The Gospels

(Volume 5 of the Numerical Bible: The Fifth Pentateuch of the Bible)

F. W. Grant.

Mark

Scope and Divisions of Mark.

Christ, the Son of God, as Ministering Servant of man's need whether in life or death, in which He is seen as the Sin-offering, meeting the requirements of the divine nature as regards sin. The dispensational character, so attaching to Matthew, is scarcely found in Mark, and while the Kingdom of God of necessity is found, we have neither the Kingdom of heaven, nor of Christ, nor of the Son of man. He is the unwearied Worker for the glory of God, and until resurrection the title of Lord is seldom given Him. Naturally, therefore, because the condition and need of man are the same for Jew and Gentile, the service is for all, and Mark addresses himself more to men at large, the references to Old Testament fulfillments being also less conspicuous. On the other hand, He is for His people more fully the pattern of the life of faith, as He comes more down to such a place as we find here, and then also He stoops below them into the awful realization of sin and its penalty, as borne upon the Cross.

Mark has but three divisions: ―
1. (Mark 1 ― 5.): The personal ministry of Christ.
2. (Mark 6 ― 10:45.): The service of a rejected Master.
3. (Mark 10:46 ― 16.): The heart of service revealed in sacrifice answered from the heart of God in resurrection and the ascension to heaven of the Offerer.

Notes.

An old view of Mark, that it was an abridgment of Matthew, while it is not the truth, has yet in it a certain measure of truth, which would apply to more than Matthew. From the nature of its theme, "the Son of God in service," it must take up what runs through every Gospel. Christ serves upon the throne as well as on the Cross, and at every point between. His words when coming into the world characterize Him at all times: "Lo, I come to do Thy will" show Him to be all through essentially the Servant; and as such God by the mouth of Isaiah, in what is the fullest prophecy of the Old Testament concerning Him, dwells upon Him with delight (Isa. 52:13).

Mark's Gospel can thus have no exclusive line of truth. It has in fact scarcely any important words, certainly no phrase (such as Matthew's "Kingdom of heaven," for instance) peculiar to itself; and might, perhaps, be rather characterized by its omissions (as, for instance, of nomos, "law") than by what it inserts. For law neither measured nor required service such as His, which was the free offering of His heart, and knew no necessity but that of His own nature.

Beautiful it is, and gracious, that Mark, the failed servant, who had shrunk back from the work to which he put his hand (Acts 15:38), but afterwards recovered and through grace made serviceable (2 Tim. 4:11), should be chosen as the one to put before us the unfailing, perfect Servant. What comfort for us in this!

Division 1. (Mark 1 ― 5.)

The Lord's personal ministry.

The three divisions are in very simple connection with one another. The first gives us the Lord's ministry in itself, its character, the needs met and the way of meeting them, with the results that became apparent. The second shows the opposition of the enemy in whose hand the world is, the conflict between the evil and the good, and the meaning of discipleship to a rejected Master. The third shows us the Lord's service perfected in the sacrifice of the Cross, the need met before God, and God glorified in it, resurrection its outcome, with what is implied in this, which only the epistles, however, develop in its fulness for us.

Subdivision 1. (Mark 1:1-13.)

The Person who comes to serve.

We begin now, with the second of the synoptists, the fruitful work of comparison between them. To this the remarkable similarity in much, the very words being as if copied from one to the other, with the equally apparent differences, which to many often seem to amount to contradictions, on either side invite us. These differences are, for the most part, such as none can claim the merit of having discovered, ― they do not need a great deal of searching out: they lie on the surface, and appeal to every reader to inquire as to their meaning. If we have the happiness of being among the number of those who still accredit Scripture as inspired of God, we shall not be surprised to find that not only will this inquiry assure us that there is no contradiction but that God has awakened it in order to reward our search in His own abundant way. We shall do well to give attention to the differences. Our sense of the reality and value of verbal inspiration will assuredly deepen as the result of this, and the truth of God will acquire fresh distinctness, certainty, and power over us.

(1) In both Matthew and Mark, nay, in all the Gospels, the Person of the Lord is necessarily the first thing put before us; but in very different ways. Matthew, presenting to us the Son of David, gives as the foundation of all His legal title in His genealogy. Mark, as we see, has nothing of the sort. And yet His title to the place He takes is as much affirmed in Mark as in Matthew. But title to serve, what will give that? If there be power for it, and heart, nothing else is needed. Serving is love's prerogative, wherever power and need are found together. Thus that Jesus Christ is the Son of God is for Mark the explanation of his Gospel. Power cannot fail the Son of God; and love is demonstrated in the fact that the Son of God is become the Man Christ Jesus.

To this is added that He comes in the foretold way: the Shepherd comes through the door into the sheepfold, which the Lord speaks of to the Jews as the sign that He is the Shepherd. Here, therefore, the testimony of two prophets is brought forward: Malachi of a messenger divinely sent to prepare the way of Christ; Isaiah giving the voice of that messenger addressed to Israel to prepare His way: the way of the Lord (or Jehovah), Messiah being Himself Jehovah. To make His paths straight, how much was involved in that!

(2) Mark passes on to the testimony of the forerunner: not even pausing for a moment to record the birth of Jesus, as both Matthew and Luke do, he begins his history with the account of the Baptist. Even here he is briefer than either of the others. He shows you the man himself in his rough and independent garb, as Matthew does. He tells you with both the others of his baptism of repentance, and with Luke that it is for the remission of sins. He shows you the people flocking to his baptism from all the country round; but he does not give, as Matthew and Luke do, any details of his address to them, but simply his testimony to Christ Himself, to the glory of His Person and His better baptism, with the Holy Spirit.

Thus it is plain, if Mark abridges, it is an abridgment with a purpose. He is taking our eyes as much as possible off other things, to fix them upon the Person who is coming forth to minister, so glorious in Himself, so wondrous in the gift He brings: the Son of God, and baptizing with the Holy Spirit!

(3) But He has higher witness than that of John; and now we see Him coming forth from Nazareth of Galilee, and Himself baptized of John in Jordan. This is indeed the pledge in which He devotes Himself, as we have seen in Matthew, to the path of service which lies before Him. It is His "Lo, I am come," and Jordan prefigures the death which is "written of Him in the volume of the book," in its law of sacrifice.

His vows are now upon Him; and immediately as He comes up out of the water, the heavens are opened, and the Spirit like a dove descends upon Him ― the bird of heaven; the bird of love, the bird of sorrow, the bird of sacrifice, ― and the Father's voice owns the object of His delight, His well-beloved Son. There is little variation as to all this in the three Gospels: it is plainly fundamental to them all. (See Notes on Matthew 3:13-17).

(4) Now once again; Mark hastens over what Matthew and Luke detail with equal care, the temptation in the wilderness. We are merely told of the fact of it, and Mark adds that "He was with the wild beasts." This is in no wise as if they threatened Him. He was the Lord of nature, ― the Creator; and as the Second Man; all was in His hand. The angels, ministry was not at all, as Meyer thinks, "a sustaining support against Satan and the beasts," which in the first case would have been only a dishonor to Him, and in the second would have involved a breach between nature and Himself. They came, as Matthew shows, when the temptation was ended, and to minister to His bodily need.

Thus the Lord is put before us, however briefly, in all His relations, not only to the world, in which now we are to see Him serving. The world is already marked out as a world in departure from God, wherein the people specially the object of God's love and care have to be called to make straight His paths before Him by taking themselves their place in the baptism of repentance as those rightly under death because of sin. Into this death He who would serve them effectually must come, and to this His baptism pledges Him. Thus He can minister to all lesser needs which result from this condition.

Subdivision 2. (Mark 1:14 — 3.)

His ministry.

That ministry itself is now to be put before us, and the various characters of evil, hopeless to any other, present themselves in rapid succession, the spiritual root of it being first of all emphasized; while even the bodily diseases become the pictures of more distressing and fatal maladies, ― the visible being made to manifest the invisible, after the manner of Scripture indeed everywhere, and after the manner of nature also: for one is based upon the other. Thus too the divine dealings with these acquire an interest for us they could not otherwise possess. The Gospel narratives are seen to be not simply histories of the past, but depict for us the present also, and appeal to us with fuller, more pervasive and personal claim. That we may know that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins, He saith to the sick of the palsy, Rise and take up thy bed, and go unto thy house. The word of God is characterized in this way by its tender concern for the soul of man; and everywhere, "Scripture inspired of God is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness."

1. The Lord's public ministry in Galilee begins from the imprisonment of John His forerunner. He takes up the testimony which the world has done its best to silence, and, more definitely than even John; declares the time to be fulfilled and the Kingdom of God to be come near. Herod might have been thought to have proved his own kingdom to be the more substantial reality, with the herald of the divine one languishing in prison; but now it is that the announcement is made afresh with new power and evidence. A gospel indeed in a world so bruised in Satan's fetters; but yet with its claim of repentance which John had so earnestly enforced. These are the first words of the great Healer, and His words precede His deeds. Before all other deliverances, and that these may be truly such, the Word must be spoken by which man lives. For death is but the shadow of sin; and the true life alone can banish it.

The Kingdom of God is at hand. As a Kingdom of truth, it is to be established by the truth in the hearts of men; it must have its heralds. The Lord begins, therefore, now to call the men who are to proclaim it, ― who are to be as He terms it, in words derived from that which they give up to follow Him, the "fishers of men." The account given is almost exactly the same as what we find in Matthew, and as brief as can be. There is none of the personal work done in their souls: that is supplied by John and Luke (John 1:35-42; Luke 5:4-11).

2. There is omitted also the first preaching in Nazareth (Luke 4), which in the decisive rejection which follows it, causes Him to leave the place in which He had grown up. Capernaum, "the village of consolation," became now "His own city" (Matt. 9:1), and in this for a time fulfilled its name. The first act of His power here, as given by Mark, is one that is fundamental for the blessing of the earth, the casting of Satan out of it. When He shall come in power, to take all things into His hand, the dragon will be shut up in the bottomless pit. Similarly, the first sign given to Moses, whereby he is to prove his divine call as the deliverer of Israel, is the return of the rod of power, which, cast out of his hand, is become a serpent, once more to be the shepherd's rod of protection for the flock.

Here in Capernaum the demon is in the synagogue, in the midst of the professing people of God, and as gathered before God; introduced in the person of a man whom he has possessed. The Word, in the mouth of Christ, manifests him, and he cries out in words which show his conviction; and are demoniac in their suggestion still. Gripping his poor victim to him, "he cries out, saying, Let us alone: what have we to do with Thee, Thou Jesus of Nazareth? art Thou come to destroy us? I know Thee who Thou art, the Holy One of God."

The change of pronoun is very suggestive here. The knowledge of the Holy One is that of the demon alone; he would join with him in the dread which it inspires, and the desire to escape from Him as a destroyer, the one to whom He is to be a Saviour! The devil is always that ― the "false accuser"; and the dread of coming doom (which he has ― for "the demons believe and tremble") cannot alter his nature. Hell will make no change in this way, though doubtless it will be, and is meant to be, a restraint upon the manifestation of it.

But the word of Christ casts out the demon: in one last convulsion; permitted to show the reality of his malign power, ere he leaves unwillingly his prey. The people, amazed, accredit it as the testimony of a "new teaching," a fresh interposition of God in the affairs of men, as in truth it was. "Signs" were for the confirmation of the Word, wherever this was new, or where, perhaps, as in Elijah's time, it had been practically lost, and needed recovery. Where it had been received, among disciples of Christ even; where the workers of miracles had a distinct place, and signs originally followed those that believed, (Mark 16:17), they yet were given in conformity with the divine purpose as to them. The people, therefore, rightly inferred a new teaching from the power accompanying the Lord's word. And the manifestations of that power were completely in accordance with the grace that characterized the message that was being given. They were works of power in deliverance and blessing. The New Testament Elijah "wrought no miracle" (John 10:41); grace in the One that followed John lavished its wonders to attract the needy ones it sought.

Here then the field of service opens out: God in His overflow of goodness amid the sin and sorrow of the world finds in Christ the means of manifestation. In the gospel, for the first time, He is adequately manifested; and the miracles are a visible gospel, "powers of the age to come" (Heb. 6:5, Gk.), in which the earth's salvation is anticipated and the Kingdom of God seen as redemption from all the effects of sin.

Thus, the power of Satan broken, Simon's mother-in-law is raised up from her sick bed with ability at once to minister. And then a multitude of these two classes, the diseased and those possessed with demons, carefully and twice over distinguished from one another, gather around Him, to find unfailingly deliverance at His hands.

But with this we are given a glimpse also of that abiding intercourse with God in which He lived. "Rising early a great while before day, He went out and went away into a desert place, and there prayed." The picture of service would not be complete without this ― the root of it. But how instructive to find such seasons of retirement and prayer observed by the Son of God! Our natural thoughts as to such a Person would be against it. We should be inclined to think it too formal, too artificial, and ignoring too much of His divine nature; we should imagine it as implying too much an effort to get near or to keep near His Father. The evangelist does not in the least stop to apologize for it or explain it, however; but leaves it to have its due effect upon us, a needed feature in the picture of the glorious Worker here. How necessary then for us must be such hours of retirement, such seasons of devotion! which, alas, some would consider it "legal" to insist upon; whether for ourselves or others, and which the intrusion of things without, the demands of daily life, the very occupation with service itself, are apt to trench upon so much. Noticeable it is, then; that the apostles, upon making the proposition for the choice of the Seven; gave as their own occupation, — "we will give ourselves unto prayer and to the ministry of the Word": ― "to prayer," as the first requisite, not an appendage to their work, but an essential part of the work itself. For here the vessel is put afresh under the fountain, ― the instrument into the Hand that is really to handle it.

Nor is it forgotten in saying this that the spring is really in the vessel, ― that our Lord has said, "The water that I shall give him shall be in him, a fountain of water, springing up unto eternal life." None the less must there be for overflow the practical acknowledgment of dependence which, giving God His place, gives man also his. No spiritual working is independent of moral order; and divine power works so as to give place to human responsibility for this.

That the Son of God should be found in such conformity to human conditions shows us how truly He is Man; and we are meant, as is plain, to realize this. Scripture does not hide but brings fully before us the truth of His manhood, and that in ways which writers not speaking as "moved by the Holy Ghost" would surely not have ventured.

The disciples follow the Lord with the announcement that all men are seeking Him. They are evidently under the impress of the popular feeling, and have no discernment of its character. The Lord meets it quietly with the purpose of God which He is fulfilling. The crowd might rather hinder His access to souls, or misrepresent the grace which was seeking men to bring them with their personal needs before God. Not in the crowd but in isolation could this best be done, and the seed of the Word must be scattered widely to find the good ground that would receive it. "Let us go elsewhere," He says, "into the neighboring country-towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth." He passes over the wonders which have attracted the masses, to emphasize the preaching of the Word as His true object. And He went into the synagogues and preached throughout all Galilee, and cast out demons." Mark, as the Gospel of service, shows us everywhere the power of the enemy on the alert to frustrate it. In the presence of Christ the enemy has no power; but  there is in man himself what is of deeper significance, and this it is to which the evangelist now points our attention.

3. Mark and Luke join together the story of the leper and that of the palsied man. Leprosy was in Israel so connected with banishment from the presence of God, and in itself so virulent and incurable an evil, as readily to suggest the corruption and malignity of sin as that of which it was a type (see Lev. 13 notes). With sin also the Lord links the case of the palsied man: first of all pronouncing him forgiven before healing him. The two together thus naturally remind us of the corruption and impotence of fallen men, the "ungodly" and "without strength" of the apostle (Rom. 5:6). Here is the double witness to the ruin of man; in their healing, therefore, the witness of the full provision for his need in Christ.

The story of the leper is given in very similar terms in the three synoptists. Mark is slightly the fullest; Matthew the least full. Mark alone speaks of the Lord's compassion moving the hand that touched the unclean and cleansed him. Thus an authority higher than that of law was confirmed by the law: and for this the leper is sent to the priest. He had to certify that One not under its restrictions had done what it was not possible for law to do. No more could it deal with the corruption of heart which the touch of Christ alone can remedy. "He that sinneth hath not seen Him neither known Him," says the disciple nearest to Him. Surely he knows Him, who has felt the thrill of that life-giving touch which brings out of the otherwise unending banishment into the sweet relationships of a new life with God for ever.

"Immediately the leprosy departed from him." So that a robber, from his well-earned cross of shame, is ready for Paradise and the company of Christ. So that the apostle can say of us all, that the Father "hath made us meet for the inheritance of the saints in light" (Col. 1:12). The blotches and disfigurements of our practical life may seem to gainsay this; and we must not deny or belittle them: alas, there is in us still that which is not Christian; but there is, too, a new man; "created in Christ Jesus unto good works," and who can say of all this, "It is not I that do it;" and it still remains true, whether or not we have learned to reconcile it with our experience, that "whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin: for His seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God."

Into all this it is not here the place to enter. Mark emphasizes the prohibition to the healed man not to publish the miracle, and notes the effect of this being violated, the reason for the Lord's withdrawing from the crowds being, no doubt, what it was before. Follow Him, however, they will, for their needs are imperative, and the omnipotent mercy of God is with Him, flowing freely for them.

4. The healing of the paralytic follows that of the leper; and here the crowd is a manifest hindrance to drawing near the Lord. His own condition also forbids it on his own part, but the faith of others bears him up, and through all obstacles, into the presence of Christ. How good to see the ready answer that faith in this way here receives. The Lord goes to the root of the matter: He deals with what underlies the whole condition; "Son," He says, "thy sins be forgiven thee."

"It was a wondrous utterance, and must have sounded still more strangely, when thus first heard, than to us who have been familiar with it from childhood. No one had ever heard Him admit, even by a passing word, His own sinfulness; He showed no humility before God as a sinner; never sought pardon at His hands. Yet no Rabbi approached Him in opposition to all that was wrong, for He went even beyond the act to the sinful desire. The standard He demanded was no less than the awful perfection of God. But those round Him heard Him now rise above any mere tacit assumption of this sinless purity by His setting Himself in open contrast with sinners, in His claim, not only to announce the forgiveness of sins by God, but Himself to dispense it. He pardons the sins of the repentant creature before Him on His own authority as a King, which it would be contradictory to have done, had He Himself been conscious of having any sin and guilt of His own. It is clear that He could have ventured on no such assumption of the prerogative of God, had He not felt in Himself an absolute harmony of spiritual nature with Him, so that He only uttered what He knew was the divine will. It was at once a proclamation of His own sinlessness, and of His kingly dignity as the Messiah, in whose hands had been placed the rule over the new theocracy."*

{* Geikie: "Life and Words of Christ."}

Such an answer to faith was a challenge, no less, to unbelief; and the scribes sitting watchful there among the rest, could not but be roused. It shows how they felt yet the power of His presence, or that for the time, "the world had gone after Him," that they keep it in their hearts without utterance; but there in their hearts it ferments: "Why doth this man speak thus? he blasphemeth: who can forgive sins but God alone?"

But He pursues even the unspoken thought with His divine knowledge: "Why reason ye these things in your hearts? Which is easier" ― a beautiful word that "easier": for with Him words must have their full worth, nothing less; so that the word carries all the weight of the deed: ― "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, Thy sins be forgiven thee, or to say, Rise and take up thy couch, and walk?" Yet now His deeds shall vouch for His words, if only it may conquer them to faith: ― "But, that ye may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins, ― He saith unto the paralytic ― Arise, take up thy couch, and go unto thy house."

And so it is: the glorious announcement is convincingly sealed. Forgiveness of sins, not possible under stringent conditions, or to be known when called to meet God, but now, "on earth," positively assured and made his own, and the new life flowing through him the seal of it: this is what becomes the possession of the rejoicing man. This is also the good news that is published in him to the multitude around. "The Son of man has" this "authority:" One in the reality of man's nature, yet exceptional in that very title; having to emphasize in His own case, as strange to it, what need not be affirmed of another; ― well might they be amazed, and glorify God for it! Not to them only: to earth, hell, heaven; it was the marvel of marvels. Angels were saying adoringly, with this company of earth's fallen creatures, objects in their misery of the love that brought Him down: "We never saw it on this fashion."

5. All this intimates the change that was coming in. Already there was among them One who was greater than the law and stood in a very different relation to it than men as sinners. Doubtless there was, incorporated with the law itself, a ritualistic system which in contrast with the rigor of the moral requirement, addressed itself to sinners as a provision of mercy which pointed the eye of faith also to the better thing to come. But, just as doing this, it revealed its own incapacity for deliverance from the condemnation which the law to which it was wedded preached, and was designed to preach. Only in preaching this could it act as the "handmaid" of the grace for which it was preparing the way; and to find hope in law was just to defeat the very end for which it was given; and thus the Lord had to tell the people led away by their blind Pharisaic teachers: "There is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust."

The ministry of Christ showed clearly that all was on the point of change. Divine love, now manifesting itself in Him, could be satisfied with nothing short of the fullest expression; and this is what He now affirms. The call of Matthew or Levi, and that which is connected with it here, is found in almost identical words in the three synoptists. The teaching as to the Sabbath with which it is followed in Mark and Luke, is found in Matthew, in a different connection.

(1) While the matter of the Lord's teaching is more fully given in any other of the Gospels than in Mark, the fact and constancy of it are as much insisted on as in any, and the miracles, as we have seen; follow and confirm it. His going forth again by the sea and teaching may have significance akin to what we find in Matthew 13: for the grace now to display itself so fully, apart from law, suggests ever that going forth to the nations in which it was so soon to issue. Mark alone gives this as the preface to the calling of Levi, as Matthew is called in Luke also; Mark only speaks of him as the son of Alphaeus: what is signified for us by the difference of name?

The meaning of Levi we already know. Leah says at his birth: "Now will my husband be joined to me. . . . Therefore was his name called Levi" (joined).

Alphaeus is more difficult. Some give it, with Young, as "leader, chief." Others would identify it with Clopas (the Cleophas of our common version, John 19:25), and then it may* mean "passing on" or "beyond," in a bad sense, "transgressing." In this way the two names have a relation to each other and to the context here, so striking that it is hard not to accept it as giving that divine thought which assuredly there is somewhere to be found. They would thus speak of "joining together" as the result of "passing beyond" law, and so does grace bring God and man; Gentile and Jew together.

{*As Chalpai.}

In this way Levi, the tax-gatherer, called from his tax-office to be an apostle of Christ, from a legal exactor to be a minister of the divine bounty, comes to fulfil his name. We have abundance of similar cases in the word of God; and if absence of meaning could be proved in Levi's case, this would be indeed the strange thing to be accounted for.

Grace has its way, and Levi follows Jesus; and this becomes an initiative of work of a like pattern. For to Levi's house many come of those whom the Jews put together as of one kind ― "tax-gatherers and sinners" ― and take their places at table with Jesus and His disciples; and it is added as an explanatory note upon this, "for there were many, and they followed Him." This is only what the Lord Himself told the Pharisees as to John; and they that had ear for John's stern insistence on repentance had ear also on this very account for the "piping" of grace.

But the Pharisees and scribes find fault with this laxity, as they conceive it. "Why is it," they ask, "that He eateth and drinketh with tax-gatherers and sinners?" His answer is conclusive: He is the Physician of souls: will He surround Himself, then. with the healthy or diseased? He does not come on the vain quest for righteousness, which the law had already proved vain: then indeed He would have been; as they thought Him, in a wrong place; but He had made no such mistake. Were they making none? "I came not to call the righteous but sinners." And sinners are they who have always heard that call.

(2) But this involved a far-reaching change of method. The old must give place to the new, the rigid forms be exchanged for the expansive freedom of the Spirit. How could the prescribed fasts go on; with the Bridegroom in their midst? By and by, indeed, He would be taken away; and then they would fast. But how could their rags of legal righteousness be patched with the so different righteousness of faith? or the new wine of spiritual power be shut up in the forms of ceremonial Judaism?

(3) Mark and Luke append to this the Lord's settlement of the Sabbath question, which for the Jew had such great importance as involving their whole covenant-relation to God. This we have very similarly in Matthew (Matt. 12:1-13, see notes), though in a different connection. The example of David, is given here as there; but instead of the appeal to the priests in the temple, and the quotation from Hosea, Mark substitutes Christ's own affirmation that "the Sabbath was made for man; and not man for the Sabbath: so that the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath." The tender solicitude for man, which appeared in such an institution, and which the Pharisees had gone far to obliterate by the harshness of their additions, was itself the convincing proof of the authority of the Son of man over it. It was for man that He had become the Son of man; and as such, all the blessing of man was in His hand to accomplish. Reject Him, and all this vanished. The rest of God, the real rest for all His creatures, He alone could bring in; and the sign was necessarily gone when that which it signified had no longer reality for any.

(4) The need of man is enforced more strongly in the synagogue lesson which follows, the healing of the withered hand. Here they would have restrained with their interpretation of the Sabbath law the very going out of divine power itself in behalf of such misery as the world was full of. Was it, then, a law not to do good but to do evil? to let death have its way, rather than preserve life? But they remain obstinately silent. Then; the love within Him burning to anger at the hardness of their hearts, He summons divine power to witness against them in the healing of the man. They are confounded but unhumbled; and their wrath against Him unites Pharisees with Herodians henceforth to destroy Him.

Subdivision 3. (Mark 3:7 ― 5.)

Things made apparent.

We have had then; thus far, the general features of the ministry of Christ among men; we are now called to consider the results of it, or what is made apparent by it as it goes on. And here we must remember, and as of wider application; the words prophetically spoken by Isaiah as to Israel: "Then I said, I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nought and in vain; yet surely my judgment is with Jehovah, and my work with my God." Not only was it true of Israel, but, all through the present time, apparent failure attaches to His work. Until He comes again in the clouds of heaven, the world remains the scene of His rejection, and none the less because whole countries are covered with nominal Christianity. Nay, this nominal reception only makes more manifest, where it is but that, how obdurately, when no plea for it is any longer possible, the citadel of the heart can stand out against Him. Thus, to follow one's own will, and justify it, truth is perverted and Christianity debased. "The corruption of what is best becomes the worst corruption."

And yet the end shall speak for Him, that neither His love nor His power has failed. Heaven is filling with the fruits of His travail. By and by the earth also shall have its harvest. Meanwhile faith and patience are exercised and needed constantly.

Section 1. (Mark 3:7 — 4:34.)

God only sufficient.

The whole subdivision is divided into seven parts; but the 4+3 into which the seven so often resolves itself, is so strongly marked that these become two sections. The first, as characterized by its 4, shows that external view of results which seems so much stamped with failure, but in which (man being fully proved) the sufficiency of God is seen as alone to be relied on. The second, stamped with its 3 of spiritual energy and resurrection, shows us the work of God itself in its salvation character, unhindered by the power of evil.

1. At the commencement we see once more divine power flowing forth in grace to meet all the effects of sin, in a world disorganized and ruined by it. A witness this which has a certain, present effect in attracting multitudes from all the country round.

(1) First, we have this as seen in the Lord Himself; where, notice, as to its significance in connection with what has been already said, that Jesus "withdraws with His disciples to the sea:" a hint, as we have seen reason to believe, of that going out to the nations which, however implied in the very character of the grace which is coming in; actually takes its form from Israel's rejection of Him. At present it is Israel that is crowding after Him, but (notice again) in such a manner that He must take to the little ship because of the crowd.

The power of Satan, too, is everywhere manifest, though as manifestly subject of necessity to Him. After the manner we have seen, still they declare Him, ― only to be rebuked and silenced by Him, as unfit to be His witnesses. Indeed we may see in it already an indication of how by and by the unclean birds would get lodgment in the branches of the overgrown "tree" of a parable which we find shortly given us in this very section.

(2) Next we are shown this ministry of the Lord extended by means of those called and empowered of Him to represent Him. For this they are ordained, first of all to be "with Him;" then that He might send them out to preach; the power to heal sicknesses and cast out demons being the accompaniment of this. The list of the twelve which follows is not in the same order as that in Matthew, except that Simon Peter's is the first name, while that of the unhappy Judas is the last.

2. What follows here is still for the most part in Matthew, who however gives a much fuller account. Mark omits much that came after the choice of the twelve. Of the so-called "sermon on the mount" he has nothing, and little detail of the breach which is now becoming apparent between the nation led by its Pharisaic teachers and the Lord. All this has more its place in Matthew as the dispensational Gospel, while Mark comes almost at once to the conclusion when the scribes impute His miracles to demon power. This exhibits so clearly the heart hardened against all conviction that Christ warns them that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, by whose power His mighty works were done, is the unpardonable sin. The expression in Mark, if the best accredited text is in fact the true one, is that it is "an eternal sin" ― a sin which in its mark of a soul stiffened in determinate resistance to God speaks of an ultimate, eternal condition. Alas, it was demonic power in Israel that was asserting itself, and only One stronger than Satan could bind and deprive him of his prey. Satan would not cast out Satan; and the fact of his being cast out, that very slander admitted. They had thus, in fact, condemned themselves.

3. But all this was but the demonstration of man's condition, which only the power of God is competent to meet. Even his kindred according to the flesh thought of the glorious Worker as "beside Himself;" and now they press upon Him in the midst of His labor with their supposed (at least) prior claim. With Him they could not plead it: the Son of God, this relationship to God governed all. It was on account of the state of man. Godward He had come, and His very presence among them argued, not their being right in this, but the reverse. For Him the spiritual condition was that upon which all else depended, and the spiritual link was all that He could acknowledge. In the most decisive way, therefore, He rejects the mere fleshly claim: "Who," He asks, "is My mother, and My brethren? And looking round on those sitting round about Him, He saith, Behold My mother and My brethren: for whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is My brother and sister and mother."*

{*One need hardly point out the rebuke of Romish Mariolatry in all this. It is, in fact, constant throughout the Gospels (comp. Luke 2:48, 49; Luke 11:27, 28; John 2:3, 4).}

4. There follows, as in Matthew, the parable of the Sower and the seed, but only one other of what there is a series picturing the Kingdom of heaven as it would take shape in the absence of the King. The Lord's last announcement of necessity brings in the Gentiles; if at least the work of the Spirit of God should be found among them: it contains, as is evident, a fundamental principle of Christianity; and Matthew traces the history of this till the coming of the Son of man in the clouds of heaven. Mark has one parable, indeed, which Matthew has not, and showing explicitly the absence of the King until the time of the harvest; but Matthew does not need this, as what he does give sufficiently declares it. Mark gives only so much of the history as to develop the principles; pressing all into a moral dealing with the individual conscience.

Here we are still upon the same track as before: the lesson is of the vanity of man; of the sufficiency of God alone. The parables here show this under the test of the word of God. The ground of the human heart yields nothing for God save as the Word is sown in it. Even then there are many causes of unfruitfulness, and foes of the new life that has sprung up. Nay, the general result as to the earth at large is mingled and dubious. What, in fact, has the history of the Church shown, if it be not this? How great the comfort of knowing, however, that this is no unforeseen, unaccountable happening. Before the Church began, the history of professing Christianity had already been outlined, and the causes of failure pointed out; and in the New Testament, parable, literal prophecy and vision have all been used to give us warning ― a warning which is encouragement as well.

(1) The causes of barrenness are depicted for us in the parable of the Sower and the seed; and we have already gone through it in Matthew. From the word of God all fruit in man is to be found, yet from man himself opposition comes. The devil, the flesh, and the world are confederates against Christ; and the same hindrances, even where the word is received, prevail to hinder in different degrees the proper fruit of it.

Notice in the Lord's rebuke to His disciples, how little the parabolic form should hinder intelligence for one of His own. "How then will ye know all parables?" shows what on the Lord's part He designs for us. And everywhere, it need not be doubted, in Nature as well as in Scripture, such parables are to be found awaiting the interpretation of faith. Alas, we may, on the other hand, be ignorant of their very existence, and reason may deny what without such guidance it can never find; but agnosticism of whatever quality has no power of conviction for the man that sees; were the prayer oftener with us, "Open Thou mine eyes," we might at least realize more the immeasurableness of our inheritance.

(2) After the causes of barrenness the Lord goes on to warn of hindrances to testimony. If the word of God is that from which all fruit is to come, how great the responsibility to minister it. If a lamp is brought, what do you do with it? It is for illumination doubtless. Do you put it, then, under a bushel measure, or under a bed? Clearly not, but upon its stand. Activity and slothfulness as typified in these two ways may both hinder testimony: the heart bent upon gain; and occupied with what is emphatically called "business," like the thorny ground of the parable, may have little room for the Word, either to get hold of it or to scatter it. While Og's great bed of ease and pleasure may keep men as securely from occupation with or ministry of the things unseen. Christ bids His disciples have before them the day of manifestation; in which all secret things shall be at last revealed.

Again, in order to minister one must receive; and if the fruit take its character from the seed, must receive only the truth. How important, then; to heed what one hears! and what one measures out to others will be more than recompensed again: a thing as true of ministry of the Word, as of practical conduct; for heaven's law is scattering for increase, ― you do not alienate from yourself what you give to others, but gain the more; and still this opens the way to fresh gain: to him that hath shall more be given. Every bit of truth acquired leads on to fresh truth; every sphere of usefulness found prepares for more.

(3) In a parable peculiar to Mark the Lord now goes on to speak of the day of manifestation at the reaping of earth's harvest, and of what is implied in it for the present time. The seed put into the ground is left there by the sower as if he had no further thought about it. It springs up and grows, as it were, without his knowledge. So the Lord after sowing the seed of His word at the beginning, is gone up to heaven. How much, in fact, seems to be taking place without His knowledge. The crop goes on developing and ripening. When He sees that it is ripe, the sickle will be put in.

Of this harvest time of earth Matthew gives us the fuller detail. The parable here simply emphasizes the time of responsibility and uncertainty ― the earth bringing forth of herself; then the intervention; when the crop is ready. Of the general result nothing is said at present. All that has been already before us would imply one not unmixed. Matthew shows us correspondingly tares among the wheat; not even the failure merely of much of the right seed (a lesson which Mark has repeated), but the effect of the enemy's sowing. Mark passes over this to the third parable in Matthew; and here we find what has more sorrowful interest for us.

(4) We have already taken up in some detail the meaning of this third parable. It is that of the mustard-seed, and we have seen in it the picture, indeed, of success of a certain kind, a growth beyond expectation. The smallest of seeds develops into a tree; the Kingdom of heaven becomes (according to the constant use of the figure in Scripture) a world-power, ― a thing of self-evident application; so long before our eyes that we have lost the sense of what it means. Christianity, we say, has a right of dominion over the earth: a claim which Rome has been most successful in making. Alas, if Christianity has ever ruled a nation upon earth, Christ Himself has never done so; and therefore nothing else than a debased Christianity. The success in this way has been dreadful failure: the well-rooted tree has given lodgment to the unclean birds of the air who in the first parable devour the good seed. Here in the degradation of the Kingdom of heaven to a world-power with the prince of this world undethroned, we find what even comes of the word of God among those professedly accepting, not rejecting. And here the view of man as tested by the Word comes naturally to an end.

Section 2. (Mark 4:35 ― 5:43 )

The work of God in its salvation power.

We have now the other side: how God nevertheless manifests Himself to faith, carrying out His purposes unfailingly, spite of all opposition; and as the Saviour of all who put their trust in Him. The three subsections here as the closing part of a septenary series naturally speak of divine manifestation; while the second section as naturally speaks of that salvation work in which He is most fully manifested.

1. The stilling of the storm upon the lake is found earlier in Matthew, but with little difference in detail. In it Christ's power over the elements, is exhibited to the wonder of His disciples; and in it probably all His people have seen without any question the sign of His supremacy over all circumstances of the disturbed scene through which we pass. When the storm comes, how often He seems asleep! But this is for practice of faith, not for the overthrow of it. Yet unbelief in them is importunate and querulous: "Carest Thou not that we perish?" as if waves could sink the slip in which He was! But there was the logic of fact: the ship was filling. They wake Him, and at His rebuke the tempest stills; but have they not missed something? and do not we often gain; perhaps, a speedier deliverance through our unbelief? when faith, like the tropic-bird, would find its rest amid the tempest, and see more the "wonders of the Lord."

Mark notices most distinctly His rebuke: "Why are ye fearful? have ye not yet faith?" And why indeed do we not trust Him with absolute rest of heart? Surely it is true that "he that feareth is not perfected in love." But then; how good to know that His love is such ― so true and omnipotent ― that to learn this perfectly is all that we can want for absolute deliverance.

2. The familiar story of the demoniac follows, as in the two other synoptists, showing the power of the enemy in its fullest and fiercest display entirely, subject to Him. We have already looked at it in Matthew, but who in this case is much briefer in his account than Mark. Mark dwells more upon the desperate condition of the man, his being infested with a horde of demons ― as he says, a Legion, and depicts his after-condition as delivered, of which Matthew says nothing. These things lie more within the scope of the present Gospel, in which the quality of the deliverance, the service done to man, is more before us, as in Matthew the Deliverer.

(1) In the first place, Mark shows us in a very distinct way the enemy's power. His victim's abode is in the tombs, he who had the power of death finding a congenial abode amid the tokens of the ruin which his hand has wrought. There he lives in the lawless freedom secured by supernatural strength. Men cannot bind him and cannot tame him: fetters and chains are broken in pieces by him; and bent upon self-injury, he is always in scenes of desolation, ― on the mountains or in the tombs, crying out, and cutting himself with stones. Here are features by which we may see still in many different forms how great a hold Satan has of men still and everywhere. Spite of their pride and self-love, they pursue eagerly the paths of self-degradation and self-torture; breaking asunder every restraint which the wisdom bred of bitter experience has taught men to put upon one another. The heights of self-exaltation and the charnel-houses of corruption are alike their haunts; and these, though apparently so far apart, come often-times together.

(2) But the power of Satan; while to the fallen creature so hopeless to overcome, finds in Christ a power to which it must succumb. Throughout these evangelic histories there is not a trace of open resistance on the part of these demons, if as here there were a legion of them. They deprecate the judgment they foresee, but for which the time is not yet come, and plead this in their own behalf. They beseech Him not to send them out of the country, and ask leave to enter into the herd of swine. What purpose they might have in this, and whether it was in the end thwarted or suffered, we may have little ability to understand. The demons are still demons, and seeking their own ends as such; while the wisdom of God taketh still the wise in their own craftiness.

(3) We are then given the picture of the delivered man. Three things show the transformation wrought: he is "sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind." Restlessness, vehemence, passion, are gone; the shame of his nakedness is covered; he has come to himself and his mind is cleared. Is there any coming to oneself, where there is not coming to Christ?

(4) But the world is a fallen world, and Satan is the prince of it. Here we see how it is that he is this. Those who beg Christ to depart must needs have the devil to remain. It is but a question between the two, for nature abhors a vacuum. The Lord has shown us how an empty, swept and garnished house waits and invites such a tenant: Christ is too costly a guest: one soul to cost two thousand swine is too high a reckoning. They beg Him therefore, courteously, to depart: for He can be refused with courtesy, and yet refused: and He does depart.

(5) But the rescued man is of another mind than this: divine grace has wrought in his heart, and the deliverance of which he has been the subject is too real and great. He prays that lie may be with Him; but the Lord has other purposes as to him: "Go home to thy people," He says, "and declare to them how great things the Lord has done for thee, and has had mercy upon thee." Thus is the saved sinner made to be a witness of the salvation which he has received, in the world out of which Christ has gone rejected. "And he went his way, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him; and all men wondered."

3. In the intertwined stories of the daughter of Jairus and the woman with the issue of blood, Mark again is fuller than Matthew, and the dispensational application which we have seen in his account seems to give place here to an individual and spiritual one. We have, no doubt, the divine and human sides of what is, in fact, one glorious work of the God of resurrection. From one side we are sinners dying in our sins, and we lay hold upon Christ in our need and prove the virtue that is in Him for our healing. From the other, we were not dying simply but dead, and are raised up from the dead. Both sides are true, but we are not concerned just now with any reconciliation of them. They are in the main the views respectively of Romans and Ephesians, and we reach them in the order indicated by this.

(1) Jair, "the enlightener," as ruler of the synagogue, may signify to us by name and position both the failure and the power of law. The law had said, "Do this, and thou shalt live," but life, as he owns, is only in the hands of Jesus, to whom the conviction of his extremity brings him. Faith springs out of his daughter's need: "My little daughter lieth at the point of death: I pray thee that Thou come and lay Thy hands on her that she may be healed, and she shall live." It is the right effect of law when we are shut up by it in this way to the faith of Jesus.

(2) The Lord listens to his prayer, and follows him toward the house, a multitude thronging Him upon His way there. Amidst them all comes one who has conscious personal need of Him, ― an issue of blood, a steady quiet draining of the life away, for which all the help that she has hitherto sought has been but aggravation of the evil and impoverishment. Now she has heard of Jesus, and without means, without hope, she too has reached the place in which she is ready to be attracted. Faith says in her heart, "If I touch but His garments I shall be healed": and the event confirms this; coming in the press behind she touches; and "she felt in her body that she was healed of that scourge."

This is one of the not infrequent cases in which the spiritual application is so easy to be made that in fact it is made generally by the common consent of Christians, and needs little enforcement. The twelve years of unhealed misery are marked by the number of divine government as that which issues, after all other means of healing has been proved worse than vain, in the exaltation of Christ. The touching of the garments is the appeal to those ways of His which manifest His character, the "habits," in Him so safely to be relied upon. We see in her also how necessary faith is to feelings, producing these, not built upon them: "joy and peace" found "in believing." The details of the picture sustain the interpretation: it is not casual resemblance that we find, but the consistency of truth.

She illustrates also the confirmation found in open confession of Christ: how the Lord looks for this on the part of those whom He has healed. He owns her also as one of whom He is not ashamed and assures to her the quiet enjoyment of what His grace has given. Of what immense importance to our spiritual life is the confession of Christ, as He Himself has emphasized it for us!

(3) But now the news is brought that the child is dead: why trouble the Teacher any more? Death, for man; is the end of hope; and, as far as he is concerned, designed to be so. On this very account, it is in this that God can show Himself where man is impotent. "Be not afraid," says the Lord in answer to such a message; "only believe." Unbelief may claim its right to mourn and weep, unreal as much even of this is; but faith it is that alone can see the glory of God.

The same twelve years measure the period of the woman's issue of blood and the age of the child when raised from the dead: the same meaning must attach to them in both cases. "God, for the great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ, and has raised us up together" (Eph. 2:4, 5). This goes, indeed, beyond that which we find in Mark; but "with Christ" shows Christ to be, in a deeper sense even than in the Gospel, the Worker of the miracle of resurrection. "With Him" only, as the fruit of His precious death for us, and by grace "bound in the bundle of life" with Him, could we have been brought up out of a death so different. In the Gospel it is a miracle of power that is seen; in the epistle it is a miracle of righteousness and yet of grace toward us.