It is clear, from chap. 3:15, that there was no excuse for the inability of the disciples to cast out the demon from this poor child. The power had been bestowed upon them, but when this opportunity for its exercise was presented to them, they could not use it. Combining the narrative in Matthew with this in Mark, we learn the whole secret of their failure. In answer to the disciples' own question, "Why could not we cast him out?" Jesus said, "Because of your unbelief"; and He, moreover, told them that nothing would be impossible to them, if they even had faith as a grain of mustard seed. We learn likewise, from both gospels, that for such faith, for the exercise of such victorious power, over the enemy, there must be a corresponding state of soul: "This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting." (Mark 9:29.) Prayer is the expression, in confidence in God, of the realization of absolute dependence; and fasting will mean that Nazarite state which refuses lawful things and lawful enjoyments (See Numbers 6:3-7) for the sake of more entire devotedness to the Lord's service. It may sometimes include abstinence from food, but to confine it to this is to miss its main import. A fasting soul is one so filled with the marrow and fatness of heavenly joys, as to be superior to, and independent of, the gratifications of earth. In this condition, faith will be in such vigorous exercise that "mountains" will be removed. (Matthew 17:20.) The same blessed instruction concerning the action of faith may be gathered from the Lord's words to the father of the child, who had cried, "If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us." The answer was as to its meaning, "the 'If thou canst,' is, 'If thou canst believe' - all things are possible to him that believeth." Whether, therefore, in the Lord's service, or in deep personal need, the indispensable requisite for calling in divine power for succour and deliverance, is faith - faith that looks beyond all difficulties and obstacles, and lays hold of the arm of Omnipotence. And this unutterable grace and privilege are of divine permission and appointment.
Those who have at hand the New Translation will see that three alterations may be made in this scripture. Instead of "me in my bonds," read "prisoners;" for "in yourselves," substitute "for yourselves;" and omit the words "in heaven." (Compare the Revised Version and its alternative renderings in the margin.) The passage will then read as follows: "For ye both sympathized with prisoners and accepted with joy the plunder of your goods, knowing that ye have for yourselves a better substance and an abiding one." (New Translation.) It was thus a time of persecution; and the saints courageously, in fidelity to Christ, showed their sympathy, and identified themselves, with those who were imprisoned for Christ's sake, and, exposing themselves in this way to the hostility of their adversaries, they incurred the forfeiture and loss of their earthly possessions. But so active was their faith, and so real was Christ to their hearts as their treasure, that they "took joyfully the spoiling of "their goods, knowing that they had for themselves a better inheritance, and one of which they never could be deprived. They had provided themselves bags which wax not did, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth, and this possessing their hearts, they willingly suffered the loss of all things for the sake of Christ. It is a blessed record, and, at the same time, a powerful testimony to what Christ is for His people in the midst of the fires of persecution.
2 Samuel 24:14; Hebrews 10:31.
It is needless to say that there is no contradiction between these scriptures. The difference in the circumstances will explain the difficulty. David, although a man after God's heart, had fallen into sin, and now convicted, and confessing his guilt, the Lord offered to him the choice of one of three methods of chastisement. The Lord's name had been dishonoured by His anointed king, and the Lord must publicly vindicate it; and thus He sent the message to David through the prophet Gad. David's reply was, "Let us fall now into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man." None but a real saint, one who had had to do with God in the past, and had learned in measure what He was in His tenderness and mercy, could have used this language. It was as knowing the Lord that David, in his penitence, said, "Let us fall now into the hand of the Lord." In the epistle to the Hebrews the apostle had been supposing the awful case of sinning wilfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, and for such, he declares, "there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins," etc. In other words, he deals with those who might become apostates, those who had made a confession of Christianity, but who, never having been really converted, might publicly abandon their profession, and thus tread under foot, before men, the Son of God, and count the blood of the covenant wherewith they were sanctified (for they had been Jews) an unholy thing, and do despite unto the Spirit of grace. It is for this class - once professors, but possibly now avowed apostates - that the apostle says, "For we know Him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge His people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." The Lord may, and does, chastise His people, when they turn aside from His ways, but however heavily His rod may fall upon them, they will surely confess with David that His mercies are great. He will also, sooner or later, deal with professors and apostates, and for them His rod will be one of vengeance and "recompense" for their high-handed rebellion, and then they will learn, when, alas! it is too late for repentance, that "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."