Most readers already know, I suppose, that the Lord Jesus is presented to us in each of the four Gospels in a different point of view. It is only with one of the Gospels that I am going, with God’s help, to occupy them at present; and if I here point out the character of each of the four, it is to put more in relief that of the Gospel taken up. First of all, the Gospels are divided into two classes: on one side, the Gospel of John; and, on the other, the first three called synoptic. This division is just. Every one in reading feels how different John is from the three others. I proceed to point out more precisely the difference.
In the first three Gospels Christ is present to men, more particularly to the Jews, for the purpose of being received, and each of them closes with the account of His rejection. It is not so with John. From the first chapter we find the Lord rejected. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not, He came to His own, and His own people received Him not. And in the following verses we see that it is grace which causes Him to be received by any. He is received by those who are born (not of the flesh, but) of God. In the entire Gospel the Jews are treated as reprobate, and the sovereign grace of the Father who draws and election are put forward. The sheep hear His voice. The Jews do not hear Him because they are not of His sheep. Moreover He is come from the Father, and come into the world. There is also no genealogy which goes up to the stock of promise in Abraham and David, no human genealogy which goes up to Adam (son) of God. It is God, the Word, who was with God and who was God; in whom was life, and the life the light of men, light shining in darkness which the darkness comprehended not; then the Word made flesh, God manifested here below. And all agrees with that: no agony in Gethsemane, nor cry on the cross. When the moment arrived, He delivers up His spirit, the hour being come to pass from this world to the Father. It is what He is that is presented to us in this Gospel; and, whether Jew or Gentile, we must be born anew. At the end the coming of the Holy Spirit, testimony before the world, is to replace Him among His own, for the world also is judged. John passes at the close to some ulterior manifestations of His glory on the earth in a manner designedly mysterious, and without any ascension scene. It is Himself, Son of man, but God manifested here below.
The first three Gospels, we have said, relate the manner in which Christ was presented to men to be received, and His rejection, then His resurrection; Mark and Luke add His ascension. In Luke, after the most delicious picture of the little remnant faithful in the midst of the corruption of Israel, we find the Son of man and grace toward men by Him. The genealogy goes up to Adam; and He, the second Man, the last Adam, ascends to heaven from Bethany, blessing His own. The commission given to the apostles comes from heaven and embraces all, Jews and Gentiles.
In Mark we find the servant and prophet. This Gospel begins with His ministry, preceded by that of John the Baptist. We find at the end His meeting with the disciples in Galilee after His resurrection as in Matthew; but besides an appendix from verse 9, in which what is found in Luke and even in John is briefly stated, that is to say, the heavenly side of these last events, and a commission given to the disciples more general and more universal. It carries salvation or condemnation to all the creation under heaven.
I have reserved Matthew for the last of the Gospels because I must occupy myself with it in more detail. It presents to us Emmanuel, the Messiah, object of the promises and the prophecies, Jehovah in the midst of Israel, Saviour of His people but rejected as in Isaiah 49 and 50,34 and His presence on earth replaced by the kingdom in mystery (chap. 13), by the church (chap. 16), the kingdom in glory (chap. 17); but, whilst insinuating the substitution of the church and of the kingdom, the principal subject is always the Lord in His relation with His earthly people, His meeting with His disciples after His resurrection in Galilee. They are sent to the Gentiles, and there is no ascension.
Consequently we begin quite naturally with the Son of David and the Son of Abraham. Jesus is viewed as the Heir of the promises, as the Son of David. We find ourselves in the atmosphere of the thoughts and the hopes of Israel, but of Israel’s thoughts and hopes according to God. The genealogy is traced in the line of Joseph, from whom He inherited royalty according to the law. But His birth really of Mary presents facts evidently still more important, being close to His person as far as manifested on the earth. Save to draw the attention of the reader to them, these facts, all-important though they be, are so well known and so simply related that I have hardly need to enlarge on them. His human nature (conceived in the womb of die Virgin, without spot or stain, by the power of the Holy Spirit) is a thing perfectly holy; also it is, according to the flesh, born of God whilst being the Seed of the woman, true man in this world. And not this only. He was to be named Jesus (Joshua, or Jehoshea), Jehovah the Saviour, for He should save His people from their sins. As He was Jehovah, the people was His people.
Thus we have a man without sin and Jehovah manifested in flesh: a fact which is a proof of infinite grace, to which nothing is like, which abides alone in the annals of man as in the counsels of God. It is true that redemption was necessary, namely His death, in order that this fact should be available for men, and that the counsels of God should be accomplished. But all depended on the fact that God became man, that the Word was made flesh.
Never elsewhere had there been a man having perfectly knowledge of good and evil without sin, never divine perfection—God Himself—manifested in flesh, which will remain eternally true, and without which redemption itself could not have been accomplished. We shall find in all His life the perfect obedience of man, the perfect manifestation of God. Also He is owned of the prophecy in Isaiah 7, Emmanuel, God with us! and Joseph gives Him the name which was assigned Him by the angel, the name of Jesus. Thus according to the testimony of God He has taken His place in the midst of His people.
But the nations were to hope in the Branch out of the root of Jesse (Isa. 11:1-10), and Magi from the East arrive to do homage to Him who is born King of the Jews. Already, from that tender age, must He know what it is to be rejected. The false king of Israel seeks to have Him put to death; and Joseph, directed peculiarly by God, takes Him to Egypt, whence He was to come up again, the true vine, to begin afresh the history of Israel as the green tree, the living vine; as when risen He would recommence the history of man, the last Adam. He returns, called out of Egypt, Son of God, but has to take His place where one truly an Israelite in whom was no guile could not believe anything good was to be found. He dwells at Nazareth. All this is most significant, but is only preliminary as a preface which indicates the subject-matter treated in the book of His life which follows.
In chapter 3 we begin His history with the preparatory testimony of John the Baptist, who goes before the face of Jehovah. Such is the clear and precise declaration of Malachi 3:1, or, if we take the quotation of Matthew himself, it is. the voice of him who prepares the way of Jehovah. Such is Christ. Jehovah in the midst of men and in particular of the Jews, such, in a striking way, is the Christ of Matthew; but the Son of God also has taken the form of a servant as we are going to see.
The testimony of John did not accept the fact that one was son of Abraham as to the flesh. God could raise up sons to Abraham by His mighty power. The judgment or the kingdom was in view. Repentance must be in order to bear good fruit; and for sinful man the very first of those fruits was repentance. His baptism, in a word, was the beginning of repentance at the approach of the kingdom and as a preparation for entering in. The people not repenting could not enter in as a lump. But if he, John, baptized for repentance, One was there who was about to execute judgment by purifying His floor, but He baptized with the Holy Ghost. These three characteristics belonged to this testimony:—particular and separative judgment (v. 10), already the axe was at the root of the trees; He who baptized with the Holy Ghost was there; He would purge His floor by a definitive judgment which would gather the good grain and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.
Jesus presents Himself for baptism. It is His floor which is going to be purged; the granary is His; it is He who burns the chaff in the judgment. But He comes to place Himself in the midst of His people. Nothing more striking than this juxtaposition; nothing more positive than the declaration that He is Jehovah; nothing clearer than the fact that He places Himself in the midst of His people in the path where grace conducts them. Assuredly He does not join Himself with the rebellious and intractable people, but from the first step taken by those who by grace listen to the word of the testimony of God, from the first step in the. good way, He is found with them in His infinite grace. The heart answers at once to the testimony of John that He who came had no need of repentance: we know it. Quite the contrary, He was fulfilling righteousness. But for His own it was just the thing according to God. The life of God, which put forth its first breath in the atmosphere of God but in the midst of men, took its first step in the divine way—the way toward the kingdom which was going to appear. He would not leave them there alone. He takes His place with them. Infinite grace, sweet thought, full of His love for the heart of His own!
Remark also how He abases Himself here to the level of His messenger: “thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” You have your part, I mine, in accomplishing the will of God. There He is already a servant! He is baptized, and His place taken in the midst of His own, in the midst of the faithful remnant that walked under the effect of the power of God’s word. And now where is He, the Servant, He who humbled Himself, who has His place with His poor people, the poorest of His flock? Heaven is open, the Holy Spirit descends on Him, the Father owns Him as His Son. He is the model of the position He has taken for us by redemption. Never had heaven so opened before; never had there been on earth an object which He could own as making His good pleasure. Now there was. For us too the veil is rent, and heaven is open. We have been anointed and sealed of the Holy Spirit as Jesus was; the Father has owned us to be His beloved sons already in this world. Jesus was such in His own proper and full right, worthy of being so in Himself; we are introduced by grace and redemption. But entered into the midst of His people He shews what is the position which in Him belongs to them; as I have just said, He is its model. What happiness! what grace! But, carefully remark, His divine person remains always such, a difference besides which is never lost, whatever be His abasement and His grace toward us. When heaven is open for Jesus, He has no object above to which He looks to fix His attention. He is Himself the object that heaven contemplates. When heaven is open for Stephen, as for us by faith, Jesus the Son of man is the object in heaven which is open for His servant. In grace the Lord takes a place with us; He never loses His own either for the Father or for the heart of the believer. The nearer we are to Him, the more we adore Him.
Remark here also another thing altogether notable. It is in and by the voluntary humiliation of Jesus that all the Trinity is for the first time fully revealed. The Son is there, the object specially conspicuous as man; the Holy Spirit comes and abides on Him; and the voice of the Father owns Him: marvellous revelation associated with the position that the Son had taken! The Son is recognised as Jehovah in Psalm 2. The Holy Spirit is found everywhere in the Old Testament. But the full revelation of the three persons in the oneness of God—the basis of Christianity—is reserved for the moment when the Son of God takes His place in the midst of the poor of His flock, His true place in the race in which He had His delights, the sons of men. What grace is that of Christianity! what a place is that where our hearts are found. If taught of God we have learned to know this grace and Him in whom it is come to us! Here then is our position according to this grace in Christ Jesus, before God our Father, accepted in the Beloved.
Nevertheless, if such is our relation with God, we are in conflict here below with the enemy of our souls. Well, here too Jesus must go into it for us. This follows immediately. Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil. If He takes or rather makes our place with God, He must take it in face of the enemy to bind the strong man that held us captive. I know not, dear brother, if this grace strikes you as is strikes me: but it seems to me to go beyond all the bearing of our thoughts, as much as the effort to reproduce it in human words for drawing the attention of souls to it only betrays the weakness which speaks of it. However let us pursue our essay, since it can be studied in the word itself, once the attention is thus drawn to it.
Jesus takes our place in conflict: solemn moment where all depended on His victory! It was not possible doubtless that He should not bear off the victory; but if the second Man had fallen like the first, all was ended and lost. Yes, that could not be; but He must conquer for us and conquer as man. It is exactly out of this position that the enemy wished to withdraw Him, out of the position of a servant, of man as such. “If thou art the Son of God” (and the Father had just owned Him thus)—if thou art Son of God, speak that these stones may become loaves. Act as Son. There is no harm in eating when one is hungry. You have only to say this word and have the wherewithal to satisfy your wishes. That is, do your will; leave the position of servant you have taken. Not for a moment! He, being in the form of God, had taken the form of a servant; and He abides servant of His God.
And, in these days of slighting the word, it is good for the heart to remark how He answers. A single text of the word, of the scripture, suffices for the fidelity and the almightiness of the Lord, for the wisdom of the Son of God; a single text suffices to reduce to silence the devil who wished to lead Him astray. The Son of God remains in His position of man, the servant; and the word of God directs, is the opening of, His ways. “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” What a beautiful and perfect example! Not a movement of His heart toward any other thing than the authority of His God, of whom He had made Himself servant. The word of God issues from the mouth of God—the words issued from His mouth, blessed be His name, direct to man. Christ maintains Himself in the place of man. Man shall not live by bread alone. The word is the source of His conduct; He lives by it. It is His directory doubtless; but it is also what puts His will in movement: without it He does nothing. He is come to do the will of God. The words which proceed out of His mouth declare this will and put in movement the soul of man the servant. Such is the obedience of Christ. The devil can do nothing there; he is silent.
Remember here, though they be only accessory circumstances, that this conflict did not occur in the garden of Eden, not in the midst of enjoyments which testified the goodness of God. Christ had already passed forty days, a solemn period of exercise and endurance, as we know by Moses and Elijah, and in an analogous manner by the forty years of Israel in the wilderness. He had been withdrawn from the ordinary state of humanity, not to prepare Him for the presence of God, as Moses and Elijah had been. He was in the wilderness, far from the pleasant things which, by the goodness of God, remain to man in this fallen world, for a struggle (not that we know that this was with special temptations, but for a struggle), with the enemy. His position was such as that of the world in its moral reality as God sees it, a desert where Satan rules (Mark i:13). Put to the proof thus by love for us and, while accomplishing the counsels of God, submitting fully in the ways of God (for He was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness) to the sufferings which come by the power of Satan into this world, He enters into the special conflict that He had to carry on with Satan, where we have to follow Him, but fighting against an enemy already beaten. He is not weary of His service of fidelity, He remains man the servant in obedience, He owns the absolute authority of the word, resting thereon as the basis of all His conduct. It is simplicity which is absolute perfection. Satan is vanquished. I repeat, a single text of the word—whatever be the foolish pretensions of man—suffices for the Lord, suffices for Satan. May this word suffice for us! Only may God give us grace to make use of it under the guidance of the Spirit of God whose sword it is, in order that it may be effectual in our hands.
But to dare obey God in this world there must be confidence in God. This is the second trial the Lord undergoes for us. “If thou art Son of God, cast thyself down.” Try if God will be faithful to His promise (Ps. 91). This too was just out of the path of obedience. In this path He could always count upon God; but to put God to the proof to see if He would be faithful is not to confide in Him as assuredly such. This is what is meant by the expression “tempting God,” and not, to go too far in confiding in Him (Exod. 17:7). The confidence is perfect like the obedience. He waits on Jehovah. jSure that He will be faithful, that He is so always, He has but to follow the path of obedience and to depend on Him. His word will direct His steps and His thoughts, and will be accomplished in His promises. Such are the two elements of the life of the new man, of the life of Christ in us—obedience, and dependence. Christ was perfect in both, in an obedience which had the word, the will, of God, as the source of His activity, not simply as its rule. When Satan presents the word falsely as a snare, the word suffices as a perfect answer to conduct the steps and the thoughts of man.
Remark further in these instructive answers of the Lord that, when it is a question of the wiles of the devil, the wisdom of the Lord confines itself to a striking simplicity, and in this that there is no need to think save of one’s own duty. This is enough, and Satan can do no more. Man must live not by bread only, but by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God. There is all; but it is all. His conduct is perfectly traced. It is submission, the path marked by the words of God. He does not enter into controversy with the enemy. He is found in this later with men. Here it is the perfect path of obedient man, His walk with Him. The word of God traces for Himself this path, and the end is completely attained. Satan is vanquished.
Afterwards Satan shews himself; it is no more a question of his wiles. He offers the world and its glory to the Lord if He will pay him homage. For the obedient man that owned God it was to betray himself, and for such a man Satan manifested has no power. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. The world is the bait that Satan can offer that one should follow him. The man who wishes nothing but his God is sheltered from every real danger here. Nevertheless it is still by the word that the Lord answers. It is the Spirit’s sword for man, the sword of God, but made for man who by the Spirit makes use of it; and if he seeks only to obey, it is enough for the certain defeat of the enemy of souls. The devil quits the Saviour; and if man must fight and conquer by an obedience so simple, angels of God Himself are there to render Him service. Without being able here to bring out the instruction found in these details, I desires particularly to draw the attention of readers to the way the Lord made and took our place on both sides, so to speak: on God’s side, Son, anointed of the Holy Spirit, before the Father, with heaven opened; then in conflict with Satan when in fact He bound for us the strong man.
The Lord, man here below, had been owned by the Father as His beloved Son, heaven being open on Him, and Himself anointed by the Holy Spirit. He had thus presented in Himself the place which according to God’s counsels those should hold whom He is not ashamed to call His brethren. He had for them entered on the conflict that the strong man wages with them and, having conquered him for them, had shewn them how, by His grace, they could conquer in their turn. He must exercise His ministry in the midst of the people, and, whilst announcing the gospel of the kingdom, spoil the goods of the strong man that He had bound.
But from the beginning the disposition of man manifests itself. John the Baptist is put in prison. Jesus, from Judea where He had wrought, goes away to Galilee amongst the poor and despised of the people. He abides at Capernaum, a place even called His city. It is there according to prophecy (and Matthew always gives us Him who is the subject of prophecy) that the light must shine: neither at Jerusalem in the midist of the proud chiefs of the Jews, nor where He was at home does He begin His work. The poor of the flock, the testimony of God, the Spirit of the Lord perfect in spiritual wisdom unite to direct His steps towards the place willed of God. I do not say that prophecy directed His steps; but His acts accomplished prophecy.
What Jesus announced was what John had published. It was a call to repentance because the kingdom of the heavens had drawn nigh. The throne of God had been established on the earth at Jerusalem; the Eternal had forsaken it at the time of the Babylonish captivity, and the seat of the supreme power was transported there, and this power confided to the Gentiles. But the heavens were to reign and God to establish from above His beneficent power over the earth. Up to this day He has not taken His great power and acted as king; but the king is seated in heaven on the throne of the Father, and the kingdom exists in mystery.
It is important to remark here that it is not a question only of the salvation of such or such an individual (while the things may be bound together, and in fact are so, as John 3 proves), but of the establishment of a system of authority by which the heavens impress their character in blessing on the earth. The rejection of Christ has introduced better things, and relations more intimate and more entirely heavenly; but the kingdom will be established with a still fuller development when the Lord returns. This however is not the place to pursue this theme: let us follow our Gospel.
The Lord becomes the centre of a people which are attached entirely to Him: an important principle, a right belonging to Him alone. He preaches repentance to all. One must return to God in self-judgment, for Israel was far from Him, and the crisis of their history arrived. But, besides, the powerful attraction of the Lord’s call attached souls to Him by making them leave all and break every other tie. Emmanuel was there; and those He called were His. The call was to be the fishers of men.
After this the ministry of Jesus is summarily recounted in chapter 4, verses 23-25, indeed in the single verse 23. The more these verses 17-23 are examined, the more one sees that they contain, and designedly, a compendium of all the Lord’s ministry. Verses 24,25, tell us the effect of this ministry in Palestine and all the neighbouring countries. Besides it makes a ministry accompanied by a power suited to draw their attention. He gathered disciples round Him. The gospel of the kingdom was announced; and the character of the miracles was as important as the power which accomplished them: it was the power of God manifested in goodness on the earth. Great crowds followed Him. It was of importance that His disciples and even the multitude should understand what was the true character of the kingdom about to be introduced and of those about to have part in it. John’s ministry however had detached a remnant from the impenitent mass of the people.
The Lord then, seeing that His teaching had attracted the crowd, gathers His disciples and proclaims the great essential principles which were to serve as moral foundations for His kingdom, and to characterise those who were to have part in it. The first sixteen verses of chapter 5 contain the enunciation of these principles, as well as the character and position of the true sons of the kingdom. What follows to the end of chapter 7 consists of warning against the wanderings of the heart of man, and puts the ancient sayings and precepts which had currency among the Jews in contrast with the morality required by the kingdom of the heavens. It was a question of having the heart pure and clear from hatred, and the spirit submissive in such a way that impatience should not rise up, and that its evil should not come to light in the heart itself; it was a question of the patience and the gentleness which is more bent on keeping the heavenly character than one’s own goods—of the goodness ready to give and resembling the character of God Himself their Father who loves without being loved.
Next, in chapter 6, the Lord would have the motives pure, and prayer in reference to the true relations at that time of His own with God and to the desires flowing from them. He would have the aim of the heart heavenly, and that it should have confidence in God for this low world; then again (chap. 7) that one should not judge when it was a question of motives, but that one should not misunderstand when the insolent contempt of God and of morality manifested itself; that dependence and confidence should be diligently expressed in presenting our requests to God, which He would hear as our loving Father: lastly, that practical obedience should lay a solid basis for the hope of the future.
It is evident then that the subject spoken of is not redemption, nor the sinner, but the character which suits the kingdom and necessary to enter it. The state wished for precedes entrance into the kingdom. Their righteousness must surpass Pharisaism, for God was looking at the heart. Israel was in the way with Jehovah and must make friends with Him. The kingdom of the heavens was going to be established: there was what one must have for entering in. One had to do with God. As to the disciples, opposition is supposed to their testimony, and conflicts; which gives occasion to the revelation of the heavenly part of the kingdom; chapter 5, verses 11, 12.
Thus the positive part of our Lord’s teaching embraces the promises (as v. 5) for the earth, and for the heavens the verses already referred to. Others apply generally to the spirit desired by God, which, at bottom, is the character of Christ Himself. The disciples were set as the salt of the earth (of that which was in relation with God) in contrast with every corruption, and as the light of the world, the testimony of God to those who lay in the dark outside. Their testimony ought to be clear enough for men to know to what they should attribute the fruits manifested in them. The place of the disciples was thus sketched clearly, the remnant called by grace.
The sermon on the Mount is in no way a spiritualising of the law. There are but two commandments one could say that allusion is made to; and even this is not true, for the Lord gives a teaching which does not agree with that which was current among the ancients, if He does not even contradict it; and never would He have spoken thus of the law of God. He says that every word of the law and of the prophets shall come to pass; He Himself came not to make void, but to fulfil. Moreover to “fulfil” has not at all the sense of obeying, but just simply what is said of giving the fulness. Disobedience of the law when it was in force was not the means of entering into the kingdom. The Lord, like the gospel, confirms fully the law as come from God. When it subsisted, to be obedient to it was the path of God; but here, while saying so, the Lord puts His teaching in contrast with the discourses of the times of the law. The narrow gate and the strait way characterised the walk of the disciples: their fruits would shew the true nature of those who sought to make them go out of it.
The sermon is not the rich grace preached to sinners any more than redemption, but the path traced for the faithful who would have part in the kingdom which was going to be established. It will be remarked that the name of Father is very distinctly employed in this discourse of the Saviour. As it is said in John 17, “I have declared unto them thy name”; the Son being there, the name of the Father was revealed. Such is the measure of conduct ordained for the disciples with respect to others— “perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” From this name flow the principles of their walk in this world. It is true that they were here, and He in heaven; and they addressed Him accordingly; but the Father was revealed. It is for the coming of the Father’s kingdom that they were to pray.
Having presented the great principles of the kingdom of the heavens, the Lord comes down from the mountain, and then begins the presentation to Israel of Jehovah come in grace in the midst of the people, Emmanuel, God with them, und of all the features of goodness, compassion, love, revealed in His ways towards them up to His rejection: a picture of every beauty and of the most profound interest! These features we will endeavour as much as we can to reproduce, while feeling how much the pen, alas! the heart also even though involuntarily, fails in it. But before entering this divine garden to enjoy the flowers and the fruits that grow there, it will be well to say a word on the kingdom and on the sermon, which we have just summed up briefly in reference to the kingdom.
This kingdom, as a whole, is in view in its heavenly part and its earthly part in verses 5 and 12; and that which they were to pray for, we have seen, is the kingdom of the Father. But the disciples are all in the midst of difficulties and of persecutions, the salt in the midst of corruption, the light in a world of darkness. The law and the prophets were to be accomplished; but another thing is now introduced. Such was to be the kingdom of the heavens. The King was there in an adverse world, and in the midst of a people which was going to reject Him. But the kingdom of the heavens could not take place. For this the King was to go up to heaven; for the kingdom of the heavens is the kingdom of God, while the King and the government are in heaven.
In what precedes we have a sketch of the Lord’s ministry and of the principles of His kingdom. It is a complete whole. In what follows we see Him as He is presented personally to the people with the result of this presentation. He is rejected by Israel, and Israel is replaced for the moment by the church and the kingdom, though owned anew in grace when the kingdom shall be restored. For the moment it is the personal presentation of the Lord to the people with the consequences of this presentation. As He descended from the mountain with the crowd,35 a leper came to meet Him. Now Jehovah alone healed leprosy. The man had learned that Jesus possessed the necessary power, but was not assured of His goodwill. If Thou wilt, said he, Thou canst cure it. But love and power were found there: Jehovah was there in grace to heal. I will, said Jesus, be thou clean. To whom did it pertain to say thus, I will, be thou? To One only: and the thing was done. But He who said so was also there to draw near the man, as Himself man. He lays His hand on the man, He touches the leper. Beautiful picture of that which was really there! God capable of doing everything, love and goodwill to do it, but man in the midst of a contaminated race which He has touched in His grace without being driven back by the evil, without being contaminated by the defilement though He touched it to heal it; and the man was healed, for Jehovah was there, man in the midst of His people.
Such was the great fact by which this part of the Gospel begins. It is the essential fact of everything—Emmanuel. Another element accompanies it. He owns the authority of the system in the midst of which He found Himself. The healed leper must go and shew himself to the priest; who, while pronouncing him clean and accepting his sacrifice, was owning in fact the divine power of Him who had thus healed the leper. The Man who is truly of humanity though without defilement, and whom the evil He came into contact with could not defile, was Emmanuel, Jehovah who healed, but entering by the door and subject to all that Jehovah had ordained in Israel.
The second fact is a fact parallel to this one. A man from among the Gentiles, with a faith which was not cramped by the proud egotism which confined all of it to the promises made to the people and to the privileges which belonged to them, but saw the divine power (if it was there) more in its own vastness, beseeches Jesus to heal his servant. The faith which places a man in the presence of God, which realises His presence, is always humble. The Gentile does not deem himself worthy that Jesus should come under his roof. He has only to say a word: everything would obey Him, as his soldiers himself. Jesus owns his faith; and the word is said: his servant is healed. But see another great truth which comes out here: the faith of the Gentile is owned, and the children of the kingdom according to the flesh shall be cast out. Where God is found, He cannot limit Himself to a particular people, whilst coming into the midst of them according to His promise; and, what is more, He cannot deny Himself nor change His character. If those who were of His people answered not to His character, they could not be with Him; and now He was revealing Himself and was the necessary centre of all that which could be owned.
Afterwards He is present in that power of goodness which puts aside all the effects of sin and of Satan’s dominion in this world. At one word from Jesus diseases cease, and demons flee away, and those possessed are delivered. It is not only power, but goodness. It is God who is there, but at the same time the Man who has a perfect sympathy with men carries their miseries on His heart and burdens Himself with the sorrows of their infirmities. He heals while feeling them; as we hear Him groan deeply at the tomb of Lazarus, though He raises Himself from among the dead.
But it is none the less true that He is the despised and rejected of men: the Son of man has not where to lay His head—has not the privileges of the foxes and of the birds in this world. He is not of this world; and to follow Him is to break entirely with everything which is of it. God come into this world is come because the world is without Him, and ought to have absolute right to the heart; and this to separate it from the world and from the flesh which has arranged itself without Him, and to attach the heart wholly to Him who was come to seek it. And the most powerful motives for the human heart were null before the rights of God come in grace because man was lost. It is not that God does not own the relations that He Himself has formed; but that when they make good their rights against Him who formed them, these rights are lost entirely, being derived from His will: to resist Him while asserting them is therefore to destroy them. Besides, if the Lord is there, His rights rise above everything.
The Lord does not seek the admiration of the crowd; He does His work, but a curious multitude is nothing for Him. He goes to the other side of the lake. But to accompany the Lord, to be truly with Him, is not tranquillity, but the exercise of faith. A tempest arose, and the ship is covered with waves. According to appearances, the Lord is a stranger to the peril of His own; He sleeps, and the disciples think they will be swallowed up by the waters. They had a certain faith in Him if He were awake: at least He could occupy Himself with the danger. But all the same, what want of faith to think that the counsels of God and the Lord Himself were going to be swallowed up together by a storm, or according to the world by an accident! They were in the same ship with the Lord, the object of all the counsels of God. Accidents do not happen there, not to say anywhere else. A word on His part calms the waves and the wind.- The companionship of the Lord when He is rejected conducts us in the storm, yet He seems to let all go without paying heed to it; but we are, thank God, in the same ship with Him. He exercises faith and appears to be indifferent with regard to difficulties; He is not uneasy, and His grace and power awake at an opportune moment. It is the character of the road to which the Lord has introduced His own in quitting the multitude of this world.
But there is more. Come with power to destroy the work of the devil, His presence manifests the power of the enemy; it awakes and displays itself; and, just because He acts, the Lord allows that the reality of this power should be manifested. The impure beings which become the vessels of this energy of the enemy hurl themselves down to destruction. A word of the Lord delivers him whom the world could not bind; but the world cannot endure God so near it, and under the quiet influence of Satan, more dangerous than His force, gets quit of the Lord. It is not the power of Satan which was the question (for that a word was enough), but of his influence over the heart, yea, over the heart, just as the heart of man will not have God. What manifests Him no doubt manifests Satan; but it is the deliverance of those who are in subjection to his power. But then it is God; and man wishes none of Him, even when He is delivering. It is the history of the Saviour, of God, in this poor world.
Such is the summary presentation of Emmanuel, of the path of Jesus towards the earth; the fulness of grace; but man will not have God. It was in Israel indeed that all this took place, and it is thus presented here; but the work is extended to the world in grace and in judgment. It is a remarkable picture of the presence of Emmanuel and of its effect: grace, goodness in power on the earth, the manner in which it was received, and the result of its manifestation for the heart of man. What follows, chapter 9, is His ministry.
In chapter 9 we find the work of the Lord, His character in grace; as in chapter 8. His person (more precisely however in Israel), but rejected. The Lord returns to His own city (Capernaum), but far from the scene which closes the last chapter (which is complete in itself), the world rejecting Him and He quitting the world.
Now He is seen afresh in the midst of His service in Israel. Faith brings a man paralysed in his body. The Lord is still here as Emmanuel, yet man in their midst, but there He is announced with the promised blessing of Jehovah’s presence in grace. Here it is no question of redemption (though certainly without it there could not be such a pardon), but of the application of pardon in grace in Israel as we see in Psalm 103; and for present blessing Israel must be pardoned. The Lord comes with this blessing, and it is a direct testimony to pardon: else He would have simply healed the paralytic as in other cases. But when Jehovah came in grace, He pardoned all their sins and healed all their iniquities. The Lord announces the presence of Jehovah to do the first of these things. The scribes murmured in themselves. Who but Jehovah could pardon? But He who knew their thoughts was there and proves by the other portion of the verse that the Lord was there in the power of His grace. He heals immediately the infirmity of the sick man.
We may remark here that, in this as in the preceding chapter, He takes the title of Son of man, His title of predilection or love for us, of a much larger import than that of Christ, which, though He was the Christ, He was not come to take and never does take in Israel. He is there as Emmanuel, Jehovah to save His people, but as Son of man, a title of all importance. He who takes the kingdom in glory from heaven, who even has all things under His feet, Christ, never presents Himself as Christ. The Son of man was to be strong for God (Psalm 80:17); but at present He must suffer. But, though in the midst of His people, necessarily when here below God must take in His nature and in His work His place in respect to men above all relationship according to the law as the rejected One on the earth. The Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins; as the crowd say that God has given such power to men.
The pardon then was there, and grace toward sinners. He was there in this character. He goes and eats with the tax-gatherers after having called Matthew who was one of them. It was not the outside which guided His walk. God was there, and the work was to be the effect of His presence and of His grace, not to depend on what He found. He knew also the heart and the vessels to choose and bring under the effect of this grace as His instruments. But the principle of the work was the principle of His grace: He was come not to find but to bring what was necessary: and the vessels to receive this for service were chosen vessels, known of God and disposed by grace as new and suited instruments.
Therefore He is there forgiving sins and eating with sinners; but it is Jehovah who heals (Psalm 103). The revelation as to the work goes farther. It could not be put into the old Jewish forms, nor could one take what was found in them as vessels containing it. A tax-gatherer was to be an apostle; a Pharisee at most to learn that he must absolutely be born anew. None of the old forms of righteousness really in relationship with the flesh and man in the flesh could receive the new wine: the doctrine of grace in power came by Jesus Christ. The old leathern bottles belonged to the flesh; but now was come the divine power in grace, and being completely new, it would have its own vessels. Besides, the Bridegroom was there. It was not the time for the sons of the bridechamber to fast: the time would come for that. It is a striking thing to see how the Lord always holds His rejection as an integral part of His history. The Son of man must suffer, the Bridegroom be taken away. It was Jehovah there in grace: this could not adapt itself to the old bottles and could only excite the hatred of man and of Israel who preferred their bottles, as giving them importance, to God Himself, and that when He was revealed in grace.
The following account contains the real history of Israel arrived at the point of dying.36 Christ has to do with them as dead, and so He can; but those who in the way with Him have faith in Him are completely healed when every resource had failed. The virtue and the power of life were in Him, whilst in result He had to quicken Israel really dead. Such is the history of the Son of man’s ministry—of Jehovah in Israel. To this are added two accessory effects of His power, as to His special character relative to Israel when appeal is made to Him under the name of Son of David. However the general character although manifested in Israel goes in its nature beyond them—Jehovah and the Son of man—and this it is which has a character of interest so profound to be remarked; but He was the Son of David in Israel.
In verse 27 we enter exclusively on the Israelitish ground, where the spirit of the heads is fully manifested, whilst the patience of the Lord continues still in grace. The blind in Israel recover sight by faith in the Son of David, and here He is in the house, and then He opens there also the mouth of the dumb. The attention of the crowd is drawn, and they confess that they have never seen the like. But if He casts out the power of the devil, the heads of the people call His power that of the devil. The spirit of an unpardonable apostasy was already manifested; but Jesus had not done37 His work of goodness in Israel, and He goes through the villages and the small towns, teaching, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and working cures. His heart was touched with compassion for Israel, for those multitudes which were as sheep without shepherds. For if He was Jehovah in His goodness, His heart could be moved with what He saw as man and until that goodness could find no more place for its exercise. His time found no obstacle in the wickedness of those who were His enemies; the harvest was yet abundant, the labourers but few. Oh, how much the heart can still feel this! He wishes as yet to accomplish His work, to have His sheep. Our part is to pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers.
We have then in this chapter the grace of His ministry, its true character, the ministry of Jehovah in grace, profitable for faith, but which is to raise the dead, and which, as an actual thing, is rejected and blasphemed. His person and His work have no place here save in grace. Whilst He can work thus, He continues to occupy Himself with all those who can be reached.
The Lord, who touched with compassion for the destitute masses, had told His disciples to ask the Lord of the harvest to send workmen into the harvest, moved by the same compassion, sends them Himself; for He is also Lord of the harvest. But here it is always for searching out the lost sheep of the house of Israel: He has always His rejection in view, but He acts still in the circle of the promises, and does not quit it whilst announcing that others would come from the west and from the east. The servant accomplishes His service in the limits of His mission; but God in His grace cannot be thus confined. The grace of His divinity and of His rights pierces across the humiliation to which He subjected Himself. But He serves in these limits still and sends His disciples into the field where He still seeks His sheep. They were not to go by the way of the Gentiles, nor to enter a town of the Samaritans. They were to preach the near arrival of the kingdom of the heavens, then to exercise the power that Jesus had confided to them, that of destroying among men all the power of the enemy up to death itself. Remark here that not only did Jesus work miracles, but He could confer the power of working them. It was the divine power which was revealed in His person whilst serving as He had been sent.
The discourse of the Lord is divided into two parts: one referring to the mission in which the disciples were engaged at that moment; the other more general, referring at the same time to the service which the disciples should accomplish after His death, really up to His return, to the presence of the Holy Spirit and to the return of die Son of man, but always to a service rendered in the midst of Israel, though the effect is extended to the Gentiles, yet by means of the persecution excited by the Jews. The first part extends from verse 5 to 15; the second from verse 16 to the end, comprising the general principles of their position.
As the disciples went from God, invested with His power to overthrow all that of the enemy, they were also to trust entirely to Him, to take nothing with them, nor to make provision of that which was necessary for their journey. Emmanuel present disposed the hearts and took care of them. The time would come without doubt, when it would not be so with them. (See Luke 22:35, and following verses.) However, in going into a city they were to ask who was worthy, and to remain there till they went away from the city. It was, we may say, the last testimony rendered to Israel. There was still that of the seventy, the last time that He went up to Jerusalem; but there is no question of them in this Gospel. The Lord was warning the remnant in Israel. In wishing peace to a house, if the son of peace dwelt there, the peace would abide there: otherwise it would return on them. This is not the gospel sent to the world, to sinners, but the gospel of the kingdom sent to those who had ears to hear in Israel. Afterwards, where they were not received, they were to wipe off the dust from their feet. We see the final character of the testimony they were to bear. The judgment of such a city would be more terrible than that of Sodom and Gomorrah. Here closes the first part of their mission. The Lord Himself sends them with the consciousness, and He expresses it, that He was sending them like sheep in the midst of wolves, and that they must be wise as serpents and harmless as doves—counsel impossible to follow but for those who are taught of God.
The world may be prudent, knowing evil; the heart may be simple by ignorance and find itself betrayed; the Christian may be wise or prudent, by the wisdom of God who directs him, and simple because he walks according to the life which is in him, and expresses nothing else than that which is found there. The two things are connected; because by the positive possession of good one discerns evil, and snares do not succeed; because the motives which engage men to touch them exert no influence on the heart. One preserves simplicity in acting according to what one is; and we are prudent because, knowing that we are in the midst of evil, we avoid it by the intelligence which belongs to spirituality! It is not the simplicity of ignorance, but of good which avoids whatever should make one quit one’s true position before God. But (terrible word for man), “Beware of men” says the Lord; and all are cast as such now into the same mass—He does not say, of Israel. It was exactly in Israel that they laboured, but Israel is blinded with the mass of human iniquity. God could think of them and the promises, but in fact the heart of man was there as elsewhere. They would be forced to appear before the Jewish authorities by their malice, and not only so but before the Gentiles tribunals, and thus bear a witness which would reach the high places of the earth; for it is thus God carries His testimony into the high quarters of the world, and not by rendering His own worldly. But God would be with them.
And here we see clearly that this part of the chapter referred to the time when the Lord would be away. It would be the Spirit of their Father speaking in them. But the hatred of the human heart against the testimony of God would be shewn in pushing men on to break the ties that God had formed at the time of creation; the affections of the flesh, of the human heart, would be changed into positive antipathy. The more intimate the relation, the more implacable its hatred. There are rights in these relationships; but now it would be the rights of hatred: brother would deliver brother to death.
What a solemn effect of the rejection of Christ, the only true tie of man with man, because the will is restrained and God owned! God can hold the bridle, and He has done so in mercy, but when He is rejected in grace, there remains only the manifestation of man’s heart as it is. Nature does not bridle nature; and the testimony of God merely awakens the hatred of him who wishes none of His rights, who does not wish that there should be any, because he knows that he has abandoned Him. But His grace pursues His work to attract souls.
If the disciples were persecuted in one city, they were to go to another. They should not have accomplished their task in Israel before the Son of man was come. Thus we see that this testimony of the disciples in Israel extends even to the return of the Lord. Interrupted by the destruction of Jerusalem, and unfinished, it was to be accompHshed. Another testimony has been raised up of God in the person of Paul, apostle of circumcision; but here we have the mission of the disciples formally limited to Israel, and the Gentiles excluded. They were to expect reproach; they were not above their Master whom their adversaries had already called Beelzebub. Their part was to confide in God, whatever the concealed plots of their enemies; all should be set in light, and they were to act as being in it already. They were not to fear. First, they should fear Him who could cast body and soul into hell much more than those who could do nothing but kill the body. But besides, without their Father—Him who guarded them as a Father—not a sparrow fell to the ground. They had more value in His eye than many sparrows. Lastly, he who confessed Jesus before men, Jesus would confess him before the angels of His Father. These are the three motives that He gives for firmness; but they were not to think that He was come to send peace on earth. As the final result He will, reigning as Prince of peace; but a Saviour rejected is another thing. This would bring intestine war into the house; such the sad effect of the arrival of God and of truth on the earth. Man could not endure them, and still less at home; but on the other side He was the touchstone for the heart.
It was all over with man according to nature—nature which God owned in itself fully, but which on the rejection of Christ, the key of the arch if it could have been blessed, was fallen into ruin; and now all depended on Jesus alone; and if man violated the natural relationships by hatred, His own devoted to Him were to be above nature by grace. He was, He is, all: when it is a question of Him, all must yield, and this in regard not only to these relationships but to self (and it is always self that is in question). We must take up the cross and follow Christ. He that would find his life should lose it, and he that would lose it for Christ’s sake would find it. All depended now, in a fallen and judged world, on the reception of the word and on the estimate made of it, and on righteousness according to God. He that received a prophet in the name of a prophet, because he was such, had in the eyes of God the usual value of the word that he carried (for it was the word that he loved, such as it was from God); and so with practice. Ceremonies had come to nothing. The point was the word of God and what He loved in a world which had broken with Him. If it were only a cup of water given because of Christ, the soul that gave it loved Christ and would not be forgotten. It is exactly as to God’s ways in the midst of Israel that all these things are displayed. To their work in Israel the instruction given to the twelve disciples applies; but what instruction for us all as to the effect of the rejection of Christ! The chapter after this shews us the change that followed historically, and the place taken by Christ when rejected by man, alone remaining upright before God in the ruin of the world and of Israel.
The question is raised by John now in prison if Jesus was the Christ when no deliverance had been wrought for Israel. This was not a failure of confidence in the word of the Lord, for John does not refer to this word; but all is changed in the relations between John and Christ and Israel. As to intelligence John probably as an individual was embarrassed; but the effect of this embarrassment was to exchange his part of prophet for a question of individual faith, and the turn that things take and that Jesus gives them is according to divine wisdom. Fully owned of Him as more than prophet, John has to believe in Jesus individually by the testimony that Jesus gives of Himself, able to do everything, full of grace to think of the poor, and bring them the gospel, but already rejected, and a little remannt owned in His words, “blessed is he who is not offended in me.”
So that we have still Jehovah in Israel a stone of stumbling, but a sanctuary for those who trust in Him. John must receive Jesus on this testimony. Thus it is Christ who renders testimony to John, Jehovah who owns His servant, and not John to Jesus. The testimony of the two had been tendered; the mournful strains of John, the attractive sound of the flute had been heard, both in the market place; but Israel would neither be humbled for the one nor rejoice in the other. All that was closed. Only there was a remnant according to grace, and the wisdom of God in the two had been justified in the two by these children of wisdom: and Jesus remained alone in His grace, Jehovah in the world, in a world where man had shewn that he wished none of Him, to manifest what He was in Himself for the wants of those who, in such a world, had made the discovery of their wants and their miseries. The world had been put fully to the proof, and Jesus who had done so and knew that there was nothing there to console a tried heart, who knew that His Spirit had been like the dove sent by Noah in that grace which shone only with so much the more splendour that the world was dark, presents Himself to every burdened heart as the resource, and a perfect resource, for its wants. He gives rest by the revelation of the love of the Father in His person; then, by the perfect submission of a heart bowed under the will of God, practical rest in life. But the details demand a little more attention.
The Lord was not at all insensible to His rejection; He felt it profoundly, although it was in a spirit of grace. We see Him weep later over the final obstinacy of Jerusalem; His heart of love thought with grief of the hardening of Jerusalem in seeing the city, beloved but wicked, reject the last effort of God to bring her back and bless her. Here the feeling of His heart was a little different. He had displayed His power in blessings and in testimony; and all had been in vain. He had reproached them with the hardness of their heart. He had spent Himself for them; but their heart had remained insensible. Neither Tyre nor Sidon, neither Sodom nor Gomorrah, would have remained insensible in the same circumstances; they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Their judgment would be so much the more terrible; but then in the same hour He accepts all from the hand of His Father: perfect subjection! He had seen good to humble the pride of man, and had hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and had xevealed them to babes. In the eye of God these ways were good, and Jesus accepts them without question.
Then in this perfect submission of man opens out before Him all the truth of His glory, and of the relative position of Israel and of Him, and of Himself with men. The Son of God was there. All things had been delivered to Him by the Father, and none knew the Son but He. He was in the truth of His person which none knew. The divinity of the Son is guarded in His humiliation by the inscrutability of His person. The testimony rendered to that which men in Israel were called to believe had been accepted; but the full truth went much farther and came forth out of obscurity, now that the testimony of John, of Christ, and of His works was rejected. As for Him, He was unknown; He revealed the Father. The sovereign grace of God in this revelation is then manifested. One has but to come to Him, and he will have rest. It was no longer the kingdom in Israel, but, by the revelation of the Father, rest for the weary soul. Thus it is God in grace for him who has need of it—the Son revealing the Father.
But there is another element in this touching picture of grace. The perfect submission of a man humble of heart had been the occasion of the revelation of glory and of grace in His person. It is just the same in” John 12. It is always so. Submission to the ways of God opens the door to the knowledge of His grace and of His glory. Now it was thus with Jesus as man; and He engages His hearers to take the yoke, the yoke that He had taken Himself, and to learn of Him in this manifestation of submission and of poverty of spirit, and they should find rest for their souls. It is perfect grace, the revelation of the Father in the Son, which gives rest to hearts weary of this world of sin; it is the perfect submission of the will which gives practical peace to the heart, whilst one crosses it. It is Christ the Son revealing the Father, the man Christ perfectly subject to the yoke, which gives both.
In chapter 12 we find the final rejection of the Jewish system and of those who were at its head. Christ breaks with the system and judges the leaders of it, takes a place above the sabbath, which was the seal of the covenant, foretells the complete ruin of the perverse generation of Israel, and refuses to acknowledge His words according to the flesh with that people, and will only acknowledge disciples who were brought in by the word and who had obeyed it. But we must examine the chapter more closely.
The Pharisees reproved the disciples for having plucked the ears of corn and rubbed them in their hands. The Lord answers, that when David, the anointed of God, had been rejected, the law of Moses had lost its force. The priests also violated the sabbath, when an occasion called for it: and there was One greater than the temple, the living God Himself making His temple in man. They ought then to have understood the meaning of those words that mercy rejoices over judgment. Further, the Son of man was Lord of the sabbath; He was above the system that He had Himself established as Jehovah, and His title as Son of man placed Him outside and above the claims which the old covenant had over man, and the rest which it demanded but could not give. He besides shews their hypocrisy in these things, in the case of the man with the withered hand. The love and goodness of God are above ceremonies, however holy these may be. Thus His person, being rejected as David’s had been, is above the Jewish system, and the goodness” of God cannot yield the sovereign right of His divine grace towards man. But the time of judgment was not yet. His voice is not heard in the street till the moment comes when He will raise it in judgment in the day of His glory, and when He will send forth this judgment victorious over all opposition, and even the Gentiles will trust in Him. He casts out another demon, and the enmity without heart and without conscience of the Pharisees breaks out. They could not deny the miracle, and rather than acknowledge Jesus they attribute it to a demon; that is to say, acknowledging in spite of themselves that power was there, but, being enemies of God, they called the Holy Spirit, by whom the miracle was wrought, a demon. There was no forgiveness for this.
After this the Lord then comes to the complete condemnation of the Jews. Full of unbelief, they, who had just attributed the sign to the devil rather than believe it, ask for a sign; but the Lord gives them none other than that of Jonas, a prefiguration of His time of being in the grave, but a sign that it was now too late for them, that the One whom they had already rejected was the Son of God, and that all connection with this generation was for ever at an end. He brings forward the men of Nineveh and a queen of the south who would rise in judgment against this generation; for a greater than Jonas or Solomon was there.
It seems to me that a deep feeling of sorrow betrays itself in the words of Jesus at the sight of the unbelief of the leaders of Israel, blind men who pretended to lead the blind. But the time of judgment was come, and the Lord pronounces that judgment. The unclean spirit had gone out of that people, the spirit of idolatry, I doubt not, for since the captivity of Babylon they had not fallen into idolatry; but the demon needed, so to speak, this people among whom the name of God was found, but where God was no longer, and whom they had rejected when He came into their midst in the person of Jesus. The house was empty, swept and garnished: religious forms and external piety were found there; but God Himself was no longer there. The unclean spirit would enter with seven spirits more wicked than himself, and the last state would be worse than the first. The last state of the people, at least that of the perverse generation, would be worse than its former sins. They have already shewn themselves as the swine of Gennesaret, after the death of the Lord; but the words of the Lord will be accomplished at the end of the times, when the Jews will again become idolaters, and when all the devil’s power will be developed under the Antichrist.
It is well to understand each for himself how, if a vice is conquered without God, nothing is really gained. A gross vice may be given up for a more subtle sin. If there is not really the work of God in the heart, it may be hardened, and Satan will reign there more than ever. But here the Lord applies what He had said to the generation which had rejected Him, to the unbelieving and perverse Jews from whom God hid His face to see their end.
Then those who were the expression of the bonds by which He was attached to the Jewish people according to the flesh came pressing this claim. The Lord would not acknowledge them, and pointing out His disciples, said, Behold my mother and my brethren; the relationships I acknowledge are those formed by the word of God. As to the history of the Jews, all was at an end. Grace might continue and take up the people in a remnant owned of God; but as to responsibility, their history was ended. The Lord seeks no more for fruit on a tree manifestly bad, and shews Himself, as a sower, by the wayside, bringing that which, when received in the heart, would produce fruit. This, however, introduced the kingdom of the heavens in which the Gentiles could share.
The chapter to which we are now come has been so often handled that I shall have no need to dwell much on the details. Only we shall need a general glance at the position it holds in the Gospel, and some words on the last parable. We have seen the Lord pronounce on the Jewish people a judgment which extends even to the last days, breaking, as come in flesh, all His relations with them. The heads of the people had blasphemed against the Holy Spirit and brought this judgment on the entire system, although the patience of God still sought all those who had ears to hear. The Lord sought no more fruit in His vineyard. There was only verjuice after all His pains. Such really was man; for Israel was only man placed under law with all the advantages God could lavish on him. In the trial to which man had been subjected two things had been proved: that he could not attain to righteousness according to the law; and that he would not receive God come in grace, manifested in humanity to gain man and exercising a power to heal all the evils to which man had been subjected by sin.
He quits the house, a sign, I doubt not, of the immense change in the ways of God, and sits in a ship on the sea, and presents Himself as a sower, that is, as no more seeking fruit, but carrying with Him in this world what was to produce it. The Lord goes no farther than the word of the kingdom. The verses 10-17 state the judgment of the people according to the prophecy of Isaiah, of which the Lord in His patience had so long put off the accomplishment, and the separation of a remnant owned of the Lord—a remnant whose ears and eyes were opened by grace.
It is well to recall that there are seven parables: the first is not a similitude of the kingdom, the others are. Of these the first three present to us the form the kingdom took in the world; the last three, the thoughts of God in establishing in this manner the kingdom, and then the result of all at the end of the age. The first is occupied with individuals and the visible effect of the word. There is no question of the work of the Holy Spirit, which is found elsewhere doubtless; but here it is the exterior work of Christ in sowing, and in effect the consequence as far as manifested on the earth. We have just the word of the kingdom, but neither the kingdom nor the end of the age. Christ sows, and there is the result in this world, in man on the earth: the seed produces fruit in one case out of four. In the first the seed does not penetrate at all: Satan takes it away as soon as it is sown. There is levity of heart, an indifference which receives nothing; the word is not understood, the heart is occupied with something else. However it is a word adapted to man and sown in his heart. In the second case, on the contrary, the heart is gained as to its feelings for a moment, but the conscience is not reached. There is no rest: the doctrine has been received for the joy that the message brings; and when the word brought sufferings instead of joy, the heart wished no more of it. There was not a true want. The Holy Spirit always produces wants. It was not as with the apostles: “Lord, to whom shall we go? “In the third case the world has choked the good seed. Alas! there is no need to explain it: we see it every day. However it is a subtler thing: the world, business has not the evil look of gross sin; but the word is choken and produces nothing.
The danger and the tendency of these things are found in the Christian: according to the measure the world exercises empire over him, his life suffers from it. Be it he is not dead but he sleeps, he does not understand spiritual things; he does not see or even enjoy them. Unhappy in the presence of spiritual Christians, he enjoys not the things they enjoy, and suffers even from reproofs of his conscience. And if he goes with the world, he suffers also in reflecting on it, his conscience reproaching him with want of faithfulness; like a sick man who suffers, he is not dead: otherwise he would not suffer; but it is a sad means of knowing that life is there.
In the fourth case the word is understood: it penetrates, grows, and produces fruit in different degrees in different persons. In the first case it is said that the word was not understood, in this case it is said that it was; in the other cases the point is not touched. In the first case it was seen that nothing had penetrated. In the two following there was the appearance of it, but there was nothing: the plant perished without fruit. In the last case the seed is developed in the interior of the heart, and fruit is produced: precious effect according to the nature of what was sown, fruit for Him who had sown the seed and for him who had received it! There is no judgment, but the patent facts stated by the Lord in contrast with the vineyard and His fig-tree where He was seeking fruit, and in contrast also with the kingdom or state of things in the world, and their result in the judgment at the end.
The first of the following parables shews the effect of the sowing in the world up to the end of the age, but does not take in the execution of judgment: this is found, as well as the manifestation of glory, in the explanation made to the disciples in the house. It should be remarked that, in the parable of the sower, He is not named. It is the effect of the word in the heart of man, whoever may have sown. Here, on the contrary, we have a similitude of the kingdom, and He who sows takes the character (not of Christ—we have seen His work closed in His rejection, the Messiah seeking fruit was come to be received in Israel, but) of Son of man. He who sows is the Son of man, and the field is the world; but I anticipate.
We have always the general character of the work that the Lord wrought: He sowed; but not the personal result in the world. He has sown good seed in His field, but the responsibility of man is in question in the result produced; and whilst they slept, the enemy came and sowed tares. That did not hinder the good grain from being in the garner, but spoilt the whole of the crop in the field, and the evil which had been done was without remedy. It is forbidden the servants to root up the tares for fear of rooting up the good grain with them, precisely what happened when men would do so: the two were to grow together till the harvest. The kingdom of the heavens presented in this world a spoilt crop, fruit, on one side of the Lord’s work, on the other of the enemy’s work. Now in the parable we have only what happens in the kingdom before the manifestation of the Ring and the execution of judgment by Him. When He shall be manifested and the public judgment come, there will be no more parables, the mystery of God will be closed. In the parables we have mysteries, that which demands a revelation to know them; the execution of judgment is in itself the most striking revelation. In the parable we have then at the end in general the time of the harvest; and the tares are gathered first in bundles to burn them. The tares are there in bundles on the field of this world, and the good grain is hid in the garner.
Afterwards, before explaining the parable of the tares, the Lord gives two other similitudes of the kingdom; and remember that it is a question here of the kingdom. It is well to remark that the word for likeness is not the same in these parables and that of the tares. Here it is only the character the kingdom will take; it is “like” to, etc. In the parable of the tares, “it is become,” or has been made, “like.” It is a character that it has taken in actual circumstances considering the rejection of the King.
It is worth while also to remark in these parables those in which the thing in itself is the subject of comparison, and those where it is the individual or those who form the essential part of the parable. The kingdom itself is like a little grain of mustard seed becoming a great tree, symbol in the Old Testament of a thing elevated in the world, of a political power. We know well that this is come—that the birds nesting in its branches signifies the protection it affords. Compare Daniel 4:12. It is the public appearance of the kingdom system such as it has been for ages: here is no judgment.
Next comes the parable of the leaven. The likeness is the leaven. The woman is not a sower; it is not the Lord who sows what is designated as the good seed; it is not a great tree in the world. It is a doctrine which insinuates itself everywhere in certain limits, and forms the entire lump according to its own nature. The whole is leavened: it is Christendom. But in neither of these two parables do we arrive at judgment. It is the kingdom such as it is when the grain of mustard seed or the leaven has fully acted and produced its effect. It is true that leaven is always employed in an evil sense; yet I do not think this is the aim of the parable, but the doctrine which forms all in one sole lump where it penetrates. If it was purely the evil as evil, we should have had some exception. This is marked in the tares, but on another side. It is not the good that is sown, nor the Lord who sows; so that the notion of positive good is carefully avoided as well as of him who does so. The point is not the word of God, but the fact of the general profession of Christians and in a form where no idea of good is presented; for certainly leaven is not, in the word, an image of good. No more is the parable the description of an individual. There is hardly need to discuss this point, because it is a similitude of the kingdom of the heavens, and in no case is an individual the kingdom of the heavens. Besides, the result in an individual is not that which is depicted here.
These then are the three descriptions of the kingdom on the earth during the absence of the king, such as the kingdom is presented to the eyes of all: a mixture of good and bad, the harvest thus spoilt as a whole; afterwards a great human and political power on the earth; and a general profession of doctrine without question of the individual state of anyone whatever. Afterwards the good corn is hid in the garner; and providence prepares the seed of the enemy to be burnt by binding them together in bundles on earth.
Then the Lord enters the house; and there, speaking to the disciples alone, He enters more into the inner principles of the kingdom of which He speaks, communicating not the effect in the world, but the thoughts of God, the great result which would explain all in judgment and glory manifested on earth, and the real aim of what the Lord had done as well as the action of those who enter with intelligence into His ways.
First He explains the parable of the tares. We have already spoken of the chief features, but the Lord adds here what concerns the manifestation of the result in this world. In the parable we have left the wheat in the garner and the tares in bundles on the field, the wicked gathered by the angels or by the providence of God. But here appears on the scene the Son of man to remove every scandal from His kingdom (which He does), and He casts the wicked into a furnace of fire where is weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is the judgment executed. The servants were to let the tares grow. Then after the judgment the righteous shine in the kingdom like the sun—in effect like Jesus Himself. This is the result and this the divine explanation of what was a mystery before, for the judgment manifests what faith discerns. Remark that all which is revealed is in the world, first the kingdom before, then the judgment after. The fact is stated that the corn is hidden; but nothing is said of the garner nor of the state of the corn when it is there.
In the parables which follow we have, as it has been said, the thoughts of God, the aim of the Lord in the kingdom, but still those thoughts, without speaking of a result in judgment, as we have seen in that of the mustard seed and that of the leaven. The first shews us the kingdom as the discovery of a treasure formerly unknown, hidden in a field; and he who had found it renounces all that he has to have it, and for this buys the field. This is what Christ did. All that He had as Messiah on earth He left to have the treasure of His people by taking the field where they were found, the world, to have them. They were hidden in this world; but Christ knew about them, taught of the Father as Man on the earth, and surrendered all up to His life to have us. If in fact we renounce all to have Christ, nevertheless it is no question (as people too much forget) of an individual, but of the kingdom; and, further, we buy no field to have Him.
The second case is a little different. The point is not a discovery. The merchant was in search of good pearls. He knew what a good pearl was, he could appreciate them, he wanted good ones. Now Christ has found in the church the object of His search, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. I do not think of the church as a body or system, but of its moral beauty. The merchant had taste for beauty in pearls, Christ for what was beautiful in the eyes of God, and, to have it, He left His Messianic glory and His life. What happiness to think that He satisfies His heart in us, and what perfection of beauty in God’s eyes is the thing wrought out! Zion is called the perfection of beauty, but there it was earthly; here it is heavenly according to the heart of God.
The last parable demands the most serious attention. For my part I do not doubt that it applies particularly to these days. The net of the gospel is cast into the sea of people and gathers fish of every sort. The effect of the gospel is not that all the fish enter into its meshes, but that a quantity of all sorts, good and bad, are gathered within the net. This is the result. Then those who drew the net sit down there, on the shore, and engage in what they have at heart, in the aim for which they have drawn the net—to get good fish; and they choose, separate them from the bad, and put them apart in vessels, rejecting the bad and leaving them there. It is the fishermen who do that, and occupy themselves with the good. That is to say, when Christianity has gathered, as it has done, a certain mass of people who are placed altogether in the net of Christendom, at the end of the days the servants of Christ occupy themselves with the mass and gather the good into vessels. They are the servants of Christ who have intelligence and can distinguish them, knowing what they want. When the public government shall arrive, there will be the inverse. The angels, ministers of the providence and the government of God, take not the good but the wicked on the earth and cast them into the fire. The principle, I believe, applies always when the gospel in a district has gathered many persons: the aim of the Lord is to put His own together in companies apart. But the parable seems to speak directly of the result of the operation of the gospel in gathering many persons as having part in the christian name; then, as a second operation, on the shore they sort them and engage in putting the good apart. The execution of judgment is another thing. In this parable as in the two preceding, we find spiritual discernment with respect to the aim of God. In the second this characterises the action of the merchant; in the first and the third the field is bought, the net filled, but in the two cases the treasure and the good fish are distinguished from what is taken outwardly and govern the action both of the merchant and of the fishermen.
It is to be remarked that four of these similitudes do not speak of judgment, but of the outward appearance or of the aim of God in the kingdom, and of the result whether in the world or with God. The great tree and the leaven—such is the result in the world; the treasure and the pearl—such is what is acquired for God. In the first and the last we have the judgment; but the difference is sensible. In the first, naturally, we see the Lord begin the work; and He has done so, of course, without mixture of evil, the good corn being all good. The enemy makes a distinct work—cannot do otherwise. There is a harvest; but the word has produced individual plants: the mixture is found in the harvest. But there are two works distinct, and the two things remain such till the end, and the preparation for judgment is the action of God in the world, and He is occupied first with the wicked to prepare them for the judgment. Men do not act; they are forbidden to act. What is produced is the effect of the action of the Lord and of the enemy. The servants slept: that is all. Wheat and tares were always wheat and tares, fruit of a distinct work.
In the net the mixture was the result of the work of man, the kind of fish distinct, doubtless, but all gathered into the net by a single toil, and that on the part of men, the fishermen. This is not here a work of the enemy, but the imperfect work of man. It is only the fact however which is stated. The net is full, then drawn on shore; and those who have the intelligence of what is a good fish, those whose aim (and it is that of God) is to have good fish, sort them and put the good into vessels. The explanation, as previously, is the judgment which shows publicly what was true and understood spiritually before. But the angels occupy themselves only with the bad. In the first parable it is a question of rooting out of the world the bad, which was not allowed to the servants. In the last it is a question of putting the good together into vessels, which was their intelligent work. We must not forget that the last times were already come in the days of the apostle.
The immediate connections then existing of the Lord with the Jews were, as we have seen, terminated, and the kingdom of heaven was proclaimed according to the form which it was to take in consequence of His rejection. He was no longer seeking fruit from His vine, but was sowing that He might have fruit through the word. But Jesus continued to think of the people, shewing what He was, and alas! what they themselves were, and what was to take the place of His connections with the Jews, such as they would have been, if He had been received by them.
Chapters 14 and 16 shew us what He was then for the Jews, and what the remnant would become through His absence from that people, and the rejection or setting aside of the people. Chapter 15 brings in what He was for them as a divine person, even when the people were wicked and rejected; but being so, because He was God, and His counsels could not change. This favour extended itself to the Gentiles who had no right to the promises, although He did not abandon His positive connections with Israel; for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. But we must remember that in this unfolding of the ways of God the grace of the Lord, divine and personal grace, is manifested in the most touching and instructive manner, and practical lessons for us are brought out continually from what is passing.
The rejection of the testimony of God begins to be realised in facts. John the Baptist is put to death by Herod through the instigation of his wife. The Lord, touched and sensible of the violence done to His faithful servant, retires into the desert. Elias, as it is said elsewhere, had come, and they had done unto him whatsoever they listed; and the Son of man was also to suffer at their hands. This act of cruelty was not only the death of the faithful proclaimer of the Lord, but to the heart of the faithful Witness it spoke of the state of the people. But however painful His feelings were, as having come into their midst, divine love rises above all, above the sufferings of the Son of man.
The multitude hear that He has retired into the desert, and hasten thither. Coming forth from His retreat He sees the crowd, and, moved with compassion, He heals them. His goodness did not become weary in presence of the iniquity of man, now hastening to accomplish it. Even being come, the multitude was there, having nothing to eat. The disciples feel the inconvenience of their position, and wish to send them away, the natural resource of man. But God was in Israel and wished that His disciples, after so many proofs, should have the consciousness of the power that was there.
But their heart had no other resource but that which was visible to man and according to a human measure. Give ye them to eat, said the Saviour, and I myself will give to them. But they, instead of having faith in God, in the divine power of the Saviour, had five loaves and two fishes. What a difference between faith and the flesh! between God who can do everything and the poor resources which are in our hands. But the flesh sees no farther. The disciples could not make use of the power which was there. Alas! they did not think of it. But here the Lord was manifesting what He was in the midst of evil; not putting Himself in relation with Israel, if Israel wished it, but shewing Himself above Israel, the Jehovah who blessed His people, according to His heart. It was but a testimony to that grace, but it was to that grace that the testimony was rendered. In Psalm 132 it is said of the time, in which Jehovah will arise and will remember David and will act in grace according to His own heart, “I will satisfy her poor with bread”; and He does so, a testimony useless for Israel, and even for the disciples save for grace, but not for His glory. The rejected Christ is Jehovah, the Saviour of His people, spite of all. The prelude to His rejection and to His death leads Him to give the proof of His divine and almighty grace, which is above the evil and unbelief even of those who belong to Him. But it is none the less true that this is only a testimony, and that things take their course, and this is intimated here in the facts.
He sends His disciples to cross the sea alone, dismisses the people and goes up into a mountain apart to pray; a living picture, in a few strokes, of all that has happened. The Jewish people is sent away, Christ is on high and His own on the sea. However, as we have seen all through in this Gospel, the Jews or the disciples as a remnant are in the foreground. I have no doubt but that even the number of the baskets of fragments, however slight the indication may be, has reference to the full blessing of the latter days in the reign. It is the number sacred to that, twelve tribes, twelve apostles, twelve thrones for them judging the twelve tribes, twelve stars on the woman. It is the idea of the perfection of the government of God in man. This is why it is also found in the heavenly Jerusalem. But let us pass on to the more formal facts of this history.
The Lord makes His disciples embark in a little boat without Him, then He dismissed the multitude of the Jews, who had rejoiced in His presence. It is not here judgment on the people, but Himself disappears, so to speak. Those who belong to the Lord, the little remnant, are besides exposed to the violence of the storm, without having the Saviour personally present with them. He is on high alone. Mark the situation. But some other facts are brought in. The Lord rejoins them, master of all the elements which try them on the road. The water and the waves are the pathway of His feet, and as soon as He joins them all is calm, and those in the boat recognise Him as Son of God, the world likewise. Gennesareth which had rejected Him now joyfully receives Him, and its wounds are healed as the remnant of Israel had found peace.
We have not yet spoken of another fact. Peter leaves the ship to go to Jesus, before He rejoined the disciples. He walks upon the water when Peter goes to meet Him. This part of the history presents us, I doubt not, with the christian position outside Judaism. Jesus has not rejoined His disciples whom He had made embark when He had separated from them. Christ alone is the strength and the motive: “if it be Thou”; one must walk where there is nothing, as Christ walked. Trouble of the waves causes Peter’s faith to fail, but the grace and the power of the Saviour are there for the others, as for himself. He stretches out His hand and supports His poor servant. This is what He has done in order that we should walk as He walked where there is no support but Himself. Once Christ is come back to His disciples, all is peace and the voyage ends; but there are some precious personal instructions here.
The Christian has to walk over the water, to walk by faith, as Jesus walked, where there is no path, but divine power, for man cannot walk—is totally incapable of doing so. To walk there is the fruit of the power of Christ and of faith in the Christian, but this is not all. The eye must be fixed upon the Saviour: without this, one sinks. Peter had looked at the agitated sea and was sinking. Christ being out of his view, there was a comparison made between the difficulties and himself. Impossible so to walk. He was right; but the divine power was utterly forgotten. So Israel with the spies. The cities are walled up to heaven, the Anakims were there, we were like grasshoppers. This was to forget God. Was He like a grasshopper before the Anakims? And what did the walls up to heaven? They fell down at the sound of a ram’s horn. No, it is a question of looking to God and the path of His will, as Joshua and Caleb said, If the Lord take delight in us, we are well able. Peter had said, “If it be Thou,” but then he should always have looked to Him. And see how foolish is unbelief. He saw the sea agitated. What if it had been calm? The reason of the difference was not there, but in looking to Jesus—or not. If one looks to Him, all is possible and all succeeds, because He can and will do all, all blessing, all the fruit of faith, thanks be to God. He is there to sustain us even when our faith comes short. If Jesus is the object who makes us walk oh the water, Jesus is the strength to walk there; but the eye must be kept fixed on Him. If His power is there, the storm does nothing. If His power is not there, we sink in the calm as much as in the storm. The walk is in every case by faith: and we need Jesus always and with Him can do everything. Storm and calm are alike.
In the next chapter the great controversy with the people, a controversy at bottom with the heart of man, is continued, but on moral ground; always in the midst of Israel, but full of instruction for all ages. It is ordinance in contrast with the morality willed by God, which is immutable in this sense that it refers to the relations in which man is found placed whether with God or with man, which consists in the maintenance in walk of that which suits those relations. Once God has found these relations, whether of the creature with Himself or of His creatures among themselves, the duties exist of themselves, being only the practical expression of the relation, as a true worship rendered to God, or piety and filial obedience with every other consequence of those relations. Now the corrupted heart of man loves its own will and the satisfaction of its lusts too much to fulfil its duties; and forms of piety which feed its self-love please it more than duties and leave it free to follow its lusts. Neither God nor His character is truly known. God is not honoured by the heart, and the heart is not purified. To wash his hands suits such a man better than a pure heart or approaching God really.
The Lord touches distinctly this moral plague, shewing at the same time that the worship of these hypocrites was as far as possible from being accepted of God; that the commandments of men could not but put God aside and exalt man to the detriment of the divine glory. The commandments of God were nullified. His worship encroached on by the false authority of man, and in vain offered by the same persons who were dragged along in the current (for the heart of man is easily subdued by such pretensions to piety), and man replaced God in what acted on the heart.
The Lord takes care to protest openly against the very principles which led to this hypocrisy while addressing the crowd that He called to Him. There is nothing the Lord detests more than human religion, the traditions of men. Nothing shuts out God more while abusing His name and thus subjecting consciences which do not know Him truly. Nothing however is more simple; what issues from the heart is what defiles the man. But we see how the heart of man is influenced by these things, and how the simple by this means fall under the influence of hypocrites and of every class of religious teachers. The Pharisees were scandalised at it, said the disciples. And no wonder. To have a conscience before God according to His word, and in the light of God for itself, spoilt all their business. But through love for us, through the necessity of what is true and good, this is what must be. Then, at the point at which we have arrived in the history of the Saviour, it was no longer a question of minding these false doctors—these were not plants that the heavenly Father of our Lord had planted. They were to be rooted up. It was needful to leave them—a solemn thought with regard to the people and still more for Christianity! These were blind leaders of the blind; both were falling into the ditch.
As to the disciples, the Lord’s answer goes much farther, while at the same time it makes evident the apostle’s want of intelligence; in effect, the principle is evident. But what a picture of the heart of man followed, thanks be to God, by that of the heart of God and of His ways in grace! That which went out of the heart defiled the man. All is simple. But what is it that went out from it? Evil thoughts, murders, then a terrible list of those dark productions of a depraved and corrupt heart. But cannot the Lord relieve a little this gloomy picture by touches of light which are found in these hearts! He finds none. Thus characterised, He leaves the heart of man. He was not wanting in goodness, He knew the heart—knew everything about man; but beyond that list He is silent. It is not saying that there are not amiable features in the natural heart (that may be so even in animals), but morally this is what comes out of the heart, the fruits of the root of the sin which is there, restrained, kept in, modified, yet the fruit that man’s heart produces wherever he is permitted to follow his inclinations.
Thus the Lord passes from the hypocritical customs used by man to cover what he is and to give himself a religious character (even though the truths which he professes may be divine, and the system in its origin emanating from God)— passes, from traditions of men and the vain worship of human ordinances, to the heart which it seeks to cover, and lays it bare. We learn what is in the heart, as God sees it in those who are not among the plants planted by the Father. And their religion which concealed it—what was it? Hypocrisy, and God set aside by human ordinances. Thus we see, in a people that God had brought near to Himself and in a religion that He had Himself established, God set aside in order to bring in man, his own traditions and his commandments, with hands washed in the place of his heart; and then, what the natural heart is in its fruits before God.
Now the Lord passes in the most striking manner to what is outside all the promises, to a race that was accursed according to the promises made to the people of God, to the place that the Lord quotes as an example of hardness of heart (chap, n), and shews, whilst at the same time recognising the dispensations of God towards His people, and His faithfulness in sending them the Messiah, what a heart comes to that is driven by its need and by the faith with goes right to the heart of God, and what that divine heart is for the wants that faith brings to Him, what He is in Himself outside dispensational rules. The Lord goes towards Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanitish woman comes towards Him. Her daughter was tormented with a demon. She recognises the Lord, as the heir of the promises in Israel, as Son of David. This was truly faith as to His person; but what part had a Canaanitish woman with the promises made to Israel or with the blessings that were granted to them as the people of God? The Lord does not answer her. Deeper lessons were to be given of what man is, but also of what God is.
The disciples would have wished the Lord to grant her what she asked, in order to get rid of her; but the Lord maintains His place as Son of David. He is sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The need of the poor woman rises above her formal acknowledgment of Jesus as Son of David. “Lord, help me.” Her wants are simple. They are plainly declared. But the Lord wishes to put her thoroughly to the test. “It is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it unto dogs.” The Lord acknowledges the dispensations of God with respect to His people, however wicked they might be, and the woman does so also; but lessons far deeper are here taught. The poor woman—man as shewn in her finds his place. He is under the curse, without promise, having right to nothing, or under the power of the demon. He must own his condition, and this is what the woman does. She is a dog, but in need. Her hope is not in any right that she possesses, but in the free goodness of God. It is a need which comes face to face with God come in grace. She fully recognises what she is, a dog; but she maintains that, if it be so, there is sufficient goodness in God for such beings. Could God say, No, there is not? Could Christ represent Himself thus? Impossible. By faith want is met across all the obstacles of Jewish rites and of personal unworthiness, thoroughly owning them, but placing itself outside every right in immediate contact with the goodness of God.
Such is faith. It recognises the state of ruin and of wretchedness in which we are; humble and true, it brings its need to God, but counts on what He is. Now He cannot deny Himself. Besides, it is the key to all the Gospel. Jesus was the Christ, the Son of David, a minister of the circumcision; but behind, so to speak, God was there, in all the fulness of His grace, and He passed over the strait limits of Israel and of the promises to be Himself in grace—grace which sufficed for everything. The curse might be there, complete unworthiness; but if want was there and placed itself by faith on the ground of the grace and goodness of God, the barriers disappeared, want and God met together, and the answer was according to His sovereign goodness, the riches of His grace, and according to the faith which counted upon it. The daughter was healed, the Canaanitish woman happy, and God in Christ revealed.
Chapters 14, 15.
I have been occupied with these chapters; for they occupy evidently a special place between the mysteries of the kingdom on the judicial rejection of the Jews at the end of chapter 12 (which goes on to the end of the age) and the church and kingdom glory in chapters 16, 17. The contexts are naturally special; for the kingdom is set forth after the ruin of Judaism in chapter 13, and the church, and the glory of the kingdom come after. What is this special place?
It is plain that chapter 13 gives the kingdom of heaven in the peculiar character it assumes when the King is in heaven, not manifested, and, as Mark says, it grows and springs up he seemingly knows not how. What then is brought out between this and the revelation of the church on earth? It is the actual proof of present rejection and the incapacity of the disciples to avail themselves of His then present power; the moral darkness of the scribes and Pharisees, the intrinsic falseness of their religious principles; but the disciples really got no farther. The Pharisees were not plants of God’s planting at all; the disciples were, blind on many things as they were. The Lord is here getting on strong moral ground—what God has planted, and the human heart being the source of evil. God, not Judaism or tradition, was the spring and guide of good; man’s heart is only evil.
But Christ, still in His own place, takes only His service in Israel; but He goes where one of the accursed races and of wicked Tyre has access to Him, owning Him as Son of David. As such He could not help her. But this brings out what must go beyond these limits—the goodness of God. This, to faith, He could not deny. Thus, while man’s heart even in the Jew was only evil, God was—could not but be—good to faith. But He had not given up Israel, though all this was true; and the hungry multitude of Galilee are again fed, though the disciples are not now called to do it; He takes the loaves and does it Himself. The baskets that contained the fragments are not now the number which is the sign of perfect government in man, but of special or divine perfection—seven, not twelve. It is grace above promise, and not simply divine power able to fulfil it.
This leads me to say a few words more in detail of chapter 14. The work of rejection begins; John is beheaded, and Jesus retires, but only to find a multitude whom He meets in grace. He then shews Himself as the Jehovah that was to satisfy the poor with bread, let Him be rejected by the nations as He may. He expects the disciples to understand and use this power; but they do not—they judge by sight. “Give ye them to eat.” “We have here but five loaves and two fishes!” Then He sends the disciples away while He is on high, and joins them still in the ship, connected, I apprehend, with Judaism which He had left to cross the world by divine power—our part. But Peter cannot—only but for being helped he was sinking and (like the Jewish remnant) re-enters the ship, but with Christ. The walking on water was in principle church position, walking simply by faith to meet Jesus, with no known hold, only by faith. When He rejoins the ship, they own Him, not as Messiah in a carnal way and expectation as even the disciples had done, but as Sen of God, which was just what the nation would not do, and the disciples practically never did, though God taught individuals so. The country of Gennesaret which once rejected Him now receives Him with open arms. It is a divine Person then here, when not only Israel but the disciples could not own, or at any rate profit by, His manifestation to Israel.
We have then, as noted above, the moral judgment of Israel’s state and of their teachers; but again the disciples are without understanding. Yet in this very chapter, where essential divine principles of truth and grace are brought so clearly out, there is a special recognition of Israel. The Canaanitish woman not only called Him Son of David, but owned Israel as the children and herself as only a dog. The Lord takes this ground, though necessarily owning God to be good to others. And the people glorify the God of Israel.
On the whole, we have Israel rejecting the witness of God; Christ present as Immanuel, but the disciples unable to profit by it, left and rejoined; moral principles, of man’s heart, and God’s overflowing goodness; but plants must be of God’s planting or rooted up; Israel rejected but owned. Still the Lord distinguished the disciples as possessed of personal faith (save of course Judas)—plants of the Lord’s planting; and when He now simply leaves the Pharisees, He appeals to that faith; chap. 16. Ignorant as they were of God’s ways and incapable of availing themselves of what Christ was, yet the inquiry addressed to their personal faith brings out the answer (given of the Father) of that on which the church should be built. They cling to Him—to His person when the nation rejected Him, and when even they could not profit rightly by His presence in Israel. But then, when Israel was for the time rejected, that person became the foundation of everything, and the Lord (who had put the question to draw out this distinctive faith, however prejudiced and buried in traditions even they were) at once recognises the direct teaching of the Father. Now Israel was gone, on this the church would be built. The contrast of verses 1-5, then 6-12, and what then follows, is very striking. Read in verse 18, “And I also say unto thee,” in contrast with or addition to the Father’s revelation, and also to Peter’s confessing. He had said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Christ says, “Thou art Peter”; but this was the authority, the really divine or divinely given title to give a name.
The rest of the verse is a kind of parenthesis. By the revelation of what Christ was by the Father, he partook of the nature of the foundation, as all true believers do, though not distinguished as Peter. But the building of the assembly comes out as Christ’s new revelation consequent on the setting aside of all preceding leading up to the Father’s revelation of His Son (to Simon), triumphant by His divine Person and nature over death, whence Satan’s power could not prevail against it, though Israel’s (even the disciples’) hopes were ended by His death. But the Son of the living God would on this title build a church over which hades’ gate could have no power to prevail. Not Peter, but Christ builds the church; but Peter does administer the kingdom. Nothing is said to him as to having anything to do with the church—save a name, which shews his confession, put him into connection with it. For if the church was built on that truth, and he had confessed it as taught of God, he was in principle (though the church was not yet revealed or begun) on the footing of it as to his acknowledgment of Christ. Hence they are charged not to say He is “the Christ.” The Father has revealed Him in another way. The kingdom of heaven Peter was to administer. Every scribe instructed into the kingdom of heaven brings out of his treasure things new and old.
The name of Christ on which the church was built was a wholly new revelation of the Father. So in the manifestation of the kingdom of the Son of man Moses and Elias disappear, the beloved Son in whom the Father was well pleased (not merely a faithful messenger) was to be Head. Now Peter was entrusted with the keys of the kingdom of heaven. What was administered on that ground did not exclude the old things thus. This again, though given in a voice, was the Father’s revelation. Individually, Peter in both cases was as yet fully under the prejudices of a Jew as to the kingdom.
34 The second part of the prophecy of Isaiah, that is, chapters 40-47, speaks of the sin of the people with respect to the controversy of Jehovah with idols; chapters 49-58, the rejection of the Messiah; from chapter 59 the restoration of the people is the matter handled.
35 [In fact, however, we know from comparing the Gospel of Mark that this leper was cleansed before the Lord went up the mountain. —Ed.]
36 Literally “is just now deceased,” Matt. 9:18; “dead at the moment.” We know that the father while on the road received the news that she was really dead. Just now—the point up to which the time was extended.
37 i.e., finished.