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Expositions of Holy Scripture by Alexander Maclaren

Part 5 out of 12

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desire to live noble lives, if you have been roused

'To follow knowledge, like a sinking star,
Beyond the furthest bounds of human thought,'

or if in any way you are going through the world with your eyes
looking for something else than the world's gross good, and are
seeking for the many pearls, I beseech you to lay this truth to
heart, that you will never find what you seek, until you understand
that the many have not it to give you, and that the One has. And
when Christ draws near to you and says, 'Whatsoever things are
lovely and of good report, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever
things are venerable, if thou seekest them, take Me, and thou wilt
find them all,' I beseech you, accept Him. There are two ways of
finding the treasure. It is flashed on unexpectant eyes, and it is
disclosed to seeking souls.

III. And now, lastly, let us look at the point where the parables

There are two ways of finding; there is only one way of getting. The
one man went and sold all that he had and bought the field. Never
mind about the morality of the transaction: that has nothing to do
with our Lord's purpose. Perhaps it was not quite honest of this man
to bury the treasure again, and then to go and buy the field for
less than it was worth, but the point is that, however a soul is
brought to see that God in Christ is all that he needs, there is
only one way of getting Him, and that is, 'sell all that thou hast.'

'Then it is barter, is it? Then it is salvation by works after all?'
No! To 'sell all that thou hast' is first, to abandon all hope of
acquiring the treasure by anything that thou hast. We buy it when we
acknowledge that we have nothing of our own to buy it with. Buy it
'without money and without price'; buy it by yielding your hearts;
buy it by ceasing to cling to earth and creatures, as if they were
your good. That trust in Jesus Christ, which is the condition of
salvation is selling 'all that thou hast.' Self is 'all that thou
hast.' Abandon self and clutch Him, and the treasure is thine. But
the initial act of faith has to be carried on through a life of
self-denial and self-sacrifice, and the subjection of self-will,
which is the hardest of all, and the submission of one's self
altogether to the kingdom of God and to its King. If we do thus we
shall have the treasure, and if we do not thus we shall not.

Surely it is reasonable to fling away paste pearls for real ones.
Surely it is reasonable to fling away brass counters for gold coins.
Surely, in all regions of life, we willingly sacrifice the second
best in order to get the very best. Surely if the wealth which is in
God is more precious than all besides, you have the best of the
bargain, if you part with the world and yourselves and get Him. And
if, on the other hand, you stick to the second best and cleave to
yourselves and to this poor diurnal sphere and what it contains,
then I will tell you what your epitaph will be. It is written in one
of the Psalms, 'He shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at
his latter end shall be a fool.'

And there is a more foolish fool still--the man who, when he has
seen the treasure, flings another shovelful of earth upon it, and
goes away and does _not_ buy it, nor think anything more about
it. Dear brother, do not do that, but if, by God's help, any poor
words of mine have stirred anything in your hearts of recognition of
what your true wealth is, do not rest until you have done what is
needful to possess it, given away yourselves, and in exchange
received Christ, and in Him wealth for evermore.


'At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of
Jesus, 2. And said unto his servants, This is John the
Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore
mighty works do shew forth themselves in him. 3. For
Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him
in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife.
4. For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to
have her. 5. And when he would have put him to death,
he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a
prophet. 6. But when Herod's birthday was kept, the
daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased
Herod. 7. Whereupon he promised with an oath to give
her whatsoever she would ask. 8. And she, being before
instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John
Baptist's head in a charger. 9. And the king was sorry:
nevertheless for the oath's sake, and them which sat
with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her.
10. And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison.
11. And his head was brought in a charger, and given to
the damsel: and she brought it to her mother. 12. And
his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it,
and went and told Jesus.'--MATT. xiv. 1-12.

The singular indifference of the Bible to the fate of even its
greatest men is exemplified in the fact that the martyrdom of John
is only told incidentally, in explanation of Herod's alarm. But for
that he would apparently have dropped out of the narrative, as a man
sinks in the sea, without a bubble or a ripple. Christ is the sole
theme of the Gospels, and all others are visible only as His light
falls on them.

It took a long time for news of Christ to reach the ears of Herod.
Peasants hear of Him before princes, whose thick palace walls and
crowds of courtiers shut out truth. The first thing to note is the
alarm of the conscience-stricken king. We learn from the other
evangelists that there was a difference of opinion among the
attendants of Herod--not very good judges of a religious teacher--as
to who this new miracle-working Rabbi might be, but the tetrarch has
no hesitation. There is no proof that Herod was a Sadducee; but he
probably thought as little about a resurrection as if he had been,
and, in any case, did not expect dead men to be starting up again,
one by one, and mingling with the living. His conscience made a
coward of him, and his fear made that terrible which would else have
been thought impossible. In his terror he makes confidants of his
slaves, overleaping the barriers of position, in his need of some
ears to pour his fears into. He was right in believing that he had
not finished with John, and in expecting to meet him again with
mightier power to accuse and condemn. 'If 'twere done when 'tis
done,' says Macbeth; but it is not done. There is a resurrection of
deeds as well as of bodies, and all our buried badnesses will front
us again, shaking their gory locks at us, and saying that we did

Instead of following closely the narrative, we may best gather up
its lessons by considering the actors in the tragedy.

I. We see in Herod the depths of evil possible to a weak character.
The singular double which he, Herodias and John present to Ahab,
Jezebel and Elijah, has been often noticed. In both cases a weak
king is drawn in opposite directions by the stronger-willed
temptress at his side, and by the stern ascetic from the desert. How
John had found his way into 'kings' houses' we do not know; but, as
he carried thither his undaunted boldness of plain-spoken preaching
of morality and repentance, it was inevitable that he should soon
find his way from the palace to the dungeon. There must have been
some intercourse between Herod and him before his imprisonment, or
he could not have shaken the king's conscience with his blunt
denunciations. From the account in Mark, it would appear that, after
his imprisonment, he gained great influence over the tetrarch, and
led him some steps on the way of goodness. But Herod was 'infirm of
purpose,' and a beautiful fiend was at his side, and she had an iron
will sharpened to an edge by hatred, and knew her own mind, which
was murder. Between them, the weaker nature was much perplexed, and
like a badly steered boat, yawed in its course, now yielding to the
impulse from John, now to that from Herodias. Matthew attributes his
hesitation as to killing John to his fear of the popular voice,
which, no doubt, also operated. Thus he 'let I dare not wait upon I
would,' and had not strength of mind enough to hold to the one and
despise the other of his discordant counsellors. He was evidently a
sensual, luxurious, feeble-willed, easily frightened, superstitious
and cunning despot; and, as is always the case with such, he was
driven farther in evil than he meant or wished. He was entrapped
into an oath, and then, instead of saying, 'Promises which should
not have been made should not be kept,' he weakly consents, from
fantastic fear of what his guests will say of him, and unwillingly,
out of pure imbecility, stains his soul for ever with blood. In this
wicked world, weak men will always be wicked men; for it is less
trouble to consent than to resist, and there are more sirens to
whisper 'Come' than prophets to thunder, 'It is not lawful.'
Strength of will is needful for all noble life.

We may learn from Herod, also, how far we may go on the road of
obedience to God's will, and yet leave it at last. What became of
all his eager listening, of his partial obedience, of his care to
keep John safe from Herodias's malice? All vanished like early dew.
What became of his conscience-stricken alarms on hearing of Christ?
Did they lead to any deep convictions? They faded away, and left
him harder than before. Convictions not followed out ossify the
heart. If he had sent for Christ, and told Him his fears, all might
have been well. But he let them pass, and, so far as we know, they
never returned. He did meet Jesus at last, when Pilate sent him the
Prisoner, as a piece of politeness, and in what mood?--childish
pleasure at the chance of seeing a miracle. How did Jesus answer his
torrent of frivolous questions? 'He answered him nothing.' That sad
silence speaks Christ's knowledge that now even His words would be
vain to create one ripple of interest on the Dead Sea of Herod's
soul. By frivolity, lust, and neglect he had killed the germ of a
better life, and silence was the kindest answer which perfect love
could give him.

He shows us, too, the intimate connection of all sins. The common
root of every sin is selfishness, and the shapes which it takes are
protean and interchangeable. Lust dwells hard by hate. Sensual
crimes and cruelty are closely akin. The one vice which Herod would
not surrender, dragged after it a whole tangle of other sins. No sin
dwells alone. There is 'none barren among them.' They are
gregarious, and a solitary sin is more seldom seen than a single
swallow. Herod is an illustration, too, of a conscience
fantastically sensitive while it is dead to real crimes. He has no
twinges for his sin with Herodias, and no effective ones at killing
John, but he thinks it would be wrong to break his oath. The two
things often go together; and many a brigand in Calabria, who would
cut a throat without hesitation, would not miss mass, or rob without
a little image of the Virgin in his hat. We often make compensation
for easy indulgence in great sins by fussy scrupulosity about little
faults, and, like Herod, had rather commit murder than not be polite
to visitors.

II. The next actors in the tragedy are Herodias and her daughter. What
a miserable destiny to be gibbeted for ever by half a dozen sentences!
One deed, after which she no doubt 'wiped her mouth, and said, I have
done no harm,' has won for the mother an immortality of ignominy. Her
portrait is drawn in few strokes, but they are enough. In strength of
will and unscrupulous carelessness of human life, she is the sister of
Jezebel, and curiously like Shakespeare's awful creation, Lady Macbeth;
but she adds a stain of sensuous passion to their vices, which
heightens the horror. Her first marriage was with her full uncle; and
her second, if marriage it can be called when her husband and Herod's
wife were both living, was with her step-uncle, and thus triply
unlawful. John's remonstrance awoke no sense of shame in her, but only
malignant and murderous hate. Once resolved, no failures made her
swerve from her purpose. Hers was no passing fury, but cold-blooded,
deliberate determination. Her iron will and unalterable persistence
were accompanied by flexibility of resource. When one weapon failed,
she drew another from a full quiver. And the means which were finally
successful show not only her thorough knowledge of the weak man she
had to deal with, but her readiness to stoop to any degradation for
herself and her child to carry her point. 'A thousand claims to'
abhorrence 'meet in her, as mother, wife, and queen.' Many a shameless
woman would have shrunk from sullying a daughter's childhood, by
sending her to play the part of a shameless dancing-girl before a
crew of half-tipsy revellers, and from teaching her young lips to
ask for murder. But Herodias sticks at nothing, and is as insensible
to the duty of a mother as to that of a wife. If we put together these
features in her character, her hot animal passions, her cool inflexible
revenge, her cynical disregard of all decency, her deadness to natural
affection for her child, her ferocity and her cunning, we have a
hideous picture of corrupted womanhood. We cannot but wonder
whether, in after days, remorse ever did its merciful work upon
Herodias. She urged Herod to his ruin at last by her ambition, which
sought for him the title of king, and, with one redeeming touch of
faithfulness, went with him into dreary exile in Gaul. Perhaps
there, among strangers, and surrounded by the wreck of her projects,
and when the hot fire of passion had died down, she may have
remembered and repented her crime.

The criminality of the daughter largely depends upon her age, of
which we have no knowledge. Perhaps she was too mere a child to
understand the degradation of the dance, or the infamy of the
request which her, we hope, innocent and panting lips were tutored
to prefer. But, more probably, she was old enough to be her mother's
fellow-conspirator, rather than her tool, and had learned only too
well her lessons of impurity and cruelty. What chance had a young
life in such a sty of filth? When the mother becomes the devil's
deputy, what can the daughter grow up to be, but a worse edition of
her? This poor girl, so sinning, and so sinned against, followed in
Herodias's footsteps, and afterwards married, according to the
custom of the Herods, her uncle, Philip the tetrarch. She inherited
and was taught evil; that was her misfortune. She made it her own;
that was her crime. As she stands there, shameless and flushed, in
that hideous banqueting-hall, with her grim gift dripping red blood
on the golden platter, and wicked triumph gleaming in her dark eyes,
she suggests grave questions as to parents' responsibility for
children's sins, and is a living symbol of the degradation of art to
the service of vice, and of the power of an evil soul to make
hideous all the grace of budding womanhood.

III. There is something dramatically appropriate in the silent death
in the dungeon of the lonely forerunner. The faint noise of revelry
may have reached his ears, as he brooded there, and wondered if the
coming King would never come for his enlargement. Suddenly a gleam
of light from the opened door enters his cell, and falls on the
blade of the headsman's sword. Little time can be wasted, for
Herodias waits. With short preface the blow falls. The King has
come, and set His forerunner free, sending him to prepare His way
before Him in the dim regions beyond. A world where Herod sits in
the festal chamber, and John lies headless in the dungeon, needs
some one to set it right. When the need is sorest, the help is
nearest. Truth succeeds by the apparent failure of its apostle.
Herodias may stab the dead tongue, as the legend tells that she did,
but it speaks louder after death than ever. Herod kept his birthday
with drunken and bloody mirth; but it was a better birthday for his

IV. It needed some courage for John's disciples to come to that
gloomy, blood-stained fortress, and bear away the headless trunk
which scornful cruelty had flung out to rot unburied. When reverent
love and sorrow had finished their task, what was the little flock
without a shepherd to do? The possibility of their continued
existence as a company of disciples was at an end. They show by
their action that their master had profited from his last message to
Jesus. At once they turn to Him, and, no doubt, the bulk of them
were absorbed in the body of His followers. Sorrowful and bereaved
souls betake themselves naturally to His sweet sympathy for
soothing, and to His gentle wisdom for direction. The wisest thing
that any of us can do is to 'go and tell Jesus' our loneliness, and
let it bind us more closely to Him.


'And John's disciples came, and took up the body, and
buried it, and went and told Jesus.'--MATT. xiv. 12.

'And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear
and great joy.'--MATT. xxviii. 8.

There is a remarkable parallel and still more remarkable contrast
between these two groups of disciples at the graves of their
respective masters. John the Baptist's followers venture into the
very jaws of the lion to rescue the headless corpse of their
martyred teacher from a prison grave. They bear it away and lay it
reverently in its unknown sepulchre, and when they have done these
last offices of love they feel that all is over. They have no longer
a centre, and they disintegrate. There was nothing to hold them
together any more. The shepherd had been smitten, and the flock were
scattered. As a 'school' or a distinct community they cease to be,
and are mostly absorbed into the ranks of Christ's followers. That
sorrowful little company that turned from John's grave, perhaps
amidst the grim rocks of Moab, perhaps in his native city amongst
the hills of Judah, parted then, to meet no more, and to bear away
only a common sorrow that time would comfort, and a common memory
that time would dim.

The other group laid their martyred Master in His grave with as
tender hands and as little hope as did John's disciples. The bond
that held them together was gone too, and the disintegrating process
began at once. We see them breaking up into little knots, and soon
they, too, will be scattered. The women come to the grave to perform
the woman's office of anointing, and they are left to go alone.
Other slight hints are given which show how much the ties of
companionship had been relaxed, even in a day, and how certainly and
quickly they would have fallen asunder. But all at once a new
element comes in, all is changed. The earliest visitors to the
sepulchre leave it, not with the lingering sorrow of those who have
no more that they can do, but with the quick, buoyant step of people
charged with great and glad tidings. They come to it wrapped in
grief--they leave it with great joy. They come to it, feeling that
all was over, and that their union with the rest who had loved Him
was little more than a remembrance. They go away, feeling that they
are all bound together more closely than ever.

The grave of John was the end of a 'school.' The grave of Jesus was
the beginning of a Church. Why? The only answer is the message which
the women brought back from the empty sepulchre on that Easter day:
'The Lord is risen.' The whole history of the Christian Church, and
even its very existence, is unintelligible, except on the
supposition of the resurrection. But for that, the fate of John's
disciples would have been the fate of Christ's--they would have
melted away into the mass of the nation, and at most there would
have been one more petty Galilean sect that would have lived on for
a generation and died out when the last of His companions died. So
from these two contrasted groups we may fairly gather some thoughts
as to the Resurrection of Christ, as attested by the very existence
of a Christian Church, and as to the joy of that resurrection.

I. Now the first point to be considered is, that the conduct of
Christ's disciples after His death was exactly the opposite of what
might have been expected.

They held together. The natural thing for them to do would have been
to disband; for their one bond was gone; and if they had acted
according to the ordinary laws of human conduct, they would have
said to themselves, Let us go back to our fishing-boats and our
tax-gathering, and seek safety in separation, and nurse our sorrow
apart. A few lingering days might have been given to weep together
at His grave, and to assuage the first bitterness of grief and
disappointment; but when these were over, nothing could have
prevented Christianity and the Church from being buried in the same
sepulchre as Jesus. As certainly as the stopping up of the fountain
would empty the river's bed, so surely would Christ's death have
scattered His disciples. And that strange fact, that it did not
scatter them, needs to be looked well into and fairly accounted for
in some plausible manner. The end of John's school gives a parallel
which brings the singularity of the fact into stronger relief; and
looking at these two groups as they stand before us in these two
texts, the question is irresistibly suggested, Why did not the one
fall away into its separate elements, as the other did? The keystone
of the arch was in both cases withdrawn--why did the one structure
topple into ruin while the other stood firm?

Not only did the disciples of Christ keep united, but their
conceptions of Jesus underwent a remarkable change, after His death.
We might have expected, indeed, that, when memory began to work, and
the disturbing influence of daily association was withdrawn, the
same idealising process would have begun on their image of Him,
which reveals and ennobles the characters of our dear ones who have
gone away from us. Most men have to die before their true worth is
discerned. But no process of that sort will suffice to account for
the change and heightening of the disciples' thoughts about their
dead Lord. It was not merely that, when they remembered, they said,
Did not our hearts burn within us by the way while He talked with
us?--but that His death wrought exactly the opposite effect from
what it might have been expected to do. It ought to have ended their
hope that He was the Messiah, and we know that within forty-eight
hours it was beginning to do so, as we learn from the plaintive
words of disappointed and fading hope: 'We _trusted_ that it
had been He which should have redeemed Israel.' If, so early, the
cold conviction was stealing over their hearts that their dearest
expectation was proved by His death to have been a dream, what could
have prevented its entire dominion over them, as the days grew into
months and years? But somehow or other that process was arrested,
and the opposite one set in. The death that should have shattered
Messianic dreams confirmed them. The death that should have cast a
deeper shadow of incomprehensibleness over His strange and lofty
claims poured a new light upon them, which made them all plain and
clear. The very parts of His teaching which His death would have
made those who loved Him wish to forget, became the centre of His
followers' faith. His cross became His throne. Whilst He lived with
them they knew not what He said in His deepest words, but, by a
strange paradox, His death convinced them that He was the Son of
God, and that that which they had seen with their eyes, and their
hands had handled, was the Eternal Life. The cross alone could never
have done that. Something else there must have been, if the men were
sane, to account for this paradox.

Nor is this all. Another equally unlikely sequel of the death of
Jesus is the unmistakable moral transformation effected on the
disciples. Timorous and tremulous before, something or other touched
them into altogether new boldness and self-possession. Dependent on
His presence before, and helpless when He was away from them for an
hour, they become all at once strong and calm; they stand before the
fury of a Jewish mob and the threatenings of the Sanhedrim, unmoved
and victorious. And these brave confessors and saintly heroes are
the men who, a few weeks before, had been petulant, self-willed,
jealous, cowardly. What had lifted them suddenly so far above
themselves? Their Master's death? That would more naturally have
taken any heart or courage out of them, and left them indeed as
sheep in the midst of wolves. Why, then, do they thus strangely
blaze up into grandeur and heroism? Can any reasonable account be
given of these paradoxes? Surely it is not too much to ask of people
who profess to explain Christianity on naturalistic principles, that
they shall make the process clear to us by which, Christ being dead
and buried, His disciples were kept together, learned to think more
loftily of Him, and sprang at once to a new grandeur of character.
Why did not they do as John's disciples did, and disappear? Why was
not the stream lost in the sand, when the head-waters were cut off?

II. Notice then, next, that the disciples' immediate belief in the
Resurrection furnishes a reasonable, and the only reasonable,
explanation of the facts.

There is no better historical evidence of a fact than the existence
of an institution built upon it, and coeval with it. The Christian
Church is such evidence for the fact of the Resurrection; or, to put
the conclusion in the most moderate fashion, for the belief in the
Resurrection. For, as we have shown, the natural effect of our
Lord's death would have been to shatter the whole fabric: and if
that effect were not produced, the only reasonable account of the
force that hindered it is, that His followers believed that He rose
again. Since that was their faith, one can understand how they were
banded more closely together than ever. One can understand how their
eyes were opened to know Him who was 'declared to be the Son of God
with power by the resurrection from the dead.' One can understand
how, in the enthusiasm of these new thoughts of their Lord, and in
the strength of His victory over death, they put aside their old
fears and littlenesses and clothed themselves in armour of light.
'The Lord is risen indeed' was the belief which made the continuous
existence of the Church possible. Any other explanation of that
great outstanding fact is lame and hopelessly insufficient.

We know that that belief was the belief of the early Church. Even if
one waived all reference to the Gospels, we have the means of
demonstrating that in Paul's undisputed epistles. Nobody has
questioned that he wrote the First Epistle to the Corinthians. The
date most generally assumed to that letter brings it within about
five-and-twenty years of the crucifixion. In that letter, in
addition to a multitude of incidental references to the Lord as
risen, we have the great passage in the fifteenth chapter, where the
apostle not only declares that the Resurrection was one of the two
facts which made his 'gospel,' but solemnly enumerates the witnesses
of the risen Lord, and alleges that this gospel of the Resurrection
was common to him and to all the Church. He tells us of Christ's
appearance to himself at his conversion, which must have taken place
within six or seven years of the crucifixion, and assures us that at
that early period he found the whole Church believing and preaching
Christ's resurrection. Their belief rested on their alleged
intercourse with Him a few days after His death, and it is
inconceivable that within so short a period such a belief should
have sprung up and been universally received, if it had not begun
when and as they said that it did.

But we are not left even to inferences of this kind to show that,
from the beginning, the Church witnessed to the Resurrection of
Jesus. Its own existence is the great witness to its faith. And it
is important to observe that, even if we had not the documentary
evidence of the Pauline epistles as the earliest records, of the
Gospels, and of the Acts of the Apostles, we should still have
sufficient proof that the belief in the Resurrection is as old as
the Church. For the continuance of the Church cannot be explained
without it. If that faith had not dawned on their slow, sad hearts
on that Easter morning, a few weeks would have seen them scattered;
and if once they had been scattered, as they inevitably would have
been, no power could have reunited them, any more than a diamond
once shattered can be pieced together again. There would have been
no motive and no actors to frame a story of resurrection, when once
the little company had melted away. The existence of the Church
depended on their belief that the Lord was risen. In the nature of
the case that belief must have followed immediately on His death.
It, and it only, reasonably accounts for the facts. And so, over and
above Apostles, and Gospels, and Epistles, the Church is the great
witness, by its very being, to its own immediate and continuous
belief in the Resurrection of our Lord.

III. Again, we may remark that such a belief could not have
originated or maintained itself unless it had been true.

Our previous remarks have gone no farther than to establish the
belief in the Resurrection of Christ, as the basis of primitive
Christianity. It is vehemently alleged, and we may freely admit that
the step is a long one from subjective belief to objective reality.
But still it is surely perfectly fair to argue that a given belief
is of such a nature that it cannot be supposed to rest on anything
less solid than a fact; and this is eminently the case in regard to
the belief in Christ's Resurrection. There have been many attempts
on the part of those who reject that belief to account for its
existence, and each of them in succession has 'had its day, and
ceased to be.' Unbelief devours its own children remorselessly, and
the succession to the throne of antichristian scepticism is won, as
in some barbarous tribes, by slaying the reigning sovereign. The
armies of the aliens turn their weapons against one another, and
each new assailant of the historical veracity of the Gospels
commences operations by showing that all previous assailants have
been wrong, and that none of their explanations will hold water.

For instance, we hear nothing now of the coarse old explanation that
the story of the Resurrection was a lie, and became current through
the conscious imposture of the leaders of the Church. And it was
high time that such a solution should be laid aside. Who, with half
an eye for character, could study the deeds and the writings of the
apostles, and not feel that, whatever else they were, they were
profoundly honest, and as convinced as of their own existence, that
they had seen Christ 'alive after His passion, by many infallible
proofs'? If Paul and Peter and John were conspirators in a trick,
then their lives and their words were the most astounding anomaly.
Who, either, that had the faintest perception of the forces that
sway opinion and frame systems, could believe that the fair fabric
of Christian morality was built on the sand of a lie, and cemented
by the slime of deceit bubbling up from the very pit of hell? Do men
gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? That insolent
hypothesis has had its day.

Then when it was discredited, we were told that the mythical
tendency would explain everything. It showed us how good men could
tell lies without knowing it, and how the religious value of an
alleged fact in an alleged historical revelation did not in the
least depend on its being a fact. And that great discovery, which
first converted solid historical Christianity into a gaseous
condition, and then caught the fumes in some kind of retort, and
professed to hand us them back again improved by the sublimation,
has pretty well gone the way of all hypotheses. Myths are not made
in three days, or in three years, and no more time can be allowed
for the formation of the myth of the Resurrection. What was the
Church to feed on while the myth was growing? It would have been
starved to death long before.

Then, the last new explanation which is gravely put forward, and is
the prevailing one now, sustains itself by reference to undeniable
facts in the history of religious movements, and of such abnormal
attitudes of the mind as modern spiritualism. On the strength of
which analogy we are invited to see in the faith of the early
Christians in the Resurrection of the Lord a gigantic instance of
'hallucination.' No doubt there have been, and still are,
extraordinary instances of its power, especially in minds excited by
religious ideas. But we have only to consider the details of the
facts in hand to feel that they cannot be accounted for on such a
ground. Do hallucinations lay hold on five hundred people at once?
Does a hallucination last for a long country walk, and give rise to
protracted conversation? Does hallucination explain the story of
Christ eating and drinking before His disciples? The uncertain
twilight of the garden might have begotten such an airy phantom in
the brain of a single sobbing woman; but the appearances to be
explained are so numerous, so varied in character, embrace so many
details, appeal to so many of the senses--to the ear and hand as
well as to the eye--were spread over so long a period, and were
simultaneously shared by so large a number, that no theory of such a
sort can account for them, unless by impugning the veracity of the
records. And then we are back again on the old abandoned ground of
deceit and imposture. It sounds plausible to say, Hallucination is a
proved cause of many a supposed supernatural event--why not of this?
But the plausibility of the solution ceases as soon as you try it on
the actual facts in their variety and completeness. It has to be
eked out with a length of the fox's skin of deceit before it covers
them; and we may confidently assert that such a belief as the belief
of the early Church in the Resurrection of the Lord was never the
product either of deceit or of illusion, or of any amalgam of the

What new solutions the fertility of unbelief may yet bring forth,
and the credulity of unbelief may yet accept, we know not; but we
may firmly hold by the faith which breathed new hope and strange joy
into that sad band on the first Easter morning, and rejoice with
them in the glad, wonderful fact that He is risen from the dead.

IV. For that message is a message to us as truly as to the heavy-hearted
unbelieving men that first received it. We may think for a moment of the
joy with which we ought to return from the empty sepulchre of the risen

How little these women knew that, as they went back from the grave
in the morning twilight, they were the bearers of 'great joy which
should be to all people'! To them and to the first hearers of their
message there would be little clear in the rush of glad surprise,
beyond the blessed thought, Then He is not gone from us altogether.
Sweet visions of the resumption of happy companionship would fill
their minds, and it would not be until calmer moments that the
stupendous significance of the fact would reveal itself.

Mary's rapturous gesture to clasp Him by the feet, when the
certainty that it was in very deed He flooded her soul with dazzling
light, reveals her first emotion, which no doubt was also the first
with them all, 'Then we shall have Him with us again, and all the
old joy of companionship will be ours once more.' Nor were they
wrong in thinking so, however little they as yet understood the
future manner of their fellowship, or anticipated His leaving them
again so soon. Nor are we without a share even in that phase of
their joy; for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us a living
Lord for our love, an ever present Companion and Brother for our
hearts to hold, even if our hands cannot clasp Him by the feet. A
dead Christ might have been the object of faint historical
admiration, and the fair statue might have stood amidst others in
the galleries of history; but the risen, living Christ can love and
be loved, and we too may be glad with the joy of those who have
found a heart to rest their hearts upon, and a companionship that
can never fail.

As the early disciples learned to reflect upon the fact of Christ's
Resurrection, its riches unfolded themselves by degrees, and the
earliest aspect of its 'power' was the light it shed on His person
and work. Taught by it, as we have seen, they recognised Him for the
Messiah whom they had long expected, and for something more--the
Incarnate Son of God. That phase of their joy belongs to us too. If
Christ, who made such avowals of His nature as we know that He did,
and hazarded such assertions of His claims, His personality and His
office, as fill the Gospels, were really laid in the grave and saw
corruption, then the assertions are disproved, the claims
unwarranted, the office a figment of His imagination. He may still
remain a great teacher, with a tremendous deduction to be made from
the worth of His teaching, but all that is deepest in His own words
about Himself and His relation to men must be sorrowfully put on one
side. But if He, after such assertions and claims, rose from the
dead, and rising, dieth no more, then for the last time, and in the
mightiest tones, the voice that rent the heavens at His baptism and
His transfiguration proclaims: 'This is My beloved Son; hear ye
Him.' Our joy in His Resurrection is the joy of those to whom He is
therein declared to be the Son of God, and who see in Christ risen
their accepted Sacrifice, and their ever-living Redeemer.

Such was the earliest effect of the Resurrection of Jesus, if we
trust the records of apostolic preaching. Then by degrees the joyful
thought took shape in the Church's consciousness that their Shepherd
had gone before them into the dark pen where Death pastured his
flocks, and had taken it for His own, for the quiet resting-place
where He would make them lie down by still waters, and whence He
would lead them out to the lofty mountains where His fold should be.
The power of Christ's Resurrection as the pattern and pledge of ours
is the final source of the joy which may fill our hearts as we turn
away from that empty sepulchre.

The world has guessed and feared, or guessed and hoped, but always
guessed and doubted the life beyond. Analogies, poetic adumbrations,
probabilities drawn from consciousness and from conscience, from
intuition and from anticipation, are but poor foundations on which
to build a solid faith. But to those to whom the Resurrection of
Christ is a fact their own future life is a fact. Here we have a
solid certainty, and here alone. The heart says as we lay our dear
ones in the grave, 'Surely we part not for ever.' The conscience
says, as it points us to our own evil deeds, 'After death the
judgment.' A deep indestructible instinct prophesies in every breast
of a future. But all is vague and doubtful. The one proof of a life
beyond the grave is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore let
us be glad with the gladness of men plucked from a dark abyss of
doubt and planted on the rock of solid certainty; and let us rejoice
with joy unspeakable, and laden with a prophetic weight of glory, as
we ring out the ancient Easter morning's greeting, 'The Lord is
risen indeed!'


'He gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples
to the multitude. 20. And they did all eat, and were
filled; and they took up of the fragments that remained
twelve baskets full.'--MATT. xiv. 19, 20.

The miracles of Scripture are not merely wonders, but signs. It is
one of their most striking characteristics that they are not, like
the pretended portents of false faiths, mere mighty deeds standing
in no sort of intellectual relation to the message of which they
claim to be the attestation, but that they have themselves a
doctrinal significance. Our Lord's miracles have been called 'the
great bell before the sermon,' but they are more than that. They are
themselves no unimportant part of the sermon. In fact, it would not
be difficult to construct from them a revelation of His nature,
person, and work, scarcely less full and explicit than that
contained in His words, or even than that more systematic and
developed one which we receive in the writings of His apostles.

This miracle, for instance, of the feeding of the five thousand with
five barley loaves and two small fishes, is one of the few which the
Apostle John relates in his Gospel, and his reason for selecting it
seems to be the commentary with which our Lord followed it, and
which John alone has preserved. That commentary is all the wonderful
discourse about Christ as the bread of life, and eating His flesh as
our means of receiving His life into ourselves. We are warranted,
then, in regarding this miracle as a symbolic revelation of Christ
as supplying all the wants of this hungry world. If so, we may
perhaps venture to take one more step, and regard the manner in
which He dispenses His gifts as also significant. His agents are His
disciples, or as would appear probable from the twelve baskets full
of fragments, the twelve apostles, the nucleus and representatives
of His Church. Thus we come to the point from which we wish to
regard this narrative now. There are three stages in the words of
our text--the distribution, the meal, and the gathering up of the
abundance that was left. These three stages may guide us to some
thoughts regarding the work to which Christ calls His Church, the
success which attends it, and the results to the distributors

I. Christ feeds the famishing world by means of His Church.

'He gave the loaves to the disciples, and the _disciples_ to
the multitude.' One very striking feature in all our Lord's miracles
is economy of power. The miraculous element being admitted for some
good and sufficient reason, it is kept down to the lowest possible
point. Precisely so much of it as is needed is permitted, and not
one hairsbreadth more. It does not begin to make its appearance at
any point in the process where ordinary human agency can be used. It
does not produce a result beyond the actual necessity. It does not
last one instant longer than is required. It inosculates closely
with the natural order of things.

Take an illustration from the beginning of miracles where Jesus
manifested forth His glory, at the marriage in Cana of Galilee--that
great miracle in which our Lord hallowed the ties of human
affection, and consecrated the joy of united hearts. The necessity
is felt before He supplies it. The servants fill the waterpots. The
water is used as the material on which the miraculous power
operates. Only so much as is drawn for present use becomes wine. The
servants are used as the agents for the distribution, and all is
done so unostentatiously, though it be the manifesting of His glory,
that no man knows but they.

Take another illustration from the other great contrasted miracle at
the grave of Lazarus, where our Lord hallowed the breaking of
earthly bonds by death, and sanctified the sorrows of parted love.
He does not work His wonder from the other side Jordan, but comes.
He does not avert the death which He will conquer, nor prevent the
grief which He shares. He goes to the side of the grave--true human
tears are wet upon His cheek. They have to roll away the stone.
Then, there is flung into the darkness of the tomb the mighty word,
'Lazarus! come forth.' The inconceivable miraculous act is done, and
life stirs in the sheeted dead. But there the miraculous ceases. The
man with his restored life has himself to come out of the grave, and
human hands have tremblingly to lift the napkin from the veiled face
(how they must have thrilled as they did it, wondering what nameless
horror they might see in the eyes that had looked on the inner
chamber of death), and human help has to unfold the grave-clothes
from the tightly swathed and stumbling limbs, 'Loose him, and let
him go.'

This marked characteristic of all our Lord's miracles is full of
instruction, which it would lead us too far from our present purpose to
indicate at any length. But we may just observe in passing, that it
brings these into striking parallel with the divine creative act, where
there is ever the same precise adaptation of power employed to result
contemplated, the same background of veiled omnipotence, the same
emergence of proportioned, adequate, but not superfluous force, so
that, in fact, economy of power may be said to be the very signature
and broad arrow of divinity stamped on all His works. Again, it
presents a broad contrast to the wild, reckless miracle-mongering of
false faiths, and is at once a test of the genuineness of all 'lying
signs and wonders,' and an indication of the self-restraint of the
Worker, and of the fine sanity and truthfulness of the narrators, of
these Gospel miracles. And yet, again, it is one phase of the
disciplinary character of the whole revelation of God in Christ--not
obtrusive, though obvious, capable of being overlooked if men will.
There was the hiding of His power. 'If any man wills to be ignorant,
let him be ignorant.'

But coming more immediately to the narrative before us, we find this
same characteristic in full prominence in it. The people are allowed
to hunger. The disciples are permitted to feel themselves at their
wits' end. They are bid to bring their poor resources to Christ. The
lad who had come with his little store, perhaps a fisherman's boy
from some of the lake villages who hoped to sell his loaves and
fishes in the crowd, supplies the material on which Christ wills to
exercise His miraculous power. The disciples' agency is pressed into
the service. Each man separately receives his portion, and when all
are supplied, the fragments are carefully preserved for the use of
those who had been fed by miracle, and of Him who had fed them!

Besides the general lessons already referred to, as naturally
arising from this feature of the miracle, there is that one which
belongs to it especially, namely, that Christ feeds the famishing
world by means of His Church.

Precisely as in the miracles in general, so in the work of Christ as a
whole, the field of supernatural intervention is rigidly confined, and
fits in with the established order of things. The Incarnation and
Sacrifice of our Lord are the purely supernatural work of the divine
Power and Mercy. He comes, enters into our human conditions, assumes
our humanity, dies the death for us all. 'I have trodden the wine-press
alone.' There is no question of any human agency co-operating there,
any more than there is in the word 'Lazarus, come forth,' or in the
multiplication of the loaves. There, by Christ alone, is brought to
us and is finished for us an eternal redemption, with which the whole
race of man have nothing to do but to receive it, to eat and be filled.
But this having been done by the solitary work of Jesus Christ, this
new power having been introduced into the world, human agency is
henceforth called into operation to diffuse it, just as the servants
at Cana had to draw the wine which He had made, just as the disciples
at the Sea of Tiberias have to give to the multitude the bread which
was blessed and broken by His hands.

The supernaturally given Bread of Life is to be carried over the
world in accordance with the ordinary laws by which all other truth
is diffused and all other gifts that belong to one man are held by
him in stewardship for all his fellows. True, there is ever in and
with that word of life a divine Spirit, which is the real cause of
its progress, which guards it from destruction though all men were
faithless, and keeps it alive though all Israel bowed the knee to
Baal. But, however easy it may be for us to confuse ourselves with
metaphysical puzzles about the relation between the natural and the
supernatural elements--the human agency and the divine energiser--in
the successful discharge of the Church's work, practically the
matter is very plain.

The truth that it behoves us all to lay to heart is just this--that
Christian people are Christ's instruments for effecting the
realisation of the purposes of His death. Not without them shall He
see of the travail of His soul. Not without them shall the preaching
be fully known. Not without the people willing in the day of His
power, and clothed in priestly beauty, shall the Priest King set His
feet upon His enemies. Not without the armies of heaven following
Him, shall the 'Word of God' ride forth to victory. Neither the
divine decree, nor the expansive power of the Truth, nor the crowned
expectancy of the waiting Lord, nor the mighty working of the
Comforter, are the complete means for the accomplishment of the
divine promise that all nations shall be blessed in Him. Could all
these be conceived of as existing without the service and energies
of God's Church proclaiming the name of Christ, they were not
enough. He has willed that to us, less than the least of all saints,
should this grace be given, that we should make known the
unsearchable riches of Christ. God reveals His truth, that men who
believe it may impart it. God gives the word, that, caught up by
those who receive it into an honest and good heart, it may be poured
forth, in mighty chorus from the lips of the 'great company of them
that publish it.' 'He gave the loaves to the disciples, and the
_disciples_ to the multitude.'

Christian men! learn your high vocation, and your solemn
responsibilities. 'What! came the word of God out from you, or came
it _unto_ you only?' For what did you receive it? For the same
reason for which you have received everything else which you
possess--that you might share it with your brethren. How did you
receive it? As a gift, unmerited, the result of a miracle of divine
mercy, that you might feel bound to give as ye have received, and
spread the free divine gift by cheerful human work of distribution.
From whom did you receive it? From Christ, who in the very act of
giving binds you to live for Him and not for yourselves, and to
mould your lives after the pattern of His. What a multitude of
motives converge on the solemn duty of work for Christ, if we read
in the light of this deeper meaning the simple words of our text,
'He gave the loaves to the disciples!' What manner of servant is he
who can bear to have no part in the blessed work that follows--'and
the disciples to the multitude'?

It is further noticeable how these apostles were prepared for the
work which they had to do. The first lesson which they had to learn
was the almost ludicrous disproportion between the resources at
their command and the necessities of the crowd. 'How many loaves
have ye? go and see.' And this is the first lesson that we have to
learn in all our work for Christ and for our brethren, that in
ourselves we have nothing fit for the task before us. Think of what
that task is as measured by the necessities and sorrows of men.
Think of all the sighs that go up at every moment from burdened
hearts, of the tears that run down so many blanched and anxious
cheeks. Think of '_all_ the misery that is done under the sun!'
If it could be made visible, what a dark pall would swathe the
world, an atmosphere of sorrow rolling ever with it through space.
The sight is too sad to be seen by any but by Him who cures it all,
and it wrung from His heart the sigh with which ere He cured one
poor sufferer--a drop in the ocean--He looked up to heaven, as in
mute appeal against all these heaped miseries of suffering man.

And we, what can we do in ourselves? On what comparison of our
resources do we not feel utterly inadequate to the work? If we think
of the proportion in numbers, we have to say, like the narrator of
the wars in Israel, 'The children of Israel pitched before them like
two little flocks of kids, but the Syrians filled the country.' If
we think of the strength that we ourselves possess and look at our
own tremulous faith, at our own feeble love, at the uncertain hold
which we ourselves have on the Gospel that we profess, at the mists
and darkness which cover so much of God's revelation from our own
understandings, at the sins and faults of our own lives, must we not
cry out, Send whom Thou wilt send, O Lord, but take not me, so
sinful, so little influenced by Thy grace, to be the messenger of
Thy grace? 'Who is sufficient for these things?'

And such contemplations, when they drive home to our hearts the
wholesome lesson of our own weakness, are the beginning, and the only
possible beginning, of divine strength. The only temper in which we
can serve God and bless man is that of lowliest self-abasement. God
works with bruised reeds, and out of them makes polished shafts,
pillars in His house. Only when we are low on our faces before God,
crying out,' Unclean, unclean,' does the purifying coal touch our
lips and the prophet strength flow into our souls.

Be humble and self-distrustful, and then learn the further lesson of
this narrative, and carry your poor inadequate resources to Christ.
'Bring them hither to Me.' In His hands they become sufficient. He
multiplies them. He gives wisdom, strength, and all that fits for
the task to which He calls us. Bring your little faith to Him and He
will increase it. Bring your feeble love to Him, and ask Him to
kindle it from the pure flame of His own, and He will make your
heart burn within you. Bring your partial understanding of His will
and way to Him, and He will be to you wisdom. Bring all the poverty
of your natures, all the insufficiency of your religious character,
all the inadequacy of your poor work, to your Lord. Feel it all. Let
the conviction of your nothingness sink into your soul. Then wait
before Him in simple faith, in lowly obedience, and power will come
to you equal to your desire and to your duties, and He will put His
spirit upon you, and will anoint you to proclaim liberty to the
captives and to give bread to all the hungry. 'Who is sufficient for
these things?' must ever precede, and will ever be followed by, 'our
sufficiency is of God.'

Mark again that the disciples seem themselves to have partaken of
the bread before they parted it among the multitudes. That is our
true preparation for the work of feeding the hungry. The Church
which feeds the world is able to do so, only because, and in
proportion as, it has found in Christ its own sustenance and life.
It is only they who can say 'we have tasted and felt and handled of
the word of life' who can declare it to others. Personal participation
in the bread of life makes any man able to offer it to some fainting
spirit. Nothing else makes him able. Ability involves responsibility.
'Power to its last particle is duty.' You, dear friends, who have
'tasted that the Lord is gracious,' have thereby come under weighty
obligations. Your own personal experience of that precious bread has
fitted you to do something in offering it to others. The manner in
which you do so must be determined by your character and circumstances.
Every one has his proper walk; but something you can do. To some lips
you can commend the food for all the world. Somewhere your word is
a power. See that you do what you can do. Remember that Christ feeds
the world by His Church, and that every man who has himself eaten of
the bread of life is thereby consecrated to carry it to those who yet
are perishing in the far-off hunger-ridden land, and trying to fill
their bellies with the husks that the swine eat.

II. The Bread is enough for all the world.

'They did all eat and were filled.' One can fancy how doubtingly and
grudgingly the apostles doled out the supplies at first, and how the
portion of each was increased, as group after group was provided,
and no diminution appeared in Christ's full hands, until, at last,
all the five thousand, of all ages, of both sexes, of every sort,
were fed, and the fragments lying uncared for proved how sufficient
had been the share of each.

May we not see in that scene a picture of the full supply for all
the wants of the whole world which there is in that Bread of Life
which came down from heaven? The Gospel proclaims a full feast,
which is enough for all mankind, which is intended for all mankind,
which shall one day satisfy all mankind.

This universal adaptation of the message of the Gospel to the whole
world arises from the obvious fact that it addresses itself to
universal wants, to the great rudimentary, universally diffused
characteristics of human nature, and that it provides for all these,
in the grand simplicity of its good tidings, the one sufficing word.
It entangles itself with no local or historical peculiarities of the
time and place of its earthly origin, which can hinder it in its
universal diffusion. It commits itself to no transient human
opinions. It addresses itself to no sectional characteristics of
classes of men. It brushes aside all the surface distinctions which
separate us from one another, and goes right down to the depths of
the central identities in which we are all alike. However we may
differ from one another, in training, in habits, in cast of thought,
in idiosyncrasies of character, in circumstances, in age--all these
are but the upper strata which vary locally. Beneath all these there
lie everywhere the solid foundations of the primeval rocks, and
beneath these, again, the glowing central mass, the flaming heart of
the world. Christianity sends its shaft right down through all these
upper and local beds, till it reaches the deepest depths which are
the same in every man--the obstinate wilfulness of a nature averse
from God, and the yet deeper-lying longings of a soul that flames
with the consciousness of God, and yearns for rest and peace. To the
sense of sin, to the sense of sorrow, to the conscience never wholly
stifled, to the desires after good never utterly eradicated and
never slaked by aught besides itself, does this mighty word come.
Not to this or that sort of man, not to men in this or that phase of
progress, age of the world, or stage of civilisation, does it
address itself, but to the common humanity which belongs to all, to
the wants and sorrows and inward consciousness which belong to man
as man, be he philosopher or fool, king or slave, Eastern or
Western, 'pagan suckled in a creed outworn,' or Englishman with the
new lights and material science of this twentieth century.

Hence its universal adaptation to mankind. It alone of all so-called
faiths overleaps all geographical limits and lives in all centuries.
It alone wins its trophies and bestows its gifts on all sorts and
conditions of men. Other plants which the 'Heavenly Father hath not
planted' have their zones of vegetation and die outside certain
degrees of latitude, but the seed of the kingdom is like corn, an
exotic nowhere, for wherever man lives it will grow, and yet an
exotic everywhere, for it came down from heaven. Other food requires
an educated palate for its appreciation, but any hungry man in any
land will relish bread. For every soul on earth this living dying
love of the Lord Jesus Christ addresses itself to, and satisfies,
his deepest wants. It is the bread which gives life to the world.

And one of the constituents of that company by the Galilean lake was
children. It is one great glory of Christianity that its merciful
mysteries can find their way to the hearts of the little children.
Its mysteries, we say--for the Gospel has its mysteries no less than
these old systems of heathenism which fenced round their deepest
truths with solemn barriers, only to be passed by the initiated. But
the difference lies here--that its mysteries are taught at first to
the neophytes, and that the sum of them lies in the words which we
learned at our mother's knees so long ago that we have forgotten
that they were ever new to us: 'God so loved the world that He gave
His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not
perish, but should have eternal life.' The little child who has
learned his earliest lessons of what father and son, loving and
giving, trust and life mean, by the sweet experiences of his own
father's home and his own mother's love, can grasp these blessed
words. They carry the deepest mysteries which will still gleam
before us unfathomed in all their profundity, unappropriated in all
their blessedness, when millenniums have passed since we stood in
the inner shrine of heaven. Wonderful is the word which blesses the
child, which transcends the angel before the throne!

This is the bread for the world--meant for it, and one day to be
partaken of by it. For these ordered fifties at their Christ-provided
meal are for us a prophecy of the day that shall surely dawn, when
all the hunger of wandering prodigals is over, and the deceived
heart of the idol-worshipper no longer drawing him aside to feed on
ashes, they shall come from the East and from the West, and from
the North and from the South, and sit at the feast which the Lord
hath prepared for all nations, and when all the earth shall be satisfied
with the goodness of His house, even of His holy temple.

III. The Bread which is given to the famishing is multiplied for the
future of the Distributors.

'They took of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full.' More
was gathered than they had possessed at first. They preserved over,
for their own sustenance and refreshment in days to come, a far
larger store than the five loaves and two small fishes with which
they had begun. The fact contains a principle which is true about
almost all except material possessions, which is often in God's
providence made true about them, and which is emphatically true
about spiritual blessings, about our religious emotions, our
Christian beliefs, the joys and powers which Christ comes to give.

For all these, the condition of increase is diffusion. To impart to
others is to gain for oneself. Every honest effort to bring some
other human heart into conscious possession of Christ's love deepens
one's own sense of its preciousness. Every attempt to lead some
other understanding to the perception of the truth, as it is in
Jesus, helps me to understand it better myself. If you would learn,
teach. That will clear your mind, will open hidden harmonies, will
reveal unsuspected deficiencies and contradictions in your own
conceptions, will help you to feel more the truths that come from
your lips. It will perhaps shame your cold appreciation of them,
when you see how others grasp at them from your teaching, or give
you more confidence in the Gospel as the power of God unto
salvation, when you behold it, even as ministered through you,
mighty to pull down strongholds. At the lowest, it will keep your
own mind in healthy contact with what you art but too apt to forget.
If you would learn to love Christ more, try to lead some one else to
love Him, You will catch new gleams from His gracious heart in the
very act of commending Him to others. If you would have your own
spiritual life strengthened and deepened, remember that not by
solitary meditation or raptures of silent communion alone can that
be accomplished, but by these and by honest manful work for God in
the world. The Mount of Transfiguration must be left, although there
were there Moses and Elias, and the cloud of the divine glory and
the words of approval from heaven, because there were a demoniac boy
and his weeping, despairing father needing Christ down below. Work
for God if you would live with God. Give the bread to the hungry, if
you would have it for the food of your own souls.

The refusal to engage in such service is one fruitful cause of the
low state of spiritual health in which so many Christians pass their
days. They seem to think that they receive the bread from heaven
only for their own use, and that they have done all that they have
to do with it, when they eat it themselves. And so come all manner
of spiritual diseases. A selfish, that is an inactive, religion is
always more or less a morbid religion. For health you need exercise.
'In the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat bread'; that law expresses
not only the fact that work is needed to get it, but that toil must
give the appetite and fit the frame to digest it. There is such a
thing as a morbid Christianity brought on by want of healthy

'There is that scattereth and yet increaseth, and there is that
withholdeth more than is meet, and it tendeth to poverty.' Good
husbandry does not grind up all the year's wheat for loaves for
one's own eating, but keeps some of it for seed to be scattered in
the furrows. And if Christian men will deal with the great love of
God, the great work of Christ, the great message of the Gospel, as
if it were bestowed on them for their own sakes only, they will have
only themselves to blame if holy desires die out in their hearts,
and the consciousness of Christ's love becomes faint, and all the
blessed words of truth come to sound far off and mythical in their
ears. The standing water gets green scum on it. The close-shut barn
breeds weevils and smut. Let the water run. Fling the seed
broadcast. 'Thou shalt find it after many days,' bread for thy own
soul--even as these ministering apostles were enriched whilst they
gave, and the full-handed liberality 'with which they carried
Christ's gifts among the crowd' had something to do in providing the
large residue which filled their stores for days to come.

Thus, then, this scene on the sweet springing grass down by the side
of blue Gennesaret is an emblem of the whole work of the Church in
this starving world. The multitudes famish. Tell Christ of their
wants. Count your own small resources till you have completely
learned your poverty, then take them to Jesus. He will accept them,
and in His hands they will become mighty, being transfigured from
human thoughts and forces into divine words, into spiritual powers.
On that bread which He gives, do you yourselves live. Then carry it
boldly to all the hungry. Rank after rank will eat. All races, all
ages, from grey hairs to babbling childhood, will find there the
food of their souls. As you part the blessing, it will grow beneath
His eye; and the longer you give, the fuller-handed you will become.
Nor shall the bread fail, nor the word become weak, till all the
world has tasted of its sweetness and been refreshed by its potent

This miracle is the lesson for the workers. There is another
wondrous meal recorded in Scripture, which is the prophecy for the
workers when they rest. The little ship has been tossing all the
night on the waters of that Galilean lake. Fruitless has been the
fishing. The morning breaks cold and grey, and lo! there stands on
the shore One who first blesses the toilers' work, and then bids
them to His table. There, mysteriously kindled, burns the fire with
the welcome meal already laid upon it. They add to it the
contribution of their night of toil, and then, hushed and blessed in
His still company, they sup with Him and He with them. So when the
weary work is over for the Church on earth, we shall be aware of His
merciful presence on the shore, and, coming at the last safe to
land, we shall 'rest from our labours,' in that we see the 'fire of
coals, and fish laid thereon and bread'; and our 'works shall follow
us,' in that we are 'bidden to bring of the fish that we have
caught.' Then, putting off the wet fisher's coat, and leaving behind
the tossing of the unquiet sea and the toil of the weary fishing, we
shall sit down with Him at that meal spread by His hands, who
blesseth the works of His servants here below, and giveth to them a
full fruition of immortal food at His table at the last.


'And straightway Jesus constrained His disciples to get
into a ship, and to go before Him unto the other side,
while He sent the multitudes away. 23. And when He had
sent the multitudes away, He went up into a mountain
apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was
there alone. 24. But the ship was now in the midst of
the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.
25. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went
unto them, walking on the sea. 26. And when the
disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were
troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out
for fear. 27. But straightway Jesus spake unto them,
saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
28. And Peter answered Him and said, Lord, if it be
Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water. 29. And He
said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the
ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. 30. But
when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and
beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
31. And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand, and
caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith,
wherefore didst thou doubt. 32. And when they were come
into the ship, the wind ceased. 33. Then they that were
in the ship came and worshipped Him, saying, Of a truth
Thou art the Son of God. 34. And when they were gone
over, they came into the land of Gennesaret. 35. And
when the men of that place had knowledge of Him, they
sent out into all that country round about, and brought
unto Him all that were diseased; 36. And besought Him
that they might only touch the hem of His garment: and
as many as touched were made perfectly whole.'
--MATT. xiv. 22-36.

The haste and urgency with which the disciples were sent away,
against their will, after the miracle of feeding the five thousand,
is explained in John's account. The crowd had been excited to a
dangerous enthusiasm by a miracle so level to their tastes. A
prophet who could feed them was something like a prophet. So they
determine to make him a king. Our Lord, fearing the outburst,
resolves to withdraw into the lonely hills, that the fickle blaze
may die down. If the disciples had remained with Him, He could not
have so easily stolen away, and they might have caught the popular
fervour. To divide would distract the crowd, and make it easier for
Him to disperse them, while many of them, as really happened, would
be likely to set off by land for Capernaum, when they saw the boat
had gone. The main teaching of this miracle, over and above its
demonstration of the Messianic power of our Lord, is symbolical. All
the miracles are parables, and this eminently so. Thus regarding it,
we have--

I. The struggling toilers and the absent Christ.

They had a short row of some five or six miles in prospect, when
they started in the early evening. An hour or so might have done it,
but, for some unknown reason, they lingered. Perhaps instead of
pulling across, they may have kept inshore, by the head of the lake,
expecting Jesus to join them at some point. Thus, night finds them
but a short way on their voyage. The paschal moon would be shining
down on them, and perhaps in their eager talk about the miracle they
had just seen, they did not make much speed. A sudden breeze sprang
up, as is common at nightfall on mountain lakes; and soon a gale,
against which they could make no headway, was blowing in their
teeth. This lasted for eight or nine hours. Wet and weary, they
tugged at the oars through the livelong night, the seas breaking
over them, and the wind howling down the glens.

They had been caught in a similar storm once before, but then He had
been on board, and it was daylight. Now it was dark, 'and Jesus had
not yet come to them,' How they would look back at the dim outline
of the hills, where they knew He was, and wonder why He had sent them
out into the tempest alone! Mark tells us that He saw them distressed,
hours before He came to them, and that makes His desertion the stranger.
It is but His method of lovingly training them to do without His
personal presence, and a symbol of what is to be the life of His people
till the end. He is on the mountain in prayer, and He sees the labouring
boat and the distressed rowers. The contrast is the same as is given in
the last verses of Mark's Gospel, where the serene composure of the
Lord, sitting at the right hand of God, is sharply set over against
the wandering, toiling lives of His servants, in their evangelistic
mission. The commander-in-chief sits apart on the hill, directing the
fight, and sending regiment after regiment to their deaths. Does that
mean indifference? So it might seem but for the words which follow,
'the Lord working with them.' He shares in all the toil; and the lifting
up of His holy hands sways the current of the fight, and inclines the
balance. His love appoints effort and persistent struggle as the law
of our lives. Nor are we to mourn or wonder; for the purpose of the
appointment, so far as we are concerned, is to make character, and to
give us 'the wrestling thews that throw the world.' Difficulties make
men of us. Summer sailors, yachting in smooth water, have neither the
joy of conflict nor the vigour which it gives. Better the darkness,
when we cannot see our way, and the wind in our faces, if the good of
things is to be estimated by their power to 'strengthen us with
strength in our soul!'

II. We have the approaching Christ.

Not till the last watch of the night does He come, when they have
long struggled, and the boat is out in the very middle of the lake,
and the storm is fiercest. We may learn from this the delays of His
love. Because He loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus, He stayed still,
in strange inaction, for two days, after their message. Because He
loved Peter and the praying band, He let him lie in prison till the
last hour of the last watch of the last night before his intended
execution, and then delivered him with a leisureliness (making him
put on article after article of dress) which tells of conscious
omnipotence. Heaven's clock goes at a different rate from our little
timepieces. God's day is a thousand years, and the longest tarrying
is but 'a little while.' When He has come, we find that it is 'right
early,' though before He came He seemed to us to delay. He comes
across the waves. Their restless and yielding crests are smoothed
and made solid by the touch of His foot. 'He walketh on the sea as
on a pavement' (Septuagint version of Job ix. 8). It is a revelation
of divine power. It is one of the very few miracles affecting
Christ's own person, and may perhaps be regarded as being, like the
Transfiguration, a casual gleam of latent glory breaking through the
body of His humiliation, and so, in some sense, prophetic. But it is
also symbolic. He ever uses tumults and unrest as a means of
advancing His purposes. The stormy sea is the recognised Old
Testament emblem of antagonism to the divine rule; and just as He
walked on the billows, so does He reach His end by the very
opposition to it, 'girding Himself' with the wrath of men, and
making it to praise Him. In this sense, too, His 'paths are in the
great waters.' In another aspect, we have here the symbol of
Christ's using our difficulties and trials as the means of His
loving approach to us. He comes, giving a deeper and more blessed
sense of His presence by means of our sorrows, than in calm sunny
weather. It is generally over a stormy sea that He comes to us, and
golden treasures are thrown on our shores after a tempest.

III. We have the terror and the recognition.

The disciples were as yet little lifted above their fellows; they
had no expectation of His coming, and thought just what any rude
minds would have thought, that this mysterious Thing stalking
towards them across the waters came from the unseen world, and
probably that it was the herald of their drowning. Terror froze
their blood, and brought out a shriek (as the word might be
rendered) which was heard above the dash of waves and the raving
wind. They had gallantly fought the tempest, but this unmanned them.
We too often mistake Christ, when He comes to us. We do not
recognise His working in the storm, nor His presence giving power to
battle with it. We are so absorbed in the circumstances that we fail
to see Him through them. Our tears weave a veil which hides Him, or
the darkness obscures His face, and we see nothing but the
threatening crests of the waves, curling high above our little boat.
We mistake our best friend, and we are afraid of Him as we dimly see
Him; and sometimes we think that the tokens of His presence are only
phantasms of our own imagination.

They who were deceived by His appearance knew Him by His voice, as
Mary did at the sepulchre. How blessed must have been the moment
when that astounding certitude thrilled through their souls! That
low voice is audible through all the tumult. He speaks to us by His
word, and by the silent speech in our spirits, which makes us
conscious that He is there. He does speak to us in the deepest of
our sorrows, in the darkest of our nights; and when we hear of His
voice, and with wonder and joy cry out, 'It is the Lord,' our sorrow
is soothed, and the darkness is light about us.

The consciousness of His presence banishes all fear. 'Be not afraid,'
follows 'It is I.' It is of no use to preach courage unless we preach
Christ first. If we have not Him with us, we do well to fear: His
presence is the only rational foundation for calm fearlessness. Only
when the Lord of Hosts is with us, ought we not to fear, 'though the
waters roar ... and be troubled.' 'Through the dear might of Him that
walked the waves' can we feeble creatures face all terrors, and feel
no terror.

IV. We have the end of the storm and of the voyage.

The storm ceases as soon as Jesus is on board. John does not mention
the cessation of the tempest, but tells us that they were
immediately at the shore. It does not seem necessary to suppose
another miracle, but only that the voyage ended very speedily. It is
not always true that His presence is the end of dangers and
difficulties, but the consciousness of His presence does hush the
storm. The worst of trouble is gone when we know that He shares it;
and though the long swell after the gale may last, it no longer
threatens. Nor is it always true that His coming, and our
consciousness that He has come, bring a speedy close to toils. We
have to labour on, but in how different a mood these men would bend
to their oars after they had Him on board! With Him beside us toil
is sweet, burdens are lighter, and the road is shortened. Even with
Him on board, life is a stormy voyage; but without Him, it ends in
shipwreck. With Him, it may be long, but it will look all the
shorter while it lasts, and when we land the rough weather will be
remembered but as a transient squall. These wearied rowers, who had
toiled all night, stepped on shore as the morning broke on the
eastern bank. So we, if we have had Him for our shipmate, shall land
on the eternal shore, and dry our wet garments in the sunshine, and
all the stormy years that seemed so long shall be remembered but as
a watch in the night.


'And Peter answered Him and said, Lord, if it be Thou,
bid me come unto Thee on the water.'--MATT. xiv. 28.

We owe this account of an episode in the miracle of Christ's walking
on the waters to Matthew alone. Singularly enough there is no
reference to Peter's venturesomeness and failure in the Gospel which
is generally believed to have been written under his special
inspection and suggestion. Mark passes by that part of the narrative
without a word. That may be because Peter was somewhat ashamed of
it, or it may be from a natural disinclination to make himself
prominent in the story at all. But, whatever the reason, we may be
thankful that in this first Gospel we have the story, for it is not
only interesting as illustrating the characteristics of the apostle
in a very picturesque fashion, but also as carrying in it very
plainly large lessons that are of use for us all.

I. Note, first, Peter's venturesomeness, half faith, and half

There is a singular mixture of good and bad in it. Looked at one
way, it seems all right; like a bit of shot silk, in one light it is
bright, and in another it is black enough. What was good in it?
Well, there was the man's out-and-out confidence in his Master; and
there was, further, the unconsidered, instinctive shoot of love in
his heart to the mysterious figure standing there upon the water, so
that his desire was to be beside Him. It was far more 'Bid me come
_to Thee_!' than 'Bid me come to Thee _on the water_.' The
incident was a kind of rehearsal, with a noticeable difference, and
yet with nearly parallel circumstances, of the other incident when,
after the Resurrection, he discovered the Lord standing on the
shore, and floundered through the water anyhow; whether on it or in
it did not matter to him, so long as he could get near his Master.
But though the apostle's action was blended with a great deal that
was childish and sensuous, and was perhaps quite as much the result
of mere temperament as of conscious affection, still there was good
in that eager longing to be beside his Lord, which it would be well
for us if we in some measure shared, and in that indifference to the
perils of the strange path so long as it led to Christ's side,
which, if it were ours, would ennoble our lives, and in that perfect
confidence that Christ could enable him to tread the unquiet sea,
which would make us lords of all storms, if it wrought in us.

What was bad in it? First, the characteristic pushing of himself to
the front, and wish to be singled out from his brethren by some
special token. 'Bid _me_ come.' Why should he be bidden any more
than John, who sits quietly and gazes, or the others, who are tugging
at the oars? Then the impetuous rashness and signal over-estimate of
his own capacity and courage were bad. Perhaps, too, there was a
little dash of a boyish kind of wish to do a strange thing, and now
that he sees his Master there, walking on the waters, he thinks he
would like to try it too. So the request is a rash, self-confident
pushing of himself before his brethren into circumstances of wholly
unnecessary peril and trial, of which he had not estimated the
severity till he felt the water beginning to yield under his feet
and the wind smiting him on the face. So that the incident is a
rehearsal and anticipation of the precisely similar thing that he did
when, on the morning of Christ's trial, he shouldered himself
unnecessarily into the high priest's palace, and got himself close
up against the fire there, without a moment's reflection on the
possible danger he was running of having his loyalty melted by a
fiercer flame, and little dreaming that he was going to fall, and all
his courage to ooze out at his finger-ends, before the sharp tongue
of a maid-servant. In like manner as he says here, 'Bid me come to
Thee,' without the smallest doubt that when he was bade to come he
would be able to do it, so he said that night: 'Though all should
forsake Thee, yet will not I,'--and yet he denied Him.

Let us take the warning from this venturesomeness of a generous,
impulsive, enthusiastic religious nature, and remember that the most
genuine faith and religious emotion need to be sobered and steadied
by reflection, and by searching into our own motives, before we
venture upon the water, howsoever much we may wish to go there. Make
very sure that your zeal for the Lord has an element of sober
permanence in it, and that it is the result, not of a mere
transitory feeling, but of a steady, settled purpose. And do not
push yourself voluntarily into places of peril or of difficulty,
where the fighting is hard and the fire heavy, unless you have
reasonable grounds for believing that you can stand the strain.
Bring quiet, sober reason into the loftiest and loveliest enthusiasm
of your faith, and then there will be something in it that will live
through storm, and walk the water with unwetted and unsinking foot.
An impure alloy of selfish itching for pre-eminence and distinction
does not seldom mingle with the fine gold of religious enthusiasm
and desire to serve and be near our Lord. Therefore we have to test
our motives and seek to refine our purest emotions, and the more
scrupulously the purer they seem, lest we be yielding to the
impulses of self while we fancy that we are being drawn by the
magnetism of Christ.

II. We have here the momentary triumph and swift collapse of an
impure faith.

One can fancy with what hushed expectation the other apostles looked at
Peter as he let himself down over the side of the ship, and his feet
touched the surges and did not sink. Christ's grave, single-worded
answer 'Come' barely sanctions the apostle's request. It is at most a
permission, but scarcely a command, and it is permission to try, in
order that Peter may learn his own weakness. He did walk on the water
to go to Jesus. What kept him up? Not Christ's hand, nor any power
bestowed on the apostle, but simply the exercise of Christ's will. But
if he was held up by the operation of that will, why did he begin to
sink? The vivid narrative tells us: 'When he saw the wind boisterous,
he was afraid.' That was why. It had been blowing every bit as hard
before he stepped out of the ship. The waves were not running any
higher after than when he said, 'Bid me come to Thee.' But he was
down amongst them, and that makes a wonderful difference. For a
moment he stood, and then the peril into which he had so heedlessly
thrust himself began to tell on him. Presumption subsided swiftly
into fright, as it usually does, and fear began to fulfil itself,
as it usually does. 'He became afraid,' and that made him heavy and
he began to sink. Not because the gale was any more violent, not
because the uneven pavement was any more yielding, but because he was
frightened, and his faith began to falter at the close sight of the

And why did the ebbing away of faith mean the withdrawal of Christ's
will to keep him up? Why? Because it could not but be so. There is
only one door through which Christ's upholding power gets into a
man, and that is the door of the man's trust in the power; and if he
shuts the door, the power stops outside. So Peter went down. The
text does not tell us how far down he went. Depend upon it, it was
further than over the shoes! But he went down because he began to
lose his trust that Christ could hold him up; and when he lost his
trust, Christ lost His power over him.

All this is a parable, carrying very plain and important lessons. We
are upborne by Christ's power, and that power, working on and in our
weakness, invests us with prerogatives in some measure like His own.
If He can stand quiet on the heaving wave, so can His servant. 'The
works that I do shall ye do also'--and 'the depths of the sea
"become" a way for the ransomed to pass over.' That power is
exercised on condition of our faith. As soon as faith ceases the
influx of His grace is stayed. Peter, though probably he was not
thinking of this incident, has put the whole philosophy of it into
plain words in his own letter, when he says, 'You who are kept
_by_ the power of God _through_ faith unto salvation.' He was held up
as long as he believed. His belief was a hand, and that which it
grasped was what held him up, and that was Christ's will and power.
So we shall be held up everywhere, and in any storm, as long as, and
no longer than, we set our confidence upon Him.

Our faith is sure to fail when we turn away our eyes from Christ to
look at the tempest and the dangers. If we keep our gaze fixed upon
Him, the consciousness and the confidence of His all-sustaining
power will hold us up. If once we turn aside to look at the waves as
they heave, and prick our ears to listen to the wind as it whistles,
then we shall begin to doubt whether He is able to keep us up.
'Looking off' from all these dangers 'unto Jesus' is needful if we
are to run the race set before us.

A man walking along a narrow ledge of some Alpine height has only
one chance of safety, and that is, not to look at his feet or at the
icy rocks beside him, or at the gulf beneath, into which he will be
dashed if he gazes down. He must look up and onwards, and then he
will walk along a knife-edge, and he shall not fall. So, Peter,
never mind the water, never mind the wind; look at Jesus and you
will get to Him dry shod. If you turn away your eyes from Him, and
take counsel of the difficulties and trials and antagonisms, down
you will be sure to go. 'They sank to the bottom like a stone, the
depths covered them.' Christ holds us up. He cannot hold us up
unless we trust Him. Faith and fear contend for supremacy in our
hearts. If we rightly trust, we shall not be afraid. If we are
afraid, terror will slay trust. To look away from Christ, and occupy
our thoughts with dangers and obstacles, is sure to lead to the
collapse of faith and the strengthening of terror. To look past and
above the billows to Him that stands on them is sure to cast out
fear and to hearten faith. Peter ignored the danger at the wrong
time, before he dropped over the side of the boat, and he was aware
of it at the wrong time, while he was actually being held up and
delivered from it. Rashness ignores peril in the wrong way, and
thereby ensures its falling on the presumptuous head. Faith ignores
it in the right way, by letting the eye travel past it, to Christ
who shields from it, and thereby faith brings about the security it
expects, and annihilates the peril from which it looks away to

III. We have here the cry of desperate faith and its immediate

The very thing which had broken Peter's faith mended it again. Fear
sunk him by making him falter in his confidence; and, as he was
sinking, the very desperation of his terror drove him back to his
faith, and he 'cried' with a shrill, loud voice, heard above the
roar of the boisterous wind, 'Lord, save me.' So difficulties and
dangers, when they begin to tell upon us, often send us back to the
trust which the anticipation of them had broken; and out of the very
extremity of fear we sometimes can draw its own antidote. Just as
with flint and steel you may strike a spark, so danger, striking
against our heart, brings out the flash that kindles the tinder.

This brief cry for help singularly blends faith and fear. There is
faith in it, else Peter would not have appealed to Christ to save
him. There is mortal terror in it, else he would not have felt that
he needed to cry. But faith is uppermost now, and the very terror
feeds it. So, by swift transition, our fears may pass into their own
opposite and become courageous trust. Just as in a coal fire the
thick black smoke sometimes gets alight and passes into ruddy flame,
so our fears may catch fire and flash up as confidence and prayer.

Note the merciful swiftness of Christ's answer. 'Immediately He
caught him,' because another moment would have been too late. There
will be time to teach him the lessons of his presumption, but when
the water is all but up to the lips that shrieked for help, there is
but one thing to do. He must be saved first and talked to afterwards.
Our cries for deliverance in temporal matters are not always answered
so quickly, for it is often better for us to be left to struggle with
the waves and winds. But our appeals for Christ's helping hand in
soul-peril are always answered without delay. No appreciable time is
consumed in the passage of the telegram or in flashing back the
answer. The apostle was not caught by Christ's hand before he knew
his danger, for it was good for him that he should go down some way,
but he was caught as soon as he called on the Master, and before he
had come to any harm. The trial lasted long enough to wash the
stiffening of self-confidence out of him, and then it had done its
work--and Christ's strong hand held him up.

The manner of the answer is noteworthy. It is determined by, and
adapted to, his weak faith. He could not be upheld now as he had
been a moment ago, before his fear had weighted him, by the exercise
of Christ's will only. Then Christ could hold him up without
touching him, but now the palpable grasp of the hand was needed to
assure the tremulous, doubting heart. So we, too, sometimes need and
get material and outward signs which make it easier to feel the
reality of sustaining grace. But whether we do or no, Christ's swift
help always takes the form best suited to our faith, and He has
regard to the capacity of our clasping hands in the measure and
manner of His gifts.

The time and tone of Christ's gentle remonstrance are remarkable.
Deliverance comes first, and rebuke afterwards. Having first shown
him, by the fact of safety, that his doubts were irrational, Christ
then, and not till then, puts His gentle question. Perhaps there was
a smile on His face, as surely there was love in His voice, that
softened the rebuke and went to Peter's heart.

What does Christ rebuke him for? Getting out of the boat? No. He
does not blame him for venturing too much, but for trusting too
little. He does not blame him for attempting something beyond his
strength, but for not holding fast the beginning of his confidence
firm unto the end. And so the lesson for us is, that we cannot
expect too much if we expect it perseveringly. We cannot set our
conceptions of Christ's possible help to us too high if only we keep
at the height to which we once have set them, and are assured that
He will hold us up when we are down amongst the weltering waves, as
we fancied ourselves to be when we were sitting in the boat wishing
to be with Him. That is the question that He will meet us with when
we get up on the shore yonder; and we shall not have any more to say
for ourselves, in vindication of our tremulous trust, than Peter,
silenced for once, had to say on this occasion.

It will be good for us all if, like this apostle, our trials
consolidate our characters, and out of the shifting, fluctuating,
impetuous nature that was blown about like sand by every gust of
emotion there be made, by the pressure of responsibility and trial,
and experience of our own unreliableness, the 'Rock' of a stable
character, steadfast and unmovable, with calm resolution and fixed
faith, on which the Great Architect can build some portion of His
great temple.


'Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts
of Tyre and Sidon. 22. And, behold, a woman of Canaan
came out of the same coasts, and cried unto Him,
saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my
daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. 23. But He
answered her not a word. And His disciples came and
besought Him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth
after us. 24. But He answered and said, I am not sent
but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
25. Then came she and worshipped Him, saying, Lord,
help me. 26. But He answered and said, It is not meet
to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs.
27. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the
crumbs which fall from their masters' table. 28. Then
Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy
faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her
daughter was made whole from that very hour. 29. And
Jesus departed from thence, and came nigh unto the sea
of Galilee; and went up into a mountain, and sat down
there. 30. And great multitudes came unto Him, having
with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed,
and many others, and cast them down at Jesus' feet;
and He healed them: 31. Insomuch that the multitude
wondered, when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed
to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see:
and they glorified the God of Israel.'--MATT. xv. 21-31.

The King of Israel has passed beyond the bounds of Israel, driven by
the hostility of those who should have been His subjects. The
delegates of the priestly party from Jerusalem, who had come down to
see into this dangerous enthusiasm which was beginning in Galilee,
have made Christ's withdrawal expedient, and He goes northward, if
not actually into the territory of Tyre and Sidon, at any rate to
the border land. The incident of the Syro-Phoenician woman becomes
more striking if we suppose that it took place on Gentile ground. At
all events, after it, we learn from Mark that He made a considerable
circuit, first north and then east, and so came round to the eastern
side of the sea of Galilee, where the last paragraph of this section
finds Him. The key to its meaning lies in the contrast between the
single cure of the woman's demoniac daughter, obtained after so long
imploring, and the spontaneous abundance of the cures wrought when
Jesus again had Jewish sufferers to do with, even though it were on
the half-Gentilised eastern shore of the lake. The contrast is an
illustration of His parable of the crumbs that fell from the table
and the plentiful feast that was spread upon it for the children.

The story of the Syro-Phoenician woman naturally falls into four
parts, each marked by the recurrence of 'He answered.'

I. There is the piteous cry, and the answer of silence. Mark tells
us that Jesus sought concealment in this journey; but distress has
quick eyes, and this poor woman found Him. Canaanite as she is, and
thus a descendant of the ancient race of Israel's enemies, she has
learned to call Him the Son of David, owning His kingship, which His
born subjects disowned. She beseeches for that which He delights to
give, identifying herself with her poor child's suffering, and
asking as for herself His mercy. As Chrysostom says: 'It was a sight
to stir pity to behold a woman calling aloud in such distress, and
that woman a mother, and pleading for a daughter, and that daughter
in such evil plight.' In her humility she does not bring her child,
nor ask Him to go to her. In her agony, she has nothing to say but
to spread her grief before Him, as thinking that He, of whose pity
she has heard, needs but to know in order to alleviate, and requires
no motives urged to induce Him to help. In her faith, she thinks
that His power can heal from afar. What more could He have desired?
All the more startling, then, is His demeanour. All the conditions
which He usually required, were present in her; but He, who was wont
to meet these with swift and joyful over-answers, has no word to say
to this poor, needy, persevering, humble, and faithful suppliant.
The fountain seems frozen, from which such streams of blessing were
wont to flow. His mercy seems clean gone, and His compassion to have
failed. A Christ silent to a sufferer's cry is a paradox which
contradicts the whole gospel story, and which, we may be very sure,
no evangelist would have painted, if he had not been painting from
the life.

II. There is the disciples' intercession answered by Christ's
statement of the limitations of His mission. Their petition
evidently meant, 'Dismiss her by granting her request'; they knew in
what fashion He was wont to 'send away' such suppliants. They seem,
then, more pitiful than He is. But their thoughts are more for
themselves than for her. That 'us' shows the cloven foot. They did
not like the noise, and they feared it might defeat His purpose of
secrecy; and so, by their phrase, 'Send her away,' they
unconsciously betray that what they wanted was not granting the
prayer, but getting rid of the petitioner. Perhaps, too, they mean,
'Say something to her; either tell her that Thou wilt or that Thou
wilt not; break Thy silence somehow.' No doubt, it was intensely
disagreeable to have a shrieking woman coming after them; and they
were only doing as most of us would have done, and as so many of us
do, when we give help without one touch of compassion, in order to
stop some imploring mouth.

Their apparently compassionate but really selfish intercession was
put aside by the answer, which explains the paradox of His silence.
It puts emphasis on two things: His subordination to the divine will
of the Father, and the restrictions imposed thereby on the scope of
His beneficent working. He was obeying the divine will in confining
His ministry to the Jewish people, as we know that He did. Clearly,
that restriction was necessary. It was a case of concentration in
order to diffusion. The fire must be gathered on the hearth, if it
is afterward to warm the chamber. There must be geographical and
national limits to His life; and the Messiah, who comes last in the
long series of the kings and prophets, can only be authenticated as
the world's Messiah, by being first the fulfiller to the children of
the promises made to the fathers. The same necessity, which required
that revelation should be made through that nation, required that
the climax and fulfiller of all revelation should limit His earthly
ministry to it. This limitation must be regarded as applying only to
His own personal ministry. It did not limit His sympathies, nor
interfere with His consciousness of being the Saviour and King of
the whole world. He had already spoken the parables which claimed it
all for the area of the development of His kingdom, and in many
other ways had given utterance to His consciousness of universal
dominion, and His purpose of universal mercy. But He knew that there
was an order of development in the kingdom, and that at its then
stage the surest way to attain the ultimate universality was rigid
limitation of it to the chosen people. This conviction locked His
gracious lips against even this poor woman's piteous cry. We may
well believe that His sympathy outran His commission, and that it
would have been hard for so much love to be silent in the presence
of so much sorrow, if He had not felt the solemn pressure of that
divine necessity which ruled all His life. He was bound by His
instructions, and therefore He answered her not a word. Individual
suffering is no reason for transcending the limits of God-appointed
functions; and he is absolved from the charge of indifference who
refrains from giving help, which he can only give by overleaping the
bounds of his activity, which have been set by the Father.

III. We have, next, the persistent suppliant answered by a refusal
which sounds harsh and hopeless. Christ's former words were probably
not heard by the woman, who seems to have been behind the group. She
saw that something was being said to Him, and may have gathered,
from gestures or looks, that His reply was unfavourable. Perhaps
there was a short pause in their walk, while they spoke, during
which she came nearer. Now she falls at His feet, and with
'beautiful shamelessness,' as Chrysostom calls it, repeats her
prayer, but this time with pathetic brevity, uttering but the one
cry, 'Lord, help me!' The intenser the feeling, the fewer the words.
Heart-prayers are short prayers. She does not now invoke Him as the
Son of David, nor tell her sorrow over again, but flings herself in
desperation on His pity, with the artless and unsupported cry, wrung
from her agony, as she sees the hope of help fading away. Like
Jacob, in his mysterious struggle, 'she wept, and made supplication
unto Him.'

As it would seem, her distress touched no chord of sympathy; and
from the lips accustomed to drop oil and wine into every wound, came
words like swords, cold, unfeeling, keen-edged, fitted and meant to
lacerate. We shall not understand them, or Him, if we content
ourselves with the explanation which jealousy for His honour as
compassionate and tender has led many to adopt, that He meant all
the long delay in granting her request, and the words which He
spoke, only as tests of her faith. His refusal was a real refusal,
founded on the divine decree, which He was bound to obey. His words
to her, harsh as they unquestionably sound, are but another way of
putting the limitation on which He had just insisted in His answer
to the disciples. The 'bread' is the blessing which He, as the sent
of God, brings; the 'children' are the 'lost sheep of the house of
Israel'; the 'dogs' are the Gentile world. The meaning of the whole
is simply the necessary restriction of His personal activity to the
chosen nation. It is not meant to wound nor to insult, though, no
doubt, it is cast in a form which might have been offensive, and
would have repelled a less determined or less sorrowful heart. The
form may be partly explained by the intention of trying her
earnestness, which, though it is not the sole, or even the
principal, is a subordinate, reason of our Lord's action. But it is
also to be considered in the light of the woman's quick-witted
retort, which drew out of it an inference which we cannot suppose
that Christ did not intend. He uses a diminutive for 'dogs,' which
shows that He is not thinking of the fierce, unclean animals,
masterless and starving, that still haunt Eastern cities, and
deserve their bad character, but of domestic pets, who live with the
household, and are near the table. In fact, the woman seized His
intention much better than later critics who find 'national scorn'
in the words; and the fair inference from them is just that which
she drew, and which constituted the law of the preaching of the
Gospel,--'To the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.'

IV. We have the woman's retort, which wrings hope out of apparent
discouragement, answered by Christ's joyful granting of her request.
Out of His very words she weaves a plea. 'Yes, Lord; I am one of the
dogs; then I am not an alien, but belong to the household.' The
Revised Version does justice to her words by reading 'for even'
instead of 'yet,' She does not enter a caveat against the analogy,
but accepts it wholly, and only asks Him to carry out His own
metaphor. She takes the sword from His hand, or, as Luther says,
'she catches Him in His own words.' She does not ask a place at the
table, nor anything taken from those who have a prior claim to a
more abundant share in His mercies. A crumb is enough for her, which
they will never miss. In other and colder words, she acquiesces in
the divine appointment which limits His mission to Israel; but she
recognises that all nations belong to God's household, and that she
and her countrymen have a real, though for the time inferior,
position in it. She pleads that her gain will not be the children's
loss, nor the answer to her prayers an infraction of the spirit of
His mission. Perhaps, too, there may be a reference to the fact of
His being there on Gentile soil, in her words, 'Which fall from the
children's table.' She does not want the bread to be thrown from the
table to her. She is not asking Him to transfer His ministry to
Gentiles; but here He is. A crumb has fallen, in His brief visit.
May she not eat of that? In this answer faith, humility,
perseverance, swift perception of His meaning, and hallowed
ingenuity and boldness, are equally admirable. By admitting that she
was 'a dog,' and pleading her claim on that footing, she shows that
she was 'a child.' And therefore, because she has shown herself one
of the true household, in the fixedness of her faith, in the
meekness of her humility, in the persistence of her prayers, Christ
joyfully recognises that here is a case in which He may pass the
line of ordinary limitation, and that, in doing so, He does not
exceed His commission. Such faith is entitled to the fullest share
of His gift. She takes her place beside the Gentile centurion as the
two recipients of commendation from Him for the greatness of their
faith. It had seemed as if He would give nothing; but He ends with
giving all, putting the key of the storehouse into her hand, and
bidding her take, not a crumb, but 'as thou wilt.' Her daughter is
healed, by His power working at a distance; but that was not, we may
be very sure, the last nor the best of the blessings which she took
from that great treasure of which He made her mistress. Nor can we
doubt that He rejoiced at the removal of the barrier which dammed
back His help, as much as she did at the abundance of the stream
which reached her at last.

V. The final verses of our lesson give us a striking contrast to
this story. Jesus is again on the shores of the lake, after a tour
through the Tyrian and Sidonian territory, and then eastwards and
southwards, to its eastern bank. There He, as on several former
occasions, seeks seclusion and repose in the hills, which is broken
in upon by the crowds. The old excitement and rush of people begin
again. And large numbers of sick, 'lame, blind, dumb, maimed and
many others,' are brought. They are cast 'down at His feet' in hot
haste, with small ceremony, and, as would appear, with little
petitioning for His healing power. But the same grace, for which the
Canaanitish woman had needed to plead so hard, now seems to flow
almost unasked. She had, as it were, wrung a drop out; now it gushes
abundantly. She had not got her 'crumb' without much pleading; these
get the bread almost without asking. It is this contrast of scant
and full supplies which the evangelist would have us observe. And he
points his meaning plainly enough by that expression, 'they
glorified the God of Israel,' which seems to be Matthew's own, and
not his quotation of what the crowd said. This abundance of miracle
witnesses to the pre-eminence of Israel over the Gentile nations,
and to the special revelation of Himself which God made to them in
His Son. The crowd may have found in it only fuel for narrow
national pride and contempt; but it was the divine method for the
founding of the kingdom none the less; and these two scenes, set
thus side by side, teach the same truth, that the King of men is
first the King of Israel.


'When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Phllippi,
He asked His disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I
the Son of Man am? 14. And they said, Some say that
thou art John the Baptist; some, Elias; and others,
Jeremias, or one of the prophets. 15. He saith unto
them, But whom say ye that I am? 16. And Simon Peter
answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the
living God. 17. And Jesus answered and said unto him,
Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood
hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is
in heaven. 18. And I say also unto thee, That thou art
Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and
the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19. And
I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of
heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall
be hound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on
earth shall be loosed in heaven. 20. Then charged He
His disciples that they should tell no man that He was
Jesus the Christ. 21. From that time forth began Jesus
to shew unto His disciples, how that He must go unto
Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and
chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised
again the third day. 22. Then Peter took Him, and began
to rebuke Him, saying, Be it far from Thee, Lord: this
shall not be unto Thee. 23. But He turned, and said
unto Peter, Get thee behind Me, Satan: thou art an
offence unto Me: for thou savourest not the things that
be of God, but those that be of men. 24. Then said
Jesus unto His disciples, If any man will come after
Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and
follow Me. 25. For whosoever will save his life shall
lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for My sake
shall find it. 26. For what is a man profited, if he
shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or
what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? 27. For
the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father
with His angels; and then He shall reward every man
according to his works. 28. Verily I say unto you,
There be some standing here, which shall not taste of
death, till they see the Son of Man coming in His
kingdom.'--MATT. xvi. 13-28.

This section is embarrassing from its fulness of material. We can
but lightly touch points on which volumes might be, and indeed have
been, written.

I. The first section (vs. 13-20) gives us Peter's great confession
in the name of the disciples, and Christ's answer to it. The centre
of this section is the eager avowal of the impetuous apostle, always
foremost for good or evil. We note the preparation for it, its
contents, and its results. As to the preparation,--our Lord is
entering on a new era in His work, and desires to bring clearly into
His followers' consciousness the sum of His past self-revelation.
The excitement, which He had checked after the first miraculous
feeding, had died down. The fickle crowd had gone away from Him, and
the shadows of the cross were darkening. Amid the seclusion of the
woods, fountains, and rocks of Caesarea, far away from distracting
influences, He puts these two momentous questions. Following the
Revised Version reading, we have a double contrast between the first
and second. 'Men' answers to 'ye,' and 'the Son of Man' to 'I.' The
first question is as to the partial and conflicting opinions among
the multitudes who had heard His name for Himself from His own lips;
the second, in its use of the 'I,' hints at the fuller unveiling of
the depths of His gracious personality, which the disciples had
experienced, and implies, 'Surely you, who have been beside Me, and
known Me so closely, have reached a deeper understanding.' It has a
tone of the same wistfulness and wonder as that other question of
His, 'Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known
Me?' For their sakes, He seeks to draw out their partly unconscious
faith, that had been smouldering, fed by their daily experience of
His beauty and tenderness. Half-recognised convictions float in many
a heart, which need but a pointed question to crystallise into
master-truths, to which, henceforward, the whole being is subject.
Great are the dangers of articulate creeds; but great is the power
of putting our shadowy beliefs into plain words. 'With the mouth
confession is made unto salvation.'

Why should this great question have been preceded by the other?
Probably to make the disciples feel more distinctly the chaotic
contradictions of the popular judgment, and their own isolation by
their possession of the clearer light. He wishes them to see the
gulf opening between them and their fellows, and so to bind them
more closely to Himself. This is the question the answer to which
settles everything for a man. It has an intensely sharp point. We
cannot take refuge from it in the general opinion. Nor does any
other man's judgment about Him matter one whit to us. This Christ
has a strange power, after nineteen hundred years, of coming to each
of us, with the same persistent interrogation on His lips. And to-day,
as then, all depends on the answer which we give. Many answer by
exalted estimates of Him, like these varying replies which ascribed
to Him prophetic authority, but they have not understood His own name
for Himself, nor drunk in the meaning of His self-revelation, unless
they can reply with the full-toned confession of the apostle, which
sets Him far above and apart from the highest and holiest.

As to the contents of the confession, it includes both the human and
the divine sides of Christ's nature. He is the Messiah, but He is
more than what a Jew meant by that name; He is 'the Son of the
living God,' by which we cannot indeed suppose that Peter meant all
that he afterwards learned it contained, or all that the Church has
now been taught of its meaning, but which, nevertheless, is not to
be watered down as if it did not declare His unique filial relation
to the Father, and so His divine nature. Nathanael had burst into
rapturous adoration of Jesus as 'the Son of God' at the very
beginning; and the disciples' glad confidence, which cast out the
fear of the dim form striding across the sea, had echoed the
confession; all had heard His words, 'No man knoweth the Father but
the Son.' So we need not hesitate to interpret this confession as in
essence and germ containing the whole future doctrine of our Lord's
divinity. True, the speaker did not know all which lay in His words.
Do we? Do we not see here an illustration of the method of Christian
progress in doctrine, which consists not in the winning of new
truths, but in the penetrating further into the meaning of old and
initial truths? The conviction which made and makes a Christian, is
this of Peter's; and Christian growth is into, not away from, it.

As to the results, they are set forth in our Lord's answer, which
breathes of delight, and we may almost say gratitude. His manhood
knew the thrill of satisfaction at having some hearts which
understood though partially, and loved even better than they knew.
The solemn address to the apostle by his ancestral name, gives
emphasis to the contrast between his natural weakness and his divine
illumination and consequent privilege. The name of Peter is not here
bestowed, but interpreted. Christ does not say 'Thou shalt be,' but
'Thou art,' and so presupposes the former conferring of the name.

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