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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Mark 9

 

 

Verse 1

Verses 1-10

Mark 9:1-10

And after six days Jesus taketh with Him Peter.

Man’s transformation

The transfiguration of our Lord admonishes us of a change which we are to undergo in this life. We must be conformed in our souls and spirits, and the use of our bodies, to the image of the Son of God (Romans 8:29), while we are here, so that we may be conformed to the body of His glory hereafter (Philippians 3:21). O, then, what a stake have we in our treatment of this body. We must keep it in all holiness, even on its own account, and not only because it ministers to soul and spirit. In this same body we are to meet the Lord, and upon the use of it depends the condition in which we shall meet Him, in glory or contempt. We must serve Him and do His work in it now, if we hope to serve Him in it in His heavenly and everlasting kingdom hereafter. But how can we serve Him in it, if we employ it in the service of a different and contrary master? And how can we keep it pure and undefiled as His peculiar vessel, if we be not watchful against the advances of that master, who has so many natural friends in its house? For has not Satan fast friends in its corrupt affections and sinful passions? Look at the man who has clouded his reason, palsied his limbs, by strong drink. See the disgusting, degrading spectacle of his helplessness; hear the revilings, the folly, the blasphemings of his imperfect speech. Can such a one entertain any serious thoughts about the body that shall be? Can he be living in the hope of being glorified together with Jesus Christ? See another man. His body is seen anywhere else but in this place, where is the assembling of the body of Christ in one body, one spirit, to give glory and worship to our great Head, with one mind, with one mouth; to stand before that throne where sits the Son of Man at the right hand of God, in that body which suffered and rose again. What can he care about the most precious privilege of the body that shall he; the standing face to face before his Saviour in a like body, amid the company of His saints in glorified bodies? In the same manner we may go on and deal with sins less open and gross than these, and show how inconsistent they all are with any hope of a joyful resurrection in a glorified body; and how necessary is the bath of tears of repentance to all who commit them, that so their sins may be washed out for the sake of Jesus Christ, and they may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless. Now, therefore, while yet it is the season, let us do the things which concern the body that shall be. Our present body is the seed of the body to come. It may be as unlike it, as the small black shapeless seed of the tulip is to that beautiful flower. Still it is the seed, and according as we sow it, we shall reap. If it go into the ground laden with sin, ignorant of God’s service, the mere corrupt remains of what has been expended in folly, in idleness, in unprofitableness, in rebellion against the commandments of God, in neglect of duties, in abuse of privileges, then it will come out of it a vile and noxious weed, which shall be cast into the everlasting fire. But if the sinner shall turn away from his sin, and by a change of heart and life conform to the example of Christ; if he will take his body out of the service of sin, and conformity to the world, and use it in the service of righteousness; if he will thus, in this world, be transformed into the likeness of the body of Christ, in all temperance, in all purity, in all deeds of holy living, then he will have “sown to the Spirit”; and of the Spirit he shall, through the Lord and Giver of life, reap life everlasting. In a body, no longer of flesh and blood (which cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven), in a spiritual body, compared with the glory and powers of which the most beautiful body in the flesh is corruption, the strongest and most healthy is the impotence of death; he shall stand on the everlasting mount of heaven, transfigured from this mortal body in the raiment of a body shining as the sun, white as no fuller on earth can white, and gathered into the company of the sons of God, such as Moses and Elias, and beholding the Son of God in eternal glory face to face, shall say with the joyful cry of the song of the full sense of thankful blessedness, “Master, it is good for us to be here.” (R. W. Evans.)

On the Holy Mount

I. That seclusion is needed for the highest devotion.

II. That a devotional spirit sees new glory in Christ and in His Word.

III. That devotion is not the whole life.

IV. That devotion furnishes support for the performance of the duties and the endurance of the trials of life. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Christ the light of the body

There were other wonders in that glorious vision besides the countenance of our Lord. His raiment, too, was changed, and became all brilliant, white as the light itself. Was not that a lesson to them? Was it not as if our Lord had said to them, “I am a king, and have put on glorious apparel, but whence does the glory of My raiment come? I have no need of fine linen, and purple, and embroidery, the work of men’s hands; I have no need to send My subjects to mires and caves to dig gold and jewels to adorn My crown: the earth is Mine, and the fulness thereof. All this glorious earth, with its trees and its flowers, its sunbeams and its storms, is Mine. I made it-I can do what I will with it. All the mysterious laws by which the light and the heat flow out forever from God’s throne, to lighten the sun, and the moon, and the stars of heaven-they are Mine. I am the light of the world-the light of men’s bodies as well as of their souls; and here is My proof of it. Look at Me. I am He that ‘decketh Himself with light as it were with a garment, who layeth the beams of His chambers in the waters, and walketh upon the wings of the wind.’” This was the message which Christ’s glory brought the apostles-a message which they could never forget. The spiritual glory of His countenance had shown them that He was a spiritual king-that His strength lay in the spirit of power, and wisdom, and beauty, and love, which God had given Him without measure; and it showed them, too, that there was such a thing as a spiritual body, such a body as each of us some day shall have if we be found in Christ at the resurrection of the just-a body which shall not hide a man’s spirit when it becomes subject to the wear and tear of life, and disease, and decay; but a spiritual body-a body which shall be filled with our spirits, which shall be perfectly obedient to our spirits-a body through which the glory of our spirits shall shine out, as the glory of Christ’s Spirit shone out through His body at the transfiguration. “Brethren, we know not yet what we shall be, but this we do know, that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:3). (C. Kingsley, M. A.)

The influence of heaven here below

The spirits, good and bad, are all about us. There are no communications from the spirits, but they are here and interested in our affairs. The angels are here. “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” And the fallen spirits are here as well. Who dare say that there are not demoniac possessions today? They are not common in Christian lauds but I cannot regard them impossible. Men sometimes become satanically ugly from no other apparent cause than that they give loose rein to their passions, gratify them without restraint, and so lose, in time, all power of controlling their passions by any consideration of self-interest. The assassin Guiteau was such a man, and there is little doubt that Guiteau was possessed of devils. We are told that our “adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” No doubt that the unseen world enwraps us, while we must guard ourselves most sedulously from the superstition and deception too often connected with the truth. (A. P. Foster.)

Ecstasy cannot be continued

Be patient in the darkness; you cannot have the light all the time. Peter would have three tabernacles. No, no! it was not best. We can have no continuing ecstasy. It would rack the soul to pieces. Many have glimpses, but no eye can look steadily on the sun. We must console ourselves with memories and anticipations. These supreme moments which come to us occasionally in the Christian life are foretastes of the heavenly bliss. (A. P. Foster.)

A vision of home

Years ago, after a weary climb up the flank of a high mountain, a friend led me by a path through the woods to the head of a gorge. On either side, to right and left, stood the huge mountain, while before us, at the end of a mighty gulf, was an enchanting vista. Five or six miles away a village was full in sight, nestling among the hills, surrounded with lovely green, and encircled with glories such as only a setting sun can paint on the western sky. There was our home. Now, beyond doubt, the vision on Tabor was to the wearied disciples, whose feet already had begun to tread a dark and dangerous road, far more wonderful and delightful. It was to them a glimpse of home. Far off, indeed, it seemed, and yet there at the end were glories ineffable.

The transfiguration and its teachings

God leaves not His people in the midst of many and sore trials, without vouchsafing to them occasional periods of spiritual refreshment. The sight then given to them of the King in His beauty left a heavenly savour upon the souls of the disciples, which abode with them to their dying day.

I. The glimpses of Christ obtained, and the foretastes of glory experienced, in the sanctuary. Between that holy mountain and a Christian sanctuary many points of resemblance are discoverable.

1. The mountain summit is a secluded spot, removed from the din and turmoil of the earth; the house of God is a spot from which worldly affairs and associations are excluded; where the things of time and sense fall into the background.

2. The holy hill was made by Jesus a place of prayer. God’s house is a house of prayer. It is chiefly in the holy converse with God which is there carried on that the furrows of care and sorrow are obliterated from his brow, the earthliness of his spirit is worn away, and its features made to glow with a tinge of heavenly lustre.

3. The holy hill was a mountain of testimony. A two-fold testimony was here borne to Jesus. Jesus alone remained: a token that He fulfilled the Law and Prophets. Also, “This is My beloved Son.” In the preached word in the sanctuary man bears his testimony to Christ: a suffering Redeemer should be presented to the mind of the people in God’s house of prayer. Also the Holy Spirit glorifies Christ-“He shall testify of Me.”

4. In both places alike slumberers are awakened-“Peter and they that were with Him were heavy with sleep, and when they were awake they saw His glory”: a beautiful emblem of the Word of God reaching down to the sinner’s heart through the joints of a harness of insensibility, and rousing him from the death-like trance of sin to an apprehension of spiritual truth. When such an one is awakened, his attention is first engaged with the Saviour’s glory. The Light of the World is the central object on which his eye fastens. But after the soul has once apprehended the beauty and excellency of Christ, its views of Him in all His offices are continually enlarged. Fresh glimpses of the King’s beauty are vouchsafed to it from time to time in the sanctuary.

II. The design with which such glimpses of Christ and foretastes of glory are vouchsafed.

1. One main design of the transfiguration in reference to the apostles was to strengthen their faith in their Master’s Divinity.

2. Another design was, doubtless, to nerve and prepare the apostles for endurance in the cause of Christ.

III. The temporary and transient character of these glimpses of Christ and foretastes of glory which the people of God experience here below.

1. Much as we could wish to retail that enjoyable sense of God’s presence, yet it is God’s will that after we have refreshed our spirits by these foretastes of glory, we should, “in the strength of that meat,” descend once again to the plain and encounter, for a few years more, the buffetings of the world. The soul cannot always be in its pleasant places, nor, while this life lasts, does God intend that it should. There is a daily round of duty which it is the Lord’s will that we shall execute as His appointed task. Genuine apprehensions of Christ’s love are incentives to exertion, not to sloth and self-indulgence.

2. The questioning which, when our Lord approached the multitude, was being carried on between the scribes and His disciples. The first sounds which greeted His Divine ear on reaching the plain were sounds of debate. Nothing grates with more harshness on the ear of one accustomed to hold communion with God, and to live much in a spiritual atmosphere, than religious controversy. Those who are called to controversy should be much in the sanctuary, and submit a willing ear to the testimony of Jesus. (Dean Goulburn.)

The transfiguration of Christ

I. What the disciples saw-“He was transfigured before them.”

1. The unveiled glory of Christ.

2. The glorified attendants from the world of spirits.

3. The bright cloud of the Divine Presence. Not a dark cloud as under the old dispensation, but a cloud of light.

II. What the disciples heard.

1. An affecting conversation.

2. An approving testimony.

3. An authoritative command.

III. What the disciples felt.

1. The blessedness of heavenly society.

2. A solemn awe-“sore afraid.”

3. The Saviour’s touch.

IV. Practical instructions.

1. This manifestation was given to disciples.

2. This communication was given whilst they were praying.

3. To prepare them for future trials. (W. J. Brock, B. A.)

Transfiguration of Christ

1. One design of the transfiguration, undoubtedly, was to give the disciples some idea of Christ’s future appearance, when He should come in His kingdom.

2. But, again, another purpose of the transfiguration was probably to honour Christ and His gospel.

3. But, again, we have in this narrative, in strong contrast with the glories of the transfiguration, the weakness of poor humanity.

4. But why, let us again ask, has our Church selected such a portion of Scripture as this to be read at this season? It seems, at first view, very inappropriate. What have we to do in Lent with the glories of the transfiguration? Why, when we are called to humble ourselves in prayer and confession of sin, are we directed to such a portion of God’s Word as this? Because the most remarkable feature in this transaction was, that amid the splendours of that transfiguration, the death of Christ has the most prominent place. (W. H. Lewis, D. D.)

The use of religious excitement

Vivid emotions are, by the law of their being, transient. They cannot last. Possibly, their very intensity is, roughly speaking, the measure of their evanescence. Souls cannot live and work on day by day with the emotions at high pressure. Now, what is to be said of these Occasional times of excited feeling?

I. That no man must take religious feeling for religion. But after that, what? That all such excited feelings are false, and hollow, and perilous, and must, therefore, be at once suppressed? That plain, simple obedience to God’s will is all in all, and, therefore, all deep emotions are evil and to be avoided? Surely, no. Surely, the true thing to be said is this, that God gives these periods of strong feeling as mighty helps to our weak and wavering courage; that they are a spur to the halting obedience, and a goad to the reluctant will. True, these feelings must be guided and regulated and led into practical channels, else, of course, they will run to waste, and leave behind them only the barrenness of a field, over which the flood has rushed headlong in its devastating course. I am not speaking of ungoverned and fanatical excitement, but of deep and powerful religious emotion, when I say that God gives it to carry us by its force over the earlier difficulties of the new and converted life, or to nerve us to resolutions and set us upon courses of action, which would, probably, be impossible to the calculating calmness of dispassionate reason. But I think, my brethren, these times of unusual religious fervour have another use. They open to the soul visions of a state of love, and joy, and heavenly mindedness, which, if afterwards they turn into nothing but regret and longing, nevertheless, leave behind them a blessing. It is good for the weary toiler, conscious of his cold, shallow heartedness, the poverty of his faith, and love, and hope, to be able to say, though sighing as he says it:-“I have known the blessedness of a bright, triumphant faith. I have understood what it is to pray with holy fervour.” Can it be well to say, “I have known,” when it were so much better to be able to say, “I know”? Yes, I think it is well; for, if he be wise who says it, he will know that these higher, deeper, keener feelings cannot be always with him. He will gather up the truths and the duties they have brought to him, as we gather up the bright shells and gem-like pebbles on the seashore when the spring tide has ebbed. Those will be kept, when the surging waves that bore them to our feet have retired. He will regard the swelling of his emotions, when the sun of God’s grace has melted the snow of his chilled heart as the overflow of a river; and he will no more expect the flow of his religious feeling to maintain the fulness and force to which it has at times risen, than he would expect a river to be always at the flood. Let us once realize that these more vivid religious emotions are occasional helps and not permanent states, that they reveal to us what might be, but for the weakness and earthliness of our nature, and are in themselves no proofs of high attainments of grace, and then we may thank God for them, and not be afraid or ashamed to say, “I have known,” when we dare not say, “I know.”

II. How far is religious emotion to form any part of our daily religious life; or, in other words, how far are the feelings to be regularly employed in the service of God? What shall we say as to ordinary religious emotion? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Assuredly, as I repeat, our feelings were not given us for the purpose of being crushed out. Our religion is not one of mere dry duty. The very fact that love holds so prominent a place in it is a proof that, at least, some amount of religious feeling is necessary for a true religious life. But I would ask this: If we read our Bibles candidly, does it not seem that a greater amount of religious emotion is expected to find place in the daily life of Christian men than is commonly felt or commonly supposed? St. Paul was a most thoroughly practical man, eminently a man of action, always up and doing. He surely was one who would scorn to let feeling take the place of obedience, or to suffer the simple daily duties of life to escape under the cloak of heavenly aspirations and high-flown sentiment; yet, if anything is plain in his Epistles, it is that the life of duty, however rigid and self-sacrificing, without love, joy, peace-a life of obedience, in other words, without emotion, would utterly fail to satisfy him. Has, in a word, even excitement no work to do, no end to answer, in the daily Christian life? Take any keen, eager, impulsive, excitable person, may I not believe that God gave such person the power of quick impulse and eager aspiration for some worthy end? What is that end, my brethren? Is it to enjoy a ball, or a novel, or a sport? One would really think so when one hears of so many people who, themselves keenly enjoying all manner of worldly amusements, and throwing themselves into them heart and soul, as we say, when they see others as keenly and engrossingly giving themselves to religious occupations, settle the matter with a self-satisfied smile by saying, “Oh, it is all excitement!” Might it not be a better way of looking at it if they should think and say, “I don’t know how such an one can enjoy so much religion. I only know I don’t and can’t. I wish I could. I wish I could take delight in high and holy things.” (Bishop Walsham How.)

The lessons of the transfiguration

The practical question for us to consider is this-How does the transfiguration fit into our lives? What should be its effect on us?

I. It confirms our faith in Christ as the true redeemer of men. Ii. It should animate us to follow Christ in the way of the cross. Our Lord, after announcing that He must needs die, taught His disciples that they must die with Him and like Him; that they, too, must deny themselves and take up the cross; that they must lose their life in order to save it; that to gain the whole world and lose their own souls would be but a sorry exchange; and that, if they were afraid or ashamed thus to follow Him, He would be ashamed of them when He came in the glory of His Father and of the holy angels (St. Matthew 16:21-28; St. Mark 8:31-38; St. Luke 9:21-26). Self-sacrifice is the law of the highest life; we can only rise into the life of love as we deny and crucify the self in us; we must die to the flesh if we would live and walk in the spirit; the body must die before we can rise into a sinless and perfect life. In one word, religion must be a life-long effort, a life-long sacrifice. Not in mere enjoyment, even though it be an enjoyment of worship, of growth in knowledge, or of quick spiritual response to fine thoughts and pure impulses, but by toil, by self-denial, by really spending ourselves in the service of God and man, by a constant reaching forth after still higher and nobler aims, do we rise into the life and follow the example of Christ Jesus our Lord. Try yourselves by this test, then. Ask yourselves whether your religion has yet become a sacred and inspiring reality to you, making toil, pain, sacrifice, death itself, welcome to you, if you may thus win Christ and be found in Him. (S. Cox, D. D.)

Elias with Moses

Reasons are not far to find why these two should be brought back together from the other world to take part in the scene.

I. They were the representatives of the quick and dead. Moses had died; Elijah had ascended alive into heaven. They were types of the two great divisions which shall appear before the same Lord when He comes in the glory of which that was a glimpse and foretaste, the dead and the living both standing before the judgment seat of Christ.

II. Both had passed from earth in mystery: the first buried by the hand of God in some unfrequented valley apart from his countrymen; the other not dying, but vanishing instantaneously in the midst of life. Both had disappeared, no more to be seen by mortal eye till, in far-distant times, the same Hand that had carried them away should bring them back on the Mount of Transfiguration. It suggests the mighty truth, that, however we are taken, whether lost to men in the depth of the sea, or consumed by the devouring fire, it matters nothing to the Great Keeper of His people, Who will bring all back again at the last day.

III. But the chief motive, no doubt, was to unite the representatives of the three great Dispensations of Divine government-the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospel. (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)

The transfiguration gives us a pledge and earnest of our personal identity in the risen state

And doubtless one reason for the preservation of our identity is for mutual recognition-that we may know hereafter those whom we have known in the flesh. It puts before us a powerful incentive to make friends on earth with whom we may spend not only the life here, but the eternal life in heaven. Again, the scene opens up a further field of thought, when we recall the fact that St. Peter was able to recognize Moses and Elijah, though he had never seen them in the flesh. Shall we, then, recognize the great saints in the world to come, whom we have learnt by the study of their lives and work to know as though we had seen them face to face? There was clearly something-it, may have been some lingerings of the splendour which illumined his face after communing with God, which painters have tried to express by the familiar “horns of light”-we cannot tell what it was, but it satisfied the apostle that the form was none other than that of Moses. Will there be nothing by which, in like manner, we shall recognize the Baptist, or the Beloved Disciple, or the Blessed Virgin, or Mary of Magdala? Will the student of theology, who has read the mind of St. Augustine, or pictured the fiery Athanase, with his feeble frame but lion heart, confronting the world for the great mystery of the Blessed Trinity, find no means of identifying them when they meet hereafter? Will there be nothing to mark painters like Fra Angelico or Raphael, or poets such as Dante, or Tasso, or Milton? It must surely be that marks of recognition, in all who have witnessed for God and moulded the minds of men by their words or works, will not be wanting. (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)

It is good for us to be here

If any earthly place or condition might have given warrant to Peter’s motion, this was it.

1. Here was a hill-the emblem of heaven.

2. Here were two saints-the epitome of heaven.

3. Here was Christ-the God of heaven. (Bishop Hall.)

Peter and his fellows were so taken with the sight of the felicity they saw, that they desired to abide on the mount with Jesus and the saints. What moved them shows what will delight us when this transient world is over, and God will gather His people to Himself.

1. Here was but Hermon; and there will be heaven.

2. Here were but two saints; there, the mighty multitude no man can number.

3. Here was but Christ transfigured; there, He will sit at the right hand of God, enthroned in the majesty of heaven.

4. Here was a representation for a brief interval; there, a gift and permanent possession of blessedness. (T. M. Lindsay, D. D.)

The transfiguration teaches us that

The transfiguration

The Saviour was strengthened for conflict. Moses and Elias talked with Him, not concerning the dark aspects of His death, but its wonderful effects.

I. The transfiguration was a preparation for the disciples. They saw some manifestation of their Master’s glory. How greatly this would strengthen them. Was a source of comfort in after times.

II. The transfiguration has its practical lessons for us.

1. The mountain of prayer is always the mountain of transfiguration. If we would have our trials and sorrows transfigured, we must get up into the mount of converse with God. Here we see them in their dark aspect, only there can we learn how to glory in tribulation.

2. The hour of prayer is often a foretaste of future joy.

3. Let us always remember the decease which Jesus accomplished at Jerusalem. Christ’s death is our one all-powerful argument with God. All blessing to the world, and to us, comes through that precious death. In heaven much of our converse will be of “the decease,” etc. (J. W. Boulding.)

The glorified saint

Every faculty, thought, and emotion shall reflect His holiness, truth, and love. The leafless tree, trembling in the cold blast of the winter winds, is the image of what we now are; the same tree covered with foliage, blossoms, and fruit, is the symbol of what the sanctified soul shall be. The dark sorrowful cloud hanging heavily in the atmosphere represents our present state; that cloud penetrated by the rays of the morning light, fringed with gold, made luminous and beautiful by the splendour of the rising sun, is the expression of the glory that shall be revealed in the spirits of redeemed men. The mind shall be illumined with the pure light of knowledge unmingled with error; the heart shall be filled with all the emotions which constitute perfect bliss; the imagination shall soar to the highest regions and present nothing to the soul but visions of truth and beauty. The whole nature shall be in harmony with itself, with God, with the holy intelligences of the spirit world, and with all the circumstances in which it shall forever exist. (Thomas Jones.)

Dust of gold gathered from a variety of authors

The decease was the keystone of the arch of glory. (J. Morison, D. D.)

In the interior of Christ’s being there must have been an infinite fulness of heavenliness, of all that constitutes the essential glory of heaven. (J. Morison, D. D.)

“Hear ye Him,” for His words embody the very thoughts, desires, and determinations of the Divine Mind. (J. Morison, D. D.)

The name of the mountain is not mentioned, and thereby superstition is prevented. (Bengel.)

The cloud shows that human nature cannot bear the glory of God without admixture or interposition. (Bengel.)

Ah! bright manifestations in this vale of tears are always departing manifestations. (Dr. Brown.)

How can we hope ever to be transfigured from a lump of corrupt flesh if we do not ascend and pray? (Hall.)

Exceptional hours in life

There are exceptional hours in human history, when men utter words which attest the grandeur of the human mind, when the countenance burns with the fire of intelligent enthusiasm, and the voice reaches a tone of purer music than is born of earth; and in those exceptional hours we see somewhat of the dignity of human nature. Multiply this by infinitude, and we shall know something of what the disciples saw when Christ’s “face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light.” (J. Parker, D. D.)

The hiding of the higher life

The hiding of the higher life will be in proportion to its compass and elevation. The young Christian talks more of his experience than the old Christian, just as a rill may make more noise than a river. An ordinary mother talks much of her child; but the mother of Christ “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” (J. Parker, D. D.)

Secrecy enjoined till the Son of Man be risen from the dead

I. Christ’s life not to be told in fragments.

II. The parts of Christ’s life are mutually explanatory.

III. The resurrection of Christ, the great reconciling and all-explaining fact in His ministry. His profoundest words would have had no meaning had He not known that He would rise again from the dead. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Moses and Elias talking with Jesus

I. Deputed men are still living.

II. Death does not destroy the individuality of men.

III. The greatest of departed men are interested in the work of Christ.

IV. Immediate personal communication between departed spirits and men yet in the flesh is possible. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The transfiguration of Christ

To what may we compare this wonderful change? Suppose you have before you the bulbous root of the lily plant. You look at it carefully, but there is nothing attractive about it. How rough and unsightly it appears! You close your eyes upon it for a brief space. You open them again. But what a change has taken place! That plain, homely-looking bulb has disappeared, and in its place there stands before you the lily plant. It has reached its mature growth. Its flower is fully developed, and blooming in all its matchless beauty! What a marvellous change that would be! And yet it would be but a feeble illustration of the more wonderful change that took place in our Saviour at His transfiguration. Here is another illustration. Suppose we are looking at the western sky, towards the close of day. Great masses of dark clouds are covering all that part of the heavens. They are but common clouds. There is nothing attractive or interesting about them. We do not care to take a second look at them. We turn from them for a little while, and then look at them again. In the meantime the setting sun has thrown his glorious beams upon them. How changed they now appear! All that was common place and unattractive about them is gone. How they glow and sparkle! Gold, and purple, and all the colours of the rainbow are blending, how beautifully, there! Are these the same dull clouds that we looked upon a few moments before? Yes; but they have been transfigured. A wonderful change has come over them. And here we have an illustration of our Lord’s Transfiguration. The first wonder about this incident in His life is the wonderful change which took place in His appearance then. (Dr. Newton.)

How we know there is a heaven

A Sunday school teacher was talking to one of her scholars about heaven, and the glory we shall have when we reach that blessed place. He was a bright boy, about nine or ten years old, named Charlie. After listening to her for a while, he said: “But you have never been there, Miss D., and how do you know there really is any such place?” “Charlie,” said the teacher, “you have never been to London; how do you know there is such a city?” “O, I know that very well,” said Charlie, “because my father is there; and he has sent me a letter, telling me all about it.” “And God, my Father, is in the heavenly city,” said Miss D., “and he has sent me a letter, telling me about the glory of heaven, and about the way to get there. The Bible is God’s letter.” “Yes, I see,” said Charlie, after thinking awhile, “there must be a heaven, if you have got such a nice long letter from there.” The lesson of hope is the first lesson taught us by the transfiguration. (Dr. Newton.)

The decease at Jerusalem; or, the power of the cross

A heathen ruler had heard the story of the cross, and desired to know its power. When he was sick, and near his end, he told his servants to make him a large wooden cross, and lay it down in his chamber. When this was done, he said: “Take rue now and lay me on the cross, and let me die there.” As he lay there dying, he looked in faith to the blood of Christ that was shed upon the cross, and said: “It lifts me up: it lifts me. Jesus saves me!” and thus he died. It was not that wooden cross that saved him; but the death of Christ, on the cross to which He was nailed-the death of which Moses and Elias talked with Him, that saved this heathen man. They knew what a blessing His death would be to the world, and this was why they talked about this death. (Dr. Newton.)


Verses 2-8

Verse 7

Mark 9:7

This is My Beloved Son: hear Him.

Hearing Christ

I. We should hear the Lord Jesus with resolution. “I will go.” Nothing shall prevent me; no employments, no pleasures; no solicitations, no difficulties. The Son of God calls me, and I must go. Thus we ought all to feel.

II. We must hear Him with submission. Not the pride of the world only, but our own pride, is to be resisted. We have no right to say how much or what part of His message we will receive, or when or where we will follow Him.

III. We must hear Him with attention, with serious and concentrated heed.

IV. We must hear Him not so much from the principle of fear, as of deep and earnest affection. He came to speak to us because He loved us.

V. We must hear Him with singleness of mind, placing no other instruction on a footing with His, far less yielding them the precedence. (F. W. P. Greenwood, D. D.)

The ministry of Jesus

I. Christ is God’s Messenger to man. He came forth and proceeded from the Father. Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. He had

II. Man’s duty to God’s Messenger. Hear Him-

1. Because His ministry is the supercessor of the ministries of Moses and Elias.

2. Because this ministry contains matters of universal importance.

3. Because the rejection of this ministry leaves no moral instructor available. Christ is the truth of God, through whom the Father’s latest will is made known to man. Hear Christ’s words, catch Christ’s spirit, obey Christ’s law, and you shall inherit Christ’s promises. (J. F. Porter.)

Hear Him

I. Christ’s authority is divine.

II. Christ’s authority is undivided.

III. Men are to be heard only so far as they repeat Christ’s words. (J. Parker, D. D.)


Verse 8

Mark 9:8

Save Jesus only.

Jesus only

I. When the workman is tempted to waste his employer’s substance, or the time which is his property, and says to himself, “There is nobody to see; nobody will know,” he would be checked if he remembered and realized that in absolute fact he owes his duty to no man, save to Jesus only, Jesus who for thirty years shared the workman’s lot, and put dignity forever upon honest handiwork.

II. But not alone for this world’s business and behaviour, and temperament, is this thought true: in the matter of the soul’s salvation blessed are they who see no man save Jesus only.

1. There is danger for the young in letting their religion be based on mere love or regard for a minister or a religious friend.

2. Others there are who allow their religion to be unduly influenced by particular places and circumstances.

3. In the days when we feel burdened with a sense of our sin, may we then look to no man, save to Jesus only.

4. In the hour of death you will have the one Friend to go with you, when all others must leave you. (Canon Erskine Clarke.)

Jesus only in death

When Bishop Beveredge was on his death bed, his memory so failed that he did not know even his nearest relative. His chaplain said, “Do you know me?” “Who are you?” was the answer. His own wife asked him, “Do you know me?” “Who are you?” was the only answer. On being told that it was his wife he said that he did not know her. Then one standing by said, “Do you know Jesus Christ?” “Jesus Christ,” he replied, reviving as if the name acted on him like a cordial, “yes, I have known Him these forty years: He is my only hope.” Brethren, when our time cometh to depart to the place of peace, may we in like manner see no man, save Jesus only. But if the presence of Jesus is to abide with us when flesh and heart and mind are failing, it must be cherished in the days of health and strength and vigour.

None missed if Jesus be present

Love brings to the Saviour a flaming heart; obedience comes on willing feet; patience bows down to receive its load: while faith stretches out an empty hand, to be filled with His free gifts. A faithful Sunday school teacher lay dying. The light of heaven was in his eye, and seraphic smiles played upon his thin lids, as he thought of his mighty Redeemer. Just before he sank away, he turned to his daughter, who was trying to anticipate his every wish by her loving care, and said, “Bring-.” More he could not say, for strength was too far gone. “What shall I bring, dear father?” asked the anxious child. “Bring-.” “Dear, precious father, do tell me what to bring!” The dying man rallied for a last effort, and feebly murmured-

“Bring forth the royal diadem,

And crown Him Lord of all!”

If, in the closing hour of life, the Saviour is as near to us, we cannot complain of the lack of other comforters. We shall be sure to awake at last to His likeness, and shall shine forth as the sun, in our Father’s kingdom. (J. H. Norton.)

Man’s abiding Friend

Whoever and whatever vanishes, Jesus remains with His disciples.

I. Though physical health departs, He abides. When heart and flesh fail, He is present to succour and strengthen the soul, and to bear it to one of the many mansions He has prepared.

II. Though worldly possessions disappear, He remains. Secular wealth, rightly used, is an incalculable blessing; it not only serves to relieve from all worldly anxieties, and minister to bodily comfort and intellectual enjoyment, but also gives us power to help our fellowmen both temporally and spiritually. But how often do riches take wings and fly away! But Christ is the true riches: He is of more value than untold gold; and nothing can deprive us of Him.

III. Though dearest friends depart, He abides. Good men are constantly losing from their social sphere those who have charmed them with their presence, and inspired them with their talk. When listening to them either in the sanctuary, the club, or on the domestic hearth, they have felt it good to be there. But one by one they vanish; the time comes when the best is gone, and all is social desolation; and like the disciples, they look around, and see no man any more, save Jesus only, with themselves. He is the abiding Friend, and having Him we have all. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Jesus only with themselves

I. It was a symbolical intimation that when He that is perfect and eternal had come, all that was imperfect and preparatory should vanish away. And that this latter was the character both of the Law and the Prophets is obvious. Moses had Christ constantly in view, and the entire scheme of Levitical worship which he was inspired to draw up, looked forward to Him. So, too, the prophets in various ways predicted an age of surpassing glory, which should culminate at the Messiah’s coming.

II. Not only was all prophecy fulfilled in Christ, but the prophetic character also received its perfect development in Him. He not only announced, He was, the Word of God. The lesson of this mysterious scene was this: that Moses and Elias and Christ were three no longer, no more separated, but made one by God. Legislator and prophet both were summoned to the scene of the transfiguration, and both symbolically (by vanishing away, leaving Jesus only with the disciples) consigned their finished work into Christ’s hands, knowing that henceforth there was but one dispensation, one tabernacle, one gospel. (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)


Verses 9-13

Verse 10

Mark 9:10

What the rising from the dead should mean.

The Resurrection: its moral meanings

Men heard them gladly, because they preached the resurrection; and because the truth was so purely human as well as purely Divine, it overran and mastered the world.

I. It seems to explain man’s place is the creation. Man’s position at the head of this creation places him on the threshold of a higher creation, in which the true sphere of his royalty lies. Such a world as this is too small, too poor, to be the home and the realm of his manhood; its true function is to train him for his royalty beyond. The risen man, by rising, enlarged quite infinitely the field of man’s vision, activity, interest, and hope. The risen man explained every propulsive movement and yearning in man’s nature-all his kinglike form and instinct: while the weakness, the poverty, the pain, the dread, belonged to his mortal and transitory sphere. Men heard the doctrine gladly, for they saw the true form and stature of the human in the man Christ Jesus; in the risen Christ God’s idea of humanity was for evermore unveiled.

II. It seemed to unfold the meaning of the mystery of matter-the mortal body in which the soul finds itself enshrined, or, as it is ceaselessly tempted to cry, entombed. The mystery of embodiment is the essential mystery which perplexes and bewilders the world. Men found it hard to see how there could be fair room for the flesh in any scheme of the world which should include the rule of a wise, righteous, and beneficent Lord. The gospel of Jesus and the resurrection flashes at once a flood of light on man and on his constitution. There is One, a man, “bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh,” who has borne the body through death, who took it again joyfully when death had slain its mortality, and bore it with Him to the spiritual and eternal world. The revelation of a glorified human body in the world behind the veil was the sanctification, not of the body only, but also of all material things on this side the veil; it was the sign from heaven that they were originally and essentially not of the devil, but of God. We cannot in these days measure the range of that emancipation-man freed from the tormenting thought that he bore a devilish part about with him, a body which could never be tamed to a true subjection, never trained to a Divine use.

III. It seemed to cast light on the still deeper and darker mystery of evil; it explained the meaning by unveiling the end of man’s moral discipline. It proclaimed, as nothing else that we can conceive of could proclaim, God’s mastery over all that was dark and malign in nature and in life. Thenceforth man could fight the battle in hope, and was saved. It was the flashing out of a victorious force over sin and death, which lit up the world and made it radiant with hope, when the apostles preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)

Questionings concerning the resurrection set at rest

I see the force of all this; I admit that the death and burial of a seed, while it suggests the bare possibility of man surviving that dissolution which we call death, by no means raises the presumption that it is so to the height of a proof. All we can say is that there are certain analogies for it from plant life, and other analogies against it from animal life; and who can tell which way it will ultimately turn? It is at this stage of the argument that the resurrection of Jesus Christ comes in to decide our wavering minds. Until Easter day we stand with the disciples, questioning what the resurrection of the dead should mean; but now we question no longer. In this respect we are as the contemporaries of Columbus were when he boldly set sail from Palos in August, 1492, and in less than three months set at rest the problem of ages. His return from the voyage to the Bahamas turned presumption into proof. It was no longer a question on which sides might be taken. In a sense it was now set at rest. It admitted no further argument. Those who continued obstinate, and held out for the old opinion, as some of Columbus’ contemporaries did, in spite of evidence to the contrary, could only be left to their own obstinacy. (J. B. Heard, M. A.)


Verses 14-29

Mark 9:14-29

And when He came to His disciples, He saw a great multitude about them.

The evil spirit cast out

Learn from this narrative-

I. The omnipotence of true faith in God. It is not so much the amount of one’s faith as the kind, and the fact that one really has it (Matthew 17:20).

II. The powerlessness of Christians without true faith.

III. The discreditableness of Christian inefficiency, leading to questionings and discussions that do more harm than good.

IV. The inefficiency of Christians their own fault. In Christ they may be complete (Colossians 2:10).

V. The duty of ever living year to Christ, relying on Him always and everywhere. (Anon.)

The secret of power

Christ’s reply taught the disciples that-

1. Miracles needed force to work them.

2. Soul forces are the highest class of forces, and faith force is the highest of all soul forces.

3. Faith force needs cherishing

4. Earnest love is the secret of all miracles. Had they made this sorrow their own-fasted as for their own trouble, prayed as for their own mercy-their love would have “believed all things,” and been triumphant in its faith. (R. Glover.)

The afflicted child

This miracle stands inseparably connected with the transfiguration.

I. The Christian is the representative of Christ. The father came to consult Christ, but in His absence appealed to His disciples, it should have been a safe appeal. So, everywhere and always, the Christian represents Christ. He holds in his hands the great trust of Christianity. Coming to him should be equivalent in the healing, saving result to coming to Christ.

II. The failure of the disciple is charged as the failure of Christianity. We do not claim the continuance of the power of miraculous healing, but we do claim the presence of Divine power in the Church. The Christian is entrusted with it. He should be always in possession of it. Let our ideas be clear, our claims carefully scriptural, but let it concern us when Christianity is without manifested power. Men will be turned astray and led to question and despise religion.

III. Christ always manifests himself to protect His Church and to assert His power. It may be after delay. But He comes. He cannot fail.

IV. If one fails with a disciple, let him go directly to Jesus. The petitioner who fails with the captain, goes to the colonel. If he fails again, an earnest petitioner will not stop until he has appealed, if necessary, at headquarters, to the commander-in-chief.

V. Parents should know the condition of their children. Make the moral nature of your child as careful a study as his physical nature. Do not assume too readily that, because young, he is innocent, and good, and harmless.

VI. The difficulty in the way of healing is not want of power in God, but want of faith in man. Faith all must have who would receive benefits from Christ. The blessing given is in proportion to the degree of faith. No faith, no blessing; little faith, partial blessing; great faith, great blessing. (G. R. Leavitt.)

The disciples nonplussed

Like some mighty general who, having been absent from the field of battle, finds that his lieutenants have rashly engaged in action and have been defeated, the left wing is broken, the right has fled, and the centre begins to fail; he lifts his standard in the midst of his troops, and bids them rally around him; they gather; they dash upon the all-but triumphant foemen, and soon they turn the balance of victory, and make the late victors turn their ignominious backs to the flight. Brethren, here is a lesson for us. What we want for conquest is the shout of a King in the midst of us. The presence of Christ is victory to His Church: the absence of the Lord Jesus entails disgraceful defeat. O armies of the living God, count not on your numbers, rely not on your strength; reckon not upon the ability of your ministers; vaunt not in human might; nor on the other hand be discouraged because ye are feeble; if He be with you, more are they that are for you than all they that are against you. If Christ be in your midst, there are horses of fire and chariots of fire round about you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The afflicted son

I. The man’s affliction.

1. It was not personal: not in himself, but through his child.

2. It was the consequence of affection. Our love is the source of joy; it is also the cause of pain. Our relationships are a blessing; they often become a curse.

3. It was very terrible. A son not only imbecile, but who could do nothing for his own support.

II. The man’s advantage. Affliction is not an unmixed evil. On the contrary, God often makes it a means of the greatest blessings. In this particular case it led to two great mercies.

III. The man’s mistake. Instead of going to the Master at once, he went to the servants. They tried to afford relief, but they tried in vain. This course is very natural to mankind.

1. Our pride induces it. Naaman was too proud to simply obey the Divine command; he wanted the prophet to come and touch him with adulation and respect.

2. Our carnality causes it. We are of the earth earthy. We do not apprehend spiritual things, and will have nothing of them.

3. Our faithlessness produces it. We don’t believe in the power of an unseen God. It is a painful tendency of the human mind to make gods of men, a tendency which in ancient times developed into idolatry.

IV. His application. Finding no other help, the man was obliged to go at last to Christ. We may see here, however-

1. His persistency. Although not relieved by the disciples, he was not deterred by their failure; and probably the disciples, when they failed, did as they ought to do-pointed him to their Master.

2. His small amount of faith. Apparently he was so disheartened that he did not know what to do. Faith differs in degree. How strong was that of the centurion-“Speak but the word, and my servant shall be healed.”

3. The training of his understanding. Christ first rebuked him-“O faithless generation,” etc.

and then encouraged him-“All things are possible to him that believeth.”

V. His developing faith.

1. He acknowledges his conviction. He began to realize the truth of what the Master said. The germs of belief had existed before; otherwise he would not have approached at all.

2. He confesses his imperfection-“Help my unbelief.” There are degrees in everything-in growth, health, wealth.

3. He regrets his weakness-“He said, with tears.”

4. He applied for succour. We may bring all our weakness to the Saviour.

VI. His success. Jesus saved the son. There is help for the weakest. (B. L.)

Sinful men may be looked upon as possessed of the devil

In a hundred ways he tears them, and throws them down; he stops their intelligent speech, and sends them wallowing and foaming in sin. None but Jesus can do helpless sinners good. Even disciples fail. No priest can offer sufficient sacrifice; no man can redeem his brother. “Bring him unto Me!” Faith is in every case of instrumental usefulness positively indispensable. There are times when Christ Himself will do no mighty works because of unbelief. “O faithless generation!” How quickly this explains the coldness and backwardness of the churches. When faith is feeble, what faith there is may well be employed in securing more faith. “Help mine unbelief.” Pray to the “Lord,” even if the word be not in this verse; and pray “with tears” too! (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

The dumb man possessed with a devil

I. The case of this man.

1. This does not appear to be an ordinary case of dumbness.

2. It was not due to mental ecstasy, such as occasionally produced a temporary suspension of speech. The father of Baptist.

3. The man is described in simple and instructive language as having “a dumb spirit.”

II. The intervention of the man’s friends.

III. The power of Jesus.

1. Absolute supremacy.

2. The manner of the exercise.

3. The mystery of its power. (L. H. Wiseman, M. A.)

I. The application itself.

1. It was made by an afflicted parent. The child mentally afflicted in mind and body-“Oft times the evil spirit.” Every sinner is so far under the power of the devil.

2. It was made by a party that deeply felt the circumstances in which he himself and his suffering child were placed

3. That the person who made it stood ready to do whatever our Lord should direct. For this readiness to obey a truly humble heart prepares us, softened by grace.

4. He despaired of help from any other quarter. He was on the verge of despair previous to our Saviour’s administering help. Our minds must be brought off from every other dependence.

5. The party before us had a little faith, and was pleading for more.

II. The reception which this application to our Saviour met with.

1. Jesus administers reproof to His disciples and to all around Him. Christ often has to reprove us; we deserve it.

2. Jesus directs the sufferer to be brought to Him.

3. Jesus proceeds to correct the views, and inform the mind of the suppliant. Light is given with grace.

4. Jesus gives the party before us the warrant or authority for that faith which He called him to exercise.

5. He strengthens the confidence of the party, whom He thus authorizes to draw near to Him for the blessing requested.

6. The earnestness with which we should draw near to the Great Physician for spiritual help.

7. In some cases of healing special means are to be employed-“Prayer and fasting.” (Joseph Taylor.)


Verses 14-29

Mark 9:14-29

And when He came to His disciples, He saw a great multitude about them.

The evil spirit cast out

Learn from this narrative-

I. The omnipotence of true faith in God. It is not so much the amount of one’s faith as the kind, and the fact that one really has it (Matthew 17:20).

II. The powerlessness of Christians without true faith.

III. The discreditableness of Christian inefficiency, leading to questionings and discussions that do more harm than good.

IV. The inefficiency of Christians their own fault. In Christ they may be complete (Colossians 2:10).

V. The duty of ever living year to Christ, relying on Him always and everywhere. (Anon.)

The secret of power

Christ’s reply taught the disciples that-

1. Miracles needed force to work them.

2. Soul forces are the highest class of forces, and faith force is the highest of all soul forces.

3. Faith force needs cherishing

4. Earnest love is the secret of all miracles. Had they made this sorrow their own-fasted as for their own trouble, prayed as for their own mercy-their love would have “believed all things,” and been triumphant in its faith. (R. Glover.)

The afflicted child

This miracle stands inseparably connected with the transfiguration.

I. The Christian is the representative of Christ. The father came to consult Christ, but in His absence appealed to His disciples, it should have been a safe appeal. So, everywhere and always, the Christian represents Christ. He holds in his hands the great trust of Christianity. Coming to him should be equivalent in the healing, saving result to coming to Christ.

II. The failure of the disciple is charged as the failure of Christianity. We do not claim the continuance of the power of miraculous healing, but we do claim the presence of Divine power in the Church. The Christian is entrusted with it. He should be always in possession of it. Let our ideas be clear, our claims carefully scriptural, but let it concern us when Christianity is without manifested power. Men will be turned astray and led to question and despise religion.

III. Christ always manifests himself to protect His Church and to assert His power. It may be after delay. But He comes. He cannot fail.

IV. If one fails with a disciple, let him go directly to Jesus. The petitioner who fails with the captain, goes to the colonel. If he fails again, an earnest petitioner will not stop until he has appealed, if necessary, at headquarters, to the commander-in-chief.

V. Parents should know the condition of their children. Make the moral nature of your child as careful a study as his physical nature. Do not assume too readily that, because young, he is innocent, and good, and harmless.

VI. The difficulty in the way of healing is not want of power in God, but want of faith in man. Faith all must have who would receive benefits from Christ. The blessing given is in proportion to the degree of faith. No faith, no blessing; little faith, partial blessing; great faith, great blessing. (G. R. Leavitt.)

The disciples nonplussed

Like some mighty general who, having been absent from the field of battle, finds that his lieutenants have rashly engaged in action and have been defeated, the left wing is broken, the right has fled, and the centre begins to fail; he lifts his standard in the midst of his troops, and bids them rally around him; they gather; they dash upon the all-but triumphant foemen, and soon they turn the balance of victory, and make the late victors turn their ignominious backs to the flight. Brethren, here is a lesson for us. What we want for conquest is the shout of a King in the midst of us. The presence of Christ is victory to His Church: the absence of the Lord Jesus entails disgraceful defeat. O armies of the living God, count not on your numbers, rely not on your strength; reckon not upon the ability of your ministers; vaunt not in human might; nor on the other hand be discouraged because ye are feeble; if He be with you, more are they that are for you than all they that are against you. If Christ be in your midst, there are horses of fire and chariots of fire round about you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The afflicted son

I. The man’s affliction.

1. It was not personal: not in himself, but through his child.

2. It was the consequence of affection. Our love is the source of joy; it is also the cause of pain. Our relationships are a blessing; they often become a curse.

3. It was very terrible. A son not only imbecile, but who could do nothing for his own support.

II. The man’s advantage. Affliction is not an unmixed evil. On the contrary, God often makes it a means of the greatest blessings. In this particular case it led to two great mercies.

III. The man’s mistake. Instead of going to the Master at once, he went to the servants. They tried to afford relief, but they tried in vain. This course is very natural to mankind.

1. Our pride induces it. Naaman was too proud to simply obey the Divine command; he wanted the prophet to come and touch him with adulation and respect.

2. Our carnality causes it. We are of the earth earthy. We do not apprehend spiritual things, and will have nothing of them.

3. Our faithlessness produces it. We don’t believe in the power of an unseen God. It is a painful tendency of the human mind to make gods of men, a tendency which in ancient times developed into idolatry.

IV. His application. Finding no other help, the man was obliged to go at last to Christ. We may see here, however-

1. His persistency. Although not relieved by the disciples, he was not deterred by their failure; and probably the disciples, when they failed, did as they ought to do-pointed him to their Master.

2. His small amount of faith. Apparently he was so disheartened that he did not know what to do. Faith differs in degree. How strong was that of the centurion-“Speak but the word, and my servant shall be healed.”

3. The training of his understanding. Christ first rebuked him-“O faithless generation,” etc.

and then encouraged him-“All things are possible to him that believeth.”

V. His developing faith.

1. He acknowledges his conviction. He began to realize the truth of what the Master said. The germs of belief had existed before; otherwise he would not have approached at all.

2. He confesses his imperfection-“Help my unbelief.” There are degrees in everything-in growth, health, wealth.

3. He regrets his weakness-“He said, with tears.”

4. He applied for succour. We may bring all our weakness to the Saviour.

VI. His success. Jesus saved the son. There is help for the weakest. (B. L.)

Sinful men may be looked upon as possessed of the devil

In a hundred ways he tears them, and throws them down; he stops their intelligent speech, and sends them wallowing and foaming in sin. None but Jesus can do helpless sinners good. Even disciples fail. No priest can offer sufficient sacrifice; no man can redeem his brother. “Bring him unto Me!” Faith is in every case of instrumental usefulness positively indispensable. There are times when Christ Himself will do no mighty works because of unbelief. “O faithless generation!” How quickly this explains the coldness and backwardness of the churches. When faith is feeble, what faith there is may well be employed in securing more faith. “Help mine unbelief.” Pray to the “Lord,” even if the word be not in this verse; and pray “with tears” too! (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

The dumb man possessed with a devil

I. The case of this man.

1. This does not appear to be an ordinary case of dumbness.

2. It was not due to mental ecstasy, such as occasionally produced a temporary suspension of speech. The father of Baptist.

3. The man is described in simple and instructive language as having “a dumb spirit.”

II. The intervention of the man’s friends.

III. The power of Jesus.

1. Absolute supremacy.

2. The manner of the exercise.

3. The mystery of its power. (L. H. Wiseman, M. A.)

I. The application itself.

1. It was made by an afflicted parent. The child mentally afflicted in mind and body-“Oft times the evil spirit.” Every sinner is so far under the power of the devil.

2. It was made by a party that deeply felt the circumstances in which he himself and his suffering child were placed

3. That the person who made it stood ready to do whatever our Lord should direct. For this readiness to obey a truly humble heart prepares us, softened by grace.

4. He despaired of help from any other quarter. He was on the verge of despair previous to our Saviour’s administering help. Our minds must be brought off from every other dependence.

5. The party before us had a little faith, and was pleading for more.

II. The reception which this application to our Saviour met with.

1. Jesus administers reproof to His disciples and to all around Him. Christ often has to reprove us; we deserve it.

2. Jesus directs the sufferer to be brought to Him.

3. Jesus proceeds to correct the views, and inform the mind of the suppliant. Light is given with grace.

4. Jesus gives the party before us the warrant or authority for that faith which He called him to exercise.

5. He strengthens the confidence of the party, whom He thus authorizes to draw near to Him for the blessing requested.

6. The earnestness with which we should draw near to the Great Physician for spiritual help.

7. In some cases of healing special means are to be employed-“Prayer and fasting.” (Joseph Taylor.)


Verse 19

Mark 9:19

O faithless generation.

Christ’s lament over faithlessness

I. The first thing that seems to be in these words is not anger, indeed, but a very distinct and very pathetic expression of Christ’s infinite pain, because of man’s faithlessness. The element of personal sorrow is most obvious here. It is not only that He is sad for their sakes, that they are so unreceptive, but He feels for Himself, just as we do in our humble measure, the chilling effect of an atmosphere where there is no sympathy. There never was such a lonely soul on this earth as His, just because there never was another so pure and loving. The plain felt soul-chilling after the blessed communion of the mountain. For once the pain He felt broke the bounds of restraint, and shaped for itself this pathetic utterance, “How long shall I be with you?” I do not know that there is one in which the title of “The man of sorrows” is to all deeper thinking more pathetically vindicated than in this-the solitude of the uncomprehended and the unaccepted Christ-His pain at His disciples’ faithlessness. And then do not let us forget that in this short sharp cry of anguish-for it is that-there may be detected by the listening ear not only the tone of personal hurt, but the tone of disappointed and thwarted love. Because of their unbelief He knew that they could not receive what He desired to give them. We find Him more than once in His life hemmed in, hindered of His purpose-simply because there was nobody with a heart open to receive the rich treasure He was ready to pour out Here I would remark, too, before I go to another point, that these two elements-that of personal sorrow and that of disappointed love and baulked purposes-continue still, and are represented as in some measure felt by Him now. It was to disciples that He said, “O faithless generation!” He did not mean to charge them with the entire absence of all confidence, but He did mean to declare that their poor, feeble faith, such as it was, was not worth naming in comparison with the abounding mass of their unbelief. There was one light spark in them, and there was also a great heap of green wood that had not caught the flame, and only smoked instead of blazing. And so He said to them, “O faithless generation!” Do not we know that the purer our love, and the more it has purified us, the more sensitive it becomes, even while the less suspicious it becomes? Is not the purest, most unselfish, highest love, that in which the least failure in response is felt most painfully? Though there be no anger, and no change in the love, still there is a pang where there is an inadequate perception, or an unworthy reception, of it. And Scripture seems to countenance the belief that Divine Love, too, may know something, in some mysterious fashion, like that feeling, when it warns us, “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” So we may venture to say, Grieve not the Christ of God, who redeems us; and remember that we grieve Him most when we will not let Him pour His love upon us, but turn a sullen, unresponsive unbelief towards His pleading grace, as some glacier shuts out the sunshine from the mountainside with its thick-ribbed ice.

II. Another thought, which seems to me to be expressed in this wonderful exclamation of our Lord’s, is-that their faithlessness bound Christ to earth, and kept Him here. As there is not anger, but only pain, so there is also, I think, not exactly impatience, but a desire to depart, coupled with the feeling that He cannot leave them till they have grown stronger in faith. And that feeling is increased by the experience of their utter helplessness and shameful discomfiture during His brief absence. That had shown that they were not fit to be trusted alone. He had been away for a day up in the mountain there, and though they did not build an altar to any golden calf, like their ancestors, when their leader was absent, still when He comes back He finds things all gone wrong because of the few hours of His absence. They were not ready for Him to leave them; the full-grown tree was not strong enough for the props to be removed. Again, here we get a glimpse into the depth of Christ’s patient forbearance. We might read these other words of our text, “How long shall I suffer you?” with such an intonation as to make them almost a threat that the limits of forbearance would soon be reached, and that He was not going to suffer them much longer. But I fail to catch the tone of indignation here. It sounds rather like a pledge that as long as they need forbearance they will get it; but at the same time, a question of “How long that is to be?” It implies the inexhaustible riches and resources of His patient mercy. There is rebuke in His question, but how tender a rebuke it is! He rebukes without anger. Plainly He names the fault. He shows distinctly His sorrow, and does not hide the strain on His forbearance. That is His way of cure for His servants’ faithlessness. It was His way on earth. It is His way in heaven. To us, too, comes the loving rebuke of this question, “How long shall I suffer you?” Thank God that our answer may be cast into the words of His own promise: “I say not unto thee, until seven times; but until seventy times seven.” Bear with me till thou hast perfected me; and then bear me to Thyself, that I may be with Thee forever, and grieve Thy love no more. So may it be, for with Him is plenteous redemption, and His forbearing “mercy endureth forever.” (A. Maclaren, D. D,)


Verse 23

Mark 9:23

If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.

Omnipotence of faith

I. The nature of faith. “Taking God at His Word,” is perhaps one of the best definitions ever given. The truths connected with salvation, which require to be cordially believed, may be stated in the following manner.

1. That all have sinned.

2. I am a guilty sinner, and exposed to the just punishment of sin.

3. That Jesus having died for all, is the Saviour of all that truly believe on Him.

II. The provisions for faith. You are authorized to believe. God has made rich provision that you might believe. That you cannot believe in Christ without being saved is evident-

1. From the character of God.

2. From the Word of God.

3. From the assurance God has given to attest His word.

4. From the promises of God.

5. From the covenant of God (Hebrews 6:13; Hebrews 6:18).

6. From the experience of His people in all ages.

III. The exercise of faith. Includes-

1. Attention to the great objects of faith.

2. Knowledge (Matthew 13:16; Acts 27:27).

3. Reason.

4. Memory (1 Corinthians 15:1; 1 Corinthians 15:4).

5. The affections.

6. The will-the determined exercise of the affections, aided by the understanding. What shall hinder the exercise of faith? Answer objections.

IV. The mighty power of faith. Examples-Abraham, three Hebrew children, Daniel, the man with the withered hand, the dying thief, etc.

1. Let every impenitent sinner believe that he is on the very brink of ruin, etc.

2. Let every penitent believe the record God has given of His Son, and apply it to himself.

3. Let every child of God in distress, etc., “trust, not be afraid.”

4. Let the Christian who is seeking full salvation, believe, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son, cleanseth from all sin.” Be it unto thee according to thy faith. Believe now. Continue to believe. (A. Weston.)

I. All real goodness is to be attained by the exercise of faith in Christ. This implies the absence of

II. Faith must always be limited by the promises of God.

III. Faith must have reference to the particular blessing sought. We must therefore be well versed in

All things possible to faith

I. You will observe the expression, “If thou canst believe!”-not, if thou dost believe;-“If thou canst believe.” Cannot, then, everyone believe? Is or is not a man responsible for the character of his faith, and its degree? I want to examine that a little carefully. I lay down two broad first principles. Every man-at least, every man who has not, by his own wilfulness, destroyed it-every man who has not made himself lower than a man, and so lost the position of our common humanity-every man has some faith. And secondly, every man who uses the faith he has, will increase its power, and acquire more. If you deny either of those two premises, I do not see how a man can be brought in accountable for his faith. But admit them, and observe what follows. Can everyone, at every moment, believe everything which he ought to believe? I think not; I think not at any moment. But then, had that man lived altogether as he ought to have lived, then he would, at that moment, have been able to believe a great deal more than he can believe now. The faith would have been in a stronger and clearer exercise. Probably, he would have been able to believe everything which at that particular time he was called upon to believe. And now, if that man will be true to his convictions, his faith will be sure to rise up to the level of believing what at that time he is unable to believe. For faith is progressive: faith must go to school, as patience must, or holiness must. Our Lord’s words imply attainment-the difficulty of the attainment-and they sympathize with the difficulty of the attainment. But the power of believing is a moral thing, which a man holds in his own hands. We all know indeed, that there cannot be a believing thought, nor one true conception, or any spiritual thing, without the inworking of the Holy Ghost. But then, the Holy Ghost is always inworking. All that is contingent is our reception of the Holy Ghost.

II. The outside boundary line of the province of faith, properly so called, is promises. Faith is laying hold: I do not say of what God is, for God may be and is much which we cannot understand enough even to believe-but it is laying hold of what God has covenanted Himself to us-what God is to His people. The promises are what God is to His Church-therefore faith confines itself to promises.

III. I must not, and I need not, stop now, to show that within that circumference, the range of God’s undertakings for us, is left enough, because it is left still infinite. But how to get this faith? “What is the road to it? First, be sure that you are living a good, moral life. Secondly, do God’s will, whatever, in your conscience, you feel God’s will is. Thirdly, cherish convictions, and obey the “still small voices.” Fourth, act out the faith you have, and let it be a constant prayer, “More faith, Lord; more faith.” Fifth, go up and down among the promises, and be conversant with the character and the attributes of God. Sixth, wrestle with some one promise in spirit every day, till you get it. Seventh, take large, loving views of Jesus, make experiments of His love,-and always sit and wait, with an open heart, to take in all that He most assuredly waits to give. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Faith omnipotent

I. Some of the achievements of faith.

1. We will consider faith in its relationship to guilt.

2. Let us also observe faith in the midst of those constant attacks of which the heir of heaven is the subject.

3. The obtaining of eminence in grace.

4. The power of faith in the service of God.

II. Where lies, then, the secret strength of faith? It lies in the food it feeds on; for faith studies what the promise is-an emanation of Divine grace, an overflowing of the great heart of God. Faith thinketh Who gave this promise. She remembereth why the promise was given. She also considers the amazing work of Christ. She then looks back upon the past. She remembers that God never has failed her. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The power of faith

Faith is not only a grace of itself, but is steward and purveyor of all other graces, and its office is to make provision for them, while they are working; and therefore as a man’s faith grows either stronger or weaker, so his work goes on more or less vigorously. There is no grace, nor supply, nor mercy, laid up in the Lord Jesus Christ, but it is all in the hands of a believer’s faith; and he may take from thence whatsoever he needs, to supply the present wants and necessities of his soul. (Bishop Hopkins.)

The sphere of faith’s power

The expression does not mean, in this connection, “It is possible for the believer to do all things,” but “It is possible for the believer to get all things.” Omnipotence is, in a sense, at his disposal. But the universality of things contemplated by our Lord was not, as the nature of the case makes evident, the most absolute conceivable. We must descend in thought to the limited universality of things that would be of benefit to the believer. We must, indeed, descend still farther. We must consider the benefit of the believer not absolutely, or unconditionally, but relatively to his circumstances, thus relatively to the circumstances of the other beings with whom he is connected. With these limitations-inherent in the nature of the case-“all things” are possible for him that believeth. But why only for him that believeth? Because faith in the fact of Christ’s Divine power or authority, or, at all events, in the propitiousness which is involved in that fact, is, in the nature of things, absolutely necessary to the enjoyment of the highest spiritual blessings. By making it a prerequisite for the obtaining of material blessings, Christ made His visible life a parable of high invisible realities, and flashed light on the inner by the reflective power of the outer. It was the perfection of symbolism. (J. Morison, D. D.)


Verse 24

Mark 9:24

Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief.

Faith unto salvation

This incident will show us what believing presupposes and consists in.

I. The text shows a man that is in earnest. He cried out with tears. They were tears that told how his heart was moved.

II. We look at this man, and we find that there is more than a general earnestness about him. We see the tokens of a special and active desire to have the blessings which faith was to secure for him. So he who is awakened to flee from the wrath to come.

1. He seeks forgiveness. Sin is not a light thing in his eyes.

2. He longs for healing of the disease of his soul.

3. To say all in a word, his desire is set upon salvation.

III. The operation of this desire. It is an active desire.

1. It makes a man pray and cry to God. It is a time of felt need.

2. It may cast into an agony, which may evince itself in tears. There is a melting power in strong desires that agitate the soul.

3. The desire for salvation will cause you to seek for faith. We are justified by faith; no holiness without it.

4. There will be an effort to believe. It is not God that believes; we have to believe. He would not command you to believe, if it were idle for you to try.

IV. He feels his need of grace for the exercise of faith-“Help mine unbelief.” My own resources are not sufficient for it. A true sense of the need of grace to believe is a great step towards the act of believing.

V. The man betakes himself to Christ. I need grace and I look to Thee for it. So is it with all those that are about to believe. “Thou hast destroyed thyself, but in Me is thy help.” The fulness of Christ is unlimited.

VI. The man has a distinct conception of the grand obstacle which grace must remove-“Unbelief.” Why is it that unbelief has so great an ascendancy? Because it possesses the heart.

VII. We find that the man does believe-“Lord, I believe.” “I must believe” is the first step. The next, “I can believe.” The third, “I will believe.” The last step, “I do believe.” (Andrew Gray.)

Worlds of faith

We have often heard of George Muller, of Bristol. There stands, in the form of those magnificent orphan houses, full of orphans, supported without committees, without secretaries, supported only by that man’s prayer and faith, there stands in solid brick and mortar, a testimony to the fact that God hears prayer. But, do you know that Mr. Muller’s case is but one among many. Remember the work of Francke at Halle. Look at the Rough House just out of Hamburg, where Dr. Wichern, commencing with a few reprobate boys of Hamburg, only waiting upon God’s help and goodness, has now a whole village full of boys and girls, reclaimed and saved, and is sending out on the right hand and on the left, brethren to occupy posts of usefulness in every land. Remember the brother Gossner, of Berlin, and how mightily God has helped him to send out not less than two hundred missionaries throughout the length and the breadth of the earth, preaching Christ, while he has for their support nothing but the bare promise of God, and the faith which has learned to reach the hand of God, and take from it all it needs. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Dealing directly with God

Pastor Harms, in Hermannsburg, desired to send missionaries to the Gallas tribe in Africa, and in his life he is reported to have said: Then I knocked diligently on the dear Lord in prayer; and since the praying man dare not sit with his bands in his lap, I sought among the shipping agents, but came to no speed; and I turned to Bishop Gobat in Jerusalem, but had no answer; and then I wrote to the Missionary Krapf, in Mornbaz, but the letter was lost. Then one of the sailors who remained said, “Why not build a ship, and you can send out as many and as often as you will.” The proposal was good; but, the money! That was a time of great conflict, and I wrestled with God. For no one encouraged me, but the reverse; and even the truest friends and brethren hinted that I was not quite in my senses. When Duke George of Saxony lay on his death bed, and was yet in doubt to whom he should flee with his soul, whether to the Lord Christ and His dear merits, or to the pope and his good works, there spoke a trusty courtier to him: “Your grace, straight forward makes the best runner.” That word has lain fast in my soul. I had knocked at men’s doors and found them shut; and yet the plan was manifestly good, and for the glory of God. What was to be done? “Straight forward makes the best runner.” I prayed fervently to the Lord, laid the matter in His hand, and as I rose up at midnight from my knees, I said, with a voice that almost startled me in the quiet room, “forward now in God’s name!” From that moment there never came a thought of doubt into my mind!

Weak faith clinging to a mighty object

There was once a good woman who was well known among her circle for her simple faith, and her great calmness in the midst of many trials. Another woman, living at a distance, hearing of her, said, “I must go and see that woman, and learn the secret of her holy, happy life.” She went; and accosting the woman, said, “Are you the woman with the great faith?” “No,” replied she, “I am not the woman with the great faith; but I am the woman with a little faith in the great God.” (Milman.)

Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief

I. Faith may be weak and partial in a real believer. However much some persons may talk of our religious faith being the result of inquiry and evidence, and depending solely on the power of the intellect, or on its feebleness, we know well that passion and prejudice, not only in religious matters, but in all other matters where our interests or our passions are involved, have a powerful influence on the formation of our opinions; and wherever prejudice or excited passion exists, a much stronger degree of evidence is required to fix our belief of a thing, than were our minds perfectly calm. So in religion.

II. To become strong in faith, we must persevere in prayer. Increase of faith does not come by argument or evidence, but by direct influence on the heart, sweeping away prejudice and calming the impetuous passions. He who gave can alone increase our faith. Let us ask of Him who is so willing to bestow. (B. Noel.)

The balance and the preponderance

I. It was so with the suppliant of this text. There was in him this co-existence of faith and credulity. It was not so much a suspended or a divided feeling, as of one who was postponing the great decision, or in whom some third thing, neither belief nor disbelief, was shaping itself; as we hear now of persons who can accept this and that in Jesus Christ, but who also refuse this and that, so that they come to have a religion of their own, of which He is one ingredient, but not the one or principal one. This man’s state was not one of mixture or compromise; it was the conflict of two definite antagonists-faith and unbelief-competing within. He was not a half believer. He was a believer and an unbeliever, in one mind. The “father” of this story saw before him a Person who was evidently man, and yet to whom he was applying for the exercise of Deity. Brethren, if we can succeed in making the condition clear, there is a great lesson and moral in it. Many men in this age, like the well-known Indian teacher, are framing for themselves, without for a moment intending to be anything but Christians at last, a Christianity with the supernatural left out of it-miracle, prophecy, incarnation, resurrection, the God-man Himself, eliminated; and it is much to be feared that this kind of compromise is likely to be the Christianity of the educated Englishman in so much of the twentieth century as the world may be spared to live through. It will be a Christianity very rational, very intelligent, certainly very intelligible. But it will have parted with much that has made our Christianity a discipline; it will have got rid of that combination of opposite but not contrary and certainly not contradictory elements, which has been the trial yet also the triumph of the Divine Revelation which has transformed, by training and schooling, mind, heart, and soul. It will have done with that characteristic feature of the old gospel which made men suffer in living it; which made a man kneel before Jesus Christ as a Saviour to be wondered at as well as adored, with the prayer on his lips, “Lord, I believe-help Thou mine unbelief.”

II. There is a second thing to be noticed in the condition of this suppliant. He was one who knew and felt that, in all matters, whether of opinion or of practice, the sound mind acts upon a principle of preponderance. He believed and he disbelieved. He did not conceal from himself the difficulties of believing; the many things that might be urged against it. He was not one of those rash and fanatical people, who, having jumped or rushed to a certain conclusion, are incapable of estimating or even recognizing an argument against it-who bring to, their deliberations upon matters of everlasting importance minds thoroughly made up, and count all men first fools, and then knaves, who differ from them. No; the father of this demoniac boy saw two sides of this anxious question, and could not pretend to call its decision indisputable, whichever way it might go. He himself believed and disbelieved. But he was aware that, as nothing in the realm of thought and action is literally self-evident-nothing so certain, that to take into account its alternative would be idiocy or madness-a man who must have an opinion one way or the other, a man who must act one way or the other, is bound, as a reasonable being, to think and to act on the preponderance, “if the scale do turn but in the estimation of a hair,” of one alternative over the other. This man was obliged to form an opinion, in order that he might accordingly shape his conduct, on the mighty question, What was he to think of Christ? But he had a more personal, or at least a more urgent, motive still. In the agony of a tortured and possessed home, he could lose no chance presented to him of obtaining help and deliverance. If Jesus of Nazareth was what he heard of Him there was help, there was healing, in Him. The father’s heart beat warmly in his bosom, and it would have been unnatural, it would have been unfeeling, it would have been impossible, to leave such a chance untried. Action was required, and before action opinion. Therefore he only asked himself one question. Which way for me, which way at this moment, does the balance of probability incline? There is on the one side the known virtue, the proved wisdom, the experienced benevolence, the attested power-so much on the side of faith. There is on the other side the possibility of deception, the absence of a parallel, the antecedent improbability of an incarnation.

III. There is yet one more thought in the text, which must be just recognized before we conclude. This father tested truth by praying. He was not satisfied with saying, “I believe and I disbelieve.” It was not enough for him even to carry his divided state to Christ, and say, “Lord, I believe and I disbelieve.” No, he turned the conflict into direct prayer-“Lord, I believe-help Thou mine unbelief!” Many persons imagine that, until they have full and undoubting faith, they have no right and no power to pray. Yet here again the principle dwelt upon has a just application. If faith preponderates in you but by the weight of one grain over unbelief, that small or smallest preponderance binds you, not only to an opinion of believing, and not only to a life of obeying, but also, and quite definitely, to a habit of praying. Faith brings unbelief with it to the throne of grace, and prays for help against it to Him whom, on the balance and on the preponderance, it thinks to be Divine. “Lord, I believe-help Thou mine unbelief.” It is the prayer for the man who is formulating his faith, and has not yet arranged or modelled it to his satisfaction. It is the prayer for the man who is shaping his life, and has not yet exactly adjusted the principles which shall guide it. It is the prayer for the man in great trouble-who cannot see the chastening for the afflicting who feels the blow so severe that he cannot yet discern the Father’s hand dealing it. (Dean Vaughan.)

The only help for unbelief

I. The necessity of a full belief in the Saviour.

1. It is necessary as the foundation of all our Christian privileges and blessings. Our Lord continually laid it down as the condition of bestowing His favour; His apostles insisted upon the same holy doctrine.

2. It is clear in the very nature of things: we can do nothing of ourselves, by any independent effort, for our own salvation; we are estranged from God without the means of reconciliation.

II. Our natural inability to attain that belief and the method by which it is certainly attainable. If it required nothing more than the assent of the understanding, it would be clearly within own reach; it implies a disposition to receive all the doctrines of revealed truth, a submission to the law and love of God. It is idle to beseech of God a living faith, when we have no intention to imbibe those principles, to form that character, which a true faith implies. Look at the case of this man: there were no earthly prejudices which he resolved to keep; no earthly hindrances which he desired to set up; all he wanted was further light in his understanding, and a complete conviction in his heart; hence he honestly prayed his prayer to Him, in whose hand was the bestowal of these blessings.

III. The effect and triumph of it, when attained. It is the only means by which the enemies of our peace can be vanquished, and we prepared for our crown of rejoicing (1 John 5:4). (J. Slade, M. A.)

The spirit of faith amid uncertainties

Let us take comfort in this wonderful saying. Never fear; whatever thoughts may from time to time move through the listening spirit. Deal firmly and bravely with your intellectual and spiritual tempters; repel them; cast yourself on God. Assert, in terms, the principle of faith. Say, “I believe.” Thus, at length, all shall be well. For the hour is at hand when doubt shall end forever, and when the Eternal Truth shall stand out clear before our eyes. Doubt and uncertainty belong to this life; at the end of the world they will sink to long burial, while the world also sinks away, and then we shall see all things plainly in the “deep dawn beyond the tomb.” In this dim life we see spiritual things imperfectly, yet ever draw we on to full, clear knowledge. Even so, a man might be led, step by step, through darkness, till he came out and stood on a narrow line of sandy beach hemming the border of the immeasurable deep, whose depth and majesty were hidden from his eyes by the cold veil of fog. But once let the winds arise and blow, and the dull, grey curtain, swaying awhile, shall be gathered into folds, and as a vesture shall it be laid aside; while, where it hung, now rolls the sea, clear, smooth, and vast, each wave reflecting the sunbeam in many-twinkling laughter; the broad surface sweeping back, to where the far horizon line is drawn across, firm and straight from one side of the world to the other. Faith sees already what we are to see for ourselves by-and-by, when God’s time is come. And, meanwhile, though we be here, on this narrow border of the world beyond, and though we cannot see far, and though the fog do sometimes chill, yet let us be men and shake ourselves, and move about; yea, let us build a fire as best we may on the wild shore, to keep off the cold and to keep us all in heart; and let us believe and trust, where we can neither see nor prove, and let us encourage one another and call to God. (Morgan Dix, D. D.)

The struggle and victory of faith

I. Faith and unbelief are often found in the same heart. The picture which Milton gives of Eve sleeping in the garden is true of us all. There is the toad-like spirit whispering evil dreams into the heart, and the angel is standing by to keep watch on the tempter. So the two worlds of faith and unbelief are close to the soul of man. When he is in the dark, gleams from the light will shoot in as if to allure him; and when he is in the light, vapours from the dark will roll in to perplex and tempt him.

II. Whenever faith and unbelief meet in an earnest heart there will be war. The question raised by faith and unbelief presses on the whole nature, and will not be silenced until settled one way or the other.

III. We can tell how the war will go by the side a man’s heart takes. When a ship is making for the harbour, there is a set in the tide which may carry it straight for the entrance, or to the treacherous quicksands, or to the boiling surf. Such a set of the tide there is in a man’s own heart. It is acted on by his will, therefore he is responsible for it. A man cannot use his will directly, so as to cause himself to believe or not to believe, but he can use it in “those things which accompany salvation.” We cannot reverse the tide, but we can employ the sails and helm, so as to act upon it. Let us seek to have

IV. The way to be sure of the victory of faith is to call in Christ’s help. Full deliverance from doubt and sin is only to be procured by personal contact with the Saviour’s person and life. So long as we turn our back on Him, we are toward darkness; as soon as we look to Him, we are lightened. If there are any who have lost their faith, or fear they are losing it, while they deplore the loss, let them cry toward that quarter of the heavens where they once felt as if light were shining for them, and an answer will in due time come. Christ is there, whether they see Him or not; and He will hear their prayer, though it has a sore battle with doubt. This short prayer of a doubting heart comes far down like the Lord Jesus Himself, stretches out a hand of help to the feeblest, and secures at last an answer to all other prayers. H men will use it truly, it will give power to the faint, and to them that have no might it will increase strength, till it issues in the full confidence of perfect faith. (John Ker, D. D.)

This act of his, in putting forth his faith to believe as he could, was the way to believe as he would. (John Trapp.)

Faith and unbelief

Take these words as-

I. The voice of one seeking salvation. Give Christ your whole confidence. Don’t lose time in excuses, or lamentations, or in seeking fuller conviction. Cast yourself at once on the Rock of Ages-“Lord, I believe,” But you say, “I seem to slip off the Rock again.” Well, that is surely a sign that you are on, if you are afraid of slipping off. Then add, “Help Thou mine unbelief,” i.e., “Hold me on the Rock; do Thou keep me from rolling off.” No man is quite a stranger to the Lord, or an utter unbeliever, who with tears entreats Christ to put away his unbelief.

II. The voice of the Christian in some anguish of spirit. In adversity, when your faith is slipping away, bow before Jesus, saying-“Lord, I believe; I cling to Thee; I hang on Thee. Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” What did I say? Who am I, to utter such mighty words of confidence? And yet, at such an hour, I take them not back; but with tears I haste to add, “Lord, help Thou mine unbelief.”

III. The words of the believer in view of duty, or of some holy privilege.

IV. The voice of the whole Church on earth, anxious for the salvation of her children. (D. Fraser, D. D.)

Mine unbelief

Unbelief is an alarming and criminal thing; for it doubts-

In fact, unbelief robs God of His glory in every way; and therefore it cannot receive a blessing from the Lord (Hebrews 11:6). (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The strife of faith and doubt in the soul

This was the cry of a soul in distress; it was a frank, honest exclamation, showing what was in the man; it was spoken to God. It was a cry of agony: the agony of hope, of love, of fear, all pouring out and upward, trembling and expecting: the cry of a solitary soul indeed, yet, substantially, a cry from all humanity summed up together. Nor did it meet rebuke; no fault was found with it; but in the granting of the prayer, assent and approval were implied; assent to the description, acceptance of the state of mind it disclosed.

I. Doubt and faith can co-exist in the heart and actually do. Natural to believe; we cannot but cling to God; cannot live without Him. Yet natural to doubt; because we are fallen; the mind is disordered, like the body: Divine truth is not yet made known to us in fulness. So it follows that the mere existence of doubts in intellect or heart is not sinful, nor need it disquiet the faithful. The sin begins where the responsibility begins, viz., in the exercise of the will.

II. The will has power to choose between the two. This is the sheet anchor of moral and intellectual life. No man need be passive, or is compelled to be all his life long subject to bondage under the spirit of doubt. The will can control and shape the thoughts, throwing its weight on one side or the other when the battle rages in the soul. Because it can do this, we are responsible for the strength or weakness of our faith.

III. If we choose to believe, God will help. Lift thy poor hand upward, and another Hand is coming through the darkness to meet it. (Morgan Dix, D. D.)

Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief

If a man can say this sincerely, he need never be discouraged; let him hope in the Lord. Little grace can trust in Christ, and great grace can do no more. God brings not a pair of scales to weigh our graces, and if they be too light refuseth them; but he brings a touchstone to try them: and if they be pure gold, though never so little of it, it will pass current with Him; though it be but smoke, not flame-though it be but as a wick in the socket-likelier to die and go out than continue, which we use to throw away; yet He will not quench it, but accept it. (Anon.)

We give a beggar an alms (says Manton), “though he receives it with a trembling palsied hand; and if he lets it fall, we let him stoop for it.” So doth the Lord give even to our weak faith, and in His great tenderness permits us afterward to enjoy what at first we could not grasp. The trembling hand is part of the poor beggar’s distress, and the weakness of our faith is a part of our spiritual poverty; therefore it moves the Divine compassion, and is an argument with heavenly pity. As a sin, unbelief grieves the Spirit; but, as a weakness, mourned and confessed, it secures His help. “Lord, I believe,” is a confession of faith which loses none of its acceptableness when it is followed by the prayer, “help Thou mine unbelief.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Weakness of faith no sin

A friend complained to Gotthold of the weakness of his faith, and the distress this gave him. Gotthold pointed to a vine, which had twined itself round a pole, and was hanging loaded with beautiful clusters, and said, “Frail is that plant; but what harm is done to it by its frailty, especially as the Creator has been pleased to make it what it is? As little will it prejudice your faith that it is weak, provided only it be sincere and unfeigned. Faith is the work of God, and He bestows it in such measure as He wills and judges right. Let the measure of it which He has given you be deemed sufficient by you. Take for pole and prop the cross of the Saviour and the Word of God; twine around these with all the power which God vouchsafes. A heart sensible of its weakness, and prostrating itself continually at the feet of the Divine mercy, is more acceptable than that which presumes upon the strength of its faith, and falls into false security and pride.”

Weak faith may be effectual

The act of faith is to apply Christ to the soul; and this the weakest faith can do as well as the strongest, if it be true. A child can hold a staff as well, though not so strongly, as a man. The prisoner through a hole sees the sun, though not as perfectly as they in the open air. They that saw the brazen serpent, though a great way off, yet were healed. The poor man’s “I believe,” saved him; though he was fain to add, “Lord, help mine unbelief.” So that we may say of faith, as the poet did of death, that it makes lords and slaves, apostles and common persons, all alike acceptable to God, if they have it. (T. Adams.)

Prayer is the cure for unbelief

One said to me, “I have not the faculty of belief or faith in God, or in a book revelation.” Answer: “Have you prayed with your whole heart and strength-as for dear life-for light and faith?” He said, “I cannot; for a man who does that already half believes.” Answer: “No; for a man might be rescued from a shipwreck, and be watching the attempt to save that which was dearest to him-dearer than life-which had been swept from his side: putting aside conscious prayer, his whole being, his very heart and soul would go out into the wish and the hope that his treasure might be saved: yet it would not involve any belief that the rescue would be accomplished. Many a time an agony like that has been followed by the bringing in of the lifeless body. But after a true heart agony of prayer for light, no lifeless soul has ever been brought in. (Vita.)

Faith without comfort

The soul’s grasp of Jesus saves even when it does not comfort. If we touch the hem of His garment we are healed of our deadly disease, though our heart may still be full of trembling. We may be in consternation, but we cannot be under condemnation if we have believed in Jesus. Safety is one thing, and assurance of it is another. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Faith without assurance

As a man falling into a river espieth a bough of a tree, and catches at it with all his might, and as soon as he hath fast hold of it he is safe, though troubles and fears do not presently vanish out of his mind; so the soul, espying Christ as the only means to save him, and reaching out the hand to Him, is safe, though it be not presently quieted and pacified. (T. Manton.)

Faith only in God

He did not believe in the disciples; he had once trusted in them and failed. He did not believe in himself; he knew his own impotence to drive out the evil spirit from his child: He believed no longer in any medicines or men; but he believed the man of the shining countenance who had just come down from the mountain. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Faith under difficulty

Happy is the man who can not only believe when the waves softly ripple to the music of peace, but continues to trust in Him who is almighty to save when the hurricane is let loose in its fury, and the Atlantic breakers follow each other, eager to swallow up the barque of the mariner. Surely Christ Jesus is fit to be believed at all times, for like the pole star, He abides in His faithfulness, let storms rage as they may. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Faith’s dawn and its clouds

I. There is true faith. It was faith in the Person of Christ. It was faith about the matter in hand. It was faith which triumphed over difficulties.

(a) Case of long standing.

(b) Considered to be hopeless.

(c) Disciples bad failed.

(d) The child was at that moment passing through a horrible stage of pain and misery.

II. There is grievous unbelief. Many true believers are tried with unbelief because they have a sense of their past sins. Some stagger through a consciousness of their present feebleness. Others are made to shiver with unbelief on account of fears for the future, The freeness and greatness of God’s mercy sometimes excites unbelief. A sacred desire to be right produces it in some. It may also arise through a most proper reverence for Christ, and a high esteem for all that belongs to Him.

III. The conflict between the two. He regards it as a sin and confesses it. He prays against it. He looks to the right Person for deliverance. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Feeble faith appealing to a strong Saviour

I. The suspected difficulty. The father may have thought it lay with the disciples. He probably thought the case itself was well-nigh hopeless. He half hinted that the difficulty might lie with the Master. “If Thou.”

II. The tearful discovery. Jesus cast the “if” back upon the father-then-

1. His little faith discovered his unbelief.

2. This unbelief alarmed him.

3. It was now, not “help my child,” but “help my unbelief.”

III. The intelligent appeal. He bases the appeal upon faith-“I believe.” He mingles with it confession-“help my unbelief.” He appeals to One who is able to help-“Lord.” To One Who is Himself the remedy for unbelief-“Thou.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Unbelief

Nothing is so provoking to God as unbelief, and yet there is nothing to which we are more prone. He has spoken to us in His Word; He has spoken plainly; He has repeated His promises again and again; He has confirmed them all by the blood of His own dear Son; and yet we do not believe Him. Is not this provoking? What would provoke a master like a servant refusing to believe him? Or, what would provoke a father like a child refusing to believe him? The man of honour feels himself insulted if his professed friend refuses to believe his solemn protestation; and yet this is the way in which we daily treat our God. He says: “Confess, and I will pardon you.” But we doubt it. He says: “Call upon Me, and I will deliver you.” But we doubt it. He says: “I will supply all your needs.” But we doubt it. He says: “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” But who has not questioned it? Let us seriously think of His own words: “He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar”; and His question, “How long will this people provoke Me?” Lord, forgive, and preserve us from it in future. (James Smith.)


Verse 28-29

Mark 9:28-29

But by prayer and fasting.

Fasting

“Why could not we cast him out?”-“because of your unbelief.” “All things are possible to him that believeth.” But how is such faith to be attained? It is God’s gift. God gives by means-by means of prayer. Whatever tends to increase the fervour of prayer tends to increase the energy of faith. Fasting also has this effect. In the Christian way are many hindrances; arising both from the agency of fallen spirits, and from the inveteracy of besetting sins. It appears from this narrative, that some spirits are more difficult to cast out of men than others-“this kind;” and it is certain, as a matter of fact, that some sins are more tenacious, more stubborn; and that for their expulsion, a more active and energetic exercise of faith is required, than for the subduing of other sins. “This kind goeth not forth but by prayer and fasting.” He will conclude, therefore, that these things were intended to strengthen faith-that by these means he should assail his unbelief, in order that by changing his unbelief into faith, he may get rid of this cleaving stain that distresses his soul. He will therefore be exceedingly anxious to ascertain what “fasting” means. He ascertains what “prayer” is-public, private, social; he will be as anxious to ascertain with the same distinctness what “fasting” means; to see what in his particular case it means. I suppose the case of a man, whose tendency before he was converted was to luxurious feeding. This is not confined to the rich, as is commonly supposed, who can afford to multiply varieties and pamper their appetites. It is found in all classes, though variously indulged. There is a sort of animal delight which men take in their food, and even in the anticipation of their food. There are men, not a few, who dine more than once a day, by indulging an eager, fleshly avidity in anticipation; and when the reality comes, they yield themselves to reckless animal excitement, even without any check of reason; and they persevere until animal repletion demands a pause. It is descriptive of such, and it is not too much to say, that instead of eating to live, they seem to live to eat. Now this is a disease. We suppose a man of this description converted. By his conversion the disease is not then and there-at one stroke-eradicated; but a counteracting power is supplied to him. This counteracting power is to be brought to bear on this disease; and certainly this is a case in which the action of this counteracting power might well take the direction of abstinence from food. Here he would directly mortify the deed of the old body; for that was its tendency, that was its snare, that was its disease. But now I suppose the case of another sort of man. There are such people in this world as misers. I do not refer to that love of money, which, in a greater or less degree, is common to every man-but to a disease, a sort of mania, an idolatry for the hoarded heap. There are some men who so idolize their savings, that they absolutely deny themselves the common necessaries of daily animal support. Now suppose such a man converted; this disease is not entirely cured by his conversion; but a counteracting power is supplied to him. And how is it to be exercised? How is that man to fast? To abstain from food? No; he has been doing that already, in the service of his idol. That is a part of his disease. What, then, in this case, would occupy the scriptural place of fasting? Let him take from the store; let him draw out the pound, or the hundred, from the fostered heap; let him take his check book, and order something to clothe the naked and feed the hungry. That would be fasting. “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? saith the Lord; to clothe the naked and to feed the hungry?” Now, suppose another case, of a man or a woman of a highly imaginative turn of mind, and of a romantic tone of affection. She has indulged in reading works of fiction; so that all her imaginations are drawn off from the realities of life, and engaged in the luxuries of fictitious scenes of pleasure or of pain. What is fasting, in her case? Not abstaining from food. What then? Putting away her novels, burning her romances, and turning to the practical walks of life; “drawing out her soul to the hungry;” instead of weeping, in the luxury of ease, in her armchair, over a fancied sick person, to visit a real sick person, and carry something with her; go to the stern reality of cellars and garrets, instead of luxuriating over the pages of a novel. This is a fast, in her case; and by this, she will help her prayers, and increase her faith, and so advance in overcoming the besetting sin. These illustrations will, I hope, help to show you the true scriptural nature of this duty, varying with various cases because of the object in view. We are called “by the spirit to mortify the deeds of the body,” not to mortify the body. This is the mistake that has been made. We are nowhere called on to mortify the body for the sake of the mortification, but to mortify the deeds of the body for the sake of the sanctification. And then, what is the object of our Church in such fasting? That you will learn by her collect for the first Sunday in Lent. “Give us grace to use such abstinence, that our flesh being subdued to the spirit, we may ever obey Thy godly motions, in righteousness and true holiness, to Thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end.” The object is sanctification. (H. McNeile, M. A.)

Prayer and fasting

Staying at Hastings a few months since I was much interested in watching the building of a breakwater just opposite my lodgings. It was done by driving massive piles of wood into the shingle. They were driven by a huge mass of metal being let fall upon them from a great height. True, the blows were not very quick one upon another, for it took some time to raise the weight to the necessary elevation; but when it did fall it accomplished something. Now suppose an onlooker had suggested that time was being wasted in hauling the Herculean hammer up, and had offered to tap the ironbound pile with a child’s spade, saying he could give a hundred taps to the one blow, what would have been thought of his suggestion? It would have been laughed to scorn, and he would have been told that one of their blows would do more than a whole century of his tapping; that there was no waste of time in raising the iron thunderbolt, for the power of its blow was in proportion to the height from which it fell. So, believer, your power and mine to affect men is in exact proportion to the elevation of our soul life, and this elevation can only be obtained by secret communion with God, and abstinence from all that panders to the flesh and hinders the spirit’s fellowship. Oh for a higher ambition to be made meet for the Master’s use; a more intense longing for that secret power with God in private, that shall make us more than conquerors over hell in public. (A. G. Brown.)

Union of faith and prayer

I am thankful that these words concerning prayer have stood the ordeal of the late Revision. One seems to crave a reference to prayer after a lesson on the importance of faith. Prayer seems to be the voice by which faith must express itself; it is almost, or even quite, impossible to conceive of faith coming into action except in connection with and by means of the utterance of prayer. (Bishop Harvey Goodwin.)


Verses 28-37

Verses 30-32

Mark 9:30-32

And they departed thence, and passed through Galilee.

Christ teaching His disciples

I. He explained to them His present state. He was about to be delivered by a traitorous disciple, etc.

II. He told them the parties into whose power He had been given.

1. To be delivered into the hands of men, is to be put into their power-to do to Him, and with Him, as they chose.

2. They could have this power only by special permission-from the Father, and Himself.

3. It is marvellous that He should have been so delivered. God in humanity! It brought out their desperate wickedness, proved the voluntariness of His obedience, showed how blind sin is in its supposed triumphs, etc.

III. He told them what must befall Him at the hands of men.

1. That Christ was to die, was not now foretold for the first time, predicted, etc.

2. This death of Christ was necessary, etc.

IV. He further revealed to them the future, by telling them of His resurrection. The result of an agency, neither human nor satanic, but Divine; prophecy, etc., called for it. Conclusion:

1. Christ had His sufferings ever in view (Luke 12:50; John 12:27).

2. In His sufferings and resurrection He saw His people.

3. He unveiled the future to His disciples. They were contending for honour-on the brink of sufferings-understood not the warning of Christ (Expository Discourses.)

The complete truth

About this announcement there are two things remarkable-Christ’s care in preparing His disciples for the cross, and the confidence with which Christ affirms His own resurrection. To have spoken of the betrayal alone, would have been to have put before His disciples a fragmentary truth; over the darkness of death Christ sheds the light of resurrection. The revelation of Christ’s purposes can occasion grief only when it is incompletely apprehended; sorrow attaches to some of the intermediate points, but never to the issue; “the Lamb slain” is a part of the process; the Lamb slain, but seated in the midst of the throne, is the sublime consummation. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The utility of truth not understood

It is not to no purpose, to speak things that are not immediately understood. Seed, though it lies in the ground awhile unseen, is not lost or thrown away, but will bring forth fruit. If you confine your teacher, you hinder your learning; if you limit his discourses to your present apprehensions, how shall he raise your understandings? If he accommodate all things to your present weakness, you will never be the wiser, than you are now; you will be always in swaddling clothes. (Dr. Whichcote.)

Understood not

When I was a little girl I had a sovereign given to me. If it had been a shilling I might have put it in my own little purse, and spent it at once; but, being a sovereign, my dear father took care of it for me, and I expect I forgot all about it. But one day when I was quite grown up, he called me into his study and gave me the sovereign, reminding me how it had been given me when I was about as high as the back of a chair. And I was very glad to have it then, for I understood how much it was worth and knew very well what to do with it. Now, when you come to some saying of the Lord Jesus that you do not understand or see how to make any use of yourself, do not think it of no consequence whether you read it or not. When you are older you will find that it is just like my sovereign, coming back to you when you want it and are able to make use of it. (Frances Ridley Havergal.)


Verses 33-37

Mark 9:33-37

What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?

The true child our pattern

What is the true child like?

I. He is unconscious of himself; self-dissection or analysis is unknown to him.

II. He lives in the present.

1. He never worries or is anxious about the future; sufficient to the day, for him, is the evil thereof.

2. So also, though always aspiring, he is never discontented in the ungrateful or peevish sense; sufficient likewise for the day is the good thereof; he would not have it otherwise.

III. His pleasures are simple, pure, natural, fresh from the hand of God. The least of His gifts, even a cup of cold water, has value in his eyes, so that he wastes not wilfully.

IV. He looks forward with boundless hope to a greater, more complete life (i.e., to be “grown up”)
.

V. He knows not how to sneer or be cynical: but instinctively shrinks from a sneer as from a blow or a sting.

VI. His aversions and dreads are true and symbolical (until, like his tastes and likings, made artificial by example and training). E.g.

VII. His obedience is not reluctant, but faithful.

VIII. His heart responds to the touch of truth, if honestly and faithfully appealed to. (Vita.)

The lesson of humility

Children are patterns of humility in these respects.

1. They are not so puffed up as older people with conceit of themselves, or of their own good parts and gifts; they do not think the better of themselves because they possess these advantages nor do they boast of them.

2. They do not disdain or despise others, but think as well of them as of themselves, even if inferiors.

3. They are not ambitious in seeking after vain glory.

4. They are not given to strife and contention, but are of a quiet and peaceable disposition.

5. They do not envy the good fortune of others, but rejoice in each other’s prosperity.

6. They are tractable to admonition and reproof, ready to submit to it, and easily reclaimed from a fault. (G. Petter.)

Lesson against pride

I. The humility and trustfulness of children should be preserved by men.

II. They who have most power should render most service.

III. They who descend most in love will rise most in honour.

IV. God is served by obedience to Christ, and Christ by kindness to the least and lowest who belong to Him. (J. H. Godwin.)

Disciples disputing

I. Those whose conduct is before us are the followers of Christ. Externally, really and spiritually; hence, this spectacle is one within the bosom of the Church.

II. They disputed among themselves by the way. How fitly did the College of Apostles foreshadow the state of the Church in after ages.

III. The cause of disagreement among them-“Who should be the greatest.” Worldly ambition was the rooter bitterness. The secret of most of the contentious of seeming Christians.

IV. Christ did not interfere to prevent these contendings.

V. Christ, though He suffered them to end their contest, called their to account. Divisions are most offensive to Him. He will call the sowers of division to account.

VI. To the inquiry of Christ as to the grounds of their dispute, they made at first no answer.

VII. Christ takes advantage of what had occurred, in order to inculcate the duty and recommend the grace of humility. Beware of disputes, and therefore of pride. Cultivate true Christian greatness-Christ’s example. (Expository Discourses.)

Ambition

I. What is it?

II. Proof that it is evil.

III. Means of cure.

I. Ambition is to be distinguished from the desire of excellence.

II. That ambition is evil in its nature, and therefore degrading in its influence, is evident.

1. Because it is inconsistent with our relation to God as creatures.

2. It is inconsistent with our relation to God as sinners.

3. Because Christ always reproved this desire of preeminence.

4. This trait of character did not belong to Christ.

5. We always approve of the opposite temper whenever we see it manifested.

6. It is inconsistent with our being governed by right motives and affections.

III. Means of cure.

1. Cultivating a sense of our insignificance and unworthiness.

2. Having our hearts filled with Christ.

3. By constantly refusing to yield to this evil desire; refusing to cherish it or to obey its dictates. By uniformly avoiding to seek the honour which comes from men. (Chas. Hedge, D. D.)

Who is the greatest

I. The world’s opinion. The world’s great men are usually great conquerors, or great philosophers, poets, etc. Many of them small men, viewed in their moral relations. Alexander wept for another world to conquer. “Greater is he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” See the world’s great ones described (Matthew 20:25-26). Haman was one such, yet a very little man. It is said there are three classes of great men.

1. Those who are born great.

2. Those who have greatness thrust upon them.

3. Those who achieve greatness. The world sees no greatness in lowliness.

II. The disciples’ wish. Even they wished to be great. Not, indeed, after the world’s fashion, but each one wanted to be above the rest. Each one might think he deserved to be first, or had qualities that fitted him for preeminence.

III. The master’s lesson. Note-

1. The kindness of His manner. “Speak the truth in love.”

2. The simplicity and clearness of illustration. Might have argued, but took a little child in His arms.

3. The nature of the lesson. Goodness is greatness.

Learn:

1. Not to be deceived by the world’s notions of greatness.

2. Not to give place to ambitious desires.

3. To aim after goodness, and let the greatness follow if it may. (J. C. Gray.)

A child for a text

I. Let us begin with the mistake sometimes made, which will certainly need correction. Our Lord does not teach by any implication that children are sinless little creatures.

1. For the argument and illustration of the discourse He gave are all against such a supposition. According to the authorized version, Christ says that they are “lost,” that the Son of Man needed to come to “save” them, and without the will of the Father they would “perish” (Matthew 18:11-14).

2. The story offers no proof of any innocence even in the child He chose. Ecclesiastical tradition, not reliable, states that this boy became afterwards the martyr Ignatius, and was in the subsequent persecutions thrown to the wild beasts at Rome. That is the best which could be said of him, and we do not know even so much to be true. Surely, he was never offered as a model child, and we do not suppose he was born unlike others.

II. So now let us inquire what is the true spiritual doctrine of the passage. It is evident that our Lord was rebuking His disciples for a foolish dispute they had had “by the way.” And he did this by commending to them a child-like disposition.

1. A child is remarkable for his considerateness of ethers. It is the hardest thing we ever try to do to teach our children to be aristocratic and keep up “style.” They are instinctive in their fondness for what is agreeably human. It was asked of the good Cecil’s daughter what made everybody love her? She thought a moment with a curious sort of surprise, then answered with her own kind of logic, “Because I love everybody.”

2. A child is remarkable for his obedience to rightful authority. His subjection is instinctive as his charity is. He accepts the parental will as law. So his fidelity is spontaneous; he does not recognize any merit in it. He does the exact thing he was set to do. When the young girl in the class heard the teacher say, “How is the will of God done in heaven?” she answered, “It is done without anybody’s asking any questions.”

3. A child is remarkable for his contentment in the home circle. There is only one mother in the world, and where that mother is, there is home. Disturb him, wound him, frighten him, maltreat him, and his earliest wish is, “Please let me go home.”

4. A child is remarkable for his persistency of trust. Children are the most logical creatures in the world. A lady asked the small daughter of the missionary Judson, “Were you not afraid to journey so far over the ocean?” And the reply was, “Why, no, madam: father prayed for us when we started!” Do a boy a real kindness, and nothing on earth can keep him from insisting to all the others that you are a kind man. Help him once, and he will keep coming with a pathetic sort of confidence that you like to help him. For one, having stumbled around a good deal in this muddle of a world, in which nobody seems to stick to anything, I am ready to say I know nothing more beautiful than the sweet forgiveness, and renewal of confidence, which a child shows when, having met a rebuff once and been turned away, it sits wondering and waiting, as if sure you would come round by and by and be good again.

III. Thus, now, having studied the real meaning of this incident, let us try to find out its practical bearing.

1. In the first place, consider how it would modify our estimates of human greatness. Here is the point at which our Lord meant His instruction should be felt earliest. These disciples had been contending about preeminence. Perhaps Peter began the jealous dispute, reminding them that he kept the house where Jesus was entertained. Perhaps John asked him to remember the place Jesus usually gave him at the table. Perhaps Andrew suggested that Simon might as well bear in mind that he had led him to Jesus down in Bethabara. Perhaps Matthew hushed them imperiously, declaring that none of them were business men as he had been. And perhaps James insisted that age and experience had some rights in the reckoning of precedence. Thus they worked themselves up into a passion. All this petulance was met by the spectacle of a tranquil little boy, who possibly wondered how he came to be put into show: and while they were looking curiously at him, Jesus said, calmly: “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

2. Next, let us consider bow this teaching would modify our aims for attainment. We need more of this child spirit in our hearts. Does anyone ask how it may be attained? In the old fable which the Hebrews used to teach their children about the fallen angels, they said that the angels of knowledge, proud and wilful, were cast down hopelessly into hell; but the angels of love, humble and tearful, crept back once more into the blessed light, and were welcomed home.

3. Again, let us consider how these words of Christ would modify our intellectual processes of study. Yes: but the Bible says do this thing like a child. Study with your faith rather than your intellect. A man needs conversion, not conviction. Our Lord here reverses human terms of counsel. We say to a child, “Be a man,” but Jesus says to a man, “Be a child.” That is the way to enter the kingdom.

4. Once more: let us consider how this doctrine will modify our formulas of belief. There is something for the great divines to learn also. Do we never force our theories beyond the confines of the gospel? A child’s theology is frequently wiser for real human need than a man’s. It often comes to pass that when a mature intellect has been worrying itself into most discouraging confusion, it is startled by the keen penetration and almost oracular deliverance of an infant trust. Ask one of our young girls, “What is God?” Perhaps she will give answer, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” And perhaps she will reply, “God is my father in heaven.” For all availableness to deep experience of need, some of us think that, little as this seems to say, really it says more than the other does. Faith cannot climb up on the north side of a doctrine in the shade. She took her notion out of the prayer, and not out of the catechism; that is all. These great formulas ought to be explained in the very warmth and light of the figures and relationships of the gospel.

5. Let us consider likewise how Christ’s teaching would modify our advice to inquirers. Some of those who claim to be honest seekers after truth completely invert the order of relation between belief and duty. Much of the difficulty they profess to find in the gospel is irrelevant in the matter of obligation, and entirely illogical in the matter of faith. Any sensible child is aware that its father’s relationship by marriage, social standing in the community, form of daily occupation, political influence in the party, or citizenship by naturalization, has nothing to do with the question of its own obedience to his just commands. To reckon how much money he owes or owns, does not come before minding what he says. But inquirers will often insist on having the Trinity made clear, before they will take up repentance. They say they are stumbled about praying, because they cannot understand the Incarnation. Now the child spirit knows that taking the yoke comes even before learning of Christ (see Matthew 11:29). Jesus says, Do My will (John 7:17).

6. Finally, let us consider how this teaching will modify our tests of experience in grace. It is only a strange perversity which makes us seem to prefer the more subtle evidences of a change of heart. Here a plain test is proposed. The last result, the positively completed picture, of regeneration, is found in a child’s temper and disposition. Anyone ought to know whether he possesses that or not. He can find out. His life will answer his questions, when possibly he cannot exactly find out about so mysterious a thing as his heart. Nobody is going to be excluded from heaven because he cannot find out his election or his regeneration, if he is holy, and truly believes in Christ, “as this little child.” (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

The desire to be first

If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last (Mark 5:35). There is no way in which men are surer to outwit themselves than in looking out for themselves over everybody else. The poorest servant in the world is the one who always puts himself before his employer. The poorest place to buy anything is where the dealer never regards the interest of his customers. He is less than nothing as a friend who gives his friend the second place in his plans and course. No politician can be a leader while it appears that he cares only for his own advancement, and nothing for the voters. What would a soldier be worth whose aim was to look out for his own safety and comfort in times of service and battle? And if this principle be applicable in other fields, how much more does it apply to Christian service! He who is intent on what he can gain out of his religion, will be behind the poorest servant of Christ who is a servant in truth as well as in name. Self-seeking is self- destroying in the kingdom of God. (H. Clay Trumbull.)

In My name

This means, for My sake, and it includes

Such children are received in Christ’s Name, not only in orphanages or in Sunday schools, but by many of the Christ-loving poor, who have children of their own, and yet take into their homes some poor waif or stray, and cherish it as their own flesh and blood, for no reward except the Lord’s approval. (M. F. Sadler.)

Receiveth Me

The grace of this promise seems almost incredible. What an honour would any Christian have esteemed it, if he had been permitted to receive Christ under his roof for a single hour, and yet that receiving might have been external and transitory; but the Lord here undoubtedly promises that to receive a little one in His Name is to receive Him effectually. (M. F. Sadler.)


Verses 38-40

Mark 9:38-40

And we forbade him

Christian toleration

I.
That power to do good is not monopolized by one class of believers in Christ. We can only conjecture, but there is strong reason for supposing, as many have done, that this man who was encountered in his work by our Lord’s disciples, was a disciple of John Baptist. It is not unlikely that he may have been but partially enlightened as to the mission of our Lord; or have fully believed in Him as the Messiah, but have preferred an independent course of action for himself. We have seen, and we see today, similar deeds of helpful charity being performed by men not of our party, who do not worship at the church or chapel which we are accustomed to attend. The essentials of a good deed are alike in both cases. These neighbours of ours are engaged in casting out the demons of ignorance, vicious habits, vile passions, and despairing poverty. Some of them have confronted difficulties which we have not dared to face, and solved problems which we had pronounced impossible of solution. All Christian parties and all Christian men can bear testimony to the universal existence of this fact.

II. We remark that the conduct of the disciples is not singular for its intolerance. The clannish feeling was very strong amongst these men. There is something really good at the bottom of this feeling. It implies and involves a binding principle of fealty, which is one of the truest feelings of noble natures. But unless it is checked in some of its tendencies, and regulated by judicious reflections, it becomes exclusive and illiberal. We can hardly imagine the meek, gentle, and tender-spirited John joining in the exclusive conduct of this severe proceeding. It is difficult to conceive of the censure which he could pass upon a man who was doing good. But the meekest men become severe where privileges of a certain order are concerned.

III. We observe the tolerant spirit of Christ. “Forbid him not!” Let him alone; leave him to his work! “Forbid him not!” for two reasons: first, because “there is no man which shall do a miracle in My name that can lightly (or ‘easily,’ ‘quickly,’ ‘readily’) speak evil of Me.” Secondly, “He that is not against us is on our part.” He that cannot speak against me may be regarded as my friend. In a matter like this the absence of opposition may be accepted as a proof of support. Tacit approval of our work must be welcomed as next in importance, if no more, to definite cooperation. Do we not wait for men to join our ranks before we acknowledge them as followers of Christ? We have devoted too much of the energy and earnestness of our life to the little matters that absorb us as denominations rather than to the grander and mightier subjects that concern us as Christians. Between us and those from whom we stand aloof there may exist no real barrier to a happy and hearty recognition of our common interest in the same dear and blessed Lord. Everything which tends to rend away the veil that separates the follower of Jesus Christ from his brother is to be hailed with devout and fervent gratitude, and every spirit should yearn to join the prayer of that great heart while yet upon the earth, “That they all may be one.” (W. Dorling.)

The line of conduct we should adopt towards those who follow not with us

I would remark-

I. That it becomes us carefully to observe their sentiments, professions, characters, and conduct. “They follow not with us;” therefore, says one, they must be wrong. Let them alone, says another. We have sufficient to do to mind our own concerns, replies a third. Am I my brother’s keeper? observes a fourth. Truth and charity require that we should ascertain the sentiments and practices of those who follow not with us, before we forbid them; and that we should ascertain those sentiments from authorized and acknowledged statements and records, as far as we can obtain access to them.

II. Such inquires naturally lead to a second remark; namely, that where we have not opportunity of thus precisely ascertaining the sentiments and conduct of those who follow not with us; and where it is necessary, notwithstanding, to give some advice with respect to them, that advice should be given in as favourable a manner as the circumstances with which we are acquainted will allow. They follow not with us; but are they casting out Satan in the name of Christ?-They follow not with us. Now, we are convinced of being right, and this affords a legitimate presumption that those who differ from us are in some respects wrong; but, at the same time, it is not a necessary conclusion. The presumption, therefore, of criminality being disposed of, the next inquiry is, Do they cast out Satan in the name of Christ? or, in plainer terms, Are they, on Christian principles, endeavouring to diminish the sum of crime and misery-to promote the cause of peace and purity, to lead men from sin to holiness? and if so, the answer must be-“Forbid them not.” Observe-It must be in the name of Christ. Men come continually with this and that ingenious device and philosophical contrivance; the cant of liberalism, the virtues of universal suffrage, the abolition of the poor laws-this panacea for all that is wrong, and the patent for the production of all that is right. I say not, there is nothing in these things; I say not that politicians and legislators may not do well to consider such topics; but, as a Christian man and a Christian minister, I say-All these are mere trifles. The philosopher may say-With this machine, and this standing place, I will move the world. True, says his opponent; in the longest space of human life you will move the world some thousandth part of an inch-and what then? Such is the whole value of the labours of many. It must be in the name of Christ, the dignity of His character, the power, the mercy, the atonement, the intercession, the grace of Christ. All other means, brethren, of casting out devils, of overcoming sin, of producing holiness, are utterly in vain; the evil spirit will return. He will say-Jesus I know, and Paul I know-but who are ye? Even moral precepts, moral suasion, the terrors of the law, the solemnities of death, the eternal consequences of judgment, are found ineffectual to break the bondage of iniquity. (T. Webster, M. A.)

The degrees of Christianity

I. The degree of service. “He that is not against us is on our part.” That man of whom St. John tells us in our text that he had east out devils in Jesus’s name was mightily stimulated by the appearance of Jesus and His wonderful works. He was no disciple, for how could he else have taken his own way, if in his heart he truly belonged to Jesus. His heart was far from Jesus, but his understanding perceived the importance of Jesus, and he believed in the power of His name which he had often experienced. Thus he was a servant, though not a child, of God; in Jesus’s service, but not in His commission. The name of Jesus exercises an overwhelming authority even upon those who in heart are far from Him, even on the things of natural human life, law, science, art, etc. These are not Christianized in the proper sense of that word, and yet we call them Christian; they are in the service of the cause of Jesus. Christians ought not to disparage outward Christianity, or call it hypocrisy; it acknowledges the name of Christ and is serving His cause. When the point in question is our adoption and salvation, then we must be for Him. But he already serves Him who is not exactly against Him and His cause. That is the first degree, the degree of serving His cause. But saving His believing people has a higher value. “Whosoever shall give you a cup of cold water,” etc. However, nobody has an eye for this hidden beauty, but he who in the spirit perceives the beauty of Jesus, and nobody has a hearty love for the poor saints of Jesus but he who in love has shut up the Lord Jesus in his heart. “For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in My name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.” The Lord does not speak of friendly services such as man renders to man from natural sympathy, but of the service rendered to His disciples, and rendered to them because they are His disciples. “Whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in My name, because ye belong to Christ.” Such a serving of the saints is not without communion with Jesus in faith and love.

II. That is the other degree. The degree of communion, of communion of heart. For communion of the heart with Jesus is that, and that only, which constitutes the disciple of Jesus the Christian. My beloved brethren, there are many things which we find and win in Jesus-wisdom, holiness, glory-but what we have to seek in Him, in the first place, is the pardon of our sins; what we have to see in Him is the Lamb of God which takes away our sins. Then all other things will be added to us; that is the communion with Jesus, the following of Jesus, as St. John narrates it of himself, for our example and stimulation. That is his meaning when he tells Jesus of one “who followeth not us.” But that is not all. That man of whom St. John speaks exercised an activity which had a certain resemblance to the working of the apostles. Thus St. John did not only recognize an imitation of Jesus Christ in faith and love, but also in good works, not only a communion of the heart, but also of the life. He thought of this not less when he spoke that word. And though we be no apostles, and though we are not all ministers of the gospel, we yet have all a share in the one great work of helping to build up and hasten the full glory of the kingdom of Christ. But our entering into that communion of working with Jesus is only effected by prayer, by His prayer and ours. In the communion of the love of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit begins every prayer, and we carry it out in the words of our lips. That prayer sends down upon us the fulness of the Spirit while our prayer plunges us into the depth of the Divine spiritual life, that we may emerge from it filled with the powers of a higher world. Therein the communion with Jesus Christ is finished. (C. L. E. Luthardt.)

The fellowship of the apostles

It is argued that as the apostles were not allowed to forbid this stranger, neither may the Church forbid strange preachers; that all have a right to preach, whether they follow the Church or no, so that they do but preach in the name of Jesus. Such is the objection, and I propose now to consider it.

1. First, then, this man was not preaching; he was casting out devils. This is a great difference-he was doing a miracle. “There is no man which shall do a miracle in My name,” etc. Man cannot overcome the devil, Christ only overcomes him. If a man casts out a devil, he has power from Christ; and if he has power from Christ, he must have a commission from Christ; and who shall forbid one, to whom God gives commission to do miracles, from doing them? That would be fighting against God. But, on the other hand, many a man may preach without being sent from God and having power from Him; for Christ expressly warns us against false prophets.

2. But it may be said, “The effects of preaching are a miracle.” A good preacher converts persons; he casts out devils from the hearts of those whom he changes from sin to holiness. This he could not do without power from God. But what seems good, is often not good.

3. But, again, even if sinners are converted upon such a one’s preaching, this would net show that he did the work, or, at least, that he had more than a share in it. The miracle might after all belong to the Church, not to him. They are but the occasion of the miracle, not the instrument of it. Persons who take up with strange preachers often grant that they gained their first impressions in the Church. To proceed.

Party spirit

I. Attend to a few general observations on the passage.

1. On the introduction of a new dispensation the power of working miracles was necessary, in order to establish its Divine authority; and this power consequently attended the first ages of Christianity.

2. Some who profess a sacred regard for the name of Jesus, and the doctrines of the gospel, may nevertheless not follow Him in all things as we do, or as they themselves ought to do. This may arise from ignorance, indolence, and inadvertence.

3. In the conduct of the disciples we may see our own aptness to imagine that those do not follow Christ at all who do not follow Him with us.

II. Inquire into the causes of that uncharitable judgment, which professed Christians are disposed to pass upon one another.

1. An immoderate degree of self-love.

2. Bigotry and party spirit are another source of uncharitable judgment.

3. An idle and pragmatic temper is another of these causes.

4. A liberty taken to censure and condemn others, is often vindicated by the appearance of a similar disposition on the other side. Let us not judge of men’s thoughts and intentions when there is nothing reprehensible in their conduct. (B. Beddome, M. A.)

The spirit of intolerance and sectarianism

Note the “us.” Although no exegetical emphasis is lying on it, yet it is well to read it with some doctrinal intonation. It is the point at which the principle of exclusiveness crops up-that spirit of intolerance which so easily develops itself into fagot and fire. It was rife in the Jewish nation. It had been rife among other peoples. And although it was nipped in the bud by the Saviour the moment it sprang up among His disciples, yet by and by it rose again within the circle of Christendom, and grew into a upas tree that spread its branches, and distilled its blight, almost as far as the name of Christ was named. The tree still stands, alas-though many a noble hatchet has been raised to cut it down. It stands; but the hatchets have not been plied in vain. It is moribund. And here and there some of its larger boughs have been lopped off, so that the sweet air of heaven is getting in upon hundreds of thousands of the more favoured of those who were sitting in the shadow of death. (J. Morison, D. D.)

Working with Christ outside the apostolate

The complaint brought by the disciples against the man was, “he followeth not us,”-us, the apostles; the complaint says nothing about following Christ. There was a spirit of envy and selfishness in this remark, which would have restrained Christ’s favours to the persons of the apostles and their immediate adherents. But our Lord reminds the complainants that the man wrought miracles in their Master’s name, as they themselves had owned; i.e., he wrought miracles in conformity to Christ’s will, and for the promotion of Christ’s glory-i.e., in union with Christ-and not for any private end; therefore the man was with Christ, though he did not personally follow in the company of the apostles, just as John Baptist was with Christ, though not in person; and as all the apostles preaching the gospel and administering the sacraments of Christ in Christ’s name in all parts of the world were with one another and with Christ, after He had ascended into heaven. The man was not neuter in the cause, and therefore was not against them; and their Master had authorized him openly by enabling him to work in His name; and therefore the man was with Him, and consequently with His apostles, in heart and spirit, though not in person and presence, and was not to be forbidden or discouraged by them. Thus our Lord delivered a warning against that sectarian spirit which is eager for its own ends rather than for Christ’s; and would limit Christ’s graces to personal communion with itself, instead of inquiring whether those whom it would exclude from grace are not working in Christ’s name-that is, in obedience to His laws, and for the promotion of His glory; and in the unity of His Church, and in the full and free administration of His Word and Sacraments, and so in communion with Him. Besides-even if the man was separated from their communion, and worked miracles in separation (which does not appear to have been the case, for he worked in the name of Christ), what they ought to have forbidden was the being in separation, and not the working miracles. If a man, separated from Christ and His Church, preaches Christ, then Christ approves His own Word, preached by one in separation; but He does not approve the separation itself, any more than God approved the sins of Balaam, Saul, and Caiaphas, and Judas, when He prophesied and preached by their mouths. (Bishop Christopher Wordsworth.)

Intolerance rebuked

There lived in Berlin a shoemaker who had a habit of speaking harshly and uncharitably of all his neighbours who did not think quite as he did about religion. The old pastor of the parish in which the shoemaker lived heard of this, and felt that he must try to teach him a lesson of toleration. He did it in this way. Sending for the shoemaker one morning, he said to him, “John, take my measure for a pair of boots.” “With pleasure, your reverence, replied the shoemaker, please take off your boot. The clergyman did so, and the shoemaker measured his foot from toe to heel, and over the instep, noted all down in his pocket book; and then prepared to leave the room. But, as he was putting up the measure, the pastor said to him, “John, my son also requires a pair of boots.” “I will make them with pleasure, your reverence. Can I take the young gentleman’s measure this morning?” “Oh, that is unnecessary,” said the pastor; “the lad is fourteen, but you can make my boots and his from the same last.” “Your reverence, that will never do,” said the shoemaker, with a smile of surprise. “I tell you, John, to make my boots and those for my son, on the same last.” “No, your reverence, I cannot do it.” “It must be done-on the same last, remember.” “But, your reverence, it is not possible, if the boots are to fit,” said the shoemaker, thinking to himself that the old pastor’s wits must be leaving him. “Ah, then, master shoemaker,” said the clergyman, “every pair of boots must be made on their own last, if they are to fit, and yet you think that God is to form all Christians exactly according to your own last, of the same measure and growth in religion as yourself. That will not do, either.” The shoemaker was abashed. Then he said, “I thank your reverence for this sermon, and I will try to remember it, and to judge my neighbours less harshly in the future.”


Verses 38-50

Verse 41

Mark 9:41

A cup of water to drink in My name.

The smallest gift and the largest reward

I. The description which is here given of the disciples of Christ, is exceedingly interesting and instructive. They “belong” to Christ; they are peculiarly and emphatically His; speaking of them, he calls them “My sheep,” “My people,” “My disciples;” and addressing His heavenly Father respecting them, He says, “All Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine; and I am glorified in them.” And the Scriptures, which thus represent Christians as the property of Christ, teach us also the way in which they become so entirely His. It is evident from Christ’s own language, that His disciples belong to Him primarily by the gift of His Father. “Thine they were,” says He, “and Thou gavest them Me. My Father which gave them to Me, is greater than all. All that the Father hath given to Me shall come to Me.” And if they thus belong to Christ by His reception of them from the Father, and by His redemption of them by His blood, they are also His by their own voluntary dedication of themselves to Him, as the result of His electing and redeeming mercy.

II. The gift which Jesus Christ asks on behalf of these His disciples, is a cup of water. When we consider believers as belonging so peculiarly to Christ, we might suppose that He would solicit for them the most costly and munificent donations that the most wealthy could bestow; but it is a remarkable and an interesting fact, that He never either sought great things for Himself, or led His disciples to expect great things from others. An impostor, or a mere enthusiast, would in all probability have acted differently, and have said to his disciples, “Whosoever shall give you thousands of gold and silver; whosoever shall exalt you to worldly dignity and honour; and whosoever shall clothe you in purple and fine linen, and cause you to fare sumptuously every day;”-but His language was, “Whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink.” And let not such a gift, small as it is, be despised. In our circumstances, we are mercifully unable to estimate its worth; but a man may be brought into such a situation that even a cup of water would be the most valuable and acceptable present that he could receive. When Samson had slain, single-handed, a thousand of his Philistine foes, he cried unto the Lord and said, “I die for thirst.” But when a little water was procured, “his spirit came again, and he revived.” The smallness of the gift which Christ solicits in our text, may, however, suitably admonish His disciples to be satisfied with little.

III. The motive by which you should be influenced in the bestowment of this gift, seems to include both love to Christ and to His disciples; for, says He, “whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in My name, and because ye belong to Christ.” Such is the deceit fulness and desperate wickedness of the human heart, that an action productive of good to others may be done merely for the purpose of thereby accomplishing some selfish and unhallowed object, merely because they are following with you, and adhering to the sect or party to which you belong. But, to return to the consideration of the motives by which our gifts are to be influenced-the greatest and the purest is love to Christ. To Him we are laid under unspeakable obligations for the love with which He loved us, when He died for our sins, and to secure the complete and eternal salvation of our souls. Love to Christ cannot exist, however, without love to Christians, who belong to Christ, and who bear His image; “for everyone that loveth Him that begat, loveth them also that are begotten of Him.”

IV. The reward by which the bestower of this gift will be honoured and enriched is secured to him by the Saviour’s faithful promise, “Verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.”

1. He shall be rewarded by the pleasurable feelings which the exercise of benevolence and kindness to others never fails to produce.

2. He shall be rewarded with the prayers, and blessings, and sympathy of the disciple on whom he has bestowed the gift.

3. He shall be rewarded with the approbation and blessing of Christ Himself. (J. Alexander.)

A cup of water

There is something very economical about the generosity of kindness; a little goes a long way. (Faber.)

A right motive

It is said that when Andrew Fuller went into his native town to collect for the cause of missions, one of his old acquaintances said, “Well, Andrew, I’ll give five pounds, seeing it’s you. “No,” said Mr. Fuller, I can take nothing for this cause, seeing it’s me:-and handed the money back. The man felt reproved, but in a moment he said, “Andrew, you are right. Here are ten pounds, seeing it is for the Lord Jesus Christ.”

An act, a motive, and a reward

Here is an act, a motive, and a reward, calling for thought. As to the act, it is both suggestive and comprehensive. A man may live without food for many days; but he cannot exist without water for the body’s cooling and circulating fluids. So there is a moral life that is kept up by the interchange of little acts; the kind salutation, the smile, the “kiss of charity,” the word “fitly spoken and in season,” which cost nothing to the giver, but are invaluable to the receiver. So the little acts of giving, the “mites” of poor widows, the full carrying out of Paul’s universal appointment, “let every one of you lay by him in store as the Lord hath prospered him”-it is these gathered drops that fill the exhaustless reservoirs of worldwide Christian charities. The motive, too, like that which sees in a child the lineaments of an esteemed parent, that recognizes in the livery the servant of a liege lord, it is this recognition of Christ in His disciple that at once honours the Master, and which permits Him to honour the service. The reward, too, is in keeping with the act and its motive. The little badge a prince bestows is more than a life estate. To find true what Jesus declares shortly after (Matthew 25:1-46), that the rewards of the final judgment turn on these little acts and their motive, that Jesus will say of forgotten trifles, “Ye did it to Me,” the realization of this fact, so as to make it the rule of everyday life-this is to learn the lesson of giving a “cup of cold water” in the name of Christ. (G. W. Samson, D. D.)

Give in Christ’s name-humanity not Christianity

“That man has given more to the poor than any man in the town; now that’s what I call being a noble Christian,” is the remark that a friend made a few days ago. This is also a sample of the opinion of quite a large class of people; they hold that because a man is benevolent he must naturally be a Christian; but this does not necessarily follow. A man may love the poor, sympathize with those in distress, and in the fulness of his heart relieve the wants of the pauper, and yet not be a Christian. He gives for humanity’s sake, while the Christian gives only for Christ’s sake. Humanity must not be mistaken for Christianity. Many noted highwaymen have given largely to the poor out of what they robbed from the rich. That they possessed humanity no one will doubt, but there was not a particle of Christianity about them. The virtue in humanity’s gift lies in the amount given, but the test in Christianity’s gift lies in the amount that’s left behind; and while humanity rejoices in having given so much, Christianity will weep because she has no more to give. The gift for humanity’s sake is good, but to give for Christ’s sake is better. The Pharisee who ostentatiously cast in of his abundance pales into insignificance before the poor widow who cast in her all. Says Christ: “For the poor always ye have with you; but Me ye have not always.” Christ first, the poor afterward. Had Mary given the money to the poor, she would have done well, but in that she gave it to Christ she did better. Had she given for humanity’s sake, three hundred souls would each have the temporal satisfaction of a pennyworth of bread; but in that she did it for Christ’s sake millions have been cheered and encouraged while reading of her devotion and tenderness of Christ. This is all expressed by Paul in a single sentence: “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor … and have not charity, I am nothing.” To feed the poor is humanity, but charity is Christianity. Humanity is transitory and passes away. Christianity is eternal, and, like a river, is continually fed by countless tiny tributaries that, however small and powerless in themselves, all combine to form one golden current that flows into a far more exceeding and eternal sea of glory. (Frank Hope.)

Whose am I

“Ye belong to Christ.” These thoughts are suggested by this phrase.

I. Proprietorship. There is a sense in which it may be said that all men belong to Christ.

1. This claim to us is based primarily on His Creatorship.

2. All are His by redemption.

3. Baptism is a confirmation of all this.

4. But believers belong to Christ in a more peculiar sense by an act of personal consecration. In the case of many this act of consecration has been repeatedly renewed.

5. Believers are Christ’s by adoption. The soul surrendered all its powers to Christ, and He graciously accepted the offering, and smiled upon the oblation.

II. To belong to Christ implies privilege.

1. Special care.

2. Identity of interests. If I am Christ’s my joys are His joys, my sorrows are His sorrows.

3. Dignity.

III. Belonging to Christ involves responsibility.

1. We are to live for Christ.

2. We are to live like Christ.

3. We are to confess Christ. (R. Roberts.)

Belonging to Christ

I. The connection which Christ claims with His people.

1. They belong to Him by separation and surrender.

2. They possess some spiritual worth. There are in Scripture some hints respecting the Divine estimate of men.

3. They are appointed to high and sacred ministries

4. They engage the interest of Christ in their improvement.

5. They enjoy the honour of spiritual association.

II. Practical suggestions from the subject.

1. The difficulty of holding this truth firmly is seen.

2. It should encourage consistency of Christian life.

3. It invites us to consider the personal signs of connection with Christ. (J. S. Bright.)


Verse 43

Mark 9:43

And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off.

Stumbling blocks

After stating the fearful punishment in store for those who impede the spiritual progress of others, our Lord proceeds to warn men not to place stumbling blocks in their own way. He selects the chief instruments of sin-the hand, the foot, the eye-and counsels their immediate destruction, if need be, rather than allow them to work the threatened mischief. It is the hand which men lift up to do violence, as Cain did to his brother; or to appropriate what does not belong to them, like Achan. It is the feet which hurry us into forbidden paths, as they hurried Gehazi, or the old man of God whom the lion slew for his transgression. It is the eye which excites the lust to desire, in the spirit of Eve, something which God has seen fit to withhold. To hurt, to trespass, and to covet: what a common triple cord of sin it is! (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)

The price of salvation

The gentleness of the gospel is not toward sin, but only to win from it. It is love that lays down life for enemies, which makes these demands on friends. Jesus continually put before those who heard Him the price of salvation. It is a pearl, bought by selling all we have; the call which requires us to leave-hate in comparison-houses, lands, and dearest friends. It brings a sword to divide, a cross for us to bear. To lose a foot will make you walk slow and painful, to lose a hand will halve your power for gain or usefulness, to lose an eye is darkness and disfigurement. Precious are they, part of ourselves; bloody and anguishing the cutting off and plucking out. But it must be, it should be. Reckon it with our worldly arithmetic, and eternal life is cheap at any price. A career, however marred and maimed, which ends in heaven, is better than a painless and brilliant passage to the fire that shall never be quenched. Are things most sweet and necessary occasions of sin? Be rid of them at any cost. Spare not thyself, and God shall spare thee. Cripple thyself for holiness’ sake, and everlasting life shall make thee whole. Fling away ecstatic delights to embrace purifying pains, for God has infinite stores of blessings, and eternity in which to give them. It is a wondrous thing to know that the pains and chastisements of this life are fitting us to bear the awful test of God’s devouring fire, that the light which flashes from the face of God shall strike our souls, and the flames not kindle upon us. Compared with this, there are no joys, no sorrows; all other experiences get character from their power to affect this consummation. (C. M. Southgate.)

Excision of offending members

The hands, the feet, the eyes, are set forth in God’s Word as the instruments of the soul in compassing the gratification of certain distinct evil lusts: the hand is the instrument of covetous grasping and of violence; the feet are the means of evil companionship, and running into the ways of temptation and sin; through the eyes the soul covets what is not her own, and lusts after what is forbidden and polluting; through the eyes also the soul envies and hates, and the Lord classes “an evil eye” amongst the things that defile. But it may be asked, seeing that the members are but the instruments of the evil will, why does not the Lord denounce that, and that only? So He does when occasion serves; but in this instance He is setting forth the all-important truth that the evil will is mortified and slain, not by arguing with it, but by starving it; i.e., by forbidding the members to yield themselves to its gratification. When the Lord bids a soul, for the sake of eternity, mortify its members, its outward members, He necessarily speaks to one who has two wills, an evil will belonging to the old man, and a better and holier belonging to the new. The evil will would gratify its lusts through its members, but the better will can forbid the members to lend themselves to the evil within, and can call to its aid the Spirit of God by prayer, and can mortify the flesh, and use in faith the means of grace. (M. F. Sadler.)

Personal maiming

There are many persons who are ready to cut off other people’s offending hands and feet, forgetting that the command is to cut off their own. At all costs save the life! Hands, feet, eyes may be cast away, but let the soul be held in godly discipline. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Mortification of sin a reasonable duty

I. The duty here enjoined. “If thy hand or thy foot offend thee,” etc. To offend, in the language of Scripture, frequently means to put anything in the way of a person, which may cause him to fall or stumble (Romans 12:21; Matthew 11:6; Matthew 16:23). Even serviceable things must be removed if an occasion of evil.

II. The argument by which He enforces it. It is shortly this: that it is better for us to do what He enjoins. Why better? Because not to do it will certainly bring on us greater evils hereafter. It is better to suffer a present evil, however great, than by avoiding it to incur a greater evil in the end. Thus men reason in common things. They endure present loss in hope of future gain; they lose a limb to save a life. To feel the force of this argument we must see what these consequences are.

1. We shall be shut out from heaven. “It is better to enter into life maimed,” etc. Without mortifying sin now we can never be admitted there (Galatians 5:21; Revelation 21:27; Hebrews 12:14).

2. What it is to be cast into hell.

3. I remind you that if you seriously desire to set about the work, there is a powerful Friend who is ready to assist you with all needful strength and health. It is only “through the Spirit” that you can mortify the deeds of the body. (E. Cooper.)

Mutilation or fire

The mutilation of the body ordered by Jesus Christ. As Lord of the body He has the right to issue such requirements; common sense tells us that they cannot be meant to be without exception. His “if” prefacing each instance is enough to prove that He does not make them binding on everybody who enters His army. The soldier in the battle, having on the whole armour of God, does not need to be told to mutilate himself. He is not obstructed by wrongful occupation with any of the prominent members of his body.

I. A due consideration of the three-fold repetition will show that all of us are somehow affected. Jesus means to single out every person who feels reluctant to give his all up to Him as Lord and Saviour.

II. That these orders cannot require mutilation of the bodily frame. The hand, the foot, and the eye are nothing, except as they are the instruments of a person. What benefit could there be in cutting off, in plucking out, merely a member of the body? He would be utterly unfit to be a judge who sentenced the umbrella, which thrust out a man’s eye, to six months’ imprisonment, and let the man who pushed the umbrella go free! He would be counted more idiotic than an idiot who found fault with the door of the cellar down whose steps he had fallen, and not with the careless servant who had left the door open. When you had cut off a hand, you might still wish to do the unworthy action which your hand would have carried out. When you had plucked out an eye, your imagination might still revel amid the unholy things which the eye would have gloated on.

III. The Lord backs up His appeal for our energetic action with an exhibition of the awful law under which our nature is constituted. The word, which is translated “hell fire” is Gehenna. It was the name given to a narrow valley close to Jerusalem. Offal and filth were usually thrown into it, and fires were lighted in it to burn all the sorts of refuse which were consumable. So the sinner is separated from the society of Jerusalem, and cast into corruption; he is exposed to burning now, and if not converted from the error of his ways, will go into corruption and fire hereafter. (D. G. Watt, M. A.)

Desire sacrificed to duty

Soldiers have dislodged their enemy from a town. They scatter themselves about its streets; some dashing into shops, and some into houses, seizing any valuable thing which the lust of their eyes prompts them to seize. Suddenly their bugles sound an alarm. The enemy is returning in force; and, whatever else the sound may suggest, it suggests this-that they must throw everything out of their hands, no matter how valuable, no matter how eagerly they long to retain it. Otherwise it would be an obstruction; they would not be free to handle their rifles, and be driven out instead of driving their foe back again. With like purpose does the Lord Jesus give forth those orders, which seem to many of us so unnecessarily harsh and stringent. (D. G. Watt, M. A.)

Hell fire in the present life

At any rate multitudes have come to regard hell as a place to be afraid of, not because of its wickedness, but because of its suffering. Theirs is a bitter mistake. It is a grotesque and misleading interpretation of that state of which Jesus tells the nature. His words assuredly point to the conclusion that a man may be in hell here as well as yonder; may be gnawed by its worm and burned by its fire now as well as hereafter. You do not lack proofs of this present truth in human life, perhaps within the range of your observation, if not of your own experience. It may be that no more striking illustration can be supplied than that of Lady Macbeth, as painted by our great dramatist. After the murder of Banquo she cannot rest. She rises from her bed and walks about. She rubs, and rubs, as if washing her hands, and continues it for a quarter of an hour. She fancies she sees a spot of blood on them. She cannot take it out; her hands will not be clean, and she cries, “Here’s the smell of the blood still;. all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh! oh! oh!” That sigh and cry show how “sorely her heart is charged.” Yet there is no repentance in her anguish. She argues in defence of the evil deed still. She is suffering mentally; she is in agony-not for the vileness of the crime she has urged on, but for its interference with her comfort and peace. Thus her case affords an instance of how a soul may be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing the teeth before it goes, with the uncleansed spots of sin, into the shadow of death. (D. G. Watt, M. A.)

The members of the body reported in their deeds

“Do you know,” said a young lady to her brother, “there is a reporter to be at the ball to which we are going tomorrow, and a full account will be given in the newspapers of everybody who is there?” Ah! yes, there was a Reporter there whom she little thought of-a Reporter who is in every place to which you can go, whether it be to the house of feasting or the house of mourning, to the resort which defiles you or which purifies you, to the place of cursing or the place of prayer; and the day is coining when that Reporter shall publish, before the myriads amid whom you shall stand at the judgment seat of God, what “everyone has done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad.” What will be disclosed as to the paths on which your feet have been made to go? Will you expect to hear that you have never been, in thought or purpose, in any place but where Christ’s footprints were known to be before you? (D. G. Watt, M. A.)

What the hands can do

Just glance at what may be operated by the hands. Would you care to hold out your hands, before any number of your acquaintances, and say, “These hands have never been soiled by touching an unholy thing. They have not once written a deceiving figure or an unbecoming word. They have never held any instrument in order to accomplish a selfish and impure object.” No neighbour might shrug his shoulders at your assertion; no voice might call out, “I saw you use the shaking glass of drunkenness, the cards of gambling, the jemmy of burglary!” But would their inability to accuse you be a satisfactory acquittal? Would you not, as brave and honest souls, even if no human being could say that your hands were offensive to the holy God, would you not confess they are or were? Your tongue would not utter boastful things. Why? Because you are well aware that, though you have never been a drunkard, a gambler, or a burglar, you have put aside a service of self-denial, or you have grasped in your heart at an evil enjoyment. Knowing, as you do, that wishing and planning to escape from any Christ-like duty must be a grief to the Saviour, you would not like to hear His voice announce His sentence as to all your failures; you would not like to receive the due award of what your hands have done or been thought capable of doing! (D. G. Watt, M. A.)

Stumbling blocks

I. The stumbling blocks here mentioned.

II. Whether a classification of stumbling blocks be suggested or not, important lessons, as to the causes of falling, are here taught.

1. May be part of ourselves-personal appearance, etc.

2. May be in our occupation-sinful, engrossing, etc.

3. May be in that which delights us-conversation, music, etc.

4. May be in persons and society sought after by us.

5. May be in useful and lawful things.

6. Everyone must judge for himself.

III. The command of Christ.

1. Most peremptory. The cause must be removed-however valuable, painful, etc.

2. Most pressing and weighty reasons are assigned. Such conduct is indispensable to life. To act otherwise is to perish. At how dear a price sinners purchase their pleasures! (Expository Discourses.)

Maiming and life

The New Testament revisers have rightly substituted the words “cause to stumble,” for “offend;” for the popular conception of offend is misleading. It means that which is annoying or distasteful to another, but not necessarily hurtful. But the word in the New Testament habitually means something dangerous. That which offends in the gospel sense may be neither annoying nor distasteful; but agreeable and seductive. St. Paul speaks of “meat” as an offence to a brother. In these hard words about cutting off, our Lord is not speaking of things that are simply troublesome, for in God’s moral economy a good many troublesome things are retained as permanent factors of life. Self-sacrifice, hard duty, are troublesome things, yet they enter into every genuine Christian life; while many agreeable things are of the character of stumbling blocks. The truth here stated by Christ appears a cruel one. It is simply that maiming enters into the development of life, and is a part of the process through which one attains eternal life. We shall find that thin law is not so cruel after all. There is an aspect in which we all recognize this truth; namely, on the side where it is related to our ordinary life. No life is developed into perfection without cutting off something. The natural tendencies of the boy are to play and eat and sleep. Left to themselves, those things will fill up the space allotted to thought and culture, so that they must be controlled and restricted. The law indeed holds, from a point below human life, that every higher thing costs; that it is won by the abridgment or suppression of something lower. The corn of wheat must die in order to bring forth fruit. The seed life and the seed form must go, so that the “full corn in the ear” may come. This fact of limitation goes along with the entire process of human education. The man who aims at eminence in any one department of life must close the gates which open into other departments. In order to be a successful merchant, he must abridge the pleasures of literary culture. He may have equally strong affinities for medicine and for law, but he cannot become a successful lawyer without cutting off the studies and the associations which go to make a successful doctor. And success in any sphere necessitates his cutting off a large section of self-indulgence. He must sacrifice pleasant leisure and pleasant society, and needful rest and recreation. Moreover, it is true that men love life so much that they will have it at the expense of maiming. A man will leap from a third story of a burning house, and will take the chance of going through life with a crippled limb or a distorted face, rather than stay and be burned or suffocated. “All that a man hath will he give for his life.” Maecenas, the prime minister of the first Roman emperor, said that he preferred life with the anguish of crucifixion to death. Where is the man who will not lie down on the surgeon’s table, and have his right hand cut off or his right eye plucked out rather than die? The most helpless cripple, the blind man, the mutilated and disfigured man, will say, “It is better for us to live maimed than to die.” So that, on one side at least, the truth is not so unfamiliar or so cruel, after all. It represents, not an arbitrary decree, but a free choice. Now, our Lord leads us up into the region of spiritual and eternal life, and confronts us with the same alternative. Cut off anything, sacrifice anything, be maimed and crippled so far as this life is concerned, rather than forfeit eternal life. Life in God’s kingdom, like life in the kingdom of nature and sense, involves a process of education and discipline. A part of this discipline is wrought through the agency of the man himself; that is, by the force of his own renewed will. A part of it is brought to bear on him from without, through no agency of his own. And here, as elsewhere, development implies limitation, suppression, cutting off. Have you never known a woman on whom the door of her father’s house was closed from the moment that she went out of it with the husband of her choice, and who gave herself to him, knowing that, in taking his part, she was cutting off and casting from her parental sympathy and all the dear associations of childhood? In our great civil war, was it not true that many a man, by taking a side, became an outcast to those whom he had loved best? Has it not been so in all the great issues of history? In Christ’s own day, and much more in the early dais of the Church, that happened again and again which Christ’s words had foreshadowed. He who went after the despised Galilean or His apostles, must forfeit home and friends and social standing, and be called an ingrate and a traitor. He could not keep father and mother and old associates who hated his Master. They would be only stumbling blocks to him; and he must therefore cut them off, and go after Christ maimed on that side of his life. This text tells us that this cutting off and casting away must be our own act. “If thy hand cause thee to stumble, cut it off,”-thou thyself. We are not to presume on God’s taking away from us whatever is hurtful. Our spiritual discipline does not consist in merely lying still and being pruned. That must do for a vine or a tree, but not for a living will. The surrender of that must be a self-surrender. The forced surrender of a will is no surrender. The necessary abridgement or limitation must enlist the active cooperation of the man who is limited. “Ye are God’s husbandry,” says Paul; but, almost in the same breath, he says, “Ye are God’s fellow workers.” There are, however, two aspects in which this self-cutting is to be viewed. On the one band, there is, as just noted, something which the man is to do by his own will and act. On the other hand, there is a certain amount of limitation applied directly by God, without the man’s agency. In this latter case, the man makes the cutting off his own act by cheerful acceptance of his limitations. Let us look at each of these two aspects in turn. In Christian experience, one soon discovers certain sides on which it is necessary to limit himself; certain things which he must renounce. The things are not the same for all men. They are not necessarily evil things in themselves, but a sensitive and well-disciplined conscience soon detects certain matters which it is best to lay violent hands upon. Another conscience may not fix upon the same points; but to this conscience they are stumbling blocks, hindrances to spiritual growth, inconsistent with entire devotion to Christ. It is enough that they are so in this particular case. It is right to have hands and feet and eyes, and to use them. But in certain cases there is an antagonism between these and eternal life. The whole question centres there. Whatever interferes with the attainment of eternal life must go. Thus much for the self-applied limitations, for conscious hindrances in the march to eternal life. But there is another class of limitations, the need of which we do not perceive. They belong in the higher and deeper regions of character, and are linked with facts and tendencies which our self-knowledge does not cover. Such limitations we cannot apply to ourselves: they are applied to us by God: and all that our will has to do is to concur with the limitations and meekly to accept them. In this region the discipline is more painful. God cuts off and takes away where we can see no reason for it; but on the contrary, where we think we see every reason against it. There are multitudes of Christian people who are going through life maimed on one side or another. There is a man with the making of a statesman, ruler, painter, or poet. He is maimed by no opportunity of culture. But every true disciple of Christ enters His school with absolute self-surrender, and will trust that God will cut off nothing that makes for eternal life. We could not win eternal life as well with these gifts as without them. And so it will be better if we can but enter into life. Better, far better, to go maimed all the way than to lose eternal life. It matters little that those stately masts had to be cut down in the raging gale. No one thinks what splendid timbers were thrown overboard, on that day when the ship, battered and mastless, and with torn sails and tangled cordage, forges into the land-locked port with every soul on board safe. Better maimed than lost. (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)


Verse 44

Mark 9:44; Mark 9:46; Mark 9:48

Where their worm dieth not.
-

The punishment of the wicked, dreadful and interminable

Some will say that this doctrine has no tendency to do good; it is idle to think of frightening men into religion. It is my duty not to decide what doctrines are likely to do good, but to preach such as I find in the Scriptures. I dare not pretend to be either more wise or more compassionate than our Saviour; and He thought it consistent, both with wisdom and compassion, to utter the words of our text. These expressions allude to the manner in which the Jews disposed of the bodies of the dead; placed in tombs they were consumed by worms; or on a funeral pile it was consumed by fire. You have seen this, but there is another death, of the soul. Those who die this death shall be preyed upon by worms which will never die, and become the fuel of a fire that will never be quenched. The language is indeed figurative, but not on that account less full of meaning.

I. In dilating upon these truths, I shall say little of the corporeal sufferings which await impenitent sinners beyond the grave. Such sufferings will certainly compose a part of the punishment; for their bodies shall come forth in the resurrection of damnation; as it is the servant of the soul, its tempter to many sins, and its instrument in committing them, there seems to be a manifest propriety in making them companions in punishment. But to the sufferings of the soul, the Scriptures chiefly refer. The clause-“where their worm dieth not”-intimates that the soul will suffer miseries, analogous to those which would be inflicted on a living body, by a multitude of reptiles constantly preying upon it; that as a dead body appears to produce the worms which consume it, so the soul dead in trespasses and sins, really produces the causes of its own misery. What are those causes, what is the gnawing worm?

1. its own passions and desires. That these are capable of preying upon the soul, and occasioning acute suffering, even in this life, need not be proved. Look at a man who is habitually peevish, fretful, and disappointed. Has he not gnawing worms already at his heart? Look at the envious, covetous, ambitious, proud; these passions make men miserable here; even while in this world there are many things calculated to soothe or divert men’s passions. Sometimes they meet with success, and this produces a transient calm; at another time, the objects which excite their passions are absent, and this allows quietness. Men have not always the leisure to indulge their passions; they are under the operations of causes which tend to restrain them, such as sleep. But suppose all these removed, deprived of sleep, success, and the objects which excite his strongest passions constantly before him, and all restraints gone. Would not such a man be miserable? Nothing inflames the passions of men more than suffering.

2. The gnawing worm includes the consciences of sinners. Conscience has inflicted terrible agony, as in the case of Judas. Here she speaks only at intervals; there without intermission. Here she may be stifled by scenes of business or amusement, sophistical arguments; but there will be no means of silencing her; she will see everything in the clear light of eternity. What a God she has offended, Saviour neglected, heaven lost. Well may this be compared to a gnawing worm.

II. Our Saviour speaks not only of a gnawing worm, but of an unquenchable fire. So far as the soul is concerned, this refers to a keen and constant sense of God’s presence and righteous displeasure. He says of Himself, “I am a consuming fire.”

III. We learn from the passage before us, that those sufferings will be endless. Their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. The passions and consciences of sinners endure as long as the soul of which they are a part. God lives forever, He must forever be displeased with sinners. “It is impossible that I should deserve it.” You know nothing of your sins, or of what sin deserves. As well might a man, who should put vipers into his bosom, complain of God because they stung him. Christ died to save them from their misery. (E. Payson, D. D.)

Preserving fire

Preserving fire, or salting with fire. Decay is a species of burning; and only those things that have been burnt, or cannot be burnt, will not decay.

I. Temptation is a preserving fire. The boy who has been sheltered at home is honest; but his integrity is not as firm as that of the honest merchant. The clay (Isaiah 64:8) is soft and plastic; but after it has been burnt in the furnace it will break before it will bend. All must pass through the fire of temptation. If you are to be a vessel of honour fit for the heavenly palace, the Lord must be your potter.

II. Affliction is a preserving fire. The metal comes forth from the furnace more useful (Malachi 3:3).

III. The day of judgment is also compared to a fire (1 Corinthians 3:13). Fire is a searching test. All paint, enamel, pretence of every kind, will melt before it. Its results are enduring. All must pass through the fiery ordeal. Only such works can stand as proceed from gospel love.

IV. Another preserving fire is the fire of hell. The misery of hell is two fold: sin and its punishment. (J. B. Converse.)

Their worm dieth not-Conscience in hell

It has been discovered that there are worms which eat and live upon stone. Many such have been found in a freestone wall in Normandy. So there is a worm in hell-conscience-which lives upon the stony heart of the condemned sinner, which gnaws with remorse all whom grace has not softened.


Verse 46

Mark 9:44; Mark 9:46; Mark 9:48

Where their worm dieth not.
-

The punishment of the wicked, dreadful and interminable

Some will say that this doctrine has no tendency to do good; it is idle to think of frightening men into religion. It is my duty not to decide what doctrines are likely to do good, but to preach such as I find in the Scriptures. I dare not pretend to be either more wise or more compassionate than our Saviour; and He thought it consistent, both with wisdom and compassion, to utter the words of our text. These expressions allude to the manner in which the Jews disposed of the bodies of the dead; placed in tombs they were consumed by worms; or on a funeral pile it was consumed by fire. You have seen this, but there is another death, of the soul. Those who die this death shall be preyed upon by worms which will never die, and become the fuel of a fire that will never be quenched. The language is indeed figurative, but not on that account less full of meaning.

I. In dilating upon these truths, I shall say little of the corporeal sufferings which await impenitent sinners beyond the grave. Such sufferings will certainly compose a part of the punishment; for their bodies shall come forth in the resurrection of damnation; as it is the servant of the soul, its tempter to many sins, and its instrument in committing them, there seems to be a manifest propriety in making them companions in punishment. But to the sufferings of the soul, the Scriptures chiefly refer. The clause-“where their worm dieth not”-intimates that the soul will suffer miseries, analogous to those which would be inflicted on a living body, by a multitude of reptiles constantly preying upon it; that as a dead body appears to produce the worms which consume it, so the soul dead in trespasses and sins, really produces the causes of its own misery. What are those causes, what is the gnawing worm?

1. its own passions and desires. That these are capable of preying upon the soul, and occasioning acute suffering, even in this life, need not be proved. Look at a man who is habitually peevish, fretful, and disappointed. Has he not gnawing worms already at his heart? Look at the envious, covetous, ambitious, proud; these passions make men miserable here; even while in this world there are many things calculated to soothe or divert men’s passions. Sometimes they meet with success, and this produces a transient calm; at another time, the objects which excite their passions are absent, and this allows quietness. Men have not always the leisure to indulge their passions; they are under the operations of causes which tend to restrain them, such as sleep. But suppose all these removed, deprived of sleep, success, and the objects which excite his strongest passions constantly before him, and all restraints gone. Would not such a man be miserable? Nothing inflames the passions of men more than suffering.

2. The gnawing worm includes the consciences of sinners. Conscience has inflicted terrible agony, as in the case of Judas. Here she speaks only at intervals; there without intermission. Here she may be stifled by scenes of business or amusement, sophistical arguments; but there will be no means of silencing her; she will see everything in the clear light of eternity. What a God she has offended, Saviour neglected, heaven lost. Well may this be compared to a gnawing worm.

II. Our Saviour speaks not only of a gnawing worm, but of an unquenchable fire. So far as the soul is concerned, this refers to a keen and constant sense of God’s presence and righteous displeasure. He says of Himself, “I am a consuming fire.”

III. We learn from the passage before us, that those sufferings will be endless. Their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. The passions and consciences of sinners endure as long as the soul of which they are a part. God lives forever, He must forever be displeased with sinners. “It is impossible that I should deserve it.” You know nothing of your sins, or of what sin deserves. As well might a man, who should put vipers into his bosom, complain of God because they stung him. Christ died to save them from their misery. (E. Payson, D. D.)

Preserving fire

Preserving fire, or salting with fire. Decay is a species of burning; and only those things that have been burnt, or cannot be burnt, will not decay.

I. Temptation is a preserving fire. The boy who has been sheltered at home is honest; but his integrity is not as firm as that of the honest merchant. The clay (Isaiah 64:8) is soft and plastic; but after it has been burnt in the furnace it will break before it will bend. All must pass through the fire of temptation. If you are to be a vessel of honour fit for the heavenly palace, the Lord must be your potter.

II. Affliction is a preserving fire. The metal comes forth from the furnace more useful (Malachi 3:3).

III. The day of judgment is also compared to a fire (1 Corinthians 3:13). Fire is a searching test. All paint, enamel, pretence of every kind, will melt before it. Its results are enduring. All must pass through the fiery ordeal. Only such works can stand as proceed from gospel love.

IV. Another preserving fire is the fire of hell. The misery of hell is two fold: sin and its punishment. (J. B. Converse.)

Their worm dieth not-Conscience in hell

It has been discovered that there are worms which eat and live upon stone. Many such have been found in a freestone wall in Normandy. So there is a worm in hell-conscience-which lives upon the stony heart of the condemned sinner, which gnaws with remorse all whom grace has not softened.


Verse 48

Mark 9:44; Mark 9:46; Mark 9:48

Where their worm dieth not.
-

The punishment of the wicked, dreadful and interminable

Some will say that this doctrine has no tendency to do good; it is idle to think of frightening men into religion. It is my duty not to decide what doctrines are likely to do good, but to preach such as I find in the Scriptures. I dare not pretend to be either more wise or more compassionate than our Saviour; and He thought it consistent, both with wisdom and compassion, to utter the words of our text. These expressions allude to the manner in which the Jews disposed of the bodies of the dead; placed in tombs they were consumed by worms; or on a funeral pile it was consumed by fire. You have seen this, but there is another death, of the soul. Those who die this death shall be preyed upon by worms which will never die, and become the fuel of a fire that will never be quenched. The language is indeed figurative, but not on that account less full of meaning.

I. In dilating upon these truths, I shall say little of the corporeal sufferings which await impenitent sinners beyond the grave. Such sufferings will certainly compose a part of the punishment; for their bodies shall come forth in the resurrection of damnation; as it is the servant of the soul, its tempter to many sins, and its instrument in committing them, there seems to be a manifest propriety in making them companions in punishment. But to the sufferings of the soul, the Scriptures chiefly refer. The clause-“where their worm dieth not”-intimates that the soul will suffer miseries, analogous to those which would be inflicted on a living body, by a multitude of reptiles constantly preying upon it; that as a dead body appears to produce the worms which consume it, so the soul dead in trespasses and sins, really produces the causes of its own misery. What are those causes, what is the gnawing worm?

1. its own passions and desires. That these are capable of preying upon the soul, and occasioning acute suffering, even in this life, need not be proved. Look at a man who is habitually peevish, fretful, and disappointed. Has he not gnawing worms already at his heart? Look at the envious, covetous, ambitious, proud; these passions make men miserable here; even while in this world there are many things calculated to soothe or divert men’s passions. Sometimes they meet with success, and this produces a transient calm; at another time, the objects which excite their passions are absent, and this allows quietness. Men have not always the leisure to indulge their passions; they are under the operations of causes which tend to restrain them, such as sleep. But suppose all these removed, deprived of sleep, success, and the objects which excite his strongest passions constantly before him, and all restraints gone. Would not such a man be miserable? Nothing inflames the passions of men more than suffering.

2. The gnawing worm includes the consciences of sinners. Conscience has inflicted terrible agony, as in the case of Judas. Here she speaks only at intervals; there without intermission. Here she may be stifled by scenes of business or amusement, sophistical arguments; but there will be no means of silencing her; she will see everything in the clear light of eternity. What a God she has offended, Saviour neglected, heaven lost. Well may this be compared to a gnawing worm.

II. Our Saviour speaks not only of a gnawing worm, but of an unquenchable fire. So far as the soul is concerned, this refers to a keen and constant sense of God’s presence and righteous displeasure. He says of Himself, “I am a consuming fire.”

III. We learn from the passage before us, that those sufferings will be endless. Their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. The passions and consciences of sinners endure as long as the soul of which they are a part. God lives forever, He must forever be displeased with sinners. “It is impossible that I should deserve it.” You know nothing of your sins, or of what sin deserves. As well might a man, who should put vipers into his bosom, complain of God because they stung him. Christ died to save them from their misery. (E. Payson, D. D.)

Preserving fire

Preserving fire, or salting with fire. Decay is a species of burning; and only those things that have been burnt, or cannot be burnt, will not decay.

I. Temptation is a preserving fire. The boy who has been sheltered at home is honest; but his integrity is not as firm as that of the honest merchant. The clay (Isaiah 64:8) is soft and plastic; but after it has been burnt in the furnace it will break before it will bend. All must pass through the fire of temptation. If you are to be a vessel of honour fit for the heavenly palace, the Lord must be your potter.

II. Affliction is a preserving fire. The metal comes forth from the furnace more useful (Malachi 3:3).

III. The day of judgment is also compared to a fire (1 Corinthians 3:13). Fire is a searching test. All paint, enamel, pretence of every kind, will melt before it. Its results are enduring. All must pass through the fiery ordeal. Only such works can stand as proceed from gospel love.

IV. Another preserving fire is the fire of hell. The misery of hell is two fold: sin and its punishment. (J. B. Converse.)

Their worm dieth not-Conscience in hell

It has been discovered that there are worms which eat and live upon stone. Many such have been found in a freestone wall in Normandy. So there is a worm in hell-conscience-which lives upon the stony heart of the condemned sinner, which gnaws with remorse all whom grace has not softened.


Verse 49

Mark 9:49

For everyone shall he salted with fire.

The salt and the fire

The Lord’s people are represented as being themselves offered up to Him, as His spiritual sacrifices, both by Isaiah and St. Paul. It was a custom ordained of God in the Levitical code (Leviticus 2:13) that “Every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt.” Collecting, then, the points to which we have adverted, we have seen that believers are represented as the Lord’s sacrifices: that His sacrifices were anciently purified by the typical salt; that the object of the salt, or grace, is to preserve them from the corruption of the worm of indwelling sin and the fire of ultimate judgment; and that in the whole chamber of imagery is inculcated the duty of sacrificing the lusts of the flesh in order to our being edified in the spirit, and promoting the edification of others. We recognize in the text a force and a beauty not discernible to the superficial student, in the declaration of the gracious effect of those sanctifying trials and mortifications in which all believers have their share; “for everyone shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.” Let us, therefore, consider the teaching of the Spirit in this text to imply, first, an awful denunciation on the man of unmortified lusts-“Every” such “one shall be salted with fire;” secondly, the gracious result of fleshly mortification-“every sacrifice shall be salted with salt;” that is, every believer who “presents his body a living sacrifice,” “shall be salted with salt”-that is, not with fire to consume, but with salt to preserve. This is the contrast: on the one hand penal destruction; on the other, gracious preservation.

I. The career of unfortified lust entails a fearful penalty. This declaration of Scripture is continually receiving fearful illustrations in the premonitory dealings of Providence. Days of indulgence are succeeded by nights of pain; a youth of profligacy, if not prematurely cut short, entails a feeble, diseased, and miserable old age. Sin receives judgment by installments; the salting fire of the Divine displeasure falls upon the wretched sinner, in many a striking instance, even in this life, presenting, like the shock before the earthquake, prelusive warning of the catastrophe about to follow. It is admitted that the expression in the text is figurative. But the figures of Scripture never exaggerate the facts of reality. The lost, unransomed soul, exposed to the searching and protracted agonies of a fire that salts, that is, perpetuates the anguish of its miserable victims, exhibits the torments of the unbelieving in a broad glare of horror, as if the letters were illuminated by the reflection of “the lake that burneth.”

II. The gracious effects of fleshly mortification. The believer is to be also salted, but with constraining love, with preserving grace, with sanctifying trial. The grace of mortification is that to the soul which salt is to the body; it preserves it from putrefaction, and renders it savoury. Inferences:

1. That there is in every believer some lust to be subdued-for “every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.” We do not apply salt except to those things which have a natural tendency to corruption. If believers must have “salt in themselves,” it follows that there is in them the principle of corruption. One man is attacked through the medium of his ambition; the lust of secular distinction desolates his heart of all piety. Another man is drawn aside by his avarice. Another man is seduced by his animal lusts, and the unchecked vagrancy of the eye. Another man is tempted through the medium of temper, and his ebullitions of frightful rage shock the ears of his household. Another man is led astray by his pride. Lastly, the figure suggests the doctrine, that the spiritual health of the believer is to be promoted and attained by fleshly mortification. It is by this means that the soul is to be clarified from sin and preserved in grace. (J. B. Owen, M. A.)

A double salting, either with fire or with salt

Every man that lives in the world must be a sacrifice to God. The wicked are a sacrifice to God’s justice; but the godly are a sacrifice dedicated and offered to Him, that they may be capable of His mercy. The first are a sacrifice against their wills, but the godly are a free-will offering, a sacrifice not taken but offered. The grace of mortification is very necessary for all those who are devoted to God.

I. That the true notion of a Christian is that he is a sacrifice, or a thank offering to God (Romans 12:1). Under the law, beasts were offered to God, but in the gospel men are offered to Him; not as beasts were, to be destroyed, slain, and burnt in the fire, but to be preserved for God’s use and service. In offering anything to God, two things were of consideration.

1. There is a separation of ourselves from a common use. The beast was separated from the flock or herd for this special purpose (2 Corinthians 5:15).

2. There is a dedicating ourselves to God, to serve, please, honour, and glorify Him.

We must be sincere in this-

1. Because the truth of our dedication will be known by our use; many give up themselves to God, but in the use of themselves there is no such matter; they carry it as though their tongues were their own (Psalms 12:4).

2. Because God will one day call us to account.

3. Because we are under the eye and inspection of God.

II. That the grace of mortification is the true salt wherewith this offering and sacrifice should be seasoned.

1. Salt preserves flesh from putrefaction by consuming that superfluous and excrementitious moisture, which otherwise would soon corrupt: and so the salt of the covenant doth prevent and subdue those lusts which would cause us to deal unfaithfully with God. Alas! meat is not so apt to be tainted as we are to be corrupted and weakened in our resolutions to God, without the mortifying grace of the Spirit.

2. Salt hath an acrimony, and doth macerate things and pierce into them; and so the grace of mortification is painful and troublesome to the carnal nature. We either must suffer the pains of hell or the pains of mortification; we must be salted with fire or salted with salt. It is better to pass to heaven with difficulty and austerity, than to avoid these difficulties and run into sin, and so be in danger of eternal fire. The strictness of Christianity is nothing so grievous as the punishment of sin.

3. Salt makes things savoury, so grace makes us savoury, which may be interpreted with respect either to God or man. We must be seasoned by the grace of Christ, and so become acceptable in the sight of God; the more we are salted and mortified, the more we shall do good to others.

III. There is a necessity of this salt in all those that have entered into covenant with God and have dedicated and devoted themselves to Him.

1. By our covenant vow we are bound to the strictest duties, and that upon the highest penalties. The duty to which we are bound is very strict.

2. The abundance of sin that yet remains in us, and the marvellous activity of it in our souls. We cannot get rid of this cursed inmate till our tabernacle be dissolved, and this house of clay tumbled into the dust, Well, then, since sin is not nullified, it must be mortified.

3. Consider the sad consequences of letting sin alone, both either as to further sin or punishment. If lust be not mortified, it grows outrageous. Sins prove mortal if they be not mortified. The unmortified person spares the sin and destroys his own soul; the sin lives, but he dies. Now to make application.

I. For the reproof of those that cannot abide to hear of mortification. The unwillingness and impatience of this doctrine may arise from several causes.

1. From sottish atheism and unbelief.

2. It may come from libertinism. And these harden their hearts in sinning by a mistaking the gospel.

3. It may arise from another cause, the passionateness of carnal affections. There is no hope; it is an evil and I must bear it. Consider the doleful condition of those that indulge their carnal affections; and that either threatened by God, or executed upon the wicked.

The church the salt of the earth

The first expression demanding our attention is “salt.” Salt is an object of external nature, endued with certain properties. It possesses the property of penetration into the masses of animal matter, to which it shall be applied in sufficient abundance and with sufficient perseverance; and it possesses the property of extending a preserving savour as it pervades the mass. Here is the basis of its suitability to represent Christ’s church on the earth, a characteristic of the population of this fallen world is, moral corruption. The men of this world, even those who are most advanced in morals and in respectability amongst their fellows, are nevertheless described in the Word of God as being corrupt according to their deceitful lusts and defilements. Selfishness, ostentation, envy, jealousy, taint their boasted morals; and as surely as a mass of animal matter left to its natural tendencies in our atmosphere would proceed from one degree of corruption to another, until it reached the putrefaction of dissolution, so surely would the population of this world, left to its own natural tendency, make progress from one degree of moral corruption to another, until they all reached the putrefaction of damnation. Christ’s church is the salt of the earth; it is the Lord’s preserve and the Lord’s preservative. This brings us to the next word here, which is “fire.” Fire is another object of external nature possessing certain properties. It possesses the properties of penetrating and melting, and separating the dross from the pure ore; and so in this respect it becomes suitable as an emblem of sanctified affliction, which separates a man from the common and downward course of a heedless and worldly population, and causes him to pause and meditate, and take himself to task, and look around and look before him, and to fall upon his knees and cry to God to have mercy upon him. I have said sanctified affliction; because affliction itself, considered apart from the special use made of it by the Spirit of God, has no such power over a man’s character. “The sorrow of this world worketh death;” mere trouble considered in its natural operation upon man, however it may subdue him for a season, however it may make him pause in his course, does not change him. But this is not all, the Lord says in our text. “Everyone”-not every Christian only, but-“everyone shall be salted with fire.” This leads us to remark, that fire possesses other properties, the power of consuming the stubble and all the rubbish; and it is thereby suitable to express those tremendous judgments, which shall overwhelm the adversaries at the second glorious appearing of the Lord Jesus, when, as the apostle sublimely tells us, “The Lord shall be revealed from heaven in flames of fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.” Every ungodly man shall, as it were, be salted with fire-shall be seasoned with fire-rendered inconsumable in the fire that burneth-preserved in burning. Salted with fire! This is a tremendous saying, a dreadful thought. Immortalized in endurance! preserved from burning out! Salted with fire! Well, well might He call upon them to cut off right hands, pluck out right eyes, to separate themselves from the dearest lust, from the most fostered and cherished indulgence, rather than be cast into that eternal fire. But how shall this exhortation be obeyed? There is no native power in man, whereby he can rescue himself from what he loves. He must love something; and except he be supplied with something better to love, he must go on to follow what he now loves. It is only the power of something he loves better, that can separate him from what he loves well. What can induce him to part with his sin, which is as precious to his corrupt heart as his eyes are to the enjoyment of his body? What can induce him to do it? Everyone then, both he that believeth and he that believeth not, shall be salted with fire. He that believeth shall be purified by affliction, and he that believeth not shall be immortalized in the endurance of agony. “And every sacrifice shall be salted with fire.” Here is another figure, not derived from external nature, but derived from the Mosaic ritual-a sacrifice. A sacrifice is an offering devoted to God. Hence a sacrifice is suitable to represent a member of Christ’s Church. He is not separated from the common actions and lawful actions of the world, for that would be to take him out of the world; but he is separated from the common state of mind in which those actions are performed. Instead of withdrawing from the duties of life, it engages him in them for conscience’ sake, as well as for convenience or reputation or gum. It makes every action of his life religious; it invests the very drudgeries of the lowest grade of life with a sanctity, as being done in the service of God. So then, a believer becomes a sacrifice, and so the Apostle Paul having enlarged upon the glorious blessings of the gospel, whereby men are so separated, improves the statement thus: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service; and be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” All the sacrifices of the Jewish ritual were seasoned with salt. In the second chapter of the book of Leviticus and at the thirteenth verse you will find the commandment, “And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thy offerings thou shalt offer salt.” “Every sacrifice,” every true believer, “shall be salted with salt.” Now what is the force of this expression, “salted with salt”? We have seen that to be salted with fire signifies to be personally purified; to be salted with salt signifies to be made relatively a blessing. The Christian is salted with fire for his own personal purification, and he is salted with salt for his extended usefulness among others. “He shall be blessed and he shall be a blessing,” as was said of the father of the faithful, Abraham. We inherit this blessing of Abraham, to be salted with fire and to be salted with salt. To this our Lord clearly refers, when He calls His church “the salt of the earth.” (H. McNeile, M. A.)

How is the body, it may be said, to become a sacrifice

Let the eye look upon no evil thing, and it has become a sacrifice; let the tongue speak nothing filthy, and it has become an offering; let thy hand do no lawless deed, and it has become a whole burnt offering. Or, rather, this is not enough, but we must have good works also. Let the hand do alms, the mouth bless them that curse one; and the hearing find leisure evermore for the lections of Scripture. For sacrifice allows of no unclean thing. Sacrifice is a first fruit of the other actions. Let us then from our hands, and feet, and mouth, and all other members yield a first fruit unto God. (Chrysostom.)

Preservation from corruption

Christ is not, in either of these terms (salted, fire), referring to the literal realities. It is salting and fire, metaphorically viewed, of which He speaks. Among the various uses of salt, two are popularly outstanding-seasoning and preserving from corruption. The reference here is to the latter. In hot countries, in particular, killed meat hastens to a tainted condition, and could not be preserved from spoiling, for any appreciable length of time, were it not for salting. It is on this antiseptic property of salt that Christ’s representation is founded. Every one of His disciples shall be preserved from corruption by fire. The fire referred to, however, is not penal, like the inextinguishable fire of Gehenna. It is intentionally purificatory, But, though not penal, it is painful. It scorches, and pierces to the quick. What, then, is this fire? It is the unsparing spirit of self-sacrifice-the spirit that parts, for righteousness’ sake, with a hand, a foot, an eye. Every disciple of Christ is preserved from corruption, and consequent everlasting destruction, by unsparing self-sacrifice. (J. Morison, D. D.)


Verse 50

Mark 9:50

Salt is good.

Have salt in yourselves

This is only another form of exhorting Christians to have strength of character as Christians. But since a strong character, in the spiritual as in the natural man, is apt to come into collision with others equally strong, our Lord cautions His disciples against any breach of the law of love. Staunch they must be in their adherence to principle; but they may not be quarrelsome. “Have peace one with another.”

1. The salt of self-denial.

2. The salt of energy.

3. The salt of truthfulness. (Dean Goulburn.)

Salt

I. Look at what is here so expressively symbolized. Salt is necessary to sacrifice.

1. Christ is the symbol of the covenant of everlasting mercy, but of everlasting mercy as the basis of a sinner’s new life.

2. Salt symbolizes not only God’s covenant of mercy with man, but man’s covenant with God. The life of the animal was devoted and offered with salt to signify-not only the Divine fact of atonement, but the human fact of self-surrender: and the worshipper said, “I have given the life of the animal to Thee to signify that henceforth my own life is forever Thine.”

3. Salt is also the principle of counteractive grace-“Have salt in yourselves.”

4. Salt signifies the preventive, corrective, life-nourishing power of the Christian society in the world-“Ye are the salt of the earth.”

5. Salt is also the principle of peace. It destroys the unbenevolent passions.

II. The Saviour’s lesson concerning the deterioration of the salt.

1. The possibility of deterioration-“If the salt have lost its savour.”

2. Christ marks here three things as characteristic of men in this state.

True, yet tender-Tender, yet true

The two principal terms are salt and peace.

I. The meaning of each. Salt as a metaphor applied to human character in the New Testament, signifies in general the grace of God sanctifying the whole nature, and in particular the sterner virtues-faithfulness, boldness, righteousness, truth, purity. The term indicates holiness on its harder side; and holiness has a hard side, for it must needs be strong. In this use of the analogy the preserving power of salt is the predominating idea. Salt appears here as the stern, sharp antagonist of all corruption. Christians baptized into the Spirit of Christ act as salt in a tainted world. In union with the virtue that preserves, there is a pungency that pains. You may observe, however, that salt does not irritate whole skin. Apply it to an open sore, and the patient winces; but a healthy member of a living body does not shrink from its touch. A similar distinction obtains in the moral region. Stringent faithfulness in the conduct of his neighbour will not offend a just man: but those who do not give justice do not like to get it. Purity in contact with impurity makes the impure miserable. Peace. Surely it is not necessary to explain what this word means. You may comprehend it without the aid of critical analysis. It is like the shining sun or the sweet breath of early summer; it is its own expositor. Wherever it is, it makes its presence and its nature known. As the traveller who has missed his way thinks more of the light, and understands it better, while he is groping in the dark than he did in the blaze of noon; so those best understand and value peace who suffer the horrors of war. You know the worth of it when you know the want of it. The greatest peace is, peace with the Greatest; the greatest peace is, peace with God. The Mediator who makes it is the greatest Peacemaker. Peace-including all the characteristics of a Christian which make for peace-is holiness on its softer side; and holiness has a soft side, that it may win the world.

II. The reciprocal relation between salt in ourselves and peace with one another. To a certain extent these two are opposites; peace maintained with your neighbour is antagonist to the vigour of salt in yourselves. Accordingly error appears in two opposite directions. One man has so much salt in himself that he cannot maintain peace with his neighbours; another man is so soft and peaceable towards all that he manifests scarcely any of the faithfulness which is indicated by salt. It is instructive to examine the limits and extent of this antagonism. Faithfulness does sometimes disturb peace; and peace is sometimes obtained at the expense of faithfulness. It is not inherent in the nature, but is introduced by sin. When Christ has made an end of sin the contradiction will disappear from the new world. In heaven all are peaceful and yet pure; pure and yet peaceful. There the salt does not disturb, because there is no corruption; peace does not degenerate into indifference, for there is no vile appetite to be indulged. Meanwhile, that which comes as a curse is, under the arrangements of Providence, converted into a blessing. As toil to keep down thorns and thistles is a useful exercise for physical health, the effort to maintain faithfulness without breaking peace keeps the spirit healthful and fits for heaven. Every effort made by the disciple of Christ to soften his own faithfulness and invigorate his own tenderness goes to increase the treasures which he shall enjoy at God’s right hand. Watch on the right side, and on the left.

1. On the side of peace. There cannot be too much gentle peace making in the character and conduct of a man. But if the folds of our peace are so large, and thick, and warm, as to overlay and smother our faithfulness, the peacemakers are not blest by God, and are not blessings to the world.

2. On the side of truth and faithfulness. There cannot be too much of faithfulness in the character of a Christian; but even faithfulness to truth may become hurtful, if it is dissociated from the gentleness of Christ. Similar antagonisms in the system of nature constitute at once the exercise and the evidence of the Creator’s skill. Results are frequently obtained through the union of antagonist forces neutralizing each other. A familiar example is supplied by the centripetal and centrifugal forces, which insure the stability of the solar system. Take another case, equally instructive, though not so obvious. In the structure of a bird, with a view to the discharge of its functions, two qualities, in a great measure reciprocally antagonistic, must be united; these are strength and lightness. As a general rule, strength is incompatible with lightness, and lightness incompatible with strength. You cannot increase the one without proportionally diminishing the other. The body of the bird must float in the air, therefore it must be proportionally lighter than quadrupeds or fishes; but the creature must sustain itself for long periods in the atmosphere, and perform journeys of vast length, therefore its members must be strong. The structure of a bird, accordingly, exhibits a marvellous contrivance for the combination of the utmost possible lightness. Everyone is familiar with the structure of the feathers that compose the wing. The quill barrel gives you an example of a minimum of material so disposed as to produce a maximum of strength. The bones of birds are formed on the same plan. They are greater in circumference than the corresponding bones of other animals, but they are hollower in the heart. In iron castings we repeat the process which we have learned from nature. This union of antagonists for the production of a common beneficent result is like the labour of a Christian life. Let the timid and retiring nature stir up his soul to a greater measure of truthful courage, without letting any of his gentleness go. Let the vine of his tenderness cling to an oak of stern faithfulness; it will thus bear more fruit than if it were allowed to trail on the ground. The arms that impart strength to the chair only hurt the occupant if they lack the cushion that ought to cover them. For strength, there should be an iron hand in the velvet glove; but for softness, a velvet glove should be on the iron hand when it grasps the flesh of a brother. Self-love, like a huge lump of iron concealed under the deck right below the ship’s compass, draws the magnet aside; thus the life takes a wrong direction, and the soul is shipwrecked. Self-love draws the life now to the right and now to the left; the errors lie not all on one side. One man, soft from selfishness, basely sacrifices truth and duty for ease; another, hard from selfishness, bristles all over with sharp points, like thorns that tear the flesh of the passenger, and when he has kindled discord among brethren, calls his own bad temper faithfulness to truth. There is no limit to the aberration of a human judgment under the bias of self-interest. It will not scruple to dispute the distinction between black and white, if it can thereby hope to gain its selfish end. Oh, how precious are these words of our Lord, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.” It is easier to explore the sources of the Nile, than to discover the true motives whence our own actions spring; and easier to turn the Nile from his track, than to turn the volume of thoughts and purposes which issue from a human heart and constitute the body of a human life. We cheat ourselves and our neighbours as to the character of our motives and the meaning of our acts. Some people mistake acid for salt; their own passions for godly zeal. Jehu drives furiously forward to purify the administration of the kingdom; but it is a cruel, selfish ambition that spurs him on. When such a man scatters a shower of acid from his tongue, and sees that his neighbours are hurt by the biting drops, he points to their contortions, and exclaims, See how pungent my salt is! The true savour is in my salt; for see how these people smart under its sting! Ah, the acid, in common with salt, makes a tender place smart in a brother; but it possesses not in common with salt, the faculty of warding off corruption. Itself corrupts and undermines; it corrodes and destroys all that it drops upon. “Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God.” (W. Arnot.)

Saltless salt

In the Valley of Salt, which is about four hours from Aleppo, there is a kind of dry crust of salt, which sounds, when the horses go upon it, like frozen snow when it is walked upon. Along on one side of the valley, viz., that towards Gibul, there is a small precipice about two men’s lengths, occasioned by the continual taking away the salt; and in this you may see how the veins of it lie. I broke a piece of it, of which the part that was exposed to the rain, sun, and air, though it had the sparks and particles of salt, yet it had perfectly lost its savour. The inner part, which was connected with the rock, retained its savour, as I found by proof. (Maundrell.)

Seasoning characters

Whatever may be the case with literal salt, Christ is referring to spiritual salt, which undoubtedly, in so far as it consists of a phase of character, may be metamorphosed into its negative or contradictory. Such metamorphic changes of character are possible in two directions; They may be realized upwardly, in bad beings becoming good; or downwardly, in good beings becoming bad. Hatred may be transformed into love, or love into hatred. In either case there is “conversion” from contrary to contrary. (J. Morison, D. D.)

Salt is good

Every Christian requires as a sacrifice the salt of fire; the salt of fiery trial, the salt of searching, fiery self-restraint, refusing sin, breaking off from evil, cutting off the right hand, plucking out the right eye, preferring the fire of self-denial on earth to the terrible fire reserved for impenitent sinners in hell. Such salt, such searching, pungent, self-purifying salt is good; but, if it have lost its saltness, wherewith will ye season it? If those who are bound in covenant with God to refrain from sin, and offer themselves holy sacrifices to Him, yield instead of resisting, there is no acceptableness in them, God will not receive them; shunning the earthly fires of self-government and self-denial, there is nothing for them to look forward to but that awful hell fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels. This seems to be the true and just method of paraphrasing our Lord’s words about salt, with their context, as they occur in the ninth chapter of St. Mark. (G. Moberly, D. C. L.)

The victory of holiness

Do they not show that to be a Christian, a Christian such as God approves and will accept, there needs heroism? Yes, not less than a true heroism of spirit, maintaining a visible or secret strife against evil, and conquering it, even to the loss of hand, foot, or eye, even to the destruction of friendship, if so be, the loss of love, the relinquishment even of life. Does it not show that this heroism of spirit, this clear, bright, searching salt of hearts, is required of all? (G. Moberly, D. C. L.)

A bargain of salt

I. That an inward seasoning with religion and efface is such a thing as all the disciples of Christ Jesus must endeavour for.

1. Teaching disciples, ministers must be well seasoned within with the power of godliness.

2. The same is to be endeavoured for by every Christian, that is, every Christian must labour so as to have a name and a show of godliness without, so that he feels the power of godliness within.

The salting process in the soul

For thine own particular, learn of the housewife; if there be anything in the house needs seasoning, she falls to work with the salt forthwith. Look into thyself, see what corrupt affections there be in thee, what careless desires, what inordinate motions, what crookedness of will, what barrenness of spiritual grace, a thousand to one if the salt were good which thou broughtest home, it will do thee service for the bringing of those corrupt humours to a better temper; chiefly take note of this. I am not ashamed to use this household kitchen similitude still. She that powdereth meat to keep it sweet, look what places are most bloody and moisty; there she ever puts in most salt, such parts are most apt to putrify. So do thou, consider with thyself what is thy chiefest sin, thy most prevailing fault, thy most strong corruption, that which thou mayest call by David’s phrase, “My wickedness”; thou shalt soon know it by the strength of the affection to it, and thy unwillingness to forego it. Oh, clap in, put on store of salt there; rub it in hard. If thou hast heard of any judgment, or reproof, thrust it on close, it may be it may smart a little; it is no matter, better so than ever ache, this will soak out the rank humours, and make thee become a sweet lump before the Lord. It is a fault many times, men sprinkle a little salt of doctrine upon themselves here and there superficially, they consider not what be their master, their bloody, their reigning sins, they search not within and without to see where salt needs especially, and so they become loathsome through the lack of an effectual powdering. Neither is this all required in the use of this salt for one’s own particular, but there is also a more general and an universal use to be made thereof. What day is there in the family, wherein there is no use of common salt? Truth is, there is neither day in the life of a Christian, nor action in that day, wherein this spiritual salt can justly be thought superfluous. Every sacrifice must be salted with salt, it was a rule of the ancient law. (Samuel Hieron.)

Home salting

Good it were if masters of families would think themselves bound to carry home some of this salt, and bestow it on those that are of their household charge. (Samuel Hieron.)

That amongst the disciples of Christ there must be mutual peace

Our God is the God of Peace. Our Saviour is the Prince of Peace. The gospel which is preached amongst us, is the gospel of peace. The substance of it is glad tidings of peace. Our calling is in peace. They which are the Lord’s are called the sons of peace; so we ought all to endeavour to keep “the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace”; and to live in peace. Christians must follow peace with all men; and if it be possible have peace with all men; and therefore among themselves they must seek it, and ensue it much more. I must open this as the former doctrine by distinguishing upon Christ’s disciples. Some are preachers of peace, some are professors of peace. Let me show you how this doctrine reacheth unto both.

The teachers of peace must have peace one towards another

Their agreement, their peace, their consent, is a great motive to the people to entertain their doctrine. Hereupon was that use of Paul’s, to prefix the names of others with his own, as “Paul and our brother Sostenes;” “Paul and our brother Timotheus;” “Paul and all the brethren that are with me;” “Paul and Silvanus and Timotheus.” The ease stands in the building of the spiritual body, as it did in the typical body, in fighting the Lord’s battle, by those whose office it is to fight the good fight of faith, as in the fighting for Israel against Ammon. The agreement of the builders will advance the building both with speed and beauty; the joint proceeding of the leaders will undoubtedly prevail against the common enemy. Solomon’s temple was builded without noise; neither hammer, nor axe, nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was in building; a type, I doubt not, of the stillness in respect of freedom from mutual contentions which ought to be amongst pastors. Again, the want of this agreement and peace will be a great prejudice to the growth of the truth. The means used in God’s wisdom to hinder Babel’s building was a strife of tongues among the builders; so when those which are the builders of the spiritual House of God, the Church, are rent asunder in affection, the work cannot go forward as it should. The shepherds being divided, the sheep must needs be scattered. This to prove that the teachers of peace must have peace one towards another. God hath sent us praedicare, not praeliari, to work and not to wrangle; while we strive the devil works for himself: atheism, popery, do advantage themselves by our dissentions. There must be mutual peace among the professors of peace, the places which I first named in the beginning of the doctrine do enjoin it. This is the mark by which they are known. “By this shall all men know that ye be my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” To love one another, and to have peace one towards another, are all one. Be wise and learn how to judge and what to think in this point of ministerial consent and peace, that you may not easily stumble through mistaking. Here, therefore, in order, I pray heartily observe these particulars. First, that consent and agreement of teachers is no certain mark of truth in that wherein they consent; Aaron and all the other Levites consented to the making of the golden calf, four hundred prophets joined together to persuade good success to Ahab, yet that was false which they persuaded. Our Saviour was condemned by a common consent of elders and priests. Secondly, that it is possible for some dissention to fall out sometimes even amongst the best men. A controversy betwixt Peter and Paul, betwixt Peter and the other Apostles and brethren at Jerusalem. The difference between Paul and Barnabas was very eager. Dissentions in Corinth. Great and vehement quarrels betwixt Austen and Hierome, Cyril and Theodoret, Chrysostom and Theophilact, as histories and their own writings testify. It is so; first, by the cunning of the devil, who, to stop the course of the gospel, laboureth to sow the seeds of dissention. Secondly, by reason of the remainders of corruption which are in all; there is much ignorance and self-love even in the best, and these things cause differences, while men either see not the truth. That among professors and preachers of religion there is, or may be, a three-fold consent. First, in one faith and doctrine; namely, a consent of judgment. Secondly, in affection. Thirdly, in speech; namely, when their teaching and manner of holding and defending of points of doctrines is the same. (Samuel Hieron.)

One essential

“Salt is good, but if the salt have lost its saltness wherewith will ye season it?” In every good thing there is one supreme essential, besides much that is of minor importance. Let that one element be lacking, and all the rest is a mockery. If sugar be not sweet, if fruit have no flavour, if meat be without nutriment, what folly to give it commendation for any other quality! If a man lack manliness, if a woman lack womanliness, if a child lack childlikeness, praise for any other characteristic is little else than censure or a sneer. What is home without affection? What is friendship without mutual confidence? What is character without sincerity? What is salt without saltness? If you are a disciple of Christ the real question is, How much of Christian discipleship is there in you? Everything else-all your popularity, all your supposed usefulness, all your zeal in good works-is something outside of the only that is really worth taking into account in an estimate of your worth as a disciple of Christ.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Mark 9:4". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/mark-9.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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