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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Matthew 17

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-13

Matthew 17:1-13

And was transfigured before them.

The mount of vision

I. Take what is taught in the passage as to Christ’s humanity and its aspects. Among all the aspects in which the Saviour is presented to us, this one assuredly is plain, the Saviour as man. And the story of the Transfiguration shows Christ as the man in three ways.

1. It speaks of a human need, the need, namely, of encouragement and strength. Indeed, it seems that the Transfiguration was a turning-point in the mission He had come to accomplish, when His work as a Prophet passed into the background and His work as a Priest came to the front. Not for the disciples only, but for Himself, the establishing of His courage and the reassuring of His hope, was the vision on the mount, with the voice that accompanied it. So low does a Saviour stoop in His humility, that He touches our sinless infirmities at their lowest, and is not ashamed to be our companion and our example in all.

2. And this brings me to the next point, and to pass from considering the human need to consider the human exercise. That exercise was prayer. “He went up,” says St. Luke, “to a mountain to pray.” He was asking for the wisdom that discerned the Father’s will, for the submission that embraced it, for the perseverance that adhered to it, for the joy that illumined it. If you can dispense with prayer, Christ could not.

3. Again, we have here a human experience. Was not the Transfiguration rather a token that associated itself with the Saviour’s divinity, an honour that pertained to Him, not as the man, but as God? There is truth in this; but two things must be noticed at the same time. First, that even if it was the Godhead that lent the radiance, it was the manhood that was actually irradiated; and secondly, that what the Godhead effected in Christ, what is Godlike effects in His followers. Do not put the Transfiguration of Christ aside as a privilege that is purely supernatural; it is, in one sense, only the transcendent exhibition as it is the efficacious pledge of the changes which grace may work in ourselves. Such transfigurations as these are both symptomatic and prophetic. They are symptomatic of what has already begun, and prophetic of what shall yet be revealed, when the temporary gives place to the permanent, and the partial is drowned in the perfect, and a glorified soul shall create a glorified vesture, from which the last stain of sin shall be purged, and the last line of pain be smoothed out. Oh, our Kinsman-Redeemer, we have found Thee our companion in manhood’s weakness, we hail Thee as the type of manhood’s coming glory! As Thou has borne the image of the earthly with us, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly with Thee.

II. But again, we have here Christ’s death and its meaning.

1. The death of Christ is the glory of the Old Dispensation; its glory, because its fulfilment and crown. That is why Moses and Elias were there. Moses was there to bear witness that in the decease of a Saviour at Jerusalem a nobler Rock would be smitten than the rock he had struck in the wilderness, and that a richer fountain would flow forth than the water that gushed from its flinty clefts. Elijah was there to bear witness that in this same decease at Jerusalem a greater sacrifice would be offered than the sacrifice he had laid upon Carmel’s altar, even a Saviour’s precious blood, and a more wondrous confirmation be granted than the fire that gave testimony before Carmel’s hosts, even a Saviour’s glorious Resurrection.

2. The death of Christ is the glory of the New Dispensation. For as it was the glory of the Old Dispensation as its fulfilment, it is the glory of the New as its foundation. That is why the disciples were there. They were there as the sponsors of a Church to be, just as Moses and Elijah were there as the sponsors of a Church and a ritual that had vanished. If Moses and Elias were the flower of the Old Dispensation, Peter and James and John were the germs of the New.

3. The death of the cross is the glory of Jesus Himself. For those that had eyes to see, there was triumph in the very shame, and the crucifixion was itself a coro-nation-it was His glory in the very endurance, as well as in the ultimate results.

III. But again, we have here something taught us as to christ’s church and its fellowship. Let us now look at Christ as the living Bond of eternal union. The relation of the Church beneath to the Church above is a question that throbs with a lasting interest. That there is some relation we know; though divided, the companies are in some fashion one. But what is that relation? Certainly not a visible one any longer. There is a knowledge of our friends alter the flesh no more. It was, after all, a knowledge of the flesh that Peter was thinking of when he said, in his rashness and witlessness, “Lord, let us make three tabernacles.” And that is Christ’s answer to Peter. It is as if He had said, “Not as you think, will the relation between us be perpetuated-by fellowship such as you would maintain, in tabernacles such as you would build. There is but one tabernacle prepared for us all, and behold, it is now coming down-the tabernacle and pavilion of Him who is as a wall of fire round His people, and the glory in the midst of them.” Stand in the fear and the presence of God, as the disciples stood under the cloud, and that will be the sphere of communion; found your interests and your hopes on the cross of Christ, and that will be the means of communion; press near to the person of the Crucified, and that will be the centre of communion. There is intercourse in no other way.

IV. But again, we have something taught us as to Christ’s message and its authority. Was it not as if God meant to say, “Hear the Son, not the prophets of the Old Dispensation merely? Hear the Son, not messengers from heaven, though august as the deputies you have seen.” And what God said to the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration He says this day to ourselves, reminding us once more of the whole duty of man-the reception of the message, and the submission to the purpose of His well-beloved Son. Listen to Him, and not to the world. The world passeth away, and the lust thereof. Listen to Him, and not to the flesh. The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it? Listen to Him, not to ministers. They are frail, earthly vessels at the best. “No man can serve two masters.” Hear that. “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Hear that.

V. And once more, in this passage, we have here the presence of Christ and its all-sufficiency. He who has come before us in this incident as Mall, as Redeemer, as Uniter, and as Prophet, is brought before us in the last place as a Friend. For the time came when Transfiguration experiences ended-the disciples looked up and saw no man save Jesus only. Ah yes, there is a something in our religious life that is transitory, and there is a something that always abides. What is transitory is an experience such as that which the disciples had when they were wrapped with the glory; what is abiding is the Person and Presence of Christ, which form the centre of attraction while Transfiguration experiences last, and which remain to make up for their absence when Transfiguration experiences cease. Happy are they who, when the glamour dies from their sky and the company vanishes from their path, and life looks bare and common, like the path down Hermon for the descending disciples, have a faith that will strengthen them when feelings pass, and a guidance that will cheer them when friendships are dissolved, and who, lifting up their eyes, see Jesus-Jesus alone, it may be, but a Jesus who is all-sufficient. (William A. Gray.)

Tabor flights

First, let me remark that it was only once in Christ’s life on this earth, and that that once was only given to a chosen few. Some Christians seem to think that they must be always going up to mounts of extraordinary joy and revelation: this is not after God’s method. Those spiritual visits to high places, and that wonderful intercourse with the unseen world, are not in the promises; the daily life of invisible communion is. And it is enough! We shall have the exceptional revelation if it be right for us. When the Master was there, three disciples had it, and nine had it not! And why it was when it was, and why those three were selected, we can see but few reasons. They were the three who walked the closest and dwelt the nearest to the heart of Jesus. They were also the three who were about to have their faith and their feelings strained to the uttermost by witnessing, most closely, the deepest agonies of their dear Lord. Peter was to found the Church; James was to be the first martyr of the Apostolic College; John, the writer of the Revelation. For these reasons, and perhaps also because their characters specially required the encouragements that were the most adapted to the occasion, they were selected. Do not envy others their higher joys or greater privileges. These things are talents. They do not seem to have been either the wiser, or the happier, or the better-at least at the time-for the marvellous vision. If we had to select the most dreadful position in which ever men were placed, we should fix directly on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the “burning fiery furnace.” And if we had to choose the most favoured-Peter, James and John. Yet Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were calm and entirely happy in the fire; Peter, James, and John were fearful and troubled on the Mount. Those on Tabor represented the three great states of God’s Universal Church-this earth, the intermediate state, and glory; Christ, in heaven; Moses, upon this earth; Elijah, in paradise. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The doctrine taught and shadowed forth by the Transfiguration is probably greater, fuller, richer than is taught in any other episode in our Lord’s life. It teaches-

Creed, worship, and work

I. The Church is led to a creed. The time has now come for estimating the effects of the ministry of Jesus. “Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”

II. In the transfiguration itself the Church is led on to a foretaste of glorious worship and high communion-the meeting for awhile of the Church militant with the Church triumphant.

1. As to the reality of the Transfiguration. We have the calmness of history in the narratives of the synoptics; we have dates and circumstances. The glory above is as historical as the epileptic writhing below.

2. As to the purposes of the Transfiguration. It had a purpose in relation to the human nature of Jesus. A sense of suffering came upon His soul, and He wanted rest. The instinct which draws so many of the highest human spirits to the quiet and elevation of the hills, led Him up into the higher mountain-range of Paneas or Hermon. If one might refer to a long-forgotten controversy, the Transfiguration was not a miracle. For such splendour was natural to a body like His, with the perfect soul and its union with Divinity. The repression was miraculous; the Transfiguration was the temporary cessation of that miraculous repression.

III. But further, in the transfiguration Jesus leads His Church to a work-a work which, indeed, they could not at first perform. What a contrast for Him and for them! For them: “Lord, it is beautiful for us to be here.” A contrast for Him also. A contrast between the spirits of “just men made perfect,” and the faithless and crooked generation, of whom even His patience cried, “How long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you?” They find a sufferer below. Strange contrast, as we have said. Above: the pure heaven; the words of Divine attestation; the forms of saints floating in light; the glory and honour and majesty given to Jesus. Below: the reproach; the well-meant but baffled effort; the foam on the cut lip; the withered body; the sullen muteness broken by epileptic cries. Yet there is a fresh, unselfish joy in the energy which Jesus throws into that victorious work. Thus, on the whole, in this section of the Transfiguration, Jesus leads His Church in the person of His disciples on to a world of thought, up to a world of worship, down to a world of work.

1. The three words, creed, worship, work, surely indicate, as far as single words can, the leading purpose of the three great periods which the Church has already traversed. The primitive centuries were occupied mainly, but not exclusively, in moulding Christological dogma: the Middle Ages (over and above the scholastic philosophy) were busy in elaborating worship: before the eye of the modern Church social problems have come out with a tremendous significance.

2. Again, we have here a summary of elements which must always, more or less, co-exist in a living Church. Confession, devotions, effort, must be found in her. Without the confession, devotion becomes fanaticism; without the devotion, confession becomes a congelation of dogma; without the confession and the devotion, the effort is soon left to police magistrates and poor-law guardians.

3. It may, I think, further be observed that the Transfiguration stands in our New Testament as one recognition of “ the sense of beauty,” of which it has been cynically said that “ it never furthered a single duty.” Nay, more; it is a refutation of him who has told us that beauty is inconsistent with the gospel. It shows Jesus not doing something definite for us; but showing earth for a moment what He is in His beauty. I conclude by drawing two lessons for the spiritual life of each of us:

I. Our individual life must follow and summarize the section of the Transfiguration.

1. We must lay the foundation strong and deep in the confession of Peter.

2. This must be accompanied by a second condition. There must be the love of prayer, of communion with the world unseen.

II. Let us think for a few moments of our transfiguration as the result of His. Even our fallen humanity affords hints of this. (Bishop Alexander, D. D.)

The Epiphany upon the Mount

Some have questioned whether this is to be received as real history. Rationalism calls it “The dream of Peter.” Some talk of it as a mere scenic display, to awaken the dull and sleepy disciples, but of no further moment or significance. Even some comparatively sound theologians have satisfied themselves with assigning it a basis of historic truth, but much exaggerated by the dreamy imaginations of the witnesses. A dream! It is not likely that three men would each dream precisely the same thing, at the same time; or that they would all be so perfectly deceived as to tell it for fact m their most serious discourses and writings. Nor do I know by what authority we are to regard that as a dream, which the record says the witnesses beheld when they were wide awake. We will notice-

I. The peace. This is specifically described as “ up in an high mountain.” There is much said in the Scriptures about mountains, and many of the most memorable events of sacred history transpired upon mountains. The Law was given upon a mountain: the last decisive conflict with the prophets of Baal, and the last of the three great conflicts of our Saviour with Satan, occurred on mountains. The offering up of Isaac, the great type, and the subsequent offering up of Christ, the antitype, were accomplished upon mountains. All this is not mere accident. Mountainous elevations are particularly fitted to the sacred and the Divine. They are Nature’s symbols of the Majesty of God. They have a natural harmony with His everlasting purity, power, and Godhead.

II. The witnesses. “Peter, James, and John his brother.” There were different circles, even within the little circle of the twelve, to which different degrees of privilege and trust were given. Not all the members of our natural bodies have the same functions, or the same honour; and so the members of Christ “have not all the same office.” And yet we are to “covet earnestly the best gifts.”

III. The transformation-“He was transfigured before them.”

IV. The time, particularly as related to the act in which the Saviour was occupied-prayer. Prayer is a transfiguring power. It is the opening of the earthly nature to the inflowing of the heavenly. Prayer is the drawing near of the soul to the light and majesty of heaven, and always gathers to itself the gilding of that light. It not only ascends to heaven, but it calls heaven into itself, and illumines with the grace of heaven, and makes, not only the face, but the whole man, more heavenly.

V. The accompanying apparitions-“And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with Him.” However alone we may seem to be in our devotions, we are never alone. Though effectually withdrawn from this world, beings of another then join us.

VI. But, finally, notice the particular meaning of all this. It had, first of all, an important relation to the fore announcements which the Saviour had just been making of His approaching sufferings and death (Matthew 16:21; Mark 9:31; Luke 9:22). These sad things had greatly disturbed, perplexed, and disheartened the disciples. And it was necessary that they should be strongly certified of the Saviour’s Divine glory before He went down into those dreadful depths, lest their faith should utterly fail them when the facts should occur. We are also fully authorized to take the Transfiguration as a picture and earnest of His future coming and kingdom, which is to embody the consummated results of His obedience unto death. If it was a foretaste and pledge of “the glory that should follow” from His sufferings, it must needs be of the same kind and nature with that of which it was a section given in advance. Brethren, “it doth not yet appear what we shall be.” (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)

The Transfiguration

I. The place.

II. Let us direct our attention to the persons assembled on the Mount. We learn, I think, that saints, after death, know each other. Moses and Elias did so; and even the disciples, in a way not explained, were enabled to identify their celestial associates. Are we to say, then, that an earthly mountain was more than the heavenly Zion? It further appears, from what has been said, that the recompense of saints after death has some proportion to their prior discipleship. Jesus on this occasion had special honour to confer on some members of the heavenly Church, and whom did He select to be the subjects of distinction? In short, we learn here that saints may see more of the Church and of the world after death than before it. Moses desired, prayed for admission to Canaan. The request was denied, and yet here he is-all as you wished, and as he wished-within Palestine, and surveying from no foreign Pisgah, but from one of its own mountains, the inheritance of his people.

III. Let us consider the condition in which these persons appeared on the mount. It is unnecessary that I should expatiate on the aspect of the disciples. No intimation is given of any change in their state. They remained as they had been, and their bodies displayed all the frailties common to our frame. The most interesting fact in their case is that they were not changed; and we hence see the folly of looking for transformation of our natures from any juncture of circumstances. It was otherwise with Moses and Elias. We are told by St. Luke that they appeared in glory. That glory is manifest when we compare what they once were with what they have now become. Moses has no more need of Aaron and Hur to sustain his arm for the discomfiture of Amalek. Though fifteen hundred years have passed over him they have brought no frailties of age, but the inextinguishable fires of an immortal youth. Mark the disparity between them and the apostles. Both parties were on the summit of a mountain, but how different their manner of reaching it! On the one hand the approach was from beneath, by slow, tedious, arduous steps. On the other hand the approach was from above, from the holiest of all in the third heavens, and was effected by a descent which no barrier could obstruct and no distance protract. When a bright cloud came and overshadowed them, the disciples, as we learn from St. Luke, feared to enter into the cloud; its lustre dazzled or appalled them. There was no such apprehension on the part of Moses and Elias; the wide universe contained not that which could frighten them; and as to the glory of God, its light, so inaccessible to mortals, was their element of joy. The disciples fell asleep, overcome by consternation and fatigue. But while they slept Moses and Elias talked with Jesus, and freely discussed the deep things of God. But I am restricting your attention to mere men, when one and another and many are saying, “We would see Jesus.” “His face did shine as the sun.” Usually it was darkened by grief; but now gloom is gone.

IV. Let us now direct our attention to their discourse. The subject discussed by such an assembly must surely have been important: it was important to all there assembled. You require no proof that the event spoken of was important to Jesus, for He was to be the sufferer. The subject was also important to Moses and Elias. No doubt they were glorified saints, but all this blessing they had acquired in virtue of the Messiah’s anticipated sufferings; and not a plant bloomed in their paradise, not a note thrilled in their songs, not a gem gleamed in their crowns, but was due to the decease which Christ should accomplish at Jerusalem. The three disciples had a like stake in the event, which was not the less precious to them that they were insensible to its consequence. But these disciples were representatives of the New Testament Church, and if so, what was important to them is important to us. Christ died, not for their sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (David King, LL. D.)

Lessons of the Transfiguration

I. It was designed to make the things of the future world more a reality, a distinct conception. The veil between us and the world of spiritual glory is, as it were, drawn aside, and we are permitted to view the unseen. Humanity, our humanity, is capable of a refinement of feature and expression united to a higher spiritual development in a purer state than the present.

II. We are taught that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, its glories being as much above it as its principles.

III. The kingdom of God is not confined to, and does not consist in a particular place, but in an inward condition of the person; that inward condition will inevitably make itself visible, shining through the restraints of adverse and even fleshly circumstances. (W. I. Keay.)

The Transfiguration of Christ

On this stupendous and yet delightful manifestation we offer a few general remarks.

I. The transfiguration is to be considered as one of those solemn acts by which Christ was inducted into his office as the teacher and saviour of the world. This is the principal truth taught by it. All the old prophets were appointed by some special designation and call of God. But Christ being at once the greatest of all Prophets, it was to be expected that His designation should be accompanied by circumstances which should mark this distinction and superiority.

1. There was their frequency. The prophets were generally designated by one glorious appearance of Him who called them. But Christ, by a series of wonders. Then there was the manner. The prophets had a glory conferred upon them, but to the Master belonged the greater glory. “Hear ye Him.” The command still applies to you.

II. From the subject of the discourse held with Christ by Moses and Elias we learn that there was in his death something special and emphatic. The mode of expression, indeed, shows this. It was a departure from life which He had to fulfil, etc. His was a sacrificial death. The Old Testament saints were saved in anticipation of this. Let that be the subject of our thought and converse here, which shall be the theme of heaven itself.

III. The confirmation which this event gave to the ancient prophetic dispensation (2 Peter 1:17-19). The transfiguration thus confirms “the word of prophecy,” in several remarkable particulars.

1. The ancient prophets speak of the Messias in terms indicating a strange union of the extremes of debasement and glory. Very strikingly was this illustrated here.

2. The ancient dispensation was marked with special care as to the quality of the sacrifices to be offered to God. Here we see the shadow giving place to the substance. The victim is distinctly marked-“This is My beloved Son.”

3. The doctrine of the prophets was that the Messiah should die for the sins of the people. Here the doctrine is both illustrated and confirmed.

4. The law and the prophets were continually holding forth some “ better thing “ than themselves. Now both Moses and Elias converse with Him, to show the harmony of the whole; and He being declared by the voice from heaven to be the supreme Teacher, they surrender, as it were, their commission into His hands, and then depart, leaving Him the sole object on which the eye of the world should rest for ever.

5. The ancient dispensation was founded on the doctrine of the soul’s immortality, and of rewards and punishments in a future life. Here it is confirmed and made clear. In these scenes life and immortality burst upon us.

6. The ancient prophets speak of an advent of Christ in glory. Behold it confirmed.

Conclusion: The prophetic word being thus confirmed, there are two important lessons to be learnt.

1. Take heed to it. It is intended to usher in Christ, and the day of salvation. All other light is delusive.

2. The whole history is most encouraging to those who truly believe in Christ. See how He shares His glory with His disciples. And if you suffer with Him, you shall also reign with Him. (Richard Watson.)

The Transfiguration

I. Took place amid the grandeurs of nature.

II. Was witnessed by three of Christ’s most favoured disciples.

III. Consisted in an outshining of the enshrined Divinity.

IV. Was heightened by the presence of two of the greatest men of past history.

V. Was accompanied by a voice of approval from heaven.

VI. Did not destroy the human sympathies of the Saviour. He did not rebuke the ecstatic idea of St. Peter. He calmed their fears. (Anon.)

The Transfiguration

I. The circumstances and manner of it.

II. Its chief design.

1. The inauguration of Christ as the Lord’s anointed.

2. A direct confirmation of former dispensations.

3. The law in the fulness of the time to be clone away … they saw no man save Jesus only.”

III. A few subsidiary moral uses.

1. It assured the disciples in sensuous manner that Jesus was the Son of God.

2. The immortality of the soul.

3. An evidence of the nature of our glorified humanity, and of our mutual recognition in the world to come.

4. Christ is one with us in earthly shame and heavenly glory. (D. Moore, M. A.)

The disciples beholding their transfigured Lord

1. We must no longer expect any visible or external manifestations of Christ to be made to us.

2. All Christ’s true disciples have some manifestations or discoveries of Christ made to them.

3. All Christ’s true disciples have not the same manifestations or discoveries made to them; some not taken to the mount. Now turn to the text:-

I. Peter’s proposal.

1. The principal thing right in it is the delight it manifests in the Redeemer’s glory.

2. The wrong thing in it is a forgetfulness of the main business of life.

II. The answer given to Peter’s proposal.

1. Our highest enjoyments are sometimes put an end to by God. A cloud came between them and the vision.

2. When God interrupts our enjoyments, He has always some other blessing ready for us, and generally better. The voice which came out of the cloud was something better.

3. We must not judge ourselves by religious ecstasy. (C. Bradley.)

The Transfiguration

The necessity of having a few intimate friends upon whom one can rest in all the confidence of fraternal sympathy and love seems inexorable. Even our Lord sought such friends in Peter, and James, and John.

2. There was only one Transfiguration in the life of Jesus. Nor were all the disciples permitted to behold even that. This shows that the business of the Christian is hard work, and not the nursing of visions. Visions are rare, and sent only for the refreshment, not for the daily food of the soul.

3. Our nearness to the spiritual world and its supernal glories. Moses and Elias and the rest still continue to be interested in the plan of redemption, and in our personal relation to it.

4. Happy for us if, like Peter, we recognize the value of good company, and are ready to say when in it, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”

5. Glory and suffering are yoked together in this life. The Transfiguration is only a preparation for Calvary.

6. “Moses, Elijah, Jesus, the law, the prophets, the gospel; but the personal Christ is the centre, and the theme of all is the cross.” And this will be the theme of the redeemed for ever. (T. S. Doolittle, D. D.)

The Transfiguration of Christ, its designs

I. To confirm the faith of the disciples in their Lord as the Son of God and the promised Redeemer. To His enemies He would give no sign; to the disciples He gave this.

II. To inaugurate the Lord Jesus Christ as the supreme head and lawgiver of the church.

III. To apprise the disciples of the deep and intense interest felt by heaven in the redemption about to be effected by the death of Jesus,

IV. To sustain the human nature of our Lord in the immediate prospect and the actual endurance of his unequalled sufferings.

V. To deepen the conviction of the disciples and our own of the immortality of the soul and of the blessedness of departed saints even in a disembodied state. (G. Brooks.)

Let us contemplate-

I. The Lord transfigured before us. Can we not truly say, in viewing Him, “It is good for us to be here”?

II. Saints holding communion round about us.

III. The world and its misery beneath us. (C. Gerok, D. D.)

“Lord, it is good for us to be here”

It was good for the disciples now, for the following reasons.

I. It confirmed their belief in a future state.

II. It taught them that there was a spiritual body.

III. It revealed to them Christ’s Divine character and mission.

IV. It prepared them for coming trials. Sorrow often follows closely upon joy. The joy prepares us for the sorrow.

1. It was good to be there; it would not have been good to remain there. There was work to be done, sorrow to be lightened, sin to be grappled with and overcome. (F. J. A.)

Peter’s ecstasy of the mount

I. The place. The mountain emblematical of God’s sanctuary. As distinctly separate from the world. As the place of happy intercourse with kindred minds. As a place of hallowed instruction. As a place of glorious manifestation.

II. The advantages. It is good-As it is acceptable to God, as it is elevating to the mind, as it is joyous to the heart, as it is truly profitable to the soul, as it prepares us for the services of heaven.

III. The spirit which it should produce. A spirit of diligence in rightly using the means of grace, of love and zeal for the prosperity of Zion, of ardent longing for the perfected scenes of heaven. Application: Can you experimentally employ the language of the text? Seek the end of these Christian ordinances. (J. Burns, LL. D.)

I. This is my beloved son.

1. The Father here comes forth from His concealment, and audibly addresses the disciples.

2. The momentous truth to which He bears witness is-the Sonship of Christ. This showed Divine love to man. This constituted Christ’s fitness for the work of redemption. This forms the basis of our confidence in the atonement.

3. He characterizes Christ as His beloved Son.

4. For such a declaration there was the most urgent call. It had a reference to Christ, as about to have His Father’s face hid, etc. It had a reference to His disciples, as about to be tried.

II. In whom I am well pleased.

1. The Father having declared His paternal love, next declares His satisfaction and complacency in Christ as the Surety of man. This regarded His Person, offices, work, people.

2. This testimony was repeated at His resurrection, exaltation, outpouring of the Spirit, every instance of a sinner’s being saved.

III. Hear ye him. As a Lawgiver and King, as a Prophet. The manner in which He is heard. (J. Stewart.)

Prayer is the transfiguration of the soul

1. Because in it the soul receives light from God, that she may know Him and herself and all things more clearly.

2. By it the soul seeks and obtains grace to blot out the stains and vices by which she is deformed. In it she receives consolation for desolation; out of weakness she is made strong; from slothful she becomes fervent; for perplexity she hath understanding; for sadness, gladness; and for cowardice, courage.

3. She is raised above herself, and is lifted up to God in heaven, where she learns and sees that all the things of earth are fragile and worthless, so that from her lofty height she looks down upon them as fit only for children. She perceives that the true riches, honours, and pleasures are nowhere but in heaven.

4. In prayer she unites herself to God. (Lapide.)

Spiritual suggestions of the Transfiguration

I. This incident is valuable as bringing prominently forward the objective element in Christianity.

II. As bringing prominently forward the devotional element in Christianity.

III. The propitiatory element.

IV. The divine element. The eternal Sonship of Christ.

V. The practical element. (A. L. R. Foote.)

The Transfiguration

“Lord, it is good for us to be here.”

I. This event had a special evidential value; it proved to St. Peter and-to the other apostles with him that their Master’s claims were not exaggerated; that in giving up all to follow Him, they were not making a mistake; that the religion He had taught them, and of which He was Himself the centre, had come from heaven. These Jews see their Master in the correspondence with the great lawgiver and the prophets. Also they were assured by the voice out of the cloud. Then our Lord’s glorious appearance at the Transfiguration was exactly fitted to remove a prevalent objection to the second advent. That objection was due to sluggish imagination rather than to offended reason. The picture of the Son of Man coming in “ the clouds of heaven “ seemed to a certain order of minds too remote from all experience to be conceivable, and St. Peter’s answer in effect is this: “We have been witnesses of an event which has prepared us for the second advent; we saw in the Transfiguration a rehearsal of the glories beyond.”

II. Besides contributing an evidence of the truth, the Transfiguration marked the character of the religion of Christ. It enabled the apostles to distinguish the inner and real value of their Master and His religion from the public estimate of Him. We are all of us affected by the spirit of the men around us. When they saw their Master transfigured, they saw that the vulgar estimate was not the true one; He was not to be measured by that which ordinarily met the eye. “The form of a servant “ was but a veil; beneath it were the lineaments of the Lord of glory. In our own day there is a like difference between the popular estimate of the religion of Christ and the true one. But if a man can retire into the solitude of prayer, he may learn to take a different view of religious truth and life. It is not that he invests it with ideal qualities that do not properly belong to it; it is that he escapes from the obscure traditions which have hidden from him the reality. The Transfiguration marked Christianity as a distinctly supernatural religion. We can conceive that Christianity might have been merely natural; in such a system the Transfiguration would have been out of character. The soul requires an object above this world. The Transfiguration is an answer to this need.

III. The Transfiguration was a scene of glory; but it was something more,-it was a preparation for a scene of suffering. “His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.” Does not this show us the true use of a time of prosperity, whether in material or in spiritual things; to prepare for time of trial. Thus is it with nations: times of peace and plenty enable us to prepare for reverse. On the Mount of Transfiguration we should always hear whispers of Calvary.

IV. The religious value of occasional withdrawal from the absorbing interest of ordinary life. Not seldom does He now, as of old, take Peter and James and John into a mountain apart, and is transfigured before them. He detaches men by some unforseen providence, by some great perplexity, by some great humiliation, by some heart-searching sorrow, from their surroundings, and from their past; He takes them with Him into a high mountain of thought and feeling to which they were previously unaccustomed, and they see how little hitherto they have understood either themselves or Him. Hitherto they have “known Christ after the flesh;” henceforth know they Him so no more. The prayers which had been long used, but with little sense of their meaning, are lighted up with force and pathos that makes them the very language of the soul; the Scriptures, which had been read only as a more interesting department of literature, are found to be, indeed, as St. Augustine calls them, “Letters from the heavenly country, describing all that is most important to know about God and about man;” the sacraments, which had been scarcely thought of, or which had been noticed only as graceless forms, are now seen to be channels of the life of the Divine Redeemer; fellow-Christians who had in former days been deemed uninteresting or stupid are now reverently looked up to as characters of rare and of unselfish beauty, whom it is a privilege and a blessing to approach. (Canon Liddon.)

The Transfiguration

I have seen men “transfigured by love, by duty, and, in death, by faith.

1. Love was within Christ, perfect, undefiled, intense, filled with the joy of giving and blessing. On the mountain He let His love loose, and oh, what the face of Christ must have been then, when infinite love overflowed His eyes and trembled on His mouth, no tongue can tell.

2. And the mighty stress of duty, filled full with the ideas, infinite in beauty, majestic in truth, which He was yet to accomplish-that and these arose like a tide of light into His expression.

3. And He, too, had come to endure death, cud here, on Hermon’s side, He realized the last sacrifice. And death seemed to Him then, in that hour of the ecstasy of love and duty, not sad as it was when its power to subdue was brought home to Him by the sin and sorrow of earth, but most beautiful and joyous, full of glory and life. It was beautiful, for it was death for the sake of ideas of eternal beauty; it was joyous, for it was filled with impassioned love; it was glorious, for it was filled with the splendour of the truths He was through death to make alive among men. Therefore as He spoke of His death His face shone like the sun.

II. We see Christ here in the uttermost realization of spiritual communion with God. Always God and He were at one; but the rapture of that union was not always present. From end to end, body, soul, spirit, brain, and heart were all vividly happy with the indwelling God. This the highest conception of prayer ever given to the world-the transfiguration of man through perfect and rapturous union of being with God. There were two special means through which that was reached, and they had been wrought by Christ always.

1. Obedience to God’s will. A man must be free to pray perfectly, and no man is free who is under the yoke of his own will to do wrong, who loves pleasure more than God’s righteousness. There must be the freedom of love; the man can pray and feel himself one with God. It is possible for him at rare moments to stand on the Mount with Christ and be transfigured.

2. The other element in Christ which secured this communion was loving as God loved. God is love. In giving He is blest and blesses. Such prayer cannot be ours; we are not able to obey and love as Christ did.

III. How Is that prayer to be lived? Not in continued solitary contemplation. In the common tasks of life; making them the Father’s business; in it finding communion, prayer. (S. A. Brooke, M. A)

The permanent use of religious ecstasy

How short in this vale of tears are those moments-which we most rightly call the most salutary and most blissful of our lives-which beam on our mortal career, soon to be replaced by darkness; yet they are not altogether lost; they leave a dew which does not dry up; a meteor that anticipates our course; a fulness of hidden strength which never abates; a light against tempests, which shines upon us as sweetly as the rays of the moon. One takes, though unconsciously, from such moments a new scrip for the long voyage; a new pilgrim’s staff for the steep road, and a flask newly filled for the days of abode in the desert, wherewith the spirit is refreshed; the sails swell freely, the compass points with more force to the pole, and a season draws nigh when we delight in remembering the enraptured scenes on the Mount. (Dr. Krummacher.)

The fading of the light on Jesus’ face

When or how the light died away we are not told. My own fancy is that it went on shining, but paling all the night upon the lonely Mount, to vanish in the dawn of a new day. When He came down from the mountain the virtue that dwelt in Him went forth no more in light to the eyes, but in healing to the poor, torn frame of the epileptic boy. So He vanished at last from the eyes of His friends, only to draw nearer-with a more intense and healing presence-to their hearts and minds. Even so come, Lord Jesus! (George Macdonald.)

The Transfiguration a window

The story of the Transfiguration is as it were a window through which we gain a momentary glimpse of the region whence all miracles appear. We find a marvellous change, a lovely miracle, pass upon the form itself, whence the miracles flowed, as if the pent-up grace wrought mightily upon the vessel which contained it. (George Macdonald.)

The influence of prayer on the face

Gambold, in a letter written while Wesley was in Georgia, tells us that Wesley at Oxford was always cheerful, but never arrogant. By strict watchfulness he heat down the impetuosity of his nature into a childlike simplicity. His piety was nourished by continual communion with God, for he thought prayer to be his greatest duty; and often did Gambold see him come out of his closet of devotion with a serenity of countenance that was next to shining.

The watch before the battle

For the disciples, the Transfiguration was intended to illuminate with a ray of glory the dark days that were about to begin; it was designed also to strengthen Jesus for His conflict. It was His first watch before the battle. (De Pressense.)

The mountain, probably Hermon

It is impossible to look up from the plain to the towering peaks of Hermon, almost the only mountain which deserves the name in Palestine-and one of those ancient titles (“the Lofty Peak”) was derived from this very circumstance-and not be struck with its appropriateness to the scene … High up on its southern slopes there must be many a point where the disciples could be taken “ apart by themselves.” Even the transient comparison of the celestial splendour with the snow, where alone it could be seen from Palestine, should not, perhaps, be wholly overlooked. (Dean Stanley.)

Cloud on Mount Hermon

A strange peculiarity has been noticed about Hermon, in “the extreme rapidity of the formation of cloud on the summit. In a few minutes a thick cap forms over the top of the mountain, and as quickly disperses and entirely disappears.” (C. R. Conder.)

It almost seems as if this, like the natural position of Hermon itself, was, if not to be connected with, yet, so to speak, to form the background to what was to be enacted. Suddenly a cloud passed over the clear brow of the mountain-not an ordinary, but a “ luminous cloud,” a cloud uplift, filled with light. (Edersheim.)

The shining face

The face of Moses had shone, but as the moon, with a borrowed, reflected light; but Christ’s shone as the sun, with an innate, inherent light, which was the more sensibly glorious because it suddenly broke out as it were from behind a black cloud. (Matthew Henry.)

Witness of Judaism to Christ

While false Judaism rejects the Messiah, the true owns and adores him in the persons of its two most illustrious representatives. The old covenant and the new meet together on the glorious Mount, as righteousness and peace shall soon meet on that other hill which is already before the eye of Jesus. (E. De Pressense.)

The conversation

The very mention of Christ’s death by such men as Moses and Elias, without any marks of surprise or dissatisfaction, was of itself sufficient to cause a great change in the sentiments of the disciples respecting those sufferings. Christ’s assumption of this glorious appearance at the very time was a reasonable and striking proof to His disciples that those sufferings were perfectly consistent with the dignity of His character, and the highest state of glory to which He could be exalted. (Bishop Porteus.)

Peter’s enjoyment of the scene

But what if the contemplation of Christ’s glorified manhood so filled the apostle with joy that he was unwilling to be sundered from it, how shall it fare with those who attain to the contemplation of His glorious Godhead? And if it was so good a thing to dwell with two of His saints, how then to come to the heavenly Jerusalem, to the general assembly and Church of the first-born that are written in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to those, not seen through a glass and darkly, but face to face. (Anselm.)

We must come down from the holy mountains

Where we have communion with God, and complacency in that communion, and of which we are saying, “It is good to be here”: even there we have no continuing city. Blessed be God, there is a mountain of glory and joy before us, whence we shall never come down. But observe, when the disciples came down, Jesus came with them. When we return to the world again after an ordinance, it must be our care to take Christ with us, and then it may be our comfort that He is with us. (Matthew Henry.)

Hear the Son

I. The Father’s declaration-“This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” No doubt there is an allusion here to Deuteronomy 18:18. He is My Son, My own Son (Romans 8:32).

II. The Father’s command-“Hear ye Him.” Hear ye Him, ye thoughtless men and women that dwell at ease (2 Corinthians 5:10). Hear ye Him, ye self-righteous souls (Acts 4:12). Hear Him, ye that have gone on in the ways of ungodliness and wickedness, adding sin to sin, iniquity to iniquity (Isaiah 46:12). Hear Him, ye men of delay, whose watchword is, “To-morrow.” Hear Him, ye young sinners, whose is the bloom, the blossom, the springtime of existence, but who have not yet begun to live. Hear Him, ye aged sinners, whose is the hoary head, but that head not yet found in the way of righteousness (Proverbs 16:31). Hear Him, ye backsliders. Hear Him, ye His tried and tempted disciples. He speaks-“It is I, be not afraid.” (J. Evans, M. A.)

Attention

”Hear ye Him.”

I. Why should we hear him?

1. Because God Himself commands us.

2. Because He deserves to be heard.

3. Because His message concerns your present and future welfare.

4. With what zest should those of us hear Him who profess to be His disciples.

5. Sinners must hear Him in this day of grace, or in the day of judgment.

II. what are we to hear?

1. There is much to hear concerning the Person of Christ.

2. He has many varieties of utterance, but by whomsoever He speaks let us hear Him?

3. The word of the Lord is not always a voice of instruction, but of command.

4. He also gives the word of consolation.

III. How shall we hear him.

1. With devout reverence.

2. Believingly.

3. Obediently.

IV. When shall we hear him? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Fear and its antidote

What was it the disciples feared? The voice from the opened heavens; the voice which some men think, if they only could hear, all doubts would vanish. If such men felt, under the Divine manifestation, so unnerved, what warrant have we for supposing that if a Divine voice spoke to us from heaven, we should gain any accession of faith? Let us learn to be thankful for the modes in which the Divine Presence is made known to us. Look at these disciples.

I. The loss of themselves through their great fear. “And when they heard it they fell on their faces,” etc. They were no longer the men they had been. This prostration sprang from the conscious nearness of God, and the voice from the cloud was the chief cause of this feeling. Are these not experiences which seem to rob us of our manhood: in great sorrow our powers seem paralyzed. We feel that it has brought us into the presence of God, and we are sore afraid.

II. The grave sense of responsibility which comes upon us in some crises of our life. Then the faculties we most want refuse to obey our bidding. The sudden out-flashing of some great truth may fill the mind with fear.

III. But there is yet another side to look at. We have been looking at the disciples, let us now turn to the Master. In the conduct of Christ towards these men there is much to cheer us. He did not leave them in their helpless condition. His love toward them is unchanged. He comforts as well as delivers from fear. (J. J. Goadby.)

Jesus only

I. what might have happened to the other disciples after they had seen the transfiguration. There were four things, either of which might have occurred.

1. They might have seen nobody with them on the holy mount; they might have found all gone but themselves. In such a case they would have been in a sorry plight, like those who, having begun to taste a banquet, suddenly find all the viands swept away; like thirsty men who have tasted the cooling crystal drops, and then seen the fountain dried up before their eyes. How many people after such experiences have nothing left of joy or comfort; the whole has been a splendid vision and nothing more. Nothing is left to bless the present hour. Christ is with us for ever by His Spirit.

2. They might have seen Moses only. Who would exchange Christ for Moses; the sun for the moon; love for law. There are many who see Moses only; they delight in outward ordinances, precepts and duties. They had bright visions once, but have relapsed into condemnation.

3. They might have seen Elijah only. Instead of the gentle Saviour they might have seen the stern-spirited Elias.

4. They might have seen Moses and Elias with Jesus, even as in the Transfiguration. Moses could preach the law and make men tremble, then Jesus could follow with His gospel of grace. Elias could flash the thunder bolt in their faces, and then Christ could have uplifted the humble spirits. Would not the assemblage of such diverse forces have contributed to the greatest success. They were all merged in Jesus only; as the morning star in the sun.

II. What really happened-“They saw no man save Jesus only.”

1. This was all they wanted to see for their comfort-“Be not afraid.” All the Saviour we want we find in Jesus only.

2. Jesus was enough for a Master-“No man can serve two masters.”

3. He was enough as their power for future life.

4. He is enough as our reward.

III. What he desire may happen. That the great object of our thoughts, motives, and acts may be Jesus only. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Jesus only as a doctrine

As you grow in graze you will find that many doctrines and points of church government which once appeared to you to be all-important, though you will still value them, will seem but of small consequence compared with Christ Himself. Like the traveller ascending the Alps to reach the summit of Mont Blanc; at first he observes that lord of the hills as one horn among many, and often in the twistings of his upward path he sees other peaks which appear more elevated than that monarch of mountains; but when at last he is near the summit, he sees all the rest of the hills beneath his feet, and like a mighty wedge of alabaster Mont Blanc pierces the very clouds. So, as we grow in grace, other things sink and Jesus rises. They must decrease, but Christ must increase; until He alone fills the full horizon of your soul, and rises clear and bright and glorious up into the very heaven of God. O that we may thus see “Jesus only.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Jesus only as an experience

You will see your need all the better if you look at Jesus only. Many a time an appetite for a thing is created by the sight of it. Why, there are some of us who can hardly be trusted in a bookseller’s shop, because though we might have done very well at home without a certain volume, we no sooner see it than we are in urgent need of it. So often is it with some of you about other matters, so that it becomes most dangerous to let you see, because you want as soon as you see. A sight of Jesus, of what He is to sinners, of what He makes sinners, of what He is in Himself, will more tend to make you feel your need of Him than all your poring over your poor miserable self. You will get no further there, look to “Jesus only.” “Ah,” saith another, “but I want to read my title clear, I want to know that I have an interest in Jesus.” You will best read your interest in Christ by looking at Him. If I want to know whether a certain estate is mine, do I look into my own heart to see if I have a right to it? but I look into the archives of the estate, I search testaments and covenants. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Jesus only

Our life has its resting places, exposed to startling, rude alternations; but it has also, in the midst of all, its grand solace. The first of these truths is illustrated in-

1. Our external personal circumstances.

2. Our intercourse with men.

3. Our Christian feeling. High joys seldom last long. Jesus, so to speak, loses His splendour, and comes down again from the mount, as a man, to His humiliation. The supreme solace is that Jesus comes down from the mount along with us. We learn to prize Him in proportion as we learn the deceptiveness of all beside. Out of our ecstasies, which often hide the reality, there comes a gift of God more precious than all-Jesus Himself. Whatever form He may assume, He is still the same; still the same whether He goes up the mountain with us, or comes down with us from the mountain. Our illusions vanish, but Jesus does not disappear. (C. Bailhache.)

Jesus only

Here is set forth the central theme of Christianity-Jesus only. This is the theme of thought for the scholar, of proclamation by the preacher, of discussion by the student, of delight by the saint. Not the splendours of transfiguration, but Jesus only; not the blessedness of the saints in glory, but Jesus only; not the law of the old dispensation represented by Moses, but Jesus only; not the prophets of the intermediate dispensation, represented by Elijah, but Jesus only; not the apostles of the last dispensation, as represented by Peter, James, and John, but Jesus only. (Dr. J. H. Vincent.)

Jesus only

I. Our spiritual life on earth needs that we should have special seasons of communion with Jesus. It was from the midst of the activities of His ministry that our Lord took His disciples to this “ mountain apart.” Our animal and mental life needs stimulating.

II. Our higher spiritual experiences will not have their right effect upon us unless they leave our attention fixed on “Jesus only.” Some seek the evidences of their saved state, and find all their comfort in emotional experiences. It is “very good” to be alone with Christ, and to behold His glory, but we may forget, and lose sight of Him in the sense of personal enjoyment. This was Peter’s error. The three disciples were permitted to behold this transfiguration of the Saviour, that their attention might henceforth be fixed more on Him and less on themselves. Do not seek rapturous religious experiences merely for their own sake.

III. No religion will do for us to live with, or to die with, but that in which we see “Jesus only.” Ethical theories, philosophy, etc., will not do for us to live or die on. The simple gospel alone can give peace to the soul in life and death. (T. Hands.)

Nothing but Jesus

A Spanish artist was employed to paint a representation of “ The Last Supper.” It was his ambition to throw all the sublimity of his art into the figure and countenance of the Master; but he put on the table in the foreground some chased cups, the workmanship of which was exceedingly beautiful; and when his friends came to see the picture on the easel, every one was constrained to exclaim, “What lovely cups! Ah!” said he, “I have made a mistake; these cups divert the eyes of the spectator from the Master, to whom I wished to direct the attention of the observer.” He then took his brush, and deliberately painted them off the canvas; for he was determined that “Jesus only” should be the centre of attraction and admiration.

Contrasts in life

Here in London we find, side by side, anxious, earnest, dutiful work, and thoughtless, frivolous, selfish indolence; great intellect expanded by culture and exercise, and stolid ignorance which will not learn; splendid abundance, and squalid want; health radiant in its present joy, and sickness suffering in its gaunt despair; cruelty, and kindness; generosity, and meanness; courage, and cowardice; in the same street-in the same house-some of these antitheses in the same heart! Observe

I. In the streets. Apathy and zeal, honesty and fraud, the athlete and the cripple, the millionaire and the pauper, the abstainer and the drunkard, the sister of mercy and the painted harlot, meeting and touching each other-joy and sorrow, good and evil, life and death. I passed by a great mansion glowing with light from roof to basement, with long lines of carriages hard by; and tapers glowed, and music breathed, and beauty led the ball. Not many days after I passed it again, and the stones were thickly covered with litter to deaden the sound of wheels, and I knew that sickness was in that house. And yet once again, and the rooms were darkened which had been ablaze with light, and there was silence where I heard the joyous music, broken now only by the sigh of the sorrowful; and again there was a long line of carriages, but they were filled with mourners, and at the head of all was the hearse.

II. In our homes-what contrasts! Only an outer wall may separate the house where there is peace and contentment, where hearts are of each other sure, where there is the tenderness, the respect, the loyalty of true affection, where forethought and forbearance unite husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister, master and servant, and bring domestic happiness-that only bliss of paradise which has survived the fall. Only an outer wall may divide this bright abode from the dwelling-place of jealous suspicion, fretful disquiet, sullen resistance, waste, lewdness, and tyranny.

III. In our hearts-ah! YOU know, you only, the bitterness and the joy. Yes, you know the cold, dark shadows and the sunny gleams succeeding in such swift and strange alternation, like the uncertain glories of an April day. (S. R. Hole, M. A.)


Verses 1-21

Verse 14

Matthew 17:14; Matthew 17:21

And when they were come to the multitude.

The healing of the lunatic child

I. The divinely appointed alternations of the Christian life. (Mark 9:2; Mark 9:17).

II. Spiritual work can be done only by spiritual men (Mark 9:28-29; Acts 19:13-16). Correspondence in the worker to the work to be done is never overlooked in any other department of activity. Who employs a plague-stricken nurse to tend a plague-stricken patient? Christ’s own argument (Matthew 12:25-28); Satan will not cast out Satan.

III. The weakness of the Christian apart from Christ.

IV. The absolute necessity of faith.

1. The disciples could do nothing without faith.

2. The father of the lunatic child could receive nothing without faith. How this is to be explained. Faith is more than belief; it is a consequent putting of ourselves into connection with God. The wire must be brought into connection with the battery before it can be charged with electricity. The pitcher must be placed in connection with the fountain before it can be filled.

V. The omnipotence of faith. By believing we place ourselves in connection with Almighty God. What pool cannot the ocean fill? What earthly space cannot the sun illumine? No man, then, who desires to be saved, need despair. You cannot expel sin from your own heart; but the word of Christ is omnipotent. (Anon.)

The contrast

Life is full of changes and contrast. The best of man’s quality and character is what he is in, and how he meets these abrupt and broken changes.

I. Christ’s life was made up of contrasts. Not one more, marked or extreme than this, and nowhere is Christ so fully and truly supreme and sublimely himself. The contrast was painful to Him, painful to all His soul in its love of the beautiful and true and right. What a descent it was! Every true life has such contrasts, and in them the true man is revealed. Christ found His lifework, not in His glory, but in the valley, and was there truly and fully the Messiah. The value of the vision and glory is but their gift of fitness for work and endurance.

II. The confused scene which greets Christ is a true picture of life, into which with healing and order making, christ is ever entering.

1. A sad picture of the world to-day. We are perplexed and almost despairful.

2. A sad picture of our own inner life the home of so much strife, of so much unbelief. Our wondering question is often, Why could we not cast them out? (S. D. Thomas.)

The gracious welcome

“Bring him hither to me.”

1. Whose words are these?

2. To whom are they spoken?

3. Concerning whom are they spoken?

4. What do they teach us?

A grain of faith

The boundaries of the province of faith.

I. Faith’s limitations.

1. The different ages of the Church have called for different kinds of faith. The faith of a miraculous age would not be the same with the faith of a period when God worked by ordinary operations. But even in the same period, and at the same moment, not only the measure, but the character of the faith of different men must vary. A common man at the time of Christ would not have been reproved as the apostles were for not being able to cast out an evil spirit, because it was an authority only given to the apostles.

3. Faith and its achievements must be as God is pleased to give it to every one. It is a pure creation of God in man’s soul.

4. Every man’s responsibility is just to use the faith, whatever its measure may be, which God has given him; he cannot go beyond it. Nevertheless within this the state of every man’s faith depends upon the condition of his heart, and the life which he is leading.

II. The ranges of faith.

1. It is plain that everything hinges upon faith, that the success of faith does not depend upon the quantity, but upon the quality-“A grain.” You may not be able to remove material mountains, but you can spiritual mountains of sin, care, and difficulty. God puts it into a man’s mind to believe what He intends that man to do. But may we not mistake the leadings of faith? Yes: just as we may mistake the leadings of prayer and providence. The security is, in a scriptural mind, disciplined to know the still small voices of God. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Mysterious failure

I. That the honest efforts of God’s servants may sometimes end in failure. As Christian workers, we often think we succeed when we in reality fail, and the reverse. But in this case there could be no mistake.

1. It was a conscious failure-“Could not.”

2. It was a failure without a redeeming feature. In the pulpit we sometimes partially atone for failure in the end by the good impression we made at the beginning, and the reverse. The demon was only exasperated to ten-fold fury, till the “lad” was flung “ to the ground, and wallowed foaming.”

3. It was a public failure. It was witnessed by the multitude, and among them the vindictive, sarcastic scribes.

4. It was a humiliating failure. This devil in the “lad” was too much for nine men, who were the divinely-credentialed ambassadors of Christ.

II. That the failure of Christian workers may sometimes be a mystery to themselves-“Why could not we?” They had honestly tried; had no doubt done the like before; certainly they did it afterward; why not now? Everything appeared to justify them in looking for success.

1. They were Christ’s chosen disciples.

2. They were His recognized ambassadors. He had confirmed their call by giving them the Divine gift of miracles.

3. They had not put their hands to a work which God designed for others. The very terms of their commission specified the work which they had tried to do and failed-“raise the dead, cast out devils.”

4. No reason to believe they used their own names instead of Christ’s on this occasion. No wonder they were humiliated and thunder-struck at such a failure. There is comfort here for all disappointed workers. The feeling of disappointment which prompted this question was a hopeful feature in their case. What we should be most concerned about is, not success, but downright honesty in our work.

III. The failure of many men in the pulpit and out of it need be no mystery even to themselves. Many of us fail because we forget to take aim. Have you tried to “ cast out devils,” and failed? Tell Jesus about it. (T. Kelly.)

Hope in hopeless cases

I. The details of the deplorable case before us. Physical miracles of Christ typical of spiritual works.

1. The disease appeared every now and then in overwhelming attacks of mania, in which the man was utterly beyond his own control. So we have seen melancholy persons in whom distrust, despair have raged at times with unconquerable fury.

2. The patient at such times was filled with a terrible anguish.

3. The evil spirit sought his destruction by hailing him in different directions. So with distressed souls; fly to extremes.

4. This child was deaf.

5. He was dumb.

6. He was pining away. Men are a prey to their own unbelief.

7. All this had continued for years.

8. The disciples had failed to cast out the devil.

II. The one resource.

1. Jesus Christ is still alive.

2. Jesus lives in the place of authority.

3. Jesus lives in the place of observation, and He graciously interposes still.

4. Jesus expects us to treat Him as the living, powerful, interposing One, and to confide in Him as such.

III. The sure result. The word of Christ was sure; was opposed by the devil. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Christ’s life made up of contrasts

None of them more marked and extreme than this; and nowhere is Christ so fully and truly supreme and sublimely Himself. He needs no pause to fittingly enter the clanging discord of anger, despairing sorrow and rude scorn. He is alike supreme, touching manhood’s apex in the mount, and mingling with manhood’s depravity in ignorance and evil in the valley. And that not because He lived above and indifferent to each, but because, identifying Himself with each, He was true and great enough to subordinate all to His life’s mission. The contrast was painful to Him, painful to all His soul in its love of the beautiful and true and right. From the peace of the Transfiguration glory-the heart’s ecstasy touching heaven; touching God in its fellowship; the glad satisfaction of an ideal realized, His life’s meaning and appointment found, all Moses promised and Elijah wrought for consummated-to the discordant throng of- unhallowed passion and faithless failure. What a descent it was! And this even in a moment, as abrupt as from dream to waking. The change and contrast is infinitely sad. Suddenly Christ, from calm vision and peaceful vow, descending with the glory yet about Him, mantling face and form, is greeted with taunt and scorn, and the bitter cry of shame and despair. Hardly the cross was a sorer trial to the patience, earnestness, and love of Christ. Yet, in the midst He stands, all calm and good, all patiently laying aside His own pain to minister to others-His one concern the honour of the kingdom of man and God. Every true life has such contrasts, and in them the true man is revealed; they compel to the surface that which is most of a man-good or bad, weak or strong. In them we have the gauge of a man’s piety and true devotion. It is easy to serve and worship and to be strong in our moments of vision and conscious contact with God, when His Spirit thrills us with joy and faith. It is possible even to brace ourselves up with ardour and enthusiasm for some notable and well-defined task; but to find swift following (all discordant) our vision, a bitter trial, and wake from peaceful resolve to stern reality of strife, and still be true, needs all our faith. It is possible only to the Christ-like man, and should be our aim and glory. (S. D. Thomas.)

The power of faith

When man has faith in God his nature so opens itself to be filled with God, that God and he make a new unity, different at once from pure heavenly divinity and from pure earthly humanity, the new unit of man inspired by God; and by that new unit, that new being, it is that the evil is to be conquered and the world is to be saved. Can we understand that? Let us take two simple illustrations which may make it plain. Look at the artist’s chisel. Most certainly it carves the statue. The artist cannot carve without his chisel. And yet imagine the chisel, conscious that it was made to carve and that that is its function, trying to carve alone. It lays itself against the hard marble, but it has neither strength nor skill; it has no force to drive itself in, and if it had it does not know which way it ought to go. Then we can imagine the chisel full of disappointment. “Why cannot I carve?” it cries. And then the artist comes and seizes it. The chisel lays itself into his hand, and is obedient to him. That obedience is faith. It opens the channels between the sculptor’s brain and the hard steel. Thought, feeling, imagination, skill, flow down from the deep chambers of the artist’s soul to the chisel’s edge. The sculptor and the chisel are not two, but one. It is the unit which they make that carves the statue. Then again, look at the army and its great commander. The army tries to fight the battle, and is routed. Then its scattered regiments gather themselves together, and put themselves into the hands of the great general, and obey him perfectly, and fight the battle once more and succeed. “Why could not I succeed?” the army cries; and the general answers, “Because of your unbelief. Because you had no faith. You separated yourself from me. You are but half a power, not a whole power. The power which has won the battle now is not you and is not I it is made up of you and me together, and the power which made us a unit was your obedient faith. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)

Faith in action

It may be interesting and useful to consider in what way the apostles actually worked out the lessons which our Lord gave them concerning faith. The lessons which Christ gave them while He was yet with them were, doubtless, intended to guide them when they were left to themselves; He dropped into their minds many maxims, and precepts, and seeds of thought, which He knew that they would not understand at the time, intending that the things said should be brought to remembrance by the power of the Holy Ghost, and should then be comprehended in all their fulness, and be guides to their feet and lanterns to their paths. Well, then, how did they deal with the mountains of difficulty which they had to remove in order to lay the foundations of the Church? How did they put in practice the precept of their Lord, that they should command the mountains in faith to be removed? and in what way and to what degree did they realize the fulfilment of the promise that a command so given and backed by prayer should be forthwith obeyed, and that nothing should be impossible? It is plain that you may easily conceive a very wild and fanatical system of attempts to propagate the gospel being based upon our Lord’s words literally taken. You may conceive, e.g., of St. Peter on the Day of Pentecost, instead of arguing calmly with the people and declaring the facts connected with the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, attempting some striking miracle which would batter down all opposition; or you can conceive of St. Paul at Ephesus, instead of pleading his cause in the theatre, commanding the great Temple of Diana to be removed and cast into the sea; in fact, you may conceive of a course of conduct as different as possible from that which the apostles with one consent and in their corporate capacity actually adopted. Look at the history contained in the Book of Acts, or at the incidental living history which comes out in the Epistles, and you will see that the whole work of the apostles is a combination of faith and prayer with judgment and calm, quiet, good sense; they were conspicuously what we should call good men of business; like all such men, they attended to small matters as well as great; when difficulties arose, they took counsel together, and discussed the difficulties at a general meeting; they framed rules when rules were necessary; they never forgot that in this world prudence is as necessary with regard to the kingdom of God as it is with regard to mere worldly success; this was the way in which the apostles founded and governed the Church of Christ. And yet the apostles would have been the last men to put trust in their own wisdom, or their business capacity, or their powers of organization. At all times of their ministry, in bright days and in dark, in the council chamber at Jerusalem or in prison for the name of Christ, in legislating for the churches or in dealing with individual hearts and consciences, in striving by all manner of means to cast out the legion of devils by which mankind was possessed, they would have in their minds such words as these. (Bishop Harvey Goodwin.)

Want of faith the source of weakness

How the whole story of humankind is like that scene which took place at the foot of Tabor, while Jesus was being transfigured on the top. You remember how, in Raphael’s great painting, the whole story is depicted. Up above Christ is hovering in glory, lifted from earth and clothed in light and accompanied on each side by His saints. Down below, in the same picture, the father holds his frantic child, and the helpless disciples are gazing in despair at the struggles which their charms have wholly failed to touch. It is the peace of Divine strength above; it is the tumult and dismay of human feebleness below. But what keeps the great picture from being a mere painted mockery is that the puzzled disciples in the foreground are pointing the distressed parents of the child up to the mountain where the form of Christ is seen. They have begun to get hold of the idea that what they could not do He could do. So they are on the way to the faith which He described to them when they came to Him with their perplexity. Let the picture help to interpret them to us, and is not the meaning of Christ’s words to His disciples this? He claims the disciples for Himself. He tells them that the reason of their failure is that they have been trying to do by themselves what they can only do when He is behind them, when their natures are so open that His strength can freely flow out through them. That, I think, is what He means by faith. The man who is so open Christward that Christ is able to pour His strength out through him upon the tasks of life has faith in Christ. The man who is so closed Christward that nothing but his own strength gets utterance upon the tasks of life has not faith, and is weak because of his unbelief. (Phillips Brooks.)

Reason of failure

Whence comes it that, when assailed by temptation, we so seldom conquer and so often fail? It is because of our unbelief-because we are fools, and slow of heart to believe all that God Himself has told us. We do not go to Him first of all; we do not take His instructions, do not consult His revealed will as our first rule of action. Is it not so as regards that evil spirit whose name is Legion, whose accursed power we meet everywhere-not only in our streets, but in some of its manifold influences in our homes and hearts-the spirit of selfishness and sensuality, lust, intemperance, sarcasm, spite, hypocrisy, cheating, lying, meanness? We do not say, we have not faith to say, “I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out.” We dare not say to impotence, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” We have more faith in ourselves; in clever legislation, compulsory education, commercial prosperity, in what we call “progress,” in the discoveries of science. We will not read, or we forget, history-how all the great empires of the Nile, the Euphrates, the Tiber, and the Tigris rose and fell as they realized that which was true and right hi the religion they professed; how the golden glory of Babylon, the silver sheen of Cyrus the Persian, the brazen splendour which gleamed on the victorious arms of Alexander, the iron strength of Rome, were ground into powder as the stone fell upon them, the stone which the builders rejected, but which became the head of the corner and the shadow of a great rock in a weary land-the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and when in this season of decadence, and in the time of their visitation, they heard the war-cry of their conquerors, and staggered from the wine-cup and the harlot’s lap to put on the armour which they could hardly bear, and the sword which they could scarcely wield, it was as they asked in their defeat, “Why could not we cast them out?” that the answer came, “Because of your unbelief; because you have ceased to believe in righteousness, and ‘righteousness exalteth a nation.’” (S. R. Hole, M. A.)

Had these disciples been not faithless but believing; had they prayed more frequently and earnestly; had they shown more of that self-denial which He taught and set before them, distrusted themselves and humbled themselves instead of disputing which should be the greatest, they would Lave east out that evil spirit. But he perceived, and prevailed over, their want of faith. He said, “Jesus I know, but who are ye that utter His name, but do not believe in its power?” Perhaps the absence of the Master from those nine apostles made them doubtful and fearing among the unbelieving Jews; just as you and I, when we leave the church, or our place of prayer at home, or the company of those whom we most revere and who influence us most for good, are tempted to forget the omnipresent God, to be of the world worldly, and to set our affections upon the things of the earth. So to lose the power, the only true power over ourselves and others, which we have in exact proportion to our faith, our prayers, our self-denial; for they are inseparable, these three-trinity in unity.

I. It is impossible to believe in our heavenly Father and not to go to him always as children to rejoice in his love, to thank Him for His gifts, to be protected in danger, taught in ignorance, relieved in pain, and forgiven when we have done wrong.

II. We cannot really believe in his power and love without going to him and praying to him oft and earnestly; not from a mere impulse of fear, in some sudden terror, in the great storm, carried up to heaven and down again to earth, in the valley of the shadow of death; but always out of a pure heart and faith unfeigned. And this true prayer does not begin when we kneel, nor cease when we rise. God has not only given us a voice to pray with, but a mind with which to think about our prayers, and capacities, and means, and time, and money, with which we may fulfil them. True prayer is prayer in action. Duty is prayer, and work is worship.

III. So it is impossible to believe really in Christ, and not to practise self-denial. To believe is to love, and to love is to obey. (S. R. Hole, M. A.)

Spiritual failure-its cause and cure

nothing can be better than to being our spiritual failures to Christ himself, as did the disciples. “Why could not we cast him out?” So asked the baffled, eager disciples of old, and got their answer. So let us ask, and hear what Christ will say to us.

I. Cause of spiritual failure.

1. Whatever the peculiar character of the malady, the disciples had bad power given them to heal it (Matthew 10:8), which they had already freely and successfully put forth (Luke 10:17). This power was not unconditionally exercised. Some of the conditions of success depended upon the sufferers, some upon themselves. The cause of failure lay, not in forms or methods, etc., the mischief lay deeper down-“unbelief.”

2. Are there none possessed with evil spirits within our ken? Do we not in this description recognize phenomena of our own life?

3. There are fair excuses enough; undue dwelling upon the evil to be cured; mere reasoning on the causes of evil; reserve and fastidiousness in dealing with religious topics; perfunctory methods of using the gospel means.

II. Christ’s cure. There is no unnecessary upbraiding in our Lord’s answer, no dwelling on the merely negative side of truth. From the mention of unbelief He passes at once to the power of faith.

1. Faith needs to be cultivated. In the Revised Version Christ’s answer reads, “Because of your little faith.” You may trust doubt to spring up readily and flourish easily, but the power to discern the invisible, and hold fast amidst a thousand discouragements our confidence in an unseen God, an unseen Saviour, and in the power of truth which as yet far from prevailing must receive due cultivation if it is to conquer.

2. Let it be clearly understood that while God’s power in Christ works the miracle, our faith in that power is a condition of its operation and success.

3. This is no question of fervid enunciation, excited gestures, display of emotion. Faith may be small at first.

4. Our Lord’s addition to this main answer to the disciples’ query has an importance of its own. Faith in all cases needs to be sustained, but in special cases it needs to be specially sustained by

The influence of earnest faith upon men

And so for the most part it is not abstract truth that wins men. I can read abstract truth at home and go to sleep over it; argue it out by myself and never be moved to alter my course one jot. What moves me is the sight of a man who is himself moved by the truth of what he proclaims, and in this high region of religious truth a man adequately moved in proportion to the importance of the truth he announces. A true herald of Christ is one who, not in the mere announcing of doctrine, but who in mien, gesture, tone, life, shows that lie believes the God-in-Christ doctrine of the salvation of the worst of men who are willing to yield and obey. Such a herald of the gospel is everywhere a quickening power, a kindling flame. (W. T. Darison, M. A.)

Faith not emotion or formalism

Those who would cast out devils in Christ’s name are not like pagan exorcists to work themselves into a fever of excitement and imagine that obstacles will disappear before them because they shout and gesticulate. A man’s manner may be as quiet or as impetuous as you please, but it should be the natural expression of the truth which animates all the powers of his being. There is electricity enough in nature, and at certain times the air is burdened with it, but a good conductor is needed if its energy is to be gathered and transmitted. And in this case the force is to be gathered, not that it may be dissipated in the earth, but that it may rend rocks and overturn mountains. A great problem of the day is the storage and use of electricity; but who is fit for a work like this, to be in any degree a vehicle of the Divine power to save men? Not the noisy assertor of self who reminds you of his own personality and agency at every turn. Not the formalist, the mechanical utterer of pious phrases, nor the mere excited rhapsodist; but only the man of single eye and pure heart, whose soul is inter-penetrated with the truth as it is in Jesus, and who believes with all his mind, and soul, and strength in its might and efficacy. (W. T. Darison, M. A.)

The secrets of victory

Christ’s power, first, last, middle; our faith in that power unhesitating, unshrinking, unwavering; earnest prayer to Him whose ear attends the softest prayer, accompanied by that self-discipline which the holiest saint knows he needs, and the humblest Christian should be the last to disdain, these are the secrets of victory. Constantine, before the great battle of the Milvian bridge, is said to have beheld in the sky a flaming cross, with the words. “by this conquer.” Only by the power of the Cross can the world be surbdued; but only by the faith of its followers can the power of the Cross reach the world’s heart and free it from the tyranny of the legion of evil spirits that now rule and riot there. Onward Christian soldiers, and by your faith help to win a world for Christ! (W. T. Darison, M. A.)

The spirit of worldliness rebuked

I. The evil. The efforts of Satan have been different at different times. Persecution; heresy; fashions of Men; worldliness. If. The remedy. Faith. By prayer faith is increased, also we shall be given less to luxury. (S. Robins, M. A.)

A man wholly consecrated to Christ

It is said that shortly before Mr. Moody began those labours which were so marvellously blessed, he was greatly impressed by the remark made by s Christian friend: “It remains for the world to see what the Lord can do with a man wholly consecrated to Christ.”

The secret of power

Consider the principles which flow from this text.

I. We have an unvarying power. A gospel which never can grow old. An abiding spirit. An unchanging Lord.

II. The condition of exercising, this power is faith. The Church to-day is asking the same question as the disciples. What is to blame? Not our modes of worship, etc. While leaving full scope for all improvements in subordinate conditions, the main thing which makes us strong for our Christian work is the grasp of living faith, which holds fast the strength of God. Faith has a natural operation on ourselves which tends to fit us for casting out the evil spirits. Faith has power over men who see it.

III. Our faith is ever threatened by subtle unbelief. All our activity tends to become mechanical, and to lose its connection with the motive which originated it. The atmosphere of scornful disbelief which surrounded the disciples made their faith falter. So with us.

IV. Our faith can only be maintained by constant devotion and rigid self-denial. (Dr. A. Maclaren.)

The secret of Christian failure and success

They were justified in undertaking to cast the demon out, and ought to have succeeded. It was the right and privilege of their discipleship, and they were guilty of the harmfulness of their failure. And so with us, our demons and the world’s demons have been subjected to us. Our duty and privilege is to master and exorcise them. And to the measure of our opportunity we are guilty of the world’s evilness and our heart’s weakness. It should not be Christ’s direct act. Thank God it will be that if we fail, they shall at last be east out; but it should be ours through the Christ-life and power with us. He has committed the work and responsibility of evil’s overthrow to us, and sternly and awfully He will require at our hands the lives marred and wrecked by our failure. Our great need is faith in this power of ours. We want to know and feel we are not helplessly in sin’s grip, nor weak though despised before evil’s array and seeming sovereignty in the world. The world is ours as we are Christ’s-ours to be conquered and won. (S. D. Thomas.)

Eastern epilepsy and mania

In Sidon there are cases of epileptic fits which, in external manifestation, closely resemble that mentioned in this verse. These fits have seized a young man in my house repeatedly; “And, lo! the spirit taketh him, and he suddenly crieth out, and foameth at the mouth, and gnasheth with his teeth,” and is east down wherever he may be seized, and pineth away until you would think he was actually dead. Matthew calls him a lunatic, but, according to Mark, it was a dumb spirit. And there are eases in which the disease referred to accompanies, and in others it obviously occasions, dumbness. I will not say that such unfortunate creatures are tormented by an evil spirit, but I am sure that no cavilling sceptic can prove that they are not. (Dr. Thomson.)

Explanation of devil possessions

Many think that in the cases recorded we have but the symptoms of well-known diseases which, from their exceptionally painful character, involving loss of reason, involuntary or convulsive motions, and other abnormal phenomena, the imaginative and unscientific Easterns attributed, as the easiest mode of accounting for them, to a foreign power taking possession of the body and mind of the man. They say there is no occasion whatever to resort to an explanation involving an agency of which we know nothing from any experience of our own; that, as our Lord did not come to rectify men’s psychological or physiological theories, He adopted the mode of speech common among them, but east out the evil spirits simply by healing the diseases attributed to their influences. There seems to me nothing unchristian in this interpretation. But I have no difficulty in receiving the old Jewish belief concerning possession; and I think it better explains the phenomena recorded than the growing modern opinion. (George Macdonald.)

Prayer for a wicked son

Spener’s prayer for his son:-Philip James Spener had a son of eminent talents, but perverse and extremely vicious. All means of love and persuasion were without success. The father could only pray, which he continued to do, that the Lord might yet be pleased to save his son at some time, and in some way. The son fell sick, and while lying on his bed in great distress of mind, nearly past the power of speech or motion, he suddenly started up, clasped his hands, and exclaimed, “My father’s prayers, like mountains, surround me.” Soon after, his anxiety ceased, a sweet peace spread over his face, his malady came to a crisis, and the son was saved in body and soul. He became another man.

A pitiable sight

Whoever has held in his arms his child in delirium, calling to his father for aid as if he were distant far, and beating the air in wild and aimless defence, will be able to enter a little into the trouble of this man’s soul. To have the child, and yet see him tormented in some region inaccessible; to hold him to the heart, and yet be unable to reach the thick-coming fancies which distract him; to find himself with a great abyss between him and his child, across which the cry of the child comes, but back across which no answering voice can reach the consciousness of the sufferer-is terror and misery indeed. But imagine in the case before us the intervals as well-the stupidity, the vacant gaze, the hanging lip, the pale flaccid countenance and bloodshot eyes, idiocy alternated with madness-no voice of human speech, only the animal babble of the uneducated dumb-the misery of his falling down anywhere, now in the fire, now in the water, and the Divine shines out as nowhere else-for the father loves his own child even to agony. What was there in such a child to love? Everything. The human was there, else whence the torture of that which was not human? whence the pathos of those eyes, hardly up to the dog’s in intelligence, yet omnipotent over the father’s heart? God was there. The misery was that the devil was there too. Hence came the crying and tears. “Rescue the Divine; send the devil to the deep,” was the unformed prayer in the father’s soul. (George Macdonald.)

“This mountain” as Hermon

There cannot be a doubt that the “high mountain apart” was one of the peaks of Hermon, which towers over Caesarea. On coming down again from the mountain the lunatic boy was healed; and in such a position the force of Christ’s rebuke to His disciples could be fully comprehended. “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain [Hermen], Remove hence to yonder place [pointing down, perhaps, into the deep valley of the Jordan which lay below], and it shall remove.” (Dr. J. L. Porter.)

Faith removing mountains

A grain of faith can remove spiritual mountains; mountains of guilt from the conscience, mountains of hardness from the will, mountains of earthliness from the affections. (E. Polhill.)

Faith that works wonders

All the marvels, all the apparent impossibilities, which men have wrought, have been wrought by the energy of faith. It is by his faith in the laws of nature, and in his interpretation of them, that the man of science has achieved the marvels which have altered the whole form and tone of modern life. It is by his faith both in the courage of his soldiers, and in his own power of handling them, that is, his system of tactics, that every great captain has won his victories, often snatching them from the very mouth of defeat. It is by his faith in men, and in his reading of the laws of social and political science, that every great statesman learns how to take occasion by the hand, and to make the bounds of freedom broader yet. It is by his faith in great religious principles and truths that every successful reformer of the Church, e.g., Luther, has purged the Church from its accretions of error and superstition, elevated and liberalized at once her creed, her ritual, and her morality, in the teeth of both priestly and imperial power. By faith the early Church put a new heart into the decrepit Roman empire. By faith the reformers put a new heart into the northern kingdoms of Europe, and suppressed some, at least, of the most flagrant vices and superstitions even of the southern kingdoms who rejected their teaching. (Almoni Peloni.)

Power in a mustard seed

The mustard seed is one of the tiniest of seeds, although in the fierce heat of the Jordan valley it will grow up into a herb as high as a man on horseback, and throw out sprays on which the birds of the air perch and feed, attracted by its pungent fruit. Take such a seed into your hand and consider it, and you will find it hard, round, dry, and apparently dead and inert. Pat it under a microscope and dissect it; and, small as it is, you will find that it contains a germ far smaller than itself in which its whole potency is summed up. Born in the air, nourished by the sunshine and the dew, it yet cannot live and appropriate their virtues while it remains in them, so long as it lies in the pod, or continues above the ground. But bury it in the soil, and soon a process of dissolution and disintegration sets in which is also a process of vitality and growth. Its main bulk rots, but rots only that it may feed the tiny germ of quickened life which resides within it, for even a seed must lose itself to find itself, must die that it may live. Through death it rises into a new life, pushes its way through what, compared to itself in size and weight, are whole mountains of obstruction and resistance, piercing clod after clod, and compelling each to yield its virtues, and to minister to its needs; until, at last, it rises into that fellowship with the air and the sunshine and the dew for which it yearned and was designed. “The mountains of the earth are dead in comparison with its life.” Hence it commands them to be removed, and they obey. So astonishing is the vital energy of even the smallest seeds that “ mushroom spores, which singly are almost invisible,” have been known to lift large paving stones an inch or two from the earth in the course of a single night. (Almoni Peloni.)

The power of faith

I. The text speaks To those who have no faith. The disciples had failed through lack of faith. If we could but believe we should see difficulties vanish.

1. The sphere of faith. Faith has relation to man’s spiritual needs; temporal needs not overlooked. The boundaries of faith are to be looked for in the promises.

2. How faith operates. By laying hold on God’s power. To make His work serviceable to us it must be done in some way through our instrumentality. But the excellency of the power is His.

3. Its necessity. God’s work cannot be done without our faith, He has so appointed.

II. Of comfort to those of little faith.

1. It may be little in two senses: in its object, or in its intensity.

2. Weak faith is faith. It lays hold on God like a thin wire touching a strong battery.

3. It can remove mountains. God will honour faith as such and not because of its strength merely. (G. T. Horton.)

Power through faith

That power is put forth according to our faith. You have, perhaps, seen a steam-hammer, or clipper, which is most mighty to crush or cut thick iron like shavings. The force applied is steam, which seems almost omnipotent. But how is it applied? By a simple tube of connexion and a common valve, by which the steam is let in upon the ponderous apparatus. An infant could turn the tap. So faith simply turns on to any work we have to do the whole power of deity; yet He hath appointed us fellow-workers with Him, by entrusting to us this prerogative of faith. (G. T. Horton.)


Verse 21

Matthew 17:21

By prayer and fasting.

Fasting a means of subduing sin

I. This duty of fasting admits of several kinds and degrees. For in fasting as well as in feasting we may find variety.

1. The first kind is of constant, universal exercise. It obliges at all times and extends to all persons. This is a temperate use of the creature; in abridging the appetites of nature for the designs of religion.

2. The second kind of fast is of a total abstinence, when for some time we wholly abstain from bodily repasts. The remedy to be successful must bear some proportion to the distemper. Necessity gives place to extremity.

3. The third kind of fast is an abstinence from bodily refreshments in respect of a certain degree, for some space of time. We must distinguish between murder and mortification; Christ never destroys the body to save the soul. Self-denial is a duty, but not self-murder. The height of prudence is in all precepts, laws, and institutions to distinguish persons, times, and occasions, and accordingly to discriminate the obligation.

II. The qualifications that must render this duty of fasting both acceptable to God, and efficacious to this great purpose.

1. The first is, that it is to be used, not as a duty either necessary or valuable for itself, but only as an instrument. There is no excelling in fasting itself; is any spiritual design carried on in it?

2. The second condition of a religious fast is, that it be done with a hearty detestation of the body of sin, for the weakening of which it is designed. Fasting means war against sin; who ever fought valiantly against him whom he did not first hate?

3. The third condition of a duly qualified fast is that it be quickened and enlivened with prayer. The reason of the fast requires the society of prayer for the procuring of good or deprecation of evil. David, Daniel, took this course.

4. The fourth condition of a truly religious fast is that it be attended with alms and works of charity (Isaiah 58:4; Isaiah 58:7).

III. Show how this duty of fasting comes to have such a peculiar influence in dispossessing the evil spirit, and subduing our corruptions. That it does not effect this work-

1. Either by any casual force naturally inherent in itself, for if it did, fasting would constantly and certainly have this effect upon all who used it.

2. Nor does fasting effect this great change by way of merit, as procuring and enjoying the help of that grace that does effect it, it is impossible for a created nature to merit anything from God by way of reward.

From whence then does this duty derive this great virtue?

1. It receives it from Divine institution.

2. Fasting comes to be effectual to dispossess the evil spirit, by being a direct defiance to that disposition of body and mind upon which especially he works.

1. It is a notable act of self-revenge.

2. It corrects the ill temper of pride. (R. South, D. D.)

Constant temperance better than occasional fasting

And whosoever struggles with any unruly corruption, will perhaps find, that the constant turn of a well-guided abstinence will, in the issue, give a surer despatch to it, than those extraordinary instances of total abstinence and higher severities, only undertaken for a time. As a land flood, it carries a bigger stream and comes with a mightier force and noise, yet presently dries up and disappears; but the emissions of a fountain, though gentle and silent, yet are constant and perpetual; and whereas the other, being gone, leaves nothing behind it but slime and mud, this, wheresoever it flows, gently soaks into verdure and fertility. This constant temperance, therefore, is by all means intended by the rules of Christianity; the constancy of which, running through our whole lives, makes abstinence our diet, and fasting our meat and drink. (R. South, D. D.)

Obstinate sin to be overcome by strict fasting

Every remedy is successful according to the proportion it bears to the distemper: and certainly a cure is not likely to be wrought where an ordinary remedy encounters an extraordinary disease; where the plaster is narrow and the wound broad. Temperance is good, but that is to be our continual diet; and surely, that man is not like to recover who makes his food his physic. Where the humour is strong and predominant, there the prescription must be rugged, and the evacuation violent. We must leave the road of nature when nature itself is disordered, and the principles of life in danger. (R. South, D. D.)

Necessity must give place to extremity

And the physician is merciful, if he pines his patient into a recovery. In this case we encounter sin in the body, like a besieged enemy: and such a one, when he has once engarrisoned himself in a strong hold, will endure a storm and repel assaults: you must cut off his supplies of provision, and never think to win the fort, till hunger breaks through the walls, and starves him into a surrender. (R. South, D. D.)

Fasting a help to virtue

Now, by all that has been said it appears, that fasting is required, not as a virtue, but as a help to virtue; and that by controlling its hindrance, removing its impediments, subduing the emulations of a contrary principle, and so enabling it to act with freedom. Otherwise, were there no reluctancy from the inferior appetites against a virtuous and a pious course, these arts and stratagems against the flesh would be superfluous, and we should have no more need of fasting than the angels or the blessed spirits have of eating. Could the mariner sail with as much ease and safety in a storm, as he does in a calm, he would never empty or unlade his vessel. (R. South, D. D.)

Fasting joined with hatred of sin

If we have not first wrought our minds to a settled dislike and a bitter disgust of sin as our mortal enemy, all our attempts against it will be faint and heartless, our mortifications treacherous, and our lastings frustraneous; much like David’s sending an army against Absalom with a design to save him, and to deal with him gently. It will be only an alarm to sin to put itself into a posture of defence, to retreat further into the soul, and there to rally together its strengths, and to secure itself by a firmer possession. (R. South, D. D.)

Fasting joined with humility

It is not a mournful expression, a solemn dress, or a thin table, that God so much regards. It is the heart, and not the stomach, that He would have empty; and, therefore, if a man carries a luxurious soul in a pining body, or the aspiring mind of a Lucifer in the hanging head of a bulrush, he fasts only to upbraid his Maker, and to disgrace his religion, and to heighten his final reckoning, till he becomes ten times more the son of perdition than those who own their inward love of sin by the open undissembled enmities of a suitable behaviour. (R. South, D. D.)

Fasting and prayer

Prayer, joined with fasting, is like “an apple of gold set off with a picture of silver.” Now we have it at its best advantage; it shines bright, and it flames pure, like fire without the incumbrances of smoke, or the allay of contrary blasts. (R. South, D. D.)

Fasting

No doubt the primary meaning of the word translated “fasting,” is that abstinence from food which was practised by the saints of the Old Testament, by our Lord Himself, His apostles, and His Church in all times and climes, for the subjection of the flesh to the spirit. But the Church of England, while she commends and commands this Scriptural discipline, makes no severe definitions and lays down no rigid rule, for many and righteous reasons.

I. Because no rules could be applicable to all, the young, the old, the weak, the poor.

II. Because, if it were compulsory, it would become a mere form or evasion; e.g., a fast from flesh meat might be only a feast on other dainties.

III. Because a fast kept ostentatiously in direct disobedience to our Lord’s warning that we appear not unto men to fast, would only be a feast of pride-the pride which apes humility.

IV. Because under the gospel, in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, we fast by the love of virtue and our own choice, rather than by the coercion of any law.

V. Because the best form of abstinence is to be temperate in all things.

VI. Because bodily fasting is but a part of that self-denial which Christianity teaches, and which has a far more definite and comprehensive scope. True fasting is, to spend less upon ourselves, that we may have more to spend upon others; less upon luxuries and dainties, that others may have common food. (S. R. Hole, M. A.)

Fasting

When the greatest speed of a horse is to be tested, the trainer does not allow him to run at will over in the pasture, nor does he simply put him on a wholesale diet. He almost counts the straws that he gives the horse. He cleans and sifts the oats, and gives him the very best kinds. He measures the horse’s exercise, and every part of the horse is under the trainer’s watch and care, that he may be in the finest condition when he puts forth his energy in competition. And shall a man do so much for his horse and nothing for himself? Shall there be no preparation, no discipline, no care as to diet, no training, nothing but going on through the linked year, Sabbath joined to Sabbath, taking things as they come, allowing themselves to move about as the current sweeps them along? Is that the wisest method of spiritual culture? (H. W. Beecher.)

Extraordinary means necessary

When the Christian is buffeted with any temptation, or overpowered with a corruption, and cannot by the use of ordinary means quench the one or mortify the other; when the short dagger of ordinary prayer will not reach the heart of a lust, then it is time to draw out the long sword of extraordinary prayer upon it. Some poor souls complain that they have come to the Word in their daily prayers, begged power over such a lust, resolved against it many a time, and none of these means cure it; what can they now do more? Here thou art told: bring thy condition to Christ in this solemn ordinance of prayer and fasting; this hath been the happy means of strengthening many a poor Christian, to be avenged on those spiritual enemies which have outbraved all his former efforts, and, like Samson, to pull down the devil’s house upon his head. (Gurnall.)

National fasting

If we are not to expect that the devil should go out of a particular person, under a bodily possession, without extraordinary prayer, or “prayer and fasting;” how much less should we expect to have him cast out of the land and the world without it! (President Edward.)


Verse 22-23

Matthew 17:22-23

The Son of Man shall be betrayed into the hands of men.

Christ’s second announcement of His death

1. In rapid succession the Saviour brings before His disciples the great facts in His history as the Mediator-facts which have the most direct bearing on man’s redemption and spiritual recovery.

2. His complete knowledge of His future, and the calm magnanimity with which He talked about these stupendous events, demonstrate Him to be superhuman.

3. What considerate kindness toward His disciples does this evince. For it was not only necessary that their material notions of His mission should be corrected (Luke 9:43-44); but still more necessary that they should be prepared for these wonderful events, so that when they come they should regard them as the fulfilment of His prediction and an argument for faith.

I. The saviour fortelling the great facts in his history as mediator

1. He foretells His betrayal-“Betrayed into the hands of men”-The men to whom He was allied by nature, and from whom He might therefore expect pity and tenderness; men whom He had undertaken to save, and from whom therefore He might expect honour and gratitude; but these were His persecutors and murderers” (Acts 2:23).

2. He foretells His passion and death. His being “ killed “ was the mortal termination of His sufferings, and nothing less would satisfy the rage of His foes.

3. He foretells His resurrection. This event is not only the crowning evidence of His claims, and the commencement of His state of exaltation, but the demonstration of the sufficiency of His atonement (Romans 4:24, 25; 1:3, 4: 8:34; Acts 17:31). If we are true believers we have a personal interest in every part of His mediatorial work.

II. The disciples sorrowing exceedingly but improperly. There is no evidence that their” sorrow was on account of the sins involved in these coming events. And though it showed their love to their Master, it also disclosed their ignorance of the real character of His mission.

1. For if it was sorrow for themselves it was improper, because the accomplishment of these facts were essential to their happiness (John 16:7). How often we regret the loss which serves our highest interest!

2. If it was sorrow for their fellow-men it was improper, for His sufferings, etc., were the only means of their redemption and spiritual recovery.

3. If it was sorrow for their loved Master and Lord it was improper, for His sufferings, etc., were an essential part of His great plan, and the prelude to His glory (1 Peter 1:11). In His deepest agonies, He is an object for praise not pity-commendation not commiseration. (A. Tucker.)


Verses 22-27

Verse 24

Matthew 17:24; Matthew 17:27

And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter.

Christ and the tribute money

I. On what principle christ claimed exemption. This tax levied for temple services. On no principle but that of His being essentially Divine, and therefore not bound to contribute towards services virtually rendered to Himself. Christ was His own Temple.

II. The principle on which, nevertheless, he determined on paying the tax.

Not to put an occasion of stumbling in the way of others. How unwilling we are to withdraw pretensions. It requires Christian discretion to know when to give way. Christ surrendered no principle; He did not say that He was not the Son of God. He forbore from asserting it.

III. The miracle by which he procured the requisite money. Though the Proprietor of all things, He had made Himself poor for our sakes. He here gave proof of superhuman endowments; omniscience and omnipotence. He knew the money was in the mouth of the fish; His power was felt in the waters. There was propriety in the miracle when we consider which apostle our Lord dispatched on this errand. Had St. Matthew been sent the money would have been got differently, as he was a tax-gatherer; St. Peter was a fisherman, hence he got the money from a fish. Christ put honour on this honest occupation. We are not to neglect means because we seem to need miracles. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

The hidden coin

1. The Divine knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

2. A lesson of moderation. The coin was only enough to pay the tax. Christ had am desire for earthly possessions.

3. For the purpose of supporting the ordinances of religion.

4. Learn to trust our Lord in trying circumstances. (C. J. Maginn, M. A.)

Peter’s money-fish

Christ here showed His Divine knowledge, and especially His power over the natural world.

1. Obedience to law is the true guarantee of individual safety, the preservation of justice and right, the peace of society.

2. Christ will use His mighty control of the material world to care for His followers as He did for Peter.

3. Let Christians remember, Christ has moved His treasury from the mouth of the fish to the loving hearts and purses of His people.

4. Now every Christian must cherish the idea, and act upon the recognized principle that God has right of property in all of ours as well as of ourselves, and that we are but agents to distribute, as God wills, what He has placed us in charge of as stewards. (W. H. Anderson, D. D.)

Notice respecting our Lord

I. His poverty. Hence learn: Contentment and resignation, benevolence and liberality.

II. His peaceable spirit. Hence take example-Of a candid spirit towards brethren who differ from us, particularly in meats and drinks; of prudence in our intercourse with the world, especially in attempts to do good.

III. HIS divinity. Learn, hence, that He is an all-sufficient Saviour and an Almighty Friend, a formidable enemy.

IV. His sympathy. He took on Him our nature, that He might sympathize with our weakness and suffering; He gives us a share in all His possessions (John 17:24; John 14:2-3). (J. Hirst.)

Nature attesting Christ’s lordship

An old ballad represents one of our English kings as losing his way in a wood, and becoming parted from his retinue. A countryman, who met him, began to pick up acquaintance with him in an easy, familiar style, not knowing his dignity. But when the nobles, having discovered their missing monarch, came riding up, with heads uncovered, and lowly homage, the countryman trembled at his mistake. So the laws and powers of nature did homage before Christ, attesting Him to be their Sovereign, and authenticating the apostles as His servants and messengers.

The lessons taught by this episode and miracle

I. The freedom of the Son. To this position and privilege Christ here lays claim for Himself. What a deduction must be made from the wisdom of His teaching, and from the meekness of His Spirit, if that claim was an illusion! For what did He reply?

1. That He had no need of a ransom for His soul.

2. That He needed no temple to worship in.

II. The voluntary submission of the Son to the bonds from which he is free. Self-sacrifice even in the smallest details of His life.

III. The supernatural glory that ever accompanies the humiliation of the Son. He so submits as, even in submitting, to assert His Divine dignity. In the midst of the act of submission, majesty flashes forth, A multiform miracle-containing many miracles in one-a miracle of omniscience, and a miracle of influence over the lower creatures, is wrought. The first fish that rises carries in its mouth the exact stun needed. The miracle was for a trivial end in appearance, but it was a demonstration, though to one man only at first, yet through him to all the world, that this Christ, in His lowliness, is the Everlasting Son of the Father.

IV. The sufficency for us all of what he provides. That which He brings to us by supernatural act, far greater than the miracle here, is enough for all the claims and obligations that God, or man, or law, or conscience, have upon any of us. His perfect obedience and stainless life discharged for Himself all the obligations under which He came as a man, to law and righteousness; His perfect life and His mighty death are for us the full discharge of all that can be brought against us. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Superfluities not to be coveted

The piece of money was just enough to pay the tax for Christ and Peter. Christ could as easily have commanded a bag of money as a piece of money; but he would teach as not to covet superfluities, but, having enough for our present occasions, therewith to be content, and not to distrust God, though we live but from hand to mouth. Christ made the fish His cash-keeper; and why may not we make God’s providence our storehouse and treasury? If we have a competency for to-day, let to-morrow take thought for the things of itself. (Matthew Henry.)

This singular miracle of finding the coin it? the fish’s mouth is unlike our Lord’s other works in several particulars

I. It is the only miracle-with the exception of the cursing of the barren fig-tree, and the episode of the unclean spirits entering into the swine-in which there is no message of love or blessing for man’s sorrow and pain.

II. It is the only miracle in which our Lord uses His power for His own service or help.

III. It is like the whole brood of legendary miracles, and unlike all?he rest of Christ’s, in that, at first sight, it seems done for a very trivial end-the providing of some three shillings of our money. Putting all these things together, the only explanation of the miracle is by regarding it as a parable, designed to teach us some important lessons with reference to Christ’s character, person, and work. (A. Maclaren. D. D.)

Tribute

The whole point of the story depends upon the fact that this tribute-money was not a civil, but an ecclesiastical impost. It had originally been levied in the wilderness, at the time of the numbering of the people, and was enjoined as to be repeated at each census, when every male Israelite was to pay half-a-shekel for “a ransom for his soul,” an acknowledgment that his life was forfeited by sin. In later years it came to be levied as an annual payment for the support of the Temple and its ceremonial. It was never compulsory; there was no power to exact it. Being an “optional church-rate,” Jews who were or wished to be considered patriotic would be very punctilious in the payment of it. (A. Maclaren. D. D.)

Christ identifies Himself with a life of poverty

The Prince is free, but King’s Son though He be, He goes among His Father’s poor subjects, lives their squalid life, makes experience of their poverty, and hardens His hands by labouring like them. Sympathy He learns in huts where poor men lie. (A. Maclaren. D. D.)

The payment of tribute

I. In what spirit was this question asked of Peter? It was asked, not by Roman tax-collectors, but by Jews. It is most natural to suppose that they asked the question in a captious spirit. Such a spirit is a bad sign of the state of the heart, and of the intellect too. This is not the right spirit for attaining to a knowledge of truth; it is very dishonouring to God, and very likely to endanger the stability of our faith.

II. What answer was given by Peter? The whole character of the man seems to come out in his eager, positive, instantaneous reply. He was sensitively anxious for the credit of his Master, and he spoke without thought.

III. How did our Lord prevent Peter?

IV. On what principle did our Lord claim exemption? As the Son of God He was necessarily exempt from an ecclesiastical tax.

V. The reason for his payment. “Lest we should offend them.” It is this delicate regard for the scruples of others which constitutes the occasion so signal an example to ourselves.

VI. Observe the dignity, as well as wisdom, of the miracle. It is Christ’s royal mode of answering all cavils. The very triviality (so to speak) of this miracle is part of its greatness. How minute is the knowledge of Christ! How vigilantly He watches all the things He has made! There is not a fish on a summer day under the shadow of a stone that is not God’s creature still. (Dean Howson.)

A likeness between what God does and what man invents

They say the story of a fish with a piece of money in its mouth is more like one of the tales of Eastern fiction than a sober narrative of the quiet-toned gospel. I acknowledge a likeness: why might there not be some likeness between what God does and what man invents? But there is one noticeable difference: there is nothing of colour in the style of the story. No great rock, no valley of diamonds, no earthly grandeur whatever is hinted at in the poor bare tale. Peter had to do with fishes every day of his life: an ordinary fish, taken with the hook, was here the servant of the Lord-and why should not the poor fish have its share in the service of the Master? Why should it not show for itself and its kind that they were utterly His? that along with the waters in which they dwelt, and the wind which lifteth up the waves thereof, they were His creatures, and gladly under His dominion? What the scaly minister brought was no ring, no rich jewel, but a simple piece of money, just enough, I presume, to meet the demand of those whom, although they had no legal claim, our Lord would not offend by a refusal: for He never cared to stand upon His rights, or treat that as a principle which might be waived without loss of righteousness. I take for granted that there was no other way at hand for these poor men to supply the sum required of them. (George Macdonald.)

The payment of the tribute money

I. The extreme poverty of Christ.

II. The strict integrity of Christ, “render to all their due.”

III. The peculiar relationship of Christ, “The Father’s house.”

IV. The admirable prudence of Christ.

V. The wonderful knowledge of Christ.

VI. The boundless power of Christ. (Expository Outlines.)

Finding the tribute money

I. The modesty of Jesus. Rather than offend prejudice He would waive His claim-the children are free.

II. The poverty of Jesus.

III. The resources of Jesus. Though He had-not the money, He knew where it was. If God dare trust His people He would put them in the way of getting wealth that now lies waste.

IV. God does not often act without human agency. He uses the best means-Peter was a fisherman.

V. He who works for jesus is sure to get his pay. “And give unto them for thee and me.” Peter in obeying Christ paid his own taxes. In keeping His commandments there is great reward. (T. Champness.)

The Divine resource

This is true of everything that God needs. He can help Himself to what He wants out of Satan’s lockers. Was not Saul of Tarsus as much out of the Church’s reach as the piece of money many fathoms deep? And yet Christ put a hook in Satan’s nostril, and brought Saul to make many rich by circulating among the heathen. It may be that some of us may live to see the work of God carried on by hands now used to build forts for Satan to occupy. Was not Luther the monk as much hidden as the piece of money? And it may be that from the Romish communion we may get some one who shall be as effective as he was. (T. Champness.)

The Temple Tax: An illustration of the Sermon

Our Lord had been preaching humility to His disciples; now He exhibits it in His own self-humiliation. He would say in effect, “Were I covetous of honours I should stand on my dignity as the Son of God, and claim to be free from servile obligations; but I suffer my honours to fall into abeyance, and make no demands for a recognition which is not voluntarily conceded.”

I. The manner of payment was also so contrived by Him as to reinforce the lesson. He gave directions as the Lord of nature to whom all creatures in land or sea were subject. “Behold who it is that pays this tax and that is reduced to such straits; it is He who knoweth the paths of the sea.”

II. The reason which moved Him to adopt the policy of submission to what was in itself an indignity, “Lest we should offend.” How careful was our Lord not to offend. He did not take offence. He did not resent the demand for tax as an insult. The lowly one did not assume this attitude, but gave what was asked without complaint. It teaches the children of the kingdom not to murmur because the world does not recognize their status and respect their dignity. They must wait for the manifestation of the sons of God.

III. A lesson for those who consider themselves aggrieved by demands for “church rates” and “annuity taxes.” Let the children be free if possible, but beware of imagining that it is necessary for conscience’ sake always to resist indignities, and to fight for a freedom which mainly concerns the purse. It is not a mark of greatness in the kingdom to bluster about rights. The higher one rises in spiritual dignity the more he can endure in the way of indignity. The humility of Jesus was thus shown in not taking, so His love was manifested by His solicitude to avoid giving, offence. “Lest we should offend.” How happy for the Church and world if this conciliating spirit ruled. (A. B. Bruce, D. D.)


Verse 27

Matthew 17:24; Matthew 17:27

And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter.

Christ and the tribute money

I. On what principle christ claimed exemption. This tax levied for temple services. On no principle but that of His being essentially Divine, and therefore not bound to contribute towards services virtually rendered to Himself. Christ was His own Temple.

II. The principle on which, nevertheless, he determined on paying the tax.

Not to put an occasion of stumbling in the way of others. How unwilling we are to withdraw pretensions. It requires Christian discretion to know when to give way. Christ surrendered no principle; He did not say that He was not the Son of God. He forbore from asserting it.

III. The miracle by which he procured the requisite money. Though the Proprietor of all things, He had made Himself poor for our sakes. He here gave proof of superhuman endowments; omniscience and omnipotence. He knew the money was in the mouth of the fish; His power was felt in the waters. There was propriety in the miracle when we consider which apostle our Lord dispatched on this errand. Had St. Matthew been sent the money would have been got differently, as he was a tax-gatherer; St. Peter was a fisherman, hence he got the money from a fish. Christ put honour on this honest occupation. We are not to neglect means because we seem to need miracles. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

The hidden coin

1. The Divine knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

2. A lesson of moderation. The coin was only enough to pay the tax. Christ had am desire for earthly possessions.

3. For the purpose of supporting the ordinances of religion.

4. Learn to trust our Lord in trying circumstances. (C. J. Maginn, M. A.)

Peter’s money-fish

Christ here showed His Divine knowledge, and especially His power over the natural world.

1. Obedience to law is the true guarantee of individual safety, the preservation of justice and right, the peace of society.

2. Christ will use His mighty control of the material world to care for His followers as He did for Peter.

3. Let Christians remember, Christ has moved His treasury from the mouth of the fish to the loving hearts and purses of His people.

4. Now every Christian must cherish the idea, and act upon the recognized principle that God has right of property in all of ours as well as of ourselves, and that we are but agents to distribute, as God wills, what He has placed us in charge of as stewards. (W. H. Anderson, D. D.)

Notice respecting our Lord

I. His poverty. Hence learn: Contentment and resignation, benevolence and liberality.

II. His peaceable spirit. Hence take example-Of a candid spirit towards brethren who differ from us, particularly in meats and drinks; of prudence in our intercourse with the world, especially in attempts to do good.

III. HIS divinity. Learn, hence, that He is an all-sufficient Saviour and an Almighty Friend, a formidable enemy.

IV. His sympathy. He took on Him our nature, that He might sympathize with our weakness and suffering; He gives us a share in all His possessions (John 17:24; John 14:2-3). (J. Hirst.)

Nature attesting Christ’s lordship

An old ballad represents one of our English kings as losing his way in a wood, and becoming parted from his retinue. A countryman, who met him, began to pick up acquaintance with him in an easy, familiar style, not knowing his dignity. But when the nobles, having discovered their missing monarch, came riding up, with heads uncovered, and lowly homage, the countryman trembled at his mistake. So the laws and powers of nature did homage before Christ, attesting Him to be their Sovereign, and authenticating the apostles as His servants and messengers.

The lessons taught by this episode and miracle

I. The freedom of the Son. To this position and privilege Christ here lays claim for Himself. What a deduction must be made from the wisdom of His teaching, and from the meekness of His Spirit, if that claim was an illusion! For what did He reply?

1. That He had no need of a ransom for His soul.

2. That He needed no temple to worship in.

II. The voluntary submission of the Son to the bonds from which he is free. Self-sacrifice even in the smallest details of His life.

III. The supernatural glory that ever accompanies the humiliation of the Son. He so submits as, even in submitting, to assert His Divine dignity. In the midst of the act of submission, majesty flashes forth, A multiform miracle-containing many miracles in one-a miracle of omniscience, and a miracle of influence over the lower creatures, is wrought. The first fish that rises carries in its mouth the exact stun needed. The miracle was for a trivial end in appearance, but it was a demonstration, though to one man only at first, yet through him to all the world, that this Christ, in His lowliness, is the Everlasting Son of the Father.

IV. The sufficency for us all of what he provides. That which He brings to us by supernatural act, far greater than the miracle here, is enough for all the claims and obligations that God, or man, or law, or conscience, have upon any of us. His perfect obedience and stainless life discharged for Himself all the obligations under which He came as a man, to law and righteousness; His perfect life and His mighty death are for us the full discharge of all that can be brought against us. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Superfluities not to be coveted

The piece of money was just enough to pay the tax for Christ and Peter. Christ could as easily have commanded a bag of money as a piece of money; but he would teach as not to covet superfluities, but, having enough for our present occasions, therewith to be content, and not to distrust God, though we live but from hand to mouth. Christ made the fish His cash-keeper; and why may not we make God’s providence our storehouse and treasury? If we have a competency for to-day, let to-morrow take thought for the things of itself. (Matthew Henry.)

This singular miracle of finding the coin it? the fish’s mouth is unlike our Lord’s other works in several particulars

I. It is the only miracle-with the exception of the cursing of the barren fig-tree, and the episode of the unclean spirits entering into the swine-in which there is no message of love or blessing for man’s sorrow and pain.

II. It is the only miracle in which our Lord uses His power for His own service or help.

III. It is like the whole brood of legendary miracles, and unlike all?he rest of Christ’s, in that, at first sight, it seems done for a very trivial end-the providing of some three shillings of our money. Putting all these things together, the only explanation of the miracle is by regarding it as a parable, designed to teach us some important lessons with reference to Christ’s character, person, and work. (A. Maclaren. D. D.)

Tribute

The whole point of the story depends upon the fact that this tribute-money was not a civil, but an ecclesiastical impost. It had originally been levied in the wilderness, at the time of the numbering of the people, and was enjoined as to be repeated at each census, when every male Israelite was to pay half-a-shekel for “a ransom for his soul,” an acknowledgment that his life was forfeited by sin. In later years it came to be levied as an annual payment for the support of the Temple and its ceremonial. It was never compulsory; there was no power to exact it. Being an “optional church-rate,” Jews who were or wished to be considered patriotic would be very punctilious in the payment of it. (A. Maclaren. D. D.)

Christ identifies Himself with a life of poverty

The Prince is free, but King’s Son though He be, He goes among His Father’s poor subjects, lives their squalid life, makes experience of their poverty, and hardens His hands by labouring like them. Sympathy He learns in huts where poor men lie. (A. Maclaren. D. D.)

The payment of tribute

I. In what spirit was this question asked of Peter? It was asked, not by Roman tax-collectors, but by Jews. It is most natural to suppose that they asked the question in a captious spirit. Such a spirit is a bad sign of the state of the heart, and of the intellect too. This is not the right spirit for attaining to a knowledge of truth; it is very dishonouring to God, and very likely to endanger the stability of our faith.

II. What answer was given by Peter? The whole character of the man seems to come out in his eager, positive, instantaneous reply. He was sensitively anxious for the credit of his Master, and he spoke without thought.

III. How did our Lord prevent Peter?

IV. On what principle did our Lord claim exemption? As the Son of God He was necessarily exempt from an ecclesiastical tax.

V. The reason for his payment. “Lest we should offend them.” It is this delicate regard for the scruples of others which constitutes the occasion so signal an example to ourselves.

VI. Observe the dignity, as well as wisdom, of the miracle. It is Christ’s royal mode of answering all cavils. The very triviality (so to speak) of this miracle is part of its greatness. How minute is the knowledge of Christ! How vigilantly He watches all the things He has made! There is not a fish on a summer day under the shadow of a stone that is not God’s creature still. (Dean Howson.)

A likeness between what God does and what man invents

They say the story of a fish with a piece of money in its mouth is more like one of the tales of Eastern fiction than a sober narrative of the quiet-toned gospel. I acknowledge a likeness: why might there not be some likeness between what God does and what man invents? But there is one noticeable difference: there is nothing of colour in the style of the story. No great rock, no valley of diamonds, no earthly grandeur whatever is hinted at in the poor bare tale. Peter had to do with fishes every day of his life: an ordinary fish, taken with the hook, was here the servant of the Lord-and why should not the poor fish have its share in the service of the Master? Why should it not show for itself and its kind that they were utterly His? that along with the waters in which they dwelt, and the wind which lifteth up the waves thereof, they were His creatures, and gladly under His dominion? What the scaly minister brought was no ring, no rich jewel, but a simple piece of money, just enough, I presume, to meet the demand of those whom, although they had no legal claim, our Lord would not offend by a refusal: for He never cared to stand upon His rights, or treat that as a principle which might be waived without loss of righteousness. I take for granted that there was no other way at hand for these poor men to supply the sum required of them. (George Macdonald.)

The payment of the tribute money

I. The extreme poverty of Christ.

II. The strict integrity of Christ, “render to all their due.”

III. The peculiar relationship of Christ, “The Father’s house.”

IV. The admirable prudence of Christ.

V. The wonderful knowledge of Christ.

VI. The boundless power of Christ. (Expository Outlines.)

Finding the tribute money

I. The modesty of Jesus. Rather than offend prejudice He would waive His claim-the children are free.

II. The poverty of Jesus.

III. The resources of Jesus. Though He had-not the money, He knew where it was. If God dare trust His people He would put them in the way of getting wealth that now lies waste.

IV. God does not often act without human agency. He uses the best means-Peter was a fisherman.

V. He who works for jesus is sure to get his pay. “And give unto them for thee and me.” Peter in obeying Christ paid his own taxes. In keeping His commandments there is great reward. (T. Champness.)

The Divine resource

This is true of everything that God needs. He can help Himself to what He wants out of Satan’s lockers. Was not Saul of Tarsus as much out of the Church’s reach as the piece of money many fathoms deep? And yet Christ put a hook in Satan’s nostril, and brought Saul to make many rich by circulating among the heathen. It may be that some of us may live to see the work of God carried on by hands now used to build forts for Satan to occupy. Was not Luther the monk as much hidden as the piece of money? And it may be that from the Romish communion we may get some one who shall be as effective as he was. (T. Champness.)

The Temple Tax: An illustration of the Sermon

Our Lord had been preaching humility to His disciples; now He exhibits it in His own self-humiliation. He would say in effect, “Were I covetous of honours I should stand on my dignity as the Son of God, and claim to be free from servile obligations; but I suffer my honours to fall into abeyance, and make no demands for a recognition which is not voluntarily conceded.”

I. The manner of payment was also so contrived by Him as to reinforce the lesson. He gave directions as the Lord of nature to whom all creatures in land or sea were subject. “Behold who it is that pays this tax and that is reduced to such straits; it is He who knoweth the paths of the sea.”

II. The reason which moved Him to adopt the policy of submission to what was in itself an indignity, “Lest we should offend.” How careful was our Lord not to offend. He did not take offence. He did not resent the demand for tax as an insult. The lowly one did not assume this attitude, but gave what was asked without complaint. It teaches the children of the kingdom not to murmur because the world does not recognize their status and respect their dignity. They must wait for the manifestation of the sons of God.

III. A lesson for those who consider themselves aggrieved by demands for “church rates” and “annuity taxes.” Let the children be free if possible, but beware of imagining that it is necessary for conscience’ sake always to resist indignities, and to fight for a freedom which mainly concerns the purse. It is not a mark of greatness in the kingdom to bluster about rights. The higher one rises in spiritual dignity the more he can endure in the way of indignity. The humility of Jesus was thus shown in not taking, so His love was manifested by His solicitude to avoid giving, offence. “Lest we should offend.” How happy for the Church and world if this conciliating spirit ruled. (A. B. Bruce, D. D.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Matthew 17:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/matthew-17.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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