Mark 4

Therefore, in the next chapter, we are given a sketch of His ministry from that time down to the very end. Such is the bearing of this chapter. It is the Lord’s ministry in its great principles under that aspect, and viewed not only as a fact going on (as we have had ministry in general before this), but now in its connection with this special work of God. “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth” (James 1:1818Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:18)). Hence we see Him forming a people, founded upon submission to the will of God, and therefore by the preached word of God; and this pursued to the very close of all, with a view of the difficulties of those engaged in that work, or in the midst of the trials from this world which always attend such a ministry. Such is the fourth chapter. Accordingly the first parable (for He speaks in parables to the multitude) is of a sower. This we have very fully given us with its explanation. Then follow some moral words of our Lord. “Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick?” It is not only that there is a word that acts upon the heart of man, but there is a light given (that is, a testimony in the midst of darkness). The point here is not merely the effect on man, but the manifestation of the light of God. This, therefore, should not be put under a bed to be concealed. God does not in ministry merely consider the effect upon the heart of man; there is much besides done for His own glory. There is the need not only of life, but of light; and this is what we have first of all—light that germinates far and wide, and seed producing fruit. Part of the scattered seed was picked up by the enemy, or in some other way less openly hostile it comes to nothing. But after the necessity of life is shown in order to fruit-bearing, we have then the value of light; and this not only for God’s glory, though the first consideration, but also for man’s guidance in this dark world. “Take heed what ye hear.” Not only is there thus the word of God sown everywhere, but “take heed what ye hear.” There is a mingling of what is dark and what is light, a mingling of a false testimony with a true, more particularly to be remembered when the question is raised whether there is a light from God. These Christians in particular have need to take care what they hear. They only have discerning power, and this, therefore, is brought in most appropriately after the first foundation is settled.
In the next place comes a parable peculiar to Mark. There is no part of his Gospel which more thoroughly illustrates it than this: “So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.” It is the Lord manifesting Himself at the beginning of the work of God in the earth, and then coming at the end of it, all the intermediate state where others appear being left out. It is the perfect servant inaugurating and consummating the work. It is the Lord Jesus at His first advent and at His second, in connection with ministry. He commences and crowns the work that had to be done. Where is anything like this to be found in other Gospels? Turn to Matthew, for instance, and what a difference! There we have, no doubt, the Lord represented as sowing (Matt. 13); but when in the next parable the harvest at the end of the age is brought before us, He says to the reapers, &c. It is not Himself who is said to do this work, but in that Gospel the design requires us to hear of the authority of the Son of man. He commands His angels. They are all under His orders. He gives them the word, and they reap the harvest. Of course, this is perfectly true, as well as in keeping with God’s aim in Matthew; but in the Gospel of Mark the point is rather His ministry, and not authority over angels or others. The Lord is viewed as coming, and He does come; so that the one is just as certain as the other. Supposing, then, you take this parable out of Mark and put it into Matthew, what confusion! And suppose you transplant what is in Matthew into Mark, evidently there would not only be the rent of the one, but also the introduction of that which never would amalgamate with the other. The fact is, that all, as God has written it, is perfect; but the moment these portions are confounded, you lose the special bearing and appropriateness of each.
After this we hear of the grain of mustard seed, which was merely to show the great change from a little beginning into a vast system. That intimation was all-important for the guidance of the servants. They were thereby taught that material, magnitude would be the result, instead of the work of the Lord retaining its primitive simplicity and small extent, spiritual power being the real greatness and the only true greatness in this world. The moment anything, no matter what it may be, in the Lord’s work becomes naturally striking before men’s eyes, you may rely on it that false principles have somehow got a footing within. There is more or less that which savors of the world. And therefore was it of great importance that, if their worldly greatness was to come, there should be a sketch of the great changes to follow; and this you find given in such an orderly manner in Matthew. This was not Mark’s object, but just enough for the guidance of the servants, that they should know that the Lord would surely accomplish His work, and do it perfectly; as He began it well, so would He end it well. But at the same time there would be no small change effected here below, when the little sowing of the Lord should grow into an aspiring object before men, as man loves to make it. “And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: but when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.” This, therefore, is the only parable that is added here; but the Spirit of God lets us know that the Lord on the same occasion spoke a great many more. Others we have in Matthew, where full dispensational light was specially called for. It was sufficient for the object of our Gospel to give what we have seen here. Not even the leaven follows, as in Luke.
But then, in the end of the chapter, we have another instructive appendix. It is no new thing for man’s work to mar, as far as can be, the Lord’s work—to turn service into a means of lordship here below, and make great that which at the present time has its worth in refusing to part from the scorn and reproach of Christ. For the flock is not great, but little: till He return it is a despised work of a despised Master. We have the dangers to which those engaged in His work would be exposed. This, I think, is the reason why the record is here given of the tempest-tossed vessel in which the Lord was, and the disciples, full of anxiety, trembled at the winds and the waves around theta, thinking of themselves much more than of their Master. Indeed they reproachfully turn to Him and say, “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” Such, alas! are the servants—apt to be heedless of His honor, abundantly careful for themselves. “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” It was little faith; but was it not little love too? It was an utter forgetfulness of the glory of Him who was in the vessel. It did, however, bring out the secret of their hearts—they at least cared for themselves: a dangerous thing in the servants of the Lord. Oh, to be self-sacrificing! to care for nothing but Him! At any rate the comfort is this—He does care for us. The Lord accordingly rises at that call, selfish as it might be, of glaring unbelief; yet His ear heard it as the call of believers, and He pitied them. “He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still.” The wind ceased, and there was a great calm; so that even the shipmen feared exceedingly in the presence of such power, and said one to another, “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”