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COMMENDATION OF MARY’S LOVE
Mark 14:8. She hath done what she could.
OCCASIONS sometimes arise, wherein it is difficult to discern the precise line of conduct we should pursue. In a season of public festivity, for instance, or on account of some domestic occurrences, we may be called to unite in feasting, and perhaps to incur considerable expence in providing entertainments for others: and a doubt may well arise in our minds, how far we ought to countenance such proceedings, and whether we ought not rather to save our money for the support of the poor. But we must not expect to have our path so clearly marked, but that there shall be abundant room left for difference of opinion in such things. All that seems practicable is, to lay down general principles, and to view the Lord Jesus Christ as an example best fitted to assist us in the application of them. There certainly are times, when, according to our rank and station in life, we should “be given to hospitality and unite in “rendering honour to whom honour is due.” Yet we have need, on the other hand, to guard against the indulgence of an ostentatious or worldly spirit. To lean to the side of moderation is undoubtedly the safer plan: nevertheless, when just occasions present themselves, there is a liberality that well befits the Christian character.
We read in the preceding context that a feast was made for our Lord in the house of Simon, the leper; and that Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead, was one of the guests invited to meet him. Our Lord did not refuse to sanction a feast prepared for his sake: nor, when Mary, the sister of Lazarus, manifested her regard for him in a way that had an appearance of extravagance, did he condemn her for it: on the contrary, he judged that it was suited to the occasion; and therefore he vindicated her from the uncharitable censures which his own Disciples passed upon her, and declared his decided approbation of what she had done.
We propose to consider,
The act commended—
There are two points of view in which this may be considered:
[The act itself was this. Whilst Jesus reclined at the table, Mary came with “an alabaster-box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, and on his feet; and then wiped his feet with her hair.”
Now in this act she had respect to all the kindness which the Lord Jesus Christ had shewn both to her and to her family. He had favoured them with a more peculiar intimacy, and had testified on many occasions a pre-eminent regard for them. The opportunities thus offered them for spiritual good, had been improved by all of them, but especially by Mary. When Martha had studied chiefly to shew respect by external services, Mary had been intent on acquiring good to her soul from his instructive discourses; and, on being blamed by Martha for neglect of duty, she was applauded by her Lord for having “chosen a better part, which should never be taken away from her.”
But there was one mercy in particular which she had received from the Lord Jesus, and which had filled her soul with the profoundest gratitude. Her brother Lazarus had been raised by him from the dead. Jesus had not indeed come to them so speedily as they had wished; but this delay gave him an opportunity to display towards them in a more abundant measure the riches of his grace, and the all-sufficiency of his power. He expressed his sympathy with them under their affliction; and taught them to expect from him not only the restoration of their departed brother, but the everlasting salvation of their own souls [Note: John 11:25-26.] — — —
How to requite all this kindness she knew not, but what she could do, she most gladly did; and, without any fear of the uncharitable constructions that were likely to be put upon her conduct, as ostentatious, obtrusive, prodigal, she determined to honour him before all to the utmost of her power.]
[We do not apprehend that Mary herself had any idea of confirming our Lord’s assertions respecting his approaching death. But as the prophets of old were inspired by the Spirit of God to speak things which they themselves did not understand [Note: 1 Peter 1:11.], and as Caiaphas, the high-priest, had very recently foretold (though unintentionally and without the remotest conception of the meaning of his own words) the glorious ends that should be accomplished by the death of Christ [Note: John 11:49-52.]; so Mary, though unconscious of it herself, predicted by this act the death and resurrection of her beloved Lord. It was common among the Jews to embalm the bodies of their departed friends: but there would be no time allowed for such tokens of respect from the friends of Jesus: for he would not be taken down from the cross till the Sabbath was nearly arrived; and on the Sabbath no such work could by the Jewish law be performed; and at the earliest dawn of the third day Jesus was to rise: Jesus therefore construed this action of Mary’s as a preparation for his funeral, and as a performance of a rite, which could not otherwise have been performed at all [Note: See the words immediately following the text.]. This, we acknowledge, was not intended by herself; but it was designed and overruled by God; who by this significant emblem foreshewed the very events which in a few days were fully accomplished.]
Such was the act: let us next consider,
The commendation given it—
The Disciples blamed it as an act of extravagance and waste: and thinking lightly of the honour done to their Master, reflected only on the loss sustained by the poor; since if it had been sold and given to them, it would have provided relief for many [Note: It was worth about ten pounds of our money.]. The person who first raised the objection was Judas, who, being a thief and carrying the bag, would have alienated the money to his own use. He being disappointed of his prey, pretended to feel for the poor; (for the worst of men will profess a regard for virtue, when their only object is to condemn and obstruct its exercise;) and the rest of the Apostles too readily adopted his views; so prone are even the best of men to adopt uncharitable sentiments, rather than be at the pains to make a full inquiry into the things which they condemn. But our blessed Lord, who knew the pious dispositions of her heart, proceeded,
To vindicate the act—
[“She hath wrought a good work upon me,” says our Lord. If acts of charity are not to be omitted, so neither are acts of piety. “The poor are always with us; and we have opportunities of doing them good at all times:” we may be, and we ought to be, in the daily habit of administering to their wants, and consulting their welfare. But there are occasions that call for particular exertions: occasions which have more especial respect to the glory of God, and the honour of the Lord Jesus; (such as the dispersion of the Holy Scriptures, and the conversion of Jews and Gentiles to the faith of Christ;) and to these we should lend our aid with more than usual liberality, even though we should thereby contract our ability to relieve the temporal wants of men; for though we are certainly to do the latter, yet we must on no account leave the former undone. It is a very erroneous idea that our fellow-creatures only are to occupy our regard. Is God to have no appropriate token of our love? Are the wonders of redemption so insignificant, that they call for no expressions of gratitude on our part? So far are these considerations from deserving only a subordinate place in our esteem, that they should operate as the leading motive in all our exertions for the poor; and whatever we do, we should do it as “constrained by the love of Christ,” and “with a view to his glory.”]
To applaud the agent—
[Greater commendation could not be bestowed than that which is contained in our text; “She hath done what she could.” An angel from heaven could in that respect have done no more. David’s desire to build the temple, and his endeavour to make preparations for it, were as acceptable to God as the actual erection of it by Solomon. And the widow, who gave two mites, not only equalled, but far exceeded the liberality of the rich, though it is confessed that “they cast in much into the treasury [Note: Mark 12:42-44.].” And thus it is with us, whether we possess ten talents, or only one, if only we labour to improve what we have, “it shall be accepted according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:12.].”
Not content with applauding her at the moment, he ordained that this act of hers should be recorded in his Gospel, and continue to be held up to the admiration of mankind even to the end of the world [Note: ver. 9.]. But was this memorial of her to be recorded solely for her honour? No: as the record of Abraham’s faith being counted to him for righteousness, was not made for his sake only, but for ours also, to whom a similar faith would be productive of similar benefits [Note: Romans 4:22-25.], so this piety of Mary’s was recorded, not for her sake only, but to stimulate and encourage us to an imitation of it.
It should stimulate us. We should consider that there is one great object which we should ever propose to ourselves through life; and that is, to serve and honour the Lord Jesus Christ. We should consider also that there is one only measure in which we should seek to effect that object; and that is, to the utmost extent of our ability. We should never think of what we have done, but of what we can do; nor account any thing done, whilst any thing remains to be done. Our daily and hourly inquiry should be, “What shall I render unto the Lord, for all the benefits that he hath done unto me?” We should be as ingenious to devise plans of honouring him, as we should be diligent in the execution of them: and “whatever our hand findeth to do, we should do it with all our might.”
Moreover, it should encourage us. We are apt to think, that because we can do but little for the Lord, it is in vain to attempt any thing. But we are in this respect all upon a level: the poorest, the weakest, the meanest may do what they can; and the greatest of mankind can do no more. What an encouraging thought is this! how justly may it banish all those painful feelings which we are apt to indulge, and call forth into action every energy we possess! What though I cannot govern kingdoms for him, or go forth with apostolic zeal to preach his Gospel? What though I have no wealth, no talent, no influence to cast into his treasury? I have my mite, and he will graciously accept it. I may give him at least the affections of my soul: and if I pour them forth in his house, or at his table, or in my secret chamber, he will smell as sweet an odour, as incense or sacrifice ever yet afforded him. If then we have nothing else to give him, let us spiritually adopt, as Mary did, the resolution of the Spouse in the Song of Solomon; “While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof [Note: Song of Solomon 1:12.].”]
We would address a few words,
To those who assume this character to themselves—
[Nothing is more common than to hear persons assert, that “they do all they can:” nay, many found on this very thing their hopes of acceptance with God. But this is dreadful presumption in any one, and more especially in those who are most forward to arrogate this character to themselves. Indeed the assumption of this character, whilst we found our hopes upon it, is a contradiction in terms: for to found our hopes upon any thing that we can do, is to exclude Christ from his office as a Saviour, and to dishonour him to the utmost of our power. Moreover, if those who look with such complacency on their own actions, would inquire, What exertions they have made to honour Christ, it is to be feared that a few unmeaning ceremonies, or actions, that required neither self-denial nor zeal, would be found to constitute the whole of their boasted service. Let such persons then remember the caution given us by St. Paul, that “not he that commendeth himself is approved of God, but he whom the Lord commendeth [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:18.].”]
To those who are aspiring after it—
[Those who will be zealous for their Lord must expect discouragements, and that too, not only from the ungodly, who will be sure to put a bad construction on their actions, but even from many well-meaning, or even pious persons, who will misinterpret their designs. If the very same occurrence were to take place at this very hour, under precisely the same circumstances, there are few of the Lord’s Disciples who would be able to appreciate it aright: few would have such an exalted view of Christ’s dignity and glory, as to see that a concern for that ought to swallow up every other consideration. One would accuse her of extravagance, another of bold obtrusiveness; and the more favourable, who gave her credit for pious intentions, would blame her enthusiastic ardour and needless singularity. But, beloved, be not discouraged by such things. I would not indeed recommend you to act in a way that should give unnecessary offence either to the world or to the Church of God: but on the other hand, I would not recommend you to have such a respect to the opinions of men, as to moderate your exertions in the cause of Christ, to please them. What though Mary was condemned, not only by vile hypocrites, like Judas, but even by the Apostles themselves; who does not envy her the approbation of her Lord? Who does not see in this memorial of her an ample recompence for the temporary obloquy that she sustained? And who that reflects on the reward that she is now receiving in heaven, does not see the blessedness of discarding the fear of man, and of living unto God? Let us then endeavour to approve ourselves to our all-seeing and ever-adorable Saviour. Let us guard against entertaining uncharitable thoughts either of those who fall short of us, or those who go beyond us, in acts of love to him. We all have our different views, different tempers, different tastes. Both Martha and Mary sought to honour him; the one in laborious service, the other in pious adoration; and both were accepted in what they did. Let us then “do what we can;” and strive to honour him in the way best suited to our capacities and talents: and, as he has poured out his soul unto death for us,” let us be ready at all times to sacrifice for him our name, our property, our life.]
THE SELF-DIFFIDENCE OF THE APOSTLES
Mark 14:17-19. And in the evening he cometh with the twelve. And as they sat and did eat, Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, One of you which eateth with me shall betray me. And they began to be sorrowful, and to say unto him one by one, Is it I? and another said, Is it I?
EVERY particular relative to the sufferings of our blessed Lord was the subject of prophecy. The Psalmist, in different parts of his inspired compositions, specifies many minute occurrences which should take place at the time of our Saviour’s death. In some of his expressions, the primary reference is to himself; in others, he refers to the Messiah alone. The passage to which there is an allusion in our text is of the former kind. It evidently is applicable, in the first instance, to David, whose life was sought by his friend Ahithophel [Note: Psalms 41:9. with 2 Samuel 16:23.]. But, inasmuch as David was an eminent type of Christ, as Ahithophel was of Judas, the passage is declared, by our blessed Lord himself, to have been a prediction of the event which was just about to be accomplished in the traitor Judas. Whilst all the Disciples were with their Lord, celebrating the Passover, Jesus declared to them what was about to take place; that one of them, even one of his twelve Apostles, who were with him, would betray him. This declaration filled them all with astonishment and grief. They all looked one upon another, to see whether any one would avow such an intention as that: and when no one seemed conscious of any such purpose, all began to suspect themselves, and to ask, “Lord, is it I? Is it I?”
We shall find it not unprofitable to consider,
The self-diffidence of the Apostles—
If ever there was an occasion when self-confidence might justly be expressed, methinks it was at that hour, and in reference to that point—
[Methinks the Apostles might well have said, ‘Lord, how can it be that any one of us should so forget his obligations to thee, as to deliver thee up into the hands of thy blood-thirsty enemies, that they may put thee to death? We trust that the principles which we have imbibed from thee are too deeply rooted in our hearts to admit of our ever perpetrating such an act of wickedness, unheard-of wickedness, as that. We acknowledge that we are both weak and sinful; but no consideration under heaven could ever induce us to commit such an abomination as that; and we do hope that, during the years thou hast known us, thou hast seen no reason to suspect us of it.’]
But amongst them all there was no feeling but of self-diffidence and self-distrust—
[No one doubted the truth of our Lord’s assertion, or questioned, for a moment, the certainty of the event. Nor did any one give way to unkind and uncharitable suspicions respecting his brethren. It might have been supposed that each, conscious of his own integrity, would begin to think which of the Apostles was the most likely to act so base a part; and to fix the accusation upon one or upon another, as the prejudices of his own mind might lead him. But nothing of this kind appeared in any one of them. Each began to suspect himself, rather than any other: each said, as it were, within his own bosom, ‘I know more evil of myself than I do of any one else; and therefore I have more reason to be jealous over myself, than over any other person: Lord, am I the unhappy person of whom thou speakest? I am not, indeed, conscious of any such intention: but thou knowest what is in man: thou knowest what evils I may yet commit: tell me, Lord, is it I?’ Thus, with the deepest grief, and the most painful anxiety, every one of them in succession asked, “Is it I? Is it I?”
At last the traitor Judas himself, fearing lest his very silence should mark him out as the one to whom the guilt must attach, presumed also to put the question, “Master, is it I [Note: Matthew 26:25.]?” And our Lord told him plainly that it was; and afterwards pointed him out also to the other Apostles, by giving to him a sop in, the presence of them all; that so, when the act should have been committed, and all the distressing consequences should have ensued, the other Apostles might remember, that the whole had been foretold by the prophets, and foreseen by our Lord himself [Note: John 13:18-19; John 13:25-26.].]
Let us now attend to,
The instruction to be derived from it—
Truly, it must have been a most affecting scene. From it we learn,
That there is no evil which fallen man is not capable of committing—
[There are some evils against which our nature utterly revolts; and, if we were supposed capable of committing them, we should be ready to say, with Hazael, “Is thy servant a dog, that he should do such a thing as this [Note: 2 Kings 8:11-13.]?” But so think all, till the fact is proved upon them. Suppose it had been said, “The God of heaven and earth will become incarnate, and in his own person display, as far as human eyes are capable of beholding it, all the glory of his perfections [Note: John 1:14.].” The whole period of his existence upon earth shall be occupied in the exercise of the sublimest virtue, and in acts of the most unbounded beneficence. But he shall be hated, reviled, persecuted even unto death, the accursed death of the cross. But where shall we find men base enough to accomplish it all? Where shall we find rulers impious enough to promote such wickedness, or people base enough to carry it into effect? Where shall we find a favoured Disciple to betray him? Where soldiers impious enough to seize him? Where a judge either unjust or timid enough to condemn him? Where shall we find a man hardy enough to stretch his sacred limbs upon the cross, and nail them to the accursed tree? Where, in short, shall we find agents capable of acting all the different parts in this bloody tragedy? If we were to ask of every individual ruler, and judge, and soldier in the universe, ‘Will you be the person to execute such an office against your incarnate God, and more especially after you have had all his glory displayed, as it were, before your eyes in every quarter of the land?’ you would think that the prophecy must fail, for want of persons to fulfil it. But it did take place, according to the predictions concerning it: and the Apostles shewed a just consciousness of the depravity of our fallen nature, when each, believing that the words of Jesus would be fulfilled, inquired whether he himself were the person destined to fulfil them.]
That there is no person so eminent, but he has reason to distrust himself—
[Had our Lord said, that some alien from his family should betray him, it might have been supposed that a person impious enough should be found. But shall such an one be found amongst his own Disciples, who have heard all his public discourses, and been instructed also by him in private, and beheld all his miracles, and been distinguished by him above all others amongst the sons of men? Yes, even amongst them shall this traitor be found. Not all the advantages that ever were enjoyed by mortal man, nor all the grace that was ever given to mortal man, will be sufficient to uphold him, if God, for one moment, withdraw from him his everlasting arms. A more holy man than David cannot be found: yet, after years of most distinguished piety, he fell, as you well know, into sin of the deepest die. Who that had seen Solomon, too, at the dedication of the temple, would have supposed it possible that he should abandon himself to such a course as he pursued during the greater part of his life? And who are we, that we should think ourselves beyond the reach of temptation and sin? “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.” To the most devout and holy amongst you all will I say, “Be not high-minded, but fear.” And when the most hateful picture of human deformity is exhibited to your view in the ministry of the word, do not begin to say with yourselves, “I wish that such or such an one were here to behold it!” but rather, with holy jealousy over yourselves, lift up your hearts to God, and say, “Lord, is it I? Lord, is it I?” Then pour out your souls before him; and with fervent supplication cry, “Search me, O Lord, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting [Note: Psalms 139:23-24.].”]
That the foreknowledge of God does not at all lessen the criminality of our acts—
[The Apostles did not, for a moment, entertain the absurd and impious thought, that the impiety predicted would be less criminal because it was foreseen. The action would be not a whit the less voluntary on this account; and the woe denounced by our Lord against the perpetrator of it was not, in any degree, the less merited or less severe.
Now, who shall say what Almighty God foresees respecting us? The probability is, that were futurity now to be disclosed to our view, it would be said, ‘One in that assembly will betray me, and, for the sake of some present gain, will sacrifice my honour and interests in the world. Another will commit such or such an enormity, and afterwards will terminate his own life with suicide.’ Suppose, now, that such a prediction were uttered, shall any one of us presume to say, ‘It cannot relate to me: I am not within the reach of such evils as those?’ No: rather let every one, with holy fear, suspect himself; and say, ‘Lord, is it I? O that it may not be me! Lord, grant that I may never be left so to dishonour God, and so to ruin my own soul!’
But I will suppose that God foresees such an event in any one of you; Are you the less free agents in all that you do? God has foreseen all that you have hitherto done: but did he ever impose upon you a necessity to do it? or will your conscience acquit you of having contracted guilt by means of it? Learn, then, neither to deny God’s foreknowledge on the one hand, nor to make it an occasion of questioning your own responsibility, on the other. God knows, at this moment, who will dwell with him for ever in heaven; and who will take up his abode in hell for ever, as much as if our doom had already taken place. But this must not affect our conduct in the least; nor are we at liberty to make his prescience a ground either of presumption or despair. We must look to our ways, and run with holy diligence the race that is set before us: God’s final decision will be the result of our conduct, and not of his decrees. He will never save any one purely because he had decreed to save him; nor condemn him because he had decreed to make him “a vessel of his wrath:” if He award eternal life to any one, it will be because he had sought it in Christ, and “by a patient continuance in well-doing:” and, if any one be made a monument of God’s indignation and wrath, it will be altogether on the ground of his evil deeds, and of his having rejected that Gospel whereby alone he could be saved [Note: Romans 2:6-10.]. Let us rest assured, that in the last day no one will have reason to complain of the divine decrees; but that, both in those that are saved and those that perish, the wisdom and equity of our God will eternally be glorified.]
Mark 14:31. He spake the more vehemently, If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise. Likewise also said they all.
THE influence of example is exceeding powerful, whether it lead to good or evil. This is well known in armies; where courage or timidity beget a kindred feeling speedily, and to a great extent. In moral habits, also, the conduct of one will produce a considerable effect on others. When our blessed Lord apprised his Disciples that one of them would betray him, the diffidence of one diffused itself through all; yea, extended even to the traitor himself, who, if from no better feeling than shame, joined, at last, in that self-diffident inquiry, “Lord, is it I? [Note: Matthew 26:21-22; Matthew 26:25.]” On the other hand, the dissimulation of Peter drew aside the whole Galatian Church, not excepting even Barnabas himself [Note: Galatians 2:13.]. In like manner, unhappy Peter, by his characteristic self-confidence, betrayed all the other Apostles into the commission of the heinous transgression of protesting an unchangeable fidelity to their Lord, without contemplating the weakness of their own purposes, and the treachery of their own hearts. Our Lord had told them, on the evening before his crucifixion, that they would all be offended because of him that night. Peter, confident in the supposed firmness of his own resolutions, replied, “Although all shall be offended, yet will not I.” And, on being more particularly warned that he himself would, that very night, no less than thrice deny his Lord, he, so far from relaxing his confidence, only “spake the more vehemently, If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise.” And such was the unhappy effect of his confidence, that every one of the Apostles caught, as it were, the contagion, and expressed themselves in the same vehement language as he: “Likewise, also, thus said they all.” Doubtless they all meant well: the resolution itself was good: but it was evil, as being made in dependence on their own strength.
To mark this distinction the more fully, I will shew,
The wisdom of the resolution, as conceived in their own minds—
It was a resolution worthy of the Apostles, and worthy to be adopted by every one of us.
Our blessed Saviour deserves it at our hands—
[What has He not done for us? — — — And what has he not suffered for us? — — — And should we be afraid to confess him? Should any consideration under heaven induce us to deny him? — — —]
He also requires it at our hands—
[At the very commencement of his ministry he declared, that “those only should be acknowledged as his disciples” who “denied themselves, and took up their cross daily, and followed him;” nay more; that “they only who were willing to lose their life for his sake, should find it unto life eternal [Note: Matthew 10:38-39.].” And what can be more reasonable than this? If He, the Lord of heaven and earth, encountered death for us, shall we think it too much to lay down our lives for him? Methinks, if we offer ourselves a sacrifice for him, it is no other than a reasonable service, which is at once our plainest duty, and our highest privilege — — —]
But the conduct of them all too certainly evinced,
The folly of the resolution, as announced in their own strength—
Not one of them was able to fulfil his word—
[That very night “they all forsook their Lord, and fled:” and Peter, who arrogated to himself a greater measure of fidelity than all the others, was the very first to deny his Lord, and denied him with more blasphemous impiety than all the others together.]
And who amongst us would be more firm than they?
[“We have not in ourselves a sufficiency even to think a good thought [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:5.]:” how much less, then, can we think to maintain our fidelity towards our Lord, amidst all the terrors of a most cruel death? Through Christ strengthening us, we may undertake any thing [Note: Philippians 4:13.]:” but “of ourselves we can do nothing [Note: John 15:5.].” In truth, the more self-confident we are, the more “we provoke the Lord to jealousy,” and challenge him to leave us to ourselves [Note: Jeremiah 17:5-8.]. Then only can we hope to stand, when we are “strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might [Note: Ephesians 6:10.].”]
Learn then, Brethren,
What your duty is—
[Doubtless, this is great and arduous: nor must you, for a moment, wish to lower it. You must see that nothing under heaven should stand in competition with Christ [Note: Philippians 3:8.]. The state of every man’s mind should accord with that of the holy Apostle, when he said, “I am willing, not only to be bound, but to die for the Lord’s sake:” and if we are brought to the trial, no sufferings should move us; nor should we account our lives dear unto us, if only we may finish our course with joy, and finish the work which our blessed Lord has assigned us [Note: Acts 20:24; Acts 21:13.].]
Where alone our strength lies for the performance of it—
[“I know, O Lord,” says the prophet, “that the way of man is not in himself; and that it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps [Note: Jeremiah 10:23.].” And we are told by the wisest of men, that “he who trusts in his own heart is a fool [Note: Proverbs 28:26.].” Be convinced of this; and know, that the more ye resemble a little child in your spirit, the more secure ye are. “When ye are weak, then is it that ye are really strong; for then shall God’s strength be perfected in your weakness [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.].”]
PETER’S DENIAL OF HIS LORD
Mark 14:71. But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak.
THE inspired writers commend themselves and their writings to us, by their faithfulness in recording their own faults — — — If St. Mark wrote his Gospel, as many suppose, under the direction of Peter, we are constrained to admire the humility of Peter more especially: since his fall is narrated more strongly, and his repentance touched upon more slightly, by this, than by any other of the sacred historians. The aggravated circumstances of his conduct, which are mentioned in the text, serve in a very striking manner to shew us,
The folly of indulging self-confidence—
[Peter had been warned generally, (in common with the other Disciples) that he would forsake, and particularly, (in relation to himself,) that he would deny, his Lord. Conceiving it impossible that he should ever be guilty of such treachery, he protested that he would rather die with his Lord, than save his life by such base means. But, when he came to the trial, he fulfilled our Lord’s predictions. He did not even profit by experience; for, when he had betrayed his cowardice in the first instance, he exposed himself to needless temptations by associating himself with the most inveterate enemies of his Lord. Had he gone to the high-priest’s palace, to bear testimony to the character of Jesus, we must have commended his courage: but when he had no better object in view than the gratifying of his curiosity, we cannot but condemn his rashness and presumption. The consequence was such as might be expected: his courage failed him in the hour of trial; and he committed the very sins against which he had been warned.
It is almost uniformly thus with ourselves, when we presume to rush into temptation, under the idea that we are strong enough to withstand its influence. Who amongst us has not found, that a needless intimacy with the ungodly has led him into an undue conformity to their habits and principles, and proved, in the issue, injurious to his soul? We have thought perhaps that we could maintain our integrity amongst them with ease and constancy, notwithstanding we have been expressly warned that “a believer can have no fellowship with an unbeliever,” and that “the friendship of the world is enmity with God.” But the result of all our experiments has uniformly established that divine aphorism, “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.”]
In the conduct of Peter we may further see,
The danger of yielding to the fear of man—
[Peter was naturally of a bold intrepid spirit. But he was left on this occasion, that he might know his weakness, and have a convincing evidence that his strength was in God alone. It is common indeed to represent his temptation as light; as though he had been intimidated by the voice of a servant maid. But whoever takes into the account all the circumstances that are related in the different Evangelists, will see, that he had abundant cause for fear; and that, if he had confessed his connexion with Jesus, he would most probably have participated his fate; more especially as it would soon be known, that he was the person who, but an hour or two before, had attempted to kill a servant of the high-priest. But his mind should have been fortified against the danger. He had been told, when first he became a follower of Jesus, that he must “forsake all,” and “hate even his own life,” in order to be approved as his disciple: and he had very recently professed his readiness to die in his Master’s cause: he therefore should have now fulfilled his engagements, and shewn, that he had both counted the cost, and was willing to pay it. But his courage failed him; and be purchased a temporary peace at the expense of his honour, his conscience, and his soul.
It is justly said, that “the fear of man bringeth a snare.” Perhaps it is itself one of the greatest snares that lie in our way to the kingdom of heaven. The profession of Christianity does not indeed expose us now to sufferings as it did in the Apostles’ days: but a real love to the Gospel, and conformity to the Saviour’s image, is as offensive now to an ungodly world, as it ever was: nor can any one become a sincere and zealous follower of Christ, without incurring much hatred, contempt, and obloquy. Nor is this easy for us to bear. A man who could face an enemy with undaunted courage, would not be able to face the sneers and ridicule of his pretended friends. And hence it is, that many, like Nicodemus of old, are ashamed and afraid to maintain an open connexion with the friends of Christ. Though they know in their hearts that Christ is the only source of spiritual and eternal life; and that they only who follow him in this world will enjoy him in the world to come; they are afraid to avow their principles, and ashamed to associate with the known adherents of Christ. But, if they so deny him in the presence of his enemies, he will surely deny them in the presence of his Father.”]
We would, lastly, shew you from the text,
The extent to which we may go, when once we begin to fall—
[Peter began with dissembling (mixing with the servants, as if he had been perfectly like-minded with them), and then denied his Lord, and at last confirmed that denial with the most horrid oaths and imprecations: yea, he denied that he even so much as knew the man. Who could ever have thought that Peter should have fallen thus low? But the downward road is very precipitous; and no one knows, when once he yields to sin, whither his evil dispositions will carry him. Sin makes a breach in the soul; and if means be not used at first to obstruct its progress, it will soon inundate the whole man. The example of Peter in the text is a standing memorial to the people of God, and a warning to them to resist the first motions of evil in their bosoms. Judas began with petty thefts; and Demas with secret coverings; and David with wanton looks. If we profit not by their examples, the best that we can hope for will be, to be brought back to God with “broken bones;” and the probability is, that we shall come short of heaven at last, if not have a foretaste of hell in our bosoms, even while we are here. If we would maintain our integrity, we must not only flee from gross sin, but “hate even the garment spotted with the flesh.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Mark 14". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany