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THE MEANS OF SPIRITUAL DEFILEMENT
Mark 7:14-16. And when he had called all the people unto him, lie said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand: there is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.
IT is by no means uncommon to see an excessive attachment to human institutions in those who have very little regard for the laws of God. Persons of this description are ever eager to censure a trifling deviation from some foolish custom, while they allow themselves in a constant violation of the most important duties. They strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. Such were the Pharisees of old: they had condemned our Lord’s Disciples for not complying with their traditions; our Lord therefore first exposed their hypocrisy, and then vindicated his followers by a very apposite parable—
In illustration of the parable we shall endeavour to shew,
What it is which defiles the soul—
Our Lord observes, that “whatsoever entereth into a man cannot defile him:” not but that a man is defiled by drunkenness and excess; but it is the disposition which is indulged, and not the mere act of eating or drinking that constitutes that defilement. As the heart is the seat of spiritual defilement, so that alone which proceeds from it or resides in it, can render man unclean in the sight of God. The things therefore which defile a man are,
[These proceed out of the abundance of the heart; and alas! what “filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness” do they betray! What a want of reverence for the Deity is discovered by profane words! Well does God say, that “He will not hold those guiltless” who utter them. Angry and passionate expressions manifest a murderous rancour in the heart [Note: 1 John 3:15.]; and justly subject those who use them to the punishment of hellfire [Note: Matthew 5:22.]. Lying is held in abhorrence even by those who are most addicted to the practice of it: nor can persons who give way to it have any portion in the kingdom of heaven [Note: Revelation 22:15.]. Who would augur well of that heart, which gives vent to slander and calumny? or who does not approve the sentence of excision, which David had decreed against those who should be notoriously addicted to such habits [Note: Psalms 101:5.]? Pleasing as flattery is to our vain minds, every one is disgusted with it except when it bears the semblance of truth; nor will God fail to punish those who so basely prostitute the powers of speech [Note: Psalms 12:3.]. Even an idle word is odious in the sight of God; and a strict account of it shall be rendered in the day of judgment [Note: Matthew 12:36.].]
[There is not any thing more sordid and grovelling than a worldly and covetous disposition. The object of its desire is always stigmatized by the name of “filthy lucre.” As for envy, it is justly represented as rottenness in the bones [Note: Proverbs 14:30.]. It even operates as a disorder to reduce our bodily frame, at the same time that it wastes and destroys the soul. Censoriousness is nearly allied to this; and no less indicates a narrow, selfish, and base mind. What stronger symptom of internal depravity can there be than a peevish, discontented, murmuring spirit? Even Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of those who should indulge such a temper, that God would execute his judgments upon them [Note: Jude, ver. 14–16.]. Levity is less hateful indeed; but it argues an unmindfulness of the Divine presence, and a state of soul very unbecoming those who are on the brink and precipice of eternity. Nor is sloth by any means a small indication of a corrupt heart: it enervates all our powers, and unfits us for the service either of God or man. In what light our Lord regards this disposition we clearly see by that address of his, “Thou wicked and slothful servant;” “Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness.”]
[The very “thoughts of our hearts are all naked and open before God,” and he regards them as infallible marks of the state of our souls. Those thoughts indeed which are rejected instantly with indignation, do not leave any stain upon the soul; but those which are in the least degree harboured and indulged, most assuredly defile us. We are told that “the very thought of foolishness is sin [Note: Proverbs 24:9.].” And Simon Magus was exhorted to “pray that the thought of his heart might be forgiven him [Note: Acts 8:22.].” Indeed it is but a small part of the wickedness of the heart that discovers itself by words and actions. All sin is first conceived in the imagination; and much lies buried there for want of an opportunity to break forth. Who can number the proud, the impure, the uncharitable, the revengeful, the unbelieving, and the “vain thoughts that often lodge in the soul?” or who can estimate the guilt which we contract by means of them? It is worthy of remark, that these are the very things whereby our Lord himself says that the heart is defiled [Note: ver. 21–23.]. And these are the things which, when brought to maturity, fill the world with adulteries, murders, and all manner of abominations [Note: James 4:1.].]
The very peculiar manner in which this truth is delivered by our Lord, leads us to shew,
The importance of understanding and knowing this distinction—
Our Lord “called all the people unto him;” he addressed them not only collectively, but, as it were, individually, “every one.” He repeated his exhortation, “Hearken, and understand;” and lastly, he confirmed it with a very emphatical admonition, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Now the reason of all this solemnity will appear, if we consider, that on the clear knowledge of this truth depends our knowledge of every thing that is important in religion. Without it we cannot know,
The extent of our own depravity—
[While we think that our defilement arises principally from outward actions, we shall entertain a good opinion of ourselves. If we have been kept from flagrant transgressions, we shall be, like Paul in his unconverted state, “alive without the law.” But if the spirituality of the commmandment, and our deviations from the line of duty, be made to appear to us, we like him shall “die,” that is, we shall see ourselves dead in trespasses and sins [Note: Romans 7:9.]. Knowing the depravity of our own hearts, we shall be willing to humble ourselves before God as undone sinners; we shall cry like Job, “Behold, I am vile; I repent, and abhor myself in dust and ashes. Now till we be thus brought to lothe ourselves, we have no genuine repentance. We must therefore learn wherein spiritual defilement consists, if ever we would have the guilt of it removed from our souls; for, except we repent, we must perish.]
The impossibility of cleansing ourselves—
[The lopping off a few branches of sin is no more than what an unregenerate person may do. While therefore he supposes that all his defilement consists in those, he will be depending on his own strength. But our disorder is far beyond any remedy of our own prescription: “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint:” “Every imagination of the thoughts of our hearts has been only evil continually.” We must, therefore, become entire new creatures: “Old things must pass away, and all things must become new.” And is such a change within the power of unassisted man to effect? Let any one strive to put away every evil disposition, and to suppress with indignation every rising thought of sin; let him plant the contrary dispositions in his heart, and cherish with delight the thoughts that are of a contrary tendency; he may as well attempt to build a world as to do this in his own strength [Note: Jeremiah 13:23.]. Yet this must be done. We do not say that a person must be absolutely perfect here; but he must pant after perfection, and lothe himself for every remaining imperfection, even of thought. Surely this must be the work of that Almighty Agent who spake the universe into existence, and brought order and beauty out of the shapeless chaos [Note: Ephesians 1:19-20; Ephesians 2:10.]. And when we know the depth of our depravity, then and then only, shall we be willing to seek help from Him on whom it is laid.]
The suitableness and excellency of the Gospel salvation—
[While ignorant of our own depravity, we are unaffected with the tidings of the Gospel. Others may appear to need a fountain; but we do not, because we have very little pollution: others may need a new heart; but we have a very good one by nature. Thus the offers of the Gospel are of no value in our eyes; but when we know the depth of our corruptions, we are thankful to hear of a fountain opened for sin; and the promise of a new heart is precious to our souls [Note: Ezekiel 36:25-27.]. The Gospel then appears exactly suited to our necessities, and “every thing is accounted as dung and dross for the excellency of the knowledge of it.”]
To those who lay a stress on formal services—
[We mean not to depreciate an outward conformity to religion; but where there is no more than that, the soul is in a lost and perishing condition. That is only like “the painting of a sepulchre which is full of rottenness and all uncleanness.” Remember then, ye must “lay the axe to the root of the tree.” “Ye must be born again.” This is the solemn and repeated declaration of Christ himself, “Ye must be born of the Spirit, or ye can never enter into the kingdom of God.” Hearken then, and understand this solemn admonition: let every one of you apply it to himself. Cry with David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” “If any man hath ears to hear, let him hear.”]
To those who have begun to experience vital and spiritual religion—
[It is an unspeakable blessing to know any thing of your own hearts; nor can you ever be sufficiently thankful to Him who has discovered to you “the mystery of iniquity” within you: but what earnest heed ought you to take lest you be drawn again under the power of your corruptions! You still carry about with you “a body of sin and death:” “The flesh lusteth still against the Spirit, as well as the Spirit against the flesh.” Let it then be your daily endeavour to “crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts.” Be daily “putting off the old man which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be putting on the new man,” &c. It is a solemn admonition which God has given you, “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy.” “Ye are now the temple of the Holy Ghost;” O guard against every thought or desire that may grieve your Divine guest. You must resist the first risings of inclination: a desire indulged will blind the eyes, and harden the heart, and bring in with it a host of sins. Above all, commit yourselves to that Almighty Saviour, who has promised to preserve you blameless unto his heavenly kingdom. So shall you be washed in his blood from every fresh contracted stain, and be rendered “meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.”]
THE DEAF AND DUMB MAN HEALED
Mark 7:32-36. And they bring unto hint one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him. And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain; and he charged them that they should tell no man.
THE astonishing frequency of our Lord’s miracles renders them the less noticed; and we are ready to suppose that, after a few of them have been considered, the rest will afford us nothing new. But every distinct miracle was attended with some peculiar circumstances, and ought to excite our admiration as much as if it had been the only one recorded. To improve that which is now before us, we may consider,
The manner in which it was wrought—
Many instructive lessons may be learned from an attentive survey of our Lord’s conduct in every part of his life. His manner of performing this miracle was peculiarly worthy of notice. It was,
[He “took the man aside from the multitude” that surrounded him: not that he was afraid of having his miracles inspected and scrutinized: the greater part of them were wrought publicly before all: but on some occasions he sought rather to conceal his works. He wished not to excite the envy of the priests, or the jealousy of the rulers: he laboured also to avoid all appearance of ostentation: he would shew us by his example how our acts of beneficence should be performed [Note: Matthew 6:3.], and that we should never be actuated by the love of man’s applause [Note: John 5:44.]. Hence be so strictly “charged the people” not to divulge this miracle. He also “looked up to heaven” in acknowledgment of his Father’s concurrence. Not but that he had in himself all power to do whatsoever he willed [Note: John 5:21.]: but, as Mediator, he bore his commission from his heavenly Father, and therefore directed the eyes of men to him as the fountain of all good. Thus did he teach us to look up to heaven for aid, even in those things for which we might suppose ourselves to be most sufficient, and to consult in every thing, not our own glory, but the glory of God.]
[Touched with pity toward the object before him, “he sighed.” He could not view even the present miseries introduced by sin, without deep commiseration. Thus he shewed how fit he was to be our great high priest [Note: Hebrews 4:15.], and how we ought to feel for others, and to bear their burthens [Note: Galatians 6:2.]. We should never behold the bodily infirmities of others without longing to relieve them: nor, without gratitude to God for the continued use of our own faculties.]
[Though he looked up to heaven, he wrought the miracle by his own power. He had only to issue the command, Be opened. He who once said, Let there be light, and there was light, needed only to express his will in order to be obeyed. Instantly the man received the perfect use of his faculties; and, though enjoined silence, became an active instrument of spreading his Benefactor’s praise.]
[Our Lord was pleased to put his finger into the man’s ears, and to touch his tongue with his finger, which he had previously moistened with his own spittle [Note: The Author here follows the sense given to this passage by commentators: but he apprehends there was far more intended than is generally supposed. Our Lord, ἔβαλε τοὺς δακτύλους αὐτοῦ εἰς τὰ ὦτα (a very strong expression; and a very significant act!) καὶ πτύσας, spitting on the ground, ἤψατο. It is not said, that he whet his finger with his spittle, but only that he spat. Now he is very averse to fanciful interpretations: but he would suggest, that possibly our Lord might intend to intimate, that the ears must be opened by the conveyance of instruction, and the tongue be loosened by the casting away of the evil that is within us. He mentions this, however, with great diffidence.]. What was the precise intention of these means we cannot determine. Certain it is, that they had no necessary connexion with the restoration of the man’s faculties: but they are not without their use as they respect us. They shew that there are no means, how weak soever in themselves, and inadequate to the end proposed, which he may not make use of for his own glory, and that it becomes us to submit to any means whereby he may be pleased to convey his benefits.]
But, besides more minute considerations, there are others which arise from a more general view of the miracle:
The improvement we should make of it—
All the miracles were intended to confirm the doctrine delivered by our Lord—
We may very properly therefore consider this as,
A proof of his mission—
[It had long been foretold that the Messiah should work miracles. The restoring of men to the use of their faculties was among the number of the works which were to be performed by him [Note: Isaiah 35:5-6.]. Here then the prophecy received a literal accomplishment; nor could prejudice itself find any just reason for questioning any longer our Lord’s Messiahship. We indeed enjoy such abundant light and evidence that we need not the support of any single miracle: but, as all the miracles collectively, so should each individually, assure us beyond a doubt, that Jesus is the Christ.]
A specimen of his work—
[Jesus had a much greater work than that of healing bodily disorders, He is the great physician whose office it is to heal men’s souls. The miracles which he wrought in the days of his flesh were only as shadows of those which he had undertaken to perform. He unstops the ears of men so that they may “hear his voice and live:” he loosens their tongues so that they may shew forth his praise. This he does by the invisible but effectual energy of his Spirit. Let those, who have never yet heard his voice, implore his aid: let those, who are yet unoccupied with his praises, entreat his favour. Soon shall all natural or acquired infirmities yield to his word [Note: Isaiah 32:3-4.], and “Ephphatha” be the commencement of a new and heavenly life.]
An encouragement for all to call upon him—]
The object of his compassion had nothing to recommend him: his desire of relief was sufficient to call forth the pity of our Lord. Who then should stay from our Lord on account of his unworthiness? Should we make our infirmities a reason for continuing far from him? Should we not rather take occasion from them to plead with him more earnestly? And would not he rejoice in manifesting his power and love towards us? Let every one then apply to him in humility and faith. No disorders, however complicated, shall be able to withstand his will. The believing suppliant shall soon experience the efficacy of his grace, and shall have occasion to add his testimony to theirs of old [Note: ver. 37.]—.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Mark 7". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany