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Our Lord Jesus takes this occasion to show them the power of faith,-" If ye have faith as a grain of mustard-seed," ye shall do wonders. Faith, in general, is a firm assent to, a compliance with, and a confidence in all Divine revelation. The faith here required, had for its object the particular revelation by which Christ gave his disciples power to work miracles in his name, for the confirmation of the doctrine they preached. They had not then such actual dependence upon, and confidence in, the promise of Christ's presence with them, as they should have had. It is good for us to be diffident of ourselves, and of our own strength; but it is displeasing to Christ when we distrust any power derived from him, or granted by him. If ye have ever so little of this faith in sincerity, if ye truly rely upon the powers committed to you, ye shall say to this mountain, Remove. Nothing shall be impossible for you."
2. There was something in the malady which rendered the cure more than ordinarily difficult. This possession is not cast out but by great acts of devotion; therein they were defective. The extraordinary power of Satan must not discourage our faith, but quicken us to greater intenseness, and more earnestness in praying to God for the increase of it. Fasting and prayer are proper means for bringing down Satan's power against us, and bringing divine power to our assistance. Fasting puts an edge upon prayer, it is an evidence and instance of that humiliation which is necessary in prayer, and is a means of mortifying some corrupt habits, and of disposing the body to serve the soul in prayer. When the devil's interest in the soul is confirmed by the temper and constitution of the body, fasting must be joined with prayer, to keep under the body.
And while they abode in Galilee, Jesus said unto them, The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men: 23 And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again. And they were exceeding sorry.
r Chap. xvi. 21, xx. 17; Mark viii. 31, ix. 30, 31, x. 33; Luke ix. 22, 44, xviii. 31, xxiv. 6, 7.
20-23. Christ here foretels his own sufferings; he began to do it before (Chap. xvi. 21), and, finding that it was to his disciples a hard saying, he saw it necessary to repeat it. There are some things which God speaketh once, yea twice, and yet man perceiveth it not. Our Lord foretold
concerning himself that he should be betrayed and killed. He perfectly knew, before, all things that should come to him, and yet undertook the work of our redemption, which greatly commends his love. He tells them that he should be betrayed into the hands of men. This refers to Judas' betraying him into the hands of the priests, and their betraying him into the hands of the Romans. He was betrayed into the hands of men,-men to whom he was allied by nature, and from whom, therefore, he might expect pity and tenderness; men whom he had undertaken to save, and from whom, therefore, he might expect honour and gratitude; yet, these are his persecutors and murderers. He tells them that they should kill him. Nothing less than that would satisfy their rage; it was his blood, his precious blood, that they thirsted after. This is the heir, come, let us kill him. Nothing less would satisfy God's justice, and answer his undertaking; if he be a Sacrifice of atonement, he must be killed; without blood, no remission. That he shall be raised again the third day. Still, when he spoke of his death, he gave a hint of his resurrection, the joy set before him, in the prospect of which he endured the cross, and despised the shame. This was an encouragement, not only to him, but to his disciples; for if he rise the third day, his absence from them will not be long, and his return to them will be glorious. When the disciples heard this they were exceedingly sorry. Herein appeared their love to their Master's person, but with all their ignorance and mistake concerning his undertaking. Peter indeed durst not say any thing against it, as he had done before (Chap. xvi. 22), having then been severely chidden for it; but he, and the rest of them, greatly lamented it, as it would be their own loss, their Master's grief, and the sin and ruin of them that did it.
And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received || tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute? 25. He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? 26 Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free. 27 Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first
$ Mark ix. 33. || Called in the original, didrachma, being in value fifteen pence. See Exod. xxx. 13, xxxviii. 26.
cometh up; and when thou has opened his mouth, thou shalt find || a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.
Or, a stater. It is half an ounce of silver, in value 2s. 6d., after 5s. the ounce.
24-27. We have here an account of Christ's paying tribute.
I. Observe how it was demanded, ver. 24. Christ was now at Capernaum, his head-quarters, where he mostly resided; he did not keep from thence, to decline being called upon for his dues, but the rather came thither, to be ready to pay them.
The tribute demanded was not any civil payment to the Roman powers, that was strictly exacted by the publicans, but the church duties (the half shekel), which were required from every person for the service of the temple, and the defraying of the expenses of the worship there; it is called a ransom for the soul, Exod. xxx. 12, &c. This was not so strictly exacted now as sometimes it had been, especially not in Galilee.
2. The demand was very modest; the collectors stood in such awe of Christ, because of his mighty works, that they durst not speak to him about it, but applied themselves to Peter, whose house was in Capernaum, and probably in his house Christ lodged; he, therefore, was fittest to be spoken to as the housekeeper, and they presumed he knew his Master's mind. Their question is, Does not your Master pay tribute? Some think that they sought an occasion against him, designing, if he refused, to represent him as disaffected to the temple service, and his followers as lawless people. It should rather seem, they asked this with respect, intimating, that if he had any privilege to exempt him from this payment, they would not insist upon it. In paying tribute, he did this to set us an example, (1.) Of rendering to all their due, tribute to whom tribute is due, Rom. xiii. 7. (2.) Of contributing to the support of the public worship of God, in the places where we are. If we reap spiritual things, it is fit that we should return carnal things.
II. How it was disputed (ver. 25), not with the collectors themselves, lest they should be irritated, but with Peter, that he might be satisfied in the reason why Christ paid tribute, and might not mistake about it. He brought the collectors into the house; but Christ anticipated him, to give him a proof of his omniscience, and that no thought can be withholden from him. The disciples of Christ are never attacked without his knowledge.
Now, 1. He appeals to the way of the kings of the earth, which is, to take tribute of strangers, of the subjects of their kingdom, or foreigners that deal with them, but not of their own children that are of their families; there is such a community of goods between parents and children, and a joint-interest in what they have, that it would be absurd for the parents to levy taxes upon the children, or demand any thing from them; it is like one hand taxing the other.
2. He applies this to himself,-Then are the children free. Christ is the Son of God, and Heir of all things; the temple is his temple (Mal. iii. 1), his Father's house (John ii. 16), in it he is faithful as a Son in his own house (Heb. iii. 6), and, therefore, not obliged to pay this tax for the service of the temple. Thus Christ asserts his right, lest his paying this tribute should be misimproved to the weakening of his title as the Son of God, and the King of Israel, and should have looked like a disowning of it himself. These immunities of the children are to be extended no farther than our Lord Jesus himself. God's children are freed by grace and adoption from the slavery of sin and Satan, but not from their subjection to civil magistrates in civil things; here the law of Christ is express: Let every soul (sanctified souls not excepted) be subject to the higher powers. Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's.
III. How it was paid, notwithstanding, (ver. 27.)
1. For what reason Christ waived his privilege, and paid this tribute, though he was entitled to an exemption-Lest we should offend them. Few knew, as Peter did, that he was the Son of God; and it would have been a diminution to the honour of that great truth, which was yet a secret, to advance it now, to serve such a purpose as this. Therefore Christ drops that argument, and considers, that if he should refuse this payment, it would increase people's prejudice against him and his doctrine, and alienate their affections from him, and, therefore, he resolves to pay it. Christian prudence and humility teach us, in many cases, to recede from our right, rather than give offence by insisting upon it. We must never decline our duty for fear of giving offence; but we must sometimes deny ourselves in that which is our secular interest, rather than give offence; as Paul, 1 Cor. viii. 13; Rom. xiv. 13.
2. What course he took for the payment of this tax; he furnished himself with money for it out of the mouth of a fish (ver. 27), wherein appears the poverty of Christ; he had not fifteen pence at command to pay his tax with, though he cured so many that were diseased. In his ordinary expenses, he lived upon alms (Luke viii. 3), and in extraordinary ones, he lived upon miracles. The power of Christ, in fetching money out of a fish's mouth for this purpose.
that are most remote from man are at the command of Christ, even the fishes of the sea are under his feet (Ps. viii. 5); and to evidence his dominion in this lower world, and to accommodate himself his present state of humiliation, he chose to take it out of a fish's mouth, when he could have taken it out of an angel's hand. Even in miracles he would use means to encourage industry and endeavour. Peter has something to do, and it is in the way of his own calling too; to teach us diligence in the employment we are called to, and called in. Do we expect that Christ should give to us? Let us be ready to work for him. Christ could as easily have commanded a bag of money, as a piece of money; but he would teach us not to covet superfluities, but, having enough for our present occasions, therewith to be content, and not to distrust God, though we live but from hand to mouth. If we have a competency for to-day, let to-morrow take thought for the things of itself.
1 Christ warneth his disciples to be humble and harmless: 7 to avoid offences, and not to despise the little ones: 15 teacheth how we are to deal with our brethren, when they offend us: 21 and how oft to forgive them: 23 which he setteth forth by a parable of the king that took account of his servants, 32 and punished him, who showed no mercy to his fellow.
T the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 2 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. 6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
a Mark ix. 33; Luke ix. 46, xxii. 24. b Psal. cxxxi. 2; Chap. xix. 14; Mark x. 14; Luke xviii. 16; 1 Cor. xiv. 20; 1 Pet. ii. 2. c Chap. xx. 27, xxiii. 11. d Chap. x. 42; Luke ix. 48. e Mark ix. 42; Luke xvii. 1, 2.
Vers. 1-6. I. This is a discourse of humility, the occasion of it was an unbecoming contest among the disciples for precedency; they came to him, saying, among themselves (for they were ashamed to ask him, Mark ix. 34), Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. They had heard much, and preached much, of the kingdom of heaven-the kingdom of the Messiah-his Church in this world; but, as yet, they were so far from having any clear notion of it, that they dreamt of a temporal kingdom, and the external pomp and power of it. Christ had lately foretold his sufferings, and the glory that should follow; that he should rise again, from whence they expected his kingdom would commence; and now they thought it was time to put in for their places in it. Upon other discourses of Christ to that purport, debates of this kind arose (chap. xx. 19, 20; Luke xxii. 22, 24); he spoke many words of his sufferings, but only one of his glory; yet they fasten upon that, and overlook the other; and, instead of asking how they might have strength and grace to suffer with him, they ask him, "Who shall be highest in reigning with him."
Christ here teacheth them to be humble,
(1.) The necessity of humility, (ver. 3.) His preface is solemn, and commands both attention and assent,- Verily I say unto you, I, the Amen, the faithful Witness, say it, Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Here observe, 1. What is it that he requires and insists upon : "You must be converted, you must be of another mind, and in another frame and temper, must have other thoughts, both of yourselves and of the kingdom of heaven, before you be fit for a place in it. The pride, ambition, and affectation of honour and dominion, which appear in you, must be repented of, mortified, and reformed, and you must come to yourselves." Besides the first conversion of a soul from a state of nature to a state of grace, there are after-conversions from particular paths of backsliding, which are equally necessary to salvation. Every step out of the way by sin, must be a step into it again by repentance. When Peter repented of his denying his Master, he was converted. Converting grace makes us like little children, not foolish as children (1 Cor. xiv. 20), nor fickle (Eph. iv. 14), nor playful (Chap. xi. 16); but, as children, we must desire the sincere milk of the word (1 Pet. ii. 2); as children,
we must be careful for nothing, but leave it to our heavenly Father to care for us (Chap. vi. 31); we must, as children, be harmless and inoffensive, and void of malice (1 Cor. xiv. 20), governable, and under command (Gal. iv. 2); and (which is here chiefly intended) we must be humble as little children, who do not take state upon them, nor stand upon the punctilios of worldly honour.
2. What stress he lays upon this: Without this, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Note, Disciples of Christ have need to be kept in awe by threatenings, that they may fear lest they seem to come short, Heb. iv. 1. The disciples, when they put that question (ver 1), thought themselves sure of the kingdom of heaven; but Christ awakens them to be jealous of themselves. They were ambitious of being greatest in the kingdom of heaven; Christ tells them, that, except they came to a better temper, they should never come thither. Many that set up for great ones in the Church, prove not only little, but nothing, and are found to have no part or lot in the matter. Our Lord designs here to show the great danger of pride and ambition; whatever profession men make, if they allow themselves in this sin, they will be rejected both from God's tabernacle, and from his holy hill.
3. He shows the honour and advancement that attend humility (ver. 4), thus furnishing a direct but surprising answer to their question. He that humbles himself as a little child, though he may fear that hereby he will render himself contemptible, as men of timid minds, who thereby throw themselves out of the way of preferment, yet the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. The humblest Christians are the best Christians, and most like to Christ, and highest in his favour; are best disposed for the communications of Divine grace, and fittest to serve God in this world, and enjoy him in another.
4. The special care Christ takes for those that are humble,-he espouses their cause, protects them, interests himself in their concerns, and will see that they are not wronged, without being righted. Those that thus humble themselves will be afraid, That nobody will receive them; (ver. 5.) Whoso shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me. Whatever kindnesses are done to such, Christ takes as done to himself. Whoso entertains a meek and humble Christian, keeps him in countenance, will not let him lose by his modesty, takes him into his love and friendship, and society and care, and studies to do him a kindness, and doth this in Christ's name, for his sake, because he bears the image of Christ, serves Christ, and because Christ has received him; this shall be accepted and recompensed as an acceptable piece of respect to Christ. The tender regard Christ has to his church extends itself to every particular member, even the meanest; not only to the whole family, but to every child of the family; the less they are in themselves, to whom we show kindness, the more there is of good will in it to Christ; the less it is for their sakes, the more it is for his; and he takes it accordingly. If Christ were personally among us, we think we should never do enough to welcome him,-the poor, the poor in spirit we have always with us, and they are his receivers. See Chap. xxv. 35-40. The humble will be afraid that every body will abuse them; the basest men delight to trample upon the humble. This objection he obviates (ver. 6), where he warns all people, as they will answer it at their utmost peril, not to offer any injury to one of Christ's little ones. This word makes a wall of fire about them; he that touches them, touches the apple of God's eye. At the sixth verse, Christ begins his discourse concerning offences, and First, The crime supposed; offending one of these little ones that believe in Christ. Their believing in Christ, though they be little ones, unites them to him, and interests him in their cause, so that, as they partake of the benefit of his sufferings, he also partakes in the wrong of theirs. Even the little ones that believe have the same privileges with the great ones, for they have all obtained like precious faith. There are those that offend these little ones, by drawing them into sin (1 Cor. viii. 10, 11), grieving and vexing their righteous souls, discouraging them, taking occasion from mildness to make a prey of them in their persons, families, goods, or good name. Thus, the best men have often met with the worst treatment in this world.
Secondly, The punishment of this crime; intimated in that word, Better for him that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. The sin is so heinous, and the ruin proportionably so great, that he had better undergo the sorest punishments inflicted on the worst of malefactors, which can only kill the body. Hell is worse than the depth of the sea; for it is a bottomless pit, and it is a burning lake. The depth of the sea is only killing, but hell is tormenting. We meet with one that had comfort in the depth of the sea, it was Jonah (chap. ii. 2, 4, 9); but never any had the least grain or glimpse of comfort in hell, nor will have to eternity. The irresistible, irrevocable doom of the great Judge will sink sooner or surer, and bind faster, than a mill-stone hanged about the neck. It fixes a great gulf, which can never be broken through, Luke xvi. 26. Offending Christ's little ones, though by omission, is assigned as the reason of that dreadful sentence, Go ye cursed, which will at last be the doom of proud persecutors.
7 Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! 8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. 9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. 10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven 'their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. 11 'For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. 12 How think ye? if a man have a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? 13 And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. 14 Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.
f Luke xvii. 1; 1 Cor. xi. 19. g Chap. xxvi. 24.
h Chap. v. 29, 30; Mark ix. 43, 45.
i Psal. xxxiv. 7; Zech. xiii. 7 ; 7 Luke ix. 56, xix. 10; John iii. 17, xii. 47. m Luke xv. 4.
Our Saviour here speaks of offences, or scandals, in general, ver. 7. Having mentioned the offending of little ones, he takes occasion to speak more generally of offences. That is an offence, 1. Which occasions guilt, which by enticement or affrightment tends to draw men from that which is good to that which is evil. 2. Which occasions grief, which makes the heart of the righteous sad. Now, concerning offences, Christ here tells them,
(1.) It must needs be, that offences come. When we are sure there is danger, we should be the better armed. Not that Christ's word necessitates any man to offend, but it is a prediction upon a view of the causes; considering the subtlety and malice of Satan, the weakness and depravity of men's hearts, and the foolishness that is found there, it is morally impossible but that there should be offences; and God has determined to permit them for wise and holy ends, that both they which are perfect, and they which are not, may be made manifest. See 1 Cor. xi. 19;
Dan. xi. 35.
(2.) That they would be woeful things, and the consequence of them fatal. Here is a double woe annexed to offences,- -a woe to the careless and unguarded, to whom the offence is given,— Woe to the world because of offences. The obstructions and oppositions given to faith and holiness, in all places, are the bane and plague of mankind, and the ruin of thousands. This present world is an evil world, it is so full of offences, of sins, and snares, and sorrows; a dangerous road we travel, full of stumbling-blocks, precipices, and false guides. Woe to the world. As for those whom God hath chosen and called out of the world, and delivered from it, they are preserved by the power of God from the prejudice of these offences, are helped over all these stones of stumbling. They that love God's law have great peace, and nothing shall offend them. Psal. cxix. 165. woe to the wicked, who wilfully give the offence; But woe to that man by whom the offence comes. Though it must needs be that the offence will come, that will be no excuse for the offenders. Though God makes the sin of sinners to serve his purposes, that will not secure them from his wrath, and the guilt will be laid at the door of those who give the offence, though they also fall under a woe who take it.
Many prevailing temptations to sin arise from within ourselves; our own eyes and hands offend us; if there were never a devil to tempt us, we should be drawn away of our own lust; nay, those things which in themselves are good, and may be used as instruments of good, even those, through the corruptions of our hearts, prove snares to us, incline us to sin, and hinder us in duty. In such a case, we must, as far as lawfully we may, part with that which we cannot keep without being entangled in sin by it. The outward occasions of sin must be avoided, though we thereby put as great a violence upon ourselves as it would be to cut off a hand, or pluck out an eye. When Abraham quitted his native country, for fear of being ensnared in the idolatry of it, and when Moses quited Pharaoh's court, for fear of being entangled in the sinful pleasures of it, there was a right hand cut off. We must think nothing too dear to part with, for the keeping of a good conscience,