THE DESCENT: FROM THE MOUNT OF TRANSFIGURATION
INTO THE VALLEY OF HUMILIATION AND DEATH
. THE FIRST PERAEAN DISCOURSES
. TO THE PHARISEES CONCERNING THE TWO KINGDOMS
. THEIR CONTEST
. WHAT QUALIFIES A DISCIPLE FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD,
AND HOW ISRAEL WAS BECOMING SUBJECT
TO THAT OF EVIL.
(St. Matthew 12:22-45; St. Luke 11:14-36.)
It was well that Jesus should, for the present, have parted from Jerusalem with words like these. They would cling about His hearers like the odour of incense that had ascended. Even 'the schism' that had come among them1 concerning His Person made it possible not only to continue His Teaching, but to return to the City once more ere His final entrance. For, His Perĉan Ministry, which extended from after the Feast of Tabernacles to the week preceding the last Passover, was, so to speak, cut in half by the brief visit of Jesus to Jerusalem at the Feast of the Dedication.2 Thus, each part of the Perĉan Ministry would last about three months; the first, from about the end of September to the month of December;3 the second, from that period to the beginning of April.4 Of these six months we have (with the solitary exception of St. Matthew 12:22-45),5 no other account than that furnished by St. Luke,6 7 although, as usually, the Jerusalem and Judĉan incidents of it are described by St. John.8 After that we have the account of His journey to the last Passover, recorded, with more or less detail, in the three Synoptic Gospels.1. St. John 10:19. 2. St. John 10:22-39. 3. 28 a.d. 4. 29 a.d.
5. The reasons for his insertion of this part must be sought in the character of this Discourse and in the context in St. Matthew's Gospel.
6. St. Luke 11:14 to 17:11.
7. On the characteristics of this Section, Canon Cook has some very interesting remarks in the Speaker's Commentary, N.T. vol. i. p. 379.
8. St. John 10:22-42; 11:1-45; 11:46-54.
It will be noticed that this section is peculiarly lacking in incident. It consists almost exclusively of Discourses and Parables, with but few narrative portions interspersed. And this, not only because the season of the year must have made itinerancy difficult, and thus have hindered the introduction to new scenes and of new persons, but chiefly from the character of His Ministry in Perĉa. We remember that, similarly, the beginning of Christ's Galilean Ministry had been chiefly marked by Discourses and Parables. Besides, after what had passed, and must now have been so well known, illustrative Deeds could scarcely have been so requisite in Perĉa. In fact, His Perĉan was, substantially, a resumption of His early Galilean Ministry, only modified and influenced by the much fuller knowledge of the people concerning Christ, and the greatly developed enmity of their leaders. This accounts for the recurrence, although in fuller, or else in modified, form, of many things recorded in the earlier part of this History. Thus, to begin with, we can understand how He would, at this initial stage of His Perĉan, as in that of His Galilean Ministry, repeat, when asked for instruction concerning prayer, those sacred words ever since known as the Lord's Prayer. The variations are so slight as to be easily accounted for by the individuality of the reporter.9 They afford, however, the occasion for remarking on the two principal differences. In St. Luke the prayer is for the forgiveness of 'sins,' while St. Matthew uses the Hebraic term 'debts,' which has passed even into the Jewish Liturgy, denoting our guilt as indebtedness (wnytwbwx yrm# lb qwxm). Again, the 'day by day' of St. Luke, which further explains the petition for 'daily bread,' common both to St. Matthew and St. Luke, may be illustrated by the beautiful Rabbinic teaching, that the Manna fell only for each day, in order that thought of their daily dependence might call forth constant faith in our 'Father Which is in heaven.'10 11 Another Rabbinic saying places12 our nourishment on the same level with our redemption, as regards the thanks due to God and the fact that both are day by day.13 Yet a third Rabbinic saying14 notes the peculiar manner in which both nourishment and redemption are always mentioned in Scripture (by reduplicated expressions), and how, while redemption took place by an Angel,15 nourishment is attributed directly to God.169. The concluding Doxology should be omitted from St. Matthew's report of the prayer. As regards the different readings which have been adopted into the Revised Version, the reader is advised, before accepting the proposed alterations, to consult Canon Cook's judicious notes (in the Speaker's Commentary ad loc.).
10. Yoma 76 a, lines 14-16 from top.
11. The same page of the Talmud contains, however, some absurdly profane legends about the manna.
12. According to Ps. 136:24, 25. 13. Ber. R. 20, ed. Warsh. p. 39 b, last line.
14. Ber. R. 97. 15. Gen. 48:16. 16. Ps. 114:16.
But to return. From the introductory expression: 'When (or whenever) ye pray, say' - we venture to infer, that this prayer was intended, not only as the model, but as furnishing the words for the future use of the Church. Yet another suggestion may be made. The request, 'Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples,'17 seems to indicate what was 'the certain place,' which, now consecrated by our Lord's prayer, became the school for ours. It seems at least likely, that the allusion of the disciples to the Baptist may have been prompted by the circumstance, that the locality was that which had been the scene of John's labours - of course, in Perĉa. Such a note of place is the more interesting, that St. Luke so rarely indicates localities. In fact, he leaves us in ignorance of what was the central place in Christ's Perĉan Ministry, although there must have been such. In the main, the events are, indeed, most likely narrated in their chronological order. But, as Discourses, Parables, and incidents are so closely mixed up, it will be better, in a work like the present, for clearness' and briefness' sake, to separate and group them, so far as possible. Accordingly, this chapter will be devoted to the briefest summary of the Lord's Discourses in Perĉa, previous to His return to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple.17. St. Luke 11:1.
The first of these was on the occasion of His casting out a demon,18 and restoring speech to the demonised; or if, as seems likely, the cure is the same as that recorded in St. Matt. 12:22, both sight and speech, which had probably been paralysed. This is one of the cases in which it is difficult to determine whether narratives in different Gospels, with slightly varying details, represent different events or only differing modes of narration. It needs no argument to prove, that substantially the same event, such as the healing of a blind or dumb demonised person, may, and probably would, have taken place on more than one occasion, and that, when it occurred, it would elicit substantially the same remarks by the people, and the same charge against Christ of superior demoniac agency which the Pharisees had now distinctly formulated.19 Again, when recording similar events, the Evangelists would naturally come to tell them in much the same manner. Hence, it does not follow that two similar narratives in different Gospels always represent the same event. But in this instance, it seems likely. The earlier place which it occupies in the Gospel by St. Matthew may be explained by its position in a group denunciatory of the Pharisees; and the notice there of their blasphemous charge of His being the instrument of Satan probably indicates the outcome of their 'council,' how they might destroy Him.20 2118. St. Luke 11:14. 19. See Book III. ch. 22. 20. St. Matt. 12:14.
21. It marks the chronological place of this miracle that it seems suitably to follow the popular charge against Jesus, as expressed in St. John 8:48 and 10:20.
It is this charge of the Pharisees which forms the main subject of Christ's address, His language being now much more explicit than formerly,22 even as the opposition of the Pharisees had more fully ripened. In regard to the slight difference in the narratives of St. Matthew and St. Luke, we mark that, as always, the Words of the Lord are more fully reported by the former, while the latter supplies some vivid pictorial touches.23 The following are the leading features of Christ's reply to the Pharisaic charge: First, It was utterly unreasonable,24 and inconsistent with their own premisses,25 showing that their ascription of Satanic agency to what Christ did was only prompted by hostility to His Person. This mode of turning the argument against the arguer was peculiarly Hebraic, and it does not imply any assertion on the part of Christ, as to whether or not the disciples of the Pharisees really cast out demons. Mentally, we must supply - according to your own professions, your disciples cast out demons. If so, by whom are they doing it?22. St. Mark 3:22; see Book III. ch. 22. 23. See for example St. Luke 11:22, 22.
24. St. Matt. 12:25. 25. vv. 27-30.
But, secondly, beneath this logical argumentation lies deep and spiritual instruction, closely connected with the late teaching during the festive days in Jerusalem. It is directed against the flimsy, superstitious, and unspiritual views entertained by Israel, alike of the Kingdom of evil and of that of God. For, if we ignore the moral aspect of Satan and his kingdom, all degenerates into the absurdities and superstitions of the Jewish view concerning demons and Satan, which are fully described in another place.26 On the other hand, introduce the ideas of moral evil, of the concentration of its power in a kingdom of which Satan is the representative and ruler, and of our own inherent sinfulness, which makes us his subjects - and all becomes clear. Then, truly, can Satan not cast out Satan - else how could his kingdom stand; then, also, is the casting out of Satan only by 'God's Spirit,' or 'Finger:' and this is the Kingdom of God.27 Nay, by their own admission, the casting out of Satan was part of the work of Messiah.28 29 Then had the Kingdom of God, indeed, come to them - for in this was the Kingdom of God; and He was the God-sent Messiah, come not for the glory of Israel, nor for anything outward or intellectual, but to engage in mortal conflict with moral evil, and with Satan as its representative. In that contest Christ, as the Stronger, bindeth 'the strong one,' spoils his house (divideth his spoil), and takes from him the armour in which his strength lay ('he trusted') by taking away the power of sin.30 This is the work of the Messiah - and, therefore also, no one can be indifferent towards Him, because all, being by nature in a certain relation towards Satan, must, since the Messiah had commenced His Work, occupy a definite relationship towards the Christ Who combats Satan.31 3226. See the Appendix on Angelology and Demonology.
27. St. Matt. 12:25-28. 28. Yalkut on Is. lx.
29. See Book II. ch. 5, and the Appendix to it, where the passage is given in full.
30. v. 29.
31. The reason of the difference between this and the somewhat similar passage, St. Luke 9:50, is, that there the relationship is to the disciples, here to the Person of the Christ.
32. v. 30.
It follows, that the work of the Christ is a moral contest waged through the Spirit of God, in which, from their position, all must take a part. But it is conceivable that a man may not only try to be passively, but even be actively on the enemy's side, and this not by merely speaking against the Christ, which might be the outcome of ignorance or unbelief, but by representing that as Satanic which was the object of His Coming.33 Such perversion of all that is highest and holiest, such opposition to, and denunciation of, the Holy Spirit as if He were the manifestation of Satan, represents sin in its absolute completeness, and for which there can be no pardon, since the state of mind of which it is the outcome admits not the possibility of repentance, because its essence lies in this, to call that Satanic which is the very object of repentance. It were unduly to press the Words of Christ, to draw from them such inferences as, whether sins unforgiven in this world might or might not be forgiven in the next, since, manifestly, it was not the intention of Christ to teach on this subject. On the other hand, His Words seem to imply that, at least as regards this sin, there is no room for forgiveness in the other world. For, the expression is not 'the age to come' ()wbl dyt(), but, 'the world to come' ()bh Mlw(, or, yt)d )ml(), which, as we know, does not strictly refer to Messianic times. but to the future and eternal, as distinguished both from this world (Mlw( hzh), and from 'the days of the Messiah' (xy#mh twmy).3433. vv. 31, 32. 34. See Book II. ch. 11 vol. i. p. 267.
3. But this recognition of the spiritual, which was the opposite of the sin against the Holy Ghost, was, as Christ had so lately explained in Jerusalem, only to be attained by spiritual kinship with it.35 The tree must be made good, if the fruit were to be good; tree and fruit would correspond to each other. How, then, could these Pharisees 'speak good things,' since the state of the heart determined speech and action? Hence, a man would have to give an account even of every idle word, since, however trifling it might appear to others or to oneself, it was really the outcome of 'the heart,' and showed the inner state. And thus, in reality. would a man's future in judgment be determined by his words; a conclusion the more solemn, when we remember its bearing on what His disciples on the one side, and the Pharisees on the other, said concerning Christ and the Spirit of God.35. St. Matt. 12:33-37.
4. Both logically and morally the Words of Christ were unanswerable; and the Pharisees fell back on the old device of challenging proof of His Divine Mission by some visible sign.36 But this was to avoid the appeal to the moral element which the Lord had made; it was an attempt to shift the argument from the moral to the physical. It was the moral that was at fault, or rather, wanting in them; and no amount of physical evidence or demonstration could have supplied that. All the signs from heaven would not have supplied the deep sense of sin and of the need for a mighty spiritual deliverance,37 which alone would lead to the reception of the Saviour Christ. Hence, as under previous similar circumstances,38 He would offer them only one sign, that of Jonas the prophet. But whereas on the former occasion Christ chiefly referred to Jonas' preaching (of repentance), on this He rather pointed to the allegorical history of Jonas as the Divine attestation of his Mission. As he appeared in Nineveh, he was himself 'a sign unto the Ninevites;'39 the fact that he had been three days and nights in the whale's belly, and that thence he had, so to speak, been sent forth alive to preach in Nineveh, was evidence to them that he had been sent of God. And so would it be again. After three days and three nights 'in the heart of the earth' - which is a Hebraism for 'in the earth'40 - would His Resurrection Divinely attest to this generation His Mission. The Ninevites did not question, but received this attestation of Jonas; nay, an authentic report of the wisdom of Solomon had been sufficient to bring the Queen of Sheba from so far; in the one case it was, because they felt their sin; in the other, because she felt need and longing for better wisdom than she possessed. But these were the very elements wanting in the men of this generation; and so both Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba would stand up, not only as mute witnesses against, but to condemn, them. For, the great Reality of which the preaching of Jonas had been only the type, and for which the wisdom of Solomon had been only the preparation, had been presented to them in Christ.4136. St. Matt. 12:38. 37. ver. 39. 38. St. Matt. 16:1-4. 39. St. Luke 11:30.
40. This is simply a Hebraism of which, as similar instances, may be quoted, Exod. 15:8 ('the heart of the sea'); Deut. 4:11 ('the heart of heaven'); 2 Sam. 18:14 ('the heart of the terebinth'). Hence, I cannot agree with Dean Plumptre, that the expression 'heart of the earth' bears any reference to Hades.
41. St. Matt. 12:39-42.
5. And so, having put aside this cavil, Jesus returned to His former teaching42 concerning the Kingdom of Satan and the power of evil; only now with application, not, as before, to the individual, but, as prompted by a view of the unbelieving resistance of Israel, to the Jewish commonwealth as a whole. Here, also, it must be remembered, that, as the words used by our Lord were allegorical and illustrative, they must not be too closely pressed. As compared with the other nations of the world, Israel was like a house from which the demon of idolatry had gone out with all his attendants, really the 'Beel-Zibbul' whom they dreaded. And then the house had been swept of all the foulness and uncleanness of idolatry, and garnished with all manner of Pharisaic adornments. Yet all this while the house was left really empty; God was not there; the Stronger One, Who alone could have resisted the Strong One, held not rule in it. And so the demon returned to it again, to find the house whence he had come out, swept and garnished indeed, but also empty and defenceless. The folly of Israel lay in this, that they thought of only one demon - him of idolatry - Beel-Zibbul, with all his foulness. That was all very repulsive, and they had carefully removed it. But they knew that demons were only manifestations of demoniac power, and that there was a Kingdom of evil. So this house, swept of the foulness of heathenism and adorned with all the self-righteousness of Pharisaism, but empty of God, would only become a more suitable and more secure habitation of Satan; because, from its cleanness and beauty, his presence and rule there as an evil spirit would not be suspected. So, to continue the illustrative language of Christ, he came back 'with seven other spirits more wicked than himself' - pride, self-righteousness, unbelief, and the like, the number seven being general - and thus the last state - Israel without the foulness of gross idolatry and garnished with all the adornments of Pharisaic devotion to the study and practice of the Law - was really worse than had been the first with all its open repulsiveness.42. vv. 43-45.
6. Once more was the Discourse interrupted, this time by a truly Jewish incident. A woman in the crowd burst into exclamations about the blessedness of the Mother who had borne and nurtured such a Son.43 The phraseology seems to have been not uncommon, since it is equally applied by the Rabbis to Moses,44 and even to a great Rabbi.45 More striking, perhaps, is another Rabbinic passage (previously quoted), in which Israel is described as breaking forth into these words on beholding the Messiah: 'Blessed the hour in which Messiah was created; blessed the womb whence He issued; blessed the generation that sees Him; blessed the eye that is worthy to behold Him.'46 4743. St. Luke 11:27. 44. Shem. R. 45. 45. Chag. 14 b.
46. Persiqta, ed. Buber, p. 149 a, last lines.
47. For the full quotation see Book II. ch. 5, and the reference to it in Appendix IX.
And yet such praise must have been peculiarly unwelcome to Christ, as being the exaltation of only His Human Personal excellence, intellectual or moral. It quite looked away from that which He would present: His Work and Mission as the Saviour. Hence it was, although from the opposite direction, as great a misunderstanding as the Personal depreciation of the Pharisees. Or, to use another illustration, this praise of the Christ through His Virgin-Mother was as unacceptable and unsuitable as the depreciation of the Christ, which really, though unconsciously, underlay the loving care of the Virgin-Mother when she would have arrested Him in His Work,48 and which (perhaps for this very reason) St. Matthew relates in the same connection.49 Accordingly, the answer in both cases is substantially the same: to point away from His merely Human Personality to His Work and Mission - in the one case: 'Whosoever shall do the Will of My Father Which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother;' in the other: 'Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it.'5048. See Book III. ch. 22. 49. St. Matt. 12:46, 47.
50. In view of such teaching, it is indeed difficult to understand the cultus of the Virgin - and even much of that tribute to the exclusively human in Christ which is so characteristic of Romanism.
7. And now the Discourse draws to a close51 by a fresh application of what, in some other form or connection, Christ had taught at the outset of His public Ministry in the 'Sermon on the Mount.'52 Rightly to understand its present connection, we must pass over the various interruptions of Christ's Discourse, and join this as the conclusion to the previous part, which contained the main subject. This was, that spiritual knowledge presupposed spiritual kinship.53 Here, as becomes the close of a Discourse, the same truth is practically applied in a more popular and plain, one might almost say realistic, manner. As here put, it is, that spiritual receptiveness is ever the condition of spiritual reception. What was the object of lighting a lamp? Surely, that it may give light. But if so, no one would put it into a vault, nor under the bushel, but on the stand. Should we then expect that God would light the spiritual lamp, if it be put in a dark vault? Or, to take an illustration of it from the eye, which, as regards the body, serves the same purpose as the lamp in a house. Does it not depend on the state of the eye whether or not we have the sensation, enjoyment, and benefit of the light? Let us, therefore, take care, lest, by placing, as it were, the lamp in a vault, the light in us be really only darkness.54 On the other hand, if by means of a good eye the light is transmitted through the whole system - if it is not turned into darkness, like a lamp that is put into a vault or under a bushel, instead of being set up to spread light through the house - then shall we be wholly full of light. And this, finally, explains the reception or rejection of Christ: how, in the words of an Apostle, the same Gospel would be both a savour of life unto life, and of death unto death.51. St. Luke 11:33-36. 52. St. Matt. 5:15; 6:22, 23.
53. See above, page 199 &c.
54. In some measure like the demon who returned to find his house empty, swept and garnished.
It was a blessed lesson with which to close His Discourse, and one full of light, if only they had not put it into the vault of their darkened hearts. Yet presently would it shine forth again, and give light to those whose eyes were opened to receive it; for, according to the Divine rule and spiritual order, to him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken away even that he hath.
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