The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
The Threefold Beginning of the Gospel
The gospel may be said to have three beginnings, and yet it is perfectly correct to say that each beginning has a speciality and completeness of its own. The beginning of the gospel Isaiah , of course, to be found in the thought and love of God. We may cast our lines back as far as we can through the ages of eternity, and we shall never be able to find the point at which God"s concern for the welfare of the universe that was to be first began, and yet the Lamb of God is said to have been slain from before the foundation of the world. The sacrifice of Christ was not an afterthought on the part of the Divine Being; it was, so to speak, part of himself, an element of his very Godhead and of his very existence. So that, if we are really to go back to what may be termed the beginning of beginnings, we shall have to search the depths of the divine existence, and follow all the wonderful and infinite course of the divine thinking and purpose and love. There, of course, we are lost. Our hearts can only point, as it were, towards that great solemn mystery. Explanation we have none. Special indication is entirely beyond our power. We are lost in wonder, and our wonder is lost in speechlessness.
But there was what may be termed a second beginning of the gospel, and it is to that event that the gospel before us relates. The second beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is found in the incarnation of God"s Son. We begin the next time at Bethlehem. We were lost when it was a mere question of unuttered and in speech unutterable love. We only begin to think and to feel and to understand in part God"s meaning, when he utters his love not in speech, but in the person, the flesh and blood of God"s dear Son. We can begin there—little children can begin at that point; our love can commence its study at the cradle of our Lord Jesus Christ. Creatures like ourselves need alphabets, beginnings, sharp lines, visibilities. We are not all mind; we cannot dwell upon the abstract, the unconditioned, the absolute, the infinite, in matters of this kind. We need some one to look at, to speak to, to go up to quite closely, and to hear speak the language of the love of God. This is what may be termed the second beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But Jesus Christ himself went away. That beginning was, so to speak, taken from us. Where, then, are we to look for the third beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God? We look for it in the Church. As he was, so are we to be in the world. We are to be "living epistles, known and read of all men." When men ask, "Where is Christ?" we are to show them Christianity. And when they ask, "What is Christianity?" we are to show them the Church—meanwhile, indeed, an incomplete representation of the truth, yet Jesus Christ himself claims it, and upon the Church devolves the responsibility not only of bearing his name by exemplifying his life, but of interpreting his doctrine and living upon his love. Song of Solomon , then, we do not treat the Church as a mere accident; we do not regard even the visible Church as something that is of the nature of an ordinary human association. It is more than a society; it is more than a club; more than a confraternity based upon kindred social sympathies. It is the embodied doctrine and love of Christ; and in so far as it falls short of that embodiment, it has yet to be crucified, purged with fire, and searched by the light of God. Is it not the same with all great sublime far-reaching life? Yonder is a man sitting alone with closed eyes, yet the vision of his soul is fastened upon a wondrous picture. He is looking at a great poem built in stone, at a piece of wondrous thinking, having great foundations, far-ascending and glittering pinnacles or majestic domes. It is all in his mind. At present it is nothing but a thought. He is an architect. He has a cathedral in his brain, and he sees it, every line—sees the great gaping places dug out for the foundations, sees the courses of great rough unpolished stone—sees the building rising into shape, into presence, into meaning, into awfulness—petrified poesy. But that is not enough for him. Now he draws his plan. He gives the thought visibility; he interprets it to duller brains; he calls in what may be termed, without offence, a secondary order of intellect—not the dreaming and poetic intellect, that creates new heavens and new earths and lives in continued newness of beauty,—he calls in the power that can give expression and visibleness to great ideas, and he is not content until he sees this thought of his built up in all its grandeur and completeness; and even then, if he be a true artist, if the divine fire of art be really in him, he wants something more. He does not content himself with looking at the great stone-work; he wants to see the purpose for which that stone-work was put up carried out, in so far as he himself is a complete man and works upon complete ideas. There is to be an inner cathedral, a human cathedral, a cathedral of praises, a cathedral of living worshippers. Probably he does not in all cases reach that third idea, but that third idea ought to be consequential upon the other two; and Isaiah , in the up-building of the great cathedral which God himself is to inhabit—first, his own great speechless, silent, infinite, universe-encompassing love, and then his visible Song of Solomon , and then his redeemed Church, and then the Cathedral of Praise which the Holy One of Israel is to inhabit throughout eternity.
As it is written in the prophets, "Behold, I send my messenger before thy face which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." The divine dispensations have all been progressive. You cannot point to a single backward step in the divine thinking, in the divine movement. This Book, the book of inspiration, the Book of God, goes right forward. There is progress, but not progress by correction—progress by development, by natural expansion—the tree coming out of the seed, and the seed only lost when the tree has reached the fulness of the divine intent. This is a legitimate test of all truth, a legitimate test of every ministry and a legitimate test of every Christian life. The question which may be fairly put about the Bible and about all life, all ministries and all churches, is this, "What of their progressiveness?" If a man is the same to-day that he was twenty years ago, he is growing downwards, and is really not the same man that he was twenty years ago. A man must be double the man he was twenty years ago, or there is something wrong in him. If you say he preaches exactly as he did a quarter of a century since, then he was a poor preacher to begin with, and he has become worse and worse as the years have rolled away. I fasten this inquiry upon the Book of God, and I will stake great results upon it. What of its progressiveness? How did divine revelation begin? How has it proceeded? How did it culminate? Is the culmination of the divine truth of the same nature and quality as the beginning, or is there disjunction, is there vital separation? And everything will depend upon the answer that can be returned to these inquiries. We claim on a Christian basis, and for Christian purposes, that all the dispensations have been progressive and culminative and climacteric, and the last point of the series is of the same quality as the first. This is a great mystery, but it is an unanswerable argument. Here you have the prophets living their tumultuous, exciting, bewildering life—great men to-day by reason of special divine visitation, by reason of having been called away suddenly by the Spirit of God, shown wondrous sights, and having their ears opened to wondrous sounds—and tomorrow, weak as common men, if not weaker, by reason of the terrible reaction—thrown down, shattered, unable to make anything of the world or of their strange life. God then, in the first instance, has his prophets in the world—men that lived less in the present than in the future, men, therefore, who were continually being subjected to tests of a capricious and arbitrary kind, but never responding to such demands—men who by reason of living in the future were subjected to continual misjudgment and misapprehension. Oh! but theirs was a sad life at times. To have little or no connection with the men that are round about you, to have a heart that cannot understand or thinks it unworthy of understanding the little things that go to make up the present dying hour; to be in existence to-day, and yet to be breathing the atmosphere of centuries to come,—that was a test of life that was almost a divine judgment upon those strange men the prophets.
Then after the prophets we have a voice of one crying in the wilderness, "Prepare." We have John the Baptist, and of John the Baptist it is said that he was sent before the face of the Redeemer,—"Behold, I send my messenger before thy face." He was next to the face, the presence, of the coming One. The prophets were centuries away from him, but this man was all but a transparent veil; they could almost see the coming God through him. He went immediately before the face. If he stood aside but for a moment there was the One that was to come. And oh! what a burden he carried who had the breath of the predicted One breathed upon him as he was going through his introductory ministry. Now the question Isaiah , how to get from Malachi to Matthew? Almighty God has so trained the world by prophecy, by type, by figure, by ritualism, by manifold discipline, that he has made the world very impatient for the next step. How to get from the Old Testament into the New?—that is the great question; how to get from the one dispensation in its final phase, into another dispensation that shall satisfy an impatient, necessitous world. Where is your human genius there? Shut up this New Testament and deal with the Old Testament alone, and I say, now how are you to write a testament that shall be New, and yet of the nature of the Old, that shall answer all the questions suggested by the Old, and satisfy the impatience which has been wrought in the hungry heart of man by the manifold system of training which the Divine Being has adopted? Unfortunately for this point of the inquiry, we know how the New Testament opens, and our familiarity with it becomes our weakness. Forget if you can for one moment how the New Testament opens. Read from Genesis to Malachi , and then ask yourselves this question: Now what can be done that shall not throw us back; that shall make the best possible use of the elements we have gathered; that shall move not on a side, not upon a tangential line, but that shall move upon some straight line, and carry it forward to a natural and satisfactory climax? Will men put their genius to the torment that will impose upon them—how to write a testament, when for so many centuries we have got an old one? We have got almost tired of writing now. Almighty God hath wrought us up almost into an angry mood. We are now jealous, impatient, strained to the highest tension, and if we step one point backwards, it is to us atheism, defiance, and hell if need be. What will he do? We have had prophecy, we have had great temples, we saw the procession of the priests, we have watched the sacrifices, always beginning, never ending, or ending only to begin again; but we are tired of that now, and we in this excited, strained, impatient, anxious, wondering temper say, "How will God go on next?" Oh, I dare hardly turn the page over; it seems that in the turning of this page our destiny is being turned, is being settled for good or evil. What can come after prophets and minstrels and priests, mighty but insufficient interpreters of the divine purpose? Now I turn the page and I find this solution—"Emmanuel, God with us," and the artist that is in me, the idealist that is in me, as well as the sinner that is in me, says, "It is enough!" My Lord and my God! Yes, we could not have written in mere words a New Testament. The world could not have borne that; but when the New Testament was written in the flesh and blood of God himself, and the man that spoke to us was Emmanuel, a man that could stoop like a mother and look like a God—It is enough!
And John said, "I indeed have baptised you with water: but he shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost." The crowning dispensation must be spiritual. "He shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost." There cometh a time in all study when we want to get clear of mere formul, and mere lines and laborious and intricate processes, and we want to have that mental dominance which brings us into constant recognition and appreciation of the truth. We get tired of looking, we get tired of using powers that were intended to be merely temporary. The Divine Being comes to us, and turns our religion from a process of looking and inquiry and hard service into spiritual life, spiritual love, until we know what it is to have the power of instantly going to God, and of holding, as it were, face-to-face communion and fellowship with him. That Isaiah , if we be baptised with the Holy Ghost, the Holy Ghost takes hold of the highest faculties of our nature and works with these alone. The body falls off. All that was instrumental and of the nature of agency fades and drops away, and we come into mind-power, moral power, spiritual mastery; and things which aforetime were difficult, and almost impossible to us, become easy and natural, and communion with God becomes the very breath of our souls.
What, then, of the subject as it has thus been hinted at? If we have in any degree laid hold of its meaning, it is evident that the subject addresses a word in the first place to students. Here is a revelation to be studied, and we shall only be wise masters in this art in proportion as we have a grasp of the whole. Our theology must not be angular but circular; it must not be beautiful in one or two places, it must be complete. We must understand every dispensation by itself and in its relation to the succeeding order of things; otherwise we shall be thrown about by everybody who chooses to play legerdemain with us. We shall have questions put to us that we cannot answer, and difficulties which we might otherwise count as trifles will be mountainous and insuperable. We must get into that state of mind that sees the beginning and that sees the end, and grasps the extremes, so far as it is possible for limited life so to grasp them. There are many men who are very clever at certain points, but take them away from those points, and they are shorn Samsons—any child can trifle with them. No, we must, if we are to be successful and useful students and ministers of these holy mysteries, have something like a grasp of the whole; and though we may not be able to answer special difficulties and peculiar inquiries, yet, as in the spiritual life so in the intellectual regions, we shall bring the power of the endless to bear upon the difficulties that are momentary. I confess, after having done my best to study this Book, that I am most impressed by its unity, its completeness, by the inter-relation of part to part, so that if I touch one point I break up its completeness, I impair and injure its wondrous beauty. There are points where I am dumb—mysteries that I cannot shed any light upon, and from which I cannot extract one explanatory word—but when I look at the whole, the complete dispensations of God, I find their very completeness one of the most convincing and determining arguments.
Here is a lesson to Churches. "Have ye received the Holy Ghost?" It was reserved for you specially to be baptised by the Holy Spirit. Are you still lingering among the prophets? You are not in Christ if so be ye have not received the Holy Ghost. Do you tell me you are busy gathering what you may from the lightning-scarred slopes of Sinai? I say Sinai! A fragment of the past! It is now, What of Calvary and what of Olivet and what of the Church, the temple into which the Holy Ghost came as baptising fire? No man is at liberty to live backwards. If the prophets underwent misjudgment and torment by reason of having to live in the future, what shall be said of those poor rickety creatures who are always trying to go back into the dim past, to exhume the prophets, and to live three or four centuries behind their privileges? The whole judgment now is a judgment of the Holy Ghost, not what questions can we answer, nor what histories have we considered and mastered? but what about the inward baptism, the baptism of fire, the baptism of life, the gift of the spirit of interpretation and the spirit of purity? These are the searching questions which become to us terrible as the judgment of Almighty God.
Here is a lesson to pioneers. John was a herald, and John knew the position to which he was called, and he never trespassed the limits of his vocation. When he spoke he did not speak in his own name, he did not draw attention to himself; he always spoke of the One mightier than Hebrews , who was immediately coming. And what are we, whether we be ministers or teachers or parents or churches, what are we really so far as our service goes but pioneers, those who shall prepare for and point out the One mightier than ourselves? If for a moment John had supposed himself to be the Messiah, what a shock and what terrible results would have followed! Men must know their power, men must know their calling, and when a man knows his limitations it is surprising how mighty a weak man is. Keep him within his own province, bind him to his own mission, and within his proper boundaries, he is a prince and a son of God; but let him get beyond that line, and he is captured as an intruder or is slain as a spy. Let us know what is meant by our position as pioneers. If the frame-maker should ever take it into his head that he is the artist, what an anti-climax would be perpetrated! If April should ever take it into its head that it can do the work of August, what a block there would be in the process of the year!
We are called to different positions in the Church. God hath set some in the Church pastors, prophets, evangelists, teachers, helps, governors, every one as it pleaseth him. What then? We are not to devour one another, we are not to envy one another, we are not to say hard, cruel, unkind, depreciatory words about one another; a man must find out what God intended him to be in the course of his dispensation, and if he be that, however humble the position, he will have resting upon him the ever-sustaining and ever-comforting blessing of God. Are you an evangelist? I glorify God in you; do not try to be anything else. Have you in you the consciousness that you can be something else, something that you think higher? First of all I do not know that it is higher—I do not know that there is anything higher in the Church than being an evangelist, one who preaches the Gospel here and there and wheresoever opportunity is given him, or he himself can make opportunity for the proclamation of it. But if it has got into you that you can do something higher, be careful, make it a matter of profound religious inquiry before you step out of the position you are now in. Are you a pastor? I glorify God in you; I long for, I almost covet your powers. You have such a way of dropping your voice so that the dullest can hear you, and the weakest are made glad by your presence; you can put so much truth into so few words, that one covets, with a godly covetousness, your rich and most fruitful gifts. Do not try to be anything else, merely for the sake of change. If there be in you another calling, God in his own time and in his own way will make it quite clear to you. Are you labouring in a village, and does it ever enter into your head that you would like to labour in London? You had better not; you had better not entertain that notion; it hath driven some men almost crazy, and it is a very perilous thing to play with—a notion of that kind, that a man is adapted to Metropolitan life when probably he is adapted to nothing of the sort. "To fill up the sphere we have" should be our duty and our joy. "It is only a nutshell." Well, then, it will take less filling. "It is only a little village." Well, then, you will make your work the more manifest and the more speedy. I do not say that every man is to abode just where he is—nothing of the kind; but whilst he is there he is bound by every consideration than can stir a true man"s heart and strength to make the very best of his position.
Here is a lesson to inquirers. If I have read this Book aright, I find that it is a shut volume; it is now complete; there is nothing more to be written. If you are waiting for something else, I feel it incumbent upon me, as the result of my own studies, to say in my own name that the vision is closed, and there is nothing more to come. What more can you possibly want? The prophets have been here, flaming men, men with voices like trumpets and thunder—they have been here. The minstrels, men of poesy, dreaming men, men who had eyes that could see visions in the night-time—they have been here. They are gone. Priests have been here, men who shed blood, and who explained the meaning of the blood which they shed, who built the altars and officiated at those altars—they have been here, and they have gone. And John the Baptist, the preliminary Prayer of Manasseh , the man who went immediately before the Face—he has been here and gone. And Emmanuel has been here—"God with us." And the Holy Ghost is come to us. What more can there be to wait for? If this cannot satisfy us, then what will appease our hunger? He must be a bold man that can elbow and cleave and force his way to hell through prophets and priests and psalmists and Baptists, and God"s Son and God the Holy Ghost, and then say, as he takes the last plunge, "There was not enough given me; I was waiting for something else, and that something else never came." Will you risk that? Have you made the best of what has been given? Are you really masters of the Book of God, able to understand its scope and its meaning? Oh, see to it, that there is not some little or great pebble of selfishness over which you are just going to topple into darkness and ruin and death. O thou, who madest the eyes of the heart, anoint the eyes of our love, that we may see thee, and be fascinated by thy beauty for ever. Amen.
" Mark , who, besides his Latin name of Marcus, appears to have had the Hebrew name of John , was the son of Mary, a pious woman at Jerusalem, who received in her house the assemblies of the primitive church, and welcomed the Apostle Peter after his deliverance out of prison by the angel ( Acts 12:12). Mark was the nephew of Barnabas, Paul"s companion in his travels ( Colossians 4:10). These two, being at Jerusalem about the time of Peter"s deliverance, took Mark with them upon their mission ( Acts 12:25). He accompanied them to Antioch; and thence, on their first journey, as far as Perga in Pamphylia; where he left them, and returned to Jerusalem ( Acts 13:5, Acts 13:13). We afterwards find him at Antioch, with Paul and Barnabas, desiring to accompany them on a second journey; but Paul, regarding him as unfit for the work, since he had left them on the former occasion, was unwilling to take him. This decision caused a warm dispute and a temporary separation between the two apostles; and Barnabas, influenced probably by his affection for his kinsman, "took Mark , and sailed unto Cyprus." There can be no doubt that Mark afterwards acknowledged his error, whatever it was—whether he was wanting in the courageous self-denial of the missionary, or had misgivings on the extension of the gospel to the heathen—for the Apostle Paul appears to have given him his confidence and affection, and commends him to the church. See Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 1:24.
"To these notices, gathered from the sacred writers, others add that Mark afterwards went to Egypt; and, having planted a church at Alexandria, died there."—Angus"s Bible Handbook.
(1) John"s dispensation was thus shown to be of divine appointment. Notice the beauty of John"s work in relation both to the past and to the future: it was a baptism unto repentance; a baptism, and so connected with the ceremonial past;—a baptism unto repentance, and so introductory to a new and more intensely spiritual state of things.
(2) But why should Jesus Christ identify himself with a baptism which was unto repentance? His identification with that baptism was not for the purpose of personal confession, but for the purpose of official absorption. He took up the dispensation, and ended it by the introduction of a better. Song of Solomon , when he took upon himself the nature of mankind, he did not degrade and enfeeble God, he elevated and glorified man.
10. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him.
11. And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Song of Solomon , in whom I am well pleased.
Whatever is done in the divine name and for the divine glory is succeeded by increasing evidence of divine favour. What Jesus saw on coming out of the water, we should all see on returning from every act of homage and obedience. (1) The Spirit is a heavenly gift, not a natural grace. (2) Sonship is not generic; it is specific—thou. (3) Sonship is not left a mystery; it is declared and confirmed to the individual heart.
12. And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.
13. And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.
(1) Sonship does not exempt from temptation. (2) Temptation does not invalidate sonship. (3) Temptation, rightly answered, makes sonship a life and power. We are not to be content with nominal sonship. We are to be proved men. Contrast Matthew"s account of the Temptation with Mark"s. The one is minute and elaborate; the other is compendious. What history may be put into a sentence! There are experiences which cannot be put into words—they can only be hinted at. Some men have not the power of spiritual analysis; they cannot follow a temptation through its changing assaults and attitudes. Mark was probably not equal to Matthew in this particular. As with temptation, so with conversion. Some men can only say that they are converted; explanation and discussion are beyond their power. "And the angels ministered unto him." The darkest temptation has some light to relieve it. When we feel the devil we should look for the angels.
14. Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.
15. And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.
(1) The imprisonment of the servant does not hinder the progress of the Master. (2) Ill-treatment of the messenger may actually help the divinity of the message: (a) it tests sincerity, (b) it tests the sustaining power of the doctrine that is preached.
The15th verse shows Jesus Christ in three aspects: (1) as the interpreter of time; (2) as the revealer of the divine kingdom; (3) as a spiritual regenerator. Under these heads note—Time: The preparative process; the development of opportunity; the moral import of special times.
Kingdom: Not a transient erection; not a subordinate arrangement; not a human ambition—the kingdom of God.
Regeneration: Vital; progressive; spiritual. Vital—Repent, destroy the past, humble yourselves on account of sin. Progressive—after humiliation is to come trust, the broken heart is to be the believing heart. Spiritual—not a change of mere attitudes and relations, but a change of life.
It is to be specially noted that Jesus Christ preached the kingdom of God as a gospel: rightly understood, it is not a despotism, it is not a terror; it is the supremacy of light, of truth, of love.
16. Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
17. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.
18. And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him.
19. And when he had gone a little farther thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets.
20. And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.
(1) Christ is the preparer of his servants—"I will make you": how much was involved in that promise! (a) Authority; (b) qualification. (2) Small beginnings compatible with sublime results. (3) The claims of God over-ride all other claims—the sons left their father. (4) The discharge of common duties the best preparation for higher calls—two were casting the net into the sea, and two were mending their nets. The transition from one duty to another need not be abrupt. The humblest duty may be very near the highest honour. (5) The place of the servant is after the Master—"Come ye after me": they are not invited to equal terms—they must walk in the King"s shadow.
Some hearts respond to Christ instantly—some linger long, and yield, as it were, with reluctance.
"They left their father Zebedee in the ship": fathers should never keep back their sons from Christ"s service.
21. And they went into Capernaum: and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught.
22. And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.
(1) Men will teach well only as they teach under Christ (2) Authority is impossible apart from association with the Master.
(3) Authority of tone must come from intensity of conviction.
(4) Hearers know the voice of authority. (5) The Christian teacher is to show his supremacy over all other teachers.
23. And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out,
24. Saying Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.
25. And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him.
26. And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him.
27. And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him.
28. And immediately his fame spread abroad throughout all the region round about Galilee.
(1) Wickedness always afraid of purity. (2) Wickedness having no favour to ask of purity, except to be let alone. (3) Wickedness can always identify the presence of the spirit of Jesus Christ. (4) For this reason, the Church is a constant judgment upon all unclean spirits. (5) The completeness of Jesus Christ"s authority—his authority in doctrine, and his authority in work. (6) Fulness of spiritual life is the guarantee of fulness of spiritual power. Jesus Christ came to this work after the most complete and severe preparation. He had received the Holy Ghost; he had undergone special and long-continued temptation in the wilderness, and had returned to preach the Gospel of the kingdom of God; and after all this he encountered with perfect power the unclean spirits that were in men. This opens the whole subject of Spiritual Preparation. Christians have also to meet unclean spirits in society. What if these unclean spirits should baffle the imperfect strength of Jesus Christ"s followers? Christians are not at liberty to let unclean spirits alone; they are called to a life-long contention; their preparation must be intensely and increasingly spiritual. (7) That is the highest fame which is associated with beneficent deeds. Jesus Christ became famous because he had destroyed the dominion of a wicked spirit. The fame of evil is infamous; the fame of selfish cunning is mere notoriety; the fame of good doing is immortal and blessed renown.
This paragraph may be used as the basis of a discourse upon First Efforts in Christian service. (1) Those efforts are often forced upon Christians—it was so in this case; the wicked spirit challenged the attention of Christ. (2) Christians are to seek opportunities of putting forth such efforts; they are not to wait for the challenge, they have also to give it.
29. And forthwith, when they were come out of the synagogue, they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.
30. But Simon"s wife"s mother lay sick of a fever, and anon they tell him of her.
31. And he came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them.
Jesus Christ exercised both a public and a private ministry; he worked in the synagogue, he worked also in the domestic circle. Here is Simon"s wife"s mother sick of the fever, and instantly Jesus Christ addressed himself to the difficulty, showing that the Christian ministry may be exercised with great advantage alike in public and in private. Learn from it: (1) That the individual case, as well as the case of the multitude, should be regarded as worthy of attention. (2) That bodily diseases as well as spiritual ailments are within the sphere of our solicitude; we are to be philanthropic as well as spiritually-minded. (3) We are to put ourselves in personal contact with those who suffer. "Jesus took her by the hand, and lifted her up." We can do little by proxy. We must work with our own hand, as though everything depended on it. It is true that what is distinctly known as miraculous power has ceased in the Church, yet there is a higher power than that which works physical miracles. It is still possible for the entrance of a good man into any house to be as the coming in of the light and life of heaven. Christians have it in their power to do a great work in the sick chamber. The raising of the man towards heaven is a greater work than healing him of mere bodily disease. We should never leave a home without blessing it When Jesus Christ entered into a house it was known that he was there; his were not mere visits of courtesy, or attention to the claims of routine; wherever he went he took with him healing and manifold spiritual blessings. We are to do the same thing according to our capacity. In this case we see the servants standing behind the Master; Simon and Andrew and James and John were all there, but Jesus alone did the work. In our case, if we are the public figures in any work of mercy, it is only because our Master is concealed from the common vision. He is still there, still first; and it is only as we realise his presence and position that we can bless men.
The immediateness of Christ"s cures ought to have some moral suggestion in it. Simon"s wife"s mother did not gradually recover from her affliction; she was cured instantly, and showed the extent of her recovery by immediately ministering to those who were in her house. In the spiritual world, why should not Jesus Christ heal men as suddenly as in the physical world? When men are spiritually healed, how long should they be before they make an attempt to serve others? It is quite true that there may be precipitancy in this matter of spiritual ministry; at the same time it should be remembered that every healed soul should prove its life by seeking to do some good thing for those who are round about. Here, as in everything else, the law holds good—By their fruits ye shall know them. Jesus Christ did not require that any body of men should examine the case to which he had just devoted himself, in order to procure a testimonial of efficiency; the service which the healed sufferer rendered was itself testimonial enough. We know that men have been with Christ when they are doing Christ"s work: all other signs are inadequate; this is the absolute standard.
32. And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with devils.
33. And all the city was gathered together at the door.
34. And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him.
The natural sun set, but the Sun of righteousness arose upon all those people with healing in his wings. In the evening, as well as in the morning, Jesus Christ was at work. Men come to Jesus Christ according to the urgency of their want These people felt that urgency in their physical nature rather than in their souls, consequently they approached Christ with a request that they might be healed. It is well if men can feel their want of Christ at any point. If men did but know it, they would find in their hunger and thirst, in their suffering and loss, grounds of appeal to Jesus Christ. It is not easy to work from the highest point of nature: men may not be conscious of great spiritual necessities, yet may feel wants of a lower kind; they begin with the lower and ascend to the higher; they who eat of the loaves and fishes should not leave Christ until they have eaten of the bread from heaven.
We are not to consider all this pressure upon Jesus Christ as an illustration of mere selfishness on the part of the sufferers and their friends. That would entirely depend upon their spirit; in the act of their coming to Christ there was nothing necessarily selfish. Men may come to Christ for spiritual advantages, and yet may charge themselves with selfish motives; at all events, the devil will not be slow to suggest that in coming to Christ for salvation men merely act upon a selfish instinct. Such an unclean spirit is to be resisted, and to bring down upon itself the admonition of holy anger. The selfishness will be seen afterwards if it really exists; to go to Christ that we should be healed ourselves, and then to say nothing about his gracious power to others, is to exhibit the intensest selfishness; but to go ourselves, and then make our own healing testimony in his favour, is to preach the Gospel, is to approach the benevolence of God himself.
By so much then may men test their own spirit; if they are content to enjoy what they term spiritual advantages without publishing the Saviour to others, they are justly chargeable with the most criminal selfishness. Gratitude will always make eloquent preachers.
The fact that Jesus Christ did not suffer the devils to speak shows his perfect dominion over the spiritual region. All devils are weak in the presence of the Saviour. They are mighty and terrible to us, because of our many infirmities; but in the presence of the bold man who is clothed with perfect holiness, all devils are infinitely weak. The lesson is evident: we are mighty only as we are in Christ.
35. And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.
There is something very touchingly illustrative of our Saviour"s humanity in this verse: he could have prayed upon his couch; none might have known how close was his intercourse with God as he continued in the house; yet as he worked after the sun was set, so he departed to pray before the sun had risen! If the Master required to pray, can the servants live without communion with God? The subject suggested by this verse may be called Morning Devotion. To begin the day with God is the only method of setting one"s self above all its events, and triumphing over them with perfect mastery. Our life will be poor if there be in it no solitary places where we pray. True life can never be developed among throngs and noises; we must betake ourselves into desert places; in a word, we must get away from men, and view life from such a distance as may be realised by intimate divine fellowship. As it is necessary for the artist to stand back from his work in order that he may see how it is shaping itself, so it is often necessary for us who are doing Christ"s work to retire into solitary places that we may look at it from the altar of worship or perhaps from the valley of humiliation. How rapidly Christ lived! How he consumed himself in his ministry! This should be an appeal to Christians, calling them to enthusiasm and to vehemence in work. Jesus Christ did not remain in solitary places; he went to the sacred fountain that he might prepare himself to return to society, and do the work of the common day. A discourse might be founded upon these words, showing the religious uses of time. (1) Social service such as we have seen in the life of Christ. (2) Public ministry, in which crowds might enjoy our Christian teaching. (3) Sacred devotion, in which the soul will hold close intercourse with God.
These uses should not be separated one from the other; the teacher should show that all these uses really make up one true ministry. The incident may also be used to show the place of prayer in the earnest life. There is a sentimentalism which says work is prayer; so it is; and yet if we work without praying, our work will be powerless. Work is only prayer in so far as it is done in a prayerful spirit. He who works must pray, and he who truly prays must also work. In this verse the narrator uses a summary expression; he could only say that Jesus Christ prayed: what he says in his prayers, what entreaties he breathed on behalf of himself and his work, never can be known. There are also passages in our own life which can never be written; we ourselves have offered prayers which it is impossible to recall, so intense was their agony, so comprehensive their desire; yet, though unable to recall the intercession in detail, yet are strong in the memory that they were offered: the individual petitions have been forgotten, but the great exercise has strengthened, and the great answer nourished, the soul.
36. And Simon and they that were with him followed after him.
37. And when they had found him, they said unto him, All men seek for thee.
38. And he said unto them, Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also; for therefore came I forth.
39. And he preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and cast out devils.
The true disciple always knows where to find the Master: the disciples knew the habits of their Lord: they knew that in some hidden place he could be found in the early hours of the day; at all events they knew that Jesus Christ would be found in the path of usefulness or preparation for usefulness. Do men know where they can find us? Are our Christian habits so distinct and unchangeable that our friends can with certainty explain our position?
The picture in the37th verse is most impressive; viz, the picture of all men seeking for Jesus. What the disciples said in their wondering delight shall one day be literally true—all men will be in search of the Saviour of the world. In the first instance the Saviour sought all men, and in the second all men will seek the Saviour. "We love him because he first loved us." Instant response to the desire of the world, as shown in Christ"s readiness still further to preach the Gospel. His object in life was undivided, and its unity was its omnipotence. We are only strong in proportion to the concentration of our powers. Wherever we are we ought to be within the sphere of our ministry; and it ought to be an easy transition from one department of duty to another: Jesus Christ knew wherefore he had come forth, and it is incumbent upon us that we too should know our mission in life. No man can work mightily and constantly except in so far as he has a distinct and worthy object before him: the object must stir his whole nature, and move him by an importunate compulsion amounting in fact to inspiration. When a man begins to question the utility or practicability of his object in life, he enfeebles himself. There are many questionable objects which men set before themselves; and it is our delight as Christian observers to mark how they break down, and how those who were pursuing them abandon them with sorrow and disgust. We have to set before all men an object sufficiently simple to engage the affections of the feeblest, and sufficiently sublime to absorb the energies of the strongest. Jesus Christ preached, and he called his servants to the same work. Preaching can never fail to be one of the mightiest instruments in stirring the human mind, and in moulding human society. Individual preachers may become feeble; even distinguished ministers may cool in the enthusiasm with which they undertook their great work; but preaching, as instituted by Jesus Christ, and exemplified in his own ministry, can never cease to be one of the most effective agencies in human education and progress. Preaching will be powerless except in proportion as it relates to Christ. We have a distinct Gospel to unfold; and if we are faithful to our calling, that Gospel will be found more than sufficient to supply our own want as preachers, and to meet all the necessities of the world. Jesus Christ preached and cast out devils, and we have to do the same thing. We may not meet the devil in the same form as that in which he presented himself during the personal ministry of Jesus Christ, but we have to meet him in all the subtlety, the insidiousness, and the terribleness of his unchanging and unchangeable nature. The preacher must make up his mind that there are still devils to be cast out; every man carries within him his own devil, some indeed carry legion. The only exorcist is the Saviour, and we are called to tell this fact, and to persuade men to avail themselves of his delivering power.
Under these verses might be shown the positive and the negative work of the Christian ministry; the positive work being to preach the Gospel, the negative to cast out devils. Great service would be done to humanity by fully developing the idea that all evil purposes and dispositions are to be associated distinctly with the name of the devil. We are to tell men, not merely that we seek to make them better by conducting them into the knowledge of new doctrines, but we are to take our stand before them as men who have come to deliver them from the personal power of the devil. There is hope of a man when he realises that he has actually been under Satanic dominion. So long as he looks upon his life as being blemished here and there, it is possible that he may have most inadequate ideas of the mission of Jesus Christ; but when he realises that he has actually been the habitation of the very devil, he may be led to cry out for the deliverance which the Gospel has come to effect. The realisation on the part of the minister that he has to counteract and destroy the devil will stimulate him to use his utmost endeavours to make full proof of his ministry. He has not only to cope with wrong notions, but with a diabolic personality; and if this conviction thoroughly possess him, he will of necessity cultivate ever-deepening fellowship with Jesus Christ, who alone has the power to break up the kingdom of Satan.
40. And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.
41. And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and said unto him, I will; be thou clean.
42. And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed.
43. And he straitly charged him, and forthwith sent him away;
44. And saith unto him, See thou say nothing to any man: but go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.
45. But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but as without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter.
In the27th verse we found men putting questions regarding Jesus Christ"s power; in the40th verse we find a poor sufferer seeking to avail himself of Jesus Christ"s curative energy. This marks the great difference between various classes of society in relation to the work of the Saviour. One class is content with looking, wondering, and perhaps admiring; another class may test his power in direct personal experience. Let it be distinctly pointed out that it is not sufficient to wonder at the ministry of Jesus Christ. In this chapter we have seen some who were brought to the Saviour; in the40th verse we find a man who came to Jesus. Point out the blessedness of those who have others to conduct them to Jesus Christ; also point out the opportunity which each man has of making his own case known to Jesus Christ. This incident shows the trust which the ministry of the Saviour had inspired in the minds of sufferers, especially so in the case of the leper; the leper lived under the most terrible restrictions, yet his heart rose to the point of trust and love when he heard of the wonderful works of this new man. Others would have turned him away or would have run eagerly beyond his reach; but Jesus Christ, the undefiled and undefiling Prayer of Manasseh , touched him, and recovered him of his leprosy. Regarding this incident as illustrative of the method of spiritual salvation, it should be distinctly shown that the leper put himself unreservedly, without any suggestion or wishes of his own, into the hands of the Healer. He did not wish to be a party to the active work of healing himself; he was content to be passive, to wait his Lord"s will. It should also be shown that Jesus Christ instantly gave practical expression to his own deep pity and mercy; he delights in immediately answering prayer. When we appeal to his justice, his righteousness, his sovereignty, we may be held a long time waiting, that we may know more fully what is meant by these high terms; but when we come in weakness and poverty, crying to his compassion, his heart instantly moves towards us. The humble desire of suffering soon moves the heart of Jesus Christ. The third point that may be dwelt upon is the completeness of Christ"s cure: immediately the leprosy departed from the Prayer of Manasseh , and he was cleansed. Is our Christian state one of complete pardon and hope? It is not asked whether it is one of complete sanctification, that is a progressive work; but the work of pardon will bring with it an instantaneous assurance that the burden of guilt has been removed. The impossibility of silence under the influence of great blessing is here most vividly illustrated. The joy of thankfulness cannot always be controlled. Christians must speak. The explanation of a true ministry is found in this incident. When we have received the highest blessings from the hands of Christ, we feel an insatiable desire to tell others of the great results of our having met the Saviour. The45th verse shows how much can be done by the energy of one man. So much did the recovered leper publish his restoration, that Jesus Christ could no more openly enter into the city by reason of the multitude that thronged upon him, and by reason of the sensation which so great a miracle had created. Is there not in this incident an illustration of what we may do by being faithful to our convictions and impulses regarding the Son of God? Have we been healed without publishing the fact? Have we mentioned the fact of our conversion even to our dearest friend? Learn from the leper the possibility of so exciting a whole neighbourhood about personal recovery as to extend the name and bring blessings upon the gracious power of Jesus Christ.
The44th verse may be used for the purpose of showing how Jesus Christ brings men into the established laws and relations of his own government, even under circumstances which might seem to justify an exception to the usual course of things. In our highest moments of inspiration and delight we ought to be controlled by law. Even our ecstasy should be regulated where it might endanger the constancy and faithfulness of our life. Jesus Christ never dissociates the ministry from the preceding dispensations; he always heightens and consummates, he never destroys except by fulfilment, as the fruit destroys the blossom. The whole chapter might be used for the purpose of showing how possible it is for our Christian life to be sublime from the very beginning. This is the very first chapter in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, yet it is full of light; it might have been the last chapter, so crowded is it with incidents and good works. There are Christian people who are afraid of doing too much at the beginning; such people cannot have entered very deeply into the spirit of their Lord"s enthusiasm and self-sacrifice. Youthful Christians should be encouraged to work from the very moment of the beginning of their new life. The earnest man does not care about the artistic graduation of his services, he does not even consider such a possibility; instantly that Jesus Christ takes possession of his heart his whole life becomes consecrated to the service of true doctrine and practical philanthropy. This chapter gives a most terrible rebuke to the notion that men should come only gradually into high Christian engagements; no renewed heart can too soon begin to do the good works and bear the blessed fruits of Christian regeneration. On the other hand, it should be pointed out for the encouragement of such as have few opportunities for the development of Christian vocation, that they will be judged not by the more public services which their brethren may render, but by the position in life which they have been called providentially to occupy.
Tuesday, March 28th, 2017
the Fourth Week of Lent
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