Tuesday, June 6th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Mark 9". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ mark-9.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Mark 9". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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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.”
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 9:2. Transfigured.—A strong word, implying that the change was not due to any external influence, but proceeded from Christ’s own inner being. “While the form of our Lord remained the same, the fashion of that form underwent a change. His whole sacred Person seemed to be living with light—light flashing outward from within, and rendering luminous and bright in unspeakable glory His face and form and dress.”
Mark 9:3. Omit as snow. The Evangelists seem to vie with one another in their efforts to depict the splendour and brilliancy of this “golden link in the iron chain that bound our Lord’s career.” Cp. Matthew 17:2; Luke 9:29 : see also John 1:14; 1 John 1:1; 2 Peter 1:16.
Mark 9:12. See R. V. for punctuation. Set at nought.—Treated as a nonentity.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 9:2-13
(PARALLELS: Matthew 17:1-13; Luke 9:28-36.)
The Transfiguration.—Unlike other prominent events in Christ’s life, the Transfiguration finds no place in the ordinary cycle of art representations in the early Church. It is represented emblematically in mosaics of the sixth and eight centuries, but it was reserved for Raphael’s genius to portray it in a worthy manner. His noble picture in the Vatican was the apotheosis of his art; but death snatched the brush from his hand before it was finished, as if Providence would teach us that no human art or genius, tongue or pen, can sufficiently and completely portray that sublime spectacle.
I. The scene.—It was when the Master was in the neighbourhood of Cæsarea Philippi, far away in the north of Palestine, that the event occurred. To any one visiting the spot, and seeing the stupendous form of snowy Hermon rising before him, till its summit has left the valley eleven thousand feet below, it appears almost certain, it is said, that this was the high mountain to which the Saviour led His chosen disciples. Through a scene of surpassing loveliness they wend their way. At every step the prospect expands, till at length a glorious panorama opens before them, “embracing a great part of Syria, from the sea to Damascus, from the Lebanon and the gorge of the Litany to the mountains of Moab; or down the Jordan valley to the Dead Sea; or over Galilee and Samaria, and on to Jerusalem,” all bathed in the splendours of the setting sun. But these sunset glories presently fade. Night falls. The stars one by one shine forth. The moon rises in silvery radiance, reflected back in dazzling beauty from the broad patches of snow on the mountain-side. And now we see Jesus bowed in prayer in the moonlight, His disciples praying with Him a short distance apart, till, overcome by fatigue, they sink in slumber. But what sudden light is that which bursts forth upon the scene, hiding by its dazzling brilliancy all the glories of the moonlit night? The disciples are wakened by the splendour, and their astonished eyes behold a marvellous sight. Jesus is transfigured before them. His face shines with the brightness of the noonday sun; His raiment is white and glistering; and as they gaze in a transport of awe, behold! two shining forms appear with Him in glory, whom they, by the intuition which is given to the spirit in moments of ecstasy, recognise to be none other than Moses and Elias. The apostles gaze in wonder and adoration, till presently there comes a bright cloud, which enwraps in its folds of light the three figures. It is the Shechinah, and the apostles fear as they see the face of Christ and the faces of Moses and Elias disappearing within it. And now from out that cloud of awful glory comes a voice, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye Him.”
II. Its purpose.—
1. It was intended to strengthen and brace the spirit of Jesus Christ for the solemn and awful work which lay before Him, culminating in Gethsemane and Calvary.
2. As regards the purpose of the Transfiguration with reference to Moses and Elias, it is difficult to speak with any degree of positiveness. Remembering, however, what St. Peter tells us, that the angels bend over the mystery of redemption as the cherubim bent over the mercy-seat on the ark, desiring “to look into” its secret meaning, we may infer that glorified saints, such as Moses and Elias, must have felt the most earnest and absorbing desire to understand the mystery of the atonement which Christ was about to make for their sins and for the sins of the whole world. For them the Transfiguration must have been a new revelation of the wisdom and glory of God, in the consummation of His eternal purpose to redeem a ruined world.
3. So far as the three apostolic witnesses of the Transfiuration were concerned, its intent is perfectly clear. They could not grasp the conception of a suffering Messiah. It was an offence to them. So they are taken up into the Holy Mount, and shewn the great lawgiver and the great prophet of Israel engaged in ecstatic converse with their glorified Master concerning the decease which He was to accomplish at Jerusalem. The lesson was plain; they had misread the prophecies: the Messiah of Moses and the prophets must be a suffering, dying Messiah. And this Jesus, whom they are almost ready to forsake, because He tells them He is to die the shameful death of the Cross, God the Father, on the Mount of Transfiguration, crowns with honour and glory.
III. Its significance.—
1. It marks the topmost step in the progressive glorification of the manhood of Jesus Christ. He rose to that height of glory because of the inner power of His holy life, because of the transfiguring virtue of His consecrated soul. The doors of eternal glory open before the Son of Man: He has only to enter in, to step up from the summit of Hermon into the presence of God Himself, and to sit down in glory for ever! But He puts aside this possible glorification; He leaves all that glory which He might have had with the angels of God and the glorified saints, and descends into the valley of humiliation, into this desert of sin and sorrow and suffering, into the dark and gloomy depths of Gethsemane and Calvary, in order to redeem a world!
2. It may be looked upon as the inauguration of the New Covenant. As on rugged Sinai was inaugurated the law which proved a ministration of death, so on snowy Hermon, amid a scene of exquisite natural beauty, was inaugurated the gospel by that voice from the excellent glory. God proclaims Him the Head and Lord of all. “HEAR YE HIM.” You have heard and obeyed Moses, you have heard and obeyed the prophets: now hear and obey Christ the Son of God.
3. It represents to us the investiture of Jesus Christ as High Priest. From this point on to the end Christ’s prophetical office appears to recede more and more, while His priestly office comes into prominence. From Hermon He descended into the valley of humiliation, and moved right on to the altar of sacrifice, even His Cross on Calvary.
4. It is above all designed to exhibit to us the transcendent value of the sufferings and death of Christ. In the Basilica at Ravenna there is a mosaic of the sixth century representing in emblematical form the Transfiguration of Christ,—a jewelled cross set in a circle of blue studded with golden stars, in the midst of which appears the face of Christ, the Saviour of the world; while from the cloud close by is thrust forth a Divine hand that points to the Cross. Those early artists were right in their reading of this sublime event. The Transfiguration sets the Cross of Christ in the centre, surrounds it with a radiant firmament of God’s promises and of the prophecies of the Old Testament, and shews us the hand of God Himself emerging from the cloud of glory and pointing to the Cross, as though God the Father would say to man what John the Baptist said: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”
5. Its prophetic significance. Standing on Hermon with these three apostles, a long vista stretches out before us into the distant future, including in its scope that great day when the Son of God shall take to Himself His power, His mighty power, in order to reign. His kingdom has come at last; and what is the manner of it? It is a kingdom of redeemed men—of men who stand like Moses and Elias with Christ in glory, not only redeemed, not only delivered from sin and suffering and sorrow and trial and pain, but transformed and transfigured with that same glory by which the person of Jesus is enwrapped.
6. It symbolises the transformation and transfiguration of our spirits, our whole reasonable, moral, and spiritual nature, into the image of Jesus Christ our Lord.
1. If we desire to behold the glory of the transfigured Redeemer, we must climb with Him the mount of prayer.
2. The metamorphic, transfiguring power of a life of prayer. I have seen the face of a dying servant of Christ lit up, whether by a light from the unseen world, or by a radiance shining out from within, I could not tell; but in either case it was a kind of transfiguration which only those attain who have been often with Jesus on the mountain-top of prayer.
3. Consecration to the path of suffering is the preparation for transfiguration.
4. The true relation of the contemplative to the active life. We cannot spend our lives on the mountain-top of vision, or of ecstasy, or of contemplation. The voice of God calls us down to grapple with the problems and the duties which wait on every side. Sin is here; sorrow is here; darkness is here; unbelief is here. If God has revealed to us the glory of His Son, it is not that we should give our lives up to its contemplation, but that we should gain thereby inspiration and strength to tread the path of duty or of suffering—that we should consecrate ourselves to the work of lightening the darkness, and lessening the suffering, and cleansing the defilement of the world in which we live.—R. H. McKim, D. D.
Mark 9:5. “It is good for us to be here.”—We need not inquire too closely what thoughts were uppermost in the apostle’s mind when he said this. If asked, he could not perhaps have told himself. He was not himself. Suddenly waking out of sleep (Luke 9:32), he and his fellow-disciples found themselves the amazed spectators of a vision of glory for the contemplation of which neither their minds nor their bodily organs were framed. All that we can certainly infer from this involuntary exclamation of Peter’s is that his mind was cast into a pleasurable frame, so blissful that he longed for its continuance.
I. The state of mind which gave rise to this exclamation.—
1. It was the acknowledgment of a present good. Peter felt himself happy, and at once avowed it. He looked neither backwards nor forwards; he saw no more than what was before his eyes. The narrow plot of ground on which he and his companions lay, and so much more as would suffice to erect three tabernacles upon, was then all the world to him. Such moments and such feelings were rarely granted to those who shared the human condition of the Son of God. At other times they said not, “It is good,” but “When will it be good?” (Matthew 19:27). When the past supplies nothing but painful recollections, and the present nothing but painful experiences, it is our duty to look forward and to inquire, When will our happiness begin? But when we are happy, it is equally our duty to be sensible of it—to feel it, enjoy it, dwell upon it. Let us cherish such moments as the oases of this life. This applies especially to things spiritual. As “the elect of God, holy and beloved,” possessing “the firstfruits of the Spirit,” we ought to “abound in hope,” “with all joy and peace in believing.”
2. Happiness depends upon the state of the feelings. “It is good for us to be here,” says Peter. What! good to have nowhere to lay one’s head? good to be out all night in a bleak desert place, without shelter or food? good to be far from home, lost to the world and to the endearing relations of family life? This is all true, would Peter have replied, but it is all beside the mark. Happiness or wretchedness is in the mind (Proverbs 14:10). Outward circumstances can only influence our happiness by acting upon our feelings. Let us look well, then, to our inward frames, and watch over the thoughts which arise in our minds (Proverbs 4:23).
3. Peter here mistook a mere transitory frame for a permanent state of mind. He said, “It is good for us to be here,” and so far he was right; but his thoughts went further than this; he said in his heart, It would be good for us to be always here—to gaze for ever on “the King in His beauty.” The same feeling made the apostles dread our Lord’s departure; but He shews them that there is a higher “good” dependent on it (John 16:6-7). So we too have our short-lived and occasional frames as well as our general and permanent states of mind; and we are in danger of mistaking one for the other.
(1) In regard to temporal gratifications. When we find ourselves in some unusually agreeable and enjoyable situation, does not our vain heart unconsciously suggest to us, Would that I were always so! Oh that to-morrow might be as this day, and still more abundant!—forgetting that it is the nature of such delicious moments to be but moments; that these pleasures would lose half their sweetness if they did not come and go—just shew themselves and disappear.
(2) In respect to spiritual delights. If you possess any religious sensibility, if you ever commune with your own heart, if you have any experience of prayer, if you ever long to see the Divine power and glory as you have seen them in the sanctuary,—if in any of these ways you have “tasted that the Lord is gracious,” you will understand. At such moments has not the thought of your heart been—Vain world, adieu! It is good for us to be always so! Such is the language of nature; but let us beware how we listen to it. Cherish such moments; acknowledge them; be grateful for them; enjoy them while they last; but do not think of “building tabernacles for them.” They were never meant to dwell with the tumult of the world or the sober realities of life. Even as spiritual refreshments they are not so good for us as many other fruits which hang from the less elevated branches of the tree of life. The true “peace of God which passeth all understanding” is not that which goes out of the heart, but that which stays in it, and “keeps as with a garrison the heart and mind of its possessor, through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
II. Some common occasions in life to which the words of the text apply.—
1. “It is good for us to be here”—in the house of God. Here we may by faith “behold His glory.” Moses and Elias, the law and the prophets, those lesser lights and glories of which the meridian is past, still appear, as tributary to His brightness, like stars lingering after the sun is risen. And although “no man hath seen God at any time,” yet in His Word and Sacraments we behold, if not the Divinity itself, at least the bright overshadowing cloud which at once veils and indicates the Divine Presence.
2. “It is good for us to be” in the house of affliction (Ecclesiastes 7:2-3). Who that believes this would not take the wings of a dove and fly from that mirth whose end is heaviness to that heaviness whose fruit is holiness?
3. “It is good for us to be” in this mixed and chequered world. There is nothing to hinder us from conceiving a world without pain, or a world without sorrow, or a world without sin; nor from wishing that our own lot were cast there. But however such imaginary systems might be suited to their respective inhabitants, let us be assured of this, that it is good for us to be where we are. Only consider what we are: men, sinful men, mortal men—each undergoing his separate trial—all moving on to eternity. To place such beings, with such a design, in a perfect and unmixed state of existence would be absurd. The longer we live in the world, the firmer shall we hold by this principle, that “whatever is, is best.” What a blessing it is, e.g., that we are not all rich, or all poor, or all midway between the two. Such a dead level would extinguish some of the noblest and holiest feelings of the human heart, besides annihilating half the duties and all the charities of life. Or would you banish pain and sorrow from the world? But that, were it possible, would be the reverse of a boon, since “sweet are the uses of adversity,” etc. The same line of argument applies to differences in age, temperament, knowledge, etc.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 9:2. “After six days.”—Why did Christ defer the performance of His promise for six days? He deferred it to increase their desires before it came, their joys when it came. To inflame their desires; for things easily come by are little set by. To increase their joys; for that which hath been long detained is at last more sweetly obtained. Moreover, if Christ after the promise of this vision had immediately singled out some to the participation of it, this would have bred envy and grudging in the rest.—Thos. Adams.
Christ always better than His word.—It was after six days. He stayed no longer. Why? He might have deferred longer. It was in these terms that He promised—before they die. Time enough therefore hereafter. Indeed for us, if we promise anything to God before we die, we must do it presently, because we know not the time of our death. As the Rabbins say, if a man vowed to be a Nazarite one day before his death, he was to be so presently, because this day may be the last day. But God knows these times and seasons, and the number of our days. What then? Yet after six days He performs it. In all His promises He is better and fuller and speedier than His word.—Bishop Brownrigg.
The first week of suffering on the part of the disciples, previous to the sufferings of the Lord Himself.
1. Its beginning: the confession of Peter and the announcement of the Lord’s sufferings.
2. Its employment: familiarising their minds with thoughts of the Cross.
3. Its close: a glorious Sabbath on the Holy Mount.—J. P. Lange, D. D.
The three chosen apostles.—
1. Peter was the forward, zealous disciple, who led the way to the rest in that noble confession of Christ; therefore he is singled out to be partaker of this vision. Again, Peter is now overtaken with an error, is sorry to hear of Christ’s death, dissuades Him from it; by this vision therefore he is comforted, reformed, instructed in the mystery of Christ’s death and passion.
2. James was appointed to be the first apostle that should die for Christ: Herod sucked his blood first. As they who must be in the front of the battle have the choicest armour because they are to undertake desperate services, so because James was to be the first in the army royal therefore he was admitted to view the glory of this Transfiguration.
3. John was fore-appointed to be the publisher and penman of Christ’s Divinity; and so above all he soared highest into heaven. Therefore was this manifestation of Christ’s glory and Divinity made to him. He urges it (John 1:14).—Bishop Brownrigg.
Why these three?—We cannot for a moment imagine that there was favouritism in the selection of certain apostles to share in what the others might not witness. It was not because these were better loved, but because they were better prepared—more fully receptive, more readily acquiescing, more entirely self-surrendering.—A. Edersheim, D. D.
1. According to an old tradition Christ had left Cæsarea Philippi, and the scene of the Transfiguration was Mount Tabor. But
(1) there is no notice of His departure, such as is generally made by Mark;
(2) on the contrary, it is mentioned by him as after the Transfiguration (Mark 9:30);
(3) Tabor was at that time crowned by a fortified city, which would render it unsuitable for such a scene.
2. Modern opinion fixes upon one of the southern peaks of Hermon—the only “high mountain” in Palestine—as the place.
Mountains.—The devil took Christ into a mountain when he shewed Him the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. So our Saviour took His apostles up into a mountain when He shewed them the kingdom of heaven and glory of the world to come. Moses went up to a mountain to speak with the Lord; now the Lord goes up to a mountain to speak with Moses.—Thos. Adams.
Hermon.—It was meet that Hermon should be chosen for this high honour, whose hoary head rose among the other hills, wreathed with the white shroud of eternal snow. Just as in human life snow-white locks are ever a mark of honour and command respect and reverence, so in the world of nature the hoary mountain, grey with years and white with the snows of many ages, ever commands respect among its fellows, rising high overhead—a Saul among the people—its wreath of perpetual snow being at once a proof of its great age and great height among the neighbouring hills.—W. F. Low.
Consecration to the Lord changes man.—
1. Internally; he is elevated into the spiritual world and surrounded by blessed spirits.
2. Externally; he is renewed, adorned, transfigured.—J. P. Lange, D. D.
Transfiguration.—If our previous investigations have rightly led us up to this result, that Jesus was the Very Christ of God, then this event can scarcely be described as miraculous—at least in such a history. If we would not expect it, it is certainly that which might have been expected.
1. It was, and at that particular period, a necessary stage in the Lord’s history, viewed in the light in which the Gospels present Him.
2. It was needful for His own strengthening, even as the ministry of the angels after the Temptation.
3. It was “good” for these three disciples to be there—not only for future witness, but for present help, and also with special reference to Peter’s remonstrance against Christ’s death-message.
4. The Voice from heaven, coming after the announcement of His Death and Passion, sealed that testimony, and in view of it proclaimed Him as the Prophet to whom Moses had bidden Israel hearken, while it repeated the heavenly utterance concerning Him made at His Baptism.
5. For us all the interest of this history lies not only in the past; it is in the present also, and in the future. To all ages it is like the vision of the bush burning, in which was the Presence of God. And it points us forward to that transformation, of which that of Christ was the pledge, when “this corruptible shall put on incorruption.” As of old the beacon fires, lighted from hill to hill, announced to them far away from Jerusalem the advent of solemn feast, so does the glory kindled on the Mount of Transfiguration shine through the darkness of the world and tell of the Resurrection Day.—A. Edersheim, D. D.
Prayer accompanied by glory.—Luke gives a pregnant hint in connecting it with Christ’s praying, as if the calm ecstasy of communion with the Father brought to the surface the hidden glory of the Son. Can it be that such glory always accompanied His prayers, and that its presence may have been one reason for the sedulous privacy of these, except on this one occasion, when He desired that His faithful three should be “eye-witnesses of His majesty”?—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Mark 9:3. Christ in glory.—Look upon all the beauties that are in the world, the most glorious and resplendent creatures, and unite all their excellences, and raise up thy thoughts by them, and from them to the contemplation of that glory which is in heaven. View the curious rarities of art and nature. Is the snow, a vanishing meteor, so white? the material heavens so pure? the lily so beautiful? Oh! our Solomon in His glory is clothed more richly than any of these. Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, the heart cannot conceive the greatness of His glory.—Bishop Brownrigg.
Mark 9:4. Why did Moses and Elias appear, rather than David and Abraham, from whose loins Jesus came, and who were so famous among the people?
1. To manifest a difference between the Lord and the servants. Moses and Elias were of high esteem with the Jews, Christ not regarded, a man of no repute among them; therefore He would now shew that He was the Lord and they but His servants.
2. If it be granted that Moses was dead and that Elias died not, this declares that Christ is the Saviour of both quick and dead.
3. Moses was called the law-giver, and Elias was (after a sort) the law-restorer; now the Jews traduced Christ for a law-breaker. Moses and Elias were witness that He was obedient to the law.
4. They meet that brought the law with Christ who brought the gospel, to shew that law and gospel must be joined together. We must still serve God according to His law, or He will not save us according to His gospel.
5. To shew that this was the true Messiah, to whom both law and prophets bare witness.
6. Christ proposed two such famous men as Moses and Elias to His apostles for patterns, that their spirits might be well tempered in them. Moses, a man most meek on the earth; Elias, a man exceeding zealous. These two are brought hither, that the apostles may learn to mix Moses’ meekness with Elias’ ferventness.—Thos. Adams.
Christ the centre.—All true teachers of duty and all inspired witnesses for God are found at last commending and adoring Christ. And all that is good fits into the gospel and helps to prepare its way.
1. Man, like the Son of Man, has latent glory which the presence of God brings out.
2. Obey God, and the glorified befriend you.
3. The Cross of Christ is not the weak point in the gospel, but its grandest feature—that into which the glorified desire to look.—R. Glover.
The consecration of Jesus to His suffering and dying by a visit from the dwellers of heaven.
1. Necessary, on account of His true humanity.
2. Fitting, on account of the high momentousness of the event.
3. Of great value for the disciples, as well then as afterwards.
4. Continually important for the Christian world of following centuries.—J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.
The meeting of the Lord with Moses and Elijah shews—
1. The bearing of the future upon the present world.
(1) The dead are waiting the appearance of Christ.
(2) The most exalted of the departed spirits here do homage to Him.
2. The bearing of the visible upon the invisible world. This may be regarded as the earnest and commencement of Christ’s preaching to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:19; 1 Peter 4:6).
3. How this world and the next meet and coalesce in the resurrection of Jesus.—J. P. Lange, D. D.
The Sun makes the stars more glorious.—The Jews thought if Christ were advanced Moses must down. Whosoever preached Christ spake against Moses. No, Moses was never so glorious as in this attendance. It is otherwise with the Sun of Righteousness and the saints. Then with the body of the sun and the stars: these do, occidere heliace, not appear when they come nearer to the sun. But our Sun of Glory makes these stars, the nearer they be, to be the more glorious. As in Joseph’s dream, the sun, moon, and stars were all shining together.—Bishop Brownrigg.
Communion with Christ now and hereafter.—Moses and Elias were men of much communion with God upon earth; many heavenly intercourses passed between them; and now they are admitted into a near and sweet and familiar communication. Men of communion with God here shall be received with more free access and familiar conversation with Christ in heaven. They who never maintain speech with God here, how can they look to have access in heaven? They who love to come into His presence, delight in hearing Him speak to them, and they to Him by prayer and meditation—they shall have nearest and freest and sweetest communion hereafter.—Ibid.
Christ seen with His foreannouncers.—What could so befit the Creator’s Christ as to manifest Him in the company of His own foreannouncers? to let Him be seen with those to whom He had appeared in revelations? to let Him be speaking to those who had spoken of Him? to share His glory with those by whom He used to be called the Lord of Glory, even with those chief servants of His, one of whom was once the moulder of His people, the other afterwards the reformer thereof?—Tertullian.
Mark 9:5. The good intention and the error of Peter.—
1. He was anxious to display the agreement between the Old and New Covenants; but by an outward amalgamation, not by their internal connexion.
2. He was ready to renounce the world; but by an outward institution (such as monasticism and anchoretism), not by an inward Acts 3:0. He wished to perpetuate this season of spiritual fellowship; but by giving it an outward and fixed form, not by converting it into a spring of hidden life.—J. P. Lange, D.D.
Heaven on earth.—
1. Where it may be found.
(1) In secret fellowship with God.
(2) In a life of spiritual love and friendship.
(3) In the courts and at the altar of the Lord.
2. How it should be sought.
(1) By preserving purity of heart (or by perseverance in the faith).
(2) By constant increase of spirituality in our wishes and inclinations (or sanctification).
(3) By ever keeping before our minds and hearts our eternal calling (or watching and prayer).—Rambach.
Good to be with Jesus.—If we find it as impossible as Peter did to live retired from all conflict and intercourse with all kinds of men; if, like Peter, we have to descend into a valley ringing with demoniac’s cries; if we are called upon to deal with the world as it actually is—deformed, dehumanised by sin: is it nothing that we can assure ourselves of the society and friendship of One who means to remove all suffering and all sin, and who does so not by a violent act of authority, but by sympathy and patient love, so that we can be His brighter instruments, and in healing and helping others help and heal ourselves!—M. Dods, D.D.
Calvary or not Calvary?—That was the issue. It was the alternative that comes to each one of us at some time or other in life. Ease and safety, or duty and sacrifice? Retire from the conflict and live in glorious peace? or fight on and fall?—J. Halsey.
Danger of saint-worship.—The same feeling which induced Peter to utter these words has probably been the foundation of the errors of the Church of Rome with respect to the worship of saints. If his desire had been permitted, and three tabernacles had been erected, these would have become three temples of worship, and that homage which was due to Christ alone would have been divided with His saints. Such practically has been the case in the Church of Rome. Men have been attracted by the glory of the saints, and, forgetting that it was all derived from Christ, have treated them as if they were each alone and by themselves worthy of their homage. The tabernacle of the saints has been preferred too often to that of the King of saints, on the supposition that, because they have themselves suffered all the trials which we suffer, they are better able to sympathise with human weakness, and therefore will become intercessors for men with Christ. But need we any intercessor with Him?
There are mountains in the kingdom of God.—The soul can withdraw from the multiplied cares and distractions of the work-a-day world life to find restful influence and inspiring companionship on their quiet heights. On the hill-tops of gracious ordinances, in special seasons of fellowship with the Eternal Father, through the revealing Son, by the blessed whisperings of the Spirit, the soul will feel and manifest the reality and blessedness of upper-world revelations and voices in a way not otherwise attainable. Enjoying these things in heavenly places, with Peter it will say, “It is good to be here.” In that clear upper air the eye will behold, as never before, the beauties of holiness and the deformities of sin. The soul shall put on a radiancy born of an atmosphere purified from the influences of malarial levels. But it is not the will of God that the soul should seek selfishly to abide there. It is not to be drawn away from and raised uninfluentially above the crying needs of fallen men. The healing power of its contact with Divine things is needed in the plain below. The attractions of a contemplative life must not therefore lead to forgetfulness or neglect of the demands for practical toil and self-denial. Neither, on the other hand, must those quiet seasons of withdrawal from earthly distractions be forgotten or neglected. The soul then puts on new strength by nearer fellowship with God. All this must not be defeated by the despotic tendencies and imperious claims of practical work. If so, the soul will suffer loss, power be paralysed, and blessings withheld from men. It is the union of both that will make the well-balanced, healthy, Christlike soul.—Wm. M. Campbell.
Mark 9:7. The overshadowing cloud.—The outer skirts of the central glory began to advance—to enlarge their borders and to encompass the chosen three. Peter and James and John stand for a while in the golden suburbs of the heavenly Jerusalem. “A bright cloud overshadowed them.” He who “tempers the wind to the shorn lamb” softened the dazzling brightness with a luminous curtain. Nevertheless, even in the haze of the cloud that relieved the blaze, they were affrighted. The majesty was veiled to them, yet they were afraid. The glory was tempered to them, yet they trembled. But if the subdued flashing of the clouded splendour alarmed them, the thunder of the voice that came out of the cloud appalled them. It was the voice of God!—Prof. T. S. Evans.
That overshadowing cloud warns us as it warned St. Peter, that this world is a battle-field, not a vision of peace, a working time, not the rest that remaineth; the Mount of Crucifixion, not the Mount of Glory. To our Blessed Lord Himself that overshadowing cloud was a type of what His earthly life was to be. Says Jeremy Taylor: “His transfiguration was a bright ray of glory; but then, also, He entered into a cloud, and was told a sad story of what He was to suffer at Jerusalem. For this Jesus was like the rainbow, which God set in the clouds as a sacrament, to confirm a promise and establish a grace. He was half made of the glories of the light, and half of the moisture of a cloud.”
Divine secrets.—There is no manner of absurdity in supposing a veil on purpose drawn over some scenes of Infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, the sight of which might some way or other strike us too strongly; or that better ends are designed and served by their being concealed than could be by their being exposed to our knowledge. The Almighty may cast clouds and darkness round about Him for reasons and purposes of which we have not the least glimpse or conception (Romans 11:33; Sir. 16:21-22; John 20:29).—Bishop Butler.
God’s glory veiled in mercy.—When the eye gazes on the sun, it is more tormented with the brightness than pleased with the beauty of it; but when the beams are transmitted through a coloured medium, they are more temperate and sweetened to the sight. The Eternal Word shining in His full glory, the more bright the less visible is He to mortal eyes; but the Incarnate Word is eclipsed and allayed by a veil of flesh (Hebrews 10:20), and so made accessible to us. God, out of a tender respect to our frailty and fears, promised to raise up a Prophet clothed in our nature (Exodus 20:18-19; Deuteronomy 18:15-19), that we might comfortably and quietly receive His instructions (Job 33:6-7; John 1:18; Luke 4:20-22).—Dr. Bates.
The vision withdrawn.—A Christian’s highest enjoyments are sometimes put an end to by God Himself. He may think that he has sinned away his previous privilege, or trifled it away, or by some means driven it away; and this is perhaps very generally the truth. But it is not always so. The intercepting cloud, like that which we are now considering, is sometimes of God’s sending. The vision has done its work—its appointed, strengthening, comforting work; and that done, the vision is withdrawn.
The gospel cloud.—The law, that is a cloud, dark and obscure; but the gospel, that is a clear cloud. Still, indeed, the gospel is a cloud, it gives no full evident view; but yet it is a clear cloud, it hath many rays and beams of light in it. The law had a dark cloud, we could not see through it; their shadows were remote and obscure. Their circumcision was a dark cloud, immediately signifying God’s covenant with Abraham. Our baptism is a cloud, a bodily, material type, an outward element; but it is a clear cloud, representing distinctly the washing away the filth of the flesh by the blood of Christ. Their Passover was a dark cloud, representing their delivery out of Egypt immediately, but darkly the Messias. Our Lord’s Supper is a cloud, a veil of bread and wine is over it; but yet it is a clear cloud, immediately shewing Christ and all His benefits. Their covenant was a cloud, covered with temporary promises, with the promise of Canaan. Ours is a cloud indeed, we cannot see those things that it promises; but yet a clear cloud, immediately presenting to us immediate promises of heaven. The light of the law was like the light of a candle; ours, as the day-star.—Bishop Brownrigg.
1. He has truth which can never deceive you, a wisdom which knows what you need, a goodness which will command nothing but what will bless.
2. If you hear Him, He has promised to hear you (John 16:7).
3. He speaks to you on the subject of greatest importance, and speaks with a clearness, emphasis, authority, decision, which scatter all doubts and solve all perplexities.
4. God has declared what will be the consequence of refusing to hear Him (Deuteronomy 18:19).
5. If you hear Him not, and keep not His words, you are building your hopes upon the sand; and when the tempest comes, as come it will, your fabric of happiness must fall, and great will be the fall of it.—J. Sanderson, D.D.
2. With docility.
3. With personal, special, and practical application.
4. With a deep, solemn sense of your responsibility.—Ibid.
Mark 9:8. “Jesus only.”—
1. Moses and Elias, the law and the prophets, have but a temporary station and abode in the Church. Christ being brought into the world, they are withdrawn.
2. Christ’s office and glory and government in His Church, ’tis lasting and perpetual.
3. The eye and observation and faith of the Church is fixed upon Christ only.—Bishop Brownrigg.
The eye of the Church fixed on Christ.—The eye of the Church looks only upon Christ, fixes upon Him, and expects no other. This is the main difference betwixt the Jewish Church and ours. They were all in expectation, and were waiters for better times. But our faith hath Him exhibited and presented, and rests upon Him. Hence Christ forewarns them not to listen to or look after any other. The sun arising, darkens all the stars; so all the former saints are obscured to the eye of the Church, and He alone must shine in His full glory. As when the king enters into any city all authority is resigned up to him, all viceroys and lieutenants must resign up to him, so Moses and the prophets all yield up their place in the Church to Christ.—Ibid.
Christ the Sum of revelation.—It is the summing up of revelation; all others vanish, He abides. It is the summing up of the world’s history. Thickening folds of oblivion wrap the past, and all its mighty names become forgotten; but His figure stands out, solitary against the background of the past, as some great mountain, which is seen long after the lower summits are sunk below the horizon. Let us make this the summing up of our lives. We can venture to take Him for our sole Helper, Pattern, Love, and Aim, because He, in His singleness, is enough for our hearts.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Mark 9:9. Reasons for concealment.—This vision of Christ’s Divinity and glory must be concealed till after His resurrection.
1. Till then Christ is in statu humiliationis, and so He will have His majesty and glory to be covered. Now He terms Himself the Son of Man. He was declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:0). Thus He was pleased to veil His glory, and to become vile, and of no reputation.
2. It is documentum modestiœ. His glory, He is not ambitious to publish it—as St. Paul fourteen years concealed his revelations. He glories in his infirmities and weaknesses; but till he was constrained he kept his rapture concealed.
3. Till His resurrection these apostles were inepti, weak and carnal, not sufficiently grounded in this doctrine of Christ’s Divinity. After His resurrection, then they were endued with strength from above, and then those mysteries that they could not bear the Comforter revealed to them.
4. Quia incredibile. The infidelity of the world was not yet to be removed; it would not believe there had been such a vision. Infidelity deprives us of many truths that God would otherwise reveal to us.
5. Ne impediret passionem. It troubled Pilate to hear it mentioned that Christ was the Son of God. And St. Paul saith, had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Life and Glory. He purposely concealed His Deity to give way to His passion. And hence it is that He spake of His Divinity very reservedly. He charged they should tell no men who He was (Mark 8:20), but (Mark 9:32) He spake plainly of His passion.—Bishop Brownrigg.
Reasons for silence.—
1. Because the Jews were to have no sign, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: they had seen enough to leave their unbelief without excuse.
2. Because among the rude, after the publication of such a glory, the following Cross would have bred scandal. If He were invested with such glory, why could He not keep Himself in it?
3. Because till His resurrection had made way for it, the world would never have given credit to this wonder.
4. According to that (Sir. 11:28), judge no man blessed before his death. Then they witnessed it, preached it, wrote it: we hear it, let us all believe it, that we may one day enjoy it in the everlasting kingdom of Jesus Christ.—Thos. Adams.
The silence enjoined was the first step into the Valley of Humiliation. It was also a test whether they had understood the spiritual teaching of the vision. And their strict obedience, not questioning even the grounds of the injunction, proved that they had learned it.—A. Edersheim, D.D.
Transfigurations not to be talked about.—
1. Transfigurations are not themes for common gossip. Those bitter conflicts that turn to raptures are things we had rather not speak of. The common, prosaic, worldly mind would not understand them—would, indeed, only find food for ridicule in them.
2. Besides, our transfigurations do not need to be talked about. They proclaim themselves. If we have experienced a great spiritual uplifting, the thrill of an inward illumination, the world will know it without our saying anything about it.—J. Halsey.
Even to His fellow-disciples the believer cannot relate all that the Saviour has often let him taste.—J. J. Van Oosterzee, D.D.
How some Christians are perpetually tormented with a notion that they must testify to whatever manifestation of God is granted to themselves, at the risk of bringing shallowness and weakness upon their own experience!—C. C. Starbuck.
Mark 9:10. Submissive silence.—So entire was their submission that they dared nor even ask the Master about a new and seemingly greater mystery than they had yet heard—the meaning of the Son of Man rising from the dead. Did it refer to the general resurrection? was the Messiah to be the first to rise from the dead, and to waken the other sleepers—or was it only a figurative expression for His triumph and vindication?—A. Edersheim, D.D.
Learn—I. Even the best Christians are by nature and of themselves slow to conceive and understand the mysteries of faith and doctrines of Christ taught in the gospel.
2. True faith and sanctifying grace in this life may stand with ignorance in some points of Christian faith, at least for a time.
3. It is a good and profitable cause for Christians to confer and reason together by mutual questioning one with another about those points of Christian religion whereof they are yet ignorant or doubtful.—G. petter.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 9
Mark 9:2. Doxologies to God for the mountains.—In their mineral treasures, in the liberal toll taken from the clouds and disbursed in channels of blessing, in their worldwide sanatory influence, felt where unseen, what a boon are they to men! Often have they given friendly shelter to the hunted spirit of liberty. They have made a higher civilisation possible. They have quickened desire for the same by furnishing so largely the needed instruments of agriculture, manufacture, commerce, and the arts. How vivifying and ennobling the influence which their beauty, variety, sublimity, repose, and strength exercise upon the minds and hearts of men! Rich and varied is the inheritance of the high and holy in intellectual, moral, and spiritual things which but for the mountains would be unenjoyed by men. In a thousand ways how the “everlasting hills” help men upward nearer heaven and God! They are the cathedral spires of the world for ever pointing the nations to the things above. Streams of physical, intellectual, political, moral, and spiritual good have enriched human life through its relations with the everlasting hills.—W. M. Campbell.
Christ’s transfiguration.—I have stood by the side of the tall mast in Madison Square, New York, at early evening, wondering at the unique and surprising structure, recognising it as something extraordinary, and yet not knowing exactly what it meant or what was its effect, when suddenly the rushing of an unseen force was heard, there was a flash, and a circle of fire surrounded the top of the mast and cast its weird light far out into the surrounding darkness. So to the disciples on the mount came the transfiguration of Christ. He stood before them in the impressiveness of a rare and wonderful Manhood, when suddenly that Manhood glowed with an internal fire. God was within the Man, and the mountain summit became on the instant resplendent with the Divine glory flashing forth.—A. P. Foster.
Mark 9:3. The beauty of the snow.—The white wonder of the snow is spread so often before our eyes every winter that many of us forget how wonderful and how beautiful it is. With impatience and fretful complainings we look up at the threatening sky, where the grey clouds drive before the wind thick with the coming snow. Presently the delicate crystals, star-shaped, feather-soft, white and sparkling, begin to fall as silently as the slippered foot of Time; at first coming down slowly and timidly, then gathering courage, and whirling down as if in delight at their own beauty. No fewer than ninety-six separate exquisite forms have been discerned among the flakes of the snow, every form as perfect as geometry can imagine or the sculptor’s art devise.—Dr. Talmage.
Mark 9:5-6. Religious enthusiasm cannot be detained.—I have seen in the little English city of Salisbury the great cathedral. It was built when a flood-tide of religious enthusiasm was sweeping over the world. Thousands might worship, thousands have worshipped, within that splendid fane, and its walls were not able to contain the great flood of devotion. But the tide has ebbed; the ecstatic vision has faded. The mighty cathedral stands; but a handful of worshippers can scarcely keep a sleepy rivulet of praise flowing in a corner of the building. No tabernacle can detain a moment of religious enthusiasm; and if Peter and his friends had built the grandest cathedral in the world on the ridge of Mount Hermon, it might have been empty and bare to-day.—H. Van Dyke, D.D.
Mark 9:8. Jesus only.—When Bishop Beveridge was on his death-bed, his memory so failed that he did not know even his nearest relative. His chaplain said, “Do you know me?” “Who are you?” was the answer. His own wife asked him, “Do you know me?” “Who are you?” was the only answer. On being told that it was his wife he said that he did not know her. Then one standing by said, “Do you know Jesus Christ?” “Jesus Christ?” he replied, reviving as if the name acted on him like a cordial; “yes, I have known Him these forty years; He is my only hope.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 9:14-29
(PARALLELS: Matthew 17:14-21; Luke 9:37-43.)
The afflicted child.—Moses, when he descended from the mount, found that the people in his absence had lapsed into idolatry; and our Lord, in descending from the Mount of Transfiguration, found that His followers had been surprised into spiritual impotence and failure. The swift transition from the glories of the Mount to the trials and toils that awaited Him below may be regarded as typical of the life of all Christians,—the mount (Mark 9:9) and the multitude (Mark 9:14); the supreme festival and the fiery trial; to-day, ecstasies and glories that tell of heaven; to-morrow, conflicts with demoniacal degradation and fury that disclose the depths of hell. The appearance of our Lord on the scene wrought an immediate transformation; it was like the arrival of a general on the field of battle in time to retrieve the fortunes of his army when wellnigh defeated. He always comes to succour His own at the right time and with the right blessing: He is “a very present help in trouble.”
I. A distressed child.—The ground of the disorder was natural; the child suffered from a physical complaint, perhaps the most severe form of epileptic lunacy that was brought to Christ for healing. But on this ground a worse spiritual disorder was superinduced. The disorder of the child is a picture of sin as a spiritual evil. The child was deaf; so a sinner refuses to hear the voices of God and conscience. The child was dumb; so the sinner’s tongue is not used for God in testimony and song. The child was mad; so the sinner, under the influence of that “spirit that now worketh [lit. energiseth] in the children of disobedience,” is a maniac.
II. An anxious father.—The colloquy our Lord had with him is a type of the method by which a seeker is led into stronger faith. “The man had said to Him, ‘If Thou canst do’; Jesus retorts upon him, ‘If thou canst believe.’ The man had said, ‘If Thou canst do anything’; Jesus replies, ‘All things are possible’ to faith: ‘My doing all depends on thy believing.’ To impress this still more He redoubles upon the believing: ‘If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.’ … Two things are very remarkable here:
(1) The felt and owned presence of unbelief, which only the strength of the man’s faith could have so revealed to his own consciousness.
(2) His appeal to Christ for help against his past unbelief—a feature in the case quite unparalleled, and shewing more than all protestations could have done the insight he had attained of a power in Christ more glorious than any he had besought for his poor child.”
III. The baffled apostles.—In their worshipping exercises on the Mount some of the disciples had to contend with infirmity and sleep; whilst in the activities of public life in the valley others had to contend with impotence and the shame of failure. Possibly the disciples, deprived of the presence of the Master, and the chief apostles, in whom dwelt most of His spirit, had neglected fasting and prayer; the sad prophecy of His death may have damped the spirits of the weakest of them, or they yielded to fear in view of the special virulence of the disorder. The kind of demon that tortured the child required more than ordinary spiritual vigour to expel him—a faith braced up by intense devotion, and such rigorous self-denial as would weaken the hold of the lower nature upon the higher, and aid in spiritual meditation and fellowship.
IV. An effectual Healer.—In the exercises of devotion on the Mount He was declared to be the Master; and in the exercises of active zeal below He asserts His absolute power and dominion—not only over the minds of men, as illustrated in the scribes, the multitude, the father, and the disciples, but also over the rage and malice of demons. Impotence, in some form or other, prevailed in all the actors in the scene except Himself; but “power belonged unto Him”—a power that fell in anger on a malicious demon and in blessing on a helpless child.—J. H. Morgan.
The power and the difficulties of faith.—This story is strikingly illustrative both of the difficulties and the power of faith,—the power of faith, which caused the ultimate healing; the difficulties of faith, which caused the previous failure of that power.
I. The difficulty of believing is very great and very strong.—
1. The disciples of Jesus frequently and very keenly felt this difficulty. Their faith was constantly breaking down; at almost every great crisis it completely failed them: the falsehood and treachery in Pilate’s hall, the desertion at the Cross. Their impotency to heal this epileptic child is an illustration of this. From the context of the narrative it would appear that it was the three most conspicuous of our Lord’s disciples to whom the sorrowing father brought his epileptic child, and that at a time when we should naturally suppose their faith would have been in a condition of the greatest and most triumphant vigour. For they had just descended from the Mount of Transfiguration, they had just been enveloped in the glory of the Lord, and had heard celestial voices testifying to the Divinity of their Master.
2. When we turn away from the disciples to the distressed and sorrowing father, we find an illustration of the difficulties of believing under changed and opposite circumstances. The disciples were in a state of joy and gladness after the Transfiguration; the father of the epileptic child was in a state of grief and sore affliction. They were in the light on the mountaintop; he was amid the darkness down in the valley. Yet he found the difficulties of believing not less hard than they. “If Thou canst do anything.” “Lord! I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.”
3. Faith is one of the most difficult of Christian exercises. A little faith is more or less common; but much faith is very rare. We all, I suppose, believe in a greater or less degree—a degree at least large enough to justify our repetition of the Church’s creeds. But the faith which statedly recites the creeds is not commonly great faith; it is the ordinary faith of the ordinary Christian—the minimum, without which we could not decently profess to be Christians at all.
4. The difficulty of miracles, according to Christ’s declaration, is not the difficulty of God’s doing, but the difficulty of man’s believing. Not material laws, but spiritual unfaith—this is the insuperable hindrance to miracles.
5. The experience of all the ages fully attests the truth of the explanation of Christ. Extraordinary faith is pre-essential to extraordinary action; the miracle of believing precedes the miracle of doing. It is as impossible to think living thoughts with a dead brain, or to raise heavy weights with a palsied arm, as to do wonders with a doubting soul or a dead faith. Failure, even in miracle, is practically synonymous with faithlessness.
II. In every age power has been given to men in proportion to their faith.—
1. Seldom, indeed, has the power of faith extended to the control of the material universe, though in the instance of Christ frequently, and of others occasionally, even matter has been visibly subjugated to the influences of faith; and modern psychical researches are ever tending more and more clearly to demonstrate the possibility of the interpenetration of matter by will, and therefore a fortiori by faith, which as a spiritual energy is often more powerful than will. But outside the material universe and in the realm of purpose and religion we see the power of faith perpetually exemplified. According to the measure of our faith it is daily done unto us. According to the measure of our faith it is also daily done by us. Great deeds are great faith made visible; great faith is great deeds made possible.
2. Seeing, then, that the experience of the ages attests the truth of Christ’s explanation concerning the rarity of miracles, and also His declaration of the potency of faith, the possibility of believing is for each of us a very momentous possibility. “Canst thou,” is it possible for thee, to “believe”? That is the great question, upon the answer to which everything of real importance in life depends. If thou canst believe, there is possible to thee—everything; but if thou canst not believe, there is possible to thee—nothing!
3. The difficulties of belief in our age are without denial peculiarly great. It is not merely that doubt is in the air; that the intellectual and academic atmosphere is charged with currents of dubitation; that physical science, which depends for its existence upon experiment and demonstration, and has achieved such striking successes in the department of matter by the diligent use of its own methods, should have been emboldened to try those methods upon religion,—it is not these things which make the difficulties of belief so peculiarly great in the present age.
(1) The moral and spiritual characteristics of our age are not favourable to faith. Our age is an age of great wealth; and an age of great wealth is never an age of great faith, the tendency of wealth being always towards luxury and great comfortableness, and neither luxury nor great comfortableness being a good soil for religious growth. Moreover the effect of spiritual drowsiness among the rich is to produce a similar drowsiness among the poor. The poor perceive that the profession of Christianity by the rich seldom produces anything great or striking in the way of sympathy or self-sacrifice, and they therefore grow largely indifferent to the profession of it among themselves.
(2) But far greater than all other difficulties are the difficulties inherent in our own moral and spiritual constitution. The visible over-masters us; the invisible is less than half real. Our occupations and employments, the urgency of earning our daily bread, the need for concentrating our thoughts upon worldly things in order to gain subsistence and make progress in our trade or profession—all unite in giving prominence to temporal realities, and in hiding from view the realities which are eternal. Above all, the natural deceitfulness of the human heart revolts against the constraining power of faith.
4. Yet great as these difficulties are, they are by no means insuperable. Far from it. All things are possible to God; and to that man whose mind is ever dwelling upon the Eternal, the Infinite, the Invisible—whose spirit is thoroughly interpenetrated with the Spirit of God—to that man also most things are possible likewise.—Canon Diggle.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 9:14. The scribes questioning.—The scribes probably argued that failure in one case proved deception in all. How true to nature is this picture! If they had encouraged the disciples to try again with prayer, and had knelt with the father of the boy asking God to give the disciples power, they could have prevented the failure which they denounce! It is like the world—to withhold help, and then give blame for what it might have prevented. Pity the woes of men, so often intensified and perpetuated by men disputing as to who is to blame for them, instead of uniting in the effort to cure.—R. Glover
He came—as always, and to us also—unexpectedly, most opportunely, and for the real decision of the question in hand. There was immediate calm, preceding victory.—A. Edersheim, D.D.
The world wants us.—However good it may be to be in nature’s silent retreats for a season, the world wants us; for it is full of evils to be remedied, full of work to be done, full of demons to be cast out. There are calls down as well as up. And we must be as alert to the one call as to the other.—J. Halsey.
Mark 9:16-18. Lessons.—
1. When Jesus Christ absents Himself from us we are nothing.
2. A minister must not expect to have always success in the conversion of sinners.
3. Sometimes the greatest care, application, and talents signify nothing, because God designs to effect the thing by Himself, and to make His ministers more fit for His work by making them more humble.
4. Children diseased and possessed are an evident proof of original sin, because under a just God none are miserable unless they deserve it.
5. Bodily possession is a consequence and emblem of that of the soul, and of the dominion which the devil exercises over the heart by means of the passions.—P. Quesnel.
Mark 9:17. “A dumb spirit.”—The poor lad was a demoniac, and the demon had deprived him of the use of the affiliated organs of speech and hearing (see Mark 9:25). There is nothing incredible in such power, if evil spirits there be at all. Even some men have power to deprive, for the time being, some of their fellow-men of speech, hearing, feeling, seeing. What marvel, then, that unincarnated spirits should have a corresponding power? There are assuredly in existence, as W. G. Palgrave says, “malignant cosmical influences, be they what they may.” “The spirit world,” says Delitzsch, “good as well as bad, has been in all times the background of the events that transpire on earth.”—J. Morison, D.D.
Mark 9:19. Christ’s forbearance to be imitated.—Let us imitate on occasion the obedience and charity of Christ, which detained Him in the world, though the incredulity and contradiction thereof were a continual trouble to Him. How intolerable soever some ministers and pastors, by reason of their want of faith and their other defects, may possible be, yet Christ ceases not mildly to bear with them, to continue with them, according to His promise, to work by their ministry, and even to produce by them extraordinary effects. Whoever finds his endeavours ineffectual on souls enslaved to sin and the devil ought to conduct them to Christ, by addressing himself to Him in more fervent prayers, or by procuring them the assistance of some others of His servants.—P. Quesnel.
Mark 9:23. Faith is in its essence the power by which we grasp the future, the unseen, the infinite, the eternal; and in its application it is a principle of knowledge, a principle of power, a principle of action. It is then on man’s side the condition and the measure of Divine blessing. By faith we lift up the sightless eye, and it is opened: by faith we stretch out the withered arm, and it is made whole: by faith, bound hand and foot with gravecloths, we come forth from the tomb of custom which lies upon us
“With a weight
Heavy as frost and deep almost as life.”
In the Creed I do not simply acknowledge the existence of these Divine Persons of the One Godhead, but I throw myself wholly upon their power and love. I have found and I trust without reserve Him who made, redeemed, sanctifies me. I have gained not a certain conclusion, but an unfailing, an all-powerful Friend. “I believe in Him! He can help me; and He will help me.”—Bishop Westcott.
There is in faith a power to make God’s resources our own tributaries and auxiliaries.—The great reason why we make such slow gains in our own religious life in the warfare with inward sin, selfishness, and pride, is that we make no calculation for any strength but our own, and do not muster in our reserves. We are in this respect where manufacturing was in mechanical life a hundred years ago, when everything was done by hand; where travelling was fifty years ago, when everything was done by stage; where communication was twenty-five years ago, when all messages were sent by post. We do not calculate on a margin. We are doing all by a dead lift.—C.H. Parkhurst, D.D.
Mark 9:24. Prayer for faith.—He who implores faith with tears has it already in his heart.—Canstein.
Doubt and faith.—
1. Doubt and faith can coexist in the heart, and actually do. As creatures of God we must believe; as fallen, disordered, and disorganised creatures we must doubt.
2. The will can choose between doubting and believing. It can control and shape the thoughts; it can throw its weight on one side or the other when the battle rages in the soul. And because it can do this we are responsible for the strength or weakness of our faith.
3. If we choose to believe, God will help.—M. Dix, D.D.
Faith’s progress.—We have here—
1. The birth of faith.
(1) Eager desire.
(2) A sense of utter helplessness.
(3) The acceptance of Christ’s calm assurances.
2. The infancy of faith. The sense of possessing some feeble degree of any virtue or excellence, and the effort to put it forth, is the surest way of discovering how little of it we have. On the other side sorrow for the lack of some form of goodness is itself a proof of the partial possession, in some rudimentary and incipient form, of that goodness.
3. The cry of infant faith. “Help Thou mine unbelief” may have either of two meanings. The man’s desire was either that his faith should be increased and his unbelief “helped” by being removed by Christ’s operation upon his spirit, or that Christ would “help” him and his boy by healing the child, though the faith which asked the blessing was so feeble that it might be called unbelief. “Heal my child, though it is unbelief as much as faith that asks Thee to do it.”
4. The education of faith. Christ paid no heed in words to the man’s confession of unbelief, but proceeded to do the work which answered his prayer in both its possible meanings. He responded to imperfect confidence by His perfect work of cure; and by that perfect work of cure He strengthened the imperfect confidence which it had confessed. Thus He educates us by His answers—His over-answers—to our poor desires; and the abundance of His gifts rebukes the poverty of our petitions more emphatically than any words of remonstrance beforehand could have done. He does not lecture us into faith, but He blesses us into it.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Unbelief helped.—Beautiful to the eye of the father was the lad brought to Jesus, when the spasm was not on him. So is a true faith in Christ. It is the child of the heart. It is the image of all that is parental and Divine in the human soul. The affections so naturally fasten upon it as upon the child given to the arms and the bosom—to the kiss and fondnesses of maternal and paternal love. We so speak of a favourite idea of an author, an artist, a schemer—we say, It is the child of his heart. It stands out, as it were, to his eye as a child born to him, in whom he has garnered up great hopes, and with whom is linked all the happiness of life. More justly may this be regarded the Christian’s faith in immortality, with the light it sheds on present duty, joy, and sorrow. So did Socrates regard his fainter and less beautiful hope of life beyond death. When Socrates held his last conversation with his scholars, it seemed at one time that all the arguments for the immortality of the soul had been overthrown; and as it was a custom for the Greeks to cut off their hair and throw it into the tomb at the time of the burial of a friend, Socrates took hold of the long drooping locks of one of his disciples, and asked if that pretty hair would not be cut off on the morrow—the time he should be dead. He was answered “Yes”; and then he added, “If you take my advice, you will not stay so long!” and explained his meaning that it was more fit that the death of a great hope be mourned than the death of a friend. But the beautiful faith of many a heart does not so much die as it may be said to be affected with spasms. It is tortured. Its harmonies are untuned, and it is a mournful thing. It is as uncontrollable as the poor lad to whom the apostles could bring no help, so that the sorrow of that father is but a picture of the troubles of him whose faith is not healthy, strong, and happy. There is just enough of life in their faith for them to say, “I believe!” but there is weakness enough to make them add, with tears, the confession, “Help my unbelief!” To Christ must the heart come; and the result of patient waiting upon Him shall be, the languid pulse of faith shall be quickened—the “veins shall feel the rosy tide,” and as Christ lifted up the lad and he arose to tremble and to fall no more, so shall belief be released of all the spasms of unbelief and the fire and the flood be feared no more. Take to Christ thy faith. Its weakness will not be despised. Thy tears will be pearls in the treasury of Christ. Bring to Him thy soul by adopting the simple rule, to try by the spirit of His life all doctrines and theories, all creeds and articles.—Henry Bacon.
Mark 9:25. Lessons.—
1. Those who love not either to speak or to hear of God are possessed with a dumb and deaf spirit, from which Christ alone can deliver them. Happy are they into whom he never enters any more!
2. What would not God grant to a faith which is perfect, since even to an imperfect one He grants much more than it asks?
3. Jesus Christ never speaks to the devil but with threats, as to a slave. There are no measures to be kept where there is no longer the least hope of reconciliation or charity.—P. Quesnel.
Mark 9:26-27. Man’s extremity, God’s opportunity.—It is generally when things have come to the worst that God interposes and delivers—and not until then.
1. Because then the need of help is the greatest.
2. Because then there is the clearest evidence of the failure of all human help.
3. Because then deliverance is seen to be of God only. 4 Because then the omnipotence of God is displayed in accomplishing what none other can effect.
Mark 9:27. “Took him by the hand.”—
I. Look at the hand, as the helping organ and instrument of a man.—“Jesus took him by the hand.” “Very well,” some of you say, “how common, how natural! Men take each other by the hand every day.” And therefore, my friends, be sure, since it is so common and so natural, that it is most beautiful and most significant, when we consider it closely. Our most common and familiar actions are the richest in beauty and in meaning. The most precious thoughts lie hid in the most homely things.
II. This action of the Lord appears to be most characteristic of His whole ministry to man.—In Christ the hand of God touched the sick and tormented world and lifted it up; for in Christ God brought Himself into living, loving, and helpful contact with the mass of sin, misery, and corruption wherewith the devil had filled His world.
III. The true form of Christian activity is indicated to us in this hand-helping of our Lord.—The touch of a Christian’s hand, the tones of a Christian’s voice, the strong sympathies of a Christian’s heart, have a magic potency. This is God’s own appointed instrument for healing and blessing the world. You are not following His footsteps if you are not entering yourself into some chambers of sickness, some homes of sorrow, some dens of vice and crime; if sinners are not feeling that you are not afraid of them; that like your Master you have come to seek them, and would rather have it said that you kept company with publicans and sinners than hear your name rung from the trumpet of fame.—J. B. Brown.
Christ’s humanity.—Christ proves His Divinity by His humanity. I know He is Divine because He was so humane.
The helping hand.—What a happiness is it when, amidst the pangs and struggles of conversion, a sinner meets with an enlightened guide, a charitable hand to lift him up in his dejection, to comfort him under his pains, and to lead him into the ways of God! But what docility, what respect, what gratitude, does not the invincible hand of Christ, which is concealed under this visible one, deserve?—P. Quesnel.
Mark 9:28. Dissatisfaction with failure a hopeful sign.—There was hopefulness in the fact that they were dissatisfied with their own failing. As long as the Christian Church is keenly alive to the humiliation which it brings upon itself and the dishonour upon its Master by its failures there is hope of it. It is when the Church is utterly indifferent to its failures in casting out demons that it subsides into a hopeless condition. But whenever the Church of Christ after failing to do its work feels keenly the disgrace of failure and will not tolerate it until at least the secret is explained, but goes to the Master and asks Him in the agony of a keen disappointment, “Why could not we cast him out?” then the very failure will lead up to nobler attainments. The Master will give the secret of successful work, and sooner or later the Church will arouse itself again and rise into the dignity of its calling and its position.—D. Davies.
Mark 9:29. Prayer and fasting.—It is not meant that faith might be omitted (Matthew 17:20); nor that faith must be merged in prayer and fasting: but that faith must be in maximum degree, and that consequently those spiritual exercises which condition its highest attainable exaltation must be realised. There must be prayer, the uplifting of desire till it settle in the will of God. There must be fasting, the denying of all in the periphery of self that would hinder the uprising of the desire to God, or its absolute repose in His will.—J. Morison, D.D.
Prayer and fasting, in the life of Christ, were the human expression of two deeper and Diviner things. His prayers, whether on mountain-slopes or at open grave-sides—whether for the renewal of His own strength or for the benefit of others—were the outcome and expression of a personal intercommunion with God, of which His life was the highest exemplification which the world has ever seen. His fastings were the expression—the manifestation to man—of a self-denial which can only be adequately expressed as absolute and unselfish self-forgetfulness. In this utter and complete self-renunciation and its counterpart of close and unbroken intercommunion with the Father—in His absolute oneness with the Father—Jesus went up to His struggles with evil in its many forms; and before this consecrated and engodded life the evil invariably fell. Demoniacal possessions—no matter what their form or how great their intensity—could not live in the white light that flashed from perfect self-oblation and unbroken intercourse with Heaven. Then why did the disciples fail? Because they fell immeasurably short of the Master’s character. They were not nearly as close to God as He was. There was a great gulf between their puny and imbecile faith and His grand hold of God.—R. H. Starr, D.D.
The power of prayer.—It is not enough to have seen the vision on the mountain. We must foster the memory of it by our prayers; for prayer is the secret of holiness. It is the witness of our spirituality. It is the promise of the victory which shall be ours. We can do nothing of ourselves—that is the law of the spiritual life. But we can do all things by leaning on a higher Power. When the faith of men and of Churches has proved impotent to cope with the evil which has vitiated the heart of society, then a Divine voice is heard above the tumult, saying only, “Bring him hither to Me.” It is Thy voice, O Lord Jesus, and we will obey it.—J. E. C. Welldon.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 9
Mark 9:19. Lack of faith.—Admiral Dupont was once explaining to Farragut the reason why he failed to enter Charlestown harbour with his fleet of ironclads. He gave this reason, and that reason, and the other reason; and Farragut remained silent until he had got through, and then said, “Ah, Dupont, there was one more reason.” “What is that?” “You didn’t believe you could do it!”
Mark 9:23-24. The use of weak faith.—When the suspension bridge across Niagara was erected, a kite took a string over to the other side; to this string a cord was attached and was drawn over, then a rope which drew a larger rope, and then a cable strong enough to sustain the iron cable which supported the bridge, over which heavily laden trains now pass in safety. This could never have been done but for the small kite, which may represent a faith which, though weak, yet reaches to Christ and heaven.
Little faith in a great God.—There was once a woman who was well known for her simple faith and great calmness in the midst of many trials. Another woman hearing of her, went to learn the secret of her holy, happy life. She accosted her by saying, “Are you the woman with the great faith?” “No,” she replied, “I am not the woman with the great faith; but I am the woman with a little faith in the great God.”
Mark 9:24. Obedience has a firm basis.—The same state of mind, looked at from its two opposite ends, as it were, may be designated faith or unbelief; just as a piece of shot silk, according to the angle at which you hold it, may shew you only the bright colours of its warp or the dark ones of its weft. When you are travelling in a railway train with the sun streaming in at the windows, if you look out on the one hand you will see the illumined face of every tree and blade of grass and house, and if you look out on the other you will see the dark side. And so the same landscape may seem to be all lit up by the sunshine of belief, or to be darkened by the gloom of distrust. If we consider how great and how perfect ought to be our obedience, to bear any due proportion to the firmness of that upon which it is built, we shall not be slow to believe that through life there will always be the presence, more or less, of these two elements. There will be all degrees of progress between the two extremes of infantile and mature faith.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Fluctuations of faith.—Travelling on the plain, which, notwithstanding, has its risings and fallings, I discovered Salisbury steeple many miles off; coming to a declivity, I lost the sight thereof, but, climbing up the next hill, the steeple grew out of the ground again. Yea, I often found it and lost it, till at last I came safely to it, and took my lodgings near it. It fareth thus with us while we are wayfaring to heaven. Mounted on the Pisgah top of some good meditation, we get a glimpse of our celestial Canaan; but when either on the flat of an ordinary temper, or in the fall of an extraordinary temptation, we lose the view thereof. Thus, in the sight of our soul, heaven is discovered, covered, and recovered; till, though late, at last, though slowly, surely, we arrive at the haven of our happiness.—Thomas Fuller.
Mark 9:29. Prayer.—I once went to see Channing at Newport, and he told me that a minister had been to see him that day, and bad told how he had once been called in to exorcise a madman. The man was in a paroxysm; but his friends had an idea that it could be relieved by prayer. The minister, himself a man of simple faith, could not refuse the request, and went into the room where the maniac was, took him by the hand, and said, “Let us kneel down and pray.” He said that he never prayed so sincerely in all his life. When he began, the man’s muscles were like iron; as he went on, they gradually relaxed, and when he finished the maniac was quiet and peaceful. Channing thought, and I think, that the strong faith of the minister acted on the patient’s body, through his mind.—J. F. Clarke.
Fasting.—Some years ago, an excellent, well-meaning clergyman preached during Lent on the duty of fasting, which he clearly proved from Scripture. But having done this, he proceeded to discount all he had said by making a series of exceptions. The working-man, for instance, could not be expected to fast, for he had his work to do; the weak and sickly were excepted because of their health, the children on account of their tender years, the old on account of their age, the brain-worker because of the severity of intellectual labour, etc. Doubtless there is some truth in all this, but the answer lies in the word “abstinence.” Many who are unable to fast literally can do so spiritually by taking plain food and avoiding luxuries and self-indulgence. And we should ever look beyond ourselves, and make our self-denial of benefit to others. A good old lady used to have her plateful of meat, cut off from the joint at dinner-time, set aside whilst she ate her dry bread, and then putting it in her basket she would hurry off with it to some poor, sick person in the neighbourhood.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 9:31. Is delivered.—Is being delivered. The last stage of His ministry, which was to culminate in His threefold “delivery”—the Father’s surrender of the Son, the Son’s surrender of Himself, and His betrayal by Judas—had now set in.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 9:30-32
(PARALLELS: Matthew 17:22-23; Luke 9:43-45.)
More explicit prediction of sufferings.—After His transfiguration, and the performance of the above miracle, Christ proceeded through Galilee towards Jerusalem. He travels unknown, in order that He might instruct His disciples. An example of how we may spend time by the way.
I. He explained to them His present state: “The Son of Man is delivered.”—
1. He had already been delivered by the Father—in purpose, promise, and deed—to stand in our room.
2. He had delivered Himself to law and justice, to be a curse for us.
3. He was about to be delivered by a traitorous disciple. Among the twelve He seems to have for a while a retreat; but He is betrayed.
4. The Father and Himself, in thus acting, shewed love—Judas, avarice.
II. He told them the parties into whose power He had been given; “Into the hands of men.”—
1. To be delivered into the hands of men is to be put into their power—to do to Him and with Him as they chose.
2. They could have this power only by special permission—from the Father and Himself.
3. It is marvellous that He should have been delivered into the hands of men. God in humanity.
(1) It tested their character, and brought out their desperate wickedness.
(2) It proved the voluntariness of His obedience.
(3) It shewed how blind sin is in its supposed triumphs—how God brings glory out of rebellion.
III. He told them what must befall Him at the hands of men: “They shall kill Him.”—
1. That Christ was to die was not now foretold for the first time.
(1) In sacrifice He had been slain since the beginning of the world.
(2) His sufferings had been predicted.
(3) He had been hated in His law.
(4) Killed in His people.
(5) His life had been sought already.
(6) The death of Christ was no singular event in the display of human character involved.
2. Conscience tells man that death is penal, and he uses it as such, and as the height of punishment. Man proclaimed Christ guilty.
3. Intensity of revenge leads him sometimes to add torture to death. Man proclaimed his own hatred to Christ.
4. This death of Christ was necessary.
5. Did take place—religion—law—power—people.
IV. He revealed to them the future by telling them of His resurrection.—
1. Man’s power and agency ended with His death.
2. Christ’s resurrection was the result of an agency neither human nor satanic, but Divine.
(1) Scripture prophecy called for it.
(2) His office and undertaking called for it.
(3) Divine justice called for it.
(4) The exalted connexion of His humanity called for it.
(5) The defeat of him who had the power of death led to it.
3. Christ followed man to death. Man follows Christ to life.
V. We see that Christ had His sufferings ever in view.—
1. He knew Judas’ part, and the priests’ and the people’s. He saw in their bosoms the fire, etc.
2. He anticipates the Father’s. He knew His ire.
3. The feelings with which He approached these are mentioned, Luke 12:50; John 12:27.
VI. He also kept in view that which was to follow.—
1. He contemplated the whole truth, and the one part balanced with the other.
2. “For the joy that was set before Him,” etc.—Jas. Stewart.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 9:31. Sufferings and glory intimately connected.—Jesus knew beforehand the whole amount of His sufferings, in all their connexions and bearings; and therefore never foretold them without likewise foretelling His resurrection; neither did He foretell this without foretelling His sufferings. Thus doth true faith apprehend the latter and the former as one entire matter, and makes very much of everything pertaining to either. Here is something for exercising the heart—something which must never be lost sight of, in the darkest night of affliction, or in the clearest blaze of the terrestrial noon; for it is to “guide our feet into the way of peace.” As we hold a candle to the flame until it is fully lighted, so we must hold ourselves to this subject with affecting meditation (Luke 24:26; 1 Peter 5:1; 2 Corinthians 13:4).—J. A. Bengel.
Mark 9:32. Lessons.—
1. The spirit cannot understand what the flesh is unwilling to suffer.
2. This seed which Christ seems unprofitably to cast into a barren soil will bring forth fruit in due time.
3. We must not give over instructing, how dull soever the understandings of men are as to heavenly truths: the Spirit of God can open them, as He opened those of the apostles.
4. We ought to be ashamed of that unreasonable bashfulness which makes us choose rather to continue ignorant than to discover our ignorance. Nothing but humility can secure us from it.—P. Quesnel.
Understanding must precede speech.—It is not to no purpose to speak things that are not presently understood. Seed, though it lies in the ground awhile unseen, is not lost or thrown away, but will bring forth fruit. If you confine your teacher, you hinder your learning; if you limit his discourses to your present apprehensions, how shall he raise your understandings? If he accommodate all things to your present weakness, you will never be the wiser than you are now; you will be always in swaddling clothes (John 2:22; John 14:26).—Dr. Whichcote.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 9
Mark 9:31. Christ’s knowledge of His future.—Christ deals with His future as men deal with their past. This is entirely different from these mere presentiments of death which are sometimes, no doubt, as extraordinary as they are pathetic. A brave officer is ordered abroad for a campaign. On his voyage out his heart turns to his family, to his wife and children. After he lands, before going into action, he writes tender words in the light of an eternal world. They reach us when the hand is cold that traced the lines, when the eyes are closed that were half blinded with the salt mist of love. We read the presentiment into a prophecy, the felt probability into a certainty. Yet, in truth, such anticipations are generally vague enough. Hundreds have written such letters for whom they have not been fulfilled. It was not so with Christ. In the army of the greatest of all human captains there was a regiment, at the head of whose list was the name of one brave soldier, called first whenever the roll was called, with the addition of “killed upon the field of battle.” So stood the name of the Son of God in His own hearing every day of His life.—Bishop Wm. Alexander.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 9:35. If any man desire.—If any one wishes, as chap. Mark 8:34.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 9:33-41
(PARALLELS: Matthew 18:1-5; Luke 9:46-50.)
Receiving and forbidding.—Surely the disciples might have found something better to talk about on the road from Cæsarea, where they had heard from Jesus of His sufferings, than this miserable wrangle about rank! Probably they understood little of His meaning, but hazily thought that the crisis was at hand when He should establish the kingdom; and so their ambition, rather than their affection, was stirred. Perhaps, too, the dignity bestowed on Peter after his confession, and the favour shewn to the three witnesses of the Transfiguration, may have created jealousy. Matthew makes the quarrel to have been about future precedence; Mark, about present. The one was striven for with a view to the other.
I. Note the law of service as the true greatness (Mark 9:33-35).—“When He was in the house, He asked them.” The tongues that had been so loud on the road were dumb in the house—silenced by conscience. His servants still do and say many things on the road which they would not do if they saw Him close beside them, and sometimes fancy that these escape Him. But when they are “in the house” with Him, they will find that He knew all that was going on; and when He asks the account of it, they too will be speechless. “If any man would be first,” he is to be the least and servant, and thereby he will reach his aim. Of course that involves the conception of the nature of true greatness as service, but still the distinction is to be kept in view. Farther, “last of all” is not the same as “servant of all.” The one expresses humility; the other, ministry. There are two paradoxes here. The lowest is the highest—the servant is the chief; and they may be turned round with equal truth—the highest is the lowest, and the chief is the servant. The former tells us how things really are, and what they look like, when seen from the centre by His eye. The latter prescribes the duties and responsibilities of high position. In fact and truth, to sink is the way to rise, and to serve is the way to rule—only the rise and the rule are of another sort than content worldly ambition, and the Christian must rectify his notions of what loftiness and greatness are. On the other hand, distinguishing gifts of mind, heart, leisure, position, possessions, or anything else, are given us for others, and bind us to serve. Both things follow from the nature of Christ’s kingdom, which is a kingdom of love; for in love the vulgar distinctions of higher and lower are abolished, and service is delight.
II. Note the exhibition of the law in a life.—Children are quick at finding out who loves them, and there would always be some hovering near for a smile from Christ. With what eyes of innocent wonder the child would look up at Him, as He gently set him there, in the open space in front of Himself! Mark does not record any accompanying words, and none were needed. The unconsciousness of rank, the spontaneous acceptance of inferiority, the absence of claims to consideration and respect, which naturally belong to childhood, as it ought to be, and give it winningness and grace, are the marks of a true disciple, and are the more winning in such because they are not of nature, but regained by self-abnegation. What the child is, we have to become. This child was the example of one half of the law, being “least of all,” and perfectly contented to be so; but the other half was not shewn in him, for his little hands could do but small service. Was there, then, no example in this scene of that other requirement? Surely there was; for the child was not left standing, shy in the middle, but, before embarrassment became weeping, was caught up in Christ’s arms and folded to His heart. He had been taken as the instance of humility, and he then became the subject of tender ministry. Christ and he divided the illustration of the whole law between them, and the very inmost nature of true service was shewn in our Lord’s loving clasp and soothing pressure to His heart. Christ goes on to speak of the child not as the example of service, but of being served. The deep words carry us into blessed mysteries which recompense the lowly servants and lift them high in the kingdom. “One of such little children” means those who are thus lowly, unambitious, and unexacting. “In My name” defines the motive as not being simple humanity or benevolence, but the distinct recognition of Christ’s command and loving obedience to His revealed character. Unselfish deeds in His name open the heart for more of Christ and God, and bring on the doer the blessing of fuller insight, closer communion, more complete assimilation to his Lord. Therefore such service is the road to the true superiority in His kingdom, which depends altogether on the measure of His own nature which has flowed into our emptiness.
III. The apostles’ conscience-stricken confession of their breach of the law (Mark 9:38-40).—Peter is not spokesman this time, but John, whose conscience was more quickly pricked. He begins to think that perhaps the man whom they had silenced was “one such little child,” and had deserved more sympathetic treatment. Pity that so many listen to the law, and do not, like John, feel it prick them! Christ forbids such “forbidding.” They are only to forbid those who do speak evil of Christ; to all others, even if they have not reached the full perception of truth, they are to extend patient forbearance and guidance. “The mouth of them that speak lies shall be stopped”; but the mouth that begins to stammer His name is to be taught and cherished.
IV. We have the reward of receiving Christ’s little ones set over against the retribution that seizes those who cause them to stumble (Mark 9:41-42).—These verses seem to resume the broken thread of Mark 9:37, whilst they also link on to the great principle laid down in Mark 9:40. He that is not against is for, even if he only gives a cup of water because they are Christ’s. That shews that there is some regard for Jesus in him. It is a germ which may grow. Such a one shall certainly have his reward. That does not mean that he will receive it in a future life, but that here his deed shall bring after it blessed consequences to himself. Of these none can be more blessed than the growing regard for the Name, which already is in some degree precious to him. The faintest perception of Christ’s beauty, honestly lived out, will be increased. Note, too, the person spoken of belongs to the same class as the silenced exorcist, thus reading the disciples a farther lesson. Jesus will look with love on the acts which even a John wished to forbid. Note, also, that the disciples here are the recipients of the kindness. They are no longer being taught to receive the little ones, but are taught that they themselves belong to that class, and need kindly succour from these outsiders, whom they had proudly thought to silence.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 9:33-34. Ambition a universal fault.—How subtile is the poison of ambition! how difficult for a man to preserve himself from it! Few people are heartily willing to be below others; they find as much difficulty almost to bear an equality; and much the greatest number think of nothing but gaining a superiority. Who would imagine that ambition could take hold of persons who had forsaken all, and that the apostolical college should not be exempt from it? In short, everybody is subject to it, and nobody is willing to own it.—P. Quesnel.
Our Lord’s question brings His hearers back to their higher selves, and they can again see that to be permitted to work at all in bringing God’s kingdom to pass is a great blessing, in comparison with which all petty distinctions between this kind of work and that disappear out of view. We see in this instance how the mere question operates. Could any rebuke have met the purpose better? Do we not find that an accusation commonly provokes a defence, and that the temper which is bent on finding excuse is not that which leads a man to amend? Our Lord causes men’s hearts to condemn them; and when so condemned they turn in their trouble to Him, and find that He is “greater than their hearts and will forgive them”: whereupon a great light comes into their minds. This is what happened here.—H. Latham.
Mark 9:35. Service the road to preferment and rule.—To lord it over men is not the way to win the first place in their hearts. The men whom we all know, admire, praise, whom we cheerfully acknowledge as our superiors, are those who live for others rather than for themselves. Men will resist mere power, but they bow to love.—S. Cox, D.D.
True greatness consists in renouncing greatness itself. A man becomes a slave to it when once he desires it; he is above it whenever he despises it. The primacy or first place in humility is the only one to which we are permitted to aspire. To dispute with secular persons, which should be the greatest, is a thing very opposite to an ecclesiastical spirit. The only thing of which a minister of Christ ought to be ambitious is to be the last of all. Humility must not be an idle virtue, but a virtue useful to our neighbour. It places its chief joy not only in being below all, but even in serving all. For true charity is humble, and true humility is charitable.—P. Quesnel.
Mark 9:36. Look at the children.—Look at the children set by God in our midst. Christ’s parable to His disciples can never grow stale, for always there are fresh young children in our midst to repeat it. They are there, and when we are sick with self-reflexion and self-preoccupation turn and look at the children. How simply they take their days! how gaily they face them! how fresh and natural the development of their life! how untrammelled by questionings about whether they are properly appreciated or no! They go, in tears perhaps as well as laughter, but always in all circumstances trusting to be just what they are, trusting to their own native reality, to the natural self as it acts in its spontaneous freedom. Love is trust—trust in God, the trust of a child that he was made to be what he is. We take our being on trust. No growth in self-direction diminishes in the least degree the absolute necessity of continuing to act in the child’s trust. God’s creative impulse abides from hour to hour within us, feeding, moulding, upholding, making us what we are; and the child in us alone enables us to respond to His impulse, to live in His breath, to move in His will. Oh, what sweet and tender peace would spring up within our secret souls if deep within, below, and beyond all the self-questionings we could just quietly lie back in God like a child in the arms of Jesus! There is a great picture by Watts, charged with his mystic passion, in which an old man, worn and feeble, lies back in his chair, dying, and round him, dropped from his nerveless hands, lie all the gifts of his culture, the tools and signs of all that has been his in philosophy, in science and art. Wearily he fades away, amid the wreck of his highest human experiences; and then up above a great angel, benignant and strong, bears off his soul, new-born through death in the shape of a baby child, soft, white, and warm. A child-soul—that is what a man should have within him at the last, still living within him to surrender at death to his God. It is as a little child that he shall enter that new kingdom of love, as a little child that he should be taken up into the arms of Jesus and set there in the midst.—Canon Scott-Holland.
Childhood our model.—Was it the boy Ignatius or the little son of Peter? We know not. It was childhood, and not the particular child, which Jesus commended as the model of the Christian life In the condensed report of the talk of Jesus at this time, Matthew tells us about “turning” from the natural or selfish mind to that of the child’s, or about being “converted.” Luke emphasises the fact that Jesus read the hearts of His disciples and spoke directly to these. Mark selects the blessedness of lowly service as the theme most urged upon His followers by Him who emptied Himself of His glory. In all three the main purpose of Jesus was to shew that the Christian life is but a glorified childhood.
Mark 9:37. The Church the guardian of the children.—The care taken of these little ones may be regarded as among the tests of the sound state of any branch of the Church to which they have been so lovingly commended by her Lord; they, in outward shew, poor, helpless, weak, ignorant, having everything to learn—to the eye of faith, cleansed in their Redeemer’s blood, waited upon and guarded by the highest angels, clad in the white robes of their baptismal purity, rich in invisible treasures, insensible to our poor outward world, and wrapped in a world unseen, and set forth as our example that we should become such as they. Of a truth, whether we contemplate them in their purity, or our Saviour’s “woe on such as cause them to offend,” one would alike shrink from the duty of forming what is of so great price and yet so frail, but that a duty is laid upon us, yea, “woe is on us, if we do it not”; and it is not we alone who do it, but He who saith, “Whoso receiveth one such little child in My name receiveth Me”; He whose face their angels in heaven do always behold.—E. B. Pusey, D.D.
“Such children.”—The term includes all who are in any way like such children: as, for instance, all who are helpless, as children are; all who are simple-minded, or even weak in mind; or, particularly, all who are young in the faith, who, like children, require the “milk” of the Word, and not its “strong meat.”—M. F. Sadler.
“In My name.”—That is, for My sake; not only because they are baptised or belong to Christian parents, though these are good reasons indeed, but because they partake of the nature which Christ took upon Him, because they belong to the race which Christ redeemed—because like Him they are poor, and have no settled homes, or because He may be honoured in their after-life. Such children are received in Christ’s name not only in orphanages or in Sunday-schools, but by many of the Christ-loving poor who have children of their own, and yet take into their homes some poor waif or stray, and cherish it as their own flesh and blood for no reward except the Lord’s approval.—Ibid.
“Receiveth Me,”—The grace of this promise seems almost incredible. What an honour would any Christian have esteemed it if he had been permitted to receive Christ under his roof for a single hour, and yet that receiving might have been external and transitory; but the Lord here undoubtedly promises that to receive a little one in His name is to receive Him effectually.—Ibid.
Mark 9:38-40. Christian usefulness.—
1. The great principle of Christian usefulness. He whose first concern it is to be faithful to Christ, as the Almighty Saviour of the human race and the Lord of the dead and of the living, will be equally faithful and pure in his conduct to the world around him: earnest in selecting the means and opportunities of usefulness; active and conscientious in applying them; firm in his purpose, in opposition both to foreseen and to unexpected difficulties, where he sees the good which may be done.
2. The obstructions to conscientious usefulness which in every age of the world arise from false conceptions or from a deliberate perversion of the genuine spirit of the gospel.
3. The indulgence which is due from sincere believers to the pure intentions of useful and upright men. Though the means employed should not embrace every instrument of usefulness which our peculiar views or habits might suggest to ourselves, when the general effect is visible and the means selected are in themselves beyond all exception, we are bound to regard the labours of the men who are employed together in conducting them as genuine service to our Blessed Master, and to respect them as fellow-workers together with Him.—H. M. Wellwood.
Mark 9:38. Indiscreet zeal.—The most holy persons have sometimes occasion to secure themselves from secret emulations. We very easily mingle our own interests with those of God; and our vanity uses the glory of His name only as a veil. A preacher sometimes imagines that his only desire is that men should follow Christ and adhere to His Word; and it is himself whom he desires they should follow, and to whom he is very glad to find them adhere. John has fewer imitators of that perfect freedom from self-interest which he had after the descent of the Holy Ghost, than he has of this defect in his state of imperfection. A man willingly approves the good which is done by others, when he loves good for its own sake and God for His.—P. Quesnel.
The confidence between Master and disciple evidenced by this free avowal is to be marked: if the disciples had been set right whenever they were wrong, or had frequently met with reproach, such confidence might not have grown up. It was much helped on by their being sure that their Master would understand them: what often keeps young people from opening their hearts to their elders is that they are afraid of not being understood. But though our Lord is very gentle in His treatment of the particular case, yet He speaks strongly of the distemper of which a symptom had appeared—of the evil humour which vents itself in rebuffs.—H. Latham.
Mark 9:39. The Church’s duty as to irregular preachers.—There are great numbers of persons amongst us who are preaching Christ after their fashion who have had not only no commission from the Church, but no training even in the Scriptures from any professedly religious body whatsoever. Are we of the Church to forbid them, i.e. to denounce them as necessarily schismatic and anti-Christian? I think that this place, together with such words as those in Philippians 1:18, settles the matter that we are not. But then we are bound to do that which will entail upon ourselves far more trouble and odium. We are bound to witness to such preachers and their followers that Christ desires the absolute Unity of His Church, and exhibited His desire by very earnestly praying for it (John 17:20-21); so that if they preach such things as conversion and present acceptance of Christ without regard to the truth that there is not only “one Spirit” but “one Body,” they may destroy with one hand what they think they build up with the other. We are bound also to tell them that in all probability they hold an imperfect, indeed a very mutilated Christianity; for all such persons are, by the necessity of their position as external to the Catholic Church, unable to comprehend the truths which relate to the Mystical Body, and in consequence they ignore the leading truths of the apostolic writings (Romans 6:0, Romans 12:1-4; 1 Corinthians 6:18-20; 1 Corinthians 10:16-18; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30; Ephesians 1:22-23; Ephesians 3:6; Ephesians 4:4-6); they in consequence disparage altogether the grace of Sacraments, have most imperfect views of the holiness of the Christian’s body, and of set purpose absolve their followers from all need of preparation for the judgment of Christ. The loss of these truths we should bring before them very prayerfully and very humbly, knowing that the Church herself has in time past through her ministers imperfectly taught them; but still we should set them before them very decidedly, for they are not our truths, but the Lord’s, and in so doing we shall not be without success.—M. F. Sadler.
“Forbid him not.”—We can conceive what such an utterance as this of Jesus was to the disciples as they listened to Him. Was it a disappointment that came to them? I think not. I think they were too great and noble men for that. I can almost see the face of John glowing with satisfaction and delight, and a certain release and freedom coming to his soul. I can almost hear him say: “Then I need not have rebuked that man. Then my Master will let me rejoice in every work that is being done in His name, no matter how imperfectly and irregularly it may be done.” Oh, let that release come to your souls out of the words of Jesus! Do not think yourselves ever bound to be narrow and exclusive in jealousy for your Lord. Believe He wants you to go through the world as He went through the world, seeking out what men are doing of good and rejoicing in that good.—Bishop Phillips Brooks.
Christ suffers many things in His Church which are done without His mission; but He makes them contribute to the establishment of His kingdom. Whatever reason we may have to fear that some persons will not persevere in goodness, we must notwithstanding suffer them to continue their endeavours, when they appear to be anyways useful. God Himself authorises such persons, since it is He who performs the good in them. It is to make the world promote and carry on God’s work, for a man to engage worldly people to do good, or to favour the Church. And this is sometimes even a beginning of their salvation.—P. Quesnel.
Mark 9:40. On Christ’s side.—Not in the truth we believe, although it is good to believe all truth, lies the real sanction and warrant of our belonging to our Master, Christ. It is not in the regularity of our association with the Church, although it is good to be associated with that Church which He founded, and which has come down through the ages from Him. Ultimately there is only this test. We are on His side if we are not against Him. If our work in the world is helping men to be wicked instead of good, then, whatever may be our saying or our creed or our part in the assemblies of the Church, we are none of Jesus Christ’s.—Bishop Phillips Brooks.
Mark 9:41. Sympathy with Christ’s ministers.—
I. The need of sympathy with ministers of the gospel is implied.—
1. Destitution may arise from thoroughness of devotion to their work. Care for the spiritual may trespass upon the temporal. History of Jesus; Paul.
2. Destitution may arise from the opposition of the world to their work. Spoiling of goods.
3. Destitution may arise from Divine providence, in order to test their sincerity in the work.
II. The nature of sympathy with ministers of the gospel is described.—
2. It may be small in quantity.
2. It may be exhibited by any one.
3. It must be from regard to Christ.
III. The reward of sympathy with gospel ministers is pledged.—
1. It will be substantial acknowledgment.
2. It will be personally enjoyed.
3. It is Divinely assured.—B. D. Johns.
“Ye belong to Christ.—
1. Proprietorship. We are all Christ’s—
(1) By creation.
(2) By redemption.
(3) By baptism.
(1) Special care.
(2) Identity of interests.
(3) High dignity.
(1) To live for Christ.
(2) To live like Christ.
(3) To confess Christ.—R. Roberts.
The reward for Christian service.—The action is worthy and rewardable, and shall therefore obtain reward. Not that there is anything in it that should or could be erected on a high pedestal of merit. But, being right and good, God will smile on it.—J. Morison, D.D.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 9
Mark 9:35. Humility.—St. Augustine being asked, “What is the first thing in religion?” replied, “Humility.” “And what is the second?” “Humility.” “And what the third?” “Humility.” Benjamin Franklin, when young, received this advice, when, on going out of a house by a shorter way, he hit his head against a beam: “You are young, and have the world before you; stoop as you go through it, and you will miss many hard thumps.”
Mark 9:36. Our blessed religion looks upon children as immortal creatures, full of beauty. It is by no means a matter of course that children are respected. Look at the social contempt in which Mahometan children are held. Look at the random influence of the infidel’s child. The atheist may indeed treat his child after the Christian custom of the land he lives in; but at the bottom of his creed the child is a mere perishing brute. Listen to the shrill shriek that comes from the fiery altar of Moloch, and the splash on the banks of the Ganges. Look at China’s infanticide, and the blood on the Juggernaut’s wheel. Then look at Christendom’s child enthroned—enthroned in the church, in the home, in the school, in Christian art, and in the Christmas festival.
Mark 9:37. Christ in His little ones.—The legend of St. Christopher is told in various ways, but one version is that, being a humble ferryman on the banks of a turbulent river, he heard one dark and stormy night a child’s voice outside his hut, asking to be carried across the river. Simply doing his duty, he took the wailing little one in his arms and breasted the swollen torrent; but before he had gone far his burden was surrounded with a halo of light, and he found that it was no ordinary child but the Christ-child, and that in performing his humble duty he had the unspeakable honour of carrying the Lord of Glory, and on this account his name was changed to Christopher, “the Christ-bearer.” This is no mere legend. It embodies an experience possible to every Christian. Whoever lovingly and patiently cares for one of Christ’s little ones will find his burden growing blessedly light, and he will realise the joy not only of rescuing the perishing, but of bearing the Christ perpetually in his heart.
Reverence to childhood.—John Locke drank into the spirit of our Lord’s teaching when he wrote this maxim: “Maxima debetur pueris reverentia” (“The greatest reverence is owed to children”). At Eisenach a famous master, John Trebonius, was rector of the convent of the Barefooted Carmelites; and when he taught his classes of boys there, he always did so with his head uncovered, to honour, as he said, the consuls, chancellors, doctors, and masters who would one day proceed from his school. There was reverence to youth! And not in vain was it shewn, for among his scholars was that highly honoured servant of God Martin Luther, who was greater than all the consuls, chancellors, and doctors of his time. When Edward Irving was at the height of his power as an orator in London, some ladies, who had established an infant school in the district of Billingsgate, and were unsuccessful in persuading the people to send their children to it, applied to him to help them. He immediately consented, and went with them through the district. In the first house he allowed the ladies to explain their errand, and they did it very offensively to the poor, so full of condescension and patronage was their manner. In the second house Irving took the place of spokesman upon himself. When the door was opened, he spoke in the kindest tone to the woman who opened it, and asked permission to go in. He then explained the intentions of the ladies, asked how many children she had, and whether she would send them. A ready consent was the result; and the mother’s heart was completely won when the visitor took one of her little ones on his knee, and blessed her. The ladies who were engaged in this work were horrified. “Why, Mr. Irving,” exclaimed one of the ladies, when they got to the street, “you spoke to that woman as if she were doing you a favour, and not you conferring one on her! How could you speak so? and how could you take up that child on your knee?” “The woman,” he replied, “does not as yet know the advantages which her children will derive from your school; by-and-by she will know them, and own her obligations to you; and in so speaking and in blessing her child I do but follow the example of our Lord, who blessed the little ones, the lambs of His flock.” Edward Irving’s conception of a child is given in these words: “a glorious bud of being.” He had a high appreciation of a child. He saw grand possibilities hidden away in its undeveloped capacities. He saw the promise of a new world in its being devoted to God, and blessed by Christ. But we must not forget this: Irving, like Trebonius, was a seer. And might not all be seers if they would only do as he did, accept Christ’s estimate of children?
Begin with the children.—Dr. Duff, the missionary to India, began his work there on a principle altogether new in missionary enterprise. He began with the children. With the eye and heart of a philosopher, as he was—a Christian philosopher—he saw that, if he could gain the children, the coming generations would be gained. In the words of Sir Charles Trevelyan: “Up to that time preaching had been considered the orthodox regular mode of missionary action; but Dr. Duff held that the receptive, plastic minds of children might be moulded from the first according to the Christian system, to the exclusion of all heathen teaching, and that the best preaching to the rising generation, which soon becomes the entire people, is the ‘line upon line, precept upon precept’ of the schoolroom.” This action of Dr. Duffs recalls the action of the Spartans, who, when Antipater demanded fifty children as hostages, offered “him in their stead a hundred men of distinction. One would have thought this by far the noblest offer, but there was a far-seeing wisdom in it. In the children there was hope of retrieving their loss, and wiping out their dishonour. Their fathers had lost the day, the children might regain it. In them Sparta would flourish anew.
Mark 9:40. Friends mistaken for enemies.—A sailor once told me that the most terrible engagement he had ever been in was one between the ship to which he belonged and another English vessel, when, on meeting in the night, they mistook each other for enemies. Several persons were wounded, and both vessels were much damaged by the firing. When the day broke, great and painful was the surprise to find the English flag hoisted from both ships. They saluted each other, and wept bitterly together over their mistake. Christians, sometimes, commit the same error. One denomination mistakes another for an enemy; it is night, and they do not recognise one another. What will be their surprise when they see each other in heaven’s light! How will they salute each other when better known and understood!—W. Williams.
Mark 9:41. Common life sublime.—In the universe filled with Christ, the falling sparrow is to the thoughtful Christian as impressive as the stars fighting in their courses. Grandly does that profound Christian thinker and poet, Sidney Lanier, in his development of the English novel, show how Christ has made even common life sublime. Maggie Tulliver, amid the details of humble routine, now wins our sympathies as much as does Œdipus. We have learned the gospel of details. What need have we of all the complex machinery of Greek tragedy when we know that God sees, knows, pities, and Christ has blessed even the cup of cold water? Like the Divine flood in Ezekiel’s vision of the ankle-deep rill swelling into the lordly river, so this beatitude of refreshment to the needy has made increase of the cup to a flood that has quenched the thirst of millions through eighteen centuries. The well and the fountain built in Christ’s name, the medicine to assuage fever, the kindly ministrations of the nurse and the hospital, the reforms of the Christian ages, are but the magnified results of the truth taught by our Lord and made vital in the lives of His people.
Cup of cold water.—When Sir Philip Sidney, after being wounded at the battle of Zutphen, was retiring to the camp, he was almost overcome by the oppressive heat. Calling for a drink of water, a soldier with great difficulty procured him one. Just as he was raising it to his lips, a wounded soldier was borne by, who turned his eyes wistfully towards the cooling draught. Instantly passing the bottle down to him he said, “Thy necessity is greater than mine.”
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 9:42-47. Offend.—Lay a trap for. See on chap. Mark 6:3.
Mark 9:42. It is better for him.—A happy thing it is for him rather. Cp. 1 Corinthians 9:15.
Mark 9:44; Mark 9:46. Probably spurious.
Mark 9:47. Hell fire.—The Gehenna. “The Ravine of Hinnom,” also called “Topheth” (2 Kings 23:10; Isaiah 30:33), is described in Joshua 18:16 as on the south of Mount Zion. Total length a mile and a half. A deep retired glen, shut in by rugged cliffs, bleak mountain-sides rising over all. Scene of barbarous rites of Molech and Chemosh in times of Ahaz and Manasseh (2 Kings 16:3; 2 Chronicles 28:3; Jeremiah 7:31); in consequence of which it was polluted by Josiah (2 Kings 23:10; 2 Kings 23:13-14); from which time it seems to have become the common cesspool of the city. These inhuman rites and subsequent ceremonial defilements caused the later Jews to regard it with horror and detestation, and they applied the name given to the valley to the place of torment.—G. F. Maclear, D. D.
Mark 9:48. Quoted from Isaiah 66:24. The words are not to be taken to mean more here than they do there.
Mark 9:49. Salted with fire.—Explanatory of the words immediately preceding. Either here on earth, or else hereafter in the Gehenna, all the impurities and imperfections of our fallen nature must be burnt out by the cleansing fires of discipline and chastisement, in order that we may become an acceptable sacrifice unto God. Salted with salt.—It is Divine grace alone—and not in any sense our own merits—that makes us “a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice.” This second clause of Mark 9:49 is probably an early marginal gloss.
Mark 9:50. Here there seems to be a transition of thought from the Divine Source to the human receptacles of grace. Our Lord is speaking to “the twelve” (Mark 9:35), whom He has already styled, as His disciples, “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). He now warns them against the tendency to factiousness and self-seeking, which, if indulged, will thwart all their efforts to purify the world. And then He winds up, “Entertain among yourselves the spiritual salt of self-repression and self-discipline, and be at peace with one another.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 9:42-50
Mark 9:42-48. Offences.—“The law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” It seems as though the contrast was suggested. I think it was. But men make a tremendous mistake if they imagine that gentleness means weakness, or that only in obtrusive terribleness comes a revelation of strength. The speech of Jesus is the mightiest utterance the world has ever heard. The law of life and love, the call to righteousness which He delivered, is the most awfully soul-searching, all-encompassing, fiery word which has ever reached the listening ears and beating hearts of men. The only salvation worth the having is a salvation unto God. A purpose which alone satisfies Him as being worthy of the Infinite Father is to renew His own image in His children, and make us like unto Himself.
I. Christian life is a thorough consecration.—Anything less than this turns religion into a dismal burden. But this makes its face to shine with the very glory of God, and its power comes to us as an uplifting joy, a thrilling inspiration; thy whole self, body, mind, heart, soul, hallowed, consecrated, dedicated. What do you think of it? This is to be, this is the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ. High, great, difficult, beyond our capacity. Yes, and therefore comes the salvation from the everlasting, Almighty One. He is able and He is patient. What He begins He can complete. Our world of weak, erring, human life has known one Being who maintained a complete, supreme, unswerving consecration. He is the Saviour of men. He inbreathes His life; His mind, His spirit, may be in us. Men have felt His spell and realised His power. His promise has been so far known to be a great reality that it brought faith enough to a disciple to say, “We shall be like Him.”
II. Now it will be evident, if we pause to think, that, as the sphere of our being rises, dangers and hindrances will come, which lower down may not be so obtrusive. There can be no question as to desires, passions, activities, words, deeds, thoughts, which are wrong in themselves. The Christian has no business with them. The right eye, the right hand, are not wrong things. They are good faculties, good energies, which are a splendid gift for consecrated use. The advice of the fanatic or the coward is, “Destroy the sense, blind it, muffle it, for in it lies a danger”; and out of that have come all the austerities of the ascetic, all the inhumanity of the Stoic, but with no real redemption. The advice of the presumptuous fatalist is, “Withhold not thy heart from any joy; you are not responsible for your weakness or your passion”; and out of that have come the degradation of men, the fierce and terrible lines which sensual sin brands upon the sinner’s face. In the one extreme a man tries to have nothing to pray for; in the other he dares to pray for the working of a miracle in aid of wrong. We must avoid both presumption and distrust. Broadly speaking, I suppose the eye may stand for that which is beautiful, pleasurable, and the hand for that which is active and energetic; in a word, occupation and recreation, labour and luxury. These are wholesome, natural, essential, to our due being. Without them a man is manifestly maimed. But, says Jesus, it is better to be maimed than slain. The limb or the body, the organ or the whole self: can there be any question as to which? I have known men on what was said to be the way to fortune, who seemed to me to be stumbling on a footway like that outside Jerusalem, where the precipice overhung Gehenna. I have known men, said to be ruined, from whom God had mercifully cut away the peril of their soul.
III. But Jesus here, as always, lays His appeal upon conscience.—This alone would have made Him solitary among all leaders and teachers. He clears conscience from its shadow, and says, “Look to its light”—your own conscience, not another man’s. You have no business with the hands and eyes of others; you have great business with your own. Looking unto Jesus, you will not be led astray. Maintaining communion with Him, conscience will be lustrous and clear. Cling to Him, your Saviour. Obey His voice, your Lord.—D. J. Hamer.
Mark 9:50. The salt of Christian profession.—“Salt is good.” The wise son of Sirach says, “The principal things for the whole of a man’s life are water, fire, iron, and salt”; after which follow in their turn “flour of wheat, honey, milk and the blood of the grape, and oil, and clothing.” Amongst the good things of this present life—the natural productions which the Giver of all good has caused to exist for the use and benefit of His creatures—we may surely reckon a condiment so indispensable to health and enjoyment. Yes, “salt is good”; and it cannot lose its goodness or usefulness so long as it is salt.
I. In the symbolical language of Scripture, salt is applied in several ways, according to its various uses and properties.—
1. The first and most obvious of all is derived from its seasoning property. Salt makes savoury and palatable that which has no taste of its own (Job 6:6). Divine grace communicates a similar relish to everything in which it may be said to form an ingredient—to every part of the life and conversation of him who is under its influence, but especially to his familiar discourse. Hence the apostolic admonition (Colossians 4:6). And to this same seasoning virtue our Lord Himself alludes when He says to His disciples, “Ye are the salt of the earth”—as if all that is in the world were utterly tasteless and unpalatable in the judgment of truth until seasoned and as it were leavened with the holy doctrines and pure principles of Christianity. “But if the salt have lost its saltness, wherewith will ye season it?” What other more powerful or more salutary religion remains behind to renovate the enfeebled energies of a corrupt and degenerate Christianity?
2. This article entering so largely into the arrangements of the table, especially in the more simple forms of society, we need not be surprised to find it sometimes put for food in general. To “eat a person’s salt” carries with it among Eastern nations the same idea as with us “to eat a person’s bread,” i.e. to be in his domestic service or otherwise employed by him at a salary (a term which derived its origin from the Latin word for salt). See Ezra 4:14, text and margin. Hence also salt became a symbol of hospitality and friendship; and an Arab of the present day regards every one who has eaten salt with him as his sworn friend and brother, whom he is bound on all occasions to protect. Connected with this idea is the custom of eating a few grains of salt at the ratification of covenants. See Numbers 18:19; Leviticus 2:13.
3. But that which is ever so good in moderation and in its proper place may without those conditions be turned into the sorest of evils. “Salt is good”; but when it covers the whole face of the country, and the husbandman sees nothing around him but “brimstone and salt and burning” (Deuteronomy 29:23), this most useful commodity becomes another word for barrenness and desolation. See Jeremiah 17:6; Psalms 107:34, margin. To this head may probably be referred the custom of sowing salt (Judges 9:45) in a place which was intended to be devoted to perpetual desolation.
II. Whereas this substance is used to season others, we know of no other which can be made use of to impart a savour to salt.—Insipid salt may therefore be regarded as another name for whatever is useless and valueless, not in its own nature, but as being devoid of those very properties in which its excellence consists.
1. Salt that has lost its saltness may fitly represent a religious profession which does not influence the conduct. The profession of religion is good. It is good to see a man framing his life, arranging his habits, ordering his family, on the supposition that “God is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” It is good to see him entering into his closet, and shutting the door and praying to his Father which seeth in secret. It is good to see him coming forth from his private devotions, and summoning his family to join with him in domestic worship. It is good to see him and them in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s Day, and especially at the altar to receive the Sacrament of the Lord’s Body and Blood. All these things are good, for the same reason that salt is good—because of their aptitude to impregnate and season other things, all things, in fact, with which they are mixed up. This is the proper virtue and natural operation of a man’s religious profession; the whole life ought to taste of it. But, alas, how seldom is this so! How few are there amongst the multitude of professing Christians who in the common concerns of life think and speak and act differently from those who are openly living without God in the world!
2. Salt that has lost its saltness may also fitly represent a Christian who does no good to others. Just as the use of salt is to season not itself but other things which either have no savour of their own or an unpleasant one, so the use of Christianity is to season an ungodly and unbelieving world with the truths and principles of pure and undefiled religion. This can only be accomplished by the exertions of individual Christians, each seeking the good and promoting the eternal salvation of all who come within the circle of his influence. “This,” says Chrysostom, “is the definition of Christianity—to care for the salvation of others. Nothing is so frivolous and insipid as a Christian who does not save others.” And yet there are many who seem to understand that text, “Work out your own salvation,” in the same way as if they had been told to mind their own business and not to trouble themselves about the religious state of others. They do work out their own salvation, at least according to their views of the method of working it. They are zealous towards God, diligent in the performance of religious duties, strict moralists, and blameless in all the common duties and relations of life. Thus they may be said to “have salt in themselves.” But how do they realise that other and higher requirement, to be “the salt of the earth”? Where are their seasoning qualities? Wherein does such a man “please his neighbour for his good to edification”? Does he “command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord”? Does he seek the good of the city where he dwells, doing all in his power to discountenance wickedness and vice, and to season that locality with which he is more immediately connected, with the salt of true religion and virtue? Do his efforts reach forth beyond the narrow limits and petty concerns of a single locality? and does he cast in his mite of salt to the general stock which is employed in seasoning, converting, and evangelising the world?
3. What has been said of the duty of all Christians to seek the spiritual good of others applies in the highest degree to the priesthood of the Church. Insipid salt is but a feeble illustration of the character of a careless and unfaithful “minister of Christ and steward of the mysteries of God”—as to be “cast out and trodden underfoot of men” but faintly shadows forth his inevitable doom.
III. Improvement under religions advantages depends in a great measure upon ourselves.—“The Word preached,” be it ever so highly seasoned, will not profit unless it be “mixed with faith in them that hear it.” “Salt is good”; but there are some substances so utterly corrupt and stinking as to bid defiance to its correcting and preserving power. We Christian preachers are, according to St. Paul, “a sweet savour of Christ,” etc. (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). The salt is the same; its natural properties are the same; but, being applied to one, it preserves him from corruption and seasons him for the kingdom of heaven; while, being sprinkled on another, it salts him as a sacrifice to be offered up to the Divine vengeance, and makes him indestructible only for the worm that dieth not, and the fire that cannot be quenched, until the man’s heart is humbled to the dust and he cries aloud for mercy to the God whose grace he has heretofore spurned If therefore ye would escape the agonies of hell, “take heed what ye hear” and “how ye hear.” “Receive with meekness the engrafted Word,” etc. “Give no place to the devil,” who is ever watching his opportunity to “take away the Word out of your hearts,” etc. “Keep yourselves unspotted from the world,” which is always at hand with its contaminating influence, “the cares and riches and pleasures of this life,” to choke the Word and make it unfruitful. And finally, pray constantly to God to give you more and more of that “honest and good heart,” which “having heard the Word keeps it and brings forth fruit with patience.”
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 9:42-48. Self-control and self-denial.—The whole passage is steeped in metaphor. No one is expected to take the scandal or trap of Mark 9:42-43; Mark 9:45 literally, or the ass-millstone or the flinging into the sea, or the Gehenna.Why, then, should we insist on taking literally either the hand or the foot of these verses, or even the inextinguishable fire? The principle which underlies them is, that a man had far better part with, lose, sacrifice, anything and everything else, however good it may be in itself or however dear, than suffer himself to be hindered in that service of truth and goodness in which he finds his true life, or that fidelity to Christ in which eternal life consists. It is not by mutilating the body, but only by a wise and resolute self-control, a wise and resolute rule of our own spirit, that we can maintain our loyalty to Him, and walk with even and steadfast foot in His ways. And if we find that in ourselves which hinders or makes us stumble in these ways, He would have us know that, unless we freely renounce it, there is that both in the righteousness and in the love of God which will kindle on it like a fire, and burn it out of us; yes, and burn us until we let it go.—S. Cox, D.D.
Destruction of evil.—The point to which our Lord really directs our thoughts is, that all that is evil in us, however closely it sits to the heart, must be destroyed; that not only in a future world of woe—which we might just as truly depict as all millstone and sea, as all worm and fire—but here and now, as well as then and there, the righteousness and love of God will burn against all unrighteousness of men, burn more keenly and inwardly and consumingly than any fire; that all in us which exalts itself against Him or stands in the way of our own perfection, or militates against the welfare of the world, will infallibly expose us to a discipline more dreadful and agonising than metaphor can convey or imagination conceive. The severity is part of the goodness of God.—Ibid.
Something better than acrimony.—Instead of acrimony against those who follow not with us, let us bend all our anger and resentment, all our bitterness and hostility, against our own lusts and sinful propensities, not sparing one of them, though they be as dear to us as the members of our bodies, as our hands, our feet, or our eyes, and however painful the amputation or mortification of them may be to us.—C. Seymour.
Mark 9:42. Skandala.—When we learn that it was John’s repulse of the man who had cast out demons which set our Lord on this theme, a light is thrown on the particular meaning of the word “skandala,” which I think was in our Lord’s mind—that, viz., of the checking others on their way to good, the throwing back on itself of the enthusiasm or warm affection which was beginning to flow, and the choking up of the heartsprings thereby. The man who had been casting out demons and was turned back because he did not follow with the apostles might have asked, “Would the scribes and Pharisees have treated me worse?” The revulsion might deaden his spiritual life.—H. Latham.
Stumbling-blocks.—To go where we should not go, to do what we should not do, to touch what we should not touch with hand or eye, tongue or foot; is to set one of these traps in motion. To lie in wait on any honest path, to forbid or condemn any good action, movement, teaching, to hinder men, to trip them up, to hold them back, when they are bent on the service of truth or going on any errand of mercy, is to be such a trap: it is to scandalise or set them stumbling. Better to die, better even to be hanged, than to become a trap, a drag, in the service of truth and goodness: a defender of the faith, for example, who, honestly intending its defence, nevertheless opposes its growth, retards, or even blights, its springing and germinant powers. The most capable and eminent servants of the truth in all ages have had to waste half their strength in breaking through these traps and snares. Don’t you be one of these traps, or even the tongue of a trap.—S. Cox, D.D.
We offend Christ’s little ones every time we give them, in place of gospel bread, the stones of human philosophy; or, in place of the nourishment of simple faith in Christ, the sting of some abstraction about which sectaries quarrel.
Where in our Lord’s teachings do you find stronger words than these?—He never denounced murder or unchastity or malice of any kind in stronger terms, and the reason is not far to seek. He who deliberately puts the occasion of falling in the way of Christ’s little ones is really committing a heinous sin; it is murder and suicide combined, for while he injures the soul of him who is weak and helpless, he is really destroying all that is pure and Christlike in his own nature.
Mark 9:43-48. The awfulness of hell.—In this and other passages Christ speaks of hell in terms far more solemn and terrible than any other prophet or messenger of God has done. Why is this?
1. Because He is emphatically the teacher of God’s truth in its fullest form, without reservation or concealment.
2. Because He alone has perfect knowledge on the subject of the eternal world.
3. Because of His infinite love. He paints hell in all its awfulness, to induce men to flee from the wrath to come and to seek refuge in Him.
Precautions against evil.—What precautions do we not take to avoid an infectious air, and to prevent a contagious distemper from spreading? How much greater reason have we to shun those persons who are to us an occasion of sin, were they, on the account of their advice, protection, and assistance, as dear to us as our hands, our feet, and our eyes? How much more still ought we to cut off all criminal, unprofitable, and dangerous use of our senses, our mind, and our body?—P. Quesnel.
Mark 9:44. The worm of remorse.—Who can conceive the torment of this gnawing worm, namely, of the eternal reproach of conscience, when a man shall reflect upon the graces and mercies of God which he has despised, and on the preference he has made of the shadow of a momentary happiness, before a substantial and eternal good, which is God Himself?—Ibid.
Mark 9:45. The cutting off of the foot is the breaking off all commerce with the world by a holy retirement, whenever it becomes necessary to salvation. To quit the occasions of falling is not a counsel of perfection, but a necessary duty, since salvation depends upon it.—Ibid.
Mark 9:49. The true sacrificial fire of self-denial and self-mortification in relation to the fiery flame of hell.
1. The relation: all must be salted with fire.
2. The contrast: to be prepared for the fire by salt, or to be salted with fire.—J. P. Lange, D.D.
The two fires.—We cannot escape the fire; but we have the choice between the fire of life and the fire of death.—Ibid.
1. Christians ought to be as spiritual sacrifices or oblations offered up to God in this life.
2. The ministry of the Word ought to be as salt to season men for God, and fit for His use and service.
3. As salt, being of a hot and dry nature, is apt to bite and fret the raw skin or flesh, so the Word of God, preached and applied to men’s consciences, is apt to cause pain and grief.—G. Petter.
Mark 9:50. Saltless salt.—Three times, in different connexions, this proverb is recorded in Christ’s teaching, in each case in reference to the failure of that which was excellent and hopeful. In St. Matthew it is applied generally to the influence of His new people on the world; in St. Mark to the danger to ourselves of the careless or selfish use of our personal influence; in St. Luke to the conditions of sincere discipleship. But in all cases it contemplates the possible failure of religion to do its perfect work.—Dean Church.
Deterioration.—There is such a thing as moral and spiritual decay—in standard, motive, devotion, sacrifice, goodness. What are the signs of it?
1. A lowered and attenuated ideal. Christ has little by little become almost a personal stranger. We have not consciously renounced Him, but have lagged so far behind in the journey that He is quite out of our sight and reach. 2. A growing indifference to all great enterprise for Christ.
3. A deepening indifference to truth for its own sake, though not infrequently accompanied with an augmenting fierceness of controversy and a spirit of partisanship in contending with those on the other side. Few forms of self-deceit are more treacherous or more hardening than that which thinks to contend for the truth without love.
4. Inconsistency in the use and enjoyment of what we understand by earthly and worldly things. To aim at both worlds is usually to end in enjoying neither.—Bishop Thorold.
True savour.—If we merely have the salt of good doctrine, without having the true savour and seasoning of personal godliness, we may become utterly worthless—like the waters of the “Dead Sea,” so called, whose waters receive a large quantity of salt, but which, by remaining stagnant, become so dense that nothing can live or grow in them.—S. Jenner.
Christians the salt of the earth.—It is for the best welfare of every nation and city on the face of the earth that the children of God should be in it, not merely for its spiritual welfare, but even that the blessing of God may descend upon it in earthly matters, the hand of God guiding and directing it. It is for the best interests both of this life and of the life to come that the children of God should pervade the earth from one end to another, and that the blessing of God should rest upon all men for their sakes. No doubt in the process of thus spreading through the earth the children of God may be persecuted and harassed and vexed; death may be their portion; their earthly goods may be spoiled at the hands of ungodly men; they may suffer for their faithfulness to Christ and to His cause. Are they not the liker to the salt which perishes in the very using, and is crushed into extinction simply by doing its work in the world? Let them be scattered abroad, therefore, come of them what may; and then, when the gospel shall have been preached in all the nations of the world, when there is something of this salt of the earth scattered everywhere, then we are told the end shall come, the world shall be ready for its blessing, ready for the presence of its God, ready to become the new heavens and the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.—A. Melvill, D.D.
Peace without, from purity within.—The meaning of the last clause in this verse is, that the strongest personal character is quite consistent with the gentlest Christian temper and behaviour. Christ intends to say, that His disciples not only may be calm and decided too; but that, if they are true ones, that is just what they will be.—S. Rickards.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 9
Mark 9:42. Wrong done to a child.—One of the most pathetic stories of the wrong done to children is, to my mind, that which a good man tells of his own childhood more than a hundred and fifty years ago. It was a Scotch Communion Sunday, and amidst the crowd who thronged to that solemn ordinance there came a boy of eight who managed to pass unnoticed into the church. He heard a part of the minister’s address, and tells us that he commended Christ in so sweet and delightful a manner that his heart was captivated. But just then a stern official caught sight of the young intruder, and indignantly bade him go out of the sanctuary, as though he had been some leprous Uzziah, instead of one of the lambs of Christ’s flock. The Church has not thought it worth while to preserve in grateful memory the name of that austere upholder of ecclesiastical discipline, but the boy he excommunicated lived to ennoble one of the commonest of common names, for he is known to us and to many as the saintly John Brown, of Haddington.
Mark 9:44. Future punishment.—Men in these times seem unwilling to hear of future punishment. They talk as if “a certain class of preachers” invented hell and kept it burning to enforce their precepts. I was in Naples in 1884, the year that cholera was epidemic. The Neapolitans accused the physicians of bringing the cholera. The physicians predicted it; they told the people that unless they cleaned up their city the scourge would come. They laid down rules and gave warning. So when the cholera came, the people thought the physicians brought it to intimidate them into washing themselves and keeping their back yards clean, so they threw stones at the physicians and drove them out of the city. These physicians had come to risk their lives for the ungrateful people who rejected them. Thus when preachers begin to talk of the scourge which will follow sin, the people—that is, some of them—begin to think the preachers are in some way responsible for this scourge. The preachers are assailed as cruel, fanatical, behind the times, and all that. Our Lord is a physician. He came and found the disease of sin and its fatal consequences here already. He did not bring them. He left His home to improve the sanitary condition of this world, to cleanse its filth. And in order to induce men to submit to His treatment, He warns them to flee from the wrath to come.—R. S. Barrett.
“Worm that dieth not.”—It has been discovered that there are worms which eat and live upon stone. Many such have been found in a freestone wall in Normandy. So there is a worm in hell—conscience—which lives upon the stony heart of the condemned sinners.
Hell in the present life.—A man may be in hell here as well as hereafter. No more striking illustration can be supplied than that of Lady Macbeth. After the murder of Banquo she cannot rest. She rises from her bed and walks about. She rubs and rubs, as if washing her hands, and continues it for a quarter of an hour. She fancies she sees a spot of blood on them. She cannot take it out; her hands will not be clean, and she cries, “Here’s the smell of the blood still; all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh! oh! oh!”
Mark 9:47. Danger prevented.—A blind man was once asked whether he had no desire that his sight should be restored to him; he answered boldly, “No; because Jesus says, ‘If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.’ God probably saw that mine eyes would offend me, so as to endanger my soul, and so He has prevented this great evil by plucking them out Himself; and I thank Him for it.”
Mark 9:50. Salt losing its savour.—A merchant of Sidon, having farmed of the government the revenue from the importation of salt, brought over an immense quantity from the marshes of Cyprus—enough, in fact, to supply the whole province for at least twenty years. This he transferred to the mountains, to cheat the government out of some small percentage. Sixty-five houses were rented and filled with salt. These houses had merely earthrn floors, and the salt next the ground in a few years entirely spoiled. I saw large quantities of it literally thrown into the street, to be trodden underfoot of men and beasts. It was “good for nothing.”—Wm. Thomson, D.D.
Salt and peace.—Every one who has sojourned in the East has some story to tell of the sacredness attached by Arabs to a compact which has been ratified by salt; how the man who one day would have plundered you of all will the next day sacrifice everything he values, if need be, if in the meantime you have tasted his salt. Some think that in this verse our Lord refers to this well-known fact. An unseemly quarrel had taken place amongst His disciples: “What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? But they held their peace; for by the way they had disputed among themselves who should be greatest.” The very children of the desert teach the disciples a lesson. They had been brought “into the bond of the covenant”; they had eaten of the “king’s salt”; had been “salted with the salt of the palace” (Ezra 4:14). How can they dispute who are bound by the most solemn obligations to perpetual amity and love?