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CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 8:1. The multitude being very great.—The MS. authority is pretty evenly divided between παμπόλλου as above, and πάλιν πόλλου, there being again a great multitude. The latter seems preferable on the whole, παμπόλλου being found nowhere else in the New Testament, nor yet in LXX.
Mark 8:3. For divers, etc.—And some of them are (or, are come) from afar. Our Lord’s words: not an addition by the Evangelist.
Mark 8:8. Broken meat.—Fragments, as in chap. Mark 6:43. Baskets.—Not the little wicker-baskets of chap. Mark 6:43, but panniers of sufficient size and strength to hold a man (Acts 9:25).
Mark 8:9. We may note the following points of difference between this feeding and the former (chap. Mark 6:35-44).
1. On this occasion the people had been with our Lord upwards of three days, a circumstance not mentioned before.
2. Seven loaves are now distributed and a few fishes; then, five loaves and two fishes.
3. Five thousand were fed then; four thousand now.
4. Seven large rope-baskets are employed here to hold the fragments; twelve small wicker-baskets there.
5. The more excitable inhabitants of the coast-villages of the north would have taken and made Him a king (John 6:15); whereas the men of Decapolis and the eastern shores permit Him to depart without any demonstration.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 8:1-9
(PARALLEL: Matthew 15:32-39.)
The feeding of the four thousand.—It could hardly have been without some special reason that the miracle should have been also worked on another occasion by our Lord with scarcely any variation of detail, or that in each case the miracle should have been recorded with so very great attention to detail.
I. The compassion of Jesus Christ is the origin and source of help.—
1. He had compassion on mankind as, looking down from heaven, He saw the whole human race, a vast multitude of souls, helpless, in the wilderness of sin, starving, away from all supplies of spiritual food, with death before them; and having compassion on them, He came from heaven to earth to bring them the bread of life.
2. He sees the multitude to-day, and has compassion on us; and so He sends to us His Church, by and through the ministry of which He gives us all the means of grace.
3. And remember this, that Jesus our Lord, looking upon the multitude now as of old, looks at us not in the mass, but one by one. He sees me; He knows my needs; He has compassion on me.
II. Our Lord draws out from the disciples a declaration of their own inability to meet the difficulty and to supply the needs of the multitude.—And it was then, when they had realised the difficulty, when they had come to see their own insufficiency, that our Lord worked the miracle. And is it not just so with us and the difficulties of life? “Whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?” The question is a natural one It is also an admission of entire helplessness, and it is often the first step to obtaining help.
III. He makes them see that, after all, they have something through which help is to be obtained, and that they must do what they can.—That “God helps those who help themselves” is a saying which is true in material as in spiritual matters; and we very often forget that God helps us through those very things which we already possess, and which we overlook as insufficient for our needs. The world around seems hard and cold; there seems no chance of help. It is well at such times to put to ourselves the question, “How many loaves have ye?” Then, if we think, we find that, after all, we have something—life, health, strength, intelligence, opportunities of one kind or another; and these gifts of God already given to us, if used diligently according to His laws, will, under His blessing, prove more than sufficient for our need. So, also, in spiritual matters. There are times when the temptations and the trials of life, when old habits of evil, the downward tendencies so often yielded to, seem altogether too great for us to overcome—and they are too great for us to overcome in our own strength; and though we would thankfully overcome if we could, yet it all seems so hopeless; we so fully realise our own weakness that we are tempted to give it all up as hopeless. Ah! then listen to the Saviour’s searching question, “How many loaves have ye?” “Have you nothing already given you that may help? No strength? No grace? Look well and see.”
1. The gift of baptismal grace—and therein the germ of all graces.
2. The sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit, given you in confirmation—the spirit of wisdom, and understanding, counsel and strength, knowledge and true godliness and holy fear.
3. The Holy Communion.
4. All the means of grace. The Word of God. Opportunities of public worship.
5. The power of repentance.
6. The gift of prayer.
7. The ministry of the Church. If we will but use these gifts faithfully, then by God’s blessing they will more than suffice for all the wants of our souls, and we shall be “more than conquerors” in that battle that seemed so hopeless.
IV. His was the power that was to make this small amount of food more than enough to satisfy the needs of this vast multitude; but before He exercised that power He commanded them to sit down. There is here a lesson of the utmost value to us all in this busy, energetic age. We need more repose of mind and character, more quiet, steady, humble work of all kinds. Jesus commands us, as He did the multitude of old, to “sit down on the ground,” if we would receive His gifts aright and benefit by them. They are to be received in an orderly, quiet, composed, and humble spirit. The life most free from feverish excitement is the life that profits most by His gifts. In the spiritual life, above all, there must be not only energetic activity, but also the quiet sitting down and waiting humbly for God’s blessing. “Sit down” before you say your prayers, if you would really have them answered. Recall your thoughts, be patient and quiet and humble, try to remember to whom you are about to speak, and what it is you are going to ask, what you really need. “Sit down” before your acts of public worship. Let there be more restfulness about your worship, more repose of thought, more concentration of thought on what you are about to do. “Sit down,” above all, before each Communion. “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.”
1. Let me calmly, honestly, and thoughtfully look into my past life, especially since my last Communion.
2. Let me see where I am and what I Amos
3. Let me try my best to see my sins as they really are, and as they are recorded in God’s Book.
4. Let me “sit down” and truly repent of past sins, and make my humble confession to Almighty God, honestly purposing amendment of life.
V. God’s gifts, whether temporal or spiritual, are never to be wasted.—He gives, indeed, with a splendid liberality, but He gives that His gifts may be used and not wasted. “Waste not, want not,” applies to the matters of the soul quite as truly as it does to those of the body. Gather up, then, the fragments of time that may yet remain to you, and make the most of them, living daily nearer God. Gather up the fragments of the opportunities of showing sympathy and kindness and winning the hearts of others. Gather up the fragments that yet remain to you of all the opportunities of helping others by precept or example or moral support. Gather up all the fragments of the grace given you. Store it up for use; by use it grows and increases; by use grace is turned into virtue.—Dean W. C. Ingram.
Christ’s presence in ordinances.—If we are following Christ, we may not doubt His protection; we may not think (however dark our prospect) that His support and comfort will be withdrawn; but, on the contrary, we shall find that means are at hand (though overlooked for a time) which, with His blessing, will suffice for our wants. If we are following in the flock of Christ, and do not, by our sin or our distrust, forfeit our privilege, we shall find indeed that “the Lord is our Shepherd, and therefore we can lack nothing”; and we have His assurance that He will be with us, to support, protect, and save, even unto the end of the world.
I. There is much in the Church at the present day which resembles the position of those who upon this occasion followed our Lord into the wilderness.—
1. First, inwardly, in the thoughts and feelings of their minds, there is the same strong tendency in the present generation of Christians to walk by sight, not by faith. They see themselves surrounded by sin on every side, and they fail to discern the presence of Christ among them. They are following Christ, it is true; they are hearing His Word in public and at home; they are hungering for the bread of life; yet when they think of the position of Christ’s Church on earth they are ready to ask, “Whence can a man,” etc. The answer to this is ready. The bread is within our reach, if we will take our eyes off from man and fix them upon God; if we regard the Church as the institution not of man but of God, if we avail ourselves of her sacraments and other ordinances in faith, “all,” “men, women, and children,” “will be filled,” and there will be more than enough.
2. Yet men in general do not receive the blessing; they are starving for the bread of life, and cannot find it. Why? Because they have no faith in the ordinance which is to convey it. If they fail to discern the presence of Christ in any ordinance of the Church, no blessing can reasonably be expected. Thus in respect to public prayer our Lord has promised, “Where two or three are gathered together,” etc. Is it reasonable to suppose that a person who, after such plain declarations, fails to discern Christ’s presence in the worship of the Church should receive a blessing from it? Again, with regard to the Holy Communion, the necessity is admitted of “feeding upon Christ” and eating “the bread of life.” But do men seek this food when it is to be had in the Blessed Sacrament? And do they believe that it is Christ on whom they feed? So again, if after our Lord’s plain words, “Suffer little children to come to Me, and forbid them not,” we neglect to bring them to that sacrament by which they are made members of Christ’s Church, can we wonder if they are not blessed? or if, notwithstanding His plain declaration, “He that believeth, and is baptised, shall be saved,” we yet consider that the child is not “by baptism regenerate,” and thus in state of salvation,—if we prefer thus to “walk by sight, and not by faith,” can we wonder if we suffer? Again, if after the express assertion of St. Peter, “Baptism doth now save us—not the putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God,” no care is taken to train up those who have been baptised in the paths of righteousness; if we fail to discharge the obligation which it entailed upon us, to bring up those children as no longer our own, but Christ’s, bought with His own blood and resigned to Him, only that they are lent us back for a time; if we fail to discern the presence of Christ as it were leading His youthful converts by the hand, and on the contrary distract their attention or suffer them to wander away from Him,—can we be surprised that they should run into grievous sin, and that the Word of God should seem to fail?
II. What is the course which all Christians whose eyes are open to their position ought to pursue?—
1. How was it of old? See Psalms 107:4-6. Now, as then, if we pray “in the faith, we shall receive”; if we trustfully “stand still and see the salvation of the Lord,” if we believe that “He is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by Him,” our faith will be confirmed, our grace increased, and a new light will break in upon us. We shall see that, however dark the prospect, however seemingly impossible that good should come from it, yet to doubt is sinful; Christ will ever be true to His own ordinance.
2. The Christian who has been tried will admit that the cares and sorrows of life (the very rocks and thorns of his wilderness) are productive of good: losses and poverty will keep his soul humble, dead to the world, sober; so will mean or low station; reproach will exercise his patience; pain and bodily affliction, though for the present not joyous, but grievous, nevertheless afterwards “yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby.”
3. Every Christian will admit that he has at times received support and consolation from the prayers and the advice of his brethren in the Lord. The conversation of the pious, their consolation in time of trouble, their advice and support in cases of difficulty, and their piety and earnestness at other times, are admitted to afford a degree of peace and happiness; they are admitted to be channels through which God is sending us support, and we feel the good they have done us, and are thankful for it.
III. The consequence of our failing to recognise Christ’s presence in His ordinances is very apparent.—
1. We perceive it in the want of reverence too often manifested in the house of God, or in unfrequent attendance there—in the listless prayer, the faint praise, the wandering thought, the neglected Communion, or the carelessness with which the altar is approached.
2. We perceive it in the neglected training of Christian children, who are seldom regarded as regenerate—as the lambs of Christ’s flock, led by Him and blessed by Him, unless through our indifference Satan is permitted to obtain the advantage over them.
3. We perceive it in the evil life of youths who, though children of godly parents, through the error of those parents in not regarding the Church’s ordinances as the means of grace, have become mere hypocrites in religion, and oftentimes are bringing down their parents’ grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.
4. We perceive it in the neglect of confirmation, or the careless receiving of that holy rite.
5. We perceive it in unhappy marriages, or the breach of the marriage vow.
6. We perceive it in the relapse into sin of those who, when they had thought themselves dying, made to the priest the most earnest professions of repentance.—C. C. Spencer.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 8:2. Waiting on Christ.—
1. If we have real spiritual hunger, we shall not soon weary of waiting on Christ.
2. Christ will take good care of those who are earnestly following Him.
3. Christ watches just as lovingly over our physical needs as over the welfare of the soul.
Christ’s compassion.—How confidently, then, may the believer reckon upon the compassion of his Lord! How should the knowledge of it lead him to cast all his care upon Him. In every circumstance of his life Jesus feels for him, and is watching over him, and is ordering all things for his good. Only let faith be in active exercise, and realise this truth. Distrust will only cause us to err.—H. Caddell.
Mark 8:3. Christ’s knowledge of human nature.—Why did these people not faint now? Simply because there was something to absorb their thoughts now, and thus make them forgetful of their hunger. We have travelled before now with a companion, and have been charmed by his personality and utterances. We became almost unconscious of time or space. Then the hour came when we had to say “Good-bye,” and to walk home without the inspiration of his presence. Oh, how weak and wearied we then felt! Everything told us that we had exhausted our body under the continuous strain. But we did not realise all that while our friend was near. Now Christ, who knows our nature, knew all this. Oh, we rejoice to know that Jesus enters into these little details of human experience, that His pity covers all possibilities of failure arising from the weakness of our flesh or aught else!—D. Davies.
Mark 8:4. Forgetfulness of former mercies.—Do we act more consistently even now, with all our increase of light and of spiritual experience? Is it not too often true of us, even now, that, though we have heard with our ears and have ourselves witnessed the noble and merciful works which God has done, we still cry with only a faltering faith, “Oh, Lord, arise, help us and deliver us”? It is so with regard to His providential dealings; it is so with regard to His gifts of grace. Each new difficulty appears too great for us; at each recurring necessity we feel as if we should be overpowered by Satan and by the many perplexities which surround us. We all have need to pray for that ripeness of faith and that clearness of spiritual discernment which would enable us under sudden dangers to rely undoubtingly upon Him who has so often saved us, and in the midst of temptations to rest with confidence upon that Divine grace the power of which has so often been displayed to ourselves and others, and which never faileth those who trust to it.
Mark 8:6-7. The law of increase.—It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Deuteronomy 8:3). The true bread is Christ, who was given to us at baptism, that He might live in us and bring forth fruit. On this grace we depend for all good. Would we have Him to increase, we must note and imitate His action in this miracle.
1. He had faith in His own Divine power. So have we in grace. Did we look at difficulties, our hearts would fail. We must look only to Him; believe that He has called us; believe that He gives us power to obey.
2. He used ordinary means: so we; no special calls needed; in the midst of daily life we may become perfect. For example, there are duty, temptations, sacrifices, trials.
3. He gave thanks: so let us even for small mercies; we must not let blessings ravel out.
4. Liberality toward others. Grace is meant to be used. If its fire has really kindled in our hearts, we must diffuse the warmth. But the very act of imparting blessing brings an increase to ourselves (Proverbs 11:25; Job 42:10).—A. G. Jackson.
No waste in God’s work.—When God interrupts the ordinary course of His providence, it is not for the purpose of surprising and astounding men’s minds, but in order to bring about His own designs. Hence it is that we never see any waste either of energy or material in His works. And thus does He proceed in supplying the wants of His people. He does it so as to make it plainly appear that the supply is God’s work, and yet not so as to be altogether out of the course of natural things.—H. Caddell.
Our wants Christ’s care.—Jesus created a supply out of what the disciples had, and not out of nothing. In like manner, if His people daily follow Him in faith, if this is the first and prominent object of their lives, and if, in subordination to this, they are diligent and laborious in their callings in life, and seek His blessing on all their earnings, He will take care that they never want. His hand, though unseen, except by the eye of faith, shall break and bless their daily meal. They shall ever have enough. And the secret of it will be that “Christ dwelling in their hearts by faith” presides also over all their temporal concerns, makes their wants His care, becomes a daily guest at their table, and draws out to the extent of their wants the slender meal which, by His blessing, their faithful diligence has already provided.—Ibid.
Christ will not fail us in the hour of need.—If we follow the Lord into the wilderness, if for His sake we are content to give up much which the world holds valuable, to forego some of its lawful pleasures, if in His service we forget to make provision for the flesh, He will not fail us in our hour of necessity, but will supply all our needs according to His riches in glory, feed our souls with the hidden manna of His sweetness, and give us such temporal blessings as may best minister to our eternal good.—S. W. Skeffington.
Mark 8:8. Religious frugality.—There is a wide difference between a penurious spirit and a spirit of religious frugality. The former grudges what is used in order that it may hoard up the more for itself. The latter unites a large hospitality with a due sense of responsibility to God in the use of His bountiful gifts. The former is mere covetousness; the latter is wise and godly prudence.—H. Caddell.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 8
Mark 8:2. Compassion for the needy.—King Oswald of Northumbria accompanied the monk Aidan in his long missionary journeys as interpreter. One day, as he feasted with the monk by his side, the thane, or noble of his war-band, whom he had set to give alms to the poor at his gate, told him of a multitude that still waited fasting without. The king at once bade the untasted meat before him be carried to the poor, and his silver dish be divided piecemeal among them. Aidan seized the royal hand and blessed it. “May this hand,” he cried, “never grow old!”
Mark 8:4. “From whence?”—That question may be asked of us. Who can do this? Not the cleverest or most powerful man living. The man of science can do much. He can open the fields of sky to our gaze with a telescope, and shew us other worlds than ours. He can make steam his slave, and compel it to bear the ship from one side of the world to the other. He can seize upon electricity and make it carry a message at his bidding. But the greatest man of science cannot make an ear of corn grow, nor an apple blossom swell into fruit. Kings can make laws to take away life, but they cannot give life, nor cause it to rain upon the earth, nor make the fields bring forth their increase. “From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread?” From whence? From heaven. And the one Man who can do this is the Man Christ Jesus, the God Christ Jesus.—H. J. Wilmot Buxton.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 8:10. Dalmanutha.—“Has been identified with the modern Ain-el-Bârideh, the ‘cold fountain,’ a glen which opens upon the lake about a mile from Magdala.” Cp. Matthew 15:39.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 8:10-12
(PARALLEL: Matthew 16:1-4.)
The “sign” refused.—It was, we may be sure, no mere intellectual deficiency in His hearers which drew this sigh from the Gracious Saviour. In the request that He would give them a sign there was some secret spiritual wrongness over which Christ grieved.
I. What did they mean by asking a sign?—Had they not His wonderful works? And why did He say that no sign should be given when in fact He was giving signs innumerable and conclusive? It is quite plain that Christ’s works did not convince them. It is therefore also plain that we greatly overrate the force of miracles as an evidence of Christianity. In those times few, if any, followed Christ because of the miracles. They followed Him because of that all-prevailing power which accompanied the simple words “Follow Me,” because never man spake as He spake, because the message of Divine love carried with it its own overwhelming evidence. And then we know that vast multitudes witnessed the miracles and yet persistently refused to believe. Some other sign they wanted, something besides curing the blind and cleansing the leper and raising the dead. They asked for some imposing display in the heavens, some disclosure of the Messiah magnificently seated on a material throne, which would confound, amaze, and convince all beholders. Now that the Saviour would not give. He refused, first, because they had no right to dictate how much evidence must needs be forthcoming. Part of our trial here consists, in fact, in God’s so adjusting the evidence to our moral condition that, while there is amply enough to determine the acceptance of the honest and good heart, there is no lavishing of proof.
II. Suppose the “sign from heaven” given.—Suppose that in the sky above Jerusalem had been disclosed the form of the Son of Man as the sun in his strength, ten thousand times ten thousand of the heavenly hosts on the right hand and the left, the first effect would doubtless have been unspeakable and overwhelming awe. But remember, belief in the Christ meant trust in the Christ, the homage of heart and soul. Do you think that the most magnificent display in the heavens would secure that?
III. No outward proof alone can determine belief in truths moral and spiritual.—Every kind of truth has its proper evidence. Mathematical truth has its evidence; but to crave mathematical proof outside its own proper region is unphilosophical, and may lead us to suspect that the absorbing study of mathematics disqualifies for, rather than aids, the search after truth of other kinds. Historical truth again is reached through its own proper evidence; but it is here that we touch upon the very point before us. Christianity rests on an historical basis, and because it does so sceptics are apt to assume that its truth or falsehood is merely matter of historical evidence. Doubtless the historical evidence must be sound; but is every one qualified to judge of its soundness? And so we have to point out that Christianity has a moral and spiritual basis also. Suppose there has appeared on the page of history One whom our own hearts and the universal consent of the civilised world pronounce to be perfect goodness, unrivalled purity, Divine dignity, love unequalled. Will not good men yield their love and devotion to Him who is perfect goodness? Will not bad men shrink from Christ and from His perfect purity, and be predisposed to question the historical evidence, because they hope thereby to free themselves from His claim upon their allegiance? For such men there are no signs from heaven. They are not given, simply because they would be useless (Luke 16:31).
IV. Obedience is the condition of faith.—Obedience to what we know leads to faith in what is yet to be revealed. The good ground in the parable of the sower, the only ground that brought forth fruit, is explained to be “the honest and good heart,”—honest, and therefore receptive of everything true; good, and therefore in closest sympathy with the noble, the loving, and the pure. But this is alone of Him from whom comes every good and perfect gift.—Canon Jacob.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 8:11-12. Neglect not the signs given already.—When we long for miracles, neglecting those standing miracles of our faith, the gospel and the Church; when our reason is satisfied of a doctrine or a duty, and yet we remain irresolute, sighing for the impulse of some rare spiritual enlightenment or excitement, for a revival or a mission or an oration to lift us above ourselves,—we are virtually asking to be shewn what we already confess, to behold a sign, while we possess the evidence.—Dean Chadwick.
You cannot convince some men.—Did you ever try to satisfy an impracticable man, or to remove all ground of offence from one who is determined to find fault? The old Greek fable-writer was very wise. The stories of “The Wolf and the Lamb,” and of “The Old Man and his Ass,” bear a moral for all time. Jesus Christ told men that they were not to give that which was “holy to the dogs,” or to cast their “pearls before swine.” Life is too short, time and strength are too precious, to be wasted in vain endeavour.—D. J. Hamer.
Sight more needed than signs.—Persons who, after looking at what Christianity has wrought in the world, and the kind of influence it has on the souls of men, still ask for evidences of Christianity, are of the same sort as these. They forget that demonstration is only possible of the visible or the tangible, and that there cannot be any scientific demonstration of such a thing as the Godhead of Christ. What all such persons want is sight, not signs—the power of seeing and appreciating the Saviour’s moral glory, not evidences of Christianity.—R. Glover.
Mark 8:12. The Lord’s deep sigh in its great significance—
1. A silent and yet decisive sign of His conflict and of His victory.
2. An unuttered word, containing a world of Divine words.
3. A fulfilment of the primitive prophecy concerning the breach between the external and the spiritual Israel.
4. A prophecy which stretches forward to the Cross and the Judgment.—J. P. Lange, D.D.
The infinite meaning of this sigh of Christ.—
1. As a breathing forth of the Divine patience over the visible world.
2. A collective expression of all the sufferings and all the patience of Christ.
3. A declaration of all the incarnate sorrow and endurance of the Lord in His Church.—Ibid.
An unreasonable demand.—In many cases of unbelief the individual is not so much to blame as the spirit of the age of which he is the representative. See 2 Corinthians 4:4. Such persons not only cannot recognise the signs of the kingdom of heaven, but are in a state of heart and mind to which no sign can possibly be given. We are indebted to the fine candour of the late Mr. Darwin for a striking illustration of this. In his life there is an interesting correspondence with Professor Asa Gray, the great botanist, who, wondering how Darwin could remain unconvinced by the innumerable evidences of design in nature, asked him if he could think of any possible proof which he would consider sufficient. Mr. Darwin replied: “Your question is a poser. If I saw an angel come down to teach us so, and I was convinced, from others seeing him, that I was not mad, I should believe.” If he had left it there, it might have been pertinent to ask him whether Christ is not just such an angel come down from heaven to teach us, and whether a sufficient number of persons did not see Him in the flesh, to say nothing of the multitudes who know Him in the spirit, to convince us that we are not mad in believing it. But he went on to say: “If man were made of brass and iron, and in no way connected with any other organism which had ever lived, I should perhaps be convinced.” Nothing could be more candid, or more in keeping with the transparent honesty of the man. But what an acknowledgment! Man must cease to be man, and become a metal machine, and the universe must cease to be a harmonious whole, before there can be evidence enough for so simple and elementary a principle as design in the universe; and then only a “perhaps”! Is Christ’s answer to the seekers after a sign out of date?—J. M. Gibson, D.D.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 8
Mark 8:11. Asking a sign.—Two striking instances from Rabbinic literature will shew that this demand of the Pharisees was in accordance with their notions and practice. We read that, when a certain Rabbi was asked by his disciples about the time of Messiah’s coming, he replied, “I am afraid that you will also ask me for a sign.” When they promised they would not do so, he told them that the gate of Rome would fall and be rebuilt, and fall again, when there would not be time to restore it ere the Son of David came. On this they pressed him, despite his remonstrance, for “a sign,” when this was given them—that the waters which issued from the cave of Paneias were turned into blood. Again, as regards “a sign from heaven,” it is said that Rabbi Eliezer, when his teaching was challenged, successively appealed to certain “signs.” First, a locust tree moved at his bidding one hundred, or, according to some, four hundred, cubits. Next, the channels of water were made to flow backwards; then the walls of the Academy leaned forward, and were only arrested at the bidding of another Rabbi. Lastly, Eliezer exclaimed, “If the law is as I teach, let it be proved from heaven!” when a voice fell from the sky, “What have ye to do with Rabbi Eliezer? for the Halakhah is as he teaches.”
Mark 8:12. Difficult to explain truth to unspiritual people.—If a man paints a picture on canvas, gorgeous in colour as Titian could make it, and then gathers together a multitude of spectators, it is useless for him to undertake to explain to them that the colours are exquisite, and the reasons why they are so. If, as they stand and look at it, one, in behalf of the others, should ask, “Will you be kind enough to prove to us that those are exquisite colours?” he would say, probably with expletives, “If you cannot yourselves see what they are, I cannot explain it to you.” If you play a magnificent overture to an audience, some of them say, “I would rather hear a ballad than that thing.” Others have an appreciation of it. Men only hear what they are capable of hearing. Some men’s ears enable them to appreciate only the lowest elements of music; and when the better parts are developed, these are nothing to them. If they do not like a beautiful symphony, they do not, and that is all you can say about it. It is not in them to like it. The eye cannot see anything which it is not organised to see. Tyndall shewed us that light, besides containing all those qualities which we supposed it contained, also had in it chemical qualities which no sense of ours could trace or comprehend. It was the first intimation I had that the universe is full of things which we are not organised to appreciate. Precisely this was implied by Christ when He said, substantially, to His adversaries, the educated people of His day who denied that He was Divine: “If you were spiritually enlightened, you would recognise My high claim; you would perceive in My life and disposition the qualities of Divinity; and if you do not perceive them, it is because you have not the requisite perceiving power. The proof must always lie in the person who is reasoned with; and you have not the moral faculty which is necessary to enable you to discern it.”—H. W. Beecher.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 8:17. Hardened.—Dulled. See on chaps. Mark 3:5; Mark 6:52.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 8:13-21
(PARALLEL: Matthew 16:5-12.)
A warning against formality and indifference.—
I. What the caution refers to.—
1. A formal, hypocritical religion.
2. An indifference about all religion. The rich, the gay, the men of learning and philosophy, are too generally of this description.
II. Some reasons for this caution.—
1. Because of our proneness to these evils.
2. Because of their fatal tendency. Do they not work incessantly till they vitiate the whole man—blinding the understanding, perverting the will, sensualising the affections, and causing every part of one’s conduct to savour of ungodliness?
3. Because of their ultimate effect. Eternal happiness and eternal misery are too important to be trifled with.
III. The means whereby it may be rendered effectual for our preservation.—
1. Get your soul deeply impressed with the principles of the gospel.
2. Be careful whom you choose as your associates.
3. Endeavour to realise the thought of the Judgment.—C. Simeon.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 8:15. Of leaven in the Gospel I find three sorts interpreted to our hands, that we cannot mistake.
1. The Pharisees—of the leaven of superstition, consisting in phylacteries, phrases, and observances, and little else.
2. The Sadducees—of a leaven that smelt strong of profaneness, in their liberty of prophesying, calling in question angels and spirits and the resurrection itself.
3. The leaven of Herod—beware that too; many times it is the bane of true religion, when God’s truth and worship must be moulded up with Jeroboam’s and with Herod’s ends, squared to them, just as it is fittest to do their turns. Let all be abandoned—Pharisees’, Sadducees’, Herod’s—and the truth take their place (1 Thessalonians 2:3-6; 2 Corinthians 11:3; Revelation 22:15).—Bishop Andrewes.
Erroneous doctrine is like leaven—
1. In regard of the commonness.
2. In regard of the quantity—little (1 Corinthians 5:6).
3. In regard of the quality (Matthew 13:29).
4. In regard of its spreading property (Acts 20:30).
5. In regard of its effects—leaven soureth, heateth, swelleth (Matthew 6:16; Colossians 2:21; Acts 7:54; Acts 7:57; Colossians 2:18).—E. Leigh.
Mark 8:16. The disciples’ misconception.—In wondering at the disciples’ curious misconception we ought to remember at least, as serving in a measure to account for it, how accustomed they were to hear our Lord speak in riddles, to have Him address them on many subjects in a mysterious and enigmatical way. Yet need we after all look further for an explanation of what seems to us a remarkable mistake than to the character of their mental preoccupation, when we reflect on the wonderful facility with which the mind discolours and distorts things in the atmosphere of its own broodings, and the illusions it creates in so doing. Only think, for instance, of the irresistible tendency of the self-conscious, self-regarding young gentleman in society to suspect that people are either laughing at or admiring him when there is not the slightest ground for the suspicion, when perhaps not an eye in the room notices him; or of our haste to read in the words and gestures of another a covert allusion to that secret wrongdoing of ours with the memory of which we are burdened, when no such allusion is intended or could be.—N. R. Wood.
Mark 8:21. Why it is that we “do not understand”—whether it be the principles of the Divine government, or the direction of the Divine purpose, or the meaning of the Divine oracles.
1. We do not always care enough to understand, and so will not be at the pains to discover.
2. We are too apt to discover and adopt only what is in sufficient harmony with our own preconceived opinions.
3. We do not use the right helps to enable us to understand; or, having the right helps, we do not use them in the right way. Reflexion, conversation, mingling with those who differ from us, etc.
4. We so seldom go to Scripture as the final tribunal of revealed truth, or place ourselves in the keeping of the Holy Spirit to be our Counsellor and Guide.—Bishop Thorold.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 8:22-26. Peculiar to Mark. Bethsaida (= Fish-town).—There were two places of this name:
(1) the landing-port for Capernaum, on the western side of the lake;
(2) a village to the north-east, on which Herod Philip conferred the status of a city, naming it Julias, after the emperor’s daughter. That this latter was the Bethsaida to which our Lord now withdrew may be inferred from the indications of locality in Mark 8:10; Mark 8:13; Mark 8:27.
Mark 8:24. See R.V. “I see something confusedly and obscurely; for I see what I think must be men, and yet so dimly that they look to me like trees, only that I know that men move from their places, whereas trees do not.”
Mark 8:25-26. See R.V. for readings and renderings.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 8:22-26
The blind man at Bethsaida.—This incident, recorded only by St. Mark, may be considered both in a natural and a spiritual view, under which twofold aspect there can be no doubt that all our Lord’s miracles of healing were intended to be viewed. He adopted this method to make Himself known as the Great Physician of the soul, who “forgiveth all our sins and healeth all our infirmities”; who, by the virtue which resides in Him, and which is called forth by the application of faith, removes the blindness of our understanding, the raging fever of our passions, the palsy of our spiritual affections, the lameness of our halting obedience; commands Satan and his unclean spirits to come out of us, and raises us from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness.
I. A blind man is brought to Jesus to be cured.—
1. The restoring of sight to the blind was one of the signs to be looked for in the promised Messiah (Isaiah 35:5); and to this evidence Christ appealed, in the first place, in His answer to the Baptist’s messengers (Matthew 11:5).
2. Many remarkable instances of this kind of miracle might be referred to (see especially John 9:0). The present example contains some peculiarities not found elsewhere.
3. There is a moral as well as a natural blindness, to which not merely a few unfortunate persons but all mankind by nature are subject (Isaiah 43:8).
(1) Such were the Gentiles (Ephesians 4:18).
(2) Such were the Jews also, who, though they had not the same excuse of ignorance or want of light, yet were blinded by obstinate and invincible prejudice (Mark 4:12).
(3) Such are all of us by nature: born blind, and continuing so by our own fault; having no light in ourselves, and hating it when it is brought to us. Perhaps, like the Pharisees, we say we see; but this is our blindness. We see nothing as we ought to see, nothing as it really is. We see no deformity in sin, no beauty in holiness; no terrors in the law, no charms or attractions in the gospel; no weakness in ourselves, no all-sufficiency in Christ (Revelation 3:17-18).
4. It was to free all mankind from these spiritual infirmities, and not to relieve a few miserable objects from their bodily pains, that the Saviour appeared (Luke 4:18).
II. Our Lord, before beginning the cure, takes His patient to a private place, apart from the multitude.—
1. No reason is given why He did this, or why, after the cure was complete, He told him not to go back into the town, etc. (Mark 8:26). Perhaps the people of Bethsaida, like those of Nazareth (Matthew 13:57-58), had resisted the evidence of former miracles performed amongst them, and therefore did not deserve another. At any rate, when we read this, and when we observe His disinclination on other occasions to have His fame blazed abroad, we are reminded of the character given Him by the prophet (Isaiah 42:2).
2. “We also are oftentimes spiritually blind while we are in the town, i.e. this world; afterwards, being led out of the town, i.e. out of the world and its concerns, by Jesus Christ, we are healed.” He does this in a variety of ways: by afflictions, by disappointments, by the loss of friends, by a change in our situation, etc. Anything, in short, which disentangles us from the world, detaches us from our former associates and pursuits, affords an opening for serious reflexion, and a closer acquaintance with our own hearts—anything which has this effect may be considered as a merciful dispensation of Christ to our souls, a taking us by the hand and leading us out of the town, preparatory to a perfect restoration.
III. On a first exertion of His healing virtue our Lord cures the blind man only in part.—He saw objects, but not distinctly. Men and trees waved to and fro before his eyes, so that he could not distinguish one object from another.
1. This is always the case when a blind man is restored to sight by natural means; and it is necessary to obviate it by not allowing him the free use of his eyes at first, and by the gradual admission of light into the room.
2. Such was not our Lord’s usual manner. He did all things well. Those who witnessed His cures were beyond measure astonished when they saw His patients restored to the immediate and full use of their senses, without the necessity of any precautions.
3. Here, however, He departs from His usual course, and as it were puts a restraint upon the virtue which resided in Him, so as to make its effect incomplete. Perhaps, according to the faith of this poor man, so was it done to him, which, being weak at first, required nursing and rearing by a partial exhibition of the Saviour’s power.
4. At any rate the application to the spiritual recovery of sinners is much more exact than if the cure had been completed at once. When the eyes of our understanding are enlightened by the revelation of Christ, the first effect is not unlike what is here described. Our views of Divine things are very imperfect and confused. We are not all at once turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God. We experience at first a kind of twilight illumination, which “shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” Nor is this gradual conversion in any way derogatory to the great power of God. Was the cure of this blind man less perfect or less astonishing because it was not effected all at once? The material circumstance which constituted the miracle was this; he came, seeing no man; he went away, “seeing every man clearly.” And so with respect to our souls; the great point to be considered is, what we were, and what we are (Ephesians 5:8). It is not necessary that we should be able to refer to the time or place when light first flashed in upon our mind; it is enough if we can say, “One thing I know,” etc. (John 9:25).
IV. The same process being repeated, the patient is perfectly restored.—
1. The former trial, however unsuccessful apparently in part, had had the intended effect of raising the man’s expectations and confidence in his Physician to a proper pitch. And Jesus, seeing that he had now faith to be healed, delays no longer to complete the cure.
2. It is the same with those whom He calls out of spiritual darkness into His marvellous light. The imperfect illumination vouchsafed them at first is designed only to exercise their faith, to make them love the light and desire more of it. Having once tasted of the heavenly gift, they feel an insatiable desire to increase in the knowledge of God, and to be filled with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. To them shall more be given as they are able to receive it, until they are “stablished, strengthened, settled,” and “made perfect in every good work to do His will.”
V. The remarkable injunction with which the man is dismissed.—
1. There was the same reason (whatever that might be) for desiring him not to go into the town after his cure as for taking him out in order to cure him.
2. The eyes of our understanding being enlightened to see our lost condition as sinners and the great power of God our Saviour, we are commanded not to go back into the town, nor to tell it to any one in the town, but to go to our house.
(1) Since it was the god of this world that first blinded our minds, the folly and danger of going back into the world after conversion is evident to common sense. If we do, we run the most serious risk of being again entangled therein and overcome. Nor is it enough that we should merely abstain from returning to the world; we must not even wish to do so, or indulge longing desires after what we have renounced. They are objects altogether at variance with our newly acquired sense (1 John 2:15-16; Luke 9:62).
(2) Still further to preserve us from worldly contamination, Christ forbids us even to tell or talk of what has happened to us, to the unspiritual. By such communications we are likely to do harm to ourselves, and no good to them. We may begin by inviting them out of the town; we may end by going back into the town with them.
(3) But although we are dissuaded from talking of these matters to the world in general, it by no means follows that we are to keep them to ourselves. On the contrary, having received such great mercies, we are to give glory to God, and at the same time be doing an inestimable service to those most dear to us, by endeavouring to open their eyes and to bring them to the knowledge and obedience of the faith. In the bosom of our own family, where we may count upon at least some measure of sympathy and attention, we are to do the work of a true friend for them and of an evangelist for Christ.
The clearing of the sight.—As in other cases, Jesus led this sufferer apart; as in other cases, He made use of certain means as well as of His word, teaching us the method and the secret of sacramental working; but, not as in other miracles, the cure is gradually wrought.
I. It was intended to teach us how God deals differently with different souls.—It is a rebuke to those who demand proofs of instantaneous conversion; it should be read with that passage which describes the growth of grace as gradual, like the growth of the grain of corn, “first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear,” which, while the man rises and sleeps night and day, grows he knoweth not how.
II. As to the particular words in which the man describes his growth.—“I see men walking, but they look like trees.” Large, indistinct, crowded, and hazy, like the mingled mass of the distant woods waving and bending in the breeze, or as when passing rapidly along we see the trees flit quickly by us in copse and hedgerow. The man had either never seen, or had long been unaccustomed to, the form of either man or tree; his was therefore an utterance doubly obscured, his eyes only partially transmitting objects which his mind only partially recognised. The man having thus truly described his half-restored condition, Jesus speaks to him a word of command: He bids him look up, and then he sees all men clearly.
III. Looking at the spiritual meaning of this description, it has been urged that it is often the case when the work of grace is beginning that people mistake the nature and proportion of things around them. Spiritual things and living truths still have much of the earthly clinging to them: and if life and movement be recognised at all, it is the dull vegetative life of mere existence, still rooted in the soil of this world, or spreading itself out in a hazy form of general indefinite goodness, not the active, personal, organic life of the regenerate man, which is part of the very life of God.
IV. We notice a lesson of honesty and humility in the man’s description.—He does not claim an insight which he has not attained to. He speaks a lesson, gentle but severe, to those who, after hearing a sermon, or reading a treatise, or attending a service, or feeling an awakening of conscience, suddenly consider that they are converted, that they “can read their title clear,” that they have clear views, and so forth. The precocious child, who lectures its parents or strangers on religion; the converted prize-fighter, who suddenly turns from indulging in all kinds of brutal passions and lectures his neighbours who have been walking for years in the light on which he has persistently turned his back; the uneducated convert, who has picked up one text of Scripture, and on the strength of that ignores all that others have learned of the whole counsel of God,—all these may lay to heart the humility and truthfulness of this man.
V. And in this gradual development of the spiritual powers there is also a strong and abiding word of comfort for many a struggling Christian. Oftentimes we find those who, though they are interested and anxious, cannot obtain the steadfast gaze that they desire. Clouds drive across their spiritual firmament; now all is clear and bright for a moment; now the fierce storm or the blinding mist sweeps over them, and their light is turned to darkness. They are not, as they were once, either blind or careless; the truth has shone in upon their souls, but they cannot retain it; their conscience is tender, but their understanding is dim. Let such take courage; they are just in the condition indicated by the text—they see men walking as it were trees. You who have been not only baptised and confirmed, but have earnestly worshipped and reverently communicated, you are different, widely different, from what you were once; but widely different also from what hereafter you shall be. Christ has led you to self-examination: the result is at once to excite your thankfulness for His marvellous work, and your humiliation for your own shortcoming. But He still is standing by you,—still in His house apart from the city’s noise He is bending over you as you kneel; still to your soul His voice is speaking; still on His altar He waits for you, that again He may lay His hands upon you, again He may bid you lift up your hearts. And in His house, and through His Word, by the voice of His Church and the power of His sacraments, He will free you from the bondage and the blinding power of sin, and quicken all those faculties which have so long been paralysed or misused.—G. C. Harris.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 8:23. Christ’s freedom in the use of means.—This case and that of the deaf and stammering man in Decapolis have many points of resemblance. In both those who brought the diseased to Jesus prescribed to Him the mode of cure. Was it for the purpose of reproving and counteracting the prejudice which connected the cure with a certain kind of manipulation on the part of the curer that Jesus in both instances went so far out of His usual course, varying the manner of His action so singularly that, out of all His miracles of healing, these two stand distinguished by the unique mode of their performance? It is certain that, had Jesus observed one uniform method of healing, the spirit of formalism and superstition, which lies so deep in our nature, would have seized upon it, and linked it inseparably with the Divine virtue that went out of Him, confounding the channel with the blessing it conveyed.—Dr. Hanna.
Christ, not means, the source of healing.—If Christ’s touch and Christ’s saliva healed, it was not because of anything in them, but because He willed it so; and He Himself is the source of all the healing energy. Therefore let us keep these externals in their proper place of subordination, and remember that in Him, not in them, lies the healing power.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Led into solitude.—As Israel was led into the wilderness that God might “speak to her heart,” so often Christ draws us aside, if not by outward providences such as these, yet by awaking in us that solemn sense of personal responsibility and making us feel our solitude, that He may lead us to feel His all-sufficient companionship.—Ibid.
Mark 8:24-25. The man’s answer is in accord with later scientific discovery. What we call the act of vision is really a twofold process; there is in it the report of the nerves to the brain, and also an inference, drawn by the mind, which previous experience has educated to understand what that report implies. In want of such experience an infant thinks the moon as near him as the lamp, and reaches out for it. And when Christian science does its Master’s work by opening the eyes of men who have been born blind, they do not know at first what appearances belong to globes and what to flat and square objects. It is certain that every image conveyed to the brain reaches it upside-down, and is corrected there. When Jesus then restored a blind man to the perfect enjoyment of effective, intelligent vision, He wrought a double miracle, one which instructed the intelligence of the blind man as well as opened his eyes. This was utterly unknown to that age.—Dean Chadwick.
Mark 8:24. Different conditions of the spiritual life.—
1. It is a happy state, if it is the first stage towards clearly seeing in perfect knowledge.
2. It is a gloomy and uncertain state, if the Christian should remain in it.
3. Worst of all, if through his own guilt he should return to this stage, falling into the new blindness of despair.—J. P. Lange, D.D.
Man and tree.—A large part of the battle of life has been fought and gained when one has learned the difference between a man and a tree. For that is the difference between the great and the small, between mind and matter, between the eternal and the transitory, between earth and heaven.—G. Hodges.
Christian progress.—How dim and partial a glimmer of light comes to many a soul at the outset of the Christian life! How little a new convert knows about God and self and the starry truths of His great revelation! Christian progress does not consist in seeing new things, but in seeing the old things more clearly—the same Christ, the same Cross, only more distinctly and deeply apprehended, and more closely incorporated into my very being. We do not grow away from Him, but we grow into knowledge of Him.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Mark 8:25. The restoration of sight.—In this verse the Evangelist just touches that which is the salient point in the blessing of the restoration of sight. For what is the great deprivation in blindness? It is a loss, doubtless, as the blind poet Milton sang, that not to them return, “Day, or the sweet approach of even or morn, or sight of vernal bloom, or summer’s rose, or flocks and herds”—but still more, what he adds last, that they cannot see the “human face Divine.” Were it possible for a blind person to be restored to the faculty of seeing persons, though he remained blind to everything else, much more than half his deprivation would be removed. Now a great deal of that moral blindness of which the blindness of this man was the type consists in just this—that we do not see our fellow-men. We only see ourselves; we are sharp-sighted enough to our own interests, but blind to the wants and wishes of others. The love of self brings a gradual film over the moral vision, so that, reversing the process of the miracle, though at first we see every man clearly, by-and-by they are no more to us than vague shadows, as trees walking, and presently we cease to see them at all.—Bishop A. Blomfield.
Mark 8:26. A view of the miraculous.—This fact, of a miracle done in intended secrecy and shrouded in deep darkness, suggests to us the true point of view from which to look at the whole subject of miracles.
1. People say they were meant to be attestations of His Divine mission. Yes, no doubt that is true partially; but that was never the sole or even the main purpose for which they were wrought; and when anybody asked Jesus Christ to work a miracle for that purpose only, He rebuked the desire and refused to gratify it. He wrought the miracle not coldly, in order to witness to His mission, but every one of them was the token because it was the outcome of His own sympathetic heart brought into contact with human need. And instead of the miracles of Jesus Christ being cold, logical proofs of His mission, they were all glowing with the earnestness of a loving sympathy, and came from Him as naturally as rays from the sunshine at sight of sorrow.
2. The same fact carries with it, too, a lesson about His character. Is not He here doing what He tells us to do?—“Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.” All goodness “does good by stealth,” even if it does not “blush to find it fame”—and that universal mark of true benevolence marked His. He had to solve in His human life what we have to solve—the problem of keeping the narrow path between ostentation of powers and selfish concealment of faculty; and He solved it thus: “Leaving us an example that we should follow in His steps.”—A. Maclaren, D.D.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 8
Mark 8:22-25. Sight obscured by the trivial.—A silk thread stretched across the glass of the telescope will entirely cover a star, although as large as our sun. So there are some whose sight of the heavenly world is entirely obscured by what is infinitely little compared with the life of the world to come. Richardson, the blind man, used to say of his conversion, “I could never see till I was blind.” The great Earl of Chatham once went with a friend to hear Mr. Cecil preach. The sermon was on the Spirit’s agency in the hearts of believers. As they were coming from church, the great statesman confessed that he could not understand it at all, and asked his friend if he supposed that any one present did. “Why, yes,” said he, “there were many plain, unlettered women, and some children there, who understood every word of it, and heard it with joy.”
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 8:27. Cæsarea Philippi.—This picturesquely situated town, originally called Paneas, after a cavern dedicated to Pan in its neighbourhood, was enlarged and fortified by Herod Philip, who also renamed it in honour of the emperor. Then, to distinguish it from the Cæsarea on the Mediterranean coast—the seat of the Roman government, where Cornelius lived and Paul suffered imprisonment—it was styled “Cæsarea Philippi.” The name was again changed to Neronias by Agrippa II., as a compliment to his imperial patron; but the original appellation still survives in the modern Banias.
Mark 8:31. After three days.—Only another form for “on the third day”—one complete day, with a portion of another day (no matter how small a portion) on either side. Cf. Genesis 42:17-18, LXX.; also Matthew 27:63-64.
Mark 8:32. Openly.—Explicitly, and not by dark hints as heretofore (John 2:19; John 3:14; Mark 2:20; John 6:51).
Mark 8:34. Whosoever will come.—If any one wishes to come.
Mark 8:35. Will save.—May wish to save.
Mark 8:36-37. Soul.—Life: same word as in Mark 8:35.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 8:27-38, and Chap. Mark 9:1
(PARALLELS: Matthew 16:13-28; Luke 9:18-27.)
I. Christ is such as to cause the world to think of Him.—
Because He professes to be the Saviour whom the world had long expected.
Because His appearance did not correspond with the world’s expectations.
Because the advent of a Saviour was the world’s great need.
II. Christ is interested in what the world thinks of Him.—
1. He recognised the world’s ability to form an idea of Him.
2. He had laboured to impart to the world a correct idea of Him.
3. He was conscious that the world had formed an idea of Him.
4. He seeks information of the result of His own teaching and the world’s learning from the most reliable source.
III. Christ is differently thought of by the world.—
1. He had imparted to the world an impression of superiority. “A great prophet.”
2. The world had failed to perceive the unique character of His greatness. Only a great man.
3. This failure had its source in the union of Godhead with manhood.
IV. Christ is wishful that right ideas of Himself should exist in the world.—
1. He had been qualifying His followers to teach them.
2. He opportunely tests their mastery of them.
3. He ascertains the successful implantation of them.—B. D. Johns.
Mark 8:34. The necessity of self-denial.—We ought to attach more than ordinary importance to this saving of our Lord, because it is evident that He Himself laid great stress on it. He had been conversing apart with His disciples, and particularly with Peter; and something that Peter said gave Him occasion to insist on this truth. He would not, however, address it privately to him or to the small band of His immediate followers, but He summoned the multitude to attend to Him, marking by this circumstance as strongly as possible the importance of what He was about to say: “Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” He enforced the same truth again and again (Matthew 10:38; Luke 14:27). And is not the declaration in itself calculated to arouse our attention? If we know that there is anything without which we cannot be true followers of Christ, it surely ought to be well considered by us, because the very life and salvation of our souls must depend on it. Let us then take earnest heed to what Christ here says to us: let us consider well what that is which He declares to be necessary in order to prove our claim to be His disciples; nor let us rest till we have this evidence that we belong to Him—till this seal, as it were, is visibly set upon us to mark us out as His disciples indeed. The text requires but few words by way of explanation. To “deny oneself” is to refuse indulgence to our desires, not to do what we would naturally, wish to do—to put a restraint upon ourselves, to withhold from any of our appetites that which would gratify them, and to act differently in any case to what nature would incline us.
I. Self-denial is necessary in order that we may prove our love and fidelity to Christ.—
1. A service which costs us nothing affords no very certain evidence of our attachment to any one. Now Christ would have us give proof of our loyalty and attachment to Him. He requires it of us as a positive duty to give up something, to make some sacrifice for Him, to oppose our inclinations in some way or other, in order that we may ascertain whether indeed love to His name is a strong and ruling principle within us.
2. There are many who are well enough disposed to the religion of Christ till it prescribes this duty. They appear willingly to hear the Scripture, to join in prayer, and to observe holy ordinances; and they will do many things which would seem to indicate an earnestness and zeal in the cause of Christ; but they draw back when called to the difficult exercise of self-denial. But what is the value of a service which cautiously avoids all toil and difficulty? Where is the proof of our being sincere in the love of an object if we will encounter no hardship to attain it? We see men ready to practise much self-denial and to think little of it in any matter in which their hearts are engaged. Look, for example, at the man whose ambition it is to prosper in business. What a life of self-denial is his! He labours even to weariness, rises early, late takes rest, eats the bread of carefulness, denies his nature the rest that it needs, and refuses many enjoyments which he would be glad to partake but that they would hinder him in the object that he has in view. Even the man of pleasure must in the pursuit of his object often use self-denial: he must put a restraint on himself at times, and refuse a less pleasure for the present, however strongly his wishes may incline to it, in order to obtain a greater one in prospect. Nay, even the customary civilities of society impose on us frequent self-denial. A man will often deny himself, will often refrain from doing what he would otherwise wish to do, in order to observe the rules of good breeding and courtesy. If then we are content in the pursuit of business or of pleasure to deny ourselves, if we are willing and able to practise it in order that we may observe the decent courtesies of life and be esteemed well mannered in society, what must be said of us if we refuse to practise it for Christ’s sake, if we can use self-denial on other occasions and for other purposes readily, and only feel it too irksome when called on to use it for the purpose of pleasing Him? What must be said of us but that the love of God is not in us?
II. Self-denial is necessary to the due discharge of our duties.—For many of these we cannot perform except at the expense of denying ourselves.
1. How can the rich relieve the poor as they ought, or how can the poor as they ought befriend each other, except they deny themselves for each other’s sake? We must in part sacrifice our own ease, we must give up our own way, we must abridge our own enjoyments, if we would do good to others according to the will of Christ. “Bear ye one another’s burdens.” This is His law; and it is evident that we cannot pretend to fulfil it except we deny ourselves. “Look not,” saith the apostle, “every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others”; and then he adds, “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” inasmuch as His Divine conduct furnishes the best example of self-denying charity. Not a single day passes which will not furnish many occasions for this: nay, not an hour’s intercourse with our fellow-men but will afford us opportunities of denying ourselves,—by giving up, for instance, our own wishes, and yielding to the wishes of another; by “taking the lowest room,” or choosing the least desirable lot; by securing the comfort or ease or honour of those about us at some sacrifice on our own part; by putting a restraint upon our feelings; by imposing silence on our tongue, refusing it the licence which it loves, not allowing it to utter words “that may do hurt,” not answering again, nor resenting wrong, nor resisting evil. In a thousand ways which only a watchful conscience can discover, and which no one may be privy to but God Himself, we may do what our Lord here commands us. Our daily course, under the most ordinary circumstances, may become a course of virtuous self-renunciation—a course of habitual obedience to the injunction in the text, “Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
2. There are at the present day great efforts made by the Church for the extension of the Lord’s kingdom among men, for propagating both at home and abroad the gospel of the grace of God. These efforts cannot be sustained except by the free-will offerings of Christians—they must be given up unless the members of the Church liberally give of their substance for their support. These multiplying demands on Christians cannot possibly be answered unless they contrive in some way to lessen their personal expenses, to spend less on self-indulgence, to save somewhat more by self-denial. Then, and not till then, will the resources of the Church be adequately replenished, and means be supplied her sufficient for carrying on her great designs of training her own children in the service and worship of God, and of “preaching among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”
III. Self-denial is necessary for the purification of our minds.—
1. As we were born in sin, and our nature is consequently corrupt, it must be watched over, restrained, and subdued. Our innate propensities are all on the side of evil, and if any of them gain the mastery over us we are thereby brought into bondage to sin. Now the only way to prevent this is to mortify these propensities, to deny them indulgence, to oppose them at their first rising, however earnest and importunate they may be, and by an act of self-denial to put a restraint upon them. The will grows unruly if it be not crossed; the soul is weakened by self-indulgence; faith languishes when the senses are unceasingly gratified; the affections will not rise to things above if we grant them unrestricted enjoyment of things on earth. Therefore it is that a Christian should be watchful for opportunities of exercising self-control, and not wait till his desires point to something absolutely unlawful. He should, for instance, make his ordinary meals occasions for doing so, learning to keep in check the lower appetites of his nature in the common matter of meat and drink. He should observe the same in reference to dress, refusing indulgence to himself in things which might awaken vanity and stimulate strongly the lust of the eye. In many ways, from which he will not receive the least taint of asceticism, nor do any rude violence to nature, or obscure to himself the blessed truth that God “giveth us all things richly to enjoy,” he may deny himself and bring his desires under control.
2. Whenever the exercise of self-denial is spoken of, there naturally arises in the mind a repugnance to it, on account of the difficulty of it and the pain which attends it. But let us not give way to this repugnance, seeing the necessity of self-denial is so absolute.
(1) The exercise is difficult doubtless—very difficult; but think not that we are left to encounter the difficulty alone, to meet it in the feebleness of our own nature. No, God will give us His Holy Spirit if we ask Him, and with His Divine co-operation we shall be able to do what otherwise would not only be difficult but impossible.
(2) With regard to the pain of it, it is granted that it must be painful, more or less so, always. The very word implies it. But is not pain suffered for Christ and in His service better than ease secured by deserting Him? Is not pain met with in the performance of duty more to be prized than the ease which is sought in the neglect of it? Is not pain endured in seeking the purification of our nature better a thousandfold than the indulgence which must complete its debasement? Besides, the pain is but momentary, the advantage that flows from it lasting. See Romans 8:13. The faithful soldier and servant of Christ who manfully engages in this warfare shall hereafter share his Lord’s triumph and enter into His rest (Revelation 3:21).—G. Bellett.
Mark 8:27-30. Christ’s Gross, and ours.—This section has the announcement of the Cross as its centre, prepared for on the one hand by a question, and followed on the other by a warning that His followers must travel the same road.
I. The preparation for the announcement of the Cross (Mark 8:27-30).—
1. Why did Christ begin by asking about the popular judgment of His personality? Apparently in order to bring clearly home to the disciples that, as far as the masses were concerned, His work and theirs had failed, and had for net result total misconception. Who that had the faintest glimmer of what He was could suppose that the stern, fiery spirits of Elijah or John had come to life again in Him?
2. The second question, “But whom say ye that I am?” with its sharp transition, is meant to force home the conviction of the gulf between His disciples and the whole nation. Mark, too, that this is the all-important question for every man. Our own individual “thought” of Him determines our whole worth and fate.
3. How did these questions and their answers serve as introduction to the announcement of the Cross?
(1) They brought clearly before the disciples the hard fact of Christ’s rejection by the popular voice, and defined their position as sharply antagonistic. A rejected Messiah could not fail to be, sooner or later, a slain Messiah.
(2) Then clear, firm faith in His Messiahship was needed to enable them to stand the ordeal to which the announcement, and still more its fulfilment, would subject them.
(3) Again, the significance and worth of the Cross could only be understood when seen in the light of that great confession.
4. The charge of silence contrasts singularly with the former employment of the apostles as heralds of Jesus. The silence was partly punitive and partly prudential.
(1) It was punitive, inasmuch as the people had already had abundantly the proclamation of His gospel, and had cast it away.
(2) It was prudential, in order to avoid hastening on the inevitable collision; not because Christ desired escape, but because He would first fulfil His day.
II. The announcement of the Cross (Mark 8:31-33).—There had been many hints before this; for Christ saw the end from the beginning. His death was before Him, all through His days, as the great purpose for which He had come. How much more gracious and wonderful His quick sympathy, His patient self-forgetfulness, His unwearied toil, shew against that dark background!
1. Mark here the solemn necessity. Why “must” He suffer? The cords which bind this sacrifice to the horns of the altar were not spun by men’s hands. The great “must” which ruled His life was a cable of two strands—obedience to the Father, and love to men. He would save; therefore He “must” die. The same “must” stretches beyond death. “Christ that died “is no gospel until you go on to say, “Yea, rather, that is risen again.”
2. Peter’s rash “rebuke,” like most of his appearances in the Gospel, is strangely compounded of warm-hearted, impulsive love and presumptuous self-confidence. He found fault with Christ. For what? Probably for not trusting to His followers’ arms, or for letting Himself become a victim to the “must” which Peter thought of as depending only on the power of the ecclesiastics in Jerusalem. He blames Christ for not hoisting the flag of a revolt. This blind love was the nearest approach to sympathy which Christ received; and it was repugnant to Him, so as to draw the sharpest words from Him that He ever spoke to a loving heart. Not thus was He wont to repel ignorant love, nor to tell out faults in public; but the act witnessed to the recoil of His fixed spirit from the temptation which addressed His natural human shrinking from death, as well as to His desire that, once for all, every dream of resistance by force should be shattered. Note that it may be the work of “Satan” to appeal to the things “that be of men,” however innocent, if by so doing obedience to God’s will is hindered. Note, too, that Simon may be “Peter” at one moment and “Satan” at the next.
III. The announcement of the Cross as the law for the disciples too (Mark 8:34-38).—Christ’s followers must follow, but men can choose whether they will be His followers or not. So the “must” is changed into “let him,” and the “if any man will” is put in the forefront. The conditions are fixed, but the choice of accepting the position is free.
1. The law for every disciple is self-denial and taking up his cross. This does not merely mean accepting meekly God-sent or men-inflicted sorrows, but persistently carrying on the special form of self-denial which my special type of character requires. It will include these other meanings, but it goes deeper than they.
2. The first of the reasons for the law in Mark 8:35 is a paradox, and a truth with two sides. To wish to save is to lose life; to lose it for Christ’s sake is to save it. Flagrant vice is not needed to kill the real life. Clean, respectable selfishness does the work effectually. The deadly gas is invisible and has no smell. But while all selfishness is fatal, it is self-surrender and sacrifice, “for My sake and the gospel’s,” which is life-giving.
3. The “for” of Mark 8:36 seems to refer back to the law in Mark 8:34, and the verse enforces the command by an appeal to self-interest, which in the highest sense of the word dictates self-sacrifice. The men who live for self are dead, as Christ has been saying. A man gets rich, and in the process has dropped generous impulses, affections, interest in noble things, perhaps principle and religion. He has shrivelled and hardened into a mere fragment of himself; and so, when success comes, he cannot much enjoy it, and was happier, poor and sympathetic, and enthusiastic and generous, than he is now, rich and dwindled. He who loses himself in gaining the world does not win it, but is mastered by it.
4. A wholesome contempt for the world’s cackle is needed for following Christ. The geese on the common hiss at the passer-by who goes steadily through the flock. How grave and awful is that irony, if we may call it so, which casts the retribution in the mould of the sin! The Judge shall be “ashamed” of such unworthy disciples—shall blush to own such as His. May we venture to put stress on the fact that He does not say that He will reject them?
5. How marvellous the transition from the prediction of the Cross to this of the Throne! We do not know Jesus unless we know Him as the crucified Sacrifice for the world’s sins, and as the exalted Judge of the world’s deeds.
6. He adds a weighty word of enigmatical meaning, lest any should think that He was speaking only of some far-off judgment. The destruction of Jerusalem seems to be the event intended. It was a kind of rehearsal, or picture in little, of that coming and ultimate great day of the Lord, and was meant to be a “sign” that it should surely come.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Mark 8:36-37. The loss of the soul.—
I. The character of some of those who may be said to pursue the present world at the expense of their souls.—
1. Consider, first, the case of those intensely occupied with the pursuit of the pleasures and indulgences of the world. It is no crime to be happy in this state of being (Philippians 4:4). The crime is either in seeking happiness from wrong sources, or in so eagerly drinking at the streams of earthly joy which the bounty of God has opened to us, as to forget or neglect the Fountain where alone the soul can be satisfied.
2. Consider, next, the case of those who are pursuing, with the like intenseness, the interests of this life. Here also a reasonable regard to our own worldly interest, and that of others connected with us, is not condemned in Scripture (Proverbs 22:29; 1 Corinthians 4:12; 1 Timothy 5:8). But if these worldly interests are pursued with feverish anxiety, from wrong motives or by wrong means; if they are the main objects for which we labour; if their pursuit is connected with disobedience to the will of God,—then the supposition of the text is realised: the world is gained, but the soul is lost.
3. In like manner Scripture does not demand the austere rejection of worldly honours. Rank and natural influence, if it be the pleasure of the Most High to bestow them, are to be received with gratitude, and consecrated to the glory of the Giver, and to the benefit, temporal and spiritual, of His creatures. If, however, mistaking the means for the end, we sit down satisfied with the possession of reputation or influence, without considering the objects to which they are to be dedicated; if worldly honours are the main objects of desire; if the pursuit of them be connected with envy, fretfulness, or ambition, with the commission of sin, or the neglect of duty; if, in struggling for the corruptible crown, the love of God, of the Redeemer, of heavenly things, and of one another is suffered to decline, and in wearing it the lowliness of the gospel spirit is sacrificed,—this, again, is to incur the condemnation of the text.
II. What is included in the loss of the soul.—
1. The nature and value of the soul of man.
(1) Its intrinsic excellence and dignity.
(2) The price paid, and that by Divine appointment, for the redemption of the soul.
(3) The description given of the soul in Scripture, as the grand object of contention between the powers of heaven and hell.
(4) The mighty apparatus of means and instruments which it has pleased God to put into action for the recovery of the soul.
(5) And finally its capacity for the pursuits and enjoyments of another state of existence. With what faculties must that creature be endowed who, day and night and without ceasing, sings the praises of the Lord, who sees God as He is and knows Him as he himself is known!
2. What is more distinctly implied in the term “lost.”
(1) To “lose” the soul is not, as some, without the smallest warrant either from reason or Scripture, have ventured to affirm, to be annihilated.
(2) The loss of the soul is represented in Scripture as a penalty inflicted by the hand of God Himself.
(3) The loss of the soul is represented in Scripture as involving a species of suffering altogether without alleviation. We have perhaps witnessed the misery which the unrestrained dominion even of a single passion is able to inflict upon the sinner: conceive, then, all the faculties employed, and all the bad passions let loose, for the torment of the sufferer. Imagine, for instance, the discernment of truth employed only to assure the lost creature of the awful fact of his own eternal ruin. Conceive the powers of calculation, perhaps infinitely enlarged, and altogether engaged in familiarising the mind with ages of interminable woe. Conceive memory converted into a mere storehouse for the materials of anguish, recalling every neglected opportunity, every wasted warning, every lesson of truth forgotten, and every invitation of love refused. Imagine the conscience, which perhaps has slumbered through the whole period of our human existence, awaking from its temporary slumber, and scaring the mind with images of deeper woe and more insufferable torment.
III. The folly of thus sacrificing the soul to gain the world. On this subject it is not necessary to enlarge, because every line in the preceding argument leads decisively to this conclusion. One observation, however, I may make. It has, for the sake of argument, been taken for granted that it is possible to gain the world by the sacrifice of the soul. But how infinitely far is such a supposition from the fact! How few attain even a small part of the worldly objects at which they aim! How rarely are the hopes of the ambitious, or the covetous, or the sensual in the smallest degree realised! How difficult is it to obtain the prizes of life! how impossible to keep them! But to return to the point more immediately insisted upon in the text: suppose every object accomplished, every interest secured, and honour won, and pleasure enjoyed, what can they “profit” the man rolling on the gulf we have been contemplating, and shut out for ever from hope, from heaven, and from God?—J. W. Cunningham.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 8:28. The world’s estimate of Christ.—
1. Even an unbelieving world never gives a small name to Christ; for the names here suggested are those of the greatest of men.
2. The peculiarity of unbelief, that it can believe in old prophets brought back more easily than in new prophets raised up. Be a believer in a living God, who not only has given in the past, but in the present is giving heroes, sages, saints, and prophets. Happy those who see God at work around them!
3. A certain grudging spirit marks their estimates, reluctant to ascribe more dignity to Jesus than they can help. Beware of that spirit.—R. Glover.
Mark 8:29. Christ’s questions.—Christ asks, “Whom say ye that I am?” in no doubtful and apologetic tone. He demands and expects an answer. It is His right. It is obedience to the plainest duty. Neglect on our part is an insult to our Lord, whose we are and whom we are bound to serve. It is treason to a lost world, which needs to be helped to an acceptance of its Redeemer, and which is hindered by any reluctance to confess Him on the part of His disciples. If Christians hide the faith which is in them, or if they veil it by silence or the neglect of appropriate action, they are doing a grievous wrong as well as immeasurable mischief.
Loyalty to Christ.—The power and reach of genuine loyalty to Christ cannot be over-estimated. It is so spontaneous that it is unquestioned. When the sun is riding in unclouded splendour in mid-heaven, there is no occasion for asking from what fountain of light the glory of the noontide is pouring. And when Jesus Christ is so heartily owned and accepted and loved by a man that all which he is or does is in a measure transfigured by his affection for his adorable Lord, there is no dispute as to who and what Christ is to that man. Nothing so blesses the world, nothing so helps on the advance of the kingdom of God, as the testimony which consecrated lives bear to the truth and worth of the faith of the gospel.
1. The reply of Peter is more marvellous in the lips of a Jew, whose great creed was the Unity of God, than in the lips of any other.
2. In all ages, in some form or other, men have expressed their faith in the Divinity of Christ.
3. The more refined the soul, the more adoring is its estimate of Christ.
4. They who truly honour God will very readily believe that He has love enough to become incarnate and save men.
Mark 8:30. “Tell no man of Him.”—This is partly a temporary precept, postponing the disciples’ testimony until after Calvary, on the ground that already the curiosity of the nation was over-roused, and interfered with the Saviour’s teaching; and is partly a precept of perpetual guidance. Tell people what Christ has done, and only assist them to find out for themselves who He is. A ready-made definition of the Saviour, saving people the trouble of thinking, is not a real service to any soul.—R. Glover.
Mark 8:32-33. Spiritual exaltation.—Moments of spiritual exaltation are often followed by moments of spiritual exhaustion, and a good man is never more perilously open to temptation than after a long and high strain of devotion. So Peter falls from the height of his good confession to the depth of Christ’s displeasure, and from being inspired by the Spirit of all truth and goodness to being the mouthpiece of the spirit of all evil and error.—S. Cox, D.D.
1. In the best of men there is weakness and liability to err.
2. Through mistaken kindness we may become the tempters of our brethren.
3. We must never lower our standard of duty because friends seek to spare us.
Mark 8:34-38. The fundamentals of the Christian fellowship.—
1. Its laws.
(1) The true denier of himself is the true confessor.
(2) The true cross-bearer is the true knight of the Cross.
(3) The true follower after Christ in obedience is the true conqueror.
2. Its grounds.
(1) He who will save his life in self-seeking shall lose it; he who loses it in devotion to Christ shall gain it.
(2) He who lays down his soul to win the world loses with his soul the world also; he who has gained his soul has with his soul gained the world also.
(3) To seek honour in the world while ashamed of Christ leads to infamy before the throne of Christ; but shame in the world leads to honour with Him.
(4) Readiness to die with Christ leads through death to eternal glory.—J. P. Lange, D.D.
Mark 8:34. Words addressed to disciples.—We must come to Christ in order to come after Him. To wish to go to heaven when we die is not the same thing as to wish to follow Christ while we live. Following Christ means walking in the path that He trod.
I. To follow Christ we must take up the cross.—
1. What is the cross? Trial, suffering, difficulty, etc. Divinely appointed—not self-imposed. The reproach of Christ (John 15:20; Philippians 1:29; 1 Peter 4:16).
2. What is it to “take it up”? Voluntary acceptance (John 4:34; John 18:11; Matthew 11:29). Not to be dragged by us—nor forced upon us.
II. To take up the cross we must deny self.—
1. What is “self”? It is the personality taking the throne, claiming, possessing, and managing the whole being. This is a condition of “selfness.” There is unrighteous self and self-righteous self (John 5:30; John 8:28; Philippians 2:7).
2. What is it to “deny” self? Notice the difference between denying to yourself certain things and denying self (Luke 22:57).
III. To deny self we must enthrone Christ.—
1. Christ and self cannot reign together (Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:11).
2. Only Christ can dethrone self (1 Peter 3:15; 2 Corinthians 6:16; 2 Corinthians 13:5).—E. H. Hopkins.
1. Abnegation is not itself the good, but the most universal condition for the human attainment of the good.
2. Christ promises not happiness but life: yet sometimes life through death: the right hand may have to be cut off or the right eye plucked out.
3. We are slow to believe that the cross of anguish can be a tree of life.—Prof. F. J. A. Hort.
The life of religion.—
1. The exercise of self-denial infers the possession and display of all the milder virtues. Where this exists, there must be humility, diffidence, self-command, respect for authority, meekness, gentleness, goodness, temperance, charity.
2. The exercise of mortification infers the presence and exercise of all the stronger virtues. Where this is, there must be truth, integrity, justice, fortitude, contempt of pain, fearlessness of death.
3. The imitation of Christ requires the exercise of all those amiable graces which constitute the life and spirit of religion in the soul. Where that is, there must be faith, hope, love, piety, purity, peace, heavenly-mindedness, devotion. In short, these duties comprehend all the duties of morality and religion; and the exercise of them is only the discharge of some religious or moral duty—of something that is wise, dignified, good, and which could not be exhibited in the same spirit without their presence and power.—T. S. Jones, D.D.
Self-sacrifice.—That which especially distinguishes a high order of man from a low order of man, that which constitutes human goodness, human greatness, human nobleness, is surely not the degree of enlightenment with which men pursue their own advantage; but it is self-forgetfulness, self-sacrifice, the disregard of personal pleasure, personal indulgence, personal advantage remote or present, because some other line of conduct is more right.
Note the order of the three things.—Deny self—take up cross—follow Me. Perplexity and spiritual difficulties often arise from a wrong order of right things. Thus we may read the words as if our Lord had said, “Let him take up his cross and deny himself,” etc. Taking up the cross may be understood as meaning much the same thing as denying self, which is not correct, or we may be putting following Christ first. But this is to miss the chief point in this lesson. “Let him deny himself”—that is the main and first direction that must be understood and obeyed. We shall never take up the cross—consent to it, and do it willingly—until we have reached the point of denying self. The mind, of which self is the centre, will never take up the cross; it may sullenly endure to have it laid upon it, it may put up with it as that which is inevitable, but it will never take it up as an act of willing submission. But the mind of Christ is the mind that cheerfully yields to all that the Father appoints.—E. H. Hopkins.
A cross is an instrument on which something is to be put to death. Taking it up is not wearing an ornament, nor even just carrying a burden, but putting something to death. What? Sin. Not some incarnate sin that we can catch and bind as they took Jesus, not some other personality, but the sin that is in us—the love of self, the love of the world, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Sin is a desperate enemy. And to be rid of it means thorough work, not coaxing it, not hiding it, not forgetting it, but putting it to death.—C. M. Southgate.
Consider your cross.—You may try, if you like, to go through life and not see a “cross”; or, if you like, you may consider it; you may avoid it, or you may meet it; you may resist, or you may acquiesce in it; you may murmur under it, or you may be still; you may drag it, or you may carry it; you may be in a hurry to lay it down, or you may wish to wait God’s time:—but blessed is that man who considers his cross, and does not fly from it; who bears it silently, cheerfully, joyfully, and hastens not to be rid of it, but patiently tarries the Lord’s leisure. To that man that “cross” is his soul’s cure; it is the Spirit’s school; it is the badge of his discipleship, the token of his Heavenly Father’s love, the road to glory, the opportunity for all the promises, the earnest of an eternal crown.—J. Vaughan.
The cross the way to life.—
Wouldst thou inherit life with Christ on high?
Then count the cost, and know
That here on earth below
Thou needs must suffer with thy Lord, and die.
We reach that gain, to which all else is loss,
But through the Cross!
Not e’en the sharpest sorrows we can feel,
Nor keenest pangs, we dare
With that great bliss compare,
When God His glory shall in us reveal,
That shall endure when our brief woes are o’er,
“Follow Me.”—This implies not merely to believe His doctrine, obey His commandments, and trust in Him for salvation, but also to imitate Him in His spirit and conduct—in the holiness, activity, and usefulness of His life—in that love to God and man, that zeal for the Divine glory, that humility, patience, meekness, perseverance, and resignation with which He did and suffered His Heavenly Father’s will,—in consequence of which He was exposed to hunger, thirst, poverty, and privations, to the contradiction of sinners, scorn of men, stripes, imprisonment, to all the horrors of Gethsemane and torments of Golgotha.—T. S. Jones, D.D.
Mark 8:35. The selfish, sinful life and the true, spiritual life hang at opposite ends of the scale-beam.—The dip of the one means the ascent of the other. Self-denial is but choosing the better; denying the lower is accepting the higher. The soul cannot live in both at once; indeed, can truly live in the higher alone. We need only to keep this compensation in mind to see the excelling charm of self-denial. It is not the bare going without something pleasant, but giving up one attraction for a greater.—C. M. Southgate.
Mark 8:36. The worth of the soul.—We cannot overrate our nature, as we cannot underrate our merit; we cannot think too highly of ourselves as immortals, or too humbly of ourselves as transgressors. There is quite as much danger in our undervaluing our immortality, as there is in our exaggerating our merit. In very deed we are more prone to the one than we are to the other; for if self-righteousness slays its thousands, self-neglect slays its tens of thousands.
1. The soul! that thinking, conscious, deathless essence, which thrills and throbs in every tenement of clay before me and around me,—that soul! invisible, yet perceptible; wrapped up in the mortal, yet itself immortal; passing away, yet never to end:—that soul! we argue that its worth is immense, because its origin was most exalted.
2. We argue the worth of the soul from the vast capacities and powers with which it is endowed. What a wonderful thing is the mind of man! How wondrous is his power of love! how deep the bitterness of his hate! how dark his desperation of revenge! how insatiable and yearning his desires! how high the inspirations of his soul! how all the drops he gathers from the cisterns of created good can never slake or satisfy the yearnings of his immortal mind! how he still craves and longs after something higher and more pure than earth can furnish! And, then, what a capability it has of enjoyment! what a capability of endurance!
3. I argue the value of the soul still more emphatically from its dread immortality. There is the mysterious attribute, compared with which all things temporal are but shadows and day-dreams.
4. I argue the worth of the soul still more emphatically from the fact that it was redeemed at an untold price: it was ransomed with the blood of God.
5. But if the worth of the soul be so immense, the loss of the soul must be tremendous. We therefore argue the fearfulness of that loss, because it involves the sacrifice and the shipwreck of all for which man was first created, and which Christ has redeemed to Him by His atoning blood—all that God can bestow or man receive. Neither is this all: there is not only privation of all that is good and glorious—there is also the endurance of God’s everlasting anger, whose frown is death and whose smile is life; there is the perpetual gnawing despair of one that has made shipwreck of his all; there is the smouldering remorse, the worm that never dieth.—H. Stowell.
World and soul.—
1. It is impossible to gain the whole world, even at the sacrifice of our soul. None but Christ was ever tempted with such a huge bait.
2. The soul may be lost for the sake of securing a very infinitesimal portion of the world: Esau, Ahab, Jude 1:3. In the ordinary course of things such a part of the world as is sufficient for our happiness may be easily gained without exposing the soul to loss (Proverbs 8:21; Proverbs 3:16; Proverbs 10:4; Proverbs 22:29); but even were this not so, nothing could compensate for the loss of the soul.
4. By endeavouring to gain the whole world or any part of it at the expense of the soul, we do not only disclaim the greatest good or happiness, but incur and invite the greatest evil and misery, which is not the losing the soul absolutely, however grievous and shocking to nature, but the keeping it, together with the gains and wages of sin, so as to wish it were lost.
5. Whereas by endeavouring to gain the whole world, though with the loss of our souls, it is impossible for us to gain the whole, and we are not so certain to gain any competent part of it; on the other hand, by endeavouring to save our souls, though with the loss of the world, we may not only be sure to save them, but to save them with advantage, or to purchase for ourselves a greater salvation.—B. Kennet, D.D.
The world as a law of life.—You may be as ignorant and as rude in your life as a Hottentot, and as poor as Lazarus, and yet have gained the world and lost your life. For this is not merely a question of the things which you acquire by your exchange, it is a question of the law under which you put yourself, of the moral quality of the end which you seek.—M. R. Vincent, D.D.
The soul that may be lost.—A German commentator who is usually very diffuse tersely and truly observes with respect to this passage, “He who will understand it does understand it.” There is no real room for doubt as to the meaning of our Lord’s words. The soul which may be lost is the very inmost seat of being; that which thinks in each one of us, but is not thought; that which feels, but is not feeling; that which remembers and is conscious, but is neither consciousness nor memory; that depth, that abyss of life which we so rarely explore, yet which is within each one of us, which we carry everywhere with us,—the one mystery of which perhaps we know less than any other, and yet our very inmost self.—Canon Liddon.
“If.”—What a world of meaning there is in that little word “if”! It suggests the fact that few, perhaps not one in ten thousand, do gain that portion of the world on which they have set their heart. Many run in the race, but only one gains the prize; and not seldom he who bids fair to win fails through something which we call chance or accident.—J. W. King.
Mark 8:37. A business question.—The apostles had been men of business; here was a business question indeed. They were decidedly practical, and they were met on their own ground. Their answer is not recorded. They doubtless thought long and often on it. Their final decision we know. They concluded their soul was valuable enough to justify them in giving up their affairs to save it; in giving up their time, ease, and indulgence to save it; in surrendering their repute, home, and country to save it; and, finally, in laying down their life to save it.—T. F. Crosse, D.C.L.
Mark 8:38. Confessing or denying Christ.—
1. Confessing or denying Christ is certainly no mere affair of words. Yet words, though weak, are not worthless. Whatever worthy witness words can bear, they will not fail to utter in any loving and thoroughgoing confession of our loving Lord.
2. Confessing Christ and being confessed by Christ are not to be separated in our thought, like work-day and pay-day, as if the confessing were all here and the being confessed all there. What comes out there is simply the flash of an awakened consciousness of a judgment of Christ which has been going on here every day under the eyes of the invisible witnesses of many a negligent life.
3. Confessing or denying Christ here is not a question solely as to the totality or average of character, but quite as much a question as to the particulars of character. Point by point the world compares the professed copy with its model, and recognises agreements or contradictions in detail. No otherwise can it be in presence of the angels of God.—J.M. Whiton.
Conduct and character.—How does a son of a wise and virtuous father confess or deny him most expressively? Certainly not by the word which declares the eternal relationship, not by saying “Father,” though he ought to say it. Rather by conduct and character; either by the wise and virtuous following of parental example, which bespeaks him as his father’s own son, heir of his spirit as of his name, or else by the course of folly and vice, which denies all moral affinity with him. So on the father’s part; let father and son be in the same society, how does the wise and virtuous father most effectively own or disown the son before intelligent observers? Certainly not by saying, or omitting to say, “My son”; rather by being in the same circle with him as an object of comparison before observant witnesses, by the light which the father’s character reflects upon the son, to the son’s honour or dishonour as the imitator or neglecter of a noble model.—Ibid.
On being ashamed of Jesus.—Those who would willingly follow Jesus where the road is smooth and easy, but leave Him where it is rugged and hard; who inwardly approve of His doctrine, but from the ridicule of the profane are ashamed to avow it; who punctually attend the routine of worship, but dispense with the observance of duties to which they are not compelled by human laws; who can occasionally associate with the drunkard and hear the name of God profaned without concern; who have no objection to do wrong when the multitude give their sanction; who, when unnoticed or secure of escaping censure, can lift the rod of oppression or receive the wages of iniquity; who can cherish pride, vanity, avarice, and ambition, and yet by nice dissimulation affect the opposite virtues; who can be tender and partial to themselves, but austere and cruel to others; who perform no duty on which human applause is not bestowed, and are deterred from no vice which fashion or common practice countenances;—men of this character, and all who resemble them—all false Christians, in short, who in public and private life have not the fear and love of God before their eyes, whatever may be their reception from the world—of them shall Jesus Christ be ashamed when in transcendent glory He shall come to judge the world. It is obvious, then, from this climax of vice and folly, that nothing under a sincere, uniform, and universal obedience to the moral law which Jesus came to fulfil will be accepted from His followers; and that no pretences, excuses, and palliations will avail, if this essential and absolutely necessary condition be not complied with.—A. Stirling, LL. D.
Adulterous generation—not because the particular sin of adultery was so frequent in that age, but because by every kind of sin a man under the contract of religion runs into that character wherewith Solomon describes the adulteress, who “forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God” (James 4:4).—Dean Young.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 8
Mark 8:27. A striking coincidence.—If we are right in identifying the little bay—Dalmanutha—with the neighbourhood of Tarichæa, yet another link of strange coincidence connects the prophetic warning spoken there with its fulfilment. From Dalmanutha our Lord passed across the lake to Cæsarea Philippi. From Cæsarea Philippi did Vespasian pass through Tiberias to Tarichæa, when the town and people were destroyed, and the blood of the fugitives reddened the lake, and their bodies choked its waters. Even amidst the horrors of the last Jewish war few spectacles could have been so sickening as that of the wild stand at Tarichæa, ending with the butchery of 6,500 on land and sea, and lastly the vile treachery by which they to whom mercy had been promised were lured into the circus at Tiberias, when the weak and old, to the number of about 1, 200, were slaughtered, and the rest—upwards of 30,400—sold into slavery. Well might He who foresaw and foretold that terrible end, standing on that spot, deeply sigh in spirit as He spake to them who asked “a sign,” and yet saw not what even ordinary discernment might have perceived of the red and lowering sky overhead.—A. Edersheim, D. D.
Mark 8:29. Comprehensive news of Christ.—Many have at one time or other felt the charm of a Christ who is purely human, but not Divine. Our literature abounds at present with such pictures, and some of them are very fascinating. The Peasant of Nazareth, growing up beneath His mother’s roof and in the carpenter’s workshop; the enthusiastic Lover of the poor and oppressed, who went about continually doing good; the pure and fearless Reformer, who blasted with the lightning of His eloquence the Pharisee and the priest; the Martyr, who died for the truth, and lies buried beneath the Syrian blue,—this picture is being sketched by clever littérateurs; it is impossible not to enjoy it; and you ask, Why does this win me more than the Christ I hear of in church? The latter perplexes me with mystery, but this is simple, human, lovable. It is not, I think, difficult to explain this. If you know music, and have ever endeavoured to follow and grasp a long and classical composition of a great master, say, an oratorio of Handel or Haydn, I am sure you can remember in it a few airs and choruses which, if separated from the whole and executed by themselves, would produce far more immediate pleasure than the whole elaborate composition. Indeed, there are audiences which could not tolerate the oratorio as a whole, but would be delighted with its selected beauties. Yet, though these lovely morsels are enchanting, they are not Handel. Or, do you know literature? If you know your Browning, you must be aware how charming it is, after struggling through his more difficult pages, to light on a lyric here and there which is perfectly easy reading. Selections of these find their way even into school books, and many readers can enjoy selections from this great author who recoil from his longer and more difficult works. But though these elegant extracts are delightful, they are not Browning. In the same way these pictures of a merely human Christ are true as far as they go; they are the simpler traits selected from that great character and life; they are easy to comprehend, and they touch the feelings; but they are not Christ. At first sight that way of thinking of Christ as a great and good man appears to make everything simple; but it really involves you in confusion and contradiction. For what is it you hold Him to be? He is, you say, the ideal man—the model of modesty, wisdom, and truth. If He was merely a link in the chain of humanity, then, as a weak and fallible man, He ought to have confessed His own sins, and He was a blasphemer when He spoke of giving His life a ransom for many. When He said, “All power is given unto Me in heaven and on earth,” and promised to be with His people always, even to the end of the world, He was not a wise man, but the victim of a madman’s delusions. When He, a finite creature, spoke of Himself as seated on God’s throne and judging the assembled world, He was no model of goodness and modesty, but a man rendered insane with pride, who was presuming to pluck the sceptre from the bands of the Eternal. If He who said, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,’ had not the peace and joy of salvation to give to those who come to hide their guilty heads in His bosom, then He was cruelly deceiving us all.—Jas. Stalker, D. D.
A large Christ experienced.—Payson, when he lay on his bed dying, said: “All my life Christ has seemed to me as a star afar off; but little by little He has been advancing and growing larger and larger, till now His beams seem to fill the whole hemisphere, and I am floating in the glory of God, wondering with unutterable wonder how such a mote as I should be glorified in His light.” But he came to that after a long life.
Mark 8:33. We all have our Satans—each one of us a different Satan. Satan comes to one man in the form of idleness, and makes him waste day after day, year after year, until he has wasted his whole life doing nothing. Satan comes to another man as work, and makes him destroy himself in the opposite way by wearing out prematurely his brain and his body. He comes to another as Christian zeal, and the man becomes a bigot, full of fire for the Lord; but the Lord whom he serves is a God of wrath, a God who cares for trifles, a God who prefers sacrifice to mercy. He comes to another as charity, but it is a charity which tolerates evil, and lets it alone, which has no edge to it, no courage—an indolent charity which is not love at all, but only easy good-nature. So he disguises himself as an angel of light, calling himself Patriotism when he wishes to make nations hate each other; calling himself Christianity when he wishes to make men persecute each other; calling himself Honesty when he wishes to encourage a man in his rude and overbearing ways; and so on, changing himself into every virtue and every grace.—J. F. Clarke.
Mark 8:34. To take up one’s cross was a proverbial expression, both with the Jews and Romans, for any extraordinary sufferings, and it is probable they had it from the Persians, who made use of that form of punishment.—T. J. Montefiore.
The symbol of the cross.—It is strange, yet well authenticated, and has given rise to many speculations, that the symbol of the cross was already known to the Indians before the arrival of Cortez. Among the Egyptians a cross was the emblem of a future life. In O’Brien’s Round Towers of Ireland there are some curious remarks on the cross. The use of it in some way by the Druids is noticed.
To take, not make, our cross.—We are bid to take, not to make, our cross. God in His providence will provide one for us. And we are bid to take it up; we hear nothing of laying it down. Our troubles and our lives live and die together.—W. Gurnall.
The spirit of the Christian soldier.—When Garibaldi entered on one of his campaigns, he told his troops what he wanted of them. They replied, “Well, General, and what are you going to give us for all this?” He replied, “I don’t know what also you will get, but you will get hunger, cold, wounds, and perhaps death.” They stood awhile considering, and then, throwing up their arms, exclaimed, “We are the men!” This is the spirit Christ looks for in His soldiers.
The spell of example.—There is, we know, a wonderful spell in the cry, “Come after Me,” “Follow Me.” All history, profane as well as sacred, has shewn this. The great Roman general realised its force when he called to his soldiers, who shrank from the hardships of the Libyan desert, and promised to go before them, and to command them nothing which he would not first do himself. Even so Christ designed to help His followers by the assurance that He should first suffer that which they would be called to bear.
Predominance of the cross.—Describing the artistic glories of the Church of St. Mark at Venice, Mr. Ruskin says: “Here are all the successions of crowded imagery, shewing the passions and the pleasures of human life symbolised together, and the mystery of its redemption: for the maze of interwoven lines and changeful pictures lead always at last to the cross, lifted and carved in every place and upon every stone; sometimes with the serpent of eternity wrapped round it, sometimes with doves beneath its arms, and sweet herbage growing forth from its feet; but conspicuous most of all on the great rood that crosses the church before the altar, raised in bright blazonry against the shadow of the apse. It is the cross that is first seen and always burning in the centre of the temple; and every dome and hollow of its roof has the figure of Christ in the utmost height of it, raised in power, or returning in judgment.”
Christ’s cross is the sweetest burden that ever I bore; it is such a burden as wings are to a bird, or sails to a ship, to carry me forward to my harbour.—S. Rutherford.
The figure of the cross. My will is represented well by a straight line—thus, running from birth to death in unbroken current through the flesh and the world in all manner of self-indulgence unto the hidden abyss. God’s will is represented by a perpendicular | thus, falling from heaven like a bolt of thunder. The two wills meet, and form the figure of the + thus. It cuts me, severs me, hinders me, clogs me, compels me; but Thy will, O God, saves me. That cross means the life and death of the Son of God. “For me,” therefore, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Christ the Leader.—When Hedley Vicars fell at the head of his regiment during a night attack of the Russians, his voice was heard ringing out on the night air over the din of the conflict with the cry, “This way, Ninety-seventh.” A hundred “goes” would be weak in comparison with the “come” involved in that battle-cry. In all the cross-bearing of life the voice of the Captain of our salvation is still heard in the van, saying, “This way, My disciple.”
Following Christ in self-denial.—A little girl was instructed by her parents in what Christ had taught, and how He lived, and that through Him we must enter into eternal life. When she heard these things, she became dissatisfied with her native land, and pressed her parents to be taken to that land where men lived as Christ had taught them, and as He lived. Her parents replied that she was then in a Christian land, and that those around her were Christians, and were living so. She shook her head and said, “That I cannot believe, for those I see around me neither live as Christ taught nor as Christ lived; for Christ was voluntarily poor, we love gold and silver; He was humble and lowly, but we affect dominion and greatness; He was always in affliction, we hunt for carnal pleasures.” What cutting truths from infant lips!
Mark 8:35. Gain by loss.—The most important use of a seed is that which results in the reproduction of its species; but in order that it may serve this high purpose, it must lose itself as a seed, must suffer the disintegration of its structure, and give up its elements for the production of new forms of life. The seed must, as it were, lose all thought of itself, must give up its own life, its own separate existence, and allow itself to be converted into new and productive forms of vegetation. A grain of corn stored away in the granary is of small account. To be of any use in the world it must be either ground to powder and made into bread for the eater, or be planted in the ground and transmuted by the joint action of the wonderful forces locked up within itself and those lodged in the soil around it, into a green and growing stalk which shall in due time bear fruit to nourish human life and bless the world. It is only one illustration of a great law prevalent in all the universe of God. Helpfulness to others is attained through sacrifice of self.
The reward of self-sacrifice.—A group of firemen sat in their engine house to hold their anniversary. They have invited in the “veterans.” They eat—they remember. Which is the keenest delight, the memory of the terrible eight-and-forty hours in which you played the hero, carrying the nozzle through the doorway from which a hundred citizens had shrunk dismayed, or the present banquet? The pleasure of heroic deeds, or—a piece of pie? Yet here is all the difference between noble and ignoble men. When we come to think of it, self-sacrifice has its own high reward. But observe how slow we are to win it with the denial of an appetite. The cross of Christ is no esoteric secret. It inheres in the constitution of things, even the commonest things.—E. J. Haynes.
Lost.—I remember being one winter’s night in a little town on the coast of Wales. We were sitting by the fire, cheerful, when we heard a sudden noise. We looked out into the night. The wind was very high, and suddenly we heard the scream of voices, then the boom of guns over the water; then the clatter of feet along the street, the lifeboat, and the lifebuoy. Human life in danger. We thought we descried a dark mass heaving over the black billows, but the breakers carried her away. That night she struck on the rocks. I walked down in the morning to look at her lying on the beach. I could not help saying, “How human this is! how lifelike!” There she lay, the pride and hope of her owners—stripped; masts, sails, shrouds, broken, ragged, torn—gone. And yet much had depended on her. She had been launched with many hopes and expectations. All gone, a melancholy wreck. The winds howled through as they lifted her ragged shrouds. She could not, as once she might have done, repel them, and make them her ministers. She was a lost ship. Melancholy type of a lost soul.—E. Paxton Hood.
Mark 8:36. Gained, but not possessed.—A people may gain the whole world, and lose all those qualities of the head and heart which entitle them to possess it. May we not say of ancient Rome that she gained the whole world and lost her soul? Just as the tale of her conquests was almost complete, yet ere the Roman eagles were firmly planted on the Euphrates and on the Danube the soul of the old republic had departed. The temperance, courage, justice, patriotism, of the earlier Romans had died out; and while, in the intoxication of her victories, Rome grasped with one hand the sceptre of the world, she surrendered the liberties and lives of her citizens to the lusts and tyranny of the Cæsars with the other. A people may have been civilised, in the material sense of the word, for centuries, while it remains at heart and for ever barbarian. In ages when our ancestors were mere savages Chinese society was as highly organised, Chinese life as highly embellished, as at the present day. Yet no primitive race was ever capable of the extraordinary cruelties which are now of daily occurrence in China; and the dignity and the rights of man are nowhere treated with such lofty scorn as in those tribunals which are presided over by the passionless scepticism of a Chinese mandarin. Without a ray of moral life, without a soul, that vast and ancient empire exists as if that it may exhibit to Christendom the worthlessness and feebleness of mere material progress. Yet Pagan empires are no measure of the degradation of which Christian peoples are capable when they sacrifice truth and goodness in an attempt to gain the world. When during the first French Revolution divine honours were paid to one of the daughters of shame, throned on the high altar of the cathedral church of Paris, while the streets of that brilliant capital were deluged with the best blood of its citizens, men read God’s doom upon a noble people, bent fiercely for the moment upon spiritual suicide and upon material aggrandisement. And when we hear daily of the gigantic miseries inflicted and endured by a nation which but yesterday was a British colony, we may reflect that there are dangers against which no institutions or races can be guaranteed, and that we ourselves have our weaknesses and our temptations. My countrymen, I do not dispute your pre-eminence; you are unquestionably the princes of commerce, you reign without a rival over the realm of matter: but have you lost, or are you losing, that which is more precious than any acquisitions of your industry or of your genius—are you becoming the slaves of matter instead of its masters? Beneath the surface of many an advanced civilisation the human brute crouches, he scarcely slumbers, with the old untamed ferocity of his savage nature; and not merely the accumulations of your capital, but the creations of your science, your new projectiles, your rifled cannon, and your ironclad steam vessels, may but enable the nation which has gained the world to prove one day how much she has really lost in gaining it.—Canon Liddon.
The world unsatisfying.—Alexander the Great overran the whole earth, and subdued every nation; and at the conclusion of universal victory he sat down and wept like a child because he had not another world to conquer. We read also of a Roman emperor who had run the round of all the pleasures in the world offering a rich reward to any one who should discover a new pleasure. Cyrus the conqueror thought that for a little time he was making a fine thing out of this world; yet before he came to his grave he wrote out this pitiful epitaph for his monument: “I am Cyrus. I occupied the Persian Empire. I was King over Asia. Begrudge me not this monument.” But the world in after-years ploughed up his sepulchre. Pope Adrian VI. had this inscription on his monument: “Here lies Adrian VI., who was never so unhappy in any period of his life as at that in which he was a prince.” “I, sinful wretch, by the grace of God, King of England and of France, and Lord of Ireland, bequeath to Almighty God my sinful soul and the life I have misspent, whereof I put myself wholly at His grace and mercy”—so wrote Henry IV. in his last will, when the frightful reality of leprosy had disenchanted the rapturous dream of usurpation. Queen Elizabeth, dying, cried: “Millions of money for an inch of time!” Was the gay queen happy? The history of kings and queens proves that though their crowns may be “set with diamonds or Indian stones,” the kings and queens themselves but seldom enjoy the crown of content which is worn upon the heart. The world clapped its hands and stamped its feet in honour of Charles Lamb. Was he happy? He says: “I walk up and down, thinking I am happy, but feeling I am not.” Samuel Johnson, happy? “No. I am afraid I shall some day get crazy.” Buchanan, the world-renowned writer, exiled from his own country, appealing to Henry VIII. for protection, happy? “No. Over mountains covered with snow, and through valleys flooded with rain, I come a fugitive.” “Indeed, my lord,” wrote famous Edmund Burke, “I doubt whether, in these hard times, I would give a peck of refuse wheat for all that is called fame in the world.” “Sweet,” says the poet, “sweet were the days when I was all unknown;
But when my name was lifted up, the storm
Broke on the mountain, and I cared not for it.”
Man’s soul thirsts and longs for something nobler, brighter, greater, and better than the world itself. As Macduff says: “As well try to fill the yawning chasm with a few grains of sand as satisfy the gulf of the soul’s desires with the pleasures of an empty world.” Nothing can satisfy the soul but God.
A revealing light.—A traveller who crosses the Alps by night sees only a foot or two before him; and he is as little alive to the extraordinary scene through which he is passing, to the beauties which encompass and to the risks which beset his path, as if he were walking quietly along the turnpike road from London to Cambridge. But as the early dawn breaks upon him, he becomes aware of those mountain pinnacles which tower above him till they hide their snowcapped summits in the very clouds of heaven; he sees the precipice which yawns at his very feet; he becomes conscious of dangers of which he had previously no idea; and he is grateful to the morning light which certainly has discovered to him a vision of unsuspected beauty, and which probably has saved him from an untimely death. And what is the question of our Blessed Lord in the text, but the very light of heaven itself, bringing out into sharp relief the real conditions of our personal existence!
The north of a soul.—We know the force and majesty of the thoughts of Pascal. The realms of space and the worlds in them are full of grandeur in his philosophy; but there is one thing compared with which all this vast material universe is nothing. “All the bodies, the stars, the firmament, the earth and all its kingdoms, are not worth one soul; for that soul knows both itself and them, and they know nothing.”
The soul the chief concern.—When the steamer London was lost some years ago on the English coast, among the many sad tales told in connexion with the shipwreck, I recollect reading of one in some respects the saddest of all. When the condition of the ship was hopeless, one of the passengers had gone down to his cabin, which was already under water, and had with some difficulty found his trunk, which he had carried up to the deck. The captain, who was standing by, waiting in silence for the inevitable catastrophe, shook his head as he saw what the poor man had done. He had saved his trunk; his life would be gone in a moment.
What then?—An aged Christian once asked a young man who was just entering business and laying out his plans for life, “What are you going to do? You are about to settle in business, I understand.” “Yes.” “And what do you intend then?” “I shall marry.” “And what then?” “I hope to make a fortune.” “And what then?” “I shall enter public life.” “And what then?” “I hope that I may make a family reputation.” “And what then?” “Well, 1 suppose I shall grow old and die.” “And what then?” The young man was silent. He had never looked so far ahead.
The legend of Ninus.—There is a legend of Ninus, the monarch of Assyria, that he had an ocean of gold and riches more than the sand of the Caspian Sea, but that he never offered sacrifice, nor worshipped God, nor administered justice—in a word, he spent a life of selfishness and indulgence with no sense of accountability to God or man. “This man is dead,” says the old chronicler. “Behold his sepulchre; and now hear where Ninus is” (he is supposed to be speaking from his tomb). “Sometime I was Ninus and drew the breath of a living man, but now I am nothing but clay; I have nothing but what I served to myself in lust—that was and is all my portion. The wealth with which I was blessed mine enemies shall bear away. I am gone to Tartarus, and when I went thither I neither carried gold nor horse nor chariot. I that wore a crown am now a little heap of dust.”
Not much left.—It is said of Saladin, also called the Great, that just before he gave his last sigh he called the herald who had carried his banner before him in all his battles, and commanded him to fasten to the top of a lance the shroud in which he was so soon to be buried. “Go,” said he, “unfurl the banner, and whilst you lift up this standard proclaim, ‘Saladin the mighty monarch is gone, and has taken no more with him than what you see.’ ”
As in life, so in death.—There is a story of one that, being often reproved for his ungodly and vicious life, and exhorted to repentance, would still answer that it was but saying three words at his death, and he was sure to be saved. Perhaps the three words he meant were, Miserere mei Deus (“God, have mercy on me”). But one day riding over a bridge, his horse stumbled, and both were falling into the river, when in the moment of that precipitation he only cried, Capiat omnia diabolus (“Horse and man and all to the devil”). Three words he had, but not such as he should have had. He had been so familiar with the devil all his life that he thinks of none else at his death. Thus it usually is, that a wicked life hath a wicked end. He that travels the way of hell all his lifetime, it is impossible in the end of the journey he should arrive at heaven. A worldly man dies rather thinking of his gold than his God Some die jeering, some raging; some in one distemper, some in another way. They lived so, and so they die.
Crushed by gold.—When Rome was besieged, it is said of the daughter of its ruler that she saw the golden bracelets on the arms of the enemy, and sent word to them that she would betray her city and deliver it into their hands if they would give her their bracelets. They readily accepted her proposition, and before sunset the daughter had secretly opened one of the gates to the city, and as the enemy entered they threw upon her their golden bracelets, and also their shields, until the great weight crushed her to death. How many poor souls to-day are striving to gain that which will in the end prove the means of their soul’s destruction!
Much lost for little.—When Lysimachus was engaged in a war with the Getæ, he was so tormented by thirst that he offered his kingdom to his enemies for permission to quench it. His exclamation, when he had drunk the water with which they furnished him, is striking. “Ah, wretched me, who for such a momentary gratification have lost so great a kingdom!” How applicable is this to the case of those who for the momentary pleasures of sin part with the kingdom of heaven!
The folly of sacrificing eternity to time.—When Sir Thomas More was in prison, his wife and children entreated him to yield to the king. “For so many years,” said his wife, “we might yet live together: why then can you, in the flower of your age, bring yourself and our family to the worst misfortunes?” “How many years,” said he, “do you suppose I can yet live?” “At least twenty,” said she. “What a foolish exchange,” exclaimed the Chancellor, “for twenty years of life here below, and very likely not so much, that I should give up life eternal and condemn myself to endless torments! Better lose all than my soul: ‘for what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?’ ”
Mark 8:37. The value of a soul.—It was doubtless when standing in full view of the niched rock cut by Greeks for the idol Pan, face to face with the lustrous marble temple to “divine Augustus” of the Romans at Cæsarea Philippi, that Christ said, “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” To Him belonged this costly adoration, squandered at the feet of idols; and He is a jealous God. There before His very eyes were the tokens of a false love. Jealousy in the purest woman’s heart, at sight of love-tokens bestowed upon another which were rightfully her own, is a severe, a biting thing, killing the one, or the two, or the three. Observe how poor and inadequate a thing is our English word “jealousy” with which to portray the Divine emotion. Our Blessed Lord laments over the value of a soul whose devotion is snatched from Himself; loves it all the more; condemns it with the unspeakable condemnation of wounded love; asks, “Once lost, what shall man give in exchange, to get it back again?” His “jealousy” drives Him to the Cross, that He may win His own again—the love of a priceless human soul. Let human jealousy learn a lesson. Lift yourself up on a cross, that you may draw unto yourself the heart you think you have lost.—E. J. Haynes.
Mark 8:38. Confession of Christ.—In his Confessions St. Augustine relates a story of Victorinus, an eminent man at Rome, who had won the respect of a large number of his countrymen, among whom were many heathen. When the Spirit of God dawned upon his heart, and the light of Christ therein shone, he went direct to one of his friends, and told him that he was a Christian. The friend replied, “I will never believe it until I see you openly profess your new faith in the church.” This text came to him with such force that he went back with his friend, and boldly and openly confessed Christ as his Saviour.
Confession of Christ.—A Roman emperor said to a Greek architect, “Build me a Colosseum, a grand colosseum, and if it suits me I will crown you in the presence of all the people, and I will make a great day of festival on your account.” The architect did his work—did it magnificently, planned the building, and looked after its construction. The building was finished, the opening day arrived, the emperor and the architect were in the Colosseum. Amid loud cheers the emperor arose and announced that the day was set apart in honour of the Greek architect, and everything must be done to his honour. “Let us make merry and enjoy ourselves; bring out those Christians, and let us see the lions destroy them.” A group of imprisoned Christians were led forth, and a number of half-starved lions turned loose among them. They were soon devoured, and the architect slowly arose, and in a firm though gentle voice said, “I too am a Christian.” The howling mob seized him and flung him to the fierce beasts, who soon tore his limbs from his body. This is confession, true and undefiled. It is easy enough to confess Christ before our own Church and friends, but do we confess Him among those that revile Him? Do we go among men that despise His precepts, and by our very life tell of Him? If we do not, we do not do our duty as His followers.
Confession of Christ unknown to nominal Christians.—A Hindoo of rank was troubled in his conscience on the subject of a future state. He had heard of Christians, and longed to converse with them about their religion, and to know who Christ was. So he visited England, the Christians’ land, supplied with introductions to some leading people. Being asked to a great dinner, he turned to his neighbour in the course of conversation, and said, “Can you tell me something about Christ, the founder of your religion?” “Hush,” replied his new acquaintance, “we do not speak of such things at dinner-parties.” Subsequently he was invited to a large ball. Dancing with a young and fashionable lady, he took an opportunity of asking her who the founder of her religion, Jesus Christ, was. And again he was warned that a ball was no place to introduce such subjects. Strange, thought the Hindoo, are these Christians in England. They will not speak of their religion, nor inform me about Christ, its founder.
No silent partners.—“I come, sir,” said a business man to a minister of the gospel, “to ask if Jesus Christ will take me into the firm as a silent partner.” The reply was, “Jesus Christ takes no silent partners; the firm must be ‘Jesus Christ & Co.,’ and the names of the ‘Co.,’ though they may occupy a subordinate place, must all be written out on the signboard.”
Power of confession.—In relating his experience during the Peninsular War, Captain Watson says: “I was nominated to sit on a garrison court-martial A number of officers of different ranks and regiments were present on the occasion, and before the proceedings commenced some of them indulged in loose and sceptical observations. ‘Alas,’ thought I, ‘here are many not ashamed to speak openly for their master, and shall I hold my peace and refrain when the honour and cause of Him who has had mercy on me are called in question?’ I looked for wisdom and assistance from on high, and I was enabled to speak for a quarter of an hour in a way that astonished my hearers and myself. The Lord was pleased to give what I said a favourable reception, and not another improper word was uttered by them during my stay in that room.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Mark 8". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18