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Then came together unto Him the Pharisees, and certain of the Scribes.
Scribes and Pharisees coming to Christ
I. When they came. When Gennesaret turned its heart toward Him. When diseased bodies had felt the virtue of His touch, and imprisoned souls had been set free by His word. Then. As soon as ever the Church’s Child was born, the devil sought to drown Him (Revelation 12:1-17).
II. Who they were that came. Pharisees and scribes. The learned and the religious. These two classes have always been the greatest opponents of Christ’s kingdom.
III. Whence they came. From Jerusalem. Machiavel observed that there was nowhere less piety than in those that dwelt nearest to Rome. “The nearer the Church, the farther from God.” “It cannot be that a prophet shall perish out of Jerusalem.”
IV. Where they came. To Jesus. As the moth flies at the lamp, and bats fly at the sun, What a contrast between such a coming and those named in Mark 6:56. “I will draw all men unto Me.” (L. Palmer.)
The tradition of men
It is the folly of men that, in discharge of me duties of religion, they are satisfied to put ceremonies and confessions that cost but little, in the place of righteousness of heart and life which cost a great deal.
I. There is today an ecclesiastical ritualism, which is disastrous to piety. It starts with the assumption that its methods of worship are the best possible; and, after a little, declares they are the only ones acceptable to God. The Church usurps the place of Christ. Of any church that estimates ritual above character, that endeavours to build up form rather than shape life, Christ says, “Full well do ye reject the commandment of God that ye may keep your tradition.”
II. There is today a social ritualism, which is disastrous to true piety. Public opinion is a power; it has its theory of religion. Certain things done, and certain others left undone, are the credentials of piety. Men’s actions are the only things taken into account, not the men themselves. Society has agreed that a little honesty, a little charity, and church going, shall be accepted as religion. Such reject the commandment of God that they may keep their tradition.
III. There is a ritualism of personal opinion, which is disastrous to true piety. Every man has his own idea of the conditions on which he personally may be right with God. They forget that it is for God to decide what is satisfactory to Him. It is sometimes argued that, since there are so many opposite theories and conflicting creeds, our acceptance or rejection of what is called religion cannot be of much importance. But religion is a simple matter. Piety is the being and doing what God has commanded; just that; nothing more and nothing less. Those commandments are few, brief, intelligible. Whatever vagueness and confusion there may be in our ideas of religion, it is of our own making. Let God speak for Himself, and listen only to Him, and all is plain. (Monday Club Sermons.)
Tradition accumulates rubbish
Accepting the traditions of men as our rule, we get to be heirs of a vast deal of rubbish. Just as around the anchored rock in the ever-swinging tide, there gathers all sorts of debris, floating fragments of wrecks, drifting grass and weeds, with perhaps now and then some bright sea blossom, or shell of beauty cast up by the heave of the surge-so a church that takes as pattern of its creed and ceremonial the belief and methods of men of other times, is sure to be cumbered with a mass of outworn mistakes, the refuse and driftwood of centuries, with here and there a suggestion of world long value, but as a whole, out of date and useless. (Monday Club Sermons.)
Tradition conceals truth
Each generation encumbered the divinely ordained ritual with its own comments; so after awhile men’s notions overgrew and hid from sight God’s thought, as some wild vine in the forest wreathes its fetters of verdure around the hearty tree, interlacing and interknotting its sprays, looping mesh on mesh of pliant growth, till the tree is smothered and hidden, and the all-encompassing vine alone is seen and seems to bare life. (Monday Club Sermons.)
Perverted tradition the bane of the Church
It is a subtle artifice of the Great Enemy of mankind, to make the real Word of God of none effect by means of a pretended Word. When he cannot prevail with men to go contrary to what they know to be the Word which came from God, then he deals with them as he taught his lying prophet to deal at Bethel with the prophet of God who came from Judah. When Jeroboam “said to the Man of God, Come home with me, and refresh thyself, and I will give thee a reward,” the prophet resolutely repelled the invitation: “If thou wilt give me half thy house, I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place; for so was it charged me by the Word of the Lord, saying, Eat no bread, nor drink water.” An old prophet, however, followed the man of God, and gave him a like invitation, and received a like refusal. But, when the great deceiver put a falsehood into the mouth of the wicked old man: “I am a prophet also, as thou art, and an angel spake unto me by the Word of the Lord, saying, ‘Bring him back with thee into thy house, that he may eat bread and drink water,’ but he lied unto him”-the lie proved fatal! “He went back with him, and did eat bread in his house, and drank water” (1 Kings 13:1-34). The Man of God was greatly to be pitied, yet he was greatly to be blamed. He had received it explicitly from God that he should neither eat nor drink in idolatrous Bethel; and it was his plain duty to adhere to that command, unless God repealed it in the same way in which he gave it, or with equal evidence that such was His will; whereas he believes an old man of whom he knows nothing, on his own word, under suspicious circumstances, and in opposition to what had been the Word of God to himself. While a direct and palpable temptation to go contrary to God’s command was offered, he resisted and repelled the temptation; but when a temptation was offered, which came as a repeal of the command and in relief of his necessities, though on no sufficient authority, then his weakness prevailed. Why, think you, were lying prophets permitted? Why are lying teachers still suffered? Why, even lying wonders? To try the state of men’s hearts. Is your heart, by the grace of God, made humble and teachable? then will you be taught of the Spirit “to discern the things which differ”-to detect the fallacies and delusions practised upon it-and “to approve the things which are more excellent.” Is your heart self-sufficient, careless, carnal? then will it be deceived and led astray by plausible and flattering pretences. In contending that the Scriptures are the sole rule of faith, we give them exclusive authority over the judgment and the conscience. This authority lies in the real sense, and the just application of that sense, not in any sense or application contrary to that which is just and true, and which man may seek to impose. This sense is to be ascertained, and the right application of it is to be learnt by humble, teachable, diligent, and devout study, with the use of all needful helps thereto. The influence of the Scriptures on the heart is the special work of Him who dictated them. The blessing of God is needful to our success in endeavouring to ascertain the sense and right application of them; but so great are the obstacles to our “receiving with meekness the engrafted Word,” that “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, must shine into our hearts” by the special grace of the Holy Spirit, in order to our feeling the transforming influence of the light of the knowledge of His glory, as seen in the face of Jesus Christ. No consent of man in any interpretation or application of Scripture is of binding authority on others. Consent is often contagious-not enlightened. The influence of leaders, the supposed interests of party, early associations, and prejudices, often bias the judgment. But the unerring standard remains. And the deviations of churches, and councils, and nations, from this standard, and the continuance of those deviations for ages, cannot deflect this standard one jot or tittle from its rectitude. But while no consent of men can bind of authority to any interpretation or application of Scripture, yet those views of truth which are commended to us by the consent in them of varied bodies of enlightened and devout men, come to us under a just and commanding influence. (J. Pratt, B. D.)
Ceremonialism and spirituality
I. Ceremonialism substitutes washing with water for purity of heart.
II. Ceremonialism substitutes the traditions of the elders for the commands of God.
III. Ceremonialism substitutes the worship of the lips for the worship of the heart.
IV. Ceremonialism substitutes a subtle evasion for filial duty.
V. Ceremonialism substitutes avoidance of unclean food for avoidance of impure and malicious thoughts. Application: It is possible to be, in a sense, religious, and yet, in a deeper sense, sinful, and out of harmony with the mind and will of God. None is wholly free from the temptation to substitute the external, formal, apparent, for the faith, love, and loyalty of heart required by God. Hence the need of a good heart, which must be a new heart-the gift and creation of God by His Spirit. (J. R. Thomson, M. A.)
The tradition of men versus the commandments of God
In the conflict between the Church and the sacred relationships of common life, to the latter must be assigned the preeminence. The necessities of the temple, of its services or its servants, must not be met at the expense of filial faithfulness. The sin of the Pharisees and scribes was-
I. A gross perversion of the relative claims of the parent and the Church.
II. A wicked interference with the first commandment with promise.
III. A cruel undermining of filial affection and fidelity and as cruel an exposure of the aged and enfeebled parents to a falsely justified neglect.
IV. An unwarranted usurpation of authority to weaken the obligation of a Divine law. (R. Green.)
The religion of the Jews
The interference of the Pharisees and scribes served to bring out their religion. Consider some of its features. The religion here depicted and condemned-
I. Consisted mainly of external observances (Mark 6:2-4).
1. By this feature the same system of religion may be detected in the present day.
2. Religion in this sense is upheld by many strong principles in the nature of man-awakened conscience, self-righteousness, vanity.
3. This system is exceedingly dangerous. Misleads the awakened sinner; produces a deep and fatal slumber.
II. Rests on human authority as its warrant (Mark 6:3; Mark 6:5; Mark 6:7).
1. By this feature we may detect it in the present day. Among those who take away the right-duty and exercise of private judgment. Among those who derive their religious belief from man-in whatever way.
2. This form of false religion is exceedingly dangerous. It dishonours Christ as a prophet, etc. It gives despotic power to man, which he is not qualified to wield. It degrades the soul to be a servant of servants, etc.
3. Call no man mawr.
III. Puts dishonour upon the sacred Scriptures.
1. By this feature we detect its existence now. In the Church of Rome, etc., the Scriptures are wholly concealed-made to speak according to tradition and the Church. Amongst ourselves: opinions are not surrendered to them, and they are neglected.
2. This form of religion stands opposed to those Scriptures which it dishonours (John 5:39, and others).
3. Know the Scriptures and revere them.
IV. Made light of the moral law (Mark 6:8-12).
1. May be seen in our own day-in the Church of Rome. May be seen, amongst ourselves, in those who put religious ceremonies in the place of moral duties.
2. This form has its origin in the love of sin, and is accommodated to an unsanctified heart.
3. It has no tendency to purify, but the reverse.
4. Beware of Antinomianism.
V. Consisted in hypocrisy, putting on appearances.
VI. Was vigilant and jealous of Christ and censured His disciples (Mark 6:1-2). (Expository Discourses.)
It was laid down that the hands were first to be washed clean. The tips of the ten fingers were then joined and lifted up, so that the water ran down to the elbows, then turned down, so that it might run off to the ground. Fresh water was poured on them as they were lifted up and twice again as they hung down. The washing itself was to be done by rubbing the fist of one hand in the hollow of the other. When the hands were washed before eating, they must be held upwards, when after it downwards, but so that the water should not run beyond the knuckles. The vessel used must be held first in the right, then in the left hand; the water was to be poured first on the right, then on the left hand; and at every third time the words repeated, “Blessed art thou who bast given us the command to wash the hands.” It was keenly disputed whether the cup of blessing or the handwashing should come first; whether the towel used should be laid on the table or on the couch; and whether the table was to be cleared before the final washing or after it. (Geikie’s Life of Christ.)
The tradition of the elders
The excess to which these regulations were carried is well illustrated by what is told of one Rabbi Akaba, who, in his dungeon, being driven by a pittance of water to the alternative of neglecting ablution or dying with thirst, preferred death to failing in ceremonious observance.
Moses commanded washing very freely
But it was always in connection with some very definite cause; being required either
(1) because of physical pollution which had been gathered, or
(2) in connection with moral consecration which was purposed.
The priests at consecration were washed. So was the leper after his recovery, and so were all after defilement or contact with those defiled. But the tradition of the elders had come to require as many washings in a day as Moses would have required in a month. The secret of this development lay in the adoption of the principle of “The Hedge,” i.e., something which guarded the Law by prohibiting not only actions forbidden, but all actions which might by any possibility lead to them. Accordingly, because Moses said that he who was defiled by contact with a corpse should wash, they held it was well to wash always after being out of doors, as you might have touched someone who might have touched some one or something dead … Thus life became a very slavery. Of course “the common people,” as they were contemptuously styled, could not afford either time, or thought, or money, to practise such scruples. But a great number associated themselves together, calling themselves “Haberim,” or “Comrades,” to observe these scruples. The Pharisees belonged to this society, of course, to a man. (R. Glover.)
These Pharisees found fault because Christ’s disciples did not obey man’s law, the quoted “tradition,” the authority of their Church. It was not until the great (seventh) Earl of Shaftesbury was twenty-five years of age that he supposed that anyone outside the Church of England was worth listening to, or ever wrote anything worth reading. “As to their having any views of their own worthy of consideration,” he says, “it never crossed my mind until one day I got hold of a copy of some Commentary, and, after reading for awhile with great interest, it suddenly struck me, ‘The writer must have been a rank Dissenter!’ and I instantly shut up the book, recoiling from it as I would from poison. One of the first things that opened my eyes was reading of Doddridge being condemned as a Dissenter, and I remember exclaiming, ‘Good heavens! how will he stand in the day of judgment at the bar of God, as compared with Pope Alexander VI?’ It was not till I was twenty-five years old, or thereabouts, that I got hold of Scott’s Commentary on the Bible, and, struck with the enormous difference between his views and those to which I had been accustomed, I began to think for myself.”
A hypocrite has been likened to one who should go into a shop to buy a pennyworth, and should steal a pound’s worth; or to one who is punctual in paying a small debt, that he may get deeper into our books and cheat us of a greater sum. (T. Manton.)
Hypocrites perform small duties and neglect great
Hypocrites make much ado about small things that they may be more easy in their consciences while living in great sins. They pay the tithe of mint to a fraction, but rob God of His glory by their self-righteousness. They give God the shells, and steal the kernels for their own pride and self-will. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Heart worship required
God requires soul worship, and men give Him body worship; He asks for the heart, and they present Him with their lips; He demands their thoughts and their minds, and they give him banners, and vestments, and candies. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
No matter how painful may be the mortification, how rigid the penance, how severe the abstinence; no matter how much may be taken from his purse, or from the wine vat, or from the store, he will be content to suffer anything sooner than bow before the Most High with a true confession of sin, and trust in the appointed Saviour with sincere, child-like faith. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Faith and works reversed, or the plant upside down
Some time ago a lady showed me a small seedling acacia, remarking, “I cannot make this plant out; it doesn’t do well at all; it doesn’t grow a bit, though I water it well, and attend to it carefully.” I looked at the plant, and soon discovered the cause. The little plant had a tap root, as all seedlings have, and this tap root should have been inserted in the soil, where it would soon have struck out its lateral rootlets; but, instead of this, the plant was upside down, the leading root being in the soil, and the tap root exposed to the sun and air. It was impossible that the plant could grow or even live. It is thus with some people’s religion. (Sword and Trowel.)
In what sense worship is voluntary
The duties of worship ought to be voluntary, as voluntary is opposed to constrained; but they must not be voluntary, as voluntary is opposed to instituted or appointed. God doth no more approve of that worship we give Him according to our will, than He doth approve of our neglect of that which is according to His own will. (Burkitt.)
Human tradition versus Divine command
The experience is a universal one, that God’s commandments suffer from the competition of human rules. The great precepts of God have only an unseen God behind them, but behind the human rules there is generally a class whose pride is gratified by their observance and incensed by their neglect. Accordingly, whenever small rules of outward conduct begin to flourish, the great principles of religion-faith, love, honour-fall into the background. It is so today. The Thug in India who confessed to having killed 320 people had no pangs of conscience for killing them, but was somewhat distressed on account of having killed a few of them after a hare had crossed his path or a bird whistled in a certain direction. Murder was no crime in his opinion, but the neglect of an omen from Bowany was a grave one. In Hinduism, which is ceremonial throughout, a man may be a most religious man, and yet very wicked. Many in our own country would unscrupulously commit great crimes, and yet be very careful to avoid eating flesh on Good Friday. It seems as if we only had a certain amount of power of attention in us, and, if it goes to little rules, there is none left for great principles. (R. Glover.)
Tradition and inspiration
As with the man who attempts to serve two masters, so with him who thinks to walk by two lights: if he would keep in the straight loath he must put out one of the two, and guide himself by the other. (Dr. Wylie.)
Laying aside the commandment of God
A philosopher at Florence could not be persuaded to look through one of Galileo’s telescopes, lest he should see something in the heavens that would disturb him in his belief of Aristotle’s philosophy. Thus it is with many who are afraid of examining God’s Word, lest they should find themselves condemned. (Buck.)
The inefficacy of God’s Word-how produced
We make it of none effect when we-
I. Fail to read and study it and to appropriate its blessings.
II. When we give precedence to any human authority or law.
III. When by our lives we misrepresent it before the world.
IV. When we fail to urge its truths upon the anxious inquirer or careless sinner. (J. Gordon.)
Ears to hear
This rule must needs be of very great importance to Christians. For our Great Master
(1) calls all the people unto Him on purpose to tell them only this.
(2) He requires of them a particular attention.
(3) He requires it of every one of them without exception.
(4) He exhorts them to endeavour thoroughly to understand it.
(5) He lets them know that in order, to do it they have need of a singular grace and a particular gift of understanding.
It was for want of understanding this rule that the Jews still remained Jews, adhering to a mere external way of worship. It is for the very same reason that numbers of Christians, even to this day, serve God more like Jews than Christians. (Quesnel.)
Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man.
The true source of defilement
Having rebuked the scribes and Pharisees, our Lord addressed the people, and laid down a great general principle (Mark 7:15), which His disciples asked Him to explain more fully. We are taught-
I. That mere external observances do not affect or change the moral state and character of man.
1. The statement that nothing from without defileth a man, must be taken in connection with what goes before, and then it becomes a principle, of which the Jews had much need to be told. All require to be told.
2. That mere outward observances cannot affect the moral nature, seems a very simple truth. Reason teaches it. The body may be affected by them, but not the soul; to influence the heart, means of a right class must be selected. Experience teaches it. Observation confirms it.
3. This principle requires in our day to be loudly proclaimed.
4. The more nearly the soul can come to God, irrespective of outward things, the better.
II. That the moral state and character of a man, is affected by that which cometh out of his heart.
1. The fountainhead of all that enters into human history and character, is the heart. Hence, the character of the moral law, the order of the Spirit’s work, the importance of the inspired precept, “Keep thine heart,” etc.
2. That which naturally proceeds from the heart proves that it is wholly depraved.
3. By these things, which proceed from the heart, is man defiled. Christ’s blood and spirit, alone can cleanse. (Expository Discourses.)
I. The ceremonialism of the Pharisees denounced.
1. The undue importance they attached to outward observances.
2. The additions they made to the requirements of the law of Moses.
3. The Saviour’s discourse on this occasion was evidently intended to prepare the minds of the people for the total abolition of all ceremonial rites.
II. The ignorance of the disciples reproved. “And He saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also?”
1. To us their dulness of apprehension appears strange and unaccountable.
2. In their ignorance we see the effect, not merely of inattention, but of prejudice and bigotry.
III. The depravity of human nature exhibited. We are shown-
1. The source of evil. It is in the heart.
2. The diversified streams of evil. “Adulteries, fornications, thefts, murders, covetousness,” etc.
3. The contaminating influence of evil. These are the things by which men are defiled. (Expository Outlines.)
Things from within
It is well known that rotten wood and glowworms make a glorious show in the night, and seem to be some excellent things; but when the day appears, they show what they are indeed-poor, despicable, and base creatures. Such is the vanity and sinfulness of all haughty, proud, high-minded persons, who, though now shining in the darkness of this world, through the greatness of their power, place, and height of their honour, when the Sun of Righteousness shall appear and manifest the secrets of all hearts, then they will be seen in their own proper colours. (Spencer.)
Out of the heart.-
The heart determines the life
The bowl runs as the bias inclines it; the ship moves as the rudder steers it; and the mind thinks according to the predominancy of vice or virtue in it. The heart of man is like the spring of the clock, which causes the wheels to move right or wrong, well or ill. If the heart once set forward for God, all the members will follow after; all the parts, like dutiful handmaids, in their places, will wait on their mistress. The heart is the great workhouse where all sin is wrought before it is exposed to open view. It is the mint where evil thoughts are coined, before they are current in our words or actions. It is the forge where all our evil works as well as words are hammered out. There is no sin but is dressed in the withdrawing room of the heart, before it appears on the stage of life. It is vain to go about an holy life till the heart be made holy. The pulse of the hand beats well or ill, according to the state of the heart. If the chinks of the ship are unstopped, it will be to no purpose to labour at the pump. When the water is foul at the bottom, no wonder that scum and filth appear at the top. There is no way to stop the issue of sin, but by drying up the matter that feeds it. (Swinnock.)
Natural corruption of the heart
That which AEsop said to his master, when he came into his garden and saw so many weeds in it, is applicable to the heart, His master asked him what was the reason that the weeds grew up so fast and the herbs thrived not? He answered, “The ground is natural mother to the weeds, but a stepmother to the herbs.” So the heart of man is natural mother to sin and corruption, but a stepmother to grace and goodness; and further than it is watered from heaven, and followed with a great deal of care and pains, it grows not. (Goodwin.)
The heart a storehouse of evil
Here is a piece of iron laid upon the anvil. The hammers are plied upon it lustily. A thousand sparks are scattered on every side. Suppose it possible to count each spark as it falls from the anvil; yet, who could guess the number of the unborn sparks that still lie latent and hidden in the mass of iron? Now, your sinful nature may be compared to that heated bar of iron. Temptations are the hammers; your sins are the sparks. If you could count them (which you cannot do), yet who could tell the multitude of unborn iniquities-eggs of sin that lie slumbering in your soul? You must know this before you can know the sinfulness of your nature. Our open sins are like the farmer’s little sample which he brings to market. There are granaries full at home. The iniquities that we see are like the weeds upon the surface soil, but I have been told, and indeed have seen the truth of it, that if you dig six feet into the earth and turn up fresh soil, there will be found in that soil six feet deep the seeds of the weeds indigenous to the land. And so we are not to think merely of the sins that grow on the surface, but if we could turn our heart up to its core and centre, we should find it is fully permeated with sin as every piece of putridity is with worms and rottenness. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
An evil heart
A certain little boy in Kansas, only eleven years old, strove hard to be a Christian. Once he stood watching Maggie paring the potatoes for dinner. Soon she pared an extra large one, which was very white and very nice on the outside, but when cut into pieces it showed itself to be hollow and black inside with dry rot. Instantly Willie exclaimed, “Why, Maggie, that potato isn’t a Christian.” “What do you mean?” asked Maggie. “Don’t you see it has a bad heart?” was the child’s reply. This little Kansas boy had learned enough of the religion of Jesus to know that however fair the outside may be, the natural heart is corrupt. (Baptist Messenger.)
Evil passions when restrained only by custom, law, or public opinion, and not by the grace and love of God, still merit condemnation
If men were shut up in cells, so that they could not commit that which their nature instigated them to do, yet, as before the Lord, seeing they would have been such sinners outwardly if they could have been, their hearts are judged to be no better than the hearts of those who found opportunity to sin and used it. A vicious horse is none the better tempered because the kicking straps prevent his dashing the carriage to atoms; and so a man is none the better really because the restraints of custom and Providence may prevent his carrying out that which he would prefer. Poor fallen human nature behind the bars of laws, and in the cage of fear of punishment, is none the less a fearful creature; should its master unlock the door we should soon see what it would be and do. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
No heart free from sin
Well-tempered spades turn up ill savoury soils even in vineyards. (Baily.)
The heart its own laboratory
We hear a great deal said in our day about the doctrine of environment. “Circumstances,” we are told, “make the man;” “Life is a modification of matter;” “Thinking is matter in motion;” “The brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile;” “The difference between a good man and a bad man is mainly a difference in molecular organization;” “The affections are of an eminently glandular nature;” “Not as a man thinketh in his heart, but as he eateth, so is he;” “Character is the aggregate of surroundings, the sum total of parents, nurse, place, time, air, light, food, etc.” Now this doctrine of environment is in a certain sense entirely true. The mind does not more certainly act on the body than the body on the mind. But the doctrine of environment means, or at least tends to mean, more than this. It tends to teach that sin is not so much a crime as a misfortune, not so much guilt as disease. Not so did the Galilean Master teach. “Hearken to Me, all of you, and understand: Nothing that goeth into a man from without can defile him; but the things that come out of him are what defile a man.” Here He is in direct issue with the materialism of the day. For man is something more than matter, or an organized group of molecules. Behind the visible of him there is the invisible. The heart is its own laboratory. Friend, overtaken in a sin, do not judge yourself too charitably. Don’t ascribe too much to outward circumstances. Recall the first Adam: he was in a garden, where every outward circumstance was for him; yet he fell. Recall the second Adam: He was in a desert, where every outward circumstance was against Him; yet He remained erect: the Devil failed to conquer Him, not because He was Divine, but because He was sinless. Don’t excuse yourself then too much by your “environment.” Man is not altogether an imbecile. True, “circumstances do make the man.” But they make him only in the sense and degree that he permits them to make him. You will find the most niggardly of men in the mansions of the rich, and the most generous of men in the cabins of the poor; the humblest of Christians in the palace, and the proudest of Pharisees in the cottage; saints in the dungeon, and villains in the Church. It is not so much the outward that tinges the inward as the inward that tinges the outward. It is for the man himself to say whether his own heart shall be a temple or a kennel. The great problem then is this: How shall a man use his “circumstances”? For just what he does with them-just what he does with his strength and time, and skill, and money, and imagination, and reason, and affections, just what the heart does with its opportunities-just this is the test of him. Do these opportunities, after passing through the laboratory of his heart, issue as blessings on the world? Then his heart is pure, Do they issue in moral blights? Then his heart is defiled. Not that these bad issues do of themselves defile the heart; but the heart being itself defiled, and sending forth issues of evil thoughts and deeds, these issues take on the impurities of the source from which they spring, marking its defilement, and aggravating its pollution by the very act of outflowing. These are the unclean things, which, coming out from within, defile the man. Keep thy heart, then, with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life and of death. Friend, are you disheartened by my Master’s doctrine? Don’t seek to remedy your case by merely altering your circumstances, or reforming your habits. You can’t purify a fountain by purifying its streams. Jesus Christ is the most radical of reformers. He does not say, “Change your circumstances, and you will change your character;” but He does say, “Change your heart, and you will be likely to change your circumstances.” (George Dana Boardman, D. D.)
Source of evil thoughts
Notice how evil thoughts are by the Saviour said to be the first of the evil things which coming out of the heart defile. We should not, I think, have put evil thoughts amongst the things which come out of the heart, because we suppose them to be in the heart. But is not what the Saviour says true of that which He alone knows-the very nature and substance of the soul? In its very centre, or close to its centre, the evil has its root or fountain. The evil suggestion arises, and then the will or affection takes notice of it. If the will is right with God, it immediately puts out the evil thing as if it were a loathsome reptile, but if the will be not right with God, it harbours the first suggestion of evil, it cogitates it, thinks it over and over, dwells upon it in imagination, chews the food of the evil fancy, desires to do the evil deed, resolves to do it, and so has already done it in the heart. So that out of the heart, out of the unseen and unthinkable depths within, proceed the evil thoughts which become evil acts within before they are incarnated, as it were, in some evil deed without. (M. F. Sadler, M. A.)
Sinfulness of evil thoughts
Some please themselves in thoughts of sinful sports, or cheats, or unclean acts, and sit brooding on such cockatrice eggs with great delight. It is their meat and drink to roll these sugarplums under their tongues. Though they cannot sin outwardly, for want of strength of body or a fit opportunity, yet they act sin inwardly with great love and complacency. As players in a comedy, they act their parts in private, in order to a more exact performance of them in public. (Swinnock.)
Thoughts usually indicate character
Our thoughts are like the blossoms on a tree in the spring. You may see a tree in the spring all covered with blossoms, so that nothing else of it appears. Multitudes of them fall off and come to nothing. Ofttimes where there are most blossoms there is least fruit. But yet there is no fruit, be it of what sort it will, good or bad, but it comes in and from some of those blossoms. The mind of man is covered with thoughts as a tree with blossoms. Most of them fall off, vanish, and come to nothing, end in vanity; and sometimes where the mind does most abound with them there is the least fruit, the sap of the mind is wasted and consumed in them. Howbeit there is no fruit which actually we bring forth, be it good or bad, but it proceeds from some of these thoughts. Wherefore, ordinarily, these give the best and surest measure of the frame of men’s minds. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” In case of strong and violent temptations, the real frame of a man’s heart is not to be judged by the multiplicity of thoughts about any object, for whether they are from Satan’s suggestions, or from inward darkness, trouble, and horror, they will impose such a continual sense of themselves on the mind as shall engage all its thoughts about them; as when a man is in a storm at sea, the current of his thoughts runs quite another way than when he is in safety about his occasions. But ordinarily voluntary thoughts are the best measure and indication of the frame of our minds. As the nature of the soil is judged by the grass which it brings forth, so may the disposition of the heart by the predominancy of voluntary thoughts; they are the original acting of the soul, the way whereby the heart puts forth and empties the treasure that is in it, the waters that first rise and flow from that fountain. (J. Owes.)
Petrifying influence of evil thoughts
Anyone who has visited limestone eaves has noticed the stalactite pillars, sometimes large and massive, by which they were adorned and supported. They are nature’s masonry of solid rock, formed by her own slow, silent, mysterious process. The little drop of water percolates through the roof of the cave, and deposits its sediment, and another follows it, till the icicle of stone is formed: and finally reaching to the rock beneath, it becomes a solid pillar, a marble monument, which can only be rent down by the most powerful forces. But is there not going forward oftentimes in the caverns of the human heart a process as silent and effective, yet infinitely more momentous? There in the darkness that shrouds all from the view of the outward observer, each thought and feeling, as light and inconsiderate, perhaps, as the little drop of water, sinks downward into the soul, and deposits-yet in a form almost imperceptible-what we may call its sediment. And then another and another follows, till the traces of all combined become more manifest, and at length, if these thoughts and feelings are charged with the sediment of worldliness and worldly passion, they have reared within the spirit permanent and perhaps everlasting monuments of their effects. All around the walls of this spiritual cave stand in massive proportions the pillars of sinful inclinations and the props of iniquity, and only a convulsion like that which rends the solid globe can rend them from their place and shake their hold. Thus stealthily is the work done; mere fancies and desires and lusts unsuspiciously entertained, contribute silently but surely to the result. The heart is changed into an impregnable fortress of sin. The roof of its iniquity is sustained by marble pillars, and all the weight of reason and conscience and the Divine threatenings are powerless to lay it low in the dust of humility. Such is the power of those light fancies and imaginations and desires which enter the soul unobserved, and are slighted for their insignificance. They attract no notice. They utter no note of alarm. We might suppose that if left to themselves they would be absorbed in oblivion, and leave no trace behind. But they form the pillars of character. They sustain the soul under the pressure of all those solemn appeals to which it ought to yield. How impressive, then, the admonition, “Keep thy heart with all diligence”! Things which seem powerless and harmless may prove noxious beyond expression. The power of inveterate sin is from the silent flow of thought. Your habitual desires or fancies are shaping your eternal destiny. (American National Preacher.)
Evil thoughts not to be harboured
The best Christian’s heart here is like Solomon’s ships, which brought home not only gold and silver, but also apes and peacocks; it has not only spiritual and heavenly, but also vain and foolish thoughts. But these latter are there as a disease or poison in the body, the object of his grief and abhorrence, not of his love and complacency. Though we cannot keep vain thoughts from knocking at the door of our hearts, nor from entering in sometimes, yet we may forbear bidding them welcome, or giving them entertainment. “How long shall vain thoughts lodge within thee?” It is bad to let them sit down with us, though but for an hour, but it is worse to let them lie or lodge with us. It is better to receive the greatest thieves into our houses than vain thoughts into our hearts. John Huss, seeking to reclaim a very profane wretch, was told by him, that his giving way to wicked, wanton thoughts was the original of all those hideous births of impiety which he was guilty of in his life. Huss answered him, that although he could not keep evil thoughts from courting him, yet he might keep them Item marrying him; “as,” he added, “though I cannot keep the birds from flying over my head, yet I can keep them from building their nests in my hair.” (Swinnock.)
Importance of keeping the mind well employed
Man’s heart is like a millstone: pour in corn, and round it goes, bruising and grinding, and converting it into flour; whereas give it no corn, and then indeed the stone goes round, but only grinds itself away, and becomes ever thinner and smaller and narrower. Even as the heart of man requires to have always something to do; and happy is he who continually occupies it with good and holy thoughts, otherwise it may soon consume and waste itself by useless anxieties or wicked and carnal suggestions. When the millstones are not nicely adjusted, grain may indeed be poured in, but comes away only half ground or not ground at all. The same often happens with our heart when our devotion is not sufficiently earnest. On such occasions we read the finest texts without knowing what we have read, and pray without hearing our own prayers. The eye flits over the sacred page, the mouth pours forth the words, and clappers like a mill, but the heart meanwhile turns from one strange thought to another; and such reading and such prayer are more a useless form than a devotion acceptable to God. (Scriver.)
Good thoughts strangers
The thoughts of spiritual things are with many as guests that come into an inn and not like children that dwell in the house. (Dr. John Owen.)
Cure for evil thoughts
As the streams of a mighty river running into the ocean, so are the thoughts of a natural man, and through self they run into hell. It is a fond thing to set a dam before such a river to curb its streams. For a little space there may be a stop made, but it will quickly break down all obstacles, or overflow all its bounds. There is no way to divert its course, but only by providing other channels for its waters, and turning them there into. The mighty stream of the evil thoughts of men will admit of no bounds or dams to pug a stop unto them. There are but two ways of relief from them; the one respecting their moral evil, the other their natural abundance. The first by throwing salt into the spring, as Elisha cured the waters of Jericho; that is, to get the heart and mind seasoned with grace; for the tree must be made good before the fruit will be so; the other is, to turn their streams into new channels, putting new aims and ends upon them, fixing them on new objects; so shall we abound in spiritual thoughts; for abound in thought we shall, whether we will or no. (Dr. John Owen.)
Evil thoughts not trifles
Notice this evil catalogue, this horrible list of words. It begins with what is very lightly regarded among men-evil thoughts. Instead of evil thoughts being less simple than evil acts, it may sometimes happen that in the thought the man may be worse than in the act. Thoughts are the heads of words and actions, and within the thoughts lie condensed all the villany and iniquity that can be seen in the words or in the acts. If men did more carefully watch their thoughts, they would not so readily fall into evil ways. Instead of fancying that evil thoughts are mere trifles, let us imitate the Saviour, and put them first in the catalogue of things to be condemned. Let us make a conscience of our thoughts. In the words of the text the first point mentioned is evil thoughts, but the last is foolishness. This is the way of sin, to begin with a proud conceit of our own thoughts, ending with folly and stupidity. What a range there is between these two points, what a variety of sin thus enumerated! Sin is a contradictory thing: it takes men this way and that, but never in the right way. Virtue is one, as truth is one; holiness is one, but sin is ten thousand things conglomerated into a dread confusion. When we look upon any man and only regard him with malignity, we sin in all that-it is the sin of envy. There stands pride. One would have thought that a man who commits these sins would not have been proud. When a man is filled with a proud conceit of himself he is justifying his own iniquity. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Human depravity seen in the thoughts of man
Consider the wild mixtures of thought displayed both in the waking life and the dreams of mankind. How grand! how mean! how sudden the leap from one to the other! how inscrutable the succession! how defiant of orderly control! It is as if the soul were a thinking ruin, which it very likely is. The angel and the demon life appear to be contending in it. The imagination revels in beauty exceeding all the beauty of things, wails in images dire and monstrous, wallows in murderous and base suggestions that shame our inward dignity. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
The spirit of covetousness which leads to an over value and over love of money, is independent of amount. A poor man may make an idol of his little, just as much as the rich man makes an idol of his much. We know our Lord showed how the poorest person may exceed in charity and liberality the richest-by giving more than the wealthy in proportion to the whole amount of his possessions. So in like manner, a poor man may be more covetous than a wealthy man, because he may keep back from the treasury of God more in proportion to his all than the rich man keeps back from his all. If the Christian character is debased, and heaven is lost by such indulgence of covetousness as to make a man an idolater of mammon, it is of little consequence whether the heart be set on an idol of gold, or an idol of clay. (Dean Ramsay.)
Covetousness exchanges true riches for the false
As the dog in AEsop’s fable lost the real flesh for the shadow of it, so the covetous man casts away the true riches for the love of the shadowy. (T. Adams.)
Covetousness pines in plenty
The covetous man pines in plenty, like Tantalus up to the chin in water, and yet thirsty. (T. Adams.)
Degradation of the covetous
A young man once picked up a sovereign lying in the road. Ever afterwards, in walking along, he kept his eye fixed steadily upon the ground in the hope of finding another. And in the course of a long life he did pick up a good many gold and silver coins at different times. But all these years, while he was looking for them, he saw not that the heavens were bright above him, and nature beautiful around. He never once allowed his eyes to look up from the mud and filth in which he sought his treasure; and when he died-a rich old man-he only knew this fair earth as a dirty road to pick up money as you walk along. (Dr. Jeffers.)
Delusion of the covetous
Some of us may remember a fable of a covetous man, who chanced to find his way one moonlight night into a fairy’s palace. There he saw bars, apparently of solid gold, strewed on every side; and he was permitted to take away as many as he could carry. In the morning, when the sun rose on his imaginary treasure, borne home with so much toil, behold! there was only a bundle of sticks, and invisible beings filled the air around him with scornful laughter. Such will be the confusion of many a man who died in this world with his thousands, and woke up in the next world not only miserable, and poor, and naked, but in presence of a heap of fuel stored up against the great Day of burning. (Anon.)
Covetousness mental gluttony
Covetousness is a sort of mental gluttony, not confined to money, but craving honour and feeding on selfishness. (Chamfort.)
Covetousness manifested in insufficient expenditure
Whosoever, when a just occasion calls, either spends not at all, or not in some proportion to God’s blessing upon him, is covetous. The reason of the ground is manifest, because wealth is given to that end to supply our occasions. Now, if I do not give everything its end, I abuse the creature; I am false to my reason, which should guide me; I offend the Supreme Judge, in perverting that order which He hath set both to those things and to reason. The application of the ground would be infinite. But, in brief, a poor man is an occasion; nay friend is an occasion; my country; my table; my apparel. If in all these, and those more which concern me, I either do nothing, or pinch and scrape and squeeze blood, indecently to the station wherein God hath placed me, I am covetous. More particularly, and to give one instance of all: if God have given me servants, and I either provide too little for them, or that which is unwholesome, and so not competent nourishment, I am covetous. Men usually think that servants for their money are as other things that they buy, even as a piece of wood, which they may cut, or hack, or throw into the fire; and so that they pay them their wages, all is well. Nay, to descend yet more particularly: if a man hath wherewithal to buy a spade, and yet he chooseth rather to use his neighbour’s, and wear out that, he is covetous. Nevertheless, few bring covetousness thus low or consider it so narrowly, which yet ought to be done, since there is a justice in the least things, and for the least there shall be a judgment. (George Herbert.)
Diogenes being at Olympia, saw at the celebrated festival some young men of Rhodes, arrayed most magnificently. Smiling scornfully, he exclaimed, “This is pride.” Afterwards, meeting with some Lacedaemonians in a mean and sordid dress, he said, “This is also pride.” Pride is found at the same opposite extremes of dress at the present day.
The folly of pride
Of all sins, pride is such a one as we may well wonder how it should grow, for it hath no other root to sustain it, than what is found in man’s dreaming fancy. It grows, as sometimes we see a mushroom, or moss among stones, where there is little soil or none for its root to take hold of. (W. Gurnall.)
The test of purity
A gentleman was once extolling loudly the virtue of honesty, saying what a dignity it imparted to our nature, and how it recommended us to the favour of God. “Sir,” replied his friend, “however excellent the virtue of honesty may be, I fear there are very few men in the world who really possess it.” “You surprise me,” said a stranger. “Ignorant as I am of your character,” was the reply, “I fancy it would be no difficult matter to prove even you to be a dishonest man.” “I defy you.” “Will you give me leave, then, to ask you a question or two, and promise not to be offended?” “Certainly.” “Have you never met with an opportunity of getting gain by unfair means? I don’t say, have you taken advantage of it; but, have you ever met with such an opportunity? I, for my part, have; and I believe everybody else has.” “Very probably I may.” “How did you feel your mind affected on such an occasion? Had you no secret desire, not the least inclination, to seize the advantage which offered? Tell me without any evasion, and consistently with the character you admire.” “I must acknowledge, I have not always been absolutely free from every irregular inclination; but-.” “Hold! sir, none of your salvos; you have confessed enough. If you had the desire, though you never proceeded to the act, you were dishonest in heart. This is what the Scriptures call concupiscence. It defiles the soul; it is a breach of that law which requireth truth in the inward parts, and, unless you are pardoned through the Blood of Christ, it will be a just ground for your condemnation, when God shall judge the secrets of men.
But He could not be hid.
He could not be hid
There are some persons in this world who cannot be hid: by birth, inheritance, or talent, they come to the front. But this was not the case here. Christ was but the reputed son of a village carpenter, a poor despised Nazarene. Yet He could not be hid. And no wonder. He had come to seek and save that which was lost, to fulfil all prophecy, to preach the everlasting gospel, to work such miracles as the world had never seen; therefore the fame of Him spread abroad.
1. The Lord Jesus Is not hid. He may be plainly seen by those who will use their eyes-in the works of creation, in His Word, in the effects of His grace.
2. He ought not to be hid. We must renounce self to announce Christ. He is the only remedy for the yearning cry of humanity.
3. He cannot be hid. The Christian sky may be clouded for a time, but it will clear, and the Sun of Righteousness burst forth in fresh power and glory. All things are preparing for His coronation. He must reign. Over all man’s resistance, His purpose must prevail.
4. He will not be hid. A day is coming, when every eye shall see Him, and self-deception will be no longer possible. (J. Fleming, B. D.)
Why Christ cannot be hid
1. Great need will seek Him out.
2. True love will surely find Him.
3. Earnest faith will ever lead to Him.
4. His own heart will betray Him.
5. His disciples will make Him known. (A. Rowland, B. A.)
He could not be hid
Tacitus saith of Brutus-“The more he sought to secrete himself, the more he was noticed.”
The open secret of character
I. Christ desired to be hid. He entered into a house, and would have no man know it. We are sure this desire was not prompted by fear or shame, that it did not spring from caprice or unworthy policy. One reason will be found-
1. In the modesty of high goodness. There is a religiousness which clamours for recognition. Far removed from this stagey pietism it the goodness which does not clamour for recognition. With all her magnificence, how modest is Nature. Christ’s character and life is the grandeur of the firmament-silent, simple, severe. He enjoined upon His disciples constant sequestration, and Himself set the example. Let us remember the modesty illustrated by the Master, enjoined by Him. He forever discarded the trumpet. “Let your light so shine.” Have we been anxious for distinction or applause? Have we cared for the foreground? Let us rise to a more perfect life, and we shall think less of society, less of ourselves, and live more than content in the eye of God.
2. The sensitiveness of high goodness constrained Christ to privacy. Wherever you find rare purity, you find this shrinking from the corruptions of the times. We find the same desire to escape from the world’s wickedness in the Master Himself, and it is so shared by all His pure-hearted followers. Monasticism had its origin, to a considerable extent, in this shrinking of the saints from the corruptions of their age.
II. Christ could not be hid. With all His miracle working power, He could not accomplish this; and all who are thoroughly like their Master share this inability. High goodness desires to hide; it cannot be hid.
1. Christ could not be hid because of the manifestiveness of such goodness. Goodness is self-revealing. This is true in large measure of genius, of culture, and this is preeminently true of character. It “cannot be hid.” That Christ could not hide Himself is manifest from other passages than our text, e.g., when the disciples walked with Him to Emmaus. However carefully He might shroud Himself, some rift in the cloud, some shifting of the darkness, would betray the hidden glory. And, indeed, the course adopted of making Palestine the scene of the Incarnate Life is itself the supreme illustration of the necessary manifestations of glorious character. It is ever thus with worthy lives-hidden, they are revealed; all the more impressively revealed for the attempt at retirement and suppression. Christ could not be hid, because of humanity’s felt need of what great goodness has to give. Mark the event which drew Christ forth from His sequestration. How she knew of the power and presence of Jesus it boots little to conjecture. Misery has a swift instinct for a helper, and, as Lange observes, “The keen sagacity with which need here scents out and finds her Saviour is of infinite, quite indeterminable, magnitude.” All this is true, in its measure, of those who are like Christ. The world needs them, knows them, and denies them retirement and leisure.
3. Christ could not be hid, because of the self-sacrificing nature of His perfect goodness. When the afflicted woman made herself and her sorrow known to the Master, He did not refuse to come forth from His hiding place. Desiring to be hid, we are half like Jesus Christ; desiring to be hid, but forced by charity into the light, we are like Christ altogether. Let us, in these days of manifold luxury and chronic self-indulgence, remember the admonition of the Prophet (Amos 6:4-6). (W. L. Watkinson.)
Pharisaic hypocrisy inflictive to the holy nature of Christ
Culture of any kind is pained by contact with coarseness and imperfection. An eye schooled to beauty is pained misshapen thing, an ear schooled to harmony is tortured by dissonance, and thus a high, delicate, moral nature is wounded by the world’s sin and shame. There is a goodness, maybe, which dwells with a wicked generation contentedly enough, simply because it is so little ahead of the generation; but a deeply true and spiritually tender nature suffers in all the sin and suffering of its neighbourhood. And this is the situation of Christ in the instance before us. He had seen the worst features of the age in the pharisaic lenity. All their lies and impurities were open to His eye, unutterably afflictive to His holy nature, and He retired before the impure atmosphere as before the breath of pestilence. They were defiled, hardened, blinded by sin, and He shrank from them with horror. His pure soul was grieved by the common sinfulness, hollowness, shamelessness; and heart sore, heart sick, he sought solitude and rest. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Hidden, yet revealed
The hidden violets proclaim their presence in every passing breeze; the lark, hidden in the light, fills all the landscape with music; and the vivid freshness of grass and flower betrays all the secret windings of the coy meadow stream. Thus superiority of mind and life all unconsciously reveals itself, makes itself everywhere known and felt as a thing of beauty and blessing-all the more penetrating for its softness, all the more subduing for its silence, all the more renowned for its secrecy. The still, small whisper shakes the world; those are crowned who shun greatness; the valley of humility is the peak of fame. The man of royal soul cannot hide himself. In his modesty he may draw a veil over his face, but the veil itself will share the transfiguration. Or, if constitutionally timid and retiring, the superiority of his spirit and method will declare itself, and the “unknown” are the “well-known.” Or, he may be poor, illiterate, persecuted, yet will the innate grandeur shine through all poverty, rudeness, or unpopularity, winning the suffrages of all beholders. And as he cannot hide himself, neither can the world hide him. Never does the world appear more foolish than when it attempts to extinguish a burning and shining light. In the Indian legend, a mighty, wicked sorcerer seeks, with very poor success, to keep the sun, moon, and stars in three separate chests; and those who bare sought to suppress God’s servants have succeeded no better. John was banished to Patrues; but far from sinking out of view in the solitary sea, he stands before the world amid sublimest illuminations, like his own “angel standing in the sun.” They drove Luther into the Wartburg; but there, in translating the Scriptures into German, he became the cynosure of all eyes. Bunyan’s enemies consigned him to Bedford gaol, and lo, he became known to the race, one of the foremost of the immortals of Christendom. Eminent goodness will out-neither men nor devils can keep it under a bushel. (W. L. Watkinson.)
The true disciple cannot be hid any more than his Master
The Chinese have a wood which, buried some feet underground, fills the air with fragrance; and thus grand qualities, powers, graces, assert themselves through all obstructions, filling the atmosphere of earth with the fragrance of heaven. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Attraction at a distance
Observers have stated that if flowers are placed in a window, the window closed and the blinds drawn, the bees outside are aware of the presence of flowers, and beat against the window panes, evidently anxious to reach them. This “action at a distance” is sufficiently wonderful; yet misery has a sense still more keen, faith a penetration yet more powerful. Christ “entered into a house, and would have no man know it,” and no doubt took necessary measures to secure and preserve secrecy; but the sorrowful woman discovered His locality, apprehended His power and grace, and rested not till she gained that Plant of Renown whose leaves are “for the healing of the nations.” The world in its pharisaical mood may spurn Christ and drive Him away, but as the world realizes its misery it feels its absolute need of Him, and feels after Him, if haply it may find Him. (W. L. Watkinson.)
He could not be hid
I. The purpose of God forbids that Christ should be hid.
II. The innate glory of the Son of God is another reason why He could not be hid.
III. The desperate need of sinners rendered it impossible that He should be hid.
IV. The boundless compassion of the Son of God accounts for the fact that He could not be hid.
V. The deep and abiding gratitude of His followers forbids that Christ should be hid. (W. G. Lewis.)
If a Christian abide hidden, there is little to hide
What does this prove in respect to some of us We enter into a house and are hid-we are not inquired for, solicited, dragged unwillingly into the light. We wish to be let alone, and are let alone. What does all this reveal but the poverty of our nature? We are not sought out, for we are not worth seeking. A needy heart is an infallible divining rod to discern where the gold is hidden in the social strata, and if none inquire for us, if none disturb our solitude, we may infer with certainty that there is little preciousness in our nature either toward God or man. He who knows the deep things of God will be sought out far and wide, as the Queen of Sheba came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon. A man of prayer will ever be importuned, and an interest be sought in his sympathy and supplication. The good Samaritan is known throughout the city, and his aid implored day and night. If a Christian abides hidden, there is little to hide. If we are greatly pure, sympathetic, wise, prayerful, we are worth discovering, and shall soon and often be discovered. If there is in us the sweetness of the Rose of Sharon, we shall not be permitted to waste our “sweetness on the desert air”; if there is in us the preciousness and beauty of God’s jewels, we shall be fished from deepest caves to enrich the world. (W. L. Watkinson.)
The most beautiful characters the most unobtrusive
Travellers tell that the forests of South America are full of the gem-like humming bird, yet you may sometimes ride for hours without seeing one. They are most difficult to see when perched among the branches, and almost indistinguishable flying among the flowering trees; it is only every now and then some accidental circumstance reveals the swarm of bejewelled creatures, and they flash upon the vision in white, red, green, blue, and purple. It is somewhat thus with society-the noblest, the most beautiful characters, are not the obtrusive ones. Going through life carelessly, one might think all the people common enough; reading the newspapers, one might suppose the world to contain only bad men; but it may comfort us to remember the truly great and good shun observation and walk humbly with God. The poorest and worst side of things is the most obvious. “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing;” and it is the glory of God’s people to conceal themselves. Nevertheless, the time comes for their revelation, and then we are delighted to find how much silent, hidden goodness the world contains. The spectacle of want and woe draws forth the excellent ones of the earth; and however keen the trial of public life, however repugnant contact with scenes of sin and shame and suffering, all is bravely, cheerfully borne for the Saviour’s sake and the world’s betterment. When a true soul hesitates between the contemplative and active life, the example of Christ and love of Christ determines to self-renouncing service (W. L. Watkinson.)
The unbidden Saviour
I. The humanity of Christ as revealing itself in the story. His fatigue was real: Nature did not spare Him. When the soul is constantly going out towards the objects of one’s solicitude, the body may bear up bravely for a time; but Nature exacts her penalty.
II. There is also in these words a glimpse into something of a Divine purpose. It was part of the Divine plan that Christ’s immediate testimony should be conveyed to the Jews only; this involved great self-restraint.
III. This desire to be quiet in those regions, gives a prophetic glimpse. All the tenderness of God’s heart will be disclosed when we are prepared for it.
IV. The overture to a master’s work may seem sometimes long and needless.
1. “He could not be hid.” No, not even in these regions, where His ministry did not especially lie. Marvellous that the world should have got almost to disbelieve in the existence of a warm, generous heart.
2. How could Christ be hid? If He were a revelation, then He must be declared. There are great spring epochs in the working out of Divine thoughts and purposes; times when what had been concealed comes out to view. Love must reveal itself; so must life. If our inner life is to retain its force and beauty, it must manifest itself. A spiritual recluse is a mistake. (G. J. Proctor.)
Life must reveal itself
Life must reveal itself, and it must reveal itself after its own way. There is no need of parade and pomp to declare it. Christ-like piety, which is so delightful in all its phases, is specially so in this; while very courageous it is very modest; while gloriously strong it is very retiring. Parade and pomp were the prominent features of the Pharisees’ religion. Blow the trumpet! Sound the alarm! Make way for virtue, temperance, zeal, and godliness! Make way indeed! But where is love, the soul of all life? Love is modest. Have you forgotten her? Forgotten her? Then never mind about the rest. Your virtue is merely an accident of circumstance or constitution; your temperance only desire worn out; your zeal and godliness only self-importance dressed in sober garb, undertaker’s costume. No need of a flourish of trumpets and a beating of gongs to declare the true life. It must manifest itself, but not simply on state occasions. It will come to the light, but it would rather not have the limelight of a merely popular applause thrown upon it. It cannot be hid, but it will not speak of its own beauties. It will be self-assertive, but after the Christly sort. The life must be the light of men. A revealer of Divine mysteries and a redeemer of human sins and griefs could be no sealed fountain. (G. J. Proctor.)
The woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by nation: and she besought Him that He would cast forth the devil out of her daughter.
The Canaanitish mother
Through her natural affections she had mounted up, as it would seem, to higher and spiritual things; for to a wonderful degree did she enter into the secrets of His mysterious nature; “she worshipped Him, saying, Lord, help me!” She pierced, as though by the intuition of some blessed instinct, through the veil in which He was shrouded. Her faith laid its hold at once upon His very Godhead, and on His true humanity. As God, she fell before Him-she worshipped Him; as man, she appealed to His feeling for the sorrows of man’s heart, crying to Him, “Lord, help me!” She reached on to that entire sympathy which was to be the fruit of His being “perfected through suffering.” “Thou that art the Man of Sorrows; by Thy man’s heart, and by the covenant of Thy suffering, help me in my woe.” Twice more, we know, she seemed to be refused; and yet she persevered. He had but tried her faith, and perfected her patience. There was in her heart a hidden treasure which was thus brought forth; there was in it the fine gold, to which this hour of agony had been as the refiner’s fire. Her importunity had won its answer; for indeed it was itself His gift. The fire upon the altar of her heart had been kindled by the beams of His own countenance; her cleaving to Him was His gift; her love the reflection of His love to her; He had put the words into her mouth, and He had strengthened her to speak them. And so the end was sure: she had knocked, and the door had opened; she had asked, and she received: “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.” Such is the narrative; and in all its parts we may read that which concerns ourselves most closely. For what else are our lives, with all their varying accidents and issues, than, as it were, the shadows cast forward into all time by these dealings of the Son of God with man? He has come nigh unto us; yea, He stands amongst us-He, the Healer of our spirits; He, our heart’s true centre-He is close beside us; and we, have we not each one our own deep need of Him? Have we not each one our own burden?-the “young daughter who lieth at home grievously afflicted,” whom He only can heal? And then, further, do not characters now divide off and part asunder even as they did then? Are there not those who, like the Jews, know not the office of this Healer; who hear all His words, and see all His signs, and languidly let Him pass, or angrily murmur at Him, or blasphemously drive Him from them; from whom He passes, even to the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, to pour on others the blessing they refuse? But then there are also those who do seek Him with their whole heart-unmarked, it may be, by any of the outward appearances which catch the eye of man.
I. There is the lesson taught us by the Jews, that He does pass away from those who will not stay Him with them; that He goes on and heals others: and that they die unhealed, because they knew not “the time of their visitation.” And the root of this evil is here pointed out to us: it is a want of faith, and, from this, a lack of the power of spiritual discernment. Such men are purblind: the full light of heaven shines in vain for them. They do not intend to reject the Christ, but they know Him not; their gaze is too idle, too impassive, to discover Him. They know not that they have deep needs which He only can satisfy. They yet dream of slaking their thirst at other streams.
II. But there is also here the lesson of the woman of Canaan; and this has many aspects; of which the first, perhaps, is this, that by every mark and token which the stricken soul can read, He to whom she sought is the only Healer of humanity, the true portion and rest of every heart; that He would teach us this by all the discipline of outward things; that the ties of family life are meant thus to train up our weak affections till they are fitted to lay hold on Him; that the eddies and sorrows of life are meant to sweep us from its flowery banks, that in its deep strong currents we may cry to Him; that for this and He opens to us, by little and little, the mystery of trouble round us, the mystery of evil within us, that we may fly from others and ourselves to Him.
III. And, once more, there is this further lesson, that He will most surely be found by those who do seek after Him. For here we see why it often happens that really earnest and sincere men seem, for a time at least, to pray in vain; why their “Lord, help me!” is not answered by a word. It is not that Christ is not near us; it is not that His ear is heavy; it is not that the tenderness of His sympathy is blunted. It is a part of His plan of faithfulness and wisdom. He has a double purpose herein. He would bless by it both us and all His Church. How many a fainting soul has gathered strength for one more hour of patient supplication by thinking on this Canaanitish mother; on her seeming rejection, on her blessed success at last! And for ourselves, too, there is a special mercy in these long-delayed blessings. For it is only by degrees that the work within us can be perfected; it is only by steps, small and almost imperceptible as we are taking them, yet one by one leading us to unknown heights, that we can mount up to the golden gate before us. The ripening of these precious fruits must not be forced. We have many lessons to learn, and we can learn them but one by one. And much are we taught by these delayed answers to our prayers. By them the treasure of our hearts is cleared from dross, as in the furnace heat. He would but teach us to come to Him at once for all, and not to leave Him until we have won our suit. (Bishop Samuel Wilberforce.)
Faith triumphant over refusal
1. Here is, first, the Saviour leaving the usual scenes of His ministry, and passing into a land to which He had as yet no message. As soon as He reaches it, He makes it plain that He did not come there for purposes of public ministration. He came there, I think we may say, for the sake of one soul. He would leave on record just one example of His care for those who were not yet His own. Thus would He warn the Jews that God’s blessing might escape them altogether, if they gave not the more earnest heed. When and as He will, such is the law of His working. And they who would find Him must watch for Him. Into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon He comes but now and then, or He comes but once.
2. Again, how many are the heart’s sorrows! How often are they connected with family life? Happy they whose family sorrows bring them to the same place for healing-to the feet of Christ.
3. But at all events, if the home be ever so bright, if the life be ever so cloudless, there is a want deep down within, which is either keenly felt, or, if not felt, tenfold more urgent. If not for a child whom Satan hath bound; yet at least for ourselves we have all need to approach Christ with the prayer, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David.” In some of us there is by habit a possession of the evil one: in all of us there is by nature a taint and an infection of sin.
4. Thus then we have all of us occasion to approach Him who has turned aside to visit our coasts. We have all a malady which needs healing, and for which He alone, alone in heaven or in earth, even professes to have a remedy. The less we feel, the more we need. My brethren, we do not believe that any real prayer was ever cast out for the unworthiness of the asker.
5. And doubt not, but earnestly believe, that as this miracle describes us in some of its parts, so shall it describe us also in all. It was written to teach men this lesson-that refusals, even if they were uttered in words from the heavenly places, are at the very worst only trials of our faith. Will we, that is the question, pray on through them?
6. And assuredly, this morning, we may take the history before us as a strongly encouraging call to Christ’s holy Table. (G. J. Vaughan, D. D.)
The Syro-Phoenician woman
I. A commendation of the woman’s faith. But now what is it that Christ commends and admires? It is the greatness of the woman’s faith. Now faith may be said to be great either in respect had to the understanding, or to the will. For the act of faith proceeds from them both; and it may be said to increase and be great, either as the understanding receives more light, or the will more warmth: as the one doth more firmly assent, and the other more readily embrace. In the understanding it it raised by certainty and assurance, and in the will by devotion and confidence. This woman’s faith was great in both respects. She most firmly believed Christ to be the Lord, able to work a miracle on her daughter: and her devotion and confidence was so strongly built, that neither silence nor denial nor a reproach could shake it. And because we are told that “the greatness of virtue is best seen in the effects;” as we best judge of a tree by the spreading of its branches, and of the whole by the parts; we will therefore contemplate this woman’s faith in those several fruits it brought forth,-in her patience, in her humility, in her perseverance; which are those lesser stars that shine in the firmament of our souls, and borrow their light from the lustre of faith, as from their sun.
1. We must admire her patience. She endured much; misery, reproach, repulse, silence, and the name of a “dog.” Her patience proves the greatness of her faith.
2. Next follows her humility, a companion of patience. “She worshipped Him.” Not a humility which stays at home, but which “comes out of her coasts” after Christ. She cries after Him; He answers not. She falls on the ground; He calls her “dog.” A humility that is not silent, but helps Christ to accuse her. A humility, not at the lower end, but under the table, content with the crumbs which fall to the dogs. Thus doth the soul by true humility go out from God to meet Him, and, beholding His immense goodness, looks back unto herself, and dwells in the contemplation of her own poverty; and, being conscious of her own emptiness and nihility, she stands at gaze, and trembles at that unmeasurable goodness which filleth all things. It is a good flight from Him which humility makes. For thus to go away from God into the valley of our own imperfections, is to meet Him: we are then most near Him when we place ourselves at such a distance; as the best way to enjoy the sun is not to live in his sphere. We must therefore learn by this woman here to take heed how we grace ourselves. For nothing can make the heavens as brass unto us, to deny their influence, but a high conceit of our own worth. If no beam of the sun touch thee in the midst of a field at noonday, thou canst not but think some thick cloud is cast between thee and the light; and if, amongst that myriad of blessings which flow from the Fountain of light, none reach home to thee, it is because thou art too full already, and hast shut out God by the conceit of thy own bulk and greatness. Certainly, nothing can conquer majesty but humility, which layeth her foundation low, but raiseth her building to heaven. This Canaanitess is a dog; Christ calls her “woman:” she deserves not a crumb; He grants her the whole loaf, and seals His grant with a Fiat tibi. It shall be to humility “even as she will.”
3. And now, in the third place, her humility ushers in her heat and perseverance in prayer. Pride is as glass: “It makes the mind brittle and frail.” Glitter she doth, and make a fair show; but upon a touch or fall is broken asunder. Not only a reproach, which is “a blow,” but silence, which can be but “a touch,” dasheth her to pieces. Reproach pride, and she “swells into anger;” she is ready to return the “dog” upon Christ. But humility is “a wall of brass,” and endureth all the batteries of opposition. Is Christ silent? she cries still, she follows after, she falls on her knees. Calls her “dog?” she confesseth it. Our Saviour Himself, when He negotiated our reconciliation, continued in supplications “with strong crying” (Hebrews 5:7), and now, beholding as it were Himself in the woman, and seeing, though not the same, yet the like, fervour and perseverance in her, He approves it as a piece of His own coin, and sets His impress upon it. And these three, patience, humility, perseverance, and an undaunted constancy in prayer, measure out her faith. For faith is not great but by opposition.
4. I might add a fourth, her prudence, but that I scarce know how to distinguish it from faith. For faith indeed is our Christian prudence, which doth “innoculate the soul,” give her a clear and piercing eye, by which she discerns great blessings in little ones, a talent in a mite, and a loaf in a crumb; which sets up “a golden light,” by which we spy out all spiritual advantages, and learn to thrive in the merchandise of truth. We may see a beam of this light in every passage of this woman; but it is most resplendent in her art of thrift, by which she can multiply a crumb. A crumb shall turn this dog into a child of Abraham. To our eye a star appears not much bigger than a candle; but reason corrects our sense, and makes it greater than the globe of the earth: so opportunities and occasions of good, and those many helps to increase grace in us, are apprehended as atoms by a sensual eye; but our Christian prudence beholds them in their lust magnitude, and makes more use of a crumb that falls from the table, than folly doth of a sumptuous feast. “A little,” saith the Psalmist, “which the righteous hath is more than great revenues of the wicked” (Psalms 37:16). A little wealth, a little knowledge, nay, a little grace, may be so husbanded and improved that the increase and harvest may be greatest where there is least seed. It is strange, but yet we may observe it, many men walk safer by starlight than others by day.
Many times it falls out that ignorance is more holy than knowledge.
1. Shall we now take pains to measure our faith by this woman’s? We may as well measure an inch by a pole, or an atom by a mountain. We are impatient of afflictions and reproaches.
2. But next, for humility: who vouchsafeth once to put on her mantle?
3. Lastly: For our perseverance and fervour in devotion, we must not dare once to compare them with this woman’s. For, Lord! how loath are we to begin our prayers, and how willing to make an end! Her devotion was on fire; ours is congealed and bound up with a frost. But yet, to come up close to our text, our Saviour mentions not these, but passeth them by in silence, and commends her faith.
Not but that her patience was great; her humility great, and her devotion great: but because all these were seasoned with faith, and sprung from faith, and because faith was it which caused the miracle, He mentions faith alone, that faith may have indeed the preeminence in all things.
1. Faith was the virtue which Christ came to plant in His Church.
2. Besides, faith was the fountain from whence these rivulets were cut, from whence those virtues did flow. For had she not believed, she had not come, she had not cried, she had not been patient, she had not humbled herself to obtain her desire, she had not persevered; but having a firm persuasion that Christ was able to work the miracle, no silence, no denial, no reproach, no wind could drive her away.
3. Lastly; Faith is that virtue which seasons all the rest, maketh them useful and profitable, which commends our patience and humility and perseverance, and without which our patience were but like the heathen’s, imaginary, and paper patience, begotten by some premeditation, by habit of suffering, by opinion of fatal necessity, or by a stoical abandoning of all affections. Without faith our humility were pride, and our prayers babbling. For whereas in natural men there be many excellent things, yet without faith they are all nothing worth, and are to them as the rainbow was before the flood, the same perhaps in show, but of no use. It is strange to see what gifts of wisdom and temperance, of moral and natural conscience, of justice and uprightness, did remain, not only in the books, but in the lives, of many heathen men: but this could not further them one foot for the purchase of eternal good, because they wanted the faith which they derided, which gives the rest τὐ φίλτρον, “a loveliness and beauty,” and is alone of force to attract and draw the love and favour of God unto us. These graces otherwise are but as the matter and body of a Christian man, a thing of itself dead, without life: but the soul which seems to quicken this body, is faith. They are indeed of the same brotherhood and kindred, and God is the common Father unto them all: but without faith they find no entertainment at His hands. As Joseph said unto his brethren, “You shall not see my face except your brother be with you” (Genesis 43:3); so, nor shall patience and humility and prayer bring us to the blessed vision of God, unless they take faith in their company. Yea see, our Saviour passeth by them all: but at the sight of faith He cries out in a kind of astonishment, “O woman, great is thy faith!” And for this faith he grants her her request: “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt:” which is my next part, and which I will touch but in a word.
II. Fiat tibi is a grant; and it follows close at the heels of the commendation, and even commends that to. (A. Farindon, D. D.)
Suffering sends to Christ
No wind so powerful to drive us from Tyre and Sidon to Christ, from the coasts of sin to the land of the living, as calamity. (A. Farindon, D. D.)
Light drawn out of darkness
Here is a cloud drawn over her; yet her faith sees a star in this cloud; and by a strange kind of alchemy she draws light out of darkness, and makes that sharp denial the foundation of a grant. (A. Farindon, D. D.)
Prayer richly answered
“Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” Before, silence; now, admiration: before, a reproof; now, a commendation: before, a “dog;” now, a “woman:” before, not a crumb: now, more bread than the children. She cried before, and Christ answered not; but now Christ answers, and not only gives her a crumb, but the whole table; answers her with “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt!” (A. Farindon, D. D.)
So,to prayers take long to answer
If God’s chastisements make you better, thank God for them. Those unfeeling words, that cold look, and that indifferent way of Christ-what gush of feeling they brought out of this woman’s soul! That pushing away-how it brought the pleading hands out, as it were! How it caused every tendril and fibre of her heart to clasp and cling to the Saviour, and made her refuse to let Him go! It was out of the apparent winter of His face that her summer came. It was out of His repulsion that her blessing came. Any dealing that makes you better inside is beneficial. And do not feel when God is dealing with you severely that He has forgotten you. It takes a great while to answer some prayers. One day an acorn looked up and saw an oak tree over it, and did not know that this tree was its father, and pleaded with Nature, saying, “Make me such a one as that.” So the squirrel took it, and raced off with it towards its nest; and on the way he dropped it on a ledge where there was a little soil, and lost it. There it germinated, and its roots struck down. And after a year the little whip cried, “I did not pray to be a little whip; I prayed to be like that oak tree.” But God did not hear. The next year it grew and branched a little; but it was not satisfied; and in its discontent it said: “O Nature, I prayed that I might be like that voluminous oak, and now see what a contemptible little forked stick I am.” Another year came, and the winter froze it, and the summer storms heat on it, and it tugged away for its life, and its roots ran out and twined themselves around rocks and whatever else it could get hold of, and fed on the hillside. So it grew and grew till a hundred years had passed over it. Then behold how on the hillside it stands firm, and defies the winter storms and tempests. Then behold how it spreads itself abroad, and stands an oak indeed, fit to be the foundation of a prince’s palace, or the keel of a ship that bears a nation’s thunder round the globe! You cannot he transformed in an instant. You cannot be changed between twilight and sunrise. When, therefore, you pray that God will regenerate your nature, will you not give Him time to do such a work. When you pray for the reconstruction of your character, will you not wait till God can perform such an act of mercy? If, looking at the interior, He sees that the work can be expedited, He will expedite it; but you must be patient. (H. W. Beecher.)
Great faith found amongst the Gentiles who were to gain the most by it
If it be through the special virtue and dignity of the grace of faith that the new dispensation is enabled to make itself commensurate with the world, it seems peculiarly appropriate, that the chief examples of that grace, which was thus to equalize the claims of all the races of mankind, should have been selected from among those who were to gain the advantage in this equalization. (W. A. Butler, M. A.)
A gradual transition from Jew to Gentile
Nor, perhaps, is it altogether unworthy of notice in this point of view, that when the Church was indeed to be declared a Church of Gentile no less than Jew, the first believer-the common ancestor of the world of evangelized heathen-was a man holding the same office, and, it would appear, similarly connected in habits and disposition with the Jews: for as it is said of the Centurion of the Acts, that he was “one that feared God, and gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway”-so it is likewise said of the Centurion of the Gospel, that “he loved their nation, and had built them a synagogue.” And I may add that this respectful attachment to the ancient people of Jehovah is very discernible in the language of our immediate subject, the believing Canaanite; for she not only addressed her Redeemer in her supplication as “the Son of David” (a title which could appear honourable only to one who sympathized with the feelings and prepossessions of a Jew), but even acceded to the justness of our Lord’s strong expressions when He classed her nation as “dogs” in comparison with the long-adopted “children” of God. However this may be, the choice of the previous friends and revelers of Israel, as the special instances of Gentile faith in Christ, may be considered in a view beyond this; not merely as a striking exemplification of that law of gradual transition which seems to pervade all the works of God, spiritual no less than physical-the heathen being partially Judaized before he be comes wholly enlightened, but also as manifestly rendering these instances more appropriate types of the entire work of Gentile conversion-externally, of the preaching of the gospel to the heathen in all ages, which in all ages must include so large a Jewish element, must build itself upon Jewish history, authenticate itself by Jewish prophecy, and proclaim its great Subject the fulfilment of Jewish types; internally of the parallel story of the gospel life in the soul, which, perhaps, finds every man more or less a Jew in heart, in pride, self-reliance, spiritual ignorance, and formality-before it conducts him into the humility, the faith, the illumination, and the liberty of the gospel. (W. A. Butler, M. A.)
A prayer that involved an argument
“I am not sent but to Israel,” said Jesus. “She came,” not with an argument, but a prayer that involved an argument, “and worshipped Him, saying, Lord, help me!” She no longer calls Him Son of David, for her object was to rise from the Son of David to the Son of God, from the Messiah of the Jew to the Messiah of the world-to “the Lord” in the simple majesty of the name, yea, to “the mighty God, the Father of the everlasting age, the Prince of peace.” She, therefore, designates Him by the vaster and ampler title, and adds to her designation “worship.” She insinuated that ”the Lord” had power above His commission; that this plenipotentiary of heaven could at will transcend the terms of His instructions; and by that omnipotence which ruled the world it had created, she invoked Him, “Lord, help me!” But even this is ineffective. Faith must see more than power; and the Canaanite must pay a price for being the model of the Church to come. Like Him she implored, she must be “made perfect through sufferings.” For, alas, omnipotence acts by mysterious and often exclusive laws; though the agent be almighty, the object may be unfit for its operation; the same power that bade Carmel blossom left Sinai a desert. “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs;” “Let the children (St. Mark adds) first be filled!” But now for a bolder flight of the eagle wing, and a keener glance of the eagle eye of faith. She springs from the supreme control to the benevolent equity of providence. She rises above the clouds of the Divine power, often, to us who can only see them from below, dark, disturbed, and stormy, into the holy serenity beyond them. She sees the calm Sovereign of the universe, partial, yet impartial too; preferring some, yet forgetting none. She knows that “His care is over all His works,” and-deepest wonder of her heaven-sent enlightenment-she can see that He loves her, and yet accord His unquestionable right to love, if He please it, others more; allows she can ask but little, yet believingly dares to pronounce that little certain! She will permit (would to God we could always follow her in our speculations!) no mystery of dispensation to contradict the truth of the Divine character. “Truth, Lord,” is her retort, for the calmness of her settled convictions left her power to point her reply: “Truth, Lord! yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” Everything is here. All Christianity is concentrated in one happy sentence. She believes in her own lowliness: she believes in God’s absolute supremacy; she believes in the secret propriety of the apparent inequalities of His providence; she believes that those inequalities can never affect the true universality of His love. God is all, yet she is something too, for she is God’s creature. Men from deep places can see the stars at noon-day; and from the utter depths of her self-abasement she catches the whole blessed mystery of heaven: like St. Paul’s Christian, “in having nothing, she possesses all things.” (W. A. Butler, M. A.)
The power of faith shown in the woman of Canaan
We may learn from this narrative-
I. That misfortunes and calamities, however severe and painful they may appear, are the best, and often the only means of leading us to a sense of religious duty.
II. That no want of present success should ever lead us to despair.
III. That the lowest station, and even the vilest in heart, are still within the reach of the sanctifying mercies of their Redeemer. This woman belonged to an outcast race. (R. Parkinson, B. D.)
The woman of Canaan
1. Her faith had a good foundation. She called Jesus “the Son of David.”
2. Her faith made her very diligent to seek out Christ, when she heard that He was in the country. (E. Blencowe, M. A.)
The Syro-Phoenician woman
“Jesus went thence.” The persons and places that have been favoured with Christ’s presence and instructions may not be always so; having delivered His message, and done His work, He will remove. The day is going away, and night will succeed. Happy they who, while they have the light, know how to use it; and, having Jesus with them, make sure of an interest in Him, before He go from them.
1. The suppliant.
2. The title she speaks to our Lord by-“O Lord, Thou Son of David.”
3. The request.
I. The trials and difficulties this suppliant’s faith met with.
1. Though she cries, Christ is wholly silent. How great a trial is this, to speak to the only Saviour, and have no return; to cry to a merciful Saviour, and meet no regard. Prayers may be heard, yet kept in suspense. A bitter aggravation of affliction (Lamentations 3:8; Song of Solomon 5:6; Psalms 22:2; Psalms 69:3; Psalms 77:7-9). This a trial, considering the encouraging character under which God is made known to His people (Psalms 65:2; Psalms 50:15; Isaiah 65:24).
2. Christ seems to intimate that He had nothing to do with her. He was able to save, but salvation was not for her.
3. When her request was renewed, Christ seems to answer it with reproach.
II. Having spoken of the trial of this woman’s faith, I come to consider how it was discovered, and worked through all.
1. Though Christ was silent she did not drop, but continued her suit. The eternal Word would not speak to her, the wisdom of the Father would not answer her, the compassionate Jesus would take no notice of her, the heavenly Physician would not yet help her; but all this does not discourage or sink her. How does the earnestness of this heathen in crying after Christ reproach the ignorance and ingratitude of the Jews, who generally made light of Him; and invite all that hear it, to admire her faith thus discovered, and the grace of God in general wherever it works. Faith enabled her to read an argument in Christ’s silence, and by it she continued her suit. The same words that bid us pray, bid us wait too (Psalms 27:14).
2. When Christ speaks, and seems to exclude her out of His commission to give help and relief, she passeth over the doubt she could not answer, and, instead of disputing, adores Him, and prays to Him still. Two or three things are here implied, as what she kept her eye upon, and by which she was quickened and helped on in praying to Christ amidst so many discouragements, which otherwise would have been enough to sink her.
(1) Upon her deep necessity. It was a deplorable case her child was in, being grievously vexed with a devil, from subjection to which she earnestly desired to see her set free.
(2) Upon Christ’s power, and His compassion joined with it, that He and He only could, and, as she hoped, would relieve her. Her faith as to this is manifested by her coming to Him, and by the title she gives Him, of Lord-“Lord, help me.”
(3) Upon Him, as the Messiah promised of God, the great Deliverer, and so worshipped Him, and east herself upon Him, with this strong cry, uttered by a stronger faith, “Lord, help me.” This was the discovery of this supplicant’s faith under trials. Now followeth-
III. The happy issue of this, in her faith’s triumph. “Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” To how blessed an issue is the struggle brought! Christ’s answer before was not so discouraging as this was comfortable. What consolation is it fitted to convey, as it is the testimony of one that knew the heart, and given after a manner most fit to revive it?
1. Her faith was owned, commended, and admired by the Author of it, whose words are always spoken according to truth, most clearly and certainly.
2. The reward of her faith was ample, as large as her desires were, to have it to be, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” And how fast and far will a sinner’s thoughts and desires fly after good things? What a compass will they take? Looking downward he will say, I desire to be delivered from the bottomless pit, that my soul may not be gathered with sinners, nor my portion be with them in their place of torment; and Christ will say, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” Looking inward, his language will be, O that I may be delivered from this body of death. Looking upward to the mansions of glory, the believer cries, O that heaven may be mine. (D. Wilcox.)
Power and efficacy of prayer
I. Prayer in its opportunities. Some are more highly favoured with opportunities of prayer than others. Many are early instructed in its nature, etc., others are destitute of such instruction: such was the ease probably with the Canaanitish woman who so urgently presented her suit to our Lord.
1. Seasons of affliction furnish opportunities for prayer.
2. The special presence of Christ, either at times of public worship, or in the influence of His Spirit in private, furnish opportunity for prayer. It was the presence of the Saviour in the immediate neighbourhood of the Canaanitish woman that induced her to come to Him.
II. Prayer is its objects.
1. It ought to be personal. “Lord, help me,” is the language of true prayer.
2. It ought to be intercessory.
III. Prayer is its discouragements.
IV. Prayer in its success. Prayer to be successful-
1. Must be persevering.
2. Must be offered in faith. “O woman, great is thy faith.” (Anon.)
This woman’s nationality
Is emphasized by the Evangelists with a variety of expressions. She is characterized vaguely as “a Greek,” not in the limited sense with which we are most familiar, but as a genuine term for non-Jewish people, very much as the Turks and Asiatics adopt the designation of “Frank” for any European. Her personal name has come down through tradition as Justs, and that of her daughter as Bernice. She is called by St. Matthew “a woman of Canaan”-an inhabitant of the region into which those who escaped extermination had been shut up; and the title may have been selected to enhance the loving kindness of the Lord, not without reference to her inheritance of the ancient malediction, “Cursed be Canaan.” She is also called here a Syro-Phoenician by descent, probably to distinguish her from those Libyo-Phoenicians in the northern coasts of Africa, whom the fame of Carthage had made so widely known. She was, no doubt, in religion a heathen, but was possessed by principles which, when called into active exercise by the Great Teacher, served her in better stead than the orthodox creed did not a few of its professors. (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)
She was a heathen in religion, an alien in race, a dweller in a city hardly surpassable for antiquity, enterprise, wealth, or wickedness. She had been doubtless a worshipper of the Syrian goddess whose worship covered the Levant; the deity who personified the fulness of Divine life which fills the world; who was loved by the purest because they deemed her the giver of their children; and yet worshipped with loathsome devotion by the vilest because she was supposed to sanction all action of human lust. A Hindoo mother, worshipping Doorga, in her brighter aspect, reproduces exactly the sort of feeling and devotion in which this woman had been reared. She was thus ill placed, for the favourite deity corrupted the morals of the people exactly in the degree they worshipped her. Yet her faith receives a tribute of highest praise from her Saviour, and she is, I suppose, the first heathen converted to the faith and the salvation of the Son of God. (R. Glover.)
The action of faith
Faith is a great mystery. To doubt, nothing is needed but weakness; to believe, requires great energy or great necessity. Observe the creed which has grown in this woman and now shows itself.
1. She believes in miracles. The lukewarm, who are rich and increased in goods, are unbelieving; for, needing nothing, they cannot believe in what they see no need for. But the needy, whose case is desperate, have other thoughts. All the afflicted tend to settle in this creed, that there must be somewhere a cure for every trouble. So the miracle of healing a demoniac child seems quite possible to her.
2. She believes, in some measure, in the Divinity of Jesus-viz., that he can do what mere man cannot do; that He is omnipotent to save.
3. She believes in the love of Christ. Her mother love has given her a new idea of God’s love. If she were God, she thinks, she would succour the wretched and bind up the broken heart. And she feels that Christ’s heart must be full of love-even to a helpless heathen. (R. Glover.)
The Syro-Phoenician woman
This story places before us a pattern of meekness and perseverance rarely equalled.
1. How many, even with privileges of teaching and education to which she was a stranger, would have taken offence at the apparent insult of such a reception as she met with. But with all the forbearance of the meek and quiet spirit, which disarms opposition, she discerned a smile beneath His frown, and won her petition.
2. How many, if not offended and full of resentment, would have turned away discouraged. To have hoped, as she had done, against hope, and then to have heard that there was One who could give her relief, and to have flung herself at His feet in the agony of supplication, and to be so received! Could we have been surprised if despair had taken possession of her, and she had hurried from His presence?
3. But faith triumphed over all disappointment, and her desire was granted. Whether it was given to her to understand it we cannot tell; but the seeming harshness of her Saviour’s conduct was but a new revelation of his unfailing love. The same love which, when faith was weak, prompted Him to go forth to meet it, led Him to hold Himself back when faith was strong, that it might be yet further purified and made perfect through trial. (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)
She had often heard her people characterized as “dogs.” It was a title by which the Jews, whose first care it was to hate, to mock, and to curse all besides themselves, disgraced the Gentiles. The noble nature of the dog finds no recognition in the history of the Old or New Testaments. Among Jews dogs were regarded as wild, savage, undomesticated animals, which prowled about cities as the scavengers of the streets, with no masters and no homes. But Jesus, by the use of a diminutive not to be expressed in English, softened not a little the harshness of the comparison, implying that the dogs to which He likened this woman were not excluded from the house. And the woman with the instincts of a Gentile, with whom the dog was not only a favourite but an almost necessary companion, having its place at the domestic hearth, turned it at once into an argument in her favour, and replied, “Yes, Lord, I accept the position; for the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs.” What she meant to convey must have been something like this: “I do not deny that the Jews are the first object of your care and ministration. They are the true children, and I am far from asking that they should ever be superseded in their rightful prerogative; but the very fact that you should speak of their being first fed seems to imply that our turn will come after them, and your mitigation of the harsh unfeeling byword which the Jews adopt, encourages me to persevere in my petition. Let the full board, then-the plentiful bread of grace-be reserved for the Jewish children; but only let me be as the dog under the table, to partake of the crumbs of mercy and comfort that fall from it.” (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)
Faith improved by trial
Compare with the testing of the Syrophenician woman’s faith, God’s trial of Abraham (Genesis 22:1-19), and note the rich reward which triumphant faith won in both instances. Pure gold loses nothing in the testing for alloys; the diamond shines all the more clearly for being rid of the rough surface which hid its light.
Duff, the African missionary, was about to begin a gospel service in a Boer farmer’s house, when he noticed that none of the Kaffir servants were present. To his request that they might be brought in, the Boer replied roughly: “What have Kaffirs to do with the gospel? Kaffirs, sir, are dogs.” Duff made no reply, but opened his Bible, and read his text: “Yes, Lord; yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs.” “Stop,” cried the farmer, “you’ve broken my head. Let the Kaffirs come in.”
And they bring unto Him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech.
The pattern of service
The “missionary spirit” is but one aspect of the Christian life. We shall only strengthen the former as we invigorate the latter. Harm has been done, both to ourselves and to this great cause, by seeking to stimulate compassion and efforts for heathen lands by the use of other excitements, which have tended to vitiate even the emotions they have aroused, and are apt to fail us when we need them most. It may therefore be profitable if we turn to Christ’s own manner of working, and His own emotions in His merciful deeds, as here set forth for our example. We have here set forth-
I. The foundation and condition of all true work for God, in the Lord’s heavenward look. That wistful gaze to heaven means, and may be taken to symbolize, our Lord’s conscious direction of thought and spirit to God as He wrought His work of mercy. Such intercourse is necessary for us too. It is the condition of all our power, and the measure of all our success. Without it we may seem to realize the externals of prosperity, but it will be an illusion. With it we may perchance seem to spend our strength for naught; but heaven has its surprises; and those who toiled, nor left their hold of their Lord in all their work, will have to say at last with wonder, as they see the results of their poor efforts, “Who hath begotten me these? behold, I was left alone; these, where had they been?” The heavenward look is-
1. The renewal of our own vision of the calm verities in which we trust.
2. It will guard us from the temptations which surround all our service, and the distractions which lay waste our lives.
II. Pity for the evils we would remove, by the Lord’s sigh. It is a sharp shock to turn from the free sweep of the heavens; starry and radiant, to the sights that meet us on earth. Thus habitual communion with God is the root of the truest and purest compassion. He has looked into the heavens to little purpose who has not learned how bad and how sad the world now is, and how God bends over it in pitying love. And pity is meant to impel to help. Let us not be content with painting sad and true pictures of men’s woes, but remember that every time our compassion is stirred and no action ensues, our hearts are in some measure indurated, and the sincerity of our religion in some measure impaired.
III. Loving contact with those whom we would help, in the Lord’s touch. The would-be helper must come down to the level of those whom he desires to aid. We must seek to make ourselves one with those whom we would gather into Christ, by actual familiarity with their condition, and by identification of ourselves in feeling with them. Such contact with men will win their hearts, as well as soften ours. It will lift us out of the enchanted circle which selfishness draws around us. It will silently proclaim the Lord from Whom we have learnt it. The clasp of the band will be precious, even apart from the virtue that may flow from it, and may be to many a soul burdened with a consciousness of corruption the dawning of belief in a love that does not shrink even from its foulness.
IV. The true healing power and the consciousness of wielding it, in the Lord’s authoritative word. That word is almighty, whether spoken by Him, or of Him (John 14:12). We have everything to assure us that we cannot fail. The work is done before we begin it. The word entrusted to us is the Word of God, and we know that it liveth and abideth forever. Nothing can prevail against it. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. Teaching for those who would follow the Lord in doing good.
1. Be considerate. Deal with each case according to its need.
2. Look up to heaven. It is the privilege of serving God to create correspondence with God. He who does good, enters into alliante with heaven.
3. Sigh. “Shall the heirs of sinful blood, seek joy unmixed in charity?” Doing good is lessening evils; contact with evils makes us serious-sad. Therefore many avoid it all they can-avert eyes from realities around them, attend only to what will please and amuse. Selfish creatures, children of world, who have not the Spirit of Christ. Those who have will, in this, share His experience. Sadness in sympathy: pain in disappointment.
II. Admonition to all to whom the Word of God comes. Their case was before Christ’s mind. The deepest cause of His sigh and sorrow was that they were spiritually deaf, and therefore spiritually dead. “Hear, and your soul shall live.” (T. D. Bernard.)
I. Many cannot speak because they are deaf, so some souls are silent because they are dull of hearing.
II. Christ sighs over faculties misused or destroyed.
III. We need this miracle in our souls-the opening of the ear, and the loosening of the tongue.
IV. When one was healed many sought healing (Matthew 15:30), and found it, till the half-heathen people summed up their experience in a word which describes all Christ’s action in miracles, providence, and grace-“He hath done all things well.” (R. Glover.)
He took him aside
Thus it is that God’s greatest works are performed. Crowds may admire the full-blown rose, but in silence and secrecy its leaflets have been folded in the bud. The broad river bears navies on its bosom, but amid the mosses and ferns of the lonely mountain it takes its rise. In this instance, when the man and his Saviour were alone together, there was as much care bestowed on him as if there were none else in the world.
I. The greatness of God’s universe. How difficult to conceive that one individual can be of importance to its Ruler that we see each soul standing in His sight aside from all the rest;
1. Aside for responsibility;
2. Aside for affection.
II. In the work of spiritual healing, Christ deals in the same way still.
1. In childhood, by a mother’s voice.
2. In after years, by books, sermons, friends, trials. The conscience is touched; we stand face to face with God.
III. The healed in body might go back to the multitude. The healed in soul must stay aside. In the world, but not of it. His objects of life, tastes, aspirations, are different from those of the multitude. He must be much alone with Christ in prayer, communion, and study. Alone, but not lonely.
IV. The final taxing aside. Death. Aside from the earthly multitude, its toil, bustle, and sorrow: united with the great multitude whom no man can number. (F. R. Wynne, M. A.)
Healing the deaf and dumb man
Jesus speaks to him in signs.
(1) Takes him aside from the multitude-alone with Jesus;
(2) puts His fingers into his ears-these are to be opened;
(3) touches his tongue with His saliva-Christ’s tongue is to heal his;
(4) looks up to heaven and sighs-God’s help in man’s sorrow;
(5) speaks the word “Ephphatha”-and the man speaks plain. (T. M. Lindsay, D. D.)
He took him aside
Teaching us by this act-
1. To avoid vain glory in all our works of mercy to others.
2. That the penitent must separate himself from the crowd of worldly cares, tumultuous thoughts, and inordinate affections, if he would find rest for his soul in God.
3. That he must tear himself from the company of evil and frivolous companions, and from the bustle of incessant occupation.
4. That Christ alone can heal the soul. He took from the deaf and dumb man any trust that he might have had in those who stood by.
5. He leaves also this lesson to His ministers, that if they would heal the sinner by their reproof, they should do this when he is alone. (W. Denton, M. A.)
The successive steps in the conversion of the sinner
1. The departure from the multitude, i.e., from evil companions, sinful desires, corrupt practices.
2. The favour which comes from Christ, who gives us both the sight of our sins, and the knowledge of God’s will; and then strengthens us to obey His commands.
3. The confession of our sins which is given us when Christ touches our tongue with the wisdom which is from above, and gives us grace to acknowledge God by word and deed. (W. Denton, M. A.)
Meaning of Christ’s action
The whole action would seem to have been symbolical, and accurately suited to the circumstances of the case. Translate the action into words, and what have we but sayings such as these? “I have taken thee aside from the multitude, that thou mightest observe and remember Who it is to Whom thou hast been brought. Thine organs are imperfect: here are members of thy body, which are useless to the ends for which they were given, and I am about to set on them with a power which shall supply all defects. Yet I would have thee know that this power is but a credential of My having come forth from God, and should produce in thee belief of My prophetical character. Behold, therefore: I lift My eyes unto heaven, whilst I utter the word which shall give thee hearing and speech.” (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The abuses and uses of speech
I. Why did Christ sigh? For us Christians, as well as for that poor Jew; because, when He looked up to heaven, He looked up to His home as God, and as God He had before His omniscience all the sins which, through ear and tongue, had brought, were bringing, and would bring, misery to man.
II. Is there not still a cause why Christians should sigh with Christ?
1. For blasphemous words.
2. Unbelieving, sneering words, and flippant, irreverent words.
3. False words; the lies of society, of vanity, of business, of expediency, of ignorance.
4. Obscene, lascivious, wanton words.
5. Bitter, slanderous, and railing words.
Of what does our conversation too often consist? First, there are self-evident platitudes about the weather (very often murmurings of discontent with that which comes so plainly and directly from God); then, the old Athenian craving either to tell or to hear some new thing, and that new thing, how commonly! an evil report about our neighbour. “Thou safest at thine ease,” deliberately, in your home, at the table of your friend, in the railway carriage, in the newsroom, in the office, “thou satest and spakest against thy brother. Instead of every man shall give an account of himself,” it might have been written, “every man shall give account of his neighbour unto God,” so eager are we to detect and remember his infirmities, to ignore and forget our own. It never seems to strike us that, while we are so busy in spying and pointing out to others the thistles in our neighbours’ fields, the tares are choking our own wheat. Our neighbours’ idleness, lust, drunkenness, profanity, debt,-these are our theme; and we forget that there is such a thing as a judgment to come for our own misdeeds.
III. The cure of the disease.
1. Not mere secular “education”: that is only the pioneer, who saps and mines, not the artillery which destroys the citadel. If the fountain is poisonous, the filter may remove the dirt which discolours, but it will not make the water wholesome. No mental, no moral education, can directly act upon the soul. You may teach men to speak more correctly and politely, to think more cleverly, and to reason more closely; but this will not purify the heart. Lust and dishonesty are all the more dangerous, when they quote poetry, and converse agreeably.
2. Education is but a means to an end. It is the ambulance on which we may convey the wounded man to the surgeon-the couch on which we bring the sick man to Jesus. Regarded thus, education is a most useful handmaid to religion. Christ is the sole physician; to Him, and to none else, the sin-sick soul must come.
IV. Faith in him, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, leads us to consecrate our power of speech to His glory and the good of His creatures.
V. The final issue. The use we make of the tongue will decide our future (Matthew 12:37). It is said that one who had not long been converted to Christianity, once came to an aged teacher of the faith, and asked instruction. The old man opened his Psalter, and began to read the Psalm which first met his eye, the thirty-ninth; but when he had finished the first verse, “I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I offend not in my tongue,” his hearer stopped him, saying, “That is enough; let me go home and try to learn that lesson.” Some time after, finding that he came no more, the elder sent to enquire the reason, and the answer was, “I have not yet learned the lesson”; and even when many years had passed, and the pupil became a teacher as full of grace as years, he confessed that, though he had been studying it all his life, he had not mastered it yet. (Canon S. R. Hole.)
What did that sigh mean?
1. Sympathy for the afflicted. The incarnation brings the heart of Jesus close to our own, and we know that He feels for our sorrows.
2. Grief at the effects of sin. Man, made in God’s image, had become through sin the poor dumb creature on which Christ looked. The thought of Eden with its sinless inhabitants, and the sad contrast presented by the sight before Him, made Jesus sigh.
3. Apprehension for the future. What use would the man make of his restored faculties? Hitherto he had been unable to let any corrupt communication proceed out of his mouth, and his ears had been sealed to the cruel, false, impure words of the world. What evil he might now do with his tongue; what poisonous words might now enter into his ears. (H. J. Wilmot Buxton, M. A.)
It is by prayer, and the secret sighs of the heart, that Christ applies His merits, and that the Church does it after His example. If the conversion of a sinner cost Jesus Christ so many desires, prayers, and sighs; is it unreasonable that it should likewise cost the sinner himself some? Is it not necessary that His servants, called and separated to this work, should be men of desires, prayers, and sighs? That which Christ does here is the pattern which a minister of the Church ought to follow, who, in the exercise of his ministry, ought to lift up his heart toward heaven, to groan and sigh in behalf of those under his hand, and to expect everything from Him who is the sovereign Master of all hearts. (Quesnel.)
The sigh of disappointed desire
We may readily understand how, on the instant of working a miracle, a glance towards heaven might cause Christ to sigh. Wherefore had He descended from that bright abode if not to achieve its being opened to the lost race of man? And wherefore did He work miracles, if not to fix attention on Himself as the promised seed of the woman who, through obedience and death, was to reinstate our lineage in the paradise from which they had been exiled for sin? There was a sufficiency in the satisfaction which He was about to make, to remove the curse from every human being, and to place all the children of Adam in a more glorious position than their common parent had forfeited. But He knew too well that, in regard of multitudes, His endurances would be fruitless; fruitless, at least, in the sense of obtaining their salvation, though they cannot be in that of vindicating the attributes of God, and leaving the impenitent self-condemned at the judgment. Therefore, it may be, did Christ sigh; and that, too, immediately after looking up to heaven. I can read the sigh; it is full of most pathetic speech. “Yonder,” the Redeemer seems to say, “is the home of My Father, of the cherubim and seraphim. I would fain conduct to that home the race which I have made one with Myself, by so assuming their nature as to join it with the Divine. I am about to work another miracle-to make, that is, another effort to induce the rebellious to take Me as their leader to yon glorious domain. But it will be fruitless; I foresee, but too certainly, that I shall still be despised and rejected of men.” Then who can wonder that a sigh was interposed between the looking up to heaven and the uttering the healing word? The eye of the Redeemer saw further than our own. It pierced the vault which bounds our vision, and beheld the radiant thrones which His agony would purchase for the children of men. And that men-men whom He loved with a love of which that agony alone gives the measure-should refuse these thrones, and thereby not only put from them happiness, but incur wretchedness without limit or end-must not this have been always a crushing thing to the Saviour? and more especially when, by glancing at the glories which might have been theirs, He had heightened His thought of their madness and misery? I am sure that were we striving to prevail on some wretched being to enter an asylum where he would not only be sheltered from imminent danger, but surrounded with all the material of happiness, a look at that asylum, with its securities and comforts, would cause us to feel sorer than ever at heart, as we turned to make one more endeavour, likely to be useless as every preceding one, to overcome the obduracy which must end in destruction. Therefore ought we readily to understand why the Redeemer, bent only on raising to glory a race, of which He foresaw that myriads would voluntarily sink down to shame, gave token of a distressed and disquieted spirit, between looking towards heaven and working a miracle-as though the look had almost made Him reluctant for the work. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Christ the opener of locked doors
The Ephphatha of Christ was not spoken in Decapolis alone. It is heard also in history. He sighed “Ephphatha,” and the conflict of His Church was revealed to His evangelist. He sighed “Ephphatha,” and the tongue of Galileo and Kepler told of the wondrous order of the heavens. He sighed “Ephphatha,” and buried monuments gave up their records of the past, and threw side lights on higher truths. He spoke “Ephphatha,” and Caxton gave new powers to the world. Knowledge stepped forth from her dust-covered shrine, and carried her rich bounties into every city and house. History unlocked her long-hidden lore. Science painted in noble colours the half-veiled face of Nature. The tongue of Europe was loosed. But well might a sigh have been heaved as the Ephphatha was spoken. It is not truth alone, or holiness alone, which has been unlocked. It is not Chaucer’s “well of English undefiled,” the pure song of Spenser, the heart-rousing vision of Dante, the chivalrous epic of Tasso, the stately and magnanimous verse of Milton alone which have been given to the world. A fouler current mingles with the bright, pure stream, and darkens the flood of knowledge-the unredeemed filth of Boccaccio, the unbridled licentiousness of Scarron, the stupid sensuality of Dancourt, the open indecency of Wycherley, the more fatal suggestiveness of Sterne. The press became indeed the voice of nations; but when it was loosed a sigh drawn from the pure heart of Christ, wounded by the misuse of a glorious opportunity, might have been heard by the Church of God. Yet Christ did not withhold the boon. Freely, ungrudgingly, were His miracles of love performed. To deny powers or privileges, or the free exercise of rights and faculties, on the ground that they may be abused, is to act according to the dictates of expediency, not of right. But there is a remedy for the evils which accompany this freedom. It is by conferring an additional and guiding gift. There is another “Ephphatha.” He speaks, “Be opened,” and the tongue is loosed; but the ear is unstopped also. While He bestows the faculty of speech, He bestows also the opportunity of hearing those glad and soul-elevating principles of righteousness, and forgiveness, and love, which will fill the loosened tongue with joy, and put a new song of praise in that long-silent mouth. (Bishop Boyd Carpenter.)
His ears were opened
Christ first opened the man’s ears, then untied his tongue; because we must hear well, before we can speak well. (Pontanus.)
The heavy ear and speech of faith
There are diseases of the soul as well as the body, and a man’s spiritual nature often needs, in order to its perfection, as great and almost as miraculous a change as the gifts of speech and hearing to the dumb and deaf. What shall we say of those who have no ears to hear what our Father in heaven is always revealing to the hearts of those who love Him? There are sounds in nature which often arrest our attention in spite of ourselves; there are messages of grace which often touch the conscience in the midst of an ungodly course. Can the discontented churl walk abroad, on a fine morning in the early summer, and not find the joyous singing of the birds around him in some sort a condemnation and a solace of his unthankful spirit? Can the moments of solemn thought (though they be but moments) which are awakened by the heavy roll of thunder, pass away without our remembering how small and insignificant we ourselves are in the hands of Him who made all created nature? Is it possible that the old, old story of Jesus Christ, our Brother and our God, can be repeated without stirring up some desire to be with Him? Or is it possible for us, who have our organs of speech perfect, to use that speech for every worldly object of profit or interest, and yet to have no voice, because we have no heart, to join in earnest prayer, or utter our songs of praise? Is it possible, in short, for a professing Christian to harden his heart, and to be deaf to the spiritual invitations which he listens to in God’s Word, in God’s providence, and in God’s whispers to his soul? Alas, we know such things are possible; but we know also that He who imparted the gift of speech and hearing to the afflicted one near the lake of Galilee is waiting, by His Spirit, to impart a greater gift to every one of us, however careless and unfaithful and earthly has been our life. The Lord our Master is ready to bestow the hearing ear and the speech of faith. (Dean Bramston.)
The sigh of Jesus
In all our Saviour’s sorrows-I do not enter now into the mysteries of Gethsemane and Calvary-but in all the sorrows of our Saviour’s life among men, there are two features characteristic, beautiful, and instructive. Our Saviour’s recorded sadnesses were all for others. They were either, as at Bethany, sympathy with others’ griefs; or as when He wept over Jerusalem, or when He encountered the opposition of the Sadducees, for our sins; the selfish element was unknown. Again, His sorrow was never an idle sentiment. There is a great deal of useless, impassioned feeling in the world. Thousands are pained by the wickedness and misery they see around; they descant upon it; they can even weep when they speak of it-but it leads to no action. There is no effort; there is no self-sacrifice. It is almost poetry. It is but little more than the luxury of a tragedy. How different His! We never read of a sigh or tear of Jesus, but it immediately clothes itself into a benevolent word, or a benevolent work. I question whether, if we were in a right state, there would ever be a sorrow which did not throw itself into an action. Some receive affliction passively and meditatively. They go into seclusion. But others at once go forth the more. They see in their trial a call to energy. The sigh of Jesus, as He healed the deaf and dumb man in Decapolis, has been made to speak many languages, according to the varied habits of mind of those who have interpreted it. I will arrange them under four heads, and we may call them:-the Sigh of Earnestness; the Sigh of Beneficence; the Sigh of Brotherhood; and the Sigh of Holiness. Let us note each: lest, by omitting one, we should miss our lesson.
1. Because it says that “looking up to heaven, He sighed,” some connect the two words, and account that the sigh is a part of the prayer-an expression of the intensity of the workings of our Lord’s heart when He was supplicating to the Father. And if, brethren, if the Son of God sighed when He prayed, surely they have most of the spirit of adoption-such a sense of what communion with God is-who, in their very eagerness, exhaust themselves; till every tone and gesture speak of the struggle and ardour they feel within.
2. But it has been said again, that He who never gave us anything but what was bought by His own suffering-so that every pleasure is a spoil purchased by His blood-did now by the sigh, and under the feeling that He sighed, indicate that He purchased the privilege to restore to that poor man the senses he had lost.
3. But furthermore, as I conceive of this, that sigh was the Sigh of Fellowship-the Sigh of Brotherhood.
4. But fourthly. All this still lay on the surface. Do you suppose that our Saviour’s mind could think of all the physical evil, and not go on to the deeper moral causes from which it sprang? But, after all, what is worth sighing for, but sin? And observe, He only sighed. He was not angry. He sighed. That is the way in which perfect holiness looked on the sins of the universe. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The sigh of apprehension
Who among us has not sighed to look on his speechless child in its cradle, thinking what words those innocent lips might one day form? Who has not sighed when he first sent his boy to school, remembering what other lessons must enter into his ears besides those of the classroom? Jesus looked up to heaven as He performed the miracle of healing. Surely this was to teach the dumb man to look up also, and to learn that every gift comes from above. (H. J. Wilmot Buxton, M. A.)
Why Jesus sighed
1. This is not the only record of the sighs, and tears, and troubled heart of Jesus (Hebrews 5:7; Mark 8:12; John 11:33). Truly He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” So, to some extent, have all His saints and children been. You must not suppose that our blessed Saviour had no bright and joyous hours on earth. This joy of Jesus-deep joy, though noble and subdued-is not our subject today, but I touch on it for one moment only, lest any of you should take a false view of the life of man, or fatally imagine that in this world the children of the devil have a monopoly of happiness. Happiness?-they have none. Guilty happiness? there is no such thing! Guilty pleasure for a moment there is;-the sweetness of the cup whose draught is poison, the glitter of the serpent whose bite is death. Guilty mirth there is-the laughter of fools, which is as the crackling of thorns under a pot. But guilty happiness there never has been in any life, nor ever can there be. True happiness, happiness in the midst of even scorn and persecution, happiness even in the felon’s prison and in the martyr’s flame, is the high prerogative of God’s saints alone-of God’s saints, and therefore assuredly, even in His earthly life, of Him the King of Saints; since there is in misery but one intolerable sting, the sting of iniquity, and He had none.
2. But you will not have failed to notice that on two of the occasions on which we are told that Jesus sighed and wept, He was immediately about to dispel the cause of the misery. He was about to heal the deaf. Why then should He have sighed? He was about to raise the dead. Why then did the silent tears stream down His face? The doing of good is not a work of unmixed happiness, for good men can never do all the good that they desire. They have wide thoughts and much feeling for the rest of the world as well as for themselves; and this sort of happiness brings much pain.
3. My friends, there was in truth cause enough, and more than enough, why the Lord should sigh. In that poor afflicted man He saw but one more sign of that vast crack and flaw which sin causes in everything which God has made. When God had finished His work, He saw that it was very good; but since then tares have been sown amid His harvest; an alien element intruded into His world; a jangling discord clashed into His music. Earth is no longer Eden.
4. And alas, it is not only the unintelligent creation which groans and travails. We ourselves, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we ourselves also groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit the redemption of the body. We are apt to be very proud of ourselves and of our marvellous discoveries and scientific achievements; but, after all, what a feeble creature is man! what a little breed his race! what shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue! We fade as the grass, and are crushed before the moth. If we knew no more than Nature can tell us, and had no help but what Science can give to us, what sigh would be too deep for beings born to sorrow as the sparks fly upward? (Canon F. W. Farrar, D. D.)
I. The nature of the miracle. One of the most wonderful ever wrought. It was both a physical and mental miracle, reaching the mind as well as the organs of the body. It not only conferred the wanting faculties of hearing and pronouncing words, but also supplied an acquaintance with the meaning and use of words. Long and laborious discipline of the tongue, and inward effects of memory, and association of ideas with particular inflections of sound, are still necessary to enable us to employ that language as a medium of communication. Here, however, was the impartation at once of both hearing, and understanding of what was heard. It has been compared to the work of creation; it had in it all the elements of creativeness, beneficence, and Divine power, from which we may see the majesty of our Saviour.
II. The attendant circumstances of this miracle.
III. The spiritual significance of this miracle. There are disabilities upon every soul by nature akin to the deficiences of him whose ears were deaf, and whose tongue was tied. The Great Healer is now among us He can help anywhere, on the highway. This Ephphatha is prophetic. It tells of the ultimate consummation of Christ’s mediatorial work. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
Impediment in speech
Notice, too, that those who are spiritually deaf have also an impediment in their speech. This is shown in many different ways. When I find persons who will not speak out boldly for the honour of Jesus Christ, who will not confess Him before the world, I know they have an impediment in their speech. When I find persons in church silent throughout the service, making no responses, singing no psalm, or chant, or hymn, I know they have an impediment in their speech: they will not put their tongue to its right use, which is to praise God with the best member that we have. If I find a man saying what is false, hesitating to give a plain, straightforward answer, I know that he has an impediment in his speech, his stammering tongue cannot utter the truth. If I hear a man wild with passion, using bad language, I know that he has an impediment, he cannot shape good words with his tongue. And so with those who tell impure stories, or retail cruel gossip about their neighbour’s character, they are all alike afflicted people, deaf to the voice of God, and with an impediment in their speech. And now let us look at the means of cure. (H. J. Wilmot Buxton, M. A.)
Bringing men to Jesus
They brought the afflicted man to Jesus. That is the first step. If we would find pardon and healing, we must be brought to Jesus. The Holy Spirit leads the sinner back in many different ways. It was the reading of one text of Scripture which turned Augustine from his evil life. It was the single word “Eternity” printed in the tract which a man had torn scoffingly in two, and which lay in a scrap of paper on his arm, that led him to repent. Sometimes it is a word in a sermon, or a verse in a hymn; sometimes it is the question of a little child, or the sight of a dead face in a coffin; but whatever it is which brings us back to Jesus, that must be the first step to finding pardon and healing. (H. J. Wilmot Buxton, M. A.)
Love and Sorrow
I. That sigh, then, was a prayer. Probably Jesus, when on earth, never did any great work without prayer. And how much of the real force of prayer was concentrated in this one sigh? Let us not measure the power of prayer by the time it occupies, or by the noise it makes.
II. But while the sigh was a prayer, the prayer was a sigh. But what does the sigh suggest to us?
1. Not that He felt Himself incompetent to perform the task sought at His hands.
2. Not that He felt any reluctance to bestow the requested boon. Jesus was no miser in mercy.
3. Not that He felt that the performance of this miracle would be in any respect inconsistent with the principles and purposes of His mission to our world.
I. It reveals to us the reality and intensity of the Saviour’s love to individual sufferers.
II. It shows the keenness with which the Saviour felt the evil of sin.
III. May not that sigh suggest that the Saviour felt that the boon He was about to bestow was a comparatively trivial one? He is only one of millions of men, all of whom are victims of some misery, and all of whose miseries spring from the one cause-sin. What have I done towards the accomplishment of My work when I have cured this man?
IV. That sigh reminds us of the essential central principle of the philosophy of salvation. Christ never relieves a man of any curse the misery of which He does not appropriate to Himself. In all our afflictions He is afflicted. This sigh was the price He paid for an opened ear and a loosened tongue. What spiritual blessing have you and I which He has not paid for in the sorrow of His own experience?
V. That sigh may well suggest to us the holy sadness of doing good. (J. P. Barnett.)
The Saviour’s Sigh
“He sighed” when about to unstop deaf ears. Sighed when on the verge of opening the door by which the music of nature and the welcome sounds of the human voice would enter the hitherto silent regions within. Sighed when He was prepared to give power to the mute organ of speech. Why, we should rather have expected that He would have smiled, and, “looking up to heaven,” rejoiced. We do not sigh when engaged in a mission of mercy. Far from it. When we take loaves to the famishing, or money to the wretched bankrupt, we feel a throb of sacred delight. As we mark the pallid invalid get stronger and better, or as we visit asylums for the deaf and dumb in order to witness the compensations offered by us for the defects of nature, we are filled with grateful happiness. Why did the Master sigh?
I. The answer brings before us the most impressive and tragic feature in the Saviour’s experience. His whole life was a sigh. So utterly was this the case that we find Him mournful even when about to perform a miracle of great mercy! Just as there are dark spots on the bright sun, so even when suffused with celestial glory on the Mount of Transfiguration the awful cross made its appearance, for “they spake of His decease.” Hardly had the cheerful hosannahs of the multitude died away when He “beheld the city and wept over it.” To quote from Jeremy Taylor, “This Jesus was like a rainbow; half made of the glories of light, and half of the moisture of a cloud.” We speak often of Christ’s sacrifice in a one-sided style. Too often we mean by His sufferings the death He endured. We think of Calvary. The accursed tree rises before our imaginations. All these were dreadful indeed, albeit they were not the sum but the consummation of His trials. They were the closing pages of a volume filled with like details. He looked “up to heaven,” and what saw He there? Crowns prepared for men who would not seek them; thrones made ready for such as cared not to occupy them.
II. What ought we to learn from the Saviour’s sigh?
1. A lesson of consolation. Intense trouble seeks solitude. In great affliction men often wish to be alone. Even in inferior creatures something of this kind appears. The wounded deer retreats from the herd into the dark recesses of the forest. The whale, smitten by the harpoon, dives into the lowest depths of the sea. Human beings frequently prefer isolation when in trial. Peter “went out,” when he saw the truth of his Master’s prediction, and “wept bitterly.” Of Mary, bereaved so heavily, the friends near her said, “She went forth unto the grave to weep there.” Was there anything akin to this in our Lord? There was. Even in minor matters of such an order He was made “in all points like unto His brethren.” Where did He sigh? In company? In a crowd? No. We are distinctly informed He “took him aside from the multitude.” No one heard Him sigh, not even the afflicted man, for he was unable to do so. The sigh was between the Son and the Father. “Looking to heaven,” not to earth, “He sighed.” Let us be comforted in sorrow. These incidents clearly show how qualified the Great High Priest is to sympathize with His disciples. He was once as we are.
2. Is there not a lesson of stimulus? Jesus did more than sigh. He said, “Ephphatha,” and thus restored sound and speech to the sufferer before Him. We must act as well as feel. Sighing will never reform the world, regenerate humanity. We must work. Our effort should be to bring men to Him who can still heal and restore.
3. There is also a lesson of caution. Possibly there were special reasons for sorrow on the part of Christ in reference to the man whom He healed. Perhaps the Redeemer foresaw that the bodily restoration would not lead to spiritual restoration, etc. Do we never sin with the ear? with the tongue? Alas, none is innocent herein. The golden rule has not yet brought our words into subjection to it. “Keep the door of my lips.” The grand thing is to have our hearts right, then all will be well. (T. R. Stevenson.)
The sigh of Jesus
I. The general study of the story would furnish several very excellent and edifying lessons suggested by our Lord’s action in working this miracle upon the shore of Decapolis.
1. We might note, earliest, the wide reach of the Master’s zeal: “And again, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, He came unto the Sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis.” Jesus had just come from Tyre and Sidon, clear across in a heathen land; He was now in the midst of some Greek settlements on the eastern shore of the Sea of Tiberias. We see how He appears thus going upon a foreign mission.
2. Then, next, we might dwell upon the need of friendly offices in apparently hopeless cases. “And they bring unto Him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech Him to put His hand upon him.”
3. We might also mention, just here, the manipulations of our Saviour as illustrating the ingenuity of real sympathy. “And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers into his ears, and He spit, and touched his tongue.”
4. Even better still is our next lesson: we observe our Lord’s respect for everyone’s private reserves of experience. “And He took him aside from the multitude privately.” We shall surely do better always, when we bring souls to the Saviour, if we respect the delicacy of their organization, and take them aside.
5. Now we notice the naturalness of all great services of good. “And looking up to heaven, He sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.” At the supremely majestic moments of His life our Lord became simpler in utterance and behaviour than at any other time. He fell back on the sweet and pathetic speech of His mother tongue.
6. Again: we learn here the risks of every high and new attainment. “And his ears were opened, and the bond of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. And He charged them that they should tell no man: but the more He charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it. And they were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well; He maketh even the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.” What will the restored man do with his gifts?
II. The singular peculiarity of this story, however, is what might be made the subject of more extended remark in a homiletic treatment. Three things meet us in their turn.
1. A question stands at the beginning: Why did our Lord sigh when He was looking up to heaven?
2. We are left in this case to conjecture. And, in a general way, perhaps it would be enough to say that there was something like an ejaculatory prayer in this sigh of Jesus’ soul; but more likely there was in it the outbreaking of sad and weary sympathy with the suffering of a fallen race like ours. It may be He sighed because there was so much trouble in the world everywhere. It may be He sighed because there were many who made such poor work in dealing with their trouble. It may be He sighed because He could not altogether alleviate the trouble He found. Some worries were quite beyond the reach of His power. He did not come to change the course of human affairs. Men are free agents; Jesus could not keep drunkards from killing themselves with strong drink if they would do it. It was not His errand on earth to crush in order to constrain. It may be He sighed because the trouble He met always had its origin and its aggravation in sin. This was the one thing which His adorable Father hated, and against which He was a “consuming fire.” It may be He sighed because so few persons were willing to forsake the sins which made the trouble. It may be He sighed because the spectacle of a ruined and rebellious world saddened Him. When the old preacher came back from captivity and found Jerusalem in fragments; when Marius returned and sat down among the broken stones of Carthage, we are not surprised to be told that they wept, though both were brave men. But these give but feeble illustration of the passionate mourning of soul which must have swept over the mind and heart of Jesus. Who knew what this earth had been when it came forth pure from the creating hand of His Father. No wonder He walked heavily depressed and mournful all through His career.
3. It is time to end conjecture, and come at once now to the admonition we find here in the story. Christians need more “sighs.” Christians must follow sighs with more “looking up to heaven.” Christians may cheer themselves with the prospect of a new life in which sighing shall be neither needed nor known. The Saviour shall then have seen of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Sorrow in healing
He sighed, and said, Be opened. The sigh therefore arose from no feeling of helplessness to remove the malady. The cure followed, as ever, that word of power. And yet He sighed as He said, Be opened.
1. He sighed, we cannot doubt, at the thought of that destructive agency of which He had before Him one example. Here was one whom Satan had bound. Here was an illustration of that reign of sin unto death to which the whole world bears witness. This deaf and dumb man reminded Christ of the corruption that had passed over God’s pure creation: and therefore, looking up to heaven, He sighed. And it will be no light gain, my brethren, if this thought should teach you to see with your Saviour’s eye even those bodily infirmities which you perhaps are tempted to regard almost with ridicule, but which are making life a burden and a weariness to so many of our fellow creatures. Remember whence these things come; from the power of him who has entered into God’s creation to torture and to ruin God’s handiwork.
2. But there was more than this, as we all feel at once, in that sigh. That outward bondage was but the token of an inward thraldom. Whether healed or not in this life, no bodily infirmity can have more than a temporary duration. Death must end it. But not so that spiritual corruption of which the other was but a sign. That inward ear which is stopped against God’s summons; that voice of the heart, which refuses to utter His praise; these things are of eternal consequence. And while bodily infirmities and disorders are occasional and partial in their occurrence, spiritual disease is universal. It overspreads every heart. And, as a mere matter of doctrine, I suppose we all assent to this. Without God’s grace, we all admit, we can know nothing and do nothing. But oh, how different our view of all this and Christ’s! First of all, we shut out from our anxiety every case but our own. No one by nature feels the value of his brother’s soul: it is well if he bestows a thought upon his own. But how differently did Christ view these things, when He sighed as He opened the deaf man’s ears! Christ sees sin as it is; sees it in its nature, as a defiance of God; sees it in its effects, as leaving behind it in each heart that it enters defilement, and weakness, and hardness, and misery; sees it in its consequences, as bringing forth fruit unto death-a death not of annihilation, not of blank unconsciousness, but a death of unspeakable and interminable wretchedness.
3. He sighed therefore, we may say further, from a sense of the disproportion in actual extent between the ruin and the redemption. The ruin universal. All the world guilty before God. And yet the great multitude refusing to be redeemed. (C. J. Vaughan, D. D.)
The deaf man cured
I. Consider first the man’s introduction to Jesus. Now, in contemplating a fellow creature in such sad case, the thought may well occur how little are we affected by our common mercies! How little think we of such blessings as preserved senses, unshattered reason, the links unbroken which connect us with the outer world, and all the faculties unimpaired which fit us for the activities of life. And, though of all such privations, the gift of sight is perhaps the one we should least like to have taken away, yet blindness even may be less to be deplored than loss of hearing and speech. For this calamity, unalleviated, and existing from birth, shuts up the soul of the sufferer in a perpetual prison house. He has no outlet for communion with his kind; he has no medium for the interchange of sentiment or emotion, until wearied with treading forever the same cycle of never-extending and never-wearied thought, he sinks into a condition of utter mindlessness-God’s image on a dark cloud, a sad wreck of humbled and defaced humanity. It has been among the glorious achievements of a scientific philanthropy in our own day to have discovered means for abating somewhat the deep misery of this infliction; but any such alleviation was unknown then. So they bring him to Jesus. Brethren, is there not some light thrown by this fact on the purl which our friends are permitted to perform for us in reference to the more helpless and hopeless forms of spiritual malady? What does thin prove but that there are no men whose case is so bad and hopeless as that we must not try to convert them, but rather in exact proportion to the hopelessness of a man’s moral condition, is the obligation to do all we can for him. We are to pray for none so earnestly as for those who through the inveteracy of their soul’s malady cannot pray for themselves.
II. But I pass to our second portion, to observe some peculiarities connected with the method of this afflicted man’s cure. “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.” Why were the methods used by our Lord in working his miracles so diverse one from another? The only account to be given of these variations is, that they had reference either to something in the moral circumstances of the sufferer, or to some effect to be produced in the mind of the bystanders, or it might he, to some lesson of practical instruction which through these typical healings might be conveyed to believers to the end of time. Especially are we to suppose that in each case of the wrought miracle there was in the method chosen some express adaptation to the circumstances of the person benefitted-the state of his affections towards God, and his susceptibility to become a subject of the spiritual kingdom. For to this end we are sure our Divine Lord worked always. Indeed, the benefit had been no benefit otherwise. To what purpose had been the recovery of sight to a man only to look on the face of this outer world, while his soul was left to grope its way through mists of an everlasting blindness? The instances seem to suggest that there are some persons, who, in order to their learning holy lessons must be withdrawn from the world for a season. They cannot have their ears effectually opened in a crowd-not even in a crowded church. They must be forced into retirement. Anything Jesus might say to them while the bustle and stir of life was upon them, whilst its feverish excitements were drawing them hither and thither, would make no impression. On coming to some retired place, however, our Lord proceeds to the miracle, but still, observe, by a gradual process. He puts His fingers into the man’s ears, then spits, and with the moistened finger touches his tongue. As to the reasons for the choice of these means, in preference to any other, it does not seem necessary to go further than the circumstances of the man himself. Questions he could not answer; verbal directions he could not understand; it was only by visible and sensible applications to the organs affected, that he could be made to perceive what was going on, or could connect Jesus with the authorship of his cure. All that we gather is, that the case was one in which it would not be well that the blessing to be bestowed should be instantaneous-that it was needful that time should be given for consideration of what all those processes were to lead to-that faith should be exercised, disciplined, taught to look up, expecting to receive something, and that the soul before coming into that which would be to it as a new world, should know who that Being was to whom it must dedicate all its restored faculties and powers. And it is certain, brethren, that the Great Healer has recourse to like protracted methods now. The ears of the deaf must be unstopped before the tongue of the dumb can sing. The heart must believe unto righteousness, before with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. But, then, how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard, and how shall they hear who are born deaf? Deaf to the calls of mercy; deaf to the alarms of danger; deaf to the warning of conscience; deaf to the voice of the Son of God. Must there not, I say, be an opening of the ears first? Must not the finger of Jesus be put into them, making a passage through, so that His word may reach the heart. Brethren, let us all pray for unstopped ears. It is for our life the prophet tells us-“Hear, and your souls shall live.” Oh, how far is he on the way heavenward who has an ear ever open to the whisperings of the Divine Spirit! “And looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.” He looked up to heaven: so at the grave of Lazarus He lifted up His eyes. On the deep mystery of our Lord’s prayers. They were as much prayers as yours or mine are prayers-and in connection with His miracles were petitions, not for Himself, that He might be able to work them, but for the people that they might be able to receive them, that the benefit might not be lost to them through the want of those moral dispositions, faith and love, without which He could not, according to the stipulations of the everlasting covenant, have performed any wonderful work. The same view gives a reality to His continued intercession for us at the throne of God. Christ does not pray for anything relating to His own work-for His blood that it may cleanse, for His righteousness that it may justify, for His pardons and acquittals, that they may be endorsed and owned of God-these are among heaven’s immutable things. What he does pray for is the removal of those hindrances in our hearts which prevent the free flowing of His mercy towards us, for the triumphs of His grace over all our unbelief and worldliness, far the unclosed ear that the voice of the charmer may pierce through, for the loosened tongue that it may magnify the grace of God. “And He sighed.” Again our thoughts revert to Bethany, where, just before working the miracle it is said, He “groaned in spirit and was troubled.” We may see many reasons for the distress of soul on the part of the Holy Saviour. He sighed over the spectacle before Him as evidence of the suffering and sorrow of our race; He sighed over it as a mournful defacement and distortion of God’s moral image; bat He sighed most of all over the stubborn unbelief, that miserable infidelity of tee heart, the one solitary obstacle in the whole universe of God, to the instantaneous wiping of all tears from off all faces, and the saving of every soul of man. Yes, brethren, this last it was that wrung these bitter sorrows from the Saviour’s heart. He could bear the scourge, disregard the mockery, endure the cross, despise the shame; that which next to the hidden face of God, rent His soul most was, to be obliged to say continually, “Ye will not come unto Me, that ye might have life.” “Ephphatha, Be opened.” Here the Almighty power of God speaks. The taking him aside, the touching of the ear, the spitting and moistening of the tongue, the eye raised heavenwards, and the deep sigh, were all the human preparations; the man’s heart was getting ready, the grace of Jesus making way for the demonstration of His power, the Spirit of God was moving upon the face of a dark soul before the irresistible word should go forth, “Let there be light;” and as irresistible was the word of Jesus to this poor sufferer, for it was the same word; so that it was no sooner uttered than straightway the man’s ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. Our profit in the incidents we have been considering will be found in seeing how entirely our soul’s health and life are in the hands of Christ. (D. Moore, M. A.)
Alone with Jesus
It is a great thing to be alone with nature; to be alone with a man of a noble heart; a greater thing by far to be alone with Jesus, “Aside from the multitude.”
I. That He might quicken his sense of individuality. God has made us persons; we lose ourselves in the crowd; trials depress, we lose hope and become more like things. But Jesus awakens us.
II. That He might awaken him to a truer consciousness of his spiritual needs. “Touched him.” Where? Ears and tongue. There was the evil, there the cure. Some are touched through their fears, others through their hopes.
III. That he might concentrate all his hopes on Christ.
IV. That He might bind him forever to Himself. (W. Forsyth, M. A.)
Glimpses of Jesus
I. The upward look.
1. Devout faith in heaven.
2. Conscious harmony with heaven.
3. Undoubting confidence in heaven.
II. The sigh.
1. Holy grief.
2. Brotherly sympathy.
3. Anxious solicitude.
III. The word.
1. A word of love.
2. A word of power.
3. A word of prophetic meaning.
An earnest of greater victories. Some sigh, but nothing more. Idle sentiment. Others sigh, but do not look up. No faith in God. (W. Forsyth, M. A.)
Words not necessary to prayer
It is impossible fully to enter into the profound depths of the “sigh” which Jesus uttered on this occasion. We may learn from it, at least, two things:-It teaches us that words are not absolutely indispensable to the offering of prayer. This sigh doubtless contained a prayer, for in all things the Redeemer acknowledged the Father, saying: “I can of Mine own self do nothing.” The sigh of Jesus, like some of the mightiest forces of nature that are silent, was charged with the power of God. Some of the sincerest, deepest, and most agonizing supplications that have ascended to the ear of God, have gone up with no more audible sound than that of a “sigh.” (G. Hunt Jackson.)
The touch of Christ
How exquisitely delicate is the touch of those highly-gifted musicians who can sweep the keys or chords of their instrument and make it speak as with living voice, now melting the audience to tears, now stirring their souls with lofty thoughts or martial enthusiasm! With equally magic power does the master painter evoke life from the canvas, and impart to his creations those inimitable touches of form and colour that delight the eye and captivate the imagination. The tender manipulation of a wise and skilful surgeon or experienced nurse has almost a healing influence, as it soothes the overstrung nerves and infuses confidence into the sufferer. A friend’s gentle pressure of the hand and touch of sympathy will often calm sorrowful hearts more than the most kindly and fitly chosen words of condolence. If it he thus with merely human beings, we might reasonably expect to find far more wonderful effects connected with the touch of Him, in Whom, while a partaker of flesh and blood, dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. Such we know from the Gospels to have been actually the case: His touch does hold an important place in our Lord’s miracles, as well as in His ordinary ministry. He touched, and was touched, and through this medium there went forth blessings of various kinds. His touch was healing, creative, life-giving, enlightening, comforting. The fact that it was so during His life on earth will suggest the inquiry how far it may be so still. (The Quiver.)
Leading our friends to Jesus
I. In view of the great misery in which man finds himself without Christ (Mark 7:32). Miserable condition of the dumb and deaf man.
II. In view of the great blessedness into which he enters through the Lord. Especially since we thereby enter upon the greatest happiness of earth (Mark 7:33). The treatment of this deaf man is apt illustration of how Jesus treats those who are led to Him by friend or acquaintance. (Dr. Arndt.)
Leading our friends to Jesus
During the exhibition of 1867 in Paris, a minister met with an instance of direct labour for souls which he states he can never forget. In conversation with an engineer employed on one of the pleasure boats which ply on the Seine, the discovery was made that the man was a Christian, and on the inquiry being put, by what means he was converted, he replied: “My mate is a Christian, and continually he told me of the great love of Jesus Christ, and His readiness to save, and he never rested until I was a changed man. For it is a rule in our church that when a brother is converted, he must go and bring another brother; and when a sister is converted, she must go and bring another sister; and so more than a hundred of us have been recovered from Popery to the simplicity which is in Christ Jesus.” This is the way in which the gospel is to spread through the whole world. (Anon.)
He hath done all things well.
Excellency of Christ’s operations
I. The excellency of Christ’s operations. “He hath done all things well;” as is apparent-
1. In the magnificence of His operations. Instance the sublime works of His creative energy; His infallible administration in the kingdom of providence; His stupendous miracles; His mediatorial achievements (Psalms 86:8-10; Psalms 103:19; Colossians 1:16-17; Colossians 2:15; Matthew 11:4).
2. In the completeness of His operations (Deuteronomy 32:4).
3. In the harmony of His operations (Psalms 104:24; Psalms 145:10).
4. In the benevolent design of His operations (Psalms 33:19; Daniel 6:27).
II. The devout sentiments with which they should be contemplated.
1. Devout admiration (Psalms 77:13-16).
2. Adoring gratitude (Psalms 148:13).
3. Zealous attachment (Jeremiah 50:1-5). Has Christ done all things well?
1. How flagrant the impiety of mankind!
2. How justly is Christ entitled to the worship of the whole universe!
3. Let Him be the subject of our song, and the object of our supreme regard. (J. Burns, LL. D.)
Christ’s excellent doings
The text explains itself-but the truth of it is of vastly wider scope.
I. It has a grand significancy in the creative works of Christ.
II. In His Divine government of this and all worlds.
III. Its climactaral glory belongs to redemption. He undertook the world’s redemption, and effected it, by-
1. Obedience to the law.
2. Suffering the penalty for sin.
3. Conquering the powers of darkness.
4. Bringing life and immortality to light.
5. Obtaining the Holy Spirit.
IV. In the salvation He obtained and bestows. An entire salvation of the whole man-a free salvation of sovereign grace-a salvation for the whole race-and a salvation to eternal glory. “He does all things well.”
V. In the experience of His people. He sought and found them-He forgave and healed them-He renews and sanctifies them-He keeps and upholds them, and He glorifies them forever. (J. Burns, LL. D.)
He hath done all things well
I. In creation.
1. Order and regularity.
4. Happiness of creatures designed.
II. In redemption.
1. In design-vicarious suffering.
3. Application to individuals.
4. To Resurrection.
III. In providence.
2. Persecution, which only wafts the seed of truth to distant lands.
1. Submit to Him.
2. Work with Him. (E. Hargreaves.)
The dumb to speak
Dr. Carey found a man in Calcutta who had not spoken a loud word for four years, having been under a vow of perpetual silence. Nothing could open his mouth, till happening to meet with a religious tract, he read it, and his tongue was loosed. He soon threw away his paras, and other badges of superstition, and became, as was believed, a partaker of the grace of God. Many a nominal, and even professing Christian, who is as dumb on religious subjects as if under a “vow of silence,” would find a tongue to speak, if religion were really to touch and warm his heart. (Anon.)
On Christ’s doing all things well
I. Christ’s actions were good in themselves. In His general conduct, as a man, He did all things well.
II. Christ’s actions were performed with good designs.
III. Christ’s actions were performed in an amiable and graceful manner. Learn-
1. How unjust was the treatment our Lord met with in the world.
2. How worthy is Christ of our admiration, reverence, and love.
3. How fit is it that we imitate this excellent and lovely pattern.
4. Let it be our concern to do all things well. (J. Orten.)
I. The fact. Creation announces it. Providence announces it. Redemption announces it.
II. The testimony. Saints testify to it. Admirers astonished at it. Critics confess it.
III. The consequence. Those who oppose Christ are sure to perish, for the right must prevail. They will stand self-condemned. The universe will say “Amen” to their condemnation, for they have conspired against it. (L. Palmer.).
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Mark 7". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29