed windows, through which the mind beholds. “And therefore,” adds he, “the mind and will are often discerned from the eyes.” Salvianus uses the same comparison of windows, but adds that hence “all wicked desires enter into the heart through the eyes, as through their natural avenues.” But the Saviour unfolds here a far profounder philosophy, when He says that the evil desires arise in the heart, and come looking out wistfully at the eyes.—J. Morison, D.D.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 7
Mark 7:6-7. Externalism in religion.—How many striking examples might be cited where men have united the form of godliness with the mystery of iniquity, under the manifest impression that their great zeal for religious observances atoned for their moral delinquencies, or that the latter were entirely overlooked on account of the approbation they earned by the former! We are told that Ivan the Terrible retired sometimes to a monastery which he had built, for his religious improvement. He rang the bell for matins himself at three o’clock in the morning. “During the services, which lasted many hours, he read, chanted, and prayed with such fervour that the marks of his prostrations remained on his forehead. But at intervals he went to the dungeons to see with his own eyes his prisoners tortured, and always returned, it was observed, with a face beaming with delight.” What a mingling it was of diabolical cruelty with religious service! Christianity, in its corrupt branches, abounds in such absurdities. That is the way they became corrupt—by setting up a false standard of righteousness, by accepting zeal and fidelity in the observance of the forms of worship as a substitute for genuine piety.
Lip-service.—Panchcowrie, a Hindoo convert, thus spoke one day in the market: “Some think they will avert God’s displeasure by frequently taking His name on their lips, and saying, ‘O Excellent God!’ ‘O Ocean of Wisdom!’ ‘O Sea of Love!’ and so on. To be sure, God is all this; but whoever heard of a debt being paid in words instead of rupees! God says to such people, ‘Ye hypocrites, why do you honour Me with your lips when your heart is far from Me?’ ”
Routine service.—Go out with me into the woods, where the white oak is, and where the beech is. Their leaves died last November, but they all hang on the trees yet. The trees have not strength enough to slough them. They always make me think of a great many people. Sap does not run in them any more, but their duties hang on them like dead leaves all over. They would not like to drop their duties—they are not quite in that state yet; but those duties are dry, sapless, and enforced.
Mark 7:9. God’s commandments and human rules.—The experience is a universal one, that God’s commandments suffer from the competition of human rules. The great precepts of God have only an unseen God behind them, but behind the human rules there is generally a class whose pride is gratified by their observance and incensed by their neglect. Accordingly, whenever small rules of outward conduct begin to flourish, the great principles of religion—faith, love, honour—fall into the background. It is so to-day. The Thug in India who confessed to having killed three hundred and twenty people had no pangs of conscience for killing them, but was somewhat distressed on account of having killed a few of them after a hare had crossed his path or a bird whistled in a certain direction. Murder was no crime in his opinion, but the neglect of an omen from Bowany was a grave one. In Hindooism, which is ceremonial throughout, a man may be a most religious man, and yet very wicked. Many in our own country would unscrupulously commit great crimes, and yet be very careful to avoid eating flesh on Good Friday. It seems as if we only had a certain amount of power of attention in us, and, if it goes to little rules, there is none left for great principles.
A hypocritical regard for ceremonial.—A traveller in Russia tells the following of a lady who, leaving a party of companions in St. Petersburg, called a hack and directed the driver to take her home. Instead of following her directions, he drove her to a deserted part of the city, murdered her, and, taking her jewels, threw her body into the canal. As he returned to the city he was arrested. The murdered lady had with her a basket of pie; when asked why he did not eat that, the murderer replied, “It was Lent. How could I think of eating that—it may contain meat; and I am, thank God, a good Christian.” We sometimes express an abhorrence of insignificant things when our hearts are set on the vilest of sins.
Mark 7:10. Honouring parents.—We call the Chinese heathen, and yet they have some customs that would do credit to a Christian people. On every New Year morning each man and boy, from the emperor to the lowest peasant, pays a visit to his mother. He carries her a present, varying in value according to his station, thanks her for all she has done for him, and asks a continuance of her favour another year. They are taught to believe that mothers have an influence for good over their sons all through life.
Mark 7:15. A self-evident truth.—Christ does not stop to prove that these things come out of the heart. He asserts it, and asserts it because it is self-evident. When you see a thing coming forth, you are clear it was there first. One summer I noticed hornets continually flying from a number of decayed logs in my garden. I saw them constantly flying in and out, and I did not think myself at all unreasonable in concluding that there was a hornets’ nest there. And so, if we see the hornets of sin flying out of a man, we suppose at once there is sin within him.
Mark 7:20. Concupiscence.—A gentleman was once extolling loudly the virtue of honesty, saying what a dignity it imparted to our nature, and how it recommended us to the favour of God. “Sir,” replied his friend, “however excellent the virtue of honesty may be, I fear there are very few men in the world who really possess it.” “You surprise me,” said a stranger. “Ignorant as I am of your character,” was the reply, “I fancy it would be no difficult matter to prove even you to be a dishonest man.” “I defy you.” “Will you give me leave, then, to ask you a question or two, and promise not to be offended?” “Certainly.” “Have you never met with an opportunity of getting gains by unfair means? I don’t say, Have you taken advantage of it? but, Have you ever met with such an opportunity? I, for my part, have; and I believe everybody else has.” “Very probably I may.” “How did you feel your mind affected on such an occasion? Had you no secret desire, not the least inclination, to seize the advantage which offered? Tell me without any evasion, and consistently with the character you admire.” “I must acknowledge I have not always been absolutely free from every irregular inclination; but—” “Hold! sir, none of your salvos; you have confessed enough. If you had the desire, though you never proceeded to the act, you were dishonest in heart. This is what the Scriptures call concupiscence. It defiles the soul; it is a breach of that law which requireth truth in the inward parts, and, unless you are pardoned through the blood of Christ, it will be a just ground for your condemnation, when God shall judge the secrets of men.”
Mark 7:21. Origin of sin.—When a young man consulted John Newton touching the origin of evil, the divine replied that he was more anxious to get sin out of the world than to know how it came into the world. But really this saying is not so wise as it seems, for to know where sin takes its rise is of first consequence in attempting its extirpation. In the soul Christ declared that it took its origin, and in the soul Christ sought to deal with it, supplying a spiritual antidote for a spiritual plague.
Sin has its source in the heart.—At present there are two theories in the field to explain the origin of contagious diseases—the parasitic theory, and the theory of the innate character of diseases. The parasitic theory assumes that diseases are originated by microbes first diffused in the atmosphere, and then taken into the system by the air we breathe, the water we drink, the things we touch. The advocates of the innate character of diseases hold, on the contrary, that the disease is spontaneously developed in the patient; the first cause is in morbid changes which are purely chemical, changes produced in the actual substance of the tissues and secretions without any external intervention of microbes—the microbes, where they really exist, being only a secondary phenomenon, a complication, and not the scientific cause which actually determines the disease. Now, whatever may be the exact truth in this biological controversy, it is evident that the first cause of such disease must be sought in a defect of life, a feebleness, a certain untoward disposition and receptivity in the organism itself. The phylloxera devastates the French vineyards because the vines have been exhausted by excessive cultivation; tuberculosis fastens upon man because of obscure conditions of bodily weakness and susceptibility; vigorous plants and robust constitutions defying the foreign destructive bodies which may fill the air—extrinsic influence and excitement counting for little where the intrinsic tendency does not exist. Revelation assumes that the man morally occupies much the same position. Environment brings the opportunity for evil, the solicitation or provocation to evil, so far do evil communications corrupt good manners; but the first cause of all must be found in the heart itself, in its lack of right direction, sympathy, and force; in a word, the scientific cause of sin is the spiritual cause.
Evil thoughts.—A quaint preacher says, “Beware how ye tarry in the painting-chamber of the devil,” by which he warns the young Christian to be on his watch against the way in which Satan seduces the imagination. When evil thoughts and unholy desires intrude into the soul, it is like a fiery dart finding its way into a powder magazine. The only safety is to stamp it out at once. If we let the spark of fire smoulder on, soon all will be wrapped in flames.
The commencements of evil to be rejected.—It is true that no man can determine who shall knock at his door, but every man can determine who shall come in through his door. It is true that no man can say, “I will not have wrong thoughts”; such thoughts will come into a man’s mind without his permission; but it is within the power of every man to say whether or not he will entertain them. If, however, a man entertains evil thoughts, he cannot tell whether the conflagration will or will not spread. A man sits down upon a prairie upon an autumnal day, when everything is dry and parched, and sets fire to the leaves and grass, saying, “I will stamp it out; I merely want a little blaze here for my own use”; but when he attempts to stamp it out, the fire is quicker-footed than he. Though he rushes from side to side and does the best he can to extinguish it, it is not stamped out, but gains on him right and left, and by-and-by it opens its wings and flies all over the prairie, destroying insects, and beasts, and human beings, and property of every kind, travelling like a whirlwind.
Bias of the heart.—The bowl runs as the bias inclines it; the ship moves as the rudder steers it; and the mind thinks according to the predominancy of vice or virtue in it. The heart of man is like the spring of the clock, which causes the wheels to move right or wrong, well or ill. If the heart once set forward for God, all the members will follow after; all the parts, like dutiful handmaids, in their places, will wait on their mistress. The heart is the great workhouse where all sin is wrought before it is exposed to open view. It is the mint where evil thoughts are coined, before they are current in our words or actions. It is the forge where all our evil works as well as words are hammered out. There is no sin but is dressed in the withdrawing-room of the heart, before it appears on the stage of life. It is vain to go about a holy life till the heart be made holy. The pulse of the hand beats well or ill, according to the state of the heart. If the chinks of the ship are unstopped, it will be to no purpose to labour at the pump. When the water is foul at the bottom, no wonder that scum and filth appear at the top. There is no way to stop the issue of sin but by drying up the matter that feeds it.—G. Swinnock.
A bad heart:—A certain little boy in Kansas, only eleven years old, strove hard to be a Christian. Once he stood watching his sister paring the potatoes for dinner. Soon she pared an extra large one, which was very white and very nice on the outside, but when cut into pieces it shewed itself to be hollow and black inside with dry-rot. Instantly Willie exclaimed, “Why, Maggie, that potato isn’t a Christian!” “What do you mean?” asked Maggie. “Don’t you see it has a bad heart?” was the child’s reply. This little Kansas boy had learned enough of the religion of Jesus to know that, however fair the outside may be, the natural heart is corrupt.
Mark 7:22. Beware of covetousness, for, under the guise of being a mere harmless indulgence of natural feeling, it is really the imbibing a dangerous gas, which will eventually choke our spiritual life. Whilst we revel in the chambers of our covetous imagery, and paint the fond desires of our evil hearts in every detail, we accustom ourselves to the growth of sinful longings, we construct an easy gradient, down which we may pass from unholy wishes to wicked deeds. The serpent’s egg may become the venomous reptile.—Dr. Hardman.
Covetous men are condemned to dig in the mines for they know not whom. The spirit of covetousness, which leads to an overvalue and overlove of money, is independent of amount. A poor man may make an idol of his little, just as much as the rich man makes an idol of his much. The Duke of Marlborough, when he was in the last stage of life and very infirm, would walk from the public room, in Bath, to his lodgings on a cold, dark night to save a sixpence in chair hire. At his death he left more than a million and a half sterling, which was inherited by one of his greatest enemies.
Avarice.—It was a true instinct which led Dante to picture avarice as an invincible foe. In his pilgrimage he passed safely by the leopard of pleasure; he feared, yet was not vanquished by, the lion of ambition; but the lean wolf of avarice drove him step by step back to the darkness. Such is the power of covetousness. It is a vice which renews its strength and is tenacious and remorseless.
Evil eye.—There are evidences of the prevalence in Ceylon of that most ancient of all superstitions, the belief in the “evil eye,” which exists in all countries in the universe from China to Peru. Is there any mysterious connexion between the prohibition to “covet” contained in the Decalogue and the horror of the “evil eye” so often alluded to in the Bible?—Sir J. E. Tennant.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 7:24. Tyre and Sidon.—Great commercial cities in Phœnicia. Tyre is mentioned in 2 Samuel 5:11; 1 Kings 9:11-14; 1 Kings 10:22; 1 Kings 16:31 : Sidon in Genesis 10:19; Joshua 11:8; Judges 1:31. Apparently Christ did not actually go into Phœnicia, but into the adjacent district, belonging to the tribe of Asher. See R. V.
Mark 7:26. Syrophœnician.—So called by way of distinction from the Libyophœnicians of Africa, the Carthaginians.
Mark 7:27. Dogs.—A diminutive, indicating the household pets.
Mark 7:28. Crumbs.—Another diminutive. Wondrous humility!
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 7:24-30
(PARALLEL: Matthew 15:21-28.)
The Syrophœnician woman.—What a powerful principle faith is, and how great its success, we have a striking example here. It shews itself to be of Divine original, and that there is no discouragement which it will not overcome.
I. The excellence of this woman’s faith—
1. The disadvantages under which she laboured. She was a Syrophœnician, an alien to the commonwealth of Israel, and had been born and educated amongst idolaters. It discovered great liberality of mind in her to acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth and to apply to Him for a cure. She had got over the prejudices of her education and country, and entertained the grandest apprehensions of His ability; nay, she acknowledged Him as the true Messiah, the Son of David, and presented her petition to Him in that character. This shews how sovereign and free the grace of God is, and that it is not confined to any one nation under heaven! This Divine seed is sometimes sowed in a seemingly neglected soil, and carefully cultivated by the Heavenly Husbandman, to teach us that He can plant it anywhere and bring it to great perfection. It is not where He taketh the greatest pains that He receiveth the largest returns, but where the children of men are diligent in improving the advantages they enjoy.
2. The severe trial to which it was put. Our Lord knew well what virtue was in her, for He was the author of it; and He proved it, for His own honour and her consolation. He concealed His regard under the appearance of displeasure. One would have thought that, when she first applied to Him, He would have taken some notice of her, and have given her a hearty welcome; she was a stranger, and who would not be kind to strangers? Yet we are told He answered her not a word. This was so unlike His common manner, which was all condescension and sympathy, that the disciples were surprised at it, and interceded in her behalf. This application of the disciples probably encouraged the poor woman, and her heart would bless them for it. But it drew from Christ a reply more forbidding than His silence, and which plainly indicated that she had no reason to expect any favour from Him. “I am not sent save to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” What a disheartening reply was this! Was it not enough to drive her to despair? Methinks we may suppose her reasoning thus with herself: “What an unhappy creature am I, to be born a Greek, and consequently to be excluded from the mercy of Jesus of Nazareth! Can it be that His heart is so contracted as to be confined to the house of Jacob, and must all the rest of mankind perish? I will not, I cannot entertain so mean an opinion of Him; I will go and prostrate myself at His feet, and implore His compassion; if He will not hear me, I can be no worse; but perhaps His bowels may be moved, and He will vouchsafe me His blessing.” Could anything be more melting than an address of this nature? Yet our Lord resisted, and would not be importuned; He told her the great impropriety, nay, the injustice, of complying with her petition: “For that He would not starve the children to feed the dogs.” One would think that an epithet of this nature would have roused her pride and inflamed her anger. But she had a better spirit, and had learned humility. “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the children’s crumbs.” I confess I am no better than a dog; but may I not have the portion of a dog? The argument was irresistible. The compassionate Jesus felt the force of it, and yielded immediately.
3. The greatness of the reward conferred upon it. There is no grace which our Lord hath distinguished with such marks of approbation as faith, because there is none which confers such honour upon Himself.
II. Why our Lord delays granting those petitions which are pleasing to Him, and which He is determined to grant.—
1. To make us prize the blessings He hath already bestowed. Mankind, in general, put a much greater value upon something which they want than upon all that they possess. Nay, such is the perversion of our natures, that we will not allow ourselves to enjoy the blessings which Providence hath conferred upon us, but torture ourselves in seeking after what it hath denied. Ought not so perverse and unreasonable a disposition to receive a severe check? May not God justly contract His hand, and restrain His bounty, when we prove insensible to His former beneficence?
2. To teach us patience and submission. In the pride of our hearts we are apt to think ourselves neglected, if we do not receive a speedy answer to our prayers; hence sullenness and discontent are ready to spring up in our minds, and we are apt to accuse Him of coldness and disaffection. But are these becoming dispositions in dependent, guilty, necessitous creatures? Is it not our duty to wait with patience the event of the Divine counsel, and to acquiesce cheerfully in its proceedings? Is it not more for the honour of God, and for our own interest, that His will be obeyed, and the purposes of His providence accomplished, than that we should immediately obtain what we ask? I acknowledge that chastisement is unpleasant and cross to corrupt nature; but is not corrupt nature what we wish to have subdued? Must not our Father in heaven use the most effectual means for extinguishing it?
3. To make us more fervent and importunate. Do not our prayers too often resemble rain in the time of frost, which freezes before it reaches the ground? A cold petitioner in some measure begs a denial. We provoke the Almighty to detain us at His throne, or to send us empty away, to arouse us from our lethargy, and to excite in us greater fervour.
4. That we may be examples to others of faith and patience. Who would grudge to be held a little longer in doubt, if to be the means of exciting in some humble fellow-Christian a holy boldness and patient perseverance? Is it not enough to satisfy us that “in due season we shall reap, if we faint not”? Therefore let us go with boldness to a throne of grace, that we may find mercy and grace to help us in every time of need.
1. The great advantage of affliction. It was the distress of this poor woman’s family which brought her to Jesus, and she had reason to be thankful for it all her life. When adversity hath this happy effect, we should make it welcome, and kiss the hand which dispenseth it.
2. Though this poor woman’s faith was very urgent, it was not presumptuous. Oh that all of us may be actuated with a similar spirit! It is to be regretted that there are some so full of themselves, and have so high an opinion of their own importance, that in their addresses to God they resemble creditors who have a demand to make upon Him, rather than debtors who owe Him every obligation.
3. Genuine Christians need not be discouraged, though an immediate return is not given to their prayers. God may treasure up their petitions, as He does their tears, in a bottle, reserving the answer to some future occasion. Let me add, that we sometimes blame our Father in heaven unjustly, and may actually receive a blessing without knowing it. It is one thing to obtain a favour, and another to have a lively sense of it. God frequently dispenseth His richest gifts whilst He conceals the hand which bestoweth them. May He graciously condescend to hear our prayers and send us an answer of peace!—D. Johnston, D.D.
The Canaanitish mother.—In all the parts of this narrative we may read that which concerns ourselves most closely. For what else are our lives, with all their varying accidents and issues, than, as it were, the shadows cast forward into all time by these dealings of the Son of God with man whilst He stood amongst us in the flesh? Have we not each one our own burden? Whether it be some outward or some inward trial; some family sorrow or some heartache; the secret wasting of some spirit-wound, some pang of conscience, or some besetting temptation; or whether it be the world’s hollowness and the thirst of the soul for truth,—have we not each our need of Him amid evils of which He can be the only Healer? And further: do not characters now divide off and part asunder even as they did then? Are there not those who, like the Jews, know not the office of this Healer; who hear all His words, and see all His signs, and languidly let Him pass, or angrily murmur at Him or blasphemously drive Him from them; from whom He passes, even to the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, to pour on others the blessing they refuse? But then there are also those who do seek Him with their whole heart,—opening to Him their hidden affliction; bearing seeming refusals in the strength of faith and the patience of an unfeigned humility; and still looking for crumbs, if they may not eat the children’s bread; daring to hope against hope; ready to take up with any portion He shall give them; and waiting still on Him, because they cannot turn to any other.
I. There is the lesson taught us by the Jews, that He does pass away from those who will not stay Him with them; that He goes on and heals others; and that they die unhealed, because they knew not “the time of their visitation.” And the root of this evil is here pointed out to us: it is a want of faith, and, from this, a lack of the power of spiritual discernment.
II. But there is also here the lesson of the woman of Canaan; and this has many aspects, of which the first, perhaps, is this, that by every mark and token which the stricken soul can read He to whom she sought is the only Healer of humanity, the true portion and rest of every heart,—that He would teach us this by all the discipline of outward things; that the ties of family life are meant thus to train up our weak affections till they are fitted to lay hold on Him; that the eddies and sorrows of life are meant to sweep us from its flowery banks, that in its deep strong currents we may cry to Him.
III. And, once more, there is this further lesson, that He will most surely be found by those who do seek after Him. And this is taught us here, not by a mere general assurance that we shall be heard, but in a way which enters far more practically into those difficulties with which every one who has striven to pray earnestly finds earnest prayer beset. For here we see why it often happens that really earnest and sincere men seem, for a time at least, to pray in vain—why their “Lord, help me!” is not answered by a word. He has a double purpose herein: He would bless by it both us and all His Church. 1. How could His Church have been taught always to pray, and not to faint, better than by such a narrative as this?
2. For ourselves, too, there is a special mercy in these long-delayed blessings. For it is only by degrees that the work within us can be perfected; it is only by steps, small and almost imperceptible as we are taking them, yet one by one leading us to unknown heights, that we can mount up to the golden gate before us. Much are we taught by these delayed answers to our prayers. By them the treasure of our hearts is cleared from dross, as in the furnace-heat; our earthly will is purified and bowed; the passionate fervency of unchastened prayer is deepened into the strong breath of humble supplication; patience has her perfect work; we are kept looking up to Christ; and by His grace, even as we hang upon Him, we grow like unto Him; we dwell in Him, and He in us.—Bishop S. Wilberforce.
Christ’s mercy.—The unusual conduct of our Lord, as seen in this story, has been often attributed to an intention of calling into full consciousness the faith which He knew to exist in the woman’s heart, and thus at once to deepen it in Himself, and to elicit an example which should serve, as it has served, for the instruction and support of all Christian souls. But, without excluding this consideration, there are some circumstances in the case which seem to give a more obvious explanation of the first motive of our Lord’s conduct, and may give the story a still closer application to ourselves.
I. The people had just been raised to the highest point of enthusiasm for Christ, and, as a double consequence, His disciples were ready to make Him a king by force, and the Pharisaic party were moving into active hostility. On account of this twofold excitement, then, He withdrew into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. He was therefore specially concerned to abstain from using His miraculous powers; and had He at once healed the woman’s daughter, the purpose of His retirement might have been at once frustrated.
II. But there is a further consideration which shews that His repellent answers were more than formal excuses.—“I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” That was a definite principle of His ministry. Consequently when this woman appealed to Him, she was asking Him to depart from an important principle of His ordinary conduct. His ministry was governed by certain laws which had been determined for purposes of the highest import, and it was no easy matter for Him to depart from them.
III. This aspect of the narrative adds a great attraction and force to the bearing of the story upon ourselves.—We too are living under certain definite laws of God; and if we transgress them, then under all ordinary circumstances we must expect the consequences, and we make a grievous mistake in appealing lightly to the mercy of God. Doubtless His mercy is infinite; but so are His truth and justice, and His determination to uphold the laws He has laid down. Our Lord longed to help the woman, but it was hard for Him to infringe the rule which He had laid down for His own guidance.
IV. Thus our Lord’s conduct is first a warning.—It illustrates what must often be the feeling of God towards us when we have violated our covenant with Him, and expect Him to have pity on us simply because of the misery we have brought upon ourselves.
V. But the example of this woman is also given for infinite encouragement.—By the side of these rules of His ordinary government there is ever present a higher principle or a higher law—that of the response of perfect love to genuine and entire faith.—H. Wace, D.D.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 7:24. Christ’s departure from Galilee.—Take warning from Christ’s departure from the active ministry in Galilee. His own rejected Him. They were deeply moved; conscience told them to yield their hearts to Him in meek obedience, and they would not. So He left them. Christ is near each one of us, far nearer to us than He was to those scribes and Pharisees; He demands, therefore, more of us than He did of them; and if we will not give Him our hearts, He will leave us to our worst enemy—our own miserable selves.
Jesus in Phœnicia.—To the Jerusalem Jews this north-land was a sink of idolatry. Even the Galileans spoke of their frontagers as “dogs,” “heathen,” “unclean,” “outcasts.” Uncircumcised aliens, left unextirpated by Joshua and his conquering soldiers, were these Gentiles. Out of this ill-omened quarter had come Ethbaal and Jezebel, and the priests of Astarte, border-ruffians in the age of the judges, and the raiders who in the days of the kings had desolated Israel. Apparently only twice was Syrian contact wholesome to the Holy Land and people. These were when Hiram the king and Hiram the architect, with Phœnician timber and Phœnician art, contributed to the glory of Solomon’s Temple, and again when Elisha won trophies of grace in Naaman and his company. Except one or two bright lines of association, the whole spectrum of memory was that of darkness. Added to all else was the thought of Phœnicia, the slave-land to which Judah’s children had been sold in the days of Joel.
Christ not hidden from the seeking soul.—It is easy to hide Christ from those who do not want Him. But the heart which feels its need of Christ, and cannot do without Him, will find Him wherever He is hidden.
Mark 7:25-30. Persistent effort is not in itself true faith, but it always accompanies true faith. Thunder never split the heart of the oak tree, but it always accompanies the lightning’s flash, and tells to all about of the lightning’s presence. The farmer does not shew his faith by lying in his bed and waiting for God to plough and harrow his field and sow his seed. He ploughs and harrows and sows, and shews his faith in then waiting for God to give the increase. God’s winds are always blowing; the man of faith spreads his sail before God can fill it. Does not this story shew—
1. That the Lord is humane enough, tender enough, to satisfy all mankind.
2. That even if He seems silent at first, and does not grant our prayers, yet still He may be keeping us waiting only that He may be gracious to us at last.
3. That He can feel for mothers and with mothers; that He actually allowed Himself to be won over—if such a word may be used reverently—by the wit and grace of a mother pleading for a child.—C. Kingsley.
1. Any trouble, however grievous, is a blessing, if it brings us to seek Christ and His help.
2. There are none who may not come to Christ for help.
3. No true blessing is too great for Christ to grant.
4. Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.—J. R. Bailey.
Christ’s dealings with His people.—
1. Remember how various are the dealings of the Lord with His people who pray to Him, answering at once with some, answering after long delay with others, and not answering at all with a third class.
2. Examine into the causes of delay so far as we can, or of failure in prayer. Is it that we ask for what is contrary to His will and providence, and not that His will be fulfilled? Is it that we seek temporal things first, and not spiritual—not “first the kingdom of God”? Is it that we are| indulging some known sin, and so our prayers are not acceptable? Or is it that we have not the dispositions which the heathen mother had—of faith and fervour, of lowliness and perseverance?
3. Let us imitate her, and wait upon God until He is gracious to us. Take especially her perseverance in prayer, and copy it. “Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Let delay enlarge the desire of the soul. Ward off impatience and despair. “The kingdom of God suffereth violence; and the violent take it by force.” Let us struggle on till we gain the grace we are seeking, and say, with the patriarch of old, “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me.”—W. H. Hutchings.
Bringing others to Christ.—This case is one out of a multitude in which the immediate sufferer is brought to Christ not by his own prayer, but by the prayer of others. Have you ever seen anything like this in the symptoms of this raging pestilence of sin? Have you ever known the patient fascinated by its illusions, or crazed with its mad delirium, or hardened into apathetić indifference, or inactive in the helpless torpor of despair, so that if anything is to be done in his behalf, it must needs be done by others? And do you find no encouragement, in such stories as this, to believe that those who seem to be past the power of praying for themselves may be taken up in the arms of natural affection and brought to where the Lord may lay His hands upon them and heal them? Each bond of social influence, each tie of natural affection, may be a means that God shall use to bring them within the circle of the attractions of the Cross, “drawing them with the cords of love, with the bands of a man.” Oh, doubly blessed such an affliction which brings to Christ not one alone but two—preparing the sufferer to receive the grace, and teaching the sympathiser how to pray for it!—L. W. Bacon.
Prayer for others.—It is said truly, that necessity makes a man pray for himself, but charity for another; and in charity the rule is good, the nearer the dearer: and therefore, seeing our children next unto ourselves, and our wives our other selves, are nearest unto us, it is good reason we should wish them all good, especially that they may be dispossessed of the devil.—Dean Boys.
Mark 7:27. Christ’s reluctance to depart from His plan of work.—Jesus’ work was proceeding in a certain method. He could depart from that method, but He must depart for a reason. When a departure was suggested, the first thing that came up to Him was the great law and purpose of His life. It was only when the reason became very strong that He was willing to depart. It would seem that there was a necessity for adhering to the ordinary course of His work, yet not an absolute but a relative necessity, which could be surpassed, but had first to be moved aside by reason.—Bishop Phillips Brooks.
Words with tender tone.—Hard words. Yes: but all depends on how they were spoken—on Christ’s look, and the tone of His voice. Did He speak with a frown, or with something like a smile? There must have been some tenderness, meaningness, pity, in His voice which the quick woman’s wit caught instantly, and the quick mother’s heart interpreted as a sign of hope.—G. Kingsley.
Mark 7:28. This verse contains three important principles for our guidance in the spiritual life.
1. Agree with the Lord, no matter what He says. “Yes, Lord.”
2. Think of another truth, and urge it with Him as a plea. “Yet.”
3. Whatever happens, have faith in the Lord, and possess thy soul in patience. His dealings may be inscrutable, but the foundation of them all is love.
Encouragement from a severe word.—Instead of “Yes, Lord: yet,” the R. V. gives “Yea, Lord: even”; and the more exact rendering brings to light a valuable truth. The old translation, it has been truly said, expresses the way in which our mind too generally looks at things. We fancy that we set one truth over against another, whereas all truths are agreed, and cannot be in conflict. Out of the very truth which looks darkest we may gain consolation. This woman did not draw comfort from another truth which seemed to neutralise the first; but as the bee sucks honey from the nettle, so did she gather encouragement from the severe word of the Lord: “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.” She said, “That is true, Lord, for even the dogs eat of the children’s crumbs.” She had not to turn what Christ said upside-down; she took it as it stood, and spied out comfort in it.
Are we pleading the better covenant?—This woman had God’s old covenant against her; we have His new and better covenant on our side. Are we pleading it with anything like the earnestness she shewed? Do we pray for others with such pertinacity and importunity?
Reading between the lines.—Like a skilful musician, she caught the strain and finished the strophe. To the Jewish ear the Master had begun to tell the parable of elect and reprobate, covenant and aliens, of the home and the outcasts, of the children and the curs. She, with faith’s power and in the light of that eye, read between the lines the tiny parable of the children and their pets, even the parable of humanity and its Saviour. Her gentleness made her great; her trust made her mighty. No longer Canaanitish or Syrophœnician, she is for ever in sacred story as the woman great of faith, on whose will was laid answer to prayer from the Holy One of God.
In the love of God there is ample room, if only men will enter in at the right door, and pursue it in the lawful way. What Esau imputed to an earthly father, when he said, “Bless me, even me also, O my father,” the same fulness of bounty do the hearts of “such as shall be saved” impute to their Heavenly Father, and to His express image, Jesus Christ.” And so did this woman’s heart impute it to Him, when she replied, “Truth, Lord,” etc. It is clear she caught glimpses, at least, of the true and living God, who “giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not.” It is clear she had a lively notion what kind of “Master” God was. She had also a notion of the necessities and dependence of man upon God. What she calls “the master’s table” is, in the enlarged application of the parable, the common order of Providence. She herein silently acknowledges, at the same time, the justice of God in giving different gifts to men,—to some abundance, whether of wealth or health; to others poverty and sickness. She does not dispute the order of Providence, but acquiesces in it.
Mark 7:29. Perseverance rewarded.—There is no withheld mercy that the soul requires which is not waiting simply for the opportunity to abandon itself in the utter bestowal of its grace upon the needy soul. Persevere, even if you have pleaded for years and seemed to get no entrance into the ear of God. The man, wrestling with the burden of this life and finding it too heavy, who by-and-by kills himself because he thinks there is no salvation at the hands of God, how cowardly his conduct is, and how poor it is, beside the impetuous faith with which this poor woman wrestles with the stone athwart the torrent of the mercy of her God, until by-and-by it is turned away and the torrent pours itself into the help of her need!—Bishop Phillips Brooks.
The limitations of mercy.—All through the record of mercies and the miracles of Jesus there runs a certain subtle tone which puzzles us. I seem to hear, as I read, the sound of a great sea of might and mercy shut in behind necessities which it cannot disobey; I seem to hear it clamouring to escape and give itself away along long stretches of the wall which shuts it in; and then I seem to see it bursting forth rejoicingly where some great gate is flung wide open, and it may go forth unhindered to its work of blessing. So seems to me the story of the power and love of Jesus held fast under the conditions of the faith of men.—Ibid.
The outside and inside healing.—The child was healed; but no more than the mother. The demon was cast out of the child; but no more than it was out of the mother. The child was brought back to the mother. Yes, and the mother was brought back to God. It was a double miracle that was performed. There was an inside one and an outside one; and the inside one was the more resplendent and glorious. God’s mercies are to be counted not on the outside, but on the inside. If they make you selfish, and hard-hearted, and unsympathetic, and you grow close, and you separate yourself from your fellow-men, and you are ungodlike in the proportion in which you are prospered, woe be unto you! If God’s external mercies make you better, they are tolerable. If God’s chastisements make you better, thank God for them. Those unfeeling words, that cold look, and that indifferent way of Christ—what a gush of feeling they brought out from this woman’s soul! That pushing away—how it brought the pleading hands out, as it were! how it caused every tendril and fibre of her heart to clasp and cling to the Saviour, and made her refuse to let Him go! It was out of the apparent winter of His face that her summer came. It was out of this repulsion that her blessing came. Any dealing that makes you better inside is beneficent. And do not feel, when God is dealing with you severely, that He has forgotten you. It takes a great while to answer some prayers. You cannot be transformed in an instant. You cannot be changed between twilight and sunrise. When, therefore, you pray that God will regenerate your nature, will you not give Him time to do such a work? When you pray for the reconstruction of your character, will you not wait till God can perform such an act of mercy? If, looking at the interior, He sees that the work can be expedited, He will expedite it; but you must be patient.—H. W. Beecher.
Bring your wants to Christ.—Bring all your wants to Christ, and always bring them with a consciousness that for the answering of your prayer the best of all persuasions and arguments is a heart that will be made better by having its petitions answered of God. It may be that you stand between your desires and God’s mercies. Seek to keep the way clear between your soul and His.—Ibid.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 7
Mark 7:24. Tyre and Sidon.—Toward the north, where the cliffs of Lebanon rise bolder and loftier, and crowd closer down upon the sea, is the narrow strip of seacoast memorable in history as the earliest home of maritime commerce, and of the splendid wealth that resulted from it, as well as of the luxury and corruption, the disasters and overthrows, that followed in their turn—the land of Tyre and Sidon, otherwise called Phœnicia. Fifteen hundred years before Christ, Tyre was a great and famous town—mentioned in the book of Joshua—and Sidon, a day’s walk to the north of it, was older yet. Six hundred years before Christ, following hard after the prophecies of Ezekiel to fulfil them, Nebuchadnezzar the Great came marching down the coast with his Chaldeans, and destroyed it after a siege of thirteen years’ duration. It would not stay destroyed. That little rocky island lying off the cliffs of the inhospitable coast has been one of the points of earth predestinated for the abode of man. Three hundred years before Christ, Alexander the Great, marching his Macedonian phalanxes down this narrow coast-line, found Tyre lying across his path to India. On its island of rock it seemed to defy him, until, after seven months of vain siege, he gathered up the ruins of the former city that cumbered the shore and tumbled them into the sea, and over that isthmus marched over and took the town and destroyed it again. Since that, to this day, Tyre is a peninsula, and no more an island. But now, in the days of Christ, the city was growing up a third time. And the relics of its splendour at the period in question are visible to the traveller to-day. You see the traces of that magnificent enterprise that marked the palmy days of the Roman Empire. They sent to Egypt for the numberless granite columns that decorated the quays and breakwaters—you can see them now lying in piles under the blue, tideless Mediterranean waters. They sent to the Grecian islands for sculptured marbles. They decorated the neighbouring hillsides with the villas of Greek and Roman merchants, with statues and fountains and tesselated pavements. And not least, “on every high hill and under every green tree” they set up again the shrines and temples of that utterly corrupt and licentious idolatry that had polluted not only this Canaanitish race itself from the beginning, but all the races that came into relation with it. The glory of Tyre is departed now. The hovels of poor fishermen occupy the sites of palaces and temples, and the munitions of her rocks are a place for the drying of nets.—L. W. Bacon.
Mark 7:26. A rich heritage.—There is no heritage so rich as the heritage of a mother’s pious example and godly counsels—no patrimony so valuable and profitable as a mother’s prayers. Upon a tombstone erected by a family of children was the inscription, “Our mother. She always made home happy.” Cecil, though once full of sceptical notions, said afterwards, “There was one argument I never could get over—the influence and life of a godly mother.” Oh, mothers, take your daughters to Jesus, and be determined to plead and persevere until He shall speak the healing word and cause them to sit at His feet, “clothed and in their right mind”!
Mark 7:27-28. “Feed me as a dog.”—The Talmud contains a story so singularly parallel to this that it is worth reproducing. “There was a famine in the land, and stores of corn were placed under the care of Rabbi Jehudah the Holy, to be distributed to those only who were skilled in the knowledge of the law. And, behold, a man came, Jonathan, the son of Amram, and clamorously asked for his portion. The Rabbi asked him whether he knew the condition and had fulfilled it, and then the suppliant changed his tone and said, ‘Nay, but feed me as a dog is fed, who eats of the crumbs of the feast’; and the Rabbi hearkened to his words, and gave him of the corn.”
The gospel for the outcast.—Duff, the missionary, was about to begin service in a Boer farmer’s house, when he noticed that none of the Kaffir servants were present. To his request that they should be brought in, the Boer replied roughly, “What have Kaffirs to do with the gospel? Kaffirs, sir, are dogs.” Duff made no reply, but opened his Bible and read, “Yes, Lord; yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs.” “Stop,” cried the farmer, “you’ve broken my head. Let the Kaffirs come in.”
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 7:31. For true reading see R. V. Through Sidon—not necessarily the city. The object of this long détour was to obtain much-needed retirement and rest.
Mark 7:32. This man’s deafness had rendered him hard-of-speech, scarcely able to articulate intelligibly.
Mark 7:34. Ephphatha.—The actual Aramaic word used. “Be thou opened—it is the man who is addressed; it was he who needed to be corporeally opened to the ingress of sounds, and to the ready egress of words.”
Mark 7:35. String.—The bond holding his tongue and impeding his speech.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 7:31-37
The deaf-mute healed.—
I. The journey of Christ, and the place where the miracle was performed (Mark 7:31).—From His short and necessary excursion unto a foreign territory Christ speedily returned to the land of Judea, the proper scene of the ministry of Him who was sent unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. With a view, probably, both of allowing time for the resentment of His enemies to be moderated, and of instructing numbers whom He had not visited in the regular course of His journeys, He makes a circuit through the rich and fertile district of Decapolis, or “the Ten Cities,” the most populous part of the well-inhabited province of Galilee. His stay seems to have been short, for none of the Evangelists mention any remarkable event to have taken place there. He hastens to the shores of the Sea of Galilee, the birthplace and residence of many of His disciples—the country of a numerous people who listened to Him with more attention and respect than the proud and bigoted inhabitants of the capital and its neighbourhood.
II. The nature of the disease to be cured (Mark 7:32).—This man had not power in those organs which are necessary for the reciprocal communication of ideas and sentiments. We are little accustomed to consider the vast importance of the gift of speech—a gift, I believe, in the strictest sense of the term, from our Supreme Benefactor; for articulate language, an art so complicated and yet so necessary in the earliest infancy of society, can scarcely be considered as a matter of human invention. No theory has proved satisfactory, or thrown light on the subject, but that one which ascribes it to “the Father of lights, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift.” It is indeed a good gift, on which all the other improvements of society depend. Without it man must be still almost a solitary individual. In the midst of society he were alone—guided in his difficulties by no kind instruction, soothed in his calamities by no soft voice of sympathy, gladdened in the day of strength by no cheering note of joy, comforted in the hour of darkness and sorrow by no kindred spirit to tell him of another and a better life, of the high destiny of man, and of the grace of a merciful God.
III. The request of the people (Mark 7:32).—There is a modesty in the request which gives a favourable idea of the character of the petitioners. They were evidently humane; for they bring their distressed neighbour for a cure. They were humble; they present the opportunity of working a miracle to Him whom they believed to be possessed of the power; but they did not demand nor even solicit the exertion of His Divine energy. They believed in the compassion of Christ; and they present to Him an object of pity, and pray that He will bless him. To lay the hand on one is the natural and significant action of goodwill, of a benevolent wish and friendly inclination. The people expected that by this action Christ would communicate the particular blessing which the case required. They did not suppose that He was to use any vain arts, like the false pretenders to miraculous power; but that by His own inherent energy He would effect the cure of which the laying on of His hand marked, according to the usual significant form, the wish and the accomplishment. The people knew that Christ was raised far above all vainglory, and that by a simple indication of His will He could produce a miraculous cure.
IV. The manner in which our Lord proceeded in performing this miracle (Mark 7:33-34).—He would not expose the man, while He is communicating with him by the necessary signs, to the idle gaze of the indifferent, or the impertinent observations of those wicked companions who followed Him everywhere, and might now be mixed among the friendly observers, and who might alarm the patient, who could not hear nor understand their words, but might comprehend their gestures so far as to produce in him uneasiness and fear. Retiring a little from the crowd, “He put His fingers into his ears, and He spit, and touched his tongue.” You are aware that from the situation of this man, precluded from all conversation with his neighbours, from all the means of knowledge which depend on spoken language, he must therefore have had a very imperfect notion of our Lord’s character and power. There was no way by which Christ could excite his attention or communicate His own views or purpose but by appropriate signs, to the use of which he was probably accustomed. As the ears of the deaf seem to be closed, He puts His fingers on them; and as the tongue is supposed to be fastened, He touched it with a wet finger, to intimate, perhaps, to the wondering patient and his friends the nature of the relief He was about to convey. Then observe our Lord’s sympathy—“He sighed.” He felt for the degraded situation of the man before Him, excluded from society, whose converse cheers us amid the calamities of life—from that moral instruction which elevates us above them, from the knowledge of God and that religious truth which prepares us for the enjoyment of Him; and by a sigh, the frequent attendant of inward and silent prayer, especially when the mind is oppressed by grief, He shewed how much His heart was affected, and how ardent His wish to grant relief. It might be that there were some circumstances unknown to us which made this man a peculiar object of pity. But whether general or particular, it was evidently His sympathy with human wretchedness which agitated His bosom, that tender feeling for all our sorrows which renders Him so fit a High Priest for men compassed about with infirmity. Observe our Lord’s piety in this action: “Looking up to heaven.” Through all His life, from His earliest years till it was finished on the Cross, His reverence for His Heavenly Father is conspicuous. His will was the guide of His actions, His honour the end and aim of them. From Him He asked for power, and to Him ascribed the glory. In this case He raised His eyes to the heavens and to Him who made them, as a mark of His own trust in the Divine blessing on this work of kindness, as an intimation to the person to be cured, who could see, though he could not speak nor hear, that from thence was to come his aid, and as a warning to all the witnesses of the transaction that they should glorify the God of their fathers for His wondrous works. In this action observe the power and authority of Christ; He saith, “Ephphatha, that is, Be thou opened.” He speaks in the Syriac, the common language of the country, that the audience might all know what was passing. Assured of His power, He commands, and it is done. The authority of Heaven accompanying His words, sanctions the high claims of the Carpenter of Nazareth to the office and character of the Messiah.
V. The account of the miracle (Mark 7:35).—The miracle was accomplished “straightway,” instantly, on the command—not gradually, as if it were the effect of external application. Although Christ, as the Messiah, “was not to cry nor lift up nor cause His voice to be heard in the streets” as a vain boaster or a deceiver of the people, yet He possessed within Him a mighty energy which gave its proper effect to every word which He spake, which made the deaf to hear His voice, and gave to the tongue of the dumb a power unknown and unconceived before. He spake with the voice of power; but as it broke on the delighted ear of the patient, it sounded soft as the voice of mercy speaking in its sweetest tones; gentle and kind, it diffused joy over his frame, mixed with that astonishment which he could not help feeling when all the knowledge of manhood was at once bestowed on such a weak and imperfect being.
VI. The charge of concealment (Mark 7:36).—Without waiting to receive the expressions of astonishment, joy, and gratitude which were ready to break forth from every tongue, and which would have been so pleasant to an ordinary mind, He enjoins silence and secrecy with regard to this humane action. He laid the foundation for a complete proof of His Divinity, but He was not anxious to receive the direct testimony or honour of men. He formed the strongest claims to the gratitude of mankind, but He declined, with the genuine modesty of a superior mind, the applause which they were ready to bestow. It has been often observed, that true greatness is always adorned with this lovely quality, and that the highest attainments have ever been accompanied with humility. Possessing qualities far above those of humanity, the humility of Christ reflects a peculiar beauty on His character, and renders His virtues and His works most engaging and attractive. We are astonished at the Divine power in this miracle. We admire the Divine goodness and condescension. We adore and love the lowly spirit which shrank from the noisy praises of the wondering multitude, and avoided the ostentation of a public testimony to His merits.
VII. The effect on the beholders (Mark 7:36-37).—In His journey through life Christ was much oftener harassed by envy and malice than consoled by the soft voice of sympathy or cheered by the sweet notes of praise. The people among whom. He now was felt and spake of His good deeds as it became them. There is often a zeal without knowledge which appears in the writings of pious men. Hence these Galileans have been blamed because they published this miracle “so much the more” that the Worker of it charged them to conceal it. Christ, they say, was a Lawgiver entitled to the obedience of all whom He had addressed, and had peculiar reasons, involving His comfort and His safety, for wishing that this command should be carefully observed. All this is certainly true. But it was not yet known to these men of Galilee: they viewed Him merely as an illustrious prophet, whose modesty would keep secret what tended to His great honour, and, moved by wonder and gratitude, they feel themselves bound to proclaim the virtue which they admired, and the good deeds which they experienced. Far from entertaining any enmity to Christ, or a malicious disregard of His request, they are anxious to promote His credit among men, and use only the language of commendation.—L. Adamson.
Mark 7:34. Ephphatha.—A serious and philosophical mind, contemplating the innumerable evils, physical and moral, to which men are exposed during their short continuance in this world, would very naturally conclude that the present state could not be that for which the Almighty originally intended them. Divine revelation alone can carry us back to the origin of things, and give us the true information with respect to their present appearances. By this we learn, that the beautiful order and harmony of creation were marred by the creature’s transgression, who, turning his will from the source of infinite goodness, lost that first state in which his Maker had placed him, and wherein all was light and joy, and found himself in subjection to an evil nature within and a world of darkness and distress without. By this too we are informed, that nothing less than a return to his original source could reinstate him in his original bliss; that this return could be rendered possible in no other way than by a ray, a spark, a seed, an earnest, a taste, or a touch of his first life, imparted or inspoken into his fallen nature by the God of love, to be gradually opened and unfolded by such a redeeming process as, with the co-operation of his own will, would effectually restore him to his primeval felicity; and that this was undertaken, and only could be undertaken and accomplished, by that Eternal Son of the Father in and by whom man was originally created, and in and by whom alone he could be redeemed.
I. The looking up to heaven was beautifully expressive of the real situation in which this Great Restorer of human nature stood before His Heavenly Father. It was intended, no doubt, to communicate to every attentive observer this great lesson of instruction: that all the powers and virtues of which He was possessed came down from above; that they were communicated to Him “without measure”; and that He could have no authority over the evils of human life, so as either to mitigate or remove them, but by standing continually in the heavenly world, inspiring its air, receiving its beams of light and love, and sending them forth into every human heart that was truly desirous of receiving them; and that it was by such a communication alone that He should be enabled to restore hearing and speech to the unhappy patient they had brought before Him.
II. This look was accompanied with a sigh.—A sigh seems to indicate distress. An anxious, oppressed, and afflicted heart is sometimes so full as to deprive the tongue of the power of utterance; it vents itself, therefore, in a sigh. But what could oppress or afflict the heart of the meek and innocent Jesus? As the Second Adam, the Father and Regenerator of our whole lapsed race, He voluntarily assumed our nature, and became as intimately united to it as the head to the members of the body. His sympathetic heart is sensible of every want and distress of every son and daughter of Adam. He is persecuted with the Church that Saul persecuteth; and “whoso toucheth His children, toucheth the apple of His eye.” Yea, He feels for those who feel not for themselves, and sighs over the sad estate of those who are blind to their true happiness—“who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness.”
III. “And He saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.”—Whatever salutary efficacy there may be in medicine, it must proceed from that heavenly virtue which rises from the reunion of divided properties. This reunion is the source of health, and the restoration of aught that may be impaired in any of our outward organs or inward faculties. To Him who had all nature under His control, who knew how to bring together and unite in an instant those properties which have been separated, a single word, the mere motion of His will, was sufficient to produce the desired effect.
IV. The same supernatural powers which Jesus displayed upon this occasion He still continues to exercise in the hearts of His redeemed offspring.—Deaf and dumb with respect to our inward and spiritual senses we all are by nature. We can hear and speak, indeed, of worldly things with a quickness and facility which manifests in innumerable instances the strong attraction by which they hold our attention and affections: the calls of business and of pleasure we are ever ready to answer. Our earthly senses are continually open; but our heavenly faculties are closed by a thousand obstructions which we suffer the devil, the world, and the flesh to form in our hearts. The Great Shepherd of Israel, who is perpetually employed in “seeking and saving that which was lost,” makes use of a variety of means and methods to bring the soul to a conviction of its loss. The efficacy of these depends, indeed, upon the concurrence of the human will, because nothing can come into the soul but what itself wills or desires. The different dispensations of Providence are wisely and affectionately adapted to the different circumstances of individuals: the end and design of them all is one and the same, viz. to bring the wandering creature to a sense of his deviations, and “to guide his feet into the way of peace.” By whatever means this conviction is wrought, the soul soon becomes sensible of its mistaken choice, and soon determines to withhold its attention from the calls of earthly objects. In vain does the siren sing her delusive song—it ceases now to charm; for the finger of God stops the outward ear, that the inward ear may be opened to a sweeter note. The sigh of a contrite sinner brings down heaven into his heart. Jesus often sighed. He loves a sigh—it invites Him into His own temple; and “Ephphatha, Be opened,” is the blessed voice that precedes His salutary entrance. Be opened! Opened to what? To the harmony of heaven, to the symphonies of angels, to “the voice of the Bridegroom.” “The marriage of the Lamb” is come; the bride is prepared; the silver cord is tied; the blessed union is completed! The soul is now all eye, all ear, all heart, all tongue; and eye, and ear, and heart, and tongue are all employed in receiving the gifts and graces and celebrating the beauties and perfections of Him who is “fairest among ten thousand, who is altogether lovely.”—J. Duché, M.A.
Mark 7:37. “He hath done all things well.”—
I. The people’s testimony or verdict concerning our Saviour.—“He hath done all things well.”
1. No doubt but the scribes and Pharisees had been witnesses of Christ’s miracles as well as the people; but vainglory, envy, and other by-respects had jostled out the belief of them, so that by means of them they were rather hardened than converted. We owe the growth of Christian religion to plain, honest men, who received the gospel with free and unprejudiced affections, and closed with it when they saw it consonant to right reason. Oh, how blessed would this nation be if it had people of the like temper, who, without prejudice and prepossession, without siding and faction, would embrace sound doctrine, and bear testimony to it by their peaceable and holy lives!
2. From the persons testifying I proceed to the Person of whom they testify—He, a mere man, for so they express Him, and not as believers in after-times did, who never mentioned Him as mere man, but either as God or as the Eternal Son of God. However, this denomination of the people was at present accepted and registered as a proof of their ingenuity, that they gave Christ the glory of His actions, though their appellation of Him was not sufficiently honourable. God opens the eyes of men’s understanding and cures the infirmities of their souls by degrees. ’Twas enough, at our Lord’s first entrance upon His prophetic office and preaching to the world, that the people received His doctrine and conceived rightly of His miracles, though not of His Divine nature; that they acknowledged Him to be a good man, though not the Son of God Incarnate, which at that time was not understood by the apostles themselves. This their ignorance God then winked at; but how injurious, how derogatory to His honour would it now be so far to debase Him as to strip Him of His Divine nature and to degrade Him to mere humanity! ’Tis necessary to believe not only all that is delivered by Him, but also all that is delivered of Him, and to acknowledge Him to be our God as well as our Saviour. To say in these days, with the Jewish multitude, He, or this man, were no less than sacrilege, when our style ought to be, the Eternal Son, God blessed for evermore.
3. I pass to the third particular—the people’s verdict or approbation of Him, “He hath done well.” This testimony was rightly grounded: they concluded, with good reason, that He who had made “both the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak” was no deceiver, but a man approved of God; that He whose works were so mighty must Himself be holy and His words true. Miracles, says St. Austin, have a tongue, and speak; they are not only works, but arguments. To give speech to a man that was from his birth without it is even of itself a kind of speech, the speech no less than of the Almighty; for God not appearing personally to converse with men, such as these are the expressions of Himself to the world. Neither did the voices which broke from the clouds at the baptism and transfiguration of our Lord, saying, “This is My Beloved Son,” more plainly and intelligibly declare to hearers who Christ was, than the voice of God in every miracle that Christ wrought pronounced the same thing: on all His works were these Divine words engraved, in bright and shining characters, “This is My Beloved Son; hear Him.”
4. I told you before that when the people gave Him this approbation, they did not understand Him to be that great prophet that was to come into the world, the Messias, and Son of God; though a true prophet they apprehended Him to be, for this He had made apparent to the most scrupulous. But how then could they give Him so large a testimony as they did, when even true prophets sent by God did not do all things well, but had all of them their infirmities, and were not without sin? I confess, indeed, that, acknowledging Him no more than a man, their approbation of Him was not without exception; for though they pronounced a right sentence, ’twas not with a right knowledge; they overshot themselves in their testimony (though true) when they said, “He hath done all things well.” This is no trifling or insignificant observation; for we may build on it this important truth, that we may not from a few instances of goodness conclude a universal probity, nor from a few specious or astonishing actions allow a Divine approbation: for thus a Theudas or a Judas Gaulonites may pass for the Messiah, and Simon Magus might pretend to the Godhead that was given him at Rome for his skill in magic; and the heathen demons, who were all deified for some uncommon and extraordinary performances, might challenge their deities.
II. The application of this testimony to the present miracle.—“He maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.”
1. He touched him with His fingers—
(1) That the standers-by might see and testify that the cure came from Him, not from any confederacy with spirits, nor from any other external power; and this could not but oblige them to have a greater veneration both for His person and doctrine; it could not but persuade them that what proceeded from His mouth must needs be true, when they saw that the operations of His hands were supernatural and Divine.
(2) That the miracle might make a deeper impression, and be longer remembered both by the beholders and by the person recovered. For the like reason our Saviour instituted the two great sacraments. He could have conveyed to us the pardon of our sins and the grace of His Holy Spirit without the ceremonies of washing and breaking of bread; but He thought fit to add these outward actions not only to make spiritual things more plain and conceivable, but to make transient things more permanent, that His benefits might be more remarkable and better fixed in our minds.
2. By casting up His eyes to heaven and sighing, He made intercession with God, from whom cometh salvation, in such strains as cannot be uttered or distinctly expressed; not that the Father did not hear Him readily and at all times, but that the people might see that the miracle which He wrought was the return of His prayer—that as His finger touched the tongue and ear of the man, so His request touched the throne of God.
3. The last circumstance which Christ used was the word “Ephphatha, Be opened”—a word like that which God spoke at creation (Genesis 1:3). The poets tell us of a famous enchantress whose spells were so prevalent that the celestial orbs yielded obedience to her. This was either a fiction or a juggle. But it is certain that all creatures, without any demur, speedily obeyed the commands of our Lord, without expecting a second fiat.—E. Lake, D.D.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 7:31. Why did Christ now leave Tyre and Sidon and go again to Galilee?—
1. Because He was called and appointed by God to be the minister of the circumcision.
2. That by His departure, depriving them of all further benefit of His presence and ministry, He might punish the unthankfulness of the people of those coasts, who apparently did not esteem and make use of His presence and ministry while He was with them.—G. Petter.
Mark 7:34. Christ’s look, sigh, and word.—
1. The upward look. Not so much an appeal as a testimony (John 11:41-42), indicating—
(1) Devout faith in Heaven.
(2) Conscious harmony with Heaven.
(3) Undoubting confidence in Heaven.
2. The sigh.
(1) Holy grief.
(2) Brotherly sympathy.
(3) Anxious solicitude. Says Henry: “He had better be tongue-tied still, unless he have grace to keep his mouth as with a bridle.”
3. The word.
(3) Prophetic meaning. Learn:
1. Adoring gratitude (Exodus 4:1).
2. Humble patience. What use are we making of speech? (Jeremiah 8:6; Isaiah 6:5).
3. Practical brotherly-kindness. Some sigh, but nothing more. Idle sentiment. Others sigh, but do not look up. No faith in God. If they pity and strive to help, it is only of themselves. They give not God the glory. Let us seek the Spirit of Christ.—W. Forsyth.
A compassionate Saviour.—
1. See how great hardness of heart possesses us by nature in that we are not touched with feelings of our own sins and miseries, which caused Christ to grieve and sigh, etc.
2. Comfort to God’s children in all miseries and afflictions. Christ is a merciful and compassionate Saviour.
3. Learn by Christ’s example to be affected with grief and compassion for others’ miseries.—G. Petter.
The heavenward look.—Let us be like our Lord, lifting up our eyes and “looking up to heaven”; sighing, too, as He did, because of the many sadnesses of this world—its blindness, deafness, dumbness; but looking up to that heaven where none will be blind, but all shall see God—none deaf, but all shall hear His voice, and, hearing, understand—none dumb, but all shall praise God in the home of “hallelujah” for ever.—Jas. Lonsdale.
Mark 7:35. Ears opened before the tongue untied.—It has been well observed that Christ first opened the man’s ears, and then untied his tongue, because we must hear well before we can speak well.
Mark 7:36. Ostentation to be avoided by ministers.—
1. In doing good duties of our callings, we must be far from the very shew of ambition and vainglory.
2. Ministers must be very wise and careful to prevent all occasions and impediments that may any way hinder or interrupt them in their ministerial duties.
3. In that Christ forbade this miracle to be made known, because the time was not yet come in which the glory of His Godhead proved by His miracles should be clearly and fully manifested, hereby He teaches us to be far from desiring or seeking any honour or glory to ourselves which does not belong to us, or which does not as yet belong to us, or is not meet and fit for us at this or that time.—G. Petter.
Mark 7:37. God has done all things well.—This is one of the most momentous principles of all wisdom and religion, one of the main pillars of human virtue and happiness—a principle essentially inherent in Christianity, and which should be always present to our thoughts, the soul and guide of all our judgments, dispositions, actions, hopes, and views.
1. “God has done all things well” is applicable to the arrangements and institutions which God has established in nature, to the laws which He has prescribed to the innumerable host of His inanimate and animate creatures. All is one immense, close-compacted whole, the several parts whereof in various ways insinuate together, confine each other, advance, retard, impel, uphold, produce, enliven one another: a whole, where no power extrudes another, no part militates with another, no aim defeats another, no cause is disproportionate to its effect, no effect without cause; where is neither want nor superfluity, nor chasm; where nothing is indeterminate, nothing casual, nothing detached and separate from the rest; where absolute, exquisite connexion and order and harmony exist.
2. “God has done all things well” holds in regard to the arrangements and provisions which He has made in the moral world and for promoting moral ends. Is it expedient that thou, O man, from a sensual, animal creature, shouldst be formed and educated into a rational, wise, good, happy intelligent agent; is it expedient that thy faculties should be exerted, drawn forth, exercised, strengthened, perfected; is it expedient that thou shouldst act not from blind instinct, but by just perceptions and freely; is it expedient for thee to shun the deceitful paths of folly and vice, and pursue the career of virtue with courage and resolution; is it expedient for thee to know, to seek, to enjoy substantial, lasting happiness, and learn to look rather at the unseen than at the visible, at the future than at the present; is it expedient that thou shouldst prepare and fit thyself for a superior life,—then all these institutions and arrangements could be no other than they are; they are the properest means for promoting thy perfection and forwarding thee to thy appointment.
3. “God has done all things well” holds in regard to the particular laws which He has prescribed to us as moral creatures. They are all just and expedient, so many means and methods to perfection and happiness, how numerous soever the restraints they put upon us, however hostile they are to our lusts and passions, whatever attention, care, self-denial, exertion of our faculties it may cost us, whenever they deprive us of some present advantage, some transient pleasure. Never without danger can we exceed the bounds which He has set us, never without detriment neglect the duties which He has enjoined us, never without injury omit the exercises which He has prescribed us.
4. “God has done and does all things well” is applicable to the providence and government which He extends over all. Let the ways of His providence seem ever so dark and intricate to us, before Him all is unclouded light, all perfect order. The association of means and ends may appear to us ever so incomprehensible, ever so incongruous; the coherence and combination of the whole and its parts ever so embarrassed: His ends will be infallibly attained, the means He employs are always the surest and best, and all evolve and disentangle themselves agreeably to the laws of sovereign perfection.
5. “God has done and does all things well” applies to all the dispensations which He is pleased to vouchsafe to each of us in particular. Riches and poverty, health and sickness, majesty and meanness, prosperity and adversity, thraldom and liberty, life and death, are equally in His hand, and are severally by Him distributed, ascertained, decreed, balanced, and combined together in such manner as may best consist with the greatest possible welfare of all living beings in general, and of each in particular. No one is postponed or preferred to another from partial or self-interested views; no one needs suffer on account of another, without being indemnified for it; no one will for ever forego or bear what at present by means of the combination of things he is obliged to forego or to bear; no one will fail of his appointment to happiness; but one sooner, another later, one in this, the other in another method will arrive at it.
6. “God has done and does all things well” is applied by the worshipper of God to all the vicissitudes, accidents, events, little or great, that betide him, and thereby keeps his mind in continual serenity, even though in every other respect he is surrounded by darkness. He considers everything in its dependence on the will of the Sovereign Ruler of the world, and finds all that is agreeable to His will to be just and expedient. This idea gives a totally different aspect to all that we see and hear and learn, sheds light and joy on all, preserves us from a thousand fallacies of sophistry and artifices of imposture along the dubious journey of life, enucleates and unravels to us many things both in the natural and the moral world, pacifies us concerning all that we cannot comprehend and explain, and is inexhaustible in power and consolation.—G. J. Zollikofer.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 7
Mark 7:32. Incapacity removed in heaven.—At a deaf-and-dumb institution for children a boy was once dying, and, when his teacher signified to him that there was no hope of recovery, his face lighted up, and in his own language he said, “Oh, sir, I shall soon be singing God’s praises, and won’t you be surprised and delighted to hear me when you come?” The boy had so grieved over his incapacity for thus honouring God on earth, that the prospect of death was one of unqualified joy, as setting him free to use the best member that he had in the glorification of God.
Mark 7:33. “Aside from the multitude.”—There is too much noise around us, and we cannot hear the voice of God as long as all is well with us and we have the enjoyment of life. Every affliction is a wilderness in which a man is in solitude and stillness, so that he understands better the Word of God When human voices are silent, the voice of God begins to speak.—Dr. Tholuck.
Mark 7:34. Christ saddened by the sight of human misery.—How it must have saddened the heart of Jesus to walk through this world and see so much human misery! There is a story of a sculptor who wept as he saw at his feet the shattered fragments of his breathing marble, on which he had spent years of patient, loving toil. Jesus walked through this world amid the ruin of the noblest work of His own hands. Everywhere He saw the destruction wrought by sin. So His grief was twofold—tender sympathy with human suffering, and sorrow over the ruinous work of sin.
Ephphatha.—The Ephphatha of Christ is heard also in history. He sighed “Ephphatha,” and the conflict of His Church was revealed to His Evangelist. He sighed “Ephphatha,” and the tongue of Galileo and Kepler told of the wondrous order of the heavens. He sighed “Ephphatha,” and buried monuments gave up their records of the past, and threw sidelights on higher truths. He spoke “Ephphatha,” and Caxton gave new powers to the world; knowledge stepped forth from her dust-covered shrine, and carried her rich bounties into every city and house; history unlocked her long-hidden lore; science painted in noble colours the half-veiled face of nature; the tongue of Europe was loosed. But well might a sigh have been heaved as the Ephphatha was spoken. It is not truth alone, or holiness alone, which has been unlocked. It is not Chaucer’s “well of English undefiled,” the pure song of Spenser, the heart-rousing vision of Dante, the chivalrous epic of Tasso, the stately and magnanimous verse of Milton, alone which have been given to the world. A fouler current mingles with the pure, bright stream, and darkens the flood of knowledge—the unredeemed filth of Boccaccio, the unbridled licentiousness of Scarron, the stupid sensuality of Dancourt, the open indecency of Wycherley, the more fatal suggestiveness of Sterne. The press became indeed the voice of nations; but when it was loosed a sigh drawn from the pure heart of Christ, wounded by the misuse of a glorious opportunity, might have been heard by the Church of God. Yet Christ did not withhold the boon. Freely, ungrudgingly, were His miracles of love performed. To deny powers or privileges, or the free exercise of rights and faculties, on the ground that they may be abused, is to act according to the dictates of expediency, not of right. But there is a remedy for the evils which accompany this freedom. It is by conferring an additional and guiding gift. There is another “Ephphatha,” He speaks, “Be opened,” and the tongue is loosed; but the ear is unstopped also. While He bestows the faculty of speech, He bestows also the opportunity of hearing those glad and soul-elevating principles of righteousness and forgiveness and love which will fill the loosened tongue with joy and put a new song of praise in that long-silent mouth.—Bishop Boyd Carpenter.
Mark 7:35. Tongue loosed.—Dr. Carey found a man in Calcutta who had not spoken a loud word for four years, under a vow of perpetual silence. Nothing could open his mouth, till happening to meet with a religious tract, he read it, and his tongue was loosed. He soon threw away his paras and other badges of superstition, and became a partaker of the grace of God. Many a professing Christian, who is as dumb in religious subjects as if under a vow of silence, would find a tongue to speak if religion were really to touch and warm his heart.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Mark 7". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12