Expositor's Bible Commentary
In those days the multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples unto him, and saith unto them,Chapter 8
CHAPTER 8:1-10 (Mark 8:1-10)
THE FOUR THOUSAND
"In those days, when there was again a great multitude, and they had nothing to eat, He called unto Him His disciples, and saith unto them, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with Me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and if I send them away fasting to their home, they will faint in the way; and some of them are come from afar. And His disciples answered Him, Whence shall one be able to fill these men with bread here in a desert place? And He asked them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven. And He commandeth the multitude to sit down on the ground: and He took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, He brake, and gave to His disciples, to set before them; and they set them before the multitude. And they had a few small fishes: and having blessed them, He commanded to set these also before them. And they did eat, and were filled: and they took up, of broken pieces that remained over, seven baskets. And they were about four thousand: and He sent them away. And straightway He entered into the boat with His disciples, and came into the parts of Dalmanutha." Mark 8:1-10 (R.V.).
WE now come upon a miracle strangely similar to that of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. And it is worthwhile to ask what would have been the result, if the Gospels which contain this narrative had omitted the former one. Skepticism would have scrutinized every difference between the two, regarding them as variations of the same story, to discover traces of the growth of the myth or legend, and entirely to discredit it. Now however it is plain that the events are quite distinct; and we cannot doubt but that information as full would clear away as completely many a perplexity which still entangles us. Archbishop Trench has well shown that the later narrative cannot have grown out of the earlier, because it has not grown at all, but fallen away. A new legend always "outstrips the old, but here . . . the numbers fed are smaller, the supply of food is greater, and the fragments that remain are fewer." The latter point is however doubtful. It is likely that the baskets, though fewer, were larger, for in such a one St. Paul was lowered down over the wall of Damascus (Acts 9:25). In all the Gospels the Greek word for baskets in the former miracle is different from the latter. And hence arises an interesting coincidence; for when the disciples had gone into a desert place, and there gathered the fragments into wallets, each of them naturally carried one of these, and accordingly twelve were filled. But here they had recourse apparently to the large baskets of persons who sold bread, and the number seven remains unaccounted for. Skepticism indeed persuades itself that the whole story is to be spiritualized, the twelve baskets answering to the twelve apostle who distributed the Bread of Life, and the seven to the seven deacons. How came it then that the sorts of baskets are so well discriminated, that the inferior ministers are represented by the larger ones, and that the bread is not dealt out from these baskets but gathered into them?
The second repetition of such a work is a fine proof of that genuine kindness of heart, to which a miracle is not merely an evidence, nor rendered useless as soon as the power to work it is confessed. Jesus did not shrink from thus repeating Himself, even upon a lower level, because His object was not spectacular but beneficent. He sought not to astonish but to bless.
It is plain that Jesus strove to lead His disciples, aware of the former miracle, up to the notion of its repetition. With this object He marshaled all the reasons why the people should be relieved. "I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with Me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and if I send them away fasting to their home, they will faint in the way; and some of them are come from far." It is the grand argument from human necessity to the Divine compassion. It is an argument which ought to weigh equally with the Church. For if it is promised that "nothing shall be impossible" to faith and prayer, then the deadly wants of debauched cities, of ignorant and brutal peasantries, and of heathenisms festering in their corruptions -- all these, by their very urgency, are vehement appeals instead of the discouragements we take them for. And whenever man is baffled and in need, there he is entitled to fall back upon the resources of the Omnipotent.
It may be that the disciples had some glimmering hope, but they did not venture to suggest anything; they only asked, Whence shall one be able to fill these men with bread here in a desert place? It is the cry of unbelief -- our cry, when we look at our resources, and declare our helplessness, and conclude that possibly God may interpose, but otherwise nothing can be done. We ought to be the priests of a famishing world (so ignorant of any relief, so miserable), its interpreters and intercessors, full of hope and energy. But we are content to look at our empty treasuries, and ineffective organizations, and to ask, Whence shall a man be able to fill these men with bread?
They have ascertained however what resources are forthcoming, and these He proceeds to use, first demanding the faith which He will afterwards honor, by bidding the multitudes to sit down. And then His loving heart is gratified by relieving the hunger which it pitied, and He promptly sends the multitude away, refreshed and competent for their journey.
And the Pharisees came forth, and began to question with him, seeking of him a sign from heaven, tempting him.CHAPTER 8:11-21 (Mark 8:11-21)
THE LEAVEN OF THE PHARISEES
"And the Pharisees came forth, and began to question with Him, seeking of Him a sign from heaven, tempting Him. And He sighed deeply in His spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation. And He left them, and again entering into the boat departed to the other side. And they forgot to take bread; and they had not in the boat with them more than one loaf. And He charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. And they reasoned one with another, saying, We have no bread. And Jesus perceiving it saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? do ye not yet perceive, neither understand? have ye your heart hardened? Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember? When I brake the five loaves among the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces took ye up? They said unto Him, Twelve. And when the seven among the four thousand, how many basketfuls of broken pieces took ye up? And they said unto Him, Seven. And He said unto them, Do ye not yet understand?" Mark 8:11-21 (R.V.)
WHENEVER a miracle produced a deep and special impression, the Pharisees strove to spoil its effect by some counter-demonstration. By so doing, and at least appearing to hold the field, since Jesus always yielded this to them, they encouraged their own faction, and shook the confidence of the feeble and hesitating multitude. At almost every crisis they might have been crushed by an appeal to the stormy passions of those whom the Lord had blessed. Once He might have been made a king. Again and again His enemies were conscious that an imprudent word would suffice to make the people stone them. But that would have spoiled the real work of Jesus more than to retreat before them, now across the lake, or, just before, into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. Doubtless it was this constant avoidance of physical conflict, this habitual repression of the carnal zeal of His supporters, this refusal to form a party instead of founding a Church, which renewed incessantly the courage of His often-baffled foes, and led Him, by the path of steady ceaseless self-depression, to the cross which He foresaw, even while maintaining His unearthly calm, amid the contradiction of sinners against Himself.
Upon the feeding of the four thousand, they demand of Him a sign from heaven. He had wrought for the public no miracle of this peculiar kind. And yet Moses had gone up, in the sight of all Israel, to commune with God in the mount that burned; Samuel had been answered by thunder and rain in the wheat harvest; and Elijah had called down fire both upon his sacrifice and also upon two captains and their bands of fifty. Such a miracle was now declared to be the regular authentication of a messenger from God, and the only sign which evil spirits could not counterfeit.
Moreover the demand would specially embarrass Jesus, because He alone was not accustomed to invoke heaven: His miracles were wrought by the exertion of His own will. And perhaps the challenge implied some understanding of what this peculiarity involved, such as Jesus charged them with, when putting into their mouth the words, This is the heir, come, let us kill Him. Certainly the demand ignored much. Conceding the fact of certain miracles, and yet imposing new conditions of belief, they shut their eyes to the unique nature of the works already wrought, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father which they displayed. They held that thunder and lightning revealed God more certainly than supernatural victories of compassion, tenderness and love. What could be done for moral blindness such as this? How could any sign be devised which unwilling hearts would not evade? No wonder that hearing this demand, Jesus signed deeply in His spirit. It revealed their utter hardness; it was a snare by which others would be entangled; and for Himself it foretold the cross.
St. Mark simply tells us that He refused to give them any sign. In St. Matthew He justifies this decision by rebuking the moral blindness which demanded it. They had material enough for judgment. The face of the sky foretold storm and fair weather, and the process of nature could be anticipated without miracles to coerce belief. And thus they should have discerned the import of the prophecies, the course of history, the signs of the times in which they lived, so plainly radiant with Messianic promise, so menacing with storm-clouds of vengeance upon sin. The sign was refused moreover to an evil and adulterous generation, as God, in the Old Testament, would not be inquired of at all by such a people as these. This indignant rejoinder St. Mark has compressed into the words, "There shall no sign be given unto this generation" -- this which has proof enough, and which deserves none. Men there were to whom a sign from heaven was not refused. At His baptism, on the Mount of Transfiguration, and when the Voice answered His appeal, "Father, glorify Thy name," while the multitude said only that it thundered--at these times His chosen ones received a sign from heaven. But from those who had not was taken away even that which they seemed to have; and the sign of Jonah availed them not.
Once more Jesus "left them" and crossed the lake. The disciples found themselves with but one loaf, approaching a wilder district, where the ceremonial purity of food could not easily be ascertained. But they had already acted on the principle which Jesus had formally proclaimed, that all meats were clean. And therefore it was not too much to expect them to penetrate below the letter of the words, "Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and the leaven of Herod." In giving them this enigma to discover, He acted according to His usage, wrapping the spiritual truth in earthly phrases, picturesque and impressive; and He treated them as life treats every one of us, which keeps our responsibility still upon the strain, by presenting new moral problems, fresh questions and trials of insight, for every added attainment which lays our old tasks aside. But they understood Him not. Some new ceremonial appeared to them to be designed, in which everything would be reversed, and the unclean should be those hypocrites, the strictest observers of the old code. Such a mistake, however blameworthy, reveals the profound sense of an ever-widening chasm, and an expectation of a final and hopeless rupture with the chiefs of their religion. It prepares us for what is soon to come, the contrast between the popular belief and theirs, and the selection of a rock on which a new Church is to be built. In the meantime the dire practical inconvenience of this announcement led to hot discussion, because they had no bread. And Jesus, perceiving this, remonstrated in a series of indignant questions. Personal want should not have disturbed their judgment, remembering that twice over He had fed hungry multitudes, and loaded them with the surplus of His gift. Their eyes and ears should have taught them that He was indifferent to such distinctions, and His doctrine could never result in a new Judaism. How was it that they did not understand?
Thereupon they perceived that His warning was figurative. He had spoken to them, after feeding the five thousand, of spiritual bread which He would give, even His flesh to be their food. What then could He have meant by the leaven of the Pharisees but the imparting of their religious tendencies, their teaching, and their insincerity?
Was there any real danger that these, His chosen ones, should be shaken by the demand for a sign from heaven? Did not Philip presently, when Christ spoke of seeing the Father, eagerly cry out that this, if it were granted, would suffice them? In these words he confessed the misgiving which haunted their minds, and the longing for a heavenly sign. And yet the essence of the vision of God was in the life and the love which they had failed to know. If they could not see Him in these, He must forever remain invisible to them.
We too require the same caution. When we long for miracles, neglecting those standing miracles of our faith, the gospel and the Church: when our reason is satisfied of a doctrine or a duty, and yet we remain irresolute, sighing for the impulse of some rare spiritual enlightenment or excitement, for a revival, or a mission, or an oration to lift us above ourselves, we are virtually asking to be shown what we already confess, to behold a sign, while we possess the evidence.
And the only wisdom of the languid, irresolute will, which postpones action in hope that feeling may be deepened, is to pray. It is by the effort of communion with the unfelt, but confessed Reality above us, that healthy feeling is to be recovered.
And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him.CHAPTER 8:22-26 (Mark 8:22-26)
MEN AS TREES
"And they come unto Bethsaida. And they bring to Him a blind man, and beseech Him to touch him. And He took hold of the blind man by the hand, and brought him out of the village; and when He had spit on his eyes, and laid His hands upon him, He asked him, Seest thou aught? And he looked up, and said, I see men; for I behold them as trees, walking. Then again He laid His hands upon his eyes; and he looked steadfastly, and was restored, and saw all things clearly. And He sent him away to his home, saying, Do not even enter into the village." Mark 8:22-26 (R.V.)
WHEN the disciples arrived at Bethsaida, they were met by the friends of a blind man, who besought Him to touch him. And this gave occasion to the most remarkable by far of all the progressive and tentative miracles, in which means were employed, and the result was gradually reached. The reasons for advancing to this cure by progressive stages have been much discussed. St. Chrysostom and many others have conjectured that the blind man had but little faith, since he neither found his own way to Jesus, nor pleaded his own cause, like Bartimaeus. Others brought him, and interceded for him. This may be so, but since he was clearly a consenting party, we can infer little from details which constitutional timidity would explain, or helplessness (for the resources of the blind are very various), or the zeal of friends or of paid servants, or the mere eagerness of a crowd, pushing him forward in desire to see a marvel.
We cannot expect always to penetrate the motives which varied our Savior's mode of action; it is enough that we can pretty clearly discern some principles which led to their variety. Many of them, including all the greatest, were wrought without instrumentality and without delay, showing His unrestricted and underived power. Others were gradual, and wrought by means. These connected His "signs" with nature and the God of nature; and they could be so watched as to silence many a cavil; and they exhibited, by the very disproportion of the means, the grandeur of the Worker. In this respect the successive stages of a miracle were like the subdivisions by which a skillful architect increases the effect of a facade or an interior. In every case the means employed were such as to connect the result most intimately with the person as well as the will of Christ.
It must be repeated also, that the need of secondary agents shows itself, only as the increasing willfulness of Israel separates between Christ and the people. It is as if the first rush of generous and spontaneous power had been frozen by the chill of their ingratitude.
Jesus again, as when healing the deaf and dumb, withdraws from idle curiosity. And we read, what is very impressive when we remember that any of the disciples could have been bidden to lead the blind man, that Jesus Himself drew him by the hand out of the village. What would have been affectation in other cases was a graceful courtesy to the blind. And it reveals to us the hearty human benignity and condescension of Him Whom to see was to see the Father, that He should have clasped in His helpful hand the hand of a blind suppliant for His grace. Moistening his eyes from His own lips, and laying His hands upon him, so as to convey the utmost assurance of power actually exerted, He asked, Seest thou aught?
The answer is very striking: it is such as the knowledge of that day could scarcely have imagined; and yet it is in the closest accord with later scientific discovery. What we call the act of vision is really a two-fold process; there is in it the report of the nerves to the brain, and also an inference, drawn by the mind, which previous experience had educated to understand what that report implies. For want of such experience, an infant thinks the moon as near him as the lamp, and reaches out for it. And when Christian science does its Master's work by opening the eyes of men who have been born blind, they do not know at first what appearances belong to globes and what to flat and square objects. It is certain that every image conveyed to the brain reaches it upside down, and is corrected there. When Jesus then restored a blind man to the perfect enjoyment of effective intelligent vision, He wrought a double miracle; one which instructed the intelligence of the blind man as well as opened his eyes. This was utterly unknown to that age. But the skepticism of our century would complain that to open the eyes was not enough, and that such a miracle would have left the man perplexed; and it would refuse to accept narratives which took no account of this difficulty, but that the cavil is anticipated. The miracle now before us refutes it in advance, for it recognizes, what no spectator and no early reader of the marvel could have understood, the middle stage, when sight is gained but is still uncomprehended and ineffective. The process is shown as well as the completed work. Only by their motion could he at first distinguish living creatures from lifeless things of far greater bulk. "He looked up," (mark this picturesque detail,) "and said, I see men; for I behold them as trees, walking."
But Jesus leaves no unfinished work: "Then again laid He His hands upon his eyes, and he looked steadfastly, and was restored, and saw all things clearly."
In this narrative there is a deep significance. That vision, forfeited until grace restores it, by which we look at the things which are not seen, is not always quite restored at once. We are conscious of great perplexity, obscurity and confusion. But a real work of Christ may have begun amid much that is imperfect, much that is even erroneous. And the path of the just is often a haze and twilight at the first, yet is its light real, and one that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
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?CHAPTER 8:27-32 (Mark 8:27-32)
THE CONFESSION AND THE WARNING
"And Jesus went forth, and His disciples, into the villages of Caesarea Philippi: and in the way He asked His disciples, saying unto them, Who do men say that I am? And they told Him, saying, John the Baptist: and others, Elijah; but others, One of the prophets. And He asked them, But Who say ye that I am? Peter answereth and saith unto Him, Thou art the Christ. And He charged them that they should tell no man of Him. And He began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And He spake the saying openly. Mark 8:27-32 (R.V.)
WE have now reached an important stage in the Gospel narrative, the comparative withdrawal from evangelistic effort, and the preparation of the disciples for an approaching tragedy. We find them in the wild country to the north of the Lake of Galilee, and even as far withdrawn as to the neighborhood of the sources of the Jordan. Not without a deliberate intention has Jesus led them thither. He wishes them to realize their separation. He will fix upon their consciousness the failure of the world to comprehend Him, and give them the opportunity either to acknowledge Him, or sink back to the lower level of the crowd.
This is what interests St. Mark; and it is worthy of notice that he, the friend of Peter, mentions not the special honor bestowed upon him by Christ, nor the first utterance of the memorable words "My Church."
"Who do men say that I am?" Jesus asked. The answer would tell of acceptance or rejection, the success or failure of His ministry, regarded in itself, and apart from ultimate issues unknown to mortals. From this point of view it had very plainly failed. At the beginning there was a clear hope that this was He that should come, the Son of David, the Holy One of God. But now the pitch of men's expectation was lowered. Some said, John the Baptist, risen from the dead, as Herod feared; others spoke of Elijah, who was to come before the great and notable day of the Lord; in the sadness of His later days some had begun to see a resemblance to Jeremiah, lamenting the ruin of his nation; and others fancied a resemblance to various of the prophets. Beyond this the apostles confessed that men were not known to go. Their enthusiasm had cooled, almost as rapidly as in the triumphal procession, where they who blessed both Him, and "the kingdom that cometh," no sooner felt the chill of contact with the priestly faction, than their confession dwindled into "This is Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth." "But Who say ye that I am?" He added; and it depended on the answer whether or not there would prove to be any solid foundation, any rock, on which to build His Church. Much difference, much error may be tolerated there, but on one subject there must be no hesitation. To make Him only a prophet among others, to honor Him even as the first among the teachers of mankind, is to empty His life of its meaning, His death of its efficacy, and His Church of its authority. And yet the danger was real, as we may see by the fervent blessing (unrecorded in our Gospel) which the right answer won. For it was no longer the bright morning of His career, when all bare Him witness and wondered; the noon was over now, and the evening shadows were heavy and lowering. To confess Him then was to have learned what flesh and blood could not reveal.
But Peter did not hesitate. In answer to the question, "Who say ye? Is your judgment like the world's?" he does not reply, "We believe, we say," but with all the vigor of a mind at rest, "Thou art the Christ;" that is not even a subject of discussion: the fact is so.
Here one pauses to admire the spirit of the disciples, so unjustly treated in popular exposition because they were but human, because there were dangers which could appall them, and because the course of providence was designed to teach them how weak is the loftiest human virtue. Nevertheless, they could part company with all they had been taught to reverence and with the unanimous opinion of their native land, they could watch the slow fading out of public enthusiasm, and continue faithful, because they knew and revered the Divine life, and the glory which was hidden from the wise and prudent.
The confession of Peter is variously stated in the Gospels. St. Matthew wrote for Jews, familiar with the notion of a merely human Christ, and St. Luke for mixed Churches. Therefore the first Gospel gives the explicit avowal not only of Messiahship, but of divinity; and the third Gospel implies this. "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" -- "the Christ of God." But St. Mark wrote for Gentiles, whose first and only notion of the Messiah was derived from Christian sources, and steeped in Christian attributes, so that, for their intelligence, all the great avowal was implied in the title itself, Thou art the Christ. Yet it is instructive to see men insisting on the difference, and even exaggerating it, who know that this Gospel opens with an assertion of the Divine sonship of Jesus, and whose theory is that its author worked with the Gospel of St. Matthew before his eyes. How then, or why, do they suppose the confession to have been weakened?
This foundation of His Church being secured, His Divine Messiahship being confessed in the face of an unbelieving world, Jesus lost no time in leading His apostles forward. They were forbidden to tell any man of Him: the vain hope was to be absolutely suppressed of winning the people to confess their king. The effort would only make it harder for themselves to accept that stern truth which they were now to learn, that His matchless royalty was to be won by matchless suffering. Never hitherto had Jesus proclaimed this truth, as He now did, in so many words. It had been, indeed, the secret spring of many of His sayings; and we ought to mark what loving ingenuity was lavished upon the task of gradually preparing them for the dread shock of this announcement. The Bridegroom was to be taken away from them, and then they should fast. The temple of His body should be destroyed, and in three days reared again. The blood of all the slaughtered prophets was to come upon this generation. It should suffice them when persecuted unto death, that the disciple was as His Master. It was still a plainer intimation when He said, that to follow Him was to take up a cross. His flesh was promised to them for meat and His blood for drink. (Mark 2:20; John 2:19; Luke 11:50; Matthew 10:21; Matthew 10:25; Matthew 10:38; John 6:54.) Such intimations Jesus had already given them, and doubtless many a cold shadow, many a dire misgiving had crept over their sunny hopes. But these it had been possible to explain away, and the effort, the attitude of mental antagonism thus forced upon them, would make the grief more bitter, the gloom more deadly, when Jesus spoke openly the saying, thenceforth so frequently repeated, that He must suffer keenly, be rejected formally by the chiefs of His creed and nation, and be killed. When He recurs to the subject (Mark 9:31), He adds the horror of being "delivered into the hands of men." In the tenth chapter we find Him setting His face toward the city outside which a prophet could not perish, with such fixed purpose and awful consecration in His bearing that His followers were amazed and afraid. And then He reveals the complicity of the Gentiles, who shall mock and spit upon and scourge and kill Him.
But in every case, without exception, He announced that on the third day He should arise again. For neither was He Himself sustained by a sullen and stoical submission to the worst, nor did He seek so to instruct His followers. It was for the joy that was set before Him that He endured the cross. And all the faithful who suffer with Him shall also reign together with Him, and are instructed to press toward the mark for the prize of their high calling. For we are saved by hope.
But now, contrast with the utmost courage of the martyrs, who braved the worst, when it emerged at the last suddenly from the veil which mercifully hides our future, and which hope can always gild with starry pictures, this courage that looked steadily forward, disguising nothing, hoping for no escape, living through all the agony so long before it came, seeing His wounds in the breaking of bread, and His blood when wine was poured. Consider how marvelous was the love, which met with no real sympathy, nor even comprehension, as He spoke such dreadful words, and forced Himself to repeat what must have shaken the barb He carried in His heart, that by-and-by His followers might be somewhat helped by remembering that He had told them.
And yet again, consider how immediately the doctrine of His suffering follows upon the confession of His Christhood, and judge whether the crucifixion was merely a painful incident, the sad close of a noble life and a pure ministry, or in itself a necessary and cardinal event, fraught with transcendent issues.
And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.CHAPTER 8:32 - 9:1 (Mark 8:32-38 - Mark 9:1)
THE REBUKE OF PETER
"And He spake the saying openly. And Peter took Him, and began to rebuke Him.". . . . "But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, 'Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.' And when He had called the people to Him, with His disciples also, He said to them, Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.'"(NKJV) . . . ."And He said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There be some here of them that stand by, which shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God come with power." Mark 8:32-38 - Mark 9:1 (R.V.)
THE doctrine of a suffering Messiah was strange in the time of Jesus. And to the warm-hearted apostle the announcement that his beloved Master should endure a shameful death was keenly painful. Moreover, what had just passed made it specially unwelcome then. Jesus had accepted and applauded a confession which implied all honor. He had promised to build a new Church upon a rock; and claimed, as His to give away, the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Hopes were thus excited which could not brook His stern repression; and the career which the apostle promised himself was very unlike that defense of a lost cause, and a persecuted and martyred leader, which now threatened him. The rebuke of Jesus clearly warns Peter, that he had miscalculated his own prospect as well as that of his Lord, and that he must prepare for the burden of a cross. Above all, it is plain that Peter was intoxicated by the great position just assigned to him, and allowed himself an utterly strange freedom of interference with his Master's plans. He "took Him and began to rebuke Him," evidently drawing Him aside for the purpose, since Jesus "turned about" in order to see the disciples whom He had just addressed.
Thus our narrative implies that commission of the keys to him which it omits to mention, and we learn how absurd is the infidel contention that each evangelist was ignorant of all that he did not record. Did the appeal against those gloomy forebodings of Jesus, the protest that such evil must not be, the refusal to recognize a prophecy in His fears, awaken any answer in the sinless heart? Sympathy was not there, nor approval, nor any shade of readiness to yield. But innocent human desire for escape, the love of life, horror of His fate, more intense as it vibrated in the apostle's shaken voice, these He assuredly felt. For He tells us in so many words that Peter was a stumbling-block to Him, although He, walking in the clear day, stumbled not. Jesus, let us repeat it again and again, endured not like a Stoic, deadening the natural impulses of humanity. Whatever outraged His tender and perfect nature was not less dreadful to Him than to us; it was much more so, because His sensibilities were unblunted and exquisitely strung. At every thought of what lay before Him, His soul shuddered like a rudely touched instrument of most delicate structure. And it was necessary that He should throw back the temptation with indignation and even vehemence, with the rebuke of heaven set against the presumptuous rebuke of flesh, "Get thee behind Me. . . . for thou art mindful not of the things of God, but the things of men."
But what shall we say to the hard word, "Satan"? Assuredly Peter, who remained faithful to Him, did not take it for an outbreak of bitterness, an exaggerated epithet of unbridled and undisciplined resentment. The very time occupied in looking around, the "circumspection" which was shown, while it gave emphasis, removed passion from the saying.
Peter would therefore understand that Jesus heard, in his voice, the prompting of the great tempter, to whom He had once already spoken the same words. He would be warned that soft and indulgent sentiment, while seeming kind, may become the very snare of the destroyer.
And the strong word which sobered him will continue to be a warning to the end of time.
When love of ease or worldly prospects would lead us to discourage the self-devotion, and repress the zeal of any convert; when toil or liberality beyond the recognized level seems a thing to discountenance, not because it is perhaps misguided, but only because it is exceptional; when, for a brother or a son, we are tempted to prefer an easy and prosperous life rather than a fruitful but stern and even perilous course, then we are in the same danger as Peter of becoming the mouthpiece of the Evil One.
Danger and hardness are not to be chosen for their own sake; but to reject a noble vocation, because these are in the way, is to mind not the things of God but the things of men. And yet the temptation is one from which men are never free, and which intrudes into what seems most holy. It dared to assail Jesus; and it is most perilous still, because it often speaks to us, as then to Him, through compassionate and loving lips.
But now the Lord calls to Himself all the multitude, and lays down the rule by which discipleship must to the end be regulated.
The inflexible law is, that every follower of Jesus must deny himself and take up his cross. It is not said, Let him devise some harsh and ingenious instrument of self-torture: wanton self-torture is cruelty, and is often due to the soul's readiness rather to endure any other suffering than that which God assigns. Nor is it said, Let him take up My cross, for the burden Christ bore devolves upon no other: the fight He fought is over.
But it speaks of some cross allotted, known, but not yet accepted, some lowly form of suffering, passive or active, against which nature pleads, as Jesus heard His own nature pleading when Peter spoke. In taking up this cross we must deny self, for it will refuse the dreadful burden. What it is, no man can tell his neighbor, for often what seems a fatal besetment is but a symptom and not the true disease; and the angry man's irritability, and the drunkard's resort to stimulants, are due to remorse and self-reproach for a deeper-hidden evil gnawing the spiritual life away. But the man himself knows it. Our exhortations miss the mark when we bid him reform in this direction or in that, but conscience does not err; and he well discerns the effort or the renouncement, hateful to him as the very cross itself, by which alone he can enter into life.
To him, that life seems death, the death of all for which he cares to live, being indeed the death of selfishness. But from the beginning, when God in Eden set a barrier against lawless appetite, it was announced that the seeming life of self-indulgence and of disobedience was really death. In the day when Adam ate of the forbidden fruit he surely died. And thus our Lord declared that whosoever is resolved to save his life--the life of wayward, isolated selfishness--he shall lose all its reality, the sap, the sweetness, and the glow of it. And whosoever is content to lose all this for the sake of the Great Cause, the cause of Jesus and His gospel, he shall save it.
It was thus that the great apostle was crucified with Christ, yet lived, and yet no longer he, for Christ Himself inspired in his breast a nobler and deeper life than that which he had lost, for Jesus and the gospel. The world knows, as the Church does, how much superior is self-devotion to self-indulgence, and that one crowded hour of glorious life is worth an age without a name. Its imagination is not inflamed by the picture of indolence and luxury, but by resolute and victorious effort. But it knows not how to master the rebellious senses, nor how to insure victory in the struggle, nor how to bestow upon the masses, plunged in their monotonous toils, the rapture of triumphant strife. That can only be done by revealing to them the spiritual responsibilities of life, and the beauty of His love Who calls the humblest to walk in His own sacred footsteps.
Very striking is the moderation of Jesus, Who does not refuse discipleship to self-seeking wishes but only to the self-seeking will, in which wishes have ripened into choice, nor does He demand that we should welcome the loss of the inferior life, but only that we should accept it. He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.
And striking also is this, that He condemns not the vicious life only: not alone the man whose desires are sensual and depraved; but all who live for self. No matter how refined and artistic the personal ambitions be, to devote ourselves to them is to lose the reality of life, it is to become querulous or jealous or vain or forgetful of the claims of other men, or scornful of the crowd. Not self-culture but self-sacrifice is the vocation of the child of God.
Many people speak as if this text bade us sacrifice the present life in hope of gaining another life beyond the grave. That is apparently the common notion of saving our "souls." But Jesus used one word for the "life" renounced and gained. He spoke indeed of saving it unto life eternal, but His hearers were men who trusted that they had eternal life, not that it was a far-off aspiration (John 6:47; John 6:54). And it is doubtless in the same sense, thinking of the freshness and joy which we sacrifice for worldliness, and how sadly and soon we are disillusioned, that he went on to ask, What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or with what price shall he buy it back when he discovers his error? But that discovery is too often postponed beyond the horizon of mortality. As one desire proves futile, another catches the eye, and somewhat excites again the often baffled hope. But the day shall come when the last self-deception shall be at an end. The cross of the Son of man, that type of all noble sacrifice, shall then be replaced by the glory of His Father with the holy angels; and ignoble compromise, aware of Jesus and His words, yet ashamed of them in a vicious and self-indulgent age, shall in turn endure His averted face. What price shall they offer then, to buy back what they have forfeited?
Men who were standing there would see the beginning of the end, the approach of the kingdom of God with power, in the fall of Jerusalem, and the removal of the Hebrew candlestick out of its place.