Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother and her sister, as well as Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene.
I. THIS INTERESTING GROUP AT THE CROSS. Who composed it?
1. The mother of Jesus. She is mentioned first. She stands prominent among the rest, as well she may. Of all mothers, she is the most popular and interesting. She stands alone in the maternal roll of the world. Never a mother had such a Son, and never a son had such a mother. She has been made too much of on the one hand, and too little on the other. From her the Son of God inherited his humanity and his human breeding. Humanly speaking, he owed much to his mother for his fine human nature and sympathies. That Mary was his mother was not an accident. Never a mother had such joy nor such sorrow; and she was now overwhelmed with the latter. She was there: and what could keep her away?
2. Her sister. Who was she? not the wife of Cleophas. She was also a Mary; and two sisters of the same name was not a likely thing. She was doubtless Salome, the wife of Zebedee, and the mother of James and John. John was Christ's first cousin, which accounts for the likeness, the attachment, and the trust. Her name is not mentioned, which is characteristic of John's modesty. He would not mention his own name, neither that of his mother.
3. Mary the wife of Cleophas. The mother of James the Less, Joses, and Judas. Whether this Cleophas was the same as that who met Jesus on the way to Emmaus, it is difficult to decide. He was, doubtless, a good man and a disciple of Jesus; but is brought into prominence in the sacred history in connection with his more heroic wife, who outstripped him in the race, left him on the outskirts of the crowd, and pressed on with her comrades to the cross of the Lord.
4. Mary Magdalene. A well-known character of this period. Jesus healed her of many infirmities, at least from her seven unclean spirits, and ever afterwards she was specially attached to her great Benefactor, and was one of the many good women who followed Jesus from Galilee, and administered to him of their substance, according to the custom of the Jews; and she was now among that little group of sympathetic souls who attended his last moments.
II. THEIR POSITION. "By the cross of Jesus." In this position they manifested:
1. Great fortitude. To realize this:
(1) Think of the sufferings they had to witness, and the spectacle they had to see. They had to witness the agonizing death, the shame, and the untold indignities of their best Friend. Many a stout heart has failed at the death-bed of a loved one; but they stood at the death-cross of their Lord.
(2) Think of the public scorn and ridicule to which they were exposed. They were, doubtless, known to many of the Savior's foes as his adherents, and it was not at all fashionable for women to appear at such a scene; but what cared they for social propriety or public scorn? Their courage towered far above this in the performance of a sacred duty.
(3) Think of their personal danger. As the friends of the crucified One, in the very teeth of his cruel foes, their lives were in jeopardy; but they counted not these dear unto them, but stood there face to face with death.
2. Strong affection. This accounts for their courage. Their heroism was that of love, and their courage that of affection. Their affection may be looked at as:
(1) Maternal affection. What love so faithful and heroic as that of a mother? And it was never stronger than in her heart who was the mother of our Lord; and it drew her now near to his cross.
(2) Social affection.
(3) Pious affection. It was more than the ordinary affection of human kindred and friendship. It was love arising from pious attachment, from Christian hope, and faith in him as the Messiah and Savior. Mary Magdalene was still on fire with gratitude and faith, which blazed all the more near the cross.
3. Strong and genuine sympathy. They were ready to render him any help, and would, if possible, have taken some of his agonies upon themselves. They were helpless, but did what they could and went as far as possible.
4. Great self-control. We have read of mothers becoming frantic and losing their lives to save loved ones; but here there was a wonderful calm maintained, which makes the mother's love more heroic, and her heroism more sublime. There were emotions deep and stirring in their breasts, with but little or no demonstration; but there was wonderful self-control manifested, as if their souls had caught the calm spirit of the crucified One.
III. THEIR CONDUCT AS AN EXAMPLE FOR THE IMITATION OF ALL.
1. They stood by him in his hour of greatest trial and sufferings. It was one thing to stand by him in his hour of joy and triumph, in the day of his power and the exploits of his loving strength, when the heaven opened and streamed upon him its glory; when Divinity encircled his brow, and made his word omnipotent and his very gaze or touch almighty; when at his bidding diseases fled, and demons quitted their dark haunts; when the storm was hushed, and the waves crouched at his voice; when food increased under his hands, and even Death gave up his prey when he spoke. But it was another thing to stand by him on a cross, when hell besieged him with its torments, heaven seemed closed to his breathings, and Divinity itself seemed to have deserted him.
2. They stood by him when others had left him. It is one thing to stand by Jesus, one of many; but it is another to stand by him, one of four. It is one thing to follow him with faithful disciples and a jubilant crowd; but it is another to stand alone by his cross. Where were zealous and good-hearted Peter, James, Andrew, and Philip, and others? They had all left, with the exception of the disciple of love and these loving women. Others may be among the crowd, or on the outskirts, beholding from afar; but they stood by his cross when all had left him. As others leave Christ, let us stand by him and draw to him all the closer.
3. They did all they could. They were helpless, and could render no assistance. They could make no progress; still they stood their ground, and manifested their undying and unconquerable attachment. They clung to Jesus for his own sake apart from circumstances. Like them, let us do what we can, and advance as far as possible, and, when we cannot go any further, let us stand; and, indeed, in the hour of direst temptation the utmost we can do is to stand our ground.
1. Jesus has not been at any time wholly deserted.
2. It is worthy of notice that the faithful ones at the cross were women. Surely "he giveth power to the faint." In the weaker vessels was the greatest strength.
3. Those who stood by the cross of Jesus unconsciously stood near a rich treasury. The outward scene was that of shame, poverty, and untold agony and misery; but the inward was that of untold peace, joy, riches, and glory. There was the atonement made, the fountain opened, and the work of redemption finished. They stumbled on a rich fortune. This did not occur to them then, but flashed upon them afterwards. The cross did more good to them than they to him who hung upon it.
4. Those who stand by Jesus in his hour of trial, he will stand by. We all have our crosses, affliction, and death in our turn. Let us stand by the cross of Jesus, and he will stand by ours, and will not leave us in the hour of our greatest trial. - B.T.
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother.
I. MORAL HEROISM — the presence of the woman and John. Scarcely could they have placed themselves in a more perilous position. Love is the soul of courage. There is no power for magnanimous endurance and fearless achievements equal to womanly affection. Such love you can trust. It clings to its object as ivy to the castle: holds on to it midst the scorchings of summer and the blastings of winter; survives even the ruin of its object, and spreads a beauty over its grave.
II. PARENTAL DISTRESS.
1. What must have been the feelings of Mary. Now was fulfilled the prophecy, "a sword shall pierce thy soul also." There are no trials more poignant than those of a mother in the death throes of her child. Rachels, the world over, weep for their children and refuse to be comforted.
2. But there are circumstances which sometimes mitigate the distress when death occurs in unconscious infancy, or when a child is one of a large number, or when death occurs in maturity among friends Mary's Son was in the prime of life, and died among malignant foes, and at their hands: and moreover was perhaps her only Son, and she probably a widow.
III. FILIAL COMPASSION. "Woman, behold thy Son" — a gleam of unearthly sunshine.
1. No sufferings, however great, can quench love. Christ's sufferings surpassed all conception, yet they did not drown the memory of His mother. He seemed to forget His agonies m her tears. Children learn a lesson from this l Plead no personal inconvenience as a reason for neglecting your parents.
2. No engagements, however vast, can justify the neglect of domestic duties. How vast were Christ's engagements! Here was a crisis in the history of the universe — yet Christ attended to the needs of His aged mother. Let none plead — statesmen, ministers, or reformers — their engagements as a justification for neglecting home duties.
3. No legacy, however precious, is equal to the Legacy of Love. Christ could have made His mother the mistress of an empire; but He bequeathed her what was better — the affection of a noble soul. What is equal to this?
4. No argument, however plausible, can justify us in regarding Mary as an object of worship. The mothers of great men are to be held in high veneration. Albeit, ought we to regard this poor desolate woman whom Jesus commended to the care of John as Queen of Heaven I
IV. CHRISTIAN OBEDIENCE. "From that hour," &c. Tradition says that John never forsook his trust, and remained in Palestine till the mother of his Lord was dead. His obedience was prompt and full. There are only three admissible reasons supposable for not attending at once and fully to Christ's commands.
1. If the command is inconsistent with the eternal principles of right.
2. If the difficulties are such that only time can remove them.
3. If there is ground to suppose that help not now obtainable will be granted in the future. Such reasons, though admissible, do not exist, and therefore, like John, we should at once obey.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)
I. THE INDIVIDUALS spoken of in it. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all take particular notice of the women who ministered unto Jesus, and followed Him to Calvary, but St. John is the only one who mentions three of them by name. He does so, perhaps, as writing subsequently to the others, and as having himself stood with the Marys by the cross and observed them there. They were, moreover, persons peculiarly characterized, and therefore also worthy to be specifically mentioned. Mary, the mother of Jesus, would naturally feel a deep and solemn interest in all that befell her Divine Son. It is not determined in the original whether the second Mary was the wife, the mother, or the daughter of Cleophas: but it is generally believed she was his wife, and that he was also called Alpheus, and therefore the mother of James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas (Matthew 12:46; Mark 6:3). Be this, however, as it may, she was ardently and devoutly attached to her Lord. The other Mary, Magdalene, was a woman of Magdala, a large and populous town, near the lake Tiberias, in Galilee, and out of her Jesus cast seven devils. "There," might Mary the mother of Jesus say, "dies my Son." "There," might the wife of Cleophas say, "dies my Friend." "There," might the Magdalene say, "dies my Saviour."
II. OURSELVES. And first observe, that the cross, which the Marys beheld with their bodily eyes, we must behold by faith. Others' personal witness does not supersede the necessity of our belief.
1. Would we have our sins forgiven? Let us stand by the cross of Jesus. Though by "wicked hands He was crucified and slain," yet in His death was the meritorious means of our forgiveness.
2. Would we have our iniquities subdued? Let us stand by the cross of Jesus. There is with Him "a power whereby He is able even to subdue all things to Himself." Our will, our affections, our memory, and imagination, He can bring into sweet and entire subserviency to the law of the Spirit of Life.
3. Would we be softened? Let us stand by the cross of Jesus. How were the pious sensibilities of the Marys moved as they stood and mourned for Him! When we can most feelingly enter into the condescending kindness, and the dying love of Christ, then shall we ourselves be most truly kind and conciliating.
4. Would we preserve serenity and peacefulness of spirit? Let us stand by the cross of Jesus. Nothing will so effectually quell mental strife as meditation on the death of Christ. Wild may be the tumult of conflicting opinions, and contrariety may pervade all human schemes and devisings; but, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace," &c.
5. Would we be crucified unto the world? Let us stand by the cross of Jesus. What was the world, either in its prosperous or adverse circumstances, to the Marys. When any feel it to be hard to give up some carnal pleasure or worldly advantage, let them inquire whether they recollect their Saviour's cross?
6. And as Jesus our Lord "endured the cross, despising the shame," would we take up our daily cross with cheerfulness? Let us stand by the cross of Jesus. Let us quell every complaining of our heart with the question, "Did not Jesus suffer?" "Therefore let us both labour and suffer reproach;" and "esteem," like Moses, "the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt," or all the wealth of worlds.
7. Would we truly love the Lord and Saviour of our souls? Let us stand by His cross. Boundless is the love we owe Him.
8. Would we descend ourselves into the grave resignedly? Let us stand by the cross of Jesus. If we go down into Hades from Calvary, we need entertain no distressing fear: "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints."
(W. Mudge, B. A.)I. THE SITUATION OF THE MOTHER. I admire in her the efficacy of Divine grace. She is able to stand near the cross; she does not faint away. Here are no outrageous exclamations, no bitter complaints flung at heaven. She feels as a mother, but endures as a Christian. The people of God know not what they can bear till they are tried: When the "time of need" comes, then comes sufficient "grace to help." I shall never despair of the support of a Christian, in any situation, after beholding Mary here. Ye bereaved mothers, remember, religion allows you to feel, but forbids you to faint. Think of Mary, for who can adequately imagine her anguish! To see her Son enduring such a death! And such a Son! And to crown all she was now a widow.
II. THE ADDRESS OF THE SAVIOUR. He speaks in a manner suited to her trying circumstances. Though I die, there is one who will discharge the filial office. Then saith He to the disciple — "Behold thy mother! Receive her — not as a pauper. Note —
1. The indigence of our Lord. Many talk of poverty, but He was poor. When He came to die, all He had to bequeath was His wearing-apparel; and even this never came to His mother. What becomes then of riches? "Foxes have holes," &c. — yet He was "the brightness of the Father's glory." But, alas! all this will not keep numbers from thinking money the essence of all excellency.
2. An instance of the Divine goodness, which ought to encourage the poor and needy. When one comfort is withdrawn, another is furnished. When Jesus is removed, John is raised up. Let those who are dying, and have nothing to leave, hear God saying, "Leave thy fatherless children," &c.
3. We should endeavour to be useful, not only living, but dying. Christ dies as He had lived — "doing good!" Dr. Rivet said, in his last illness, "Let all who come to inquire after my welfare be allowed to see me: I ought to be an example in death as well as in life."
4. A lesson of filial piety. Children are under an obligation to succour their parents, not out of charity, but in common justice. David, when wandering from place to place, seemed regardless of himself, if he could provide for his father and mother; and David's Son and Lord, even in the agony of crucifixion, commends His poor mother to the beloved disciple. Why did He this? Could not He, who could feed a whole multitude, have furnished means for His destitute mother? The answer is that He does not needlessly work miracles. He generally fulfils His kind designs in the established course of things: The poor are as much consigned by Providence to the care of the affluent as Mary was charged upon John.
III. THE OBEDIENCE OF THE DISCIPLE. John does not stand weighing things; "Can I afford the expense, trouble, reproach and suspicion?" True obedience is prompt, and will lead us to "do all things without murmuring and disputing." This is peculiarly the ease with regard to charity. While we stop to investigate, and take great pains not to be deceived, the opportunity is gone. Therefore, says Solomon, "Withhold not good from them to whom it is due," &c.
I. The silence of some IN THE PRESENCE OF A STRANGE AND PAINFUL SURPRISE, In order to understand this better, let us recall some of our Lord's preceding utterances to His disciples: See how repeatedly He discourages the possible suggestion of resistance. He had also said, "No man taketh it [My life] from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again." He further intimated, when danger seemed to threaten Him prematurely, that there were twelve hours in the day, and that His hour had not yet come. Throughout it was not resistance, but passive endurance, that Christ taught.
II. The silence of the majority of the disciples arose also from FEAR OF THE APPARENT TRIUMPH OF EVIL, AND THE SUCCESSFUL CONSPIRACY OF WICKED MEN. Their fears weakened their grasp of Christ, and when that was done there was nothing left for them but flight. Not an apostle's voice was heard at the cross. They alone of all men were those who had nothing to say! In the face of that silence the question comes to us, "How could these men ever speak again in the name of that Christ?" And with what a high sense of privilege the commission came to those who had so recently been silent when they might have spoken — "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature"! It came to them as the restoration of a forfeited right ever to speak again for Jesus, since that gift had been neglected in the supreme moment of need.
III. The silence of HELPLESSNESS IN THE PRESENCE OF TYRANNICAL FORCE — a silence that would largely pertain to the women.
IV. The silence of LOVE IN THE PRESENCE OF INSCRUTABLE MYSTERY. This would above all apply to Mary. The cries of blasphemy which now rent the air, and pierced her ears, but ill accorded with the harmonies of the angels' song which still lingered in her memory. There are times when our only safety is to be quiet, to bear passively the burden of mystery, and to look conflicting providences in the face and answer them nothing.
V. The silence of INTENSE GRIEF THAT COULD ONLY SPEAK — if it spoke at all — in tears, since words were too weak.
VI. The silence of FAITH THAT COULD WAIT FOR THE SOLUTION. I believe that Mary and John and the woman at the cross had that faith in a great measure. There might have been other obscure disciples in the crowd who had it. I wonder sometimes that some of the deaf and dumb to whom Christ had given speech and hearing did not use their new-born speech on this occasion; but it may be that in that throng, as well as in the smaller group near the cross, there was at least one here and there who could look the mystery in the face and say, "I cannot solve it, but I will wait. He that believeth shall not make haste." Even at the cross of Christ, and among that tumultuous throng, there was a faith to be found in solitary hearts that could leave all with the Crucified One. "I have power to lay down My life, and I have power to take it up again?" To some at least who had heard those words, the suggestion would come, "What if this be after all but the expression of His power? What if the Cross be but the Gospel in paradox?" Conclusion: While, therefore, there is much in the silences at the cross of Christ that fills us with humiliation and shame, we will not indiscriminately condemn all the reticence of that hour. There are times in every true life when silence is the expression of the mightest faith. One man speaks and ejaculates, yet only reveals hysterical weakness; the other man waits, is calm, and utters not a word, because he is strong enough to be quiet. The Cross of Jesus Christ is too sacred, too sublime a thing for us to talk of until we know something about it. "He loved me, and gave Himself for me." If you do not know that, the best thing you can do is to be quiet, and look at that Cross in silence. Do not talk flippantly, much less scornfully, about that in which you have no share. In the presence of His Cross the world is now silent for very shame, but we who have trusted in Him are in its presence filled with a joy which shall sustain us in all sorrow, and find its consummation in the rapture of that eternal world, where, Christ shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied, and where we shall face to face behold Him who has washed us from our sins in His own blood.
(David Davies.)1. Many and dissimilar were the groups gathered round the cross. Some were drawn by hatred, some by curiosity, some by the duties of their office, these Marys by love.
2. Their position suggests the topic of spiritual nearness. All true piety begins in the soul's coming to the Cross.: Bunyan was right in keeping the burden on the back of the Pilgrim till he had a sight of the Crucified. But when the soul has gained that position, then begins the conflict of opposing forces. On the one side the Cross with its mighty magnetism; on the other the world with all its witcheries. But the importance of nearness to the Cross is seen if we regard it as the place in which to see —
I. OURSELVES. No one has seen himself till he has looked at himself in the light of the Cross. In that light sin is seen in its true colours — as God estimates it.
II. THE WORLD. The man of science has his position and outlook, and the statesman his. But only here is the true view. Here we see that it is a world for which Christ died and to every soul of which redemption is offered. It was this outlook that moved the great heart of Paul to heroic sacrifice and endeavour. The world had but one aspect to Him. Christ had died for it. This was the outlook of Judson and other devoted missionaries. Talk of philanthropy — there is none save that which is kindled at the foot of the cross!
III. THE CHARACTER OF GOD. The heavens declare His glory. God has never been without His witnesses if man would listen. But to fallen man another revelation was necessary, and that revelation just suited to man's deepest need was made by the Cross. It is there we learn how God loved a sin-blasted world.
(W. Lamson, D. D.)
The disciple standing by whom He loved.2 Corinthians 12). In this way do the sacred writers love to conceal themselves when speaking of their own attainments or enjoyments.
I. THE CHARACTER OF JOHN.
1. He is called a disciple.(1) This implies that he was teachable. As Christ is qualified to give instruction, so His disciples are prepared to receive it. God has opened their ears, that they are capable of spiritual instruction; and their understandings, that they are capable of spiritual discern. merit. They "receive with meekness the ingrafted Word" (Psalm 25:9).(2) He was not only apt to learn, but was actually taught, like the noble Bereans, who "received the Word with all readiness of mind." If they are asked, "Will ye also go away?" their answer will be, "Lord, to whom should we go?" They have learnt the evil nature of sin; of their own weakness; the world, and its insufficiency; the necessity of a Saviour, and the suitableness of Christ; and "the grace of God teaches them, that denying ungodliness," &c. Such a disciple was the beloved John.
2. He was "the disciple whom Jesus loved." Jesus loved all the disciples, and considered in His supreme character, He loved them all alike; all the members are alike necessary to the body, and as such are equally beloved. But in the peculiar affection which Christ bare to John, we may remark —(1) That this respects His human nature. Christ as a man had all the sinless affections of that nature which He assumed. Now this disciple being possessed of amiable qualities, it is probable, in a more eminent degree than the rest, Jesus loved him as a friend, as well as a disciple.(2) That it respects love, not as inherent, but as manifested. If Christ made a difference between one disciple and another in His treatment of them, it is no more than what He continues to do. One is kept, as it were, at a distance, while another is laid in the bosom. All are alike justified by His righteousness, but not equally comforted by His Spirit.(3) The words of our text being those of the beloved disciple, may denote the high sense he had of the favour of our Lord towards him. It seems natural for a gracious person to think that the love of Christ has been more freely and eminently bestowed on him than on any other, as feeling himself more unworthy of it. Thus Paul says, "And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant," &c., as if it had exceeded every former example of mercy. John had been distinguished, and was amazed that it should be so. The lower opinion he had of himself, the more exalted thoughts he had of Christ's goodness towards him.
II. THE SITUATION OF JOHN. He "stood by the cross."
1. That he might attentively observe the important transactions of that solemn season upon which so much depended. He might well think that so extraordinary a Person would finish His course in an extraordinary way; and he was not mistaken.
2. That he might show his attachment to Christ, and his faith and confidence in Him. He had been told, that if any one would be Christ's disciple, he must hate father and mother, &c.: from these terms in this trying season he did not draw back. As the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, so was his soul knit to his indulgent and now suffering Saviour.
3. That he might perform any friendly office, and afford all the assistance in his power. Though he could not prevent the sufferings of his Lord, yet his standing by the cross would tend a little to mitigate them. When Paul made his appearance before Nero, he complained that "no man stood by him" (2 Timothy 4:16). David also seemed to take it hard that Mephibosheth went not with him when he left Jerusalem on account of the rebellion of Absalom. No blame, however, lay upon John in this respect. He did more than the rest; and though he could not drink of his bitter cup, yet he would sympathise with Christ.
4. That he might receive of Him His last instructions, or at least, learn of Him how to die. As there had been such an endearing friendship between them, be might think that the dying Saviour would have something to say to him in particular, and in this he was not disappointed.
(B. Beddome, M. A.)
Woman, behold thy son.
I. THE SELF-FORGETFULNESS OF CHRIST'S LOVE.
1. Try to think of what He was suffering — the anguish and shame of the most lingering and bitter of deaths. But bodily torture was His least agony. The world's sin in its most awful form was there to trouble His last moments — the bitter taunts, &c. But who shall venture to imagine His thoughts as He hung a sacrifice for sin? Is it not wonderful that men should here pretend to explain and analyse. You might as well hope to fathom the sea or compass it. It is better to bow our heads in faith and confess that the Atonement far exceeds our poor logic, and to gratefully accept it. Surely if sorrow be a sacred thing, that of the Divine Sufferer must be far above our sympathy, as above our comprehension.
2. In that awful hour He was alone, but its loneliness did not render His suffering selfish. All His thoughts were for others. Ere He reached the cross He said, "Daughters of Jerusalem," &c.: when nailed to it His first words are, "Father, forgive them," and His next those of kingly grace to the robber. And now His words are the tender utterance of human love. Jesus forgot the greatest grief that ever fell on human heart that He might minister to the grief of others.
3. Have we learnt this lesson? It is a hard and costly one. In our sorrows we expect sympathy, but have we ever sought their sweetest, holiest alleviation in ministering to others. Learn at the foot of the cross, that whether in sorrow or joy, no Christian man liveth unto himself.
II. HIS FILIAL TENDERNESS.
1. All through His life He had seemed to stand apart from the ties of relationship. He was never only the Son, the Brother, He was always more. His first recorded act was submission to His parents, but even then with a consciousness of a higher relationship. But no sooner does He enter on His public ministry than He refuses to recognize the tie, "What have I to do with thee?" "Yea, rather blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it." Behold my mother and my brethren." Such conduct is evidence enough to refute the Roman view, and is studiously so framed as if by anticipation to condemn it. He would have us see, too, that He thought far more of spiritual than natural relationship, and so He bids us to hate father, mother, &c.
2. Yet now, upon the cross, He consecrates anew the love of parents and children, and ratifies with His blood the commandment, "Honour thy father," &c. What a depth of tenderness does this reveal! He gave His mother His last solemn blessing, and bequeathed to her His best earthly legacy. She could be no more His mother, but He gave her another son, who of all His disciples was most like Himself. Jesus could thus discharge the debt of human love in the hour of His deepest passion. He did not say "It is finished" till He had said, "Woman, behold thy Son."
3. How is it with us, who so often suffer our work for God to be a pretence for the neglect of home duties? He who gave the first table of the law gave the second. Whatever other duty God has given us, it can never excuse the parent in neglecting the child, or vice versa.
III. THE WISE THOUGHTFULNESS OF OUR SAVIOUR'S LOVE.
1. He calls her not mother: He never had. He does not acknowledge the parental right, even while He discharges the filial duty. But He does more. He teaches His mother the same lesson as when He said, "I will not leave you orphans." He will not leave her childless. He can no more be to her a Son, but she shall have another son. If on earth He refused to call her mother, in heaven the relationship must be at an end for ever. In the selection of John we see wise thoughtfulness. He in a worldly sense could best bear the burden, being in easy circumstances. But it was not only for her earthly wants that Jesus provided. There He might have left her to her natural guardians. But He gave her a heart that could best understand her own. It is not always our relations who understand us best. A friend may be more to you than brother or sister, or father or mother. James, with his common-sense, practical view of religion, would probably be unable to sympathize with the deeper thoughts of her who loved to keep and ponder the mysteries of heaven. For her children after the flesh, she had now a son after the Spirit, St. John, the man of virgin soul, as the early Church loved to call him, for her of virgin mind the best friend. And the friendship was as abiding as it was holy. The friendships of the world are too often hollow, brittle, delusive. Friendships made beneath the Cross of Jesus are the truest and best. Death cannot destroy them.
2. Have we learned this? There is something better and truer than politeness, or even kindness. Politeness is a thing of the day, and changes with the changing customs of society. Kindness may be a matter of mere feeling, is often an evidence of weakness, and only touches the surface of other men's characters. And both may be only forms of selfishness. But wise, thoughtful love can only be learned at the foot of Christ's Cross.
1. The fulfilment of the promise: "Them that honour Me, I will honour." John honoured Christ most emphatically. Consequently, Jesus applied to him the very name He had, "Son," and made him the guardian of the Virgin in His place.
2. The disinterestedness of Christ. Pain and weakness often make people peevish and irritable. Jesus was anxious about others, in spite of agony indescribable. To the very last it was true that He "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister."
3. In one sense, the words, "Behold thy mother," show how intensely human Jesus was. Of whom should a dying son think but of his mother?
4. What shall be said of Mary as she stands at the cross? Surely, if she were as great and as powerful as Popery teaches, Christ would not have committed her to the care of John. He would rather have commended John to her. Stabat Mater — the mother stands by the cross. What an impressive spectacle! She and three other women are there; John is the only man. Four women to one man — quite prophetic of Christianity's future. Behold Mary's fortitude! Despite all the horrors, we see her stand, not faint. Mary avowed herself Christ's disciple when disciples were few and enemies were many. May we do the same. The text delivers three messages.
I. ATTEND DILIGENTLY TO SECULAR DUTIES. Jesus was expiring as a martyr. But was that all? Nay. He was now offering Himself as a sacrifice for us. Yet, mark! in the midst of all He thinks of His mother, and commends her to the care of His friend. This is very significant. Preaching, singing, &c., are a small part of religion. They are chiefly means to an end — holy conduct in ordinary life. The earth has two motions: she turns on her axis, and she travels round the sun. Can the one be made a substitute for the other? We are to revolve round the Sun of Righteousness, and also on the axis of common, daily duty. Jesus Christ did not say much about theology. He taught that holiness finds itself at home anywhere. Why did He talk about fish, loaves, candles, salt, silver, &c.? To show that, save sin, "nothing is common nor unclean." Dr. Arnold said, respecting literature, that what we want is not more books on religion, but more books written in a religious spirit. A distinguished ecclesiastic, whose overwrought brain urgently needed relaxation, was once engaged in a game of chess. His companion suddenly asked, "If Christ were to come here now, what would you do?" He replied, "I would finish the game; I began it to the glory of God." A humble Christian was visited once by his pastor when he was occupied with his ordinary craft at the tan works. Offering an apology to the minister, the latter cut it short by saying, "My friend, God grant that I may so be found when the Lord shall come — found doing my duty as you are." The New Testament abounds in exhortations and encouragements to the most commonplace obligations. Husbands love your wives, &c. The world cares little for many of our theological debates. But one thing it never fails to understand and to value, namely, goodness! Let the poor and the suffering find in us ready sympathy and succour; then will men exclaim, "No man can do these works that thou dost, except God be with him."
II. TRUST THE APPOINTMENTS OF PROVIDENCE. Why did Jesus say to John, "Behold thy mother"? It seems strange that He passed over her own sons. Yes, and only seems. First, Mary's sons rejected Jesus. "Neither did His brethren believe on Him." They were out of sympathy, spiritually, both with Christ and Mary, whereas John was, heart and mind, devoted to Him. Secondly, John was in a better social position than the other apostles, and than the Lord's mother. We see, then, that what looks strange was really very wise and kind. All God's dealings are the same. If He was good at the cross, He must be good here and now. We sorely need this faith. There is much in our experience which is painfully mysterious. Why is might so often allowed to conquer right? Why do the innocent suffer for the guilty, &c.? We fully sympathize with the ancient writer who said: "When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me." Is there rest anywhere? There is. "At the feet of Jesus." Sit there. He will not remove all our perplexities. Nevertheless, be assured of this: Christ tells enough to console us, to take off the edge of our difficulties, and to render us trustful. He reveals a God so good that, if we take Christ at His word, we may be perfectly satisfied that somehow all shall yet be well. "Have faith in God," and thus "return unto thy rest, O, my soul."
III. GIVE PROFOUND HEED TO THE COUNSELS OF THE DYING. John did so. The advice of the expiring is almost invariably right and good. "Fools men may live, but fools they cannot die." The dying tell us —
1. That earthly possessions cannot satisfy us in death. Philip II. of Spain cried, "O, would God I had never reigned! O that I had lived alone with God! What doth all my glory profit, but that I have so much the more torment in death?" Albert the Good said, "I am surrounded with wealth and rank, but if I trusted only to them, I should be a miserable man." Salmasius declared, "I have lost a world of time. Oh, sirs! mind the world less and God more." Bunsen exclaimed, "My riches and experience is having known Jesus Christ. All the rest is nothing."
2. That Christ, not themselves, is the ground of their hope. Archbishop Whately, a distinguished scholar, thinker, philanthropist, replied to a friend who said to him, "You are dying as you lived, great to the last." "I am dying, as I lived, in the faith of Jesus." Another remarked, "What a blessing that your glorious intellect is unimpaired." "Do not call intellect glorious," answered Whately; "there is nothing glorious out of Christ." A third observed, "The great fortitude of your character now supports you." "He said, "No, it is not my fortitude that supports me, but my faith in Christ." May such simple but sufficient trust be ours!
(T. R. Stevenson.)
I. THE STATION OF MANY. This suggests thought of —
1. Her great love. A bird cleaves the storm to reach its nest; a mother walks through levelled lances to clasp her child.
2. Her great anguish. Once she had felt the most exquisite happiness that a mother could know.
3. Her strength. "She stood." Here are no violences, no hysterics. Such strength to stand was not from nature. Her nature was timid and retiring. Once, at one word from Jesus that sounded like a check, she vanished for a long time out of the story (John 2:4). We see the efficacy of Divine grace. Look around, and you may find many illustrations of this. There is a woman who stands dumb beside her young husband's grave; there is another who stands in tender agony over an empty cradle; there is another who night after night stands listening for the tipsy stumble of a thing that was once a man. Poor heart! she must make what she can of life. It is a real cross, and strength to stand by it must be of the kind that Mary had. Such strength is never given for fancy crosses.
4. Her public profession of faith. It was grand to see Luther take his station in the face of a frowning world; it was grander to see Mary take her station at the cross. It would have been much for man to do; it was more for the shrinking, tremulous delicacy of woman. It is easy to stand by Jesus when others stand.
II. THE SAYING OF JESUS. Note —
1. His tender considerateness. Suffering is proverbially selfish. While Jesus is Himself one flame of pain, His first cry is for the crucifiers; His second to sinful humanity; His third of love to His own.
2. Jesus providing for His own, and thus setting us an example. In treating John as if he were of nearer kin to Mary than her natural relatives were, He reminds us of the life which binds together all who axe one in Him. He leaves His people one to another.
3. The Saviour's poverty. He made no will but this in relation to what He had in this life, and only the name of John was in it. Looking at the things of this world, the "I am," not the "I have," is the standard of His valuation. His own choice was the poor man's lot (2 Corinthians 8:9). Silver and gold are not named among the things that come to us through the death of Christ. But if we are not down in His will for earthly property, we shall, through His Cross, have "the true riches."
4. The sentiments due to the Virgin Mary. Although they are not given in the form of law, they have the force of law. The offer of worship to Mary, on the ground that she is the mother of Jesus, is forbidden by this text.(1) Attention is called to the text because it is one of the seven memorable sayings on the cross; on account of its publicity, for nothing ever can be so public as the cross; as the last of three recorded sayings spoken to Mary by our Lord in the course of His ministry. Look at this one in the light of the preceding two. In the first (Luke 2:41-50) we trace no regret or excuse; and the plain point of His language being that into the affairs of His Father in heaven, He repudiates her intrusion. In the second (John 2:3, 4), with an air the most imperative, He gives an indication that in His own high province she, as His mother, has no authority. Here, again, soften the word as you may from seeming hardness, it is remarkable that, in these three instances, He calls her, not "Mother," but "Woman."(2) You have heard His final words to her: what were His final words to John? "Behold the mother of God? the queen of heaven? the mediatrix?" Was John to make a shrine for her? No, but to make a home for her. The grandest honour a woman could have was that of being the medium through whom the Saviour came into the world. Yet I cannot forget that once, when a woman used words to that effect, He said, "Yea, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it." Surely it must have put great constraint upon His loving heart to accost her in words so studied, so cautious. I can only account for them on the principle that in His foreknowledge He saw what a handle would be made of even the most ordinary epithet of honour and affection applied by Him to her, and was resolved to leave no datum, no vestige, no shadow of a shadow of excuse for Mariolatry. After all this, millions who wear the Christian name still worship Mary as a goddess. Poor woman! If a sword could pierce the heart of Mary in heaven, it would be this.
III. THE OBEDIENCE OF THE DISCIPLE. What Christ told him to do he did at once. What He tells you to do do it at once. Take your orders from Mary herself; she refers you to Him, and says, "Whatsoever He saith to you, do it." He is our Lawgiver. Why wait?
(J. N. Norton, D. D.)
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