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This chapter begins with the record of another case of healing on the sabbath day; and it closes with the notice of a combination of the Pharisees with the Herodians to bring about the destruction of the Saviour. We may observe that he again chose the sabbath for a new miracle, that he might again and again confute the error of the scribes and Pharisees with regard to the observance of the sabbath.
He entered again into the synagogue. St. Matthew (Matthew 12:9) says, "their synagogue" (εἰς τὴν συναγωγὴν) This would probably be on the next sabbath after that named at the close of the last chapter. And there was a man there which had a withered hand (ἐξηραμμένην ἔχων τὴν χεῖρα); literally, which had his hand withered, or dried up. And they watched him (παρετήρουν αὐτὸν); kept watching him. There were probably scribes sent for this purpose from Jerusalem. St. Jerome informs us that in an apocryphal Gospel in use amongst the Nazarenes and Ebionites, the man whose hand was withered is described as a mason, and is said to have asked for help in the following terms:—"I was a mason, seeking my living by manual labour. I beseech thee, Jesus, to restore me the use of my hand, that I may not be compelled to beg my bread." This is so far consistent with St. Mark's description (ἐξηραμμένην ἔχων τὴν χεῖρα) as to show that the malady was the result of disease or accident, and not congenital. St. Luke (Luke 6:6) informs us that it was the right hand. The disease probably extended through the whole arm according to the wider meaning of the Greek word It seems to have been a kind of atrophy, causing a gradual drying up of the limb; which in such a condition was beyond the reach of any mere human skill.
The scribes had already the evidence that our Lord had permitted his disciples to rub the ears of corn on the sabbath day. But this was the act of the disciple, not his. What he was now preparing to do was an act of miraculous power. And here the ease was stronger, because work, which was prohibited under pain of death by the Law (Exodus 31:14), was understood to include every act not absolutely necessary.
Mark 3:3, Mark 3:4
Stand forth. The words in the original are Ἔγειραι εἰς τὸ μέσον Rise into the midst. In St. Matthew's account (Matthew 12:10), the scribes and Pharisees here ask our Lord, "Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?" The two accounts are easily reconciled if we first suppose the scribes and Pharisees to ask this question of our Lord, and then our Lord to answer them by putting their own question to them in another form. Is it lawful on the sabbath day to do good, or to do harm? to save a life, or to kill? Our Lord's meaning appears to be this: "If any one, baying it in his power, omits to do an act of mercy on the sabbath day-for one grievously afflicted, as this man is, if he is able to cure him, as I Christ am able, he does him a wrong; for he denies him that help which he owes him by the law of charity." Our Lord thus plainly signifies that not to do an act of kindness to a sick man on the sabbath day when you are able to do it, is really to do him a wrong. But it is never lawful to do a wrong; and therefore it is always lawful to do good, not excepting even the sabbath day, for that is dedicated to God and to good works. Whence it is a greater sin to do a wrong on the sabbath than on other days; for thus the sanctity of the sabbath is violated, just as it is all the more honoured and sanctified by doing good. In our Lord's judgment, then, to neglect to save, when you have it in your power to do so, is to destroy. They held their peace. They could not answer him. They are obstinate indeed in their infidelity, who, when they can say nothing against the truth, refuse to say anything for it.
When he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved (συλλυπούμενος)—the word has a touch of "condolence" in it—at the hardening of their heart. All this is very characteristic of St. Mark, who is careful to notice the visible expression of our Lord's feelings in his looks. The account is evidently from an eye-witness, or from one who had it from an eye-witness. He looked round about on them with anger. He was indignant at their blindness of heart, and their unbelief, which led them to attack the miracles of mercy wrought by him on the sabbath day as though they were a violation of the law of the sabbath. We see hero how plainly there were in Christ the passions and affections common to the human nature, only restrained and subordinated to reason. Hero is the difference between the anger of fallen man and the anger of the sinless One. With fallen man, auger is the desire of retaliating, of punishing those by whom you consider yourself unjustly treated. Hence, in other men, anger springs from self-love; in Christ it sprang from the love of God. He loved God above all things; hence he was distressed and irritated on account of the wrongs done to God by sins and sinners. So that his anger was a righteous zeal for the honour of God; and hence it was mingled with grief, because, in their blindness and obstinacy, they would not acknowledge him to be the Messiah, but misrepresented his kindnesses wrought on the sick on the sabbath day, and found fault with them as evil. Thus our Lord, by showing grief and sorrow, makes it plain that his anger did not spring from the desire of revenge. He was indeed angry at the sin, while he grieved over and with the sinners, as those whom he loved, and for whose sake he came into the world that he might redeem and save them. Stretch forth thy hand. And he stretched it forth: and his hand was restored. The words "whole as the other" (ὑγιὴς ὡς ἡ ἄλλη) are not found in the best uncials. They were probably inserted from St. Matthew. In this instance our Lord performed no outward act. "He spake, and it was done." The Divine power wrought the miracle concurrently with the act of faith on the part of the man in obeying the command.
The Pharisees and the Herodians combine together against the Lord. This was a terrible crisis in his history, or rather in the history of those unbelieving men. They are now in this dilemma: they must either accept his teaching, or they must take steps against him as a sabbath-breaker. But what had he done? The miracle had been wrought by a word only. It would have been difficult, therefore, to have obtained a judgment against him. Therefore they secured some fresh allies. They had already gained to their side some of the disciples of John the Baptist (Mark 2:18), now they associate with themselves the Herodians. This is the first mention that we find made of the Herodians. They were the natural opponents of the Pharisees; but here they seem to have found some common ground of agreement, though it is not very easy to say what it was, in combining against our Lord. But it is no uncommon thing to find coalitions of men, strangely opposed to one another on most points, but united to effect some particular object; and it is easy to see how the purity and spirituality of our Lord and of his doctrine would be opposed, on the one hand, to the ceremonial formality of the Pharisee, and on the other to the worldly and secular spirit of the Herodian.
Mark 3:7, Mark 3:8
Jesus with his disciples withdrew to the sea. This shows that the miracle just recorded took place in the interior of Galilee, and not at Capernaum, which was close by the sea. The chief city in Galilee at that time was Sepphoris, which Herod Antipas had made his capital. There the Herodiaus would of course be numerous, and so too would the Pharisees; since that city was one of the five places where the five Sanhedrims met. The remainder of these two verses should be read and pointed thus: And a great multitude from Galilee followed: and from Judaea, and from Jerusalem, and from Idumaea, and beyond Jordan, and about Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, hearing what great things he did, come unto him. The meaning of the evangelist is this, that, in addition to the great multitude that followed him from the parts of Galilee which he had just been visiting, there were vast numbers from other parts who had now heard of his fame, and flocked to him from every quarter. This description sets before us in a strikingly graphic manner the mixed character of the multitude who gathered around our Lord to listen to his teaching, and to be healed by him—as many, at least, as had need of healing.
And he spake to his disciples, that a small ship (πλοιάριον)—literally, a little boat—should wait on him προσκαρτερῆ αὐτῷ)—literally, should be in close attendance upon him—because of the multitude, lest they should throng him. This shows in a very graphic manner how assiduously and closely the crowd pressed upon him, so that he was obliged to have a little boat always in readiness, in which he might take refuge when the pressure became too great, and so address them with greater freedom from the boat. St. Luke (Luke 5:3) says, "He sat down, and taught the people out of the ship," making the boat, so to speak, his pulpit.
As many as had plagues—the Greek word is μάστιγας; literally, scourges, painful disorders—pressed upon him (ὥστε ἐπιπίπτειν αὐτῷ); literally, fell upon him, clung to him, hoping that the very contact with him might heal them. This expression, "scourges," reminds us that diseases are a punishment on account of our sins.
And the unclean spirits, whensoever they beheld him, fell down before him, and cried, saying. It is worthy of notice that the afflicted people fell upon him (ἐπίπιπτειν αὐτῷ); but the unclean spirits felt down before him (προσέπιπτεν αὐτῷ), and this not out of love or devotion, but out of abject fear, dreading lest he should drive them out of the "possessed," and send them before their time to their destined torment. It is just possible that this homage paid to our Lord may have been an act of cunning—a ruse, as it were, to lead the people to suppose that our Lord was in league with evil spirits. Thou art the Son of God. Did, then, the unclean spirits really know that Jesus was the Son of God? A voice from heaven at his baptism had proclaimed him to be the Son of God, and that voice must have vibrated through the spiritual world. Then, further, they must have known him to be the Son of God by the numerous and mighty miracles which he wrought, and which they must have seen [o be real miracles, such as could only have been wrought by the supernatural power of God, and which were wrought by Christ for this very purpose, that they might prove him to be the promised Messiah, the only begotten Son of God. It may, however, be observed that they did not know this so clearly, but that, considering, on the other hand, the greatness of the mystery, they hesitated. It is probable that they were ignorant of the end and fruit of this great mystery, namely, that mankind were to be redeemed by the Incarnation, the Cross, and the Death of Christ; and so their own kingdom was to be overthrown, and the kingdom of God established. Blinded by their hatred of Jesus, whom they perceived to be a most holy Being, drawing multitudes to himself, they stirred up the passions of evil men against him, little dreaming that in promoting his destruction they were overthrowing their own kingdom.
Into a mountain; literally, into the mountain (εἰς τὸ ὄρος). Similarly, St. Luke (Luke 6:12) says," He went out into the mountain to pray." The use of the definite article might either point to some well-known eminence, or to the high table-land as distinguished from the plain, and in which there would be many recesses, which would explain the use of the preposition Tradition indicates Mount Hatten as the place, about five miles to the west of the Sea of Galilee. The summit rises above a level space, where large numbers might stand within hearing. It is supposed, with good reason, that it was from thence that the sermon on the mount was delivered. It was at daybreak, as we learn from St. Luke (Luke 6:13), after this night of prayer, that he called unto him whom he himself would (οὓς ἤθελεν αὐτός): and they went unto him (καὶ ἀπῆλθον πρὸς); literally, they went away to him, the word implying that they forsook their former pursuits. His own will was the motive power: he called "whom he himself would;" but their will consented. "When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will seek."
Mark 3:14, Mark 3:15
Out of those who thus came to him, he ordained twelve literally, he made or appointed twelve. They were not solemnly ordained or consecrated to their office until after his resurrection. Their actual consecration (of all of them at least but one, namely, Judas Iscariot) took place when he breathed on them and said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost" (John 20:22). But from this time they were his apostles "designate." They were henceforth to Be with him as his attendants and disciples. They were to go forth and preach under his direction, and by his power they were to cast out devils. Several manuscripts add here that they were "to heal sicknesses," but the words are emitted in some of the oldest authorities. The authority over unclean spirits is more formally conveyed later on, so that here St. Mark speaks by anticipation. But this shows how much importance was attached to this part of their mission; for it recognizes the spiritual world, and the special purpose of the manifestation of the Son of God, namely, that he might "destroy the works of the devil." He appointed twelve. The number twelve symbolizes perfection and universality. The number three indicates what is Divine; and the number four, created things. Three multiplied by four gives twelve, the number of those who were to go forth as apostles into the four quarters of the world—called to the faith of the holy Trinity.
Mark 3:16, Mark 3:17
And Simon he surnamed Peter. Our Lord had previously declared that Simon should be so called. But St. Mark avoids as much as possible the recognition of any special honor belonging to St. Peter; so he here simply mentions the fact of this surname having been given to him, a fact which was necessary in order that he might be identified. All the early Christian writers held that Peter was virtually the author of this Gospel. Simon, or Simeon, is from a Hebrew word, meaning "to hear." James the son of Zebedee, so called to distinguish him from the other James; and John his brother. In St. Matthew's list, Andrew is mentioned next after Peter, as his brother, and the first called. But here St. Mark mentions James and John first after Peter; these three, Peter and James and John, being the three leading apostles. Of James and John, James is mentioned first, as the eldest of the two brothers. And them he surnamed Boanerges, which is, Sons of thunder. "Boanerges" is the Aramaic pronunciation of the Hebrew B'ne-ragesh; B'ne, sons, and ragesh, thunder. The word was not intended as a term of reproach; although it fitly expressed that natural impetuosity and vehemence of character, which showed itself in their desire to bring down fire from heaven upon the Samaritan village, and in their ambitious request that they might have the highest places of honor in his coming kingdom. But their natural dispositions, under the Holy Spirit's influence, were gradually transformed so as to serve the cause of Christ, and their fiery zeal was transmuted into the steady flame of Christian earnestness and love, so as to become an element of great power in their new life as Christians. Christ called these men "Sons of thunder" because he would make their natural dispositions, when restrained and elevated by his grace, the great instruments of spreading his Gospel. He destined them for high service in his kingdom. By their holy lives they were to be as lightning, and by their preaching they were to be as thunder to rouse unbelievers, and to bring them to repentance and a holy life. It was no doubt on account of this zeal that James fell so early a victim to the wrath of Herod. A different lot was that which fell to St. John. Spared to a ripe old age, he influenced the early Church by his writings and his teaching. His Gospel begins as with the voice of thunder, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Beza and others, followed by Dr. Morisen, have thought that this distinctive name was given by our Lord to the two brothers on account of some deep-toned peculiarity of voice, which was of much service to them in impressing the message of the Gospel of the kingdom upon their hearers.
Mark 3:18, Mark 3:19
Andrew is next mentioned after these eminent apostles, as the first called. The word is from the Greek, and means "manly." Bartholomew, that is, Bar-tolmai, the son of Tolmay. This is a patronymic, and not a proper name. It has been with good reason supposed that he is identical with Nathanael, of whom we first read in John 1:46, as having been found by Philip and brought to Christ. In the three synoptic Gospels we find Philip and Bartholomew enumerated together in the lists of the apostles; and certainly the mode in which Nathanael is mentioned in John 21:2 would seem to show that he was an apostle. His birthplace, too, Cana of Galilee, would point to the same conclusion. If this be so, then the name Nathanael, the "gift of God," would bear the same relation to Bartholomew that Simon does to Bar-jona. Matthew. In St Matthew's own list of the apostles (Matthew 10:3) the epithet "the publican" is added to his name, and he places himself after Thomas. This marks the humility of the apostle, that he does not scruple to place on record what he was before he was called. The word Matthew, a contraction of Mattathias, means the "gift of Jehovah," according to Gesenius, which in Greek would be "Theodore." Thomas. Eusebius says that his real name was Judas. It is possible that Thomas may have been a surname. The word is Hebrew meaning a twin, and it is so rendered in Greek in John 11:16. James the son of Alphaeus, or Clopas (not Cleophas): called" the Less," either because he was junior in age, or rather in his call, to James the Great, the brother of John. This James, the son of Alphaeus, is called the brother of our Lord. St. Jerome says that his father Alphaeus, or Clopas, married Mary, a sister of the blessed Virgin Mary, which would make him the cousin of our Lord. This view is confirmed by Bishop Pearson (Art. 3:on the Creed). He was the writer of the Epistle which bears his name, and he became Bishop of Jerusalem. Thaddaeus, called also Lebbaeus and Judas; whence St. Jerome describes him as "trionimus," i.e. having three names. Judas would be his proper name. Lebbaeus and Thaddaeus have a kind of etymological affinity, the root of Lebbaeus being "heart," and of Thaddaeus, "breast." These names are probably recorded to distinguish him from Judas the traitor. Simon the Canaanite. The word in the Greek, according to the best authorities, is, both here and in St. Matthew (Matthew 10:4), Καναναῖος, from a Chaldean or Syriac word, Kanean, or Kanenieh. The Greek equivalent is Ζηλωτής, which we find preserved in St. Luke (Luke 6:15). It is possible, however, that Simon may have been born in Cana of Galilee. St. Jerome says that he was called a Cananaean or Zealot, by a double reference to the place of his birth and to his zeal. Judas Iscariot. Iscariot. The most probable derivation is from the Hebrew Ish-Kerioth, "a man of Kerioth,' a city of the tribe of Judah. St. John (John 6:7) describes him as the son of Simon. If it be asked why our Lord should have chosen Judas Iscariot, the answer is that he chose him, although he knew that he would betray him, because it was his will that he should be betrayed by one that had been "his own familiar friend," and that had "eaten bread with him." Bengel says well here that "there is an election of grace from which men may fall." How far our Lord knew from the first the results of his choice of Judas belongs to the profound, unfathomable mystery of the union of the Godhead and the manhood in his sacred Person. We may notice generally, with regard to this choice by our Lord of his apostles, the germ of the principle of sending them forth by two and two. Here are Peter and Andrew, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, and so on. Then, again, our Lord chose three pairs of brothers, Peter and Andrew, James and John, James the Less and Jude, that he might teach us how powerful an influence is brotherly love. We may also observe that Christ, in selecting his apostles, chose some of his kinsmen according to the flesh. When he took upon him our flesh, he recognized those who were near to him by nature, and he would unite them yet mere closely by grace to his Divine nature. Three of the apostles took the lead, namely, Peter and James and John, who were admitted to be witnesses of his transfiguration, of one of his greatest miracles, and of his passion.
Mark 3:20, Mark 3:21
The last clause of Mark 3:19, And they went into an house, should form the opening sentence of a new paragraph, and should therefore become the first clause of Mark 3:20, as in the Revised Version. According to the most approved reading, the words are (ἐξῆλθον), He cometh into an house, or, He cometh home. There is here a considerable gap in St. Mark's narrative. The sermon on the mount followed upon the call of the apostles, at all events so far as it affected them and their mission. Moreover, St. Matthew interposes hero two miracles wrought by our Lord after his descent from the mount, and before his return to his own house at Capernaum. St. Mark seems anxious here to hasten on to describe the treatment of our Lord by his own near relatives at this important crisis in his ministry. So that they—i.e., our Lord and his disciples—could not so much as eat bread; such was the pressure of the crowd upon them. St. Mark evidently records this, in order to show the contrast between the zeal of the multitude and the very different feelings of our Lord's own connections. They, his friends, when they heard how he was thronged, went out to lay hold on him; for they said, He is beside himself. This little incident is mentioned only by St. Mark. When his friends saw him so bent upon his great mission as to neglect his bodily necessities, they considered that he was bereft of his reason, that too much zeal and piety had deranged his mind. His friends went out (ἐξῆλθον) to lay hold on him. They may probably have come from Nazareth. St. John (John 7:5) says that "even his brethren did not believe on him;" that is, they did not believe in him with that fuiness of trust which is of the essence of true faith. Their impression was that he was in a condition requiring that he should be put under some restraint.
The scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, etc. These scribes had apparently been sent down by the Sanhedrim, on purpose to watch him, and, by giving their own opinion upon his claims, to undermine his influence. They gave as their authoritative judgment, "He hath Beelzebub." One of the most prominent characteristics of the public works of our Lord was the expulsion of evil spirits. There was no questioning the facts. Even modern scepticism is here at fault, and is constrained to admit the fact of sudden and complete cures of insanity. So the scribes were obliged to account for what they could not deny. "He hath Beelzebub," they say; that is, he is possessed by Beelzebub, or "the lord of the dwelling," as a source of supernatural power. They had heard it alleged against him," He hath a devil;" and so they fall in with this popular error, and give it emphasis, by saying, Not only has he a devil, but he is possessed by the chief of the devils, and therefore has authority over inferior spirits. Observe the contrast between the thoughts of the multitude and of those who professed to be their teachers, the scribes and Pharisees. The multitude, free from prejudice, and using only their natural light of reason, candidly owned the greatness of Christ's miracles as wrought by a Divine power; whereas the Pharisees, filled with envy and malice, attributed these mighty works which he wrought by the finger of God, to the direct agency of Satan.
How can Satan cast out Satan? Observe here that our Lord distinctly affirms the personality of Satan, and a real kingdom of evil. But then he goes on to show that if this their allegation were true, namely, that he cast out devils by the prince or the devils, then it would follow that Satan's kingdom would be divided against itself. As a house divided against itself cannot stand, so neither could the kingdom of Satan exist in the world if one evil spirit was opposed to another for the purpose of dispossessing, the one the other, from the minds and bodies of men. Our Lord thus employs another argument to show that he casts out evil spirits, not by Beelzebub, but by the power of God. It is as though he said, "As he who invades the house of a strong man cannot succeed until he first binds the strong man; in like manner I, Christ Jesus, who spoil the kingdom of Satan, whilst I lead sinners who had been under his power to repentance and salvation, must first bind Satan himself, otherwise he would never suffer me to take his captives from him. Therefore he is my enemy, and not in league with me, not my ally in the casting out of evil spirits, as you falsely represent me to be. It behoves you, then, to understand that it is with the Spirit of God that I cast out devils, and that therefore the kingdom of God is come upon you."
All their sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, etc. St. Mark adds the words (verse 30), "Because they said, [ἔλεγον, 'they were saying,'] He hath an unclean spirit." This helps us much to the true meaning of this declaration. Our Lord does not here speak of every sin against the Holy Spirit, but of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. These words of St. Mark point to a sin of the tongue mere especially, although not excluding thoughts and deeds against the Holy Spirit. Observe what these scribes and Pharisees did; they cavilled at works manifestly Divine—works wrought by God for the salvation of men, by which he confirmed his faith and truth. Now, when they spake against these, and knowingly and of malice ascribed them to the evil spirit, then they blasphemed against the Holy Ghost, dishonoring God by assigning his power to Satan. What could be more hateful than this? What greater blasphemy could be imagined? And surely they must be guilty of this sin who ascribe the fruits and actions of the Holy Spirit to an impure and unholy source, and so strive to mar his work and to hinder his influence in the hearts of men.
Hath never forgiveness. Not that any sinner need despair of forgiveness through the fear that he may have committed this sin; for his repentance shows that his state of mind has never been one of entire enmity, and that he has not so grieved the Holy Spirit as to have been entirely forsaken by him. But is in danger of eternal damnation. The Greek words, according to the most approved reading, are ἀλλ ἔνοχός ἐστιν αἰωνίου ἁμαρτήματος: but is guilty of an eternal sin; thus showing that there are sins of which the effects and the punishment belong to eternity. He is bound by a chain or' sin from which he can never be loosed. (See St. John 9:41, "Therefore your sin remaineth.")
Our Lord's brethren and his mother had now arrived to look after him. He was in the house teaching; but the crowd was so great that they could not approach him. The multitude filled not only the room, but the courtyard and all the approaches. St. Luke (Lujke Luke 8:19) says," they could not come at him for the crowd." His brethren here spoken of were in all probability his cousins, the sons of Mary, the wife of Alphaeus or Clopas. But two of these, already chosen to be apostles, were most likely with him in the room, and of the number of those towards whom he stretched out his hand and said, "Behold, my mother and my brethren!" whilst Mary and the others had come (Mary, perhaps, induced by the others in the hope that the sight of his mother might the more move him) for the purpose of bringing him back to the quiet of Nazareth. We cannot suppose that the Virgin Mary came with any other feeling than that of a mother's anxiety in behalf of her Son. She may have thought that he was in danger, exposed to the fickle temper of a large multitude, who might at any moment have their passions stirred against him by his enemies, the scribes and Pharisees; and so she was willingly persuaded to come and use her influence with him to induce him to escape from what appeared evidently to be a position of some danger. If so, this explains our Lord's behavior on this occasion. The multitude was sitting about him, and he was teaching them; and then a message was brought to him from his mother and his brethren who were without, perhaps in the courtyard, perhaps beyond in the open street, calling for him. The interruption was untimely, not to say unseemly. And so he says, not without a little tone of severity in his words, Who is my mother and my brethren? Our Lord did not speak thus as denying his human relationship; as though he was not "very man," but a mere "phantom," as some early heretics taught; and still less as though he was ashamed of his earthly lationships; but partly perhaps because the messengers too boldly and inconsiderately interrupted him while he was teaching; and chiefly that he might show that his heavenly Father's business was more to him than the affection of his earthly mother, greatly as he valued it; and thus he preferred the spiritual relationship, in which there is neither male nor female, bond nor free, but all stand alike to Christ in the relationship of brother, sister, and mother. It is remarkable, and yet the reason for the omission is obvious, that our Lord does not mention" father" in this spiritual category.
Looking round on them περιβλεψάμενος which sat round about him. Here is one of the graphic touches of St. Mark, reproduced, it may be, from St. Peter. Our Lord's intellectual and loving eye swept the inner circle of his disciples. The twelve, of course, would be with him, and others with them. His enemies were not far off. But immediately about him were those who constituted his chosen ones. As man, he had his human affections and his earthly relationships; but as the Son of God, he knew no other relatives but God's children, to whom the performance of his will and the promotion of his glory are the first of all duties and the dominant principle of their lives.
The withered hand.
This incident serves to bring out the antagonism between the spiritual and benevolent ministry of the Lord Jesus, and the formalism, self-righteousness, and hard-heartedness of the religious leaders of the Jews. It serves to explain, not only the enmity of the Pharisees, but their resolve to league with whomsoever would help them in carrying out their purposes and plot against the very life of the Son of man. It serves to exhibit the mingled feelings of indignation and of pity with which Jesus regarded his enemies, whose hatred was directed, not only against his person, but against his works of mercy and healing. But the incident shall here be treated as a symbol of man's need and of Christ's authority and method as man's Saviour.
I. THE CONDITION OF THIS MAN IN THE SYNAGOGUE IS A SYMBOL OF THE STATE AND NEED OF MAN. He was a man "with a withered hand."
1. The hand is the symbol of man's practical nature. The husbandman, the mechanic, the painter, the musician, every craftsman of every grade, makes use of the hand in executing works of art or fulfilling the task of toil. The right hand may be regarded as the best bodily emblem of our active, energetic nature. It is our lot, not only to think and to feel, but to will and to do.
2. The withering of the hand is symbolical of the effect of sin upon our practical nature. As this man was rendered incapable of pursuing an industrial life, so the victim of sin is crippled for holy service, is both indisposed and incapacitated for Christian work. The withering of muscle, the paralysis of nerve, is no more disastrous to bodily effort than the blighting and enfeebling power of sin is destructive of all holy acceptable service unto God.
3. The apparent hopelessness of this man's case is an emblem of the sinner's hopeless state. This unhappy person was probably condemned by his misfortune to poverty, privation, neglect, and helplessness. He was aware of the inability of human skill to cure him. The case of the sinner is a case of inability and sometimes of despondency. Legislation and philosophy are powerless to deal with an evil so radical and so unmanageable. Unless God have mercy, the sinner is undone!
II. THE MIRACULOUS ACTION OF CHRIST SYMBOLIZES ONE ASPECT OF HIS REDEMPTIVE WORK. And this in two respects:
1. He saves by the impartation of power. Christ in the synagogue spoke with authority, both when addressing the spectators who cavilled, and when addressing the sufferer who doubtless welcomed his aid. Power accompanied his words—power from on high; healing virtue went forth from him. How grateful should we be that, when the Son of God came to earth with power, it was with power to heal and bless! He is "mighty to save." There was power in his person and presence, power in his words and works, power in his example and demeanour, power in his love and sacrifice. When he saves, he saves from sin and from sin's worst results. The spiritual inefficiency and helplessness, which is man's curse, gives place to a heavenly energy and activity. The redeemed sinner finds his right hand of service whole, restored, vigorous. Under the influence of new motives and new hopes, he consecrates his renewed nature of activity to the Lord who saved him.
2. He saves with the concurrence of human effort. Observe that the Lord Jesus addressed to this sufferer two commands. He bade him "Stand forth!" which he could do; and "Stretch forth thy hand!" which he could not do—or at least might, judging from the past, have felt and believed himself unable to do. Yet he believed that the Prophet and Healer, who spoke with such authority, and who was known to have healed many, was not uttering idle words. His faith was called forth, and his will was exercised. Without his obedience and concurrence, there is no reason to suppose that he would have been healed. So every sinner who would be saved by Christ must recognize the Divine authority of the Saviour, must avail himself of the Saviour's compassion, and in humble faith must obey the Saviour's command. It is not, indeed, faith which saves. It is Christ who saves, but he saves through faith; for it is by faith that the sinner lays hold upon the Saviour's might, and comes to rejoice in the Saviour's grace.
1. The first requisite for a sinner who would be saved is clearly to see, and deeply to feel, his need and helplessness.
2. The next requisite is to come into the presence of the Divine Saviour.
3. Yet again, it is requisite to exercise faith in him who is mighty and willing to save.
4. And every healed and restored sinner should consecrate all his active powers to the service of his Redeemer.
Persecution and popularity.
The evangelist represents, in very graphic language, the crisis in the ministry of Jesus now reached. We learn what was the attitude towards Jesus, both of the populace and of the ruling classes. We see the scribes and Pharisees meeting with the Herodians, and plotting against the Benefactor of mankind. We see the multitudes thronging from every quarter to look upon, to listen to, the far-famed Prophet of Nazareth. It is a striking contrast. It may be to us an earnest of what was to come; of the malice that slew the Lord of glory, and of the praise that should encompass him from all lands; of the cross, and of the throne.
I. WE HAVE A PICTURE OF OUR LORD'S POPULARITY.
1. This passage furnishes the evidence of our Lord's popularity. The people left their cities and villages, their homes and occupations, in order to follow Jesus. From various parts of the province of Galilee, through which he had just been travelling upon an evangelistic tour, the people flocked to the neighborhood of the lake. They came also from Jerusalem and Judaea, where successive miracles had made his name and person familiar to the inhabitants of the metropolis. Not only so, but from the east side of the Jordan, and Idumaea; and (strangest of all) from Phoenicia, far away in the north-west, multitudes, attracted by the great Prophet and Physician, found their way to Gennesaret. It is plain that an immense impression had been created by the ministry of our Lord, that he was becoming the chief figure in the land, succeeding to the prominence and the popularity of John the Baptist.
2. This same passage brings before us the grounds of our Lord's popularity. Wherever he had gone, he had so acted as to justify the name he gave himself, "the Son of man;" he had shown himself the universal Saviour and Friend. Some came grateful for healing virtue and for pardoning mercy, having themselves tasted and seen that the Lord was good. Some brought to him the maladies of themselves or their friends, hoping to experience his grace. The unclean spirits came, confessing him to be the Son of God, acknowledging his regal authority, prepared to flee at his bidding and to leave the sufferers free. Some came to see him of whom such great and delightful tidings had been spread abroad; and others hoping that they might witness some illustrations of his saving might. His ministry of teaching attracted some, and the sequel tells us how richly such were rewarded by the incomparable discourses which were delivered at this period of Christ's career. And there were, doubtless, some few noble, devout, and ardent souls, who longed for the revelation of a spiritual kingdom, which should fulfill the promises of God and realize the ancient and prophetic visions.
3. The consequences of Christ's popularity are no less clearly related. It is plain that at this period our Lord was quite embarrassed by the excitement and eagerness of the crowds who thronged around him. It was this embarrassment that led him, first to withdraw to the lake, and then to request that a boat might be in readiness to receive him from the pressure of the crowd, and, if necessary, to take him to the near seclusion of the eastern shore. It was this embarrassment also which led him to direct those who partook of the benefit of his compassion to refrain from celebrating his praise, and even to keep silence concerning what he had done for them.
4. But let us bear in mind that this popularity was but superficial. Jesus knew well that most who followed him did so either from curiosity or with selfish desires of benefiting from his ministry. He was not deceived by the popular interest and acclaim. He was aware that at any moment the tide might turn. At Nazareth it was proved how ungrateful and violent the people could be when once their passions were roused or their prejudices crossed. And his ministry closed amidst the clamor and the execration of the fickle multitude, upon whose minds the arts of crafty priests and politicians played, as the storm-wind plays upon the surface of the mighty sea.
II. WE HAVE A PICTURE OF OUR LORD'S PERSECUTORS, THEIR PLOTS AND PROJECTS. At the very time that multitudes were openly thronging around Christ, there was secret consultation among men of position and influence as to the means of effecting his ruin. We observe the occasion of this hostile attitude and action. For a while there had been no opposition, but rather a general interest and expectation. The change seems to have come about as a consequence of the violation by the Lord Jesus of the customs and traditions of the ceremonial rabbis or scribes. There were deep-seated reasons for the hostility cherished against the Prophet of Nazareth by the religious leaders—scribes and Pharisees.
1. His conduct towards the common people was a grave offense. The rabbis generally held the unlearned and lower class in great contempt; in their esteem those who knew not the Law were cursed. They would not associate with them or touch them. Now, the Lord Jesus made himself at home with all classes, and accepted invitations, not only from rulers and scholars, but from publicans, at whose table he met the worldly and the sinful. He even chose one from the despised class of tax-collectors to occupy a place among his own immediate friends and followers. He ate and drank with publicans and sinners, and, when he preached, encouraged such to draw near to him. "The common people heard him gladly." That an acknowledged rabbi should act in such a way was a scandal in the view of the self-righteous and ceremonious; it was conduct likely to lower the learned in the general esteem, to bring religion and the profession of the scribes into contempt.
2. We gather from the Gospel record that the chief cause of complaint against Jesus was his neglect and violation of the ceremonial Law. This Law was to the rabbis the breath of their nostrils; and our Lord and his disciples, doubtless under his influence, were very negligent of the observances upon which the ruling class laid such stress. The Pharisees fasted, Jesus feasted; the Pharisees performed innumerable ablutions, Jesus ate bread "with unwashen hands."
3. The sabbath was, however, the most important point of difference. Many of the rigid Jewish religionists held the most narrow opinions and cherished the most absurd and ridiculous scruples with regard to what was lawful and what unlawful upon the weekly day of rest. It was not possible that Jesus, with his views as to the spirituality of worship and as to the nature of holiness, should agree with these petty and childish notions; it was not possible that he should do other than violate traditional rules and shock formal prejudices. He encouraged his disciples to pluck and eat corn on the sabbath; he performed cures upon the day which he held to be made for man; he directed those who were healed to take up their couch and return home. In all these respects he both vindicated religious liberty and asserted himself "Lord of the sabbath." The rigid ceremonialism and ritualism of the rabbis was offended, alike with the superiority which the Lord claimed over all rules, and with the disdain he showed for their usages and traditions. They hated him, as narrow and formal religionists of all schools ever hate the teachers who place religion in the heart rather than in ceremonies and creeds, and who proclaim that newness of life is the one acceptable offering and sacrifice in the sight of the Divine Searcher of hearts.
4. Our Lord's treatment of the scribes and Pharisees was itself a cause of offense, an occasion of their enmity to him. Instead of treating them with deference, he defied their judgment, and (at a later period of his ministry) uttered denunciations and woes upon them for their hypocrisy. When about to heal the withered hand, Jesus "looked round about on them with anger, being grieved at the hardening of their heart." It was not thus that they were wont to be regarded and treated. If this treatment were continued, their influence must be undermined.
5. The cause of hostility just mentioned was a symptom of a deeper difference between Jesus and the rabbis: the spiritual quality of his teaching was such as to conflict with all their notions of religion. With them religion was an affair of the outward life alone; with him it was, first and foremost, an affair of the heart. And even with respect to outward actions there was this great difference: the rabbis thought of the attitude of prayer, Christ of the feeling and desire; the rabbis thought much of tithes and fasts, of sacrifices and services, Christ of the weightier matters of the Law; the rabbis thought much of what went as food into the man, Christ of the thoughts which expressed themselves in moral conduct. Observe the feeling that was aroused in the breasts of the Pharisees. Luke tells us "they were filled with madness," i.e. carried away by violent rage and hostility. What a revelation of human iniquity! The actions of the holy and gracious Redeemer excite the fury of those he came to benefit and save! And the hostility then felt grew and gathered as the months passed on, until it culminated in the successful plot against the Holy One and Just. Such feeling did not evaporate in words; it led to action. The enemies of Jesus retired to deliberate, to plot. There was more than indignation; there was malice, a resolve to avenge themselves upon One too holy, too authoritative, for them to bear with him. An unnatural alliance was formed between the rabbis, who represented the principles of rigid Judaism both in nationality and in religion; and the Herodiaus, who seem to have been Sadducees in religion, and in politics supporters of the house of Herod, and accordingly advocates of all possible independence upon Rome. It is not easy to understand this league. The Herodians themselves may not so much have hated Jesus as, from political motives, they desired to gain the favor of the powerful Pharisaic party, whose influence with the people generally was great, and who might be made the means of strengthening the supporters of Antipas. The aim which these confederates set before them was atrocious indeed; it was nothing less than the destruction of Jesus. Answer his reasoning they could not. Equally unable were they to find fault with his irreproachable character, his benevolent actions. Their only weapons were slander and craft and violence. How to work upon the fears of the secular authorities and the passions of the populace—this was their aim and endeavor.
Some of these twelve had been "called" by the Master long ago, and had already been much in his company. Others had been, for a shorter time and less intimately, associated with him. This formal appointment and commission took place upon the mount, and immediately before the delivery of the ever-memorable sermon to the disciples and the multitude. The passage is suggestive of great general truths.
I. CHRIST THOUGHT FIT TO EMPLOY HUMAN AGENTS IN THE PROMULGATION OF HIS RELIGION, That he might have dispensed with all created agency, that he might have employed angelic ministers, we cannot doubt. But in becoming man—"the Son of man "—he contracted human sympathies and relationships, and undertook to work, with a Divine power indeed, yet by human means.
II. CHRIST SELECTED HIS AGENTS BY VIRTUE OF HIS OWN WISDOM AND AUTHORITY. He called "whom he himself would." The Lord Jesus is the absolute Monarch in his own kingdom. Having perfect knowledge, unerring wisdom, and unfailing justice, he is fitted for supreme, unshared rule.
III. CHRIST CHOSE HIS TRUSTED APOSTLES FROM A LOWLY POSITION OF SOCIETY. Only one of the band—and he the unworthy member—was from Judaea. All the others were Galileans; and the inhabitants of this northern province were comparatively rude, unlettered, unpolished. Some rabbis would fain have been received into the number, but the Lord would not encourage them. He preferred to deal with unsophisticated natures. Perhaps James and John and Levi were in fair circumstances; the rest were in all likelihood poor. The twelve were, in education, very different from such men as Luke and Paul. Christ chose, as he has often done since, "the weak things of the world to confound the mighty." He rejoiced and gave thanks because things, hidden from the wise and prudent, had been revealed unto babes.
IV. CHRIST APPOINTED AGENTS WITH VARIOUS GIFTS, QUALIFICATIONS, AND CHARACTER. The three leaders among the apostles were certainly men of ability. Peter's vigor of style was only one index to the great native force of his character; James was slain by Herod, as probably the most prominent representative of the early Christian community; and John's writings show him to have been both profound and imaginative as a thinker. Of the other apostles, James the Less was certainly a man of inflexible will and of vigorous administrative power. In disposition these twelve men differed marvellously from one another. Two were "sons of thunder," another—Thomas—was of a doubting, melancholy spirit, and Simon was ardent and impulsive. All but Iscariot were deeply attached to Jesus, and it was not without purpose that one avaricious and treacherous person was included in the number. What various instruments our Lord employs for accomplishing his own work!
V. CHRIST RECOGNIZED AND EMPLOYED THE SPECIAL GIFTS OF HIS DISCIPLES IN HIS OWN SERVICE. This passage brings this truth vividly before us. Simon was surnamed "The Rock"—a title to which his character especially entitled him; and the sons of Zebedee were designated "Sons of Thunder," doubtless from their ardent, impetuous zeal in the service of the Lord. There was a special work corresponding to the special endowments of each.
VI. CHRIST QUALIFIED THESE AGENTS BY KEEPING THEM IN HIS OWN SOCIETY AND BENEATH HIS OWN INFLUENCE. "That they might be with him." How simple, yet how profound these words! What a Companion! What lessons were to be learned from his character, his demeanour, his language, his mighty works! Nothing could so qualify these men for the service of coming years as this brief period of daily and close intimacy with a Being so gracious, so holy, so wise.
VII. CHRIST HIMSELF COMMISSIONED AND AUTHORIZED THESE AGENTS. They were to be "sent forth;" hence their designation, "apostles." They were to be his messengers, his heralds, his ambassadors. And what was their ministry?
1. To preach, to publish good tidings of salvation, righteousness, eternal life, through Christ. To this end it was evidently necessary that they should imbibe the Master's spirit, as well as know the Teacher's doctrine. It was necessary that, in due time, they should be witnesses of his resurrection and partakers of the Spirit poured out from on high.
2. To have authority to cast out demons, to carry on the work of the Lord, and to contend with the kingdom of Satan, and establish the reign of Christ, of light, of righteousness, of peace.
1. Christ's first call is to discipleship. We must first learn that we may teach; obey and serve that we may guide and aid others.
2. We are summoned to consecrate all our gifts and acquirements to the service and cause of Immanuel.
3. It is the highest honor and the purest happiness to be employed by Christ as his agents.
4. It is necessary to be much with Christ in order that we may be fitted efficiently to work for Christ.
Great men are often misunderstood by reason of their very greatness. Aims higher than those of others need other methods than such as are commonly employed by ordinary persons. How much more must this have been the case with the Son of man! His mission was unique—was altogether his own. He could not fulfill his ministry and do the work of him who sent him, without stepping aside from the beaten tracks of conduct, and so courting criticism and obloquy. He could not well conciliate public opinion, for he came to condemn and to revolutionize it. For the most part he went his way, without noticing the misrepresentations and the calumnies of men. Yet there were occasions, like the present, when he paused to answer and to confute his adversaries.
I. THE BLASPHEMOUS CHARGE BROUGHT AGAINST JESUS. His friends charged him with madness; his enemies attributed his works to the power of evil. In the allegation of the former there may have been some sincerity; those of the latter were animated by malice and hatred. Probably these scribes were sent down into Galilee from the authorities at Jerusalem, to check the enthusiasm which was spreading throughout the northern province with regard to the Prophet of Nazareth. The same charges were brought against him in Jerusalem; so that there may have been an understanding as to the method to be adopted in opposing the great Teacher. The scribes discredited Jesus, first, by asserting that he was possessed by Beelzebub, the Syrian Satan; and secondly, by explaining his power to dispossess demons by the league between him and the lord of the demons, whose authority the inferior spirits could not but obey. There was no attempt to deny the fact that demoniacs were cured; this would have been so monstrously false that to take such a position would have been to ruin their own influence with the people.
II. THE REFUTATION OF THIS BLASPHEMY.
1. Our Lord's reply was on the ground of reason—of what might be called common sense. He used two parables, by which he showed the unreasonableness, the absurdity of the allegations in question. Suppose a house or a kingdom to be divided against itself, to be rent by internal discord and faction; what is the result? It comes to ruin. And can it be believed that the crafty prince of darkness will turn his arms against his own servants and minions? So, Satan would "have an end."
2. Having refuted their argument, our Lord proceeded with his own; gave his explanation of what was the spiritual significance of his ministry, especially as regarded the "possessed." So far from being in league with Satan, the Lord Jesus was Satan's one mighty Foe; he had already, in the temptation, overcome him, and was binding him, and now, behold! he was spoiling the house of his vanquished enemy, in expelling the demons from the wretched demoniacs of Galilee! He could not have done this had he been in league with Satan, had he not already vanquished Satan. Having effected this, he "spoiled principalities and powers."
III. THE CENSURE OF THIS BLASPHEMY. Our Lord first reasoned; then he spoke with authority, as One in the secrets of Heaven, with power to declare the principles of Divine judgment. There is, he declared, an eternal and unpardonable sin. If the scribes were not committing this, they were approaching it. The sin against the Holy Ghost, the confusion of truth with error, good with evil,—is a sin, not of ignorance, Hot of misunderstanding, but of wilfulness; a sin of the whole nature; a sin against the light without and the light within. Our Saviour, in condemning this sin, speaks as the rightful Lord, the authoritative Judge, of all mankind!
APPLICATION. "What think ye of Christ?" To think of him with indifference is unreasonable, and shows the most blameable insensibility to the great moral conflict of the universe, on one side of which Jesus is the Champion. To think of him disparagingly is blasphemy; for "he that honoureth the Son honoureth the Father," and he that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father. It is blasphemy to speak against the character or the authority of the Son of God. What remains, then? This: to think and speak of him with reverence and gratitude, faith, and love. This is just and right; and though Christ does not need our homage and honor, he will accept it and reward it.
Kindred of Christ.
The feeling with regard to Christ had, by this time, become extremely strong. On the one hand, the people generally were deeply interested in his teaching, were eager spectators of his mighty works, and in many cases were much attached to himself. Hence the crowd which thronged the house where Jesus was engaged in teaching—a crowd so dense that none from the outside could approach the Master. On the other hand, the opposition to the Prophet of Nazareth was growing and spreading among the scribes and Pharisees, some of whom from Jerusalem were now usually among the audience, anxiously on the watch for any utterance which they might use to the disadvantage of the bold and fearless Teacher. In these circumstances, the concern of the relatives of Jesus was natural enough. They saw that his labours were so arduous and protracted that he was in danger of exhaustion through weariness. And they feared that the attitude he was taking towards the hypocritical Pharisees was imperilling his liberty and safety. They accordingly professed to believe in his madness, and sought to lay hold on him. Hence the interruption recorded in this passage, which gave rise to this memorable and precious declaration of his spiritual affinity and kindred to all whose life is one of obedience to the Father.
I. THE FACT OF SPIRITUAL KINDRED BETWEEN CHRIST AND HIS PEOPLE. Earthly relationships were admitted and honored by Jesus. Yet spiritual kindred was set above them. Under the gospel dispensation there are revealed emphatically the fatherhood of God, and the brotherhood of Christ. We are the children of God. Jesus, in his glory, "is not ashamed to call us brethren."
II. THE PROOF OF SPIRITUAL KINDRED WITH CHRIST. Who are they whom Jesus commends and admits to his fellowship and confidence? They who do his Father's will. Upon such he looks with approval.
1. His requirement is not intellectual or sentimental merely, but practical. Belief and feeling are necessary, but not sufficient. We are made to act, and in our life to carry out the Divine commands. Jesus asks the devotion of the heart, expressed in the service of the active nature. We are saved by grace, and works are the proofs of faith. Obedience proceeds from hearty confidence and sincere love. Indeed, the Lord himself has told us that this is the work of God, that we "believe on him whom he hath sent." And Christians are those who prove the sincerity of their love by a practical consecration.
2. It is the privilege of the Christian voluntarily to obey a personal, Divine will. He sees the Lawgiver behind the law. His life is not mere conformity to regulation—to some such abstract standard as "the fitness of things." It is subjection to a Being whose will enjoins a course of virtue and piety. Religion Has too often, like law, like society, summoned men to do the will of man—of fallible, fickle man. Christ calls us all away from this endeavor to a far nobler and better aim—summons us to do the will, not of man, but of God! This is a standard with which no fault can be found, no dissatisfaction can be felt.
3. Jesus looks for, not a mechanical, but a spiritual, obedience. The description of the Christian life is, "doing the will of God from the heart."
4. Christ requires not servile but filial obedience. We know from personal experience the difference between doing the will of a master or a ruler and doing the will of a father. It is to this latter kind of obedience that we are called. It is much to believe in the personality and authority of God, but it is more to live under the sense of his fatherhood; for this involves his interest in us, his care for us, his love toward us; and all these are obviously considerations which make duty both delightful and easy. The motive is not merely moral, it becomes religious. The Christian acts as a child who brings before his mind, as a ruling consideration, "my Father's will."
5. Christ desires not occasional or fitful acts of obedience, but habitual service. One act is good, both in itself and also as making a second act easier. Obedience becomes a second nature, a law recognized and accepted; and perseverance is the one proof of true principle.
III. THE PRIVILEGE OF SPIRITUAL KINDRED ASSURED BY CHRIST. Men boast of eminent ancestors, distinguished connections, powerful kinsmen; but such boast is usually foolish and vain; whereas it is in the power of the humblest Christian to glory in the Lord. The friendship of Jesus surpasses that of the greatest and the best of human friends. It is closer and more delightful, it is more honorable and more certain and enduring than the intimacy of human kindred.
1. Participation in Christ's character. There is a family likeness; the Divine features are reproduced.
2. Enjoyment of the tender affection of Christ.
3. Intimate and confidential intercourse with Christ. These two are closely associated. This spiritual relationship involves a peculiar interest, each in the other. So far from indifference, there is mutual regard and concern. The honor of Christ is very near the Christian's heart, and Christ engraves his people "upon the palms of his hands." There is a special tenderness in these mutual regards, very different from the ceremonial or official respect attaching to some relations. "Ye are my friends," says the Saviour. Hymns and devotional books have sometimes exaggerated this side of piety; yet with many probably the danger lies on the other side. As there is a specially confidential tone in the intercourse of the several members of a family, so is there something like this in the fellowship of the Redeemer and his redeemed ones. "All things that I have heard of the Father," says he, "I have made known unto you;" and, on the other side, the follower of the Lord Jesus pours all his intimate thoughts and wishes into the ear of his heavenly Friend and Brother.
IV. THE OBLIGATIONS OF SPIRITUAL KINDRED. Of these may be mentioned:
1. Reverent regard for his honor.
2. Self-denying devotion to his cause.
3. Recognition of his brethren as ours.
PRACTICAL CONCLUSION. Observe the liberality of the language of Jesus, the wide invitation virtually given in his declaration: "Whosoever," etc. This is not limited to the learned or the great; it is open to us all.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
The man with the withered hand; or, keeping the sabbath.
In the most sacred and joyous scenes there may be circumstances of pain and sorrow. There are often some in God's house who are hindered in their enjoyment by personal affliction. But even these may be of service in testing the spirit and disposition of God's professed people.
I. IT IS IN SPIRIT ALONE THAT THE SABBATH IS TRULY KEPT,
1. Outward observances are of value only as expressing and fostering this.
2. Evil hearts will fail to keep the day even, whilst seemingly engaged in its special duties.
3. Institutions that were designed for the highest ends may be perverted to the worst.
II. WORKS OF MERCY HONOUR THE SABBATH.
1. Because they are always urgent.
2. They exercise the holiest emotions and faculties of human nature.
3. They are the service of God.
4. They may be the means of others keeping the day and serving him.
III. THE TRUE SABBATIC SPIRIT CONVICTS AND INFLAMES THE FALSE. The hatred manifested is all but incredible. Yet it was already in their hearts. They had been condemned where they thought to have been judges. False religion (Pharisees) and worldliness (Herodians) are united in their hatred of the spirit and work of Christ, because they are both exposed by him.—M.
"But they held their peace."
"There is much silence that proceeds from the Spirit of God, but there is also a devilish silence," says Quesnel; and it is not difficult to pronounce upon the character of this.
I. WHAT WAS INTENDED BY IT. It was evasive. Christ had propounded a dilemma which those who watched him dared not answer, since, had they done so, they would either have compromised themselves or committed themselves to approval of his action. It was doubtless intended also to suggest that the problem was too difficult for them to solve, at any rate without due consideration.
II. WHAT IT SHOWED. There was no concealing from his eyes its real meaning, which he at once denounced. The circumstances of it and the exposure it received made it evident that it was due:
1. To unwillingness to be convinced. The state called "hardness of heart" it is not easy to resolve into all its elements, but this is undoubtedly the chief one. These men had come into the synagogue with sinister designs against Christ, and so strong was their prejudice that they refused to assent to the most cogent evidence. The language used by their intended Victim conveys the impression that this "hardening" was in process whilst the scene lasted. It is impossible to dissociate religious opinion from character. Prejudice and malice incapacitate the mind for the reception of truth. Here the most cogent evidence was resisted; for they evidently expected that he would heal the man, and yet were unwilling to attach its due weight to the miracle as a proof of Christ's Divine mission. How much of modern scepticism is to be attributed to similar causes it is impossible to say; but that a large proportion of it is to be so explained cannot be doubted. The hesitation to reply is the more noticeable in this instance as the question is one turning, not upon material evidence, but upon moral considerations.
2. To lack of sympathy. The condition of the sufferer did not move them to compassion, even in the house of God. A touchstone of the religious professions of men may still be found in the pool the suffering, etc.
3. To dishonesty and cowardice. They knew how the question ought to have been answered, but they feared the consequences. The question as to killing alarmed their own guilty consciences, for they knew that they had come thither not to worship but to compass the destruction of a fellow-creature. There is still a great deal of suppressed religious conviction amongst men; how are we to interpret it? When moral obligations are evaded, and scepticism is made an excuse for uncertainty of conduct and laxity of life, we are justified in attributing such behavior to the same principles. There are circumstances that demand candour and outspokenness, and in which silence is dishonorable; we ought "to have the courage of our convictions:" occasions when it is wrong to be silent; when religious zeal is made a cloak for murder, cruelty, injustice, and licentiousness; when the difficulty of theological problems is made an excuse for compromise, or inaction, or moral indifference; when, in the face of the clearest evidence, a man says he "does not know."
III. WHAT IT EARNED.
1. The anger of Christ. His look must have searched their hearts and abashed them. There would be in it something of the awfulness of the judgment day. This moral indignation, in which there is surely an element of contempt, is still the sentence upon all similar conduct.
2. Consciousness of guilt. They were self-convicted, but the condemnation of one so pure and loving would seal their sense of unworthiness and dishonor.
3. Exposure. No one in that crowd was deceived as to their real motive. The same law still prevails; the moral obliquity which refuses to pronounce upon great questions of duty and righteousness will sooner or later be made evident to others. Just as there are circumstances which precipitate opinion, so there are circumstances in every life which call for decided action, and reveal the manner in which one has dealt with one's convictions. At such junctures the man who has been true to his best lights and sincere in following out his convictions, will be honest, fearless, chivalrous; the man who has not been truly in earnest, or disinterested in his attachment to truth, will be seen to shuffle, to shirk responsibility, and to shrink from sacrifice; or, worse still, he will yield to the lusts and tendencies of his baser nature, and act with unscrupulousness, inhumanity, and godlessness. It is the law that opinions determine character; and that, in the course of life, character must inevitably make itself known.—M.
"Stretch forth thy hand!"
I. CHRIST SOMETIMES ENJOINS WHAT SEEMS TO BE IMPOSSIBLE.
II. FAITH IS SHOWN IN DOING WHAT HE COMMANDS, EVEN WHEN IT SEEMS TO BE IMPOSSIBLE.
III. WHERE THERE IS THE "OBEDIENCE OF FAITH," POWER WILL BE GRANTED.—M.
The choosing of the apostles.
I. THE RELATION BETWEEN CHRIST AND HIS SERVANTS WAS DELIBERATELY ENTERED UPON AND VOLUNTARY IN ITS NATURE.
1. It was formally commenced in retirement. We may suppose a season of devotion. The absence of public excitement or external interference was evidently desired.
2. The utmost freedom existed on both sides. He called "whom he himself would: and they went unto him? There was no coercion. The highest principles and emotions were addressed. On the one hand, the teaching and the work of the Master were not dominated by the influence now associated with him; nor, on the other, was their service other than the fret of enthusiasm, intelligent conviction, and willing sympathy.
II. REPUTATION WAS RECEIVED FROM CHRIST BY HIS SERVANTS, NOT CONFERRED BY THEM. The names are all of men in humble life, with no previous distinction of shy kind. They were names common enough in Palestine. But their connection with Christ has immortalized them. How many have come to the Saviour in similar circumstances, and have received the reflected renown of his name! He makes the best out of the poor materials of human nature, and bestows what human nature in its greatest circumstances and moods could never of itself have produced. Men are honored in being made the servants of Christ.
III. THE APOSTLES WERE TO BE REPRESENTATIVE IN OFFICE AND CHARACTER FOR ALL TIME. As his first disciples, and because of the marked variety and force of their individual natures as influenced by the gospel and developed in Christ's service; their names have wrought themselves into the very texture of the gospel, and we have received it with the impress of their varied natures and habits of thought. "He sent them forth to preach, and to have authority to cast out devils"—a fundamental work. Therefore are they called "the foundation of the apostles and prophets," of whom Jesus is the Corner-stone. In serving Christ they laid the world and the ages under inestimable obligation.—M.
Mark 3:20, Mark 3:21
Christ hindered by his friends.
I. THROUGH IGNORANCE. Owing
(1) to want of sympathy with him in his higher aims; and
(2) consequent failure of spiritual perception.
II. BY CHARGING HIM WITH MADNESS. They had so little of the spirit of self-denial in themselves that they could not understand enthusiasm which would not admit of his attending to his own wants, "so much as to eat bread."
1. They feared also the consequences which might arise from the presence of his enemies. The scribes were there "from Jerusalem," on the alert to find accusation against him; and they must have been observed.
2. But by this charge they discredited the character of his ministry. Who should be supposed to know whether he was sane or not, if not his own family? In attributing to maniacy the Divine works and words of Christ, they did him and all who might through him have life and peace, a cruel, irreparable wrong. So Paul was charged with being beside himself; and all who for Christ's sake try to live above the maxims and aims of the world will meet with similar judgment. The blow thus struck is not at an individual, but at the spiritual prospects and hopes of a whole race.
III. BY UNAUTHORIZED AND UNTIMELY INTERFERENCE.
1. A sin of presumption.
The judgment was hasty and mistaken; the action was unjustifiable, both foolish and wicked.
2. Enmity to God.—M.
The Saviour judged by the world.
There were various opinions amongst the multitude. They cannot be indifferent to the work and teaching of Christ. "Some believed, and some believed not." Of those who did not believe all were in opposition to him. This circumstance was—
I. A TRIBUTE TO THE INFLUENCE AND IMPORTANCE OF THE GOSPEL.
II. IT ILLUSTRATED THE IMPOTENCY OF THE CARNAL MIND IN SPIRITUAL QUESTIONS. III. IT SUGGESTS THE PERILS TO WHICH THE CARNAL MIND IS EXPOSED. "Lest haply ye be found to fight against God" (Acts 5:39).
IV. IT SUGGESTS THE DUTY UNDER SUCH CIRCUMSTANCES OF CHRISTIAN TESTIMONY.—M.
"How can Satan cast out Satan?" or, the logic of spiritual forces.
The spirit of Christ's answer to this malicious attack is calm, fearless, and full of light. He meets the charge with convincing and irrefutable logic.
I. THE DEFENCE. There are two elements in his argument:
1. A demonstration. It is the familiar reductio ad absurdum, such as one might use with a schoolboy. It is so simple and trenchant that it straightway becomes an attack of the most powerful kind. He treats them as children in knowledge, and convicts them at the same time of diabolical malice.
2. An inference. Here the advantage is pushed beyond the point expected. tie is not satisfied with a mere disclaimer; he comes to a further and higher deduction. If it was true that he did not cast out Satan by Satan, then it must also be true that he cast out Satan in spite of the latter; and that could only mean one thing. Satan, "the strong man," must have been bound by the Son of man, else he would not suffer himself to be so "spoiled." This is at once an assurance full of comfort to his friends and a warning to his enemies.
II. POSITIONS ASSUMED IN IT.
1. The solidarity of evil.
2. The irreconcileableness of the kingdoms of light and darkness.—M.
The unforgivable sin.
I. AN ACTUAL OFFENCE. It is not mentioned again in the Gospel, but the warning was called forth by the actual transgression. There is no mere theorizing about it therefore. It is an exposure and denunciation. This gives us an idea of the fearful unbelief and bitter hatred of those who opposed him. The manifestation of light and love only strengthened the antagonism of some. They consciously sinned against the light.
II. WHY IS IT UNFORGIVABLE?
1. Bemuse of the majesty of the crime. It identifies the Representative and Son of God with the devil—the best with the worst.
2. the nature of the spiritual state induced. When a man deliberately falsifies his spiritual intuitions, and corrupts his conscience so that good is considered evil, there is no hope for him. Such a condition can only be the result of long-continued opposition to God and determined hatred of his character. The means of salvation are thereby robbed of their possibility to save.
III. THE LIKELIHOOD OF ITS BEING REPEATED. As it is an extreme and final degree of sin, there is little danger of its being committed without full consciousness and many previous warnings.
1. It is therefore, a priori, improbable in any. Yet as increasing light and grace tend to throw into stronger opposition the spirit of evil, it must be regarded as:
2. A possibility of every sinner. Necessity for self-examination and continual recourse to the cleansing and illuminating power of Christ.—M.
The mother and the brethren of Jesus.
The annoyance and hindrance of a moment are turned to eternal gain to the cause of truth.
I. FAMILY INFLUENCES MAY INJURE SPIRITUAL USEFULNESS. They are powerful either way. They operate subtly and constantly. A tendency to narrowness in the family tie, which requires to be checked. Much of this influence which is adverse to Christian life is unconsciously so. Yet the intensest forms of hatred to truth and goodness are exhibited within the family relation. Hence the necessity for clear forcible realization of the distinction between lower and higher obligations. The child of God will have recourse to constant prayer for help and guidance, and for the conversion of relatives.
II. THERE ARE CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH THE NATURAL MUST YIELD TO THE SPIRITUAL RELATIONSHIP. This is so whenever they conflict, or when, both being of Divine obligation, the later is manifestly more immediately impressed upon the conscience, and more evidently calculated for the good of men and the glory of God.
III. THE NEAREST AND ONLY PERMANENT RELATION TO CHRIST IS SPIRITUAL NATURAL.
1. An invitation to all.
2. An encouragement and inspiration to real disciples.
3. A forecast of the communion of saints.—M.
I. HOW FAR RESEMBLING HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS.
1. In laying down the condition of Divine relationship, Christ does not absolutely displace human relationships. It would have been hard for him so to do, since men were being addressed, and the relationships sustained by them would depend upon the religious sanction they might possess for the measure of honor and faithful observance they would receive. That the terms of human relationship were still employed showed that an analogy at least existed.
2. The terms denoting the distinctions of natural relationships are used in speaking of the heavenly. The "brother "and "sister" and "mother," therefore, express a real distinction in the heavenly family. And there are differences of mutual service and affection which must exist within the common "bond of charity," even as on earth. In the case of those who believe in Christ, then, the beautiful variation which God has created in the affection of the domestic circle will have a use and fitness in fulfilling the duties and realizing the ideal of the Divine life. The latter has its sphere for the sisterliness, the brotherliness, etc., even as the human life; and these are modes through which the Divine love will express itself. Indeed, it may be said that the human affections of father, mother, etc., do not fully manifest or realize themselves in the merely human life; it is the Divine life in which the ideal of each is rendered possible.
II. IN WHAT RESPECTS DIFFERING FROM THESE.
1. The affections characteristic of human family will spring from a spiritual principle and express Divine love. "The will of God," or "the will of the Father," will take the place of blind instinct or selfish gratification. Thus springing from a new source they will be transformed, purified, and freed from limitation and defect. "The will of God" will be the law according to which they will express themselves; but as that will has been interpreted as salvation and universal benevolence, so the distinctions of human affection will be brought into play in furthering the redemptive scheme of the Father amongst his sinful children; and through them phases of the Divine love will be realized that would otherwise find no expression. They will thus, also, be universalized and directed into channels of service and helpfulness.
2. The Divine relationship is therefore based upon a new nature. It is only those who are born of the Spirit who can do the will of God. It is the life of the Spirit in them that changes and adapts them for the unselfish affections of the family of God.
3. The Divine relationship is a moral possibility of every one. Every woman may become a sister, a mother, of Christ; event man his brother.—M.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
A miracle of healing.
The cure of the man with a withered hand was more obviously a supernatural work than sudden recovery from a fever, so that we need not wonder at the excitement it aroused. But it was only an example of many similar works, and as such we propose to consider it.
I. THE MIRACLE WHICH JESUS DID.
1. It was a removal of bodily infirmity. Although the Son of God came from heaven to do a spiritual work, much of the time of his earthly ministry was spent in curing physical disorders. We might have supposed that, coming from a painless and sorrowless world he would have had sparse sympathy with such suffering; that he would have exhorted to fortitude and self-control, and expectation of a time when pain would be no more. It was not so, however. He sympathized with all sufferers, and, although he had before him a stupendous spiritual work, he by no means confined himself to it. Though sometimes he had "no leisure so much as to eat," he found time to heal many bodily diseases; and he did this without hurrying over it as if it were an inferior work, or as if it were necessitated by the hardness of the human heart; but he did it lovingly and constantly, as being an essential part of his mission. In some respects, no doubt, this was a lower work than preaching. The body is inferior to the soul, as the tent is to its inhabitant. The effects of cure were only transient, for none were promised exemption in the future from disease or death. Yet these lower and temporary blessings were generously bestowed by One who habitually stood in the light of eternity. Point out the ministry of mercy which the Church has yet to do, in Christ's name, for suffering humanity.
2. It was a miracle with a moral purpose. The supernatural works of Christ were not mainly intended to excite attention. When he was asked "for a sign" with that object, he resolutely refused it. Had this been his purpose, he would have flung snowy Herman into the depths of the sea, instead of doing the kind of work which is more slowly done by human physicians. He had a better purpose than this. He healed disease because, as the Conqueror of sin, he would point out and abolish some of its effects. He rescued a man, if only for a time, from the evil that harassed him, to show that he was his Redeemer. And besides this, he appeared as the Representative of God, and therefore did what he is ever doing in more gradual methods. A modern writer has wisely said, "This, I think, is the true nature of miracles; they are an epitome of God's processes in nature, beheld in connection with their source." We are apt to forget God in the processes through which he ordinarily works, and this forgetfulness could not be better checked than by the miracles in which Christ did directly what is usually done indirectly. For example, when we eat our daily bread, we know all that man has done with the corn since the harvest, and seldom think of God who gave life to the seed, strength to the husbandman, and nutriment to the ground. But if we saw the processes condensed into one Divine act, as the multitude did on the hillside, when Jesus created bread, there would be a recognition of God which would afterwards find expression in the more ordinary events we saw. So with the healing of the diseased. Every such miracle revealed God as the Dispenser of health and the Giver of all blessings.
3. It was a miracle having special significance for the spectators. By means of it Christ taught more clearly the nature and design of the sabbath day. His foes had followed him from Jerusalem, with the resolute determination to destroy his influence and, if possible, to compass his death. Already they had detected his disciples in the violation of a rabbinical rule by rubbing corn in their hands on the sacred day. And the Lord had at once thrown over his followers the shield of his authority, as an Achilles would have done over the wounded Greeks, and had roundly declared that the "Son of man was Lord even of the sabbath day." They hoped now that he would publicly commit himself by some action in harmony with this declaration, and that so prejudice might be raised against his heresy. Show how bravely, wisely, and victoriously he met this, and taught for all generations that "it is lawful to do well on the sabbath day."
II. THE LESSONS JESUS TAUGHT.
1. Neglecting opportunities for doing good is really doing evil. Jesus Christ meant, by the alternative he put in the fourth verse, that if he did not do the good he was able to do for this poor sufferer, he did him a wrong. This is universally true. If at the judgment seat any appear who have done nothing for others and for their Lord, they will not be able to say, "We have done no harm!" for they have injured themselves and others by neglect. The "wicked and slothful servant" was not condemned because he had done harm with his wealth and talent, but because he had done no good with them, having digged in the earth and hid his lord's money.
2. Loving help is better than outward ritual. The religious leaders of our Lord's day thought it of vital importance that the law of the Jewish sabbath—"Thou shalt do no manner of work"—should be observed with scrupulous exactness. But on that holy day Christ freely cured disease, and so taught the people the meaning of Jehovah's words, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice." We are bound so to use our sacred day, associating acts of love and mercy with the services which sanctify its hours.
3. Fear of personal consequences should never hinder the true servant of God. What our Lord did on this occasion so aroused anger that we read in St. Luke's Gospel, "They were filled with madness;" and "straightway they took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him." Foreseeing this, he did not hesitate for a moment. May the fear of God in us also cast out all fear of man!—A.R.
Mark 3:5 (first part)
The Saviour's view of sin.
Describe the scene in the synagogue; the wickedness of the plot formed by the Pharisees; the compassion of our Lord, breaking through it as a mighty tide over a flimsy barrier; the nobility of his teaching concerning the right use of the sabbath; the healing of the man with the withered hand, etc. Our text graphically describes the feeling with which our Lord regarded his adversaries, and this deserves earnest consideration. At first the bold declaration, "He looked round about on them with anger," startles us; for it seems in contradiction to his meekness and patience, which were perfect. But the explanation follows, "Being grieved for the hardness of their hearts." This shows the nature of his feeling. It reminds us of another occasion (Luke 13:34), when he spoke of Jerusalem in a tone of reproachful indignation; but at once added the gentle words, "How often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings!" On both occasions there was a blending of feelings which too often appear to us contradictory and incompatible. But it is possible to be "angry and sin not." Christ looked on the Pharisees, and was indignant at their hypocrisy and unscrupulous hatred; but at once the feeling softened into pity as he thought of the insidious process of "hardening," which (as the Greek implies) was still going on, to end in hopeless callousness. With him warning was mingled with weeping; as his disciple Paul afterwards spoke with tears of those who were "enemies of the cross of Christ" (Philippians 3:18). In this, as in all things else, Christ has left us an example; therefore we will endeavor first to—
I. UNDERSTAND THE COMPLEX FEELING HERE EXEMPLIFIED. We see in it two elements:
1. Indignation against sin. We are constantly coming in contact with the faults and sins of men. Our newspapers contain accounts of murders and cruelties, of thefts and treasons. Overreaching and fraud meet us in business; slander and enmity lurk in society. Sensibility to such sins is not only not wrong, it is right and Christlike, and will become more keen as we grow in likeness to our Lord. It is an evil day for a man when he becomes callous even to those wickednesses which will never affect him personally; for this is distinctly contrary to the feeling which moved the Saviour to effect the world's redemption. As his disciples, we must never be good-naturedly easy about sin; we must not put on an air of worldly indifference; we must not attempt to hush feeling to rest, as if men were committed by a resistless fate to do "all these abominations" (Jeremiah 7:10). The presence and prevalence of sin should stir within us strong moral indignation.
2. Indignation tending to pity. Anger should be swallowed up in grief. Indignation against wrong-doing, whether it affects ourselves or not, must not make us forget the deepest commiseration for the wrongdoer. Instead of this, too often, proud of our own virtue, we stand on our small moral pedestal, and look with scorn on those below it. Respected and honored ourselves, with our robes to outward appearance unstained, we gather them about us, and sweep past some fallen brother or sister, and say, "Come not near unto me; for I am holier than thou!" The evil effects of this are manifold. We may drive others into deeper sin, because despair takes the place of hope in them; and we weaken ourselves in the service of our Lord. We can never benefit one whom we despise, or over whose fall we secretly exult; for nothing but love can so grasp the sinner as to lift him out of the horrible pit. Nor is it enough that we are indignant and angry with sin, so. that as passionate parents or denunciatory preachers we administer hasty reproof or indiscriminate punishment. Our faults will never conquer the faults of others. We must seek to deal with others as our Lord did. He loved the sinner, even when he hated the sin. His "gentleness hath made us great."
II. INCULCATION OF THE DUTIES HERE SUGGESTED. Let us point out a few considerations which may help us to cultivate the temper of mind we have discussed.
1. Remember what sin is and what sin has done. It caused the loss of Paradise; it brought about the sickness and sorrows we suffer; it made our work hard and unproductive; it created discord between man and his fellow, between man and his God; it seemed so woeful in itself and its results, to him who knows all things, that the Son of God gave himself as a sacrifice to save us from its power; it is so stupendous in its nature and awful in its issues that it is not a subject for selfish irritation, but one respecting which pity should blend with indignation. He who has done you a wanton wrong has injured himself far more than he can injure you. Therefore, beware of peevish anger and sinful revenge, remembering the words of the Master, "Blessed are the meek,.. the merciful,.. the peacemakers,.. the persecuted for righteousness' sake."
2. Reflect on what sin might have done for you. How far character and reputation are affected by circumstances we cannot tell. But if we all have the same passions and evil propensities, our moral victory or defeat may depend largely on the degree of temptation which is permitted to assail us. We cherish a vindictive feeling against one who has offended his country's laws, but possibly our own criminality might have been as great but for the good providence of God. Certain classes of sin are so harshly and indiscriminately condemned that she who commits them is only left to plunge more deeply into sin and misery. But perhaps temptations were great, and home defences were few and frail, and the first wrong step was taken ignorantly; and then there seemed no going back. The story of the weeping penitent at our Saviour's feet is a rebuke to the want of pitifulness shown too often by the Christian Church.
3. See the nobility of the feeling here portrayed. To look with scorn, or with indifference, or with pleasure on sin, indicates a very low state of moral feeling. To burst forth with indignation against it is higher, but it is a sign of the youth of one's virtue, the manhood of which is seen in Jesus Christ. Forbearance and gentleness are among the higher Christian graces. We expect them of the cultured nation rather than of a savage horde, of a mature man than of a half-disciplined child. "He who ruleth his own spirit is greater than he that taketh a city." To control angry feeling within ourselves is the best means of helping us to control the evil deeds of others in our home and in the world.—A.R.
Mark 3:5 (latter part)
"Stretch forth thy hand!"
There was no kind of pain which Jesus could not relieve, no kind of grief he could not assuage. Those who were regarded as unclean were welcomed, and those whom none could cure he healed. Like the heavenly Father, of whom he was "the express Image," he was "kind to the unthankful and to the unworthy." We will regard the restoration of the man with the withered hand to health and soundness as a typical example of what our gracious Lord is ever doing. It reminds us of the following truths respecting him:—
I. OUR LORD GIVES STRENGTH FOR DAILY LABOUR. The apocryphal "Gospel according to the Hebrews" says that this sufferer was a mason by trade, and represents him as beseeching the Saviour to heal him in order that he might no longer be compelled to beg his daily bread. Be this as it may, he presented a piteous spectacle, for his limb was wasted, all power in it was gone as completely as if death had seized it, and he was without hope of cure. It was no small blessing to have that limb made in an instant "whole as the other;" for henceforth honest industry was possible. We too may thank God if what we have has been sweetened by the toil which has made it our own. He gives us power to get wealth. It is his kindly providence which saves us from eating the bitter bread of charity and dependence.
II. THE LORD GIVES STRENGTH FOR CHRISTIAN SERVICE. Until we feel his touch and bear his voice, we are towards religious work what this man was towards daily work. Many in our congregations in this sense have their hand withered. Some cannot put forth their hand to give to the poor, to minister to the sick, to lead others to the Saviour, to "subscribe with their hands to the Lord," or even to lay hold on salvation. Their hand is withered. This paralysis or incapacity has its source in sin, in the selfishness which lives without love, in the pride which refuses to alter old habits, in the avarice which will hoard all it grasps, in the distrust of God that will make no venture. Only when God reveals the sin, and by his grace destroys it, can such be fit to serve him. But if Christ's voice is heard, there will come the stirring of new strength, the uprising of a new purpose in life, and the question will rise to heaven, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"
III. THE LORD OFTEN EFFECTS THIS IN HIS OWN HOUSE. As once Jesus was found in the synagogue, so now he is often found in the assembly of his people. After his resurrection he appeared amongst the praying disciples, and it was on those who had assembled together with one accord for prayer that the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost. How often since, in our congregations, the power of the Lord has been present to heal us! Sin-laden souls have been relieved; the perplexed have been guided aright; those morally weak have renewed their strength by waiting upon God; hungry souls have been satisfied; and those dead in trespasses and sins have been quickened to new life. Therefore, let us go to his house constantly, reverently, expectantly, and he will bless us "above all that we ask or think."
IV. THE LORD CONNECTS HIS HIGHER BLESSINGS WITH PROMPT AND FEARLESS OBEDIENCE TO HIS WORD. Directly Jesus saw the man with the withered hand, he said, "Stand forth!" It was a simple command, but not easy under the circumstances to obey. Jesus was a comparative stranger; the position of a crippled man, who was made the gazing-stock of a congregation, would be painful; and the Pharisees might be angered by obedience. But on the man's part there was no hesitation. To the voice of authority he yielded at once, perhaps not without the stirring of new hope in his heart. This first act of obedience made the second more easy. After a few words to the Pharisees, our Lord spoke to him again, saying, "Stretch forth thy hand!" He might have urged that it was impossible for him to do that, and that the attempt would only cover him with ridicule. But faith was growing fast and courage with it. He made the effort, and with the effort came the strength; believing that through Christ he could do it, he did it, and his band was restored" whole as the other." Many fail now through their want of this obedience of faith. They get no blessing because they neglect to obey the first command that comes to them. They want the assurance of salvation, the certain hope of heaven, and wonder that it does not come, though they have not obeyed the command. "Bow down in penitential prayer," or "give up the sin you love." Because they do not "stand forth in the midst," they do not hear the command, "Stretch forth thy hand!" Be true to the impulse God gives, and then "to him that hath, to him shall be given yet more abundantly." In that synagogue Christ was both a Stone of stumbling and a sure Foundation, over which some stumbled and others rose to higher things. We too may leave his presence, like the Pharisees, hardened, or like this man who, believing and obeying, became ready for the work God gave him to do. Which shall it be?—A.R.
Mark 3:13, Mark 3:14
The helpers of Jesus.
Our Lord was fulfilling the prophecy Simeon had uttered concerning him. From the cradle to the cross he was "set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel,… that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." As a new element introduced into a chemical solution will detect and separate the elements already there, so did Christ appear in the moral world. With growing distinctness his foes and friends became separate communities. "He called unto him" those who were ready for service, while those who were hostile became more pronounced in their hatred. The Pharisaic party, which began by the denial of his authority, tried next to disparage his character, and finally plotted his destruction. It is the tendency of sin thus to go onward toward deeper guilt. He who "stands in the way of sinners" at last "sits in the seat of the scornful." So unscrupulous had the Pharisees become that (Mark 3:6) they even took counsel with the Herodians to destroy him. Professedly patriotic and orthodox, they united with the friends of the usurper; and (as so often since) priests and tyrants combined against the Christ. See how Christ met this hostility. He might have overwhelmed his foes by superhuman power, but he resolutely refused to use force against them (Matthew 4:8-40.4.10; Matthew 26:53, Matthew 26:54). He might have defied them, and so hastened the crisis which ultimately came; but "his hour had not yet come," for he had a ministry yet to fulfill. Hence he gave himself up to more private work, avoiding perils, although he never feared them, and labouring amongst the poor and obscure. Around him he gathered a few faithful ones, "that they might be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach." This text gives us some thoughts.
I. ON PREPARATION FOR SERVICE. See how our Lord prepared himself and his disciples. "He goeth up into a mountain"—an expression which in the Gospels implies the withdrawal of our Lord from the people for the purpose of prayer. This preceded all his great deeds and sufferings, as was exemplified in the temptation and in the agony. It was fitting that the disciples should be appointed in a place of prayer. Apart from the world and near to God, we are ready to hear our Master's words and receive his commission. From the height of communion with God we should come down to our work (Isaiah 52:7). His requirement of spiritual fitness for spiritual work is shown by his constant refusal of the testimony of demons (Mark 3:12): "He straitly charged them that they should not make him known." This verse, immediately preceding our text, makes a suggestive contrast with it. He recoiled from an ambiguous confession. As the Holy One, he would not suffer the unclean to bear witness to him. The testimony was true, but the spirit that gave it was evil. These disciples were "ordained," or more correctly (Revised Version) "appointed," that they might be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach. The former was the preparation for the latter. Only those who are in communion with Jesus can truly bear witness for him to the world.
II. ON ADVANTAGE IN FELLOWSHIP. The Lord himself cared for the sympathy and co-operation of others. Even in his direst agony he would not be without it (Mark 14:34). Much more was it necessary for his disciples to be associated in a common brotherhood; the beauty of which appears again and again to those who study the Acts and the Epistles. In the fellowship of the Church, one supplements the weakness of another; numbers increase enthusiasm and afford hope to the timid; intercourse with others removes one-sidedness of character, etc. See the teaching of St. Paul about the "body of Christ," and "the temple of the Holy Spirit," in which Christians are living stones, mutually dependent, and all resting on Christ.
III. ON DIVERSITIES AMONG DISCIPLES. Jesus chose "twelve" for special work—a number probably selected as a reminder that they were primarily commissioned to be ambassadors to the twelve tribes, and as a type of the perfection of the redeemed Church (Revelation 7:1-66.7.17.). But even in that comparatively small company, what diversities of gifts! Some of them are indicated even in the brief list of their names given here by St. Mark. We see the Rock-man, Peter; "the beloved disciple," John; the fiery "sons of thunder;" the guileless Nathanael; the zealot Simon; and the traitor Judas. Each had his special gift and sphere. And still there are "diversities of gifts" amongst the Lord's disciples.
IV. ON POSSIBILITIES OF PERIL. Judas Iscariot lived with Jesus, was called by him, possessed miraculous gifts, preached the gospel to others; but he died a traitor and a suicide. To fill a spiritual office, and yet to be careless of our own spiritual life, is fatal. "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."—A.R.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
In the calm and successful prosecution of his work, Jesus has excited various feelings in the minds of the different classes around him. He has wrought many miracles—all of them miracles of mercy; almost all, so far as recorded, miracles of healing. Of necessity his presence is hailed by the throngs of needy and suffering ones, and "his name is as ointment poured forth" to the multitudes who have proved his rower to heal. These cannot be restrained from publishing his fame abroad, though he has begged them to be silent, for he sees but too plainly the hindrance to his usefulness which a blaze of popularity would cause. In the course of his teaching he has made the Pharisees to blush more than once; and the popular movement which he seems likely to excite has stirred up the fears or the jealousies of the court party—"the Herodians," who join their own political antagonists in their opposition to him, and they together plot his destruction. His relatives, "friends," including the highly honored one, "his mother, and his brethren," are excited with fear that "he is beside himself," for he allows not himself time to "so much as eat bread." "Scribes from Jerusalem," learned in the Law, the trained expounders of its sacred truths, and the authoritative adjudicators in matters of dispute, pass their judgment and verdict in explanation of the astounding facts which they cannot or dare not deny. "He is possessed," they say, "by the very "prince of the devils." He is the tool, the agent of Beelzebub himself, and 'by the prince of the devils casteth he out the devils.'" This is truly a most ingenious though the most wicked of all explanations; a very blasphemy, ascribing the work of "the Holy Spirit" to "an unclean spirit," and placing Jesus in the lowest category of all—lower than the lowest. It affirms him to be the agent of the arch-demon, working his behests, the servant of the devil of devils. And if possession by an evil spirit is the consequence and punishment of evil work, as was the current opinion, he is surely the worst of the bad. All this needs adjustment. The anger of some, the timidity, the fears, the indiscreet zeal, the error, the false views, and the wickedness of others, must all be corrected. For this purpose he, "with his disciples," withdraws "to the sea," where, "because of the crowd, lest they should throng him," he orders that in future "a little boat should wait on him;" by which means he can escape the press, and either teach from the boat or sail away for rest and quiet. At eventide "he goeth up into the mountain," where he continues "all night in prayer to God;" needful in the midst of so much pressure and excitement, and most fitting in anticipation of the great work of the morrow. Then, when the morning breaks, he calls his disciples to him, from whom he chooses twelve, "that they might be with him," for his own comfort and for purposes of training for future service in his kingdom, "and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have authority to cast out devils, and to heal all manner of disease, and all manner of sickness." These "he named apostles," and "appointed," and "sent forth," and "charged them." Then, with awful withering words, he silences the scribes, first by argument, showing that on their own ground the divided kingdom "hath an end;" then by pointing to the "eternal sin" which he committeth who thus "shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit," and who "hath never forgiveness." And now, turning to his anxious relatives, he asks and answers the question, "Who is my mother and my brethren?" Breaking loose from the bonds of mere natural relationship, he declares that he holds the closest alliance with "whosoever shall do the will of God." From all which every true disciple treading in his Master's steps, and hearkening to his Master's teaching, may learn:
1. The wisdom of frequent withdrawal from the excitements of life into calm, quieting intercourse with God in prayer, to the cooling contemplation of the Divine works, and the humbling communion with his own soul.
2. The sacredness of holy companionship; and, if he is called to teach great truths, the wisdom of gathering around him a few sympathetic spirits, and sharing with them his work and honor for the general good.
3. The necessity for keeping his mind sensitively alive to the teachings of the Holy Spirit, lest, resisting, he grieve him, and quench the only light by which the path of life may be found.
4. To learn the terrible peril to which he exposes himself who "puts darkness for light."
5. And joyfully to see the high calling which is of God, the close alliance with the Lord Christ which is secured to him who keeps the commandments of God, concerning whom the Lord says, "The same is my brother, and sister, and mother."—G.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
I. THE SABBATH MAY BE OBSERVED TO THE LETTER WHILE BROKEN IN THE SPIRIT. Here were men watching to see whether a man would dare to do a loving deed! The letter, which can never be more than the expression of the spirit, must be kept at all costs—except that of the literalists. There are pedants who will quarrel with a great writer because he departs from the "rules of grammar," forgetting that grammar is but a collection of observations of the best that has been written. So there are ritualists who will slander a good man because he neglects rites for the sake of going to the root of all rites.
II. CENSORIOUSNESS THE CERTAIN SYMPTOM OF SELF-DISCONTENT. Why do we want to find fault with others? Because we are not satisfied with ourselves. We must either feed on a good conscience or on the semblance of it. And it seems that we are better than others whenever we can put them in an unfavourable light.
III. EMULATION AND ENVY ARE NEAR AKIN. We are jealous of great successes. Jealousy is natural enough. It depends on the will whether the effects be good or evil on ourselves. A noble deed! let me seek to imitate it and share the blessedness of it: this is good. A noble deed! let me extinguish the author of it, who shames me: this of the devil, devilish; of hell, hellish. The ideal Christian and the ideal Pharisee are in eternal opposition. Goodness produces one of two effects in us—we long to embrace it and possess it, or to kill
Testimony of evil to goodness.
I. ITS SINCERITY. We see many coming to Christ who thought they could get an immediate good from him. Others kept aloof who doubted what good could come, what evil might come, from the intercourse. The devils, whether for good or evil, "rush to Jesus." Whenever there is such a "rush," something significant is stirring.
II. ITS IRRESISTIBLE CHARACTER. There are men, there are movements, which are advertised by the evil they elicit from the latent depths of the heart. Observe the man who is hated, and by whom; observe the man who is loved, and by whom. Note the center of attraction, and for what sort of people; the center of repulsion, and what sort of people; and you have a clue to important truths. Christ is illustrated by all these rules. Who were they who approached him in love then? who now? What were the instincts arrayed against him—then and now?—J.
The need of missionaries.
I. POPULARIZERS OF GREAT DOCTRINES ARE NECESSARY in every branch of science, art, literature, religion. Where would the sublime doctrine we call the gospel have been, as an influence, had there not been found men to make it "current coin"?
II. SECOND-HAND INSTRUMENTALITY PLAYS A LARGE PART IS THE SPIRITUAL WORLD. Few are the leaders or generals, many the officers, multitudinous the rank and file; but every soldier who is in living contact with the Leader's spirit may and will work marvels.
III. FEEBLENESS BECOMES STRENGTH WHEN INSPIRED BY ORIGINAL FORCE. These were humble men, yet their names live. They were reflections of Christ, as he was the Reflection of the power and love of God.
IV. THERE IS A MORAL MIXTURE IN EVERY RELIGIOUS MOVEMENT. A Judas among the apostles. Something of a Judas even in every apostle's heart. Light contends with darkness in the twilight before each great historical dawn. The characters of great religious reformers have often been mixed and dubious. There is a traitor in every camp, a doubtful element in every good man's life.—J.
The sin against the Holy Spirit.
I. THE CHARGE AGAINST JESUS. He holds to Beelzebub, and by the chief of demons casts out demons.
1. It was absurd; but absurd arguments readily satisfy passion and hate and those who have no care for the truth. They accused the Saviour, in short, of a self-contradiction in thought and action, which was a moral impossibility.
2. It was wicked. It had the worst element of the lie in it—it denied the truth within them.
II. THE WORST DEGREE OF SIN. Sin has its scale, its climax. There are sins of instinct and of passion and of ignorance. When there is little light to be guided by there is little light to sin against. The next step in sin is where there is deliberation before the wrong is done. Last and worst is where not only the deliberate judgment is gone against, but the attempt is made to deny the principle of judgment in the soul itself. The hands of the watch move backwards; the lamp flags with the very abundance of oil; the man's soul dies. Over against the words "Repent! be forgiven!" stand these, "Irreclaimable! unforgivable!"—J.
Kinship to Jesus.
I. FIRST THAT WHICH IS NATURAL, AFTERWARDS THAT WHICH IS SPIRITUAL. This is one order. Our spiritual being is built up on a natural basis. Slowly the bud of the higher being unfolds from the plant of earthly root. Through the home to the Church; by the love of mother and brother and sister, to the love of God and of all.
II. FIRST THE SPIRITUAL, AFTERWARDS THE NATURAL. This is the order in another way. The end of our being is in the spiritual; this is its dignity, its reflection of the Divine. It claims the first thought, other things being equal. When friends stand in the way of duty, between us and the light of truth, we must be true to the higher self. It may seem a stern rule, until we find that every low affection we renounced for the higher is given hack to us bathed in a new glory.—J.
HOMILIES BY J.J. GIVEN
Parallel passages: Matthew 12:9-40.12.14; Luke 6:6-42.6.11.—
The man with the withered hand.
I. THE NATURE OF THE DISEASE. It was a case of severe paralysis of the hand—the right hand, as St. Luke, with a physician's accuracy, informs us. The sinews were shrunken, and the hand shrivelled and dried up. And yet we owe to St. Mark's great particularity in narration and minuteness of detail a piece of information that one might rather have expected from the professional skill of "the beloved physician," Luke. St. Luke, as well as St. Matthew, uses an adjective (ξηρὰ, equivalent to dry) to describe, in a general way, the state of the diseased member; but St. Mark employs the participle of the perfect passive (ἐξηραμμένην, equivalent to having been dried up), which furnishes a hint as to the origin of the ailment. While from the expression of the former two evangelists we might conclude that the ailment was congenital—that the man was born with it; we are enabled, by the term made use of in the Gospel before us, to correct that conclusion, and to trace this defect of the hand as the result of disease or of accident.
II. VARIETY OF DISEASES. The multitude of "ills that flesh is heir to" is truly wonderful; the variety of diseases that afflict poor frail humanity is astonishing. Whatever be the place of our abode, or wherever we travel, we find our fellow-creatures subject to weakness, pains, physical defects, wasting all sense, pining sickness, and bodily ailments, too many and too various to enumerate. No continent, no island, no zone of earth, is exempt. The greatest salubrity of climate, though it may somewhat diminish the number, does not do away with cases of the kind. Though our lot be cast amid the mildness of Southern climes, or under the clear bright sky of Eastern lands; though our dwelling-place be—
"Far from the winters of the West,
By every breeze and season blest;"
still we find ourselves within the reach of those infirmities that seem the common of man. We cannot read far in the Gospels, or trace the ministry of our Lord to much length, until we find him surrounded by and ministering to whole troops of invalids and impotent folk.
III. SOURCE OF ALL DISEASES. If there were no sin there would be no sorrow, and if there were no sin there would be no sickness. The effects of sin extend to both body and soul. Sin has brought disease as well as death into the world, as we read, "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death hath passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." As death has thus passed upon all men, so disease, more or less aggravated, at one time or other, has become the lot of all; for what are pain and disease and sickness but forerunners, remote it may be, of death, and forfeitures of sin? The original punitive sentence was not Moth tumath," Thou shalt be put to death," that is, immediately or instantaneously; but Moth tamuth, "Thou shalt die," namely, by a process now commenced, and, though slow, yet sure; for sin has planted the germ of death in the system. It is as though, simultaneously with the breath of life, the process of decay and death began, part after part wasting away in consequence of disease or in the so-called course of nature, till the vital spark at last becomes extinct, and "the dust returns to the earth as it was." A heathen poet preserves the remnant of an old tradition, which, like many of the traditions of heathenism, is evidently a dispersed and distorted ray from the light of revelation. He tells us that a crowd of wasting diseases invaded this earth's inhabitants in consequence of crime; while a Christian poet speaks of that lazar-house which sin has erected on our earth, "wherein are laid numbers of all diseased, all maladies,.. and where dire are the tossings, deep the groans." But for transgression manhood would have remained in all its original health and vigor and perfection, like "Adam, the goodliest man of men since born his sons;" and womanhood would have retained all the primitive grace and loveliness and beauty that bloomed in "the fairest of her daughters, Eve."
IV. TIME AND PLACE OF THE CURE. The time was the sabbath day; and this was one of the seven miracles which our Lord performed on the sabbath. Of these St. Mark records three—the cure of the demoniac at Capernaum, the cure of fever in the case of Peter's mother-in-law, and the cure of the withered hand; the former two recorded in the first chapter of this Gospel, and the last in the passage under consideration. Two more of the sabbath-day miracles are recorded by St. Luke—the cure of the woman afflicted with the spirit of infirmity, and also of the man who had the disease of dropsy; the former in the thirteenth and the latter in the fourteenth chapter of St. Luke's Gospel. Besides these, two more are recorded by St. John—the recovery of the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda, and the restoration of sight to the man born blind; the former in the fifth and the latter in the ninth chapter of St. John's Gospel. Our Lord had vindicated his disciples for plucking the cars of corn on the sabbath; he had now to vindicate himself for the miracle of healing, which he was about to perform also on the sabbath. The place where he was going to perform this miracle was the synagogue.
V. PERSONS PRESENT AT THE PERFORMANCE OF THE CURE, This is a most important item in the narrative, and a most important element in the transaction. There was a multitude present, and that multitude consisted of foes as well as friends. It could not, therefore, be said that the thing was done in a corner, or that it was done only in the presence of friends, with whom collusion or connivance might possibly be suspected. The persons, then, in whose presence this cure was effected were the worshippers on that sabbath day in the synagogue—a goodly number, no doubt, comprehending not only those who assembled ordinarily for the sabbath service, but many more drawn together by the rumors about the great Miracle-worker and in expectation of some manifestation of his wonder-working power. But besides these ordinary worshippers and these curiosity-mongers, as perhaps we may designate them, there were others—the scribes and Pharisees, as we learn from St. Luke—whose motive was malignancy, and whose business on that occasion was espionage. They kept watching our Lord closely and intently (παρετήρουν) to see if he should heal on the sabbath; not in admiration of his wondrous power, nor in gratitude for his marvellous goodness, but in order to find some ground of accusation against him.
VI. OBJECTION TO THE PERFORMANCE OF THE CURE ON THE SABBATH. In pursuance of their plan, they anticipated our Lord, as we learn from St. Matthew, with the question, "Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?" Our Lord, in reply, as we are informed in the same Gospel, appealed to their feelings of humanity and to the exercise of mercy which men usually extend even to a dumb animal—a sheep, which, if it fall into a pit on the sabbath, is laid hold of and lifted out. The superiority of a man to a sheep justifies a still greater exercise of mercy, even on the sabbath. But to their captious and ensnaring question he made further answer, replying, as was his wont, by a counter-question, "Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath day, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill?" The alternative here is between doing good and doing evil, or, putting an extreme case, between saving a life and destroying it (ἀπολέσαι in St. Luke). We may observe, in passing, that the received text, which reads τι in this passage of St. Luke's Gospel, admits one or other of the two following renderings, according to the punctuation: either
(1) "I will ask you, further, What is allowable on the sabbath—to do good or to do evil?" or
(2) "I will ask you, further, a certain thing: Is it allowable on the sabbath to do good or to do evil?" The first is favored by being nearly the same as the Peshito-Syriac, which is to the effect, "I will ask you what is it allowable to do on the sabbath? What is good or what is bad?" But the critical editors, Lachmann, Tisehendorf, and Tregelles, read ει), and the latter two have the present of the verb, viz. ἐπερωτῶ. Of course the translation of the text thus constituted is, "I ask you, further, if it is allowable on the sabbath to do good or to do evil—to save a life or to destroy?" With this the Vulgate coincides, as follows:—Interrogo yes, si licet sabbatis benefacere an male: animam salvam facere, an perdere? This was a home-thrust to these deceitful, wicked men who, while he was preparing to restore a human being to the full enjoyment of life in the unimpeded and unimpaired use of all his members, were murderously plotting the destruction of the great Physician's own life. No wonder they were silenced, as St. Mark tells us, for they must have been conscience-stricken, at least in some measure. At all events, they were confuted and confounded, but not converted, though they maintained a stolid, sullen silence. The question of our Lord left them in a dilemma. They could not deny that it was disallowable to do evil on any day, still more on the sabbath, for the holiness of the day aggravated the guilt; and yet they were seeking means of inflicting the greatest evil—even the destruction of life. They could not deny that it was allowable to do good on any day, especially on the sabbath; for the good deed, if not enhanced by, was fully in keeping with, the goodness of the day on which it was done. They found themselves shut up to the inevitable conclusion that it was not unlawful to do good on the sabbath day. And so our Lord turns to the performance of that good act on which he had determined, but which they in heart disallowed, notwithstanding their enforced silence or their seeming to give consent.
VII. MODE OF PREPARATION FOR THE CURE. He commanded the man who had his hand withered to stand forth. This was a somewhat trying ordeal for that poor disabled man. Standing forward, he became the gazing-stock of all eyes. He thereby made himself and his peculiar defect conspicuous. He thus practically confessed his helplessness and eagerness for relief. There he stood, an object of heartless curiosity to some, an object of contempt to others; the scrutinizing looks of some, the scowling glances of others, were fixed upon him. Few like to be thus looked out of countenance. Besides, in addition to all this, he was publicly expressing confidence in the ability of the Physician, and so exposing himself to like condemnation. And then there was the contingency of failure. What of that? The man must have had some, yea, much, moral courage to brave all this. Thus it is with all who will come to Christ with earnestness of spirit and manfully confess him. False shame must be laid aside. The scowl of enemies, perhaps the sneer of friends, the scorn of the world, may be calculated on and contemned; much must be done and dared in this direction. Yet the true confessor will not shrink from all this, and more. His spirit is—
"I'm not ashamed to own my Lord
Or to defend his cause,
Maintain the glory of his cross,
And honor all his laws."
VIII. OUR LORD'S LOOK WHEN PROCEEDING TO PERFORM THE CURE. The man was now standing forth in the midst, with the eyes of all present fastened on him. Our Lord, before actually speaking the word of healing power, looked round upon the persons present—upon all of them, as St. Luke informs us. There was deep meaning in that look. The expression of that look needed an interpreter, and so St. Mark tells us that the feelings which that intent and earnest look into every man's thee gave expression to were twofold—there was anger and there was grief at the same time. This at, get was righteous indignation; as the apostle says, "Be angry and sin not." This anger was incurred by the wicked malevolence which the Saviour, in his omniscience, read in the dark hearts of those dark-visaged men; for, as St. Luke reminds us, "he knew their thoughts," or rather their reasonings. But there was grief as well.
1. Though the compound verb συλλυπούμενος is interpreted by some as identical with the simple form, yet the prepositional element cannot be thus overlooked, but must add somewhat to the meaning of the whole.
2. This additional significancy, however., may be variously understood. The preposition σύν may mean
(1) that he grieved with and so within himself—in his own spirit; or
(2) that his grief was simultaneous with his anger and accompanied it; or
(3) that, angry though he was, he grieved nevertheless or sympathized with them. The ground of this complex feeling was the hardness of their hearts. The root-word denotes a kind of stone, then a chalkstone, also a callus, or substance exuding from fractured bones and joining their extremities; and the derivative noun, which occurs here, is the process of reuniting by a callus, then hardening, hardness, callousness; while the verb signifies to petrify, harden, or make callous. This hard-heartedness is thus a gradual, not an instantaneous, formation. It is a process which may commence with some small omission or trifling commission; but in either case it continues unless checked by grace—the once soft becoming hard, and the hard yet harder, till it is consummated in fearful obduracy of heart or complete callousness of the moral nature.
IX. THE CURE PERFORMED. "Stretch forth thy hand!" is the command; and as the aorist imperative, used here, generally denotes a speedy execution of the order given, like o phrase, "Have it done!" the command amounted to "Stretch forth thy hand at once!" How unreasonable this command, at the first blush of the matter, appears! Many a time the attempt had been made, but in vain; many a time before he had tried to stretch it out, but that withered hand had refused obedience to the volitions of the will. Was not the Saviour's command, then, strange and unnatural in bidding him extend a hand that had long lost the proper power of motion; a hand crippled and contracted in every joint, shrunken and shrivelled in every part—in a word, completely lifeless and motionless? And yet this man did not cavil nor question; he did not doubt nor delay. Soon as the mandate came he made the effort; soon as the command was uttered, hard as it must have seemed, he essayed compliance; and no sooner is compliance attempted than the cure is effected, Divine, power accompanying the command, or rather both acting with simultaneous effect. Thus his word was a word of power, as we read, "He sent his word and healed them." And now the tendons are unbound, the nerves act, the muscles are suppled, the vital fluid flows once more along the reopened channel. Thus it was brought back again to what it once was; in power, appearance, and use it was restored to its original condition, whole and sound.
X. CONSEQUENT ON THE CURE WAS AN UNNATURAL, COALITION. The enemies were filled with folly, wicked and senseless folly (ἀνοίας), but not madness, as it is generally understood, for that would properly be μανίας. They felt humiliated in the presence of so many people. Their pride was humbled, for they were silenced; their logic was shown to be shallow, for with them "to do or not to do"—that was the question; but our Lord showed them that" to do good or not to do good, while not to do good was tantamount to doing evil," was in reality the question; and so they were put to shame. They were disappointed, moreover, for they were deprived of any ground whereon to found an accusation, because, in the mode of effecting the cure, there had been no touch, no contact of any kind, no external means used—nothing but a word, so that even the letter of the Law had been in no way infringed. In their desperation they communed one with another, held a council, or, as St. Mark informs us more explicitly, "took or made counsel with the Herodians." Misfortune, according to an old saw, brings men into acquaintance with strange associates, and never more so than on this occasion. In theology the Herodians, as far as they held any theological opinions, fraternized with the Sadducees, the latitudinarians of that day; in politics they were adherents of Herod Antipas, and so advocates of the Roman domination. To both these the Pharisees were diametrically opposed. Yet now they enter into an unholy alliance with those who were at once their political opponents and religious antagonists. Nor was this the only time that extremes met and leagued themselves against Christ and his cause. Herod and Pilate mutually sacrificed their feelings of hostility, and confederated against the Lord and his Anointed. It has been thought strange that Luke, who from his acquaintance with Manaen, the foster-brother of Herod the Tetrarch, had special facilities for knowledge of the Herods, their family relations, and friends, omits this alliance of the Herodians with the Pharisees; while it has been surmised that, from that very acquaintance, sprang a delicacy of feeling that made the evangelist loth to record their hostility to Christ.
XI. LESSONS TO BE LEARNT FROM THIS SECTION.
1. The first lesson we learn here is the multitude of witnesses that are watching the movements of the disciples of Christ; for as it was with the Master so is it with ourselves. The eye of God is upon us, according to the language of ancient piety, "Thou God seest us;" the eyes of angels are upon us to aid us with their blessed and beneficent ministries; the eyes of good men are upon us to cheer us onward and help us forward; the eyes of bad men are upon us to mark our halting and take advantage of our errors; the eyes of Satan and his servants—evil angels as well as evil men—are upon us to entrap us by their machinations and gloat over our fall. How vigilant, then, must we be, watching and praying that we fall not into, nor succumb to, temptation!
2. In every case of spiritual withering we know the Physician to whom we must apply. Has our faith been withering, or has it lost aught of its freshness? we pray him to help our unbelief and increase our faith. Has our love been withering and languishing? we must seek from him a renewal of the love of our espousals, and meditate on him till in our hearts there is rekindled a flame of heavenly love to him who first loved us. Is our zeal for the Divine glory, or our activity in the Divine service, withering and decaying? then we must seek grace to repent and do our first works, stretching out at Christ's command the withered hand to Christian work, whether it be the resumption of neglected duty, or the rendering of needful help, or relieving the wants of the indigent, or wiping away the tears of the sorrowing, or usefulness of whatever kind in our day and generation, or honest endeavors to leave the world better than we found it.
3. It is well worthy of notice that if we are doing no good we are doing evil; nay, if we are doing nothing, we are doing evil; still more, if we are not engaged at least in helping to save, we are guilty of abetting, if not actually causing destruction. Let us, then, be "not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord."
4. The mercifulness of the Saviour is an encouragement to faith and obedience. With his anger against sin was mingled grief for sinners' hardness of heart. Many a tear he shed for perishing souls in the days of his flesh. He dropped a tear at the grave of a beloved friend—only dropped a silent tear (ἐδάκρυσεν); but over the impenitent inhabitants of a doomed city his eyes brimmed over with tears and he wept aloud, for we there read ἔκλαυσεν. In this restoration of the withered hand we have evidence of the Saviour's gracious disposition, a warrant to take him at his word, and a guarantee that when he gives a precept he will grant power for its performance.
5. Divine power was here displayed in human weakness. The sinner has a warrant to believe, and in responding to that warrant he realizes Divine help; in his willingness to obey he experiences Divine power; in his earnest entreating Christ for strength to believe, he is actually and already exercising a reliance on Christ for salvation. Divine power harmonized with the faith of this afflicted man, and the Saviour's strength made itself manifest in his obedience. And yet faith lays claim to no inherent power; it is, on the contrary, human weakness laying hold of Divine strength. Its potency is derived entirely from that on which it rests; believing the Word of God, trusting in the Son of God, relying on aid from the Spirit of God, it surmounts every obstacle, overcomes every difficulty, and triumphs over every enemy. It is a principle that develops most wonderful potencies for good; in its exercise we cress the borderland that lies between the humanly impossible and heavenly possibilities; for "what is the victory that overcometh the world? Even our faith."—J.J.G.
Parallel passage: Matthew 12:15-40.12.21.—
Popularity of Christ on the increase.
I. THE POPULARITY OF JESUS. It was ever increasing, as is proved by this passage. A great multitude followed him from Galilee in the north; from Judaea and its capital in a central position; and from Idumaea in the far south, situated as it was between Judaea, Arabia, and Egypt; then from Peraea, east of the Jordan; the people of Tyre and Sidon also in the north-west;—all these, attracted by the fame of what Jesus was doing, flocked unto him. So great were the multitude and pressure that he directed his disciples to procure a little boat to keep close to him in order to escape the crowding (διὰ τὸν ὄχλον) and consequent confusion.
II. His power to heal. This appears to be as yet the main attraction. The miracles of healing were abundant, so much so that the afflicted sufferers actually fell against him (ἐπιπίπτειν), that by the contact their plagues might be removed. Unclean spirits also, wherever they saw him, kept falling down before him, crying out, "Thou art the of God."
III. PECULIARITY OF THE SYRIAC VERSION IN THIS PLACE. It strangely combines the two last classes in its rendering, namely, "Those that had plagues of unclean spirits, as often as they saw him, kept falling down before him." Our Lord, however, invariably reprobated and rejected their testimony, as if there were something insidious in it or injurious to his cause.
IV. THE PHYSICAL HEALTH RESTORED TO SO MANY AFFLICTED BODIES WAS A GUARANTEE OF SPIRITUAL HEALTH FOR THE SOUL. In all the ages, and in all the annals of medical science, and in all the countries of the world, we have account of one Physician, and only one, who was able to lay his hand on the aching head and diseased heart of suffering humanity, bringing immediate cure and effectual relief. No malady could resist his healing power, no sickness withstand his touch, and no illness remain incurable once he but spoke the word. No disease, however deep-seated in the system, or deadly in its nature, or inveterate from long duration, could baffle his skill or defy his power. Whether it was palsy, or dropsy, or asthma, or convulsions, or ulceration, or bloody issue, or fever, or even consumption, or, what was still worse, leprosy itself,—whatever the form of disease might be, he cured it. Persons labouring under organic defects—the deaf, the dumb, the blind, the lame—were brought to him, and he removed all those defects. Mental ailments also, as lunacy and demoniacal possession, all were relieved by him. Sometimes it was a word, sometimes a touch, again some external appliance, not as a remedy but to act as a conductor, or to show a connection instituted between the operator and the patient, but, whatever was the plan adopted, the power never failed to produce the desired effect. Now, whatever he did in this way to the body is proof positive of his ability and willingness to do the same and more for the soul. We may be diseased with sin so as to be loathsome in our own eyes and morally infectious to our neighbors and acquaintances; we may be leprous with sin so as to be cut off from the fellowship of the saints and the communion of the holy; we may be under the ban of man and the curse of heaven; yet if we approach this great Physician of soul as well as body, confiding in his power and trusting in his mercy, we shall obtain, and that without fail, healing and health for our diseased spirits and sin-sick souls. Thousands alive this day can testify from actual happy experience to the healing power of Jesus' word, the cleansing efficacy of his blood, and the renewing, purifying, and sanctifying influences of his Spirit. Millions this day in the realms of bliss above are enjoying the health and the happiness, the brightness and the beauty, the purity and perfection of that upper sanctuary, though on earth the diseases of their souls had been of the most desperate character—utterly incurable had it not been for the mercy and grace of this great Physician. And he is still the same—"the same, yesterday, to-day, and for ever," and able as ever to "save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him."
V. A RECONCILIATION. It is thought by some that a discrepancy exists between the fourth verse of the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah and the seventeenth verse of the eighth chapter of St. Matthew. But if we take the first clause of each verse as referring to bodily diseases, and the second clause to the diseases of the mind or soul, we shall have an instructive harmony in place of an insuperable difficulty or seeming discrepancy. The verbs will then be most suitable and appropriate: the nasa of the Hebrew, being general in its meaning, to take up in any way, or to take up in order to take away, will correspond in its generality of signification to ἔλαβε, to take in any way; while saval, for which ἐβάστασε of St. Matthew is an exact equivalent, is to bear as a burden. "Thus," says Archbishop Magee, in his invaluable work on the Atonement, "are Isaiah and Matthew perfectly reconciled; the first clause in each relating to diseases removed, and the second to sufferings endured." Thus too there is a close correlation between the removal of the diseases of the body and the expiation of the sins of our souls.—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 10:2-40.10.4; Luke 6:12-42.6.19.—
The choosing of the twelve.
I. THE CHOICE AND ITS OBJECT. The Saviour ascends the mountain that was near at hand, probably Karun Hattin, "and calls to him whom he wished." At once they went off away (ἀπό), leaving other things, and turning to him as their sole object. Of these he appointed, or ordained—though the original word is more simple, viz. "he made "—twelve for a threefold purpose:
(1) to "be with him," to keep him company, assisting him and sympathizing with him;
(2) to be his messengers to men, heralding the good news of salvation; and
(3) to alleviate miraculously human misery—curing diseases and expelling demons.
II. THE LIST OF NAMES. The order and meaning of the names require only a few remarks. The twelve are distributed into three classes. Simon, the Hearer, whom our Lord surnamed the Rock-man, heads the first class; next to him were James, the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, both of whom were surnamed Boanerges, "Sons of Thunder," that is, bene (oa equivalent to e) regesh; and Andrew. The second class is headed by Philip; then comes Bartholomew, which means the son of Tolmai, the word being a patronymic—in all probability the person meant was Nathanael, the proper name of the same; also Matthew and Thomas. The third class begins with James the son of Alphaeus; then Judas, surnamed Thaddseus, or Lebbseus, the Courageous; and Simon the Kananite, that is, the Zealot, not a Canaanite; while Judas Iscariot, that is, the man of Kerioth, the traitor, is the last in every list.—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 12:22-40.12.37; Luke 11:14-42.11.23.—
Mistaken friends and malignant foes.
I. MISTAKEN FRIENDS.
1. The connection. Between the appointment of the apostles and the transactions here narrated several important matters intervened. There was the sermon on the mount, recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew, chs. 5-7; and an abridgment or modification of the same repeated in the Gospel of St. Luke, Luke 6:17-42.6.49. Next followed the events recorded throughout the seventh chapter of St. Luke, and which were as follows:—The cure of the centurion's servant; the restoration to life of the widow's son of Nain; the message sent by John the Baptist; the dinner in the house of Simon, with the anointing by a woman who had been a stoner. Previously to this last had been the doom pronounced on the impenitent cities, narrated by St. Matthew in Matthew 11:1-40.11.30. towards the end; the second circuit through Galilee, of which we read in Luke 8:1-42.8.56., at the beginning; while immediately before, and indeed leading to, the circumstances mentioned in this section was the healing of a blind and dumb demoniac.
2. The concourse. Our Lord had just returned, not into the house of some believer, as Euthymius thinks; nor into the house in which he made his abode while at Capernaum, as this meaning would require the article; but more generally, "to home," as in Mark 2:1. And no sooner is his return reported than he is followed by a great concourse of people. Again a crowd, as on several previous occasions, especially that mentioned in Mark 2:2, when "there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door," pressed after him. Such was the curiosity of the crowd, and so great their eagerness, that no opportunity was allowed our Lord and his apostles to enjoy their ordinary repasts; "they could not so much as eat bread." This rendering corresponds to that of the Peshito, which omits the second and strengthening negative, for, while in Greek a negative is neutralized by a subsequent simple negative of the same kind, it is continued and intensified by a following compound negative of the same kind. The meaning, therefore, is stronger, whether we read μήτε or μηδὲ; thus, "They were able, no, not (μήτε) to eat bread;" or, stronger still, "They could not even (μηδὲ) eat bread," much less find leisure to attend to anything else: though, it may be observed in passing, if μήτε were the right reading, the meaning would rather be that they were neither able nor did eat bread. In fact, the crowd was so great, so continuous, so obtrusive, that no time was allowed our Lord and his apostles for their ordinary and necessary meals. From this we learn that our Lord's popularity was steadily as well as rapidly increasing, and that the excitement, instead of diminishing, was daily, nay, hourly, intensifying.
3. The concern of our Lord's kinsfolk. Hearing of this wonderful excitement which the presence of Jesus was everywhere occasioning, his friends or kinsmen were alarmed by the circumstance; and, dreading the effect of such excitement upon his physical constitution—fearing, no doubt, that he might be carried away by his enthusiasm and zeal beyond the measure of his bodily strength, and even to the detriment of his mental powers—our Lord's relations went forth to check his excessive efforts and repress his superabundant ardor. The statement is either general, that is to say, "they went forth," or it may be understood in the stricter sense of their coming out of their place of abode, probably Nazareth, or possibly Capernaum. The expression, οἱ παρ ̓ αὐτοῦ, according to ordinary usage, would mean persons sent by him or away from him, as οἱ παρὰ τοῦ Νικίου, in Thucydides, is "the messengers of Nicias." But the expression cannot mean
(1) his apostles, who though sent out by him and selected for this purpose, as we read in vet. 14, were now with him in the house; nor can it mean
(2) his disciples, or those about him, for this would confound the expression with οἱ περὶ αὐτόν. It must, it appears, be taken to signify his kinsmen—the sense assigned to it by most commentators, ancient and modern. And, though this is a rare use of the expression, it is not quite without parallels, as for example in Susanna, verse 33, ἔκλαιον δὲ οἱ παρ αὐτῆς, "but her friends wept;" and in this Gospel, Mark 5:26, τὰ παρ αὐτῆς πάντα is "all the things from with her," that is, all her resources—"all her living," as we read in the parallel passage of St. Luke.
4. Their course of action. We have now to consider their course of action or mode of procedure, and the object which they had in view. They went out to lay hold of him, and so
(1) to put him under salutary restraint, if the literal meaning of supposed derangement be adhered to. It may indeed mean
(2) to hold him back from such superhuman efforts, in consequence of their believing him to be in an unnatural and abnormal state of mind or body, or both. But, though the word rendered "he is beside himself" is often used in that sense, sometimes elliptically as here and in 2 Corinthians 5:13, but mostly in conjunction with νοῦ, or γνωνῆς, or φρενῶν, and so equivalent to παραφρὸνεῖν, still it may be employed figuratively, and merely import that he was transported too far. What with the watchings of the preceding night, and the lastings of that morning, and his unceasing labours in addressing his newly chosen apostles, preaching to the people, and working miracles, all of which we learn, by a comparison with the sixth chapter of St. Luke, both mind and body must have been taxed to the utmost, the strain was excessive, they thought, and far too great to be long borne; and so an earnest but friendly interference was deemed by them to be necessary. There is, however,
(3) another view of the matter, which some prefer. They understand the word ἐξέστη as equivalent to ἐλειποθύμησε or ἐλειποψύχησε, and to denote fainting from bodily exhaustion, and consequently the object of his kinsfolk was to support and sustain him (κρατῆσαι). But some resort to the still more questionable expedient of changing the object of the verb just mentioned, and so understanding
(4) that his disciples went out to repress the crowd, for they (i.e. the disciples) said, "It [the crowd] is mad." This last (4) view is untenable; the preceding one (3) is not well supported; the one going before it (2) is plausible, but rather specious than sound; while the first (1) alone, notwithstanding the difficulty it presents in connection with our Lord's relatives, is the plain and natural meaning of the expression.
5. Their confined notions of religion. It is painfully manifest that the kinsfolk of our Lord entertained very contracted and very commonplace, or rather indeed low, ideas of religion. They were very imperfectly acquainted with the great object of Jesus' mission; their notions of his work were of the crudest kind; their faith, if at this period it existed at all, must have been in a very incipient state. Their anxiety at the same time for his safety, and their alarm at the public agitation and the probable upshot of that agitation, all combined to force on them the conclusion that he was on the border between fanaticism and frenzy, or that he had actually made the transition into the region of the latter.
6. A common experience. We find in this mistake no new or very strange experience. The Rev. Rowland Hill, on one occasion, strained his voice, raising it to the highest pitch, in order to warn some persons of impending danger, and so rescued them from peril. For this he was warmly applauded, as he deserved. But when he elevated his voice to a similar pitch in warning sinners of the error and evil of their ways, and in order to save their souls from a still greater peril, the same friends who before had praised him now pronounced him fool and fanatic.
II. MALIGNANT FOES.
1. The charge of the scribes. The evangelist never suppresses truth; he keeps nothing back, however harsh or unnatural it may at first sight appear. Having shown the effect of the Saviour's ministry on his friends, he proceeds to exhibit the impression it made on his foes. A notable miracle had been performed, as we learn from St. Matthew's Gospel, Matthew 12:22, a blind and dumb demoniac—sad complication—had been cured. Now, there are two ways in which men diminish the merit of a good quality, and destroy the credit of a noble action—denial is the one, and depreciation is the other. The scribes, or theologians, of the Pharisaic sect, had come down as emissaries from the metropolis, to dog our Saviour's steps and destroy, if they could, his influence. Had denial of the miracle been possible, it is plain they would have adopted that course; but facts are stubborn things, and denial in the face of facts is impossible. The miracle was too plain, too palpable, and too public to admit denial. The next best thing for their nefarious purpose was depreciation or detraction. "He casteth out devils," they say—they could not deny this; "but he hath Beelzebub, and in union (ἐν) with him, or by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils," or rather "demons," as we have already seen. Beelzebub was the god of Ekron, and got this name from the supposed power which he possessed to ward off flies, like the Latin averrunci or the Greek ἀποτρόπαιοι, who were named averters, which those words signify, as though they possessed the power of averting disease or pestilence from their worshippers. But the name Beelzebub was changed, contemptuously and insultingly no doubt, into Beelzebul, the god of dung; nor is the affinity between the god of flies and the god of the dunghill difficult to discover, while the filth of idolatry is not obscurely implied. Now, this name was given to the evil one, whose proper name is either Satan the adversary, in Hebrew, or Diabolos the accuser, in Greek. Other names he also bears, such as "prince of darkness," "prince of the power of the air," "the tempter," "the God of this world," "the old serpent," "the dragon," and Belial. All of these, more or less indicate his hostility to God and man, his opposition to all good, and instigation to all evil.
2. Confutation. The Saviour refutes this charge by four different arguments. The first argument is an appeal to common sense, the second is ad absurdum, the third is ad hominem, and the fourth from human experience. The first
(1) points out the fact that the stability of a kingdom, or the success of a family depends on unity and peace; as the proverb has it, "Concordia res parvae crescunt, discordia maximae dilabuntur." So the kingdom or family of demons would perish by dissensions. Again
(2) "if Satan cast out Satan—not if one Satan cast out another Satan, which is the rendering of some, but, if Satan cast himself out," his policy is suicidal. He had by his demons taken possession of men's bodies, and thereby exercised his power over his victims; but if he countenanced or combined with the Saviour in casting out these demons, he was destroying his own subjects and diminishing his own power. Thus his kingdom, like many another and many a better, "could not stand," or rather "could not be made to stand" (σταθῆναι) or, as the other synoptists express it, "it is brought to desolation" (ἐρημοῦται); and, in that case, "house falleth against house," according to Meyer's rendering of the parallel expression in St. Luke, or, as it stands in the Authorized Version, "a house divided against a house falleth." The conditional proposition in reference to kingdom and house is of that kind which denotes probable contingency, not a mere supposition; but that applied to Satan rising up against himself implies possibility without any expression of uncertainty. Why is this? How can we account for this somewhat striking difference? Because in the former case civil commotions may distract a kingdom, and an unhappy feud may divide a family or household. Such things have occurred; and it is likely enough that they may occur again, and so their occurrence comes within the limits of probability. But, according to the supposition or imputation of the scribes, the thing has already actually occurred, and Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided. Such suicidal policy it would be utterly absurd to attribute to a power so subtle as Satan, unless, indeed, he be supposed to be possessed of less than ordinary worldly prudence. He now turns
(3) to another line of argument which comes home to them more closely. This argument, though omitted by St. Mark, is found in both St. Matthew and St. Luke, and is the following:—"And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children ['sons,' in St. Luke] cast them out?" This they assumed to do, as we learn from Acts 19:13, Acts 19:14," Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so." Our Lord, in his reasoning and for the purpose of his argument, employs the fact of the assumption which they made, without necessarily admitting the reality of their accomplishing what they pretended. If they were asked by what power or whose aid their sons cast out or took upon them to cast out devils? by Beelzebub or by the Spirit? he knew well what their answer would be, and that they would not acknowledge their children to be leagued with Satan in casting out devils, but that they would contend for the co-operation of Divine power. if, then, our Lord would say, you impute that power which I exert to Beelzebub, and that same power of which they claim the exercise to God, they will be your judges, and condemn you of hostility to me, while you are guilty of such partiality to themselves. There was no escaping from this argument. But he urges
(4) yet another argument—one from human experience: How can I rob Satan of his subjects until I have conquered him? And how can I, besides, distribute the spoils of victory unless that conquest be complete? His enemies had accused him of being in alliance with Satan; he argues on the contrary that, instead of being an ally of Satan, he has made open war on him and bound him, invaded his dominions, subdued his subjects, having first overpowered their prince.
III. PICTURE OF SATAN.
1. His power. He is the strong man. He is strong in his princedom. He is "prince of the power of the air; " that is, chieftain of those powerful spirits that have their residence in the air. He is strong in his power to destroy, and hence he is called Apollyon, or Abaddon, the destroyer. By his powerful temptations he destroyed the happiness of our first parents and ruined their race. He is strong in the power of cunning. Oh, how subtle, how insidious, how cunning, in his work of destruction I "We are not ignorant," says the apostle, "of his devices." He is strong in the power of calumny, and consequently he is called "the accuser of the brethren," while his accusations are founded on falsehood. He maligned the patriarch of Uz, upright and perfect though he was, misrepresenting that good man's principles and practice and patience. He is strong in the sovereignty which he exercises over his subjects, and strong in the multitude of those subjects, leading thousands, yea, millions, of men and women captive at his will, and enslaving them with his hellish yoke. He is strong in the fearfully despotic power with which he controls the souls and bodies of his slaves; and every sinner is his slave, and, what is worse, a willing slave, so that, though we urge them by the tenderest motives, address to them the most solemn warnings, allure them by the most precious promises, and appeal to them by the most valuable interests, thousands reject all our overtures, preferring to go on and continue, to live and die, in slavish subjection to the complete control and terrible power of Satan—this strong man.
2. His palace and property. St. Luke is fuller in his description here. He speaks of his complete armor, his panoply; he speaks of his palace, the other synoptists speak of his house; he speaks of his goods and of those goods as spoils, the other two speak of his vessels. They all tell us of one stronger than the strong one. St. Luke again tells us that, though the strong man is armed cap-a-pie, and stands warder of his own palace, and keeps his goods in security, yet that he who is stronger than the strong one, having effected an entrance, overcomes him, strips him of his armor in which he reposed such confidence, and distributes his spoils; while the other two Evangelists tell us that, having entered the strong man's dwelling, he binds the strong man, and plunders, taking as a prey both his house and his vessels—the container and the contained. The groundwork of the description is to be found, perhaps, in Isaiah 49:24, Isaiah 49:25, "Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered? But thus saith the Lord, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children." But what are we to understand by these particulars? The strong man is Satan, the stronger than the strong man is our blessed Saviour; this world is his palace or house; his goods in general and vessels in particular which are made spoils of are inferior demons according to some, or men according to others, rather both, as Chrysostom explains the meaning when he says, "Not only are demons vessels of the devil, but men also who do his work." In a still narrower sense, man or man's heart is the palace, and its powers and affections are the goods. The heart of man was once a palace, a princely dwelling, worthy of and intended for the habitation of God. But that palace is now in ruins. We have gazed on a ruined palace; and oh, how sad the sight! Its chambers are dismantled, its columns are prostrate, its arches are broken; fragments of the once stately fabric are scattered about. Ivy twines round its ruined walls, grass grows in its halls, weeds and nettles cover the courtyard. Owls look out of the apertures that once were windows, or hoot in melancholy mood to their fellows. Mounds of earth or heaps of rubbish occupy the apartments once grand and gorgeous. The whole is a sad though striking picture of decay, desolation, and death. Just such a place is the heart of man. It was a palace once; it is a palace still, but the palace is now in ruins, and over these ruins Satan rules and reigns. But what are the goods, or vessels, or spoils? If the unrenewed heart itself be the palace where Satan resides, and which he has made his dwelling, then the powers of that heart—for the Hebrews referred to the heart what we attribute to the head—its faculties so noble, its feelings so tender, its affections so precious, are Satan's goods, for he uses them for his own purposes; they are his vessels, for he employs them in his work and service; they are his spoils, for he has usurped authority over them. His, no doubt, they are by right of conquest, if might ever makes right. He is not only a possessor, but wields over them the power of a sovereign. He is enthroned in the sinner's heart, and exalted to a chief place in his affections. Accordingly, he receives the homage of his intellect, he claims and gets the ready service of his will, he controls the actions of the life; and thus over head and heart and life he sways his scepter, exercising unlimited and incessant control. To one faculty or feeling he says, "Come," and it cometh; to another power or principle of action he says, "Go," and it goeth.
3. His possession, and how he keeps it. In the heart of man there are what Ezekiel calls "chambers of imagery." These chambers of imagery in the human heart are of themselves dark enough and dreary enough; but Satan, if we yield to him and resist him not, for he cannot control us without our consent or coerce us against our consent, will curtain those chambers with darkness—spiritual darkness. As long as he can keep us in the darkness of ignorance—ignorance of God, of Christ, of the way of salvation, of ourselves, of our slavery, of our responsibility, of our danger, and of our duty—he is secure in his possession. "The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." By subtlety and stratagem, by wiles and wickedness, he holds possession of those chambers, actually furnishing them with his own hand, while the furniture thus supplied consists of delusions—strong delusions, sinful delusions. Even the pictures on the walls are painted by him; scenes base and bad, wicked and abominable, are there portrayed to pervert the judgment and incline it to what is perverse, to debase the imagination with visions foul and filthy, to inflame the affections with objects indelicate and impure. Another effectual way in which Satan holds possession of the palace of man's heart is by keeping it under the influence of sense. He occupies men with the things of sense and sight, to the neglect of things spiritual and eternal; he employs them with material objects and worldly interests; he amuses them with the trifles of the present time, to the neglect of the interests of the never-ending future; he engrosses our attention with worldliness, vanity, and pride—things sensual, earthly, and perishable; thoughts about the body and its wants are pressed on men, to the neglect of the soul and its necessities. Such questions as, "What shall I eat, or what shall! drink, or wherewithal shall! be clothed?" are ever present, while the vastly more important question, "What must! do to be saved?" is lost sight of or left in abeyance. Present profits and worldly pursuits absorb attention, to the neglect of present responsibilities and future realities; the pleasures of sin, short-lived and unsatisfactory as they are sure to prove, divert men's thoughts from those "pleasures which are at God's right hand for evermore." But, as the Word of God warns us of Satan's devices that we may be on our guard against them, it may not be amiss to pay the more particular attention to them. Another way by which he holds possession of the palace of what Bunyan calls Mansoul is delay. This is a favourite method, and one specially successful with the young. "Time enough yet," Satan whispers into the young ear, and the inexperienced heart of youth is too ready to believe the falsehood. He persuades them into the belief that it is too soon for such grave subjects, too early to engage in such solemn reflections. Many other and even better opportunities, they are induced to think, will be afforded; they are yet young and strong, and with a keen zest for youthful pleasures, and the world is all before them. Every year the delay becomes more difficult to break away from, and the delusion the more dangerous; and while the difficulty as well as the danger increases, the strength of the sinner, or his power to overcome the suggestions of Satan, decreases. A more convenient season is expected, and thus procrastination becomes, as usual, "the thief of time; year after year it steals till all is past, and to the mercies of a moment leaves the vast concerns of an eternal scene." But to delay succeeds at length another means by which he keeps possession, and that other means, in one respect the opposite, is despair. Thus extremes meet. Satan had long flattered them with the delusive fancy that it was too soon; now he drives them to the desperate notion that it is too late. Once he flattered them with the false hope of a long and happy future, with death in the remote distance, and with means of grace not only ample but abundant, and power at pleasure to turn to God; now he tortures them with the thought that the day of grace is gone, irrevocably gone. Once he made them believe that the time to break up their fallow ground and sow to themselves in righteousness had not yet come; now, on the contrary, he induces the belief that "the harvest is past, the summer ended, and their souls not saved. Once he deluded them with the thought that sin was only a trifle, and they were willing to lay to their soul the false unction that sin was too small a matter to incur the wrath of Heaven; now he prompts the despairing thought that their sin is too great to be forgiven, and their guilt too heinous to be ever blotted out.
4. The peace he produces. All the while he produces a sort of peace; all the while "his goods are in peace;" all the while sinners are promising themselves "peace, peace; but there is no peace," saith God, "to the wicked." Satan may promise, and even produce, a kind of peace; but that peace is perilous—it is a false peace. He may lead them into a sort of calm, but it is the lull before the storm; he may amuse them with a species of quietude, but it is the sure forerunner of the fast-approaching hurricane. The only true peace is that which the Spirit bestows—a "peace that passeth all understanding," a peace which the world with all its wealth cannot give, and with all its wickedness cannot take away. This peace is compared to a river: "Then shall thy peace be as a river"—a river broad and beautiful, glancing in the bright sunshine of the heaven above, and reflecting the varied beauties along its banks; a river deepening and widening at every reach, bearing health and fertility throughout its course, broadening out and expanding at last into the boundless, shoreless ocean of everlasting bliss.
5. Satan's defeat and dispossession. Though Satan be strong, there is One stronger than he—One "mighty to save," even from his grasp, and "lead captivity captive." That stronger One is the mighty Saviour, whose mission of mercy was meant to take the prey from the mighty, to bruise his head and destroy his works, and so rescue man from the thraldom of Satan and the dominion of sin. Himself mightier than the mighty, he is "able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him." St. Luke informs us of the manner in which he effects the great emancipation. He comes upon him (ἐπελθὼν) both suddenly and by way of hostile attack. He comes upon him suddenly, and so takes him by surprise. Satan's goods are meantime in peace, and he fancies he has it all his own way, and that for ever. The Saviour comes upon the heart enslaved by Satan with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word and truth of God, and immediately the chains are burst asunder and the shackles fall off. Henceforth it enjoys that freedom with which Christ makes his people free. He comes upon the sinner's soul with the power of the Spirit, convincing of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. The Spirit takes of the things of Christ and shows them to the sinner, and so the truth is brought home to the heart and conscience; not in word only, "but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance." He comes upon the sinner, whose powers lay dormant, or rather "dead in trespasses and sins," and he awakens the powers that thus lay dormant, and quickens the soul, it may be long dead, into new spiritual life, and makes it "alive unto God through Christ Jesus." But with life comes light. Soon as the life-giving Spirit operates upon the mass erewhile chaotic and dead, living forces are developed, and light springs up; the light of the glorious gospel of the grace of God shines through all that heart, however dead and dark it had been before. Every soul thus awakened, enlightened, quickened, and truly converted to God, is a victory of the Saviour over Satan—a trophy snatched from the strong one by him who thus proves himself stronger than the strong man. Every such one is evidence of Satan's defeat, and proves the destruction of his power, as also his expulsion from his usurped dominion—a thorough and blessed dispossession of the spirit of evil.
6. Satan's armor. His offensive weapons are his snares, his devices, his wiles, his lies, his lusts; of all these we read in Scripture. But he has other armor; and, as panoply has its root in ὅπλον, or "thing moved about," as the shield, from ἕπω, according to Donaldson, the reference may rather be to defensive armor. The parts of this armor may be regarded as consisting of our ignorance of God and hatred of him, our unbelief and ungodliness, hardness of heart and unrighteousness. Theophylact explains Satan's armor to be made of our sins in general; his words are Πάντα τὰ εἴδη τῆς ἁμαρτίας αὕτη γαρ ὅπλα τοῦ Διαβόλου, equivalent to "All forms of sin, for this is the arms of the devil." By such armor he defends his possessions and maintains his interest in them; by such armor he repels all attacks on his goods, opposing the impressions of the Divine Word, the influences of the Holy Spirit, and the leadings of God's providence. Christ captures his arms when he enables us to guard against his devices and wiles, to avoid his snares, to discredit his lies, shun his lusts, and resist his temptations. Further, he takes from Satan the armor in which he places such confidence when he breaks the power of sin in the soul, opens men's eyes to the perils that surround them, regenerates the heart, and renews the life, humbles their spirit, rectifies their errors, checks their corruption, and, in a word, bruises Satan under their feet.
7. Division of the spoils. This is usually the consequence of conquest. When Satan led the sinner captive and made him his prey, he took him with all he is and all he has for his spoil, employing all his endowments of mind and energies of body, his time, his talents, his health, his influence, his estate, small or great, in his service. But again, in the day of the sinner's conversion to God, not only is Satan defeated and dispossessed, Christ recovers the long-lost possession—all of it for himself. He regains those energies and endowments, that time, those talents, that influence; he restores all to their right use and to the great end for which they were intended. The whole man—body, soul, and spirit—is brought back to the service of his Maker, and every thought becomes subject to the law of Jesus Christ. Further, the Saviour not only regains those spoils and recovers them for himself, but also, like a great and good Captain, he divides them among his followers. In every case when he defeats, disarms, and dispossesses Satan, Christ shares with his soldiers—his servants—the spoils consequent on victory. The sinner thus rescued is blessed "with all spiritual blessings in heavenly things in Christ Jesus;" but he is not only blessed in his own soul, he is made a blessing to all around. He becomes a blessing to friend and fellow-man. In this way the spoil is divided and the blessing distributed. He becomes a proof of Divine power and a pattern of purity to an ungodly world; while his talents, be they many or few—ten, or five, or one—are employed for the good of Christ's Church," for the perfecting of the saints, for the edification of the body of Christ." To sinners he serves as a beacon-light to warn them of the sunken rocks or breakers ahead, and to direct their course into the haven of heavenly rest. A curious and not uninteresting exposition by Theophylact of the distribution of the spoils is to this effect, that men, being the spoils first taken by Satan, and then retaken by Christ, the Saviour distributes them, giving one to one angel and another to another angel as a faithful guardian, that, instead of the demon that lorded it over him, an angel may now have him in safe keeping—of course, in order to be his guide and guard him.
8. Practical lessons.
(1) The sinner still in the power of the strong man should cry mightily to Christ to rescue him from such base servitude, and deliver him from such dreadful drudgery. He, and he alone, can free him from enslavement, because he is stronger than the strong man.
(2) The saint already delivered, while still to be on his guard against Satan, has nothing to fear from his assaults. He can never again regain possession, for he is vanquished, and the means of retrieving his lost possessions and forfeited power are for ever wrested from him. If he goes out of himself without being dislodged, he is sure to return and resume possession with increased forces and power, as the parable which follows in St. Luke teaches.
(3) The believer is bound to bless his deliverer, which he may suitably do in the words—
"Thou hast, O Lord most glorious,
Ascended up on high;
And in triumph victorious led
Captive captivity ..
Bless'd be the Lord, who is to us
Of our salvation God;
Who daily with his benefits
Us plenteously doth load."
(4) Neutrality in this cause is criminal. If we are not on Christ's side, contending against Satan, we evince our unwillingness that his kingdom should be destroyed; and if not engaged in seeking to bring subjects into Christ's kingdom, as a shepherd collects his flock and pens them in the fold, we are scattering the sheep away from and leaving them without the place of safety.
IV. THE BLASPHEMY AGAINST THE HOLY GHOST.
1. Patristic explanations of this sin. Some have understood it of apostasy in time of persecution. This was the opinion of Cyprian, who says, in 'Epist.' 16, that "It was a very great crime which persecution compelled men to commit, as they themselves know who have committed it, inasmuch as our Lord and Judge has said, 'Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father who is in heaven. But he that denieth me, him will I also deny.' And again, 'All sins and blasphemies shall be forgiven to the sons of men: but he that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost, shall not have forgiveness, but is guilty of eternal sin' (reus est aeterni peccati)." Some understand it of the denial of the divinity of our Lord, as Athanasius, who says that "the Pharisees in the Saviour's time, and the Arians in our days, running into the same madness, denied the real Word to be incarnate, and ascribed the works of the Godhead to the devil and his angels, and therefore justly undergo the punishment which is due to this impiety, without remission. For they put the devil in the place of God, and imagined the works of the living and true God to be nothing more than the works of the devil." And elsewhere the same Father says, "They who spake against Christ, considering him only as the Son of man, were pardonable, because in the beginning of the gospel the world looked upon him only as a prophet, not as God, but as the Son of man: but they who blasphemed his divinity after his works had demonstrated him to be God, had no forgiveness, so long as they continued in this blasphemy; but if they repented they might obtain pardon: for there is no sin unpardonable with God to them who truly and worthily repent." Others again have understood it to consist in the denial of the divinity of the Holy Ghost. Thus Epiphanius charged with this sin the Maccdonian heretics, because they opposed the Godhead of the Holy Spirit, making him a mere creature. In like manner Ambrose accused these same heretics of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, because they denied his divinity.
2. The two most important patristic authorities on this subject. These are Chrysostom among the Greek Fathers, and Augustine of the Latin Fathers; both near the close of the fourth century. The former on the nature of the sin itself says, "For though you say that you know me not, you are surely not ignorant of that also, that to expel demons and cure diseases are the work of the Holy Spirit. Not only, then, do you insult me, but the Holy Spirit also. Therefore your punishment is inevitable both here and hereafter." Again, in reference to the unpardonableness of this sin, he says, "'Ye have said many things against me—that I am a deceiver, that I am an opponent of God. These things I forgive you on your repentance, and I do not exact punishment of you; but the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven even to the penitent.' And how could this have reason, for truly even this sin was forgiven to persons repenting? Many, then, of those who said these things believed afterwards, and all was forgiven them. What, then, does he mean? That this sin above all is least capable of pardon. Why at all? Because they were ignorant who Christ was; but of the Holy Spirit they had had sufficient proof. For truly the prophets spake by him what they did speak, and all in the old dispensation had had abundant knowledge of him. What he means then is this: 'Grant it, you stumble at me because of the garb of flesh I have assumed; can you also say about the Holy Spirit that you are ignorant of him? Therefore this blasphemy shall not be forgiven you; both here and there you shall suffer punishment.'" Further on he proceeds to say, "For truly some men are punished both here and there; others only here; others only there; while others neither here nor there. Here and there, as these very persons (i.e. the Pharisees), for truly both here they suffered punishment when they endured those irremediable sufferings at the capture of their city; and there they shall undergo the most severe punishment, as the inhabitants of Sodom, and as many others. But there only, as that rich man when tortured in flames was not master of even a drop of water. Some only here, as the person who had committed fornication among the Corinthians. Others again, neither here nor there, as the apostles, as the prophets, and as the blessed Job; for what they suffered did not belong to punishment, but was exercises and conflicts." The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is, according to Chrysostom, greater than the sin against the Son of man, and, though not absolutely irremissible to such as repent, yet in the absence of such timely repentance it will be punished both here and hereafter. Augustine has several references to this sin, but his opinion of the matter may be briefly summed up in continued resistance to the influences of the Holy Spirit by insuperable hardness of heart, and in perseverance in obduracy and impenitence to the last. Thus in his Commentary on Romans he says, "That man sins against the Holy Spirit who, despairing or deriding and despising the preaching of grace by which sins are washed away, and of peace by which we are reconciled to God, refuses to repent of his sins, and resolves that he must go on hardening himself in a certain impious and fatal sweetness of them, and persists therein to the end." He further insists that neither pagans, nor Jews, nor heretics, nor schismatics, however they may have opposed the Holy Spirit before baptism, were shut out by the Church from that sacrament in case they truly repented; nor after baptism in case of falling into sin, or resisting the Spirit of God, were they debarred from restoration to pardon and peace on repentance, and that even those whom our Lord charged with this blasphemy might repent and betake themselves to the Divine mercy. "What else remains," he asks, "but that the sin against the Holy Spirit, which our Lord says is neither forgiven in this world nor in that which is to come, must be understood to be no other than perseverance in malignity and wickedness with despair of the indulgence and mercy of God? For this is to resist the grace and peace of the Spirit of which we speak."
3. Modern expositions of this sin. Some of these reproduce or nearly so the interpretations of the ancients. They may in the main be divided into three classes. The first class consists of those who, like Hammond, Tillotson, Wetstein, understand the sin in question to be the diabolical calumny of the Pharisees, in ascribing to the power of Satan the miracles which the Saviour by the Spirit given him without measure performed. Here was evidently the mighty power of God, but these men, maliciously, wantonly, and wickedly, as also presumptuously and blasphemously, pronounced the miracle just wrought before their eyes and in their presence to be an effect produced by the evil one. The connection instituted between the twenty-ninth and thirtieth verses of this third chapter of St. Mark by the word ὅτι, corresponding to the parallel διὰ τοῦτο of St. Matthew, and the imperfect ἔλεγον, equivalent to" they kept saying," are both in favor of this interpretation. Under this first class are several modifications, such as that which proceeds on the supposed distinction between "Son of man" and "Son of God," as though he said that whosoever spake a word against Jesus as the Son of man, having his divinity shrouded and veiled in his humanity, might obtain forgiveness; but blasphemy against him as the Son of God, evidencing his divinity by miracles, could not obtain forgiveness. Another modification understands our Lord's warning the Pharisees that they were fast approaching an unpardonable sin by wickedly rejecting the Son of man as a Saviour; that one step further—one other blasphemy, that of the Spirit who, if not then, might hereafter reveal this, or a coming, Saviour unto them, would deprive them of the means and agent and so of the hope of salvation, and consequently of pardon. Yet another modification is that of Grotius, following in the steps of Chrysostom, to the effect that it is easier for any or all sins to obtain forgiveness than that this calumny should be pardoned; and that it will be severely punished both in the present and coming age. The second class, to which Whitby, Doddridge, and Macknight belong, holds that the Pharisees, by their conduct on this particular occasion or at the time then present, were not guilty of the sin referred to, and in fact that the sin against the Holy Ghost could not be committed while Christ still abode on earth, and before his ascension; because the Spirit was not yet given. They hold, therefore, that after our Lord's resurrection and ascension, when he would send down the Holy Ghost to attest his mission, and when his supernatural gifts and miraculous operations would furnish incontestable proofs of almighty power, any such calumny or blasphemy uttered against the Spirit then would be unpardonable. The reason was plain, because the Son of man, while he was clothed in human flesh, and his divinity shrouded from human sight, and while his work on earth was not yet finished, might be slandered by persons unwittingly, or, according to the Scripture phrase, "ignorantly in unbelief;" but once the Holy Spirit had come down, and shed the light of heaven over the events of the Saviour's life from the cradle to the cross, and had illumined with glory unspeakable the scenes of Gethsemane and Calvary and Olivet, making plain to every willing mind the momentous import of all those marvellous transactions, the blasphemy of the Spirit could not then be in ignorance or for lack of sufficient demonstration; but presumptuous against light and against knowledge, from sheer malevolence and unaccountable malignity. The Pharisees were preparing for this—they were approaching the brink of this fearful abyss, and our Lord warns them back before it was possible for them to take the fatal plunge, and involve themselves in ruin without remedy. A third class of interpreters generalizes the sin in question in much the same way as we have seen Augustine do, and resolves it into continued resistance and obstinate opposition to the grace of the gospel, impenitently and unbelievingly persisted in till the end. This is the view which Dr. Chalmers elabourates with great eloquence and power in his sermon on "Sin against the Holy Ghost." In that sermon we read as follows:—"A man may shut against himself all the avenues of reconciliation. There is nothing mysterious in the kind of sin by which the Holy Spirit is tempted to abandon him to that state in which there can be no forgiveness and no return unto God. It is by a movement of conscience within him, that the man is made sensible of sin, that he is visited with the desire of reformation, that he is given to feel his need both of mercy to pardon, and of grace to help him; in a word, that he is drawn unto the Saviour, and brought into that intimate alliance with him by faith which brings down upon him both acceptance with the Father and all the power of a new and constraining impulse to the way of obedience. But this movement is a suggestion of the Spirit of God, and, if it be resisted by any man, the Spirit is resisted. The God who offers to draw him unto Christ is resisted. The man refuses to believe because his deeds are evil; and by every day of perseverance in these deeds, the voice which tells him of their guilt and urges him to abandon them is resisted; and thus the Spirit ceases to suggest, and the Father, from whom the Spirit proceedeth, ceases to draw, and the inward voice ceases to remonstrate—and all this because their authority has been so often put forth and so often turned away. This is the deadly offense which has reared an impassable wall against the return of the obstinately impenitent. This is the blasphemy to which no forgiveness can be granted, because, in its very nature, the man who has come this length feels no movement of conscience towards that ground on which alone forgiveness can be awarded to him, and where it is never refused even to the very worst and most malignant of human iniquities. This is the sin against the Holy Ghost. It is not peculiar to any one age. It does not lie in any one unfathomable mystery. It may be seen at this day in thousands and thousands more, who, by that most familiar and most frequently exemplified of all habits, a habit of resistance to a sense of duty, have at length stifled it altogether, and driven their, inward monitor away from them, and have sunk into a profound moral lethargy, and so will never obtain forgiveness—not because forgiveness is ever refused to any who repent and believe the gospel, but because they have made their faith and their repentance impracticable The whole mysteriousness of this sin against the Holy Ghost is thus done away. Grant him the office with which he is invested in the Word of God, even the office of instigating the conscience to all its reprovals of sin, and to all its admonitions of repentance; and then, if ever you witnessed the case of a man whose conscience had fallen into a profound and irrecoverable sleep, or, at least, had lost to such a degree its power of control over him, that he stood out against every engine which was set up to bring him to the faith and repentance of the New Testament,—behold in such a man a stoner against conscience to such a woeful extent that conscience had given up its direction of him; or, in other words, a sinner against the Holy Ghost to such an extent that he had let down the office of warning him away from that ground of danger and of guilt on which he stood so immovably posted." There are some modifications of this view which it may be well to notice. One is that which makes the sin against the Holy Ghost to be resistance to conscience as the voice of God in the soul—the voice which the Holy Spirit employs in testifying to truth and goodness, and in reprobating sin and recommending the Saviour. Another modification is that which makes blasphemy against the Holy Ghost to consist in the expression of malignant unbelief of, and wilful apostasy from, the truth of God, and that, because it is the Holy Ghost which illumines the understanding and applies the truth to the heart of believers.
4. Remarks on the foregoing theories. In our observations on the foregoing theories we do not deem it prudent dogmatically to determine which of them is the correct one. In a ease where such diversities of opinion have prevailed, even among the ablest scholars and the most eloquent theologians, it is better that every one should be persuaded in his own mind. We may, however, be permitted to state that view which has recommended itself most to our mind, and some grounds for the preference to which we think it entitled. The view held by the first class above mentioned appears to us on the whole the most tenable, for
(1) it is most in harmony with the context, as it stands both in this Gospel and that of St. Matthew. The Pharisees had witnessed an undeniable miracle in the cure of a blind and dumb demoniac; but, instead of acknowledging the finger of God in the miraculous cure, they ascribed it to complicity or collusion with the power of darkness. This was a gratuitous and malicious calumny; it was a sin of speech as well as of thought—a blasphemy, in fact, in the literal sense. The form which the sin is represented as taking is that of speech, as appears plainly from the contrast between speaking a word against the Son of man and speaking against the Holy Ghost. Again,
(2) the allegation of the second class, that the Holy Ghost was not given till after the Ascension, though quite true in reference to the disciples, does not apply to the Master, to whom the Spirit was given without measure from the first. Further,
(3) the view of the third class, so ably advocated by Dr. Chalmers and many others, and which in substance was that held by Augustine, appears too wide in extent and too general in its character; whereas the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is something peculiar and special, and of rare occurrence. Besides, if the sin in question consisted in obstinate resistance to the gospel, continued till that resistance culminated in final unbelief, it would Be little, if anything, different from sin in general which, by obstinate continuance therein, becomes unpardonable, and that, not from lack of cleansing power in the blood of Christ, nor from any peculiar aggravation, but solely on account of continued persistence therein.
5. Perilous approximations to this sin. That marry have been unduly exercised and harassed by fancied guiltiness of this sin, is certain; that some have despaired or become melancholy on this account, is credible; that many have been driven to insanity by it we can scarcely believe. To any who are troubled with anxious thoughts about the matter we may say that, according to the theories of the first and second classes, they could not have committed the same sin in kind—as they did not, like the Pharisees, see the miracles wrought by our Lord, nor did they witness the supernatural operations of the Spirit after his descent at Pentecost—whatever the degree of their sin may have been; while, with respect to the third, the sin being that of continued resistance, they have only to abandon their dogged opposition, the abandonment of which their very anxiety proves to have become already an accomplished fact. To all, of whatever class of opinion, who are apprehensive—earnestly apprehensive and afraid of having committed this sin—their very uneasiness on that score is proof of their guiltlessness of the fancied crime, for these very upbraidings of conscience prove incompatibility with commission of this sin. At the same time, there are approximations to this sin which we should most carefully guard against. A rejection of the truth of Scripture wilfully persisted in; or trifling with the operations of the Holy Spirit in the heart; or ridicule of religion and opposition to its ordinances in general; or hostility to Christianity in particular; or contempt, malevolence, and slander directed against God and the things of God, or against the Church and people of God; or mockery of sacred things; or blasphemous suggestions harboured and indulged in—each of these involves an awfulness of criminality and a fearfulness of guilt that betoken a considerable similarity or close approximation to the heinousness of the unpardonable sin. We do not affirm that any of these is actually that sin, but only such an approach to the verge of the precipice as is sufficient to startle men to a sense of danger, and drive them back before they venture a step further. Alford, who makes the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost to be a state of wilful, determined opposition to the present power of the Holy Ghost, in which state or at least approaching very near to which the act of the Pharisees proved them to be, compares, among other Scriptures, Hebrews 6:4-58.6.8 and Hebrews 10:26, Hebrews 10:27. But the purport of the last-cited Scripture is that, in case the sacrifice of Christ is rejected, there is no other sacrifice available, all others having been done away, and consequently no other means of escape from the wrath of God; while the former passage refers to apostasy so aggravated as to render restoration impossible, because the persons guilty of it felt away in spite of the clearest possible evidence to the truth of the Christian faith. Another Scripture frequently compared with that before us is 1 John 5:16. The there mentioned as tending unto (εἰς) death is regarded by some to be the act of denying Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God, or the state of apostasy indicated by that act; others hold it to be apostasy from Christianity, combined with diabolical enmity, and that in the face of extraordinary evidence; but it appears to be a specific act of sin, of the commission of which the evidence is clear and convincing, distinct and precise—such an act of apostasy as blasphemes the Holy Ghost by ascribing his operations to Satanic power. This sin unto death is certainly the nearest approach to the unpardonable sin, if it be not, as many hold it to be, identical with it. Of the three different readings, κρίσεως, κολάσεως, and ἁμαρτήματος, the last is the best supported; while the expression "an eternal sin" signifies either a sin that is not pardoned or a sin of which the punishment is not remitted. The connection of the aphoristic expression which immediately follows in St. Matthew, viz. "Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit," is briefly but correctly pointed out in the remark of Chrysostom, "Since they did not reprove the works, but calumniated him that did them, he shows that this accusation was contrary to the natural sequence of affairs."—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 12:46-40.12.50; Luke 8:19-42.8.21.—
The real relationship.
I. NO SLIGHT INTENDED. The crowd that sat around prevented his relatives reaching him; they therefore sent a message, to which his reply cannot with any propriety be twisted into an expression of contempt. His obedience to his parents in the humble home at Nazareth during the years of youth, and his tender solicitude for his apparently widowed mother when, as he hung on the cross, he commended her to the care of the beloved disciple, preclude the possibility of such a meaning.
II. HEAVENLY KINSHIP. He looked round in a circle; this expression of the look, like that of the sitting posture of the multitude, implies the report of an eye-witness. Looking round about him and directly into the face of every faithful follower sitting there, he announced a higher and holier relationship than that formed by an earthly tie; he acquainted them with the existence of kinship near and dear as that which unites the nearest and dearest of human kindred. The Church is Christ's family, and to every true member of that family he is bound by the tenderest bonds of love. What a privilege to be thus closely united to and tenderly loved by Christ!
III. CONDITION OF THIS RELATIONSHIP. It is not the possession of varied knowledge of God's will and works and ways, though that is important; nor is it the possession of faith, though that is the root; nor is it the acceptance of Christ in the exercise of faith, though that is indispensable to salvation; but it is a more practical condition, and one more easily known and more readily discernible;—it is doing the will of God.
IV. THE MEASURE OF ENDEARMENT BELONGING TO THIS KINSHIP. The Saviour makes his natural affections the measure of his spiritual friendship. When we are enjoined to love our neighbor as ourselves, it does not mean that we should love ourselves less, but our neighbor more; so here, he does not love his mother and brothers and sisters less, but his true disciples more. The poorest and meanest as well as the richest may attain to this honor and share this love. We may obtain in this way a name better than that of sons and daughters; we may be honored with that new, best name of love.
"Behold th' amazing gift of love
The Father hath bestow'd
On us, the sinful sons of men,
To call us some of God."
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Mark 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent