Mark 9There is a three-fold sense and interpretation given of these words by expositors; 1. Some refer the words to the times of the gospel after Christ's resurrection and ascension, when the gospel was spread and propagated far and near, and the kingdom of God came with power.
Learn hence, That where the gospel is powerfully preached, and cheerfully obeyed, there Christ cometh most gloriously in his kingdom.
2. Others understand these words of Christ's coming, and exercising his kingly power in the destruction of Jerusalem; which some of the apostles then standing by lived to see.
3. Others (as most agreeable to the context) understand the words as relating to our Saviour's transfiguration, As if he had said, Some of you, meaning Peter, James, and John, shall shortly see me on mount Tabor, in such splendour and glory, as shall be a praeludium, a shadow, and representation of that glory, which I shall appear in, when I come to judge the world at the great day.
And whereas our Saviour says not, there be some standing here which shall not die, but, which shall not taste of death; this implies two things;
1. That after they had seen his transfiguration; they must taste of death as well as others.
2. That they should but taste of it, and no more.
From whence learn, 1. That the faithful servants and disciples of Christ must as length, in God's appointed time, taste and have experience of death as well as others.
2. That although they must taste yet that they shall but taste of death; they shall not drink of the dregs of that bitter cup; though they fall by the hand of death, yet shall they not be overcome by it; but in the very fall get victory over it.
Here we have the history of our Saviour's transfiguration, when he laid, as it were, the garments of our frail humanity aside for a little time, assuming to himself the robes of majesty and glory, to demonstrate and testify the truth of his divinity; for this divine glory was an evidence of his divine nature; and also an emblem of that glory which he and his disciples, al his faithful servants and followers, shall enjoy together in heaven.
Observe here, 1. That to confirm the disciples faith in the truth of Christ's divine nature, he was pleased to suffer the rays of his divinity to dart forth before their eyes, so far as they were able to bear it. His face shined with a pleasing brightness, and his raiment with such a glorious lustre, as did at once both delight and dazzle the eyes of the disciples.
Observe, 2. The choice which our Saviour makes of the witnesses of his glorious transfiguration; his three disciples, Peter, James and John. But why disciples? Why three disciples? Why these three?
1. Why disciples? Because this transfiguration was a type and shadow of his glory in heaven: Christ vouchsafes therefore the earnest and first-fruits of that glory only to saints, upon whom he intended to bestow the full harvest in due time.
2. Why three discples? Because three were sufficient to witness the truth and reality of this miracle. Judas was unworthy of this favour; yet lest he should murmur, or be discontented, others are left out as well as he.
But, 3. Why these three, rather than others?
Probably, 1. Because these three were more eminent for grace, zeal, and love towards Christ. Now the most eminent manifestations of glory are made to those that are most excelling in grace.
2. These three disciples were witnesses of Christ's agony and passion; to prepare them for which, they are here made witnesses of his transfiguration. This glorious vision upon mount Tabor, fitted them to abide the terror of mount Calvary.
Observe, 3. The glorious attendants upon our Saviour at his transfiguration. They were two, two men; and those two men, Moses and Elias. This being but a glimpse of Christ's glory, not a full manifestation of it, only two of the glorified saints attend at it. These two attendants are not two angels, but two men; because men were more nearly concerned than angels in what was done.
But why Moses and Elias, rather than other men?
1. Because Moses was the giver of the law, and Elias the chief of the prophets. Now both these attending upon Christ, did shew the consent of the law and the prophets with Christ, and their accomplishment and fulfilling in him.
2. Because these two were the most laborious servants of Christ, both adventured their lives n God's cause, and therefore are highly honoured by him. For, Those that honour him, he will honour.
Observe, 4. The carriage and demeanor of the disciples upon this great occasion:
1. They supplicate Jesus, not Moses and Elias; they make no suit to them, but to Christ only: Master, it is good being here. O! what a ravishing comfort and satisfaction is the communion and fellowship of the saints! But the presence of Christ amongst them, renders their joys transporting.
2. They proffer their service to farther their continuance of what they did enjoy; Let us make three tabernacles. Saints will stick at no pains or cost for the enjoyment of Christ's presence and his people's company.
Learn hence, That a glimpse of heaven's glory is sufficient to wrap a soul int extacy and to make it out of love with worldly company.
2. That we are too apt to desire more of heaven upon earth than God will allow. We would have the heavenly glory come down to us, but are unwilling by death to go up to that.
Observe, 5. How a cloud was put before the disciples eyes, when the divine glory was manifested to them; partly to allay the lustre and resplendency of that glory which they were swallowd up with: the glory of heaven is insupportable in this sinful state; we cannot bear it unveiled: and partly to hinder their farther prying and looking into that glory. We must be content to behold God through a cloud darkly here, ere long we shall see him face to face.
Observe, 6. The testimony given out of the cloud, by God the Father, concerning Jesus Christ his Son: This is my beloved Son, hear him.
Where note, 1. The dignity of his person; he is my Son. For nature co-essential, and for duration co-eternal, with his Father.
2. The endearedness of his relation; he is my beloved Son; because of his conformity to me, and compliance with me. Likeness is the cause of love; and an union and harmony of wills, causes a mutual endearing of affections.
3. The authority of his doctrine; Hear ye him; not Moses and Elias, who were servants, but Christ, my Son, whom I have commissioned to be the great Prophet and Teacher of my church. Therefore, adore him as my Son, believe in him as your Saviour, and hear him as your Law-giver. The obedient ear honours Christ more than either the gazing eye, the adoring knee, or the applauding tongue.
Observe here, 1. The strict injunction given by Christ to his disciples, not to publish or proclaim this glorious vision at his transfiguration, till after his resurrection; because being now in a state of humiliation, he would have his divine majesty and glory veiled and concealed.
Learn hence, That the divine glory of Christ's person, as God, was not to be manifested suddenly, and all at once, but gradually, and by steps.
First more obscurely, by his miracles, by the forced acknowledgments of devils, by the free confession of his disciples, and by the glorious vision of his transfiguration; but the more clear and full, the more public and open, manifestation of is divine glory, was at the time of is resurrection and ascension.
Observe, 2. The disciples obedience to Christ's injunction, touching the concealing of his transfiguration till after his resurrection; They kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean.
Not that they questioned the resurrection in general, but Christ's resurrection in particular, because his resurrection did suppose his death; and they could not conceive how the Messiah, whom they erroneously supposed must be a temporal prince, should suffer death at the hands of men.
Observe, 3. The question which the disciples put to Christ, how the observation of the Jewish doctors holds good; namely, that Elias must come before the Messias came; we see the Messias, but no Elias.
Our Saviour answers, That Elias was come already; not Elias in person, but one in the spirit and power of Elias, to wit, John the Baptist, who was prophesied of under the name of Elias; there being a great resemblance between the Elias of the Old Testament, and of the New, viz. John the Baptist, they were both men of great zeal for God and Religion, they were both undaunted reprovers of the faults of princes, and they were both implacably hated and persecuted for the same.
Thence learn, That hatred and persecution, even unto death, has often been the lot and portion of such persons who have had the courage and zeal to reprove the faults of princes. Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed.
Observe here, 1. The person brought to Christ for help and healing; one bodily possessed by Satan, who had made him deaf and dumb from his childhood, and oft-times cast him into the fire and water, but rather to torment than to dispatch him. O how does Satan, the malicious tyrant, rejoice in doing hurt to the bodies, as well as the souls, of mankind! Lord, abate his power, since his malice of evil spirits! and how watchful is thy providence over us to preserve us, when Satan is seeking, by all imaginable means and methods, to destroy us!
Observe, 2. The person that represents his sad condition to our Saviour; his compassionate father, who kneeled down, and cried out: need will make a person both humble and eloquent. Everyone has a tongue to speak for himself, happy is he that keeps a tongue for others.
Observe, 3. The circumstance of time; Satan had got possession! of his person very young, in his youth; nay, in his childhood: and O how hard was it to cast him out after such long possession! The disciples could not do it, with all their power and prayers; and when our Saviour himself, by the power of his Godhead, did dispossess him, it was with foaming and rending that he left him.
Thus, when Satan gets possession of persons hearts in their youth, O how hard will it be to cast him out! It will put the soul to great grief, great pain, great sorrow of heart. Satan will endeavour to hold his own, and keep the sinner his slave and vassal, if all the power of hell can keep him.
Lord! convince young persons, that it is easier to keep Satan out, than it is to cast him out of the possession of their hearts.
Observe, 4. The physicians which this distressed person is brought unto first to the disciples, and then to Jesus. We never apply ourselves importunately to the God of power, till we despair of the creatures help. But why could not the disciples cast him out? Christ tells them, because of their unbelief; that is, because of the weakness of their faith, not thte total want of faith.
Whence learn, That secret unbelief may be hid and undiscerned in the heart, which neither others not ourselves may take notice of until some trial doth discover it.
Observe, 5. The poor man's humble request, and Christ's gracious reply. If thou canst do anything, help me, says the father; If thou canst believe, all things are possible, says our Saviour.
Note thence, That the fault is not in Christ, but in ourselves, if we receive not that mercy from him, which we desire and need. There is no deficiency in Christ's power, the defect lies in our faith. Hereupon the man cries out with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. If these were tears of joy for the truth of his faith, then we may gather, that the lowest degree and least measure of faith is matter of joy unspeakable to the owner and possessor of it: if these were tears of sorrow for the weakness of his faith, then we may collect, that the remains of unbelief in the children of God do cost them many tears; they are the burden and sorrow of gracious souls. The father of the child cried out with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
Observe, 6. With what facility and ease our Saviour cast out this stubborn devil, that had so long possessed this poor child, even with a word speaking. How long soever Satan has kept possession of a soul, Christ can eject and cast him out both easily and speedily; one word of Christ's mouth is sufficient to help us out of all distress, both bodily and spiritual. Yet did our Lord suffer the wicked spirit to rage and rend the child before he went out of him; not from any delight in the poor child's misery, but that the multitude, seeing the desperateness of the case, might the more admire the power fo Christ in his deliverance.
Observe, 7. The sovereign power and absolute authority, which Christ had even here upon earth, when in his state of humiliation, over the devil and his angels; he commands him to go out, and enter no more into the child, and is obeyed. This was a proof and demonstration of the Godhead of our Saviour, that he had power and authority over devils, to command and over-rule them, to curb and restrain them at his pleasure.
And whereas Christ commands the devil not only to come ut, but to enter no more into the person; it implies, that Satan being cast out of his hold, earnestly desires to enter in again to recover his hold, and to regain his possession; but if Christ says, Enter no more, Satan shall obey his voice.
Observe, 8. The disciples enquire into the reasons why they could not cast this stubborn devil out, according to the power which he had given them to work miracles.
Christ tells them it was, 1. Because of their unbelief; by which understand the weakness of their faith, not their total want of faith.
2. Because they did not in this extraordinary case apply themselves to the use of extraordinary means; namely, Prayer and fasting.
Learn hence, First, That in extraordinary cases, where the necessities either of soul or body do require it, recourse must be had to the use of extraordinary means; one of which is an importunate application unto God by solemn prayer.
Secondly, That fasting and prayer are two special means of Christ's own appointment for the enabling of his people victoriously to overcome Satan, and cast him out of ourselves or others. We must set an edge upon our faith by prayer, and upon our prayer by fasting.
Observable it is, how frequently our Saviour forewarned his disciples of his approaching sufferings; and as the time of his sufferings drew near, he did more frequently warn them of it. But all was little enough to warn them against the scandal of the cross, and to reconcile their thoughts to a suffering condition. The disciples had taken up the common opinion, that the Messiah was to be a temporal prince, and as such to reign here upon earth, and they knew not how to reconcile this with his being delivered up into the hands of men that should kill him; and yet they were afraid to ask him concerning this matter.
Now from Christ's frequent forewarning his disciples of approaching sufferings, we may gather, That we can never hear either too often, or too much, of the doctrine of the cross, nor be too frequently instructed in our duty to prepare for a suffering state. As Christ went by his cross to is crown, from a state of abasement to a state of exaltation, so must all his disciples and followers likewise.
It may justly seem a wonder, that when our blessed Saviour discoursed so frequently with his disciples about his sufferings, they should at the same time be disputing among themselves about precedency and pre-eminency, which of them should be the greatest, the first in place, and the highest in dignity and honour.
But from this instance we may learn, That the holiest and best of men are subject to pride and ambition, prone to covet worldly dignity and greatness, ready to catch at the bait of honour, to affect a precedency before, and a superiority over, others. The apostles themselves were touched, if not tainted, with the itch of ambition. To cure which, our Saviour preaches to them the doctrine of humility.
Where observe, 1. Our Lord doth not say, he that is fist, but he that desireth to be first, shall be last of all, and servant of all.
Teaching us, That all persons in general, and ministers in particular, ought not to seek out places of dignity and pre-eminency for themselves, but be sought out for them: he that is first in seeking them usually least deserves them, and last obtains them; If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all.
Observe 2. Our Saviour teaches his disciples humility by the type and example of a little child, which he set before them as the proper emblem of humility; shewing them, that they ought to be as free from ambition as a young child, which affects nothing of precedency or superiority. Such as are of highest eminency in the church of Christ, ought to be adorned with humility, and look upon themsleves as lying under the greatest obligations to be most eminently useful and serviceable for the church's good.
Observe 3. How exceeding dear and precious such persons are to Christ, who resemble little children in true humility and lowliness of mind; assuring the world, that whatsoever kindness or respect they shew to them, be accounts shewn to himself; He that receiveth them, says Christ, receiveth me. So near is the union, so dear the relation, betwixt Christ and his members, that whatever good or evil is done to them, he reckons it as done unto himself.
The Evangelist here sets down a conference betwixt our Saviour Christ and St. John his disciple.
Where observe, 1. St. John's relation of a matter of fact to Christ, namely, his for bidding one to cast out devils in Christ's name, that did not follow Christ as they did, being his professed disciples. Though only the disciples that followd Christ had a commission to work miracles, yet there were others, no enemies to Christ, who, in imitation of the disciples, did attempt to do the like; and God was pleased, for the honour of his son, in whose name they cast out devil's to give them sometimes success. Almighty God may, and sometimes doth, give success to such actions and enterprizes as are good in themselves, though undertaken by persons that have no lawful call or warrant from God to do them. However, it ws no small confirmation of the truth of Christianity, that Christ's name was thus powerful, even among those compact with him.
Observe, 2. The action of the disciples towards this person; We forbade him. This showed, 1. Their ignorance, in supposing that none oculd be true disciples, nor work miracles, but such as followed them: We forbade him, because he followed not us. Their rashness, in forbidding him of their own heads, before they had consulted Christ about it. 2. Their envy and emulation; in that they were grieved and discontented at this person's casting out devils, because he was not a follower of them. O the imperfect compostition of the best of saints! how much weakness, infirmity, and corruption doth John the beloved disciple discover upon this occasion! The sin of envy and emulation against the gifts of God in others, is very natural to man, and to good men; yea, to the best of men. It is as difficult to look upon other men's gifts without envy, as to look upon our own without pride.
Observe, 3. Our Saviour's answer and reply: Forbid him not. Because our Saviour would in some manner and measure redound to the glory of his name, although he undertook the matter without sufficient warrant from Christ. We ought not to censure and condemn those who do that which is good in itself, though they fail in the manner of it, and in the means they use for effecting it.
Observe, 4. What encouragement our Saviour gives the world to be kind to his friends and followers: he assures them that even a cup of cold water given for his sake, to such as profess his name, shall not miss of a reward.
Learn thence, That the least office of love and respect, of kindness and charity, shewn to any of the ministers or members of Jesus Christ, for his sake, is represented as done unto himself, and shall be rewarded by himself.
Observe, 5. He shall gain that which he cannot lose, by parting with that which he could not keep.
Observe, 6. What a heinous and grievous sin it is to scandalize or offend any of the disciples of Jesus Christ; he will most severely judge and punish such as give offence to them, by any wrong or injury done unto them, both in this life and the next. It were better a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.
In the former verse our Saviour dissuaded from the sin of scandal, or giving offence to the serious and sincere Christians, threatening a very grievous judgment against such as should any ways offend them; now in these six verses he prescribes a remedy against that and all other sins, namely, by avoiding all occasions that lead to sin.
Here observe, 1. The admonition or warning given by Christ unto us, to remove far from us all occasion of sin, though ever so dear unto us. We are not to understand the command literally as if it was our duty to maim our bodily members; but metaphorically to cut off all occasions that may betray us into sin.
Hence note, That as sin may be avoided, it is our duty to avoid whatever leads unto it, or may be the instrument and occasion of it.
Observe, 2. A reason enforcing the admonition: this is drawn from the benefit and advantage that will come by cutting off such occasions of sin. It will further us in our attainment of eternal life, and prevent our being cast into hell-fire. Now our Saviour affirms, that it is better for a man to enter into life with the loss of all those things that are dear and precious to him in this world, rather than to go into hell with the fruition and enjoyment of them.
Learn hence, That a diligent and daily care to avoid sin, and all occasions that lead unto it, will be a special means to escape the torments of hell, and further us in our attainments of heaven and eternal life.
Observe, 3. The description which our Saviour gives of the torments of hell;
First, by its extremity; it is like a gnawing worm, and a consuming fire.
Secondly, and by its eternity, a worm that never dieth, and a fire that is never quenched.
Where note, That the remembrance of things past, the experience of things present, and expectation of things to come, are the bitings of the worm of conscience, at every bite whereof damned souls give a dreadful shriek; such as will not hear the voice of conscience, shall feel, and that to purpose, the sting of conscience.
Learn hence, That there is most certainly a place and state of punishment and torment of the wicked men to suffer in, upon the score of sin committed in this world.
Secondly, That the punishment and torments of the wicked in hell are intolerable and interminable, of exquisite pain, and endless duration: Their worm never dieth, and their fire is not quenched.
Everyone shall be salted with fire; that is, everyone of them mentioned in the foregoing verses, who refuses to cut off a right hand, and pluck out a right eye; that is, to mortify their bosom lusts, and beloved corruptions, which are as dear as a right hand or a right eye; every such wicked and unmortified person shall be salted with fire; that is, thrown into hell-fire, where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched; as our Saviour speaks, Mr 9:44.
And their being salted with fire, imports and implies, that as to their beings they shall be preserved, even as salt preserves things from corruption, that they may be the objects of the eternal wrath of God. So that for sinners to be salted with fire, is to be given up to everlasting destruction.
Learn hence, That all such unsavoury sinners as indulge their corrupt lust and affections, shall be salted with fire; that is given up to everlasting destruction in hell-fire! but every sacrifice shall be salted with salt; that is, every Christian who has given up himself a real sacrifice unto God, shall be salted, not with fire, but with salt, to be preserved and kept savoury. The grace of mortification is that to the soul, which salt is to the body; it preserves it from putrefaction, and renders it savoury.
Learn hence, 1. That every Christian in this life ought to be a spiritual sacrifice or oblation unto God.
2. That there is a putrid and corrupt part in every sacrifice, in every Christian, which must be purged out, and the sacrifice purified and cleansed from.
3. That the grace of mortification is the true salt which must clarify the soul, and with which every sacrifice must be salted, that will be a savoury offering unto God; Everyone shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.
Our blessed Saviour here compares Christians in general, and his ministers in particular, unto salt, for a double reason.
First, Because it is the nature of salt to preserve things from corruption and putrefaction, and to render them savoury and pleasant. Thus are the ministers of Christ to labour and endeavour by the purity of their doctrine, to sweeten putrifying sinners, that they may become savoury unto god and man, and be kept from being flyblown with errors and false doctrines.
Secondly, Because salt has an acrimony, a piercing power in it, which subdues the whole lump, and turns it into its own nature. Such a piercing power is there in the ministry of the word, that it subdues the whole man to the obedience of itself; Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another; that is, let all persons, especially ministers, retain a seasoning virtue in themselves, that they may sweeten and season others, even all that they converse with; and as salt has an uniting power, and knits the parts of the body salted together, so the upholding of union and peace one with another, will declare that ye have salt in yourselves.
Learn hence, That it is the duty of all Christians, but especially of the ministers of the gospel, to maintan brotherly concord and agreement among themselves, both as an argument of their sincerity, and an ornament to their profession.
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