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THE POWER OF FAITH.
St. Mark xi. 20-26.
And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.
His Disciples had heard what their Lord had said to the fruitless, leafy tree,' but they returned that evening to Bethany at too late an hour to note the effect that followed. St. Matthew, connecting cause with effect, "concerned for the inner idea," tells the whole story at once, and hastens on to the end, "omitting circumstances which came between." 3 From his account we learn what followed, while the Lord with His Disciples pursues the path to Jerusalem. The sentence is passed. The Judge leaves the judgment seat. The Court is cleared. Straightway "a shuddering fear "4 runs through all its leaves. They drop as in the end of autumn; those leaves it put forth so bravely, as though this were all that was required of it. It is smitten root and branch; "at Thy rebuke, O Lord, at the blasting of the
1 St. Mark xi. 14, p. 194 above. Abp. Trench.
3 Bp. Wordsworth.
Abp. Trench, who seems to have in mind the sensation of Sinon, Vir. Æn. ii. 120.
breath of Thy displeasure." And "yet this barren fig-tree, withered by Christ's word, bears fruit for ever in the garden of Holy Scripture, by the warning it gives." As this figtree which failed of fruit presently lost even its leaves, so shall all hypocrites be unmasked. There shall not be left so much as a leaf to hide their lack of fruit. So was it with that Jewish Church of old. They had no fruit to show, and so the fig-leaves in which they gloried, and with which, Adam-like, they sought to cover their spiritual nakedness, even these were withered. All the glories of their state fell like autumn leaves. Their religion was thus represented. It was foliage without fruit. It all went to leaf. Like this tree "beguiling the hungry passer-by to quit the road and come and look for fruit, and then baulking him with barrenness." The Disciples, we find, marvelled that a tree they had lately seen looking so luxuriant should so soon be withered away. But Peter calls to remembrance what all had heard the day before, and seems to ask his Master for explanation. The Lord leaves the parabolic miracle to speak for itself. It proclaims its own moral. This former lesson of faith is the only one He now expressly draws from it; adding those words concerning prayer so closely connected
1 Bp. Wordsworth.
2 Henry, who contrasts the miracle of Aaron's dry rod that budded in a night (Num. xvii. 8) with this of the green tree which was dried up in a day. In our Lord's words (St. Luke xxiii. 31) some have seen an allusion to this present miracle.
3 St. Matt. xxi. 20.
4 "His followers were evidently profoundly unconscious of the symbolic character of the transaction . . . and beheld in it simply an act of wondrous power. The Holy One, ever condescending to the infirmity of His creatures, is therefore silent concerning the typical character of His recent act, (which He leaves for the Divine Illumination of a subsequent day to explain ;) but in the meantime proceeds to impart to His Disciples as much of heavenly wisdom as they show them
selves able to bear. They have inquired how such wonders are wrought? and He answers them, as He virtually did on a former occasion, by bidding them have faith in God.' Then because Prayer is the very language of Faith, He makes the lesson yet more practical by straightway discoursing concerning Prayer."-A Plain Commentary.
5 St. Matt. xvii. 20. If the Lord's words here had been recorded only by St. Mark, there are not wanting critics who would not have failed to charge him (seeing St. Mark does not add the saying after the miracle of healing the lunatic child) with having mistakenly inserted them here. Happily however St. Matthew (xxi. 21) also records this repetition of His former saying, showing in the same words what the Disciples still had need of,
with it, and concerning a forgiving spirit of which He saw they had reason to be reminded.' He pointed, it might be, to the Mount of Olives, at whose foot they then were, as before to the Mount of Transfiguration. The all things we ask in faithful prayer must of course, from the analogy of Scripture, be understood with this limitation, that they are according to the wise will of God.
TEACHING IN THE TEMPLE.
St. Mark xi. 27; St. Luke xix. 47, 48; St. John xii. 44-50.
St. Mark xi.-And they come again to Jerusalem :
St. Luke xix. And he taught daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the chief of the people sought to destroy him, and could not find what they might do for all the people were very attentive to hear him.
St. John xii.-Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save
1 St. Matt. vi. 14, 15; xviii. 35. 2 Bunyan in his Grace Abounding (p. 51) narrates of himself, "The tempter came in with his delusion, "That there was no way for me to know I had faith, but by trying to work some miracles;' urging those Scriptures that seem to enforce and strengthen his temptations. Nay, one day as I was between Elstow and Bedford, the temptation was hot upon me, to try if I had faith, by doing some miracle; which miracle at this time was this, I must say to the puddles that were in the horse-pads, Be dry; and to the dry places, Be you puddles. And
truly, one time I was going to say so indeed &c." These confessions of an evidently morbid mind, and the way in which Scripture (with which he takes strange liberties) was made a snare to him, may well remind us of that question and answer in Acts viii. 30, 31. God has not given us a Bible without a Church, to help us to a right understanding of the same. Into what errors may those fall who overlook either of His gifts! John Bunyan's ordeal of water may call to mind Savonarola's ordeal of fire. "Les extrêmes se touchent."
the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.
Bethany by night, Jerusalem by day. After that brief interval of rest, He returns betimes to His work of teaching in the Temple. Here we find the envy of the rulers breaking out ever and anon. The people however are not yet found ripe to carry out their base designs. The people for the present are wiser than their teachers. By and by they work upon their spirit of fanaticism to lash it into fury. Meanwhile the Lord continues those Divine discourses of which St. John gives us the summary. He cried and said." Here was the manner of His teaching. It was in public. It was in all earnestness. He was the Angel of the Covenant, the Messenger, the Sent of the Father. Then we have the substance of His teaching. He reminds them of what He was ever proclaiming. Again He appeals to the Father which sent Him. He that believes on Him, believes not on Him only, but on Him also that sent Him. To believe in the Son is to believe also in the Father.* "It is as though one should say, He that taketh water from a river, taketh it not from the river but from the fountain." And still further to show the union between the Father and the Son, He adds, in words which we shall hear again," he that seeth me seeth Him that sent me." He is the brightness of the Father's glory; one with Him as the beam with the sun. Again He brings in that radiant figure, so often referred to; the very form of the expression showing "first, that Christ existed before His Incarnation, even as the sun exists before it appears above the Eastern hills. Secondly, it is implied that He
1 St. Luke xxi. 38.
2 St. Luke xx. 19.
St. John xviii. 19-21.
4 St. John x. 30.
Chry. in S. Jo. Hom. Ixix. Com
pare St. Mark ix. 37.
6 St. John xiv. 7 11.
St. John viii. 12; ix. 4, 5; xi. 9, 10.
was the one Saviour of the world, as there is but one sun. Lastly, that He came, not to one nation only, but to all.”1 And again He points out the danger of unbelief. Two periods are here spoken of, a present and a future. It means not that Christ will never judge, but that He judges or condemns not now. Now is the day of salvation. And though He shall come again to judge both the quick and the dead, yet the work, so to speak, shall be already done. As we say of a manifestly guilty and justly convicted criminal, even before the judge opens his mouth to pronounce upon him the awful sentence of the law, that he is self-condemned. So the Word of Christ shall be the witness in that dreadful day. Christ may be rejected by neglecting to receive His words. And this enhances the crime, that the word is the Word of God. He was not, as the Jews feigned, speaking without authority. The things which He spake were, as here He twice asserts, given Him in charge by the Father. The two modes of expression, "what I should say, and what I should speak," seem intended "to comprehend every class of discourse, as well the words of familiar intercourse, as the grave and solemn addresses of the Saviour." And the commandment of the Father, and the carrying out of it by the Son, were for our eternal life. Christ for our comfort affirms it with a formula of conscious truth, "I know." Who should know better than He?
1 A Plain Commentary. The "everyone that believeth" of v. 46 implying not only the universality, but the individuality also of the benefit.
2 "It is usual in the Gospel for a comparative negation to be expressed positively; as, I judge him not, that is, not chiefly; Labour not for the food that perisheth, that is, compara
tively; let it be least and last. Many such there are."-Baxter.
3 There may be allusion here to Deut. xviii. 17-19.
A Plain Commentary. the former may refer to the matter, the latter to the manner of His discourses. See St. Matt. x. 19.