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Expositions of Holy Scripture by Alexander Maclaren

Part 2 out of 10

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diseases. The tap-root of all misery is sin; and, until it is grubbed
up, hacking at the branches is sad waste of time. Cure sin, and you
make the heart a temple and the world a paradise. We Christians should
hail all efforts of every sort for making men nobler, happier, better
physically, morally, intellectually; but let us not forget that there
is but one effectual cure for the world's misery, and that it is
wrought by Him who has borne the world's sins.

III. Note the snarl of the scribes. 'Certain of the scribes,' says
Mark--not being much impressed by their dignity, which, as Luke tells
us, was considerable. He says that they were 'Pharisees and doctors of
the law ... out of every village of Galilee and Judaea and Jerusalem
itself, who had come on a formal errand of investigation. Their
tempers would not be improved by the tearing up of the roof, nor
sweetened by seeing the 'popularity' of this doubtful young Teacher,
who showed that He had the secret, which they had not, of winning
men's hearts. Nobody came crowding to them, nor hung on their lips.
Professional jealousy has often a great deal to do in helping zeal for
truth to sniff out heresy. The whispered cavillings are graphically
represented. The scribes would not speak out, like men, and call on
Jesus to defend His words. If they had been sure of their ground, they
should have boldly charged Him with blasphemy; but perhaps they were
half suspicious that He could show good cause for His speech. Perhaps
they were afraid to oppose the tide of enthusiasm for Him. So they
content themselves with comparing notes among themselves, and wait for
Him to entangle Himself a little more in their nets. They affect to
despise Him, 'This man' is spoken in contempt. If He were so poor a
creature, why were they there, all the way from Jerusalem, some of
them? They overdo their part. The short, snarling sentences of their
muttered objections, as given in the Revised Version, may be taken as
shared among three speakers, each bringing his quota of bitterness.
One says, 'Why doth He thus speak?' Another curtly answers, 'He
blasphemeth'; while a third formally states the great truth on which
they rest their indictment. Their principle is impregnable.
Forgiveness is a divine prerogative, to be shared by none, to be
grasped by none, without, in the act, diminishing God's glory. But it
is not enough to have one premise of your syllogism right. Only God
forgives sins; and if this man says that He does, He, no doubt, claims
to be, in some sense, God. But whether He 'blasphemeth' or no depends
on what the scribes do not stay to ask; namely, whether He has the
right so to claim: and, if He has, it is they, not He, who are the
blasphemers. We need not wonder that they recoiled from the right
conclusion, which is--the divinity of Jesus. Their fault was not their
jealousy for the divine honour, but their inattention to Christ's
evidence in support of His claims, which inattention had its roots in
their moral condition, their self-sufficiency and absorption in
trivialities of externalism. But we have to thank them for clearly
discerning and bluntly stating what was involved in our Lord's claims,
and for thus bringing up the sharp issue--blasphemer, or 'God manifest
in the flesh.'

IV. Note our Lord's answer to the cavils. Mark would have us see
something supernatural in the swiftness of Christ's knowledge of the
muttered criticisms. He perceived it 'straightway' and 'in His
spirit,' which is tantamount to saying by divine discernment, and not
by the medium of sense, as we do. His spirit was a mirror, in which
looking He saw externals. In the most literal and deepest sense, He
does 'not judge after the sight of His eyes, neither reprove after the
hearing of His ears.'

The absence from our Lord's answer of any explanation that He was only
declaring the divine forgiveness and not Himself exercising a divine
prerogative, shuts us up to the conclusion that He desired to be
understood as exercising it. Unless His pardon is something quite
different from the ministerial announcement of forgiveness, which His
servants are empowered to make to penitents, He wilfully led the
cavillers into error. His answer starts with a counter-question--
another 'why?' to meet their' why?' It then puts into words what they
were thinking; namely, that it was easy to assume a power the reality
of which could not be tested. To say, 'Thy sins be forgiven,' and to
say, 'Take up thy bed,' are equally easy. To effect either is equally
beyond man's power; but the one can be verified and the other cannot,
and, no doubt, some of the scribes were maliciously saying: 'It is all
very well to pretend to do what cannot be tested. Let Him come out
into daylight, and do a miracle which we can see.' He is quite willing
to accept the challenge to test His power in the invisible realm of
conscience by His power in the visible region. The remarkable
construction of the long sentence in verses 10 and 11, which is almost
verbally identical in the three Gospels, parenthesis and all, sets
before us the suddenness of the turn from the scribes to the patient
with dramatic force. Mark that our Lord claims 'authority' to forgive,
the same word which had been twice in the people's mouths in reference
to His teaching and to His sway over demons. It implies not only
power, but rightful power, and that authority which He wields as 'Son
of Man' and 'on earth.' This is the first use of that title in Mark.
It is Christ's own designation of Himself, never found on other lips
except the dying Stephen's. It implies His Messianic office, and
points back to Daniel's great prophecy; but it also asserts His true
manhood and His unique relation to humanity, as being Himself its sum
and perfection--not _a_, but _the_ Son of Man. Now the wonder which He
would confirm by His miracle is that such a manhood, walking on earth,
has lodged in it the divine prerogative. He who is the Son of Man must
be something more than man, even the Son of God. His power to forgive
is both derived and inherent, but, in either aspect, is entirely
different from the human office of announcing God's forgiveness.

For once, Christ seems to work a miracle in response to unbelief,
rather than to faith. But the real occasion of it was not the cavils
of the scribes, but the faith and need of the man and His friends;
while the silencing of unbelief, and the enlightenment of honest
doubt, were but collateral benefits.

V. Note the cure and its effect. This is another of the miracles in
which no vehicle of the healing power is employed. The word is enough;
but here the word is spoken, not as if to the disease, but to the
sufferer; and in His obedience he receives strength to obey. Tell a
palsied man to rise and walk when his disease is that he cannot! But
if he believes that Christ has power to heal, he will try to do as he
is bid; and, as he tries, the paralysis steals out of the long-unused
limbs. Jesus makes us able to do what He bids us do. The condition of
healing is faith, and the test of faith is obedience. We do not get
strength till we put ourselves into the attitude of obedience. The
cure was immediate; and the cured man, who was 'borne of four' into
the healing presence, walked away, with his bed under his arm, 'before
them all.' They were ready enough to make way for him then. And what
said the wise doctors to it all? We do not hear that any of them were
convinced. And what said the people? They were 'amazed,' and they
'glorified God,' and recognised that they had seen something quite
new. That was all. Their glorifying God cannot have been very
deep-seated, or they would have better learned the lesson of the
miracle. Amazement was but a poor result. No emotion is more transient
or less fruitful than gaping astonishment; and that, with a little
varnish of acknowledgment of God's power, which led to nothing, was
all the fruit of Christ's mighty work. Let us hope that the healed man
carried his unseen blessing in a faithful and grateful heart, and
consecrated his restored strength to the Lord who healed him!


'And He went forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude
resorted unto Him, and He taught them. 14. And as He passed by, he saw
Levi the son of Alphaus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said
unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed Him. 15. And it came to
pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and
sinners sat also together with Jesus and His disciples: for there were
many, and they followed Him. 16. And when the scribes and Pharisees
saw Him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto His disciples,
How is it that He eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners! 17.
When Jesus heard it, He saith unto them, They that are whole have no
need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the
righteous, but sinners to repentance. 18. And the disciples of John
and of the Pharisees used to fast: and they come and say unto Him, Why
do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Thy disciples
fast not! 19. And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the
bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them! as long as they
have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20. But the days will
come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then
shall they fast in those days. 21. No man also seweth a piece of new
cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up taketh
away from the old, and the rent is made worse. 22. And no man putteth
new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles,
and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine
must be put into new bottles.'--Mark ii. 13-22.

By calling a publican, Jesus shocked 'public opinion and outraged
propriety, as the Pharisees and scribes understood it. But He touched
the hearts of the outcasts. A gush of sympathy melts souls frozen hard
by icy winds of scorn. Levi (otherwise Matthew) had probably had
wistful longings after Jesus which he had not dared to show, and
therefore he eagerly and instantly responded to Christ's call, leaving
everything in his custom-house to look after itself. Mark emphasises
the effect of this advance towards the disreputable classes by Jesus,
in his repeated mention of the numbers of them who followed Him. The
meal in Matthew's house was probably not immediately after his call.
The large gathering attracted the notice of Christ's watchful
opponents, who pounced upon His sitting at meat with such 'shady'
people as betraying His low tastes and disregard of seemly conduct,
and, with characteristic Eastern freedom, pushed in as uninvited
spectators. They did not carry their objection to Himself, but
covertly insinuated it into the disciples' minds, perhaps in hope of
sowing suspicions there. Their sarcasm evoked Christ's own 'programme'
of His mission, for which we have to thank them.

I. We have, first, Christ's vindication of His consorting with the
lowest. He thinks of Himself as 'a physician,' just as He did in
another connection in the synagogue of Nazareth. He is conscious of
power to heal all soul-sickness, and therefore He goes where He is
most needed. Where should a doctor be but where disease is rife? Is
not his place in the hospital? Association with degraded and vicious
characters is sin or duty, according to the purpose of it. To go down
in the filth in order to wallow there is vile; to go down in order to
lift others up is Christ's mission and Christ-like.

But what does He mean by the distinction between sick and sound,
righteous and sinners? Surely all need His healing, and there are not
two classes of men. Have not all sinned? Yes, but Jesus speaks to the
cavillers, for the moment, in their own dialect, saying, in effect, 'I
take you at your own valuation, and therein find My defence. You do
not think that you need a physician, and you call yourselves
'righteous and these outcasts 'sinners.' So you should not be
surprised if I, being the healer, turn away to them, and prefer their
company to yours.' But there is more than taking them at their own
estimate in the great words, for to conceit ourselves 'whole' bars us
off from getting any good from Jesus. He cannot come to the
self-righteous heart. We must feel our sickness before we can see Him
in His true character, or be blessed by His presence with us. And the
apparent distinction, which seems to limit His work, really vanishes
in the fact that we all are sick and sinners, whatever we may think of
ourselves, and that, therefore, the errand of the great Physician is
to us all. The Pharisee who knows himself a sinner is as welcome as
the outcast. The most outwardly respectable, clean-living, orthodoxly
religious formalist needs Him as much, and may have Him as healingly,
as the grossest criminal, foul with the stench of loathsome disease.
That great saying has changed the attitude towards the degraded and
unclean, and many a stream of pity and practical work for such has
been drawn off from that Nile of yearning love, though all unconscious
of its source.

II. We have Christ's vindication of the disciples from ascetic
critics. The assailants in the second charge were reinforced by
singular allies. Pharisees had nothing in common with John's
disciples, except some outward observances, but they could join forces
against Jesus. Common hatred is a wonderful unifier. This time Jesus
Himself is addressed, and it is the disciples with whom fault is
found. To speak of His supposed faults to them, and of theirs to Him,
was cunning and cowardly. His answer opens up many great truths, which
we can barely mention.

First, note that He calls Himself the 'bridegroom'--a designation
which would surely touch some chords in John's disciples, remembering
how their Master had spoken of the 'bridegroom' and his 'friend.' The
name tells us that Jesus claimed the psalms of the 'bride-groom' as
prophecies of Himself, and claimed the Church that was to be as His
bride. It speaks tenderly of His love and of our possible blessedness.
Next, we note the sweet suggestion of the joyful life of the disciples
in intercourse with Him. We perhaps do not sufficiently regard their
experience in that light, but surely they were happy, being ever with
Him, though they knew not yet all the wonder and blessedness which His
presence involved and brought. They were a glad company, and
Christians ought now to be joyous, because the bridegroom is still
with them, and the more really so by reason of His ascending up where
He was before. We have seen Him again, as He promised, and our hearts
should rejoice with a joy which no man can take from us.

Next, we note Christ's clear prevision of His death, the violence of
which is hinted at in the words, 'Shall be taken away from them.'
Further, we note the great principle that outward forms must follow
inward realities, and are genuine only when they are the expression of
states of mind and feeling. That is a far-reaching truth, ever being
forgotten in the tyranny which the externals of religion exercise. Let
the free spirit have its own way, and cut its own channels. Laughter
may be as devout as fasting. Joy is to be expressed in religion as
well as grief. No outward form is worth anything unless the inner man
vitalises it, and such a mere form is not simply valueless, but may
quickly become hypocrisy and conscious make-believe.

III. Jesus adds two similes, which are condensed parables, to deal
with a wider question rising out of the preceding principles. The
difference between His disciples' religious demeanour and that of
their critics is not merely that the former are not now in a mood for
fasting, but that a new spirit is beginning to work in them, and
therefore it will go hard with a good many old forms besides fasting.

The essential point in both the similes of the raw cloth stitched on
to the old, and of the new wine poured into stiff old skins, is the
necessary incongruity between old forms and new tendencies. Undressed
cloth is sure to shrink when wetted, and, being stronger than the old,
to draw its frayed edges away. So, if new truth, or new conceptions of
old truth, or new enthusiasms, are patched on to old modes, they will
look out of place, and will sooner or later rend the old cloth. But
the second simile advances on the first, in that it points not only to
harm done to the old by the unnatural marriage, but also to mischief
to the new. Put fermenting wine into a hard, unyielding, old
wine-skin, and there can be but one result,--the strong effervescence
will burst the skin, which may not matter much, and the precious wine
will run out and be lost, sucked up by the thirsty soil, which matters
more. The attempt to confine the new within the limits of the old, or
to express it by the old forms, destroys them and wastes it. The
attempt was made to keep Christianity within the limits of Judaism; it
failed, but not before much harm had been done to Christianity. Over
and over again the effort has been made in the Church, and it has
always ended disastrously,--and it always will. It will be a happy day
for both the old and the new when we all learn to put new wine into
new skins, and remember that 'God giveth it a body as it hath pleased
Him, and to every seed his _own_ body.'


'And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber fast,
while the bridegroom is with them?'--Mark ii. 19.

This part of our Lord's answer to the question put by John's disciples
as to the reason for the omission of the practice of fasting by His
followers. The answer is very simple. It is--'My disciples do not fast
because they are not sad.' And the principle which underlies the
answer is a very important one. It is this: that all outward forms of
religion, appointed by man, ought only to be observed when they
correspond to the feeling and disposition of the worshipper. That
principle cuts up all religious formalism by the very roots. The
Pharisee said: 'Fasting is a good thing in itself, and meritorious in
the sight of God.' The modern Pharisee says the same about many
externals of ritual and worship; Jesus Christ says, 'No! The thing has
no value except as an expression of the feeling of the doer.' Our Lord
did not object to fasting; He expressly approved of it as a means of
spiritual power. But He did object to the formal use of it or of any
outward form. The formalist's form, whether it be the elaborate ritual
of the Catholic Church, or the barest Nonconformist service, or the
silence of a Friends' meeting-house, is rigid, unbending, and cold,
like an iron rod. The true Christian form is elastic, like the stem of
a palm-tree, which curves and sways and yields to the wind, and has
the sap of life in it. If any man is sad, let him fast; 'if any man is
merry, let him sing psalms.' Let his ritual correspond to his
spiritual emotion and conviction.

But the point which I wish to consider now is not so much this, as the
representation that is given here of the reason why fasting was
incongruous with the condition and disposition of the disciples. Jesus
says: 'We are more like a wedding-party than anything else. Can the
children of the bridechamber fast as long as the bridegroom is with

The 'children of the bridechamber' is but another name for those who
were called the 'friends' or companions 'of the bridegroom.' According
to the Jewish wedding ceremonial it was their business to conduct the
bride to the home of her husband, and there to spend seven days in
festivity and rejoicing, which were to be so entirely devoted to mirth
and feasting that the companions of the bridegroom were by the
Talmudic ritual absolved even from prayer and from worship, and had
for their one duty to rejoice.

And that is the picture that Christ holds up before the disciples of
the ascetic John as the representation of what He and His friends were
most truly like. Very unlike our ordinary notion of Christ and His
disciples as they walked the earth! The presence of the Bridegroom
made them glad with a strange gladness, which shook off sorrow as the
down on a sea-bird's breast shakes off moisture, and leaves it warm
and dry, though it floats amidst boundless seas. I wish now to
meditate on this secret of imperviousness to sorrow arising from the
felt presence of the Christ.

There are three subjects for consideration arising from the words of
my text: The Bridegroom; the presence of the Bridegroom; the joy of
the Bride-groom's presence.

I. Now with regard to the first, a very few words will suffice. The
first thing that strikes me is the singular appropriateness and the
delicate, pathetic beauty in the employment of this name by Christ in
the existing circumstances. Who was it that had first said: 'He that
hath the bride is the bridegroom, but the friend of the bridegroom
that standeth by and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the
bridegroom's voice. This my joy therefore is fulfilled'? Why, it was
the master of these very men who were asking the question. John's
disciples came and said, 'Why do not your disciples fast?' and our
Lord reminded them of their own teacher's words, when he said, 'The
friend of the bridegroom can only be glad.' And so He would say to
them, 'In your master's own conception of what I am, and of the joy
that comes from My presence, you have an answer to your question. He
might have taught you who I am, and why it is that the men that stand
around Me are glad.'

But this is not all. We cannot but connect this name with a whole
circle of ideas found in the Old Testament, especially with that most
familiar and almost stereotyped figure which represents the union
between Israel and Jehovah, under the emblem of the marriage bond. The
Lord is the 'husband'; and the nation whom He has loved and redeemed
and chosen for Himself, is the 'wife'; unfaithful and forgetful, often
requiting love with indifference and protection with unthankfulness,
and needing to be put away, and debarred of the society of the husband
who still yearns for her; but a wife still, and in the new time to be
joined to Him by a bond that shall never be broken and a better

And so Christ lays His hand upon all that old history and says, 'It is
fulfilled here in Me.' A familiar note in Old Testament Messianic
prophecy too is caught and echoed here, especially that grand marriage
ode of the forty-fifth psalm, in which he must be a very prosaic or
very deeply prejudiced reader who hears nothing more than the shrill
wedding greetings at the marriage of some Jewish king with a foreign
princess. Its bounding hopes and its magnificent sweep of vision are a
world too wide for such interpretation. The Bridegroom of that psalm
is the Messiah, and the Bride is the Church.

I need only refer in a sentence to what this indicates of Christ's
self-consciousness. What must He, who takes this name as His own, have
thought Himself to be to the world, and the world to Him? He steps
into the place of the Jehovah of the Old Testament, and claims as His
own all these great and wonderful prophecies. He promises love,
protection, communion, the deepest, most mystical union of spirit and
heart with Himself; and He claims quiet, restful confidence in His
love, absolute, loving obedience to His authority, reliance upon His
strong hand and loving heart, and faithful cleaving to Him. The
Bridegroom of humanity, the Husband of the world, if it will only turn
to Him, is Christ Himself.

II. But a word as to the presence of the Bridegroom. It might seem as
if this text condemned us who love an unseen and absent Lord to
exclusion from the joy which is made to depend on His presence. Are we
in the dreary period when 'the Bridegroom is taken away' and fasting

Surely not. The time of mourning for an absent Christ was only three
days; the law for the years of the Church's history between the moment
when the uplifted eyes of the gazers lost Him in the symbolic cloud
and the moment when He shall come again is, 'Lo, I am with you alway.'
The absent Christ is the present Christ. He is really with us, not as
the memory or the influence of the example of the dead may be said to
remain, not as the spirit of a teacher may be said to abide with his
school of followers. We say that Christ has gone up on high and sits
on 'the right hand of God.' The right hand of God is His active power.
Where is 'the right hand of God'? It is wherever His divine energy
works. He that sits at the right hand of God is thereby declared to be
wherever the divine energy is in operation, and to be Himself the
wielder of that divine Power. I believe in a local abode of the
glorified human body of Jesus Christ now, but I believe likewise that
all through God's universe, and eminently in this world, which He has
redeemed, Christ is present, in His consciousness of its
circumstances, and in the activity of His influence, and in whatsoever
other incomprehensible and unspeakable mode Omnipresence belongs to a
divine Person. So that He is with us most really, though the visible,
bodily Form is no longer by our sides.

That Presence which survives, which is true for us here to-day, may be
a far better and more blessed and real thing than the presence of the
mere bodily Form in which He once dwelt. We may have lost something by
His going away in visible form; I doubt whether we have. We have lost
the manifestation of Him to the sense, but we have gained the
manifestation of Him to the spirit. And just as the great men, who are
only men, need to die and go away in order to be measured in their
true magnitude and understood in their true glory; just as when a man
is in amongst the mountains, he cannot tell which peak is the dominant
one, but when he gets away a little space across the sea and looks
back, distance helps to measure magnitude and reveal the sovereign
summit which towers above all the rest, so, looking back across the
ages with the foreground between us and Him of the history of the
Christian Church ever since, and noticing how other heights have sunk
beneath the waves and have been wrapped in clouds and have disappeared
behind the great round of the earth, we can tell how high this One is;
and know better than they knew who it is that moves amongst men in
'the form of a servant,' even the Bridegroom of the Church and of the
world. 'It is expedient for you that I go away,' and Christ is, or
ought to be, nearer to us to-day in all that constitutes real
nearness, in our apprehension of His essential character, in our
reception of His holiest influences, than He ever was to them who
walked beside Him on the earth.

But, brethren, that presence is of no use at all to us unless we daily
try to realise it. He was with these men whether they would or no.
Whether they thought about Him or no, there He was; and just because
His presence did not at all depend upon their spiritual condition, it
was a lower kind of presence than that which you and I have now, and
which depends altogether on our realising it by the turning of our
hearts to Him, and by the daily contemplation of Him amidst all our
bustle and struggle.

Do you, as you go about your work, feel His nearness and try to keep
the feeling fresh and vivid, by occupying heart and mind with Him, by
referring everything to His supreme control? By trusting yourselves
utterly and absolutely in His hand, and gathering round you, as it
were, the sweetness of His love by meditation and reflection, do you
try to make conscious to yourselves your Lord's presence with you? If
you do, that presence is to you a blessed reality; if you do not, it
is a word that means nothing and is of no help, no stimulus, no
protection, no satisfaction, no sweetness whatever to you. The
children of the Bridegroom are glad only when, and as, they know that
the Bridegroom is with them.

III. And now a word, last of all, about the joy of the Bridegroom's
presence. What was it that made these humble lives so glad when Christ
was with them, filling them with strange new sweetness and power? The
charm of personal character, the charm of contact with one whose lips
were bringing to them fresh revelations of truth, fresh visions of
God, whose whole life was the exhibition of a nature beautiful, and
noble, and pure, and tender, and sweet, and loving, beyond anything
they had ever seen before.

Ah! brethren, there is no joy in the world like that of companionship,
in the freedom of perfect love, with one who ever keeps us at our
best, and brings the treasures of ever fresh truth to the mind, as
well as beauty of character to admire and imitate. That is one of the
greatest gifts that God gives, and is a source of the purest joy that
we can have. Now we may have all that and much more in Jesus Christ.
He will be with us if we do not drive Him away from us, as the source
of our purest joy, because He is the all-sufficient Object of our

Oh! you men and women who have been wearily seeking in the world for
love that cannot change, for love that cannot die and leave you; you
who have been made sad for life by irrevocable losses, or sorrowful in
the midst of your joy by the anticipated certain separation which is
to come, listen to this One who says to you: 'I will never leave thee,
and My love shall be round thee for ever'; and recognise this, that
there is a love which cannot change, which cannot die, which has no
limits, which never can be cold, which never can disappoint, and
therefore, in it, and in His presence, there is unending gladness.

He is with us as the source of our joy, because He is the Lord of our
lives, and the absolute Commander of our wills. To have One present
with us whose loving word it is delight to obey, and who takes upon
Himself all responsibility for the conduct of our lives, and leaves us
only the task of doing what we are bid--that is peace, that is
gladness, of such a kind as none else in the world gives.

He is with us as the ground of perfect joy, because He is the adequate
object of all our desires, and the whole of the faculties and powers
of a man will find a field of glad activity in leaning upon Him, and
realising His presence. Like the Apostle whom the old painters loved
to represent lying with his happy head on Christ's heart, and his eyes
closed in a tranquil rapture of restful satisfaction, so if we have
Him with us and feel that He is with us, our spirits may be still, and
in the great stillness of fruition of all our wishes and fulfilment of
all our needs, may know a joy that the world can neither give nor take

He is with us as the source of endless gladness, in that He is the
defence and protection for our souls. And as men live in a victualled
fortress, and care not though the whole surrounding country may be
swept bare of all provision, so when we have Christ with us we may
feel safe, whatsoever befalls, and 'in the days of famine we shall be

He is with us as the source of our perfect joy, because His presence
is the kindling of every hope that fills the future with light and
glory. Dark or dim at the best, trodden by uncertain shapes, casting
many a deep shadow over the present, that future lies, unless we see
it illumined by Christ, and have Him by our sides. But if we possess
His companionship, the present is but the parent of a more blessed
time to come; and we can look forward and feel that nothing can touch
our gladness, because nothing can touch our union with our Lord.

So, dear brethren, from all these thoughts and a thousand more which I
have no time to dwell upon, comes this one great consideration, that
the joy of the presence of the Bridegroom is the victorious antagonist
of all sorrow and mourning. 'Can the children of the bridechamber
mourn, while the bridegroom is with them?' The answer sometimes seems
to be, 'Yes, they can.' Our own hearts, with their experience of
tears, and losses, and disappointments, seem to say: 'Mourning is
possible, even whilst He is here. We have our own share, and we
sometimes think, more than our share, of the ills that flesh is heir
to.' And we have, over and above them, in the measure in which we are
Christians, certain special sources of sorrow and trial, peculiar to
ourselves alone; and the deeper and truer our Christianity the more of
these shall we have. But notwithstanding all that, what will the felt
presence of the Bridegroom do for these griefs that will come? Well,
it will limit them, for one thing; it will prevent them from absorbing
the whole of our nature. There will always be a Goshen in which there
is 'light in the dwelling,' however murky may be the darkness that
wraps the land. There will always be a little bit of soil above the
surface, however weltering and wide may be the inundation that drowns
our world. There will always be a dry and warm place in the midst of
the winter, a kind of greenhouse into which we may get from out of the
tempest and fog. The joy of the Bridegroom's presence will last
through the sorrow, like a spring of fresh water welling up in the
midst of the sea. We may have the salt and the sweet waters mingling
in our lives, not sent forth by one fountain, but flowing in one

Our joy will sometimes be made sweeter and more wonderful by the very
presence of the mourning and the pain. Just as the pillar of cloud,
that glided before the Israelites through the wilderness, glowed into
a pillar of fire as the darkness deepened, so, as the outlook around
becomes less and less cheery and bright, and the night falls thicker
and thicker, what seemed to be but a thin, grey, wavering column in
the blaze of the sunlight will gather warmth and brightness at the
heart of it when the midnight comes. You cannot see the stars at
twelve o'clock in the day; you have to watch for the dark hours ere
heaven is filled with glory. And so sorrow is often the occasion for
the full revelation of the joy of Christ's presence.

Why have so many Christian men so little joy in their lives? Because
they look for it in all sorts of wrong places, and seek to wring it
out of all sorts of sapless and dry things. 'Do men gather grapes of
thorns?' If you fling the berries of the thorn into the winepress,
will you get sweet sap out of them? That is what you are doing when
you take gratified earthly affections, worldly competence, fulfilled
ambitions, and put them into the press, and think that out of these
you can squeeze the wine of gladness. No! No! brethren, dry and
sapless and juiceless they all are. There is one thing that gives a
man worthy, noble, eternal gladness, and that is the felt presence of
the Bridegroom.

Why have so many Christians so little joy in their lives? A religion
like that of John's disciples and that of the Pharisees is a poor
affair. A religion of which the main features are law and restriction
and prohibition, cannot be joyful. And there are a great many people
who call themselves Christians, and have just religion enough to take
the edge off worldly pleasures, and yet have not enough to make
fellowship with Christ a gladness for them.

There is a cry amongst us for a more cheerful type of religion. I
re-echo the cry, but I am afraid that I do not mean by it quite the
same thing that some of my friends do. A more cheerful type of
Christianity means to many of us a type of Christianity that will
interfere less with our amusements; a more indulgent doctor that will
prescribe a less rigid diet than the old Puritan type used to do.
Well, perhaps they went too far; I do not care to deny that. But the
only cheerful Christianity is a Christianity that draws its gladness
from deep personal experience of communion with Jesus Christ. There is
no way of men being religious and happy except being profoundly
religious, and living very near their Master, and always trying to
cultivate that spirit of communion with Him which shall surround them
with the sweetness and the power of His felt presence. We do not want
Pharisaic fasting, but we do want that the reason for not fasting
shall not be that Christians like eating better, but that their
religion must be joyful because they have Christ with them, and
therefore cannot choose but sing, as a lark cannot choose but carol.
'Religion has no power over us, but as it is our happiness,' and we
shall never make it our happiness, and therefore never know its
beneficent control, until we lift it clean out of the low region of
outward forms and joyless service, into the blessed heights of
communion with Jesus Christ, 'Whom having not seen we love.'

I would that Christian people saw more plainly that joy is a duty, and
that they are bound to make efforts to obey the command, 'Rejoice in
the Lord always,' no less than to keep other precepts. If we abide in
Christ, His joy 'will abide in us, and our joy will be full.' We shall
have in our hearts a fountain of true joy which will never be turbid
with earthly stains, nor dried up by heat, nor frozen by cold. If we
set the Lord always before us our days may be at once like the happy
hours of the 'children of the bridechamber,' bright with gladness and
musical with song; and also saved from the enervation that sometimes
comes from joy, because they are also like the patient vigils of the
servants who 'wait for the Lord, when He shall return from the
wedding.' So strangely blended of fruition and hope, of companionship
and solitude, of feasting and watching, is the Christian life here,
until the time comes when His friends go in with the Bridegroom to the
banquet, and drink for ever of the new joy of the kingdom.


'And it came to pass, that He went through the cornfields on the
Sabbath day; and His disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears
of corn. 24. And the Pharisees said unto Him, Behold, why do they on
the Sabbath day that which is not lawful? 25. And He said unto them,
Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an
hungred, he, and they that were with him? 28. How he went into the
house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the
shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave
also to them which were with him? 27. And He said unto them, The
Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath: 28. Therefore
the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath.'--Mark ii. 23-28.

'And He entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there
which had a withered hand. 2. And they watched Him, whether He would
heal him on the Sabbath day; that they might accuse Him. 3. And He
saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. 4. And He
saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath days, or to do
evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. 5. And when
He had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the
hardness of their hearts, He saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine
hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the
other.'--Mark iii. 1-5.

These two Sabbath scenes make a climax to the preceding paragraphs, in
which Jesus has asserted His right to brush aside Rabbinical
ordinances about eating with sinners and about fasting. Here He goes
much further, in claiming power over the divine ordinance of the
Sabbath. Formalists are moved to more holy horror by free handling of
forms than by heterodoxy as to principles. So we can understand how
the Pharisees' suspicions were exacerbated to murderous hate by these
two incidents. It is doubtful whether Mark puts them together because
they occurred together, or because they bear on the same subject. They
deal with the two classes of 'works' which later Christian theology
has recognised as legitimate exceptions to the law of the Sabbath
rest; namely, works of necessity and of mercy.

I. Whether we adopt the view that the disciples were clearing a path
through standing corn, or the simpler one, that they gathered the ears
of corn on the edge of a made path as they went, the point of the
Pharisees' objection was that they broke the Sabbath by plucking,
which was a kind of reaping. According to Luke, their breach of the
Rabbinical exposition of the law was an event more dreadful in the
eyes of these narrow pedants; for there was not only reaping, but the
analogue of winnowing and grinding, for the grains were rubbed in the
disciples' palms. What daring sin! What impious defiance of law! But
of what law? Not that of the Fourth Commandment, which simply forbade
'labour,' but that of the doctors' expositions of the commandment,
which expended miraculous ingenuity and hair-splitting on deciding
what was labour and what was not. The foundations of that astonishing
structure now found in the Talmud were, no doubt, laid before Christ.
This expansion of the prohibition, so as to take in such trifles as
plucking and rubbing a handful of heads of corn, has many parallels

But it is noteworthy that our Lord does not avail Himself of the
distinction between God's commandment and men's exposition of it. He
does not embarrass himself with two controversies at once. At fit
times He disputed Rabbinical authority, and branded their casuistry as
binding grievous burdens on men; but here He allows their assumption
of the equal authority of their commentary and of the text to pass
unchallenged, and accepts the statement that His disciples had been
doing what was unlawful on the Sabbath, and vindicates their breach of

Note that His answer deals first with an example of similar breach of
ceremonial law, and then rises to lay down a broad principle which
governed that precedent, vindicates the act of the disciples, and
draws for all ages a broad line of demarcation between the obligations
of ceremonial and of moral law. Clearly, His adducing David's act in
taking the shewbread implies that the disciples' reason for plucking
the ears of corn was not to clear a path but to satisfy hunger.
Probably, too, it suggests that He also was hungry, and partook of the
simple food.

Note, too, the tinge of irony in that 'Did ye _never_ read?' In all
your minute study of the letter of the Scripture, did you never take
heed to that page? The principle on which the priest at Nob let the
hungry fugitives devour the sacred bread, was the subordination of
ceremonial law to men's necessities. It was well to lay the loaves on
the table in the Presence, but it was better to take them and feed the
fainting servant of God and his followers with them. Out of the very
heart of the law which the Pharisees appealed to, in order to spin
restricting prohibitions, Jesus drew an example of freedom which ran
on all-fours with His disciples' case. The Pharisees had pored over
the Old Testament all their lives, but it would have been long before
they had found such a doctrine as this in it.

Jesus goes on to bring out the principle which shaped the instance he
gave. He does not state it in its widest form, but confines it to the
matter in hand--Sabbath obligations. Ceremonial law in all its parts
is established as a means to an end--the highest good of men.
Therefore, the end is more important than the means; and, in any case
of apparent collision, the means must give way that the end may be
secured. External observances are not of permanent, unalterable
obligation. They stand on a different footing from primal moral
duties, which remain equally imperative whether doing them leads to
physical good or evil. David and his men were bound to keep these,
whether they starved or not; but they were not bound to leave the shew
bread lying in the shrine, and starve.

Man is made for the moral law. It is supreme, and he is under it,
whether obedience leads to death or not. But all ceremonial
regulations are merely established to help men to reach the true end
of their being, and may be suspended or modified by his necessities.
The Sabbath comes under the class of such ceremonial regulations, and
may therefore be elastic when the pressure of necessity is brought to

But note that our Lord, even while thus defining the limits of the
obligation, asserts its universality. 'The Sabbath was made for
man'--not for a nation or an age, but for all time and for the whole
race. Those who would sweep away the observance of the weekly day of
rest are fond of quoting this text; but they give little heed to its
first clause, and do not note that their favourite passage upsets
their main contention, and establishes the law of the Sabbath as a
possession for the world for ever. It is not a burden, but a
privilege, made and meant for man's highest good.

Christ's conclusion that He is 'Lord even of the Sabbath' is based
upon the consideration of the true design of the day. If it is once
understood that it is appointed, not as an inflexible duty, like the
obligation of truth or purity, but as a means to man's good, physical
and spiritual, then He who has in charge all man's higher interests,
and who is the perfect realisation of the ideal of manhood, has full
authority to modify and suspend the ceremonial observance if in His
unerring judgment the suspension is desirable.

This is not an abrogation of the Sabbath, but, on the contrary, a
confirmation of the universal and merciful appointment. It does not
give permission to keep or neglect it, according to whim or for the
sake of amusement, but it does draw, strong and clear, the distinction
between a positive rite which may be modified, and an unchangeable
precept of the moral law which it is better for a man to die than to
neglect or transgress.

The second Sabbath scene deals with the same question from another
point of view. Works of necessity warranted the supercession of
Sabbath law; works of beneficence are no breaches of it. There are
circumstances in which it is right to do what is not 'lawful' on the
Sabbath, for such works as healing the man with a withered hand are
always 'lawful.'

We note the cruel indifference to the sufferer's woe which so
characteristically accompanies a religion which is mainly a matter of
outside observances. What cared the Pharisees whether the poor cripple
was healed or no? They wanted him cured only that they might have a
charge against Jesus. Note, too, the strange condition of mind, which
recognised Christ's miraculous power, and yet considered Him an
impious sinner.

Observe our Lord's purpose to make the miracle most conspicuous. He
bids the man stand out in the midst, before all the cold eyes of
malicious Pharisees and gaping spectators. A secret espionage was
going on in the synagogue. He sees it all, and drags it into full
light by setting the man forth and by His sudden, sharp thrust of a
question. He takes the first word this time, and puts the stealthy
spies on the defensive. His interrogation may possibly be regarded as
having a bearing on their conduct, for there was murder in their
hearts (verse 6). There they sat with solemn faces, posing as
sticklers for law and religion, and all the while they were seeking
grounds for killing Him. Was that Sabbath work? Whether would He, if
He cured the shrunken arm, or they, if they gathered accusations with
the intention of compassing His death, be the Sabbath-breakers?

It was a sharp, swift cut through their cloak of sanctity; but it has
a wider scope than that. The question rests on the principle that good
omitted is equivalent to evil committed. If we can save, and do not,
the responsibility of loss lies on us. If we can rescue, and let die,
our brother's blood reddens our hands. Good undone is not merely
negative. It is positive evil done. If from regard to the Sabbath we
refrained from doing some kindly deed alleviating a brother's sorrow,
we should not be inactive, but should have done something by our very
not doing, and what we should do would be evil. It is a pregnant
saying which has many solemn applications.

No wonder that they 'held their peace.' Unless they had been prepared
to abandon their position, there was nothing to be said. That silence
indicated conviction and obstinate pride and rooted hatred which would
not be convinced, conciliated, or softened. Therefore Jesus looked on
them with that penetrating, yearning gaze, which left ineffaceable
remembrances on the beholders, as the frequent mention of it

The emotions in Christ's heart as He looked on the dogged, lowering
faces are expressed in a remarkable phrase, which is probably best
taken as meaning that grief mingled with His anger. A wondrous glimpse
into that tender heart, which in all its tenderness is capable of
righteous indignation, and in all its indignation does not set aside
its tenderness!

Mark that not even the most rigid prohibitions were broken by the
process of cure. It was no breach of the fantastic restrictions which
had been engrafted on the commandment, that Jesus should bid the man
put out his hand. Nobody could find fault with a man for doing that.
These two things, a word and a movement of muscles, were all. So He
did 'heal on the Sabbath,' and yet did nothing that could be laid hold

But let us not miss the parable of the restoration of the maimed and
shrunken powers of the soul, which the manner of the miracle gives.
Whatever we try to do because Jesus bids us, He will give us strength
to do, however impossible to our unaided powers it is. In the act of
stretching out the hand, ability to stretch it forth is bestowed,
power returns to atrophied muscles, stiffened joints are suppled, the
blood runs in full measure through the veins. So it is ever. Power to
obey attends on the desire and effort to obey.


He looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the
hardness of their hearts.'--Mark iii. 5.

Our Lord goes into the synagogue at Capernaum, where He had already
wrought more than one miracle, and there He finds an object for His
healing power, in a poor man with a withered hand; and also a little
knot of His enemies. The scribes and Pharisees expect Christ to heal
the man. So much had they learned of His tenderness and of His power.

But their belief that He could work a miracle did not carry them one
step towards a recognition of Him as sent by God. They have no eye for
the miracle, because they expect that He is going to break the
Sabbath. There is nothing so blind as formal religionism. This poor
man's infirmity did not touch their hearts with one little throb of
compassion. They had rather that he had gone crippled all his days
than that one of their Rabbinical Sabbatarian restrictions should be
violated. There is nothing so cruel as formal religionism. They only
think that there is a trap laid--and perhaps they had laid it--into
which Christ is sure to go.

So, as our Evangelist tells us, they sat there stealthily watching Him
out of their cold eyes, whether He would heal on the Sabbath day, that
they might accuse Him. Our Lord bids the man stand out into the middle
of the little congregation. He obeys, perhaps, with some feeble
glimmer of hope playing round his heart. There is a quickened
attention in the audience; the enemies are watching Him with
gratification, because they hope He is going to do what they think to
be a sin.

And then He reduces them all to silence and perplexity by His
question--sharp, penetrating, unexpected: 'Is it lawful to do good on
the Sabbath day, or to do evil? You are ready to blame Me as breaking
your Sabbatarian regulations if I heal this man. What if I do not heal
him? Will that be doing nothing? Will not that be a worse breach of
the Sabbath day than if I heal him?'

He takes the question altogether out of the region of pedantic
Rabbinism, and bases His vindication upon the two great principles
that mercy and help hallow any day, and that not to do good when we
can is to do harm, and not to save life is to kill.

They are silenced. His arrow touches them; they do not speak because
they cannot answer; and they will not yield. There is a struggle going
on in them, which Christ sees, and He fixes them with that steadfast
look of His; of which our Evangelist is the only one who tells us what
it expressed, and by what it was occasioned. 'He looked round about on
them _with anger_, being _grieved_.' Mark the combination of emotions,
anger and grief. And mark the reason for both; 'the hardness,' or as
you will see, if you use the Revised Version, 'the _hardening_' of
their hearts--a process which He saw going on before Him as He looked
at them.

Now I do not need to follow the rest of the story, how He turns away
from them because He will not waste any more words on them, else He
had done more harm than good. He heals the man. They hurry from the
synagogue to prove their zeal for the sanctifying of the Sabbath day
by hatching a plot on it for murdering Him. I leave all that, and turn
to the thoughts suggested by this look of Christ as explained by the

I. Consider then, first, the solemn fact of Christ's anger.

It is the only occasion, so far as I remember, upon which that emotion
is attributed to Him. Once, and once only, the flash came out of the
clear sky of that meek and gentle heart. He was once angry; and we may
learn the lesson of the possibilities that lay slumbering in His love.
He was only once angry, and we may learn the lesson that His perfect
and divine charity 'is not easily provoked.' These very words from
Paul's wonderful picture may teach us that the perfection of divine
charity does not consist in its being incapable of becoming angry at
all, but only in its not being angry except upon grave and good

Christ's anger was part of the perfection of His manhood. The man that
cannot be angry at evil lacks enthusiasm for good. The nature that is
incapable of being touched with generous and righteous indignation is
so, generally, either because it lacks fire and emotion altogether, or
because its vigour has been dissolved into a lazy indifference and
easy good nature which it mistakes for love. Better the heat of the
tropics, though sometimes the thunderstorms may gather, than the white
calmness of the frozen poles. Anger is not weakness, but it is
strength, if there be these three conditions, if it be evoked by a
righteous and unselfish cause, if it be kept under rigid control, and
if there be nothing in it of malice, even when it prompts to
punishment. Anger is just and right when it is not produced by the
mere friction of personal irritation (like electricity by rubbing),
but is excited by the contemplation of evil. It is part of the marks
of a good man that he kindles into wrath when he sees 'the oppressor's
wrong.' If you went out hence to-night, and saw some drunken ruffian
beating his wife or ill-using his child, would you not do well to be
angry? And when nations have risen up, as our own nation did seventy
years ago in a paroxysm of righteous indignation, and vowed that
British soil should no more bear the devilish abomination of slavery,
was there nothing good and great in that wrath? So it is one of the
strengths of man that he shall be able to glow with indignation at

Only all such emotion must be kept well in hand must never be suffered
to degenerate into passion. Passion is always weak, emotion is an
element of strength.

'The gods approve
The depth and not the tumult of the soul.'

But where a man does not let his wrath against evil go sputtering off
aimlessly, like a box of fireworks set all alight at once, then it
comes to be a strength and a help to much that is good.

The other condition that makes wrath righteous and essential to the
perfection of a man, is that there shall be in it no taint of malice.
Anger may impel to punish and not be malicious, if its reason for
punishment is the passionless impulse of justice or the reformation of
the wrong-doer. Then it is pure and true and good. Such wrath is a
part of the perfection of humanity, and such wrath was in Jesus

But, still further, Christ's anger was part of His revelation of God.
What belongs to perfect man belongs to God in whose image man was
made. People are very often afraid of attributing to the divine nature
that emotion of wrath, very unnecessarily, I think, and to the
detriment of all their conceptions of the divine nature.

There is no reason why we should not ascribe emotion to Him. Passions
God has not; emotions the Bible represents Him as having. The god of
the philosopher has none. He is a cold, impassive Somewhat, more like
a block of ice than a god. But the God of the Bible has a heart that
can be touched, and is capable of something like what we call in
ourselves emotion. And if we rightly think of God as Love, there is no
more reason why we should not think of God as having the other emotion
of wrath; for as I have shown you, there is nothing in wrath itself
which is derogatory to the perfection of the loftiest spiritual
nature. In God's anger there is no self-regarding irritation, no
passion, no malice. It is the necessary displeasure and aversion of
infinite purity at the sight of man's impurity. God's anger is His
love thrown back upon itself from unreceptive and unloving hearts.
Just as a wave that would roll in smooth, unbroken, green beauty into
the open door of some sea-cave is dashed back in spray and foam from
some grim rock, so the love of God, meeting the unloving heart that
rejects it, and the purity of God meeting the impurity of man,
necessarily become that solemn reality, the wrath of the most high
God. 'A God all mercy were a God unjust.' The judge is condemned when
the culprit is acquitted; and he that strikes out of the divine nature
the capacity for anger against sin, little as he thinks it, is
degrading the righteousness and diminishing the love of God.

Oh, dear brethren, I beseech you do not let any easygoing gospel that
has nothing to say to you about God's necessary aversion from, and
displeasure with, and chastisement of, your sins and mine, draw you
away from the solemn and wholesome belief that there is that in God
which must hate and war against and chastise our evil, and that if
there were not, He would be neither worth loving nor worth trusting.
And His Son, in His tears and in His tenderness, which were habitual,
and also in that lightning flash which once shot across the sky of His
nature, was revealing Him to us. The Gospel is not only the revelation
of God's righteousness for faith, but is also 'the revelation of His
wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.'

'It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.' The ox, with the
yoke on his neck, lashes out with his obstinate heels against the
driver's goad. He does not break the goad, but only embrues his own
limbs. Do not you do that!

II. And now, once more, let me ask you to look at the compassion which
goes with our Lord's anger here; 'being grieved at the hardness of
their hearts.'

The somewhat singular word rendered here 'grieved,' may either simply
imply that this sorrow co-existed with the anger, or it may describe
the sorrow as being sympathy or compassion. I am disposed to take it
in the latter application, and so the lesson we gather from these
words is the blessed thought that Christ's wrath was all blended with
compassion and sympathetic sorrow.

He looked upon these scribes and Pharisees sitting there with hatred
in their eyes; and two emotions, which many men suppose as discrepant
and incongruous as fire and water, rose together in His heart: wrath,
which fell on the evil; sorrow, which bedewed the doers of it. The
anger was for the hardening, the compassion was for the hardeners.

If there be this blending of wrath and sorrow, the combination takes
away from the anger all possibility of an admixture of these
questionable ingredients, which mar human wrath, and make men shrink
from attributing so turbid and impure an emotion to God. It is an
anger which lies harmoniously in the heart side by side with the
tenderest pity--the truest, deepest sorrow.

Again, if Christ's sorrow flowed out thus along with His anger when He
looked upon men's evil, then we understand in how tragic a sense He
was 'a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.' The pain and the
burden and the misery of His earthly life had no selfish basis. They
were not like the pain and the burdens and the misery that so many of
us howl out so loudly about, arising from causes affecting ourselves.
But for Him--with His perfect purity, with His deep compassion, with
His heart that was the most sensitive heart that ever beat in a human
breast, because it was the only perfectly pure one that ever beat
there--for Him to go amongst men was to be wounded and bruised and
hacked by the sharp swords of their sins.

Everything that He touched burned that pure nature, which was
sensitive to evil, like an infant's hand to hot iron. His sorrow and
His anger were the two sides of the medal. His feelings in looking on
sin were like a piece of woven stuff with a pattern on either side, on
one the fiery threads--the wrath; on the other the silvery tints of
sympathetic pity. A warp of wrath, a woof of sorrow, dew and flame
married and knit together.

And may we not draw from this same combination of these two apparently
discordant emotions in our Lord, the lesson of what it is in men that
makes them the true subjects of pity? Ay, these scribes and Pharisees
had very little notion that there was anything about them to
compassionate. But the thing which in the sight of God makes the true
evil of men's condition is not their circumstances but their sins. The
one thing to weep for when we look at the world is not its
misfortunes, but its wickedness. Ah! brother, that is the misery of
miseries; that is the one thing worth crying about in our own lives,
or in anybody else's. From this combination of indignation and pity,
we may learn how we should look upon evil. Men are divided into two
classes in their way of looking at wickedness in this world. One set
are rigid and stern, and crackling into wrath; the other set placid
and good-natured, and ready to weep over it as a misfortune and a
calamity, but afraid or unwilling to say: 'These poor creatures are to
be blamed as well as pitied.' It is of prime importance that we all
should try to take both points of view, looking on sin as a thing to
be frowned at, but also looking on it as a thing to be wept over; and
to regard evil-doers as persons that deserve to be blamed and to be
chastised, and made to feel the bitterness of their evil, and not to
interfere too much with the salutary laws that bring down sorrow upon
men's heads if they have been doing wrong, but, on the other hand, to
take care that our sense of justice does not swallow up the compassion
that weeps for the criminal as an object of pity. Public opinion and
legislation swing from the one extreme to the other. We have to make
an effort to keep in the centre, and never to look round in anger,
unsoftened by pity, nor in pity, enfeebled by being separated from
righteous indignation.

III. Let me now deal briefly with the last point that is here, namely,
the occasion for both the sorrow and the anger, 'Being grieved at the
_hardening_ of the hearts.'

As I said at the beginning of these remarks, 'hardness,' the rendering
of our Authorised Version, is not quite so near the mark as that of
the Revised Version, which speaks not so much of a condition as of a
process: 'He was grieved at the hardening of their hearts,' which He
saw going on there.

And what was hardening their hearts? It was He. Why were their hearts
being hardened? Because they were looking at Him, His graciousness,
His goodness, and His power, and were steeling themselves against Him,
opposing to His grace and tenderness their own obstinate
determination. Some little gleams of light were coming in at their
windows, and they clapped the shutters up. Some tones of His voice
were coming into their ears, and they stuffed their fingers into them.
They half felt that if they let themselves be influenced by Him it was
all over, and so they set their teeth and steadied themselves in their

And that is what some of you are doing now. Jesus Christ is never
preached to you, even although it is as imperfectly as I do it, but
that you either gather yourselves into an attitude of resistance, or,
at least, of mere indifference till the flow of the sermon's words is
done; or else open your hearts to His mercy and His grace.

Oh, dear brethren, will you take this lesson of the last part of my
text, that nothing so tends to harden a man's heart to the gospel of
Jesus Christ as religious formalism? If Jesus Christ were to come in
here now, and stand where I am standing, and look round about upon
this congregation, I wonder how many a highly respectable and
perfectly proper man and woman, church and chapel-goer, who keeps the
Sabbath day, He would find on whom He had to look with grief not
unmingled with anger, because they were hardening their hearts against
Him now. I am sure there are some of such among my present audience. I
am sure there are some of you about whom it is true that 'the
publicans and the harlots will go into the Kingdom of God before you,'
because in their degradation they may be nearer the lowly penitence
and the consciousness of their own misery and need, which will open
their eyes to see the beauty and the preciousness of Jesus Christ.

Dear brother, let no reliance upon any external attention to religious
ordinances; no interest, born of long habit of hearing sermons; no
trust in the fact of your being communicants, blind you to this, that
all these things may come between you and your Saviour, and so may
take you away into the outermost darkness.

Dear brother or sister, you are a sinner. 'The God in whose hand thy
breath is, and whose are all thy ways, thou hast not glorified.' You
have forgotten Him; you have lived to please yourselves. I charge you
with nothing criminal, with nothing gross or sensual; I know nothing
about you in such matters; but I know this--that you have a heart like
mine, that we have all of us the one character, and that we all need
the one gospel of that Saviour 'who bare our sins in His own body on
the tree,' and died that whosoever trusts in Him may live here and
yonder. I beseech you, harden not your hearts, but to-day hear His
voice, and remember the solemn words which not I, but the Apostle of
Love, has spoken: 'He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life,
he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God
abideth upon him.' Flee to that sorrowing and dying Saviour, and take
the cleansing which He gives, that you may be safe on the sure
foundation when God shall arise to do His strange work of judgment,
and may never know the awful meaning of that solemn word--'the wrath
of the Lamb.'


'And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the
Herodlans against Him, how they might destroy Him. 7. But Jesus
withdrew Himself with His disciples to the sea: and a great multitude
from Galilee followed Him, and from Judaa 8. And from Jerusalem, and
from Idumaa beyond Jordan; and they about Tyre and Sidon, a great
multitude, when they had heard what great things He did, came unto
Him. 9. And He spake to His disciples, that a small ship should wait
on Him because of the multitude, lest they should throng Him. 10. For
he had healed many; insomuch that they pressed upon Him for to touch
Him, as many as had plagues. 11. And unclean spirits, when they saw
Him, fell down before Him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God.
12. And He straitly charged them that they should not make Him known.
13. And He goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto Him whom He
would: and they came unto Him. 14. And He ordained twelve, that they
should be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach, 15.
And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils: 16. And
Simon He surnamed Peter; 17. And James the son of Zebedee, and John
the brother of James; and He surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The
sons of thunder: 18. And Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and
Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaus Thaddaus Simon the
Canaanite, 19. And Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed Him: and they
went into an house.'--Mark iii. 6-19.

A common object of hatred cements antagonists into strange alliance.
Hawks and kites join in assailing a dove. Pharisees and Herod's
partisans were antipodes; the latter must have parted with all their
patriotism and much of their religion, but both parties were ready to
sink their differences in order to get rid of Jesus, whom they
instinctively felt to threaten destruction to them both. Such
alliances of mutually repellent partisans against Christ's cause are
not out of date yet. Extremes join forces against what stands in the
middle between them.

Jesus withdrew from the danger which was preparing, not from selfish
desire to preserve life, but because His 'hour' was not yet come.
Discretion is sometimes the better part of valour. To avoid peril is
right, to fly from duty is not. There are times when Luther's 'Here I
stand; I can do nothing else; God help me! Amen,' must be our motto;
and there are times when the persecuted in one city are bound to flee
to another. We shall best learn to distinguish between these times by
keeping close to Jesus.

But side by side with official hatred, and in some measure the cause
of it, was a surging rush of popular enthusiasm. Pharisees took
offence at Christ's breaches of law in his Sabbath miracles. The crowd
gaped at the wonders, and grasped at the possibility of cures for
their afflicted. Neither party in the least saw below the surface.
Mark describes two 'multitudes'--one made up of Galileans who, he
accurately says, 'followed Him'; while the other 'came to Him' from
further afield. Note the geographical order in the list: the southern
country of Judea, and the capital; then the trans-Jordanic territories
beginning with Idumea in the south, and coming northward to Perea; and
then the north-west bordering lands of Tyre and Sidon. Thus three
parts of a circle round Galilee as centre are described. Observe,
also, how turbid and impure the full stream of popular enthusiasm was.

Christ's gracious, searching, illuminating words had no attraction for
the multitude. 'The great things He _did_' drew them with idle
curiosity or desire for bodily healing. Still more impure was the
motive which impelled the 'evil spirits' to approach Him, drawn by a
strange fascination to gaze on Him whom they knew to be their
conqueror, and hated as the Son of God. Terror and malice drove them
to His presence, and wrung from them acknowledgment of His supremacy.
What intenser pain can any hell have than the clear recognition of
Christ's character and power, coupled with fiercely obstinate and
utterly vain rebellion against Him?

Note, further, our Lord's recoil from the tumult. He had retired
before cunning plotters; He withdrew from gaping admirers, who did not
know what they were crowding to, nor cared for His best gifts. It was
no fastidious shrinking from low natures, nor any selfish wish for
repose, that made Him take refuge in the fisherman's little boat. But
His action teaches us a lesson that the best Christian work is
hindered rather than helped by the 'popularity' which dazzles many,
and is often mistaken for success. Christ's motive for seeking to
check rather than to stimulate such impure admiration, was that it
would certainly increase the rulers' antagonism, and might even excite
the attention of the Roman authorities, who had to keep a very sharp
outlook for agitations among their turbulent subjects. Therefore
Christ first took to the boat, and then withdrew into the hills above
the lake.

In that seclusion He summoned to Him a small nucleus, as it would
appear, by individual selection. These would be such of the
'multitude' as He had discerned to be humble souls who yearned for
deliverance from worse than outward diseases or bondage, and who
therefore waited for a Messiah who was more than a physician or a
patriot warrior. A personal call and a personal yielding make true
disciples. Happy we if our history can be summed up in 'He called them
unto Him, and they came.' But there was an election within the chosen

The choice of the Twelve marks an epoch in the development of Christ's
work, and was occasioned, at this point of time, by both the currents
which we find running so strong at this point in it. Precisely because
Pharisaic hatred was becoming so threatening, and popular enthusiasm
was opening opportunities which He singly could not utilise, He felt
His need both for companions and for messengers. Therefore He
surrounded Himself with that inner circle, and did it then, The
appointment of the Apostles has been treated by some as a masterpiece
of organisation, which largely contributed to the progress of
Christianity, and by others as an endowment of the Twelve with
supernatural powers which are transmitted on certain outward
conditions to their successors, and thereby give effect to sacraments,
and are the legitimate channels for grace. But if we take Mark's
statement of their function, our view will be much simpler. The number
of twelve distinctly alludes to the tribes of Israel, and implies that
the new community is to be the true people of God.

The Apostles were chosen for two ends, of which the former was
preparatory to the latter. The latter was the more important and
permanent, and hence gave the office its name. They were to be 'with
Christ,' and we may fairly suppose that He wished that companionship
for His own sake as well as for theirs. No doubt, the primary purpose
was their training for their being sent forth to preach. But no doubt,
also, the lonely Christ craved for companions, and was strengthened
and soothed by even the imperfect sympathy and unintelligent love of
these humble adherents. Who can fail to hear tones which reveal how
much He hungered for companions in His grateful acknowledgment, 'Ye
are they which have continued with Me in My temptations'? It still
remains true that we must be 'with Christ' much and long before we can
go forth as His messengers.

Note, too, that the miracle-working power comes last as least
important. Peter had understood his office better than some of his
alleged successors, when he made its qualification to be having been
with Jesus during His life, and its office to be that of being
witnesses of His resurrection (Acts i.).

The list of the Apostles presents many interesting points, at which we
can only glance. If compared with the lists in the other Gospels and
in Acts, it brings out clearly the division into three groups of four
persons each. The order in which the four are named varies within the
limits of each group; but none of the first four are ever in the lists
degraded to the second or third group, and none of these are ever
promoted beyond their own class. So there were apparently degrees
among the Twelve, depending, no doubt, on spiritual receptivity, each
man being as close to the Lord, and gifted with as much of the
sunshine of His love, as he was fit for.

Further, their places in relation to each other vary. The first four
are always first, and Peter is always at their head; but in Matthew
and Luke, the pairs of brothers are kept together, while, in Mark,
Andrew is parted from his brother Simon, and put last of the first
four. That place indicates the closer relation of the other three to
Jesus, of which several instances will occur to every one. But Mark
puts James before John, and his list evidently reflects the memory of
the original superiority of James as probably the elder. There was a
time when John was known as 'James's brother.' But the time came, as
Acts shows, when John took precedence, and was closely linked with
Peter as the two leaders. So the ties of kindred may be loosened, and
new bonds of fellowship created by similarity of relation to Jesus. In
His kingdom, the elder may fall behind the younger. Rank in it depends
on likeness to the king.

The surname of Boanerges, 'Sons of Thunder,' given to the brothers,
can scarcely be supposed to commemorate a characteristic prior to
discipleship. Christ does not perpetuate old faults in his servants'
new names. It must rather refer to excellences which were heightened
and hallowed in them by following Jesus. Probably, therefore, it
points to a certain majesty of utterance. Do we not hear the boom of
thunder-peals in the prologue to John's Gospel, perhaps the grandest
words ever written?

In the second quartet, Bartholomew is probably Nathanael; and, if so,
his conjunction with Philip is an interesting coincidence with John i.
45, which tells that Philip brought him to Jesus. All three Gospels
put the two names together, as if the two men had kept up their
association; but, in Acts, Thomas takes precedence of Bartholomew, as
if a closer spiritual relationship had by degrees sprung up between
Philip, the leader of the second group, and Thomas, which slackened
the old bond. Note that these two, who are coupled in Acts, are two of
the interlocutors in the final discourses in the upper room (John
xiv.). Mark, like Luke, puts Matthew before Thomas; but Matthew puts
himself last, and adds his designation of 'publican,'--a beautiful
example of humility.

The last group contains names which have given commentators trouble. I
am not called on to discuss the question of the identity of the James
who is one of its members. Thaddeus is by Luke called Judas, both in
his Gospel and in the Acts; and by Matthew, according to one reading,
Lebbaeus. Both names are probably surnames, the former being probably
derived from a word meaning _breast_, and the latter from one
signifying _heart_. They seem, therefore, to be nearly equivalent, and
may express large-heartedness.

Simon 'the Canaanite' (Auth. Ver.) is properly 'the Cananaan' (Rev.
Ver.). There was no alien in blood among the Twelve. The name is a
late Aramaic word meaning _zealot_. Hence Luke translates it for
Gentile readers. He was one of the fanatical sect who would not have
anything to do with Rome, and who played such a terrible part in the
final catastrophe of Israel. The baser elements were purged out of his
fiery enthusiasm when he became Christ's man. The hallowing and
curbing of earthly passion, the ennobling of enthusiasm, are achieved
when the pure flame of love to Christ burns up their dross.

Judas Iscariot closes the list, cold and venomous as a snake.
Enthusiasm in him there was none. The problem of his character is too
complex to be entered on here. But we may lay to heart the warning
that, if a man is not knit to Christ by heart's love and obedience,
the more he comes into contact with Jesus the more will he recoil from
Him, till at last he is borne away by a passion of detestation. Christ
is either a sure foundation or a stone of stumbling.


'And when His friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on Him:
for they said, He is beside Himself'--Mark iii. 21.

There had been great excitement in the little town of Capernaum in
consequence of Christ's teachings and miracles. It had been
intensified by His infractions of the Rabbinical Sabbath law, and by
His appointment of the twelve Apostles. The sacerdotal party in
Capernaum apparently communicated with Jerusalem, with the result of
bringing a deputation from the Sanhedrim to look into things, and see
what this new rabbi was about. A plot for His assassination was
secretly on foot. And at this juncture the incident of my text, which
we owe to Mark alone of the Evangelists, occurs. Christ's friends,
apparently the members of His own family--sad to say, as would appear
from the context, including His mother--came with a kindly design to
rescue their misguided kinsman from danger, and laying hands upon Him,
to carry Him off to some safe restraint in Nazareth, where He might
indulge His delusions without doing any harm to Himself. They wish to
excuse His eccentricities on the ground that He is not quite
responsible--scarcely Himself; and so to blunt the point of the more
hostile explanation of the Pharisees that He is in league with

Conceive of that! The Incarnate Wisdom shielded by friends from the
accusation that He is a demoniac by the apology that He is a lunatic!
What do you think of popular judgment?

But this half-pitying, half-contemptuous, and wholly benevolent excuse
for Jesus, though it be the words of friends, is like the words of His
enemies, in that it contains a distorted reflection of His true
character. And if we will think about it, I fancy that we may gather
from it some lessons not altogether unprofitable.

I. The first point, then, that I make, is just this--there was
something in the character of Jesus Christ which could be plausibly
explained to commonplace people as madness.

A well-known modern author has talked a great deal about 'the sweet
reasonableness of Jesus Christ.' His contemporaries called it simple
insanity; if they did not say 'He hath a devil,' as well as 'He is

Now, if we try to throw ourselves back to the life of Jesus Christ, as
it was unfolded day by day, and think nothing about either what
preceded in the revelation of the Old Covenant, or what followed in
the history of Christianity, we shall not be so much at a loss to
account for such explanations of it as these of my text. Remember that
charges like these, in all various keys of contempt or of pity, or of
fierce hostility, have been cast against all innovators, against every
man that has broken a new path; against all teachers that have cut
themselves apart from tradition and encrusted formulas; against every
man that has waged war with the conventionalisms of society; against
all idealists who have dreamed dreams and seen visions; against every
man that has been touched with a lofty enthusiasm of any sort; and,
most of all, against all to whom God and their relations to Him, the
spiritual world and their relations to it, the future life and their
relations to that, have become dominant forces and motives in their

The short and easy way with which the world excuses itself from the
poignant lessons and rebukes which come from such lives is something
like that of my text, 'He is beside himself.' And the proof that he is
beside himself is that he does not act in the same fashion as these
incomparably wise people that make up the majority in every age. There
is nothing that commonplace men hate like anything fresh and original.
There is nothing that men of low aims are so utterly bewildered to
understand, and which so completely passes all the calculus of which
they are masters, as lofty self-abnegation. And wherever you get men
smitten with such, or with anything like it, you will find all the
low-aimed people gathering round them like bats round a torch in a
cavern, flapping their obscene wings and uttering their harsh croaks,
and only desiring to quench the light.

One of our cynical authors says that it is the mark of a genius that
all the dullards are against him. It is the mark of the man who dwells
with God that all the people whose portion is in this life with one
consent say, 'He is beside himself.'

And so the Leader of them all was served in His day; and that purest,
perfectest, noblest, loftiest, most utterly self-oblivious, and
God-and-man-devoted life that ever was lived upon earth, was disposed
of in this extremely simple method, so comforting to the complacency
of the critics--either 'He is beside Himself,' or 'He hath a devil.'

And yet, is not the saying a witness to the presence in that wondrous
and gentle career of an element entirely unlike what exists in the
most of mankind? Here was a new star in the heavens, and the law of
its orbit was manifestly different from that of all the rest. That is
what 'eccentric' means--that the life to which it applies does not
move round the same centre as do the other satellites, but has a path
of its own. Away out yonder somewhere, in the infinite depths, lay the
hidden point which drew it to itself and determined its magnificent
and overwhelmingly vast orbit. These men witness to Jesus Christ, even
by their half excuse, half reproach, that His was a life unique and
inexplicable by the ordinary motives which shape the little lives of
the masses of mankind. They witness to His entire neglect of ordinary
and low aims; to His complete absorption in lofty purposes, which to
His purblind would-be critics seem to be delusions and fond
imaginations that could never be realised. They witness to what His
disciples remembered had been written of Him, 'The zeal of Thy house
hath eaten Me up'; to His perfect devotion to man and to God. They
witness to His consciousness of a mission; and there is nothing that
men are so ready to resent as that. To tell a world, engrossed in self
and low aims, that one is sent from God to do His will, and to spread
it among men, is the sure way to have all the heavy artillery and the
lighter weapons of the world turned against one.

These characteristics of Jesus seem then to be plainly implied in that
allegation of insanity--lofty aims, absolute originality, utter
self-abnegation, the continual consciousness of communion with God,
devotion to the service of man, and the sense of being sent by God for
the salvation of the world. It was because of these that His friends
said, 'He is beside Himself.'

These men judged themselves by judging Jesus Christ. And all men do.
There are as many different estimates of a great man as there are
people to estimate, and hence the diversity of opinion about all the
characters that fill history and the galleries of the past. The eye
sees what it brings and no more. To discern the greatness of a great
man, or the goodness of a good one, is to possess, in lower measure,
some portion of that which we discern. Sympathy is the condition of
insight into character. And so our Lord said once, 'He that receiveth
a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward,'
because he is a dumb prophet himself, and has a lower power of the
same gift in him, which is eloquent on the prophet's lips.

In like manner, to discern what is in Christ is the test of whether
there is any of it in myself. And thus it is no mere arbitrary
appointment which suspends your salvation and mine on our answer to
this question, 'What think ye of Christ?' The answer will be--I was
going to say--the elixir of our whole moral and spiritual nature. It
will be the outcome of our inmost selves. This ploughshare turns up
the depths of the soil. That is eternally true which the grey-bearded
Simeon, the representative of the Old, said when he took the Infant in
his arms and looked down upon the unconscious, placid, smooth face.
'This Child is set for the rise and fall of many in Israel, that the
thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.' Your answer to that question
discloses your whole spiritual condition and capacities. And so to
judge Christ is to be judged by Him; and what we think Him to be, that
we make Him to ourselves. The question which tests us is not merely,
'Whom do men say that I am?' It is easy to answer that; but this is
the all-important interrogation, 'Whom do _ye_ say that I am?' I pray
that we may each answer as he to whom it was first put answered it,
'Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel!'

II. Secondly, mark the similarity of the estimate which will be passed
by the world on all Christ's true followers.

The same elements exist to-day, the same intolerance of anything
higher than the low level, the same incapacity to comprehend simple
devotion and lofty aims, the same dislike of a man who comes and
rebukes by his silent presence the vices in which he takes no part.
And it is a great deal easier to say, 'Poor fool! enthusiastic
fanatic!' than it is to lay to heart the lesson that lies in such a

The one thing, or at least the principal thing, which the Christianity
of this generation wants is a little more of this madness. It would be
a great deal better for us who call ourselves Christians if we had
earned and deserved the world's sneer, 'He is beside himself.' But our
modern Christianity, like an epicure's rare wines, is preferred iced.
And the last thing that anybody would think of suggesting in
connection with the demeanour--either the conduct or the words--of the
average Christian man of this day is that his religion had touched his
brain a little.

But, dear friends, go in Christ's footsteps and you will have the same
missiles flung at you. If a church or an individual has earned the
praise of the outside ring of godless people because its or his
religion is 'reasonable and moderate; and kept in its proper place;
and not allowed to interfere with social enjoyments, and political and
municipal corruptions,' and the like, then there is much reason to ask
whether that church or man is Christian after Christ's pattern. Oh, I
pray that there may come down on the professing Church of this
generation a baptism of the Spirit; and I am quite sure that when that
comes, the people that admire moderation and approve of religion, but
like it to be 'kept in its own place,' will be all ready to say, when
they hear the 'sons and the daughters prophesying, and the old men
seeing visions, and the young men dreaming dreams,' and the fiery
tongues uttering their praises of God, 'These men are full of new
wine!' Would we _were_ full of the new wine of the Spirit! Do you
think any one would say of your religion that you were 'beside
yourself,' because you made so much of it? They said it about your
Master, and if you were like Him it would be said, in one tone or
another, about you. We are all desperately afraid of enthusiasm
to-day. It seems to me that it is _the_ want of the Christian Church,
and that we are not enthusiastic because we don't half believe the
truths that we say are our creed.

One more word. Christian men and women have to make up their minds to
go on in the path of devotion, conformity to Christ's pattern,
self-sacrificing surrender, without minding one bit what is said about
them. Brethren, I do not think Christian people are in half as much
danger of dropping the standard of the Christian life by reason of the
sarcasms of the world, as they are by reason of the low tone of the
Church. Don't you take your ideas of what a reasonable Christian life
is from the men round you, howsoever they may profess to be Christ's
followers. And let us keep so near the Master that we may be able to
say, 'With me it is a very small matter to be judged of you, or of
man's judgment. He that judgeth me is the Lord.' Never mind, though
they say, 'Beside himself!' Never mind, though they say, 'Oh! utterly
extravagant and impracticable.' Better that than to be patted on the
back by a world that likes nothing so well as a Church with its teeth
drawn, and its claws cut; which may be made a plaything and an
ornament by the world. And that is what much of our modern
Christianity has come to be.

III. Lastly, notice the sanity of the insane.

I have only space to put before you three little pictures, and ask you
what you think of them. I dare say the originals might be found among
us without much search.

Here is one. Suppose a man who, like the most of us, believes that
there is a God, believes that he has something to do with Him,
believes that he is going to die, believes that the future state is,
in some way or other, and in some degree, one of retribution; and from
Monday morning to Saturday night he ignores all these facts, and never
allows them to influence one of his actions. May I venture to speak
direct to this hypothetical person, whose originals are dotted about
in my audience? It would be the very same to you if you said 'No'
instead of 'Yes' to all these affirmations. The fact that there is a
God does not make a bit of difference to what you do, or what you
think, or what you feel. The fact that there is a future life makes
just as little difference. You are going on a voyage next week, and
you never dream of getting your outfit. You believe all these things,
you are an intelligent man--you are very likely, in a great many ways,
a very amiable and pleasant one; you do many things very well; you
cultivate congenial virtues, and you abhor uncongenial vices; but you
never think about God; and you have made absolutely no preparation
whatever for stepping into the scene in which you know that you are to

Well, you may be a very wise man, a student with high aims, cultivated
understanding, and all the rest of it. I want to know whether, taking
into account all that you are, and your inevitable connection with
God, and your certain death and certain life in a state of
retribution--I want to know whether we should call your conduct sanity
or insanity? Which?

Take another picture. Here is a man that believes--really
believes--the articles of the Christian creed, and in some measure has
received them into his heart and life. He believes that Jesus Christ,
the Son of God, died for him upon the Cross, and yet his heart has but
the feeblest tick of pulsating love in answer. He believes that prayer
will help a man in all circumstances, and yet he hardly ever prays. He
believes that self-denial is the law of the Christian life, and yet he
lives for himself. He believes that he is here as a 'pilgrim' and as a
'sojourner,' and yet his heart clings to the world, and his hand would
fain cling to it, like that of a drowning man swept over Niagara, and
catching at anything on the banks. He believes that he is sent into
the world to be a 'light' of the world, and yet from out of his
self-absorbed life there has hardly ever come one sparkle of light
into any dark heart. And that is a picture, not exaggerated, of the
enormous majority of professing Christians in so-called Christian
lands. And I want to know whether we shall call that sanity or

The last of my little miniatures is that of a man who keeps in close
touch with Jesus Christ, and so, like Him, can say, 'Lo! I come; I
delight to do Thy will, O Lord. Thy law is within my heart.' He yields
to the strong motives and principles that flow from the Cross of Jesus
Christ, and, drawn by the 'mercies of God,' gives himself a 'living
sacrifice' to be used as God will. Aims as lofty as the Throne which
Christ His Brother fills; sacrifice as entire as that on which his
trembling hope relies; realisation of the unseen future as vivid and
clear as His who could say that He was '_in_ Heaven' whilst He walked
the earth; subjugation of self as complete as that of the Lord's, who
pleased not Himself, and came not to do His own will--these are some
of the characteristics which mark the true disciple of Jesus Christ.
And I want to know whether the conduct of the man who believes in the
love that God hath to him, as manifested in the Cross, and surrenders
his whole self thereto, despising the world and living for God, for
Christ, for man, for eternity--whether his conduct is insanity or
sanity? 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.'


'And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath
Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth He out devils. 23.
And He called them unto Him, and said unto them in parables, How can
Satan cast out Satan? 24. And if a kingdom be divided against itself,
that kingdom cannot stand. 25. And if a house be divided against
itself, that house cannot stand. 26. And if Satan rise up against
himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. 27. No man
can enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he
will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house. 28.
Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of
men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: 29. But he
that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness,
but is in danger of eternal damnation: 30. Because they said, He hath
an unclean spirit. 31. There came then His brethren and His mother,
and, standing without, sent unto Him, calling Him. 32. And the
multitude sat about Him, and they said unto Him, Behold, Thy mother
and Thy brethren without seek for Thee. 33. And He answered them,
saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? 34. And He looked round
about on them which sat about Him, and said, Behold My mother and My
brethren! 35. For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is My
brother, and My sister, and mother.'--Mark iii. 22-35.

We have in this passage three parts,--the outrageous official
explanation of Christ and His works, the Lord's own solution of His
miracles, and His relatives' well-meant attempt to secure Him, with
His answer to it.

I. The scribes, like Christ's other critics, judged themselves in
judging Him, and bore witness to the truths which they were eager to
deny. Their explanation would be ludicrous, if it were not dreadful.
Mark that it distinctly admits His miracles. It is not fashionable at
present to attach much weight to the fact that none of Christ's
enemies ever doubted these. Of course, the credence of men, in an age
which believed in the possibility of the supernatural, is more easy,
and their testimony less cogent, than that of a jury of
twentieth-century scientific sceptics. But the expectation of miracle
had been dead for centuries when Christ came; and at first, at all
events, no anticipation that He would work them made it easier to
believe that He did.

It would have been a sure way of exploding His pretensions, if the
officials could have shown that His miracles were tricks. Not without
weight is the attestation from the foe that 'this man casteth out
demons.' The preposterous explanation that He cast out demons by
Beelzebub, is the very last resort of hatred so deep that it will
father an absurdity rather than accept the truth. It witnesses to the
inefficiency of explanations of Him which omit the supernatural. The
scribes recognised that here was a man who was in touch with the
unseen. They fell back upon 'by Beelzebub,' and thereby admitted that
humanity, without seeing something more at the back of it, never made
such a man as Jesus.

It is very easy to solve an insoluble problem, if you begin by taking
the insoluble elements out of it. That is how a great many modern
attempts to account for Christianity go to work. Knock out the
miracles, waive Christ's own claims as mistaken reports, declare His
resurrection to be entirely unhistorical, and the remainder will be
easily accounted for, and not worth accounting for. But the whole life
of the Christ of the Gospels is adequately explained by no explanation
which leaves out His coming forth from the Father, and His exercise of
powers above those of humanity and 'nature.'

This explanation is an instance of the credulity of unbelief. It is
more difficult to believe the explanation than the alternative which
it is framed to escape. If like produces like, Christ cannot be
explained by anything but the admission of His divine nature.
Serpents' eggs do not hatch out into doves. The difficulties of faith
are 'gnats' beside the 'camels' which unbelief has to swallow.

II. The true explanation of Christ's power over demoniacs. Jesus has
no difficulty in putting aside the absurd theory that, in destroying
the kingdom of evil, He was a servant of evil and its dark ruler.
Common-sense says, If Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against
himself, and his kingdom cannot stand. An old play is entitled, 'The
Devil is an Ass,' but he is not such an ass as to fight against
himself. As the proverb has it, 'Hawks do not pick out hawks' eyes.'

It would carry us too far to deal at length with the declarations of
our Lord here, which throw a dim light into the dark world of
supernatural evil. His words are far too solemn and didactic to be
taken as accommodations to popular prejudice, or as mere metaphor. Is
it not strange that people will believe in spiritual communications,
when they are vouched for by a newspaper editor, more readily than
when Christ asserts their reality? Is it not strange that scientists,
who find difficulty in the importance which Christianity attaches to
man in the plan of the universe, and will not believe that all its
starry orbs were built for him (which Christianity does not allege),
should be incredulous of teachings which reveal a crowd of higher

Jesus not only tests the futile explanation by common-sense, but goes
on to suggest the true one. He accepts the belief that there is a
'prince of the demons.' He regards the souls of men who have not
yielded themselves to God as His 'goods.' He declares that the lord of
the house must be bound before his property can be taken from him. We
cannot stay to enlarge on the solemn view of the condition of
unredeemed men thus given. Let us not put it lightly away. But we must
note how deep into the centre of Christ's work this teaching leads us.
Translated into plain language it just means that Christ by
incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and present work
from the throne, has broken the power of evil in its central hold. He
has crushed the serpent's head, his heel is firmly planted on it, and,
though the reptile may still 'swinge the scaly horror of his folded
tail,' it is but the dying flurries of the creature. He was manifested
'that He might destroy the works of the devil.'

No trace of indignation can be detected in Christ's answer to the
hideous charge. But His patient heart overflows in pity for the
reckless slanderers, and He warns them that they are coming near the
edge of a precipice. Their malicious blindness is hurrying them
towards a sin which hath never forgiveness. Blasphemy is, in form,
injurious speaking, and in essence, it is scorn or malignant
antagonism. The Holy Spirit is the divine agent in revealing God's
heart and will. To blaspheme Him is 'the external symptom of a heart
so radically and finally set against God that no power which God can
consistently use will ever save it.' 'The sin, therefore, can only be
the culmination of a long course of self-hardening and depraving.' It
is unforgivable, because the soul which can recognise God's revelation
of Himself in all His goodness and moral perfection, and be stirred
only to hatred thereby, has reached a dreadful climax of hardness, and
has ceased to be capable of being influenced by His beseeching. It has
passed beyond the possibility of penitence and acceptance of
forgiveness. The sin is unforgiven, because the sinner is fixed in
impenitence, and his stiffened will cannot bow to receive pardon.

The true reason why that sin has never forgiveness is suggested by the
accurate rendering, 'Is guilty of an eternal sin' (R.V.). Since the
sin is eternal, the forgiveness is impossible. Practically hardened
and permanent unbelief, conjoined with malicious hatred of the only
means of forgiveness, is the unforgivable sin. Much torture of heart
would have been saved if it had been observed that the Scripture
expression is not _sin_, but _blasphemy_. Fear that it has been
committed is proof positive that it has not; for, if it have been,
there will be no relenting in enmity, nor any wish for deliverance.

But let not the terrible picture of the depths of impenitence to which
a soul may fall, obscure the blessed universality of the declaration
from Christ's lips which preludes it, and declares that all sin but
the sin of not desiring pardon is pardoned. No matter how deep the
stain, no matter how inveterate the habit, whosoever will can come and
be sure of pardon.

III. The attempt of Christ's relatives to withdraw Him from publicity,
and His reply to it. Verse 21 tells us that His kindred sent out to
lay hold on Him; for they thought Him beside Himself. He was to be
shielded from the crowd of followers, and from the plots of scribes,
by being kept at home and treated as a harmless lunatic. Think of
Jesus defended from the imputation of being in league with Beelzebub
by the excuse that He was mad! This visit of His mother and brethren
must be connected with their plan to lay hold on Him, in order to
apprehend rightly Christ's answer. If they did not mean to use
violence, why should they have tried to get Him away from the crowd of
followers, by a message, when they could have reached Him as easily as
it did? He knew the snare laid for Him, and puts it aside without
shaming its contrivers. With a wonderful blending of dignity and
tenderness, He turns from kinsmen who were not akin, to draw closer to
Himself, and pour His love over, those who do the will of God.

The test of relationship with Jesus is obedience to His Father. Christ
is not laying down the means of becoming His kinsmen, but the tokens
that we are such. He is sometimes misunderstood as saying, 'Do God's
will without My help, and ye will become My kindred.' What He really
says is, 'If ye are My kindred, you will do God's will; and if you do,
you will show that you are such.' So the statement that we become His
kindred by faith does not conflict with this great saying. The two
take hold of the Christian life at different points: the one deals
with the means of its origination, the other with the tokens of its
reality. Faith is the root of obedience, obedience is the blossom of
faith. Jesus does not stand like a stranger till we have hammered out
obedience to His Father, and then reward us by welcoming us as His
brethren, but He answers our faith by giving us a life kindred with,
because derived from, His own, and then we can obey.

It is active submission to God's will, not orthodox creed or devout
emotion, which shows that we are His blood relations. By such
obedience, we draw His love more and more to us. Though it is not the
means of attaining to kinship with Him, it _is_ the condition of
receiving love-tokens from Him, and of increasing affinity with Him.

That relationship includes and surpasses all earthly ones. Each
obedient man is, as it were, all three,--mother, sister, and brother.
Of course the enumeration had reference to the members of the waiting
group, but the remarkable expression has deep truth in it. Christ's
relation to the soul covers all various sweetnesses of earthly bonds,
and is spoken of in terms of many of them. He is the bridegroom, the
brother, the companion, and friend. All the scattered fragrances of
these are united and surpassed in the transcendent and ineffable union
of the soul with Jesus. Every lonely heart may find in Him what it
most needs, and perhaps is bleeding away its life for the loss or want
of. To many a weeping mother He has said, pointing to Himself, 'Woman,
behold thy son'; to many an orphan He has whispered, revealing His own
love, 'Son, behold thy mother.'

All earthly bonds are honoured most when they are woven into crowns
for His head; all human love is then sweetest when it is as a tiny
mirror in which the great Sun is reflected. Christ is husband,
brother, sister, friend, lover, mother, and more than all which these
sacred names designate,--even Saviour and life. If His blood is in our
veins, and His spirit is the spirit of our lives, we shall do the will
of His and our Father in heaven.


'There came then His brethren and His mother, and, standing without,
sent unto Him, calling Him. 32. And the multitude sat about Him; and
they said unto Him, Behold, Thy mother and Thy brethren without seek
for Thee. 33. And He answered them, saying, Who is My mother, or My
brethren? 34. And He looked round about on them which sat about Him,
and said, Behold My mother and My brethren! 35. For whosoever shall do
the will of God, the same is My brother, and My sister, and
mother.'--Mark iii. 31-35.

We learn from an earlier part of this chapter, and from it only, the
significance of this visit of Christ's brethren and mother. It was
prompted by the belief that 'He was beside Himself,' and they meant to
lay hands on Him, possibly with a kindly wish to save Him from a worse
fate, but certainly to stop His activity. We do not know whether Mary
consented, in her mistaken maternal affection, to the scheme, or
whether she was brought unwillingly to give a colour to it, and
influence our Lord. The sinister purpose of the visit betrays itself
in the fact that the brethren did not present themselves before
Christ, but sent a messenger; although they could as easily have had
access to His presence as their messenger could. Apparently they
wished to get Him by Himself, so as to avoid the necessity of using
force against the force that His disciples would be likely to put
forth. Jesus knew their purpose, though they thought it was hidden
deep in the recesses of their breasts. And that falls in with a great
many other incidents which indicate His superhuman knowledge of 'the
thoughts and intents of the heart.'

But, however that may be, our Lord here, with a singular mixture of
dignity, tenderness, and decisiveness, puts aside the insidious snare
without shaming its contrivers, and turns from the kinsmen, with whom
He had no real bond, to draw closer to Himself, and pour out His love
over, those who do the will of His Father in heaven. His words go very
deep; let us try to gather some, at any rate, of the surface lessons
which they suggest.

I. First, then, the true token of blood relationship to Jesus Christ
is obedience to God.

'Whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is My brother, and My
sister, and mother.' Now I must not be betrayed into a digression from
my main purpose by dwelling upon what yet is worthy of notice--viz.,
the consciousness, on the part of Jesus Christ, which here is
evidently implied, that the doing of the will of God was the very
inmost secret of His own being. He was conscious, only and always, of
delighting to do the will of God. When, therefore, He found that
delight in others, there He recognised a bond of union between Him and

We must carefully observe that these great words of our Lord are not
intended to describe the means by which men become His kinsfolk, but
the tokens that they are such. He is not saying--as superficial
readers sometimes run away with the notion that He is saying--'If a
man will, apart from Me, do the will of God, then he will become My
true kinsman,' but He is saying, 'If you are My kinsman, you will do
the will of God, and if you do it, you will show that you are related
to Myself.' In other words, He is not speaking about the means of
originating this relationship, but about the signs of its reality.
And, therefore, the words of my text need, for their full
understanding, and for placing them in due relation to all the rest of
Christ's teaching, to be laid side by side with other words of His,
such as these:--'Apart from Me ye can do nothing.' For the deepest
truth in regard to relationship to Jesus Christ and obedience is this,
that the way by which men are made able to do the will of God is by
receiving into themselves the very life-blood of Jesus Christ. The
relationship must precede the obedience, and the obedience is the
sign, because it is the sequel, of the relationship.

But far deeper down than mere affinity lies the true bond between us
and Christ, and the true means of performing the commandments of God.
There must be a passing over into us of His own life-spirit. By His
inhabiting our hearts, and moulding our wills, and being the life of
our lives and the soul of our souls, are we made able to do the
commandments of the Lord. And so, seeing that actual union with Jesus
Christ, and the reception into ourselves of His life, is the precedent
condition of all true obedience, then the more familiar form of
presenting the bond between Him and us, which runs through the New
Testament, falls into its proper place, and the faith, which is the
condition of receiving the life of Christ into our hearts, is at once
the affinity which makes us His kindred, and the means by which we
appropriate to ourselves the power of obedient submission and
conformity to the will of God. 'This is the work of God, that ye
believe on Him whom He hath sent.'

So, then, my text does not in the slightest degree contradict or
interfere with the great teaching that the one way by which we become
Christ's brethren is by trusting in Him. For the text and the doctrine
that faith unites us to Him take up the process at different stages:
the one pointing to the means of origination, the other to the tokens
of reality. Faith is the root, obedience is the flower and the fruit.
He that doeth the will of God, does it, not in order that he may
become, but because he already is, possessor of a blood-relationship
to Jesus Christ.

Then, notice, again, with what emphatic decisiveness our Lord here
takes simple, practical obedience in daily life, in little and in
great things, as the manifestation of being akin to Himself. Orthodoxy
is all very well; religious experiences, inward emotions, sweet,
precious, secret feelings and sentiments cannot be over-estimated.
External forms, whether of the more simple or of the more ornate and
sensuous kind, may be helps for the religious life; and are so in view
of the weaknesses that are always associated with it. But all these, a
true creed, a belief in the creed, the joyous and deep and secret
emotions that follow thereupon, and the participation in outward
services which may help to these, all these are but scaffolding: the
building is character and conduct conformed to the will of God.

Evangelical preachers, and those who in the main hold that faith, are
often charged with putting too little stress on practical homely
righteousness. I would that the charge had less substance in it. But
let me lay it upon your consciences, dear brethren, now, that no
amount of right credence, no amount of trust, nor of love and hope and
joy will avail to witness kindred to Christ. It must be the daily
life, in its efforts after conformity to the known will of God, in
great things and in small things, that attests the family resemblance.
If Christ's blood be in our veins, if 'the law of the spirit of life'
in Him is the law of the spirit of our lives, then these lives will
run parallel with His, in some visible measure, and we, too, shall be
able to say, 'Lo! I come. I delight to do Thy will; and Thy law is
within my heart.' Obedience is the test of relationship to Jesus.

Then, still further, note how, though we must emphatically dismiss the
mistake that we make our selves Christ's brethren and friends by
independent efforts after keeping the commandments, it is true that,
in the measure in which we do thus bend our wills to God's will,
whether in the way of action or of endurance, we realise more
blessedly and strongly the tie that binds us to the Lord, and as a
matter of fact do receive, in the measure of our obedience, sweet
tokens of union with Him, and of love in His heart to us. No man will
fully feel living contact with Jesus Christ if between Christ and him
there is a film of conscious and voluntary disobedience to the will of
God. The smallest crumb that can come in between two polished plates
will prevent their adherence. A trivial sin will slip your hand out of
Christ's hand; and though His love will still come and linger about
you, until the sin is put out it cannot enter in.

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

'He that doeth the will of God, the same is'--and feels himself to
be--'My brother, and sister, and mother.'

II. This relationship includes all others.

That is a very singular form of expression which our Lord employs.
'Whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is My brother, and
sister, and mother.' We should have expected, seeing that He was
speaking about three different relationships, that He would have used
the plural verb, and said, 'The same are My brother, and sister, and
mother.' And I do not think that it is pedantic grammatical accuracy
to point out this remarkable form of speech, and even to venture to
draw a conclusion from it--viz., that what our Lord meant was, not
that if there were three people, of different sexes, and of different
ages, all doing the will of God, one of these sweet names of
relationship would apply to A, another to B, and the other to C; but
that to each who does the will of God, all the sweetnesses that are
hived in all the names, and in any other analogous ones that can be
uttered, belong. Of course the selection here of relationships
specified has reference to the composition of that group outside the
circle. But there is a great deal more than that in it. Whether you

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