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PREVALENCE OF UNBELIEF
Mark 6:6. And he marvelled because of their unbelief.
ONE would suppose, that those who had the fullest opportunity of knowing the Lord Jesus from his earliest infancy, would have been the first to embrace his salvation, when once it was openly proclaimed to them. But the very reverse of this was the fact. The circumstance of their knowing his family connexions was a ground of offence to them; so that they were more averse to receive him, than others were who had never possessed these advantages. We are not to suppose that this excited real surprise in the bosom of our Saviour; because he knew, from the beginning, that “a Prophet has no honour in his own country. But, as the inspired writers always speak of him as if he had been affected as other men, we are told in my text, “He marvelled because of their unbelief.”
A similar effect is generally produced wherever Christ is preached. His Gospel is but too generally despised by those to whom it is more immediately sent; and it is more sought and valued by those who are somewhat remote from the sphere of its stated ministration. In fact, there are but few, in any place, who embrace it with their whole hearts. In proof of this, I will shew you,
What unbelief prevails amongst us—
I grant, that if the name of Christianity were sufficient, we all are Christians. But the slightest observation of what is passing either around us or within us, is sufficient to convince us,
How few regard the Lord Jesus Christ with the veneration he deserves—
[As to the bowing of the head or knee at the mention of his name, many will do that, who never bow their hearts to his will, or yield obedience to his commands. If from our inmost souls we regarded him as “Emmanuel, God with us,” how should we fear before him; admiring his person, adoring his love, and magnifying his grace! See how the Cherubim before the throne conduct themselves, whilst incessantly they proclaim his praise [Note: Isaiah 6:1-3. with John 12:41.]: so would it be with us in our daily walk before him, if our faith were such as it ought to be: we should veil our faces as unworthy to behold him; and our feet, as unworthy to serve him; whilst we should yet strive to serve him with all our faculties, both of soul and body.]
How few look to him aright for the communication of his saving benefits!
[We see how diseased persons pressed around him in the days of his flesh; and were let down through the roofs of their houses, when no other way of access to him was open to them. But where do we find persons thus earnest in their approaches to him in their secret chambers? The diseases of our souls can be healed by him alone: yet, if we look at our prayers that are offered to him day and night, who has not reason to blush and be ashamed? — — — And whence is this, but from our unbelief, which keeps us from feeling either our need of his mercy, or of his willingness to bestow it.]
How few surrender up themselves to him as his devoted servants!
[Behold how the Apostles left their nets, and Matthew the receipt of custom, to attend upon their Lord! So, in heart and spirit, will all his believing people forsake all for him [Note: Luke 14:33.]. But say, Whether, this be indeed the habit of your lives? Look back to your early days; and trace your conduct up, through successive years, to the present moment, and then declare, whether you have ever risen thus superior to earthly things, and devoted yourselves unreservedly to your Lord and Saviour! This is the proper office and effect of faith [Note: 1 John 5:4.]: and the total want of this fruit argues but too plainly the want of the root from which alone it can proceed.]
This state of things may well excite our wonder; as will appear, whilst I shew,
What reason there is to marvel at it—
Consider, I pray you,
With what abundant evidence Christ is set forth amongst you—
[At Nazareth, he appeared as a poor man, of a poor family, in circumstances of extreme want, not having so much as a place where to lay his head. And from his hearers there his future history was veiled, as was also the entire nature of his divine mission. Yet our Lord marvelled at their unbelief. But to you the entire nature of his dispensation is made manifest; and the glory of God, as displayed in it, has been set before your eyes. You see him coming down from heaven, to obey the law which you have broken, and to endure the curse which you have merited; and then rising from the dead, and ascending to heaven, to perfect the work for you. You have beheld the meridian blaze, as it were, of that light, of which they saw but the early dawn. Nay, more; you have seen “the glory of all the Divine perfections concentrated in him, and shining forth in his face [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:6.].” If, then, there was cause for marvel at their unbelief, what must there be at yours? — — —]
With what confidence you profess yourselves to be his—
[You would account it a grievous insult, if your right to call yourselves Christians were questioned. Yet, if you will forgive me, I would ask, What are the great mass of you better than baptized heathens? You have been baptized in the name of Christ, it is true; as Simon Magus also was: but, what was he changed by his baptism; or, what are you? What evidence have you that you are “born of the Spirit,” and “made new creatures in Christ Jesus?” And if, in the want of all proof of conversion, you maintain your title to heaven, say whether you be not opposing every declaration of God in his word, and whether there be not reason to marvel at your unbelief?]
What important interests you have at stake—
[On your believing in Christ your eternal happiness depends. This, all who receive the Gospel most cordially acknowledge. How comes it, then, that you never take the trouble to examine your state before God, and to try the sincerity of your faith? One would suppose that the thought of eternal happiness in heaven, or of eternal misery in hell, should be sufficient to awaken you to some consideration: but, since nothing of this kind can influence you, we may well marvel at your unbelief — — —]
That the Lord Jesus Christ at this very instant marvels at you—
[As sure as he ever marvelled at the Nazarenes in the days of his flesh, so does he now at you. ‘These are the persons for whom I went down from heaven, and for whom I lived and died; yea, and for whose salvation I am yet anxious; as I have shewn, by sending to them the invitations of my word, and the offers of my grace. How strange it is that they should yet remain insensible of all this love! — — — For the Nazarenes there is some excuse; but for these, none at all — — — “O that they were wise, and would consider their latter end!” O that they would turn unto me in this “their day of grace, in this the day of their salvation!” ’]
That you will, ere long, marvel at yourselves—
[How strange will it appear to you, the very instant you go hence, that you could ever treat so lightly these overtures of grace! But, alas! the time for remedying that error will be past. If you be in heaven, methinks you would be filled with indignation against yourselves, if indignation could ever enter those mansions of bliss: but, if you be in hell, there will be scope in abundance for this painful feeling; since a retrospect upon the mercies you have abused, and the opportunities you have lost, will constitute the bitterest ingredient of your cup to all eternity. May God so operate on your minds by his grace, that you may now turn to the Lord Jesus with your whole hearts, and become marvellous and stupendous monuments of his mercy for ever and ever!]
CHRISTIAN GRATITUDE DELINEATED
Mark 6:51-52. And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered. For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.
OUR blessed Lord, after feeding five thousand men, besides women and children, with five loaves and two small fishes, sent his Disciples over the Lake of Gennesaret, whilst he dismissed the people: and then he went up into a mountain to pray. The Disciples laboured, for many hours, to reach the place of their destination; but were unable, on account of the violence of the wind. After nine or ten hours’ toil, they were still far from land (notwithstanding the lake was not above five or six miles broad;) and, behold, they see one walking upon the water, whom they supposed to be a spirit; and, filled with terror at such an extraordinary spectacle, they cried out. Our blessed Lord, however, drew nigh to them, and, in the most condescending manner, dispelled their fears, and went up to them into the vessel: and instantly the wind ceased; and they were transported in their boat, by miracle, to the very place where they had been enjoined to land. On many other occasions they were “amazed [Note: Mark 2:12.],” and “astonished with great astonishment [Note: Mark 5:42.],” yea, and beyond measure “astonished [Note: Mark 7:37.]:” but, on the present occasion, it is said they were “sore amazed within themselves beyond measure, and wondered.”
Now, we shall find it by no means an unprofitable subject for our consideration, if I shew you,
What we are to think of the astonishment here expressed—
I suppose that there are few amongst us who would not highly approve of it, as exactly suited to the occasion. For our Lord to come to them walking upon the sea, and in an instant to still the winds and waves, and to transport the ship, without any further effort on their part, to the desired haven, was beyond measure wonderful; and therefore we should be ready to commend the sensibility which they manifested, and the amazement which they expressed. But I am constrained to say, that their feelings on the occasion were altogether wrong; and that their astonishment, instead of being commendable, was highly criminal; since it was nothing but a compound of ignorance, and forgetfulness, and obduracy.
[They knew not who our Saviour was: they supposed him to be a mere man. Had they known him to be the God of heaven and earth, they would no more have wondered at his walking on the sea, or stilling the winds, than they would wonder at a man walking on dry land, and stopping a wheel which he himself had set in motion. He had indeed proclaimed himself to be God manifested in the flesh; and, by innumerable miracles, wrought in his own name and by his own power, he had proved himself to be so: but they believed him not, and could not conceive of him in his true and proper character as their incarnate God: and to this ignorance and unbelief our Lord traces the very feelings which they had shewn on a similar occasion: “How is it that ye have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him [Note: Mark 4:40-41.]?” They “thought him to be only such an one as themselves [Note: Psalms 50:21.];” and to that must be traced the excess of wonder which they expressed on this most interesting occasion.]
[Within the space of twelve hours from that time, they had seen his miracle of the loaves, in which they themselves had been the instruments of dispensing to five thousand men a few loaves and fishes. They themselves had seen the bread increasing in their own hands before their eyes, whilst they were in the very act of distributing it to the people; and, after having fed to the full the whole multitude, they had taken up in fragments probably ten or a dozen times more in quantity than there was at the beginning [Note: ver. 41–44.] Now, had they kept this in mind, they could never have been so surprised at his walking on the sea, or his stilling of the winds; which were, in fact, no greater miracles than that which they had so recently witnessed, and in which they themselves had borne such a distinguished part. Hence the Evangelist blames them for their conduct, and ascribes to their forgetfulness of the one miracle their astonishment at the other: “they were sore amazed, and wondered; for they considered not the miracle of the loaves.”]
[They had not been duly impressed with the miracle of the loaves. If they had felt as became them on that occasion, they would never have been filled with such overpowering astonishment on this. But they were in an insensible and obdurate state: and therefore the Evangelist says, “they wondered; for their heart was hardened.” in like manner, when, in the next chapter, our Lord bade them to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the leaven of Herod,” and they understood him as giving directions only respecting bread, he said to them, “Have ye your heart yet hardened?” and then, calling to their remembrance two different seasons when he had fed immense multitudes with a few loaves, he repeated with anger that just reproof, “How is it that ye do not understand [Note: Mark 8:14-21.]?”
Thus, you perceive, if we analyze the Apostles’s feelings, instead of admiring them as suited to the occasion, we shall condemn them as altogether unworthy of their Christian character.]
For the regulation of our own conduct, let us learn from their astonishment,
What lessons it should teach us—
This is a subject which I consider as of very great importance to the Church of God. Were it a mere arbitrary construction of mine, it might be supposed that I carried the matter too far, and dealt too harshly with the Apostles in my censures of them. But the censure is passed by God himself: and by it he instructs us,
What is the proper measure of our expectations—
[We are apt, in our expectations from God, to take into consideration the difficulties that are to be surmounted, and our unworthiness of the blessing which we implore at his hands: and from these two considerations we are apt to doubt his effectual interposition in our behalf. But, instead of giving weight to such considerations as those, we ought rather to reflect on what God has done; and to make his past mercies the standard by which to regulate our future expectations. I need his power. And what proof has he given of its sufficiency for me? He has created the universe, and by one act of his power called it into existence. Then I take it as an unquestionable truth, that nothing is impossible with him, and that I can be in no state whatever in which he cannot afford me effectual relief [Note: Isaiah 40:28-29.]. I need also his grace. And what has he done that will give me any just idea of his grace? He has given his only dear Son out of his bosom, to assume my nature, and bear my sins, and, by the sacrifice of himself to restore me to his favour. Shall I then limit the extent of his grace to me in other matters? The Apostle says, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things [Note: Romans 8:32.]?” This argument is sound and conclusive; and precisely such as the Disciples should have used on the occasion before us: ‘We have seen within these few hours the stupendous miracle of the loaves; and, having seen that, we shall wonder at no other exercise of his power or grace that he shall be pleased to vouchsafe unto us; and least of all, when we consider that the loaves were multiplied for multitudes who had flocked to him from mere curiosity, shall we be astonished at any thing which he may do for us, his stated followers, and his chosen Disciples. Yes, brethren, we are to bear in mind what God has done, and from thence to conclude what he will do; and never to entertain a doubt but that his grace, in every possible point of view, whether as acting in us or exercised towards us, shall be sufficient for us.]
What is the proper expression of our gratitude—
[If God have shewn mercy to us of any kind, either in a way of providence or of grace, we are not to be wrapt in wonder, as though he had exceeded all that his proper character had taught us to expect. This would be a very unbecoming way of shewing our gratitude. Suppose a man of known piety and wealth were to relieve a poor family by bestowing on them a few shillings; and all the neighbours who heard of it were to be astonished beyond measure at this act of kindness; would their astonishment reflect any honour on the person so greatly lauded? Would it not shew, either that the persons did not know his character, or that, at least, they were ignorant of what true piety requires? If they knew the man, instead of being filled with wonder at this exercise of his benevolence, they would only say, He has acted like himself, and in a manner worthy of the high character he sustains. Thus, whatever we may receive from God, we must not be filled with wonder; but regard his mercies as a proof and evidence that He is what he has described himself to be, sovereign in the objects of his choice, and unbounded in the communications of his love. In admiration of his goodness we may abound as much as we will: indeed it is not possible to have our souls too deeply penetrated with admiring and adoring thoughts of God: the more we resemble the heavenly hosts in this respect, the better: they, both saints and angels, are all prostrate upon their faces before the throne of God, in profoundest adoration: and such should be our posture at the throne of grace, every day, and all the day long. In holy activity, too, there can be no excess: we may serve God with every faculty we possess, whether of body or soul. It is wonder only that must be excluded; because that is no better than a compound of ignorance, forgetfulness, and obduracy, and is therefore altogether unsuitable to express our unbounded obligations to Almighty God.]
Are any of you involved in trouble and perplexity? See in whom you have help—
[You, when proceeding in the path of duty, may meet with storms and tempests, even as the Apostles did, when prosecuting their appointed course; and you may labour both long and painfully in vain. But is therefore your condition hopeless? No: there is One who is both able and willing to save you, if only you call on him. He may appear to be far off: but he is near at hand, though you know him not; and the hour of your extremity shall be the time of his effectual interposition: yes, “He that shall come, will come, and will not tarry.” But perhaps your difficulties appear insurmountable. They may be so to you; but “with Him all things are possible:” at His command the winds and waves shall be still; and all your troubles shall vanish in an instant. Be assured, that what he did for his Disciples of old, he will do for you at this day; and if only you commit your souls to him, you shall speedily be at the haven where you would be.]
Have any of you been delivered from trouble? Give to the Lord Jesus all the glory—
[You see how vain your own labours are; and that you may toil during your whole life in vain, if he come not to your aid. What could any of you have done to remove guilt from your consciences, or to mortify sin, and transform yourselves into the Divine image? To all eternity you would have laboured in vain to effect any one of these things. But Jesus, by his all-atoning blood, has expiated your guilt; and, by sprinkling that blood upon your consciences, has brought peace into your souls; and, by his all-powerful grace, has enabled you to overcome your spiritual enemies, and to fulfil the will of God. And, if it were allowed to us to wonder, you might well be amazed at what he has wrought for you. But in what he has done, he has only fulfilled his own office, and displayed his own proper character, as a Saviour. Give him, then, the glory of all that he has done; and “be his witnesses” to an ungodly world, that “he is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Mark 6". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany