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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Mark 6

 

 

Verses 1-6

Mark 6:1-6

And He went out from thence, and came into His own country.

Jesus re-visits Nazareth

I. Gracious condescension. Jesus, although He had been cruelly treated at Nazareth, once more turns His steps homewards. Jesus practised what He preached (Matthew 18:21-22). Love of home natural to men. Thoughts suggested by visits home. How shall we be received-welcomed or sighted? Have we so passed our time since we left home, that we may deserve a cordial reception; or may even some poor Nazareth be justifiably ashamed of us?

II. Unworthy prejudices. “He came to His own and His own received Him not.” Neither did His brethren believe in Him (John 7:5). Why? Because He was known to them; and was poor and of lowly origin. Some look at religion as children at books, more attracted by the binding than the contents.

III. Fatal rejection. Nazareth turned its back on Jesus. He left never to return. Learn:

I. To do good to those who despitefully use us and persecute us.

II. To guard against evil and ignorant prejudices.

III. To take heed how we reject Jesus.

IV. To beseech Him to return and save us, if we have thoughtlessly or wilfully slighted Him. (J. C. Gray.)

Christ’s return to Nazareth

Was it not a strange metamorphosis to Him-once a peasant lad; now the Light of the world! And yet here are surroundings unchanged, and natures as narrow and stupid as ever, and He, having moved away from them as the infinite is remote from the finite; He, able to heal the sick and forgive sins by a word, and they helpless and hopeless in both body and soul. As He spoke, authority seemed to voice itself in natural, faultless utterance. He had not gained this gift at the feet of any sage. Public debate could not confer it. The people were astonished. Such wisdom and such deeds are not in the carpenter’s line, they said.

I. The sinner cannot understand nor endure the saint. Humanity cannot comprehend divinity. Now, no more than then, is there any room for Christ where Satan rules.

II. God’s greatest blessings are often prevented by man’s distrust. Unbelief forfeits infinite mercies. So does unauthorized credulity. (De W. S. Clark.)

Unbelief at Nazareth

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 centre for evangelistic labours on the part of Himself and His disciples.

I. The unreasonableness and inexcusableness of unbelief in Christ.

1. He was well-known to them. They had hitherto always found Him true and upright; therefore they ought to have candidly considered His claims.

2. He brought with Him a great and acknowledged reputation.

3. He came to Nazareth and taught publicly, thus giving His townsmen an opportunity of judging for themselves of His wisdom and moral authority.

II. The grounds of unbelief in Christ.

1. Prejudice on account of His origin and circumstances.

2. His educational deficiency. He had not been trained in the rabbinical schools, so they thought nothing of Him.

III. The rebuke of unbelief. “A prophet is not without honour,” etc. There was sadness in Christ’s language and tone. Yet what a reproach to the unbelieving! They might be offended; there were others who would believe, evince gratitude, and render honour.

IV. The consequences of unbelief.

1. Christ “marvelled.”

2. The results to the people of the town were lamentable-“He could do no mighty work.”

3. Benefit to others-“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, receptive, needy. Application:

(a) The coming of Christ to a soul, or community, is a moral probation involving serious responsibility.

(b) It is the most fatal guilt and folly, in considering the claims of Christ, to overlook the wisdom and grace of His character and ministry, and to regard circumstances at which the superficial and carnal may take offence. (J. R. Thomson, M A.)

Jesus visiting His own country

By going thither-

I. He gratified a human yearning.

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 offences were forgiven.

2. Although conscious of restriction because of their unbelief and indifference, He still persisted in His works of mercy. (A. F. Muir, M. A.)

Rejection of Christ

I. Indifference to Christ sometimes arises from familiarity with His surroundings. Beware of that familiarity with sacred things which deadens spiritual sensibility.

II. Contempt for Christ sometimes springs from association with His friends.

III. The rejection of Christ brings about a withdrawal of His influence-“He could not,” etc. 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. If faith, the ethical condition, be absent, we bind the Saviour’s hands, and He cannot do for us what He would. He does not wish to leave us, but He must; old impressions become feebler, the once sensitive heart waxes dull. (A. Rowland, LL. B.)

Christ at home

I. The wonders in everyday life. Growth of knowledge and experience; change of circumstances, etc.

II. The jealousy of home-grown greatness. Tyranny of custom. Beware of egotism, shutting out from light and beauty, divinity and blessedness.

III. The most invincible obstacle is the will of man. Against stupidity even the gods fight in vain! When the business of the kingdom seems at a standstill, ask whether the cause be not want of wish, will, prayer. (E. Johnson, M. A.)

Detracting from the Divine greatness of Christ

I. How this is done.

1. By attributing Divine effects to secondary causes,

2. Absence of faith and spiritual sympathy.

3. By being offended at the mystery of His humiliation, either in Himself or in His followers.

II. What it produces.

1. Unsatisfied indecision.

2. Hardening of heart.

3. The doubter’s own loss. (A. F. Muir, M. A.)


Verses 1-6

Mark 6:1-6

And He went out from thence, and came into His own country.

Jesus re-visits Nazareth

I. Gracious condescension. Jesus, although He had been cruelly treated at Nazareth, once more turns His steps homewards. Jesus practised what He preached (Matthew 18:21-22). Love of home natural to men. Thoughts suggested by visits home. How shall we be received-welcomed or sighted? Have we so passed our time since we left home, that we may deserve a cordial reception; or may even some poor Nazareth be justifiably ashamed of us?

II. Unworthy prejudices. “He came to His own and His own received Him not.” Neither did His brethren believe in Him (John 7:5). Why? Because He was known to them; and was poor and of lowly origin. Some look at religion as children at books, more attracted by the binding than the contents.

III. Fatal rejection. Nazareth turned its back on Jesus. He left never to return. Learn:

I. To do good to those who despitefully use us and persecute us.

II. To guard against evil and ignorant prejudices.

III. To take heed how we reject Jesus.

IV. To beseech Him to return and save us, if we have thoughtlessly or wilfully slighted Him. (J. C. Gray.)

Christ’s return to Nazareth

Was it not a strange metamorphosis to Him-once a peasant lad; now the Light of the world! And yet here are surroundings unchanged, and natures as narrow and stupid as ever, and He, having moved away from them as the infinite is remote from the finite; He, able to heal the sick and forgive sins by a word, and they helpless and hopeless in both body and soul. As He spoke, authority seemed to voice itself in natural, faultless utterance. He had not gained this gift at the feet of any sage. Public debate could not confer it. The people were astonished. Such wisdom and such deeds are not in the carpenter’s line, they said.

I. The sinner cannot understand nor endure the saint. Humanity cannot comprehend divinity. Now, no more than then, is there any room for Christ where Satan rules.

II. God’s greatest blessings are often prevented by man’s distrust. Unbelief forfeits infinite mercies. So does unauthorized credulity. (De W. S. Clark.)

Unbelief at Nazareth

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 centre for evangelistic labours on the part of Himself and His disciples.

I. The unreasonableness and inexcusableness of unbelief in Christ.

1. He was well-known to them. They had hitherto always found Him true and upright; therefore they ought to have candidly considered His claims.

2. He brought with Him a great and acknowledged reputation.

3. He came to Nazareth and taught publicly, thus giving His townsmen an opportunity of judging for themselves of His wisdom and moral authority.

II. The grounds of unbelief in Christ.

1. Prejudice on account of His origin and circumstances.

2. His educational deficiency. He had not been trained in the rabbinical schools, so they thought nothing of Him.

III. The rebuke of unbelief. “A prophet is not without honour,” etc. There was sadness in Christ’s language and tone. Yet what a reproach to the unbelieving! They might be offended; there were others who would believe, evince gratitude, and render honour.

IV. The consequences of unbelief.

1. Christ “marvelled.”

2. The results to the people of the town were lamentable-“He could do no mighty work.”

3. Benefit to others-“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, receptive, needy. Application:

(a) The coming of Christ to a soul, or community, is a moral probation involving serious responsibility.

(b) It is the most fatal guilt and folly, in considering the claims of Christ, to overlook the wisdom and grace of His character and ministry, and to regard circumstances at which the superficial and carnal may take offence. (J. R. Thomson, M A.)

Jesus visiting His own country

By going thither-

I. He gratified a human yearning.

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 offences were forgiven.

2. Although conscious of restriction because of their unbelief and indifference, He still persisted in His works of mercy. (A. F. Muir, M. A.)

Rejection of Christ

I. Indifference to Christ sometimes arises from familiarity with His surroundings. Beware of that familiarity with sacred things which deadens spiritual sensibility.

II. Contempt for Christ sometimes springs from association with His friends.

III. The rejection of Christ brings about a withdrawal of His influence-“He could not,” etc. 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. If faith, the ethical condition, be absent, we bind the Saviour’s hands, and He cannot do for us what He would. He does not wish to leave us, but He must; old impressions become feebler, the once sensitive heart waxes dull. (A. Rowland, LL. B.)

Christ at home

I. The wonders in everyday life. Growth of knowledge and experience; change of circumstances, etc.

II. The jealousy of home-grown greatness. Tyranny of custom. Beware of egotism, shutting out from light and beauty, divinity and blessedness.

III. The most invincible obstacle is the will of man. Against stupidity even the gods fight in vain! When the business of the kingdom seems at a standstill, ask whether the cause be not want of wish, will, prayer. (E. Johnson, M. A.)

Detracting from the Divine greatness of Christ

I. How this is done.

1. By attributing Divine effects to secondary causes,

2. Absence of faith and spiritual sympathy.

3. By being offended at the mystery of His humiliation, either in Himself or in His followers.

II. What it produces.

1. Unsatisfied indecision.

2. Hardening of heart.

3. The doubter’s own loss. (A. F. Muir, M. A.)


Verse 3-4

Mark 6:3-4

Is not this the carpenter?

Jesus Christ, the carpenter

I. How the fact that Jesus was a carpenter was a hindrance to the faith of His fellow countrymen.

1. The objection was natural. He had grown up among them. They had become familiar with His ways.

2. Yet it was wrong and unreasonable. Their intimacy with Him ought to have opened their eyes to His unique character.

3. The objection they raise against His claims tells really in His favour. They find no fault in His character; they can only complain of His trade. High, unconscious tribute to His excellence.

II. How this fact should be a help to our faith.

1. It is a sign of Christ’s humility.

2. It is a proof that He went through the experience of practical life. Christ knows good work, for He looks at it with a workman’s eye.

3. He found the school for His spiritual training in His practical work.

4. This sheds a glory over the life of manual industry.

5. This should attract working men to Christ. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)

The dignity of honest labour

If labour was first imposed as a curse, it is turned truly into a blessing by this example of Him who thus wrought. The occupancy of a sphere of lowly industry by Christ, henceforth consecrates it as-

I. A suitable occupation of time.

1. Profitable

2. Healthful.

3. Saves from bad effects of indolence.

4. A source of pure and useful enjoyment.

II. An honourable means of maintenance.

1. Nothing degrading in it.

2. Deserves and commands fair remuneration.

3. Preserves a man’s independence.

III. A worthy service to others. The products of industrial toil, especially of handicraft, are serviceable in the highest degree. Without them the comfort of large communities must be greatly impaired. He, therefore, who works with his hands the thing that is good, is a useful and honourable servant of his race.

1. In the lowliest spheres, the loftiest powers are not necessarily degraded.

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 honoured, for it was shared by his Lord. (R. Green.)

Value of industrial employments

The word carpenter was given as an alternative translation by Wycliffe, and has descended into all the succeeding English versions; Wycliffe’s primary translation was smith, the word that was used in the Anglo-Saxon version. It had in Anglo-Saxon a generic meaning, equivalent to artificer. A worker in iron was called in Anglo-Saxon iren-smith. A smith is one who smites: a carpenter is one who makes cars. The word carpenter, therefore, must be a much later coinage than the word smith. The original Greek term ( τέκτων) means primarily a producer; the word wright very nearly corresponds to it, as being closely connected with wrought or worked. It just means worker, and occurs in Anglo-Saxon in the two forms wryhta and wyrhta. This is the only passage in which it is stated that our Lord worked at a handicraft. It is a different expression that is found in Matthew 13:53, “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” There is no contradiction, however, between the two representations; both might be coincidently employed, and no doubt were, when the Nazarenes were freely and frettingly canvassing the merits of their wonderful townsman. Our Lord would not be trained to idleness; it was contrary to Jewish habits, and to the teaching of the best Jewish rabbis. It would have been inconsistent moreover with the principles of true civilization, and with the ideal of normal human development. It is no evidence of high civilization, either to lay an arrest on full physical development on the one hand, or on the other to encourage only those modes of muscular and nervous activity which are dissociated from useful working and manufacturing skill. Society will never be right until all classes be industrious and industrial: the higher orders must return to take part in the employments of the lower; the lower must rise up to take part in the enjoyments of the higher. (J. Morison, D. D.)

The village carpenter in our Lord’s time held the position of the modern village blacksmith

Almost all agricultural instruments-ploughs, harrows, yokes, etc.

were made of wood. His workshop was the centre of the village life. (T. M. Lindsay, D. D.)

Jesus came from amongst the labouring classes

That Jesus did in fact spring from the labouring class of the population, is confirmed by the language of His discourses and parables, which everywhere refer to the antecedents and relations of the ordinary workman’s life, and betray a knowledge of it which no one could have gained merely by observation, He was at home in those poor, windowless, Syrian hovels in which the housewife had to light a candle in the daytime to seek for her lost piece of silver. He was acquainted with the secrets of the bake house, of the gardener, and the builder, and with things which the upper classes never see-as “the good measure pressed down and shaken together running over” of the corn chandler; the rotten, leaking wine skin of the wine dealer; the patchwork of the peasant woman; the brutal manners of the upper servants to the lower,-these and a hundred other features of a similar kind are interwoven by Him into His parables. Reminiscences even of His more special handicraft have been found, it is believed, in His sayings. The parable of the splinter and the beam is said to recall the carpenter’s shop, the uneven foundations of the houses, the building yard, the cubit which is added, the workshop, and the distinction in the appearance of the green and dry wood, the drying shed. (Hausrath.)

Self-respect vital to religion

They could not believe in any Divine inspiration reaching such as themselves, and therefore resented it in Christ as an unjustifiable pretension of superiority. They had no proper faith in themselves, so had no proper faith in God. Self-respect is vital to religion. They believed in a God in a kind of way, but not in a God who touched their neighbourhood or entered into close dealings with Nazarenes. They were not on the outlook for the beautiful and the divine in the lives of men. No Nazarene Wordsworth had shown them the glory of common life, the beauty and divinity that exist wherever human life will welcome it. (R. Glover.)

The model artisan

These words reveal to us-

I. Christ’s social position.

1. That he sympathised with the humblest sons of men.

2. That social rank is no criterion of personal worth.

3. That moral and spiritual excellence should be honoured in whomsoever found.

II. Christ’s manual labour.

1. That honourable industry and holy living may co-exist.

2. That mental development and physical toil may be associated.

Conclusion: Observe-

(a) That labour is essential, not only to existence, but to happiness.

(b) That the greater our industry the fewer our temptations.

(c) That Christ waits to sanctify the duties of life to our spiritual interest. (A. G. Churchill.)

The Divine Carpenter

The Divine Carpenter applies the language of His earthly trade to the spiritual things He has created.

1. He has built a Church.

2. He has founded the resurrection-“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

3. He has established His divinity-“The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.”

4. He has prepared our eternal home-“In My Father’s house,” etc.

5. He has urged earnest heed to our building. (C. M. Jones.)

Jesus in the workshop

I. We see Him here bearing the curse of the fall.-“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,” etc.

II. We see Him here bringing Himself near to all men.

III. He enters the workshop that He may unite men as brethren. IV He enters the workshop that He may sanctify all secular life. (J. Johnston.)

Work the law of life

From that tiny fly thus at work all day over your head, to the huge hippopotamus of the Nile, that seems to spend its lifetime half asleep, all have to work. But emphatically is this true of man. The wild Indian huntsman, as he plunges over the prairie armed with tomahawk or rifle, in pursuit of the thundering buffalo; the Bosjesman, in the impenetrable thickets of Africa, as he digs with hardened, horny fingers for the roots on which he lives; the amphibious South Sea Islander, as he wages perilous warfare with the monsters of the ocean; the fur-clad Esquimaux, as he tracks the bear or seal of the icy north; as well as the semi-civilized myriads of Asia, or the more advanced peoples of Europe-all find this world is a workshop, and they must toil to live. And the exceptions to this rule are fewer than at first sight we are apt to suppose. It is not only the artisan who has to work, but also the merchant amongst his wares, the author amongst his books, the statesman with the affairs of the nation, and the sovereign upon his throne. Whether impelled by the necessities of mere existence, or by the necessities of position and spirit, it may be said of all-“Men must work.” Our Lord, therefore, came near unto us when He entered the workshop. But as the great majority must gain their daily bread by manual labour, He entered even into that condition as the village carpenter of Nazareth. Had He been born in a palace and to a throne, or even into the estate of a wealthy merchant, He would have been separated, not in His feeling, but in theirs, by a great gulf from the great majority of men. (J. Johnston.)

Manual work redeemed

See how our whole life is redeemed, so that it may all be lived unto God and for eternity, and none of it be lost. He entered the kingdom of toil and subdued it to Himself for our salvation, so that toil is no more a curse to the Christian workman. The builder, as he lays brick on brick, may be building a heavenly temple; the carpenter, as he planes the wood, may thereby be refining his own character and that of others around him; the merchant, as he buys and sells, may be buying the pearl of great price; the statesman may be directing the affairs of an eternal kingdom; the householder may be setting her house in order for the coming of her Lord. As the blood of the sacrifice was put not only upon the ear, but upon the toe, of Aaron and his sons, so our Lord when, by entering it, He sanctified human life, sanctified its meanest and most secular things, spending His holy and Divine life mostly in the workshop. Brethren, whatever our station, we may live a holy, god-like, useful life. (J. Johnston.)

The royal shipwright

A strange workman took his place one day amongst the shipwrights in a building yard in Amsterdam. Fit only for the rudest work, he was content at first to occupy himself with the caulking mallet, hewing of wood, or the twisting of ropes, yet displayed the keenest desire to understand and master every part of the handicraft. But what was the astonishment of his fellow workmen to see persons of the highest rank come to pay their respects to him, approaching him with every mark of regard, amid the dust and confusion of the workshop, or clambering up the rigging to have an audience with him on the maintop. For he was no less a personage than Peter the Great, founder of the Russian Empire. He came afterwards to England, and lodged amongst the workshops in Deptford. Bishop Burnet, when he visited him, said he had gone to see a mighty prince, but found a common shipwright. But the king who had invited him to visit this country understood him better. He was the ruler of an empire vaster in extent than any other in Europe, but as far behind the poorest financially as it was before it territorially. It was, in fact, in a state of absolute barbarism. Its largest ship was a fishing boat, and it was as yet destitute of almost all, even the rudest arts of civilization. The Czar, determined to elevate his people, ordered the youth of the nobility to travel in lands distinguished by wealth and power, and become qualified to take part in the regeneration of their own country, he himself showing them the example. It was thus that wonderful spectacle was seen by the astonished workmen, ambassadors waiting in state on a man in the dress and at the work of a common shipwright. (J. Johnston.)

Useful reflections on Christ’s working as a carpenter

I. To illustrate this observable circumstance of our Lord’s life. It was a maxim among the Jews, that every man should bring up his son to some mechanic trade.

II. To suggest some useful remarks from this observable circumstance of our Lord’s life.

1. A person’s original, his business and circumstances in life, often occasion prejudices against him: against his most wise, useful, and instructive observations.

2. Such prejudices are very absurd, unreasonable, and mischievous.

3. The condescension of the Son of God in submitting to such humiliation, demands our admiration and praise.

4. The conduct of our Lord reflects an honour upon trade, and upon those who are employed in useful arts.

5. This circumstance in Christ’s life furnisheth all, especially young persons, with an example of diligence and activity.

6. Persons may serve God and follow their trades at the same time. (J. Orton.)

Jesus an offence

The word rendered offended is scandalized in the original. It is a very graphic word, but incapable of adequate translation. It presents to view a complex picture. Christ was to His kinsmen and townsmen like a scandal, or catch stick, in a trap. They did not see what He was. They hence heedlessly ran up against Him and struck on Him, to their own utter ensnarement; they were spiritually caught; they became fixed in a position in which it was most undesirable to be fixed; they were spiritually hurt, and in great danger of being spiritually destroyed. Such are the chief elements of the picture. The actual outcome of the whole complex representation may be given thus: They spiritually stumbled on Jesus. To their loss they did not accept Him for what He really was: They rejected Him as the Lord High Commissioner of heaven. They came into collision with Him, and were ensnared, by suspecting that His indisputable superiority to ordinary men in word and work was owing to some other kind of influence than what was right and from above. (J. Morison, D. D.)

Offended at the carpenter’s son

People in high station or of high birth are very often displeased if one of humbler position excels them in anything. The nobles of Scotland did not work hand in hand with Wallace, because he had not such good blood as they gloried in.

Jealousy of greatness in neighbours

Our Lord specifies three concentric circles of persons to whom every prophet is nearly related. There is

In each of these circles there is in general but little readiness to recognize native or nascent superiority. The principles of self-satisfaction, self-confidence, self-complacency, come in to lay a presumptive interdict upon any adjoining self rising up in eminence above the myself. The temporary advantage of age, and thus of more protracted experience, asserts to itself for a season a sort of counter-superiority; and the mere fact of proximity makes it easy to open the door for the influence of envy, an ignoble vice that takes effect chiefly in reference to those on whom one can actually look (invidia, invides). In the long run, indeed, real superiority, if time be granted it, will vindicate for itself its own proper place in the midst of all its concentric circles. But, in general, this will be only after victories achieved abroad have made it impossible for the people at home to remain in doubt. (J. Morison, D. D.)


Verse 5-6

Mark 6:5-6

And He could there do no mighty work.

The unbelief of the Nazarenes

Our plan will be to give you in the first place certain reasons, where the unbelief was strongest, the miracles were few; and then in the second place, to examine the particular terms in which St. Mark speaks of our Lord’s conduct at Nazareth. Now the first thing to be observed is, that, though our Lord wrought not many miracles among His countrymen, He wrought some: so that they were not wholly without the means of conviction. Undoubtedly it is altogether a mistake to imagine that miracles give evidence in proportion as they are multiplied; it would not be difficult to prove, that the reverse of this is nearer the matter of fact. But if more and greater miracles would have made them believers, why did He not work more and greater? Do you not know that God deals with men as with rational creatures; and that if He were to make proof irresistible, men would virtually cease to be accountable. It is God’s course to do what is sufficient to assist you, but not what will compel you to be saved. But we do not see any reason to suppose that it was exclusively in judgment, and in order to punish the obstinacy of His countrymen, that our Lord refrained from working miracles in Nazareth. Christ, in virtue of His omniscience, saw that He should be rejected, even if He wrought many wonders. He would determine, in virtue of His benevolence, to work only few. You cannot but see that individuals are often favoured for a time with spiritual advantages, and then placed in circumstances where those advantages are wanting. But we shall let you more thoroughly into an understanding of the conduct of our Lord, if we now examine, in the second place, more particularly, the terms in which that conduct is described in our text. You observe that St. Mark represents it as not having been altogether optional with Christ, whether or no He would work many mighty miracles in Nazareth; he rather speaks of actual inability: “He could there do no mighty works.” “He was unable,” is the original, “to do there any mighty work.” In what sense, then, are we to suppose that He was unable? We are sure He was not unable in the sense of deficiency, so that the inability must be interpreted as meaning, not that our Lord was actually unable, but unable consistently with certain fixed principles, with what was due to His own character and mission. You may find, indeed, some few exceptions to this rule in the narratives of the evangelists; but ordinarily you will perceive that our Lord inquired into the faith of the party before He made that party the subject of a miracle; as though, unless two things concurred-power on one side, and belief on the other-there was to be no supernatural working. But still, when we have shown that our Lord’s rule throws no suspicion on His miracles, it will naturally be inquired why such a rule was prescribed and enforced. Say what we will, the miracle would have been more striking if wrought on an unbeliever; and it seems strange to ask that faith as a preliminary, which you are accustomed to look for as a consequence. On this we have to observe, that a miracle, though it required faith in its actual subject, did not require faith in the bystanders, and might, therefore, be instrumental in subduing their unbelief. But, if what Christ did for a diseased body were emblematic of what He would do for a diseased soul, how natural, how necessary, that He should require faith in those who sought to be healed. Otherwise, as you may all have remarked, it might have been thought that Christ would heal unconditionally as a spiritual physician. If faith be surprising from what its possession can effect, it is yet more surprising from what its non-possession can effect. And shall we doubt, men and brethren, that there is much the same baneful energy in our own unbelief, as in that of the Nazarenes? “The Word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” So that even as the want of faith in the men of Nazareth prevented Christ from showing Himself as a worker of miracles, so may want of faith in ourselves, prevent Him from showing Himself as the Healer of souls. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

The power of unbelief

What an idea it gives us of the wonder-working power of Jesus-that to “lay His hands on a few sick folk, and heal them,” was not accounted as any very “mighty” thing. And how irrepressible must be that grace which, even where it was restrained, must go forth, and go forth savingly, to some. Happy some! who in the midst of that wilderness of faithlessness, retained their faith, and carried off faith’s reward. A type of that little, blessed band in every age whom the Lord chooses, and the Lord heals-as if to show in them what all life had been, if only all life had had faith. Great and many are the things which God has done for every one of us, they are but as nothing in comparison with what He might have done, and would have done, if only we had let Him. Now remember that the place was Nazareth-the most privileged spot of the whole earth; for there, of thirty-three years, Jesus spent nearly thirty. There, His holy boyhood, and the piety of His early manhood, had shed their lustre. And now, mark this, brethren-true to nature, true to the experience of the Church-true to the convictions of every heart-in the minds of the men of Nazareth there was an unholy familiarity with holy things-with the name, and the person, and the work, and the truth of Jesus Christ. Therefore, in the minds of the men of Nazareth, there was the usual consequence of that kind of familiarity-they looked at the external, till they were absorbed in the external. They had no faith-the material view destroyed the spiritual. They grovelled in the confidence of an outside knowledge till they became steeped in unbelief. Am I wrong in my fear that the more light, the less love; and that faith has retired as knowledge has advanced? There are two great truths which we must always lay down as fundamental principles. One is, that the love and beneficence of God are always welling and waiting, like some gushing fountain, to pour themselves out to all His creatures. And the other, that there must be a certain state of mind to contain it-a preparation of the heart to receive the gift-both, indeed, of grace, but the one the moral condition of the soul previous and absolutely necessary to the other. Before you can have the gift, you must believe the Giver. Continually God is communicating the power to believe, in order that afterwards He may fill the vessel of your belief with every possible good. But then, all depends on the way in which you welcome and cherish that first imparting of the grace of the Spirit. Without it, not another drop will flow. You go to your knees in prayer, and, within the range of the promises, there is no limit to the answers which God has covenanted to that prayer. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Unbelief preventing the mighty works of Christ

I. The mighty works wrought by Christ.

II. The reason these mighty works have not been wrought on a larger scale.

1. Is it because God is unwilling to save sinners? His nature, etc., forbid such an idea.

2. Is it that God is unable to save?

3. Is it that the benefits of the atonement are limited to a few?

4. Is it that there is some defect in the Gospel? Man is the cause-unbelief.

Conclusion:

1. Unbelief is absurd and unreasonable. God has ever kept His word.

2. Unbelief is absolutely criminal. Implies forgetfulness of past favours, etc.

3. Unbelief is ruinous. It prevents man’s salvation, etc.

4. The great importance of faith. (A. Weston.)

Unbelief a Wonder

I. It is irrational.

1. Unlimited and perfect knowledge belong to God alone.

2. Absolute uncertainty and doubt can be attributed to no intelligence whatever. Faith is a necessary condition in the spiritual life and prayers of all finite intelligences.

II. It is inconsistent.

1. We are constantly exercising faith in inferior matters.

2. The evidence of the gospel is of the highest and most satisfactory kind.

III. It is criminal.

1. If it is the result of non-examination of evidence, there is sin of neglect.

2. If he has examined, and still does not believe, there must be mental inaptitude or moral resistance. (Anon.)

Christ’s wonder

The unbelief of the Nazarenes was a wonder to our Lord. The wonder was “real,” says Cardinal Cajetan, being “caused” by the Saviour’s “experimental inaquaintance” with such an unreasonable state of mind. It was “real” on another account. Unbelief in such circumstances as those of the Nazarenes was actually a most remarkable thing. It had a cause indeed; it had occasions; but it had no reason for its existence. Far less had it a sufficient reason; it was, that is to say, utterly unreasonable. It should not have been; it was an utter anomaly. So is all sin (see Jeremiah 2:12)
. It is an exceedingly strange phenomenon in the universe of God, and may well be wondered at. If wonder indeed were always the daughter of ignorance, one might wonder at Christ’s wonder. Schleusner and Kuinol wondered, and rendered the word, not
wondered, but was angry. Fritzsche, too, wondered, and while too precise a scholar to admit that the word could mean was angry, he proposed that we should correct the text and read it thus, and, because of their unbelief, they wondered (viz., at Jesus). But one may most reasonably wonder at such feats and freaks of exegesis. There is nothing really wonderful in Christ’s wonder. While it is the case that there is a vulgar wonder, which is the daughter of ignorance and dies when knowledge is attained, it is also the case that there is another wonder, of noble origin, the daughter of knowledge. This wonder dwells in the loftiest minds, and is immortal. (J. Morison, D. D.)

The astonishment of Christ

What men marvel at indicates their character. It shows what manner of spirit they are of, on what level they are moving, how high they have risen, or how low they have sunk on the scale of being. And I do not know that we ever feel the immense interval between ourselves and the Son of Man more keenly than when we compare that which astonishes us with that which astonished Him. To us, as a rule, the word miracles denotes more physical wonders; and these are so wonderful to us as to be well-nigh incredible. But in Him they awake no astonishment. He never speaks of them with the faintest accent of surprise. He set so little store by them that He often seemed reluctant to work them, and openly expressed His wish that those on or for whom they had been wrought would tell no man of them … What does astonish Him is not these outward wonders so surprising to us, but chat inward wonder, the mystery of man’s soul, the miraculous power which we often exercise without a thought of surprise, the power of shutting and opening that door or window of the soul which looks heavenward, and through which alone the glories of the spiritual world can stream in upon us. Only twice are we told that He marvelled to whom all the secrets of Nature and Life lay open-once at the unbelief of men, and once at their faith (Matthew 8:10; Luke 7:9). (S. Cox, D. D.)

The possibility of unbelief

God’s plan of impressing spiritual truths is not by demonstration. Christianity has no irresistible proof. If it had, there would be neither unbelievers nor Christians, for in such a case there would be no such thing as faith, but only knowledge, and a Christian is a man who has knowledge but who also lives by faith. Religion would be pursued and practised as mathematics are, or as science is when mathematics are applied to it. But observe under what system we should then be placed. Man would not be capable of moral freedom in conducting his life and forming his character. He would think of God and of his soul and its interests in the way in which a man builds up the propositions of geometry; his convictions would be the theorems, and his actions the problems which were fastened to one another by iron links. Man would be a creature of mind, but where would there be room for his heart and its loving surrender to God, for his will and its resolve to listen to the Divine voice and obey it? These can only exist where man has power to give himself away, i.e., where he has moral freedom. And if we take away freedom and love and will in man’s relation to God, there would be no meaning in them as between man and man. If we destroy the source there can be no streams, and sympathy and love and gratitude, the feelings which unite men in families and friendships, cease to exist; these have their life, not in necessary chains of reasoning, but in the free exchange of the soul. In such a world God might be a supreme architect and mechanician, building up a universe by fixed physical laws; He might even be an author of scientific thought leading forth intellects into higher and wider investigations in the track of His own creations; but He could not be a Father and Friend, drawing to Him the love of children for the glimpses they have of the supreme beauty of His purity, and the pulsations that come throbbing from the love of His heart. The universe might be a temple, but where would be the worshippers with songs of love and joy and self-devotion?…God could not make spiritual truths subject to the laws of mental demonstration, without making them no more spiritual-without depriving man of his freedom, and leaving him no room for his heart and conscience and spirit. If there are to be ties of sympathy between man and God, and an immortality which has in its bosom an eternal life, man must be dealt with as capable, not only of knowledge, but of the choice of love. God has made man capable of faith, but therefore also of unbelief; the kind of proof He gives him may persuade, but will not constrain. God does not force His own existence upon men. (John Ker, D. D.)

The character of unbelief

We begin, then-

I. With speculative unbelief; that unbelief which shapes itself into a creed, denying either the being of a God or the inspiration of the Bible. And we say it is a marvel, whether regarded as a matter of taste or of judgment, as a matter of taste, or preference, or choice. We are astonished that any man should be willing to disbelieve these great facts. Take atheism. Even if there be no God, still we should suppose that any intelligent being would wish there were one. The simple idea of living in a world, sustained and managed by no almighty and benevolent intelligence, and which the next hour some tremendous brute and blind force might shatter and send back to the old primordial chaos, this very thought is so dreadful that our very instincts recoil from it. Even if atheism were a logical belief, we should expect every man to argue against it-that men of philosophy and science would go abroad through creation, climbing every mountain, traversing every desert, sounding every ocean, descending into all the spectral caverns of geology, ascending all the sublime heights of astronomy, questioning all phenomena, or forces, or forms of nature, in the intensest agony of a desire to find evidences for a God, crying in the words and accents of a child searching for an absent father, “O tell me, tell me! have you not seen Him? have you not heard Him? In all these broad realms is there no print of His footsteps? no trace of His handiwork? Am I, indeed, a poor, wretched, forlorn orphan? O tell me, tell me! is there not a God?” Now, I repeat it, all this is simply marvellous. It is marvellous that a man should choose rather to be a creature of chance than child of Jehovah; and more marvellous that he should take testimony rather of pulsating spawn than of soaring seraphim, and choose rather to follow a reptile’s trail in the mire to God’s awful grave, than mount exultingly in the glorious track of an archangel to God’s everlasting throne.

II. That practical unbelief which consists in a personal rejection of the gospel of Christ, as manifest in the man who, believing in God, and accepting the Bible as His inspired Word, yet goes on, from day to day, putting his eternity away from him as carelessly-yea, as resolutely as if he stood boldly forth with the infidel, professing to believe that God is but a phantom, and the Bible a lie. We say the attitude of this man is even more wonderful than the other. We are less astonished at an intellectual mistake than at a great practical blunder. We are not so profoundly shocked when a blind man walks off a precipice as when a man does the thing when possessed of all his senses, and with his eyes wide open. To believe that in this world of probation we are positively working out our own salvation, absolutely settling the question whether we are to be saved or whether we are to be lost; that there is a heaven of inconceivable and everlasting happiness and glory, and yet turn madly away when its gates are lifted up to our immortal footsteps-is to make exhibition of a folly immeasurable, and all the angels of heaven must stand astonished at the spectacle, and the omniscient Son of God “marvels at our unbelief.” (C. Wadsworth, D. D.)

Jesus wondering at man’s unbelief

I. Who marvelled? The Son of God. He did not marvel amiss.

II. At whom did He marvel? At the men of Galilee. He had been brought up among them.

III. At what did He marvel? Why, at their unbelief.

1. Because it was so unreasonable. He had done everything to prevent it.

2. It was so unkind. He had yearned over them.

3. It was so sinful.

4. It was so unprofitable.

5. It was so dangerous.

6. It was so wilful.

1. Sinner, Jesus marvels at your unbelief.

2. Anxious soul, Jesus marvels at your unbelief.

3. Backslider, Jesus marvels at your unbelief.

4. Believer, Jesus marvels at your unbelief. (H. Bonar, D. D.)

The sad wonder

I. To the people of God.

1. The wonderful forms of unbelief that are found among the professed people of God.

(a) At times they doubt the wisdom of providence.

(b) Mistrust of the Divine faithfulness.

(c) The efficacy of prayer is doubted.

(d) The power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

(e) The efficacy of the precious blood of Christ.

2. Why they are so wonderful.

(a) Because of believers relationship to the Father and the Lord Jesus.

(b) Because faith is backed up by such wonderful historical facts.

(c) The personal experience of the present.

(d) It is wonderful when we consider our own beliefs.

II. To the unconverted.

1. You have no saving trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

2. Some are afraid theirs is an exceptional case.

3. Such unbelief is marvellous because-

(a) The cause is inexcusable.

(b) With some of you it is little more than a mere whim.

(c) It causes you so much grief,

(d) It has existed so long. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Marvellous unbelief

Unbelief, as regards Jesus Christ, is surprising because of-

I. Man’s proneness to exercise faith.

II. The number and power of the evidences which encourage faith in him. The people whose unbelief amazed Jesus had many and weighty reasons for faith.

1. His holy life.

2. His wise teaching (verse 2; Luke 4:22).

3. His mighty works (verse 2).

4. The agreement of these things with the Messianic predictions (Luke 4:18-21).

III. The dread consequences of such unbelief. By unbelief man-

1. Foregoes the most precious blessings.

2. Incurs the most terrible condemnation (John 3:16-19; John 8:24). (W. Joules.)

Unbelief

I. Unbelief restrains Christ. His beneficence was restrained by the lack of faith. While Jesus never defined faith, He did not demand great faith before He blessed men, but responded to the weakest. But the absence of faith restrained Him. The reason of this. Sceptics sometimes object that Christ’s miracles were a matter of faith … There was no real cure … They use the word faith as if synonymous with imagination, excitement, etc. But a lame man cannot possibly imagine himself able to walk, etc. It is not the faith of a frenzied, heated imagination, but the faith that gave up to Christ to do as He pleased, etc. This was essential. Is often illustrated in common life. You cannot know the skill of your physician until you trust him. You cannot know the full benefit of friendship until you trust your friend. A regiment cannot prove the military skill and courage of their captain until they trust him.

II. Unbelief astonishes Christ. He has shown His power in manifold ways. He has promised His grace and strength, and He is astonished that we still refuse to trust Him. The argument for trusting Christ gathers strength every day. The reproach of unbelief gathers strength every day. (Colmer B. Symes, B. A.)

Unbelief

I. The evil of unbelief.

1. Unbelief undervalues all the perfections of Deity.

2. Unbelief insults all the persons of the Godhead.

3. Unbelief renders the all-important work of salvation impossible.

II. The causes of unbelief.

1. There is the natural depravity of the heart (Hebrews 3:12).

2. There is ignorance, or blindness, of mind.

3. There is love of sin.

4. There is satanic influence (2 Corinthians 4:14).

5. There is the pride of human nature.

III. The effects of unbelief.

1. It keeps us in a state of condemnation before God.

2. It renders useless all the provisions of the gospel.

3. It is a sin for which there can be no remedy.

4. It is a sin peculiar to those favoured with the light of the gospel.

5. A sin which, if not abandoned, must consign to eternal remediless perdition.

1. Your responsibility. God calls upon you to believe.

2. However feeble faith is, if exercised, it shall be increased.

3. Let it be exercised now. “The word is nigh thee,” etc. (Romans 10:8-17). (J. Burns, LL. D.)

The sin of unbelief

There are three general forms of unbelief.

1. That of scepticism, either doubting or rejecting the truths of religion and morals in general, or the Divine origin and authority of the Bible in particular.

2. Want of faith and confidence in God, in His promises and providence, which may and often does co-exist with a speculative belief of the Scriptures.

3. The rejection or failure to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as He is revealed and offered in the Bible. These several forms of unbelief, although they have their common source in an evil heart, have, nevertheless, their specific causes and their peculiar form of guilt.

I. Scepticism. This arises-

1. From pride of intellect; assuming to know what is beyond our reach, and refusing to receive what we cannot understand; setting ourselves up as capable of discerning and proving all truth.

2. From the neglect of our moral nature and giving up ourselves to the guidance of the speculative reason.

3. From the enmity of the heart to the things of God; or opposition in our tastes, feelings, desires, and purposes, to the truths and requirements of the things of religion.

4. From frivolous vanity, or the desire to be thought independent, or upon a par with the illuminate. The sinfulness of this form of unbelief is manifest.

II. Unbelief, or want of confidence in the doctrines, the promises, and providences of God. This may exist in even the hearts of believers. It is a matter of degree. It arises either-

1. From the entire absence, or from the low state, of religious life.

2. Or from the habit of looking at ourselves, and on difficulties about, us rather than at God.

3. Or from refusing to believe what we do not see.

If God does not manifest His care, does not at once fulfil His promise, then our faith fails. The sinfulness of this state of mind is apparent.

1. Because it evinces a low state of Divine life.

2. Because it dishonours God, refusing to Him the confidence due to an earthly friend and parent, which is a very heinous offence, considering His greatness and goodness, and the evidences which He has given of His fidelity and trustworthiness.

3. Because it is a manifestation of the same spirit which dominates in the open infidel. It is unbelief in a form which it assumes in a mind in which it has not absolute control. But it is in all its manifestations hateful to God.

III. Unbelief in reference to Christ. This is a refusing to recognize and receive Him as being what He claims to be.

1. As God manifest in the flesh.

2. As the messenger and teacher sent from God.

3. As our atoning sacrifice and priest.

4. As having rightfully absolute proprietorship in us and authority over us.

This is the greatest of sins. It is the condemning sin. Its heinousness consists-

1. In its opposition to the clearest light. He who cannot see the sun must be stone blind.

2. It is the rejection of the clearest external evidence which evinces the opposition of the heart.

3. It is the rejection of infinite love, and the disregard of the greatest obligation.

4. It is the deliberate preference of the kingdom of Satan before that of Christ-of Belial to Christ. (C. Hodge, D. D.)


Verses 7-13

Verses 7-18

Mark 6:7-18

And He called unto Him the Twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two.

The first mission of the twelve

Christ sends them forth.

I. Orderly.

1. As to the persons evangelized. To the Jew first. To have disregarded that, would have excited most bitterly the jealousy of His countrymen, as well as committed the apostles to a work for which they were by no means prepared, because their national antipathies were not yet eradicated.

2. As to the persons engaged in the work of evangelization. Two and two: companionships most desirable arrangement. How important then was this pairing off, enabling them to hold sweet converse together, and strengthen and correct one another when necessary.

II. The mission was in a sense self supporting. They were to go forth in simple dependence upon their Master, and He would put it into men’s hearts to supply their wants. The work on which they were now sent demanded the total surrender of all their energy and will for Christ’s cause.

III. It was fraught with serious consequences. Those to whom they addressed the gospel message would reject it at their own peril; and the guilt of impenitence would be proportioned to the force with which the truth was revealed. (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)

The mission of the Twelve

I. Consider by what this mission was preceded.

1. By a return to Nazareth where His life was once threatened. (a) This shows Christ’s readiness to forgive and to do good to His enemies.

2. By graciously seeking to win back His fellow townsmen.

3. By another scornful rejection of Himself and His message.

II. The occasion and purpose of this mission.

1. The occasion (see Matthew 9:36-38).

2. The purpose.

(a) To preach.

(b) To heal the sick.

(c) To cleanse the lepers.

(d) To raise the dead.

III. The conditions under which they were to go forth.

1. They must go forth without taking anything for their journey.

2. If rejected in one city, they must proceed to the next. “They might flee from danger, but not from duty” (Matthew Henry)
.

3. They must refrain from all resentments and retaliations.

4. The full assurance of their Lord’s assistance in every trouble. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)

Apostolic labours and their reception

I. Christ’s ministers receive from Him power for their appointed work.

II. When called to high service, they need not care for common wants.

III. The rejection of the greatest good leads to the greatest ill. (J. H. Godwin.)

Preparations for preaching

Mark significantly says, “Then Jesus began to send them forth:” forever since that day He has been giving similar work, and qualifying similar representatives.

I. To go forth from the presence of Jesus.

II. To be willing to work together.

III. To be content with the use of moral influence. Men are to be urged, not forced.

IV. To exercise self-denial and cheerful trust in God. (A. Rowland, LL. B.)

The apostolic commission

The grandest commission ever entrusted to man. Consider-

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, difficulty, death.

2. In poverty. Thus was it shown that their power and influence with men was not of earth.

3. In danger. Those whom they went to bless would turn against and persecute them.

4. Yet in safety. God watching over and protecting them. And even if the body is slain, the soul will be safe, and the confessor of Christ will be owned by Him before the Father.

II. Its trust or, the terms of the commission. How grand, how honourable, how precious to the world-the world of ignorant, suffering, sinful men! 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.

III. Its limitation. Only to the Jews, at present. The children must first be filled.

IV. Its success. (R. Green.)

Missionaries

I. Missionaries must not be, as a rule, solitary men. For counsel, defence, cheerfulness, “two are better than one.”

II. Missionaries must be, as a rule, frugal men. No luxuries; bare necessaries. Like the soldier on the march, or the exploring traveller.

III. Missionaries must not be, as a rule, sedentary men. Sound the trumpet blast, and then on again.

IV. Missionaries must, as a rule, act directly upon the conscience of men. The missionary’s work is to break up the fallow ground. (E. Johnson, M. A.)

Companionship

The solitary soul on a new enterprise is apt to lose heart, and not half perform his part. With no counsellor, sympathizer, helper, he goes uncertainly. Jesus would give His ambassadors all advantage of fraternal support, that in this “apprenticeship,” as one terms it, they might not falter. The confirming word, too, is of might when the message is novel. The apostles afterward went thus in pairs. St. Paul’s strongest expression of regret was that, on any part of his journey, he must be left alone. Livingstone, in the depths of the African continent, longed for the society and cheer of her who laid down her life on the way thither; and, as the end drew near, he leaned harder on the Lord, for no hand but God’s could smooth the troubled brow on which the death-damps gathered, as the noble man, kneeling at his bedside in prayer, bade farewell to earth. (De W. S. Clark.)

Incumbrances to be abandoned

Armies most amply furnished with stores and comforts are most inefficient. The Zulu hordes, with but spear and shield, held long at bay the well-provisioned and disciplined troops of England. Baggage is well termed “impedimenta.” It checks, by just so much, the quickness, and fosters, by hardness. The soul heavily freighted with the luxuries and appliances of this life is at a disadvantage for the sudden movements and missions on which the great Captain would send it. (De W. S. Clark.)

“No money:”

Literally, no copper, for that is the metal that is got from the bowels of the earth. Brass is an artificial alloy, having in it a mixture of tin with the copper, and was unknown, as is supposed, to the Hebrews. The word is not used by the evangelist to denote any particular copper coin, but simply, though representatively, copper money in general. The underlying idea is money in general. Not even coppers would be needed, not to speak of silver and gold. (J. Morison, D. D.)

Mutual help

Why did Jesus send the apostles forth “by two and two?” The answer is, in order that they might be helpmeets for each other. A father was walking one day in the fields with his two children. The wind was blowing over a fine field of ripe corn, and making the beautiful golden ears wave like the waves of the sea. “Is it not surprising,” said one of the children, “that the wind does not break the slender stalks of the corn? My child,” said the father, “see how flexible the stalks are! They bend before the wind and rise again when the wind has passed over them. See, too, how they help to support each other. A single stalk would be soon bent to the ground, but so many growing close together help to keep each other up. If we keep together when the troubles of life come upon us like a stormy wind, we shall keep each other up, when one trying to stand alone would fall.”


Verses 14-29

Mark 6:14-29

And king Herod heard of Him; (for His name was spread abroad:) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead.

The sovereign power of conscience

I. Now we are to begin with simply considering Herod as acted on by conscience: for it is evident that nothing but the workings of a mind ill at ease would have led him to conjecture that Jesus was the Baptist. Conscience was continually plying Herod with the truth, that a record had been made of his crime by a Being who would not suffer it to pass unavenged, but who, sooner or later, would let loose His judgments. In the midst of his revelry, in the midst of his pomp, there was a boding form flitting to and fro, and no menace could compel it to depart, and no enchantment wile it from the scene. It came in the silence of the midnight, and it came in the bustle of the noon; it mingled with the crowd in the city, and it penetrated the solitude of the chamber. And thus was Herod a witness to himself that this world is under the rule of a supreme moral Governor. And there is this peculiarity in the evidence of conscience, that it is independent of observation, it is independent on deduction: it asks no investigation, it appeals to no logic. A man may take great pains to stifle conscience, so that its voice may be drowned in the storm and in the mutiny of his passions; but this is after its testimony has been given. He could do nothing to prevent the testimony being given. He must receive the testimony, for it in given at once in the chambers of his soul, unlike every other which has to knock at the door, and to which if he will the man may refuse audience. Herod might have met argument, proof by proof, had it depended upon the result of a controversy whether he was to admit the existence of a Being who takes cognizance of actions, and that too for the very purpose of awarding them their just retribution; but he could do nothing with reference to conscience. Conscience left no place for subtleties: conscience allowed no room for evasions. Conscience was judgment already begun; and what had the most ingenious debater to say against that? And if there be one of you in this crowded gathering, who is pursued by the remembrance of his sin, and cannot free himself from dread of its punishment, he is precisely such a witness as was Herod to the retributive government beneath which the world lies. He may be a deist; it matters not; he wants no external revelation to certify him that there is a God who will take vengeance: the revelation is within him, and he cannot disguise it if he would. He may be an atheist-or rather let me say he may call himself an atheist; he may tell me that he sees no foot prints of the Deity in the magnificent spreadings of creation, he may tell me that he hears no voice of the Deity, either in the melodies or the tempests of nature: it matters not; the foot prints are in his own soul, the voice rings in his own breast. A being with a conscience is a being with sufficient witness of a God.

II. To consider him as driven in his distress to acknowledge a truth which he had banished from his creed. Conscience is not to be stifled with bad logic.

III. There is yet one more point of view, under which we propose to regard Herod; he had what might have passed as a specious apology for his conduct, but nevertheless he was unable (it appears) to quiet his anxieties. No doubt Herod pleaded the oath in excuse for the murder, and endeavoured to extenuate his crime to himself by representing it as forced upon him by a combination of circumstances. Our wits are never so sharp, as when our vices are to be excused. But learn ye from the instance of Herod, that all the wretched sophistry, in whose meshes ye thus entangle conscience, will break away, as a thread of tow when it touches the fire, as soon as ye shall find yourselves within the view of death and judgment. God allows no apology for sin; He can forgive it, He can forget it, He can blot it out as a cloud, and bury it in the depths of the sea, but He will take no excuse for it. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

John and Herod

There are some men who would rather be without a head than without a conscience; John was one of this kind.

I. A self-revelation. The text with a single stroke lays open before us the mind of Herod. Deeper than mere speculation, below all the apathy of worldliness, there exists in man some conviction of spiritual reality and of moral obligation. The awe of Christ’s marvellous works awoke the solemnities of even that debased nature. Deep called unto deep. The vibration of miraculous power brought up the secret shapes of conscience, as it is said the vibration of cannon will bring drowned men to the surface of the water. Now, this spiritual substance, in which man differs widely from all other creatures, and in which all men are most alike, is both a point of recovery and a ground of condemnation. I say, in the first place, this is a point of recovery. In the worst man-though his nature, like Herod’s, be enslaved to passion, though his hand, like Herod’s, be stained with blood,-there is this profound relation to spiritual things. In some way they are acknowledged. And, however vile the man may be, it is a sign of hope and a point of recovery. But this spiritual consciousness is also a ground of condemnation. Responsibilities are in proportion to capabilities. In the reckoning for talents used, we rate as a decisive element the amount of talents possessed. The depth of a man’s fall must be measured by the dignity of his original position. Let no man delude himself, by any manner of sophistry, with the notion that the evil of his guilt ends with the guilty act, or that the wrong which he has done lies buried in his memory as in a grave. It may lie as in a grave; but there will be trumpet blasts of resurrection, when conscience calls, and memory gives up its dead. “Confessions of faith,” so called, may be sincere, or they may be heartless and formal. Yet the most genuine confessions of faith are not expressed in any creed or catechism, but in utterances of the moment, that come right out of the heart. So Herod made his confession of faith. So might any man be startled by his own self-revelation.

II. But the text also suggests a point of contrast. The contrast is between Herod, and John whom he beheaded. Here are two different types of men,-a type of worldliness, and a type of moral heroism. Two different types of men; and yet let it not be considered a mere play upon words, when I say not two types of different men. Beneath all external and all moral contrasts lay the same essential humanity. The self-willed and voluptuous king was forced to acknowledge the same spiritual realities as those in reference to which John so steadfastly acted. But starting from this common root, see how unlike these two men were in the branching of their lives. Herod illustrates the sensuality of the world, the imperious domination of appetite and passion. He treated the world ass mere garden for the senses. But there appears in Herod another phase of worldliness,-the phase of policy. I do not mean wise policy, but policy divorced from principle. Herod had no honest independence: he vacillated with the wind. Now, I suppose there are a great many such men in our day,-men who, on the whole, are disposed to honour truth, to eulogize it, even to put it foremost, if just as well for themselves. But they would imprison it, behead it, and send the desecrated head around in a charger, if they could gain votes or get pleasure by doing so. Moreover, Herod was obedient to a false code of honour. “For his oath’s sake, and for the sake of them that sat with him,” he commanded that John should be beheaded. All men, however faithful and earnest they may be, are not cast in the mould of John the Baptist, or tempered to such a quality. But such a soul crying out in the world does the world good. It is refreshing to see the moral heroism of John set sharp against the worldliness of Herod. But, in closing, let us consider the fruit and consummation of these two lives thus brought in contrast. The world’s power triumphant. O sad type of many a defeat of many a fallen cause! Such, then, is the upshot of these two lives,-Herod victorious in his wickedness; John in his moral loyalty defeated and slain. But we do not, we cannot, say this. We form a different estimate than this of John and Herod. Even in the conditions of this world and of time, we hear the tetrarch crying out, “It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead!” We see him driven into exile, and dying an inglorious death. We see, too, the Baptist, in the processes of his truth, going abroad throughout the earth in “the spirit and power of Elias.” So, in other instances, we are to judge not by the transient event, or the aspect of the hour, but by the prevailing influence, the product that abides. Truth conquers in the long run, and right vindicates itself against the wrong, as “John risen from the dead.” (E. H. Chapin.)

On the character of Herod Antipas

I. Contemplate in the conduct of Herod and of his queen the natural progress of depravity. Look primarily to Herodias.

II. Let me add some observations, applicable to your own conduct, which are suggested by the history before us.

1. In the first place, allow not yourself to be entrapped into sin by the solicitations and importunities of others, not even of your friends and your nearest relations, should you be unhappy enough to perceive tempters among them.

2. That one sin naturally leads to another: that, if you indulge in small offences, you will be carried headlong into greater. You have drawn up the floodgates: and who shall pronounce where |he torrent shall be stayed? How frequently doth a similar progress occur. In the humbler ranks of life you see a man beginning to be idle, and to neglect his business. This evil habit grows upon him. His time soon hangs heavily upon his hands: and he fills it up at the public house; at first going thither sparingly, but ere long to be found there almost every day. Now drunkenness is added to idleness. These two sins speedily make him poor: and he resorts to dishonest means of gaining money: till justice overtakes him, and he finishes his days in exile or on the gallows. The criminal of high life, in the meantime, pursues a kindred career, but in a wider and a more splendid circle. He commences with fashionable extravagance. He grows hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. Make your stand through Divine grace against the beginnings of sin: for you know not what will be the end thereof.

3. Contemplate the inconsistency, the weakness and the corruption of human nature. Herod withstood for a season the arts and importunities of Herodias. She waited until she found a convenient time; renewed the attempt and succeeded. The great enemy of man is ever on the watch to betray you. He is waiting for the hour when you shall no longer be on your guard; or when you shall have grieved by a recent offence the Spirit of God; or when a concurrence of ensnaring circumstances shall heighten the allurements of sin. The birthday of Herod shall arrive. Thy heart shall be opened to enticement. The year shall not revolve without bringing the convenient time. Mirth shall render thee thoughtless: or sorrow shall bow thee to despondence. Pride shall inflate thee with confidence: or sloth shall indispose thee to exertion. Then shall the temptation present itself afresh: perhaps in its original garb; or, if need be, in colours more attractive.

4. That nothing short of a settled determination to labour to avoid all sin, joined with constant application to God, through Christ, for the influence of His sanctifying Spirit, can authorize you to hope that you will preserve for a single hour a conscience void of offence. (T. Gisborne, M. A.)

Herod’s conjectures

The young woman retires to consult her mother. In her absence behold Herod amusing himself with conjectures concerning the nature of the recompense which she will prefer. “Will she demand a jewelled robe? A sumptuous palace? The revenues of a city? The government of a province?” He knows not what is passing in the mind of Herodias. He knows not that vanity and pride and avarice and ambition have retired, and have relinquished the whole heart to revenge. His speculations are interrupted by the entrance of her daughter. Mirth and curiosity sparkle in her eyes. She advances straightway with haste. All is silent. She requires the head of John the Baptist. (T. Gisborne, M. A.)

John Baptist and Herod

I. The best people often experience a hard fate. No garland of roses for the followers of Him Who wore the crown of thorns. Do not suppose from this that God is indifferent to goodness. He is with His people when they are in affliction, even more than at other times. The loss of material comfort is made up to them by a richer spiritual gain.

II. Bad ken have good feelings and purposes. The spiritual nature may be repressed and brought into bondage by sin, but it cannot be destroyed. Conscience and memory make themselves felt.

III. An irresolute mind in respect to good is the cause of great mischief. Herod was but the tool of Herodias. Although he did not originate the murder of John, he executed it. Without him it might not be done.

IV. The danger of dalliance with sin. Herod gladly listened to John, but would not obey him. Had he heeded the faithful prophet and put away Herodias, he might never have had the sin of murder to answer for. No safety in partial courses. We must not only hear, but heed the warning voice.

V. The haunting alarms of guilt. A Sadducee conjuring up a ghost-what a contradiction! No safeguard can protect a wicked man from the most absurd, but to him terrible, alarms. They spring up to poison his enjoyment in unexpected hours. Never again would Herod enjoy “a happy birthday.” There is no misery more exquisite than that proceeding from an evil conscience. Think of it when proceeding to sin. This sin does not sink into oblivion, and nothing come of it. Committed, it becomes a pursuing vengeance. It assumes a dreadful voice and takes to itself feet, and, like a bloodhound, follows the evil-doer, baying frightfully on his track. (A. H. Currier.)

Results of Herod’s sin

The issues of the act are not all seen immediately. But it is worth noting them.

1. There is the terror that seizes him. Haunted with feeling that he is not done with the prophet yet.

2. He gains nothing by the murder, for no sooner is John slain than Jesus rises ominously on his horizon.

3. He seals in death the only lips that could teach him the way of mercy.

4. All his improvement at once evaporates, and he lives to mock the Saviour (Luke 23:11).

5. The woman whom he gratified at such a cost became his ruin. Her ambition moved her to long for a higher title for Herod than that of tetrarch. Against his own judgment Herod permitted himself to be overborne, and going to Rome to ask for higher honour he found himself accused before Caligula. They were banished to Gaul, and died in obscurity and dishonour. (R. Clover.)

Herod-a startled conscience

I. You have here the voice of a startled conscience. We all of us do evil things that it is not hard for us to seem to forget, and with regard to which it is not hard for us to bribe or silence memory and conscience. The hurry and bustle of daily life, the very weakness of our characters, the rush of sensuous delights, may make us blind and deaf to the voice of conscience; and we think all chance of the evil deed rising again to harm us is past. But some trifle touches the hidden spring by mere accident; as in the old story of the man groping along a wall, till his finger happened to fall upon one inch of it, and immediately the hidden door flies open, and there is the skeleton. An apparently trivial circumstance, like some hooked pole pushed at random into the sea, may bring up by the locks some pale and drowned memory long plunged in an ocean of oblivion.

II. Here is an example of a conscience awakened to the unseen world. Theoretical disbelief in a future life and spiritual existence is closely allied to superstition. So strong is the bond that unites men with the unseen world, that, if they do not link themselves with that world in the legitimate and true fashion, it is almost certain to avenge itself upon them by leading them to all manner of low and abject superstitions. Spiritualism is the disease of a generation that does not believe in another life.

III. An illustration of a conscience which, partially stirred, soon went finally to sleep again. Do not tamper with a partially awakened conscience; do not rest until it is quieted in the legitimate way. It is possible so to lull the conscience into indifference, that appeals, threatenings, pleadings, mercies, the words of men and the gospel of God, may all run off as from a waterproof, leaving it dry and hard. The convictions of conscience which you have not followed out, like the ruins of a bastion shattered by shell, protect your remaining fortifications against the impact of God’s truth. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Conscience removes illusions

When the evil deed was done, Herod scarcely felt as if he did it. There was his plighted oath, there was Herodias’ pressure, there was the excitement of the moment. He seemed forced to do it, and scarcely responsible for doing it. And no doubt, if he ever thought about it after, he shuffled off a large percentage of the responsibility of the guilt upon the shoulders of the others. But when, “in the silent sessions of things past,” the image and remembrance of the deed comes up to him, all the helpers and tempters have disappeared, and “it is John whom I beheaded.” There is an emphasis in the Greek upon the “I”; “whom I beheaded.” “Herodias tempted me! Herodias’ daughter titillated my lust; I fancied that my oath bound me; I could not help doing what would please those who sat at the table. I said all that before I did it. But now, when it is done, they have all disappeared, every one of them to his quarter; and I and the ugly thing are left there together alone. It was I who did it, and nobody besides.” And the blackness of the crime presents itself to the startled conscience as it did not in the doing. There are many euphemisms and soft words in which, as in cotton wool, we wrap our evil deeds, and so deceive ourselves as to their hardness and their edge; but when conscience gets hold of them, and they pass out of the realm of fact into the mystical region of remembrance, all the wrap pages and all the apologies and all the soft phrases drop away; and the ugliest, briefest, plainest word is the one by which my conscience describes my own evil. I beheaded him! I, and none else, was the murderer. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The storehouse of memory

Take care of the storehouses of memory and of conscience, and mind what kind of things you lay up there. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Conscience

I. The facts of conscience.

1. We have a discernment of the difference between right and wrong.

2. We approve of the one and we disapprove of the other, as of good and bad laws.

3. We condemn ourselves for what conscience disapproves in our states and acts.

4. We are impelled by conscience to do what is right, and deterred by it from what is wrong.

II. Of this mysterious power the obvious characteristics are-

1. That it is independent of the understanding and will.

2. It is authoritative.

3. It does not speak in its own name. The authority which it exercises is not its own.

4. It is avenging. Remorse is a state produced by conscience.

III. Our duty in regard to conscience.

1. To enlighten it.

2. To obey it.

3. Not only to obey it in particular cases, but to have a fixed and governing purpose to permit it to rule.

The ground of this obligation to obey conscience is-

1. The authority of God in whose name it, speaks.

2. Respect for our own dignity as rational and moral beings. (C. Hedge, D. D.)

The cause and manner of the Baptist’s death

I. An example of the length to which ungodly men will go in the way of religion. Herod feared and honoured John. He heard him preach-gladly. Let no one be too hasty in concluding that he is religious.

II. An example of ministerial faithfulness.

III. An illustration of the certainty and the reason of persecution. The certainty-the reproof. The reason-pride, interest, conscience. The favour of worldly men worthless.

IV. We have exemplified the two-fold aspect of the world-to its own, to the Church. The festival for the one-the dungeon for the other. The world in miniature.

V. A sample of the world’s highest pleasures. Masked pride, vanity, envy. Masked misery.

VI. An instance of an abandoned parent sacrificing her child.

VII. An instance of mingled hypocrisy and cowardice. Herod’s oath, cowardice-through fear. (Expository Discourses.)

Remembrance of past sin

Henry of Essex, struck down in a duel, attributed his defeat to the imagined appearance of a knight whom he had murdered, standing by the side of his adversary. Speaking of the man who planned the massacre of Glencoe, Macaulay tells us that Breadalbane felt the stings of conscience. He went to the most fashionable coffee house in Edinburgh, and talked loudly about what he had done among the mountains; but some of his soldiers observed that all this was put on. He was not the same man that he had been before. In all places, at all hours, working or sleeping, Glencoe was forever before him.


Verses 14-29

Mark 6:14-29

And king Herod heard of Him; (for His name was spread abroad:) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead.

The sovereign power of conscience

I. Now we are to begin with simply considering Herod as acted on by conscience: for it is evident that nothing but the workings of a mind ill at ease would have led him to conjecture that Jesus was the Baptist. Conscience was continually plying Herod with the truth, that a record had been made of his crime by a Being who would not suffer it to pass unavenged, but who, sooner or later, would let loose His judgments. In the midst of his revelry, in the midst of his pomp, there was a boding form flitting to and fro, and no menace could compel it to depart, and no enchantment wile it from the scene. It came in the silence of the midnight, and it came in the bustle of the noon; it mingled with the crowd in the city, and it penetrated the solitude of the chamber. And thus was Herod a witness to himself that this world is under the rule of a supreme moral Governor. And there is this peculiarity in the evidence of conscience, that it is independent of observation, it is independent on deduction: it asks no investigation, it appeals to no logic. A man may take great pains to stifle conscience, so that its voice may be drowned in the storm and in the mutiny of his passions; but this is after its testimony has been given. He could do nothing to prevent the testimony being given. He must receive the testimony, for it in given at once in the chambers of his soul, unlike every other which has to knock at the door, and to which if he will the man may refuse audience. Herod might have met argument, proof by proof, had it depended upon the result of a controversy whether he was to admit the existence of a Being who takes cognizance of actions, and that too for the very purpose of awarding them their just retribution; but he could do nothing with reference to conscience. Conscience left no place for subtleties: conscience allowed no room for evasions. Conscience was judgment already begun; and what had the most ingenious debater to say against that? And if there be one of you in this crowded gathering, who is pursued by the remembrance of his sin, and cannot free himself from dread of its punishment, he is precisely such a witness as was Herod to the retributive government beneath which the world lies. He may be a deist; it matters not; he wants no external revelation to certify him that there is a God who will take vengeance: the revelation is within him, and he cannot disguise it if he would. He may be an atheist-or rather let me say he may call himself an atheist; he may tell me that he sees no foot prints of the Deity in the magnificent spreadings of creation, he may tell me that he hears no voice of the Deity, either in the melodies or the tempests of nature: it matters not; the foot prints are in his own soul, the voice rings in his own breast. A being with a conscience is a being with sufficient witness of a God.

II. To consider him as driven in his distress to acknowledge a truth which he had banished from his creed. Conscience is not to be stifled with bad logic.

III. There is yet one more point of view, under which we propose to regard Herod; he had what might have passed as a specious apology for his conduct, but nevertheless he was unable (it appears) to quiet his anxieties. No doubt Herod pleaded the oath in excuse for the murder, and endeavoured to extenuate his crime to himself by representing it as forced upon him by a combination of circumstances. Our wits are never so sharp, as when our vices are to be excused. But learn ye from the instance of Herod, that all the wretched sophistry, in whose meshes ye thus entangle conscience, will break away, as a thread of tow when it touches the fire, as soon as ye shall find yourselves within the view of death and judgment. God allows no apology for sin; He can forgive it, He can forget it, He can blot it out as a cloud, and bury it in the depths of the sea, but He will take no excuse for it. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

John and Herod

There are some men who would rather be without a head than without a conscience; John was one of this kind.

I. A self-revelation. The text with a single stroke lays open before us the mind of Herod. Deeper than mere speculation, below all the apathy of worldliness, there exists in man some conviction of spiritual reality and of moral obligation. The awe of Christ’s marvellous works awoke the solemnities of even that debased nature. Deep called unto deep. The vibration of miraculous power brought up the secret shapes of conscience, as it is said the vibration of cannon will bring drowned men to the surface of the water. Now, this spiritual substance, in which man differs widely from all other creatures, and in which all men are most alike, is both a point of recovery and a ground of condemnation. I say, in the first place, this is a point of recovery. In the worst man-though his nature, like Herod’s, be enslaved to passion, though his hand, like Herod’s, be stained with blood,-there is this profound relation to spiritual things. In some way they are acknowledged. And, however vile the man may be, it is a sign of hope and a point of recovery. But this spiritual consciousness is also a ground of condemnation. Responsibilities are in proportion to capabilities. In the reckoning for talents used, we rate as a decisive element the amount of talents possessed. The depth of a man’s fall must be measured by the dignity of his original position. Let no man delude himself, by any manner of sophistry, with the notion that the evil of his guilt ends with the guilty act, or that the wrong which he has done lies buried in his memory as in a grave. It may lie as in a grave; but there will be trumpet blasts of resurrection, when conscience calls, and memory gives up its dead. “Confessions of faith,” so called, may be sincere, or they may be heartless and formal. Yet the most genuine confessions of faith are not expressed in any creed or catechism, but in utterances of the moment, that come right out of the heart. So Herod made his confession of faith. So might any man be startled by his own self-revelation.

II. But the text also suggests a point of contrast. The contrast is between Herod, and John whom he beheaded. Here are two different types of men,-a type of worldliness, and a type of moral heroism. Two different types of men; and yet let it not be considered a mere play upon words, when I say not two types of different men. Beneath all external and all moral contrasts lay the same essential humanity. The self-willed and voluptuous king was forced to acknowledge the same spiritual realities as those in reference to which John so steadfastly acted. But starting from this common root, see how unlike these two men were in the branching of their lives. Herod illustrates the sensuality of the world, the imperious domination of appetite and passion. He treated the world ass mere garden for the senses. But there appears in Herod another phase of worldliness,-the phase of policy. I do not mean wise policy, but policy divorced from principle. Herod had no honest independence: he vacillated with the wind. Now, I suppose there are a great many such men in our day,-men who, on the whole, are disposed to honour truth, to eulogize it, even to put it foremost, if just as well for themselves. But they would imprison it, behead it, and send the desecrated head around in a charger, if they could gain votes or get pleasure by doing so. Moreover, Herod was obedient to a false code of honour. “For his oath’s sake, and for the sake of them that sat with him,” he commanded that John should be beheaded. All men, however faithful and earnest they may be, are not cast in the mould of John the Baptist, or tempered to such a quality. But such a soul crying out in the world does the world good. It is refreshing to see the moral heroism of John set sharp against the worldliness of Herod. But, in closing, let us consider the fruit and consummation of these two lives thus brought in contrast. The world’s power triumphant. O sad type of many a defeat of many a fallen cause! Such, then, is the upshot of these two lives,-Herod victorious in his wickedness; John in his moral loyalty defeated and slain. But we do not, we cannot, say this. We form a different estimate than this of John and Herod. Even in the conditions of this world and of time, we hear the tetrarch crying out, “It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead!” We see him driven into exile, and dying an inglorious death. We see, too, the Baptist, in the processes of his truth, going abroad throughout the earth in “the spirit and power of Elias.” So, in other instances, we are to judge not by the transient event, or the aspect of the hour, but by the prevailing influence, the product that abides. Truth conquers in the long run, and right vindicates itself against the wrong, as “John risen from the dead.” (E. H. Chapin.)

On the character of Herod Antipas

I. Contemplate in the conduct of Herod and of his queen the natural progress of depravity. Look primarily to Herodias.

II. Let me add some observations, applicable to your own conduct, which are suggested by the history before us.

1. In the first place, allow not yourself to be entrapped into sin by the solicitations and importunities of others, not even of your friends and your nearest relations, should you be unhappy enough to perceive tempters among them.

2. That one sin naturally leads to another: that, if you indulge in small offences, you will be carried headlong into greater. You have drawn up the floodgates: and who shall pronounce where |he torrent shall be stayed? How frequently doth a similar progress occur. In the humbler ranks of life you see a man beginning to be idle, and to neglect his business. This evil habit grows upon him. His time soon hangs heavily upon his hands: and he fills it up at the public house; at first going thither sparingly, but ere long to be found there almost every day. Now drunkenness is added to idleness. These two sins speedily make him poor: and he resorts to dishonest means of gaining money: till justice overtakes him, and he finishes his days in exile or on the gallows. The criminal of high life, in the meantime, pursues a kindred career, but in a wider and a more splendid circle. He commences with fashionable extravagance. He grows hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. Make your stand through Divine grace against the beginnings of sin: for you know not what will be the end thereof.

3. Contemplate the inconsistency, the weakness and the corruption of human nature. Herod withstood for a season the arts and importunities of Herodias. She waited until she found a convenient time; renewed the attempt and succeeded. The great enemy of man is ever on the watch to betray you. He is waiting for the hour when you shall no longer be on your guard; or when you shall have grieved by a recent offence the Spirit of God; or when a concurrence of ensnaring circumstances shall heighten the allurements of sin. The birthday of Herod shall arrive. Thy heart shall be opened to enticement. The year shall not revolve without bringing the convenient time. Mirth shall render thee thoughtless: or sorrow shall bow thee to despondence. Pride shall inflate thee with confidence: or sloth shall indispose thee to exertion. Then shall the temptation present itself afresh: perhaps in its original garb; or, if need be, in colours more attractive.

4. That nothing short of a settled determination to labour to avoid all sin, joined with constant application to God, through Christ, for the influence of His sanctifying Spirit, can authorize you to hope that you will preserve for a single hour a conscience void of offence. (T. Gisborne, M. A.)

Herod’s conjectures

The young woman retires to consult her mother. In her absence behold Herod amusing himself with conjectures concerning the nature of the recompense which she will prefer. “Will she demand a jewelled robe? A sumptuous palace? The revenues of a city? The government of a province?” He knows not what is passing in the mind of Herodias. He knows not that vanity and pride and avarice and ambition have retired, and have relinquished the whole heart to revenge. His speculations are interrupted by the entrance of her daughter. Mirth and curiosity sparkle in her eyes. She advances straightway with haste. All is silent. She requires the head of John the Baptist. (T. Gisborne, M. A.)

John Baptist and Herod

I. The best people often experience a hard fate. No garland of roses for the followers of Him Who wore the crown of thorns. Do not suppose from this that God is indifferent to goodness. He is with His people when they are in affliction, even more than at other times. The loss of material comfort is made up to them by a richer spiritual gain.

II. Bad ken have good feelings and purposes. The spiritual nature may be repressed and brought into bondage by sin, but it cannot be destroyed. Conscience and memory make themselves felt.

III. An irresolute mind in respect to good is the cause of great mischief. Herod was but the tool of Herodias. Although he did not originate the murder of John, he executed it. Without him it might not be done.

IV. The danger of dalliance with sin. Herod gladly listened to John, but would not obey him. Had he heeded the faithful prophet and put away Herodias, he might never have had the sin of murder to answer for. No safety in partial courses. We must not only hear, but heed the warning voice.

V. The haunting alarms of guilt. A Sadducee conjuring up a ghost-what a contradiction! No safeguard can protect a wicked man from the most absurd, but to him terrible, alarms. They spring up to poison his enjoyment in unexpected hours. Never again would Herod enjoy “a happy birthday.” There is no misery more exquisite than that proceeding from an evil conscience. Think of it when proceeding to sin. This sin does not sink into oblivion, and nothing come of it. Committed, it becomes a pursuing vengeance. It assumes a dreadful voice and takes to itself feet, and, like a bloodhound, follows the evil-doer, baying frightfully on his track. (A. H. Currier.)

Results of Herod’s sin

The issues of the act are not all seen immediately. But it is worth noting them.

1. There is the terror that seizes him. Haunted with feeling that he is not done with the prophet yet.

2. He gains nothing by the murder, for no sooner is John slain than Jesus rises ominously on his horizon.

3. He seals in death the only lips that could teach him the way of mercy.

4. All his improvement at once evaporates, and he lives to mock the Saviour (Luke 23:11).

5. The woman whom he gratified at such a cost became his ruin. Her ambition moved her to long for a higher title for Herod than that of tetrarch. Against his own judgment Herod permitted himself to be overborne, and going to Rome to ask for higher honour he found himself accused before Caligula. They were banished to Gaul, and died in obscurity and dishonour. (R. Clover.)

Herod-a startled conscience

I. You have here the voice of a startled conscience. We all of us do evil things that it is not hard for us to seem to forget, and with regard to which it is not hard for us to bribe or silence memory and conscience. The hurry and bustle of daily life, the very weakness of our characters, the rush of sensuous delights, may make us blind and deaf to the voice of conscience; and we think all chance of the evil deed rising again to harm us is past. But some trifle touches the hidden spring by mere accident; as in the old story of the man groping along a wall, till his finger happened to fall upon one inch of it, and immediately the hidden door flies open, and there is the skeleton. An apparently trivial circumstance, like some hooked pole pushed at random into the sea, may bring up by the locks some pale and drowned memory long plunged in an ocean of oblivion.

II. Here is an example of a conscience awakened to the unseen world. Theoretical disbelief in a future life and spiritual existence is closely allied to superstition. So strong is the bond that unites men with the unseen world, that, if they do not link themselves with that world in the legitimate and true fashion, it is almost certain to avenge itself upon them by leading them to all manner of low and abject superstitions. Spiritualism is the disease of a generation that does not believe in another life.

III. An illustration of a conscience which, partially stirred, soon went finally to sleep again. Do not tamper with a partially awakened conscience; do not rest until it is quieted in the legitimate way. It is possible so to lull the conscience into indifference, that appeals, threatenings, pleadings, mercies, the words of men and the gospel of God, may all run off as from a waterproof, leaving it dry and hard. The convictions of conscience which you have not followed out, like the ruins of a bastion shattered by shell, protect your remaining fortifications against the impact of God’s truth. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Conscience removes illusions

When the evil deed was done, Herod scarcely felt as if he did it. There was his plighted oath, there was Herodias’ pressure, there was the excitement of the moment. He seemed forced to do it, and scarcely responsible for doing it. And no doubt, if he ever thought about it after, he shuffled off a large percentage of the responsibility of the guilt upon the shoulders of the others. But when, “in the silent sessions of things past,” the image and remembrance of the deed comes up to him, all the helpers and tempters have disappeared, and “it is John whom I beheaded.” There is an emphasis in the Greek upon the “I”; “whom I beheaded.” “Herodias tempted me! Herodias’ daughter titillated my lust; I fancied that my oath bound me; I could not help doing what would please those who sat at the table. I said all that before I did it. But now, when it is done, they have all disappeared, every one of them to his quarter; and I and the ugly thing are left there together alone. It was I who did it, and nobody besides.” And the blackness of the crime presents itself to the startled conscience as it did not in the doing. There are many euphemisms and soft words in which, as in cotton wool, we wrap our evil deeds, and so deceive ourselves as to their hardness and their edge; but when conscience gets hold of them, and they pass out of the realm of fact into the mystical region of remembrance, all the wrap pages and all the apologies and all the soft phrases drop away; and the ugliest, briefest, plainest word is the one by which my conscience describes my own evil. I beheaded him! I, and none else, was the murderer. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The storehouse of memory

Take care of the storehouses of memory and of conscience, and mind what kind of things you lay up there. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Conscience

I. The facts of conscience.

1. We have a discernment of the difference between right and wrong.

2. We approve of the one and we disapprove of the other, as of good and bad laws.

3. We condemn ourselves for what conscience disapproves in our states and acts.

4. We are impelled by conscience to do what is right, and deterred by it from what is wrong.

II. Of this mysterious power the obvious characteristics are-

1. That it is independent of the understanding and will.

2. It is authoritative.

3. It does not speak in its own name. The authority which it exercises is not its own.

4. It is avenging. Remorse is a state produced by conscience.

III. Our duty in regard to conscience.

1. To enlighten it.

2. To obey it.

3. Not only to obey it in particular cases, but to have a fixed and governing purpose to permit it to rule.

The ground of this obligation to obey conscience is-

1. The authority of God in whose name it, speaks.

2. Respect for our own dignity as rational and moral beings. (C. Hedge, D. D.)

The cause and manner of the Baptist’s death

I. An example of the length to which ungodly men will go in the way of religion. Herod feared and honoured John. He heard him preach-gladly. Let no one be too hasty in concluding that he is religious.

II. An example of ministerial faithfulness.

III. An illustration of the certainty and the reason of persecution. The certainty-the reproof. The reason-pride, interest, conscience. The favour of worldly men worthless.

IV. We have exemplified the two-fold aspect of the world-to its own, to the Church. The festival for the one-the dungeon for the other. The world in miniature.

V. A sample of the world’s highest pleasures. Masked pride, vanity, envy. Masked misery.

VI. An instance of an abandoned parent sacrificing her child.

VII. An instance of mingled hypocrisy and cowardice. Herod’s oath, cowardice-through fear. (Expository Discourses.)

Remembrance of past sin

Henry of Essex, struck down in a duel, attributed his defeat to the imagined appearance of a knight whom he had murdered, standing by the side of his adversary. Speaking of the man who planned the massacre of Glencoe, Macaulay tells us that Breadalbane felt the stings of conscience. He went to the most fashionable coffee house in Edinburgh, and talked loudly about what he had done among the mountains; but some of his soldiers observed that all this was put on. He was not the same man that he had been before. In all places, at all hours, working or sleeping, Glencoe was forever before him.


Verse 17

Mark 6:17

For Herodias’ sake.

Evil effects of vice

The pleasures which chiefly affect or rather bewitch the body, and by so doing become the pest and poison of the nobler and intellectual part of man, are those false and fallacious pleasures of lust and intemperance. Nothing does or can darken the mind or conscience of man more. Could Herod have ever thought himself obliged by the religion of an oath to murder the Baptist, had not his lust and his Herodias imprisoned and murdered his conscience first? It seems his besotted conscience, having broken through the seventh commandment, the sixth stood too near it to be safe long. So that it was his lust obstinately continued in which thus darkened and deluded his conscience; and the same will no doubt darken, delude, and in the end extinguish the conscience of any man breathing, who shall surrender himself up to it. (Dr. South.)

The reciprocal revenge of wrong

There is another point that should be brought out-the power which one nature has upon another, and the reciprocal revenge of wrong. When Herod ensnared his brother’s wife, when he tempted her into adulterous abandonment of her husband and into unlawful intercourse with him, he was the aggressor and she was the partner; but when they were living in unholy concord she became the avenger, and her influence upon him led him into this infamous crime and this damnable cruelty. He destroyed her virtue, and she destroyed his manhood; and from that time to this how many have been destroyed by those who should have been their protectors, and who should have inspired in them purity and gentleness and forgivingness! Oh, what chance was there for sweet and wholesome water to come out of such fountains! But they rotted together and spoiled each other. How many times, if we could look into the secrets of the household, should we see the same work going on: a bad man lowering the tone of the woman that came to him pure and simple minded, destroying her aspiration, familiarizing her with vulgarity, urging all his influence and power to take away from her the fear of evil and wrong, and rather rejoicing as every barrier is broken down to bring her to his level! And how many men have been despoiled by hard, selfish, and ambitious wives, the man being simple-minded, and, on the whole, having right notions, and the woman perpetually employing the subtle arts of influence, persuasion, and fascination, and all of them in the direction of selfishness, and oftentimes in the direction of corruption and malignant crime! (H. W. Beecher.)


Verse 18

Mark 6:18

For John had said unto Herod.

The difficulty of wise rebuke

It is difficult to rebuke well; i.e., at a right time, in a right spirit, and in a right manner. The Baptist rebuked Herod without making him angry; therefore he must have rebuked him with gravity, temper, sincerity, and an evident goodwill towards him. On the other hand, he spoke so firmly, sharply, and faithfully, that his rebuke cost him his life He reproved him under the prospect of suffering for his faithfulness; and we should never use a strong word, however true it be, without being willing to acquiesce in some penalty or other, should it so happen, as the seal of our earnestness. (J. H. Newman.)

Rebuke of sin considered indelicate

I have always noticed that people who live in the practice of vice think the servants of God ought not to allude to things so coarse. We are allowed to denounce the sins of the man-in-the-moon and the vices of savages in the middle of Africa; but as to the everyday vices of this city of London, if we put our finger upon them in God’s name, then straightway someone cries, “It is indelicate to allude to these things.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 20

Mark 6:20

For Herod feared John.

Better to fear God than His minister

Herod feared John, and did many things; had he feared God, he would have laboured to do everything. (Gurnall.)

Fear versus Love

The chains of love are stronger than the chains of fear. Herod’s love of Herodias was too hard for his fear of John. (Gurnall.)

What moves wicked men thus to affect and reverence God’s faithful ministers

1. The consideration of the excellent gifts which they discern in them, especially natural gifts. These draw them into admiration, and so cause them to esteem and reverence them.

2. Some worldly good or benefit which they reap by the acquaintance or society of such faithful ministers of God.

3. The holy lives of God’s faithful ministers. (G. Petter.)

Character of Herod

I. How mysterious and complex is the character of man! In the same individual what a variety of qualities, apparently the most opposite, are sometimes combined. How important it is that we should “know” ourselves and the sins which so easily mislead and overcome us; looking meanwhile for guidance to Him who searcheth the reins and trieth the hearts of men.

II. How strong is the impression which real excellence of character makes, even on the minds of wicked men. With all his abandonment of principle and looseness of practice, Herod could not help admiring and respecting John.

III. Yet a man may go far in his admiration of goodness, while he remains practically unaffected by it. The precise extent of John’s moral influence over Herod we do not know; but it is plain that he did follow his guidance in some respects, and, so far, for good; but, in spite of all, there was no real, decided, permanent change in his heart and character. He had mistaken the semblance of religion for its reality-the husk for the kernel. Consequently, when temptation came, it made him tenfold more the child of Satan than before.

IV. Learn from this the danger of yielding to favourite sins. Until met by the home thrust, “It is not lawful for thee to have her,” all went on smoothly and pleasantly between Herod and John; but the exposure of his darling vice turned his friendship into enmity.

V. The danger of trifling with serious impressions and acting contrary to conscience. Herod’s association with John ought to have brought him to a humbling sense of sin and a decided change of heart. But he trampled on his convictions; and fatal was the result. Let us be warned by his example. Every funeral that passes, solemn and slow, along the streets; every visit of disease and death to your family circle; every season of holy communion with God; every prick of conscience; these are all so many instruments which God puts in operation for your well-being. Attend to these faithful monitors; cherish them; and they will be productive of lasting benefit to your soul. (R. Burns, D. D.)

Bad men with better moments

This wicked and despotic man, though he appointed for himself no bounds of morality, had moral sensibility lying within him. In the midst of vice and crime he had a conscience. More than that: this man whose very name has come down as a synonym of all that is corrupt and oppressive, had, in the midst of vices and crimes, a kind of yearning for goodness. He had heard John; he had heard him gladly; he wanted to hear him again; and, after the momentary flash of passion and anger was over, he wanted to save him. He was sorry that he was to be executed. There was something in this despotic king which yearned towards justice and goodness. And woe be to every wicked man who, in his wickedness, never finds a single spark of virtue to illuminate his life. I have reason to believe that the men who follow vice have hours in which they look out from themselves longingly, and wish they were better; and that men who are given over to the power of their passions have hours and days in which no outward condemnation is comparable to that which they themselves pass on themselves. Men, because they are wicked, are not necessarily dead. Because they violate rectitude, they do not necessarily destroy their conscience utterly. It sleeps or is drugged; but it has its revenge. Nay, more; it is this dormant or latent sensibility to that which is in contrariety to their whole course of life, that lays the foundation for hope of the recovery or reformation of men. There are hours when many a man, if he had power to regenerate himself, would speedily do it. Oh! that we only knew those hours. Oh! that some friend could approach every such man at these periods when the doors of his prison are thrown open for a time, and lead him by the hand. How many men might be rescued from the abyss which finally overwhelms and destroys them, how many men might be brought up from their degradation and peril, if only we were wise to seize the hours in which they are impressible. The acute and watchful physician knows that a disease runs to a crisis, and that there are points of time when, if the patient is carefully nursed and tended, curative tendencies will set in, and his health may be restored. Now, men are in the same condition spiritually; and if there were rely some oversight of them, they might be saved; but, alas! they themselves cannot perpetuate these hours; they will not; and we stand outside, and know nothing of them. So in every street, and in every community, there are men who are secretly burning out the very vital substance of their life; who are walking in ways, the beginnings of which are pleasant, but the ends of which are death; who are going down through the community, moaning as they go, sighing for something better, and at times holding up hands of prayer and saying, “God, help me!” Nevertheless, there are men who, with all these experiences, are utterly destroyed. Here was this man Herod-as bad a man as could well be pictured, in many respects; and yet there were in him elements that could have reformed and restored him. (H. W. Beecher.)

Herod’s partial repentance

It is curious and instructive to observe that Herod is set before us here in the good points of his character-at least, in the best points that he had. It is in the Holy Gospels that one of the vilest wretches in human history is set before us in a somewhat amiable and interesting aspect. He feels a sincere respect for religion. He is not so far gone but that he knows honesty and faith and self-devotion when he sees them in another man. And he does not respect these the less, but a great deal the more, when the just and holy man does not spare his own sins, but denounces them to his face. Not only this, but he takes the preacher under his protection; and declares, doubtless with much hard swearing, when one and another of the courtiers propose to stop the prophet’s insolence by taking his life, that no man shall hurt a hair of his head. And I have no doubt that he took enormous pride in it, too, as many a swearing, drinking, cheating reprobate nowadays will pride himself on hiring a pew in a most puritan church, where righteousness and temperance and judgment are faithfully preached to him, and will insist, with profuse expletives, that no man shall say a word against his minister. The case is common enough. But we should do Herod injustice if we should suppose this to be all. Herod listened to the preacher of righteousness and repentance with a genuine personal and practical interest. He applies John’s teaching to his own case-to his own sins and his own duties-so far as anything was left to his ingenuity in the matter of application, for John’s teaching was sufficiently direct and pointed in itself. Herod did lay the word of the Lord to heart with reference to his own amendment, and did obviously begin to make such a difference in his course of life as to give Herodias reason to fear that he would not make an end of reforming until he had reformed her and her devil’s imp of a daughter out of the palace altogether. “He did many things” in consequence of John’s preaching-many just and upright things such as were strange enough to hear of in the vice-regal court of Palestine; beneficent and public-spirited things, making his reign, for the time, a less unmitigated curse to that afflicted country; merciful things, using his princely wealth and power for the relic of the distressed. What a thing to give thanks for was even this partial repentance of Herod, for the good it did, for the pain and outrage that it saved! Let no one think that the preaching of God’s kingdom is a total waste, even when no man yields to it his unreserved submission. The whole work of Christ’s gospel in any community is not to be summed up in the net number of converts or communicants. How many a soul is saved from being just such an abandoned wretch as Herod was; how many a decent home from being such a sty of uncleanness as Herod’s palace was; how many a State from being defiled with blood and turbulent with wrong, just through some men’s standing in awe before the holiness of Christ, and hearing Him gladly, and being willing to “do many things”! (Leonard W. Bacon.)

Insufficiency of Herod’s right-doing

In all his doing of right things, Herod does nothing right; for in all that he does he is Herod. The things that he does in obedience to John’s preaching are right in the abstract, considered independently of the man that does them. But as a matter of fact, these actions in the abstract never get done in actual life. We can think about them, and reason about them; but we never really see or know of an action that is not done by somebody. The action is the man acting. Strictly speaking, it is not actions that are right or wrong; it is men. And when the question is,-Did the man do right? we have to look at the man as well as the deed. And the honest conscience has no doubt on this point: No man is right in his doing, so long as he is cherishing a fixed, conscious purpose to do wrong, or not to do altogether right. This is a rule that does not work both ways. The hidden thought of the heart is like the morsel hidden in the garment (Haggai 2:10-14); it can pollute a good act, it cannot sanctify an evil act. Here is Herod resolutely protecting the sternest of God’s prophets, eagerly listening to him, heeding him, obeying him in many things, but standing out obstinately in his incestuous and adulterous love against that word of the Lord, “It is not lawful for thee to have her.” How does the case stand with him, just now? It was right, wasn’t it? for Herod to “do many things” at the preaching of John. He was a pretty good man for the time being, wasn’t he? Wasn’t it quite like heroism-moral heroism-backed up by political caution, when he stubbornly refused to permit the killing of John, and said to Herodias, “No! I will not! I will agree to lock him up in prison, but not one step further will I go!” Was he not rather the pattern of what we should call a good member of society-a man with a sincere respect for religion, and a great interest in the church, and a strong attachment to his favourite minister;-a man who is willing to subscribe handsomely, and do many things, and deny himself many things, but of course, not everything? Now I do not find that the gospel has any dealings with this kind of goodness. It does not appear that Jesus Christ has any advice or encouragement for those who would like to be rid of a part of their sins. He is not a specialist in spiritual maladies; He is a Great Physician. It is not worth your while to go to Him with a request for partial and local treatment-to hold up before Him your infected, swollen limb, and say, “There! give me something for that! Don’t touch the rest of me. I am all right. I only want that arm cured.” He will not treat the case on any such terms. Your case is constitutional, not local. If you would have the help of Jesus Christ; you must surrender the case to Him; and prepare for thorough treatment, perhaps for sharp surgery. (Leonard W. Bacon.)

Character a power

Your success is very much connected with your personal character. Herod “heard John gladly,” and “did many things,” because he knew the preacher to be a just and holy man. Words uttered from the heart find their way to the heart by a holy sympathy. Character is power. (R Cecil.)

Inconstancy

A ship that is not of the right make can not sail trim, and a clock whose spring is faulty will not always go true; so a person of unsound principles cannot be constant and even in his practices. The religion of those that are inwardly rotten, is like a fire in some cold climates, which almost fries a man before, when at the same time he is freezing behind; they are zealous in some things, as holy duties, which are cheap; and cold in other things, especially when they cross their profit or credit; as Mount Hecla is covered with snow on one side, when it burns and casts out cinders on the other: but the holiness of them that are sound at heart is like the natural heat,-though it resorts most to the vitals of sacred performances, yet, as need is, it warms and has an influence upon all the outward parts of civil transactions. It may be said of true sanctity, as of the sun, “There is nothing hid from the heat thereof.” When all the parts of the body have their due nourishment distributed to them, it is a sign of a healthy temper. As the saint is described sometimes by a “clean heart,” so also sometimes by “clean hands,” because he has both; the holiness of his heart is seen at his fingers’ ends. (G. Swinnock.)

A false respect for religion

A man may be acknowledged to be just and holy, and for that very reason he may be dreaded. You like to see lions and tigers in the Zoological Gardens, but you would not like to see them in your own room; you would very much prefer to see them behind bars and within cages; and so very many have respect for religion, but religious people they cannot bear. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Wanting to go to heaven, but liking the way to hell

Herod was a foxy man. We sometimes meet with these foxy people. They want to go to heaven, but they like the road to hell. They will sing a hymn to Jesus, but a good roaring song they like also. They will give a guinea to the church, but how many guineas are spent on their own lust. Thus they try to dodge between God and Satan. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

John and Herod

I. The hopeful points in Herod’s character. He respected justice and holiness. He admired the man in whom he saw justice and righteousness. He listened to John. He obeyed the word to which he listened. He continued to hear the preacher gladly. His conscience was greatly affected.

II. The flaws in the case of Herod. Though he feared John he never looked to John’s Master. He had no respect for goodness in his own heart. He never loved the Word of God as God’s Word. He was under the sway of sin. His was a religion of fear, not of love.

III. What because of Herod. He slew the preacher whom he respected. This Herod Antipas was the man who afterwards mocked the Saviour. He soon lost all the power he possessed. His name is infamous forever. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Limed by lust

He was like a bird taken with lime twigs: he wanted to fly; but, sad to say, he was willingly held, limed by his lust. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Preaching! Man’s privilege and God’s power

I. The blessedness of hearing the Word. The preaching of the gospel is represented by the sowing of seed-casting the net into the sea-it is the bread of heaven-it is the light of the world.

II. The responsibilities of the hearer of the Word.

III. The needful accompaniments of hearing the Word. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Transient religious impressions

When you take hold of a piece of india rubber, you may make any impression that you like all over it, but after all it resumes its old shape. There are hosts of hearers of that kind: very impressible, but they quickly return to their old tastes and habits. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Why Herod feared John

Herod was a king; John was a subject. Herod was in a palace; John was in a prison. Herod wore a crown; John most probably did not even own a turban, Herod wore the purple; John wore camlet, as we should call it. John was the son of an obscure Jewish country priest and his wife: the child of their old age. There is no hint that John had any wealth, or name, or fame, or education, or influence, when he began his life as a man. He comes on the scene as a rough, angular man, with not many words and not many friends. Herod began to reign just about when John began to live, so that there was no preponderant age in the priest’s son over the king’s son: that was all on the other side. Indeed, by all mere surface facts, principles, and analogies, John ought to have feared Herod; he ought to have bated his breath and bent his head before him. Now, I propose to discuss at this time the roots of this power and weakness, to see what made Herod so weak and John so strong, and to ask this question, What can we, who are set as John was, in the advance guard of reformers, do to make a deep, clear mark? And I note for you that John had three great roots of power: First, he was a powerful man by creation-a with a clear head, a steady nerve, and a nature set in a deadly antagonism to sin and meanness of every sort and degree. He was the Jewish John Knox or John Brown.

“When he saw a thing was true,

He went to work and put it through.”

He could die, but he could not back down, Every time I meet a man who is a man, and not a stick, I ask myself one question: “Why are you the man you are? Whence does your power hint itself to me? Whence does it come.” And while the ultimate answer has never come out of Phrenology or Physiognomy, or any of the sciences that profess to tell you what a man is by how he looks, yet the indicative answer has always lain in that direction. In the head, and face, and form of a man there is certainly something that impresses you in some such way as the weight, colour, and inscription of a coin reveal to you, with a fair certainty, whether it be gold, or silver, or-brass and it is possible, too, that the line in which a man has descended, the country in which he is born, the climate, the scenery, the history, the poetry, and the society about him, have a great deal to do with the man. The father, in Queen Elizabeth’s time as I have known in old English families, may be twenty-two carat gold; and the children in Queen Victoria’s time may be no better than lead. That mysterious antagonism that sows tares among the wheat, sows baseness in the blood; and if there be not forever a careful and most painful dividing and burning, the tares will in time come to nearly all there is on the soil. But still forever the great mint of Providence beats on, silently, certainly, continually, sending its own new golden coins to circulate through our human life, and on each of them stamping the infallible image and superscription that tells us “this is gold.” Nay, the same great Providence makes not only gold coins, but silver and iron too; and if they are true to their ring, they are all Divine; as in all great houses there be divers vessels, some to more honour and some to less honour, but not one to dishonour if it be true to its purpose; for while the golden vase that holds the wine at the feast of a king is a vessel of honour, so is the iron pot that holds the meat in the furnace; the Parian vase that you fill with flowers is a vessel of honour, and so is the tin dipper with which you fill it at the well. For me, it is a wonderful thing to study merely the pictures of great men. There is a power in the very shadow that makes you feel they were born to be kings and priests unto God. But if you know a great man personally, you find a power in him which the picture can never give you. I suppose this good Jewish country parson, the father of John, flora the little we can glean about him, was just a gentle, timid, pious, retiring man, whose mind had never risen above the routine of his humble post in the temple. But lo! God, in the full time, drops just one golden ingot down into that family treasury, pure, ponderous, solid gold. Yet I need not tall you that there is a theory of human nature that busies itself forever in trying to prove that our human nature in itself is abominably and naturally despicable. Now, this primitive intrinsic nature, I say, was the first element that made John mightier in the prison than Herod was in the palace. The one was a king by creation; the other was only a king by descent. And then, secondly, there comes into the difference another element. Herod made the purple vile by his sin; John made the camel’s hair radiant by his holiness. And in that personal truth, this rightwiseness, this wholeness, he gained every Divine force in the universe over to his side, and left to Herod only the infernal forces. It was a question of power, reaching back ultimately, as all such questions do, to God and the devil. So the fetter was turned to a sceptre, and the sceptre to a fetter, and the soul of the Sybarite quailed, and went down before the soul of the saint. Then the good man, the true, the upright, downright man of power, goes right on to the mark. Let me tell you a story given me by the late venerable James Mott, of Philadelphia, whose uncle, fifty years ago, discovered the island in the Pacific inhabited by Adams and his companions, as you have read in the story of “The Mutiny of the Bounty.” I was talking with him one day about it, and he said that, after staying at the island for some time, his uncle turned his vessel homeward and steered directly for Boston,-sailing as he did from your own good city,-eight thousand miles distant. Month after month the brave craft ploughed through storm and shine, keeping her head ever homewards. But as she came near home, she got into a thick fog, and seemed to be sailing by guess. The captain had never sighted land from the time they started; but one night he said to the crew, “Now, boys, lay her to! I reckon Boston harbour must be just over there somewhere; but we must wait for the fog to clear up before we try to run in.” And so, sure enough, when the morning sun rose it lifted the fog, and right over against them were the spires and homes of the great city of Boston! So can men go right onward over this great sea of life. The chart and compass are with them; and the power is with them to observe the meridian sun and the eternal stars. Storms will drive them, currents will drift them, dangers will beset them; they wilt long for more solid certainties; but by noon and by night they will drive right on, correcting deflections, resisting adverse influences, and then, at the last, when they are near home, they will know it. The darkness may be all about them, but the soul shines in its confidence; and the true mariner will say to his soul, “I will wait for the mist to rise with the new morning; I know home is just over there.” Then in the morning he is satisfied; he wakes to see the golden light on temple and home. So God brings him to the desired haven. New John was one of those right-on men. Had there been a crevice in John’s armour, Herod would have found it out and laughed at him; but in the presence of that pure life, that deep, conscious antagonism to sin, that masterful power, won as a soldier wins a hard battle, this man on the throne was abased before that man in the prison. Then the third root of power in this great man, by which he mastered a king,-by which he became a king,-lay in the fact that he was a true, clear, unflinching, outspoken preacher of holiness. Some preachers reflect the great verities of religion, as bad boys reflect the sun from bits of broken glass. They stand just on one side, and flash a blaze of fierce light across the eyes of their victim, and leave him more bewildered and irritated than he was before. Such a one is your fitful, changing doctrinaire, whose ideas of right and wrong, or sin and holiness, of God and the devil, today, are not at all as they were last Sunday: who holds not that blessed thing, an ever-changing, because an ever-growing and ripening faith, but a mere sand hill of bewilderment, liable to be blown anywhere by the next great storm. Then there is another sort of preacher, who is like the red light at the head of a railway night train. He is made for warning; he comes to tell of danger. That is the work of his life. When he is not doing that, he has nothing to do. I hear friends at times question whether this man has a Divine mission. Surely, if there be danger to the soul,-and that question is not yet decided in the negative,-then he has to the inner life a mission as Divine as that of the red lamp to the outer life. And I know myself of men who have turned sharp out of the track before his fierce glare, who, but for him, had been run down, and into a disgraceful grave. But the true preacher of holiness, the real forerunner of Christ, is the man who holds up in himself the Divine truth, as a true mirror holds the light, so that whoever comes to him, will see his own character just as it is. Such a man was this who mastered a king. His soul was never distorted by the traditions of the elders, or the habits of “good society,” as it is called. On the broad clear surface of his soul, as on a pure still lake, you saw things as if in a great deep. He had no broken lights, for he held fast to his own primitive nature, and to his own direct inspiration. (R. Collyer.)


Verse 26

Mark 6:26

And the king was exceeding sorry.

Crisis hours

The acute and watchful physician knows that a disease runs to a crisis, and that there are points of time when, if the patient is carefully nursed and cared for, curative tendencies will set in, and his health may be restored. Now, men are in the same condition spiritually, and if there were only some oversight of them they might be saved; but, alas l they themselves cannot perpetuate these hours; they will not; and we stand outside and know nothing of them. (H. W. Beecher.)

Sorrow not always Divine

Herod was “sorry” when Salome asked for the head of John. But “sorry” for what? Was it on account of respect and love for the prophet? or was he sorry because he feared popular indignation? or because he felt that this was going a little too far in cruelty and injustice? Men are sorry in various ways. One is sorry for his sins, and another is sorry for his scruples. One is sorry that he made a fraudulent profit, and another is sorry that he did not. One, with strong anguish, mourns the loss of a friend, and another the loss of a fortune. One sheds drops of pity, and one of mortification. The mother is sorry for her dead babe that lies upon her breast like a withered blossom, and the miser is sorry to part with a dollar. Sorrow is not always Divine, and tears are not always of the kind that consecrate. In Herod’s case it is quite significant that we cannot exactly tell why he was sorry. One thing we know, that his sorrow was not strong enough to stop the hand of the executioner, and keep himself from crime. It was not strong enough to resist the sense of shame, and the impulse of the hour. (E. H. Chapin.)

Conditions of promise keeping

Must a man, then, always keep a promise? I say, No. Let us look at some of the conditions.

1. A promise of that which in itself is impossible, I need not say, a man cannot fulfil. It is the making of such a promise that is a sin.

2. When the fulfilment of a promise is rendered impossible by the happening of subsequent events, a man who makes it is released from fulfilling that promise-at any rate, so far as those events hinder him from fulfilling it. Where a man promises to settle upon his son-in-law a certain stipulated amount in case of the uniting of his daughter in marriage to him, if, when the occasion comes, the father-in-law is bankrupt, how can he fulfil his promise? Circumstances have changed. His power to fulfil his promise is gone.

3. When the thing promised is contrary to the law of the land it is void.

4. Where a promise is made which involves a violation of morality, or the laws of God, no man has the right to keep it. And this is exactly the case that Herod found himself in. He was a fool to make the promise; he was a demon to fulfil it. (H. W. Beecher.)

The course of sin

Herod’s sin began in a very common place for the beginning of deadly sin. It began in the riot and levity of sensual amusement. The fact is, that Satan only wants the occasion of a beginning of a sin from us; however slight that may be though we may have removed from the sure ground of a clear and undefiled conscience, by a step of a hair’s breadth, he has gained all that he wants. He has removed us from the ground where we could watch and pray: he has put the fear of God, and love of Christ, out of our hearts; he has withdrawn us from the presence of God, tempted us to come forth from the hiding place of His pavilion, and the secret of His tabernacle; and to come down from the rock on which we had been set up through His merciful protection; and then we are completely in his power. Who, then, that knowingly begins a sin, can tell where it will end? Most men begin it with a notion that they can stop in its course when they like, and that they will have the opportunity and the will to repent. But how miserably they are mistaken in both those notions; they hardly need even Herod’s example to warn them. We have seen at length already, how utterly unable they are to stop; and a very few considerations will show how little reason they have to look forward to a genuine repentance. They forget, in the first instance, the nature of sin, which is to harden the heart, to sear the conscience, and to blind the understanding. All these effects are the very contrary to repentance. And they may, therefore (since they have put God out of the question), as well expect corn to come out of thistle seed as repentance out of wilful sin. On the whole, the text gives us a solemn warning upon the nature of sin. It is not always barefaced and audacious, even when most heinous. The sinner may even set about his dreadful task work which Satan has set him, with exceeding sorrow, as did Herod. But this does not avail to abate its violence, or to lessen their guilt. (R. W. Evans, B. D.)

The beginning of evil is like the letting out of water. The poet tells us that the destruction of the lute begins with the first rift; and the rottenness of the fruit with the first speck. Resist, I pray you, the first temptation. Endeavour to conquer Herod. (W. Walters.)

The effects of the preaching of John the Baptist upon Herod

The case of Herod and Felix much alike. We are not told of Felix that he ever did more than tremble; there is no register of his having taken any steps in consequence of his conviction. Herod did “many things” in consequence of what he heard from the Baptist.

I. Now it is very carefully to be observed (for upon this we shall throughout have to lay no small stress), that Herod feared John, but that nothing is said from which we can infer that Herod feared God. We are not, perhaps, aware what power there is in the principle of the fear of man, for it will often cause persons to disobey God, and peril their eternity, rather than run the risk of a frown: And this principle may operate as well to the withdrawing men from vice, as the confirming them in it. It is not indeed by this denunciation of sin in the general, that the preacher will become an object of fear, and a motive to reform; for a man will sit with the greatest complacence under the universal reproof, and think it nothing to be condemned in common with all. But when he denounces particular sins, and thus, as it were, singles out a few from the mass, he may cause those few to feel so sensitively, as though all eyes were upon them; so that if the sins be such as may be abandoned without great pain, they will be likely to abandon them just to prevent the being again thus exposed. They give up one thing after another, according as conscience is more and more urgent; but the favourite practice, the darling passion, this still retains its mastery, whilst less cherished habits are broken, and less powerful desires are subdued. The man whose master passion is covetousness may become most rigidly moral, though he had not heretofore been distinguished by purity of life; but measured morality, in place of being attended with diminished covetousness, may be only a make weight with conscience against the abiding and even the grooving eagerness for gain. The man again, whose master passion is sensuality, may give much in alms to the poor, though he had previously been accounted penurious; but is he, therefore, necessarily less the slave of his lust? Ah, no. He may only have bought himself peace in the indulgence of his appetites by liberality in relieving the destitute. It is the same in the case of every other master passion. Unless it be Herodias that is put away, there is no evidence of genuine repentance; all that is surrendered may be nothing more than a proof of the value put upon what is retained. And therefore, if you would discriminate between reformation and repentance, if you would know whether you have limited yourselves to the former and are yet strangers to the latter, examine what it is you keep, rather than what you give up. Reformation will always leave what you love best to the last; whereas repentance will begin with the favourite sin, or go at once to the root, in place of cutting off the branches.

II. But we said that it was a yet more remarkable statement, in reference to Herod, especially as contrasted with Felix, that he heard John gladly. There is a pleasure in being made to feel pain, even where a long course of dissipation has not generated the disease of ennui. Is it not thus with the frequenters of a theatre, who flock eagerly to their favourite amusement when some drama of terror and crime is to have possession of the stage? They go for the purpose of being thrilled, and of having the blood made to creep, and of feeling an indefinable horror seize upon their spirits. They are altogether disappointed if no such effect be produced; and unless the exhibition of fictitious suffering quite carry them away, and so produce all the emotions which witnessed suffering will produce, they lay blame upon those who have conducted the mimicry, and count them deficient in skill and in power. We repeat, then, our words, that there is a pleasure in being made to feel pain even with those who cannot be said to have worn out their sensibilities, and, of course, in a greater measure with others to whom such description applies. And would it, therefore, follow that Herod could not have heard John gladly had John so preached as to make Herod tremble? Oh! far enough from this. It may just have been the fact of trembling which made Herod a glad hearer of the Baptist. There was a power in the Baptist of exciting the torpid feelings of a jaded voluptuary. Because you are made to tremble, and because, so far from shrinking at the repetition of the process, you come with eagerness to the sanctuary and submit yourselves again to the same overcoming influence, you may easily fancy you have a just apprehension of God’s wrath, and even that you have duly prepared yourselves for a day, of whose terror you can hear with something of pleasurable emotion: and therefore we have laboured to show you that there may be a complacency and gladness beneath the preaching of the Word, when that preaching is the preaching of vengeance, which is wholly unconnected with any effort to escape what is threatened, but may quite consist with the remaining exposed to it with no shelter against its fury, no real dread of its coming. It is not merely possible, but in a high degree probable, that a man addicted to gambling might gaze in anguish at the scenic representation of a gambler, hurried on until utter ruin crushed his family and himself, and then pass from the theatre to the gambling table, and there stake his all on the cast of the dice. We should not necessarily conclude, from observing the frequency with which the gambler came to the representation of the gamester, and the riveted interest which he felt in the harrowing drama, that he was at all sensible to the evils of gambling, or would at all endeavour to extricate himself from its fearful fascinations; we should, on the contrary, see nothing but a common exhibition of our nature-a nature that has pleasure in excitement, though the exciting thing be its own ruin, if we knew that on the very night, after listening to the thrilling cry of the maddened victim of the hazard table, he hurried to the scene where he and others did their best towards making the case precisely their own. We need not draw out a parallel between such an instance and that of a sinner, who can listen with an eager interest to the descriptions of the sinner’s doom, and then depart and be as resolute as ever in doing evil deeds. The parallel must be evident to you all, and we only exhort you so to form it for yourselves, that you may never confound the having pleasure in the hearing future judgment energetically set forth with the being alive to that judgment, and watchful to remove it from yourselves. But we do not design, as we have already said, to ascribe the gladness of Herod exclusively to such causes as we have alone been endeavouring to trace. If Herod were at times made to tremble, and if that very trembling were acceptable as a species of animal excitement, we may yet suppose that this was not the only account on which he heard the Baptist gladly. Herod had “done many things,” and it is therefore likely that he thought himself sufficiently righteous and secured against the vengeance which John denounced against the wicked. He may have become that most finished of all hypocrites, the hypocrite who imposes on himself; and having wrought him self into a persuasion of safety, he may have hearkened with great delight to the descriptions of dangers in which others stood. It is therefore a matter of prime moment, that we warn our hearers against the inferring that they have undergone a moral change, from the finding they have pleasure in listening to the gospel. For even where men have not, like Herod, “done many things,” they may, like Herod, “hear the Baptist gladly.” There is many an enthusiastic lover of music, who mistakes for piety and religious emotion, the feelings of which he is conscious, as the sacred anthem comes pealing down the aisle of the cathedral, just because he feels an elevation of soul and a kindling of heart. As the tide of melody poured forth from the orchestra comes floating to him, he will imagine that he has really an affection towards spiritual things, and really aspires after heaven. Alas! alas! though music be indeed an auxiliary to devotion, it proves no devotion that you can be thrilled and lifted out of yourselves by the power of music. It is altogether on natural feelings and sensibilities, which may or may not be drawn out by religion, that the lofty strain tells with so subduing an effect; and even when you are most carried away and overcome by the varied notes, I see no reason whatsoever, why you might not return from the oratorio of the “Creation” and ascribe the universe to chance, and from that of the “Messiah” and be ready with the Jews to crucify the Christ. The case is altogether the same with the preaching of the gospel. In sacred music, it is not the words, it is only the machine by which the words are conveyed, that produces feelings which the man mistakes for devotion. He may be without a care for the truth which is uttered, and yet be fascinated by the melodies of the utterance, and thus take the fascination as proof of his delight in spiritual things. And thus in the case of preaching. Indeed, the cases are so identical, that it was said by God to Ezekiel, when multitudes of the impenitent flocked to the hearing of him, “Thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that has a pleasant voice, and can play well upon an instrument.” (H. Melvill, B. D.)

Sin haunting the guilty

In illustrating how Herod was haunted by the ghost of his sin-recall some points from former lessons, as, for instance, the witness of Abel’s blood from the ground against Cain; and the self-reproaches of Joseph’s brethren, when the memory of their sin came upon them in after years. Reference should be made to the poem of Eugene Aram; to the night scene in Macbeth, where Lady Macbeth tries to cleanse her guilty hands; and to the story of the man who, to gain an inheritance, flung his brother into the sea, and, ever after, when he looked upon water, saw his brother’s dead face staring up from the depths. There is one stone in the floor of an old church in Scotland which stares out at you blood red from the gray stones around it. The legend tells of a murder committed there, and of repeated fruitless attempts to cover the tell-tale colour of that stone. Morally, the legend is true; every dead sin sends its ghost to haunt the soul of the guilty.

The progress of sin

A drop of poison is poison as really as a phial of it is. The drop and the phial differ in quantity, not quality. Make ever so slight a cut on your finger with a poisoned blade, and the canker is carried through your system, polluting all your blood. The leaven put into the meal leavens the whole lump. The train which has been carelessly left to stand at the top of an incline begins to move down slowly at first, but at an ever-increasing speed, till at last it thunders down with irresistible swiftness, carrying destruction to whatever opposes it. Trace the progress of Herodias’ sin, from hate-which is latent murder-to actual murder.

The sinful snare

When we wish to trap an animal, we bide the snare and show only the tempting tit-bit. We hide the hook beneath the bait. Compare Satan’s trap for Herod-a dancing girl, practising her seductive arts.


Verse 30-31

Mark 6:30-31

Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place.

The Saviour’s invitation to rest

I. Note the tenderness of Christ.

II. Labour lightened is not lost.

III. Spiritual work especially needs rest.

IV. The breezy mountainside, away from men, still gives the finest sort of rest.

V. Rest never seems to be had where you are, but always other-where; and sometimes when you reach the quietest spot, the disturbing element has gone there before you. (R. Glover.)

The necessity for rest

God has signified this to us in His material creation. He has made the earth to revolve on her axis in a way that brings her at stated seasons under light and shade; and He has proportioned the strength of man to those seasons.

I. We need rest physically. The hands begin to slacken and the eyes to close when God draws the curtain. It is one of those adaptations which show God’s kindly purpose. The thoughtless or covetous over-tension of our own powers the hard driving of those under our control, the feeling that we can never get enough work out of our fellow creatures, the evil eye cast on their well-earned rest or harmless recreation, are all to be denounced and condemned.

II. This law applies also to mental exertion. The mind must at times look away from things, as well as at them, if it is to see clearly and soundly. This is not necessarily waste time; when the mind is lying fallow it may be laying up capacity of stronger growth.

III. The spiritual faculties are subject to the same law. A continual strain of active religious work is apt to deaden feeling and produce formality. (John Ker, D. D.)

Recreative rest

I. Recreative rest is recognized by God as a necessity for man.

II. It should have a just relation to earnest work. Rest is the shadow thrown by the substance work, and you reach the shadow when you have passed by the substance which throws it.

III. It is intended to exercise a wholesome influence on character. If it fits us for doing our work better, it is right; otherwise, it is wrong. The test is, Can we engage in it in conscious fellowship with Christ? (A. Rowland, LL. B.)

The Christian uses of leisure

It is not an indolent animal repose, but that rest of refreshment which befits those who have souls. Its elements are-

I. Communion with outward nature. The world was made not merely for the support of man’s body, but also for the nurture of his mind and spirit. What architect would build his house only with an eye to stores and animal comforts, paying no regard to its being a home for a man, with windows opening on wide expanses of land and sea, or quiet nooks of homely beauty? We should endeavour to make the inner world of our thoughts about God and spiritual things not a separate thing from the world of creation, but with a union like that between body and soul. If we could learn to do this aright, it would strengthen us in good thoughts, and relieve doubts and calm anxieties. Nature can do very little for us if we have no perception of a Divine Spirit breathing through it; but very much if the Great Interpreter is with us. If we surrender ourselves to this Teacher He can show us wide views through narrow windows, and speak lessons of deep calm in short moments.

II. Intercourse with fellow Christians. There will always be a want in a man’s religious nature it he has not come into contact with hearts around him that are beating with a Divine life to the pulse of the present time. Every age, every circle, has its lessons from God, and no one can learn them all alone. Let us be more frank and confidential, also more natural, in our talk on these matters concerning our mutual faith and hope.

III. A closer converse with the Master. When we are doing our appointed work in God’s world, or labouring actively for the good of others, our minds are dispersed among outward employments; we may be serving God very truly all the time, but we are careful about many things, and have not leisure to sit at His feet and speak to Him about our own individual wants. It is essential that we should from time to time secure leisure for this. The flame of devotion will not burn very long or very bright unless you have oil in your vessels with your lamps. (John Ker, D. D.)

Best by the way

Rest is an absolute necessity of life; without it the body dies. The traveller on a journey looks forward to some spot where he can stay a while. The sailor has his haven where he can for a time furl his sails and find shelter from the storm and tempest. The wanderer in the hot desert strains his eyes to see the one green spot in all that sandy waste where there are trees and water and the promise of rest. And the soul needs rest as well as the body. Just as too much excitement and hurry and over-work wear out our bodily strength, so our spiritual life, the life of the soul, becomes faint and weak without rest. On our journey from earth to heaven we need some quiet harbours, some peaceful spots, where we can find rest. Jesus has built such cities of refuge for us, His pilgrims, and provided quiet havens for His people as they pass over the waves of this troublesome world.

I. The services and sacraments of the Church. There is a famous bell in a certain church abroad known as the “Poor Sinner’s Bell.” This is how it got its name. Five hundred years ago a bell founder was engaged in casting this bell. For a few moments he left a boy in charge of the furnace, charging him not to touch the apparatus which held the molten metal in the cauldron. The boy disobeyed his master, and meddled with the handle. Instantly the liquid metal began to pour into the mould. The terrified boy ran to tell the bell founder, who, thinking his great work was ruined, struck the boy in a fit of passion and killed him. When the metal was cold, the bell, instead of being spoiled, was found to be perfect in shape and singularly sweet in tone. The unhappy bell founder gave himself up for the murder of the boy, and as he was led to execution the Poor Sinner’s Bell rang out sweetly, inviting all men to pray for the doomed man, and warning all men of the effects of disobedience and anger. Is there no Poor Sinner’s Bell among us? Does the church bell bring no message to you?

II. Private prayer.

III. Bible reading. Put your heart into this, and you will find a refreshment, a resting place. It will take you for a time out of the world, out of the great, busy, noisy Vanity Fair, and you can, as it were, walk in God’s garden, or wander through His great picture gallery. Men or women who have lived and died in faith will be your companions, your examples. (H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, M. A.)

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, love. (E. Johnson, M. A.)

No leisure

Duty of religious teachers to point out and rebuke social evils. One of these is the want of leisure. A fair amount of labour is necessary and desirable, but when work is so absorbing that mind, affections, and spiritual life are neglected, we sin against law of nature and God. So far as labour out of doors is concerned, God Himself interposes by drawing the curtain of night; but in certain trades, through the ambition of the trader or the carelessness of the general public, young people are often kept on their feet twelve or fifteen hours, with scarcely time allowed to swallow a morsel of food. The wrongs of these silent sufferers ought to be redressed. Let us not forget-

I. That earnest work is Divinely appointed. Before the Fall in the Garden of Eden. Afterwards in the fourth commandment. Labour and rest are linked together by God in indissoluble bonds. Work is necessary to

I confess that I sympathize very much with the American who was told by an English tourist that he was surprised to find no “gentlemen” in his country. “What are they?” was the reply. “Oh,” said he, “people who don’t work for their living.” “Yes, we have some of them,” replied the shrewd New Englander, “only we call them tramps.” Thank God if the necessity of work, and the opportunity, and the power for work are yours; and in whatever sphere of life you are placed, pray that you may deserve at last the epitaph which was put, at his own request, on the tomb of one of the bravest and most brilliant Christian soldiers England ever had: “Here lies Henry Lawrence, who tried to do his duty.”

II. That suitable leisure is imperatively required. Observe the evils resulting from long hours of labour.

1. Physical. Constant strain and tension.

2. Mental. No chance of improving the mind by reading, classes, societies, etc.

3. Moral When the young people do get free, scarcely anything is open to them but what may tend to their corruption. And the temptation comes at a time when there is the more danger of yielding to it, from the reaction which follows continuous work and induces a craving for excitement.

4. Religious. Home training rendered impossible. Lord’s Day almost necessarily devoted exclusively to bodily rest and recreation, and so worship neglected.

III. That this just claim for leisure is often disregarded. Things are, in some respects, much better than they were. The wholesale houses, and many offices, close earlier than before, and Saturday is a half holiday. But this improvement only affects certain trades and districts. Those in retail shops-milliners, dressmakers, etc., remain unrelieved. Leisure is the more required now, because work is done much more strenuously and exhaustingly than hitherto.

IV. Remedies.

1. Combination among employes.

2. Agreement among employers. It is for their own interest.

3. More enlightened public opinion, resulting in altered practice.

A victim to want of leisure

A well-known visitor among the poor found living in a notorious court a woman who was known as “the Buttonhole Queen,” who often gave work away, poor though she was, to those poorer than herself. Reserved as she appeared to be, she was at last induced to tell her story, which accounted for the interest she took in the poor girls around her; and poor they were, for fancy the misery of making 2,880 buttonholes in order to earn 10s., and having “no time even to cry!” Her story was this: Her daughter had been apprenticed to a milliner at the West End. She was just over sixteen, and a bright young Christian. She got through her first season without breaking down; but the second was too much for her. She did not complain, but one day she was brought home in a cab, having broken a blood vessel, and there she lay, propped up by pillows, her face white as death, except for two spots where it had been flecked by her own blood. To use the mother’s own words: “She smiled as she saw me, and then we carried her in, and when the ethers were gone she clung round my neck, and laying her pretty head on my shoulder, she whispered, ‘Mother, my own mother, I’ve come home to die!’“ Killed by late hours! She lingered for three months, and then she passed away, but not before she had left a message which became the life inspiration of her mother: “For my sake be kind to the girls like me;” and that message, with God’s blessing, may make some of you think and resolve, as it did the poor “Buttonhole Queen.” (A. Rowland, LL. B.)

Ministers need rest

The apostles were well-nigh overwhelmed with their labours, for work had made work: they were cumbered with much serving-not preaching the gospel only, but healing and exorcising; their meals and needful rest were broken in upon by importunate crowds; and so the Lord, to teach us that His ministers must have time for needful refreshment, does not recruit them by a miracle, but insists upon their using natural means. And is it not so now? Is not many an active and self-denying minister well-nigh broken down and worn out, because there is no time for thought and rest, and tranquil meditation, and a change of scene? Rich men, with many roomed mansions, could not do a greater kindness to poor overworked ministers than by inviting them from their crowded streets and alleys to find a little rest and leisure in their multitudes of unused apartments. (M. F. Sadler.)

Rest in nature

For all organic life God has provided periods of repose, during which repair goes on in order to counteract the waste caused by activity. In the springtime we see movement and stir in gardens, fields, and hedgerows, which continues till the fruits are gathered in and the leaves fall; but then winter’s quiet again settles down over all, and nature is at rest. Even the flowers have their time for closing their petals, and their sleeping hours come so regularly, and yet are so varied in distribution among them, that botanists can construct a floral clock out of our English wildflowers, and tell the hour of night or day by their opening or closing. The same God who created the flowers and appointed the seasons, ordained the laws of Israel, and by these definite seasons of rest were set apart for the people-the Sabbath, the Jubilee year, and the annual festivals. Indeed, in every age and every land, the coming of night and the victory of sleep are hints of what God has ordained for man. (A. Rowland, LL. B.)

The season of rest

The first of these principles is that rest is the result and the fruit of labour and toil; it is the right and duty of workers. The second principle which I venture to lay down with reference to recreation is this-that its proper object is to prepare us for further work. There is yet one other principle to be noticed in connection with our subject, viz., that in our rest and recreation we should maintain a consciousness of God’s presence, and carry out the apostolic rule-whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (J. F. Kitto, M. A.)

Recreation

Luther used to sport with his children; Edmund Burke used to caress his favourite horse; Thomas Chalmers, in the dark hour of the Church’s disruption, played kite for recreation-as I was told by his own daughter; and the busy Christ said to the busy apostles: “Come ye apart awhile into the desert and rest yourselves.” And I have observed that they who do not know how to rest do not know how to work. (Dr. Talmage.)

Seclusion with Christ

It was a time of mourning. Our Lord had just heard of the death of a near kinsman; that lion-hearted man who had confronted a king in his adultery, and had given his life as a martyr. His death, with its circumstances, affected no doubt with more than common sorrow the tender, loving, most human heart of Jesus. Also it was one of those dangerous times in human life, at which the accomplishment of a difficult duty is apt to throw us off our guard, and through self-complacency to induce slumber. The apostles had just returned from a difficult mission, and had come back to report to their Master both what they had done and what they had taught. And for this third reason also. Theirs was a busy life, a life of great unrest at all times: “there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.” For some purposes indeed the world cannot be too much with us. With it and in it lies our work. To encourage the activities, to direct the energies. Besides which, there are not only virtues which can have no exercise but in society-there are also many faults which spring up inevitably in solitude. There are some influences of the world which need a strong counteraction. One of these is irritation. Another of these evil influences is what must be called, in popular language, worldliness. And there is this, too, in the presence of the world, that it keeps under, of necessity, the lively action of conscience, and makes any direct access to God an absolute impossibility. A Christian man thinks it no part of religion, but the very contrary, to do his worldly business badly. If he is to do it well, he must give his thoughts to it. If he is to give his thoughts to it, the lively presence of high and holy topics of meditation is scarcely possible. The correcting necessity-“Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile.” This seclusion may be either periodical or occasional. Think what night is, and then say what we should be without it. And that which night is, in one aspect, as a periodical withdrawal from the injurious influences of the multitude, that, in another point of view, and yet more impressively, is God’s day of rest, the blessed Resurrection day, the Christian Sunday. One He visits with a loss, and one with a misfortune, and one with a bereavement, and one with disease. But there remains just one caution. We must not wait for this seclusion by Christ Himself. If Christ comes not to take us aside, we must go aside to Him. (C. J. Vaughan, D. D.)

The higher use of retirement

And after the weary six days have seen him burning, glowing, sacked, replenished, and sacked again, Sunday comes; and thousands of men do on Sunday what railroads do-run the old engine into the machine shop, and make the needed repairs, that it may be fit to start again on Monday. So men, dealing in the affairs of life, and coming under its excitements, go into retirement purely and merely to rest, simply to refit. It is a life that is not worthy of a man. It is a life that certainly is adverse, in all its influences, to the plenary development of that which makes man the noblest animal on the globe. We do not need retirement because we are so weary: we need it, and enough of it, and we need it under certain right circumstances, in order that we may think, consider, and know what we are, where we are, and what we are doing. (H. W. Beecher.)

Retirement for observation

Then we need these periods of rest for taking new observations. Every ship that makes a voyage, after fogs or storms obscured the sky, seizes the first moment of starlight or sunlight to take observations. The seamen have been going by dead reckoning or by no reckoning, but when they get an opportunity to make an observation, they can very soon tell by computation where they are. (H. W. Beecher.)

Rest from one set of ideas

One fact which we cannot afford to overlook is that the instrument of the soul in all its mental and emotional workings is a material brain, undergoing with each modification of thought and play of feeling a corresponding molecular change. In common with every other bodily organ, its healthy activity is limited by its need of nutrition and sleep. Besides, the researches of men like Professor Ferrier have proved that there is a localization of faculty in the brain, so that persevering without intermission in one set of ideas has an effect upon it corresponding to the exclusive use of one set of muscles in another part of the body, with similar results also of disproportionate development and consequent incompleteness of mental character. These are only physiological explanations of the well-established facts of experience, that work without play induces dulness, that the bow must sometimes be unbent, that there must be in mental culture not only a rotation of various crops, but periodical fallows, or barrenness will be the result. In the name of morality and religion, also, a protest may be raised against unceasing and exclusive occupation for the welfare of others, as the ideal of a worthy life. God sent us into the world to grow and realize His own thought in creating us. If human welfare is an end of our existence, our own welfare is, at least, part of it. But it is inconsistent with our welfare to dwarf and repress any part of our God-given nature. We were intended to grow all round, on our north side as well as on the side that faces the sun. The sense of melody, the feeling of humour, the perception of beauty in form and colour, and the social instinct, are as much from God as our conscience of right and wrong. They are of immeasurably less importance, but of some importance, nevertheless. Their culture cannot be neglected, or their cravings repressed, without a corresponding loss of mental symmetry. (E. W. Shalders, B. A.)

The richer for rest

The first element of recreation is rest. Change of employment brings a measure of relief, but no change of employment will dispense with the necessity there is for rest. To suppose that the time spent in it is so much deducted from the world’s welfare or our own is a great mistake. In a speech delivered by Lord Macaulay, more than thirty years ago, advocating a shortening of the hours of labour, he describes, in language as true as it is eloquent, the material advantages this country has derived from the observance of the Sabbath. He says: “The natural difference between Campania and Spitzbergen is trifling when compared with the difference between a country inhabited by men full of bodily and mental vigour and a country inhabited by men sunk in bodily and mental decrepitude. Therefore it is that we are not poorer, but richer, because we have, through many ages, rested from our labour one day in seven. That day is not lost. While industry is suspended, while the plough lies ill the furrow, while the Exchange is silent, while no smoke ascends from the factory, a process is going on quite as important to the wealth of nations as any process which is performed on more busy days. Man, the machine of machines, the machine compared with which all the contrivances of the Watts and the Arkwrights are worthless, is repairing and winding up, so that he returns to his labours on the Monday with clearer intellect, with livelier spirits, with renewed corporeal vigour. Never will I believe that what makes a population stronger, and healthier, and wiser, and better, can make it poorer.” (E. W. Shalders, B. A.)

Retirement essential to the growth of true piety

There were two classes to whom this invitation was addressed-the mourners for John Baptist (see preceding verses, and Matthew 14:12-13)
and the triumphant apostles, exulting, excited, and perhaps unduly elated (verse 30).

I. The circumstances in which the Saviour makes this appeal.

1. On the Lord’s day.

2. Frequent intervals during the week.

3. Seasons of sickness.

4. Various relative trials.

II. The nature of the retirement to which we are invited.

1. Not simply withdrawal from others. You may live aloof from the world, and yet not be with Christ.

2. Not monkish seclusion. It was only “for awhile.” Not like the hermits of the deserts.

3. To enjoy His sympathy.

4. To listen to His instructions; to learn His truth.

5. To feel the sanctifying effect of His presence.

III. The purposes for which this retirement is needed-“They had not leisure so much as to eat.”

1. Our physical nature requires it.

2. For our spiritual health. The late Sir E. Parry was remarkable for his regular observance of devotional exercise on board his ship, and equally for his skill and presence of mind in times of danger. “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” There is much growth of a warm, still, summer’s night, when the dew is quietly descending on the plant.

3. To prepare us for usefulness. Lamps must be secretly fed with holy oil.

4. To prepare us to be alone with Christ at last.

.

Rest awhile

It will amply repay the pilgrim to turn aside sometimes from the beaten track; for the incidental teachings of the Blessed Life, like the wild flowers of the glen, or the fern sheltering in the fissure, or the silver stream dripping from the rock, or the still pool with its myriad beauties, are no inconsiderable element in the attainment of that wisdom whose ways are pleasantness, and whose paths are peace. The lessons of the story are broad and obvious. Foregoing the lessons of this story as a whole, it will be profitable to give our attention to that one feature of it which is enshrined in the words: “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile.”

I. For with what graphic force do the words on which the Master’s invitation was based describe the unrest of today-“There were many coming and going.” We meet it everywhere. On all sides one is brought face to face with work-exciting, bewildering, exhausting. This is not an eccentricity, an abnormal and therefore transitional phenomenon; it is a necessity of the times. The energy which at one time commanded a fortune is now needed to win one’s daily bread. Inventions which once excited the wonder of the world are now regarded as curiosities. The scholarship which a century ago secured a European reputation now provokes a smile. This is growing upon us. Such a state of things cannot be viewed without anxiety. Physiologically, or from the standpoint of the political economist, this wear and tear of life is serious. In the home life of today the absorbing interests of the outside world are telling with terrible force. But it is in its influence upon the moral and religious life that the present unrest is to be viewed with the gravest anxiety. The claims of the day upon a man’s thought, energy, time, are not only perilous; they are fatal to the true and healthy growth of the soul; and where there is no growth there is decay.

II. The preservative against the dangers of the prevalent unrest and excitement which the words of the Master suggest-“Come ye … and rest awhile.” For there is no peril, no necessity, to which the resources of Divine grace and sympathy are not adjusted. It might seem superfluous to dwell, even for a moment, on the imperative need there is for physical rest in these days when there are “many coming and going.” (R. N. Young, D. D)


Verses 30-46

Verse 32

Mark 6:32; Mark 6:34

And Jesus, when He came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion.
-

Christ’s teaching the world’s great need

I. The people.

1. The people saw Him.

2. They knew Him.

3. They ran afoot thither.

4. They outran and reached Him.

II. The Lord.

1. He came.

2. He saw.

3. He pitied.

4. He taught. (H. Bonar, D. D.)

The compassion of Christ

I. The compassion of Jesus Christ. Compassion is a branch or modification of kindness of heart, or of benevolence. Under the influence of it we enter into the circumstances and feelings of others; prompted to aid and relieve them. The term “compassion” signifies to sympathize, or to suffer along with others; and, therefore, while it is a most lovely affection, and the exercise of it yields the purest delight on the one hand; yet, on the other, it is always attended with uneasy feelings and painful sensations, and that in exact proportion to the strength of our compassion. Hence you will see, that when compassion is ascribed in Scripture, as it often is, to God, it must differ in some essential points from human compassion. We are compound beings, having not only bodies, but rational souls; and possessing not only the powers of understanding, will, and conscience, but instincts, affections, or passions. But “God is a Spirit” a simple uncompounded being. In Him there is no such thing as passion; and, consequently, no uneasy feelings or painful sensations can attend the exercise of compassion in Him. It is the benevolent and ready tendency o! His gracious nature to pity and relieve the miserable, when this is consistent with His sovereign and wise pleasure. “I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” This ready and benevolent tendency of nature, to pity and relieve the miserable, was one of the brightest and loveliest features in the character of the Saviour; and, from eternity, and as He was a Divine person, it was exactly the same in Him as in the other persons of the adorable Trinity. But in the person of Jesus Christ are now closely united both the Divine and human natures; and, thus, when He was in this world, in the form of a servant, and acting and suffering in our stead, compassion in Him partook of the nature and properties both of Divine and human compassion. He possessed not only the perfections of Godhead, but the sinless feelings and affections of manhood. “In all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God.” In His present state of glory, He wears our nature, and will do so forever; and He is said to be “touched with the feeling of our infirmities,” yet, as His humbled suffering state is completely at an end, He is really and tenderly, though not painfully, impressed with our weaknesses, sorrows, and dangers. But the case was widely different with Him while in this world. It was then a part of His humbled suffering state to take our infirmities on Him, to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows. In His human nature, He felt our sorrows and wretchedness as far as His sinless and unsinning nature could feel them. He was then literally “moved with compassion.” He felt as a shepherd does for his straying sheep; as a compassionate man for suffering humanity; as the incarnate Son of God, in the character of Redeemer, for perishing sinners. “And Jesus, when He came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.”

II. I shall speak of the objects of the Saviour’s compassion:-

1. Sinners of the human race were the objects of His Divine and eternal compassion. In common with the Father and Spirit, “He remembered us in our low estate; for His mercy endureth forever.” His compassion was not of the sentimental speculative kind, which leads many to say to the naked and destitute, “Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled;” but to do no more. No. It was real, deep, operative. He pitied sinners, “and so He was their Saviour,” and did and suffered all that infinite wisdom and justice saw to be necessary to procure eternal redemption for them.

2. During the time the Saviour was in this world, the condition of sinners daily moved His compassion. When He saw the widow of Nain following the bier of her only son to the grave, “He had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.”

3. All His people, even the best and holiest in this world, are the objects of His compassion. All need it. “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect.” “For in many things we offend all.”

4. The weak, the timid and doubting, are peculiarly the objects of His compassion-who are weak in the faith, who are of a fearful mind, who are harassed with temptations, and borne down with poverty and oppression, vexations and bereavements.

Application:

1. Do you wish to have objects of compassion presented to your view? Think of the heathen.

2. This subject reads an important lesson to all ministers of the gospel We should be imitators of the compassion of Christ.

3. Will sinners have no compassion on themselves?

4. Let weak and timid Christians be encouraged, We have set before you the compassionate Saviour. Put your case into His hands. Trust in His compassion. (Scottish Pulpit.)

Pity more unselfish than love

We often speak of love as the ultimate passion, but there is a depth even beyond love. For love is largely its own reward, and so may possibly have an element of imperfection, but pity or compassion has not only all the glory or power of love, but it forgets itself and its own returning satisfactions, and goes wholly over into the sufferings of others, and there expends itself, not turning back or within to say to itself, as does love, “How good it is to love!” It may be a factor in the solution of the problem of evil that it calls out the highest measure of the Divine love; a race that does not suffer might not have a full revelation of God’s heart. What! Create a race miserable in order to love it! Yes, if so thereby its members shall learn to love one another and if thus only it may know the love of its Creator. In the same way it is man’s consciousness of misery, or self-pity, that reveals to him his own greatness-a thought that Pascal turns over and over. Pity is love and something more: love at its utmost, love with its principle outside of itself and therefore moral, love refined to utter purity by absorption with suffering. A mother loves her child when it is well, but pities it when it is sick, and how much more is the pity than the love! How much nearer does it bring her, rendering the flesh that separates her from it a hated barrier because it prevents absolute oneness, dying out of her own consciousness, and going wholly over into that of the child whose pains she would thus, as it were, draw off into her own body! To die with and for one who is loved-as the poets are fond of showing-is according to the philosophy of human nature. Might not something like it be expected of God, who is absolute love? And how shall He love in this absolute way except by union with His suffering children? Such is the nature of pity; it is a vicarious thing, which bare love is not, because it creates identity with the sufferer. (T. T. Munger.)

Christ’s pity embraced the unconscious suffering of men

It is not to be thought, however, that this Christly pity embraced only the conscious suffering of men. It is an undiscerning sympathy that reaches only to ills that are felt and confessed. We every day meet men with laughter on their lips, and unclouded brows, who are very nearly the greatest claimants of pity. Pity him who laughs but never thinks. Pity the men or women who fritter away the days in busy idleness, calling it society, when they might read a book. Pity those, who, without evil intent, are making great mistakes, who live as though life had no purpose or end, who gratify a present desire unmindful of future pain. Pity parents who have not learned how to rear and train their children: pity the children so reared as they go forth unto life with undermined health and weakened nerves, prematurely wearied of Society, lawless in their dispositions, rude and inconsiderate in their manners, stamped with the impress of chance associations and unregulated pleasures. “No! it is not pain that is to be pitied so much as mistake, not conscious suffering, but courses that breed future suffering.” Who then calls for it more than those who have settled to so low and dull a view of life as not to feel the loss of its higher forms, content with squalor and ignorance and low achievement or mere sustenance? It is now quite common to say at the suggestion of some very earnest philanthropists that the poor and degraded do not suffer as they seem: that they get to be en rapport with their surroundings, and so unmindful of their apparent misery. This may be so, but even if the wind is thus tempered to these shorn lambs of adversity, it is no occasion for withholding pity. Nay! the pity should be all the deeper. The real misery here is, that these poor beings do not look upon their wretched condition with horror and disgust, that they are without that sense and standard of life which would lead them to cry, “This is intolerable; I must escape from it.” Hence, the discerning Christ-like eye will look through all such low contentedness to the abject spirit behind it, and there extend its pity. Not those who suffer most, but oftener those who suffer least, are the most pitiable. (T. T. Munger.)


Verse 34

Mark 6:32; Mark 6:34

And Jesus, when He came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion.
-

Christ’s teaching the world’s great need

I. The people.

1. The people saw Him.

2. They knew Him.

3. They ran afoot thither.

4. They outran and reached Him.

II. The Lord.

1. He came.

2. He saw.

3. He pitied.

4. He taught. (H. Bonar, D. D.)

The compassion of Christ

I. The compassion of Jesus Christ. Compassion is a branch or modification of kindness of heart, or of benevolence. Under the influence of it we enter into the circumstances and feelings of others; prompted to aid and relieve them. The term “compassion” signifies to sympathize, or to suffer along with others; and, therefore, while it is a most lovely affection, and the exercise of it yields the purest delight on the one hand; yet, on the other, it is always attended with uneasy feelings and painful sensations, and that in exact proportion to the strength of our compassion. Hence you will see, that when compassion is ascribed in Scripture, as it often is, to God, it must differ in some essential points from human compassion. We are compound beings, having not only bodies, but rational souls; and possessing not only the powers of understanding, will, and conscience, but instincts, affections, or passions. But “God is a Spirit” a simple uncompounded being. In Him there is no such thing as passion; and, consequently, no uneasy feelings or painful sensations can attend the exercise of compassion in Him. It is the benevolent and ready tendency o! His gracious nature to pity and relieve the miserable, when this is consistent with His sovereign and wise pleasure. “I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” This ready and benevolent tendency of nature, to pity and relieve the miserable, was one of the brightest and loveliest features in the character of the Saviour; and, from eternity, and as He was a Divine person, it was exactly the same in Him as in the other persons of the adorable Trinity. But in the person of Jesus Christ are now closely united both the Divine and human natures; and, thus, when He was in this world, in the form of a servant, and acting and suffering in our stead, compassion in Him partook of the nature and properties both of Divine and human compassion. He possessed not only the perfections of Godhead, but the sinless feelings and affections of manhood. “In all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God.” In His present state of glory, He wears our nature, and will do so forever; and He is said to be “touched with the feeling of our infirmities,” yet, as His humbled suffering state is completely at an end, He is really and tenderly, though not painfully, impressed with our weaknesses, sorrows, and dangers. But the case was widely different with Him while in this world. It was then a part of His humbled suffering state to take our infirmities on Him, to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows. In His human nature, He felt our sorrows and wretchedness as far as His sinless and unsinning nature could feel them. He was then literally “moved with compassion.” He felt as a shepherd does for his straying sheep; as a compassionate man for suffering humanity; as the incarnate Son of God, in the character of Redeemer, for perishing sinners. “And Jesus, when He came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.”

II. I shall speak of the objects of the Saviour’s compassion:-

1. Sinners of the human race were the objects of His Divine and eternal compassion. In common with the Father and Spirit, “He remembered us in our low estate; for His mercy endureth forever.” His compassion was not of the sentimental speculative kind, which leads many to say to the naked and destitute, “Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled;” but to do no more. No. It was real, deep, operative. He pitied sinners, “and so He was their Saviour,” and did and suffered all that infinite wisdom and justice saw to be necessary to procure eternal redemption for them.

2. During the time the Saviour was in this world, the condition of sinners daily moved His compassion. When He saw the widow of Nain following the bier of her only son to the grave, “He had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.”

3. All His people, even the best and holiest in this world, are the objects of His compassion. All need it. “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect.” “For in many things we offend all.”

4. The weak, the timid and doubting, are peculiarly the objects of His compassion-who are weak in the faith, who are of a fearful mind, who are harassed with temptations, and borne down with poverty and oppression, vexations and bereavements.

Application:

1. Do you wish to have objects of compassion presented to your view? Think of the heathen.

2. This subject reads an important lesson to all ministers of the gospel We should be imitators of the compassion of Christ.

3. Will sinners have no compassion on themselves?

4. Let weak and timid Christians be encouraged, We have set before you the compassionate Saviour. Put your case into His hands. Trust in His compassion. (Scottish Pulpit.)

Pity more unselfish than love

We often speak of love as the ultimate passion, but there is a depth even beyond love. For love is largely its own reward, and so may possibly have an element of imperfection, but pity or compassion has not only all the glory or power of love, but it forgets itself and its own returning satisfactions, and goes wholly over into the sufferings of others, and there expends itself, not turning back or within to say to itself, as does love, “How good it is to love!” It may be a factor in the solution of the problem of evil that it calls out the highest measure of the Divine love; a race that does not suffer might not have a full revelation of God’s heart. What! Create a race miserable in order to love it! Yes, if so thereby its members shall learn to love one another and if thus only it may know the love of its Creator. In the same way it is man’s consciousness of misery, or self-pity, that reveals to him his own greatness-a thought that Pascal turns over and over. Pity is love and something more: love at its utmost, love with its principle outside of itself and therefore moral, love refined to utter purity by absorption with suffering. A mother loves her child when it is well, but pities it when it is sick, and how much more is the pity than the love! How much nearer does it bring her, rendering the flesh that separates her from it a hated barrier because it prevents absolute oneness, dying out of her own consciousness, and going wholly over into that of the child whose pains she would thus, as it were, draw off into her own body! To die with and for one who is loved-as the poets are fond of showing-is according to the philosophy of human nature. Might not something like it be expected of God, who is absolute love? And how shall He love in this absolute way except by union with His suffering children? Such is the nature of pity; it is a vicarious thing, which bare love is not, because it creates identity with the sufferer. (T. T. Munger.)

Christ’s pity embraced the unconscious suffering of men

It is not to be thought, however, that this Christly pity embraced only the conscious suffering of men. It is an undiscerning sympathy that reaches only to ills that are felt and confessed. We every day meet men with laughter on their lips, and unclouded brows, who are very nearly the greatest claimants of pity. Pity him who laughs but never thinks. Pity the men or women who fritter away the days in busy idleness, calling it society, when they might read a book. Pity those, who, without evil intent, are making great mistakes, who live as though life had no purpose or end, who gratify a present desire unmindful of future pain. Pity parents who have not learned how to rear and train their children: pity the children so reared as they go forth unto life with undermined health and weakened nerves, prematurely wearied of Society, lawless in their dispositions, rude and inconsiderate in their manners, stamped with the impress of chance associations and unregulated pleasures. “No! it is not pain that is to be pitied so much as mistake, not conscious suffering, but courses that breed future suffering.” Who then calls for it more than those who have settled to so low and dull a view of life as not to feel the loss of its higher forms, content with squalor and ignorance and low achievement or mere sustenance? It is now quite common to say at the suggestion of some very earnest philanthropists that the poor and degraded do not suffer as they seem: that they get to be en rapport with their surroundings, and so unmindful of their apparent misery. This may be so, but even if the wind is thus tempered to these shorn lambs of adversity, it is no occasion for withholding pity. Nay! the pity should be all the deeper. The real misery here is, that these poor beings do not look upon their wretched condition with horror and disgust, that they are without that sense and standard of life which would lead them to cry, “This is intolerable; I must escape from it.” Hence, the discerning Christ-like eye will look through all such low contentedness to the abject spirit behind it, and there extend its pity. Not those who suffer most, but oftener those who suffer least, are the most pitiable. (T. T. Munger.)


Verses 35-44

Mark 6:35-44

He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat.

Miracle of the loaves

The miracles of Christ ought to be considered; they are not trifles, and they ought not to be passed over as if they were the mere commonplaces of a daily newspaper. Everything that has to do with the Son of God is worthy of deepest study. What He did at one time is an index to what He will do again when need arises. He is grand in emergencies, and will rather feed His sheep by miracle than let them starve.

I. The guests.

1. Their great number. Feasting on an imperial scale. Five thousand gathered together, and all as easily provided for as if there had been but five!

2. The strange character of the guests. A nondescript multitude, collected from all classes. Little good could be said of them, except that they had an ear to hear Jesus preach, and were especially glad if the sermon was the first course, with loaves and fishes for the second. But Jesus did not wait until men deserved it, before blessing them. Bad or good, the generous Saviour fed them all; and He is willing to do so still.

3. What the guests had in common. All hungry, and all poor. Yet Christ invites, and He provides everything. We only need to receive, to partake of the fruit of His compassion.

II. The orderliness of the guests. They sat down in ranks. How were they marshalled so well? The Lord of Hosts was there; He knows how to marshal armies. Out of our disorder, Christ makes His order. However it may seem to us, God’s purposes are being carried oat, and at the right time we shall see that all has been done wisely and well.

III. The fare set before the guests. Bread and fish-a relish as well as a sufficiency. Christ is not content to give what is barely enough; He likes to give more than is actually required. You shall find in your dish a secret something which will sweeten all.

IV. The waiters at the feast. The disciples. He employs men to minister to men. What condescension! And what a blessed occupation for those whom He thus employs.

V. The blessing. Nothing without worship and thanks. Jesus must bless our labour, or it will be fruitless. Always give that look upward before you begin your work.

VI. The eating. When Jesus provides spiritual meat He intends it to be used-eaten. If you put two canaries in a cage tonight, and in the morning when they wake they see a quantity of seed in a box,-what will the birds do? Will they stop and ask what the seeds are there for? No, but they each reason thus: “Here is a little hungry bird, and there is some seed; these two things go well together.” And straightway they eat. Even thus, if in your right senses, and not perverted by sin, you will say, “Here is a Saviour, and here is a sinner; these two things go well together; dear Saviour, save me a sinner. Here is a feast of mercy, and here is a hungry sinner; what can that feast be for but for the hungry, and I am such. Lord, I will even draw near and partake of this blessed feast of Thine; and unless Thou come and tell me to begone, I will feast till I am full.” We need fear no repulse. Jesus rejects none from His feast of love. Come and partake, and the more fully the better pleased will He be.

VII. The clearing away. This teaches economy in the use of the Lord’s goods. And when properly used, not only is there never any lack, but abundance over. Christ’s power cannot be exhausted, no matter what the demands upon it may be. Come, for all things are ready. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Feeding the five thousand: a miracle

A grand display of-

I. Wisdom.

1. A practical 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.

II. Power.

1. Creative.

2. Multiplying human resources.

III. Mercy.

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. (A. F. Muir, M. A.)

A parable in a miracle

No less significant as parable than as miracle. Perhaps, indeed, the suggestion of spiritual things was its chief aim. It sets forth the physical and spiritual dependence of men upon God, and the Father’s willingness and power to provide for His children; also the nature of principles of Divine mercy to mankind are suggested.

I. The poverty of the Church.

1. In position. Desert.

2. In material supplies.

3. In spiritual resource.

II. The riches of Christ.

1. Administered through the appointed means of grace.

2. Abundant to satisfy all demands.

III. Conditions of Divine communication to men.

1. Obedience.

2. Order.

3. Divinely commissioned service.

4. Prayer.

5. Faith. (A. F. Muir, M. A.)

The multitude fed

I. The compassion of Christ. For the body as well as the soul. Where a want exists, those who first see it should seek to supply it.

II. Love is rich in resources. If the best use is made of existing means, they will insensibly multiply.

III. Method in beneficence. When we introduce order into our works, we reflect the law of heaven and imitate the thought of God.

IV. In God’s feasts there is ever enough and to spare. (E. Johnson, M. A.)

The miracle of the loaves

This miracle

Christ the Sustainer of life

Jesus here manifests Himself as the Sustainer of life. As such-

1. He works by making use of what appear to us to be ordinary means. No striking exhibition of supernatural power here. He takes the common food which God’s providence had supplied, and in the distribution of that the whole multitude are fed. Possibly many present never recognized it to be a miracle at all.

2. He works by the ministry of men. Indeed, He was less visibly the agent in this miracle than were His disciples. The ignorant multitude might have imagined that it was they who were feeding them. But the disciples knew that it was Jesus only, and that they were but His instruments, carrying out the miracle only as far as they were acting in simple obedience to Him.

3. He works by order and method.

4. He recognizes that all must be done in union with the Father. He blesses that wherewith He would work, knowing that what the Father has blessed must fulfil its purpose. He gives thanks for it, knowing that to give thanks for a little is the way to make it become more. Application:

(a) By such methods the Eternal Word, by Whom all things were made, sustains the natural life of the creatures of His hand. He works by the natural laws which He has Himself provided, and so withdraws Himself from common observation that the thoughtless multitude fail to recognize His presence, and regard not Him who is ever for their sakes multiplying by His hidden power our natural sustenance. He works also by the ministry of men, thereby teaching us our mutual dependence on one another. This we further learn from the divisions of the human family into nations and callings, which is part of His Divine order. All this sustaining work of the Eternal Word is done in union with the Eternal Father, from Whom and in Whom are all things.

(b) By like methods the same Eternal Word sustains our spiritual life. By the simple means of grace, by the Communion of Saints, by the Divine Order of the Church; by all these, under the blessing of the Father, the life of His Spirit in men’s souls is ever being nourished. (Vernon W. Hutton, B. A.)

In ranks

The word here translated “ranks” indicates that the people were seated in “separate detachments,” with sufficient space left to move freely between them. According to another etymology, however, it signifies “a bed of herbs or flowers,” and its usage would then illustrate St. Mark’s picturesqueness, the bright Eastern costumes of the compact masses upon the brilliant green having suggested to an eyewitness a close resemblance to a bright and well-ordered garden. (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)

Christ’s ability to do much with little

It is true that we have but our five coarse barley loaves and two small fishes; in themselves they are useless. Well, then, let us give them to Christ. He can multiply them, and can make them more than enough to feed the five thousand. A cup of cold water-what a little thing it is! Well, but will the world ever forget one cup of cold water which David would not drink, but poured upon the earth, because his men had risked their lives to fetch it him; or the other cup of cold water which Sir Philip Sidney, although dying and athirst, gave to the wounded soldier who eyed it eagerly at the battle of Zutphen? A grain of mustard seed-can anything be smaller? Well, but when Zinzendorf was a boy at school he founded amongst his schoolfellows a little guild which he called the “Order of the Grain of Mustard Seed,” and thereafter that seedling grew into the great tree of the Moravian Brotherhood whose boughs were a blessing to the world. The widow’s mite! When they laughed at St. Theresa when she wanted to build a great orphanage, and had but three shillings to begin with, she answered, “With three shillings Theresa can do nothing; but with God and her three shillings there is nothing which Theresa cannot do.” Do not let us imagine, then, that we are too poor, or too stupid, or too ignorant, or too obscure to do any real good in the world wherein God has placed us. Is there a greater work in this day than the work of education? Would you have thought that the chief impulse to that work, whereon we now annually spend so many millions of taxation, was given by a poor, illiterate Plymouth cobbler-John Pounds? Has there been a nobler work of mercy in modern days than the purification of prisons? Yet that was done by one whom a great modern writer sneeringly patronized as “the dull, good man, John Howard.” Is there a grander, nobler enterprise than missions? The mission of England to India was started by a humble, itinerant shoemaker, William Carey. These men brought to Christ their humble efforts, their five loaves, and in His hand they multiplied exceedingly. (Archdeacon Farrar.)

Looked up to Heaven and blessed

The king of the island of Toobow avowed an attachment to Christianity. In 1823 he went on board a British vessel to pay a visit to the captain, and unconsciously conveyed a very forcible practical reproof to the party. He sat down at table to partake of some refreshment; but, although food was placed before him, he made a very observable pause; and, when asked why he did not begin, replied that he was waiting till a blessing had been asked upon the food. The reproof was felt, and the party were ashamed at being rebuked by a man whose intellectual attainments they considered far inferior to their own. They rose and the king asked a blessing before they commenced the repast.

Carefulness even in small things

Here observe-

1. God wastes nothing-in nature, in providence, in grace.

2. Thrift is duty. The wasteful have as little to give as the penurious.

3. Husbandry of joys is wisdom. Too late to begin trying to “gather up the fragments” when calamity has come.

4. Husbandry of time is duty. The men who do most in this world are those who waste least time.

5. Those who give, get more than they part with. Lend a boat to Christ, and you get a miraculous draught of fishes. Give him five loaves, and He will give you twelve baskets of fragments back. He that saves his money loses it; but he that loses it for love’s sake, will keep it. (R. Glover.)

Feeding of five thousand

In this narrative we may note the following points-

I. The compassion and power of Christ were for the bodies and minds of men.

II. The excitement of expectation prepares for the reception of good.

III. Material objects and human agency are employed in the communication of Divine gifts.

IV. Order should be observed, gratitude expressed, and liberality be combined with frugality, in common meals. (J. H. Godwin.)

Our duty to the multitude

Let us inquire what that part is, which belongs to us, analogous to that which devolved upon the disciples; and let us learn from the three lessons which are furnished, to magnify and exalt that saving mercy, of which we have been so long and so abundantly partakers.

I. We learn from the text, in the first place, then, a call to duty. The advancement of the kingdom of Christ is, or ought to be, the first object of every sincere Christian.

II. But we learn, in the second place, a call to faith. There is one essential difference, without doubt, between the case of the disciples and our own; the difference, I mean, of miraculous interposition. In the case of the disciples, a miracle was necessary; in our case, all is left to us. Did I say, all?-all exertion, all prayer, and all faith; but the blessing must unquestionably be added from above, or all is in vain.

III. But I am anxious to summon your attention to the third and last lesson of the text, namely, its call for encouragement. How great is our encouragement! Like the disciples, we have the Saviour, to whom we may look to bless the means we use, and to make the results glorious. (W. Harrison, M. A.)

The multitude fed in the wilderness

I. The miracle.

1. Power over the material world. This to material beings like ourselves is a concern of no small moment. Have the things around us any Master? If so, who is He? “The Lord Christ,” answers the gospel. It follows that He can never be at a loss for an instant to punish us; also that the stores of nature are to us just what He pleases to make them. In the material world, as in the spiritual, His people are safe.

2. Notice also in this miracle the little value which Christ puts on sensual gratifications, on luxuries and what we call comforts. We have seen His power; it was evidently boundless. A word from His lips could have spread before this multitude all the delicacies of the East. But in calling His omnipotence into exercise for them, the only food He provides is the mean fare of the humblest fisherman.

II. Let us pass on now to the feelings with which this miracle was wrought.

1. One of these was evidently a consciousness of power. Not that it was wrought ostentatiously, for the purpose of exciting astonishment or applause; it was a work of pure compassion, with no vain show whatever in it; nay, with a concealment of power, rather than a display of it.

2. We have thus looked at the author of this miracle as God; but He is as really man as He is God, and he feels and acts here like a dependent man; for mark further the spirit of devotion He manifests. “When He had taken the five loaves and the two fishes,” the evangelist says, “He looked up to heaven and blessed.” Why this bringing of devotion to bear upon the trifles of life? Because God is in all these trifles. True religion is not an act, but a habit; not an impulse or emotion, but a principle; not a sudden torrent, produced by the snows of winter or the thunderstorm of summer; it is a stream ever running, varying indeed in its breadth and depth, but from the moment of its rise, ever flowing on till it reaches the ocean of everlasting life. Banish God from your meals, or habitually from anything, and you might as well banish Him from everything.

3. Notice also the munificence, the liberality, with which our Lord spread this wide board for this vast multitude. “The two fishes divided He among them all; and they did all eat and were filled.” None were excluded, none were controlled, none went away dissatisfied. There was enough and to spare. And think not, brethren, that you can ever exhaust the grace, or diminish the fulness, of your Almighty Saviour.

III. The time chosen for this miracle-“When the day was now far passed.” The disciples were thus taught that they could do nothing for the hungry crowd. This mode of proceeding runs through all his dealings with us, whether in providence or in grace. He humbles us “under His mighty hand,” before He exalts us; He breaks our hearts, before He heals.

IV. And this is nearly the same truth that our fourth subject will suggest to us-the place where this miracle was performed. You discover then at once, brethren, the lesson we have to learn here-our richest supplies, our best comforts, are not the growth of our worldly prosperity, nor often the companions of our worldly ease; they come to us in situations and under circumstances, which seem to cut us off from every comfort and supply. Think of the deserts in which you have wandered. Outward affliction has been one of these. Spiritual sorrow, too, conviction of sin, is another wilderness; a dark and fearful one; none on earth more fearful. O never let us fear the desert, as long as we are there with the Lord Jesus Christ. (C. Bradley, M. A.)

Food for the million

I. Jesus Christ affords us all our food for bodily sustenance.

II. Needful food is ensured to His true disciples.

III. See how Christ would have us receive our food.

1. With thankfulness and decorum.

2. With generous distribution of it to others.

3. With frugal care of it.

IV. The miracle is a type of Gospel provisions for the souls of men.

1. Christ gives us spiritual food; as truth, righteousness, and love.

2. He distributes it through His ministering servants, and it multiplies in their hands.

3. It is superabundantly enough for all mankind. Therefore-

Christ’s feast free

Christ’s banqueting hall was an open field, there were no walls or doors, or persons guarding the entrance: thus free is His feast of love at this moment. Whosoever will, let him come. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Order out of disorder

The original word used by Mark represents them as divided, like beds of flowers, with walks between, so that as a gardener can go up and down, and water all the plants, so the waiters at the feast could conveniently give every man his share of bread and his piece of fish without confusion. They sat down in ranks by fifties and by hundreds. Things do not look so orderly now, do they, as we see Christ through His Church feeding the multitude? There is a good work going on in the North of England, there is a revival in Scotland, there is an awakening in Ireland, there is a stir in the Midland Counties; but does it not look very like a scramble? Do we not seem to tumble over one another, instead of doing our work in soldierly order? A good work springs up in one place on a sudden, while religion is dying out in other quarters; the people are satiated yonder, and are starving only a little way off. We do not get at the masses as a whole, or see the Church progress in all places. Let us not, however, judge too hastily, for Jesus makes His order out of our disorder. We see a piece of the puzzle, but when the whole shall be put together and we shall see the end from the beginning, I warrant you we shall see that Christ’s great feast of mercy, with its myriads of guests, has been conducted on a principle of order as mathematically accurate as that which guides the spheres in their courses. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Salvation for us

Why flows the river, but to make glad your fields? Why sparkles the fountain, but to quench your thirst? Why shines the sun, but for your eyes to be blessed with his light? As you breaths the air around you because you feel that it must have been made for you to breathe, so receive the full, free salvation of Jesus Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Four thousand men to be fed in the wilderness

My brethren, the difficulty urged by the disciples is one not of bygone times only.

I. It is a difficulty arising from numbers, and it is a difficulty arising from place. When from any unhappy cause, such as that terrible and most wicked war which is at this time raging in the new world, the supplies of trade and commerce are suddenly cut off from a large portion of our countrymen, how sad a meaning is given even in a literal sense to the inquiry in the text! What a burden is thrown upon private charity, what a burden is thrown upon the public resources, by a cry for bread, for the food of the body, going up from destitute thousands! And are there not some among us capable of feeling the same weight of difficulty in reference to things spiritual? And when our thoughts take a wider range, and pass to towns and cities in our own laud where the population is counted not by hundreds, but by tens of thousands; when we think of that aggregate of ignorance, ungodliness, and sin, which a population of a hundred thousand or of a million of souls must present to the eye of a holy and heart-searching God, and then compare with it the few faithful ministers and servants of God who are set to dispense the bread of life amongst that mighty multitude. The least we expect of the disciples is their own faith, their own obedience. If the prospect is discouraging, it must not be made more so by the faithlessness of the faithful: they at least must eat of Christ’s bread, and assist Him in the distribution (so far as it will go) to others.

II. We have to think also of the difficulty arising from the place; from the disparity between the scene which was before them and the food which was wanted. Bread here in the wilderness. When we apply this to spiritual things, two remarks will suggest themselves. There is an apparent contrariety between heavenly supplies and our earthly condition. We are here in a wilderness. There is an incongruity between the place and the promise. Rest in a changing world, happiness in a troublous world, the ideas are inharmonious and discordant. I appeal to some of you, my brethren, to testify that, though there may be contrariety in the ideas, there is no contradiction. Some of you have found that, though all else changes, God changes not; that, though all else is unrest, in Christ there is peace. You can already attest the truth of His words, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (C. J. Vaughan, D. D.)

Important lessons from Christ’s procedure

1. The poverty of Christ.

2. The voluntary character of His privations.

3. His riches for others are brought into contrast with the poverty of His own estate.

4. The wants of the soul are first to be attended to-as most important.

5. Christ should be trusted with our temporal affairs-He has sympathy and ability.

6. Christ will succour us under the difficulties and hardships felt in following Him.

7. It is when the sagacity and power of man are confessedly inadequate that Christ interposes.

8. It is in using our natural resources that Christ communicates His gracious aid.

9. It is the blessing of Christ which makes anything serve its proper end.

10. The richness and pleasures of an entertainment do not depend on the costliness of the provision.

11. We can never come to Christ at a wrong time.

12. “The bread of life.” “The living bread.” (J. Stewart.)

Miraculous feeding of five thousand

I. A striking view of the Saviour’s tender compassion. Regard it in connection with-

1. The disciples. “When I sent you without purse and script and shoes, lacked ye anything?” And they said, “Nothing.” Now they have a new token of His fidelity and love.

2. The multitude.

II. The display He gave of His almighty power.

1. There was no misgiving.

2. There was no confusion.

3. There was no parade.

4. There was no deficiency.

5. There was no waste. (Expository Outlines.)

The lad’s loaves and fishes

This miracle is remarkable-

I. For the extraordinary number of witnesses there were to it.

II. For the mysterious peculiarity of the process in working.

III. For the extraordinary affluence of its products.

IV. For the profound impression it made and is yet making. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

Providential supply of food

Bishop Bascom was preaching on one occasion in a cabin which was at once church and dwelling. In the midst of the sermon his host, who sat near the door, suddenly rose from his seat, snatched the gun from its wooden brackets upon which it lay against the joist, went hastily out, fired it off, and returning, put the gun in its place, and quietly seated himself to hear the remainder of the sermon. After service was ended, the bishop inquired of the man the meaning of his strange conduct. “Sir,” said he, “we are entirely out of meat, and I was perplexed to know what we should give you for dinner; and it was preventing me from enjoying the sermon, when God sent a flock of wild geese this way. I happened to see them, took my gun, and killed two at a shot. My mind felt easy, and I enjoyed the remainder of the sermon with perfect satisfaction.” (S. S. Teacher.)


Verses 45-51

Mark 6:45-51

And straightway He constrained His disciples to get into the ship.

Need of constraint from Christ

This does not mean that our Lord forced His disciples’ wills, but that from being unwilling He made them willing to do as He desired. Reasons they were loath at first to take ship without Him.

1. Because His society was very amiable, sweet, and comfortable to them, as they had hitherto found by experience; therefore they were unwilling to part from Him, though but for a time.

2. It seemed a matter against reason for Him to stay behind alone in a desert place, especially as night was coming on; therefore they were unwilling to leave Him there.

3. They knew there was in that place no other ship or boat besides the one in which they were to pass over (John 6:22); therefore they would have had Him go over with them in the same ship.

4. It may be also that they were afraid to pass over without Him, lest, if a storm should arise, they should be in danger. Once before, they had been in danger of drowning when Christ was with them; much more, then, might they now fear the worst, if they went without Him. (G. Petter.)

Backward to yield obedience

By nature the best of us are very slack and backward to yield obedience to the will of Christ, especially in such things as oppose our natural reason, will, and affections; in such commandments of Christ, we have much ado to yield obedience, and are very hardly brought to it. Though we have the express word and commandment of Christ, yet when the things commanded are contrary to our reason and will, we draw back, and are loath to obey Christ’s will. We are by nature so wedded and addicted to our own reason, will, and affections, that we find it exceedingly hard to captivate them in obedience to the will of Christ as we ought.

1. Labour to see and bewail this our natural corruption.

2. Pray to Christ to subdue it, and to frame us by the power of His Spirit to more willing and cheerful obedience. (G. Petter.)

The Christian life

I. We may take this as a picture of the state of Christ’s Church between the Ascension and Pentecost. The disciples were then for the first time launched without Him upon the sea of this world-powerless as yet to run the race set before them, and in darkness and uncertainty as to what might be their Master’s grand design. But His eye noted from above their comfortless condition, and soon He came to them in the person of the Holy Spirit, to be not only their far-off Intercessor, but their present Guide and Helmsman, piloting them to the bright shore of eternal life.

II. We may also see in the little fishing boat, tossed on the dark and stormy wave, a lively image of the Church under the present dispensation. There is usually in the life of each individual Christian a period of striving after grace, life, and power, which have not yet been communicated to the soul. But Christ will come if the soul remain stedfast. And then shall all things go well. The vessel, freighted with the presence of the Incarnate God, shall no longer be driven back by the violence of the winds, but make her way surely, if slowly, to the haven where she would be.

III. This incident may, moreover, be regarded as typical of Christ’s second advent. Much darkness and obscurity and perplexity now-the necessary tests of faithfulness and stability. But the day is at hand when all things shall be manifested in the light of the Divine Presence. Watch and prepare for that, by weaning the affections from earthly things and fixing them on Christ; also by exerting yourself to bring others into such a state as that they shall be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless. (Dean Goulburn.)

Toiling in rowing

I. Analogies in the Christian’s voyage through life.

1. How many earnest truth seekers have been thus tossed by doubts and perplexities, with scarce one ray of light to guide them,

2. How many in the hour of spiritual awakening have passed through similar experience.

3. How many realize this amid the difficulties and temptations of life.

4. And others learn it in the hour of sorrow and suffering.

II. Consolations.

1. Christ knows all.

2. Christ loves ceaselessly.

3. Christ prays constantly.

4. Christ comas with deliverance at the right time. (M. Hutchison.)

Religious despondency

This word “toiling” is quite inadequate to express the full force of the term. One of the oldest of English versions has it, “harassing themselves.” Tyndale renders it, “troubled.” Alford suggests, “distressed,” which is the best word of all, and the one which our new revision adopts-“distressed in rowing.” Those skilled fishermen evidently had a hard time of it. They needed to put forth the most violent and persistent efforts in order to keep the small boat from being dashed to pieces before the hurricane. And of course they became positively tired out, and their faith had something like a melancholy failure. In religious experience we are often more disheartened than we need to be, because some perverse disposition misleads us to contrast our states of low enjoyment with remembered disclosures of high exhilaration under extraordinary excitement. The midnight of commonplace rowing appears more gloomy and unwelcome just because the previous noon was so abundantly blessed with gifts and graces. Our favours seem hopelessly dull, simply because they were so lately revived into unusual strain, and are now worn out by the exalted indulgence. The changes begun in the circumstances are continued in our bodies, and so these moods grow reciprocally depressing. What we mourn over as base coldness, sometimes is nothing but natural reaction. Oftentimes our most heavy seasons of despondency are brought about by mere physical illness, or unusual prostration from distemper Or overwork. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

Christ knows who have need of Him

“He saw them toiling,” so we read, and then we reflect how little reason these men had for being melancholy. “In our fluctuations of feeling,” says pious Samuel Rutherford, “it is well to remember that Jesus admits no change in His affections; your heart is not the compass Christ saileth by.” Our vicissitudes toss only themselves, and overturn only our pride, and that not perilously. Jesus’ care remains steady. If it be dark, and He has not yet arrived, we may be always certain it is because He pauses among the trees to pray. We are to keep working and watching; for when He sees we are ready to receive Him, He will start directly towards us on the sea. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

Christ was seen in the storm

There was more dread than joy in the presence of the Saviour. They would not have been so much afraid had they been expecting Him, but the troubles of the night had made them forget His promise. Their terror is not, however, a thing altogether unknown in the deeper religious experience. For when a trouble comes upon the pious Christian, what is felt most sorely is not the outward calamity which his neighbours see, but an inward wound which comes from the conviction that God has actually forsaken him and delivered him over to the assaults of an unknown hostile spirit power armed against him. There is no lesson harder to understand than that troubles are not signs of the wrath of God. Had the disciples seen that it was Jesus who was coming to them through the storm, they would not have been troubled; could we know that behind the storms of life there is the Saviour Himself near us, we should not have that vague yet bitter sense of the presence of a spirit of evil who is seeking to overwhelm us. (T. M. Lindsay, D. D.)

Christ’s absence

I. Separation is sometimes required to prevent improper sympathy.

II. Difficulties are to be expected, and weakness experienced, in the Christian course.

III. Appearances awaken needless fear through inconsideration.

IV. Christ speaks to encourage, and comfort, and give peace. (J. H. Godwin.)

The voice of Jesus in the storm

The design of religion is to make us of good cheer. We are surrounded by causes of alarm, but the gospel bids us fear not. And that which alone can enable us to be of good cheer amid sorrows is the presence of God our Saviour.

I. The disciples in a storm.

1. It is most likely that they did not understand the reason of the request (Mark 6:45). But they were commanded, and this was sufficient. It is the duty of Christians to do many things the reason of which is hidden from them. Our duty may even sometimes oppose our preferences. However delightful the company of Jesus must have been, the disciples gained far more by being obediently absent than rebelliously near. Obedience is the best kind of nearness.

2. The evening on which the disciples embarked was calm and fair. But the finest day may be followed by the stormiest night.

3. The frightened disciples in their storm-driven boat fitly represent the circumstances by which believers are often tried-disappointments, losses, cares, etc. Christian discipleship does not exempt from such storms (1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Peter 4:12; 1 Peter 5:9). These storms may often rise against us, even when acting in direct obedience to the will of Christ. No difficulty must daunt us in the way of obedience.

4. While the disciples are battling with the winds and the waves, where is Jesus? (Mark 6:46). But they were not forgotten, nor are we. He watched them in the tempest, and He sees His storm-driven followers now.

5. When He sees the fitting season has arrived, He will appear for their deliverance (Mark 6:48). He may delay to reveal Himself, but not to succour and support them.

6. When He did appear to His disciples, the manner of His coming was so unexpected and strange that, instead of joy, their first emotion was terror. Like the disciples, we often mistake the form and presence of our Lord!

II. The terror of the disciples allayed by the encouraging voice of Jesus. “It is I be not afraid!” In every event, important or trivial, in the estimation of man, He speaks, and says, “It is I.” Recognize Christ more vividly in all your troubles. Look away from inferior agencies, or you will be sure to fear. The assurance of Christ’s presence involves everything needed to calm the fears, and soothe the sorrows of afflicted believers.

2. It was the voice of power.

3. Of love.

4. Of wisdom. The faith which recognizes in all events the voice of Jesus is the true alchemy which transmutes all baser substances into gold. The storm is terrible in appearance only.

5. The voice which speaks to us in the storm is that of One who has Himself been tempest test. What strong consolation is thus presented to afflicted disciples! Shall we wonder or repine at affliction?

6. The disciples had often witnessed the efficacy of His voice. Nor is it altogether strange to us. Has never spoken in vain. All anxieties should subside at the sound. What could He say that He has left unsaid to calm our apprehensions? Believe the promises, and there will be a great calm. Conclusion: To those who are not disciples He does not say, “Be of good cheer!” You are in awful peril. He is only with His disciples in the storm. No comfort for you while continuing “an enemy to God.” Your condition and character must be changed. Let your eye gaze upon Jesus! He offers to screen you from the danger, and says to all who flee to Him for safety, “Be of good cheer!” (Newman Hall, LL. B.)

Toiling in rowing

I. Christ sees all the struggles of human life. The greatest battles are not those fought on the plains of the world and recorded in history, but those fought in courts and alleys by unfortunate men and women, who have to weather the storm of life without a friend. Christ sees every man’s circumstances and heroism, etc.

II. Christ sees all the struggles of Christian life. They are numerous, hard, continuous. He does not permit us to see all the difficulties of the future. Ply your oars. Watch and pray.

III. In these struggles, human and Divine, Christ does not come to us at once. There was time for the development of character, for the exercise of faith, patience, etc. Christians often complain that Christ’s comforts do not come sooner. It is not when we will, but Divine love is never late. There is a time for succour. Times and seasons are known to Him.

IV. How his coming affects us. He did not perform the miracle first, but said, “Be of good cheer.” The Master’s “good cheer” suited to all classes and conditions of His disciples, especially those who are liable to be dull, morbid, despondent, fearful. (W. M. Statham.)

The disciples in the storm

What is it which so often troubles our faith in the Divine promises? It is the fact that God does not direct events and things for the triumph of His cause, and that that cause seems often to be vanquished by fatality. This is a contradiction which confounds us. God wants truth to prevail; He commands His Church to announce it to the world; His design is here express and manifest, and when, to serve Him, His Church puts itself to the work, God permits circumstances to array themselves against it and hinder it. The wind was contrary! How many times have believers felt this! In the first centuries it was that periodical succession of implacable persecutions, scattering the flocks, immolating the shepherds, annihilating the Holy Scriptures, destroying in one dark hour the harvest of which the world had seen the admirable first fruits. The wind was contrary! At the close of the Middle Ages, and under the influence of the scandals displayed in Rome, it was that mocking and profound unbelief which secretly undermined the Church to such a degree that, without a religious awakening, the world would seem to become heathen again under the breath of the Renaissance. The wind was contrary! Later on came the ardent and generous passions of the eighteenth century letting loose on the world a formidable tempest. In our days listen. Is the wind which comes down from the icy heights of positive science favourable to our cause? Is the stream which comes to us from the springs of our democratic societies sympathetic? Are you not often scared at seeing all the hostile powers which combine against Christianity today? Doctrines openly materialistic, grave or cynical atheism, harsh and disparaging criticism, rightful complaints too well justified by the infidelities of believers, prejudices, misunderstandings, blind passions,-do not all these announce, even to the least clear-sighted, formidable storms to which our actual strifes are only as child’s play? Why does God allow His cause to be thus compromised? Why does not He, who is the Master of the waves, pacify the storms? That is one of those grievous questions which none of us can escape. Scripture replies to it in some measure. It has pleased God, says St. Paul, to choose the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. One would say that He wishes to show that the triumph of the gospel expects nothing from external things, from the impulse which comes from popular currents. We forget that Christ overcame the world only by raising against Him all its resistance, that the cross has been a sign of triumph only because it has been an instrument of punishment, and that in its apparent impotence and ignominy we must seek the secret of its power. The wind was contrary! But this was not the only obstacle the disciples encountered. Jesus Christ comes to them, but not till the fourth watch of the night, that is to say, near to the morning. Till then, we might say, He has forgotten them. It is in the last hour that He comes to succour them. History is like a night stretching across the ages; in all times believers are called to wait for God’s intervention, but God delays to come, and that is the supreme trial of faith, greater perhaps than the opposition of men and even of persecution. The first Christians believed in the immediate return of Christ; that hope has often filled a generation of believers with enthusiasm. Already they saw the dawn breaking, they saluted the King of glory who came to deliver the Church and to subdue humanity. A dangerous excitement, a transitory fever in which imagination had more share than faith! On coming out of those dreams, the enervated soul often despairs, and in a paroxysm of gloomy discouragement it doubts the truth, because it no longer expects its triumph. It must be said that God, who is the Master of time, has reserved to Himself to fix its duration, and that we are absolutely forbidden to bind it in our measures and limits. Now what is true of the history of humanity applies equally to each of us. When the night of trial begins, we want deliverance to be announced during the first watch. Why does God remain inactive and silent? Why those long delays and those unanswered prayers? Why that tranquil, slow, regular course of second causes behind which the First Cause remains mute and without effect? The violent emotions of great trials are less formidable than that pitiless monotony which enervates and wears out the secret springs of the soul. Now, precisely because this danger is so real we must forecast it. Let us know, beforehand, that that trial is in store for us. If God delays, wait for Him. At last Christ draws near. He walks on the waves before the disciples, but they, frightened, see in Him only a phantom, and emit a cry of terror. All the traits of this narrative may seem those of a striking allegory, and this last still more than the others. Often Christ has appeared to humanity as a phantom. That pure and holy image, all whose features unite in the eyes of faith to form the most ravishing harmony, that face which surpasses all those of the sons of men, and which traverses the centuries surrounded by a halo of righteousness, of purity, of infinite mercy, that being at once so real and so ideal, so real that none has left on earth a deeper impression, so ideal that no light has made His pale, that Christ has often awoke in those who beheld Him for the first time only mistrust, hostility, mockery, and more than one generation has hailed Him with a repellent cry. Let the writings of the most ancient adversaries of Christianity be read. Let one page be quoted to me in which a trace is recognized of the moral impression which the life of Christ produces today on every sincere conscience. We believe that they never contemplated Him; that their look was never stayed on Him in an hour of justice. They had the Gospels, they had the living testimony of the Church, and the history of Jesus was not yet disfigured by the iniquities of its defenders. It does not matter, they saw Him only through the thick cloud of prejudice and hatred. It was a phantom they fought against. The Christ of Celsus and of Julian, the Christ whom anti-Christian satire mocks, is a silly Jew, whose greatness no one suspects for a moment. Our century has seen the same facts reproduced in an entirely different form. To what did that vigorous and learned attack against Christianity tend, so cleverly led by Strauss, if not to make a myth of Christ and His work; that is to say, a mere conception of the human consciousness? Now a mythical personage is a phantom and nothing more. The supernatural Christ was to them only a phantom, and they would never have believed then that one day they would find light and peace at His feet. But in the midst of the gloom which envelops the disciples a voice is heard. Jesus Christ has spoken. He has said, “It is I be not afraid.” The apostles recognize that voice, and in the midst of the storm their hearts are penetrated with a Divine peace. It is the same at all seasons. There is an incomparable emphasis in Christ’s sayings. Yesterday we were in trouble and anguish, today we hear and are subdued. Explain who can this phenomenon. It is a fact for which witnesses would rise today in all parts of the world. Here is the tempest of doubt. Here around you and into your very soul another night descends, envelops and penetrates you. It is the night of remorse, the memory of a guilty past which haunts and besets the human conscience. Here is the hour of suffering. Finally, here is death, death which for in any of our travelling companions is the extreme end and the separation without return. He has spoken. Will you pay attention to this? I do not say, “He has reasoned, He has argued, He has proved.” I simply say, “He has spoken!” Now it is found that everywhere and in every age there are men who are enlightened, soothed, consoled by this voice, and to whom it gives an invincible conviction, an immortal hope! (E. Bersier, D. D.)

The contrary currents of life

The winds always seem contrary to those who have any high and earnest purpose in life. Careless sailors afloat on the currents, with no aim but the pleasure of motion, who can watch the play of the wavelets, and hear their musical splash, or gaze on the tints that gleam on the opalescent sea, find life a pastime-for a time. But those who have a course, a compass, a pilot, and are in haste on the errand of heaven, are kept to the full strain of vigilance lest winds should sweep them backwards; and often hand weary, heart weary, they are tempted to give up all effort to keep their course, content to drift with the current which sets back again to the forsaken shore. An earnest purpose alone gives us the measure of the influences which surround us.

I. We are able when thinking over this great matter, a life course and its issues, to remind ourselves of the great life course to which the winds were ever contrary, which something seemed always to sweep back from its end. Without question, life is a hard matter to the earnest; the night is dark, the toil hard. Often the main support of faith is to look steadily to Him to whom the night was darker, the toil harder, and who is seated now a radiant Conqueror at the right hand of the throne of God.

II. Let us look at the broad fact of the contrariness of the currents of life. I am not speaking of storms, but of the constant steady set of the current, which seems to keep us under perpetual strain. With some there is a lifelong struggle to fulfil the duty of some uncongenial calling, which yields no fair field of activity to the powers which they are conscious are stirring within. There are others who are crossed in their dearest hopes; life is one long, sad regret. There are others with a weak and crippled body enshrining a spirit of noblest faculty; with intense ardour pent up within.

III. The reason and rightness of this contrariness of the currents of life. God sets things against us to teach us to set ourselves against things, that we may master them. We are kings, and have to conquer our kingdom.

IV. The master is watching how the lesson prospers. Not from on high; not from a safe shore; but there in the midst of the storm He is watching, nay is walking, drawing nigh, in the very crisis of the danger and the strain. He enters the ship; the danger is over. A force stronger than the current is there to bear us swiftly to the shore. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)

Toiling in rowing

I. The effect of rapid transitions in outward circumstances upon internal religious experience. That had been a great day to these disciples. Their enthusiasm had been aroused by the magnificent miracle. But out here on the water they had no cheering alleviation of their work. Wet to the skin by the spray, cut to the bone by the wind, we cannot wonder that they speedily became fatigued and disgusted.

II. The close and somewhat humiliating connection between wistful souls and weary bodies which always has to be recognized. Our most heavy seasons of despondency are often brought about by mere physical illness, or unusual prostration from our work.

III. That mere frames of desolate feeling give by no means a release from the pressure of diligent duty. They could not let the boat drift. They had to use all their skill.

IV. Jesus Christ, even in darkness, knows who have need of Him.

V. That Jesus Christ sometimes delays His coming to believers till He is sure of a welcome. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

Christ walking on the sea

The sovereignty of Christ over the forces of inanimate nature is the general truth illustrated in this miracle, which may be taken with the former one, also wrought upon the sea, recorded two chapters before. He made the liquid waves a pavement for His feet; at His command their fury ceased, as He stepped into the tossing boat there was a great calm. We may look at this sovereignty of Christ over the sea in three ways-literally, spiritually, prophetically, in each case drawing a lesson. Let me try in a few words to show this.

1. Literally. There can be no force of nature, however untamable by man, which is beyond His control. If it was so in the day of His humiliation, how much more so now in His glory and universal sovereignty. Under His rule now must lie all the physical elements and forces which play such an important part in the lives and fortunes of us all. Think of the importance of this fact. There are times when nature seems tyrannical, remorseless. The earthquake crushes hundreds of sleeping families beneath the ruins of their shattered dwellings. The volcano scorches and blasts the fair scenes of human industry. The storm strews the shore with wrecks and corpses; the hungry sea swallows up its thousands of victims. Pestilence depopulates whole districts; drought and mildew make barren the fields, and leave the tillers of the soil to starve. Explosions, conflagrations, collisions, great catastrophes to life and property, happen in spite of all precautions, and scatter around wounds, and misery, and death. It might seem as if nature went on its reckless course, heedless of human cries, rushing along on the iron lines of fate, on its fickle wheels of chance, without pity and without purpose. Here comes in the first lesson of the miracle. Despair, fear, even inquietude, may be banished, if all nature be in the hand of Him who died to redeem us.

2. Let us view the miracle spiritually. Nature’s storms are emblems of storms in man’s heart; and Christ’s sovereignty over those is a pledge to us of His power to control these also, and reduce them to peace. If we have any true knowledge of ourselves, our own consciousness will tell us how greatly we need to experience the peace-giving power of our Redeemer. We cannot be ignorant that human nature is discordant within itself, and that sin has set its faculties at war with each other. Times come when tempests blow in our own souls-tempests of temptation, and trial, and unbelief; times when our passions are violent and break away from control, or our fears rise and sweep wildly over us; times when inclination and self-interest fight fiercely against conscience, or guilt stirs up shame and remorse, and from one cause and another we are unquiet, restless, tossed to and fro, like the troubled surface of the sea beneath the smiting of the storm. And who shall lay to rest these tempests of the soul, and bring us to a holy calm and harmony within? The true and only Peacemaker is He who stood in the tempest-tossed boat, and said to the winds and the sea, “Peace, be still.”

3. Once more, the miracle has a lesson for us when viewed in its prophetic aspect. Christ, Lord of the raging waters, stilling the violence of the storm, and bringing peace and rest to the tempest-tossed disciples, images His final victory over evil, and the salvation in which His redeeming work shall at last be completed. (B. Maitland, M. A.)

God present though not seen

In the novel, “Blessed Saint Certainty,” a student, the son of a white father and an Indian mother, retires to the woods to seek communion with the Power above him. There, after many days, his Indian mother finds him talking to God, and crying to Him to reveal Himself. She sees that it would be a mistake to make known her presence; so she lies still among the brushwood, watching his struggles lovingly and sympathisingly, yet never uttering a word of help, And at last, when she judges it safe, she steals quietly away. God often treats His children in just that way. He, too, often sees that it is best to look upon the struggle, and to make no sign. So Jesus, in today’s lesson, looked down from the hill and saw the disciples toiling all night in a storm which a word of His would have stilled. He meant that His disciples should learn a lesson from that storm.

Self-confidence to be learnt

It is usual, in some swimming schools, to teach beginners by sending them into the water with a belt around their waist, to which is attached a rope which again is connected with an overreaching arm of wood. This is under the control of the swimming master, and it is used at first to support the learner in the water; but as the learner gains confidence, the rope is slackened, and he is left to support himself by his own efforts. The master stands by, watching the boy’s struggles, ready to note any sign of real danger. When danger is seen, the rope is again tightened-at the right moment, not before-and the boy is taken safely out of the water. Jesus knows just how long to withhold help, and just when to bring it. He came to the struggling disciples in the fourth watcher the night.

Failing to recognize Christ

The foolish child shrinks with terror from the sight of the doctor who comes to bring him relief. And we, sometimes, as foolishly fail to recognize, and shrink from, God’s greatest blessings. A countryman saw, one morning, a gigantic figure coming towards him through the mist. He was about to flee in terror, when he noticed that the figure grew less and less as it approached. So he waited until it was near; and then found that he had been about to flee from his brother. Christ’s disciples, through the mist of their fears, failed to recognize Him as He Walked on the sea.

The worth of absent sympathy

There was once a young officer in a battle in India who was terribly wounded. The doctor ordered both his legs to be amputated (this was before the days of chloroform); and after the agonizing operation was done, and when the poor young fellow was laid exhausted on his bed, he at once asked for pen and paper, and wrote a letter to his mother. Doubtless during his sufferings there was present to his mind to strengthen him the thought of his mother, far away in England, and how she would feel for him. And if we gain strength from human sympathy, there is even more to be found in the assurance of Divine sympathy from our risen Lord and Saviour, who can send down His grace and the strength of the Divine Spirit. (W. Hardman, M. A.)

The Lord can bear to see His followers distressed-to see them engaged in sore conflict with the enemies of His salvation, and yet not fly to their immediate succour; for secretly He is helping them. His tenderness is not weak, but moves according to the rules of perfect wisdom. (J. W. Pearson.)

You are appalled, overwhelmed, and cry out with terror. But remember, it is Christ imperfectly known that terrifies: once understand and know His dispensations-once be thoroughly acquainted with the amplitude of His grace-once perceive how immense is His compassion towards the greatest sinners, how full and complete the price He has paid-and all this doubt and fear will vanish. And do we not often misunderstand the march of God’s Providence? (J. W. Pearson.)

Observe, moreover, they go forward. That had been a sin, a capital offence, if they had endeavoured to go back to the shore. And yet they were but a little way from it. Happy is that young Christian who, if, after engaging in a course of real practical Christianity, after entering in the paths of piety and true religion, he speedily met with obstacles, speedily found himself overtaken with difficulties and distresses, still determined that he will struggle against them, that he will not be driven back by any difficulties, but that he will effect the good pleasure of the Lord, convinced that He will never forsake those that trust in Him. They might indeed have said, after toiling so long, “It is useless-we labour in vain-we spend our strength for nought-we never counted on this-we never imagined we were to engage in a service so arduous.” O no; this is not their feeling; but having once engaged in it, they press forward; and He who commanded them to enter upon it, will assuredly succour them in due time. (J. W. Pearson.)

Be of good cheer, it is I

Christ would accustom them to hardship by degrees. They had before this been in danger at sea, but then their Lord was present with them; and though He was asleep, they had free recourse to Him to awake Him, and did so, with their cries (Matthew 8:24-25, etc.) But now they were without His company. But though their fears and troubles were great while Christ was absent, they were increased at His coming to them in so wonderful a way, walking on the sea to give them help. And how ready are our hearts to sink, even when God and Christ are about accomplishing our deliverance!

1. The Person that spake, the Lord Jesus Christ.

2. Those to whom He spake, viz., His disciples in their present distress; and by them to all true Christians. Their thoughts were as much troubled even as the sea.

3. We may observe the kind nature and design of Christ’s speech to them at this time. It was full of compassion, and tending to their support: Be of good cheer, do net faint, nor be afraid.

4. The argument He used to silence their fears and doubts, and give them relief-“It is I:” i.e., One whom you have seen and known, and need not now distrust; One whose power and grace you have experienced, and on which you may still rely.

5. The time when He spake thus comfortably to them-“Straightway.” In their greatest extremity He speedily reveals Himself to be their refuge; and raises their hope when their hearts are ready to fail. When believers are ready to sink under their troubles, ‘tis the most powerful argument to their relief, to have Christ seasonably coming in, and saying to them, “It is I.”

I. Whence it is that even believers are apt to sink under their troubles. ‘Tis no uncommon case for gracious souls to be cast down and disquieted under pressing afflictions. But there is a peculiar anguish in the hour of death. As to the springs of this.

1. We are too prone to put far from us the evil day.

2. Death may find us in the dark as to our title to the life to come, or meetness for it.

3. Conscience in our last hours may be awakened to revive the sense of past sins, and so may increase our horrors and terrors.

4. Satan sometimes joins in with an awakened conscience, to make the trial the more sore. Lastly, God sometimes withdraws the light of His countenance: and how deplorable is the case that the soul must then be in! “If God be for us, who can be against us?” If He speak peace, who can give trouble? And who could keep from fainting, did not Christ seasonably interpose, saying by His word and Spirit, “Be of good cheer, it is I.” To proceed to the second thing.

II. What Christ thus speaks for the relief of His present disciples, belongs to all the rest of His servants.

III. What is carried in the argument here used and what the servants of Christ may gather from it for their support. In general, it notes His presence with them, and His wisdom, power, faithfulness, and love to be engaged for them. ‘Tis the Lord that speaks: and so-

1. ‘Tis One that hath an unquestionable right to take from me, or lay upon me, or do with me, what He pleases.

2. ‘Tis Christ that invites our regard to Him under every dispensation, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3).

3. ‘Tis He that steps forth and offers Himself to our notice, saying, “It is I” One who hath purchased heaven for His believing followers, and is preparing them for it, and in the best way conducting them to it.

4. He that thus speaks has moreover said, “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter” (John 13:7).

5. In Christ, who here speaks, all the promises of God are Yea and Amen: and He has bid His disciples to ask what they will in His name and He will do it. It is I, your only and all-sufficient Redeemer, on whom your help is laid, and whose business and delight it is to succour and save. It is I, who died, the just for the unjust, that I might bring you to God; and who have undertaken that you shall not miscarry or lose your way. It is I, who can bestow whatever you need, and deliver you from all your fears, and keep what you have committed to me against that day, the day of My coming to judgment.” It is I, who live, and was dead; and behold I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Revelation 1:18). Fear not to go down into the grave, I will be with thee, and surely bring thee up again. It is I, who never yet failed any that trusted Me, and am the same yesterday, and today, and forever. It is I, who am the resurrection and the life, with whom is hid your life in God; and though you lay down your bodies in the dust, when I who am your life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Me in glory. A few words by way of use shall close all.

1. Are believers themselves so ready to sink under their burdens, what then can bear up the hearts of others? “If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?”

2. Seeing ‘tis Christ’s voice alone that can comfort the soul, how desirable is an interest in Him, and how earnestly should we labour after it? Lastly, let the disciples of Christ in all His dealings with them, dismiss their fears at His kind reviving voice, “It is I.” It is I, who have all your times in My hand, and your safety as to both worlds at heart. It is I, whose power is over all things in heaven and earth, and that power is by unchangeable love engaged for you; and if this be enough to your comfort, be of good cheer, it is I, who call you now by My gospel to receive the benefit of it, further and further. It is I, who am entrusted with you, and may be trusted by you, as your nearest, best, and everlasting friend. (D. Wilcox.)


Verses 47-52

Verse 52

Mark 6:52

For they considered not the miracle of the loaves.

The miracle of the loaves

The disciples “were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered.” Had the miracle of the loaves been duly considered, the inference from it must have been that He who had wrought it must be Lord over the whole system of nature, and could, therefore, whenever He pleased, bend the elements to His rule.

I. There was another occasion on which Christ miraculously fed a great multitude. We read of His sustaining four thousand men, besides women and children, with seven loaves and a few little fishes. There were only two occasions on which this was done. He showed Himself ready to heal all manner of sickness; but He showed no readiness to provide food miraculously. The reason is not far to seek. It was altogether one of the consequences of sin that men were afflicted with various maladies and pains, and that disease and death held sway in this creation. But it was not one of those consequences, that men had to labour for subsistence. Labour was God’s earliest ordinance, so that Adam, in innocence, was placed in paradise to keep it. Had He dealt with men’s want as He dealt with disease, removing it instantly by the exercise of miraculous power, He would have pronounced it a grievance that labour had been made the heritage of man; whereas, by the course which He actually took, He gave all the weight of His testimony to the advantageousness of the existing appointment. Universal plenty, yielded without toil, would generate universal dissoluteness.

II. When He multiplied the scanty provision, and made it satisfy the wants of a famishing multitude, He designed, we may believe, to fix attention on Himself, as appointed to provide, or rather to be the spiritual sustenance of the whole human race. And how striking, in the first place, the correspondence between Christ, the multiplier of a few loaves and fishes, and Christ the expounder of the commandments of the moral law. It might almost have been excusable, had a man who lived under the legal dispensation, and had nothing before him but the letter of the precepts, imagined the possibility of a perfect obedience to the commandments of the two tables. It was a wonderful amplification. The statute books of a nation are numerous and ponderous volumes; various cases as they arise demand fresh laws, and legislatures are either busy in making new legislations, or modifying old. But the statutes of God, though intended for countless ages, contain only ten short commandments-the whole not so long as the preamble to a single act of human legislation, and these ten commandments, breathed on by Him who spake as never man spake, amplify themselves into innumerable precepts, so that every possible case was provided for, every possible sin, every possible duty enjoined; and who can fail to observe how aptly Christ represented His office as expounder of the law, when He fed a multitude with the slender provision which His disciples had brought into the wilderness? But have not the virtues of the single death, the merits of the one work of expiation, proved ample enough for the innumerable company which have gathered round Christ and applied to Him for deliverance? And are not-if we may use the expression-are not the basketfuls which still remain, sufficient to preclude the necessity for any fresh miracle, though those who should crave spiritual food for ages to come should immeasurably exceed those who have already been satisfied in the wilderness?

III. To the precise effect which a want of consideration produced in the case of the apostles and which it is just as likely to produce in our own. It is evident that the miracle of the loaves is referred to by the sacred historian, as so signal a display of Christ’s power that none who witnessed it ought to have been surprised at any other. The thing charged against the apostles is that they were amazed and confounded at Christ stilling the winds and the waves, though they had just before seen Him produce food for thousands; and the thing implied is-for otherwise there would be no ground for blame-that the miracle of the loaves should have prepared them for any further demonstration of lordship over nature and her laws. Thus the miracle of the loaves should have sufficed to destroy all remains of unbelief, and should have furnished the apostles with motives to confidence under the most trying circumstances, and a simple dependence on the guardianship of the Saviour, whatever the trials to which they were exposed. And why is it that we ourselves adopt not His reasoning? Why is it that we do not similarly argue from the loaves to the storm-from the mighty works of the atonement to the manifold requirements of a state of warfare and pilgrimage? Ah, if we did, could there be that anxiety, that mistrust, those fears, those tremblings, which we too often manifest when pains and troubles come thickly upon us? No, no; it is because we look not on the cross, because we forget the agony and bloody sweat and passion of the Redeemer, that we shrink from the storm and are terrified by the waxes. We consider not the miracle of the loaves, and then, when the sky is dark, and the winds fierce, we are tempted to give ourselves up for lost. (H. Melvill.)

Forgotten mercies

Hard hearts and painful unbeliefs spring up in the waste places where we bury our forgotten mercies. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Consider the past

Neither earth nor heaven, time nor eternity, yields choicer gems of thought than the achievements of our Lord. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Hast action an index to future help

Since Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, what He did at one time ought to be well top, sidereal, because it is the index of what He is prepared to do again should need arise. His accomplished wonders have not spent His strength, He has the dew of His youth still upon Him. Our Samson’s locks are not shorn, our Solomon has not lost His wisdom, our Immanuel has not ceased to be, “God with us.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The inconsideration of the disciples

“They considered not the miracle of the loaves.”-At first sight this may seem almost as marvellous as the miracle itself.

I. It is by no means difficult to discover a very satisfactory reason why the disciples should be much less affected by the feeding of the five thousand, than by the walking upon the water and the sudden stilling of the tempest.

1. The former was a miracle wrought in the open day, when there was nothing to disturb the imagination, or to awaken fear. It was, moreover, not a sudden effect, but a gradual operation; not a shock upon the senses, but a gentle and continuous appeal to them; and would thus be far too calm and quiet in its general character to produce anything like that turbulence of emotion which the latter miracles would excite, aided as they were by the presence of danger, the confusion of the storm, the horror of darkness, and all that sublimity of circumstance with which they were accompanied. This, however, though it may afford an explanation of their excessive amazement, is far from explaining their total inadvertency to that great miracle at which they had so recently been present; and which, had it occurred to their memory, as it manifestly ought, would speedily have recalled them from their transport.

2. The evangelist accounts for this, by saying that their heart was hardened. They had become so accustomed to the sight of their Master’s mighty works that they had ceased to regard them with any peculiar interest, or to attach to them any peculiar importance. Everyone is aware of the influence of familiarity with the great and astonishing, in abating the impressions they originally produce. How little, for instance, are any of us affected by the sublime spectacle of the universe around us! Even the conclusion which, beyond all others, one would have thought it impossible to escape-the conviction of His omnipotence-they seem far from having practically realized. Some exception from the full weight of this censure may perhaps be made in favour of Peter, who, on various occasions, discovered a certain boldness and force of apprehension, which we look in vain for in his fellow disciples.

3. Our Lord knew all this, and felt the necessity of reviving their early feeling of wonder, in order to rouse them from that mental inactivity, that slumberous inconsideration, into which they had fallen. Hence He sent them away, etc. Astonishment opens the eyes of their understanding to at least some temporary recognition of His greatness, for now, says St. Matthew, they “came and worshipped Him, saying, Of a truth, Thou art the Son of God!” But they speedily relapsed into their old habit of inconsideration. To this, accordingly, He frequently addressed Himself, and sometimes in a tone of the strongest expostulation and reproof (Mark 8:15-21).

II. The practical import of the subject in application to ourselves.

1. We ought to derive a strong corroboration of our faith in the gospel. How unfit were the disciples for the great work for which, nevertheless, they were set apart. What can we say to the story of their success, etc, but “This is the hand of God.”

2. Their heedlessness of mind ought to come directly home to our own bosoms, and awaken us to the necessity of earnest and serious reflection. Familiarity has produced the same effects upon many of us. So with respect to the volume of Scripture generally.

3. There are methods in the order of Divine grace by which we are at times roused from that insensibility and heedlessness to which we are prone, and the remedy which the Lord adopted in the case of the disciples is strikingly symbolical of the manner in which He still condescends at times to deal with us. Affliction and fear, under the gracious direction of the Divine Spirit, are at times the most efficient of all interpreters of Scripture.

4. The gospel, when it does not soften the heart, hardens it, etc. (J. H. Smith.)


Verses 53-56

Mark 6:53-56

They laid the sick in the streets.

The multitude in affliction

I. A beautiful country, inhabitated by a multitude of sick.

II. A prompt recognition of a former benefactor-“They knew Him (Matthew 9:35; Matthew 11:20-24; Mark 3:7-11).

III. Energetic exertion-“And ran, etc.”

IV. An affecting picture of human helplessness-“Began to carry about,” etc.

V. An admission that healing virtue dwelt alone in Christ.

VI. The infallible nature of the remedy. (F. Wagstaff.)

Jesus and His fulness

I. The landing. Wherever the Son of God landed there was blessing, peace, health, liberty.

II. The recognizing-“Straightway they knew Him,” “If thou knewest,” etc.

III. The gathering.

IV. The touching.

V. The healing. (H. Bonar, D. D.)

Touch Jesus and be healed

1. The touch was needy.

2. The touch was wise.

3. The touch was prompt.

4. The touch was believing.

5. The touch was personal.

6. The touch was unrestricted. There was no exception to the healing.

7. The touch was efficacious. No failure.

8. The lost will be inexcusable. (J. Smith.)

A crowd of eager applicants

;-It was after a walk through the village of Ehden, beneath the mountain of the cedars, our last Syrian expedition, in which we visited several of the churches and cottages of the place, that we found the stairs and corridors of the castle of the Maronite chief, Sheykh Joseph, lined with a crowd of eager applicants, “sick people taken with divers diseases,” who, hearing that there was a medical man in the party, had thronged round him, “beseeching him that he would heal them.” I mention this incident because it illustrates so forcibly these scenes in the gospel history, from which I have almost of necessity borrowed the language best fitted to express the eagerness, the hope, the anxiety of the multitude who had been attracted by the fame of this beneficent influence. It was an affecting scene, our kind doctor was distressed to find how many cases there were which with proper medical appliances might have been cured; and on returning to the ship, by the Prince of Wales’ desire, a store of medicines was sent back, with Arabic labels directing how and for what purpose they should be used. (Dean Stanley.)

Spiritual healing

I. The necessity for such an application to Christ.

1. You have a disease of guilt upon you.

2. You have a disease of corruption upon you.

II. The manner of it.

1. They persuaded themselves that Christ was able to do this thing for them.

2. They put themselves in His way.

3. Those who could not come of themselves, sought the help of their stronger neighbours; none of them were so unfeeling as to refuse the needful aid.

4. They earnestly prayed for the blessing which they desired.

5. They complied with the simple method which was prescribed. This was to touch Him.

III. The certain success of it-“Made whole.” (J. Jowett, M. A.)
.


Verses 53-56

Mark 6:53-56

They laid the sick in the streets.

The multitude in affliction

I. A beautiful country, inhabitated by a multitude of sick.

II. A prompt recognition of a former benefactor-“They knew Him (Matthew 9:35; Matthew 11:20-24; Mark 3:7-11).

III. Energetic exertion-“And ran, etc.”

IV. An affecting picture of human helplessness-“Began to carry about,” etc.

V. An admission that healing virtue dwelt alone in Christ.

VI. The infallible nature of the remedy. (F. Wagstaff.)

Jesus and His fulness

I. The landing. Wherever the Son of God landed there was blessing, peace, health, liberty.

II. The recognizing-“Straightway they knew Him,” “If thou knewest,” etc.

III. The gathering.

IV. The touching.

V. The healing. (H. Bonar, D. D.)

Touch Jesus and be healed

1. The touch was needy.

2. The touch was wise.

3. The touch was prompt.

4. The touch was believing.

5. The touch was personal.

6. The touch was unrestricted. There was no exception to the healing.

7. The touch was efficacious. No failure.

8. The lost will be inexcusable. (J. Smith.)

A crowd of eager applicants

;-It was after a walk through the village of Ehden, beneath the mountain of the cedars, our last Syrian expedition, in which we visited several of the churches and cottages of the place, that we found the stairs and corridors of the castle of the Maronite chief, Sheykh Joseph, lined with a crowd of eager applicants, “sick people taken with divers diseases,” who, hearing that there was a medical man in the party, had thronged round him, “beseeching him that he would heal them.” I mention this incident because it illustrates so forcibly these scenes in the gospel history, from which I have almost of necessity borrowed the language best fitted to express the eagerness, the hope, the anxiety of the multitude who had been attracted by the fame of this beneficent influence. It was an affecting scene, our kind doctor was distressed to find how many cases there were which with proper medical appliances might have been cured; and on returning to the ship, by the Prince of Wales’ desire, a store of medicines was sent back, with Arabic labels directing how and for what purpose they should be used. (Dean Stanley.)

Spiritual healing

I. The necessity for such an application to Christ.

1. You have a disease of guilt upon you.

2. You have a disease of corruption upon you.

II. The manner of it.

1. They persuaded themselves that Christ was able to do this thing for them.

2. They put themselves in His way.

3. Those who could not come of themselves, sought the help of their stronger neighbours; none of them were so unfeeling as to refuse the needful aid.

4. They earnestly prayed for the blessing which they desired.

5. They complied with the simple method which was prescribed. This was to touch Him.

III. The certain success of it-“Made whole.” (J. Jowett, M. A.)
.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Mark 6:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/mark-6.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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