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An angel declareth the resurrection of Christ to three women. Christ himself appeareth to Mary Magdalene: to two going into the country: then to the apostles, whom he sendeth forth to preach the gospel: and lastly, he ascendeth into heaven.
Anno Domini 33.
Mark 16:1. Had bought sweet spices— Mr. West observes, that St. Mark, having written his gospel for the use of the Gentiles, who were strangers to the Jewish customs and religion, (as may be inferred from several little explanatory notes dropped up and down in his gospel,) in order to give these strangers a perfect intelligence of the fact related in this chapter, it was necessary for him to begin his account with that circumstance of the women's having bought spices to anoint the body of Jesus; that they might understand what business carried them so early to the sepulchre, and see by the preparations made by those women for the embalming of the body of Jesus, and the little credit given by the apostles to the reports of those who had seen our Lord on the day of his resurrection, that his rising from the dead was an event, not in the least expected by any of them, and not believed by the apostles, even after such evidence as Jesus upbraided them for not assenting to: from all which it was natural for them to conclude, that this fundamental article of their faith was neither received nor preached, but upon the fullest conviction of its truth. See Observations on the Resurrection, p. 33 and the notes on Matthew 28:0.
Mark 16:4. And when they looked, &c.— 'Αναβλεψασαι, lifting up their eyes. The reader will observe, that the parenthesis at the end of this verse, is an instance of the same mode of expression as that remarked in the latter part of the note on Ch. Mark 11:13.
Mark 16:5. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw, &c.— The circumstance of the angel's being within the sepulchre, expressly mentioned by this apostle, is so far from being contradicted by St. Mat 28:2-7 as some infidels have imagined, that it is plainly implied by the words He is not here; come,—(δευτε,— which might more properly be translated, Come hither;) see the place where the Lord lay; as is also that other circumstance of the women's entering into the sepulchre, by the Greek word εξελθουσαι, which should have been rendered they went out, instead of they departed; as it is in Mar 16:8 of this chapter. To which may be further added, that the description of the angel's clothing, which according to St. Mark was a long white garment, corresponds with the only particular relating to it, taken notice of by St. Matthew, which was its whiteness:—His raiment was white as snow. In the latter, indeed, this angel is described with, a countenance like lightning. The purposes of the angel's descent are mentioned in the note on Mat 28:2-4 and as one of these was to strike terror into the guards, it is not unreasonable to suppose that he might at first assume a countenance of terror, and after the resurrection was accomplished, put on the milder appearance of a young man: in which form the women, as St. Mark says, saw him sitting within the sepulchre. That the angel was not seen by the women sitting on the stone without the sepulchre, is evident, not only from the silence of all the Evangelists with regard to such an appearance, but also from what is observed concerning Mary Magdalene, Joh 20:1 who, though she saw the stone rolled away, yet saw no angel. Besides, had the angel remained sitting on the stone without the sepulchre, with all his terrors about him, he would, in all probability, by frightening away the women and disciples, as well as the soldiers, have prevented those visits to the sepulchre, which he came on purpose to facilitate. It was necessary, therefore, either that he should not appear at all to the women; or that he should appear within the sepulchre; and in a form which, although more than human, might however not be so terrible as to deprive them of their senses, and render them incapableof hearing, certainly of remembering that message, which he commanded them to deliver to the disciples: from all which considerations it may be fairly concluded, that the appearance of the angel without the sepulchre, mentioned by St. Matthew, was only to the keepers; and that when he was seen by the women, he was within the sepulchre, as St. Mark expressly says, and as the words above cited from St. Matthew strongly imply: so that these two evangelists agree in relating, not only the words spoken by the angel, but the principal, and, as it were, characteristical circumstances of the fact; which, from this agreement, we infer to be one and the same. The like agreement is also to be found in their account of the terror of the women upon seeing the angel, their speedy flight from the sepulchre, and the disorder and confusion which so extraordinary an event occasioned in their minds; a confused and troubled mixture of terror, astonishment, and joy; which, according to St. Mark, was so great, as to prevent their telling what had happened to those whom they had met upon the way; for so must we understand the words, neither said they any thing to any man, Mar 16:8 since it is not to be imagined that they never opened their lips about it. Their silence doubtless ended with the cause of it; namely, their terror and amazement:andthese,inallprobability,vanishedontheir seeing Christ himself; who, as St. Matthew has informed us, met them, as they were going to tell the disciples the message of the angels;—accosted them with an all hail, and bade them dismiss their fears. See West on the Resurrection, p. 35. The reader will find in Tasso's Jerusalem, b. 1: Song of Song of Solomon 1:0 the amiable appearance of an angel like a youth, finely embellished with poetical painting.
Mark 16:6. Be not affrighted— The speech of the angel to the women, in this and the next verse,informs them, in a concise and emphatical manner, of every particular that might satisfy their affectionate curiosity, and dissipate their fears; for they were afraid to ask him any questions. Mr. West has observed, that the appearance of an angel upon this occasion was highly proper, nay, we may almost say, necessary. Jesus had but two days before been put to death by the rulers of the Jews, as an impostor; one, who by the authority of Beelzebub cast out devils, and, by assuming the character of the Messiah, blasphemed God. His sepulchre also was guarded by a band of soldiers, under the pretence of preventing his disciples from carrying on the imposture begun by their master, by stealing away his body, and giving out that he was risen from the dead, in consequence of what he had said before the crucifixion. Under these circumstances, the attestation of heaven was necessary, to shew that God, though he had suffered him to expire on the cross, had not forsaken him; but, on the contrary, had co-operated with him even in his sufferings, his death, and burial, and resurrection from the dead on the third day, having by the secret workings of his providence, and his Almighty power, accomplished in every point the several predictions of Jesus relating to each of those events; events which, at the time of those predictions, none but God could foresee, and which nothing less than his all-controuling power could bring about. The descent therefore of the angel, and his rolling away the stone, was a visible proof that the finger of God was in the great work of the resurrection, was a proper honour done to him who claimed to be the Son of God, and unanswerably refuted theimpious calumnies of those who, upon account of that claim, stiled him an impostor and blasphemer. The next thing to be considered in this matter is, the internal evidence which the several appearances of angels to the women,&c. carry along with them of reality and truth; for by some infidels they have been treated as mere illusions, and by others as downright falsehoods. That these appearances were illusions, the effects of superstition, ignorance, and fear, has been insinuated rather than asserted; but, I apprehend, has never been attempted to be proved. Waving therefore a vain search after arguments which I presume are not easy to be found, or they would have been produced by those who have so diligently laboured to ridicule the Christian faith, I shall proceed to lay down a few observations, tending to prove the reality and truth of these appearances of the angels to the women.
The angel first seen by the women, was that described by St. Mark, in the form of a young man (sitting within the sepulchre) on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; at the sight of whom, the women (Mary and Salome) discovering great signs of fear, he saith unto them, Be not affrighted, &c. That this was a real vision, and no phantom of the imagination, is evident from these particulars. 1st, As it does not appear from this or any other account, that the women, upon coming to the sepulchre, were under any such terrors or perturbation, as are apt to fill the fancy with ideal spectres;—on the contrary, they went thither a little after day-break, prepared, and expecting to find the dead body of Jesus, there, and purposing to embalm it; about the doing of which they had been calmly conferring by the way:—Song of Song of Solomon 2:0 nd, by their coming with a design to embalm the body, it is plain that they had no notion either of his being already risen, or that he would rise from the dead. And therefore, 3rdly, had the angel been only the creature of a disturbed imagination, they would scarcely have put into his mouth a speech that directly contradicted all the ideas upon which they proceeded but one moment before. 4thly, It is to be observed farther, that the illusion must have been double; two senses must have been deceived, the hearing and the sight; for the angel was heard as well as seen: and though this frequently happens in dreams, and sometimes perhaps in a delirium, or a fit of madness, yet I question whether an instance exactly parallel in all its parts to the case here supposed, was ever known; for no two people dream together exactly alike, nor are affected in a delirium with exactly the same imaginations. 5thly, The words spoken by the angel refer to others spoken by Christ to his disciples before his passion, in which he told them, that after he was risen, he would go before them to Galilee. According to this promise or prediction, of which the angel here reminds them, he bids them tell the disciples from him, to go into Galilee, and promises them that Christ will meet them there. Now as not only the resurrection, but the personal appearance of Christ, is implied in these words, the reason above given in the third particular, concludes in the present case still more strongly against supposing them to have proceeded only from the imagination of the women; for the sudden change of whose opinion from a disbelief of the resurrection to a full and explicit belief of it, no adequate cause can be assigned. For if it should be allowed that they knew of this prediction of Christ's (which however does not appear), yet the business which brought them to the sepulchre makes it evident, that till that instant they either did not recollect, not understand, or not believe it. And if it be farther said, that upon their entering the sepulchre, and not finding the body of Jesus, this prediction might naturally come at once into their heads, and they might as suddenly and as reasonably believe Christ to be risen as St. John did, whosefaith was built upon no other evidence than what these women had now before them; I answer, that allowing St. John, when he is said to have first believed the resurrection, had no other evidence than those women now had, or might have had; yet it is to beobserved, that St. John was in a fitter disposition of mind to reflect and judge upon that evidence than the women. St. John ran to the sepulchre, upon the information given him, by Mary Magdalene that the body of Jesus was removed thence, and laid she knew not where, nor by whom: and as the sepulchre was at some distance from his habitation, many thoughts must naturally have arisen in his mind, tending to account for the removal of the body; and among the rest, perhaps, some confused and obscure hope that he might be risen from the dead, pursuant to many predictions to that purpose delivered by him to his disciples. But whatever his thoughts were at the time of his coming to the sepulchre, (about which, it must be owned, nothing can be offered but mere conjecture) it iscertain, that he had leisure to reflect upon the predictions of his Master, and to examine into the state of the sepulchre, which both he and Peter did (and that implies some deliberation and presence of mind); and that, after this deliberate examination, he departed quietly to his own home; whereas the women are represented as falling into the utmost terror and amazement immediately upon their entering into the sepulchre, and continuing under the same consternation till they were met flying thence by Christ himself. Under such a disorder of mind, can we suppose them capable of recollecting the predictions of Christ about his resurrection? of considering the proofs of their accomplishment arising from the state of the sepulchre; and of persuading themselves at once that he was not only risen from the dead, but would personally appear to his disciples? and then, immediately upon this conviction, of fancying that they saw an angel, and heard him assure them in a distinct manner, that Christ was risen; call them to review the place where he had been laid, and bid them tell his disciples that he would meet them in Galilee?—In a word, if this supposed illusion proceeded from a strong persuasion that Christ was risen from the dead, whence arose that belief? If it arose from cool reflection upon the predictions of our Saviour, and the state of the sepulchre (the cause of St. John's faith), whence came their terror? which, if not previous to the apparition of the angel, was at least prior to the words Be not affrighted, with which he first accosted them. If it be urged, that this terror was of the nature of those causeless and unaccountable terrors called panics, it may be answered, that this is giving a name instead of a reason; and is in effect saying nothing at all, or no more than that they were affrighted, but nobody can tell why or wherefore. 6thly, It is observable, that the speech of the angel to the women consists of ten distinct particulars: As, 1. Be not affrighted. 2. Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. 3. He is risen. 4. He is not here. 5. Behold the place where they laid him. 6. But go your way, tell his disciples. 7. And Peter. 8. That he goeth before you into Galilee. 9. There shall you see him. 10. As he said unto you.—The order and connection of which several particulars are no less remarkable thantheir number; and therefore, taking both these considerations into the account, I leave any one to judge, whether it be conceivable, that women under so great a terror and distraction of mind, as to fancy that they saw and heard an angel, when there was no such thing, should be able to compose a speech for this phantom of their fear and imagination, consisting of so much matter, order, and reason,and proceeding upon the supposition that they were not then convinced that Christ was risen from the dead, though the belief of his resurrection is presumed not only to have preceded, but even to have occasioned this illusion. I have dwelt the longer upon the examination of this first appearance of the angel to the women, because the settlingof the nature of that, will save us the trouble of entering into a particular discussion of the rest, the several articles of which will fall under one or other of the foregoing observations.
Mark 16:7. Tell his disciples, and Peter, &c.— St. Peter is particularly mentioned, because hehad most need of comfort, under the anguish of his mind on account of his late denial.—As this gospel is supposed to have been dictated, or at least revised by him, the addition of this circumstance implies the deep sense he had of the divine benevolence in sending this comfortable message to him, which gave him to understand, that though he had so basely denied his Lord, he had not entirely lost his favour; and that as he had let in a gleam of light upon the darkness of his affliction, so he would for the future help and succour those who fell like him, if, like him, they deeplyand thoroughly repented of their former sins. It might have served another end, and been intended by St. Peter to shew us, that though he had recovered his faith, and was re-instated in the favour of his Master; yet he had not forgotten how basely he had forfeited it, and how generously his Master had restored him. Our Lord's promise of appearing to the disciples in Galilee, referred to in the words as he said unto you, was given to the twelve apostles, Mat 26:32 yet the angel speaks of it as made to the women, and to all the disciples. Hence we learn, that every promise made to the apostles which had not an immediate relation to their office and character, was really made to all the disciples, and was intended to be made known to them. This message, as well as that from Jesus himself, Mat 28:10 was sent to all the disciples, and not to the apostles in particular. The reason may have been this: our Lord intending to visit his apostles that very evening, there was no occasion to order them into Galilee to see him; but as most of his disciples were in Jerusalem, celebrating the passover, it may easily be imagined that on receiving the news of their Master's resurrection, many of them would resolve to continue there, in expectation of meeting with him—athing which must have been very inconvenient for them at that time of the year, when the harvest was about to begin, the sheaf of the first fruits being always offered on the second day of the passover week. Wherefore to prevent their being so long from home, the messages mentioned were sent, directing them to return into Galilee, well assured that they should have the pleasure of seeing their Lord there, and by that means be happily relieved from the suspicion of his being an impostor, which probably might arise in the minds of many of them, when they saw him expire upon the cross. Accordingly, he appeared to more than five hundred of them at once, who, in consequence of his appointment, gathered together to see him.
Mark 16:8. Neither said they any thing to any man;— If these words, agreeably to what we have observed on Mar 16:5 be construed to signify, that they did not tell, while their terror and amazement continued, what they had seen and heard to some whom they saw as they were flying from the sepulchre, it seems rational to conclude, that these were some of the disciples to whom they were ordered to deliver the message of the angel, and to whom they would probably have delivered it, had they not been under the greater perturbation of mind. For had the persons whom they saw, been any other than the disciples of Jesus, it is not likely that St. Mark would have taken any notice of their not saying any thing to any man; since it is reasonable to imagine that they would not, even though they had not been affrighted, have told the message of the angel to any but disciples. And as the time of Peter and John's running to the sepulchre, upon the first report of Mary Magdalene, coincides with that of these women flying from it, it is no improbable conjecture, that these were the persons whom they saw in their way, at a distance perhaps, and coming by a different road to the sepulchre; especially if it be considered, that as the words of St. Mark, neither said they, &c. seem to carry with them an imputation of neglect upon these women,—though he at the same time accounts for and excuses it, by adding, for they were afraid;—so the same evangelist has before acquainted us, Mar 16:7 that they were ordered by the angel to deliver the message he gave, to Peter in particular. See for an explanation of the following verses, the passages referred to in the marginal references.
Mark 16:9. Now when Jesus was risen— Now Jesus being risen early on, &c. See Maii Observ. 100: 2: p. 72. The earliness of his rising was before expressed, Mark 16:2.
λιαν πρωι, very early. This appearance after it, was πρωι, early. See Bengelius and Grotius.
Mark 16:15. Go ye into all the world, &c.— "And having, after this, during his abode on earth, frequently shewn himself to his apostles, for the greater confirmation of their faith, and further instruction about the glorious things of his kingdom, (see Acts 1:3.) he, a little before his ascension, gave them their final and standing commission, saying, Go ye forth in my name unto all the nations of the earth, and preach my gospel, as ye have opportunity, to all mankind, whether Jew or Gentile, without exception." This was the plain import of Christ's commission; though the apostles themselves were so dull of apprehension, through their prejudices against the Gentiles, that they did not understand it in that sense for some years afterwards; and so confined their ministrations to the Jews, till St. Peter was more fully instructed by a vision, and sent to preach the gospel to Cornelius and his family, Acts 10:0.
Mark 16:16. He that believeth, &c.— That is, "He who believeth the gospel, and entereth into a solemn obligation to obey it, and verifies that obligation by a suitable practice in the following part of his life,—shall be saved;" for so the apostle expressly explains it, that the baptism which saves us, is not the putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God.—But he that believeth not, that is, who persists wilfully in infidelity, shall be damned. Dr. Macknight observes, that the last clause should be explained by Joh 3:19 where our Lord sets forth the reason of the condemnation of such unbelievers, as are damned for not believing the gospel when preached to them: This, says he, is the condemnation, the reason of the condemnation, (namely of those whom in the preceding verse he had represented as condemned for not believing in the name of the only-begotten Son of God) that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. Dr. Doddridge observes, that as to the objection which has been urged against the truth of Christianity from the damnatory sentencewhich it here and elsewhere pronounces on those who reject it, it is so far from being conclusive, that it would rather have been a great difficulty in the scheme of Christianity if it had contained no such argument; as he has proved at large in his second letter to the author of Christianity not founded on Argument, p. 28, 47 to which we refer the reader.
Mark 16:17. These signs shall follow, &c.— It is very evident, that the word believe, in this place, must signify something different from that faith which in the preceding verse is required as indispensably necessary to salvation, namely, that faith of miracles whereof we spoke on Matthew 17:20. Besides his promise of his perpetual presence and succours, Mat 28:20 our Lord here assures his disciples, that through the faith of him they should work most astonishing miracles, which he here particularizes; a circumstance, which not only contributed greatly, but was highly necessary, to the propagation of the gospel, while at the same time the performance of it is an irrefragable proof of the truth of Christianity. That the signs here specified were rendered illustrious in the days of the apostles, appears sufficiently from the book of the Acts, and the several epistles; and that they were not confined to their times, but continued in the two first ages of the church, there is the most sufficient and undoubted proof. How much longer these extraordinary gifts were exerted, has been in our times a matter of great controversy. Perhaps there is nothing on this subject which will better repay a careful reading, than Dr. Whitby's General Preface to the 2nd Volume of his Commentary, proving the truth and certainty of the Christian fa
Mark 16:18. They shall take up serpents;— The power here referred to, included, as in the case of St. Paul, Act 28:3-5 an ability to heal the most dangerous wounds given by the bite of the most noxious animals. We must understand the next clause with some restrictions; as much as to say, "If by some secret or open attempt they drink any deadly poison, it shall not hurt them:" for it is not to be imagined that God ever intended these miraculous powers should be used merely for ostentation, or to gratifythe curiosityof spectators. Considering to what a degree of horrid refinement the art of poisoning was by this time brought, as well as how frequently execution was done by giving poison to condemned persons, in the age and countries in which the apostles lived or laboured, such a promise as this will appear more important than the reader might at first apprehend. See Doddridge and Grotius.
Mark 16:20. Preached every where,— Through the whole Roman empire, or the then known world: and in spreading the knowledge of the Christian religion in far distant countries, they met with great success both among Jews and Gentiles, who were not ableto resist the evidence of the miracles whereby theyconfirmed their doctrine. Thus St. Mark informs us; and hence it is reasonable to conclude, that he published his gospel pretty late.
Inferences.—It is too just, however unpleasing a remark, that while we consider the lives of those who profess a faith in the great doctrine of the resurrection, there seems but too much reason to suspect that too many are not heartily convinced of its truth. For, after all the elaborate discourses upon this subject, where is that indifference for the things of the world, that spiritual joy, that purity, that heavenly-mindedness, which the resurrection of our Lord should, through the grace of God, inspire? Where is that self-denial, that watchfulness over our own hearts, and attention to the omnipresence of God, that exact justice in our dealings, that warm benevolence towards all men, and, in a word, that zealous preparation against the day of judgment, to which an effectual assurance of our own resurrection, wrought by the Spirit of God and yielded to by us, would certainly induce us to observe?—I might ask the greater part, how they would live, if they did not believe any resurrection:—What alteration would there be in their manners? Would they be more addicted to pleasure, more intent upon their temporal interests, or less careful for the good of others? Yet they lay claim to the venerable name of Christians, and repeat creeds, professing their faith in our Lord's resurrection. I dare not therefore say of such, that they do not believe it; but it is evident that they have not duly thought about it; they are not sufficiently apprized of the wondrous effects and consequences of this great mystery. For it is not enough that we know it by name, and by hearsay; all saving knowledge is experimental; and it is not sufficient that we know the history; we must also feel the power, of our Lord's resurrection; not only that he is risen, but also that he is the resurrection. As the sun is light to itself, and the great source of day to all the worlds around it; so is our Lord resurrection to himself, and the cause and author of resurrection, whether bodily or spiritual, in others. Hence he says of himself, I am the resurrection and the life.
This resurrection to be wrought in us by Christ, is twofold, relating to the two constituent parts of man, the body and the soul; for to these two belong two distinct resurrections, very different from each other.
The first resurrection,—that of the soul,—is of a moral and spiritual nature. It is the rising of the soul from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness—states more different, and infinitely more important, than those of natural life and death: it is peculiar to the saints of God; it requires our concurrence with the operations of grace, to which alone it is to be imputed; and blessed and holy is he, who has part in this first resurrection.
The second resurrection is that of the body, after our natural death. This is common to all men, and is necessary and inevitable.
Of both these resurrections the Lord Jesus Christ is the immediate cause and author: of the first, as he is the Saviour of the world; and of the second, as he is the Judge of it. For it is a prerogative very properly annexed to his office of universal judge, that he should by his own power summon all mankind to his tribunal.
This resurrection from the natural death, is commonly well enough understood in the general. We can all, by a faith in the omnipotence of God, form satisfactory notions of our being raised again at the last day with our bodies; so that the whole man, which acted in this life, may be qualified for the rewards and punishments of the next. But the spiritual resurrection of our souls in this life is a thing less thought of, and less understood, by the generality of mankind. This is one of those things of God, whereof the natural or animal man is ignorant; and requires a spiritual discernment, and some spiritual experience, for the rightly apprehending it. The holy Scriptures treat of it very frequently, but no where more largely and clearly, than in the sixth chapter of the epistle to the Romans, (Mark 16:3-11.) where a death to sin is joined with the spiritual resurrection, as a circumstance indispensably requisite to, and implied in it: for no person is capable of a resurrection, till he is once dead.
It is necessary, therefore, that we consider this death here mentioned; that we inquire what the old life is, and how it is extinguished, before we can understand any thing of the spiritual resurrection that follows it, and the new life to be conferred. The life to be lost by this death, is said to be that of our old man, which is a scriptural phrase, signifying that nature, temper, or disposition of mind, with which we are born, as we are the sons of Adam, and heirs of original corruption; whereby, as the Scripture assures us, we are the children of wrath: it is this innate depravity which makes us ignorant of God, blind and stupid to all spiritual things; selfish, covetous, proud, unjust, deceitful, intemperate, impure, and hateful in the sight of God.
But, as it would be a hard matter to make a blind man comprehend what darkness is, at least to give him such a notion of it as we have, though he lives in it continually; so it is alike difficult to give unconverted sinners a right notion of what is here meant by the old man, because this, as most other things, is best known by its contrary. But in general we are to know, that whatever tendency there is in our nature to the commission of sin, it is a part or member of the old man: while we are yet in our natural state, unreformed by divine grace, this lives, this reigns in our mortal bodies. Why is this man a drunkard, that malicious, a third unjust in his dealings? The reason is, because the resurrection of Christ has not had its due effect; the mind is not renewed, and the old man of sin is yet unmortified: that corrupt nature, which we received from Adam, is still active and vigorous; lives and reigns in the hearts of unregenerate men; and would for ever reign there, did not Christ interpose, and by virtue of his sufferings and death communicate to believers such powers of grace, as are sufficient to destroy this root of evil in their souls. This corruption of our nature is such as we cannot possibly resist by our own strength. In vain does the law encounter it with her impotent discipline; in vain does she set before us her rigorous commands and prohibitions; in vain does she display her rewards and punishments. These all serve only to shew us our guilt and danger, but cannot work our deliverance; we are still the same men; and all our struggles after holiness, are like the motions of a door upon its hinges, still fixed to the same place.
But behold, a greater than Moses is come in the gospel dispensation, even our Lord Jesus Christ; and what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, that is to say, through our corrupt nature, that, St. Paul saith, God hath done for us, by sending his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh. He has for and through him, and by his spirit, granted believers new powers, whereby they are enabled to mortify and destroy their corrupt nature.
But this of itself is still insufficient to make us either holy or happy; it is at best but a negative goodness; there is more required of us than a mere abstinence from vice: we must not only cease to do evil, but learn to do well; and as the old man of sin is to be destroyed, so the new man is to be raised up in us.
And this is a natural consequence of the former: for if we be dead with Christ, we believe also that we shall be raised up with him. If we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall also grow up in the likeness of his resurrection. But how few are there who rightly value this: the men of the world relish none of these things; they have no eyes to discern the beauty of holiness; they fear lest the thoughts of it should make them melancholy; all their concern is about the animal life, all their care is for the old man, his maintenance and support, and how they may make provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof. What wonder then that they feel no joy arise in their hearts at the news of our Lord's resurrection, or at his assuring us, that he is the resurrection, and will raise us up, as he did himself? They have no interest in it; they are not likely to be gainers by it; and therefore they see no glories in the gospel that relates it.
Others, again, who pretend to have a higher opinion of virtue, and who own, by their words at least, that it is the most noble acquisition our nature is capable of, yet think that there is no such great difficulty in attaining it; no need of such heavenly machinery, as they may lightly term the mysteries of our redemption. "Good morality," say they, "will carry us to heaven;" but they cannot see much ground for believing all the abstruse revelations of Christianity, nor how we shall be made wiser or happier by such belief.
But let these men endeavour to live up even to their own notions of morality: let them try how they can acquit themselves in the duties of temperance, meekness, universal benevolence, and a suitable homage to the Supreme Being; and then if they do not wilfully deceive themselves, they will learn by their own experience, that they cannot do these things by their own strength. Then,—provided they be sincere, and consequently not indisposed for the illumination of God's Holy Spirit,—the gospel will appear to them in its proper beauty; and they will find it, according to its true interpretation, glad tidings; shewing them that the Lord Jesus Christ is ready to do that for them, which they cannot do for themselves; that by the merits and power of his death he will destroy their old man, the principle of evil that now tyrannizes in their souls; and by the power of his resurrection work their spiritual resurrection to the new life of righteousness. The sting of death is sin; but thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
REFLECTIONS.—1st, No sooner was the sabbath past, during, which Christ had lain in the grave, than we find,
1. Early in the morning on the first day of the week, the pious women, who the preceding evening had provided spices for embalming the body, little expecting our Lord's resurrection from the dead, set out from the city for the sepulchre, which they reached just at sun-rising; and by the way having expressed to each other their concern how to roll back the ponderous stone from the mouth of the cave, to their surprise they beheld it already done for them. Note; (1.) Though difficulties at a distance seem insurmountable, when we go on steadily depending upon God, we shall often meet with unexpected assistances. (2.) It is mentioned to their distinguished honour, how assiduous and faithful the women who followed Jesus proved, when the men forsook him. The weaker vessel is often seen to be the stronger Christian.
2. An angel appears to them. As they entered into the sepulchre, to their great surprise and terror, they beheld one in the likeness of a young man in long white robes, sitting within. But the angel endeavoured to quiet their fears, and bid them not be terrified; he knew that their business there was to seek the crucified Jesus; and, to their inexpressible joy, informs them, that he is no longer with the dead, but risen. There was the place where he had lain: they are therefore enjoined, without delay, to carry the glad tidings to Peter and the rest of the apostles, and to tell them, according to his promise, that their glorified Master will meet them in Galilee, and make them happy with his presence and converse. Note; (1.) We are often apt to fear where no fear is, and to dread our mercies as miseries. (2.) They who seek a crucified Jesus, are sure to find comfort to their souls. (3.) Though we for our unfaithfulness might justly be left to mourn our folly, Christ is a compassionate Saviour, willing to pardon, and in haste to speak peace to the souls of his afflicted disciples, who mourn for his presence. (4.) Peter is particularly mentioned: had he not, perhaps he would have thought that the message was good news to the rest, but not for him, as having rendered himself unworthy the name of a disciple. (5.) They who know the joy of meeting Jesus, and of his spiritual presence in the ordinances of his worship, will not account the way long to go, where his word is dispensed, and his voice is still heard.
3. The women ran earnestly to carry the message, trembling with a mixture of surprise and joy, and spoke to no man by the way; afraid that the news was too good to be true, or that the Jews would be exasperated if they heard it, and say they had stolen the body. See the Annotations.
2nd, Christ appears,
1. To Mary Magdalene, the morning he rose—that remarkable sinner, out of whom he had cast seven devils. O wondrous grace! She immediately carried the joyful news to the eleven, who, inconsolable, with bitter anguish lamented their departed Lord, and their own unfaithfulness to him; and seemed sunk in despair of ever seeing him again. So slow of heart were they to believe, notwithstanding the repeated predictions which Christ had given them of his rising from the dead, that they received her declarations as a mere fancy, and imagined her to have been deceived by some spectre or apparition. Note; The very incredulity of the disciples tends to the confirmation of our faith: it shews, they were not themselves willing to believe, but upon the most indubitable evidence.
2. The same day in the evening he appeared to two other of his disciples, who were going towards Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem: but perhaps being in a different dress from what he usually wore, and their eyes being holden that they should not know him, Luke 24:16; Luk 24:31 they conversed with him for a while, and at last their eyes were opened, and they knew him: whereupon they instantly returned to acquaint their brethren, who even then would not be persuaded, though the witnesses were so unexceptionable.
3rdly, Since they are so loath to believe the report of others, Jesus condescended to put the matter beyond dispute, by appearing himself the same evening to all the apostles, except Thomas, as they were sitting at table together.
1. He upbraids them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, that they were so backward to receive the testimony of those who had seen him, notwithstanding the many assurances of his rising again, which he had given them before his death. Note; Unbelief is a most besetting sin, and highly displeasing to the Lord Jesus.
2. He solemnly invests them with authority to go and preach the gospel among all nations, and to confirm their mission by the miracles that he would enable them to work. This transaction passed, it should seem, not at the time of his first appearing to them, but afterwards, just before his ascension.
[1.] He enlarges their commission to go into all the world, and to preach the gospel (which had been hitherto confined to the Jews,) to every human creature as far as their labours would reach; with power also to send out others, as fellow-labourers with them, to spread the savour of the truth in every place.
[2.] The summary of their preaching must be faith in the Son of God, in his life, death, and resurrection; the necessity of the salvation obtained by his obedience to the death of the cross for lost sinners; the fulness and all-sufficiency of it to procure pardon, life, and glory for all who perseveringly trust in him; and the sin and danger of those who reject this method of divine wisdom and love, and refuse obedience to the faith of the gospel, their damnation becoming inevitable. Note; The ungodly perish, not merely because of the greatness of their sins, but principally because they sin against the remedy, and seal themselves up under wrath by their unbelief.
[3.] In confirmation of their doctrine, they are empowered to work the most astonishing miracles. In the name of Jesus, depending on his power, and to advance his gospel, they shall be enabled to cast out devils from those that were possessed; to speak with new tongues, which they had never learnt, with most entire fluency and readiness, as if they had severally been their native language. They shall take up serpents, the most venomous, without the least harm, (see Acts 28:3-6.) If they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; when openly or secretly their persecutors might strive to make away with them. They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover, every disease giving way to their healing touch. And these miraculous powers they not only possessed themselves, but were enabled to impart to others.
4thly, When our Lord had thus commissioned and qualified them for the great work that he had committed to their charge, we see him,
1. Ascending to his throne, and exalted to the right hand of Majesty on high. Having finished the great work of atonement, all power is put into his hands as Mediator, to reign in and over his faithful subjects; while his enemies, as vanquished, must bow before him, and, whether they be devils or wicked men, will shortly receive from his lips their eternal doom.
2. We see them going forth according to their Master's orders, preaching the gospel in defiance of all opposition from earth and hell, the Lord supporting them against all their persecutors, giving the most amazing success to their labours; by wondrous miracles attesting their mission to be divine; and by the power of the Holy Ghost making their word powerfully effectual to the conversion of the hearts of innumerable multitudes. And this sign will ever follow the gospel to the end of time: wherever it is preached in spirit and in truth, it will be found the power of God unto salvation: and as the evangelist adds his Amen hereunto, so are we also bound so to do, assured that thus it will be for all the faithful, and praying that it thus may be; that the word may daily run and be glorified, till the ends of the earth shall remember themselves, and be turned unto the Lord, and all flesh shall see the salvation of our God. Amen. So come, Lord Jesus!
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Mark 16". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25