Mark 4

Chapter 3 closes the direct picture of the ministry of Christ, with His friends counting it folly, the rulers of the people blaspheming against it, and His own renouncing the ground on which Israel stood with Him, and taking that of the Word and its effects. What follows gives a general exposition of what was going on-sowing, not fruit seeking, responsible hearing, the Kingdom with the personal presence of Christ at seed time and harvest, and what the public effect of the sowing would be- not merely letting grow-but seeming overwhelming danger, though Christ was in the ship but as asleep. The whole history of the dealing with Israel, and the service of the Remnant after Israel was gone, and then finding Israel really dead before He reaches it, though He came to it as sick, but everyone who touched Him on the way, with faith, was healed.
His teaching accordingly assumes this character-parable and giving an account in this way of His ministry, and similar, rather than exercising it (by direct declaration, " The Kingdom of God is nigh," etc.). The transition is now remarkable, His ministry being not merely parabolic but descriptive of ministry, and its effect brought in just when in fact the seed had fallen on the roadside-alas! that it should be so-of the Jewish religious people. But it was now to take its course as ministry. It was not a formal proposal to the authorities-that had been done-but a going forth to sow, a scattering it abroad; it fell where it might. If they had rejected their own proper mercies, no wonder it often proved way-side and stony ground. But this was its character now indeed. The Lord throws it back retrospectively. Their ecclesiastical or national rejection of Him had reduced them to the place in which this could be 'predicated of them. It assumed this character now, on the cessation of presenting it as their right in promise, from the " Minister of the circumcision," their blasphemy against Him, but they assumed their place under it. He had returned to the sea with this announcement: "The sower went forth to sow." But He announced it now in a parable; it ceased to be a direct national proposal, but he that had ears to hear was to hear. We have this judgment of the matter in verses 9-13.
We have in the parables the state and character of the dispensation, with its source, in ministry acting on men's hearts responsibly or efficaciously, not the prophetic history in detail as in Matthew, but its character as ministered.
"He began again to teach by the seaside." He went out there-this general public place as we have often seen before, and, Himself separated from the multitude, tells them how it was. For while He returned to the multitude which was on the shore, we have the additional circumstance that He was separated from them, isolated, not amongst them. He then gives, as we have seen, this character to His ministry-casting forth seed, let it fall where it would-good seed, but often in effect coming to nothing in the heart it was sown in. As to the isolation of Christ, we see it is no mere fancy, for He now begins at " those that are without," quod nota. As to much, it was labor in vain, this sowing. But note, this very fact of sowing, whether by Christ, or similarly since, is entirely a new thing. The Jewish dispensation had properly no sowing ministry, and John the baptist was only to Jews, and therefore was not the true light as not lighting every man in coming into the world. A Jew was a Jew born, and by birth without any sowing at all, and his business was to preserve himself a Jew.
The Law was to be kept, and the Prophets only recalled them to the Law (see the last even, Malachi) though they might promise other things which sustained the faith of the elect Remnant when the people would not keep the Law, but departed from God. And even the Lord, as a Prophet, was sent as a Minister of the circumcision, the middle wall of partition in the flesh not yet broken down, but owned by Him as to the Syro-phcenician woman. But then it was " To the lost sheep of the house of Israel," and this principle really at bottom introduced that principle which let in a Gentile, and recognized a Jew as on Gentile ground, as lost. And this was fully brought out after His death and resurrection, but not in all its light till the mission of Paul after Stephen's death-not of man, nor by man; see Galatians t, etc. And you may remark that Paul, whenever he mentions his apostleship, always introduces the name of God which Peter does not. But while John the baptist introduced something new, the kingdom of God as coming in, and so was the pivot of the two dispensations- not in, but announcing the Kingdom of Heaven, and therefore the least in it greater than he-still he himself had nothing which went beyond the " floor " of Him that was coming. He stood in the desert, and cried in the desert, for desert the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts had become. But he did not go forth to sow; he came in the way of righteousness, and pointed onward, but sowing is an act of fresh grace, introducing a new seed by which life not there is to spring up. Therefore " Behold the sower went forth to sow." I say an entirely new act of life, bringing goodness, not expecting to find in the field, nor looking for fruit there. It is thus brought out now, for the first time, in parables, for it was, though exercised by the Lord within the old, really a new, to be understood by those to whom He could say " But to you," on the originating principle of the new or Kingdom of heaven, exercised also towards the old, but producing the new, not a similitude of but a principle introductory of, and indeed in fact to be exercised in the Kingdom of heaven. The consequence of this indiscriminate sowing, instead of looking for fruit amongst a supposed righteous people already planted, was that much was lost. First, much remained on the surface, and the devil took it away-it never entered, it was but on the wayside-civil conversation, or speculation on the discourse, perhaps admiring it, was the devil taking the seed away, for He is not speaking of opposition here. Other sprang up immediately, because it had no depth of earth; much of the Lord's sowing in fact did not spring up, had no effect till after His death. One sowed, another reaped. He went forth to sow with tears; a day is coming when He shall return bringing forth His sheaves with Him. Much light affection being attracted for a moment by the promise of association with the wonderful Person, the word springs up, but because there was no deep work, nothing weighed, it reached not the conscience-there was no deep distressing work which made them feel that all was wrong, and obliged them to condemn the whole state of all that was around them. This gives gravity, pain-we hesitate to do it, there is delay-we are right; can we take upon us to say all is wrong until the conscience is brought to a bearing on it? Judgment, in this case, is never pronounced, for it humbles, and we shrink from judgment, in sorrow, and in its weight on our own state. But the sun rose-tribulation sprang up after the seed sprang up, and as they had immediately received for the external satisfaction, they were immediately offended (verse 17) for the discomfort. They had no root at all- they were not in the question in their consciences-there was no life putting them in a position of understanding with God, understanding of themselves and Him. Then the thorns choke the next; cares well understood and groaned over, perhaps justified, but unnecessary, for so giveth He His beloved sleep. It was lost labor, and real selfishness of the flesh. Then there was the deceitfulness of riches-mark that word, for men say they can do good with them-and they gradually come round the affections; habits, ease, consequence, independence of others, and a thousand other principles which choke, because the word is a plant of God, and they cannot grow together. All that is in the world beside is dismissed as " the lusts of other things," thus taking up all, for " after these things the nations of the world seek." These enter in sorrow for us if they do.
-5, 16, 17. Hasty entrance into the joy of Christianity is far from a sign of any true work of God in the heart-there is a deep inwrought sense of alienation which waits for joy till it be given in full personal reconciliation with Him from whom, in ourselves, we are departed by sin unto death. The other is not our own joy-it is a mental view of the joyfulness of the thing as proposed. Such, I believe, may have been felt, and by after experience found to have been false as regards ourselves, and worthless, and the whole internal real work of restoration to God by Christ have taken place afterward by deep and abiding convictions of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Nevertheless we must remember that the immediate and necessary result of seeing the atonement by faith is peace, and eternal joy, but there is the trial of the soundness of that joy; and it may be immediate, and, if things were in order, would be much more so.
-9, 23, et seq. Hearing is receiving, and what we receive we receive for communication in love. We are answerable according to the measure of what we hear, which is God's measure towards us, and, accordingly, it being given for communication in love, our faithfulness and love is tried by the comparison of what we receive and give. We are unjust towards God and man, if we are not, in life and word, witnesses of whatever grace has been dealt to us. Moreover, whoever has this faithfulness in receiving, increase shall be added to him-confided. "It shall be measured to you." Hence grace, in the parable, is rested on use of the talent without other authority, and so indeed here, the moment I have heard grace receives the word, and, being grace, understands it in grace, as a light lit up in the person, it is true, but to give light; see 2 Cor. 4:66For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6), where the expression is very clear. It depends on our really having it, the sense of the grace, in our souls, its real value to ourselves, and our understanding of it as grace, i.e., our understanding and having it at all. And thus, he that has, and he only really has grace communicated who communicates in grace, " To him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath." This was true of the Jews who had the oracles, etc., but who indeed had them not, for they did not recognize Him of whom they were conversant. But to the disciples who had, all the glory of the Holy Ghost dispensation of Christ glorified would be given. From the Jewish rulers would be taken away even that which they had. This was a new principle, that what was given was, in its nature, communicative, for it was grace and light, and therefore impelled, and diffused itself, which was not true of Judaism; but, as to them even, what they had, but had not, would be taken away; and there cannot be a more important principle, and as essentially characterizing Christian responsibility and grace in this dispensation, and knowledge of, and communion with, the mind of Christ who came as this Light. The love of Christ constraineth us, and, withal, that in spite of opposition, for we also believe and therefore speak. Therefore it is "Take heed what ye hear; with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you." The Lord will deal according to your dealing in this. Such are the principles of confided ministry. If man meddles to authorize, he meddles with the responsibility of grace to Christ, though he may encourage, own, and be blessed and bless, and labor in according to his place, and " To him that hath shall be given: and from him that hath not shall be taken away that which he hath."
The term, "He that hath ears to hear “ is, in principle, just answerable to "The sower went forth to sow," for, though addressed to Israelites, it is not addressed to them as such in a given position, but in the discrimination of gracious workings in their own minds and souls. " He that hath ears,"for then was sowing a word to be received, and it was a solemn matter, for many would slight, and choke, and deceive the word or themselves. But then, in principle, whoever had ears, this being so, it applied to and was for profit too; and here any Gentile, or any, whose ear God opened, came in. And it is as a solemn warning on the sowing of the seed, saying: " All is ruined-God is acting in grace, taking this pains actively before judgment on the objects, 'He that hath ears to hear let him hear.' "
When He was alone came inquiry, and explanation to the disciples, not merely the twelve but those around Him or with Him. And here comes the distinction noticed, not merely of the Apostles but of the disciples, that all else were now looked at as "them that are without "; but to know the mystery was the portion of "those about him with the twelve." To the rest it was all parables. This distinction, and its origin, is important, and sets this matter in a very clear light. There are still "those about him "-what marvelous grace! And "them that are without," alas! We must not be surprised if all be parables to them. Still, after all, we stand on another ground, for, the glory having been revealed, if it be preached really, we say: "If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost." There is no veil on the glory now; if there be, it is a mind blinded by " the god of this world, lest the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ should shine unto them." Thus the " within " and the " without " are formed by those who did greater things by Christ than Christ did, because He went to the Father, saying, " Glorify thy Son that thy Son also may glorify thee," having power over all flesh to give eternal life to as many as the Father had given him, Jews and Gentiles. Still, within the limited sphere, answering to what we have seen of the sowing, there was a " within " and a " without," here formed by the testimony on the nation and its effect-the privilege of those within to know how things went on, and the principles of the Kingdom. It was recognized the sowing had produced it, but the recognition proved the constant truth morally, not dispensationally, "all things are done in parables." In fact, from the time prophecy had begun this was the message, and whenever God sends a testimony at all it must be on this principle, or it would not be needed. As to Israel, the Lord was but the filling up of this-God had "yet one Son," and we find accordingly the same separating, electing principle of grace, but introduced suitably prophetically, "Behold, I and the children which God Bath given me are," etc.; and this founded on " Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples." His message having been to the nation what is here quoted (though in it was to be a tenth) a message which hung suspended till God had tried everything, even to the gift of His own Son. But there was no remedy.
In the testimony to the Gentiles it is the full testimony of accomplished glory meeting the world in its pretenses, and therefore, if hid, hid to them which are lost, in whom the God of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not. Here it is the diligent grace of this testimony, but acting within the limits and order of that which was sentenced under the prophecy, and now, all means having been employed, left to its full application-though, even then, the testimony of the Spirit was afforded, as Acts 3, where this special ministry is afforded of His return to that people; chapter 2 being the Gospel for the Church, or bringing it in, chapter 4 what shall be rather; see chapter 3: 18 to the end. This proposal is an extraordinary act of grace, of a very wonderful character; it did not, in fact, finally close in dispersed Israel till the application of the same passage by Paul (Acts 28), and was consummated in their refusal to allow the preaching to the Gentiles,
this sowing of seed in grace, as we see (Acts 22:2222And they gave him audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live. (Acts 22:22)), and the sum of which is specially taught in that Epistle which teaches the Church to look up, as of God the Father, to its portion in Jesus and His coming to receive her to Himself; 1 Thessalonians 2: 14-16. In verse 11 of our chapter we have first the distinguishing grace, according to the dispensation of God; and in verse 13 the reproof for the want of spiritual intelligence -they could not discern this first, and so simplest parable, which described the first principle of all that was to be unfolded in all the parables. They were the accounts of the Kingdom in its relation with the Jewish people. How would they enter into them, if they did not understand that primordial principle from which all flowed, and was the connecting link with the old system, and therefore thus addressed to the multitude? The spiritual thoughts which gave the key, while the parable gave the form, were not in their minds; so with types. But the Lord gives the clue, explains it to them.
-21-25. Not only is Mark the Lord's service in testimony, but responsibility is also directly connected with this, as here with the parables, and also in chapter 13 at the end. These verses, connected as they are with what precedes and follows, connect in a remarkable manner hearing with responsibility of communication. The Word has been sown, but men do not light a candle to be put under a bushel. It is sown, not to lie in the ground, but to rise out of it and bear fruit. Nothing was secret but to be made manifest; hence, "Take heed what ye hear." It is a responsibility; " With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you "; "To him that heareth"; and this evinced not in its remaining hid in supposed knowledge, but in the fruit bearing witness of effectual testimony (" Holding forth the word of life.") To him that is thus known to hear shall more be given; for this is to have. To hear then is to have, but it is to hear so as to have. The force of the passage is very important, and, when it is acknowledged as a responsibility, very plain.
The good ground brings forth fruit, thirty, sixty, a hundred fold. The word is the seed of one grain; one soul, quickened and vivified by the power of the inwrought word, becomes the living source or producer of an exceedingly multiplied effect, not only of righteousness but of testimony, and of souls brought to righteousness to be the vessels and depositories of grace and truth by the testimony, and themselves to hold forth the word of life. To this the Lord accordingly applies it. First, as to Himself as the Light, and then to those who received it as the instruments of its holding faith. And He said to them an additional principle in this discourse-" Does the lamp come that it should be put under a bushel or under the couch? Is it not that it should be set upon the lampstand? "Such was God's purpose-such would be true of Him, and the glory of His Person, low and hidden and humbled as He had come, emptying Himself for God's glory and man's good. But this was true of evil as well as good; the day would declare it. It was not the intention of God in the good; He would not permit it in the bad. Some might go before in their manifestation, and others follow after, and some good works be manifest, and, if otherwise, could not be hid. All that had ears to hear were to mind this. It may have had its conception and existence in this hidden way, but it would come out. It may be hidden, but it is that it should be manifested. As I said the main truth is Christ's hidden ministry, and Sonship, and glory; but it is the application of a great general principle which is behind the gracious intention as of God, as regards the Lord in verse 21 -gracious, but vindicating, and putting us first under the responsibility of blessing; secondly, security and peace when laboring in the presence of secret hidden evil-craft; and thirdly, the check against all hypocrisy in ourselves. Again the Lord adds, it being given to them to know, " Take heed what ye hear." It is seed to produce fruit. " With what measure ye mete," in diligent use of the word.
-22. apokruphon (secret thing) the nominative to egeneto (takes place) gives the force nearly.
-24. "Take heed what." Note the force of this! "With what measure," if, as it should seem from its connection with what goes before, applicable to the use of grace in ministry, is deeply material. And see what verse 23 is applied to! Compare Matt. 10:1616Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. (Matthew 10:16), et seq. And see verse 25 introduced as in Matt. 13:1212For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. (Matthew 13:12), and Luke 19:2626For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. (Luke 19:26); and we may see it used besides in its general application, Luke 8:1818Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have. (Luke 8:18), in connection with this parable. Nor ought we to pass over the force which the use of this in the Sermon on the Mount gives. He, to whom grace is committed, is as much committing an injury, using an evil measure, as the unmerciful, a measure unanswerable to the goodness of God. It is unbelief operating either in regarding the persons of men in fear, or in faithless distrust of God's making good, as it were, the obligation in which we involve ourselves by the avowal of His Word in our hearts. That which we have not in the power of faith for real use, we have not in deed and in truth.
What follows is really instruction as to the character of the Kingdom, and its work, and therefore it follows here. But, as it was de facto not addressed merely to the disciples, it is not said " to them," but merely " He said " (verse 30). But they are brought together for the simultaneous instruction of the company on the subject. Yet it was for the disciples' profit, and, while addressed generally, explained apart to His disciples. He describes, having stated the principle-active sowing, and the responsibility in those that received the seed-the apparent character as regarded His care, and the great general public results of this now despised seed sown, as carried on by this ministry which acted by grace in the heart. He being away, the Kingdom of God, instead of being under His immediate and personal ministration, and active power upon earth, would be the way a man sows corn, and rose, and slept, and did not regard it, and it grew, and increased, the earth bringing it forth (apparently) spontaneously, and so really instrumentally- blade, ear, corn, but, as soon as the fruit is come, immediately He interposes again, for the harvest is come (here, again, paresteken, is come, as in 2 Thess. 2). So would it grow up in apparent disregard by Christ; but when the harvest was ripened, He would interfere. Moreover, rising from this smallest hidden seed now, it would become greater than all herbs, so that it would be a great corporate system with branches, not merely a plant, and could receive and protect what was foreign to its character and object, like the princes of the earth.
-33. This, compared with verses 11, 12, is very remarkable. It was adapted to them perfectly, so that he that had ears to hear could receive it; but it was darkness to the willful and disobedient. To the disciples all was made clear besides in private, for they had, dull though they might be, given up their will to. His.
"With many such parables he spake... to them "; here we have " to them " again, because He has not been exclusively speaking to the disciples. But they are looked at here, however, as still the objects of the word, not as blasphemers. And to His disciples particularly He solved all things apart.
"As they were able to hear it," shows, I think, that though He had begun, on the blasphemy against the Spirit manifested in the rulers and scribes, to speak in parables, yet He continued doing it in mercy, patient mercy (wherein He never failed) to suit it to them, so that whosoever had ears to hear might find what was suitable to them.
"He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear." What blessed and patient mercy! How worthy of divine dealing-of Jesus, according to the grace in which He came- acting not according to the good in them but in Himself, yet therefore laying Himself out exactly to meet their circumstances, even under the effects of evil, though, and even when, His conduct was a judgment upon the evil which had produced the effects! How thoroughly worthy of what we have learned in Jesus!
We have now the trials of the little company, and the folly of unbelief, as its principles and its apparent position in what preceded, and that in circumstances which acted as the test of their estimate of their safety, founded on their being identified with Jesus, if they had felt God's concern in His glory, the glory of His Person-the absurdity, if He really came as the Son of God, and if there were divine purposes to be accomplished in Him, and He having all power over evil and Satan here, of supposing that He should be thus lost by an accident, they could not have been thus alarmed. It is a blessed thing to be able thus to trust that though, to our eyes, great and perilous circumstances may arise, and Jesus seem to be asleep, unless He and God's purposes in Him be to be nullified, all His blessing and order towards His people must be accomplished.
It was now late. The shadows of a dark and gloomy night were shutting in on the unhappy people of God, and not only were the rulers condemned, but He leaves the multitude also, and becomes the companion of His disciples in their passing over in the ship they had. He enters, as He was, without rest or further care, into the ship. There were more interests than even the disciples, concerned in the storm which Satan was permitted to raise against the precious Burden of that little ship. All the enmity of Satan against the Church is against Christ and His glory, and that is our comfort as a consequence; for if he could destroy that, then we might sink, not otherwise. But what selfish folly thus to turn to self while Jesus, and all these other ships too, the objects of His care, if He were the Lord, were concerned in the storm. But Jesus was at perfect peace. He was asleep-His power hidden in this apparent removal from and insensibility to all that was going on, in apparent weakness-His power and glory, and that as involved in the circumstances, apparent only to faith. Their word is: " Carest thou not that we perish? "For unbelief is always selfish, and so will be found, and this was pure, wretched, stupid unbelief, seeing who Jesus was. It was, however, merely for His glory, even in them, though for their shame, He rebuked the winds, etc., " And there was a great calm," and their fearfulness and stupidity " How is it that ye have not faith? " Thus too is the Church launched forth to reach the other side, and encounters the storm; and many other interests are concerned of the world in the storm which Satan raises for its destruction, but in it Jesus is, though apparently insensible, and whether for Himself, it or them, we should account our safety in Him. There was nothing to hinder the other ships perishing, for He was not in them, but the blessing of an awakened Jesus shall produce peace for all; and all interests ought to show us that Jesus, whatever the appearances, cannot be lost in what is going on, and is concerned in it. And this applies to all mediately, to us directly, for we are in the ship with Him, or rather He with us. That we perish, is wretched when Jesus (and indeed so many else) was there. What do we think of Jesus, and of what concerns Him? It is astonishing, yet how often the case! We have Him in the ship, and He is perfectly at peace, whatever we are governed by the fear and storm which Satan has raised in his folly, instead of the peace which Jesus in divine wisdom and security gives. Satan makes the storm to destroy Jesus, and we take his power as if he were able to do it, thus owning, and as it were worshipping Him in fear-it having its effect on our mind, not Jesus, who if to man's eye, and really hid from the scene, asleep, is ever nearer them than all that man's care could effect for his comfort and safety. Oh! that we could ever look to Him! But the winds and the sea ever obey Him, when He rises up to rebuke them, and with them the unbelief which credits them more than His power and security, and thus wonders at what manner of man it was. Thus indeed has the Church been launched when Jesus left in it, though apparently asleep, that unhappy and now deserted shore, long the garden of the Lord for beauty and for delights, where He walked and found His delight among men on the earth, we now have Him as He is, His glory still hidden, though by faith we know what it is, and He seems asleep and insensible to all, but He knows the end from the beginning, and no storm troubles and disturbs Him, let Satan, the adversary, do what he will, and terrify us through our unbelief.