In this chapter, we have, I. Christ's transfiguration upon the mount, ver 1-13. II. His casting the devil out of a child, when the disciples could not do it, ver 14-29. III. His prediction of his own sufferings and death, ver 30-32. IV. The check he gave to his disciples for disputing who should be greatest (ver 33-37); and to John for rebuking one who cast out devils in Christ's name, and did not follow with them, ver 38-41. V. Christ's discourse with his disciples of the danger of offending one of his little ones (ver 42), and of indulging that in ourselves, which is an offence and an occasion of sin to us (ver 43-50), most of which passages we had before, Matt 17 and 18.
1 And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power. 2 And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into a high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. 3 And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. 4 And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus. 5 And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. 6 For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid. 7 And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. 8 And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves. 9 And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead. 10 And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean. 11 And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come? 12 And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought. 13 But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him.
Here is, I. A prediction of Christ's kingdom now near approaching, v. 1. That which is foretold, is, 1. That the kingdom of God would come, and would come so as to be seen: the kingdom of the Messiah shall be set up in the world by the utter destruction of the Jewish polity, which stood in the way of it; this was the restoring of the kingdom of God among men, which had been in a manner lost by the woeful degeneracy both of Jews and Gentiles. 2. That it would come with power, so as to make its own way, and bear down the opposition that was given to it. It came with power, when vengeance was taken on the Jews for crucifying Christ, and when it conquered the idolatry of the Gentile world. 3. That it would come while some now present were alive; There are some standing here, that shall not taste of death, till they see it; this speaks the same with Matt 24 34, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Those that were standing here with Christ, should see it, when the others could not discern it to be the kingdom of God, for it came not with observation.
II. A specimen of that kingdom in the transfiguration of Christ, six days after Christ spoke that prediction. He had begun to give notice to his disciples of his death and sufferings; and, to prevent their offence at that, he gives them this glimpse of his glory, to show that his sufferings were voluntary, and what a virtue the dignity and glory of his person would put into them, and to prevent the offence of the cross.
1. It was on the top of a high mountain, like the converse Moses had with God, which was on the top of mount Sinai, and his prospect of Canaan from the top of mount Pisgah. Tradition saith, It was on the top of the mount Tabor that Christ was transfigured; and if so, the scripture was fulfilled, Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name, Ps 89 12. Dr. Lightfoot, observing that the last place where we find Christ was in the coasts of Cæsarea-Philippi, which was far from mount Tabor, rather thinks it was a high mountain which Josephus speaks of, near Cæsarea.
2. The witnesses of it were Peter, James, and John; these were the three that were to bear record on earth, answering to Moses, Elias, and the voice from heaven, the three that were to bear record from above. Christ did not take all the disciples with him, because the thing was to be kept very private. As there are distinguishing favours which are given to disciples and not to the world, so there are to some disciples and not to others. All the saints are a people near to Christ, but some lie in his bosom. James was the first of all the twelve that died for Christ, and John survived them all, to be the last eyewitness of this glory; he bore record (John 1 14); We saw his glory: and so did Peter, 2 Pet 1 16-18.
3. The manner of it; He was transfigured before them; he appeared in another manner than he used to do. This was a change of the accidents, the substance remaining the same, and it was a miracle. But transubstantiation, the change of the substance, all the accidents remaining the same, is not a miracle, but a fraud and imposture, such a work as Christ never wrought. See what a great change human bodies are capable of, when God is pleased to put an honour upon them, as he will upon the bodies of the saints, at the resurrection. He was transfigured before them; the change, it is probable, was gradual, from glory to glory, so that the disciples, who had their eye upon him all the while, had the clearest and most certain evidence they could have, that this glorious appearance was no other than the blessed Jesus himself, and there was no illusion in it. John seems to refer to this (1 John 1 1), when he speaks of the word of life, as that which they had seen with their eyes, and looked upon. His raiment became shining; so that, though probably, it was sad-coloured, if not black, yet it was now exceeding white as snow, beyond what the fuller's art could do toward whitening it.
4. His companions in this glory were Moses and Elias (v. 4); They appeared talking with him, not to teach him, but to testify to him, and to be taught by him; by which it appears that there are converse and intercourse between glorified saints, they have ways of talking one with another, which we understand not. Moses and Elias lived at a great distance of time one from another, but that breaks no squares in heaven, where the first shall be last, and the last first, that is, all one in Christ.
5. The great delight that the disciples took in seeing this sight, and hearing this discourse, is expressed by Peter, the mouth of the rest; He said, Master, it is good for us to be here, v. 5. Though Christ was transfigured, and was in discourse with Moses and Elias, yet he gave Peter leave to speak to him, and to be as free with him as he used to be. Note, Our Lord Jesus, in his exaltation and glory, doth not at all abate of his condescending kindness to his people. Many, when they are in their greatness, oblige their friends to keep their distance; but even to the glorified Jesus true believers have access with boldness, and freedom of speech with him. Even in this heavenly discourse there was room for Peter to put in a word; and this is it, "Lord, it is good to be here, it is good for us to be here; here let us make tabernacles; let this be our rest for ever." Note, Gracious souls reckon it good to be in communion with Christ, good to be near him, good to be in the mount with him, though it be a cold and solitary place; it is good to be here retired from the world, and alone with Christ: and if it is good to be with Christ transfigured only upon a mountain with Moses and Elias, how good it will be to be with Christ glorified in heaven with all the saints! But observe, While Peter was for staying here, he forgot what need there was of the presence of Christ, and the preaching of his apostles, among the people. At this very time, the other disciples wanted them greatly, v. 14. Note, When it is well with us, we are apt to be mindless of others, and in the fulness of our enjoyments to forget the necessities of our brethren; it was a weakness in Peter to prefer private communion with God before public usefulness. Paul is willing to abide in the flesh, rather than depart to the mountain of glory (though that be far better), when he sees it needful for the church, Phil 1 24, 25. Peter talked of making three distinct tabernacles for Moses, Elias, and Christ, which was not well-contrived; for such a perfect harmony there is between the law, the prophets, and the gospel, that one tabernacle will hold them all; they dwell together in unity. But whatever was incongruous in what he said, he may be excused, for they were all sore afraid; and he, for his part, wist not what to say (v. 6), not knowing what would be the end thereof.
6. The voice that came from heaven, was an attestation of Christ's mediatorship, v. 7. There was a cloud that overshadowed them, and was a shelter to them. Peter had talked of making tabernacles for Christ and his friends; but while he yet spoke, see how his project was superseded; this cloud was unto them instead of tabernacles for their shelter (Isa 4 5); while he spoke of his tabernacles, God created his tabernacle not made with hands. Now out of this cloud (which was but a shade to the excellent glory Peter speaks of, whence this voice came) it was said, This is my beloved Son, hear him. God owns him, and accepts him, as his beloved Son, and is ready to accept of us in him; we must then own and accept him as our beloved Saviour, and must give up ourselves to be ruled by him.
7. The vision, being designed only to introduce the voice, when that was delivered, disappeared (v. 8); Suddenly when they had looked round about, as men amazed to see where they were, all was gone, they saw no man any more. Elias and Moses were vanished out of sight, and Jesus only remained with them, and he not transfigured, but as he used to be. Note, Christ doth not leave the soul, when extraordinary joys and comforts leave it. Though more sensible and ravishing communications may be withdrawn, Christ's disciples have, and shall have, his ordinary presence with them always, even to the end of the world, and that is it we must depend upon. Let us thank God for daily bread and not expect a continual feast on this side of heaven.
8. We have here the discourse between Christ and his disciples, as they came down from the mount.
(1.) He charged them to keep this matter very private, till he was risen from the dead, which would complete the proof of his divine mission, and then this must be produced with the rest of the evidence, v. 9. And besides, he, being now in a state of humiliation, would have nothing publicly taken notice of, that might be seen disagreeable to such a state; for to that he would in every thing accommodate himself. This enjoining of silence to the disciples, would likewise be of use to them, to prevent their boasting of the intimacy they were admitted to, that they might not be puffed up with the abundance of the revelations. It is a mortification to a man, to be tied up from telling of his advancements, and may help to hide pride from him.
(2.) The disciples were at a loss what the rising from the dead should mean; they could not form any notion of the Messiah's dying (Luke 18 34), and therefore were willing to think that the rising he speaks of, was figurative, his rising from his present mean and low estate to the dignity and dominion they were in expectation of. But if so, here is another thing that embarrasses them (v. 11); Why say the Scribes, that before the appearing of the Messiah in his glory, according to the order settled in the prophecies of the Old Testament, Elias must first come? But Elias was gone, and Moses too. Now that which raised this difficulty, was, the scribes taught them to expect the person of Elias, whereas the prophecy intended one in the spirit and power of Elias. Note, The misunderstanding of scripture is a great prejudice to the entertainment of truth.
(3.) Christ gave them a key to the prophecy concerning Elias (v. 12, 13); "It is indeed prophesied that Elias will come, and will restore all things, and set them to rights; and (though you will not understand it) it is also prophesied of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought, must be a reproach of men, and despised of the people: and though the scribes do not tell you so, the scriptures do, and you have as much reason to expect that as the other, and should not make so strange of it; but as to Elias, I tell you he is come; and if you consider a little, you will understand whom I mean, it is one to whom they have done whatsoever they listed;" which was very applicable to the ill usage they had given John Baptist. Many of the ancients, and the Popish writers generally, think, that besides the coming of John Baptist in the spirit of Elias, himself in his own person is to be expected, with Enoch, before the second appearance of Christ, wherein the prophecy of Malachi will have a more full accomplishment than it had in John Baptist. But it is groundless fancy; the true Elias, as well as the true Messiah promised, is come, and we are to look for no other. These words as it is written of him, refer not to their doing to him whatever they listed (that comes in a parenthesis), but only to his coming. He is come, and hath been, and done, according as was written of him.
The Expulsion of an Evil Spirit.
14 And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them. 15 And straightway all the people, when they beheld him, were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him. 16 And he asked the scribes, What question ye with them? 17 And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; 18 And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not. 19 He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me. 20 And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. 21 And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child. 22 And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. 23 Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. 24 And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. 25 When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. 26 And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead. 27 But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose. 28 And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out? 29 And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.
We have here the story of Christ casting the devil out of a child, somewhat more fully related than it was in Matt 17 14, etc. Observe here,
I. Christ's return to his disciples, and the perplexity he found them in. He laid aside his robes of glory, and came to look after his family, and to enquire what was become of them. Christ's glory above does not make him forget the concerns of his church below, which he visits in great humility, v. 14. And he came very seasonably, when the disciples were embarrassed and run a-ground; the scribes, who were sworn enemies both to him and them, had gained an advantage against them. A child possessed with a devil was brought to them, and they could not cast out the devil, whereupon the scribes insulted over them, and reflected upon their Master, and triumphed as if the day were their own. He found the scribes questioning with them, in the hearing of the multitude, some of whom perhaps began to be shocked by it. Thus Moses, when he came down from the mount, found the camp of Israel in great disorder; so soon were Christ and Moses missed. Christ's return was very welcome, no doubt, to the disciples, and unwelcome to the scribes. But particular notice is taken of its being very surprising to the people, who perhaps were ready to say, As for this Jesus, we wot not what is become of him; but when they beheld him coming to them again, they were greatly amazed (some copies add, kai exephobethesan—and they were afraid); and running to him (some copies for prostrechontes, read proschairontes—congratulating him, or bidding him welcome), they saluted him. It is easy to give a reason why they should be glad to see him; but why where they amazed, greatly amazed, when they beheld him? Probably, there might remain something unusual in his countenance; as Moses's face shone when he came down from the mount, which made the people afraid to come nigh him, Exod 34 30. So perhaps did Christ's face, in some measure; at least, instead of seeming fatigued, there appeared a wonderful briskness and sprightliness in his looks, which amazed them.
II. The case which perplexed the disciples, brought before him. He asked the scribes, who, he knew, were always vexatious to his disciples, and teazing them upon every occasion, "What question ye with them? What is the quarrel now?" The scribes made no answer, for they were confounded at his presence; the disciples made none, for they were comforted, and now left all to him. But the father of the child opened the case, v. 17, 18. 1. His child is possessed with a dumb spirit; he has the falling-sickness, and in his fits is speechless; his case is very sad, for, wheresoever the fit takes him, the spirit tears him, throws him into such violent convulsions as almost pull him to pieces; and, which is very grievous to himself, and frightful to those about him, he foams at his mouth, and gnashes with his teeth, as one in pain and great misery; and though the fits go off presently, yet they leave him so weak, that he pines away, is worn to a skeleton; his flesh is dried away; so the word signifies, Ps 102 3-5. This was a constant affliction to a tender father. 2. The disciples cannot give him any relief; "I desired they would cast him out, as they had done many, and they would willingly have done it, but they could not; and therefore thou couldest never have come in better time; Master, I have brought him to thee."
III. The rebuke he gave to them all (v. 19); O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? Dr. Hammond understands this as spoken to the disciples, reproving them for not exerting the power he had given them, and because they did not fast and pray, as in some cases he had directed them to do. But Dr. Whitby takes it as a rebuke to the scribes, who gloried in this disappointment that the disciples met with, and hoped to run them down with it. Them he calls a faithless generation, and speaks as one weary of being with them, and of bearing with them. We never heard him complaining, "How long shall I be in this low condition, and suffer that?" But, "How long shall I be among these faithless people, and suffer them?"
IV. The deplorable condition that the child was actually in, when he was brought to Christ, and the doleful representation which the father made of it. When the child saw Christ, he fell into a fit; The spirit straightway tore him, boiled within him, troubled him (so Dr. Hammond); as if the devil would set Christ at defiance, and hoped to be too hard for him too, and to keep possession in spite of him. The child fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. We may put another construction upon it—that the devil raged, and had so much the greater wrath, because he knew that his time was short, Rev 7 12. Christ asked, How long since this came to him? And, it seems, the disease was of long standing; it came to him of a child (v. 21), which made the case the more sad, and the cure more difficult. We are all by nature children of disobedience, and in such the evil spirit works, and has done so from our childhood; for foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, and nothing but the mighty grace of Christ can cast it out.
V. The pressing instances which the father of the child makes with Christ for a cure (v. 22); Ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him. Note, The devil aims at the ruin of those in whom he rules and works, and seeks whom he may devour. But, if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. The leper was confident of Christ's power, but put an if upon his will (Matt 8 2); If thou wilt, thou canst. This poor man referred himself to his good-will, but put an if upon his power, because his disciples, who cast out devils in his name, had been non-plussed in this case. Thus Christ suffers in his honour by the difficulties and follies of his disciples.
VI. The answer Christ gave to his address (v. 23); If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. Here, 1. He tacitly checks the weakness of his faith. The sufferer put it upon Christ's power, If thou canst do any thing, and reflected on the want of power in the disciples; but Christ turns it upon him, and puts him upon questioning his own faith, and will have him impute the disappointment to the want of that; If thou canst believe. 2. He graciously encourages the strength of his desire; "All things are possible, will appear possible, to him that believes the almighty power of God, to which all things are possible;" or "That shall be done by the grace of God, for them that believe in the promise of God, which seemed utterly impossible." Note, In dealing with Christ, very much is put upon our believing, and very much promised it. Canst thou believe? Darest thou believe? Art thou willing to venture thy all in the hands of Christ? To venture all thy spiritual concerns with him, and all thy temporal concerns for him? Canst thou find in thy heart to do this? If so, it is not impossible but that, though thou has been a great sinner, thou mayest be reconciled; though thou art very mean and unworthy, thou mayest get to heaven. If thou canst believe, it is possible that thy hard heart may be softened, thy spiritual diseases may be cured; and that, weak as thou art, thou mayest be able to hold out to the end.
VII. The profession of faith which the poor man made hereupon (v. 24); He cried out, "Lord, I believe; I am fully persuaded both of thy power and of thy pity; my cure shall not be prevented by the want of faith; Lord, I believe." He adds a prayer for grace to enable him more firmly to rely upon the assurances he had of the ability and willingness of Christ to save; Help thou my unbelief. Note, 1. Even those who through grace can say, Lord, I believe, have reason to complain of their unbelief; that they cannot so readily apply to themselves, and their own case, the word of Christ as they should, no so cheerfully depend upon it. 2. Those that complain of unbelief, must look up to Christ for grace to help them against it, and his grace shall be sufficient for them. "Help mine unbelief, help me to a pardon for it, help me with power against it; help out what is wanting in my faith with thy grace, the strength of which is perfected in our weakness."
VIII. The cure of the child, and the conquest of this raging devil in the child. Christ saw the people come running together, expecting to see the issue of this trial of skill, and therefore kept them in suspense no longer, but rebuked the foul spirit; the unclean spirit, so it should be rendered, as in other places. Observe, 1. What the charge was which Christ gave to this unclean spirit; "Thou dumb and deaf spirit, that makest the poor child dumb and deaf, but shalt thyself be made to hear thy doom, and not be able to say any thing against it, come out of him immediately, and enter no more into him. Let him not only be brought out of this fit, but let his fits never return." Note, Whom Christ cures, he cures effectually. Satan may go out himself, and yet recover possession; but if Christ cast him out, he will keep him out. 2. How the unclean spirit took it; he grew yet more outrageous, he cried, and rent him sore, gave him such a twitch at parting, that he was as one dead; so loth was he to quit his hold, so exasperated at the superior power of Christ, so malicious to the child, and so desirous was he to kill him. Many said, He is dead. Thus the toss that a soul is in at the breaking of Satan's power in it may perhaps be frightful for the present, but opens the door to lasting comfort. 3. How the child was perfectly restored (v. 27); Jesus took him by the hand, kratesas—took fast hold of him, and strongly bore him up, and he arose and recovered, and all was well.
IX. The reason he gave to the disciples why they could not cast out this devil. They enquired of him privately why they could not, that wherein they were defective might be made up another time, and they might not again be thus publicly shamed; and he told them (v. 29), This kind can come forth by nothing but prayer and fasting. Whatever other difference there really might be, none appears between this and other kinds, but that the unclean spirit had had possession of this poor patient from a child, and that strengthened his interest, and confirmed his hold. When vicious habits are rooted by long usage, and begin to plead prescription, like chronical diseases that are hardly cured. Can the Æthiopian change his skin? The disciples must not think to do their work always with a like ease; some services call them to take more than ordinary pains; but Christ can do that with a word's speaking, which they must prevail for the doing of by prayer and fasting.
The Apostles Reproved.
30 And they departed thence, and passed through Galilee; and he would not that any man should know it. 31 For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day. 32 But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him. 33 And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? 34 But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest. 35 And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. 36 And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, 37 Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me. 38 And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. 39 But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. 40 For he that is not against us is on our part.
Here, I. Christ foretels his own approaching sufferings. He passed through Galilee with more expedition than usual, and would not that any man should know of it (v. 30); because he had done many mighty and good works among them in vain, they shall not be invited to see them and have the benefit of them, as they have been. The time of his sufferings drew nigh, and therefore he was willing to be private awhile, and to converse only with his disciples, to prepare them for the approaching trial, v. 31. He said to them, The Son of man is delivered by the determinate council and fore-knowledge of God into the hands of men (v. 31), and they shall kill him. He had been delivered into the hands of devils, and they had worried him, it had not been so strange; but that men, who have reason, and should have love, that they should be thus spiteful to the Son of man, who came to redeem and save them, is unaccountable. But still it is observable that when Christ spoke of his death, he alway spoke of his resurrection, which took away the reproach of it from himself, and should have taken away the grief of it from his disciples. But they understood not that saying, v. 32. The words were plain enough, but they could not be reconciled to the thing, and therefore would suppose them to have some mystical meaning which they did not understand, and they were afraid to ask him; not because he was difficult of access, or stern to those who consulted him, but either because they were loth to know the truth, or because they expected to be chidden for their backwardness to receive it. Many remain ignorant because they are ashamed to enquire.
II. He rebukes his disciples for magnifying themselves. When he came to Capernaum, he privately asked his disciples what it was they disputed among themselves by the way, v. 33. He knew very well what the dispute was, but he would know it from them, and would have them to confess their fault and folly in it. Note, 1. We must all expect to be called to an account by our Lord Jesus, concerning what passes while we are in the way in this state of passage and probation. 2. We must in a particular manner be called to an account about our discourses among ourselves; for by our words we must be justified or condemned. 3. As our other discourses among ourselves by the way, so especially our disputes, will be all called over again, and we shall be called to an account about them. 4. Of all disputes, Christ will be sure to reckon with his disciples for their disputes about precedency and superiority: that was the subject of the debate here, who should be the greater, v. 34. Nothing could be more contrary to the two great laws of Christ's kingdom, lessons of his school, and instructions of his example, which are humility and love, than desiring preferment in the world, and disputing about it. This ill temper he took all occasions to check, both because it arose from a mistaken notion of his kingdom, as if it were of this world, and because it tended so directly to be debasing of the honour, and the corrupting of the purity, of his gospel, and, he foresaw, would be so much the bane of the church.
Now, (1.) They were willing to cover this fault (v. 34); they held their peace. As they would not ask (v. 32), because they were ashamed to own their ignorance, so here they would not answer because they were ashamed to own their pride. (2.) He was willing to amend this fault in them, and to bring them to a better temper; and therefore sat down, that he might have a solemn and full discourse with them about this matter; he called the twelve to him, and told them, [1.] That ambition and affectation of dignity and dominion, instead of gaining them preferment in his kingdom, would but postpone their preferment; If any man desire and aim to be first, he shall be last; he that exalteth himself, shall be abased, and men's pride shall bring them low. [2.] That there is no preferment to be had under him, but an opportunity for, and an obligation to, so much the more labour and condescension; If any man desire to be first, when he is so, he must be much the more busy and serviceable to every body. He that desires the office of a bishop, desires a good work, for he must, as St. Paul did, labour the more abundantly, and make himself the servant of all. [3.] That those who are most humble and self-denying, do most resemble Christ, and shall be most tenderly owned by him. This he taught them by a sign; He took a child in his arms, that had nothing of pride and ambition in it. "Look you," saith he; "whosoever shall receive one like this child, receives me. Those of a humble, meek, mild disposition are such as I will own and countenance, and encourage every body else to do so too, and will take what is done to them as done to myself; and so will my Father too, for he who thus receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me, and it shall be placed to his account, and repaid with interest."
III. He rebukes them for vilifying all but themselves; while they are striving which of them should be greatest, they will not allow those who are not in communion with them to be any thing. Observe,
1. The account which John gave him, of the restraint they had laid upon one from making use of the name of Christ, because he was not of their society. Though they were ashamed to own their contests for preferment, they seem to boast of this exercise of their authority, and expected their Master would not only justify them in it, but commend them for it; and hoped he would not blame them for desiring to be great, when they would thus use their power for maintaining the honour of the sacred college. Master, saith John, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, but he followeth not us, v. 38. (1.) It was strange that the one who was not a professed disciple and follower of Christ, should yet have power to cast out devils, in his name, for that seemed to be peculiar to those whom he called, ch. 6 7. But some think that he was a disciple of John, who made use of the name of the Messiah, not as come, but as near at hand, not knowing that Jesus was he. It should rather seem that he made use of the name of Jesus, believing him to be the Christ, as the other disciples did. And why not he receive that power from Christ, whose Spirit, like the wind, blows where it listeth, without such an outward call as the apostles had? And perhaps there were many more such. Christ's grace is not tied to the visible church. (2.) It was strange that one who cast out devils in the name of Christ, did not join himself to the apostles, and follow Christ with them, but should continue to act in separation from them. I know of nothing that could hinder him from following them, unless because he was loth to leave all to follow them; and if so, that was an ill principle. The thing did not look well, and therefore the disciples forbade him to make use of Christ's name as they did, unless he would follow him as they did. This was like the motion Joshua made concerning Eldad and Medad, that prophesied in the camp, and went not up with the rest to the door of the tabernacle; "My lord Moses, forbid them (Num 11 28); restrain them, silence them, for it is a schism." Thus apt are we to imagine that those do not follow Christ at all, who do not follow him with us, and that those do nothing well, who do not just as we do. But the Lord knows them that are his, however they are dispersed; and this instance gives us a needful caution, to take heed lest we be carried, by an excess of zeal for the unity of the church, and for that which we are sure is right and good, to oppose that which yet may tend to the enlargement of the church, and the advancement of its true interests another way.
2. The rebuke he gave to them for this (v. 39); Jesus said, "Forbid him not, nor any other that does likewise." This was like the check Moses gave to Joshua; Enviest thou for my sake? Note, That which is good, and doeth good, must not be prohibited, though there be some defect or irregularity in the manner of doing it. Casting out devils, and so destroying Satan's kingdom, doing this in Christ's name, and so owning him to be sent of God, and giving honour to him as the Fountain of grace, preaching down sin, and preaching up Christ, are good things, very good things, which ought not to be forbidden to any, merely because they follow not with us. If Christ be preached, Paul therein doth, and will rejoice, though he be eclipsed by it, Phil 1 18. Two reasons Christ gives why such should not be forbidden. (1.) Because we cannot suppose that any man who makes use of Christ's name in working miracles, should blaspheme his name, as the scribes and Pharisees did. There were those indeed that did in Christ's name cast out devils, and yet in other respects were workers of iniquity; but they did not speak evil of Christ. (2.) Because those that differed in communion, while they agreed to fight against Satan under the banner of Christ, ought to look upon one another as on the same side, notwithstanding that difference. He that is not against us is on our part. As to the great controversy between Christ an Beelzebub, he had said, He that is not with me is against me, Matt 12 30. He that will not own Christ, owns Satan. But as to those that own Christ, though not in the same circumstances, that follow him, though not with us, we must reckon that though these differ from us, they are not against us, and therefore are on our part, and we must not be any hindrance to their usefulness.
Pain to Be Preferred to Sin.
41 For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward. 42 And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea. 43 And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: 44 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. 45 And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: 46 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. 47 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: 48 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. 49 For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. 50 Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.
Here, I. Christ promiseth a reward to all those that are any way kind to his disciples (v. 41); "Whosoever shall give you a cup of water, when you need it, and will be a refreshment to you, because ye belong to Christ, and are of his family, he shall not lose his reward." Note, 1. It is the honour and happiness of Christians, that they belong to Christ, they have joined themselves to him, and are owned by him; they wear his livery and retainers to his family; nay, they are more nearly related, they are members of his body. 2. They who belong to Christ, may sometimes be reduced to such straits as to be glad of a cup of cold water. 3. The relieving of Christ's poor in their distresses, is a good deed, and will turn a good account; he accepts it, and will reward it. 4. What kindness is done to Christ's poor, must be done them for his sake, and because they belong to him; for that is it that sanctifies the kindness, and puts a value upon it in the sight of God. 5. This is a reason why we must not discountenance and discourage those who are serving the interests of Christ's kingdom, though they are not in every thing of our mind and way. It comes in here as a reason why those must not be hindered, that cast out devils in Christ's name, though they did not follow him; for (as Dr. Hammond paraphrases it) "It is not only the great eminent performances which are done by you my constant attendants and disciples, that are accepted by me, but every the least degree of sincere faith and Christian performance, proportionable but to the expressing the least kindness, as giving a cup of water to a disciple of mine for being such, shall be accepted and rewarded." If Christ reckons kindness to us services to him, we ought to reckon services to him kindnesses to us, and to encourage them, though done by those that follow not with us.
II. He threatens those that offend his little ones, that wilfully are the occasion of sin or trouble to them, v. 42. Whosoever shall grieve any true Christians, though they be of the weakest, shall oppose their entrance into the ways of God, or discourage and obstruct their progress in those ways, shall either restrain them from doing good, or draw them in to commit sin, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea: his punishment will be very great, and the death and ruin of his soul more terrible than such a death and ruin of his body would be. See Matt 18 6.
III. He warns all his followers to take heed of ruining their own souls. This charity must begin at home; if we must take heed of doing any thing to hinder others from good, and to occasion their sin, much more careful must we be to avoid every thing that will take us off from our duty, or lead us to sin; and that which doth so we must part with, though it be ever so dear to us. This we had twice in Matthew, ch. 5 29, 30, and ch. 18 8, 9. It is here urged somewhat more largely and pressingly; certainly this requires our serious regard, which is so much insisted upon. Observe,
1. The case supposed, that our own hand, or eye, or foot, offend us; that the impure corruption we indulge is as dear to us as an eye or a hand, or that that which is to us as an eye or a hand, is become an invisible temptation to sin, or occasion of it. Suppose the beloved is become a sin, or the sin a beloved. Suppose we cannot keep that which is dear to us, but it will be a snare and a stumbling-block; suppose we must part with it, or part with Christ and a good conscience.
2. The duty prescribed in that case; Pluck out the eye, cut off the hand and foot, mortify the darling lust, kill it, crucify it, starve it, make no provision for it. Let the idols that have been delectable things, be cast away as detestable things; keep at a distance from that which is a temptation, though ever so pleasing. It is necessary that the part which is gangrened, should be taken off for the preservation of the whole. Immedicabile vulnus ense recidendum est, ne pars sincera trahatur—The part that is incurably wounded must be cut off, lest the parts that are sound be corrupted. We must put ourselves to pain, that we may not bring ourselves to ruin; self must be denied, that it may not be destroyed.
3. The necessity of doing this. The flesh must be mortified, that we may enter into life (v. 43, 45), into the kingdom of God, v. 47. Though, by abandoning sin, we may, for the present, feel ourselves as if we were halt and maimed (it may seem to be a force put upon ourselves, and may create us some uneasiness), yet it is for life; and all that men have, they will give for their lives: it is for a kingdom, the kingdom of God, which we cannot otherwise obtain; these halts and maims will be the marks of the Lord Jesus, will be in that kingdom scars of honour.
4. The danger of not doing this. The matter is brought to this issue, that either sin must die, or we must die. If we will lay this Delilah in our bosom, it will betray us; if we be ruled by sin, we shall inevitably be ruined by it; if we must keep our two hands, and two eyes, and two feet, we must with them be cast into hell. Our Saviour often pressed our duty upon us, from the consideration of the torments of hell, which we run ourselves into if we continue in sin. With what an emphasis of terror are those words repeated three times here, Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched! The words are quoted from Isa 66 24. (1.) The reflections and reproaches of the sinner's own conscience are the worm that dieth not; which will cleave to the damned soul as the worms do to the dead body, and prey upon it, and never leave it till it is quite devoured. Son, remember, will set this worm gnawing; and how terrible will it bite that word (Prov 5 12, 23), How have I hated instruction! The soul that is food to this worm, dies not; and the worm is bred in it, and one with it, and therefore neither doth that die. Damned sinners will be to eternity accusing, condemning, and upbraiding, themselves with their own follies, which, how much soever they are now in love with them, will at the last bite like a serpent, and sting like an adder. (2.) The wrath of God fastening upon a guilty and polluted conscience, is the fire that is not quenched; for it is the wrath of the living God, the eternal God, into whose hands it is a fearful thing to fall. There are no operations of the Spirit of grace upon the souls of the damned sinners, and therefore there is nothing to alter the nature of the fuel, which must remain for ever combustible; nor is there any application of the merit of Christ to them, and therefore there is nothing to appease or quench the violence of the fire. Dr. Whitby shows that the eternity of the torments of hell was not only the constant faith of the Christian church, but had been so of the Jewish church. Josephus saith, The Pharisees held that the souls of the wicked were to be punished with perpetual punishment; and that there was appointed for them a perpetual prison. And Philo saith, The punishment of the wicked is to live for ever dying, and to be for ever in pains and griefs that never cease.
The two last verses are somewhat difficult, and interpreters agree not in the sense of them; for every one in general, or rather every one of them that are cast into hell, shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Therefore have salt in yourselves. [1.] It was appointed by the law of Moses, that every sacrifice should be salted with salt, not to preserve it (for it was to be immediately consumed), but because it was the food of God's table, and no flesh is eaten without salt; it was therefore particularly required in the meat-offerings, Lev 2 13. [2.] The nature of man, being corrupt, and as such being called flesh (Gen 6 3; Ps 78 39), some way or other must be salted, in order to its being a sacrifice to God. The salting of fish (and I think of other things) they call the curing of it. [3.] Our chief concern is, to present ourselves living sacrifices to the grace of God (Rom 12 1), and, in order to our acceptableness, we must be salted with salt, our corrupt affections must be subdued and mortified, and we must have in our souls a savour of grace. Thus the offering up or sacrificing of the Gentiles is said to be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, as the sacrifices were salted, Rom 15 16. [4.] Those that have the salt of grace, must make it appear that they have it; that they have salt in themselves, a living principle of grace in their hearts, which works out all corrupt dispositions, and every thing in the soul that tends to putrefaction, and would offend our God, or our own consciences, as unsavoury meat doth. Our speech must be always with grace seasoned with this salt, that no corrupt communication may proceed out of our mouth, but we may loathe it as much as we would to put putrid meat into our mouths. [5.] As this gracious salt will keep our own consciences void of offence, so it will keep our conversation with others so, that we may not offend any of Christ's little ones, but may be at peace one with another. [6.] We must not only have this salt of grace, but we must always retain the relish and savour of it; for if this salt lose its saltiness, if a Christian revolt from his Christianity, if he loses the savour of it, and be no longer under the power and influence of it, what can recover him, or wherewith will ye season him? This was said Matt 5 13. [7.] Those that present not themselves living sacrifices to God's grace, shall be made for ever dying sacrifices to his justice, and since they would not give honour to him, he will get him honour upon them; they would not be salted with the salt of divine grace, would not admit that to subdue their corrupt affections, no, they would not submit to the operation, could not bear the corrosives that were necessary to eat out the proud flesh, it was to them like cutting off a hand, or plucking out an eye; and therefore in hell they shall be salted with fire; coals of fire shall be scattered upon them (Ezek 10 2), as salt upon the meat, and brimstone (Job 18 15), as fire and brimstone were rained on Sodom; the pleasures they have lived in, shall eat their flesh, as it were with fire, Jam 5 3. The pain of mortifying the flesh now is no more to be compared with the punishment for not mortifying it, than salting with burning. And since he had said, that the fire of hell shall not be quenched, but it might be objected, that the fuel will not last always, he here intimates, that by the power of God it shall be made to last always; for those that are cast into hell, will find the fire to have not only the corroding quality of salt, but its preserving quality; whence it is used to signify that which is lasting: a covenant of salt is a perpetual covenant, and Lot's wife being turned into a pillar of salt, made her a remaining monument of divine vengeance. Now since this will certainly be the doom of those that do not crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts, let us, knowing this terror of the Lord, be persuaded to do it.