Expositions of Holy Scripture
Part 8 out of 10
And the principle involved for us is the same.
'Christ crucified' is more than Christ miracle-working. That 'more' we
have, as the Jews had. But if that avails not, then nothing else will.
He is 'last' because highest, strongest, and all-sufficient.
He is 'last' inasmuch as all since are but echoes of His voice and
proclaimers of His grace.
He is 'last' as the eternal and the permanent, the 'same for ever'
(Heb. xiii. 8). There are to be no new powers for the world; no new
forces to draw men to God. God's quiver is empty, His last bolt shot,
His most tender appeal made.
III. The unwearied divine charity.
'They will reverence My Son.' May we not say this is a divine hope? It
is not worth while to make a difficulty of the bold representation. It
is but parallel to all the dealings of God with men; and it sets forth
the possibility that He _might_ have won Israel back to God and to
obedience. It suggests the good faith and the earnestness with which
God sent Him, and He came, to bring Israel back to God. But we are not
to suppose that this divine hope excluded the divine purpose of His
death or was inconsistent with that, for He goes on to speak of His
death as if it were past (verse 8). This shows how distinctly He
Its highest aspect is not here, for it was not needed for the parable.
'With wicked hands ye have crucified,' etc., is true, as well as 'I
lay it down of Myself.'
Let us lay to heart the solemn love which warns by prophesying, tells
what men are going to do in order that they may _not_ do it (and what
He will do in order that He may _not_ have to do it). And let us yield
ourselves to the power of Christ's death as God's magnet for drawing
us all back to Him; and as certain to bring about at last the
satisfaction of the Father's long-frustrated hope: 'They will
reverence my Son,' and the fulfilment of the Son's long-unaccomplished
prediction: 'I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men
NOT FAR AND NOT IN
'Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.'--Mark xii. 34,
'A bruised reed He will not break, and the smoking flax He will not
Here is Christ's recognition of the low beginnings of goodness and
This is a special case of a man who appears to have fully discerned
the spirituality and inwardness of law, and to have felt that the one
bond between God and man was love. He needed only to have followed out
the former thought to have been smitten by the conviction of his own
sinfulness, and to have reflected on the latter to have discovered
that he needed some one who could certify and commend God's love to
him, and thereby to kindle his to God. Christ recognises such
beginnings and encourages him to persevere: but warns him against the
danger of supposing himself in the kingdom, and against the
prolongation of what is only good as a transition state.
This Scribe is an interesting study as being one who recognised the
Law in its spiritual meaning, in opposition to forms and ceremonies.
His intellectual convictions needed to be led on from recognition of
the spirituality of the Law to recognition of his own failures. 'By
law is the knowledge of sin.' His intellectual convictions needed to
pass over into and influence his heart and life. He recognised true
piety, and was earnestly striving after it, but entrance into the
kingdom is by faith in the Saviour, who is 'the Way.' So Jesus' praise
of him is but measured. For in him there was separation between
knowing and doing.
I. Who are near?
Christ's kingdom is near us all, whether we are heathen, infidel,
profligate or not.
Here is a distinct recognition of two things--(a) Degrees of
approximation; (b) decisive separation between those who are, and
those who are not, within the kingdom.
This Scribe was near, and yet not in, the kingdom, because, like so
many in all ages, he had an intellectual hold of principles which he
had never followed out to their intellectual issues, nor ever
enthroned as, in their practical issues, the guides of his life. How
constantly we find characters of similar incompleteness among
How many of us have true thoughts concerning God's law and what it
requires, which ought, in all reason, to have brought us to the
consciousness of our own sin, and are yet untouched by one pang of
penitence! How many of us have lying in our heads, like disused
furniture in a lumber-room, what we suppose to be beliefs of ours,
which only need to be followed out to their necessary results to
refurnish with a new equipment the whole of our religious thinking!
How few of us do really take pains to bring our beliefs into clear
sunlight, and to follow them wherever they lead us! There is no
commoner fault, and no greater foe, than the hazy, lazy half-belief,
of which its owner neither knows the grounds nor perceives the
intellectual or the practical issues.
There are multitudes who have, or have had, convictions of which the
only rational outcome is practical surrender to Jesus Christ by faith
and love. Such persons abound in Christian congregations and in
Christian homes. They are on the verge of 'the great surrender,' but
they do not go beyond the verge, and so they perpetrate 'the great
refusal.' And to all such the word of our text should sound as a
warning note, which has also hope in its bone. 'Not far from' is still
II. Why they are only near.
The reason is not because of anything apart from themselves. The
Christian gospel offers immediate entrance into the Kingdom, and all
the gifts which its King can bestow, to all and every one who will. So
that the sole cause of any man's non-entrance lies with himself.
We have spoken of failure to follow out truths partially grasped, and
that constitutes a reason which affects the intellect mainly, and
plays its part in keeping men out of the Kingdom.
But there are other, perhaps more common, reasons, which intervene to
prevent convictions being followed out into their properly consequent
The two most familiar and fatal of these are:--
(b) Lingering love of the world.
III. Such men cannot continue near.
The state is necessarily transitional. It must pass over into--(a)
Either going on and into the Kingdom, or (b) going further away from
Christ warns here, and would stimulate to action, for--(a) Convictions
not acted on die; (b) truths not followed out fade; (c) impressions
resisted are harder to be made again; (d) obstacles increase with
time; (e) the habit of lingering becomes strengthened.
IV. Unless you are in, you are finally shut out.
'City of refuge.' It was of no avail to have been _near_. 'Strive to
Appeal to all such as are in this transition stage.
THE CREDULITY OF UNBELIEF
'Many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ, and shall deceive
many.'--Mark xiii. 6.
'When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?'--Luke
It was the same generation that is represented in these two texts as
void of faith in the Son of Man, and as credulously giving heed to
impostors. Unbelief and superstition are closely allied. Religion is
so vital a necessity, that if the true form of it be cast aside, some
false form will be eagerly seized in order to fill the aching void.
Men cannot permanently live without some sort of a faith in the
Unseen, but they can determine whether it shall be a worthy
recognition of a worthy conception of that Unseen, or a debasing
superstition. An epoch of materialism in philosophic thought has
always been followed by violent reaction, in which quacks and fanatics
have reaped rich harvests. If the dark is not peopled with one loved
Face, our busy imagination will fill it with a crowd of horrible ones.
Just as a sailor, looking out into the night over a solitary,
islandless sea, sees shapes; intolerant of the islandless expanse,
makes land out of fogbanks; and, sick of silence, hears 'airy tongues'
in the moanings of the wind and the slow roll of the waves, so men
shudderingly look into the dark unknown, and if they see not their
Father there, will either shut their eyes or strain them in gazing it
into shape. The sight of Him is religion, the closed eye is
infidelity, the strained gaze is superstition. The second and the
third are each so unsatisfying that they perpetually pass over into
one another and destroy one another, as when I shut my eyes, I see
slowly shaping itself a coloured image of my eye, which soon flickers
and fluctuates into black nothingness again, and then rises once more,
once more to fade. Men, if they believe not in God, then do service to
'them which by nature are no gods.'
But let us come to more immediately Christian thoughts. Christ does
what men so urgently require to be done, that if they do not believe
in Him they will be forced to shape out for themselves some fancied
ways of doing it. The emotions which men cherish towards Him so
irrepressibly need an object to rest on, that if not He, then some far
less worthy one, will be chosen to receive them.
It is just to the illustration of these thoughts that I seek to turn
now, and in such alternatives as these--
I. Reception of Christ as the Revealer is the only escape from unmanly
submission to unworthy pretenders.
That function is one which the instincts of men teach them that they
Christ comes to satisfy the need as the visible true embodiment of the
Father's love, of the Father's wisdom.
If He be rejected--what then? Why, not that the men who reject will
contentedly continue in darkness--that is never possible; but that
some manner or other of satisfying the clamant need will be had
recourse to, and then that to it will be transferred the submission
and credence that should have been His. If we have Him for our Teacher
and Guide, then all other teachers and guides will take their right
places. We shall not angrily repel their power, nor talk loudly about
'the right of private judgment,' and our independence of all men's
thoughts. We are not so independent. We shall thankfully accept all
help from all men wiser, better, more manly than ourselves, whether
they give us uttered words of wisdom and beauty, having 'grace poured
into their lips,' or whether they give us lives ennobled by strenuous
effort, or whether they give us greater treasure than all these--the
sight once more of a loving heart. All is good, all is helpful, all we
shall receive; but in proportion to the felt obligations we are laid
under to them will be the felt authority of that saying, 'Call no man
your master on earth, for One is your Master, even Christ.' That
command forbids our slavishly accepting any human domination over our
faith, but it no less emphatically forbids our contemptuously
rejecting any human helper of our joy, for it closes with 'and all ye
are brethren'--bound then to mutual observance, mutual helpfulness,
mutual respect for each other's individuality, mutual avoidance of
needless division. To have Him for his Guide makes the human guide
gentle and tender among his disciples 'as a nurse among her children,'
for he remembers 'the gentleness of Christ,' and he dare not be other
than an imitator of Him. A Christian teacher's spirit will always be,
'not for that we have dominion over your faith, but we are helpers of
your joy'; his most earnest word, 'I beseech you, therefore,
brethren'; his constant desire, 'He must increase. I must decrease.'
And to have Christ for our Guide makes the taught lovingly submissive
to all who by largeness of gifts and graces are set by Him above them,
and yet lovingly recalcitrant at any attempt to compel adhesion or
force dogmas. The one freedom from undue dependence on men and men's
opinions lies in this submission to Jesus. Then we can say, when need
is, 'I have a Master. To Him I submit; if _you_ seek to be master, I
demur: of them who seemed to be somewhat, whatsoever they were, it
maketh no matter to me.'
But the greatest danger is not that our guides shall insist on our
submission, but that we shall insist on giving it. It is for all of us
such a burden to have the management of our own fate, the forming of
our own opinions, the fearful responsibility of our own destiny, that
we are all only too ready to say to some man or other, from love or
from laziness, 'Where thou goest, I will go; thy people shall be my
people, and thy God my God.'
Few things are more strange and tragic than the eagerness with which
people who are a great deal too enlightened to render allegiance to
Jesus Christ will install some teacher of their own choosing as their
authoritative master, will swallow his dicta, swear by him, and glory
in being called by his name. What they think it derogatory to their
mental independence to give to the Teacher of Nazareth, they freely
give to their chosen oracle. It is not in 'the last times' only that
men who will not endure sound teaching 'heap to themselves teachers
after their own lusts,' and have 'the ears' which are fast closed to
'the Truth' wide open 'to fables.'
On the small scale we see this melancholy perversity of conduct
exemplified in every little coterie and school of unbelievers.
On the great scale Mohammedanism and Buddhism, with their millions of
adherents, write the same tragic truth large in the history of the
II. Faith in the reconciling Christ is the only sure deliverance from
debasing reliance on false means of reconciliation.
In a very profound sense ignorance and sin are the same fact regarded
under two different aspects. And in the depths of their natures men
have the longing for some Power who shall put away sin, as they have
the longing for one that will dispel ignorance. The consciousness of
alienation from God lies in the human heart, dormant indeed for the
most part, but like a coiled, hibernating snake, ready to wake and
strike its poison into the veins. Christ by His great work, and
specially by His sacrificial death, meets that universal need.
But closely as His work fits men's needs, it sharply opposes some of
their wishes, and of their interpretations of their needs. The Jew
'demands a sign,' the Greek craves a reasoned system of 'wisdom,' and
both concur in finding the Cross an 'offence.'
But the rejection of Jesus as the Reconciler does not quiet the
cravings, which make themselves heard at some time or other in most
consciences, for deliverance from the dominion and from the guilt of
sin. And men are driven to adopt other expedients to fill up the void
which their turning away from Jesus has left. Sometimes they fall back
on a vague reliance on a vague assertion that 'God is merciful';
sometimes they reason themselves into a belief--or, at any rate, an
assertion--that the conception of sin is an error, and that men are
not guilty. Sometimes they manage to silence the inward voice that
accuses and condemns, by dint of not listening to it or drowning it by
But these expedients fail them some time or other, and then, if they
have not cast the burden of their sin and their sins on the great
Reconciler, they either have to weary themselves with painful and vain
efforts to be their own redeemers, or they fall under the domination
of a priest.
Hence the hideous penances of heathenism; and hence, too, the power of
sacramentarian and sacerdotal perversions of evangelical truth.
III. Faith in Christ as the Regenerator is the only deliverance from
baseless hopes for the world.
The world is today full of moaning voices crying, 'Art thou He that
should come, or do we look for another?' and it is full of confident
voices proclaiming other means of its regeneration than letting Christ
'make all things new.'
The conviction that society needs to be reconstituted on other
principles is spread everywhere, and is often associated with intense
disbelief in Christ the Regenerator.
Has not the past proved that all schemes for the regeneration of
society which do not grapple with the fact of sin, and which do not
provide a means of infusing into human nature a new impulse and
direction, will end in failure, and are only too likely to end in
blood? These two requirements are met by Jesus, and by Him only, and
whoever rejects Him and His gift of pardon and cleansing, and His
inbreathing of a new life into the individual, will fail in his
effort, however earnest and noble in many aspects, to redeem society
and bring about a fair new world.
It is pitiable to see the waste of high aspiration and eager effort in
so many quarters today. But that waste is sure to attend every scheme
which does not start from the recognition of Christ's work as the
basis of the world's transformation, and does not crown Him as the
King, because He is the Saviour, of mankind.
AUTHORITY AND WORK
'For the Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his
house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work,
and commanded the porter to watch.'--Mark xiii. 34.
Church order is not directly touched on in the Gospels, but the
principles which underlie all Church order are distinctly laid down.
The whole community of Christian people is a family or household,
being brethren because possessors of a new life through Christ. In
that household there is one 'Master,' and all its members are
'servants.' That name suggests the purpose for which they exist; the
meaning of all their offices, dignities, etc.
I. The authority with which the servants are invested.
We hear a great deal about the authority of the Church in these days,
as a determiner of truth and as a prescriber of Christian action. It
means generally official authority, the power of guidance and
definition of the Church's action, etc., which some people think is
lodged in the hands of preachers, pastors, priests, either
individually or collectively. There is nothing of that sort meant
here. Whatever this authority is, it belongs to the whole body of the
servants, not to individuals among them. It is the prerogative of the
whole _ecclesia_, not of some handful of them. 'This honour,' whatever
it be, 'have all the saints.'
Explain by reference to 'the kings of the earth exercise lordship over
them'; 'the greatest shall be your servant.' It is then but another
name for capacity for service, power to bless, etc.
And this idea is still further borne out if we go back to the parable
of our text. A man leaves his house in charge of his servants. To them
is committed the responsibility for his goods. His honour and
interests are in their hands. They have control over his possessions.
This is the analogy which our Lord suggests as presenting a vivid
likeness to our position in the world.
Christ has committed the care of His kingdom, the glory of His name,
the growth of His cause in the world to His Church, and has endowed it
with all 'talents,' _i.e._ gifts needful for that work. Or, to put it
in other words, they are His representatives in the world. They have
to defend His honour. His name is scandalised or glorified by their
actions. They have to see to His interests. They are charged with the
carrying out of His mind and purposes.
The foundation of all is laid. Henceforth building on it is all, and
that is to be done by men. Human lips and Christian effort--not
without the divine Spirit in the word--are to be the means.
It is as when some commander plans his battle, and from an eminence
overlooks the current of the fight, and marks the plunging legions as
they struggle through the smoke. He holds all the tremendous machinery
in his hands. The plan and the glory are his, but the execution of the
plan lies with the troops.
In a still more true sense all the glory of the Christian conquest of
the world is His, but still the instruments are ourselves. The whole
counsel of God is on our side. We 'go not a warfare at our own
charges.' Note the perfect consistency of this with all that we hold
of the necessity of divine influence, etc.
His servants are intrusted with all His 'goods.' They have authority
over the gifts which He has given them, _i.e._ Christian men are
stewards of Christ's riches for others.
They have access to the free use of them all for themselves.
Thus the 'authority' is all derived. It is all given for the sake of
others. It is all capacity for service. Hence--
II. The authority with which the servants are invested binds every one
of them to hard work for Christ.
'To every man his work'
(1) Gifts involve duties. That is the first great thought. To have
received binds us to impart. 'Freely ye have received, freely give.'
All selfish possession of the gifts which Christ bestows is grave sin.
The price at which they were procured, that miracle and mystery of
self-sacrifice, is the great pattern as well as the great motive for
The purpose for which we have received them is plainly set forth: in
the existence of the solidarity in which we are all bound; in the
definite utterances of Scripture.
The need for their exercise is only too palpable in the condition of
things around us.
(2) In this multitude of servants every one has his own task.
The universality of the great gift leads to a corresponding
universality of obligation. All Christians have their gifts. Each of
us has his special work marked out for him by character,
relationships, circumstances, natural tastes, etc.
How solemn a divine call there is in these individual peculiarities
which we so often think of as unimportant accidents, or regard mainly
in their bearing on our own ease and comfort! How reverently we should
regard the diversities which are thus revelations of God's will
concerning our tasks! How earnestly we should seek to know what it is
that we are fitted for!
The importance of all protests against priestly assumption lies here,
that they strengthen the force with which we proclaim that every man
has his 'work.'
Ponder the variety of characters and gifts which Christ gives and
desires His servants to use, and the indispensable need for them all.
The ideal Church is the 'body' of Christ, in which each member has its
place and function.
Our fault in this matter.
(3) The duties are to be done in the spirit of hard toil.
The servant has 'his work' allotted him, and the word implies that the
work calls for effort. The race is not to be run without dust and
sweat. Our Christian service is not to be regarded as a 'bye-product'
or _parergon_. It is, so to speak, a _vocation_, not an _avocation_.
It deserves and demands all the energy that we can put forth,
continuity and constancy, plan and system. Nothing is to be done for
God, any more than for ourselves, without toil. 'In the sweat of thy
brow shalt thou eat bread and give it to others.'
III, To do this work, watchfulness is needed.
The division of tasks between 'servant' and 'porter' is only part of
the drapery of the parable. To show that watchfulness belongs to all,
see the two following verses.
What is this watchfulness?
Not constant fidgety curiosity about the coming of the Lord; not
hunting after apocalyptic dates. The modern impression seems to be
that such study is 'watchfulness.' Christ says that the time of His
coming is hidden (see previous verses). Ignorance of that is the very
reason why we are to watch. Watchfulness, then, is just a profound and
constant feeling of the transiency of this present. The mind is to be
kept detached from it; the eye and heart are to be going out to things
'unseen and eternal'; we are to be familiarising ourselves with the
thought that the world is passing away.
This watchfulness is an indispensable part of our 'work.' The true
Christian thought of the transiency of the world sets us to work the
more vigorously in it, and increases, not diminishes, our sense of the
importance of time and of earthly things, and braces us to our tasks
by the thought of the brevity of opportunity, as well as by guarding
us against tastes and habits which eat all earnestness out of the
Thus 'working and watching,' happy will be the servant whom his Lord
will find 'so doing,' _i.e._ at work, not idly looking for Him. Our
common duties are the best preparation for our Lord's coming.
THE ALABASTER BOX
'And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a
good work on Me.... 8. She hath done what she could: she is come
aforehand to anoint My body to the burying. 9. Verily I say unto you.
Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world,
this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of
her.'--Mark xiv. 6-9.
John's Gospel sets this incident in its due framework of time and
place, and tells us the names of the actors. The time was within a
week of Calvary, the place was Bethany, where, as John significantly
reminds us, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, thereby connecting
the feast with that incident; the woman who broke the box of ointment
and poured the perfume on the head and feet of Jesus was Mary; the
first critic of her action was Judas. Selfishness blames love for the
profusion and prodigality, which to it seem folly and waste. The
disciples chimed in with the objection, not because they were superior
to Mary in wisdom, but because they were inferior in consecration.
John tells us, too, that Martha was 'amongst them that served.' The
characteristics of the two sisters are preserved. The two types of
character which they respectively represent have great difficulty in
understanding and doing justice to one another. Christ understands and
does justice to them both. Martha, bustling, practical, utilitarian to
the finger-tips, does not much care about listening to Christ's words
of wisdom. She has not any very high-strung or finely-spun emotions,
but she can busy herself in getting a meal ready; she loves Him with
all her heart, and she takes her own way of showing it. But she gets
impatient with her sister, and thinks that her sitting at Christ's
feet is a dreamy waste of time, and not without a touch of
selfishness, 'taking no care for me, though I have got so much on my
back.' And so, in like manner, Mary is made out to be a monster of
selfishness; 'Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence,
and given to the poor?' She could not serve, she would only have been
in Martha's road if she had tried. But she had one precious thing
which was her very own, and she caught it up, and in the irrepressible
burst of her thankful love, as she saw Lazarus sitting there at the
table beside Jesus, she poured the liquid perfume on His head and
feet. He casts His shield over the poor, unpractical woman, who did
such an utterly useless thing, for which a basin of water and a towel
would have served far better. There are a great many useless things
which, in Heaven's estimate, are more valuable than a great many
apparently more practical ones. Christ accepts the service, and in His
deep words lays down three or four principles which it would do us all
good to carry with us into our daily lives. So I shall now try to
gather from these utterances of our Lord's some great truths about
I. The first of them is the motive which hallows everything.
'She hath wrought a good work on Me.' Now that is pretty nearly a
definition of what a good work is, and you see it is very unlike our
conventional notions of what constitutes a 'good work.' Christ implies
that anything, no matter what are its other characteristics, that is
'on' Him, that is to say, directed towards Him under the impulse of
simple love to Him, is a 'good work'; and the converse follows, that
nothing which has not that saving salt of reference to Him in it
deserves the title. Did you ever think of what an extraordinary
position that is for a man to take up? 'Think about Me in what you do,
and you will do good. Do anything, no matter what, because you love
Me, and it will be lifted up into high regions, and become
transfigured; a good work.' He took the best that any one could give
Him, whether it was of outward possessions or of inward reverence,
abject submission, and love and trust. He never said to any man, 'You
are going over the score. You are exaggerating about Me. Stand up, for
I also am a Man.' He did say once, 'Why callest thou Me good?' not
because it was an incorrect attribution, but because it was a mere
piece of conventional politeness. And in all other cases, not only
does He accept as His rightful possession the utmost of reverence that
any man can do Him, and bring Him, but He here implies, if He does
not, as He almost does, specifically declare, that to be done for His
sake lifts a deed into the region of 'good' works.
Have you reflected what such an attitude implies as to the
self-consciousness of the Man who took it, and whether it is
intelligible, not to say admirable, or rather whether it is not worthy
of reprobation, except upon one hypothesis--'Thou art the everlasting
Son of the Father,' and all men honour God when they honour the
Incarnate Word? But that is aside from my present purpose.
Is not this conception, that the motive of reverence and love to Him
ennobles and sanctifies every deed, the very fundamental principle of
Christian morality? All things are sanctified when they are done for
His sake. You plunge a poor pebble into a brook, and as the sunlit
ripples pass over its surface, the hidden veins of delicate colour
come out and glow, and the poor stone looks a jewel, and is magnified
as well as glorified by being immersed in the stream. Plunge your work
into Christ, and do it for Him, and the giver and the gift will be
greatened and sanctified.
But, brethren, if we take this point of view, and look to the motive,
and not to the manner or the issues, or the immediate objects, of our
actions, as determining whether they are good or no, it will
revolutionise a great many of our thoughts, and bring new ideas into
much of our conventional language. 'A good work' is not a piece of
beneficence or benevolence, still less is it to be confined to those
actions which conventional Christianity has chosen to dignify by the
name. It is a designation that should not be clotted into certain
specified corners of a life, but be extended over them all. The things
which more specifically go under such a name, the kind of things that
Judas wanted to have substituted for the utterly useless, lavish
expenditure by this heart that was burdened with the weight of its own
blessedness, come, or do not come, under the designation, according as
there is present in them, not only natural charity to the poor whom
'ye have always with you,' but the higher reference of them to Christ
Himself. All these lower forms of beneficence are imperfect without
that. And instead of, as we have been taught by authoritative voices
of late years, the service of man being the true service of God, the
relation of the two terms is precisely the opposite, and it is the
service of God that will effloresce into all service of man. Judas did
not do much for the poor, and a great many other people who are
sarcastic upon the 'folly,' the 'uncalculating impulses' of Christian
love, with its 'wasteful expenditure,' and criticise us because we are
spending time and energy and love upon objects which they think are
moonshine and mist, do little more than he did, and what beneficence
they do exercise has to be hallowed by this reference to Jesus before
it can aspire to be beneficence indeed.
I sometimes wish that this generation of Christian people, amid its
multifarious schemes of beneficence, with none of which would one
interfere for a moment, would sometimes let itself go into
manifestations of its love to Jesus Christ, which had no use at all
except to relieve its own burdened heart. I am afraid that the lower
motives, which are all right and legitimate when they are lower, are
largely hustling the higher ones into the background, and that the
river has got so many ponds to fill, and so many canals to trickle
through, and so many plantations to irrigate and make verdant, that
there is a danger of its falling low at its fountain, and running
shallow in its course. One sometimes would like to see more things
done for Him that the world would call 'utter folly,' and 'prodigal
waste,' and 'absolutely useless.' Jesus Christ has a great many
strange things in His treasure-house--widows' mites, cups of water,
Mary's broken vase--has He anything of yours? 'She hath wrought a good
work on Me.'
II. Now, there is another lesson that I would gather from our Lord's
apologising for Mary, and that is the measure and the manner of
'She hath done what she could'; that is generally read as if it were
an excuse. So it is, or at least it is a vindication of the manner and
the direction of Mary's expression of love and devotion. But whilst it
is an apologia for the form, it is a high demand in regard to the
'She hath done what she could.' Christ would not have said that if she
had taken a niggardly spoonful out of the box of ointment, and
dribbled that, in slow and half-grudging drops, on His head and feet.
It was because it _all_ went that it was to Him thus admirable. I
think it is John Foster who says, 'Power to its last particle is
duty.' The question is not how much have I done, or given, but could I
have done or given more? We Protestants have indulgences of our own;
the guinea or the hundred guineas that we give in a certain direction,
we some of us seem to think, buy for us the right to do as we will
with all the rest. But 'she hath done what she could.' It all went.
And that is the law for us Christian people, because the Christian
life is to be ruled by the great law of self-sacrifice, as the only
adequate expression of our recognition of, and our being affected by,
the great Sacrifice that gave Himself for us.
'Give all thou canst! High Heaven rejects the lore
Of nicely calculated less or more.'
But whilst thus there is here a definite demand for the entire
surrender of ourselves and our activities to Jesus Christ, there is
also the wonderful vindication of the idiosyncrasy of the worker, and
the special manner of her gift. It was not Mary's _metier_ to serve at
the table, nor to do any practical thing. She did not know what there
was for her to do; but something she _must_ do. So she caught up her
alabaster box, and without questioning herself about the act, let her
heart have its way, and poured it out on Christ. It was the only thing
she could do, and she did it. It was a very useless thing. It was an
entirely unnecessary expenditure of the perfume. There might have been
a great many practical purposes found for it, but it was her way.
Christ says to each of us, Be yourselves, take circumstances,
capacities, opportunities, individual character, as laying down the
lines along which yon have to travel. Do not imitate other people. Do
not envy other people; be yourselves, and let your love take its
natural expression, whatever folk round you may snarl and sneer and
carp and criticise. 'She hath done what she could,' and so He accepts
Engineers tell us that the steam-engine is a very wasteful machine,
because so little of the energy is brought into actual operation. I am
afraid that there are a great many of us Christian people like that,
getting so much capacity, and turning out so little work. And there
are a great many more of us who simply pick up the kind of work that
is popular round us, and never consult our own bent, nor follow this
humbly and bravely, wherever it will take us. 'She hath done what she
III. And now the last thought that I would gather from these words is
as to the significance and the perpetuity of the work which Christ
'She hath come beforehand to anoint My body to the burying.' I do not
suppose that such a thought was in Mary's mind when she snatched up
her box of ointment, and poured it out on Christ's head. But it was a
meaning that He, in His tender pity and wise love and foresight, put
into it, pathetically indicating, too, how the near Cross was filling
His thought, even whilst He sat at the humble rustic feast in Bethany
He puts meaning into the service of love which He accepts. Yes, He
always does. For all the little bits of service that we can bring get
worked up into the great whole, the issues of which lie far beyond
anything that we conceive, 'Thou sowest not that body that shall be,
but bare grain ... and God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him.'
We cast the seed into the furrows. Who can tell what the harvest is
going to be? We know nothing about the great issues that may suddenly,
or gradually, burst from, or be evolved out of, the small deeds that
we do. So, then, let us take care of the end, so to speak, which is
under our control, and that is the motive. And Jesus Christ will take
care of the other end that is beyond our control, and that is the
issue. He will bring forth what seemeth to Him good, and we shall be
as much astonished 'when we get yonder' at what has come out of what
we did here, as poor Mary, standing there behind Him, was when He
translated her act into so much higher a meaning than she had seen in
'Lord! when saw we Thee hungry and fed Thee?' We do not know what we
are doing. We are like the Hindoo weavers that are said to weave their
finest webs in dark rooms; and when the shutters come down, and not
till then, shall we find out the meanings of our service of love.
Christ makes the work perpetual as well as significant by declaring
that 'in the whole world this shall be preached for a memorial of
her.' Have not 'the poor' got far more good out of Mary's box of
ointment than the three hundred pence that a few of them lost by it?
Has it not been an inspiration to the Church ever since? 'The house
was filled with the odour of the ointment.' The fragrance was soon
dissipated in the scentless air, but the deed smells sweet and
blossoms for ever. It is perpetual in its record, perpetual in God's
remembrance, perpetual in its results to the doer, and in its results
in the world, though these may be indistinguishable, just as the brook
is lost in the river and the river in the sea.
But did you ever notice that the Evangelist who records the promise of
perpetual remembrance of the act does not tell us who did it, and that
the Evangelists who tell us who did it do not record the promise of
perpetual remembrance? Never mind whether your deed is labelled with
your address or not, God knows to whom it belongs, and that is enough.
As Paul says in one of his letters, 'other my fellow-labourers also,
whose names are in the Book of Life.' Apparently he had forgotten the
names, or perhaps did not think it needful to occupy space in his
letter with detailing them, and so makes that graceful,
half-apologetic suggestion that they are inscribed on a more august
page. The work and the worker are associated in that Book, and that is
Brethren, the question of Judas is far more fitting when asked of
other people than of Christians. 'To what purpose is this waste?' may
well be said to those of you who are taking mind, and heart, and will,
capacity, and energy, and all life, and using it for lower purposes
than the service of God, and the manifestation of loving obedience to
Jesus Christ. 'Why do ye spend money for that which is not bread?' Is
it not waste to buy disappointments at the price of a soul and of a
life? Why do ye spend that money thus? 'Whose image and superscription
hath it?' Whose name is stamped upon our spirits? To whom should they
be rendered? Better for us to ask ourselves the question to-day about
all the godless parts of our lives, 'To what purpose is this waste?'
than to have to ask it yonder! Everything but giving our whole selves
to Jesus Christ is waste. It is not waste to lay ourselves and our
possessions at His feet. 'He that loveth his life shall lose it, and
he that loseth his life for My sake, the same shall find it.'
A SECRET RENDEZVOUS
'And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the pastorer,
His disciples said unto Him, Where wilt Thou that we go and prepare
that Thou mayest eat the passover? 13. And He sendeth forth two of His
disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall
meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him. 14. And
wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The
Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the
passover with My disciples? 15. And he will show you a large upper
room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us. 16. And His
disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as He had said
unto them: and they made ready the passover.'--Mark xiv. 12-16.
This is one of the obscurer and less noticed incidents, but perhaps it
contains more valuable teaching than appears at first sight.
The first question is--Miracle or Plan? Does the incident mean
supernatural knowledge or a preconcerted token, like the provision of
the ass at the entry into Jerusalem? I think that there is nothing
decisive either way in the narrative. Perhaps the balance of
probability lies in favour of the latter theory. A difficulty in its
way is that no communication seems to pass between the two disciples
and the man by which he could know them to be the persons whom he was
to precede to the house. There are advantages in either theory which
the other loses; but, on the whole, I incline to believe in a
preconcerted signal. If we lose the supernatural, we gain a suggestion
of prudence and human adaptation of means to ends which makes the
story even more startlingly real to us.
But whichever theory we adopt, the main points and lessons of the
narrative remain the same.
I. The remarkable thing in the story is the picture it gives us of
Christ as elaborately adopting precautions to conceal the place.
They are at Bethany. The disciples ask where the passover is to be
eaten. The easy answer would have been to tell the name of the man and
his house. That is not given. The deliberate round-aboutness of the
answer remains the same whether miracle or plan. The two go away, and
the others know nothing of the place. Probably the messengers did not
come back, but in the evening Jesus and the ten go straight to the
house which only He knew.
All this secrecy is in strong contrast with His usual frank and open
What is the reason? To baffle the traitor by preventing him from
acquiring previous knowledge of the place. He was watching for some
quiet hour in Jerusalem to take Jesus. So Christ does not eat the
passover at the house of any well-known disciple who had a house in
Jerusalem, but goes to some man unknown to the Apostolic circle, and
takes steps to prevent the place being known beforehand.
All this looks like the ordinary precautions which a man who knew of
the plots against him would take, and might mean simply a wish to save
his life. But is that the whole explanation? _Why_ did He wish to
baffle the traitor?
(a) Because of His desire to eat the passover with the disciples. His
(b) Because of His desire to found the new rite of His kingdom.
(c) Because of His desire to bring His death into immediate connection
with the Paschal sacrifice. There was no reason of a selfish kind, no
shrinking from death itself.
The fact that such precautions only meet us here, and that they stand
in strongest contrast with the rest of His conduct, emphasises the
purely voluntary nature of His death: how He _chose_ to be betrayed,
taken, and to die. They suggest the same thought as do the staggering
back of His would-be captors in Gethsemane, at His majestic word, 'I
am He.... Let these go their way.' The narrative sets Him forth as the
Lord of all circumstances, as free, and arranging all events.
Judas, the priests, Pilate, the soldiers, were swept by a power which
they did not know to deeds which they did not understand. The Lord of
all gives Himself up in royal freedom to the death to which nothing
dragged Him but His own love.
Such seem to be the lessons of this narrative in so far as it bears on
our Lord's own thoughts and feelings.
II. We note also the authoritative claim which He makes.
One reading is 'my guest-chamber,' and that makes His claim even more
emphatic; but apart from that, the language is strong in its
expression of a right to this unknown man's 'upper room.' Mark the
singular blending here, as in all His earthly life, of poverty and
dignity--the lowliness of being obliged to a man for a room; the royal
style, 'The Master saith.'
So even now there is the blending of the wonderful fact that He puts
Himself in the position of needing anything from us, with the absolute
authority which He claims over us and ours.
III. The answer and blessedness of the unknown disciple.
(a) Jesus knows disciples whom the other disciples know not.
This man was one of the of 'secret' disciples. There is no excuse for
shrinking from confession of His name; but it is blessed to believe
that His eye sees many a 'hidden one.' He recognises their faith, and
gives them work to do. Add the striking thought that though this man's
name is unrecorded by the Evangelist, it is known to Christ, was
written in His heart, and, to use the prophetic image, 'was graven on
the palms of His hands.'
(b) The true blessedness is to be ready for whatever calls He may make
on us. These may sometimes be sudden and unlooked for. But the
preparation for obeying the most sudden or exacting summons of His is
to have our hearts in fellowship with Him.
(c) The blessedness of His coming into our hearts, and accepting our
How honoured that man felt then! how much more so as years went on!
how most of all now!
Our greatest blessedness that He does come into the narrow room of our
hearts: 'If any man open the door, I will sup with him.'
THE NEW PASSOVER
'And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the Passover,
the disciples said unto Him, Where wilt Thou that we go and prepare
that Thou mayest eat the Passover? 13. And He sendeth forth two of His
disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall
meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him. 14. And
wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The
Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the
Passover with My disciples? 15. And he will shew you a large upper
room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us. 16. And His
disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as He had said
unto them: and they made ready the Passover. 17. And in the evening He
cometh with the twelve. 18. And as they sat and did eat, Jesus said,
Verily I say unto you, One of you which eateth with Me shall betray
Me. 19. And they began to be sorrowful, and to say unto Him one by
one, Is it I? and another said, Is it I? 20. And He answered and said
unto them, It is one of the twelve, that dippeth with Me in the dish.
21. The Son of Man indeed goeth, as it is written of Him: but woe to
that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! good were it for that man
if he had never been born. 22. And as they did eat, Jesus took bread,
and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this
is My body. 23. And He took the cup, and when He had given thanks, He
gave it to them: and they all drank of it. 24. And He said unto them,
This is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. 25.
Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine,
until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God. 26. And when
they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.'--Mark
This passage falls into three sections--the secret preparation for the
Passover (verses 12-17), the sad announcement of the betrayer (verses
18-21), and the institution of the Lord's Supper (verses 22-26). It
may be interesting to notice that in the two former of these Mark's
account approximates to Luke's, while in the third he is nearer
Matthew's. A comparison of the three accounts, noting the slight, but
often significant, variations, should be made. Nothing in the Gospels
is trivial. 'The dust of that land is gold.'
I. The secret preparation for the Passover. The three Evangelists all
give the disciples' question, but only Luke tells us that it was in
answer to our Lord's command to Peter and John to go and prepare the
Passover. They very naturally said 'Where?' as they were all strangers
in Jerusalem. Matthew may not have known of our Lord's initiative; but
if Mark were, as he is, with apparent correctness, said to have been,
Peter's mouthpiece in his Gospel, the reticence as to the prominence
of that Apostle is natural, and explains the omission of all but the
bare fact of the despatch of the two. The curiously roundabout way in
which they are directed to the 'upper room' is only explicable on the
supposition that it was intended to keep them in the dark till the
last moment, so that no hint might leak from them to Judas. Whether
the token of the man with the waterpot was a preconcerted signal or an
instance of our Lord's supernatural knowledge and sovereign sway, his
employment as a silent and probably unconscious guide testifies to
Christ's wish for that last hour to be undisturbed. A man carrying a
water-pot, which was woman's special task, would be a conspicuous
figure even in the festival crowds. The message to the householder
implies that he recognised 'the Master' as his Master, and was ready
to give up at His requisition even the chamber which he had prepared
for his own family celebration of the feast.
Thus instructed, the two trusted Apostles left Bethany, early in the
day, without a clue of their destination reaching Judas's hungry
watchfulness. Evidently they did not return, and in the evening Jesus
led the others straight to the place. Mark says that He came 'with the
twelve'; but he does not mean thereby to specify the number, but to
define the class, of His attendants.
Each figure in this preparatory scene yields important lessons. Our
Lord's earnest desire to secure that still hour before pushing out
into the storm speaks pathetically of His felt need of companionship
and strengthening, as well as of His self-forgetting purpose to help
His handful of bewildered followers and His human longing to live in
faithful memories. His careful arrangements bring vividly into sight
the limitations of His manhood, in that He, 'by whom all things
consist,' had to contrive and plan in order to baffle for a moment His
pursuers. And, side by side with the lowliness, as ever, is the
majesty; for while He stoops to arrange, He sees with superhuman
certitude what will happen, moves unconscious feet with secret and
sovereign sway, and in royal tones claims possession of His servant's
The two messengers, sent out with instructions which would only guide
them half-way to their destination, and obliged, if they were to move
at all, to trust absolutely to His knowledge, present specimens of the
obedience still required. He sends us out still on a road full of
sharp turnings round which we cannot see. We get light enough for the
first stage; and when it is traversed, the second will be plainer.
The man with the water-pot reminds us how little we may be aware of
the Hand which guides us, or of our uses in His plans. 'I girded thee,
though thou hast not known Me,'--how little the poor water-bearer knew
who were following, or dreamed that he and his load would be
remembered for ever!
The householder responded at once, and gladly, to the authoritative
message, which does not ask a favour, but demands a right. Probably he
had intended to celebrate the Passover with his own family, in the
large chamber on the roof, with the cool evening air about it, and the
moonlight sleeping around. But he gladly gives it up. Are we as ready
to surrender our cherished possessions for His use?
II. The sad announcement of the traitor (verses 18-21). As the Revised
Version indicates more clearly than the Authorised, the purport of the
announcement was not merely that the betrayer was an Apostle, but that
he was to be known by his dipping his hand into the common dish at the
same moment as our Lord. The prophetic psalm would have been
abundantly fulfilled though Judas's fingers had never touched
Christ's; but the minute accomplishment should teach us that Jewish
prophecy was the voice of divine foreknowledge, and embraced small
details as well as large tendencies. Many hands dipped with Christ's,
and so the sign was not unmistakably indicative, and hence was
privately supplemented, as John tells us, by the giving of 'the sop.'
The uncertainty as to the indication given by the token is reflected
by the reiterated questions of the Apostles, which, in the Greek, are
cast in a form that anticipates a negative answer: 'Surely not I?'
Mark omits the audacious hypocrisy of Judas's question in the same
form, and Christ's curt, sad answer which Matthew gives. His brief and
vivid sketch is meant to fix attention on the unanimous shuddering
horror of these faithful hearts at the thought that they could be thus
guilty--a horror which was not the child of presumptuous
self-confidence, but of hearty, honest love. They thought it
impossible, as they felt the throbbing of their own hearts--and
yet--and yet--might it not be? As they probed their hearts deeper,
they became dimly aware of dark gulfs of possible unfaithfulness half
visible there, and so betook themselves to their Master, and
strengthened their loyalty by the question, which breathed at once
detestation of the treason and humble distrust of themselves. It is
well to feel and speak the strong recoil from sin of a heart loyal to
Jesus. It is better to recognise the sleeping snakes, the
possibilities of evil in ourselves, and to take to Christ our
ignorance and self-distrust. It is wiser to cry 'Is it I?' than to
boast, 'Although all shall be offended, yet will not I.' 'Hold Thou me
up, and I shall be safe.'
Our Lord answers the questions by a still more emphatic repetition of
the distinctive mark, and then, in verse 21, speaks deep words of
mingled pathos, dignity, and submission. The voluntariness of His
death, and its uniqueness as His own act of return to His eternal
home, are contained in that majestic 'goeth,' which asserts the
impotence of the betrayer and his employers, without the Lord's own
consent. On the other hand, the necessity to which He willingly bowed
is set forth in that 'as it is written of Him.' And what sadness and
lofty consciousness of His own sacred personality and judicial
authority are blended in the awful sentence on the traitor! What was
He that treachery to Him should be a crime so transcendent? What right
had He thus calmly to pronounce condemnation? Did He see into the
future? Is it the voice of a Divine Judge, or of a man judging in his
own cause, which speaks this passionless sentence? Surely none of His
sayings are more fully charged with His claims to pre-existence,
divinity, and judicial authority, than this which He spoke at the very
moment when the traitor's plot was on the verge of success.
III. The institution of the Lord's Supper (verses 22-26). Mark's
account is the briefest of the three, and his version of Christ's
words the most compressed. It omits the affecting 'Do this for
remembering Me,' which is pre-supposed by the very act of instituting
the ordinance, since it is nothing if not memorial; and it makes
prominent two things--the significance of the elements, and the
command to partake of them. To these must be added Christ's attitude
in 'blessing' the bread and cup, and His distribution of them among
the disciples. The Passover was to Israel the commemoration of their
redemption from captivity and their birth as a nation. Jesus puts
aside this divinely appointed and venerable festival to set in its
stead the remembrance of Himself. That night, 'to be much remembered
of the children of Israel,' is to be forgotten, and come no more into
the number of the months; and its empty place is to be filled by the
memory of the hours then passing. Surely His act was either arrogance
or the calm consciousness of the unique significance and power of His
death. Think of any mere teacher or prophet doing the like! The world
would meet the preposterous claim implied with deserved and
inextinguishable laughter. Why does it not do so with Christ's act?
Christ's view of His death is written unmistakably on the Lord's
Supper. It is not merely that He wishes _it_ rather than His life, His
miracles, or words, to be kept in thankful remembrance, but that He
desires one aspect of it to be held high and clear above all others.
He is the true 'Passover Lamb,' whose shed and sprinkled blood
establishes new bonds of amity and new relations, with tender and
wonderful reciprocal obligations, between God and the 'many' who truly
partake of that sacrifice. The key-words of Judaism--'sacrifice,'
'covenant,' 'sprinkling with blood'--are taken over into Christianity,
and the ideas they represent are set in its centre, to be cherished as
its life. The Lord's Supper is the conclusive answer to the allegation
that Christ did not teach the sacrificial character and atoning power
of His death. What, then, did He teach when He said, 'This is My blood
of the covenant, which is shed for many'?
The Passover was a family festival, and that characteristic passes
over to the Lord's Supper. Christ is not only the food on which we
feed, but the Head of the family and distributor of the banquet. He is
the feast and the Governor of the feast, and all who sit at that table
are 'brethren.' One life is in them all, and they are one as partakers
The Lord's Supper is a visible symbol of the Christian life, which
should not only be all lived in remembrance of Him, but consists in
partaking by faith of His life, and incorporating it in ours, until we
come to the measure of perfect men, which, in one aspect, we reach
when we can say, 'I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.'
There is a prophetic element, as well as a commemorative and symbolic,
in the Lord's Supper, which is prominent in Christ's closing words. He
does not partake of the symbols which He gives; but there comes a
time, in that perfected form of the kingdom, when perfect love shall
make all the citizens perfectly conformed to the perfect will of God.
Then, whatsoever associations of joy, of invigoration, of festal
fellowship, clustered round the wine-cup here, shall be heightened,
purified, and perpetuated in the calm raptures of the heavenly feast,
in which He will be Partaker, as well as Giver and Food. 'Thou shalt
make them drink of the river of Thy pleasures.' The King's lips will
touch the golden cup filled with un-foaming wine, ere He commends it
to His guests. And from that feast they will 'go no more out,' neither
shall the triumphant music of its great 'hymn' be followed by any
Olivet or Gethsemane, or any denial, or any Calvary; but there shall
be 'no more sorrow, nor sin, nor death'; for 'the former things are
passed away,' and He has made 'all things new.'
'IS IT I?'
'Is it I?'--Mark xiv. 19
The scene shows that Judas had not as yet drawn any suspicion on
Here the Apostles seem to be higher than their ordinary stature; for
they do not take to questioning one another, or even to protest, 'No!'
but to questioning Christ.
I. The solemn prophecy.
It seems strange at first sight that our Lord should have introduced
such thoughts then, disturbing the sweet repose of that hallowed hour.
But the terrible fact of the betrayal was naturally suggested by the
emblems of His death, and still more by the very confiding familiarity
of that hour. His household were gathered around Him, and the more
close and confidential the intercourse, the bitterer that thought to
Him, that one of the little band was soon to play the traitor. It is
the cry of His wounded love, the wail of His unrequited affection,
and, so regarded, is infinitely touching. It is an instance of that
sad insight into man's heart which in His divinity He possessed. What
a fountain of sorrow for His manhood was that knowledge! how it
increases the pathos of His tenderness! Not only did He read hearts as
they thought and felt in the present, but He read their future with
more than a prophet's insight. He saw how many buds of promise would
shrivel, how many would go away and walk no more with Him.'
That solemn prophecy may well be pondered by all Christian assemblies,
and specially when gathered for the observance of the Lord's Supper.
Perhaps never since that first institution has a community met to
celebrate it without Him who 'walks amid the candlesticks,' with eyes
as a flame of fire marking a Judas among the disciples. There is, I
think, no doubt that Judas partook of the Lord's Supper. But be that
as it may, he was among the number, and our Lord knew him to be 'the
In its essence Judas's sin can be repeated still, and the thought of
that possibility may well mingle with the grateful and adoring
contemplations suitable to the act of partaking of the Lord's Supper.
In the hour of holiest Christian emotion the thought that I may betray
the Lord who has died for me will be especially hateful, and to
remember the possibility then will do much to prevent its ever
becoming a reality.
II. The self-distrustful question, 'Is it I?'
It suggests that the possibilities of the darkest sin are in each of
us, and especially, that the sin of treason towards Christ is in each
Think generally of the awful possibilities of sin in every soul.
All sin has one root, so it is capable of passing from one form to
another as light, heat, and motion do, or like certain diseases that
are Protean in their forms. One sin is apt to draw others after it.
'None shall want her mate.' Wild beasts of 'the desert' meet with wild
beasts of 'the islands.' Sins are gregarious, as it were; they 'hunt
in couples.' 'Then goeth he, and taketh with him seven other spirits
more wicked than himself.'
The roots of all sin are in each. Men may think that they are
protected from certain forms of sin by temperament, but identity of
nature is deeper than varieties of temperament. The greatest sins are
committed by yielding to very common motives. Love of money is not a
rare feeling, but it led Judas to betray Jesus. Anger is thought to be
scarcely a sin at all, but it often moves an arm to murder.
Temptations to each sin are round us all. We walk in a tainted
There is progress in evil. No man reaches the extreme of depravity at
a bound. Judas's treachery was of slow growth.
So still there is the constant operation and pressure of forces and
tendencies drawing us away from Jesus Christ. We, every one of us,
know that, if we allowed our nature to have its way, we should leave
Him and 'make shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience.' The forms
in which we might do it might vary, but do it we should. We are like a
man desperately clutching some rocky projection on the face of a
precipice, who knows that if once he lets go, he will be dashed to
pieces. 'There goes John Bradford, but for the grace of God!' But for
this same restraining grace, to what depths might we not sink? So, in
all Christian hearts there should be profound consciousness of their
own weakness. The man 'who fears no fall' is sure to have one. It is
perilous to march through an enemy's country in loose order, without
scouts and rearguard. Rigorous control is ever necessary. Brotherly
judgment, too, of others should result from our consciousness of
weakness. Examples of others falling are not to make us say cynically,
'We are all alike,' but to set us to think humbly of ourselves, and to
supplicate divine keeping,' Lord, save _me_, or I perish!'
III. The safety of the self-distrustful.
When the consciousness of possible falling is brought home to us, we
shall carry, if we are wise, all our doubts as to ourselves to Jesus.
There is safety in asking Him, 'Is it I?' To bare our inmost selves
before Him, and not to shrink, even if that piercing gaze lights on
hidden meannesses and incipient treachery, may be painful, but is
healing. He will keep us from yielding to the temptation of which we
are aware, and which we tell frankly to Him. The lowly sense of our
own liability to fall, if it drives us closer to Him, will make it
certain that we shall not fall.
While the other disciples asked 'Is it I?' John asked 'Who is it?' The
disciple who leaned on Christ's bosom was bathed in such a
consciousness of Christ's love that treason against it was impossible.
He, alone of the Evangelists, records his question, and he tells us
that he put it, 'leaning back as he was, on Jesus's breast.' For the
purpose of whispering his interrogation, he changed his attitude for a
moment so as to press still closer to Jesus. How could one who was
thus nestling nearer to that heart be the betrayer? The consciousness
of Christ's love, accompanied with the effort to draw closer to Him,
is our surest defence against every temptation to faithlessness or
betrayal of Him.
Any other fancied ground of security is deceptive, and will sooner or
later crumble beneath our deceived feet. On this very occasion, Peter
built a towering fabric of profession of unalterable fidelity on such
shifting ground, and saw it collapse into ruin in a few hours. Let us
profit by the lesson!
That wholesome consciousness of our weakness need not shade with
sadness the hours of communion, but it may well help us to turn them
to their highest use in making them occasions for lowlier
self-distrust and closer cleaving to Him. If we thus use our sense of
weakness, the sweet security will enter our souls that belongs to
those who have trusted in the great promise: 'He shall not fall, for
God Is able to make him stand.' The blessed ones who are kept from
falling and 'presented faultless before the presence of His glory,'
will hear with wonder the voice of the Judge ascribing to them deeds
of service to Him of which they had not been conscious, and will have
to ask once more the old question, but with a new meaning: 'Lord, is
it I? when saw we Thee an hungered, and fed Thee?'
'STRONG CRYING AND TEARS'
'And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and He saith to
His disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray. 33. And He taketh with
Him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be
very heavy; 34. And saith onto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful
unto death: tarry ye here, and watch. 35. And He went forward a
little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible,
the hour might pass from Him. 36. And He said, Abba, Father, all
things are possible unto Thee; take away this cup from Me:
nevertheless not what I will, but what Thou wilt. 37. And He cometh,
and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou!
couldest not thou watch one hour? 38. Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter
into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. 39.
And again He went away, and prayed, and spake the same words. 40. And
when He returned, He found them asleep again, (for their eyes were
heavy,) neither wist they what to answer Him. 41. And He cometh the
third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest, it
is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of Man is betrayed into
the hands of sinners. 42. Rise up, let us go; lo, he that betrayeth Me
is at hand.--Mark xiv. 32-42.
The three who saw Christ's agony in Gethsemane were so little affected
that they slept. We have to beware of being so little affected that we
speculate and seek to analyse rather than to bow adoringly before that
mysterious and heart-subduing sight. Let us remember that the place is
'holy ground.' It was meant that we should look on the Christ who
prayed 'with strong crying and tears,' else the three sleepers would
not have accompanied Him so far; but it was meant that our gaze should
be reverent and from a distance, else they would have gone with Him
into the shadow of the olives.
'Gethsemane' means 'an oil-press.' It was an enclosed piece of ground,
according to Matthew and Mark; a garden, according to John. Jesus, by
some means, had access to it, and had 'oft-times resorted thither with
His disciples.' To this familiar spot, with its many happy
associations, Jesus led the disciples, who would simply expect to pass
the night there, as many Passover visitors were accustomed to bivouac
in the open air.
The triumphant tone of spirit which animated His assuring words to His
disciples, 'I have overcome the world,' changed as they passed through
the moonlight down to the valley, and when they reached the garden
deep gloom lay upon Him. His agitation is pathetically and most
naturally indicated by the conflict of feeling as to companionship. He
leaves the other disciples at the entrance, for He would fain be alone
in His prayer. Then, a moment after, He bids the three, who had been
on the Mount of Transfiguration and with Him at many other special
times, accompany Him into the recesses of the garden. But again need
of solitude overcomes longing for companionship, and He bids them stay
where they were, while He plunges still further into the shadow. How
human it is! How well all of us, who have been down into the depths of
sorrow, know the drawing of these two opposite longings!
Scripture seldom undertakes to tell Christ's emotions. Still seldomer
does He speak of them. But at this tremendous hour the veil is lifted
by one corner, and He Himself is fain to relieve His bursting heart by
pathetic self-revelation, which is in fact an appeal to the three for
sympathy, as well as an evidence of His sharing the common need of
lightening the burdened spirit by speech. Mark's description of
Christ's feelings lays stress first on their beginning, and then on
their nature as being astonishment and anguish. A wave of emotion
swept over Him, and was in marked contrast with His previous
The three had never seen their calm Master so moved. We feel that such
agitation is profoundly unlike the serenity of the rest of His life,
and especially remarkable if contrasted with the tone of John's
account of His discourse in the upper room; and, if we are wise, we
shall gaze on that picture drawn for us by Mark with reverent
gratitude, and feel that we look at something more sacred than human
trembling at the thought of death.
Our Lord's own infinitely touching words heighten the impression of
the Evangelist's 'My soul is exceeding sorrowful,' or, as the word
literally means, 'ringed round with sorrow.' A dark orb of distress
encompassed Him, and there was nowhere a break in the gloom which shut
Him in. And this is He who, but an hour before, had bequeathed His
'joy' to His servants, and had bidden them 'be of good cheer,' since
He had 'conquered the world.'
Dare we ask what were the elements of that all-enveloping horror of
great darkness? Reverently we may. That astonishment and distress no
doubt were partly due to the recoil of flesh from death. But if that
was their sole cause, Jesus has been surpassed in heroism, not only by
many a martyr who drew his strength from Him, but by many a rude
soldier and by many a criminal. No! The waters of the baptism with
which He was baptized had other sources than that, though it poured a
tributary stream into them.
We shall not understand Gethsemane at all, nor will it touch our
hearts and wills as it is meant to do, unless, as we look, we say in
adoring wonder, 'The Lord hath made to meet on Him the iniquity of us
all.' It was the weight of the world's sin which He took on Him by
willing identification of Himself with men, that pressed Him to the
ground. Nothing else than the atoning character of Christ's sufferings
explains so far as it can be explained, the agony which we are
permitted to behold afar off.
How nearly that agony was fatal is taught us by His own word 'unto
death,' A little more, and He would have died. Can we retain reverence
for Jesus as a perfect and pattern man, in view of His paroxysm of
anguish in Gethsemane, if we refuse to accept that explanation? Truly
was the place named 'The Olive-press,' for in it His whole being was
as if in the press, and another turn of the screw would have crushed
Darkness ringed Him round, but there was a rift in it right overhead.
Prayer was His refuge, as it must be ours. The soul that can cry,
'Abba, Father!' does not walk in unbroken night. His example teaches
us what our own sorrows should also teach us--to betake ourselves to
prayer when the spirit is desolate. In that wonderful prayer we
reverently note three things: there is unbroken consciousness of the
Father's love; there is the instinctive recoil of flesh and the
sensitive nature from the suffering imposed; and there is the absolute
submission of the will, which silences the remonstrance of flesh.
Whatever the weight laid on Jesus by His bearing of the sins of the
world, it did not take from Him the sense of sonship. But, on the
other hand, that sense did not take from Him the consciousness that
the world's sin lay upon Him. In like manner His cry on the Cross
mysteriously blended the sense of communion with God and of
abandonment by God. Into these depths we see but a little way, and
adoration is better than speculation.
Jesus shrank from 'this cup,' in which so many bitter ingredients
besides death were mingled, such as treachery, desertion, mocking,
rejection, exposure to 'the contradiction of sinners.' There was no
failure of purpose in that recoil, for the cry for exemption was
immediately followed by complete submission to the Father's will. No
perturbation in the lower nature ever caused His fixed resolve to
waver. The needle always pointed to the pole, however the ship might
pitch and roll. A prayer in which 'remove this from me' is followed by
that yielding 'nevertheless' is always heard. Christ's was heard, for
calmness came back, and His flesh was stilled and made ready for the
So He could rejoin the three, in whose sympathy and watchfulness He
had trusted--and they all were asleep! Surely that was one ingredient
of bitterness in His cup. We wonder at their insensibility; and how
they must have wondered at it too, when after years taught them what
they had lost, and how faithless they had been! Think of men who could
have seen and heard that scene, which has drawn the worshipping regard
of the world ever since, missing it all because they fell asleep! They
had kept awake long enough to see Him fall on the ground and to hear
His prayer, but, worn out by a long day of emotion and sorrow, they
Jesus was probably rapt in prayer for a considerable time, perhaps for
a literal 'hour.' He was specially touched by Peter's failure, so
sadly contrasted with his confident professions in the upper room; but
no word of blame escaped Him. Rather He warned them of swift-coming
temptation, which they could only overcome by watchfulness and prayer.
It was indeed near, for the soldiers would burst in, before many
minutes had passed, polluting the moonlight with their torches and
disturbing the quiet night with their shouts. What gracious allowance
for their weakness and loving recognition of the disciples' imperfect
good lie in His words, which are at once an excuse for their fault and
an enforcement of His command to watch and pray! 'The flesh is weak,'
and hinders the willing spirit from doing what it wills. It was an
apology for the slumber of the three; it is a merciful statement of
the condition under which all discipleship has to be carried on. 'He
knoweth our frame.' Therefore we all need to watch and pray, since
only by such means can weak flesh be strengthened and strong flesh
weakened, or the spirit preserved in willingness.
The words were not spoken in reference to Himself, but in a measure
were true of Him. His second withdrawal for prayer seems to witness
that the victory won by the first supplication was not permanent.
Again the anguish swept over His spirit in another foaming breaker,
and again He sought solitude, and again He found tranquillity--and
again returned to find the disciples asleep. 'They knew not what to
answer Him' in extenuation of their renewed dereliction.
Yet a third time the struggle was renewed. And after that, He had no
need to return to the seclusion, where He had fought, and now had
conclusively conquered by prayer and submission. We too may, by the
same means, win partial victories over self, which may be interrupted
by uprisings of flesh; but let us persevere. Twice Jesus' calm was
broken by recrudescence of horror and shrinking; the third time it
came back, to abide through all the trying scenes of the passion, but
for that one cry on the Cross, 'Why hast Thou forsaken Me?' So it may
be with us.
The last words to the three have given commentators much trouble.
'Sleep on now, and take your rest,' is not so much irony as 'spoken
with a kind of permissive force, and in tones in which merciful
reproach was blended with calm resignation.' So far as He was
concerned, there was no reason for their waking. But they had lost an
opportunity, never to return, of helping Him in His hour of deepest
agony. He needed them no more. And do not we in like manner often lose
the brightest opportunities of service by untimely slumber of soul,
and is not 'the irrevocable past' saying to many of us, 'Sleep on now
since you can no more do what you have let slip from your drowsy
'It is enough' is obscure, but probably refers to the disciples'
sleep, and prepares for the transition to the next words, which summon
them to arise, not to help Him by watching, but to meet the traitor.
They had slept long enough, He sadly says. That which will effectually
end their sleepiness is at hand. How completely our Lord had regained
His calm superiority to the horror which had shaken Him is witnessed
by that majestic 'Let us be going.' He will go out to meet the
traitor, and, after one flash of power, which smote the soldiers to
the ground, will yield Himself to the hands of sinners.
The Man who lay prone in anguish beneath the olive-trees comes forth
in serene tranquillity, and gives Himself up to the death for us all.
His agony was endured for us, and needs for its explanation the fact
that it was so. His victory through prayer was for us, that we too
might conquer by the same weapons. His voluntary surrender was for us,
that 'by His stripes we might be healed.' Surely we shall not sleep,
as did these others, but, moved by His sorrows and animated by His
victory, watch and pray that we may share in the virtue of His
sufferings and imitate the example of His submission.
THE SLEEPING APOSTLE
'Simon, sleepest thou!'--Mark xiv. 37
It is a very old Christian tradition that this Gospel is in some sense
the Apostle Peter's. There are not many features in the Gospel itself
which can be relied on as confirming this idea. Perhaps one such may
be found in this plaintive remonstrance, which is only preserved for
us here. Matthew's Gospel, indeed, tells us that the rebuke was
addressed to Peter, but blunts the sharp point of it as directed to
him, by throwing it into the plural, as if spoken to all the three
slumberers: 'What, could ye not watch with Me one hour?' To Matthew,
the special direction of the words was unimportant, but Peter could
never forget how the Master had come out from the shadow of the olives
to him lying there in the moonlight, and stood before him worn with
His solitary agony, and in a voice yet tremulous from His awful
conflict, had said to _him_, so lately loud in his professions of
fidelity, 'Sleepest _thou_?'
It was but an hour or two since he had been saying, and meaning, 'I
will lay down my life for Thy sake,' and this was what all that
fervour had come to. No wonder if there is almost a tone of surprise
discernible in our Lord's word, as if He who 'marvelled at the
unbelief' of those who were not His followers, marvelled still more at
the imperfect sympathy of those who were, and marvelled most of all at
such a sudden ebb of such a flood of devotion. Surprise and sorrow,
the pain of a loving heart thrown back upon itself, the sharp pang of
feeling how much less one is loved than one loves, the pleading with
His forgetful servant, rebuke without anger, all breathe through the
question, so pathetic in its simplicity, so powerful to bow in
contrition by reason of its very gentleness and self-restraint.
The record of this Evangelist proves how deep it sank into the
impulsive, loving heart of the apostle, and yet the denials in the
high priest's palace, which followed so soon, show how much less power
it had on him on the day when it was spoken, than it gained as he
looked back on it through the long vista of years that had passed,
when he told the story to Mark.
The first lesson to be gathered from these words is drawn from the
name by which our Lord here addresses the apostle: '_Simon_, sleepest
Now the usage of Mark's Gospel in reference to this apostle's name is
remarkably uniform and precise. Both his names occur in Mark's
catalogue of the Apostles: 'Simon he surnamed Peter.' He is never
called by both again, but before that point he is always Simon, and
after it he is always Peter, except in this verse. The other
Evangelists show similar purpose, for the most part, in their
interchange of the names. Luke, for instance, always calls him Simon
up to the same point as Mark, except once where he uses the form
'Simon Peter,' and thereafter always Peter, except in Christ's solemn
warning, 'Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you,' and in the
report of the tidings that met the disciples on their return from
Emmaus, 'The Lord hath appeared to Simon.' So Matthew calls him Simon
in the story of the first miraculous draught of fishes, and in the
catalogue of Apostles, and afterwards uniformly Peter, except in
Christ's answer to the apostle's great confession, where He names him
'Simon Bar Jona,' in order, as would appear, to bring into more solemn
relief the significance of the immediately following words, 'Thou art
Peter.' In John's Gospel, again, we find the two forms 'Simon Peter'
and the simple 'Peter' used throughout with almost equal frequency,
while 'Simon' is only employed at the very beginning, and in the
heart-piercing triple question at the end, 'Simon, son of Jonas,
lovest thou Me?'
The conclusion seems a fair one from these details that, on the whole,
the name Simon brings into prominence the natural unrenewed humanity,
and the name Peter suggests the Apostolic office, the bold confessor,
the impulsive, warm-hearted lover and follower of the Lord. And it is
worth noticing that, with one exception, the instances in which he is
called by his former name, after his designation to the apostolate,
occur in words addressed to him by our Lord.
He had given the name, and surely His withdrawal of it was meant to be
significant, and must have struck with boding, rebuking emphasis on
the ear and conscience of the apostle. 'Simon, Simon, Satan hath
desired to have you': 'Remember thy human weakness, and in the sore
conflict that is before thee, trust not to thine own power.' 'Simon,
sleepest thou?' 'Can I call thee Peter now, when thou hast not cared
for My sorrow enough to wake while I wrestled? Is this thy fervid
love?' 'Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?' 'Thou wast Peter because
thou didst confess Me; thou hast fallen back to thine old level by
denying Me. It is not enough that in secret I should have restored
thee to My love. Here before thy brethren, thou must win back thy
forfeited name and place by a confession as open as the denial, and
thrice repeated like it. Once thou hast answered, but still thou art
"Simon." Twice thou hast answered, but not yet can I call thee
"Peter." Thrice thou hast answered, by each reply effacing a former
denial, and now I ask no more. Take back thine office; henceforth thou
shalt be called "Cephas" as before.'
And so it was. In the Acts of the Apostles, and in Paul's letters,
'Peter' or 'Cephas' entirely obliterates 'Simon.' Only for ease in
finding him, the messengers of Cornelius are to ask for him in Joppa
by the name by which he would be known outside the Church, and his old
companion James begins his speech to the council at Jerusalem by
referring with approbation to what 'Simeon' had said, as if he liked
to use the old name, that brought back memories of the far-off days in
Galilee, before they had known the Master.
Very touching, too, is it to notice how the apostle himself, while
using the name by which he was best known in the Church, in the
introduction to his first Epistle, calls himself 'Simon Peter' in his
second, as if to the end he felt that the old nature clung to him, and
was not yet, 'so long as he was in this tabernacle,' wholly subdued
under the dominion of the better self, which his Master had breathed
So we see that a bit of biography and an illustration of a large truth
are wrapped up for us in so small a matter as the apparently
fortuitous use of one or other of these names. I do not suppose that
in every instance where either of them occur, we can explain their
occurrence by a reference to such thoughts. But still there is an
unmistakable propriety in several instances in the employment of one
rather than the other, and we may fairly suggest the lesson as put
hero in a picturesque form, which Paul gives us in definite words,
'The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the
flesh.' The better and the worse nature contend in all Christian
souls, or, as our Lord says with such merciful leniency in this very
context, 'The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.' However real
and deep the change which passes over us when 'Christ is formed in
us,' it is only by degrees that the transformation spreads through our
being. The renewing process follows upon the bestowment of the new
life, and works from its deep inward centre outwards and upwards to
the circumference and surface of our being, on condition of our own
constant diligence and conflict.
True, 'If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature'; but also, and
precisely because he is, therefore the daily and hourly exhortation
is, 'Put on the new man.' The leaven is buried in the dough, and must
be well kneaded up with it if the whole is to be leavened. Peter is
still Simon, and sometimes seems to be so completely Simon that he has
ceased to be Peter. He continues Simon Peter to his own consciousness
to the very end, however his brethren call him. The struggle between
the two elements in his nature makes the undying interest of his
story, and brings him nearer to us than any of the other disciples
are. We, too, have to wage the conflict between the old nature and the
new; for us, too, the worse part seems too often to be the stronger,
if not the only part. The Master has often to speak to us, as if His
merciful all-seeing eye could discern in us nothing of our better
selves which are in truth Himself, and has to question our love. We,
too, have often to feel how little those who think best of us know
what we are. But let us take heart and remember that from every fall
it is possible to rise by penitence and secret converse with Him, and
that if only we remember to the end our lingering weakness, and
'giving all diligence,' cleave to Him, 'an entrance shall be
ministered unto us abundantly into His everlasting kingdom.'
We may briefly notice, too, some other lessons from this slumbering
Let us learn, for instance, to distrust our own resolutions. An hour
or two at the most had passed since the eager protestation, 'Though
all should deny Thee, yet will not I. I will lay down my life for Thy
sake.' It had been most honestly said, at the dictate of a very loving
heart, which in its enthusiasm was over-estimating its own power of
resistance, and taking no due account of obstacles. The very utterance
of the rash vow made him weaker, for some of his force was expended in
making it. The uncalculating, impulsive nature of the man makes him a
favourite with all readers, and we sympathise with him, as a true
brother, when we hear him blurting out his big words, followed so soon
by such a contradiction in deeds. He is the same man all through his
story, always ready to push himself into dangers, always full of rash
confidence, which passes at once into abject fear when the dangers
which he had not thought about appear.
His sleep in the garden, following close on his bold words in the
upper chamber, is just like his eager wish to come to Christ on the
water, followed by his terror. He desires to be singled out from the
others; he desires to be beside his Master, and then as soon as he
feels a dash of spray on his cheek, and the heaving of that uneasy
floor beneath him, all his confidence collapses and he shrieks to
Christ to save him. It is just like his thrusting himself into the
high priest's palace--no safe place, and bad company for him by the
coal fire--and then his courage oozing out at his fingers' ends as
soon as a maidservant's sharp tongue questioned him. It is just like
his hearty welcome of the heathen converts at Antioch, and his ready
breaking through Jewish restrictions, and then his shrinking back into
his old shell again, as soon as 'certain came down from Jerusalem.'
And in it all, he is one of ourselves. We have to learn to distrust
all our own resolutions, and to be chary of our vows. 'Better is it
that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not
pay.' So, aware of our own weakness, and the flutterings of our own
hearts, let us not mortgage the future, nor lightly say 'I will'--but
rather let us turn our vows into prayers,
'Nor confidently say,
"I never will deny Thee, Lord"
But, "Grant I never may."'
Let us note, too, the slight value of even genuine emotion. The very
exhaustion following on the strained emotions which these disciples
had been experiencing had sent them to sleep. Luke, in his
physician-like way, tells us this, when he says that they 'slept for
sorrow.' We all know how some great emotion which we might have
expected would have held our eyes waking, lulls to slumber. Men sleep
soundly on the night before their execution. A widow leaves her
husband's deathbed as soon as he has passed away, and sleeps a
dreamless sleep for hours. The strong current of emotion sweeps
through us, and leaves us dry. Sheer exhaustion and collapse follow
its intenser forms. And even in its milder, nothing takes so much out
of a man as emotion. Reaction always follows, and people are in some
degree unfitted for sober work by it. Peter, for example, was all the
less ready for keeping awake, and for bold confession, because of the
vehement emotions which had agitated him in the upper chamber. We
have, therefore, to be chary, in our religious life, of feeding the
flames of mere feeling. An unemotional Christianity is a very poor
thing, and most probably a spurious and unreal thing. But a merely
emotional Christianity is closely related to practical unholiness, and
leads by a very short straight road to windy wordy insincerity and
conscious hypocrisy. Emotion which is firmly based upon an intelligent
grasp of God's truth, and which is at once translated into action, is
good. But unless these two conditions be rigidly observed, it darkens
the understanding and enfeebles the soul.
Lastly, notice how much easier it is to purpose and to do great things
than small ones.
I have little doubt that if the Roman soldiers had called on Peter to
have made good his boast, and to give up his life to rescue his
Master, he would have been ready to do it. We know that he was ready
to fight for Him, and in fact did draw a sword and offer resistance.
He could die for Him, but he could not keep awake for Him. The great
thing he could have done, the little thing he could not do.
Brethren, it is far easier once in a way, by a dead lift, to screw
ourselves up to some great crisis which seems worthy of a supreme
effort of enthusiasm and sacrifice, than it is to keep on persistently
doing the small monotonies of daily duty. Many a soldier will bravely
rush to the assault in a storming-party, who would tremble in the
trenches. Many a martyr has gone unblenching to the stake for Christ,
who had found it far harder to serve Him in common duties. It is
easier to die for Him than to watch with Him. So let us listen to His
gentle voice, as He speaks to us, not as of old in the pauses of His
agony, and His locks wet with the dews of the night, but bending from
His throne, and crowned with many crowns: 'Sleepest them? Watch and
pray, lest ye enter into temptation.'
THE CAPTIVE CHRIST AND THE CIRCLE ROUND HIM
'And immediately, while He yet spake, cometh Judas, one of the twelve,
and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief
priests and the scribes and the elders. 44. And he that betrayed Him
had given them a token, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is
He; take Him, and lead Him away safely. 45. And as soon as he was
come, he goeth straightway to Him, and saith, Master, Master; and
kissed Him. 46. And they laid their hands on Him, and took Him. 47.
And one of them that stood by drew a sword, and smote a servant of the
high priest, and cut off his ear. 48. And Jesus answered and said unto
them, Are ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and with staves
to take Me? 49. I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and ye
took Me not: but the scriptures must be fulfilled. 50. And they all
forsook Him, and fled. 51. And there followed Him a certain young man,
having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young man laid
hold on Him: 52. And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them
naked. 53. And they led Jesus away to the high priest: and with him
were assembled all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes.
54. And Peter followed Him afar off, even into the palace of the high
priest: and he sat with the servants, and warmed himself at the
fire.'--Mark xiv. 43-54.
A comparison of the three first Gospels in this section shows a degree
of similarity, often verbal, which is best accounted for by supposing
that a common (oral?) 'Gospel,' which had become traditionally fixed
by frequent and long repetition, underlies them all. Mark's account is
briefest, and grasps with sure instinct the essential points; but,
even in his brevity, he pauses to tell of the young man who so nearly
shared the Lord's apprehension. The canvas is narrow and crowded; but
we may see unity in the picture, if we regard as the central fact the
sacrilegious seizure of Jesus, and the other incidents and persons as
grouped round it and Him, and reflecting various moods of men's
feelings towards Him.
I. The avowed and hypocritical enemies of incarnate love. Again we
have Mark's favourite 'straightway,' so frequent in the beginning of
the Gospel, and occurring twice here, vividly painting both the sudden
inburst of the crowd which Interrupted Christ's words and broke the
holy silence of the garden, and Judas's swift kiss. He is named--the
only name but our Lord's in the section; and the depth of his sin is
emphasised by adding 'one of the twelve.' He is not named in the next
verse, but gibbeted for immortal infamy by the designation, 'he that
betrayed Him.' There is no dilating on his crime, nor any bespattering
him with epithets. The passionless narrative tells of the criminal and
his crime with unsparing, unmoved tones, which have caught some echo
beforehand of the Judge's voice. To name the sinner, and to state
without cloak or periphrasis what his deed really was, is condemnation
enough. Which of us could stand it?
Judas was foremost of the crowd. What did he feel as he passed swiftly
into the shadow of the olives, and caught the first sight of Jesus?
That the black depths of his spirit were agitated is plain from two
things--the quick kiss, and the nauseous repetition of it. Mark says,
'Straightway ... he kissed Him much.' Probably the swiftness and
vehemence, so graphically expressed by these two touches, were due,
not only to fear lest Christ should escape, and to hypocrisy
overacting its part, but to a struggle with conscience and ancient
affection, and a fierce determination to do the thing and have it
over. Judas is not the only man who has tried to drown conscience by
hurrying into and reiterating the sin from which conscience tries to
keep him. The very extravagances of evil betray the divided and stormy
spirit of the doer. In the darkness and confusion, the kiss was a
surer token than a word or a pointing finger would have been; and
simple convenience appears to have led to its selection. But what a
long course of hypocrisy must have preceded and how complete the
alienation of heart must have become, before such a choice was
possible! That traitor's kiss has become a symbol for all treachery
cloaked in the garb of affection. Its lessons and warnings are
obvious, but this other may be added--that such audacity and
nauseousness of hypocrisy is not reached at a leap, but presupposes
long underground tunnels of insincere discipleship, through which a
man has burrowed, unseen by others, and perhaps unsuspected by
himself. Much hypocrisy of the unconscious sort precedes the
deliberate and conscious.
How much less criminal and disgusting was the rude crowd at Judas's
heels! Most of them were mere passive tools. The Evangelist points
beyond them to the greater criminals by his careful enumeration of all
classes of the Jewish authorities, thus laying the responsibility
directly on their shoulders, and indirectly on the nation whom they
represented. The semi-tumultuous character of the crowd is shown by
calling them 'a multitude,' and by the medley of weapons which they
carried. Half-ignorant hatred, which had had ample opportunities of
becoming knowledge and love, offended formalism, blind obedience to
ecclesiastical superiors, the dislike of goodness--these impelled the
rabble who burst into the garden of Gethsemane.
II. Incarnate love, bound and patient. We may bring together verses
46, 48, and 49, the first of which tells in simplest, briefest words
the sacrilegious violence done to Jesus, while the others record His
calm remonstrance. 'They laid hands on Him.' That was the first stage
in outrage--the quick stretching of many hands to secure the
unresisting prisoner. They 'took Him,' or, as perhaps we might better
render, 'They held Him fast,' as would have been done with any
prisoner. Surely, the quietest way of telling that stupendous fact is
the best! It is easy to exclaim, and, after the fashion of some
popular writers of lives of Christ, to paint fancy pictures. It is
better to be sparing of words, like Mark, and silently to meditate on
the patient long-suffering of the love which submitted to these
indignities, and on the blindness which had no welcome but this for
'God manifest in the flesh.' Both are in full operation to-day, and
the germs of the latter are in us all.
Mark confines himself to that one of Christ's sayings which sets in
the clearest light His innocence and meek submissiveness. With all its
calmness and patience, it is majestic and authoritative, and sounds as
if spoken from a height far above the hubbub. Its question is not only
an assertion of His innocence, and therefore of his captor's guilt,
but also declares the impotence of force as against Him--'Swords and
staves to take Me!' All that parade of arms was out of place, for He
was no evil-doer; needless, for He did not resist; and powerless,
unless He chose to let them prevail. He speaks as the stainless,
incarnate Son of God. He speaks also as Captain of 'the noble army of
martyrs,' and His question may be extended to include the truth that
force is in its place when used against crime, but ludicrously and
tragically out of place when employed against any teacher, and
especially against Christianity. Christ, in His persecuted confessors,
puts the same question to the persecutors which Christ in the flesh
put to His captors.
The second clause of Christ's remonstrance appeals to their knowledge
of Him and His words, and to their attitude towards Him. For several
days He had daily been publicly teaching in the Temple. They had laid
no hands on Him. Nay, some of them, no doubt, had helped to wave the
palm-branches and swell the hosannas. He does not put the contrast of
then and now in its strongest form, but spares them, even while He
says enough to bring an unseen blush to some cheeks. He would have
them ask, 'Why this change in us, since He is the same? Did He deserve
to be hailed as King a few short hours ago? How, then, before the
palm-branches are withered, can He deserve rude hands?' Men change in
their feelings to the unchanging Christ; and they who have most
closely marked the rise and fall of the tide in their own hearts will
be the last to wonder at Christ's captors, and will most appreciate
the gentleness of His rebuke and remonstrance.
The third clause rises beyond all notice of the human agents, and
soars to the divine purpose which wrought itself out through them.
That divine purpose does not make them guiltless, but it makes Jesus
submissive. He bows utterly, and with no reluctance, to the Father's
will, which could be wrought out through unconscious instruments, and
had been declared of old by half-understanding prophets, but needed
the obedience of the Son to be clear-seeing, cheerful, and complete.
We, too, should train ourselves to see the hand that moves the pieces,
and to make God's will our will, as becomes sons. Then Christ's calm
will be ours, and, ceasing from self, and conscious of God everywhere,
and yielding our wills, which are the self of ourselves, to Him, we
shall enter into rest.
III. Rash love defending its Lord with wrong weapons (verse 47). Peter
may have felt that he must do something to vindicate his recent
boasting, and, with his usual headlong haste, stops neither to ask
what good his sword is likely to do, nor to pick his man and take
deliberate aim at him. If swords were to be used, they should do
something more effectual than hacking off a poor servant's ear. There
was love In the foolish deeds and a certain heroism in braving the
chance of a return thrust or capture, which should go to Peter's
credit. If he alone struck a blow for his Master, it was because the
others were more cowardly, not more enlightened. Peter has had rather
hard measure about this matter, and is condemned by some of us who
would not venture a tenth part of what he ventured for his Lord then.
No doubt, this was blind and blundering love, with an alloy of
rashness and wish for prominence; but that is better than unloving
enlightenment and caution, which is chiefly solicitous about keeping
its own ears on. It is also worse than love which sees and reflects
the image of the meek Sufferer whom it loves. Christ and His cause are
to be defended by other weapons. Christian heroism endures and does
not smite. Not only swords, but bitter words which wound worse than
they, are forbidden to Christ's soldier. We are ever being tempted to
fight Christ's battles with the world's weapons; and many a 'defender
of the faith' in later days, perhaps even in this very enlightened
day, has repeated Peter's fault with less excuse than he, and with
very little of either his courage or his love.
IV. Cowardly love forsaking its Lord (verse 50). 'They all forsook
Him, and fled.' And who will venture to say that he would not have
done so too? The tree that can stand such a blast must have deep
roots. The Christ whom they forsook was, to them, but a fragment of
the Christ whom we know; and the fear which scattered them was far
better founded and more powerful than anything which the easy-going
Christians of to-day have to resist. Their flight may teach us to
place little reliance on our emotions, however genuine and deep, and
to look for the security for our continual adherence to Christ, not to
our fluctuating feelings, but to His steadfast love. We keep close to
Him, not because our poor fingers grasp His hand--for that grasp is
always feeble, and often relaxed--but because His strong and gentle
hand holds us with a grasp which nothing can loosen. Whoso trusts in
his own love to Christ builds on sand, but whoso trusts in Christ's
love to him builds on rock.
V. Adventurous curiosity put to flight (verses 51, 52). Probably this
young man was Mark. Only he tells the incident, which has no bearing
on the course of events, and was of no importance but to the person
concerned. He has put himself unnamed in a corner of his picture, as
monkish painters used to do, content to associate himself even thus
with his Lord. His hastily cast-on covering seems to show that he had
been roused from sleep. Mingled love and curiosity and youthful
adventurousness made him bold to follow when Apostles had fled. No
effort appears to have been made to stop their flight; but he is laid
hold of, and, terrified at his own rashness, wriggles himself out of
his captors' hands. The whole incident singularly recalls Mark's
behaviour on Paul's first missionary journey. There are the same
adventurousness, the same inconsiderate entrance on perilous paths,
the same ignominious and hasty retreat at the first whistle of the
bullets. A man who pushes himself needlessly into difficulties and
dangers without estimating their force is pretty sure to take to his
heels as soon as he feels them, and to cut as undignified a figure as
this naked fugitive.
VI. Love frightened, but following (verse 54). Fear had driven Peter
but a little way. Love soon drew him and John back. Sudden and often
opposite impulses moved Ms conduct and ruffled the surface of his
character, but, deep down, the core was loyal love. He followed, but
afar off; though 'afar off,' he did follow. If his distance betrayed
his terror, his following witnessed his bravery. He is not a coward
who is afraid, but he who lets his fear hinder him from duty or drive
him to flight. What is all Christian living but following Christ afar
off? And do the best of us do more, though we have less apology for
our distance than Peter had? 'Leaving us an example, that ye should
follow His steps' said he, long after, perhaps remembering both that
morning and the other by the lake when he was bidden to leave other
servants' tasks to the Master's disposal, and, for his own part, to
His love pushed him into a dangerous place. He was in bad company
among the inferior sort of servants huddled around the fire that cold
morning, at the lower end of the hall; and as its light flickered on
his face, he was sure to be recognised. But we have not now to do with
his denial. Rather he is the type of a true disciple, coercing his
human weakness and cowardice to yield to the attraction which draws
him to his Lord, and restful in the humblest place where he can catch
a glimpse of His face, and so be, as he long after alleged it as his
chief title to authority to have been, 'a witness of the sufferings of
THE CONDEMNATION WHICH CONDEMNS THE JUDGES
'And the chief priests and all the council sought for witness against
Jesus to put Him to death; and found none. 56. For many bare false
witness against Him, but their witness agreed not together. 57. And
there arose certain, and bare false witness against Him, saying, 58.
We heard Him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands,
and within three days I will build another made without hands. 59. But
neither so did their witness agree together. 60. And the high priest
stood up in their midst, and asked Jesus, saying, Answerest Thou
nothing? what is it which these witness against Thee? 61. But He held
His peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked Him, and
said unto Him, Art Thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? 62. And
Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of Man, sitting on the
right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. 63. Then the
high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further
witnesses? 64. Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? And they
all condemned Him to be guilty of death. 65. And some began to spit on
Him, and to cover His face, and to buffet Him, and to say unto Him,
Prophesy: and the servants did strike Him with the palms of their
hands.'--Mark xiv. 55-65.
Mark brings out three stages in our Lord's trial by the Jewish
authorities--their vain attempts to find evidence against Him, which
were met by His silence; His own majestic witness to Himself, which
was met by a unanimous shriek of condemnation; and the rude mockery of
the underlings. The other Evangelists, especially John, supply many
illuminative details; but the essentials are here. It is only in
criticising the Gospels that a summary and a fuller narrative are
dealt with as contradictory. These three stages naturally divide this
I. The judges with evil thoughts, the false witnesses, and the silent
Christ (verses 55-61). The criminal is condemned before He is tried.
The judges have made up their minds before they sit, and the Sanhedrim
is not a court of justice, but a slaughter-house, where murder is to
be done under sanction of law. Mark, like Matthew, notes the unanimity
of the 'council,' to which Joseph of Arimathea--the one swallow which
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