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Title: Expositions of Holy Scripture: St. Mark
Author: Maclaren, Alexander, 1826-1910
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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EXPOSITIONS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE

ST. MARK

ALEXANDER MACLAREN, D. D., Litt. D.



CONTENTS


WHAT 'THE GOSPEL' IS (Mark i. 1)

THE STRONG FORERUNNER AND THE STRONGER SON (Mark i. 1-11)

MIGHTY IN WORD AND DEED (Mark i. 21-34)

HEALING AND SERVICE (Mark i. 30, 31, R.V.)

A PARABLE IN A MIRACLE (Mark i. 40-42)

CHRIST'S TOUCH (Mark i. 41)

CHRIST'S AUTHORITY TO FORGIVE (Mark ii. 1-12)

THE PUBLICANS' FRIEND (Mark ii. 13-22)

THE SECRET OF GLADNESS (Mark ii. 19)

WORKS WHICH HALLOW THE SABBATH (Mark ii. 23-28; iii. 1-5)

THE ANGER AND GRIEF OF JESUS (Mark iii. 5)

AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST (Mark iii. 6-19)

'HE IS BESIDE HIMSELF' (Mark iii. 21)

THE MISTAKES OF CHRIST'S FOES AND FRIENDS (Mark iii. 22-35)

CHRIST'S KINDRED (Mark iii. 31-35)

CHRIST'S RELATIONS (Mark iii. 35)

FOUR SOILS FOR ONE SEED (Mark iv. 10-20)

LAMPS AND BUSHELS (Mark iv. 21)

THE STORM STILLED (Mark iv. 35-41)

THE TOILING CHRIST (Mark iv. 36, 38)

THE LORD OF DEMONS (Mark v. 1-20)

A REFUSED REQUEST (Mark v. 18,19)

TALITHA CUMI (Mark v. 22-24, 35-43)

THE POWER OF FEEBLE FAITH (Mark v. 25, 27, 28)

TOUCH OR FAITH? (Mark v. 28, 34)

THE LOOKS OF JESUS (Mark v. 32)

THE MASTER REJECTED: THE SERVANTS SENT FORTH (Mark vi. 1-13)

CHRIST THWARTED (Mark vi. 5, 6)

HEROD--A STARTLED CONSCIENCE (Mark vi. 16)

THE MARTYRDOM OF JOHN (Mark vi. 17-28)

THE WORLD'S BREAD (Mark vi. 30-44)

CHILDREN AND LITTLE DOGS (Mark vii. 24-30)

THE PATTERN OF SERVICE (Mark vii. 33, 34)

THE PATIENT TEACHER AND THE SLOW SCHOLARS (Mark viii. 17, 18)

THE RELIGIOUS USES OF MEMORY (Mark viii. 18)

THE GRADUAL HEALING OF THE BLIND MAN (Mark viii. 22-25)

CHRIST'S CROSS, AND OURS (Mark viii. 27--ix. 1)

THE TRANSFIGURATION (Mark ix. 2-13)

'THIS IS MY BELOVED SON: HEAR HIM' (Mark ix. 7)

JESUS ONLY (Mark ix. 8)

CHRIST'S LAMENT OVER OUR FAITHLESSNESS (Mark ix. 19)

THE OMNIPOTENCE OF FAITH (Mark ix. 23)

UNBELIEVING BELIEF (Mark ix. 24)

RECEIVING AND FORBIDDING (Mark ix. 33-42)

AN UNANSWERED QUESTION (Mark ix. 33)

SALTED WITH FIRE (Mark ix. 49)

'SALT IN YOURSELVES' (Mark ix. 50)

CHILDREN AND CHILDLIKE MEN (Mark x. 13-15)

ALMOST A DISCIPLE. (Mark x. 17-27)

CHRIST ON THE ROAD TO THE CROSS (Mark x.32)

DIGNITY AND SERVICE (Mark x. 35-45)

BARTIMAEUS (Mark x. 46)

AN EAGER COMING (Mark x. 50)

LOVE'S QUESTION (Mark x. 51; Acts ix. 6)

A ROYAL PROGRESS (Mark xi. 2)

CHRIST'S NEED OF US AND OURS (Mark xi. 3)

NOTHING BUT LEAVES (Mark xi. 13, 14)

DISHONEST TENANTS (Mark xii. 1-12)

GOD'S LAST ARROW (Mark xii. 6)

NOT FAR AND NOT IN (Mark xii. 34)

THE CREDULITY OF UNBELIEF (Mark xiii. 6; Luke xviii, 8)

AUTHORITY AND WORK (Mark xiii. 34)

THE ALABASTER BOX (Mark xiv. 6-9)

A SECRET RENDEZVOUS (Mark xiv. 12-16)

THE NEW PASSOVER (Mark xiv. 12-26)

'Is IT I?' (Mark xiv. 19)

'STRONG CRYING AND TEARS' (Mark xiv. 32-42)

THE SLEEPING APOSTLE (Mark xiv. 37)

THE CAPTIVE CHRIST AND THE CIRCLE ROUND HIM (Mark xiv. 43-54)

THE CONDEMNATION WHICH CONDEMNS THE JUDGES (Mark xiv. 55-65)

CHRIST AND PILATE; THE TRUE KING AND HIS COUNTERFEIT (Mark xv. 1-20)

THE DEATH WHICH GIVES LIFE (Mark xv. 21-39)

SIMON THE CYRENIAN (Mark xv. 21)

THE INCREDULOUS DISCIPLES (Mark xvi. 1-13)

PERPETUAL YOUTH (Mark xvi. 5)

THE FIRST PREACHING OF THE RESURRECTION (Mark xvi. 5, 6)

LOVE'S TRIUMPH OVER SIN (Mark xvi. 7)

'FIRST TO MARY' (Mark xvi. 9)

THE WORLD-WIDE COMMISSION (Mark xvi. 15)

THE ENTHRONED CHRIST (Mark xvi. 19)



WHAT 'THE GOSPEL' IS


The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.--Mark i. 1

My purpose now is to point out some of the various connections in
which the New Testament uses that familiar phrase, 'the gospel,' and
briefly to gather some of the important thoughts which these suggest.
Possibly the process may help to restore freshness to a word so well
worn that it slips over our tongues almost unnoticed and excites
little thought.

The history of the word in the New Testament books is worth notice. It
seldom occurs in those lives of our Lord which now are emphatically so
called, and where it does occur, it is 'the gospel of the Kingdom'
quite as frequently as 'the gospel' of the King. The word is never
used in Luke, and only twice in the Acts of the Apostles, both times
in quotations. The Apostle John never employs it, either in his
'gospel' or in his epistles, and in the Apocalypse the word is only
once found, and then it may be a question whether it refers to the
good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. John thought of the word which
he had to proclaim as 'the message,' 'the witness,' 'the truth,'
rather than as 'the gospel.' We search for the expression in vain in
the epistles of James, Jude, and to the Hebrews. Thrice it is used by
Peter. The great bulk of the instances of its occurrence are in the
writings of Paul, who, if not the first to use it, at any rate is the
source from which the familiar meaning of the phrase, as describing
the sum total of the revelation in Jesus Christ, has flowed.

The various connections in which the word is employed are remarkable
and instructive. We can but touch lightly on the more important
lessons which they are fitted to teach.

I. The Gospel is the 'Gospel of Christ.'

On our Lord's own lips and in the records of His life we find, as has
already been noticed, the phrase, 'the gospel of the kingdom'--the
good news of the establishment on earth of the rule of God in the
hearts and lives of men. The person of the King is not yet defined by
it. The diffused dawn floods the sky, and upon them that sit in
darkness the greatness of its light shines, before the sun is above
the horizon. The message of the Forerunner proclaimed, like a herald's
clarion, the coming of the Kingdom, before he could say to a more
receptive few, 'Behold the Lamb of God.' The order is first the
message of the Kingdom, then the discovery of the King. And so that
earlier phrase falls out of use, and when once Christ's life had been
lived, and His death died, the gospel is no longer the message of an
impersonal revolution in the world's attitude to God's will, but the
biography of Him who is at once first subject and monarch of the
Kingdom of Heaven, and by whom alone we are brought into it. The
standing expression comes to be 'the gospel of Christ.'

It is His, not so much because He is the author, as because He is the
subject of it. It is the good news about Christ. He is its contents
and great theme. And so we are led up at once to the great central
peculiarity of Christianity, namely that it is a record of historical
fact, and that all the world's life and blessedness lie in the story
of a human life and death. Christ is Christianity. His biography is
the good news for every child of man.

Neither a philosophy nor a morality, but a history, is the true good
news for men. The world is hungry, and when it cries for bread wise
men give it a stone, but God gives it the fare it needs in the bread
that comes down from Heaven. Though it be of small account in many
people's eyes, like the common barley cakes, the poor man's food, it
is what we all need; and humble people, and simple people, and
uneducated people, and barbarous people, and dying people, and the
little children can all eat and live. They would find little to keep
them from starving in anything more ambitious, and would only break
their teeth in mumbling the dry bones of philosophies and moralities.
But the story of their Brother who has lived and died for them feeds
heart and mind and will, fancy and imagination, memory and hope,
nourishes the whole nature into health and beauty, and alone deserves
to be called good news for men.

All that the world needs lies in that story. Out of it have come peace
and gladness to the soul, light for the understanding, cleansing for
the conscience, renovation for the will, which can be made strong and
free by submission, a resting-place for the heart, and a
starting-point and a goal for the loftiest flights of hope. Out of it
have come the purifying of family and civic life, the culture of all
noble social virtues, the sanctity of the household, and the elevation
of the state. The thinker has found the largest problems raised and
solved therein. The setting forth of a loftier morality, and the
enthusiasm which makes the foulest nature aspire to and reach its
heaven-touching heights, are found together there. To it poet and
painter, architect and musician, owe their noblest themes. The good
news of the world is the story of Christ's life and death. Let us be
thankful for its form; let us be thankful for its substance.

But we must not forget that, as Paul, who is so fond of the word, has
taught us, the historical fact needs some explanation and commentary
to make the history a gospel. He has declared to us 'the gospel which
he preached,' and to which he ascribes saving power, and he gives
these as its elements, 'How that Christ died for our sins, according
to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the
third day, according to the Scriptures.' There are three facts--death,
burial, resurrection. These are the things that any eye could have
seen. Are these the gospel? Is there any saving power in them? Not
unless you add the commentary 'for our sins,' and 'according to the
Scriptures.' That death was a death for us all, by which we are
delivered from our sins--that is the main thing; and in subordination
to that thought, the other that Christ's death was the accomplishment
of prophecies--these make the history a gospel. The bare facts,
without the exhibition of their purpose and meaning, are no more a
gospel than any other story of a death would be. The facts with any
lower explanation of their meaning are no gospel, any more than the
story of the death of Socrates or any innocent martyr would be. If you
would know the good news that will lift your heavy heart from sorrow
and break your chains of sin, that will put music into your life and
make your days blaze into brightness as when the sunlight strikes some
sullen mountain-side that lay black in shadow, you must take the fact
with its meaning, and find your gospel in the life and death of Him
who is more than example and more than martyr. 'How that Christ died
for our sins, according to the Scriptures,' is 'the gospel of Christ.'

II. The Gospel of Christ is the 'Gospel of God.'

This form of the expression, though by no means so frequent as the
other, is found throughout Paul's epistles, thrice in the
earliest--Thessalonians (1 Thess. ii. 8), once in the great Epistle to
the Romans (i. 1), once in Corinthians (2 Cor. xi. 7), and once in a
modified form in the pathetic letter from the dungeon, which the old
man addressed to his 'son Timothy' (1 Tim. i. 11). It is also found in
the writings of Peter (1 Pet. iv. 17). In all these cases the phrase,
'the gospel of God,' may mean the gospel which has God for its author
or origin, but it seems rather to mean 'which has God for its
subject.'

It was, as we saw, mainly designated as the good news about Jesus
Christ, but it is also the good news about God. So in one and the same
set of facts we have the history of Jesus and the revelation of God.
They are not only the biography of a man, but they are the unveiling
of the heart of God. These Scripture writers take it for granted that
their readers will understand that paradox, and do not stop to explain
how they change the statement of the subject matter of their message,
in this extraordinary fashion, between their Master who had lived and
died on earth, and the Unseen Almightiness throned above all heavens.
How comes that to be?

It is not that the gospel has two subjects, one of which is the matter
of one portion, and the other of another. It does not sometimes speak
of Christ, and sometimes rise to tell us of God. It is always speaking
of both, and when its subject is most exclusively the man Christ
Jesus, it is then most chiefly the Father God. How comes that to be?

Surely this unconscious shifting of the statement of their theme,
which these writers practise as a matter of course, shows us how
deeply the conviction had stamped itself on their spirits, 'He that
hath seen Me hath seen the Father,' and how the point of view from
which they had learned to look on all the sweet and wondrous story of
their Master's life and death, was that of a revelation of the deepest
heart of God.

And so must we look on that whole career, from the cradle to the
cross, from Calvary to Olivet, if we are to know its deepest
tenderness and catch its gladdest notes. That such a man has lived and
died is beautiful, and the portrait will hang for ever as that of the
fairest of the children of men. But that in that life and death we
have our most authentic knowledge of what God is, and that all the
pity and truth, the gentleness and the brotherliness, the tears and
the self-surrender, are a revelation to us of God; and that the cross,
with its awful sorrow and its painful death, tells us not only how a
man gave himself for those whom he loved, but how God loves the world
and how tremendous is His law--this is good news of God indeed. We
have to look for our truest knowledge of Him not in the majesties of
the starry heavens, nor in the depths of our own souls, not in the
scattered tokens of His character given by the perplexed order of the
world, nor in the intuitions of the wise, but in the life and death of
His Son, whose tears are the pity of God as well as the compassion of
a man, and in whose life and death the whole world may behold 'the
brightness of His glory and the express image of His person,' and be
delivered from all their fears of an angry, and all their doubts of an
unknown, God.

There is a double modification of this phrase. We hear of 'the gospel
of the grace of God' and 'the gospel of the glory of God,' which
latter expression, rendered in the English version misleadingly 'the
glorious gospel,' is given in its true shape in the Revised Version.
The great theme of the message is further defined in these two
noteworthy forms. It is the tender love of God in exercise to lowly
creatures who deserve something else that the gospel is busy in
setting forth, a love which flows forth unbought and unmotived save by
itself, like some stream from a hidden lake high up among the pure
Alpine snows. The story of Christ's work is the story of God's rich,
unmerited love, bending down to creatures far beneath, and making a
radiant pathway from earth to heaven, like the sevenfold rainbow. It
is so, not merely because this mission is the result of God's love,
but also because His grace is God's grace, and therefore every act of
Christ which speaks His own tenderness is therein an apocalypse of
God.

The second of these two expressions, 'the gospel of the glory of God,'
leads up to that great thought that the true glory of the divine
nature is its tenderness. The lowliness and death of Christ are the
glory of God! Not in the awful attributes which separate that
inconceivable Nature from us, not in the eternity of His existence,
nor in the Infinitude of His Being, not in the Omnipotence of His
unwearied arm, nor in fire-eyed Omniscience, but in the pity and
graciousness which bend lovingly over us, is the true glory of God.
These pompous 'attributes' are but the fringes of the brightness, the
living white heart of which is love. God's glory is God's grace, and
the purest expression of both is found there, where Jesus hangs dying
in the dark, The true throne of God's glory is not builded high in a
remote heaven, flashing intolerable brightness and set about with
bending principalities and powers, but it is the Cross of Calvary. The
story of the 'grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,' with its humiliation
and shame, is the 'gospel of the grace,' and therefore is the 'gospel
of the glory, of God.'

III. The good news of Christ and of God is the gospel of our salvation
and peace.

We read of 'the gospel of your salvation' (Eph. i. 13), and in the
same letter (vi. 15) of 'the gospel of peace.' In these expressions we
pass from the consideration of the author or of the subject matter of
the good news to that of its purpose and issue. It is meant to bring
to men, and it does in fact bring to all who accept it, those wide and
complex blessings described by those two great words.

That good news about Christ and God brings to a man salvation, if he
believes it. To know and feel that I have a loving Father who has so
cared for me and all my brethren that He has sent His Son to live and
die for me, is surely enough to deliver me from all the bonds and
death of sin, and to quicken me into humble consecration to His
service. And such emancipation from the burden and misery of sin, from
the gnawing consciousness of evil and the weakening sense of guilt,
from the dominion of wrong tastes and habits, and from the despair of
ever shaking them off which is only too well grounded in the
experience of the past, is the beginning of salvation for each of us.
That great keyword of the New Testament covers the whole field of
positive and negative good which man can need or God can give.
Negatively it includes the removal of every evil, whether of the
nature of sorrow or of sin, under which men can groan. Positively it
includes the endowment with all good, whether of the nature of joy or
of purity, which men can hope for or receive. It is past, present, and
future, for every heart that accepts 'the word of the truth of the
gospel'--past, inasmuch as the first effect of even the most
incomplete acceptance is to put us in a new position and attitude
towards the law of God, and to plant the germs of all holiness and joy
in our souls; present, inasmuch as salvation is a growing possession
and a continuous process running on all through our lives, if we be
true to ourselves and our calling; future, inasmuch as its completion
waits to be unveiled in another order of things, where perfect purity
and perfect consecration shall issue in perfect joy. And all this
ennobling and enriching of human nature is produced by that good news
about the grace and glory of God and of Christ, if we will only listen
to it, and let it work its work on our souls.

Substantially the same set of facts is included under that other
expression, 'the gospel of peace.' The Hebrew use of the word 'peace'
as a kind of shorthand for all good is probably to be remembered. But
even in the narrower sense of the word, how great are the blessings
set forth by it! All inward serenity and outward calm, the
tranquillity of a soul free from the agitations of emotion and the
storms of passions and the tumults of desire, as well as the security
of a life guarded from the assaults of foes and girded about with an
impregnable barrier which nothing can destroy and no enemy overleap,
are ours, if we take the good news about God to our heart. They are
ours in the measure in which we take it. Clearly such truths as those
which the gospel brings have a plain tendency to give peace. They give
peace with God, with the world, and with ourselves. They lead to
trust, and trust is peace. They lead to union with God, and that is
peace. They lead to submission, and that is peace. They lead to
consecration, and that is peace. They lead to indifference to fleeting
joys and treasures, and that is peace. They give to heart and mind and
will an all-sufficient and infinite object, and that is peace. They
deliver us from ourselves, and that is peace. They fill the past, the
present, and the future with the loving Father's presence, and
brighten life and death with the Saviour's footsteps--and so to live
is calm, and to die is to lay ourselves down in peace and sleep, quiet
by His side, like a child by its mother. The good news about God and
Christ is the good news of our salvation and of our peace.

IV. The good news about Christ and God is _the_ gospel.

By far the most frequent form in which the word gospel occurs is that
of the simple use of the noun with the definite article. This message
is emphatically _the_ good news. It is the tidings which men most of
all want. It stands alone; there is no other like it. If this be not
the glad tidings of great joy for the world, then there are none.

Let no false liberality lead us to lose sight of the exclusive claims
which are made in this phrase for the set of facts the narrative of
which constitutes 'the gospel.' The life and death of Jesus Christ for
the sins of the world, His resurrection and continuous life for the
saving of the world--these are the truths, without which there can be
no gospel. They may be apprehended in different ways, set forth in
different perspective, proclaimed in different dialects, explained in
different fashion, associated with different accompaniments, drawn out
into different consequences, and yet, through all diversity of tones,
the message may be one. Sounded on a ram's horn or a silver trumpet,
it may be the same saving and joy-bringing proclamation, and it will
be, if Christ and His life and death are plainly set forth as the
beginning and ending of all. But if there be an omission of that
mighty name, or if a Christ be proclaimed without a Cross, a salvation
without a Saviour, or a Saviour without a Sacrifice, all the
adornments of genius and sincerity will not prevent such a half gospel
from falling flat. Its preachers have never been able, and never will
be able, to touch the general heart or to bring good cheer to men.
They have always had to complain, 'We have piped unto you and ye have
not danced.' They cannot get people to be glad over such a message.
Only when you speak of a Christ who has died for our sins, will you
cause the heavy heart of the world to sing for joy. Only that old, old
message is the good news which men want.

There is no second gospel. Men who preach a message of a different
kind, as Paul tells us, are preaching what is not really another
gospel. There cannot be two messages. There is but one genuine; all
others are counterfeits. For us it is all-important that we should be
no less narrow than the truth, and no more liberal than he was to whom
the message 'how that Jesus died for our sins' was the only thing
worth calling the gospel. Our own salvation depends on our firm grasp
of that one message, and for some of us, the clear decisiveness with
which our lips ring it out determines whether we shall be blessings or
curses to our generation. There is a Babel of voices now preaching
other messages which promise good tidings of good. Let us cleave with
all our hearts to Christ alone, and let our tongues not falter in
proclaiming, 'Neither is there salvation in any other.' The gospel of
the Christ who died for our sins, is _the_ gospel.

And what we have for ourselves to do with it is told us in that
pregnant phrase of the apostle's, 'my gospel,' and 'our gospel';
meaning not merely the message which he was charged to proclaim, but
the good news which he and his brethren had made their own. So we have
to make it ours. It is of no use to us, unless we do. It is not enough
that it echoes all around us, like music borne upon the wind. It is
not enough that we hear it, as men do some sweet melody, while their
thoughts are busy on other things. It is not enough that we believe
it, as we do other histories in which we have no concern. What more is
needed? Another expression of the apostle's gives the answer. He
speaks of 'the faith of the gospel,' that is the trust which that glad
message evokes, and by which it is laid hold of.

Make it yours by trusting your whole self to the Christ of whom it
tells you. The reliance of heart and will on Jesus who has died for
me, makes it 'my gospel.' There is one God, one Christ, one gospel
which tells us of them, and one faith by which we lay hold upon the
gospel, and upon the loving Father and the ever-helpful Saviour of
whom it tells. Let us make that great word our own by simple faith,
and then 'as cold water to our thirsty soul,' so will be that 'good
news from a far country,' the country where the Father's house is, and
to which He has sent the Elder Brother to bring back us prodigal
children.



THE STRONG FORERUNNER AND THE STRONGER SON


'The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; 2. As it
is written in the prophets, Behold, I send My messenger before Thy
face, which shall prepare Thy way before Thee. 3. The voice of one
crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His
paths straight. 4. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the
baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. 5. And there went out
unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all
baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. 6. And
John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about
his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; 7. And preached,
saying, There cometh One mightier than I after me, the latchet of
whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. 8. I indeed
have baptized you with water: but He shall baptize you with the Holy
Ghost. 9. And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from
Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And
straightway coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opened, and
the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him: 11. And there came a voice
from heaven, saying, Thou art My beloved Son, in whom I am well
pleased.'--Mark i. 1-11.

The first words of _In Memoriam_ might be taken to describe the theme
of Mark's Gospel. It is the 'strong Son of God' whom he sets forth in
his rapid, impetuous narrative, which is full of fiery energy, and
delights to paint the unresting continuity of Christ's filial service.
His theme is not the King, as in Matthew; nor the Son of Man, as in
Luke; nor the eternal Word manifested in flesh, as in John. Therefore
he neither begins by tracing His kingly lineage, as does the first
evangelist; nor by dwelling on the humanities of wedded life and the
sacredness of the family since He has been born; nor by soaring to the
abysses of the eternal abiding of the Word with God, as the agent of
creation, the medium of life and light; but plunges at once into his
subject, and begins the Gospel with the mission of the Forerunner,
which melts immediately into the appearance of the Son.

I. We may note first, in this passage, the prelude, including verses
1, 2, and 3. We need not discuss the grammatical connection of these
verses, nor the relation of verses 2 and 3 to the following section.
However that be settled, the result, for our present purpose, is the
same. Mark considers that John's mission is the beginning of the
gospel. Here are two noteworthy points,--his use of that well-worn
word, 'the gospel,' and his view of John's place in relation to it.
The gospel is the narrative of the facts of Christ's life and death.
Later usage has taken it to be, rather, the statement of the truths
deducible from these facts, and especially the proclamation of
salvation by the power of Christ's atoning death; but the primitive
application of the word is to the history itself. So Paul uses it in
his formal statement of the gospel which he preached, with the
addition, indeed, of the explanation of the meaning of Christ's death
(1 Cor. xv. 1-6). The very name 'good news' necessarily implies that
the gospel is, primarily, history; but we cannot exclude from the
meaning of the word the statement of the significance of the facts,
without which the facts have no message of blessing. Mark adds the
dogmatic element when he defines the subject of the Gospel as being
'Jesus Christ, the Son of God.' In the remainder of the book the
simple name 'Jesus' is used; but here, in starting, the full, solemn
title is given, which unites the contemplation of Him in His manhood,
in His office as fulfiller of prophecy and crown of revelation, and in
His mysterious, divine nature.

Whether we regard verses 2 and 3 as connected grammatically with the
preceding or the following verses, they equally refer to John, and
define his position in relation to the Gospel. The Revised Version
restores the true reading, 'in Isaiah the prophet,' which some unwise
and timid transcriber has, as he thought, mended into 'the prophets,'
for fear that an error should be found in Scripture. Of course, verse
2 is not Isaiah's, but Malachi's; but verse 3, which is Isaiah's, was
uppermost in Mark's mind, and his quotation of Malachi is, apparently,
an afterthought, and is plainly merely introductory of the other, on
which the stress lies. The remarkable variation in the Malachi
quotation, which occurs in all three Evangelists, shows how completely
they recognised the divinity of our Lord, in their making words which,
in the original, are addressed by Jehovah to Himself, to be addressed
by the Father to the Son. There is a difference in the representation
of the office of the forerunner in the two prophetic passages. In the
former 'he' prepares the way of the coming Lord; in the latter he
calls upon his hearers to prepare it. In fact, John prepared the way,
as we shall see presently, just by calling on men to do so. In Mark's
view, the first stage in the gospel is the mission of John. He might
have gone further back--to the work of prophets of old, or to the
earliest beginnings in time of the self-revelation of God, as the
writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews does; or he might have ascended
even higher up the stream--to the true 'beginning,' from which the
fourth Evangelist starts. But his distinctly practical genius leads
him to fix his gaze on the historical fact of John's mission, and to
claim for it a unique position, which he proceeds to develop.

II. So we have, next, the strong servant and fore runner (verses 4-8).
The abruptness with which the curtain is drawn, and the gaunt figure
of the desert-loving ascetic shown us, is very striking. It is like
the way in which Elijah, his prototype, leaps, as it were, full-armed,
into the arena. The parallel passage in Matthew links his appearance
with the events which it has been narrating by the phrase 'in these
days,' and calls him 'the Baptist.' Mark has no such words, but lets
him stand forth in his isolation. The two accounts may profitably be
compared. Their likenesses suggest that they rest on a common basis,
probably of oral tradition, while their differences are, for the most
part, significant. Mark differs in his arrangement of the common
matter, in omissions, and in some variations of expression. Each
account gives a general summary of John's teaching at the beginning;
but Matthew puts emphasis on the Baptist's proclamation that the
kingdom of heaven was at hand, to which nothing in Mark corresponds.
His Gospel does not dwell on the royalty of Jesus, but rather
represents Him as the Servant than as the King. Mark begins with
describing John as baptizing, which only appears later in Matthew's
account. Mark omits all reference to the Sadducees and Pharisees, and
to John's sharp words to them. He has nothing about the axe laid to
the trees, nothing about the children of Abraham, nothing about the
fan in the hand of the great Husbandman. All the theocratic aspect of
the Messiah, as proclaimed by John, is absent; and, as there is no
reference to the fire which destroys, so neither is there to the fire
of the Holy Ghost, in which He baptizes. Mark reports only John's
preaching and baptism of repentance, and his testimony to Christ as
stronger than he, and as baptizing with the Holy Ghost.

So, on the whole, Mark's picture brings out prominently the following
traits in John's personality and mission:--First, his preparation for
Christ by preaching repentance. The truest way to create in men a
longing for Jesus, and to lead to a true apprehension of His unique
gift to mankind, is to evoke the penitent consciousness of sin. The
preacher of guilt and repentance is the herald of the bringer of
pardon and purity. That is true in reference to the relation of
Judaism and Christianity, of John and Jesus, and is as true to-day as
ever it was. The root of maimed conceptions of the work and nature of
Jesus Christ is a defective sense of sin. When men are roused to
believe in judgment, and to realise their own evil, they are ready to
listen to the blessed news of a Saviour from sin and its curse. The
Christ whom John heralds is the Christ that men need; the Christ whom
men receive, without having been out in the wilderness with the stern
preacher of sin and judgment, is but half a Christ--and it is the
vital half that is missing.

Again, Mark brings out John's personal asceticism. He omits much; but
he could not leave out the picture of the grim, lean solitary, who
stalked among soft-robed men, like Elijah come to life again, and held
the crowds by his self-chosen privations no less than by his fierce,
fiery eloquence. His desert life and contempt for ease and luxury
spoke of a strength of character and purpose which fascinated commoner
men, and make the next point the more striking--namely, the utter
humility with which this strong, self-reliant, fiery rebuker of sin,
and despiser of rank and official dignities, flings himself at the
feet of the coming One. He is strong, as his life and the awestruck
crowds testified; how strong must that Other be! He feared not the
face of man, nor owned inferiority to any; but his whole soul melted
into joyful submission, and confessed unworthiness even to unlace the
sandals of that mightier One. His transitional position is also
plainly marked by our Evangelist. He is the end of prophecy, the
beginning of the Gospel, belonging to neither and to both. He is not
merely a prophet, for he is prophesied of as well; and he stands so
near Him whom he foretells, that his prediction is almost fact. He is
not an Evangelist, nor, in the closest sense, a servant of the coming
Christ; for his lowly confession of unworthiness does not imply merely
his humility, but accurately defines the limits of his function. It
was not for him to bear or to loose that Lord's sandals. There were
those who did minister to Him, and the least of those, whose message
to the world was 'Christ has come,' had the honour of closer service
than that greatest among women-born, whose task was to run before the
chariot of the King and tell that He was at hand.

III. We have the gentle figure of the stronger Son. The introduction
of Jesus is somewhat less abrupt than that of John; but if we remember
whom Mark believed Him to be, the quiet words which tell of His first
appearance are sufficiently remarkable. There is no mention of His
birth or previous years. His deeds will tell who He is. The years
before His baptism were of no moment for Mark's purpose. Nor has he
any report of the precious conversation of Jesus with John, when the
forerunner testified to Christ's purity, which needed no washing nor
repentance, and acknowledged at once his own sinfulness and the Lord's
cleansing power, and when Christ accepted the homage, and, by
implication, claimed the character, purity, and power which John
attributed to Him. The omission may be accounted for on a principle
which seems to run through all this Gospel--of touching lightly or
omitting indications of our Lord's dignity, and dwelling by preference
on His acts of lowliness and service. The baptism is recorded; but the
conversation, which showed that the King of Israel, in submitting to
it, acknowledged no need of it for Himself, but regarded it as
'fulfilling righteousness' is passed by. The sinlessness of Jesus, and
the special meaning of His baptism, are sufficiently shown by the
descending Spirit and the approving voice. These Mark does record; for
they warrant the great name by which, in his first verse, he has
described Jesus as 'the Son of God.'

The brief account of these is marked by the Evangelist's vivid
pictorial faculty, which we shall frequently have to notice as we read
his Gospel. Here he puts us, by a word, in the position of
eye-witnesses of the scene as it is passing, when he describes the
heavens as 'being rent asunder'--a much more forcible and pictorial
word than Matthew's 'opened.' He says nothing of John's share in the
vision. All is intended for the Son. It is Jesus who sees the rending
heavens and the descending dove. The voice which Matthew represents as
speaking _of_ Christ, Mark represents as speaking _to_ Him.

The baptism of Jesus, then, was an epoch in His own consciousness. It
was not merely His designation to John or to others as Messiah, but
for Himself the sense of Sonship and the sunlight of divine
complacency filled His spirit in new measure or manner. Speaking as we
have to do from the outside, and knowing but dimly the mysteries of
His unique personality, we have to speak modestly and little. But we
know that our Lord grew, as to His manhood, in wisdom, and that His
manhood was continually the receiver, from the Father, of the Spirit;
and the reality of His divinity, as dwelling in His manhood from the
beginning of that manhood, is not affected by the belief that when the
dovelike Spirit floated down on His meek head, glistening with the
water of baptism, His manhood then received a new and special
consciousness of His Messianic office and of His Sonship.

Whilst that voice was for His sake, it was for others too; for John
himself tells us (John i.) that the sign had been told him beforehand,
and that it was his sight of the descending dove which heightened his
thoughts and gave a new turn to his testimony, leading him to know and
to show 'that this is the Son of God.' The rent heavens have long
since closed, and that dread voice is silent; but the fact of that
attestation remains on record, that we, too, may hear through the
centuries God speaking of and to His Son, and may lay to heart the
commandment to us, which naturally follows God's witness to Jesus,
'Hear ye Him.'

The symbol of the dove may be regarded as a prophecy of the gentleness
of the Son. Thus early in His course the two qualities were harmonised
in Him, which so seldom are united, and each of which dwelt in Him in
divinest perfection, both as to degree and manner. John's
anticipations of the strong coming One looked for the manifestations
of His strength in judgment and destruction. How strangely his images
of the axe, the fan, the fire, are contrasted with the reality,
emblemed by this dove dropping from heaven, with sunshine on its
breast and peace in its still wings! Through the ages, Christ's
strength has been the strength of gentleness, and His coming has been
like that of Noah's dove, with the olive-branch in its beak, and the
tidings of an abated flood and of a safe home in its return. The
ascetic preacher of repentance was strong to shake and purge men's
hearts by terror; but the stronger Son comes to conquer by meekness,
and reign by the omnipotence of love. The beginning of the gospel was
the anticipation and the proclamation of strength like the eagle's,
swift of flight, and powerful to strike and destroy. The gospel, when
it became a fact, and not a hope, was found in the meek Jesus, with
the dove of God, the gentle Spirit, which is mightier than all,
nestling in His heart, and uttering soft notes of invitation through
His lips.



MIGHTY IN WORD AND DEED


'And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the Sabbath day He
entered into the synagogue, and taught. 22. And they were astonished
at His doctrine: for He taught them as one that had authority, and not
as the scribes. 23. And there was in their synagogue a man with an
unclean spirit; and he cried out, 24. Saying, Let us alone; what have
we to do with Thee, Thou Jesus of Nazareth? art Thou come to destroy
us? I know Thee who Thou art, the Holy One of God. 25. And Jesus
rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. 26. And when
the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came
out of him. 27. And they were all amazed, insomuch that they
questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new
doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth He even the unclean
spirits, and they do obey Him. 28. And immediately His fame spread
abroad throughout all the region round about Galilee. 29. And
forthwith, when they were come out of the synagogue, they entered into
the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30. But Simon's
wife's mother lay sick of a fever, and anon they tell Him of her. 31.
And He came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and
immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them. 32. And
at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto Him all that were
diseased, and them that were possessed with devils. 33. And all the
city was gathered together at the door. 34. And He healed many that
were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered
not the devils to speak, because they knew Him.'--Mark i. 21-34.

None of the incidents in this section are peculiar to Mark, but the
special stamp of his Gospel is on them all; and, both in the narration
of each and in the swift transition from one to another, the
impression of Christ's strength and unpausing diligence in filial
service is made. The short hours of that first Sabbath's ministry are
crowded with work; and Christ's energy bears Him through exhausting
physical labours, and enables Him to turn with unwearied sympathy and
marvellous celerity to each new form of misery, and to throw Himself
with freshness undiminished into the relief of each. The homely virtue
of diligence shines out in this lesson no less clearly than superhuman
strength that tames demons and heals all manner of sickness. There are
four pictures here, compressed and yet vivid. Mark can condense and
keep all the essentials, for his keen eye and sure hand go straight to
the heart of his incidents.

I. The strong Son of God teaching with authority. 'They enter; we see
the little group, consisting of Jesus and of the two pairs of
brothers, in whose hearts the mighty conviction of His Messiahship had
taken root. Simon and Andrew were at home in Capernaum; but we may,
perhaps, infer from the manner in which the sickness of Peter's wife's
mother is mentioned, that Peter had not been to his house till after
the synagogue service. At all events, these four were already detached
from ordinary life and bound to Him as disciples. We meet here with
our first instance of Mark's favourite 'straightway,' the recurrence
of which, in this chapter, so powerfully helps the impression of eager
and yet careful swiftness with which Christ ran His course,
'unhasting, unresting.' From the beginning Mark stamps his story with
the spirit of our Lord's own words, 'I must work the works of Him that
sent me, while it is day: the night cometh.' And yet there is no
hurry, but the calm, equable rapidity with which planets move. The
unostentatious manner of Christ's beginning is noteworthy. He seeks to
set Himself in the line of the ordinary teaching of the day. He knew
all the faults of the synagogue and the rabbis, and He had come to
revolutionise the very conception of religious teaching and worship;
but He prefers to intertwine the new with the old, and to make as
little disturbance as possible. It is easy to get the cheap praise of
'originality' by brushing aside existing methods. It is harder and
nobler to use whatever methods may be going, and to breathe new value
and life into them. Drowsy, hair-splitting disputations about nothings
and endless casuistry were the staple of the synagogue talk; but when
He opened His mouth there, the weary formalism went out of the
service, and men's hearts glowed again when they once more heard a
Voice that lived, speaking from a Soul that saw the invisible. Mark
has no mission to record many of our Lord's sayings. His Gospel deals
more with deeds. The sermon he does not give, but the hearer's comment
he does. Matthew has the same words at the close of the Sermon on the
Mount, from which it would seem that they were part of the oral
tradition which underlies the written Gospels; but Mark probably has
them in their right place. Very naturally, the first synagogue
discourse in Capernaum would surprise. Deeper impressions might be
made by its successors, but the first hearing of that voice would be
an experience that could never be repeated.

The feature of His teaching which astonished the villagers most was
its 'authority.' That fits in with the impression of strength which
Mark wishes to make. Another thing that struck them was its unlikeness
to the type of synagogue teaching to which they had been accustomed
all their lives. They had got so accustomed to the droning dreariness
and trivial subtleties of the rabbis, that it had never entered their
heads that there could be any other way of teaching religion than
boring men with interminable pedantries about trifles of ritual or
outward obedience. This new Teacher would startle all, as an eagle
suddenly appearing in a sanhedrim of owls. He would shock many; He
would fascinate a few. Nor was it only the dissimilarity of His
teaching, but also its authority, that was strange. The scribes spoke
with authority enough of a sort, lording it over the despised common
people--'men of the earth,' as they called them--and exacting
punctilious obedience and much obsequiousness; but authority over the
spirit they had none. They pretended to no power but as expositors of
a law; and they fortified themselves by citations of what this, that,
and the other rabbi had said, which was all their learning. Christ
quoted no one. He did not even say, 'Moses has said.' He did not even
preface His commands with a 'Thus saith the Lord.' He spoke of His own
authority: 'Verily, _I say_ unto you.' Other teachers explained the
law; He is a lawgiver. Others drew more or less pure waters from
cisterns; He is in Himself a well of water, from which all may draw.
To us, as to these rude villagers in the synagogue of the little
fishing-town, Christ's teaching is unique in this respect. He does not
argue; He affirms. He seeks no support from others' teachings; He
alone is sufficient for us. He not only speaks the truth, which needs
no other confirmation than His own lips, but He is the truth. We may
canvass other men's teachings, and distinguish their insight from
their errors; we have but to accept His. The world outgrows all
others; it can only grow up towards the fulness of His. Us and all the
ages He teaches with authority, and the guarantee for the truth of His
teaching is Himself. 'Verily, verily, I say unto you.' No other man
has a right to say that to me. But Christ dominates the race, and the
strong Son of God is the world's Teacher.

II. The strong conqueror of demons. Again we have 'straightway.' The
language seems to imply that this wretched sufferer burst hurriedly
into the synagogue and interrupted the utterance of astonishment by
giving it new food. Perhaps the double consciousness of the demoniac
may be recognised, the humanity being drawn to Jesus by some disturbed
longings, the demoniac consciousness, on the other hand, being
repelled. It is no part of my purpose to discuss demoniacal
possession. I content myself with remarking that I, for one, do not
see how Christ's credit as a divine Teacher is to be saved without
admitting its reality, nor how such phenomena as the demoniac's
knowledge of His nature are to be accounted for on the hypothesis of
disease or insanity. It is assuming rather too encyclopædiacal a
knowledge to allege the impossibility of such possession. There are
facts enough around us still, which would be at least as
satisfactorily accounted for by it as by natural causes; but as to the
incident before us, Mark puts it all into three sentences, each of
which is pregnant with suggestions. There is, first, the demoniac's
shriek of hatred and despair. Christ had said nothing. If, as we
suppose, the man had broken in on the worship, drawn to Jesus, he is
no sooner in His presence than the other power that darkly lodged in
him overpowers him, and pours out fierce passions from his reluctant
lips. There is dreadful meaning in the preposition here used, 'a man
_in_ an unclean spirit,' as if his human self was immersed in that
filthy flood. The words embody three thoughts--the fierce hatred,
which disowns all connection with Jesus; the wild terror, which asks
or affirms Christ's destructive might over all foul spirits (for the
'us' means not the man and the demon, but the demon and his fellows);
and the recognition of Christ's holiness, which lashes unholiness into
a paroxysm of mingled despair and hate. Does this sound like a madman,
or an epileptic, or like a spirit which knew more than men knew, and
trembled and hated more than they could do? There is nothing more
terrible than the picture, self-drawn in these spasmodic words, of a
spirit which, by its very foulness, is made shudderingly sensitive to
the disturbing presence of purity, and would fain have nothing to do
with Him whom it recognises for the Holy One of God, and therefore its
destroyer. Foul things that lurk under stones hurry out of the light
when you lift the covering. Spirits that love the darkness are hurt by
the light. It is possible to recognise Jesus for what He is, and to
hate Him all the more. What a miserable state that is, to hope that we
shall have nothing to do with Him! These wild utterances, seething
with evil passions and fierce detestation, do point to the possible
terminus for men. A black gulf opens in them, from which we are meant
to start back with the prayer, 'Preserve me from going down into that
pit!'

What a contrast to the tempest of the demoniac's wild and whirling
words is the calm speech of Christ! He knows His authority, and His
word is imperative, curt, and assured: 'Hold thy peace!' literally,
'Be muzzled,' as if the creature were a dangerous beast, whose raving
and snapping must be stopped. Jesus wishes no acknowledgments from
such lips. They who bear the vessels of the Lord must be clean. He had
taught with authority, and now He in like manner commands. His
teaching rested on His own assurance. His miracle is done by His own
power. That power is put forth by His simple word; that is to say, the
bare exercise or expression of His will is potent.

The third step in the narrative is the immediate obedience of the
demon. Reluctant but compelled, malicious to the last, doing the house
which he has to leave all the harm he can, and though no longer
venturing to speak, yet venting his rage and mortification, and
acknowledging his defeat by one parting howl, he comes out.

Again, we are bid to note the impression produced. The interrupted
buzz of talk begins once more, and is vividly reported by the
fragmentary sentences of verse 27, and by the remark that it was
'among themselves' that they compared notes. Two things startled the
people:--first, the 'new teaching'; and second, the authority over
demons, into which they naturally generalise the one instance. The
busy tongues were not silenced when they left the synagogue. Verse 28
shows what happened, in one direction, when the meeting broke up. With
another 'straightway,' Mark paints the swift flight of the rumour over
all the district, and somewhat overleaps the strict line of
chronology, to let us hear how far the echo of such a blow sounded.
This first miracle recorded by him is as a duel between Christ and the
'strong man armed,' who 'keeps his house.' The shield of the great
oppressor is first struck in challenge by the champion, and His first
essay at arms proves Him mightiest. Such a victory well heads the
chronicle.

III. The tenderness of the strong Son. We come back to the strict
order of succession with another 'straightway,' which opens a very
different scene. The Authorised Version gives three 'straightways' in
the three verses as to the cure of Peter's mother-in-law.
'Immediately' they go to the house; 'immediately' they tell Jesus of
her; 'immediately' the fever leaves her; and even if we omit the third
of these, as the Revised Version does, we cannot miss the rapid haste
of the narrative, which reflects the unwearied energy of the Master.
Peter and Andrew had apparently been ignorant of the sickness till
they reached the house, from which the inference is not that it was a
slight attack which had come on after they went to the synagogue, but
that the two disciples had so really left house and kindred, that
though in Capernaum, they had not gone home till they took Jesus there
for rest and quiet and food after the toil of the morning. The owners
would naturally first know of the sickness, which would interfere with
their hospitable purpose; and so Mark's account seems more near the
details than Matthew's, inasmuch as the former says that Jesus was
'told' of the sick woman, while Matthew's version is that He 'saw'
her. Luke says that they 'besought Him for her.' No doubt that was the
meaning of 'telling' Him; but Mark's representation brings out very
beautifully the confidence already beginning to spring in their hearts
that He needed but to know in order to heal, and the reverence which
hindered them from direct asking. The instinct of the devout heart is
to tell Christ all its troubles, great or small; and He does not need
beseeching before He answers. He did not need to be told either, but
He would not rob them or us of the solace of confiding all griefs to
Him.

Their confidence was not misplaced. No moment intervened unused
between the tidings and the cure. 'He came,' as if He had been in some
outer room, or not yet in the house, and now passed into the sick
chamber. Then comes one of Mark's minute and graphic details, in which
we may see the keen eye and faithful memory of Peter. He 'took her by
the hand, and lifted her up.' Mark is fond of telling of Christ's
taking by the hand; as, for instance, the little child whom He set in
the midst, the blind man whom He healed, the child with the dumb
spirit. His touch has power. His grasp means sympathy, tenderness,
identification of Himself with us, the communication of upholding,
restoring strength. It is a picture, in a small matter, of the very
heart of the gospel. 'He layeth not hold of angels, but He layeth hold
of the seed of Abraham.' It is a lesson for all who would help their
fellows, that they must not be too dainty to lay hold of the dirtiest
hand, both metaphorically and literally, if they want their sympathy
to be believed. His hand banishes not only the disease, but its
consequences. Immediate convalescence and restoration to strength
follow; and the strength is used, as it should be, in ministering to
the Healer who, notwithstanding His power, needed the humble
ministration and the poor fare of the fisherman's hut. What a lesson
for all Christian homes is here! Let Jesus know all that troubles
them, welcome Him as a guest, tell Him everything, and He will cure
all diseases and sorrows, or give the light of His presence to make
them endurable. Consecrate to Him the strength which He gives, and let
deliverances teach trust, and inflame grateful love, which delights in
serving Him who needs no service, but delights in all.

IV. The strong Son, unwearied by toil and sufficient for all the
needy. Each incident in this lesson has a note appended of the
impression it made. Verses 32-34 give the united result of all, on the
people of Capernaum. They wait till the Sabbath is past, and then,
without thought of His long day of work, crowd round the house with
their sick. The sinking sun brought no rest for Him, but the new calls
found Him neither exhausted nor unwilling. Capernaum was but a little
place, and the whole city might well be 'gathered together at the
door,' some sick, some bearing the sick, all curious and eager. There
was no depth in the excitement. There was earnestness enough, no
doubt, in the wish for healing, but there was no insight into His
message. Any travelling European with a medicine chest can get the
same kind of cortege round his tent. These people, who hung upon Him
thus, were those of whom He had afterwards to say that it would be
'more tolerable for Sodom, in the day of judgment, than for them.' But
though He knew the shallowness of the impression, He was not deaf to
the misery; and, with power which knew no weariness, and sympathy
which had no limit, and a reservoir of healing virtue which the day's
draughts had not emptied by a hairs-breadth, He healed them all.
Remarkable is the prohibition of the demons' speech, They knew Him,
while men were ignorant; for they had met Him before to-day. He would
have no witness from them; not merely, as has been said, because their
attestation would hinder, rather than further, His acceptance by the
people, nor because they may be supposed to have spoken in malice, but
because a divine decorum forbade that He should accept acknowledgments
from such tainted sources.

So ended this first of 'the days of the Son of Man,' which our
Evangelist records. It was a day of hard toil, of merciful and
manifold self-revelation. As teacher and doer, in the synagogue, and
in the home, and in the city; as Lord of the dark realms of evil and
of disease; as ready to hear hinted and dumb prayers, and able to
answer them all; as careless of His own ease, and ready to spend
Himself for others' help,--Jesus showed Himself, on that Sabbath day,
strong and tender, the Son of God and the servant of men.



HEALING AND SERVICE


'Simon's wife's mother lay sick of a fever; and straightway they tell
Him of her: 31. And He came and took her by the hand, and raised her
up; and the fever left her, and she ministered unto them.'--Mark i.
30, 31, R. V.

This miracle is told us by three of the four Evangelists, and the
comparison of their brief narratives is very interesting and
instructive. We all know, I suppose, that the common tradition is that
Mark was, in some sense, Peter's mouthpiece in this Gospel. The
truthfulness of that ancient statement is borne out by little morsels
of evidence that crop up here and there throughout the Gospel. There
is one of them in this context. The other two Evangelists tell us that
our Lord, with His four attendant disciples, 'entered into the house
of Simon'; Mark knows that Simon's brother Andrew shared the house
with him. Who was likely to have told him such an insignificant thing
as that? We seem to hear the Apostle himself recounting the whole
story to his amanuensis.

Then, further, Mark's narrative is distinguished from that of the
other two Evangelists in very minute and yet interesting points, which
will come out as we go along. So I think we may fairly say that we
have here Peter himself telling us the story of his mother-in-law's
cure. Now, one thing that strikes one is that this is a very small
miracle. It is by no means--if we can apply the words 'great' and
'small' to these miraculous events--one of the more striking and
significant. Another point to note is that it was done evidently
without the slightest intention of vindicating Christ's mission, or of
preaching any truth whatever, and so it starts up into a new beauty as
being simply and solely a manifestation of His love. I think, when
some people are so busy in denying, and others in proving, the
miraculous element in Scripture, and others in drawing doctrinal or
symbolical lessons out of it, that there is great need to emphasise
this, that the first thing about all Christ's miracles, and most
conspicuously about this one, is that they were the welling out of His
loving heart which responded to the sight of human sorrow--I was going
to say instinctively; but I will find a better word, and say divinely.
The deed that had no purpose whatsoever except to lighten the burden
upon a disciple's heart, and to heal the passing physical trouble of
one poor old woman, is great, just because it is small; and full of
teaching because, to the superficial eye, it teaches nothing.

The first thing in the story is, as it seems to me--

I. The disciple's intercession.

I wonder if Peter knew that his wife's mother was ill, when he said to
Jesus Christ, after that exciting morning in the synagogue, 'Come
home, and rest in our house'? Probably not. One can scarcely imagine
hospitality proffered under such circumstances, or with a knowledge of
them. And if we look a little more closely into the preceding
narrative we shall see that it is at least possible that Peter and his
brother had been away from home for some time; so that the old woman
might easily have fallen ill during their temporary absence. But be
that as it may, they expect to find rest and food, and they find a
sick woman.

There must have been at least two rooms in the humble house, because
they 'come to Jesus Christ and tell Him of her.' Now if we turn to the
other Evangelists, we shall find that Matthew says nothing about any
message being communicated to Jesus, but brings Him at once, as It
were, to the side of the sick-bed. That is evidently an incomplete
account. And then we find in Luke's Gospel that, instead of the simple
'tell Him of her' of Mark, he intensifies the telling into 'they
besought Him for her.' Now, I think that Mark's is plainly the more
precise story, because he lets us see that Jesus Christ did not commit
such a breach of courtesy, due to the humblest home, as to go to the
woman's bedside without being summoned, and he also lets us see that
the 'beseeching' was a simple intimation to Him. They did not ask;
they tell Him; being, perhaps, restrained from definite petitioning
partly by reverence, and partly, no doubt, by hesitation in these
early days of their discipleship--for this incident occurred at the
very beginning, when all the subsequent manifestations of His
character were yet waiting to be flashed upon them--as to whether it
might be in accordance with their new Teacher's very little known
disposition and mind to help. They knew that He could, because He had
just healed a demoniac in the synagogue, but one can understand how,
at the beginning of their discipleship, there was a little faltering
of confidence as to whether they should go so far as to ask Him to do
such a thing. So they 'tell Him of her,' and do you not think that the
tone of petition vibrated in the intimation, and that there looked out
of the eyes of the impulsive, warm-hearted Peter, an unspoken prayer?
So Luke was perfectly right in his interpretation of the incident,
though not precise in his statement of the external fact, when,
instead of saying 'they tell Him of her,' he translated that telling
into what it meant, and put it, 'they besought Him for her.'

Ah! dear brethren, there are a great many things in our lives which,
though we ought to know Jesus Christ better than the first disciples
at first did, scarcely seem to us fit to be turned into subjects of
petition, partly because we have wrong notions as to the sphere and
limits of prayer, and partly because they seem to be such transitory
things that it is a shame to trouble Him about such insignificant
matters. Well, go and tell Him, at any rate. I do not think that
Christians ought to have anything in their heads or hearts that they
do not take to Jesus Christ, and it is an uncommonly good test--and
one very easily applied--of our hopes, fears, purposes, thoughts,
deeds, and desires--'Should I like to go and make a clean breast of it
to the Master?'

'They tell Him of her,' and that meant petition, and Jesus Christ can
interpret an unspoken petition, and an unexpressed desire appeals to
His sympathetic heart. Although the words be but 'O Lord! I am
troubled, perplexed; and I do not know what to do,' He translates them
into 'Calm Thou me; enlighten Thou me; guide Thou me'; and be sure of
this, that as in the story before us, so in our lives, He will answer
the unspoken petition in so far as may be best for us.

The next thing to note in this incident is--

II. The Healers method.

There, again, the three stories diverge, and yet are all one. Matthew
says, 'He touched her'; Luke says, 'He _stood_'-or rather, as the
Greek means, 'He _bent over her_--and rebuked the fever.' Perhaps
Peter was close to the pallet, and saw and remembered that there were
not a standing over and rebuking the fever only, but that there was
the going out of His tender sympathy to the sufferer, and that if
there were stern words as of indignation and authority addressed to
the disease as if to an unlawful intruder, there were also compassion
and tenderness for the victim. For Mark tells that it was not a touch
only, but that 'He took her by the hand and lifted her up,' and the
grasp banished sickness and brought strength.

Now the most precious of the lessons that we can gather from the
variety of Christ's methods of healing is this: that all methods which
He used were in themselves equally powerless, and that the curative
virtue was in neither the word nor the touch, nor the spittle, nor the
clay, nor the bathing in the pool of Siloam, but was purely and simply
in the outgoing of His will. The reasons for the wonderful variety of
ways in which He communicated His healing power are to be sought
partly in the respective moral, and spiritual, and intellectual
condition of the people to be healed, and partly in wider reasons and
considerations. Why did He stoop and touch the woman, and take her by
the hand and gently lift her up? Because His heart went out to her,
because He felt the emotion and sympathy which makes the whole world
kin, and because His heart was a heart of love, and bade Him come into
close contact with the poor fever-ridden woman. Unless we regard that
hand-clasp as being such an instinctive attitude and action of
Christ's sympathetic love, we lose the deepest significance of it. And
then, when we have given full weight to that, the simplest and yet the
most blessed of all the thoughts that cluster round the deed, we can
venture further to say that in that small matter we see mirrored, as a
wide sweep of country in a tiny mirror, or the sun in a bowl of water,
the great truth: 'He took not hold of angels, but He took hold of the
seed of Abraham, wherefore it behoved Him to be made in all things
like unto His brethren.' The touch upon the fevered hand of that old
woman in Capernaum was as a condensation into one act of the very
principle of the Incarnation and of the whole power which Christ
exercises upon a fevered and sick world. For it is by His touch, by
His lifting hand, by His sympathetic grasp, and by our real contact
with Him, that all our sicknesses are banished, and health and
strength come to our souls.

So let us learn a lesson for our own guidance. We can do no man any
real good unless we make ourselves one with him, and benefits that we
bestow will hurt rather than help, if they are flung down upon men as
from a height, or as people cast a bone to a dog. The heart must go
with them; and identification with the sufferer is a condition of
succour. If we would take lepers and blind beggars and poor old women
by the hand--I mean, of course, by giving them our sympathy along with
our help--we should see larger results from, and be more Christ-like
in, our deeds of beneficence.

The last point is--

III. The healed sufferer's service.

'She arose'--yes, of course she did, when Christ grasped her. How
could she help it? 'And she ministered to them,'--how could she help
that either, if she had any thankfulness in her heart? What a lovely,
glad, awe-stricken meal that would be, to which they all sat down in
Simon's house, on that Sabbath night, as the sun was setting! It was a
humble household. There were no servants in it. The convalescent old
woman had to do all the ministering herself, and that she was able to
do it was, of course, as everybody remarks on reading the narrative,
the sign of the completeness of the cure. But it was a great deal more
than that. How could she sit still and not minister to Him who had
done so much for her? And if you and I, dear friends, have any living
apprehension of Christ's healing power, and understand and respond at
all to 'that for which we have been laid hold of' by Him, our
thankfulness will take the same shape, and we, too, shall become His
servants. Up yonder, amidst the blaze of the glory, He is still
capable of being ministered to by us. The woman who did so on earth
had no monopoly of this sacred office, but it continues still. And
every housewife, as she goes about her duties, and every domestic
servant, as she moves round her mistress's dinner-table, and all of
us, in our secular avocations, as people call them, may indeed serve
Christ, if only we have regard to Him in the doing of them. There is
also a yet higher sense in which that ministration, incumbent upon all
the healed, and spontaneous on their part if they have truly been
recipients of the healing grace, is still possible for us. 'When saw
we Thee... in need... and served Thee?' 'Inasmuch as ye did it unto
one of the least of these My brethren, ye did it unto Me.'



A PARABLE IN A MIRACLE


'And there came a leper to Him, beseeching Him, and kneeling down to
Him, and saying unto Him, If Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean. 41.
And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth His hand, and touched him,
and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. 42. And as soon as He had
spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was
cleansed.'--Mark i. 40-42.

Christ's miracles are called wonders--that is, deeds which, by their
exceptional character, arrest attention and excite surprise. Further,
they are called 'mighty works'--that is, exhibitions of superhuman
power. They are still further called 'signs'--that is, tokens of His
divine mission. But they are signs in another sense, being, as it
were, parables as well as miracles, and representing on the lower
plane of material things the effects of His working on men's spirits.
Thus, His feeding of the hungry speaks of His higher operation as the
Bread of Life. His giving sight to the blind foreshadows His
illumination of darkened minds. His healing of the diseased speaks of
His restoration of sick souls. His stilling of the tempest tells of
Him as the Peace-bringer for troubled hearts; and His raising of the
dead proclaims Him as the Life-giver, who quickens with the true life
all who believe on Him. This parabolic aspect of the miracles is
obvious in the case before us. Leprosy received exceptional treatment
under the Mosaic law, and the peculiar restrictions to which the
sufferer was subjected, as well as the ritual of his cleansing, in the
rare cases where the disease wore itself out, are best explained by
being considered as symbolical rather than as sanitary. It was taken
as an emblem of sin. Its hideous symptoms, its rotting sores, its
slow, stealthy, steady progress, its defiance of all known means of
cure, made its victim only too faithful a walking image of that worse
disease. Remembering this deeper aspect of leprosy, let us study this
miracle before us, and try to gather its lessons.

I. First, then, notice the leper's cry.

Mark connects the story with our Lord's first journey through Galilee,
which was signalised by many miracles, and had excited much stir and
talk. The news of the Healer had reached the isolated huts where the
lepers herded, and had kindled a spark of hope in one poor wretch,
which emboldened him to break through all regulations, and thrust his
tainted and unwelcome presence into the shrinking crowd. He seems to
have appeared there suddenly, having forced or stolen his way somehow
into Christ's presence. And there he was, with his horrible white
face, with his tightened, glistening skin, with some frowsy rag over
his mouth, and a hunted look as of a wild beast in his eyes. The crowd
shrank back from him; he had no difficulty in making his way to where
Christ is sitting, calmly teaching. And Mark's vivid narrative shows
him to us, flinging himself down before the Lord, and, without waiting
for question or pause, interrupting whatever was going on, with his
piteous cry. Misery and wretchedness make short work of conventional
politeness.

Note the keen sense of misery that impels to the passionate desire for
relief. A leper with the flesh dropping off his bones could not
suppose that there was nothing the matter with him. His disease was
too gross and palpable not to be felt; and the depth of misery
measured the earnestness of desire. The parallel fails us there. The
emblem is all insufficient, for here is the very misery of our deepest
misery, that we are unconscious of it, and sometimes even come to love
it. There are forms of sickness in which the man goes about, and to
each inquiry says, 'I am perfectly well,' though everybody else can
see death written on his face. And so it is with this terrible malady
that has laid its corrupting and putrefying finger upon us all. The
worse we are, the less we know that there is anything the matter with
us; and the deeper the leprosy has struck its filthy fangs into us,
the more ready we are to say that we are sound. We preachers have it
for one of our first duties to try to rouse men to the recognition of
the facts of their spiritual condition, and all our efforts are too
often--as I, for my part, sometimes half despairingly feel when I
stand in the pulpit--like a firebrand dropped into a pond, which
hisses for a moment and then is extinguished. Men and women sit in
pews listening contentedly and quietly, who, if they saw themselves, I
do not say even as God sees them, but as others see them, would know
that the leprosy is deep in them, and the taint patent to every eye. I
do not charge you, my brother, with gross transgressions of plain
moralities; I know nothing about that. I know this: 'As face answereth
to face in a glass,' so doth the heart of man to man, and I bring this
message, verified to me by my own consciousness, that we have all gone
astray, and 'wounds and bruises and putrefying sores' mark us all. If
the best of us could see himself for once, in the light of God, as the
worst of us will see himself one day, the cry would come from the
purest lips, 'Oh! wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from
the body of this death?'--this life in death that I carry, rotting and
smelling foul to Heaven, about with me, wheresoever I go.

Note, further, this man's confidence in Christ's power: 'Thou canst
make me clean.' He had heard all about the miracles that were being
wrought up and down over the country, and he came to the Worker, with
nothing of the nature of religious faith in Him, but with entire
confidence, based upon the report of previous miracles, in Christ's
ability to heal. I do not suppose that in its nature it was very
different from the trust with which savages will crowd round a
traveller who has a medicine-chest with him, and expect to be cured of
their diseases. But still it was real confidence in our Lord's power
to heal. As a rule, though not without exceptions, He required (we may
perhaps say He needed) such confidence as a condition of His
miracle-working power.

If we turn from the emblem to the thing signified, from the leprosy of
the body to that of the spirit, we may be sure of Christ's omnipotent
ability to cleanse from the extremest severity of the disease, however
inveterate and chronic it may have become. Sin dominates men by two
opposite lies. I have said how hard it is to get people's consciences
awakened to see the facts of their moral and religious condition; but
then, when they are waked up, it is almost as hard to keep them from
the other extreme. The devil, first of all, says to a man, 'It is only
a little sin. Do it; you will be none the worse. You can give it up
when you like, you know. That is the language before the act.
Afterwards, his language is, first, 'You have done no harm, never mind
what people say about sin. Make yourself comfortable,' and then, when
that lie wears itself out, the mask is dropped, and this is what is
said: 'I have got you now, and you cannot get away. Done is done! What
thou hast written thou hast written; and neither thou nor anybody else
can blot it out.' Hence the despair into which awakened consciences
are apt to drop, and the feeling, which dogs the sense of evil like a
spectre, of the hopelessness of all attempts to make oneself better.
Brethren, they are both lies; the lie that we are pure is the first;
the lie that we are too black to be purified is the second. 'If we say
that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and make God a liar,' but if
we say, as some of us, when once our consciences are stirred, are but
too apt to say, 'We have sinned, and it cleaves to us for ever,' we
deceive ourselves still worse, and still more darkly and doggedly
contradict the sure word of God. Christ's blood atones for all past
sin, and has power to bring forgiveness to every one. Christ's vital
Spirit will enter into any heart, and, abiding there, has power to
make the foulest clean.

Note, again, the leper's hesitation. 'If Thou wilt'--he had no right
to presume on Christ's good will. He knew nothing about the principles
upon which His miracles were wrought and His mercy extended. He
supposed, no doubt, as he was bound to suppose, in the absence of any
plain knowledge, that it was a mere matter of accident, of caprice, of
momentary inclination and good nature, to whom the gift of healing
should come. And so he draws near with the modest 'If Thou wilt'; not
pretending to know more than he knew, or to have a claim which he had
not. But his hesitation is quite as much entreaty as hesitation. What
do we mean when we say about a man, 'He can do it, if he likes,' but
to imply that it is so easy to do it, that it would be cruel not to do
it? And so, when the leper said, 'If Thou wilt, Thou canst,' he meant,
'There is no obstacle standing between me and health but Thy will, and
surely it cannot be Thy will to leave me in this life in death.' He,
as it were, throws the responsibility for his health or disease upon
Christ's shoulders, and thereby makes the strongest appeal to that
loving heart.

We stand on another level. The leper's hesitation is our certainty. We
know the principle upon which His mercy is dispensed; we know that it
is a universal, all-embracing love; we know that no caprice nor
passing spasm of good nature lies at the bottom of it. We know that if
any men are not healed, it is not because Christ will not, but because
they will not. If ever there springs in our hearts the dark doubt 'If
Thou wilt,' which was innocent in this man in the twilight of his
knowledge, but is wrong in us in the full noontide of ours, we ought
to be able to banish it at once, and to lay none of the responsibility
of our continuing unhealed on Christ, but all on ourselves. He has
laid it there, when He lamented, 'How often would I--and ye would
not!' Nothing can be more in accordance with the will of God, of which
Jesus Christ is the embodiment, than to deliver men from sin, which is
the opposite of His will.

II. Notice, secondly, the Lord's answer.

Mark's record of this incident puts the miracle in very small compass,
and dilates rather upon the attitude and mind of Jesus Christ
preparatory to it. As if, apart altogether from the supernatural
element and the lessons that are to be drawn from it, it was worth our
while to ponder, for the gladdening of our hearts and the
strengthening of our hopes, that lovely picture of sheer simple
compassion and tender-heartedness. 'Jesus, _moved with compassion_'--a
clause which occurs only in Mark's account--'put forth His hand and
touched him, and said, I will; be thou clean.' Note, then, three
things--the compassion, the touch, the word.

As to the first, is it not a precious boon for us, in the midst of our
many wearinesses and sorrows and sicknesses, to have that picture of
Jesus Christ bending over the leper, and sending, as it were, a gush
of pitying love from His heart to flood away all his miseries? It is a
true revelation of the heart of Jesus Christ. Simple pity is its very
core. That pity is eternal, and subsists as He sits in the calm of the
heavens, even as it was manifest whilst He sat teaching in the humble
house in Galilee. For 'we have not a High Priest which cannot be
touched with a feeling of our infirmities.' The pitying Christ is near
us all. Nor let us forget that it is this swift shoot of pity which
underlies all that follows--the touch, the word, and the cure. Christ
does not wait to be moved by the prayers that come from these leprous
lips, but He is moved by the leprous lips themselves. The sight of the
man affects His pitying heart, which sets in motion all the wheels of
His healing powers. So we may learn that the impulse to which His
redeeming activity owes its origin wells up from His own heart. Show
Him sorrow, and He answers it by a pity of such a sort that it is
restless till it helps and assuages. We may rise higher. The pity of
Jesus Christ is the summit of His revelation of the Father, and,
looking upon that gentle heart, into whose depths we can see as
through a little window by these words of my text, we must stand with
hushed reverence as beholding not only the compassion of the Man, but
therein manifested the pity of the God who, 'Like as a father pitieth
his children, pitieth them that fear Him,' and pities yet more the
more miserable men who fear and love Him not. The Christian's God is
no impassive Being, indifferent to mankind, but 'One who in all our
afflictions is afflicted, and, in His love and in His pity,' redeems
and bears and carries.

Note, still further, the Lord's touch. With swift obedience to the
impulse of His pity, Christ thrusts forth His hand and touches the
leper. There was much in that touch, but whatever more we may see in
it, we should not be blind to the loving humanity of the act. Remember
that the man kneeling there had felt no touch of a hand for years;
that the very kisses of his own children and his wife's embrace of
love were denied him. And now Jesus puts out His hand, and, without
thinking of Mosaic restrictions and ceremonial prohibitions, yields to
the impulse of His pity, and gives assurance of His sympathy and His
brotherhood, as He lays His pure fingers upon the rotting ulcers. All
men that help their fellows must be contented thus to identify
themselves with them and to take them by the hand, if they would seek
to deliver them from their evils.

Remember, too, that according to the Mosaic law it was forbidden to
any but the priest to touch a leper. Therefore, in this act, beautiful
as it is in its uncalculated humanity, there may have been something
intended of a deeper kind. Our Lord thereby does one of two
things--either He asserts His authority as overriding that of Moses
and all his regulations, or He asserts His sacerdotal character.
Either way there is a great claim in the act.

Further, we may take that touch of Christ's as being a parable of His
whole work. It was a piece of wonderful sympathy and condescension
that He should put out His hand to touch the leper; but it was the
result of a far greater and more wonderful piece of sympathy and
condescension that He had a hand to touch him with. For the 'sweet
human hands and lips and eyes' which He wore in this world were
assumed by Him in order that He might make Himself one with all
sufferers and bear the burden of all their sins. So His touch of the
leper symbolises His identifying of Himself with mankind, the foulest
and the most degraded; and in this connection there is a profound
meaning in one of the ordinarily trivial legends of the Rabbis, who,
founding upon a word of the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, tell us
that when Messias comes He will be found sitting amongst the lepers at
the gate of the city. So He was numbered amongst the transgressors in
His life, and 'with the wicked in His death.' He touches, and,
touching, contracts no impurity, cleansing as the sunlight and the
fire do, by burning up the impurity, and not by receiving it into
Himself.

Note the Lord's word, 'I will; be thou clean.' It is shaped,
convolution for convolution, so to speak, to match the man's prayer.
He ever moulds His response according to the feebleness and
imperfection of the petitioner's faith. But, at the same time, what a
ring of autocratic authority and conscious sovereignty there is in the
brief, calm, imperative word, 'I will; be thou clean!' He accepts the
leper's ascription of power; He claims to work the miracle by His own
will, and therein He is either guilty of what comes very near arrogant
blasphemy, or He is rightly claiming for Himself a divine prerogative.
If His word can tell as a force on material things, what is the
conclusion? He who 'spake and it was done' is Almighty and Divine.

III. Lastly, note the immediate cure.

Mark tells, with his favourite word 'straightway,' how as soon as
Christ had spoken, the leprosy departed from the leper. And to turn
from the symbol to the fact, the same sudden and complete cleansing is
possible for us. Our cleansing from sin must depend upon the present
love and present power of Jesus Christ. On account of Christ's
sacrifice, whose efficacy is eternal and lies at the foundation of all
our blessedness and our purity until the heavens shall be no more, we
are forgiven our sins and our guilt is taken away. By the present
indwelling of that cleansing Spirit of the ever-living Christ, which
will be given to us each if we seek it, we are cleansed day by day
from our evil. 'The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin,' not
only when shed as propitiatory, but when applied as sanctifying. We
must come to Christ, and there must be a real living contact between
us and Him through our faith, if we are to possess either the
forgiveness or the cleansing which are wrapped up inseparable in His
gift.

Further, the suddenness of this cure and its completeness may be
reproduced in us. People tell us that to believe in sudden conversion
is fanatical. This is not the place to argue that question. It seems
to me that such suddenness is in accordance with analogy. And I, for
my part, preach with full belief and in the hope that the words may
not be spoken altogether in vain to every man, woman, and child
listening to me, irrespective of their condition, character, and past,
that there is no reason why they should not go to Him straightway; no
reason why He should not put out His hand straightway and touch them;
no reason why their leprosy should not pass from them straightway, and
they lie down to sleep to-night 'accepted in the Beloved' and cleansed
in Him. Trust Him and He will do it.

Only remember, it was of no use to the leper that crowds had been
healed, that floods of blessing had been poured over the land. What he
wanted was that a rill should come and refresh his own lips. If you
wish to have Christ's cleansing you must make personal work of it, and
come with this prayer, 'On _me_ be all that cleansing shown!' You do
not need to go to Him with an 'If' nor a prayer, for His gift has not
waited for our asking, and He has anticipated us by coming with
healing in His wings. The parts are reversed, and He prays you to
receive the gift, and stands before each of us with the gentle
remonstrance upon His lips, 'Why will ye die when I am here ready to
cure you?' Take Him at His word, for He offers to us all, whether we
desire it or no, the cleansing which we need. Take Him at His word,
trust Him wholly, trust to His death for forgiveness, to His
sanctifying Spirit for cleansing, and 'straightway' your 'leprosy will
depart from you,' and your flesh shall become like the flesh of a
little child, and you shall be clean.



CHRIST'S TOUCH


'Jesus put forth His hand, and touched him.'--Mark i. 41.

Behold the servant of the Lord' might be the motto of this Gospel, and
'He went about doing good and healing' the summing up of its facts. We
have in it comparatively few of our Lord's discourses, none of His
longer, and not very many of His briefer ones. It contains but four
parables. This Evangelist gives no miraculous birth as in Matthew, no
angels adoring there as in Luke, no gazing into the secrets of
Eternity, where the Word who afterwards became flesh dwelt in the
bosom of the Father, as in John. He begins with a brief reference to
the Forerunner, and then plunges into the story of Christ's life of
service to man and service for God.

In carrying out his conception the Evangelist omits many things found
in the other Gospels, which involve the idea of dignity and dominion,
while he adds to the incidents which he has in common with them not a
few fine and subtle touches to heighten the impression of our Lord's
toil and eagerness in His patient, loving service. Perhaps it may be
an instance of this that we find more prominence given to our Lord's
touch as connected with His miracles than in the other Gospels, or
perhaps it may merely be an instance of the vivid portraiture, the
result of a keen eye for externals, which is so marked a
characteristic of this gospel. Whatever the reason, the fact is plain,
that Mark delights to dwell on Christ's touch. The instances are
these--first, He puts out His hand, and 'lifts up' Peter's wife's
mother, and immediately the fever leaves her (i. 31); then, unrepelled
by the foul disease, He lays His pure hand upon the leper, and the
living mass of corruption is healed (i. 41); again, He lays His hand
on the clammy marble of the dead child's forehead, and she lives (v.
41). Further, we have the incidental statement that He was so hindered
in His mighty works by unbelief that He could only lay His hands on a
few sick folk and heal them (vi. 5). We find next two remarkable
incidents, peculiar to Mark, both like each other and unlike our
Lord's other miracles. One is the gradual healing of that deaf and
dumb man whom Christ took apart from the crowd, laid His hands on him,
thrust His fingers into his ears as if He would clear some impediment,
touched his tongue with saliva, said to him, 'Be opened'; and the man
could hear (vii. 34). The other is, the gradual healing of a blind man
whom our Lord again leads apart from the crowd, takes by the hand,
lays His own kind hands upon the poor, sightless eyeballs, and with
singular slowness of progress effects a cure, not by a leap and a
bound as He generally does, but by steps and stages; tries it once and
finds partial success, has to apply the curative process again, and
then the man can see (viii. 23). In addition to these instances there
are two other incidents which may also be adduced. It is Mark alone
who records for us the fact that He took little children in His arms,
and blessed them. And it is Mark alone who records for us the fact
that when He came down from the Mount of Transfiguration He laid His
hand upon the demoniac boy, writhing in the grip of his tormentor, and
lifted him up.

There is much taught us, if we will patiently consider it, by that
touch of Christ's, and I wish to try to bring out its meaning and
power.

I. Whatever diviner and sacreder aspect there may be in these
incidents, the first thing, and in some senses the most precious
thing, in them is that they are the natural expression of a truly
human tenderness and compassion.

Now we are so accustomed, and as I believe quite rightly, to look at
all Christ's life down to its minutest events as intended to be a
revelation of God, that we are sometimes apt to think about it as if
His motive and purpose in everything was didactic. So an unreality
creeps over our conceptions of Christ's life, and we need to be
reminded that He was not always acting and speaking in order to convey
instruction, but that words and deeds were drawn from Him by the play
of simple human feelings. He pitied not only in order to teach us the
heart of God, but because His own man's heart was touched with a
feeling of men's infirmities. We are too apt to think of Him as posing
before men with the intent of giving the great revelation of the Love
of God. It is the love of Christ Himself, spontaneous, instinctive,
without the thought of anything but the suffering that it sees, which
gushes out and leads Him to put forth His hand to the outcast beggars,
the blind, the deaf, the lepers. That is the first great lesson we
have to learn from this and other stories--the swift human sympathy
and heart of grace and tenderness which Jesus Christ had for all human
suffering, and has to-day as truly as ever.

There is more than this instinctive sympathy taught by Christ's touch,
but it is distinctly taught. How beautifully that comes out in the
story of the leper! That wretched man had long dwelt in his isolation.
The touch of a friend's hand or the kiss of loving lips had been long
denied him. Christ looks on him, and before He reflects, the
spontaneous impulse of pity breaks through the barriers of legal
prohibitions and of natural repugnance, and leads Him to lay His holy
and healing hand on his foulness.

True pity always instinctively leads us to seek to come near those who
are its objects. A man tells his friend some sad story of his
sufferings, and while he speaks, unconsciously his listener lays his
hand on his arm, and, by a silent pressure, speaks his sympathy. So
Christ did with these men--not only in order that He might reveal God
to us, but because He was a man, and therefore felt ere He thought.
Out flashed from His heart the swift sympathy, followed by the tender
pressure of the loving hand--a hand that tried through flesh to reach
spirit, and come near the sufferer that it might succour and remove
the sorrow.

Christ's pity is shown by His touch to have this true characteristic
of true pity, that it overcomes disgust. All real sympathy does that.
Christ is not turned away by the shining whiteness of the leprosy, nor
by the eating pestilence beneath it; He is not turned away by the
clammy marble hand of the poor dead maiden, nor by the fevered skin of
the old woman gasping on her pallet. He lays hold on each, the flushed
patient, the loathsome leper, the sacred dead, with the all-equalising
touch of a universal love and pity, which disregards all that is
repellent, and overflows every barrier and pours itself over every
sufferer. We have the same pity of the same Christ to trust to and to
lay hold of to-day. He is high above us and yet bending over us;
stretching His hand from the throne as truly as He put it out when
here on earth; and ready to take us all to His heart in spite of our
weakness and wickedness, our failings and our shortcomings, the fever
of our flesh and hearts' desires, the leprosy of our many corruptions,
and the death of our sins,--and to hold us ever in the strong, gentle
clasp of His divine, omnipotent, and tender hand. This Christ lays
hold on us because He loves us, and will not be turned from His
compassion by the most loathsome foulness of ours.

II. And now take another point of view from which we may regard this
touch of Christ: namely, as the medium of His miraculous power.

There is nothing to me more remarkable about the miracles of our Lord
than the royal variety of His methods of healing. Sometimes He works
at a distance, sometimes He requires, as it would appear for good
reasons, the proximity of the person to be blessed. Sometimes He works
by a simple word: 'Lazarus, come forth!' 'Peace be still!' 'Come out
of him!' sometimes by a word and a touch, as in the instances before
us; sometimes by a touch without a word; sometimes by a word and a
touch and a vehicle, as in the saliva that was put on the tongue and
in the ears of the deaf, and on the eyes of the blind; sometimes by a
vehicle without a word, without a touch, without His presence, as when
He said, 'Go wash in the pool of Siloam, and he washed and was clean.'
So the divine worker varies infinitely and at pleasure, yet not
arbitrarily but for profound, even if not always discoverable,
reasons, the methods of His miracle-working power, in order that we
may learn by these varieties of ways that He is tied to no way; and
that His hand, strong and almighty, uses methods and tosses aside
methods according to His pleasure, the methods being vitalised when
they are used by His will, and being nothing at all in themselves.

The very variety of His methods, then, teaches us that the true cause
in every case is His own bare will. A simple word is the highest and
most adequate expression of that will. His word is all-powerful: and
that is the very signature of divinity. Of whom has it been true from
of old that 'He spake and it was done, He commanded and it stood
fast'? Do you believe in a Christ whose bare will, thrown among
material things, makes them all plastic, as clay in the potter's
hands, whose mouth rebukes the demons and they flee, rebukes death and
it looses its grasp, rebukes the tempest and there is a calm, rebukes
disease and there comes health?

But this use of Christ's touch as apparent means for conveying His
miraculous power also serves as an illustration of a principle which
is exemplified in all His revelation, namely, the employment in
condescension to men's weakness, of outward means as the apparent
vehicles of His spiritual power. Just as by the material vehicle
sometimes employed for cure, He gave these poor sense-bound natures a
ladder by which their faith in His healing power might climb, so in
the manner of His revelation and communication of His spiritual gifts,
there is provision for the wants of us men, who ever need some body
for spirit to make itself manifest by, some form for the ethereal
reality, some 'tabernacle' for the 'sun.' 'Sacraments,' outward
ceremonies, forms of worship, are vehicles which the Divine Spirit
uses in order to bring His gifts to the hearts and the minds of men.
They are like the touch of the Christ which heals, not by any virtue
in itself, apart from His will which chooses to make it the apparent
medium of healing. All these externals are nothing, as the pipes of an
organ are nothing, until His breath is breathed through them, and then
the flood of sweet sound pours out.

Do not despise the material vehicles and the outward helps which
Christ uses for the communication of His healing and His life, but
remember that the help that is done upon earth, He does it all
Himself. Even Christ's touch is nothing, if it were not for His own
will which flows through it.

III. Consider Christ's touch as a shadow and symbol of the very heart
of His work.

Go back to the past history of this man. Ever since his disease
declared itself no human being had touched him. If he had a wife he
had been separated from her; if he had children their lips had never
kissed his, nor their little hands found their way into his hard palm.
Alone he had been walking with the plague-cloth over his face, and the
cry 'Unclean!' on his lips, lest any man should come near him.
Skulking in his isolation, how he must have hungered for the touch of
a hand! Every Jew was forbidden to approach him but the priest, who,
if he were cured, might pass his hand over the place and pronounce him
clean. And here comes a Man who breaks down all the restrictions,
stretches a frank hand out across the walls of separation, and touches
him. What a reviving assurance of love not yet dead must have come to
the man as Christ grasped his hand, even if he saw in Him only a
stranger who was not afraid of him and did not turn from him!

But beside this thrill of human sympathy, which came hope--bringing to
the leper, Christ's touch had much significance, if we remember that,
according to the Mosaic legislation, the priest and the priest alone
was to lay his hands on the tainted skin and pronounce the leper
whole. So Christ's touch was a priest's touch. He lays His hand on
corruption and is not tainted. The corruption with which He comes in
contact becomes purity. Are not these really the profoundest truths as
to His whole work in the world? What is it all but laying hold of the
leper and the outcast and the dead--His sympathy leading to His
identification of Himself with us in our weakness and misery?

That sympathetic life-bringing touch is put forth once for all in His
Incarnation and Death. 'He taketh hold of the seed of Abraham,' says
the Epistle to the Hebrews, looking at our Lord's work under this same
metaphor, and explaining that His laying hold of men was His being
'made in all points like unto His brethren.' Just as he took hold of
the fevered woman and lifted her from her bed; or, as He thrust His
fingers into the deaf ears of that poor man stopped by some
impediment, so, in analogous fashion, He becomes one of those whom He
would save and help. In His assumption of humanity and in His bowing
of His head to death, we behold Him laying hold of our weakness and
entering into the fellowship of our pains and of the fruit of sin.

Just as He touches the leper and in unpolluted, or the fever patient
and receives no contagion, or the dead and draws no chill of mortality
into His warm hand, so He becomes like His brethren in all things, yet
without sin. Being found in 'the likeness of sinful flesh,' He knows
no sin, but wears His manhood unpolluted and dwells among men
'blameless and harmless, the Son of God, without rebuke.' Like a
sunbeam passing through foul water untarnished and unstained; or like
some sweet spring rising in the midst of the salt sea, which yet
retains its freshness and pours it over the surrounding bitterness, so
Christ takes upon Himself our nature and lays hold of our stained
hands with the hand that continues pure while it grasps us, and will
make us purer if we grasp it.

Brethren, let your touch answer to His; and as He lays hold of us, in
His incarnation and His death, let the hand of our faith clasp His
outstretched hand, and though our hold be as faltering and feeble as
that of the trembling, wasted fingers which one timid woman once laid
on His garment's hem, the blessing which we need will flow into our
veins from the contact. There will be cleansing for our leprosy, sight
for our blindness, life driving out death from its throne in our
hearts, and we shall be able to recount our joyful experience in the
old Psalmist's triumphant strains--'He sent me from above, He laid
hold upon me, He drew me out of many waters.'

IV. Finally, we may look upon these incidents as being in a very
important sense a pattern for us.

No good is to be done by any man to his fellows except at the cost of
true sympathy which leads to identification and contact. The literal
touch of your hand would do more good to some poor outcasts than much
solemn advice, or even much material help flung to them as from a
height above them. A shake of the hand might be more of a means of
grace than a sermon, and more comforting than ever so many free
breakfasts and blankets given superciliously.

And, symbolically, we may say that we must be willing to take those by
the hand whom we wish to help; that is to say, we must come down to
their level, try to see with their eyes, and to think their thoughts,
and let them feel that we do not think our purity too fine to come
beside their filth, nor shrink from them With repugnance, however we
may show disapproval and pity for their sin. Much work done by
Christian people has no effect, nor ever will have, because it has
peeping through it a poorly concealed 'I am holier than thou.' An
instinctive movement of repugnance has ruined many a well-meant
effort.

Christ has come down to us, and has taken all our nature upon Himself.
If there is an outcast and abandoned soul on earth which may not feel
that Jesus has laid a loving and healing touch on him, Jesus is not
the Saviour for the world. He shrinks from none, He unites Himself
with all, therefore 'He is able to save to the uttermost all who come
unto God by Him.' His conduct is the pattern and the law for us. A
Church is a poor affair if it is not a body of people whose experience
of Christ's pity and gratitude for the life which has become theirs
through His wondrous making Himself one with them, compels them to do
the like in their degree for the sinful and the outcast. Thank God,
there are many in every communion who know that constraint of the love
of Christ. But the world will not be healed of its sickness till the
great body of Christian people awakes to feel that the task and honour
of each of them is to go forth bearing Christ's pity certified by
their own.

The sins of professing Christian countries are largely to be laid at
the door of the Church. We are idle when we ought to be at work. We
'pass by on the other side' when bleeding brethren lie with wounds
gaping to be bound up by us. And even when we are moved to service by
Christ's love, and try to do something for our fellows, our work is
often tainted by a sense of our own superiority, and we patronise when
we should sympathise, and lecture when we should beseech.

We must be content to take lepers by the hand, if we would help them
to purity, and to let every outcast feel the warmth of our pitying,
loving grasp, if we would draw them into the forsaken Father's House.
Lay your hands on the sinful as Christ did, and they will recover. All
your holiness and hope come from Christ's laying hold of you. Keep
hold of Him, and make His great pity and loving identification of
Himself with the world of sinners and sufferers, your pattern as well
as your hope, and your touch, too, will have virtue. Keeping hold of
Him who has taken hold of us, you too may be able to say, 'Ephphatha,
be opened,' or to lay your hand on the leper, and he will be cleansed.



CHRIST'S AUTHORITY TO FORGIVE


'And again He entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was
noised that He was in the house. 2. And straightway many were gathered
together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so
much as about the door; and He preached the word unto them. 3. And
they come unto Him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of
four. 4. And when they could not come nigh unto Him for the press,
they uncovered the roof where He was: and when they had broken it up,
they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. 6. When Jesus
saw their faith, He said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be
forgiven thee. 6. But there were certain of the scribes sitting there,
and reasoning in their hearts, 7. Why doth this man thus speak
blasphemies! who can forgive sins but God only! 8. And immediately
when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they so reasoned within
themselves, He said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your
hearts? 9. Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy
sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and
walk! 10. But that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth
to forgive sins, (He saith to the sick of the palsy,) 11. I say unto
thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house. 12.
And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them
all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, laying, We
never saw it on this fashion.'--Mark ii. 1-12.


Mark alone gives Capernaum as the scene of this miracle. The
excitement which had induced our Lord to leave that place had been
allowed 'some days' to quiet down, 'after' which He ventures to
return, but does not seem to have sought publicity, but to have
remained in 'the house'--probably Peter's. There would be at least one
woman's heart there, which would love to lavish grateful service on
Him. But 'He could not be hid,' and, however little genuine or deep
the eagerness might be, He will not refuse to meet it. Mark paints
vividly the crowd flocking to the humble home, overflowing its modest
capacity, blocking the doorway, and clustering round it outside as far
as they could hear Christ's voice. 'He was speaking the word to them,'
proclaiming His mission, as He had done in their synagogue, when He
was interrupted by the events which follow, no doubt to the
gratification of some of His hearers, who wanted something more
exciting than 'teaching.'

I. We note the eager group of interrupters. Mark gives one of the
minute touches which betray an eye-witness and a close observer when
he tells us that the palsied man was carried by four friends--no doubt
one at each corner of the bed, which would be some light framework, or
even a mere quilt or mattress. The incident is told from the point of
view of one sitting beside Jesus; they 'come to Him,' but 'cannot come
near.' The accurate specification of the process of removing the roof,
which Matthew omits altogether, and Luke tells much more vaguely,
seems also to point to an eye-witness as the source of the narrative,
who would, of course, be Peter, who well remembered all the steps of
the unceremonious treatment of his property. His house was, probably,
one of no great pretensions or size, but like hundreds of poor men's
houses in Palestine still--a one-storied building with a low, flat
roof, mostly earthen, and easily reached from the ground by an outside
stair. It would be somewhat difficult to get a sick man and his bed up
there, however low, and somewhat free-and-easy dealing with another
man's house to burrow through the roof a hole wide enough for the
purpose; but there is no impossibility, and the difficulty is part of
the lesson of the incident, and is recognised expressly in the
narrative by Christ's notice of their 'faith.' We can fancy the blank
looks of the four bearers, and the disappointment on the sick man's
thin face and weary eyes, as they got to the edge of the crowd, and
saw that there was no hope of forcing a passage. Had they been less
certain of a cure, and less eager, they would have shouldered their
burden and carried him home again. They could well have pleaded
sufficient reason for giving up the attempt. But 'we cannot' is the
coward's word. 'We must' is the earnest man's. If we have any real
consciousness of our need to get to Christ, and any real wish to do
so, it is not a crowd round the door that will keep us back.
Difficulties test, and therefore increase, faith. They develop a
sanctified ingenuity in getting over them, and bring a rich harvest of
satisfaction when at last conquered. These four eager faces looked
down through the broken roof, when they had succeeded in dropping the
bed right at Christ's feet, with a far keener pleasure than if they
had just carried him in by the door. No doubt their act was
inconvenient; for, however light the roofing, some rubbish must have
come down on the heads of some of the notabilities below. And, no
doubt, it was interfering with property as well as with propriety. But
here was a sick man, and there was his Healer; and it was their
business to get the two together somehow. It was worth risking a good
deal to accomplish. The rabbis sitting there might frown at rude
intrusiveness; Peter might object to the damage to his roof; some of
the listeners might dislike the interruption to His teaching; but
Jesus read the action of the bearers and the consent of the motionless
figure on the couch as the indication of 'their faith,' and His love
and power responded to its call.

II. Note the unexpected gift with which Christ answers this faith.
Neither the bearers nor the paralytic speak a word throughout the
whole incident. Their act and his condition spoke loudly enough.
Obviously, all five must have had, at all events, so much 'faith' as
went to the conviction that He could and would heal; and this faith is
the occasion of Christ's gift. The bearers had it, as is shown by
their work. It was a visible faith, manifest by conduct. He can see
the hidden heart; but here He looks upon conduct, and thence infers
disposition. Faith, if worth anything, comes to the surface in act.
Was it the faith of the bearers, or of the sick man, which Christ
rewarded? Both. As Abraham's intercession delivered Lot, as Paul in
the shipwreck was the occasion of safety to all the crew, so one man's
faith may bring blessings on another. But if the sick man too had not
had faith, he would not have let himself be brought at all, and would
certainly not have consented to reach Christ's presence by so strange
and, to him, dangerous a way--being painfully hoisted up some narrow
stair, and then perilously let down, at the risk of cords snapping, or
hands letting go, or bed giving way. His faith, apparently, was deeper
than theirs; for Christ's answer, though it went far beyond his or
their expectations, must have been moulded to meet his deepest sense
of need. His heart speaks in the tender greeting 'son,' or, as the
margin has it, 'child'--possibly pointing to the man's youth, but more
probably an appellation revealing the mingled love and dignity of
Jesus, and taking this man into the arms of His sympathy. The palsy
may have been the consequence of 'fast' living; but, whether it were
so or no, Christ saw that, in the dreary hours of solitary inaction to
which it had condemned the sufferer, remorse had been busy gnawing at
his heart, and that pain had done its best work by leading to
penitence. Therefore He spoke to the conscience before He touched the
bodily ailment, and met the sufferer's deepest and most deeply felt
disease first. He goes to the bottom of the malady with His cure.
These great words are not only closely adapted to the one case before
Him, but contain a general truth, worthy to be pondered by all
philanthropists. It is of little use to cure symptoms unless you cure
diseases. The tap-root of all misery is sin; and, until it is grubbed
up, hacking at the branches is sad waste of time. Cure sin, and you
make the heart a temple and the world a paradise. We Christians should
hail all efforts of every sort for making men nobler, happier, better
physically, morally, intellectually; but let us not forget that there
is but one effectual cure for the world's misery, and that it is
wrought by Him who has borne the world's sins.

III. Note the snarl of the scribes. 'Certain of the scribes,' says
Mark--not being much impressed by their dignity, which, as Luke tells
us, was considerable. He says that they were 'Pharisees and doctors of
the law ... out of every village of Galilee and Judaea and Jerusalem
itself, who had come on a formal errand of investigation. Their
tempers would not be improved by the tearing up of the roof, nor
sweetened by seeing the 'popularity' of this doubtful young Teacher,
who showed that He had the secret, which they had not, of winning
men's hearts. Nobody came crowding to them, nor hung on their lips.
Professional jealousy has often a great deal to do in helping zeal for
truth to sniff out heresy. The whispered cavillings are graphically
represented. The scribes would not speak out, like men, and call on
Jesus to defend His words. If they had been sure of their ground, they
should have boldly charged Him with blasphemy; but perhaps they were
half suspicious that He could show good cause for His speech. Perhaps
they were afraid to oppose the tide of enthusiasm for Him. So they
content themselves with comparing notes among themselves, and wait for
Him to entangle Himself a little more in their nets. They affect to
despise Him, 'This man' is spoken in contempt. If He were so poor a
creature, why were they there, all the way from Jerusalem, some of
them? They overdo their part. The short, snarling sentences of their
muttered objections, as given in the Revised Version, may be taken as
shared among three speakers, each bringing his quota of bitterness.
One says, 'Why doth He thus speak?' Another curtly answers, 'He
blasphemeth'; while a third formally states the great truth on which
they rest their indictment. Their principle is impregnable.
Forgiveness is a divine prerogative, to be shared by none, to be
grasped by none, without, in the act, diminishing God's glory. But it
is not enough to have one premise of your syllogism right. Only God
forgives sins; and if this man says that He does, He, no doubt, claims
to be, in some sense, God. But whether He 'blasphemeth' or no depends
on what the scribes do not stay to ask; namely, whether He has the
right so to claim: and, if He has, it is they, not He, who are the
blasphemers. We need not wonder that they recoiled from the right
conclusion, which is--the divinity of Jesus. Their fault was not their
jealousy for the divine honour, but their inattention to Christ's
evidence in support of His claims, which inattention had its roots in
their moral condition, their self-sufficiency and absorption in
trivialities of externalism. But we have to thank them for clearly
discerning and bluntly stating what was involved in our Lord's claims,
and for thus bringing up the sharp issue--blasphemer, or 'God manifest
in the flesh.'

IV. Note our Lord's answer to the cavils. Mark would have us see
something supernatural in the swiftness of Christ's knowledge of the
muttered criticisms. He perceived it 'straightway' and 'in His
spirit,' which is tantamount to saying by divine discernment, and not
by the medium of sense, as we do. His spirit was a mirror, in which
looking He saw externals. In the most literal and deepest sense, He
does 'not judge after the sight of His eyes, neither reprove after the
hearing of His ears.'

The absence from our Lord's answer of any explanation that He was only
declaring the divine forgiveness and not Himself exercising a divine
prerogative, shuts us up to the conclusion that He desired to be
understood as exercising it. Unless His pardon is something quite
different from the ministerial announcement of forgiveness, which His
servants are empowered to make to penitents, He wilfully led the
cavillers into error. His answer starts with a counter-question--another
'why?' to meet their' why?' It then puts into words what they
were thinking; namely, that it was easy to assume a power the reality
of which could not be tested. To say, 'Thy sins be forgiven,' and to
say, 'Take up thy bed,' are equally easy. To effect either is equally
beyond man's power; but the one can be verified and the other cannot,
and, no doubt, some of the scribes were maliciously saying: 'It is all
very well to pretend to do what cannot be tested. Let Him come out
into daylight, and do a miracle which we can see.' He is quite willing
to accept the challenge to test His power in the invisible realm of
conscience by His power in the visible region. The remarkable
construction of the long sentence in verses 10 and 11, which is almost
verbally identical in the three Gospels, parenthesis and all, sets
before us the suddenness of the turn from the scribes to the patient
with dramatic force. Mark that our Lord claims 'authority' to forgive,
the same word which had been twice in the people's mouths in reference
to His teaching and to His sway over demons. It implies not only
power, but rightful power, and that authority which He wields as 'Son
of Man' and 'on earth.' This is the first use of that title in Mark.
It is Christ's own designation of Himself, never found on other lips
except the dying Stephen's. It implies His Messianic office, and
points back to Daniel's great prophecy; but it also asserts His true
manhood and His unique relation to humanity, as being Himself its sum
and perfection--not _a_, but _the_ Son of Man. Now the wonder which He
would confirm by His miracle is that such a manhood, walking on earth,
has lodged in it the divine prerogative. He who is the Son of Man must
be something more than man, even the Son of God. His power to forgive
is both derived and inherent, but, in either aspect, is entirely
different from the human office of announcing God's forgiveness.

For once, Christ seems to work a miracle in response to unbelief,
rather than to faith. But the real occasion of it was not the cavils
of the scribes, but the faith and need of the man and His friends;
while the silencing of unbelief, and the enlightenment of honest
doubt, were but collateral benefits.

V. Note the cure and its effect. This is another of the miracles in
which no vehicle of the healing power is employed. The word is enough;
but here the word is spoken, not as if to the disease, but to the
sufferer; and in His obedience he receives strength to obey. Tell a
palsied man to rise and walk when his disease is that he cannot! But
if he believes that Christ has power to heal, he will try to do as he
is bid; and, as he tries, the paralysis steals out of the long-unused
limbs. Jesus makes us able to do what He bids us do. The condition of
healing is faith, and the test of faith is obedience. We do not get
strength till we put ourselves into the attitude of obedience. The
cure was immediate; and the cured man, who was 'borne of four' into
the healing presence, walked away, with his bed under his arm, 'before
them all.' They were ready enough to make way for him then. And what
said the wise doctors to it all? We do not hear that any of them were
convinced. And what said the people? They were 'amazed,' and they
'glorified God,' and recognised that they had seen something quite
new. That was all. Their glorifying God cannot have been very
deep-seated, or they would have better learned the lesson of the
miracle. Amazement was but a poor result. No emotion is more transient
or less fruitful than gaping astonishment; and that, with a little
varnish of acknowledgment of God's power, which led to nothing, was
all the fruit of Christ's mighty work. Let us hope that the healed man
carried his unseen blessing in a faithful and grateful heart, and
consecrated his restored strength to the Lord who healed him!



THE PUBLICANS' FRIEND


'And He went forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude
resorted unto Him, and He taught them. 14. And as He passed by, he saw
Levi the son of Alphæus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said
unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed Him. 15. And it came to
pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and
sinners sat also together with Jesus and His disciples: for there were
many, and they followed Him. 16. And when the scribes and Pharisees
saw Him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto His disciples,
How is it that He eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners! 17.
When Jesus heard it, He saith unto them, They that are whole have no
need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the
righteous, but sinners to repentance. 18. And the disciples of John
and of the Pharisees used to fast: and they come and say unto Him, Why
do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Thy disciples
fast not! 19. And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the
bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them! as long as they
have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20. But the days will
come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then
shall they fast in those days. 21. No man also seweth a piece of new
cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up taketh
away from the old, and the rent is made worse. 22. And no man putteth
new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles,
and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine
must be put into new bottles.'--Mark ii. 13-22.

By calling a publican, Jesus shocked 'public opinion and outraged
propriety, as the Pharisees and scribes understood it. But He touched
the hearts of the outcasts. A gush of sympathy melts souls frozen hard
by icy winds of scorn. Levi (otherwise Matthew) had probably had
wistful longings after Jesus which he had not dared to show, and
therefore he eagerly and instantly responded to Christ's call, leaving
everything in his custom-house to look after itself. Mark emphasises
the effect of this advance towards the disreputable classes by Jesus,
in his repeated mention of the numbers of them who followed Him. The
meal in Matthew's house was probably not immediately after his call.
The large gathering attracted the notice of Christ's watchful
opponents, who pounced upon His sitting at meat with such 'shady'
people as betraying His low tastes and disregard of seemly conduct,
and, with characteristic Eastern freedom, pushed in as uninvited
spectators. They did not carry their objection to Himself, but
covertly insinuated it into the disciples' minds, perhaps in hope of
sowing suspicions there. Their sarcasm evoked Christ's own 'programme'
of His mission, for which we have to thank them.

I. We have, first, Christ's vindication of His consorting with the
lowest. He thinks of Himself as 'a physician,' just as He did in
another connection in the synagogue of Nazareth. He is conscious of
power to heal all soul-sickness, and therefore He goes where He is
most needed. Where should a doctor be but where disease is rife? Is
not his place in the hospital? Association with degraded and vicious
characters is sin or duty, according to the purpose of it. To go down
in the filth in order to wallow there is vile; to go down in order to
lift others up is Christ's mission and Christ-like.

But what does He mean by the distinction between sick and sound,
righteous and sinners? Surely all need His healing, and there are not
two classes of men. Have not all sinned? Yes, but Jesus speaks to the
cavillers, for the moment, in their own dialect, saying, in effect, 'I
take you at your own valuation, and therein find My defence. You do
not think that you need a physician, and you call yourselves
'righteous and these outcasts 'sinners.' So you should not be
surprised if I, being the healer, turn away to them, and prefer their
company to yours.' But there is more than taking them at their own
estimate in the great words, for to conceit ourselves 'whole' bars us
off from getting any good from Jesus. He cannot come to the
self-righteous heart. We must feel our sickness before we can see Him
in His true character, or be blessed by His presence with us. And the
apparent distinction, which seems to limit His work, really vanishes
in the fact that we all are sick and sinners, whatever we may think of
ourselves, and that, therefore, the errand of the great Physician is
to us all. The Pharisee who knows himself a sinner is as welcome as
the outcast. The most outwardly respectable, clean-living, orthodoxly
religious formalist needs Him as much, and may have Him as healingly,
as the grossest criminal, foul with the stench of loathsome disease.
That great saying has changed the attitude towards the degraded and
unclean, and many a stream of pity and practical work for such has
been drawn off from that Nile of yearning love, though all unconscious
of its source.

II. We have Christ's vindication of the disciples from ascetic
critics. The assailants in the second charge were reinforced by
singular allies. Pharisees had nothing in common with John's
disciples, except some outward observances, but they could join forces
against Jesus. Common hatred is a wonderful unifier. This time Jesus
Himself is addressed, and it is the disciples with whom fault is
found. To speak of His supposed faults to them, and of theirs to Him,
was cunning and cowardly. His answer opens up many great truths, which
we can barely mention.

First, note that He calls Himself the 'bridegroom'--a designation
which would surely touch some chords in John's disciples, remembering
how their Master had spoken of the 'bridegroom' and his 'friend.' The
name tells us that Jesus claimed the psalms of the 'bride-groom' as
prophecies of Himself, and claimed the Church that was to be as His
bride. It speaks tenderly of His love and of our possible blessedness.
Next, we note the sweet suggestion of the joyful life of the disciples
in intercourse with Him. We perhaps do not sufficiently regard their
experience in that light, but surely they were happy, being ever with
Him, though they knew not yet all the wonder and blessedness which His
presence involved and brought. They were a glad company, and
Christians ought now to be joyous, because the bridegroom is still
with them, and the more really so by reason of His ascending up where
He was before. We have seen Him again, as He promised, and our hearts
should rejoice with a joy which no man can take from us.

Next, we note Christ's clear prevision of His death, the violence of
which is hinted at in the words, 'Shall be taken away from them.'
Further, we note the great principle that outward forms must follow
inward realities, and are genuine only when they are the expression of
states of mind and feeling. That is a far-reaching truth, ever being
forgotten in the tyranny which the externals of religion exercise. Let
the free spirit have its own way, and cut its own channels. Laughter
may be as devout as fasting. Joy is to be expressed in religion as
well as grief. No outward form is worth anything unless the inner man
vitalises it, and such a mere form is not simply valueless, but may
quickly become hypocrisy and conscious make-believe.

III. Jesus adds two similes, which are condensed parables, to deal
with a wider question rising out of the preceding principles. The
difference between His disciples' religious demeanour and that of
their critics is not merely that the former are not now in a mood for
fasting, but that a new spirit is beginning to work in them, and
therefore it will go hard with a good many old forms besides fasting.

The essential point in both the similes of the raw cloth stitched on
to the old, and of the new wine poured into stiff old skins, is the
necessary incongruity between old forms and new tendencies. Undressed
cloth is sure to shrink when wetted, and, being stronger than the old,
to draw its frayed edges away. So, if new truth, or new conceptions of
old truth, or new enthusiasms, are patched on to old modes, they will
look out of place, and will sooner or later rend the old cloth. But
the second simile advances on the first, in that it points not only to
harm done to the old by the unnatural marriage, but also to mischief
to the new. Put fermenting wine into a hard, unyielding, old
wine-skin, and there can be but one result,--the strong effervescence
will burst the skin, which may not matter much, and the precious wine
will run out and be lost, sucked up by the thirsty soil, which matters
more. The attempt to confine the new within the limits of the old, or
to express it by the old forms, destroys them and wastes it. The
attempt was made to keep Christianity within the limits of Judaism; it
failed, but not before much harm had been done to Christianity. Over
and over again the effort has been made in the Church, and it has
always ended disastrously,--and it always will. It will be a happy day
for both the old and the new when we all learn to put new wine into
new skins, and remember that 'God giveth it a body as it hath pleased
Him, and to every seed his _own_ body.'



THE SECRET OF GLADNESS


'And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber fast,
while the bridegroom is with them?'--Mark ii. 19.

This part of our Lord's answer to the question put by John's disciples
as to the reason for the omission of the practice of fasting by His
followers. The answer is very simple. It is--'My disciples do not fast
because they are not sad.' And the principle which underlies the
answer is a very important one. It is this: that all outward forms of
religion, appointed by man, ought only to be observed when they
correspond to the feeling and disposition of the worshipper. That
principle cuts up all religious formalism by the very roots. The
Pharisee said: 'Fasting is a good thing in itself, and meritorious in
the sight of God.' The modern Pharisee says the same about many
externals of ritual and worship; Jesus Christ says, 'No! The thing has
no value except as an expression of the feeling of the doer.' Our Lord
did not object to fasting; He expressly approved of it as a means of
spiritual power. But He did object to the formal use of it or of any
outward form. The formalist's form, whether it be the elaborate ritual
of the Catholic Church, or the barest Nonconformist service, or the
silence of a Friends' meeting-house, is rigid, unbending, and cold,
like an iron rod. The true Christian form is elastic, like the stem of
a palm-tree, which curves and sways and yields to the wind, and has
the sap of life in it. If any man is sad, let him fast; 'if any man is
merry, let him sing psalms.' Let his ritual correspond to his
spiritual emotion and conviction.

But the point which I wish to consider now is not so much this, as the
representation that is given here of the reason why fasting was
incongruous with the condition and disposition of the disciples. Jesus
says: 'We are more like a wedding-party than anything else. Can the
children of the bridechamber fast as long as the bridegroom is with
them?'

The 'children of the bridechamber' is but another name for those who
were called the 'friends' or companions 'of the bridegroom.' According
to the Jewish wedding ceremonial it was their business to conduct the
bride to the home of her husband, and there to spend seven days in
festivity and rejoicing, which were to be so entirely devoted to mirth
and feasting that the companions of the bridegroom were by the
Talmudic ritual absolved even from prayer and from worship, and had
for their one duty to rejoice.

And that is the picture that Christ holds up before the disciples of
the ascetic John as the representation of what He and His friends were
most truly like. Very unlike our ordinary notion of Christ and His
disciples as they walked the earth! The presence of the Bridegroom
made them glad with a strange gladness, which shook off sorrow as the
down on a sea-bird's breast shakes off moisture, and leaves it warm
and dry, though it floats amidst boundless seas. I wish now to
meditate on this secret of imperviousness to sorrow arising from the
felt presence of the Christ.

There are three subjects for consideration arising from the words of
my text: The Bridegroom; the presence of the Bridegroom; the joy of
the Bride-groom's presence.

I. Now with regard to the first, a very few words will suffice. The
first thing that strikes me is the singular appropriateness and the
delicate, pathetic beauty in the employment of this name by Christ in
the existing circumstances. Who was it that had first said: 'He that
hath the bride is the bridegroom, but the friend of the bridegroom
that standeth by and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the
bridegroom's voice. This my joy therefore is fulfilled'? Why, it was
the master of these very men who were asking the question. John's
disciples came and said, 'Why do not your disciples fast?' and our
Lord reminded them of their own teacher's words, when he said, 'The
friend of the bridegroom can only be glad.' And so He would say to
them, 'In your master's own conception of what I am, and of the joy
that comes from My presence, you have an answer to your question. He
might have taught you who I am, and why it is that the men that stand
around Me are glad.'

But this is not all. We cannot but connect this name with a whole
circle of ideas found in the Old Testament, especially with that most
familiar and almost stereotyped figure which represents the union
between Israel and Jehovah, under the emblem of the marriage bond. The
Lord is the 'husband'; and the nation whom He has loved and redeemed
and chosen for Himself, is the 'wife'; unfaithful and forgetful, often
requiting love with indifference and protection with unthankfulness,
and needing to be put away, and debarred of the society of the husband
who still yearns for her; but a wife still, and in the new time to be
joined to Him by a bond that shall never be broken and a better
covenant.

And so Christ lays His hand upon all that old history and says, 'It is
fulfilled here in Me.' A familiar note in Old Testament Messianic
prophecy too is caught and echoed here, especially that grand marriage
ode of the forty-fifth psalm, in which he must be a very prosaic or
very deeply prejudiced reader who hears nothing more than the shrill
wedding greetings at the marriage of some Jewish king with a foreign
princess. Its bounding hopes and its magnificent sweep of vision are a
world too wide for such interpretation. The Bridegroom of that psalm
is the Messiah, and the Bride is the Church.

I need only refer in a sentence to what this indicates of Christ's
self-consciousness. What must He, who takes this name as His own, have
thought Himself to be to the world, and the world to Him? He steps
into the place of the Jehovah of the Old Testament, and claims as His
own all these great and wonderful prophecies. He promises love,
protection, communion, the deepest, most mystical union of spirit and
heart with Himself; and He claims quiet, restful confidence in His
love, absolute, loving obedience to His authority, reliance upon His
strong hand and loving heart, and faithful cleaving to Him. The
Bridegroom of humanity, the Husband of the world, if it will only turn
to Him, is Christ Himself.

II. But a word as to the presence of the Bridegroom. It might seem as
if this text condemned us who love an unseen and absent Lord to
exclusion from the joy which is made to depend on His presence. Are we
in the dreary period when 'the Bridegroom is taken away' and fasting
appropriate?

Surely not. The time of mourning for an absent Christ was only three
days; the law for the years of the Church's history between the moment
when the uplifted eyes of the gazers lost Him in the symbolic cloud
and the moment when He shall come again is, 'Lo, I am with you alway.'
The absent Christ is the present Christ. He is really with us, not as
the memory or the influence of the example of the dead may be said to
remain, not as the spirit of a teacher may be said to abide with his
school of followers. We say that Christ has gone up on high and sits
on 'the right hand of God.' The right hand of God is His active power.
Where is 'the right hand of God'? It is wherever His divine energy
works. He that sits at the right hand of God is thereby declared to be
wherever the divine energy is in operation, and to be Himself the
wielder of that divine Power. I believe in a local abode of the
glorified human body of Jesus Christ now, but I believe likewise that
all through God's universe, and eminently in this world, which He has
redeemed, Christ is present, in His consciousness of its
circumstances, and in the activity of His influence, and in whatsoever
other incomprehensible and unspeakable mode Omnipresence belongs to a
divine Person. So that He is with us most really, though the visible,
bodily Form is no longer by our sides.

That Presence which survives, which is true for us here to-day, may be
a far better and more blessed and real thing than the presence of the
mere bodily Form in which He once dwelt. We may have lost something by
His going away in visible form; I doubt whether we have. We have lost
the manifestation of Him to the sense, but we have gained the
manifestation of Him to the spirit. And just as the great men, who are
only men, need to die and go away in order to be measured in their
true magnitude and understood in their true glory; just as when a man
is in amongst the mountains, he cannot tell which peak is the dominant
one, but when he gets away a little space across the sea and looks
back, distance helps to measure magnitude and reveal the sovereign
summit which towers above all the rest, so, looking back across the
ages with the foreground between us and Him of the history of the
Christian Church ever since, and noticing how other heights have sunk
beneath the waves and have been wrapped in clouds and have disappeared
behind the great round of the earth, we can tell how high this One is;
and know better than they knew who it is that moves amongst men in
'the form of a servant,' even the Bridegroom of the Church and of the
world. 'It is expedient for you that I go away,' and Christ is, or
ought to be, nearer to us to-day in all that constitutes real
nearness, in our apprehension of His essential character, in our
reception of His holiest influences, than He ever was to them who
walked beside Him on the earth.

But, brethren, that presence is of no use at all to us unless we daily
try to realise it. He was with these men whether they would or no.
Whether they thought about Him or no, there He was; and just because
His presence did not at all depend upon their spiritual condition, it
was a lower kind of presence than that which you and I have now, and
which depends altogether on our realising it by the turning of our
hearts to Him, and by the daily contemplation of Him amidst all our
bustle and struggle.

Do you, as you go about your work, feel His nearness and try to keep
the feeling fresh and vivid, by occupying heart and mind with Him, by
referring everything to His supreme control? By trusting yourselves
utterly and absolutely in His hand, and gathering round you, as it
were, the sweetness of His love by meditation and reflection, do you
try to make conscious to yourselves your Lord's presence with you? If
you do, that presence is to you a blessed reality; if you do not, it
is a word that means nothing and is of no help, no stimulus, no
protection, no satisfaction, no sweetness whatever to you. The
children of the Bridegroom are glad only when, and as, they know that
the Bridegroom is with them.

III. And now a word, last of all, about the joy of the Bridegroom's
presence. What was it that made these humble lives so glad when Christ
was with them, filling them with strange new sweetness and power? The
charm of personal character, the charm of contact with one whose lips
were bringing to them fresh revelations of truth, fresh visions of
God, whose whole life was the exhibition of a nature beautiful, and
noble, and pure, and tender, and sweet, and loving, beyond anything
they had ever seen before.

Ah! brethren, there is no joy in the world like that of companionship,
in the freedom of perfect love, with one who ever keeps us at our
best, and brings the treasures of ever fresh truth to the mind, as
well as beauty of character to admire and imitate. That is one of the
greatest gifts that God gives, and is a source of the purest joy that
we can have. Now we may have all that and much more in Jesus Christ.
He will be with us if we do not drive Him away from us, as the source
of our purest joy, because He is the all-sufficient Object of our
love.

Oh! you men and women who have been wearily seeking in the world for
love that cannot change, for love that cannot die and leave you; you
who have been made sad for life by irrevocable losses, or sorrowful in
the midst of your joy by the anticipated certain separation which is
to come, listen to this One who says to you: 'I will never leave thee,
and My love shall be round thee for ever'; and recognise this, that
there is a love which cannot change, which cannot die, which has no
limits, which never can be cold, which never can disappoint, and
therefore, in it, and in His presence, there is unending gladness.

He is with us as the source of our joy, because He is the Lord of our
lives, and the absolute Commander of our wills. To have One present
with us whose loving word it is delight to obey, and who takes upon
Himself all responsibility for the conduct of our lives, and leaves us
only the task of doing what we are bid--that is peace, that is
gladness, of such a kind as none else in the world gives.

He is with us as the ground of perfect joy, because He is the adequate
object of all our desires, and the whole of the faculties and powers
of a man will find a field of glad activity in leaning upon Him, and
realising His presence. Like the Apostle whom the old painters loved
to represent lying with his happy head on Christ's heart, and his eyes
closed in a tranquil rapture of restful satisfaction, so if we have
Him with us and feel that He is with us, our spirits may be still, and
in the great stillness of fruition of all our wishes and fulfilment of
all our needs, may know a joy that the world can neither give nor take
away.

He is with us as the source of endless gladness, in that He is the
defence and protection for our souls. And as men live in a victualled
fortress, and care not though the whole surrounding country may be
swept bare of all provision, so when we have Christ with us we may
feel safe, whatsoever befalls, and 'in the days of famine we shall be
satisfied.'

He is with us as the source of our perfect joy, because His presence
is the kindling of every hope that fills the future with light and
glory. Dark or dim at the best, trodden by uncertain shapes, casting
many a deep shadow over the present, that future lies, unless we see
it illumined by Christ, and have Him by our sides. But if we possess
His companionship, the present is but the parent of a more blessed
time to come; and we can look forward and feel that nothing can touch
our gladness, because nothing can touch our union with our Lord.

So, dear brethren, from all these thoughts and a thousand more which I
have no time to dwell upon, comes this one great consideration, that
the joy of the presence of the Bridegroom is the victorious antagonist
of all sorrow and mourning. 'Can the children of the bridechamber
mourn, while the bridegroom is with them?' The answer sometimes seems
to be, 'Yes, they can.' Our own hearts, with their experience of
tears, and losses, and disappointments, seem to say: 'Mourning is
possible, even whilst He is here. We have our own share, and we
sometimes think, more than our share, of the ills that flesh is heir
to.' And we have, over and above them, in the measure in which we are
Christians, certain special sources of sorrow and trial, peculiar to
ourselves alone; and the deeper and truer our Christianity the more of
these shall we have. But notwithstanding all that, what will the felt
presence of the Bridegroom do for these griefs that will come? Well,
it will limit them, for one thing; it will prevent them from absorbing
the whole of our nature. There will always be a Goshen in which there
is 'light in the dwelling,' however murky may be the darkness that
wraps the land. There will always be a little bit of soil above the
surface, however weltering and wide may be the inundation that drowns
our world. There will always be a dry and warm place in the midst of
the winter, a kind of greenhouse into which we may get from out of the
tempest and fog. The joy of the Bridegroom's presence will last
through the sorrow, like a spring of fresh water welling up in the
midst of the sea. We may have the salt and the sweet waters mingling
in our lives, not sent forth by one fountain, but flowing in one
channel.

Our joy will sometimes be made sweeter and more wonderful by the very
presence of the mourning and the pain. Just as the pillar of cloud,
that glided before the Israelites through the wilderness, glowed into
a pillar of fire as the darkness deepened, so, as the outlook around
becomes less and less cheery and bright, and the night falls thicker
and thicker, what seemed to be but a thin, grey, wavering column in
the blaze of the sunlight will gather warmth and brightness at the
heart of it when the midnight comes. You cannot see the stars at
twelve o'clock in the day; you have to watch for the dark hours ere
heaven is filled with glory. And so sorrow is often the occasion for
the full revelation of the joy of Christ's presence.

Why have so many Christian men so little joy in their lives? Because
they look for it in all sorts of wrong places, and seek to wring it
out of all sorts of sapless and dry things. 'Do men gather grapes of
thorns?' If you fling the berries of the thorn into the winepress,
will you get sweet sap out of them? That is what you are doing when
you take gratified earthly affections, worldly competence, fulfilled
ambitions, and put them into the press, and think that out of these
you can squeeze the wine of gladness. No! No! brethren, dry and
sapless and juiceless they all are. There is one thing that gives a
man worthy, noble, eternal gladness, and that is the felt presence of
the Bridegroom.

Why have so many Christians so little joy in their lives? A religion
like that of John's disciples and that of the Pharisees is a poor
affair. A religion of which the main features are law and restriction
and prohibition, cannot be joyful. And there are a great many people
who call themselves Christians, and have just religion enough to take
the edge off worldly pleasures, and yet have not enough to make
fellowship with Christ a gladness for them.

There is a cry amongst us for a more cheerful type of religion. I
re-echo the cry, but I am afraid that I do not mean by it quite the
same thing that some of my friends do. A more cheerful type of
Christianity means to many of us a type of Christianity that will
interfere less with our amusements; a more indulgent doctor that will
prescribe a less rigid diet than the old Puritan type used to do.
Well, perhaps they went too far; I do not care to deny that. But the
only cheerful Christianity is a Christianity that draws its gladness
from deep personal experience of communion with Jesus Christ. There is
no way of men being religious and happy except being profoundly
religious, and living very near their Master, and always trying to
cultivate that spirit of communion with Him which shall surround them
with the sweetness and the power of His felt presence. We do not want
Pharisaic fasting, but we do want that the reason for not fasting
shall not be that Christians like eating better, but that their
religion must be joyful because they have Christ with them, and
therefore cannot choose but sing, as a lark cannot choose but carol.
'Religion has no power over us, but as it is our happiness,' and we
shall never make it our happiness, and therefore never know its
beneficent control, until we lift it clean out of the low region of
outward forms and joyless service, into the blessed heights of
communion with Jesus Christ, 'Whom having not seen we love.'

I would that Christian people saw more plainly that joy is a duty, and
that they are bound to make efforts to obey the command, 'Rejoice in
the Lord always,' no less than to keep other precepts. If we abide in
Christ, His joy 'will abide in us, and our joy will be full.' We shall
have in our hearts a fountain of true joy which will never be turbid
with earthly stains, nor dried up by heat, nor frozen by cold. If we
set the Lord always before us our days may be at once like the happy
hours of the 'children of the bridechamber,' bright with gladness and
musical with song; and also saved from the enervation that sometimes
comes from joy, because they are also like the patient vigils of the
servants who 'wait for the Lord, when He shall return from the
wedding.' So strangely blended of fruition and hope, of companionship
and solitude, of feasting and watching, is the Christian life here,
until the time comes when His friends go in with the Bridegroom to the
banquet, and drink for ever of the new joy of the kingdom.



WORKS WHICH HALLOW THE SABBATH


'And it came to pass, that He went through the cornfields on the
Sabbath day; and His disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears
of corn. 24. And the Pharisees said unto Him, Behold, why do they on
the Sabbath day that which is not lawful? 25. And He said unto them,
Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an
hungred, he, and they that were with him? 28. How he went into the
house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the
shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave
also to them which were with him? 27. And He said unto them, The
Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath: 28. Therefore
the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath.'--Mark ii. 23-28.

'And He entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there
which had a withered hand. 2. And they watched Him, whether He would
heal him on the Sabbath day; that they might accuse Him. 3. And He
saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. 4. And He
saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath days, or to do
evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. 5. And when
He had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the
hardness of their hearts, He saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine
hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the
other.'--Mark iii. 1-5.

These two Sabbath scenes make a climax to the preceding paragraphs, in
which Jesus has asserted His right to brush aside Rabbinical
ordinances about eating with sinners and about fasting. Here He goes
much further, in claiming power over the divine ordinance of the
Sabbath. Formalists are moved to more holy horror by free handling of
forms than by heterodoxy as to principles. So we can understand how
the Pharisees' suspicions were exacerbated to murderous hate by these
two incidents. It is doubtful whether Mark puts them together because
they occurred together, or because they bear on the same subject. They
deal with the two classes of 'works' which later Christian theology
has recognised as legitimate exceptions to the law of the Sabbath
rest; namely, works of necessity and of mercy.

I. Whether we adopt the view that the disciples were clearing a path
through standing corn, or the simpler one, that they gathered the ears
of corn on the edge of a made path as they went, the point of the
Pharisees' objection was that they broke the Sabbath by plucking,
which was a kind of reaping. According to Luke, their breach of the
Rabbinical exposition of the law was an event more dreadful in the
eyes of these narrow pedants; for there was not only reaping, but the
analogue of winnowing and grinding, for the grains were rubbed in the
disciples' palms. What daring sin! What impious defiance of law! But
of what law? Not that of the Fourth Commandment, which simply forbade
'labour,' but that of the doctors' expositions of the commandment,
which expended miraculous ingenuity and hair-splitting on deciding
what was labour and what was not. The foundations of that astonishing
structure now found in the Talmud were, no doubt, laid before Christ.
This expansion of the prohibition, so as to take in such trifles as
plucking and rubbing a handful of heads of corn, has many parallels
there.

But it is noteworthy that our Lord does not avail Himself of the
distinction between God's commandment and men's exposition of it. He
does not embarrass himself with two controversies at once. At fit
times He disputed Rabbinical authority, and branded their casuistry as
binding grievous burdens on men; but here He allows their assumption
of the equal authority of their commentary and of the text to pass
unchallenged, and accepts the statement that His disciples had been
doing what was unlawful on the Sabbath, and vindicates their breach of
law.

Note that His answer deals first with an example of similar breach of
ceremonial law, and then rises to lay down a broad principle which
governed that precedent, vindicates the act of the disciples, and
draws for all ages a broad line of demarcation between the obligations
of ceremonial and of moral law. Clearly, His adducing David's act in
taking the shewbread implies that the disciples' reason for plucking
the ears of corn was not to clear a path but to satisfy hunger.
Probably, too, it suggests that He also was hungry, and partook of the
simple food.

Note, too, the tinge of irony in that 'Did ye _never_ read?' In all
your minute study of the letter of the Scripture, did you never take
heed to that page? The principle on which the priest at Nob let the
hungry fugitives devour the sacred bread, was the subordination of
ceremonial law to men's necessities. It was well to lay the loaves on
the table in the Presence, but it was better to take them and feed the
fainting servant of God and his followers with them. Out of the very
heart of the law which the Pharisees appealed to, in order to spin
restricting prohibitions, Jesus drew an example of freedom which ran
on all-fours with His disciples' case. The Pharisees had pored over
the Old Testament all their lives, but it would have been long before
they had found such a doctrine as this in it.

Jesus goes on to bring out the principle which shaped the instance he
gave. He does not state it in its widest form, but confines it to the
matter in hand--Sabbath obligations. Ceremonial law in all its parts
is established as a means to an end--the highest good of men.
Therefore, the end is more important than the means; and, in any case
of apparent collision, the means must give way that the end may be
secured. External observances are not of permanent, unalterable
obligation. They stand on a different footing from primal moral
duties, which remain equally imperative whether doing them leads to
physical good or evil. David and his men were bound to keep these,
whether they starved or not; but they were not bound to leave the shew
bread lying in the shrine, and starve.

Man is made for the moral law. It is supreme, and he is under it,
whether obedience leads to death or not. But all ceremonial
regulations are merely established to help men to reach the true end
of their being, and may be suspended or modified by his necessities.
The Sabbath comes under the class of such ceremonial regulations, and
may therefore be elastic when the pressure of necessity is brought to
bear.

But note that our Lord, even while thus defining the limits of the
obligation, asserts its universality. 'The Sabbath was made for
man'--not for a nation or an age, but for all time and for the whole
race. Those who would sweep away the observance of the weekly day of
rest are fond of quoting this text; but they give little heed to its
first clause, and do not note that their favourite passage upsets
their main contention, and establishes the law of the Sabbath as a
possession for the world for ever. It is not a burden, but a
privilege, made and meant for man's highest good.

Christ's conclusion that He is 'Lord even of the Sabbath' is based
upon the consideration of the true design of the day. If it is once
understood that it is appointed, not as an inflexible duty, like the
obligation of truth or purity, but as a means to man's good, physical
and spiritual, then He who has in charge all man's higher interests,
and who is the perfect realisation of the ideal of manhood, has full
authority to modify and suspend the ceremonial observance if in His
unerring judgment the suspension is desirable.

This is not an abrogation of the Sabbath, but, on the contrary, a
confirmation of the universal and merciful appointment. It does not
give permission to keep or neglect it, according to whim or for the
sake of amusement, but it does draw, strong and clear, the distinction
between a positive rite which may be modified, and an unchangeable
precept of the moral law which it is better for a man to die than to
neglect or transgress.

The second Sabbath scene deals with the same question from another
point of view. Works of necessity warranted the supercession of
Sabbath law; works of beneficence are no breaches of it. There are
circumstances in which it is right to do what is not 'lawful' on the
Sabbath, for such works as healing the man with a withered hand are
always 'lawful.'

We note the cruel indifference to the sufferer's woe which so
characteristically accompanies a religion which is mainly a matter of
outside observances. What cared the Pharisees whether the poor cripple
was healed or no? They wanted him cured only that they might have a
charge against Jesus. Note, too, the strange condition of mind, which
recognised Christ's miraculous power, and yet considered Him an
impious sinner.

Observe our Lord's purpose to make the miracle most conspicuous. He
bids the man stand out in the midst, before all the cold eyes of
malicious Pharisees and gaping spectators. A secret espionage was
going on in the synagogue. He sees it all, and drags it into full
light by setting the man forth and by His sudden, sharp thrust of a
question. He takes the first word this time, and puts the stealthy
spies on the defensive. His interrogation may possibly be regarded as
having a bearing on their conduct, for there was murder in their
hearts (verse 6). There they sat with solemn faces, posing as
sticklers for law and religion, and all the while they were seeking
grounds for killing Him. Was that Sabbath work? Whether would He, if
He cured the shrunken arm, or they, if they gathered accusations with
the intention of compassing His death, be the Sabbath-breakers?

It was a sharp, swift cut through their cloak of sanctity; but it has
a wider scope than that. The question rests on the principle that good
omitted is equivalent to evil committed. If we can save, and do not,
the responsibility of loss lies on us. If we can rescue, and let die,
our brother's blood reddens our hands. Good undone is not merely
negative. It is positive evil done. If from regard to the Sabbath we
refrained from doing some kindly deed alleviating a brother's sorrow,
we should not be inactive, but should have done something by our very
not doing, and what we should do would be evil. It is a pregnant
saying which has many solemn applications.

No wonder that they 'held their peace.' Unless they had been prepared
to abandon their position, there was nothing to be said. That silence
indicated conviction and obstinate pride and rooted hatred which would
not be convinced, conciliated, or softened. Therefore Jesus looked on
them with that penetrating, yearning gaze, which left ineffaceable
remembrances on the beholders, as the frequent mention of it
indicates.

The emotions in Christ's heart as He looked on the dogged, lowering
faces are expressed in a remarkable phrase, which is probably best
taken as meaning that grief mingled with His anger. A wondrous glimpse
into that tender heart, which in all its tenderness is capable of
righteous indignation, and in all its indignation does not set aside
its tenderness!

Mark that not even the most rigid prohibitions were broken by the
process of cure. It was no breach of the fantastic restrictions which
had been engrafted on the commandment, that Jesus should bid the man
put out his hand. Nobody could find fault with a man for doing that.
These two things, a word and a movement of muscles, were all. So He
did 'heal on the Sabbath,' and yet did nothing that could be laid hold
of.

But let us not miss the parable of the restoration of the maimed and
shrunken powers of the soul, which the manner of the miracle gives.
Whatever we try to do because Jesus bids us, He will give us strength
to do, however impossible to our unaided powers it is. In the act of
stretching out the hand, ability to stretch it forth is bestowed,
power returns to atrophied muscles, stiffened joints are suppled, the
blood runs in full measure through the veins. So it is ever. Power to
obey attends on the desire and effort to obey.



THE ANGER AND GRIEF OF JESUS


He looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the
hardness of their hearts.'--Mark iii. 5.

Our Lord goes into the synagogue at Capernaum, where He had already
wrought more than one miracle, and there He finds an object for His
healing power, in a poor man with a withered hand; and also a little
knot of His enemies. The scribes and Pharisees expect Christ to heal
the man. So much had they learned of His tenderness and of His power.

But their belief that He could work a miracle did not carry them one
step towards a recognition of Him as sent by God. They have no eye for
the miracle, because they expect that He is going to break the
Sabbath. There is nothing so blind as formal religionism. This poor
man's infirmity did not touch their hearts with one little throb of
compassion. They had rather that he had gone crippled all his days
than that one of their Rabbinical Sabbatarian restrictions should be
violated. There is nothing so cruel as formal religionism. They only
think that there is a trap laid--and perhaps they had laid it--into
which Christ is sure to go.

So, as our Evangelist tells us, they sat there stealthily watching Him
out of their cold eyes, whether He would heal on the Sabbath day, that
they might accuse Him. Our Lord bids the man stand out into the middle
of the little congregation. He obeys, perhaps, with some feeble
glimmer of hope playing round his heart. There is a quickened
attention in the audience; the enemies are watching Him with
gratification, because they hope He is going to do what they think to
be a sin.

And then He reduces them all to silence and perplexity by His
question--sharp, penetrating, unexpected: 'Is it lawful to do good on
the Sabbath day, or to do evil? You are ready to blame Me as breaking
your Sabbatarian regulations if I heal this man. What if I do not heal
him? Will that be doing nothing? Will not that be a worse breach of
the Sabbath day than if I heal him?'

He takes the question altogether out of the region of pedantic
Rabbinism, and bases His vindication upon the two great principles
that mercy and help hallow any day, and that not to do good when we
can is to do harm, and not to save life is to kill.

They are silenced. His arrow touches them; they do not speak because
they cannot answer; and they will not yield. There is a struggle going
on in them, which Christ sees, and He fixes them with that steadfast
look of His; of which our Evangelist is the only one who tells us what
it expressed, and by what it was occasioned. 'He looked round about on
them _with anger_, being _grieved_.' Mark the combination of emotions,
anger and grief. And mark the reason for both; 'the hardness,' or as
you will see, if you use the Revised Version, 'the _hardening_' of
their hearts--a process which He saw going on before Him as He looked
at them.

Now I do not need to follow the rest of the story, how He turns away
from them because He will not waste any more words on them, else He
had done more harm than good. He heals the man. They hurry from the
synagogue to prove their zeal for the sanctifying of the Sabbath day
by hatching a plot on it for murdering Him. I leave all that, and turn
to the thoughts suggested by this look of Christ as explained by the
Evangelist.

I. Consider then, first, the solemn fact of Christ's anger.

It is the only occasion, so far as I remember, upon which that emotion
is attributed to Him. Once, and once only, the flash came out of the
clear sky of that meek and gentle heart. He was once angry; and we may
learn the lesson of the possibilities that lay slumbering in His love.
He was only once angry, and we may learn the lesson that His perfect
and divine charity 'is not easily provoked.' These very words from
Paul's wonderful picture may teach us that the perfection of divine
charity does not consist in its being incapable of becoming angry at
all, but only in its not being angry except upon grave and good
occasion.

Christ's anger was part of the perfection of His manhood. The man that
cannot be angry at evil lacks enthusiasm for good. The nature that is
incapable of being touched with generous and righteous indignation is
so, generally, either because it lacks fire and emotion altogether, or
because its vigour has been dissolved into a lazy indifference and
easy good nature which it mistakes for love. Better the heat of the
tropics, though sometimes the thunderstorms may gather, than the white
calmness of the frozen poles. Anger is not weakness, but it is
strength, if there be these three conditions, if it be evoked by a
righteous and unselfish cause, if it be kept under rigid control, and
if there be nothing in it of malice, even when it prompts to
punishment. Anger is just and right when it is not produced by the
mere friction of personal irritation (like electricity by rubbing),
but is excited by the contemplation of evil. It is part of the marks
of a good man that he kindles into wrath when he sees 'the oppressor's
wrong.' If you went out hence to-night, and saw some drunken ruffian
beating his wife or ill-using his child, would you not do well to be
angry? And when nations have risen up, as our own nation did seventy
years ago in a paroxysm of righteous indignation, and vowed that
British soil should no more bear the devilish abomination of slavery,
was there nothing good and great in that wrath? So it is one of the
strengths of man that he shall be able to glow with indignation at
evil.

Only all such emotion must be kept well in hand must never be suffered
to degenerate into passion. Passion is always weak, emotion is an
element of strength.

            'The gods approve
    The depth and not the tumult of the soul.'

But where a man does not let his wrath against evil go sputtering off
aimlessly, like a box of fireworks set all alight at once, then it
comes to be a strength and a help to much that is good.

The other condition that makes wrath righteous and essential to the
perfection of a man, is that there shall be in it no taint of malice.
Anger may impel to punish and not be malicious, if its reason for
punishment is the passionless impulse of justice or the reformation of
the wrong-doer. Then it is pure and true and good. Such wrath is a
part of the perfection of humanity, and such wrath was in Jesus
Christ.

But, still further, Christ's anger was part of His revelation of God.
What belongs to perfect man belongs to God in whose image man was
made. People are very often afraid of attributing to the divine nature
that emotion of wrath, very unnecessarily, I think, and to the
detriment of all their conceptions of the divine nature.

There is no reason why we should not ascribe emotion to Him. Passions
God has not; emotions the Bible represents Him as having. The god of
the philosopher has none. He is a cold, impassive Somewhat, more like
a block of ice than a god. But the God of the Bible has a heart that
can be touched, and is capable of something like what we call in
ourselves emotion. And if we rightly think of God as Love, there is no
more reason why we should not think of God as having the other emotion
of wrath; for as I have shown you, there is nothing in wrath itself
which is derogatory to the perfection of the loftiest spiritual
nature. In God's anger there is no self-regarding irritation, no
passion, no malice. It is the necessary displeasure and aversion of
infinite purity at the sight of man's impurity. God's anger is His
love thrown back upon itself from unreceptive and unloving hearts.
Just as a wave that would roll in smooth, unbroken, green beauty into
the open door of some sea-cave is dashed back in spray and foam from
some grim rock, so the love of God, meeting the unloving heart that
rejects it, and the purity of God meeting the impurity of man,
necessarily become that solemn reality, the wrath of the most high
God. 'A God all mercy were a God unjust.' The judge is condemned when
the culprit is acquitted; and he that strikes out of the divine nature
the capacity for anger against sin, little as he thinks it, is
degrading the righteousness and diminishing the love of God.

Oh, dear brethren, I beseech you do not let any easygoing gospel that
has nothing to say to you about God's necessary aversion from, and
displeasure with, and chastisement of, your sins and mine, draw you
away from the solemn and wholesome belief that there is that in God
which must hate and war against and chastise our evil, and that if
there were not, He would be neither worth loving nor worth trusting.
And His Son, in His tears and in His tenderness, which were habitual,
and also in that lightning flash which once shot across the sky of His
nature, was revealing Him to us. The Gospel is not only the revelation
of God's righteousness for faith, but is also 'the revelation of His
wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.'

'It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.' The ox, with the
yoke on his neck, lashes out with his obstinate heels against the
driver's goad. He does not break the goad, but only embrues his own
limbs. Do not you do that!

II. And now, once more, let me ask you to look at the compassion which
goes with our Lord's anger here; 'being grieved at the hardness of
their hearts.'

The somewhat singular word rendered here 'grieved,' may either simply
imply that this sorrow co-existed with the anger, or it may describe
the sorrow as being sympathy or compassion. I am disposed to take it
in the latter application, and so the lesson we gather from these
words is the blessed thought that Christ's wrath was all blended with
compassion and sympathetic sorrow.

He looked upon these scribes and Pharisees sitting there with hatred
in their eyes; and two emotions, which many men suppose as discrepant
and incongruous as fire and water, rose together in His heart: wrath,
which fell on the evil; sorrow, which bedewed the doers of it. The
anger was for the hardening, the compassion was for the hardeners.

If there be this blending of wrath and sorrow, the combination takes
away from the anger all possibility of an admixture of these
questionable ingredients, which mar human wrath, and make men shrink
from attributing so turbid and impure an emotion to God. It is an
anger which lies harmoniously in the heart side by side with the
tenderest pity--the truest, deepest sorrow.

Again, if Christ's sorrow flowed out thus along with His anger when He
looked upon men's evil, then we understand in how tragic a sense He
was 'a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.' The pain and the
burden and the misery of His earthly life had no selfish basis. They
were not like the pain and the burdens and the misery that so many of
us howl out so loudly about, arising from causes affecting ourselves.
But for Him--with His perfect purity, with His deep compassion, with
His heart that was the most sensitive heart that ever beat in a human
breast, because it was the only perfectly pure one that ever beat
there--for Him to go amongst men was to be wounded and bruised and
hacked by the sharp swords of their sins.

Everything that He touched burned that pure nature, which was
sensitive to evil, like an infant's hand to hot iron. His sorrow and
His anger were the two sides of the medal. His feelings in looking on
sin were like a piece of woven stuff with a pattern on either side, on
one the fiery threads--the wrath; on the other the silvery tints of
sympathetic pity. A warp of wrath, a woof of sorrow, dew and flame
married and knit together.

And may we not draw from this same combination of these two apparently
discordant emotions in our Lord, the lesson of what it is in men that
makes them the true subjects of pity? Ay, these scribes and Pharisees
had very little notion that there was anything about them to
compassionate. But the thing which in the sight of God makes the true
evil of men's condition is not their circumstances but their sins. The
one thing to weep for when we look at the world is not its
misfortunes, but its wickedness. Ah! brother, that is the misery of
miseries; that is the one thing worth crying about in our own lives,
or in anybody else's. From this combination of indignation and pity,
we may learn how we should look upon evil. Men are divided into two
classes in their way of looking at wickedness in this world. One set
are rigid and stern, and crackling into wrath; the other set placid
and good-natured, and ready to weep over it as a misfortune and a
calamity, but afraid or unwilling to say: 'These poor creatures are to
be blamed as well as pitied.' It is of prime importance that we all
should try to take both points of view, looking on sin as a thing to
be frowned at, but also looking on it as a thing to be wept over; and
to regard evil-doers as persons that deserve to be blamed and to be
chastised, and made to feel the bitterness of their evil, and not to
interfere too much with the salutary laws that bring down sorrow upon
men's heads if they have been doing wrong, but, on the other hand, to
take care that our sense of justice does not swallow up the compassion
that weeps for the criminal as an object of pity. Public opinion and
legislation swing from the one extreme to the other. We have to make
an effort to keep in the centre, and never to look round in anger,
unsoftened by pity, nor in pity, enfeebled by being separated from
righteous indignation.

III. Let me now deal briefly with the last point that is here, namely,
the occasion for both the sorrow and the anger, 'Being grieved at the
_hardening_ of the hearts.'

As I said at the beginning of these remarks, 'hardness,' the rendering
of our Authorised Version, is not quite so near the mark as that of
the Revised Version, which speaks not so much of a condition as of a
process: 'He was grieved at the hardening of their hearts,' which He
saw going on there.

And what was hardening their hearts? It was He. Why were their hearts
being hardened? Because they were looking at Him, His graciousness,
His goodness, and His power, and were steeling themselves against Him,
opposing to His grace and tenderness their own obstinate
determination. Some little gleams of light were coming in at their
windows, and they clapped the shutters up. Some tones of His voice
were coming into their ears, and they stuffed their fingers into them.
They half felt that if they let themselves be influenced by Him it was
all over, and so they set their teeth and steadied themselves in their
antagonism.

And that is what some of you are doing now. Jesus Christ is never
preached to you, even although it is as imperfectly as I do it, but
that you either gather yourselves into an attitude of resistance, or,
at least, of mere indifference till the flow of the sermon's words is
done; or else open your hearts to His mercy and His grace.

Oh, dear brethren, will you take this lesson of the last part of my
text, that nothing so tends to harden a man's heart to the gospel of
Jesus Christ as religious formalism? If Jesus Christ were to come in
here now, and stand where I am standing, and look round about upon
this congregation, I wonder how many a highly respectable and
perfectly proper man and woman, church and chapel-goer, who keeps the
Sabbath day, He would find on whom He had to look with grief not
unmingled with anger, because they were hardening their hearts against
Him now. I am sure there are some of such among my present audience. I
am sure there are some of you about whom it is true that 'the
publicans and the harlots will go into the Kingdom of God before you,'
because in their degradation they may be nearer the lowly penitence
and the consciousness of their own misery and need, which will open
their eyes to see the beauty and the preciousness of Jesus Christ.

Dear brother, let no reliance upon any external attention to religious
ordinances; no interest, born of long habit of hearing sermons; no
trust in the fact of your being communicants, blind you to this, that
all these things may come between you and your Saviour, and so may
take you away into the outermost darkness.

Dear brother or sister, you are a sinner. 'The God in whose hand thy
breath is, and whose are all thy ways, thou hast not glorified.' You
have forgotten Him; you have lived to please yourselves. I charge you
with nothing criminal, with nothing gross or sensual; I know nothing
about you in such matters; but I know this--that you have a heart like
mine, that we have all of us the one character, and that we all need
the one gospel of that Saviour 'who bare our sins in His own body on
the tree,' and died that whosoever trusts in Him may live here and
yonder. I beseech you, harden not your hearts, but to-day hear His
voice, and remember the solemn words which not I, but the Apostle of
Love, has spoken: 'He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life,
he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God
abideth upon him.' Flee to that sorrowing and dying Saviour, and take
the cleansing which He gives, that you may be safe on the sure
foundation when God shall arise to do His strange work of judgment,
and may never know the awful meaning of that solemn word--'the wrath
of the Lamb.'



AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST


'And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the
Herodlans against Him, how they might destroy Him. 7. But Jesus
withdrew Himself with His disciples to the sea: and a great multitude
from Galilee followed Him, and from Judæa 8. And from Jerusalem, and
from Idumæa beyond Jordan; and they about Tyre and Sidon, a great
multitude, when they had heard what great things He did, came unto
Him. 9. And He spake to His disciples, that a small ship should wait
on Him because of the multitude, lest they should throng Him. 10. For
he had healed many; insomuch that they pressed upon Him for to touch
Him, as many as had plagues. 11. And unclean spirits, when they saw
Him, fell down before Him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God.
12. And He straitly charged them that they should not make Him known.
13. And He goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto Him whom He
would: and they came unto Him. 14. And He ordained twelve, that they
should be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach, 15.
And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils: 16. And
Simon He surnamed Peter; 17. And James the son of Zebedee, and John
the brother of James; and He surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The
sons of thunder: 18. And Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and
Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphæus Thaddæus Simon the
Canaanite, 19. And Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed Him: and they
went into an house.'--Mark iii. 6-19.

A common object of hatred cements antagonists into strange alliance.
Hawks and kites join in assailing a dove. Pharisees and Herod's
partisans were antipodes; the latter must have parted with all their
patriotism and much of their religion, but both parties were ready to
sink their differences in order to get rid of Jesus, whom they
instinctively felt to threaten destruction to them both. Such
alliances of mutually repellent partisans against Christ's cause are
not out of date yet. Extremes join forces against what stands in the
middle between them.

Jesus withdrew from the danger which was preparing, not from selfish
desire to preserve life, but because His 'hour' was not yet come.
Discretion is sometimes the better part of valour. To avoid peril is
right, to fly from duty is not. There are times when Luther's 'Here I
stand; I can do nothing else; God help me! Amen,' must be our motto;
and there are times when the persecuted in one city are bound to flee
to another. We shall best learn to distinguish between these times by
keeping close to Jesus.

But side by side with official hatred, and in some measure the cause
of it, was a surging rush of popular enthusiasm. Pharisees took
offence at Christ's breaches of law in his Sabbath miracles. The crowd
gaped at the wonders, and grasped at the possibility of cures for
their afflicted. Neither party in the least saw below the surface.
Mark describes two 'multitudes'--one made up of Galileans who, he
accurately says, 'followed Him'; while the other 'came to Him' from
further afield. Note the geographical order in the list: the southern
country of Judea, and the capital; then the trans-Jordanic territories
beginning with Idumea in the south, and coming northward to Perea; and
then the north-west bordering lands of Tyre and Sidon. Thus three
parts of a circle round Galilee as centre are described. Observe,
also, how turbid and impure the full stream of popular enthusiasm was.

Christ's gracious, searching, illuminating words had no attraction for
the multitude. 'The great things He _did_' drew them with idle
curiosity or desire for bodily healing. Still more impure was the
motive which impelled the 'evil spirits' to approach Him, drawn by a
strange fascination to gaze on Him whom they knew to be their
conqueror, and hated as the Son of God. Terror and malice drove them
to His presence, and wrung from them acknowledgment of His supremacy.
What intenser pain can any hell have than the clear recognition of
Christ's character and power, coupled with fiercely obstinate and
utterly vain rebellion against Him?

Note, further, our Lord's recoil from the tumult. He had retired
before cunning plotters; He withdrew from gaping admirers, who did not
know what they were crowding to, nor cared for His best gifts. It was
no fastidious shrinking from low natures, nor any selfish wish for
repose, that made Him take refuge in the fisherman's little boat. But
His action teaches us a lesson that the best Christian work is
hindered rather than helped by the 'popularity' which dazzles many,
and is often mistaken for success. Christ's motive for seeking to
check rather than to stimulate such impure admiration, was that it
would certainly increase the rulers' antagonism, and might even excite
the attention of the Roman authorities, who had to keep a very sharp
outlook for agitations among their turbulent subjects. Therefore
Christ first took to the boat, and then withdrew into the hills above
the lake.

In that seclusion He summoned to Him a small nucleus, as it would
appear, by individual selection. These would be such of the
'multitude' as He had discerned to be humble souls who yearned for
deliverance from worse than outward diseases or bondage, and who
therefore waited for a Messiah who was more than a physician or a
patriot warrior. A personal call and a personal yielding make true
disciples. Happy we if our history can be summed up in 'He called them
unto Him, and they came.' But there was an election within the chosen
circle.

The choice of the Twelve marks an epoch in the development of Christ's
work, and was occasioned, at this point of time, by both the currents
which we find running so strong at this point in it. Precisely because
Pharisaic hatred was becoming so threatening, and popular enthusiasm
was opening opportunities which He singly could not utilise, He felt
His need both for companions and for messengers. Therefore He
surrounded Himself with that inner circle, and did it then, The
appointment of the Apostles has been treated by some as a masterpiece
of organisation, which largely contributed to the progress of
Christianity, and by others as an endowment of the Twelve with
supernatural powers which are transmitted on certain outward
conditions to their successors, and thereby give effect to sacraments,
and are the legitimate channels for grace. But if we take Mark's
statement of their function, our view will be much simpler. The number
of twelve distinctly alludes to the tribes of Israel, and implies that
the new community is to be the true people of God.

The Apostles were chosen for two ends, of which the former was
preparatory to the latter. The latter was the more important and
permanent, and hence gave the office its name. They were to be 'with
Christ,' and we may fairly suppose that He wished that companionship
for His own sake as well as for theirs. No doubt, the primary purpose
was their training for their being sent forth to preach. But no doubt,
also, the lonely Christ craved for companions, and was strengthened
and soothed by even the imperfect sympathy and unintelligent love of
these humble adherents. Who can fail to hear tones which reveal how
much He hungered for companions in His grateful acknowledgment, 'Ye
are they which have continued with Me in My temptations'? It still
remains true that we must be 'with Christ' much and long before we can
go forth as His messengers.

Note, too, that the miracle-working power comes last as least
important. Peter had understood his office better than some of his
alleged successors, when he made its qualification to be having been
with Jesus during His life, and its office to be that of being
witnesses of His resurrection (Acts i.).

The list of the Apostles presents many interesting points, at which we
can only glance. If compared with the lists in the other Gospels and
in Acts, it brings out clearly the division into three groups of four
persons each. The order in which the four are named varies within the
limits of each group; but none of the first four are ever in the lists
degraded to the second or third group, and none of these are ever
promoted beyond their own class. So there were apparently degrees
among the Twelve, depending, no doubt, on spiritual receptivity, each
man being as close to the Lord, and gifted with as much of the
sunshine of His love, as he was fit for.

Further, their places in relation to each other vary. The first four
are always first, and Peter is always at their head; but in Matthew
and Luke, the pairs of brothers are kept together, while, in Mark,
Andrew is parted from his brother Simon, and put last of the first
four. That place indicates the closer relation of the other three to
Jesus, of which several instances will occur to every one. But Mark
puts James before John, and his list evidently reflects the memory of
the original superiority of James as probably the elder. There was a
time when John was known as 'James's brother.' But the time came, as
Acts shows, when John took precedence, and was closely linked with
Peter as the two leaders. So the ties of kindred may be loosened, and
new bonds of fellowship created by similarity of relation to Jesus. In
His kingdom, the elder may fall behind the younger. Rank in it depends
on likeness to the king.

The surname of Boanerges, 'Sons of Thunder,' given to the brothers,
can scarcely be supposed to commemorate a characteristic prior to
discipleship. Christ does not perpetuate old faults in his servants'
new names. It must rather refer to excellences which were heightened
and hallowed in them by following Jesus. Probably, therefore, it
points to a certain majesty of utterance. Do we not hear the boom of
thunder-peals in the prologue to John's Gospel, perhaps the grandest
words ever written?

In the second quartet, Bartholomew is probably Nathanael; and, if so,
his conjunction with Philip is an interesting coincidence with John i.
45, which tells that Philip brought him to Jesus. All three Gospels
put the two names together, as if the two men had kept up their
association; but, in Acts, Thomas takes precedence of Bartholomew, as
if a closer spiritual relationship had by degrees sprung up between
Philip, the leader of the second group, and Thomas, which slackened
the old bond. Note that these two, who are coupled in Acts, are two of
the interlocutors in the final discourses in the upper room (John
xiv.). Mark, like Luke, puts Matthew before Thomas; but Matthew puts
himself last, and adds his designation of 'publican,'--a beautiful
example of humility.

The last group contains names which have given commentators trouble. I
am not called on to discuss the question of the identity of the James
who is one of its members. Thaddeus is by Luke called Judas, both in
his Gospel and in the Acts; and by Matthew, according to one reading,
Lebbaeus. Both names are probably surnames, the former being probably
derived from a word meaning _breast_, and the latter from one
signifying _heart_. They seem, therefore, to be nearly equivalent, and
may express large-heartedness.

Simon 'the Canaanite' (Auth. Ver.) is properly 'the Cananæan' (Rev.
Ver.). There was no alien in blood among the Twelve. The name is a
late Aramaic word meaning _zealot_. Hence Luke translates it for
Gentile readers. He was one of the fanatical sect who would not have
anything to do with Rome, and who played such a terrible part in the
final catastrophe of Israel. The baser elements were purged out of his
fiery enthusiasm when he became Christ's man. The hallowing and
curbing of earthly passion, the ennobling of enthusiasm, are achieved
when the pure flame of love to Christ burns up their dross.

Judas Iscariot closes the list, cold and venomous as a snake.
Enthusiasm in him there was none. The problem of his character is too
complex to be entered on here. But we may lay to heart the warning
that, if a man is not knit to Christ by heart's love and obedience,
the more he comes into contact with Jesus the more will he recoil from
Him, till at last he is borne away by a passion of detestation. Christ
is either a sure foundation or a stone of stumbling.



'HE IS BESIDE HIMSELF'


'And when His friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on Him:
for they said, He is beside Himself'--Mark iii. 21.

There had been great excitement in the little town of Capernaum in
consequence of Christ's teachings and miracles. It had been
intensified by His infractions of the Rabbinical Sabbath law, and by
His appointment of the twelve Apostles. The sacerdotal party in
Capernaum apparently communicated with Jerusalem, with the result of
bringing a deputation from the Sanhedrim to look into things, and see
what this new rabbi was about. A plot for His assassination was
secretly on foot. And at this juncture the incident of my text, which
we owe to Mark alone of the Evangelists, occurs. Christ's friends,
apparently the members of His own family--sad to say, as would appear
from the context, including His mother--came with a kindly design to
rescue their misguided kinsman from danger, and laying hands upon Him,
to carry Him off to some safe restraint in Nazareth, where He might
indulge His delusions without doing any harm to Himself. They wish to
excuse His eccentricities on the ground that He is not quite
responsible--scarcely Himself; and so to blunt the point of the more
hostile explanation of the Pharisees that He is in league with
Beelzebub.

Conceive of that! The Incarnate Wisdom shielded by friends from the
accusation that He is a demoniac by the apology that He is a lunatic!
What do you think of popular judgment?

But this half-pitying, half-contemptuous, and wholly benevolent excuse
for Jesus, though it be the words of friends, is like the words of His
enemies, in that it contains a distorted reflection of His true
character. And if we will think about it, I fancy that we may gather
from it some lessons not altogether unprofitable.

I. The first point, then, that I make, is just this--there was
something in the character of Jesus Christ which could be plausibly
explained to commonplace people as madness.

A well-known modern author has talked a great deal about 'the sweet
reasonableness of Jesus Christ.' His contemporaries called it simple
insanity; if they did not say 'He hath a devil,' as well as 'He is
mad.'

Now, if we try to throw ourselves back to the life of Jesus Christ, as
it was unfolded day by day, and think nothing about either what
preceded in the revelation of the Old Covenant, or what followed in
the history of Christianity, we shall not be so much at a loss to
account for such explanations of it as these of my text. Remember that
charges like these, in all various keys of contempt or of pity, or of
fierce hostility, have been cast against all innovators, against every
man that has broken a new path; against all teachers that have cut
themselves apart from tradition and encrusted formulas; against every
man that has waged war with the conventionalisms of society; against
all idealists who have dreamed dreams and seen visions; against every
man that has been touched with a lofty enthusiasm of any sort; and,
most of all, against all to whom God and their relations to Him, the
spiritual world and their relations to it, the future life and their
relations to that, have become dominant forces and motives in their
lives.

The short and easy way with which the world excuses itself from the
poignant lessons and rebukes which come from such lives is something
like that of my text, 'He is beside himself.' And the proof that he is
beside himself is that he does not act in the same fashion as these
incomparably wise people that make up the majority in every age. There
is nothing that commonplace men hate like anything fresh and original.
There is nothing that men of low aims are so utterly bewildered to
understand, and which so completely passes all the calculus of which
they are masters, as lofty self-abnegation. And wherever you get men
smitten with such, or with anything like it, you will find all the
low-aimed people gathering round them like bats round a torch in a
cavern, flapping their obscene wings and uttering their harsh croaks,
and only desiring to quench the light.

One of our cynical authors says that it is the mark of a genius that
all the dullards are against him. It is the mark of the man who dwells
with God that all the people whose portion is in this life with one
consent say, 'He is beside himself.'

And so the Leader of them all was served in His day; and that purest,
perfectest, noblest, loftiest, most utterly self-oblivious, and
God-and-man-devoted life that ever was lived upon earth, was disposed
of in this extremely simple method, so comforting to the complacency
of the critics--either 'He is beside Himself,' or 'He hath a devil.'

And yet, is not the saying a witness to the presence in that wondrous
and gentle career of an element entirely unlike what exists in the
most of mankind? Here was a new star in the heavens, and the law of
its orbit was manifestly different from that of all the rest. That is
what 'eccentric' means--that the life to which it applies does not
move round the same centre as do the other satellites, but has a path
of its own. Away out yonder somewhere, in the infinite depths, lay the
hidden point which drew it to itself and determined its magnificent
and overwhelmingly vast orbit. These men witness to Jesus Christ, even
by their half excuse, half reproach, that His was a life unique and
inexplicable by the ordinary motives which shape the little lives of
the masses of mankind. They witness to His entire neglect of ordinary
and low aims; to His complete absorption in lofty purposes, which to
His purblind would-be critics seem to be delusions and fond
imaginations that could never be realised. They witness to what His
disciples remembered had been written of Him, 'The zeal of Thy house
hath eaten Me up'; to His perfect devotion to man and to God. They
witness to His consciousness of a mission; and there is nothing that
men are so ready to resent as that. To tell a world, engrossed in self
and low aims, that one is sent from God to do His will, and to spread
it among men, is the sure way to have all the heavy artillery and the
lighter weapons of the world turned against one.

These characteristics of Jesus seem then to be plainly implied in that
allegation of insanity--lofty aims, absolute originality, utter
self-abnegation, the continual consciousness of communion with God,
devotion to the service of man, and the sense of being sent by God for
the salvation of the world. It was because of these that His friends
said, 'He is beside Himself.'

These men judged themselves by judging Jesus Christ. And all men do.
There are as many different estimates of a great man as there are
people to estimate, and hence the diversity of opinion about all the
characters that fill history and the galleries of the past. The eye
sees what it brings and no more. To discern the greatness of a great
man, or the goodness of a good one, is to possess, in lower measure,
some portion of that which we discern. Sympathy is the condition of
insight into character. And so our Lord said once, 'He that receiveth
a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward,'
because he is a dumb prophet himself, and has a lower power of the
same gift in him, which is eloquent on the prophet's lips.

In like manner, to discern what is in Christ is the test of whether
there is any of it in myself. And thus it is no mere arbitrary
appointment which suspends your salvation and mine on our answer to
this question, 'What think ye of Christ?' The answer will be--I was
going to say--the elixir of our whole moral and spiritual nature. It
will be the outcome of our inmost selves. This ploughshare turns up
the depths of the soil. That is eternally true which the grey-bearded
Simeon, the representative of the Old, said when he took the Infant in
his arms and looked down upon the unconscious, placid, smooth face.
'This Child is set for the rise and fall of many in Israel, that the
thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.' Your answer to that question
discloses your whole spiritual condition and capacities. And so to
judge Christ is to be judged by Him; and what we think Him to be, that
we make Him to ourselves. The question which tests us is not merely,
'Whom do men say that I am?' It is easy to answer that; but this is
the all-important interrogation, 'Whom do _ye_ say that I am?' I pray
that we may each answer as he to whom it was first put answered it,
'Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel!'

II. Secondly, mark the similarity of the estimate which will be passed
by the world on all Christ's true followers.

The same elements exist to-day, the same intolerance of anything
higher than the low level, the same incapacity to comprehend simple
devotion and lofty aims, the same dislike of a man who comes and
rebukes by his silent presence the vices in which he takes no part.
And it is a great deal easier to say, 'Poor fool! enthusiastic
fanatic!' than it is to lay to heart the lesson that lies in such a
life.

The one thing, or at least the principal thing, which the Christianity
of this generation wants is a little more of this madness. It would be
a great deal better for us who call ourselves Christians if we had
earned and deserved the world's sneer, 'He is beside himself.' But our
modern Christianity, like an epicure's rare wines, is preferred iced.
And the last thing that anybody would think of suggesting in
connection with the demeanour--either the conduct or the words--of the
average Christian man of this day is that his religion had touched his
brain a little.

But, dear friends, go in Christ's footsteps and you will have the same
missiles flung at you. If a church or an individual has earned the
praise of the outside ring of godless people because its or his
religion is 'reasonable and moderate; and kept in its proper place;
and not allowed to interfere with social enjoyments, and political and
municipal corruptions,' and the like, then there is much reason to ask
whether that church or man is Christian after Christ's pattern. Oh, I
pray that there may come down on the professing Church of this
generation a baptism of the Spirit; and I am quite sure that when that
comes, the people that admire moderation and approve of religion, but
like it to be 'kept in its own place,' will be all ready to say, when
they hear the 'sons and the daughters prophesying, and the old men
seeing visions, and the young men dreaming dreams,' and the fiery
tongues uttering their praises of God, 'These men are full of new
wine!' Would we _were_ full of the new wine of the Spirit! Do you
think any one would say of your religion that you were 'beside
yourself,' because you made so much of it? They said it about your
Master, and if you were like Him it would be said, in one tone or
another, about you. We are all desperately afraid of enthusiasm
to-day. It seems to me that it is _the_ want of the Christian Church,
and that we are not enthusiastic because we don't half believe the
truths that we say are our creed.

One more word. Christian men and women have to make up their minds to
go on in the path of devotion, conformity to Christ's pattern,
self-sacrificing surrender, without minding one bit what is said about
them. Brethren, I do not think Christian people are in half as much
danger of dropping the standard of the Christian life by reason of the
sarcasms of the world, as they are by reason of the low tone of the
Church. Don't you take your ideas of what a reasonable Christian life
is from the men round you, howsoever they may profess to be Christ's
followers. And let us keep so near the Master that we may be able to
say, 'With me it is a very small matter to be judged of you, or of
man's judgment. He that judgeth me is the Lord.' Never mind, though
they say, 'Beside himself!' Never mind, though they say, 'Oh! utterly
extravagant and impracticable.' Better that than to be patted on the
back by a world that likes nothing so well as a Church with its teeth
drawn, and its claws cut; which may be made a plaything and an
ornament by the world. And that is what much of our modern
Christianity has come to be.

III. Lastly, notice the sanity of the insane.

I have only space to put before you three little pictures, and ask you
what you think of them. I dare say the originals might be found among
us without much search.

Here is one. Suppose a man who, like the most of us, believes that
there is a God, believes that he has something to do with Him,
believes that he is going to die, believes that the future state is,
in some way or other, and in some degree, one of retribution; and from
Monday morning to Saturday night he ignores all these facts, and never
allows them to influence one of his actions. May I venture to speak
direct to this hypothetical person, whose originals are dotted about
in my audience? It would be the very same to you if you said 'No'
instead of 'Yes' to all these affirmations. The fact that there is a
God does not make a bit of difference to what you do, or what you
think, or what you feel. The fact that there is a future life makes
just as little difference. You are going on a voyage next week, and
you never dream of getting your outfit. You believe all these things,
you are an intelligent man--you are very likely, in a great many ways,
a very amiable and pleasant one; you do many things very well; you
cultivate congenial virtues, and you abhor uncongenial vices; but you
never think about God; and you have made absolutely no preparation
whatever for stepping into the scene in which you know that you are to
live.

Well, you may be a very wise man, a student with high aims, cultivated
understanding, and all the rest of it. I want to know whether, taking
into account all that you are, and your inevitable connection with
God, and your certain death and certain life in a state of
retribution--I want to know whether we should call your conduct sanity
or insanity? Which?

Take another picture. Here is a man that believes--really
believes--the articles of the Christian creed, and in some measure has
received them into his heart and life. He believes that Jesus Christ,
the Son of God, died for him upon the Cross, and yet his heart has but
the feeblest tick of pulsating love in answer. He believes that prayer
will help a man in all circumstances, and yet he hardly ever prays. He
believes that self-denial is the law of the Christian life, and yet he
lives for himself. He believes that he is here as a 'pilgrim' and as a
'sojourner,' and yet his heart clings to the world, and his hand would
fain cling to it, like that of a drowning man swept over Niagara, and
catching at anything on the banks. He believes that he is sent into
the world to be a 'light' of the world, and yet from out of his
self-absorbed life there has hardly ever come one sparkle of light
into any dark heart. And that is a picture, not exaggerated, of the
enormous majority of professing Christians in so-called Christian
lands. And I want to know whether we shall call that sanity or
insanity?

The last of my little miniatures is that of a man who keeps in close
touch with Jesus Christ, and so, like Him, can say, 'Lo! I come; I
delight to do Thy will, O Lord. Thy law is within my heart.' He yields
to the strong motives and principles that flow from the Cross of Jesus
Christ, and, drawn by the 'mercies of God,' gives himself a 'living
sacrifice' to be used as God will. Aims as lofty as the Throne which
Christ His Brother fills; sacrifice as entire as that on which his
trembling hope relies; realisation of the unseen future as vivid and
clear as His who could say that He was '_in_ Heaven' whilst He walked
the earth; subjugation of self as complete as that of the Lord's, who
pleased not Himself, and came not to do His own will--these are some
of the characteristics which mark the true disciple of Jesus Christ.
And I want to know whether the conduct of the man who believes in the
love that God hath to him, as manifested in the Cross, and surrenders
his whole self thereto, despising the world and living for God, for
Christ, for man, for eternity--whether his conduct is insanity or
sanity? 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.'



THE MISTAKES OF CHRIST'S FOES AND FRIENDS


'And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath
Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth He out devils. 23.
And He called them unto Him, and said unto them in parables, How can
Satan cast out Satan? 24. And if a kingdom be divided against itself,
that kingdom cannot stand. 25. And if a house be divided against
itself, that house cannot stand. 26. And if Satan rise up against
himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. 27. No man
can enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he
will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house. 28.
Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of
men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: 29. But he
that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness,
but is in danger of eternal damnation: 30. Because they said, He hath
an unclean spirit. 31. There came then His brethren and His mother,
and, standing without, sent unto Him, calling Him. 32. And the
multitude sat about Him, and they said unto Him, Behold, Thy mother
and Thy brethren without seek for Thee. 33. And He answered them,
saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? 34. And He looked round
about on them which sat about Him, and said, Behold My mother and My
brethren! 35. For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is My
brother, and My sister, and mother.'--Mark iii. 22-35.

We have in this passage three parts,--the outrageous official
explanation of Christ and His works, the Lord's own solution of His
miracles, and His relatives' well-meant attempt to secure Him, with
His answer to it.

I. The scribes, like Christ's other critics, judged themselves in
judging Him, and bore witness to the truths which they were eager to
deny. Their explanation would be ludicrous, if it were not dreadful.
Mark that it distinctly admits His miracles. It is not fashionable at
present to attach much weight to the fact that none of Christ's
enemies ever doubted these. Of course, the credence of men, in an age
which believed in the possibility of the supernatural, is more easy,
and their testimony less cogent, than that of a jury of
twentieth-century scientific sceptics. But the expectation of miracle
had been dead for centuries when Christ came; and at first, at all
events, no anticipation that He would work them made it easier to
believe that He did.

It would have been a sure way of exploding His pretensions, if the
officials could have shown that His miracles were tricks. Not without
weight is the attestation from the foe that 'this man casteth out
demons.' The preposterous explanation that He cast out demons by
Beelzebub, is the very last resort of hatred so deep that it will
father an absurdity rather than accept the truth. It witnesses to the
inefficiency of explanations of Him which omit the supernatural. The
scribes recognised that here was a man who was in touch with the
unseen. They fell back upon 'by Beelzebub,' and thereby admitted that
humanity, without seeing something more at the back of it, never made
such a man as Jesus.

It is very easy to solve an insoluble problem, if you begin by taking
the insoluble elements out of it. That is how a great many modern
attempts to account for Christianity go to work. Knock out the
miracles, waive Christ's own claims as mistaken reports, declare His
resurrection to be entirely unhistorical, and the remainder will be
easily accounted for, and not worth accounting for. But the whole life
of the Christ of the Gospels is adequately explained by no explanation
which leaves out His coming forth from the Father, and His exercise of
powers above those of humanity and 'nature.'

This explanation is an instance of the credulity of unbelief. It is
more difficult to believe the explanation than the alternative which
it is framed to escape. If like produces like, Christ cannot be
explained by anything but the admission of His divine nature.
Serpents' eggs do not hatch out into doves. The difficulties of faith
are 'gnats' beside the 'camels' which unbelief has to swallow.

II. The true explanation of Christ's power over demoniacs. Jesus has
no difficulty in putting aside the absurd theory that, in destroying
the kingdom of evil, He was a servant of evil and its dark ruler.
Common-sense says, If Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against
himself, and his kingdom cannot stand. An old play is entitled, 'The
Devil is an Ass,' but he is not such an ass as to fight against
himself. As the proverb has it, 'Hawks do not pick out hawks' eyes.'

It would carry us too far to deal at length with the declarations of
our Lord here, which throw a dim light into the dark world of
supernatural evil. His words are far too solemn and didactic to be
taken as accommodations to popular prejudice, or as mere metaphor. Is
it not strange that people will believe in spiritual communications,
when they are vouched for by a newspaper editor, more readily than
when Christ asserts their reality? Is it not strange that scientists,
who find difficulty in the importance which Christianity attaches to
man in the plan of the universe, and will not believe that all its
starry orbs were built for him (which Christianity does not allege),
should be incredulous of teachings which reveal a crowd of higher
intelligences?

Jesus not only tests the futile explanation by common-sense, but goes
on to suggest the true one. He accepts the belief that there is a
'prince of the demons.' He regards the souls of men who have not
yielded themselves to God as His 'goods.' He declares that the lord of
the house must be bound before his property can be taken from him. We
cannot stay to enlarge on the solemn view of the condition of
unredeemed men thus given. Let us not put it lightly away. But we must
note how deep into the centre of Christ's work this teaching leads us.
Translated into plain language it just means that Christ by
incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and present work
from the throne, has broken the power of evil in its central hold. He
has crushed the serpent's head, his heel is firmly planted on it, and,
though the reptile may still 'swinge the scaly horror of his folded
tail,' it is but the dying flurries of the creature. He was manifested
'that He might destroy the works of the devil.'

No trace of indignation can be detected in Christ's answer to the
hideous charge. But His patient heart overflows in pity for the
reckless slanderers, and He warns them that they are coming near the
edge of a precipice. Their malicious blindness is hurrying them
towards a sin which hath never forgiveness. Blasphemy is, in form,
injurious speaking, and in essence, it is scorn or malignant
antagonism. The Holy Spirit is the divine agent in revealing God's
heart and will. To blaspheme Him is 'the external symptom of a heart
so radically and finally set against God that no power which God can
consistently use will ever save it.' 'The sin, therefore, can only be
the culmination of a long course of self-hardening and depraving.' It
is unforgivable, because the soul which can recognise God's revelation
of Himself in all His goodness and moral perfection, and be stirred
only to hatred thereby, has reached a dreadful climax of hardness, and
has ceased to be capable of being influenced by His beseeching. It has
passed beyond the possibility of penitence and acceptance of
forgiveness. The sin is unforgiven, because the sinner is fixed in
impenitence, and his stiffened will cannot bow to receive pardon.

The true reason why that sin has never forgiveness is suggested by the
accurate rendering, 'Is guilty of an eternal sin' (R.V.). Since the
sin is eternal, the forgiveness is impossible. Practically hardened
and permanent unbelief, conjoined with malicious hatred of the only
means of forgiveness, is the unforgivable sin. Much torture of heart
would have been saved if it had been observed that the Scripture
expression is not _sin_, but _blasphemy_. Fear that it has been
committed is proof positive that it has not; for, if it have been,
there will be no relenting in enmity, nor any wish for deliverance.

But let not the terrible picture of the depths of impenitence to which
a soul may fall, obscure the blessed universality of the declaration
from Christ's lips which preludes it, and declares that all sin but
the sin of not desiring pardon is pardoned. No matter how deep the
stain, no matter how inveterate the habit, whosoever will can come and
be sure of pardon.

III. The attempt of Christ's relatives to withdraw Him from publicity,
and His reply to it. Verse 21 tells us that His kindred sent out to
lay hold on Him; for they thought Him beside Himself. He was to be
shielded from the crowd of followers, and from the plots of scribes,
by being kept at home and treated as a harmless lunatic. Think of
Jesus defended from the imputation of being in league with Beelzebub
by the excuse that He was mad! This visit of His mother and brethren
must be connected with their plan to lay hold on Him, in order to
apprehend rightly Christ's answer. If they did not mean to use
violence, why should they have tried to get Him away from the crowd of
followers, by a message, when they could have reached Him as easily as
it did? He knew the snare laid for Him, and puts it aside without
shaming its contrivers. With a wonderful blending of dignity and
tenderness, He turns from kinsmen who were not akin, to draw closer to
Himself, and pour His love over, those who do the will of God.

The test of relationship with Jesus is obedience to His Father. Christ
is not laying down the means of becoming His kinsmen, but the tokens
that we are such. He is sometimes misunderstood as saying, 'Do God's
will without My help, and ye will become My kindred.' What He really
says is, 'If ye are My kindred, you will do God's will; and if you do,
you will show that you are such.' So the statement that we become His
kindred by faith does not conflict with this great saying. The two
take hold of the Christian life at different points: the one deals
with the means of its origination, the other with the tokens of its
reality. Faith is the root of obedience, obedience is the blossom of
faith. Jesus does not stand like a stranger till we have hammered out
obedience to His Father, and then reward us by welcoming us as His
brethren, but He answers our faith by giving us a life kindred with,
because derived from, His own, and then we can obey.

It is active submission to God's will, not orthodox creed or devout
emotion, which shows that we are His blood relations. By such
obedience, we draw His love more and more to us. Though it is not the
means of attaining to kinship with Him, it _is_ the condition of
receiving love-tokens from Him, and of increasing affinity with Him.

That relationship includes and surpasses all earthly ones. Each
obedient man is, as it were, all three,--mother, sister, and brother.
Of course the enumeration had reference to the members of the waiting
group, but the remarkable expression has deep truth in it. Christ's
relation to the soul covers all various sweetnesses of earthly bonds,
and is spoken of in terms of many of them. He is the bridegroom, the
brother, the companion, and friend. All the scattered fragrances of
these are united and surpassed in the transcendent and ineffable union
of the soul with Jesus. Every lonely heart may find in Him what it
most needs, and perhaps is bleeding away its life for the loss or want
of. To many a weeping mother He has said, pointing to Himself, 'Woman,
behold thy son'; to many an orphan He has whispered, revealing His own
love, 'Son, behold thy mother.'

All earthly bonds are honoured most when they are woven into crowns
for His head; all human love is then sweetest when it is as a tiny
mirror in which the great Sun is reflected. Christ is husband,
brother, sister, friend, lover, mother, and more than all which these
sacred names designate,--even Saviour and life. If His blood is in our
veins, and His spirit is the spirit of our lives, we shall do the will
of His and our Father in heaven.



CHRIST'S KINDRED


'There came then His brethren and His mother, and, standing without,
sent unto Him, calling Him. 32. And the multitude sat about Him; and
they said unto Him, Behold, Thy mother and Thy brethren without seek
for Thee. 33. And He answered them, saying, Who is My mother, or My
brethren? 34. And He looked round about on them which sat about Him,
and said, Behold My mother and My brethren! 35. For whosoever shall do
the will of God, the same is My brother, and My sister, and
mother.'--Mark iii. 31-35.

We learn from an earlier part of this chapter, and from it only, the
significance of this visit of Christ's brethren and mother. It was
prompted by the belief that 'He was beside Himself,' and they meant to
lay hands on Him, possibly with a kindly wish to save Him from a worse
fate, but certainly to stop His activity. We do not know whether Mary
consented, in her mistaken maternal affection, to the scheme, or
whether she was brought unwillingly to give a colour to it, and
influence our Lord. The sinister purpose of the visit betrays itself
in the fact that the brethren did not present themselves before
Christ, but sent a messenger; although they could as easily have had
access to His presence as their messenger could. Apparently they
wished to get Him by Himself, so as to avoid the necessity of using
force against the force that His disciples would be likely to put
forth. Jesus knew their purpose, though they thought it was hidden
deep in the recesses of their breasts. And that falls in with a great
many other incidents which indicate His superhuman knowledge of 'the
thoughts and intents of the heart.'

But, however that may be, our Lord here, with a singular mixture of
dignity, tenderness, and decisiveness, puts aside the insidious snare
without shaming its contrivers, and turns from the kinsmen, with whom
He had no real bond, to draw closer to Himself, and pour out His love
over, those who do the will of His Father in heaven. His words go very
deep; let us try to gather some, at any rate, of the surface lessons
which they suggest.

I. First, then, the true token of blood relationship to Jesus Christ
is obedience to God.

'Whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is My brother, and My
sister, and mother.' Now I must not be betrayed into a digression from
my main purpose by dwelling upon what yet is worthy of notice--viz.,
the consciousness, on the part of Jesus Christ, which here is
evidently implied, that the doing of the will of God was the very
inmost secret of His own being. He was conscious, only and always, of
delighting to do the will of God. When, therefore, He found that
delight in others, there He recognised a bond of union between Him and
them.

We must carefully observe that these great words of our Lord are not
intended to describe the means by which men become His kinsfolk, but
the tokens that they are such. He is not saying--as superficial
readers sometimes run away with the notion that He is saying--'If a
man will, apart from Me, do the will of God, then he will become My
true kinsman,' but He is saying, 'If you are My kinsman, you will do
the will of God, and if you do it, you will show that you are related
to Myself.' In other words, He is not speaking about the means of
originating this relationship, but about the signs of its reality.
And, therefore, the words of my text need, for their full
understanding, and for placing them in due relation to all the rest of
Christ's teaching, to be laid side by side with other words of His,
such as these:--'Apart from Me ye can do nothing.' For the deepest
truth in regard to relationship to Jesus Christ and obedience is this,
that the way by which men are made able to do the will of God is by
receiving into themselves the very life-blood of Jesus Christ. The
relationship must precede the obedience, and the obedience is the
sign, because it is the sequel, of the relationship.

But far deeper down than mere affinity lies the true bond between us
and Christ, and the true means of performing the commandments of God.
There must be a passing over into us of His own life-spirit. By His
inhabiting our hearts, and moulding our wills, and being the life of
our lives and the soul of our souls, are we made able to do the
commandments of the Lord. And so, seeing that actual union with Jesus
Christ, and the reception into ourselves of His life, is the precedent
condition of all true obedience, then the more familiar form of
presenting the bond between Him and us, which runs through the New
Testament, falls into its proper place, and the faith, which is the
condition of receiving the life of Christ into our hearts, is at once
the affinity which makes us His kindred, and the means by which we
appropriate to ourselves the power of obedient submission and
conformity to the will of God. 'This is the work of God, that ye
believe on Him whom He hath sent.'

So, then, my text does not in the slightest degree contradict or
interfere with the great teaching that the one way by which we become
Christ's brethren is by trusting in Him. For the text and the doctrine
that faith unites us to Him take up the process at different stages:
the one pointing to the means of origination, the other to the tokens
of reality. Faith is the root, obedience is the flower and the fruit.
He that doeth the will of God, does it, not in order that he may
become, but because he already is, possessor of a blood-relationship
to Jesus Christ.

Then, notice, again, with what emphatic decisiveness our Lord here
takes simple, practical obedience in daily life, in little and in
great things, as the manifestation of being akin to Himself. Orthodoxy
is all very well; religious experiences, inward emotions, sweet,
precious, secret feelings and sentiments cannot be over-estimated.
External forms, whether of the more simple or of the more ornate and
sensuous kind, may be helps for the religious life; and are so in view
of the weaknesses that are always associated with it. But all these, a
true creed, a belief in the creed, the joyous and deep and secret
emotions that follow thereupon, and the participation in outward
services which may help to these, all these are but scaffolding: the
building is character and conduct conformed to the will of God.

Evangelical preachers, and those who in the main hold that faith, are
often charged with putting too little stress on practical homely
righteousness. I would that the charge had less substance in it. But
let me lay it upon your consciences, dear brethren, now, that no
amount of right credence, no amount of trust, nor of love and hope and
joy will avail to witness kindred to Christ. It must be the daily
life, in its efforts after conformity to the known will of God, in
great things and in small things, that attests the family resemblance.
If Christ's blood be in our veins, if 'the law of the spirit of life'
in Him is the law of the spirit of our lives, then these lives will
run parallel with His, in some visible measure, and we, too, shall be
able to say, 'Lo! I come. I delight to do Thy will; and Thy law is
within my heart.' Obedience is the test of relationship to Jesus.

Then, still further, note how, though we must emphatically dismiss the
mistake that we make our selves Christ's brethren and friends by
independent efforts after keeping the commandments, it is true that,
in the measure in which we do thus bend our wills to God's will,
whether in the way of action or of endurance, we realise more
blessedly and strongly the tie that binds us to the Lord, and as a
matter of fact do receive, in the measure of our obedience, sweet
tokens of union with Him, and of love in His heart to us. No man will
fully feel living contact with Jesus Christ if between Christ and him
there is a film of conscious and voluntary disobedience to the will of
God. The smallest crumb that can come in between two polished plates
will prevent their adherence. A trivial sin will slip your hand out of
Christ's hand; and though His love will still come and linger about
you, until the sin is put out it cannot enter in.

  'It can but listen at the gate,
  And hear the household jar within.'

'He that doeth the will of God, the same is'--and feels himself to
be--'My brother, and sister, and mother.'

II. This relationship includes all others.

That is a very singular form of expression which our Lord employs.
'Whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is My brother, and
sister, and mother.' We should have expected, seeing that He was
speaking about three different relationships, that He would have used
the plural verb, and said, 'The same are My brother, and sister, and
mother.' And I do not think that it is pedantic grammatical accuracy
to point out this remarkable form of speech, and even to venture to
draw a conclusion from it--viz., that what our Lord meant was, not
that if there were three people, of different sexes, and of different
ages, all doing the will of God, one of these sweet names of
relationship would apply to A, another to B, and the other to C; but
that to each who does the will of God, all the sweetnesses that are
hived in all the names, and in any other analogous ones that can be
uttered, belong. Of course the selection here of relationships
specified has reference to the composition of that group outside the
circle. But there is a great deal more than that in it. Whether you
accept the grammatical remark that I have made or no, we shall, at
least, I suppose, all agree in this, that, in fact, the bond of
kindred that unites a trusting obedient soul with Jesus Christ does in
itself include whatsoever of sweetness, of power, of protection, of
clinging trust, and of any other blessed emotion that makes a shadow
of Eden still upon earth, has ever been attached to human bonds.

Remember how many of these, Christ, and His servants for Him, have
laid their hands upon, and claimed to be His. 'Thy Maker is thy
husband'; 'He that hath the Bride is the bridegroom'; 'Go tell My
brethren'; 'I have not called you servants, but friends.' And if there
be any other sweet names, they belong to Him, and in His one pure,
all-sufficient love they are all enclosed. Fragmentary preciousnesses
are strewed about us. There is 'one pearl of great price.' Many
fragrances come from the flowers that grow on the dunghill of the
world, but they are all gathered in Him whose name is 'as ointment
poured forth,' filling the house with its fragrance.

For Christ is to us all that all separated lovers and friends can be.
And whatsoever our poor hearts may need most, of human affection and
sympathy, and may see least possibility of finding now, among the
incompletenesses and limitations of earth, that Jesus Christ is
waiting to be. All solitary souls and mourning hearts may turn
themselves to, and rest themselves on, these great words. And as they
look at the empty places in their circle, in their homes, and feel the
ache of the empty places in their hearts, they may hear His voice
saying, 'Behold My mother and My brethren.' He comes to us all in the
character that we need most. Just as the great ocean, when it flows in
amongst the land, takes the shape imposed upon it by the containing
banks of the loch, so Christ pours Himself into our hearts, and there
assumes the form that the outline of their emptiness tells we need
most. To many, in all generations, who have been weeping over departed
joys, He says again, though with a different application, turning not
away from but to Himself mourning eyes and hearts, 'Woman, behold thy
Son'--not on the cross nor in the grave, but on the throne--'Son,
behold Thy mother.'

III. Lastly, this relationship requires always the subordination, and
sometimes the sacrifice, of the lower ones.

We have to think of Christ here as Himself putting away the lower
claims, in order more fully to yield Himself to the higher. It was
because it would have been impossible for Him to do the will of His
Father if He had yielded to the purposes of His brethren and His
mother, that He steeled His heart and made solemn His tone in refusing
to go with them.

That group that had come for Him suggests to us the ways in which
earthly ties may limit heavenly obedience. In regard to them the
situation was complicated, because Jesus Christ was their kinsman
according to the flesh, and their Messiah, according to the spirit.
But in them their earthly love, and familiarity with Him, hid from
them His higher glory; and in them He found impediments to His true
consecration, and would-be thwarters of His highest work. And, in like
manner, all our earthly relationships may become means of obscuring to
us the transcendent brightness and greatness of Jesus Christ as our
Saviour And, in like manner as to Him these, His brethren, became
'stumbling blocks' that He had decisively to put behind Him, so in
regard to us 'a man's foes may be those of his own household'; and not
least his foes when they are most his idols, his comforts, and his
sweetnesses. If our earthly loves and relationships obscure to us the
face of Christ; if we find enough in them for our hearts, and go not
beyond them for our true love; if they make us negligent of duty; if
they bind us to the present; if they make us careless of that loftier
affection which alone can satisfy us; if they clog our steps in the
divine life, then they are our foes. They need to be always
subordinated, and, so subordinated, they are more precious than when
they are placed mistakenly foremost. They are better second than
first. They are full of sweetness when our hearts know a sweetness
surpassing theirs; they are robbed of their possible power to harm
when they are rigidly held in inferiority to the one absolute and
supreme love. There need be no collision--there will be no
collision--if the second is second and the first is first. But
sometimes beggars get upon horseback, and the crew mutinies and would
displace the commander, and then there is nothing for it but
sacrifice. 'If thy hand offend thee, cut it off and cast it from
thee.' 'I communed not with flesh and blood,' and we must not, if ever
they conflict with our supreme devotion to Jesus Christ.

These other things and relationships are precious to us, but He is
priceless. They are shadows, but He is the substance. They are brooks
by the way; He is the boundless, bottomless ocean of delights and
loves. Shall we not always subordinate--and sometimes, if needful,
sacrifice--the less to the greater? If we do, we shall get the less
back, greatened by its surrender. 'He that loveth father or mother
more than Me is not worthy of Me' commands the sacrifice. 'There is no
man that hath left brethren or sisters, or father or mother, or wife
or children, for My sake and the Gospel's, but he shall receive a
hundredfold _now_, in this time' promises the reward.



CHRIST'S RELATIONS


'Whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is My brother, and My
sister, and mother.'--Mark iii. 35.

There was a conspiracy to seize Jesus because He is 'mad,' and Mary
was in the plot!

I. The example for us.

(1) Of how all natural and human ties and affections are to be
subordinated to doing God's will.

Obedience to Him is the first and main thing to which everything else
bows, and which determines everything.

If others compete or interfere, reject them.

Out of that common obedience new ties are formed among men.

(2) Of how all these ties may be doubled in power and preciousness by
being based on that obedience.

II. The promise for us.

Of Christ's loving relationship in which He finds delight; in which He
sustains and transcends all these in His own proper person and to
each.



FOUR SOILS FOR ONE SEED


'And when He was alone, they that were about Him with the twelve asked
of Him the parable. 11. And He said unto them, Unto you it is given to
know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are
without, all these things are done in parables: 12. That seeing they
may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not
understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins
should be forgiven them. 13. And He said unto them, Know ye not this
parable? and how then will ye know all parables? 14. The sower soweth
the word. 15. And these are they by the way side, where the word is
sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh
away the word that was sown in their hearts. 16. And these are they
likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the
word, immediately receive it with gladness; 17. And have no root in
themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction
or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are
offended. 18. And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as
hear the word, 19. And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness
of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word,
and it becometh unfruitful. 20. And these are they which are sown on
good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth
fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.'--Mark iv.
10-20.

Dean Stanley and others have pointed out how the natural features of
the land round the lake of Gennesaret are reflected in the parable of
the sower. But we must go deeper than that to find its occasion. It
was not because Jesus may have seen a sower in a field which had these
three varieties of soil that He spoke, but because He saw the
frivolous crowd gathered to hear His words. The sad, grave description
of the threefold kinds of vainly-sown ground is the transcript of His
clear and sorrowful insight into the real worth of the enthusiasm of
the eager listeners on the beach. He was under no illusions about it;
and, in this parable, He seeks to warn His disciples against expecting
much from it, and to bring its subjects to a soberer estimate of what
His word required of them. The full force and pathos of the parable is
felt only when it is regarded as the expression of our Lord's keen
consciousness of His wasted words. This passage falls into two
parts--Christ's explanation of the reasons for His use of parables,
and His interpretation of the parable itself.

I. Christ was the centre of three circles: the outermost consisting of
the fluctuating masses of merely curious hearers; the second, of true
but somewhat loosely attached disciples, whom Mark here calls 'they
that were about Him'; and the innermost, the twelve. The two latter
appear, in our first verse, as asking further instruction as to 'the
parable,' a phrase which includes both parts of Christ's answer. The
statement of His reason for the use of parables is startling. It
sounds as if those who needed light most were to get least of it, and
as if the parabolic form was deliberately adopted for the express
purpose of hiding the truth. No wonder that men have shrunk from such
a thought, and tried to soften down the terrible words. Inasmuch as a
parable is the presentation of some spiritual truth under the guise of
an incident belonging to the material sphere, it follows, from its
very nature, that it may either reveal or hide the truth, and that it
will do the former to susceptible, and the latter to unsusceptible,
souls. The eye may either dwell upon the coloured glass or on the
light that streams through it; and, as is the case with all
revelations of spiritual realities through sensuous mediums, gross and
earthly hearts will not rise above the medium, which to them, by their
own fault, becomes a medium of obscuration, not of revelation. This
double aspect belongs to all revelation, which is both a 'savour of
life unto life and of death unto death.' It is most conspicuous in the
parable, which careless listeners may take for a mere story, and which
those who feel and see more deeply will apprehend in its depth. These
twofold effects are certain, and must therefore be embraced in
Christ's purpose; for we cannot suppose that issues of His teaching
escaped His foresight; and all must be regarded as part of His design.
But may we not draw a distinction between design and desire? The
primary purpose of all revelation is to reveal. If the only intention
were to hide, silence would secure that, and the parable were
needless. But if the twofold operation is intended, we can understand
how mercy and righteous retribution both preside over the use of
parables; how the thin veil hides that it may reveal, and how the very
obscurity may draw some grosser souls to a longer gaze, and so may
lead to a perception of the truth, which, in its purer form, they are
neither worthy nor capable of receiving. No doubt, our Lord here
announces a very solemn law, which runs through all the divine
dealings, 'To him that hath shall be given; and from him that hath
not, shall be taken away even that which he hath.'

II. We turn to the exposition of the parable of the sower, or rather
of the fourfold soils in which he sows the seed. A sentence at the
beginning disposes of the personality of the sower, which in Mark's
version does not refer exclusively to Christ, but includes all who
carry the word to men. The likening of 'the word' to seed needs no
explanation. The tiny, living nucleus of force, which is thrown
broadcast, and must sink underground in order to grow, which does
grow, and comes to light again in a form which fills the whole field
where it is sown, and nourishes life as well as supplies material for
another sowing, is the truest symbol of the truth in its working on
the spirit. The threefold causes of failure are arranged in
progressive order. At every stage of growth there are enemies. The
first sowing never gets into the ground at all; the second grows a
little, but its greenness soon withers; the third has a longer life,
and a yet sadder failure, because a nearer approach to fertility. The
types of character represented are unreceptive carelessness, emotional
facility of acceptance, and earthly-mindedness, scotched, but not
killed, by the word. The dangers which assault, but too successfully,
the seed are the personal activity of Satan, opposition from without,
and conflicting desires within. On all the soils the seed has been
sown by hand; for drills are modern inventions; and sowing broadcast
is the only right husbandry in Christ's field with Christ's seed. He
is a poor workman, and an unfaithful one, who wants to pick his
ground. Sow everywhere; 'Thou canst not tell which shall prosper,
whether this or that.' The character of the soil is not irrevocably
fixed; but the trodden path may be broken up to softness, and the
stony heart changed, and the soul filled with cares and lusts be
cleared, and any soil may become good ground. So the seed is to be
flung out broadcast; and prayer for seed and soil will often turn the
weeping sower into the joyous reaper.

The seed sown on the trodden footpath running across the field never
sinks below the surface. It lies there, and has no real contact, nor
any chance of growth. It must be in, not on, the ground, if its
mysterious power is to be put forth. A pebble is as likely to grow as
a seed, if both lie side by side, on the surface. Is not this the
description of a mournfully large proportion of hearers of God's
truth? It never gets deeper than their ears, or, at the most, effects
a shallow lodgment on the surface of their minds. So many feet pass
along the path, and beat it into hardness, that the truth has no
chance to take root. Habitual indifference to the gospel, masked by an
utterly unmeaning and unreal acceptance of it, and by equally habitual
decorous attendance on its preaching, is the condition of a dreadfully
large proportion of church-goers. Their very familiarity with the
truth robs it of all penetrating power. They know all about it, as
they suppose; and so they listen to it as they would to the clank of a
mill-wheel to which they were accustomed, missing its noise if it
stops, and liking to be sent to sleep by its hum. Familiar truth often
lies 'bedridden in the dormitory of the soul, beside exploded errors.'

And what comes of this idle hearing, without acceptance or obedience?
Truth which is common, and which a man supposes himself to believe,
without having ever reflected on it, or let it influence conduct, is
sure to die out. If we do not turn our beliefs into practice they will
not long be our beliefs. Neglected impressions fade; the seed is only
safe when it is buried. There are flocks of hungry, sharp-eyed,
quick-flying thieves ready to pounce down on every exposed grain. So
Mark uses here again his favourite 'straightway' to express the swift
disappearance of the seed. As soon as the preacher's voice is silent,
or the book closed, the words are forgotten. The impression of a
gliding keel on a smooth lake is not more evanescent.

The distinct reference to Satan as the agent in removing the seed is
not to be passed by lightly. Christ's words about demons have been
emptied of meaning by the allegation that He was only accommodating
Himself to the superstition of the times, but no explanation of that
sort will do in this case. He surely commits Himself here to the
assertion of the existence and agency of Satan; and surely those who
profess to receive His words as the truth ought not to make light of
them, in reference to so solemn and awe-inspiring a revelation.

The seed gets rather farther on the road to fruit in the second case.
A thin surface of mould above a shelf of rock is like a forcing-house
in hot countries. The stone keeps the heat and stimulates growth. The
very thing that prevents deep rooting facilitates rapid shooting. The
green spikelets will be above ground there long before they show in
deeper soil. There would be many such hearers in the 'very great
multitude' on the shore, who were attracted, they scarcely knew why,
and were the more enthusiastic the less they understood the real scope
of Christ's teaching. The disciple who pressed forward with his
excited and unasked 'Master, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou
goest!' was one of such--well-meaning, perfectly sincere, warmly
affected, and completely unreliable. Lightly come is lightly go. When
such people forsake their fervent purposes, and turn their backs on
what they have been so eagerly pursuing, they are quite consistent;
for they are obeying the uppermost impulse in both cases, and, as they
were easily drawn to follow without consideration, they are easily
driven back with as little. The first taste of supposed good secured
their giddy-pated adhesion; the first taste of trouble ensures their
desertion. They are the same men acting in the same fashion at both
times. Two things are marked by our Lord as suspicious in such easily
won discipleship--its suddenness and its joyfulness. Feelings which
are so easily stirred are superficial. A puff of wind sets a shallow
pond in wavelets. Quick maturity means brief life and swift decay, as
every 'revival' shows. The more earnestly we believe in the
possibility of sudden conversions, the more we should remember this
warning, and make sure that, if they are sudden, they shall be
thorough, which they may be. The swiftness is not so suspicious if it
be not accompanied with the other doubtful characteristic--namely,
immediate joy. Joy is the result of true acceptance of the gospel; but
not the first result. Without consciousness of sin and apprehension of
judgment there is no conversion. We lay down no rules as to depth or
duration of the 'godly sorrow' which precedes all well-grounded 'joy
in the Lord'; but the Christianity which has taken a flying leap over
the valley of humiliation will scarcely reach a firm standing on the
rock. He who 'straightway with joy' receives the word, will
straightway, with equal precipitation, cast it away when the
difficulties and oppositions which meet all true discipleship begin to
develop themselves. Fair-weather crews will desert when storms begin
to blow.

The third sort of soil brings things still farther on before failure
comes. The seed is not only covered and germinating, but has actually
begun to be fruitful. The thorns are supposed to have been cut down,
but their roots have been left, and they grow faster than the wheat.
They take the 'goodness' out of the ground, and block out sun and air;
and so the stalks, which promised well, begin to get pale and droop,
and the half-formed ear comes to nothing, or, as the other version of
the parable has it, brings 'forth no fruit to perfection.' There are
two crops fighting for the upper hand on the one ground, and the
earlier possessor wins. The 'struggle for existence' ends with the
'survival of the fittest'; that is, of the worst, to which the natural
bent of the desires and inclinations of the unrenewed man is more
congenial. The 'cares of this world' and the 'deceitfulness of riches'
are but two sides of one thing. The poor man has cares; the rich man
has the illusions of his wealth. Both men agree in thinking that this
world's good is most desirable. The one is anxious because he has not
enough of it, or fears to lose what he has; the other man is full of
foolish confidence because he has much. Eager desires after creatural
good are common to both; and, what with the anxiety lest they lose,
and the self-satisfaction because they have, and the mouths watering
for the world's good, there is no force of will, nor warmth of love,
nor clearness of vision, left for better things. That is the history
of the fall of many a professing Christian, who never apostatises, and
keeps up a reputable appearance of godliness to the end; but the old
worldliness, which was cut down for a while, has sprung again in his
heart, and, by slow degrees, the word is 'choked'--a most expressive
picture of the silent, gradual dying-out of its power for want of sun
and air--and 'he' or 'it' 'becometh unfruitful,' relapsing from a
previous condition of fruit-bearing into sterility. No heart can
mature two crops. We must choose between God and Mammon--between the
word and the world.

There is nothing fixed or necessary in the faults of these three
classes, and they are not so much the characteristics of separate
types of men as evils common to all hearers, against which all have to
guard. They depend upon the will and affections much more than on
anything in temperament fixed and not to be got rid of. So there is no
reason why any one of the three should not become 'good soil': and it
is to be noted that the characteristic of that soil is simply that it
receives and grows the seed. Any heart that will, can do that; and
that is all that is needed. But to do it, there will have to be
diligent care, lest we fall into any of the evils pointed at in the
preceding parts of the parable, which are ever waiting to entrap us.
The true 'accepting' of the word requires that we shall not let it lie
on the surface of our minds, as in the case of the first; nor be
satisfied with its penetrating a little deeper and striking root in
our emotions, like the second, of whom it is said with such profound
truth, that they 'have no root in themselves,' their roots being only
in the superficial part of their being, and never going down to the
true central self; nor let competing desires grow up unchecked, like
the third; but cherish the 'word of the truth of the gospel' in our
deepest hearts, guard it against foes, let it rule there, and mould
all our conduct in conformity with its blessed principles. The true
Christian is he who can truly say, 'Thy word have I hid in mine
heart.' If we do, we shall be fruitful, because _it_ will bear fruit
in us. No man is obliged, by temperament or circumstances, to be
'wayside,' or 'stony,' or 'thorny' ground. Wherever a heart opens to
receive the gospel, and keeps it fast, there the increase will be
realised--not in equal measure in all, but in each according to
faithfulness and diligence. Mark arranges the various yields in
ascending scale, as if to teach our hopes and aims a growing
largeness, while Matthew orders them in the opposite fashion, as if to
teach that, while the hundredfold, which is possible for all, is best,
the smaller yield is accepted by the great Lord of the harvest, who
Himself not only sows the seed, but gives it its vitality, blesses its
springing, and rejoices to gather the wheat into His barn.



LAMPS AND BUSHELS


'And Jesus said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a
bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick?'--Mark iv.
21.

The furniture of a very humble Eastern home is brought before us in
this saying. In the original, each of the nouns has the definite
article attached to it, and so suggests that in the house there was
but one of each article; one lamp, a flat saucer with a wick swimming
in oil; one measure for corn and the like; one bed, raised slightly,
but sufficiently to admit of a flat vessel being put under it without
danger, if for any reason it were desired to shade the light; and one
lampstand.

The saying appeals to common-sense. A man does not light a lamp and
then smother it. The act of lighting implies the purpose of
illumination, and, with everybody who acts logically, its sequel is to
put the lamp on a stand, where it may be visible. All is part of the
nightly routine of every Jewish household. Jesus had often watched it;
and, commonplace as it is, it had mirrored to Him large truths. If our
eyes were opened to the suggestions of common life, we should find in
them many parables and reminders of high matters.

Now this saying is a favourite and familiar one of our Lord, occurring
four times in the Gospels. It is interesting to notice that He, too,
like other teachers, had His favourite maxims, which He turned round
in all sorts of ways, and presented as reflecting light at different
angles and suggesting different thoughts. The four occurrences of the
saying are these. In my text, and in the parallel in Luke's Gospel, it
is appended to the Parable of the Sower, and forms the basis of the
exhortation, 'Take heed how ye hear.' In another place in Luke's
Gospel it is appended to our Lord's words about 'the sign of the
prophet Jonah,' which is explained to be the resurrection of Jesus
Christ, and it forms the basis of the exhortation to cultivate the
single eye which is receptive of the light. In the Sermon on the Mount
it is appended to the declaration that the disciples are the lights of
the world, and forms the basis of the exhortation, 'Let your light so
shine before men.' I have thought that it may be interesting and
instructive if in this sermon we throw together these three
applications of this one saying, and try to study the threefold
lessons which it yields, and the weighty duties which it enforces.

I. So, then, I have to ask you, first, to consider that we have a
lesson as to the apparent obscurities of revelation and of our duty
concerning them.

That is the connection in which the words occur in our text, and in
the other place in Luke's Gospel, to which I have referred. Our Lord
has just been speaking the Parable of the Sower. The disciples'
curiosity has been excited as to its significance. They ask Him for an
explanation, which He gives minutely point by point. Then he passes to
this general lesson of the purpose of the apparent veil which He had
cast round the truth, by throwing it into a parabolic form. In effect
He says: If I had meant to hide My teaching by the form into which I
cast it, I should have been acting as absurdly and as contradictorily
as a man would do who should light a lamp and immediately obscure it.'
True, there is the veil of parable, but the purpose of that relative
concealment is not hiding, but revelation. 'There is nothing covered
but that it should be made known.' The veil sharpens attention,
stimulates curiosity, quickens effort, and so becomes positively
subsidiary to the great purpose of revelation for which the parable is
spoken. The existence of this veil of sensuous representation carries
with it the obligation, 'Take heed how ye hear.'

Now all these thoughts have a far wider application than in reference
to our Lord's parables. And I may suggest one or two of the
considerations that flow from the wider reference of the words before
us.

'Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed and not
upon a candlestick?' There are no gratuitous and dark places in
anything that God says to us. His revelation is absolutely clear. We
may be sure of that if we consider the purpose for which He spoke at
all. True, there are dark places; true, there are great gaps; true, we
sometimes think, 'Oh! it would have been so easy for Him to have said
one word more; and the one word more would have been so infinitely
precious to bleeding hearts or wounded consciences or puzzled
understandings.' But 'is a candle brought to be set under a bushel?'
Do you think that if He took the trouble to light it He would
immediately smother it, or arbitrarily conceal anything that the very
fact of the revelation declares His intention to make known? His own
great word remains true, 'I have never spoken in secret, in a dark
place of the earth.' If there be, as there are, obscurities, there are
none there that would have been better away.

For the intention of all God's hiding--which hiding is an integral
part of his revealing--is not to conceal, but to reveal. Sometimes the
best way of making a thing known to men is to veil it in a measure, in
order that the very obscurity, like the morning mists which prophesy a
blazing sun in a clear sky by noonday, may demand search and quicken
curiosity and spur to effort. He is not a wise teacher who makes
things too easy. It is good that there should be difficulties; for
difficulties are like the veins of quartz in the soil, which may turn
the edge of the ploughshare or the spade, but prophesy that there is
gold there for the man who comes with fitting tools. Wherever, in the
broad land of God's word to us, there lie dark places, there are
assurances of future illumination. God's hiding is in order to
revelation, even as the prophet of old, when he was describing the
great Theophany which flashed in light from the one side of the heaven
to the other, exclaimed, 'There was the hiding of His power.'

  'He hides the purpose of His grace
  To make it better known.'

And the end of all the concealments, and apparent and real
obscurities, that hang about His word, is that for many of them
patient and diligent attention and docile obedience should unfold them
here, and for the rest, 'the day shall declare them.' The lamp is the
light for the night-time, and it leaves many a corner in dark shadow;
but, when 'night's candles are burnt out, and day sits jocund on the
misty mountain-tops,' much will be plain that cannot be made plain
now.

Therefore, for us the lesson from this assurance that God will not
stultify Himself by giving to us a revelation that does not reveal,
is, 'Take heed how ye hear.' The effort will not be in vain. Patient
attention will ever be rewarded. The desire to learn will not be
frustrated. In this school truth lightly won is truth loosely held;
and only the attentive scholar is the receptive and retaining
disciple. A great man once said, and said, too, presumptuously and
proudly, that he had rather have the search after truth than truth.
But yet there is a sense in which the saying may be modifiedly
accepted; for, precious as is all the revelation of God, not the least
precious effect that it is meant to produce upon us is the
consciousness that in it there are unscaled heights above, and
unplumbed depths beneath, and untraversed spaces all around it; and
that for us that Word is like the pillar of cloud and fire that moved
before Israel, blends light and darkness with the single office of
guidance, and gleams ever before us to draw desires and feet after it.
The lamp is set upon a stand. 'Take heed how ye hear.'

II. Secondly, the saying, in another application on our Lord's lips,
gives us a lesson as to Himself and our attitude to Him.

I have already pointed out the other instance in Luke's Gospel in
which this saying occurs, in the 11th chapter, where it is brought
into immediate connection with our Lord's declaration that the sign to
be given to His generation was 'the sign of the prophet Jonah,' which
sign He explains as being reproduced in His own case in His
Resurrection. And then he adds the word of our text, and immediately
passes on to speak about the light in us which perceives the lamp, and
the need of cultivating the single eye.

So, then, we have, in the figure thus applied, the thought that the
earthly life of Jesus Christ necessarily implies a subsequent
elevation from which He shines down upon all the world. God lit that
lamp, and it is not going to be quenched in the darkness of the grave.
He is not going to stultify Himself by sending the Light of the World,
and then letting the endless shades of death muffle and obscure it.
But, just as the conclusion of the process which is begun in the
kindling of the light is setting it on high on the stand, that it may
beam over all the chamber, so the resurrection and ascension of Jesus
Christ, His exaltation to the supremacy from which He shall draw all
men unto Him, are the necessary and, if I may so say, the logical
result of the facts of His incarnation and death.

Then from this there follows what our Lord dwells upon at greater
length. Having declared that the beginning of His course involved the
completion of it in His exaltation to glory, He then goes on to say to
us, 'You have an organ that corresponds to Me. I am the kindled lamp;
you have the seeing eye.' 'If the eye were not sunlike,' says the
great German thinker, 'how could it see the sun?' If there were not in
me that which corresponds to Jesus Christ, He would be no Light of the
World, and no light to me. My reason, my affection, my conscience, my
will, the whole of my spiritual being, answer to Him, as the eye does
to the light, and for everything that is in Christ there is in
humanity something that is receptive of, and that needs, Him.

So, then, that being so, He being our light, just because He fits our
needs, answers our desires, satisfies our cravings, fills the clefts
of our hearts, and brings the response to all the questions of our
understandings--that being the case, if the lamp is lit and blazing on
the lampstand, and you and I have eyes to behold it, let us take heed
that we cultivate the single eye which apprehends Christ.
Concentration of purpose, simplicity and sincerity of aim, a heart
centred upon Him, a mind drawn to contemplate unfalteringly and
without distraction of crosslights His beauty, His supremacy, His
completeness, and a soul utterly devoted to Him--these are the
conditions to which that light will ever manifest itself, and illumine
the whole man. But if we come with divided hearts, with distracted
aims, giving Him fragments of ourselves, and seeking Him by spasms and
at intervals, and having a dozen other deities in our Pantheon, beside
the calm form of the Christ of Nazareth, what wonder is there that we
see in Him 'no beauty that we should desire Him'? 'Unite my heart to
fear Thy name.' Oh I if that were our prayer, and if the effort to
secure its answer were honestly the effort of our lives, all His
loveliness, His sweetness, His adaptation to our whole being, would
manifest themselves to us. The eye must be 'single,' directed to Him,
if the heart is to rejoice in His light.

I need not do more than remind you of the blessed consequence which
our Lord represents as flowing from this union of the seeing heart and
the revealing light--viz., 'Thy whole body shall be full of light.' In
every eye that beholds the flame of the lamp there is a little
lamp-flame mirrored and manifested. And just as what we see makes its
image on the seeing organ of the body, so the Christ beheld is a
Christ embodied in us; and we, gazing upon Him, are 'changed into the
same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit.' Light
that remains without us does not illuminate; light that passes into us
is the light by which we see, and the Christ beheld is the Christ
ensphered in our hearts.

III. So, lastly, this great saying gives us a lesson as to the duties
of Christian men as lights in the world.

I pointed out that another instance of the occurrence of the saying is
in the Sermon on the Mount, where it is transferred from the
revelation of God in His written word, and in His Incarnate Word, to
the relation of Christian men to the world in which they dwell. I need
not remind you how frequently that same metaphor occurs in Scripture;
how in the early Jewish ritual the great seven-branched lampstand
which stood at first in the Tabernacle was the emblem of Israel's
office in the whole world, as it rayed out its light through the
curtains of the Tabernacle into the darkness of the desert. Nor need I
remind you how our Lord bare witness to His forerunner by the praise
that 'He was a burning and a shining light,' nor how He commanded His
disciples to have their 'loins girt and their lamps burning,' nor how
He spoke the Parable of the Ten Virgins with their lamps.

From all these there follows the same general thought that Christian
men, not so much by specific effort, nor by words, nor by definite
proclamation, as by the raying out from them in life and conduct of a
Christlike spirit, are set for the illumination of the world. The
bearing of our text in reference to that subject is just this--our
obligation as Christians to show forth the glories of Him who hath
'called us out of darkness into His marvellous light' is rested upon
His very purpose in drawing us to Himself, and receiving us into the
number of his people. If God in Christ, by communicating to us 'the
light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus
Christ,' has made us lights of the world, it is not done in order that
the light may be smothered incontinently, but His act of lighting
indicates His purpose of illumination. What are you a Christian for?
That you may go to Heaven? Certainly. That your sins may be forgiven?
No doubt. But is that the only end? Are you such a very great being as
that your happiness and well-being can legitimately be the ultimate
purpose of God's dealings with you? Are you so isolated from all
mankind as that any gift which He bestows on you is to be treated by
you as a morsel that you can take into your corner and devour, like a
grudging dog, by yourselves? By no means. 'God, who commanded the
light to shine out of darkness, hath shined into our hearts in order
that' we might impart the light to others. Or, as Shakespeare has it,
in words perhaps suggested by the Scripture metaphor,

  'Heaven doth with us as we with torches do,
  Not light them for themselves.'

He gave you His Son that you may give the gospel to others, and you
stultify His purpose in your salvation unless you become ministers of
His grace and manifesters of His light.

Then take from this emblem, too, a homely suggestion as to the
hindrances that stand in the way of our fulfilling the Divine
intention in our salvation. It is, perhaps, a piece of fancy, but
still it may point a lesson. The lamp is not hid 'under a bushel,'
which is the emblem of commerce or business, and is meant for the
measurement of material wealth and sustenance, or 'under a bed'--the
place where people take their ease and repose. These two loves--the
undue love of the bushel and the corn that is in it, and the undue
love of the bed and the leisurely ease that you may enjoy there--are
large factors in preventing Christian men from fulfilling God's
purpose in their salvation.

Then take a hint as to the means by which such a purpose can be
fulfilled by Christian souls. They are suggested in the two of the
other uses of this emblem by our Lord Himself. The first is when He
said, 'Let your loins be girded'--they are not so, when you are in
bed--'and your lamps burning.' Your light will not shine in a naughty
world without your strenuous effort, and ungirt loins will very
shortly lead to extinguished lamps. The other means to this
manifestation of visible Christlikeness lies in that tragical story of
the foolish virgins who took no oil in their vessels. If light
expresses the outward Christian life, oil, in accordance with the
whole tenor of Scripture symbolism, expresses the inward gift of the
Divine Spirit. And where that gift is neglected, where it is not
earnestly sought and carefully treasured, there may be a kind of smoky
illuminations, which, in the dark, may pass for bright lights, but,
when the Lord comes, shudder into extinction, and, to the astonishment
of the witless five who carried them, are found to be 'going out.'
Brethren, only He who does not quench the smoking flax but tends it to
a flame, will help us to keep our lamps bright.

First of all, then, let us gaze upon the light in Him, until we become
'light in the Lord.' And then let us see to it that, by girt loins and
continual reception of the illuminating principle of the Divine
Spirit's oil, we fill our lamps with 'deeds of odorous light, and
hopes that breed not shame.' Then,

  'When the Bridegroom, with his feastful friends,
  Passes to bliss on the mid-hour of night,'

we shall have 'gained our entrance' among the 'virgins wise and pure.'



THE STORM STILLED


'And the same day, when the even was come, He saith unto them, Let us
pass over unto the other side. 36. And when they had sent away the
multitude, they took Him even as He was in the ship. And there were
also with Him other little ships. 37. And there arose a great storm of
wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. 38.
And He was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and
they awake Him, and say unto Him, Master, carest Thou not that we
perish? 39. And He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea,
Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40.
And He said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have
no faith? 41. And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another,
What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey
Him?'--Mark iv. 35-41.

Mark seldom dates his incidents, but he takes pains to tell us that
this run across the lake closed a day of labour, Jesus was wearied,
and felt the need of rest, He had been pressed on all day by 'a very
great multitude,' and felt the need of solitude. He could not land
from the boat which had been His pulpit, for that would have plunged
Him into the thick of the crowd, and so the only way to get away from
the throng was to cross the lake. But even there He was followed;
'other boats were with Him.'

I. The first point to note is the wearied sleeper. The disciples 'take
Him, ... even as He was,' without preparation or delay, the object
being simply to get away as quickly as might be, so great was His
fatigue and longing for quiet. We almost see the hurried starting and
the intrusive followers scrambling into the little skiffs on the beach
and making after Him. The 'multitude' delights to push itself into the
private hours of its heroes, and is devoured with rude curiosity.
There was a leather, or perhaps wooden, movable seat in the stern for
the steersman, on which a wearied-out man might lay his head, while
his body was stretched in the bottom of the boat. A hard 'pillow'
indeed, which only exhaustion could make comfortable! But it was soft
enough for the worn-out Christ, who had apparently flung Himself down
in sheer tiredness as soon as they set sail. How real such a small
detail makes the transcendent mystery of the Incarnation!

Jesus is our pattern in small common things as in great ones, and
among the sublimities of character set forth in Him as our example,
let us not forget that the homely virtue of hard work is also
included. Jonah slept in a storm the sleep of a skulking sluggard,
Jesus slept the sleep of a wearied labourer.

II. The next point is the terrified disciples. The evening was coming
on, and, as often on a lake set among hills, the wind rose as the sun
sank behind the high land on the western shore astern. The fishermen
disciples were used to such squalls, and, at first, would probably let
their sail down, and pull so as to keep the boat's head to the wind.
But things grew worse, and when the crazy, undecked craft began to
fill and get water-logged, they grew alarmed. The squall was fiercer
than usual, and must have been pretty bad to have frightened such
seasoned hands. They awoke Jesus, and there is a touch of petulant
rebuke in their appeal, and of a sailor's impatience at a landsman
lying sound asleep while the sweat is running down their faces with
their hard pulling. It is to Mark that we owe our knowledge of that
accent of complaint in their words, for he alone gives their 'Carest
Thou not?'

But it is not for us to fling stones at them, seeing that we also
often may catch ourselves thinking that Jesus has gone to sleep when
storms come on the Church or on ourselves, and that He is ignorant of,
or indifferent to, our plight. But though the disciples were wrong in
their fright, and not altogether right in the tone of their appeal to
Jesus, they were supremely right in that they did appeal to Him. Fear
which drives us to Jesus is not all wrong. The cry to Him, even though
it is the cry of unnecessary terror, brings Him to His feet for our
help.

III. The next point is the word of power. Again we have to thank Mark
for the very words, so strangely, calmly authoritative. May we take
'Peace!' as spoken to the howling wind, bidding it to silence; and 'Be
still!' as addressed to the tossing waves, smoothing them to a calm
plain? At all events, the two things to lay to heart are that Jesus
here exercises the divine prerogative of controlling matter by the
bare expression of His will, and that this divine attribute was
exercised by the wearied man, who, a moment before, had been sleeping
the sleep of human exhaustion. The marvellous combination of apparent
opposites, weakness, and divine omnipotence, which yet do not clash,
nor produce an incredible monster of a being, but coalesce in perfect
harmony, is a feat beyond the reach of the loftiest creative
imagination. If the Evangelists are not simple biographers, telling
what eyes have seen and hands have handled, they have beaten the
greatest poets and dramatists at their own weapons, and have
accomplished 'things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.'

A word of loving rebuke and encouragement follows. Matthew puts it
before the stilling of the storm, but Mark's order seems the more
exact. How often we too are taught the folly of our fears by
experiencing some swift, easy deliverance! Blessed be God! He does not
rebuke us first and help us afterwards, but rebukes by helping. What
_could_ the disciples say, as they sat there in the great calm, in
answer to Christ's question, 'Why are ye fearful?' Fear can give no
reasonable account of itself, if Christ is in the boat. If our faith
unites us to Jesus, there is nothing that need shake our courage. If
He is 'our fear and our dread,' we shall not need to 'fear their
fear,' who have not the all-conquering Christ to fight for them.

  'Well roars the storm to them who hear
  A deeper voice across the storm.'

Jesus wondered at the slowness of the disciples to learn their lesson,
and the wonder was reflected in the sad question, 'Have ye not _yet_
faith?'--not yet, after so many miracles, and living beside Me for so
long? How much more keen the edge of that question is when addressed
to us, who know Him so much better, and have centuries of His working
for His servants to look back on. When, in the tempests that sweep
over our own lives, we sometimes pass into a great calm as suddenly as
if we had entered the centre of a typhoon, we wonder unbelievingly
instead of saying, out of a faith nourished by experience, 'It is just
like Him.'



THE TOILING CHRIST


'They took Him even as He was in the ship.... And He was in the hinder
part of the ship, asleep on a pillow.'--Mark iv. 36, 38.

Among the many loftier characteristics belonging to Christ's life and
work, there is a very homely one which is often lost sight of; and
that is, the amount of hard physical exertion, prolonged even to
fatigue and exhaustion, which He endured.

Christ is our pattern in a great many other things more impressive and
more striking; and He is our pattern in this, that 'in the sweat of
His brow' He did His work, and knew not only what it was to suffer,
but what it was to toil for man's salvation. And, perhaps, if we
thought a little more than we do of such a prosaic characteristic of
His life as that, it might invest it with some more reality for us,
besides teaching us other large and important lessons.

I have thrown together these two clauses for our text now, simply for
the sake of that one feature which they both portray so strikingly.

'They took Him even as He was in the ship.' Now many expositors
suppose that in the very form of that phrase there is suggested the
extreme of weariness and exhaustion which He suffered, after the hard
day's toil. Whether that be so or no, the swiftness of the move to the
little boat, although there was nothing in the nature of danger or of
imperative duty to hurry Him away, and His going on board without a
moment's preparation, leaving the crowd on the beach, seem most
naturally accounted for by supposing that He had come to the last
point of physical endurance, and that His frame, worn out by the hard
day's work, needed one thing--rest.

And so, the next that we see of Him is that, as soon as He gets into
the ship He falls fast asleep on the wooden pillow--a hard bed for His
head!--in the stern of the little fishing boat, and there He lies so
tired--let us put it into plain prose and strip away the false veil of
big words with which we invest that nature--so tired that the storm
does not awake Him; and they have to come to Him, and lay their hands
upon Him, and say to Him, 'Master, carest Thou not that we perish?'
before compassion again beat back fatigue, and quickened Him for fresh
exertions.

This, then, is the one lesson which I wish to consider now, and there
are three points which I deal with in pursuance of my task. I wish to
point out a little more in detail the signs that we have in the
Gospels of this characteristic of Christ's work--the toilsomeness of
His service; then to consider, secondly, the motives which He Himself
tells us impelled to such service; and then, finally, the worth which
that toil bears for us.

I. First, then, let me point out some of the significant hints which
the gospel records give us of the toilsomeness of Christ's service.

Now we are principally indebted for these to this Gospel by Mark,
which ancient tradition has set forth as being especially and
eminently the 'Gospel of the Servant of God,' therein showing a very
accurate conception of its distinguishing characteristics. Just as
Matthew's Gospel is the Gospel of the King, regal in tone from
beginning to end; just as Luke's is the Gospel of the Man, human and
universal in its tone; just as John's is the Gospel of the Eternal
Word, so Mark's is the Gospel of the Servant. The inscription written
over it all might be, 'Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God.' 'Behold my
Servant whom I uphold.'

And if you will take this briefest of all the Gospels, and read it
over from that point of view, you will be surprised to discover what a
multitude of minute traits make up the general impression, and what a
unity is thereby breathed into the narrative.

For instance, did you ever observe the peculiar beginning of this
Gospel? There are here none of the references to the prophecies of the
King, no tracing of His birth through the royal stock to the great
progenitor of the nation, no adoration by the Eastern sages, which we
find in Matthew, no miraculous birth nor growing childhood as in Luke,
no profound unveiling of the union of the Word with God before the
world was, as in John; but the narrative begins with His baptism, and
passes at once to the story of His work. The same ruling idea accounts
for the uniform omission of the title 'Lord' which in Mark's Gospel is
never applied to Christ until after the resurrection. There is only
one apparent exception, and there good authorities pronounce the word
to be spurious. Even in reports of conversations which are also given
in the other Gospels, and where 'Lord' occurs, Mark, of set purpose,
omits it, as if its presence would disturb the unity of the impression
which he desires to leave. You will find the investigation of the
omissions in this Gospel full of interest, and remarkably tending to
confirm the accuracy of the view which regards it as the Gospel of the
Servant.

Notice then these traits of His service which it brings out.

The first of them I would suggest is--how distinctly it gives the
impression of swift, strenuous work. The narrative is brief and
condensed. We feel, all through these earlier chapters, at all events,
the presence of the pressing crowd coming to Him and desiring to be
healed, and but a word can be spared for each incident as the story
hurries on, trying to keep pace with His rapid service of
quick-springing compassion and undelaying help. There is one word
which is reiterated over and over again in these earlier chapters,
remarkably conveying this impression of haste and strenuous work;
Mark's favourite word is 'straightway,' 'immediately,' 'forthwith,'
'anon,' which are all translations of one expression. You will find,
if you glance over the first, second, or third chapters at your
leisure, that it comes in at every turn. Take these instances which
strike one's eye at the moment. _'Straightway_ they forsook their
nets'; _'Straightway_ He entered into the synagogue'; _'Immediately_
His fame spread abroad throughout all the region'; _'Forthwith_ they
entered into the house of Simon's mother'; '_Anon_, they tell Him of
her'; '_Immediately_ the fever left her.' And so it goes on through
the whole story, a picture of a constant succession of rapid acts of
mercy and love. The story seems, as it were, to pant with haste to
keep up with Him as He moves among men, swift as a sunbeam, and
continuous in the outflow of His love as are these unceasing rays.

Again, we see in Christ's service, toil prolonged to the point of
actual physical exhaustion. The narrative before us is the most
striking instance of that which we meet with. It had been a long
wearying day of work. According to this chapter, the whole of the
profound parables concerning the kingdom of God had immediately
preceded the embarkation. But even these, with their explanation, had
been but a part of that day's labours. For, in Matthew's account of
them, we are told that they were spoken on the same day as that on
which His mother and brethren came desiring to speak with Him,--or, as
we elsewhere read, with hostile intentions to lay hold on Him as mad
and needing restraint. And that event, which we may well believe
touched deep and painful chords of feeling in His human heart, and
excited emotions more exhausting than much physical effort, occurred
in the midst of an earnest and prolonged debate with emissaries from
Jerusalem, in the course of which He spoke the solemn words concerning
blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, and Satan casting out Satan, and
poured forth some of His most terrible warnings, and some of His most
beseeching entreaties. No wonder that, after such a day, the hard
pillow of the boat was a soft resting-place for His wearied head; no
wonder that, as the evening quiet settled down on the mountain-girdled
lake, and the purple shadows of the hills stretched athwart the water,
He slept; no wonder that the storm which followed the sunset did not
wake Him; and beautiful, that wearied as He was, the disciples' cry at
once rouses Him, and the fatigue which shows His manhood gives place
to the divine energy which says unto the sea, 'Peace! be still.' The
lips which, a moment before, had been parted in the soft breathing of
wearied sleep, now open to utter the omnipotent word--so wonderfully
does He blend the human and the divine, 'the form of a servant' and
the nature of God.

We see, in Christ, toil that puts aside the claims of physical wants.
Twice in this Gospel we read of this 'The multitude cometh together
again, so that they could not so much as eat bread.' 'There were many
coming, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.'

We see in Christ's service a love which is at every man's beck and
call, a toil cheerfully rendered at the most unreasonable and
unseasonable times. As I said a moment or two ago, this Gospel makes
one feel, as none other of these narratives do, the pressure of that
ever-present multitude, the whirling excitement that eddied round the
calm centre. It tells us, for instance, more than once, how Christ,
wearied with His toil, feeling in body and in spirit the need of rest
and still communion, withdrew Himself from the crowd. He once departed
alone that He might seek God in prayer; once He went with His wearied
disciples apart into a desert place to rest awhile. On both occasions
the retirement is broken in upon before it is well begun. The sigh of
relief in the momentary rest is scarcely drawn, and the burden laid
down for an instant, when it has to be lifted again. His solitary
prayer is interrupted by the disciples, with 'All men seek for Thee,'
and, without a murmur or a pause, He buckles to His work again, and
says, 'Let us go into the next towns that I may preach there also; for
therefore am I sent.'

When He would carry His wearied disciples with Him for a brief
breathing time to the other side of the sea, and get away from the
thronging crowd, 'the people saw Him departing, and ran afoot out of
all cities,' and, making their way round the head of the lake, were
all there at the landing place before Him. Instead of seclusion and
repose He found the same throng and bustle. Here they were, most of
them from mere curiosity, some of them no doubt with deeper feelings;
here they were, with their diseased and their demoniacs, and as soon
as His foot touches the shore He is in the midst of it all again. And
He meets it, not with impatience at this rude intrusion on His
privacy, not with refusals to help. Only one emotion filled His heart.
He forgot all about weariness, and hunger, and retirement, and 'He was
moved with compassion towards them, because they were as sheep not
having a shepherd, and He began to teach them many things.' Such a
picture may well shame our languid, self-indulgent service, may stir
us to imitation and to grateful praise.

There is only one other point which I touch upon for a moment, as
showing the toil of Christ, and that is drawn from another Gospel. Did
you ever notice the large space occupied in Matthew's Gospel by the
record of the last day of His public ministry, and how much of all
that we know of His mission and message, and the future of the world
and of all men, we owe to the teaching of these four-and-twenty hours?
Let me put together, in a word, what happened on that day.

It included the conversation with the chief priests and elders about
the baptism of John, the parable of the householder that planted a
vineyard and digged a winepress, the parables of the kingdom of
heaven, the controversy with the Herodians about the tribute money,
the conversation with the Sadducees about the resurrection, with the
Pharisee about the great commandment in the law, the silencing of the
Pharisees by pointing to the 110th Psalm, the warning to the multitude
against the scribes and Pharisees who were hypocrites, protracted and
prolonged up to that wail of disappointed love, 'Behold! your house is
left unto you desolate.' And, as though that had not been enough for
one day, when He is going home from the Temple to find, for a night,
in that quiet little home of Bethany, the rest that He wants, as He
rests wearily on the slopes of Olivet, the disciples come to Him,
'Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of
Thy coming?' and there follows all that wonderful prophecy of the
destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world, the parable of the
fig tree, the warning not to suffer the thief to come, and the promise
of reward for the faithful and wise servant, the parable of the ten
virgins, and in all probability the parable of the king with the five
talents; and the words, that might be written in letters of fire, that
tell us the final course of all things, and the judgment of life
eternal and death everlasting! All this was the work of 'one of the
days of the Son of Man.' Of Him it was prophesied long ago, 'For
Jerusalem's sake I will not rest'; and His life on earth, as well as
His life in heaven, fulfils the prediction--the one by the
toilsomeness of His service, the other by the unceasing energy of His
exalted power. He toiled unwearied here, He works unresting there.

II. In the second place, let me ask you to notice how we get from our
Lord's own words a glimpse into the springs of this wonderful
activity.

There are three points which distinctly come out in various places in
the Gospels as His motives for such unresting sedulousness and
continuance of toil. The first is conveyed by such words as these: 'I
must work the works of Him that sent Me.' 'Let us preach to other
cities, also: for therefore am I sent.' 'Wist ye not that I must be
about My Father's business?' 'My meat is to do the will of Him that
sent Me, and to finish His work.' All these express one thought.
Christ lived and toiled, and bore weariness and exhaustion, and
counted every moment as worthy to be garnered up and precious, as to
be filled with deeds of love and kindness, because wherever He went,
and to whatsoever He set His hand, He had the one consciousness of a
great task laid upon Him by a loving Father whom He loved, and whom,
therefore, it was His joy and His blessedness to serve.

And, remember that this motive made the life homogeneous--of a piece.
In all the variety of service, one spirit was expressed, and,
therefore, the service was one. No matter whether He were speaking
words of grace or of rebuke, or working works of power and love, or
simply looking a look of kindness on some outcast, or taking a little
child in His arms, or stilling with the same arms outstretched the
wild uproar of the storm--it was all the same. To Him life was all
one. There was nothing great, nothing small; nothing so insignificant
that it could be done negligently; nothing so hard that it surpassed
His power. The one motive made all duties equal; obedience to the
Father called forth His whole energy at every moment. To Him life was
not divided into a set of tasks of varying importance, some of which
could be accomplished with a finger's touch, and some of which
demanded a dead lift and strain of all the muscles. But whatsoever His
hand found to do He did with His might and that because He felt, be it
great or little, that it all came, if I may so say, into the day's
work, and all was equally great because the Father that sent Him had
laid it upon Him.

There is one thing that makes life mighty in its veriest trifles,
worthy in its smallest deeds, that delivers it from monotony, that
delivers it from insignificance. All will be great, and nothing will
be overpowering, when, living in communion with Jesus Christ, we say
as He says, 'My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me.'

And then, still further, another of the secret springs that move His
unwearied activity, His heroism of toil, is the thought expressed in
such words as these:--'While I am in the world I am the light of the
world.' 'I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day;
the night cometh when no man can work.'

Jesus Christ manifested on earth performs indeed a work--the mightiest
which He came to do--which was done precisely then when the night did
come--namely, the work of His death, which is the atonement and
'propitiation for the sins of the world.' And, further, the 'night,
when no man can work,' was not the end of His activity for us; for He
carries on His work of intercession and rule, His work of bestowing
the gifts purchased by His blood, amidst the glories of heaven; and
that perpetual application and dispensing of the blessed issues of His
death He has Himself represented as greater than the works, to which
His death put a period, in which He healed the bodies and spoke to the
hearts of those who heard, and lived a perfect life here upon this
sinful earth. But yet even He recognised the brief hour of sunny life
as being an hour that must be filled with service, and recognised the
fact that there was a task that He could only do when He lived the
life of a man upon earth. And so, if I might so say, He was a miser of
the moments, and carefully husbanding and garnering up every capacity
and every opportunity. He toiled with the toil of a man who has a task
before him, that must be done before the clock strikes six, and who
sees the hands move over the dial, and by every glance that he casts
at it is stimulated to intenser service and to harder toil. Christ
felt that impulse to service which we all ought to feel--'The night
cometh; let me fill the day with work.'

And then there is a final motive which I need barely touch. He was
impelled to His sedulous service not only by loving, filial obedience
to the divine law, and by the consciousness of a limited and defined
period into which all the activity of one specific kind must be
condensed, but also by the motive expressed in such words as these, in
which this Gospel is remarkably rich, 'And Jesus, moved with
compassion, put forth His hand and touched him.' Thus, along with that
supreme consecration, along with that swift ardour that will fill the
brief hours ere nightfall with service, there was the constant pity of
that beating heart that moved the diligent hand. Christ, if I may so
say, could not help working as hard as He did, so long as there were
so many men round about Him that needed His sympathy and His aid.

III. So much then for the motives; and now a word finally as to the
worth of this toil for us.

I do not stay to elucidate one consideration that might be suggested,
viz., how precious a proof it is of Christ's humanity. We find it
easier to bring home His true manhood to our thoughts, when we
remember that He, like us, knew the pressure of physical fatigue. Not
only was it a human spirit that wept and rejoiced, that was moved with
compassion, and sometimes with indignation, but it was a human body,
bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, that, wearied with walking
in the burning sun, sat on the margin of the well; that was worn out
and needed to sleep; that knew hunger, as is testified by His sending
the disciples to buy meat; that was thirsty, as is testified by His
saying, 'Give Me to drink.' The true corporeal manhood of Jesus
Christ, and the fact that that manhood is the tabernacle of
God--without these two facts the morality and the teaching of
Christianity swing loose _in vacuo_, and have no holdfast in history,
nor any leverage by which they can move men's hearts! But, when we
know that the common necessities of fatigue, and hunger, and thirst
belonged to Him, then we gratefully and reverently say, 'Forasmuch as
the children were partakers of flesh and blood, he also Himself took
part of the same.'

This fact of Christ's toil is of worth to us in other ways.

Is not that hard work of Jesus Christ a lesson for us, brethren, in
our daily tasks and toils--a lesson which, if it were learnt and
practised, would make a difference not only on the intensity but upon
the spirit with which we labour? A great deal of fine talk is indulged
in about the dignity of labour and the like. Labour is a curse until
communion with God in it, which is possible through Jesus Christ,
makes it a blessing and a joy. Christ, in the sweat of His brow, won
our salvation; and our work only becomes great when it is work done
in, and for, and by Him.

And what do we learn from His example? We learn these things: the
plain lesson, first,--task all your capacity and use every minute in
doing the duty that is plainly set before you to do. Christian virtues
are sometimes thought to be unreal and unworldly things. I was going
to say the root of them, certainly the indispensable accompaniment for
them all, is the plain, prosaic, most unromantic virtue of hard work.

And beyond that, what do we learn? The lesson that most toilers in
England want. There is no need to preach to the most of us to work any
harder, in one department of work at any rate; but there is great need
to remind us of what it was that at once stirred Jesus Christ into
energy and kept Him calm in the midst of labour--and that was that
everything was equally and directly referred to His Father's will.
People talk nowadays about 'missions.' The only thing worth giving
that name to is the 'mission' which _He_ gives us, who sends us into
the world not to do our own will, but to do the will of Him that sent
us. There is a fatal monotony in all our lives--a terrible amount of
hard drudgery in them all. We have to set ourselves morning after
morning to tasks that look to be utterly insignificant and
disproportionate to the power that we bring to bear upon them, so that
men are like elephants picking up pins with their trunks; and yet we
may make all our commonplace drudgery great, and wondrous, and fair,
and full of help and profit to our souls, if, over it all--our shops,
our desks, our ledgers, our studies, our kitchens, and our
nurseries--we write, 'My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me.'
We may bring the greatest principles to bear upon the smallest duties.

What more do we learn from Christ's toil? The possible harmony of
communion and service. His labour did not break His fellowship with
God. He was ever in the 'secret place of the Most High,' even while He
was in the midst of crowds. He has taught us that it is possible to be
in the 'house of the Lord' all the days of our lives, and by His
ensample, as by His granted Spirit, encourages us to aim at so serving
that we shall never cease to behold, and so beholding that we shall
never cease to serve our Father. The life of contemplation and the
life of practice, so hard to harmonise in our experience, perfectly
meet in Christ.

What more do we learn from our Lord's toils? The cheerful constant
postponement of our own ease, wishes, or pleasure to the call of the
Father's voice, or to the echo of it in the sighing of such as be
sorrowful. I have already referred to the instances of His putting
aside His need for rest, and His desire for still fellowship with God,
at the call of whoever needed Him. It was the same always. If a
Nicodemus comes by night, if a despairing father forces his way into
the house of feasting, if another suppliant finds Him in a house,
where He would have remained hid, if they come running to Him in the
way, or drop down their sick before Him through the very roof--it is
all the same. He never thinks of Himself, but gladly addresses Himself
to heal and bless. How such an example followed would change our lives
and amaze and shake the world!--'I come, not to do Mine own will.'
'Even Christ pleased not Himself.'

But that toil is not only a pattern for our lives; it is an appeal to
our grateful hearts. Surely a toiling Christ is as marvellous as a
dying Christ. And the immensity and the purity and the depth of His
love are shown no less by this, that He labours to accomplish it, than
by this, that He dies to complete it. He will not give blessings which
depend upon mere will, and can be bestowed as a king might fling a
largess to a beggar without effort, and with scarce a thought, but
blessings which He Himself has to agonise and to energise, and to lead
a life of obedience, and to die a death of shame, in order to procure.
'I will not offer burnt-offering to God of that which doth cost me
nothing,' says the grateful heart. But in so saying it is but
following in the track of the loving Christ, who will not give unto
man that which cost Him nothing, and who works, as well as dies, in
order that we may be saved.

And, O brethren! think of the contrast between what Christ has done to
save us, and what we do to secure and appropriate that salvation! He
toiled all His days, buying our peace with His life, going down into
the mine and bringing up the jewels at the cost of His own precious
blood. And you and I stand with folded arms, too apathetic to take the
rich treasures that are freely given to us of God! He has done
everything, that we may have nothing to do, and we will not even put
out our slack hands to clasp the grace purchased by His blood, and
commended by His toil! 'Therefore we ought to give the more earnest
heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let
them slip.'



THE LORD OF DEMONS


'And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country
of the Gadarenes. 2. And when He was come out of the ship, immediately
there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, 3. Who
had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not
with chains: 4. Because that he had been often bound with fetters and
chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the
fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him. 5. And
always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs,
crying, and cutting himself with stones. 6. But when he saw Jesus afar
off, he ran and worshipped Him, 7. And cried with a loud voice, and
said, What have I to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of the most high
God? I adjure Thee by God, that Thou torment me not. 8. For He said
unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. 9. And He asked
him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for
we are many. 10. And he besought Him much that He would not send them
away out of the country. 11. Now there was there nigh unto the
mountains a great herd of swine feeding. 12. And all the devils
besought Him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into
them. 13. And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits
went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down
a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were
choked in the sea. 14. And they that fed the swine fled, and told it
in the city, and in the country. And they went out to see what it was
that was done. 15. And they come to Jesus, and see him that was
possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed,
and in his right mind: and they were afraid. 16. And they that saw it
told them how it befell to him that was possessed with the devil, and
also concerning the swine. 17. And they began to pray Him to depart
out of their coasts. 18. And when He was come into the ship, he that
had been possessed with the devil prayed Him that he might be with
Him. 19. Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home
to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for
thee, and hath had compassion on thee. 20. And he departed, and began
to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and
all men did marvel.'--Mark v. 1-20.

The awful picture of this demoniac is either painted from life, or it
is one of the most wonderful feats of the poetic imagination. Nothing
more terrible, vivid, penetrating, and real was ever conceived by the
greatest creative genius. If it is not simply a portrait, Æschylus or
Dante might own the artist for a brother. We see the quiet landing on
the eastern shore, and almost hear the yells that broke the silence as
the fierce, demon-ridden man hurried to meet them, perhaps with
hostile purpose. The dreadful characteristics of his state are sharply
and profoundly signalised. He lives up in the rock-hewn tombs which
overhang the beach; for all that belongs to corruption and death is
congenial to the subjects of that dark kingdom of evil. He has
superhuman strength, and has known no gentle efforts to reclaim, but
only savage attempts to 'tame' by force, as if he were a beast.
Fetters and manacles have been snapped like rushes by him. Restless,
sleepless, hating men, he has made the night hideous with his wild
shrieks, and fled, swift as the wind, from place to place among the
lonely hills. Insensible to pain, and deriving some dreadful
satisfaction from his own wounds, he has gashed himself with splinters
of rock, and howled, in a delirium of pain and pleasure, at the sight
of his own blood. His sharpened eyesight sees Jesus from afar, and,
with the disordered haste and preternatural agility which marked all
his movements, he runs towards Him. Such is the introduction to the
narrative of the cure. It paints for us not merely a maniac, but a
demoniac. He is not a man at war with himself, but a man at war with
other beings, who have forced themselves into his house of life. At
least, so says Mark, and so said Jesus; and if the story before us is
true, its subsequent incidents compel the acceptance of that
explanation. What went into the herd of swine?

The narrative of the restoration of the sufferer has a remarkable
feature, which may help to mark off its stages. The word 'besought'
occurs four times in it, and we may group the details round each
instance.

I. The demons beseeching Jesus through the man's voice. He was, in the
exact sense of the word, _distracted_--drawn two ways. For it would
seem to have been the self in him that ran to Jesus and fell at His
feet, as if in some dim hope of rescue; but it is the demons in him
that speak, though the voice be his. They force him to utter their
wishes, their terrors, their loathing of Christ, though he says 'I'
and 'me' as if these were his own. That horrible condition of a
double, or, as in this case, a manifold personality, speaking through
human organs, and overwhelming the proper self, mysterious as it is,
is the very essence of the awful misery of the demoniacs. Unless we
are resolved to force meanings of our own on Scripture, I do not see
how we can avoid recognising this. What black thoughts, seething with
all rebellious agitation, the reluctant lips have to utter! The
self-drawn picture of the demoniac nature is as vivid as, and more
repellent than, the Evangelist's terrible portrait of the outward man.
Whatever dumb yearning after Jesus may have been in the oppressed
human consciousness, his words are a shriek of terror and recoil. The
mere presence of Christ lashes the demons into paroxysms: but before
the man spoke, Christ had spoken His stern command to come forth. He
is answered by this howl of fear and hate. Clear recognition of
Christ's person is in it, and not difficult to explain, if we believe
that others than the sufferer looked through his wild eyes, and spoke
in his loud cry. They know Him who had conquered their prince long
ago; if the existence of fallen spirits be admitted, their knowledge
is no difficulty.

The next element in the words is hatred, as fixed as the knowledge is
clear. God's supremacy and loftiness, and Christ's nature, are
recognised, but only the more abhorred. The name of God can be used as
a spell to sway Jesus, but it has no power to touch this fierce hatred
into submission. 'The devils also believe and tremble.' This, then, is
a dark possibility, which has become actual for real living beings,
that they should know God, and hate as heartily as they know clearly.
That is the terminus towards which human spirits may be travelling.
Christ's power, too, is recognised, and His mere presence makes the
flock of obscene creatures nested in the man uneasy, like bats in a
cave, who flutter against a light. They shrink from Him, and
shudderingly renounce all connection with Him, as if their cries would
alter facts, or make Him relax His grip. The very words of the
question prove its folly. 'What is there to me and thee?' implies that
there were two parties to the answer; and the writhings of one of them
could not break the bond. To all this is to be added that the
'torment' deprecated was the expulsion from the man, as if there were
some grim satisfaction and dreadful alleviation in being there, rather
than 'in the abyss'--as Luke gives it--which appears to be the
alternative. If we put all these things together, we get an awful
glimpse into the secrets of that dark realm, which it is better to
ponder with awe than flippantly to deny or mock.

How striking is Christ's unmoved calm in the face of all this fury! He
is always laconic in dealing with demoniacs; and, no doubt, His
tranquil presence helped to calm the man, however it excited the
demon. The distinct intention of the question, 'What is thy name?' is
to rouse the man's self-consciousness, and make him feel his separate
existence, apart from the alien tyranny which had just been using his
voice and usurping his personality. He had said 'I' and 'me.' Christ
meets him with, Who is the 'I'? and the very effort to answer would
facilitate the deliverance. But for the moment the foreign influence
is still too strong, and the answer, than which there is nothing more
weird and awful in the whole range of literature, comes: 'My name is
Legion; for we are many.' Note the momentary gleam of the true self in
the first word or two, fading away into the old confusion. He begins
with 'my,' but he drops back to 'we.' Note the pathetic force of the
name. This poor wretch had seen the solid mass of the Roman legion,
the instrument by which foreign tyrants crushed the nations. He felt
himself oppressed and conquered by their multitudinous array. The
voice of the 'legion' has a kind of cruel ring of triumph, as if
spoken as much to terrify the victim as to answer the question.

Again the man's voice speaks, beseeching the direct opposite of what
he really would have desired. He was not so much in love with his
dreadful tenants as to pray against their expulsion, but their fell
power coerces his lips, and he asks for what would be his ruin. That
prayer, clean contrary to the man's only hope, is surely the climax of
the horror. In a less degree, we also too often deprecate the stroke
which delivers, and would fain keep the legion of evils which riot
within.

II. The demons beseeching Jesus without disguise. There seems to be
intended a distinction between 'he besought,' in verse 10, and they
'besought,' in verse 12. Whether we are to suppose that, in the latter
case, the man's voice was used or no, the second request was more
plainly not his, but theirs. It looks as if, somehow, the command was
already beginning to take effect, and 'he' and 'they' were less
closely intertwined. It is easy to ridicule this part of the incident,
and as easy to say that it is incredible; but it is wiser to remember
the narrow bounds of our knowledge of the unseen world of being, and
to be cautious in asserting that there is nothing beyond the horizon
but vacuity. If there be unclean spirits, we know too little about
them to say what is possible. Only this is plain--that the difficulty
of supposing them to inhabit swine is less, if there be any
difference, than of supposing them to inhabit men, since the animal
nature, especially of such an animal, would correspond to their
impurity, and be open to their driving. The house and the tenant are
well matched. But why should the expelled demons seek such an abode?
It would appear that anywhere was better than 'the abyss,' and that
unless they could find some creature to enter, thither they must go.
It would seem, too, that there was no other land open to them--for the
prayer on the man's lips had been not to send them 'out of the
country,' as if that was the only country on earth open to them. That
makes for the opinion that demoniacal possession was the dark shadow
which attended, for reasons not discoverable by us, the light of
Christ's coming, and was limited in time and space by His earthly
manifestation. But on such matters there is not ground enough for
certainty.

Another difficulty has been raised as to Christ's right to destroy
property. It was very questionable property, if the owners were Jews.
Jesus owns all things, and has the right and the power to use them as
He will; and if the purposes served by the destruction of animal life
or property are beneficent and lofty, it leaves no blot on His
goodness. He used His miraculous power twice for destruction--once on
a fig-tree, once on a herd of swine. In both cases, the good sought
was worth the loss. Whether was it better that the herd should live
and fatten, or that a man should be delivered, and that he and they
who saw should be assured of his deliverance and of Christ's power?
'Is not a man much better than a sheep,' and much more than a pig?
They are born to be killed, and nobody cries out cruelty. Why should
not Christ have sanctioned this slaughter, if it helped to steady the
poor man's nerves, or to establish the reality of possession and of
his deliverance? Notice that the drowning of the herd does not appear
to have entered into the calculations of the unclean spirits. They
desired houses to live in after their expulsion, and for them to
plunge the swine into the lake would have defeated their purpose. The
stampede was an unexpected effect of the commingling of the demonic
with the animal nature, and outwitted the demons. 'The devil is an
ass.' There is a lower depth than the animal nature; and even swine
feel uncomfortable when the demon is in them, and in their panic rush
anywhere to get rid of the incubus, and, before they know, find
themselves struggling in the lake. 'Which things are an allegory.'

III. The terrified Gerasenes beseeching Jesus to leave them. They had
rather have their swine than their Saviour, and so, though they saw
the demoniac sitting, 'clothed, and in his right mind,' at the feet of
Jesus, they in turn beseech that He should take Himself away. Fear and
selfishness prompted the prayer. The communities on the eastern side
of the lake were largely Gentile; and, no doubt, these people knew
that they did many worse things than swine-keeping, and may have been
afraid that some more of their wealth would have to go the same road
as the herd. They did not want instruction, nor feel that they needed
a healer. Were their prayers so very unlike the wishes of many of us?
Is there nobody nowadays unwilling to let the thought of Christ into
his life, because he feels an uneasy suspicion that, if Christ comes,
a good deal will have to go? How many trades and schemes of life
really beseech Jesus to go away and leave them in peace!

And He goes away. The tragedy of life is that we have the awful power
of severing ourselves from His influence. Christ commands unclean
spirits, but He can only plead with hearts. And if we bid Him depart,
He is fain to leave us for the time to the indulgence of our foolish
and wicked schemes. If any man open, He comes in--oh, how gladly I but
if any man slam the door in His face, He can but tarry without and
knock. Sometimes His withdrawing does more than His loudest knocking;
and sometimes they who repelled Him as He stood on the beach call Him
back, as He moves away to the boat. It is in the hope that they may,
that He goes.

IV. The restored man's beseeching to abide with Christ. No wonder that
the spirit of this man, all tremulous with the conflict, and scarcely
able yet to realise his deliverance, clung to Christ, and besought Him
to let him continue by His side. Conscious weakness, dread of some
recurrence of the inward hell, and grateful love, prompted the prayer.
The prayer itself was partly right and partly wrong. Right, in
clinging to Jesus as the only refuge from the past misery; wrong, in
clinging to His visible presence as the only way of keeping near Him.
Therefore, He who had permitted the wish of the demons, and complied
with the entreaties of the terrified mob, did _not_ yield to the
prayer, throbbing with love and conscious weakness. Strange that Jesus
should put aside a hand that sought to grasp His in order to be safe;
but His refusal was, as always, the gift of something better, and He
ever disappoints the wish in order more truly to satisfy the need. The
best defence against the return of the evil spirits was in occupation.
It is the 'empty' house which invites them back. Nothing was so likely
to confirm and steady the convalescent mind as to dwell on the fact of
his deliverance. Therefore he is sent to proclaim it to friends who
had known his dreadful state, and amidst old associations which would
help him to knit his new life to his old, and to treat his misery as a
parenthesis. Jesus commanded silence or speech according to the need
of the subjects of His miracles. For some, silence was best, to deepen
the impression of blessing received; for others, speech was best, to
engage and so to fortify the mind against relapse.



A REFUSED BEQUEST


'He that had been possessed with the devil prayed Jesus that he might
be with Him. 19. Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him,
Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath
done for thee.'--Mark v. 18,19.

There are three requests, singularly contrasted with each other, made
to Christ in the course of this miracle of healing the Gadarene
demoniac. The evil spirits ask to be permitted to go into the swine;
the men of the country, caring more for their swine than their
Saviour, beg Him to take Himself away, and relieve them of His
unwelcome presence; the demoniac beseeches Him to be allowed to stop
beside Him. Two of the requests are granted; one is refused. The one
that was refused is the one that we might have expected to be granted.

Christ forces Himself upon no man, and so, when they besought Him to
go, He went, and took salvation with Him in the boat. Christ withdraws
Himself from no man who desires Him. 'Howbeit Jesus suffered him not,
and said, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the
Lord hath done for thee.'

Now, do you not think that if we put these three petitions and their
diverse answers together, and look especially at this last one, where
the natural wish was refused, we ought to be able to learn some
lessons?

The first thing I would notice is, the clinging of the healed man to
his Healer.

Think of him half an hour before, a raging maniac; now all at once
conscious of a strange new sanity and calmness; instead of lashing
himself about, and cutting himself with stones, and rending his chains
and fetters, 'sitting clothed, and in his right mind,' at the feet of
Jesus. No wonder that he feared that when the Healer went the demons
would come back--no wonder that he besought Him that he might still
keep within that quiet sacred circle of light which streamed from His
presence, across the border of which no evil thing could pass. Love
bound him to his Benefactor; dread made him shudder at the thought of
losing his sole Protector, and being again left, in that partly
heathen land, solitary, to battle with the strong foes that had so
long rioted in his house of life. And so 'he begged that he might be
with Him.'

That poor heathen man--for you must remember that this miracle was not
wrought on the sacred soil of Palestine--that poor heathen man, just
having caught a glimpse of how calm and blessed life might be, is the
type of us all. And there is something wrong with us if our love does
not, like his, desire above all things the presence of Jesus Christ;
and if our consciousness of impotence does not, in like manner, drive
us to long that our sole Deliverer shall not be far away from us.
Merchant-ships in time of war, like a flock of timid birds, keep as
near as they can to the armed convoy, for the only safety from the
guns of the enemy's cruisers is in keeping close to their strong
protector. The traveller upon some rough, unknown road, in the dark,
holds on by his guide's skirts or hand, and feels that if he loses
touch he loses the possibility of safety. A child clings to his parent
when dangers are round him. The convalescent patient does not like to
part with his doctor. And if we rightly learned who it is that has
cured us, and what is the condition of our continuing whole and sound,
like this man we shall pray that He may suffer us to be with Him. Fill
the heart with Christ, and there is no room for the many evil spirits
that make up the legion that torments it The empty heart invites the
devils, and they come back, Even if it is 'swept and garnished,' and
brought into respectability, propriety, and morality, they come back,
There is only one way to keep them out; when the ark is in the Temple,
Dagon will be lying, like the brute form that he is, a stump upon the
threshold. The condition of our security is close contact with Jesus
Christ. If we know the facts of life, the temptations that ring us
round, the weakness of these wayward wills of ours, and the strength
of this intrusive and masterful flesh and sense that we have to rule,
we shall know and feel that our only safety is our Master's presence.

Further, note the strange refusal.

Jesus Christ went through the world, or at least the little corner of
it which His earthly career occupied, seeking for men that desired to
have Him, and it is impossible that He should have put away any soul
that desired to be present with Him. Yet, though His one aim was to
draw men to Him, and the prospect that He should be able to exercise a
stronger attraction over a wider area reconciled Him to the prospect
of the Cross, so that He said in triumph, 'I, when I am lifted up from
the earth, will draw all men unto Me,' he meets this heathen man,
feeble in his crude and recent sanity, with a flat refusal. 'He
suffered him not.' Most probably the reason for the strange and
apparently anomalous dealing with such a desire was to be found in the
man's temperament. Most likely it was the best thing for _him_ that he
should stop quietly in his own house, and have no continuance of the
excitement and perpetual change which would have necessarily been his
lot if he had been allowed to go with Jesus Christ. We may be quite
sure that when the Lord with one hand seemed to put him away, He was
really, with a stronger attraction, drawing him to Himself; and that
the peculiarity of the method of treatment was determined with
exclusive reference to the real necessities of the person who was
subject to it.

But yet, underlying the special case, and capable of being stated in
the most general terms, lies this thought, that Jesus Christ's
presence, the substance of the demoniac's desire, may be as
completely, and, in some cases, will be more completely, realised
amongst the secularities of ordinary life than amidst the sanctities
of outward communion and companionship with Him. Jesus was beginning
here to wean the man from his sensuous dependence upon His localised
and material presence. It was good for him, and it is good for us all,
to 'feel our feet,' so to speak. Responsibility laid, and felt to be
laid, upon us is a steadying and ennobling influence. And it was
better that the demoniac should learn to stand calmly, when apparently
alone, than that he should childishly be relying on the mere external
presence of his Deliverer.

Be sure of this, that when the Lord went away across the lake, He left
His heart and His thoughts, and His care and His power over there, on
the heathen side of the sea; and that when 'the people thronged Him'
on the other side, and the poor woman pressed through the crowd, that
virtue might come to her by her touch, virtue was at the same time
raying out across the water to the solitary newly healed demoniac, to
sustain him too.

And so we may all learn that we may have, and it depends upon
ourselves whether we do or do not have, all protection all
companionship, and all the sweetness of Christ's companionship and the
security of Christ's protection just as completely when we are at home
amongst our friends--that is to say, when we are about our daily work,
and in the secularities of our calling or profession--as when we are
in the 'secret place of the Most High' and holding fellowship with a
present Christ. Oh, to carry Him with us into every duty, to realise
Him in all circumstances, to see the light of His face shine amidst
the darkness of calamity, and the pointing of His directing finger
showing us our road amidst all perplexities of life! Brethren, that is
possible. When Jesus Christ 'suffered him not to go with Him,' Jesus
Christ stayed behind with the man.

Lastly, we have here the duty enjoined.

'Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath
done for thee.' The man went home and translated the injunction into
word and deed. As I said, the reason for the peculiarity of his
treatment, in his request being refused, was probably his peculiar
temperament. So again I would say the reason for the commandment laid
upon him, which is also anomalous, was probably the peculiarity of his
disposition. Usually our Lord was careful to enjoin silence upon those
whom He benefited by His miraculous cures. That injunction of silence
was largely owing to His desire not to create or fan the flame of
popular excitement. But that risk was chiefly to be guarded against in
the land of Israel, and here, where we have a miracle upon Gentile
soil, there was not the same occasion for avoiding talk and notoriety.

But probably the main reason for the exceptional commandment to go and
publish abroad what the Lord had done was to be found in the simple
fact that this man's malady and his disposition were such that
external work of some sort was the best thing to prevent him from
relapsing into his former condition. His declaration to everybody of
his cure would help to confirm his cure; and whilst he was speaking
about being healed, he would more and more realise to himself that he
was healed. Having work to do would take him out of himself, which no
doubt was a great security against the recurrence of the evil from
which he had been delivered. But however that may be, look at the
plain lesson that lies here. Every healed man should be a witness to
his Healer; and there is no better way of witnessing than by our
lives, by the elevation manifested in our aims, by our aversion from
all low, earthly, gross things, by the conspicuous--not made
conspicuous by us, conspicuous because it cannot be hid--concentration
and devotion, and unselfishness and Christlikeness of our daily lives
to show that we are really healed. If we manifest these things in our
conduct, then, when we say 'it was Jesus Christ that healed me,'
people will be apt to believe us. But if this man had gone away into
the mountains and amongst the tombs as he used to do, and had
continued all the former characteristics of his devil-ridden life, who
would have believed him when he talked about being healed? And who
ought to believe you when you say, 'Christ is my Saviour,' if your
lives are, to all outward seeming, exactly what they were before?

The sphere in which the healed man's witness was to be borne tested
the reality of his healing. 'Go home to thy friends, and tell _them_.'
I wonder how many Christian professors there are who would be least
easily believed by those who live in the same house with them, if they
said that Jesus had cast their devils out of them. It is a great
mistake to take recent converts, especially if they have been very
profligate beforehand, and to hawk them about the country as trophies
of God's converting power. Let them stop at home, and bethink
themselves, and get sober and confirmed, and let their changed lives
prove the reality of Christ's healing power. They can speak to some
purpose after that.

Further, remember that there is no better way for keeping out devils
than working for Jesus Christ. Many a man finds that the true
cure--say, for instance, of doubts that buzz about him and disturb
him, is to go away and talk to some one about his Saviour. Work for
Jesus amongst people that do not know Him is a wonderful sieve for
sifting out the fundamental articles of the Christian faith. And when
we go to other people, and tell them of that Lord, and see how the
message is sometimes received, and what it sometimes does, we come
away with confirmed faith.

But, in any case, it is better to work for Him than to sit alone,
thinking about Him. The two things have to go together; and I know
very well that there is a great danger, in the present day, of
exaggeration, and insisting too exclusively upon the duty of Christian
work whilst neglecting to insist upon the duty of Christian
meditation. But, on the other hand, it blows the cobwebs out of a
man's brain; it puts vigour into him, it releases him from himself,
and gives him something better to think about, when he listens to the
Master's voice, 'Go home to thy friends, and tell them what great
things the Lord hath done for thee.'

'Master! it is good for us to be here. Let us make three tabernacles.
Stay here; let us enjoy ourselves up in the clouds, with Moses and
Elias; and never mind about what goes on below.' But there was a
demoniac boy down there that needed to be healed; and the father was
at his wits' end, and the disciples were at theirs because they could
not heal him. And so Jesus Christ turned His back upon the Mount of
Transfiguration, and the company of the blessed two, and the Voice
that said, 'This is My beloved Son,' and hurried down where human woes
called Him, and found that He was as near God, and so did Peter and
James and John, as when up there amid the glory.

'Go home to thy friends, and tell them'; and you will find that to do
that is the best way to realise the desire which seemed to be put
aside, the desire for the presence of Christ. For be sure that
wherever He may not be, He always is where a man, in obedience to Him,
is doing His commandments. So when He said, 'Go home to thy friends,'
He was answering the request that He seamed to reject, and when the
Gadarene obeyed, he would find, to his astonishment and his grateful
wonder, that the Lord had _not_ gone away in the boat, but was with
him still. 'Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel. Lo! I am
with you always.'



TALITHA CUMI


And, behold, there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus
by name; and when he saw Him, he fell at His feet, 23. And besought
Him greatly, saying, My little daughter lieth at the point of death: I
pray Thee, come and lay Thy hands on her, that she may be healed; and
she shall live. 24. And Jesus went with him; and much people followed
Him, and thronged Him.... 35. While He yet spake, there came from the
ruler of the synagogue's house certain which said, Thy daughter is
dead: why troublest thou the Master any further? 36. As soon as Jesus
heard the word that was spoken, He saith unto the ruler of the
synagogue, Be not afraid, only believe. 37. And He suffered no man to
follow Him, save Peter, and James, and John the brother of James. 38.
And He cometh to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and seeth
the tumult, and them that wept and wailed greatly. 39. And when He was
come in, He saith unto them, Why make ye this ado, and weep? the
damsel is not dead, but sleepeth. 40. And they laughed Him to scorn.
But when He had put them all out, He taketh the father and the mother
of the damsel, and them that were with Him, and entereth in where the
damsel was lying. 41. And He took the damsel by the hand, and said
unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say
unto thee, arise. 42. And straightway the damsel arose, and walked;
for she was of the age of twelve years. And they were astonished with
a great astonishment. 43. And He charged them straitly that no man
should know it; and commanded that something should be given her to
eat.'--Mark v. 22-24, 35-43.

The scene of this miracle was probably Capernaum; its time, according
to Matthew, was the feast at his house after his call. Mark's date
appears to be later, but he may have anticipated the feast in his
narrative, in order to keep the whole of the incidents relating to
Matthew's apostleship together. Jairus's knowledge of Jesus is implied
in the story, and perhaps Jesus' acquaintance with him.

I. We note, first, the agonised appeal and the immediate answer.
Desperation makes men bold. Conventionalities are burned up by the
fire of agonised petitioning for help in extremity. Without apology or
preliminary, Jairus bursts in, and his urgent need is sufficient
excuse. Jesus never complains of scant respect when wrung hearts cry
to Him. But this man was not only driven by despair, but drawn by
trust. He was sure that, even though his little darling had been all
but dead when he ran from his house, and was dead by this time, for
all he knew, Jesus could give her life. Perhaps he had not faced the
stern possibility that she might already be gone, nor defined
precisely what he hoped for in that case. But he was sure of Jesus'
power, and he says nothing to show that he doubted His willingness. A
beautiful trust shines through his words, based, no doubt, on what he
had known and seen of Jesus' miracles. _We_ have more pressing and
deeper needs, and we have fuller and deeper knowledge of Jesus,
wherefore our approach to Him should be at least as earnest and
confidential as Jairus's was. If our Lord was at the feast when this
interruption took place, His gracious, immediate answer becomes more
lovely, as a sign of His willingness to bring the swiftest help.
'While they are yet speaking, I will hear.' Jairus had not finished
asking before Jesus was on His feet to go.

The father's impatience would be satisfied when they were on their
way, but how he would chafe, and think every moment an age, while
Jesus stayed, as if at entire leisure, to deal with another silent
petitioner! But His help to one never interferes with His help to
another, and no case is so pressing as that He cannot spare time to
stay to bless some one else. The poor, sickly, shamefaced woman shall
be healed, and the little girl shall not suffer.

II. We have next the extinction and rekindling of Jairus's glimmer of
hope. Distances in Capernaum were short, and the messenger would soon
find Jesus. There was little sympathy in the harsh, bald announcement
of the death, or in the appended suggestion that the Rabbi need not be
further troubled. The speaker evidently was thinking more of being
polite to Jesus than of the poor father's stricken heart, Jairus would
feel then what most of us have felt in like circumstances,--that he
had been more hopeful than he knew. Only when the last glimmer is
quenched do we feel, by the blackness, how much light had lingered in
our sky, But Jesus knew Jairus's need before Jairus himself knew it,
and His strong word of cheer relit the torch ere the poor father had
time to speak. That loving eye reads our hearts and anticipates our
dreary hopelessness by His sweet comfortings. Faith is the only
victorious antagonist of fear. Jairus had every reason for abandoning
hope, and his only reason for clinging to it was faith. So it is with
us all. It is vain to bid us not be afraid when real dangers and
miseries stare us in the face; but it is not vain to bid us 'believe,'
and if we do that, faith, cast into the one scale, will outweigh a
hundred good reasons for dread and despair cast into the other.

III. We have next the tumult of grief and the word that calms. The
hired mourners had lost no time, and in Eastern fashion were
disturbing the solemnity of death with their professional shrieks and
wailings. True grief is silent. Woe that weeps aloud is soon consoled.

What a contrast between the noise outside and the still death-chamber
and its occupant, and what a contrast between the agitation of the
sham comforters and the calmness of the true Helper! Christ's great
word was spoken for us all when our hearts are sore and our dear ones
go. It dissolves the dim shape into nothing ness, or, rather, it
transfigures it into a gracious, soothing form. Sleep is rest, and
bears in itself the pledge of waking. So Christ has changed the
'shadow feared of man' into beauty, and in the strength of His great
word we can meet the last enemy with 'Welcome! friend.' It is strange
that any one reading this narrative should have been so blind to its
deepest beauty as to suppose that Jesus was here saying that the child
had only swooned, and was really alive. He was not denying that she
was what men call 'dead,' but He was, in the triumphant consciousness
of His own power, and in the clear vision of the realities of
spiritual being, of which bodily states are but shadows, denying that
what men call death deserves the name. 'Death' is the state of the
soul separated from God, whether united to the body or no,--not the
separation of body and soul, which is only a visible symbol of the
more dread reality.

IV. We have finally the life-giving word and the life-preserving care.
Probably Jesus first freed His progress from the jostling crowd, and
then, when arrived, made the further selection of the three
apostles,--the first three of the mighty ones--and, as was becoming,
of the father and mother.

With what hushed, tense expectation they would enter the chamber!
Think of the mother's eyes watching Him. The very words that He spoke
were like a caress. There was infinite tenderness in that 'Damsel!'
from His lips, and so deep an impression did it make on Peter that he
repeated the very words to Mark, and used them, with the change of one
letter ('Ta_b_itha' for 'Ta_l_itha'), in raising Dorcas. The same
tenderness is expressed by His taking her by the hand, as, no doubt,
her mother had done, many a morning, on waking her. The father had
asked Him to lay His hand on her, that she might be made whole and
live. He did as He was asked,--He always does--and His doing according
to our desire brings larger blessings than we had thought of. Neither
the touch of His hand nor the words He spoke were the real agents of
the child's returning to life. It was His will which brought her back
from whatever vasty dimness she had entered. The forth-putting of
Christ's will is sovereign, and His word runs with power through all
regions of the universe. 'The dull, cold ear of death' hears, and
'they that hear shall live,' whether they are, as men say, dead, or
whether they are 'dead in trespasses and sins.' The resurrection of a
soul is a mightier act--if we can speak of degrees of might in His
acts--than that of a body.

It would be calming for the child of such strange experiences to see,
for the first thing that met her eyes opening again on the old
familiar home as on a strange land, the bending face of Jesus, and His
touch would steady her spirit and assure of His love and help. The
quiet command to give her food knits the wonder with common life, and
teaches precious lessons as to His economy of miraculous power, like
His bidding others loosen Lazarus's wrappings, and as to His
devolution on us of duties towards those whom He raises from the death
of sin. But it was given, not didactically, but lovingly. The girl was
exhausted, and sustenance was necessary, and would be sweet. So He
thought upon a small bodily need, and the love that gave life took
care to provide what was required to support it. He gives the
greatest; He will take care that we shall not lack the least.



THE POWER OF FEEBLE FAITH


'And a certain woman ... 27. When she had heard of Jesus, came in the
press behind, and touched His garment. 28. For she said, If I may
touch but His clothes, I shall be whole.'--Mark v. 25, 27, 28.

In all the narratives of this miracle, it is embedded in the story of
Jairus's daughter, which it cuts in twain. I suppose that the
Evangelists felt, and would have us feel, the impression of calm
consciousness of power and of leisurely dignity produced by Christ's
having time to pause even on such an errand, in order to heal by the
way, as if parenthetically, this other poor sufferer. The child's
father with impatient earnestness pleads the urgency of her case--'She
lieth at the point of death'; and to him and to the group of
disciples, it must have seemed that there was no time to be lost. But
He who knows that His resources are infinite can afford to let her
die, while He cures and saves this woman. She shall receive no harm,
and her sister suppliant has as great a claim on Him. 'The eyes of all
wait' on His equal love; He has leisure of heart to feel for each, and
fulness of power for all; and none can rob another of his share in the
Healer's gifts, nor any in all that dependent crowd jostle his
neighbour out of the notice of the Saviour's eye.

The main point of the story itself seems to be the illustration which
it gives of the genuineness and power of an imperfect faith, and of
Christ's merciful way of responding to and strengthening such a faith.
Looked at from that point of view, the narrative is very striking and
instructive.

The woman is a poor shrinking creature, broken down by long illness,
made more timid still by many disappointed hopes of core, depressed by
poverty to which her many doctors had brought her. She does not
venture to stop this new Rabbi-physician, as He goes with the rich
church dignitary to heal his daughter, but lets Him pass before she
can make up her mind to go near Him at all, and then comes creeping up
in the crowd behind, puts out her wasted, trembling hand to His
garment's hem--and she is whole. She would fain have stolen away with
her new-found blessing, but Christ forces her to stand out before the
throng, and there, with all their eyes upon her--cold, cruel eyes some
of them--to conquer her diffidence and shame, and tell all the truth.
Strange kindness that! strangely contrasted with His ordinary care to
avoid notoriety, and with His ordinary tender regard for shrinking
weakness! What may have been the reason? Certainly it was not for His
own sake at all, nor for others' chiefly, but for hers, that He did
this. The reason lay in the incompleteness of her faith. It was very
incomplete--although it was, Christ answered it. And then He sought to
make the cure, and the discipline that followed it, the means of
clearing and confirming her trust in Himself.

I. Following the order of the narrative thus understood, we have here
first the great lesson, that very imperfect faith may be genuine
faith. There was unquestionable confidence in Christ's healing power,
and there was earnest desire for healing. Our Lord Himself recognises
her faith as adequate to be the condition of her receiving the cure
which she desired. Of course, it was a very different thing from the
faith which unites us to Christ, and is the condition of our receiving
our soul's cure; and we shall never understand the relation of
multitudes of the people in the Gospels to Jesus, if we insist upon
supposing that the 'faith to be healed,' which many of them had, was a
religious, or, as we call it, 'saving faith.' But still, the trust
which was directed to Him, as the giver of miraculous temporal
blessings, is akin to that higher trust into which it often passed,
and the principles regulating the operation of the loftier are
abundantly illustrated in the workings of the lower.

The imperfections, then, of this woman's faith were many. It was
intensely _ignorant_ trust. She dimly believes that, somehow or other,
this miracle-working Rabbi will heal her, but the cure is to be a
piece of magic, secured by material contact of her finger with His
robe. She has no idea that Christ's will, or His knowledge, much less
His pitying love, has anything to do with it. She thinks that she may
get her desire furtively, and may carry it away out of the crowd, and
He, the source of it, be none the wiser, and none the poorer, for the
blessing which she has stolen from Him. What utter blank ignorance of
Christ's character and way of working! What complete misconception of
the relation between Himself and His gift! What low, gross,
superstitious ideas! Yes, and with them all what a hunger of intense
desire to be whole; what absolute assurance of confidence that one
finger-tip on His robe was enough! Therefore she had her desire, and
her Lord recognised her faith as true, foolish and unworthy as were
the thoughts which accompanied it!

Thank God! the same thing is true still, or what would become of any
of us? There may be a real faith in Christ, though there be mixed with
it many and grave errors concerning His work, and the manner of
receiving the blessings which He bestows. A man may have a very hazy
apprehension of the bearing and whole scope of even Scripture
declarations concerning the profounder aspects of Christ's person and
work, and yet be holding fast to Him by living confidence. I do not
wish to underrate for one moment the absolute necessity of clear and
true conceptions of revealed truth, in order to a vigorous and fully
developed faith; but, while there can be no faith worth calling so,
which is not based upon the intellectual reception of truth, there may
be faith based upon the very imperfect intellectual reception of very
partial truth. The power and vitality of faith are not measured by the
comprehensiveness and clearness of belief. The richest soil may bear
shrunken and barren ears; and on the arid sand, with the thinnest
layer of earth, gorgeous cacti may bloom out, and fleshy aloes lift
their sworded arms, with stores of moisture to help them through the
heat. It is not for us to say what amount of ignorance is destructive
of the possibility of real confidence in Jesus Christ. But for
ourselves, feeling how short a distance our eyesight travels, and how
little, after all our systems, the great bulk of men in Christian
lands know lucidly and certainly of theological truth, and how wide
are the differences of opinion amongst us, and how soon we come to
towering barriers, beyond which our poor faculties can neither pass
nor look, it ought to be a joy to us all, that a faith which is
clouded with such ignorance may yet be a faith which Christ accepts.
He that knows and trusts Him as Brother, Friend, Saviour, in whom he
receives the pardon and cleansing which he needs and desires, may have
very much misconception and error cleaving to him, but Christ accepts
him. If at the beginning His disciples know but this much, that they
are sick unto death, and have tried without success all other
remedies, and this more, that Christ will heal them; and if their
faith builds upon that knowledge, then they will receive according to
their faith. By degrees they will be taught more; they will be brought
to the higher benches in His school; but, for a beginning, the most
cloudy apprehension that Christ is the Saviour of the world, and my
Saviour, may become the foundation of a trust which will bind the
heart to Him and knit Him to the heart in eternal union. This poor
woman received her healing, although she said, 'If I may touch but the
hem of His garment, I shall be whole.'

Her error was akin to one which is starting into new prominence again,
and with which I need not say that I have no sort of sympathy,--that
of people who attach importance to externals as means and channels of
grace, and in whose system the hem of the garment and the touch of the
finger are apt to take the place which the heart of the wearer and the
grasp of faith should hold. The more our circumstances call for
resistance to this error, the more needful is it to remember that,
along with it and uttering itself through it, may be a depth of devout
trust in Christ, which should shame us. Many a poor soul that clasps
the base of the crucifix clings to the cross; many a devout heart,
kneeling before the altar, sees through the incense-smoke the face of
the Christ. The faith that is tied to form, though it be no faith for
a man, though in some respects it darken God's Gospel, and bring it
down to the level of magical superstition, may yet be, and often is,
accepted by Him whose merciful eye recognised, and whose swift power
answered, the mistaken trust of her who believed that healing lay in
the fringes of His robe, rather than in the pity of His heart.

Again, her trust was very _selfish_. She wanted health; she did not
care about the Healer. She thought much of the blessing in itself,
little or nothing of the blessing as a sign of His love. She would
have been quite contented to have had nothing more to do with Christ
if she could only have gone away cured. She felt but little glow of
gratitude to Him whom she thought of as unconscious of the good which
she had stolen from Him. All this is a parallel to what occurs in the
early stages of many a Christian life. The first inducement to a
serious contemplation of Christ is, ordinarily, the consciousness of
one's own sore need. Most men are driven to Him as a refuge from self,
from their own sin, and from the wages of sin. The soul, absorbed in
its own misery, and groaning in a horror of great darkness, sees from
afar a great light, and stumbles towards it. Its first desire is
deliverance, forgiveness, escape; and the first motions of faith are
impelled by consideration of personal consequences. Love comes after,
born of the recognition of Christ's great love to which we owe our
salvation; but faith precedes love in the natural order of things,
however closely love may follow faith; and the predominant motive in
the earlier stages of many men's faith is distinctly self-regard. Now,
that is all right, and as it was meant to be. It is an overstrained
and caricatured doctrine of self-abnegation, which condemns such a
faith as wrong. The most purely self-absorbed wish to escape from the
most rudely pictured hell may be, and often is, the beginning of a
true trust in Christ. Some of our superfine modern teachers who are
shocked at Christianity, because it lays the foundation of the
loftiest, most self-denying morality in 'selfishness' of that kind,
would be all the wiser for going to school to this story, and laying
to heart the lesson it contains, of how a desire no nobler than to get
rid of a painful disease was the starting-point of a moral
transformation, which turned a life into a peaceful, thankful
surrender of the cured self to the service and love of the mighty
Healer. But while this faith, for the sake of the blessing to be
obtained, is genuine, it is undoubtedly imperfect. Quite legitimate
and natural at first, it must grow into something nobler when it has
once been answered. To think of the disease mainly is inevitable
before the cure, but, after the cure, we should think most of the
Physician. Self-love may impel to His feet; but Christ-love should be
the moving spring of life thereafter. Ere we have received anything
from Him, our whole soul may be a longing to have our gnawing
emptiness filled; but when we have received His own great gift, our
whole soul should be a thank-offering. The great reformation which
Christ produces is, that He shifts the centre for us from ourselves to
Himself; and whilst He uses our sense of need and our fear of personal
evil as the means towards this, He desires that the faith, which has
been answered by deliverance, should thenceforward be a 'faith which
worketh by love.' As long as we live, either here or yonder, we shall
never get beyond the need for the exercise of the primary form of
faith, for we shall ever be compassed by many needs, and dependent for
all help and blessedness on Him; but as we grow in experience of His
tender might, we should learn more and more that His gifts cannot be
separated from Himself. We should prize them most for His sake, and
love Him more than we do them. We should be drawn to Him as well as
driven to Him. Faith may begin with desiring the blessing rather than
the Christ. It must end with desiring Him more than all besides, and
with losing self utterly in His great love. Its starting-point may
rightly be, 'Save, Lord, or I perish.' Its goal must be, 'I live, yet
not I, but Christ liveth in me.'

Again, here is an instance of real faith weakened and interrupted by
much _distrust_. There was not a full, calm reliance on Christ's power
and love. She dare not appeal to His heart, she shrinks from meeting
His eye. She will let Him pass, and then put forth a tremulous hand.
Cross-currents of emotion agitate her soul. She doubts, yet she
believes; she is afraid, yet emboldened by her very despair; too
diffident to cast herself on His pity, she is too confident not to
resort to His healing virtue.

And so is it ever with our faith. Its ideal perfection would be that
it should be unbroken, undashed by any speck of doubt. But the reality
is far different. It is no full-orbed completeness, but, at the best,
a growing segment of reflected light, with many a rough place in its
jagged outline, prophetic of increase; with many a deep pit of
blackness on its silver surface; with many a storm-cloud sweeping
across its face; conscious of eclipse and subject to change. And yet
it is the light which He has set to rule the night of life, and we may
rejoice in its crescent beam. We are often tempted to question the
reality of faith in ourselves and others, by reason of the unbelief
and disbelief which co-exist with it. But why should we do so? May
there not be an inner heart and centre of true trust, with a nebulous
environment of doubt, through which the nucleus shall gradually send
its attracting and consolidating power, and turn it, too, into firm
substance? May there not be a germ, infinitesimal, yet with a real
life throbbing in its microscopic minuteness, and destined to be a
great tree, with all the fowls of the air lodging in its branches? May
there not be hid in a heart a principle of action, which is obviously
marked out for supremacy, though it has not yet come to sovereign
power and manifestation in either the inward or the outward being?
Where do we learn that faith must be complete to be genuine? Our own
weak hearts say it to us often enough; and our lingering unbelief is
only too ready to hiss into our ears the serpent's whisper, 'You are
deceiving yourself; look at your doubts, your coldness, your
forgetfulness: _you_ have no faith at all.' To all such morbid
thoughts, which only sap the strength of the spirit, and come from
beneath, not from above, we have a right to oppose the first great
lesson of this story--the reality of an imperfect faith. And, turning
from the profitless contemplation of the feebleness of our grasp of
Christ's robe to look on Him, the fountain of all spiritual energy,
let us cleave the more confidently to Him for every discovery of our
own weakness, and cry to Him for help against ourselves, that He would
not 'quench the smoking flax'; for the old prayer is never offered in
vain, when offered, as at first, with tears, 'Lord, I believe; help
Thou mine unbelief.'

II. The second stage of this story sets forth a truth involved in what
I have already said, but still needing to be dealt with for a moment
by itself--namely, that Christ answers the imperfect faith.

There was no real connection between the touch of His robe and the
cure, but the poor ignorant sufferer thought that there was; and,
therefore, Christ stoops to her childish thought, and allows her to
prescribe the path by which His gift shall reach her. That thin wasted
hand stretched itself up beyond the height to which it could
ordinarily reach, and, though that highest point fell far short of
Him, He lets His blessing down to her level. He does not say,
'Understand Me, put away thy false notion of healing power residing in
My garment's hem, or I heal thee not.' But He says, 'Dost thou think
that it is through thy finger on My robe? Then, through thy finger on
My robe it shall be. According to thy faith, be it unto thee.'

And so it is ever. Christ's mercy, like water in a vase, takes the
shape of the vessel that holds it. On the one hand, His grace is
infinite, and 'is given to every one of us according to the measure of
the gift of Christ'--with no limitation but His own unlimited fulness;
on the other hand, the amount which we practically receive from that
inexhaustible store is, at each successive moment, determined by the
measure and the purity and the intensity of our faith. On His part
there is no limit but infinity, on our sides the limit is our
capacity, and our capacity is settled by our desires. His word to us
ever is, 'Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.' 'Be it unto thee
even as thou wilt.'

A double lesson, therefore, lies in this thought for us all. First,
let us labour that our faith may be enlightened, importunate, and
firm: for every flaw in it will injuriously affect our possession of
the grace of God. Errors in opinion will hinder the blessings that
flow from the truths which we misconceive or reject. Languor of desire
will diminish the sum and enfeeble the energy of the powers that work
in us. Wavering confidence, crossed and broken, like the solar
spectrum, by many a dark line of doubt, will make our conscious
possession of Christ's gift fitful. We have a deep well to draw from.
Let us take care that the vessel with which we draw is in size
proportionate to _its_ depth and _our_ need, that the chain to which
it hangs is strong, and that no leaks in it let the full supply run
out, nor any stains on its inner surface taint and taste the bright
treasure.

And the other lesson is this. There can be no faith so feeble that
Christ does not respond to it. The most ignorant, self-regarding,
timid trust may unite the soul to Jesus Christ. To desire is to have;
and 'whosoever will, may take of the water of life freely.' If you
only come to Him, though He have passed, He will stop. If you come
trusting and yet doubting, He will forgive the doubt and answer the
trust. If you come to Him, knowing but that your heart is full of evil
which none save He can cure, and putting out a lame hand--or even a
tremulous finger-tip--to touch His garment, be sure that anything is
possible rather than that He should turn away your prayer, or His
mercy from you.

III. The last part of this miracle teaches us that Christ corrects and
confirms an imperfect faith by the very act of answering it.

Observe how the process of cure and the discipline which followed are,
in Christ's loving wisdom, made to fit closely to all the faults and
flaws in the suppliant's faith.

She had thought of the healing energy as independent of the Healer's
knowledge and will. Therefore His very first word shows her that He is
aware of her mute appeal, and conscious of the going forth from Him of
the power that cures--'Who touched Me?' As was said long ago, 'the
multitudes thronged Him, but the woman touched.' Amidst all the
jostling of the unmannerly crowd that trod with rude feet on His
skirts, and elbowed their way to see this new Rabbi, there was one
touch unlike all the rest; and, though it was only that of the
finger-tip of a poor woman, wasted to skin and bone with twelve years'
weakening disease, He knew it; and His will and love sent forth the
'virtue' which healed. May we not fairly apply this lesson to
ourselves? Christ is, as most of us, I suppose, believe, Lord of all
creatures, administering the affairs of the universe; the steps of His
throne and the precincts of His court are thronged with dependants
whose eyes wait upon Him, and who are fed from His stores; and yet my
poor voice may steal through that chorus-shout of petition and praise,
and His ear will detect its lowest note, and will separate the thin
stream of my prayer from the great sea of supplication which rolls to
His seat, and will answer _me_. My hand uplifted among the millions of
empty and imploring palms that are raised towards the heaven will
receive into its clasping fingers the special blessing for my special
wants.

Again, she had been selfish in her faith, had not cared for any close
personal relation with Him; and so she was taught that He was in all
His gifts, and that He was more than all His gifts. He compels her to
come to His feet that she may learn His heart, and may carry away a
blessing not stolen, but bestowed

  'With open love, not secret cure,
  The Lord of hearts would bless.'

And thus is laid the foundation for a personal bond between her and
Christ, which shall be for the joy of her life, and shall make of that
life a thankful sacrifice to Him, the Healer.

Thus it is with us all. We may go to Him, at first, with no thought
but for ourselves. But we have not to carry away His gift hidden in
our hands. We learn that it is a love-token from Him. And so we find
in His answer to faith the true and only cure for all self-regard; and
moved by the mercies of Christ, are led to do what else were
impossible--to yield ourselves as 'living sacrifices' to Him.

Again, she had shrunk from publicity. Her womanly diffidence, her
enfeebled health, the shame of her disease, all made her wish to hide
herself and her want from His eye, and to hide herself and her
treasure from men. She would fain steal away unnoticed, as she hoped
she had come. But she is dragged out before all the thronging
multitude, and has to tell the whole. The answer to her faith makes
her bold. In a moment she is changed from timidity to courage; a
tremulous invalid ready to creep into any corner to escape notice, she
stretched out her hand--the instant after, she knelt at His feet in
the spirit of a confessor. This is Christ's most merciful fashion of
curing our cowardice--not by rebukes, but by giving us, faint-hearted
though we be, the gift which out of weakness makes us strong. He would
have us testify to Him before men, and that for our own sakes, since
faith unacknowledged, like a plant in the dark, is apt to become pale
and sickly, and bear no bright blossoms nor sweet fruit. But, ere He
bids us own His name, He pours into our hearts, in answer to our
secret appeal, the health of His own life, and the blissful
consciousness of that great gift which makes the tongue of the dumb
sing. Faith at first may be very timid, but faith will grow bold to
witness of Him and not be ashamed, in the exact proportion in which it
is genuine, and receives from Christ of His fulness.

And then--with a final word to set forth still more clearly that she
had received the blessing from His love, not from His magical power,
and through her confidence, not through her touch--'Daughter! thy
faith'--not thy finger--'hath made thee whole; go in peace and _be_
whole'--Jesus confirms by His own authoritative voice the furtive
blessing, and sends her away, perhaps to see Him no more, but to live
in tranquil security, and in her humble home to guard the gift which
He had bestowed on her imperfect faith, and to perfect--we may
hope--the faith which He had enlightened and strengthened by the
over-abundance of His gift.

Dear friends, this poor woman represents us all. Like her, we are sick
of a sore sickness, we have spent our substance in trying physicians
of no value, and are 'nothing the better, but rather the worse.' Oh!
is it not strange that you should need to be urged to go to the Healer
to whom she went? Do not be afraid, my brother, of telling Him all
your pain and pining--He knows it already. Do not be afraid that your
hand may not reach Him for the crowd, or that your voice may fail to
fall on His ear. Do not be afraid of your ignorance, do not be afraid
of your wavering confidence and many doubts. All these cannot separate
you from Him who 'Himself took our infirmities and bare our
sicknesses.' Fear but one thing--that He pass on to carry life and
health to other souls, ere you resolve to press to His feet. Fear but
one thing--that whilst you delay, the hem of the garment may be swept
beyond the reach of your slow hand. Imperfect faith may bring
salvation to a soul: hesitation may ruin and wreck a life.



TOUCH OR FAITH?


'If I may touch but His clothes, I shall be whole.... Daughter, thy
faith hath made thee whole.'--Mark v. 28,34.


I. The erroneous faith.--In general terms there is here an
illustration of how intellectual error may coexist with sincere faith.
The precise form of error is clearly that she looked on the physical
contact with the material garment as the vehicle of healing--the very
same thing which we find ever since running through the whole history
of the Church, _e.g._ the exaltation of externals, rites, ordinances,
sacraments, etc.

Take two or three phases of it--

1. You get it formularised into a system in sacramentarianism.

(a) Baptismal regeneration,

(b) Holy Communion.

Religion becomes largely a thing of rites and ceremonies.

2. You get it in Protestant form among Dissenters in the importance
attached to Church membership.

Outward acts of worship.

There is abroad a vague idea that somehow we get good from external
association with religious acts, and so on. This feeling is deep in
human nature, is not confined to the Roman Catholic Church, and is not
the work of priests. There is a strange revival of it to-day, and so
there is need of protest against it in every form.

II. The blessing that comes to an erroneous faith.--The woman here was
too 'ritualistic.' How many good people there are in that same school
to-day! Yet how blessed for us all, that, even along with many errors,
if we grasp _Him_ we shall not lose the grace.

III. Christ's gentle enlightenment on the error.--'Thy faith hath
saved thee.' How wonderfully beautiful! He cures by giving the
blessing and leading on to the full truth. In regard to the woman, it
might have been that her touch _did_ heal; but even there in the
physical realm, since it was He, not His robe, that healed, it was her
faith, not her hand, that procured the blessing. This is universally
true in the spiritual realm.

(a) Salvation is purely spiritual and inward in its nature--not an
outward work, but a new nature, 'love, joy, peace.' Hence

(b) Faith is the condition of salvation. Faith saves because _He_
saves, and faith is contact with Him. It is the only thing which joins
a soul to Christ. Then learn what makes a Christian.

(c) Hence, the place of externals is purely subsidiary to faith. If
they help a man to believe and feel more strongly, they are good.
Their only office is the same as that of preaching or reading. In
both, truth is the agent. Their power is in enforcing truth.



THE LOOKS OF JESUS


'And He looked round about to see her that had done this thing.'--Mark
v. 32.

This Gospel of Mark is full of little touches that speak an
eye-witness who had the gift of noting and reproducing vividly small
details which make a scene live before us. Sometimes it is a word of
description: 'There was much grass in the place.' Sometimes it is a
note of Christ's demeanour: 'Looking up to heaven, He sighed.'
Sometimes it is the very Aramaic words He spoke: 'Ephphatha.' Very
often the Evangelist tells us of our Lord's looks, the gleams of pity
and melting tenderness, the grave rebukes, the lofty authority that
shone in them. We may well believe that on earth as in heaven, 'His
eyes were as a flame of fire,' burning with clear light of knowledge
and pure flame of love. These looks had pierced the soul, and lived
for ever in the memory, of the eye-witness, whoever he was, who was
the informant of Mark. Probably the old tradition is right, and it is
Peter's loving quickness of observation that we have to thank for
these precious minutiae. But be that as it may, the records in this
Gospel of the _looks_ of Christ are very remarkable. My present
purpose is to gather them together, and by their help to think of Him
whose meek, patient 'eye' is 'still upon them that fear Him,'
beholding our needs and our sins.

Taking the instances in the order of their occurrence, they are
these--'He looked round on the Pharisees with anger, being grieved for
the hardness of their hearts' (iii. 5). He looked on His disciples and
said, 'Behold My mother and My brethren!' (iii. 32). He looked round
about to see who had touched the hem of His garment (v. 32). He turned
and looked on His disciples before rebuking Peter (viii. 33), He
looked lovingly on the young questioner, asking what he should do to
obtain eternal life (x. 21), and in the same context, He looked round
about to His disciples after the youth had gone away sorrowful, and
enforced the solemn lesson of His lips with the light of His eye (x.
23, 27). Lastly, He looked round about on all things in the temple on
the day of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (xi. 11). These are the
instances in this Gospel. One look of Christ's is not mentioned in it,
which we might have expected--namely, that which sent Peter out from
the judgment hall to break into a passion of penitent tears. Perhaps
the remembrance was too sacred to be told--at all events, the
Evangelist who gives us so many similar notes is silent about that
look, and we have to learn of it from another.

We may throw these instances into groups according to their objects,
and so bring out the many-sided impression which they produce.

I. The welcoming look of love and pity to those who seek Him.

Two of the recorded instances fall into their place here. The one is
this of our text, of the woman who came behind Christ to touch His
robe, and be healed: the other is that of the young ruler.

Take that first instance of the woman, wasted with disease, timid with
the timidity of her sex, of her long sickness, of her many
disappointments. She steals through the crowd that rudely presses on
this miracle-working Rabbi, and manages somehow to stretch out a
wasted arm through some gap in the barrier of people about Him, and
with her pallid, trembling finger to touch the edge of His robe. The
cure comes at once. It was all that she wanted, but not all that He
would give her. Therefore He turns and lets His eye fall upon her.
That draws her to Him. It told her that she had not been too bold. It
told her that she had not surreptitiously stolen healing, but that He
had knowingly given it, and that His loving pity went with it. So it
confirmed the gift, and, what was far more, it revealed the Giver. She
had thought to bear away a secret boon unknown to all but herself. She
gets instead an open blessing, with the Giver's heart in it.

The look that rested on her, like sunshine on some plant that had long
pined and grown blanched in the shade, revealed Christ's knowledge,
sympathy, and loving power. And in all these respects it is a
revelation of the Christ for all time, and for every seeking timid
soul in all the crowd. Can my poor feeble hand find a cranny anywhere
through which it may reach the robe? What am I, in all this great
universe blazing with stars, and crowded with creatures who hang on
Him, that I should be able to secure personal contact with Him? The
multitude--innumerable companies from every corner of space--press
upon Him and throng Him, and I--out here on the verge of the crowd-how
can I get at Him?--how can my little thin cry live and be
distinguishable amid that mighty storm of praise that thunders round
His throne? We may silence all such hesitancies of faith, for He who
knew the difference between the light touch of the hand that sought
healing, and the jostling of the curious crowd, bends on us the same
eye, a God's in its perfect knowledge, a man's in the dewy sympathy
which shines in it. However imperfect may be our thoughts of His
blessing, their incompleteness will not hinder our reception of His
gift in the measure of our faith, and the very bestowment will teach
us worthier conceptions of Him, and hearten us for bolder approaches
to His grace. He still looks on trembling suppliants, though they may
know their own sickness much better than they understand Him, and
still His look draws us to His feet by its omniscience, pity, and
assurance of help.

The other case is very different. Instead of the invalid woman, we see
a young man in the full flush of his strength, rich, needing no
material blessing. Pure in life, and righteous according to even a
high standard of morality, he yet feels that he needs something.
Having real and strong desires after 'eternal life,' he comes to
Christ to try whether this new Teacher could say anything that would
help him to the assured inward peace and spontaneous goodness for
which he longed, and had not found in all the round of punctilious
obedience to unloved commandments. As he kneels there before Jesus, in
his eager haste, with sincere and high aspirations stamped on his
young ingenuous face, Christ's eyes turn on him, and that wonderful
word stands written, 'Jesus, beholding him, loved him.'

He reads him through and through, knowing all the imperfection of his
desires after goodness and eternal life, and yet loving him with more
than a brother's love. His sympathy does not blind Jesus to the
limitations and shallowness of the young man's aspirations, but His
clear knowledge of these does not harden the gaze into indifference,
nor check the springing tenderness in the Saviour's heart. And the
Master's words, though they might sound cold, and did embody a hard
requirement, are beautifully represented in the story as the
expression of that love. He cared for the youth too much to deceive
him with smooth things. The truest kindness was to put all his
eagerness to the test at once. If he accepted the conditions, the look
told him what a welcome awaited him. If he started aside from them, it
was best for him to find out that there were things which he loved
more than eternal life. So with a gracious invitation shining in His
look, Christ places the course of self-denial before him; and when he
went away sorrowful, he left behind One more sorrowful than himself.
We can reverently imagine with what a look Christ watched his
retreating figure; and we may hope that, though he went away then, the
memory of that glance of love, and of those kind, faithful words,
sooner or later drew him back to his Saviour.

Is not all this too an everlasting revelation of our Lord's attitude?
We may be sure that He looks on many a heart--on many a young
heart--glowing with noble wishes and half-understood longings, and
that His love reaches every one who, groping for the light, asks Him
what to do to inherit eternal life. His great charity 'hopeth all
things,' and does not turn away from longings because they are too
weak to lift the soul above all the weights of sense and the world.
Rather He would deepen them and strengthen them, and His eternal
requirements addressed to feeble wills are not meant to 'quench the
smoking flax,' but to kindle it to decisive consecration and
self-surrender. The loving look interprets the severe words. If once
we meet it full, and our hearts yield to the heart that is seen in it,
the cords that bind us snap, and it is no more hard to 'count all
things but loss,' and to give up ourselves, that we may follow Him.
The sad and feeble and weary who may be half despairingly seeking for
alleviation of outward ills, and the young and strong and ardent whose
souls are fed with high desires, have but little comprehension of one
another, but Christ knows them both, and loves them both, and would
draw them both to Himself.

II. The Lord's looks of love and warning to those who have found Him.

There are three instances of this class. The first is when He looked
round on His disciples and said, 'Behold My mother and My brethren!'
(iii. 34). Perhaps no moment in all Christ's life had more of
humiliation in it than that. There could be no deeper degradation than
that His own family should believe Him insane. Not His brethren only,
but His mother herself seems to have been shaken from her attitude of
meek obedience so wonderfully expressed in her two recorded sayings,
'Be it unto me according to Thy word,' and 'Whatsoever He saith unto
you, do it.' She too appears to be in the shameful conspiracy, and to
have consented that her name should be used as a lure in the wily
message meant to separate Him from His friends, that He might be
seized and carried off as a madman. What depth of tenderness was in
that slow circuit of His gaze upon the humble loving followers grouped
round Him! It spoke the fullest trustfulness of them, and His rest in
their sympathy, partial though it was. It went before His speech, like
the flash before the report, and looked what in a moment He said,
'Behold My mother and My brethren!' It owned spiritual affinities as
more real than family bonds, and proved that He required no more of us
than He was willing to do Himself when He bid us 'forsake father and
mother, and wife and children' for Him. We follow Him when we tread
that road, hard though it be. In Him every mother may behold her son,
in Him we may find more than the reality of every sweet family
relationship. That same love, which identified Him with those
half-enlightened followers here, still binds Him to us, and He looks
down on us from amid the glory, and owns us for His true kindred.

That look of unutterable love is strangely contrasted with the next
instance. We read (viii. 32) that Peter 'took Him'--apart a little
way, I suppose--'and began to rebuke Him.' He turns away from the rash
Apostle, will say no word to him alone, but summons the others by a
glance, and then, having made sure that all were within hearing, He
solemnly rebukes Peter with the sharpest words that ever fell from His
lips. That look calls them to listen, not that they may be witnesses
of Peter's chastisement, but because the severe words concern them
all. It bids them search themselves as they hear. They too may be
'Satans.' They too may shrink from the cross, and 'mind the things
that be of men.'

We may take the remaining instance along with this. It occurs
immediately after the story of the young seeker, to which we have
already referred. Twice within five verses (x. 23-27) we read that He
'looked on His disciples,' before He spoke the grave lessons and
warnings arising from the incident. A sad gaze that would be!--full of
regret and touched with warning. We may well believe that it added
weight to the lesson He would teach, that surrender of all things was
needed for discipleship. We see that it had been burned into the
memory of one of the little group, who told long years after how He
had looked upon them so solemnly, as seeming to read their hearts
while He spoke. Not more searching was the light of the eyes which
John in Patmos saw, 'as a flame of fire.' Still He looks on His
disciples, and sees our inward hankerings after the things of men. All
our shrinkings from the cross and cleaving to the world are known to
Him. He comes to each of us with that sevenfold proclamation, 'I know
thy works,' and from His loving lips falls on our ears the warning,
emphasised by that sad, earnest gaze, 'How hard is it for them that
have riches to enter into the Kingdom of God!' But, blessed be His
name, the stooping love which claims us for His brethren shines in His
regard none the less tenderly, though He reads and warns us with His
eye. So, we can venture to spread all our evil before Him, and ask
that He would look on it, knowing that, as the sun bleaches cloth laid
in its beams, He will purge away the evil which He sees, if only we
let the light of His face shine full upon us.

III. The Lord's look of anger and pity on His opponents.

That instance occurs in the account of the healing of a man with a
withered arm, which took place in the synagogue of Capernaum (iii.
1-5). In the vivid narrative, we can see the scribes and Pharisees,
who had already questioned Him with insolent airs of authority about
His breach of the Rabbinical Sabbatic rules, sitting in the synagogue,
with their gleaming eyes 'watching Him' with hostile purpose. They
hope that He will heal on the Sabbath day. Possibly they had even
brought the powerless-handed man there, on the calculation that Christ
could not refrain from helping him when He saw his condition. They are
ready to traffic in human misery if only they can catch Him in a
breach of law. The fact of a miracle if nothing. Pity for the poor man
is not in them. They have neither reverence for the power of the
miracle-worker, nor sympathy with His tenderness of heart. The only
thing for which they have eyes is the breach of the complicated web of
restrictions which they had spun across the Sabbath day. What a
strange, awful power the pedantry of religious forms has of blinding
the vision and hardening the heart as to the substance and spirit of
religion! That Christ should heal neither made them glad nor
believing, but that He should heal on the Sabbath day roused them to a
deadly hatred. So there they sit, on the stretch of expectation,
silently watching. He bids the man stand forth--a movement, and there
the cripple stands alone in the midst of the seated congregation. Then
comes the unanswerable question which cut so deep, and struck their
consciences so hard that they could answer nothing, only sit and scowl
at Him with a murderous light gleaming in their eyes. He fronts them
with a steady gaze that travels over the whole group, and that showed
to at least one who was present an unforgettable mingling of
displeasure and pity. 'He looked round about on them with anger, being
grieved for the hardness of their hearts.' In Christ's perfect nature,
anger and pity could blend in wondrous union, like the crystal and
fire in the abyss before the throne.

The soul that has not the capacity for anger at evil wants something
of its due perfection, and goes 'halting' like Jacob after Peniel. In
Christ's complete humanity, it could not but be present, but in pure
and righteous form. His anger was no disorder of passion, or 'brief
madness' that discomposed the even motion of His spirit, nor was there
in it any desire for the hurt of its objects, but, on the contrary, it
lay side by side with the sorrow of pity, which was intertwined with
it like a golden thread. Both these two emotions are fitting to a pure
manhood in the presence of evil. They heighten each other. The
perfection of righteous anger is to be tempered by sympathy. The
perfection of righteous pity for the evildoer is to be saved from
immoral condoning of evil as if it were only calamity, by an infusion
of some displeasure. We have to learn the lesson and take this look of
Christ's as our pattern in our dealings with evildoers. Perhaps our
day needs more especially to remember that a righteous severity and
recoil of the whole nature from sin is part of a perfect Christian
character. We are so accustomed to pity transgressors, and to hear
sins spoken of as if they were misfortunes mainly due to environment,
or to inherited tendencies, that we are apt to forget the other truth,
that they are the voluntary acts of a man who could have refrained if
he had wished, and whose not having wished is worthy of blame. But we
need to aim at just such a union of feeling as was revealed in that
gaze of Christ's, and neither to let our wrath dry up our pity nor our
pity put out the pure flame of our indignation at evil.

That look comes to us too with a message, when we are most conscious
of the evil in our own hearts. Every man who has caught even a glimpse
of Christ's great love, and has learned something of himself in the
light thereof, must feel that wrath at evil sits ill on so sinful a
judge as he feels himself to be. How can I fling stones at any poor
creature when I am so full of sin myself? And how does that Lord look
at me and all my wanderings from Him, my hardness of heart, my
Pharisaism and deadness to His spiritual power and beauty? Can there
be anything but displeasure in Him? The answer is not far to seek,
but, familiar though it be, it often surprises a man anew with its
sweetness, and meets recurring consciousness of unworthiness with a
bright smile that scatters fears. In our deepest abasement we may take
courage anew when we think of that wondrous blending of anger shot
with pity.

IV. The look of the Lord on the profaned Temple.

On the day of Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, apparently the
Sunday before His crucifixion, we find (xi. 11) that He went direct to
the Temple, and 'looked round about on all things.' The King has come
to His palace, the Lord has 'suddenly come to His Temple.' How solemn
that careful, all-comprehending scrutiny of all that He found
there--the bustle of the crowds come up for the Passover, the
trafficking and the fraud, the heartless worship! He seems to have
gazed upon all, that evening in silence, and, as the shades of night
began to fall, He went back to Bethany with the Twelve. To-morrow will
be time enough for the 'whip of small cords,' for to-day enough to
have come as Lord to the temple, and with intent, all-comprehending
gaze to have traversed its courts. Apparently He passed through the
crowds there unnoticed, and beheld all, while Himself unrecognised.

Is not that silent, unobserved Presence, with His keen searching eye
that lights on all, a solemn parable of a perpetual truth? He 'walks
amidst the seven golden candlesticks' to-day, as in the temple of
Jerusalem, and in the vision of Patmos. His eyes like a flame of fire
regard and scrutinise us too. 'I know thy works' is still upon His
lips. Silent and by many unseen, that calm, clear-eyed, loving but
judging Christ walks amongst His churches to-day. Alas! what does He
see there? If He came in visible form into any congregation in England
to-day, would He not find merchandise in the sanctuary, formalism and
unreality standing to minister, and pretence and hypocrisy bowing in
worship? How much of all our service could live in the light of His
felt presence? And are we never going to stir ourselves up to a truer
devotion and a purer service by remembering that He is here as really
as He was in the Temple of old? Our drowsy prayers, and all our
conventional repetitions of devout aspirations, not felt at the
moment, but inherited from our fathers, our confessions which have no
penitence, our praises without gratitude, our vows which we never mean
to keep, and our creeds which in no operative fashion we believe--all
the hollowness of profession with no reality below it, like a great
cooled bubble on a lava stream, would crash in and go to powder if
once we really believed what we so glibly say--that Jesus Christ was
looking at us. He keeps silence to-day, but as surely as He knows us
now, so surely will He come to-morrow with a whip of small cords and
purge His Temple from hypocrisy and unreality, from traffic and
thieves. All the churches need the sifting. Christ has done and
suffered too much for the world, to let the power of His gospel be
neutralised by the sins of His professing followers, and Christ loves
the imperfect friends that cleave to Him, though their service be
often stained, and their consecration always incomplete, too well to
suffer sin upon them. Therefore He will come to purify His Temple.
Well for us, if we thankfully yield ourselves to His merciful
chastisements, howsoever they may fall upon us, and believe that in
them all He looks on us with love, and wishes only to separate us from
that which separates us from Him!

On us all that eye rests with all these emotions fused and blended in
one gaze of love that passeth knowledge--a look of love and welcome
whensoever we seek Him, either to help us in outward or inward
blessings; a look of love and warning to us, owning us also for His
brethren, and cautioning us lest we stray from His side; a look of
love and displeasure at any sin that blinds us to His gracious beauty;
a look of love and observance of our poor worship and spotted
sacrifices.

Let us lay ourselves full in the sunshine of His gaze, and take for
ours the old prayer, 'Search me, O Christ, and know my heart!' It is
heaven on earth to feel His eye resting upon us, and know that it is
love. It will be the heaven of heaven to see Him 'face to face,' and
'to know even as we are known.'



THE MASTER REJECTED: THE SERVANTS SENT FORTH


'And He went out from thence, and came into His own country; and His
disciples follow Him. 2. And when the Sabbath day was come, He began
to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing Him were astonished,
saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is
this which is given unto Him, that even such mighty works are wrought
by His hands? 3. Is not this the carpenter, the Son of Mary, the
Brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon! and are not His
sisters here with us? And they were offended at Him. 4. But Jesus said
unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country,
and among his own kin, and in his own house. 6. And He could there do
no mighty work, save that He laid His hands upon a few sick folk, and
healed them. 6. And He marvelled because of their unbelief. And He
went round about the villages, teaching. 7. And He called unto Him the
twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them
power over unclean spirits; 8. And commanded them that they should
take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread,
no money in their purse: 9. But be shod with sandals; and not put on
two coats. 10. And He said unto them, In what place soever ye enter
into an house, there abide till ye depart from that place. 11. And
whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence,
shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them.
Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and
Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city. 12. And they went
out, and preached that men should repent. 13. And they cast out many
devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed
them.'--Mark vi. 1-13.

An easy day's journey would carry Jesus and His followers from
Capernaum, on the lake-side, to Nazareth, among the hills. What took
our Lord back there? When last He taught in the synagogue of Nazareth,
His life had been in danger; and now He thrusts Himself into the
wolf's den. Why? Mark seems to wish us to observe the connection
between this visit and the great group of miracles which he has just
recorded; and possibly the link may be our Lord's hope that the report
of these might have preceded Him and prepared His way. In His patient
long-suffering He will give His fellow-villagers another chance; and
His heart yearns for 'His own country,' and 'His own kin,' and 'His
own house,' of which He speaks so pathetically in the context.

I. We have here unbelief born of familiarity, and its effects on
Christ (verses 1-6). Observe the characteristic avoidance of display,
and the regard for existing means of worship, shown in His waiting
till the Sabbath, and then resorting to the synagogue. He and His
hearers would both remember His last appearance in it; and He and they
would both remember many a time before that, when, as a youth, He had
sat there. The rage which had exploded on His first sermon has given
place to calmer, but not less bitter, opposition. Mark paints the
scene, and represents the hearers as discussing Jesus while He spoke.
The decorous silence of the synagogue was broken by a hubbub of mutual
questions. 'Many' spoke at once, and all had the same thing to say.
The state of mind revealed is curious. They own Christ's wisdom in His
teaching, and the reality of His miracles, of which they had evidently
heard; but the fact that He was one of themselves made them angry that
He should have such gifts, and suspicious of where He had got them.
They seem to have had the same opinion as Nathanael--that no 'good
thing' could 'come out of Nazareth.' Their old companion could not be
a prophet; that was certain. But He had wisdom and miraculous power;
that was as certain. Where had they come from? There was only one
other source; and so, with many headshakings, they were preparing to
believe that the Jesus whom they had all known, living His quiet life
of labour among them, was in league with the devil, rather than
believe that He was a messenger from God.

We note in their questions, first, the glimpse of our Lord's early
life. They bring before us the quiet, undistinguished home and the
long years of monotonous labour. We owe to Mark alone the notice that
Jesus actually wrought at Joseph's handicraft. Apparently the latter
was dead, and, if so, Jesus would be the head of the house, and
probably the 'breadwinner.' One of the fathers preserves the tradition
that He 'made plows and yokes, by which He taught the symbols of
righteousness and an active life.' That good father seems to think it
needful to find symbolical meanings, in order to save Christ's
dignity; but the prose fact that He toiled at the carpenter's bench,
and handled hammer and saw, needs nothing to heighten its value as a
sign of His true participation in man's lot, and as the hallowing of
manual toil. How many weary arms have grasped their tools with new
vigour and contentment when they thought of Him as their Pattern in
their narrow toils!

The Nazarenes' difficulty was but one case of a universal tendency.
Nobody finds it easy to believe that some village child, who has grown
up beside him, and whose undistinguished outside life he knows, has
turned out a genius or a great man. The last people to recognise a
prophet are always his kindred and his countrymen. 'Far-away birds
have fine feathers.' Men resent it as a kind of slight on themselves
that the other, who was one of them but yesterday, should be so far
above them to-day. They are mostly too blind to look below the
surface, and they conclude that, because they saw so much of the
external life, they knew the man that lived it. The elders of Nazareth
had seen Jesus grow up, and to them He would be 'the carpenter's son'
still. The more important people had known the humbleness of His home,
and could not adjust themselves to look up to Him, instead of down.
His equals in age would find their boyish remembrances too strong for
accepting Him as a prophet. All of them did just what the most of us
would have done, when they took it for certain that the Man whom they
had known so well, as they fancied, could not be a prophet, to say
nothing of the Messiah so long looked for. It is easy to blame them;
but it is better to learn the warning in their words, and to take care
that we are not blind to some true messenger of God just because we
have been blessed with close companionship with him. Many a household
has had to wait for death to take away the prophet before they discern
him. Some of us entertain 'angels unawares,' and have bitterly to
feel, when too late, that our eyes were holden that we should not know
them.

These questions bring out strongly what we too often forget in
estimating Christ's contemporaries--namely, that His presence among
them, in the simplicity of His human life, was a positive hindrance to
their seeing His true character. We sometimes wish that we had seen
Him, and heard His voice. We should have found it more difficult to
believe in Him if we had. 'His flesh' was a 'veil' in other sense than
the Epistle to the Hebrews means; for, by reason of men's difficulty
in piercing beneath it, it hid from many what it was meant and fitted
to reveal. Only eyes purged beheld the glory of 'the Word' become
flesh when it 'dwelt among us'--and even they saw Him more clearly
when they saw Him no more. Let us not be too hard on these simple
Nazarenes, but recognise our kith and kin.

The facts on which the Nazarenes grounded their unbelief are really
irrefragable proof of Christ's divinity. Whence had this man His
wisdom and mighty works? Born in that humble home, reared in that
secluded village, shut out from the world's culture, buried, as it
were, among an exclusive and abhorred people, how came He to tower
above all teachers, and to sway the world? 'With whom took He counsel?
and who instructed Him, and taught Him?' The character and work of
Christ, compared with the circumstances of His origin and environment,
are an insoluble riddle, except on one supposition--that He was the
word and power of God.

The effects of this unbelief on our Lord were twofold. It limited His
power. Matthew says that 'He did not many mighty works.' Mark goes
deeper, and boldly days 'He could not.' It is mistaken jealousy for
Christ's honour to seek to pare down the strong words. The atmosphere
of chill unbelief froze the stream. The power was there, but it
required for its exercise some measure of moral susceptibility. His
miraculous energy followed, in general, the same law as His higher
exercise of saving grace does; that is to say, it could not force
itself upon unwilling men. Christ 'cannot' save a man who does not
trust Him. He was hampered in the outflow of His healing power by
unsympathetic disparagement and unbelief. Man can thwart God. Faith
opens the door, and unbelief shuts it in His face. He 'would have
gathered,' but they 'would not,' and therefore He 'could not.'

The second effect of unbelief on Him was that He 'marvelled.' He is
twice recorded to have wondered--once at a Gentile's faith, once at
His townsmen's unbelief. He wondered at the first because it showed so
unusual a susceptibility; at the second, because it showed so
unreasonable a blindness. All sin is a wonder to eyes that see into
the realities of things and read the end; for it is all utterly
unreasonable (though it is, alas! not unaccountable) and suicidal. 'Be
astonished, O ye heavens, at this.' Unbelief in Christ is, by Himself,
declared to be the very climax of sin, and its most flagrant evidence
(John xvi. 9); and of all the instances of unbelief which saddened His
heart, none struck more chill than that of these Nazarenes. They had
known His pure youth; He might have reckoned on some touch of sympathy
and predisposition to welcome Him. His wonder is the measure of His
pain as well as of their sin.

Nor need we wonder that He wondered; for He was true man, and all
human emotions were His. To one who lives ever in the Father's bosom,
what can seem so strange as that men should prefer homeless
exposedness and dreary loneliness? To one whose eyes ever behold
unseen realities, what so marvellous as men's blindness? To one who
knew so assuredly His own mission and rich freightage of blessing, how
strange it must have been that He found so few to accept His gifts!
Jesus knew that bitter wonder which all men who have a truth to
proclaim which the world has not learned, have to experience--the
amazement at finding it so hard to get any others to see what they
see. In His manhood, He shared the fate of all teachers, who have, in
their turn, to marvel at men's unbelief.

II. The new instrument which Christ fashions to cope with unbelief.
What does Jesus do when thus 'wounded in the house of His friends'?
Give way to despondency? No; but meekly betake Himself to yet obscurer
fields of service, and send out the Twelve to prepare His way, as if
He thought that they might have success where He would fail. What a
lesson for people who are always hankering after conspicuous
'spheres,' and lamenting that their gifts are wasted in some obscure
corner, is that picture of Jesus, repulsed from Nazareth, patiently
turning to the villages! The very summary account of the trial mission
of the Twelve here given presents only the salient points of the
charge to them, and in its condensation makes these the more emphatic.
Note the interesting statement that they were sent out two-and-two.
The other Evangelists do not tell us this, but their lists of the
Apostles are arranged in pairs. Mark's list is not so arranged, but he
supplies the reason for the arrangement, which he does not follow; and
the other Gospels, by their arrangement, confirm his statement, which
they do not give. Two-and-two is a wise rule for all Christian
workers. It checks individual peculiarities of self-will, helps to
keep off faults, wholesomely stimulates, strengthens faith by giving
another to hear it and to speak it, brings companionship, and admits
of division of labour. One-and-one are more than twice one.

The first point is the gift of power. Unclean spirits are specified,
but the subsequent verses show that miracle-working power in its other
forms was included. We may call that Christ's greatest miracle. That
He could, by His mere will, endow a dozen men with such power, is
more, if degree come into view at all, than that He Himself should
exercise it. But there is a lesson in the fact for all ages--even
those in which miracles have ceased. Christ gives before He commands,
and sends no man into the field without filling his basket with
seed-corn. His gifts assimilate the receiver to Himself, and only in
the measure in which His servants possess power which is like His own,
and drawn from Him, can they proclaim His coming, or prepare hearts
for it. The second step is their equipment. The special commands here
given were repealed by Jesus when He gave His last commands. In their
letter they apply only to that one journey, but in their spirit they
are of universal and permanent obligation. The Twelve were to travel
light. They might carry a staff to help them along, and wear sandals
to save their feet on rough roads; but that was to be all. Food,
luggage, and money, the three requisites of a traveller, were to be
'conspicuous by their absence.' That was repealed afterwards, and
instructions given of an opposite character, because, after His
ascension, the Church was to live more and more by ordinary means; but
in this journey they were to learn to trust Him without means, that
afterwards they might trust Him in the means. He showed them the
purpose of these restrictions in the act of abrogating them. 'When I
sent you forth without purse ... lacked ye anything?' But the spirit
remains unabrogated, and the minimum of outward provision is likeliest
to call out the maximum of faith. We are more in danger from having
too much baggage than from having too little. And the one
indispensable requirement is that, whatever the quantity, it should
hinder neither our march nor our trust in Him who alone is wealth and
food.

Next comes the disposition of the messengers. It is not to be
self-indulgent. They are not to change quarters for the sake of
greater comfort. They have not gone out to make a pleasure tour, but
to preach, and so are to stay where they are welcomed, and to make the
best of it. Delicate regard for kindly hospitality, if offered by ever
so poor a house, and scrupulous abstinence from whatever might suggest
interested motives, must mark the true servant. That rule is not out
of date. If ever a herald of Christ falls under suspicion of caring
more about life's comforts than about his work, good-bye to his
usefulness! If ever he does so care, whether he be suspected of it or
no, spiritual power will ebb from him.

The next step is the messengers' demeanour to the rejecters of their
message. Shaking the dust off the sandals is an emblem of solemn
renunciation of participation, and perhaps of disclaimer of
responsibility. It meant certainly, 'We have no more to do with you,'
and possibly, 'Your blood be on your own heads.' This journey of the
Twelve was meant to be of short duration, and to cover much ground,
and therefore no time was to be spent unnecessarily. Their message was
brief, and as well told quickly as slowly. The whole conditions of
work now are different. Sometimes, perhaps, a Christian is warranted
in solemnly declaring to those who receive not his message, that he
will have no more to say to them. That may do more than all his other
words. But such cases are rare; and the rule that it is safest to
follow is rather that of love which despairs of none, and, though
often repelled, returns with pleading, and, if it have told often in
vain, now tells with tears, the story of the love that never abandons
the most obstinate.

Such were the prominent points of this first Christian mission. They
who carry Christ's banner in the world must be possessed of power, His
gift, must be lightly weighted, must care less for comfort than for
service, must solemnly warn of the consequences of rejecting the
message; and so they will not fail to cast out devils, and to heal
many that are sick.



CHRIST THWARTED


'And He could there do no mighty work, save that He laid His hands
upon a few sick folk, and healed them. And He marvelled because of
their unbelief.'--Mark vi. 5,6.

It is possible to live too near a man to see him. Familiarity with the
small details blinds most people to the essential greatness of any
life. So these fellow-villagers of Jesus in Nazareth knew Him too well
to know Him rightly as they talked Him over; they recognised His
wisdom and His mighty works; but all the impression that these would
have made was neutralised by their acquaintance with His former life,
and they said, 'Why, we have known Him ever since He was a boy. We
used to take our ploughs and yokes to Him to mend in the carpenter's
shop. His brothers and sisters are here with us. Where did _He_ get
His wisdom?' So _they_ said; and so it has been ever since. 'A prophet
is not without honour, save in his own country.'

Surrounded thus by unsympathetic carpers, Jesus Christ did not
exercise His full miraculous power. Other Evangelists tell us of these
limitations, but Mark is alone in the strength of his expression. The
others say '_did_ no mighty works'; Mark says '_could_ do no mighty
works.' Startling as the expression is, it is not to be weakened down
because it is startling, and if it does not fit in with your
conceptions of Christ's nature, so much the worse for the conceptions.
Matthew states the reason for this limitation more directly than Mark
does, for he says, 'He did no mighty works because of their unbelief.'
But Mark suggests the reason clearly enough in his next clause, when
he says: 'He marvelled because of their unbelief.' There is another
limitation of Christ's nature, He wondered as at an astonishing and
unexpected thing, We read that He 'marvelled' twice: once at great
faith, once at great unbelief. The centurion's faith was marvellous;
the Nazarenes' unbelief was as marvellous. The 'wild grapes' bore
clusters more precious than the tended 'vines' in the 'vineyard.'
Faith and unbelief do not depend upon opportunity, but upon the bent
of the will and the sense of need.

But I have chosen these words now because they put in its strongest
shape a truth of large importance, and of manifold applications--viz.,
that man's unbelief hampers and hinders Christ's power. Now let me
apply that principle in two or three directions.

I. Let us look at this principle in connection with the case before us
in the text.

You will find that, as a rule and in the general, our Lord's miracles
require faith, either on the part of the persons helped, or on the
part of those who interceded for them. But whilst that is the rule
there are distinct exceptions, as for instance, in the case of the
feeding of the thousands, and in the case of the raising of the
widow's son of Nain, as well as in other examples. And here we find
that, though the prevalent unbelief hindered the flow of our Lord's
miraculous power, it did not so hinder it as to stop some little
trickle of the stream. 'He laid His hands on a few sick folk, and
healed them.' The brook was shrunken as compared with the abundance of
the flood recorded in the previous chapter.

Now, why was that? There is no such natural connection between faith
and the working of a miracle as that the latter is only possible in
conjunction with the former. And the exceptions show us that Jesus
Christ was not so limited as that men's unbelief could wholly prevent
the flow of His love and His power. But still there was a restriction.
And what sort of a 'could not' was it that thus hampered Him in His
work? We know far too little about the conditions of miracle-working
to entitle us to dogmatise on such a matter, but I suppose that we may
venture to say this, that the working of the miracles was 'impossible'
in the absence of faith and the presence of its opposite, regard being
had to the purposes of the miracle and of Christ's whole work. It was
not congruous, it was not morally possible, that He should force His
benefits upon unwilling recipients.

Now, I need not do more than just in a sentence call attention to the
bearing of this fact upon the true notion of the purpose of Christ's
miraculous works. A superficial, and, as I think, very vulgar,
estimate, says that Christ's miracles were chiefly designed to produce
faith in Him and in His mission. If that had been their purpose, the
very place for the most abundant exhibition of them would have been
the place where unbelief was most pronounced. The atmosphere of
non-receptiveness and non-sympathy would have been the very one that
ought to have evoked them most. Where the darkness was the deepest,
there should the torch have flared. Where the stupor was most
complete, there should the rousing shock have been administered. But
the very opposite is the case. Where faith is present already, the
miracle comes. Where faith is absent, miracles fail. Therefore, though
a subsidiary purpose of our Lord's miracles was, no doubt, to evoke
faith in His mission, their chief purpose is not to be found in that
direction. It was a condescension to men's weakness and obstinacy when
He said, 'If ye believe not Me, believe the works.' But the works were
signs, symbols, manifestations on the lower material platform of what
lie would be and do for men in the higher, and they were the outcome
of His own loving heart and ever-flowing compassion, and only
secondarily were they taken, and have they ever been taken, when
Christian faith has been robust and intelligent, as being evidences of
His Messiahship and Divinity.

But there is another consideration that I would like to suggest in
reference to this limitation of our Lord's power, by reason of the
prevalence of an atmosphere of unbelief, and that is that it is a
pathetic proof of His manhood's being influenced by all the emotions
and circumstances that influence us. We all know how hearts expand in
the warm atmosphere of affection and sympathy, and shut themselves up
like tender flowerets when the cold east wind blows. And just as a
great orator subtly feels the sympathy of his audience, and is buoyed
up by it to higher flights, while in the presence of cold and
indifferent and critical hearers his tongue stammers, and he falls
beneath himself, so we may reverently say Jesus Christ _could_ not put
forth His mightiest and most abundant miraculous powers when the cold
wind of unbelieving criticism blew in His face.

If that is true, what a glimpse it gives us of the conditions of His
earthly life, and how wonderful it makes that love which, though it
was hampered, was never stifled by the presence of scorn and malice
and of hatred. He is our Brother, bone of our bone and flesh of our
flesh; and even when the divinity within was in possession of the
power of working the miracle, the humanity in which it dwelt felt the
presence of the cold frost and closed its petals. 'He could do no
mighty works,' and it was 'because of their unbelief.'

II. But now, secondly, let us apply this principle in regard to
Christ's working on ourselves.

I have said that there was no such natural connection between faith
and miracle as that miracle was absolutely impossible in the absence
of faith. But when we lift the thought into the higher region of our
religious and spiritual life, we do come across an absolute
impossibility. There, in regard to all that appertains to the inward
life of a soul, Christ _can_ do no mighty works, in the absence of our
faith. By faith, I mean, of course, not the mere intellectual
reception of the Christian narratives or of the Christian doctrines as
true, but I mean what the Bible means by it always, a process
subsequent to that intellectual reception--viz., the motion of the
will and of the heart towards Christ. Faith is belief, but belief is
not faith. Faith is belief _plus_ trust. And it is that which is the
condition of all Christ's gifts being received by any of us.

Now, a great many people seem to think that what Jesus Christ brings
to the world, and offers to each of us, is simply the escape from the
penal consequences of our past transgressions. If you conceive
salvation to be nothing else than shutting the doors of an outward
hell, and opening the doors of an outward Heaven, I can quite
understand why you should boggle at the thought that faith is a
condition of these. For if salvation is such a material, external, and
forensic matter as that, then I do not see why God should not have
given it to everybody, without any conditions at all. But if you will
understand rightly what Christ's gifts are, you will see that they
cannot be bestowed upon men irrespective of the condition of their
wills, desires, and hearts.

For what is salvation? What are the blessings that Jesus Christ
bestows? A new life, a new love, new desires, a new direction of the
whole being, a new spirit within us. These are the gifts; and how can
these be given to a man if he has not trust in the Giver? Salvation is
at bottom that a man's will shall be harmonised with the will of God.
But if a man has not faith, his will is discordant with the will of
God, and how can it be harmonised and discordant at the same time?
What are the powers by which Christ works upon men's hearts? His
truth, His love, His Spirit. How can a truth operate if it is not
believed? How can love bless and cherish if it is not trusted? How can
the Spirit hallow and cleanse if it is not yielded to? The condition
is inherent in the nature of God the Giver, of man the receiver, and
of the gifts bestowed.

And so we understand the metaphors that put that inevitable connection
in various forms. Faith is 'a door.' How can you enter if the door be
fast closed? He knocks; if any man opens He comes in. If a man does
not open,

  'He can but listen at the gate,
  And hear the household jar within.'

Faith is the connection between the fountain and the reservoir. If
there be no such connection, how can the reservoir be filled? Faith is
the hand with stretched-out empty palms, and widespread fingers for
the reception of the gifts. How can the gifts be put into it if it
hangs listless by the side, or in obstinately closed and pushed behind
the back? He 'can do no mighty works' on an unbelieving soul.

Now, brethren, let me insist, in one sentence, on this solemn truth;
God would save every man if He could, faith or no faith. But the
condition which brings faith into connection with salvation as its
necessary prerequisite is no arbitrary condition. The love of God
cannot alter it. In the nature of things it must be so. 'He that
believeth shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be condemned.'
That is no result of an artificial scheme, but of the necessities of
the case.

Again, let me remind you that the measure of our faith is the measure
of our possession of these gifts. Our Lord more than once put the
whole doctrine of this matter, in regard, however, to the lower plane
of miracle, when He said, 'According to your faith be it unto you,'
'Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.' We have an inheritance like
that of men who get a piece of land in some mining district: so much
as we peg out and claim is ours, and no more.

Let me narrate a parable of my own making. There was once a king who
told all his people that on a given day the fountain in the
market-place in the centre of the city would flow with wine and other
precious liquors, and that every man was free to bring his vessel and
carry away as much as he would. The man that brought a tiny wineglass
got a glassful; the man that brought a gallon pitcher got that full.
The measure of your desires is the measure of your possessions of
Christ's power. Our faith determines the amount of His cleansing,
healing, vivifying energy which will reside in us. The width of the
bore of the water-pipe that is laid down settles the amount of water
that will come into your cistern. The water may be high outside the
lock. If the lock-gate be kept fast closed, the height of the water
outside produces no raising of the low level of that within, If you
open a chink of the gate a trickle will pass through, and if you fling
the gates wide the levels will be the same on both sides. The only
limit of our possession of God is our faith and desire. The true limit
is His own boundlessness. It is possible that a man may be 'filled
with all the fulness of God; but the real working limit for each of us
is our own faith. So, brethren, endless progress is possible for us,
on condition of continual trust.

III. Lastly, let us apply this principle in regard to Christ's working
through His people.

Jesus Christ cannot work mightily through a feebly believing Church.
And here is the reason why Christianity has taken so long to do so
little in this world of ours; and why nineteen centuries after the
Cross and Pentecost there remaineth yet so much land to be possessed.
'Ye are not straitened in Me, ye are straitened in your own selves.'
We hinder Christ from doing His work through us by reason of our own
unbelief. The men that have done most for the Lord Jesus, and for
their fellows in this world, have been of all sorts, of all
conditions, of all grades of intellectual ability and acquirement;
some of them scholars, some of them tinkers, some of them
philosophers, some of them next door to fools. They have belonged to
different communions and have held different ecclesiastical and
theological dogmas, and sometimes, alas! they have not been able to
discern each other's Christlike lineaments. But there is one thing in
which they have all been alike, and that is that they have been men of
faith, intense, operative, perpetual. And that is why they have
succeeded. If we were what we might be, 'full of faith.' we should, as
the Acts of the Apostles teaches us, by its collocation in the
description of one of its characters, be 'full of the Holy Spirit and
of power.'

Brethren, you hear a great deal to-day about new ways of Christian
working, about the necessity of adapting the forms of setting forth
Christ's truth to the spirit of the age, and new ideas. Adopt new
methods if you like; methods are not sacred. Fashion new forms of
presenting Christian truths if you please; our forms are only forms.
But you may alter your methods and you may modify your dogmas as you
like, and you will do nothing to move the world unless the Church is
again baptized with the Divine Spirit, which will only be the case if
the Church again puts forth a far mightier faith than it exercises
to-day. If only we will trust Jesus Christ absolutely, and live near
Him by our faith, His power will flow into us, and of us, too, it will
be said, 'through faith they wrought righteousness ... subdued
kingdoms ... waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of
the aliens.' But if the low level of average Christian faith in all
the churches is not elevated, then the attempts to conquer the world
by half-believing Christians will meet with the old fate, and the man
in whom the evil spirit was will leap upon them and overcome them, and
say, 'Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are ye?' 'Why could we
not cast him out?' And He answered and said unto them, 'Because of
your unbelief.'

Brethren, we may starve in the midst of plenty, if we lock our lips.
We can be like some obstinate black rock, washed over for ever by the
Atlantic surges, and yet so close-grained that only the surface is
moistened, and, an inch within, it is dry. 'Neither life, nor death,
nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor
things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, is able
to separate you from the love and power of God which are in Christ
Jesus our Lord,' But you can separate yourselves, and you do separate
yourselves, by your unbelief. The all-sufficiency of Christ's
redemption, and the yearning of His love to bless each of us
individually, will be nothing to us if we lift up between Him and us
the black barrier of unbelief, and so dam back the stream that was
meant to give life to all the world and life to us. Christ infinitely
desires to bless us, but He cannot unless we trust Him. I beseech you,
do not let this be the epitaph on your tombstone:--'Christ could there
do no mighty work because of _his_ unbelief.'



HEROD--A STARTLED CONSCIENCE


'But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded:
he is risen from the dead.'--Mark vi. 16.

The character of this Herod, surnamed Antipas, is a sufficiently
common and a sufficiently despicable one. He was the very type of an
Eastern despot, exactly like some of those half-independent Rajahs,
whose dominions march with ours in India; capricious, crafty, as the
epithet which Christ applied to him, 'That fox!' shows; cruel, as the
story of the murder of John the Baptist proves; sensuous and lustful;
and withal weak of fibre and infirm of purpose. He, Herodias, and John
the Baptist make a triad singularly like the other triad in the Old
Testament, of Ahab, Jezebel, and Elijah. In both cases we have the
weak ruler, the beautiful she-devil at his side, inspiring him for all
evil, and the stern prophet, the rebuker and the incarnate conscience
for them both.

The words that I have read are the terrified exclamation of this weak
and wicked man when he was brought in contact with the light and
beauty of Jesus Christ. And if we think who it was that frightened
him, and ponder the words in which his fear expressed itself, we get,
as it seems to me, some lessons worth the drawing.

I. You have here the voice of a startled conscience.

Herod killed John without much sense of doing wrong. He was sorry, no
doubt, for he had a kind of respect for the man, and he was reluctant
to put him to death. But though there was reluctance, there was no
hesitation. His fantastic sense of honour came in the way. In the one
scale there was the life of a poor enthusiast who had amused him for a
while, but of whom he had got tired. In the other scale there were his
word, the pleasure of Herodias, and the applause of the half-drunken
boon companions that were sitting with them at the table. So, of
course, the prophet was slain, and the pale head brought in to that
wild revel, and, except for the malignant gloating of the woman over
her gratified revenge, the event, no doubt, very quickly passed from
the memories of all concerned.

But then there came stealing into the silken seclusion of the palace,
where he was wallowing in his sensuality like a hog in the sty, the
tidings of another peasant Teacher that had risen up among the people.
Christ's name had been ringing through the land, and been sounded with
blessings in poor men's huts long before it got within the gates of
Herod's palace. That is the place where religious earnestness makes
its mark last of all. But it finally ran thither also; and light
gossip went round concerning this new sensation. 'Who is He? Who is
He?' Each man had his own theory about Him, but a sudden memory
started up in the frivolous despot's soul, and it was with a trembling
heart that he said to himself, 'I know! I know! It is John, whom I
beheaded! He is risen from the dead!' His conscience and his memory
and his fears all awoke.

Now, my friends, I pray you to lay that simple lesson to heart. We all
of us do evil things with regard to which it is not hard for us to
bribe or to silence our memories and our consciences. The hurry and
bustle of daily life, the very weakness of our characters, the rush of
sensuous delights, may make us blind and deaf to the voice of
conscience; and we think that all chance of the evil deed rising again
to harm us is past. But some trifle touches the hidden spring by mere
accident; as in the old story of the man groping along a wall till his
finger happens to fall upon one inch of it, and immediately the
concealed door flies open, and there is the skeleton. So with us, some
merely fortuitous association may freshen faded memories and wake a
dormant conscience. An apparently trivial circumstance, like some
hooked pole pushed at random into the sea, may bring up by the locks
some pale and drowned memory long plunged in an ocean of oblivion.
Here, in Herod's case, a report reaches him of a new Rabbi who bears
but a very faint resemblance to John, and that is enough to bring his
crime back in its naked atrocity.

My friends, we all have these hibernating serpents in our consciences,
and nobody knows when the needful warmth may come that will wake them
and make them lift their forked heads to sting. The whole landscape of
my past life lies there behind the mists of apparent forgetfulness,
and any light air of suggestion may sweep away the clouds and show it
all. What have you laid up in these memories of yours to start into
life some day: 'at the last biting like a serpent and stinging like an
adder'? 'It is John! It is John, whom I beheaded!'

Take this other thought, how, as the story shows us, when once at the
bidding of memory conscience begins to work, all illusions as to the
nature of my action and as to my share in it are swept away.

When the evil deed was done, Herod scarcely felt as if he did it.
There was his plighted troth, there was Herodias's pressure, there was
the excitement of the moment. He seemed forced to do it, and scarcely
responsible for doing it. And no doubt, if he ever thought about it
afterwards, he shuffled off a large percentage of the responsibility
of the guilt upon the shoulders of the others. But when,

  'In the silent sessions of things past,'

the image and remembrance of the deed come up to him, all the helpers
and tempters have disappeared, and 'It is John, whom _I_ beheaded!'
(There is emphasis in the Greek upon the 'I.') 'Yes, it was _I_.
Herodias tempted me; Herodias' daughter titillated my lust; I fancied
that my oath bound me; I could not help doing what would please those
who sat at the table--I said all that _before_ I did it. But now, when
it is done, they have all disappeared, every one of them to his
quarter; and I and the ugly thing are left together alone. It was I
that did it, and nobody besides.'

The blackness of the crime, too, presents itself to the startled
conscience as it did not in the doing. There are many euphemisms and
soft words in which, as in cotton-wool, we wrap our evil deeds and so
deceive ourselves as to their hardness and their edge; but when
conscience gets hold of them, and they pass out of the realm of fact
into the mystical region of remembrance, all the wrappings, and all
the apologies, and all the soft phrases drop away; and the ugliest,
briefest, plainest word is the one by which my conscience describes my
own evil. '_I_ beheaded him! _I_, and none else, was the murderer.'
Oh! dear brethren, do you see to it that what you store up in these
caves and treasure-cellars of memory which we all carry with us, are
deeds that will bear being brought out again and looked at in the pure
white light of conscience, and which you will neither be ashamed nor
afraid to lay your hand upon and say: 'It is mine; _I_ planted and
sowed and worked it, and I am ready to reap the fruit.' 'If thou be
wise thou shalt be wise for thyself, if thou scornest thou alone shalt
bear it.' Take care of the storehouses of memory and of conscience,
and mind what kind of things you lay up there.

II. Now, once more, I take these words as setting before us an example
of a conscience awakened to the unseen world.

Many commentators tell us that this Herod was a Sadducee; that is to
say that theologically and theoretically he had given up the belief in
a future state and in spiritual existence. I do not know that that can
be sustained, but much more probably he was only a Sadducee in the way
in which a great many of us are Sadducees: he never thought about
these things, he did not think about them enough to know whether he
believed in them or not. He was a practical, if not a theoretical
Sadducee; that is to say, this present was his world, and as for the
future, it did not come much into his mind. But now, notice that when
conscience begins to stir, it at once sends his thoughts into that
unseen world beyond.

There is a very close connection, as all history proves, between
theoretical disbelief in a future life and in spiritual existence, and
superstition. So strong is the bond which unites men with the unseen
world, that if they do not link themselves with that world in the
legitimate and true fashion, it is almost certain to avenge itself
upon them by leading them to all manner of low and abject
superstitions. Spiritualism is the disease of a generation that
disbelieves in another life. The French Revolution, with its
infidelities, was also the age of quacks and impostors such as
Cagliostro and the like. The time when Christ lived presented
precisely the same phenomena. If Herod was a Sadducee, Herod's
Sadduceeism, like frost upon the window-panes, was such a thin layer
shutting out the invisible world, that the least warmth of conscience
melted it, and the clear daylight glared in upon him. And I am afraid
that there are a great many of us who may be half-inclined to reject
the belief in another life, who would find precisely the same thing
happening to us.

But be that as it may, it seems to me that whenever a man comes to
think very seriously about his conduct as being wrong in the sight of
God, there at once starts up before him the thought of a future life
and a judgment-bar. And I want to know why and how it is that the
vigorous operation of conscience is always accompanied with a 'fearful
looking for of judgment and fiery indignation.' I think it is worth
your while to reflect upon the fact, and to try and ascertain for
yourselves the reason of it, that whenever a man's conscience begins
to tell him of his wrong, its message is not only of transgressions
but of judgment, and that beyond the grave.

And, moreover, notice here how the startled conscience, when it
becomes aware of an unseen world beyond the grave, cannot but think
that out of that world there will come evil for it. These words of my
text are obviously the words of a frightened man. It was terror that
made Herod say: 'It is John, whom I beheaded. He is risen from the
dead!' Who was it that frightened Herod? It was He who came from the
bosom of the Father, with His hands full of blessings and His heart
full of love: who came to quiet all fears, and to cleanse all
consciences, and to satisfy all men's souls with His own sweet love
and His perfect righteousness. And it was this genial and gracious and
divine form, with all its actualities of gentleness and its
possibilities of grace, which the evil conscience of the terrified
tetrarch converted into a messenger of judgment come from the tomb to
rebuke and to smite him for his evils.

That is to say, men may always make that future life and their
relation to it what they will. Either the heavens may pour down their
dewy influences of benediction and fruitfulness upon them, or may pour
down fire and brimstone upon their spirits. Men have the choice which
it shall be. The evil conscience drapes the future in darkness, and is
right in doing it. The evil conscience forebodes chastisement,
judgment, condemnation coming to it from out of the unseen world, and,
with limitations, it is right in doing it. You can make Christ Himself
the Messenger of condemnation and of death to you. My dear friends, do
you choose whether, fronting eternity with an unforgiven burden of sin
upon your shoulders and a conscience unsprinkled by the blood of Jesus
Christ, you make of it one great fear; or whether you make it what it
really is, a lustrous hope, a perfect joy. Is the Messenger that comes
out of the unseen to come to you as a Judge of your buried evils
started into life, or is He to come to you as the Christ that bears in
His hand the price of your redemption, and with His blood 'sprinkles
your conscience from dead works' and from all its terrors?

III. And now, lastly, I see in this saying an illustration of a
conscience which, partially stirred, soon went finally to sleep again.

Strangely enough, if we pursue the story, this very terror and
clear-eyed perception of the nature of his action led the frivolous
king to nothing more than a curious wish to see this new Teacher. It
was not gratified; and thus by degrees he came to hate Him and to wish
to kill Him. And then, finally, on the eve of the Crucifixion Jesus
was brought into his presence, and Herod was glad that his curiosity
was satisfied at last. His conscience lay perfectly still. There was
no trace of the old convictions or of the old tremor. He 'questioned
Jesus many things, and Christ answered him nothing,' because He knew
it was of no use to speak to him. So 'Herod and his men of war mocked
Him and set Him at nought'; and sent Him back to Pilate; and he let
his last chance of salvation go, and never knew what he had done.

Now, _there_ is a lesson for us all. Do not tamper with partially
awakened consciences; do not rest satisfied till they are quieted in
the legitimate way. There was a man who trembled when he heard Paul
remonstrating with him about 'righteousness and temperance'--both of
which the unjust judge had set at naught--'and judgment to come' And
he 'sent for him often and communed with him gladly,' but we never
hear that Felix trembled any more. It is possible for you so to lull
yourselves into indifference, and, as it were, so to waterproof your
consciences that appeals, threatenings, pleadings, mercies, the words
of men, the Gospel of God, and the beseechings of Christ Himself may
all run off them and leave them dry and hard.

One very potent means of rendering consciences insensible is to
neglect their voice. The convictions which you have not followed out,
like the ruins of a bastion shattered by shell, protect your remaining
fortifications against the impact of God's truth. I believe that there
is no man, woman, or child listening to me at this moment but has had,
some time or other in the course of his or her life, convictions which
only needed to be followed out, gleams of guidance which only required
to be faithfully pursued, to bring him or her into loving fellowship
with, and true faith in, Jesus Christ. But some of you have neglected
them; some of you have choked them with cares and studies and
occupations of different kinds; and you are driving on to this
result,--I do not know that it is ever reached in this life, but a man
may come indefinitely near it,--that you shall stand, like Herod, face
to face with Jesus Christ and feel nothing, and that all His love and
grace shall be offered and not excite the faintest stirring in your
hearts of a desire to accept it.

Oh! my friend, we have all of us evils enough in these charnel-houses
of our memory to make us dread the awakening of conscience, to make us
look with fear and apprehension beyond the veil to a judgment-seat.
And, blessed be God! we have all of us had, and some of us have now,
drawings to which we need but to yield ourselves in order to find that
He who comes from the heavens is no 'John whom we beheaded,' risen for
judgment, but a mightier than he, that Son of God who came 'not to
condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.'



THE MARTYRDOM OF JOHN


'For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound
him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife: for he
had married her. 18. For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful
for thee to have thy brother's wife. 19. Therefore Herodias had a
quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not: 20.
For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and
observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him
gladly. 21. And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his
birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates
of Galilee; 22. And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in,
and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king
said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give
it thee. 23. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I
will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. 24. And she went
forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The
head of John the Baptist. 25. And she came in straightway with haste
unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by
in a charger the head of John the Baptist. 26. And the king was
exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which
sat with him, he would not reject her. 27. And immediately the king
sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went
and beheaded him in the prison, 28. And brought his head in a charger,
and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her
mother.'--Mark vi. 17-28.

This Herod was a son of the grim old tiger who slew the infants of
Bethlehem. He was a true cub of a bad litter, with his father's
ferocity, but without his force. He was sensual, cruel, cunning, and
infirm of purpose. Rome allowed him to play at being a king, but kept
him well in hand. No doubt his anomalous position as a subject prince
helped to make him the bad man he was. Herodias, the Jezebel to this
Ahab, was his brother's wife, and niece to both her husband and Herod.
Elijah was not far off; John's daring outspokenness, of course, made
the indignant woman his implacable enemy.

I. This story gives an example of the waking of conscience. When
Christ's name reached even the court, where such tidings would have no
ready entrance, what was only an occasion of more or less languid
gossip and curiosity to others stirred the sleeping accuser in Herod's
breast. He had no doubt as to who this new Teacher, armed with
mightier powers than John who 'did no miracles' had ever possessed,
was. His conviction that he was John, come back with increased power,
was immediate, and was held fast, in spite of the buzz of other
opinions.

Note the unusual order of the sentence in verse 16: 'John whom I
beheaded, he is,' etc. The terrified king blurts out the name of his
dread first, then tremblingly takes the guilt of the deed to himself,
and last speaks the terrifying thought that he is risen. A man who has
a sin in his memory can never be sure that its ghost will not suddenly
start up. Trivial incidents will rouse the sleeping conscience. Some
nothing, a chance word, a scent, a sound, the look on a face, the glow
of an evening sky, may bring all the foul past up again. A puff of
wind clears away the mist of oblivion, and the old sin starts into
vividness as if done yesterday. You touch a secret spring, and there
yawns in the floor a gap leading down to a dungeon.

Conscience thus wakened is free from all illusions as to guilt. '_I_
beheaded.' There are no excuses now about Herodias' urgency, or
Salome's beauty, or the rash oath, or the need of keeping it, before
his guests. The deed stands clear of all these, as his own act. It is
ever so. When conscience speaks, sophistications about temptations or
companions, or necessity, or the more learned excuses which
philosophers make about environment and heredity as weakening
responsibility and diminishing guilt, shrivel to nothing. The present
operations of conscience distinctly predict future still more complete
remembrance of, and sense of responsibility for, long past sins. There
will be a resurrection of men's evil deeds, as well as of their
bodies, and each of them will shake its gory locks at its author, and
say, 'Thou didst it.'

There is no proof that Herod was a Sadducee, disbelieving in a
resurrection; but, whether he was or not, the terrors of conscience
made short work of the difficulties in the way of his supposition. He
was right in believing that evil deeds are gifted with an awful
immortality, and will certainly rise again to shake their doer's soul
with terrors.

II. The narrative harks back to tell the story of John's martyrdom. It
sets vividly forth the inner discord and misery of half-and-half
convictions. Herodias was strong enough to get John put in prison, and
apparently she tried with all the tenacity of a malignant woman to
have him assassinated, by contrived accident or open sentence; but
_that_ she could not manage.

Mark's analysis of the play of contending feeling in the weak king is
barely intelligible in the Authorised Version, but is clearly shown in
the Revised Version. He 'feared John,'--the jailer afraid of his
prisoner,--'knowing that he was a righteous man and an holy.' Goodness
is awful. The worst men know it when they see it, and pay it the
homage of dread, if not of love. 'And kept him safe' (not _ob_- but
_pre_-served him); that is, from Herodias' revenge. 'And when he heard
him, he was much perplexed.' The reading thus translated differs from
that in the Authorised Version by two letters only, and obviously is
preferable. Herod was a weak-willed man, drawn by two stronger natures
pulling in opposite directions.

So he alternated between lust and purity, between the foul kisses of
the temptress at his side and the warnings of the prophet in his
dungeon. But in all his vacillation he could not help listening to
John, but 'heard him gladly,' and mind and conscience approved the
nobler voice. Thus he staggered along, with religion enough to spoil
some of his sinful delights, but not enough to make him give them up.

Such a state of partial conviction is not unusual. Many of us know
quite well that, if we would drop some habit, which may not be very
grave, we should be less encumbered in some effort which it is our
interest or duty to make; but the conviction has not gone deeper than
the understanding. Like a shot which has only got half way through the
armoured skin of a man-of-war, it has done no execution, nor reached
the engine-room where the power that drives the life is. In more
important matters such imperfect convictions are widespread. The
majority of slaves to vice know perfectly well that they should give
it up. And in regard to the salvation which is in Christ, there are
multitudes who know in their inmost consciousness that they ought to
be Christians.

Such a condition is one liable to unrest and frequent inner conflict.
Truly, he is 'much perplexed' whose conscience pulls him one way, and
his inclinations another. There is no more miserable condition than
that of the man whose will is cleft in twain, and who has a continual
battle raging within. Conscience may be bound and thrust down into a
dungeon, like John, and lust and pride may be carousing overhead, but
their mirth is hollow, and every now and then the stern voice comes up
through the gratings, and the noisy revelry is hushed, while _it_
speaks doom.

Such a state of inner strife comes often from unwillingness to give up
one special evil. If Herod could have plucked up resolve to pack
Herodias about her business, other things might have come right. Many
of us are ruined by being unwilling to let some dear delight go. 'If
thine eye causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out.'

We do not make up for such cowardly shrinking from doing right by
pleasure in the divine word which we are not obeying. Herod no doubt
thought that his delight in listening to John went some way to atone
for his refusal to get rid of Herodias. Some of us think ourselves
good Christians because we assent to truth, and even like to hear it,
provided the speaker suit our tastes. Glad hearing only aggravates the
guilt of not doing. It is useless to admire John if you keep Herodias.

III. The end of the story gives an example of the final powerlessness
of such half-convictions. One need not repeat the grim narrative of
the murder. We all know it. One knows not which is the more
repugnant--the degradation of the poor child Salome to the level of a
dancing-girl, the fell malignity of the mother who would shame her
daughter for such an end, the maudlin generosity of Herod, flushed
with wine and excited passion, the hideous request from lips so young,
the ineffectual sorrow of Herod, his fantastic sense of obligation,
which scrupled to break a wicked promise and did not scruple to murder
a prophet, or the ghastly picture of the girl hurrying to her mother
with the freshly severed head, dripping on to the platter and staining
her fair young hands.

This was what all the convictions of John's righteousness had come to.
So had ended the half yielding to his brave rebukes and the
ineffectual aspirations after cleaner living. That chaos of lust and
blood teaches that partial reformation is apt to end in a deeper
plunge into fouler mire. If a man is false to his feeblest conviction,
he makes himself a worse man all through. A partial thaw is generally
followed by keener frost than before. A soul half melted and cooled
again is harder to melt than before. An abortive slave-rising rivets
the chains.

The incident teaches that simple weakness may come to be the parent of
great sin. In a world like this, where there are always more voices
soliciting to wrong than to right, to be weak is in the long run to be
wicked. Fatal facility of disposition ruins hundreds of unthinking
men. Nothing is more needful than that young people should learn to
say 'No,' and should cultivate a wholesome obstinacy which is afraid
of nothing but of sinning against God.

If we look onwards to this Herod's last appearance in Scripture, we
get further lessons. He desired to see Jesus that he might see a
miracle done to amuse him, like a conjuring trick. Convictions and
terrors had faded from his frivolous soul. He has forgotten that he
once thought Jesus to be John come again. He sees Christ, and sees
nothing in Him; and Christ says nothing to Herod, because He knew it
would be useless.

It is an awful thing to put one's self beyond the hearing of that
voice, which 'all that are in the graves shall hear.' The most
effectual stopping for our ears is neglect of what we know to be His
will. If we will not listen to Him, we shall gradually lose the power
of hearing Him, and then He will lock His lips, and answer nothing. We
dare not say that Jesus is dumb to any man while life lasts, but we
dare not refrain from saying that that condition of utter
insensibility to His voice may be indefinitely approached by us, and
that neglected convictions bring us terribly far on the way towards
it.



THE WORLD'S BREAD


'And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told
Him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught. 31.
And He said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place,
and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had
no leisure so much as to eat. 32. And they departed into a desert
place by ship privately. 33. And the people saw them departing, and
many knew Him, and ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent
them, and came together unto Him. 34. And Jesus, when he came out, saw
much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they
were as sheep not having a shepherd: and He began to teach them many
things. 35. And when the day was now far spent, His disciples came
unto Him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far
passed: 36. Send them away, that they may go into the country round
about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have
nothing to eat. 37. He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to
eat. And they say unto Him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth
of bread, and give them to eat? 38. He saith unto them, How many
loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and
two fishes. 39. And he commanded them to make all sit down by
companies upon the green grass. 40. And they sat down in ranks, by
hundreds, and by fifties. 41. And when He had taken the five loaves
and the two fishes, He looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the
loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two
fishes divided He among them all. 42. And they did all eat, and were
filled. 43. And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and
of the fishes. 44. And they that did eat of the loaves were about five
thousand men.'--Mark vi. 30-44.

This is the only miracle recorded by all four Evangelists. Matthew
brings it into immediate connection with John's martyrdom, while Mark
links it with the Apostles' return from their first mission. His
account is, as usual, full of graphic touches, while John shows more
intimate knowledge of the parts played by the Apostles, and sets the
whole incident in a clearer light.

I. Mark brings out the preceding events, and especially the seeking
for solitude, which was baulked by popular enthusiasm. The Apostles
came back to Jesus full of wondering joy, and were eager to tell what
they had done and taught. Note that order, which hints that they
thought more of the miracles than of the message. They were flushed
and excited by success, and needed calming down even more than
physical rest. So Jesus, knowing their need, bids them come with Him
into healing solitude, and rest awhile.

After any great effort, the body cries for repose, but still more does
the soul's health demand quiet after exciting and successful work for
Christ. Without much solitary communion with Jesus, effort for Him
tends to become mechanical, and to lose the elevation of motive and
the suppression of self which give it all its power. It is not wasted
time which the busiest worker, confronted with the most imperative
calls for service, gives to still fellowship in secret with God. There
can never be too much activity in Christian work, but there is often
disproportioned activity, which is too much for the amount of time
given to meditation and communion. That is one reason why there is so
much sowing and so little reaping in Christian work to-day.

But, on the other hand, we have sometimes to do as Jesus was driven to
do in this incident; namely, to forgo cheerfully, after brief repose,
the blessed and strengthening hour of quiet. The motives of the crowds
that hurried round the head of the lake while the boat was pulled
across, and so got to the other side before it, were not very pure.
Curiosity drove them as much as any nobler impulse. But we must not be
too particular about the reasons that induce men to resort to Jesus,
and if we can give them more than they sought, so much the better. Let
us be thankful if, for any reason, we can get them to listen.

Jesus 'came forth'; that is, probably from a short withdrawal with the
Twelve. Brief repose snatched, He turned again to the work. The 'great
multitude' did not make Him impatient, though, no doubt, some of the
Apostles were annoyed. But He saw deeply into their condition, and
pity welled in His heart. If we looked on the crowds in our great
cities with Christ's eyes, their spiritual state would be the most
prominent thing in sight. And if we saw that as He saw it, disgust,
condemnation, indifference, would not be uppermost, as they too often
are, but some drop of His great compassion would trickle into our
hearts. The masses are still 'as sheep without a shepherd,' ignorant
of the way, and defenceless against their worst foes. Do we habitually
try to cultivate as ours Christ's way of looking at men, and Christ's
emotions towards men? If we do, we shall imitate Christ's actions for
men, and shall recognise that, to reproduce as well as we can the
'many things' which He taught them, is the best contribution which His
disciples can make to healing the misery of a Christless world.

II. The difference between John and Mark in regard to the conversation
of Jesus with the disciples about finding food for the crowd, is
easily harmonised. John tells us what Jesus said at the first sight of
the multitude; Mark takes up the narrative at the close of the day. We
owe to John the knowledge that the exigency was not first pointed out
by the disciples, but that His calm, loving prescience saw it, and
determined to meet it, long before they spoke. No needs arise
unforeseen by Christ, and He requires no prompting to help.
Difficulties which seem insoluble to us, when we too late wake to
perceive them, have long ago been taken into account and solved by
Him.

The Apostles, according to Mark, came with a suggestion of helpless
embarrassment. They could think of nothing but to disperse the crowd,
and so get rid of responsibility. He answers with a paradox of
conscious power, which commands a seeming impossibility, and therein
prophesies endowment that will make it possible. Has not the Church
ever since been but too often faithless enough to let the multitudes
drift away to 'the cities and villages round about,' and there, amid
human remedies for their sore needs, 'buy themselves,' with much
expenditure, a scanty provision? Are we not all tempted to shuffle off
responsibility for the world's hunger? Do we not often think that our
resources are absurdly insufficient, and so, faintheartedly make them
still less? Is not His command still, 'Give ye them to eat'? Let us
rise to the height of our duties and of our power, and be sure that
whoever has Christ has enough for the world's hunger, and is bound to
call men from 'that which is not bread,' and to feed them with Him who
is.

Philip's morning calculation (curiously in keeping with his character)
seems to have been repeated by the Apostles, as, no doubt, he had been
saying the same thing all day at intervals. They had made a rough
calculation of how much would be wanted. It was a sum far beyond their
means. It was as much as about £7. And where was such wealth as that
in that company? But calculations which leave out Christ's power are
not quite conclusive. The Apostles had reckoned up the requirement,
but they had not taken stock of their resources. So they were sent to
hunt up what they could, and John tells us that it was Andrew who
found the boy with five barley loaves and two fishes. How came a boy
to be so provident? Probably he had come to try a bit of trade on his
own account. At all events, the Twelve seem to have been able to buy
his little stock, which done, they went back to tell Jesus, no doubt
thinking that such a meagre supply would end all talk of their giving
the crowd to eat. Jesus would have us count our own resources, not
that we may fling up His work in despair, but that we may realise our
dependence on Him, and that the consciousness of our own insufficiency
may not diminish one jot our sense of obligation to feed the
multitude. It is good to learn our own weakness if it drives us to
lean on His strength. 'Five loaves and two fishes,' plus Jesus Christ,
come to a good deal more than 'two hundred pennyworth of bread.'

III. The miracle is told with beautiful vividness and simplicity.
Mark's picturesque words show the groups sitting by companies of
hundreds or of fifties. He uses a word which means 'the square garden
plots in which herbs are grown.' So they sat on the green grass, which
at that Passover season would be fresh and abundant. What half-amused
and more than half-incredulous wonder as to what would come next would
be in the people! Many of them would be saying in their hearts, and
perhaps some in words, 'Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?'
(Ps. lxxviii. 19). In that small matter Jesus shows that He is 'not
the Author of confusion,' but of order. The rush of five thousand
hungry men struggling to get a share of what seemed an insufficient
supply would have been unseemly and dangerous to the women and
children, but the seated groups become as companies of guests, and He
the orderer of the feast. To get at the numbers would be easy, while
the passage of the Apostles through the groups was facilitated, and
none would be likely to remain unsupplied or passed over.

The point at which the miraculous element entered is not definitely
stated, but if each portion passed through the hands of Christ to the
servers, and from them to the partakers, the multiplication of the
bread must have been effected while it lay in His hand; that is to
say, the loaves were not diminished by His giving. That is true about
all divine gifts. He bestows, and is none the poorer. The streams flow
from the golden vase, and, after all outpouring, it is brimful.

Many irrelevant difficulties have been raised about the mode of the
miracle, and many lame analogies have been suggested, as if it but
hastened ordinary processes. But these need not detain us. Note rather
the great lesson which John records that our Lord Himself drew from
this miracle. It was a symbol, in the material region, of His work in
the spiritual, as all His miracles were. He is the Bread of the world.
Ho gives Himself still, and in a yet more wonderful sense He gave His
flesh for the life of the world. He gives us Himself for our own
nourishment, and also that we may give Him to others. It was an honour
to the Twelve that they should be chosen to be His almoners. It should
be felt an honour by all Christians that through them Christ wills to
feed a hungry world.

A somewhat different application of the miracle reminds us that Jesus
uses our resources, scanty and coarse as five barley loaves, for the
basis of His wonders. He did not create the bread, but multiplied it.
Our small abilities, humbly acknowledged to be small, and laid in His
hands, will grow. There is power enough in the Church, if the power
were consecrated, to feed the world.

All four Gospels tell the command to gather up the 'broken pieces'
(not the fragments left by the eaters, but the unused pieces broken by
Christ). This union of economy with creative power could never have
been invented. Unused resources are retained. The exercise of
Christian powers multiplies them, and after the feeding of thousands
more remains than was possessed before. 'There is that scattereth, and
yet increaseth.'



CHILDREN AND LITTLE DOGS


'And from thence He arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and
Sidon, and entered Into an house, and would have no man know it: but
He could not be hid. 25. For a certain woman, whose young daughter had
an unclean spirit, heard of Him, and came and fell at His feet: 26.
The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought Him
that He would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. 87. But Jesus
said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to
take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. 28. And she
answered and said unto Him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table
eat of the children's crumbs. 29. And He said unto her, For this
saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. 30. And when
she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her
daughter laid upon the bed.'--Mark vii. 24-30.

Our Lord desired to withdraw from the excited crowds who were flocking
after Him as a mere miracle-worker and from the hostile espionage of
emissaries of the Pharisees, 'which had come from Jerusalem.'
Therefore He sought seclusion in heathen territory. He, too, knew the
need of quiet, and felt the longing to plunge into privacy, to escape
for a time from the pressure of admirers and of foes, and to go where
no man knew Him. How near to us that brings Him! And how the
remembrance of it helps to explain His demeanour to the Syrophcenician
woman, so unlike His usual tone!

Naturally the presence of Jesus leaked out, and perhaps the very
effort to avoid notice attracted it. Rumour would have carried His
name across the border, and the tidings of His being among them would
stir hope in some hearts that felt the need of His help. Of such was
this woman, whom Mark describes first, generally, as a 'Greek' (that
is, a Gentile), and then particularly as 'a Syrophcenician by race';
that is, one of that branch of the Phoenician race who inhabited
maritime Syria, in contradistinction from the other branch inhabiting
North-eastern Africa, Carthage, and its neighbourhood. Her deep need
made her bold and persistent, as we learn in detail from Matthew, who
is in this narrative more graphic than Mark. He tells us that she
attacked Jesus in the way, and followed Him, pouring out her loud
petitions, to the annoyance of the disciples. They thought that they
were carrying out His wish for privacy in suggesting that it would be
best to 'send her away' with her prayer granted, and so stop her
'crying after us,' which might raise a crowd, and defeat the wish. We
owe to Matthew the further facts of the woman's recognition of Jesus
as 'the Son of David,' and of the strange ignoring of her cries, and
of His answer to the disciples' suggestion, in which He limited His
mission to Israel, and so explained to them His silence to her. Mark
omits all these points, and focuses all the light on the two
things--Christ's strange and apparently harsh refusal, and the woman's
answer, which won her cause.

Certainly our Lord's words are startlingly unlike Him, and as
startlingly like the Jewish pride of race and contempt for Gentiles.
But that the woman did not take them so is clear; and that was not due
only to her faith, but to something in Him which gave her faith a
foothold. We are surely not to suppose that she drew from His words an
inference which He did not perceive in them, and that He was, as some
commentators put it, 'caught in His own words.' Mark alone gives us
the first clause of Christ's answer to the woman's petition: 'Let the
children first be filled.' And that 'first' distinctly says that their
prerogative is priority, not monopoly. If there is a 'first,' there
will follow a second. The very image of the great house in which the
children sit at the table, and the 'little dogs' are in the room,
implies that children and dogs are part of one household; and Jesus
meant by it just what the woman found in it,--the assurance that the
meal-time for the dogs would come when the children had done. That is
but a picturesque way of stating the method of divine revelation
through the medium of the chosen people, and the objections to
Christ's words come at last to be objections to the 'committing' of
the 'oracles of God' to the Jewish race; that is to say, objections to
the only possible way by which a historical revelation could be given.
It must have personal mediums, a place and a sequence. It must prepare
fit vehicles for itself and gradually grow in clearness and contents.
And all this is just to say that revelation for the world must be
first the possession of a race. The fire must have a hearth on which
it can be kindled and burn, till it is sufficient to bear being
carried thence.

Universalism was the goal of the necessary restriction. Pharisaism
sought to make the restriction permanent. Jesus really threw open the
gates to all in this very saying, which at first sounds so harsh.
'First' implies second, children and little dogs are all parts of the
one household. Christ's personal ministry was confined to Israel for
obvious and weighty reasons. He felt, as Matthew tells us, that He
said in this incident that He was not sent but to the lost sheep of
that nation. But His world-wide mission was as clear to Him as its
temporary limit, and in His first discourse in the synagogue at
Nazareth He proclaimed it to a scowling crowd. We cannot doubt that
His sympathetic heart yearned over this poor woman, and His seemingly
rough speech was meant partly to honour the law which ruled His
mission even in the act of making an exception to it, and partly to
test, and so to increase, her faith.

Her swift laying of her finger on the vulnerable point in the apparent
refusal of her prayer may have been due to a woman's quick wit, but it
was much more due to a mother's misery and to a suppliant's faith.
There must have been something in Christ's look, or in the cadence of
His voice, which helped to soften the surface harshness of His words,
and emboldened her to confront Him with the plain implications of His
own words. What a constellation of graces sparkles in her ready reply!
There is humility in accepting the place He gives her; insight in
seeing at once a new plea in what might have sent her away despairing;
persistence in pleading; confidence that He can grant her request and
that He would gladly do so. Our Lord's treatment of her was amply
justified by its effects. His words were like the hard steel that
strikes the flint and brings out a shower of sparks. Faith makes
obstacles into helps, and stones of stumbling into 'stepping-stones to
higher things.' If we will take the place which He gives us, and hold
fast our trust in Him even when He seems silent to us, and will so far
penetrate His designs as to find the hidden purpose of good in
apparent repulses, the honey secreted deep in the flower, we shall
share in this woman's blessing in the measure in which we share in her
faith.

Jesus obviously delighted in being at liberty to stretch His
commission so as to include her in its scope. Joyful recognition of
the ingenuity of her pleading, and of her faith's bringing her within
the circle of the 'children,' are apparent in His word, 'For this
saying go thy way.' He ever looks for the disposition in us which will
let Him, in accordance with His great purpose, pour on us His
full-flowing tide of blessing, and nothing gladdens Him more than
that, by humble acceptance of our assigned place, and persistent
pleading, and trust that will not be shaken, we should make it
possible for Him to see in us recipients of His mercy and healing
grace.



THE PATTERN OF SERVICE


'He touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, He sighed, and saith
Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.'--Mark vii 33, 34.

For what reason was there this unwonted slowness in Christ's healing
works? For what reason was there this unusual emotion ere He spoke the
word which cleansed?

As to the former question, a partial answer may perhaps be that our
Lord is here on half-heathen ground, where aids to faith were much
needed, and His power had to be veiled that it might be beheld. Hence
the miracle is a process rather than an act; and, advancing as it does
by distinct stages, is conformed in appearance to men's works of
mercy, which have to adapt means to ends, and creep to their goal by
persevering toil. As to the latter, we know not why the sight of this
one poor sufferer should have struck so strongly on the ever-tremulous
chords of Christ's pitying heart; but we do know that it was the
vision brought before His spirit by this single instance of the
world's griefs and sicknesses--in which mass, however, the special
case before Him was by no means lost--that raised His eyes to heaven
in mute appeal, and forced the groan from His breast.

The 'missionary spirit' is but one aspect of the Christian spirit. We
shall only strengthen the former as we invigorate the latter. Harm has
been done, both to ourselves and to that great cause, by seeking to
stimulate compassion and efforts for heathen lands by the use of other
excitements, which have tended to vitiate even the emotions they have
aroused, and are apt to fail as when we need them most. It may
therefore be profitable if we turn to Christ's own manner of working,
and His own emotions in His merciful deeds, set forth in this
remarkable narrative, as containing lessons for us in our missionary
and evangelistic work. I must necessarily omit more than a passing
reference to the slow process of healing which this miracle exhibits.
But that, too, has its teaching for us, who are so often tempted to
think ourselves badly used, unless the fruit of our toil grows up,
like Jonah's gourd, before our eyes. If our Lord was content to reach
His end of blessing step by step, we may well accept 'patient
continuance in well-doing' as the condition indispensable to reaping
in due season.

But there are other thoughts still more needful which suggest
themselves. Those minute details which this Evangelist ever delights
to give of our Lord's gestures, words, looks, and emotions, not only
add graphic force to the narrative but are precious glimpses into the
very heart of Christ. That fixed gaze into heaven, that groan which
neither the glories seen above nor the conscious power to heal could
stifle, that most gentle touch, as if removing material obstacles from
the deaf ears, and moistening the stiff tongue that it might move more
freely in the parched mouth, that word of authority which could not be
wanting even when His working seemed likest a servant's, do surely
carry large lessons for us. The condition of all service, the cost of
feeling at which our work must be done, the need that the helpers
should identify themselves with the sufferers, and the victorious
power of Christ's word over all deaf ears--these are the thoughts
which I desire to connect with our text and to commend to your
meditation now.

I. We have here set forth, in the Lord's heavenward look, the
foundation and condition of all true work for God.

The profound questions which are involved in the fact that, as man,
Christ held communion with God in the exercise of faith and
aspiration, the same in kind as ours, do not concern us here. I speak
to those who believe that Jesus is for us the perfect example of
complete manhood, and who therefore believe that He is 'the leader of
faith,' the head of the long processions of those who in every age
have trusted in God and been 'lightened.' But, perhaps, though that
conviction holds its place in our creeds, it has not been as
completely incorporated with our thoughts as it should have been.
There has, no doubt, been a tendency, operating in much of our
evangelical teaching, and in the common stream of orthodox opinion, to
except, half unconsciously, the exercises of the religious life from
the sphere of Christ's example, and we need to be reminded that
Scripture presents His vow, 'I will put my trust in Him,' as the
crowning proof of His brotherhood, and that the prints of His kneeling
limbs have left their impressions where we kneel before the throne.
True, the relation of the Son to the Father involves more than
communion-namely, unity. But if we follow the teaching of the Bible,
we shall not presume that the latter excludes the former, but
understand that the unity is the foundation of perfect communion, and
the communion the manifestation, so far as it can be manifested, of
the unspeakable unity. The solemn words which shine like
stars--starlike in that their height above us shrinks their magnitude
and dims their brightness, and in that they are points of radiance
partially disclosing, and separated by, abysses of unlighted
infinitude--tell us that in the order of eternity, before creatures
were, there was communion, for 'the Word was with God,' and there was
unity, for 'the Word was God.' And in the records of the life
manifested on earth the consciousness of unity loftily utters itself
in the unfathomable declaration, 'I and my Father are one'; whilst the
consciousness of communion, dependent like ours on harmony of will and
true obedience, breathes peacefully in the witness which He leaves to
Himself: 'The Father has not left Me alone, for I do always the things
that please Him.'

We are fully warranted, then, in supposing that that wistful gaze to
heaven means, and may be taken to symbolise, our Lord's conscious
direction of thought and spirit to God as He wrought His work of
mercy. There are two distinctions to be noted between His communion
with God and ours before we can apply the lesson to ourselves. His
heavenward look was not the renewal of interrupted fellowship, but
rather, as a man standing firmly on firm rock may yet lift his foot to
plant it again where it was before, and settle himself in his attitude
before he strikes with all his might; so we may say Christ fixes
Himself where He always stood, and grasps anew the hand that He always
held, before He does the deed of power. The communion that had never
been broken was renewed; how much more the need that in _our_ work for
God the renewal of the--alas! too sadly sundered--fellowship should
ever precede and always accompany our efforts! And again, Christ's
fellowship was with the Father, while ours must be with the Father
through the Son. The communion to which we are called is with Jesus
Christ, in whom we find God.

The manner of that intercourse, and the various discipline of
ourselves with a view to its perfecting which Christian prudence
prescribes, need not concern us here. As for the latter, let us not
forget that a wholesome and wide-reaching self-denial cannot be
dispensed with. Hands that are full of gilded toys and glass beads
cannot grasp durable riches, and eyes that have been accustomed to
glaring lights see only darkness when they look up to the violet
heaven with all its stars. As to the former, every part of our nature
above the simply animal is capable of God, and the communion ought to
include our whole being. Christ is truth for the understanding,
authority for the will, love for the heart, certainty for the hope,
fruition for all the desires, and for the conscience at once cleansing
and law. Fellowship with Him is no indolent passiveness, nor the
luxurious exercise of certain emotions, but the contact of the whole
nature with its sole adequate object and rightful Lord.

Such intercourse, brethren, lies at the foundation of all work for
God. It is the condition of all our power. It is the measure of all
our success. Without it we may seem to realise the externals of
prosperity, but it will be all illusion. With it we may perchance seem
to 'spend our strength for nought'; but heaven has its surprises; and
those who toiled, nor left their hold of their Lord in all their work,
will have to say at last with wonder, as they see the results of their
poor efforts, 'Who hath begotten me these? behold, I was left alone;
these, where had they been?'

Consider in few words the manifold ways in which the indispensable
prerequisite of all right effort for Christ may be shown to be
communion with Christ.

The heavenward look is the renewal of our own vision of the calm
verities in which we trust, the recourse for ourselves to the
realities which we desire that others should see. And what is equal in
persuasive power to the simple utterance of one's own intense
conviction? He only will infuse his own religion into other minds,
whose religion is not a set of hard dogmas, but is fused by the heat
of personal experience into a river of living fire. It will flow then,
not otherwise. The only claim which the hearts of men will listen to,
in those who would win them to spiritual beliefs, is that ancient one:
'That which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon,
declare we unto you.' Mightier than all arguments, than all 'proofs of
the truth of the Christian religion,' and penetrating into a sphere
deeper than that of the understanding, is the simple proclamation, 'We
have found the Messias.' If we would give sight to the blind, we must
ourselves be gazing into heaven. Only when we testify of that which we
see, as one might who, standing in a beleaguered city, discerned on
the horizon the filmy dust-cloud through which the spearheads of the
deliverers flashed at intervals, shall we win any to gaze with us till
they too behold and know themselves set free.

The heavenward look draws new strength from the source of all our
might. In our work, dear brethren, contemplating as it ought to do
exclusively spiritual results, what we do depends largely on what we
are, and what we are depends on what we receive, and what we receive
depends on the depth and constancy of our communion with God. 'The
help which is done upon earth He doeth it all Himself.' We and our
organisations are but the channels through which this might is poured;
and if we choke the bed with turbid masses of drift and heavy rocks of
earthly thoughts, or build from bank to bank thick dams of worldliness
compact with slime of sin, how shall the full tide flow through us for
the healing of the salt and barren places? Will it not leave its
former course silted up with sand, and cut for itself new outlets,
while the useless quays that once rang with busy life stand silent,
and 'the cities are solitary that were full of people'? We are

       'The trumpet at Thy lips, the clarion
  Full of Thy cry, sonorous with Thy breath.'

Let us see to it that by fellowship with Christ we keep the passage
clear, and become recipients of the inspiration which shall thrill our
else-silent spirits into the blast of loud alarum and the ringing
proclamation of the true King.

The heavenward look will guard us from the temptations which surround
all our service, and the distractions which lay waste our lives. It is
habitual communion with Christ that alone will give the persistency
that makes systematic, continuous efforts for Him possible, and yet
will keep systematic work from degenerating, as it ever tends to do,
into mechanical work. There is no greater virtue in irregular
desultory service than in systematised labour. The one is not freer
from besetting temptations than the other, only the temptations are of
different sorts. Machinery saves manual toil, and multiplies force.
But we may have too heavy machinery for what engineers call the boiler
power,--too many wheels and shafts for the steam we have to drive them
with. What we want is not less organisation, or other sorts of it, but
more force. Any organisation will do if we have God's Spirit breathing
through it. None will be better than so much old iron if we have not.

We are ever apt to trust to our work, to do it without a distinct
recurrence at each moment to the principles on which it rests, and the
motives by which it should be actuated,--to become so absorbed in
details that we forget the purpose which alone gives them meaning, to
over-estimate the external aspects of it, to lose sight of the solemn
truths which make it so grand, and to think of it as commonplace
because it is common, as ordinary because it is familiar. And from
these most real dangers, which beset us all, there is no refuge but
the frequent, the habitual, gaze into the open heavens, which will
show us again the realities of things, and bring to our spirits,
dwarfed even by habits of goodness, the renewal of former motives by
the vision of Jesus Christ.

Such constant communion will further surround us with an atmosphere
through which none of the many influences which threaten our Christian
life and our Christian work can penetrate. As the diver in his bell
sits dry at the bottom of the sea, and draws a pure air from the free
heavens far above him, and is parted from that murderous waste of
green death that clings so closely round the translucent crystal walls
which keep him safe; so we, enclosed in God, shall repel from
ourselves all that would overflow to destroy us and our work, and may
by His grace lay deeper than the waters some courses in the great
building that shall one day rise, stately and many-mansioned, from out
of the conquered waves. For ourselves, and for all that we do for Him,
living communion with God is the means of power and peace, of security
and success.

It was never more needful than now. Feverish activity rules in all
spheres of life. The iron wheels of the car which bears the modern
idol of material progress whirl fast, and crush remorselessly all who
cannot keep up the pace. Christian effort is multiplied and
systematised beyond all precedent. And all these facts make calm
fellowship with God hard to compass. The measure of the difficulty is
the measure of the need. I, for my part, believe that there are few
Christian duties more neglected than that of meditation, the very name
of which has fallen of late into comparative disuse, that augurs ill
for the frequency of the thing. We are so busy thinking, discussing,
defending, inquiring; or preaching, and teaching, and working, that we
have no time and no leisure of heart for quiet contemplation, without
which the exercise of the intellect upon Christ's truth will not feed,
and busy activity in Christ's cause may starve, the soul. There are
few things which the Church of this day in all its parts needs more
than to obey the invitation, 'Come ye yourselves apart into a lonely
place, and rest a while.'

Christ has set us the example. Let our prayers ascend as His did, and
in our measure the answers which came to Him will not fail us. For us,
too, 'praying, the heavens' shall be 'opened,' and the peace-bringing
spirit fall dove-like on our meek hearts. For us, too, when the shadow
of our cross lies black and gaunt upon our paths, and our souls are
troubled, communion with heaven will bring the assurance, audible to
our ears at least, that God will glorify Himself even in us. If, after
many a weary day, we seek to hold fellowship with God as He sought it
on the Mount of Olives, or among the solitudes of the midnight hills,
or out in the morning freshness of the silent wilderness, like Him we
shall have men gathering around us to hear us speak when we come forth
from 'the secret place of the Most High.' If our prayer, like His,
goes before our mighty deeds, the voice that first pierced the skies
will penetrate the tomb, and make the dead stir in their
grave-clothes. If our longing, trustful look is turned to the heavens,
we shall not speak in vain on earth when we say, 'Be opened!'

Brethren, we cannot do without the communion which our Master needed.
Do we delight in what strengthened Him? Does our work rest upon the
basis of inward fellowship with God which underlay His? Alas! that our
Pattern should be our rebuke, and that the readiest way to force home
our faults on our consciences should be the contemplation of the life
which we say that we try to copy!

II. We have here pity for the evils we would remove, set forth by the
Lord's sigh.

The frequency with which this Evangelist records our Lord's emotions
on the sight of sin and sorrow has been often noticed. In his pages we
read of Christ's grief at the hardness of men's hearts, of His
marvelling because of their unbelief, of His being moved with
compassion for an outcast leper and a hungry multitude, of His sighing
deeply in His spirit when prejudiced hostility, assuming the
appearance of candid inquiry, asked of Him a sign from heaven. All
these instances of true human feeling, like His tears at the grave of
Lazarus, and His weariness as He sat on the well, and His tired sleep
in the stern of the little fishing-boat, and His hunger and His
thirst, are very precious as aids in realising His perfect manhood;
but they have a worth beyond even that. They show us how the manifold
ills and evils of man's fate and conduct appealed to the only pure
heart that ever beat, and how quickly and warmly it, by reason of its
purity, throbbed in sympathy with all the woe. One might have thought
that in the present case the consciousness that His help was so near
would have been sufficient to repress the sigh. One might have thought
that the heavenward look would have stayed the tears. But neither the
happiness of active benevolence, nor the knowledge of immediate cure,
nor the glories above flooding His vision, could lift the burden from
His labouring breast. And surely in this too, we may discern a law for
all our efforts, that their worth shall be in proportion to the
expense of feeling at which they are done. Men predict the harvests in
Egypt by the height which the river marks on the gauge of the
inundation. So many feet there represent so much fertility. Tell me
the depth of a Christian man's compassion, and I will tell you the
measure of his fruitfulness.

What was it that drew that sigh from the heart of Jesus? One poor man
stood before him, by no means the most sorely afflicted of the many
wretched ones whom He healed. But He saw in him more than a solitary
instance of physical infirmities. Did there not roll darkly before His
thoughts that whole weltering sea of sorrow that moans round the world
of which here is but one drop that He could dry up? Did there not rise
black and solid, against the clear blue to which He had been looking,
the mass of man's sin, of which these bodily infirmities were but a
poor symbol as well as a consequence? He saw, as none but He could
bear to see, the miserable realities of human life. His knowledge of
all that man might be, of all that the most of men were becoming, His
power of contemplating in one awful aggregate the entire sum of
sorrows and sins, laid upon His heart a burden which none but He has
ever endured. His communion with heaven deepened the dark shadow on
earth, and the eyes that looked up to God and saw Him, could not but
see foulness where others suspected none, and murderous messengers of
hell walking in darkness unpenetrated by mortal sight. And all that
pain of clearer knowledge of the sorrowfulness of sorrow, and the
sinfulness of sin, was laid upon a heart in which was no selfishness
to blunt the sharp edge of the pain nor any sin to stagnate the pity
that flowed from the wound. To Jesus Christ, life was a daily
martyrdom before death had 'made the sacrifice complete,' and He 'bore
our griefs and carried our sorrows' through many a weary hour before
He 'bare them in His own body on the tree.' Therefore, 'Bear ye one
another's burdens, and so fulfil the law' which Christ obeyed, becomes
a command for all who would draw men to Him. And true sorrow, a sharp
and real sense of pain, becomes indispensable as preparation for, and
accompaniment to, our work.

Mark how in us, as in our Lord, the sigh of compassion is to be
connected with the look to heaven. It follows upon that gaze. The
evils become more real, more terrible, by their startling contrast
with the unshadowed light which lives above cloudracks and mists. It
is a sharp shock to turn from the free sweep of the heavens, starry
and radiant, to the sights that meet us in 'this dim spot which men
call earth.' Thus habitual communion with God is the root of the
truest and purest compassion. It does not withdraw us from our fellow
feeling with our brethren, it cultivates no isolation for undisturbed
beholding of God. It at once supplies a standard by which to measure
the greatness of man's godlessness, and therefore of his gloom, and a
motive for laying the pain of these upon our hearts, as if they were
our own. He has looked into the heavens to little purpose who has not
learned how bad and how sad the world now is, and how God bends over
it in pitying love.

And that same fellowship which will clear our eyes and soften our
hearts, is also the one consolation which we have when our sense of
'all the ills that flesh is heir to' becomes deep nearly to despair.
When one thinks of the real facts of human life, and tries to conceive
of the frightful meanness and passion and hate and wretchedness that
have been howling and shrieking and gibbering and groaning through
dreary millenniums, one's brain reels, and hope seems to be absurdity,
and joy a sin against our fellows, as a feast would be in a house next
door to where was a funeral. I do not wonder at settled sorrow falling
upon men of vivid imagination, keen moral sense, and ordinary
sensitiveness, when they brood long on the world as it is. But I do
wonder at the superficial optimism which goes on with its little
prophecies about human progress, and its rose-coloured pictures of
human life, and sees nothing to strike it dumb for ever in men's
writhing miseries, blank failures, and hopeless end. Ah! brethren, if
it were not for the heavenward look, how could we bear the sight of
earth? 'We see not yet all things put under Him.' No! God knows, far
enough off from that. Man's folly, man's submission to the creatures
he should rule, man's agonies, and man's transgression, are a grim
contrast to the Psalmist's vision. If we had only earth to look to,
despair of the race, expressed in settled melancholy apathy or in
fierce cynicism, were the wisest attitude. But there is more within
our view than earth; 'we see Jesus'; we look to the heaven, and as we
behold the true Man, we see more than ever, indeed, how far from that
pattern we all are; but we can bear the thought of what men as yet
have been, when we see that perfect Example of what men shall be. The
root and the consolation of our sorrow for men's evils is communion
with God.

Let me remind you, too, that still more dangerous than the pity which
is not based upon, and corrected by, the look to heaven, is the pity
which does not issue in strenuous work. It is easy to excite people's
emotions; but it is perilous for both the operator and the subject,
unless they be excited through the understanding, and pass on the
impulse to the will and the practical powers. The surest way to
petrify a heart is to stimulate the feelings, and give them nothing to
do. They will never recover their original elasticity if they have
been wantonly drawn forth thus. Coldness, hypocrisy, spurious
sentimentalism, and a whole train of affectations and falsehoods
follow the steps of an emotional religion, which divorces itself from
active work. Pity is meant to impel to help. Let us not be content
with painting sad and true pictures of men's woes,--of the gloomy
hopelessness of idolatry, for instance--but let us remember that every
time our compassion is stirred, and no action ensues, our hearts are
in some measure indurated, and the sincerity of our religion in some
degree impaired. White-robed Pity is meant to guide the strong powers
of practical help to their work. She is to them as eyes to go before
them and point their tasks. They are to her as hands to execute her
gentle will. Let us see to it that we rend them not apart; for idle
pity is unblessed and fruitless as a sigh cast into the fragrant air,
and unpitying work is more unblessed and fruitless still. Let us
remember, too, that Christlike and indispensable as Pity is, she is
second, and not first. Let us take heed that we preserve that order in
our own minds, and in our endeavours to stimulate one another. For if
we reverse it, we shall surely find the fountains of compassion drying
up long before the wide stretches of thirsty land are watered, and the
enterprises which we have sought to carry on by appealing to a
secondary motive, languishing when there is most need for vigour. Here
is the true sequence which must be observed in our missionary and
evangelistic work, 'Looking up to heaven, He sighed.'

Dear brethren! must we not all acknowledge woful failures in this
regard? How much of our service, our giving, our preaching, our
planning, has been carried on without one thought of the ills and
godlessness we profess to be seeking to cure! If some angel's touch
could annihilate all that portion of our activity, what gaps would be
left in all our subscription lists, our sermons, and our labours both
at home and abroad! Annihilate, do I say? It is done already. Such
work is nothing, and comes to nothing. 'Yea, it shall not be planted;
yea, it shall not be sown; and He shall also blow upon it, and it
shall wither.'

The hindrances to such abiding consciousness of and pity for the
world's woes run all down to the one tap-root of all sin, selfishness.
The remedies run all up to the common form of all goodness, the
self-absorbing communion with Jesus Christ. And besides that
mother-tincture of everything wrong, subsidiary impediments may be
found in the small amounts of time and effort which any of us give to
bring the facts of the world's condition vividly before our minds. The
destruction of all emotion is the indolent acquiescence in general
statements which we are too lazy or busy to break up into individual
cases. To talk about hundreds of millions of idolaters leaves the
heart untouched. But take one soul out of all that mass, and try to
feel what his life is in its pitchy darkness, broken only by lurid
lights of fear and sickly gleams of hope, in its passions ungoverned
by love, its remorse uncalmed by pardon, its affections feeling like
the tendrils of some climbing plant for the stay they cannot find, and
in the cruel blackness that swallows it up irrevocably at last. Follow
it from the childhood that knows no discipline to the grave that knows
no waking, and will not the solitary instance come nearer our hearts
than the millions?

But however that may be, the sluggishness of our imaginations, the
very familiarity with the awful facts, our own feeble hold on Christ,
our absorption in personal interests, the incompleteness and
desultoriness of our communion with our Lord, do all concur with our
natural selfishness to make a sadly large proportion of our apparent
labours for God and men utterly cold and unfeeling, and therefore
utterly worthless. Has the benighted world ever caused us as much pain
as some trivial pecuniary loss has done? Have we ever felt the smart
of the gaping wounds through which our brothers' blood is pouring
forth as much as we do the tiniest scratch on our own fingers? Does it
sound to us like exaggerated rhetoric when a prophet breaks out, 'Oh
that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I
might weep night and day!' or when an Apostle in calmer tones
declares, 'I have great heaviness and continual sorrow of heart'? Some
seeds are put to steep and swell in water, that they may be tested
before sowing. The seed which we sow will not germinate unless it be
saturated with our tears. And yet the sorrow must be blended with joy;
for it is glad labour which is ordinarily productive labour--just as
the growing time is the changeful April, and one knows not whether the
promise of harvest is most sure in the clouds that drop fatness, or in
the sunshine that makes their depths throb with whitest light, and
touches the moist-springing blades into emeralds and diamonds. The
gladness comes from the heavenward look, the pain is breathed in the
deep-drawn sigh; both must be united in us if we would 'approve
ourselves as the servants of God--as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.'

III. We have here loving contact with those whom we would help set
forth in the Lord's touch.

The reasons for the variety observable in Christ's method of
communicating supernatural blessing were, probably, too closely
connected with unrecorded differences in the spiritual conditions of
the recipients to be distinctly traceable by us. But though we cannot
tell why a particular method was employed in a given case, why now a
word, and now a symbolic action, now the touch of His hand, and now
the hem of His garment, appeared to be the vehicles of His power, we
can discern the significance of these divers ways, and learn great
lessons from them all.

His touch was sometimes obviously the result of what one may venture
to call instinctive tenderness, as when He lifted the little children
in His arms and laid His hands upon their heads. It was, I suppose,
always the spontaneous expression of love and compassion, even when it
was something more. The touch of His hand on the ghastly glossiness of
the leper's skin was, no doubt, His assertion of priestly functions,
and of elevation above all laws of defilement; but what was it to the
poor outcast, who for years had never felt the warm contact of flesh
and blood? It always indicated that He Himself was the source of
healing and life. It always expressed His identification of Himself
with sorrow and sickness. So that it is in principle analogous to, and
may be taken as illustrative of, that transcendent act whereby He
'became flesh, and dwelt among us.' Indeed, the very word by which our
Lord's taking the blind man by the hand is described in the chapter
following our text, is that employed in the Epistle to the Hebrews
when, dealing with the true brotherhood of Jesus, the writer says, 'He
took not hold of angels, but of the seed of Abraham He taketh hold.'
Christ's touch is His willing contact with man's infirmities and sins,
that He may strengthen and hallow.

And the lesson is one of universal application. Wherever men would
help their fellows, this is a prime requisite, that the would-be
helper should come down to the level of those whom he desires to aid.
If we wish to teach, we must stoop to think the scholar's thoughts.
The master who has forgotten his boyhood will have poor success. If we
would lead to purer emotions, we must try to enter into the lower
feelings which we labour to elevate. It is of no use to stand at the
mouth of the alleys we wish to cleanse, with our skirts daintily
gathered about us, and smelling-bottle in hand, to preach homilies on
the virtues of cleanliness. We must go in among the filth, and handle
it, if we want to have it cleared away. The degraded must feel that we
do not shrink from them, or we shall do them no good. The leper,
shunned by all, and ashamed of himself because everybody loathes him,
hungers in his hovel for the grasp of a hand that does not care for
defilement, if it can bring cleansing. Even in regard to common
material helps the principle holds good. We are too apt to cast our
doles to the poor like bones to a dog, and then to wonder at what we
are pleased to think men's ingratitude. A benefit may be so conferred
as to hurt more than a blow; and we cannot be surprised if so-called
charity which is given with contempt and a sense of superiority,
should be received with a scowl, and chafe a man's spirit like a
fetter. Such gifts bless neither him who gives nor him who takes. We
must put our hearts into them, if we would win hearts by them. We must
be ready, like our Master, to take blind beggars by the hand, if we
would bless or help them. The despair and opprobrium of our modern
civilisation; the gulf growing wider and deeper between Dives and
Lazarus, between Belgravia and Whitechapel; the mournful failure of
legalised help, and of delegated efforts to bridge it over, the
darkening ignorance, the animal sensuousness, the utter heathenism
that lives in every town of England, within a stone's-throw of
Christian houses, and near enough to hear the sound of public
worship--will yield to nothing but that sadly forgotten law which
enjoins personal contact with the sinful and the suffering, as one
chief condition of raising them from the black mire in which they
welter.

But the same law has its special application in regard to the
enterprise of Christian missions.

It defines the spirit in which Christian men should proclaim the
Gospel. The effect of much well-meant Christian effort is simply to
irritate. People are very quick to catch delicate intonations which
reveal a secret sense, 'how much better, wiser, more devout I am than
these people!' and wherever a trace of that appears in our work, the
good of it is apt to be marred. We all know how hackneyed the charge
of spiritual pride and Pharisaic self-complacency is, and, thank God,
how unjust it often is. But averse as men may be to the truths which
humble, and willing as they may be to assume that the very effort on
our parts to present these to others implies a claim which they
resent, we may at least learn from the threadbare calumny, what
strikes men about our position, and what rouses their antagonism to
us. It is allowable to be taught by our enemies, especially when it is
such a lesson as this, that we must carefully divest our evangelistic
work of apparent pretensions to superiority, and take our stand by the
side of those to whom we speak. We cannot lecture men into the love of
Christ, We can win them to it only by showing Christ's love to them;
and not the least important element in that process is the exhibition
of our own love. We have a Gospel to speak of which the very heart is
that the Son of God stooped to become one with the lowliest and most
sinful; and how can that Gospel be spoken with power unless we too
stoop like Him? We have to echo the invitation, 'Learn of Me, for I am
lowly in heart'; and how can such divine words flow from lips into
which like grace has not been poured? Our theme is a Saviour who
shrank from no sinner, who gladly consorted with publicans and
harlots, who laid His hand on pollution, and His heart, full of God
and of love, on hearts reeking with sin; and how can our message
correspond with our theme if, even in delivering it, we are saying to
ourselves, 'The Temple of the Lord are we: this people which knoweth
not the law is cursed'? Let us beware of the very real danger which
besets us in this matter, and earnestly seek to make ourselves one
with those whom we would gather into Christ, by actual familiarity
with their condition, and by identification of ourselves in feeling
with them, after the example of that greatest of Christian teachers
who became 'all things to all men, that by all means he might gain
some'; after the higher example, which Paul followed, of that dear
Lord who, being Highest, descended to the lowest, and in the days of
His humiliation was not content with speaking words of power from
afar, nor abhorred the contact of mortality and disease and loathsome
corruption; but laid His hands upon death, and it lived; upon
sickness, and it was whole; on rotting leprosy, and it was sweet as
the flesh of a little child.

The same principle might be further applied to our Christian work, as
affecting the form in which we should present the truth. The
sympathetic identification of ourselves with those to whom we try to
carry the Gospel will certainly make us wise to know how to shape our
message. Seeing with their eyes, we shall be able to graduate the
light. Thinking their thoughts, and having in some measure succeeded,
by force of sheer community of feeling, in having, as it were, got
inside their minds, we shall unconsciously, and without effort, be led
to such aspects of Christ's all-comprehensive truth as they most need.
There will be no shooting over people's heads, if we love them well
enough to understand them. There will be no toothless generalities,
when our interest in men keeps their actual condition and temptations
clear before us. There will be no flinging fossil doctrines at them
from a height, as if Christ's blessed Gospel were, in another than the
literal sense, 'a stone of offence,' if we have taken our place on
their level. And without such sympathy, these and a thousand other
weaknesses and faults will certainly vitiate much of our Christian
effort.

Let me not be misunderstood when I speak of adapting our presentation
of the Gospel to the wants of those to whom we carry it. That general
statement may express the plainest dictate of Christian prudence or
the most dangerous practical error. The one great truth of the Gospel
wants no adaptation, by our handling, to any soul of man. It is fitted
for all, and demands only plain, loving, earnest statement. There must
be no tampering with central verities, nor any diplomatic reserve on
the plea of consulting the needs of the men whom we address. Every
sinful spirit needs the simple Gospel of salvation by Jesus Christ
more than it needs anything else. Nor does adaptation mean deferential
stretching a point to meet man's wishes in our presentation of the
truth. Their wishes have to be contravened, that their wants may be
met. The truth which a man or a generation requires most is the truth
which he or it likes least; and the true Christian teacher's
adaptation of his message will consist quite as much in opposing the
desires and contradicting the lies, as in seeking to meet the felt
wants, of the world. Nauseous medicines or sharp lancets are adapted
to the sick man, quite as truly as pleasant food and soothing
ointment.

But remembering all this, we still have a wide field for the operation
of practical wisdom and loving common-sense, in determining the form
of our message and the manner of our action. And not the least
important of qualifications for solving the problems connected
therewith is cheerful identification of ourselves with the thoughts
and feelings of those whom we would fain draw to the love of God. Such
contact with men will win their hearts, as well as soften ours, It
will make them willing to hear, as well as us wise to speak. It will
enrich our own lives with wide experience and multiplied interests. It
will lift us out of the enchanted circle which selfishness draws
around us. It will silently proclaim the Lord from whom we have learnt
it. The clasp of the hand will be precious, even apart from the virtue
that may flow from it, and may be to many a soul burdened with a
consciousness of corruption, the dawning of belief in a love that does
not shrink even from its foulness. Let us preach the Lord's touch as
the source of all cleansing. Let us imitate it in our lives, that 'if
any will not hear the word, they may without the word be won.'

IV. We have here the true healing power and the consciousness of
wielding it set forth in the Lord's authoritative word.

All the rest of His action was either the spontaneous expression of
His true participation in human sorrow, or a merciful veiling of His
glory that sense-bound eyes might see it the better. But the word was
the utterance of His will, and that was omnipotent. The hand laid on
the sick, the blind or the deaf was not even the channel of His power.
The bare putting forth of His energy was all-sufficient. In these we
see the loving, pitying man. In this blazes forth, yet more loving,
yet more compassionate, the effulgence of manifest God. Therefore so
often do we read the very syllables with which His 'voice then shook
the earth,' vibrating through all the framework of the material
universe. Therefore do the Gospels bid us listen when He rebukes the
fever, and it departs; when He says to the demons 'Go,' and they go;
when one word louder in its human articulation than the howling wind
hushes the surges; when 'Talitha cumi' brings back the fair young
spirit from dreary wanderings among the shades of death. Therefore was
it a height of faith not found in Israel when the Gentile soldier,
whose training had taught him the power of absolute authority, as
heathenism had driven him to long for a man who should speak with the
imperial sway of a god, recognised in His voice an all-commanding
power. From of old, the very signature of divinity has been declared
to be, 'He spake, and it was done'; and He, the breath of whose lips
could set in motion material changes, is that Eternal Word, by whom
all things were made.

What unlimited consciousness of sovereign dominion sounds in that
imperative from His autocratic lips! It is spoken in deaf ears, but He
knows that it will be heard. He speaks as the fontal source, not as
the recipient channel, of healing. He anticipates no delay, no
resistance. There is neither effort nor uncertainty in the curt
command. He is sure that He has power, and He is sure that the power
is His own.

There is no analogy here between us and Him. Alone, fronting the whole
race of man, He stands--utterer of a word which none can say after
Him, possessor of unshared might, 'and of His fulness do all we
receive.' But even from that divine authority and solitary sovereign
consciousness we may gather lessons of infinite value for all
Christian workers. Of His fulness we _have_ received, and the power of
the word on His lips may teach us that of His word even on ours, as
the victorious certainty with which He spake His will of healing may
remind us of the confidence with which it becomes us to proclaim His
name.

His will was almighty then. Is it less mighty or less loving now? Does
it not gather all the world in the sweep of its mighty purpose of
mercy? His voice pierced then into the dull, cold ear of death, and
has it become weaker since? His word spoken _by_ Him was enough to
banish the foul spirits that run riot, swine-like, in the garden of
God in man's soul, trampling down and eating up its flowers and
fruitage; is the word spoken _of_ Him less potent to cast them out?
Were not all the mighty deeds which He wrought by the breath of His
lips on men's bodies prophecies of the yet mightier ones which His
Will of love, and the utterance of that Will by stammering lips, may
work on men's souls? Let us not in our faintheartedness number up our
failures, the deaf that will not hear, the dumb that will not speak
His praise, nor unbelievingly say, 'Christ's own word was mighty, but
the word concerning Christ is weak on our lips.' Not so; our lips are
unclean, and our words are weak, but His word--the utterance of His
loving Will that men should be saved--is what it always was and always
will be. We have it, brethren, to proclaim. Did our Master countenance
the faithless contrast between the living force of His word when He
dwelt on earth, and the feebleness of it as He speaks through His
servant? If He did, what did He mean when He said, 'He that believeth
on Me, the works that I do shall he do also, and greater works than
these shall he do, because I go unto the Father'?

And the reflection of Christ's triumphant consciousness of power
should irradiate our spirits as we do His work, like the gleam from
gazing on God's glory which shone on the lawgiver's stern face while
he talked with men. We have everything to assure us that we cannot
fail. The manifest fitness of the Gospel to be the food of all souls;
the victories of nineteen centuries, which at least prove that all
conditions of society, all classes of civilisation, all varieties of
race, all peculiarities of individual temperament, all depths of
degradation and distances of alienation, are capable of receiving the
word, which, like corn, can grow in every latitude, and, though it be
an exotic everywhere, can anywhere be naturalised; the firm promises
of unchanging faithfulness, the universal aspect of Christ's work, the
prevalence of His continual intercession, the indwelling of His
abiding Spirit, and, not least, the unerring voice of our own
experience of the power of the truth to bless and save--all these are
ours. In view of these, what should make us doubt? Unwavering
confidence is the only attitude that corresponds to such certainties.
We have a rock to build on; let us build on it _with_ rock. Putting
fear and hesitancy far from us, let us gird ourselves with the joyful
strength of assured victory, striking as those who know that conquest
is bound to their standard, and who through all the dust of the field
see the fair vision of the final triumph. The work is done before we
begin it. 'It is finished' was a clarion blast proclaiming that all
was won when all seemed lost. Weary ages have indeed to roll away
before the great voice from heaven shall declare, 'It is done'; but
all that lies between the two is but the gradual unfolding and
appropriating of the results which are already secured. The 'strong
man' is bound; what remains is but the 'spoiling of his house.' The
head is bruised; what remains is but the dying lashing of the snaky
horror's powerless coils. 'I send you to reap that whereon ye bestowed
no labour.' The tearful sowing in the stormy winter's day has been
done by the Son of Man. For us there remains the joy of harvest--hot
and hard work, indeed, but gladsome too.

Then, however languor and despondency may sometimes tempt us, thinking
of slow advancement and of dying men who fade from the place of the
living before the gradual light has reached their eyes, our duty is
plain--to be sure that the word we carry cannot fail. You remember the
old story how, when Jerusalem was in her hour of direst need, and the
army of Babylon lay around her battered walls, the prophet was bid to
buy 'the field that is in Anathoth, in the country of Benjamin,' for a
sign that the transient fury of the invader would be beaten back, that
Israel might again dwell safely in the land. So with us, the host of
our King's enemies comes up like a river strong and mighty; but all
this world, held though it be by the usurper is still 'Thy land, O
Immanuel,' and over it all Thy peaceful rule shall be established!

Many things in this day tempt the witnesses of God to speak with
doubting voice. Angry opposition, contemptuous denial, complacent
assumption that a belief in old-fashioned evangelical truth is, _ipso
facto_, a proof of mental weakness, abound. Let them not rob us of our
confidence. Shame on us if we let ourselves be frightened from it by a
sarcasm or a laugh! Do you fall back on all these grounds for assured
reliance to which I have referred, and make the good old answer yours,
'Why, herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not whence He is, and
yet--He hath opened mine eyes'!

Trust the word which you have to speak. Speak it and work for its
diffusion as if you did trust it. Do not preach it as if it were a
notion of your own. In so far as it is, it will share the fate of all
human conceptions of divine realities--'will have its day, and cease
to be.' Do not speak it as if it were some new nostrum for curing the
ills of humanity, which might answer or might not. Speak it as if it
were what it is--'the word of God which liveth and abideth for ever.'
Speak it as if you were what you are, neither its inventors nor its
discoverers, but only its messengers, who have but to 'preach the
preaching which He bids' you. And to all the widespread questionings
of this day, filmy and air-filling as the gossamers of an autumn
evening, to all the theories of speculation, and all the panaceas of
unbelieving philanthropy, present the solid certainties of your inmost
experience, and the yet more solid certainty of that all-loving name
and all-sufficient work on which these repose. '_We know_ that we are
of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. And we know that the
Son of God is come.' Then our proclamation, 'This is the true God and
eternal life,' will not be in vain; and our loving entreaty, 'Keep
yourselves from idols,' will be heard and yielded to in many a land.

The sum of the whole matter is briefly this. The root of all our
efficiency in this great task to which we, unworthy, have been called,
is in fellowship with Jesus Christ. 'The branch cannot bear fruit of
itself; without Me ye can do nothing.' Living near Him, and growing
like Him by gazing upon Him, His beauty will pass into our faces, His
tender pity into our hearts, His loving identification of Himself with
men's pains and sins will fashion our lives; and the word which He
spoke with authority and assured confidence will be strong when we
speak it with like calm certainty of victory. If the Church of Christ
will but draw close to her Lord till the fulness of His life and the
gentleness of His pity flow into her heart and limbs, she will then be
able to breathe the life which she has received into the prostrate
bulk of a dead world. Only she must do as the meekest of the prophets
did in a like miracle. She must not shrink from the touch of the cold
clay nor the odour of incipient corruption, but lip to lip and heart
to heart must lay herself upon the dead and he will live.

The pattern for our work, dear brethren, is before us in the Lord's
look, His sigh, His touch, His word. If we take Him for the example,
and Him for the motive, Him for the strength, Him for the theme, Him
for the reward, of our service, we may venture to look to Him as the
prophecy of our success, and to be sure that when our own faint hearts
or an unbelieving world question the wisdom of our enterprise or the
worth of our efforts, we may answer as He did, 'Go and show again
those things which ye do hear and see; the blind receive their sight,
and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the
dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached unto them.'



THE PATIENT TEACHER, AND THE SLOW SCHOLARS


'And when Jesus knew It, He saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye
have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your
heart yet hardened? 18. Having eyes, see ye not? having ears, hear ye
not? and do ye not remember?'--Mark viii. 17,18.

How different were the thoughts of Christ and of His disciples, as
they sat together in the boat, making their way across the lake! He
was pursuing a train of sad reflections which, the moment before their
embarkation, had caused Him to sigh deeply in His spirit and say, 'Why
doth this generation seek after a sign?' Absorbed in thought, He
spoke, 'Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees,' who had been asking
that question.

So meditated and spoke Jesus in the stern, and amidships the
disciples' thoughts were only concerned about the negligent omission,
very excusable in the hurry of embarkation, by which they had
forgotten to lay in a fresh supply of provisions, and had set sail
with but one loaf left in the boat. So taken up were they with this
petty trouble that they twisted the Master's words as they fell from
His lips, and thought that He was rebuking them for what they were
rebuking themselves for. So apt are we to interpret others' sayings by
the thoughts uppermost in our own minds.

And then our Lord poured out this altogether unusual--perhaps I may
say unique--hail of questions which indicate how deeply moved from His
ordinary calm He was by this strange slowness of apprehension on the
part of His disciples. There is no other instance that I can recall in
the whole Gospels, with the exception of Gethsemane, where our Lord's
words seem to indicate such agitation of the windless sea of His
spirit as this rapid succession of rebuking interrogations. They give
a glimpse into the depths of His mind, showing us what He generally
kept sacredly shut up, and let us see how deeply He was touched and
pained by the slowness of apprehension of His servants.

Let us look at these questions as suggesting to us two things--the
grieved Teacher and the slow scholars.

I. The grieved Teacher.

I have said that the revelation of the depths of our Lord's experience
here is unexampled. We can understand the mood of which it is the
utterance; the feeling of despair that sometimes comes over the most
patient instructor when he finds that all his efforts to hammer some
truth into, or to print some impression on, the brain or heart of man
or boy, have been foiled, and that years, it may be, of patient work
have scarcely left more traces on unretentive minds than remain on the
ocean of the passage through it of a keel.

Christ felt that; and I do not think we half enough realise how large
an element in the sorrows of the Man of Sorrows, and of the grief with
which He was acquainted, was His necessary association with people
who, He felt, did not in the least degree understand Him, however
truly, blindly, and almost animally, they might love Him. It was His
disciples' misconception that stung him most. If I might so say, He
_calculated_ upon being misunderstood by Pharisees and outsiders, but
that these followers who had been gathered round about Him all these
months, and had been the subjects of His sedulous toil, should blurt
out such words as these which precede the question of my text, cut
deep into that loving heart. It was not only the pain of being
misunderstood, but also the pain of feeling that the people who cared
most for Him did not understand Him, and were so hard to drag up to
the level where they could even catch a glimpse of His meaning, that
struck His heart with almost a kind of despair; and, as I said, made
Him pour out this rain of questions.

And what do the questions suggest? Not only emotion very unusual in
Him, yet truly human, and showing Him to be our Brother; but they
suggest three distinct types of emotion, all of them dashed with pain.

'Why reason ye? Having eyes, see ye not? Do ye not remember?' That
speaks of His astonishment. Do not start at the word, or suppose that
it in any degree contradicts the lofty beliefs that I suppose most of
us have with regard to the Deity of our Lord and Saviour. We find in
another place in the Gospels, not by inference as here, but in plain
words, the ascription to Him of wonder; 'He marvelled at their
unbelief.' And we read of a more blessed kind of surprise as having
once been His, when He wondered at the faith of the heathen centurion.
But here His astonishment is that after all these years of toil, and
of sympathy, and of discipleship, and of listening and trying to get
hold of His meaning, His disciples were so far away from any
understanding of what He was driving at. He had to learn by experience
the depths of men's stupidity and ignorance. And although He was the
Word of God made flesh, we recognise here the token of a true brother
in that He was capable not only of the physical feelings of weariness,
and hunger, and thirst, and pain, but that He, too, had that emotion
which only a limited understanding can have--the emotion of wonder.
And it was drawn out by His disciples' denseness and inertness.

Ah! dear friends, does He not wonder at us? One of the prophets says,
'Be astonished, O heavens!' And be sure of this, that the manhood of
Jesus Christ is not now so lifted up above what it was upon earth as
that that same sensation--twin-sister to yours and mine--of surprise,
does not sometimes visit Him when He looks down upon us; and has to
say to us--as, alas! He has to say--what He once said to one of the
Twelve, 'Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not
known me, Philip?' Is not the same question coming to us? Why is it
that we do not understand?

Wonder, then, is the first emotion that is expressed in this question.
There is another one: Pain. And there again I fall back not upon
inference, but upon plain words of another part of the Gospels. 'He
looked round upon them with anger, being _grieved_ at the hardness of
their hearts.' It seems daring to venture to say that the exalted and
glorified humanity of Jesus Christ to-day is, in any measure, capable
of feeling analogous to that; but it will not seem so daring if you
remember the solemn charge of one of the Apostles, 'Grieve not the
Holy Spirit of God.' It is Christ's disciples that pain Him most.
'They vexed His Holy Spirit, therefore He fought against them.'
Brethren, let us look into our own hearts and our own lives, and ask
ourselves if there is not something there that gives a pang even to
the heart of the glorified Master, and makes Him sigh deeply within
Himself?

May I add one more emotion which seems to me to be unmistakably
expressed by this rapid fusilade of questions? That is indignation.
Again I fall back upon plain words: 'He looked round about upon them
with anger, being grieved.' The two things were braided together in
His heart, and did not conflict with each other There were infinite
sorrow, infinite pity, and real displeasure. You must take all notions
of passion and of malignity, and of desire to do harm to the subject,
out of the conception of anger as applied to God or to Christ who is
the revelation of God. But it seems to me that it is a maimed Christ
that we put before the world unless we say that in the Love there lie
the possibilities of Wrath. 'Behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah,
and I beheld, and lo! a Lamb!' Wrath and gentleness are in Him
inseparably united, neither of them limiting nor making impossible the
other.

So here we have a self-revelation, as by one glimpse into a great
chamber, of the deep heart of Christ, the great Teacher, moved to
astonishment, grief, and indignation.

II. Now let me say a word about the slow scholars.

I have spoken of these questions as being rapid and repeated, and as a
rain of what we may almost call fiery interrogation. But they are by
no means tautology or useless and aimless repetition. If we look at
them closely, I think we shall see that they open out to us several
different sides and phases of the fault in His disciples that moves
these emotions.

There is, first, His scholars' stolid insensibility, which moves Him
to anger, to astonishment, and to grief. 'Are your hearts yet
hardened?' by which is meant, not hardened in the sense of being
suddenly and stiffly set in antagonism to Him, but simply in the sense
of being--may I use the word?--so pachydermatous, so thick-skinned,
that nothing can go through them. They showed it is a dull, stolid
insensibility, and it marks some of us professing Christians, on whom
promises and invitations and revelations of truth all fall with equal
ineffectiveness, and from whom they glide off with equal rapidity. You
may rain upon a black basalt rock to all eternity, and nothing will
grow upon it. All the drops will run down the polished sides, and a
quarter of an inch below the surface it will be as dry as it was
before the first drop fell. And here are we Christian ministers,
talk--talk--talking, week in and week out; and here is Christ, by His
providences and by His word, speaking far more loudly than any of us;
and it all falls with absolute impotence on hosts of people that call
themselves Christians. Ah! brethren, it is not only unbelievers who
have their hearts hardened. Orthodox professors are often guilty of
the same. If I might alter the metaphor, many of us have waterproofed
our minds, and the ingredients of the mixture by which we have
waterproofed them are our knowledge of 'the plan of salvation,' our
connection with a Christian community, our membership in a church, our
obedience to the formalisms of the devout life. All these have only
made a non-transmitting medium interposed between ourselves and the
concentrated electric energy that ever flashes from Jesus Christ. Our
hardened hearts, with their stolid insensibility, amaze our Master,
and no wonder that they do.

But that is not all. There is not only what I have ventured to call
stolid insensibility, but, as a result of it, there is the not using
the capacities that we have. 'Having eyes, see ye not? Having ears,
hear ye not?' We are not like children that cannot, but like careless,
untrained schoolboys that will not, learn. We have the capacity, and
it is our own fault that we are dunces in the school, and at the
bottom of the class. Use the power that you have, and 'unto him that
hath shall be given, and he shall have in abundance.' There are fishes
in the caverns of North America that have lived so long in the dark,
underground channels, that the present generation of them has no eyes.
We are doing our best to deprive ourselves of our capacities of
beholding by refusing to use them. 'Having eyes, see ye not?' Our
non-use of the powers we have amazes and grieves our Master.

Further, the reason why there are this stolid insensibility and this
non-use of capacity lies here: 'Ye reason about the bread.' The
absorption of our minds and efforts and time with material things,
that perish with the using, come in between us and our apprehension of
Christ's teaching. Ah! brethren, it is not only the rich man that is
swallowed up with the present world; the poor man may be so as really.
All of us, by reason of the absolute necessities of our lives, are in
danger of getting our hearts so filled and crowded with the things
that are 'seen and temporal' that we have no time, nor room, for the
things that are 'unseen and eternal.' I do not need to elaborate that
point. We all know that it is there that our danger, in various forms,
lies. If you in the bows of the ship are reasoning about bread, you
will misunderstand Christ in the stern warning against 'the leaven of
the Pharisees.'

The last suggestion from these questions is that the cure for all that
stolid insensibility, and its resulting misuse of capacity, and the
absorption in daily visible things, is remembrance of His and our
past--'Do ye not remember?' It was only that same morning, or the day
before at the furthest, that one of the miracles of feeding the
thousands had been performed. Christ wonders, as well He might, at the
short memories of the disciples who, with the baskets-full of
fragments scarcely eaten yet, could worry themselves because there was
only one loaf in the locker. 'Do ye not remember, when I broke the
loaves among the thousands, how many baskets took ye up? And they
said, seven. And He said, How is it that ye do not understand?' Yes,
Memory is the one wing and Hope the other, that lift our heaviness
from earth towards heaven. And any man who will bethink himself of
what Jesus Christ has been for him, did for him on earth, and has done
for him during his life, will not be so absorbed in worldly cares as
that he will have no eyes to see the things unseen and eternal; and
the hard, dead insensibility of his heart will melt into thankful
consecration, and so he will rise nearer and nearer to intelligent
apprehension of the lofty and deep things that the Incarnate Word says
to him. We are here in Christ's school, and it depends upon the place
in the class that we take here where we shall be put at what
schoolboys call the 'next remove.' If here we have indeed 'learned of
Him the truth as it is in Jesus,' we shall be put up into the top
classes yonder, and get larger and more blessed lessons in the
Father's house above.



THE RELIGIOUS USES OF MEMORY


'Do ye not remember!'--Mark viii. 18.

The disciples had misunderstood our Lord's warning 'against the leaven
of the Pharisees,' which they supposed to have been occasioned by
their neglect to bring with them bread. Their blunder was like many
others which they committed, but it seems to have singularly moved our
Lord, who was usually so patient with His slow scholars. The swift
rain of questions, like bullets rattling against a cuirass, of which
my text is one, shows how much He was moved, if not to impatience or
anger, at least to wonder.

But what I wish particularly to notice is that He traces the
disciples' slowness of perception and distrust mainly to
forgetfulness. There was a special reason for that, of course, in that
the two miracles of the feeding the multitude, one of which had just
before occurred, ought to have delivered them from any uneasiness, and
to have led them to apprehend His higher meaning.

But there is a wider reason for the collocation of questions than
this. There is no better armour against distrust, nor any surer purge
of our spiritual sight, than religious remembrance. So my text falls
in with what I hope are, or at any rate should be, thoughts which are
busy in many of our hearts now. Every Sunday is the last Sunday of a
year. But we are influenced by the calendar, even though there is
nothing in reality to correspond with the apparent break, and though
time runs on in a continuous course. I would fain say a word or two
now which may fit in with thoughts that are wholesome for us always,
but, I suppose, come with most force to most of us at such a date as
this. And, if you will let me, I will put my observations in the form
of exhortations.

I. First of all, then, remember and be thankful.

There are few of us who have much time for retrospect, and there is a
very deep sense in which it is wise to 'forget the things that are
behind,' for the remembrance of them may burden us with a miserable
entail of failure; may weaken us by vain regrets, may unfit us for
energetic action in the living and available present. But oblivion is
foolish, if it is continual, and a remembered past has treasures in it
which we can little afford to lose.

Chiefest of these is the power of memory, when applied to our own past
lives, to bring out, more clearly than was possible while that past
was being lived, the perception of the ever-present care and working
of our Father, God. It is hard to recognise Him in the bustle and
hurry of our daily lives, and the meaning of each event can only be
seen when it is seen in its relation to the rest of a life. Just as a
landscape, which we may look at without the smallest perception of its
beauty, becomes another thing when the genius of a painter puts it on
canvas, and its symmetry and proportion become more manifest, and an
ethereal clearness broods over it, and its colours are seen to be
deeper than our eyes had discerned, so the common events of life,
trivial and insignificant while they are passing, become, when painted
on the canvas of memory, nobler and greater, and we understand them
more completely than we can do whilst we are living in them.

We need to be at the goal in order to judge of the road. The parts are
only explicable when we see the whole. The full interpretation of
to-day is reserved for eternity. But, by combining and massing and
presenting the consequences of the apparently insignificant and
isolated events of the past, memory helps us to a clearer perception
of God, and a better understanding of our own lives, On the
mountain-summit a man can look down all along the valley by which he
has wearily plodded, and understand the meaning of the divergences in
the road, and the rough places do not look quite so rough when their
proportion to the whole is a little more clearly in his view.

Only, brethren, if we are wisely to exercise remembrance, and to
discover God in the lives which, whilst they are passing, had little
perception of Him, we must take into account what the meaning of all
life is--that is, to make men of us after the pattern of His will.

  'Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
  Is our destined end or way.'

But the growth of Christlike and God-pleasing character is the divine
purpose, and should be the human aim, of all lives. Our tasks, our
joys, our sorrows, our gains, our losses--these are all but the
scaffolding, and the scaffolding is only there in order that, course
upon course, may rise the temple-palace of a spirit, devoted to,
shaped and inhabited by, our Father, God.

So I venture to say that thankful remembrance should exclude no single
incident, however bitter, however painful, of any life. There is a
remembrance of vanished hands, of voices for ever stilled, which is
altogether wrong and weakening. There is a regret, a vain regret which
comes with memory for some of us, that interferes with thankfulness.

But it is possible--and, if we understand that the meaning of all is
to make us Godlike, it is not hard--to remember vanished joys, and to
confer upon them by remembrance a kind of gentle immortality. And,
thus remembered, they are ennobled; for all the gross material body of
them, as it were, is got rid of, and only the fine spirit is left. The
roses bloom, and over bloom, and drop, but a poignant perfume is
distilled from the fallen petals. The departed are greatened by
distance; when they are gone we recognise the 'angels' that we
'entertained unawares': and that recognition is no illusion, but it is
the disclosure of their real character, to which they were sometimes
untrue, and we were often blind. Therefore I say, 'Thou shalt remember
all the way by which the Lord thy God hath led thee,' and in the
thankfulness include departed joys, vanished hands, present sorrows,
the rough places as well as the smooth, the crooked things as well as
the straight.

II. Secondly, let me say, remember and repent.

Memory is not wise unless it is, so to speak, the sergeant-at-arms of
Conscience, and brings our past before the bar of that judge within,
and puts into the hands of that judge the law of the Lord by which to
estimate our deeds. We all have been making up our accounts to the
31st of December--or are going to do it to-morrow. And what I plead
for is that we should take stock of our own characters and aims, and
sum up our accounts with duty and with God.

We look back upon a past, of which God gave us the warp and we had to
put in the woof. The warp is all bright and pure. The threads that
have crossed it from our shuttles are many of them very dark, and all
of them stained in some part. So, dear brethren, let us take the year
that has gone, and spread them out by the agency of this servant of
the court, Memory, before the supreme judge, Conscience.

Let us remember that we may be warned and directed. We shall
understand the true moral character of our actions a great deal better
when we look back upon them calmly, and when all the rush of
temptation and the reducing whispers of our own weak wills are
silenced. There is nothing more terrible, in one aspect, there is
nothing more salutary and blessed in another, than the difference
between the front and the back view of any temptation to which we
yield--all radiant and beautiful on the hither side, and when we get
past it and look back at it, all hideous. Like some of those painted
canvases upon the theatre-stage: seen from this side, with the
delusive brilliancy of the footlights thrown upon them, they look
beautiful works of art; seen at the back, dirty and cobwebbed canvas,
all splashes and spots and uglinesses. Let us be thankful if memory
can show us the reverse side of the temptations that on the near side
were so seductive.

It is when you see your life in retrospect that you understand the
significance of the single deeds in it. We are so apt to isolate our
actions that we are startled--and it is a wholesome shock--when we see
how, without knowing it, we have dropped into a habit. When each
temptation comes, as the moments are passing, we say, 'Oh, just this
once, just this once.' And the '_onces_' come nearer and nearer
together; and what seem to be distinctly separated points, coalesce
into a line; and the acts that we thought isolated we find out to our
horror--our wholesome horror--have become a chain that binds and holds
us. Look back over the year, and drag its events to the bar of
Conscience, and I shall be surprised if you do not discover that you
have fallen into wrong habits that you never dreamed had dominion over
you. So, I say, remember and repent.

Brethren, I do not wish to exaggerate, I do not wish to urge upon you
one-sided views of your character or conduct. I give all credit to
many excellences, many acts of sacrifice, many acts of service; and
yet I say that the main reason why any of us have a good opinion of
ourselves is because we have no knowledge of ourselves; and that the
safest attitude for all of us, in looking back over what we have made
of life, is, hands on mouths, and mouths in dust, and the cry coming
from them, 'Unclean! unclean!' A little mud in a stream may not be
perceptible when you take a wine-glassful of it and look at it, but if
you saw a river-full or a lake-full you would soon discover the taint.
Summon up the past year to the sessions of silent thought, and let the
light of God's will pour in upon it, and you will find how dark has
been the flow of the river of your lives.

The best use which the memory can serve for us is that it should drive
us closer to Jesus Christ, and make us cling more closely to Him. That
past can be cancelled, these multitudinous sins can be forgiven.
Memory should be one of the strongest strands in the cord that binds
our helplessness to the all-forgiving and all-cleansing Christ.

III. Lastly, let me say, remember and hope.

Memory and Hope are twins. The latter can only work with the materials
supplied by the former. Hope could paint nothing on the blank canvas
of the future unless its palette were charged by Memory. Memory brings
the yarn which Hope weaves.

Our thankful remembrance of a past which was filled and moulded by
God's perpetual presence and care ought to make us sure of a future
which will in like manner be moulded. 'Thou hast been my help'--if we
can say that, then we may confidently pray, and be sure of the answer,
'Leave me not nor forsake me, O God of my salvation.' And if we feel,
as memory teaches us to feel, that God has been working for us, and
with us, we can say with another Psalmist: 'Thy mercy, O Lord,
endureth for ever. Forsake not the work of Thine own hands'; and we
can rise to his confidence, 'The Lord with perfect that which
concerneth me.'

Our remembrance, even of our imperfections and our losses and our
sorrows, may minister to our hope. For surely the life of every man on
earth, but most eminently the life of a Christian man, is utterly
unintelligible, a mockery and a delusion and an incredibility, if
there be a God at all, unless it prophesies of a region in which
imperfection will be ended, aspirations will be fulfilled, desires
will be satisfied. We have so much, that unless we are to have a great
deal more, we had better have had nothing. We have so much, that if
there be a God at all, we must have a great deal more. The new moon,
with a ragged edge, 'even in its imperfection beautiful,' is a prophet
of the complete resplendent orb. 'On earth the broken arc, in heaven
the perfect round.'

Further, the memory of defeat may be the parent of the hope of
victory. The stone Ebenezer, 'Hitherto hath the Lord helped us,' was
set up to commemorate a victory that had been won on the very site
where Israel, fighting the same foes, had once been beaten. There is
no remembrance of failure so mistaken as that which takes the past
failure as certain to be repeated in the future. Surely, though we
have fallen seventy times seven--that is 490, is it not?--at the 491st
attempt we may, and if we trust in God we shall, succeed.

So, brethren, let us set our faces to a new year with thankful
remembrance of the God who has shaped the past, and will mould the
future. Let us remember our failures, and learn wisdom and humility
and trust in Christ from our sins. Let us set our 'hope on God, and
not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments.'



THE GRADUAL HEALING OF THE BLIND MAN


'And Jesus cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto Him,
and besought Him to touch him. 23. And He took the blind man by the
hand, and led him out of the town; and when He had spit on his eyes,
and put His hands upon Him, He asked him if he saw ought. 24. And he
looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. 25. After that He
put His hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was
restored, and saw every man clearly.'--Mark viii. 22-25.

This miracle, which is only recorded by the Evangelist Mark, has about
it several very peculiar features. Some of these it shares with one
other of our Lord's miracles, which also is found only in this Gospel,
and which occurred nearly about the same time--that miracle of healing
the deaf and dumb man recorded in the previous chapter. Both of them
have these points in common: that our Lord takes the sufferer apart
and works His miracle in privacy; that in both there is an abundant
use of the same singular means--our Lord's touch and the saliva upon
His finger; and that in both there is the urgent injunction of entire
secrecy laid upon the recipient of the benefit.

But this miracle had another peculiarity in which it stands absolutely
alone, and that is that the work is done in stages; that the power
which at other times has but to speak and it is done, here seems to
labour, and the cure comes slowly; that in the middle Christ pauses,
and, like a physician trying the experiment of a drug, asks the
patient if any effect is produced, and, getting the answer that some
mitigation is realised, repeats the application, and perfect recovery
is the result.

Now, how unlike that is to all the rest of Christ's miraculous working
we do not need to point out; but the question may arise, What is the
meaning, and what the reason, and what the lessons of this unique and
anomalous form of miraculous working? It is to that question that I
wish to turn now; for I think that the answer will open up to us some
very precious things in regard to that great Lord, the revelation of
whose heart and character is the inmost and the loftiest meaning of
both His words and His works.

I take these three points of peculiarity to which I have referred: the
privacy, the strange and abundant use of means veiling the miraculous
power, and the gradual, slow nature of the cure. I see in them these
three things: Christ isolating the man that He would heal; Christ
stooping to the sense-bound nature by using outward means; and Christ
making His power work slowly, to keep abreast of the man's slow faith.

I. First, then, here we have Christ isolating the man whom He wanted
to heal.

Now, there may have been something about our Lord's circumstances and
purposes at the time of this miracle which accounted for the great
urgency with which at this period He impressed secrecy upon all around
Him. What that was it is not necessary for us to inquire here, but
this is worth noticing, that in obedience to this wish, on His own
part, for privacy at the time, He covers over with a veil His
miraculous working, and does it quietly, as one might almost say, in a
corner. He never sought to display His miraculous working; here He
absolutely tries to hide it. That fact of Christ's taking pains to
conceal His miracle carries in it two great truths--first, about the
purpose and nature of miracles in general, and second, about His
character--as to each of which a few words may be said.

This fact, of a miracle done in intended secrecy, and shrouded in deep
darkness, suggests to us the true point of view from which to look at
the whole subject of miracles.

People say they were meant to be attestations of His divine mission.
Yes, no doubt that is true partially; but that was never the sole nor
even the main purpose for which they were wrought; and when any one
asked Jesus Christ to work a miracle for that purpose only, He rebuked
the desire and refused to gratify it. He wrought His miracles, not
coldly, in order to witness to His mission, but every one of them was
the token, because it was the outcome, of His own sympathetic heart
brought into contact with human need. And instead of the miracles of
Jesus Christ being cold, logical proofs of His mission, they were all
glowing with the earnestness of a loving sympathy, and came from Him
at sight of sorrow as naturally as rays beam out from the sun.

Then, on the other hand, the same fact carries with it, too, a lesson
about His character. Is not He here doing what He tells us to do; 'Let
not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth'? He dares not wrap
His talent in a napkin, He would be unfaithful to His mission if He
hid His light under a bushel. All goodness 'does good by stealth,'
even if it does not 'blush to find it fame'--and that universal mark
of true benevolence marked His. He had to solve in His human life what
we have to solve, the problem of keeping the narrow path between
ostentation of powers and selfish concealment of faculty; and He
solved it thus, 'leaving us an example that we should follow in His
steps.'

But that is somewhat aside from the main purpose to which I intended
to turn in these first remarks. Christ did not invest the miracle with
any of its peculiarities for His own sake only. All that is singular
about it, will, I think, find its best explanation in the condition
and character of the subject, the man on whom it was wrought. What
sort of a man was he? Well, the narrative does not tell us much, but
if we use our historical imagination and our eyes we may learn
something about him. First he was a Gentile; the land in which the
miracle was wrought was the half-heathen country on the east side of
the Sea of Galilee. In the second place, it was other people that
brought him; he did not come of his own accord. Then again, it is
their prayer that is mentioned, not his--he asked nothing.

You see him standing there hopeless, listless; not believing that this
Jewish stranger is going to do anything for him; with his impassive
blind face glowing with no entreaty to reinforce his companions'
prayers. And suppose he was a man of that sort, with no expectation of
anything from this Rabbi, how was Christ to get at him? It is of no
use to speak to him. His eyes are shut, so cannot see the sympathy
beaming in His face. There is one thing possible--to lay hold of Him
by the hand; and the touch, gentle, loving, firm, says this at least:
'Here is a man that has some interest in me, and whether He can do
anything or not for me, He is going to try something.' Would not that
kindle an expectation in him? And is it not in parable just exactly
what Jesus Christ does for the whole world? Is not that act of His by
which He put out His hand and seized the unbelieving limp hand of the
blind man that hung by his side, the very same in principle as that by
which He 'taketh hold of the seed of Abraham,' and is made like to His
brethren? Are not the mystery of the Incarnation and the meaning of it
wrapped up as in a germ in that little simple incident, 'He put out
His hand and touched him'?

Is there not in it, too, a lesson for all you good-hearted Christian
men and women, in all your work? If you want to do anything for your
afflicted brethren, there is only one way to do it-to come down to
their level and get hold of their hands, and then there is some chance
of doing them good. We must be content to take the hands of beggars if
we are to make the blind to see.

And then, having thus drawn near to the man, and established in his
heart some dim expectation of something coming, He gently led him away
out of the little village. I wonder no painter has ever painted that,
instead of repeating _ad nauseam_ two or three scenes out of the
Gospels. I wonder none of them has ever seen what a parable it is--the
Christ leading the blind man out into solitude before He can say to
him, 'Behold!' How, as they went, step by step, the poor blind eyes
not telling the man where they were going, or how far away he was
being taken from his friends, his conscious dependence upon this
stranger would grow! How he would feel more and more at each step, 'I
am at His mercy; what is He going to do with me?' And how thus there
would be kindled in his heart some beginnings of an expectation, as
well as some surrendering of himself to Christ's guidance! These two
things, the expectation and the surrender, have in them, at all
events, some faint beginnings and rude germs of the highest faith, to
lead up to which is the purpose of all that Christ here does.

And is not that what He does for us all? Sometimes by sorrows,
sometimes by sick-beds, sometimes by shutting us out from chosen
spheres of activity, sometimes by striking down the dear ones at our
sides, and leaving us lonely in the desert-is He not saying to us in a
thousand ways, 'Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place'? As
Israel was led into the wilderness that God might 'speak to her
heart,' so often Christ draws us aside, if not by outward providences
such as these, yet by awaking in us the solemn sense of personal
responsibility and making us feel our solitude, that He may lead us to
feel His all-sufficient companionship.

Ah! brethren, here is a lesson from all this--if you wish Jesus Christ
to give you His highest gifts and to reveal to you His fairest beauty,
you must be alone with Him. He loves to deal with single souls. Our
lives, many of them, can never be outwardly alone. We are jammed up
against one another in such a fashion, and the hurry and pressure of
city life is so great with us all, that it is often impossible for us
to secure outward secrecy and solitude. But a man maybe alone in a
crowd; the heart may be gathered up into itself, and there may be a
still atmosphere round about us in the shop and in the market and
amongst the busy ways of men, in which we and Christ shall be alone
together. Unless there be, I do not think any of us will see the King
in His beauty or the far-off land. 'I was left alone, and I saw this
great vision,' is the law for all true beholding.

So, dear brethren, try to feel how awful this earthly life of ours is
in its necessary solitude; that each of us by himself must shape out
his own destiny, and make his own character; that every unit of the
swarms upon our streets is a unit that has to face the solemn facts of
life for and by itself; that alone we live, that alone we shall die;
that alone we shall have to give account of ourselves before God, and
in the solitude let the hand of your heart feel for His hand that is
stretched out to grasp yours, and listen to Him saying, 'Lo! I am with
you always, even to the end of the world.' There was no dreariness in
the solitude when it was _Christ_ that 'took the blind man by the hand
and led him out of the city.'

II. We have Christ stooping to a sense-bound nature by the use of
material helps.

No doubt there was something in the man, as I have said, which made it
advisable that these methods should be adopted. If he were the sort of
person that I have described, slow of faith, not much caring about the
possibility of cure, and not having much hope that any cure would come
to pass--then we can see the fitness of the means adopted: the hand
laid upon the eyes, the finger, possibly moistened with saliva,
touching the ball, the pausing to question, the repeated application.
These make a ladder by which his hope and confidence might climb to
the apprehension of the blessing. And that points to a general
principle of the divine dealings. God stoops to a feeble faith, and
gives to it outward things by which it may rise to an apprehension of
spiritual realities.

Is not that the meaning of the whole complicated system of Old
Testament revelation? Is not that the meaning of the altars, and
priests, and sacrifices, and the old cumbrous apparatus of the Mosaic
law? Was it not all a picture-book in which the infant eyes of the
race might see in a material form deep spiritual realities? Was not
that the meaning and explanation of our Lord's parabolic teaching? He
veils spiritual truth in common things that He may reveal it by common
things--taking fishermen's boats, their nets, a sower's basket, a
baker's dough, and many another homely article, and finding in them
the emblems of the loftiest truth.

Is not that the meaning of His own Incarnation? It is of no use to
talk to men about God--let them see Him; no use to preach about
principles--give them the facts of His life. Revelation does not
consist in the setting forth of certain propositions about God, but in
the exhibition of the acts of God in a human life.

  'And so the Word had breath, and wrought
  With human hands the creed of creeds.'

And still further, may we not say that this is the inmost meaning and
purpose of the whole frame of the material universe? It exists in
order that, as a parable and a symbol, it may proclaim the things that
are unseen and eternal. Its depths and heights, its splendours and its
energies are all in order that through them spirits may climb to the
apprehension of the 'King, eternal, immortal, invisible,' and the
realities of His spiritual kingdom.

So in regard to all the externals of Christianity, forms of worship,
ordinances, and so on--all these, in like manner, are provided in
condescension to our weakness, in order that by them we may be lifted
above themselves; for the purpose of the Temple is to prepare for the
time and the place where the seer 'saw no temple therein.' They are
but the cups that carry the wine, the flowers whose chalices bear the
honey, the ladders by which the soul may climb to God Himself, the
rafts upon which the precious treasure may be floated into our hearts.

If Christ's touch and Christ's saliva healed, it was not because of
anything in them; but because He willed it so; and He Himself is the
source of all the healing energy. Therefore, let us keep these
externals in their proper place of subordination, and remember that in
Him, not in them, lies the healing power; and that even Christ's touch
may become the object of superstitious regard, as it was when that
poor woman came through the crowd to lay her finger on the hem of His
garment, thinking that she could bear away a surreptitious blessing
without the conscious outgoing of His power. He healed her because
there was a spark of faith in her superstition, but she had to I earn
that it was not the hem of the garment but the loving will of Christ
that cured, in order that the dross of superstitious reliance on the
outward vehicle might be melted away, and the pure gold of faith in
His love and power might remain.

III. Lastly, we have Christ accommodating the pace of His power to the
slowness of the man's faith.

The whole story, as I have said, is unique, and especially this part
of it--'He put His hands upon him, and asked him if he saw aught.' One
might have expected an answer with a little more gratitude in it, with
a little more wonder in it, with a little more emotion in it. Instead
of these it is almost surly, or at any rate strangely reticent-a
matter-of-fact answer to the question, and there an end. As our
Revised Version reads it better: 'I see men, for I behold them as
trees walking.' Curiously accurate! A dim glimmer had come into the
eye, but there is not yet distinctness of outline nor sense of
magnitude, which must be acquired by practice. The eye has not yet
been educated, and it was only because these blurred figures were in
motion that he knew they were not trees. 'After that He put His hands
upon his eyes and made him look up,' or, as the Revised Version has it
with a better reading, 'and he looked steadfastly,' with an eager
straining of the new faculty to make sure that he had got it, and to
test its limits and its perfection. 'And he was restored and saw all
things clearly.'

Now I take it that the worthiest view of that strangely protracted
process, broken up into two halves by the question that is dropped
into the middle, is this, that it was determined by the man's faith,
and was meant to increase it. He was healed slowly because he believed
slowly. His faith was a condition of his cure, and the measure of it
determined the measure of the restoration; and the rate of the growth
of his faith settled the rate of the perfecting of Christ's work on
him. As a rule, faith in His power to heal was a condition of Christ's
healing, and that mainly because our Lord would rather make men
believing than sound of body. They often wanted only the outward
miracle, but He wanted to make it the means of insinuating a better
healing into their spirits. And so, not that there was any necessary
connection between their faith and the exercise of His miraculous
power, but in order that He might bless them with His best gifts, He
usually worked on the principle 'According to your faith be it unto
you.' And here, as a nurse or a mother with her child might do, He
keeps step with the little steps, and goes slowly because the man goes
slowly.

Now, both the gradual process of illumination and the rate of that
process as determined by faith, are true for us. How dim and partial a
glimmer of light comes to many a soul at the outset of the Christian
life! How little a new convert knows about God and self and the starry
truths of His great revelation! Christian progress does not consist in
seeing new things, but in seeing the old things more clearly: the same
Christ, the same Cross, only more distinctly and deeply apprehended,
and more closely incorporated into my very being. We do not grow away
from Him, but we grow into knowledge of Him. The first lesson that we
get is the last lesson that we shall learn, and He is the 'Alpha' at
the beginning, and the 'Omega' at the end of that alphabet, the
letters of which make up our knowledge for earth and heaven.

But then let me remind you that just in the measure in which you
expect blessing of any kind, illumination and purifying and help of
all sorts from Jesus Christ, just in that measure will you get it. You
can limit the working of Almighty power, and can determine the rate at
which it shall work on you. God fills the water-pots 'to the brim,'
but not beyond the brim; and if, like the woman in the Old Testament
story, we stop bringing vessels, the oil will stop flowing. It is an
awful thing to think that we have the power, as it were, to turn a
stopcock, and so increase or diminish, or cut off altogether, the
supply of God's mercy and Christ's healing and cleansing love in our
hearts. You will get as much of God as you want and no more. The
measure of your desire is the measure of your capacity, and the
measure of your capacity is the measure of God's gift. 'Open thy mouth
wide and I will fill it!' And if your faith is heavily shod and steps
slowly, His power and His grace will step slowly along with it,
keeping rank and step. 'According to your faith shall it be unto you.'

Ah! dear friends, 'Ye are not straitened in Me, ye are straitened in
yourselves.' Desire Him to help and bless you, and He will do it.
Expect Him to do it, and He will do it. Go to Him like the other blind
man and say to Him--'Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me, that
I may receive my sight,' and He will lay His hand upon you, and at any
rate a glimmer will come, which will grow in the measure of your
humble, confident desire, until at last He takes you by the hand and
leads you out of this poor little village of a world and lays His
finger for a brief moment of blindness upon your eyes and asks you if
you see aught. Then you will look up, and the first face that you will
behold will be His, whom you saw 'as through a glass darkly' with your
dim eyes in this twilight world.

May that be your experience and mine, through His mercy!



CHRIST'S CROSS, AND OURS


'And Jesus went out, and His disciples, into the towns of Caesarea
Philippi: and by the way He asked His disciples, saying unto them,
Whom do men say that I am? 28. And they answered, John the Baptist:
but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets. 29. And He saith
unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith
unto Him, Thou art the Christ. 30. And He charged them that they
should tell no man of Him. 31. And He began to teach them, that the
Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and
of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days
rise again. 32. And He spake that saying openly. And Peter took Him,
and began to rebuke Him. 33. But when He had turned about and looked
on His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan:
for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that
be of men. 34. And when He had called the people unto Him with His
disciples also, He said unto them, Whosoever will come after Me, let
him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 35. For
whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose
his life for My sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. 36 For
what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose
his own soul? 37. Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
38. Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of Me and of My words in this
adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of Man be
ashamed, when He cometh in the glory of His Father with the holy
angels. IX. 1. And He said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That
there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death,
till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.'--Mark viii.
27-ix. 1.


Our Lord led His disciples away from familiar ground into the
comparative seclusion of the country round Caesarea Philippi, in order
to tell them plainly of His death. He knew how terrible the
announcement would be, and He desired to make it in some quiet spot,
where there would be collectedness and leisure to let it sink into
their minds. His consummate wisdom and perfect tenderness are equally
and beautifully shown in His manner of disclosing the truth which
would try their faithfulness and fortitude. From the beginning He had
given hints, gradually increasing in clearness; and now the time had
come for full disclosure. What a journey that was! He, with the heavy
secret filling His thoughts; they, dimly aware of something absorbing
Him, in which they had no part. And at last, 'in the way,' as if moved
by some sudden impulse--like that which we all know, leading us to
speak out abruptly what we have long waited to say--He gives them a
share in the burden of His thought. But, even then, note how He leads
up to it by degrees. This passage has the announcement of the Cross as
its centre, prepared for, on the one hand, by a question, and
followed, on the other, by a warning that His followers must travel
the same road.

I. Note the preparation for the announcement of the Cross (verses
27-30). Why did Christ begin by asking about the popular judgment of
His personality? Apparently in order to bring clearly home to the
disciples that, as far as the masses were concerned, His work and
theirs had failed, and had, for net result, total misconception. Who
that had the faintest glimmer of what He was could suppose that the
stern, fiery spirits of Elijah or John had come to life again in Him?
The second question, 'But whom say ye that I am?' with its sharp
transition, is meant to force home the conviction of the gulf between
His disciples and the whole nation. He would have them feel their
isolation, and face the fact that they stood alone in their faith; and
He would test them whether, knowing that they did stand alone, they
had courage and tenacity to re-assert it. The unpopularity of a belief
drives away cowards, and draws the brave and true. If none else
believed in Him, that was an additional reason for loving hearts to
cleave to Him; and those only truly know and love Him who are ready to
stand by Him, if they stand alone--_Athanasius contra mundum_. Mark,
too, that this is the all-important question for every man. Our own
individual 'thought' of Him determines our whole worth and fate.

Mark gives Peter's confession in a lower key, as it were, than Matthew
does, omitting the full-toned clause, 'The Son of the living God.'
This is not because Mark has a lower conception than his brother
Evangelist, for the first words of this Gospel announce that it is
'the Gospel of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God.' And, as he has
identified the two conceptions at the outset, he must, in all
fairness, be supposed to consider that the one implies the other, and
to include both here. But possibly there is truth in the observation
that the omission is one of a number of instances in which this Gospel
passes lightly over the exalted side of Christ's nature, in accordance
with its purpose of setting Him forth rather as the Servant than as
the Lord. It is not meant that that exalted side was absent from
Mark's thoughts, but that his design led him rather to emphasise the
other. Matthew's is the Gospel of the King; Mark's, of the Worker.

The omission of Christ's eulogium on Peter has often been pointed out
as an interesting corroboration of the tradition that he was Mark's
source; and perhaps the failure to record the praise, and the
carefulness to tell the subsequent rebuke, reveal the humble-hearted
'elder' into whom the self-confident young Apostle had grown. Flesh
delights to recall praise; faith and self-knowledge find more profit
in remembering errors forgiven and rebukes deserved, and in their
severity, most loving. How did these questions and their answers serve
as introduction to the announcement of the Cross? In several ways.
They brought clearly before the disciples the hard fact of Christ's
rejection by the popular voice, and defined their own position as
sharply antagonistic. If His claims were thus unanimously tossed
aside, a collision must come. A rejected Messiah could not fail to be,
sooner or later, a slain Messiah. Then clear, firm faith in His
Messiahship was needed to enable them to stand the ordeal to which the
announcement, and, still more, its fulfilment, would subject them. A
suffering Messiah might be a rude shock to all their dreams; but a
suffering Jesus, who was not Messiah, would have been the end of their
discipleship. Again, the significance and worth of the Cross could
only be understood when seen in the light of that great confession.
Even as now, we must believe that He who died was the Son of the
living God before we can see what that Death was and did. An imperfect
conception of who Jesus is takes the meaning and the power out of all
His life, but, most of all, impoverishes the infinite preciousness of
His Death.

The charge of silence contrasts singularly with the former employment
of the Apostles as heralds of Jesus. The silence was partly punitive
and partly prudential. It was punitive, inasmuch as the people had
already had abundantly the proclamation of His gospel, and had cast it
away. It was in accordance with the solemn law of God's retributive
justice that offers rejected should be withdrawn; and from them that
had not, even that which they had should be taken away. Christ never
bids His servants be silent until men have refused to hear their
speech. The silence enjoined was also prudential, in order to avoid
hastening on the inevitable collision; not because Christ desired
escape, but because He would first fulfil His day.

II. We have here the announcement of the Cross (verses 31-33). There
had been many hints before this; for Christ saw the end from the
beginning, however far back in the depths of time or eternity we place
that beginning. We do not sufficiently realise that His Death was
before Him, all through His days, as the great purpose for which He
had come. If the anticipation of sorrow is the multiplication of
sorrow, even when there is hope of escaping it, how much must His have
been multiplied, and bitterness been diffused through all His life, by
that foresight, so clear and constant, of the certain end! How much
more gracious and wonderful His quick sympathy, His patient self
forgetfulness, His unwearied toil, show against that dark background!

Mark here the solemn necessity. Why 'must' He suffer? Not because of
the enmity of the three sets of rejecters. He recognises no necessity
which is imposed by hostile human power. The cords which bind this
sacrifice to the horns of the altar were not spun by men's hands. The
great 'must' which ruled His life was a cable of two strands--obedience
to the Father, and love to men. These haled Him to the
Cross, and fastened Him there. He would save; therefore He 'must' die.
The same 'must' stretches beyond death. Resurrection is a part of His
whole work; and, without it, His Death has no power, but falls into
the undistinguished mass of human mortality. Bewildered as the
disciples were, that assurance of resurrection had little present
force, but even then would faintly hint at some comfort and blessed
mystery. What was to them a nebulous hope is to us a sun of certitude
and cheer, 'Christ that died' is no gospel until you go on to say,
'Yea, rather, that is risen again.'

Peter's rash 'rebuke,' like most of his appearances in the Gospel, is
strangely compounded of warm-hearted, impulsive love and presumptuous
self-confidence. No doubt, the praise which he had just received had
turned his head, not very steady in these early days at its best, and
the dignity which had been promised him would seem to him to be sadly
overclouded by the prospect opened in Christ's forecast. But he was
not thinking of himself; and when he said, 'This shall not be unto
Thee,' probably he meant to suggest that they would all draw the sword
to defend their Master. Mark's use of the word 'rebuke,' which is also
Matthew's, seems to imply that he found fault with Christ. For what?
Probably for not trusting to His followers' arms, or for letting
Himself become a victim to the 'must,' which Peter thought of as
depending only on the power of the ecclesiastics in Jerusalem. He
blames Christ for not hoisting the flag of a revolt.

This blind love was the nearest approach to sympathy which Christ
received; and it was repugnant to Him, so as to draw the sharpest
words from Him that He ever spoke to a loving heart. In his eagerness,
Peter had taken Jesus on one side to whisper his suggestion; but
Christ will have all hear His rejection of the counsel. Therefore He
'turned about,' facing the rest of the group, and by the act putting
Peter behind Him, and spoke aloud the stern words. Not thus was He
wont to repel ignorant love, nor to tell out faults in public; but the
act witnessed to the recoil of His fixed spirit from the temptation
which addressed His natural human shrinking from death, as well as to
His desire that once for all, every dream of resistance by force
should be shattered. He hears in Peter's voice the tone of that other
voice, which, in the wilderness, had suggested the same temptation to
escape the Cross and win the crown by worshipping the Devil; and he
puts the meaning of His instinctive gesture into the same words in
which he had rejected that earlier seducing suggestion. Jesus was a
man, and 'the things that be of men' found a response in His sinless
nature. It shrank from pain and the Cross with innocent and inevitable
shrinking. Does not the very severity of the rebuke testify to its
having set some chords vibrating in His soul? Note that it may be the
work of 'Satan' to appeal to 'the things that be of men,' however
innocent, if by so doing obedience to God's will is hindered. Note,
too, that a Simon may be 'Peter' at one moment, and 'Satan' at the
next.

III. We have here the announcement of the Cross as the law for the
disciples too (verses 34-38). Christ's followers must follow, but men
can choose whether they will be His followers or not. So the 'must' is
changed into 'let him,' and the 'if any man will' is put in the
forefront. The conditions are fixed, but the choice as to accepting
the position is free. A wider circle hears the terms of discipleship
than heard the announcement of Christ's own sufferings. The terms are
for all and for us. The law is stated in verse 34, and then a series
of reasons for it, and motives for accepting it, follow.

The law for every disciple is self-denial and taking up his cross. How
present His own Cross must have been to Christ's vision, since the
thought is introduced here, though He had not spoken of it, in
foretelling His own death! It is not Christ's Cross that we have to
take up. His sufferings stand alone, incapable of repetition and
needing none; but each follower has his own. To slay the life of self
is always pain, and there is no discipleship without crucifying 'the
old man.' Taking up my cross does not merely mean meekly accepting
God-sent or men-inflicted sorrows, but persistently carrying on the
special form of self-denial which my special type of character
requires. It will include these other meanings, but it goes deeper
than they. Such self-immolation is the same thing as following Christ;
for, with all the infinite difference between His Cross and ours, they
are both crosses, and on the one hand there is no real discipleship
without self-denial, and on the other there is no full self-denial
without discipleship.

The first of the reasons for the law, in verse 35, is a paradox, and a
truth with two sides. To wish to save life is to lose it; to lose it
for Christ's sake is to save it. Both are true, even without taking
the future into account. The life of self is death; the death of the
lower self is the life of the true self. The man who lives absorbed in
the miserable care for his own well-being is dead to all which makes
life noble, sweet, and real. Flagrant vice is not needed to kill the
real life. Clean, respectable selfishness does the work effectually.
The deadly gas is invisible, and has no smell. But while all
selfishness is fatal, it is self-surrender and sacrifice, 'for My sake
and the gospel's,' which is life-giving. Heroism, generous
self-devotion without love to Christ, is noble, but falls short of
discipleship, and may even aggravate the sin of the man who exhibits
it, because it shows what treasures he could lay at Christ's feet, if
he would. It is only self-denial made sweet by reference to Him that
leads to life. Who is this who thus demands that He should be the
motive for which men shall 'hate' their own lives, and calmly assumes
power to reward such sacrifice with a better life? The paradox is
true, if we include a reference to the future, which is usually taken
to be its only meaning; but on that familiar thought we need not
enlarge.

The 'for' of verse 36 seems to refer back to the law in verse 34, and
the verse enforces the command by an appeal to self-interest, which,
in the highest sense of the word, dictates self-sacrifice. The men who
live for self are dead, as Christ has been saying. Suppose their
self-living had been 'successful' to the highest point, what would be
the good of all the world to a dead man? 'Shrouds have no pockets.' He
makes a poor bargain who sells his soul for the world. A man gets
rich, and in the process drops generous impulses, affections, interest
in noble things, perhaps principle and religion. He has shrivelled and
hardened into a mere fragment of himself; and so, when success comes,
he cannot much enjoy it, and was happier, poor and sympathetic and
enthusiastic and generous, than he is now, rich and dwindled. He who
loses himself in gaining the world does not win it, but is mastered by
it. This motive, too, like the preceding, has a double application--to
the facts of life here, when they are seen in their deepest reality,
and to the solemn future.

To that future our Lord passes, as His last reason for the command and
motive for obeying it, in verse 38. One great hindrance to out-and-out
discipleship is fear of what the world will say. Hence come
compromises and weak compliance on the part of disciples too timid to
stand alone, or too sensitive to face a sarcasm and a smile. A
wholesome contempt for the world's cackle is needed for following
Christ. The geese on the common hiss at the passer-by who goes
steadily through the flock. How grave and awful is that irony, if we
may call it so, which casts the retribution in the mould of the sin!
The judge shall be 'ashamed' of such unworthy disciples--shall blush
to own such as His. May we venture to put stress on the fact that He
does not say that He will reject them? They who were ashamed of Him
were secret and imperfect disciples. Perhaps, though He be ashamed of
them, though they have brought Him no credit, He will not wholly turn
from them.

How marvellous the transition from the prediction of the Cross to this
of the Throne! The Son of Man must suffer many things, and the same
Son of Man shall come, attended by hosts of spirits who own Him for
their King, and surrounded by the uncreated blaze of the glory of God
in which He sits throned as His native abode. We do not know Jesus
unless we know Him as the crucified Sacrifice for the world's sins,
and as the exalted Judge of the world's deeds.

He adds a weighty word of enigmatical meaning, lest any should think
that He was speaking only of some far-off judgment. The destruction of
Jerusalem seems to be the event intended, which was, in fact, the
beginning of retribution for Israel, and the starting-point of a more
conspicuous manifestation of the kingdom of God. It was, therefore, a
kind of rehearsal, or picture in little, of that coming and ultimate
great day of the Lord, and was meant to be a 'sign' that it should
surely come.



THE TRANSFIGURATION


'And after six days Jesus taketh with Him Peter, and James, and John,
and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and He
was transfigured before them. 3. And His raimemt became shining,
exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. 4.
And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking
with Jesus. 5. And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is
good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for
Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. 6. For he wist not what to
say; for they were sore afraid. 7. And there was a cloud that
overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is
My beloved Son: hear Him. 8. And suddenly, when they had looked round
about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves. 9.
And as they came down from the mountain, He charged them that they
should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of Man were
risen from the dead. 10. And they kept that saying with themselves,
questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should
mean. 11. And they asked Him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias
must first come? 12. And He answered and told them, Elias verily
cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the
Son of Man, that He must suffer many things, and be set at nought. 13.
But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto
him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him.'--Mark ix. 2-13.

All three Evangelists are careful to date the Transfiguration by a
reference to the solemn new teaching at Caesarea, and Mark's 'six
days' plainly cover the same time as Luke's 'eight'--the former
reckoning excluding in the count, and the latter including, the days
on which the two incidents occurred. If we would understand the
Transfiguration, then, we must look at it as the sequel to Jesus' open
announcement of His death. His seeking the seclusion of the hills,
attended only by the innermost group of the faithful three, is a
touching token of the strain to which that week had subjected Him. How
Peter's heart must have filled with thankfulness that, notwithstanding
the stern rebuke, he was taken with the other two! There were three
stages in the complex incident which we call the Transfiguration--the
change in Jesus' appearance, the colloquy with Moses and Elijah, and
the voice from the cloud.

Luke, who has frequent references to Jesus' prayers, tells us that the
change in our Lord's countenance and raiment took place 'as He
prayed'; and probably we are reverently following his lead if we think
of Jesus' prayer as, in some sense, the occasion of the glorious
change. So far as we know, this was the only time when mortal eyes saw
Him absorbed in communion with the Father. It was only 'when He ceased
praying' in a certain place that 'they came to Him' asking to be
taught to pray (Luke xi. 1); and in Gethsemane the disciples slept
while He prayed beneath the olives quivering in the moonlight. It may
be that what the three then saw did not occur then only. 'In such an
hour of high communion with' His Father the elevated spirit may have
more than ordinarily illuminated the pure body, and the pure body may
have been more than ordinarily transparent. The brighter the light,
fed by fragrant oil within an alabaster lamp, the more the alabaster
will glow. Faint foreshadowings of the spirit's power to light up the
face with unearthly beauty of holiness are not unknown among us. It
may be that the glory which always shone in the depths of His
perfectly holy manhood rose, as it were, to the surface for that one
time, a witness of what He really was, a prophecy of what humanity may
become.

Did Jesus will His transfiguration, or did it come about without His
volition, or perhaps even without His consciousness? Did it continue
during all the time on the mountain, or did it pass when the second
stage of the incident began? We cannot tell. Matthew and Mark both say
that Jesus was transfigured 'before' the three, as if the making
visible of the glory had special regard to them. It may be that Jesus,
like Moses, 'knew not that the skin of His face shone'; at all events,
it was the second stage of the incident, the conversation with Elijah
and Moses, that had a special message of strength for Him. The first
and third stages were, apparently, intended for the three and for us
all; and the first is a revelation, not only of the veiled glory that
dwelt in Jesus, but of the beauty that may pass into a holy face, and
of the possibilities of a bodily frame becoming a 'spiritual body,'
the adequate organ and manifestation of a perfect spirit. Paul teaches
the prophetic aspect of the Transfiguration when he says that Jesus
'shall _change_ the body of our humiliation that it may be fashioned
like unto the body of His glory.'

Luke adds two very significant points to the accounts by Matthew and
Mark--namely, the disciples' sleep, and the subject on which Moses and
Elijah talked with Jesus. Mark lays the main stress on the fact that
the two great persons of the old economy, its founder and its
restorer, the legislator and the chief of the prophets, came from the
dim region to which one of them had passed in a chariot of fire, and
stood by the transfigured Christ, as if witnessing to Him as the
greater, to whom their ministries were subordinate, and in whom their
teachings centred. Jesus is the goal of all previous revelation,
mightier than the mightiest who are honoured by being His attendants.
He is the Lord both of the dead and of the living, and the 'spirits of
just men made perfect' bow before Him, and reverently watch His work
on earth.

So much did that appearance proclaim to the mortal three, but their
slumber showed that they were not principally concerned, and that the
other three had things to speak which they were not fit to hear. The
theme was the same which had been, a week before, spoken to them, and
had doubtless been the subject of all Jesus' teachings for these 'six
days.' No doubt, their horror at the thought, and His necessary
insistence on it, had brought Him to need strengthening. And these two
came, as did the angel in Gethsemane, and, like him, in answer to
Christ's prayer, to bring the sought-for strength. How different it
would be to speak to them 'of the decease which He should accomplish
at Jerusalem,' from speaking to the reluctant, protesting Twelve! And
how different to listen to them speaking of that miracle of divine
love expressed in human death from the point of view of the
'principalities and powers in heavenly places,' as over against the
remonstrances and misunderstandings with which He had been struggling
for a whole week! The appearance of Moses and Elijah teaches us the
relation of Jesus to all former revelation, the interest of the
dwellers in heavenly light in the Cross, and the need which Jesus felt
for strengthening to endure it.

Peter's foolish words, half excused by his being scarcely awake, may
be passed by with the one remark that it was like him to say
something, though he did not know what to say, and that it would
therefore have been wise to say nothing.

The third part of this incident, the appearance of the cloud and the
voice from it, was for the disciples. Luke tells us that it was a
'bright' cloud, and yet it 'overshadowed them.' That sets us on the
right track and indicates that we are to think of the cloud of glory,
which was the visible token of the divine presence, the cloud which
shone lambent between the cherubim, the cloud which at last 'received
Him out of their sight.' Luke tells, too, that 'they entered into it.'
Who entered? Moses and Elijah had previously 'departed from Him.'
Jesus and the disciples remained, and we cannot suppose that the three
could have passed into that solemn glory, if He had not led them in.
In that sacred moment He was 'the way,' and keeping close to Him,
mortal feet could pass into the glory which even a Moses had not been
fit to behold. The spiritual significance of the incident seems to
require the supposition that, led by Jesus, they entered the cloud.
They were men, therefore they were afraid; Jesus was with them,
therefore they stood within the circle of that light and lived.

The voice repeated the attestation of Jesus as the 'beloved Son' of
the Father, which had been given at the baptism, but with the
addition, 'Hear Him,' which shows that it was now meant for the
disciples, not, as at the baptism, for Jesus Himself. While the
command to listen to His voice as to the voice from the cloud is
perfectly general, and lays all His words on us as all God's words, it
had special reference to the disciples, and that in regard to the new
teaching which had so disturbed them--the teaching of the necessity
for His death. 'The offence of the Cross' began with the first clear
statement of it, and in the hearts that loved Him best and came most
near to understanding Him. To fail in accepting His teaching that it
'behoved the Son of Man to suffer,' is to fail in accepting it in the
most important matter. There are sounds in nature too low-pitched to
be audible to untrained ears, and the message of the Cross is unheard
unless the ears of the deaf are unstopped. If we do not hear Jesus
when He speaks of His passion, we may almost as well not hear Him at
all.

Moses and Elijah had vanished, having borne their last testimony to
Jesus. Peter had wished to keep them beside Jesus, but that could not
be. Their highest glory was to fade in His light. They came, they
disappeared; He remained--and remains. 'They saw no man any more, save
Jesus only with themselves.' So should it be for us in life. So may it
be with us in death! 'Hear Him,' for all other voices are but for a
time, and die into silence, but Jesus speaks for eternity, and 'His
words shall not pass away.' When time is ended, and the world's
history is all gathered up into its final issue, His name shall stand
out alone as Author and End of all.



'THIS IS MY BELOVED SON: HEAR HIM'


'And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of
the cloud, saying, This is My beloved Son: hear Him.'--Mark ix. 7.

With regard to the first part of these words spoken at the
Transfiguration, they open far too large and wonderful a subject for
me to do more than just touch with the tip of my finger, as it were,
in passing, because the utterance of the divine words, 'This is My
beloved Son,' in all the depth of their meaning and loftiness, is laid
as the foundation of the two words that come after, which, for us, are
the all-important things here. And so I would rather dwell upon them
than upon the mysteries of the first part, but a sentence must be
spared. If we accept this story before us as the divine attestation of
the mystery of the person and nature of Jesus Christ, we must take the
words to mean--as these disciples, no doubt, took them to
mean--something pointing to a unique and solitary revelation which He
bore to the Divine Majesty. We have to see in them the confirmation of
the great truth that the manhood of Jesus Christ was the supernatural
creation of a direct divine power. 'Conceived of the Holy Ghost, born
of the Virgin Mary'; therefore, 'that Holy Thing which shall be born
of thee shall be called the Son of God.' And we have to go, as I take
it, farther back than the earthly birth, and to say, 'No man hath seen
God at any time--the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the
Father.' He was the Son here by human birth, and was in the bosom of
the Father all through that human life. 'He hath declared Him,' and so
not only is there here the testimony to the miraculous incarnation,
and to the true and proper Divinity and Deity of Jesus Christ, but
there is also the witness to the perfectness of His character in the
great word, 'This is My beloved Son,' which points us to an unbroken
communion of love between Him and the Father, which tells us that in
the depths of that divine nature there has been a constant play of
mutual love, which reveals to us that in His humanity there never was
anything that came as the faintest film of separation between His will
and the will of the Father, between His heart and the heart of God.

But this revelation of the mysterious personality of the divine Son,
the perfect harmony between Him and God, is here given as the ground
of the command that follows: 'Hear Him.' God's voice bids you listen
to Christ's voice--God's voice bids you listen to Christ's voice as
His voice. Listen to Him when He speaks to you about God--do not trust
your own fancy, do not trust your own fear, do not trust the dictates
of your conscience, do not consult man, do not listen to others, do
not speculate about the mysteries of the earth and the heavens, but go
to Him, and listen to the only begotten Son in the bosom of the
Father. He declares unto us God; in Him alone we have certain
knowledge of a loving Father in heaven. Hear Him when He tells us of
God's tenderness and patience and love. Hear Him above all when He
says to us, 'As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so
must the Son of Man be lifted up.' Hear Him when He says, 'The Son of
Man came to give His life a ransom for many.' Hear Him when He speaks
of Himself as Judge of you and me and all the world, and when He says,
'The Son of Man shall come in His glory, and before Him shall be
gathered all nations.' Hear Him then. Hear Him when He calls you to
Himself. Hear Him when He says to you, 'Come unto Me all ye that
labour and are heavy laden.' Hear Him when He says, 'If any man come
unto Me he shall never thirst.' Hear Him when He says, 'Cast your
burden upon Me, and I will sustain you.' Hear Him when He commands.
Hear Him when He says, 'If ye love Me keep My commandments,' and when
He says, 'Abide in Me and I in you,' hear Him then. 'In all time of
our tribulation, in all time of our well-being, in the hour of death,
and in the day of judgment,' let us listen to Him.

Dear friends there is no rest anywhere else; there is no peace, no
pleasure, no satisfaction--except close at His side. 'Speak Lord! for
Thy servant heareth.' 'To whom shall we go but unto Thee? Thou hast
the words of eternal life.' Look how these disciples, grovelling there
on their faces, were raised by the gentle hand laid upon their
shoulder, and the blessed voice that brought them back to
consciousness, and how, as they looked about them with dazed eyes, all
was gone. The vision, the cloud, Moses and Elias--the lustre and
radiance and the dread voice were past, and everything was as it used
to be. Christ stood alone there like some solitary figure relieved
against a clear daffodil sky upon some extended plain, and there was
nothing else to meet the eye but He. Christ is there, and in Him is
all.

That is a summing up of all Divine revelation. 'God, who at sundry
times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the
prophets, hath, in these last days, spoken unto us by His Son.' Moses
dies, Elijah fades, clouds and symbols and voices and all mortal
things vanish, but Jesus Christ stands before us, the manifest God,
for ever and ever, the sole illumination of the world, It is also a
summing up of all earthly history. All other people go. The beach of
time is strewed with wrecked reputations and forgotten glories. And I
am not ashamed to say that I believe that, as the ages grow, and the
world gets further away in time from the Cross upon Calvary, more and
more everything else will sink beneath the horizon, and Christ alone
be left to fill the past as He fills the present and the future.

We may make that scene the picture of our lives. Distractions and
temptations that lie all round us are ever seeking to drag us away.
There is no peace anywhere but in having Christ only--my only pattern,
my only hope, my only salvation, my only guide, my only aim, my only
friend. The solitary Christ is the sufficient Christ, and that for
ever. Take Him for your only friend, and you need none other. Then at
death there may be a brief spasm of darkness, a momentary fear,
perchance, but then the touch of a Brother's hand will be upon us as
we lie there prone in the dust, and we shall lift up our eyes, and lo!
life's illusions are gone, and life's noises are fallen dumb, and we
'see no man any more, save Jesus only,' with ourselves.



JESUS ONLY!

'They saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves.'--Mark ix.
8.

The Transfiguration was the solemn inauguration of Jesus for His
sufferings and death.

Moses, the founder, and Elijah, the restorer, of the Jewish polity,
the great Lawgiver and the great Prophet, were present. The former had
died and been mysteriously buried, the latter had been translated
without 'seeing death.' So both are visitors from the unseen world,
appearing to own that Jesus is the Lord of that dim land, and that
there they draw their life from Him. The conversation is about
Christ's 'decease,' the wonderful event which was to constitute Him
Lord of the living and of the dead. The divine voice of command, 'Hear
Him!' gives the meaning of their disappearance. At that voice they
depart and Jesus is left alone. The scene is typical of the ultimate
issue of the world's history. The King's name only will at last be
found inscribed on the pyramid. Typical, too, is it not, of a
Christian's blessed death? When the 'cloud' is past no man is seen any
more but 'Jesus only.'

I. The solitary Saviour.

The disciples are left alone with the divine Saviour.

1. He is alone in His nature. 'Son of God.'

2. He is alone in the sinlessness of His manhood. 'My Beloved Son!'

3. He is alone as God's Voice to men. 'Hear Him!'

The solitary Saviour, because sufficient. 'Thou, O Christ, art all I
want.'

Sufficient, too, for ever.

His life is eternal.

His love is eternal.

The power of His Cross Is eternal.

II. The vanishing witnesses.

1. The connection of the past with Christ. The authority of the two
representatives of the Old Covenant was only (a) derived and
subordinate; (b) prophetic; (c) transient.

2. The thought may be widened into that of the relation of all
teachers and guides to Jesus Christ.

3. The two witness to the relation of the unseen world to Jesus
Christ.

(a) Its inhabitants are undying.

(b) Are subject to the sway of Jesus.

(c) Are expectantly waiting a glorious future.

4. They witness to the central point of Christ's work--'His decease.'
This great event is the key to the world's history.

III. The waiting disciples.

1. What Christian life should be. Giving Him our sole trust and
allegiance.

(a) Seeing Him in all things.

(b) Constant communion. 'Abide in Me.'

(c) Using everything as helps to Him.

2. What Christian death may become.



CHRIST'S LAMENT OVER OUR FAITHLESSNESS


'He answereth him and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I
be with you? how long shall I suffer you?'--Mark ix. 19.

There is a very evident, and, I think, intentional contrast between
the two scenes, of the Transfiguration, and of this healing of the
maniac boy. And in nothing is the contrast more marked than in the
demeanour of these enfeebled and unbelieving Apostles, as contrasted
with the rapture of devotion of the other three, and with the lowly
submission and faith of Moses and Elias. Perhaps, too, the difference
between the calm serenity of the mountain, and the hell-tortured
misery of the plain--between the converse with the sainted perfected
dead, and the converse with their unworthy successors--made Christ
feel more sharply and poignantly than He ordinarily did His disciples'
slowness of apprehension and want of faith. At any rate, it does
strike one as remarkable that the only occasion on which there came
from His lips anything that sounded like impatience and a momentary
flash of indignation was, when in sharpest contrast with 'This is my
beloved Son: hear Him,' He had to come down from the mountain to meet
the devil-possessed boy, the useless agony of the father, the sneering
faces of the scribes, and the impotence of the disciples. Looking on
all this, He turns to His followers--for it is to the Apostles that
the text is spoken, and not to the crowd outside--with this most
remarkable exclamation: 'O faithless generation! how long shall I be
with you? how long shall I suffer you?'

Now, I said that these words at first sight looked almost like a
momentary flash of indignation, as if for once a spot had come on His
pallid cheek--a spot of anger--but I do not think that we shall find
it so if we look a little more closely.

The first thing that seems to be in the words is not anger, indeed,
but a very distinct and very pathetic expression of Christ's infinite
pain, because of man's faithlessness. The element of personal sorrow
is most obvious here. It is not only that He is sad for their sakes
that they are so unreceptive, and He can do so little for them--I
shall have something to say about that presently--but that He feels
for Himself, just as we do in our poor humble measure, the chilling
effect of an atmosphere where there is no sympathy. All that ever the
teachers and guides and leaders of the world have in this respect had
to bear--all the misery of opening out their hearts in the frosty air
of unbelief and rejection--Christ endured. All that men have ever felt
of how hard it is to keep on working when not a soul understands them,
when not a single creature believes in them, when there is no one that
will accept their message, none that will give them credit for pure
motives--Jesus Christ had to feel, and that in an altogether singular
degree. There never was such a lonely soul on this earth as His, just
because there never was one so pure and loving. 'The little hills
rejoice _together_? as the Psalm says, 'on every side,' but the great
Alpine peak is alone there, away up amongst the cold and the snows.
Thus lived the solitary Christ, the uncomprehended Christ, the
unaccepted Christ. Let us see in this exclamation of His how humanly,
and yet how divinely, He felt the loneliness to which His love and
purity condemned Him.

The plain felt soul-chilling after the blessed communion of the
mountain. There was such a difference between Moses and Elias and the
voice that said, 'This is My beloved Son: hear Him,' and the disbelief
and slowness of spiritual apprehension of the people down below there,
that no wonder that for once the pain that He generally kept
absolutely down and silent, broke the bounds even of His restraint,
and shaped for itself this pathetic utterance: 'How long shall I be
with you? how long shall I suffer you?'

Dear friends, here is 'a little window through which we may see a
great matter' if we will only think of how all that solitude, and all
that sorrow of uncomprehended aims, was borne lovingly and patiently,
right away on to the very end, for every one of us. I know that there
are many of the aspects of Christ's life in which Christ's griefs tell
more on the popular apprehension; but I do not know that there is one
in which the title of 'The Man of Sorrows' is to all deeper thinking
more pathetically vindicated than in this--the solitude of the
uncomprehended and the unaccepted Christ and His pain at His
disciples' faithlessness.

And then do not let us forget that in this short sharp cry of
anguish--for it is that--there may be detected by the listening ear
not only the tone of personal hurt, but the tone of disappointed and
thwarted love. Because of their unbelief He knew that they could not
receive what He desired to give them. We find Him more than once in
His life, hemmed in, hindered, baulked of His purpose, thwarted, as I
may say, in His design, simply because there was no one with a heart
open to receive the rich treasure that He was ready to pour out. He
had to keep it locked up in His own spirit, else it would have been
wasted and spilled upon the ground. 'He could do no mighty works there
because of their unbelief'; and here He is standing in the midst of
the men that knew Him best, that understood Him most, that were
nearest to Him in sympathy; but even they were not ready for all this
wealth of affection, all this infinitude of blessing, with which His
heart is charged. They offered no place to put it. They shut up the
narrow cranny through which it might have come, and so He has to turn
from them, bearing it away unbestowed, like some man who goes out in
the morning with his seed-basket full, and finds the whole field where
he would fain have sown covered already with springing weeds or
encumbered with hard rock, and has to bring back the germs of possible
life to bless and fertilise some other soil. 'He that goeth forth
weeping, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with joy';
but He that comes back weeping, bearing the precious seed that He
found no field to sow in, knows a deeper sadness, which has in it no
prophecy of joy. It is wonderfully pathetic and beautiful, I think, to
see how Jesus Christ knew the pains of wounded love that cannot get
expressed because there is not heart to receive it.

Here I would remark, too, before I go to another point, that these two
elements--that of personal sorrow and that of disappointed love and
baulked purposes--continue still, and are represented as in some
measure felt by Him now. It was to disciples that He said, 'O
faithless generation!' He did not mean to charge them with the entire
absence of all confidence, but He did mean to declare that their poor,
feeble faith, such as it was, was not worth naming in comparison with
the abounding mass of their unbelief. There was one spark of light in
them, and there was also a great heap of green wood that had not
caught the flame and only smoked instead of blazing. And so He said to
them, 'O _faithless_ generation!'

Ay, and if He came down here amongst us now, and went through the
professing Christians in this land, to how many of us--regard being
had to the feebleness of our confidence and the strength of our
unbelief--He would have to say the same thing, 'O faithless
generation!'

The version of that clause in Matthew and Luke adds a significant
word,--'faithless and _perverse_ generation.' The addition carries a
grave lesson, as teaching us that the two characteristics are
inseparably united; that the want of faith is morally a crime and sin;
that unbelief is at once the most tragic manifestation of man's
perverse will, and also in its turn the source of still more obstinate
and wide-spreading evil. Blindness to His light and rejection of His
love, He treats as the very head and crown of sin. Like intertwining
snakes, the loathly heads are separate; but the slimy convolutions are
twisted indistinguishably together, and all unbelief has in it the
nature of perversity, as all perversity has in it the nature of
unbelief. 'He will convince the world of sin, because they believe not
on Me.'

May we venture to say, as we have already hinted, that all this pain
is in some mysterious way still inflicted on His loving heart? Can it
be that every time we are guilty of unbelieving, unsympathetic
rejection of His love, we send a pang of real pain and sorrow into the
heart of Christ? It is a strange, solemn thought. There are many
difficulties which start up, if we at all accept it. But still it does
appear as if we could scarcely believe in His perpetual manhood, or
think of His love as being in any real sense a human love, without
believing that He sorrows when we sin; and that we can grieve, and
wound, and cause to recoil upon itself, as it were, and close up that
loving and gracious Spirit that delights in being met with answering
love. If we may venture to take our love as in any measure analogous
to His--and unless we do, His love is to us a word without meaning--we
may believe that it is so. Do not we know that the purer our love, and
the more it has purified us, the more sensitive it becomes, even while
the less suspicious it becomes? Is not the purest, most unselfish,
highest love, that by which the least failure in response is felt most
painfully? Though there be no anger, and no change in the love, still
there is a pang where there is an inadequate perception, or an
unworthy reception, of it. And Scripture seems to countenance the
belief that Divine Love, too, may know something, in some mysterious
fashion, like that feeling, when it warns us, 'Grieve not the Holy
Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.' So
_we_ may venture to say, Grieve not the Christ of God, who redeems us;
and remember that we grieve Him most when we will not let Him pour His
love upon us, but turn a sullen, unresponsive unbelief towards His
pleading grace, as some glacier shuts out the sunshine from the
mountain-side with its thick-ribbed ice.

Another thought, which seems to me to be expressed in this wonderful
exclamation of our Lord's, is--that this faithlessness bound Christ to
earth, and kept Him here. As there is not anger, but only pain, so
there is also, I think, not exactly impatience, but a desire to
depart, coupled with the feeling that He cannot leave them till they
have grown stronger in faith. And that feeling is increased by the
experience of their utter helplessness and shameful discomfiture
during His brief absence They had shown that they were not fit to be
trusted alone. He had been away for a day up in the mountain there,
and though they did not build an altar to any golden calf, like their
ancestors, when their leader was absent, still when He comes back He
finds things all gone wrong because of the few hours of His absence.
What would they do if He were to go away from them altogether? They
would never be able to stand it at all. It is impossible that He
should leave them thus--raw, immature. The plant has not yet grown
sufficiently strong to take away the prop round which it climbed. 'How
long must I be with you?' says the loving Teacher, who is prepared
ungrudgingly to give His slow scholars as much time as they need to
learn their lesson. He is not impatient, but He desires to finish the
task; and yet He is ready to let the scholars' dulness determine the
duration of His stay. Surely that is wondrous and heart-touching love,
that Christ should let their slowness measure the time during which He
should linger here, and refrain from the glory which He desired. We do
not know all the reasons which determined the length of our Lord's
life upon earth, but this was one of them,--that He could not go away
until He had left these men strong enough to stand by themselves, and
to lay the foundations of the Church. Therefore He yielded to the plea
of their very faithlessness and backwardness, and with this wonderful
word of condescension and appeal bade them say for how many more days
He must abide in the plain, and turn His back on the glories that had
gleamed for a moment on the mountain of transfiguration.

In this connection, too, is it not striking to notice how long His
short life and ministry appeared to our Lord Himself? There is to me
something very pathetic in that question He addressed to one of His
Apostles near the end of His pilgrimage: 'Have I been so long time
with you, and yet hast thou not known Me?' It was not so very
long--three years, perhaps, at the outside--and much less, if we take
the shortest computation; and yet to Him it had been long. The days
had seemed to go tardily. He longed that the 'fire' which He came to
fling on earth were already 'kindled,' and the moments seemed to drop
so slowly from the urn of time. But neither the holy longing to
consummate His work by the mystery of His passion, to which more than
one of His words bear witness, nor the not less holy longing to be
glorified with 'the glory which He had with the Father before the
world was,' which we may reverently venture to suppose in Him, could
be satisfied till his slow scholars were wiser, and His feeble
followers stronger.

And then again, here we get a glimpse into the depth of Christ's
patient forbearance. We might read these other words of our text, 'How
long shall I suffer you?' with such an intonation as to make them
almost a threat that the limits of forbearance would soon be reached,
and that lie was not going to 'suffer them' much longer. Some
commentators speak of them as expressing 'holy indignation,' and I
quite believe that there is such a thing, and that on other occasions
it was plainly spoken in Christ's words. But I fail to catch the tone
of it here. To me this plaintive question has the very opposite of
indignation in its ring. It sounds rather like a pledge that as long
as they need forbearance they will get it; but, at the same time, a
question of 'how long' that is to be. It implies the inexhaustible
riches and resources of His patient mercy. And Oh, dear brethren! that
endless forbearance is the only refuge and ground of hope we have.
_His_ perfect charity 'is not soon angry; beareth all things,'
and 'never faileth.' To it we have all to make the appeal--

  'Though I have most unthankful been
  Of all that e'er Thy grace received;
  Ten thousand times Thy goodness seen,
  Ten thousand times Thy goodness grieved;
  Yet, Lord, the chief of sinners spare.'

And, thank God! we do not make our appeal in vain.

There is rebuke in His question, but how tender a rebuke it is! He
rebukes without anger. He names the fault plainly. He shows distinctly
His sorrow, and does not hide the strain on His forbearance. That is
His way of cure for His servants' faithlessness. It was His way on
earth; it is His way in heaven. To us, too, comes the loving rebuke of
this question, 'How long shall I suffer you?'

Thank God that our answer may be cast into the words of His own
promise: 'I say not unto thee, until seven times; but until seventy
times seven.' 'Bear with me till Thou hast perfected me; and then bear
me to Thyself, that I may be with Thee for ever, and grieve Thy love
no more.' So may it be, for 'with Him is plenteous redemption,' and
His forbearing 'mercy endureth for ever.'



THE OMNIPOTENCE OF FAITH


Jesus said unto him, If them canst believe, all things are possible to
him that believeth.'--Mark ix. 23.

The necessity and power of faith is the prominent lesson of this
narrative of the healing of a demoniac boy, especially as it is told
by the Evangelist Mark, The lesson is enforced by the actions of all
the persons in the group, except the central figure, Christ. The
disciples could not cast out the demon, and incur Christ's plaintive
rebuke, which is quite as much sorrow as blame: 'O faithless
generation I how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer
you?' And then, in the second part of the story, the poor father,
heart-sick with hope deferred, comes into the foreground. The whole
interest is shifted to him, and more prominence is given to the
process by which his doubting spirit is led to trust, than to that by
which his son is healed.

There is something very beautiful and tender in Christ's way of
dealing with him, so as to draw him to faith. He begins with the
question, 'How long is it ago since this came unto him?' and so
induces him to tell all the story of the long sorrow, that his
burdened heart might get some ease in speaking, and also that the
feeling of the extremity of the necessity, deepened by the very
dwelling on all his boy's cruel sufferings, might help him to the
exercise of faith. Truly 'He knew what was in man,' and with
tenderness born of perfect knowledge and perfect love, He dealt with
sore and sorrowful hearts. This loving artifice of consolation, which
drew all the story from willing lips, is one more little token of His
gentle mode of healing. And it is profoundly wise, as well as most
tender. Get a man thoroughly to know his need, and vividly to feel his
helpless misery, and you have carried him a long way towards laying
hold of the refuge from it.

How wise and how tender the question is, is proved by the long
circumstantial answer, in which the pent-up trouble of a father's
heart pours itself out at the tiny opening which Christ has made for
it. He does not content himself with the simple answer, 'Of a child,'
but with the garrulousness of sorrow that has found a listener that
sympathises, goes on to tell all the misery, partly that he may move
his hearer's pity, but more in sheer absorption with the bitterness
that had poisoned the happiness of his home all these years. And then
his graphic picture of his child's state leads him to the plaintive
cry, in which his love makes common cause with his son, and unites
both in one wretchedness. 'If thou canst do anything, have compassion
on _us_ and help _us_.'

Our Lord answers that appeal in the words of our text. There are some
difficulties in the rendering and exact force of these words with
which I do not mean to trouble you. We may accept the rendering as in
our Bible, with a slight variation in the punctuation. If we take the
first clause as an incomplete sentence, and put a break between it and
the last words, the meaning will stand out more clearly: 'If thou
canst believe--all things are possible to him that believeth.' We
might paraphrase it somewhat thus: Did you say 'If thou canst do
anything'? That is the wrong 'if.' There is no doubt about that. The
only 'if' in the question is another one, not about me, but about you.
'If _thou_ canst believe--' and then the incomplete sentence might be
supposed to be ended with some such phrase as 'That is the only
question. If thou canst believe--all depends on that. If thou canst
believe, thy son will be healed,' or the like. Then, in order to
explain and establish what He had meant in the half-finished saying,
He adds the grand, broad statement, on which the demand for the man's
faith as the only condition of his wish being answered reposes: 'All
things are possible to him that believeth.'

That wide statement is meant, I suppose, for the disciples as well as
for the father. 'All things are possible' both in reference to
benefits to be received, and in reference to power to be exercised.
'If thou canst believe, poor suppliant father, thou shalt have thy
desire. If thou canst believe, poor devil-ridden son, thou shalt be
set free. If ye can believe, poor baffled disciples, you will be
masters of the powers of evil.'

Do you remember another 'if' with which Christ was once besought?
'There came a leper to Him, beseeching Him, and kneeling down to Him,
and saying unto Him, If Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean.' In some
respects that man had advanced beyond the father in our story, for he
had no doubt at all about Christ's power, and he spoke to Him as
'Lord.' But he was somehow not quite sure about Christ's heart of
pity. On the other hand, the man in our narrative has no doubt about
Christ's compassion. He may have seen something of His previous
miracles, or there may still have been lying on our Lord's countenance
some of the lingering glory of the Transfiguration--as indeed the
narrative seems to hint, in its emphatic statement of the astonishment
and reverential salutations of the crowd when He approached--or the
tenderness of our Lord's listening sympathy may have made him feel
sure of His willingness to help. At any rate, the leper's 'if' has
answered itself for him. His own lingering doubt, Christ waives aside
as settled. His 'if' is answered for ever. So these two 'ifs' in
reference to Christ are beyond all controversy; His power is certain,
and His love. The third 'if' remains, the one that refers to us--'If
thou canst believe'; all hinges on that, for 'all things are possible
to him that believeth.'

Here, then, we have our Lord telling us that faith is omnipotent. That
is a bold word; He puts no limitations; 'all things are possible.' I
think that to get the true force of these words we should put
alongside of them the other saying of our Lord's, 'With God all things
are possible.' That is the foundation of the grand prerogative in our
text. The power of faith is the consequence of the power of God. All
things are possible to Him; therefore, all things are possible to me,
believing in Him. If we translate that into more abstract words, it
just comes to the principle that the power of faith consists in its
taking hold of the power of God. It is omnipotent because it knits us
to Omnipotence. Faith is nothing in itself, but it is that which
attaches us to God, and then His power flows into us. Screw a pipe on
to a water main and turn a handle, and out flows the water through the
pipe and fills the empty vessel. Faith is as impotent in itself as the
hollow water pipe is, only it is the way by which the connection is
established between the fulness of God and the emptiness of man. By it
divinity flows into humanity, and we have a share even in the divine
Omnipotence. 'My strength is made perfect in weakness.' In itself
nothing, it yet grasps God, and therefore by it we are strong, because
by it we lay hold of His strength. Great and wonderful is the grace
thus given to us, poor, struggling, sinful men, that, looking up to
the solemn throne, where He sits in His power, we have a right to be
sure that a true participation in His greatness is granted to us, if
once our hearts are fastened to Him.

And there is nothing arbitrary nor mysterious in this flowing of
divine power into our hearts on condition of our faith. It is the
condition of possessing Christ, and in Christ, salvation,
righteousness, and strength, not by any artificial appointment, but in
the very nature of things. There is no other way possible by which God
could give men what they receive through their faith, except only
their faith.

In all trust in God there are two elements: a sense of need and of
evil and weakness, and a confidence more or less unshaken and strong
in Him, His love and power and all-sufficiency; and unless both of
these two be in the heart, it is, in the nature of things, impossible,
and will be impossible to all eternity, that purity and strength and
peace and joy, and all the blessings which Christ delights to give to
faith, should ever be ours.

Unbelief, distrust of Him, which separates us from Him and closes the
heart fast against His grace, must cut us off from that which it does
not feel that it needs, nor cares to receive; and must interpose a
non-conducting medium between us and the electric influences of His
might. When Christ was on earth, man's want of faith dammed back His
miracle-working power, and paralysed His healing energy. How strange
that paradox sounds at first hearing, which brings together
Omnipotence and impotence, and makes men able to counter-work the
loving power of Christ. 'He could there do no mighty work.' The
Evangelist intends a paradox, for he uses two kindred words to express
the inability and the mighty work; and we might paraphrase the saying
so as to bring out the seeming contradiction: 'He there had no power
to do any work of power.' The same awful, and in some sense
mysterious, power of limiting and restraining the influx of His love
belongs to unbelief still, whether it take the shape of active
rejection, or only of careless, passive non-reception. For faith makes
us partakers of divine power by the very necessity of the case, and
that power can attach itself to nothing else. So, 'if thou canst
believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.'

Still further, we may observe that there is involved here the
principle that our faith determines the amount of our power. That is
true in reference to our own individual religious life, and it is true
in reference to special capacities for Christ's service. Let me say a
word or two about each of these. They run into each other, of course,
for the truest power of service is found in the depth and purity of
our own personal religion, and on the other hand our individual
Christian character will never be deep or pure unless we are working
for the Master. Still, for our present purpose, these two inseparable
aspects of the one Christian life may be separated in thought.

As to the former, then, the measure of my trust in Christ is the
measure of all the rest of my Christian character. I shall have just
as much purity, just as much peace, just as much wisdom or gentleness
or love or courage or hope, as my faith is capable of taking up, and,
so to speak, holding in solution. The 'point of saturation' in a man's
soul, the quantity of God's grace which he is capable of absorbing, is
accurately measured by his faith. How much do I trust God? That will
settle how much I can take in of God.

So much as we believe, so much can we contain. So much as we can
contain, so much shall we receive. And in the very act of receiving
the 'portion of our Father's goods that falleth' to us, we shall feel
that there is a boundless additional portion ready to come as soon as
we are ready for it, and thereby we shall be driven to larger desires
and a wider opening of the lap of faith, which will ever be answered
by 'good measure, pressed together and running over, measured into our
bosoms.' But there will be no waste by the bestowment of what we
cannot take. 'According to your faith, be it unto you.' That is the
accurate thermometer which measures the temperature of our spiritual
state. It is like the steam-gauge outside the boiler, which tells to a
fraction the pressure of steam within, and so the power which can at
the moment be exerted.

May I make a very simple, close personal application of this thought?
We have as much religious life as we desire; that is, we have as much
as our faith can take. There is the reason why such hosts of so-called
Christians have such poor, feeble Christianity. _We_ dare not say of
any, 'They have a name to live, and are dead.' There is only one Eye
who can tell when the heart has ceased to beat. But we may say that
there are a mournful number of people who call themselves Christians,
who look so like dead that no eye but Christ's can tell the
difference. They are in a syncope that will be death soon, unless some
mighty power rouse them.

And then, how many more of us there are, not so bad as that, but still
feeble and languid, whose Christian history is a history of weakness,
while God's power is open before us, of starving in the midst of
abundance, broken only by moments of firmer faith, and so of larger,
happier possession, that make the poverty-stricken ordinary days
appear ten times more poverty-stricken. The channel lies dry, a waste
chaos of white stones and driftwood for long months, and only for an
hour or two after the clouds have burst on the mountains does the
stream fill it from bank to bank. Do not many of us remember moments
of a far deeper and more earnest trust in Christ than marks our
ordinary days? If such moments were continuous, should not we be the
happy possessors of beauties of character and spiritual power, such as
would put our present selves utterly to shame? And why are they not
continuous? Why are our possessions in God so small, our power so
weak? Dear friends! 'ye are not straitened in yourselves.' The only
reason for defective spiritual progress and character is defective
faith.

Then look at this same principle as it affects our faculties for
Christian service. There, too, it is true that all things are possible
to him that believeth. The saying had an application to the disciples
who stood by, half-ashamed and half-surprised at their failure to cast
out the demon, as well as to the father in his agony of desire and
doubt. For them it meant that the measure of Christian service was
mainly determined by the measure of their faith. It would scarcely be
an exaggeration to say that in Christ's service a man can do pretty
nearly what he believes he can do, if his confidence is built, not on
himself, but on Christ.

If those nine Apostles, waiting there for their Master, had thought
they could cast out the devil from the boy, do you not think that they
could have done it? I do not mean to say that rash presumption,
undertaking in levity and self-confidence unsuitable kinds of work,
will be honoured with success. But I do mean to say that, in the line
of our manifest duty, the extent to which we can do Christ's work is
very much the extent to which we believe, in dependence on Him, that
we can do it. If we once make up our minds that we shall do a certain
thing by Christ's help and for His sake, in ninety cases out of a
hundred the expectation will fulfil itself, and we shall do it. 'Why
could not we cast him out?' They need not have asked the question.
'Why could not you cast him out? Why, because you did not think you
could, and with your timid attempt, making an experiment which you
were not sure would succeed, provoked the failure which you feared.'
The Church has never believed enough in its Christ-given power to cast
out demons. We have never been confident enough that the victory was
in our hands if we knew how to use our powers.

The same thing is true of each one of us. Audacity and presumption are
humility and moderation, if only we feel that 'our sufficiency is of
God.' 'I can do all things' is the language of simple soberness, if we
go on to say 'through Christ which strengthened me.'

There is one more point, drawn from these words, viz., our faith can
only take hold on the divine promises. Such language as this of my
text and other kindred sayings of our Lord's has often been extended
beyond its real force, and pressed into the service of a mistaken
enthusiasm, for want of observing that very plain principle. The
principle of our text has reference to outward things as well as to
the spiritual life. But there are great exaggerations and
misconceptions as to the province of faith in reference to these
temporal things, and consequently there are misconceptions and
exaggerations on the part of many very good people as to the province
of prayer in regard to them.

It seems to me that we shall be saved from these, if we distinctly
recognise a very obvious principle, namely, that 'faith' can never go
further than God's clear promises, and that whatever goes beyond God's
word is not faith, but something else assuming its appearance.

For instance, suppose a father nowadays were to say: 'My child is sore
vexed with sickness. I long for his recovery. I believe that Christ
can heal him. I believe that He will. I pray in faith, and I know that
I shall be answered.' Such a prayer goes beyond the record. Has Christ
told you that it is His will that your child shall be healed? If not,
how can you pray in faith that it is? You may pray in confidence that
he will be healed, but such confident persuasion is not faith. Faith
lays hold of Christ's distinct declaration of His will, but such
confidence is only grasping a shadow, your own wishes. The father in
this story was entitled to trust, because Christ told him that his
trust was the condition of his son's being healed. So in response to
the great word of our text, the man's faith leaped up and grasped our
Lord's promise, with 'Lord, I believe.' But before Christ spoke, his
desires, his wistful longing, his imploring cry for help, had no
warrant to pass into faith, and did not so pass.

Christ's word must go before our faith, and must supply the object for
our faith, and where Christ has not spoken, there is no room for the
exercise of any faith, except the faith, 'It is the Lord; let Him do
what seemeth to Him good.' That is the true prayer of faith in regard
to all matters of outward providence where we have no distinct word of
God's which gives unmistakable indication of His will. The 'if' of the
leper, which has no place in the spiritual region, where we know that
'this is the will of God, even our sanctification,' has full force in
the temporal region, where we do not know before the event what the
will of the Lord is, 'If Thou wilt, Thou canst,' is there our best
prayer.

Wherever a distinct and unmistakable promise of God's goes, it is safe
for faith to follow; but to outrun His word is not faith, but
self-will, and meets the deserved rebuke, 'Should it be according to
thy mind?' There _are_ unmistakable promises about outward things on
which we may safely build. Let us confine our expectations within the
limits of these, and turn them into the prayer of faith, so shooting
back whence they came His winged words, 'This is the confidence that
we have, that if we ask anything according to His will He heareth us.'
Thus coming to Him, submitting all our wishes in regard to this world
to His most loving will, and widening our confidence to the breadth of
His great and loving purpose in regard to our own inward life, as well
as in regard to our practical service, His answer will ever be, 'Great
is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt.'



UNBELIEVING BELIEF


'And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with
tears, Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.'--Mark ix. 24.

We owe to Mark's Gospel the fullest account of the pathetic incident
of the healing of the demoniac boy. He alone gives us this part of the
conversation between our Lord and the afflicted child's father. The
poor man had brought his child to the disciples, and found them unable
to do anything with him. A torrent of appeal breaks from his lips as
soon as the Lord gives him an opportunity of speaking. He dwells upon
all the piteous details with that fondness for repetition which sorrow
knows so well. Jesus gives him back his doubts. The father said, 'If
thou canst do anything, have compassion on us and help us.' Christ's
answer, according to the true reading, is not as it stands in our
Authorised Version, 'If thou canst _believe_'--throwing, as it were,
the responsibility on the man--but it is a quotation of the father's
own word, 'If Thou _canst_,' as if He waved it aside with superb
recognition of its utter unfitness to the present case. 'Say not, If
Thou canst. _That_ is certain. All things are possible to thee' (not
to _do_, but to _get_) 'if'--which is the only 'if' in the case--'thou
believest. I can, and if thy faith lays hold on My Omnipotence, all is
done.'

That majestic word is like the blow of steel upon flint; it strikes a
little spark of faith which lights up the soul and turns the smoky
pillar of doubt into clear flame of confidence. 'Lord, I believe; help
Thou mine unbelief.'

I think in these wonderful words we have four things--the birth, the
infancy, the cry, and the education, of faith. And to these four I
turn now.

I. First, then, note here the birth of faith.

There are many ways to the temple, and it matters little by which of
them a man travels, if so be he gets there. There is no royal road to
the Christian faith which saves the soul. And yet, though identity of
experience is not to be expected, men are like each other in the
depths, and only unlike on the surfaces, of their being. Therefore one
man's experience carefully analysed is very apt to give, at least, the
rudiments of the experience of all others who have been in similar
circumstances. So I think we can see here, without insisting on any
pedantic repetition of the same details in every case, in broad
outline, a sketch-map of the road. There are three elements here:
eager desire, the sense of utter helplessness, and the acceptance of
Christ's calm assurances. Look at these three.

This man knew what he wanted, and he wanted it very sorely. Whosoever
has any intensity and reality of desire for the great gifts which
Jesus Christ comes to bestow, has taken at least one step on the way
to faith. Conversely, the hindrances which block the path of a great
many of us are simply that we do not care to possess the blessings
which Jesus Christ in His Gospel offers. I am not talking now about
the so-called intellectual hindrances to belief, though I think that a
great many of these, if carefully examined, would be found, in the
ultimate analysis, to repose upon this same stolid indifference to the
blessings which Christianity offers. But what I wish to insist upon is
that for large numbers of us, and no doubt for many men and women whom
I address now, the real reason why they have not trust in Jesus Christ
is because they do not care to possess the blessings which Jesus
Christ brings. Do you desire to have your sins forgiven? Has purity
any attraction for you? Do you care at all about the calm and pure
blessings of communion with God? Would you like to live always in the
light of His face? Do you want to be the masters of your own lusts and
passions? I do not ask you, Do you want to go to Heaven or to escape
Hell, when you die? but I ask, Has that future in any of its aspects
any such power over you as that it stirs you to any earnestness and
persistency of desire, or is it all shadowy and vain, ineffectual and
dim?

What we Christian teachers have to fight against is that we are
charged to offer to men a blessing that they do not want, and have to
create a demand before there can be any acceptance of the supply.
'Give us the leeks and garlics of Egypt,' said the Hebrews in the
wilderness; 'our soul loatheth this light bread.' So it is with many
of us; we do not want God, goodness, quietness of conscience, purity
of life, self-consecration to a lofty ideal, one-thousandth part as
much as we want success in our daily occupations, or some one or other
of the delights that the world gives. I remember Luther, in his rough
way, has a story--I think it is in his _Table-talk_--about a herd of
swine to whom their keeper offered some rich dainties, and the pigs
said, 'Give us grains.' That is what so many men do when Jesus Christ
comes with His gifts and His blessings. They turn away, but if they
were offered some poor earthly good, all their desires would go out
towards it, and their eager hands would be scrambling who should first
possess it.

Oh brethren, if we saw things as they are, and our needs as they are,
nothing would kindle such intensity of longing in our hearts as that
rejected or neglected promise of life eternal and divine which Jesus
Christ brings. If I could only once wake in some indifferent heart
this longing, that heart would have taken at least the initial step to
a life of Christian godliness.

Further, we have here the other element of a sense of utter
helplessness. How often this poor father had looked at his boy in the
grip of the fiend, and had wrung his hands in despair that he could
not do anything for him! That same sense of absolute impotence is one
which we all, if we rightly understand what we need, must cherish. Can
you forgive your own sins? Can you cleanse your own nature? Can you
make yourselves other than you are by any effort of volition, or by
any painfulness of discipline? To a certain small extent you can. In
regard to superficial culture and eradication, your careful husbandry
of your own wills may do much, but you cannot deal with your deepest
needs. If we understand what is required, in order to bring one soul
into harmony and fellowship with God, we shall recognise that we
ourselves can do nothing to save, and little to help ourselves. 'Every
man his own redeemer,' which is the motto of some people nowadays, may
do very well for fine weather and for superficial experience, but when
the storm comes it proves a poor refuge, like the gay pavilions that
they put up for festivals, which are all right whilst the sun is
shining and the flags are fluttering, but are wretched shelters when
the rain beats and the wind howls. We can do nothing for ourselves.
The recognition of our own helplessness is the obverse, so to speak,
and underside, of confidence in the divine help. The coin, as it were,
has its two faces. On the one is written, 'Trust in the Lord'; on the
other is written, 'Nothing in myself.' A drowning man, if he tries to
help himself, only encumbers his would-be rescuer, and may drown him
too. The truest help he can give is to let the strong arm that has
cleft the waters for his sake fling itself around him and bear him
safe to land. So, eager desire after offered blessings and
consciousness of my own impotence to secure them--these are the
initial steps of faith.

And the last of the elements here is, listening to the calm assurance
of Jesus Christ: 'If Thou canst! Do not say that to Me; I can, and
because I can, all things are possible for thee to receive.' In like
manner He stands at the door of each of our hearts and speaks to each
of our needs, and says: 'I can satisfy it. Rest for thy soul,
cleansing for thy sins, satisfaction for thy desires, guidance for thy
pilgrimage, power for thy duties, patience in thy sufferings--all
these will come to thee, if thou layest hold of My hand.' His
assurance helps trembling confidence to be born, and out of doubt the
great calm word of the Master smites the fire of trust. And we, dear
brethren, if we will listen to Him, shall surely find in Him all that
we need. Think how marvellous it is that this Jewish peasant should
plant Himself in the front of humanity, over against the burdened,
sinful race of men, and pledge Himself to forgive and to cleanse their
sins, to bear all their sicknesses, to be their strength in weakness,
their comfort in sorrow, the rest of their hearts, their heaven upon
earth, their life in death, their glory in heaven, and their all in
all; and not only should pledge Himself, but in the blessed experience
of millions should have more than fulfilled all that He promised.
'They trusted in Him, and were lightened, and their faces were not
ashamed.' Will you not answer His sovereign word of promise with your
'Lord, I believe'?

II. Then, secondly, we have here the infancy of faith.

As soon as the consciousness of belief dawned upon the father, and the
effort to exercise it was put forth, there sprang up the consciousness
of its imperfection. He would never have known that he did not believe
unless he had tried to believe. So it is in regard to all excellences
and graces of character. The desire of possessing some feeble degree
of any virtue or excellence, and the effort to put it forth, is the
surest way of discovering how little of it we have. On the other side,
sorrow for the lack of some form of goodness is itself a proof of the
partial possession, in some rudimentary and incipient form, of that
goodness. The utterly lazy man never mourns over his idleness; it is
only the one that would fain work harder than he does, and already
works tolerably hard, who does so. So the little spark of faith in
this man's heart, like a taper in a cavern, showed the abysses of
darkness that lay unillumined round about it.

Thus, then, in its infancy, faith may and does coexist with much
unfaith and doubt. The same state of mind, looked at from its two
opposite ends, as it were, may be designated faith or unbelief; just
as a piece of shot silk, according to the angle at which you hold it,
may show you only the bright colours of its warp or the dark ones of
its weft. When you are travelling in a railway train with the sun
streaming in at the windows, if you look out on the one hand you will
see the illumined face of every tree and blade of grass and house; and
if you look out on the other, you will see their shadowed side. And so
the same landscape may seem to be all lit up by the sunshine of
belief, or to be darkened by the gloom of distrust. If we consider how
great and how perfect ought to be our confidence, to bear any due
proportion to the firmness of that upon which it is built, we shall
not be slow to believe that through life there will always be the
presence in us, more or less, of these two elements. There will be all
degrees of progress between the two extremes of infantile and mature
faith.

There follows from that thought this practical lesson, that the
discovery of much unbelief should never make a man doubt the reality
or genuineness of his little faith. We are all apt to write needlessly
bitter things against ourselves when we get a glimpse of the
incompleteness of our Christian life and character. But there is no
reason why a man should fancy that he is a hypocrite because he finds
out that he is not a perfect believer. But, on the other hand, let us
remember that the main thing is not the maturity, but the progressive
character, of faith. It was most natural that this man in our text, at
the very first moment when he began to put his confidence in Jesus
Christ as able to heal his child, should be aware of much
tremulousness mingling with it. But is it not most unnatural that
there should be the same relative proportion of faith and unbelief in
the heart and experience of men who have long professed to be
Christians? You do not expect the infant to have adult limbs, but you
do expect it to grow. True, faith at its beginning may be like a grain
of mustard seed, but if the grain of mustard seed be alive it will
grow to a great tree, where all the fowls of the air can lodge in the
branches. Oh! it is a crying shame and sin that in all Christian
communities there should be so many grey-headed babies, men who have
for years and years been professing to be Christ's followers, and
whose faith is but little, if at all, stronger--nay! perhaps is even
obviously weaker--than it was in the first days of their profession.
'Ye have need of milk, and not of strong meat,' very many of you. And
the vitality of your faith is made suspicious, not because it is
feeble, but because it is not growing stronger.

III. Notice the cry of infant faith.

'Help Thou mine unbelief' may have either of two meanings. The man's
desire was either that his faith should be increased and his unbelief
'helped' by being removed by Christ's operation upon his spirit, or
that Christ would 'help' him and his boy by healing the child, though
the faith which asked the blessing was so feeble that it might be
called unbelief. There is nothing in the language or in the context to
determine which of these two meanings is intended; we must settle it
by our own sense of what would be most likely under the circumstances.
To me it seems extremely improbable that, when the father's whole soul
was absorbed in the healing of his son, he should turn aside to ask
for the inward and spiritual process of having his faith strengthened.
Rather he said, 'Heal my child, though it is unbelief as much as faith
that asks Thee to do it.'

The lesson is that, even when we are conscious of much tremulousness
in our faith, we have a right to ask and expect that it shall be
answered. Weak faith _is_ faith. The tremulous hand _does_ touch. The
cord may be slender as a spider's web that binds a heart to Jesus, but
it _does_ bind. The poor woman in the other miracle who put out her
wasted finger-tip, coming behind Him in the crowd, and stealthily
touching the hem of His garment, though it was only the end of her
finger-nail that was laid on the robe, carried away with her the
blessing. And so the feeblest faith joins the soul, in the measure of
its strength, to Jesus Christ.

But let us remember that, whilst thus the cry of infant faith is
heard, the stronger voice of stronger faith is more abundantly heard.
Jesus Christ once for all laid down the law when He said to one of the
suppliants at His feet, 'According to your faith be it unto you.' The
measure of our belief is the measure of our blessing. The wider you
open the door, the more angels will crowd into it, with their white
wings and their calm faces. The bore of the pipe determines the amount
of water that flows into the cistern. Every man gets, in the measure
in which he desires. Though a tremulous hand may hold out a cup into
which Jesus Christ will not refuse to pour the wine of the kingdom,
yet the tremulous hand will spill much of the blessing; and he that
would have the full enjoyment of the mercies promised, and possible,
must 'ask in faith, nothing wavering.' The sensitive paper which
records the hours of sunshine in a day has great gaps upon its line of
light answering to the times when clouds have obscured the sun; and
the communication of blessings from God is intermittent, if there be
intermittency of faith. If you desire an unbroken line of mercy, joy,
and peace, keep up an unbroken continuity of trustful confidence.

IV. Lastly, we have here the education of faith.

Christ paid no heed in words to the man's confession of unbelief, but
proceeded to do the work which answered his prayer in both its
possible meanings. He responded to imperfect confidence by His perfect
work of cure, and, by that perfect work of cure, He strengthened the
imperfect confidence which it had answered.

Thus He educates us by His answers--His over-answers--to our poor
desires; and the abundance of His gifts rebukes the poverty of our
petitions more emphatically than any words of remonstrance beforehand
could have done. He does not lecture us into faith, but He blesses us
into it. When the Apostle was sinking in the flood, Jesus Christ said
no word of reproach until He had grasped him with His strong hand and
held him safe. And then, when the sustaining touch thrilled through
all the frame, then, and not till then, He said--as we may fancy, with
a smile on His face that the moonlight showed--as knowing how
unanswerable His question was, 'O thou of little faith, _wherefore_
didst thou doubt?' That is how He will deal with us if we will;
over-answering our tremulous petitions, and so teaching us to hope
more abundantly that 'we shall praise Him more and more.'

The disappointments, the weaknesses, the shameful defeats which come
when our confidence fails, are another page of His lesson-book. The
same Apostle of whom I have been speaking got that lesson when,
standing on the billows, and, instead of looking at Christ, looking at
their wrath and foam, his heart failed him, and because his heart
failed him he began to sink. If we turn away from Jesus Christ, and
interrupt the continuity of our faith by calculating the height of the
breakers and the weight of the water that is in them, and what will
become of us when they topple over with their white crests upon our
heads, then gravity will begin to work, and we shall begin to sink.
And well for us if, when we have sunk as far as our knees, we look
back again to the Master and say, 'Lord, save me; I perish!' The
weakness which is our own when faith sleeps, and the rejoicing power
which is ours because it is His, when faith wakes, are God's education
of it to fuller and ampler degrees and depth. We shall lose the
meaning of life, and the best lesson that joy and sorrow, calm and
storm, victory and defeat, can give us, unless all these make us
'rooted and grounded in faith.'

Dear friend, do you desire your truest good? Do you know that you
cannot win it, or fight for it to gain it, or do anything to obtain
it, in your own strength? Have you heard Jesus Christ saying to you,
'Come ... and I will give you rest'? Oh! I beseech you, do not turn
away from Him, but like this agonised father in our story, fall at His
feet with 'Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief,' and He will
confirm your feeble faith by His rich response.



RECEIVING AND FORBIDDING


'And He came to Capernaum: and being in the house He asked them, What
was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? 34. But they held
their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who
should be the greatest. 35. And He sat down, and called the Twelve,
and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be
last of all, and servant of all. 36. And He took a child, and set him
in the midst of them: and when He had taken him in His arms, He said
unto them, 37. Whosoever shall receive one of such children in My
name, receiveth Me: and whosoever shall receive Me, receiveth not Me,
but Him that sent Me. 38. And John answered Him, saying, Master, we
saw one casting out devils in Thy name, and he followeth not us: and
we forbad him, because he followeth not us. 39. But Jesus said, Forbid
him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in My name, that
can lightly speak evil of Me. 40. For he that is not against us is on
our part. 41. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in
My name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall
not lose his reward. 42. And whosoever shall offend one of these
little ones that believe in Me, it is better for him that a millstone
were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.'--Mark ix.
33-42.

Surely the disciples might have found something better to talk about
on the road from Caesarea, where they had heard from Jesus of His
sufferings, than this miserable wrangle about rank! Singularly enough,
each announcement of the Cross seems to have provoked something of the
sort. Probably they understood little of His meaning, but hazily
thought that the crisis was at hand when He should establish the
kingdom; and so their ambition, rather than their affection, was
stirred. Perhaps, too, the dignity bestowed on Peter after his
confession, and the favour shown to the three witnesses of the
Transfiguration, may have created jealousy. Matthew makes the quarrel
to have been about future precedence; Mark about present. The one was
striven for with a view to the other. How chill it must have struck on
Christ's heart, that those who loved Him best cared so much more for
their own petty superiority than for His sorrows!

I. Note the law of service as the true greatness (verses 33-35). 'When
He was in the house, He asked them.' He had let them talk as they
would on the road, walking alone in front, and they keeping, as they
thought, out of ear-shot; but, when at rest together in the house
(perhaps Peter's) where He lived in Capernaum, He lets them see, by
the question and still more by the following teaching, that He knew
what He asked, and needed no answer. The tongues that had been so loud
on the road were dumb in the house--silenced by conscience. His
servants still do and say many things on the road which they would not
do if they saw Him close beside them, and they sometimes fancy that
these escape Him. But when they are 'in the house' with Him, they will
find that He knew all that was going on; and when He asks the account
of it, they, too, will be speechless. 'A thing which does not appear
wrong by itself shows its true character when brought to the judgment
of God and the knowledge of Jesus Christ. (_Bengel_).

Christ deals with the fault with much solemnity, seating Himself, as
Teacher and Superior, and summoning the whole Twelve to hear. We do
not enter on the difficult question of the relation of Mark's report
of our Lord's words to those of the other Evangelists, but rather try
to bring out the significance of their form and connection here. Note,
then, that here we have not so much the nature of true greatness, as
the road to it. 'If any man would be first,' he is to be least and
servant, and thereby he will reach his aim. Of course, that involves
the conception of the nature of true greatness as service, but still
the distinction is to be kept in view. Further, 'last of all' is not
the same as 'servant of all.' The one phrase expresses humility; the
other, ministry. An indolent humility, so very humble that it does
nothing for others, and a service which if not humble, are equally
incomplete, and neither leads to or is the greatness at which alone a
Christian ought to aim. There are two paradoxes here. The lowest is
the highest, the servant is the chief; and they may be turned round
with equal truth--the highest is the lowest, and the chief is the
servant. The former tells us how things really are, and what they look
like, when seen from the centre by His eye. The latter prescribes the
duties and responsibilities of high position. In fact and truth, to
sink is the way to rise, and to serve is the way to rule--only the
rise and the rule are of another sort than contents worldly ambition,
and the Christian must rectify his notions of what loftiness and
greatness are. On the other hand, distinguishing gifts of mind, heart,
leisure, position, possessions, or anything else, are given us for
others, and bind us to serve. Both things follow from the nature of
Christ's kingdom, which is a kingdom of love; for in love the vulgar
distinctions of higher and lower are abolished, and service is
delight. This is no mere pretty sentiment, but a law which grips hard
and cuts deep. Christ's servants have not learned it yet, and the
world heeds it not; but, till it governs all human society, and pulls
up ambition, domination, and pride of place by the roots, society will
groan under ills which increase with the increase of wealth and
culture in the hands of a selfish few.

II. Note the exhibition of the law in a life. Children are quick at
finding out who loves them, and there would always be some hovering
near for a smile from Christ. With what eyes of innocent wonder the
child would look up at Him, as He gently set him there, in the open
space in front of Himself! Mark does not record any accompanying
words, and none were needed, The unconsciousness of rank, the
spontaneous acceptance of inferiority, the absence of claims to
consideration and respect, which naturally belong to childhood as it
ought to be, and give it winningness and grace, are the marks of a
true disciple, and are the more winning in such because they are not
of nature, but regained by self-abnegation. What the child is we have
to become. This child was the example of one-half of the law, being
'least of all,' and perfectly contented to be so; but the other half
was not shown in him, for his little hands could do but small service.
Was there, then, no example in this scene of that other requirement?
Surely there was; for the child was not left standing, shy, in the
midst, but, before embarrassment became weeping, was caught up in
Christ's arms, and folded to His heart. He had been taken as the
instance of humility, and he then became the subject of tender
ministry. Christ and he divided the illustration of the whole law
between them, and the very inmost nature of true service was shown in
our Lord's loving clasp and soothing pressure to His heart. It is as
if He had said, 'Look! this is how you must serve; for you cannot help
the weak unless you open your arms and hearts to them.' Jesus, with
the child held to His bosom, is the living law of service, and the
child nestling close to Him, because sure of His love, is the type of
the trustful affection which we must evoke if we are to serve or help.
This picture has gone straight to the hearts of men; and who can count
the streams of tenderness and practical kindliness of which it has
been the source?

Christ goes on to speak of the child, not as the example of service,
but of being served. The deep words carry us into blessed mysteries
which will recompense the lowly servants, and lift them high in the
kingdom. Observe the precision of the language, both as regards the
persons received and the motive of reception. 'One of such little
children' means those who are thus lowly, unambitious, and unexacting.
'In My name' defines the motive as not being simple humanity or
benevolence, but the distinct recognition of Christ's command and
loving obedience to His revealed character. No doubt, natural
benevolence has its blessings for those who exercise it; but that
which is here spoken of is something much deeper than nature, and wins
a far higher reward.

That reward is held forth in unfathomable words, of which we can but
skim the surface. They mean more than that such little ones are so
closely identified with Him that, in His love, He reckons good done to
them as done to Him. That is most blessedly true. Nor is it true only
because He lovingly reckons the deed as done to Him, though it really
is not; but, by reason of the derived life which all His children
possess from Him, they are really parts of Himself; and in that most
real though mystic unity, what is done to them is, in fact, done to
Him. Further, if the service be done in His name, then, on whomsoever
it may be done, it is done to Him. This great saying unveils the true
sacredness and real recipient of all Christian service. But more than
that is in the words. When we 'receive' Christ's little ones by help
and loving ministry, we receive Him, and in Him God, for joy and
strength. Unselfish deeds in His name open the heart for more of
Christ and God, and bring on the doer the blessing of fuller insight,
closer communion, more complete assimilation to his Lord. Therefore
such service is the road to the true superiority in His kingdom, which
depends altogether on the measure of His own nature which has flowed
into our emptiness.

III. The Apostles' conscience-stricken confession of their breach of
the law (verses 38-40). Peter is not spokesman this time, but John,
whose conscience was more quickly pricked. At first sight, the
connection of his interruption with the theme of the discourse seems
to be merely the recurrence of the phrase, 'in Thy name'; but, besides
that, there is an obvious contrast between 'receiving' and
'forbidding.' The Apostle is uneasy when he remembers what they had
done, and, like an honest man, he states the case to Christ,
half-confessing, and half-asking for a decision. He begins to think
that perhaps the man whom they had silenced was 'one such little
child,' and had deserved more sympathetic treatment. How he came to be
so true a disciple as to share in the power of casting out devils, and
yet not to belong to the closer followers of Jesus, we do not know,
and need not guess. So it was; and John feels, as he tells the story,
that perhaps their motives had not been so much their Master's honour
as their own. 'He followeth not us,' and yet he is trenching on our
prerogatives. The greater fact that he and they followed Christ was
overshadowed by the lesser that he did not follow them. There spoke
the fiery spirit which craved the commission to burn up a whole
village, because of its inhospitality. There spoke the spirit of
ecclesiastical intolerance, which in all ages has masqueraded as zeal
for Christ, and taken 'following us' and 'following Him' to be the
same thing. But there spoke, too, a glimmering consciousness that
gagging men was not precisely 'receiving' them, and that if 'in Thy
name' so sanctified deeds, perhaps the unattached exorcist, who could
cast out demons by it, was 'a little one' to be taken to their hearts,
and not an enemy to be silenced. Pity that so many listen to the law,
and do not, like John, feel it prick them!

Christ forbids such 'forbidding,' and thereby sanctions
'irregularities' and 'unattached' work, which have always been the
bugbears of sticklers for ecclesiastical uniformity, and have not
seldom been the life of Christianity. That authoritative,
unconditional 'forbid him not' ought, long ago, to have rung the
funeral knell of intolerance, and to have ended the temptation to
idolise 'conformity,' and to confound union to organised forms of the
Christian community with union to Christ. But bigotry dies hard. The
reasons appended serve to explain the position of the man in question.
If he had wrought miracles in Christ's name, he must have had some
faith in it; and his experience of its power would deepen that. So
there was no danger of his contradicting himself by speaking against
Jesus. The power of 'faith in the Name' to hallow deeds, the certainty
that rudimentary faith will, when exercised, increase, the guarantee
of experience as sure to lead to blessing from Jesus, are all involved
in this saying. But its special importance is as a reason for the
disciples' action. Because the man's action gives guarantees for his
future, they are not to silence him. That implies that they are only
to forbid those who do speak evil of Christ; and that to all others,
even if they have not reached the full perception of truth, they are
to extend patient forbearance and guidance. 'The mouth of them that
speak lies shall be stopped'; but the mouth that begins to stammer His
name is to be taught and cherished.

Christ's second reason still more plainly claims the man for an ally.
Commentators have given themselves a great deal of trouble to
reconcile this saying with the other--'He that is not with Me is
against Me.' If by reconciling is meant twisting both to mean the same
thing, it cannot be done. If preventing the appearance of
contradiction is meant, it does not seem necessary. The two sayings do
not contradict, but they complete, each other. They apply to different
classes of persons, and common-sense has to determine their
application. This man did, in some sense, believe in Jesus, and worked
deeds that proved the power of the Name. Plainly, such work was in the
same direction as the Lord's and the disciples'. Such a case is one
for the application of tolerance. But the principle must be limited by
the other, else it degenerates into lazy indifference. 'He that is not
against us is for us,' if it stood alone, would dissolve the Church,
and destroy distinctions in belief and practice which it would be
fatal to lose. 'He that is not with Me is against Me,' if it stood
alone, would narrow sympathies, and cramp the free development of
life. We need both to understand and get the good of either.

IV. We have the reward of receiving Christ's little ones set over
against the retribution that seizes those who cause them to stumble
(verses 41, 42). These verses seem to resume the broken thread of
verse 37, whilst they also link on to the great principle laid down in
verse 40. He that is 'not against' is 'for,' even if he only gives a
'cup of water' to Christ's disciple because he is Christ's. That shows
that there is some regard for Jesus in him. It is a germ which may
grow. Such an one shall certainly have his reward. That does not mean
that he will receive it in a future life, but that here his deed shall
bring after it blessed consequences to himself. Of these, none will be
more blessed than the growing regard for the Name, which already is,
in some degree, precious to him. The faintest perception of Christ's
beauty, honestly lived out, will be increased. Every act strengthens
its motive. The reward of living our convictions is firmer and more
enlightened conviction. Note, too, that the person spoken of belongs
to the same class as the silenced exorcist, and that this reads the
disciples a further lesson. Jesus will look with love on the acts
which even a John wished to forbid. Note, also, that the disciples
here are the recipients of the kindness. They are no longer being
taught to receive the 'little ones,' but are taught that they
themselves belong to that class, and need kindly succour from these
outsiders, whom they had proudly thought to silence.

The awful, reticent words, which shadow forth and yet hide the fate of
those who cause the feeblest disciple to stumble, are not for us to
dilate upon. Jesus saw the realities of future retribution, and
deliberately declares that death is a less evil than such an act. The
'little ones' are sacred because they are His. The same relation to
Him which made kindness to them so worthy of reward, makes harm to
them so worthy of punishment. Under the one lies an incipient love to
Him; under the other, a covert and perhaps scarcely conscious
opposition. It is devil's work to seduce simple souls from allegiance
to Christ. There are busy hands to-day laying stumbling-blocks in the
way, especially of young Christians--stumbling-blocks of doubt, of
frivolity, of slackened morality, and the like. It were better, says
One who saw clearly into that awful realm beyond, if a heavy millstone
were knotted about their necks, and they were flung into the deepest
place of the lake that lay before Him as he spoke. He does not speak
exaggerated words; and if a solemn strain of vehemence, unlike His
ordinary calm, is audible here, it is because what He knew, and did
not tell, gave solemn earnestness to His veiled and awe-inspiring
prophecy of doom. What imagination shall fill out the details of the
'worse than' which lurks behind that 'better'?



AN UNANSWERED QUESTION


'What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?'--Mark ix.
33.

Was it not a strange time to squabble when they had just been told of
His death? Note--

I. The variations of feeling common to the disciples and to us all:
one moment 'exceeding sorrowful,' the next fighting for precedence.

II. Christ's divine insight into His servants' faults. This question
was put because He knew what the wrangle had been about. The
disputants did not answer, but He knew without an answer, as His
immediately following warnings show. How blessed to think that Psalm
cxxxix. applies to Him--'There is not a word in my tongue, but lo, O
Lord! Thou knowest it altogether,'

III. The compassion of Christ seeking to cure the sins He sees. His
question is not to rebuke, but to heal; so His perfect knowledge is
blended with perfect love.

IV. The test of evil. They were ashamed to tell Him the cause of their
dispute.

V. The method of cure. The presence of Christ is the end of strife and
of sin in general.



SALTED WITH FIRE


'Every one shall be salted with fire.'--Mark ix. 49.

Our Lord has just been uttering some of the most solemn words that
ever came from His gracious lips. He has been enjoining the severest
self-suppression, extending even to mutilation and excision of the
eye, the hand, or the foot, that might cause us to stumble. He has
been giving that sharp lesson on the ground of plain common sense and
enlightened self-regard. It _is_ better, obviously, to live maimed
than to die whole. The man who elects to keep a mortified limb, and
thereby to lose life, is a suicide and a fool. It is a solemn thought
that a similar mad choice is possible in the moral and spiritual
region.

To these stern injunctions, accompanied by the awful sanctions of that
consideration, our Lord appends the words of my text. They are obscure
and have often been misunderstood. This is not the place to enter on a
discussion of the various explanations that have been proposed of
them. A word or two is all that is needful to put us in possession of
the point of view from which I wish to lay them on your hearts at this
time.

I take the 'every one' of my text to mean not mankind generally, but
every individual of the class whom our Lord is addressing--that is to
say, His disciples. He is laying down the law for all Christians. I
take the paradox which brings together 'salting' and 'fire,' to refer,
not to salt as a means of communicating savour to food, but as a means
of preserving from putrefaction. And I take the 'fire' here to refer,
not to the same process which is hinted at in the awful preceding
words, 'the fire in not quenched,' but to be set in opposition to that
fire, and to mean something entirely different. There is a fire that
destroys, and there is a fire that preserves; and the alternative for
every man is to choose between the destructive and the conserving
influences. Christian disciples have to submit to be 'salted with
fire,' lest a worse thing befall them,

I. And so the first point that I would ask you to notice here is--that
fiery cleansing to which every Christian must yield.

Now I have already referred to the relation between the words of my
text and those immediately preceding, as being in some sense one of
opposition and contrast. I think we are put on the right track for
understanding the solemn words of this text if we remember the great
saying of John the Baptist, where, in precisely similar fashion, there
are set side by side the two conceptions of the chaff being cast into
the unquenchable fire (the same expression as in our text), and 'He
shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.'

The salting fire, then, which cleanses and preserves, and to which
every Christian soul must submit itself, to be purged thereby, is, as
I take it, primarily and fundamentally the fire of that Divine Spirit
which Christ Himself told us that He had come to cast upon the earth,
and yearned, in a passion of desire, to see kindled. The very frequent
use of the emblem in this same signification throughout Scripture, I
suppose I need not recall to you. It seems to me that the only worthy
interpretation of the words before us, which goes down into their
depths and harmonises with the whole of the rest of the teaching of
Scripture, is that which recognises these words of my text as no
unwelcome threat, as no bitter necessity, but as a joyful promise
bringing to men, laden and burdened with their sins, the good news
that it is possible for them to be purged from them entirely by the
fiery ministration of that Divine Spirit. Just as we take a piece of
foul clay and put it into the furnace, and can see, as it gets
red-hot, the stains melt away, as a cloud does in the blue, from its
surface, so if we will plunge ourselves into the influences of that
divine power which Christ has come to communicate to the world, our
sin and all our impurities will melt from off us, and we shall be
clean. No amount of scrubbing with soap and water will do it. The
stain is a great deal too deep for that, and a mightier solvent than
any that we can apply, if unaided and unsupplied from above, is needed
to make us clean. 'Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean,'
especially when the would-be bringer is himself the unclean thing?
Surely not one. Unless there be a power _ab extra_, unparticipant of
man's evils, and yet capable of mingling with the evil man's inmost
nature, and dealing with it, then I believe that universal experience
and our individual experience tell us that there is no hope that we
shall ever get rid of our transgressions.

Brethren, for a man by his own unaided effort, however powerful,
continuous, and wisely directed it may be, to cleanse himself utterly
from his iniquity, is as hopeless as it would be for him to sit down
with a hammer and a chisel and try by mechanical means to get all the
iron out of a piece of ironstone. The union is chemical, not
mechanical. And so hammers and chisels will only get a very little of
the metal out. The one solvent is fire. Put the obstinate crude ore
into your furnace, and get the temperature up, and the molten metal
will run clear. There should be mountains of scoriae, the dross and
relics of our abandoned sins, around us all.

If we desire to be delivered, let us go into the fire. It will burn up
all our evil, and it will burn up nothing else. Keep close to Christ.
Lay your hearts open to the hallowing influences of the motives and
the examples that lie in the story of His life and death. Seek for the
fiery touch of that transforming Spirit, and be sure that you quench
Him not, nor grieve Him. And then your weakness will be reinvigorated
by celestial powers, and the live coal upon your lips will burn up all
your iniquity.

But, subordinately to this deepest meaning, as I take it, of the great
symbol of our text, let me remind you of another possible application
of it, which follows from the preceding. God's Spirit cleanses men
mainly by raising their spirits to a higher temperature. For coldness
is akin to sin, and heavenly warmth is akin to righteousness.
Enthusiasm always ennobles, delivers men, even on the lower reaches of
life and conduct from many a meanness and many a sin. And when it
becomes a warmth of spirit kindled by the reception of the fire of
God, then it becomes the solvent which breaks the connection between
me and my evil. It is the cold Christian who makes no progress in
conquering his sin. The one who is filled with the love of God, and
has the ardent convictions and the burning enthusiasm which that love
ought to produce in our hearts, is the man who will conquer and eject
his evils.

Nor must we forget that there is still another possible application of
the words. For whilst, on the one hand, the Divine Spirit's method of
delivering us is very largely that of imparting to us the warmth of
ardent, devout emotion; on the other hand, a part of this method is
the passing of us through the fiery trials and outward disciplines of
life. 'Every one shall be salted with fire' in that sense. And we have
learned, dear brethren, but little of the loving kindness of the Lord
if we are not able to say, 'I have grown more in likeness to Jesus
Christ by rightly accepted sorrows than by anything besides.' Be not
afraid of calamities; be not stumbled by disaster. Take the fiery
trial which is sent to you as being intended to bring about, at the
last, the discovery 'unto praise and honour and glory' of your faith,
that is 'much more precious than gold that perisheth, though it be
tried with fire.' 'Every one shall be salted with fire,' the Christian
law of life is, Submit to the fiery cleansing. Alas! alas! for the
many thousands of professing Christians who are wrapping themselves in
such thick folds of non-conducting material that that fiery energy can
only play on the surface of their lives, instead of searching them to
the depths. Do you see to it, dear brethren, that you lay open your
whole natures, down to the very inmost roots, to the penetrating,
searching, cleansing power of that Spirit. And let us all go and say
to Him, 'Search me, O God! and try me, and see if there be any wicked
way in me.'

II. Notice the painfulness of this fiery cleansing.

The same ideas substantially are conveyed in my text as are expressed,
in different imagery, by the solemn words that precede it. The
'salting with fire' comes substantially to the same thing as the
amputation of the hand and foot, and the plucking out of the eye, that
cause to stumble. The metaphor expresses a painful process. It is no
pleasant thing to submit the bleeding stump to the actual cautery, and
to press it, all sensitive, upon the hot plate that will stop the flow
of blood. But such pain of shrinking nerves is to be borne, and to be
courted, if we are wise, rather than to carry the hand or the eye that
led astray unmutilated into total destruction. Surely that is common
sense.

The process is painful because we are weak. The highest ideal of
Christian progress would be realised if one of the metaphors with
which our Lord expresses it were adequate to cover the whole ground,
and we grew as the wheat grows, 'first the blade, then the ear, after
that the full corn in the ear.' But the tranquillity of vegetable
growth, and the peaceful progress which it symbolises, are not all
that you and I have to expect. Emblems of a very different kind have
to be associated with that of the quiet serenity of the growing corn,
in order to describe all that a Christian man has to experience in the
work of becoming like his Master. It is a fight as well as a growth;
it is a building requiring our continuity of effort, as well as a
growth. There is something to be got rid of as well as much to be
appropriated. We do not only need to become better, we need to become
less bad. Squatters have camped on the land, and cling to it and hold
it _vi et armis_; and these have to be ejected before peaceful
settlement is possible.

One might go on multiplying metaphors _ad libitum_, in order to bring
out the one thought that it needs huge courage to bear being
sanctified, or, if you do not like the theological word, to bear being
made better. It is no holiday task, and unless we are willing to have
a great deal that is against the grain done to us, and in us, and by
us, we shall never achieve it. We have to accept the pain. Desires
have to be thwarted, and that is not pleasant. Self has to be
suppressed, and that is not delightsome. A growing conviction of the
depth of one's own evil has to be cherished, and that is not a
grateful thought for any of us. Pains external, which are felt by
reason of disciplinary sorrows, are not worthy to be named in the same
day as those more recondite and inward agonies. But, brother, they are
all 'light' as compared with the exceeding weight of 'glory,' coming
from conformity to the example of our Master, which they prepare for
us.

And so I bring you Christ's message: He will have no man to enlist in
His army under false pretences. He will not deceive any of us by
telling us that it is all easy work and plain sailing. Salting by fire
can never be other than to the worse self an agony, just because it is
to the better self a rapture. And so let us make up our minds that no
man is taken to heaven in his sleep, and that the road is a rough one,
judging from the point of view of flesh and sense; but though rough,
narrow, often studded with sharp edges, like the plough coulters that
they used to lay in the path in the old rude ordeals, it still leads
straight to the goal, and bleeding feet are little to pay for a seat
at Christ's right hand.

III. Lastly, notice the preservative result of this painful cleansing.

Our Lord brings together, in our text, as is often His wont, two
apparently contradictory ideas, in order, by the paradox, to fix our
attention the more vividly upon His words. Fire destroys; salt
preserves. They are opposites. But yet the opposites may be united in
one mighty reality, a fire which preserves and does not destroy. The
deepest truth is that the cleansing fire which the Christ will give us
preserves us, because it destroys that which is destroying us. If you
kill the germs of putrefaction in a hit of dead flesh, you preserve
the flesh; and if you bring to bear upon a man the power which will
kill the thing that is killing him, its destructive influence is the
condition of its conserving one.

And so it is, in regard to that great spiritual influence which Jesus
Christ is ready to give to every one of us. It slays that which is
slaying us, for our sins destroy in us the true life of a man, and
make us but parables of walking death. When the three Hebrews were
cast into the fiery furnace in Babylon, the flames burned nothing but
their bonds, and they walked at liberty in the fire. And so it will be
with us. We shall be preserved by that which slays the sins that would
otherwise slay us.

Let me lay on your hearts before I close the solemn alternative to
which I have already referred, and which is suggested by the
connection of my text with the preceding words. There is a fire that
destroys and is not quenched. Christ's previous words are much too
metaphorical for us to build dogmatic definitions upon. But Jesus
Christ did not exaggerate. If here and now sin has so destructive an
effect upon a man, O, who will venture to say that he knows the limits
of its murderous power in that future life, when retribution shall
begin with new energy and under new conditions? Brethren, whilst I
dare not enlarge, I still less dare to suppress; and I ask you to
remember that not I, or any man, but Jesus Christ Himself, has put
before each of us this alternative--either the fire unquenchable,
which destroys a man, or the merciful fire, which slays his sins and
saves him alive.

Social reformers, philanthropists, you that have tried and failed to
overcome your evil, and who feel the loathly thing so intertwisted
with your being that to pluck it from your heart is to tear away the
very heart's walls themselves, here is a hope for you. Closely as our
evil is twisted in with the fibres of our character, there is a hand
that can untwine the coils, and cast away the sin, and preserve the
soul. And although we sometimes feel as if our sinfulness and our sin
were so incorporated with ourselves that it made oneself, with a man's
head and a serpent's tail, let us take the joyful assurance that if we
trust ourselves to Christ, and open our hearts to His power, we can
shake off the venomous beast into the fire and live a fuller life,
because the fire has consumed that which would otherwise have consumed
us.



'SALT IN YOURSELVES'


'Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.'--Mark ix.
50.

In the context 'salt' is employed to express the preserving,
purifying, divine energy which is otherwise spoken of as 'fire.' The
two emblems produce the same result. They both salt--that is, they
cleanse and keep. And if in the one we recognise the quick energy of
the Divine Spirit as the central idea, no less are we to see the same
typified under a slightly different aspect in the other. The fire
transforms into its own substance and burns away all the grosser
particles. The salt arrests corruption, keeps off destruction, and
diffuses its sanative influence through all the particles of the
substance with which it comes in contact. And in both metaphors it is
the operation of God's cleansing Spirit, in its most general form,
that is set forth, including all the manifold ways by which God deals
with us to purge us from our iniquity, to free us from the death which
treads close on the heels of wrongdoing, the decomposition and
dissolution which surely follow on corruption.

This the disciples are exhorted to have in themselves that they may be
at peace one with another. Perhaps we shall best discover the whole
force of this saying by dealing--

I. With the symbol itself and the ideas derived from it.

The salt cleanses, arrests corruption which impends over the dead
masses, sweetens and purifies, and so preserves from decay and
dissolution. It works by contact, and within the mass. It thus stands
as an emblem of the cleansing which God brings, both in respect (a) to
that on which it operates, (b) to the purpose of its application, and
(c) to the manner in which it produces its effects.

(a) That on which it operates.

There is implied here a view of human nature, not flattering but true.
It is compared with a dead thing, in which the causes that bring about
corruption are already at work, with the sure issue of destruction.
This in its individual application comes to the assertion of sinful
tendency and actual sin as having its seat and root in all our souls,
so that the present condition is corruption, and the future issue is
destruction. The consequent ideas are that any power which is to
cleanse must come from without, not from within; that purity is not to
be won by our own efforts, and that there is no disposition in human
nature to make these efforts. There is no recuperative power in human
nature. True, there may be outward reformation of habits, etc., but,
if we grasp the thought that the taproot of sin is selfishness, this
impotence becomes clearer, and it is seen that sin affects all our
being, and that therefore the healing must come from beyond us.

(b) The purpose--namely, cleansing.

In salt we may include the whole divine energy; the Word, the Christ,
the Spirit. So the intention of the Gospel is mainly to make clean.
Preservation is a consequence of that.

(c) The manner of its application.

Inward, penetrating, by contact; but mainly the great peculiarity of
Christian ethics is that the inner life is dealt with first, the will
and the heart, and afterwards the outward conduct.

II. The part which we have to take in this cleansing process.

'Have salt' is a command; and this implies that while all the
cleansing energy comes from God, the working of it on our souls
depends on ourselves.

(a) Its original reception depends on our faith.

The 'salt' is here, but our contact with it is established by our
acceptance of it. There is no magical cleansing; but it must be
received within if we would share in its operation.

(b) Its continuous energy is not secured without our effort.

Let us just recall the principle already referred to, that the 'salt'
implies the whole cleansing divine energies, and ask what are these?
The Bible variously speaks of men as being cleansed by the 'blood of
Christ,' by the 'truth,' by the 'Spirit.' Now, it is not difficult to
bring all these into one focus, viz., that the Spirit of God cleanses
us by bringing the truth concerning Christ to bear on our
understandings and hearts.

We are sanctified in proportion as we are coming under the influence
of Christian truth, which, believed by our understandings and our
hearts, supplies motives to our wills which lead us to holiness by
copying the example of Christ.

Hence the main principle is that the cleansing energy operates on us
in proportion as we are influenced by the truths of the Gospel.

Again, it works in proportion as we seek for, and submit to, the
guidance of God's Holy Spirit.

In proportion as we are living in communion with Christ.

In proportion as we seek to deny ourselves and put away those evil
things which 'quench the Spirit.'

This great grace, then, is not ours without our own effort. No
original endowment is enough to keep us right. There must be the daily
contact with, and constant renewing of the Holy Ghost. Hence arises a
solemn appeal to all Christians.

Note the independence of the Christian character.

'In yourselves.' 'The water that I shall give him shall be in him a
fountain,' etc. Not, therefore, derived from the world, nor at
second-hand from other men, but you have access to it for yourselves.
See that you use the gift. 'Hold fast that which thou hast,' for there
are enemies to withstand--carelessness, slothfulness, and
self-confidence, etc.

III. The relation to one another of those who possess this energy.

In proportion as Christians have salt in themselves, they will be at
peace with one another. Remember that all sin is selfishness;
therefore if we are cleansed from it, that which leads to war,
alienation, and coldness will be removed. Even in this world there
will be an anticipatory picture of the perfect peace which will abound
when all are holy. Even now this great hope should make our mutual
Christian relations very sweet and helpful.

Thus emerges the great principle that the foundation of the only real
love among men must be laid in holiness of heart and life. Where the
Spirit of God is working on a heart, there the seeds of evil passions
are stricken out. The causes of enmity and disturbance are being
removed. Men quarrel with each other because their pride is offended,
or because their passionate desires after earthly things are crossed
by a successful rival, or because they deem themselves not
sufficiently respected by others. The root of all strife is self-love.
It is the root of all sin. The cleansing which takes away the root
removes in the same proportion the strife which grows from it. We
should not be so ready to stand on our rights if we remembered how we
come to have any hopes at all. We should not be so ready to take
offence if we thought more of Him who is not soon angry. All the train
of alienations, suspicions, earthly passions, which exist in our minds
and are sure to issue in quarrels or bad blood, will be put down if we
have 'salt in ourselves.'

This makes a very solemn appeal to Christian men. The Church is the
garden where this peace should flourish. The disgrace of the Church is
its envyings, jealousies, ill-natured scandal, idle gossip, love of
preeminence, willingness to impute the worst possible motives to one
another, sharp eyes for our brother's failings and none for our own. I
am not pleading for any mawkish sentimentality, but for a manly
peacefulness which comes from holiness. The holiest natures are always
the most generous.

What a contrast the Church ought to present to the prevailing tone in
the world! Does it? Why not? Because we do not possess the 'salt.' The
dove flees from the cawing of rooks and the squabbling of kites and
hawks.

The same principle applies to all our human affections. Our loves of
all sorts are safe only when they are pure. Contrast the society based
on common possession of the one Spirit with the companionships which
repose on sin, or only on custom or neighbourhood. In all these there
are possibilities of moral peril.

The same principle intensified gives us a picture of heaven and of
hell. In the one are the 'solemn troops and sweet societies'; in the
other, no peace, no confidence, no bonds, only isolation, because sin
which is selfishness lies at the foundation of the awful condition.

Friends, without that salt our souls are dead and rotting. Here is the
great cure. Make it your own. So purified, you will be preserved, but,
on the other hand, unchecked sin leads to quick destruction.

The dead, putrefying carcass--what a picture of a soul abandoned to
evil and fit only for Gehenna!



CHILDREN AND CHILDLIKE MEN


'And they brought young children to Him, that He should touch them:
and His disciples rebuked those that brought them. 14. But when Jesus
saw it, He was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little
children to come unto Me, and forbid them not: for of such is the
kingdom of God. 15. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive
the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.'
--Mark x. 13-15.

It was natural that the parents should have wanted Christ's blessing,
so that they might tell their children in later days that His hand had
been laid on their heads, and that He had prayed for them. And Christ
did not think of it as a mere superstition. The disciples were not so
akin to the children as He was, and they were a great deal more tender
of His dignity than He. They thought of this as an interruption
disturbing their high intercourse with Christ. 'These children are
always in the way, this is tiresome,' etc.

I. Christ blessing children.

It is a beautiful picture: the great Messiah with a child in His arms.
We could not think of Moses or of Paul in such an attitude. Without
it, we should have wanted one of the sweetest, gentlest, most human
traits in His character; and how world-wide in its effect that act has
been! How many a mother has bent over her child with deeper love; how
many a parent has felt the sacredness of the trust more vividly; how
many a mother has been drawn nearer to Christ; and how many a little
child has had childlike love to Him awakened by it; how much of
practical benevolence and of noble sacrifice for children's welfare,
how many great institutions, have really sprung from this one deed!

And, if we turn from its effects to its meaning, it reveals Christ's
love for children:--in its human side, as part of His character as
man; in its deeper aspect as a revelation of the divine nature. It
corrects dogmatic errors by making plain that, prior to all ceremonies
or to repentance and faith, little children are loved and blessed by
Him. Unconscious infants as these were folded in His arms and love. It
puts away all gloomy and horrible thoughts which men have had about
the standing of little children.

This is an act of Christ to infants expressive of His love to them,
His care over them, their share in His salvation. Baptism is an act of
man's, a symbol of his repentance and dying to sin and rising to a new
life in Christ, a profession of his faith, an act of obedience to his
Lord. It teaches nothing as to the relation of infants to the love of
Jesus or to salvation. It does not follow that because that love is
most sure and precious, baptism must needs be a sign of it. The
question, what does baptism mean, must be determined by examination of
texts which speak about baptism; not by a side-light from a text which
speaks about something else. There is no more reason for making
baptism proclaim that Jesus Christ loves children than for making it
proclaim that two and two make four.

II. The child's nearness to Christ.

'Of such is the kingdom.' 'Except ye be converted and become like
little children,' etc. Now this does not refer to innocence; for, as a
matter of fact, children are not innocent, as all schoolmasters and
nurses know, whatever sentimental poets may say. Innocence is not a
qualification for admission to the kingdom. And yet it is true that
'heaven lies about us in our infancy,' and that we are further off
from it than when we were children. Nor does it mean that children are
naturally the subjects of the kingdom, but only that the
characteristics of the child are those which the man must have, in
order to enter the kingdom; that their natural disposition is such as
Christ requires to be directed to Him; or, in other words, that
childhood has a special adaptation to Christianity. For instance, take
dependence, trust, simplicity, unconsciousness, and docility.

These are the very characteristics of childhood, and these are the
very emotions of mind and heart which Christianity requires. Add the
child's strong faculty of imagination and its implicit belief; making
the form of Christianity as the story of a life so easy to them. And
we may add too: the absence of intellectual pride; the absence of the
habit of dallying with moral truth. Everybody is to the child either a
'good' man or a 'bad.' They have an intense realisation of the unseen;
an absence of developed vices and hard worldliness; a faculty of
living in the present, free from anxious care and worldly hearts. But
while thus they have special adaptation for receiving, they too need
to come to Christ. These characteristics do not make Christians. They
are to be directed to Christ. 'Suffer them to come unto Me,' the
youngest child needs to, can, ought to, come to Christ. And how
beautiful their piety is, 'Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings
Thou hast perfected praise.' Their fresh, unworn trebles struck on
Christ's ear. Children ought to grow up in Christian households,
'innocent from much transgression.' We ought to expect them to grow up
Christian.

III. The child and the Church.

The child is a pattern to us men. We are to learn of them as well as
teach them; what they are naturally, we are to strive to become, not
childish but childlike. 'Even as a weaned child' (see Psalm cxxxi.).
The child-spirit is glorified in manhood. It is possible for us to
retain it, and lose none of the manhood. 'In malice be ye children,
but in understanding be men.' The spirit of the kingdom is that of
immortal youth.

The children are committed to our care.

The end of all training and care is that they should by voluntary act
draw near to Him. This should be the aim in Sunday schools, for
instance, and in families, and in all that we do for the poor around
us.

See that we do not hinder their coming. This is a wide principle,
viz., not to do anything which may interfere with those who are weaker
and lower than we are finding their way to Jesus. The Church, and we
as individual Christians, too often hinder this 'coming.'

Do not hinder by the presentation of the Gospel in a repellent form,
either hardly dogmatic or sour.

Do not hinder by the requirement of such piety as is unnatural to a
child.

Do not hinder by inconsistencies. This is a warning for Christian
parents in particular.

Do not hinder by neglect. '_Despise_ not one of these little ones.'



ALMOST A DISCIPLE


'And when He was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and
kneeled to Him, and asked Him. Good Master, what shall I do that I may
inherit eternal life! 18. And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou Me
good! there is none good but one, that is, God. 19. Thou knowest the
commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do
not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. 20.
And he answered and said unto Him, Master, all these have I observed
from my youth, 21. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto
him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast,
and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and
come, take up the cross, and follow Me. 22. And he was sad at that
saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. 23. And
Jesus looked round about and saith unto His disciples, How hardly
shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! 24. And the
disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answereth again, and
saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in
riches to enter into the kingdom of God! 25. It is easier for a camel
to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into
the kingdom of God. 26. And they were astonished out of measure,
saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? 27. And Jesus looking
upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with
God all things are possible.'--Mark x. 17-27.

There were courage, earnestness, and humility in this young ruler's
impulsive casting of himself at Christ's feet in the way, with such a
question. He was not afraid to recognise a teacher in Him whom his
class scorned and hated; he was deeply sincere in his wish to possess
eternal life, and in his belief that he was ready to do whatever was
necessary for that end; he bowed himself as truly as he bent his knees
before Jesus, and the noble enthusiasm of youth breathed in his
desires, his words, and his gesture.

But his question betrayed the defect which poisoned the much that was
right and lovable in him. He had but a shallow notion of what was
'good,' as is indicated by his careless ascription of goodness to one
of whom he knew so little as he did of Jesus, and by his conception
that it was a matter of deeds. He is too sure of himself; for he
thinks that he is ready and able to do all good deeds, if only they
are pointed out to him.

How little he understood the resistance of 'the mind of the flesh' to
discerned duty! Probably he had had no very strong inclinations to
contend against, in living the respectable life that had been his. It
is only when we row against the stream that we find out how fast it
runs. He was wrong about the connection of good deeds and eternal
life, for he thought of them as done by himself, and so of buying it
by his own efforts. Fatal errors could not have been condensed in
briefer compass, or presented in conjunction with more that is
admirable, than in his eager question, asked so modestly and yet so
presumptuously.

Our Lord answers with a coldness which startles; but it was meant to
rouse, like a dash of icy water flung in the face. 'Why callest thou
Me good?' is more than a waving aside of a compliment, or a lesson in
accuracy of speech. It rebukes the young man's shallow conception of
goodness, as shown by the facility with which he bestowed the epithet.
'None is good save one, even God,' cuts up by the roots his notion of
the possibility of self-achieved goodness, since it traces all human
goodness to its source in God. If He is the only good, then we cannot
perform good acts by our own power, but must receive power from Him.
How, then, can any man 'inherit eternal life' by good deeds, which he
is only able to do because God has poured some of His own goodness
into him? Jesus shatters the young man's whole theory, as expressed in
his question, at one stroke.

But while His reply bears directly on the errors in the question, it
has a wider significance. Either Jesus is here repudiating the notion
of His own sinlessness, and acknowledging, in contradiction to every
other disclosure of His self-consciousness, that He too was not
through and through good, or else He is claiming to be filled with
God, the source of all goodness, in a wholly unique manner. It is a
tremendous alternative, but one which has to be faced. While one is
thankful if men even imperfectly apprehend the character and nature of
Jesus, one cannot but feel that the question may fairly be put to the
many who extol the beauty of His life, and deny His divinity, 'Why
callest thou Me good?' Either He is 'God manifest in the flesh,' or He
is not 'good.'

The remainder of Christ's answer tends to deepen the dawning
conviction of the impossibility of meriting eternal life by acts of
goodness, apart from dependence on God. He refers to the second half
of the Decalogue only, not as if the first were less important, but
because the breaches of the second are more easily brought to
consciousness. In thus answering, Jesus takes the standpoint of the
law, but for the purpose of bringing to the very opposite conviction
from that which the young ruler expresses in reply. He declares that
he has kept them all from his youth. Jesus would have had him confess
that in them was a code too high to be fully obeyed. 'By the law is
the knowledge of sin,' but it had not done its work in this young man.
His shallow notion of goodness besets and blinds him still. He is
evidently thinking about external deeds, and is an utter stranger to
the depths of his own heart. It was an answer betraying great
shallowness in his conception of duty and in his self-knowledge.

It is one which is often repeated still. How many of us are there who,
if ever we cast a careless glance over our lives, are quite satisfied
with their external respectability! As long as the chambers that look
to the street are fairly clean, many think that all is right. But what
is there rotting and festering down in the cellars? Do we ever go down
there with the 'candle of the Lord' in our hands? If we do, the
ruler's boast, 'All these have I kept,' will falter into 'All these
have I broken.'

But let us be thankful for the love that shone in Christ's eyes as He
looked on him. We may blame; He loved. Jesus saw the fault, but He saw
the longing to be better. The dim sense of insufficiency which had
driven this questioner to Him was clear to that all-knowing and
all-loving heart. Do not let us harshly judge the mistakes of those
who would fain be taught, nor regard the professions of innocence,
which come from defective perception, as if they were the proud
utterances of a Pharisee.

But Christ's love is firm, and can be severe. It never pares down His
requirements to make discipleship easier. Rather it attracts by
heightening them, and insisting most strenuously on the most difficult
surrender. That is the explanation of the stringent demand next made
by Him. He touched the poisonous swelling as with a sharp lancet when
He called for surrender of wealth. We may be sure that it was this
man's money which stood between him and eternal life. If something
else had been his chief temptation, that something would have been
signalised as needful to be given up. There is no general principle of
conduct laid down here, but a specific injunction determined by the
individual's character. All diseases are not treated with the same
medicines. The command is but Christ's application of His broad
requirement, 'If thine eye causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out.' The
principle involved is, surrender what hinders entire following of
Jesus. When that sacrifice is made, we shall be in contact with the
fountain of goodness, and have eternal life, not as payment, but as a
gift.

'His countenance fell,' or, according to Mark's picturesque word,
'became lowering,' like a summer sky when thunder-clouds gather. The
hope went out of his heart, and the light faded from his eager face.
The prick of the sharp spear had burst the bubble of his superficial
earnestness. He had probably never had anything like so repugnant a
duty forced upon him, and he cannot bring himself to yield. Like so
many of us, he says, 'I desire eternal life,' but when it comes to
giving up the dearest thing he recoils. 'Anything else, Lord, thou
shalt have, and welcome, but not that.' And Christ says, 'That, and
nothing else, I must have, if thou art to have Me.' So this man 'went
away sorrowful.' His earnestness evaporated; he kept his possessions,
and he lost Christ. A prudent bargain! But we may hope that, since 'he
went away sorrowful,' he felt the ache of something lacking, that the
old longings came back, and that he screwed up his resolution to make
'the great surrender,' and counted his wealth 'but dung, that he might
win Christ.'

What a world of sad and disappointed love there would be in that look
of Jesus to the disciples, as the young ruler went away with bowed
head! How graciously He anticipates their probable censure, and turns
their thoughts rather on themselves, by the acknowledgment that the
failure was intelligible, since the condition was hard! How pityingly
His thoughts go after the retreating figure! How universal the
application of His words! Riches may become a hindrance to entering
the kingdom. They do so when they take the first place in the
affections and in the estimates of good. That danger besets those who
have them and those who have them not. Many a poor man is as much
caught in the toils of the love of money as the rich are. Jesus
modifies the form of His saying when He repeats it in the shape of
'How hardly shall they that trust in riches,' etc. It is difficult to
have, and not to trust in them. Rich men's disadvantages as to living
a self-sacrificing Christian life are great. To Christ's eyes, their
position was one to be dreaded rather than to be envied.

So opposed to current ideas was such a thought, that the disciples,
accustomed to think that wealth meant happiness, were amazed. If the
same doctrine were proclaimed in any great commercial centre to-day,
it would excite no less astonishment. At least, many Christians and
others live as if the opposite were true. Wealth possessed, and not
trusted in, but used aright, may become a help towards eternal life;
but wealth as commonly regarded and employed by its possessors, and as
looked longingly after by others, is a real, and in many cases an
insuperable, obstacle to entering the strait gate. As soon drive a
camel, humps and load and all, through 'a needle's eye,' as get a man
who trusts in the uncertainty of riches squeezed through that portal.
No communities need this lesson more than our great cities.

No wonder that the disciples thought that, if the road was so
difficult for rich men, it must be hard indeed. Christ goes even
farther. He declares that it is not only hard, but 'impossible,' for a
man by his own power to tread it. That was exactly what the young man
had thought that he could do, if only he were directed.

So our Lord's closing words in this context apply, not only to the
immediately preceding question by the disciples, but may be taken as
the great truth conveyed by the whole incident, Man's efforts can
never put him in possession of eternal life. He must have God's power
flowing into him if he is to be such as can enter the kingdom. It is
the germ of the subsequent teaching of Paul; 'The gift of God is
eternal life.' What we cannot do, Christ has done for us, and does in
us. We must yield ourselves to Him, and surrender ourselves, and
abandon what stands between us and Him, and then eternal life will
enter into us here, and we shall enter into its perfect possession
hereafter.



CHRIST ON THE ROAD TO THE CROSS


'And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before
them: and they were amazed; and as they followed they were afraid.'
--Mark x. 32.

We learn from John's Gospel that the resurrection of Lazarus
precipitated the determination of the Jewish authorities to put Christ
to death; and that immediately thereafter there was held the council
at which, by the advice of Caiaphas, the formal decision was come to.
Thereupon our Lord withdrew Himself into the wilderness which
stretches south and east of Jerusalem; and remained there for an
unknown period, preparing Himself for the Cross. Then, full of calm
resolve, He came forth to die. This is the crisis in our Lord's
history to which my text refers. The graphic narrative of this
Evangelist sets before us the little company on the steep rocky
mountain road that leads up from Jericho to Jerusalem; our Lord, far
in advance of His followers, with a fixed purpose stamped upon His
face, and something of haste in His stride, and that in His whole
demeanour which shed a strange astonishment and awe over the group of
silent and uncomprehending disciples.

That picture has not attracted the attention that it deserves. I think
if we ponder it with sympathetic imagination helping us, we may get
from it some very great lessons and glimpses of our Lord's inmost
heart in the prospect of His Cross. And I desire simply to set forth
two or three of the aspects of Christ's character which these words
seem to me to suggest.

I. We have here, then, first, what, for want of a better name, I would
call the heroic Christ.

I use the word to express simply strength of will brought to bear in
the resistance to antagonism; and although that is a side of the
Lord's character which is not often made prominent, it is there, and
ought to have its due importance.

We speak of Him, and delight to think of Him, as the embodiment of all
loving, gracious, gentle virtues, but Jesus Christ as the ideal man
unites in Himself what men are in the habit, somewhat superciliously,
of calling the masculine virtues, as well as those which they somewhat
contemptuously designate the feminine. I doubt very much whether that
is a correct distinction. I think that the heroism of endurance, at
all events, is far more an attribute of a woman than of a man. But be
that as it may, we are to look to Jesus Christ as presenting before us
the very type of all which men call heroism in the sense that I have
explained, of an iron will, incapable of deflection by any antagonism,
and which coerces the whole nature to obedience to its behests.

There is nothing to be done in life without such a will. 'To be weak
is to be miserable, doing or suffering.' And our Master has set us the
example of this; that unless there run through a man's life, like the
iron framework on the top of the spire of Antwerp Cathedral, on which
graceful fancies are strung in stone, the rigid bar of an iron purpose
that nothing can bend, the life will be nought and the man will be a
failure. Christ is the pattern of heroic endurance, and reads to us
the lesson to resist and persist, whatever stands between us and our
goal.

So here, the Cross before Him flung out no repelling influence towards
Him, but rather drew Him to itself. There is no reason that I can find
for believing the modern theory of the rationalists' school that our
Lord, in the course of His mission, altered His plan, or gradually had
dawning upon His mind the conviction that to carry out His purposes He
must be a martyr. That seems to me to be an entire misreading of the
Gospel narrative which sets before us much rather this, that from the
beginning of our Lord's public career there stood unmistakably before
Him the Cross as the goal. He entertained no illusions as to His
reception. He did not come to do certain work, and, finding that He
could not do it, accepted the martyr's _rôle_; but He came for the
twofold purpose of serving by His life, and of redeeming by His death.
'He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His
life a ransom for the many.' And this purpose stood clear before Him,
drawing Him to itself all through His career.

But, further, Christ's character teaches us what is the highest form
of such strength and tenacity, viz., gentleness. There is no need to
be brusque, obstinate, angular, self-absorbed, harsh, because we are
fixed and determined in our course. These things are the caricatures
and the diminutions, not the true forms nor the increase, of strength.
The most tenacious steel is the most flexible, and he that has the
most fixed and definite resolve may be the man that has his heart most
open to all human sympathies, and is strong with the almightiness of
gentleness, and not with the less close-knit strength of roughness and
of hardness. Christ, because He is perfect love, is perfect power, and
His will is fixed because it is love that fixes it. So let us take the
lesson that the highest type of strength is strength in meekness, and
that the Master who, I was going to say, kept His strength of will
under, but I more correctly say, manifested His strength of will
through, His gentleness, is the pattern for us.

II. Then again, we see here not only the heroic, but what I may call
the self-sacrificing Christ.

We have not only to consider the fixed will which this incident
reveals, but to remember the purpose on which it was fixed, and that
He was hastening to His Cross. The very fact of our Lord's going back
to Jerusalem, with that decree of the Sanhedrim still in force, was
tantamount to His surrender of Himself to death. It was as if, in the
old days, some excommunicated man with the decree of the Inquisition
pronounced against him had gone into Rome and planted himself in the
front of the piazza before the buildings of the Holy Office, and
lifted up his testimony there. So Christ, knowing that this council
has been held, that this decree stands, goes back, investing of set
purpose His return with all the publicity that He can bring to bear
upon it. For this once He seems to determine that He will 'cause His
voice to be heard in the streets'; He makes as much of a demonstration
as the circumstances will allow, and so acts in a manner opposite to
all the rest of His life. Why? Because He had determined to bring the
controversy to an end. Why? Was He flinging away His life in mere
despair? Was He sinfully neglecting precautions? Was the same
fanaticism of martyrdom which has often told upon men, acting upon
Him? Were these His reasons? No, but He recognised that now that
'hour' of which He spoke so much had come, and of His own loving will
offered Himself as our Sacrifice.

It is all-important to keep in view that Christ's death was His own
voluntary act. Whatever external forces were brought to bear in the
accomplishment of it, He died because He chose to die. The 'cords'
which bound this sacrifice to the horns of the altar were cords woven
by Himself.

So I point to the incident of my text, as linking in along with the
whole series of incidents marking the last days of our Lord's life, in
order to stamp upon His death unmistakably this signature, that it was
His own act. Therefore the publicity that was given to His entry;
therefore His appearance in the Temple; therefore the increased
sharpness and unmistakableness of His denunciations of the ruling
classes, the Pharisees and the scribes. Therefore the whole history of
the Passion, all culminating in leaving this one conviction, that He
had 'power to lay down His life,' that neither Caiaphas nor Annas, nor
Judas, nor the band, nor priests, nor the Council, nor Pilate, nor
Herod, nor soldiers, nor nails, nor cross, nor all together, killed
Jesus, but that Jesus died because He would. The self-sacrifice of the
Lord was not the flinging away of the life that He ought to have
preserved, nor carelessness, nor the fanaticism of a martyr, nor the
enthusiasm of a hero and a champion, but it was the voluntary death of
Him who of His own will became in His death the 'oblation and
satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.' Love to us, and
obedience to the Father whose will He made His own, were the cords
that bound Christ to the Cross on which He died. His sacrifice was
voluntary; witness this fact that when He saw the Cross at hand He
strode before His followers to reach that, the goal of His mission.

III. I venture to regard the incident as giving us a little glimpse of
what I may call the shrinking Christ.

Do we not see here a trace of something that we all know? May not part
of the reason for Christ's haste have been that desire which we all
have, when some inevitable grief or pain lies before us, to get it
over soon, and to abbreviate the moments that lie between us and it?
Was there not something of that feeling in our Lord's sensitive nature
when He said, for instance, 'I have a baptism to be baptized with, and
how am I straitened until it be accomplished'? 'I am come to send fire
upon the earth, and O! how I wish that it were already kindled!' Was
there not something of the same feeling, which we cannot call
impatient, but which we may call shrinking from the Cross, and
therefore seeking to draw the Cross nearer, and have done with it, in
the words which He addressed to the betrayer, 'That thou doest, do
quickly,' as if He were making a last appeal to the man's humanity,
and in effect saying to him, 'If you have a heart at all, shorten
these painful hours, and let us have it over'?

And may we not see, in that swift advance in front of the lagging
disciples, some trace of the same feeling which we recognise to be so
truly human?

Christ _did_ shrink from His Cross. Let us never forget that He
recoiled from it, with the simple, instinctive, human shrinking from
pain and death which is a matter of the physical nervous system, and
has nothing to do with the will at all. If there had been no shrinking
from it there had been no fixed will. If there had been no natural
instinctive drawing back of the physical nature and its connections
from the prospect of pain and death, there had been none of the
heroism of which I am speaking. Though it does not become us to
dogmatise about matters of which we know so little, I think we may
fairly say that that shrinking never rose up into the regions of
Christ's will; never became a desire; never became a purpose.
Howsoever the ship might be tossed by the waves, the will always kept
its level equilibrium. Howsoever the physical nature might incline to
this side or to that, the will always kept parallel with the great
underlying divine will, the Father's purpose which He had come to
effect. There was shrinking which was instinctive and human, but it
never disturbed the fixed purpose to die. It had so much power over
Him as to make Him march a little faster to the Cross, but it never
made Him turn from it. And so He stands before us as the Conqueror in
a real conflict, as having yielded Himself up by a real surrender, as
having overcome a real difficulty, 'for the joy that was set before
Him, having endured the Cross, despising the shame.'

IV. So, lastly, I would see here the lonely Christ.

In front of His followers, absorbed in the thought of what was drawing
so near, gathering together His powers in order to be ready for the
struggle, with His heart full of the love and the pity which impelled
Him, He is surrounded as with a cloud which shuts Him 'out from their
sight,' as afterwards the cloud of glory 'received Him.'

What a gulf there was between them and Him, between their thoughts and
His, as He passed up that rocky way! What were they thinking about?
'By the way they had disputed amongst themselves which of them should
be the greatest.' So far did they sympathise with the Master! So far
did they understand Him! Talk about men with unappreciated aims,
heroes that have lived through a lifetime of misunderstanding and
never have had any one to sympathise with them! There never was such a
lonely man in the world as Jesus Christ. Never was there one that
carried so deep In His heart so great a purpose and so great a love,
which none cared a rush about. And those that were nearest Him, and
loved Him best, loved Him so blunderingly and so blindly that their
love must often have been quite as much of a pain as of a joy.

In His Passion that solitude reached the point of agony. How touching
in its unconscious pathos is His pleading request, 'Tarry ye here, and
watch with Me!' How touching in their revelation of a subsidiary but
yet very real addition to His pains are His words, 'All ye shall be
offended because of Me this night.' Oh, dear brethren! every human
soul has to go down into the darkness alone, however close may be the
clasping love which accompanies us to the portal; but the loneliness
of death was realised by Jesus Christ in a very unique and solemn
manner. For round Him there gathered the clouds of a mysterious agony,
only faintly typified by the darkness of eclipse which hid the
material sun in the universe, what time He died.

And all this solitude, the solitude of unappreciated aims, and
unshared purposes, and misunderstood sorrow during life, and the
solitude of death with its elements ineffable of atonement;--all this
solitude was borne that no human soul, living or dying, might ever be
lonely any more. 'Lo! I,' whom you all left alone, 'am with you,' who
left Me alone, 'even till the end of the world.'

So, dear brethren, ponder that picture that I have been trying very
feebly to set before you, of the heroic, self-sacrificing, shrinking,
solitary Saviour. Take Him as your Saviour, your Sacrifice, your
Pattern; and hear Him saying, 'If any man serve Me, let him follow Me,
and where I am there shall also My servant be.'

An old ecclesiastical legend conies into my mind at the moment, which
tells how an emperor won the true Cross in battle from a pagan king,
and brought it back, with great pomp, to Jerusalem; but found the gate
walled up, and an angel standing before it, who said, 'Thou bringest
back the Cross with pomp and splendour. He that died upon it had shame
for His companion; and carried it on His back, barefooted, to
Calvary.' Then, says the chronicler, the emperor dismounted from his
steed, cast off his robes, lifted the sacred Rood on his shoulders,
and with bare feet advanced to the gate, which opened of itself, and
he entered in.

_We_ have to go up the steep rocky road that leads from the plain
where the Dead Sea is, to Jerusalem. Let us follow the Master, as He
strides before us, the Forerunner and the Captain of our salvation.



DIGNITY AND SERVICE


'And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto Him, saying,
Master, we would that Thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall
desire. 36. And He said unto them, What would ye that I should do for
you? 37. They said unto Him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on Thy
right hand, and the other on Thy left hand, in Thy glory. 38. But
Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup
that I drink of! and he baptized with the baptism that I am baptized
with! 39. And they said unto Him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye
shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism
that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: 40. But to sit on My
right hand and on My left hand is not Mine to give; but it shall be
given to them for whom it its prepared. 41. And when the Ten heard it,
they began to be much displeased with James and John. 42. But Jesus
called them to Him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are
accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and
their great ones exercise authority upon them. 43. But so shall it not
be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your
minister: 44. And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be
servant of all. 45. For even the Son of Man came not to be ministered
unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.'--Mark
x. 35-45.

How lonely Jesus was! While He strode before the Twelve, absorbed in
thoughts of the Cross to which He was pressing, they, as they
followed, 'amazed' and 'afraid,' were thinking not of what He would
suffer, but of what they might gain. He saw the Cross. They understood
little of it, but supposed that somehow it would bring in the kingdom,
and they dimly saw thrones for themselves. Hence James and John try to
secure the foremost places, and hence the others' anger at what they
thought an unfair attempt to push in front of them. What a contrast
between Jesus, striding on ahead with 'set' face, and the Twelve
unsympathetic and self-seeking, lagging behind to squabble about
pre-eminence! We have in this incident two parts: the request and its
answer, the indignation of the Ten and its rebuke. The one sets forth
the qualifications for the highest place in the kingdom; the other,
the paradox that pre-eminence there is service.

James and John were members of the group of original disciples who
stood nearest to Jesus, and of the group of three whom He kept
specially at His side. Their present place might well lead them to
expect pre-eminence in the kingdom, but their trick was mean, as being
an underhand attempt to forestall Peter, the remaining one of the
three, as putting forward their mother as spokeswoman, and as
endeavouring to entrap Jesus into promising before the disclosure of
what was desired. Matthew tells that the mother was brought in order
to make the request, and that Jesus brushed her aside by directing His
answer to her sons ('Ye know not what _ye_ ask'). The attempt to get
Jesus' promise without telling what was desired betrayed the
consciousness that the wish was wrong. His guarded counter-question
would chill them and make their disclosure somewhat hesitating.

Note the strangely blended good and evil of the request. The gold was
mingled with clay; selfishness and love delighting in being near Him
had both place in it. We may well recognise our own likenesses in
these two with their love spotted with self-regard, and be grateful
for the gentle answer which did not blame the desire for pre-eminence,
but sought to test the love. It was not only to teach them, that He
brought them back to think of the Cross which must precede the glory,
but because His own mind was so filled with it that He saw that glory
only as through the darkness which had to be traversed to reach it.
But for us all the question is solemn and heart-searching.

Was not the answer, 'We are able,' too bold? They knew neither what
they asked nor what they promised; but just as their ignorant question
was partly redeemed by its love, their ignorant vow was ennobled by
its very rashness, as well as by the unfaltering love in it. They did
not know what they were promising, but they knew that they loved Him
so well that to share anything with Him would be blessed. So it was
not in their own strength that the swift answer rushed to their lips,
but in the strength of a love that makes heroes out of cowards. And
they nobly redeemed their pledge. We, too, if we are Christ's, have
the same question put to us, and, weak and timid as we are, may
venture to give the same answer, trusting to His strength.

The full declaration of what had been only implied in the previous
question follows. Jesus tells the two, and us all, that there are
degrees in nearness to Him and in dignity in that future, but that the
highest places are not given by favouritism, but attained by fitness.
He does not deny that He gives, but only that He gives without regard
to qualification. Paul expected the crown from 'the righteous Judge,'
and one of these two brethren was chosen to record His promise of
giving a seat on His throne to all that overcome. 'Those for whom it
is prepared' are those who are prepared for it, and the preparation
lies in 'being made conformable to His death,' and being so joined to
Him that in spirit and mind we are partakers of His sufferings,
whether we are called to partake of them in outward form or not.

The two had had their lesson, and next the Ten were to have theirs.
The conversation with the former had been private, for it was hearing
of it that made the others so angry. We can imagine the hot words
among them as they marched behind Jesus, and how they felt ashamed
already when 'He called them.' What they were to be now taught was not
so much the qualifications for pre-eminence in the kingdom, whether
here or hereafter, as the meaning of preeminence and the service to
which it binds. In the world, the higher men are, the more they are
served; in Christ's kingdom, both in its imperfect earthly and in its
perfect heavenly form, the higher men are, the more they serve.
So-called 'Christian' nations are organised on the former un-Christian
basis still. But wherever pre-eminence is not used for the general
good, there authority rests on slippery foundations, and there will
never be social wellbeing or national tranquillity until Christ's law
of dignity for service and dignity by service shapes and sweetens
society. 'But it is not so among you' laid down the constitution for
earth, and not only for some remote heaven; and every infraction of
it, sooner or later, brings a Nemesis.

The highest is to be the lowest; for He who is 'higher than the
highest' has shown that such is the law which He obeys. The point in
the heaven that is highest above our heads is in twelve hours deepest
beneath our feet. Fellowship in Christ's sufferings was declared to be
the qualification for our sharing in His dignity. His lowly service
and sacrificial death are now declared to be the pattern for our use
of dignity. Still the thought of the Cross looms large before Jesus,
and He is not content with presenting Himself as the pattern of
service only, but calls on His disciples to take Him as the pattern of
utter self-surrender also. We cannot enter on the great teaching of
these words, but can only beseech all who hear them to note how Jesus
sets forth His death as the climax of His work, without which even
that life of ministering were incomplete; how He ascribes to it the
power of ransoming men from bondage and buying them back to God; and
of how He presents even these unparalleled sufferings, which bear or
need no repetition as long as the world lasts, as yet being the
example to which our lives must be conformed. So His lesson to the
angry Ten merges into that to the self-seeking two, and declares to
each of us that, if we are ever to win a place at His right hand in
His glory, we must here take a place with Him in imitating His life of
service and His death of self-surrender for men's good. 'If we endure,
we shall also reign with Him.'



BARTIMAEUS


Blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side
begging.'--Mark x. 46.

The narrative of this miracle is contained in all the Synoptical
Gospels, but the accounts differ in two respects--as to the number of
men restored to sight, and as to the scene of the miracle. Matthew
tells us that there were two men healed, and agrees with Mark in
placing the miracle as Jesus was leaving Jericho. Mark says that there
was one, and that the place was outside the gate in departing. Luke,
on the other hand, agrees with Matthew as to the number, and differs
from him and Mark as to the place, which he sets at the entrance into
the city. The first of these two discrepancies may very easily be put
aside. The greater includes the less; silence is not contradiction. To
say that there was one does not deny that there were two. And if
Bartimaeus was a Christian, and known to Mark's readers, as is
probable from the mention of his name, it is easily intelligible how
he, being also the chief actor and spokesman, should have had Mark's
attention concentrated on him. As to the other discrepancy, many
attempts have been made to remove it. None of them are altogether
satisfactory. But what does it matter? The apparent contradiction may
affect theories as to the characteristics of inspired books, but it
has nothing to do with the credibility of the narratives, or with
their value for us.

Mark's account is evidently that of an eye-witness. It is full of
little particulars which testify thereto. Whether Bartimaeus had a
companion or not, he was obviously the chief actor and spokesman. And
the whole story seems to me to lend itself to the enforcement of some
very important lessons, which I will try to draw from it.

I. Notice the beggar's petition and the attempts to silence it.

Remember that Jesus was now on His last journey to Jerusalem. That
night He would sleep at Bethany; Calvary was but a week off. He had
paused to win Zacchaeus, and now He has resumed His march to His
Cross. Popular enthusiasm is surging round Him, and for the first time
He does not try to repress it. A shouting multitude are escorting Him
out of the city. They have just passed the gates, and are in the act
of turning towards the mountain gorge through which runs the Jerusalem
road. A long file of beggars is sitting, as beggars do still in
Eastern cities, outside the gate, well accustomed to lift their
monotonous wail at the sound of passing footsteps. Bartimaeus is
amongst them. He asks, according to Luke, what is the cause of the
bustle, and is told that 'Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.' The name
wakes strange hopes in him, which can only be accounted for by his
knowledge of Christ's miracles done elsewhere. It is a witness to
their notoriety that they had filtered down to be the talk of beggars
at city gates. And so, true to his trade, he cries, 'Jesus ... have
mercy upon me!'

Now, note two or three things about that cry. The first is the clear
insight into Christ's place and dignity. The multitude said to him,
'Jesus of _Nazareth_ passeth by.' That was all they cared for or knew.
He cried, 'Jesus, thou _Son of David_,' distinctly recognising our
Lord's Messianic character, His power and authority, and on that power
and authority he built a confidence; for he says not as some other
suppliants had done, either 'If Thou wilt Thou canst,' or 'If Thou
canst do anything, have compassion on us.' He is sure of both the
power and the will.

Now, it is interesting to notice that this same clear insight other
blind men in the Evangelist's story are also represented as having
had. Blindness has its compensations. It leads to a certain steadfast
brooding upon thoughts, free from disturbing influences. Seeing Jesus
did not produce faith; not seeing Him seems to have helped it. It left
imagination to work undisturbed, and He was all the loftier to these
blind men, because the conceptions of their minds were not limited by
the vision of their eyes. At all events, here is a distinct piece of
insight into Christ's dignity, power, and will, to which the seeing
multitudes were blind.

Note, further, how in the cry there throbs the sense of need, deep and
urgent. And note how in it there is also the realisation of the
possibility that the widely-flowing blessings of which Bartimaeus had
heard might be concentrated and poured, in their full flood, upon
himself. He individualises himself, _his_ need, Christ's power and
willingness to help _him_. And because he has heard of so many who
have, in like manner, received His healing touch, he comes with the
cry, 'Have mercy upon me.'

All this is upon the low level of physical blessings needed and
desired. But let us lift it higher. It is a mirror in which we may see
ourselves, our necessities, and the example of what our desire ought
to be. Ah! brethren, the deep consciousness of impotence, need,
emptiness, blindness, lies at the bottom of all true crying to Jesus
Christ. If you have never gone to Him, knowing yourself to be a sinful
man, in peril, present and future, from your sin, and stained and
marred by reason of it, you never have gone to Him in any deep and
adequate sense at all. Only when I thus know myself am I driven to
cry, 'Jesus! have mercy on me.' And I ask you not to answer to me, but
to press the question on your own consciences--'Have I any experience
of such a sense of need; or am I groping in the darkness and saying, I
see? am I weak as water, and saying I am strong?' 'Thou knowest not
that thou art poor, and naked, and blind'; and so that Jesus of
Nazareth should be passing by has never moved thy tongue to call, 'Son
of David, have mercy upon me!'

Again, this man's cry expressed a clear insight into something at
least of our Lord's unique character and power. Brethren, unless we
know Him to be all that is involved in that august title, 'the Son of
David,' I do not think our cries to Him will ever be very earnest. It
seems to me that they will only be so when, on the one hand, we
recognise our need of a Saviour, and, on the other hand, behold in Him
the Saviour whom we need. I can quite understand--and we may see
plenty of illustrations of it all round us--a kind of Christianity
real as far as it goes, but in my judgment very superficial, which has
no adequate conception of what sin means, in its depth, in its power
upon the victim of it, or in its consequences here and hereafter; and,
that sense being lacking, the whole scale of Christianity, as it were,
is lowered, and Christ comes to be, not, as I think the New Testament
tells us that He is, the Incarnate Word of God, who for us men and for
our salvation 'bare our sins in His own body on the tree,' and 'was
made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in
Him,' but an Example, a Teacher, or a pure Model, or a social
Reformer, or the like. If men think of Him only as such, they will
never cry to Him, 'Have mercy upon me!'

Dear friends, I pray you, whether you begin with looking into your own
hearts and recognising the crawling evils that have made their home
there, and thence pass to the thought of the sort of Redeemer that you
need and find in Christ--or whether you begin at the other side, and,
looking upon the revealed Christ in all the fulness in which He is
represented to us in the Gospels, from thence go back to ask
yourselves the question, 'What sort of man must I be, if that is the
kind of Saviour that I need?'--I pray you ever to blend these two
things together, the consciousness of your own need of redemption in
His blood and the assurance that by His death we are redeemed, and
then to cry, 'Lord! have mercy upon _me_,' and claim your individual
share in the wide-flowing blessing. Turn all the generalities of His
grace into the particularity of your own possession of it. We have to
go one by one to His cross, and one by one to pass through the wicket
gate. We have not cried to Him as we ought, if our cry is only
'Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have
mercy upon us.' We must be alone with Him, that into our own hearts we
may receive all the fulness of His blessing; and our petition must be
'Thou Son of David! have mercy upon _me_.' Have you cried that?

Notice, further, the attempts to stifle the cry. No doubt it was in
defence of the Master's dignity, as they construed it, that the people
sought to silence the persistent, strident voice piercing through
their hosannas. Ah! they did not know that the cry of wretchedness was
far sweeter to Him than their shallow hallelujahs. Christian people of
all churches, and of some stiffened churches very especially, have
been a great deal more careful of Christ's dignity than He is, and
have felt that their formal worship was indecorously disturbed when by
chance some earnest voice forced its way through it with the cry of
need and desire. But this man had been accustomed for many a day,
sitting outside the gate, to reiterate his petition when it was
unattended to, and to make it heard amidst the noise of passers-by. So
he was persistently bold and importunate and shameless, as the shallow
critics thought, in his crying. The more they silenced him, the more a
great deal he cried. Would God that we had more crying like that; and
that Christ's servants did not so often seek to suppress it, as some
of them do! If there are any of you who, by reason of companions, or
cares, or habits, or sorrows, or a feeble conception of your own need
or a doubtful recognition of Christ's power and mercy, have been
tempted to stop your supplications, do like Bartimaeus, and the more
these, your enemies, seek to silence the deepest voice that is in you,
the more let it speak.

II. So, notice Christ's call and the suppliant's response.

'He stood still, and commanded him to be called.' Remember that He was
on His road to His Cross, and that the tension of spirit which the
Evangelists notice as attaching to Him then, and which filled the
disciples with awe as they followed Him, absorbed Him, no doubt, at
that hour, so that He heard but little of the people's shouts. But He
did hear the blind beggar's cry, and He arrested His march in order to
attend to it.

Now, dear friends, I am not merely twisting a Biblical incident round
to an interpretation which it does not bear, but am stating a plain
un-rhetorical truth when I say that it is so still. Jesus Christ is no
dead Christ who is to be remembered only. He is a living Christ who,
at this moment, is all that He ever was, and is doing in loftier
fashion all the gracious things that He did upon earth. That pause of
the King is repeated now, and the quick ear which discerned the
difference between the unreal shouts of the crowd, and the agony of
sincerity in the cry of the beggar, is still open. He is in the
heavens, surrounded by its glories, and, as I think Scripture teaches
us, wielding providence and administering the affairs of the universe.
He does not need to pause in order to hear you and me. If He did, He
would--if I may venture upon such an impossible supposition--bid the
hallelujahs of heaven hush themselves, and suspend the operations of
His providence if need were, rather than that you or I, or any poor
man who cries to Him, should be unheard and unhelped. The living
Christ is as tender a friend, has as quick an ear, is as ready to help
at once, to-day, as He was when outside the gate of Jericho; and every
one of us may lift his or her poor, thin voice, and it will go
straight up to the throne, and not be lost in the clamour of the
hallelujahs that echo round His seat. Christ still hears and answers
the cry of need. Send you it up, and you will find that true.

Notice the suppliant's response. That is a very characteristic
right-about-face of the crowd, who one moment were saying, 'Hold your
tongue and do not disturb Him,' and the next moment were all eager to
encumber him with help, and to say, 'Rise up, be of good cheer; He
calleth thee.' No thanks to them that He did. And what did the man do?
Sprang to his feet--as the word rightly rendered would be--and flung
away the frowsy rags that he had wrapped round him for warmth and
softness of seat, as he waited at the gate; 'and he came to Jesus.'
Brethren, 'casting aside every weight and the sin that doth so easily
beset us, let us run' to the same Refuge. You have to abandon
something if you are to go to Christ to be healed. I dare say you know
well enough what it is. I do not; but certainly there is something
that entangles your legs and keeps you from finding your way to Him.
If there is nothing else, there is yourself and your trust in self,
and that is to be put away. Cast away the 'garment spotted with the
flesh' and go to Christ, and you will receive succour.

III. Notice the question of all-granting love, and the answer of
conscious need.

'What wilt Thou that I should do unto thee?' A very few hours before
He had put the same question with an entirely different significance,
when the sons of Zebedee came to Him, and tried to get Him to walk
blindfold into a promise. He upset their scheme with the simple
question, 'What is it that you want?' which meant, 'I must know and
judge before I commit Myself,' But when He said the same thing to
Bartimaeus He meant exactly the opposite. It was putting the key of
the treasure-house into the beggar's hand. It was the implicit pledge
that whatever he desired he should receive. He knew that the thing
this man wanted was the thing that He delighted to give.

But the tenderness of these words, and the gracious promise that is
hived in them, must not make us forget the singular authority that
speaks in them. Think of a man doing as Jesus Christ did--standing
before another and saying, 'I will give you anything that you want.'
He must be either a madman or a blasphemer, or 'God manifest in the
flesh'; Almighty power guided by infinite love.

And what said the man? He had no doubt what he wanted most--the
opening of these blind eyes of his. And, dear brother, if we knew
ourselves as well as Bartimaeus knew his blindness, we should have as
little doubt what it is that we need most. Suppose you had this
wishing-cap that Christ put on Bartimaeus's head put on yours: what
would you ask? It is a penetrating question if men will answer it
honestly. Think what you consider to be your chief need. Suppose Jesus
Christ stood where I stand, and spoke to you: 'What wilt thou that I
should do for you?' If you are a wise man, if you know yourself and
Him, your answer will come as swiftly as the beggar's--'Lord! heal me
of my blindness, and take away my sin, and give me Thy salvation.'
There is no doubt about what it is that every one of us needs most.
And there should be no doubt as to what each of us would ask first.

The supposition that I have been making is realised. That gracious
Lord is here, and is ready to give you the satisfaction of your
deepest need, if you know what it is, and will go to Him for it. 'Ask!
and ye shall receive.'

IV. Lastly, notice, sight given, and the Giver followed.

Bartimaeus had scarcely ended speaking when Christ began. He was blind
at the beginning of Christ's little sentence; he saw at the end of it.
'Go thy way; thy faith hath saved thee.' The answer came instantly,
and the cure was as immediate as the movement of Christ's heart in
answer.

I am here to proclaim the possibility of an immediate passage from
darkness to light. Some folk look askance at us when we talk about
sudden conversions, but these are perfectly reasonable; and the
experience of thousands asserts that they are actual. As soon as we
desire, we have, and as soon as we have, we see. Whenever the lungs
are opened the air rushes in; sometimes the air opens the lungs that
it may. The desire is all but contemporaneous with the fulfilment, in
Christ's dealing with men. The message is flashed along the wire from
earth to heaven, in an incalculably brief space of time, and the
answer comes, swift as thought and swifter than light. So, dear
friends, there is no reason whatever why a similar instantaneous
change should not pass over any man who hears the Good News. He may be
unsaved when his hearing of it begins, and saved when his hearing of
it ends. It is for himself to settle whether it shall be so or not.

Here we have a clear statement of the path by which Christ's mercy
rushes into a man's soul. 'Thy faith hath saved thee.' But it was
Christ's power that saved him. Yes, it was; but it was faith that made
it possible for Christ's power to make him whole. Physical miracles
indeed did not always require trust in Christ, as a preceding
condition, but the possession of Christ's salvation does, and cannot
but do so. There must be trust in Him, in order that we may partake of
the salvation which is owing solely to His power, His love, His work
upon the Cross. The condition is for us; the power comes from Him. My
faith is the hand that grasps His; it is His hand, not mine, that
holds me up. My faith lays hold of the rope; it is the rope and the
Person above who holds it, that lift me out of the 'horrible pit and
the miry clay.' My faith flees for refuge to the city; it is the city
that keeps me safe from the avenger of blood. Brother! exercise that
faith, and you will receive a better sight than was poured into
Bartimaeus's eyes.

Now, all this story should be the story of each one of us. One
modification we have to make upon it, for we do not need to cry
persistently for mercy, but to trust in, and to take, the mercy that
is offered. One other difference there is between Bartimaeus and many
of my hearers. He knew what he needed, and some of you do not. But
Christ is calling us all, and my business now is to say to each of you
what the crowd said to the beggar, 'Rise! be of good cheer; He calleth
thee.' If you will fling away your hindrances, and grope your path to
His feet, and fall down before Him, knowing your deep necessity, and
trusting to Him to supply it, He will save you. Your new sight will
gaze upon your Redeemer, and you will follow Him in the way of loving
trust and glad obedience.

Jesus Christ was passing by. He was never to be in Jericho any more.
If Bartimaeus did not get His sight then, he would be blind all his
days. Christ and His salvation are offered to thee, my brother, now.
Perhaps if you let Him pass, you will never hear Him call again, and
may abide in the darkness for ever. Do not run the risk of such a
fate.



AN EAGER COMING


'And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus.'--Mark x.
50.

Mark's vivid picture--long wail of the man, crowd silencing him, but
wheeling round when Christ calls him--and the quick energy of the
beggar, flinging away his cloak, springing to his feet--and blind as
he was, groping his way.

I. What we mean by coming to Jesus:--faith, communion, occupation of
mind, heart, and will.

II. How eagerly we shall come when we are conscious of need. This man
wanted his eyesight: do we not want too?

III. We must throw off our hindrances if we would come to Him.
Impediments of various kinds. 'Lay aside every weight'--not only sins,
but even right things that hinder. Occupations, pursuits, affections,
possessions, sometimes have to be put away altogether; sometimes but
to be minimised and kept in restraint. There is no virtue in
self-denial except as it helps us to come nearer Him.

IV. We must do it with quick, glad energy. Bartimaeus springs to his
feet at once with a bound. So we should leap to meet Jesus, our
sight-giver. How slothful and languid we often are. We do not put half
as much heart into our Christian life as people do into common things.
Far more pains are taken by a ballet-dancer to learn her posturing
than by most Christians to keep near Christ.



LOVE'S QUESTION


'What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?'--Mark x. 51.

'What wilt Thou have me to do!'--Acts ix. 6.

Christ asks the first question of a petitioner, and the answer is a
prayer for sight. Saul asks the second question of Jesus, and the
answer is a command. Different as they are, we may bring them
together. The one is the voice of love, desiring to be besought in
order that it may bestow; the other is the voice of love, desiring to
be commanded in order that it may obey.

Love delights in knowing, expressing, and fulfilling the beloved's
wishes.

I. The communion of Love delights on both sides in knowing the
beloved's wishes. Christ delights in knowing ours. He encourages us to
speak though He knows, because it is pleasant to Him to hear, and good
for us to tell. His children delight in knowing His will.

II. It delights in expressing wishes--His commandments are the
utterance of His Love: His Providences are His loving ways of telling
us what He desires of us, and if we love Him as we ought, both
commandments and providences will be received by us as lovers do gifts
that have 'with my love' written on them.

On the other hand, our love will delight in telling Him what we wish,
and to speak all our hearts to Jesus will be our instinct in the
measure of our love to Him.

III. It delights in fulfilling wishes--puts key of treasure-house into
our hands. He refused John and James. Be sure that He does still
delight to give us our desires, and so be sure that when any of these
are not granted there must be some loving reason for refusal.

Our delight should be in obedience, and only when our wills are
submitted to His does He say to us, 'What wilt thou?' 'If ye abide in
Me and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will and it shall
be done unto you.'



A ROYAL PROGRESS


'... Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye
be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat;
loose him, and bring him.'--Mark xi. 2.

Two considerations help us to appreciate this remarkable incident of
our Lord's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The first of these is its
date. It apparently occurred on the Sunday of the Passion Week. The
Friday saw the crosses on Calvary. The night before, Jesus had sat at
the modest feast that was prepared in Bethany, where Lazarus was one
of the guests, Martha was the busy servant, and Mary poured out the
lavish treasures of her love upon His feet. The resurrection of
Lazarus had created great popular excitement; and that excitement is
the second consideration which throws light upon this incident. The
people had rallied round Christ, and, consequently, the hatred of the
official and ecclesiastical class had been raised to boiling-point. It
was at that time that our Lord deliberately presented Himself before
the nation as the Messiah, and stirred up still more this popular
enthusiasm. Now, if we keep these two things in view, I think we shall
be at the right point from which to consider the whole incident. To
it, and not merely to the words which I have chosen as our
starting-point, I wish to draw attention now. I am mistaken if there
are not in it very important and practical lessons for ourselves.

I. First, note that deliberate assumption by Christ of royal
authority.

I shall have a good deal to say presently about the main fact which
bears upon that, but in the meantime I would note, in passing, a
subsidiary illustration of it, in the errand on which He sent these
messengers to the little 'village over against' them; and in the words
which He put into their mouths. They were to go, and, without a word,
to loose and bring away the colt fastened at a door, where it was
evidently waiting the convenience of its owner to mount it. If, as was
natural, any objection or question was raised, they were to answer
exactly as servants of a king would do, if he sent them to make
requisition on the property of his subjects, 'The Lord hath need of
him.'

I do not dwell on our Lord's supernatural knowledge as coming out
here; nor on the fact that the owner of the colt was probably a
partial disciple, perhaps a secret one--ready to recognise the claim
that was made. But I ask you to notice here the assertion, in act and
word, of absolute authority, to which all private convenience and
rights of possession are to give way unconditionally. The Sovereign's
need is a sovereign reason. What He requires He has a right to take.
Well for us, brethren, if we yield as glad, as swift, and as
unquestioning obedience to His claims upon us, and upon our
possessions, as that poor peasant of Bethphage gave in the incident
before us!

But there is not only the assertion, here, of absolute authority, but
note how, side by side with this royal style, there goes the
acknowledgment of poverty. Here is a pauper King, who having nothing
yet possesses all things. 'The Lord'--that is a great title--'hath
need of him'--that is a strange verb to go with such a nominative. But
this little sentence, in its two halves of authority and of
dependence, puts into four words the whole blessed paradox of the life
of Jesus Christ upon earth. 'Though He was rich, yet for our sakes He
became poor'; and being Lord and Owner of all things, yet owed His
daily bread to ministering women, borrowed a boat to preach from, a
house wherein to lay His head, a shroud and a winding-sheet to enfold
His corpse, a grave in which to lie, and from which to rise, 'the Lord
of the dead and of the living.'

Not only so, but there is another thought suggested by these words.
The accurate, or, at least, the probable reading, of one part of the
third verse is given in the Revised Version, 'Say ye that the Lord
hath need of him, and straightway he will send him _back_ hither.'
That is to say, these last words are not Christ's assurance to His two
messengers that their embassy would succeed, but part of the message
which He sends by them to the owner of the colt, telling him that it
was only a loan which was to be returned. Jesus Christ is debtor to no
man. Anything given to Him comes back again. Possessions yielded to
that Lord are recompensed a hundredfold in this life, if in nothing
else in that there is a far greater sweetness in that which still
remains. 'What I gave I have,' said the wise old epitaph. It is always
true. Do you not think that the owner of the patient beast, on which
Christ placidly paced into Jerusalem on His peaceful triumph, would be
proud all his days of the use to which his animal had been put, and
would count it as a treasure for the rest of its life? If you and I
will yield our gifts to Him, and lay them upon His altar, be sure of
this, that the altar will ennoble and will sanctify all that is laid
upon it. All that we have rendered to Him gains fragrance from His
touch, and comes back to us tenfold more precious because He has
condescended to use it.

So, brethren, He still moves amongst us, asking for our surrender of
ourselves and of our possessions to Him, and pledging Himself that we
shall lose nothing by what we give to Him, but shall be infinitely
gainers by our surrender. He still needs us. Ah! if He is ever to
march in triumph through the world, and be hailed by the hosannas of
all the tribes of the earth, it is requisite for that triumph that His
children should surrender first themselves, and then all that they
are, and all that they have, to Him. To us there comes the message,
'The Lord hath need of you.' Let us see that we answer as becomes us.

But then, more important is the other instance here of this assertion
of royal authority. I have already said that we shall not rightly
understand it unless we take into full account the state of popular
feeling at the time. We find in John's Gospel great stress laid on the
movement of curiosity and half-belief which followed on the
resurrection of Lazarus. He tells us that crowds came out from
Jerusalem the night before to gaze upon the Lifebringer and the
quickened man. He also tells us that another enthusiastic crowd
flocked out of Jerusalem before Jesus sent for the colt to the
neighbouring village. We are to keep in mind, therefore, that what He
did here was done in the midst of a great outburst of popular
enthusiasm. We are to keep in mind, too, the season of Passover, when
religion and patriotism, which were so closely intertwined in the life
of the Jews, were in full vigorous exercise. It was always a time of
anxiety to the Roman authorities, lest this fiery people should break
out into insurrection. Jerusalem at the Passover was like a great
magazine of combustibles, and into it Jesus flung a lighted brand
amongst the inflammable substances that were gathered there. We have
to remember, too, that all His life long He had gone exactly on the
opposite tack. Remember how He betook Himself to the mountain
solitudes when they wanted to make Him a king. Remember how He was
always damping down Messianic enthusiasm. But here, all at once, He
reverses His whole conduct, and deliberately sets Himself to make the
most public and the most exciting possible demonstration that He was
'King of Israel.'

For what was it that He did? Our Evangelist here does not quote the
prophecy from Zechariah, but two other Evangelists do. Our Lord then
deliberately dressed Himself by the mirror of prophecy, and assumed
the very characteristics which the prophet had given long ago as the
mark of the coming King of Zion. If He had wanted to excite a popular
commotion, that is what He would have done.

Why did He act thus? He was under no illusion as to what would follow.
For the night before He had said: 'She hath come beforehand to anoint
My body for the burial.' He knew what was close before Him in the
future. And, because He knew that the end was at hand, He felt that,
once at least, it was needful that He should present Himself solemnly,
publicly, I may almost say ostentatiously, before the gathered nation,
as being of a truth the Fulfiller and the fulfilment of all the
prophecies and the hopes built upon them that had burned in Israel,
with a smoky flame indeed, but for so many ages. He also wanted to
bring the rulers to a point. I dare not say that He precipitated His
death, or provoked a conflict, but I do say that deliberately, and
with a clear understanding of what He was doing, He took a step which
forced them to show their hand. For after such a public avowal of who
He was, and such public hosannas surging round His meek feet as He
rode into the city, there were but two courses open for the official
class: either to acknowledge Him, or to murder Him. Therefore He
reversed His usual action, and deliberately posed, by His own act, as
claiming to be the Messiah long prophesied and long expected.

Now, what do you think of the man that did that? _If_ He did it, then
either He is what the rulers called Him, a 'deceiver,' swollen with
inordinate vanity and unfit to be a teacher, or else we must fall at
His feet and say 'Rabbi! Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of
Israel.' I venture to believe that to extol Him and to deny the
validity of His claims is in flagrant contradiction to the facts of
His life, and is an unreasonable and untenable position.

II. Notice the revelation of a new kind of King and Kingdom.

Our Evangelist, from whom my text is taken, has nothing to say about
Zechariah's prophecy which our Lord set Himself to fulfil. He only
dwells on the pathetic poverty of the pomp of the procession. But
other Evangelists bring into view the deeper meaning of the incident.
The centre-point of the prophecy, and of Christ's intentional
fulfilment of it, lies in the symbol of the meek and patient animal
which He bestrode. The ass was, indeed, used sometimes in old days by
rulers and judges in Israel, but the symbol was chosen by the prophet
simply to bring out the peacefulness and the gentleness inherent in
the Kingdom, and the King who thus advanced into His city. If you want
to understand the meaning of the prophet's emblem, you have only to
remember the sculptured slabs of Assyria and Babylon, or the paintings
on the walls of Egyptian temples and tombs, where Sennacherib or
Rameses ride hurtling in triumph in their chariots, over the bodies of
prostrate foes; and then to set by the side of these, 'Rejoice! O
daughter of Zion; thy King cometh unto thee riding upon an ass, and
upon a colt the foal of an ass.' If we want to understand the
significance of this sweet emblem, we need only, further, remember the
psalm that, with poetic fervour, invokes the King: 'Gird Thy sword
upon Thy thigh, O Most Mighty, and in Thy majesty ride prosperously
... and Thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things. Thine arrows
are sharp in the heart of the King's enemies; the people fall under
Thee.' That is all that that ancient singer could conceive of the
triumphant King of the world, the Messiah; a conqueror, enthroned in
His chariot, and the twanging bowstring, drawn by His strong hand,
impelling the arrow that lodged in the heart of His foes. And here is
the fulfilment. 'Go ye into the village over against you, and ye shall
find a colt tied ... And they set Him thereon.' Christ's kingdom, like
its King, has no power but gentleness and the omnipotence of patient
love.

If 'Christian' nations, as they are called, and Churches had kept the
significance of that emblem in mind, do you think that their hosannas
would have gone up so often for conquerors on the battlefields; or
that Christian communities would have been in complicity with war and
the glorifying thereof, as they have been? And, if Christian churches
had remembered and laid to heart the meaning of this triumphal entry,
and its demonstration of where the power of the Master lay, would they
have struck up such alliances with worldly powers and forms of force
as, alas! have weakened and corrupted the Church for hundreds of
years? Surely, surely, there is no more manifest condemnation of war
and the warlike spirit, and of the spirit which finds the strength of
Christ's Church in anything material and violent, than is that
solitary instance of His assumption of royal state when thus He
entered into His city. I need not say a word, brethren, about the
nature of Christ's kingdom as embodied in His subjects, as represented
in that shouting multitude that marched around Him. How Caesar in his
golden house in Rome would have sneered and smiled at the Jewish
peasant, on the colt, and surrounded by poor men, who had no banners
but the leafy branches from the trees, and no pomp to strew in his way
but their own worn garments! And yet these were stronger in their
devotion, in their enthusiastic conviction that He was the King of
Israel and of the whole earth, than Caesar, with all his treasures and
with all his legions and their sharp swords. Christ accepts poor
homage because He looks for hearts; and whatever the heart renders is
sweet to Him. He passes on through the world, hailed by the
acclamations of grateful hearts, needing no bodyguard but those that
love Him; and they need to bear no weapons in their hands, but their
mission is to proclaim with glad hearts hosannas to the King that
'cometh in the name of the Lord.'

There is one more point that I may note. Another of the Evangelists
tells us that it was when the humble cortège swept round the shoulder
of Olivet, and caught sight of the city gleaming in the sunshine,
across the Kedron valley, that they broke into the most rapturous of
their hosannas, as if they would call to the city that came in view to
rejoice and welcome its King. And what was the King doing when that
sight burst upon Him, and while the acclamations eddied round Him? His
thoughts were far away. His eyes with divine prescience looked on to
the impending end, and then they dimmed, and filled with tears; and He
wept over the city.

That is our King; a pauper King, a meek and patient King, a King that
delights in the reverent love of hearts, a King whose armies have no
swords, a King whose eyes fill with tears as He thinks of men's woes
and cries. Blessed be such a King!

III. Lastly, we have the Royal visitation of the Temple.

Our Evangelist has no word to speak about the march of the procession
down into the valley, and up on the other side, and through the gate,
and into the narrow streets of the city that was 'moved' as they
passed through it. His language sounds as if he considered that our
Lord's object in entering Jerusalem at all was principally to enter
the Temple. He 'looked round on all things' that were there. Can we
fancy the keen observance, the recognition of the hidden bad and good,
the blazing indignation, and yet dewy pity, in those eyes? His
visitation of the Temple was its inspection by its Lord. And it was an
inspection in order to cleanse. To-day He looked; to-morrow He wielded
the whip of small cords. His chastisement is never precipitate.
Perfect knowledge wields His scourge, and pronounces condemnation.

Brethren, Jesus Christ comes to us as a congregation, to the church to
which we belong, and to us individually, with the same inspection. He
whose eyes are a flame of fire, says to His churches to-day, 'I know
thy works.' What would He think if He came to us and tested us?

In the incident of my text He was fulfilling another ancient prophecy,
which says, 'The Lord shall suddenly come to His Temple, and ... sit
as a refiner of silver ... like a refiner's fire and as fuller's soap
... and He shall purify the sons of Levi.... Then shall the offering
of Jerusalem be pleasant, as in the days of old.'

We need nothing more, we should desire nothing more earnestly, than
that He would come to us: 'Search me, O Christ, and know me. And see
if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.'
Jesus Christ is the King of England as truly as of Zion; and He is
your King and mine. He comes to each of us, patient, meek, loving;
ready to bless and to cleanse. Dear brother, do you open your heart to
Him? Do you acknowledge Him as your King? Do you count it your highest
honour if He will use you and your possessions, and condescend to say
that He has need of such poor creatures as we are? Do you cast your
garments in the way, and say: 'Ride on, great Prince'? Do you submit
yourself to His inspection, to His cleansing?

Remember, He came once on 'a colt, the foal of an ass, meek, and
having salvation.' He will come 'on the white horse, in righteousness
to judge and to make war' and with power to destroy.

Oh! I beseech you, welcome Him as He comes in gentle love, that when
He comes in judicial majesty you may be among the 'armies of heaven
that follow after,' and from immortal tongues utter rapturous and
undying hosannas.



CHRIST'S NEED OF US AND OURS


'... Say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will
send him hither.'--Mark xi. 3.

You will remember that Jesus Christ sent two of His disciples into the
village that looked down on the road from Bethany to Jerusalem, with
minute instructions and information as to what they were to do and
find there. The instructions may have one of two explanations--they
suggest either superhuman knowledge or a previous arrangement.
Perhaps, although it is less familiar to our thoughts, the latter is
the explanation. There is a remarkable resemblance, in that respect,
to another incident which lies close beside this one in time, when our
Lord again sent two disciples to make preparation for the Passover,
and, with similar minuteness, told them that they would find, at a
certain point, a man bearing a pitcher of water. Him they were to
accost, and he would take them to the room that had been prepared. Now
the old explanation of both these incidents is that Jesus Christ knew
what was going to happen. Another possible explanation, and in my view
more probable and quite as instructive, is, that Jesus Christ had
settled with the two owners what was to happen. Clearly, the owner of
the colt was a disciple, because at once he gave up his property when
the message was repeated, 'the _Lord_ hath need of him.' Probably he
had been one of the guests at the modest festival that had been held
the night before, in the village close by, in Simon's house, and had
seen how Mary had expended her most precious possession on the Lord,
and, under the influence of the resurrection of Lazarus, he, too,
perhaps, was touched, and was glad to arrange with Jesus Christ to
have his colt waiting there at the cross-road for his Master's
convenience. But, be that as it may, it seems to me that this
incident, and especially these words that I have read for a text,
carry very striking and important lessons for us, whether we look at
them in connection with the incident itself, or whether we venture to
give them a somewhat wider application. Let me take these two points
in turn.

I. Now, what strikes one about our Lord's requisitioning the colt is
this, that here is a piece of conduct on His part singularly unlike
all the rest of His life. All through it, up to this last moment, His
one care was to damp down popular enthusiasm, to put on the drag
whenever there came to be the least symptom of it, to discourage any
reference to Him as the Messiah-King of Israel, to shrink back from
the coarse adulation of the crowd, and to glide quietly through the
world, blessing and doing good. But now, at the end, He flings off all
disguise. He deliberately sets Himself, at a time when popular
enthusiasm ran highest and was most turbid and difficult to manage, at
the gathering of the nation for the Passover in Jerusalem, to cast an
effervescing element into the caldron. If He had planned to create a
popular rising, He could not have done anything more certain to bring
it about than what He did that morning when He made arrangements for a
triumphal procession into the city, amidst the excited crowds gathered
from every quarter of the land. Why did He do that? What was the
meaning of it?

Then there is another point in this requisitioning of the colt. He not
only deliberately set Himself to stir up popular excitement, but He
consciously did what would be an outward fulfilment of a great
Messianic prophecy. I hope you are wiser than to fancy that
Zechariah's prophecy of the peaceful monarch who was to come to Zion,
meek and victorious, and riding upon a 'colt the foal of an ass,' was
fulfilled by the outward fact of Christ being mounted on this colt
'whereon never man sat.' That is only the shell, and if there had been
no such triumphal entry, our Lord would as completely have fulfilled
Zechariah's prophecy. The fulfilment of it did not depend on the petty
detail of the animal upon which He sat when He entered the city, nor
even on that entrance. The meaning of the prophecy was that to Zion,
wherever and whatever it is, there should come that Messianic King,
whose reign owed nothing to chariots and horses and weapons of war for
its establishment, but who, meek and patient, pacing upon the humble
animal used only for peaceful services, and not mounted on the
prancing steed of the warrior, should inaugurate the reign of majesty
and of meekness. Our Lord uses the external fact just as the prophet
had used it, as of no value in itself, but as a picturesque emblem of
the very spirit of His kingdom. The literal fulfilment was a kind of
finger-post for inattentive onlookers, which might induce them to look
more closely, and so see that He was indeed the King Messiah, because
of more important correspondences with prophecy than His once riding
on an ass. Do not so degrade these Old Testament prophecies as to
fancy that their literal fulfilment is of chief importance. That is
the shell: the kernel is the all-important thing, and Jesus Christ
would have fulfilled the _rôle,_ that was sketched for Him by the
prophets of old, just as completely if there never had been this
entrance into Jerusalem.

But, further, the fact that He had to borrow the colt was as
significant as the choice of it. For so we see blended two things, the
blending of which makes the unique peculiarity and sublimity of
Christ's life: absolute authority, and meekness of poverty and
lowliness. A King, and yet a pauper-King! A King claiming His
dominion, and yet obliged to borrow another man's colt in order that
He might do it! A strange kind of monarch!--and yet that remarkable
combination runs through all His life. He had to be obliged to a
couple of fishermen for a boat, but He sat in it, to speak words of
divine wisdom. He had to be obliged to a lad in the crowd for barley
loaves and fishes, but when He took them into His hands they were
multiplied. He had to be obliged for a grave, and yet He rose from the
borrowed grave the Lord of life and death. And so when He would pose
as a King, He has to borrow the regalia, and to be obliged to this
anonymous friend for the colt which made the emphasis of His claim.
'Who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we
through His poverty might be rich.'

II. And now turn for a moment to the wider application of these words.

'The Lord hath need of him.' That opens the door to thoughts, that I
cannot crowd into the few minutes that I have at my disposal, as to
that great and wonderful truth that Christ cannot assume His kingdom
in this world without your help, and that of the other people whose
hearts are touched by His love. 'The Lord hath need' of them. Though
upon that Cross of Calvary He did all that was necessary for the
redemption of the world and the salvation of humanity as a whole, yet
for the bearing of that blessing into individual hearts, and for the
application of the full powers that are stored in the Gospel and in
Jesus, to their work in the world, the missing link is man. We 'are
fellow-labourers with God.' We are Christ's tools. The instruments by
which He builds His kingdom are the souls that have already accepted
His authority. 'The Lord hath need of him,' though, as the psalmist
sings, 'If I were hungry I would not tell thee, for all the beasts of
the forest are Mine.' Yes, and when the Word was made flesh, He had
need of one of the humblest of the beasts. The Christ that redeemed
the world needs us, to carry out and to bring into effect His
redemption. 'God mend all,' said one, and the answer was, 'We must
help Him to mend it.'

Notice again the authoritative demand, which does not contemplate the
possibility of reluctance or refusal. 'The Lord hath need of him.'
That is all. There is no explanation or motive alleged to induce
surrender to the demand. This is a royal style of speech. It is the
way in which, in despotic countries, kings lay their demands upon a
poor man's whole plenishing and possession, and sweep away all.

Jesus Christ comes to us in like fashion, and brushes aside all our
convenience and everything else, and says, 'I want you, and that is
enough.' Is it not enough? Should it not be enough? If He demands, He
has the right to demand. For we are His, 'bought with a price.' All
the slave's possessions are his owner's property. The slave is given a
little patch of garden ground, and perhaps allowed to keep a fowl or
two, but the master can come and say, 'Now _I_ want them,' and the
slave has nothing for it but to give them up.

'The Lord hath need of him' is in the autocratic tone of One who has
absolute power over us and ours. And that power, where does it come
from? It comes from His absolute surrender of Himself to us, and
because He has wholly given Himself for us. He does not expect us to
say one contrary word when He sends and says, 'I have need of you, or
of yours.'

Here, again, we have an instance of glad surrender. The last words of
my text are susceptible of a double meaning. 'Straightway he will send
him hither'--who is 'he'? It is usually understood to be the owner of
the colt, and the clause is supposed to be Christ's assurance to the
two messengers of the success of their errand. So understood, the
words suggest the great truth that Love loosens the hand that grasps
possessions, and unlocks our treasure-houses. There is nothing more
blessed than to give in response to the requirement of love. And so,
to Christ's authoritative demand, the only proper answer is obedience
swift and glad, because it is loving. Many possibilities of joy and
blessing are lost by us through not yielding on the instant to
Christ's demands. Hesitation and delay are dangerous. In 'straightway'
complying are security and joy. If the owner had begun to say to
himself that he very much needed the colt, or that he saw no reason
why some one else's beast should not have been taken, or that he would
send the animal very soon, but must have the use of him for an hour or
two first, he would probably never have sent him at all, and so would
have missed the greatest honour of his life. As soon as I know what
Christ wants from me, without delay let me do it; for if I begin with
delaying I shall probably end with declining. The Psalmist was wise
when he laid emphasis on the swiftness of his obedience, and said, 'I
made haste and delayed not, but made haste to keep Thy commandments.'

But another view of the words makes them part of the message to the
owner of the colt, and not of the assurance to the disciples. 'Say ye
that the Lord hath need of him, and that straightway (when He has done
with him) He will send him back again.' That is a possible rendering,
and I am disposed to think it is the proper one. By it the owner is
told that he is not parting with his property for good and all, that
Jesus only wishes to borrow the animal for the morning, and that it
will be returned in the afternoon. What does that view of the words
suggest to us? Do you not think that that colt, when it did come
back--for of course it came back some time or other,--was a great deal
more precious to its owner than it ever had been before, or ever could
have been if it had not been lent to Christ, and Christ had not made
His royal entry upon it? Can you not fancy that the man, if he was, as
he evidently was, a disciple and lover of the Lord, would look at it,
especially after the Crucifixion and the Ascension, and think, 'What
an honour to me, that I provided the mount for that triumphal entry!'?
It is always so. If you wish anything to become precious, lend it to
Jesus Christ, and when it comes back again, as it will come back,
there will be a fragrance about it, a touch of His fingers will be
left upon it, a memory that He has used it. If you desire to own
yourselves, and to make yourselves worth owning, give yourselves to
Christ. If you wish to get the greatest possible blessing and good out
of possessions, lay them at His feet. If you wish love to be hallowed,
joy to be calmed, perpetuated, and deepened, carry it to Him. 'If the
house be worthy, your peace shall rest upon it; if not,' like the dove
to the ark when it could find no footing in the turbid and drowned
world, 'it shall come back to you again. Straightway He will 'send him
back again,' and that which I give to Jesus He will return enhanced,
and it will be more truly and more blessedly mine, because I have laid
it in His hands. This 'altar' sanctifies the giver and the gift.



NOTHING BUT LEAVES


'And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, He came, if haply He
might find any thing thereon: and when He came to it, He found nothing
but leaves; ... 14. And Jesus ... said unto it, No man eat fruit of
thee hereafter for ever.'--Mark xi. 13, 14.

The date of this miracle has an important bearing on its meaning and
purpose. It occurred on the Monday morning of the last week of
Christ's ministry. That week saw His last coming to Israel, 'if haply
He might find any thing thereon.' And if you remember the foot-to-foot
duel with the rulers and representatives of the nation, and the words,
weighty with coming doom, which He spoke in the Temple on the
subsequent days, you will not doubt that the explanation of this
strange and anomalous miracle is that it is an acted parable, a symbol
of Israel in its fruitlessness and in its consequent barrenness to all
coming time.

This is the only point of view, as it seems to me, from which the
peculiarities of the miracle can either be warranted or explained. It
is our Lord's only destructive act. The fig-tree grew by the wayside;
probably, therefore, it belonged to nobody, and there was no right of
property affected by its loss. He saw it from afar, 'having leaves,'
and that was why, three months before the time, He went to look if
there were figs on it. For experts tell us that in the fig-tree the
leaves accompany, and do not precede, the fruit. And so this one tree,
brave in its show of foliage amidst leafless companions, was a
hypocrite unless there were figs below the leaves. Therefore Jesus
came, if haply He might find anything thereon, and finding nothing,
perpetuated the condition which He found, and made the sin its own
punishment.

Now all that is plain symbol, and so I ask you to look with me, for a
few moments, at these three things--(1) What Christ sought and seeks;
(2) What He found and often finds; (3) What He did when He found it.

I. What Christ sought and seeks.

He came 'seeking fruit.' Now I may just notice, in passing, how
pathetically and beautifully this incident suggests to us the true,
dependent, weak manhood of that great Lord. In all probability He had
just come from the home of Mary and Martha, and it is strange that
having left their hospitable abode He should be 'an hungered.' But so
it was. And even with all the weight of the coming crisis pressing
upon His soul, He was conscious of physical necessities, as one of us
might have been, and perhaps felt the more need for sustenance because
so terrible a conflict was waiting Him. Nor, I think, need we shrink
from recognising another of the characteristics of humanity here, in
the limitations of His knowledge and in the real expectation, which
was disappointed, that He might find fruit where there were leaves. I
do not want to plunge into depths far too deep for any man to find
sure footing in, nor seek to define the undefinable, nor to explain
how the divine inosculates with the human, but sure I am that Jesus
Christ was not getting up a scene in order to make a parable out of
His miracle; and that the hunger and the expectancy and the
disappointment were all real, however they afterwards may have been
turned by Him to a symbolical purpose. And so here we may see the weak
Christ, the limited Christ, the true human Christ. But side by side,
as is ever the case, with this manifestation of weakness, there comes
an apocalypse of power. Wherever you have, in the history of our Lord,
some signal exemplification of human infirmity, you have flashed out
through 'the veil, that is, His flesh,' some beam of His glory. Thus
this hungry Man could say, 'No fruit grow on thee henceforward for
ever'; and His bare word, the mere forth-putting and manifestation of
His will, had power on material things. That is the sign and impress
of divinity.

But I pass from that, which is not my special point now. What did
Christ seek? 'Fruit.' And what is fruit in contradistinction to
leaves? Character and conduct like His. That is our fruit. All else is
leafage. As the Apostle says, 'Love, joy, hope, peace, righteousness
in the Holy Ghost'; or, to put it into one word, Christ-likeness in
our inmost heart and nature, and Christ-likeness, so far as it may be
possible for us, in our daily life, that is the one thing that our
Lord seeks from us.

O brethren! we do not realise enough for ourselves, day by day, that
it was for this end that Jesus Christ came. The cradle in Bethlehem,
the weary life, the gracious words, the mighty deeds, the Cross on
Calvary, the open grave, Olivet with His last footprints; His place on
the throne, Pentecost, they were all meant for this, to make you and
me good men, righteous people, bearing the fruits of holy living and
conduct corresponding to His own pattern. Emotions of the selectest
kind, religious experience of the profoundest and truest nature, these
are blessed and good. They are the blossom which sets into fruit. And
they come for this end, that by the help of them we may be made like
Jesus Christ. He has yet to learn what is the purpose and the meaning
of the Gospel who fixes upon anything else as its ultimate design than
the production in us, as the results of the life of Christ dwelling in
our hearts, of character and conduct like to His.

I suppose I ought to apologise for talking such commonplace platitudes
as these, but, brethren, the most commonplace truths are usually the
most important and the most impotent. And no 'platitude' is a
platitude until you have brought it so completely into your lives that
there is no room for a fuller working of it out. So I come to you,
Christian men and women, real and nominal, now with this for my
message, that Jesus Christ seeks from you this first and foremost,
that you shall be good men and women 'according to the pattern that
has been showed us in the Mount,' according to the likeness of His own
stainless perfection.

And do not forget that Jesus Christ hungers for that goodness. That is
a strange, and infinitely touching, and absolutely true thing. He is
only 'satisfied,' and the hunger of His heart appeased, when 'He sees
of the travail of His soul' in the righteousness of His servants. I
passed a day or two ago, in a country place, a great field on which
there was stuck up a board that said, '----'s trial ground for seeds.'
This world is _Christ's_ trial ground for seeds, where He is testing
you and me to see whether it is worth while cultivating us any more,
and whether we can bring forth any 'fruit to perfection' fit for the
lips and the refreshment of the Owner and Lord of the vineyard Christ
longs for fruit from us. And--strange and wonderful, and yet true--the
'bread' that He eats is the service of His servants. That, amongst
other things, is what is meant by the ancient institution of
sacrifice, 'the food of the gods.' Christ's food is the holiness and
obedience of His children. He comes to us, as He came to that
fig-tree, seeking from _us_ this fruit which He delights in receiving.
Brethren, we cannot think too much of Christ's unspeakable gift in
itself and in its consequences; but we may easily think too little,
and I am sure that a great many of us do think too little, of Christ's
demands. He is not an austere man, 'reaping where He did not sow'; but
having sowed so much, He does look for the harvest. He comes to us
with the heart-moving appeal, 'I have given all to thee; what givest
thou to Me?' 'My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill;
and he fenced it and planted it, and built a tower and a wine-press in
it'--and what then?--'and he looked that it should bring forth
grapes.' Christ comes to each of you professing Christians, and asks,
'What fruit hast thou borne after all My sedulous husbandry?'

II. Now note, in the next place, what Christ found.

'Nothing but leaves.' I have already said that we are told that the
habit of growth of these trees is that the fruit accompanies, and
sometimes precedes, the leaves. Whether it is so or no, let me remind
you that leaves are an outcome of the life as well as fruit, and that
they benefit the tree, and assist in the production of the fruit which
it ought to bear. And so the symbol suggests things that are good in
themselves, ancillary and subsidiary to the production of fruit, but
which sometimes tend to such disproportionate exuberance of growth as
that all the life of the tree runs to leaf, and there is riot a berry
to be found on it.

And if you want to know what such things are, remember the condition
of the rulers of Israel at that time. They prided themselves upon
their nominal, external, hereditary connection with a system of
revelation, they trusted in mere ritualisms, they had ossified
religion into theology, and degraded morality into casuistry. They
thought that because they had been born Jews, and circumcised, and
because there was a daily sacrifice going on in the Temple, and
because they had Rabbis who could split hairs _ad infinitum_,
therefore they were the 'temple of the Lord,' and God's chosen.

And that is exactly what hosts of pagans, masquerading as Christians,
are doing in all our so-called Christian lands, and in all our
so-called Christian congregations. In any community of so-called
Christian people there is a little nucleus of real, earnest,
God-fearing folk, and a great fringe of people whose Christianity is
mostly from the teeth outward, who have a nominal and external
connection with religion, who have been 'baptized' and are
'communicants,' who think that religion lies mainly in coming on a
Sunday, and with more or less toleration and interest listening to a
preacher's words and joining in external worship, and all the while
the 'weightier matters of the law'--righteousness, justice, and the
love of God--they leave untouched. What describes such a type of
religion with more piercing accuracy than 'nothing but leaves'?

External connection with God's Church is a good thing. It is meant to
make us better men and women. If it does not, it is a bad thing. Acts
of worship, more or less elaborate--for it is not the elaboration of
ceremonial, but the mistaken view of it, that does the harm--acts of
worship may be helpful, or may be absolute barriers to real religious
life. They are becoming so largely to-day. The drift and trend of
opinion in some parts of so-called Christendom is in the direction of
outward ceremonial. And I, for one, believe that there are few things
doing more harm to the Christian character of England to-day than the
preposterous recurrence to a reliance on the mere externals of
worship. Of course we Dissenters pride ourselves on having no
complicity with the sacramentarian errors which underlie these. But
there may be quite as much of a barrier between the soul and Christ,
reared by the bare worship of Nonconformists, or by the no-worship of
the Society of Friends. If the absence of form be converted into a
form, as it often is, there may be as lofty and wide a barrier raised
by these as by the most elaborate ritual of the highest ceremonial
that exists in Christendom. And so I say to you, dear brethren, seeing
that we are all in danger of cleaving to externals and substituting
these which are intended to be helps to the production of godly life
and character, it becomes us all to listen to the solemn word of
exhortation that comes out of my text, and to beware lest our religion
runs to leaf instead of setting into fruit.

It does so with many of us; that is a certainty. I am thinking about
no individual, about no individuals, but I am only speaking common
sense when I say that amongst as many people as I am now addressing
there will be an appreciable proportion who have no notion of religion
as anything beyond a more or less imperative and more or less
unwelcome set of external observances.

III. And so, lastly, let me ask you to notice what Christ did.

I do not need to trouble myself nor you with vindicating the morality
of this miracle against the fantastic objections that often have been
made against it; nor need I say a word more than I have already said
about its symbolical meaning. Israel was in that week being asked for
the last time to 'bring forth fruit' to the Lord of the vineyard. The
refusal bound barrenness on the synagogue and on the nation, if not
absolutely for ever, at all events until 'it shall turn to the Lord,'
and partake again of 'the root and fatness' from which it has been
broken off. What thirsty lips since that week have ever got any good
out of Rabbinism and Judaism? No 'figs' have grown on that 'thistle.'
The world has passed it by, and left all its subtle casuistries and
painfully microscopic studies of the letter of Scripture--with utter
oblivion of its spirit--left them all severely and wisely alone.
Judaism is a dead tree.

And is there nothing else in this incident? 'No man eat fruit of thee
hereafter for ever'; the punishment of that fruitlessness was
confirmed and eternal barrenness. _There_ is the lesson that the
punishment of any Bin is to bind the sin upon the doer of it.

But, further, the church or the individual whose religion runs to leaf
is useless to the world. What does the world care about the
ceremonials and the externals of worship, and a painful orthodoxy, and
the study of the letter of Scripture? Nothing. A useless church or a
Christian, from whom no man gets any fruit to cool a thirsty, parched
lip, is only fit for what comes after the barrenness, and that is,
that every tree that bringeth 'not forth good fruit is hewn down and
cast into the fire.' The churches of England, and we, as integral
parts of these, have solemn duties lying upon us to-day; and if we
cannot help our brethren, and feed and nourish the hungry and thirsty
hearts and souls of mankind, then--then! the sooner we are plucked up
and pitched over the vineyard wall, which is the fate of the barren
vine, the better for the world and the better for the vineyard.

The fate of Judaism teaches, to all of us professing Christians, very
solemn lessons. 'If God spared not the natural branches, take heed
lest He also spare not thee.' What has become of the seven churches of
Asia Minor? They hardened into chattering theological 'orthodoxy,' and
all the blood of them went to the surface, so to speak. And so down
came the Mohammedan power--which was strong then because it did
believe in a God, and not in its own belief about a God--and wiped
them off the face of the earth. And so, brethren, we have, in this
miracle, a warning and a prophecy which it becomes all the Christian
communities of this day, and the individual members of such, to lay
very earnestly to heart.

But do not let us forget that the Evangelist who does not tell us the
story of the blasted fig-tree does tell us its analogue, the parable
of the barren fig-tree, and that in it we read that when the fiat of
destruction had gone forth, there was one who said, 'Let it alone this
year also that I may dig about it, ... and if it bear fruit, well! If
not, after that thou shalt cut it down.' So the barren tree may become
a fruitful tree, though it has hitherto borne nothing but leaves. Your
religion may have been all on the surface and in form, but you can
come into touch with Him in whom is our life and from whom comes our
fruitfulness. He has said to each of us, 'As the branch cannot bear
fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except
ye abide in Me.'



DISHONEST TENANTS


'And He began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a
vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the
winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went
into a far country. 2. And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a
servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the
vineyard. 3. And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away
empty. 4. And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they
cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully
handled. 5. And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many
others; beating some, and killing some 6. Having yet therefore one
son, his well beloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They
will reverence my son. 7. But those husbandmen said among themselves,
This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be
ours. 8. And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the
vineyard. 9. What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? He will
come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto
others. 10. And have ye not read this scripture: The stone which the
builders rejected is become the head of the corner: 11. This was the
Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? 12. And they sought to
lay hold on Him, but feared the people: for they knew that He had
spoken the parable against them; and they left Him, and went their
way.'--Mark xii. 1-12.

The ecclesiastical rulers had just been questioning Jesus as to the
authority by which He acted. His answer, a counter-question as to
John's authority, was not an evasion. If they decided whence John
came, they would not be at any loss as to whence Jesus came. If they
steeled themselves against acknowledging the Forerunner, they would
not be receptive of Christ's message. That keen-edged retort plainly
indicates Christ's conviction of the rulers' insincerity, and in this
parable He charges home on these solemn hypocrites their share in the
hereditary rejection of messengers whose authority was unquestionable.
Much they cared for even divine authority, as they and their
predecessors had shown through centuries! The veil of parable is
transparent here. Jesus increased in severity and bold attack as the
end drew near.

I. The parable begins with a tender description of the preparation and
allotment of the vineyard. The picture is based upon Isaiah's lovely
apologue (Isaiah v. 1), which was, no doubt, familiar to the learned
officials. But there is a slight difference in the application of the
metaphor which in Isaiah means the nation, and in the parable is
rather the theocracy as an institution, or, as we may put it roughly,
the aggregate of divine revelations and appointments which constituted
the religious prerogatives of Israel.

Our Lord follows the original passage in the description of the
preparation of the vineyard, but it would probably be going too far to
press special meanings on the wall, the wine-press, and the watchman's
tower. The fence was to keep off marauders, whether passers-by or 'the
boar out of the wood' (Psalm lxxx. 12,13); the wine-press, for which
Mark uses the word which means rather the vat into which the juice
from the press proper flowed, was to extract and collect the precious
liquid; the tower was for the watchman.

A vineyard with all these fittings was ready for profitable
occupation. Thus abundantly had God furnished Israel with all that was
needed for fruitful, happy service. What was true of the ancient
Church is still more true of us who have received every requisite for
holy living. Isaiah's solemn appeal has a still sharper edge for
Christians: 'Judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could
have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it?'

The 'letting of the vineyard to husbandmen' means the committal to
Israel and its rulers of these divine institutions, and the holding
them responsible for their fruitfulness. It may be a question whether
the tenants are to be understood as only the official persons, or
whether, while these are primarily addressed, they represent the whole
people. The usual interpretation limits the meaning to the rulers,
but, if so, it is difficult to carry out the application, as the
vineyard would then have to be regarded as being the nation, which
confuses all. The language of Matthew (which threatens the taking of
the vineyard and giving it to another nation) obliges us to regard the
nation as included in the husbandmen, though primarily the expression
is addressed to the rulers.

But more important is it to note the strong expressions for man's
quasi-independence and responsibility. The Jew was invested with full
possession of the vineyard. We all, in like manner, have intrusted to
us, to do as we will with, the various gifts and powers of Christ's
gospel. God, as it were, draws somewhat apart from man, that he may
have free play for his choice, and bear the burden of responsibility.
The divine action was conspicuous at the time of founding the polity
of Judaism, and then came long years in which there were no miracles,
but all things continued as they were. God was as near as before, but
He seemed far off. Thus Jesus has, in like manner, gone 'into a far
country to receive a kingdom and to return'; and we, the tenants of a
richer vineyard than Israel's, have to administer what He has
intrusted to us, and to bring near by faith Him who is to sense far
off.

II. The next scenes paint the conduct of the dishonest vine-dressers.
We mark the stern, dark picture drawn of the continued and brutal
violence, as well as the flagrant unfaithfulness, of the tenants.
Matthew's version gives emphasis to the increasing harshness of
treatment of the owner's messengers, as does Mark's. First comes
beating, then wounding, then murder. The interpretation is
self-evident. The 'servants' are the prophets, mostly men inferior in
rank to the hierarchy, shepherds, fig-gatherers, and the like. They
came to rouse Israel to a sense of the purpose for which they had
received their distinguishing prerogatives, and their reward had been
contempt and maltreatment. They 'had trial of mockings and scourgings,
of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder,
they were slain with the sword.'

The indictment is the same as that by which Stephen wrought the
Sanhedrim into a paroxysm of fury. To make such a charge as Jesus did,
in the very Temple courts, and with the already hostile priests
glaring at Him while He spoke, was a deliberate assault on them and
their predecessors, whose true successors they showed themselves to
be. They had just been solemnly questioning Him as to His authority.
He answers by thus passing in review the uniform treatment meted by
them and their like to those who came with God's manifest authority.

If a mere man had spoken this parable, we might admire the magnificent
audacity of such an accusation. But the Speaker is more than man, and
we have to recognise the judicial calmness and severity of His tone.
Israel's history, as it shaped itself before His 'pure eyes and
perfect judgment,' was one long series of divine favours and of human
ingratitude, of ample preparations for righteous living and of no
result, of messengers sent and their contumelious rejection. We wonder
at the sad monotony of such requital. Are we doing otherwise?

III. Then comes the last effort of the Owner, the last arrow in the
quiver of Almighty Love. Two things are to be pondered in this part of
the parable. First, that wonderful glimpse into the depths of God's
heart, in the hope expressed by the Owner of the vineyard, brings out
very clearly Christ's claim, made there before all these hostile, keen
critics, to stand in an altogether singular relation to God. He
asserts His Sonship as separating Him from the class of prophets who
are servants only, and as constituting a relationship with the Father
prior to His coming to earth. His Sonship is no mere synonym for His
Messiahship, but was a fact long before Bethlehem; and its assertion
lifts for us a corner of the veil of cloud and darkness round the
throne of God. Not less striking is the expression of a frustrated
hope in 'they will reverence My Son.' Men can thwart God's purpose.
His divine charity 'hopeth all things.' The mystery thus sharply put
here is but that which is presented everywhere in the co-existence of
God's purposes and man's freedom.

The other noteworthy point is the corresponding casting of the
vine-dressers' thoughts into words. Both representations are due to
the graphic character of parable; both crystallise into speech motives
which were not actually spoken. It is unnecessary to suppose that even
the rulers of Israel had gone the awful length of clear recognition of
Christ's Messiahship, and of looking each other in the face and
whispering such a fiendish resolve. Jesus is here dragging to light
unconscious motives. The masses did wish to have their national
privileges and to avoid their national duties. The rulers did wish to
have their sway over minds and consciences undisturbed. They did
resent Jesus' interference, chiefly because they instinctively felt
that it threatened their position. They wanted to get Him out of the
way, that they might lord it at will. They could have known that He
was the Son, and they suppressed dawning suspicions that He was. Alas!
they have descendants still in many of us who put away His claims,
even while we secretly recognise them, in order that we may do as we
like without His meddling with us!

The rulers' calculation was a blunder. As Augustine says, 'They slew
Him that they might possess, and, because they slew, they lost.' So is
it always. Whoever tries to secure any desired end by putting away his
responsibility to render to God the fruit of his thankful service,
loses the good which he would fain clutch at for his own. All sin is a
mistake.

The parable passes from thinly veiled history to equally transparent
prediction. How sadly and how unshrinkingly does the meek yet mighty
Victim disclose to the conspirators His perfect knowledge of the
murder which they were even now hatching in their minds! He foresees
all, and will not lift a finger to prevent it. Mark puts the 'killing'
before the 'casting out of the vineyard,' while Matthew and Luke
invert the order of the two things. The slaughtered corpse was, as a
further indignity, thrown over the wall, by which is symbolically
expressed His exclusion from Israel, and the vine-dressers' delusion
that they now had secured undisturbed possession.

IV. The last point is the authoritative sentence on the evil-doers.
Mark's condensed account makes Christ Himself answer His own question.
Probably we are to suppose that, with hypocritical readiness, some of
the rulers replied, as the other Evangelists represent, and that Jesus
then solemnly took up their words. If anything could have enraged the
rulers more than the parable itself, the distinct declaration of the
transference of Israel's prerogatives to more worthy tenants would do
so. The words are heavy with doom. They carry a lesson for us.
Stewardship implies responsibility, and faithlessness, sooner or
later, involves deprivation. The only way to keep God's gifts is to
use them for His glory. 'The grace of God,' says Luther somewhere, 'is
like a flying summer shower.' Where are Ephesus and the other
apocalyptic churches? Let us 'take heed lest, if God spared not the
natural branches, He also spare not us.'

Jesus leaves the hearers with the old psalm ringing in their ears,
which proclaimed that 'the stone which the builders rejected becomes
the head stone of the corner.' Other words of the same psalm had been
chanted by the crowd in the procession on entering the city. Their
fervour was cooling, but the prophecy would still be fulfilled. The
builders are the same as the vine-dressers; their rejection of the
stone is parallel with slaying the Son.

But though Jesus foretells His death, He also foretells His triumph
after death. How could He have spoken, almost in one breath, the
prophecy of His being slain and 'cast out of the vineyard,' and that
of His being exalted to be the very apex and shining summit of the
true Temple, unless He had been conscious that His death was indeed
not the end, but the centre, of His work, and His elevation to
universal and unchanging dominion?



GOD'S LAST ARROW


'Having yet therefore one son, his well-beloved, he sent him also last
unto them.'--Mark xii. 6.

Reference to Isaiah v. There are differences in detail here which need
not trouble us.

Isaiah's parable is a review of the theocratic history of Israel, and
clearly the messengers are the prophets; here Christ speaks of Himself
and His own mission to Israel, and goes on to tell of His death as
already accomplished.

I. The Son who follows and surpasses the servants.

(a) Our Lord here places Himself in the line of the prophets as coming
for a similar purpose. The mission _to Israel_ was the same. The
mission _of His life_ was the same.

The last words of the lawgiver certainly point to a person (Deut.
xviii. 18): 'A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you like
unto me. Him shall ye hear.' How ridiculous the cool superciliousness
with which modern historical criticism 'pooh-poohs' that
interpretation! But the contrast is quite as prominent as the
resemblance. This saying is one which occurs in all the Synoptics, and
is as full a declaration of Sonship as any in John's Gospel. It
reposes on the scene at the baptism (Matt, iii.): 'This is My beloved
Son!' Such a saying was well enough understood by the Jews to mean
more than the 'Messiah.' It clearly involves kindred to the divine in
a far other and higher sense than any prophet ever had it. It involves
pre-existence. It asserts that He was the special object of the divine
love, the 'heir.'

You cannot relieve the New Testament Christ of the responsibility of
having made such assertions. There they are! He did deliberately
declare that He was, in a unique sense, '_the_ Son' on whom the love
and complacency of the Father rested continually.

II. The aggravation of men's sins as tending to the enhancement of the
divine efforts.

The terrible Nemesis of evil is that it ever tends to reproduce itself
in aggravated forms. Think of the influence of habit; the searing of
conscience, so that we become able to do things that we would have
shrunk from at an earlier stage. Remember how impunity leads to
greater sin. So here the first servant is merely sent away empty, the
second is wounded and disgraced, the third is killed. All evil is an
inclined plane, a steady, downward progress. How beautifully the
opposite principle of the divine love and patience is represented as
striving with the increasing hate and resistance! According to
Matthew, the householder sent other servants '_more than_ the first,'
and the climax was that he sent his son. Mightier forces are brought
to bear. This attraction _increases_ as the square of the distance.
The blacker the cloud, the brighter the sun; the thicker the ice, the
hotter the flame; the harder the soil, the stronger the ploughshare.
Note, too, the undertone of sacrifice and of yearning for the son
which may be discerned in the 'householder's' words. The son is his
'dearest treasure,' his mightiest gift, than which is nothing higher.

The mission of Christ is the ultimate appeal of God to men.

In the primary sense of the parable Jesus does close the history of
the divine strivings with Israel. After Christ, the last of the
prophets, the divine voice ceases; after the blaze of that light all
is dark. There is nothing more remarkable in the whole history of the
world than that cessation in an instant, as it were, of the long,
august series of divine efforts for Israel. Henceforward there is an
awful silence. 'Forsaken Israel wanders lone.'

And the principle involved for us is the same.

'Christ crucified' is more than Christ miracle-working. That 'more' we
have, as the Jews had. But if that avails not, then nothing else will.

He is 'last' because highest, strongest, and all-sufficient.

He is 'last' inasmuch as all since are but echoes of His voice and
proclaimers of His grace.

He is 'last' as the eternal and the permanent, the 'same for ever'
(Heb. xiii. 8). There are to be no new powers for the world; no new
forces to draw men to God. God's quiver is empty, His last bolt shot,
His most tender appeal made.

III. The unwearied divine charity.

'They will reverence My Son.' May we not say this is a divine hope? It
is not worth while to make a difficulty of the bold representation. It
is but parallel to all the dealings of God with men; and it sets forth
the possibility that He _might_ have won Israel back to God and to
obedience. It suggests the good faith and the earnestness with which
God sent Him, and He came, to bring Israel back to God. But we are not
to suppose that this divine hope excluded the divine purpose of His
death or was inconsistent with that, for He goes on to speak of His
death as if it were past (verse 8). This shows how distinctly He
foreknew it.

Its highest aspect is not here, for it was not needed for the parable.
'With wicked hands ye have crucified,' etc., is true, as well as 'I
lay it down of Myself.'

Let us lay to heart the solemn love which warns by prophesying, tells
what men are going to do in order that they may _not_ do it (and what
He will do in order that He may _not_ have to do it). And let us yield
ourselves to the power of Christ's death as God's magnet for drawing
us all back to Him; and as certain to bring about at last the
satisfaction of the Father's long-frustrated hope: 'They will
reverence my Son,' and the fulfilment of the Son's long-unaccomplished
prediction: 'I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men
unto Me.'



NOT FAR AND NOT IN


'Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.'--Mark xii. 34,

'A bruised reed He will not break, and the smoking flax He will not
quench.'

Here is Christ's recognition of the low beginnings of goodness and
faith.

This is a special case of a man who appears to have fully discerned
the spirituality and inwardness of law, and to have felt that the one
bond between God and man was love. He needed only to have followed out
the former thought to have been smitten by the conviction of his own
sinfulness, and to have reflected on the latter to have discovered
that he needed some one who could certify and commend God's love to
him, and thereby to kindle his to God. Christ recognises such
beginnings and encourages him to persevere: but warns him against the
danger of supposing himself in the kingdom, and against the
prolongation of what is only good as a transition state.

This Scribe is an interesting study as being one who recognised the
Law in its spiritual meaning, in opposition to forms and ceremonies.
His intellectual convictions needed to be led on from recognition of
the spirituality of the Law to recognition of his own failures. 'By
law is the knowledge of sin.' His intellectual convictions needed to
pass over into and influence his heart and life. He recognised true
piety, and was earnestly striving after it, but entrance into the
kingdom is by faith in the Saviour, who is 'the Way.' So Jesus' praise
of him is but measured. For in him there was separation between
knowing and doing.

I. Who are near?

Christ's kingdom is near us all, whether we are heathen, infidel,
profligate or not.

Here is a distinct recognition of two things--(a) Degrees of
approximation; (b) decisive separation between those who are, and
those who are not, within the kingdom.

This Scribe was near, and yet not in, the kingdom, because, like so
many in all ages, he had an intellectual hold of principles which he
had never followed out to their intellectual issues, nor ever
enthroned as, in their practical issues, the guides of his life. How
constantly we find characters of similar incompleteness among
ourselves!

How many of us have true thoughts concerning God's law and what it
requires, which ought, in all reason, to have brought us to the
consciousness of our own sin, and are yet untouched by one pang of
penitence! How many of us have lying in our heads, like disused
furniture in a lumber-room, what we suppose to be beliefs of ours,
which only need to be followed out to their necessary results to
refurnish with a new equipment the whole of our religious thinking!
How few of us do really take pains to bring our beliefs into clear
sunlight, and to follow them wherever they lead us! There is no
commoner fault, and no greater foe, than the hazy, lazy half-belief,
of which its owner neither knows the grounds nor perceives the
intellectual or the practical issues.

There are multitudes who have, or have had, convictions of which the
only rational outcome is practical surrender to Jesus Christ by faith
and love. Such persons abound in Christian congregations and in
Christian homes. They are on the verge of 'the great surrender,' but
they do not go beyond the verge, and so they perpetrate 'the great
refusal.' And to all such the word of our text should sound as a
warning note, which has also hope in its bone. 'Not far from' is still
'outside.'

II. Why they are only near.

The reason is not because of anything apart from themselves. The
Christian gospel offers immediate entrance into the Kingdom, and all
the gifts which its King can bestow, to all and every one who will. So
that the sole cause of any man's non-entrance lies with himself.

We have spoken of failure to follow out truths partially grasped, and
that constitutes a reason which affects the intellect mainly, and
plays its part in keeping men out of the Kingdom.

But there are other, perhaps more common, reasons, which intervene to
prevent convictions being followed out into their properly consequent
acts.

The two most familiar and fatal of these are:--

(a) Procrastination.

(b) Lingering love of the world.

III. Such men cannot continue near.

The state is necessarily transitional. It must pass over into--(a)
Either going on and into the Kingdom, or (b) going further away from
it.

Christ warns here, and would stimulate to action, for--(a) Convictions
not acted on die; (b) truths not followed out fade; (c) impressions
resisted are harder to be made again; (d) obstacles increase with
time; (e) the habit of lingering becomes strengthened.

IV. Unless you are in, you are finally shut out.

'City of refuge.' It was of no avail to have been _near_. 'Strive to
enter _in_.'

Appeal to all such as are in this transition stage.



THE CREDULITY OF UNBELIEF


'Many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ, and shall deceive
many.'--Mark xiii. 6.

'When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?'--Luke
xviii. 8.

It was the same generation that is represented in these two texts as
void of faith in the Son of Man, and as credulously giving heed to
impostors. Unbelief and superstition are closely allied. Religion is
so vital a necessity, that if the true form of it be cast aside, some
false form will be eagerly seized in order to fill the aching void.
Men cannot permanently live without some sort of a faith in the
Unseen, but they can determine whether it shall be a worthy
recognition of a worthy conception of that Unseen, or a debasing
superstition. An epoch of materialism in philosophic thought has
always been followed by violent reaction, in which quacks and fanatics
have reaped rich harvests. If the dark is not peopled with one loved
Face, our busy imagination will fill it with a crowd of horrible ones.

Just as a sailor, looking out into the night over a solitary,
islandless sea, sees shapes; intolerant of the islandless expanse,
makes land out of fogbanks; and, sick of silence, hears 'airy tongues'
in the moanings of the wind and the slow roll of the waves, so men
shudderingly look into the dark unknown, and if they see not their
Father there, will either shut their eyes or strain them in gazing it
into shape. The sight of Him is religion, the closed eye is
infidelity, the strained gaze is superstition. The second and the
third are each so unsatisfying that they perpetually pass over into
one another and destroy one another, as when I shut my eyes, I see
slowly shaping itself a coloured image of my eye, which soon flickers
and fluctuates into black nothingness again, and then rises once more,
once more to fade. Men, if they believe not in God, then do service to
'them which by nature are no gods.'

But let us come to more immediately Christian thoughts. Christ does
what men so urgently require to be done, that if they do not believe
in Him they will be forced to shape out for themselves some fancied
ways of doing it. The emotions which men cherish towards Him so
irrepressibly need an object to rest on, that if not He, then some far
less worthy one, will be chosen to receive them.

It is just to the illustration of these thoughts that I seek to turn
now, and in such alternatives as these--

I. Reception of Christ as the Revealer is the only escape from unmanly
submission to unworthy pretenders.

That function is one which the instincts of men teach them that they
need.

Christ comes to satisfy the need as the visible true embodiment of the
Father's love, of the Father's wisdom.

If He be rejected--what then? Why, not that the men who reject will
contentedly continue in darkness--that is never possible; but that
some manner or other of satisfying the clamant need will be had
recourse to, and then that to it will be transferred the submission
and credence that should have been His. If we have Him for our Teacher
and Guide, then all other teachers and guides will take their right
places. We shall not angrily repel their power, nor talk loudly about
'the right of private judgment,' and our independence of all men's
thoughts. We are not so independent. We shall thankfully accept all
help from all men wiser, better, more manly than ourselves, whether
they give us uttered words of wisdom and beauty, having 'grace poured
into their lips,' or whether they give us lives ennobled by strenuous
effort, or whether they give us greater treasure than all these--the
sight once more of a loving heart. All is good, all is helpful, all we
shall receive; but in proportion to the felt obligations we are laid
under to them will be the felt authority of that saying, 'Call no man
your master on earth, for One is your Master, even Christ.' That
command forbids our slavishly accepting any human domination over our
faith, but it no less emphatically forbids our contemptuously
rejecting any human helper of our joy, for it closes with 'and all ye
are brethren'--bound then to mutual observance, mutual helpfulness,
mutual respect for each other's individuality, mutual avoidance of
needless division. To have Him for his Guide makes the human guide
gentle and tender among his disciples 'as a nurse among her children,'
for he remembers 'the gentleness of Christ,' and he dare not be other
than an imitator of Him. A Christian teacher's spirit will always be,
'not for that we have dominion over your faith, but we are helpers of
your joy'; his most earnest word, 'I beseech you, therefore,
brethren'; his constant desire, 'He must increase. I must decrease.'
And to have Christ for our Guide makes the taught lovingly submissive
to all who by largeness of gifts and graces are set by Him above them,
and yet lovingly recalcitrant at any attempt to compel adhesion or
force dogmas. The one freedom from undue dependence on men and men's
opinions lies in this submission to Jesus. Then we can say, when need
is, 'I have a Master. To Him I submit; if _you_ seek to be master, I
demur: of them who seemed to be somewhat, whatsoever they were, it
maketh no matter to me.'

But the greatest danger is not that our guides shall insist on our
submission, but that we shall insist on giving it. It is for all of us
such a burden to have the management of our own fate, the forming of
our own opinions, the fearful responsibility of our own destiny, that
we are all only too ready to say to some man or other, from love or
from laziness, 'Where thou goest, I will go; thy people shall be my
people, and thy God my God.'

Few things are more strange and tragic than the eagerness with which
people who are a great deal too enlightened to render allegiance to
Jesus Christ will install some teacher of their own choosing as their
authoritative master, will swallow his dicta, swear by him, and glory
in being called by his name. What they think it derogatory to their
mental independence to give to the Teacher of Nazareth, they freely
give to their chosen oracle. It is not in 'the last times' only that
men who will not endure sound teaching 'heap to themselves teachers
after their own lusts,' and have 'the ears' which are fast closed to
'the Truth' wide open 'to fables.'

On the small scale we see this melancholy perversity of conduct
exemplified in every little coterie and school of unbelievers.

On the great scale Mohammedanism and Buddhism, with their millions of
adherents, write the same tragic truth large in the history of the
world.

II. Faith in the reconciling Christ is the only sure deliverance from
debasing reliance on false means of reconciliation.

In a very profound sense ignorance and sin are the same fact regarded
under two different aspects. And in the depths of their natures men
have the longing for some Power who shall put away sin, as they have
the longing for one that will dispel ignorance. The consciousness of
alienation from God lies in the human heart, dormant indeed for the
most part, but like a coiled, hibernating snake, ready to wake and
strike its poison into the veins. Christ by His great work, and
specially by His sacrificial death, meets that universal need.

But closely as His work fits men's needs, it sharply opposes some of
their wishes, and of their interpretations of their needs. The Jew
'demands a sign,' the Greek craves a reasoned system of 'wisdom,' and
both concur in finding the Cross an 'offence.'

But the rejection of Jesus as the Reconciler does not quiet the
cravings, which make themselves heard at some time or other in most
consciences, for deliverance from the dominion and from the guilt of
sin. And men are driven to adopt other expedients to fill up the void
which their turning away from Jesus has left. Sometimes they fall back
on a vague reliance on a vague assertion that 'God is merciful';
sometimes they reason themselves into a belief--or, at any rate, an
assertion--that the conception of sin is an error, and that men are
not guilty. Sometimes they manage to silence the inward voice that
accuses and condemns, by dint of not listening to it or drowning it by
other noises.

But these expedients fail them some time or other, and then, if they
have not cast the burden of their sin and their sins on the great
Reconciler, they either have to weary themselves with painful and vain
efforts to be their own redeemers, or they fall under the domination
of a priest.

Hence the hideous penances of heathenism; and hence, too, the power of
sacramentarian and sacerdotal perversions of evangelical truth.

III. Faith in Christ as the Regenerator is the only deliverance from
baseless hopes for the world.

The world is today full of moaning voices crying, 'Art thou He that
should come, or do we look for another?' and it is full of confident
voices proclaiming other means of its regeneration than letting Christ
'make all things new.'

The conviction that society needs to be reconstituted on other
principles is spread everywhere, and is often associated with intense
disbelief in Christ the Regenerator.

Has not the past proved that all schemes for the regeneration of
society which do not grapple with the fact of sin, and which do not
provide a means of infusing into human nature a new impulse and
direction, will end in failure, and are only too likely to end in
blood? These two requirements are met by Jesus, and by Him only, and
whoever rejects Him and His gift of pardon and cleansing, and His
inbreathing of a new life into the individual, will fail in his
effort, however earnest and noble in many aspects, to redeem society
and bring about a fair new world.

It is pitiable to see the waste of high aspiration and eager effort in
so many quarters today. But that waste is sure to attend every scheme
which does not start from the recognition of Christ's work as the
basis of the world's transformation, and does not crown Him as the
King, because He is the Saviour, of mankind.



AUTHORITY AND WORK


'For the Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his
house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work,
and commanded the porter to watch.'--Mark xiii. 34.

Church order is not directly touched on in the Gospels, but the
principles which underlie all Church order are distinctly laid down.
The whole community of Christian people is a family or household,
being brethren because possessors of a new life through Christ. In
that household there is one 'Master,' and all its members are
'servants.' That name suggests the purpose for which they exist; the
meaning of all their offices, dignities, etc.

I. The authority with which the servants are invested.

We hear a great deal about the authority of the Church in these days,
as a determiner of truth and as a prescriber of Christian action. It
means generally official authority, the power of guidance and
definition of the Church's action, etc., which some people think is
lodged in the hands of preachers, pastors, priests, either
individually or collectively. There is nothing of that sort meant
here. Whatever this authority is, it belongs to the whole body of the
servants, not to individuals among them. It is the prerogative of the
whole _ecclesia_, not of some handful of them. 'This honour,' whatever
it be, 'have all the saints.'

Explain by reference to 'the kings of the earth exercise lordship over
them'; 'the greatest shall be your servant.' It is then but another
name for capacity for service, power to bless, etc.

And this idea is still further borne out if we go back to the parable
of our text. A man leaves his house in charge of his servants. To them
is committed the responsibility for his goods. His honour and
interests are in their hands. They have control over his possessions.
This is the analogy which our Lord suggests as presenting a vivid
likeness to our position in the world.

Christ has committed the care of His kingdom, the glory of His name,
the growth of His cause in the world to His Church, and has endowed it
with all 'talents,' _i.e._ gifts needful for that work. Or, to put it
in other words, they are His representatives in the world. They have
to defend His honour. His name is scandalised or glorified by their
actions. They have to see to His interests. They are charged with the
carrying out of His mind and purposes.

The foundation of all is laid. Henceforth building on it is all, and
that is to be done by men. Human lips and Christian effort--not
without the divine Spirit in the word--are to be the means.

It is as when some commander plans his battle, and from an eminence
overlooks the current of the fight, and marks the plunging legions as
they struggle through the smoke. He holds all the tremendous machinery
in his hands. The plan and the glory are his, but the execution of the
plan lies with the troops.

In a still more true sense all the glory of the Christian conquest of
the world is His, but still the instruments are ourselves. The whole
counsel of God is on our side. We 'go not a warfare at our own
charges.' Note the perfect consistency of this with all that we hold
of the necessity of divine influence, etc.

His servants are intrusted with all His 'goods.' They have authority
over the gifts which He has given them, _i.e._ Christian men are
stewards of Christ's riches for others.

They have access to the free use of them all for themselves.

Thus the 'authority' is all derived. It is all given for the sake of
others. It is all capacity for service. Hence--

II. The authority with which the servants are invested binds every one
of them to hard work for Christ.

'To every man his work'

(1) Gifts involve duties. That is the first great thought. To have
received binds us to impart. 'Freely ye have received, freely give.'

All selfish possession of the gifts which Christ bestows is grave sin.

The price at which they were procured, that miracle and mystery of
self-sacrifice, is the great pattern as well as the great motive for
our service.

The purpose for which we have received them is plainly set forth: in
the existence of the solidarity in which we are all bound; in the
definite utterances of Scripture.

The need for their exercise is only too palpable in the condition of
things around us.

(2) In this multitude of servants every one has his own task.

The universality of the great gift leads to a corresponding
universality of obligation. All Christians have their gifts. Each of
us has his special work marked out for him by character,
relationships, circumstances, natural tastes, etc.

How solemn a divine call there is in these individual peculiarities
which we so often think of as unimportant accidents, or regard mainly
in their bearing on our own ease and comfort! How reverently we should
regard the diversities which are thus revelations of God's will
concerning our tasks! How earnestly we should seek to know what it is
that we are fitted for!

The importance of all protests against priestly assumption lies here,
that they strengthen the force with which we proclaim that every man
has his 'work.'

Ponder the variety of characters and gifts which Christ gives and
desires His servants to use, and the indispensable need for them all.
The ideal Church is the 'body' of Christ, in which each member has its
place and function.

Our fault in this matter.

(3) The duties are to be done in the spirit of hard toil.

The servant has 'his work' allotted him, and the word implies that the
work calls for effort. The race is not to be run without dust and
sweat. Our Christian service is not to be regarded as a 'bye-product'
or _parergon_. It is, so to speak, a _vocation_, not an _avocation_.
It deserves and demands all the energy that we can put forth,
continuity and constancy, plan and system. Nothing is to be done for
God, any more than for ourselves, without toil. 'In the sweat of thy
brow shalt thou eat bread and give it to others.'

III, To do this work, watchfulness is needed.

The division of tasks between 'servant' and 'porter' is only part of
the drapery of the parable. To show that watchfulness belongs to all,
see the two following verses.

What is this watchfulness?

Not constant fidgety curiosity about the coming of the Lord; not
hunting after apocalyptic dates. The modern impression seems to be
that such study is 'watchfulness.' Christ says that the time of His
coming is hidden (see previous verses). Ignorance of that is the very
reason why we are to watch. Watchfulness, then, is just a profound and
constant feeling of the transiency of this present. The mind is to be
kept detached from it; the eye and heart are to be going out to things
'unseen and eternal'; we are to be familiarising ourselves with the
thought that the world is passing away.

This watchfulness is an indispensable part of our 'work.' The true
Christian thought of the transiency of the world sets us to work the
more vigorously in it, and increases, not diminishes, our sense of the
importance of time and of earthly things, and braces us to our tasks
by the thought of the brevity of opportunity, as well as by guarding
us against tastes and habits which eat all earnestness out of the
soul.

Thus 'working and watching,' happy will be the servant whom his Lord
will find 'so doing,' _i.e._ at work, not idly looking for Him. Our
common duties are the best preparation for our Lord's coming.



THE ALABASTER BOX


'And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a
good work on Me.... 8. She hath done what she could: she is come
aforehand to anoint My body to the burying. 9. Verily I say unto you.
Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world,
this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of
her.'--Mark xiv. 6-9.

John's Gospel sets this incident in its due framework of time and
place, and tells us the names of the actors. The time was within a
week of Calvary, the place was Bethany, where, as John significantly
reminds us, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, thereby connecting
the feast with that incident; the woman who broke the box of ointment
and poured the perfume on the head and feet of Jesus was Mary; the
first critic of her action was Judas. Selfishness blames love for the
profusion and prodigality, which to it seem folly and waste. The
disciples chimed in with the objection, not because they were superior
to Mary in wisdom, but because they were inferior in consecration.

John tells us, too, that Martha was 'amongst them that served.' The
characteristics of the two sisters are preserved. The two types of
character which they respectively represent have great difficulty in
understanding and doing justice to one another. Christ understands and
does justice to them both. Martha, bustling, practical, utilitarian to
the finger-tips, does not much care about listening to Christ's words
of wisdom. She has not any very high-strung or finely-spun emotions,
but she can busy herself in getting a meal ready; she loves Him with
all her heart, and she takes her own way of showing it. But she gets
impatient with her sister, and thinks that her sitting at Christ's
feet is a dreamy waste of time, and not without a touch of
selfishness, 'taking no care for me, though I have got so much on my
back.' And so, in like manner, Mary is made out to be a monster of
selfishness; 'Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence,
and given to the poor?' She could not serve, she would only have been
in Martha's road if she had tried. But she had one precious thing
which was her very own, and she caught it up, and in the irrepressible
burst of her thankful love, as she saw Lazarus sitting there at the
table beside Jesus, she poured the liquid perfume on His head and
feet. He casts His shield over the poor, unpractical woman, who did
such an utterly useless thing, for which a basin of water and a towel
would have served far better. There are a great many useless things
which, in Heaven's estimate, are more valuable than a great many
apparently more practical ones. Christ accepts the service, and in His
deep words lays down three or four principles which it would do us all
good to carry with us into our daily lives. So I shall now try to
gather from these utterances of our Lord's some great truths about
Christian service.

I. The first of them is the motive which hallows everything.

'She hath wrought a good work on Me.' Now that is pretty nearly a
definition of what a good work is, and you see it is very unlike our
conventional notions of what constitutes a 'good work.' Christ implies
that anything, no matter what are its other characteristics, that is
'on' Him, that is to say, directed towards Him under the impulse of
simple love to Him, is a 'good work'; and the converse follows, that
nothing which has not that saving salt of reference to Him in it
deserves the title. Did you ever think of what an extraordinary
position that is for a man to take up? 'Think about Me in what you do,
and you will do good. Do anything, no matter what, because you love
Me, and it will be lifted up into high regions, and become
transfigured; a good work.' He took the best that any one could give
Him, whether it was of outward possessions or of inward reverence,
abject submission, and love and trust. He never said to any man, 'You
are going over the score. You are exaggerating about Me. Stand up, for
I also am a Man.' He did say once, 'Why callest thou Me good?' not
because it was an incorrect attribution, but because it was a mere
piece of conventional politeness. And in all other cases, not only
does He accept as His rightful possession the utmost of reverence that
any man can do Him, and bring Him, but He here implies, if He does
not, as He almost does, specifically declare, that to be done for His
sake lifts a deed into the region of 'good' works.

Have you reflected what such an attitude implies as to the
self-consciousness of the Man who took it, and whether it is
intelligible, not to say admirable, or rather whether it is not worthy
of reprobation, except upon one hypothesis--'Thou art the everlasting
Son of the Father,' and all men honour God when they honour the
Incarnate Word? But that is aside from my present purpose.

Is not this conception, that the motive of reverence and love to Him
ennobles and sanctifies every deed, the very fundamental principle of
Christian morality? All things are sanctified when they are done for
His sake. You plunge a poor pebble into a brook, and as the sunlit
ripples pass over its surface, the hidden veins of delicate colour
come out and glow, and the poor stone looks a jewel, and is magnified
as well as glorified by being immersed in the stream. Plunge your work
into Christ, and do it for Him, and the giver and the gift will be
greatened and sanctified.

But, brethren, if we take this point of view, and look to the motive,
and not to the manner or the issues, or the immediate objects, of our
actions, as determining whether they are good or no, it will
revolutionise a great many of our thoughts, and bring new ideas into
much of our conventional language. 'A good work' is not a piece of
beneficence or benevolence, still less is it to be confined to those
actions which conventional Christianity has chosen to dignify by the
name. It is a designation that should not be clotted into certain
specified corners of a life, but be extended over them all. The things
which more specifically go under such a name, the kind of things that
Judas wanted to have substituted for the utterly useless, lavish
expenditure by this heart that was burdened with the weight of its own
blessedness, come, or do not come, under the designation, according as
there is present in them, not only natural charity to the poor whom
'ye have always with you,' but the higher reference of them to Christ
Himself. All these lower forms of beneficence are imperfect without
that. And instead of, as we have been taught by authoritative voices
of late years, the service of man being the true service of God, the
relation of the two terms is precisely the opposite, and it is the
service of God that will effloresce into all service of man. Judas did
not do much for the poor, and a great many other people who are
sarcastic upon the 'folly,' the 'uncalculating impulses' of Christian
love, with its 'wasteful expenditure,' and criticise us because we are
spending time and energy and love upon objects which they think are
moonshine and mist, do little more than he did, and what beneficence
they do exercise has to be hallowed by this reference to Jesus before
it can aspire to be beneficence indeed.

I sometimes wish that this generation of Christian people, amid its
multifarious schemes of beneficence, with none of which would one
interfere for a moment, would sometimes let itself go into
manifestations of its love to Jesus Christ, which had no use at all
except to relieve its own burdened heart. I am afraid that the lower
motives, which are all right and legitimate when they are lower, are
largely hustling the higher ones into the background, and that the
river has got so many ponds to fill, and so many canals to trickle
through, and so many plantations to irrigate and make verdant, that
there is a danger of its falling low at its fountain, and running
shallow in its course. One sometimes would like to see more things
done for Him that the world would call 'utter folly,' and 'prodigal
waste,' and 'absolutely useless.' Jesus Christ has a great many
strange things in His treasure-house--widows' mites, cups of water,
Mary's broken vase--has He anything of yours? 'She hath wrought a good
work on Me.'

II. Now, there is another lesson that I would gather from our Lord's
apologising for Mary, and that is the measure and the manner of
Christian service.

'She hath done what she could'; that is generally read as if it were
an excuse. So it is, or at least it is a vindication of the manner and
the direction of Mary's expression of love and devotion. But whilst it
is an apologia for the form, it is a high demand in regard to the
measure.

'She hath done what she could.' Christ would not have said that if she
had taken a niggardly spoonful out of the box of ointment, and
dribbled that, in slow and half-grudging drops, on His head and feet.
It was because it _all_ went that it was to Him thus admirable. I
think it is John Foster who says, 'Power to its last particle is
duty.' The question is not how much have I done, or given, but could I
have done or given more? We Protestants have indulgences of our own;
the guinea or the hundred guineas that we give in a certain direction,
we some of us seem to think, buy for us the right to do as we will
with all the rest. But 'she hath done what she could.' It all went.
And that is the law for us Christian people, because the Christian
life is to be ruled by the great law of self-sacrifice, as the only
adequate expression of our recognition of, and our being affected by,
the great Sacrifice that gave Himself for us.

    'Give all thou canst! High Heaven rejects the lore
    Of nicely calculated less or more.'

But whilst thus there is here a definite demand for the entire
surrender of ourselves and our activities to Jesus Christ, there is
also the wonderful vindication of the idiosyncrasy of the worker, and
the special manner of her gift. It was not Mary's _métier_ to serve at
the table, nor to do any practical thing. She did not know what there
was for her to do; but something she _must_ do. So she caught up her
alabaster box, and without questioning herself about the act, let her
heart have its way, and poured it out on Christ. It was the only thing
she could do, and she did it. It was a very useless thing. It was an
entirely unnecessary expenditure of the perfume. There might have been
a great many practical purposes found for it, but it was her way.

Christ says to each of us, Be yourselves, take circumstances,
capacities, opportunities, individual character, as laying down the
lines along which yon have to travel. Do not imitate other people. Do
not envy other people; be yourselves, and let your love take its
natural expression, whatever folk round you may snarl and sneer and
carp and criticise. 'She hath done what she could,' and so He accepts
the gift.

Engineers tell us that the steam-engine is a very wasteful machine,
because so little of the energy is brought into actual operation. I am
afraid that there are a great many of us Christian people like that,
getting so much capacity, and turning out so little work. And there
are a great many more of us who simply pick up the kind of work that
is popular round us, and never consult our own bent, nor follow this
humbly and bravely, wherever it will take us. 'She hath done what she
could.'

III. And now the last thought that I would gather from these words is
as to the significance and the perpetuity of the work which Christ
accepts.

'She hath come beforehand to anoint My body to the burying.' I do not
suppose that such a thought was in Mary's mind when she snatched up
her box of ointment, and poured it out on Christ's head. But it was a
meaning that He, in His tender pity and wise love and foresight, put
into it, pathetically indicating, too, how the near Cross was filling
His thought, even whilst He sat at the humble rustic feast in Bethany
village.

He puts meaning into the service of love which He accepts. Yes, He
always does. For all the little bits of service that we can bring get
worked up into the great whole, the issues of which lie far beyond
anything that we conceive, 'Thou sowest not that body that shall be,
but bare grain ... and God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him.'
We cast the seed into the furrows. Who can tell what the harvest is
going to be? We know nothing about the great issues that may suddenly,
or gradually, burst from, or be evolved out of, the small deeds that
we do. So, then, let us take care of the end, so to speak, which is
under our control, and that is the motive. And Jesus Christ will take
care of the other end that is beyond our control, and that is the
issue. He will bring forth what seemeth to Him good, and we shall be
as much astonished 'when we get yonder' at what has come out of what
we did here, as poor Mary, standing there behind Him, was when He
translated her act into so much higher a meaning than she had seen in
it.

'Lord! when saw we Thee hungry and fed Thee?' We do not know what we
are doing. We are like the Hindoo weavers that are said to weave their
finest webs in dark rooms; and when the shutters come down, and not
till then, shall we find out the meanings of our service of love.

Christ makes the work perpetual as well as significant by declaring
that 'in the whole world this shall be preached for a memorial of
her.' Have not 'the poor' got far more good out of Mary's box of
ointment than the three hundred pence that a few of them lost by it?
Has it not been an inspiration to the Church ever since? 'The house
was filled with the odour of the ointment.' The fragrance was soon
dissipated in the scentless air, but the deed smells sweet and
blossoms for ever. It is perpetual in its record, perpetual in God's
remembrance, perpetual in its results to the doer, and in its results
in the world, though these may be indistinguishable, just as the brook
is lost in the river and the river in the sea.

But did you ever notice that the Evangelist who records the promise of
perpetual remembrance of the act does not tell us who did it, and that
the Evangelists who tell us who did it do not record the promise of
perpetual remembrance? Never mind whether your deed is labelled with
your address or not, God knows to whom it belongs, and that is enough.
As Paul says in one of his letters, 'other my fellow-labourers also,
whose names are in the Book of Life.' Apparently he had forgotten the
names, or perhaps did not think it needful to occupy space in his
letter with detailing them, and so makes that graceful,
half-apologetic suggestion that they are inscribed on a more august
page. The work and the worker are associated in that Book, and that is
enough.

Brethren, the question of Judas is far more fitting when asked of
other people than of Christians. 'To what purpose is this waste?' may
well be said to those of you who are taking mind, and heart, and will,
capacity, and energy, and all life, and using it for lower purposes
than the service of God, and the manifestation of loving obedience to
Jesus Christ. 'Why do ye spend money for that which is not bread?' Is
it not waste to buy disappointments at the price of a soul and of a
life? Why do ye spend that money thus? 'Whose image and superscription
hath it?' Whose name is stamped upon our spirits? To whom should they
be rendered? Better for us to ask ourselves the question to-day about
all the godless parts of our lives, 'To what purpose is this waste?'
than to have to ask it yonder! Everything but giving our whole selves
to Jesus Christ is waste. It is not waste to lay ourselves and our
possessions at His feet. 'He that loveth his life shall lose it, and
he that loseth his life for My sake, the same shall find it.'



A SECRET RENDEZVOUS


'And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the pastorer,
His disciples said unto Him, Where wilt Thou that we go and prepare
that Thou mayest eat the passover? 13. And He sendeth forth two of His
disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall
meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him. 14. And
wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The
Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the
passover with My disciples? 15. And he will show you a large upper
room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us. 16. And His
disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as He had said
unto them: and they made ready the passover.'--Mark xiv. 12-16.

This is one of the obscurer and less noticed incidents, but perhaps it
contains more valuable teaching than appears at first sight.

The first question is--Miracle or Plan? Does the incident mean
supernatural knowledge or a preconcerted token, like the provision of
the ass at the entry into Jerusalem? I think that there is nothing
decisive either way in the narrative. Perhaps the balance of
probability lies in favour of the latter theory. A difficulty in its
way is that no communication seems to pass between the two disciples
and the man by which he could know them to be the persons whom he was
to precede to the house. There are advantages in either theory which
the other loses; but, on the whole, I incline to believe in a
preconcerted signal. If we lose the supernatural, we gain a suggestion
of prudence and human adaptation of means to ends which makes the
story even more startlingly real to us.

But whichever theory we adopt, the main points and lessons of the
narrative remain the same.

I. The remarkable thing in the story is the picture it gives us of
Christ as elaborately adopting precautions to conceal the place.

They are at Bethany. The disciples ask where the passover is to be
eaten. The easy answer would have been to tell the name of the man and
his house. That is not given. The deliberate round-aboutness of the
answer remains the same whether miracle or plan. The two go away, and
the others know nothing of the place. Probably the messengers did not
come back, but in the evening Jesus and the ten go straight to the
house which only He knew.

All this secrecy is in strong contrast with His usual frank and open
appearances.

What is the reason? To baffle the traitor by preventing him from
acquiring previous knowledge of the place. He was watching for some
quiet hour in Jerusalem to take Jesus. So Christ does not eat the
passover at the house of any well-known disciple who had a house in
Jerusalem, but goes to some man unknown to the Apostolic circle, and
takes steps to prevent the place being known beforehand.

All this looks like the ordinary precautions which a man who knew of
the plots against him would take, and might mean simply a wish to save
his life. But is that the whole explanation? _Why_ did He wish to
baffle the traitor?

(a) Because of His desire to eat the passover with the disciples. His
loving sympathy.

(b) Because of His desire to found the new rite of His kingdom.

(c) Because of His desire to bring His death into immediate connection
with the Paschal sacrifice. There was no reason of a selfish kind, no
shrinking from death itself.

The fact that such precautions only meet us here, and that they stand
in strongest contrast with the rest of His conduct, emphasises the
purely voluntary nature of His death: how He _chose_ to be betrayed,
taken, and to die. They suggest the same thought as do the staggering
back of His would-be captors in Gethsemane, at His majestic word, 'I
am He.... Let these go their way.' The narrative sets Him forth as the
Lord of all circumstances, as free, and arranging all events.

Judas, the priests, Pilate, the soldiers, were swept by a power which
they did not know to deeds which they did not understand. The Lord of
all gives Himself up in royal freedom to the death to which nothing
dragged Him but His own love.

Such seem to be the lessons of this narrative in so far as it bears on
our Lord's own thoughts and feelings.

II. We note also the authoritative claim which He makes.

One reading is 'my guest-chamber,' and that makes His claim even more
emphatic; but apart from that, the language is strong in its
expression of a right to this unknown man's 'upper room.' Mark the
singular blending here, as in all His earthly life, of poverty and
dignity--the lowliness of being obliged to a man for a room; the royal
style, 'The Master saith.'

So even now there is the blending of the wonderful fact that He puts
Himself in the position of needing anything from us, with the absolute
authority which He claims over us and ours.

III. The answer and blessedness of the unknown disciple.

(a) Jesus knows disciples whom the other disciples know not.

This man was one of the of 'secret' disciples. There is no excuse for
shrinking from confession of His name; but it is blessed to believe
that His eye sees many a 'hidden one.' He recognises their faith, and
gives them work to do. Add the striking thought that though this man's
name is unrecorded by the Evangelist, it is known to Christ, was
written in His heart, and, to use the prophetic image, 'was graven on
the palms of His hands.'

(b) The true blessedness is to be ready for whatever calls He may make
on us. These may sometimes be sudden and unlooked for. But the
preparation for obeying the most sudden or exacting summons of His is
to have our hearts in fellowship with Him.

(c) The blessedness of His coming into our hearts, and accepting our
service.

How honoured that man felt then! how much more so as years went on!
how most of all now!

Our greatest blessedness that He does come into the narrow room of our
hearts: 'If any man open the door, I will sup with him.'



THE NEW PASSOVER


'And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the Passover,
the disciples said unto Him, Where wilt Thou that we go and prepare
that Thou mayest eat the Passover? 13. And He sendeth forth two of His
disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall
meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him. 14. And
wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The
Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the
Passover with My disciples? 15. And he will shew you a large upper
room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us. 16. And His
disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as He had said
unto them: and they made ready the Passover. 17. And in the evening He
cometh with the twelve. 18. And as they sat and did eat, Jesus said,
Verily I say unto you, One of you which eateth with Me shall betray
Me. 19. And they began to be sorrowful, and to say unto Him one by
one, Is it I? and another said, Is it I? 20. And He answered and said
unto them, It is one of the twelve, that dippeth with Me in the dish.
21. The Son of Man indeed goeth, as it is written of Him: but woe to
that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! good were it for that man
if he had never been born. 22. And as they did eat, Jesus took bread,
and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this
is My body. 23. And He took the cup, and when He had given thanks, He
gave it to them: and they all drank of it. 24. And He said unto them,
This is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. 25.
Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine,
until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God. 26. And when
they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.'--Mark
xiv. 12-26.

This passage falls into three sections--the secret preparation for the
Passover (verses 12-17), the sad announcement of the betrayer (verses
18-21), and the institution of the Lord's Supper (verses 22-26). It
may be interesting to notice that in the two former of these Mark's
account approximates to Luke's, while in the third he is nearer
Matthew's. A comparison of the three accounts, noting the slight, but
often significant, variations, should be made. Nothing in the Gospels
is trivial. 'The dust of that land is gold.'

I. The secret preparation for the Passover. The three Evangelists all
give the disciples' question, but only Luke tells us that it was in
answer to our Lord's command to Peter and John to go and prepare the
Passover. They very naturally said 'Where?' as they were all strangers
in Jerusalem. Matthew may not have known of our Lord's initiative; but
if Mark were, as he is, with apparent correctness, said to have been,
Peter's mouthpiece in his Gospel, the reticence as to the prominence
of that Apostle is natural, and explains the omission of all but the
bare fact of the despatch of the two. The curiously roundabout way in
which they are directed to the 'upper room' is only explicable on the
supposition that it was intended to keep them in the dark till the
last moment, so that no hint might leak from them to Judas. Whether
the token of the man with the waterpot was a preconcerted signal or an
instance of our Lord's supernatural knowledge and sovereign sway, his
employment as a silent and probably unconscious guide testifies to
Christ's wish for that last hour to be undisturbed. A man carrying a
water-pot, which was woman's special task, would be a conspicuous
figure even in the festival crowds. The message to the householder
implies that he recognised 'the Master' as his Master, and was ready
to give up at His requisition even the chamber which he had prepared
for his own family celebration of the feast.

Thus instructed, the two trusted Apostles left Bethany, early in the
day, without a clue of their destination reaching Judas's hungry
watchfulness. Evidently they did not return, and in the evening Jesus
led the others straight to the place. Mark says that He came 'with the
twelve'; but he does not mean thereby to specify the number, but to
define the class, of His attendants.

Each figure in this preparatory scene yields important lessons. Our
Lord's earnest desire to secure that still hour before pushing out
into the storm speaks pathetically of His felt need of companionship
and strengthening, as well as of His self-forgetting purpose to help
His handful of bewildered followers and His human longing to live in
faithful memories. His careful arrangements bring vividly into sight
the limitations of His manhood, in that He, 'by whom all things
consist,' had to contrive and plan in order to baffle for a moment His
pursuers. And, side by side with the lowliness, as ever, is the
majesty; for while He stoops to arrange, He sees with superhuman
certitude what will happen, moves unconscious feet with secret and
sovereign sway, and in royal tones claims possession of His servant's
possessions.

The two messengers, sent out with instructions which would only guide
them half-way to their destination, and obliged, if they were to move
at all, to trust absolutely to His knowledge, present specimens of the
obedience still required. He sends us out still on a road full of
sharp turnings round which we cannot see. We get light enough for the
first stage; and when it is traversed, the second will be plainer.

The man with the water-pot reminds us how little we may be aware of
the Hand which guides us, or of our uses in His plans. 'I girded thee,
though thou hast not known Me,'--how little the poor water-bearer knew
who were following, or dreamed that he and his load would be
remembered for ever!

The householder responded at once, and gladly, to the authoritative
message, which does not ask a favour, but demands a right. Probably he
had intended to celebrate the Passover with his own family, in the
large chamber on the roof, with the cool evening air about it, and the
moonlight sleeping around. But he gladly gives it up. Are we as ready
to surrender our cherished possessions for His use?

II. The sad announcement of the traitor (verses 18-21). As the Revised
Version indicates more clearly than the Authorised, the purport of the
announcement was not merely that the betrayer was an Apostle, but that
he was to be known by his dipping his hand into the common dish at the
same moment as our Lord. The prophetic psalm would have been
abundantly fulfilled though Judas's fingers had never touched
Christ's; but the minute accomplishment should teach us that Jewish
prophecy was the voice of divine foreknowledge, and embraced small
details as well as large tendencies. Many hands dipped with Christ's,
and so the sign was not unmistakably indicative, and hence was
privately supplemented, as John tells us, by the giving of 'the sop.'
The uncertainty as to the indication given by the token is reflected
by the reiterated questions of the Apostles, which, in the Greek, are
cast in a form that anticipates a negative answer: 'Surely not I?'
Mark omits the audacious hypocrisy of Judas's question in the same
form, and Christ's curt, sad answer which Matthew gives. His brief and
vivid sketch is meant to fix attention on the unanimous shuddering
horror of these faithful hearts at the thought that they could be thus
guilty--a horror which was not the child of presumptuous
self-confidence, but of hearty, honest love. They thought it
impossible, as they felt the throbbing of their own hearts--and
yet--and yet--might it not be? As they probed their hearts deeper,
they became dimly aware of dark gulfs of possible unfaithfulness half
visible there, and so betook themselves to their Master, and
strengthened their loyalty by the question, which breathed at once
detestation of the treason and humble distrust of themselves. It is
well to feel and speak the strong recoil from sin of a heart loyal to
Jesus. It is better to recognise the sleeping snakes, the
possibilities of evil in ourselves, and to take to Christ our
ignorance and self-distrust. It is wiser to cry 'Is it I?' than to
boast, 'Although all shall be offended, yet will not I.' 'Hold Thou me
up, and I shall be safe.'

Our Lord answers the questions by a still more emphatic repetition of
the distinctive mark, and then, in verse 21, speaks deep words of
mingled pathos, dignity, and submission. The voluntariness of His
death, and its uniqueness as His own act of return to His eternal
home, are contained in that majestic 'goeth,' which asserts the
impotence of the betrayer and his employers, without the Lord's own
consent. On the other hand, the necessity to which He willingly bowed
is set forth in that 'as it is written of Him.' And what sadness and
lofty consciousness of His own sacred personality and judicial
authority are blended in the awful sentence on the traitor! What was
He that treachery to Him should be a crime so transcendent? What right
had He thus calmly to pronounce condemnation? Did He see into the
future? Is it the voice of a Divine Judge, or of a man judging in his
own cause, which speaks this passionless sentence? Surely none of His
sayings are more fully charged with His claims to pre-existence,
divinity, and judicial authority, than this which He spoke at the very
moment when the traitor's plot was on the verge of success.

III. The institution of the Lord's Supper (verses 22-26). Mark's
account is the briefest of the three, and his version of Christ's
words the most compressed. It omits the affecting 'Do this for
remembering Me,' which is pre-supposed by the very act of instituting
the ordinance, since it is nothing if not memorial; and it makes
prominent two things--the significance of the elements, and the
command to partake of them. To these must be added Christ's attitude
in 'blessing' the bread and cup, and His distribution of them among
the disciples. The Passover was to Israel the commemoration of their
redemption from captivity and their birth as a nation. Jesus puts
aside this divinely appointed and venerable festival to set in its
stead the remembrance of Himself. That night, 'to be much remembered
of the children of Israel,' is to be forgotten, and come no more into
the number of the months; and its empty place is to be filled by the
memory of the hours then passing. Surely His act was either arrogance
or the calm consciousness of the unique significance and power of His
death. Think of any mere teacher or prophet doing the like! The world
would meet the preposterous claim implied with deserved and
inextinguishable laughter. Why does it not do so with Christ's act?

Christ's view of His death is written unmistakably on the Lord's
Supper. It is not merely that He wishes _it_ rather than His life, His
miracles, or words, to be kept in thankful remembrance, but that He
desires one aspect of it to be held high and clear above all others.
He is the true 'Passover Lamb,' whose shed and sprinkled blood
establishes new bonds of amity and new relations, with tender and
wonderful reciprocal obligations, between God and the 'many' who truly
partake of that sacrifice. The key-words of Judaism--'sacrifice,'
'covenant,' 'sprinkling with blood'--are taken over into Christianity,
and the ideas they represent are set in its centre, to be cherished as
its life. The Lord's Supper is the conclusive answer to the allegation
that Christ did not teach the sacrificial character and atoning power
of His death. What, then, did He teach when He said, 'This is My blood
of the covenant, which is shed for many'?

The Passover was a family festival, and that characteristic passes
over to the Lord's Supper. Christ is not only the food on which we
feed, but the Head of the family and distributor of the banquet. He is
the feast and the Governor of the feast, and all who sit at that table
are 'brethren.' One life is in them all, and they are one as partakers
of One.

The Lord's Supper is a visible symbol of the Christian life, which
should not only be all lived in remembrance of Him, but consists in
partaking by faith of His life, and incorporating it in ours, until we
come to the measure of perfect men, which, in one aspect, we reach
when we can say, 'I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.'

There is a prophetic element, as well as a commemorative and symbolic,
in the Lord's Supper, which is prominent in Christ's closing words. He
does not partake of the symbols which He gives; but there comes a
time, in that perfected form of the kingdom, when perfect love shall
make all the citizens perfectly conformed to the perfect will of God.
Then, whatsoever associations of joy, of invigoration, of festal
fellowship, clustered round the wine-cup here, shall be heightened,
purified, and perpetuated in the calm raptures of the heavenly feast,
in which He will be Partaker, as well as Giver and Food. 'Thou shalt
make them drink of the river of Thy pleasures.' The King's lips will
touch the golden cup filled with un-foaming wine, ere He commends it
to His guests. And from that feast they will 'go no more out,' neither
shall the triumphant music of its great 'hymn' be followed by any
Olivet or Gethsemane, or any denial, or any Calvary; but there shall
be 'no more sorrow, nor sin, nor death'; for 'the former things are
passed away,' and He has made 'all things new.'



'IS IT I?'


'Is it I?'--Mark xiv. 19

The scene shows that Judas had not as yet drawn any suspicion on
himself.

Here the Apostles seem to be higher than their ordinary stature; for
they do not take to questioning one another, or even to protest, 'No!'
but to questioning Christ.

I. The solemn prophecy.

It seems strange at first sight that our Lord should have introduced
such thoughts then, disturbing the sweet repose of that hallowed hour.
But the terrible fact of the betrayal was naturally suggested by the
emblems of His death, and still more by the very confiding familiarity
of that hour. His household were gathered around Him, and the more
close and confidential the intercourse, the bitterer that thought to
Him, that one of the little band was soon to play the traitor. It is
the cry of His wounded love, the wail of His unrequited affection,
and, so regarded, is infinitely touching. It is an instance of that
sad insight into man's heart which in His divinity He possessed. What
a fountain of sorrow for His manhood was that knowledge! how it
increases the pathos of His tenderness! Not only did He read hearts as
they thought and felt in the present, but He read their future with
more than a prophet's insight. He saw how many buds of promise would
shrivel, how many would go away and walk no more with Him.'

That solemn prophecy may well be pondered by all Christian assemblies,
and specially when gathered for the observance of the Lord's Supper.
Perhaps never since that first institution has a community met to
celebrate it without Him who 'walks amid the candlesticks,' with eyes
as a flame of fire marking a Judas among the disciples. There is, I
think, no doubt that Judas partook of the Lord's Supper. But be that
as it may, he was among the number, and our Lord knew him to be 'the
traitor.'

In its essence Judas's sin can be repeated still, and the thought of
that possibility may well mingle with the grateful and adoring
contemplations suitable to the act of partaking of the Lord's Supper.
In the hour of holiest Christian emotion the thought that I may betray
the Lord who has died for me will be especially hateful, and to
remember the possibility then will do much to prevent its ever
becoming a reality.

II. The self-distrustful question, 'Is it I?'

It suggests that the possibilities of the darkest sin are in each of
us, and especially, that the sin of treason towards Christ is in each
of us.

Think generally of the awful possibilities of sin in every soul.

All sin has one root, so it is capable of passing from one form to
another as light, heat, and motion do, or like certain diseases that
are Protean in their forms. One sin is apt to draw others after it.
'None shall want her mate.' Wild beasts of 'the desert' meet with wild
beasts of 'the islands.' Sins are gregarious, as it were; they 'hunt
in couples.' 'Then goeth he, and taketh with him seven other spirits
more wicked than himself.'

The roots of all sin are in each. Men may think that they are
protected from certain forms of sin by temperament, but identity of
nature is deeper than varieties of temperament. The greatest sins are
committed by yielding to very common motives. Love of money is not a
rare feeling, but it led Judas to betray Jesus. Anger is thought to be
scarcely a sin at all, but it often moves an arm to murder.

Temptations to each sin are round us all. We walk in a tainted
atmosphere.

There is progress in evil. No man reaches the extreme of depravity at
a bound. Judas's treachery was of slow growth.

So still there is the constant operation and pressure of forces and
tendencies drawing us away from Jesus Christ. We, every one of us,
know that, if we allowed our nature to have its way, we should leave
Him and 'make shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience.' The forms
in which we might do it might vary, but do it we should. We are like a
man desperately clutching some rocky projection on the face of a
precipice, who knows that if once he lets go, he will be dashed to
pieces. 'There goes John Bradford, but for the grace of God!' But for
this same restraining grace, to what depths might we not sink? So, in
all Christian hearts there should be profound consciousness of their
own weakness. The man 'who fears no fall' is sure to have one. It is
perilous to march through an enemy's country in loose order, without
scouts and rearguard. Rigorous control is ever necessary. Brotherly
judgment, too, of others should result from our consciousness of
weakness. Examples of others falling are not to make us say cynically,
'We are all alike,' but to set us to think humbly of ourselves, and to
supplicate divine keeping,' Lord, save _me_, or I perish!'

III. The safety of the self-distrustful.

When the consciousness of possible falling is brought home to us, we
shall carry, if we are wise, all our doubts as to ourselves to Jesus.
There is safety in asking Him, 'Is it I?' To bare our inmost selves
before Him, and not to shrink, even if that piercing gaze lights on
hidden meannesses and incipient treachery, may be painful, but is
healing. He will keep us from yielding to the temptation of which we
are aware, and which we tell frankly to Him. The lowly sense of our
own liability to fall, if it drives us closer to Him, will make it
certain that we shall not fall.

While the other disciples asked 'Is it I?' John asked 'Who is it?' The
disciple who leaned on Christ's bosom was bathed in such a
consciousness of Christ's love that treason against it was impossible.
He, alone of the Evangelists, records his question, and he tells us
that he put it, 'leaning back as he was, on Jesus's breast.' For the
purpose of whispering his interrogation, he changed his attitude for a
moment so as to press still closer to Jesus. How could one who was
thus nestling nearer to that heart be the betrayer? The consciousness
of Christ's love, accompanied with the effort to draw closer to Him,
is our surest defence against every temptation to faithlessness or
betrayal of Him.

Any other fancied ground of security is deceptive, and will sooner or
later crumble beneath our deceived feet. On this very occasion, Peter
built a towering fabric of profession of unalterable fidelity on such
shifting ground, and saw it collapse into ruin in a few hours. Let us
profit by the lesson!

That wholesome consciousness of our weakness need not shade with
sadness the hours of communion, but it may well help us to turn them
to their highest use in making them occasions for lowlier
self-distrust and closer cleaving to Him. If we thus use our sense of
weakness, the sweet security will enter our souls that belongs to
those who have trusted in the great promise: 'He shall not fall, for
God Is able to make him stand.' The blessed ones who are kept from
falling and 'presented faultless before the presence of His glory,'
will hear with wonder the voice of the Judge ascribing to them deeds
of service to Him of which they had not been conscious, and will have
to ask once more the old question, but with a new meaning: 'Lord, is
it I? when saw we Thee an hungered, and fed Thee?'



'STRONG CRYING AND TEARS'


'And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and He saith to
His disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray. 33. And He taketh with
Him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be
very heavy; 34. And saith onto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful
unto death: tarry ye here, and watch. 35. And He went forward a
little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible,
the hour might pass from Him. 36. And He said, Abba, Father, all
things are possible unto Thee; take away this cup from Me:
nevertheless not what I will, but what Thou wilt. 37. And He cometh,
and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou!
couldest not thou watch one hour? 38. Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter
into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. 39.
And again He went away, and prayed, and spake the same words. 40. And
when He returned, He found them asleep again, (for their eyes were
heavy,) neither wist they what to answer Him. 41. And He cometh the
third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest, it
is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of Man is betrayed into
the hands of sinners. 42. Rise up, let us go; lo, he that betrayeth Me
is at hand.--Mark xiv. 32-42.

The three who saw Christ's agony in Gethsemane were so little affected
that they slept. We have to beware of being so little affected that we
speculate and seek to analyse rather than to bow adoringly before that
mysterious and heart-subduing sight. Let us remember that the place is
'holy ground.' It was meant that we should look on the Christ who
prayed 'with strong crying and tears,' else the three sleepers would
not have accompanied Him so far; but it was meant that our gaze should
be reverent and from a distance, else they would have gone with Him
into the shadow of the olives.

'Gethsemane' means 'an oil-press.' It was an enclosed piece of ground,
according to Matthew and Mark; a garden, according to John. Jesus, by
some means, had access to it, and had 'oft-times resorted thither with
His disciples.' To this familiar spot, with its many happy
associations, Jesus led the disciples, who would simply expect to pass
the night there, as many Passover visitors were accustomed to bivouac
in the open air.

The triumphant tone of spirit which animated His assuring words to His
disciples, 'I have overcome the world,' changed as they passed through
the moonlight down to the valley, and when they reached the garden
deep gloom lay upon Him. His agitation is pathetically and most
naturally indicated by the conflict of feeling as to companionship. He
leaves the other disciples at the entrance, for He would fain be alone
in His prayer. Then, a moment after, He bids the three, who had been
on the Mount of Transfiguration and with Him at many other special
times, accompany Him into the recesses of the garden. But again need
of solitude overcomes longing for companionship, and He bids them stay
where they were, while He plunges still further into the shadow. How
human it is! How well all of us, who have been down into the depths of
sorrow, know the drawing of these two opposite longings!

Scripture seldom undertakes to tell Christ's emotions. Still seldomer
does He speak of them. But at this tremendous hour the veil is lifted
by one corner, and He Himself is fain to relieve His bursting heart by
pathetic self-revelation, which is in fact an appeal to the three for
sympathy, as well as an evidence of His sharing the common need of
lightening the burdened spirit by speech. Mark's description of
Christ's feelings lays stress first on their beginning, and then on
their nature as being astonishment and anguish. A wave of emotion
swept over Him, and was in marked contrast with His previous
demeanour.

The three had never seen their calm Master so moved. We feel that such
agitation is profoundly unlike the serenity of the rest of His life,
and especially remarkable if contrasted with the tone of John's
account of His discourse in the upper room; and, if we are wise, we
shall gaze on that picture drawn for us by Mark with reverent
gratitude, and feel that we look at something more sacred than human
trembling at the thought of death.

Our Lord's own infinitely touching words heighten the impression of
the Evangelist's 'My soul is exceeding sorrowful,' or, as the word
literally means, 'ringed round with sorrow.' A dark orb of distress
encompassed Him, and there was nowhere a break in the gloom which shut
Him in. And this is He who, but an hour before, had bequeathed His
'joy' to His servants, and had bidden them 'be of good cheer,' since
He had 'conquered the world.'

Dare we ask what were the elements of that all-enveloping horror of
great darkness? Reverently we may. That astonishment and distress no
doubt were partly due to the recoil of flesh from death. But if that
was their sole cause, Jesus has been surpassed in heroism, not only by
many a martyr who drew his strength from Him, but by many a rude
soldier and by many a criminal. No! The waters of the baptism with
which He was baptized had other sources than that, though it poured a
tributary stream into them.

We shall not understand Gethsemane at all, nor will it touch our
hearts and wills as it is meant to do, unless, as we look, we say in
adoring wonder, 'The Lord hath made to meet on Him the iniquity of us
all.' It was the weight of the world's sin which He took on Him by
willing identification of Himself with men, that pressed Him to the
ground. Nothing else than the atoning character of Christ's sufferings
explains so far as it can be explained, the agony which we are
permitted to behold afar off.

How nearly that agony was fatal is taught us by His own word 'unto
death,' A little more, and He would have died. Can we retain reverence
for Jesus as a perfect and pattern man, in view of His paroxysm of
anguish in Gethsemane, if we refuse to accept that explanation? Truly
was the place named 'The Olive-press,' for in it His whole being was
as if in the press, and another turn of the screw would have crushed
Him.

Darkness ringed Him round, but there was a rift in it right overhead.
Prayer was His refuge, as it must be ours. The soul that can cry,
'Abba, Father!' does not walk in unbroken night. His example teaches
us what our own sorrows should also teach us--to betake ourselves to
prayer when the spirit is desolate. In that wonderful prayer we
reverently note three things: there is unbroken consciousness of the
Father's love; there is the instinctive recoil of flesh and the
sensitive nature from the suffering imposed; and there is the absolute
submission of the will, which silences the remonstrance of flesh.
Whatever the weight laid on Jesus by His bearing of the sins of the
world, it did not take from Him the sense of sonship. But, on the
other hand, that sense did not take from Him the consciousness that
the world's sin lay upon Him. In like manner His cry on the Cross
mysteriously blended the sense of communion with God and of
abandonment by God. Into these depths we see but a little way, and
adoration is better than speculation.

Jesus shrank from 'this cup,' in which so many bitter ingredients
besides death were mingled, such as treachery, desertion, mocking,
rejection, exposure to 'the contradiction of sinners.' There was no
failure of purpose in that recoil, for the cry for exemption was
immediately followed by complete submission to the Father's will. No
perturbation in the lower nature ever caused His fixed resolve to
waver. The needle always pointed to the pole, however the ship might
pitch and roll. A prayer in which 'remove this from me' is followed by
that yielding 'nevertheless' is always heard. Christ's was heard, for
calmness came back, and His flesh was stilled and made ready for the
sacrifice.

So He could rejoin the three, in whose sympathy and watchfulness He
had trusted--and they all were asleep! Surely that was one ingredient
of bitterness in His cup. We wonder at their insensibility; and how
they must have wondered at it too, when after years taught them what
they had lost, and how faithless they had been! Think of men who could
have seen and heard that scene, which has drawn the worshipping regard
of the world ever since, missing it all because they fell asleep! They
had kept awake long enough to see Him fall on the ground and to hear
His prayer, but, worn out by a long day of emotion and sorrow, they
slept.

Jesus was probably rapt in prayer for a considerable time, perhaps for
a literal 'hour.' He was specially touched by Peter's failure, so
sadly contrasted with his confident professions in the upper room; but
no word of blame escaped Him. Rather He warned them of swift-coming
temptation, which they could only overcome by watchfulness and prayer.
It was indeed near, for the soldiers would burst in, before many
minutes had passed, polluting the moonlight with their torches and
disturbing the quiet night with their shouts. What gracious allowance
for their weakness and loving recognition of the disciples' imperfect
good lie in His words, which are at once an excuse for their fault and
an enforcement of His command to watch and pray! 'The flesh is weak,'
and hinders the willing spirit from doing what it wills. It was an
apology for the slumber of the three; it is a merciful statement of
the condition under which all discipleship has to be carried on. 'He
knoweth our frame.' Therefore we all need to watch and pray, since
only by such means can weak flesh be strengthened and strong flesh
weakened, or the spirit preserved in willingness.

The words were not spoken in reference to Himself, but in a measure
were true of Him. His second withdrawal for prayer seems to witness
that the victory won by the first supplication was not permanent.
Again the anguish swept over His spirit in another foaming breaker,
and again He sought solitude, and again He found tranquillity--and
again returned to find the disciples asleep. 'They knew not what to
answer Him' in extenuation of their renewed dereliction.

Yet a third time the struggle was renewed. And after that, He had no
need to return to the seclusion, where He had fought, and now had
conclusively conquered by prayer and submission. We too may, by the
same means, win partial victories over self, which may be interrupted
by uprisings of flesh; but let us persevere. Twice Jesus' calm was
broken by recrudescence of horror and shrinking; the third time it
came back, to abide through all the trying scenes of the passion, but
for that one cry on the Cross, 'Why hast Thou forsaken Me?' So it may
be with us.

The last words to the three have given commentators much trouble.
'Sleep on now, and take your rest,' is not so much irony as 'spoken
with a kind of permissive force, and in tones in which merciful
reproach was blended with calm resignation.' So far as He was
concerned, there was no reason for their waking. But they had lost an
opportunity, never to return, of helping Him in His hour of deepest
agony. He needed them no more. And do not we in like manner often lose
the brightest opportunities of service by untimely slumber of soul,
and is not 'the irrevocable past' saying to many of us, 'Sleep on now
since you can no more do what you have let slip from your drowsy
hands'?

'It is enough' is obscure, but probably refers to the disciples'
sleep, and prepares for the transition to the next words, which summon
them to arise, not to help Him by watching, but to meet the traitor.
They had slept long enough, He sadly says. That which will effectually
end their sleepiness is at hand. How completely our Lord had regained
His calm superiority to the horror which had shaken Him is witnessed
by that majestic 'Let us be going.' He will go out to meet the
traitor, and, after one flash of power, which smote the soldiers to
the ground, will yield Himself to the hands of sinners.

The Man who lay prone in anguish beneath the olive-trees comes forth
in serene tranquillity, and gives Himself up to the death for us all.
His agony was endured for us, and needs for its explanation the fact
that it was so. His victory through prayer was for us, that we too
might conquer by the same weapons. His voluntary surrender was for us,
that 'by His stripes we might be healed.' Surely we shall not sleep,
as did these others, but, moved by His sorrows and animated by His
victory, watch and pray that we may share in the virtue of His
sufferings and imitate the example of His submission.



THE SLEEPING APOSTLE


'Simon, sleepest thou!'--Mark xiv. 37

It is a very old Christian tradition that this Gospel is in some sense
the Apostle Peter's. There are not many features in the Gospel itself
which can be relied on as confirming this idea. Perhaps one such may
be found in this plaintive remonstrance, which is only preserved for
us here. Matthew's Gospel, indeed, tells us that the rebuke was
addressed to Peter, but blunts the sharp point of it as directed to
him, by throwing it into the plural, as if spoken to all the three
slumberers: 'What, could ye not watch with Me one hour?' To Matthew,
the special direction of the words was unimportant, but Peter could
never forget how the Master had come out from the shadow of the olives
to him lying there in the moonlight, and stood before him worn with
His solitary agony, and in a voice yet tremulous from His awful
conflict, had said to _him_, so lately loud in his professions of
fidelity, 'Sleepest _thou_?'

It was but an hour or two since he had been saying, and meaning, 'I
will lay down my life for Thy sake,' and this was what all that
fervour had come to. No wonder if there is almost a tone of surprise
discernible in our Lord's word, as if He who 'marvelled at the
unbelief' of those who were not His followers, marvelled still more at
the imperfect sympathy of those who were, and marvelled most of all at
such a sudden ebb of such a flood of devotion. Surprise and sorrow,
the pain of a loving heart thrown back upon itself, the sharp pang of
feeling how much less one is loved than one loves, the pleading with
His forgetful servant, rebuke without anger, all breathe through the
question, so pathetic in its simplicity, so powerful to bow in
contrition by reason of its very gentleness and self-restraint.

The record of this Evangelist proves how deep it sank into the
impulsive, loving heart of the apostle, and yet the denials in the
high priest's palace, which followed so soon, show how much less power
it had on him on the day when it was spoken, than it gained as he
looked back on it through the long vista of years that had passed,
when he told the story to Mark.

The first lesson to be gathered from these words is drawn from the
name by which our Lord here addresses the apostle: '_Simon_, sleepest
thou?'

Now the usage of Mark's Gospel in reference to this apostle's name is
remarkably uniform and precise. Both his names occur in Mark's
catalogue of the Apostles: 'Simon he surnamed Peter.' He is never
called by both again, but before that point he is always Simon, and
after it he is always Peter, except in this verse. The other
Evangelists show similar purpose, for the most part, in their
interchange of the names. Luke, for instance, always calls him Simon
up to the same point as Mark, except once where he uses the form
'Simon Peter,' and thereafter always Peter, except in Christ's solemn
warning, 'Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you,' and in the
report of the tidings that met the disciples on their return from
Emmaus, 'The Lord hath appeared to Simon.' So Matthew calls him Simon
in the story of the first miraculous draught of fishes, and in the
catalogue of Apostles, and afterwards uniformly Peter, except in
Christ's answer to the apostle's great confession, where He names him
'Simon Bar Jona,' in order, as would appear, to bring into more solemn
relief the significance of the immediately following words, 'Thou art
Peter.' In John's Gospel, again, we find the two forms 'Simon Peter'
and the simple 'Peter' used throughout with almost equal frequency,
while 'Simon' is only employed at the very beginning, and in the
heart-piercing triple question at the end, 'Simon, son of Jonas,
lovest thou Me?'

The conclusion seems a fair one from these details that, on the whole,
the name Simon brings into prominence the natural unrenewed humanity,
and the name Peter suggests the Apostolic office, the bold confessor,
the impulsive, warm-hearted lover and follower of the Lord. And it is
worth noticing that, with one exception, the instances in which he is
called by his former name, after his designation to the apostolate,
occur in words addressed to him by our Lord.

He had given the name, and surely His withdrawal of it was meant to be
significant, and must have struck with boding, rebuking emphasis on
the ear and conscience of the apostle. 'Simon, Simon, Satan hath
desired to have you': 'Remember thy human weakness, and in the sore
conflict that is before thee, trust not to thine own power.' 'Simon,
sleepest thou?' 'Can I call thee Peter now, when thou hast not cared
for My sorrow enough to wake while I wrestled? Is this thy fervid
love?' 'Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?' 'Thou wast Peter because
thou didst confess Me; thou hast fallen back to thine old level by
denying Me. It is not enough that in secret I should have restored
thee to My love. Here before thy brethren, thou must win back thy
forfeited name and place by a confession as open as the denial, and
thrice repeated like it. Once thou hast answered, but still thou art
"Simon." Twice thou hast answered, but not yet can I call thee
"Peter." Thrice thou hast answered, by each reply effacing a former
denial, and now I ask no more. Take back thine office; henceforth thou
shalt be called "Cephas" as before.'

And so it was. In the Acts of the Apostles, and in Paul's letters,
'Peter' or 'Cephas' entirely obliterates 'Simon.' Only for ease in
finding him, the messengers of Cornelius are to ask for him in Joppa
by the name by which he would be known outside the Church, and his old
companion James begins his speech to the council at Jerusalem by
referring with approbation to what 'Simeon' had said, as if he liked
to use the old name, that brought back memories of the far-off days in
Galilee, before they had known the Master.

Very touching, too, is it to notice how the apostle himself, while
using the name by which he was best known in the Church, in the
introduction to his first Epistle, calls himself 'Simon Peter' in his
second, as if to the end he felt that the old nature clung to him, and
was not yet, 'so long as he was in this tabernacle,' wholly subdued
under the dominion of the better self, which his Master had breathed
into him.

So we see that a bit of biography and an illustration of a large truth
are wrapped up for us in so small a matter as the apparently
fortuitous use of one or other of these names. I do not suppose that
in every instance where either of them occur, we can explain their
occurrence by a reference to such thoughts. But still there is an
unmistakable propriety in several instances in the employment of one
rather than the other, and we may fairly suggest the lesson as put
hero in a picturesque form, which Paul gives us in definite words,
'The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the
flesh.' The better and the worse nature contend in all Christian
souls, or, as our Lord says with such merciful leniency in this very
context, 'The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.' However real
and deep the change which passes over us when 'Christ is formed in
us,' it is only by degrees that the transformation spreads through our
being. The renewing process follows upon the bestowment of the new
life, and works from its deep inward centre outwards and upwards to
the circumference and surface of our being, on condition of our own
constant diligence and conflict.

True, 'If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature'; but also, and
precisely because he is, therefore the daily and hourly exhortation
is, 'Put on the new man.' The leaven is buried in the dough, and must
be well kneaded up with it if the whole is to be leavened. Peter is
still Simon, and sometimes seems to be so completely Simon that he has
ceased to be Peter. He continues Simon Peter to his own consciousness
to the very end, however his brethren call him. The struggle between
the two elements in his nature makes the undying interest of his
story, and brings him nearer to us than any of the other disciples
are. We, too, have to wage the conflict between the old nature and the
new; for us, too, the worse part seems too often to be the stronger,
if not the only part. The Master has often to speak to us, as if His
merciful all-seeing eye could discern in us nothing of our better
selves which are in truth Himself, and has to question our love. We,
too, have often to feel how little those who think best of us know
what we are. But let us take heart and remember that from every fall
it is possible to rise by penitence and secret converse with Him, and
that if only we remember to the end our lingering weakness, and
'giving all diligence,' cleave to Him, 'an entrance shall be
ministered unto us abundantly into His everlasting kingdom.'

We may briefly notice, too, some other lessons from this slumbering
apostle.

Let us learn, for instance, to distrust our own resolutions. An hour
or two at the most had passed since the eager protestation, 'Though
all should deny Thee, yet will not I. I will lay down my life for Thy
sake.' It had been most honestly said, at the dictate of a very loving
heart, which in its enthusiasm was over-estimating its own power of
resistance, and taking no due account of obstacles. The very utterance
of the rash vow made him weaker, for some of his force was expended in
making it. The uncalculating, impulsive nature of the man makes him a
favourite with all readers, and we sympathise with him, as a true
brother, when we hear him blurting out his big words, followed so soon
by such a contradiction in deeds. He is the same man all through his
story, always ready to push himself into dangers, always full of rash
confidence, which passes at once into abject fear when the dangers
which he had not thought about appear.

His sleep in the garden, following close on his bold words in the
upper chamber, is just like his eager wish to come to Christ on the
water, followed by his terror. He desires to be singled out from the
others; he desires to be beside his Master, and then as soon as he
feels a dash of spray on his cheek, and the heaving of that uneasy
floor beneath him, all his confidence collapses and he shrieks to
Christ to save him. It is just like his thrusting himself into the
high priest's palace--no safe place, and bad company for him by the
coal fire--and then his courage oozing out at his fingers' ends as
soon as a maidservant's sharp tongue questioned him. It is just like
his hearty welcome of the heathen converts at Antioch, and his ready
breaking through Jewish restrictions, and then his shrinking back into
his old shell again, as soon as 'certain came down from Jerusalem.'

And in it all, he is one of ourselves. We have to learn to distrust
all our own resolutions, and to be chary of our vows. 'Better is it
that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not
pay.' So, aware of our own weakness, and the flutterings of our own
hearts, let us not mortgage the future, nor lightly say 'I will'--but
rather let us turn our vows into prayers,

              'Nor confidently say,
  "I never will deny Thee, Lord"
  But, "Grant I never may."'

Let us note, too, the slight value of even genuine emotion. The very
exhaustion following on the strained emotions which these disciples
had been experiencing had sent them to sleep. Luke, in his
physician-like way, tells us this, when he says that they 'slept for
sorrow.' We all know how some great emotion which we might have
expected would have held our eyes waking, lulls to slumber. Men sleep
soundly on the night before their execution. A widow leaves her
husband's deathbed as soon as he has passed away, and sleeps a
dreamless sleep for hours. The strong current of emotion sweeps
through us, and leaves us dry. Sheer exhaustion and collapse follow
its intenser forms. And even in its milder, nothing takes so much out
of a man as emotion. Reaction always follows, and people are in some
degree unfitted for sober work by it. Peter, for example, was all the
less ready for keeping awake, and for bold confession, because of the
vehement emotions which had agitated him in the upper chamber. We
have, therefore, to be chary, in our religious life, of feeding the
flames of mere feeling. An unemotional Christianity is a very poor
thing, and most probably a spurious and unreal thing. But a merely
emotional Christianity is closely related to practical unholiness, and
leads by a very short straight road to windy wordy insincerity and
conscious hypocrisy. Emotion which is firmly based upon an intelligent
grasp of God's truth, and which is at once translated into action, is
good. But unless these two conditions be rigidly observed, it darkens
the understanding and enfeebles the soul.

Lastly, notice how much easier it is to purpose and to do great things
than small ones.

I have little doubt that if the Roman soldiers had called on Peter to
have made good his boast, and to give up his life to rescue his
Master, he would have been ready to do it. We know that he was ready
to fight for Him, and in fact did draw a sword and offer resistance.
He could die for Him, but he could not keep awake for Him. The great
thing he could have done, the little thing he could not do.

Brethren, it is far easier once in a way, by a dead lift, to screw
ourselves up to some great crisis which seems worthy of a supreme
effort of enthusiasm and sacrifice, than it is to keep on persistently
doing the small monotonies of daily duty. Many a soldier will bravely
rush to the assault in a storming-party, who would tremble in the
trenches. Many a martyr has gone unblenching to the stake for Christ,
who had found it far harder to serve Him in common duties. It is
easier to die for Him than to watch with Him. So let us listen to His
gentle voice, as He speaks to us, not as of old in the pauses of His
agony, and His locks wet with the dews of the night, but bending from
His throne, and crowned with many crowns: 'Sleepest them? Watch and
pray, lest ye enter into temptation.'



THE CAPTIVE CHRIST AND THE CIRCLE ROUND HIM


'And immediately, while He yet spake, cometh Judas, one of the twelve,
and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief
priests and the scribes and the elders. 44. And he that betrayed Him
had given them a token, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is
He; take Him, and lead Him away safely. 45. And as soon as he was
come, he goeth straightway to Him, and saith, Master, Master; and
kissed Him. 46. And they laid their hands on Him, and took Him. 47.
And one of them that stood by drew a sword, and smote a servant of the
high priest, and cut off his ear. 48. And Jesus answered and said unto
them, Are ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and with staves
to take Me? 49. I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and ye
took Me not: but the scriptures must be fulfilled. 50. And they all
forsook Him, and fled. 51. And there followed Him a certain young man,
having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young man laid
hold on Him: 52. And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them
naked. 53. And they led Jesus away to the high priest: and with him
were assembled all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes.
54. And Peter followed Him afar off, even into the palace of the high
priest: and he sat with the servants, and warmed himself at the
fire.'--Mark xiv. 43-54.

A comparison of the three first Gospels in this section shows a degree
of similarity, often verbal, which is best accounted for by supposing
that a common (oral?) 'Gospel,' which had become traditionally fixed
by frequent and long repetition, underlies them all. Mark's account is
briefest, and grasps with sure instinct the essential points; but,
even in his brevity, he pauses to tell of the young man who so nearly
shared the Lord's apprehension. The canvas is narrow and crowded; but
we may see unity in the picture, if we regard as the central fact the
sacrilegious seizure of Jesus, and the other incidents and persons as
grouped round it and Him, and reflecting various moods of men's
feelings towards Him.

I. The avowed and hypocritical enemies of incarnate love. Again we
have Mark's favourite 'straightway,' so frequent in the beginning of
the Gospel, and occurring twice here, vividly painting both the sudden
inburst of the crowd which Interrupted Christ's words and broke the
holy silence of the garden, and Judas's swift kiss. He is named--the
only name but our Lord's in the section; and the depth of his sin is
emphasised by adding 'one of the twelve.' He is not named in the next
verse, but gibbeted for immortal infamy by the designation, 'he that
betrayed Him.' There is no dilating on his crime, nor any bespattering
him with epithets. The passionless narrative tells of the criminal and
his crime with unsparing, unmoved tones, which have caught some echo
beforehand of the Judge's voice. To name the sinner, and to state
without cloak or periphrasis what his deed really was, is condemnation
enough. Which of us could stand it?

Judas was foremost of the crowd. What did he feel as he passed swiftly
into the shadow of the olives, and caught the first sight of Jesus?
That the black depths of his spirit were agitated is plain from two
things--the quick kiss, and the nauseous repetition of it. Mark says,
'Straightway ... he kissed Him much.' Probably the swiftness and
vehemence, so graphically expressed by these two touches, were due,
not only to fear lest Christ should escape, and to hypocrisy
overacting its part, but to a struggle with conscience and ancient
affection, and a fierce determination to do the thing and have it
over. Judas is not the only man who has tried to drown conscience by
hurrying into and reiterating the sin from which conscience tries to
keep him. The very extravagances of evil betray the divided and stormy
spirit of the doer. In the darkness and confusion, the kiss was a
surer token than a word or a pointing finger would have been; and
simple convenience appears to have led to its selection. But what a
long course of hypocrisy must have preceded and how complete the
alienation of heart must have become, before such a choice was
possible! That traitor's kiss has become a symbol for all treachery
cloaked in the garb of affection. Its lessons and warnings are
obvious, but this other may be added--that such audacity and
nauseousness of hypocrisy is not reached at a leap, but presupposes
long underground tunnels of insincere discipleship, through which a
man has burrowed, unseen by others, and perhaps unsuspected by
himself. Much hypocrisy of the unconscious sort precedes the
deliberate and conscious.

How much less criminal and disgusting was the rude crowd at Judas's
heels! Most of them were mere passive tools. The Evangelist points
beyond them to the greater criminals by his careful enumeration of all
classes of the Jewish authorities, thus laying the responsibility
directly on their shoulders, and indirectly on the nation whom they
represented. The semi-tumultuous character of the crowd is shown by
calling them 'a multitude,' and by the medley of weapons which they
carried. Half-ignorant hatred, which had had ample opportunities of
becoming knowledge and love, offended formalism, blind obedience to
ecclesiastical superiors, the dislike of goodness--these impelled the
rabble who burst into the garden of Gethsemane.

II. Incarnate love, bound and patient. We may bring together verses
46, 48, and 49, the first of which tells in simplest, briefest words
the sacrilegious violence done to Jesus, while the others record His
calm remonstrance. 'They laid hands on Him.' That was the first stage
in outrage--the quick stretching of many hands to secure the
unresisting prisoner. They 'took Him,' or, as perhaps we might better
render, 'They held Him fast,' as would have been done with any
prisoner. Surely, the quietest way of telling that stupendous fact is
the best! It is easy to exclaim, and, after the fashion of some
popular writers of lives of Christ, to paint fancy pictures. It is
better to be sparing of words, like Mark, and silently to meditate on
the patient long-suffering of the love which submitted to these
indignities, and on the blindness which had no welcome but this for
'God manifest in the flesh.' Both are in full operation to-day, and
the germs of the latter are in us all.

Mark confines himself to that one of Christ's sayings which sets in
the clearest light His innocence and meek submissiveness. With all its
calmness and patience, it is majestic and authoritative, and sounds as
if spoken from a height far above the hubbub. Its question is not only
an assertion of His innocence, and therefore of his captor's guilt,
but also declares the impotence of force as against Him--'Swords and
staves to take Me!' All that parade of arms was out of place, for He
was no evil-doer; needless, for He did not resist; and powerless,
unless He chose to let them prevail. He speaks as the stainless,
incarnate Son of God. He speaks also as Captain of 'the noble army of
martyrs,' and His question may be extended to include the truth that
force is in its place when used against crime, but ludicrously and
tragically out of place when employed against any teacher, and
especially against Christianity. Christ, in His persecuted confessors,
puts the same question to the persecutors which Christ in the flesh
put to His captors.

The second clause of Christ's remonstrance appeals to their knowledge
of Him and His words, and to their attitude towards Him. For several
days He had daily been publicly teaching in the Temple. They had laid
no hands on Him. Nay, some of them, no doubt, had helped to wave the
palm-branches and swell the hosannas. He does not put the contrast of
then and now in its strongest form, but spares them, even while He
says enough to bring an unseen blush to some cheeks. He would have
them ask, 'Why this change in us, since He is the same? Did He deserve
to be hailed as King a few short hours ago? How, then, before the
palm-branches are withered, can He deserve rude hands?' Men change in
their feelings to the unchanging Christ; and they who have most
closely marked the rise and fall of the tide in their own hearts will
be the last to wonder at Christ's captors, and will most appreciate
the gentleness of His rebuke and remonstrance.

The third clause rises beyond all notice of the human agents, and
soars to the divine purpose which wrought itself out through them.
That divine purpose does not make them guiltless, but it makes Jesus
submissive. He bows utterly, and with no reluctance, to the Father's
will, which could be wrought out through unconscious instruments, and
had been declared of old by half-understanding prophets, but needed
the obedience of the Son to be clear-seeing, cheerful, and complete.
We, too, should train ourselves to see the hand that moves the pieces,
and to make God's will our will, as becomes sons. Then Christ's calm
will be ours, and, ceasing from self, and conscious of God everywhere,
and yielding our wills, which are the self of ourselves, to Him, we
shall enter into rest.

III. Rash love defending its Lord with wrong weapons (verse 47). Peter
may have felt that he must do something to vindicate his recent
boasting, and, with his usual headlong haste, stops neither to ask
what good his sword is likely to do, nor to pick his man and take
deliberate aim at him. If swords were to be used, they should do
something more effectual than hacking off a poor servant's ear. There
was love In the foolish deeds and a certain heroism in braving the
chance of a return thrust or capture, which should go to Peter's
credit. If he alone struck a blow for his Master, it was because the
others were more cowardly, not more enlightened. Peter has had rather
hard measure about this matter, and is condemned by some of us who
would not venture a tenth part of what he ventured for his Lord then.
No doubt, this was blind and blundering love, with an alloy of
rashness and wish for prominence; but that is better than unloving
enlightenment and caution, which is chiefly solicitous about keeping
its own ears on. It is also worse than love which sees and reflects
the image of the meek Sufferer whom it loves. Christ and His cause are
to be defended by other weapons. Christian heroism endures and does
not smite. Not only swords, but bitter words which wound worse than
they, are forbidden to Christ's soldier. We are ever being tempted to
fight Christ's battles with the world's weapons; and many a 'defender
of the faith' in later days, perhaps even in this very enlightened
day, has repeated Peter's fault with less excuse than he, and with
very little of either his courage or his love.

IV. Cowardly love forsaking its Lord (verse 50). 'They all forsook
Him, and fled.' And who will venture to say that he would not have
done so too? The tree that can stand such a blast must have deep
roots. The Christ whom they forsook was, to them, but a fragment of
the Christ whom we know; and the fear which scattered them was far
better founded and more powerful than anything which the easy-going
Christians of to-day have to resist. Their flight may teach us to
place little reliance on our emotions, however genuine and deep, and
to look for the security for our continual adherence to Christ, not to
our fluctuating feelings, but to His steadfast love. We keep close to
Him, not because our poor fingers grasp His hand--for that grasp is
always feeble, and often relaxed--but because His strong and gentle
hand holds us with a grasp which nothing can loosen. Whoso trusts in
his own love to Christ builds on sand, but whoso trusts in Christ's
love to him builds on rock.

V. Adventurous curiosity put to flight (verses 51, 52). Probably this
young man was Mark. Only he tells the incident, which has no bearing
on the course of events, and was of no importance but to the person
concerned. He has put himself unnamed in a corner of his picture, as
monkish painters used to do, content to associate himself even thus
with his Lord. His hastily cast-on covering seems to show that he had
been roused from sleep. Mingled love and curiosity and youthful
adventurousness made him bold to follow when Apostles had fled. No
effort appears to have been made to stop their flight; but he is laid
hold of, and, terrified at his own rashness, wriggles himself out of
his captors' hands. The whole incident singularly recalls Mark's
behaviour on Paul's first missionary journey. There are the same
adventurousness, the same inconsiderate entrance on perilous paths,
the same ignominious and hasty retreat at the first whistle of the
bullets. A man who pushes himself needlessly into difficulties and
dangers without estimating their force is pretty sure to take to his
heels as soon as he feels them, and to cut as undignified a figure as
this naked fugitive.

VI. Love frightened, but following (verse 54). Fear had driven Peter
but a little way. Love soon drew him and John back. Sudden and often
opposite impulses moved Ms conduct and ruffled the surface of his
character, but, deep down, the core was loyal love. He followed, but
afar off; though 'afar off,' he did follow. If his distance betrayed
his terror, his following witnessed his bravery. He is not a coward
who is afraid, but he who lets his fear hinder him from duty or drive
him to flight. What is all Christian living but following Christ afar
off? And do the best of us do more, though we have less apology for
our distance than Peter had? 'Leaving us an example, that ye should
follow His steps' said he, long after, perhaps remembering both that
morning and the other by the lake when he was bidden to leave other
servants' tasks to the Master's disposal, and, for his own part, to
follow Him.

His love pushed him into a dangerous place. He was in bad company
among the inferior sort of servants huddled around the fire that cold
morning, at the lower end of the hall; and as its light flickered on
his face, he was sure to be recognised. But we have not now to do with
his denial. Rather he is the type of a true disciple, coercing his
human weakness and cowardice to yield to the attraction which draws
him to his Lord, and restful in the humblest place where he can catch
a glimpse of His face, and so be, as he long after alleged it as his
chief title to authority to have been, 'a witness of the sufferings of
Christ.'



THE CONDEMNATION WHICH CONDEMNS THE JUDGES


'And the chief priests and all the council sought for witness against
Jesus to put Him to death; and found none. 56. For many bare false
witness against Him, but their witness agreed not together. 57. And
there arose certain, and bare false witness against Him, saying, 58.
We heard Him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands,
and within three days I will build another made without hands. 59. But
neither so did their witness agree together. 60. And the high priest
stood up in their midst, and asked Jesus, saying, Answerest Thou
nothing? what is it which these witness against Thee? 61. But He held
His peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked Him, and
said unto Him, Art Thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? 62. And
Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of Man, sitting on the
right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. 63. Then the
high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further
witnesses? 64. Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? And they
all condemned Him to be guilty of death. 65. And some began to spit on
Him, and to cover His face, and to buffet Him, and to say unto Him,
Prophesy: and the servants did strike Him with the palms of their
hands.'--Mark xiv. 55-65.

Mark brings out three stages in our Lord's trial by the Jewish
authorities--their vain attempts to find evidence against Him, which
were met by His silence; His own majestic witness to Himself, which
was met by a unanimous shriek of condemnation; and the rude mockery of
the underlings. The other Evangelists, especially John, supply many
illuminative details; but the essentials are here. It is only in
criticising the Gospels that a summary and a fuller narrative are
dealt with as contradictory. These three stages naturally divide this
paragraph.

I. The judges with evil thoughts, the false witnesses, and the silent
Christ (verses 55-61). The criminal is condemned before He is tried.
The judges have made up their minds before they sit, and the Sanhedrim
is not a court of justice, but a slaughter-house, where murder is to
be done under sanction of law. Mark, like Matthew, notes the unanimity
of the 'council,' to which Joseph of Arimathea--the one swallow which
does not make a summer--appears to have been the only exception; and
he probably was absent, or, if present, was silent. He did 'not
consent'; but we are not told that he opposed. That ill-omened
unanimity measures the nation's sin. Flagrant injustice and corruption
in high places is possible only when society as a whole is corrupt or
indifferent to corruption. This prejudging of a case from hatred of
the accused as a destroyer of sacred tradition, and this hunting for
evidence to bolster up a foregone conclusion, are preeminently the
vices of ecclesiastical tribunals and not of Jewish Sanhedrim or Papal
Inquisition only. Where judges look for witnesses for the prosecution,
plenty will be found, ready to curry favour by lies. The eagerness to
find witnesses against Jesus is witness for Him, as showing that
nothing in His life or teaching was sufficient to warrant their
murderous purpose. His judges condemn themselves in seeking grounds to
condemn Him, for they thereby show that their real motive was personal
spite, or, as Caiaphas suggested, political expediency.

The single specimen of the worthless evidence given may be either a
piece of misunderstanding or of malicious twisting of innocent words;
nor can we decide whether the witnesses contradicted one another or
each himself. The former is the more probable, as the fundamental
principle of the Jewish law of evidence ('two or three witnesses')
would, in that case, rule out the testimony. The saying which they
garble meant the very opposite of what they made it mean. It
represented Jesus as the restorer of that which Israel should destroy.
It referred to His body which is the true Temple; but the symbolic
temple 'made with hands' is so inseparably connected with the real,
that the fate of the one determines that of the other. Strangely
significant, therefore, is it, that the rulers heard again, though
distorted, at that moment when they were on their trial, the
far-reaching sentence, which might have taught them that in slaying
Jesus they were throwing down the Temple and all which centred in it,
and that by His resurrection, His own act, He would build up again a
new polity, which yet was but the old transfigured, even 'the Church,
which is His body.' His work destroys nothing but 'the works of the
devil.' He is the restorer of the divine ordinances and gifts which
men destroy, and His death and resurrection bring back in nobler form
all the good things lost by sin, 'the desolations of many
generations.' The history of all subsequent attacks on Christ is
mirrored here. The foregone conclusion, the evidence sought as an
after-thought to give a colourable pretext, the material found by
twisting His teaching, the blindness which accuses Him of destroying
what He restores, and fancies itself as preserving what it is
destroying, have all reappeared over and over again.

Our Lord's silence is not only that of meekness, 'as a sheep before
her shearers is dumb.' It is the silence of innocence, and, if we may
use the word concerning Him, of scorn. He will not defend Himself to
such judges, nor stoop to repel evidence which they knew to be
worthless. But there is also something very solemn and judicial in His
locked lips. They had ever been ready to open in words of loving
wisdom; but now they are fast closed, and this is the penalty for
despising, that He ceases to speak. Deaf ears make a dumb Christ, What
will happen when Jesus and His judges change places, as they will one
day do? When He says to each, 'Answerest thou nothing? What is it
which these, thy sins, witness against thee?' each will be silent with
the consciousness of guilt and of just condemnation by His all-knowing
justice.

II. Christ's majestic witness to Himself received with a shriek of
condemnation. What a supreme moment that was when the head of the
hierarchy put this question and received the unambiguous answer! The
veriest impostor asserting Messiahship had a right to have his claims
examined; but a howl of hypocritical horror is all which Christ's
evoke. The high priest knew well enough what Christ's answer would be.
Why, then, did he not begin by questioning Jesus, and do without the
witnesses? Probably because the council wished to find some pretext
for His condemnation without bringing up the real reason; for it
looked ugly to condemn a man for claiming to be Messias, and to do it
without examining His credentials. The failure, however, of the false
witnesses compelled the council to 'show their hands,' and to hear and
reject our Lord solemnly and, so to speak, officially, laying His
assertion of dignity and office before them, as the tribunal charged
with the duty of examining His proofs. The question is so definite as
to imply a pretty full and accurate knowledge of our Lord's teaching
about Himself. It embraces two points--office and nature; for 'the
Christ' and 'the Son of the Blessed' are not equivalents. The latter
title points to our Lord's declarations that He was the Son of God,
and is an instance of the later Jewish superstition which avoided
using the divine name. Loving faith delights in the name of the Lord.
Dead formalism changes reverence into dread, and will not speak it.

Sham reverence, feigned ignorance, affected wish for information, the
false show of judicial impartiality, and other lies and vices not a
few, are condensed in the question; and the fact that the judge had to
ask it and hear the answer, is an instance of a divine purpose working
through evil men, and compelling reluctant lips to speak words the
meaning and bearing of which they little know. Jesus could not leave
such a challenge unanswered. Silence then would have been abandonment
of His claims. It was fitting that the representatives of the nation
should, at that decisive moment, hear Him declare Himself Messiah. It
was not fitting that He should be condemned on any other ground. In
that answer, and its reception by the council, the nation's rejection
of Jesus is, as it were, focused and compressed. This was the end of
centuries of training by miracle, prophet and psalmist--the saddest
instance in man's long, sad history of his awful power to frustrate
God's patient educating!

Our Lord's majestic 'I am,' in one word answers both parts of the
question, and then passes on, with strange calm and dignity, to point
onwards to the time when the criminal will be the judge, and the
judges will stand at His bar. 'The Son of Man,' His ordinary
designation of Himself, implies His true manhood, and His
representative character, as perfect man, or, to use modern language,
the 'realised ideal' of humanity. In the present connection, its
employment in the same sentence as His assertion that He is the Son of
God goes deep into the mystery of His twofold nature, and declares
that His manhood had a supernatural origin and wielded divine
prerogatives. Accordingly there follows the explicit prediction of His
assumption of the highest of these after His death. The Cross was as
plain to Him as ever; but beyond it gleamed the crown and the throne.
He anticipates 'sitting on the right hand of power,' which implies
repose, enthronement, judicature, investiture with omnipotence, and
administration of the universe. He anticipates 'coming in the clouds
of heaven,' which distinctly claims to be the future Judge of the
world. His hearers could scarcely fail to discern the reference to
Daniel's prophecy.

Was ever the irony of history more pungently exemplified than in an
Annas and Caiaphas holding up hands of horror at the 'blasphemies' of
Jesus? They rightly took His words to mean more than the claim of
Messiahship as popularly understood. To say that He was the Christ was
not 'blasphemy,' but a claim demanding examination; but to say that
He, the Son of Man, was Son of God and supreme Judge was so, according
to their canons. How unconsciously the exclamation, 'What need we
further witnesses?' betrays the purpose for which the witnesses had
been sought, as being simply His condemnation! They were 'needed' to
compass His death, which the council now gleefully feels to be
secured. So with precipitate unanimity they vote. And this was
Israel's welcome to their King, and the outcome of all their history!
And it was the destruction of the national life. That howl of
condemnation pronounced sentence on themselves and on the whole order
of which they were the heads. The prisoner's eyes alone saw then what
we and all men may see now--the handwriting on the wall of the high
priest's palace: 'Weighed in the balance, and found wanting.'

III. The savage mockers and the patient Christ (verse 65). There is an
evident antithesis between the 'all' of verse 64 and the 'some' of
verse 65, which shows that the inflictors of the indignities were
certain members of the council, whose fury carried them beyond all
bounds of decency. The subsequent mention of the 'servants' confirms
this, especially when we adopt the more accurate rendering of the
Revised Version, 'received Him with blows.' Mark's account, then, is
this: that, as soon as the unanimous howl of condemnation had beep
uttered, some of the 'judges'(!) fell upon Jesus with spitting and
clumsy ridicule and downright violence, and that afterwards He was
handed over to the underlings, who were not slow to copy the example
set them at the upper end of the hall.

It was not an ignorant mob who thus answered His claims, but the
leaders and teachers--the _crême de la crême_ of the nation. A wild
beast lurks below the Pharisee's long robes and phylacteries; and the
more that men have changed a living belief in religion for a formal
profession, the more fiercely antagonistic are they to every attempt
to realise its precepts and hopes. The 'religious' men who mock Jesus
in the name of traditional religion are by no means an extinct
species. It is of little use to shudder at the blind cruelty of dead
scribes and priests. Let us rather remember that the seeds of their
sins are in us all, and take care to check their growth. What a
volcano of hellish passion bursts out here! Spitting expresses
disgust; blinding and asking for the names of the smiters is a clumsy
attempt at wit and ridicule; buffeting is the last unrestrained form
of hate and malice. The world has always paid its teachers and
benefactors in such coin; but all other examples pale before this
saddest, transcendent instance. Love is repaid by hate; a whole nation
is blind to supreme and unspotted goodness; teachers steeped in 'law
and prophets' cannot see Him of and for whom law and prophets
witnessed and were, when He stands before them. The sin of sins is the
failure to recognise Jesus for what He is. His person and claims are
the touchstone which tries every beholder of what sort He is.

How wonderful the silent patience of Jesus! He withholds not His face
'from shame and spitting.' He gives 'His back to the smiters.' Meek
endurance and passive submission are not all which we have to behold
there. This is more than an uncomplaining martyr. This is the
sacrifice for the world's sin; and His bearing of all that men can
inflict is more than heroism. It is redeeming love. His sad, loving
eyes, wide open below their bandage, saw and pitied each rude smiter,
even as He sees us all. They were and are eyes of infinite tenderness,
ready to beam forgiveness; but they were and are the eyes of the
Judge, who sees and repays His foes, as those who smite Him will one
day find out.



CHRIST AND PILATE: THE TRUE KING AND HIS COUNTERFEIT


'And straightway in the morning the chief priests held a consultation
with the elders and scribes and the whole council, and bound Jesus,
and carried Him away, and delivered Him to Pilate. 2. And Pilate asked
Him, Art Thou the King of the Jews? And He answering said unto him,
Thou sayest it. 3. And the chief priests accused Him of many things:
but He answered nothing. 4. And Pilate asked Him again, saying,
Answerest Thou nothing? behold how many things they witness against
Thee. 6. But Jesus yet answered nothing; so that Pilate marvelled. 6.
Now at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they
desired. 7. And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with
them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in
the insurrection. 8. And the multitude crying aloud began to desire
him to do as he had ever done unto them. 9. But Pilate answered them,
saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews? 10. For
he knew that the chief priests had delivered Him for envy. 11. But the
chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas
unto them. 12. And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will
ye then that I shall do unto Him whom ye call the King of the Jews?
13. And they cried out again, Crucify Him. 14. Then Pilate said unto
them, Why, what evil hath He done? And they cried out the more
exceedingly, Crucify Him. 15. And so Pilate, willing to content the
people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had
scourged Him, to be crucified. 16. And the soldiers led Him away into
the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band.
17. And they clothed Him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns,
and put it about His head, 18. And began to salute Him, Hail, King of
the Jews! 19. And they smote Him on the head with a reed, and did spit
upon Him, and bowing their knees worshipped Him. 20. And when they had
mocked Him they took off the purple from Him, and put His own clothes
on Him, and led Him out to crucify Him.'--Mark xv. 1-20.

The so-called trial of Jesus by the rulers turned entirely on his
claim to be Messias; His examination by Pilate turns entirely on His
claim to be king. The two claims are indeed one, but the political
aspect is distinguishable from the higher one; and it was the Jewish
rulers' trick to push it exclusively into prominence before Pilate, in
the hope that he might see in the claim an incipient insurrection, and
might mercilessly stamp it out. It was a new part for them to play to
hand over leaders of revolt to the Roman authorities, and a governor
with any common sense must have suspected that there was something hid
below such unusual loyalty. What a moment of degradation and of
treason against Israel's sacredest hopes that was when its rulers
dragged Jesus to Pilate on such a charge! Mark follows the same method
of condensation and discarding of all but the essentials, as in the
other parts of his narrative. He brings out three points--the hearing
before Pilate, the popular vote for Barabbas, and the soldiers'
mockery.

I. The true King at the bar of the apparent ruler (verses 1-6). The
contrast between appearance and reality was never more strongly drawn
than when Jesus stood as a prisoner before Pilate. The One is
helpless, bound, alone; the other invested with all the externals of
power. But which is the stronger? and in which hand is the sceptre? On
the lowest view of the contrast, it is ideas _versus_ swords. On the
higher and truer, it is the incarnate God, mighty because voluntarily
weak, and man 'dressed in a little brief authority,' and weak because
insolently 'making his power his god.' Impotence, fancying itself
strong, assumes sovereign authority over omnipotence clothed in
weakness. The phantom ruler sits in judgment on the true King. Pilate
holding Christ's life in his hand is the crowning paradox of history,
and the mystery of self-abasing love. One exercise of the Prisoner's
will and His chains would have snapped, and the governor lain dead on
the marble 'pavement.'

The two hearings are parallel, and yet contrasted. In each there are
two stages--the self-attestation of Jesus and the accusations of
others; but the order is different. The rulers begin with the
witnesses, and, foiled there, fall back on Christ's own answer,
Pilate, with Roman directness and a touch of contempt for the
accusers, goes straight to the point, and first questions Jesus. His
question was simply as to our Lord's regal pretensions. He cared
nothing about Jewish 'superstitions' unless they threatened political
disturbance. It was nothing to him whether or no one crazy fanatic
more fancied himself 'the Messiah,' whatever that might be. Was He
going to fight?--that was all which Pilate had to look after. He is
the very type of the hard, practical Roman, with a 'practical' man's
contempt for ideas and sentiments, sceptical as to the possibility of
getting hold of 'truth,' and too careless to wait for an answer to his
question about it; loftily ignorant of and indifferent to the notions
of the troublesome people that he ruled, but alive to the necessity of
keeping them in good humour, and unscrupulous enough to strain justice
and unhesitatingly to sacrifice so small a thing as an innocent life
to content them.

What could such a man see in Jesus but a harmless visionary? He had
evidently made up his mind that there was no mischief in Him, or he
would not have questioned Him as to His kingship. It was a new thing
for the rulers to hand over dangerous patriots, and Pilate had
experience enough to suspect that such unusual loyalty concealed
something else, and that if Jesus had really been an insurrectionary
leader, He would never have fallen into Pilate's power. Accordingly,
he gives no serious attention to the case, and his question has a
certain half-amused, half-pitying ring about it. 'Thou a king? '--poor
helpless peasant! A strange specimen of royalty this! How constantly
the same blindness is repeated, and the strong things of this world
despise the weak, and material power smiles pityingly at the helpless
impotence of the principles of Christ's gospel, which yet will one day
shatter it to fragments, like a potter's vessel! The phantom ruler
judges the real King to be a powerless shadow, while himself is the
shadow and the other the substance. There are plenty of Pilates to-day
who judge and misjudge the King of Israel.

The silence of Jesus in regard to the eager accusations corresponds to
His silence before the false witnesses. The same reason dictated both.
His silence is His most eloquent answer. It calmly passes by all these
charges by envenomed tongues as needing no reply, and as utterly
irrelevant. Answered, they would have lived in the Gospels;
unanswered, they are buried. Christ can afford to let many of His foes
alone. Contradictions and confutations keep slanders and heresies
above water, which the law of gravitation would dispose of if they
were left alone.

Pilate's wonder might and should have led him further. It should have
prompted to further inquiry, and that might have issued in clearer
knowledge. It was the little glimmer of light at the far-off end of
his cavern, which, travelled towards, might have brought him into free
air and broad day. One great part of his crime was neglecting the
faint monitions of which he was conscious. His light may have been
dim, but it would have brightened; and he quenched it. He stands as a
tremendous example of possibilities missed, and of the tragedy of a
soul that has looked on Jesus, and has not yielded to the impressions
made on him by the sight.

II. The people's favourite (verses 7-15), 'Barabbas' means 'son of the
father,' His very name is a kind of caricature of the 'Son of the
Blessed,' and his character and actions present in gross form the sort
of Messias whom the nation really wanted. He had headed some one of
the many small riots against Rome which were perpetually sputtering up
and being trampled out by an armed heel. There had been bloodshed, in
which he had himself taken part ('a murderer,' Acts iii. 14). And this
coarse, red-handed desperado is the people's favourite, because he
embodied their notions and aspirations, and had been bold enough to do
what every man of them would have done if he had dared. He thought and
felt, as they did, that freedom was to be won by the sword. The
popular hero is as a mirror which reflects the popular mind. He echoes
the popular voice, a little improved or exaggerated. Jesus had taught
what the people did not care to hear, and given blessings which even
the recipients soon forgot, and lived a life whose 'beauty of
holiness' oppressed and rebuked the common life of men. What chance
had truth and kindness and purity against the sort of bravery that
slashes with a sword, and is not elevated above the mob by
inconvenient reach of thought or beauty of character? Even now, after
nineteen centuries of Christ's influence have modified the popular
ideals, what chance have they? Are the popular 'heroes' of Christian
nations saints, teachers, lovers of men, in whom their Christ-likeness
is the thing venerated? The old saying that the voice of the people is
the voice of God receives an instructive commentary in the vote for
Barabbas and against Jesus. That was what a plebiscite for the
discovery of the people's favourite came to. What a reliable method of
finding the best man universal suffrage, manipulated by wirepullers
like these priests, is! and how wise the people are who let it guide
their judgments, or still wiser, who fret their lives out in angling
for its approval! Better be condemned with Jesus than adopted with
Barabbas.

That fatal choice revealed the character of the choosers, both in
their hostility and admiration; for excellence hated shows what we
ought to be and are not, and grossness or vice admired shows what we
would fain be if we dared. It was the tragic sign that Israel had not
learned the rudiments of the lesson which 'at sundry times and in
divers manners' God had been teaching them. In it the nation renounced
its Messianic hopes, and with its own mouth pronounced its own
sentence. It convicted them of insensibility to the highest truth, of
blindness to the most effulgent light, of ingratitude for the richest
gifts. It is the supreme instance of short-lived, unintelligent
emotion, inasmuch as many who on Friday joined in the roar, 'Crucify
Him!' had on Sunday shouted 'Hosanna!' till they were hoarse.

Pilate plays a cowardly and unrighteous part in the affair, and tries
to make amends to himself for his politic surrender of a man whom he
knew to be innocent, by taunts and sarcasm. He seems to see a chance
to release Jesus, if he can persuade the mob to name Him as the
prisoner to be set free, according to custom. His first proposal to
them was apparently dictated by a genuine interest in Jesus, and a
complete conviction that Rome had nothing to fear from this 'King.'
But there are also in the question a sneer at such pauper royalty, as
it looked to him, and a kind of scornful condescension in
acknowledging the mob's right of choice. He consults their wishes for
once, but there is haughty consciousness of mastery in his way of
doing it. His appeal is to the people, as against the priests whose
motives he had penetrated. But in his very effort to save Jesus he
condemns himself; for, if he knew that they had delivered Christ for
envy, his plain duty was to set the prisoner free, as innocent of the
only crime of which he ought to take cognisance. So his attempt to
shift the responsibility off his own shoulders is a piece of cowardice
and a dereliction of duty. His second question plunges him deeper in
the mire. The people had a right to decide which was to be released,
but none to settle the fate of Jesus. To put that in their hands was
an unconditional surrender by Pilate, and the sneer in 'whom _ye_ call
the King of the Jews' is a poor attempt to hide from them and himself
that he is afraid of them. Mark puts his finger on the damning blot in
Pilate's conduct when he says that his motive for condemning Jesus was
his wish to content the people. The life of one poor Jew was a small
price to pay for popularity. So he let policy outweigh righteousness,
and, in spite of his own clear conviction, did an innocent man to
death. That would be his reading of his act, and, doubtless, it did
not trouble his conscience much or long, but he would leave the
judgment-seat tolerably satisfied with his morning's work. How little
he knew what he had done! In his ignorance lies his palliation. His
crime was great, but his guilt is to be measured by his light, and
that was small. He prostituted justice for his own ends, and he did
not follow out the dawnings of light that would have led him to know
Jesus. Therefore he did the most awful thing in the world's history.
Let us learn the lesson which he teaches!

III. The soldiers' mockery (verses 16-20). This is characteristically
different from that of the rulers, who jeered at His claim to
supernatural enlightenment, and bade Him show His Messiahship by
naming His smiters. The rough legionaries knew nothing about a
Messiah, but it seemed to them a good jest that this poor, scourged
prisoner should have called Himself a King, and so they proceed to
make coarse and clumsy merriment over it. It is like the wild beast
playing with its prey before killing it. The laughter is not only
rough, but cruel. There was no pity for the Victim 'bleeding from the
Roman rods,' and soon to die. And the absence of any personal hatred
made this mockery more hideous. Jesus was nothing to them but a
prisoner whom they were to crucify, and their mockery was sheer
brutality and savage delight in torturing. The sport is too good to be
kept by a few, so the whole band is gathered to enjoy it. How they
would troop to the place! They get hold of some robe or cloth of the
imperial colour, and of some flexible shoots of some thorny plant, and
out of these they fashion a burlesque of royal trappings. Then they
shout, as they would have done to Caesar, 'Hail, King of the Jews!'
repeating again with clumsy iteration the stale jest which seems to
them so exquisite. Then their mood changes, and naked ferocity takes
the place of ironical reverence. Plucking the mock sceptre, the reed,
from His passive hand, they strike the thorn-crowned Head with it, and
spit on Him, while they bow in mock reverence before Him, and at last,
when tired of their sport, tear off the purple, and lead him away to
the Cross.

If we think of who He was who bore all this, and of why He bore it, we
may well bow not the knee but the heart, in endless love and
thankfulness. If we think of the mockers--rude Roman soldiers, who
probably could not understand a word of what they heard on the streets
of Jerusalem--we shall do rightly to remember our Lord's own plea for
them, 'they know not what they do,' and reflect that many of us with
more knowledge do really sin more against the King than they did.
Their insult was an unconscious prophecy. They foretold the basis of
His dominion by the crown of thorns, and its character by the sceptre
of reed, and its extent by their mocking salutations; for His Kingship
is founded in suffering, wielded with gentleness, and to Him every
knee shall one day bow, and every tongue confess that the King of the
Jews is monarch of mankind.



THE DEATH WHICH GIVES LIFE


'And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of
the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear His cross. 22.
And they bring Him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being
interpreted, The place of a skull. 23. And they gave Him to drink wine
mingled with myrrh: but He received it not. 24. And when they had
crucified Him, they parted His garments, casting lots upon them, what
every man should take. 25. And it was the third hour, and they
crucified Him. 26. And the superscription of His accusation was
written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 27. And with Him they crucify two
thieves; the one on His right hand, and the other on His left. 28. And
the Scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And He was numbered with the
transgressors. 29. And they that passed by railed on Him, wagging
their heads, and saying, Ah, Thou that destroyest the temple, and
buildest it in three days, 30. Save Thyself, and come down from the
cross. 31. Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among
themselves with the scribes, He saved others; Himself He cannot save.
32. Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we
may see and believe. And they that were crucified with Him reviled
Him. 33. And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the
whole land until the ninth hour. 34. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried
with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is,
being interpreted, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? 35. And
some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, He
calleth Elias. 36. And one ran and filled a sponge full of vinegar,
and put it on a reed, and gave Him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us
see whether Elias will come to take Him down. 37. And Jesus cried with
a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. 38. And the veil of the temple
was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. 39. And when the
centurion, which stood over against Him, saw that He so cried out, and
gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.'--Mark
xv. 21-39.

The narrative of the crucifixion is, in Mark's hands, almost entirely
a record of what was done to Jesus, and scarcely touches what was done
by Him. We are shown the executioners, the jeering rabble, the
triumphant priests, the fellow-sufferers reviling; but the only
glimpses we get of Him are His refusal of the stupefying draught, His
loud cries, and His giving up the ghost. The narrative is perfectly
calm, as well as reverently reticent. It would have been well if our
religious literature had copied the example, and treated the solemn
scene in the same fashion. Mark's inartificial style of linking long
paragraphs with the simple 'and' is peculiarly observable here, where
every verse but vv. 30 and 32, which are both quotations, begins with
it. The whole section is one long sentence, each member of which adds
a fresh touch to the tragic picture. The monotonous repetition of
'and,' 'and,' 'and,' gives the effect of an endless succession of the
wares of sorrow, pain, and contumely which broke over that sacred
head. We shall do best simply to note each billow as it breaks.

The first point is the impressing of Simon to bear the Cross. That was
not dictated by compassion so much as by impatience. Apparently the
weight was too heavy for Jesus, and the pace could be quickened by
making the first man who could be laid hold of help to carry the load.
Mark adds that Simon was the 'father of Alexander and Rufus,' whom he
supposes to need no introduction to his readers. There is a Rufus
mentioned in Romans xvi. 13 as being, with his mother, members of the
Roman Church. Mark's Gospel has many traces of being primarily
intended for Romans. Possibly these two Rufuses are the same; and the
conjecture may be allowable that the father's fortuitous association
with the crucifixion led to the conversion of himself and his family,
and that his sons were of more importance or fame in the Church than
he was. Perhaps, too, he is the 'Simeon called Niger' (bronzed by the
hot African sun) who was a prophet of Antioch, and stands by the side
of a Cyrenian (Acts xiii. 1). It is singular that he should be the
only one of all the actors in the crucifixion who is named; and the
fact suggests his subsequent connection with the Church. If so, the
seeking love of God found him by a strange way. On what apparently
trivial accidents a life may be pivoted, and how much may depend on
turning to right or left in a walk! In this bewildering network of
interlaced events, which each ramifies in so many directions, the only
safety is to keep fast hold of God's hand and to take good care of the
purity of our motives, and let results alone.

The next verse brings us to Golgotha, which is translated by the three
Evangelists, who give it as meaning 'the place of a skull.' The name
may have been given to the place of execution with grim
suggestiveness; or, more probably, Conder's suggested identification
is plausible, which points to a little, rounded, skull-shaped knoll,
close outside the northern wall, as the site of the crucifixion. In
that case, the name would originally describe the form of the height,
and be retained as specially significant in view of its use as the
place of execution. That was the 'place' to which Israel led its King!
The place of death becomes a place of life, and from the mournful soil
where the bones of evildoers lay bleaching in the sun springs the
fountain of water of life.

Arrived at that doleful place, a small touch of kindness breaks the
monotony of cruelty, if it be not merely apart of the ordinary routine
of executions. The stupefying potion would diminish, but would
therefore protract, the pain, and was possibly given for the latter
rather than the former effect. But Jesus 'received it not.' He will
not, by any act of His, lessen the bitterness. He will drink to the
dregs the cup which His Father hath given Him, and therefore He will
not drink of the numbing draught. It is a small matter comparatively,
but it is all of a piece with the greater things. The spirit of His
whole course of voluntary, cheerful endurance of all the sorrows
needful to redeem the world, is expressed in His silent turning away
from the draught which might have alleviated physical suffering, but
at the cost of dulling conscious surrender.

The act of crucifixion is but named in a subsidiary clause, as if the
writer turned away, with eyes veiled in reverence, from the sight of
man's utmost sin and Christ's utmost mystery of suffering love. He can
describe the attendant circumstances, but his pen refuses to dwell
upon the central fact. The highest art and the simplest natural
feeling both know that the fewest words are the most eloquent. He will
not expressly mention the indignity done to the sacred Body in which
'dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead,' but leaves it to be inferred
from the parting of Christ's raiment, the executioner's perquisite. He
had nothing else belonging to Him, and of even that poor property He
is spoiled. According to John's more detailed account, the soldiers
made an equal parting of His garments except the seamless robe, for
which they threw lots. So the 'parting' applies to one portion, and
the 'casting lots' to another. The incident teaches two things: on the
one hand, the stolid indifference of the soldiers, who had crucified
many a Jew, and went about their awful work as a mere piece of routine
duty; and, on the other hand, the depth of the abasement and shame to
which Jesus bowed for our sakes. 'Naked shall I return thither' was
true in the most literal sense of Him whose earthly life began with
His laying aside His garments of divine glory, and ended with rude
legionaries parting 'His raiment' among them.

Mark alone tells the hour at which Jesus was nailed to the Cross
(verse 25). Matthew and Luke specify the sixth and ninth hours as the
times of the darkness and of the death; but to Mark we owe our
knowledge of the fact that for six slow hours Jesus hung there,
tasting death drop by drop. At any moment of all these sorrow-laden
moments He could have come down from the Cross, if He would. At each,
a fresh exercise of His loving will to redeem kept Him there.

The writing on the Cross is given here in the most condensed fashion
(verse 26). The one important point is that His 'accusation'
was--'King of the Jews.' It was the official statement of the reason
for His crucifixion, put there by Pilate as a double-barrelled
sarcasm, hitting both Jesus and the nation. The rulers winced under
the taunt, and tried to get it softened; but Pilate sought to make up
for his unrighteous facility in yielding Jesus to death, by obstinacy
and jeers. So the inscription hung there, a truth deeper than its
author or its angry readers knew, and a prophecy which has not
received all its fulfilment yet.

The narrative comes back, in verse 27, to the sad catalogue of the
insults heaped on Jesus. Verse 28 is probably spurious here, as the
Revised Version takes it to be; but it truly expresses the intention
of the crucifixion of the thieves as being to put Him in the same
class as they, and to suggest that He was a ringleader, pre-eminent in
evil. Possibly the two robbers may have been part of Barabbas' band,
who had been brigands disguised as patriots; and, if so, the insult
was all the greater. But, in any case, the meaning of it was to bring
Him down, in the eyes of beholders, to the level of vulgar criminals.
If a Cranmer or a Latimer had been bound to the stake with a
housebreaker or a cut-throat, that would have been a feeble image of
the malicious contumely thus flung at Jesus; but His love had
identified Him with the worst sinners in a far deeper and more real
way, and not a crime had stained these men's hands, but its weight
pressed on Him. He numbered Himself with transgressors, that they may
be numbered with His saints.

Then follows (verses 29-32) the threefold mockery by people, priests,
and fellow-sufferers. That is spread over three hours, and is all
which Mark has to tell of them. Other Evangelists give us words spoken
by Jesus; but this narrative has only one of the seven words from the
Cross, and gives us the picture rather of the silent Sufferer, bearing
in meek resolution all that men can lay on Him. Both pictures are
true, for the words are too few to make notable breaches in the
silence. The mockery harps on the old themes, and witnesses at once
the malicious cruelty of the mockers and the innocence of the Victim,
at whom even such malice could find nothing to fling except these
stale taunts. The chance passengers, of whom there would be a stream
to and from the adjacent city gate, 'wag their heads' in gratified and
fierce hate. The calumny of the discredited witnesses, although even
the biased judges had not dared to treat it as true, has lodged in the
popular mind, and been accepted as proved. Lies are not killed when
they are shown to be lies. They travel faster than truth. Ears were
greedily open for the false witnesses' evidence which had been closed
to Christ's gracious teaching. The charge that He was a would-be
destroyer of the Temple obliterated all remembrance of miracles and
benefits, and fanned the fire of hatred in men whose zeal for the
Temple was a substitute for religion. Are there any of them left
nowadays--people who have no real heart-hold of Christianity, but are
fiercely antagonistic to supposed destroyers of its externals, and not
over-particular to the evidence against them? These mockers thought
that Christ's being fastened to the Cross was a _reductio ad absurdum_
of His claim to build the Temple. How little they knew that it led
straight to that rebuilding, or that they, and not He, were indeed the
destroyers of the holy house which they thought that they were
honouring, and were really making 'desolate'!

The priests do not take up the people's mockery, for they know that it
is based upon a falsehood; but they scoff at His miracles, which they
assume to be disproved by His crucifixion. Their venomous gibe is
profoundly true, and goes to the very heart of the gospel. Precisely
because 'He saved others,' therefore 'Himself He cannot save'--not, as
they thought, for want of power, but because His will was fixed to
obey the Father and to redeem His brethren, and therefore He must die
and cannot deliver Himself. But the necessity and inability both
depend on His will. The priests, however, take up the other part of
the people's scoff. They unite the two grounds of condemnation in the
names 'the Christ, the King of Israel,' and think that both are
disproved by His hanging there. But the Cross is the throne of the
King. A sacrificial death is the true work of the Messiah of law,
prophecy, and psalm; and because He did not come down from the Cross,
therefore is He 'crowned with glory and honour' in heaven, and rules
over grateful and redeemed hearts on earth.

The midday darkness lasted three hours, during which no word or
incident is recorded. It was nature divinely draped in mourning over
the sin of sins, the most tragic of deaths. It was a symbol of the
eclipse of the Light of the world; but ere He died it passed, and the
sun shone on His expiring head, in token that His death scattered our
darkness and poured day on our sad night. The solemn silence was
broken at last by that loud cry, the utterance of strangely blended
consciousness of possession of God and of abandonment by Him, the
depths of which we can never fathom. But this we know: that our sins,
not His, wove the veil which separated Him from His God. Such
separation is the real death. Where cold analysis is out of place,
reverent gratitude may draw near. Let us adore, for what we can
understand speaks of a love which has taken on itself the iniquity of
us all. Let us silently adore, for all words are weaker than that
mystery of love.

The first hearers of that cry misunderstood it, or cruelly pretended
to do so, in order to find fresh food for mockery. 'Eloi' sounded like
enough to 'Elijah' to suggest to some of the flinty hearts around a
travesty of the piteous appeal. They must have been Jews, for the
soldiers knew nothing about the prophet; and if they were Scribes,
they could scarcely fail to recognise the reference to the
Twenty-second Psalm, and to understand the cry. But the opportunity
for one more cruelty was too tempting to be resisted, and savage
laughter was man's response to the most pitiful prayer ever uttered.
One man in all that crowd had a small touch of human pity, and,
dipping a sponge in the sour drink provided for the soldiers, reached
it up to the parched lips. That was no stupefying draught, and was
accepted. Matthew's account is more detailed, and represents the words
spoken as intended to hinder even that solitary bit of kindness.

The end was near. The lips, moistened by the 'vinegar,' opened once
more in that loud cry which both showed undiminished vitality and
conscious victory; and then He 'gave up the ghost,' _sending away_ His
spirit, and dying, not because the prolonged agony had exhausted His
energy, but because He chose to die, He entered through the gate of
death as a conqueror, and burst its bars when He went in, and not only
when He came out.

His death rent the Temple veil. The innermost chamber of the Divine
Presence is open now, and sinful men have 'access with confidence by
the faith of Him,' to every place whither He has gone before. Right
into the secret of God's pavilion we can go, now and here, knowledge
and faith and love treading the path which Jesus has opened, and
coming to the Father by Him. Bight into the blaze of the glory we
shall go hereafter; for He has gone to prepare a place for us, and
when He overcame the sharpness of death He opened the gate of heaven
to all believers.

Jews looked on, unconcerned and unconvinced by the pathos and triumph
of such a death. But the rough soldier who commanded the executioners
had no prejudices or hatred to blind his eyes and ossify his heart.
The sight made its natural impression on him; and his exclamation,
though not to be taken as a Christian confession or as using the
phrase 'Son of God' in its deepest meaning, is yet the beginning of
light. Perhaps, as he went thoughtfully to his barrack that afternoon,
the process began which led him at last to repeat his first
exclamation with deepened meaning and true faith. May we all gaze on
that Cross, with fuller knowledge, with firm trust, and endless love!



SIMON THE CYRENIAN


'And they compel one Simon, a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of
the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear His
Cross.'--Mark xv. 21.

How little these soldiers knew that they were making this man
immortal! What a strange fate that is which has befallen chose persons
in the Gospel narrative, who for an instant came into contact with
Jesus Christ. Like ships passing athwart the white ghostlike splendour
of moonlight on the sea, they gleam silvery pure for a moment as they
cross its broad belt, and then are swallowed up again in the darkness.

This man Simon, fortuitously, as men say, meeting the little
procession at the gate of the city, for an instant is caught in the
radiance of the light, and stands out visible for evermore to all the
world; and then sinks into the blackness, and we know no more about
him. This brief glimpse tells us very little, and yet the man and his
act and its consequences may be worth thinking about.

He was a Cyrenian; that is, he was a Jew by descent, probably born,
and certainly resident, for purposes of commerce, in Cyrene, on the
North African coast of the Mediterranean. No doubt he had come up to
Jerusalem for the Passover; and like very many of the strangers who
flocked to the Holy City for the feast, met some difficulty in finding
accommodation in the city, and so was obliged to go to lodge in one of
the outlying villages. From this lodging he is coming in, in the
morning, knowing nothing about Christ nor His trial, knowing nothing
of what he is about to meet, and happens to see the procession as it
is passing out of the gate. He is by the centurion impressed to help
the fainting Christ to carry the heavy Cross. He probably thought
Jesus a common criminal, and would resent the task laid upon him by
the rough authority of the officer in command. But he was gradually
touched into some kind of sympathy; drawn closer and closer, as we
suppose, as he looked upon this dying meekness; and at last, yielded
to the soul-conquering power of Christ.

Tradition says so, and the reasons for supposing that it was right may
be very simply stated. The description of him in our text as 'the
father of Alexander and Rufus' shows that, by the time when Mark
wrote, his two sons were members of the Christian community, and had
attained some eminence in it. A Rufus is mentioned in the salutations
in Paul's Epistle to the Romans, as being 'elect in the Lord,' that is
to say, 'eminent,' and his mother is associated in the greeting, and
commended as having been motherly to Paul as well as to Rufus. Now, if
we remember that Mark's Gospel was probably written in Rome, and for
Roman Christians, the conjecture seems a very reasonable one that the
Rufus here was the Rufus of the Epistle to the Romans. If so, it would
seem that the family had been gathered into the fold of the Church,
and in all probability, therefore, the father with them.

Then there is another little morsel of possible evidence which may
just be noticed. We find in the Acts of the Apostles, in the list of
the prophets and teachers in the Church at Antioch, a 'Simon, who is
called Niger' (that is, black, the hot African sun having tanned his
countenance, perhaps), and side by side with him one 'Lucius of
Cyrene,' from which place we know that several of the original brave
preachers to the Gentiles in Antioch came. It is possible that this
may be our Simon, and that he who was the last to join the band of
disciples during the Master's life and learned courage at the Cross
was among the first to apprehend the world-wide destination of the
Gospel, and to bear it beyond the narrow bounds of his nation.

At all events, I think we may, with something like confidence, believe
that his glimpse of Christ on that morning and his contact with the
suffering Saviour ended in his acceptance of Him as his Christ, and in
his bearing in a truer sense the Cross after Him.

And so I seek now to gather some of the lessons that seem to me to
arise from this incident.

I. First, the greatness of trifles. If Simon had started from the
little village where he lodged five minutes earlier or later, if he
had walked a little faster or slower, if he had happened to be lodging
on the other side of Jerusalem, or if the whim had taken him to go in
at another gate, or if the centurion's eye had not chanced to alight
on him in the crowd, or if the centurion's fancy had picked out
somebody else to carry the Cross, then all his life would have been
different. And so it is always. You go down one turning rather than
another, and your whole career is coloured thereby. You miss a train,
and you escape death. Our lives are like the Cornish rocking stones,
pivoted on little points. The most apparently insignificant things
have a strange knack of suddenly developing unexpected consequences,
and turning out to be, not small things at all, but great and decisive
and fruitful.

Let us then look with ever fresh wonder on this marvellous contexture
of human life, and on Him that moulds it all to His own perfect
purposes. Let us bring the highest and largest principles to bear on
the smallest events and circumstances, for you can never tell which of
these is going to turn out a revolutionary and formative influence in
your life. And if the highest Christian principle is not brought to
bear upon the trifles, depend upon it, it will never be brought to
bear upon the mighty things. The most part of every life is made up of
trifles, and unless these are ruled by the highest motives, life,
which is divided into grains like the sand, will have gone by, while
we are waiting for the great events which we think worthy of being
regulated by lofty principles. 'Take care of the pence and the pounds
will take care of themselves.'

Look after the trifles, for the law of life is like that which is laid
down by the Psalmist about the Kingdom of Jesus Christ: 'There shall
be a handful of corn in the earth,' a little seed sown in an
apparently ungenial place 'on the top of the mountains.' Ay! but this
will come of it, 'The fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon,' and the
great harvest of benediction or of curse, of joy or of sorrow, will
come from the minute seeds that are sown in the great trifles of our
daily life.

Let us learn the lesson, too, of quiet confidence in Him in whose
hands the whole puzzling, overwhelming mystery lies. If a man once
begins to think of how utterly incalculable the consequences of the
smallest and most commonplace of his deeds may be, how they may run
out into all eternity, and like divergent lines may enclose a space
that becomes larger and wider the further they travel; if, I say, a
man once begins to indulge in thoughts like these, it is difficult for
him to keep himself calm and sane at all, unless he believes in the
great loving Providence that lies above all, and shapes the
vicissitude and mystery of life. We can leave all in His hands--and if
we are wise we shall do so--to whom _great_ and _small_ are terms that
have no meaning; and who looks upon men's lives, not according to the
apparent magnitude of the deeds with which they are filled, but simply
according to the motive from which, and the purpose towards which,
these deeds were done.

II. Then, still further, take this other lesson, which lies very
plainly here--the blessedness and honour of helping Jesus Christ. If
we turn to the story of the Crucifixion, in John's Gospel, we find
that the narratives of the three other Gospels are, in some points,
supplemented by it. In reference to our Lord's bearing of the Cross,
we are informed by John that when He left the judgment hall He was
carrying it Himself, as was the custom with criminals under the Roman
law. The heavy cross was laid on the shoulder, at the intersection of
its arms and stem, one of the arms hanging down in front of the
bearer's body, and the long upright trailing behind.

Apparently our Lord's physical strength, sorely tried by a night of
excitement and the hearings in the High priest's palace and before
Pilate, as well as by the scourging, was unequal to the task of
carrying, albeit for that short passage, the heavy weight. And there
is a little hint of that sort in the context. In the verse before my
text we read, 'They led Jesus out to crucify Him,' and in the verse
after, 'they bring,' or _bear_ 'Him to the place Golgotha,' as if,
when the procession began, they led Him, and before it ended they had
to carry Him, His weakness having become such that He Himself could
not sustain the weight of His cross or of His own enfeebled limbs. So,
with some touch of pity in their rude hearts, or more likely with
professional impatience of delay, and eager to get their task over,
the soldiers lay hold of this stranger, press him into the service and
make him carry the heavy upright, which trailed on the ground behind
Jesus. And so they pass on to the place of execution.

Very reverently, and with few words, one would touch upon the physical
weakness of the Master. Still, it does not do us any harm to try to
realise how very marked was the collapse of His physical nature, and
to remember that that collapse was not entirely owing to the pressure
upon Him of the mere fact of physical death; and that it was still
less a failure of His will, or like the abject cowardice of some
criminals who have had to be dragged to the scaffold, and helped up
its steps; but that the reason why His flesh failed was very largely
because there was laid upon Him the mysterious burden of the world's
sin. Christ's demeanour in the act of death, in such singular contrast
to the calm heroism and strength of hundreds who have drawn all their
heroism and strength from Him, suggests to us that, looking upon His
sufferings, we look upon something the significance of which does not
lie on the surface; and the extreme pressure of which is to be
accounted for by that blessed and yet solemn truth of prophecy and
Gospel alike--'The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.'

But, apart from that, which does not enter properly into my present
contemplations, let us remember that though changed in form, very
truly and really in substance, this blessedness and honour of helping
Jesus Christ is given to us; and is demanded from us, too, if we are
His disciples. He is despised and set at nought still. He is crucified
afresh still. There are many men in this day who scoff at Him, mock
Him, deny His claims, seek to cast Him down from His throne, rebel
against His dominion. It is an easy thing to be a disciple, when all
the crowd is crying 'Hosanna!' It is a much harder thing to be a
disciple when the crowd, or even when the influential cultivated
opinion of a generation, is crying 'Crucify Him! crucify Him!' And
some of you Christian men and women have to learn the lesson that if
you are to be Christians you must be Christ's companions when His back
is at the wall as well as when men are exalting and honouring Him,
that it is your business to confess Him when men deny Him, to stand by
Him when men forsake Him, to avow Him when the avowal is likely to
bring contempt upon you from some people, and thus, in a very real
sense, to bear His Cross after Him. 'Let us go forth unto Him without
the camp, bearing His reproach';--the tail end of His Cross, which is
the lightest! He has borne the heaviest end on His own shoulders; but
we have to ally ourselves with that suffering and despised Christ if
we are to be His disciples.

I do not dwell upon the lesson often drawn from this story, as if it
taught us to 'take up _our_ cross daily and follow Him.' That is
another matter, and yet is closely connected with that about which I
speak; but what I say is, Christ's Cross has to be carried to-day; and
if we have not found out that it has, let us ask ourselves if we are
Christians at all. There will be hostility, alienation, a comparative
coolness, and absence of a full sense of sympathy with you, in many
people, if you are a true Christian. You will come in for a share of
contempt from the wise and the cultivated of this generation, as in
all generations. The mud that is thrown after the Master will spatter
your faces too, to some extent; and if you are walking with Him you
will be, to the extent of your communion with Him, objects of the
aversion with which many men regard Him. Stand to your colours. Do not
be ashamed of Him in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.

And there is yet another way in which this honour of helping the Lord
is given to us. As in His weakness He needed some one to aid Him to
bear His Cross, so in His glory He needs our help to carry out the
purposes for which the Cross was borne. The paradox of a man's
carrying the Cross of Him who carried the world's burden is repeated
in another form. He needs nothing, and yet He needs us. He needs
nothing, and yet He needed that ass which was tethered at 'the place
where two ways met,' in order to ride into Jerusalem upon it. He does
not need man's help, and yet He does need it, and He asks for it. And
though He bore Simon the Cyrenian's sins 'in His own body on the
tree,' He needed Simon the Cyrenian to help Him to bear the tree, and
He needs us to help Him to spread throughout the world the blessed
consequences of that Cross and bitter Passion. So to us all is granted
the honour, and from us all are required the sacrifice and the
service, of helping the suffering Saviour.

III. Another of the lessons which may very briefly be drawn from this
story is that of the perpetual recompense and record of the humblest
Christian work. There were different degrees of criminality, and
different degrees of sympathy with Him, if I may use the word, in that
crowd that stood round the Master. The criminality varied from the
highest degree of violent malignity in the Scribes and Pharisees, down
to the lowest point of ignorance, and therefore all but entire
innocence, on the part of the Roman legionaries, who were merely the
mechanical instruments of the order given, and stolidly 'watched Him
there,' with eyes which saw nothing.

On the other hand, there were all grades of service and help and
sympathy, from the vague emotions of the crowd who beat their breasts,
and the pity of the daughters of Jerusalem, or the kindly-meant help
of the soldiers, who would have moistened the parched lips, to the
heroic love of the women at the Cross, whose ministry was not ended
even with His life. But surely the most blessed share in that day's
tragedy was reserved for Simon, whose bearing of the Cross may have
been compulsory at first, but became, ere it was ended, willing
service. But whatever were the degrees of recognition of Christ's
character, and of sympathy with the meaning of His sufferings, yet the
smallest and most transient impulse of loving gratitude that went out
towards Him was rewarded then, and is rewarded for ever, by blessed
results in the heart that feels it.

Besides these results, service for Christ is recompensed, as in the
instance before us, by a perpetual memorial. How little Simon knew
that 'wherever in the whole world this gospel was preached, there
also, this that _he_ had done should be told for a memorial of _him_!'
How little he understood when he went back to his rural lodging that
night, that he had written his name high up on the tablet of the
world's memory, to be legible for ever. Why, men have fretted their
whole lives away to win what this man won, and knew nothing of--one
line in the chronicle of fame.

So we may say, it shall be always, 'I will never forget any of their
works.' We may not leave our deeds inscribed in any records that men
can read. What of that, If they are written in letters of light in the
'Lamb's Book of Life,' to be read out by Him before His Father and the
holy angels, in that last great day? We may not leave any separable
traces of our services, any more than the little brook that comes down
some gulley on the hillside flows separate from its sisters, with whom
it has coalesced, in the bed of the great river, or in the rolling,
boundless ocean, What of that so long as the work, in its
consequences, shall last? Men that sow some great prairie broadcast
cannot go into the harvest-field and say, 'I sowed the seed from which
that ear came, and you the seed from which this one sprang.' But the
waving abundance belongs to them all, and each may be sure that his
work survives and is glorified there,--'that he that soweth and he
that reapeth may rejoice together.' So a perpetual remembrance is sure
for the smallest Christian service.

IV. The last lesson that I would draw is, let us learn from this
incident the blessed results of contact with the suffering Christ.
Simon the Cyrenian apparently knew nothing about Jesus Christ when the
Cross was laid on his shoulders. He would be reluctant to undertake
the humiliating task, and would plod along behind Him for a while,
sullen and discontented, but by degrees be touched by more of
sympathy, and get closer and closer to the Sufferer. And if he stood
by the Cross when it was fixed, and saw all that transpired there, no
wonder if, at last, after more or less protracted thought and search,
he came to understand who He was that he had helped, and to yield
himself to Him wholly.

Yes! dear brethren, Christ's great saying, 'I, if I be lifted up, will
draw all men unto Me,' began to be fulfilled when He began to be
lifted up. The centurion, the thief, this man Simon, by looking on the
Cross, learned the Crucified.

And it is the only way by which any of us will ever learn the true
mystery and miracle of Christ's great and loving Being and work. I
beseech you, take your places there behind Him, near His Cross; gazing
upon Him till your hearts melt, and you, too, learn that He is your
Lord, and your Saviour, and your God. The Cross of Jesus Christ
divides men into classes as the Last Day will. It, too, parts
men--'sheep' to the right hand, 'goats' to the left. If there was a
penitent, there was an impenitent thief; if there was a convinced
centurion, there were gambling soldiers; if there were hearts touched
with compassion, there were mockers who took His very agonies and
flung them in His face as a refutation of His claims. On the day when
that Cross was reared on Calvary it began to be what it has been ever
since, and is at this moment to every soul who hears the Gospel, 'a
savour of life unto life, or of death unto death.' Contact with the
suffering Christ will either bind you to His service, and fill you
with His Spirit, or it will harden your hearts, and make you tenfold
more selfish--that is to say, 'tenfold more a child of hell'--than you
were before you saw and heard of that divine meekness of the suffering
Christ. Look to Him, I beseech you, who bears what none can help Him
to carry, the burden of the world's sin. Let Him bear yours, and yield
to Him your grateful obedience, and then take up your cross daily, and
bear the light burden of self-denying service to Him who has borne the
heavy load of sin for you and all mankind.



THE INCREDULOUS DISCIPLES


'And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of
James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and
anoint Him. 2. And very early in the morning, the first day of the
week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. 3. And
they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the
door of the sepulchre? 4. And when they looked, they saw that the
stone was rolled away: for it was very great. 6. And entering into the
sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in
a long white garment; and they were affrighted. 6. And he saith unto
them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was
crucified: He is risen; He is not here: behold the place where they
laid Him. 7. But go your way, tell His disciples and Peter that He
goeth before yon into Galilee: there shall ye see Him, as He said unto
you. 8. And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for
they trembled and were amazed: neither said they anything to any man;
for they were afraid. 9. Now, when Jesus was risen early the first day
of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had
cast seven devils. 10. And she went and told them that had been with
Him, as they mourned and wept. 11. And they, when they had heard that
He was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not. 12. After that
He appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went
into the country. 13. And they went and told it unto the residue:
neither believed they them.'--Mark xvi. 1-13.

It is not my business here to discuss questions of harmonising or of
criticism. I have only to deal with the narrative as it stands. Its
peculiar character is very plain. The manner in which the first
disciples learned the fact of the Resurrection, and the disbelief with
which they received it, much rather than the Resurrection itself, come
into view in this section. The disciples, and not the risen Lord, are
shown us. There is nothing here of the earthquake, or of the
descending angel, or of the terrified guard, or of our Lord's
appearance to the women. The two appearances to Mary Magdalene and to
the travellers to Emmaus, which, in the hands of John and Luke, are so
pathetic and rich, are here mentioned with the utmost brevity, for the
sake chiefly of insisting on the disbelief of the disciples who heard
of them. Mark's theme is mainly what they thought of the testimony to
the Resurrection.

I. He shows us, first, bewildered love and sorrow. We leave the
question whether this group of women is the same as that of which Luke
records that Joanna was one, as well as the other puzzle as to
harmonising the notes of time in the Evangelists. May not the
difference between the time of starting and that of arrival solve some
of the difficulty? When all the notes are more or less vague, and
refer to the time of transition from dark to day, when every moment
partakes of both and may be differently described as belonging to
either, is precision to be expected? In the whirl of agitation of that
morning, would any one be at leisure to take much note of the exact
minute? Are not these 'discrepancies' much more valuable as
confirmation of the story than precise accord would have been? It is
better to try to understand the feelings of that little band than to
carp at such trifles.

Sorrow wakes early, and love is impatient to bring its tribute. So we
can see these three women, leaving their abode as soon as the doleful
grey of morning permitted, stealing through the silent streets, and
reaching the rock-cut tomb while the sun was rising over Olivet. Where
were Salome's ambitious hopes for her two sons now? Dead, and buried
in the Master's grave. The completeness of the women's despair, as
well as the faithfulness of their love, is witnessed by their purpose.
They had come to anoint the body of Him to whom in life they had
ministered. They had no thought of a resurrection, plainly as they had
been told of it. The waves of sorrow had washed the remembrance of His
assurances on that subject clean out of their minds. Truth that is
only half understood, however plainly spoken, is always forgotten when
the time to apply it comes. We are told that the disbelief of the
disciples in the Resurrection, after Christ's plain predictions of it,
is 'psychologically impossible.' Such big words are imposing, but the
objection is shallow. These disciples are not the only people who
forgot in the hour of need the thing which it most concerned them to
remember, and let the clouds of sorrow hide starry promises which
would have turned mourning into dancing, and night into day. Christ's
sayings about His resurrection were not understood in their, as it
appears to us, obvious meaning when spoken. No wonder, then, that they
were not expected to be fulfilled in their obvious meaning when He was
dead. We shall have a word to say presently about the value of the
fact that there was no anticipation of resurrection on the part of the
disciples. For the present it is enough to note how these three loving
souls confess their hopelessness by their errand. Did they not know,
too, that Joseph and Nicodemus had been beforehand with them in their
labour of love? Apparently not. It might easily happen, in the
confusion and dispersion, that no knowledge of this had reached them;
or perhaps sorrow and agitation had driven it out of their memories;
or perhaps they felt that, whether others had done the same before or
no, they must do it too, not because the loved form needed it, but
because their hearts needed to do it. It was the love which must
serve, not calculation of necessity, which loaded their hands with
costly spices. The living Christ was pleased with the 'odour of a
sweet smell,' from the needless spices, meant to re-anoint the dead
Christ, and accepted the purpose, though it came from ignorance and
was never carried out, since its deepest root was love, genuine,
though bewildered.

The same absence of 'calm practical common sense' is seen in the too
late consideration, which never occurred to the three women till they
were getting near the tomb, as to how to get into it. They do not seem
to have heard of the guard; but they know that the stone is too heavy
for them to move, and none of the men among the disciples had been
taken into their confidence. 'Why did they not think of that before?
what a want of foresight!' says the cool observer. 'How beautifully
true to nature!' says a wiser judgment. To obey the impulse of love
and sorrow without thinking, and then to be arrested on their road by
a difficulty, which they might have thought of at first, but did not
till they were close to it, is surely just what might have been
expected of such mourners. Mark gives a graphic picture in that one
word 'looking up,' and follows it with picturesque present tenses.
They had been looking down or at each other in perplexity, when they
lifted their eyes to the tomb, which was possibly on an eminence. What
a flash of wonder would pass through their minds when they saw it
open! What that might signify they would be eager to hurry to find
out; but, at all events, their difficulty was at an end. When love to
Christ is brought to a stand in its venturous enterprises by
difficulties occurring for the first time to the mind, it is well to
go close up to them; and it often happens that when we do, and look
steadily at them, we see that they are rolled away, and the passage
cleared which we feared was hopelessly barred.

II. The calm herald of the Resurrection and the amazed hearers.
Apparently Mary Magdalene had turned back as soon as she saw the
opened tomb, and hurried to tell that the body had been carried off,
as she supposed. The guard had also probably fled before this; and so
the other two women enter the vestibule, and there find the angel.
Sometimes one angel, sometimes two, sometimes none, were visible
there. The variation in their numbers in the various narratives is not
to be regarded as an instance of 'discrepancy.' Many angels hovered
round the spot where the greatest wonder of the universe was to be
seen, 'eagerly desiring to look into' that grave. The beholder's eye
may have determined their visibility. Their number may have
fluctuated. Mark does not use the word 'angel' at all, but leaves us
to infer what manner of being he was who first proclaimed the
Resurrection.

He tells of his youth, his attitude, and his attire. The angelic life
is vigorous, progressive, buoyant, and alien from decay. Immortal
youth belongs to them who 'excel in strength' because they 'do his
commandments.' That waiting minister shows us what the children of the
Resurrection shall be, and so his presence as well as his speech
expounds the blessed mystery of our life in the risen Lord. His serene
attitude of sitting 'on the right side' is not only a vivid touch of
description, but is significant of restfulness and fixed
contemplation, as well as of the calmness of a higher life. That still
watcher knows too much to be agitated; but the less he is moved, the
more he adores. His quiet contrasts with and heightens the impression
of the storm of conflicting feelings in the women's tremulous natures.
His garments symbolise purity and repose. How sharply the difference
between heaven and earth is given in the last words of verse 5! They
were 'amazed,' swept out of themselves in an ecstasy of bewilderment
in which hope had no place. Terror, surprise, curiosity, wonder, blank
incapacity to know what all this meant, made chaos in them.

The angel's words are a succession of short sentences, which have a
certain dignity, and break up the astounding revelation he has to make
into small pieces, which the women's bewildered minds can grasp. He
calms their tumult of spirit. He shows them that he knows their
errand. He adoringly names his Lord and theirs by the names recalling
His manhood, His lowly home, and His ignominious death. He lingers on
the thought, to him covering so profound a mystery of divine love,
that his Lord had been born, had lived in the obscure village, and
died on the Cross. Then, in one word, he proclaims the stupendous fact
of His resurrection as His own act--'He is risen.' This crown of all
miracles, which brings life and immortality to light, and changes the
whole outlook of humanity, which changes the Cross into victory, and
without which Christianity is a dream and a ruin, is announced in a
single word--the mightiest ever spoken save by Christ's own lips. It
was fitting that angel lips should proclaim the Resurrection, as they
did the Nativity, though in either 'He taketh not hold of angels,' and
they had but a secondary share in the blessings. Yet that empty grave
opened to 'principalities and powers in heavenly places' a new
unfolding of the manifold wisdom and love of God.

The angel--a true evangelist--does not linger on the wondrous
intimation, but points to the vacant place, which would have been so
drear but for his previous words, and bids them approach to verify his
assurance, and with reverent wonder to gaze on the hallowed and now
happy spot. A moment is granted for feeling to overflow, and certainty
to be attained, and then the women are sent on their errand. Even the
joy of that gaze is not to be selfishly prolonged, while others are
sitting in sorrow for want of what they know. That is the law for all
the Christian life. First make sure work of one's own possession of
the truth, and then hasten to tell it to those who need it.

'And Peter'--Mark alone gives us this. The other Evangelists might
pass it by; but how could Peter ever forget the balm which that
message of pardon and restoration brought to him, and how could
Peter's mouthpiece leave it out? Is there anything in the Gospels more
beautiful, or fuller of long-suffering and thoughtful love, than that
message from the risen Saviour to the denier? And how delicate the
love which, by calling him Peter, not Simon, reinstates him in his
official position by anticipation, even though in the subsequent full
restoration scene by the lake he is thrice called Simon, before the
complete effacement of the triple denial by the triple confession!

Galilee is named as the rendezvous, and the word employed, 'goeth
before you,' is appropriate to the Shepherd in front of His flock.
They had been 'scattered,' but are to be drawn together again. He is
to 'precede' them there, thus lightly indicating the new form of their
relations to Him, marked during the forty days by a distance which
prepared for his final withdrawal. Galilee was the home of most of
them, and had been the field of His most continuous labours. There
would be many disciples there, who would gather to see their risen
Lord ('five hundred at once'); and there, rather than in Jerusalem
which had slain Him, was it fitting that He should show Himself to His
friends. The appearances in Jerusalem were all within a week (if we
except the Ascension), and the connection in which Mark introduces
them (if verse 14 be his) seems to treat them as forced on Christ by
the disciples' unbelief, rather than as His original intention. It
looks as if He meant to show Himself in the city only to one or two,
such as Mary, Peter, and some others, but to reserve His more public
appearance for Galilee.

How did the women receive the message? Mark represents them as
trembling in body and in an ecstasy in mind, and as hurrying away
silent with terror. Matthew says that they were full of 'fear and
great joy,' and went in haste to tell the disciples. In the whirl of
feeling, there were opposites blended or succeeding one another; and
the one Evangelist lays hold of one set, and the other of the other.
It is as impossible to catalogue the swift emotions of such a moment
as to separate and tabulate the hues of sunrise. The silence which
Mark tells of can only refer to their demeanour as they 'fled.' His
object is to bring out the very imperfect credence which, at the best,
was given to the testimony that Christ was risen, and to paint the
tumult of feeling in the breasts of its first recipients. His picture
is taken from a different angle from Matthew's; but Matthew's contains
the same elements, for he speaks of 'fear,' though he completes it by
'joy.'

III. The incredulity of the disciples. The two appearances to Mary
Magdalene and the travellers to Emmaus are introduced mainly to record
the unbelief of the disciples. A strange choice that was, of the woman
who had been rescued from so low a debasement, to be first to see Him!
But her former degradation was the measure of her love. Longing eyes,
that have been washed clean by many a tear of penitent gratitude, are
purged to see Jesus; and a yearning heart ever brings Him near. The
unbelief of the story of the two from Emmaus seems to conflict with
Luke's account, which tells that they were met by the news of Christ's
appearance to Simon. But the two statements are not contradictory. If
we remember the excitement and confusion of mind in which they were,
we shall not wonder if belief and unbelief followed each other, like
the flow and recoil of the waves. One moment they were on the crest of
the billows, and saw land ahead; the next they were down in the
trough, and saw only the melancholy surge. The very fact that Peter
was believed, might make them disbelieve the travellers; for how could
Jesus have been in Jerusalem and Emmaus at so nearly the same time?

However the two narratives be reconciled, it remains obvious that the
first disciples did not believe the first witnesses of the
Resurrection, and that their unbelief is an important fact. It bears
very distinctly on the worth of their subsequent conviction. It has
special bearing on the most modern form of disbelief in the
Resurrection, which accounts for the belief of the first disciples on
the ground that they expected Christ to rise, and that they then
persuaded themselves, in all good faith, that He had risen. That
monstrous theory is vulnerable at all points, but one sufficient
answer is--the disciples did not expect Christ to rise again, and were
so far from it that they did not believe that He had risen when they
were told it. Their original unbelief is a strong argument for the
reliableness of their final faith. What raised them from the stupor of
despair and incredulity? Only one answer is 'psychologically'
reasonable: they at last believed because they saw. It is incredible
that they were conscious deceivers; for such lives as they lived, and
such a gospel as they preached, never came from liars. It is as
incredible that they were unconsciously mistaken; for they were wholly
unprepared for the Resurrection, and sturdily disbelieved all
witnesses for it, till they saw with their own eyes, and had 'many
infallible proofs.' Let us be thankful for their unbelief and its
record, and let us seek to possess the blessing of those 'that have
not seen, and yet have believed!'



PERPETUAL YOUTH


'And entering Into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the
right side, clothed in a long white garment.'--Mark xvi. 5.

Many great truths concerning Christ's death, and its worth to higher
orders of being, are taught by the presence of that angel form, clad
in the whiteness of his own God-given purity, sitting in restful
contemplation in the dark house where the body of Jesus had lain.
'Which things the angels desire to look into.' Many precious lessons
of consolation and hope, too, lie in the wonderful words which he
spake from his Lord and theirs to the weeping waiting women. But to
touch upon these ever so slightly would lead us too far from our more
immediate purpose.

It strikes one as very remarkable that this superhuman being should be
described as a '_young_ man.' Immortal youth, with all of buoyant
energy and fresh power which that attribute suggests, belongs to those
beings whom Scripture faintly shows as our elder brethren. No waste
decays their strength, no change robs them of forces which have ceased
to increase. For them there never comes a period when memory is more
than hope. Age cannot wither them. As one of our modern mystics has
said, hiding imaginative spiritualism under a crust of hard, dry
matter-of-fact, 'In heaven the oldest angels are the youngest.'

What is true of them is true of God's children, who are 'accounted
worthy to obtain that world and the resurrection from the dead,' for
'they are equal unto the angels.' For believing and loving souls,
death too is a birth. All who pass through it to God, shall, in deeper
meaning than lay in the words at first, 'return unto the days of their
youth'; and when the end comes, and they are 'clothed with their house
from heaven,' they shall stand by the throne, like him who sat in the
sepulchre, clothed with lustrous light and radiant with unchanging
youth.

Such a conception of the condition of the dead in Christ may be
followed out in detail into many very elevating and strengthening
thoughts. Let me attempt to set forth some of these now.

I. The life of the faithful dead is eternal progress towards infinite
perfection.

For body and for spirit the life of earth is a definite whole, with
distinct stages, which succeed each other in a well-marked order.
There are youth, and maturity, and decay--the slow climbing to the
narrow summit, a brief moment there in the streaming sunshine, and
then a sure and gradual descent into the shadows beneath. The same
equable and constant motion urges the orb of our lives from morning to
noon, and from noon to evening. The glory of the dawning day, with its
golden clouds and its dewy freshness, its new awakened hopes and its
unworn vigour, climbs by silent, inevitable stages to the hot noon.
But its ardours flame but for a moment; but for a moment does the sun
poise itself on the meridian line, and the short shadow point to the
pole. The inexorable revolution goes on, and in due time come the
mists and dying purples of evening and the blackness of night. The
same progress which brings April's perfumes burns them in the censer
of the hot summer, and buries summer beneath the falling leaves, and
covers its grave with winter's snow.

                 'Everything that grows
  Holds in perfection but a little moment.'

So the life of man, being under the law of growth, is, in all its
parts, subject to the consequent necessity of decline. And very
swiftly does the direction change from ascending to descending. At
first, and for a little while, the motion of the dancing stream, which
broadens as it runs, and bears us past fields each brighter and more
enamelled with flowers than the one before it, is joyous; but the slow
current becomes awful as we are swept along when we would fain moor
and land--and to some of us it comes to be tragic and dreadful at
last, as we sit helpless, and see the shore rush past and hear the
roar of the falls in our ears, like some poor wretch caught in the
glassy smoothness above Niagara, who has flung down the oars, and,
clutching the gunwale with idle hands, sits effortless and breathless
till the plunge comes. Many a despairing voice has prayed as the sands
ran out, and joys fled, 'Sun, stand thou still on Gibeon; and thou,
Moon, in the valley of Ajalon,' but in vain. Once the wish was
answered; but, for all other fighters, the twelve hours of the day
must suffice for victory and for joy. Time devours his own children.
The morning hours come to us with full hands and give, the evening
hours come with empty hands and take; so that at the last 'naked shall
he return to go as he came.' Our earthly life runs through its
successive stages, and for it, in body and mind, old age is the child
of youth.

But the perfect life of the dead in Christ has but one phase, youth.
It is growth without a limit and without decline. To say that they are
ever young is the same thing as to say that their being never reaches
its climax, that it is ever but entering on its glory; that is, as we
have said, that the true conception of their life is that of eternal
progress towards infinite perfection.

For what is the goal to which they tend? The likeness of God in
Christ--all His wisdom, His love, His holiness. He is all theirs, and
His whole perfection is to be transfused into their growing greatness.
'He is made unto them of God. wisdom, and righteousness, and salvation
and redemption,' nor can they cease to grow till they have outgrown
Jesus and exhausted God. On the one hand is infinite perfection,
destined to be imparted to the redeemed spirit. On the other hand is a
capability of indefinite assimilation to, by reception of, that
infinite perfection. We have no reason to set bounds to the possible
expansion of the human spirit. If only there be fitting circumstances
and an adequate impulse, it may have an endless growth. Such
circumstances and such impulse are given in the loving presence of
Christ in glory. Therefore we look for an eternal life which shall
never reach a point beyond which no advance is possible. 'The path of
the just' in that higher state 'shineth more and more,' and never
touches the zenith. Here we float upon a landlocked lake, and on every
side soon reach the bounding land; but there we are on a shoreless
ocean, and never hear any voice that says, 'Hitherto shalt thou come,
and no farther.' Christ will be ever before us, the yet unattained end
of our desires; Christ will be ever above us, fairer, wiser, holier,
than we; after unsummed eternities of advance there will yet stretch
before us a shining way that leads to Him. The language, which was
often breathed by us on earth in tones of plaintive confession, will
be spoken in heaven in gladness, 'Not as though I had attained, either
were perfect, but I follow after,' The promise that was spoken by Him
in regard to our mortality will be repeated by Him in respect to our
celestial being, 'I am come that they might have life, and that they
might have it _more abundantly_.' And as this advance has no natural
limit, either in regard to our Pattern or to ourselves, there will be
no reverse direction to ensue. Here the one process has its two
opposite parts; the same impulse carries up to the summit and forces
down from it. But it is not so then. There growth will never merge
into decay, nor exacting hours come to recall the gifts, which their
free-handed sisters gave.

They who live in Christ, beyond the grave, begin with a relative
perfection. They are thereby rendered capable of more complete
Christ-likeness. The eye, by gazing into the day, becomes more
recipient of more light; the spirit cleaves closer to a Christ more
fully apprehended and more deeply loved; the whole being, like a plant
reaching up to the sunlight, grows by its yearning towards the light,
and by the light towards which it yearns--lifts a stronger stem and
spreads a broader leaf, and opens into immortal flowers tinted by the
sunlight with its own colours. This blessed and eternal growth towards
Him whom we possess, to begin with, and never can exhaust, is the
perpetual youth of God's redeemed.

We ought not to think of those whom we have loved and lost as if they
had gone, carrying with them declining powers, and still bearing the
marks of this inevitable law of stagnation, and then of decay, under
which they groaned here. Think of them rather as having, if they sleep
in Jesus, reversed all this, as having carried with them, indeed, all
the gifts of matured experience and ripened wisdom which the slow
years bring, but likewise as having left behind all the weariness of
accomplished aims, the monotony of a formed character, the rigidity of
limbs that have ceased to grow. Think of them as receiving again from
the hands of Christ much of which they were robbed by the lapse of
years. Think of them as then crowned with loving-kindness and
satisfied with good, so that 'their youth is renewed like the
eagle's.' Think of them as again joyous, with the joy of beginning a
career, which has no term but the sum of all perfection in the
likeness of the infinite God. They rise like the song-bird, aspiring
to the heavens, circling round, and ever higher, which 'singing still
doth soar, and soaring ever singeth'--up and up through the steadfast
blue to the sun! 'Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the
young men shall utterly fall; but they that wait upon the Lord shall
renew their strength.' They shall lose the marks of age as they grow
in eternity, and they who have stood before the throne the longest
shall be likest him who sat in the sepulchre young with immortal
strength, radiant with unwithering beauty.

II. The life of the faithful dead recovers and retains the best
characteristics of youth.

Each stage of our earthly course has its own peculiar characteristics,
as each zone of the world has its own vegetation and animal life. And,
for the most part, these characteristics cannot be anticipated in the
preceding stage, nor prolonged into the succeeding. To some small
extent they will bear transplanting, and he is nearest a perfect man
who carries into each period of his life some trace of the special
beauty of that which went before, making 'the child the father of the
man,' and carrying deep into old age the simple self-forgetfulness of
the child and the energy of the youth. But this can only be partially
done by any effort; and even those whose happily constituted
temperaments make it comparatively easy for them, do often carry the
weakness rather than the strength of the earlier into the later
epochs. It is easier to be always childish than to be always
childlike. The immaturity and heedlessness of youth bear carriage
better than the more precious vintages of that sunny land--its
freshness of eye and heart, its openness of mind, its energy of hand.
Even when these are in any measure retained--beautiful as they are in
old age--they are but too apt to be associated with an absence of the
excellences more proper to the later stages of life, and to involve a
want of patient judgment, of sagacious discrimination, of rooted
affections, of prudent, persistent action. Beautiful indeed it is when
the grace of the child and the strength of the young man live on in
the fathers, and when the last of life encloses all that was good in
all that went before. But miserable it is, and quite as frequent a
case, when grey hairs cover a childish brain, and an aged heart throbs
with the feverish passion of youthful blood. So for this life it is
difficult, and often not well, that youth should be prolonged into
manhood and old age.

But the thought is none the less true, that the perfection of our
being requires the reappearance and the continuance of all that was
good in each successive stage of it in the past. The brightest aspects
of youth will return to all who live in Jesus, beyond the grave, and
will be theirs for ever. Such a consideration branches out into many
happy anticipations, which we can but very cursorily touch on here.

For instance--Youth is the time for hope. The world then lies all
before us, fair and untried. We have not learnt our own weakness by
many failures, nor the dread possibilities that lie in every future.
The past is too brief to occupy us long, and its furthest point too
near to be clothed in the airy purple, which draws the eye and stirs
the heart. We are conscious of increasing powers which crave for
occupation. It seems impossible but that success and joy shall be
ours. So we live for a little while in a golden haze; we look down
from our peak upon the virgin forests of a new world, that roll away
to the shining waters in the west, and then we plunge into their mazes
to hew out a path for ourselves, to slay the wild beasts, and to find
and conquer rich lands. But soon we discover what hard work the march
is, and what monsters lurk in the leafy coverts, and what diseases
hover among the marshes, and how short a distance ahead we can see,
and how far off it is to the treasure-cities that we dreamed of; and
if at last we gain some cleared spot whence we can look forward, our
weary eyes are searching at most for a place to rest, and all our
hopes have dwindled to hopes of safety and repose. The day brings too
much toil to leave us leisure for much anticipation. The journey has
had too many failures, too many wounds, too many of our comrades left
to die in the forest glades, to allow of our expecting much. We plod
on, sometimes ready to faint, sometimes with lighter hearts, but not
any more winged by hope as in the golden prime,--unless indeed for
those of us who have fixed our hopes on God, and so get through the
march better, because, be it rough or smooth, long or short, He moves
before us to guide, and all our ways lead to Him. But even for these
there comes, before very long, a time when they are weary of hoping
for much more here, and when the light of youth fades into common day.
Be it so! They will get the faculty and the use of it back again in
far nobler fashion, when death has taken them away from all that is
transient, and faith has through death given for their possession and
their expectation, the certitudes of eternity. It will be worth while
to look forward again, when we are again standing at the beginning of
a life. It will be possible once more to hope, when disappointments
are all past. A boundless future stretching before us, of which we
know that it is all blessed, and that we shall reach all its
blessedness, will give back to hearts that have long ceased to drink
of the delusive cup which earthly hope offered to their lips, the joy
of living in a present, made bright by the certain anticipation of a
yet brighter future. Losing nothing by our constant progress, and
certain to gain all which we foresee, we shall remember and be glad,
we shall hope and be confident. With 'the past unsighed for, and the
future sure,' we shall have that magic gift, which earth's
disappointments dulled, quickened by the sure mercies of the heavens.

Again, youth has mostly a certain keenness of relish for life which
vanishes only too soon. There are plenty of our young men and women
too, of this day, no doubt, who are as _blasé_ and wearied before they
are out of their 'teens as if they were fifty. So much the sadder for
them, so much the worse for the social state which breeds such
monsters. For monsters they are: there ought to be in youth a sense of
fresh wonder undimmed by familiarity, the absence of satiety, a joy in
joyful things because they are new as well as gladsome. The poignancy
of these early delights cannot long survive. Custom stal