In this chapter the scene is totally changed. It is no longer the accomplishment of promise, nor merely the retiring before the oppressive cruelty of him that was then in the place of outward authority. We have here the Lord morally dealing with, and judging, the religious chiefs of Jerusalem who, in their confidence and pride, undertook to blame His disciples and Himself with them. It was themselves, however, who had made the word of God of none effect through their tradition. Thus we are on ground of peculiar importance at this present time, and indeed at all times in Christendom. For there has never been a time in which this danger has not existed ever since the word of God was given, partially or completely, to the Church. Traditions began to multiply apace when the Apostles passed away. As the word of God, more particularly the New Testament, is not in the form of mere command, there was peculiar openness in Christendom to the influence of tradition. In the Jewish system all was ordered by rule. It was the natural and obvious fashion of the Jewish economy that God regulated all their intercourse, gave positive injunctions as to the whole policy, left scarcely anything open to His people, but prescribed their private and public obligations, whether individual, family, or social - their religious duties as well as their political. In fact, everything was made a matter of plain commandment, and yet even in that system, so inveterate is the heart of man in departing from the living God, that even there we find the leaders of the Jews taking away the people from these expressed commandments of God by putting them under the authority of their own tradition. How comes it that there is this continual tendency in the heart of man, and specially of those that take the place of guides of God's people, no matter when or where you look at it, to supplant His word by their tradition? It is because tradition gives importance to man, leaves room for superiority to self. The consequence is that not merely the religious chiefs are thus fond of gratifying their self-importance by imposing rules of their own, but the people love to have it so. This painful fact is brought out in all the word of God. Thus, throughout the Old Testament, not only were the priests ever rebellious, but the people also: man never was subject to God, but has continually departed from God, in whatever way He might be trying him. This, then, came to an issue between the Lord and the Jewish religionists.
"And the Pharisees and certain of the scribes who came from Jerusalem are gathered together unto Him." They had the highest authority as far as the earth was concerned; they came from the holy city of ancient religion, clothed with the credit of Divine law and authority. "And seeing some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashed, hands." Now, there was clearly nothing moral in this - nothing that could touch the soul or that affected a man's relationship with God; but it was contrary to their traditions, and therefore they found fault. It is easy to conceive that this tradition may have had a pious origin. There may have been in the minds of these leaders an idea of keeping up before the people the importance of personal purity; for washing the hands would be a very natural sign that God looks for and insists on holiness in the works of His people. At any rate, such was the custom expected from every professor, whether from that idea or any other of presenting to the minds of the Israelites their duty in the things of God. They may have pleaded indirectly. No doubt it was drawn from the word of God, because there were certain washings which men always practised. Thus, the priests were to wash the sacrifices presented to God, as they had been themselves washed at the time of their consecration, and had always to wash hands and feet before entering the tabernacle. It seemed a reasonable and meet inference that this rite, at once simple and expressive, ought to be observed by every man among the holy people in his ordinary dealings day by day. Who, in fact, could have the necessity of personal purity kept too much before his eyes? But there was precisely where man was in fault. The great principle of the word is that, God being infinitely wise and holy, where He does not lay down any positive injunction of His own, woe to him who infringes liberty. Man, on the contrary, takes advantage of the opening, and, where God has not laid down a law, he makes one of his own. But God has given no warrant thus to legislate; and half the disputes and schisms that have occurred in Christendom are due to this cause. The haste of man to solve a difficulty has recourse to such measures, and the desire of man to enforce his own will where God, instead of laying down anything positive, has left things as a test for the heart, and therefore has purposely abstained from a command. It cannot be surprising that what is thus introduced is almost always evil; but supposing the thing imposed might seem ever so desirable, the principle is always faulty.
I desire to press the immense importance of giving no authority to any rule except the word now written. To hear men of God, to be helped by servants of God, to value an exposition of the truth, is all well, but is a very different thing from an authoritative canon or creed which men impose as binding upon conscience. It is never right to accept thus what comes from man. God alone and His word bind the conscience. His servants may teach, but if they teach aright, it is the truth of God. They bring the word of God to bear upon the conscience, and therefore nobody that understands the place of God's servant would wish to create a divided allegiance by imposing his own thoughts and words. His proper function as a servant is rather to maintain the undisguised supremacy of God's word, so that the conscience may be put under a positive and increased sense of obligation. Whenever the work is well done, and blessed by God's grace, further question is at an end. This is the true aim of such ministry as Scripture recognises. The truth is sufficiently brought out that men's consciences should be called into action. The Spirit of God gives Divine force to it, so that souls are left without excuse. Even in the preaching of the Gospel every unconverted man is under the responsibility of receiving the testimony of God; but still more in Divine things, after we have received the truth and have discovered the inestimable place and value of the word of God. It is of all importance that our souls should hold fast and firm, that whatever the helps imparted through man, whatever the light of God that shines through the vessels He employs, still it is God's light, God's truth; nothing else than God's word ought to be acknowledged as authoritative.
Assuredly the business of a Christian, of a servant of God, now is not to stand between man and God, which was the position of a priest in Judaism, but to put away the obstacles which act as veils, that man may face the truth, and, indeed, God Himself, without being permitted to escape; so that the light that comes from God may shine full upon the conscience and the heart of man. This does not suit man left to himself; it displeases the world, which prefers a distant reserve; and these Pharisees and scribes, though they came from Jerusalem, were really of the world. Hence they reasoned in Divine things, as men do now, from principles that are true enough in worldly things: the word was not mixed with faith in their hearts. No doubt, in the outward world, God has left man to himself in great measure, save that He keeps a certain providential check upon him. Government of the earth is committed to human hands, and man comes under the responsibility of exercising or observing that government here below. But still he is left to judge according to the means God has given. There may be certain landmarks God has laid down; for instance, the sacredness of human life, which God asserted before He called out Abraham, and which is a principle as obligatory now as ever it was. "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." This was what God instituted at the time of the Flood; but with such-like slight exceptions, man is left free to arrange, according to the circumstances, the various punishments and rewards in this world. But in Divine things the main point is God dealing, by His word and Spirit, with conscience, as immediately subject to Himself. And hence it is that everything which intercepts the direct application of the Scripture from God Himself to His children is the most positive injury. It is man stepping into the place of God. This at once furnishes a sure test for deciding what is of God and what is not. If you speak to me of helps for understanding the word of God, these exist and are given of God. Such is the object of ministry, which is the service that God has instituted for the purpose of giving effect to His word. But none the less is His word the means of dealing with sinners and of building up His children. True, it is the service of God in His word, not a rival or co-ordinate authority.
On the other hand, tradition is essentially different. It proceeds, not from God, but from man. We find the attempt to introduce it even in the New Testament, and while the Apostle Paul was in the midst of his labours. The Church at Corinth shows, perhaps, the first attempt of the enemy to insinuate human tradition. They had allowed women to preach in the public assembly, which the Apostle denounces. There was a good deal to be argued for it. People might have reasoned - if women had gifts, why should these not be used? If gifts were possessed suited to bring out the truth of God, why not turn these to the utmost account in the Christian assembly? The word of God positively interdicts this. It allows that a woman might prophesy; as, for instance, the four daughters of Philip, the evangelist, no doubt did prophesy. The question is, where and how? In the first place, they were not to prophesy to men, because that would be an inversion of God's order. A woman is not suffered to teach or govern. Consequently, while they were allowed to bring out whatever light they had, even of the highest character, yet it was to be done in subjection to the word of the Lord. A man, as the Apostle shows, is the glory of God, whereas the woman is put under subjection. Man has the official place of superiority to the woman. It could, therefore, never be supposed that God would give a gift to a woman in such sort as to set aside, in so important a manner, the difference established from the beginning, and sanctioned and insisted upon in the New Testament. In the next place, within the public assembly woman's speaking in any form, even asking a question, is forbidden. They are to ask their husbands at home. It was this very thing that drew out the Apostle's condemnation of tradition. The Corinthians seem to have allowed and contended for liberty to be given to these gifted women to speak in the assembly. But the Apostle takes them to task, and urges that if any of them were spiritual or prophets they would be subject to the word of the Lord. On the other hand, if any of them were ignorant, let them be so. What a blow to the would-be-wise speculators to hear their theories treated as mere and wilful ignorance! "If any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant." (1Co_14:38) These high-flown men were really ignorant of the mind of God.
This, it is evident, is exceedingly important, because it puts us in the presence of the great truth which the Church of God has forgotten and trampled under foot in all ages. The word is not to come out from ourselves. We want the word that comes from God to the Church, and not what the Church, so-called, pretends to utter. The Church never teaches nor rules. That which comes from man or from the Church has no authority whatever; on the contrary, the Church is called to be in the place of subjection to Christ: she is not in the place of the Lord, but of the lady. Jesus is Lord; He alone commands the Church, which is put by God in the place of the woman, as subject to the Lord. This at once becomes a very weighty difference in practice. For we can all remember the day when we thought that human rules in the things of God were right and necessary. It seemed to us as if the ecclesiastical state could not be held together without human regulations. We judged that the present state differs so from what existed of old that it is impossible to apply the word of God in its integrity to the Church now, and therefore new rules must be introduced to suit our days. In admitting such a principle, you do two things - you dishonour the word of God, for the word of God is not a dead letter, like man's: the word of God is a living word now as then. Every Christian believes this for the salvation of his soul, but not for his walk and conduct every day, and, more particularly, not for the worship and government of the Church. Is it not, on the very face of it, a mischievous principle to allow the word of God to be a living authority in one thing and to treat it virtually as obsolete and dead in another? Is it not venturing near the fatal slide of infidelity? I do not say that the persons who speak and act thus are infidel; but it is an infidel principle to consign to the grave any part of God's word, to maintain that all that part which dwells so largely upon the union and worship of Christians, the ways in which they are to walk together in the confession of their Lord, and in common subjection to the word and Spirit of God - that all this is out of date, and no longer obligatory on the saints. But you do another dishonour by such a course, for you not only dethrone the word of God from its supremacy in the conscience, but you exalt the commandments of man: you slight the true authority and recognise a mere usurper. It is evident I must have something that governs me If I am not simply subject to the word of God, I am sure to bow to the word of man. Some may prefer their own thoughts if they think their own wisdom is superior to their neighbour's. But the general form taken is not so much an individual showing self-sufficiency, but rather the union of a number who encourage one another to join in this race of independence, which involves disobedience to the word of God. We are living at a time when Satan does all to lower Scripture, and when God has brought out its value and pressed its practical moment more home upon the conscience than in former days. There was a time when not one of us had ever been exercised upon this subject. It was taken for granted that a human supplement of rules is necessary. But any rule invented by man for the government of Christians is a tradition, and of the worst kind, because it is thus made a thing of positive authority for faith and practice.
The Pharisees in our chapter brought out this conventional washing of hands, and pressed it upon the disciples. The Spirit's comment is that "the Pharisees and all the Jews, unless they wash their hands diligently,* eat not, holding the tradition of the ancients. And when they come from the market-place, unless they are washed, they do not eat. And many other things there are which they have received to hold, the washing of cups and vessels, brazen utensils, and couches." Every spiritual man must feel the quick, cutting condemnation of the whole principle, root and branch, which breathes through the language of the Spirit of God. However subdued the tone may be, the whole thing is treated as utterly weak and childish. The washing of persons is classed with the washing of cups and vessels. Many like things they do. What a religion! "Then the Pharisees and scribes ask Him, Why do Thy disciples walk not according to the tradition of the ancients, but eat the bread with defiled† hands?" It is remarkable how the Lord answers them. It is not by discussing the source of the tradition or showing its futility. He deals at once with its broad character and its moral effect on the obedience that is due to God. This is, doubtless, a most admirable pattern for every Christian man. The Lord lays bare the moral fruit of these traditions, and thus the simple escape the snare of the enemy. "He answered and said unto them, Well did Esaias prophesy concerning you, hypocrites,68 as it is written, This people honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. But in vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." (Isa_29:13)
*"Diligently" (or "frequently," "with vigour," or "with nicety"). The mass of authority [ABD, etc., followed by Edd.] sustains πυγμῃ (D: πυκμῃ Lit. "with the fist," or "up to the elbow." Tischendorf adopted πυκνά from the Sinaitic copy, confirmed, perhaps, by the Latin (verse 9) and some other versions. St. Gall [as the Syrsin] has neither (B.T.). See, further, note 67.
†"Defiled": so Edd., after pmBD, 1, 33, Memph. Arm. "Unwashed" is found in corr AL, etc., Syr. Goth.
And this is His method of proof. He takes one of these noted traditions and shows that, plausible as it might seem, it was but the cunning slight of deceivers, led by one more cunning than themselves, and destructive of the true fear of God. It drew men into disobedience, and made excuse for sin, or, rather, denied it. Thus their zeal for tradition blinded them to what ordinary conscience must have felt, "for, leaving the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men." He does not call it a wicked tradition; it was "of men," and is not to be held. "And He said to them, Well do ye set aside the commandment of God, that ye may observe your own tradition." There is the process: give up what is of God, and then you will fall into the hands of man. There is great importance in the principle. It is not a comparison of things as to whether this is better than that. The evil is laying aside the commandment of God, and preferring man's tradition to it. The only thing that has claim upon the Christian heart is what comes from God. Whatever God wills, whatever is His revealed mind on any given subject, demands the believer's reception and obedience. "For, leaving the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of vessels and cups: and many other such like things ye do."
What is the harm of all this? It may not be wise, but is merely innocent, a person might argue. But the Lord does not judge so lightly of nullifying God's commandments by the deference that men show to the will and word of man. "For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and he who speaks ill of father or mother, let him surely die." There we have the plain revelation of God's mind. To honour parents is right and of God, to make light of them unfits man to live in God's estimate. How did tradition dissolve so plain a duty? "Ye say, If a man say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is, gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; and ye suffer him no more to do anything for his father or his mother, making void the word of God69 through your traditions which ye have delivered: and many such like things ye do." just consider what an issue this was. A man sees his father and mother in want; he has received in earthly goods that which would relieve them, but the tradition-mongers have invented a plan to benefit religion so called at the cost of filial duty. If one said "Corban" the duty was totally changed, and that which would have been due to the parent must now be devoted to the priest. No matter what the need of father and mother, that word "Corban". estopped all action of heart or conscience. The leaders had devised the scheme to secure property for religious purposes, and to quiet persons from all trouble of conscience about the word of God.
But the judge and Lord of all meets this at once. Who had given them authority to say, It is Corban? Where had God warranted such a practice? and who were they that dared to substitute their thoughts for the word of God? It was God who called on man to honour his parents, and who denounced all slight done to them. Yet here were men violating, under cloak of religion, both these commandments of God! This tradition of saying "Corban" the Lord treats not only as a wrong done to the parents, but as a rebellious act against the express commandment of God.
For my part I never heard of a tradition introduced into any religious body, or imposed upon any individuals, that was not contrary to the word of God. Such are the rules made by man in the things of God. Indeed, all religious societies have a system, which they do not even profess to have derived from the word of God. There are those now in Christendom that cast themselves upon the word of God alone, but such one would not lower to the level of a religious society. I say, then, that wherever you find men who join together in these voluntary societies, large or small, they introduce a system of their own for the purpose of distinguishing themselves from others, and regulations that they consider necessary for the establishment or extension of the society. They invent and impose human rules, which not only differ from the Scripture, but contradict it. God's word is a living reality, and a complete standard of truth and practice. Everything that man adds as a supplement is a deformity; it is that which, as it does not flow from God, is inconsistent with the light. Man is incompetent to regulate what belongs to God.
Thus persons say it is impossible to go on unless you have rules about ministry; it would not do to have everybody rising up and attempting to minister. It is freely admitted that if there were not the looking to the Holy Ghost there would be confusion, and that even where there is faith in Him there is always the need of self-judgment why one does this or seeks that, but God is equal to all the difficulty. If we submit to the word of God nothing can be more distinct or positive than that there is no such thing as a universal right to minister on one hand, and no such thing as a process or any human means of conferring a title to minister upon a man. Not the Church, but Christ; not the subject woman, but the risen man and Lord, can call to the work of teaching the saints or of preaching the Gospel. It surprises many to hear that there is no such thing as a human institution to warrant the preaching of the Gospel. A single text would destroy my statement if it were not true, but no Scripture can be brought forward. The general practice of Christendom has no Divine ground whatever for its justification. Hence they are obliged to take their stand upon tradition, which contradicts the plain word of God. For if any Christians have the power to preach, which comes only from the Lord, they are not only at liberty, but bound to preach. It is a question of positive responsibility to Him before whose judgment we must all be made manifest. The Lord, if He lights a candle, does not intend it to be put under a bushel, but to be set on a candlestick. It is at man's peril if he attempt to hinder the going forth of the energy of God's Spirit. Whoever has the power of the Spirit to preach should go forth and use it; woe to him if he does not.
Take another case. There is no such thing in the New Testament as a person set apart by any human mode simply to teach the Church. Whereas, when we look around, we see one and the same principle running through a vast variety of forms, from the Pope down to the ranting preacher. All have got their self-devised methods, by which none can be a minister in the denomination unless he go through their own human process. But such a routine is wholly unsound and contradicts the word of God, and every Christian person is bound to give effect to this by renouncing in every way what is contrary to the word of God. Do you think and say that this is too hard? Then it is you who are too bold, not I. For am I not asserting what I can prove? You have your Bibles, and can search for yourselves. But it may be said, Was there no such thing as ordaining? Certainly there was, when Apostles or apostolic men constituted elders, etc. But our Lord still sends, as He used to send, men out to preach the Gospel. But I contend that a human rite, before they permit souls to preach to the world or teach the Church, is a tradition of men and contrary to Scripture. You will find in Scripture that there were persons appointed by the Apostles to take care of tables, persons chosen by the Apostles or their envoys to a certain work of supervision. Some were called elders and others deacons, but neither the one nor the other was necessarily a preacher or teacher. It is nothing but a blunder to confound elders and deacons with ministers of the word as such. Those who were evangelists, or pastors and teachers, exercised their gifts, not because they were made elders or deacons, which they might not be, but because they had a capacity from God to preach, teach, or rule. To confound these gifts with eldership is a great mistake. When once the difference is seen it clears the way, and brings one either outside the traditional paths of Christendom, or, if disobedient, within the range of our Lord's rebuke.
May we all bear in mind how deeply we need to watch against the spirit of tradition! Wherever we impose with absolute authority a thing that does not proceed from God Himself, it is a tradition. It is all very well to take counsel of one another, and it is not a happy feature to oppose others needlessly; but it is of all consequence that we should strengthen each other in this, that nothing but the word of God is entitled or ought to govern the conscience. It will be found that when we let go this principle, and allow a rule to come in and become binding, so that what is not done according to that rule is regarded as a sin, we are gone from the authority of the word of God to that of tradition, perhaps without knowing it ourselves.
The Lord here shows convincingly where these Pharisees and scribes were. They had never considered that their principle of Corban made void the word of God. But let us, too, bear in mind that after we have had any Divine truth pressed upon us we are never the same as before. We may have been simply and honestly ignorant then, but we are thenceforth under the increased yoke of God's known mind, which we either receive in faith or reject, and harden ourselves by rejecting in unbelief. Therefore, let us look to the Lord, that we may cherish a good conscience. This supposes that we have nothing before us which we cleave to or allow inconsistent with God's will. Let us desire and value nothing but what is according to His word, lest peradventure any of us be left where Christ leaves these Pharisees, under the terrible censure that they made void the word of God through their tradition. If but one example was taken up it was a sufficient sample of the things they were doing continually.
Now we turn to another subject - the condition of man. We are first shown that religion without Christ is but hypocrisy, and that man's interference in Divine things ends in setting God's word aside to keep his own tradition. The next thing we see is what man really is, religious or not. "When He had called again the crowd, He said to them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand." The Lord here brings to light the broad principle which of itself would account for His sentence on all tradition. Does it come from man? It is enough. How is it that which springs from such a source is bad and untrustworthy? It concerns every soul, for it is no question of controversial strife. Protestant and Papist, beware of slighting the admonition of the judge of quick and dead. "There is nothing from outside a man, entering into him, can defile him; but the things which go out from him, those it is which defile the man."70 This, if we apply the principle in all its extent, involves the character of tradition; for tradition comes out from man - not a word to man with the authority of God, but a human word that beggarly pride would fain invest with purple and gold to cover its nakedness. This may show the connection, for undoubtedly the Lord here judges the moral issues of the heart and all the ways of man. "If any one have ears to hear, let him hear." The disciples could not understand Him. What a lesson for us! Christ's servants could not understand Him. The very Apostles were slow to believe that man was utterly corrupt. Is there anyone here that doubts the thorough evil, not merely to be found among men, but of man? Does anyone think that human nature can be trusted? Listen to the Saviour - the Saviour of the lost. "If any one have ears to hear, let him hear."
"When He entered indoors from the crowd His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. And He says unto them, Are ye also thus unintelligent? Do ye not perceive that all that is outside entering into the man cannot defile him, because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging* all meats? And He said, That which goeth forth out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, go forth evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickednesses, deceit lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness all these wicked things go forth from within, and defile the man."71 There is nothing in the heart of man that so hinders his intelligence as the influence of religious tradition. Not only this, but tradition darkens a disciple wherever it works, and one effect and invariable accompaniment of it is specially insubjection to the humbling truth that there is no good thing in man. I do not deny that God can bring everything that is good into the heart. For He gives His Son, and in Him eternal life; He washes the believer in the precious blood of Christ, and gives the Holy Ghost to dwell in him. Neither do I speak of what is the fruit of Divine grace working in man; but I maintain that what comes out of man as such is invariably bad. As to this the disciples were dull of understanding, yet there was not one obscure word in what Christ uttered. Why is it that Divine truth seems and is so difficult to apprehend? Our obstacle chiefly lies, not in the head, but in the heart and conscience. It is not the bright or the powerful intellect that understands the word of God best; it is the man whose purpose of heart is to serve the Lord. Wherever there is a simple-hearted desire to do His will, "he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God." "If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." It is not, If thine eye be keen or far-seeing, but "If thine eye be single." (Joh_7:17; Mat_6:22) What a comfort to a poor soul that is consciously weak, ignorant, foolish, it may be! Such a one, nevertheless, may have a single eye, and consequently see farther, spiritually, than the brightest of men, whose heart is not unreservedly toward the Lord. What in this case hindered singleness of eye? Why were the disciples so undiscerning? Because they did not like to receive such a tremendous sentence on man. They had been accustomed to make conventional differences.
*"Purging" (καθαρίζων A serious italic supplement by the Revisers appears in verse 19, "This He said." Here is the preliminary question of καθαριζων and καθαριζον the former undoubtedly carrying much the most weight externally (AB, etc., 1, 69, and some other cursives [followed by Edd.]; καθαριζον KM and most cursives), if one did not bear in mind how carelessly the best MSS. interchange ω and ο which almost nullifies their suffrages on the point. The strange version of the Revised Version, "Making all meats clean," seems due to Origen (Comm. in Mat_15:10). - K. usually is regarded, if in the neut., as in apposition with the sentence; if in the masculine, as appended in an independent construction, with the gender conformed to τὸν ἀφεδρῶνα the departure from formal grammar giving the more force to the participle (cf. Moulton's "Winer," p. 778, and Blass, § 70, 10, on the anacoluthon). Indeed, καθαρίζει and καικαθαρίζει are found in some copies, all indicative of the difficulty presented by the construction (B.T.).
The Pharisees and scribes, the great men of Jerusalem, were still of a certain value in their eyes, just as you find the vulgar crowd gaping after the sounding titles of the religious world. How little are the mass of God's children emancipated from the delusion that there is something in these names that guarantees or presupposes real intelligence! Never was it so, and never less than now. Can you point out a time since Christendom began when there was such a complete giving up of the mind of God in the places of highest pretension? There have been seasons when the world was more hostile and the form of hatred more formidable as far as persecution goes, but never was there an hour when Christendom - ay, Protestant Christendom - had so many swamps of indifference to God's authority, with here and there a standard of rebellion against the truth of Christ. This may seem strong, no doubt, but I have made the assertion according to God's word, and, as far as that may go, with a closer study of Christendom in its various phases than many persons. I am not afraid, then, to reassert my conviction that there never has been a display of man's evil heart of unbelief in the shape of indifference on one side, and, on the other, of enmity against the truth, equal to the present aspect of the age. Even when Christendom mumbled over their devotions, saturated with religious fable, and thoroughly subject to a crafty and ignorant priesthood, the word of God was less known and less slighted than now. The dungeon wall of superstition is partially fallen, the light of God's testimony has been seen enough to provoke the malice of men. People are energetic enough in these days, but their energy is against the Gospel. It is not so with all, thank God! but the peculiar feature of the present age is that the active aggression is against Scripture, an organized rebellion proceeding from professors in the high seats of human learning. Not only daring individuals here and there attack Scripture, but the nominal teachers and heads of the clergy combine to do it with comparative impunity, as if they were determined to concentrate the whole weight of their personal and official influence. This has a voice for us; if we have understanding of the times, let us take care that we stand firmly, conscientiously, and uncompromisingly, though humbly, on the foundation of Divine truth, caring for nothing else. We shall be counted harsh: this is always the portion of faithfulness. But the name of the Lord is our tower of strength for the last days, as from the beginning. So Paul warns Timothy in his last Epistle, as he looked at the perils of these days (which are still more emphatically true now than they were then); and what is the resource for them? Not tradition, but the written word of God. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable," etc. (2Ti_3:16) It is not teachers, nor godly men raised up, however precious both may be - nothing but Scripture can be a permanent standard of truth.
As to things that defile, they come out of the man. This is true in all things, and all acts of evil. They invariably spring from within, from the corrupt will of man. Thus, for instance, it is plain that if the law execute the capital sentence on a criminal, it is not murder, but, contrariwise, the vindication of God's authority in the earth. It is not a question of evil feeling against the culprit, and there is nothing defiling in it. But if you were so much as to injure a man in deed, word, or thought, there you have what defiles. The moment there is that which is a part of your self-will, without God, which comes out of you, and you yielding to it, there is the taint of defilement. "Murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things go forth from within and defile the man." In a word, we have the doctrine most plainly laid down here that man - i.e., man in his present state - is only the source of that which is evil. I require another absolutely perfect One, who is outside me, to be my life, and such a One I have in Christ. If I am a Christian at all Christ is my life, and the business for me thenceforth is to live on and according to that good which I have found in Christ. Therefore, the happy man is he who is always thinking of and delighting himself in Christ. The man, on the contrary, who is striving to find some good in himself is under the error of the disciples before they learnt to bow to the word of the Lord. His light was too bright, too searching, too severe, too unsparing, for the will of the disciples. They did not accept the truth with simplicity, and therefore they found it a hard saying.
We have seen that which cometh out of man, and how defiling it all is. We are now to learn what comes from God, and how full of mercy and goodness this is, delivering those oppressed by the devil. But there was, I am persuaded, a significant previous act in our Lord's going from the scene where He had rebuked the traditions of earthly religion, and the universal sink of corruption in the heart and its issues, which they but conceal.72 The only real remedy is the deliverance of sovereign grace in Christ, who arose from thence and "went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon [those world-renowned monuments of God's sure judgment], and entered into an house, and would have no man know it; and He could not be hid. But immediately a certain woman, whose little daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of Him, and came and fell at His feet." What claim had she? Not the smallest. "The woman was a Greek73 [or Gentile], a Syrophoenician by race." She was from the fertile stock of Israel's enemies, the corrupt and idolatrous despisers of the true God. But if Jesus desired an opportunity to show the grace of God above all question of right, desert, or any conceivable plea, save that of utter misery cast on Divine mercy in Him, never was there a more needy suitor. "And she besought Him that He would cast the demon out of her daughter."
Yet if the faith of the woman was to triumph, none the less was it tried. And I consider that it is morally instructive to observe that the richest grace on the part of Christ does not make the trial of faith less, but more. The soul that is little exercised never cats the kernel of the blessing, never proves the depths that are in God and His grace.
Mark, precise as his Gospel usually is in details, does not give us the particulars of her first appeal to the Saviour as "Son of David," the propriety of which in Matthew is evident. Neither does our Gospel bring out His unwonted silence, and the disciples' entreaty, and the firm statement of His mission as minister of the circumcision, for which also we must turn to Matthew.
Nevertheless, even here our Lord does maintain the principle of "the Jew first," as the simplicity of faith (what is so genuinely intelligent?) in her urges "and also the Gentile." But there is more. Grace speaks out the whole truth, and strengthens its object to bear it, confess it, and delight in it. So here the Lord adds in verse 27: "It is not right to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs."74 "And she answered and says to him, Yea, Lord: for even the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs." She is taught of the Lord to take her true place; but she cleaves with undoubting assurance to the certainty that He will not deny His. She was no better than a dog; but is not God full of bounty and goodness even to the dogs? "And He said unto her, Because of this saying, go thy way: the demon is gone out of thy daughter." It was the blessed and holy ministry of grace to desperate need.
The scene that follows illustrates still farther the Saviour's grace, only it is in the ordinary domain of His labours. "And again, departing from the borders of Tyre and Sidon, He came* to the Sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis. And they bring to Him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in speech; and they beseech Him to put His hand upon him." What a picture of the impotence to which sin has reduced man - inability to hear the Lord's voice, incapacity to tell Him his need! Such are those whom the Saviour heals among the despised Galileans or anywhere else. "And He took him aside from the crowd, and put His fingers to his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue; and, looking up to heaven, He groaned, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And immediately his ears were opened, and the band of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly. And He charged them that they should tell no man; but the more He charged them, so much the more abundantly they published it; and were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: He makes both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak." It is still the service of love, the heart and the hand of the only perfect Servant. "He has done all things well" was their astonished testimony. May we ever and for all confide in Him! His right hand has not forgotten; His heart is unchanged; He Himself is the "same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever." (Heb_13:8) May we treasure up the look to heaven, the sigh over the earth, the gracious, interested handling of the sufferer, the word of delivering power, the manner and the measure of the cure! Truly "He has done all things well."
*"Of Tyre and Sidon he came to": so A with later uncials, almost all cursives (including 1, 69), Syrsin pesch hcl. Revised Version with Edd. have "of Tyre. He came through Sidon," after BDLΔ 33, etc., Old Latin, the Syriac of Jerusalem, Memph. AEth. See, further, note 75.
NOTES ON MARK 7.
66 Mar_7:1-23. - Wernle here asks: "Why does this controversy about clean and unclean, detached from all other controversies, appear amidst stories about meals?" It is a signal instance of Mark's method, not that of Matthew or Luke, with whom the arrangement is dispensational and moral respectively, of narrating incidents as they actually happened. How could it have anything to do with a device on the Evangelist's part to connect it, for dramatic effect, as this critic suggests (p. 66), with the interview between Jesus and the heathen woman?
67 Mar_7:3. - The usage explaining the word πυγμῃ may be found in Edersheim, "The Temple, its Ministry," etc., p. 239.
68 Mar_7:6. - "Hypocrites." The strong language of the Lord which enters into the narratives of both Mark and Matthew in other connections matches whatever can be alleged by Burkitt (p. 227 f.) and others of a more exasperating tone in any of the Johannine discourses.
69 Mar_7:13. - "The word of God." From the time of the Reformation much has been written as to the connection of this phrase with Scripture, some holding that the two terms are now co-extensive, whilst others maintain the ancient distinction between "the word" as oral and as written. Happily, in this country "the judicious Hooker" wrote, now three hundred years ago, that "we have no word of God but the Scripture." He opposed the Puritans' idea that mere reading of Scripture cannot be effectual ("Ecclesiastical Polity," v. 21, 1, 2).
This standard Anglican writer has expressed himself as follows on the subject of interpretation: "I hold it for a most infallible rule in exposition of sacred Scripture that when a literal construction will stand, the farthest from the letter is commonly the worst" (cf. notes 88, 134). There is, of course, a logical connection between inspiration (note 13) and interpretation.
It is no doubt correct that, as A. B. Davidson has said for the Old Testament (Hastings, vol. iv., p. 127), "the word" stands for the spiritual meaning of the "words" (see Joh_8:43, and cf. Joh_17:8; Joh_17:14). It is, however, an exaggeration on the part of Farrar ("The Bible," etc., p. 134 f.; cf. Beet, "Manual of Theology," p. 65) to represent that "nowhere in the New Testament is the Old Testament called the word of God" - that this phrase is used of Christ alone. That "the word of God" is used in the New Testament chiefly of the contemporary oral word, as in Mar_2:2 (Cf. 2Ti_4:2) and Heb_13:7, is unquestionable. But even if such a passage as Heb_4:12 could be shown not to refer to Scripture, it seems certain that Mar_7:13 distinguishes "the word of God" from aught oral. Cf. "it is written in your law" this last word, we know, applies in the New Testament, not only to the Pentateuch, but to the Psalms (Joh_10:34). As for the New Testament, when Timothy was enjoined to "preach the word" (2Ti_4:2), this precept was given in close connection with what the Apostle says of the Scriptures (end of chapter 3 - i.e., in the same context), so that the material of the written word can scarcely be excluded from the preaching.
Professor Theodor Zahn, in a sermon on Jam_1:16 ff., has said: "When we talk of the word of God, we first think of the Bible, the word of God reduced to writing for His community (Church). But James is not speaking of the Bible. . . . It is possible to honour the Bible, and not to hear thus the voice of God. "
Moreover, God does of course speak to His creatures otherwise than by Scripture. We have, however, to be guided by intimations on the subject (as in the case of the raising up of Cyrus), not by the influence of great names, as Luther (Dorner, "History of Protestant Theology," p. 244). Note here the extravagance of Zwingli: "He who is born of the Spirit requires a book no longer" (Dorner, i. 290 f.; cf. Barclay's "Apology for the Quakers"). It is through the word that any are so born, so that it is the vital principle (which needs sustaining), if we listen to Apostles (1Pe_1:23); and those not of God are characterised by ears closed to the inspired writers (1Jn_4:6).
A further momentous question is the interrelation of the Bible and the Church. And, first, does the Church's "sanction" impart to the Scriptures their authority? The Church has not formed the Bible, but it was through Christ's word which we have in the Bible that the Church was "gathered" . . . . . "If the Bible," writes Fairbairn, "is made to depend on the Church, is it not evident that it is not the Bible conceived as a revelation? What the canonizing process produced was not a revelation, but a book." And again: "Hebrews was precisely as much inspired, and possessed exactly as much authority, before as after its incorporation in the Canon," whilst "the continuance of the Spirit is the source of the authority of the word of the living God" ("Christ in Modern Thought," p. 505 ff.). Dorner had already written that the Bible is itself a revelation, "not merely the record of a revelation previously given" ("History of Protestant Theology," ii. 128).
Bishop Gore has written that, for his school, "it becomes more and more difficult to believe in the Bible without believing in the Church" ("Lux Mundi," p. 248; cf. his sermon in 1900 at Westminster Abbey for the British and Foreign Bible Society), which means, doubtless, as Fairbairn puts it, that "as the supremacy of the Bible is weakened, the position of the Church is strengthened." If men thus tell us that our faith must be rooted in the Church's testimony, we need only reply by inquiring, How are we to know that "the Church" is to be trusted? Any rejoinder that the Church rests on the authority of the Bible would he manifest reasoning in a circle.
For the views of such as Dr. James Martineau on Scripture as authority, reference might be made to his "Seat of Authority," book ii., chapter ii. The Deism which passed from this country to Germany, to beget there the Rationalism of the eighteenth century (see Cheyne, "Founders of Criticism"), returned hither in the nineteenth in the form of "Higher Criticism," now running its course; with such a movement Unitarians naturally are in sympathy. They claim as virtual adherents the German leaders of this unholy cause, who, as their comrades in Great Britain, remain in outward conformity to officially orthodox Churches.
The "critics" at present in vogue find no proper place in their vocabulary for Paul's "in part" (1Co_13:9). With such limitations as they themselves seek to impose, there can be no true progress, no fully scientific because no sufficient accuracy (cf. Sir Wm. Ramsay in the Expositor, December, 1906). Many of them, like souls of old, will not "enter in," nor allow others to do so who lean upon them.
For Roman Catholic treatment of Tradition, see Schanz, "A Christian Apology," ii., ch. xi.
70 Mar_7:15. - The Lord here sets aside Mark 11: 43; so the critics wax bold with such an example! It is as with a Swiss hunter who scales an Alpine crag, his child looking on. Let the latter try the same experiment, and what will be the result? There is as little reasonableness in the one process as the other.
71 Mar_7:18-23. - Use is made of this passage in Sanday's "Lectures on Inspiration," p. 410.
72 Mar_7:24-30. Wernle ("Sources," p. 60) speaks of fellow-investigators having "split their heads" over the cause of the Lord's going into the region of Tyre and returning to the Sea of Galilee by, way of Sidon (see critical note for verse 31), but spares himself by the "simple" suggestion that the Evangelist, with the record of this interview before him, found it convenient to locate the Lord on heathen ground, and did so accordingly! Such is the "critical" intelligence which goes towards the making of a modern professor!
73 Mar_7:26. - As to the respective use made of Hebrew, of Aramaic, and of Greek at that period, see Schürer, § 22 f.
74 Mar_7:27. - Some, as Pfleiderer, contrast the mainly Jewish outlook of Christ's ministry with Paul's "cosmopolitan" view. This can only be rightly understood by reference to Matthew's Gospel, and such helps as the "Lectures" of W. Kelly upon it. Professor Julius Kaftan is one of the few German writers on the subject whose bearings are satisfactory. The Apostle, as he says in a recent pamphlet, did but follow his Master's policy, for him, too, it was ever to the Jew first. Moreover, Kaftan points out how, according to the first, especially Jewish, Gospel, one finds the Lord incurring opposition from the hints He threw out of coming Gentile blessing; and Pfleiderer's extreme form of this antithesis completely breaks down when we reach the light of the third Gospel. It is true that the Lord's own "mission" was to Israel alone (Mat_15:24).
75 Mar_7:31. - See critical note. W. M. Thomson ("The Land and the Book," iii. 481) explains as follows: "He went northward, then eastward, and probably crossed the Jordan at Dan, and came through the region east of that river until He reached the shores of the Lake of Tiberias." Cf. Burkitt, p. 92, and the route map there. The Cambridge professor resists the temptation to follow Wellhausen's conjectural emendation of Sidon into Bethsaida from supposing that Mark had Saidan before him, which he took for Sidon.