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Expositions of Holy Scripture by Alexander Maclaren

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WHAT 'THE GOSPEL' IS (Mark i. 1)



HEALING AND SERVICE (Mark i. 30, 31, R.V.)

A PARABLE IN A MIRACLE (Mark i. 40-42)

CHRIST'S TOUCH (Mark i. 41)


THE PUBLICANS' FRIEND (Mark ii. 13-22)


WORKS WHICH HALLOW THE SABBATH (Mark ii. 23-28; iii. 1-5)



'HE IS BESIDE HIMSELF' (Mark iii. 21)


CHRIST'S KINDRED (Mark iii. 31-35)


FOUR SOILS FOR ONE SEED (Mark iv. 10-20)


THE STORM STILLED (Mark iv. 35-41)

THE TOILING CHRIST (Mark iv. 36, 38)

THE LORD OF DEMONS (Mark v. 1-20)

A REFUSED REQUEST (Mark v. 18,19)

TALITHA CUMI (Mark v. 22-24, 35-43)

THE POWER OF FEEBLE FAITH (Mark v. 25, 27, 28)

TOUCH OR FAITH? (Mark v. 28, 34)



CHRIST THWARTED (Mark vi. 5, 6)


THE MARTYRDOM OF JOHN (Mark vi. 17-28)

THE WORLD'S BREAD (Mark vi. 30-44)


THE PATTERN OF SERVICE (Mark vii. 33, 34)




CHRIST'S CROSS, AND OURS (Mark viii. 27--ix. 1)



JESUS ONLY (Mark ix. 8)






SALTED WITH FIRE (Mark ix. 49)

'SALT IN YOURSELVES' (Mark ix. 50)


ALMOST A DISCIPLE. (Mark x. 17-27)



BARTIMAEUS (Mark x. 46)

AN EAGER COMING (Mark x. 50)

LOVE'S QUESTION (Mark x. 51; Acts ix. 6)



NOTHING BUT LEAVES (Mark xi. 13, 14)

DISHONEST TENANTS (Mark xii. 1-12)

GOD'S LAST ARROW (Mark xii. 6)

NOT FAR AND NOT IN (Mark xii. 34)

THE CREDULITY OF UNBELIEF (Mark xiii. 6; Luke xviii, 8)

AUTHORITY AND WORK (Mark xiii. 34)

THE ALABASTER BOX (Mark xiv. 6-9)

A SECRET RENDEZVOUS (Mark xiv. 12-16)

THE NEW PASSOVER (Mark xiv. 12-26)

'Is IT I?' (Mark xiv. 19)

'STRONG CRYING AND TEARS' (Mark xiv. 32-42)











'FIRST TO MARY' (Mark xvi. 9)




The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.--Mark i. 1

My purpose now is to point out some of the various connections in
which the New Testament uses that familiar phrase, 'the gospel,' and
briefly to gather some of the important thoughts which these suggest.
Possibly the process may help to restore freshness to a word so well
worn that it slips over our tongues almost unnoticed and excites
little thought.

The history of the word in the New Testament books is worth notice. It
seldom occurs in those lives of our Lord which now are emphatically so
called, and where it does occur, it is 'the gospel of the Kingdom'
quite as frequently as 'the gospel' of the King. The word is never
used in Luke, and only twice in the Acts of the Apostles, both times
in quotations. The Apostle John never employs it, either in his
'gospel' or in his epistles, and in the Apocalypse the word is only
once found, and then it may be a question whether it refers to the
good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. John thought of the word which
he had to proclaim as 'the message,' 'the witness,' 'the truth,'
rather than as 'the gospel.' We search for the expression in vain in
the epistles of James, Jude, and to the Hebrews. Thrice it is used by
Peter. The great bulk of the instances of its occurrence are in the
writings of Paul, who, if not the first to use it, at any rate is the
source from which the familiar meaning of the phrase, as describing
the sum total of the revelation in Jesus Christ, has flowed.

The various connections in which the word is employed are remarkable
and instructive. We can but touch lightly on the more important
lessons which they are fitted to teach.

I. The Gospel is the 'Gospel of Christ.'

On our Lord's own lips and in the records of His life we find, as has
already been noticed, the phrase, 'the gospel of the kingdom'--the
good news of the establishment on earth of the rule of God in the
hearts and lives of men. The person of the King is not yet defined by
it. The diffused dawn floods the sky, and upon them that sit in
darkness the greatness of its light shines, before the sun is above
the horizon. The message of the Forerunner proclaimed, like a herald's
clarion, the coming of the Kingdom, before he could say to a more
receptive few, 'Behold the Lamb of God.' The order is first the
message of the Kingdom, then the discovery of the King. And so that
earlier phrase falls out of use, and when once Christ's life had been
lived, and His death died, the gospel is no longer the message of an
impersonal revolution in the world's attitude to God's will, but the
biography of Him who is at once first subject and monarch of the
Kingdom of Heaven, and by whom alone we are brought into it. The
standing expression comes to be 'the gospel of Christ.'

It is His, not so much because He is the author, as because He is the
subject of it. It is the good news about Christ. He is its contents
and great theme. And so we are led up at once to the great central
peculiarity of Christianity, namely that it is a record of historical
fact, and that all the world's life and blessedness lie in the story
of a human life and death. Christ is Christianity. His biography is
the good news for every child of man.

Neither a philosophy nor a morality, but a history, is the true good
news for men. The world is hungry, and when it cries for bread wise
men give it a stone, but God gives it the fare it needs in the bread
that comes down from Heaven. Though it be of small account in many
people's eyes, like the common barley cakes, the poor man's food, it
is what we all need; and humble people, and simple people, and
uneducated people, and barbarous people, and dying people, and the
little children can all eat and live. They would find little to keep
them from starving in anything more ambitious, and would only break
their teeth in mumbling the dry bones of philosophies and moralities.
But the story of their Brother who has lived and died for them feeds
heart and mind and will, fancy and imagination, memory and hope,
nourishes the whole nature into health and beauty, and alone deserves
to be called good news for men.

All that the world needs lies in that story. Out of it have come peace
and gladness to the soul, light for the understanding, cleansing for
the conscience, renovation for the will, which can be made strong and
free by submission, a resting-place for the heart, and a
starting-point and a goal for the loftiest flights of hope. Out of it
have come the purifying of family and civic life, the culture of all
noble social virtues, the sanctity of the household, and the elevation
of the state. The thinker has found the largest problems raised and
solved therein. The setting forth of a loftier morality, and the
enthusiasm which makes the foulest nature aspire to and reach its
heaven-touching heights, are found together there. To it poet and
painter, architect and musician, owe their noblest themes. The good
news of the world is the story of Christ's life and death. Let us be
thankful for its form; let us be thankful for its substance.

But we must not forget that, as Paul, who is so fond of the word, has
taught us, the historical fact needs some explanation and commentary
to make the history a gospel. He has declared to us 'the gospel which
he preached,' and to which he ascribes saving power, and he gives
these as its elements, 'How that Christ died for our sins, according
to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the
third day, according to the Scriptures.' There are three facts--death,
burial, resurrection. These are the things that any eye could have
seen. Are these the gospel? Is there any saving power in them? Not
unless you add the commentary 'for our sins,' and 'according to the
Scriptures.' That death was a death for us all, by which we are
delivered from our sins--that is the main thing; and in subordination
to that thought, the other that Christ's death was the accomplishment
of prophecies--these make the history a gospel. The bare facts,
without the exhibition of their purpose and meaning, are no more a
gospel than any other story of a death would be. The facts with any
lower explanation of their meaning are no gospel, any more than the
story of the death of Socrates or any innocent martyr would be. If you
would know the good news that will lift your heavy heart from sorrow
and break your chains of sin, that will put music into your life and
make your days blaze into brightness as when the sunlight strikes some
sullen mountain-side that lay black in shadow, you must take the fact
with its meaning, and find your gospel in the life and death of Him
who is more than example and more than martyr. 'How that Christ died
for our sins, according to the Scriptures,' is 'the gospel of Christ.'

II. The Gospel of Christ is the 'Gospel of God.'

This form of the expression, though by no means so frequent as the
other, is found throughout Paul's epistles, thrice in the
earliest--Thessalonians (1 Thess. ii. 8), once in the great Epistle to
the Romans (i. 1), once in Corinthians (2 Cor. xi. 7), and once in a
modified form in the pathetic letter from the dungeon, which the old
man addressed to his 'son Timothy' (1 Tim. i. 11). It is also found in
the writings of Peter (1 Pet. iv. 17). In all these cases the phrase,
'the gospel of God,' may mean the gospel which has God for its author
or origin, but it seems rather to mean 'which has God for its

It was, as we saw, mainly designated as the good news about Jesus
Christ, but it is also the good news about God. So in one and the same
set of facts we have the history of Jesus and the revelation of God.
They are not only the biography of a man, but they are the unveiling
of the heart of God. These Scripture writers take it for granted that
their readers will understand that paradox, and do not stop to explain
how they change the statement of the subject matter of their message,
in this extraordinary fashion, between their Master who had lived and
died on earth, and the Unseen Almightiness throned above all heavens.
How comes that to be?

It is not that the gospel has two subjects, one of which is the matter
of one portion, and the other of another. It does not sometimes speak
of Christ, and sometimes rise to tell us of God. It is always speaking
of both, and when its subject is most exclusively the man Christ
Jesus, it is then most chiefly the Father God. How comes that to be?

Surely this unconscious shifting of the statement of their theme,
which these writers practise as a matter of course, shows us how
deeply the conviction had stamped itself on their spirits, 'He that
hath seen Me hath seen the Father,' and how the point of view from
which they had learned to look on all the sweet and wondrous story of
their Master's life and death, was that of a revelation of the deepest
heart of God.

And so must we look on that whole career, from the cradle to the
cross, from Calvary to Olivet, if we are to know its deepest
tenderness and catch its gladdest notes. That such a man has lived and
died is beautiful, and the portrait will hang for ever as that of the
fairest of the children of men. But that in that life and death we
have our most authentic knowledge of what God is, and that all the
pity and truth, the gentleness and the brotherliness, the tears and
the self-surrender, are a revelation to us of God; and that the cross,
with its awful sorrow and its painful death, tells us not only how a
man gave himself for those whom he loved, but how God loves the world
and how tremendous is His law--this is good news of God indeed. We
have to look for our truest knowledge of Him not in the majesties of
the starry heavens, nor in the depths of our own souls, not in the
scattered tokens of His character given by the perplexed order of the
world, nor in the intuitions of the wise, but in the life and death of
His Son, whose tears are the pity of God as well as the compassion of
a man, and in whose life and death the whole world may behold 'the
brightness of His glory and the express image of His person,' and be
delivered from all their fears of an angry, and all their doubts of an
unknown, God.

There is a double modification of this phrase. We hear of 'the gospel
of the grace of God' and 'the gospel of the glory of God,' which
latter expression, rendered in the English version misleadingly 'the
glorious gospel,' is given in its true shape in the Revised Version.
The great theme of the message is further defined in these two
noteworthy forms. It is the tender love of God in exercise to lowly
creatures who deserve something else that the gospel is busy in
setting forth, a love which flows forth unbought and unmotived save by
itself, like some stream from a hidden lake high up among the pure
Alpine snows. The story of Christ's work is the story of God's rich,
unmerited love, bending down to creatures far beneath, and making a
radiant pathway from earth to heaven, like the sevenfold rainbow. It
is so, not merely because this mission is the result of God's love,
but also because His grace is God's grace, and therefore every act of
Christ which speaks His own tenderness is therein an apocalypse of

The second of these two expressions, 'the gospel of the glory of God,'
leads up to that great thought that the true glory of the divine
nature is its tenderness. The lowliness and death of Christ are the
glory of God! Not in the awful attributes which separate that
inconceivable Nature from us, not in the eternity of His existence,
nor in the Infinitude of His Being, not in the Omnipotence of His
unwearied arm, nor in fire-eyed Omniscience, but in the pity and
graciousness which bend lovingly over us, is the true glory of God.
These pompous 'attributes' are but the fringes of the brightness, the
living white heart of which is love. God's glory is God's grace, and
the purest expression of both is found there, where Jesus hangs dying
in the dark, The true throne of God's glory is not builded high in a
remote heaven, flashing intolerable brightness and set about with
bending principalities and powers, but it is the Cross of Calvary. The
story of the 'grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,' with its humiliation
and shame, is the 'gospel of the grace,' and therefore is the 'gospel
of the glory, of God.'

III. The good news of Christ and of God is the gospel of our salvation
and peace.

We read of 'the gospel of your salvation' (Eph. i. 13), and in the
same letter (vi. 15) of 'the gospel of peace.' In these expressions we
pass from the consideration of the author or of the subject matter of
the good news to that of its purpose and issue. It is meant to bring
to men, and it does in fact bring to all who accept it, those wide and
complex blessings described by those two great words.

That good news about Christ and God brings to a man salvation, if he
believes it. To know and feel that I have a loving Father who has so
cared for me and all my brethren that He has sent His Son to live and
die for me, is surely enough to deliver me from all the bonds and
death of sin, and to quicken me into humble consecration to His
service. And such emancipation from the burden and misery of sin, from
the gnawing consciousness of evil and the weakening sense of guilt,
from the dominion of wrong tastes and habits, and from the despair of
ever shaking them off which is only too well grounded in the
experience of the past, is the beginning of salvation for each of us.
That great keyword of the New Testament covers the whole field of
positive and negative good which man can need or God can give.
Negatively it includes the removal of every evil, whether of the
nature of sorrow or of sin, under which men can groan. Positively it
includes the endowment with all good, whether of the nature of joy or
of purity, which men can hope for or receive. It is past, present, and
future, for every heart that accepts 'the word of the truth of the
gospel'--past, inasmuch as the first effect of even the most
incomplete acceptance is to put us in a new position and attitude
towards the law of God, and to plant the germs of all holiness and joy
in our souls; present, inasmuch as salvation is a growing possession
and a continuous process running on all through our lives, if we be
true to ourselves and our calling; future, inasmuch as its completion
waits to be unveiled in another order of things, where perfect purity
and perfect consecration shall issue in perfect joy. And all this
ennobling and enriching of human nature is produced by that good news
about the grace and glory of God and of Christ, if we will only listen
to it, and let it work its work on our souls.

Substantially the same set of facts is included under that other
expression, 'the gospel of peace.' The Hebrew use of the word 'peace'
as a kind of shorthand for all good is probably to be remembered. But
even in the narrower sense of the word, how great are the blessings
set forth by it! All inward serenity and outward calm, the
tranquillity of a soul free from the agitations of emotion and the
storms of passions and the tumults of desire, as well as the security
of a life guarded from the assaults of foes and girded about with an
impregnable barrier which nothing can destroy and no enemy overleap,
are ours, if we take the good news about God to our heart. They are
ours in the measure in which we take it. Clearly such truths as those
which the gospel brings have a plain tendency to give peace. They give
peace with God, with the world, and with ourselves. They lead to
trust, and trust is peace. They lead to union with God, and that is
peace. They lead to submission, and that is peace. They lead to
consecration, and that is peace. They lead to indifference to fleeting
joys and treasures, and that is peace. They give to heart and mind and
will an all-sufficient and infinite object, and that is peace. They
deliver us from ourselves, and that is peace. They fill the past, the
present, and the future with the loving Father's presence, and
brighten life and death with the Saviour's footsteps--and so to live
is calm, and to die is to lay ourselves down in peace and sleep, quiet
by His side, like a child by its mother. The good news about God and
Christ is the good news of our salvation and of our peace.

IV. The good news about Christ and God is _the_ gospel.

By far the most frequent form in which the word gospel occurs is that
of the simple use of the noun with the definite article. This message
is emphatically _the_ good news. It is the tidings which men most of
all want. It stands alone; there is no other like it. If this be not
the glad tidings of great joy for the world, then there are none.

Let no false liberality lead us to lose sight of the exclusive claims
which are made in this phrase for the set of facts the narrative of
which constitutes 'the gospel.' The life and death of Jesus Christ for
the sins of the world, His resurrection and continuous life for the
saving of the world--these are the truths, without which there can be
no gospel. They may be apprehended in different ways, set forth in
different perspective, proclaimed in different dialects, explained in
different fashion, associated with different accompaniments, drawn out
into different consequences, and yet, through all diversity of tones,
the message may be one. Sounded on a ram's horn or a silver trumpet,
it may be the same saving and joy-bringing proclamation, and it will
be, if Christ and His life and death are plainly set forth as the
beginning and ending of all. But if there be an omission of that
mighty name, or if a Christ be proclaimed without a Cross, a salvation
without a Saviour, or a Saviour without a Sacrifice, all the
adornments of genius and sincerity will not prevent such a half gospel
from falling flat. Its preachers have never been able, and never will
be able, to touch the general heart or to bring good cheer to men.
They have always had to complain, 'We have piped unto you and ye have
not danced.' They cannot get people to be glad over such a message.
Only when you speak of a Christ who has died for our sins, will you
cause the heavy heart of the world to sing for joy. Only that old, old
message is the good news which men want.

There is no second gospel. Men who preach a message of a different
kind, as Paul tells us, are preaching what is not really another
gospel. There cannot be two messages. There is but one genuine; all
others are counterfeits. For us it is all-important that we should be
no less narrow than the truth, and no more liberal than he was to whom
the message 'how that Jesus died for our sins' was the only thing
worth calling the gospel. Our own salvation depends on our firm grasp
of that one message, and for some of us, the clear decisiveness with
which our lips ring it out determines whether we shall be blessings or
curses to our generation. There is a Babel of voices now preaching
other messages which promise good tidings of good. Let us cleave with
all our hearts to Christ alone, and let our tongues not falter in
proclaiming, 'Neither is there salvation in any other.' The gospel of
the Christ who died for our sins, is _the_ gospel.

And what we have for ourselves to do with it is told us in that
pregnant phrase of the apostle's, 'my gospel,' and 'our gospel';
meaning not merely the message which he was charged to proclaim, but
the good news which he and his brethren had made their own. So we have
to make it ours. It is of no use to us, unless we do. It is not enough
that it echoes all around us, like music borne upon the wind. It is
not enough that we hear it, as men do some sweet melody, while their
thoughts are busy on other things. It is not enough that we believe
it, as we do other histories in which we have no concern. What more is
needed? Another expression of the apostle's gives the answer. He
speaks of 'the faith of the gospel,' that is the trust which that glad
message evokes, and by which it is laid hold of.

Make it yours by trusting your whole self to the Christ of whom it
tells you. The reliance of heart and will on Jesus who has died for
me, makes it 'my gospel.' There is one God, one Christ, one gospel
which tells us of them, and one faith by which we lay hold upon the
gospel, and upon the loving Father and the ever-helpful Saviour of
whom it tells. Let us make that great word our own by simple faith,
and then 'as cold water to our thirsty soul,' so will be that 'good
news from a far country,' the country where the Father's house is, and
to which He has sent the Elder Brother to bring back us prodigal


'The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; 2. As it
is written in the prophets, Behold, I send My messenger before Thy
face, which shall prepare Thy way before Thee. 3. The voice of one
crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His
paths straight. 4. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the
baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. 5. And there went out
unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all
baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. 6. And
John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about
his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; 7. And preached,
saying, There cometh One mightier than I after me, the latchet of
whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. 8. I indeed
have baptized you with water: but He shall baptize you with the Holy
Ghost. 9. And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from
Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And
straightway coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opened, and
the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him: 11. And there came a voice
from heaven, saying, Thou art My beloved Son, in whom I am well
pleased.'--Mark i. 1-11.

The first words of _In Memoriam_ might be taken to describe the theme
of Mark's Gospel. It is the 'strong Son of God' whom he sets forth in
his rapid, impetuous narrative, which is full of fiery energy, and
delights to paint the unresting continuity of Christ's filial service.
His theme is not the King, as in Matthew; nor the Son of Man, as in
Luke; nor the eternal Word manifested in flesh, as in John. Therefore
he neither begins by tracing His kingly lineage, as does the first
evangelist; nor by dwelling on the humanities of wedded life and the
sacredness of the family since He has been born; nor by soaring to the
abysses of the eternal abiding of the Word with God, as the agent of
creation, the medium of life and light; but plunges at once into his
subject, and begins the Gospel with the mission of the Forerunner,
which melts immediately into the appearance of the Son.

I. We may note first, in this passage, the prelude, including verses
1, 2, and 3. We need not discuss the grammatical connection of these
verses, nor the relation of verses 2 and 3 to the following section.
However that be settled, the result, for our present purpose, is the
same. Mark considers that John's mission is the beginning of the
gospel. Here are two noteworthy points,--his use of that well-worn
word, 'the gospel,' and his view of John's place in relation to it.
The gospel is the narrative of the facts of Christ's life and death.
Later usage has taken it to be, rather, the statement of the truths
deducible from these facts, and especially the proclamation of
salvation by the power of Christ's atoning death; but the primitive
application of the word is to the history itself. So Paul uses it in
his formal statement of the gospel which he preached, with the
addition, indeed, of the explanation of the meaning of Christ's death
(1 Cor. xv. 1-6). The very name 'good news' necessarily implies that
the gospel is, primarily, history; but we cannot exclude from the
meaning of the word the statement of the significance of the facts,
without which the facts have no message of blessing. Mark adds the
dogmatic element when he defines the subject of the Gospel as being
'Jesus Christ, the Son of God.' In the remainder of the book the
simple name 'Jesus' is used; but here, in starting, the full, solemn
title is given, which unites the contemplation of Him in His manhood,
in His office as fulfiller of prophecy and crown of revelation, and in
His mysterious, divine nature.

Whether we regard verses 2 and 3 as connected grammatically with the
preceding or the following verses, they equally refer to John, and
define his position in relation to the Gospel. The Revised Version
restores the true reading, 'in Isaiah the prophet,' which some unwise
and timid transcriber has, as he thought, mended into 'the prophets,'
for fear that an error should be found in Scripture. Of course, verse
2 is not Isaiah's, but Malachi's; but verse 3, which is Isaiah's, was
uppermost in Mark's mind, and his quotation of Malachi is, apparently,
an afterthought, and is plainly merely introductory of the other, on
which the stress lies. The remarkable variation in the Malachi
quotation, which occurs in all three Evangelists, shows how completely
they recognised the divinity of our Lord, in their making words which,
in the original, are addressed by Jehovah to Himself, to be addressed
by the Father to the Son. There is a difference in the representation
of the office of the forerunner in the two prophetic passages. In the
former 'he' prepares the way of the coming Lord; in the latter he
calls upon his hearers to prepare it. In fact, John prepared the way,
as we shall see presently, just by calling on men to do so. In Mark's
view, the first stage in the gospel is the mission of John. He might
have gone further back--to the work of prophets of old, or to the
earliest beginnings in time of the self-revelation of God, as the
writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews does; or he might have ascended
even higher up the stream--to the true 'beginning,' from which the
fourth Evangelist starts. But his distinctly practical genius leads
him to fix his gaze on the historical fact of John's mission, and to
claim for it a unique position, which he proceeds to develop.

II. So we have, next, the strong servant and fore runner (verses 4-8).
The abruptness with which the curtain is drawn, and the gaunt figure
of the desert-loving ascetic shown us, is very striking. It is like
the way in which Elijah, his prototype, leaps, as it were, full-armed,
into the arena. The parallel passage in Matthew links his appearance
with the events which it has been narrating by the phrase 'in these
days,' and calls him 'the Baptist.' Mark has no such words, but lets
him stand forth in his isolation. The two accounts may profitably be
compared. Their likenesses suggest that they rest on a common basis,
probably of oral tradition, while their differences are, for the most
part, significant. Mark differs in his arrangement of the common
matter, in omissions, and in some variations of expression. Each
account gives a general summary of John's teaching at the beginning;
but Matthew puts emphasis on the Baptist's proclamation that the
kingdom of heaven was at hand, to which nothing in Mark corresponds.
His Gospel does not dwell on the royalty of Jesus, but rather
represents Him as the Servant than as the King. Mark begins with
describing John as baptizing, which only appears later in Matthew's
account. Mark omits all reference to the Sadducees and Pharisees, and
to John's sharp words to them. He has nothing about the axe laid to
the trees, nothing about the children of Abraham, nothing about the
fan in the hand of the great Husbandman. All the theocratic aspect of
the Messiah, as proclaimed by John, is absent; and, as there is no
reference to the fire which destroys, so neither is there to the fire
of the Holy Ghost, in which He baptizes. Mark reports only John's
preaching and baptism of repentance, and his testimony to Christ as
stronger than he, and as baptizing with the Holy Ghost.

So, on the whole, Mark's picture brings out prominently the following
traits in John's personality and mission:--First, his preparation for
Christ by preaching repentance. The truest way to create in men a
longing for Jesus, and to lead to a true apprehension of His unique
gift to mankind, is to evoke the penitent consciousness of sin. The
preacher of guilt and repentance is the herald of the bringer of
pardon and purity. That is true in reference to the relation of
Judaism and Christianity, of John and Jesus, and is as true to-day as
ever it was. The root of maimed conceptions of the work and nature of
Jesus Christ is a defective sense of sin. When men are roused to
believe in judgment, and to realise their own evil, they are ready to
listen to the blessed news of a Saviour from sin and its curse. The
Christ whom John heralds is the Christ that men need; the Christ whom
men receive, without having been out in the wilderness with the stern
preacher of sin and judgment, is but half a Christ--and it is the
vital half that is missing.

Again, Mark brings out John's personal asceticism. He omits much; but
he could not leave out the picture of the grim, lean solitary, who
stalked among soft-robed men, like Elijah come to life again, and held
the crowds by his self-chosen privations no less than by his fierce,
fiery eloquence. His desert life and contempt for ease and luxury
spoke of a strength of character and purpose which fascinated commoner
men, and make the next point the more striking--namely, the utter
humility with which this strong, self-reliant, fiery rebuker of sin,
and despiser of rank and official dignities, flings himself at the
feet of the coming One. He is strong, as his life and the awestruck
crowds testified; how strong must that Other be! He feared not the
face of man, nor owned inferiority to any; but his whole soul melted
into joyful submission, and confessed unworthiness even to unlace the
sandals of that mightier One. His transitional position is also
plainly marked by our Evangelist. He is the end of prophecy, the
beginning of the Gospel, belonging to neither and to both. He is not
merely a prophet, for he is prophesied of as well; and he stands so
near Him whom he foretells, that his prediction is almost fact. He is
not an Evangelist, nor, in the closest sense, a servant of the coming
Christ; for his lowly confession of unworthiness does not imply merely
his humility, but accurately defines the limits of his function. It
was not for him to bear or to loose that Lord's sandals. There were
those who did minister to Him, and the least of those, whose message
to the world was 'Christ has come,' had the honour of closer service
than that greatest among women-born, whose task was to run before the
chariot of the King and tell that He was at hand.

III. We have the gentle figure of the stronger Son. The introduction
of Jesus is somewhat less abrupt than that of John; but if we remember
whom Mark believed Him to be, the quiet words which tell of His first
appearance are sufficiently remarkable. There is no mention of His
birth or previous years. His deeds will tell who He is. The years
before His baptism were of no moment for Mark's purpose. Nor has he
any report of the precious conversation of Jesus with John, when the
forerunner testified to Christ's purity, which needed no washing nor
repentance, and acknowledged at once his own sinfulness and the Lord's
cleansing power, and when Christ accepted the homage, and, by
implication, claimed the character, purity, and power which John
attributed to Him. The omission may be accounted for on a principle
which seems to run through all this Gospel--of touching lightly or
omitting indications of our Lord's dignity, and dwelling by preference
on His acts of lowliness and service. The baptism is recorded; but the
conversation, which showed that the King of Israel, in submitting to
it, acknowledged no need of it for Himself, but regarded it as
'fulfilling righteousness' is passed by. The sinlessness of Jesus, and
the special meaning of His baptism, are sufficiently shown by the
descending Spirit and the approving voice. These Mark does record; for
they warrant the great name by which, in his first verse, he has
described Jesus as 'the Son of God.'

The brief account of these is marked by the Evangelist's vivid
pictorial faculty, which we shall frequently have to notice as we read
his Gospel. Here he puts us, by a word, in the position of
eye-witnesses of the scene as it is passing, when he describes the
heavens as 'being rent asunder'--a much more forcible and pictorial
word than Matthew's 'opened.' He says nothing of John's share in the
vision. All is intended for the Son. It is Jesus who sees the rending
heavens and the descending dove. The voice which Matthew represents as
speaking _of_ Christ, Mark represents as speaking _to_ Him.

The baptism of Jesus, then, was an epoch in His own consciousness. It
was not merely His designation to John or to others as Messiah, but
for Himself the sense of Sonship and the sunlight of divine
complacency filled His spirit in new measure or manner. Speaking as we
have to do from the outside, and knowing but dimly the mysteries of
His unique personality, we have to speak modestly and little. But we
know that our Lord grew, as to His manhood, in wisdom, and that His
manhood was continually the receiver, from the Father, of the Spirit;
and the reality of His divinity, as dwelling in His manhood from the
beginning of that manhood, is not affected by the belief that when the
dovelike Spirit floated down on His meek head, glistening with the
water of baptism, His manhood then received a new and special
consciousness of His Messianic office and of His Sonship.

Whilst that voice was for His sake, it was for others too; for John
himself tells us (John i.) that the sign had been told him beforehand,
and that it was his sight of the descending dove which heightened his
thoughts and gave a new turn to his testimony, leading him to know and
to show 'that this is the Son of God.' The rent heavens have long
since closed, and that dread voice is silent; but the fact of that
attestation remains on record, that we, too, may hear through the
centuries God speaking of and to His Son, and may lay to heart the
commandment to us, which naturally follows God's witness to Jesus,
'Hear ye Him.'

The symbol of the dove may be regarded as a prophecy of the gentleness
of the Son. Thus early in His course the two qualities were harmonised
in Him, which so seldom are united, and each of which dwelt in Him in
divinest perfection, both as to degree and manner. John's
anticipations of the strong coming One looked for the manifestations
of His strength in judgment and destruction. How strangely his images
of the axe, the fan, the fire, are contrasted with the reality,
emblemed by this dove dropping from heaven, with sunshine on its
breast and peace in its still wings! Through the ages, Christ's
strength has been the strength of gentleness, and His coming has been
like that of Noah's dove, with the olive-branch in its beak, and the
tidings of an abated flood and of a safe home in its return. The
ascetic preacher of repentance was strong to shake and purge men's
hearts by terror; but the stronger Son comes to conquer by meekness,
and reign by the omnipotence of love. The beginning of the gospel was
the anticipation and the proclamation of strength like the eagle's,
swift of flight, and powerful to strike and destroy. The gospel, when
it became a fact, and not a hope, was found in the meek Jesus, with
the dove of God, the gentle Spirit, which is mightier than all,
nestling in His heart, and uttering soft notes of invitation through
His lips.


'And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the Sabbath day He
entered into the synagogue, and taught. 22. And they were astonished
at His doctrine: for He taught them as one that had authority, and not
as the scribes. 23. And there was in their synagogue a man with an
unclean spirit; and he cried out, 24. Saying, Let us alone; what have
we to do with Thee, Thou Jesus of Nazareth? art Thou come to destroy
us? I know Thee who Thou art, the Holy One of God. 25. And Jesus
rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. 26. And when
the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came
out of him. 27. And they were all amazed, insomuch that they
questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new
doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth He even the unclean
spirits, and they do obey Him. 28. And immediately His fame spread
abroad throughout all the region round about Galilee. 29. And
forthwith, when they were come out of the synagogue, they entered into
the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30. But Simon's
wife's mother lay sick of a fever, and anon they tell Him of her. 31.
And He came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and
immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them. 32. And
at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto Him all that were
diseased, and them that were possessed with devils. 33. And all the
city was gathered together at the door. 34. And He healed many that
were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered
not the devils to speak, because they knew Him.'--Mark i. 21-34.

None of the incidents in this section are peculiar to Mark, but the
special stamp of his Gospel is on them all; and, both in the narration
of each and in the swift transition from one to another, the
impression of Christ's strength and unpausing diligence in filial
service is made. The short hours of that first Sabbath's ministry are
crowded with work; and Christ's energy bears Him through exhausting
physical labours, and enables Him to turn with unwearied sympathy and
marvellous celerity to each new form of misery, and to throw Himself
with freshness undiminished into the relief of each. The homely virtue
of diligence shines out in this lesson no less clearly than superhuman
strength that tames demons and heals all manner of sickness. There are
four pictures here, compressed and yet vivid. Mark can condense and
keep all the essentials, for his keen eye and sure hand go straight to
the heart of his incidents.

I. The strong Son of God teaching with authority. 'They enter; we see
the little group, consisting of Jesus and of the two pairs of
brothers, in whose hearts the mighty conviction of His Messiahship had
taken root. Simon and Andrew were at home in Capernaum; but we may,
perhaps, infer from the manner in which the sickness of Peter's wife's
mother is mentioned, that Peter had not been to his house till after
the synagogue service. At all events, these four were already detached
from ordinary life and bound to Him as disciples. We meet here with
our first instance of Mark's favourite 'straightway,' the recurrence
of which, in this chapter, so powerfully helps the impression of eager
and yet careful swiftness with which Christ ran His course,
'unhasting, unresting.' From the beginning Mark stamps his story with
the spirit of our Lord's own words, 'I must work the works of Him that
sent me, while it is day: the night cometh.' And yet there is no
hurry, but the calm, equable rapidity with which planets move. The
unostentatious manner of Christ's beginning is noteworthy. He seeks to
set Himself in the line of the ordinary teaching of the day. He knew
all the faults of the synagogue and the rabbis, and He had come to
revolutionise the very conception of religious teaching and worship;
but He prefers to intertwine the new with the old, and to make as
little disturbance as possible. It is easy to get the cheap praise of
'originality' by brushing aside existing methods. It is harder and
nobler to use whatever methods may be going, and to breathe new value
and life into them. Drowsy, hair-splitting disputations about nothings
and endless casuistry were the staple of the synagogue talk; but when
He opened His mouth there, the weary formalism went out of the
service, and men's hearts glowed again when they once more heard a
Voice that lived, speaking from a Soul that saw the invisible. Mark
has no mission to record many of our Lord's sayings. His Gospel deals
more with deeds. The sermon he does not give, but the hearer's comment
he does. Matthew has the same words at the close of the Sermon on the
Mount, from which it would seem that they were part of the oral
tradition which underlies the written Gospels; but Mark probably has
them in their right place. Very naturally, the first synagogue
discourse in Capernaum would surprise. Deeper impressions might be
made by its successors, but the first hearing of that voice would be
an experience that could never be repeated.

The feature of His teaching which astonished the villagers most was
its 'authority.' That fits in with the impression of strength which
Mark wishes to make. Another thing that struck them was its unlikeness
to the type of synagogue teaching to which they had been accustomed
all their lives. They had got so accustomed to the droning dreariness
and trivial subtleties of the rabbis, that it had never entered their
heads that there could be any other way of teaching religion than
boring men with interminable pedantries about trifles of ritual or
outward obedience. This new Teacher would startle all, as an eagle
suddenly appearing in a sanhedrim of owls. He would shock many; He
would fascinate a few. Nor was it only the dissimilarity of His
teaching, but also its authority, that was strange. The scribes spoke
with authority enough of a sort, lording it over the despised common
people--'men of the earth,' as they called them--and exacting
punctilious obedience and much obsequiousness; but authority over the
spirit they had none. They pretended to no power but as expositors of
a law; and they fortified themselves by citations of what this, that,
and the other rabbi had said, which was all their learning. Christ
quoted no one. He did not even say, 'Moses has said.' He did not even
preface His commands with a 'Thus saith the Lord.' He spoke of His own
authority: 'Verily, _I say_ unto you.' Other teachers explained the
law; He is a lawgiver. Others drew more or less pure waters from
cisterns; He is in Himself a well of water, from which all may draw.
To us, as to these rude villagers in the synagogue of the little
fishing-town, Christ's teaching is unique in this respect. He does not
argue; He affirms. He seeks no support from others' teachings; He
alone is sufficient for us. He not only speaks the truth, which needs
no other confirmation than His own lips, but He is the truth. We may
canvass other men's teachings, and distinguish their insight from
their errors; we have but to accept His. The world outgrows all
others; it can only grow up towards the fulness of His. Us and all the
ages He teaches with authority, and the guarantee for the truth of His
teaching is Himself. 'Verily, verily, I say unto you.' No other man
has a right to say that to me. But Christ dominates the race, and the
strong Son of God is the world's Teacher.

II. The strong conqueror of demons. Again we have 'straightway.' The
language seems to imply that this wretched sufferer burst hurriedly
into the synagogue and interrupted the utterance of astonishment by
giving it new food. Perhaps the double consciousness of the demoniac
may be recognised, the humanity being drawn to Jesus by some disturbed
longings, the demoniac consciousness, on the other hand, being
repelled. It is no part of my purpose to discuss demoniacal
possession. I content myself with remarking that I, for one, do not
see how Christ's credit as a divine Teacher is to be saved without
admitting its reality, nor how such phenomena as the demoniac's
knowledge of His nature are to be accounted for on the hypothesis of
disease or insanity. It is assuming rather too encyclopadiacal a
knowledge to allege the impossibility of such possession. There are
facts enough around us still, which would be at least as
satisfactorily accounted for by it as by natural causes; but as to the
incident before us, Mark puts it all into three sentences, each of
which is pregnant with suggestions. There is, first, the demoniac's
shriek of hatred and despair. Christ had said nothing. If, as we
suppose, the man had broken in on the worship, drawn to Jesus, he is
no sooner in His presence than the other power that darkly lodged in
him overpowers him, and pours out fierce passions from his reluctant
lips. There is dreadful meaning in the preposition here used, 'a man
_in_ an unclean spirit,' as if his human self was immersed in that
filthy flood. The words embody three thoughts--the fierce hatred,
which disowns all connection with Jesus; the wild terror, which asks
or affirms Christ's destructive might over all foul spirits (for the
'us' means not the man and the demon, but the demon and his fellows);
and the recognition of Christ's holiness, which lashes unholiness into
a paroxysm of mingled despair and hate. Does this sound like a madman,
or an epileptic, or like a spirit which knew more than men knew, and
trembled and hated more than they could do? There is nothing more
terrible than the picture, self-drawn in these spasmodic words, of a
spirit which, by its very foulness, is made shudderingly sensitive to
the disturbing presence of purity, and would fain have nothing to do
with Him whom it recognises for the Holy One of God, and therefore its
destroyer. Foul things that lurk under stones hurry out of the light
when you lift the covering. Spirits that love the darkness are hurt by
the light. It is possible to recognise Jesus for what He is, and to
hate Him all the more. What a miserable state that is, to hope that we
shall have nothing to do with Him! These wild utterances, seething
with evil passions and fierce detestation, do point to the possible
terminus for men. A black gulf opens in them, from which we are meant
to start back with the prayer, 'Preserve me from going down into that

What a contrast to the tempest of the demoniac's wild and whirling
words is the calm speech of Christ! He knows His authority, and His
word is imperative, curt, and assured: 'Hold thy peace!' literally,
'Be muzzled,' as if the creature were a dangerous beast, whose raving
and snapping must be stopped. Jesus wishes no acknowledgments from
such lips. They who bear the vessels of the Lord must be clean. He had
taught with authority, and now He in like manner commands. His
teaching rested on His own assurance. His miracle is done by His own
power. That power is put forth by His simple word; that is to say, the
bare exercise or expression of His will is potent.

The third step in the narrative is the immediate obedience of the
demon. Reluctant but compelled, malicious to the last, doing the house
which he has to leave all the harm he can, and though no longer
venturing to speak, yet venting his rage and mortification, and
acknowledging his defeat by one parting howl, he comes out.

Again, we are bid to note the impression produced. The interrupted
buzz of talk begins once more, and is vividly reported by the
fragmentary sentences of verse 27, and by the remark that it was
'among themselves' that they compared notes. Two things startled the
people:--first, the 'new teaching'; and second, the authority over
demons, into which they naturally generalise the one instance. The
busy tongues were not silenced when they left the synagogue. Verse 28
shows what happened, in one direction, when the meeting broke up. With
another 'straightway,' Mark paints the swift flight of the rumour over
all the district, and somewhat overleaps the strict line of
chronology, to let us hear how far the echo of such a blow sounded.
This first miracle recorded by him is as a duel between Christ and the
'strong man armed,' who 'keeps his house.' The shield of the great
oppressor is first struck in challenge by the champion, and His first
essay at arms proves Him mightiest. Such a victory well heads the

III. The tenderness of the strong Son. We come back to the strict
order of succession with another 'straightway,' which opens a very
different scene. The Authorised Version gives three 'straightways' in
the three verses as to the cure of Peter's mother-in-law.
'Immediately' they go to the house; 'immediately' they tell Jesus of
her; 'immediately' the fever leaves her; and even if we omit the third
of these, as the Revised Version does, we cannot miss the rapid haste
of the narrative, which reflects the unwearied energy of the Master.
Peter and Andrew had apparently been ignorant of the sickness till
they reached the house, from which the inference is not that it was a
slight attack which had come on after they went to the synagogue, but
that the two disciples had so really left house and kindred, that
though in Capernaum, they had not gone home till they took Jesus there
for rest and quiet and food after the toil of the morning. The owners
would naturally first know of the sickness, which would interfere with
their hospitable purpose; and so Mark's account seems more near the
details than Matthew's, inasmuch as the former says that Jesus was
'told' of the sick woman, while Matthew's version is that He 'saw'
her. Luke says that they 'besought Him for her.' No doubt that was the
meaning of 'telling' Him; but Mark's representation brings out very
beautifully the confidence already beginning to spring in their hearts
that He needed but to know in order to heal, and the reverence which
hindered them from direct asking. The instinct of the devout heart is
to tell Christ all its troubles, great or small; and He does not need
beseeching before He answers. He did not need to be told either, but
He would not rob them or us of the solace of confiding all griefs to

Their confidence was not misplaced. No moment intervened unused
between the tidings and the cure. 'He came,' as if He had been in some
outer room, or not yet in the house, and now passed into the sick
chamber. Then comes one of Mark's minute and graphic details, in which
we may see the keen eye and faithful memory of Peter. He 'took her by
the hand, and lifted her up.' Mark is fond of telling of Christ's
taking by the hand; as, for instance, the little child whom He set in
the midst, the blind man whom He healed, the child with the dumb
spirit. His touch has power. His grasp means sympathy, tenderness,
identification of Himself with us, the communication of upholding,
restoring strength. It is a picture, in a small matter, of the very
heart of the gospel. 'He layeth not hold of angels, but He layeth hold
of the seed of Abraham.' It is a lesson for all who would help their
fellows, that they must not be too dainty to lay hold of the dirtiest
hand, both metaphorically and literally, if they want their sympathy
to be believed. His hand banishes not only the disease, but its
consequences. Immediate convalescence and restoration to strength
follow; and the strength is used, as it should be, in ministering to
the Healer who, notwithstanding His power, needed the humble
ministration and the poor fare of the fisherman's hut. What a lesson
for all Christian homes is here! Let Jesus know all that troubles
them, welcome Him as a guest, tell Him everything, and He will cure
all diseases and sorrows, or give the light of His presence to make
them endurable. Consecrate to Him the strength which He gives, and let
deliverances teach trust, and inflame grateful love, which delights in
serving Him who needs no service, but delights in all.

IV. The strong Son, unwearied by toil and sufficient for all the
needy. Each incident in this lesson has a note appended of the
impression it made. Verses 32-34 give the united result of all, on the
people of Capernaum. They wait till the Sabbath is past, and then,
without thought of His long day of work, crowd round the house with
their sick. The sinking sun brought no rest for Him, but the new calls
found Him neither exhausted nor unwilling. Capernaum was but a little
place, and the whole city might well be 'gathered together at the
door,' some sick, some bearing the sick, all curious and eager. There
was no depth in the excitement. There was earnestness enough, no
doubt, in the wish for healing, but there was no insight into His
message. Any travelling European with a medicine chest can get the
same kind of cortege round his tent. These people, who hung upon Him
thus, were those of whom He had afterwards to say that it would be
'more tolerable for Sodom, in the day of judgment, than for them.' But
though He knew the shallowness of the impression, He was not deaf to
the misery; and, with power which knew no weariness, and sympathy
which had no limit, and a reservoir of healing virtue which the day's
draughts had not emptied by a hairs-breadth, He healed them all.
Remarkable is the prohibition of the demons' speech, They knew Him,
while men were ignorant; for they had met Him before to-day. He would
have no witness from them; not merely, as has been said, because their
attestation would hinder, rather than further, His acceptance by the
people, nor because they may be supposed to have spoken in malice, but
because a divine decorum forbade that He should accept acknowledgments
from such tainted sources.

So ended this first of 'the days of the Son of Man,' which our
Evangelist records. It was a day of hard toil, of merciful and
manifold self-revelation. As teacher and doer, in the synagogue, and
in the home, and in the city; as Lord of the dark realms of evil and
of disease; as ready to hear hinted and dumb prayers, and able to
answer them all; as careless of His own ease, and ready to spend
Himself for others' help,--Jesus showed Himself, on that Sabbath day,
strong and tender, the Son of God and the servant of men.


'Simon's wife's mother lay sick of a fever; and straightway they tell
Him of her: 31. And He came and took her by the hand, and raised her
up; and the fever left her, and she ministered unto them.'--Mark i.
30, 31, R. V.

This miracle is told us by three of the four Evangelists, and the
comparison of their brief narratives is very interesting and
instructive. We all know, I suppose, that the common tradition is that
Mark was, in some sense, Peter's mouthpiece in this Gospel. The
truthfulness of that ancient statement is borne out by little morsels
of evidence that crop up here and there throughout the Gospel. There
is one of them in this context. The other two Evangelists tell us that
our Lord, with His four attendant disciples, 'entered into the house
of Simon'; Mark knows that Simon's brother Andrew shared the house
with him. Who was likely to have told him such an insignificant thing
as that? We seem to hear the Apostle himself recounting the whole
story to his amanuensis.

Then, further, Mark's narrative is distinguished from that of the
other two Evangelists in very minute and yet interesting points, which
will come out as we go along. So I think we may fairly say that we
have here Peter himself telling us the story of his mother-in-law's
cure. Now, one thing that strikes one is that this is a very small
miracle. It is by no means--if we can apply the words 'great' and
'small' to these miraculous events--one of the more striking and
significant. Another point to note is that it was done evidently
without the slightest intention of vindicating Christ's mission, or of
preaching any truth whatever, and so it starts up into a new beauty as
being simply and solely a manifestation of His love. I think, when
some people are so busy in denying, and others in proving, the
miraculous element in Scripture, and others in drawing doctrinal or
symbolical lessons out of it, that there is great need to emphasise
this, that the first thing about all Christ's miracles, and most
conspicuously about this one, is that they were the welling out of His
loving heart which responded to the sight of human sorrow--I was going
to say instinctively; but I will find a better word, and say divinely.
The deed that had no purpose whatsoever except to lighten the burden
upon a disciple's heart, and to heal the passing physical trouble of
one poor old woman, is great, just because it is small; and full of
teaching because, to the superficial eye, it teaches nothing.

The first thing in the story is, as it seems to me--

I. The disciple's intercession.

I wonder if Peter knew that his wife's mother was ill, when he said to
Jesus Christ, after that exciting morning in the synagogue, 'Come
home, and rest in our house'? Probably not. One can scarcely imagine
hospitality proffered under such circumstances, or with a knowledge of
them. And if we look a little more closely into the preceding
narrative we shall see that it is at least possible that Peter and his
brother had been away from home for some time; so that the old woman
might easily have fallen ill during their temporary absence. But be
that as it may, they expect to find rest and food, and they find a
sick woman.

There must have been at least two rooms in the humble house, because
they 'come to Jesus Christ and tell Him of her.' Now if we turn to the
other Evangelists, we shall find that Matthew says nothing about any
message being communicated to Jesus, but brings Him at once, as It
were, to the side of the sick-bed. That is evidently an incomplete
account. And then we find in Luke's Gospel that, instead of the simple
'tell Him of her' of Mark, he intensifies the telling into 'they
besought Him for her.' Now, I think that Mark's is plainly the more
precise story, because he lets us see that Jesus Christ did not commit
such a breach of courtesy, due to the humblest home, as to go to the
woman's bedside without being summoned, and he also lets us see that
the 'beseeching' was a simple intimation to Him. They did not ask;
they tell Him; being, perhaps, restrained from definite petitioning
partly by reverence, and partly, no doubt, by hesitation in these
early days of their discipleship--for this incident occurred at the
very beginning, when all the subsequent manifestations of His
character were yet waiting to be flashed upon them--as to whether it
might be in accordance with their new Teacher's very little known
disposition and mind to help. They knew that He could, because He had
just healed a demoniac in the synagogue, but one can understand how,
at the beginning of their discipleship, there was a little faltering
of confidence as to whether they should go so far as to ask Him to do
such a thing. So they 'tell Him of her,' and do you not think that the
tone of petition vibrated in the intimation, and that there looked out
of the eyes of the impulsive, warm-hearted Peter, an unspoken prayer?
So Luke was perfectly right in his interpretation of the incident,
though not precise in his statement of the external fact, when,
instead of saying 'they tell Him of her,' he translated that telling
into what it meant, and put it, 'they besought Him for her.'

Ah! dear brethren, there are a great many things in our lives which,
though we ought to know Jesus Christ better than the first disciples
at first did, scarcely seem to us fit to be turned into subjects of
petition, partly because we have wrong notions as to the sphere and
limits of prayer, and partly because they seem to be such transitory
things that it is a shame to trouble Him about such insignificant
matters. Well, go and tell Him, at any rate. I do not think that
Christians ought to have anything in their heads or hearts that they
do not take to Jesus Christ, and it is an uncommonly good test--and
one very easily applied--of our hopes, fears, purposes, thoughts,
deeds, and desires--'Should I like to go and make a clean breast of it
to the Master?'

'They tell Him of her,' and that meant petition, and Jesus Christ can
interpret an unspoken petition, and an unexpressed desire appeals to
His sympathetic heart. Although the words be but 'O Lord! I am
troubled, perplexed; and I do not know what to do,' He translates them
into 'Calm Thou me; enlighten Thou me; guide Thou me'; and be sure of
this, that as in the story before us, so in our lives, He will answer
the unspoken petition in so far as may be best for us.

The next thing to note in this incident is--

II. The Healers method.

There, again, the three stories diverge, and yet are all one. Matthew
says, 'He touched her'; Luke says, 'He _stood_'-or rather, as the
Greek means, 'He _bent over her_--and rebuked the fever.' Perhaps
Peter was close to the pallet, and saw and remembered that there were
not a standing over and rebuking the fever only, but that there was
the going out of His tender sympathy to the sufferer, and that if
there were stern words as of indignation and authority addressed to
the disease as if to an unlawful intruder, there were also compassion
and tenderness for the victim. For Mark tells that it was not a touch
only, but that 'He took her by the hand and lifted her up,' and the
grasp banished sickness and brought strength.

Now the most precious of the lessons that we can gather from the
variety of Christ's methods of healing is this: that all methods which
He used were in themselves equally powerless, and that the curative
virtue was in neither the word nor the touch, nor the spittle, nor the
clay, nor the bathing in the pool of Siloam, but was purely and simply
in the outgoing of His will. The reasons for the wonderful variety of
ways in which He communicated His healing power are to be sought
partly in the respective moral, and spiritual, and intellectual
condition of the people to be healed, and partly in wider reasons and
considerations. Why did He stoop and touch the woman, and take her by
the hand and gently lift her up? Because His heart went out to her,
because He felt the emotion and sympathy which makes the whole world
kin, and because His heart was a heart of love, and bade Him come into
close contact with the poor fever-ridden woman. Unless we regard that
hand-clasp as being such an instinctive attitude and action of
Christ's sympathetic love, we lose the deepest significance of it. And
then, when we have given full weight to that, the simplest and yet the
most blessed of all the thoughts that cluster round the deed, we can
venture further to say that in that small matter we see mirrored, as a
wide sweep of country in a tiny mirror, or the sun in a bowl of water,
the great truth: 'He took not hold of angels, but He took hold of the
seed of Abraham, wherefore it behoved Him to be made in all things
like unto His brethren.' The touch upon the fevered hand of that old
woman in Capernaum was as a condensation into one act of the very
principle of the Incarnation and of the whole power which Christ
exercises upon a fevered and sick world. For it is by His touch, by
His lifting hand, by His sympathetic grasp, and by our real contact
with Him, that all our sicknesses are banished, and health and
strength come to our souls.

So let us learn a lesson for our own guidance. We can do no man any
real good unless we make ourselves one with him, and benefits that we
bestow will hurt rather than help, if they are flung down upon men as
from a height, or as people cast a bone to a dog. The heart must go
with them; and identification with the sufferer is a condition of
succour. If we would take lepers and blind beggars and poor old women
by the hand--I mean, of course, by giving them our sympathy along with
our help--we should see larger results from, and be more Christ-like
in, our deeds of beneficence.

The last point is--

III. The healed sufferer's service.

'She arose'--yes, of course she did, when Christ grasped her. How
could she help it? 'And she ministered to them,'--how could she help
that either, if she had any thankfulness in her heart? What a lovely,
glad, awe-stricken meal that would be, to which they all sat down in
Simon's house, on that Sabbath night, as the sun was setting! It was a
humble household. There were no servants in it. The convalescent old
woman had to do all the ministering herself, and that she was able to
do it was, of course, as everybody remarks on reading the narrative,
the sign of the completeness of the cure. But it was a great deal more
than that. How could she sit still and not minister to Him who had
done so much for her? And if you and I, dear friends, have any living
apprehension of Christ's healing power, and understand and respond at
all to 'that for which we have been laid hold of' by Him, our
thankfulness will take the same shape, and we, too, shall become His
servants. Up yonder, amidst the blaze of the glory, He is still
capable of being ministered to by us. The woman who did so on earth
had no monopoly of this sacred office, but it continues still. And
every housewife, as she goes about her duties, and every domestic
servant, as she moves round her mistress's dinner-table, and all of
us, in our secular avocations, as people call them, may indeed serve
Christ, if only we have regard to Him in the doing of them. There is
also a yet higher sense in which that ministration, incumbent upon all
the healed, and spontaneous on their part if they have truly been
recipients of the healing grace, is still possible for us. 'When saw
we Thee... in need... and served Thee?' 'Inasmuch as ye did it unto
one of the least of these My brethren, ye did it unto Me.'


'And there came a leper to Him, beseeching Him, and kneeling down to
Him, and saying unto Him, If Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean. 41.
And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth His hand, and touched him,
and saith unto him, I will; he thou clean. 42. And as soon as He had
spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was
cleansed.'--Mark i. 40-42.

Christ's miracles are called wonders--that is, deeds which, by their
exceptional character, arrest attention and excite surprise. Further,
they are called 'mighty works'--that is, exhibitions of superhuman
power. They are still further called 'signs'--that is, tokens of His
divine mission. But they are signs in another sense, being, as it
were, parables as well as miracles, and representing on the lower
plane of material things the effects of His working on men's spirits.
Thus, His feeding of the hungry speaks of His higher operation as the
Bread of Life. His giving sight to the blind foreshadows His
illumination of darkened minds. His healing of the diseased speaks of
His restoration of sick souls. His stilling of the tempest tells of
Him as the Peace-bringer for troubled hearts; and His raising of the
dead proclaims Him as the Life-giver, who quickens with the true life
all who believe on Him. This parabolic aspect of the miracles is
obvious in the case before us. Leprosy received exceptional treatment
under the Mosaic law, and the peculiar restrictions to which the
sufferer was subjected, as well as the ritual of his cleansing, in the
rare cases where the disease wore itself out, are best explained by
being considered as symbolical rather than as sanitary. It was taken
as an emblem of sin. Its hideous symptoms, its rotting sores, its
slow, stealthy, steady progress, its defiance of all known means of
cure, made its victim only too faithful a walking image of that worse
disease. Remembering this deeper aspect of leprosy, let us study this
miracle before us, and try to gather its lessons.

I. First, then, notice the leper's cry.

Mark connects the story with our Lord's first journey through Galilee,
which was signalised by many miracles, and had excited much stir and
talk. The news of the Healer had reached the isolated huts where the
lepers herded, and had kindled a spark of hope in one poor wretch,
which emboldened him to break through all regulations, and thrust his
tainted and unwelcome presence into the shrinking crowd. He seems to
have appeared there suddenly, having forced or stolen his way somehow
into Christ's presence. And there he was, with his horrible white
face, with his tightened, glistening skin, with some frowsy rag over
his mouth, and a hunted look as of a wild beast in his eyes. The crowd
shrank back from him; he had no difficulty in making his way to where
Christ is sitting, calmly teaching. And Mark's vivid narrative shows
him to us, flinging himself down before the Lord, and, without waiting
for question or pause, interrupting whatever was going on, with his
piteous cry. Misery and wretchedness make short work of conventional

Note the keen sense of misery that impels to the passionate desire for
relief. A leper with the flesh dropping off his bones could not
suppose that there was nothing the matter with him. His disease was
too gross and palpable not to be felt; and the depth of misery
measured the earnestness of desire. The parallel fails us there. The
emblem is all insufficient, for here is the very misery of our deepest
misery, that we are unconscious of it, and sometimes even come to love
it. There are forms of sickness in which the man goes about, and to
each inquiry says, 'I am perfectly well,' though everybody else can
see death written on his face. And so it is with this terrible malady
that has laid its corrupting and putrefying finger upon us all. The
worse we are, the less we know that there is anything the matter with
us; and the deeper the leprosy has struck its filthy fangs into us,
the more ready we are to say that we are sound. We preachers have it
for one of our first duties to try to rouse men to the recognition of
the facts of their spiritual condition, and all our efforts are too
often--as I, for my part, sometimes half despairingly feel when I
stand in the pulpit--like a firebrand dropped into a pond, which
hisses for a moment and then is extinguished. Men and women sit in
pews listening contentedly and quietly, who, if they saw themselves, I
do not say even as God sees them, but as others see them, would know
that the leprosy is deep in them, and the taint patent to every eye. I
do not charge you, my brother, with gross transgressions of plain
moralities; I know nothing about that. I know this: 'As face answereth
to face in a glass,' so doth the heart of man to man, and I bring this
message, verified to me by my own consciousness, that we have all gone
astray, and 'wounds and bruises and putrefying sores' mark us all. If
the best of us could see himself for once, in the light of God, as the
worst of us will see himself one day, the cry would come from the
purest lips, 'Oh! wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from
the body of this death?'--this life in death that I carry, rotting and
smelling foul to Heaven, about with me, wheresoever I go.

Note, further, this man's confidence in Christ's power: 'Thou canst
make me clean.' He had heard all about the miracles that were being
wrought up and down over the country, and he came to the Worker, with
nothing of the nature of religious faith in Him, but with entire
confidence, based upon the report of previous miracles, in Christ's
ability to heal. I do not suppose that in its nature it was very
different from the trust with which savages will crowd round a
traveller who has a medicine-chest with him, and expect to be cured of
their diseases. But still it was real confidence in our Lord's power
to heal. As a rule, though not without exceptions, He required (we may
perhaps say He needed) such confidence as a condition of His
miracle-working power.

If we turn from the emblem to the thing signified, from the leprosy of
the body to that of the spirit, we may be sure of Christ's omnipotent
ability to cleanse from the extremest severity of the disease, however
inveterate and chronic it may have become. Sin dominates men by two
opposite lies. I have said how hard it is to get people's consciences
awakened to see the facts of their moral and religious condition; but
then, when they are waked up, it is almost as hard to keep them from
the other extreme. The devil, first of all, says to a man, 'It is only
a little sin. Do it; you will be none the worse. You can give it up
when you like, you know. That is the language before the act.
Afterwards, his language is, first, 'You have done no harm, never mind
what people say about sin. Make yourself comfortable,' and then, when
that lie wears itself out, the mask is dropped, and this is what is
said: 'I have got you now, and you cannot get away. Done is done! What
thou hast written thou hast written; and neither thou nor anybody else
can blot it out.' Hence the despair into which awakened consciences
are apt to drop, and the feeling, which dogs the sense of evil like a
spectre, of the hopelessness of all attempts to make oneself better.
Brethren, they are both lies; the lie that we are pure is the first;
the lie that we are too black to be purified is the second. 'If we say
that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and make God a liar,' but if
we say, as some of us, when once our consciences are stirred, are but
too apt to say, 'We have sinned, and it cleaves to us for ever,' we
deceive ourselves still worse, and still more darkly and doggedly
contradict the sure word of God. Christ's blood atones for all past
sin, and has power to bring forgiveness to every one. Christ's vital
Spirit will enter into any heart, and, abiding there, has power to
make the foulest clean.

Note, again, the leper's hesitation. 'If Thou wilt'--he had no right
to presume on Christ's good will. He knew nothing about the principles
upon which His miracles were wrought and His mercy extended. He
supposed, no doubt, as he was bound to suppose, in the absence of any
plain knowledge, that it was a mere matter of accident, of caprice, of
momentary inclination and good nature, to whom the gift of healing
should come. And so he draws near with the modest 'If Thou wilt'; not
pretending to know more than he knew, or to have a claim which he had
not. But his hesitation is quite as much entreaty as hesitation. What
do we mean when we say about a man, 'He can do it, if he likes,' but
to imply that it is so easy to do it, that it would be cruel not to do
it? And so, when the leper said, 'If Thou wilt, Thou canst,' he meant,
'There is no obstacle standing between me and health but Thy will, and
surely it cannot be Thy will to leave me in this life in death.' He,
as it were, throws the responsibility for his health or disease upon
Christ's shoulders, and thereby makes the strongest appeal to that
loving heart.

We stand on another level. The leper's hesitation is our certainty. We
know the principle upon which His mercy is dispensed; we know that it
is a universal, all-embracing love; we know that no caprice nor
passing spasm of good nature lies at the bottom of it. We know that if
any men are not healed, it is not because Christ will not, but because
they will not. If ever there springs in our hearts the dark doubt 'If
Thou wilt,' which was innocent in this man in the twilight of his
knowledge, but is wrong in us in the full noontide of ours, we ought
to be able to banish it at once, and to lay none of the responsibility
of our continuing unhealed on Christ, but all on ourselves. He has
laid it there, when He lamented, 'How often would I--and ye would
not!' Nothing can be more in accordance with the will of God, of which
Jesus Christ is the embodiment, than to deliver men from sin, which is
the opposite of His will.

II. Notice, secondly, the Lord's answer.

Mark's record of this incident puts the miracle in very small compass,
and dilates rather upon the attitude and mind of Jesus Christ
preparatory to it. As if, apart altogether from the supernatural
element and the lessons that are to be drawn from it, it was worth our
while to ponder, for the gladdening of our hearts and the
strengthening of our hopes, that lovely picture of sheer simple
compassion and tender-heartedness. 'Jesus, _moved with compassion_'--a
clause which occurs only in Mark's account--'put forth His hand and
touched him, and said, I will; be thou clean.' Note, then, three
things--the compassion, the touch, the word.

As to the first, is it not a precious boon for us, in the midst of our
many wearinesses and sorrows and sicknesses, to have that picture of
Jesus Christ bending over the leper, and sending, as it were, a gush
of pitying love from His heart to flood away all his miseries? It is a
true revelation of the heart of Jesus Christ. Simple pity is its very
core. That pity is eternal, and subsists as He sits in the calm of the
heavens, even as it was manifest whilst He sat teaching in the humble
house in Galilee. For 'we have not a High Priest which cannot be
touched with a feeling of our infirmities.' The pitying Christ is near
us all. Nor let us forget that it is this swift shoot of pity which
underlies all that follows--the touch, the word, and the cure. Christ
does not wait to be moved by the prayers that come from these leprous
lips, but He is moved by the leprous lips themselves. The sight of the
man affects His pitying heart, which sets in motion all the wheels of
His healing powers. So we may learn that the impulse to which His
redeeming activity owes its origin wells up from His own heart. Show
Him sorrow, and He answers it by a pity of such a sort that it is
restless till it helps and assuages. We may rise higher. The pity of
Jesus Christ is the summit of His revelation of the Father, and,
looking upon that gentle heart, into whose depths we can see as
through a little window by these words of my text, we must stand with
hushed reverence as beholding not only the compassion of the Man, but
therein manifested the pity of the God who, 'Like as a father pitieth
his children, pitieth them that fear Him,' and pities yet more the
more miserable men who fear and love Him not. The Christian's God is
no impassive Being, indifferent to mankind, but 'One who in all our
afflictions is afflicted, and, in His love and in His pity,' redeems
and bears and carries.

Note, still further, the Lord's touch. With swift obedience to the
impulse of His pity, Christ thrusts forth His hand and touches the
leper. There was much in that touch, but whatever more we may see in
it, we should not be blind to the loving humanity of the act. Remember
that the man kneeling there had felt no touch of a hand for years;
that the very kisses of his own children and his wife's embrace of
love were denied him. And now Jesus puts out His hand, and, without
thinking of Mosaic restrictions and ceremonial prohibitions, yields to
the impulse of His pity, and gives assurance of His sympathy and His
brotherhood, as He lays His pure fingers upon the rotting ulcers. All
men that help their fellows must be contented thus to identify
themselves with them and to take them by the hand, if they would seek
to deliver them from their evils.

Remember, too, that according to the Mosaic law it was forbidden to
any but the priest to touch a leper. Therefore, in this act, beautiful
as it is in its uncalculated humanity, there may have been something
intended of a deeper kind. Our Lord thereby does one of two
things--either He asserts His authority as overriding that of Moses
and all his regulations, or He asserts His sacerdotal character.
Either way there is a great claim in the act.

Further, we may take that touch of Christ's as being a parable of His
whole work. It was a piece of wonderful sympathy and condescension
that He should put out His hand to touch the leper; but it was the
result of a far greater and more wonderful piece of sympathy and
condescension that He had a hand to touch him with. For the 'sweet
human hands and lips and eyes' which He wore in this world were
assumed by Him in order that He might make Himself one with all
sufferers and bear the burden of all their sins. So His touch of the
leper symbolises His identifying of Himself with mankind, the foulest
and the most degraded; and in this connection there is a profound
meaning in one of the ordinarily trivial legends of the Rabbis, who,
founding upon a word of the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, tell us
that when Messias comes He will be found sitting amongst the lepers at
the gate of the city. So He was numbered amongst the transgressors in
His life, and 'with the wicked in His death.' He touches, and,
touching, contracts no impurity, cleansing as the sunlight and the
fire do, by burning up the impurity, and not by receiving it into

Note the Lord's word, 'I will; be thou clean.' It is shaped,
convolution for convolution, so to speak, to match the man's prayer.
He ever moulds His response according to the feebleness and
imperfection of the petitioner's faith. But, at the same time, what a
ring of autocratic authority and conscious sovereignty there is in the
brief, calm, imperative word, 'I will; be thou clean!' He accepts the
leper's ascription of power; He claims to work the miracle by His own
will, and therein He is either guilty of what comes very near arrogant
blasphemy, or He is rightly claiming for Himself a divine prerogative.
If His word can tell as a force on material things, what is the
conclusion? He who 'spake and it was done' is Almighty and Divine.

III. Lastly, note the immediate cure.

Mark tells, with his favourite word 'straightway,' how as soon as
Christ had spoken, the leprosy departed from the leper. And to turn
from the symbol to the fact, the same sudden and complete cleansing is
possible for us. Our cleansing from sin must depend upon the present
love and present power of Jesus Christ. On account of Christ's
sacrifice, whose efficacy is eternal and lies at the foundation of all
our blessedness and our purity until the heavens shall be no more, we
are forgiven our sins and our guilt is taken away. By the present
indwelling of that cleansing Spirit of the ever-living Christ, which
will be given to us each if we seek it, we are cleansed day by day
from our evil. 'The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin,' not
only when shed as propitiatory, but when applied as sanctifying. We
must come to Christ, and there must be a real living contact between
us and Him through our faith, if we are to possess either the
forgiveness or the cleansing which are wrapped up inseparable in His

Further, the suddenness of this cure and its completeness may be
reproduced in us. People tell us that to believe in sudden conversion
is fanatical. This is not the place to argue that question. It seems
to me that such suddenness is in accordance with analogy. And I, for
my part, preach with full belief and in the hope that the words may
not be spoken altogether in vain to every man, woman, and child
listening to me, irrespective of their condition, character, and past,
that there is no reason why they should not go to Him straightway; no
reason why He should not put out His hand straightway and touch them;
no reason why their leprosy should not pass from them straightway, and
they lie down to sleep to-night 'accepted in the Beloved' and cleansed
in Him. Trust Him and He will do it.

Only remember, it was of no use to the leper that crowds had been
healed, that floods of blessing had been poured over the land. What he
wanted was that a rill should come and refresh his own lips. If you
wish to have Christ's cleansing you must make personal work of it, and
come with this prayer, 'On _me_ be all that cleansing shown!' You do
not need to go to Him with an 'If' nor a prayer, for His gift has not
waited for our asking, and He has anticipated us by coming with
healing in His wings. The parts are reversed, and He prays you to
receive the gift, and stands before each of us with the gentle
remonstrance upon His lips, 'Why will ye die when I am here ready to
cure you?' Take Him at His word, for He offers to us all, whether we
desire it or no, the cleansing which we need. Take Him at His word,
trust Him wholly, trust to His death for forgiveness, to His
sanctifying Spirit for cleansing, and 'straightway' your 'leprosy will
depart from you,' and your flesh shall become like the flesh of a
little child, and you shall be clean.


'Jesus put forth His hand, and touched him.'--Mark i. 41.

Behold the servant of the Lord' might be the motto of this Gospel, and
'He went about doing good and healing' the summing up of its facts. We
have in it comparatively few of our Lord's discourses, none of His
longer, and not very many of His briefer ones. It contains but four
parables. This Evangelist gives no miraculous birth as in Matthew, no
angels adoring there as in Luke, no gazing into the secrets of
Eternity, where the Word who afterwards became flesh dwelt in the
bosom of the Father, as in John. He begins with a brief reference to
the Forerunner, and then plunges into the story of Christ's life of
service to man and service for God.

In carrying out his conception the Evangelist omits many things found
in the other Gospels, which involve the idea of dignity and dominion,
while he adds to the incidents which he has in common with them not a
few fine and subtle touches to heighten the impression of our Lord's
toil and eagerness in His patient, loving service. Perhaps it may be
an instance of this that we find more prominence given to our Lord's
touch as connected with His miracles than in the other Gospels, or
perhaps it may merely be an instance of the vivid portraiture, the
result of a keen eye for externals, which is so marked a
characteristic of this gospel. Whatever the reason, the fact is plain,
that Mark delights to dwell on Christ's touch. The instances are
these--first, He puts out His hand, and 'lifts up' Peter's wife's
mother, and immediately the fever leaves her (i. 31); then, unrepelled
by the foul disease, He lays His pure hand upon the leper, and the
living mass of corruption is healed (i. 41); again, He lays His hand
on the clammy marble of the dead child's forehead, and she lives (v.
41). Further, we have the incidental statement that He was so hindered
in His mighty works by unbelief that He could only lay His hands on a
few sick folk and heal them (vi. 5). We find next two remarkable
incidents, peculiar to Mark, both like each other and unlike our
Lord's other miracles. One is the gradual healing of that deaf and
dumb man whom Christ took apart from the crowd, laid His hands on him,
thrust His fingers into his ears as if He would clear some impediment,
touched his tongue with saliva, said to him, 'Be opened'; and the man
could hear (vii. 34). The other is, the gradual healing of a blind man
whom our Lord again leads apart from the crowd, takes by the hand,
lays His own kind hands upon the poor, sightless eyeballs, and with
singular slowness of progress effects a cure, not by a leap and a
bound as He generally does, but by steps and stages; tries it once and
finds partial success, has to apply the curative process again, and
then the man can see (viii. 23). In addition to these instances there
are two other incidents which may also be adduced. It is Mark alone
who records for us the fact that He took little children in His arms,
and blessed them. And it is Mark alone who records for us the fact
that when He came down from the Mount of Transfiguration He laid His
hand upon the demoniac boy, writhing in the grip of his tormentor, and
lifted him up.

There is much taught us, if we will patiently consider it, by that
touch of Christ's, and I wish to try to bring out its meaning and

I. Whatever diviner and sacreder aspect there may be in these
incidents, the first thing, and in some senses the most precious
thing, in them is that they are the natural expression of a truly
human tenderness and compassion.

Now we are so accustomed, and as I believe quite rightly, to look at
all Christ's life down to its minutest events as intended to be a
revelation of God, that we are sometimes apt to think about it as if
His motive and purpose in everything was didactic. So an unreality
creeps over our conceptions of Christ's life, and we need to be
reminded that He was not always acting and speaking in order to convey
instruction, but that words and deeds were drawn from Him by the play
of simple human feelings. He pitied not only in order to teach us the
heart of God, but because His own man's heart was touched with a
feeling of men's infirmities. We are too apt to think of Him as posing
before men with the intent of giving the great revelation of the Love
of God. It is the love of Christ Himself, spontaneous, instinctive,
without the thought of anything but the suffering that it sees, which
gushes out and leads Him to put forth His hand to the outcast beggars,
the blind, the deaf, the lepers. That is the first great lesson we
have to learn from this and other stories--the swift human sympathy
and heart of grace and tenderness which Jesus Christ had for all human
suffering, and has to-day as truly as ever.

There is more than this instinctive sympathy taught by Christ's touch,
but it is distinctly taught. How beautifully that comes out in the
story of the leper! That wretched man had long dwelt in his isolation.
The touch of a friend's hand or the kiss of loving lips had been long
denied him. Christ looks on him, and before He reflects, the
spontaneous impulse of pity breaks through the barriers of legal
prohibitions and of natural repugnance, and leads Him to lay His holy
and healing hand on his foulness.

True pity always instinctively leads us to seek to come near those who
are its objects. A man tells his friend some sad story of his
sufferings, and while he speaks, unconsciously his listener lays his
hand on his arm, and, by a silent pressure, speaks his sympathy. So
Christ did with these men--not only in order that He might reveal God
to us, but because He was a man, and therefore felt ere He thought.
Out flashed from His heart the swift sympathy, followed by the tender
pressure of the loving hand--a hand that tried through flesh to reach
spirit, and come near the sufferer that it might succour and remove
the sorrow.

Christ's pity is shown by His touch to have this true characteristic
of true pity, that it overcomes disgust. All real sympathy does that.
Christ is not turned away by the shining whiteness of the leprosy, nor
by the eating pestilence beneath it; He is not turned away by the
clammy marble hand of the poor dead maiden, nor by the fevered skin of
the old woman gasping on her pallet. He lays hold on each, the flushed
patient, the loathsome leper, the sacred dead, with the all-equalising
touch of a universal love and pity, which disregards all that is
repellent, and overflows every barrier and pours itself over every
sufferer. We have the same pity of the same Christ to trust to and to
lay hold of to-day. He is high above us and yet bending over us;
stretching His hand from the throne as truly as He put it out when
here on earth; and ready to take us all to His heart in spite of our
weakness and wickedness, our failings and our shortcomings, the fever
of our flesh and hearts' desires, the leprosy of our many corruptions,
and the death of our sins,--and to hold us ever in the strong, gentle
clasp of His divine, omnipotent, and tender hand. This Christ lays
hold on us because He loves us, and will not be turned from His
compassion by the most loathsome foulness of ours.

II. And now take another point of view from which we may regard this
touch of Christ: namely, as the medium of His miraculous power.

There is nothing to me more remarkable about the miracles of our Lord
than the royal variety of His methods of healing. Sometimes He works
at a distance, sometimes He requires, as it would appear for good
reasons, the proximity of the person to be blessed. Sometimes He works
by a simple word: 'Lazarus, come forth!' 'Peace be still!' 'Come out
of him!' sometimes by a word and a touch, as in the instances before
us; sometimes by a touch without a word; sometimes by a word and a
touch and a vehicle, as in the saliva that was put on the tongue and
in the ears of the deaf, and on the eyes of the blind; sometimes by a
vehicle without a word, without a touch, without His presence, as when
He said, 'Go wash in the pool of Siloam, and he washed and was clean.'
So the divine worker varies infinitely and at pleasure, yet not
arbitrarily but for profound, even if not always discoverable,
reasons, the methods of His miracle-working power, in order that we
may learn by these varieties of ways that He is tied to no way; and
that His hand, strong and almighty, uses methods and tosses aside
methods according to His pleasure, the methods being vitalised when
they are used by His will, and being nothing at all in themselves.

The very variety of His methods, then, teaches us that the true cause
in every case is His own bare will. A simple word is the highest and
most adequate expression of that will. His word is all-powerful: and
that is the very signature of divinity. Of whom has it been true from
of old that 'He spake and it was done, He commanded and it stood
fast'? Do you believe in a Christ whose bare will, thrown among
material things, makes them all plastic, as clay in the potter's
hands, whose mouth rebukes the demons and they flee, rebukes death and
it looses its grasp, rebukes the tempest and there is a calm, rebukes
disease and there comes health?

But this use of Christ's touch as apparent means for conveying His
miraculous power also serves as an illustration of a principle which
is exemplified in all His revelation, namely, the employment in
condescension to men's weakness, of outward means as the apparent
vehicles of His spiritual power. Just as by the material vehicle
sometimes employed for cure, He gave these poor sense-bound natures a
ladder by which their faith in His healing power might climb, so in
the manner of His revelation and communication of His spiritual gifts,
there is provision for the wants of us men, who ever need some body
for spirit to make itself manifest by, some form for the ethereal
reality, some 'tabernacle' for the 'sun.' 'Sacraments,' outward
ceremonies, forms of worship, are vehicles which the Divine Spirit
uses in order to bring His gifts to the hearts and the minds of men.
They are like the touch of the Christ which heals, not by any virtue
in itself, apart from His will which chooses to make it the apparent
medium of healing. All these externals are nothing, as the pipes of an
organ are nothing, until His breath is breathed through them, and then
the flood of sweet sound pours out.

Do not despise the material vehicles and the outward helps which
Christ uses for the communication of His healing and His life, but
remember that the help that is done upon earth, He does it all
Himself. Even Christ's touch is nothing, if it were not for His own
will which flows through it.

III. Consider Christ's touch as a shadow and symbol of the very heart
of His work.

Go back to the past history of this man. Ever since his disease
declared itself no human being had touched him. If he had a wife he
had been separated from her; if he had children their lips had never
kissed his, nor their little hands found their way into his hard palm.
Alone he had been walking with the plague-cloth over his face, and the
cry 'Unclean!' on his lips, lest any man should come near him.
Skulking in his isolation, how he must have hungered for the touch of
a hand! Every Jew was forbidden to approach him but the priest, who,
if he were cured, might pass his hand over the place and pronounce him
clean. And here comes a Man who breaks down all the restrictions,
stretches a frank hand out across the walls of separation, and touches
him. What a reviving assurance of love not yet dead must have come to
the man as Christ grasped his hand, even if he saw in Him only a
stranger who was not afraid of him and did not turn from him!

But beside this thrill of human sympathy, which came hope--bringing to
the leper, Christ's touch had much significance, if we remember that,
according to the Mosaic legislation, the priest and the priest alone
was to lay his hands on the tainted skin and pronounce the leper
whole. So Christ's touch was a priest's touch. He lays His hand on
corruption and is not tainted. The corruption with which He comes in
contact becomes purity. Are not these really the profoundest truths as
to His whole work in the world? What is it all but laying hold of the
leper and the outcast and the dead--His sympathy leading to His
identification of Himself with us in our weakness and misery?

That sympathetic life-bringing touch is put forth once for all in His
Incarnation and Death. 'He taketh hold of the seed of Abraham,' says
the Epistle to the Hebrews, looking at our Lord's work under this same
metaphor, and explaining that His laying hold of men was His being
'made in all points like unto His brethren.' Just as he took hold of
the fevered woman and lifted her from her bed; or, as He thrust His
fingers into the deaf ears of that poor man stopped by some
impediment, so, in analogous fashion, He becomes one of those whom He
would save and help. In His assumption of humanity and in His bowing
of His head to death, we behold Him laying hold of our weakness and
entering into the fellowship of our pains and of the fruit of sin.

Just as He touches the leper and in unpolluted, or the fever patient
and receives no contagion, or the dead and draws no chill of mortality
into His warm hand, so He becomes like His brethren in all things, yet
without sin. Being found in 'the likeness of sinful flesh,' He knows
no sin, but wears His manhood unpolluted and dwells among men
'blameless and harmless, the Son of God, without rebuke.' Like a
sunbeam passing through foul water untarnished and unstained; or like
some sweet spring rising in the midst of the salt sea, which yet
retains its freshness and pours it over the surrounding bitterness, so
Christ takes upon Himself our nature and lays hold of our stained
hands with the hand that continues pure while it grasps us, and will
make us purer if we grasp it.

Brethren, let your touch answer to His; and as He lays hold of us, in
His incarnation and His death, let the hand of our faith clasp His
outstretched hand, and though our hold be as faltering and feeble as
that of the trembling, wasted fingers which one timid woman once laid
on His garment's hem, the blessing which we need will flow into our
veins from the contact. There will be cleansing for our leprosy, sight
for our blindness, life driving out death from its throne in our
hearts, and we shall be able to recount our joyful experience in the
old Psalmist's triumphant strains--'He sent me from above, He laid
hold upon me, He drew me out of many waters.'

IV. Finally, we may look upon these incidents as being in a very
important sense a pattern for us.

No good is to be done by any man to his fellows except at the cost of
true sympathy which leads to identification and contact. The literal
touch of your hand would do more good to some poor outcasts than much
solemn advice, or even much material help flung to them as from a
height above them. A shake of the hand might be more of a means of
grace than a sermon, and more comforting than ever so many free
breakfasts and blankets given superciliously.

And, symbolically, we may say that we must be willing to take those by
the hand whom we wish to help; that is to say, we must come down to
their level, try to see with their eyes, and to think their thoughts,
and let them feel that we do not think our purity too fine to come
beside their filth, nor shrink from them With repugnance, however we
may show disapproval and pity for their sin. Much work done by
Christian people has no effect, nor ever will have, because it has
peeping through it a poorly concealed 'I am holier than thou.' An
instinctive movement of repugnance has ruined many a well-meant

Christ has come down to us, and has taken all our nature upon Himself.
If there is an outcast and abandoned soul on earth which may not feel
that Jesus has laid a loving and healing touch on him, Jesus is not
the Saviour for the world. He shrinks from none, He unites Himself
with all, therefore 'He is able to save to the uttermost all who come
unto God by Him.' His conduct is the pattern and the law for us. A
Church is a poor affair if it is not a body of people whose experience
of Christ's pity and gratitude for the life which has become theirs
through His wondrous making Himself one with them, compels them to do
the like in their degree for the sinful and the outcast. Thank God,
there are many in every communion who know that constraint of the love
of Christ. But the world will not be healed of its sickness till the
great body of Christian people awakes to feel that the task and honour
of each of them is to go forth bearing Christ's pity certified by
their own.

The sins of professing Christian countries are largely to be laid at
the door of the Church. We are idle when we ought to be at work. We
'pass by on the other side' when bleeding brethren lie with wounds
gaping to be bound up by us. And even when we are moved to service by
Christ's love, and try to do something for our fellows, our work is
often tainted by a sense of our own superiority, and we patronise when
we should sympathise, and lecture when we should beseech.

We must be content to take lepers by the hand, if we would help them
to purity, and to let every outcast feel the warmth of our pitying,
loving grasp, if we would draw them into the forsaken Father's House.
Lay your hands on the sinful as Christ did, and they will recover. All
your holiness and hope come from Christ's laying hold of you. Keep
hold of Him, and make His great pity and loving identification of
Himself with the world of sinners and sufferers, your pattern as well
as your hope, and your touch, too, will have virtue. Keeping hold of
Him who has taken hold of us, you too may be able to say, 'Ephphatha,
be opened,' or to lay your hand on the leper, and he will be cleansed.


'And again He entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was
noised that He was in the house. 2. And straightway many were gathered
together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so
much as about the door; and He preached the word unto them. 3. And
they come unto Him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of
four. 4. And when they could not come nigh unto Him for the press,
they uncovered the roof where He was: and when they had broken it up,
they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. 6. When Jesus
saw their faith, He said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be
forgiven thee. 6. But there were certain of the scribes sitting there,
and reasoning in their hearts, 7. Why doth this man thus speak
blasphemies! who can forgive sins but God only! 8. And immediately
when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they so reasoned within
themselves, He said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your
hearts? 9. Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy
sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and
walk! 10. But that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth
to forgive sins, (He saith to the sick of the palsy,) 11. I say unto
thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house. 12.
And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them
all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, laying, We
never saw it on this fashion.'--Mark ii. 1-12.

Mark alone gives Capernaum as the scene of this miracle. The
excitement which had induced our Lord to leave that place had been
allowed 'some days' to quiet down, 'after' which He ventures to
return, but does not seem to have sought publicity, but to have
remained in 'the house'--probably Peter's. There would be at least one
woman's heart there, which would love to lavish grateful service on
Him. But 'He could not be hid,' and, however little genuine or deep
the eagerness might be, He will not refuse to meet it. Mark paints
vividly the crowd flocking to the humble home, overflowing its modest
capacity, blocking the doorway, and clustering round it outside as far
as they could hear Christ's voice. 'He was speaking the word to them,'
proclaiming His mission, as He had done in their synagogue, when He
was interrupted by the events which follow, no doubt to the
gratification of some of His hearers, who wanted something more
exciting than 'teaching.'

I. We note the eager group of interrupters. Mark gives one of the
minute touches which betray an eye-witness and a close observer when
he tells us that the palsied man was carried by four friends--no doubt
one at each corner of the bed, which would be some light framework, or
even a mere quilt or mattress. The incident is told from the point of
view of one sitting beside Jesus; they 'come to Him,' but 'cannot come
near.' The accurate specification of the process of removing the roof,
which Matthew omits altogether, and Luke tells much more vaguely,
seems also to point to an eye-witness as the source of the narrative,
who would, of course, be Peter, who well remembered all the steps of
the unceremonious treatment of his property. His house was, probably,
one of no great pretensions or size, but like hundreds of poor men's
houses in Palestine still--a one-storied building with a low, flat
roof, mostly earthen, and easily reached from the ground by an outside
stair. It would be somewhat difficult to get a sick man and his bed up
there, however low, and somewhat free-and-easy dealing with another
man's house to burrow through the roof a hole wide enough for the
purpose; but there is no impossibility, and the difficulty is part of
the lesson of the incident, and is recognised expressly in the
narrative by Christ's notice of their 'faith.' We can fancy the blank
looks of the four bearers, and the disappointment on the sick man's
thin face and weary eyes, as they got to the edge of the crowd, and
saw that there was no hope of forcing a passage. Had they been less
certain of a cure, and less eager, they would have shouldered their
burden and carried him home again. They could well have pleaded
sufficient reason for giving up the attempt. But 'we cannot' is the
coward's word. 'We must' is the earnest man's. If we have any real
consciousness of our need to get to Christ, and any real wish to do
so, it is not a crowd round the door that will keep us back.
Difficulties test, and therefore increase, faith. They develop a
sanctified ingenuity in getting over them, and bring a rich harvest of
satisfaction when at last conquered. These four eager faces looked
down through the broken roof, when they had succeeded in dropping the
bed right at Christ's feet, with a far keener pleasure than if they
had just carried him in by the door. No doubt their act was
inconvenient; for, however light the roofing, some rubbish must have
come down on the heads of some of the notabilities below. And, no
doubt, it was interfering with property as well as with propriety. But
here was a sick man, and there was his Healer; and it was their
business to get the two together somehow. It was worth risking a good
deal to accomplish. The rabbis sitting there might frown at rude
intrusiveness; Peter might object to the damage to his roof; some of
the listeners might dislike the interruption to His teaching; but
Jesus read the action of the bearers and the consent of the motionless
figure on the couch as the indication of 'their faith,' and His love
and power responded to its call.

II. Note the unexpected gift with which Christ answers this faith.
Neither the bearers nor the paralytic speak a word throughout the
whole incident. Their act and his condition spoke loudly enough.
Obviously, all five must have had, at all events, so much 'faith' as
went to the conviction that He could and would heal; and this faith is
the occasion of Christ's gift. The bearers had it, as is shown by
their work. It was a visible faith, manifest by conduct. He can see
the hidden heart; but here He looks upon conduct, and thence infers
disposition. Faith, if worth anything, comes to the surface in act.
Was it the faith of the bearers, or of the sick man, which Christ
rewarded? Both. As Abraham's intercession delivered Lot, as Paul in
the shipwreck was the occasion of safety to all the crew, so one man's
faith may bring blessings on another. But if the sick man too had not
had faith, he would not have let himself be brought at all, and would
certainly not have consented to reach Christ's presence by so strange
and, to him, dangerous a way--being painfully hoisted up some narrow
stair, and then perilously let down, at the risk of cords snapping, or
hands letting go, or bed giving way. His faith, apparently, was deeper
than theirs; for Christ's answer, though it went far beyond his or
their expectations, must have been moulded to meet his deepest sense
of need. His heart speaks in the tender greeting 'son,' or, as the
margin has it, 'child'--possibly pointing to the man's youth, but more
probably an appellation revealing the mingled love and dignity of
Jesus, and taking this man into the arms of His sympathy. The palsy
may have been the consequence of 'fast' living; but, whether it were
so or no, Christ saw that, in the dreary hours of solitary inaction to
which it had condemned the sufferer, remorse had been busy gnawing at
his heart, and that pain had done its best work by leading to
penitence. Therefore He spoke to the conscience before He touched the
bodily ailment, and met the sufferer's deepest and most deeply felt
disease first. He goes to the bottom of the malady with His cure.
These great words are not only closely adapted to the one case before
Him, but contain a general truth, worthy to be pondered by all
philanthropists. It is of little use to cure symptoms unless you cure

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