free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!
Our Lord now left the neighbourhood of Capernaum, and came into his own country, the district of Nazareth, where he had been, not born indeed, but brought up, and where his kinsfolk after the flesh still lived. Nazareth would be about a day's journey from Capernaum. This was not the first public exercise of his ministry at Nazareth. Of that and its results St. Luke gives us the account (Luke 4:16). It would seem reasonable to suppose that, after the fame which he had now acquired, he should again visit the place where he had been brought up. His sisters were still living there. St. Mark here again uses the historical present ἔρχεται, "he cometh," for which there is better authority than for ἧλθεν. His disciples follow him. Only the chosen three had been with him in the house of Jairus. The presence of the whole body of the disciples would be valuable at Nazareth.
As usual, he made the sabbath the special time for his teaching. And many hearing him were astonished. They were astonished at the ability, the sublimity, the holiness of his teaching, as well as at the signs and wonders by which he confirmed it. "Many" hearing him; not all. Some listened with faith; but "the many" (there is some authority for οἱ πολλοὶ)were envious of him. Whence hath this man these things? The expression, "this man," is repeated, according to the best authorities, in the next clause, What is the wisdom that is given (not "unto him," but) unto this man? There is a contemptuous tone about the expression.
Is not this the carpenter? St. Matthew (Matthew 13:55) says, "the carpenter's son." We infer from this that our Lord actually worked at the trade of a carpenter, and probably continued to do so until he entered upon his public ministry. We may also infer that Joseph was now no longer living, otherwise it would have been natural for his name to have been mentioned here. According to St. Chrysostom, our Lord made ploughs and yokes for oxen. Certain]y, he often drew his similitudes from these things. "No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me "(Matthew 11:29). Christ was the son of a carpenter. Yes; but he was also the Son of him who made the world at his will. Yea, he himself made the world. "All things were made by him," the Eternal Word. And he made them for us, that we might judge of the Maker by the greatness of his work. He chose to be the son of a carpenter. If he had chosen to be the sou of an emperor, then men might have ascribed his influence to the circumstances of his birth. But he chose a humble and obscure condition, for this, among other reasons, that it might be acknowledged that it was his divinity that transformed the world. Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? Some have thought that these were literally brethren of our Lord, sons of Joseph and Mary. Others have considered that they were his legal half-brothers, sons of Joseph by a former marriage. This view is held by many of the Greek Fathers, and has something to recommend it. But, on the whole, the most probable opinion is that they were cousins of our Lord—sons of a sister of the Virgin Mary, also called Mary, the wife of Cleophas, Clopas, or Alpheeus. There is evidence that there were four sons of Clopas and Mary, whose names were James, and Joses, and Simon (or Symeon), and Judas. Mary the wife of Clopas is mentioned by St. Matthew (Matthew 27:56) as the mother of James the less and of Joses. Jude describes himself (Jude 1:5) as the brother of James; and Simon, or Symeon, is mentioned in Eusebius as the son of Clopas. It must be remembered also that the word ἀδελφός, like the Hebrew word which it expresses, means not only "a brother," but generally "a near kinsman." In the same way the "sisters" would be cousins of our Lord. According to a tradition recorded by Nicephorus (James 2:3), the names of these sisters or cousins were Esther and Tamar. And they were offended in him. They took it ill that one brought up amongst them as a carpenter should set himself up as a prophet and a teacher; just as there are those in every age who are apt to take it amiss if they see any one spring from a trade into the doctor's chair. But these Nazarencs knew not that Jesus was the Son of God, who of his great love for man vouchsafed to take a low estate, that he might redeem us, and teach us humility by his example. And thus this humility and love of Christ, which ought to have excited their admiration and respect, was a stumbling-block to them, because they could not receive it, or believe that God was willing thus to humble himself.
A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, etc. One reason for this is that it is almost natural for persons to hold of less account than they ought, those with whom they have been brought up and have lived on familiar terms. Prophets are commonly least regarded, and often most envied, in their own country. However unworthy may be the feeling, the inhabitants of a district, or members of a community, do not like to see one of themselves put above them, more especially a junior over a senior, or a man of humble origin over a man well born. But it should be remembered that God abhors the envious, and will withhold the wonders of his grace from those who grudge his gifts to others. The men of Nazareth, when they saw Christ eating, and drinking, and sleeping, and working at his trade, like others, despised him when he claimed respect and reverence as a Prophet, and especially because his relations according to the flesh were of humble condition; and Joseph more particularly, whom they supposed to be his real father, for they could not imagine or believe that he was born of a virgin, and had God alone for his Father.
Mark 6:5, Mark 6:6
And he could there do no mighty work. This is a remarkable expression. He could do no mighty work there. The words imply want of power—that in some sense or other he was unable to do it. He did indeed perform some miracles. He laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them; but he wrought none of his greater miracles there. Of course, even these less striking miracles ought to have sufficed. in a miracle there must be the suspension of some known law of nature; and one clear instance of such suspension ought to be as conclusive as a hundred. Then it must be remembered that it is not God's method in his dealings with his creatures to force conviction upon them when the ordinary means prove insufficient. For men's actions must be free if they are to be made the test of judgment, and they would not be free if God constrained men to obey his will. The men of Nazareth had sufficient evidence had they not chosen to be blinded, and a greater amount of evidence would only have increased their condemnation. So their unbelief thwarted his purposes of mercy, and he went in and out amongst them like one hampered and disabled, marvelling at their unbelief, or rather marveling because of their unbelief (διὰ τὴν ἀπιστίαν αὐτῶν). The condition of mind of these Nazarenes was what caused amazement to the Saviour. At length he turned away from Nazareth, never, so far as we know, to visit it again; for this was their second opportunity, and the second occasion which they deliberately rejected him. What, however, they refused he immediately offered to others. He was not discouraged. He went round about the villages teaching.
At Mark 3:7 we had the account of our Lord's selection of the twelve. Here we find the notice of their being first sent forth. Their names have already been recorded. He gave them authority—mark the imperfect (ἐδίδου)—over unclean spirits. St. Matthew (Matthew 10:1) adds, "and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease." But St. Mark here fixes the attention upon the great central object of Christ's mission—to contend against evil in every form, and especially to grapple with Satan in his stronghold in the hearts of men.
They should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only. St. Matthew says (Matthew 10:10), according to the best authorities (μηδὲ ῥάβδον), they were not to take a staff. St. Luke says the same as St. Matthew. The meaning is that they were not to make any special provision for their journey, but to go forth just as they were, depending upon God. Those who bad a staff might use it; those who had not one were not to trouble themselves to procure one. The scrip (πήρα) was the wallet for food. They were to take no money in their purse (μὴ εἰς τὴν ζώνην χαλκόν); literally, brass in their girdle. St. Mark, writing for Romans, uses this word for money. St. Luke, writing for Greeks, uses the term (ἀργύριον) "silver." St. Matthew (Matthew 10:9) says, "provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass."
But be shod with sandals. This is quite consistent with what St. Matthew says (Matthew 10:9), that they were not to provide themselves with shoes (μηδὲ ὑποδήματα). According to St. Matthew, shoes are forbidden directly; according to St. Mark, they are forbidden by implication, where he says that they were to be shod with sandals. Shoes are here forbidden which cover the whole foot, not sandals which only protect the soles of the feet lest they should be injured by the rocky ground. The soil of Judaea was rocky and rough, and the climate hot. The sandals therefore protected the soles of the feet, and yet, being open above, kept the feet more cool, and therefore fit for the journey. It is worthy of our notice that, after our Lord's ascension, we find St. Peter using sandals when the angel, who delivered him out of prison, said to him (Acts 12:8), "Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals."
There abide, till ye depart thence. They were not to change their lodgings in any place. This direction was given to them, lest, if they did, they might appear to be fickle and restless; or lest they might hurt the feelings of those with whom they had first lodged. And they were not to stay too long anywhere, lest they should be burdensome to any.
Shake off the dust (τὸν χοῦν) literally, the soil—that is under your feet. St. Matthew and St. Luke use the word (κονιορτὸν) "dust." A very significant action. The dust was shaken off as an evidence of the toil and labour of the apostles in journeying to them. It witnessed that they had entered the city and had delivered message, and that their message had been refused. The very dust, therefore, of the place was a defilement to them. "It shall be more tolerable," etc. This clause is omitted by the best authorities; it was probably copied from St. Matthew.
They preached that men should repent. This was their great work, to which the miracles were subordinate.
And anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them. It is hardly possible to separate this from the reference to the use of oil for the sick, in James 5:14. Unction was employed extensively in ancient times for medicinal purposes. It is recorded of Herod the Great by Josephus ('Antiq.,' 17:6, 5) that in one of his sicknesses he was "immersed in a bath full of oil," from which he is said to have derived much benefit. The apostles used it, no doubt not only on account of its supposed remedial virtues, but also as an outward and visible sign that the healing was effected by their instrumentality in the name of Christ, and perhaps also because the oil itself was significant of God's mercy, of spiritual comfort and joy'' the oil of gladness." Neither this passage nor that in St. James can properly be adduced to support the ceremony of "extreme unction;" for in both these cases the result was that the sick were restored to health. The so-called sacrament of" extreme unction "is administered immediately before death, when the sick person is in articulo morris.
This Herod is called by St. Matthew (Matthew 14:1) "the tetrarch;" and so also by St. Luke (Luke 9:7); though it should be noticed that St. Matthew, in the same context, at Verse 9, calls him "king." The word "tetrarch" properly means the sovereign or ruler of the fourth part of a territory. He is known as Herod Anti-pus, son of Herod the Great, who had appointed him "tetrarch" of Galilee and Peraea. Herod Antipas had married the daughter of Arctas, King of Arabia, but deserted her for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife. John the Baptist is risen from the dead; that is, "is risen in the person of Jesus Christ." St. Luke. (Luke 9:7) says that at first Herod was "much perplexed (διηπόρει)" "about him. At length, however, as he heard more and more of the fame of Christ's miracles, he came to the conclusion that our Lord was none other than John the Baptist risen again. Such is the opinion of St. Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and others. At that time the views of Pythagoras respecting the transmigration of souls were generally current, and probably influenced the troubled mind of Herod. He had put to death an innocent and holy man; and it is a high testimony to the worth of the Baptist that, under the reproaches of a guilty conscience, Herod should have come to the conclusion that he had risen from the dead, thus probably giving the lie to his own opinions as a Sadducee; and terrified lest the Baptist should now avenge his own murder. "What a great thing," exclaims St. Chrysostom," is virtue! for Herod fears him, even though dead." It should not be forgotten that this is the same Herod who set Jesus at nought and mocked him, when Pilate sent him to him, in the hope of relieving himself of the terrible responsibility of condemning one whom he knew to be innocent.
In prison. Josephus ('Antiq.,' 18.5, 2) informs us that this prison was the fort of Machaerus, on the confines of Galilee and Arabia, and that there John was beheaded. Herod's father had built a magnificent palace within that fort; and so he may have been keeping the anniversary of his birthday there,
Mark 6:18, Mark 6:19
For John said unto Herod. The Greek tense (ἔλεγε) implies more than the simple expression, "he said;" it implies a repeated warning. We learn from St. Matthew (Matthew 14:5) that Herod would have killed John before, but he feared the people. Here St. Mark says that Herodias set herself against him, and desired to kill him; and she could not; for Herod feared John. There is no contradiction between the two evangelists. The case appears to have been this: that at first Herod desired to put John to death, because John had reproved him on account of Herodias. But by degrees John gained an influence over Herod by the force of his character, and by his holy life and teaching.
The words in the Authorized Version are, When he heard him, he did many things (πολλὰ ἐποίει), and heard him gladly. But according to the best authorities the reading should be (πολλὰ ἠπόρει), he was much perplexed. In St. Luke, as stated above, we have (διηπόρει), "he was much perplexed." Nor is there any inconsistency in the next clause in St. Mark, if we accept this reading. Herod was not utterly depraved. There was to him a charm, not only in the character, but in the discourses of John the Baptist. But he was an inconsistent man, and was continually the victim of a conflict between the good and the evil within him, in which evil, alas! triumphed. Herodias, on the other hand, had always wished to get rid of John, as the stern and uncompromising reprover of her adultery and incest; and so at length she persuaded Herod to give way. "For," says Bede, "she feared lest Herod should at length repent, and yield to the exhortations of John, and dissolve this unreal marriage, and restore Herodias to her lawful husband.''
The words should run thus: And when the daughter of Herodias herself came in καὶ εἰσελθούσης τῆς θυγατρὸς αὐτῆς τῆς Ἡρωδιάδος. The intention of the evangelist is to point out that it was Herodias's own daughter who danced, and not a mere professional dancing-girl. Josephus mentions that dancing-women were admitted to feasts by the Jews; and Xenophon testifies to the same custom amongst the Greeks.
And she went out, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? (τί αἰτήσομαι)—according to the best authorities (τί αἰτήσωμαι), What should I ask?
I will that thou forthwith give me in a charger (ἐπὶ πίνακι) the head of John the Baptist. John the Baptist seems to have had a presentiment of his speedy end when he said, "He must increase, but must decrease."
And the king was exceeding sorry. We cannot suppose that this was a pretended grief. The true reason is doubtless to be found in the relentless animosity of Herodias. Herod must have known well that he could not be bound by his oath in reference to a petition so unreasonable and so iniquitous. Nevertheless he thought that "the words of a king were law." St. Augustine says, "The girl dances; the mother rages. A rash oath is made amidst the excitement and the voluptuous indulgence of the feast; and the savage desires of Herodias are fulfilled." For the sake of his oaths (διὰ τοὺς ὅρκους); the plural shows that he repeated the rash promise once and again.
He sent forth an executioner (σπεκουλάτωρα); literally, a soldier of his guard; one of his body-guard, in constant attendance as messenger or executioner. It is a Roman word from speculari, to watch. St. Jerome relates that when the head of the Baptist was brought, Herodias barbarously thrust the tongue through with a bodkin, as Fulvia is said to have done over and over again, the tongue of Cicero; thus verifying what Cicero had once said while living, that "nothing is more revengeful than a woman." Because they could not bear to hear the truth, therefore they bored through with a bodkin the tongue that had spoken the truth.
The taking up of the corpse by the disciples would seem to intimate that it lay uncared for and unburied until the disciples showed their respect for it. Josephus says that after the beheading, the mutilated remains were east out of the prison and left neglected. God's judgments at length found out Herod. For not long after this he was defeated by Aretas in a great battle, and put to an ignominious flight. Herodias herself and Herod were banished by a decree of the Roman Senate to Lyons, where they both perished miserably; and Nicephorus relates that Salome, the daughter of Herodias, died by a remarkable visitation. She fell through some treacherous ice over which she was passing, and fell through it in such a manner that her head was caught while the rest of her body sank into the water, and thus it came to pass that in her efforts to save herself her head was nearly severed by the sharp edges of the broken ice.
The narrative, which had been interrupted by this parenthesis relating to John the Baptist, is now taken up again. The apostles. This is the only place where St. Mark calls them apostles. In the parallel passage, St. Luke (Luke 9:10) says that they told him all that they had done. St. Mark adds, with more detail, and whatsoever (ὅσα) they had taught. They gave him a full account of their mission.
Our Lord cared for his disciples. They required rest after the labour and excitement of their ministry; and it was impossible to find the needful refreshment and repose where they were so thronged by the multitude.
And they went away in the boat (τῷ πλοίῳ) to a desert place apart—the boat, no doubt, which our Lord had ordered to be always in attendance upon him. We learn from St. Luke (Luke 9:10) that this desert place was near to "a city called Bethsaida." It seems that there were two places called Bethsaida—one in Galilee proper, and the other to the north-east of the Sea of Galilee. It was to the neighborhood of this latter place that our Lord here directs the boat to take him. The other Bethsaida is mentioned lower down at Verse 45. The word Bethsaida means the "fish village."
This is very graphic. The Greek in the first part of this verse runs thus, according to the best authorities: Καὶ εἶδον αὐτοὸς ὑπάγοντας καὶ ἐπέγνωσαν αὐτὸν πολλοί: And they—i.e. the people—saw them going, and many knew them. They saw them departing, and observed what direction the boat took, and then hastened thither on foot, and outwent them; and so were ready to meet them again on the opposite shore when they landed. The distance by land from the place where they started would be about twenty miles.
Our Lord had gone to this desert place for retirement and rest; but finding the multitude waiting For him, his compassions were stirred, and he began to teach them many things. He was moved with compassion, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd. No animal is more helpless, more stupid, more in need of a shepherd, than the sheep. St. Chrysostom observes that the scribes were not so much pastors as wolves, because, by teaching errors both by word and by example, they perverted the minds of the simple.
And when the day was now far spent. The English, like the Greek, is here very idiomatic (καὶ ἤδη ὥρας πολλῆς γενομένης). The English is retained in the Revised Version as it came through the Authorized Version from Tyndale. The present participle γενομένης appears in the Sinaitic Manuscript and in the Cambridge Codex. His disciples came unto him, and said. The best reading is (καὶ ἔλεγον), and were saying. St. Matthew (Matthew 14:16) says, "They need not depart; give ye them to eat." Thus our Lord prepared the way for his miracle, tie detained the multitude till the day was far spent, so that the disciples might be induced to pray him to dismiss them. This would open the way for him to direct the disciples to feed them. And thus the miracle would appear all the more evident in proportion as they found themselves in a strait, and utterly destitute of the needful supplies of food for such a multitude in the desert. St. John's account here is much more full. He tells us (John 6:5) that Jesus, addressing Philip, said, "Whence are we to buy bread, that these may eat?" And he adds, "This he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do." Our Lord, it would seem, asked Philip rather than the others, because Philip was simple-minded, sincere, and teachable, rather than clever, and so was accustomed to ask things which appeared plain to others. We have an instance of this simplicity of mind in the question which he asks (John 14:8), "Lord show us the Father, and it sufficeth us."
Two hundred pennyworth of bread. The penny, or "denarius," was the chief Roman silver coin, worth about eight-pence halfpenny. Upon the breaking up of the Roman empire, the states which arose upon its ruins imitated the coinage of the old imperial mints, and in general called their principal silver coin the "denarius." Thus the denarius found its way into this country through the Anglo-Saxons, and it was for a long period the only coin. Hence the introduction of the word into the Authorized Version. Two hundred pennyworth would be of the value of nearly seven pounds. But considering the constant fluctuation in the relation between money and the commodities purchased by money, it is in vain to require what number of loaves the same two hundred denarii would purchase at that time, although it was evidently the representation of a large supply of bread.
Five (loaves), and two fishes. St. John tells us (John 6:9) that the loaves were of barley, and that the fishes were small (ὀψάρια); St. Mark says δύο ἰχθύας. Barley bread was considered an inferior and homely kind of food, very inferior to bread made of wheat flour. The comparative value of the two kinds of bread is given in Revelation 6:6. "A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny." The psalmist alludes to the greater excellence of wheat flour: "He would have fed them also with the finest wheat flour" (Psalms 81:16).
All were to sit down by companies (συμπόσια συμπόσια)—St. Luke (Luke 9:14) says that the companies were about fifty each (ἀνὰ πεντήκοντα)—upon the green grass. St. John says (John 6:10) that "there was much grass in the place." This indicates the time of the year. The grass was growing, and it was green. It would not be green in that district after April. Thus St. Mark's account of the state of the grass at that time (an account evidently repeated from an eye-witness) coincides with the account of St. John, who says that "the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was at hand" (John 6:4).
And they sat down in ranks (ἀνέπεσον πρασιαὶ πρασιαὶ); literally, they reclined. The Greek word πρασια means "a garden plot" or "bed," literally, a bed of leeks. They were disposed symmetrically. Probably the English word "ranks" expresses the meaning as clearly as any could do. This arrangement was probably made, partly that the numbers might be better known, partly that all things might be done in an orderly manner, and that each might have his portion. St. Matthew's account (Matthew 14:21) seems to imply that the "men" were separated from the "women and children."
All the synoptists give our Lord's acts in the same words. The taking of the food into the hands would seem to have been a formal act before the" blessing," or "giving of thanks," for it. Probably our Lord used the ordinary form of benediction. This is one amongst other instances showing the fitness and propriety of" grace before meat." In considering the miraculous action which followed the benediction, our reason is baffled. It eludes our grasp. It is best simply to behold in this multiplying of the food, both the bread and the fishes, an act of Divine omnipotence; not indeed now, as at the beginning, a creation out of nothing, for here there was the nucleus of the five loaves and the two fishes, but an act of creative development of the food in its best kind; for all the works of God are perfect, He gave (ἐδίδου) would be better rendered, he was giving. It was in his hands that the miracle was wrought, and the food continually multiplied.
Mark 6:42, Mark 6:43
They did all eat, and were filled (ἐχορτάσθησαν). It might be rendered, were fulfilled, according to the old meaning of "fulfill." It is probable that the women and children were a considerable number; for they would be, if possible, even more eager then the men to see the great Prophet. When all had eaten and were satisfied, they took up broken pieces, twelve basketfuls, and also of the fishes. St. John tells us that this was done by the express command of Christ (John 6:12); and the existence of these fragments, far more in quantity than the original supply, was a striking testimony to the reality of the miracle, and that there was enough and more than enough for all. It does not become us to pry too curiously into the method of our Lord's working; but the number of these baskets (κοφίνους), namely, twelve, seems to suggest that he first broke the loaves, and in breaking multiplied them, and distributed them into these baskets, one for each apostle, and that the food, as it was distributed by the disciples, was more and more multiplied, as needed, so that at length they brought back to Christ as many basketfuls of fragments as they had first received from him, and much more than the original supply. It is obvious here to remark that by this stupendous miracle our Lord showed himself to be the true Bread of life, by which the spiritual wants of all hungering souls may be supplied. "For," says St. Augustine," he was the Word of God, and all the acts of the Word are themselves words for us. They are not as pictures, merely, to look at and admire; but as letters which we must seek to read and understand."
The other side. It would seem, as has already been stated, that there were two Bethsaidas (or "places of fish"—fish-villages)—one to the north-east of the Sea of Galilee, not far from where the Jordan enters it, called Bethsaida Julias; and the other on the western side of the sea itself, near to Capernaum. Again and again our Lord crossed this sea to escape the crowds who followed him about, and now wished "to take him by force and make him a king." He desired for a time to be in retirement, in order that he might pray with the greater earnestness, and freedom from interruption. He also wished to make occasion for the miracle which was to follow, namely, the stilling of the tempest.
Mark 6:46, Mark 6:47
St. Mark is careful, like St. Matthew, to tell us that when the even was come he was alone on the land. Both the evangelists desire to call attention to the fact that, when night came on, the disciples were alone in their boat and Jesus alone on the land. It was nightfall; and St. John informs us that "the sea was rising by reason of a great wind that blew." Then it was that the Lord left his place of prayer on the mountain, and walked upon the sea, that he might succor his disciples now distressed by the storm. It would appear that our Lord had been obliged to use a little pressure to induce his disciples to leave him: "He constrained them (ἠνάγκασε τοὺς μαθητὰς αὑτοῦ)
And when he had sent them away (ἀποταξάμενος)—more literally, had taken leave of them, that is, the multitude—he departed into a mountain (εἰς τὸ ὄρος); literally, into the mountain; that is, the high table-land at the foot of which the multitude had been fed. Towards the north-east of the Sea of Galilee the land rises rapidly from the shore. To pray (προσεύξασθαι).This is a very full word, implying the outpouring of the heart to God. Our Lord did this that he might teach us in our prayers to shun the crowd, and to pray in silence and in secret, with collected mind. There is here, too, a special example for the clergy, namely, this: that when they have preached they should go apart and pray that God would make effectual that which they have delivered; that he would himself give the increase where they have planted and watered, and renew their spiritual strength, that they may return again to their labour refreshed by communion with him.
And when even was come. It was now advancing onwards into night; the wind was rising and blowing against them. Then it was that the Lord left his place of prayer on the mountain, that he might succor his disciples in their difficulties.
And he saw them toiling in rowing. The Greek is, according to the best readings καὶ ἰδὼν (not εἶδεν) αὐτοὺς βασανιξομένους ἐν τῷ ἐλαύνειν. The word βασανιξομένους means more than "toiling;" it means literally, tormented. It is well rendered in the Revised Version by distressed. It was only by painful effort that they could make head against the driving storm blowing upon them from the west, that is, from the Mediterranean Sea. About the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking on the sea. The Jews formerly divided the night into three watches; but when Judaea became a Roman province they adopted the Roman division. The Romans changed the watches every three hours, lest through too long watches the guards might slumber at their posts. These periods were called "watches." If the night was short, they divided it into three watches; if long, into four. Therefore the fourth watch began at the tenth hour of the night, that is, at three o'clock in the morning, and continued to the twelfth, that is, to six o'clock. It would seem, therefore, that this storm lasted for nine hours. During that time the disciples had rowed about twenty-five or thirty furlongs, that is about three Roman miles—eight furlongs—making a mile. The Sea of Galilee is not more than six miles broad at its widest part. They were therefore now (ἐν μέσῳ τῆς θαλάσσης) "in the midst of the sea," as St. Mark expresses it; so that, after rowing for nine hours, they had hardly crossed more than half over the sea. The Sea of Galilee is, speaking roughly, about twelve miles from north to south and six from east to west. It may be asked why our Lord suffered them to be tempest-tossed so long; and the answer is:
1. It was a trial of their faith, so as to urge them to seek more earnestly the help of God.
2. It was a lesson to accustom them to endure bard-ness.
3. It made the stilling of so tedious and dangerous a storm all the more grateful and welcome to them at last.
The Fathers find a fine spiritual meaning in this. Jerome says, "The fourth watch is the last." So, too, St. Augustine, who adds that "he who has watched the ship of his Church will come at length at the fourth watch, at the end of the world, when the night of sin and evil is ended, to judge the quick and the dead." Theophylact says, "He allows his disciples to be tried by dangers, that they may be taught patience, and does not come to them till morning, that they may learn perseverance and faith." Hilary says, "The first watch was the age of the Law, the second of the prophets, the third of the gospel, the fourth of his glorious advent, when he will find her buffeted by the spirit of antichrist and by the storms of the world. And by his reception into the ship and the consequent calm is prefigured the eternal peace of the Church after his second coming" (see Wordsworth's 'New Testament:'St. Matthew 14:1-36). He walked on the sea. This he did by his Divine power, which he possessed as God, and which, when he pleased, he could assume as man. Infidelity is at fault here. Paulus the rationalist, revived the ridiculous idea that Christ walking on the sea merely meant Christ walking on the shore, elevated above the sea; but the interpretation was rightly denounced by Lavater as "a laughable insult on logic, hermeneutics, good sense, and honesty." Was it because our Lord simply walked on the shore that the disciples "cried out and were troubled"? Was it merely for this that they were "sore amazed at themselves beyond measure and wondered"? Yet such are the shifts to which unbelief is reduced when it ventures to measure itself against the acts of Omnipotence. He would have passed by them. An expression something like that in St. Luke (Luke 24:28), "He made as though he would go further," although there the Greek in St. Luke is different (προσεποιεῖτο πορρωτέρω πορεύεσθαι). Here it is ἤθελε παρελθεῖν: literally, he wished to pass by them; so at least it appeared to the disciples. It has been suggested that our Lord did this that the disciples might more clearly see how the wind was stilled in his presence. They supposed that it was an apparition (ἔδοξαν ὄτι φάντασμα εἶναι); literally, a phantom. Why did they suppose this? Partly from the idea that spectres appear in the night and in the darkness to terrify men, and partly because in the darkness they could not so readily recognize that it was Jesus. Then the fact that our Lord" would bare passed by them," flitting past them as though he eared nothing for them and had nothing to do with them, but was going elsewhere; this must have increased their terror. But now came the moment for him to calm their fears. Straightway he talked with them soothingly. Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid. Now, Christ did this that he might teach his disciples to conquer fear and temptation, even when they are very great, and that so the deliverance and the consolation might impress them all the more powerfully and sweetly in proportion to their former terror. "'It is I'—I, your Lord and Master, whom you know so well, and of whose goodness and omnipotence you have already had so much experience; I, your Master, who do not come to mock you as a phantom, but to deliver you both from fear and from storm." It will be observed that St. Mark omits all mention of Peter's act of faith "in going down from the boat, and walking upon the waters to come to Jesus," as recorded by St. Matthew (Matthew 14:28). Throughout this Gospel, as already noticed, St. Peter is kept in the background.
Mark 6:51, Mark 6:52
The amazement of the disciples was very great. Nor was the impression confined to them alone. St. Matthew (Matthew 14:33) tells us that they who were in the boat came and worshipped him. They felt, at least for the 'moment, that they were brought into awful nearness to One whose "way is in the sea," and whose "path is in the great waters," and whose "footsteps are not known." They needed not, however, to have been so amazed, for they had just witnessed his power in the miracle of the loaves; but they understood not (ἐπὶ τοῖς ἄρτοις) concerning the loaves, but their heart was (πεπωρωμένη) hardened; literally, stupefied and blinded.
They came into the land of Gennesaret; literally (ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν ἦλθον εἰς Γεννησαρέτ), they came to the land unto Gennesaret. This was the plain on the western side of the sea sometimes called "the lake of Gennesaret." The name Gennesaret (says Cornelius a Lapide) means "a fertile garden." There was a city originally called "Chinnereth" or "Cinneroth," mentioned in Joshua 19:25, which probably gave one of its names to this lake.
Straightaway the people knew him. Some, no doubt, had known him before, he was now the general object of interest and attraction wherever he went. They began to carry about on their beds (ἐπὶ τοῖς κραββάτοις) those that were sick, where they heard he was. The original is very expressive (ὅπου ἤκουον ὅτι ἐκεῖ ἐστι where they heard, He is there. But the best authorities omit ἐκεῖ. Villages, or cities, or fields (Greek, ἀγρούς); literally, country, where the pursuits of agriculture would be going on. They laid the sick in the streets (Greek, ἐν ταῖς ἀγοραῖς)—literally, market-places; the proper rendering—that they might touch if it were but the border of his garment. The border (κράσπεδον) means the" fringe" or "hem;" the garment was the outer robe worn over the tunic. And as many as touched him were made whole (ὅσοι ἂν ἤψαντο αὐτοῦ ἐσώζοντο); Μαρκ might mean either "him" or "it," that is, "the border of his garment." But the difference is of little importance; for it was faith in those who touched which brought the healing virtue to the sick, whether they touched the Saviour himself or only his clothes.
Our Lord may have had two reasons for leaving Capernaum and for visiting Nazareth. One, a personal reason—to see his mother and his sisters, who seem to have been married there. The other, a ministerial reason—to escape from the busy throngs who resorted to him by the lake, and to take a new center for evangelistic labours on the part of himself and his disciples. It is singular and instructive that Nazareth should have perhaps twice furnished a striking instance of human unbelief and offense with "the Nazarene."
I. THE UNREASONABLENESS AND INEXCUSABLENESS OF UNBELIEF IN CHRIST. There were several facts, which took away all excuse from the conduct of the inhabitants of Nazareth.
1. He was well known to them. They had been acquainted with him for many years, and they had seen in him nothing but truth and integrity. His claims, therefore, should have been fairly and candidly considered.
2. He brought with him a great and acknowledged reputation. In the most populous parts of Galilee he had fulfilled a ministry which had excited the deepest interest. His miracles were undeniable and undenied, He was the object of general attention and of widespread faith.
3. He came to Nazareth and taught publicly, thus giving his townsmen an opportunity of judging for themselves of his wisdom and moral authority. They confessed with astonishment the extraordinary character of his teaching. Yet they did not believe. And how many among us, who have even greater opportunity of forming a just judgment concerning Jesus, are found judging falsely, and consequently rejecting the Lord of life and of salvation! They judge against the evidence, and their conclusion-in no way damaging to him—is condemnation to themselves.
II. THE GROUNDS OF UNBELIEF IN CHRIST. It was unreasonable, but not inexplicable or arbitrary.
1. The Nazarenes were prejudiced against Jesus, because of his origin and circumstances. The son of so lowly a mother, the brother of sisters in so obscure a position, how could Jesus be regarded by his worldly townsmen with reverence? A craftsman himself, and one of an humble family, he was little likely to be received at Nazareth as he had been received elsewhere, even in the metropolis itself.
2. The other ground of prejudice was educational deficiency on the part of Jesus. He was the Prophet of Nazareth, and had not been trained in the rabbinical schools of learning. Whence had he his qualifications? What had been the source of his knowledge, the inspiration of his wisdom, the secret of his power? It was all a mystery to them—something at variance with their beliefs, and in contradiction to their prejudices. Very similar are the objections which men still make to Christ. Had he come a king, a conqueror, a philosopher, a scholar, then men might have honored and welcomed him. But he came from God; and to the unspiritual there could be no more serious and fatal ground of offense than this,
III. THE REBUKE OF UNBELIEF. "A prophet is not without honor," etc. There was sadness in Christ's language and tones. Yet what a reproach was hereby conveyed to the unbelieving! They might be offended; there were those who would believe, who would evince gratitude and render honor. When we think how clearly our Lord must have foreseen the stupendous and eternal results of his ministry, we may appreciate the nobility and self-restraint of his attitude and language, and at the same time we may recognize the severity of his rebuke.
IV. THE CONSEQUENCES OF UNBELIEF.
1. The impression upon the Saviour's mind is briefly described: "He marvelled." An expression this, which gives us an insight into his humanity, and which reveals to us the depths of moral obliquity into which the cavillers had fallen.
2. The results to the people of the town were lamentable. The Prophet had come with power to bless, and prepared to heal and help. But he required the co-operation of faith; and, when this was withheld, "he could do no mighty work." A few sick folk were healed, but many forfeited a blessing within their reach.
3. Yet the rejection of Jesus by his fellow-townsmen was the occasion of benefit to others. Finding no congenial soil at Nazareth, Jesus proceeded elsewhere, to labour where labour might be more appreciated. "He went round about the villages teaching." The indifference or contempt of the unspiritual and self-sufficient may be the occasion of enlightenment and consolation to the lowly, the receptive, the needy.
1. The coming of Christ to a soul, to a community, is a moral probation, involving the most serious responsibility.
2. It is the most fatal guilt and folly, in considering the claims of Christ, to overlook the wisdom and the grace of his character and ministry, and to regard circumstances at which the superficial and the carnal may take offense.
The mission of the twelve.
The twelve disciples now first became apostles. This sending forth was a prelude to their life-long mission, to be fulfilled alter their Lord's ascension. They had now been long enough with the Master not only to have imbibed much of his spirit, but to have learned the nature of his ministry and to have entered into its methods. Their evangelistic journey would be disciplinary to themselves and profitable to the population of Galilee, and it would increase and extend the interest of the people in the ministry of the Lord.
I. THE PREPARATION FOR THE MISSION, Wisdom and simplicity are here alike apparent,
1. The twelve were grouped into pairs. This was for the sake of companionship, and to secure that none should be unfriended and unsupported; as well as, in all likelihood, to bring about that one should supply the other's lack.
2. They were sent as pilgrims. Two things only they were to take with them—their sandals and their staves, which were part of their natural equipment as travelers afoot.
3. Yet they were forbidden to provide for their journey. luxuries and superfluities they must not take with them, neither must they provide for their subsistence, but must act upon the expectation that the labourer would be deemed worthy of his hire. In all these respects the instructions given to the twelve were significant of the method in which our Lord desires his people to undertake their spiritual mission to mankind. The work is to be done in fellowship and with mutual sympathy and support; it is to be done in the spirit of those who are in the world but are not of the world, who are not entangled in its snares, and who mind heavenly things.
II. THE NATURE AND PURPOSE OF THE MISSION. like their Lord, the apostles were enjoined to have compassion upon the varied needs of their fellow-men, to address themselves to the supply of both spiritual and temporal wants.
1. They were to summon men to repentance, the indispensable and universal condition of pardon and life to sinful, guilty men. A change of mind and heart alone could prepare men for the blessings of the Messianic kingdom.
2. At the same time they were to confront the power of evil in its most malignant manifestations, and to cast out demons in the name of that stronger One who was binding the spiritual tyrant of mankind.
3. And they were to heal the sick, both as a symbolic act, and as a proof and exercise of true and practical benevolence. All this they did efficiently and successfully, in the authority of their Divine Lord. The nature of this commission is parallel with that given by our Saviour to his whole Church; for he has put his people in charge with the welfare of mankind, both socially and temporally, and also spiritually.
III. THE SPIRIT OF THE MISSION. The directions given by the Master as to the apostles' bearing with regard to those to whom they ministered were worthy of himself. There is a beautiful combination of meekness and dignity in these instructions, very like the Lord who gave them. Wherever received with cordiality, the apostles were directed to abide with their hosts, grateful for kindness and content with their entertainment. Wherever their message was rejected and they were disregarded, the twelve were commanded to "shake off the dust under their feet" for a testimony against the unbelieving and impenitent. The servants of the Lord Jesus cannot too carefully study these counsels, in considering in what spirit they shall fulfill the commission entrusted to them in human society. On the one hand, all selfish desires, all pride and restlessness, must be repressed; on the other hand, the high vocation must be esteemed, the office must be magnified, the authority of the Redeemer must be upheld, and the responsibility of rejecting the gospel must solemnly, and with appropriate dignity, Be cast upon the unbelieving and unspiritual.
1. All Christians may be reminded of their position in this world as the representatives and ministers of Christ.
2. All hearers of the gospel may be admonished as to the serious responsibility they incur when a message from heaven is brought before their minds.
The growing fame of Jesus reached all parts of the land and all classes of society. Not only the poor and diseased, the neglected and the despised, heard of the compassionate heart and the mighty deeds of the Son of man; the learned were jealous of his influence with the people, and powerful rulers wondered what was the secret of his power. Many were the explanations given of the new Teacher's authority. Whilst some traced a resemblance between him and the olden Hebrew prophets, others even deemed him the greatest of the order—Elijah himself, returning to the land of his ministry, in accordance with what was deemed the inspired prediction. But the most singular of all conjectures was that of Herod—that John the Baptist, whom he had beheaded in circumstances of atrocious dishonor to himself, had arisen from the dead. Mentioning this conjecture, the evangelist is naturally led to relate the incident of the forerunner's violent death—one of the most awful, tragic incidents in all history. Simply tracing the narrative, we meet with successive embodiments of moral fact and law.
I. THE APPREHENSIONS OF A GUILTY CONSCIENCE. There seems to have been but little in the ministry of Jesus to recall that of John. John did no miracle; the fame of Jesus was largely owing to the miracles by which his ministry was continuously signalized. The power to attract multitudes was the one point obviously in common. But any association was sufficient to revive within Herod's breast the memory of his weakness and his crime, and to reproach him with the destruction of a blameless and heroic, prophetic man. "Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all!"
II. THE RESENTMENT OF THE VICIOUS UNDER REBUKE. Antipas was guilty of a double incest and a double adultery; he married his niece, who was also his brother's wife, that brother being still alive; and drove his own spouse from him by contracting this sinful union. Herodias was probably influenced by ambition in accepting a position so disgraceful. Amidst the silence or the applause of the courtiers, one voice arose to condemn this shameless conduct. It was the voice of the upright and dauntless John, whose rebuke was, "It is not ]awful!" No wonder that the wretched woman set herself against the stern prophet; his presence, his life, must have been to her an incessant reproach. Fain would she have killed him, fearing this influence with the king, and trembling for her own precarious position. There is no hatred so virulent and awful as the hatred of sinners against faithful and righteous rebuke.
III. THE CONFLICT BETWEEN CONSCIENCE AnD PASSION. The unhappy Herod was torn by two conflicting forces. On the one hand, the malice of Herodias urged him to put the fearless John to death, and thus to silence his rebukes; on the other hand, he respected and feared the holy and dauntless prophet, and he was impelled to listen to his words, hearing him eagerly, yet with unsolved perplexity of mind. He kept his prisoner safely, even from the malice of his paramour, whom he would gladly have gratified had not his conscience barred the way.
IV. YOUTH AND BEAUTY THE INSTRUMENT OF VINDICTIVENESS. There is a strange contrast between the frivolous and fascinating performances of youth and loveliness, and the dark designs in the background. Herodias watched and delighted to see the passions of her sensual husband moved at sight of her daughter's charms, to hear the rash promise from those unrighteous lips. Base were the means, and baser still the end. When woman's charms are used not only to provoke lust, but to induce to cruelty, can there be a more awful instance of the misuse of the fair gifts of the Creator? Yet history tells of many a tale like this, though perhaps or none so utterly and so irredeemably mournful.
V. FALSE HONOUR AND WICKED PRIDE PREFERRED TO JUSTICE. Vengeance and malice in Herodias are fitly matched with weakness and unrighteousness in her paramour. There can be no question that it is right to break a promise when the promise involves in its fulfillment the commission of a crime. Such a promise it is wrong to make, but to fulfill it makes one wrong two. The motives of Antipas were vile and mean; he wished to gratify the malice of a woman, and to vindicate his arbitrary authority in the presence of his guests. And for such motives he was ready to sacrifice a good man's life.
VI. MALICE TRIUMPHANT. The foolish word was kept; the wicked woman was gratified; the infamous deed was done. As the Lord expressed it, "Elijah came, and they did unto him whatsoever they listed." Although the world is ruled by a just Providence, righteousness does not always prosper; vice and crime are not always restrained, or even immediately and manifestly punished. The voice of just rebuke is often silenced; the head of innocence is often laid in the dust; "the godly man faileth;" the vilest men are exalted. All this is permitted that there may be scope for the exercise of faith; that virtue may be tried as in the furnace; that men may learn to look forward to a future state, in which grievances shall be redressed, and retribution shall be made, and the righteousness of the Divine Judge shall be fully vindicated.
VII. THE GOOD MOURN WHOM THE BAD DESTROY. During his brief ministry John had made many disciples, had attached to him many friends. During his captivity, his admirers had been severed from him. Now came the last opportunity for manifesting their reverential affection. When the company of the Baptist's disciples, hearing of their master's violent death, gathered themselves together, and carried the mutilated body to the tomb, what a contrast they afforded to the company of carousers, in whose presence Herod's foolish oath had doomed a brave, pure man to death! It is well, even if "evil entreated" by the frivolous, sensual, and malicious, to have a place in good men's hearts, and after death to live in the remembrance of the righteous.
No rest for Jesus.
The twelve have fulfilled their brief mission of evangelization, have returned to their Master, and tell him of the incidents and results of their mission. Jesus takes occasion to rest, and to give them rest, and with this intent withdraws to a desert place. This passage shows us with what result.
I. THE PURPOSES FOR WHICH THE Lord SEEKS RETIREMENT.
1. Perhaps to escape from the notice of Herod, who, having heard of his fame, may seek to get him within his power, even as before he had imprisoned John.
2. To secure a brief petted of bodily repose for himself and for the twelve. Their time and attention have been so occupied, that they have had no leisure even for their meals. It is bad economy in Christian workers to neglect the claims of the body, which needs to be kept, by food, exercise, and repose, in a sound and healthy state, that work for Christ may be done vigorously and cheerfully.
3. To enjoy leisure for spiritual intercourse. The twelve need to be taught that they may teach others; and this is a kind of work which needs leisure and quiet, and uninterrupted hours. The wise and experienced may spend their time to advantage in equipping the young and active among Christ's disciples for spiritual campaigns.
II. THE MULTITUDE INVADE THE LORD'S RETIREMENT.
1. It is a sign of their eager interest to see and hear the great Teacher and Physician. The tidings spread; the people anticipate their Benefactor; they outrun him, and are ready to meet him when he disembarks.
2. They find him willing to sacrifice his ease for the sake of his ministry. Having perhaps taken a few hours' repose and slumber as the boat has rocked at anchor near the shore, Jesus lands, only to find the people awaiting him upon the beach. Instead of pushing off again and seeking a remoter seclusion, Jesus readily addresses himself to his work. A lesson this in diligence and zeal!
3. The sad condition of the people awakens Christ's commiseration. Others might have said, "The people are comfortable and cared for." But Jesus sees that spiritually they are as sheep without a shepherd, and his heart is touched at the spectacle. It needs the Spirit of Jesus to look thus upon the spiritually destitute and famishing, to penetrate through their outward guise to their souls' needs,
III. JESUS PROVIDES FOR THEIR SPIRITUAL WANTS.
1. He teaches them; he, the Source of wisdom, imparts from his abundance to their necessities.
2. He teaches them at length and with variety. What the "many things" were in which he instructed them we know not, but may judge from the record of his discourses. So the swift hours pass on. He speaks as never man spake, and the people hear him gladly.
IV. JESUS SUPPLIES THEIR TEMPORAL NEEDS.
1. In this his action is in contrast with the spirit of his disciples, who would first have him dismiss the multitude, and who then put obstacles in the way of supplying their wants. We have no reason to blame the disciples, but we have reason to admire the Master.
2. Jesus uses the provision which is at hand. The bread is obviously and utterly insufficient, yet the Lord makes use of it, and chooses rather to multiply than to create. Our Divine Master here gives us a needed lesson—to turn all things to good account—to employ the circumstances, the opportunities, the gifts Providence appoints for us, rather than to grieve that we have not other means of usefulness.
3. He acts in an orderly method. His directions as to the seemly and convenient arrangement of the multitude are in consonance with Divine wisdom, and are an example and admonition for us. God is not the author of confusion in any Churches; confusion is the devil's work. "Order is Heaven's first law."
4. Jesus sets an example of gratitude. "looking up to heaven, he blessed." A rebuke to such as take their daily food without giving of thanks; an admonition to remember whence the most common and customary of our mercies come.
5. He makes use of his disciples. Observe the honor which the Divine Lord puts upon human agency and instrumentality. The disciples could not provide; that was no reason why they should not distribute. The feeblest can offer, to his hungering neighbors, the bread of life eternal.
6. He satisfies the need of all. It is a vast crowd; yet not one is left unfed. There is in Christ "enough for enough for each, enough for evermore." It is a symbol of the sufficiency of the Divine provision for all the spiritual necessities of mankind. The bread of heaven came down, and "giveth life unto the world."
7. The provision is even superabundant; it is more than enough. How royally and munificently the Lord of all provides for his dependent creatures! There is yet room at his table, and bread in his store, bounty in his heart, and blessing in his hands. "Come, for all things are ready!"
"It is I."
How picturesque and impressive is the scene! Jesus has dismissed the multitude, and has sent his disciples away in the boat to the western shore. He himself has retired to a mountain, by prayer to calm his spirit and to strengthen himself for his ministry. Night comes on; the wind rises from the west, and the waters of the lake are lashed into a storm. By the fitful light of the moon, breaking now and again through the drifting clouds, Jesus, as he stands upon the hilltop, observes the boat tossed upon the waves. Her sails are down, and the disciples are rowing, toiling, but are making no way against the gale. Jesus descends the hill, and, in the exercise of his supernatural power, walks upon the water. The superstitious fishermen, naturally enough, take the figure approaching them for a spectre—some foreboding spirit of the deep—and they' cry aloud in terror. Then come the words, so authoritative and so gentle, "Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid!" The hearts of the disciples and the waves of the lake alike are calmed. Amazement fills every breast, and as they approach the land, the rescued mariners adore with fresh admiration their Deliverer and Lord.
I. CHRIST'S PEOPLE HAVE SOMETIMES TO PASS THROUGH A SEA OF TROUBLE.
1. Circumstances without may conspire with fears within. Christians are in trouble as other men, and they sometimes dread lest they should be overwhelmed.
2. Christians may encounter trouble in the very act of obeying Christ. Just as the twelve met the storm in fulfilling their Lord's directions to return to Gennesaret, so we may meet with trials and dangers in the path of obedience. If so, let us not count it strange.
II. CHRIST OBSERVES AND SYMPATHIZES WITH HIS PEOPLE IN THEIR TROUBLE. They may be unconscious and forgetful of this. little did the twelve, as they toiled in rowing, imagine that the eye of their Master was upon them; but it was. From the hill-top he witnessed their struggles; he, the Lord of the waves, suffered their violence; he, his disciples' Friend, allowed them to come into extremity, and did not prevent their fears. So he may, for good reasons, allow his people to experience distress. Yet he is not unmindful and not unmoved. He thinks of them, watches over them, sympathizes with them. He may seem absent, but he is not.
III. CHRIST'S PRESENCE AND VOICE BRING COMFORT AND PEACE TO THE HEARTS OF THE TROUBLED. Faith discerns that presence, though unseen; that voice, though unheard. "'It is I!'—I, who love you; I, who died for you; I, who provide for your wants, and watch over your souls; I, who sent you on life's voyage; it is I, who am with you always, who now come to seek and save you!" When Jesus says, "Be of good cheer; be not afraid!" his are no empty words; they are words fitted to banish fear, to instil confidence, to inspire courage, to awaken hope.
IV. CHRIST'S POWER AND GRACE BRING DELIVERANCE TO HIS TROUBLED ONES. We are indebted to him for more than sympathy. His tender kindness, his strong promises, his unfailing faithfulness, all issue in practical aid, in gracious interposition. He is the Lord of all hearts, and can assuage the tempests of the soul. He controls all circumstances, and compels all to co-operate for his people's good. "He maketh the storm a calm;" "So he bringeth them to the desired haven." Who, upon the troubled sea of time, would be without a Comforter so gracious, a Helper so mighty?
V. CHRIST'S INTERPOSITIONS AWAKEN THE AMAZEMENT, REVERENCE, AND GRATITUDE OF HIS PEOPLE. Like the twelve, we have often too much reason, when we experience the compassionate interference of our Lord upon our behalf, to blame ourselves because our hardness of heart has made Divine deliverance seem strange to us. This is just what we ought to have looked for, to have expected with assurance. Oh for grace, that when the voice from heaven addresses us, "It is I," we may respond, "It is Thou, indeed, O Lord, whom we honor, upon whom we call, in whom we trust! It is thou, whose presence is ever dear, whose voice is ever welcome, whose heart is never cold, and whose help is never far!"
1. An encouragement to obedience.
2. A rebuke to fear.
3. An assurance of Divine sympathy.
4. A call to grateful adoration.
The popularity of the Divine Physician.
At this time the tide of Christ's popularity was at the flood. In a few verses, the evangelist strikingly depicts the general excitement which the presence of the Prophet of Nazareth awakened amidst the thronging and busy population.
I. THE PRESENCE OF THE DIVINE PHYSICIAN AMONG THE PEOPLE. Jesus sometimes retired to desert solitudes; but, for the most part, he chose to live among the people, and to be accessible to all classes and to all characters. This might well be his motive for spending so much of his life in the thickly peopled district on the western shores of the lake of Gennesaret. As the Son of man, Jesus mingled freely with the race he came to save and bless.
II. THE SPREAD AMONG THE PEOPLE OF THE GOOD TIDINGS. If Jesus was willing to live and work amongst the inhabitants of this district, they, for their part, were eager to embrace every opportunity of intercourse with him. Not that they were generally influenced by high motives that they resorted to him as to a spiritual teacher. It is evident that the interest felt in Jesus was very largely owing to his power and willingness to heal the sick and suffering. But, from whatever motive, it is of the highest importance that the children of men should be led to interest themselves in Christ. The tidings that Jesus is the Saviour of the world deserve to be published far and wide, as the best news for all mankind.
III. THE AGENCY EMPLOYED TO BRING THE NEEDY INTO THE PRESENCE OF THE SAVIOUR. As we read the vigorous language of the evangelist, we seem to see the eager, kindhearted people, the peasantry and the fishermen, hurrying throughout the district, seeking out all the diseased and infirm, carrying them on their couches to the places where Jesus is expected, and laying them in the open spaces, that they may be brought under the notice of the mighty and benevolent physician.
IV. THE CONTACT OF THE PATIENTS WITH THE PHYSICIAN. The healing looked for was effected, not by means and instruments, but by the great Healer himself. Accordingly, what the sufferers desired was, to lay hold upon Jesus, or even upon the hem or fringe of his garment. An indication this of the method of the sinner's salvation. To come to Christ, and spiritually to lay hold upon him,—such is the condition of securing all the blessings which Jesus brings to man.
V. THE EXPERIENCE OF HEALING. It mattered not how many came, by whom they were brought, in what place they encountered Jesus, from what disease they suffered; "as many as touched him were made whole." There is no limitation to the healing power or to the healing grace of Immanuel. He is "mighty to save;" he saves "to the uttermost.;" and his salvation is perfect and eternal.
1. This narrative reminds the sinner where to look for deliverance—to Christ, and Christ alone.
2. This narrative sets before us the office of the Church; it is to bring sinful souls to the one Divine, almighty Saviour.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
Jesus visiting his own country.
By going thither—
I. HE GRATIFIED A HUMAN YEARNING. In a previous chapter he is reported to have asked, "Who is my mother and my brethren?" He now shows that those broad human relations he had claimed did not imply the neglect of nearer ones, or indifference to them. He sought to benefit his own people in the highest way, oven whilst he would not suffer the narrow claims of his home to interfere with the wider claims of his kingdom. Have we so interpreted home relations, patriotism, local attachment, social ties?
II. HE ILLUSTRATED AFRESH AN OLD AND FAMILIAR EXPERIENCE.
1. He was one of many, yet by himself even in this.
2. One of the greatest of griefs to a pious spirit, to be hindered from doing good and conferring benefit.
3. A greater humiliation than his human birth, because a moral one consciously experienced.
III. HE EXHIBITED DIVINE MERCY.
1. Past offenses were forgiven.
2. Although conscious of restriction because of their unbelief and indifference, he still persisted in his works of mercy.—M.
Mark 6:2, Mark 6:6
The twofold wonder awakened by the gospel.
I. IN MEN.
1. Because of contrast between the apparent origin and the Divine pretensions of Christ.
2. Because of the seeming disproportion between the results actually produced and the instruments. A curious phase this of human incredulity, as if the works did not speak for themselves! Failing the discovery of an evidently great cause, the results themselves are not credited with being what they seem to be. This is characteristic of human nature in all ages.
II. IN CHRIST. The unbelief itself, of which the human astonishment at his words and works was but the sign, was a still greater marvel to our Saviour. The believing, ingenuous soul cannot understand unbelief. And truly there is something unnatural and not to be looked for in the incredulity exhibited by men towards truth and goodness, and the proffered mercy of God.—M.
Mark 6:2, Mark 6:3
Detracting from the Divine greatness of Christ.
I. How THIS IS DONE.
1. By attributing to secondary causes Divine effects.
2. Absence of faith and spiritual sympathy.
3. By being offended at the mystery of his humiliation, either in himself or his followers.
II. WHAT IT PRODUCES.
1. Unsatisfied indecision. Perpetual questioning.
2. Hardening of heart.
3. The doubter's own loss. Not only the works of mercy he might have wrought, but the Merciful One himself, are thus forfeited.—M.
Christ ministering to the villages.
I. REJECTED IN ONE DIRECTION, THE SAVIOUR BEGINS AFRESH ELSEWHERE.
1. Indomitable zeal, and inextinguishable love for souls.
2. Divine wisdom. The sinning city or individual not altogether abandoned even when left alone. When the Redeemer cannot work within a heart, he will work about it. Where faith is not at once forthcoming, evidence is accumulated, and the unbelieving are approached from new directions and points of vantage. Every sinner is besieged by Christ. The country rends up fresh elements to the growing population of the cities; how important that it should send godliness and righteousness with these!
II. IT IS THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTIANITY TO CARE FOR THOSE WHO ARE AT A DISADVANTAGE.
1. They were out of the way and apt to be overlooked.
2. They were unfavourably situated for the rapid spread of new ideas.
3. They were for the most part humble. "To the poor the gospel is preached" was one of the characteristics of Christianity, of which John was to be informed; and it might have been added, "by Christ himself." The moral influence of this example. How ought all ministers of the gospel and Christian labourers to eschew self and the love of fame! The grandest work of the ministry may be performed in the humblest sphere. Men are to be evangelized for their own sakes.—M.
The mission of the twelve.
Already the Master had called them more than once. He had "many things to say" unto them, and was ever drawing them into closer sympathy with himself, and a higher sense of individual responsibility. St. Mark is not so full as St. Matthew, but from what he does tell us we are able to understand the nature of the work and its reason. The disciples are now to become apostles.
I. CHRIST PREPARES AND AUTHORIZES HIS OWN MINISTERS. There was need for this. Many whom he had cured were proclaiming him, not only without permission, but against his express command; and the devils were continually confessing him. This was inconvenient on account of danger to his person, because of the fact that he had been charged with being in collusion with Beelzebub, and the misrepresentation that took place as to the nature and aims of his kingdom. Christ first says, "Come, follow me," ere he says, "Go." He "began to send them forth by two and two," i.e. tentatively, as they were ready, and as his purpose demanded. "Great is the authority of conferring authority" (Bengel).
1. The representatives of the Christian ministry were qualified for their task by the personal instruction of the Master, and communion with him in suffering.
2. Those most highly qualified to proclaim the gospel waited until he authorized them.
3. Their appointment had relation to their personal fitness and the exigencies of Christ's work. All the disciples do not seem ever to have been away from Christ at one time.
II. WHEN CHRIST HAS PREPARED HIS DISCIPLES HE HAS WORK FOR THEM TO DO. Their office was not to be a sinecure. The state of society, its rampant evils, its transitional character, and the attitude of expectancy exhibited by many, were so many reasons for their being sent forth.
2. There is never a time when earnest Christian effort is needed.
3. The adaptation of men is to be considered in determining the ministry they have to perform.
III. THE APOSTLESHIP INVOLVED TESTIMONY, MORAL APPEAL, AND SUPERNATURAL POWER. (Verses 7, 11-13.) The particular duties of the Christian ministry are determined by the demands of the age, etc, in which it is carried on, but in essence they are always the same.
IV. IT INVOLVED A DIVINE COMMUNION AND A HUMAN FELLOWSHIP.
1. He sent them forth, but his spiritual presence went with them. It was only of what he had given that they could communicate to others, and as he accompanied their efforts with his power.
2. He sent them "by two and two." For mutual comfort, help, and co-operation. The deficiencies of one would be made up in the gifts of the other.
V. THE EQUIPMENT FOR IT WAS SPIRITUAL, NOT MATERIAL; DIVINE, NOT HUMAN. What they were to take with them is suggested only by the directions as to what they were not to take. It was in their message and its spiritual accompaniment their influence was to consist. The Master who sent them would provide for them. Christianity, which subsidizes all honorable means and influences, is independent of all. "Silver and gold have I none, but what I have give I thee" (Acts 3:6).—M.
Accounting for Christ.
Interesting as a photograph of contemporary opinion. Abrupt, picturesque, graphic. "He said" (" they said," in some ancient authorities, as in Luke) is to be understood impersonally or of Herod. If the latter, the very repetition of Herod's statement, in Mark 6:16, gives us fresh insight into the workings of Herod's mind.
I. THERE IS EVEN A VARIETY OF OPINION IN THE WORLD ABOUT CHRIST. Whenever he is heard of human thought is exercised about him. The element of the extraordinary is always recognized as attaching to his personality and action. "However great be that variety, yet often the truth lies outside of it" (Bengel)
II. CHRIST HAS TO BE ACCOUNTED FOR. Very little was as yet known about him in Galilee, yet the question as to who he was at once arose. The reason of this is that the character of Christ is a challenge to the spiritual nature of man.
1. It appeals to the spiritual hopes of men. Even with the most debased and degraded, it is from the unseen that help and salvation are looked for. The common Jewish notion, that Elijah should come again, and the more general one, that the prophets were not dead, but reappeared at different times to repeat their messages, were but phases of the inextinguishable hope that characterizes the popular mind in all ages. They both start into life again at the appearance of Christ. He cannot be thought of by them but religiously or spiritually, the religious nature of his work is so pronounced. "The thoughts of many hearts shall be revealed."
2. Conscience is addressed. It is the king who fancies he detects the ghostly association. The guilty past started up in all its horror. John's faithful teachings and lofty example could not be forgotten. Was it the long-slumbering national conscience of the Jews that identified Christ with the prophets, whom their fathers had killed? It is the guilty conscience that fears him; the believer hails him with rapture and delight. So the Son of man judges the secrets of men all through time, and at the judgement day.
III. ANY BUT THE HIGHEST ESTIMATE OF CHRIST WILL PROVE UNSATISFACTORY. Popular opinion was at variance within itself; it falls below the true dignity of Christ.
1. There was, of course, an element of truth in their guesses. All true spiritual workers are represented by Christ, and their work is identified in greater or less degree with his. The kingdom of God is one in all its manifestations through all time. The higher personality and office of Christ is inclusive of all lesser ones. He was a Prophet, and more.
2. It was an inversion of the true order of reference which they perpetrated. Those prophets were but dependents of Christ, owing all their power and illumination to his indwelling Spirit.
3. Their error was due to moral causes Had their fathers received the prophet message instead of killing him, the generation of Christ's day might better have understood his gospel. The lairs of heredity and traditional. mental attitude had much to do with their blunders, but most of all their own rejection of John, or supine allowance of his death. It seemed as if the spiritual consciousness of the Jews was condemned to stationariness at the very point of Divine revelation where John had failed to reform them. And so all men's lack of faith and their unworthy conceptions of Christ have a moral root also. It is only as Christ himself, by his Spirit and teaching, enables us that we can truly say, "Our Lord, and our God."—M.
A soul's tragedy.
I. FALSE STEPS. (Mark 6:17.)
1. Unlawful relations.
2. Resisting the messenger of God.
II. CONFLICTING INFLUENCES. The fearless court-preacher and the woman he denounced. The messenger of Truth and the associate in pleasure and vice. Representative of the way in which evil and good incarnate themselves, and work upon the heart of every man. The temptation to which Herod was subject was great; but he was not left without moral witness and aid.
III. SATAN'S INSTRUMENT AND OPPORTUNITY. (Mark 6:21-25.)
1. The instrument is in a sense self-prepared, coming as it does out of the very heart of moral complication and love of unhallowed pleasure.
2. Yet is it also chosen and armed by the evil one.
3. It is an instrument calculated to work insidiously, unsuspectedly, and yet surely and irrevocably. Who would imagine that a damsel would wield such tremendous destinies? The weakness of every man is thoroughly understood by the enemy of souls, and unscrupulously appealed to. The works of Satan are rather hidden than manifest.
4. The attack is made when the moral sense is drowned in sensual pleasure and excitement. Company, wine, the fascination of the dance, and the flattering of pride by the presence of the Galilean nobles. What importunity cannot secure, a skillful manoeuvre may attain by surprise. The end is gained, provisionally, in the royal offer to the maid; a concealed, implicit pledge of what is not at the moment realized. Indefinite promises like this are full of danger; they cover so many unthought-of possibilities, and carry with them the illegitimate show of obligation even with respect to things not contemplated when the promise is given. The moral sense which is insensible to real duties avenges its perversion by manufacturing fictitious obligations, and attributing chief importance to them. "Honour" is the counterfeit of morality in many minds. A promise made as Herod made his is foolish and wrong, yet it cannot bind its maker to the performance of a further wrong. If men were only a tithe as attentive to their vows to God as to their vain and boastful promises and challenges to one another, they need fear no consequences. We bind ourselves with our own ropes. It was a birthday on which Herod committed spiritual suicide. Many a parallel to this may be found in the lives of men.
IV. THE CATASTROPHE. The career of sin has been likened to playing the devil with his own loaded dice. The thoughtless word of Herod committed him according to his perverted sense of honor, and the sequel was already predetermined and inevitable.
1. In sanctioning John's death, Herod violated the deepest instincts of his nature, and rejected the voice of God.
2. Crowned a life of sin by a heinous and irrevocable crime.
3. (Humanly speaking) Destroyed his own hopes of salvation. His history henceforth is one of steady degeneration and ever darker crime. In many lives there are determining circumstances like this of Herod; they put mountains and abysses between the sinner and the God he has dishonored. "John the Baptist is risen from the dead;" "Whom I beheaded—John: he is risen," are discoveries which lighten not one whit the burden of his guilt, and bring no hope to his despair. They are the wails of a remorse from which has departed the grace and power of repentance. Yet is Christ greater than John, and able to save from even greater crimes than the murder of John, if he be but recognized and believed.—M.
Mark 6:30, Mark 6:31
(Cf. Matthew 14:12, Matthew 14:13.) Christ the central Figure all through the evangelic narrative. His personal importance is never obscured. It is from him apostles go forth; it is to him they return. Kings note his presence and works, and the people crowd to his ministry.
I. WHAT THE APOSTLES TOLD JESUS. "All things whatsoever they had done, and whatsoever they had taught."
1. They narrated their experience. Most of them had to speak of their work and its results. It had exceeded their most sanguine expectations. The people had received them everywhere with joy, and they had nothing but success to relate. A few, however (Matthew 14:12), had a tale of personal sorrow to pour into his ears. They had been disciples of John the Baptist, whom Herod had just beheaded. Their hopes had been dashed to the ground, and they scarcely knew what else to do than "tell him." More disquieting still was their story, for they informed him that the tetrarch was anxious to see him, as he fancied he was John, whom he had beheaded, risen from the dead. So varied is the history of the Christian life!
2. It was but imperfectly understood by themselves. What they had done (i.e. miracles and exorcisms) was in their estimation most important, and is naturally enough mentioned first by the evangelist. By-and-by they were to learn that it was only for the sake of the teaching accompanying them that the "signs" were of any value. And so it was with the sorrow and fear of the disciples of John; they knew not their real consequence. Both were probably exaggerated. Still they did not feel they had to wait until everything was clearly and fully understood. All alike are drawn towards him. We, too, spontaneously pour forth our sorrow and joy, our fear and our confidence, into his ear, sure of sympathy and help.
II. WHY DID THEY TELL JESUS?
1. A sense of responsibility. It was he who commissioned them at the first, and they felt bound to carry back their report. He was the subject of their preaching, and of chief importance. And it was only as his power was imparted and continued to them that they were able to proceed.
2. A feeling of interest. The very enthusiasm and excitement brought them back to Jesus—the pleasure of telling him all the wonders and successes of their mission. Points, too, that specially struck their attention were referred to him for explanation.
3. A yearning for sympathy. They felt that he would most heartily respond to their mood, whether of elation or despondency. No one ever came with a genuine human feeling to Christ, and received a rebuff.
III. HOW DID HE RECEIVE THEM? He had evidently listened to their whole story. Now they met with:
1. Kindly appreciation.
2. Gracious provision for their needs.
3. Precautions for their mutual safety.—M.
Christ's offer of rest.
I. THE PECULIAR GIFT OF JESUS TO HIS SERVANTS. "Into a desert place;" only Christ to speak with them, to comfort and to advise.
II. A MANIFOLD PROVISION FOR HIS SERVANTS' NEEDS. Calm after excitement; repose after labour; meditation upon Divine marvels and experiences. Security from threatening dangers.
III. A PREPARATION FOR FUTURE SERVICE. "Rest a while."—M.
The Christian worker's rest.
I. IN A WORLD WHERE THERE IS NO TRUE REST.
II. PROCEEDING FROM THE LORD.
1. Divinely commanded.
2. Divinely prepared.
3. Divinely shared.
III. TO FIT FOR FURTHER SERVICE.—M.
"Coming and going."
I. A PICTURE OF THE WORLD'S LIFE.
II. INDICATIVE OF THE WORLD'S SPIRITUAL STATE.
III. AN OCCASION OF DIFFICULTY TO THE CHURCH.—M,
Christ's sympathy for men.
I. How IT WAS CALLED FORTH.
1. The physical exhaustion and hunger of the people.
2. Their restlessness.
3. Their inarticulate longing for some higher truth and life.
II. THE CHARACTER IT ASSUMED. Shepherdly anxiety and care.
1. An intense compassion and solicitude.
2. A deep religious sense of the Divine ideal from which they had departed. The spirit, the very words of prophecy, occur to him in the connection (Numbers 27:17; Zechariah 10:2).
3. A practical undertaking of their care.
III. HOW IT EXPRESSED ITSELF. He taught them many things. By word and act he strove to lift their hearts to God, and to suggest the ineffable mysteries of his kingdom. The miracle that followed.—M.
The shepherdly emotion of Christ.
I. NATURALLY ELICITED.
II. A DIVINE INTERPRETATION OF HUMAN DISTRESS,
III. A FULFILMENT OF THE WORLD'S HOPE.
IV. AN UNCONSCIOUS PROOF OF HIS BEING THE SAVIOUR OF MANKIND.—M.
Feeding the five thousand: a miracle.
One of the most signally demonstrative and masterly of Christ's miracles, whether we consider the circumstances in which it was wrought, the details of its carrying out, or the dimensions and absoluteness of the result. How carefully the evidence was accumulated by Christ of the truly miraculous nature of this work! It was a grand display of—
1. A practical (and symbolical) discipline of the Church in its great function towards the world.
2. A demonstration to the world of the principles and order of the kingdom of God.
2. Multiplying human resources.
III. MERCY. Wisdom and power co-operative towards the accomplishing of the highest blessing. Mercy the chief work of God as of man.
1. Bodily, in the relief of the hunger, consideration for the weariness of the multitude.
2. Spiritual, in giving spiritual bread, in teaching dependence upon God, and in enjoining economy of Divine gifts.—M.
Feeding the five thousand: a parable.
It is no less remarkable in this aspect; perhaps it was its suggestion of spiritual things which was its chief aim. It sets forth the physical and spiritual dependence of men upon God, and the Divine Father's willingness and power to provide for his children; or, the sufficiency of the kingdom of God for the sustenance of its subjects. The nature and principles of Divine mercy to mankind are also suggested.
I. THE POVERTY OF THE CHURCH. Both discovered and concealed; discovered to itself, concealed from the world. How delicate the consideration and tact of Christ!
1. In position. In the desert. For its needs no dependence upon the world is suffered, whose gold and silver and bread are "not convenient."
2. In material supplies. Only five loaves and two fishes, and these, as it were, adventitious.
3. In spiritual resource.
(1) In evangelical sentiment. How callous the suggestion—"Send them away"! There is no sense of responsibility for the well-being of the multitude, physically or spiritually. The question as to the "two hundred pennyworth of bread" is full of selfish dismay; the sacrifice is contemplated as not only great, but not to be entertained. "Give ye them to eat" conveys rebuke as well as command.
(2) In administrative expedients. They had everything to learn. No spiritual imagination is forthcoming to conceive of Divine aid in a grave exigency of the kingdom of God, to plan for the supply of those who have been led, by eagerness for the bread of life, to imperil their command of material necessities. Had the true feeling been there, the ideas and inspirations required to give effect to it would not have been wanting. Has the Church of to-day yet risen to its high vocation? Our missionary enterprise and inward institutional development have not been proportionate to our light and privilege. Surely the day is at hand when all these half-hearted and disappointing efforts shall be left behind and forgotten in more vigorous, comprehensive, and statesmanlike undertakings.
II. THE RICHES OF CHRIST.
1. A satisfying, saving fullness, administered through the appointed means of grace already existent in his Church. The material resources of his people can never be of primary consequence; for:
2. Means rightly used in his name will be indefinitely multiplied to satisfy all the demands made upon it. One man, with the Spirit of the Lord in him, will be more powerful than Synods and Churches without it. And the means used thus must ever appear disproportionately insignificant as compared with the result. "What is little becomes an abundance through the blessing of God" (Godwin).
III. CONDITIONS OF COMMUNICATION TO MEN. There was an antecedent ground for Christ's consideration, viz. that the people had exposed themselves to inconvenience and danger through desire for his doctrine; corresponding to the principle, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." "He provideth the lower good for those who were seeking the higher" (Godwin). But the immediately declared conditions were:
1. Obedience. The disciples were to do as he bade them, and so through them, in turn, the crowd. The resources at hand—loaves and fishes—were to be sought for, calculated, and brought forth. The people are bidden to place themselves in a position most fittingly and impressively to receive the benefit to be conferred.
2. Order. There is something very impressive in the symmetrical arrangement, "by hundreds and by fifties." It was manifestly a measure of the highest importance from the point of view of "supply." "Order is Heaven's first law." In the kingdom of God all things must "be done decently and in order." A settled government, properly appointed officers, and, in general, method, system. So in the economy there must be no waste. The saving from one season is to be the supply of another.
3. Divinely commissioned service. Some have supposed that the multiplication of the bread was effected in the hands of Christ; some, in the hands of the disciples; some, in the hands of the multitude; others, in all three stages of its administration. Yet are the apostles—the called and commissioned servants of Christ—the true "stewards of the mysteries." The qualification, however, is not mechanical, but spiritual. It is the Spirit of Christ in them that fits them for their task, and ensures their efficiency.
4. Prayer. The meal is a communion with God. His blessing must be asked. It is sacramental Only as God blesses the provision can it be sufficient. It is obvious that the grand condition of all these requirements is faith. It is the calling forth and exercising of this which crowns the miracle as a consummate grace.—M.
From other accounts we learn that this measure was ordered by Christ. The power and the restraint of Christ are about equally demonstrative of his divinity. A strict and immediate economy is demanded in his kingdom. We are to appreciate the grace received; its very fragments are to be precious. The life and work of the Christian have to exhibit a wise and careful stewardship. This direction—
I. IS A SOLUTION TO ONE OF THE GREATEST DIFFICULTIES IN CONNECTION WITH PRAYER.
1. Answers are apparently withheld because they have already been granted and we do not realize it.
2. Further blessing is denied because that actually received has been wasted or despised.
II. DISCOVERS A COMMON SOURCE OF WEAKNESS AND WANT IN SPIRITUAL LIFE.
1. We have not enough because there has been carelessness and waste.
2. We have not enough (or abundance) because we have been selfish. There has been no desire to keep what has been received for others.
III. TEACHES US GREAT HUMILITY AND GRATITUDE IN THE USE OF SPIRITUAL SUPPLIES.—M.
Jesus walking on the sea.
I. THE SERVANTS OF THE LORD ARE EXPOSED TO OPPOSITION AND DANGER IN CARRYING OUT HIS COMMANDS.
II. WITHOUT THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF HIS PRESENCE DIFFICULTY APPEARS INSURMOUNTABLE.
III. HE IS EVER AT HAND TO BLESS THOSE WHO ARE STRIVING TO OBEY HIS WORD.
IV. WHEN HIS SERVANTS ARE READY TO RECEIVE HIM HE WILL COME TO THEIR RESCUE, AND EVERY OBSTACLE WILL BE OVERCOME.
V. SUCH TEMPTATIONS ARE INTENDED TO DISCOVER THEIR NEED OF HIM, AND TO CONFIRM THEIR FAITH IN HIM.—M.
Jesus walking on the sea: interpreted of the Church.
I. EVANGELICAL TASTES. The vessel and crew represent the Church of Christ; the sea, the variable circumstance of world-life; the voyage, the commission of the Church from her Lord; the storm, the adverse spirit of the world; the apparition, the spiritual advent of our Lord into the heart and mind of his Church; Capernaum—Christ's "own city"—the city of God, to which the Church brings all true believers.
II. SPIRITUAL LESSONS.
1. The Church of Christ, in discharge of her great mission, must be separate from the spirit of worldliness. The crowd left upon the darkening shore was animated by the unconverted, carnal mind that cannot understand the things of God; but it must nevertheless be ministered to. This mind is full of unspiritual interpretations of the mission and person of Christ (cf. John 6:14, John 6:15). But Christ himself, from whom the disciples were parted, was not yet manifested to themselves as the Son of God and Saviour of the world. He was as yet, so far as their conceptions of him were concerned, the "Christ after the flesh" of whom Paul spoke, and therefore but an element or phase of that world-spirit with which he had been associated in the miracle of the loaves and fishes. These together represent, then, the forms the world-spirit assumes, and through which it endeavors to work.
2. The Church's distress arises from various causes, external and internal, but chiefly the latter.
(1) The opposition of the world-spirit, increasing as the direction of the vessel becomes more determinate, and developing bitterness, fury, and persecution. Against these the Church strives.
(2) Inward sources of disquietude and weakness. The conception of Christ carried away by the disciples was in large measure a fleshly one, and a worldliness struggles within the heart of believers. The first stages of Christian life in the individual and in the historic Church are marked by low ideas of the person and work of Christ, producing estrangement from him, fear, and weakness.
3. The deliverance of the Church consists in receiving Christ "after the spirit," in faith and communion. This advent is supernatural. It is out of the eternal calm, spiritual elevation, and moral stability of the mountain of Divine communion. Advancing to and with his people through the turmoil of world-life, he is at hand to bless according to the measure of reception accorded him, ready to reveal himself to them that look for him and cry to him, and proving himself the One who "overcometh the world." This spiritual Christ (not an apparition, though appearing to the superstitious fear and ignorance of the Church as such) is the true, substantial, and eternal Christ, who will work out an instant and complete salvation for his people, perfecting their spiritual life, and leading them to their journey's end.—M.
There are three essential elements discernible—withdrawal from man, approach to God, and return to man.
I. SEASONS OF PRIVACY AND RETIREMENT ARE ESSENTIAL TO THE SPIRITUAL WELFARE OF THOSE WHO HAVE MUCH PUBLIC LIFE AND WORK.
II. A GREAT MINISTRY MUST BE SUSTAINED BY CONSTANT, PROFOUND DEVOTIONS,
III. THE PRAYER OF THE SAINT IS AS HELPFUL AND NECESSARY TO THE WELFARE OF OTHERS AS HIS PRACTICAL WORK.
I. DIFFICULT OF ATTAINMENT. Much publicity jarred and fretted his nature. Yet he could not be rude or unkind. The multitude must be sent home; the disciples required to be removed from the dangerous excitement of the scene "Constrained"—"sendeth the multitude away." Only Christ could do this, and at what cost! His rest must be legitimately won, and therefore no duty or kindness is neglected.
III. A NECESSITY OF HIS SPIRITUAL NATURE.
III. UTILIZED IN THE HIGHEST OCCUPATIONS,
IV. BROKEN IN UPON BY HUMAN SYMPATHIES AND SOLICITUDES,—M.
Secondary benefits of the gospel.
I. THESE ARE GENERALLY FIRST RECOMMENDATION.
II. THE END THEY ARE MEANT TO SERVE.
1. To draw men to Christ.
2. To demonstrate that the gospel—the Christ—blesses the whole man and the whole life.
III. THEIR SNARE AND DANGER.—M.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
Mark 6:2, Mark 6:3
Jesus, the rejected Teacher.
When the evangelist states, in the preceding verse, that Jesus "went out from thence," he is referring not so much to the house of Jairus as to the town of Capernaum. Thence he went forth to the village of Nazareth, in whose fields he had often played as a child, and in whose houses and streets he had laboured as a man. In the world, yet not of it. On a certain sabbath day he preached in the synagogue (for Nazareth possessed but one), where he had worshipped in his childhood with Mary, and which he had afterwards attended as a village artisan. St. Luke records the address he delivered, in which he proclaimed himself to be the Messenger of comfort of whom Isaiah had spoken. This only led to his rejection and to a brutal attempt upon his life, so that the Nazarenes unconsciously justified Nathanael's question, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" In a true and lofty sense, the Lord was the Representative of his brethren, the Ideal to which they are to be conformed. From what he was and from what he experienced, we may constantly learn something respecting ourselves. We are reminded by this scene of the following truths:—
I. THAT WE DO NOT ALWAYS FIND ENCOURAGEMENT WHERE WE MOST NATURALLY LOOK FOR IT, If there was a place in Palestine where the Lord might have fairly anticipated a welcome, it was Nazareth. Other cities might suspect him, when he came to them as a stranger, but in Nazareth he had been known for years. There had never been an act of unkindness done by him, or a word of evil uttered by his stainless lips. With gentleness greater than a woman's, with bravery loftier than a hero's, he had walked uprightly and lovingly amongst this people. Cast out elsewhere, he ought to find shelter and be surrounded by love and loyalty here. He came as King Alfred came among his Saxons: when overwhelmed by superior forces, he yet refused to bate one jot of heart and hope. He came, as we come sometimes from places where we have been suspected or wronged, to the home where we believe the best will be made of us. But even Nazareth cast him out. Truly, he was "despised and rejected of men." It is enough for the servant that he be as his Master. Sometimes. like him, we may suffer from want of sympathy where we confidently expected it. Possibly, for example, you are brought to serious thought; you feel that the world passes away, and the lust thereof; you are conscious that there is around you a spiritual world, for which you are utterly unprepared. Filled with anxiety and distress, you venture to open your heart to those at home; but, although it is nominally a Christian home, you are laughed at for your pains, or are recommended change and cheerful society. But you feel that it is not this you want, when your "heart and flesh cry out for the living God." Whenever, under such circumstances, you are tempted to anger or discouragement, lift up your thoughts to him who was tempted even as you are, and yet was without sin.
II. THAT MAN IS NOT THE MERE CREATURE OF CIRCUMSTANCES. The Son of God was in one sense infinitely removed from us, yet in his human relations he was "made like unto his brethren." And he, in all his purity and devoutness, came forth from a town notorious for its ignorance and degradation. He grew up there as a sweet flower does upon a heap of refuse, drawing nourishment to itself from the reeking soil, and transmuting it into beauty and fragrance by the power of its own life. So has it been with many of his followers. No man is absolutely dependent upon the place in which he is born or educated for what he is. He has a God-given individuality. Besides the external training, there is also an inward education, which is more productive of result. Examples of this are seen in social life. There are some who are envied now for their circumstances of abundance, who were not born in them. They have had many an effort and many a failure, but have been faithful and hopeful throughout. They started with few advantages, were sent early to business, had but slight education; yet, with a sense of independence of man, linked with a consciousness of dependence upon God, they have risen above their former mean surroundings. Thus is it in the moral and religious sphere. You must not suppose that, because you have not a Christian home, you are "committed to do" some abominations; or that, because you live out of sight of the worse forms of degradation and irreligion, you are discharged of all responsibility in regard to these. Circumstances are not to mould you, but you are to rule and triumph over them; and, by the grace of God, may come forth from a despised and degraded condition as one of the kingly sons of God.
III. THAT NO MAN IS DEGRADED BY COMMON WORK. "Is not this the carpenter?" What right has he to assume the position of a teacher? Yet these Jews were for the most part more sensible in their views of manual work than many Englishmen. It was the custom amongst them even for rabbis to learn some handicraft. But then, as now, it was one thing to be a learned man with power to turn to manual occupations for amusement, and quite another thing to earn bread by it, and in the intervals of labour to teach others. This is what Jesus did.' Whether, as Justin Martyr reports, he made ploughs for the husbandmen or not, at least it is certain that the Builder of the heavens and the earth humbled himself to so lowly a condition that his neighbors could say of him. "Is not this the carpenter?" or, as Matthew puts it, "Is not this the carpenterson?" He had fallen in with Joseph's condition, and had recognized his own as being marked out for him by his reputed father's choice. Often our work is so settled for us, and our plans and preferences are thus altered by others, or rather through them by him who appoints for every man the bounds of his habitation. Sometimes, for example, a young fellow has entered on the study of the law; but his father dies, and leaves a business on the continuance of which the livelihood of the widow and younger children depends. All the cherished prospects of life are then rightly sacrificed upon the altar of love and duty, It would not be right to dissipate the work of another's life, especially if it were that of one's own father; and if the business be one in which you could serve others and serve God, let it be undertaken heartily and gladly. let there be no department of life-work in which you would be unwilling to bend your back fro' the heaviest burden. All such occupations Christ has touched and sanctified and honored, so that in them "whatsoever you do, you may do it heartily, as unto the Lord."—A.R.
"They were offended in him."
Whether the narratives of the three synoptic evangelists refer to one visit to Nazareth or to two visits, is a question which has been eagerly discussed. Give suggestions for the settlement of the dispute. Possibly such discrepancies were allowed to exist that we might care less for the material, and more for the spiritual element in the Gospels; that we might concern ourselves less with external incidents in the life of Jesus, and more with the Christ who liveth for evermore. Those who rejected our Lord at Nazareth have their followers in the present day, who are influenced by similar motives. let us discover the reasons and the results of their conduct.
I. INDIFFERENCE TO CHRIST SOMETIMES ARISES FROM FAMILIARITY WITH HIS SURROUNDINGS. The inhabitants of an Alpine village live for years under the shadow of a snow-clad mountain, or within hearing of a splendid fall which comes foaming down its rocky bed; but they do not turn aside for a moment to glance at that which we have come many miles to see. This indifference, bred of familiarity, characterized the Nazarenes. They had known the great Teacher as a child, and had watched his growth to manhood. He did not come upon them out of obscurity, as a startling phenomenon demanding attention; but they knew the education he had received, the teachers at whose feet he had been sitting, the ordinary work he had done, etc. Jesus himself acknowledged the influence of this, when he said, "A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house." We warn our hearers against similar peril; for there are many who have known their Bibles from childhood, who remember the old pictures which at first aroused some interest in it, who have attended public worship for years, and yet their lives are prayerless, and it may be said of them, "God is not in all their thoughts." Beware of that familiarity with sacred things which will deaden spiritual sensibility. Most of all, let us who think and speak and work for Christ pray that our hearts may ever be filled with light and love, and may be kept strong in spiritual power.
II. CONTEMPT FOR CHRIST SOMETIMES SPRINGS FROM ASSOCIATION WITH HIS FRIENDS "Is not this … the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us?" Possibly there was nothing known about them which was in antagonism to the truth and purity Jesus proclaimed, but as there was nothing wonderful about them, it was the more difficult to believe there was anything Divine about him. Far more reasonably, however, does the world misjudge our Lord because of what is seen in us. Earthly, ordinary, and spiritually feeble as we are, we nevertheless represent him. He speaks of truth, and is "the Truth," yet sometimes the world asks concerning his disciples, "Where is their sincerity and transparency?" We profess to uphold righteousness, yet in business, and politics, and home-life we sometimes swerve from our integrity. let there be but living witnesses in the world such as by God's grace we might become, and through whom there should be the outgoings of spiritual power, and then society would be shaken to its very foundations. When the rulers saw the boldness of Peter and John—the moral change wrought in these Galilean peasants—"they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus;" and "seeing the man who had been cured" standing beside them, as the result of their work, "they could say nothing against it."
III. THE REJECTION OF CHRIST BRINGS ABOUT A WITHDRAWAL OF HIS INFLUENCE. "He could there do no mighty work." He could not. His power was omnipotent, but it conditioned itself, as infinite power always does in this world; and by this limitation it was not lessened, but was glorified as moral and spiritual power. In Nazareth there was an absence of the ethical condition, on the existence of which miracles depended—an absence, namely, of that faith which has its root in sincerity. If we have that, all else is simplified; if we have it not, we bind the hands of the Redeemer, who cannot do his mighty work, of giving us pardon and peace, because of our unbelief. Christ marvels at it. He does not wish to leave us, but he must; and old impressions become feebler, the once sensitive heart becomes duller, and we become "hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." "To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts." Nevertheless, he leaves not himself without a witness. If he must quit Nazareth, he will go "round about the villages teaching," encircling the town with the revelations of power which it will not receive into its midst. And though he "can do no mighty work" such as Capernaum had seen, he will lovingly "lay his hands upon a few sick folk," who in an unbelieving city have faith to be healed. "Thou despisest not the sighing of a contrite heart, nor the desire of such as be sorrowful."—A.R.
Preparations for preaching.
From amongst his disciples our Lord selected a few who were to be in a peculiar sense his representatives and ambassadors, and they have had their successors in all the ages of Christendom. Mark significantly says," Then Jesus began to send them forth;" for ever since that day he has been giving similar work, and qualifying similar representatives. A study of their characteristics and of their instructions may be profitable to us.
I. THEY WERE TO GO FORTH FROM THE PRESENCE OF JESUS. All the apostles had companied with him, and so had heard his instructions and been witnesses of his work. This qualified them for their mission. They were not to teach dogmas which might be read up as for an examination, but they were to tell of a life, of a person, of a death, of a man through whom they had known God. Hence Jesus "called them to be with him," and then sent them forth. This principle has always prevailed in the Church. Moses would never have proclaimed God's law, or known it, unless he had gone into his presence on Sinai. Elijah would never have dared to attempt what he did, had he not been able to realize the truth of his often-uttered declaration, "The Lord God of Israel, before whom I stand!" These disciples could not have spoken as they did, unless they had been with Jesus. So, if we merely get up certain facts or theories, and rehearse them in the audience of the people, without ever having a sense of our Lord's nearness, our work will be a spiritual failure. First let us come and see the Lord in the temple, as Isaiah did, and when we hear his voice, and have our tongue touched with a live coal from off the altar, we shall be ready to say, "Here am I; Lord, send me."
II. THEY WERE TO BE WILLING TO WORK TOGETHER. "He began to send them forth by two and two," for their mutual encouragement and help. Show the advantage of Christian friendship and fellowship. We lose spiritual culture by the isolated condition of Christian life, United work does not always bring pleasure, but it always brings discipline, often through the trials which come from incompatibility of temperament. Picture to yourself the experience of the disciple who was appointed by our Lord to have Judas Iscariot as his companion. Simon the Cananaian would see and lament his growing selfishness and avarice; he would fear to weaken his influence or damage his reputation among strangers, and yet would feel he must be loyal both to Judas, and his Lord. What self-control this would beget! what charity, which would shut its eyes to evil to the very last! what discipline of self! what earnestness of prayer for guidance! And if an unpleasant companionship may be thus fruitful, much mare may the companionship that is pleasant become so, if it be the appointment of the Lord. When two young people agree to link their destinies for weal or woe, to bear with each other's failings, and to strengthen one another's hands, it is a happy thing when they can say and feel, that "the Lord Jesus sent them forth by two and two."
III. THEY WERE TO BE CONTENT WITH THE USE OF MORAL INFLUENCE. On entering a town, they were not to demand accommodation from strangers by some display of miraculous power, but they were to inquire who in the town was worthy, i.e. who was receptive, being numbered amongst the devout ones who were "waiting for the consolation of Israel." The home of such a one was to be the center from which the apostles worked. If their message was rejected, on leaving the place they were to "shake off the dust under their feet for a testimony against them"—an act symbolic of renunciation of influence and responsibility, and of the announcement of coming judgment. They were not to attempt to force men to listen and obey. Spiritual work is slow, but sure. We are not to endeavor, by the establishment of a great organization, to embrace all in a nominal Christianity, nor are we to conquer men by physical force, as Mahomet did; but are to seek lovingly and prayerfully to turn one soul from darkness to light, that it may become the source of illumination to others.
IV. THEY WERE TO EXERCISE SELF-DENIAL AND CHEERFUL TRUST IN GOD, This was the meaning of the instructions given in verses 8, 9. They were to make no special provision for their journey, but were to go forth prepared to deny themselves; ready to live in the spirit of pilgrims; burdened with the fewest possible earthly things; free from all care, because the Father cared for them. When the Church has their spirit, she will win their results.—A.R.
The murderers of John the Baptist.
The name of Herod Antipas is associated with that of our Lord on three occasions. The first is mentioned in this chapter. On the second he sends a threatening message through the Pharisees (Luke 13:31); and on the third, with his men of war, he mocked the world's Redeemer (Luke 23:8-12). These together afford an example of the progressive nature of sin. Herod passed from superstitious fear to anger, and from anger to mockery and scorn. He "walked in the counsel of the ungodly," and "stood in the way of sinners," and at last "sat in the seat of the scornful" (Psalms 1:1-6.). It appears to have been the extension of our Lord's influence, doubtless through the work of his newly appointed apostles, which aroused the interest and fear of Herod. The miracles which were wrought vividly brought before his guilty conscience the terrible crime which he had recently committed, in the murder of John the Baptist, of which Mark gives us the most graphic and detailed narrative we have. The feast described could hardly have taken place in Tiberias, but probably in some other palace close by the castle of Machaerus, in which John was a prisoner. In the scene which is here portrayed we see three types of character, represented by the three chief actors in this tragedy, which are worthy of our study.
I. CONSIDER HEROD AS AN EXAMPLE OF MORAL WEAKNESS, He was the son of Herod the Great, by Malthace, a Samaritan woman, and inherited his father's vices without his vigor. Profligate and luxurious, he had no vestige of moral greatness. His language was that of a braggart, as we can see in his promise that he would give "the half of his kingdom;" as if he were a mighty Ahasuerus, whereas he was but the subordinate ruler of the small districts of Galilee and Peraea. In the scene before us we notice in him the following faults:—
1. He was disloyal to his convictions. Impressed by John's words, he did not forsake his sins. like Pilate, he acknowledged the innocence and dignity of his victim, yet he had not the moral courage to set him free. To know the right, and yet to fail in following it, is the germ of grosser sins.
2. He was easily influenced by circumstances. "A convenient day" came at last for Herodias's purpose, a time when the weak king would be inflamed by wine and lust. The tempter ever waits and watches for such occasions to effect the moral ruin of those who do not resolutely resist him. The opinion of the civil and military officials around him also prevented Herod's refusal of Salome's request. like all moral cowards, he had more fear of the scorn of men than of the wrath of God.
3. He was led gradually to the worst crime, There had been a time when he would have shrunk from the murder of John; but he had been gradually prepared for it. His sinful connection with Herodias blunted any sensibility to good, as sensuality always does. His unwillingness to put her away led him to silence the bold preacher who denounced his crime. And when licentiousness had led to persecution, it was not long before persecution led to murder.
4. He was moulded by the stronger will of companion in guilt. The weakness of a vacillating man is easily overcome by one who is resolutely bad. Give examples from Scripture, and illustrations from daily life, of the perils besetting those who have no moral firmness and strength.
II. CONSIDER SALOME AS AN EXAMPLE OF ABUSED GIFTS. Physical beauty is as much God's gift as wealth, or position, or mental talent. Too often it has been used for the sake of display, for the gratification of vanity, or for the excitement of evil passions. Many have hereby been led into moral ruin. Salome degraded herself unspeakably by coming forward in this shameless dance. Forgetting all decency and decorum, she danced" in the midst," that is, in a circle of half-intoxicated admirers.
1. Her regal dignity was forgotten. With amazement the historian records that it was the "daughter of Herodias herself" (not "of the said Herodias" )—a princess of royal blood. Even social position and family repute may be fairly regarded as defences against sin.
2. Her maiden modesty was sacrificed. In modern social life Christians should set themselves against all that seems to have the slightest tendency to this.
3. Her feminine tenderness was repudiated. The twenty-fifth verse indicates that she eagerly shared her mother's hatred against John. But her womanly pity should have pleaded for the life of a helpless prisoner, and this God-given characteristic of her sex being trampled underfoot, made her crime the more revolting when she accepted the bleeding head of the murdered prophet.
III. CONSIDER HERODIAS AS AN EXAMPLE OF UNSCRUPULOUS WICKEDNESS. She was to Herod what Jezebel was to Ahab, or what lady Macbeth was to her husband.
1. Her vices were great. Abandoned licentiousness and malignant cruelty.
2. Her influence was disastrous over both Herod and her own daughter Salome. She ruined herself and others too. For all such there will come a terrible awakening and retribution. "Who hath hardened himself against God, and prospered?"—A.R.
The disciples had been teaching the people, and meeting their objections; they had been curing the sick, and had seen effects startling even to themselves. Exultant over the work they had done, they were in some danger of forgetting its spiritual issues, and needed a reminder that it was more important to have one's name in the book of life than to have power to cast out. devils. Agitated, restless, and weary, they returned to their Lord, and he, understanding their deepest wants, bade them follow him into a quiet retreat, that they might rest a while. Each sabbath day should bring us also to Jesus, that he may lead us into rest.
I. RECREATIVE REST IS RECOGNIZED BY GOD AS A NECESSITY FOR MAN. We are so constituted that a constant strain on the same powers will either degrade or destroy them. The absence of physical rest would produce madness or death. But if we had only physical recreation, if there were no provision for the cultivation of the mind and of the affections, if we knew nothing of the quietude of home and the rest of the Lord's day, we should soon become little better than the beasts which perish. This revelation shows that our "Father knoweth that we have need of these things." The Holy Book is not out of the sphere of our human necessities. It is wet with the tears of the sorrowful, and thumbed by the horny hands of the toiler, and through it the Son of man still cries, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." The second chapter in the Book of Genesis speaks of rest as well as of work. One of the fundamental laws given on Sinai ordained that on six days we should work, but that on the seventh we should do no manner of work. Prophecy points on to a distant future, and declares "there remaineth a rest for the people of God." There is, indeed, no true want which God has not met. If the feeblest of his creatures requires food of a certain kind, it is placed beside it from the first. The butterfly, for example, which we sometimes use as a type of carelessness, deposits her eggs by unerring instinct where the young caterpillars may find their proper food. And the God who giveth to each his food sees that we want rest, and provides for it. When our day's work is done, and we are tired, weariness provides and fits for repose, and "the sleep of the labouring man is sweet." When we are in danger of becoming hard and worldly amid the cares of business, God places around us at home restful endearments and softening influences. And often on the sabbath day he says with effectual power, "Oh, rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him."
II. RECREATIVE REST SHOULD HAVE A JUST RELATION TO EARNEST WORK, Everything of value has its own standard. Art, for example, is of value in proportion to taste. Rest finds its value in proportion to work. The mere pleasure-seeker loses the very thing he seeks because he seeks it; for pleasure is the complement of effort, toil, and sacrifice. Rest is the shadow thrown by the substance work, and you reach the shadow when you have passed by the substance that throws it. Nothing is more pitiable than the sight of a blase, self-indulgent epicure, who has never done any genuine work, and who saunters through life voting everything to be a weariness. How vivid is the contrast between his enjoyment and that of the schoolboy who comes home after passing his examination; or the man of business who rejoices to get free and renew the joys of his boyhood! The same principle applies to things spiritual. Those who have known no struggle with doubt or temptation, who have made no sacrifice for the Master, know little or nothing of the rapture which comes to others when, as they pray, there comes a burst of sunshine through the darkness. There would be more enjoyment of God's rest if only there were a more thorough doing of God's work. The converse of all this is true. legitimate rest prepares for work. If an indulgence or recreation makes duty distasteful, so that we go back to it with surly discontent, then either the pleasure has been of the wrong kind, or it has been indulged in in a wrong spirit. The disciples who went into the desert to rest "a while" were soon at work again, and their retirement with Christ had increased their knowledge and power. Such should be the effect of each sabbath day. Its morrow should find us endued with more courage, patience, and hope, in our daily toil. The rest at Elim was as important for Israel as the march from the Red Sea.
III. RECREATIVE REST IS INTENDED TO EXERCISE A WHOLESOME INFLUENCE ON CHARACTER. Many questions are asked concerning various forms of recreation, whether for Christians they are legitimate or not. Incidentally some tests have already been suggested. What is their effect upon the work of life? Do they fit us for doing it better, or do they lead us to turn from it with loathing? And what is their effect on Christian work? Is that more, or is it less hearty, devout, and spiritual, because of our pleasure-taking? But, besides these, there is a more subtle test to be found in the effect of recreation on character. Rightly chosen and enjoyed, it may do much to supply our personal deficiencies. We are seeking to become men in Christ Jesus—to have all the possibilities of manhood, so far as they are innocent, developed and strengthened, and not to have a few characteristics abnormally strong. If we are becoming stern in our fight with difficulties, the relaxations of home-life should make us considerate and gentle. It is well that there is a time to laugh, as well as a time to weep; and that God sends us that which will lift us out of the narrow groove in which the uniformity of life would keep us. If recreation is to have the effect on character which is highest and best, it must be enjoyed in conscious fellowship with Christ. The final test about any doubtful recreation would be—Would Christ share this? Is it he who has said, "Come ye apart with me, and rest a while" ? We rejoice in the belief that he does share in our recreations. He is with us under the whispering trees, and beside the sea as it rolls in upon the shore. He walks with us, as of old, across the corn-fields, and beside the hedgerows, with their marvellous wealth of life and beauty; and as we commune together he bids us think of the minuteness and tenderness of our Father's care. To many weary disciples he still is saying, "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while."—A.R.
Christian care for the needy.
Observe the contrast between this feast on the mountain and the festival just alluded to in the palace of Herod. There self-indulgence, folly, and guilt prevailed; here the necessities of the body were generously met, and hungry souls were satisfied and gladdened. Describe the scene. let us learn some of the lessons here inculcated by him who on all occasions was an example to his disciples.
I. WE SHOULD DEVOUTLY RECOGNIZE GOD IN THE SUPPLY OF EARTHLY WANTS. When our Lord came here he found religion divorced from common things. It had become a matter of ceremonies, of place and time, of ecclesiastical fast and feast, and therefore one of the main purposes of his teaching and miracles was to associate God with everything in men's thoughts. He worked as a carpenter, and so toil was sanctified; he cured diseases, and the work of the physician and of the nurse was ennobled; he went to a wedding feast, and hallowed marriage; he blessed little children, and directed their joys heavenward; he spoke of lilies in the field, of corn white unto the harvest, of birds nestling in the trees, and so made nature vocal with God's teaching; and here, when he took into his hands the bread and fish with which he would provide a labourer's meal for the hungry people, he looked up to heaven as the source whence it came, and blessed it, so that to the disciples the common meal became a sacrament. Too often we are unmindful of this teaching, and attribute our successes to our own skill and strength. Therefore God allows some disaster to come, so that in the recognition of human helplessness Divine goodness may begin to be considered. "Lord, we cannot satisfy this great necessity," said the disciples; and as they looked despondently on the handful, he looked hopefully and thankfully to heaven, leading them to think of him who satisfies the desire of every living thing.
II. WE SHOULD ALWAYS CULTIVATE THOUGHTFUL CONSIDERATION FOR OTHERS, These people, on their way to the Passover at Jerusalem, had turned aside to hear the Prophet of Nazareth. They did not profess to be his followers, although they were sufficiently interested in what they heard to remain till all their provisions were exhausted. Then the disciples thought it was time that they should depart, and were unprepared for the command, "Give ye them to eat." Our Lord was not like those Christians who withhold their sympathy from all but their fellow-believers, nor did he argue that the hungry people ought to have foreseen the difficulty, and made reasonable provision to meet it. He was the "express Image" of him who is kind to the unthankful and to the unworthy. God never withholds his beneficence till his creatures deserve it. He watches the supplanter leaving his father's house after a shameful sin, and even to him, in his merited loneliness, the heavens are opened. He hears the murmuring of the people of Israel, yet causes the manna to fall round about their camp. And when he sees no sign of the world turning to him, he sends for its redemption his only begotten Sou; and "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly." The goodness of the Lord, as well his chastisement, should lead us to repentance. Through us that goodness should reveal itself to others. Jesus said of this undeserving crowd, "I have compassion on the multitude;" and so he sought to inspire his disciples with pitifulness towards all who are in need.
III. WE OUGHT WILLINGLY TO MAKE SACRIFICES FOR OTHERS EVEN WHEN OUR GIFTS SEEM INADEQUATE TO THEIR WANTS. The disciples themselves were hungry, and all that was to be had was this bread and fish which a boy in the crowd was carrying; but of it Jesus said, "Bring them hither to me." At once it was given up, though it was evident that what might have sufficed for the twelve disciples was ridiculously insufficient if divided between five thousand men, besides women and children, Yet even this, which was very small as a gift, but very great as a sacrifice, was by the Lord's blessing made enough for all. It is the sacrifice in it which constitutes the value of every offering presented to God. We might have supposed that one with infinite power would have despised so trivial a supply as this; but God always uses what man has, as far as it will go. Even under the wing of the cherubim the hand of a man must be. When man can do nothing, God does all; but when man can do anything, God requires he should do it to the utmost. The manna will cease directly it is possible to revert to the old law of sowing and reaping. It is thus with Christian enterprise. The world shall be won for Christ—not independently of human effort, but as a result of God's work through it. Concerning all that we can offer of wealth and talent and work, though it is inadequate to the world's necessity, Christ says, "Bring it hither to me."—A.R.
Christ walking on the sea.
This miracle was no unmeaning portent, but was full of spiritual significance. In Scripture the people are often spoken of under the figure of the sea and its waves (Daniel 7:3; Revelation 13:1). Christ had just assuaged popular passion, and now he calmed the troubled sea, which was symbolic of it. Here, then, we may see a sign of the coming dominion of the spirit of Christianity over the sea of nations. We content ourselves, however, now with learning a few truths respecting our Lord and his disciples which are exemplified here.
I. WE LEARN RESPECTING OUR LORD:
1. Christ's disciples would send away the people who were hungry, but Christ himself sends them away when they are too well satisfied. The reason for dismissing the crowd is given in John 6:15. They were greatly excited by a miracle, repetitions of which would ensure the provisioning of armies, and the success of a revolution. Hence Christ sent them away. "He hath filled the hungry with good things, but the rich he hath sent empty away." The prodigal is welcomed when he comes home starving and helpless. We must go to him acknowledging sin and weakness, and not confident in ourselves.
2. Christ withdrew himself from earthly honors, whereas too often his disciples greedily seek them. Our Lord "constrained" his disciples to go away, for they were evidently loth to do so. It was for their, good. They were in danger of becoming infected (if they were not already infected) with the spirit of the people. To them it seemed that the longed-for kingship of their Lord was within reach. But for the second time he resisted the temptation—"All this will! give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." And for them he answered in a most unexpected way the prayer, "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
3. Christ left us an example of secret and earnest prayer. He was alone with God at the close of that exciting day. The quiet of eventide calls us also to secret prayer. Our Lord hereby renewed his strength, and from it he came forth to conflict and victory. "Pray to thy Father, which is in secret."
4. Christ is often out of our sight, but we are never out of his. Lost to the sight of his disciples, he nevertheless "saw them toiling in rowing."
II. WE LEARN RESPECTING HIS DISCIPLES:
1. We are sometimes left to toil on in darkness, without Christ's realized presence. He leaves us alone for a time that we may feel our need of him. Though the wind may be "contrary" to us, it is a good wind if at last it brings our Saviour near.
2. Our extremity is his opportunity. It was about "the fourth watch of the night"—between three and six in the morning—that Jesus came; and the hours had been so long and weary since they started upon their voyage, that they must have been fast losing hope and courage. The darkest hour is just before the dawn.
3. If our strength is insufficient to bring us to him, his strength is sufficient to bring him to us. It was so when he redeemed the world. He came to earth because we could not climb to heaven. It is so in our special occasions of necessity. He sometimes comes for our deliverance in unexpected ways—"walking on the sea."
4. In all our troubles Jesus says, "It is I; be not afraid.".—A.R.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
The carpenter; or, the dignity of honest labour
"In his own country," "in the synagogue" where he had learned in his youth, he now "began to teach." There were "many" who knew him, who had seen him pass in and out amongst them, talking to them, perhaps like, yet unlike, the other growing youths and the young men working for them, an artisan—one of many. These "hearing him were astonished;" and though "the wisdom," of his teaching they could not deny, nor the "mighty works" wrought by his hands, yet, as they knew him and his relatives full well, they were "offended in-him," and believed not. So easily is the poor frail heart led away from blessing by prejudice. How great was the loss of these needy Nazarenes! "He could there do no might work save" (oh, wonderful reserve!) "that he laid his hands on a few sick folk, and healed them." let us leave this unbelief for the present—it will arrest our attention again and again—and let us see the high tribute paid to the honourableness of lowly labour by this Doer of "mighty works"—this "Prophet" robbed of his "honor among his own kin, and in his own house. If labour was first imposed as a curse, it as turned truly into a blessing by this example of him who thus helped to cultivate the fields around. Here pride is truly shamed if it looks upon labour as beneath it: it was not beneath him who is above us all. let every son of toil see in this "carpenter' the highest evidence that all handicraft is exalted to a true dignity, and that hard industry, so far from being a degradation, is honorable and honored. Now, since the "prophet is not without honor," let not "the carpenter" be; for in this instance they are one. The occupancy of a sphere of lowly industry by Christ henceforth consecrates it
I. A SUITABLE OCCUPATION OF TIME. The responsibility of rightly occupying our time cannot be evaded. Of it, as of all other talents, an account must be rendered.
1. Diligent, honest labour is a profitable employment of time.
2. It is healthful.
3. It saves from the degenerating influence of indolence.
4. It is a source of pure and beneficent enjoyment.
II. As AN HONOURABLE MEANS OF MAINTENANCE.
1. There is nothing degrading in honest toil.
2. It has its essential value in the world's great market. It deserves its fair remuneration; and, inasmuch as it is in a high degree necessary for the well-being of society, its claims are everywhere, if not always justly, recognized.
3. In a man's employment of his strength and skill in procuring what is needful for his own life and for those dependent upon him his independence of character is preserved and his best affections stirred.
III. As A WORTHY SERVICE TO OTHERS. By the constitution of human society, it is the plain duty of each to promote to the utmost of his ability the well-being of all others. The products of industrial toil, especially of handicraft, are useful in the highest degree. Without them the comfort of large communities must be greatly impaired. He, therefore, who is called to labour, "working with his hands" the thing that is good, is a useful and honorable servant of his race.
1. In the lowliest spheres, the loftiest powers are not necessarily degraded. The "Christ of God" was a "carpenter."
2. In those spheres the holiest sentiments may be cherished, and the holiest character remain untarnished.
3. Whilst in them the humblest labourer may know that his toil is honored, for it was shared by his Lord.—G.
The apostolic commission.
"The harvest truly is plenteous" and " the labourers are few," therefore "the Lord of the harvest" would "send forth labourcrs late his harvest." To this end "he called unto him the twelve," and gave them the grandest commission ever entrusted to man. let us consider that commission in—
I. ITS IMPOSED CONDITIONS.
1. In company: "by two and two." Thus for mutual encouragement and help. For the heart of the strongest may fail in presence of danger, difficulties, and threatened death.
2. In poverty: "He charged them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no bread, no wallet, no money in their purse." The source of their power and influence with men was thus shown to be not of earth, while no false motives were present to draw men to them. And they, the teachers of faith in God, would be the highest examples of that faith. So in simple wisdom were they to go forth, and in every city seeking the man that was worthy, abide with him, honoring with their prayer of peace the house that judged them worthy to cuter.
3. In danger: "As sheep in the midst of wolves" shall ye be. They whom ye go to bless will become your foes. "Up to councils" shall ye be delivered; "in their synagogues they will scourge you;" "before governors and kings shall ye be brought;" "hated of all men," ye shall be persecuted from city to city.
4. Yet in safety the life exposed for truth and righteousness is not wholly undefended. "The Spirit" of the "Father speaketh in" them in the hour of need; the patiently enduring "shall be saved." Even if men "kill the body," they" are not able to kill the soul;" and the Father, without whom not a sparrow shall fall on the ground, watches the minutest incident of the imperilled life—"the very hairs of your head are all numbered;" "while at length the confessor of Christ among men will he also confess before his" Father which is in heaven." Moreover, in all this "the disciple" is but "as his Master"—that Master and Lord who will reward the least service done to himself, and punish their foes as his own—that Master and Lord who declared that the life lost in his cause should be most truly found.
II. ITS TRUST; or, the terms of the commission. How grand, how honorable, how precious to the world—the world of ignorant, suffering, sinful men! "He gave them authority over the unclean spirits." "As ye go," he said (Matthew 10:7, Matthew 10:8), "preach, heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils." So the great mission has for its object the removal of the evils of human life. Its foulness, its suffering, its error, its subjugation to evil, are all to be combated. Truly this was "to preach the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:2). Happy are the subjects of so good a King!
III. ITS LIMITATION. "Not into any way of the Gentiles, not into any city of the Samaritans," but solely "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel," may they go. So the promises to the fathers are fulfilled. Truly "God did not cast off his people which he foreknew." Truly "all the day long" did he "spread out" his "hands" even to them who "as touching the election are beloved for the fathers' sake." Yet "the time is at hand" when "even to the Gentiles also God will grant repentance unto life;" and out of them will he take "a people for his name." But, according to his will; the order must be observed: to "the Jew first," and, seeing he is the God of Gentiles, "also to the Gentile." Yet, "let the children first be filled."
IV. ITS SUCCESS. "And they went out, and preached that men should repent," and they preached the gospel, and cast out devils, and healed the sick. Few and simple are these words; yet do they declare conquests greater than armies could gain, and works of service to men that lift these labourers to a pitch of unapproachable honor. When the world is won to true wisdom, these men and their works shall be magnified above every other; and when the Church awakes to her true wisdom, she will see that herein is the pattern for all time of the chief principles by which the kingdom of God is to be extended in the earth.—G.
Herod: the disordered conscience.
The fame of the disciples reaches the ears of Herod, and has the effect of recalling to him a shameful deed of blood with which his memory is charged, and leads him, in contradiction to his Sadducean professions, to declare, John, whom I beheaded; he is risen. Thus two diverse characters are brought near together. There are others in view, but they are not prominent. There is the royal dancer, with her skilfulness and obedience, sacrificing her high prospects—"unto the half of my kingdom"—to the foal wish of her mother. We see her visage of corrupt loveliness, over which a cloud gathers, settling on her heated brow, as she finds that her whole reward is to be a gory dish; and we see the half-exposed coarseness of her unmaidenly spirit, which could receive and carry the bleeding head and lay it at her mother's feet. That mother—no. Alums, to what depths can poor human nature descend! Few words are needed to describe the two principal figures. The peace, the serenity, and the brightness of a heavenly life in the one, standing beside the darkness—the pitchy black darkness—of evil in the other. One a rough man from the wilderness, but the chosen herald of the great King, of Whom it was declared that of all born of women a greater than he had not been. A great man, yet humble and meek; not worthy to loose the sandals of his Master's shoes, yet brave enough to reprove a wicked prince to his face. This was one. The other is than prince, the representative of a licentious court in a licentious age, big with the pride of conquest, yet trembling from fear of the people. A mixture of coarse animal courage with the weakness and vacillation which indulgence brings. But a man with conscience. His heart a dungeon, across whose dark gloom shoots one ray of light. Little is said of John—very few words; a mere profile. "It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife." What faithfulness! What brave fearlessness! Good men and brave always bear testimony to the authority of law. "It is not lawful" is a prickly hedge on either side of the path of life. Once more of John, bringing Herod more into view. "Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous man and a holy, and kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was much perplexed; and he heard him gladly." So the silent power of a holy life is declared by the example of its influence over this reprobate. Into the darkest chambers of that dark heart this ray penetrates. Anal the words of warning and teaching alternately please and pain—"he was much perplexed." Herod is evidently a weak man. He is impressible, but he lacks firmness of character—the hardness of texture that retains the impression of the hand laid upon it. He yields to good, but it is not lasting; he yields equally to evil. He is sufficiently alive to the claims of holiness to pay them tribute, but not sufficiently so to prevent the rage of passion. He is open to the appeals of a holy life; not less to the demands of a dancing-girl. He fears John, and he fears public opinion. He is weak—that weakness which is wickedness. He would give half his kingdom to a girl whose dance delighted him, and he would give the head of the man whom in his heart he honors to satisfy her demands. True, he was sorry—"exceeding sorry;" "but for the sake of his oaths, and of them that sat at meat, he would not reject her." Oh, what noble fidelity! Oh, what honor! Yet has he not sufficient fidelity to truth to say, "Over that man's life I have no power;" nor honor enough to say, "That head is not mine to give." What an unbalanced spirit! what a turbulent sea! This character reveals—
I. THE NECESSITY FOR A RULING PRINCIPLE IN LIFE; "the single eye," which, while it gives unity to the whole character, preserves by its simplicity from the entanglements of temptation.
II. THE NECESSITY FOR PROMPT DECISION, BASED UPON PRINCIPLES ACKNOWLEDGED BY CONSCIENCE.
III. THE DUTY OF AN UNQUESTIONING SUBMISSION TO THE LAW OF RIGHT.
IV. And it teaches the terrible lesson that THE HABITUAL INDULGENCE WILL UNDERMINE THE WHOLE STRENGTH OF MORAL CONVICTION AND SENSE OF EIGHT.—G.
The miracle of the loaves.
The apostles, having returned to Jesus after their first tour of healing and preaching, relate to him "all things whatsoever they had done, and whatsoever they had taught." Touched with consideration for them, Jesus withdraws them "apart into a desert place, to rest a while." But they could not be hid. The people saw them departing, and gathered, "from all the cities, a great multitude." To the eye of the Merciful they were "as sheep not having a shepherd," and his deepest sympathies were touched. "He had compassion on them," and he "healed their sick," and he became the Shepherd of their souls, and "began to teach them many things." So the day passes and the evening draws nigh, and the disciples in their fear desire him to send the people away to "buy themselves something to eat," little knowing that the source of all was near at hand. Jesus' demand to the disciples to "give them to eat" quickly evoked the demand, "Shall we go and buy?" for little recked they that "five loaves" and "two fishes" could feed so great a multitude. But he, "looking up to heaven, blessed," and that for which he blessed was blessed; and he brake, and still he brake, for probably the increase was in his hands. "And they did all eat, and were filled." So the insufficiency of our poor human resources is shown to be no hindrance to the accomplishment of the great Divine purposes; and the folly of having regard to our means alone is strikingly shown. Five loaves, with his blessing who gives bread daily, are ample to meet the wants of a multitude. In those five loaves were the apostles—so small a band—represented. How could they meet the needs of the world? But he would meet that need, and with but a little Church, a few apostles, and a few writings; and this he foreshadowed. The ground of the world's hope lies in his compassion and his means of help. But the miracle stands for ever to condemn the fear of those who think that the time must come when the fields will be insufficient to feed the nations of men. The "compassion' which then saw the multitudes will still be awake, and the power which could feed that multitude on a few cakes will in all time give daily bread for the asking. To fear in the presence of God for our life, what we shall eat, is as grave a fault as to fear him is a lofty virtue. The miracle is a doing in an unusual way what at all other times is done by well-known and ordinary methods—methods that are so regular in their orderly succession we are led to depend upon them as unfailing; and we call them "laws of nature."
I. It teaches us (if we did not otherwise know it) that all feeding is from the Divine hand.
II. It declares that God feeds men in tenderness and compassion. The bread comes to the thoughtful, made savoury with the Divine goodness.
III. It points us to those many processes of nature which are (like the disciples in this account) the hands of the servants of his will to bear to us God's gifts.
IV. It shows to us that, in all God's good gifts to us, the littleness of the human means and of natural resources is no hindrance to the fullest satisfaction of our wants.
V. It illustrates to us that in God's house economy reigns, and that with all plentifulness there is to be no waste—nothing lost. His gifts are precious in his own sight at least.
VI. And it quietly teaches the duty of a thankful reception of all he bestows a blessing God for his gifts, which speedily returns as a blessing upon the gift.
But though this miracle met the bodily wants, and though it teaches its good lessons concerning the care that in compassion gives daily bread to the needy, yet it has its lofty spiritual aspect. It leads our wondering and admiring thoughts up to him who is the Bread of life to the world, and the very Life itself. And it demands from disciples that they catch the spirit of their Master, and in compassion care for every multitude in every place that "is desert."—G.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Christ at home.
I. THE WONDROUS IN EVERY-DAY LIFE. When they heard him in the synagogue they were "much struck," Mark says. Where did all this wisdom come from? So does the parent wonder at the sayings of the child. "Where did he get such thoughts?" The boy goes from the village, and soon comes back to astonish the gossip, with his broad views of life and his easy and confident manners. Experience is full of these surprises. Nothing is more astonishing now than the empire which the Child of Nazareth sways in the world of thought and conduct.
II. THE JEALOUSY OF HOME-GROWN GREATNESS. The people of Nazareth stumbled at Jesus. So are our thoughts under the tyranny of custom. If one should tell us that our little son or brother was great, we should find it hard to believe. 'Tis want of faith in the living God, who works wherever, whenever, howsoever he wills. Beware of that narrow egotism which even now may be shutting us out from light and beauty, divinity and blessedness.
III. THE MOST INVINCIBLE OF OBSTACLES IS THE WILL OF MAN. How deep was the truth of the saying, that against stupidity even the gods fight in vain! There was sarcasm in the saying of Jesus (verse 4). Often has it been repeated. He "wondered at their want of faith." Full of faith and love himself, 'twas hard to understand the want of response to it. "He was not able to do any work of power there." Ask, when the business of the kingdom does not seem to be going forward (except on a small scale, verse 5), whether the cause may not be want of wish, want of will, want of prayer.—J.
I. MISSIONARIES MUST NOT BE, AS A RULE, SOLITARY MEN. For counsel, defense, cheerfulness, "two are better than one." Without artificially imitating this example, in natural and quiet ways it will be found good to follow.
II. MISSIONARIES, AS A RULE, MUST BE FRUGAL MEN. NO luxuries; bare necessaries compose their outfit. It is like the soldier in "marching order," or the exploring traveler. Luxury is a relative term, but the Christian minister will always put it in a secondary place.
III. MISSIONARIES, AS A RULE, MUST NOT BE SEDENTARY MEN. They are sent with a witness. They must deliver a few clear statements, sound a blast upon the trumpet that calls to repentance, and then forward again. The rule for the pastor is very different. We must try to understand our call.
IV. MISSIONARIES, AS A RULE, MUST ACT DIRECTLY UPON THE CONSCIENCE OF MEN. This is a great canon, and a mark of distinction between the missionary and the pastor. "They, departing, proclaimed that men should repent." A fresh voice, delivering this word, "Repent!" with intensity and power, will awaken echoes. Bat, repeated in the same place by the same person, the effect must wear off. Solid and continuous instruction then is needed. The teacher must sow where the exhorter has broken up the fallow ground.—J.
Wonder and fancy.
Incidentally how much light on human nature do we gain from the Gospels!
I. PERSONAL FORCE ALWAYS ATTRACTS ATTENTION. The man cannot be hidden. Even the "lion" of the hour merely is an expression of spiritual force. Who is he? whence came he?
II. THE POPULAR CONSCIENCE RECOGNIZES THE FORCE OF CHARACTER. They felt that something new had come into the world of thought and feeling. It is always worth while taking note of the direction of popular interest. Herod learned much from the people. However wide of the mark their conjectures as to the personality of Jesus might be, their instinctive recognition of his greatness was unerring.
III. THE SUPERSTITION OF THE BAD MAN. It is often seen that unbelief and superstition, as in the expressive language of the Germans, Unglaube and Aberglaube, are generally found together, springing from One root. The truth is, that in an idle, voluptuous mind any sort of thought springs up, rife as weeds in warmth and rain. The only way to think truly is to feel purely and act rightly.—J.
The hero's death.
I. THE HERO OF CONSCIENCE CONTRASTED WITH THE VOLUPTUARY. The former chooses to be true and loyal to the right rather than to live; the latter postpones everything to "life," in the lowest and most sensual acceptation of the word. Yet the wicked man involuntarily respects the good man.
II. THE SLAVE OF SPURIOUS HONOUR CONTRASTED WITH THE SERVANT OF THE TRUTH. Herod excuses his violent deed; nay, he pretends that it is required in order to satisfy his word as a man of honor. Such a one as his victim would never have given his word in such a case.
III. THE TRUE PARTS OF MEN IN LIFE OFTEN SEEM TO BE REVERSED. John loses his head at the order of Herod. The sublime hero bows before the weak tyrant. So is it in the "whirligig of time." Unless we keep our eye firmly fixed on the unseen and spiritual, it may appear that all things are turned upside down. But there is only one relation of things, and that is God's. Herod is really to be pitied. Over John is extended the shield of omnipotence, and in the very moment of his violence Herod is most weak. (Comp. R. Browning's poem, 'Instans Tyrannus.')—J.
Rest and work.
I. THERE IS NO TRUE REST WHICH HAS NOT BEEN EARNED BY WORK.
II. THE DUTY OF RESTING HAS THE SAME REASONS AS THE DUTY OF WORKING.
III. SOLITUDE IS THE PROPER REFRESHMENT AFTER PUBLIC WORK, AND PREPARATION FOR IT.
IV. THE SPIRIT CAN NEVER BE AT LEISURE FROM COMPASSION, SYMPATHY, AND LOVE.—J.
The multitude fed.
I. THE COMPASSION OF CHRIST. It is for the body as well as the soul. The foundation of work upon the soul is cure for the body. It is contrasted with the disciples' carelessness. Their spirit is that which leads men to get rid of irksome duty. "Send them away!" Let them shift for themselves. Christ's example teaches that where a want is seen, those who see it should be the first to seek to supply it.
II. LOVE IS RICH IN RESOURCES. It seemed a physical impossibility to feed those thousands without bread, without money. This beautiful story, like that of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath in the old time, teaches that "a little may go a long way." If the best use is made of existing means, they will be found insensibly to multiply; not always by what we term a "miracle," i.e. some process out of the ordinary operation of law, but in accordance with law, which may be better.
III. METHOD IN BENEFICENCE. The multitude is broken up and distributed in parties, as if in preparation for a grand banquet. The spirit of love and goodness works by method. When we introduce order into our works, we reflect the law of Heaven and imitate the thought of God. Waste of material and waste of labour is generally for want of this.
IV. IN GOD'S FEASTS THERE IS EVER ENOUGH AND TO SPARE. The people were not only satisfied, but there was enough left to furnish forth a future repast. The whole is a parable of the truths and laws of the Spirit. Love is the deepest root of social and political economy. It teaches the value of means, in view of the greatness of the ends. It stimulates prudence and calculation. For the individual, the complaint is generally not sound, that he has "not enough to live on." To reduce wants is the same as to increase means, and is a sure secret of wealth. For the community, the far-reaching and benevolent wisdom of the legislature may avail more than mere abundance of harvests. With order, religious principle, liberality and frugality, the tables of the people will be furnished with bread. To cheapen the means of living and oppose war is the duty of the Christian politician.—J.
The vision on the lake.
I. THE FRAILTY OF FAITH.
1. In loneliness. Jesus had gone away. The disciples were in the middle of the lake, amidst a stormy sea. It is a picture of a life-experience. In loneliness we sink into weakness and cowardice, having been brave in the fellowship and under the contagious influence of superiors.
2. In the withdrawal of its Object from the field of vision. They could not see Christ. We want to see, when the whole need is that we should trust. we want to unite incompatible things; willing to trust so soon as we see a good prospect of safety; cast down with apprehension when the inner sight, kept clear, would open its vista of cheering hope. Those men were yet to learn, in the language of one of them, to "believe in the Saviour, though now we see him not."
II. TERROR AT THE SUPERNATURAL. They saw Jesus passing, and were terrified, for they thought it was a ghost. Involuntary fear in the presence of the supernatural is the symptom of our weak and dependent nature. When Jesus appeared as Jesus, he drove all fear away; when he passed into the chiaro-oscuro of perception, standing as it were in a region intermediate between earth and heaven, as here on the lake, as on the Mount of Transfiguration, terror fell upon their souls. Fear in the mind reflects the presence of God. Modified by intelligence, purified from superstition, fear passes into that reverence which is the ground-tone of religious feeling.
III. THE TERRORS OF GOD CONCEAL, HIS LOVE. Behind the tempest is his "smiling face." The voice of the Comforter and Saviour of man speaks from the dread apparition of the lake. So from out the mystic scenes of nature, the Alpine tempest and avalanche, the mountainous swelling of the Sea, and all human changes and turbulences of history, speaks a voice, clear, calm, and still, if we will but hearken, like that which greeted Elijah: "Have courage; it is I. Child of man, I love thee; rest on me and be at peace." It is when we realize that we are members of the kingdom of spirit and under the protection of its Head, that we can defy the "wild deluge of cares." It is not because God is not near to us, or that help! is not available, that we tremble and feel forlorn; it is because, like the disciples, our "minds have become dull."—J.
Commotion in Gennesaret.
I. A STIR AMONG THE, SICK AND THEIR FRIENDS. We read of "fashionable events" and "arrivals in the fashionable world." This was not such. The quality of a movement teaches much as to its origin. The poor and sick know their friends, and their thronging is a testimonial to worth.
II. THE PROGRESS OF HEALING AND PITY. Contrast with the progress of the conqueror or the cold pomp of royalty. Wherever Christ goes, and men come into contact with him, they are made well. Worth much is the testimony of any suffering one to the private Christian: "I am the better for seeing you; you do me more good than the doctor." There is a contagion of health as well as of disease.—J.
HOMILIES BY J.J. GIVEN
Parallel passage: Matthew 13:54-58.—
The refection at Nazareth.
I. Our LORD'S VISIT TO NAZARETH. This chapter commences with our Lord's removal from the house of Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, where he had performed the miracle recorded at the close of the last chapter; or rather from Capernaum, where the synagogue appears to have been situated. In either case he proceeded to visit his fatherland—not in the wide sense of that term, but in the narrower meaning of the township where his parents' home had been, and where his own childhood, youth, and early manhood had been spent. It is scarcely necessary to remind our readers that, while Bethlehem was the place of our Lord's nativity, and while Capernaum is called his own city, as the place of his frequent resort and the scene of so many of his mighty works, Nazareth was the place where he had been brought up. In a beautiful, basin-like valley, enclosed by some fifteen hills, was situated this place of world-wide renown. The town or village of Nazareth seems to sleep among the hills. The hills around this happy valley, as it has been called, have been compared to the petals of a rose, or the edge of a shell, with the little town on the lower slope of the western hill which rises high above, and which, from its elevation of nearly six hundred feet, commands one of the finest prospects in Palestine, with the Great Sea and Carmel on the west, the great plain of Esdraelon two miles to the south, Tabor six miles to the south-east, and Hermon's snowy summit away to the northward.
II. CAUSE OF HIS REJECTION. A previous rejection, if we mistake not, had taken place at Nazareth, and with greater violence than at this time, according to the record of St. Luke. On the previous occasion passion had impelled them; now prejudice blinds them. He had begun to address the congregation; his eloquence and oratory amazed them. He had not gone far, however, without interruption. They admit his superiority; they acknowledge his wisdom; but, in a sinister manner, they question its source and character, asking, "Whence is it? From above or below? What is it? Is it supernal or infernal? And then such mighty works are wrought by his hands! He is the instrument of some superior power—not the originating cause or author of them." Such seems to be the insinuation. Envy and jealousy were at the root of this prejudice. They canvassed the humble position of his family, and the lowly occupation of its members. "Is he not," they said, "a carpenter—a common carpenter, and the son of a carpenter—the village carpenter? Is he not a carpenter himself?" They were ignorant of the dignity of labour, and the nobility of honest toil. They overlooked the fact that Jews were wont to learn a trade, and that, according to Jewish ideas, a parent who did not have his son taught a trade was regarded as guilty of training him to dishonesty. Justin Martyr preserves the tradition of our Lord having made ploughs and yokes and other agricultural implements. But they knew his family and friends—knew them so well that familiarity begat contempt. They knew who Mary was, Joseph having in all probability died before this time. They knew his brethren: sons of Joseph and Mary; or possibly his half-brothers—sons of Joseph by a previous marriage; if not his cousins, children of Clopas and Mary. They knew his sisters. They could not brook his great and manifest superiority. Verily envy is a green-eyed monster; and so "they were offended in him." Our Lord, no doubt, felt all this acutely, but accounted for it by the principle embodied in the proverb, that a prophet is without honor in three circles—his neighbors, relatives, and members of his household. No wonder he could not do mighty works there; not that there was any physical inability in the Saviour himself, but the forth-putting of his power was conditioned by the faithful disposition or otherwise of his hearers. Thus Theophylact makes this want of ability relative and owing to the want of faith in the recipients. "Not," he says, "because he was weak, but because they were faithless." Here there was a want of receptivity to such an extent that he marvelled—not at their unbelief, but on account of it. It was not the object, but the cause (διὰ), of his astonishment. He wondered, as we read, at the faith of some no less than at the unbelief of others.—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 9:35-38; Matthew 10:5-42; Luke 9:1-6.—
The mission of the twelve.
I. THEIR FIRST MISSIONARY ENTERPRISE. Our Lord had already, as recorded in Luke 3:1-38., made choice of his twelve disciples, to accompany himself during their time of training, and subsequently to go forth on their apostolic mission and with indubitable credentials of their commission. The time had now come for their first brief and tentative effort in that direction. They go "forth by two and two"—in pairs (δύο δύο, a Hebraism for κατὰ δύο, or ἀνα δύο). The wisdom of this method is obvious for many reasons. It was the condition of true testimony according to the statement of the Old Testament, that "at the mouth of two or three witnesses every word should be established" or confirmed. Two are better than one for counsel and encouragement. Two would numerically warrant the expectation of the Divine presence in prayer, for "where two or three are met" together in God's name, his presence is promised. In many ways two would be mutually helpful, and abundantly justify the prudence of the arrangement. Endued with miraculous power, they had no need of human recommendation; the powers they possessed were amply sufficient to certify the Divine origin of their mission; while the works of heavenly beneficence to suffering humanity were well adapted to gain them acceptance. With such abundant spiritual equipment, they received the Master's word of command (παρήγγειλεν) to set out on their first expedition.
II. THEIR PHYSICAL EQUIPMENT. Their physical equipment, however, was of the scantiest kind. In fact, they were to make no special provision for themselves whatever; such provision might delay them when setting out, and impede them on their journey. Consequently they proceeded at once to their sphere of labour, without delay and encumbrance of any kind. Without staff, except the one in common or daily use—they were even expressly forbidden to acquire or provide for themselves (μὴ κτήσησθε) another in addition, or for the particular purpose of their present mission; without shoes, save the sandals they every day wore (ὑποδεδεμένους); without bread for immediate use; without scrip for provisions by the way, or copper in their purse to procure such; without two tunics, or under-garments,—they set out on their first mission, pensioners on the providence of God and the pious hospitality of his people.
III. THE ARRANGEMENT FOR THEIR LODGING. They were not at liberty to lodge in any or every house that might open its door to them. They were to act circumspectly in this matter, and carefully inquire, on entering a city or village, who in it was worthy. By acting without due discrimination in this particular, and lodging in disreputable quarters, they might imperil their own reputation or bring discredit on their mission. Once they had obtained a suitable stopping-place, they were not to change for another, even if the offer of a better place of sojourn or superior accommodation should tempt them to such a step. Their wants were few, their mode of life simple, and with the humblest hospitality it behoved them to be content. In case such Oriental and usual hospitality was denied them, or in the event of their being refused admittance, they were, by a significant symbolic act, to express their renunciation of all intercourse with persons guilty of such churlish rudeness or barbarous want of hospitality. They had rejected them, though they went in their Master's name; and, rejecting them, they rejected the Master who sent them, and thus cut themselves off from future opportunities of blessing.
IV. THE DOCTRINE THEY PREACHED. Above all was the great doctrine which they preached. That doctrine was repentance—the doctrine which our Lord's forerunner had proclaimed before; the doctrine which our Lord himself reiterated; the doctrine which, joined to faith, became afterwards one of the elements in that twofold apostolic testimony, when, after their Lord's resurrection and ascension, the apostles went forth, declaring "repentance toward God, and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ." While thus busied in seeking the salvation of men's souls, they did not neglect the sufferings of the body; but cast out devils and healed the sick, using oil, if not medicinally, at least symbolically, to establish a point of contact or connection between them and their patients.—J. J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 14:1, Matthew 14:2; 6-12; Luke 9:7-9. ―
The murder of the Baptist.
I. CONJECTURES ABOUT CHRIST. The name of Jesus had now attained great celebrity; it was fast becoming a household word; the cures he had effected, the demons he had ejected from human bodies, the dead he had raised—his wonderful works were on every tongue. Some detracted, others wondered, but most applauded. The missionary tour of the apostles, brief as it was, had given fresh currency and wider diffusion to reports already circulated far and near. His fame had made its way into the court of the tetrarch, and thus reached the ears of royalty itself. The personality of the great Wonder-worker was keenly canvassed; conjectures were rife on the subject. Some affirmed he was Elias, who had come as the forerunner of Messiah; others, not seeing their way to go so far as to accept him for the Prophet long expected, or even the precursor of that great Prophet, simply asserted he was a prophet; while some fancied that, after a long and dreary interval, a new era of prophetic activity was commencing, and so that a person like one of the old prophets had appeared.
II. CONSCIENCE STRONGER THAN CREED. Such were the conjectures afloat, and such the conflicting opinions of the people. Not so Herod; other thoughts stirred within him; something more than mere curiosity Was at work in his case; he was startled—thoroughly perplexed, and quite at a loss (διηπόρει, St. Luke) to know what to think of the matter. in his extreme perplexity and agitation he expressed his opinion in a very surprising manner, and in the following very striking and abrupt words:—"Whom I myself beheaded—John: he is risen from the dead;" adding, "And on this account mighty powers operate in him." What a wonderful evidence of the power of conscience we have here! Herod, we have good reason to believe, was a Sadducee, for "the leaven of Herod," mentioned by St. Mark (Mark 8:15), is identified with "the leaven of the Sadducees" spoken of in the Gospel of St. Matthew (Matthew 16:6). The Sadducees denied the existence of angel or spirit, and also the resurrection of the dead; and yet this loose-living, unbelieving Sadducee fell back at once on an article of belief which he had all his life denied. The power of conscience had overmastered his creed. His guilty conscience had conjured up before him the murdered man as restored to life, and returning, as it were, with power from the spirit-world.
III. A PARALLEL CASE. A somewhat similar instance of the mighty power of that monitor within occurs in an instructive narrative in the forty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis. When Joseph, before making himself known to his brethren, had put them in ward three days, and subsequently released them on condition of retaining one as a hostage till the rest returned with their youngest brother, in proof of their good faith and of their being true men and no spies, "they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us." There was nothing apparently in the circumstances of the case, unpleasant as those circumstances were, nor in the condition imposed on them, hard as it seemed, to remind them of their cruel treatment of their long-lost brother—nothing to recall his memory, absolutely nothing, save the still, small voice within; in other words, the power of a guilty conscience.
IV. THE CIRCUMSTANCES THAT OCCASIONED THE BAPTIST'S DEATH. The evangelist now turns aside to narrate the circumstances that led up to the death of John the Baptist. Herod Antipas, ethnarch of Galilee and Peraea, called "tetrarch" by St. Matthew, as inheriting only a fourth part of the dominions of his father, Herod the Great, and styled "king" by St. Mark, had seduced his brother Philip's wife, with whom he was now living in an adulterous connection. The Baptist boldly but faithfully lifted up his voice against this sin. addressing earnest and repeated remonstrances to Herod; for, as we read, he kept saying (ἔλεγε being imperfect), "It is not lawful for thee to have her," The vindictive spirit of Herodias was roused in consequence; she resolved to have her revenge, but was unable to prevail on her husband to gratify her fully in this particular. He arrested the Baptist and imprisoned him, putting him in chains. He still, however, retained some respect for him, as a good and holy man whom he had heard often, and by whom he had been influenced to do many things; though συνετήρει rather means that Herod kept him in safety, or preserved him from Herodias's machinations, than that he esteemed him highly. Besides, state policy stood in the way of further violence. Herod shrank from the unpopularity which he was certain to incur by such a course; perhaps even worse consequences might ensue. To deprive i the people of their favourite might lead to insurrection. Josephus, however, attributes the murder of John by Herod to Herod's "fear lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion." This wicked woman bided her time, harbouring her secret grudge and ill-concealed resentment (ἐνεῖχεν, equivalent to "she held fast within or cherished inward wrath," or "set herself against," Revised Version); while ἤθελεν implies "she had a settled desire" ); but the favorable opportunity at last arrived. The king was celebrating his birthday festival by an entertainment to the magnates of his realm—high officers of the army, military tribunes, or chiliarchs, and other functionaries, civil or ecclesiastical, of distinguished rank. But besides this great assemblage of Galilean nobles and the splendor of the feast itself, a new feature was added to the entertainment. Salome, daughter of Hero-dins, in forgetfulness of the due decorum of her rank and the natural modesty of her sex, volunteered to play a part little better than that of ballet-girl before the assembled grandees of Galilee, and thus to heighten the enjoyment of the king's guests. The king looked on in rapture, immensely pleased by the easy condescension, and charmed with the agility and graceful movements of the fair danseuse. He was sensible of the sacrifice she had made in compliment to his majesty; for a Persian queen once lost her crown, and was willing to submit to the loss, rather than, at the sacrifice of her queenly or womanly modesty, to appear, even by the king's express command, in the presence of his banqueters. Being, in consequence, in a grateful, generous mood, he determined not to be outdone in magnanimity. There and then, of his own motion, he promised Salome whatever she asked, if it should amount to half his kingdom: he backed his promise by an oath, yea, by more than one, for we read of oaths (ὅρκους), as confirmatory of that promise. The girl was somewhat nonplussed by the largeness of the king's bounteous offer. She hesitated; but a prompter was not far to seek. She repaired to her mother, no doubt expecting direction in the matter of gold, or jewels, or diamonds, or girlish ornaments of some sort. But no; that wicked woman had set her heart on what no gold could purchase, and no gems procure. It was no less than the Baptist's head.
V. REFLECTIONS ON ALL THIS.
1. Surely the maiden, bold as she was, must have been shocked at the proposal; surely she must have recoiled from such a cruelty; surely she must have required strong and powerful urgency to bring herself to present such a bloody petition. And this we think is implied in the word προβιβασθεῖσα employed by St. Matthew, and signifying "made to go forward," and so instigated. She soon, however, recovered her sprightliness. Once her scruples were overcome, she returned in haste, and with eagerness preferred the ghastly request for John the Baptist's head to be given her immediately—lest time might cool the royal ardor—and in a charger, one of the platters used in the feast, and thus one of those just at hand, to make sure of the execution on the spot. The terms are expressive of the utmost eagerness and haste: "Give me here—immediately in a charger," is the demand after she had "come in straightway with haste."
2. The king at once repented, but too late; he was excessively sorry (περίλυπος). This word is only used twice again in the New Testament—of the Saviour in his agony, and of the rich ruler in parting, perhaps for ever, from the Saviour. But then there was the false shame consequent on repeated oaths, and because of the presence of so many persons of quality. How could he break the former? How could he insult, by withdrawal of his kingly promise or breach of faith, the latter? How could he set aside (ἀθετῆσαι) a promise made before so many, and confirmed by so many oaths?
3. At once a guardsman (σπεκουλάτωρ, either equal to δορυφόρος, a satellite or body-guard, or equal to κατάσκοπος, a spy, or scout; at all events, a guardsman of Herod now at war with Aretas) is despatched. The head is brought, dripping with blood. Oh, horrid sight! It is handed on a platter to the maiden; and she, maiden though she was, received it, and, maiden though she was, bore it away to her mother. The word "maiden" (κοράσιον, equivalent to little or young maiden) is repeated, as if to stigmatize the untender, unfeeling, and beyond expression unmaidenly, conduct of this princess.
4. So ended the last act of this bloody tragedy. It now remained for the sorrowing disciples of the Baptist tearfully and tenderly to take up the corpse (πτῶμα, equivalent to cadaver) of their beloved master, and consign it to its last resting-place in the tomb.
VI. ADDITIONAL REMARKS.
1. A nearly parallel case, or a crime somewhat similar to that of Herod, is referred to in strongest terms of condemnation by Cicero, in the twelfth chapter of his 'Treatise on Old Age,' as follows:—"I indeed acted unwillingly in banishing from the senate I.. Flaminius, brother of that eminently brave man, T. Flaminius, seven years after he had been consul; but I thought that his licentiousness should be stigmatized. For when he was consul in Gaul, he was prevailed on by a courtesan, at an entertainment, to behead one of those who were in confinement on a capital accusation;… but lewdness so abandoned and so desperate, which was combining with private infamy the disgrace of the empire, could by no means be visited with approbation by myself and Flaccus."
2. It was in a gloomy dungeon, in the strong old castle of Machaerus, that the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded. That place was in Persia, nine miles east of the Dead Sea, and on the borders between the dominion of Herod and of Aretas. It is thus described by Josephus in relation to its strength: "The nature of the place was very capable of affording the surest hopes of safety to those that possessed this citadel, as well as delay and fear to those that should attack it; for what was walled in was itself a very rocky hill, elevated to a very great height; which circumstance alone made it very hard to be subdued. It was also so contrived by nature that it could not be easily ascended; for it is, as it were, ditched about with such valleys on all sides, and to such a depth that the eye cannot reach their bottoms, and such as are not easily passed over, and even such as it is impossible to fill up with earth."—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 14:13-21; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14.—
I. THE FEEDING OF THE FIVE THOUSAND.
1. The vivid description of St. Mark. In connection with this miracle, St. Mark describes the recognition of our Lord by the multitude, their running together on foot, their outspeeding the Saviour, their arrival at the place of disembarkation before him, the compassion that moved him, the instruction he gave them. He describes, moreover, the green grass on which the multitudes sat down, their divisions into hundreds and fifties, their reclining company after company (literally, a convivial party, and συμπόσια συμπόσια, a Hebraism, like δύο δύο of verse 7) or as though in military order, the resemblance of the multitudes thus seated to the plots of a garden (πρασιαὶ πρασιαὶ, equivalent to "beds of leeks," from πράσον, a leek, and the structure another Hebraism)—the whole exhibiting a stirring and life-like scene. The importance of this miracle may be inferred from all four evangelists recording it.
2. The time of year. From the fresh greenness of the grass we infer the season of the year, and can better account for the great multitudes that crowded the grassy space near Bethsaida. It was spring—March or April—and so the season of the Passover, as we are expressly informed by St. John; the pilgrim companies were on the move in that direction, and hence the greatness of the crowds tibet followed the Saviour. Another miracle of feeding the multitudes is recorded by St. Matthew, in the fifteenth chapter of that Gospel towards its close, and also by St. Mark (Mark 8:1-9). That the two miracles are quite distinct, is shown by the following circumstances:—
(1) In the miracle of feeding the four thousand just referred to, our Lord himself introduces the matter of supply.
(2) The provision for the smaller number of four thousand was greater, being seven loaves and a few small fishes; while here for the five thousand there are only five loaves and two fishes.
(3) The baskets in this first miracle are called by the four evangelists κοφίνοι, small wicker-baskets; on the second occasion they are called both by St. Matthew and St. Mark σπυρίδες, rope-baskets, so largo that in one of them Paul was let down the wall of Damascus; and from σπείρα, as if woven work, or rather from πυρός, wheat, as if a vessel for wheat. Our Lord also, when making reference to the two miracles, makes the same distinction; thus, "When I brake the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets (κοφίνους) full of fragments took ye up? They say unto him, Twelve. And when the seven among the four thousand, how many baskets (σπυρίδων) full of fragments took ye up? And they said, Seven."
II. SOME SALIENT POINTS OF THE MIRACLE, AND THE LESSONS TAUGHT.
1. The way of duty way of safety. The first lesson here taught us is that the way of duty is the way of safety: We see on the surface of the narrative the satisfaction of the multitudes on recognizing our Lord, their eager haste in coming up with him, their earnest desire for his teaching, their prolonged attention to his utterances. Long without a right guide, long wanting a true leader, long punting for the green pastures and still waters, long athirst for" the sincere milk of the Word" they have found at last the Good Shepherd; they know his voice, and follow him. They had much to learn, and our Lord taught truths he taught them, they had almost forgotten the claims of the body till the cravings of nature forced themselves upon them; at all events, they had laid aside their usual forethought for the supply of those wants. And now the day is far spent, the shades of evening are closing round them; they find themselves in a place distant from any human habitation, and destitute of the articles of human food. How are they to meet the emergency? Whence are they to obtain the refreshment they so much need? How were they to get" two hundred pennyworth of bread," which, if we reckon the denarius at eight pence halfpenny, would cost upwards of £7? No doubt they thought of different expediences. The disciples proposed one course, our Lord pursued another. The Lord is a rich provider; he never falsifies the promise, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." Here, then, we are bidden to "stand still, and see the salvation of God." The result is recorded in the words, "They did all eat, and were filled."
2. The compassion of the Saviour. His compassionate heart embraces all his people's wants, and those wants at all times. In the exercise of that compassion he remembers the body as well as the soul. He remembered it in creation; he remembered it in redemption: "We wait for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body." He remembers it in his providential care over it, and provision for it from day to day. With his own lips he taught this cheering lesson when on earth, "Your heavenly Father knoweth ye have need of all these things." And he that gave us so much unasked, will not refuse us what we need when he is asked. "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, shall he not with him also freely give us all things?"
3. Nature of this miracle by which he supplied tacit wants. Our Lord on this occasion exhibited his compassion in supplying the people's wants by an act of creative power. Some of his miracles are restorative, as when he restores sight to the blind, speech to the dumb, motion to the lame, hearing to the deaf, and power to the palsied limb. Some are redemptive, as when he rescues the poor demoniac from the foul fiends that had usurped such power over him. Some are punitive, as when he blasted the barren tree, as a symbolic lesson to all cumberers of the ground, and swept away the ill-got gains of the swinish Gadarenes. One is transformitory, as when he turned the water in the waterpots of Cans into wine. The miracle before us is an act of creative power; for in what other light can we regard the multiplication of five loaves and two fishes into a supply of food sufficient for such a multitude, so that "they did all eat, and were filled "? He lays all nature under contribution to supply his people's wants. Even an act of creation will not be withholden, if their necessities require it.
4. The Saviour's love of order. "Order," says the poet, "is Heaven's first law;" "Let everything be done decently, and in order," is the apostle's command. Our Lord confirms both by his example, in the orderly arrangement and disposition into rank and file, as it were, which he here directs. Whether we are in the Church or in the world—that is, whether we are engaged in the arrangements of the one or in the affairs of the other—we shall do well to observe this law of order. "A place for everything," says the old maxim, "and everything in its proper place; a time for everything, and everything at its right time." Such orderly regulation of all our matters would save time; it would save trouble; it would facilitate work; it would further largely the success of our pursuits and plans. Here all saw the miracle, all were fed, all were satisfied; no one was neglected, no one passed over or passed by.
5. His devotion. Never did our Lord lose sight of the glory of God. This was the object ever prominently kept in view. Before he brake he looked up to heaven and blessed, and brake at once (κατέκλασε, aorist) the loaves, and was giving (ἐδίδου, imperfect) bit by bit, as it were, to the disciples for distribution by them among the multitude. As Creator, he multiplied the loaves; as creature, he looked up for Heaven's blessing on them. From every gift we are to look up to the Giver; in every gift we are to recognize the Author; for every gift we are to record our grateful acknowledgments; in every bounty we are to own the grace and goodness and greatness of the heavenly Benefactor. To see God in all his works, to trace him in all his ways, to obey him in all his will, to adore him in all the outgoings of his loving-kindness towards us, and to see him in every blessing he bestows, is the lesson taught us by the example of Christ in this passage, and by the exhortation of his apostle in that other passage, "Whether therefore ye eat or drink,' or whatever ye do, do all to the glory of God."
6. The duty of frugality. Mighty and magnificent as the works of nature are, there is no needless expenditure of force. Many of the great agencies employed serve a variety of ends. Many results often proceed from one single cause. So in the domain of miracle. He never resorts to miracle when ordinary means will suffice. Amid all that vast abundance which our Lord created on this occasion, he suffers nothing to go to loss. Here we see the same attention to the great things and the little things. He allows nothing to go to waste. "Gather up the fragments," he said. Surely this teaches us economy, surely this enjoins thrift, surely this enforces the old proverb, "Waste not, want not." Surely this is condemnatory of all extravagance in every department, whether of food, or raiment, or place of abode, or manner of life, or course of conduct.
III. DAILY BREAD AND ITS PROVISION.
1. The wonderful is not necessarily miraculous. Some hold that the daily bread which God gives us, which we eat, and by which we are sustained, is a miracle as great, or greater, because a standing miracle, than the feeding of five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, or the feeding of four thousand with seven loaves and a few small fishes. They refer to the fact that the seed covered in the earth dies and lives again, growing up under the rains of the spring and the suns of the summer, and in due season ripening into the golden grain of the harvest, then made into bread, and becoming wholesome food; and allege that in all this we have a miracle great as the multiplying by our Lord of the loaves and the fishes; that omnipotence is as much required in the one case as in the other; but that what is rare we call miraculous, while what is common and usual we call a law or process of nature; though both alike are manifestations of the mighty power of God. This reasoning appears plausible, and has an element of truth in it, but it mistakes the real nature of miracle. It is, in fact, pretty much the view of Augustine, who, besides confounding the wonderful with the miraculous, regards miracle as simply an acceleration of a natural process; for he says of the miracle at Cana that "he made wine in a wedding feast, who makes it every year in the vines; but the former we do not wonder at, because it occurs every year: by its constant recurrence it has lost, or ceased to command, admiration." The chief element of miracle is hereby overlooked. We admit that nature is an effect whose cause is God, and that omnipotence is at work in the processes of nature as well as in the really miraculous result; yet not in the same way. That which differentiates the one from the other is, that God in the one case produces the result by immediate efficiency, in the other by means of secondary or subordinate causes; in the one by a direct act of volition, in the other by the processes of nature. To attribute a miracle to the operation of a higher but unknown law is a gratuitous assumption, and is as unnecessary as it is unsatisfactory. To regard it as the result of an accelerated law of nature, is overlooking the fact that the really miraculous element in such a case is this very quickening into rapid result, or hastening in a forcible and extraordinary manner the ordinary process. It has been said, somewhat rhetorically, "We breathe miracles, we live by miracles, we are upheld every day miraculously, and that individual has a blind mind or a hard heart (or both) who does not see, or seeing does not recognize, the hand of our heavenly Father in all those gifts of his providence and bestowments of his bounty, by which we are sustained and surrounded." Now, to convert the rhetorical into the real, we must substitute for "miracles," each time the word occurs in the cited paragraph," marvels "or "wonders," that is, processes that are wonderful—indeed, quite marvellous, but in no strict sense miraculous; and then, with this alteration, the devoutness of the sentiments expressed commends itself to our admiration.
2. Daily bread, though not a miracle, is God's gift. It may be objected, that our daily bread is not so much God's gift as the fruit of man's labour. Who then, O man, we may well ask, has given you the hand to labour, the strength to use it, the health to employ it? Who, moreover, has given you the fruitful field to till, the former and the latter rain to refresh and ripen the growing grain? Or, going further back, who has imparted to the seed, sown or planted, the power of growth or development? Still further, who counteracts the hurtful effects of too much drought, or neutralizes the baneful consequences of excessive moisture, or tempers the scorching heat, or checks the pinching cold? Who protects the root from the worm that would injure it, or saves the ear from the blight that would taint it? Who prevents the mildew that would damage the maturing grain, or the disease that would quite destroy it? Or who rebukes the curse of barrenness that would render all efforts useless? Who watches over the various stages of the crop—first the blade, then the ear, afterwards the ripe corn in the ear, till, having weathered all the storms that endangered it, and escaped all the perils to which it was exposed, the golden grain is safely gathered at length into the garner? Who has thus blessed the labour of your hands, establishing your handiworks each one? Who but God? Who, then, is the Giver of your daily bread? Who but God? Thus Moses said to Israel: "When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shall bless the Lord thy God ..Beware... lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; and when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God,... and thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shall remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth." Who has not admired and fallen in with the sentiments of the beautiful hymn?—
O God of Bethel, by whose hand
Thy people still are fed;
Who through this weary pilgrimage
Hast all our fathers led;
"Our vows, our prayers, we now present
Before thy throne of grace;
God of our fathers, be the God
Of their succeeding race."
IV. SPIRITUAL FOOD: ITS NATURE AND NECESSITY.
1. The necessity of spiritual food. From this miracle of feeding the multitude with bodily food, our Lord, as was his wont, took occasion, as we learn from the parallel passage of St. John, to call attention to spiritual food. From the bread wherewith he had fed their bodies, he passed naturally to that which is equally necessary and equally indispensable to support and sustain the soul. He showed them that, as bread is the staff of life for the body, there is something equally essential to the life of the soul. It matters not by what name we call it—whether manna, or bread, or flesh—the thing remains the same.
2. The nature of this spiritual food. He proposes himself to them for the purpose specified, telling them plainly and positively that he himself was that spiritual nutriment. "I," he says, "am the Bread of life." Nor does he stop with this; he proceeds to explain in some sort, or at least to extend, the sentiment to which he had given utterance, by the additional statement, "My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed." By this, as it appears to us, he hinted at his coming in the flesh and shedding his blood upon the cross; for how else could his blood be separated from his flesh but by being shed? He thus intimated, under the thin veil of an almost transparent figure, his incarnation and atonement—his life as an example, and his death as an expiation, in other words, the benefits procured by his manifestation in the flesh, and the blessings purchased by his sacrificial blood-shedding on the cross.
3. This food partaken of by faith. He enforces all this by urging their acceptance of these benefits and blessings. They have been secured, but, in order to be fully enjoyed, they must be partaken of; and they cannot be partaken of without faith—they cannot be made our own without faith; in a word, great as they are and precious as they are, they can in no way benefit or profit us without the exercise of faith. Accordingly, he sets forth faith under the suitable symbol of eating and drinking, and graciously invites to its exercise. He encourages them to the performance of this duty by several considerations of the most cheering kind. He holds forth to them the prospect of a living and lively union that would thence ensue, and ever after exist, between him and them; he promises them nourishment, life, and comfort as the consequences of that union; and he comforts them with the assurance of fellowship and friendship in time, and unspeakable felicity through all eternity; for he says, He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him;" again he says, "My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed;" while he further adds, to crown all, "Whose cateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life."
4. Want of food, natural and spiritual: its effects. There is no difficulty in forming a correct idea of the condition of body that would result from want of daily bread. It would stunt an individual's growth, make him a starveling in appearance, and leave him without strength for work of any kind. Similar, but still worse, is the condition of soul resulting from the want of spiritual bread. Without Jesus, who is the living Bread that came down from heaven, there is neither life nor growth, neither grace nor strength, nor spiritual power of any description in the soul. On the other hand, by union with Christ we live. So it was with the apostle: "Nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." By virtue of that union we are strengthened. So with the same apostle: "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." By means of this union we receive spiritual food daily, and thus "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." By this heavenly food we are qualified for spiritual work and warfare. Hence our Lord's direction, "Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life." Hence the blessing pronounced on those "who hunger and thirst after righteousness;" hence, too, we can cordially join in the well-known words-
"Good is the Lord! He gives us bread;
He gives his people more;
By him their souls with grace are fed,
A rich, a boundless store."
Three practical duties we learn from the whole:
(1) cordiality in accepting the provisions of the gospel by living faith on our living and loving Lord;
(2) contentment with our lot, and thankfulness for daily bread, as also for the spiritual food of the soul; and
(3) entire consecration to that God in whom "we live, and move, and have our being," "who satisfieth our mouth with good things," and "filleth our soul as with marrow and fatness."—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 14:22-36; John 6:15-21.—
I. WALKING ON THE WATER.
1. Almighty power. Every one who has glanced over the early pages of English history is familiar with the story of Canute the Dane. That king wished to reprove the fulsome flattery of his courtiers when they spoke of his power as unlimited. He ordered his chair to be set by the seaside as the tide was coming in. He peremptorily commanded the waves to withdraw, and waited a while as if for their compliance. He seemed to expect prompt obedience, and watched to see them retire; but onward, onward came the surging sea; its waves kept steadily advancing, till the monarch fled before it, and left his chair to be washed away in its waters. He then turned to his courtiers, and solemnly reminded them that that Sovereign alone was absolute whom the winds and waves obeyed—who controlled the former, and set bounds to the latter, saying, "Hitherto shall ye come, but no further." The sacred writers claim it as the peculiar prerogative of God to gather the wind in his fists and bind the waters in a garment. Job, in celebrating the attributes of the Almighty, applies to him the sublime and striking sentence, "Which alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea."
2. Comparison of two similar miracles. There are two miracles of our Lord which have a close resemblance to each other, and at the same time considerable dissimilarity. One of these is that recorded in this passage, and called his "walking on the waters;" the other is distinguished by the name of his "stilling the storm" (Mark 4:35-41). By comparing these together, we find that the circumstances of the disciples were much worse, and their distress much greater, at the time referred to in this passage than on the former occasion. we may glance
(1) at the stilling of the storm, which we purposely passed over at its proper place in the fourth chapter. Combining the words of the three evangelists who describe that former miracle, we cannot fail to be struck with the exceedingly graphic nature of that description, and that in so few words. We are, in fact, made to see it as though the whole were transpiring before our eyes, so truly pictorial is the recital. There is first the sudden squall, its severity, its rapid descent upon the lake (κατέβη, St. Luke), the agitation that ensued (σεισμὸς, St. Matthew), the waves as they kept sweeping over the deck of the small craft, their beginning to fill with water, the peril in which the passengers found themselves (ἐκινδύνευον, St. Luke); while Jesus remained all the time fast asleep in the hinder part of the ship on a pillow. Then follow the alarm of the disciples, the twice-repeated appeal of "Master, master" (ἐπιστάτα ἐπιστάτα, St. Luke) evidencing their trepidation and terror, their eager cry for instant help (σωσον, aorist imperative, St. Matthew) in their present perishing condition, the quiet dignity and self-possession of the Saviour, his rebuke to the spirit of the storm; or perhaps we may regard the former word as a command to the sea and the latter to the wind, as if he commanded the roar of the water to be silent, and the howling of the wind to be still, the spirit thereof being muzzled, as the word literally imports; while the imperative of the perfect implies that the work was instantaneous—completed soon as the word was uttered. Then we have the storm falling as suddenly as it rose—at once spending its force, wearing itself out and ceasing from very weariness. The calm that ensued was as great in proportion as had been the storm, with the milky whiteness of the foam that now alone remained from the storm, on the tranquil waters (γαλήνη), if we derive the word from γάλα, milk; or with the "smile that dimpled" the face of the deep, if we derive the word from γελάω. All these incidents are not so much narrated as exhibited. It may be added, as an interesting circumstance in the respective descriptions of the evangelists St. Mark and St. Matthew, that while the former, in his usual graphic and pictorial style of description, represents the waves as pitching or beating, or actually throwing themselves on the vessel so that it was filling (γεμίζεσθαι), the latter describes the boat as covered (καλύπτεσθαι) with the waves. Hence it has been inferred, with good reason, that St. Matthew's point of view was plainly from one of the other vessels that, we are told, accompanied, and from which he saw the waves hiding out of sight, the boat in which the Saviour was; while St. Mark, or rather St. Peter, from whose lips he had the description, was evidently in the same boat with our Lord, and from inside the vessel observed the waves rushing up against her sides, and filling her. Besides, the word πεφίμωσο reminds us of the use of φιμοῦν, to put to silence, literally muzzle, used by St. Peter in 1 Peter 2:15. But
(2) though the storm may have been equally great in the case of the miracle just described as in that of the passage before us, yet there were several modifying circumstances in the former that are not found in this latter case. On that occasion we read that "there were also with him other little ships;" at the time specified in this passage the ship in which the disciples sailed was alone. On the former occasion the Saviour was with them and in the boat; on this he was both absent and distant. On the former occasion they had the advantages, no inconsiderable ones, of day and light about them; on this they were surrounded by the darkness and dead of night. On the former occasion they were not, it would seem, far from land—they had just launched forth (ἀνήχθησαν), as St. Luke informs us; on this they were in the midst of the sea (μέσον). On the former occasion the storm had come down on the lake, and, for aught we know, was bearing them rapidly forward towards their destination; on this, we are expressly told, it was against them—"the wind was contrary (ἐναντίος) unto them." These points of comparison prove the extreme peril which the disciples were at this time. Great as had been their danger before, it is greater now.
3. Cause of these dangerous storms. Such sudden dangerous storms are still of frequent occurrence on that small inland lake. The best comment on all this physical commotion, and the best explanation of the nature and cause as well as scene of this miracle, may be found in Thomson's 'The Land and the Book.' There, after his notice of a storm which he had witnessed on the lake, we find the following account:—"To understand the causes of these sudden and violent tempests, we must remember the lake lies low—six hundred feet lower than the ocean; that the vast naked plateaus of Jaulan rise to a great height, spreading backward to the wilds of the Hauran and upward to snowy Hermon; that the water-courses have cut out profound ravines and wild gorges, converging to the head of this lake, and that these act like gigantic funnels to draw down the cold winds from the mountains. On the occasion referred to we suddenly pitched our tents at the shore, and remained for three days and nights exposed to this tremendous wind."
4. The difficulty of the disciples. Their difficulty was equal to their danger. They were toiling (βασανιζομένους, literally, tortured, baffled, tested as metals by the touchstone) in rowing, and we cannot but commend them for their conduct. They were using the proper means, and that is ever right to do; but the means did not avail. They were employing every energy; but it was to no purpose. They were putting forth all their strength; but it was utterly fruitless, and without result. The wind was still against them. Whether it was blowing a gale, as it does when it travels at the rate of sixteen miles an hour, or whether it was blowing a high gale, when it goes with the rapidity of thirty-six miles an hour, or whether it was blowing a storm, which it does when it sweeps with the speed of sixty miles an hour, or proceeding with hurricane fury at ninety miles an hour,—whatever may have been the velocity of that wild wind, it was rude and boisterous; and, what made matters worse, it was directly opposite—right ahead. There they were struggling, toiling, tugging; but all in vain. There they were working with all their might; but still their frail barque was the plaything of wind and water—tossed by the waves and the sport of the storm. They themselves were every moment expecting to find a watery grave in that tempestuous sea.
5. Another source of distress. There was another source of distress, and one which aggravated their difficulty and added to their danger. That was the continued absence of the Master. When he had sent them away—in fact, "constrained" (ἠνάγκασε) them, as though reluctant to go without him—he remained alone on the land. But why leave them at all? Or why leave them so long? Or why especially leave them at such a critical juncture? Or why, at least, delay his coming in their great emergency? They would naturally think of the storm that once before had befallen them on that self-same sea. They would think of the glorious Personage that then sailed with them in the self-same boat. They would think of the sound slumber he enjoyed,, as he lay on the cushion in the stern. They would think of his calm composure when he awoke. They would think of the short but stern command he uttered, when he rebuked so effectually the tempest, and hushed it into a calm. They would think of that gracious presence that curbed the winds and calmed the waves and checked even the swell of the waters. They would think, "Were he with us now, he would still the storm, and we should soon be safe on shore." They would think of the petition they presented to him, the prayer they prayed, the fervency of spirit that inspired it, the faith that dictated it, the frailty that cleaved to it when they said, "Lord, save us.!"—there was faith; "we perish!"—there their faith was weak. Ever and anon, as they regarded the war of elements that raged around, they would sigh for their absent Lord, and long for land. No wonder, for had Christ been in the boat all would have been well.
6. The Saviour's presence is safety. Nearly half a century before Christ, a great conqueror attempted to cross the stormy Sea of Adria in a small boat. The waves rolled mountains high. The courage of the sailors failed them. They refused to venture further. It was a sea in which no boat could live. Soon, however, they were reanimated and encouraged to renew their toil, when the conqueror discovered himself, and told them who and what he was, in the characteristic words, "You carry Caesar and his fortunes." With Christ in the boat, the disciples might have flung their fears to the winds, for One infinitely greater than Caesar would have been there—One who could have stirred their hearts and raised their courage with the emboldening words, "You carry Christ and his Church."
II. THE EYE OF CHRIST IS ON THE BOAT THAT CARRIES HIS DISCIPLES.
1. His omniscience. He saw it all—their difficulty and danger and distress. His eyes were upturned to heaven in prayer, yet he saw all that was transpiring. The night was pitchy dark, yet he saw that small speck tossed like a cork upon the waters of that stormy sea. He had constrained them to embark, but he kept his eye upon them. He saw their fears, but he meant to teach them a new lesson of faith and confidence. He saw them from the distant mountain to which he had retired apart to pray. It is positively stated that he saw them. He saw them, though he was on the mountain-side and they were on the sea; he saw them from a distance which the ken of no mortal eye could reach; he saw them through the darkness of the night; he saw them in their panic terror; he saw them and all their embarrassments; he saw them when they did not, and when they could not, see him. "Be of good cheer!" he said. I did not forget you; I did not forsake you; I had you on my heart; I had you in my eye all the time. I did not fail to look on you, though you failed to look to me; I did not shut up my compassions, though you restrained prayer. You were neither out of sight nor out of mind. I was resolved you should not perish, nor a hair of your head fall. Boisterous as the wind was, I had charged it not to presume to harm you; rough as the sea was, I had commanded it not to dare to destroy your frail craft or damage one of the crew. Absence does not limit my power; distance does not separate you from my presence; danger and difficulty and distress only make you dearer, and call forth my more tender care.
2. His love is unchanging. Jesus is the same Saviour still, "the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever." "Be of good cheer!" he said. These words, though addressed to the first disciples, have sent their echo down along the centuries, and bring comfort to disciples still. In them Christ addresses you, reader, and myself. By them he says to every faithful follower, "Mine eye is on thee; it has been on thee hitherto; it will be on thee to the end. You may rest assured I will never fail thee—no, never forsake thee." Again, the words of the Saviour, "Be of good cheer!" are backed by another fact which presents itself to us in this passage, and that fact is the purpose for which our Lord had retired to the lone mountain-side. He was passing the night in prayer, not specially for himself but for his disciples—his disciples then and now; yes, for his disciples in that slight ship and on that stormy sea. They toiled and rowed; he prayed. They were suffering; he was supplicating. They were struggling; he was interceding. They were buffeting the waters; he was bearing them, as High Priest, on his heart before God in the holy of holies of that mountain solitude. They were ready to faint; he was praying for them that they might not faint, and that their faith might not fail. They were longing for the Master; he was exercising his love on their behalf.
3. A true picture of the Christian's life. It is so still—as it was it is, and ever shall be, on the part of our dear Redeemer and his redeemed ones. We have before us a true picture of life-of human life, of the Christian's life. We are toiling in this world below; the Saviour is employed on our behalf in the world above. We are in circumstances of peril and pain; the Saviour bids us "be of good cheer!" and look up to him; "he has overcome the world." We are afloat on the sea of life; our barque is fragile, the wind is high, the storm scaresome, the sea raging, and we are tossed upon its waters; but Jesus is over all, and looks down on all, and will save through all,' for "he is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him."
4. The suitable season for succor. Once more he says, with yet another meaning, "Be of good cheer!" I did not come, it is true, when the storm began, nor when the first night-watch set in. I knew you would have wished me then, that you would have been glad to see me coming then, that you would have hailed my arrival then. But you knew little of the difficulties that beset you then, little of your own inability to cope with them then, little of the impotence of your own efforts then. You knew not, at least not sufficiently then, that the power of man is weakness, and the wisdom of man is folly. You knew comparatively little of your need of a higher hand and a stronger arm to save you then, and little also of the great mercy of deliverance. For the like reason I came not in the second watch, nor even in the third. The fourth watch had commenced, and still I saw reason to delay my coming. It was half run and more before the proper moment arrived. I did not postpone nor defer an instant longer than was meet. Soon as the minute-hand pointed to the right moment on the dial-plate of time, I came, and came at once, without further or any unnecessary delay.
5. God's time is the right time. God's time is not only the right time, but the best time. By his coming the time he did, the Saviour said in effect to the disciples, and through them to us, when we, like them, are tossed by the down-rushing winds and the upheaving waves of a troublesome world, Had I come sooner, it would have been premature on my part, and not expedient for you. Had I come sooner, it would have been pleasanter, but not so profitable for you. Had I come sooner, I should have consulted your feelings more than your interests. This fourth watch, and this last part of it in particular, is the season of your extremity and the time of my opportunity. Thus it is still. When you, reader, were saying, "Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Is his mercy clean gone for evermore?" his grace and mercy were drawing very near. When you were ready to give up all for lost, and about sinking into despair, then the Saviour said, I have come to give you confidence, to impart to you consolation, and inspire you with hope; in a word, to impress on your heart these words of comfort that now fall upon your ears. I come, therefore, as is my custom, at the moment best for the Creator's glory and the creature's good. Further, by the words," Be of good cheer!" he reminds us of the fact that we never enjoy rest so much as after long hours of labour, we never enjoy safety so much as after a time of danger, we never enjoy sleep so much as after a day of toil, and we never enjoy a calm so much as after a time of storm. Some of us can attest this by personal experience. We have often been to sea, but only once in a storm. And never did we so thoroughly enjoy the land, or rest so sweetly on the shore, as after that terrible storm.
6. Application to ourselves. Thus will it be with all the dear children of God. After the tempests of earth, we shall enjoy the tranquillity of heaven all the more. After weary wanderings and a sorrowful sojourn in this vale of tears below, we shall relish far more keenly the rest and home above. Not only so, there is no common measure by which we can gauge the true relative proportions of these storms of earth and that sunshine of the skies. The great apostle of the Gentiles felt this when he said, "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."
III. THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF OUR LORD'S PRESENCE.
1. A mistake. The announcement of the Saviour's presence is contained in the words, "It is I." When he did come the disciples mistook him. First they see through the gloom of night the dark object at some distance, then they discern the outline of a human figure standing out amid the darkness of the night and against the lowering sky. They never for one moment supposed it was the Saviour. "What can that phantom form be?" they thought within themselves. They had doubtless many conjectures, but sin gave its gloomy interpretation to the scene. It is a phantom—a spirit! they said; a spirit of evil, a spirit of woe, to take vengeance on the guilty! So it was with Herod; and so it was with Joseph's brethren, as we have seen; so it was with Belshazzar. So, too, with ourselves many a time. Not unfrequently we mistake our own best blessings; we think them distant when they are close at hand. Nay, we often mistake them altogether; we regard as a curse the very thing that God meant to prove a blessing. The dark cloud of his providence "we so much dread," even when it is "big with mercy," and ready to burst with" blessings on our head." We continue our mistake, until God becomes "his own Interpreter, and makes his meaning plain." It was thus with the disciples here, until Jesus revealed himself in a manner not to be mistaken, and said, "It is I." Often and often in time of trouble, of trial, of toil, of difficulty or danger or distress, of adversity or affliction, we have said individually, "All these things are against me;" all these things are tokens of Divine displeasure; all these things are messengers of wrath. Jesus draws near and whispers to the soul, Not so; that trial, that cross, that bereavement, that sickness, thus distress of whatever kind, came from me; it was my doing; it was I sent it; I was the Author of it; I sought by it your good; it is I, and you are to recognize me in it; it is I. "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me."
2. A calm succeeds the storm. When all is storm around, when all is dark within, when of all human sources of consolation we are constrained to say with the patriarch of Uz, "Miserable comforters are ye all;" just then, it may be, a happy thought occurs to us, a ray of heavenly light shines down upon us, a gleam of comfort comes to cheer us. We fear we are imposing on ourselves. Not so. Jesus comes in a way not to be misapprehended, and says to us, "It is I;' you need not be afraid. The winds have fallen and the waters subsided. It was I, says Jesus; they did it at my bidding.
3. The real source of succor. Relief comes. We are rescued from danger; from sickness we are restored to health; out of a situation of discomfort and unrest we are relieved. At such times we are apt to speak of the immediate instrumentalities in the case, and to attribute the change to second causes. This passage corrects that error. In it Jesus says, "It is I;" in other words, that medicine that proved so effectual derived its efficacy from me; it was I directed to it. Those friends that were so kind in the day of your trouble were moved to sympathy by me. It was I prompted them; it was I put it into their heart; it was I placed it in their power. "While some trust in horses, and some in chariots, we will make mention of the Name of the Lord." Thus, in all that betides the Christian, Jesus takes a part; in all the variety of change, and scene, and condition, and circumstance—that wonderful co-operation of all things for our good—we trace the presence of the Saviour. In the painful things and the pleasant, in the heights and depths, in the ups and downs, in the joys and sorrows, we are assured of the Saviour's power and presence; he is conducting us through all to the goodly land afar off.
"When the shore is won at last,
Who will count the billows past?"
4. Jesus with us all the way.
(1) When the hour of our departure is at hand, when the last conflict approaches, when the darkness of death is beginning to envelop us, when we are passing through the dark valley of death-shade, the same Friend is at our side, the same friendly hand is on our shoulder, and the same fond voice sounds in our ears. It is the voice of Jesus, saying, "It is I;" death is my minister, my messenger; he can do you no harm; I have removed his sting. My rod and staff will comfort you; through me you will be more than conqueror, and will be able to challenge Death himself, and say, "O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?" "This God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto [rather, over] death."
(2) Again, on the resurrection morning, when all that are in their graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God and come forth, the same voice will reverberate through the graves of the poor and the tombs of the rich with the words, "It is I;" "I am the resurrection and the life;" "My dead men shall live; together with my dead body shall they come;" or, more literally and more correctly, "my dead body shall they come." There is not merely conjunction, not only union—all this is true, and all this is much; but more is meant, for the words "together with" are in italics, and so we are notified that they are not in the original. Thus there is identity; our Lord identifies himself with the dead in Christ. He is the Head, they are the members; and thus, one in life, one in death, they shall be one in the resurrection, and one through all eternity; therefore it is, "My dead body shall they come."
(3) Also in the day of judgment, when "we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ," the same loving tones will cheer us. The Judge on the throne will stoop down and say to his people," It is I." The same Saviour that shed his blood for you—in whom you believed, whom you obeyed, whom you followed, loved, and served—is now your Judge. It is I that said to you on earth, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." It is I, your Elder Brother, who say to you now in heaven, 'Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you before the foundation of the world."
5. Words of courage as well as comfort. Words of courage are also spoken by him. He adds, "Be not afraid." Be not afraid of temptation, for with every temptation he will prepare a way of escape. Be not afraid of trials; they enlarge your experience: "the trial of your faith worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope." Be not afraid of tears; they will soon be wiped away: even now the tears you shed cleanse the eyes, so that you see spiritual things more clearly. Be not afraid of toils; they will soon be past, and then "there remaineth a rest for the people of God." Be not afraid of troubles, for "through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom of God." Be not afraid of the perplexities of the wilderness; he will "guide you by his counsel" all the way. Be not afraid of the dark night of storm; for the dark clouds will scatter, and the feet of Omnipotence will come walking on the water. Be not afraid of the storms of persecution; "blessed are ye when all shall persecute you for the Saviour's sake." Only make sure you are his, and all the blessings of the covenant will be your portion.
6. The feeling of danger a precursor of safety. "He would have passed by them." Why was this? Just that they might fully feel their need of his help, and earnestly apply for it. Salvation is the response of heaven to man when, in his misery, he cries for it. We have read of a young prince who toiled much and traveled much, who was often in danger, many times in perplexity, frequently in difficulties. But he was never left alone; a faithful friend called Mentor was ever at his side—his counsellor, caretaker, guide, and guardian. How much greater is our privilege, to whom Jesus says, "It is I; 'I will be with you all the way; I will be with you at every turn of the way; I will be with you in every time of need; I will be with you in every place of peril; I wilt be with you in the darkness of the night and amid the terrors of the storm! In calm majesty he will come, walking on the surface of the foam-crested wave; nor will he pass you by, but provoke your confidence, and prove your faith, and pour into your ears the inspiriting words, "Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid."
"Thus soon the lowering sky grew dark
O'er Bashan's rocky brow;
The storm rushed down upon the bark,
And waves dashed o'er the prow.
"The pale disciples trembling spake,
While yawned the watery grove,
We perish, Master—Master, wake!
Carest thou not to save?'
" Calmly he rose with sovereign will,
And hushed the storm to rest.
'Ye waves,' he whispered, 'Peace! be still!'
They calmed like a pardoned breast."
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Mark 6". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29