Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE BEHAVIOUR OF THE POOR SUFFERER.
1. His condition. A leper. His disease was loathsome, and his state of life pitiable in the extreme. An outcast from society, shunned as an unclean person, regarded as hopelessly afflicted, he was an object of perfect misery. The leper has always been regarded as typical of the sinner in his uncleanness, shame, and misery.
2. His action. He came to Christ. Why? Doubtless be had heard of previous cures (Matthew 4:24:). But the very look of Jesus would be enough to draw him to the feet of the Friend of the miserable. Never had he seen suck sympathy and kindness. We need to know something of Christ to be drawn to him. When we do perceive his grace, we must come to him if we would have his salvation.
3. His reverence. He worshipped. We cannot suppose that he perceived the full Divinity shining through the garb of simple humanity. Yet it may be that he saw more of it than any one else, for it is most revealed in compassion. But if he only bowed as an act of homage to a great one, this showed reverence - a fitting accompaniment of faith in Christ.
4. His words. He begged for cleansing, not for money. He knew his need, and he sought for the one thing most essential. He showed faith in the power of Christ; he only prayed for Christ's willinghood. Both are needed for salvation.
II. THE RESPONSE OF THE GREAT HEARER.
1. His brotherly touch. This is one of those single actions that send a flash of light into the nature of Christ. No one else would defile himself by touching a leper. The sufferer did not expect such an act of condescension, and Jesus had to "stretch forth" his hand to reach him. Here is Christ's unlimited brotherhood. If there is danger of contagion he will not think of it. Christ heals through personal contact, through gracious brotherhood.
2. His consenting words.
(1) The word of grace: "I will." Then the two conditions are fulfilled. The father of the lunatic boy doubted the other condition - the power (Mark 9:22). But both are present with Christ.
(2) The word of power: "Be thou made clean." His language to the leper is typical of his message to the sinner. He saves by cleansing.
3. His perfect healing. There is no delay, there is no slow process. Immediately the cure is complete. Thus Christ is perfectly successful. His works prove his claims. He is able to save unto the uttermost - lepers in body, lepers in soul.
4. His final directions.
(1) Silence. Perhaps from natural modesty. He was not like the Pharisees who trumpeted their alms. He would not let his left hand know what his right hand did.
(2) Obedience to the Law. This was not yet superseded. The leper lived under the Law. The priest would give the man a certificate. The offering would be a sign of gratitude. - W.F.A.
I. THE FAME OF JESUS TRAVELLING TO A LEPER.
II. A LEPER TRAVELLING TO JESUS HIMSELF AT ALL RISKS. III. THE WELL-LEARNT HUMILITY OF THIS LEPER. IV, THE CLEAR DECISIVE FAITH OF THIS LEPER.
V. THE PROMPT AND PRACTICAL COMPASSION OF JESUS: HE TOUCHED THE LEPER. It was legal defilement to touch a leper, because he was a leper; but it was not defilement to touch a leper, if he thereby ceased to be such.
VI. THE PROBABLE REASON OR REASONS OF THE CHARGE OF JESUS TO HIM.
1. The reason may perhaps solely have had reference to what the Saviour knew of the real tendencies of the leper he had cleansed.
2. The reason may have had rather some outer aspect, and may have had it in view to obtain before men, and as a much-needed "testimony against" themselves, a true and unprejudiced and confessed verdict from the priests as to the genuineness of the great work of cleansing which he had accomplished.
3. The reason may have been strictly that, for Jesus, his "time was not yet ready," while the defence of the cleansed and happy, late leper, will ever be that he could not contain his joy, his praise, and his gratitude. - B.
I. THE HEALING OF THE LEPER is the first miracle recorded by Matthew, and it probably struck him more than it would at first sight strike us, by appealing to his Jewish ideas and sentiments.
1. For, in the first place, leprosy was not an ordinary, though a common, disease. It had a religious aspect, and was as symbolic as sacrifice or any other of the Jewish ordinances. It was, in the eye of the Jew, a frightful symbol of the condition of the outcast from God; he saw in it the true representation of the consuming and polluting nature of sin. For the sinner, too, is forced to cry, "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" To cut off one member brings no relief; the diseased blood strikes out in some other part. You may make one sin impossible, but another takes possession of you. The disease, you find, is yourself; you are full of it. What can you do but what the leper did - come worshipping and beseeching to him who has power to heal?
2. It was partly because leprosy was symbolical of inward disease that Matthew saw in this healing of the leper the fulfilment of the prophetic words, "Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses." But partly, no doubt, because the prompt reply of the Lord, "I will; be thou clean," and his touching the man, disclosed the deep sympathy he had with men. Somehow the man had been brought to know that what nothing else could do for him Christ could. It is true of us all that we are dependent on Christ's will. Obviously one who pro-losses to have all power in heaven and on earth can do many things which you need and which no one else professes to be able to do for you. Will Christ listen to the cry of bodily disease and be unmoved by the poor wretch that cries for deliverance from moral defilement? With what may we not fill up the leper's form of petition, "If thou wilt, thou canst"? Very appropriately does Matthew put this "I will" of Christ's in the forefront of all the miracles he records. It is this word that opens the gate and lets in upon us supernatural forces. Will is, indeed, the only supernatural force we know. Our own wills are in a certain sense supernatural. And when our Lord utters the words, "I will; be thou clean," he is merely exerting in a higher degree this same inscrutable spiritual force. We know not how his will is exerted upon the sufferer, but the effect is immediate and undeniable. From the number of miracles our Lord wrought at this time Matthew selects these two, of the leper and the centurion's servant, that we may see the readiness and the potency of the will of Christ to heal.
II. IN THE CENTURION we meet with a high type of man; a kindly, generous, devout nature; a humility not to be expected in one accustomed to command and to represent a ruling race. But, as our Lord reminds us, there are humble, unselfish, right-minded men in all ages and in all countries. In the centurion he saw promise of a far richer harvest than Israel could afford - myriads of earnest men pressing from every quarter of the globe to hear the words of his kingdom. The exhilarating prospect has, however, its dark background. The earnest and humble devoutness cf spirit which spring up, one cannot tell how, in those outside the kingdom may be lacking to those within. These men glorified Christ, showed him in a right light and reflected honour upon him by their conduct. We have known more about him, have clearer views of his Person and methods; but, were our dealings with him recorded, would there be the same fair record of simple, unmurmuring faith, of humble dependence on Christ's will, and undoubting worship? But the distinctive feature of the centurion's application to our Lord is his persuasion that Christ's will can work at a distance as easily as at hand. He reasons from his own experience. He had but to give the word of command, and his whole troop obeyed him; and he could not suppose the word of Christ was in his peculiar sphere less potent and authoritative. Perhaps this idea had been suggested to him by his feeling the contrast between his own power on the battle-field and helplessness at the bedside of his servant. Was there not some one who had power even here - some one whose will could quicken even that inert body? The soldier, the law-abiding Roman, felt there must be. Two injunctions were laid upon the healed leper.
1. To tell no man. This is an instance of what our Lord very commonly did, enjoining the healed person to keep silence about his cure, partly from regard to the person's own best interests, partly from a regard to the proper work of Christ. If this man went and published his cure, many would come merely by way of experiment, as they would try a new doctor. But what was our Lord to do with such people, who merely wished for the physical benefit, and had no regard for his Person and no serious faith in him? And it would seem not improbable that this is the reason why we ourselves, even when we pray, get so little from Christ. Our faith is not serious enough; it is not the deeply rooted conviction that grows up in a man's self by the working of his own mind and the course of his own experience; it is second-hand faith. We ask from him not because we are sure we shall receive, but because other people think it right to do so.
2. The man is sent to the priest that his cure might be verified. The cure was real and substantial, and our Lord shrank from no official examination, but rather courted it. Another reason was simply because this was commanded. This man was not to suppose that, because his cure was extraordinary, he was to be exempt from the customary regulations. Now, the significance of this for all who derive benefits from Christ is obvious. They must approve themselves healed and sound-hearted persons before that court that tries us all, and in which the judges are the ordinary duties of life, and the persons with whom or for whom we work. The character formed by Christ is fit for all the practical work and service of life; and he who fancies that because his cure has been wrought in a miraculous, supramundane, heavenly fashion, it is to be followed only by an ethereal, supramundane goodness that can do none of the rough work of the world, may well suspect he has not been cured at all. But the main impression of these incidents is meant, no doubt, to be a deep conviction of the quick response our Lord ever shows to true dependence on him. - D.
I. LEPROSY IS AN EMBLEM OF SIN.
1. It is a most loathsome disease.
(1) Mungo Park thus describes it as he witnessed it amongst the peoples in Africa: "It appears at the beginning in scurfy spots upon different parts of the body; which finally settle upon the hands and feet, when the skin becomes withered and cracks in many places. At length the ends of the fingers swell and ulcerate; the discharge is acrid and fetid; the nails drop off, and the bones of the fingers become carious, and separate at the joints. In this manner the disease continues to spread frequently until the patient loses all his fingers and toes, and sometimes his hands and feet." Maundrel says, "Leprosy is the extreme state of corruption of which a living body is capable" (cf Job 7:5).
(2) A corresponding moral condition comes to the day in our police-courts. In the eye of God the unregenerate heart of the Pharisee is no less revolting (see Matthew 23:27, 28).
2. It is an insidious disease.
(1) Leprosy at first spreads secretly. Sometimes it is for years concealed. So the venom of sin is hidden, being restrained by environments of Christian influence.
(2) It is an hereditary evil. The leprosy of Naaman was not only transferred to Gehazi; it was also entailed upon his seed (2 Kings 5:27). The entailment of sin is universal.
(3) It is, moreover, contagious. Hence the Law required that the leper should live apart, and warn passengers to keep aloof by crying, "Unclean! unclean ]" (Leviticus 13:45, 46). So Miriam (Numbers 12:14, 15). Things infected with leprosy, were destroyed. So is sin contagious, and the company of sinners is to be shunned (2 Corinthians 6:14-18; James 4:4).
II. ITS CURE SETS FORTH CHRIST AS THE SAVIOUR OF SINNERS.
1. The Law prescribed no cure for it.
(1) The cleansing was not the healing of the leper (see Leviticus 14:3). This man was healed and then sent to the priest to be ceremonially cleansed (ver. 4). So neither has the Law any cure for sin.
(2) The gospel supplies this lack. Hence David, in his moral leprosy, instead of going to the priest, went to the Lord (Psalm 51:7).
(3) There was a sense in which the faith of the Samaritan had made him whole, in which his nine ungrateful companions, though healed physically, were not made whole (see Luke 17:11-19).
2. Jesus is able to save all men.
(1) This miracle proving his Divinity establishes his ability.
(2) But he saves us not by arbitrary power. He cannot sacrifice justice to mercy.
(3) He satisfies the claims of justice by taking our sin upon him. This is parabolically taught in his touching the leper. By that healing touch he became himself ceremonially unclean.
(4) In this Jesus broke no law. There is no law that says, "Thou shalt not touch a leper."
3. He is not willing to save all characters. "If thou wilt."
(2) The contrite believer he will save. "I will." The leper came humbly. "Worshipped him," or, as in Mark, "kneeling down to him." Trustfully. "If thou wilt, thou canst. None such are too vile. A leper."
4. Impurity instantly yields to the rebuke of Christ.
(1) Why should a present salvation be disputed? Jesus is the Omnipotence of purity. "Straightway his leprosy was cleansed."
(2) But why did Jesus send him to the priests? "For a testimony unto them," viz. as to the power of the gospel. Also as to its truth. For this is beautifully set forth in the ceremony (see outline on Leviticus 14:1-7). The miracle is a splendid commentary upon the Law. - J.A.M.
I. THE SPIRIT OF DOUBT. This can only be regarded as an evil thing. The spirit of trustfulness, receptiveness, is becoming to the child of God. A fashion of doubting, and a pride in doubting, as if it were something very clever, are in every way most mischievous, ruinous to our moral nature, because destructive of that which is the great glory of the creature, the capacity for trust. And yet it must also be seen and recognized that doubt is really the working of a necessary quality of mental manhood. He is not really a man who is unable to doubt. To see two sides of a thing, and have to choose between them, involves a period of doubting. The man who cannot doubt cannot have an intelligent faith. The basis of all moral decision is doubt that can weigh considerations. So it is a great thing to say, "We can doubt, yet we do believe." This leper may have heard of the great things Jesus had done, but the question came - Could he cleanse a leper? There was no settling that doubt; so he turned it into a prayer, and took it to Christ.
II. OUR ACTUAL DOUBTS. It may be well to notice what subjects those doubts chiefly concern. And we must deal, not with intellectual doubts, but with religious doubts - those which bear relation to our spiritual condition, our cleansing from sin. Letting the case of the leper be suggestive, we may notice that:
1. Our doubts may concern our need of Christ as a Saviour. It may be that we admit he is the Saviour, but we doubt our need of him as our Saviour.
2. Our doubts may concern the ability of Christ to save. We may incline to accept his good will, and to doubt his power. We may be disposed to say, "If thou canst. Doubt often makes men think there is something special in their case that puts them beyond the reach of Christ.
3. Our doubts may concern the good will of Christ. Everybody else shunned the leper; how well the man might fear that Christ would shun him too! But he took all his doubts to Christ. - R.T.
animal excitement, with very little intellectual or moral character. It therefore was an altogether hopeless seed-bed into which to cast seeds of truth. Dean Stanley describes the crowding of the people, in the Lebanon district, when the news spread abroad that there was a doctor in the company. "The stairs and corridors of the castle of the Maronite chief, Sheikh Joseph, were lined with a crowd of eager applicants." Travellers notice that, because so excited, Eastern crowds are rough and unmannerly, every one pressing to secure his own interest at once. We can see some reasons why Jesus avoided excitements.
I. HE DID NOT WISH TO MAKE MIRACLES HIS CHIEF WORK. But this they would soon have become if he had not put a check on them. Very soon he might have had every moment of his life filled up with doctoring work, and the Saviour of souls might have become a mere Eastern hakim. We cannot too constantly set before ourselves the truth that our Lord's miracles were not his life-work, but the illustration of his lifework. Illustration must always be kept in due place and proportion.
II. HE DID WISH TO DO HIS WORK IN MEN'S THOUGHTS. It cannot be too clearly seen that our Lord's mission was largely intellectual, and that the emotional had to be kept within strict limitation, because the emotional is sure to push out the intellectual. Christians brought in at revival-times seldom or ever show any interest in intelligent religion. The teaching of the day had put ritual, religious routine, in the place of personal thinking. It is not sufficiently considered that one first and most valuable result of Christ's teaching was this - it made men think for themselves. Now, crowds do not think. Intelligence is not characteristic of the crowds that now follow after revivalists.
III. HE DID WISH TO DO HIS WORK IN MEN'S CHARACTERS. And so he proposed to work as leaven works. He dealt with individuals. The adhesion of a number was of little interest to him. He admitted to the kingdom one by one, after a direct and personal dealing with each one. So the individual was of primary importance to Christ. To him character was power, and it would prove powerful, influential, a redemptive force. - R.T.
I. IT IS INSPIRED BY KINDNESS OF HEART. The centurion seeks no favour for himself. He is troubled about his valet, his "boy." The distress of the poor lad so touches the master's heart that he goes out to seek for the Healer. We may have faith for the sake of others as well as for our own benefit. Kindness is a good preparation for faith. Selfishness is often cynical, and cynicism is always sceptical. We may learn faith in the school of love. As we feel kindly to others we shall discover how to trust in Christ, for we shall thus come to understand Christ by sharing the spirit that is in him.
II. IT IS TRIED BY HUMILITY. Christ belonged to the despised race of the subject Jews; the centurion was an officer in the proud army of the imperial government. It was difficult for a Roman not to despise a Jew. There must have been something very fine in the nature of this man to allow of his having emancipated himself from the prejudices of his caste, so as to be able to perceive the greatness of Christ and to feel lowly and bumble by the side of him. A low estimate of one's self helps one to look up to the greatness of Christ; at the same time,.it tries faith by creating a sense of utter unworthiness.
III. IT IS ENLIGHTENED BY EXPERIENCE. The centurion knew power. He exercised it on those beneath him; he felt it from those above him. The whole of the iron structure of the Roman empire was knit together by means of authority and absolute obedience. In this stern school the centurion had learnt lessons that enabled him to believe in the irresistible power of Christ's word of command. We can best understand religion if we interpret it in terms of our own experience. It will then take different forms from those of established usage. But it will not suffer on that account. On the contrary, it will become wonderfully fresh and vivid.
IV. IT IS LED TO SEE RIGHTFUL POWER. This is the special advantage of a Roman training. The Jew would look for legal fitness, the Greek for truth and beauty, the Roman for authority. Thus the man trained in the discipline of an imperial army is able to interpret to us an aspect of the character and life of our Lord which but for him we might have missed. It is important to recognize the authority of Christ, his command over nature, his power over man. He saves by his strong arm.
V. IT IS REWARDED WITH ADMIRING RECOGNITION. Here is a man of heathen birth showing greater faith than Jews possess. The New Testament always gives us favourable portraits of Roman centurions, and thus lets us see that there was good in the Gentile world. Christ was the first to recognize this. No eye was so keen for goodness in unexpected quarters as his. He is no respecter of persons. He is generous to recognize all hopeful signs. And when he recognizes them he responds. The lad is healed by a word from a distance - a most exceptional action. But the centurion's faith is exceptional, and the Divine blessing is always according to our faith. - W.F.A.
e.g. Matthew 27:54; Acts 10:1; Acts 27:3, 43; Acts 28:16. Notice -
I. THE CHARACTER THIS CENTURION HAD ACQUIRED, AND, THOUGH AN OUTSIDER, THE ESTEEM IN WHICH HE WAS HELD. Nor is the secret of this far to find.
1. He had a large heart and a sympathetic. He loved the nation of the Jews, and had built them a synagogue, no doubt because of the higher good he had gained from them. He had reaped their spiritual things, he had given his carnal things.
2. He loved his servant, and evidently was taking great pains, not felt as such, now to get help for him, as much as though he had been a son or a brother.
II. THE CORRECT AND HIGHLY ENLIGHTENED ESTIMATE THAT HE HAD ALREADY EVIDENTLY FIRMLY PLANTED WITHIN HIM OF THE CHARACTER AND THE JUST DIGNITY OF CHRIST. Whence, it may naturally be asked, did this come?
1. From the fact that he used aright his reason, upon his observation; i.e. upon the induction of things seen and heard by him, of Christ. Of how many things higher and deeper than those of which the apostle first used the question may not the same words be used, "Doth not even nature teach you?" And in what harmony with this do we find the argument of St. Paul in Romans 1., when he says, summing it up, "So that they are without excuse"!
2. How well it may be believed that the centurion was among the instances of those illuminated by that Spirit who was always omnipresent, and who as at this time worked often where least supposed! We are reminded of the illustration used by our Lord himself preceding the sentence, "So is every one that is born of the Spirit."
III. THE GENUINE HUMILITY WHICH PENETRATED HIM.
1. He genuinely pleads deep sense of his own unworthiness as the reason why he did not come in person to Jesus.
2. He with every witness of genuineness pleads the same as the ground of deprecating Jesus coming in person to him. It would appear from the account of St. Luke that the centurion in the first instance did ask Jesus "to come and heal his servant." But second thoughts, and the awe of the imminent advent of the great Sovereign of bodies and souls changed his prayer, took away the last remnant of mere human boldness, and superseded it by diviner humility.
IV. THE FAITH, SO SIMPLY CONSTRUCTED AND SO PERFECT, FROM THE FIRST AND IN ALL DETAIL, OF THE CENTURION. This was the "marvel" for Christ. It is "great" faith; it is "so great faith;" it is greater faith than the greatest Jesus had as yet "found in Israel" even, and this not in Israel! In conclusion, dwell on all the sweet, condescending grace of Jesus. "I will come and heal him;" "and he went with them;" "he marvelled at him;" and he praised his faith "to the people that followed him;" and "they who were sent returning to the house found the servant whole." What a parable in drama of the great grace of Jesus Christ! - B.
e.g. 2 Samuel 1:15 compared with 2 Samuel 4:10, and Acts 9:23, 24 with 2 Corinthians 11:32). Let us consider the centurion's faith and its reward.
I. HIS FAITH,
1. It was reverent and humble.
(1) He did not presume to come to Jesus in person. According to Luke, he approached him through the elders of the Jews. He thus forestalled the objection that he was a stranger.
(2) He had enlightened views of the majesty of Jesus. For, though Jesus had appeared in humiliation amongst. men, this Roman said (still by representation), "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof." Note: We should value and venerate what we can see of Christ in the humbled saint. Had we juster views of the majesty of Jesus we should have humbler views of ourselves. We judge by contrasts.
(3) There are some whose reverence would not restrain them from touching the Lord (see Matthew 9:18-20). The same inward feelings may be variously displayed.
(4) A sense of unworthiness is a sign of worth. He that is furthest from self is nearest to the Lord. This centurion, as Augustine says, while owning himself unworthy that the Lord should, enter his house, was accounted worthy that that Lord should enter his heart. Though corporeally distant, the centurion was through faith enabled to converse in spirit with Jesus.
2. It was strong, and earnest.
(1) He came with entreaty. "Beseeching him." The earnestness of entreaty is a sign of faith; for it grows out of the conviction of the ability of the person supplicated to grant the petition.
(2) So strong was the faith of this centurion that it saw no need for the presence of the Miracle-worker. It recognized the omnipresence of Omnipotence. This faith is the more remarkable since up to this time no example of a miracle wrought by Jesus at a distance is on record.
(3) The centurion's apprehension of the Divinity of Christ is also recognized in his argument. It proceeded upon the principle that the forces of nature were absolutely under the control of Jesus. The obedience of the soldiers and servants of the centurion were rendered to one under the authority of superiors; but Jesus was absolute Ruler in nature.
3. It was large and generous.
(1) It was exercised on behalf of his servant. Many came to Christ on behalf of their children; this is the only example we have of one so interested in a servant. Many, like the Amalekite, forsake their servants when they are forsaken by health (1 Samuel 30:13). The good master studies the welfare of his servants.
(2) The centurion was touched by the suffering of his servant. Great agony is experienced in palsy when it passes into apoplexy. Faith is nourished in the sympathies of goodness.
(3) The elders who represented the centurion's case to Jesus were moved by admiration of his nobleness. They pleaded, "He is worthy; for he loveth our nation, and hath built us a synagogue." Faith is strong in the heart of the generous.
II. ITS REWARD.
1. It gained for him his suit.
(1) Before the elders had fully opened the case, Jesus said, "I will come and heal him." His coming is healing. "Unto you that fear my Name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings."
(2) Before the elders returned to communicate the answer, the centurion had the answer in his house. "His servant was healed in that hour." "Before you call, I will answer; and while you are yet speaking, I will hear."
(3) The centurion gained more than his suit. He received healing also in his own soul. "As thou hast believed, so shall it be done unto thee. In blessing we are blessed.
2. He had the highest commendation.
(1) Jesus marvelled at the greatness of his faith. For he was a Roman. Conversely, Jesus marvelled at the unbelief of certain Jews (see Mark 6:6). All circumstances are surveyed in the judgments of Jesus.
(2) His faith was honoured with the promise of the kingdom. The Gentile by faith becomes the child of the covenant. Shall sit down with Abraham," etc. (cf. Genesis 12:3; Genesis 17:4; Galatians 3:7, 9, 14, 29).
(3) This means the friendship of the King. Sitting with Abraham, etc., is enjoying the company of the aristocracy of virtue. Reclining with Abraham, etc., viz. on the bosom of the King. That last supper at which the disciples reclined on the bosom of Jesus was the anticipation of a fulfilment in the kingdom of God (cf. Matthew 26:29; Luke 14:15; Luke 22:15, 16, 29, 30).
3. He was made a specimen of the conversion of the Gentiles.
(1) "And I say unto you [Jews], That many shall come from the east," etc. By faith the Gentiles shall cuter the kingdom of grace. By faith also shall they enter the kingdom of glory.
(2) To the Jews Jesus came in person; to the Gentiles he sends his healing Word. "Only say the word." Grace triumphs in unlikely places. So in unlikely persons. A devout soldier! No man's calling can excuse his unbelief.
4. The reception of faithful Gentiles is condemnation to unfaithful Jews.
(1) Jesus had not found such faith, no, not in Israel. He sought faith. He seeks it still.
(2) He sought it first among the children of the kingdom. The gospel as well as the Law came first to the Jews (see Romans 9:4). Privileges bring responsibilities. So the last become first by their faith. The first become last through their unbelief.
(3) How fearful is the condition of the rejected! Shut out from the light of the banquet of glory. In the cold and hunger of an endless night. The weeping. The gnashing of teeth. No such sorrow and misery as those of the lost. - J.A.M.
I. THE PRIMARY DEMAND OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION IS FAITH. Illustration in our Lord's demand from all those whom he healed. This is sometimes very evident; it is always present, though needing to be searched out. The first demand of Christianity may seem to be love; it is only love because love carries and enshrines faith.
II. THE LIFE AND DEATH OF THE LORD JESUS ARE NOW THE OBJECTS OF FAITH. Just as the word of Jesus was for the centurion. He believed the word Jesus had spoken, and acted on the belief. The life and death of Jesus
(1) reveal God, and ask me to believe that he is Love;
(2) reveal me, and ask me to believe that I am a sinner;
(3) reveal the glory and grace of Jesus as God's Son and my Saviour.
III. CONVERSION IS FAITH IN THE WORD OF GOD, WHICH JESUS IS. The strength and happiness of Christian life come from believing and obeying the word which the living Jesus speaks. "God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son."
IV. FAITH IS A REAL AND PRACTICAL POWER IN COMMON HUMAN CONDUCT. "We trust our senses; and that though they often deceive us. We trust men; a battle must often be risked on the intelligence of a spy. A merchant commits his ships, with all his fortunes on board, to a hired captain, whose temptations are enormous. Without this principle society could not hold together for a day. It would be a mere sand-heap. Such, too, is religious faith; we trust on probabilities; and this though probabilities are often against us."
V. FAITH IS THE LINK GOD HAS APPOINTED TO ATTACH US TO HIMSELF FOR SALVATION AND STRENGTH. F.W. Robertson says, "Faith is that which, when probabilities are equal, ventures on God's side, and on the side of right; on the guarantee of a something within which makes the thing seem to be true because it is loved." - R.T.
I. THE GROUNDS OF FAITH. Faith is exceedingly difficult to explain and define. Partly because it has both an intellectual and a moral side. It is, in a sense, the mental grasp of a proposition; and it is heart-acceptance of a relation. It is belief and it is trust., Commonly received definitions do but give features or aspects of it. Essentially it is the act and expression of soul-dependence. Faith is not difficult to recognize in particular instances; as when the little child leaps into the dark cellar on her father's assurance. Faith is not difficult to recognize as the motive power in our common, everyday relations. We know well how our daily life is built upon mutual trust. And yet the faith that bears relation to our eternal salvation must have a ground or reason. It may rest on
(1) a statement; or on
(2) a person; or on
(3) a doctrine; or on
(4) a character.
The highest ground is trust in a person. The most effective influences on our lives are our trusts in persons. Sometimes through the doctrine faith comes to reliance on the person. Sometimes through the person it comes to the acceptance of the doctrine. Both apply to Christ; in one way or the other, saving faith is reliance on the living, redeeming, sanctifying Person - the Lord Jesus Christ. Our proper ground of faith is Jesus himself.
II. THE REWARDS OF FAITH. These may be either:
1. Gaining the thing desired. Responding to the prayer of faith, Christ may be graciously pleased to say, "Be it unto thee even as thou wilt." Let it be the burden of sin, he may say, "Thy sins are forgiven thee."
2. Increase of faith. More than once a little and weak faith came to Christ, and in his presence grew stronger; it won a blessing, and in the joy of the blessing it sprang up into fuller power. Wait for the right faith, and you may wait in vain. Use well the little faith you have, and in the use you shall find the faith increase.
3. Kindling faith in others. We seldom recognize as we should what a power there is in faith to quicken faith in others. The confident, hopeful man cheers all about him. The world is being saved, not by its men of science, but by its men of faith. - R.T.
I. THERE IS TROUBLE IN THE HOME. Pain and sorrow are not shut out when the darkness of night is excluded and the door is closed on the tempest. Though there be no trouble in the streets, the bird of evil omen may brood in the very centre of the family. All may be well with the state, yet the household may be distracted with misery. The great Atlantic steamer is sailing safely on her voyage, but sick women and crying children down below have a wretchedness of their own that is never chronicled in the captain's log-book. How many homes of beauty and comfort are just dens of misery! how many more are haunts of anxiety!
II. THE FRIENDS OF CHRIST ARE IN TROUBLE. Peter is one of the best friends of Jesus - one of his newly chosen disciples. Yet a near relative of Peter's is found to be seriously ill. The service of Christ does not insure us against the invasion of trouble. Christian families do not escape the epidemic that brings distress to the homes of the godless. The Church of Christ is not a Goshen which the angel of pestilence avoids. If the laws of health are broken in a Christian household, that household has no bill of indemnity to save it from the consequences of its mistake. While Peter lived by the low swamps of Gennesareth, a place to invite fever, it was natural that fever should appear in his house.
III. CHRIST ENTERS THE HOME. He is not like John the Baptist, dwelling alone in the wilderness. He lives with his friends. He loves home-life. Though now unseen because our "eyes are holden," he still visits homes. We pray for his presence in the Church, and we hope to meet him in our public worship. But his habits on earth show us that he is quite as ready to be found in the family. The family is the social unit. Society will be out of joint unless the family is consecrated by the presence of Christ. Let us always think of him as One at our table, sharing our domestic life.
IV. CHRIST'S PRESENCE BRINGS HEALTH. He was not invited into Peter's house for the purpose of curing the sick woman. Peter knew nothing of the trouble. The fever, as is often the case in tropical climates, may have seized the poor woman without a moment's notice. Christ was invited for his own sake, that he might partake of refreshment and rest awhile. But the most unselfish serving of Christ wilt receive back unsought and unexpected blessings. Where Christ is present, he is ready to help. He saw, he touched, he healed. According to St. Mark, some told Jesus of the distressful condition of his hostess's mother (Mark 1:30). Then Jesus went to see her for himself. He is not unobservant of suffering, and for him to see is to help.
V. BLESSINGS FROM CHRIST LEAD TO THE SERVICE OF CHRIST, The sick woman is perfectly cured. She does not suffer from the languor that usually follows fever. Feeling well, she immediately sets about her daily work. Plainly she is a most sensible woman. It is worth while to cure such a practical person. The end of salvation is service. Each may best serve Christ in the way of his or her own capacities. The grace of Christ is not to lift us above doing the homeliest duties, but to fit us for them. - W.F.A.
expresses "the travail of his soul." Notice -
I. THE EXCEEDING PROMPTNESS WITH WHICH THIS MIRACLE WAS WROUGHT. Observe on the variety of the miracles of Christ, in this one respect by itself. Sometimes delay was the rule, and in such cases, sometimes with an evident reason and use, but sometimes not so. The occasions when we can see the reason or a reason will teach us how there were reasons in the other cases, though perhaps untraceable by us. On the other hand, many miracles were marked by very quick action, as with the impotent man and the blind beggar, etc., but nowhere perhaps more than in this case.
II. THE OUTWARD SIGNS ACCOMPANYING THE WORKING OF THE MIRACLE. "He touched her hand;" "he rebuked the fever;" "he took her by the hand;" "he lifted her up." In these facts stated, which may be very far from being rightly called in every sense outward signs, two leading points may be observed - the "rebuke" to the oppressor, the assistance to the oppressed, significant and genuine suggestions to our Christian work, and to our conflict in Christ's Name with human woe, and with those forces of evil which stir it and fix it and only so reluctantly loose their grasp. Nor are the forms of help barren of suggestion. He stood over her; he saw her; he touched her hand, took her by the hand, lifted her up. The very gradation in the assistance proffering us lessons, or reminding us of what we have not failed already to observe and reason upon.
III. THE GRATEFUL AND DEVOUT AND PRACTICAL RESPONSE ON THE PART OF THE SUFFERER, NO LONGER THE PREY OF HER FEVER, TO HER DELIVERER. Picture the splendid contrast. The prostrate with fever immediately transformed into the active and thoughtful servant, and the minister both to her Lord and his attendants and friends. Enlarge on this as the consummate type of Christian conduct and character after genuine conversion. For this is followed by devout and unfeigned consecration of service to Christ and his Church. Conclude with noticing the harvest of that night, after the close of the sabbath.
1. The ingathering of what untold blessings to the people!
2. The toil and travail (in the sense of ver. 17) that harvest meant for Jesus Christ. - B.
I. THAT JESUS ACCEPTS THE MINISTRY OF HOSPITALITY.
1. He accepted the hospitality of Peter.
(1) This apostle resided at Capernaum, and Jesus lodged with him (cf. Matthew 17:24). Peter had a house; his Master had not one. Here the servant was above his Lord.
(2) Peter formerly resided at Bethsaida (John 1:44). Probably he removed his dwelling to be near to Jesus - to render him hospitality, and to benefit by his heavenly conversation. In changing residences Christians should not remove from the ordinances of religion. In seeking the health of the body the health of the soul must not be imperilled. Israel journeyed ever under the Sheehinah.
(3) Peter's wife's mother ministered to Jesus, or supplied him with refreshments. Jesus needed such hospitality, for his humanity was real. So are still his human sympathies.
(4) In accepting this hospitality, Jesus sanctioned marriage amongst his clergy. With what little grace do the Romanists contend for the celibacy of those who, while professing to derive infallibility from Peter, go contrary to his example (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:5)!
2. He will accept the hospitality of our hearts.
(1) Though corporeally gone into heaven, Jesus is still spiritually present with us. He sups in blessed friendship with the loyal, loving heart. He looks for a spiritual ministry to him. Temporal things are valuable as they are prompted by spiritual motives and aim at spiritual ends.
(3) Individual believers are specimens of the Church and representatives of Jesus. So he takes home as to himself hospitalities, or conversely unkindnesses, shown to them (cf. Matthew 25:40, 45; Acts 9:5).
(4) We are qualified by the grace of Christ to minister to Christ. Peter was made a disciple of Jesus before Jesus accepted his hospitality. Peter's wife's mother was empowered by Jesus before she ministered to Jesus. "We give thee of thine own."
(5) Peter was a young man - for his wife's mother was an active woman - yet Peter was a senior among the apostles. They were, therefore, all young men. Youth is the period for enterprise. Those who waste their youth waste their lives.
II. THAT JESUS EXERCISES THE MINISTRY OF SALVATION.
1. He healed all manner of diseases.
(1) "The fever owned his touch, and fled." The touch of that hand intimated the tenderness of a heart that is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities." It also evinced Divinity. The healing was as sudden as the touch. There was no interval of convalescence.
(2) Jesus healed Peter's wife's mother on the sabbath (cf. Mark 1:21, 29). For "it is lawful to do good on the sabbath day." But the Jews did not bring their sick until after sundown, when the sabbath ended (see Leviticus 23:32; also Matthew 12:10; Luke 13:4). He respected their prejudices, and healed them all.
2. He cast out the spirits with his word.
(1) An essential distinction is here strongly marked between the spirits "cast out" and the diseases "healed" (cf. Mark 1:34).
(2) Demoniacs were prevalent in Judaea in the time of Christ because the nation was then advanced to a height of impiety. The Jews were then also strongly addicted to magic, and invited spirits to be familiar with them.
(3) If there is anything beyond charlatanry in the spiritualism of these days it is like a revival of the necromancy denounced in the holy oracles (see Deuteronomy 18:9-12).
(4) Evil spirits have never ceased to dwell in impure affections; and they still possess the souls of the wicked as formerly they possessed their bodies.
3. These works denoted the Messiah.
(1) They were wrought in fulfilment of prophecy. The citation of Isaiah 53:4 here evinces this. But the words of the prophet also have reference to the atonement for sin, for so they are applied elsewhere (see 1 Peter 2:14).
(2) The miracles were wrought in anticipation of the atonement. For sickness is a consequence of sin. The removal of the consequence was a pledge that the Miracle-worker would remove the cause. Upon the same principle of anticipation Old Testament believers were saved by the death of Christ.
(3) The miracles of Jesus, together with the sympathy of his whole life, must be viewed as belonging to his great work of atonement, which was therefore only "finished" on the cross. So, in working his miracles, Jesus sometimes - perhaps always - "groaned in spirit, and was troubled." Both kinds of "bearing our diseases" were requisite to our great High Priest (see Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 5:1, 2). Remarkably this view is expressed in the rabbinical book of Zohar: "There is one temple which is called the temple of the sons of affliction; and when Messiah comes into that temple, and reads all the afflictions, all the griefs, and all the chastisements of Israel, which came upon them, then all of them shall come upon him; and if there were any that would lighten them off from Israel, and take them upon himself, there is no son of man that can bear the chastisements of Israel, because of the punishment of the Law, as it is said, 'Surely he hath borne our griefs,' etc."
(4) The diseases and afflictions of the body miraculously cured by Jesus are to be taken as figures of corresponding moral evils. - J.A.M.
I. SYMPATHY IS THE MOTIVE OF CHRIST'S LIFE-WORK. It was sympathy that led him to take up the great task of saving the world. Sympathy is also apparent in the details of that task. There have been philanthropists whose private conduct seemed hard, who were negligent of the misery at their feet, who took little interest in individual cases of distress, while they manifested the greatest energy in pressing on large measures of humanitarian reform. Christ is not thus partial in his kindness. Moreover, we find no attempt at working miracles for any other purpose than the help of the sufferers. No doubt Christ was aiming at the glory of God throughout (see John 2:11; John 11:4); evidently his miracles were visible parables, setting forth in concrete acts the grace of his spiritual work. Yet the motive in his heart was not didactic, but sympathetic. His first idea was not to teach a lesson, but to relieve distress. He was "moved with compassion."
II. THE SYMPATHY OF CHRIST EXTENDED TO BODILY TROUBLE. He healed the sick. He cared for men's bodies as well as their souls. Often he reached their spiritual natures by first of all showing himself their Friend in temporal affairs.
1. Thus he encourages us to pray to him in sickness for our sick friends, and in regard to earthly troubles generally. Christ does not disdain these things.
2. Thus, also, we are urged by the example of Christ to help the suffering in their bodily needs. God gave miracles to the first century; he has given medicine to the nineteenth century. It is our duty to use what means we have for healing the sick. Medical missions are most Christ-like.
III. THE SYMPATHY OF CHRIST IS EFFECTIVE. It is more than the tear of pity. Christ feels with the sufferers, and that is much; but he goes further, and relieves them of their sufferings. He cured the sick. He freed the possessed. He reclaimed the lost. His spiritual work now is practical. When we open our hearts to the love of Christ we receive more than compassion; we receive redemption.
IV. THE SYMPATHY OF CHRIST IS COSTLY, He takes our infirmities; he bears our diseases. This means more than the removal of those troubles; the strong words cannot be satisfied unless we understand them to teach that the afflictions are a burden to Christ. The sympathy which costs us nothing is shallow and worthless. Christ's sympathy was deep and real. It was pain to him. Perhaps the healing process was itself painful, as he felt the "virtue" going out of him. However that may have been, his coming into this world, his endurance of sights of misery, and his deep compassion for the distressed, wrung his heart, because he felt that the sufferings of his brethren were his own sufferings. All this was a shadow of his great anguish when he bore more than sickness, when he bore the sins of the world on the cross. - W.F.A.
bore the sufferings which he removed, we shall be in a fair way to understand how he could bear the sins from which he came to deliver us. This passage, quoted from Isaiah 53:4, "does not mean that Christ literally took into his body and bore himself all the fevers, pains, lamenesses, blindnesses, leprosies, he healed, but simply that he took them upon his sympathy, bore them as a burden upon his com passionate love. In that sense exactly he assumed and bore the sins of the world; not that he became the sinner, and suffered the due punishment himself, but that he took them on his love, and put himself, by mighty throes of feeling and sacrifice and mortal passion, to the working out of their deliverance. The sins were never his, the deserved pains never touched him as being deserved, but they were upon his feeling in so heavy a burden as to make him sigh, 'My soul is exceeding sorrowful.' And just because the world in sin took hold of his feeling in this manner, was he able in turn to get hold of the feeling of the world, and become its true Deliverer and Saviour. In this fact lay bosomed the everlasting, gospel" (Bushnell).
I. HUMAN SYMPATHY BEARING THE WOES OF OTHERS. Take illustrative cases, such as the mother, who bears the disabilities, or sufferings, of her child. Let it be a cripple-child, see how sympathy finds expression in tireless ministries. Or take the doctor, whose sympathy leads him to take his patient up into thought, study, anxiety, and sets him upon every effort to preserve life, or relieve pain. In what a full and true sense the pain we take up by sympathy becomes ours! Yet more striking is a mother's sympathy when her boy brings on himself sufferings through his sins. Then her bearing means effort to get him delivered from both sufferings and sins.
II. DIVINE SYMPATHY BEARING THE WOES OF OTHERS. We may learn of God from our best selves. But this we may confidently say, if God takes up our woes, he will be most concerned about the sins which are the real causes of all the woes. - R.T.
I. THE HASTY DISCIPLE. One of the scribes, one of the official teachers of religion, is enraptured at what he sees of the gracious Galilaean ministry. He will follow Christ anywhere.
1. The scribe's offer. It is well that he is attracted to Christ. Being attracted, he naturally desires to follow the great Teacher and Healer, that he may ha always in his presence. No doubt he intends the following to be a genuine discipleship. He will sit at the Master's feet and devote himself to his service. Yet he is very hasty; he has not thought out his project; he does not know what it involves; therefore he cannot say whether he is prepared to be faithful to his promise. It is foolish to make a profession of devotion to Christ before we know what his service really is. There is much that is attractive in him, and in favourable moments our hearts are moved and go out to him. But all this may be like Ephraim's goodness, like the morning cloud, like the growth on the stony ground.
2. Christ's reply.
(1) The statement of a fact. Jesus was a poor Man, who had no home of his own; having abandoned the not very lucrative craft of a carpenter, he was dependent on the hospitality of the grateful. But he who lives on gratitude has a most uncertain livelihood. Yet Jesus humbled himself to this condition. Birds and foxes had more.
(2) A needful warning. The servant must be as his master. Christ's genuine disciples had forsaken all to follow him. Let us count the cost, for there will be cost in all Christian service. It is a dangerous sign if what we think to be the service of Christ brings us ease and affluence.
II. THE RELUCTANT DISCIPLE.
1. His call. The first disciple had not waited for the call of Christ. He had boldly volunteered for the service, and he had been taught a lesson of humility and reflection. But now Christ himself calls another disciple. This is clearly stated by St. Luke (Luke 9:59). When Christ calls, it is our part to respond at once. The case is now quite altered. Duty does not admit of any consideration of difficulty or danger.
2. His excuse. He would first go and bury his father. This seems to be a most natural excuse. The sacred duty of filial piety would appear to claim the man. Burials in the East follow quickly on death. At most the son would be away but a few hours. Then he would be free to follow Christ for the remainder of his days. How can we blame him? It may be said at once that if this were a true view of the case he would have been excused, and Christ would have been the first to sympathize with him. Therefore we must conclude either
(1) that he meant he wanted to wait for his father's death, or
(2) that he was simply quoting a proverb - as an excuse in his case for more delay. But to postpone our coming to Christ is to show want of true devotion to him.
3. His rebuke. Jesus saw through the hypocritical excuse. Yet he answered the man after his own style. He would postpone the service of Christ to secular interests. But the secular minded who are spiritually dead can attend to those affairs. Christ's claim is paramount. He is no true disciple who treats what is dearest to him in such a way as to make it a hindrance to his service of Christ. The most sacred home ties are snares when they interfere with our devotion to our Divine Lord. - W.F.A.
I. THE ONE CONDITION OF CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP IS IMPLICIT SUBMISSION TO CHRIST.
1. This was confessed in words by the scribe.
(1) His words recognized the great Teacher (ver. 19).
(2) They expressed unreserved devotion to him. The genuine disciple will follow Jesus anywhere.
(3) They expressed, moreover, voluntary service. "Love is the fulfilling of the Law."
2. But he said more than he meant.
(1) His enthusiasm arose from the persuasion that in following the Miracle-worker he might secure worldly advantages. He did not discern that Jesus sought faith, not fees; that he made no material profit by his healing power. Men may propose right things from sordid motives.
(2) He too lightly estimated what it is to follow Christ. Many, like him, would follow in the sunshine, but, meeting hardships, take offence. He was too hasty in promising. "Soon ripe, soon rotten." Christ's followers in paths of publicity and enjoyment are many; in the walks of humility and suffering, few.
(3) He was too self-sufficient. A man that is not illuminated by the Spirit thinks himself capable of anything. The true man knows he can do nothing without the Spirit of Christ.
(4) All this is suggested in Christ's discouraging reply (ver. 20). Jesus does not deceive his followers. He promises them glorious rewards in the great future. He promises them present blessings also. But withal he promises hardships and privations (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:11).
3. Yet not more than Christ requires.
(1) The scribe's discouragement from Christ was because his motives were not as good as his words. Christ "for our sakes became poor," and for his sake we must be "poor in spirit." The Christ-like have no abiding city here. Let the poor be comforted in their resemblance to Christ in circumstances. But let them also seek his moral likeness.
(2) The foxes have holes. Cunning men of the world "feather their nests." The birds of the air have lodging-places. Those who prey upon the simple have their convenient retreats.
4. The claims of Christ are uncompromising.
(1) This is evident in the reply of Christ to Philip. The request to be permitted first to bury his father seems in itself reasonable. Elijah permitted Elisha to bid farewell to his friends.
(2) But things otherwise lawful in themselves must not divert us from the more important duty of following Christ. Duties take precedence in the order of their importance. Many are by family ties hindered from following Jesus. Piety to God is before piety to parents (cf. Leviticus 21:11, 12; Numbers 6:6-8; Luke 14:26).
(3) It is not clear that Philip's father was dead or even dying. He may have been from age, as it were, lingering on the brink of the grave. In this case, suppose he should linger three or four years, then Philip, in waiting to bury his father, would miss his opportunity of attending upon Jesus, whose ministry closed within that period.
5. The claims of Christ are spiritual before all things.
(1) The unspiritual are dead while they live. "The philosophers esteem those dead who subject the mind to sense" (Clemens Alexandrinus). "The wicked are dead to virtue, alive to evil" (Philo). "The wicked are dead while yet alive" (Maimonides; cf. Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13; 1 Timothy 5:6; Revelation 3:1).
(2) "Let the dead" in trespasses "bury their dead." There is an affinity between spiritual and natural death. Those are styled dead who are in a fitter state for burying the dead than for preaching the gospel.
(3) Let those look after the dying for the sake of what they may inherit, who are spiritually dead. The spiritual must not turn aside from the gospel for any temporal gain. When God calls to the ministry we must leave the business of this world.
(4) "Follow me." We must surrender ourselves at once and entirely to Christ. Want of leisure is too often want of inclination.
II. THE LIFE-LESSON OF CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP IS CHRIST.
1. Christ is the Teacher in his school.
(1) He has ushers or under-teachers - prophets, apostles, ministers. But their commission is to preach Christ. If they teach for doctrines commandments of men, they betray their trust.
(2) The Spirit of Christ is ever present in his Church. He sheds his light upon the Word that he inspired. He sheds his love abroad in the hearts of his sincere disciples.
2. Christ is also the Subject of his teaching.
(2) The correlative title is "Son of God." Christ constantly speaks of himself as "the Son of man" (see Matthew 26:63, 64). He uses the term to assert his humanity (see John 12:34). His miracles asserted his Divinity.
(3) With a single notable exception (see Acts 7:56), his disciples speak of him as "the Son of God."
3. Properly to know Christ we must embark with him.
(1) By embarking with Christ we do not escape storms. On the contrary, we may encounter them because he is in the ship. Does not Christ's "rebuking" the wind suggest that intelligent agency was behind it? The "prince of the powers of the air" would rejoice to sink such a freight as Christ and his Church.
(2) But with Jesus we are safe. "Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?" Fearfulness is a sign of little faith. Why did they not confide in his Godhead, which never sleeps? Had they been able in faith to say, "The Lord is my Strength," then would they have added, "Of whom shall I be afraid?"
(3) The sleep of Jesus in the storm showed the confidence of his humanity in his Godhead. It betokened also that inward peace which his disciples might have. amidst title storms of temptation and affliction.
(4) The recourse of the disciples to the humanity of Christ shows how necessary is that humanity to us as the way of our access to the Godhead.
(5) "And he arose, and rebuked the wind." So the calming of the storm in the soul is the result, not only of the Lord's awaking, but also of his arising, viz. from the sleep of death. He rebuked and calmed the spirits of his disciples first, and then he rebuked the wind and calmed the sea. Spiritual things take precedence of material.
(6) "What manner of man is this?" The Divine Man. To still the raging of the sea is the acknowledged work of God. The God of nature is the God of grace. - J.A.M.
the parallel of the present passage. On the other hand, it can scarcely be a mere duplicate or even a replica. Under any circumstances, if not the parallel, it certainly is a parallel, and the very equivalent, when allowance is made for the addition supplied by St. Luke. In fact, the absence of the third position from St. Matthew's account may possibly find explanation (explanation confessedly somewhat asked for) for any who hold, with some of the best of critics, that we may not improbably have here, in the three persons described, the anonymous biographies in so far as this incident goes of Judas Iscariot, St. Thomas, and St. Matthew himself. Notice -
I. JESUS CHRIST THE TYPE OF DISCRIMINATING FIDELITY; NOT DISGUISING, NOT FLATTERING, THE CHARACTER OF HIS OWN SERVICE, If any one, whether more or less savouring of the things that be of Judas Iscariot, seeks to enter the service of Christ and the kingdom of heaven, he shall not do so untaught as to the service, unwarned as to the conditions of it; he is plainly, faithfully, and most impressively told of these. Remark on the perfection for effectiveness of the warning here given, in its naturalness and simplicity (ver. 20), and of the touching, exquisite pathos of the last of the three clauses. Remark also on the inevitable dangers of times of apparent prosperity and popular impression, as well those that flourish in dispositions of the sanguine and enthusiastic type. Discriminate between the man who offers himself, as "moved by the Holy Ghost," and the way in which he offers himself, and the boastful volunteer, whether of the nature here Portrayed, or of that of the misguided zeal of Peter.
II. JESUS CHRIST THE TYPE OF CLEAREST VISION IN THE MATTER OF THE RELATIVE WORTH OF THE HEAVENLY CALL, AND ANY AND EVERY EARTHLY CALL; THE HEAVENLY RELATIONSHIP, AND ANY AND EVERY EARTHLY RELATIONSHIP; AND OF UNBROKEN SINGLENESS OF DEVOTION, AND LOYALTY INCORRUPT TO THE HIGHER. Remark here OH the expression (ver. 21), "another of his disciples," as finding its explanation from St. Luke (Luke 9:59), where we learn that Jesus had just called him, and that he was therefore his disciple. Illustrate from other clear deliverances of Jesus Christ that there is not to be imagined here for a moment any depreciation of the sacredness and the worth of human affections, but rather exaltation of the Divine affection (which must be ever the one determinating and turning-point of human character and hope and eternal outlook). Show how, in this instance, all this was yet more illuminated by the grace and kindness and inspiriting nature of the further commission, "But go thou and preach the kingdom of God."
III. JESUS CHRIST THE TYPE OF THE UN-LOOKING BACK, THE UN-MISGIVING, THE UN-TURNING, AND THE "WITHOUT-REPENTANCE" WHEN HIGH DUTY, WHEN THE MORE THAN HEROIC HEIGHTS OF PRESENT SELF-SACRIFICE, WHEN HOLY EFFORT AND HEAVEN, ARE THE GOAL IN FRONT. Dwell lovingly on the undoubted dependence (equally extraordinary and glorious in its essential nature) of true Christian work, on an exact, a clear, a steadfast eye, and a heart thereupon perfect to follow its outlook. How much so-called Christian work withers like untimely birth itself by reason of carelessness, mixed motive, and lack of supremely dominating affection! - B.
Luke 9:57-62). Our Lord did not aim to be the founder of a sect, and he never showed any interest in mere numbers. He made each offer of discipleship either a test of the real religious condition of the individual, or else an opportunity for laying down or illustrating the great principles, responsibilities, and duties of his kingdom. Two cases are before us in connection with this text. Both men illustrate the general evil of the divided heart - the heart not wholly given to the Lord God. But we may see the form this general evil may take in the case of a precipitate disciple, and in the case of a procrastinating disciple.
I. THE TESTING OF A PRECIPITATE DISCIPLE. With very forcible figures of speech, Christ replies to the precipitate disciple, who gushingly says, "I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest," - "Stop; sit down quietly; count the cost; calmly anticipate; worldly honours do not crown this profession which you are so hurriedly taking up; earthly riches do not lay their treasures at the feet of those who bear this name; the servants are likely to be as the Master; and while 'foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.' Are you honestly and heartily prepared to take up your cross, and to take up that cross daily, and follow Christ, not ashamed even though your Lord should be treated as a crucified malefactor, and your brethren be regarded as those that turn the world upside down?"
II. THE TESTING OF THE PROCRASTINATING DISCIPLE. In language rather more difficult to understand, our Lord in effect says to him, "'Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation.' I called thee - I who am thy Lord, thy Redeemer. Nothing can excuse delay in replying to the call of thy Lord and thy God. Thy Lord is more to thee than thy earthly father; thy living Lord is certainly more to thee than thy dead father. Let those who are 'dead in trespasses and sins' care for the naturally dead; just now your attention is arrested by an all-absorbing call; your redeeming Lord has called you; then at once, without delay, without hesitation, obey, - 'Go thou and preach the kingdom,' as a sign that you are my disciple." That message tested him. It tests us. If God has spoken to our hearts, that message is an all-absorbing message. Our weak hearts are always urging us to say, "By-and-by, Lord; by-and-by." Augustines still pray, "Lord, convert me, but not yet." And Jesus still says, "He that forsaketh not all that he hath cannot be my disciple." - R.T.
the Father. Christ had as distinctive a name for himself. It embodies the apprehension of him that anybody and everybody might gain; and not that particular apprehension which would come only to more intimate, and more spiritually taught, disciples. The name "Son of man" is used seventy-one times in the New Testament, and in every case but one by our Lord himself. The martyr Stephen also uses the name (Acts 7:56; comp. Daniel 7:13). To see the force of the term we must keep in mind that Jewish surnames took the form "son of." Thus Simon Bar-Jona, or "son of Jona;" James and John, the sons of Zebedee. l. WHAT DOES THIS NAME DENY? That Jesus was the Son of any particular man. It would be to limit him and his relations if he could have been called "the Son of Joseph." Properly regarded, this name denies the ordinary natural origination of Jesus, and supports the great doctrine of the Incarnation. Observe, too, that our Lord never had the difficulty of deciding between the authority of the earthly and heavenly Father.
II. WHAT DOES THIS NAME ASSENT?
1. That Jesus was humanity's Child. He belongs to the race.
2. That Jesus was a new Race-head, a second Adam, a Beginner of a new spiritual generation.
3. That Jesus was a Divine Child, getting an origination by the inbreathing of God as truly as the first Adam by the fiat of omnipotence. So the truth of his being the Son of God is actually carried by the assertion that he is the Son of man. It may further be shown what this implies concerning his unity with our race - it involves the possibility of his full sympathy with human sorrow ant need. And yet it includes also the explanation of his having no home, for he was the Son of no particular man, and so had no natural home rights. "It is remarkable that this name for Christ never passed into the current language of the apostolic Church, nor into the theological or liturgical phraseology of Christendom. It is not used in any of the Epistles" (but see Revelation 1:13; Revelation 14:14). - R.T.
I. CHRIST IS ASLEEP IN THE STORM. This is a striking picture. Consider what it reveals in him.
1. Natural weariness. He had had a long day of toil. Even when he sought rest in the house it was forbidden him. Now at last he is free from the multitude, and Nature asserts her sway, and he falls into the heavy sleep of utter exhaustion. See here
(1) Christ's true humanity;
(2) how he can sympathize with our weakness;
(3) how his work was not easy, but toilsome and wearisome, yet freely given for the good of men.
2. Inward peace. He need not lie awake tortured by' anxiety. He has no evil conscience to disturb him. Within one breast all is calm while the tempest howls round the boat.
3. Perfect faith. His time has not yet come. But if it had come he would not need to be disturbed; for he is always ready for his Father's will. He knows that all is safe with God.
II. CHRIST IS AROUSED BY HIS DISCIPLES. Their action is natural. They were in imminent danger - or at least they thought themselves so. Their conduct reveals their state of mind. This was a strange mixture of faith and unbelief.
1. Faith. Christ is a laudsman - a carpenter of the inland town of Nazareth; these men are natives of the seashore, and fishermen well used to the sea. Yet they instinctively cry to Christ. In all his trouble the Christian cannot but turn to his Master.
2. Unbelief. These panic-stricken men cannot wait for their Master to rise at the right moment and save them. In their terror they are impatient of his calm slumbers - which is natural; but they are also querulous and unkind - which is less excusable. They hint that Christ cares not whether they perish. Great trouble is a severe test of faith, especially when we have to wait long for deliverance.
III. CHRIST STILLS THE STORM. First he rebukes the little faith of the disciples. Then he turns to the terror of wind and wave; and in a moment the storm has dropped as suddenly as it arose. Here is the real rebuke of unbelief. Christ is never negligent of his people in their troubles. He may seem to delay; but at the right moment he will do all that is needful. Whatever may be the trouble, he is able to conquer it. Yet it is easier to quiet a storm at sea than to quiet a troubled heart. If you hold a glass of water in your hand you can secure its being quite at rest while you hold your hand still. But if you have caught a wild bird in the hedge and hold it in your hand and feel its little heart throbbing against your fingers, you cannot quiet it merely by holding your hand still. You must teach it to trust you. When it has gained confidence it will be at rest. The sea may be stilled by a word of command, but the heart of man only through faith. - W.F.A.
I. THE CALL TO FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF IS NOW PUBLISHED FOR THE DISCIPLES, AND NOT SIMPLY FAITH IN WHAT HE MAY DO.
1. He was asleep, but it was he.
2. He was asleep, but he was in the ship.
3. He was asleep, but it was certain he did "care" for his disciples, and did care that they should "not perish."
II. THE CALL TO FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST WAS FOR SUCH FAITH TO OWN HIM OMNIPOTENT MASTER IN EVERY AND ALL DIRECTIONS OF GOD'S WIDE DOMAIN. It was g new surprise that "winds and sea obey him." But if it were this, a new surprise what did it mean, except that they knew it not before or doubted it before?
III. THE CALL TO EXERCISE FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST WAS A CALL TO BELIEVE THAT THE ENEMIES TO BE SUBJUGATED BY HIM WERE NOT SUCH AS COULD BE CALLED ACCIDENT AND THINGS UNCONSCIOUS, BUT UNSEEN FOES IN DISASTROUS ALLIANCE WITH THESE. Christ "rebuked" the "winds and sea." The alliance of spirit with flesh and blood and matter of such kind (wonderful and mysterious as is the bridge from one to another, the subtle but powerful and, for long lasting, tyrannous link between them), is undenied; and is so familiar as a phenomenon and a fact with us that we think not, at all about it, except with special effort and on special occasion. Yet deeper things are betrayed to us in revelation and by revelation, viz. such a thing as this, that spirit may possess other matter and other forms of matter; and tyrannously dominate the ubiquitous "elements of nature" and their forces. The deeper and less recognized whisperings and suggestions of revelation are sometimes equivalent to authoritative pronouncements of what we had once named the superstitious figments of heathen minds. Let it be they were such; yet how cravingly, inquiringly, wearily, and not altogether vainly, did they roam round and beat at the bonds and environment of their ignorance; and sometimes they touched truth! The disciples were taught such truths, and we through them. - B.
I. THE REVELATION IT MAKES OF THE PERSON OF CHRIST. Throughout his life the question was asked, "Who is he?" "What think ye of Christ?" it was asked by his countrymen of Nazareth; by his disciples; by John the Baptist; by the Pharisees from Jerusalem. Christ's answer is, "If ye believe not me, believe the works." Then look at this work.
1. It gives deep impression of Christ's being within humanity. See the suggestions of his sleep. His sleepless nights of prayer do not surprise us; his tiredness does. A human Saviour is he who sleeps.
2. It gives deep impression of Christ's being beyond humanity. He controls the storms; commands the threes of nature. If that man is under limitations, he must have put himself under limitations voluntarily. Show how the thought of Christ has grown. Carpenter, great Teacher; wonderful Hakim; Messiah; Son of God. Then spiritual Savior; and to us ideal Manhood - "God manifest in the flesh."
II. THE REVELATION IT MAKES OF THE MISSION OF CHRIST. Which was to show men the Father. He told them what the Father was, and what the Father thought. He showed them what the Father was always doing in his love to them. What, then, did he show here? How the Father-God is ever at work, controlling the hindering and distressing circumstances that imperil us. In the Old Testament water is the type of the oppositions of outward circumstances. Illustrate: the Red Sea; the river Jordan. We often think ourselves mastered by outward things, or at least find in them our excuses. This is the age of masterful circumstances; so we need this miracle, and its assurance that our Father-God holds the waters - and all they represent - in the hollow of his hand. - R.T.
here, though it is said "they" both spoke and cried to Jesus, yet only one form of words is given. In passing, note also how, in the account of each evangelist, this narrative follows that of the stilling of the storm and tempest in the material world. Notice -
I. A DREADFUL TYPE IN BODILY LIFE OF THE MAN WHOSE SPIRIT, GIVEN HIM WHEREWITH TO RULE AND "HAVE 'DOMINION," IS OVERRULED AND OVERMASTERED BY AN EVIL SPIRIT, AND EXERCISES BUT A VERY PRECARIOUS AND OCCASIONAL SWAY OF ITS OWN.
II. THE EXTRAORDINARY BUT MOST SIGNIFICANT ACTION OF THIS DUALITY OF SPIRIT WHICH MANIFESTED ITSELF AT THE CRISIS OF THE APPROACH OF JESUS CHRIST, The "he" who met Jesus, and ran to him as by irresistible instinct or attraction, and "worshipped," and "fell down" before him, and the other "he" (or "they") of whose devilish inspiration were the words which the victim used. How graphic, how dramatic, how dreadful the parable the description speaks of the conflict and the strife in the soul between itself in deep need, deep distress, deep consciousness, and the odious tyrant that hems him at bay!
III. THE NOTICE TO QUIT NOW, AND THE MORE SIGNIFICANT SUGGESTION THAT THE NOTICE, YET TO COME ONE DAY, WOULD BE A LONGER NOTICE, ONE TO QUIT FOR EVER, The entreaty of the united legion, by the lips of the oppressed and tormented demoniac, is that they shall not be banished the "country" (i.e. the world); and should not be sent into "the deep" (i.e. the unseen domain), where there would be no "wicked," no "weary" from whatsoever cause, for such to possess and tyrannize. And this entreaty betokened sufficiently plainly what they knew of their ultimate destiny, and what they bad in view in deprecating being "tormented before the time." Note the easy prey that the vast number of swine were to the evil spirit or spirits; and how is thereby set forth the strong power to resist of the human soul, and its long-continued power to resist, and in the same relative proportion the prolonged, unutterable suffering and anguish.
IV. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE COWARDLY AND SELFISH GADARENES IN BESEECHING CHRIST TO DEPART, AND THE IMPASSIONED PRAYER OF THE RECOVERED DEMONIAC TO BE PERMITTED TO REMAIN WITH CHRIST. Conclude by remarking on the fearful compliance on the part of Jesus with the one entreaty, arid his most gracious refusal of the other. - B.
I. THAT DEVILS ARE FORMIDABLE FOES.
1. They are formidable in power.
(2) From their exploits. See the history of Job. Did not Satan transport the body of Jesus from the wilderness to the pinnacle of the temple, and thence to the mountain summit (see Matthew 4:5, 8)?
(3) From the example of these demoniacs. No man could bind them (see Mark 5:3, 4).
2. They are formidable in number.
(1) Else how could they tempt so constantly the 1,400,000,000 living men? Their number must be great if all the wicked men that have died are demons.
(2) Their name is "legion." A Roman legion numbered six thousand men (see Mark 5:9).
(3) Things singly insignificant in numbers become formidable. Frogs and flies in multitudes became Egyptian plagues. In relation to the swarms of demons marshalled by Satan he is called Beelzebub - "Lord of flies."
3. They are formidable in their military order.
(1) This, too, is suggested in the name of "legion." They are officered into principalities, powers, world-rulers of darkness, and spiritual rulers of wickedness in the heavens (see Ephesians 6:12).
(2) They are efficiently marshalled. Some are devils of pride; some of coveteousness; some of sensuality; some of profanity; some of malice. Those who are led by any propensity to evil are possessed by a demon apt to stimulate it. Is your familiar an "unclean spirit"?
4. They are formidable in their inveterate malignity.
(1) They are proud spirits. What but inveterate malignity could induce them to ask leave of God to work mischief?
(2) The more so when they know that for the mischief they work they will incur a terrible retribution. Devils are not yet in hell. Their time of torment is the day of judgment (cf. ver. 29; Revelation 12:12; Revelation 20:1-3, 10).
5. They are formidable because of their passion for enshrinement in humanity.
(1) Out of humanity they are troubled and uneasy (cf. Matthew 12:43). It is "torment" to them to be ejected from humanity (ver. 29).
(2) They prefer enshrinement in the body of a beast to being houseless. Satan enshrined himself in a serpent. These demons. entreated to be allowed to enter into the swine.
(3) They make havoc wherever they crone. The evil disposition of the heart is a tomb in which a demon dwells.
II. DEMONIACAL ASCENDENCY IS DISASTROUS TO HUMANITY.
1. Disastrous because assimilating.
(1) This is more evident in Mark's account, in which the plural and singular are so mingled that it is difficult to know whether the demons or the demoniac speaks (cf. Mark 5:6-10).
(2) This possession is the more deplorable as it diabolizes the Godward side of humanity.
2. Disastrous because dissocializing.
(1) These demoniacs were driven from society into the solitude of the tombs.
(2) Sin breaks up homes and friendships.
(3) It destroys commonwealths.
(4) The rich man in bell did not desire the company of his five brethren.
3. Disastrous because infuriating.
(1) It is suicidal. These demoniacs cut themselves with stones (see Mark 5:5). The priests of Baal cut themselves with knives (1 Kings 18:28; see also Leviticus 19:28; Jeremiah 16:6). Sin is moral suicide.
(2) It is fratricidal. "Cain was of that wicked one, and slew his brother." These demoniacs were the terror of passengers (ver. 28). "One sinner destroyeth much good."
III. ABSOLUTE SUPREMACY VESTS IN CHRIST.
1. Demons confess him their Superior.
(1) This is remarkable in their history since the experiment in the wilderness. There it was, "If thou be the Son of God." Here it is, "What have we to do with thee, thou Son of God?"
(2) They tremble in the presence of their Judge. "Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?" They were preconscious of their casting out. That casting out they regarded as a presage of their time of final judgment (cf. John 12:31; John 14:11).
2. He may listen to a devil's prayer.
(1) He consented to the prayer of these demons that they should be suffered to enter into the swine. He consented to the prayer of Satan that he might torment Job.
(2) Why should he not? He can work gracious purposes by the most unlikely agency. His consent to the prayer of the demons was a judgment upon the sin of the swine-dealers.
(3) The injury wrought upon the fig tree, that upon the traffickers in the temple, and this upon the swine-dealers, were severally presages of future vengeance.
3. tie may listen to a rebellious sinner's prayer.
(1) The Gadarenes besought him to depart out of their borders. They would rather have demons and swine among them than the holy Jesus. He heard their prayer.
(2) Let the blasphemer beware. His horrible prayers may be answered. The imprecation, "His blood be upon us, and upon our children," had a terrible response in the wars of the Jews and in the horrors of their long captivity.
(3) Let the rejecter of the gospel beware.
4. He may refuse the prayer of a saint.
(1) The Gadarene, now no longer a demoniac, but a grateful believer, entreated that he might be with his Deliverer (see Mark 5:15), but was refused (Mark 5:18, 19). The bodily presence of Jesus he must not have; but his spiritual presence he may enjoy. (:0 Jesus had other work for him to do (Mark 5:19, 20). He was to go home, where he was best known, and there to let his light shine.
(3) Let us not be discouraged if our prayers are not answered precisely as we desired. God answers our prayers to our utmost advantage. - J.A.M.
I. DEVIL-POSSESSIONS. It is necessary to consider some received views as to the nature of evil.
1. The Manichaean. Two co-ordinate principles of good and evil. Compare the Zoroastrian principles represented in Ormuzd and Ahriman.
2. The pantheistic. No reality, or separate existence to evil. Only a lower form of good; unripe good.
3. The scriptural. Evil the contingency necessary to creaturehood; the essential possibility of a moral being, entrusted with the control of his own actions. Man a being subject to influences; other wills do affect his. Illustrate by power of one man over another. Man is in a state of sin; that is a state of bondage to another will. So comes in the Scripture idea of a king and kingdom of evil. With this in mind, examine the particular form of sickness called "devil possessions." Perhaps it differed from epilepsy, hysteria, or insanity; but the lack of scientific description prevents our forming a precise judgment. What we notice is
(1) lost control of the bodily organization;
(2) consequent unrestrained sensuality;
(3) lucid intervals; and
(4) the sense of misery and cry for deliverance.
We may best compare with delirium tremens, the mastery of a man's body and will by the spirit of drink.
II. THE JEWISH MODE OF DEALING WITH CASES OF DEVIL-POSSESSIONS. They used incantations. The rabbi pronounced a magic formula. One of the Jewish books prescribes a sacred root called baaras. Using this aright, the devils will come out through the nostrils.
III. OUR LORD'S POWER OVER THE DEVIL-POSSESSED. Notice:
1. The absence of all incantation.
2. Our Lord used no agencies.
3. The word of command sufficed. If devils represent the supreme woe that can afflict man, then Jesus proclaimed himself Master of man's worst woe. - R.T.
1. They were wild hogs, not what we understand by pigs. Their conduct is that of half-wild creatures.
2. Christ, at the most, gave permission, not command.
3. That the spirits did enter the swine, and that this explains their wild. conduct, is the people's idea, based on the paroxysms of the man when the devils were in him.
4. Similar rushes of animals are due to natural causes. See the stampede of horses, as, some time since, at Aldershot.
5. We need not think a judgment on the people for keeping swine was intended. There is no proof that they were under any Jewish obligations. We may notice the ends served by the scene.
1. It became an effective proof of the reality of the man's deliverance. So it answers to the command, "Take up thy bed, and walk." Such a proof was needed by the man, who may have feared it was only a lucid interval.
2. It exhibited the terrible nature of the devils' possession. If the devils wrought such havoc in the swine, what must they have wrought in the man! The people may not have properly felt the sadness and misery of their brother's condition. See the effects of the incident on the Gadarenes. It was their "day of grace." Opportunity of salvation was afforded them.
I. OPPORTUNITY OF SALVATION WAS REJECTED BY THESE GADARENES. All Christ's offers are associated with some searching test, which makes it hard to accept them, and compels a man to deal resolutely with himself before he accepts them. Illustrate Zacchaeus; young rich ruler; Matthew; St. Paul. Here the test was a mere loss of property. It can never be an easy thing to enter the kingdom. The entrance is a low postern door - a "needle's eye." Tests may now be more subtle; they are not less real, and they are much more searching. Gadarenes failed under their test.
II. OPPORTUNITY OF SALVATION WAS REMOVED FROM THESE GADARENES. Their rejection had to be recognized. It might have been recognized by some actual punishment. It was recognized by the immediate removal of the aid they misconceived and feared. Jesus went away grieving, and never came again. This may be your day of grace. It comes with a testing. In the test you may fail, and reject your Saviour. Rejected, he may remove. - R.T.