We have here the story of Christ casting the devil out of a child, somewhat more fully related than it was in Matt. 17:14 Observe here,
I. Christ’s return to his disciples, and the perplexity he found them in. He laid aside his robes of glory, and came to look after his family, and to enquire what was become of them. Christ’s glory above does not make him forget the concerns of his church below, which he visits in great humility, Mark 9:14. And he came very seasonably, when the disciples were embarrassed and run a-ground; the scribes, who were sworn enemies both to him and them, had gained an advantage against them. A child possessed with a devil was brought to them, and they could not cast out the devil, whereupon the scribes insulted over them, and reflected upon their Master, and triumphed as if the day were their own. He found the scribes questioning with them, in the hearing of the multitude, some of whom perhaps began to be shocked by it. Thus Moses, when he came down from the mount, found the camp of Israel in great disorder; so soon were Christ and Moses missed. Christ’s return was very welcome, no doubt, to the disciples, and unwelcome to the scribes. But particular notice is taken of its being very surprising to the people, who perhaps were ready to say, As for this Jesus, we wot not what is become of him; but when they beheld him coming to them again, they were greatly amazed (some copies add, kai exephobethesan—and they were afraid); and running to him (some copies for prostrechontes, read proschairontes—congratulating him, or bidding him welcome), they saluted him. It is easy to give a reason why they should be glad to see him; but why where they amazed, greatly amazed, when they beheld him? Probably, there might remain something unusual in his countenance; as Moses’s face shone when he came down from the mount, which made the people afraid to come nigh him, Exod. 34:30. So perhaps did Christ’s face, in some measure; at least, instead of seeming fatigued, there appeared a wonderful briskness and sprightliness in his looks, which amazed them.
II. The case which perplexed the disciples, brought before him. He asked the scribes, who, he knew, were always vexatious to his disciples, and teazing them upon every occasion, “What question ye with them? What is the quarrel now?” The scribes made no answer, for they were confounded at his presence; the disciples made none, for they were comforted, and now left all to him. But the father of the child opened the case, Mark 9:17, 18. 1. His child is possessed with a dumb spirit; he has the falling-sickness, and in his fits is speechless; his case is very sad, for, wheresoever the fit takes him, the spirit tears him, throws him into such violent convulsions as almost pull him to pieces; and, which is very grievous to himself, and frightful to those about him, he foams at his mouth, and gnashes with his teeth, as one in pain and great misery; and though the fits go off presently, yet they leave him so weak, that he pines away, is worn to a skeleton; his flesh is dried away; so the word signifies, Ps. 102:3-5. This was a constant affliction to a tender father. 2. The disciples cannot give him any relief; “I desired they would cast him out, as they had done many, and they would willingly have done it, but they could not; and therefore thou couldest never have come in better time; Master, I have brought him to thee.”
III. The rebuke he gave to them all (Mark 9:19); O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? Dr. Hammond understands this as spoken to the disciples, reproving them for not exerting the power he had given them, and because they did not fast and pray, as in some cases he had directed them to do. But Dr. Whitby takes it as a rebuke to the scribes, who gloried in this disappointment that the disciples met with, and hoped to run them down with it. Them he calls a faithless generation, and speaks as one weary of being with them, and of bearing with them. We never heard him complaining, “How long shall I be in this low condition, and suffer that?” But, “How long shall I be among these faithless people, and suffer them?”
IV. The deplorable condition that the child was actually in, when he was brought to Christ, and the doleful representation which the father made of it. When the child saw Christ, he fell into a fit; The spirit straightway tore him, boiled within him, troubled him (so Dr. Hammond); as if the devil would set Christ at defiance, and hoped to be too hard for him too, and to keep possession in spite of him. The child fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. We may put another construction upon it—that the devil raged, and had so much the greater wrath, because he knew that his time was short, Rev. 7:12. Christ asked, How long since this came to him? And, it seems, the disease was of long standing; it came to him of a child (Mark 9:21), which made the case the more sad, and the cure more difficult. We are all by nature children of disobedience, and in such the evil spirit works, and has done so from our childhood; for foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, and nothing but the mighty grace of Christ can cast it out.
V. The pressing instances which the father of the child makes with Christ for a cure (Mark 9:22); Ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him. Note, The devil aims at the ruin of those in whom he rules and works, and seeks whom he may devour. But, if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. The leper was confident of Christ’s power, but put an if upon his will (Matt. 8:2); If thou wilt, thou canst. This poor man referred himself to his good-will, but put an if upon his power, because his disciples, who cast out devils in his name, had been non-plussed in this case. Thus Christ suffers in his honour by the difficulties and follies of his disciples.
VI. The answer Christ gave to his address (Mark 9:23); If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. Here, 1. He tacitly checks the weakness of his faith. The sufferer put it upon Christ’s power, If thou canst do any thing, and reflected on the want of power in the disciples; but Christ turns it upon him, and puts him upon questioning his own faith, and will have him impute the disappointment to the want of that; If thou canst believe. 2. He graciously encourages the strength of his desire; “All things are possible, will appear possible, to him that believes the almighty power of God, to which all things are possible;” or “That shall be done by the grace of God, for them that believe in the promise of God, which seemed utterly impossible.” Note, In dealing with Christ, very much is put upon our believing, and very much promised it. Canst thou believe? Darest thou believe? Art thou willing to venture thy all in the hands of Christ? To venture all thy spiritual concerns with him, and all thy temporal concerns for him? Canst thou find in thy heart to do this? If so, it is not impossible but that, though thou has been a great sinner, thou mayest be reconciled; though thou art very mean and unworthy, thou mayest get to heaven. If thou canst believe, it is possible that thy hard heart may be softened, thy spiritual diseases may be cured; and that, weak as thou art, thou mayest be able to hold out to the end.
VII. The profession of faith which the poor man made hereupon (Mark 9:24); He cried out, “Lord, I believe; I am fully persuaded both of thy power and of thy pity; my cure shall not be prevented by the want of faith; Lord, I believe.” He adds a prayer for grace to enable him more firmly to rely upon the assurances he had of the ability and willingness of Christ to save; Help thou my unbelief. Note, 1. Even those who through grace can say, Lord, I believe, have reason to complain of their unbelief; that they cannot so readily apply to themselves, and their own case, the word of Christ as they should, no so cheerfully depend upon it. 2. Those that complain of unbelief, must look up to Christ for grace to help them against it, and his grace shall be sufficient for them. “Help mine unbelief, help me to a pardon for it, help me with power against it; help out what is wanting in my faith with thy grace, the strength of which is perfected in our weakness.”
VIII. The cure of the child, and the conquest of this raging devil in the child. Christ saw the people come running together, expecting to see the issue of this trial of skill, and therefore kept them in suspense no longer, but rebuked the foul spirit; the unclean spirit, so it should be rendered, as in other places. Observe, 1. What the charge was which Christ gave to this unclean spirit; “Thou dumb and deaf spirit, that makest the poor child dumb and deaf, but shalt thyself be made to hear thy doom, and not be able to say any thing against it, come out of him immediately, and enter no more into him. Let him not only be brought out of this fit, but let his fits never return.” Note, Whom Christ cures, he cures effectually. Satan may go out himself, and yet recover possession; but if Christ cast him out, he will keep him out. 2. How the unclean spirit took it; he grew yet more outrageous, he cried, and rent him sore, gave him such a twitch at parting, that he was as one dead; so loth was he to quit his hold, so exasperated at the superior power of Christ, so malicious to the child, and so desirous was he to kill him. Many said, He is dead. Thus the toss that a soul is in at the breaking of Satan’s power in it may perhaps be frightful for the present, but opens the door to lasting comfort. 3. How the child was perfectly restored (Mark 9:27); Jesus took him by the hand, kratesas—took fast hold of him, and strongly bore him up, and he arose and recovered, and all was well.
IX. The reason he gave to the disciples why they could not cast out this devil. They enquired of him privately why they could not, that wherein they were defective might be made up another time, and they might not again be thus publicly shamed; and he told them (Mark 9:29), This kind can come forth by nothing but prayer and fasting. Whatever other difference there really might be, none appears between this and other kinds, but that the unclean spirit had had possession of this poor patient from a child, and that strengthened his interest, and confirmed his hold. When vicious habits are rooted by long usage, and begin to plead prescription, like chronical diseases that are hardly cured. Can the Aethiopian change his skin? The disciples must not think to do their work always with a like ease; some services call them to take more than ordinary pains; but Christ can do that with a word’s speaking, which they must prevail for the doing of by prayer and fasting.