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9. Transfiguration and More Miracles
1And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There are some here of them that stand by, who shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God come with power. 2And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them; 3and his garments became glistering, exceeding white, so as no fuller on earth can whiten them. 4And there appeared unto them Elijah with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus. 5And Peter answereth and saith to Jesus, Rabbi, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah. 6For he knew not what to answer; for they became sore afraid. 7And there came a cloud overshadowing them: and there came a voice out of the cloud, This is my beloved Son: hear ye him. 8And suddenly looking round about, they saw no one any more, save Jesus only with themselves. 9And as they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, save when the Son of man should have risen again from the dead. 10And they kept the saying, questioning among themselves what the rising again from the dead should mean. 11And they asked him, saying, How is it that the scribes say that Elijah must first come? 12And he said unto them, Elijah indeed cometh first, and restoreth all things: and how is it written of the Son of man, that he should suffer many things and be set at nought? 13But I say unto you, that Elijah is come, and they have also done unto him whatsoever they would, even as it is written of him. 14And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great multitude about them, and scribes questioning with them. 15And straightway all the multitude, when they saw him, were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him. 16And he asked them, What question ye with them? 17And one of the multitude answered him, Teacher, I brought unto thee my son, who hath a dumb spirit; 18and wheresoever it taketh him, it dasheth him down: and he foameth, and grindeth his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast it out; and they were not able. 19And he answereth them and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I bear with you? bring him unto me. 20And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him grievously; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. 21And he asked his father, How long time is it since this hath come unto him? And he said, From a child. 22And oft-times it hath cast him both into the fire and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us. 23And Jesus said unto him, If thou canst! All things are possible to him that believeth. 24Straightway the father of the child cried out, and said, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. 25And when Jesus saw that a multitude came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I command thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. 26And having cried out, and torn him much, he came out: and the boy became as one dead; insomuch that the more part said, He is dead. 27But Jesus took him by the hand, and raised him up; and he arose. 28And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, How is it that we could not cast it out? 29And he said unto them, This kind can come out by nothing, save by prayer. 30And they went forth from thence, and passed through Galilee; and he would not that any man should know it. 31For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered up into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he shall rise again. 32But they understood not the saying, and were afraid to ask him. 33And they came to Capernaum: and when he was in the house he asked them, What were ye reasoning on the way? 34But they held their peace: for they had disputed one with another on the way, who was the greatest. 35And he sat down, and called the twelve; and he saith unto them, If any man would be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all. 36And he took a little child, and set him in the midst of them: and taking him in his arms, he said unto them, 37Whosoever shall receive one of such little children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever receiveth me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me. 38John said unto him, Teacher, we saw one casting out demons in thy name; and we forbade him, because he followed not us. 39But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man who shall do a mighty work in my name, and be able quickly to speak evil of me. 40For he that is not against us is for us. 41For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink, because ye are Christ's, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward. 42And whosoever shall cause one of these little ones that believe on me to stumble, it were better for him if a great millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea. 43And if thy hand cause thee to stumble, cut it off: it is good for thee to enter into life maimed, rather than having thy two hands to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire. 44where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. 45And if thy foot cause thee to stumble, cut it off: it is good for thee to enter into life halt, rather than having thy two feet to be cast into hell. 46where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. 47And if thine eye cause thee to stumble, cast it out: it is good for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell; 48where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. 49For every one shall be salted with fire. 50Salt is good: but if the salt have lost its saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace one with another.
26. And he sent him away to his house. Christ does not suffer him to return to Bethsaida, where there were many that had beheld the miracle. This is conjectured by some to have been done, because Christ intended to punish the inhabitants of that place by depriving them of the enjoyment of his favor. Whatever might be the reason, it is certain that no miracle was performed by him in order to remain perpetually buried, but that he intended to have it concealed along with many others, till, after having expiated by his death the sins of the world, 435435 “Iusques a ce qu’ayant par sa mort accompli la satisfaction des pechez du monde;” — “till having by his death rendered full satisfaction for the sins of the world.” he should ascend to the glory of the Father.
As Mark is more full, and explains the circumstances very minutely, we shall follow the order of his narrative. And first he points out clearly the reason why Christ uses a harshness so unusual with him, when he exclaims that the Jews, on account of their perverse malice, do not deserve to be any longer endured. We know how gently he was wont to receive them, even when their requests were excessively importunate. 486486 “Encores mesme qu’ils se monstrassent import uns et facheux en leurs requestes;” — “even though they showed themselves to be importunate and troublesome in their requests.” A father here entreats in behalf of an only son, the necessity is extremely urgent, and a modest and humble appeal is made to the compassion of Christ. Why then does he, contrary to his custom, break out suddenly into passion, and declare that they can be endured no longer? As the narrative of Matthew and Luke does not enable us to discover the reason of this great severity, some commentators have fallen into the mistake of supposing that this rebuke was directed either against the disciples, or against the father of the afflicted child. But if we duly consider all the circumstances of the case, as they are related by Mark, there will be no difficulty in arriving at the conclusion, that the indignation of Christ was directed against the malice of the scribes, and that he did not intend to treat the ignorant and weak with such harshness.
During Christ’s absence, a lunatic child had been brought forward. The scribes, regarding this as a plausible occasion for giving annoyance, seized upon it eagerly, and entreated the disciples that, if they had any power, they would exercise it in curing the child. It is probable that the disciples made an attempt, and that their efforts were unavailing; upon which the scribes raise the shout of victory, and not only ridicule the disciples, but break out against Christ, as if in their person his power had been baffled. It was an extraordinary display of outrageous impiety united with equally base ingratitude, maliciously to keep out of view so many miracles, from which they had learned the amazing power of Christ; for they manifestly endeavored to extinguish the light which was placed before their eyes. With good reason, therefore, does Christ exclaim that they could no longer be endured, and pronounce them to be an unbelieving and perverse nation; for the numerous proofs which they had formerly beheld ought at least to have had the effect of preventing them from seeking occasion of disparagement. 487487 “Qu’ils n’allassent plus chercher des cavillations et moyens obliques pour luy resister;” — “not to resort any more to cavils and indirect methods of opposing him.”
Mark 9:14. He saw a great multitude around them. The disciples were, no doubt, held up to public gaze, as the enemies of the truth are wont, on occasions of triumph, to assemble a crowd about a trifle. The scribes had made such a noise about it, as to draw down on the disciples the ridicule of many persons. And yet it appears that there were some who were not ill disposed; for, as soon as they see Jesus, they salute him; and even the insolence of the scribes is restrained by his presence, for, when they are asked what is the matter in dispute, they have not a word to say.
17. Master, I have brought to thee my son. Matthew describes a different sort of disease from what is described by Mark, for he says that the man was lunatic But both agree as to these two points, that he was dumb, and that at certain intervals he became furious. The term lunatic is applied to those who, about the waning of the moon, are seized with epilepsy, or afflicted with giddiness. I do not admit the fanciful notion of Chrysostom, that the word lunatic was invented by a trick of Satan, in order to throw disgrace on the good creatures of God; for we learn from undoubted experience, that the course of the moon affects the increase or decline of these diseases. 488488 On the opinion expressed by calvin, as to the influence of the moon on these diseases, the reader may consult Harmony, vol. 1 p. 245, n.l. — Ed. And yet this does not prevent Satan from mixing up his attacks with natural means. I am of opinion, therefore, that the man was not naturally deaf and dumb, but that Satan had taken possession of his tongue and ears; and that, as the weakness of his brain and nerves made him liable to epilepsy, Satan availed himself of this for aggravating the disease. The consequence was, that he was exposed to danger on every hand, and was thrown into violent convulsions, which left him lying on the ground, in a fainting state, and like a dead man.
Let us learn from this how many ways Satan has of injuring us, were it not that he is restrained by the hand of God. Our infirmities both of soul and body, which we feel to be innumerable, are so many darts with which Satan is supplied for wounding us. We are worse than stupid, if a condition so wretched does not, arouse us to prayer. But in this we see also an amazing display of the goodness of God, that, though we are liable to such a variety of dangers, 489489 “Combien que nous soyons subiets a mille dangers et inconveniens;” — “though we are liable to a thousand dangers and inconveniences.” he surrounds us with his protection; particularly if we consider with what eagerness our enemy is bent on our destruction. We ought also to call to remembrance the consoling truth, that Christ has come to bridle his rage, and that we are safe in the midst of so many dangers, because our diseases are effectually counteracted by heavenly medicine.
We must attend also to the circumstance of the time. The father replies, that his son had been subject to this grievous disease from his infancy. If Satan was permitted to exert his power, to such an extent, on a person of that tender age, what reason have not we to fear, who are continually exposing ourselves by our crimes to deadly strokes, who even supply our enemy with darts, and on whom he might justly be permitted to spend his rage, if it were not kept under restraint by the astonishing goodness of God?
Mark 9:20. And as soon as he saw him. That the devil should rage with more than ordinary cruelty against the man, when he is brought to Christ, ought not to excite surprise; for in proportion as the grace of Christ is seen to be nearer at hand, and acts more powerfully, the fury of Satan is the more highly excited. The presence of Christ awakens him like the sound of a trumpet. He raises as violent a storm as he can, and contends with all his might. We ought to be prepared beforehand with such meditations, that our faith may not be disturbed, when the approach of the grace of Christ is met by more than ordinary violence on the part of our enemy. Nor ought we to lose sight of another point, that the true commencement of our cure is, when our affliction is so heavy that we are almost at the point of death. It must also be taken into account that, by means of the furious attack of Satan, our Lord lights a torch to cause his grace to be seen; for, when the spectators were appalled at the dreadful spectacle, the display of the power of Christ, which immediately followed, was more distinctly perceived.
21. From a child. Hence we infer that this punishment was not inflicted on account of the sins of the individual, but was a secret judgment of God. True indeed, even infants, as soon as they have come out of the womb, are not innocent in the sight of God, or free from guilt; but God’s chastisements have sometimes hidden causes, and are intended to try our obedience. We do not render to God the honor which is due to Him, unless with reverence and modesty we adore His justice, when it is concealed from us. Whoever wishes to obtain more full information on this point, may consult my Commentary on these words, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents, (John 9:3.)
22. If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. We see how little honor he renders to Christ; for, supposing him to be some prophet, whose power was limited, he approaches to him with hesitation. On the other hand, the first foundation of faith is, to embrace the boundless power of God; and the first step to prayer is, to raise it above all opposition by the firm belief that our prayers are not in vain. As this man did not suppose Christ to be at all different from other men, his false opinion is corrected; for our faith must be so formed as to be capable and prepared for receiving the desired favor. In his reply Christ does not administer a direct reproof, but indirectly reminding the man of what he had said amiss, points out to him his fault, and informs him how a remedy may be obtained.
23. If thou canst believe. “You ask me,” says he, “to aid you as far as I can; but you will find in me an inexhaustible fountain of power, provided that the faith which you bring be sufficiently large.” Hence may be learned a useful doctrine, which will apply equally to all of us, that it is not the Lord that prevents his benefits from flowing to us in large abundance, but that it must be attributed to the narrowness of our faith, that it comes to us only in drops, and that frequently we do not feel even a drop, because unbelief shuts up our heart. It is an idle exercise of ingenuity to prove Christ’s meaning to be, that a man can believe of himself: for nothing more was intended than to throw back on men the blame of their poverty, whenever they disparage the power of God by their unbelief.
All things are possible to him that believeth. Christ undoubtedly intended to teach that the fullness of all blessings has been given to us by the Father, and that every kind of assistance must be expected from him alone in the same manner as we expect it from the hand of God. “Only exercise,” says he, “a firm belief, and you will obtain.” In what manner faith obtains any thing for us we shall immediately see.
24. Lord, I believe. He declares that he believes, and yet acknowledges himself to have unbelief These two statements may appear to contradict each other, but there is none of us that does not experience both of them in himself. As our faith is never perfect, it follows that we are partly unbelievers; but God forgives us, and exercises such forbearance towards us, as to reckon us believers on account of a small portion of faith. It is our duty, in the meantime, carefully to shake off the remains of infidelity which adhere to us, to strive against them, and to pray to God to correct them, and, as often as we are engaged in this conflict, to fly to him for aid. If we duly inquire what portion has been bestowed on each, it will evidently appear that there are very few who are eminent in faith, few who have a moderate portion, and very many who have but a small measure.
Mark 9:38. Master, we saw one. Hence it is evident that the name of Christ was at that time so celebrated, that persons who were not of the number of his intimate disciples used that name, or perhaps even abused it, for I will not venture to avouch any thing on this point as certain. It is possible that he who is here mentioned had embraced the doctrine of Christ, and betaken himself to the performance of miracles with no bad intention; but as Christ bestowed this power on none but those whom he had chosen to be heralds of his Gospel, I think that he had rashly taken, or rather seized upon, this office. Now though he was wrong in making this attempt, and in venturing to imitate the disciples without receiving a command to do so, yet his boldness was not without success: for the Lord was pleased, in this way also, to throw luster around his name, 585585 “Pour avancer la gloire de son nom;” — “to advance the glory of his name.” as he sometimes does by means of those of whose ministry he does not approve as lawful. It is not inconsistent with this to say, that one who was endued with special faith followed a blind impulse, and thus proceeded inconsiderately to work miracles.
I now come to John and his companions. They say that they forbade a man to work miracles Why did they not first ask whether or not he was authorized? For now being in a state of doubt and suspense, they ask the opinion of their Master. Hence it follows, that they had rashly taken on themselves the right to forbid; and therefore every man who undertakes more than he knows that he is permitted to do by the word of God is chargeable with rashness. Besides, there is reason to suspect the disciples of Christ of ambition, because they are anxious to maintain their privilege and honor. For how comes it that they all at once forbid a man who is unknown to them to work miracles, but because they wish to be the sole possessors of this right? For they assign the reason, that he followeth not Christ; as much as to say, “He is not one of thy associates, as we are: why then shall he possess equal honor?”
39. Forbid him not. Christ did not wish that he should be forbidden; not that he had given him authority, or approved of what he did, or even wished his disciples to approve of it, but because, when by any occurrence God is glorified, we ought to bear with it and rejoice. Thus Paul, (Philippians 1:18,) though he disapproves of the dispositions of those who used the Gospel as a pretense for aggrandizing themselves, yet rejoices that by this occurrence the glory of Christ is advanced. We must attend also to the reason which is added, that it is impossible for any man who works miracles in the name of Christ to speak evil of Christ, and therefore this ought to be reckoned as gain; for hence it follows, that if the disciples had not been more devoted to their own glory than anxious and desirous to promote the glory of their Master, they would not have been offended when they saw that glory heightened and enlarged in another direction. And yet Christ declares that we ought to reckon as friends those who are not open enemies.
40. For he who is not against us is for us. He does not enjoin us to give a loose rein to rash men, and to be silent while they intermeddle with this and the other matter, according to their own fancy, and disturb the whole order of the Church: for such licentiousness, so far as our calling allows, must be restrained. He only affirms that they act improperly, who unseasonably prevent the kingdom of God from being advanced by any means whatever. And yet he does not acknowledge as his disciples, or reckon as belonging to his flock, those who hold an intermediate place between enemies and friends, but means that,. so far as they do no harm, they are useful and profitable: for it is a proverbial saying, which reminds us that we ought not to raise a quarrel till we are constrained.
Mark 9:49. Every man shall be salted with fire. I have connected these words of Mark with the passage in Matthew which we have just considered: not that I look upon them to have altogether the same meaning, or to have been spoken at the same place and time, but rather to enable the reader to understand better, by means of comparison, the different applications of the same sentence. According to Mark’s narrative, our Lord, having spoken of eternal fire, (Mark 9:48,) exhorts his own people, on the contrary, to offer themselves now to God to be seasoned with fire and salt, that they may be devoted sacrifices,379379 “Sacrifices ou offrandes sacrees;” — “sacrifices or sacred offerings.” and that they may not draw upon themselves, by their sins, that fire which is never extinguished. To be salted with fire is an incorrect phrase; but as salt and fire possess the same quality of purifying and refining, Christ applied the same term to both. Such was the occasion on which this sentiment was uttered. It was, that believers may not refuse to be purified by fire and salt; since, without this seasoning, they cannot be holy to God. He alludes to an enactment of the Law:
“Every oblation of thy meat-offering shalt thou season with salt, neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat-offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt,”
But now he shows, that believers are salted by the word of the Gospel, that they may be sanctified.
He next adds, salt is good This extends generally to all, whom God has once been pleased to season with his own word. He exhorts them to retain always their savor. To give the name of salt to what is salted is rather a harsh metaphor, but it creates no doubt as to the meaning. When men have lost, by their carelessness, that savor which they obtained by the grace of God, there is no farther remedy. Those who lose their faith, by which they were consecrated to God, and become without savor, are in a desperate condition: for the good savor cannot be acquired by any other seasoning. Besides, those who have become corrupted, by making void the grace of God, are worse than unbelievers, as salt spoils the land and the dunghill
Mark 9:50. Have salt in yourselves This word may be taken in a different sense from what it had in the former verse, as meaning that seasoning of good odor, which is obtained by faith, or rather the wisdom of the Spirit. When Paul enjoins, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt,” (Colossians 4:6,) he means, that we ought to be holy, and purified from all profane follies and corruptions, and filled with spiritual grace, which edifies all who hear it, and diffuses over them its sweet odor. If this exposition is adopted, it may be necessary to understand the latter clause as referring to the mutual peace, which is promoted by that salt. Yet, as it is more probable, that this last sentence depends on the former discourse, I think that Christ is exhorting his own people to maintain the rigor of faith, which may serve also to purify others. “You must do your endeavor, not only to be salted within, but likewise to salt others.” But as salt bites by its sharpness, he immediately admonishes them to regulate the seasoning in such a manner, that peace may be preserved entire with one another