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I. Christian doctrine applicable to all classes of men.
II. Christian doctrine calculated to excite the profoundest surprise.
III. Christian doctrine always conveying the impression of unique power.
IV. Christian doctrine showing the magnificence of the personality of its teachers.
Parker, City Temple, 1871, p. 95.
References: Mark 6:1-6 . Parker, Christian Commonwealth, vol. vii., p. 575; H. M. Luckock, Footprints of the Son of Man, p. 119.
Does Labour block the way.
I. "Is not this mighty worker and wise teacher a carpenter?" Well, and what then? Skill in handling the plane and driving the saw does not expel wisdom from the speech, love from the heart and beauty from the life. "Carpenter" though He be, "never man spake like this Man." It is undeniable, that the Nazareth artisan is the true King of the ages, and the rightful Lord of the souls of men.
II. The disaffected Nazarenes might have dispelled their passion-fed prejudice by simply recalling the leading names of their typical history. In the beginning God had set the stamp of His approval on human labour, and all along had chosen as the chief toilers for the higher and spiritual welfare of Israel and the world, those who were devoted to useful handicrafts or pastoral pursuits.
III. It would be unfair to treat this jaundiced jeer, this outburst of the lowest and rudest thought of Galilee, as though it expressed the prevalent Jewish idea of labour. Far from it. Handicrafts were specially honoured amongst the Jews, and the occupants of the highest posts of learning and tuition were most familiar with the lower forms of human toil.
IV. It is from the fullest life ever lived, a life unequalled in its sweet dignity and familiarity, tender strength and daring meekness, a life from which the moral grandeur never departs it is from it we get the strongest witness that labour does not block the way to manhood. That life is set deep in the forests of human toil. So far as we know, Christ left the bench of the carpenter for the post of Teacher and Reformer. His work was His college. "He learnt obedience by the things which He suffered," and acquired fitness for His ministry of brief but measureless energy, tender pathos, broad sympathies, and heroic self-sacrifice. The lowliest tasks well done are the best preparations for helpful ministries to the world.
V. Let us beware of the strong illusion which resides in the commonplace. Familiarity with Jesus as the son of Mary and brother of Joses, as playmate and fellow-workman, closed the eyes of the Nazarenes to the spiritual meaning of His life. This is the Carpenter indeed, but God is in Him to save the whole life of all men. Trust Him, love Him, and be like Him.
J. Clifford, The Dawn of Manhood, p. 20.
Reference: Mark 6:2 , Mark 6:3 . Parker, Hidden Springs, p. 314.
The Holiness of Common Life.
I. The holiest of men may to all outward eyes appear exactly like other people. For in what does holiness consist but in a due fulfilment of the relative duties of our state in life, and in spiritual fellowship with God. Now the relative duties of life are universal. Every man has his own. That which makes one man to differ from another is not so much what things he does, as his manner of doing them. Two men, the most opposite in character, may dwell side by side, and do the very same daily acts, but in the sight of God be as far apart as light and darkness.
II. True holiness is not made up of extraordinary acts. For the greater part of men, the most favourable description of holiness will be found exactly to coincide with the ordinary path of duty, and it will be most surely promoted by repressing the wanderings of ambition, in which we frame to ourselves states of mind and habits of devotion remote from our actual lot, and by spending all our strength in those things, great or small, pleasing or unpalatable, which belong to our calling and position.
III. Any man, whatever be his outward circumstances of life, may reach to the highest point of devotion. In all ages the saints of the Church have been mingled in all the duties and toils of life, until age or the events of Providence set them free. There was nothing uncommon about most of them but their holiness. Their very lot in life ministered to them occasions of obedience and humiliation. They sought God fervently in the turmoil of homes and armies and camps and courts; and He revealed Himself to them in love, and became the centre about which they moved, and the rest of all their affections. Let us whose lot is cast in these latter times, when the Church has once more become almost hidden in the world, be of the holy fellowship of Him who to the eyes of men was only the carpenter, but in the eyes of God was the very Christ. Let us look well to our daily duties. The least of them is a wholesome discipline of humiliation; if, indeed, anything can be little which may be done for God.
H. E. Manning, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 220.
References: Mark 6:3 . W. Dorling, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 232; J. Johnston, Christian World Pulpit, vol. x., p. 85; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 164.
The text contains two remarkable instances, in a short space, of the manner in which the feelings and circumstances of men are ascribed to God in the Scriptures. It is said of Him who is Almighty, that He could there do no mighty work; it is said of Him to whom all things were known, that He marvelled because of their unbelief. It is very easy to see that these expressions are mere figures of speech; that Christ did not want the power to do miracles at Nazareth, but that there were some strong reasons for His not doing them, that it was, therefore, impossible for Him to work any; that He did not really marvel at their unbelief, but that it was so strange and unreasonable, that anyone except Him, to whom all hearts are open, might fairly have wondered at it.
I. But it is not on this account that I have chosen for my text this passage of the Scriptures; it contains another and much more important lesson. When it says that Christ could do no mighty work in Nazareth because of the unbelief of the people, it shows us how our sins defeat the gracious purposes of God towards us; how we hinder Him, in a manner, from doing what He wishes for our good; how we make it impossible for Him to avoid punishing us, although He has no pleasure at all in the death of the wicked, but rather that he should turn from his ways and live.
II. What is it that hinders us individually from finding in the Gospel all that we ought to find in it, or from experiencing in life a greater share of those comforts which God has promised to give to His people? What is become of the blessings which Christ has promised upon our hearty prayers; or of His assurance that where two or three are gathered together in His name, there is He in the midst of them? What should become of them, when we come here in a spirit of unbelief, so that our prayers are anything but the prayers of faith? God cannot make His good things plain to us if our hearts are hardened; nor can He show forth in us the mighty works of His grace, if He finds in us nothing but a dull and evil heart of unbelief.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. i., p. 75.
Reference: Mark 6:5 . J. Vaughan, Sermons, 7th series, p. 70.
I. refutes the notion that where there is a true ministry there will be great success.
II. Shows the tremendous difficulties which the human will can oppose to the purposes of God.
III. Justifies the true worker in leaving the sphere in which he has been unsuccessful, to carry on his work under more favourable circumstances. Parker, City Temple, 1871, p. 95.
I. Let us consider the nature of unbelief. What is it? The word, so translated, will be found twelve times in the New Testament, and always in one signification. In its fullest sense, of course, it only exists in lands where men enjoy the light of revelation. Where there is little known there can be little unbelief. It consists in not believing something or other that God has said, some warning that He gave, some promise that He held out, some advice that He offers, some judgment that He threatens, some message that He sends. In short, to refuse to admit the truth of God's revealed word, and to live as if we did not think that Word was to be depended on, is the essence of unbelief.
II. Let us now inquire why and wherefore unbelief is so wonderful. What is there in it that made even the Lord Jesus the Son of God marvel? (1) For one thing unbelief is a spiritual disease peculiar to Adam's children, it is a habit of soul entirely confined to man. Angels in heaven above, and fallen spirits in hell beneath, saints waiting for the resurrection in Paradise, lost sinners waiting for the last judgment in that awful place where the worm never dies, and the fire is not quenched, all these have one point, in common, they all believe. Surely a habit of soul, so absolutely, entirely confined to living man, may well be called marvellous. (2) For another thing unbelief is marvellous when you consider its arrogance and presumption. For, after all, how little the wisest of men know, and none are more ready to confess it than themselves. How enormously ignorant the greater part of mankind are if you come to examine the measure of their knowledge. When a man says he is troubled with sceptical and unbelieving feelings about Christianity, while he has probably never studied a dozen pages of Paley, or Butler, or Chalmers, or Bishop Nelson, and never thought deeply about religion at all, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that one of the most curious things in much unbelief is its wonderful self-conceit. (3) For another thing unbelief is marvellous when you consider its unfairness and one-sidedness. Who has not known that some of the minor facts and miracles of the Bible are the ostensible reasons which many assign why they cannot receive the book as true, and make it their rule of faith and practice. And all this time they refuse to look at three great facts: the historical person Jesus Christ, the Bible itself, and the amazing change which has taken place in the state of the world before Christianity and since Christianity. (4) Unbelief is marvellous when you consider how the vast majority of those who profess it, drop it, and give it up at last. Few of us, perhaps, have the least idea how seldom any man leaves the world an unbeliever. If those who profess to deny revelation generally died happy deaths, and left the world in great peace and joy, holding their opinions to the last, we might well expect them to have followers. But when, on the contrary, it is the rarest thing to see an unbeliever dying calmly in unbelief, and giving no sign of discomfort, while the vast majority of unbelievers throw down their arms at last, and seek for the very religious consolation which they once affected to despise, it is impossible to avoid one broad conclusion. That conclusion is, that of all spiritual diseases by which fallen man is affected, there is none so truly marvellous and unreasonable as unbelief.
Bishop Ryle, Oxford Undergraduates' Journal, May 27th, 1880.
References: Mark 6:6 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi., No. 935; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 262; Bishop Ryle, Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 36; G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 142; Homilist, vol. vi., p. 199. Mark 6:7-13 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 253; H. M. Luckock, Footprints of the Son of Man, p. 129; A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 99. Mark 6:7-30 . W. Hanna, Our Lord's Life on Earth, p. 205.Mark 6:12 . Todd, Lectures to Children, p. 9. Mark 6:14 . Homiletic Magazine, vol. xiii., p. 41.Mark 6:14-16 . W. Walters, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx., p. 42.Mark 6:14-29 . R. S. Candlish, Scripture Characters and Miscellanies, p. 137; H. M. Luckock, Footprints of the Son of Man, p. 129; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx., p. 72.Mark 6:16 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 358; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 534.Mark 6:17 . Homiletic Magazine, vol. xi., p. 235.Mark 6:17 , Mark 6:18 . Ibid., p. 49.
The Peril of playing with Spiritual Convictions.
I. There is no greater peril than that of amusing ourselves with God's truth, taking pleasure in hearing it, in joining in discussions about religion and objects connected therewith, yet not making it the rule of action, or really doing anything to promote those objects. The story of Herod which the text brings before us contains a remarkable instance of this. We can quite imagine with what emotions of alarm the lewd king may have heard the tale of the wild unearthly man, with his proclamation of a heavenly kingdom at hand, to whom the whole nation flocked. His own looseness of morals and living would predispose him to be struck by the severe, self-mortified life, which the Baptist led. His own violation of Divine and human law stood rebuked by the presence of that man, holy and just. The impure Herod saw in John one whom the shadows of eternity appeared visibly to encircle. To hear of him was as it were to enter into the cloud, and as he entered, he feared.
II. "He did many things." Ah! it is just at this point that the whole history becomes so intensely practical. What those many things were which Herod amended at the bidding of John we vainly surmise. A few of the grosser corruptions of his foul course were perchance removed, or it may be John could hold back the stubborn king in some one occasional act of cruelty, or persuade him to pay some outward attention to the outward worship of God; but he could not, did not turn him to a thorough reformation of his own life. The only voice which had ever stirred the better spirit within him was quenched in blood, and the last state became worse than the first.
III. From Herod's history we learn (1) how it may happen that a man who has manifested a certain interest in and deference to religion will yet turn against religion when it assails his cherished idol. (2) How religious instruction, when not honestly followed out, becomes itself a snare.
J. R. Woodford, Sermons on Subjects from the New Testament, p. 26.
References: Mark 6:20 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi., No. 347 vol. xxvi., No. 1548; Expositor, 1st series, vol. vii., p. 136; A. Barry, Cheltenham College Sermons, p. 229. Mark 6:21 Homiletic Magazine, vol. xiii., p. 148. Mark 6:22 . Expositor, 1st series, vol. vii., p. 133.Mark 6:25 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 25; Outline Sermons to Children, p. 143.
Let us briefly examine the plea set up by Herod in the case before us. It was twofold.
I. The first was for his oath's sake. In a moment of hasty excitement he had rashly promised on oath to give the girl whatever she would ask; and therefore he fancied himself bound to do as he had solemnly sworn. Now this would have been a valid plea if he had had any right to make such an oath, or if the thing required of him had been in itself indifferent. But as the case stands, he is only giving one sin as a reason for the commission of another. There is nothing in morals that can be plainer than this: that where there is an obligation of a higher and of a lower kind seeking to oppose each other, the lower must invariably yield to the higher, and not the higher to the lower one. No oath, however solemnly sworn, can bind a man to commit sin.
II. But if this plea will not stand, still less will the other that is alleged, and "for their sakes that were with him." Who was to blame for their being there, and who were they that they should give laws to him, and absolve him from the higher law of God? Morality is not a fluctuating thing, a thing to be regulated like the climate, by the latitude of the place, or to vary with the character of the different companies into which we may chance to be thrown. It is the will of God, and like God, it is unchangeable and eternal. Truth is truth and a lie is a lie, no matter who is within hearing; holiness is holiness, and sin is sin, no matter who beholds it; and the companions by whom we surround ourselves, however much they may change our feelings in the commission of sin, cannot change the nature of the sin itself. We will venture to say that, if the monarch had only declared that it was impossible to grant such a request, there was enough of reverence for God's law and human right in each of their breasts as at once to approve the deed, and Herod would have stood forth before them all a greater man than they had yet imagined him to be. In conclusion, note a few lessons from this interesting subject. (1)
Beware of the beginning of sin. It was this which so fettered Herod here, and gave such power to his plea of necessity for committing gross sin. (2) Beware of the companions with whom you connect yourselves. Say No. Learn to say it with emphasis, and soon you will rise so high in the esteem, even of sinners, that they will cease to torment you, and leave you to take the course your Saviour has marked out for you. (3) Above all, seek to have a saving interest in Jesus Christ, and the constant indwelling of His Spirit in your hearts.
W. M. Taylor, Life Truths, p. 163.
References: Mark 6:26 . R. S. Candlish, Scripture Characters and Miscellanies, pp. 156, 177. R. W. Evans, Parochial Sermons, vol. i., p. 218. Mark 6:26 , Mark 6:27 . J. Vaughan, Sermons, 10th series, p. 53.
Talking it over with Christ.
They had been for some time separated from Christ. It was necessary in order to their becoming healthy and stalwart Christ's men, that they should not continue for ever at Christ's side, but that with something of Him, something of His principles, His Spirit, His wisdom and grace, sown and sunk in them, they should begin to exercise at a distance from Him, clear of the support of His mighty personality.
I. But the Apostles have now returned from the excursion, and are found gathering "together to Him, to tell Him all things, both what they have done and what they have taught." And how beautiful the readiness, the bold unshrinking readiness, they show to rehearse their proceedings at His feet, and to go over the whole story with Him. How suggestive of the patience, the tenderness, the thoughtful forbearance and sympathy, with which he had habitually treated them, and in reliance on which they had learned to be frank and free in exposing themselves before Him had learned not to be afraid to tell Him everything.
II. A review of our activities especially when we have been engaged in any earnest serious work, and even at the close of any period of occupation and effort a review of our activities is always desirable, and often of great importance and value. It reveals points, sometimes of much interest and moment, in connection with them which otherwise would never be observed. We miss the divinely intended lessons and admonitions of our activities unless we review them. They throw off continually indications, revelations of ourselves, which we must look back to see.
III. The Apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus. They brought their activities into the light of His presence; and was not that the very best thing they could do, if they wanted to estimate them rightly and to understand and profit by their teaching? Happy is he whose custom and whose comfort it is to go in to the Lord from time to time, for the purpose of showing Him all things, and reviewing and pondering His life before Him. Let us seek to do this. We shall find the rich help and benefit of it; and our sufficient strength for it will be found in the remembrance that He to whom we are to speak freely is our Father.
S. A. Tipple, Echoes of Spoken Words, p. 43.
Devotion possible in the Busiest Life.
We may learn from our Lord's life of toil, that there is nothing in a life of perpetual labour to hinder our attaining to the highest measure of perfection. There was never any one whose life was fuller of endless employments, or more broken by countless interruptions than His. This may show us that the most laborious may be the holiest of saints. There are, however, two objections which may be made against this example. One is that He, being sinless, must needs be independent of the means and conditions on which holiness depends in us, and therefore could suffer no obstruction by the multitude of His employments. The other is, that His work was not secular but sacred. One answer will suffice for both these objections.
I. It is true that He, being sinless, must necessarily be beyond the power of the worldly hindrances which obstruct a life of devotion to us. But is there not something really unsound in the idea that anything which is our duty in life can be an obstruction to any other duty? Surely the truth must be, that whatsoever in our daily life is lawful and right for us to be engaged in, is itself a part of our obedience to God; a part, that is, of our very religion! A life of devotion does not mean a life of separation from active duties, but the discharge of all offices, high or low, from the most sacred and elevated to the most secular and menial, in a devout spirit.
II. But we may go farther, and say not only that the duties of life, be they never so toilsome and distracting, are no obstructions to a life of any degree of inward holiness, but that they are even direct means, when rightly used, to promote our sanctification. The weariness, crosses, disappointments, vexations, which arise in our daily tasks; the early hours and late; the crowding and thronging of the multitude all these are but as the dust, ashes, and sackcloth of our just humiliation.
III. Another benefit in continual employment is, that it acts as a great check upon the temptations which beset an unoccupied and disengaged man. Next to prayer and a life of devotional habits there is nothing that keeps the heart so pure, and the will so strong and steadfast, as a life of continual duty.
H. E. Manning, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 305.
References: Mark 6:30-32 . A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 107; W. Hanna, Our Lord's Life on Earth, p. 214.Mark 6:30-34 . H. M. Luckock, Footprints of the Son of Man, p. 134.Mark 6:30-37 . J. W. Burn, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx., p. 36.
The Marvellous Meal.
I. The disciples had been away from Jesus, on their first missionary tour, journeying on foot from town to town, preaching what He had taught them, and working miracles with the power which He had bestowed. When they returned, they had much to tell and to ask; and the Lord, seeing them in need of quiet and rest, said to them, "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile." Jesus must have needed rest as much as they did, for we are told "there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat." But it was not of Himself he thought, but of His disciples. Do you wish to be a real disciple of the Lord Jesus really like Him? Then there is nothing you must more earnestly seek than this, to be unselfish. We cannot overcome selfishness in our own strength, but we may in His of whom it is written, "Even Christ pleased not Himself."
II. The hot noon has passed; the afternoon is wearing away; and the mountain shadows point towards us across the lake. Many of the people are sitting or lying on the grass, faint with hunger and fatigue. The disciples at last come to their Master and ask if He will not send the people away, that they may go into the villages and buy food, before the sun sets and night comes on. To their amazement, Jesus answers, "They need not depart; give ye them to eat." The Lord bade them see what they could find. They brought word that there was a lad who had in his basket five cakes of barley bread and two small salted fish. "Bring them (said Jesus) hither to Me." I wonder whether the lad objected to give up his basket, and whether the disciples paid him for it, or whether he gladly gave it as soon as he knew that the Lord asked it. If so, what an honour and happiness for him to supply the provision out of which the Lord fed all that multitude. He was repaid, as money could not have paid him. Doubtless, the Lord Jesus took care he should be no loser by yielding up his little store.
III. "They did all eat and were filled." It was a very plain meal, only barley-cake and salt fish, with a draught of clear water from some cool mountain brook. Yet for the poorest and most friendless among the five thousand on the hillside healed by the touch, taught by the lips, fed by the hand of Jesus, it would have been a poor exchange to have changed places with king Herod in his palace, or with the great emperor of Rome, Tiberius Cæsar himself.
E. R. Conder, Drops and Rocks, p. 224.
Christian Work and Christian Rest.
I. With all our Lord's constant activity in doing good, let us hear the words of this text, "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while." We know from other places in the Gospels, of what rest our Lord was here speaking, and how He employed these hours of retirement and solitude. No doubt, partaking as He did of the bodily infirmities of our nature, He required rest literally and in the simplest sense of the word; and no doubt also that such periods of rest and entire refreshment are not only allowable, but useful and even necessary. Let Christ show us how we may refresh our bodies and minds without letting our souls suffer; how we may return from such retirement, strengthened alike in body and in mind, for the work that is set before us. These times, which our Lord passed in a desert place, generally among the mountains that rise at some little distance from the shores of the Sea of Galilee, were His favourite times of prayer and meditation. He who as God worked and does work for ever, yet as a man and for our example thought it right to vary His active labours with intervals of religious rest.
II. Here, then, in three parts of the text in the zeal with which our Lord pursued His work, in the particular nature of it, and in the rest with which He thought fit from time to time to vary it there is matter of special improvement for three classes of persons. The zeal with which He pursued His work, so that they had no leisure so much as to eat, is an example for that most numerous class who are merely following their pleasure, or who, if obliged to work, yet work unwillingly and grudgingly. The particular nature of Christ's work is an example and a warning for those who, like the ground choked with thorns, are working indeed, and working zealously, but whose work is never of the same sort as Christ's: it is worldly in its beginning and worldly also in its end. And in the rest which Christ took from time to time, and the uses which He made of it, even they who are actually labouring in His service may learn how alone their labour may be blessed to themselves as well as to others; how their work may indeed be such as that when they fail in this world they may be received into the everlasting habitations of God.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 150.
We learn from the text a lesson of zeal in the discharge of our daily duties. "For there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat."
I. There are some dispositions which, from absolute indolence, seem to be zealous about nothing whatever persons who appear neither to care about business or pleasure, who cannot be roused to take an active interest in anything. These are characters which exist, and which we must all have sometimes met with; but they are not common, neither are they very dangerous, because the general feeling of men is apt to despise them as stupid and insensible. A much more common case is that of persons who like some things exceedingly and are all alive whenever they happen to be engaged in them; but who do not like their common employment, and display about that no interest at all. This is a very common case, for it rarely happens that our employment is the very one which we should most choose, or the one which we most choose at this particular time, or under these particular circumstances.
II. True it is that we cannot do heartily what we dislike; but it is no less true that we may learn if we will to like many things which we at present dislike; and the real guilt of idleness consists in its refusal to go through this discipline. I might speak of the well known force of habit in reconciling us to what is most unwelcome to us; that, by mere perseverance, what was at first very hard becomes first a little less so, then much less so, and at last so easy that, according to a well known law of our faculties, it becomes a pleasure to us to do it. But although perseverance will certainly do this, what is to make us so persevering? If we go through the discipline it will cure us, but what can engage us to give it a fair trial? And here it is that I would bring in the power of Christ's example; here it is that the grace of God, through Christ, will give us the victory. The Son of God pleased not Himself, and who are we who do not deny ourselves? His creatures, who owe everything to His goodness, and yet day by day are unworthy of it: His creatures, who, offending Him every hour, are yet impatient of anything but pleasure at His hands; who, with so much of that guilt for which He was pleased to be crucified, are yet unwilling to submit to that discipline which His pure and spotless soul endured cheerfully for no need of His own, but for our sakes.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 157.
The Religious Life.
I. The life of Christ was a busy life. The great work of redemption was so pre-eminently the work of Christ's life, that we sometimes lose sight of the enormous and ceaseless work which He accomplished daily in teaching, in healing disease, in travelling from place to place, so that, on some occasions, "He had no time so much as to eat," and was so fatigued at night that amidst a storm He slept soundly in a boat on the Galilean Sea. Thus the life of Christ was a life of earnest and active work. We can well imagine how the spotless holiness of Jesus of Nazareth consecrated every labour and hallowed every social scene. To many this will seem a complete type of the religious life. "Do your work honestly," say they; "enter into the pleasures of life soberly, and there is no need for any special reverence or any extraordinary means of spiritual culture."
II. But if we read our Master's life carefully we see that there is another side to it. There were periods when He felt that He needed rest, retirement, struggle, prayer. Again and again He goes apart a while to the stillness of the garden, or to the solemn loneliness of the mountain-side. He would retire at intervals from the wear and tear and weariness of public life, and in meditation, and solitude, and prayer, would strengthen His spiritual nature would deepen that hunger and thirst in His Divine soul for which the meat and drink were the doing of His Father's will.
III. Our great duty at present is life. It is to live that God gives us energy of mind and body. Every one of us who knows even a little of the internal side of this great mass of human life, amid which our lot is cast, must feel deeply convinced that if all true and honest men, and all true and pure women, were to withdraw themselves from the world, it would be the taking away of the very salt which is preserving it from decay. While we thus go into life, however, let us remember how hard is the battle, how wearing and exhausting to our better nature are the passions and strifes amid which we have to move. Let us remember how this tends to weaken our spiritual strength, to enervate our spiritual life. We need seasons when the Master calls us, as His disciples, to come apart with Him and rest a while.
T. T. Shore, The Life of the World to Come, p. 52.
I. The great horror, which followed upon so base a crime as the murder of John Baptist, might have seemed, perhaps, to us to suggest that his death was the very moment for our Lord and His disciples to step out, to denounce at once the tyrant himself, and the sin and luxury of the upper classes; and, with the blood of the martyr before them, to commence a new cycle of preaching with a new prospect of success. But not so our Lord thought. From what He said and did, which was so very different, even we, in such different times, and in such quiet walks of life as ours, may perhaps learn some lesson for today. He received the news, and His only utterance seems to have been: "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while." The teaching of nature, God's voice in the beauty of the wilderness that seems to have been their healing and their strength.
II. The bidding would, while all obeyed it, awake different echoes in different hearts; some, perhaps, would understand it as He meant it, some would be only too willing to hide their sadness and their despair of anything good coming out of a land where the regenerators of society were marked for early doom, some in the sense of strength unused and courage unbroken would think (except that they trusted Him) that they were losing time. Had He not seriously said to them that they must work while it is called day because of the approach of that night in which no work can be done?
III. It is with feelings various as these that we look often on the rest of Death: some seem to reach such fulness of wisdom and sagacity, the rashness of youth gone and yet its courage left, the inexperience to which all seemed easy succeeded by the experience which has learnt that difficulties abound almost impregnable unless approached by the one access to their citadel. They see the moment come for some decisive step, and who so fit as they to take it? And even then, in the wisdom of God, though to our baffling, is the moment when such men are taken from the world. Who can conceive why that is the very hour when God says to them: "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while?" We cannot realise the secret and the mystery of that place whither they go; but they find there Christ and the Apostles still, resting a while until the day of their recompensing work arrive.
Archbishop Benson, Boy Life: Sundays in Wellington College, p. 156.
The Saviour counsels retirement. He addresses the privileged Twelve; and recommends, proposes, will Himself lead and accompany, a withdrawal, a retreat, a seclusion from scenes and engagements and enjoyments too, which were in their own nature harmless, full of advantage to the persons busied in them, and to thousands and tens of thousands beside and beyond themselves. Jesus said to His disciples: "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while." When we compare St. Mark's with St. Matthew's narrative of this retirement we shall find three reasons for it.
I. St. Matthew expressly connects it with the tidings of the Baptist's martyrdom. John's disciples buried the corpse, and went and told Jesus. And "when Jesus heard of it, He departed thence by ship into a desert place apart." Read in this the Saviour's warrant for our mourning in the loss of friends. A near kinsman has been cut off by a sudden, a violent death. Was not Christ one with us in feeling it? Was He not here reproving by His example that stoical or that hyper-spiritual view of bereavement which would forbid the tear to flow, or the heart to ache, because it is God's will, or because death is the gate of life.
II. St. Mark gives us a second reason for the retirement counselled in the text. He connects it with the return of the Apostles from a mission described in earlier verses of the chapter. Christ receives them with an invitation to solitude, as though He saw that the excitement of a special service needed its counteraction; that there was something in them of a spiritual elation akin to self-complacency, if not to self-glorying requiring, therefore, that discipline not always for the present joyous, of a wilderness sojourn, literal or figurative, by which the soul recovers its juster, healthier estimate of greatness and littleness, of itself and God.
III. There is yet one third reason for this retirement, and St. Mark suggests it in the clause following the text: "For there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat." The mere unrest of that busy life created the necessity of retirement. The mere business of a life is reason enough for its resting. The mere coming and going of many who want and seek and would employ this life, is enough in the mind of the holy and compassionate Lord to demand intervals of repose and recreation. How much more when there is taken also into the reckoning what an over-tasked and over-taxed life of necessity must be, in reference to the higher interests to the well being of the soul.
C. J. Vaughan, Words of Hope, p. 247.
I. The Apostles' mission was ended. Such special efforts must begin and end. Neither for the worker's sake, nor for the sake of those worked upon, is it expedient that they should be other than temporary. The kind Saviour saw that the whole mission had been a heavy pull on their energies, both of body and mind. He saw that they were wrought up to a pitch of excitement; He saw they needed rest after toil, and quiet after excitement; He knew where they would get these not by sitting still and doing nothing for a space amid the throng of men coming and going not there: they must get apart to the calm seclusion of nature, where green hills and green trees and rippling streams should speak to their heart. Much grass humblest, commonest, most beautiful of all vegetation would pour its gentle refreshment into weary eye and aching brain. And so our blessed Redeemer's words are to the outworn, wrought-up Apostles: "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while."
II. Far more needful now has the counsel grown which is set forth in my text. Never, in the history of this country, have there been days in which the work of cultured men was so hard, so eager, so exhausting, so perilous, to fagged brain and nerves, to fevered soul and spirit. If Christ were here as of old He would say such words as those of my text. "Come away from this crowd of human beings, come away from this overpressure and hurry of engagements; come away to a desert place, to the silent hills, to the lonely shore; come and rest a while: you need quiet that you may see your way.
III. One wonders how our Redeemer and His Apostles would rest. Probably as other wearied men would. At first pure idleness. To the worn-out that is absolute rest. For a while it would be delightful just to do nothing. But after a little time that will not do. Let every weary mortal, entering on his resting-time, provide some occupation for it. And finally, if you would enjoy rest, if you would come back with a soul set right; wiser, calmer, more hopeful, more charitable; to do your work better and more cheerfully, to bear with less irritation the provocations which all earnest people will know all who desire to mend things and folk around them, see to it that you make the resting-time a time of distinct religious discipline.
A. K. H. B., Graver Thoughts of a Country Parson, 3rd series, p. 1.
Seclusions with Christ.
The world is too much with us. For some purposes it cannot be too much with us. With it, and in it, lies our work. To encourage the activities, to direct the energies, to foster the interests, of a little fragment of our generation this is one of the highest works given to any man; to go out of the world would be to desert the post assigned, and to do despite to the wisdom which has assigned it. And yet the world may be too much with us.
I. There are some influences of the world which need a strong counteraction. One of these is irritation; it is scarcely possible for a man to go through a long day of business without some trial of temper. (2) Another evil influence is worldliness.
II. Out of these plain and everyday experiences of all springs, as of course, the qualifying and correcting necessity "Come ye yourselves into a desert place, and rest a while." This seclusion may be either periodical or occasional. (1) By a wise and merciful ordinance of God's providence, all of us are taken aside, as it were, from the multitude in almost one-half of our earthly being. I speak not now of the ordinances of religion, but of appointments of nature. Think what night is, and then say what we should be without it. Think of its compulsory withdrawal from the exciting contests, the angry recriminations, the fallacious ambitions, the frivolous vanities, which belong to a day and to a multitude! Think of its natural tendency to recall the thought of dependence and of creatureship; to remind us of Him with whom darkness and light are alike, and who Himself neither slumbereth nor sleepeth. Where should we be, the best of us, if nature did not thus play unto the hands of grace?
III. And so we pass from the periodical to the occasional. God's grace has many sinkings; It despises no method as insignificant, it overlooks, we believe, no person as beneath its notice. Upon one Christ tries His hand of healing thus, and upon another thus adapting Himself with nicest discrimination to the antecedents, to the circumstances, to the character and to the life. But one thing you will always find He begins by taking him aside from the multitude, saying, "Come apart for a while with Me." Nothing can be done without that. Go aside with Christ now, and then there shall be no surprise, and no confusion, and no misgiving, if, when He comes for us, He even come suddenly, calling us to arise and follow Him through the pangs of a most suffering or a most startling death.
C. J. Vaughan, Last Words at Doncaster, p. 259.
The Christian Uses of Leisure.
I. One element of rest to be cultivated in leisure is communion with outward nature.
II. Another is intercourse with fellow-Christians.
III. A third is a closer converse with Christ Himself.
J. Ker, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 146.
References: Mark 6:31 . S. Leathes, Truth and Life, p. 134; J. F. Kitto, Church of England Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 129; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 243; E. W. Shalders, Ibid., vol. xiii., p. 195; A. Rowland, Ibid., vol. xxix, p. 332; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 255.Mark 6:31-34 . Ibid., vol. iii., p. 291.Mark 6:33-44 . A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 120.
I. The spirit and object of our Lord's teaching are given in the words of my text. His teaching is the teaching of a merciful Saviour, and its spirit is compassion and tenderness. "When He saw the people, He was moved with compassion toward them." And its object is to save that which was lost; because they were as sheep not having a shepherd; therefore He was moved with compassion toward them, and began to teach them many things. It is not to make the wise wiser, or the good better, but to save those that were lost, to call the sinner to repentance. "The whole," said He, "need not a physician." By which and other such words, our Lord meant to show, that in order to take this teaching rightly, we must know ourselves to be such as we really are, and such as His teaching supposes us to be. That is, in coming to Him, we must not fancy that we have a knowledge and a goodness, imperfect indeed, but yet of some value, and requiring only to be improved and strengthened. We must come to Him as being sheep without a shepherd, sheep gone astray; as sick men needing a physician these are His own figures; or, without a figure, we must come to Him as having no knowledge as to the great matter of saving our souls; as having no goodness that can abide God's judgment.
II. Consider what it is to be looked on by Christ, our most merciful Saviour, with compassion. There is an evil about us, then, which we dream not of; a danger which we do not at all suspect. If Christ looks on us with compassion, ought we not to be afraid? Again, Christ looks on us with pity; we have been very ungrateful to Him; very unheeding; He has called, but we would not answer, yet still His look is one of pity. It might well be a look of anger, of judgment, but it is a look of compassion. That is, He still cares for us, He would that we should not perish, He would still be our Saviour. Let any one consider what it is to be so regarded by his Saviour, and then can he help turning to Him? When we turn He is ready to teach us many things; even the whole counsel of God.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. v., p. 178.
References: Mark 6:34 . C. Kingsley, Town and Country Sermons, p. 219. Mark 6:35-44 . E. R. Conder, Drops and Rocks, p. 224.Mark 6:38 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. viii., p. 144.
I. The need which comes to men of simply being fed by God, of ceasing from forth-puttingness and self-assertion, and simply being receptive to the influences which come to them from Divinity.
II. Two lessons come to us out of the scene. (1) Seek your life's nourishment in your life's work. (2) Make your most restful contemplation and your most receptive listening at the feet of God, not to be mere spiritual luxuries, but to be forms and modes of action.
Phillips Brooks, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 122.
The Disciples in the Storm.
The whole of this narrative is historical; all literally took place eighteen centuries ago; but at the same time this page of the Gospel is like a sublime parable whose minutest features comprise a teaching for all ages, and which is wonderfully adapted to sustain the faith of believers today.
I. What is it which so often troubles our faith in the Divine promises? It is the fact that God does not direct events and things for the triumph of His cause, and that that cause seems often to be vanquished by fatality. This is a contradiction which confounds us. God wants truth to prevail; He commands His Church to announce it to the world; His design is here express and manifest; and when, to serve Him, His Church puts itself to the work, God permits circumstances to array themselves against it and hinder it. We forget that Christ overcame the world only by raising against Him all its resistance; that the Cross has been a sign of triumph only because it has been an instrument of punishment, and that in its apparent impotence and ignominy we must at all times seek the secret of its power and of its invincible attraction.
II. History is like a night stretching across the ages; in all times believers are called to wait for God's intervention, but God delays to come, and that is the supreme trial of faith greater, perhaps, than the opposition of men and even of persecution. Often Christ appears to humanity as a phantom. That pure and holy image has often awoke in those who beheld Him for the first time, only mistrust, hostility, mockery, and more than one generation has hailed Him with a repellent cry.
III. But in the midst of the gloom which envelops the disciples a voice is heard. Jesus Christ has spoken. He has said, "It is I; be not afraid." The Apostles recognise that voice; in the midst of the storm their hearts are penetrated with a Divine peace. It is the same at all seasons. There is an incomparable emphasis in Christ's sayings. Yesterday we were in trouble and anguish, today we hear and are subdued. Explain who can this phenomenon. It is a fact for which witnesses would rise today in all parts of the world. Everywhere and in every age there are men who are enlightened, soothed, consoled, by this voice, and to whom it gives an invincible conviction, an immortal hope.
E. Bersier, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 48.
References: Mark 6:45-52 . A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 128; H. M. Luckock, Footprints of the Son of Man, p. 140. Mark 6:47 , Mark 6:48 . Homiletic Magazine, vol. vii., p. 83.
Mysterious Passages of Life.
I. The mysterious passages of life are as truly meant for us as when on that melancholy night Jesus decidedly and deliberately left His disciples till "the fourth watch," till the very verge of daybreak, to labour alone with the rough waves, and to weary themselves in rowing in that stormy sea; while a Divine love seemed as if it took advantage of that cruel hour for the more they strove the more helpless they grew. I do not say that this is life; but I say that every life, at all times, is hard work, and I say that every life has those special passages. They may be, and they are, in their intensity, a parenthesis, but still they are; and while they last they seem very long. It is then that we forget the smooth waters, and the favouring gale, and the sunny wave, and the happy converse, and the ever-lessening distance; and we see nothing but the swellings of our difficulties, and the dying-out of the specks of our ever-departing hope.
II. It is no little thing to have an object steadily in view, to know that that object is right, to labour for it intently, to sigh for it deeply, to pray for it wrestlingly; and yet, despite all the efforts, and all the sighs, and all the prayers, never to near it, but to see it going farther and farther away into the distance from us. And if that object be some high and holy thing, which seems not only for our spiritual good, a very necessity for our souls, but for God's own glory, yet to toil and toil and weary ourselves upon labours that are nothing worth, is an exercise of faith that becomes extreme. The word of comfort is this, Jesus sees you. Darkness and distance shut out Him from you; but they never shut out you from Him. To be in His eye is life and safety. To please that eye is the one pure joy of human existence.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 4th series, p. 187.
The Contrary Currents of Life.
The winds always seem contrary to those who have any high and earnest purpose in life. The stirring of a high and godly purpose is like swinging round with the head to the current. Thenceforth every moment must be an effort, every thought a prayer; or the stream will be sweeping you farther and farther from the longed-for shore.
I. We are able when thinking over this great matter, a life-course and its issues, to remind ourselves of the great life-course to which the winds were ever contrary, which something seemed always to sweep back from its end. Without question, life is a hard matter to the earnest, the night is dark, and the toil hard. Often the main support of faith is to look steadily to Him to whom the night was darker, the toil harder, and Who is seated now a radiant Conqueror at the right hand of the throne of God.
II. Let us look at the broad fact of the contrariness of the currents of life. With some there is a life-long struggle to fulfil the duty of some uncongenial calling, which yields no fair field of activity to the powers which they are conscious of stirring within. They never, in fact, can get fairly entered for the race in which they might have no small chance of winning the prize. There are others who are crossed in their dearest hope; life is one long, sad regret. There are others with a weak and crippled body enshrining a spirit of noblest faculty; with intense ardour pent up within. And most of us find that something is always rising up to cross us; life is never long without some menace or check.
III. Consider the reason and the rightness of this contrariness of the currents of life. It is to keep us always under strain. God sets things against us to teach us to set ourselves against things, that we may master them, and remain their masters for evermore.
IV. The Master is watching how the lesson prospers. Not from on high; not from a safe shore; but there in the midst of the storm He is watching, nay is walking, drawing nigh, in the very crisis of the danger and the strain. The Master, who holds all things in His hand, shares through the night the toil and strain of His pilgrims, and He rules all for their salvation and the world's.
J. Baldwin Brown, The Sunday Afternoon, p. 353.
In this text we have:
I. An interesting illustration of the effect of rapid transitions in outward circumstances upon internal religious experience. That day had been a great day to those disciples. In the morning they had returned from their extensive preaching tour, and begun to tell Jesus of their extraordinary success. The enthusiasm was overwhelming and intense, and the fervour of their souls must have kindled to the highest reach. As they joined in with Jesus in the exhausting labours His zeal led Him to undertake, they were quickened to exertions which really wore out their strength in the delight which they awakened. Out here on the chill water the disciples had no cheering alleviation of their work whatsoever; comfortless, wet to the skin with spray, cut to the bone by the raw spring wind, can we wonder that they speedily became fatigued, disgusted, petulant?
II. We see here the close and somewhat humiliating connection between wistful souls and weary bodies which always has to be recognised. Those skilled fishermen evidently had a hard time of it. They needed to put forth the most violent and persistent efforts in order to keep the small boat from being dashed to pieces before the hurricane. And, of course, they became positively tired out, and their faith had something like a melancholy failure.
III. We see that mere frames of desolate feeling give by no means a release from the pressure of diligent duty. That these disciples were impatient, or even unbelieving, offers us no reason to suppose they were so foolish as to imagine they might lay their oars in the bottom of the boat and let everything drift. Their duty and their need was to continue to do for themselves precisely what they knew Christ would wish, and what they remembered He had commanded.
IV. Jesus Christ, even in darkness, knows who has need of Him. "He saw them toiling," so we read, and then we reflect how little reason these men had for being melancholy. Glancing again back over the waves, we see Jesus on His knees for a while, praying, no doubt, for them as well as for others, and anon rising up to begin the peerless walk upon the waters which has made that night historic for the ages. Our vicissitudes toss only ourselves, and overturn only our pride, and that not perilously. Jesus' care remains steady.
V. We see that Jesus Christ sometimes delays His coming to believers till He is sure of a welcome. "He would have passed by them," so we read again, What can this mean? When walking on the waves He did arrive at the boat-side, did He propose to give those forlorn men the go-by? No; He did it only to call into exercise the longing love which He knew they felt for Him, and so to get their earnest invitation to come into the vessel.
C. S. Robinson, Sermons on Neglected Texts, p. 152.
References: Mark 6:48 . W. M. Statham, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 193; W. H. Jellie, Ibid., vol. vii., p. 216; Church of England Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 193; Homilist, new series, vol. v., p. 154.Mark 6:52 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi., No. 1218.
Christ's Healing Virtue.
I. The Healed. Those here noticed were evidently affected with a variety of diseases of body and mind. From the circumstances, indeed, that all the affected of the surrounding region were assembled around the Redeemer, we may justly imagine that in some the sight was quenched, that in some the hearing was destroyed, that in some the whole frame was enfeebled, and that in some the mind was laid altogether prostrate. But whatever was the variety and inveteracy of their diseases, we are assured that they were made whole. As the material frame of those who were brought to touch even the hem of the Redeemer's garment was restored to a state of the most perfect soundness, so the moral nature of those who experience spiritual renovation is healed and fitted for immortal life.
II. The Source, or Fountain, of Healing. The cure, whether it was the restoration of sight or of hearing, or active power, or the casting out of devils, was effected simply by the silent but resistless virture which passed from the Redeemer when His person or even the hem of His garment was touched. In this we have a most expressive and beautiful emblem or representation of the great fountain of moral healing essential for the diseased and sin-stricken nature of man. Spiritual soundness and strength, moral freedom and blessedness, are to be derived simply and exclusively from Him who is become the great Physician of souls, the sole Fountain of internal purity and health.
III. The Medium through which the Healing Influence was transmitted. The cures which were effected on the sons and daughters of affliction gathered around the Redeemer were secured in the employment of such means as He sanctioned and approved. It was not the idle gaze of apathy and vulgar astonishment, that looked wonderingly around when the sound of the Redeemer's fame was heard, or when His approach was announced, without any attempt to touch Him that was blessed with the healing virtue shed around His steps. No; it was the struggle to come near Him it was the touch of His person, or the hem of His robe, prompted and sustained by the conviction that He was mighty to save, that met with the benediction, "Go in peace, thy faith hath made thee whole."
Preacher's Lantern, vol. iv., p. 625.
References: Mark 6:56 . J. Menzies, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 374; H. N. Grimley, The Temple of Humanity, p. 175; J. Keble, Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany, p. 348. Mark 6-8 Expositor, 1st series, vol. viii., p. 148. Mark 7:1-8 ; H. M. Luckock, Footprints of the Son of Man, p. 145.Mark 7:1-23 . A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 79. Mark 7:1-30 . W. Hanna, Our Lord's Life on Earth, p. 229. Mark 7:3 . Expositor, 1st series, vol. viii., p. 467. Mark 7:9-23 . H. M. Luckock, Footprints of the Son of Mam, p. 151.Mark 7:19 . Ibid., vol. iii., p. 308. Mark 7:20-23 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii., No. 1911.Mark 7:21 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 225.
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Mark 6". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18