Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Expositions of Holy Scripture by Alexander Maclaren

Part 10 out of 10

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.2 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

to be raised in power, and sown corruptible is to be raised in

'Behold the place where they laid Him,' and in the empty grave read
the mystery of the Resurrection as the pattern and the symbol of our
higher life; that, 'like as Christ was raised from the dead by the
glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.'
Oh to partake more and more of that power of His Resurrection!

In Christ's empty grave is planted the true 'tree of life, which is in
the midst of the "true" Paradise of God.' And we, if we truly trust
and humbly love that Lord, shall partake of its fruits, and shall one
day share the glories of His risen life in the heavens, even as we
share the power of it here and now.


'Tell His disciples and Peter that He goeth before yon into
Galilee.--Mark xvi, 7.

This prevailing tradition of Christian antiquity ascribes this Gospel
to John Mark, sister's son to Barnabas, and affirms that in composing
it he was in some sense the 'interpreter' of the Apostle Peter. Some
confirmation of this alleged connection between the Evangelist and the
Apostle may be gathered from the fact that the former is mentioned by
the latter as with him when he wrote his First Epistle. And, in the
Gospel itself, there are some little peculiarities which seem to look
in the same direction. A certain speciality is traceable here and
there, both in omissions of incidents in the Apostle's life recorded
by some of the other Evangelists, and in the addition of slight facts
concerning him unnoticed by them.

Chief among these is the place which his name holds in this very
remarkable message, delivered by the angels to the women who came to
Christ's tomb on the Resurrection morning. Matthew, who also reports
the angels' words, has only 'tell His disciples.' Mark adds the words,
which must have come like wine and oil to the bruised heart of the
denier, 'tell His disciples _and Peter_.' To the others, it was of
little importance that his name should have been named then; to him it
was life from the dead, that he should have been singled out to
receive a word of forgiveness and a summons to meet his Lord; as if He
had said through His angel messengers--'I would see them all; but
whoever may stay behind, let not _him_ be absent from our glad meeting

We find, too, that the same individualising of the Apostle, which led
to his being thus greeted in the first thoughts of his risen Lord, led
also to an interview with Him on that same day, about which not a
syllable of detail is found in any Gospel, though the fact was known
to the whole body of the disciples. For when the two friends who had
met Christ at Emmaus came back in the night with their strange
tidings, their eagerness to tell their joyful news is anticipated by
the eagerness of the brethren to tell _their_ wonderful story: 'The
Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.' Paul, too, gives
that meeting, when the Lord was alone with the penitent, the foremost
place in his list of the evidences of Christ's resurrection, 'He was
seen of Cephas.' What passed then is hidden from all eyes. The secrets
of that hour of deep contrition and healing love Peter kept secretly
curtained from sight, in the innermost chamber of his memory. But we
may be sure that then forgiveness was sought and granted, and the bond
that fastened him to his Lord was welded together again, where it had
snapped, and was the stronger because it had been broken, and at the
point of fracture.

The man must be first re-united to his Saviour, before the Apostle can
be reinstated in his functions. In secrecy, not beheld by any, is the
personal act of restoration to love and friendship effected; and then
in public, before his brethren, who were concerned in his official
position, but not in his personal relation to his Lord, the
reappointment of the pardoned disciple to his apostleship takes place.
His sin had had a public aspect, and his threefold denial must, in so
far as it was an outward act, be effaced by his threefold confession.
Then he becomes again 'Peter'--not merely 'Simon Bar Jonas'; and, as
the Book of the Acts shows, never ceases to hear the divine
commissions, 'Feed My sheep,' 'Follow Me'; nor ever forgets the
lessons he had learned in these bitter hours of self-loathing, and in
the rapturous moments when again he saw his Lord.

Putting all these things together--this message from Christ, the
interview which followed it, and the subsequent history of the
Apostle--we have a connected series of facts which may illustrate for
us, better than many dry words of mine could do, the triumph over sin
of the forgiving love of Christ.

I. Notice, then, first, the loving message with which He beckons the
wanderer back.

If we try to throw ourselves back into the Apostle's black thoughts
during the interval between his denial and the Resurrection morning,
we shall better feel what this love-token from the grave must have
been to him. His natural character, as well as his real love for his
Master, ensured that his lies could not long content him. They were
uttered so vehemently because they were uttered in spite of inward
resistance. Overpowered by fear, beaten down from all his
vain-glorious self-confidence by a woman-servant's sharp tongue and
mocking eye, he lied--and then came the rebound. The same impulsive
vehemence which had hurried him into the fault, would swing him back
again to quick penitence when the cock crew, and that Divine Face,
turning slowly from before the judgment-seat with the sorrow of
wounded love upon it, silently said, 'Remember.' We can fancy how that
bitter weeping, which began so soon, grew more passionate and more
bitter when the end came. We are singularly happy if we do not know
the pang of remembering some fault to the loved dead--some hasty word,
some momentary petulance, some selfish disregard of their happiness,
some sullen refusal of their tenderness. How the thought that it is
all irrevocable now embitters the remorse! How passionately we long
that we could have one of the moments again, which seemed so trivial
while we possessed them, that we might confess and be forgiven, and
atone! And this poor, warm-hearted, penitent denier had to think that
his very last act to the Lord whom he loved so well had been such an
act of cowardly shrinking from acknowledging Him; and that
henceforward his memory of that dear face was to be for ever saddened
by that last look! That they should have parted so! that that sad gaze
was to be the last he should ever have, and that _it_ was to haunt him
for the rest of his life! We can understand how heavily the hours
passed on that dreary Saturday. If, as seems probable, he was with
John in his home, whither the latter had led the mother of our Lord,
what a group were gathered there, each with a separate pang from the
common sorrow!

Into this sorrow come the tidings that all was not over, that the
irrevocable was not irrevocable, that perhaps new days of loyal love
might still be granted, in which the doleful failure of the past might
be forgotten; and then, whether before or after his hurried rush to
the grave we need not here stay to inquire, follows the message of our
text, a word of forgiveness and reconciliation, sent by the Lord as
the herald and outrider of His own coming, to bring gladness and hope
ere He Himself draws near.

Think of this message as a revelation of love that is stronger than

The news of Christ's resurrection must have struck awe, but not
necessarily joy, into the disciples' hearts. The dearest ones suffer
so solemn a change to our apprehensions when they pass into the grave,
that to many a man it would be maddening terror to meet those whom he
loved and still loves. So there must have been a spasm of fear even
among Christ's friends when they heard of Him as risen again, and much
confusing doubt as to what would be the amount of resemblance to His
old self. They probably dreaded to find Him far removed from their
familiar love, forgetful perhaps of much of the old life, with other
thoughts than before, with the atmosphere of the other world round
about Him, which glorified Him indeed, but separated Him too from
those whose grosser lungs could live only in this thick air. These
words of our text would go far to scatter all such fears. They link on
the future to the past, as if His first thought when He rose had been
to gather up again the dropped threads of their intercourse, and to
carry on their ancient concord and companionship as though no break
had been at all. For all the disciples, and especially for him who is
especially named, they confirm the identity of Christ's whole
dispositions towards them now, with those which He had before. Death
has not changed Him at all. Much has been done since He left them; the
world's history has been changed, but nothing which has happened has
had any effect on the reality of His love, and on the inmost reality
of their companionship. In these respects they are where they were,
and even Calvary and the tomb are but as a parenthesis. The old bonds
are all re-knit, and the junction is all but imperceptible.

This is how we have to think of our Lord now, in His attitude towards
us. We, too, may have our share in that message, which came like
morning twilight before He shone upon the apostles' darkness. To them
it proclaimed a love which was stronger than death. To us it may
declare a love which is stronger than all change of circumstances. He
is no more parted from us by the Throne than from them by the Cross.
He descended into 'the lower parts of the earth,' and His love lived
on, and so it does now, when He has 'ascended up far above all
heavens.' Love knows no difference of place, conditions, or functions.
From out of the blazing heart of the Glory the same tender face looks
that bent over sick men's pallets, and that turned on Peter in the
judgment-hall. The hand that holds the sceptre of the universe is the
hand that was nailed to the Cross, and that was stretched out to that
same Peter when he was ready to sink. The breast that is girt with the
golden girdle of priestly sovereignty is the same tender home on which
John's happy head rested in placid contentment. All the love that ever
flowed from Christ flows from Him still. To Him, 'whose nature and
whose name are Love,' it matters nothing whether He is in the house at
Bethany, or in the upper room, or hanging on the Cross, or lying in
the grave, or risen from the dead, or seated on the right hand of God.
He is the same everywhere and always. 'I have loved thee with an
everlasting love.'

Again, this message is the revelation of a love that is not turned
away by our sinful changes.

Peter may have thought that he had, with his own words, broken the
bond between him and his Lord. He had renounced his allegiance; was
the renunciation to be accepted? He had said, 'I am not one of them';
did Christ answer, 'Be it so; one of them thou shalt no more be'? The
message from the women's lips settled the question, and let him feel
that, though his grasp of Christ had relaxed, Christ's grasp of him
had not, He might change, he might cease for a time to prize his
Lord's love, he might cease either to be conscious of it or to wish
for it; but that love could not change. It was unaffected by his
unfaithfulness, even as it had not been originated by his fidelity.
Repelled, it still lingered beside him. Disowned, it still asserted
its property in him. Being reviled, it blessed; being persecuted, it
endured; being defamed, it entreated; and, patient through all wrongs
and changes, it loved on till it had won back the erring heart, and
could fill it with the old blessedness again.

And is not that same miracle of long-enduring love presented before
every one of us, as in Christ's heart for us? True, our sin interferes
with our sense of it, and modifies the form in which it must deal with
us; but, however real and disastrous may be the power of our evil in
troubling the communion of love between us and our Lord, and in
compelling Him to smite before He binds up, never forget that our sin
is utterly impotent to turn away the tide that sets to us from the
heart of Christ. Earthborn vapours may hang about the low levels, and
turn the gracious sun himself into a blood-red ball of lurid fire; but
they reach only a little way up, and high above their region is the
pure blue, and the blessed light pours down upon the upper surface of
the white mist, and thins away its opaqueness, and dries up its
clinging damp, and at last parts it into filmy fragments that float
out of sight, and the dwellers on the green earth see the sun, which
was always there even when they could not behold it, and which, by
shining on, has conquered all the obstructions that veiled its beams.
Sin is mighty, but one thing sin cannot do, and that is to make Christ
cease to love us. Sin is mighty, but one other thing sin cannot do,
and that is to prevent Christ from manifesting His love to us sinners,
that we may learn to love and so may cease to sin. Christ's love is
not at the beck and call of our fluctuating affections. It has its
source deeper than in the springs in our hearts, namely in the depths
of His own nature. It is not the echo or the answer to ours, but ours
is the echo to His; and that being so, our changes do not reach to it,
any more than earth's seasons affect the sun. For ever and ever He
loves. Whilst we forget Him, He remembers us. Whilst we repay Him with
neglect or with hate, He still loves. If we believe not, He still
abides faithful to His merciful purpose, and, in spite of all that we
can do, will not deny Himself, by ceasing to be the incarnate
Patience, the perfect Love. He is Himself the great ensample of that
'charity' which His Apostle painted; He is not easily provoked; He is
not soon angry; He beareth all things; He hopeth all things. We cannot
get away from the sweep of His love, wander we ever so far. The child
may struggle in the mother's arms, and beat the breast that shelters
it with its little hand; but it neither hurts nor angers that gentle
bosom, nor loosens the firm but loving grasp that holds it fast. He
carries, as a nurse does, His wayward children, and, blessed be His
name! His arm is too strong for us to shake it off, His love too
divine for us to dam it back.

And still further, here we see a love which sends a special message
because of special sin.

If one was to be singled out from the little company to receive by
name the summons of the Lord to meet Him in Galilee, we might have
expected it to have been that faithful friend who stood beneath the
Cross, till his Lord's command sent him to his own home; or that
weeping mother whom he then led away with him; or one of the two who
had been turned from secret disciples into confessors by the might of
their love, and had laid His body with reverent care in the grave in
the garden. Strange reward for true love that they should be merged in
the general message, and strange recompense for treason and cowardice
that Peter's name should be thus distinguished! Is sin, then, a
passport to His deeper love? Is the murmur true after all, 'Thou never
gavest me a kid, but as soon as this thy son is come, which hath
devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted
calf'? Yes, and no. No, inasmuch as the unbroken fellowship hath in it
calm and deep joys which the returning prodigal does not know, and all
sin lays waste and impoverishes the soul. Yes, inasmuch as He, who
knows all our needs, knows that the denier needs a special treatment
to bring him back to peace, and that the further a poor heart has
strayed from Him, the mightier must be the forthputting of manifested
love, if it is to be strong enough to travel across all the dreary
wastes, and draw back again, to its orbit among its sister planets,
the wandering star. The depth of our need determines the strength of
the restorative power put forth. They who had not gone away would come
at the call addressed to them all, but he who had sundered himself
from them and from the Lord would remain in his sad isolation, unless
some special means were used to bring him back. The more we have
sinned, the less can we believe in Christ's love; and so the more we
have sinned, the more marvellous and convincing does He make the
testimony and operations of His love to us. It is ever to the poor
bewildered sheep, lying panting in the wilderness, that He comes.
Among His creatures, the race which has sinned is that which receives
the most stupendous proof of the seeking divine love. Among men, the
publicans and the harlots, the denying Peters and the persecuting
Pauls, are they to whom the most persuasive entreaties of His love are
sent, and on whom the strongest powers of His grace are brought to
bear. Our sin cannot check the flow of His love. More marvellous
still, our sin occasions a mightier burst of the manifestation of His
love, for eyes blinded by selfishness and carelessness, or by fear and
despair, need to see a brightness beyond the noonday sun, ere they can
behold the amazing truth of His love to them; and what they need, they
get. 'Go, tell Peter.'

Here, too, is the revelation of a love which singles out a sinful man
by name.

Christ does not deal with us in the mass, but soul by soul. Our finite
minds have to lose the individual in order to grasp the class. Our
eyes see the wood far off on the mountain-side, but not the single
trees, nor each fluttering leaf. We think of 'the race'--the twelve
hundred millions that live to-day, and the uncounted crowds that have
been, but the units in that inconceivable sum are not separate in our
view. But He does not generalise so. He has a clear individualising
knowledge of each; each separately has a place in His mind or heart.
To each He says, 'I know thee by name.' He loves the world, because He
loves every single soul with a distinct love. And His messages of
blessing are as specific and individualising as the love from which
they come. He speaks to each of us as truly as He singled out Peter
here, as truly as when His voice from heaven said, 'Saul, Saul.'
English names are on His lips as really as Jewish ones. He calls to
_thee_ by _thy_ name--thou hast a share in His love. To thee the call
to trust Him is addressed, and to thee forgiveness, help, purity, life
eternal are offered. Thou hast sinned; that only infuses deeper
tenderness into His beseeching tones. Thou hast gone further front Him
than some of thy fellows; that only makes His recovering energy
greater. Thou hast denied His name; that only makes Him speak thine
with more persuasive invitation.

Look, then, at this one instance of a love stronger than death,
mightier than sin, sending its special greeting to the denier, and
learn how deep the source, how powerful the flow, how universal the
sweep, of that river of the love of God, which streams to us through
the channel of Christ His Son.

II. Notice, secondly, the secret meeting between our Lord and the

That is the second stage in the victorious conflict of divine love
with man's sin. As I have said, that interview took place on the day
of the Resurrection, apparently before our Lord joined the two
sorrowful travellers to Emmaus, and certainly before He appeared to
the company gathered by night in the closed chamber. The fact was well
known, for it is referred to by Luke and by Paul, but nothing beyond
the fact seems to have been known, or at all events is made public by
them. All this is very significant and very beautiful.

What tender consideration there is in meeting Peter alone, before
seeing him in the companionship of the others! How painful would have
been the rush of the first emotions of shame awakened by Christ's
presence, if their course had been checked by any eye but His own
beholding them! How impossible it would have then been to have poured
out all the penitent confessions with which his heart must have been
full, and how hard it would have been to have met for the first time,
and not to have poured them out! With most loving insight, then, into
the painful embarrassment, and dread of unsympathising standers-by,
which must have troubled the contrite Apostle, the Lord is careful to
give him the opportunity of weeping his fill on His own bosom,
unrestrained by any thought of others, and will let him sob out his
contrition to His own ear alone. Then the meeting in the upper chamber
will be one of pure joy to Peter, as to all the rest. The emotions
which he has in common with them find full play, in that hour when all
are reunited to their Lord. The experience which belongs to himself
alone has its solitary hour of unrecorded communion. The first to whom
He, who is 'separate from sinners,' appeared was 'Mary Magdalene, out
of whom He had cast seven devils.' The next were the women who bore
this message of forgiveness; and probably the next was the one among
all the company who had sinned most grievously. So wondrous is the
order of His preferences, coming ever nearest to those who need Him

And may we not regard this secret interview as representing for us
what is needed on our part to make Christ's forgiving love our own?
There must be the personal contact of my soul with the loving heart of
Christ, the individual act of my own coming to Him, and, as the old
Puritans used to say,' my transacting' with Him. Like the ocean of the
atmosphere, His love encompasses me, and in it I 'live, and move, and
have my being.' But I must let it flow into my spirit, and stir the
dormant music of ray soul. I can shut it out, sealing my heart
love-tight against it. I do shut it out, unless by my own conscious,
personal act I yield myself to Him, unless by my own faith I come to
Him, and meet Him, secretly and really as did the penitent Apostle,
whom the message, that proclaimed the love of his Lord, emboldened to
meet the Lord who loved, and by His own lips to be assured of
forgiveness and friendship. It is possible to stumble at noontide, as
in the dark. A man may starve, outside of barns filled with plenty,
and his lips may be parched with thirst, though he is within sight of
a broad river flowing in the sunshine. So a soul may stiffen into the
death of self and sin, even though the voice that wakes the dead to a
life of love be calling to it. Christ and His grace are yours if you
will, but the invitations and beseechings of His mercy, the constant
drawings of His love, the all-embracing offers of His forgiveness, may
be all in vain, if you do not grasp them and hold them fast by the
hand of faith.

That personal act must be preceded by the message of His mighty love.
Ever He sends such messages as heralds of His coming, just as He
prepared the way for His own approach to the Apostle, by the words of
our text. Our faith must follow His word. Our love can only be called
forth by the manifestation of His. But His message must be followed by
that personal act, else His word is spoken in vain, and there is no
real union between our need and His fulness, nor any cleansing contact
of His grace with our foulness.

Mark, too, the intensely individual character of that act of faith by
which a man accepts Christ's grace. Friends and companions may bring
the tidings of the risen Lord's loving heart, but the actual closing
with the Lord's mercy must be done by myself, alone with Him.

As if there were not another soul on earth, I and He must meet, and in
solitude deep as that of death, each man for himself must yield to
Incarnate Love, and receive eternal life. The flocks and herds, the
wives and children, have all to be sent away, and Jacob must be left
alone, before the mysterious Wrestler comes whose touch of fire lames
the whole nature of sin and death, whose inbreathed power strengthens
to hold Him fast till He speaks a blessing, who desires to be
overcome, and makes our yielding to Him our prevailing with Him. As
one of the old mystics called prayer 'the flight of the lonely man to
the only God,' so we may call the act of faith the meeting of the soul
alone with Christ alone. Do you know anything of that personal
communion? Have you, your own very self, by your own penitence for
your own sin, and your own thankful faith in the Love which thereby
becomes truly yours, isolated yourself from all companionship, and
joined yourself to Christ? Then, through that narrow passage where we
can only walk singly, you will come into a large place. The act of
faith, which separates us from all men, unites us for the first time
in real brotherhood, and they who, one by one, come to Jesus and meet
Him alone, next find that they 'are come to the city of God, to an
innumerable company, to the festal choirs of angels, to the Church of
the First-born, to the spirits of just men made perfect.'

III. Notice, finally, the gradual cure of the pardoned Apostle.

He was restored to his office, as we read in the supplement to John's
Gospel. In that wonderful conversation, full as it is of allusions to
Peter's fall, Christ asks but one question, 'Lovest thou Me?' That
includes everything. 'Hast thou learned the lesson of My mercy? hast
thou responded to My love? then thou art fit for My work, and
beginning to be perfected.' So the third stage in the triumph of
Christ's love over man's sin is, when we, beholding that love flowing
towards us, and accepting it by faith, respond to it with our own, and
are able to say, 'Thou knowest that I love Thee.'

The all-embracing question is followed by an equally comprehensive
command, 'Follow thou Me,' a two-worded compendium of all morals, a
precept which naturally results from love, and certainly leads to
absolute perfectness. With love to Christ for motive, and Christ
Himself for pattern, and following Him for our one duty, all things
are possible, and the utter defeat of sin in us is but a question of

And the certainty, as well as the gradual slowness, of that victory,
are well set forth by the future history of the Apostle. We know how
his fickleness passed away, and how his vehement character was calmed
and consolidated into resolved persistency, and how his love of
distinction and self-confidence were turned in a new direction, obeyed
a divine impulse, and became powers. We read how he started to the
front; how he guided the Church in the first stage of its development;
how whenever there was danger he was in the van, and whenever there
was work his hand was first on the plough; how he bearded and braved
rulers and councils; how--more difficult still for him--he lay quietly
in prison sleeping like a child, between his guards, on the night
before his execution; how--most difficult of all--he acquiesced in
Paul's superiority; and, if he still needed to be withstood and
blamed, could recognise the wisdom of the rebuke, and in his calm old
age could speak well of the rebuker as his 'beloved brother Paul.' Nor
was the cure a change in the great lines of his character. These
remain the same, the characteristic excellences possible to them are
brought out, the defects are curbed and cast out. The 'new man' is the
'old man' with a new direction, obeying a new impulse, but retaining
its individuality. Weaknesses become strengths; the sanctified
character is the old character sanctified; and it is still true that
'every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and
another after that.'

It is very instructive to observe how deeply the experiences of his
fall, and of Christ's mercy then, had impressed themselves on Peter's
memory, and how constantly they were present with him all through his
after-life. His Epistles are full of allusions which show this. For
instance, to go a step further back in his life, he remembered that
the Lord had said to him, 'Thou art Peter,' 'a stone,' and that his
pride in that name had helped to his rash confidence, and so to his
sin. Therefore, when he is cured of these, he takes pleasure in
sharing his honour with his brethren, and writes, 'Ye also, as living
stones, are built up.' He remembered the contempt for others and the
trust in himself with which he had said, 'Though all should forsake
Thee, yet will not I'; and, taught what must come of that, he writes,
'Be clothed with humility, for God resisteth the proud, and giveth
grace to the humble.' He remembered how hastily he had drawn his sword
and struck at Malchus, and he writes, 'If when ye do well and suffer
for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.' He
remembered how he had been surprised into denial by the questions of a
sharp-tongued servant-maid, and he writes, 'Be ready always to give an
answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in
you, with meekness.' He remembered how the pardoning love of his Lord
had honoured him unworthy, with the charge, 'Feed My sheep,' and he
writes, ranking himself as one of the class to whom he speaks--'The
elders I exhort, who am also an elder ... feed the flock of God.' He
remembered that last command, which sounded ever in his spirit,
'Follow thou Me,' and discerning now, through all the years that lay
between, the presumptuous folly and blind inversion of his own work
and his Master's which had lain in his earlier question, 'Why cannot I
follow Thee now? I will lay down my life for Thy sake'--he writes to
all, 'Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye
should follow His steps,'

So well had he learned the lesson of his own sin, and of that immortal
love which had beckoned him back, to peace at its side and purity from
its hand. Let us learn how the love of Christ, received into the
heart, triumphs gradually but surely over all sin, transforms
character, turning even its weakness into strength, and so, from the
depths of transgression and very gates of hell, raises men to God.

To us all this divine message speaks. Christ's love is extended to us;
no sin can stay it; no fall of ours can make Him despair. He will not
give us up. He waits to be gracious. This same Peter once asked, 'How
oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?' And the
answer, which commanded unwearied brotherly forgiveness, revealed
inexhaustible divine pardon--'I say not unto thee until seven times,
but until seventy times seven.' The measure of the divine mercy, which
is the pattern of ours, is completeness ten times multiplied by
itself; we know not the numbers thereof. 'Let the wicked forsake his
way ... and let him return unto the Lord, for He will have mercy upon
him; and to our God, for He will multiply to pardon.'


'... He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast
seven devils.'--Mark xvl. 9.

A great pile of legend has been built on the one or two notices of
Mary Magdalene in Scripture. Art, poetry, and philanthropy have
accepted and inculcated these, till we almost feel as if they were
bits of the Bible. But there is not the shadow of a foundation for
them. She has generally been identified with the woman in Luke's
Gospel 'who was a sinner.' There is no reason at all for that
identification. On the contrary, there is a reason against it, in the
fact that immediately after that narrative she is named as one of the
little band of women who ministered to Jesus.

Here is all that we know of her: that Christ cast out the seven
devils; that she became one of the Galilean women, including the
mothers of Jesus and of John, who 'ministered to Him of their
substance'; that she was one of the Marys at the Cross and saw the
interment; that she came to the sepulchre, heard the angel's message,
went to John with it, came back and stood without at the sepulchre,
saw the Lord, and, having heard His voice and clasped His feet,
returned to the little company, and then she drops out of the
narrative and is no more named. That is all. It is enough. There are
large lessons in this fact which Mark (or whoever wrote this chapter)
gives with such emphasis, 'He appeared first to Mary Magdalene.'

Think what the Resurrection is--how stupendous and wonderful! Who
_might_ have been expected to be its witnesses? But see! the first eye
that beholds is this poor sin-stained woman's. What a distance between
the two extremes of her experience--devil-ridden and gazing on the
Risen Saviour!

I. An example of the depth to which the soul of man can descend.

This fact of possession is very obscure and strange. I doubt whether
we can understand it. But I cannot see how we can bring it down to the
level of mere disease without involving Jesus Christ in the charge of
consciously aiding in upholding what, if it be not an awful truth, is
one of the grimmest, ghastliest superstitions that ever terrified men.

In all ways He gives in His adhesion to the fact of demoniacal
possession. He speaks to the demons, and _of_ them, rebukes them,
holds conversations with them, charges them to be silent. He
distinguishes between possession and diseases. 'Heal the sick, cleanse
the lepers, raise the dead'--these commands bring together forms of
sickness running its course; why should He separate from them His next
command and endowment, 'cast out devils,' unless because He regarded
demoniacal possession as separate from sickness in any form? He sees
in His casting of them out the triumph over the personal power of
evil. 'I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.' But while the
fact seems to be established, the thing is only known to us by its
signs. These were madness, melancholy, sometimes dumbness, sometimes
fits and convulsions; the man was dominated by an alien power; there
was a strange, awful double consciousness; 'We are many,' 'My name is
Legion.' There was absolute control by this alien power, which like
some parasitical worm had rooted itself within the poor wretch, and
there lived upon his blood and life juices--only that it lived in the
spirit, dominated the will, and controlled the nature.

Probably there had always been the yielding to the impulse to sin of
some sort, or at any rate the man had opened the door for the devil to
come in.

This woman had been in the deepest depths of this awful abyss. 'Seven'
is the numerical symbol of completeness, so she had been utterly
devil-ridden. And she had once been a little child in some Galilean
home, and parents had seen her budding beauty and early, gentle,
womanly ways. And now, think of the havoc! the distorted face, the
foul words, the blasphemous thoughts!

And is this worse than our sinful case? Are not the devils that
possess us as real and powerful?

II. An example of the cleansing power of Christ.

We know nothing about how she had come under His merciful eye, nor any
of the circumstances of her healing, but only that this woman, with
whom the serpent was so closely intertwined, as in some pictures of
Eve's temptation, was not beyond His reach, and was set free. Note--

There is _no_ condition of human misery which Christ cannot alleviate.

None is so sunk in sin that He cannot redeem them.

For all in the world there is hope.

Look on the extremest forms of sin. We can regard them all with the
assurance that Christ can cleanse them--prostitutes, thieves,
respectable worldlings.

None is so bad as to have lost His love.

None is so bad as to be excluded from the purpose of His death.

None is so bad as to be beyond the reach of His cleansing power.

None has wandered so far that he cannot come back.

Think of the earliest believers--a thief, a 'woman that was a sinner,'
this Mary, a Zacchaus, a persecuting Paul, a rude, rough jailer, etc.

Remember Paul's description of a class of the Corinthian saints--'such
were some of you.'

As long as man is man, so long is God ready to receive him back. There
is no place where sun does not shine. No heart is given over to
irremediable hardness. None ever comes to Christ in vain.

The Saviour is greater than all our sins.

The deliverance is more than sufficient for the worst.

'God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham.'

Ezekiel's vision of dry bones.

III. An example of how the remembrance of past and pardoned sin may be
a blessing.

Mary evidently tried always to be beside Him. The cure had been
perfect, but perhaps there was a tremulous fear, as in the man that
prayed 'that he might be with Him.'

And so, look how all the notices give us one picture of a heart set on
Him. There were--

(a) Consciousness of weakness, that made her long for His presence as
a security.

(b) Deep love, that made her long for His presence as a joy.

(c) Thankful gratitude, that made her long for opportunities to serve

And this is what the remembrance of Jesus should be to us.

IV. An example of how the most degraded may rise highest in fellowship
with Christ.

'First' to her, because she needed Him and longed for Him.

Now this is but an illustration of the great principle that by God's
mercy sin when it is hated and pardoned may be made to subserve our
highest joys.

It is not sin which separates us from God, but it is unpardoned sin.
Not that the more we sin the more we are fit for Him, for all sin is
loss. There are ways in which even forgiven and repented sin may
injure a man. But there is nothing in it to hinder our coming close to
the Saviour and enjoying all the fulness of His love, so that if we
use it rightly it may become a help.

If it leads us to that clinging of which we have just spoken, then we
shall come nearer to God for it.

The divine presence is always given to those who long for it.

Sin may help to kindle such longings.

He who has been almost dead in the wilderness will keep near the
guide. The man that has been starved with cold in Arctic night will
prize the glory and grace of sunshine in fairer lands.

Instances in Church history--Paul, Augustine, Bunyan.

'Publicans and harlots go into the kingdom before you.'

The noblest illustration is in heaven, where men lead the song of

God uses sin as a black background on which the brightest rainbow
tints of His mercy are displayed.

You can come to this Saviour whatever you have been. I say to no man,
'Sin, for it does not matter.' But I do say, 'If you are conscious of
sin, deep, dark, damning, that makes no barrier between you and God.
You may come all the nearer for it if you will let your past teach you
to long for His love and to lean on Him.'

'He appeared first to Mary Magdalene,' and those who stand nearest the
throne and lead the anthems of heaven, and look up with undazzled
angels' faces to the God of their joy, whose name blazes on their
foreheads, all these were guilty, sinful men. But they 'have washed
their robes and made them white.' There will be in heaven some of the
worst sinners that ever lived on earth. There will not be one out of
whom He has not 'cast seven devils.'


'Every creature.'--Mark xvi. 15.

The missionary enterprise has been put on many bases. People do not
like commandments, but yet it is a great relief and strength to come
back to one, and answer all questions with 'He bids me!'

Now, these words of our Lord open up the whole subject of the
Universality of Christianity.

I. The divine audacity of Christianity.

Take the scene. A mere handful of men, whether 'the twelve' or 'the
five hundred brethren' is immaterial.

How they must have recoiled when they heard the sweeping command, 'Go
ye into all the world'! It is like the apparent absurdity of Christ's
quiet word: 'They need not depart; give ye them to eat,' when the only
visible stock of food was 'five loaves and two small fishes.' As on
that occasion, so in this final commandment they had to take Christ's
presence into account. 'I am with you.'

So note the obviously world-wide extent of Christ's claim of dominion.
He had come into the world, to begin with, that 'the world through Him
might be saved.' 'If any man thirst, let him come.' The parables of
the kingdom of heaven are planned on the same grand scale. 'I will
draw all men unto Me.' It cannot be disputed that Jesus 'lived and
moved and had His being' in this vision of universal dominion.

Here emerges the great contrast of Christianity with Judaism. Judaism
was intolerant, as all merely monotheistic faiths must be, and sure of
future universality, but it was not proselytising--not a missionary
faith. Nor is it so to-day. It is exclusive and unprogressive still.

Mohammedanism in its fiery youth, because monotheistic was aggressive,
but it enforced outward profession only, and left the inner life
untouched. So it did not scruple to persecute as well as to
proselytise. Christianity is alone in calmly setting forth a universal
dominion, and in seeking it by the Word alone. 'Put up thy sword into
its sheath.'

II. The foundations of this bold claim.

Christ's sole and singular relation to the whole race. There are
profound truths embodied in this relation.

(a) There is implied the adequacy of Christ for all. He is _for_ all,
because He is the only and all-sufficient Saviour. By His death He
offered satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. 'Look unto Me,
and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is
none else.' 'Neither is there 'salvation in any other, for there is
none other name,' etc.

(b) The divine purpose of mercy for all. 'God will have all men to be
saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth.'

(c) The adaptation of the Gospel message to all. It deals with all men
as on one level. It addresses universal humanity. 'Unto you, O men, I
call, and My voice is to the sons of men.' It speaks the same language
to all sorts of men, to all stages of society, and in all ages.
Christianity has no esoteric doctrine, no inner circle of the
'initiated.' Consequently it introduces a new notion of privileged

Note the history of Christianity in its relation to slavery, and to
inferior and down-trodden races. Christianity has no belief in the
existence of 'irreclaimable outcasts,' but proclaims and glories in
the possibility of winning any and all to the love which makes
godlike. There is one Saviour, and so there is only one Gospel for
'all the world.'

III. Its vindication in facts.

The history of the diffusion of the Gospel at first is significant.
Think of the varieties of civilisation it approached and absorbed. See
how it overcame the bonds of climate and language, etc. How unlike the
Europe of to-day is to the Europe of Paul's time!

In this twentieth century Christianity does not present the marks of
an expiring superstition.

Note, further, that the history of missions vindicates the world-wide
claim of the Gospel. Think of the wonderful number of converts in the
first fifty years of gospel preaching. The Roman empire was
Christianised in three centuries! Recall the innumerable testimonies
down to date; _e.g._ the absolute abandonment of idols in the South
Sea Islands, the weakening of caste in India, the romance of missions
in Central Africa, etc. etc.

The character, too, of modern converts is as good as was that of
Paul's. The gospel in this century produces everywhere fruits like
those which it brought forth in Asia and Europe in the first century.
The success has been in every field. None has been abandoned as
hopeless. The Moravians in Greenland. The Hottentots. The Patagonians
(Darwin's testimony). Christianity has constantly appealed to all
classes of society. Not many 'noble,' but some in every age and land.

IV. The practical duty.

'Go ye and preach.' The matter is literally left in our hands. Jesus
has returned to the throne. Ere departing He announces the distinct
command. There it is, and it is age-long in its application,--
'Preach!' that is the one gospel weapon. Tell of the name and the work
of 'God manifest in the flesh.' First 'evangelise,' then 'disciple the
nations.' Bring _to_ Christ, then build up _in_ Christ. There are no
other orders. Let there be boundless trust in the divine gospel, and
it will vindicate itself in every mission-field. Let us think
imperially of 'Christ and the Church.' Our anticipations of success
should be world-wide in their sweep.

As when they kindle the festival lamps round the dome of St. Peter's,
there is a first twinkling spot here and another there, and gradually
they multiply till they outline the whole in an unbroken ring of
light, so 'one by one' men will enter the kingdom, till at last 'every
knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.'

'He shall reign from shore to shore.
With illimitable sway.'


'So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, He was received up into
heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.'--Mark xvi. 19.

How strangely calm and brief is this record of so stupendous an event!
Do these sparing and reverent words sound to you like the product of
devout imagination, embellishing with legend the facts of history? To
me their very restrainedness, calmness, matter-of-factness, if I may
so call it, are a strong guarantee that they are the utterance of an
eyewitness, who verily saw what he tells so simply. There is something
sublime in the contrast between the magnificence and almost
inconceivable grandeur of the thing communicated, and the quiet words,
so few, so sober, so wanting in all detail, in which it is told.

That stupendous fact of Christ sitting at the right hand of God is the
one that should fill the present for us all, even as the Cross should
fill the past, and the coming for Judgment should fill the future. So
for us the one central thought about the present, in its loftiest
relations, should be the throned Christ at God's right hand. It is to
that thought of the session of Jesus by the side of the Majesty of the
Heavens that I wish to turn now, to try to bring out the profound
teaching that is in it, and the practical lessons which it suggests. I
desire to emphasise very briefly four points, and to see, in Christ's
sitting at the right hand, the revelation of these things:--The
exalted Man, the resting Saviour, the interceding Priest, and the
ever-active Helper.

I. First, then, in that solemn and wondrous fact of Christ's sitting
at the right hand of God, we have the exalted Man.

We are taught to believe, according to His own words, that in His
ascension Christ was but returning whence He came, and entering into
the 'glory which He had with the Father before the world was.' And
that impression of a return to His native and proper abode is strongly
conveyed to us by the narrative of His ascension. Contrast it, for
instance, with the narrative of Elijah's rapture, or with the brief
reference to Enoch's translation. The one was taken by God up into a
region and a state which he had not formerly traversed; the other was
borne by a fiery chariot to the heavens; but Christ slowly sailed
upwards, as it were, by His own inherent power, returning to His
abode, and ascending up where He was before.

But whilst this is one side of the profound fact, there is another
side. What was new in Christ's return to His Father's bosom? This,
that He took His Manhood with Him. It was 'the Everlasting Son of the
Father,' the Eternal Word, which from the beginning 'was with God and
was God,' that came down from heaven to earth, to declare the Father;
but it was the Incarnate Word, the Man Christ Jesus, that went back
again. This most blessed and wonderful truth is taught with emphasis
in His own words before the Council, 'Ye shall see the Son of _Man_
sitting on the right hand of power.' Christ, then, to-day, bears a
human body, not, indeed, the 'body of His humiliation,' but the body
of His glory, which is none the less a true corporeal frame, and
necessarily requires a locality. His ascension, whithersoever He may
have gone, was the true carrying of a real humanity, complete in all
its parts, Body, Soul, and Spirit, up to the very throne of God.

Where that locality is it is bootless to speculate. Scripture says
that He ascended up 'far above all heavens'; or, as the Epistle to the
Hebrews has it, in the proper translation, the High Priest 'is passed
_through_ the heavens,' as if all this visible material creation was
rent asunder in order that He might soar yet higher beyond its limits
wherein reign mutation and decay. But wheresoever that place may be,
there is a place in which now, with a human body as well as a human
spirit, Jesus is sitting 'at the right hand of God.'

Let us thankfully think how, in the profound language of Scripture,
'the Forerunner is for us entered'; how, in some mysterious manner, of
which we can but dimly conceive, that entrance of Jesus in His
complete humanity into the highest heavens is the preparation of a
place for us. It seems as if, without His presence there, there were
no entrance for human nature within that state, and no power in a
human foot to tread upon the crystal pavements of the celestial City,
but where He is, there the path is permeable, and the place native, to
all who love and trust Him.

We may stand, therefore, with these disciples, and looking upwards as
the cloud receives Him out of our sight, our faith follows Him, still
our Brother, still clothed with humanity, still wearing a bodily
frame; and we say, as we lose Him from our vision, 'What is man'?
Capable of being lifted to the most intimate participation in the
glories of divinity, and though he be poor and weak and sinful here,
yet capable of union and assimilation with the Majesty that is on
high. For what Christ's Body is, the bodies of them that love and
serve Him shall surely be, and He, the Forerunner, is entered there
for us; that we too, in our turn, may pass into the light, and walk in
the full blaze of the divine glory; as of old the children in the
furnace were, unconsumed, because companioned by 'One like unto the
Son of Man.'

The exalted Christ, sitting at the right hand of God, is the Pattern
of what is possible for humanity, and the prophecy and pledge of what
will be actual for all that love Him and bear the image of Him upon
earth, that they may be conformed to the image of His glory, and be
with Him where He is. What firmness, what reality, what solidity this
thought of the exalted bodily Christ gives to the else dim and vague
conceptions of a Heaven beyond the stars and beyond our present
experience! I believe that no doctrine of a future life has strength
and substance enough to survive the agonies of our hearts when we part
from our dear ones, the fears of our spirits when we look into the
unknown, inane future for ourselves; except only this which says
Heaven is Christ and Christ is Heaven, and points to Him and says,
'Where He is, there and that also shall His servants be.'

II. Now, secondly, look at Christ's sitting at the right hand of God
as presenting to our view the Resting Saviour.

That session expresses the idea of absolute repose after sore
conflict. It is the same thought which is expressed in those solemn
Egyptian colossal statues of deified conquerors, elevated to
mysterious union with their gods, and yet men still, sitting before
their temples in perfect stillness, with their mighty hands lying
quiet on their restful limbs; with calm faces out of which toil and
passion and change seem to have melted, gazing out with open eyes as
over a silent, prostrate world. So, with the Cross behind, with all
the agony and weariness of the arena, the dust and the blood of the
struggle, left beneath, He 'sitteth at the right hand of God the
Father Almighty.'

The rest of the Christ after His Cross is parallel with and carries
the same meaning as the rest of God after the Creation. Why do we read
'He rested on the seventh day from all His works'? Did the Creative
Arm grow weary? Was there toil for the divine nature in the making of
a universe? Doth He not speak and it is done? Is not the calm,
effortless forth-putting of His will the cause and the means of
Creation? Does any shadow of weariness steal over that life which
lives and is not exhausted? Does the bush consume in burning? Surely
not. He rested from His works, not because He needed to recuperate
strength after action by repose, but because the works were perfect,
and in sign and token that His ideal was accomplished, and that no
more was needed to be done.

And, in like manner, the Christ rests after His Cross, not because He
needed repose even after that terrible effort, or was panting after
His race, and so had to sit there to recover, but in token that His
work was finished and perfected, that all which He had come to do was
done; and in token, likewise, that the Father, too, beheld and
accepted the finished work. Therefore, the session of Christ at the
right hand of God is the proclamation from Heaven of what He cried
with His last dying breath upon the Cross: 'It is finished!' It is the
declaration that the world has had all done for it that Heaven can do
for it. It is the declaration that all which is needed for the
regeneration of humanity has been lodged in the very heart of the
race, and that henceforward all that is required is the evolving and
the development of the consequences of that perfect work which Christ
offered upon the Cross. So the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews
contrasts the priests who stood 'daily ministering and offering
oftentimes the same sacrifices' which 'can never take away sin,' with
'this Man who, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever,
sat down at the right hand of God'; testifying thereby that His Cross
is the complete, sufficient, perpetual atonement and satisfaction for
the sins of the whole world. So we have to look back to that past as
interpreted by this present, to that Cross as commented upon by this
Throne, and to see in it the perfect work which any human soul may
grasp, and which all human souls need, for their acceptance and
forgiveness. The Son of Man set at the right hand of God is Christ's
declaration, 'I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do,'
and is also God's declaration, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am
well pleased.'

III. Once more, we see here, in this great fact of Christ sitting at
the right hand of God, the interceding Priest.

So the Scripture declares. The Epistle to the Hebrews over and over
again reiterates that thought that we have a Priest who has 'passed
into the heavens,' there to 'appear in the presence of God for us.'
And the Apostle Paul, in that great linked climax in the eighth
chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, has it, 'Christ that died, yea
rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who
also maketh intercession for us.' There are deep mysteries connected
with that thought of the intercession of Christ. It does not mean that
the divine heart needs to be won to love and pity. It does not mean
that in any mere outward and formal fashion Christ pleads with God,
and softens and placates the Infinite and Eternal love of the Father
in the heavens. It, at least, plainly means this, that He, our Saviour
and Sacrifice, is for ever in the presence of God; presenting His own
blood as an element in the divine dealing with us, modifying the
incidence of the divine law, and securing through His own merits and
intercession the outflow of blessings upon our heads and hearts. It is
not a complete statement of Christ's work for us that He died for us.
He died that He might have somewhat to offer. He lives that He may be
our Advocate as well as our propitiation with the Father. And just as
the High Priest once a year passed within the curtain, and there in
the solemn silence and solitude of the holy place sprinkled the blood
that he bore thither, not without trembling, and but for a moment
permitted to stay in the awful Presence, thus, but in reality and for
ever, with the joyful gladness of a Son in His 'own calm home, His
habitation from eternity,' Christ _abides_ in the Holy Place; and, at
the right hand of the Majesty of the Heavens, lifts up that prayer, so
strangely compact of authority and submission; 'Father, I _will_ that
these whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am.' The Son of Man
at the right hand of God is our Intercessor with the Father. 'Seeing,
then, that we have a great High Priest that is passed through the
heavens, let us come boldly to the Throne of Grace.'

IV. Lastly, this great fact sets before us the ever-active Helper.

The 'right hand of God' is the Omnipotent energy of God, and howsoever
certainly the language of Scripture requires for its full
interpretation that we should firmly hold that Christ's glorified body
dwells in a place, we are not to omit the other thought that to sit at
the right hand also means to wield the immortal energy of that divine
nature, over all the field of the Creation, and in every province of
His dominion. So that the ascended Christ is the ubiquitous Christ;
and He who is 'at the right hand of God' is wherever the power of God
reaches throughout His whole Universe.

Remember, too, that it was once given to a man to look through the
opened heavens (through which Christ had 'passed') and to 'see the Son
of Man standing'--not sitting--'at the right hand of God.' Why to the
dying protomartyr was there granted that vision thus varied? Wherefore
was the attitude changed but to express the swiftness, the certainty
of His help, and the eager readiness of the Lord, who starts to His
feet, as it were, to succour and to sustain His dying servant?

And so, dear friends, we may take that great joyful truth that both as
receiving 'gifts for men' and bestowing gifts upon them, and as
working by His providence in the world, and on the wider scale for the
well-being of His children and of the Church, the Christ who sits at
the right hand of God wields, ever with eager cheerfulness, all the
powers of omnipotence for our well-being, if we love and trust Him. We
may look quietly upon all perplexities and complications, because the
hands that were pierced for us hold the helm and the reins, because
the Christ who is our Brother is the King, and sits supreme at the
centre of the Universe. Joseph's brethren, that came up in their
hunger and their rags to Egypt, and found their brother next the
throne, were startled with a great joy of surprise, and fears were
calmed, and confidence sprang in their hearts. Shall not we be restful
and confident when our Brother, the Son of Man, sits ruling all
things? 'We see not yet all things put under' us, 'but we see Jesus,'
and that is enough.

So the ascended Man, the resting Saviour and His completed work, the
interceding Priest, and the ever-active Helper, are all brought before
us in this great and blessed thought, 'Christ sitteth at the right
hand of God.' Therefore, dear friends, set your affection on things
above. Our hearts travel where our dear ones are. Oh how strange and
sad it is that professing Christians whose lives, if they are
Christians at all, have their roots and are hid with Christ in God,
should turn so few, so cold thoughts and loves thither! Surely 'where
your treasure is there will your heart be also.' Surely if Christ is
your Treasure you will feel that with Him is home, and that this is a
foreign land. 'Set your affection,' then, 'on things above,' while
life lasts, and when it is ebbing away, perhaps to our eyes too Heaven
may be opened, and the vision of the Son of Man standing to receive
and to welcome us may be granted. And when it has ebbed away, His will
be the first voice to welcome us, and He will lift us to share in His
glorious rest, according to His own wondrous promise, 'To him that
overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My Throne, even as I also
overcame, and am set down with My Father in His Throne.'

Book of the day: