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Expositions of Holy Scripture by Alexander Maclaren

Part 4 out of 10

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accepted by Him whose merciful eye recognised, and whose swift power
answered, the mistaken trust of her who believed that healing lay in
the fringes of His robe, rather than in the pity of His heart.

Again, her trust was very _selfish_. She wanted health; she did not
care about the Healer. She thought much of the blessing in itself,
little or nothing of the blessing as a sign of His love. She would
have been quite contented to have had nothing more to do with Christ
if she could only have gone away cured. She felt but little glow of
gratitude to Him whom she thought of as unconscious of the good which
she had stolen from Him. All this is a parallel to what occurs in the
early stages of many a Christian life. The first inducement to a
serious contemplation of Christ is, ordinarily, the consciousness of
one's own sore need. Most men are driven to Him as a refuge from self,
from their own sin, and from the wages of sin. The soul, absorbed in
its own misery, and groaning in a horror of great darkness, sees from
afar a great light, and stumbles towards it. Its first desire is
deliverance, forgiveness, escape; and the first motions of faith are
impelled by consideration of personal consequences. Love comes after,
born of the recognition of Christ's great love to which we owe our
salvation; but faith precedes love in the natural order of things,
however closely love may follow faith; and the predominant motive in
the earlier stages of many men's faith is distinctly self-regard. Now,
that is all right, and as it was meant to be. It is an overstrained
and caricatured doctrine of self-abnegation, which condemns such a
faith as wrong. The most purely self-absorbed wish to escape from the
most rudely pictured hell may be, and often is, the beginning of a
true trust in Christ. Some of our superfine modern teachers who are
shocked at Christianity, because it lays the foundation of the
loftiest, most self-denying morality in 'selfishness' of that kind,
would be all the wiser for going to school to this story, and laying
to heart the lesson it contains, of how a desire no nobler than to get
rid of a painful disease was the starting-point of a moral
transformation, which turned a life into a peaceful, thankful
surrender of the cured self to the service and love of the mighty
Healer. But while this faith, for the sake of the blessing to be
obtained, is genuine, it is undoubtedly imperfect. Quite legitimate
and natural at first, it must grow into something nobler when it has
once been answered. To think of the disease mainly is inevitable
before the cure, but, after the cure, we should think most of the
Physician. Self-love may impel to His feet; but Christ-love should be
the moving spring of life thereafter. Ere we have received anything
from Him, our whole soul may be a longing to have our gnawing
emptiness filled; but when we have received His own great gift, our
whole soul should be a thank-offering. The great reformation which
Christ produces is, that He shifts the centre for us from ourselves to
Himself; and whilst He uses our sense of need and our fear of personal
evil as the means towards this, He desires that the faith, which has
been answered by deliverance, should thenceforward be a 'faith which
worketh by love.' As long as we live, either here or yonder, we shall
never get beyond the need for the exercise of the primary form of
faith, for we shall ever be compassed by many needs, and dependent for
all help and blessedness on Him; but as we grow in experience of His
tender might, we should learn more and more that His gifts cannot be
separated from Himself. We should prize them most for His sake, and
love Him more than we do them. We should be drawn to Him as well as
driven to Him. Faith may begin with desiring the blessing rather than
the Christ. It must end with desiring Him more than all besides, and
with losing self utterly in His great love. Its starting-point may
rightly be, 'Save, Lord, or I perish.' Its goal must be, 'I live, yet
not I, but Christ liveth in me.'

Again, here is an instance of real faith weakened and interrupted by
much _distrust_. There was not a full, calm reliance on Christ's power
and love. She dare not appeal to His heart, she shrinks from meeting
His eye. She will let Him pass, and then put forth a tremulous hand.
Cross-currents of emotion agitate her soul. She doubts, yet she
believes; she is afraid, yet emboldened by her very despair; too
diffident to cast herself on His pity, she is too confident not to
resort to His healing virtue.

And so is it ever with our faith. Its ideal perfection would be that
it should be unbroken, undashed by any speck of doubt. But the reality
is far different. It is no full-orbed completeness, but, at the best,
a growing segment of reflected light, with many a rough place in its
jagged outline, prophetic of increase; with many a deep pit of
blackness on its silver surface; with many a storm-cloud sweeping
across its face; conscious of eclipse and subject to change. And yet
it is the light which He has set to rule the night of life, and we may
rejoice in its crescent beam. We are often tempted to question the
reality of faith in ourselves and others, by reason of the unbelief
and disbelief which co-exist with it. But why should we do so? May
there not be an inner heart and centre of true trust, with a nebulous
environment of doubt, through which the nucleus shall gradually send
its attracting and consolidating power, and turn it, too, into firm
substance? May there not be a germ, infinitesimal, yet with a real
life throbbing in its microscopic minuteness, and destined to be a
great tree, with all the fowls of the air lodging in its branches? May
there not be hid in a heart a principle of action, which is obviously
marked out for supremacy, though it has not yet come to sovereign
power and manifestation in either the inward or the outward being?
Where do we learn that faith must be complete to be genuine? Our own
weak hearts say it to us often enough; and our lingering unbelief is
only too ready to hiss into our ears the serpent's whisper, 'You are
deceiving yourself; look at your doubts, your coldness, your
forgetfulness: _you_ have no faith at all.' To all such morbid
thoughts, which only sap the strength of the spirit, and come from
beneath, not from above, we have a right to oppose the first great
lesson of this story--the reality of an imperfect faith. And, turning
from the profitless contemplation of the feebleness of our grasp of
Christ's robe to look on Him, the fountain of all spiritual energy,
let us cleave the more confidently to Him for every discovery of our
own weakness, and cry to Him for help against ourselves, that He would
not 'quench the smoking flax'; for the old prayer is never offered in
vain, when offered, as at first, with tears, 'Lord, I believe; help
Thou mine unbelief.'

II. The second stage of this story sets forth a truth involved in what
I have already said, but still needing to be dealt with for a moment
by itself--namely, that Christ answers the imperfect faith.

There was no real connection between the touch of His robe and the
cure, but the poor ignorant sufferer thought that there was; and,
therefore, Christ stoops to her childish thought, and allows her to
prescribe the path by which His gift shall reach her. That thin wasted
hand stretched itself up beyond the height to which it could
ordinarily reach, and, though that highest point fell far short of
Him, He lets His blessing down to her level. He does not say,
'Understand Me, put away thy false notion of healing power residing in
My garment's hem, or I heal thee not.' But He says, 'Dost thou think
that it is through thy finger on My robe? Then, through thy finger on
My robe it shall be. According to thy faith, be it unto thee.'

And so it is ever. Christ's mercy, like water in a vase, takes the
shape of the vessel that holds it. On the one hand, His grace is
infinite, and 'is given to every one of us according to the measure of
the gift of Christ'--with no limitation but His own unlimited fulness;
on the other hand, the amount which we practically receive from that
inexhaustible store is, at each successive moment, determined by the
measure and the purity and the intensity of our faith. On His part
there is no limit but infinity, on our sides the limit is our
capacity, and our capacity is settled by our desires. His word to us
ever is, 'Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.' 'Be it unto thee
even as thou wilt.'

A double lesson, therefore, lies in this thought for us all. First,
let us labour that our faith may be enlightened, importunate, and
firm: for every flaw in it will injuriously affect our possession of
the grace of God. Errors in opinion will hinder the blessings that
flow from the truths which we misconceive or reject. Languor of desire
will diminish the sum and enfeeble the energy of the powers that work
in us. Wavering confidence, crossed and broken, like the solar
spectrum, by many a dark line of doubt, will make our conscious
possession of Christ's gift fitful. We have a deep well to draw from.
Let us take care that the vessel with which we draw is in size
proportionate to _its_ depth and _our_ need, that the chain to which
it hangs is strong, and that no leaks in it let the full supply run
out, nor any stains on its inner surface taint and taste the bright

And the other lesson is this. There can be no faith so feeble that
Christ does not respond to it. The most ignorant, self-regarding,
timid trust may unite the soul to Jesus Christ. To desire is to have;
and 'whosoever will, may take of the water of life freely.' If you
only come to Him, though He have passed, He will stop. If you come
trusting and yet doubting, He will forgive the doubt and answer the
trust. If you come to Him, knowing but that your heart is full of evil
which none save He can cure, and putting out a lame hand--or even a
tremulous finger-tip--to touch His garment, be sure that anything is
possible rather than that He should turn away your prayer, or His
mercy from you.

III. The last part of this miracle teaches us that Christ corrects and
confirms an imperfect faith by the very act of answering it.

Observe how the process of cure and the discipline which followed are,
in Christ's loving wisdom, made to fit closely to all the faults and
flaws in the suppliant's faith.

She had thought of the healing energy as independent of the Healer's
knowledge and will. Therefore His very first word shows her that He is
aware of her mute appeal, and conscious of the going forth from Him of
the power that cures--'Who touched Me?' As was said long ago, 'the
multitudes thronged Him, but the woman touched.' Amidst all the
jostling of the unmannerly crowd that trod with rude feet on His
skirts, and elbowed their way to see this new Rabbi, there was one
touch unlike all the rest; and, though it was only that of the
finger-tip of a poor woman, wasted to skin and bone with twelve years'
weakening disease, He knew it; and His will and love sent forth the
'virtue' which healed. May we not fairly apply this lesson to
ourselves? Christ is, as most of us, I suppose, believe, Lord of all
creatures, administering the affairs of the universe; the steps of His
throne and the precincts of His court are thronged with dependants
whose eyes wait upon Him, and who are fed from His stores; and yet my
poor voice may steal through that chorus-shout of petition and praise,
and His ear will detect its lowest note, and will separate the thin
stream of my prayer from the great sea of supplication which rolls to
His seat, and will answer _me_. My hand uplifted among the millions of
empty and imploring palms that are raised towards the heaven will
receive into its clasping fingers the special blessing for my special

Again, she had been selfish in her faith, had not cared for any close
personal relation with Him; and so she was taught that He was in all
His gifts, and that He was more than all His gifts. He compels her to
come to His feet that she may learn His heart, and may carry away a
blessing not stolen, but bestowed

'With open love, not secret cure,
The Lord of hearts would bless.'

And thus is laid the foundation for a personal bond between her and
Christ, which shall be for the joy of her life, and shall make of that
life a thankful sacrifice to Him, the Healer.

Thus it is with us all. We may go to Him, at first, with no thought
but for ourselves. But we have not to carry away His gift hidden in
our hands. We learn that it is a love-token from Him. And so we find
in His answer to faith the true and only cure for all self-regard; and
moved by the mercies of Christ, are led to do what else were
impossible--to yield ourselves as 'living sacrifices' to Him.

Again, she had shrunk from publicity. Her womanly diffidence, her
enfeebled health, the shame of her disease, all made her wish to hide
herself and her want from His eye, and to hide herself and her
treasure from men. She would fain steal away unnoticed, as she hoped
she had come. But she is dragged out before all the thronging
multitude, and has to tell the whole. The answer to her faith makes
her bold. In a moment she is changed from timidity to courage; a
tremulous invalid ready to creep into any corner to escape notice, she
stretched out her hand--the instant after, she knelt at His feet in
the spirit of a confessor. This is Christ's most merciful fashion of
curing our cowardice--not by rebukes, but by giving us, faint-hearted
though we be, the gift which out of weakness makes us strong. He would
have us testify to Him before men, and that for our own sakes, since
faith unacknowledged, like a plant in the dark, is apt to become pale
and sickly, and bear no bright blossoms nor sweet fruit. But, ere He
bids us own His name, He pours into our hearts, in answer to our
secret appeal, the health of His own life, and the blissful
consciousness of that great gift which makes the tongue of the dumb
sing. Faith at first may be very timid, but faith will grow bold to
witness of Him and not be ashamed, in the exact proportion in which it
is genuine, and receives from Christ of His fulness.

And then--with a final word to set forth still more clearly that she
had received the blessing from His love, not from His magical power,
and through her confidence, not through her touch--'Daughter! thy
faith'--not thy finger--'hath made thee whole; go in peace and _be_
whole'--Jesus confirms by His own authoritative voice the furtive
blessing, and sends her away, perhaps to see Him no more, but to live
in tranquil security, and in her humble home to guard the gift which
He had bestowed on her imperfect faith, and to perfect--we may
hope--the faith which He had enlightened and strengthened by the
over-abundance of His gift.

Dear friends, this poor woman represents us all. Like her, we are sick
of a sore sickness, we have spent our substance in trying physicians
of no value, and are 'nothing the better, but rather the worse.' Oh!
is it not strange that you should need to be urged to go to the Healer
to whom she went? Do not be afraid, my brother, of telling Him all
your pain and pining--He knows it already. Do not be afraid that your
hand may not reach Him for the crowd, or that your voice may fail to
fall on His ear. Do not be afraid of your ignorance, do not be afraid
of your wavering confidence and many doubts. All these cannot separate
you from Him who 'Himself took our infirmities and bare our
sicknesses.' Fear but one thing--that He pass on to carry life and
health to other souls, ere you resolve to press to His feet. Fear but
one thing--that whilst you delay, the hem of the garment may be swept
beyond the reach of your slow hand. Imperfect faith may bring
salvation to a soul: hesitation may ruin and wreck a life.


'If I may touch but His clothes, I shall be whole.... Daughter, thy
faith hath made thee whole.'--Mark v. 28,34.

I. The erroneous faith.--In general terms there is here an
illustration of how intellectual error may coexist with sincere faith.
The precise form of error is clearly that she looked on the physical
contact with the material garment as the vehicle of healing--the very
same thing which we find ever since running through the whole history
of the Church, _e.g._ the exaltation of externals, rites, ordinances,
sacraments, etc.

Take two or three phases of it--

1. You get it formularised into a system in sacramentarianism.

(a) Baptismal regeneration,

(b) Holy Communion.

Religion becomes largely a thing of rites and ceremonies.

2. You get it in Protestant form among Dissenters in the importance
attached to Church membership.

Outward acts of worship.

There is abroad a vague idea that somehow we get good from external
association with religious acts, and so on. This feeling is deep in
human nature, is not confined to the Roman Catholic Church, and is not
the work of priests. There is a strange revival of it to-day, and so
there is need of protest against it in every form.

II. The blessing that comes to an erroneous faith.--The woman here was
too 'ritualistic.' How many good people there are in that same school
to-day! Yet how blessed for us all, that, even along with many errors,
if we grasp _Him_ we shall not lose the grace.

III. Christ's gentle enlightenment on the error.--'Thy faith hath
saved thee.' How wonderfully beautiful! He cures by giving the
blessing and leading on to the full truth. In regard to the woman, it
might have been that her touch _did_ heal; but even there in the
physical realm, since it was He, not His robe, that healed, it was her
faith, not her hand, that procured the blessing. This is universally
true in the spiritual realm.

(a) Salvation is purely spiritual and inward in its nature--not an
outward work, but a new nature, 'love, joy, peace.' Hence

(b) Faith is the condition of salvation. Faith saves because _He_
saves, and faith is contact with Him. It is the only thing which joins
a soul to Christ. Then learn what makes a Christian.

(c) Hence, the place of externals is purely subsidiary to faith. If
they help a man to believe and feel more strongly, they are good.
Their only office is the same as that of preaching or reading. In
both, truth is the agent. Their power is in enforcing truth.


'And He looked round about to see her that had done this thing.'--Mark
v. 32.

This Gospel of Mark is full of little touches that speak an
eye-witness who had the gift of noting and reproducing vividly small
details which make a scene live before us. Sometimes it is a word of
description: 'There was much grass in the place.' Sometimes it is a
note of Christ's demeanour: 'Looking up to heaven, He sighed.'
Sometimes it is the very Aramaic words He spoke: 'Ephphatha.' Very
often the Evangelist tells us of our Lord's looks, the gleams of pity
and melting tenderness, the grave rebukes, the lofty authority that
shone in them. We may well believe that on earth as in heaven, 'His
eyes were as a flame of fire,' burning with clear light of knowledge
and pure flame of love. These looks had pierced the soul, and lived
for ever in the memory, of the eye-witness, whoever he was, who was
the informant of Mark. Probably the old tradition is right, and it is
Peter's loving quickness of observation that we have to thank for
these precious minutiae. But be that as it may, the records in this
Gospel of the _looks_ of Christ are very remarkable. My present
purpose is to gather them together, and by their help to think of Him
whose meek, patient 'eye' is 'still upon them that fear Him,'
beholding our needs and our sins.

Taking the instances in the order of their occurrence, they are
these--'He looked round on the Pharisees with anger, being grieved for
the hardness of their hearts' (iii. 5). He looked on His disciples and
said, 'Behold My mother and My brethren!' (iii. 32). He looked round
about to see who had touched the hem of His garment (v. 32). He turned
and looked on His disciples before rebuking Peter (viii. 33), He
looked lovingly on the young questioner, asking what he should do to
obtain eternal life (x. 21), and in the same context, He looked round
about to His disciples after the youth had gone away sorrowful, and
enforced the solemn lesson of His lips with the light of His eye (x.
23, 27). Lastly, He looked round about on all things in the temple on
the day of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (xi. 11). These are the
instances in this Gospel. One look of Christ's is not mentioned in it,
which we might have expected--namely, that which sent Peter out from
the judgment hall to break into a passion of penitent tears. Perhaps
the remembrance was too sacred to be told--at all events, the
Evangelist who gives us so many similar notes is silent about that
look, and we have to learn of it from another.

We may throw these instances into groups according to their objects,
and so bring out the many-sided impression which they produce.

I. The welcoming look of love and pity to those who seek Him.

Two of the recorded instances fall into their place here. The one is
this of our text, of the woman who came behind Christ to touch His
robe, and be healed: the other is that of the young ruler.

Take that first instance of the woman, wasted with disease, timid with
the timidity of her sex, of her long sickness, of her many
disappointments. She steals through the crowd that rudely presses on
this miracle-working Rabbi, and manages somehow to stretch out a
wasted arm through some gap in the barrier of people about Him, and
with her pallid, trembling finger to touch the edge of His robe. The
cure comes at once. It was all that she wanted, but not all that He
would give her. Therefore He turns and lets His eye fall upon her.
That draws her to Him. It told her that she had not been too bold. It
told her that she had not surreptitiously stolen healing, but that He
had knowingly given it, and that His loving pity went with it. So it
confirmed the gift, and, what was far more, it revealed the Giver. She
had thought to bear away a secret boon unknown to all but herself. She
gets instead an open blessing, with the Giver's heart in it.

The look that rested on her, like sunshine on some plant that had long
pined and grown blanched in the shade, revealed Christ's knowledge,
sympathy, and loving power. And in all these respects it is a
revelation of the Christ for all time, and for every seeking timid
soul in all the crowd. Can my poor feeble hand find a cranny anywhere
through which it may reach the robe? What am I, in all this great
universe blazing with stars, and crowded with creatures who hang on
Him, that I should be able to secure personal contact with Him? The
multitude--innumerable companies from every corner of space--press
upon Him and throng Him, and I--out here on the verge of the crowd-how
can I get at Him?--how can my little thin cry live and be
distinguishable amid that mighty storm of praise that thunders round
His throne? We may silence all such hesitancies of faith, for He who
knew the difference between the light touch of the hand that sought
healing, and the jostling of the curious crowd, bends on us the same
eye, a God's in its perfect knowledge, a man's in the dewy sympathy
which shines in it. However imperfect may be our thoughts of His
blessing, their incompleteness will not hinder our reception of His
gift in the measure of our faith, and the very bestowment will teach
us worthier conceptions of Him, and hearten us for bolder approaches
to His grace. He still looks on trembling suppliants, though they may
know their own sickness much better than they understand Him, and
still His look draws us to His feet by its omniscience, pity, and
assurance of help.

The other case is very different. Instead of the invalid woman, we see
a young man in the full flush of his strength, rich, needing no
material blessing. Pure in life, and righteous according to even a
high standard of morality, he yet feels that he needs something.
Having real and strong desires after 'eternal life,' he comes to
Christ to try whether this new Teacher could say anything that would
help him to the assured inward peace and spontaneous goodness for
which he longed, and had not found in all the round of punctilious
obedience to unloved commandments. As he kneels there before Jesus, in
his eager haste, with sincere and high aspirations stamped on his
young ingenuous face, Christ's eyes turn on him, and that wonderful
word stands written, 'Jesus, beholding him, loved him.'

He reads him through and through, knowing all the imperfection of his
desires after goodness and eternal life, and yet loving him with more
than a brother's love. His sympathy does not blind Jesus to the
limitations and shallowness of the young man's aspirations, but His
clear knowledge of these does not harden the gaze into indifference,
nor check the springing tenderness in the Saviour's heart. And the
Master's words, though they might sound cold, and did embody a hard
requirement, are beautifully represented in the story as the
expression of that love. He cared for the youth too much to deceive
him with smooth things. The truest kindness was to put all his
eagerness to the test at once. If he accepted the conditions, the look
told him what a welcome awaited him. If he started aside from them, it
was best for him to find out that there were things which he loved
more than eternal life. So with a gracious invitation shining in His
look, Christ places the course of self-denial before him; and when he
went away sorrowful, he left behind One more sorrowful than himself.
We can reverently imagine with what a look Christ watched his
retreating figure; and we may hope that, though he went away then, the
memory of that glance of love, and of those kind, faithful words,
sooner or later drew him back to his Saviour.

Is not all this too an everlasting revelation of our Lord's attitude?
We may be sure that He looks on many a heart--on many a young
heart--glowing with noble wishes and half-understood longings, and
that His love reaches every one who, groping for the light, asks Him
what to do to inherit eternal life. His great charity 'hopeth all
things,' and does not turn away from longings because they are too
weak to lift the soul above all the weights of sense and the world.
Rather He would deepen them and strengthen them, and His eternal
requirements addressed to feeble wills are not meant to 'quench the
smoking flax,' but to kindle it to decisive consecration and
self-surrender. The loving look interprets the severe words. If once
we meet it full, and our hearts yield to the heart that is seen in it,
the cords that bind us snap, and it is no more hard to 'count all
things but loss,' and to give up ourselves, that we may follow Him.
The sad and feeble and weary who may be half despairingly seeking for
alleviation of outward ills, and the young and strong and ardent whose
souls are fed with high desires, have but little comprehension of one
another, but Christ knows them both, and loves them both, and would
draw them both to Himself.

II. The Lord's looks of love and warning to those who have found Him.

There are three instances of this class. The first is when He looked
round on His disciples and said, 'Behold My mother and My brethren!'
(iii. 34). Perhaps no moment in all Christ's life had more of
humiliation in it than that. There could be no deeper degradation than
that His own family should believe Him insane. Not His brethren only,
but His mother herself seems to have been shaken from her attitude of
meek obedience so wonderfully expressed in her two recorded sayings,
'Be it unto me according to Thy word,' and 'Whatsoever He saith unto
you, do it.' She too appears to be in the shameful conspiracy, and to
have consented that her name should be used as a lure in the wily
message meant to separate Him from His friends, that He might be
seized and carried off as a madman. What depth of tenderness was in
that slow circuit of His gaze upon the humble loving followers grouped
round Him! It spoke the fullest trustfulness of them, and His rest in
their sympathy, partial though it was. It went before His speech, like
the flash before the report, and looked what in a moment He said,
'Behold My mother and My brethren!' It owned spiritual affinities as
more real than family bonds, and proved that He required no more of us
than He was willing to do Himself when He bid us 'forsake father and
mother, and wife and children' for Him. We follow Him when we tread
that road, hard though it be. In Him every mother may behold her son,
in Him we may find more than the reality of every sweet family
relationship. That same love, which identified Him with those
half-enlightened followers here, still binds Him to us, and He looks
down on us from amid the glory, and owns us for His true kindred.

That look of unutterable love is strangely contrasted with the next
instance. We read (viii. 32) that Peter 'took Him'--apart a little
way, I suppose--'and began to rebuke Him.' He turns away from the rash
Apostle, will say no word to him alone, but summons the others by a
glance, and then, having made sure that all were within hearing, He
solemnly rebukes Peter with the sharpest words that ever fell from His
lips. That look calls them to listen, not that they may be witnesses
of Peter's chastisement, but because the severe words concern them
all. It bids them search themselves as they hear. They too may be
'Satans.' They too may shrink from the cross, and 'mind the things
that be of men.'

We may take the remaining instance along with this. It occurs
immediately after the story of the young seeker, to which we have
already referred. Twice within five verses (x. 23-27) we read that He
'looked on His disciples,' before He spoke the grave lessons and
warnings arising from the incident. A sad gaze that would be!--full of
regret and touched with warning. We may well believe that it added
weight to the lesson He would teach, that surrender of all things was
needed for discipleship. We see that it had been burned into the
memory of one of the little group, who told long years after how He
had looked upon them so solemnly, as seeming to read their hearts
while He spoke. Not more searching was the light of the eyes which
John in Patmos saw, 'as a flame of fire.' Still He looks on His
disciples, and sees our inward hankerings after the things of men. All
our shrinkings from the cross and cleaving to the world are known to
Him. He comes to each of us with that sevenfold proclamation, 'I know
thy works,' and from His loving lips falls on our ears the warning,
emphasised by that sad, earnest gaze, 'How hard is it for them that
have riches to enter into the Kingdom of God!' But, blessed be His
name, the stooping love which claims us for His brethren shines in His
regard none the less tenderly, though He reads and warns us with His
eye. So, we can venture to spread all our evil before Him, and ask
that He would look on it, knowing that, as the sun bleaches cloth laid
in its beams, He will purge away the evil which He sees, if only we
let the light of His face shine full upon us.

III. The Lord's look of anger and pity on His opponents.

That instance occurs in the account of the healing of a man with a
withered arm, which took place in the synagogue of Capernaum (iii.
1-5). In the vivid narrative, we can see the scribes and Pharisees,
who had already questioned Him with insolent airs of authority about
His breach of the Rabbinical Sabbatic rules, sitting in the synagogue,
with their gleaming eyes 'watching Him' with hostile purpose. They
hope that He will heal on the Sabbath day. Possibly they had even
brought the powerless-handed man there, on the calculation that Christ
could not refrain from helping him when He saw his condition. They are
ready to traffic in human misery if only they can catch Him in a
breach of law. The fact of a miracle if nothing. Pity for the poor man
is not in them. They have neither reverence for the power of the
miracle-worker, nor sympathy with His tenderness of heart. The only
thing for which they have eyes is the breach of the complicated web of
restrictions which they had spun across the Sabbath day. What a
strange, awful power the pedantry of religious forms has of blinding
the vision and hardening the heart as to the substance and spirit of
religion! That Christ should heal neither made them glad nor
believing, but that He should heal on the Sabbath day roused them to a
deadly hatred. So there they sit, on the stretch of expectation,
silently watching. He bids the man stand forth--a movement, and there
the cripple stands alone in the midst of the seated congregation. Then
comes the unanswerable question which cut so deep, and struck their
consciences so hard that they could answer nothing, only sit and scowl
at Him with a murderous light gleaming in their eyes. He fronts them
with a steady gaze that travels over the whole group, and that showed
to at least one who was present an unforgettable mingling of
displeasure and pity. 'He looked round about on them with anger, being
grieved for the hardness of their hearts.' In Christ's perfect nature,
anger and pity could blend in wondrous union, like the crystal and
fire in the abyss before the throne.

The soul that has not the capacity for anger at evil wants something
of its due perfection, and goes 'halting' like Jacob after Peniel. In
Christ's complete humanity, it could not but be present, but in pure
and righteous form. His anger was no disorder of passion, or 'brief
madness' that discomposed the even motion of His spirit, nor was there
in it any desire for the hurt of its objects, but, on the contrary, it
lay side by side with the sorrow of pity, which was intertwined with
it like a golden thread. Both these two emotions are fitting to a pure
manhood in the presence of evil. They heighten each other. The
perfection of righteous anger is to be tempered by sympathy. The
perfection of righteous pity for the evildoer is to be saved from
immoral condoning of evil as if it were only calamity, by an infusion
of some displeasure. We have to learn the lesson and take this look of
Christ's as our pattern in our dealings with evildoers. Perhaps our
day needs more especially to remember that a righteous severity and
recoil of the whole nature from sin is part of a perfect Christian
character. We are so accustomed to pity transgressors, and to hear
sins spoken of as if they were misfortunes mainly due to environment,
or to inherited tendencies, that we are apt to forget the other truth,
that they are the voluntary acts of a man who could have refrained if
he had wished, and whose not having wished is worthy of blame. But we
need to aim at just such a union of feeling as was revealed in that
gaze of Christ's, and neither to let our wrath dry up our pity nor our
pity put out the pure flame of our indignation at evil.

That look comes to us too with a message, when we are most conscious
of the evil in our own hearts. Every man who has caught even a glimpse
of Christ's great love, and has learned something of himself in the
light thereof, must feel that wrath at evil sits ill on so sinful a
judge as he feels himself to be. How can I fling stones at any poor
creature when I am so full of sin myself? And how does that Lord look
at me and all my wanderings from Him, my hardness of heart, my
Pharisaism and deadness to His spiritual power and beauty? Can there
be anything but displeasure in Him? The answer is not far to seek,
but, familiar though it be, it often surprises a man anew with its
sweetness, and meets recurring consciousness of unworthiness with a
bright smile that scatters fears. In our deepest abasement we may take
courage anew when we think of that wondrous blending of anger shot
with pity.

IV. The look of the Lord on the profaned Temple.

On the day of Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, apparently the
Sunday before His crucifixion, we find (xi. 11) that He went direct to
the Temple, and 'looked round about on all things.' The King has come
to His palace, the Lord has 'suddenly come to His Temple.' How solemn
that careful, all-comprehending scrutiny of all that He found
there--the bustle of the crowds come up for the Passover, the
trafficking and the fraud, the heartless worship! He seems to have
gazed upon all, that evening in silence, and, as the shades of night
began to fall, He went back to Bethany with the Twelve. To-morrow will
be time enough for the 'whip of small cords,' for to-day enough to
have come as Lord to the temple, and with intent, all-comprehending
gaze to have traversed its courts. Apparently He passed through the
crowds there unnoticed, and beheld all, while Himself unrecognised.

Is not that silent, unobserved Presence, with His keen searching eye
that lights on all, a solemn parable of a perpetual truth? He 'walks
amidst the seven golden candlesticks' to-day, as in the temple of
Jerusalem, and in the vision of Patmos. His eyes like a flame of fire
regard and scrutinise us too. 'I know thy works' is still upon His
lips. Silent and by many unseen, that calm, clear-eyed, loving but
judging Christ walks amongst His churches to-day. Alas! what does He
see there? If He came in visible form into any congregation in England
to-day, would He not find merchandise in the sanctuary, formalism and
unreality standing to minister, and pretence and hypocrisy bowing in
worship? How much of all our service could live in the light of His
felt presence? And are we never going to stir ourselves up to a truer
devotion and a purer service by remembering that He is here as really
as He was in the Temple of old? Our drowsy prayers, and all our
conventional repetitions of devout aspirations, not felt at the
moment, but inherited from our fathers, our confessions which have no
penitence, our praises without gratitude, our vows which we never mean
to keep, and our creeds which in no operative fashion we believe--all
the hollowness of profession with no reality below it, like a great
cooled bubble on a lava stream, would crash in and go to powder if
once we really believed what we so glibly say--that Jesus Christ was
looking at us. He keeps silence to-day, but as surely as He knows us
now, so surely will He come to-morrow with a whip of small cords and
purge His Temple from hypocrisy and unreality, from traffic and
thieves. All the churches need the sifting. Christ has done and
suffered too much for the world, to let the power of His gospel be
neutralised by the sins of His professing followers, and Christ loves
the imperfect friends that cleave to Him, though their service be
often stained, and their consecration always incomplete, too well to
suffer sin upon them. Therefore He will come to purify His Temple.
Well for us, if we thankfully yield ourselves to His merciful
chastisements, howsoever they may fall upon us, and believe that in
them all He looks on us with love, and wishes only to separate us from
that which separates us from Him!

On us all that eye rests with all these emotions fused and blended in
one gaze of love that passeth knowledge--a look of love and welcome
whensoever we seek Him, either to help us in outward or inward
blessings; a look of love and warning to us, owning us also for His
brethren, and cautioning us lest we stray from His side; a look of
love and displeasure at any sin that blinds us to His gracious beauty;
a look of love and observance of our poor worship and spotted

Let us lay ourselves full in the sunshine of His gaze, and take for
ours the old prayer, 'Search me, O Christ, and know my heart!' It is
heaven on earth to feel His eye resting upon us, and know that it is
love. It will be the heaven of heaven to see Him 'face to face,' and
'to know even as we are known.'


'And He went out from thence, and came into His own country; and His
disciples follow Him. 2. And when the Sabbath day was come, He began
to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing Him were astonished,
saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is
this which is given unto Him, that even such mighty works are wrought
by His hands? 3. Is not this the carpenter, the Son of Mary, the
Brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon! and are not His
sisters here with us? And they were offended at Him. 4. But Jesus said
unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country,
and among his own kin, and in his own house. 6. And He could there do
no mighty work, save that He laid His hands upon a few sick folk, and
healed them. 6. And He marvelled because of their unbelief. And He
went round about the villages, teaching. 7. And He called unto Him the
twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them
power over unclean spirits; 8. And commanded them that they should
take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread,
no money in their purse: 9. But be shod with sandals; and not put on
two coats. 10. And He said unto them, In what place soever ye enter
into an house, there abide till ye depart from that place. 11. And
whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence,
shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them.
Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and
Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city. 12. And they went
out, and preached that men should repent. 13. And they cast out many
devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed
them.'--Mark vi. 1-13.

An easy day's journey would carry Jesus and His followers from
Capernaum, on the lake-side, to Nazareth, among the hills. What took
our Lord back there? When last He taught in the synagogue of Nazareth,
His life had been in danger; and now He thrusts Himself into the
wolf's den. Why? Mark seems to wish us to observe the connection
between this visit and the great group of miracles which he has just
recorded; and possibly the link may be our Lord's hope that the report
of these might have preceded Him and prepared His way. In His patient
long-suffering He will give His fellow-villagers another chance; and
His heart yearns for 'His own country,' and 'His own kin,' and 'His
own house,' of which He speaks so pathetically in the context.

I. We have here unbelief born of familiarity, and its effects on
Christ (verses 1-6). Observe the characteristic avoidance of display,
and the regard for existing means of worship, shown in His waiting
till the Sabbath, and then resorting to the synagogue. He and His
hearers would both remember His last appearance in it; and He and they
would both remember many a time before that, when, as a youth, He had
sat there. The rage which had exploded on His first sermon has given
place to calmer, but not less bitter, opposition. Mark paints the
scene, and represents the hearers as discussing Jesus while He spoke.
The decorous silence of the synagogue was broken by a hubbub of mutual
questions. 'Many' spoke at once, and all had the same thing to say.
The state of mind revealed is curious. They own Christ's wisdom in His
teaching, and the reality of His miracles, of which they had evidently
heard; but the fact that He was one of themselves made them angry that
He should have such gifts, and suspicious of where He had got them.
They seem to have had the same opinion as Nathanael--that no 'good
thing' could 'come out of Nazareth.' Their old companion could not be
a prophet; that was certain. But He had wisdom and miraculous power;
that was as certain. Where had they come from? There was only one
other source; and so, with many headshakings, they were preparing to
believe that the Jesus whom they had all known, living His quiet life
of labour among them, was in league with the devil, rather than
believe that He was a messenger from God.

We note in their questions, first, the glimpse of our Lord's early
life. They bring before us the quiet, undistinguished home and the
long years of monotonous labour. We owe to Mark alone the notice that
Jesus actually wrought at Joseph's handicraft. Apparently the latter
was dead, and, if so, Jesus would be the head of the house, and
probably the 'breadwinner.' One of the fathers preserves the tradition
that He 'made plows and yokes, by which He taught the symbols of
righteousness and an active life.' That good father seems to think it
needful to find symbolical meanings, in order to save Christ's
dignity; but the prose fact that He toiled at the carpenter's bench,
and handled hammer and saw, needs nothing to heighten its value as a
sign of His true participation in man's lot, and as the hallowing of
manual toil. How many weary arms have grasped their tools with new
vigour and contentment when they thought of Him as their Pattern in
their narrow toils!

The Nazarenes' difficulty was but one case of a universal tendency.
Nobody finds it easy to believe that some village child, who has grown
up beside him, and whose undistinguished outside life he knows, has
turned out a genius or a great man. The last people to recognise a
prophet are always his kindred and his countrymen. 'Far-away birds
have fine feathers.' Men resent it as a kind of slight on themselves
that the other, who was one of them but yesterday, should be so far
above them to-day. They are mostly too blind to look below the
surface, and they conclude that, because they saw so much of the
external life, they knew the man that lived it. The elders of Nazareth
had seen Jesus grow up, and to them He would be 'the carpenter's son'
still. The more important people had known the humbleness of His home,
and could not adjust themselves to look up to Him, instead of down.
His equals in age would find their boyish remembrances too strong for
accepting Him as a prophet. All of them did just what the most of us
would have done, when they took it for certain that the Man whom they
had known so well, as they fancied, could not be a prophet, to say
nothing of the Messiah so long looked for. It is easy to blame them;
but it is better to learn the warning in their words, and to take care
that we are not blind to some true messenger of God just because we
have been blessed with close companionship with him. Many a household
has had to wait for death to take away the prophet before they discern
him. Some of us entertain 'angels unawares,' and have bitterly to
feel, when too late, that our eyes were holden that we should not know

These questions bring out strongly what we too often forget in
estimating Christ's contemporaries--namely, that His presence among
them, in the simplicity of His human life, was a positive hindrance to
their seeing His true character. We sometimes wish that we had seen
Him, and heard His voice. We should have found it more difficult to
believe in Him if we had. 'His flesh' was a 'veil' in other sense than
the Epistle to the Hebrews means; for, by reason of men's difficulty
in piercing beneath it, it hid from many what it was meant and fitted
to reveal. Only eyes purged beheld the glory of 'the Word' become
flesh when it 'dwelt among us'--and even they saw Him more clearly
when they saw Him no more. Let us not be too hard on these simple
Nazarenes, but recognise our kith and kin.

The facts on which the Nazarenes grounded their unbelief are really
irrefragable proof of Christ's divinity. Whence had this man His
wisdom and mighty works? Born in that humble home, reared in that
secluded village, shut out from the world's culture, buried, as it
were, among an exclusive and abhorred people, how came He to tower
above all teachers, and to sway the world? 'With whom took He counsel?
and who instructed Him, and taught Him?' The character and work of
Christ, compared with the circumstances of His origin and environment,
are an insoluble riddle, except on one supposition--that He was the
word and power of God.

The effects of this unbelief on our Lord were twofold. It limited His
power. Matthew says that 'He did not many mighty works.' Mark goes
deeper, and boldly days 'He could not.' It is mistaken jealousy for
Christ's honour to seek to pare down the strong words. The atmosphere
of chill unbelief froze the stream. The power was there, but it
required for its exercise some measure of moral susceptibility. His
miraculous energy followed, in general, the same law as His higher
exercise of saving grace does; that is to say, it could not force
itself upon unwilling men. Christ 'cannot' save a man who does not
trust Him. He was hampered in the outflow of His healing power by
unsympathetic disparagement and unbelief. Man can thwart God. Faith
opens the door, and unbelief shuts it in His face. He 'would have
gathered,' but they 'would not,' and therefore He 'could not.'

The second effect of unbelief on Him was that He 'marvelled.' He is
twice recorded to have wondered--once at a Gentile's faith, once at
His townsmen's unbelief. He wondered at the first because it showed so
unusual a susceptibility; at the second, because it showed so
unreasonable a blindness. All sin is a wonder to eyes that see into
the realities of things and read the end; for it is all utterly
unreasonable (though it is, alas! not unaccountable) and suicidal. 'Be
astonished, O ye heavens, at this.' Unbelief in Christ is, by Himself,
declared to be the very climax of sin, and its most flagrant evidence
(John xvi. 9); and of all the instances of unbelief which saddened His
heart, none struck more chill than that of these Nazarenes. They had
known His pure youth; He might have reckoned on some touch of sympathy
and predisposition to welcome Him. His wonder is the measure of His
pain as well as of their sin.

Nor need we wonder that He wondered; for He was true man, and all
human emotions were His. To one who lives ever in the Father's bosom,
what can seem so strange as that men should prefer homeless
exposedness and dreary loneliness? To one whose eyes ever behold
unseen realities, what so marvellous as men's blindness? To one who
knew so assuredly His own mission and rich freightage of blessing, how
strange it must have been that He found so few to accept His gifts!
Jesus knew that bitter wonder which all men who have a truth to
proclaim which the world has not learned, have to experience--the
amazement at finding it so hard to get any others to see what they
see. In His manhood, He shared the fate of all teachers, who have, in
their turn, to marvel at men's unbelief.

II. The new instrument which Christ fashions to cope with unbelief.
What does Jesus do when thus 'wounded in the house of His friends'?
Give way to despondency? No; but meekly betake Himself to yet obscurer
fields of service, and send out the Twelve to prepare His way, as if
He thought that they might have success where He would fail. What a
lesson for people who are always hankering after conspicuous
'spheres,' and lamenting that their gifts are wasted in some obscure
corner, is that picture of Jesus, repulsed from Nazareth, patiently
turning to the villages! The very summary account of the trial mission
of the Twelve here given presents only the salient points of the
charge to them, and in its condensation makes these the more emphatic.
Note the interesting statement that they were sent out two-and-two.
The other Evangelists do not tell us this, but their lists of the
Apostles are arranged in pairs. Mark's list is not so arranged, but he
supplies the reason for the arrangement, which he does not follow; and
the other Gospels, by their arrangement, confirm his statement, which
they do not give. Two-and-two is a wise rule for all Christian
workers. It checks individual peculiarities of self-will, helps to
keep off faults, wholesomely stimulates, strengthens faith by giving
another to hear it and to speak it, brings companionship, and admits
of division of labour. One-and-one are more than twice one.

The first point is the gift of power. Unclean spirits are specified,
but the subsequent verses show that miracle-working power in its other
forms was included. We may call that Christ's greatest miracle. That
He could, by His mere will, endow a dozen men with such power, is
more, if degree come into view at all, than that He Himself should
exercise it. But there is a lesson in the fact for all ages--even
those in which miracles have ceased. Christ gives before He commands,
and sends no man into the field without filling his basket with
seed-corn. His gifts assimilate the receiver to Himself, and only in
the measure in which His servants possess power which is like His own,
and drawn from Him, can they proclaim His coming, or prepare hearts
for it. The second step is their equipment. The special commands here
given were repealed by Jesus when He gave His last commands. In their
letter they apply only to that one journey, but in their spirit they
are of universal and permanent obligation. The Twelve were to travel
light. They might carry a staff to help them along, and wear sandals
to save their feet on rough roads; but that was to be all. Food,
luggage, and money, the three requisites of a traveller, were to be
'conspicuous by their absence.' That was repealed afterwards, and
instructions given of an opposite character, because, after His
ascension, the Church was to live more and more by ordinary means; but
in this journey they were to learn to trust Him without means, that
afterwards they might trust Him in the means. He showed them the
purpose of these restrictions in the act of abrogating them. 'When I
sent you forth without purse ... lacked ye anything?' But the spirit
remains unabrogated, and the minimum of outward provision is likeliest
to call out the maximum of faith. We are more in danger from having
too much baggage than from having too little. And the one
indispensable requirement is that, whatever the quantity, it should
hinder neither our march nor our trust in Him who alone is wealth and

Next comes the disposition of the messengers. It is not to be
self-indulgent. They are not to change quarters for the sake of
greater comfort. They have not gone out to make a pleasure tour, but
to preach, and so are to stay where they are welcomed, and to make the
best of it. Delicate regard for kindly hospitality, if offered by ever
so poor a house, and scrupulous abstinence from whatever might suggest
interested motives, must mark the true servant. That rule is not out
of date. If ever a herald of Christ falls under suspicion of caring
more about life's comforts than about his work, good-bye to his
usefulness! If ever he does so care, whether he be suspected of it or
no, spiritual power will ebb from him.

The next step is the messengers' demeanour to the rejecters of their
message. Shaking the dust off the sandals is an emblem of solemn
renunciation of participation, and perhaps of disclaimer of
responsibility. It meant certainly, 'We have no more to do with you,'
and possibly, 'Your blood be on your own heads.' This journey of the
Twelve was meant to be of short duration, and to cover much ground,
and therefore no time was to be spent unnecessarily. Their message was
brief, and as well told quickly as slowly. The whole conditions of
work now are different. Sometimes, perhaps, a Christian is warranted
in solemnly declaring to those who receive not his message, that he
will have no more to say to them. That may do more than all his other
words. But such cases are rare; and the rule that it is safest to
follow is rather that of love which despairs of none, and, though
often repelled, returns with pleading, and, if it have told often in
vain, now tells with tears, the story of the love that never abandons
the most obstinate.

Such were the prominent points of this first Christian mission. They
who carry Christ's banner in the world must be possessed of power, His
gift, must be lightly weighted, must care less for comfort than for
service, must solemnly warn of the consequences of rejecting the
message; and so they will not fail to cast out devils, and to heal
many that are sick.


'And He could there do no mighty work, save that He laid His hands
upon a few sick folk, and healed them. And He marvelled because of
their unbelief.'--Mark vi. 5,6.

It is possible to live too near a man to see him. Familiarity with the
small details blinds most people to the essential greatness of any
life. So these fellow-villagers of Jesus in Nazareth knew Him too well
to know Him rightly as they talked Him over; they recognised His
wisdom and His mighty works; but all the impression that these would
have made was neutralised by their acquaintance with His former life,
and they said, 'Why, we have known Him ever since He was a boy. We
used to take our ploughs and yokes to Him to mend in the carpenter's
shop. His brothers and sisters are here with us. Where did _He_ get
His wisdom?' So _they_ said; and so it has been ever since. 'A prophet
is not without honour, save in his own country.'

Surrounded thus by unsympathetic carpers, Jesus Christ did not
exercise His full miraculous power. Other Evangelists tell us of these
limitations, but Mark is alone in the strength of his expression. The
others say '_did_ no mighty works'; Mark says '_could_ do no mighty
works.' Startling as the expression is, it is not to be weakened down
because it is startling, and if it does not fit in with your
conceptions of Christ's nature, so much the worse for the conceptions.
Matthew states the reason for this limitation more directly than Mark
does, for he says, 'He did no mighty works because of their unbelief.'
But Mark suggests the reason clearly enough in his next clause, when
he says: 'He marvelled because of their unbelief.' There is another
limitation of Christ's nature, He wondered as at an astonishing and
unexpected thing, We read that He 'marvelled' twice: once at great
faith, once at great unbelief. The centurion's faith was marvellous;
the Nazarenes' unbelief was as marvellous. The 'wild grapes' bore
clusters more precious than the tended 'vines' in the 'vineyard.'
Faith and unbelief do not depend upon opportunity, but upon the bent
of the will and the sense of need.

But I have chosen these words now because they put in its strongest
shape a truth of large importance, and of manifold applications--viz.,
that man's unbelief hampers and hinders Christ's power. Now let me
apply that principle in two or three directions.

I. Let us look at this principle in connection with the case before us
in the text.

You will find that, as a rule and in the general, our Lord's miracles
require faith, either on the part of the persons helped, or on the
part of those who interceded for them. But whilst that is the rule
there are distinct exceptions, as for instance, in the case of the
feeding of the thousands, and in the case of the raising of the
widow's son of Nain, as well as in other examples. And here we find
that, though the prevalent unbelief hindered the flow of our Lord's
miraculous power, it did not so hinder it as to stop some little
trickle of the stream. 'He laid His hands on a few sick folk, and
healed them.' The brook was shrunken as compared with the abundance of
the flood recorded in the previous chapter.

Now, why was that? There is no such natural connection between faith
and the working of a miracle as that the latter is only possible in
conjunction with the former. And the exceptions show us that Jesus
Christ was not so limited as that men's unbelief could wholly prevent
the flow of His love and His power. But still there was a restriction.
And what sort of a 'could not' was it that thus hampered Him in His
work? We know far too little about the conditions of miracle-working
to entitle us to dogmatise on such a matter, but I suppose that we may
venture to say this, that the working of the miracles was 'impossible'
in the absence of faith and the presence of its opposite, regard being
had to the purposes of the miracle and of Christ's whole work. It was
not congruous, it was not morally possible, that He should force His
benefits upon unwilling recipients.

Now, I need not do more than just in a sentence call attention to the
bearing of this fact upon the true notion of the purpose of Christ's
miraculous works. A superficial, and, as I think, very vulgar,
estimate, says that Christ's miracles were chiefly designed to produce
faith in Him and in His mission. If that had been their purpose, the
very place for the most abundant exhibition of them would have been
the place where unbelief was most pronounced. The atmosphere of
non-receptiveness and non-sympathy would have been the very one that
ought to have evoked them most. Where the darkness was the deepest,
there should the torch have flared. Where the stupor was most
complete, there should the rousing shock have been administered. But
the very opposite is the case. Where faith is present already, the
miracle comes. Where faith is absent, miracles fail. Therefore, though
a subsidiary purpose of our Lord's miracles was, no doubt, to evoke
faith in His mission, their chief purpose is not to be found in that
direction. It was a condescension to men's weakness and obstinacy when
He said, 'If ye believe not Me, believe the works.' But the works were
signs, symbols, manifestations on the lower material platform of what
lie would be and do for men in the higher, and they were the outcome
of His own loving heart and ever-flowing compassion, and only
secondarily were they taken, and have they ever been taken, when
Christian faith has been robust and intelligent, as being evidences of
His Messiahship and Divinity.

But there is another consideration that I would like to suggest in
reference to this limitation of our Lord's power, by reason of the
prevalence of an atmosphere of unbelief, and that is that it is a
pathetic proof of His manhood's being influenced by all the emotions
and circumstances that influence us. We all know how hearts expand in
the warm atmosphere of affection and sympathy, and shut themselves up
like tender flowerets when the cold east wind blows. And just as a
great orator subtly feels the sympathy of his audience, and is buoyed
up by it to higher flights, while in the presence of cold and
indifferent and critical hearers his tongue stammers, and he falls
beneath himself, so we may reverently say Jesus Christ _could_ not put
forth His mightiest and most abundant miraculous powers when the cold
wind of unbelieving criticism blew in His face.

If that is true, what a glimpse it gives us of the conditions of His
earthly life, and how wonderful it makes that love which, though it
was hampered, was never stifled by the presence of scorn and malice
and of hatred. He is our Brother, bone of our bone and flesh of our
flesh; and even when the divinity within was in possession of the
power of working the miracle, the humanity in which it dwelt felt the
presence of the cold frost and closed its petals. 'He could do no
mighty works,' and it was 'because of their unbelief.'

II. But now, secondly, let us apply this principle in regard to
Christ's working on ourselves.

I have said that there was no such natural connection between faith
and miracle as that miracle was absolutely impossible in the absence
of faith. But when we lift the thought into the higher region of our
religious and spiritual life, we do come across an absolute
impossibility. There, in regard to all that appertains to the inward
life of a soul, Christ _can_ do no mighty works, in the absence of our
faith. By faith, I mean, of course, not the mere intellectual
reception of the Christian narratives or of the Christian doctrines as
true, but I mean what the Bible means by it always, a process
subsequent to that intellectual reception--viz., the motion of the
will and of the heart towards Christ. Faith is belief, but belief is
not faith. Faith is belief _plus_ trust. And it is that which is the
condition of all Christ's gifts being received by any of us.

Now, a great many people seem to think that what Jesus Christ brings
to the world, and offers to each of us, is simply the escape from the
penal consequences of our past transgressions. If you conceive
salvation to be nothing else than shutting the doors of an outward
hell, and opening the doors of an outward Heaven, I can quite
understand why you should boggle at the thought that faith is a
condition of these. For if salvation is such a material, external, and
forensic matter as that, then I do not see why God should not have
given it to everybody, without any conditions at all. But if you will
understand rightly what Christ's gifts are, you will see that they
cannot be bestowed upon men irrespective of the condition of their
wills, desires, and hearts.

For what is salvation? What are the blessings that Jesus Christ
bestows? A new life, a new love, new desires, a new direction of the
whole being, a new spirit within us. These are the gifts; and how can
these be given to a man if he has not trust in the Giver? Salvation is
at bottom that a man's will shall be harmonised with the will of God.
But if a man has not faith, his will is discordant with the will of
God, and how can it be harmonised and discordant at the same time?
What are the powers by which Christ works upon men's hearts? His
truth, His love, His Spirit. How can a truth operate if it is not
believed? How can love bless and cherish if it is not trusted? How can
the Spirit hallow and cleanse if it is not yielded to? The condition
is inherent in the nature of God the Giver, of man the receiver, and
of the gifts bestowed.

And so we understand the metaphors that put that inevitable connection
in various forms. Faith is 'a door.' How can you enter if the door be
fast closed? He knocks; if any man opens He comes in. If a man does
not open,

'He can but listen at the gate,
And hear the household jar within.'

Faith is the connection between the fountain and the reservoir. If
there be no such connection, how can the reservoir be filled? Faith is
the hand with stretched-out empty palms, and widespread fingers for
the reception of the gifts. How can the gifts be put into it if it
hangs listless by the side, or in obstinately closed and pushed behind
the back? He 'can do no mighty works' on an unbelieving soul.

Now, brethren, let me insist, in one sentence, on this solemn truth;
God would save every man if He could, faith or no faith. But the
condition which brings faith into connection with salvation as its
necessary prerequisite is no arbitrary condition. The love of God
cannot alter it. In the nature of things it must be so. 'He that
believeth shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be condemned.'
That is no result of an artificial scheme, but of the necessities of
the case.

Again, let me remind you that the measure of our faith is the measure
of our possession of these gifts. Our Lord more than once put the
whole doctrine of this matter, in regard, however, to the lower plane
of miracle, when He said, 'According to your faith be it unto you,'
'Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.' We have an inheritance like
that of men who get a piece of land in some mining district: so much
as we peg out and claim is ours, and no more.

Let me narrate a parable of my own making. There was once a king who
told all his people that on a given day the fountain in the
market-place in the centre of the city would flow with wine and other
precious liquors, and that every man was free to bring his vessel and
carry away as much as he would. The man that brought a tiny wineglass
got a glassful; the man that brought a gallon pitcher got that full.
The measure of your desires is the measure of your possessions of
Christ's power. Our faith determines the amount of His cleansing,
healing, vivifying energy which will reside in us. The width of the
bore of the water-pipe that is laid down settles the amount of water
that will come into your cistern. The water may be high outside the
lock. If the lock-gate be kept fast closed, the height of the water
outside produces no raising of the low level of that within, If you
open a chink of the gate a trickle will pass through, and if you fling
the gates wide the levels will be the same on both sides. The only
limit of our possession of God is our faith and desire. The true limit
is His own boundlessness. It is possible that a man may be 'filled
with all the fulness of God; but the real working limit for each of us
is our own faith. So, brethren, endless progress is possible for us,
on condition of continual trust.

III. Lastly, let us apply this principle in regard to Christ's working
through His people.

Jesus Christ cannot work mightily through a feebly believing Church.
And here is the reason why Christianity has taken so long to do so
little in this world of ours; and why nineteen centuries after the
Cross and Pentecost there remaineth yet so much land to be possessed.
'Ye are not straitened in Me, ye are straitened in your own selves.'
We hinder Christ from doing His work through us by reason of our own
unbelief. The men that have done most for the Lord Jesus, and for
their fellows in this world, have been of all sorts, of all
conditions, of all grades of intellectual ability and acquirement;
some of them scholars, some of them tinkers, some of them
philosophers, some of them next door to fools. They have belonged to
different communions and have held different ecclesiastical and
theological dogmas, and sometimes, alas! they have not been able to
discern each other's Christlike lineaments. But there is one thing in
which they have all been alike, and that is that they have been men of
faith, intense, operative, perpetual. And that is why they have
succeeded. If we were what we might be, 'full of faith.' we should, as
the Acts of the Apostles teaches us, by its collocation in the
description of one of its characters, be 'full of the Holy Spirit and
of power.'

Brethren, you hear a great deal to-day about new ways of Christian
working, about the necessity of adapting the forms of setting forth
Christ's truth to the spirit of the age, and new ideas. Adopt new
methods if you like; methods are not sacred. Fashion new forms of
presenting Christian truths if you please; our forms are only forms.
But you may alter your methods and you may modify your dogmas as you
like, and you will do nothing to move the world unless the Church is
again baptized with the Divine Spirit, which will only be the case if
the Church again puts forth a far mightier faith than it exercises
to-day. If only we will trust Jesus Christ absolutely, and live near
Him by our faith, His power will flow into us, and of us, too, it will
be said, 'through faith they wrought righteousness ... subdued
kingdoms ... waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of
the aliens.' But if the low level of average Christian faith in all
the churches is not elevated, then the attempts to conquer the world
by half-believing Christians will meet with the old fate, and the man
in whom the evil spirit was will leap upon them and overcome them, and
say, 'Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are ye?' 'Why could we
not cast him out?' And He answered and said unto them, 'Because of
your unbelief.'

Brethren, we may starve in the midst of plenty, if we lock our lips.
We can be like some obstinate black rock, washed over for ever by the
Atlantic surges, and yet so close-grained that only the surface is
moistened, and, an inch within, it is dry. 'Neither life, nor death,
nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor
things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, is able
to separate you from the love and power of God which are in Christ
Jesus our Lord,' But you can separate yourselves, and you do separate
yourselves, by your unbelief. The all-sufficiency of Christ's
redemption, and the yearning of His love to bless each of us
individually, will be nothing to us if we lift up between Him and us
the black barrier of unbelief, and so dam back the stream that was
meant to give life to all the world and life to us. Christ infinitely
desires to bless us, but He cannot unless we trust Him. I beseech you,
do not let this be the epitaph on your tombstone:--'Christ could there
do no mighty work because of _his_ unbelief.'


'But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded:
he is risen from the dead.'--Mark vi. 16.

The character of this Herod, surnamed Antipas, is a sufficiently
common and a sufficiently despicable one. He was the very type of an
Eastern despot, exactly like some of those half-independent Rajahs,
whose dominions march with ours in India; capricious, crafty, as the
epithet which Christ applied to him, 'That fox!' shows; cruel, as the
story of the murder of John the Baptist proves; sensuous and lustful;
and withal weak of fibre and infirm of purpose. He, Herodias, and John
the Baptist make a triad singularly like the other triad in the Old
Testament, of Ahab, Jezebel, and Elijah. In both cases we have the
weak ruler, the beautiful she-devil at his side, inspiring him for all
evil, and the stern prophet, the rebuker and the incarnate conscience
for them both.

The words that I have read are the terrified exclamation of this weak
and wicked man when he was brought in contact with the light and
beauty of Jesus Christ. And if we think who it was that frightened
him, and ponder the words in which his fear expressed itself, we get,
as it seems to me, some lessons worth the drawing.

I. You have here the voice of a startled conscience.

Herod killed John without much sense of doing wrong. He was sorry, no
doubt, for he had a kind of respect for the man, and he was reluctant
to put him to death. But though there was reluctance, there was no
hesitation. His fantastic sense of honour came in the way. In the one
scale there was the life of a poor enthusiast who had amused him for a
while, but of whom he had got tired. In the other scale there were his
word, the pleasure of Herodias, and the applause of the half-drunken
boon companions that were sitting with them at the table. So, of
course, the prophet was slain, and the pale head brought in to that
wild revel, and, except for the malignant gloating of the woman over
her gratified revenge, the event, no doubt, very quickly passed from
the memories of all concerned.

But then there came stealing into the silken seclusion of the palace,
where he was wallowing in his sensuality like a hog in the sty, the
tidings of another peasant Teacher that had risen up among the people.
Christ's name had been ringing through the land, and been sounded with
blessings in poor men's huts long before it got within the gates of
Herod's palace. That is the place where religious earnestness makes
its mark last of all. But it finally ran thither also; and light
gossip went round concerning this new sensation. 'Who is He? Who is
He?' Each man had his own theory about Him, but a sudden memory
started up in the frivolous despot's soul, and it was with a trembling
heart that he said to himself, 'I know! I know! It is John, whom I
beheaded! He is risen from the dead!' His conscience and his memory
and his fears all awoke.

Now, my friends, I pray you to lay that simple lesson to heart. We all
of us do evil things with regard to which it is not hard for us to
bribe or to silence our memories and our consciences. The hurry and
bustle of daily life, the very weakness of our characters, the rush of
sensuous delights, may make us blind and deaf to the voice of
conscience; and we think that all chance of the evil deed rising again
to harm us is past. But some trifle touches the hidden spring by mere
accident; as in the old story of the man groping along a wall till his
finger happens to fall upon one inch of it, and immediately the
concealed door flies open, and there is the skeleton. So with us, some
merely fortuitous association may freshen faded memories and wake a
dormant conscience. An apparently trivial circumstance, like some
hooked pole pushed at random into the sea, may bring up by the locks
some pale and drowned memory long plunged in an ocean of oblivion.
Here, in Herod's case, a report reaches him of a new Rabbi who bears
but a very faint resemblance to John, and that is enough to bring his
crime back in its naked atrocity.

My friends, we all have these hibernating serpents in our consciences,
and nobody knows when the needful warmth may come that will wake them
and make them lift their forked heads to sting. The whole landscape of
my past life lies there behind the mists of apparent forgetfulness,
and any light air of suggestion may sweep away the clouds and show it
all. What have you laid up in these memories of yours to start into
life some day: 'at the last biting like a serpent and stinging like an
adder'? 'It is John! It is John, whom I beheaded!'

Take this other thought, how, as the story shows us, when once at the
bidding of memory conscience begins to work, all illusions as to the
nature of my action and as to my share in it are swept away.

When the evil deed was done, Herod scarcely felt as if he did it.
There was his plighted troth, there was Herodias's pressure, there was
the excitement of the moment. He seemed forced to do it, and scarcely
responsible for doing it. And no doubt, if he ever thought about it
afterwards, he shuffled off a large percentage of the responsibility
of the guilt upon the shoulders of the others. But when,

'In the silent sessions of things past,'

the image and remembrance of the deed come up to him, all the helpers
and tempters have disappeared, and 'It is John, whom _I_ beheaded!'
(There is emphasis in the Greek upon the 'I.') 'Yes, it was _I_.
Herodias tempted me; Herodias' daughter titillated my lust; I fancied
that my oath bound me; I could not help doing what would please those
who sat at the table--I said all that _before_ I did it. But now, when
it is done, they have all disappeared, every one of them to his
quarter; and I and the ugly thing are left together alone. It was I
that did it, and nobody besides.'

The blackness of the crime, too, presents itself to the startled
conscience as it did not in the doing. There are many euphemisms and
soft words in which, as in cotton-wool, we wrap our evil deeds and so
deceive ourselves as to their hardness and their edge; but when
conscience gets hold of them, and they pass out of the realm of fact
into the mystical region of remembrance, all the wrappings, and all
the apologies, and all the soft phrases drop away; and the ugliest,
briefest, plainest word is the one by which my conscience describes my
own evil. '_I_ beheaded him! _I_, and none else, was the murderer.'
Oh! dear brethren, do you see to it that what you store up in these
caves and treasure-cellars of memory which we all carry with us, are
deeds that will bear being brought out again and looked at in the pure
white light of conscience, and which you will neither be ashamed nor
afraid to lay your hand upon and say: 'It is mine; _I_ planted and
sowed and worked it, and I am ready to reap the fruit.' 'If thou be
wise thou shalt be wise for thyself, if thou scornest thou alone shalt
bear it.' Take care of the storehouses of memory and of conscience,
and mind what kind of things you lay up there.

II. Now, once more, I take these words as setting before us an example
of a conscience awakened to the unseen world.

Many commentators tell us that this Herod was a Sadducee; that is to
say that theologically and theoretically he had given up the belief in
a future state and in spiritual existence. I do not know that that can
be sustained, but much more probably he was only a Sadducee in the way
in which a great many of us are Sadducees: he never thought about
these things, he did not think about them enough to know whether he
believed in them or not. He was a practical, if not a theoretical
Sadducee; that is to say, this present was his world, and as for the
future, it did not come much into his mind. But now, notice that when
conscience begins to stir, it at once sends his thoughts into that
unseen world beyond.

There is a very close connection, as all history proves, between
theoretical disbelief in a future life and in spiritual existence, and
superstition. So strong is the bond which unites men with the unseen
world, that if they do not link themselves with that world in the
legitimate and true fashion, it is almost certain to avenge itself
upon them by leading them to all manner of low and abject
superstitions. Spiritualism is the disease of a generation that
disbelieves in another life. The French Revolution, with its
infidelities, was also the age of quacks and impostors such as
Cagliostro and the like. The time when Christ lived presented
precisely the same phenomena. If Herod was a Sadducee, Herod's
Sadduceeism, like frost upon the window-panes, was such a thin layer
shutting out the invisible world, that the least warmth of conscience
melted it, and the clear daylight glared in upon him. And I am afraid
that there are a great many of us who may be half-inclined to reject
the belief in another life, who would find precisely the same thing
happening to us.

But be that as it may, it seems to me that whenever a man comes to
think very seriously about his conduct as being wrong in the sight of
God, there at once starts up before him the thought of a future life
and a judgment-bar. And I want to know why and how it is that the
vigorous operation of conscience is always accompanied with a 'fearful
looking for of judgment and fiery indignation.' I think it is worth
your while to reflect upon the fact, and to try and ascertain for
yourselves the reason of it, that whenever a man's conscience begins
to tell him of his wrong, its message is not only of transgressions
but of judgment, and that beyond the grave.

And, moreover, notice here how the startled conscience, when it
becomes aware of an unseen world beyond the grave, cannot but think
that out of that world there will come evil for it. These words of my
text are obviously the words of a frightened man. It was terror that
made Herod say: 'It is John, whom I beheaded. He is risen from the
dead!' Who was it that frightened Herod? It was He who came from the
bosom of the Father, with His hands full of blessings and His heart
full of love: who came to quiet all fears, and to cleanse all
consciences, and to satisfy all men's souls with His own sweet love
and His perfect righteousness. And it was this genial and gracious and
divine form, with all its actualities of gentleness and its
possibilities of grace, which the evil conscience of the terrified
tetrarch converted into a messenger of judgment come from the tomb to
rebuke and to smite him for his evils.

That is to say, men may always make that future life and their
relation to it what they will. Either the heavens may pour down their
dewy influences of benediction and fruitfulness upon them, or may pour
down fire and brimstone upon their spirits. Men have the choice which
it shall be. The evil conscience drapes the future in darkness, and is
right in doing it. The evil conscience forebodes chastisement,
judgment, condemnation coming to it from out of the unseen world, and,
with limitations, it is right in doing it. You can make Christ Himself
the Messenger of condemnation and of death to you. My dear friends, do
you choose whether, fronting eternity with an unforgiven burden of sin
upon your shoulders and a conscience unsprinkled by the blood of Jesus
Christ, you make of it one great fear; or whether you make it what it
really is, a lustrous hope, a perfect joy. Is the Messenger that comes
out of the unseen to come to you as a Judge of your buried evils
started into life, or is He to come to you as the Christ that bears in
His hand the price of your redemption, and with His blood 'sprinkles
your conscience from dead works' and from all its terrors?

III. And now, lastly, I see in this saying an illustration of a
conscience which, partially stirred, soon went finally to sleep again.

Strangely enough, if we pursue the story, this very terror and
clear-eyed perception of the nature of his action led the frivolous
king to nothing more than a curious wish to see this new Teacher. It
was not gratified; and thus by degrees he came to hate Him and to wish
to kill Him. And then, finally, on the eve of the Crucifixion Jesus
was brought into his presence, and Herod was glad that his curiosity
was satisfied at last. His conscience lay perfectly still. There was
no trace of the old convictions or of the old tremor. He 'questioned
Jesus many things, and Christ answered him nothing,' because He knew
it was of no use to speak to him. So 'Herod and his men of war mocked
Him and set Him at nought'; and sent Him back to Pilate; and he let
his last chance of salvation go, and never knew what he had done.

Now, _there_ is a lesson for us all. Do not tamper with partially
awakened consciences; do not rest satisfied till they are quieted in
the legitimate way. There was a man who trembled when he heard Paul
remonstrating with him about 'righteousness and temperance'--both of
which the unjust judge had set at naught--'and judgment to come' And
he 'sent for him often and communed with him gladly,' but we never
hear that Felix trembled any more. It is possible for you so to lull
yourselves into indifference, and, as it were, so to waterproof your
consciences that appeals, threatenings, pleadings, mercies, the words
of men, the Gospel of God, and the beseechings of Christ Himself may
all run off them and leave them dry and hard.

One very potent means of rendering consciences insensible is to
neglect their voice. The convictions which you have not followed out,
like the ruins of a bastion shattered by shell, protect your remaining
fortifications against the impact of God's truth. I believe that there
is no man, woman, or child listening to me at this moment but has had,
some time or other in the course of his or her life, convictions which
only needed to be followed out, gleams of guidance which only required
to be faithfully pursued, to bring him or her into loving fellowship
with, and true faith in, Jesus Christ. But some of you have neglected
them; some of you have choked them with cares and studies and
occupations of different kinds; and you are driving on to this
result,--I do not know that it is ever reached in this life, but a man
may come indefinitely near it,--that you shall stand, like Herod, face
to face with Jesus Christ and feel nothing, and that all His love and
grace shall be offered and not excite the faintest stirring in your
hearts of a desire to accept it.

Oh! my friend, we have all of us evils enough in these charnel-houses
of our memory to make us dread the awakening of conscience, to make us
look with fear and apprehension beyond the veil to a judgment-seat.
And, blessed be God! we have all of us had, and some of us have now,
drawings to which we need but to yield ourselves in order to find that
He who comes from the heavens is no 'John whom we beheaded,' risen for
judgment, but a mightier than he, that Son of God who came 'not to
condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.'


'For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound
him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife: for he
had married her. 18. For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful
for thee to have thy brother's wife. 19. Therefore Herodias had a
quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not: 20.
For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and
observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him
gladly. 21. And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his
birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates
of Galilee; 22. And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in,
and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king
said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give
it thee. 23. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I
will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. 24. And she went
forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The
head of John the Baptist. 25. And she came in straightway with haste
unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by
in a charger the head of John the Baptist. 26. And the king was
exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which
sat with him, he would not reject her. 27. And immediately the king
sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went
and beheaded him in the prison, 28. And brought his head in a charger,
and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her
mother.'--Mark vi. 17-28.

This Herod was a son of the grim old tiger who slew the infants of
Bethlehem. He was a true cub of a bad litter, with his father's
ferocity, but without his force. He was sensual, cruel, cunning, and
infirm of purpose. Rome allowed him to play at being a king, but kept
him well in hand. No doubt his anomalous position as a subject prince
helped to make him the bad man he was. Herodias, the Jezebel to this
Ahab, was his brother's wife, and niece to both her husband and Herod.
Elijah was not far off; John's daring outspokenness, of course, made
the indignant woman his implacable enemy.

I. This story gives an example of the waking of conscience. When
Christ's name reached even the court, where such tidings would have no
ready entrance, what was only an occasion of more or less languid
gossip and curiosity to others stirred the sleeping accuser in Herod's
breast. He had no doubt as to who this new Teacher, armed with
mightier powers than John who 'did no miracles' had ever possessed,
was. His conviction that he was John, come back with increased power,
was immediate, and was held fast, in spite of the buzz of other

Note the unusual order of the sentence in verse 16: 'John whom I
beheaded, he is,' etc. The terrified king blurts out the name of his
dread first, then tremblingly takes the guilt of the deed to himself,
and last speaks the terrifying thought that he is risen. A man who has
a sin in his memory can never be sure that its ghost will not suddenly
start up. Trivial incidents will rouse the sleeping conscience. Some
nothing, a chance word, a scent, a sound, the look on a face, the glow
of an evening sky, may bring all the foul past up again. A puff of
wind clears away the mist of oblivion, and the old sin starts into
vividness as if done yesterday. You touch a secret spring, and there
yawns in the floor a gap leading down to a dungeon.

Conscience thus wakened is free from all illusions as to guilt. '_I_
beheaded.' There are no excuses now about Herodias' urgency, or
Salome's beauty, or the rash oath, or the need of keeping it, before
his guests. The deed stands clear of all these, as his own act. It is
ever so. When conscience speaks, sophistications about temptations or
companions, or necessity, or the more learned excuses which
philosophers make about environment and heredity as weakening
responsibility and diminishing guilt, shrivel to nothing. The present
operations of conscience distinctly predict future still more complete
remembrance of, and sense of responsibility for, long past sins. There
will be a resurrection of men's evil deeds, as well as of their
bodies, and each of them will shake its gory locks at its author, and
say, 'Thou didst it.'

There is no proof that Herod was a Sadducee, disbelieving in a
resurrection; but, whether he was or not, the terrors of conscience
made short work of the difficulties in the way of his supposition. He
was right in believing that evil deeds are gifted with an awful
immortality, and will certainly rise again to shake their doer's soul
with terrors.

II. The narrative harks back to tell the story of John's martyrdom. It
sets vividly forth the inner discord and misery of half-and-half
convictions. Herodias was strong enough to get John put in prison, and
apparently she tried with all the tenacity of a malignant woman to
have him assassinated, by contrived accident or open sentence; but
_that_ she could not manage.

Mark's analysis of the play of contending feeling in the weak king is
barely intelligible in the Authorised Version, but is clearly shown in
the Revised Version. He 'feared John,'--the jailer afraid of his
prisoner,--'knowing that he was a righteous man and an holy.' Goodness
is awful. The worst men know it when they see it, and pay it the
homage of dread, if not of love. 'And kept him safe' (not _ob_- but
_pre_-served him); that is, from Herodias' revenge. 'And when he heard
him, he was much perplexed.' The reading thus translated differs from
that in the Authorised Version by two letters only, and obviously is
preferable. Herod was a weak-willed man, drawn by two stronger natures
pulling in opposite directions.

So he alternated between lust and purity, between the foul kisses of
the temptress at his side and the warnings of the prophet in his
dungeon. But in all his vacillation he could not help listening to
John, but 'heard him gladly,' and mind and conscience approved the
nobler voice. Thus he staggered along, with religion enough to spoil
some of his sinful delights, but not enough to make him give them up.

Such a state of partial conviction is not unusual. Many of us know
quite well that, if we would drop some habit, which may not be very
grave, we should be less encumbered in some effort which it is our
interest or duty to make; but the conviction has not gone deeper than
the understanding. Like a shot which has only got half way through the
armoured skin of a man-of-war, it has done no execution, nor reached
the engine-room where the power that drives the life is. In more
important matters such imperfect convictions are widespread. The
majority of slaves to vice know perfectly well that they should give
it up. And in regard to the salvation which is in Christ, there are
multitudes who know in their inmost consciousness that they ought to
be Christians.

Such a condition is one liable to unrest and frequent inner conflict.
Truly, he is 'much perplexed' whose conscience pulls him one way, and
his inclinations another. There is no more miserable condition than
that of the man whose will is cleft in twain, and who has a continual
battle raging within. Conscience may be bound and thrust down into a
dungeon, like John, and lust and pride may be carousing overhead, but
their mirth is hollow, and every now and then the stern voice comes up
through the gratings, and the noisy revelry is hushed, while _it_
speaks doom.

Such a state of inner strife comes often from unwillingness to give up
one special evil. If Herod could have plucked up resolve to pack
Herodias about her business, other things might have come right. Many
of us are ruined by being unwilling to let some dear delight go. 'If
thine eye causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out.'

We do not make up for such cowardly shrinking from doing right by
pleasure in the divine word which we are not obeying. Herod no doubt
thought that his delight in listening to John went some way to atone
for his refusal to get rid of Herodias. Some of us think ourselves
good Christians because we assent to truth, and even like to hear it,
provided the speaker suit our tastes. Glad hearing only aggravates the
guilt of not doing. It is useless to admire John if you keep Herodias.

III. The end of the story gives an example of the final powerlessness
of such half-convictions. One need not repeat the grim narrative of
the murder. We all know it. One knows not which is the more
repugnant--the degradation of the poor child Salome to the level of a
dancing-girl, the fell malignity of the mother who would shame her
daughter for such an end, the maudlin generosity of Herod, flushed
with wine and excited passion, the hideous request from lips so young,
the ineffectual sorrow of Herod, his fantastic sense of obligation,
which scrupled to break a wicked promise and did not scruple to murder
a prophet, or the ghastly picture of the girl hurrying to her mother
with the freshly severed head, dripping on to the platter and staining
her fair young hands.

This was what all the convictions of John's righteousness had come to.
So had ended the half yielding to his brave rebukes and the
ineffectual aspirations after cleaner living. That chaos of lust and
blood teaches that partial reformation is apt to end in a deeper
plunge into fouler mire. If a man is false to his feeblest conviction,
he makes himself a worse man all through. A partial thaw is generally
followed by keener frost than before. A soul half melted and cooled
again is harder to melt than before. An abortive slave-rising rivets
the chains.

The incident teaches that simple weakness may come to be the parent of
great sin. In a world like this, where there are always more voices
soliciting to wrong than to right, to be weak is in the long run to be
wicked. Fatal facility of disposition ruins hundreds of unthinking
men. Nothing is more needful than that young people should learn to
say 'No,' and should cultivate a wholesome obstinacy which is afraid
of nothing but of sinning against God.

If we look onwards to this Herod's last appearance in Scripture, we
get further lessons. He desired to see Jesus that he might see a
miracle done to amuse him, like a conjuring trick. Convictions and
terrors had faded from his frivolous soul. He has forgotten that he
once thought Jesus to be John come again. He sees Christ, and sees
nothing in Him; and Christ says nothing to Herod, because He knew it
would be useless.

It is an awful thing to put one's self beyond the hearing of that
voice, which 'all that are in the graves shall hear.' The most
effectual stopping for our ears is neglect of what we know to be His
will. If we will not listen to Him, we shall gradually lose the power
of hearing Him, and then He will lock His lips, and answer nothing. We
dare not say that Jesus is dumb to any man while life lasts, but we
dare not refrain from saying that that condition of utter
insensibility to His voice may be indefinitely approached by us, and
that neglected convictions bring us terribly far on the way towards


'And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told
Him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught. 31.
And He said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place,
and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had
no leisure so much as to eat. 32. And they departed into a desert
place by ship privately. 33. And the people saw them departing, and
many knew Him, and ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent
them, and came together unto Him. 34. And Jesus, when he came out, saw
much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they
were as sheep not having a shepherd: and He began to teach them many
things. 35. And when the day was now far spent, His disciples came
unto Him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far
passed: 36. Send them away, that they may go into the country round
about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have
nothing to eat. 37. He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to
eat. And they say unto Him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth
of bread, and give them to eat? 38. He saith unto them, How many
loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and
two fishes. 39. And he commanded them to make all sit down by
companies upon the green grass. 40. And they sat down in ranks, by
hundreds, and by fifties. 41. And when He had taken the five loaves
and the two fishes, He looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the
loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two
fishes divided He among them all. 42. And they did all eat, and were
filled. 43. And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and
of the fishes. 44. And they that did eat of the loaves were about five
thousand men.'--Mark vi. 30-44.

This is the only miracle recorded by all four Evangelists. Matthew
brings it into immediate connection with John's martyrdom, while Mark
links it with the Apostles' return from their first mission. His
account is, as usual, full of graphic touches, while John shows more
intimate knowledge of the parts played by the Apostles, and sets the
whole incident in a clearer light.

I. Mark brings out the preceding events, and especially the seeking
for solitude, which was baulked by popular enthusiasm. The Apostles
came back to Jesus full of wondering joy, and were eager to tell what
they had done and taught. Note that order, which hints that they
thought more of the miracles than of the message. They were flushed
and excited by success, and needed calming down even more than
physical rest. So Jesus, knowing their need, bids them come with Him
into healing solitude, and rest awhile.

After any great effort, the body cries for repose, but still more does
the soul's health demand quiet after exciting and successful work for
Christ. Without much solitary communion with Jesus, effort for Him
tends to become mechanical, and to lose the elevation of motive and
the suppression of self which give it all its power. It is not wasted
time which the busiest worker, confronted with the most imperative
calls for service, gives to still fellowship in secret with God. There
can never be too much activity in Christian work, but there is often
disproportioned activity, which is too much for the amount of time
given to meditation and communion. That is one reason why there is so
much sowing and so little reaping in Christian work to-day.

But, on the other hand, we have sometimes to do as Jesus was driven to
do in this incident; namely, to forgo cheerfully, after brief repose,
the blessed and strengthening hour of quiet. The motives of the crowds
that hurried round the head of the lake while the boat was pulled
across, and so got to the other side before it, were not very pure.
Curiosity drove them as much as any nobler impulse. But we must not be
too particular about the reasons that induce men to resort to Jesus,
and if we can give them more than they sought, so much the better. Let
us be thankful if, for any reason, we can get them to listen.

Jesus 'came forth'; that is, probably from a short withdrawal with the
Twelve. Brief repose snatched, He turned again to the work. The 'great
multitude' did not make Him impatient, though, no doubt, some of the
Apostles were annoyed. But He saw deeply into their condition, and
pity welled in His heart. If we looked on the crowds in our great
cities with Christ's eyes, their spiritual state would be the most
prominent thing in sight. And if we saw that as He saw it, disgust,
condemnation, indifference, would not be uppermost, as they too often
are, but some drop of His great compassion would trickle into our
hearts. The masses are still 'as sheep without a shepherd,' ignorant
of the way, and defenceless against their worst foes. Do we habitually
try to cultivate as ours Christ's way of looking at men, and Christ's
emotions towards men? If we do, we shall imitate Christ's actions for
men, and shall recognise that, to reproduce as well as we can the
'many things' which He taught them, is the best contribution which His
disciples can make to healing the misery of a Christless world.

II. The difference between John and Mark in regard to the conversation
of Jesus with the disciples about finding food for the crowd, is
easily harmonised. John tells us what Jesus said at the first sight of
the multitude; Mark takes up the narrative at the close of the day. We
owe to John the knowledge that the exigency was not first pointed out
by the disciples, but that His calm, loving prescience saw it, and
determined to meet it, long before they spoke. No needs arise
unforeseen by Christ, and He requires no prompting to help.
Difficulties which seem insoluble to us, when we too late wake to
perceive them, have long ago been taken into account and solved by

The Apostles, according to Mark, came with a suggestion of helpless
embarrassment. They could think of nothing but to disperse the crowd,
and so get rid of responsibility. He answers with a paradox of
conscious power, which commands a seeming impossibility, and therein
prophesies endowment that will make it possible. Has not the Church
ever since been but too often faithless enough to let the multitudes
drift away to 'the cities and villages round about,' and there, amid
human remedies for their sore needs, 'buy themselves,' with much
expenditure, a scanty provision? Are we not all tempted to shuffle off
responsibility for the world's hunger? Do we not often think that our
resources are absurdly insufficient, and so, faintheartedly make them
still less? Is not His command still, 'Give ye them to eat'? Let us
rise to the height of our duties and of our power, and be sure that
whoever has Christ has enough for the world's hunger, and is bound to
call men from 'that which is not bread,' and to feed them with Him who

Philip's morning calculation (curiously in keeping with his character)
seems to have been repeated by the Apostles, as, no doubt, he had been
saying the same thing all day at intervals. They had made a rough
calculation of how much would be wanted. It was a sum far beyond their
means. It was as much as about L7. And where was such wealth as that
in that company? But calculations which leave out Christ's power are
not quite conclusive. The Apostles had reckoned up the requirement,
but they had not taken stock of their resources. So they were sent to
hunt up what they could, and John tells us that it was Andrew who
found the boy with five barley loaves and two fishes. How came a boy
to be so provident? Probably he had come to try a bit of trade on his
own account. At all events, the Twelve seem to have been able to buy
his little stock, which done, they went back to tell Jesus, no doubt
thinking that such a meagre supply would end all talk of their giving
the crowd to eat. Jesus would have us count our own resources, not
that we may fling up His work in despair, but that we may realise our
dependence on Him, and that the consciousness of our own insufficiency
may not diminish one jot our sense of obligation to feed the
multitude. It is good to learn our own weakness if it drives us to
lean on His strength. 'Five loaves and two fishes,' plus Jesus Christ,
come to a good deal more than 'two hundred pennyworth of bread.'

III. The miracle is told with beautiful vividness and simplicity.
Mark's picturesque words show the groups sitting by companies of
hundreds or of fifties. He uses a word which means 'the square garden
plots in which herbs are grown.' So they sat on the green grass, which
at that Passover season would be fresh and abundant. What half-amused
and more than half-incredulous wonder as to what would come next would
be in the people! Many of them would be saying in their hearts, and
perhaps some in words, 'Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?'
(Ps. lxxviii. 19). In that small matter Jesus shows that He is 'not
the Author of confusion,' but of order. The rush of five thousand
hungry men struggling to get a share of what seemed an insufficient
supply would have been unseemly and dangerous to the women and
children, but the seated groups become as companies of guests, and He
the orderer of the feast. To get at the numbers would be easy, while
the passage of the Apostles through the groups was facilitated, and
none would be likely to remain unsupplied or passed over.

The point at which the miraculous element entered is not definitely
stated, but if each portion passed through the hands of Christ to the
servers, and from them to the partakers, the multiplication of the
bread must have been effected while it lay in His hand; that is to
say, the loaves were not diminished by His giving. That is true about
all divine gifts. He bestows, and is none the poorer. The streams flow
from the golden vase, and, after all outpouring, it is brimful.

Many irrelevant difficulties have been raised about the mode of the
miracle, and many lame analogies have been suggested, as if it but
hastened ordinary processes. But these need not detain us. Note rather
the great lesson which John records that our Lord Himself drew from
this miracle. It was a symbol, in the material region, of His work in
the spiritual, as all His miracles were. He is the Bread of the world.
Ho gives Himself still, and in a yet more wonderful sense He gave His
flesh for the life of the world. He gives us Himself for our own
nourishment, and also that we may give Him to others. It was an honour
to the Twelve that they should be chosen to be His almoners. It should
be felt an honour by all Christians that through them Christ wills to
feed a hungry world.

A somewhat different application of the miracle reminds us that Jesus
uses our resources, scanty and coarse as five barley loaves, for the
basis of His wonders. He did not create the bread, but multiplied it.
Our small abilities, humbly acknowledged to be small, and laid in His
hands, will grow. There is power enough in the Church, if the power
were consecrated, to feed the world.

All four Gospels tell the command to gather up the 'broken pieces'
(not the fragments left by the eaters, but the unused pieces broken by
Christ). This union of economy with creative power could never have
been invented. Unused resources are retained. The exercise of
Christian powers multiplies them, and after the feeding of thousands
more remains than was possessed before. 'There is that scattereth, and
yet increaseth.'


'And from thence He arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and
Sidon, and entered Into an house, and would have no man know it: but
He could not be hid. 25. For a certain woman, whose young daughter had
an unclean spirit, heard of Him, and came and fell at His feet: 26.
The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought Him
that He would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. 87. But Jesus
said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to
take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. 28. And she
answered and said unto Him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table
eat of the children's crumbs. 29. And He said unto her, For this
saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. 30. And when
she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her
daughter laid upon the bed.'--Mark vii. 24-30.

Our Lord desired to withdraw from the excited crowds who were flocking
after Him as a mere miracle-worker and from the hostile espionage of
emissaries of the Pharisees, 'which had come from Jerusalem.'
Therefore He sought seclusion in heathen territory. He, too, knew the
need of quiet, and felt the longing to plunge into privacy, to escape
for a time from the pressure of admirers and of foes, and to go where
no man knew Him. How near to us that brings Him! And how the
remembrance of it helps to explain His demeanour to the Syrophcenician
woman, so unlike His usual tone!

Naturally the presence of Jesus leaked out, and perhaps the very
effort to avoid notice attracted it. Rumour would have carried His
name across the border, and the tidings of His being among them would
stir hope in some hearts that felt the need of His help. Of such was
this woman, whom Mark describes first, generally, as a 'Greek' (that
is, a Gentile), and then particularly as 'a Syrophcenician by race';
that is, one of that branch of the Phoenician race who inhabited
maritime Syria, in contradistinction from the other branch inhabiting
North-eastern Africa, Carthage, and its neighbourhood. Her deep need
made her bold and persistent, as we learn in detail from Matthew, who
is in this narrative more graphic than Mark. He tells us that she
attacked Jesus in the way, and followed Him, pouring out her loud
petitions, to the annoyance of the disciples. They thought that they
were carrying out His wish for privacy in suggesting that it would be
best to 'send her away' with her prayer granted, and so stop her
'crying after us,' which might raise a crowd, and defeat the wish. We
owe to Matthew the further facts of the woman's recognition of Jesus
as 'the Son of David,' and of the strange ignoring of her cries, and
of His answer to the disciples' suggestion, in which He limited His
mission to Israel, and so explained to them His silence to her. Mark
omits all these points, and focuses all the light on the two
things--Christ's strange and apparently harsh refusal, and the woman's
answer, which won her cause.

Certainly our Lord's words are startlingly unlike Him, and as
startlingly like the Jewish pride of race and contempt for Gentiles.
But that the woman did not take them so is clear; and that was not due
only to her faith, but to something in Him which gave her faith a
foothold. We are surely not to suppose that she drew from His words an
inference which He did not perceive in them, and that He was, as some
commentators put it, 'caught in His own words.' Mark alone gives us
the first clause of Christ's answer to the woman's petition: 'Let the
children first be filled.' And that 'first' distinctly says that their
prerogative is priority, not monopoly. If there is a 'first,' there
will follow a second. The very image of the great house in which the
children sit at the table, and the 'little dogs' are in the room,
implies that children and dogs are part of one household; and Jesus
meant by it just what the woman found in it,--the assurance that the
meal-time for the dogs would come when the children had done. That is
but a picturesque way of stating the method of divine revelation
through the medium of the chosen people, and the objections to
Christ's words come at last to be objections to the 'committing' of
the 'oracles of God' to the Jewish race; that is to say, objections to
the only possible way by which a historical revelation could be given.
It must have personal mediums, a place and a sequence. It must prepare
fit vehicles for itself and gradually grow in clearness and contents.
And all this is just to say that revelation for the world must be
first the possession of a race. The fire must have a hearth on which
it can be kindled and burn, till it is sufficient to bear being
carried thence.

Universalism was the goal of the necessary restriction. Pharisaism
sought to make the restriction permanent. Jesus really threw open the
gates to all in this very saying, which at first sounds so harsh.
'First' implies second, children and little dogs are all parts of the
one household. Christ's personal ministry was confined to Israel for
obvious and weighty reasons. He felt, as Matthew tells us, that He
said in this incident that He was not sent but to the lost sheep of
that nation. But His world-wide mission was as clear to Him as its
temporary limit, and in His first discourse in the synagogue at
Nazareth He proclaimed it to a scowling crowd. We cannot doubt that
His sympathetic heart yearned over this poor woman, and His seemingly
rough speech was meant partly to honour the law which ruled His
mission even in the act of making an exception to it, and partly to
test, and so to increase, her faith.

Her swift laying of her finger on the vulnerable point in the apparent
refusal of her prayer may have been due to a woman's quick wit, but it
was much more due to a mother's misery and to a suppliant's faith.
There must have been something in Christ's look, or in the cadence of
His voice, which helped to soften the surface harshness of His words,
and emboldened her to confront Him with the plain implications of His
own words. What a constellation of graces sparkles in her ready reply!
There is humility in accepting the place He gives her; insight in
seeing at once a new plea in what might have sent her away despairing;
persistence in pleading; confidence that He can grant her request and
that He would gladly do so. Our Lord's treatment of her was amply
justified by its effects. His words were like the hard steel that
strikes the flint and brings out a shower of sparks. Faith makes
obstacles into helps, and stones of stumbling into 'stepping-stones to
higher things.' If we will take the place which He gives us, and hold
fast our trust in Him even when He seems silent to us, and will so far
penetrate His designs as to find the hidden purpose of good in
apparent repulses, the honey secreted deep in the flower, we shall
share in this woman's blessing in the measure in which we share in her

Jesus obviously delighted in being at liberty to stretch His
commission so as to include her in its scope. Joyful recognition of
the ingenuity of her pleading, and of her faith's bringing her within
the circle of the 'children,' are apparent in His word, 'For this
saying go thy way.' He ever looks for the disposition in us which will
let Him, in accordance with His great purpose, pour on us His
full-flowing tide of blessing, and nothing gladdens Him more than
that, by humble acceptance of our assigned place, and persistent
pleading, and trust that will not be shaken, we should make it
possible for Him to see in us recipients of His mercy and healing


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