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Expositions of Holy Scripture by Alexander Maclaren

Part 5 out of 10

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'He touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, He sighed, and saith
Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.'--Mark vii 33, 34.

For what reason was there this unwonted slowness in Christ's healing
works? For what reason was there this unusual emotion ere He spoke the
word which cleansed?

As to the former question, a partial answer may perhaps be that our
Lord is here on half-heathen ground, where aids to faith were much
needed, and His power had to be veiled that it might be beheld. Hence
the miracle is a process rather than an act; and, advancing as it does
by distinct stages, is conformed in appearance to men's works of
mercy, which have to adapt means to ends, and creep to their goal by
persevering toil. As to the latter, we know not why the sight of this
one poor sufferer should have struck so strongly on the ever-tremulous
chords of Christ's pitying heart; but we do know that it was the
vision brought before His spirit by this single instance of the
world's griefs and sicknesses--in which mass, however, the special
case before Him was by no means lost--that raised His eyes to heaven
in mute appeal, and forced the groan from His breast.

The 'missionary spirit' is but one aspect of the Christian spirit. We
shall only strengthen the former as we invigorate the latter. Harm has
been done, both to ourselves and to that great cause, by seeking to
stimulate compassion and efforts for heathen lands by the use of other
excitements, which have tended to vitiate even the emotions they have
aroused, and are apt to fail as when we need them most. It may
therefore be profitable if we turn to Christ's own manner of working,
and His own emotions in His merciful deeds, set forth in this
remarkable narrative, as containing lessons for us in our missionary
and evangelistic work. I must necessarily omit more than a passing
reference to the slow process of healing which this miracle exhibits.
But that, too, has its teaching for us, who are so often tempted to
think ourselves badly used, unless the fruit of our toil grows up,
like Jonah's gourd, before our eyes. If our Lord was content to reach
His end of blessing step by step, we may well accept 'patient
continuance in well-doing' as the condition indispensable to reaping
in due season.

But there are other thoughts still more needful which suggest
themselves. Those minute details which this Evangelist ever delights
to give of our Lord's gestures, words, looks, and emotions, not only
add graphic force to the narrative but are precious glimpses into the
very heart of Christ. That fixed gaze into heaven, that groan which
neither the glories seen above nor the conscious power to heal could
stifle, that most gentle touch, as if removing material obstacles from
the deaf ears, and moistening the stiff tongue that it might move more
freely in the parched mouth, that word of authority which could not be
wanting even when His working seemed likest a servant's, do surely
carry large lessons for us. The condition of all service, the cost of
feeling at which our work must be done, the need that the helpers
should identify themselves with the sufferers, and the victorious
power of Christ's word over all deaf ears--these are the thoughts
which I desire to connect with our text and to commend to your
meditation now.

I. We have here set forth, in the Lord's heavenward look, the
foundation and condition of all true work for God.

The profound questions which are involved in the fact that, as man,
Christ held communion with God in the exercise of faith and
aspiration, the same in kind as ours, do not concern us here. I speak
to those who believe that Jesus is for us the perfect example of
complete manhood, and who therefore believe that He is 'the leader of
faith,' the head of the long processions of those who in every age
have trusted in God and been 'lightened.' But, perhaps, though that
conviction holds its place in our creeds, it has not been as
completely incorporated with our thoughts as it should have been.
There has, no doubt, been a tendency, operating in much of our
evangelical teaching, and in the common stream of orthodox opinion, to
except, half unconsciously, the exercises of the religious life from
the sphere of Christ's example, and we need to be reminded that
Scripture presents His vow, 'I will put my trust in Him,' as the
crowning proof of His brotherhood, and that the prints of His kneeling
limbs have left their impressions where we kneel before the throne.
True, the relation of the Son to the Father involves more than
communion-namely, unity. But if we follow the teaching of the Bible,
we shall not presume that the latter excludes the former, but
understand that the unity is the foundation of perfect communion, and
the communion the manifestation, so far as it can be manifested, of
the unspeakable unity. The solemn words which shine like
stars--starlike in that their height above us shrinks their magnitude
and dims their brightness, and in that they are points of radiance
partially disclosing, and separated by, abysses of unlighted
infinitude--tell us that in the order of eternity, before creatures
were, there was communion, for 'the Word was with God,' and there was
unity, for 'the Word was God.' And in the records of the life
manifested on earth the consciousness of unity loftily utters itself
in the unfathomable declaration, 'I and my Father are one'; whilst the
consciousness of communion, dependent like ours on harmony of will and
true obedience, breathes peacefully in the witness which He leaves to
Himself: 'The Father has not left Me alone, for I do always the things
that please Him.'

We are fully warranted, then, in supposing that that wistful gaze to
heaven means, and may be taken to symbolise, our Lord's conscious
direction of thought and spirit to God as He wrought His work of
mercy. There are two distinctions to be noted between His communion
with God and ours before we can apply the lesson to ourselves. His
heavenward look was not the renewal of interrupted fellowship, but
rather, as a man standing firmly on firm rock may yet lift his foot to
plant it again where it was before, and settle himself in his attitude
before he strikes with all his might; so we may say Christ fixes
Himself where He always stood, and grasps anew the hand that He always
held, before He does the deed of power. The communion that had never
been broken was renewed; how much more the need that in _our_ work for
God the renewal of the--alas! too sadly sundered--fellowship should
ever precede and always accompany our efforts! And again, Christ's
fellowship was with the Father, while ours must be with the Father
through the Son. The communion to which we are called is with Jesus
Christ, in whom we find God.

The manner of that intercourse, and the various discipline of
ourselves with a view to its perfecting which Christian prudence
prescribes, need not concern us here. As for the latter, let us not
forget that a wholesome and wide-reaching self-denial cannot be
dispensed with. Hands that are full of gilded toys and glass beads
cannot grasp durable riches, and eyes that have been accustomed to
glaring lights see only darkness when they look up to the violet
heaven with all its stars. As to the former, every part of our nature
above the simply animal is capable of God, and the communion ought to
include our whole being. Christ is truth for the understanding,
authority for the will, love for the heart, certainty for the hope,
fruition for all the desires, and for the conscience at once cleansing
and law. Fellowship with Him is no indolent passiveness, nor the
luxurious exercise of certain emotions, but the contact of the whole
nature with its sole adequate object and rightful Lord.

Such intercourse, brethren, lies at the foundation of all work for
God. It is the condition of all our power. It is the measure of all
our success. Without it we may seem to realise the externals of
prosperity, but it will be all illusion. With it we may perchance seem
to 'spend our strength for nought'; but heaven has its surprises; and
those who toiled, nor left their hold of their Lord in all their work,
will have to say at last with wonder, as they see the results of their
poor efforts, 'Who hath begotten me these? behold, I was left alone;
these, where had they been?'

Consider in few words the manifold ways in which the indispensable
prerequisite of all right effort for Christ may be shown to be
communion with Christ.

The heavenward look is the renewal of our own vision of the calm
verities in which we trust, the recourse for ourselves to the
realities which we desire that others should see. And what is equal in
persuasive power to the simple utterance of one's own intense
conviction? He only will infuse his own religion into other minds,
whose religion is not a set of hard dogmas, but is fused by the heat
of personal experience into a river of living fire. It will flow then,
not otherwise. The only claim which the hearts of men will listen to,
in those who would win them to spiritual beliefs, is that ancient one:
'That which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon,
declare we unto you.' Mightier than all arguments, than all 'proofs of
the truth of the Christian religion,' and penetrating into a sphere
deeper than that of the understanding, is the simple proclamation, 'We
have found the Messias.' If we would give sight to the blind, we must
ourselves be gazing into heaven. Only when we testify of that which we
see, as one might who, standing in a beleaguered city, discerned on
the horizon the filmy dust-cloud through which the spearheads of the
deliverers flashed at intervals, shall we win any to gaze with us till
they too behold and know themselves set free.

The heavenward look draws new strength from the source of all our
might. In our work, dear brethren, contemplating as it ought to do
exclusively spiritual results, what we do depends largely on what we
are, and what we are depends on what we receive, and what we receive
depends on the depth and constancy of our communion with God. 'The
help which is done upon earth He doeth it all Himself.' We and our
organisations are but the channels through which this might is poured;
and if we choke the bed with turbid masses of drift and heavy rocks of
earthly thoughts, or build from bank to bank thick dams of worldliness
compact with slime of sin, how shall the full tide flow through us for
the healing of the salt and barren places? Will it not leave its
former course silted up with sand, and cut for itself new outlets,
while the useless quays that once rang with busy life stand silent,
and 'the cities are solitary that were full of people'? We are

'The trumpet at Thy lips, the clarion
Full of Thy cry, sonorous with Thy breath.'

Let us see to it that by fellowship with Christ we keep the passage
clear, and become recipients of the inspiration which shall thrill our
else-silent spirits into the blast of loud alarum and the ringing
proclamation of the true King.

The heavenward look will guard us from the temptations which surround
all our service, and the distractions which lay waste our lives. It is
habitual communion with Christ that alone will give the persistency
that makes systematic, continuous efforts for Him possible, and yet
will keep systematic work from degenerating, as it ever tends to do,
into mechanical work. There is no greater virtue in irregular
desultory service than in systematised labour. The one is not freer
from besetting temptations than the other, only the temptations are of
different sorts. Machinery saves manual toil, and multiplies force.
But we may have too heavy machinery for what engineers call the boiler
power,--too many wheels and shafts for the steam we have to drive them
with. What we want is not less organisation, or other sorts of it, but
more force. Any organisation will do if we have God's Spirit breathing
through it. None will be better than so much old iron if we have not.

We are ever apt to trust to our work, to do it without a distinct
recurrence at each moment to the principles on which it rests, and the
motives by which it should be actuated,--to become so absorbed in
details that we forget the purpose which alone gives them meaning, to
over-estimate the external aspects of it, to lose sight of the solemn
truths which make it so grand, and to think of it as commonplace
because it is common, as ordinary because it is familiar. And from
these most real dangers, which beset us all, there is no refuge but
the frequent, the habitual, gaze into the open heavens, which will
show us again the realities of things, and bring to our spirits,
dwarfed even by habits of goodness, the renewal of former motives by
the vision of Jesus Christ.

Such constant communion will further surround us with an atmosphere
through which none of the many influences which threaten our Christian
life and our Christian work can penetrate. As the diver in his bell
sits dry at the bottom of the sea, and draws a pure air from the free
heavens far above him, and is parted from that murderous waste of
green death that clings so closely round the translucent crystal walls
which keep him safe; so we, enclosed in God, shall repel from
ourselves all that would overflow to destroy us and our work, and may
by His grace lay deeper than the waters some courses in the great
building that shall one day rise, stately and many-mansioned, from out
of the conquered waves. For ourselves, and for all that we do for Him,
living communion with God is the means of power and peace, of security
and success.

It was never more needful than now. Feverish activity rules in all
spheres of life. The iron wheels of the car which bears the modern
idol of material progress whirl fast, and crush remorselessly all who
cannot keep up the pace. Christian effort is multiplied and
systematised beyond all precedent. And all these facts make calm
fellowship with God hard to compass. The measure of the difficulty is
the measure of the need. I, for my part, believe that there are few
Christian duties more neglected than that of meditation, the very name
of which has fallen of late into comparative disuse, that augurs ill
for the frequency of the thing. We are so busy thinking, discussing,
defending, inquiring; or preaching, and teaching, and working, that we
have no time and no leisure of heart for quiet contemplation, without
which the exercise of the intellect upon Christ's truth will not feed,
and busy activity in Christ's cause may starve, the soul. There are
few things which the Church of this day in all its parts needs more
than to obey the invitation, 'Come ye yourselves apart into a lonely
place, and rest a while.'

Christ has set us the example. Let our prayers ascend as His did, and
in our measure the answers which came to Him will not fail us. For us,
too, 'praying, the heavens' shall be 'opened,' and the peace-bringing
spirit fall dove-like on our meek hearts. For us, too, when the shadow
of our cross lies black and gaunt upon our paths, and our souls are
troubled, communion with heaven will bring the assurance, audible to
our ears at least, that God will glorify Himself even in us. If, after
many a weary day, we seek to hold fellowship with God as He sought it
on the Mount of Olives, or among the solitudes of the midnight hills,
or out in the morning freshness of the silent wilderness, like Him we
shall have men gathering around us to hear us speak when we come forth
from 'the secret place of the Most High.' If our prayer, like His,
goes before our mighty deeds, the voice that first pierced the skies
will penetrate the tomb, and make the dead stir in their
grave-clothes. If our longing, trustful look is turned to the heavens,
we shall not speak in vain on earth when we say, 'Be opened!'

Brethren, we cannot do without the communion which our Master needed.
Do we delight in what strengthened Him? Does our work rest upon the
basis of inward fellowship with God which underlay His? Alas! that our
Pattern should be our rebuke, and that the readiest way to force home
our faults on our consciences should be the contemplation of the life
which we say that we try to copy!

II. We have here pity for the evils we would remove, set forth by the
Lord's sigh.

The frequency with which this Evangelist records our Lord's emotions
on the sight of sin and sorrow has been often noticed. In his pages we
read of Christ's grief at the hardness of men's hearts, of His
marvelling because of their unbelief, of His being moved with
compassion for an outcast leper and a hungry multitude, of His sighing
deeply in His spirit when prejudiced hostility, assuming the
appearance of candid inquiry, asked of Him a sign from heaven. All
these instances of true human feeling, like His tears at the grave of
Lazarus, and His weariness as He sat on the well, and His tired sleep
in the stern of the little fishing-boat, and His hunger and His
thirst, are very precious as aids in realising His perfect manhood;
but they have a worth beyond even that. They show us how the manifold
ills and evils of man's fate and conduct appealed to the only pure
heart that ever beat, and how quickly and warmly it, by reason of its
purity, throbbed in sympathy with all the woe. One might have thought
that in the present case the consciousness that His help was so near
would have been sufficient to repress the sigh. One might have thought
that the heavenward look would have stayed the tears. But neither the
happiness of active benevolence, nor the knowledge of immediate cure,
nor the glories above flooding His vision, could lift the burden from
His labouring breast. And surely in this too, we may discern a law for
all our efforts, that their worth shall be in proportion to the
expense of feeling at which they are done. Men predict the harvests in
Egypt by the height which the river marks on the gauge of the
inundation. So many feet there represent so much fertility. Tell me
the depth of a Christian man's compassion, and I will tell you the
measure of his fruitfulness.

What was it that drew that sigh from the heart of Jesus? One poor man
stood before him, by no means the most sorely afflicted of the many
wretched ones whom He healed. But He saw in him more than a solitary
instance of physical infirmities. Did there not roll darkly before His
thoughts that whole weltering sea of sorrow that moans round the world
of which here is but one drop that He could dry up? Did there not rise
black and solid, against the clear blue to which He had been looking,
the mass of man's sin, of which these bodily infirmities were but a
poor symbol as well as a consequence? He saw, as none but He could
bear to see, the miserable realities of human life. His knowledge of
all that man might be, of all that the most of men were becoming, His
power of contemplating in one awful aggregate the entire sum of
sorrows and sins, laid upon His heart a burden which none but He has
ever endured. His communion with heaven deepened the dark shadow on
earth, and the eyes that looked up to God and saw Him, could not but
see foulness where others suspected none, and murderous messengers of
hell walking in darkness unpenetrated by mortal sight. And all that
pain of clearer knowledge of the sorrowfulness of sorrow, and the
sinfulness of sin, was laid upon a heart in which was no selfishness
to blunt the sharp edge of the pain nor any sin to stagnate the pity
that flowed from the wound. To Jesus Christ, life was a daily
martyrdom before death had 'made the sacrifice complete,' and He 'bore
our griefs and carried our sorrows' through many a weary hour before
He 'bare them in His own body on the tree.' Therefore, 'Bear ye one
another's burdens, and so fulfil the law' which Christ obeyed, becomes
a command for all who would draw men to Him. And true sorrow, a sharp
and real sense of pain, becomes indispensable as preparation for, and
accompaniment to, our work.

Mark how in us, as in our Lord, the sigh of compassion is to be
connected with the look to heaven. It follows upon that gaze. The
evils become more real, more terrible, by their startling contrast
with the unshadowed light which lives above cloudracks and mists. It
is a sharp shock to turn from the free sweep of the heavens, starry
and radiant, to the sights that meet us in 'this dim spot which men
call earth.' Thus habitual communion with God is the root of the
truest and purest compassion. It does not withdraw us from our fellow
feeling with our brethren, it cultivates no isolation for undisturbed
beholding of God. It at once supplies a standard by which to measure
the greatness of man's godlessness, and therefore of his gloom, and a
motive for laying the pain of these upon our hearts, as if they were
our own. He has looked into the heavens to little purpose who has not
learned how bad and how sad the world now is, and how God bends over
it in pitying love.

And that same fellowship which will clear our eyes and soften our
hearts, is also the one consolation which we have when our sense of
'all the ills that flesh is heir to' becomes deep nearly to despair.
When one thinks of the real facts of human life, and tries to conceive
of the frightful meanness and passion and hate and wretchedness that
have been howling and shrieking and gibbering and groaning through
dreary millenniums, one's brain reels, and hope seems to be absurdity,
and joy a sin against our fellows, as a feast would be in a house next
door to where was a funeral. I do not wonder at settled sorrow falling
upon men of vivid imagination, keen moral sense, and ordinary
sensitiveness, when they brood long on the world as it is. But I do
wonder at the superficial optimism which goes on with its little
prophecies about human progress, and its rose-coloured pictures of
human life, and sees nothing to strike it dumb for ever in men's
writhing miseries, blank failures, and hopeless end. Ah! brethren, if
it were not for the heavenward look, how could we bear the sight of
earth? 'We see not yet all things put under Him.' No! God knows, far
enough off from that. Man's folly, man's submission to the creatures
he should rule, man's agonies, and man's transgression, are a grim
contrast to the Psalmist's vision. If we had only earth to look to,
despair of the race, expressed in settled melancholy apathy or in
fierce cynicism, were the wisest attitude. But there is more within
our view than earth; 'we see Jesus'; we look to the heaven, and as we
behold the true Man, we see more than ever, indeed, how far from that
pattern we all are; but we can bear the thought of what men as yet
have been, when we see that perfect Example of what men shall be. The
root and the consolation of our sorrow for men's evils is communion
with God.

Let me remind you, too, that still more dangerous than the pity which
is not based upon, and corrected by, the look to heaven, is the pity
which does not issue in strenuous work. It is easy to excite people's
emotions; but it is perilous for both the operator and the subject,
unless they be excited through the understanding, and pass on the
impulse to the will and the practical powers. The surest way to
petrify a heart is to stimulate the feelings, and give them nothing to
do. They will never recover their original elasticity if they have
been wantonly drawn forth thus. Coldness, hypocrisy, spurious
sentimentalism, and a whole train of affectations and falsehoods
follow the steps of an emotional religion, which divorces itself from
active work. Pity is meant to impel to help. Let us not be content
with painting sad and true pictures of men's woes,--of the gloomy
hopelessness of idolatry, for instance--but let us remember that every
time our compassion is stirred, and no action ensues, our hearts are
in some measure indurated, and the sincerity of our religion in some
degree impaired. White-robed Pity is meant to guide the strong powers
of practical help to their work. She is to them as eyes to go before
them and point their tasks. They are to her as hands to execute her
gentle will. Let us see to it that we rend them not apart; for idle
pity is unblessed and fruitless as a sigh cast into the fragrant air,
and unpitying work is more unblessed and fruitless still. Let us
remember, too, that Christlike and indispensable as Pity is, she is
second, and not first. Let us take heed that we preserve that order in
our own minds, and in our endeavours to stimulate one another. For if
we reverse it, we shall surely find the fountains of compassion drying
up long before the wide stretches of thirsty land are watered, and the
enterprises which we have sought to carry on by appealing to a
secondary motive, languishing when there is most need for vigour. Here
is the true sequence which must be observed in our missionary and
evangelistic work, 'Looking up to heaven, He sighed.'

Dear brethren! must we not all acknowledge woful failures in this
regard? How much of our service, our giving, our preaching, our
planning, has been carried on without one thought of the ills and
godlessness we profess to be seeking to cure! If some angel's touch
could annihilate all that portion of our activity, what gaps would be
left in all our subscription lists, our sermons, and our labours both
at home and abroad! Annihilate, do I say? It is done already. Such
work is nothing, and comes to nothing. 'Yea, it shall not be planted;
yea, it shall not be sown; and He shall also blow upon it, and it
shall wither.'

The hindrances to such abiding consciousness of and pity for the
world's woes run all down to the one tap-root of all sin, selfishness.
The remedies run all up to the common form of all goodness, the
self-absorbing communion with Jesus Christ. And besides that
mother-tincture of everything wrong, subsidiary impediments may be
found in the small amounts of time and effort which any of us give to
bring the facts of the world's condition vividly before our minds. The
destruction of all emotion is the indolent acquiescence in general
statements which we are too lazy or busy to break up into individual
cases. To talk about hundreds of millions of idolaters leaves the
heart untouched. But take one soul out of all that mass, and try to
feel what his life is in its pitchy darkness, broken only by lurid
lights of fear and sickly gleams of hope, in its passions ungoverned
by love, its remorse uncalmed by pardon, its affections feeling like
the tendrils of some climbing plant for the stay they cannot find, and
in the cruel blackness that swallows it up irrevocably at last. Follow
it from the childhood that knows no discipline to the grave that knows
no waking, and will not the solitary instance come nearer our hearts
than the millions?

But however that may be, the sluggishness of our imaginations, the
very familiarity with the awful facts, our own feeble hold on Christ,
our absorption in personal interests, the incompleteness and
desultoriness of our communion with our Lord, do all concur with our
natural selfishness to make a sadly large proportion of our apparent
labours for God and men utterly cold and unfeeling, and therefore
utterly worthless. Has the benighted world ever caused us as much pain
as some trivial pecuniary loss has done? Have we ever felt the smart
of the gaping wounds through which our brothers' blood is pouring
forth as much as we do the tiniest scratch on our own fingers? Does it
sound to us like exaggerated rhetoric when a prophet breaks out, 'Oh
that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I
might weep night and day!' or when an Apostle in calmer tones
declares, 'I have great heaviness and continual sorrow of heart'? Some
seeds are put to steep and swell in water, that they may be tested
before sowing. The seed which we sow will not germinate unless it be
saturated with our tears. And yet the sorrow must be blended with joy;
for it is glad labour which is ordinarily productive labour--just as
the growing time is the changeful April, and one knows not whether the
promise of harvest is most sure in the clouds that drop fatness, or in
the sunshine that makes their depths throb with whitest light, and
touches the moist-springing blades into emeralds and diamonds. The
gladness comes from the heavenward look, the pain is breathed in the
deep-drawn sigh; both must be united in us if we would 'approve
ourselves as the servants of God--as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.'

III. We have here loving contact with those whom we would help set
forth in the Lord's touch.

The reasons for the variety observable in Christ's method of
communicating supernatural blessing were, probably, too closely
connected with unrecorded differences in the spiritual conditions of
the recipients to be distinctly traceable by us. But though we cannot
tell why a particular method was employed in a given case, why now a
word, and now a symbolic action, now the touch of His hand, and now
the hem of His garment, appeared to be the vehicles of His power, we
can discern the significance of these divers ways, and learn great
lessons from them all.

His touch was sometimes obviously the result of what one may venture
to call instinctive tenderness, as when He lifted the little children
in His arms and laid His hands upon their heads. It was, I suppose,
always the spontaneous expression of love and compassion, even when it
was something more. The touch of His hand on the ghastly glossiness of
the leper's skin was, no doubt, His assertion of priestly functions,
and of elevation above all laws of defilement; but what was it to the
poor outcast, who for years had never felt the warm contact of flesh
and blood? It always indicated that He Himself was the source of
healing and life. It always expressed His identification of Himself
with sorrow and sickness. So that it is in principle analogous to, and
may be taken as illustrative of, that transcendent act whereby He
'became flesh, and dwelt among us.' Indeed, the very word by which our
Lord's taking the blind man by the hand is described in the chapter
following our text, is that employed in the Epistle to the Hebrews
when, dealing with the true brotherhood of Jesus, the writer says, 'He
took not hold of angels, but of the seed of Abraham He taketh hold.'
Christ's touch is His willing contact with man's infirmities and sins,
that He may strengthen and hallow.

And the lesson is one of universal application. Wherever men would
help their fellows, this is a prime requisite, that the would-be
helper should come down to the level of those whom he desires to aid.
If we wish to teach, we must stoop to think the scholar's thoughts.
The master who has forgotten his boyhood will have poor success. If we
would lead to purer emotions, we must try to enter into the lower
feelings which we labour to elevate. It is of no use to stand at the
mouth of the alleys we wish to cleanse, with our skirts daintily
gathered about us, and smelling-bottle in hand, to preach homilies on
the virtues of cleanliness. We must go in among the filth, and handle
it, if we want to have it cleared away. The degraded must feel that we
do not shrink from them, or we shall do them no good. The leper,
shunned by all, and ashamed of himself because everybody loathes him,
hungers in his hovel for the grasp of a hand that does not care for
defilement, if it can bring cleansing. Even in regard to common
material helps the principle holds good. We are too apt to cast our
doles to the poor like bones to a dog, and then to wonder at what we
are pleased to think men's ingratitude. A benefit may be so conferred
as to hurt more than a blow; and we cannot be surprised if so-called
charity which is given with contempt and a sense of superiority,
should be received with a scowl, and chafe a man's spirit like a
fetter. Such gifts bless neither him who gives nor him who takes. We
must put our hearts into them, if we would win hearts by them. We must
be ready, like our Master, to take blind beggars by the hand, if we
would bless or help them. The despair and opprobrium of our modern
civilisation; the gulf growing wider and deeper between Dives and
Lazarus, between Belgravia and Whitechapel; the mournful failure of
legalised help, and of delegated efforts to bridge it over, the
darkening ignorance, the animal sensuousness, the utter heathenism
that lives in every town of England, within a stone's-throw of
Christian houses, and near enough to hear the sound of public
worship--will yield to nothing but that sadly forgotten law which
enjoins personal contact with the sinful and the suffering, as one
chief condition of raising them from the black mire in which they

But the same law has its special application in regard to the
enterprise of Christian missions.

It defines the spirit in which Christian men should proclaim the
Gospel. The effect of much well-meant Christian effort is simply to
irritate. People are very quick to catch delicate intonations which
reveal a secret sense, 'how much better, wiser, more devout I am than
these people!' and wherever a trace of that appears in our work, the
good of it is apt to be marred. We all know how hackneyed the charge
of spiritual pride and Pharisaic self-complacency is, and, thank God,
how unjust it often is. But averse as men may be to the truths which
humble, and willing as they may be to assume that the very effort on
our parts to present these to others implies a claim which they
resent, we may at least learn from the threadbare calumny, what
strikes men about our position, and what rouses their antagonism to
us. It is allowable to be taught by our enemies, especially when it is
such a lesson as this, that we must carefully divest our evangelistic
work of apparent pretensions to superiority, and take our stand by the
side of those to whom we speak. We cannot lecture men into the love of
Christ, We can win them to it only by showing Christ's love to them;
and not the least important element in that process is the exhibition
of our own love. We have a Gospel to speak of which the very heart is
that the Son of God stooped to become one with the lowliest and most
sinful; and how can that Gospel be spoken with power unless we too
stoop like Him? We have to echo the invitation, 'Learn of Me, for I am
lowly in heart'; and how can such divine words flow from lips into
which like grace has not been poured? Our theme is a Saviour who
shrank from no sinner, who gladly consorted with publicans and
harlots, who laid His hand on pollution, and His heart, full of God
and of love, on hearts reeking with sin; and how can our message
correspond with our theme if, even in delivering it, we are saying to
ourselves, 'The Temple of the Lord are we: this people which knoweth
not the law is cursed'? Let us beware of the very real danger which
besets us in this matter, and earnestly seek to make ourselves one
with those whom we would gather into Christ, by actual familiarity
with their condition, and by identification of ourselves in feeling
with them, after the example of that greatest of Christian teachers
who became 'all things to all men, that by all means he might gain
some'; after the higher example, which Paul followed, of that dear
Lord who, being Highest, descended to the lowest, and in the days of
His humiliation was not content with speaking words of power from
afar, nor abhorred the contact of mortality and disease and loathsome
corruption; but laid His hands upon death, and it lived; upon
sickness, and it was whole; on rotting leprosy, and it was sweet as
the flesh of a little child.

The same principle might be further applied to our Christian work, as
affecting the form in which we should present the truth. The
sympathetic identification of ourselves with those to whom we try to
carry the Gospel will certainly make us wise to know how to shape our
message. Seeing with their eyes, we shall be able to graduate the
light. Thinking their thoughts, and having in some measure succeeded,
by force of sheer community of feeling, in having, as it were, got
inside their minds, we shall unconsciously, and without effort, be led
to such aspects of Christ's all-comprehensive truth as they most need.
There will be no shooting over people's heads, if we love them well
enough to understand them. There will be no toothless generalities,
when our interest in men keeps their actual condition and temptations
clear before us. There will be no flinging fossil doctrines at them
from a height, as if Christ's blessed Gospel were, in another than the
literal sense, 'a stone of offence,' if we have taken our place on
their level. And without such sympathy, these and a thousand other
weaknesses and faults will certainly vitiate much of our Christian

Let me not be misunderstood when I speak of adapting our presentation
of the Gospel to the wants of those to whom we carry it. That general
statement may express the plainest dictate of Christian prudence or
the most dangerous practical error. The one great truth of the Gospel
wants no adaptation, by our handling, to any soul of man. It is fitted
for all, and demands only plain, loving, earnest statement. There must
be no tampering with central verities, nor any diplomatic reserve on
the plea of consulting the needs of the men whom we address. Every
sinful spirit needs the simple Gospel of salvation by Jesus Christ
more than it needs anything else. Nor does adaptation mean deferential
stretching a point to meet man's wishes in our presentation of the
truth. Their wishes have to be contravened, that their wants may be
met. The truth which a man or a generation requires most is the truth
which he or it likes least; and the true Christian teacher's
adaptation of his message will consist quite as much in opposing the
desires and contradicting the lies, as in seeking to meet the felt
wants, of the world. Nauseous medicines or sharp lancets are adapted
to the sick man, quite as truly as pleasant food and soothing

But remembering all this, we still have a wide field for the operation
of practical wisdom and loving common-sense, in determining the form
of our message and the manner of our action. And not the least
important of qualifications for solving the problems connected
therewith is cheerful identification of ourselves with the thoughts
and feelings of those whom we would fain draw to the love of God. Such
contact with men will win their hearts, as well as soften ours, It
will make them willing to hear, as well as us wise to speak. It will
enrich our own lives with wide experience and multiplied interests. It
will lift us out of the enchanted circle which selfishness draws
around us. It will silently proclaim the Lord from whom we have learnt
it. The clasp of the hand will be precious, even apart from the virtue
that may flow from it, and may be to many a soul burdened with a
consciousness of corruption, the dawning of belief in a love that does
not shrink even from its foulness. Let us preach the Lord's touch as
the source of all cleansing. Let us imitate it in our lives, that 'if
any will not hear the word, they may without the word be won.'

IV. We have here the true healing power and the consciousness of
wielding it set forth in the Lord's authoritative word.

All the rest of His action was either the spontaneous expression of
His true participation in human sorrow, or a merciful veiling of His
glory that sense-bound eyes might see it the better. But the word was
the utterance of His will, and that was omnipotent. The hand laid on
the sick, the blind or the deaf was not even the channel of His power.
The bare putting forth of His energy was all-sufficient. In these we
see the loving, pitying man. In this blazes forth, yet more loving,
yet more compassionate, the effulgence of manifest God. Therefore so
often do we read the very syllables with which His 'voice then shook
the earth,' vibrating through all the framework of the material
universe. Therefore do the Gospels bid us listen when He rebukes the
fever, and it departs; when He says to the demons 'Go,' and they go;
when one word louder in its human articulation than the howling wind
hushes the surges; when 'Talitha cumi' brings back the fair young
spirit from dreary wanderings among the shades of death. Therefore was
it a height of faith not found in Israel when the Gentile soldier,
whose training had taught him the power of absolute authority, as
heathenism had driven him to long for a man who should speak with the
imperial sway of a god, recognised in His voice an all-commanding
power. From of old, the very signature of divinity has been declared
to be, 'He spake, and it was done'; and He, the breath of whose lips
could set in motion material changes, is that Eternal Word, by whom
all things were made.

What unlimited consciousness of sovereign dominion sounds in that
imperative from His autocratic lips! It is spoken in deaf ears, but He
knows that it will be heard. He speaks as the fontal source, not as
the recipient channel, of healing. He anticipates no delay, no
resistance. There is neither effort nor uncertainty in the curt
command. He is sure that He has power, and He is sure that the power
is His own.

There is no analogy here between us and Him. Alone, fronting the whole
race of man, He stands--utterer of a word which none can say after
Him, possessor of unshared might, 'and of His fulness do all we
receive.' But even from that divine authority and solitary sovereign
consciousness we may gather lessons of infinite value for all
Christian workers. Of His fulness we _have_ received, and the power of
the word on His lips may teach us that of His word even on ours, as
the victorious certainty with which He spake His will of healing may
remind us of the confidence with which it becomes us to proclaim His

His will was almighty then. Is it less mighty or less loving now? Does
it not gather all the world in the sweep of its mighty purpose of
mercy? His voice pierced then into the dull, cold ear of death, and
has it become weaker since? His word spoken _by_ Him was enough to
banish the foul spirits that run riot, swine-like, in the garden of
God in man's soul, trampling down and eating up its flowers and
fruitage; is the word spoken _of_ Him less potent to cast them out?
Were not all the mighty deeds which He wrought by the breath of His
lips on men's bodies prophecies of the yet mightier ones which His
Will of love, and the utterance of that Will by stammering lips, may
work on men's souls? Let us not in our faintheartedness number up our
failures, the deaf that will not hear, the dumb that will not speak
His praise, nor unbelievingly say, 'Christ's own word was mighty, but
the word concerning Christ is weak on our lips.' Not so; our lips are
unclean, and our words are weak, but His word--the utterance of His
loving Will that men should be saved--is what it always was and always
will be. We have it, brethren, to proclaim. Did our Master countenance
the faithless contrast between the living force of His word when He
dwelt on earth, and the feebleness of it as He speaks through His
servant? If He did, what did He mean when He said, 'He that believeth
on Me, the works that I do shall he do also, and greater works than
these shall he do, because I go unto the Father'?

And the reflection of Christ's triumphant consciousness of power
should irradiate our spirits as we do His work, like the gleam from
gazing on God's glory which shone on the lawgiver's stern face while
he talked with men. We have everything to assure us that we cannot
fail. The manifest fitness of the Gospel to be the food of all souls;
the victories of nineteen centuries, which at least prove that all
conditions of society, all classes of civilisation, all varieties of
race, all peculiarities of individual temperament, all depths of
degradation and distances of alienation, are capable of receiving the
word, which, like corn, can grow in every latitude, and, though it be
an exotic everywhere, can anywhere be naturalised; the firm promises
of unchanging faithfulness, the universal aspect of Christ's work, the
prevalence of His continual intercession, the indwelling of His
abiding Spirit, and, not least, the unerring voice of our own
experience of the power of the truth to bless and save--all these are
ours. In view of these, what should make us doubt? Unwavering
confidence is the only attitude that corresponds to such certainties.
We have a rock to build on; let us build on it _with_ rock. Putting
fear and hesitancy far from us, let us gird ourselves with the joyful
strength of assured victory, striking as those who know that conquest
is bound to their standard, and who through all the dust of the field
see the fair vision of the final triumph. The work is done before we
begin it. 'It is finished' was a clarion blast proclaiming that all
was won when all seemed lost. Weary ages have indeed to roll away
before the great voice from heaven shall declare, 'It is done'; but
all that lies between the two is but the gradual unfolding and
appropriating of the results which are already secured. The 'strong
man' is bound; what remains is but the 'spoiling of his house.' The
head is bruised; what remains is but the dying lashing of the snaky
horror's powerless coils. 'I send you to reap that whereon ye bestowed
no labour.' The tearful sowing in the stormy winter's day has been
done by the Son of Man. For us there remains the joy of harvest--hot
and hard work, indeed, but gladsome too.

Then, however languor and despondency may sometimes tempt us, thinking
of slow advancement and of dying men who fade from the place of the
living before the gradual light has reached their eyes, our duty is
plain--to be sure that the word we carry cannot fail. You remember the
old story how, when Jerusalem was in her hour of direst need, and the
army of Babylon lay around her battered walls, the prophet was bid to
buy 'the field that is in Anathoth, in the country of Benjamin,' for a
sign that the transient fury of the invader would be beaten back, that
Israel might again dwell safely in the land. So with us, the host of
our King's enemies comes up like a river strong and mighty; but all
this world, held though it be by the usurper is still 'Thy land, O
Immanuel,' and over it all Thy peaceful rule shall be established!

Many things in this day tempt the witnesses of God to speak with
doubting voice. Angry opposition, contemptuous denial, complacent
assumption that a belief in old-fashioned evangelical truth is, _ipso
facto_, a proof of mental weakness, abound. Let them not rob us of our
confidence. Shame on us if we let ourselves be frightened from it by a
sarcasm or a laugh! Do you fall back on all these grounds for assured
reliance to which I have referred, and make the good old answer yours,
'Why, herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not whence He is, and
yet--He hath opened mine eyes'!

Trust the word which you have to speak. Speak it and work for its
diffusion as if you did trust it. Do not preach it as if it were a
notion of your own. In so far as it is, it will share the fate of all
human conceptions of divine realities--'will have its day, and cease
to be.' Do not speak it as if it were some new nostrum for curing the
ills of humanity, which might answer or might not. Speak it as if it
were what it is--'the word of God which liveth and abideth for ever.'
Speak it as if you were what you are, neither its inventors nor its
discoverers, but only its messengers, who have but to 'preach the
preaching which He bids' you. And to all the widespread questionings
of this day, filmy and air-filling as the gossamers of an autumn
evening, to all the theories of speculation, and all the panaceas of
unbelieving philanthropy, present the solid certainties of your inmost
experience, and the yet more solid certainty of that all-loving name
and all-sufficient work on which these repose. '_We know_ that we are
of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. And we know that the
Son of God is come.' Then our proclamation, 'This is the true God and
eternal life,' will not be in vain; and our loving entreaty, 'Keep
yourselves from idols,' will be heard and yielded to in many a land.

The sum of the whole matter is briefly this. The root of all our
efficiency in this great task to which we, unworthy, have been called,
is in fellowship with Jesus Christ. 'The branch cannot bear fruit of
itself; without Me ye can do nothing.' Living near Him, and growing
like Him by gazing upon Him, His beauty will pass into our faces, His
tender pity into our hearts, His loving identification of Himself with
men's pains and sins will fashion our lives; and the word which He
spoke with authority and assured confidence will be strong when we
speak it with like calm certainty of victory. If the Church of Christ
will but draw close to her Lord till the fulness of His life and the
gentleness of His pity flow into her heart and limbs, she will then be
able to breathe the life which she has received into the prostrate
bulk of a dead world. Only she must do as the meekest of the prophets
did in a like miracle. She must not shrink from the touch of the cold
clay nor the odour of incipient corruption, but lip to lip and heart
to heart must lay herself upon the dead and he will live.

The pattern for our work, dear brethren, is before us in the Lord's
look, His sigh, His touch, His word. If we take Him for the example,
and Him for the motive, Him for the strength, Him for the theme, Him
for the reward, of our service, we may venture to look to Him as the
prophecy of our success, and to be sure that when our own faint hearts
or an unbelieving world question the wisdom of our enterprise or the
worth of our efforts, we may answer as He did, 'Go and show again
those things which ye do hear and see; the blind receive their sight,
and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the
dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached unto them.'


'And when Jesus knew It, He saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye
have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your
heart yet hardened? 18. Having eyes, see ye not? having ears, hear ye
not? and do ye not remember?'--Mark viii. 17,18.

How different were the thoughts of Christ and of His disciples, as
they sat together in the boat, making their way across the lake! He
was pursuing a train of sad reflections which, the moment before their
embarkation, had caused Him to sigh deeply in His spirit and say, 'Why
doth this generation seek after a sign?' Absorbed in thought, He
spoke, 'Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees,' who had been asking
that question.

So meditated and spoke Jesus in the stern, and amidships the
disciples' thoughts were only concerned about the negligent omission,
very excusable in the hurry of embarkation, by which they had
forgotten to lay in a fresh supply of provisions, and had set sail
with but one loaf left in the boat. So taken up were they with this
petty trouble that they twisted the Master's words as they fell from
His lips, and thought that He was rebuking them for what they were
rebuking themselves for. So apt are we to interpret others' sayings by
the thoughts uppermost in our own minds.

And then our Lord poured out this altogether unusual--perhaps I may
say unique--hail of questions which indicate how deeply moved from His
ordinary calm He was by this strange slowness of apprehension on the
part of His disciples. There is no other instance that I can recall in
the whole Gospels, with the exception of Gethsemane, where our Lord's
words seem to indicate such agitation of the windless sea of His
spirit as this rapid succession of rebuking interrogations. They give
a glimpse into the depths of His mind, showing us what He generally
kept sacredly shut up, and let us see how deeply He was touched and
pained by the slowness of apprehension of His servants.

Let us look at these questions as suggesting to us two things--the
grieved Teacher and the slow scholars.

I. The grieved Teacher.

I have said that the revelation of the depths of our Lord's experience
here is unexampled. We can understand the mood of which it is the
utterance; the feeling of despair that sometimes comes over the most
patient instructor when he finds that all his efforts to hammer some
truth into, or to print some impression on, the brain or heart of man
or boy, have been foiled, and that years, it may be, of patient work
have scarcely left more traces on unretentive minds than remain on the
ocean of the passage through it of a keel.

Christ felt that; and I do not think we half enough realise how large
an element in the sorrows of the Man of Sorrows, and of the grief with
which He was acquainted, was His necessary association with people
who, He felt, did not in the least degree understand Him, however
truly, blindly, and almost animally, they might love Him. It was His
disciples' misconception that stung him most. If I might so say, He
_calculated_ upon being misunderstood by Pharisees and outsiders, but
that these followers who had been gathered round about Him all these
months, and had been the subjects of His sedulous toil, should blurt
out such words as these which precede the question of my text, cut
deep into that loving heart. It was not only the pain of being
misunderstood, but also the pain of feeling that the people who cared
most for Him did not understand Him, and were so hard to drag up to
the level where they could even catch a glimpse of His meaning, that
struck His heart with almost a kind of despair; and, as I said, made
Him pour out this rain of questions.

And what do the questions suggest? Not only emotion very unusual in
Him, yet truly human, and showing Him to be our Brother; but they
suggest three distinct types of emotion, all of them dashed with pain.

'Why reason ye? Having eyes, see ye not? Do ye not remember?' That
speaks of His astonishment. Do not start at the word, or suppose that
it in any degree contradicts the lofty beliefs that I suppose most of
us have with regard to the Deity of our Lord and Saviour. We find in
another place in the Gospels, not by inference as here, but in plain
words, the ascription to Him of wonder; 'He marvelled at their
unbelief.' And we read of a more blessed kind of surprise as having
once been His, when He wondered at the faith of the heathen centurion.
But here His astonishment is that after all these years of toil, and
of sympathy, and of discipleship, and of listening and trying to get
hold of His meaning, His disciples were so far away from any
understanding of what He was driving at. He had to learn by experience
the depths of men's stupidity and ignorance. And although He was the
Word of God made flesh, we recognise here the token of a true brother
in that He was capable not only of the physical feelings of weariness,
and hunger, and thirst, and pain, but that He, too, had that emotion
which only a limited understanding can have--the emotion of wonder.
And it was drawn out by His disciples' denseness and inertness.

Ah! dear friends, does He not wonder at us? One of the prophets says,
'Be astonished, O heavens!' And be sure of this, that the manhood of
Jesus Christ is not now so lifted up above what it was upon earth as
that that same sensation--twin-sister to yours and mine--of surprise,
does not sometimes visit Him when He looks down upon us; and has to
say to us--as, alas! He has to say--what He once said to one of the
Twelve, 'Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not
known me, Philip?' Is not the same question coming to us? Why is it
that we do not understand?

Wonder, then, is the first emotion that is expressed in this question.
There is another one: Pain. And there again I fall back not upon
inference, but upon plain words of another part of the Gospels. 'He
looked round upon them with anger, being _grieved_ at the hardness of
their hearts.' It seems daring to venture to say that the exalted and
glorified humanity of Jesus Christ to-day is, in any measure, capable
of feeling analogous to that; but it will not seem so daring if you
remember the solemn charge of one of the Apostles, 'Grieve not the
Holy Spirit of God.' It is Christ's disciples that pain Him most.
'They vexed His Holy Spirit, therefore He fought against them.'
Brethren, let us look into our own hearts and our own lives, and ask
ourselves if there is not something there that gives a pang even to
the heart of the glorified Master, and makes Him sigh deeply within

May I add one more emotion which seems to me to be unmistakably
expressed by this rapid fusilade of questions? That is indignation.
Again I fall back upon plain words: 'He looked round about upon them
with anger, being grieved.' The two things were braided together in
His heart, and did not conflict with each other There were infinite
sorrow, infinite pity, and real displeasure. You must take all notions
of passion and of malignity, and of desire to do harm to the subject,
out of the conception of anger as applied to God or to Christ who is
the revelation of God. But it seems to me that it is a maimed Christ
that we put before the world unless we say that in the Love there lie
the possibilities of Wrath. 'Behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah,
and I beheld, and lo! a Lamb!' Wrath and gentleness are in Him
inseparably united, neither of them limiting nor making impossible the

So here we have a self-revelation, as by one glimpse into a great
chamber, of the deep heart of Christ, the great Teacher, moved to
astonishment, grief, and indignation.

II. Now let me say a word about the slow scholars.

I have spoken of these questions as being rapid and repeated, and as a
rain of what we may almost call fiery interrogation. But they are by
no means tautology or useless and aimless repetition. If we look at
them closely, I think we shall see that they open out to us several
different sides and phases of the fault in His disciples that moves
these emotions.

There is, first, His scholars' stolid insensibility, which moves Him
to anger, to astonishment, and to grief. 'Are your hearts yet
hardened?' by which is meant, not hardened in the sense of being
suddenly and stiffly set in antagonism to Him, but simply in the sense
of being--may I use the word?--so pachydermatous, so thick-skinned,
that nothing can go through them. They showed it is a dull, stolid
insensibility, and it marks some of us professing Christians, on whom
promises and invitations and revelations of truth all fall with equal
ineffectiveness, and from whom they glide off with equal rapidity. You
may rain upon a black basalt rock to all eternity, and nothing will
grow upon it. All the drops will run down the polished sides, and a
quarter of an inch below the surface it will be as dry as it was
before the first drop fell. And here are we Christian ministers,
talk--talk--talking, week in and week out; and here is Christ, by His
providences and by His word, speaking far more loudly than any of us;
and it all falls with absolute impotence on hosts of people that call
themselves Christians. Ah! brethren, it is not only unbelievers who
have their hearts hardened. Orthodox professors are often guilty of
the same. If I might alter the metaphor, many of us have waterproofed
our minds, and the ingredients of the mixture by which we have
waterproofed them are our knowledge of 'the plan of salvation,' our
connection with a Christian community, our membership in a church, our
obedience to the formalisms of the devout life. All these have only
made a non-transmitting medium interposed between ourselves and the
concentrated electric energy that ever flashes from Jesus Christ. Our
hardened hearts, with their stolid insensibility, amaze our Master,
and no wonder that they do.

But that is not all. There is not only what I have ventured to call
stolid insensibility, but, as a result of it, there is the not using
the capacities that we have. 'Having eyes, see ye not? Having ears,
hear ye not?' We are not like children that cannot, but like careless,
untrained schoolboys that will not, learn. We have the capacity, and
it is our own fault that we are dunces in the school, and at the
bottom of the class. Use the power that you have, and 'unto him that
hath shall be given, and he shall have in abundance.' There are fishes
in the caverns of North America that have lived so long in the dark,
underground channels, that the present generation of them has no eyes.
We are doing our best to deprive ourselves of our capacities of
beholding by refusing to use them. 'Having eyes, see ye not?' Our
non-use of the powers we have amazes and grieves our Master.

Further, the reason why there are this stolid insensibility and this
non-use of capacity lies here: 'Ye reason about the bread.' The
absorption of our minds and efforts and time with material things,
that perish with the using, come in between us and our apprehension of
Christ's teaching. Ah! brethren, it is not only the rich man that is
swallowed up with the present world; the poor man may be so as really.
All of us, by reason of the absolute necessities of our lives, are in
danger of getting our hearts so filled and crowded with the things
that are 'seen and temporal' that we have no time, nor room, for the
things that are 'unseen and eternal.' I do not need to elaborate that
point. We all know that it is there that our danger, in various forms,
lies. If you in the bows of the ship are reasoning about bread, you
will misunderstand Christ in the stern warning against 'the leaven of
the Pharisees.'

The last suggestion from these questions is that the cure for all that
stolid insensibility, and its resulting misuse of capacity, and the
absorption in daily visible things, is remembrance of His and our
past--'Do ye not remember?' It was only that same morning, or the day
before at the furthest, that one of the miracles of feeding the
thousands had been performed. Christ wonders, as well He might, at the
short memories of the disciples who, with the baskets-full of
fragments scarcely eaten yet, could worry themselves because there was
only one loaf in the locker. 'Do ye not remember, when I broke the
loaves among the thousands, how many baskets took ye up? And they
said, seven. And He said, How is it that ye do not understand?' Yes,
Memory is the one wing and Hope the other, that lift our heaviness
from earth towards heaven. And any man who will bethink himself of
what Jesus Christ has been for him, did for him on earth, and has done
for him during his life, will not be so absorbed in worldly cares as
that he will have no eyes to see the things unseen and eternal; and
the hard, dead insensibility of his heart will melt into thankful
consecration, and so he will rise nearer and nearer to intelligent
apprehension of the lofty and deep things that the Incarnate Word says
to him. We are here in Christ's school, and it depends upon the place
in the class that we take here where we shall be put at what
schoolboys call the 'next remove.' If here we have indeed 'learned of
Him the truth as it is in Jesus,' we shall be put up into the top
classes yonder, and get larger and more blessed lessons in the
Father's house above.


'Do ye not remember!'--Mark viii. 18.

The disciples had misunderstood our Lord's warning 'against the leaven
of the Pharisees,' which they supposed to have been occasioned by
their neglect to bring with them bread. Their blunder was like many
others which they committed, but it seems to have singularly moved our
Lord, who was usually so patient with His slow scholars. The swift
rain of questions, like bullets rattling against a cuirass, of which
my text is one, shows how much He was moved, if not to impatience or
anger, at least to wonder.

But what I wish particularly to notice is that He traces the
disciples' slowness of perception and distrust mainly to
forgetfulness. There was a special reason for that, of course, in that
the two miracles of the feeding the multitude, one of which had just
before occurred, ought to have delivered them from any uneasiness, and
to have led them to apprehend His higher meaning.

But there is a wider reason for the collocation of questions than
this. There is no better armour against distrust, nor any surer purge
of our spiritual sight, than religious remembrance. So my text falls
in with what I hope are, or at any rate should be, thoughts which are
busy in many of our hearts now. Every Sunday is the last Sunday of a
year. But we are influenced by the calendar, even though there is
nothing in reality to correspond with the apparent break, and though
time runs on in a continuous course. I would fain say a word or two
now which may fit in with thoughts that are wholesome for us always,
but, I suppose, come with most force to most of us at such a date as
this. And, if you will let me, I will put my observations in the form
of exhortations.

I. First of all, then, remember and be thankful.

There are few of us who have much time for retrospect, and there is a
very deep sense in which it is wise to 'forget the things that are
behind,' for the remembrance of them may burden us with a miserable
entail of failure; may weaken us by vain regrets, may unfit us for
energetic action in the living and available present. But oblivion is
foolish, if it is continual, and a remembered past has treasures in it
which we can little afford to lose.

Chiefest of these is the power of memory, when applied to our own past
lives, to bring out, more clearly than was possible while that past
was being lived, the perception of the ever-present care and working
of our Father, God. It is hard to recognise Him in the bustle and
hurry of our daily lives, and the meaning of each event can only be
seen when it is seen in its relation to the rest of a life. Just as a
landscape, which we may look at without the smallest perception of its
beauty, becomes another thing when the genius of a painter puts it on
canvas, and its symmetry and proportion become more manifest, and an
ethereal clearness broods over it, and its colours are seen to be
deeper than our eyes had discerned, so the common events of life,
trivial and insignificant while they are passing, become, when painted
on the canvas of memory, nobler and greater, and we understand them
more completely than we can do whilst we are living in them.

We need to be at the goal in order to judge of the road. The parts are
only explicable when we see the whole. The full interpretation of
to-day is reserved for eternity. But, by combining and massing and
presenting the consequences of the apparently insignificant and
isolated events of the past, memory helps us to a clearer perception
of God, and a better understanding of our own lives, On the
mountain-summit a man can look down all along the valley by which he
has wearily plodded, and understand the meaning of the divergences in
the road, and the rough places do not look quite so rough when their
proportion to the whole is a little more clearly in his view.

Only, brethren, if we are wisely to exercise remembrance, and to
discover God in the lives which, whilst they are passing, had little
perception of Him, we must take into account what the meaning of all
life is--that is, to make men of us after the pattern of His will.

'Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way.'

But the growth of Christlike and God-pleasing character is the divine
purpose, and should be the human aim, of all lives. Our tasks, our
joys, our sorrows, our gains, our losses--these are all but the
scaffolding, and the scaffolding is only there in order that, course
upon course, may rise the temple-palace of a spirit, devoted to,
shaped and inhabited by, our Father, God.

So I venture to say that thankful remembrance should exclude no single
incident, however bitter, however painful, of any life. There is a
remembrance of vanished hands, of voices for ever stilled, which is
altogether wrong and weakening. There is a regret, a vain regret which
comes with memory for some of us, that interferes with thankfulness.

But it is possible--and, if we understand that the meaning of all is
to make us Godlike, it is not hard--to remember vanished joys, and to
confer upon them by remembrance a kind of gentle immortality. And,
thus remembered, they are ennobled; for all the gross material body of
them, as it were, is got rid of, and only the fine spirit is left. The
roses bloom, and over bloom, and drop, but a poignant perfume is
distilled from the fallen petals. The departed are greatened by
distance; when they are gone we recognise the 'angels' that we
'entertained unawares': and that recognition is no illusion, but it is
the disclosure of their real character, to which they were sometimes
untrue, and we were often blind. Therefore I say, 'Thou shalt remember
all the way by which the Lord thy God hath led thee,' and in the
thankfulness include departed joys, vanished hands, present sorrows,
the rough places as well as the smooth, the crooked things as well as
the straight.

II. Secondly, let me say, remember and repent.

Memory is not wise unless it is, so to speak, the sergeant-at-arms of
Conscience, and brings our past before the bar of that judge within,
and puts into the hands of that judge the law of the Lord by which to
estimate our deeds. We all have been making up our accounts to the
31st of December--or are going to do it to-morrow. And what I plead
for is that we should take stock of our own characters and aims, and
sum up our accounts with duty and with God.

We look back upon a past, of which God gave us the warp and we had to
put in the woof. The warp is all bright and pure. The threads that
have crossed it from our shuttles are many of them very dark, and all
of them stained in some part. So, dear brethren, let us take the year
that has gone, and spread them out by the agency of this servant of
the court, Memory, before the supreme judge, Conscience.

Let us remember that we may be warned and directed. We shall
understand the true moral character of our actions a great deal better
when we look back upon them calmly, and when all the rush of
temptation and the reducing whispers of our own weak wills are
silenced. There is nothing more terrible, in one aspect, there is
nothing more salutary and blessed in another, than the difference
between the front and the back view of any temptation to which we
yield--all radiant and beautiful on the hither side, and when we get
past it and look back at it, all hideous. Like some of those painted
canvases upon the theatre-stage: seen from this side, with the
delusive brilliancy of the footlights thrown upon them, they look
beautiful works of art; seen at the back, dirty and cobwebbed canvas,
all splashes and spots and uglinesses. Let us be thankful if memory
can show us the reverse side of the temptations that on the near side
were so seductive.

It is when you see your life in retrospect that you understand the
significance of the single deeds in it. We are so apt to isolate our
actions that we are startled--and it is a wholesome shock--when we see
how, without knowing it, we have dropped into a habit. When each
temptation comes, as the moments are passing, we say, 'Oh, just this
once, just this once.' And the '_onces_' come nearer and nearer
together; and what seem to be distinctly separated points, coalesce
into a line; and the acts that we thought isolated we find out to our
horror--our wholesome horror--have become a chain that binds and holds
us. Look back over the year, and drag its events to the bar of
Conscience, and I shall be surprised if you do not discover that you
have fallen into wrong habits that you never dreamed had dominion over
you. So, I say, remember and repent.

Brethren, I do not wish to exaggerate, I do not wish to urge upon you
one-sided views of your character or conduct. I give all credit to
many excellences, many acts of sacrifice, many acts of service; and
yet I say that the main reason why any of us have a good opinion of
ourselves is because we have no knowledge of ourselves; and that the
safest attitude for all of us, in looking back over what we have made
of life, is, hands on mouths, and mouths in dust, and the cry coming
from them, 'Unclean! unclean!' A little mud in a stream may not be
perceptible when you take a wine-glassful of it and look at it, but if
you saw a river-full or a lake-full you would soon discover the taint.
Summon up the past year to the sessions of silent thought, and let the
light of God's will pour in upon it, and you will find how dark has
been the flow of the river of your lives.

The best use which the memory can serve for us is that it should drive
us closer to Jesus Christ, and make us cling more closely to Him. That
past can be cancelled, these multitudinous sins can be forgiven.
Memory should be one of the strongest strands in the cord that binds
our helplessness to the all-forgiving and all-cleansing Christ.

III. Lastly, let me say, remember and hope.

Memory and Hope are twins. The latter can only work with the materials
supplied by the former. Hope could paint nothing on the blank canvas
of the future unless its palette were charged by Memory. Memory brings
the yarn which Hope weaves.

Our thankful remembrance of a past which was filled and moulded by
God's perpetual presence and care ought to make us sure of a future
which will in like manner be moulded. 'Thou hast been my help'--if we
can say that, then we may confidently pray, and be sure of the answer,
'Leave me not nor forsake me, O God of my salvation.' And if we feel,
as memory teaches us to feel, that God has been working for us, and
with us, we can say with another Psalmist: 'Thy mercy, O Lord,
endureth for ever. Forsake not the work of Thine own hands'; and we
can rise to his confidence, 'The Lord with perfect that which
concerneth me.'

Our remembrance, even of our imperfections and our losses and our
sorrows, may minister to our hope. For surely the life of every man on
earth, but most eminently the life of a Christian man, is utterly
unintelligible, a mockery and a delusion and an incredibility, if
there be a God at all, unless it prophesies of a region in which
imperfection will be ended, aspirations will be fulfilled, desires
will be satisfied. We have so much, that unless we are to have a great
deal more, we had better have had nothing. We have so much, that if
there be a God at all, we must have a great deal more. The new moon,
with a ragged edge, 'even in its imperfection beautiful,' is a prophet
of the complete resplendent orb. 'On earth the broken arc, in heaven
the perfect round.'

Further, the memory of defeat may be the parent of the hope of
victory. The stone Ebenezer, 'Hitherto hath the Lord helped us,' was
set up to commemorate a victory that had been won on the very site
where Israel, fighting the same foes, had once been beaten. There is
no remembrance of failure so mistaken as that which takes the past
failure as certain to be repeated in the future. Surely, though we
have fallen seventy times seven--that is 490, is it not?--at the 491st
attempt we may, and if we trust in God we shall, succeed.

So, brethren, let us set our faces to a new year with thankful
remembrance of the God who has shaped the past, and will mould the
future. Let us remember our failures, and learn wisdom and humility
and trust in Christ from our sins. Let us set our 'hope on God, and
not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments.'


'And Jesus cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto Him,
and besought Him to touch him. 23. And He took the blind man by the
hand, and led him out of the town; and when He had spit on his eyes,
and put His hands upon Him, He asked him if he saw ought. 24. And he
looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. 25. After that He
put His hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was
restored, and saw every man clearly.'--Mark viii. 22-25.

This miracle, which is only recorded by the Evangelist Mark, has about
it several very peculiar features. Some of these it shares with one
other of our Lord's miracles, which also is found only in this Gospel,
and which occurred nearly about the same time--that miracle of healing
the deaf and dumb man recorded in the previous chapter. Both of them
have these points in common: that our Lord takes the sufferer apart
and works His miracle in privacy; that in both there is an abundant
use of the same singular means--our Lord's touch and the saliva upon
His finger; and that in both there is the urgent injunction of entire
secrecy laid upon the recipient of the benefit.

But this miracle had another peculiarity in which it stands absolutely
alone, and that is that the work is done in stages; that the power
which at other times has but to speak and it is done, here seems to
labour, and the cure comes slowly; that in the middle Christ pauses,
and, like a physician trying the experiment of a drug, asks the
patient if any effect is produced, and, getting the answer that some
mitigation is realised, repeats the application, and perfect recovery
is the result.

Now, how unlike that is to all the rest of Christ's miraculous working
we do not need to point out; but the question may arise, What is the
meaning, and what the reason, and what the lessons of this unique and
anomalous form of miraculous working? It is to that question that I
wish to turn now; for I think that the answer will open up to us some
very precious things in regard to that great Lord, the revelation of
whose heart and character is the inmost and the loftiest meaning of
both His words and His works.

I take these three points of peculiarity to which I have referred: the
privacy, the strange and abundant use of means veiling the miraculous
power, and the gradual, slow nature of the cure. I see in them these
three things: Christ isolating the man that He would heal; Christ
stooping to the sense-bound nature by using outward means; and Christ
making His power work slowly, to keep abreast of the man's slow faith.

I. First, then, here we have Christ isolating the man whom He wanted
to heal.

Now, there may have been something about our Lord's circumstances and
purposes at the time of this miracle which accounted for the great
urgency with which at this period He impressed secrecy upon all around
Him. What that was it is not necessary for us to inquire here, but
this is worth noticing, that in obedience to this wish, on His own
part, for privacy at the time, He covers over with a veil His
miraculous working, and does it quietly, as one might almost say, in a
corner. He never sought to display His miraculous working; here He
absolutely tries to hide it. That fact of Christ's taking pains to
conceal His miracle carries in it two great truths--first, about the
purpose and nature of miracles in general, and second, about His
character--as to each of which a few words may be said.

This fact, of a miracle done in intended secrecy, and shrouded in deep
darkness, suggests to us the true point of view from which to look at
the whole subject of miracles.

People say they were meant to be attestations of His divine mission.
Yes, no doubt that is true partially; but that was never the sole nor
even the main purpose for which they were wrought; and when any one
asked Jesus Christ to work a miracle for that purpose only, He rebuked
the desire and refused to gratify it. He wrought His miracles, not
coldly, in order to witness to His mission, but every one of them was
the token, because it was the outcome, of His own sympathetic heart
brought into contact with human need. And instead of the miracles of
Jesus Christ being cold, logical proofs of His mission, they were all
glowing with the earnestness of a loving sympathy, and came from Him
at sight of sorrow as naturally as rays beam out from the sun.

Then, on the other hand, the same fact carries with it, too, a lesson
about His character. Is not He here doing what He tells us to do; 'Let
not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth'? He dares not wrap
His talent in a napkin, He would be unfaithful to His mission if He
hid His light under a bushel. All goodness 'does good by stealth,'
even if it does not 'blush to find it fame'--and that universal mark
of true benevolence marked His. He had to solve in His human life what
we have to solve, the problem of keeping the narrow path between
ostentation of powers and selfish concealment of faculty; and He
solved it thus, 'leaving us an example that we should follow in His

But that is somewhat aside from the main purpose to which I intended
to turn in these first remarks. Christ did not invest the miracle with
any of its peculiarities for His own sake only. All that is singular
about it, will, I think, find its best explanation in the condition
and character of the subject, the man on whom it was wrought. What
sort of a man was he? Well, the narrative does not tell us much, but
if we use our historical imagination and our eyes we may learn
something about him. First he was a Gentile; the land in which the
miracle was wrought was the half-heathen country on the east side of
the Sea of Galilee. In the second place, it was other people that
brought him; he did not come of his own accord. Then again, it is
their prayer that is mentioned, not his--he asked nothing.

You see him standing there hopeless, listless; not believing that this
Jewish stranger is going to do anything for him; with his impassive
blind face glowing with no entreaty to reinforce his companions'
prayers. And suppose he was a man of that sort, with no expectation of
anything from this Rabbi, how was Christ to get at him? It is of no
use to speak to him. His eyes are shut, so cannot see the sympathy
beaming in His face. There is one thing possible--to lay hold of Him
by the hand; and the touch, gentle, loving, firm, says this at least:
'Here is a man that has some interest in me, and whether He can do
anything or not for me, He is going to try something.' Would not that
kindle an expectation in him? And is it not in parable just exactly
what Jesus Christ does for the whole world? Is not that act of His by
which He put out His hand and seized the unbelieving limp hand of the
blind man that hung by his side, the very same in principle as that by
which He 'taketh hold of the seed of Abraham,' and is made like to His
brethren? Are not the mystery of the Incarnation and the meaning of it
wrapped up as in a germ in that little simple incident, 'He put out
His hand and touched him'?

Is there not in it, too, a lesson for all you good-hearted Christian
men and women, in all your work? If you want to do anything for your
afflicted brethren, there is only one way to do it-to come down to
their level and get hold of their hands, and then there is some chance
of doing them good. We must be content to take the hands of beggars if
we are to make the blind to see.

And then, having thus drawn near to the man, and established in his
heart some dim expectation of something coming, He gently led him away
out of the little village. I wonder no painter has ever painted that,
instead of repeating _ad nauseam_ two or three scenes out of the
Gospels. I wonder none of them has ever seen what a parable it is--the
Christ leading the blind man out into solitude before He can say to
him, 'Behold!' How, as they went, step by step, the poor blind eyes
not telling the man where they were going, or how far away he was
being taken from his friends, his conscious dependence upon this
stranger would grow! How he would feel more and more at each step, 'I
am at His mercy; what is He going to do with me?' And how thus there
would be kindled in his heart some beginnings of an expectation, as
well as some surrendering of himself to Christ's guidance! These two
things, the expectation and the surrender, have in them, at all
events, some faint beginnings and rude germs of the highest faith, to
lead up to which is the purpose of all that Christ here does.

And is not that what He does for us all? Sometimes by sorrows,
sometimes by sick-beds, sometimes by shutting us out from chosen
spheres of activity, sometimes by striking down the dear ones at our
sides, and leaving us lonely in the desert-is He not saying to us in a
thousand ways, 'Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place'? As
Israel was led into the wilderness that God might 'speak to her
heart,' so often Christ draws us aside, if not by outward providences
such as these, yet by awaking in us the solemn sense of personal
responsibility and making us feel our solitude, that He may lead us to
feel His all-sufficient companionship.

Ah! brethren, here is a lesson from all this--if you wish Jesus Christ
to give you His highest gifts and to reveal to you His fairest beauty,
you must be alone with Him. He loves to deal with single souls. Our
lives, many of them, can never be outwardly alone. We are jammed up
against one another in such a fashion, and the hurry and pressure of
city life is so great with us all, that it is often impossible for us
to secure outward secrecy and solitude. But a man maybe alone in a
crowd; the heart may be gathered up into itself, and there may be a
still atmosphere round about us in the shop and in the market and
amongst the busy ways of men, in which we and Christ shall be alone
together. Unless there be, I do not think any of us will see the King
in His beauty or the far-off land. 'I was left alone, and I saw this
great vision,' is the law for all true beholding.

So, dear brethren, try to feel how awful this earthly life of ours is
in its necessary solitude; that each of us by himself must shape out
his own destiny, and make his own character; that every unit of the
swarms upon our streets is a unit that has to face the solemn facts of
life for and by itself; that alone we live, that alone we shall die;
that alone we shall have to give account of ourselves before God, and
in the solitude let the hand of your heart feel for His hand that is
stretched out to grasp yours, and listen to Him saying, 'Lo! I am with
you always, even to the end of the world.' There was no dreariness in
the solitude when it was _Christ_ that 'took the blind man by the hand
and led him out of the city.'

II. We have Christ stooping to a sense-bound nature by the use of
material helps.

No doubt there was something in the man, as I have said, which made it
advisable that these methods should be adopted. If he were the sort of
person that I have described, slow of faith, not much caring about the
possibility of cure, and not having much hope that any cure would come
to pass--then we can see the fitness of the means adopted: the hand
laid upon the eyes, the finger, possibly moistened with saliva,
touching the ball, the pausing to question, the repeated application.
These make a ladder by which his hope and confidence might climb to
the apprehension of the blessing. And that points to a general
principle of the divine dealings. God stoops to a feeble faith, and
gives to it outward things by which it may rise to an apprehension of
spiritual realities.

Is not that the meaning of the whole complicated system of Old
Testament revelation? Is not that the meaning of the altars, and
priests, and sacrifices, and the old cumbrous apparatus of the Mosaic
law? Was it not all a picture-book in which the infant eyes of the
race might see in a material form deep spiritual realities? Was not
that the meaning and explanation of our Lord's parabolic teaching? He
veils spiritual truth in common things that He may reveal it by common
things--taking fishermen's boats, their nets, a sower's basket, a
baker's dough, and many another homely article, and finding in them
the emblems of the loftiest truth.

Is not that the meaning of His own Incarnation? It is of no use to
talk to men about God--let them see Him; no use to preach about
principles--give them the facts of His life. Revelation does not
consist in the setting forth of certain propositions about God, but in
the exhibition of the acts of God in a human life.

'And so the Word had breath, and wrought
With human hands the creed of creeds.'

And still further, may we not say that this is the inmost meaning and
purpose of the whole frame of the material universe? It exists in
order that, as a parable and a symbol, it may proclaim the things that
are unseen and eternal. Its depths and heights, its splendours and its
energies are all in order that through them spirits may climb to the
apprehension of the 'King, eternal, immortal, invisible,' and the
realities of His spiritual kingdom.

So in regard to all the externals of Christianity, forms of worship,
ordinances, and so on--all these, in like manner, are provided in
condescension to our weakness, in order that by them we may be lifted
above themselves; for the purpose of the Temple is to prepare for the
time and the place where the seer 'saw no temple therein.' They are
but the cups that carry the wine, the flowers whose chalices bear the
honey, the ladders by which the soul may climb to God Himself, the
rafts upon which the precious treasure may be floated into our hearts.

If Christ's touch and Christ's saliva healed, it was not because of
anything in them; but because He willed it so; and He Himself is the
source of all the healing energy. Therefore, let us keep these
externals in their proper place of subordination, and remember that in
Him, not in them, lies the healing power; and that even Christ's touch
may become the object of superstitious regard, as it was when that
poor woman came through the crowd to lay her finger on the hem of His
garment, thinking that she could bear away a surreptitious blessing
without the conscious outgoing of His power. He healed her because
there was a spark of faith in her superstition, but she had to I earn
that it was not the hem of the garment but the loving will of Christ
that cured, in order that the dross of superstitious reliance on the
outward vehicle might be melted away, and the pure gold of faith in
His love and power might remain.

III. Lastly, we have Christ accommodating the pace of His power to the
slowness of the man's faith.

The whole story, as I have said, is unique, and especially this part
of it--'He put His hands upon him, and asked him if he saw aught.' One
might have expected an answer with a little more gratitude in it, with
a little more wonder in it, with a little more emotion in it. Instead
of these it is almost surly, or at any rate strangely reticent-a
matter-of-fact answer to the question, and there an end. As our
Revised Version reads it better: 'I see men, for I behold them as
trees walking.' Curiously accurate! A dim glimmer had come into the
eye, but there is not yet distinctness of outline nor sense of
magnitude, which must be acquired by practice. The eye has not yet
been educated, and it was only because these blurred figures were in
motion that he knew they were not trees. 'After that He put His hands
upon his eyes and made him look up,' or, as the Revised Version has it
with a better reading, 'and he looked steadfastly,' with an eager
straining of the new faculty to make sure that he had got it, and to
test its limits and its perfection. 'And he was restored and saw all
things clearly.'

Now I take it that the worthiest view of that strangely protracted
process, broken up into two halves by the question that is dropped
into the middle, is this, that it was determined by the man's faith,
and was meant to increase it. He was healed slowly because he believed
slowly. His faith was a condition of his cure, and the measure of it
determined the measure of the restoration; and the rate of the growth
of his faith settled the rate of the perfecting of Christ's work on
him. As a rule, faith in His power to heal was a condition of Christ's
healing, and that mainly because our Lord would rather make men
believing than sound of body. They often wanted only the outward
miracle, but He wanted to make it the means of insinuating a better
healing into their spirits. And so, not that there was any necessary
connection between their faith and the exercise of His miraculous
power, but in order that He might bless them with His best gifts, He
usually worked on the principle 'According to your faith be it unto
you.' And here, as a nurse or a mother with her child might do, He
keeps step with the little steps, and goes slowly because the man goes

Now, both the gradual process of illumination and the rate of that
process as determined by faith, are true for us. How dim and partial a
glimmer of light comes to many a soul at the outset of the Christian
life! How little a new convert knows about God and self and the starry
truths of His great revelation! Christian progress does not consist in
seeing new things, but in seeing the old things more clearly: the same
Christ, the same Cross, only more distinctly and deeply apprehended,
and more closely incorporated into my very being. We do not grow away
from Him, but we grow into knowledge of Him. The first lesson that we
get is the last lesson that we shall learn, and He is the 'Alpha' at
the beginning, and the 'Omega' at the end of that alphabet, the
letters of which make up our knowledge for earth and heaven.

But then let me remind you that just in the measure in which you
expect blessing of any kind, illumination and purifying and help of
all sorts from Jesus Christ, just in that measure will you get it. You
can limit the working of Almighty power, and can determine the rate at
which it shall work on you. God fills the water-pots 'to the brim,'
but not beyond the brim; and if, like the woman in the Old Testament
story, we stop bringing vessels, the oil will stop flowing. It is an
awful thing to think that we have the power, as it were, to turn a
stopcock, and so increase or diminish, or cut off altogether, the
supply of God's mercy and Christ's healing and cleansing love in our
hearts. You will get as much of God as you want and no more. The
measure of your desire is the measure of your capacity, and the
measure of your capacity is the measure of God's gift. 'Open thy mouth
wide and I will fill it!' And if your faith is heavily shod and steps
slowly, His power and His grace will step slowly along with it,
keeping rank and step. 'According to your faith shall it be unto you.'

Ah! dear friends, 'Ye are not straitened in Me, ye are straitened in
yourselves.' Desire Him to help and bless you, and He will do it.
Expect Him to do it, and He will do it. Go to Him like the other blind
man and say to Him--'Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me, that
I may receive my sight,' and He will lay His hand upon you, and at any
rate a glimmer will come, which will grow in the measure of your
humble, confident desire, until at last He takes you by the hand and
leads you out of this poor little village of a world and lays His
finger for a brief moment of blindness upon your eyes and asks you if
you see aught. Then you will look up, and the first face that you will
behold will be His, whom you saw 'as through a glass darkly' with your
dim eyes in this twilight world.

May that be your experience and mine, through His mercy!


'And Jesus went out, and His disciples, into the towns of Caesarea
Philippi: and by the way He asked His disciples, saying unto them,
Whom do men say that I am? 28. And they answered, John the Baptist:
but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets. 29. And He saith
unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith
unto Him, Thou art the Christ. 30. And He charged them that they
should tell no man of Him. 31. And He began to teach them, that the
Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and
of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days
rise again. 32. And He spake that saying openly. And Peter took Him,
and began to rebuke Him. 33. But when He had turned about and looked
on His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan:
for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that
be of men. 34. And when He had called the people unto Him with His
disciples also, He said unto them, Whosoever will come after Me, let
him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 35. For
whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose
his life for My sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. 36 For
what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose
his own soul? 37. Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
38. Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of Me and of My words in this
adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of Man be
ashamed, when He cometh in the glory of His Father with the holy
angels. IX. 1. And He said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That
there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death,
till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.'--Mark viii.
27-ix. 1.

Our Lord led His disciples away from familiar ground into the
comparative seclusion of the country round Caesarea Philippi, in order
to tell them plainly of His death. He knew how terrible the
announcement would be, and He desired to make it in some quiet spot,
where there would be collectedness and leisure to let it sink into
their minds. His consummate wisdom and perfect tenderness are equally
and beautifully shown in His manner of disclosing the truth which
would try their faithfulness and fortitude. From the beginning He had
given hints, gradually increasing in clearness; and now the time had
come for full disclosure. What a journey that was! He, with the heavy
secret filling His thoughts; they, dimly aware of something absorbing
Him, in which they had no part. And at last, 'in the way,' as if moved
by some sudden impulse--like that which we all know, leading us to
speak out abruptly what we have long waited to say--He gives them a
share in the burden of His thought. But, even then, note how He leads
up to it by degrees. This passage has the announcement of the Cross as
its centre, prepared for, on the one hand, by a question, and
followed, on the other, by a warning that His followers must travel
the same road.

I. Note the preparation for the announcement of the Cross (verses
27-30). Why did Christ begin by asking about the popular judgment of
His personality? Apparently in order to bring clearly home to the
disciples that, as far as the masses were concerned, His work and
theirs had failed, and had, for net result, total misconception. Who
that had the faintest glimmer of what He was could suppose that the
stern, fiery spirits of Elijah or John had come to life again in Him?
The second question, 'But whom say ye that I am?' with its sharp
transition, is meant to force home the conviction of the gulf between
His disciples and the whole nation. He would have them feel their
isolation, and face the fact that they stood alone in their faith; and
He would test them whether, knowing that they did stand alone, they
had courage and tenacity to re-assert it. The unpopularity of a belief
drives away cowards, and draws the brave and true. If none else
believed in Him, that was an additional reason for loving hearts to
cleave to Him; and those only truly know and love Him who are ready to
stand by Him, if they stand alone--_Athanasius contra mundum_. Mark,
too, that this is the all-important question for every man. Our own
individual 'thought' of Him determines our whole worth and fate.

Mark gives Peter's confession in a lower key, as it were, than Matthew
does, omitting the full-toned clause, 'The Son of the living God.'
This is not because Mark has a lower conception than his brother
Evangelist, for the first words of this Gospel announce that it is
'the Gospel of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God.' And, as he has
identified the two conceptions at the outset, he must, in all
fairness, be supposed to consider that the one implies the other, and
to include both here. But possibly there is truth in the observation
that the omission is one of a number of instances in which this Gospel
passes lightly over the exalted side of Christ's nature, in accordance
with its purpose of setting Him forth rather as the Servant than as
the Lord. It is not meant that that exalted side was absent from
Mark's thoughts, but that his design led him rather to emphasise the
other. Matthew's is the Gospel of the King; Mark's, of the Worker.

The omission of Christ's eulogium on Peter has often been pointed out
as an interesting corroboration of the tradition that he was Mark's
source; and perhaps the failure to record the praise, and the
carefulness to tell the subsequent rebuke, reveal the humble-hearted
'elder' into whom the self-confident young Apostle had grown. Flesh
delights to recall praise; faith and self-knowledge find more profit
in remembering errors forgiven and rebukes deserved, and in their
severity, most loving. How did these questions and their answers serve
as introduction to the announcement of the Cross? In several ways.
They brought clearly before the disciples the hard fact of Christ's
rejection by the popular voice, and defined their own position as
sharply antagonistic. If His claims were thus unanimously tossed
aside, a collision must come. A rejected Messiah could not fail to be,
sooner or later, a slain Messiah. Then clear, firm faith in His
Messiahship was needed to enable them to stand the ordeal to which the
announcement, and, still more, its fulfilment, would subject them. A
suffering Messiah might be a rude shock to all their dreams; but a
suffering Jesus, who was not Messiah, would have been the end of their
discipleship. Again, the significance and worth of the Cross could
only be understood when seen in the light of that great confession.
Even as now, we must believe that He who died was the Son of the
living God before we can see what that Death was and did. An imperfect
conception of who Jesus is takes the meaning and the power out of all
His life, but, most of all, impoverishes the infinite preciousness of
His Death.

The charge of silence contrasts singularly with the former employment
of the Apostles as heralds of Jesus. The silence was partly punitive
and partly prudential. It was punitive, inasmuch as the people had
already had abundantly the proclamation of His gospel, and had cast it
away. It was in accordance with the solemn law of God's retributive
justice that offers rejected should be withdrawn; and from them that
had not, even that which they had should be taken away. Christ never
bids His servants be silent until men have refused to hear their
speech. The silence enjoined was also prudential, in order to avoid
hastening on the inevitable collision; not because Christ desired
escape, but because He would first fulfil His day.

II. We have here the announcement of the Cross (verses 31-33). There
had been many hints before this; for Christ saw the end from the
beginning, however far back in the depths of time or eternity we place
that beginning. We do not sufficiently realise that His Death was
before Him, all through His days, as the great purpose for which He
had come. If the anticipation of sorrow is the multiplication of
sorrow, even when there is hope of escaping it, how much must His have
been multiplied, and bitterness been diffused through all His life, by
that foresight, so clear and constant, of the certain end! How much
more gracious and wonderful His quick sympathy, His patient self
forgetfulness, His unwearied toil, show against that dark background!

Mark here the solemn necessity. Why 'must' He suffer? Not because of
the enmity of the three sets of rejecters. He recognises no necessity
which is imposed by hostile human power. The cords which bind this
sacrifice to the horns of the altar were not spun by men's hands. The
great 'must' which ruled His life was a cable of two strands--
obedience to the Father, and love to men. These haled Him to the
Cross, and fastened Him there. He would save; therefore He 'must' die.
The same 'must' stretches beyond death. Resurrection is a part of His
whole work; and, without it, His Death has no power, but falls into
the undistinguished mass of human mortality. Bewildered as the
disciples were, that assurance of resurrection had little present
force, but even then would faintly hint at some comfort and blessed
mystery. What was to them a nebulous hope is to us a sun of certitude
and cheer, 'Christ that died' is no gospel until you go on to say,
'Yea, rather, that is risen again.'

Peter's rash 'rebuke,' like most of his appearances in the Gospel, is
strangely compounded of warm-hearted, impulsive love and presumptuous
self-confidence. No doubt, the praise which he had just received had
turned his head, not very steady in these early days at its best, and
the dignity which had been promised him would seem to him to be sadly
overclouded by the prospect opened in Christ's forecast. But he was
not thinking of himself; and when he said, 'This shall not be unto
Thee,' probably he meant to suggest that they would all draw the sword
to defend their Master. Mark's use of the word 'rebuke,' which is also
Matthew's, seems to imply that he found fault with Christ. For what?
Probably for not trusting to His followers' arms, or for letting
Himself become a victim to the 'must,' which Peter thought of as
depending only on the power of the ecclesiastics in Jerusalem. He
blames Christ for not hoisting the flag of a revolt.

This blind love was the nearest approach to sympathy which Christ
received; and it was repugnant to Him, so as to draw the sharpest
words from Him that He ever spoke to a loving heart. In his eagerness,
Peter had taken Jesus on one side to whisper his suggestion; but
Christ will have all hear His rejection of the counsel. Therefore He
'turned about,' facing the rest of the group, and by the act putting
Peter behind Him, and spoke aloud the stern words. Not thus was He
wont to repel ignorant love, nor to tell out faults in public; but the
act witnessed to the recoil of His fixed spirit from the temptation
which addressed His natural human shrinking from death, as well as to
His desire that once for all, every dream of resistance by force
should be shattered. He hears in Peter's voice the tone of that other
voice, which, in the wilderness, had suggested the same temptation to
escape the Cross and win the crown by worshipping the Devil; and he
puts the meaning of His instinctive gesture into the same words in
which he had rejected that earlier seducing suggestion. Jesus was a
man, and 'the things that be of men' found a response in His sinless
nature. It shrank from pain and the Cross with innocent and inevitable
shrinking. Does not the very severity of the rebuke testify to its
having set some chords vibrating in His soul? Note that it may be the
work of 'Satan' to appeal to 'the things that be of men,' however
innocent, if by so doing obedience to God's will is hindered. Note,
too, that a Simon may be 'Peter' at one moment, and 'Satan' at the

III. We have here the announcement of the Cross as the law for the
disciples too (verses 34-38). Christ's followers must follow, but men
can choose whether they will be His followers or not. So the 'must' is
changed into 'let him,' and the 'if any man will' is put in the
forefront. The conditions are fixed, but the choice as to accepting
the position is free. A wider circle hears the terms of discipleship
than heard the announcement of Christ's own sufferings. The terms are
for all and for us. The law is stated in verse 34, and then a series
of reasons for it, and motives for accepting it, follow.

The law for every disciple is self-denial and taking up his cross. How
present His own Cross must have been to Christ's vision, since the
thought is introduced here, though He had not spoken of it, in
foretelling His own death! It is not Christ's Cross that we have to
take up. His sufferings stand alone, incapable of repetition and
needing none; but each follower has his own. To slay the life of self
is always pain, and there is no discipleship without crucifying 'the
old man.' Taking up my cross does not merely mean meekly accepting
God-sent or men-inflicted sorrows, but persistently carrying on the
special form of self-denial which my special type of character
requires. It will include these other meanings, but it goes deeper
than they. Such self-immolation is the same thing as following Christ;
for, with all the infinite difference between His Cross and ours, they
are both crosses, and on the one hand there is no real discipleship
without self-denial, and on the other there is no full self-denial
without discipleship.

The first of the reasons for the law, in verse 35, is a paradox, and a
truth with two sides. To wish to save life is to lose it; to lose it
for Christ's sake is to save it. Both are true, even without taking
the future into account. The life of self is death; the death of the
lower self is the life of the true self. The man who lives absorbed in
the miserable care for his own well-being is dead to all which makes
life noble, sweet, and real. Flagrant vice is not needed to kill the
real life. Clean, respectable selfishness does the work effectually.
The deadly gas is invisible, and has no smell. But while all
selfishness is fatal, it is self-surrender and sacrifice, 'for My sake
and the gospel's,' which is life-giving. Heroism, generous
self-devotion without love to Christ, is noble, but falls short of
discipleship, and may even aggravate the sin of the man who exhibits
it, because it shows what treasures he could lay at Christ's feet, if
he would. It is only self-denial made sweet by reference to Him that
leads to life. Who is this who thus demands that He should be the
motive for which men shall 'hate' their own lives, and calmly assumes
power to reward such sacrifice with a better life? The paradox is
true, if we include a reference to the future, which is usually taken
to be its only meaning; but on that familiar thought we need not

The 'for' of verse 36 seems to refer back to the law in verse 34, and
the verse enforces the command by an appeal to self-interest, which,
in the highest sense of the word, dictates self-sacrifice. The men who
live for self are dead, as Christ has been saying. Suppose their
self-living had been 'successful' to the highest point, what would be
the good of all the world to a dead man? 'Shrouds have no pockets.' He
makes a poor bargain who sells his soul for the world. A man gets
rich, and in the process drops generous impulses, affections, interest
in noble things, perhaps principle and religion. He has shrivelled and
hardened into a mere fragment of himself; and so, when success comes,
he cannot much enjoy it, and was happier, poor and sympathetic and
enthusiastic and generous, than he is now, rich and dwindled. He who
loses himself in gaining the world does not win it, but is mastered by
it. This motive, too, like the preceding, has a double application--to
the facts of life here, when they are seen in their deepest reality,
and to the solemn future.

To that future our Lord passes, as His last reason for the command and
motive for obeying it, in verse 38. One great hindrance to out-and-out
discipleship is fear of what the world will say. Hence come
compromises and weak compliance on the part of disciples too timid to
stand alone, or too sensitive to face a sarcasm and a smile. A
wholesome contempt for the world's cackle is needed for following
Christ. The geese on the common hiss at the passer-by who goes
steadily through the flock. How grave and awful is that irony, if we
may call it so, which casts the retribution in the mould of the sin!
The judge shall be 'ashamed' of such unworthy disciples--shall blush
to own such as His. May we venture to put stress on the fact that He
does not say that He will reject them? They who were ashamed of Him
were secret and imperfect disciples. Perhaps, though He be ashamed of
them, though they have brought Him no credit, He will not wholly turn
from them.

How marvellous the transition from the prediction of the Cross to this
of the Throne! The Son of Man must suffer many things, and the same
Son of Man shall come, attended by hosts of spirits who own Him for
their King, and surrounded by the uncreated blaze of the glory of God
in which He sits throned as His native abode. We do not know Jesus
unless we know Him as the crucified Sacrifice for the world's sins,
and as the exalted Judge of the world's deeds.

He adds a weighty word of enigmatical meaning, lest any should think
that He was speaking only of some far-off judgment. The destruction of
Jerusalem seems to be the event intended, which was, in fact, the
beginning of retribution for Israel, and the starting-point of a more
conspicuous manifestation of the kingdom of God. It was, therefore, a
kind of rehearsal, or picture in little, of that coming and ultimate
great day of the Lord, and was meant to be a 'sign' that it should
surely come.


'And after six days Jesus taketh with Him Peter, and James, and John,
and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and He
was transfigured before them. 3. And His raimemt became shining,
exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. 4.
And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking
with Jesus. 5. And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is
good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for
Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. 6. For he wist not what to
say; for they were sore afraid. 7. And there was a cloud that
overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is
My beloved Son: hear Him. 8. And suddenly, when they had looked round
about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves. 9.
And as they came down from the mountain, He charged them that they
should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of Man were
risen from the dead. 10. And they kept that saying with themselves,
questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should
mean. 11. And they asked Him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias
must first come? 12. And He answered and told them, Elias verily
cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the
Son of Man, that He must suffer many things, and be set at nought. 13.
But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto
him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him.'--Mark ix. 2-13.

All three Evangelists are careful to date the Transfiguration by a
reference to the solemn new teaching at Caesarea, and Mark's 'six
days' plainly cover the same time as Luke's 'eight'--the former
reckoning excluding in the count, and the latter including, the days
on which the two incidents occurred. If we would understand the
Transfiguration, then, we must look at it as the sequel to Jesus' open
announcement of His death. His seeking the seclusion of the hills,
attended only by the innermost group of the faithful three, is a
touching token of the strain to which that week had subjected Him. How
Peter's heart must have filled with thankfulness that, notwithstanding
the stern rebuke, he was taken with the other two! There were three
stages in the complex incident which we call the Transfiguration--the
change in Jesus' appearance, the colloquy with Moses and Elijah, and
the voice from the cloud.

Luke, who has frequent references to Jesus' prayers, tells us that the
change in our Lord's countenance and raiment took place 'as He
prayed'; and probably we are reverently following his lead if we think
of Jesus' prayer as, in some sense, the occasion of the glorious
change. So far as we know, this was the only time when mortal eyes saw
Him absorbed in communion with the Father. It was only 'when He ceased
praying' in a certain place that 'they came to Him' asking to be
taught to pray (Luke xi. 1); and in Gethsemane the disciples slept
while He prayed beneath the olives quivering in the moonlight. It may
be that what the three then saw did not occur then only. 'In such an
hour of high communion with' His Father the elevated spirit may have
more than ordinarily illuminated the pure body, and the pure body may
have been more than ordinarily transparent. The brighter the light,
fed by fragrant oil within an alabaster lamp, the more the alabaster
will glow. Faint foreshadowings of the spirit's power to light up the
face with unearthly beauty of holiness are not unknown among us. It
may be that the glory which always shone in the depths of His
perfectly holy manhood rose, as it were, to the surface for that one
time, a witness of what He really was, a prophecy of what humanity may

Did Jesus will His transfiguration, or did it come about without His
volition, or perhaps even without His consciousness? Did it continue
during all the time on the mountain, or did it pass when the second
stage of the incident began? We cannot tell. Matthew and Mark both say
that Jesus was transfigured 'before' the three, as if the making
visible of the glory had special regard to them. It may be that Jesus,
like Moses, 'knew not that the skin of His face shone'; at all events,
it was the second stage of the incident, the conversation with Elijah
and Moses, that had a special message of strength for Him. The first
and third stages were, apparently, intended for the three and for us
all; and the first is a revelation, not only of the veiled glory that
dwelt in Jesus, but of the beauty that may pass into a holy face, and
of the possibilities of a bodily frame becoming a 'spiritual body,'
the adequate organ and manifestation of a perfect spirit. Paul teaches
the prophetic aspect of the Transfiguration when he says that Jesus
'shall _change_ the body of our humiliation that it may be fashioned
like unto the body of His glory.'

Luke adds two very significant points to the accounts by Matthew and
Mark--namely, the disciples' sleep, and the subject on which Moses and
Elijah talked with Jesus. Mark lays the main stress on the fact that
the two great persons of the old economy, its founder and its
restorer, the legislator and the chief of the prophets, came from the
dim region to which one of them had passed in a chariot of fire, and
stood by the transfigured Christ, as if witnessing to Him as the
greater, to whom their ministries were subordinate, and in whom their
teachings centred. Jesus is the goal of all previous revelation,
mightier than the mightiest who are honoured by being His attendants.
He is the Lord both of the dead and of the living, and the 'spirits of
just men made perfect' bow before Him, and reverently watch His work
on earth.

So much did that appearance proclaim to the mortal three, but their
slumber showed that they were not principally concerned, and that the
other three had things to speak which they were not fit to hear. The
theme was the same which had been, a week before, spoken to them, and
had doubtless been the subject of all Jesus' teachings for these 'six
days.' No doubt, their horror at the thought, and His necessary
insistence on it, had brought Him to need strengthening. And these two
came, as did the angel in Gethsemane, and, like him, in answer to
Christ's prayer, to bring the sought-for strength. How different it

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