Click here to join the effort!
CHRIST BLESSES LITTLE CHILDREN
Mark 10:13-16. And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.
IT is common with men to shew partiality to the failings of their friends, at the time that they are leaning rather to the side of severity in their judgment of others. But our blessed Lord shewed no favour to his Disciples in that respect; but was as observant of smaller errors in them, as of the more flagrant transgressions of his enemies. He ever proceeded upon that principle, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for your iniquities.” His Disciples had interposed to prevent him from being troubled with a multitude of children, whom their fond parents foolishly, as the Disciples thought, were bringing to him: but he was very angry with them, and gave them a severe rebuke: for however they might take credit to themselves for meaning well, their conduct in this matter was highly reprehensible.
The text presents two things to our view:
His rebuke to them—
Some parents were bringing their children to Christ—
[To this they had probably been induced by the discourse which had recently passed between our Lord and his Disciples. On their inquiring, Who should be the greatest in his kingdom? he had set a little child before them, and declared that a conformity to it in humility constituted the most exalted character of his subjects; and that whosoever should receive one such little child in his name, would receive him; whilst those who should offend one, would involve themselves in the most tremendous guilt and misery [Note: Matthew 18:1-6.]. Hence it would naturally be supposed that Jesus had a peculiar love for little children; and that as he required others to receive them, he himself would certainly receive, and bless them too. Hence many believing parents sought to avail themselves of the opportunity of obtaining a blessing for their children; and brought them to him, that he might “put his hands upon them and bless them.” It was not bodily, but spiritual, health, which the parents sought for their children: and we cannot but highly applaud their zeal in such a cause.]
But the Disciples interposed to prevent it—
[They doubtless thought that they were doing right, in not suffering their Lord to be so troubled. His time, they thought, was too precious to be so occupied; his work too important to be so interrupted; his engagements too numerous to admit of such intrusions; his fatigues too great to be so needlessly increased. Besides, to the children, they supposed, it could be of little use: and to the parents, only a momentary gratification: and if the precedent were once admitted, it would be followed to an unknown extent. Hence they would not suffer their Lord to be so distracted.
But, whilst they imagined that their conduct was precisely such as it ought to be, they were really acting a very unbecoming part. It is not every one who means well, that acts well: there is “a zeal that is not according to knowledge;” and such was theirs on the present occasion. Their conduct was indeed very criminal in many respects: It argued low thoughts of their Divine Master, whose condescension they limited; whilst, in truth, it is infinite. It argued an ignorance of his office, which is peculiarly designated by the prophet, as that of “a Shepherd, who carries the lambs in his bosom [Note: Isaiah 40:11.].” It argued an unmindfulness of the Father’s grace, who had promised, in a peculiar manner, to pour out his Spirit upon his people’s seed, and his blessing upon their offspring [Note: Isaiah 44:3-4. compared with Acts 2:39.].” It argued unkindness to the parents, whose feelings they should have more affectionately consulted; and indifference to the children, whose benefit they should have been studious to promote. It argued also an unbelief of its efficacy: they had often seen people obtaining health to their bodies by a mere touch of their Master’s garment, and yet they could not conceive that any benefit should accrue to the children’s souls by an authoritative imposition of his hands, and an immediate communication of his blessing. All this was exceedingly sinful. But they erred also in the manner as well as in the matter, of their conduct; for they “rebuked” these pious women. Alas! even good men, if unreasonably interrupted, are but too apt to shew an unhallowed temper, instead of exercising that meekness and gentleness which become their profession.]
Our Lord, however, deservedly and severely rebuked them—
[In St. Matthew’s account there is a little change in the collocation of the words, which makes his address to them more emphatical [Note: Matthew 19:14.]; “Let the little children alone, and hinder them not from coming to me.” But our Lord assigns as the reason of this reproof, (for he never would administer reproof without evincing the justice of it,) that “of such persons was the kingdom of God;” of such in age, and of such in character. Some confine this expression to the character of the persons who compose his kingdom: but, in so doing, they destroy all the force of his reasoning. If our Lord had meant only to say, that children were fit emblems of his subjects, it would have been no reason for his reproof; since they would be neither more so by being brought to him, nor less so by being kept away. But, if we understand that children are still, as under the Jewish dispensation, to be regarded as in covenant with God, and subjects of his kingdom, then the reason is clear and strong: for to keep children from him, would be to deprive them of privileges to which they were as much entitled as adults. Our Church lays peculiar stress upon this point in her baptismal service [Note: See the Address to the parents, after the passage recording St. Mark’s words in the Baptismal service.]; and shews with great clearness, that it is a complete justification of those who maintain the propriety of infant baptism: for, if infants are capable of receiving Christ’s blessing, are we not to bring them to him that they may obtain it? If they are capable of receiving the thing signified, are they not fit subjects to receive the sign? And if Christ was so angry with his Disciples for keeping them from him, can he be pleased with us, if we keep them from him? In a word, Christ has shewn us, by this act, that children are as much the subjects of his kingdom now, as ever they were under the Jewish dispensation; and every member of our Church has reason to rejoice, that the sentiments of our Reformers on this disputed subject were in such perfect unison with the word of God.
If it be objected, that Christ did not baptize the children; we answer, His baptism was not yet instituted: the only baptism that was now observed, was that of John. The question is, Are children to be regarded as subjects of Christ’s kingdom? and are they entitled to the privileges of that kingdom? Christ expressly says, they are: and so say we: and therefore according to his command we bring them to him, that they may be admitted to a participation of those blessings, precisely as the Jews by God’s command brought their children to be admitted into covenant with him.]
In perfect agreement with these sentiments is,
His instruction to us—
Our Lord uniformly engrafted some general instruction on the passing occurrences of every day. He here instructs us,
[Whilst children are to be received into the Church of Christ, they are to be regarded also as emblems of those moral qualities, which all the subjects of his kingdom must possess. There is in children a simplicity of mind, a teachableness of spirit, a consciousness of weakness, a dependence on their parents’ care, an obedience to their commands, and a submission to their will. Now these must be the dispositions of all who would be numbered with Christ’s people here, or be partakers with them in a better world: nor can any thing but a resemblance to children in these respects warrant any person to believe himself in a state of favour with God. The declaration in our text is as strong and clear as words can make it. The very entrance into Christ’s kingdom is by this door: it is low, and we must stoop; it is narrow, and we must be little in in our own estimation, before we can by any means find admission within it: there is no space allowed for the cumbrous ornaments of worldly wisdom, of moral goodness, of human power; we must enter naked and divested of them all— divested, I mean, in our own apprehension and conceit; and must be willing to take “Christ as our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, and redemption.” This is humiliating, it is true; but it must be done; and, if we will not submit to it, we can never enter into the kingdom of heaven: “the wise must become fools [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:10.],” the pure polluted [Note: Job 9:20-21; Job 9:30-31.], the righteous guilty [Note: Romans 3:19.] in their own estimation, before Christ can be valued, or his salvation desired. We say not that a person must commit wickedness in order to fit himself for Christ’s kingdom; God forbid: but he must renounce every degree of self-conceit, self-dependence, self-seeking, and self-applause; and, “whatever he had which once he accounted gain, must now be considered by him as loss for Christ.”
O that all were thus divested of self, and made willing to seek their all in Christ! Let parents condescend to learn from their little children what dispositions they themselves should cultivate towards their heavenly Father; and bear in mind, that their highest perfection is, to be brought to a willing and habitual resemblance to that instructive emblem.]
[“He took the little children up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.” What amazing condescension! How amiable in itself, so to notice those, who could be so little conscious of his love. How conciliatory to the parents, whose hearts were more open to impression from the kindness shewn to their offspring, than from any favour that could be conferred upon themselves! How encouraging to the children, whose parents would not fail to remind them often that they had been thus highly honoured, to be embraced in the Saviour’s bosom, and to receive his heavenly blessing! Methinks, this very circumstance would operate upon them through life to devote themselves unto the Lord Jesus Christ, and to “cleave unto him with full purpose of heart.” In a word, how edifying to all! To parents, it shewed what their chief desire for their children should be, namely, to bring them to the knowledge of him, and to the enjoyment of his salvation. To ministers, it spoke with peculiar emphasis, that they should attend to the lambs of their flock, and consider neither the meanest nor the weakest of the people as beneath their notice: however laborious their occupations might be, they should reserve some portion of their time for the instruction of babes. To all his believing people also, whether men or women, it shewed how acceptable a service they would perform, if they laboured to instruct the rising generation. If he himself did not overlook the existence of little faith, or “despise the day of small things,” or disdain to sow what could not be reaped for many years, well may his people cultivate the same benevolence, and exert themselves according to their measure in the same glorious cause.]
From this subject we may see,
How thankful ought children to be to their instructors [Note: This is proper to be noticed especially where there are Sunday Schools. This is also a fit subject for a Baptism]!
[To you who are instructed from Sabbath to Sabbath it appears, that the teaching of you to read is the great object which your instructors have in view: but this is by no means the case: they desire to perform the same kind office for you which the parents in our text performed for their children; they would bring you to Christ, that you may be received into his bosom, and be made partakers of his blessing. For this end they pray for you in secret, that God may render their labours effectual for your eternal good: and whilst they are instructing you, they often put up a silent prayer to Him who seeth the desire of their hearts; and they actually put you, as it were, into the Saviour’s hands, saying, ‘Lord, give thy blessing to this dear child!’ Let me then entreat you to have the same end in view, and to seek for yourselves his blessing upon your souls.]
What reason have they to be ashamed who would keep men from Christ!
[The Disciples had some reason for discouraging the bringing of infants to Christ; but what reason have they who would deter grown persons from coming to him! Shall it be thought that there are few, if any, who would act so wicked a part? Alas! there are many: for, what is the tendency of that derision with which religion is treated, and of that opposition which is almost universally made to those who are zealous in its cause? Surely, if our Lord was “much displeased” with his Disciples, who really meant well, it is no little displeasure that he will manifest against the wilful despisers of his Gospel — — — We commend to their attention a fore-cited passage [Note: Matthew 18:6.], and pray God that they may never know the force of it by their own experience.]
What encouragement have we all to apply to Christ for ourselves!
[If our blessed Lord was so condescending unto infants, what will he not be to those who come to him with understanding. hearts? Will he put any obstacles in their way? Has he not said, that “those who come unto him he will in no wise cast out?” Let not any then dishonour him by doubts and fears, as though he would not be gracious unto them: let not any sense of their own unworthiness discourage them: but let them rather remember, that the more lowly they are in their own eyes, the more amiable they will be in his; and the more empty they are in themselves, the more certainly shall they be “filled out of his fulness.”]
THE RICH YOUTH FORSAKING CHRIST
Mark 10:21-22. Then Jesus beholding him, loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
IT is never known what a man is, till he is tried. Those who most dread a conflict, may approve themselves steadfast when once they are actually engaged in it; and those who are most confident of their own prowess, may betray the greatest timidity. The eagerness of Peter to walk upon the waves, and his vehement protestations of fidelity to his Master, might have gained him a reputation for invincible firmness, had he not been left to prove by actual experiment the weakness and inefficacy of his resolutions. The man who engaged to follow Jesus whithersoever he might go, began to waver, as soon as he was informed that Jesus had not a place where to lay his head. Thus the young man in our text might have passed for the most excellent of characters, had he not been brought to the touchstone, and suffered to manifest the real dispositions of his soul. But the command which Jesus gave him, was a trial which he could not stand, and an ordeal which he could not pass.
In elucidating his conduct, we shall consider,
The injunction given him—
[We confess that the command was difficult to be obeyed. If we contemplate his youth, his rank (a ruler,) his opulence; if we contemplate the sentiments he must have imbibed, the hopes he must have entertained, the habits he must have formed, the change proposed to him must have been irksome and arduous in the extreme. To exchange wealth for poverty, ease for trouble, homage for contempt, this was hard indeed for flesh and blood; nor could any thing but Almighty grace qualify him for such a work.
Yet, though difficult, the command was not unreasonable. From whom had he received his wealth; or, who but God, had made him to differ? And had not God a right to recall what he had only lent? Had he any cause to complain, if God, who for a time had elevated him above his fellow-creatures, should afterwards reduce him to a level with them? Had not God as much right to disperse his wealth among the poor, as he before had to accumulate it upon one single man? Besides, when the sacrifice, which he was called to make, would contribute so much to the comfort of his fellow-creatures; and when it would ultimately return with a rich and abundant recompence into his own bosom; was it to be deemed unreasonable? Is it not what every merchant in the universe is glad to do, to sacrifice the temporary possession of his treasure, in the hope and prospect of far richer treasures in return?
Nor was it singular. This youth gloried in being a descendant of Abraham, who was called out from his country and kindred, to go, he knew not whither; to subsist, he knew not how. With this fact he was well acquainted; and he knew that Abraham never found reason to repent of his self-denying obedience. Moreover, he had at this moment before his eyes persons who had obeyed a similar call, and who could say, “Lo, we have left all, and followed thee.” And, in fact, though we are not all called to precisely the same act of obedience, we are all called to manifest that spirit, which would ensure the peformance of that act, if in the course of Providence we were called to it. Thus also, in the latter part of the injunction there was nothing unreasonable, or singular. He came to our Lord for instruction; and our Lord bade him to become a stated attendant on his ministry. He would, doubtless, in the execution of this duty, have a cross to bear: but had not all his Disciples the same cross? and had not Jesus a far heavier cross than any, or than all together? yea, had he not come from heaven on purpose to bear it for them? Was it unreasonable then that the disciple should be as the master, and the servant as his lord?
If he was really desirous of obtaining salvation, there was nothing in the injunction given him, which did not deserve a cheerful and unreserved compliance.]
But we shall have still clearer views of this subject, if we consider,
The peculiar reasons for that injunction—
Our blessed Lord, in his reply to the young man, designed,
To discover to him the depravity of his own heart—
[Because the youth had never been guilty of any notorious breach of the commandments, he was ready to imagine that he had no ground for humiliation and contrition. Our Lord, if he had pleased, might have opened to him the spirituality of the law; and have shewn him that he was mistaken in supposing that he had “kept all the commandments from his youth up:” but he took a shorter and more convincing method: he gave him a specific charge, to obey which was his indispensable duty: by his reluctance to obey that, our Lord shewed him, that his heart was not so much in unison with the law of God as he imagined; yea, that if duty and interest should stand in competition with each other, he would prove as great a rebel as more flagrant transgressors.
Thus our Lord sought to counteract his pride and self-complacency, by leading him to manifest the worldliness and carnality of his heart.]
To wean him from self-confidence and self-dependence—
[By that question which the young man so confidently asked, “What lack I yet?” we are led to suspect, that, as he saw no defects in his obedience, so he saw no ground to doubt his acceptance with God on account of his obedience. The drift of his original question, “What shall I do, that I may inherit eternal life?” seems to have been to this effect: ‘Master, I perceive that thou art a teacher sent from God, and that thou requirest of us something different from what I have been accustomed to hear or practise: be so kind therefore as to inform me what it is; for I would not willingly omit any thing, whereby I may secure the salvation of my soul.’ In this view of his question, he wanted to substantiate more fully, and establish more firmly, his claim to eternal life on the footing of his own obedience. Against this fatal error our Lord’s injunction was strongly directed: it was an axe laid to the root of his self-righteousness: and it had a most powerful tendency to convince the youth, that all his hopes were built on a foundation of sand.]
To lead him to the salvation provided for him in the Gospel—
[Our Lord might have preached the Gospel to him more fully, and informed him, that salvation was to be obtained only by faith in him, as “the way, the truth, and the life.” But the time was not yet arrived for the full disclosure of Gospel truth. It was at present but sparingly promulgated. Besides, if our Lord had thus plainly declared the way of salvation, there is reason to think, that the young man would either have rejected the truth without further inquiry, or embraced it without a due preparation of soul for it; in either of which cases he would miss the end which he was solicitous to attain. The best way therefore to lead him to salvation, was, to shew him his need of it; that so he might enter upon a profession of it with all the zeal and gratitude that would be necessary for his establishment in the faith.]
But, while we thus vindicate the injunction given him, we cannot but lament,
The effect it produced upon him—
Instead of operating in the manner that our Saviour wished,
It filled him with grief—
[“He was sad at that saying.” But what made him “sad?” Was he grieved and ashamed on account of his backwardness to obey it? That would have been a hopeful sign, and would probably have issued in his conversion to God. But alas! he was grieved at the strictness of the precept. “He had great possessions,” and could not prevail upon himself to part with them. His riches were his idol; and of more estimation, in his eyes, than any treasure in heaven. Had he been called to sacrifice a part of his property, he would probably have acquiesced in the appointment: but to bereave himself of all, to reduce himself to a state of poverty, this was a requisition which he could not comply with.
Such is the effect of the Gospel upon many at this time: they would gladly embrace it, and would make some sacrifices to obtain its blessings: but to renounce the world, to mortify their lusts, to turn their backs upon all that is pleasing to flesh and blood, and to bring upon themselves nothing but contempt and persecution from their dearest friends and relatives, appears to them too great a sacrifice, and they hope to get to heaven upon easier terms. Thus between a sense of their duty, and an aversion to perform it, the only effect of the Gospel is to render them unhappy.]
It determined him to forsake Christ altogether—
[“He went away grieved.” Much as he revered the Lord Jesus, and wished to partake of his salvation, he could not continue with him on such terms as these. The price was too great for him to pay; and therefore he turned his back upon him.
Unhappy youth! How much better had it been for him, if he had been born in a low estate! What a curse to him were his riches, which stood between him and the Saviour of the world! Who is not ready to weep over him, when he reflects upon the fatal effects of that decision? Who that sees that hopeful character turning his back upon his Divine Instructor, giving up all hopes of heaven, and determinately preferring a present portion, does not tremble, lest he himself should be left to make the same foolish choice?]
How dangerous is the state of many, who yet think themselves safe!
[If we had seen that youth (regardless of the follies which persons of his age and condition too generally prosecute) coming in so respectful a manner to the despised Nazarene; “kneeling before him” with profoundest reverence; addressing him in such terms, and such an emphatic way, as to intimate that he thought Jesus to be more than human; if we had seen him declaring confidently, that, to the best of his knowledge, he had persevered in an uniform obedience to all the commandments, and was ready to fulfil any duty that could be pointed out to him; above all, if we had seen Jesus himself struck with his amiable deportment, and “loving him” for his excellent qualities; who amongst us would not have been disposed to envy that youth his prospects of immortality and glory? Yet, behold, he came short of heaven! There was “one thing he lacked;” and for that one thing (as far as we are informed) he perished for ever. O that the moral, the sober, the amiable (of both sexes), would consider this, and take warning from his example! The thing he lacked, was, a determination to forsake all for Christ. And is not this lacking in many amongst ourselves? Are there not many, whom, for their amiable qualities, one cannot but love, who yet, if they must part with all, or Christ, would hold fast their present portion? O, beloved, let this matter be duly weighed; and never imagine that you are in the way to heaven, till you can “count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus.”]
How awful is the condition of those who have no concern for their souls!
[Multitudes there are, in this and every other place, whose lives have been far from moral; who, instead of having kept all the commandments from their earliest infancy, have violated them in many flagrant instances; and who never came to Jesus with an unfeigned desire to receive instruction about the way to heaven. What then must be their state? We appeal to themselves, If this amiable youth was not saved, how can you imagine that salvation belongs to you, who have not done half so much for it as this perishing youth? Methinks, this one example speaks more forcibly to you than ten thousand arguments. You must be wilfully blind, if you do not see how deplorable is your condition, and how certain your ruin, if you continue in your present state. Be persuaded, that it is not so easy a matter to get to heaven. You must have a real concern about your souls: the attainment of heaven must be paramount to every other consideration. If you will gain heaven at all, you must “take it by the holy violence” of prayer and faith.]
How blessed are they whose hearts are right with God!
[They may indeed be exercised with great trials: they may be called to relinquish much of their worldly interests; to suffer much reproach; and to bear many a heavy cross. But the “heavenly treasure” will richly repay for all: yea, the very prospect of it is a sufficient compensation for all that we can endure. Could we but consult this unhappy youth, and ask him what he now thinks of his past conduct, how would he condemn his conduct, how would he deplore his folly! If, on the contrary, we could ask of Paul what views he now had of his conduct in “suffering the loss of all things” for Christ’s sake; would he not confirm his former declarations? would he not affirm more strongly than ever, that all things were dung and dross in comparison of Christ? Let us then take joyfully the loss of man’s esteem, and the spoiling of our goods: let the views and prospects of glory cheer us when dejected, and animate us when faint. We have reason to expect, that “the more our afflictions abound for Christ’s sake, the more our consolations also shall abound through Christ:” and we are sure, that, “if we suffer with Christ, we shall also be glorified together.”] [Note: If the Sermon on the three following verses be not preached in connexion with this, the third inference should be, How little to be desired are great riches! This is the reflection which our Lord himself makes upon it; and therefore it would he very improper to omit, it here, except with a view to a fuller and distinct consideration of that subject.]
THE DANGER OF RICHES
Mark 10:23-25. And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the Disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
IN the perusal of history, it is desirable not merely to treasure up facts in our minds, but to deduce from them such observations as shall increase our stock of practical and useful knowledge. It will be to little purpose to have our memory stored with events, unless our judgment be matured by suitable reflections upon them. In reference to the sacred history, this remark is still more obvious and important. Very little benefit would accrue to a person from knowing, that a rich young man had turned away from Christ, because he disliked the directions which our Lord had given him. If we would derive any material instruction from this event, we should consider what aspect it has upon the manners of men in general: we should, after the example which our Lord himself has set us, contemplate the effects which wealth generally produces on those who possess it, and the obstacles which it lays in our way to the kingdom of heaven.
In confirmation of our Lord’s reflection, we shall endeavour to shew, whence it is that “it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
It is difficult for a person to have riches, and not to love them—
Riches almost universally fascinate the minds of men—
[Persons of opulence see what respect their wealth procures for them; that they are objects of admiration and envy to all around them; and that, by means of their money, they can obtain all the comforts and luxuries of life. Hence they are ready to conceive that riches are really good, and almost necessarily conducive to the happiness of those who possess them. Under this idea, their affections are easily attracted towards them, and they are ready to congratulate themselves on their own peculiarly favoured lot. Hence that caution of the Psalmist’s, “If riches increase, set not your heart upon them.”]
But in proportion as they engage our hearts, they obstruct our way to heaven—
[We are commanded “not to set our affections on things below, but on things above.” This prohibition extends to riches, and to every thing else that fascinates the carnal mind. The reason of it is moreover assigned by God himself, namely, that the love of this world neither proceeds from him, nor leads to him, but is absolutely incompatible with real love to him [Note: 1 John 2:15-16.]. Let it only then be acknowledged, that the love of God is necessary to the attainment or enjoyment of heaven; and then it will follow, that the person, who loves his riches, cannot attain heaven; nor could he enjoy it, even if he were admitted there: he has in his bosom an object that rivals God: and God is a jealous God, who will never accept a divided heart. “We never can serve God and Mammon.” If “our treasure be on earth, our heart will be there also:” and if it be looked to as the source of our happiness, “Woe unto us; for we have received our consolation.”]
It is difficult for a person to have riches, and not be puffed up by them—
Pride is too generally an attendant on riches—
[As great respect is paid to riches, the people who possess them are apt to think that they deserve it. They arrogate it to themselves; they are offended, if any persons refuse to gratify them with the homage which they claim. They shew in their look, their dress, their manner of speaking, yea, in their very gait, they “think themselves to be somebody.” They expect their wishes to be consulted, and their judgment to be followed. They are impatient of contradiction. They do not like, either in public or in private, to be told of their faults. If a minister deal faithfully with their consciences, they rather condemn him for (what they will call) his rudeness or harshness, than themselves for their departure from God. How commonly this disposition springs from riches, we may judge from that direction which is given to ministers; “Charge them who are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded [Note: 1 Timothy 6:17.].”]
And this also, if indulged, will exclude us from heaven—
[“Pride was not made for man:” “The proud in heart are an abomination to the Lord:” whoever he be, “God will certainly abase him.” Not Hezekiah himself shall escape without deep humiliation [Note: 2 Chronicles 32:25-26.]; nor even then, without severe chastisements [Note: Isaiah 39:4-7.]. If we be “lifted up with pride, (whatever be the occasion,) we shall fall into the condemnation of the devil.” The characteristic mark of every true Christian, and of all that shall be admitted into heaven, is humility; “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Worldly poverty is not more opposite to wealth, than spiritual poverty is to pride. The true Christian will “prefer others in honour before himself,” and account himself, “less than the least of all saints.” But, inasmuch as wealth has a directly opposite tendency, it is hostile to the interests of Christianity, and to the salvation of all who possess it.]
It is difficult for a person to have riches, and not be corrupted by them—
Whatever a corrupt heart can desire, is attainable through riches—
[Wealth opens a way for all manner of sensuality and self-indulgence: and, at the same time that it gives us facilities for gratifying our evil inclinations, it leads us into such habits as greatly dispose us to sin. A luxurious table draws us to intemperance; intemperance inflames our passions; and affluence opens an easy way to the indulgence of them. The rich even think that they are, in a measure, licensed to commit iniquity: and, in their eyes, intemperance and lewdness are, at the most, no more than venial follies, which they can commit without shame, and look back upon without remorse.
But where riches do not produce this effect, they still exceedingly corrupt the soul. They habituate us to easy indolent habits, that are very contrary to those self-denying exercises in which the Christian should be employed. They lead us into the company of those whose minds are least spiritual, and from whose conversation and example we can derive least profit. They induce parents to seek connexions for their children rather among the opulent than among the good. They not unfrequently draw persons into great speculations, which fill them with anxiety, and encumber them with oppressive cares. Strange as it may seem, they often prove incentives to avarice, as well as to prodigality, and to an oppression of others, as well as to the gratifying of ourselves. Hence, whenever the term “lucre” is mentioned in the New Testament, the term “filthy” is invariably associated with it.]
And the more our corruptions are indulged, the more certain we are of perishing in final ruin—
[We are warned, that “to be carnally-minded is death:” and the final ruin of a very large portion of those who hear the Gospel is ascribed to “the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches, which choke the word that they hear, and render it unfruitful.” “The love of money,” we are told, “is the root of all evil;” and “they who even desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.” Inasmuch as riches induce us principally to mind earthly things, they make us enemies of the cross of Christ, and bring us to destruction as our end.”]
It is difficult to have riches, and not trust in them—
Wealth, whilst it gains our affections, is apt to become also a ground of our confidence—
[“The rich man’s wealth,” says Solomon, “is his strong city.” We are apt to rely upon it, as a source both of present and future happiness. We seem, when possessed of riches, to be out of the reach of harm. When poor, we more habitually and more sensibly feel our dependence on Providence; but, when rich, we think we have no need of religion to make us happy, or of God to provide for us: we are ready to say, like the Rich Man in the Gospel, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” In like manner, we think that we have no reason to fear about the future world. We are ready to imagine, that God will pay the same deference to wealth as our fellow-creatures do. We have no conception that a rich man, unless he has been guilty of some peculiarly enormous crimes, can be cast into hell. It is in vain that we read of “the Rich Man lifting up his eyes in torments:” we take for granted, that a rich man, if he have been tolerably decent in his deportment, must of necessity go to heaven: and a rich man will not endure, for the most part, to have a doubt of his future happiness suggested to him. It is not without reason, therefore, that St. Paul says, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they trust not in uncertain riches.”]
But to place our confidence in any thing but God, is certain ruin—
[God denounces a “curse on those who make flesh their arm;” and he represents their conduct as “a departure of their hearts from him.” And Job informs us, that “the saying to the gold, Thou art my confidence, is an iniquity to be punished by the Judge, and a denial of the God that is above.”]
It is difficult to have riches, and not cleave to them in preference to Christ—
This is the point more especially referred to in the text itself—
[The reason assigned for the young man’s forsaking Christ was, that he had great possessions: and hence our Lord’s reflection on the almost insurmountable difficulties which riches interpose in our way to heaven. The fact is, that though every one is not called to renounce his riches precisely in the same way that this opulent ruler was, every one is required to sit loose to them, and to be willing to renounce them all, whenever they shall stand in competition with his duty to God. And there is no man, who is not called to make some sacrifices for Christ. Now a rich man’s reputation is exceedingly dear to him; and his interests in the world appear to him of almost incalculable importance: and, if he be called to renounce them all, the sacrifice appears too great to be endured. He hopes he shall find out an easier way to heaven; and chooses rather to risk the salvation of his soul, than to subject himself to such grievous trials in order to obtain it. Even those who have tasted somewhat of the sweetness of religion are sometimes drawn away, like Demas; and forsake their Saviour from love to this present world.]
But in choosing our portion now, we choose for eternity—
[“We must reap according to what we sow: he that soweth to the flesh must, of the flesh, reap corruption.” We must “part with all if we would have the pearl of great price.” “If we do not forsake all for Christ, we cannot be his disciples.” “We must count all things but loss for him.” “We must hate father and mother, and houses and lands, yea and our lives also, for his sake.” “If we will not lose our lives for him here, we never can find life in the eternal world.”]
How little true faith is there in the world!
[Where is the man, who, if offered great riches, would be afraid to accept them, lest they should impede his way to heaven? or, when congratulated on his attainment of wealth, would damp the ardour of his friends by entreating rather an interest in their prayers, that the newly-acquired riches might not corrupt and destroy his soul? Where is the man possessed of riches, who does not think his way to heaven as easy as that of any other person? In short, where is the person who does not say in his heart, ‘Give me riches: I will run the risk of their doing me any harm: I have no doubt I shall get to heaven with them as easily as without them?’ But would it be thus, if we really believed the words of our blessed Lord? Alas! even the Apostles themselves scarcely knew how to receive so hard a saying: we are told, that they were “astonished out of measure.” But it becomes us to credit the assertion of Him who could not err, and would not deceive.]
What reason have the poor to be satisfied with their lot!
[If rich men have the advantage of them with respect to this world, the poor have incomparably better prospects with respect to the world to come. These are free and unincumbered, and ready, as it were, to run the race that is set before them; while the others are impeded by their lusts as with flowing garments, and have their “feet laden with thick clay.” These in multitudes flock to heaven, “as doves to their windows,” whilst very few of the others ever attain the heavenly prize [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:26-28. James 2:5.]. It must not however be imagined that the poor will be saved, because they are poor; any more than the rich will perish, because they are rich. All must run, if they would obtain the prize. He who regards the salvation of his soul as “the one thing needful,” shall be saved, whether rich or poor; and he who does not, will perish. Neither the riches of the one, nor the poverty of the other, will avail him any thing. The only inquiry will be, Who among them was “rich towards God?” and their several attainments in real piety will be the only ground of distinction between them. Yet, inasmuch as a state of poverty renders us less exposed to temptation than wealth, it may well be endured with patience, and improved with gratitude. Even, if we have (through misfortunes of any kind) experienced a transition from wealth to poverty, we may well be reconciled to the change (however painful it may be to flesh and blood); since the loss we sustain may be in fact our greatest advantage: we have lost perhaps the cargo, which, if suffered to continue on board, would utterly have sunk the ship.]
How thankful should we be that “help is laid on One that is mighty!”
[When the Apostles exclaimed, “Who then can be saved?” they were consoled with the declaration, that “all things were possible with God.” Now this is our comfort, that all fulness is treasured up for us in Christ; and that “he is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him.” None then need despair: however great our temptations may be, “He knoweth how to deliver the godly out of them,” and to “preserve them blameless unto his heavenly kingdom.” He can uphold a Joseph, a David, and a Daniel, amidst all the splendour of courts, as well as under the pressure of the heaviest trials. Let all then put their trust in Jesus, even in that almighty Saviour, whose grace is sufficient for them, and through whose strengthening communications they shall be able to do all things: so shall Abraham the rich and prosperous, and Lazarus the poor and indigent, rejoice together in God’s kingdom for ever and ever.]
THE REWARD OF THOSE WHO SUFFER FOR CHRIST
Mark 10:28-30. Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the Gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundred-fold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come, eternal life.
THROUGH the corruption of our nature, the defects of others are apt to raise us in our own estimation, and to afford us occasion for self-applause. This ought not to be: for the faults of others should be lamented, no less than our own, because they are injurious to the souls of men: and, if we ourselves are free from those faults, we have reason to glorify God for his grace, which alone has made us to differ from others. We have in the context a lamentable instance of human weakness; a young man, of exemplary habits, who, on being required to sell all that he had, and to give it to the poor, and follow Christ, went away sorrowful; grieved to part with Christ, but preferring his wealth before him. Peter beholding this, began to reflect with complacency on the different conduct which he, and his fellow-Apostles, had pursued: they had left all for Christ: and, as our Lord had told the young man, that he, if he complied with his counsel, should “have treasure in heaven,” Peter asked, what recompence should be made to him and his brethren for the sacrifices which they had made in the cause of Christ; “We have forsaken all, and followed thee: what shall we have therefore [Note: See Matthew 19:27.]?”
This inquiry is the first thing for our present consideration—
[Though the Apostles were poor, their all was as much to them, as it would have been if they had been richer: nor can we doubt, but that the surrender of it was as acceptable to God, as if the sacrifice had been more costly: “it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:12.].” This sacrifice was required of them, and they had offered it without hesitation; they could truly say, they “had left all for Christ;” and they had thereby approved themselves worthy of their descent from him, who, at God’s command, had offered his only son Isaac upon the altar. Nor are we to imagine that the duty was peculiar to them: it is as much our duty, as it was theirs, to leave all for Christ. We are not indeed called, like the Apostles, to forsake our worldly callings in order to wait as stated attendants on our Lord: we are rather to “abide in our callings wherein we are called:” but we must be willing to sacrifice every thing for Christ, and must actually sacrifice every thing that stands in competition with him: in this respect the whole Christian world are called to the same exercise of faith and self-denial as the Apostles were; every thing sinful must be mortified; and even the most innocent and necessary things must be given up, rather than that we should be drawn by them to the commission of any one sin, or to the neglect of any one duty: we must “hate father and mother, and even our own lives also, in comparison of Christ [Note: Luke 14:26.].”
Under such circumstances Peter’s inquiry seems not unreasonable: for if we are to surrender up every thing to and for Christ, we may well ask, ‘What shall I gain by this? or, What recompence shall I obtain?’ It is not to be expected that God will call us to such trials, and not remunerate us for our fidelity to him. It is true, we can never look for a reward of debt; but a reward of grace we may expect, and that too in proportion to the sacrifices we make, the sufferings we endure, and the services we perform. We are not at liberty to make bargains, as it were, with the Almighty, and to stipulate for so much wages in return for so much service: we must rather enter voluntarily into his service, and cheerfully give up all for him: but after having made the needful sacrifices, we may inquire into the promised recompence of reward. We must, like Abraham, “go out from our country and our kindred, not knowing whither we go [Note: Hebrews 11:8.];” and must trust in God to make all necessary provision for us: and, if he had not specified any thing in his word, we should be contented to continue ignorant of the recompence that he will assign us: but, as he has been pleased to make specific promises to those who trust in him, we cannot do wrong in endeavouring to ascertain their import and extent.]
The answer of our Lord to this inquiry is the next point to be noticed by us—
[St. Matthew records more of our Lord’s answer than either of the other Evangelists. He mentions a part which seems more immediately applicable to the Apostles themselves, who, “in the regeneration” that is, in the day when “God will make all things new,” and “there shall be new heavens and a new earth,” and “when our Lord shall come in his glory to judge the world,” shall be honoured above all other men, being, as it were, assessors with Christ in the Judgment, and having their word as the law by which “the twelve tribes of Israel,” and the whole world, shall be judged [Note: Matthew 19:28.]. St. Mark records that only which was of general use; but still he gives all the satisfaction that the most bereaved and destitute person can desire.
There is a present recompence which all who suffer loss for Christ Ehall receive; and that too exceedingly beyond any loss they can possibly sustain. It is taken for granted that they may lose the affection of all their most endeared relatives for their attachment to the Gospel; and that they may be deprived of all that they possess in the world: but God will often send them such supplies in another way, that they shall in reality sustain no loss at all: but, if he does not recompense them in this way, he will give them “contentment, which with godliness is great gain;” and such an increased enjoyment of their slender pittance, as shall be far sweeter than all the delicacies upon earth. He will “shed abroad his love in their hearts,” and, under the loss of earthly parents, and an earthly portion, will enable them to call him, Father, and to view heaven itself as their inheritance. Let any one who has experienced these consolations, say, Whether they be not “a hundred fold” greater than all that they ever derived from the possession of earthly comforts even in their richest abundance? — — —
But, besides this, there is a future recompence, even “eternal life,” which shall assuredly be given to all who suffer for Christ in this world: “If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him,” and “be glorified together,” and have “a weight of glory proportioned” to the trials we endure, and to the graces which we exercise, in his service. But who can estimate the value of that recompence? — — — Suffice it to say, that the veracity of God is pledged for the bestowment of it, and that the blessedness conferred shall exist, as long as God himself exists.]
Those who hesitate about leaving all for Christ—
[Does a moment’s hesitation become you? Think of your Lord and Saviour: did he hesitate, when an offer was made him to redeem your souls? Did he account the conditions hard, when he had your everlasting salvation in view? No: he gladly left the bosom of his Father, and assumed our nature, and bore our curse, that he might redeem our souls from death and hell [Note: Compare Psalms 40:6-8. with Philippians 2:6-8.]. Do you then hesitate to make any sacrifice for him? Look at Paul; was he intimidated? did he account any thing too much to do or suffer for his Lords [Note: Compare Acts 20:24; Acts 21:13. with Philippians 2:17; Philippians 3:7-8.]? Look at Moses: can you be called to sacrifice more than he? “He esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt [Note: Hebrews 11:24-26.].” Think not to have an interest in Christ on any lower terms: You must, in heart and affection, forsake all, if you would be his disciples [Note: Luke 14:33.]. The Rich Youth in the Gospel would not accede to these terms: but do you commend him? Do you not look upon him with pity? Do you not think he would change his mind now, if the offer were again made him? O be wise in time! “buy the truth, and sell it not:” be willing to “sell all that you have for that treasure which is hid in the Gospel, and for that pearl of great price [Note: Matthew 13:44-46.].” If, like Amaziah, you reply, “What shall I do for all the talents I shall sacrifice?” I answer with the prophet, “The Lord is able to give thee much more [Note: 2 Chronicles 25:9.].” In fact, your gain will exceed all calculation. If you were a merchant, you would gladly embrace an opportunity of making ten or twenty per cent, of your money, though the return should not be absolutely certain; but here you are promised ten thousand per cent, and it is assured to you by the veracity of God himself. Only “have faith in God,” and all the blessings of“the upper and nether springs,” of time and of eternity, are yours.]
Those who, like the Apostles, have left all for him—
[Whatever your losses or sufferings may have been, I congratulate you from my heart: yea, God himself congratulates you [Note: Matthew 5:10-12. 1 Peter 4:12-14.James 1:2-4; James 1:2-4; James 1:12.]. And I confidently put the question to you, Has any one of you been ever disappointed of his hope? Have you ever been a loser by serving the Lord? Has he not made up to you in spiritual things, what you have sacrificed for him in worldly things? In the pursuit of earthly gratifications you have often paid too dearly for your enjoyments; but have you ever had reason to regret the price you have paid for the maintenance of a good conscience, and for the benefits of the Gospel? After having counted the cost yourself, have you a friend in the world whom you would dissuade from treading in your steps? You still experience “persecutions;” for they are a part of the Promise, if I may so speak: but do you find them so great a drawback upon your happiness, as you once expected? Is an opprobrious name, or the loss of worldly interests, so great a matter as you once imagined? Shew then by your steadfastness, that, “in God’s favour is life;” and that though “you have nothing else, you really possess all things.” To those who are preparing for the ministry, these thoughts are peculiarly important: for this discipline is often sent, in order to prepare you for the service of the sanctuary. You are to stand in the front of the battle: you are to be examples to the flock: and it is by such exercises that you are to be fitted for your work, and to bring down a blessing on your future labours [Note: Deuteronomy 33:9-11.]. Still it is not of you only that these sacrifices are required; nor are you alone to receive the rich compensation that will be awarded for them. This duty is the duty of all; this happiness is the happiness of all: to all therefore, without exception, I would say, “Be faithful unto death, and God will give you a crown of life.”]
THE AMBITION OF JAMES AND JOHN REPROVED
Mark 10:35-40. And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory. But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? And they say unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: but to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared.
THERE is a fund of instruction in the Scriptures, which the superficial reader entirely overlooks. A thousand little circumstances that are incidentally mentioned in them, serve to confirm each other for the establishment of our faith [Note: This is beautifully illustrated in that masterly work, Paley’s HorζPaulinζ.]; whilst others, that are not mentioned at all, but only supplied by the attentive reader, afford lessons of the greatest importance for the regulation of our conduct. To administer reproof well, is an art exceeding rare and difficult to be attained. When called to attempt it, we in general either pass over the fault so slightly, as to convey no adequate idea of its malignity; or insist upon it so strongly, as to incense, rather than conciliate, the offending person: taking no notice of what we might approve, we are apt to look only at what we disapprove; and to search out occasion for blame, even beyond what the occasion requires. But, instead of this, we should be forward to applaud what is good in the spirit of any person, when we cannot commend the terms in which he speaks; or to put a favourable construction on the terms he uses, when we are constrained to shew our disapprobation of his spirit. Our Lord has set us an example in this respect, which well deserves our imitation. Two of his Disciples, James and John, had come to him with a request, which argued lamentable ignorance and a highly culpable ambition. But how did our Lord correct their folly? Did he expatiate upon their fault, and aggravate it to the uttermost? No: he apparently overlooked it; and annexed to their words a favourable meaning which they were never intended to convey; and then founded on them such instruction as was calculated silently and effectually to counteract the evils of the heart.
In speaking of the request which these Disciples offered to him, we shall notice it,
As it was intended by them—
Whether the idea originated with them or their mother, we do not know: perhaps the Disciples, conscious of the unreasonableness of their desires, had engaged the good offices of their mother, to veil their own ambition: or, possibly, the mother, anxious for the aggrandisement of her family, had urged on her sons to unite in the request: but at all events it is evident, that they hoped by their joint influence certainly to prevail.
Notwithstanding all that our Lord had just said about his sufferings and death, his Disciples still expected that he would establish a temporal kingdom. Though he had spoken of his being crucified, yet, as he had talked also of “rising again the third day,” they conceived, that he spoke only of some transient trials, which would issue in a complete triumph over all his enemies. They remembered that promise which he had very recently given them, that they should at a future period “sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel [Note: Matthew 19:28.];” and they concluded, that it must relate to some temporal dominion. Emboldened by this, they presumed to ask that they might be invested with the two highest places of dignity and power in his kingdom. Not a thought did they bestow on his sufferings, though described in such awful terms: nothing found any place in their minds, but a hope of speedy elevation to the highest honours upon earth. Nor did they affect only a superiority over the world at large, but even above their own brethren also, even above all the other Apostles; so blind were they to their own incompetency for such a post, and so regardless of their own eternal interests. Consider their request in this view:
How unsuitable to their talents!
[What qualifications had they for such an office as that which they solicited? They might be experienced enough as fishermen; but what preparation of mind had they for statesmen, and for the government of an extensive empire? Foolish and vain men! Well did our Saviour say to them, “Ye know not what ye ask.”]
How repugnant to their best interests!
[They had been called from their wonted employment, in order that they might be at leisure to acquire spiritual knowledge; and would they go and undertake an employment that would fill them with ten thousand times greater cares, even if they were qualified to engage in it? Will a man about to run a race, “load his feet with thick clay?” Yet, notwithstanding their Lord had very recently told them, that it was “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven [Note: Matthew 19:25-26.],” they sought after wealth and honour as the summit of their felicity. Alas! how awfully had Satan blinded their eyes, and deluded their hearts!]
How illustrative of the carnality of the human heart!
[Though only two of the Disciples offered this request, all the others shewed by their indignation that they were under the influence of the same ambition. And indeed what they expressed in words, is more or less the language of all our hearts. We would not perhaps utter the sentiment so plainly as they did; but we will indulge it. We long for some further advancement in life; somewhat more of honour, or power, or wealth. We do not indeed wish to govern kingdoms; because of that we have no prospect: but as soon as any elevation in the world appears to be within our reach, we instantly find a drawing of heart towards it: all, from the prince to the beggar, are thus affected: and even those, who profess themselves to be disciples of Christ, are still infected with this fatal malady, the love of this world: yes, if the desire of our hearts were as plainly expressed as theirs was, we should be found, with very few exceptions, to resemble those infatuated and misguided men.]
Let us now proceed to notice their request,
As it was interpreted by our Lord—
He graciously overlooked the true construction of their words, and affixed a sense to them which they were capable of bearing, and which divested them of a great portion of the evil which they contained: and then he formed his answer, as suited to his own construction of them. He supposed the words to relate to that kingdom which he was really come to establish in the world; and as importing a desire after the highest proficiency in grace, and the highest elevation in glory. In conformity with this idea, he speaks to them only of spiritual advancement, and shews them,
The way in which it was to be obtained—
[It is not by a bare request that any person can arrive at eminence in the divine life. The soul is to be disciplined by conflicts, and to be purified by afflictions. Perfect as the Lord Jesus himself was, “he learned obedience by the things which he suffered,” and “was made perfect through sufferings:” and in like manner must all his people be — — — Hence he put the question to them, “Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” As though he had said, ‘You see what bitter trials I endure, that I am overwhelmed even with a sea of troubles [Note: See 1 Corinthians 10:2.];’ and it is ordained that all who will be distinguished either here, or in heaven, must arrive at that distinction by the same path: “they must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of heaven,” and “suffer with me here, if they would be glorified with me in a better world.” This is a solemn and important truth: it has been verified in every age and corner of the world: from righteous Abel to this very hour, every saint has experienced it; and those whose situations have required them to take the lead, have not only borne the brunt of the battle, but frequently have been called to sacrifice their very lives in the cause of Christ. Persecution is a cup which every saint must drink of; and a baptism which every follower of Christ must expect to be baptized with.]
The way in which they themselves should obtain it—
[In answer to the question put to them by our Lord, the two Disciples, without any hesitation, affirmed, that they could suffer any extremity for him. But what presumption was this! Still however our blessed Lord would not mark what they said amiss; but, passing over it in silence, told them, that they should all partake of this honour, and be rendered conformable to his image. They had been chosen by him to be his messengers to the world, and to lead others in the way wherein they should go; and therefore it was necessary that they in particular should be patterns of that faith and patience which they were to inculcate upon others. Accordingly, the very first of the Apostles that was put to death for the sake of Christ, was James [Note: Acts 12:2.]: and John was soon imprisoned and beaten for the Gospel’s sake [Note: Acts 5:40.]; and, after a life of many trials, was banished to the Isle of Patmos, where he speaks of himself, at the age of a hundred years, as “a companion in tribulation in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ [Note: Revelation 1:9.]. Thus he most effectually counteracted their ambitious views, by shewing them, that, instead of honours in this world, they must look for nothing but tribulations and persecutions even unto death.]
To what persons it should ultimately be given—
[In the last verse of our text, there are words inserted in italics by our translators, in order to supply what they supposed necessary to complete the sense; but there was no occasion for that addition; and, in fact, it obscures, instead of illustrating, the meaning of the passage. Our Lord tells his Disciples, that the chief places in his kingdom were to be disposed of by him, not according to his own mere arbitrary will, but agreeably to a plan concerted from all eternity between his Father and himself; and that they only would possess the highest place for whom that place had been prepared [Note: The word ἀλλὰ is used in the sense of εἰ μὴ. Compare Mark 9:8. with Matthew 17:8.]. His words however admit of two distinct meanings; they may be understood as declaring, that his gift of eternal life is limited by the decrees of God, or that it is regulated by the attainments of men. In either of these views, they contain important instruction. God the Father did, from all eternity, enter into covenant with his Son, and give to him a people, whom he should redeem by his blood, and save by his effectual grace; and on whom he should confer everlasting happiness in heaven. Of these our blessed Lord frequently speaks as of persons given to him by the Father; and he plainly declares elsewhere, that his bestowing of eternal life was limited to them [Note: John 17:2; John 17:24.]. But it is equally true, that the degrees of glory which shall be conferred on different persons will be proportioned to their attainments in grace: it is expressly said, that “every man shall receive according to his own labour [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:8.].” Of course, there are higher degrees of glory prepared for those who labour and suffer much for their Lord, and lower degrees for those who are less diligent. The parables of the pounds and of the talents are decisive upon this point. In this sense of the words, our Lord’s reply appears to be more pertinent than in the other; for then the import of them will be to this effect: ‘Do not be looking for earthly honour, but for the honour that cometh of God; and be as ambitious for that as you will: only remember, that the degrees of it which you shall obtain, depend upon your own exertions for the attainment of it: engage heartily in my service, and expect assuredly at my hands a reward proportioned to your diligence and fidelity.’ This is an encouraging consideration to every one of us: the cup we may have to drink of may be bitter at the time; but it shall soon be exchanged for a far different cup, which we shall drink of to all eternity: and though we go through a sea of troubles now, our augmented weight of glory shall abundantly compensate for all the sorrows we have endured.]
Let us learn then from hence,
What we are to desire—
[If we will hear a Prophet, he says, “Seekest thou great things unto thyself? seek them not [Note: Jeremiah 45:5.].” If we will attend to an Apostle, he says, “Set your affections on things above, and not on things on the earth [Note: Colossians 3:2.].” Let us attend to these instructions, and “count all things but loss, that we may win Christ” — — —]
What we are to expect—
[If we look for honour and acceptance with man, we shall be disappointed. Which of the Prophets, which of the Apostles, was not an object of hatred and persecution to an ungodly world? Who are we then, that we should expect different treatment from them? Let us bear in mind, that “all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution:” and let us be content to bear our cross, in order that we may hereafter receive a crown — — —]
What we are to do—
[God has appointed to every one of us our work: let us be diligent in the performance of it: “whatsoever our hand findeth to do, let us do it with all our might.” But let us be especially careful of the rock which these presumptuous Disciples split upon. When our Lord asked them whether they could “drink of his cup, and be baptized with his baptism,” they confidently answered that they could. And how justly they estimated their own powers, they soon shewed, when, upon our Lord’s apprehension in the garden, they all forsook him and fled. Thus will it be with us, if we attempt to do any thing in our own strength: we shall soon find that “we have not of ourselves a sufficiency even to think a good thought,” much less to do and suffer all the will of God. Our Lord tells us, that “without Him we can do nothing.” Let us remember then, that, whilst we engage in his service, we must derive all our strength from him. If we look to him, we need not fear either men or devils: we may set at nought all the menaces of our most inveterate enemies: a fiery furnace, or a den of lions, need be no object of terror to us; for “our strength shall be according to our day;” and we shall be “enabled both to do ail things,” and “to suffer all things, through Christ who strengthened us.”]
LEGITIMATE AMBITION ILLUSTRATED
Mark 10:41-45. And when the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John. But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: and whosoever of you mill be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
THE corruption of the heart, like fire in flint, generally lies concealed, till, by a collision with some particular circumstances, it is elicited; and then it comes forth with a power capable of producing the most fatal effects. Till James and John had applied to the Lord Jesus for the two highest places in his kingdom, the other ten Disciples appeared content with any lot that should be assigned them: but when they had reason to apprehend that their more aspiring brethren might be placed above them, they were filled with indignation against them, and were ready to dispute and quarrel with them for precedency. Then they shewed, that they themselves were as much actuated by ambition as the others; and were quite as averse to yield, as the others were anxious to obtain, the highest place of dignity and power. Unconscious of the evil that existed in themselves, they were soon offended at it in others: and it is observable, that we are never more easily offended, than when we behold in others the evil that is predominant in ourselves; so blind are we in our judgment, and so partial in our decisions.
But our blessed Lord gently corrected the errors of his Disciples; he shewed them, that they were altogether wrong in indulging such a desire after earthly distinctions; and that, if they would affect superiority at all, the only ambition that became them was to excel in works and labours of love. This, which we may call legitimate ambition, he illustrated in a way,
The men of this world affect and exercise a lordly authority—
[Kings are rarely content with the measure of power with which they are invested by the laws, but are for the most part desirous of extending their prerogative; and not uncommonly they imagine, that they themselves are exalted, in proportion to the degree of power that they are able to exert. Nor does it in general suffice them to govern their own subjects: they too often wish to interfere with other potentates, and to controul the acts of other sovereigns. The subjugation of other states, is in their eyes a source of enviable aggrandisement: and the greater success they have in prosecuting their ambitious projects, the more restless they become; till at last universal empire is scarce sufficient to satiate their desires. A fear of losing their own possessions, imposes indeed on many a salutary restraint: but where no such ground of fear exists, the tyrannical dispositions of men know no bounds. What the human heart is capable of, may be seen in Nebuchadnezzar; who ordered all the wise men in his dominions to be put to death, because they could not tell him a dream of his, which he himself had forgotten; and again commanded all who would not fall down and worship a golden image which he had set up, to be cast into a fiery furnace: in a word, “all people, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him; whom he would, he slew; and whom he would, be kept alive [Note: Daniel 2:12-13; Daniel 3:2-7; Daniel 5:19.].”
The same dispositions are observable also in subordinate governors, and in all who are invested with authority: there is in every one a proneness to extend his power, and to make his own will the rule and reason of action to those around him: and the greater measure of despotism any one is able to exercise, the more he conceives himself to be exalted in the scale of being.]
But the very reverse of this should be the practice of God’s people—
[We say not that a Christian may not be a king: (would to God that all the kings upon earth were Christians!) nor do we think it wrong for them to maintain the power assigned them by the laws: for they are invested with power by God himself, in order that they may exercise it for their people’s good. Nor do we conceive that Christians of an inferior order should decline all offices of trust and power; or that power should not be exercised over the Church of God: for every society must be governed by laws: and it is desirable that the execution of the laws should be entrusted to those who will most consult the glory of God. But this we say, that no man should affect power under an idea that happiness consists in the possession of it, or that he himself is elevated and ennobled by it; nor indeed for any other end, than as it may be instrumental to the advancing of God’s honour, and the happiness of mankind. The Christian’s must be the very reverse of that which we have seen to be the habit of the world. What worldly men affect, he must despise: and what they exact of others, he must, of his own mind and will, cheerfully render to all around him. Instead of wishing to enslave others, he must willingly make himself, so to speak, a slave to others; and account it his highest honour to render services even to the least and meanest of mankind: he must be the minister of all, the servant of all [Note: δοῦλοςimports a servant who was also his master’s property.].]
Our Lord proceeded to illustrate this idea further, in a way,
Our blessed Lord has exhibited a perfect pattern for his people—
[He was, in a sense that none other can be, “the Son of Man:” he was, as the Jews themselves understood that name to mean, the Son of God, even God himself [Note: Luke 22:69-70.]. Yet “he, though being in the form of God, and counting it not robbery to be equal with God, made himself of no reputation, and took upon himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of sinful men:” and, instead of appearing in outward pomp and splendour, and having the great men of the earth in his retinue, he came to minister unto his own rebellious creatures: yea, he waited upon them continually, “going about through all the towns and villages to do good” to their bodies and their souls. On his own immediate Disciples too he waited, condescending even to wash their feet. Nor did he only spend his life in the service of mankind, but at last laid down his life for them, to ransom their souls from death and hell. No sacrifice was too great for him to make for their welfare, no suffering too heavy for him to endure. He “bare their infirmities and sorrows” by tender sympathy, and “he bare also their sins in his own body on the tree;” enduring in his own person the curse due to them, that they through him might inherit eternal blessedness [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:21.].]
To resemble him should be the summit of our ambition—
[As to the ends and purposes of his humiliation, he must for ever stand alone: for “no man can redeem his brother, or give to God a ransom for him [Note: Psalms 49:7.].” But we may “bear one another’s burthens;” and we ought to do so; for this is the law imposed on us by Christ himself [Note: Galatians 6:2.]: we may consider all our faculties, and time, and wealth, and influence as talents committed to our care, to be improved for God and for the benefit of our fellow-creatures: we may value them all, only as means of doing good: we may make the good of others to be the great business and end of our lives, and study by all possible means to promote the comfort of their bodies, and the salvation of their souls. We may cheerfully submit to sacrifice our ease, our reputation, our liberty, yea, our very lives, in their service: yes; we may, and “we ought to, lay down our lives for the brethren,” if by such a sacrifice we may promote their eternal interests [Note: 1 John 3:16.]. Here, I say, is scope for our ambition: nor can we possibly be too ardent in such a career as that. We must not indeed labour even in such a way for the honour that cometh of man: to be aspiring after eminence with a view to man’s applause, would vitiate all the actions that we could ever perform, and deprive us of all hope of acceptance with God: but, if we abound in works and labours of love for the honour of God and the good of man, then, the more numerous and self-denying those labours are, the more exalted shall we be in the estimation of God himself; and if we would possess the most distinguished place in his kingdom, this is the legitimate and the only method to obtain it. We know that the Apostle Paul was “not a whit behind the very chiefest Apostles:” and the reason was, that “he laboured more abundantly than they all,” and rendered both to God and man the greatest measure of difficult and self-denying services [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:5; 2 Corinthians 11:22-28.]. In a word, he most resembled his Divine Master: and in proportion as we also resemble Christ, will be our real dignity and honour.]
From this subject we may learn,
The true nature of Christian morality—
[The generality of Christians have a scheme of morals scarcely elevated beyond the systems which were established by heathen philosophers: their morality is a system of pride; and, however wide its circumference, every line of it centres in self. But the morality of the Gospel is founded in humility, and, in every part of it, has respect to the glory of God. It requires us “not to live unto ourselves, but unto him who died for us and rose again” — — — Were this more considered amongst us, we should not hear of persons founding their hopes of acceptance on their morality: for, where is there one who has regulated his life by this standard? If we try our morals by this touchstone, we shall see that the very best of us needs a Saviour, as much as the vilest of the human race — — — Let us remember then what true morality is, and labour to attain its utmost heights.]
The diversified uses that we are to make of our Saviour’s death—
[Doubtless the first great use that we are to make of it, is, to trust in it for our reconciliation with God. We all have sold ourselves to sin and Satan, and must all look to his blood as the price paid for our redemption. No other ransom ever was, or ever can be, paid for our souls: in that therefore must be all our hope, and trust, and confidence — — — But in the death of Christ we have also an assemblage of every virtue that suffering humanity can exercise. In that we have a pattern of all that is great and glorious; a patience invincible, a love that passes the comprehension either of men or angels. To that therefore we must look as to the pattern to which we are to be conformed: and though it is not possible that we should ever come near to his perfection, yet we must aspire after it; and, setting him ever before our eyes, must endeavour in all things to “walk as he walked.”]
The criterion whereby we are to judge of our spirit and conduct—
[It is often difficult to ascertain the precise quality of our own actions; but here are two things, by which, as by a rule or plummet, we may be enabled to form a correct judgment. Let us compare our spirit and conduct with that which is discernible in worldly men: and we may be nearly sure, that, if we resemble them, we are wrong. Let us next turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, and see what his spirit and conduct were on similar occasions: and we may safely conclude, that we are right or wrong, in proportion as we resemble him, or differ from him. We do not undertake to say, that these tests are infallible in all cases; because a worldly man may sometimes do what is materially right, though from a wrong principle; and because the cases between our Lord and ourselves may not be sufficiently parallel: but the person who will habituate himself to try his spirit by these tests, will have a light, which will assist him in the most intricate paths, and preserve him from innumerable errors, into which he would fall, if he had no such clew to guide him. And let not this hint be overlooked; for, “who can understand his errors?” On many occasions, the Apostles themselves “knew not what spirit they were of.” Had they on the present occasion reflected either on the conduct of the world, or on the conduct of their Lord, they would have been kept from proud ambition on the one hand, and from envious indignation on the other. Whilst therefore we pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, let us be thankful for any subordinate means of ascertaining his mind and will: and let us endeavour so to walk, that Christ himself may testify concerning us, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”]
BLIND BARTIMEUS CURED
Mark 10:49-50. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee. And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus.
OUR Lord, like the sun in the firmament, prosesecuted without intermission the great ends of his ministry, diffusing innumerable blessings wheresoever he bent his course. The miracle which he performed at Jericho, though similar in many respects to some others which are recorded, has some circumstances peculiar to itself, which deserve to be attentively considered. St. Matthew mentions two persons who were joint-petitioners on this occasion; but St. Mark confines his narration to Bartimeus alone, as the more noted of the two, and as the chief speaker. To comprehend the most important incidents in this history, we shall consider,
The state of the person whom Jesus called—
Bartimeus was a distressed and humble suppliant for mercy—
[He was both blind, and necessitated to subsist on the precarious bounty of those who might pass him on the highway. Who would have thought that God should suffer one, towards whom he had designs of love and mercy, to be reduced to so low a state? Yet such is his sovereign appointment in many instances; his own children are lying at the gate full of sores, while his enemies are faring sumptuously every day. Hearing that Jesus passed by, this blind man earnestly importuned his aid. He would not lose the opportunity which now occurred; nor cease from his cries till he had obtained his request. His language was expressive of an assured faith in Jesus the promised Messiah, at the very time that the rulers and Pharisees almost unanimously rejected him. Thus it is frequently found, that those things which are hid from the wise and prudent are revealed unto babes.]
Afflictive as such a condition is, it affords a pleasant and hopeful prospect—
[Distress of any kind cannot but be an object of commiseration; but none is so much to be deprecated as the blindness of the mind. The loss of eye-sight is no more worthy to be compared with this, than the body with the soul, or time with eternity. Miserable beyond description are they, the eyes of whose understanding have never yet been enlightened to behold the wonderful things of God’s law. But if we be sensible of our blindness; if we be calling upon Jesus as the appointed and all-sufficient Saviour, if we be persevering in prayer notwithstanding all our discouragements, and saying, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me,” we are surely in a hopeful state; we are not far from the kingdom of God.]
In confirmation of this point we proceed to shew,
The encouragement which the call of Jesus afforded him—
The command which Jesus gave was announced to Bartimeus with joyful congratulations—
[Jesus had declined for some time to notice his cries, but at last commanded him to be brought unto him. What a gleam of hope must instantly have irradiated the mind of this poor suppliant! A few minutes before, he had been rebuked by the multitude, and bidden to hold his peace; but, happily for him, their rebukes had operated to quicken rather than to damp his ardour. Now also the voices of those who had checked him were changed, and their rebukes were turned to encouraging exhortations. The very call was deemed an earnest of the mercy that had been solicited.]
And are not the calls of Jesus a ground of encouragement to all who feel their need of mercy?
[He does not, it is true, call any of us by name; but the minute descriptions given of those whom he does invite, are far more satisfactory to the soul, than the most express mention of our names could be: we might doubt whether there were not others of our name; but who can doubt whether he be a sinner, a lost sinner? Yet such are repeatedly declared to be the very persons whom he came to seek and save. Are we, like the blind man, longing for mercy, and striving to obtain it? It is impossible to doubt whether Jesus have mercy in store for us, since he particularly calls to him “every one that thirsteth.” Only let his invitations be treasured up in our minds, and we shall never despond, never entertain a doubt of obtaining our desire at last.]
Participating in the general joy which this call excited, let us trace,
The effect it produced upon him—
He arose and went to Jesus without delay—
[Intent upon one point of infinite importance, he disregarded his garment, as the Samaritan woman on another occasion did her water-pot; or perhaps, fearing that it would retard his motion, he cast it away, that he might the more speedily obey the summons. Valuable as it must have been to one so poor, he utterly despised it, when the prospect of a cure had cheered his soul; nor would he retain any thing that should for one moment interfere with his expected bliss. Instantly he went, and made known to Jesus the particular mercy which he desired. He asked not any pecuniary aid, but that, of which the value was above rubies. He had come to one who was able to grant whatever he should ask; and, as he was not straitened in his Benefactor, he would not be straitened in his own petitions.]
Such should be the effect which the calls of Jesus should produce on us—
[We should not hesitate one moment to comply with his gracious invitations, nor should any worldly concerns occupy our thoughts when a prospect of mercy presents itself to our view. We should cast off every thing, however dear or even necessary it may be to us, rather than suffer it to retard our spiritual progress. “We should lay aside every weight, and the sin that most easily besets us, in order that we may run with patience and activity the race that is set before us.” Going to Jesus we should spread all our wants before him. If he ask, “What wouldst thou that I should do unto thee?” we should be ready to reply, ‘Lord, open my eyes, forgive my sins, renew my soul.’ If we thus improve his calls, we shall never be disappointed of our hope.]
We shall conclude with recommending to your imitation the conduct of this blind beggar. Imitate,
[It is scarcely possible for words to express deeper humility than that manifested by Bartimeus. He sought nothing but mercy for mercy’s sake: he had no plea but that of his own misery, together with that which was implied in the appellation given to Jesus. The Son of David was to confirm his divine mission by the most benevolent and stupendous miracles. The import of the beggar’s petition therefore was, ‘Let me, the poorest, meanest, and most necessitous of mankind, be made a monument of thy power and grace.’ Such exactly is to be the spirit and temper with which we must approach the Lord. If we bring any self-righteous plea, or build our hope upon any thing besides the work and offices of Christ, we never can find acceptance with him. It is the broken and contrite spirit, and that alone, which God will not despise.]
[The circumstances under which he persevered in his requests were very discouraging. He was rebuked by the people, and, to appearance, disregarded by Christ; yet, instead of relaxing, he redoubled his efforts to obtain mercy. Thus should we pray and not faint. Discouragements we must expect both from without and from within. The world will cry out against us, and God himself may appear to have forsaken us: but we must argue like the lepers, and say, ‘If I cease to call upon him, I must perish; and I can but perish if I continue my supplications. Thus must we continue in prayer with all perseverance; breaking through every difficulty, casting away every impediment, and determining, if we perish, to perish at the feet of Christ. Would to God that there were within us such a spirit! Sooner should heaven and earth pass away than such a suppliant be finally rejected.]
[When healed by Jesus, we find the same contempt for secular interests as he had manifested under his distress. From henceforth his concern was to honour his Benefactor: he instantly became a stated follower of Jesus, a living witness of his mercy and power. How differently did he act from those who seek the Lord in their affliction, but, as soon as ever they are relieved, forget all the vows that are upon them! Let not us be of this base and odious character. Let us rather yield up ourselves as living sacrifices to the Lord, and devote ourselves wholly to his service. Let the remembrance of his kindness be ever engraven on our hearts, and a grateful sense of it be ever legible in our lives. Thus shall we answer the end for which his mercy is imparted, and be numbered among his followers in a better world.]
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Mark 10". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany