Here, I. Christ foretels his own approaching sufferings. He passed through Galilee with more expedition than usual, and would not that any man should know of it (Mark 9:30); because he had done many mighty and good works among them in vain, they shall not be invited to see them and have the benefit of them, as they have been. The time of his sufferings drew nigh, and therefore he was willing to be private awhile, and to converse only with his disciples, to prepare them for the approaching trial, Mark 9:31. He said to them, The Son of man is delivered by the determinate council and fore-knowledge of God into the hands of men (Mark 9:31), and they shall kill him. He had been delivered into the hands of devils, and they had worried him, it had not been so strange; but that men, who have reason, and should have love, that they should be thus spiteful to the Son of man, who came to redeem and save them, is unaccountable. But still it is observable that when Christ spoke of his death, he alway spoke of his resurrection, which took away the reproach of it from himself, and should have taken away the grief of it from his disciples. But they understood not that saying, Mark 9:32. The words were plain enough, but they could not be reconciled to the thing, and therefore would suppose them to have some mystical meaning which they did not understand, and they were afraid to ask him; not because he was difficult of access, or stern to those who consulted him, but either because they were loth to know the truth, or because they expected to be chidden for their backwardness to receive it. Many remain ignorant because they are ashamed to enquire.
II. He rebukes his disciples for magnifying themselves. When he came to Capernaum, he privately asked his disciples what it was they disputed among themselves by the way, Mark 9:33. He knew very well what the dispute was, but he would know it from them, and would have them to confess their fault and folly in it. Note, 1. We must all expect to be called to an account by our Lord Jesus, concerning what passes while we are in the way in this state of passage and probation. 2. We must in a particular manner be called to an account about our discourses among ourselves; for by our words we must be justified or condemned. 3. As our other discourses among ourselves by the way, so especially our disputes, will be all called over again, and we shall be called to an account about them. 4. Of all disputes, Christ will be sure to reckon with his disciples for their disputes about precedency and superiority: that was the subject of the debate here, who should be the greater, Mark 9:34. Nothing could be more contrary to the two great laws of Christ’s kingdom, lessons of his school, and instructions of his example, which are humility and love, than desiring preferment in the world, and disputing about it. This ill temper he took all occasions to check, both because it arose from a mistaken notion of his kingdom, as if it were of this world, and because it tended so directly to be debasing of the honour, and the corrupting of the purity, of his gospel, and, he foresaw, would be so much the bane of the church.
Now, (1.) They were willing to cover this fault (Mark 9:34); they held their peace. As they would not ask (Mark 9:32), because they were ashamed to own their ignorance, so here they would not answer because they were ashamed to own their pride. (2.) He was willing to amend this fault in them, and to bring them to a better temper; and therefore sat down, that he might have a solemn and full discourse with them about this matter; he called the twelve to him, and told them, [1.] That ambition and affectation of dignity and dominion, instead of gaining them preferment in his kingdom, would but postpone their preferment; If any man desire and aim to be first, he shall be last; he that exalteth himself, shall be abased, and men’s pride shall bring them low. [2.] That there is no preferment to be had under him, but an opportunity for, and an obligation to, so much the more labour and condescension; If any man desire to be first, when he is so, he must be much the more busy and serviceable to every body. He that desires the office of a bishop, desires a good work, for he must, as St. Paul did, labour the more abundantly, and make himself the servant of all. [3.] That those who are most humble and self-denying, do most resemble Christ, and shall be most tenderly owned by him. This he taught them by a sign; He took a child in his arms, that had nothing of pride and ambition in it. “Look you,” saith he; “whosoever shall receive one like this child, receives me. Those of a humble, meek, mild disposition are such as I will own and countenance, and encourage every body else to do so too, and will take what is done to them as done to myself; and so will my Father too, for he who thus receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me, and it shall be placed to his account, and repaid with interest.”
III. He rebukes them for vilifying all but themselves; while they are striving which of them should be greatest, they will not allow those who are not in communion with them to be any thing. Observe,
1. The account which John gave him, of the restraint they had laid upon one from making use of the name of Christ, because he was not of their society. Though they were ashamed to own their contests for preferment, they seem to boast of this exercise of their authority, and expected their Master would not only justify them in it, but commend them for it; and hoped he would not blame them for desiring to be great, when they would thus use their power for maintaining the honour of the sacred college. Master, saith John, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, but he followeth not us, Mark 9:38. (1.) It was strange that the one who was not a professed disciple and follower of Christ, should yet have power to cast out devils, in his name, for that seemed to be peculiar to those whom he called, Mark 6:7. But some think that he was a disciple of John, who made use of the name of the Messiah, not as come, but as near at hand, not knowing that Jesus was he. It should rather seem that he made use of the name of Jesus, believing him to be the Christ, as the other disciples did. And why not he receive that power from Christ, whose Spirit, like the wind, blows where it listeth, without such an outward call as the apostles had? And perhaps there were many more such. Christ’s grace is not tied to the visible church. (2.) It was strange that one who cast out devils in the name of Christ, did not join himself to the apostles, and follow Christ with them, but should continue to act in separation from them. I know of nothing that could hinder him from following them, unless because he was loth to leave all to follow them; and if so, that was an ill principle. The thing did not look well, and therefore the disciples forbade him to make use of Christ’s name as they did, unless he would follow him as they did. This was like the motion Joshua made concerning Eldad and Medad, that prophesied in the camp, and went not up with the rest to the door of the tabernacle; “My lord Moses, forbid them (Num. 11:28); restrain them, silence them, for it is a schism.” Thus apt are we to imagine that those do not follow Christ at all, who do not follow him with us, and that those do nothing well, who do not just as we do. But the Lord knows them that are his, however they are dispersed; and this instance gives us a needful caution, to take heed lest we be carried, by an excess of zeal for the unity of the church, and for that which we are sure is right and good, to oppose that which yet may tend to the enlargement of the church, and the advancement of its true interests another way.
2. The rebuke he gave to them for this (Mark 9:39); Jesus said, “Forbid him not, nor any other that does likewise.” This was like the check Moses gave to Joshua; Enviest thou for my sake? Note, That which is good, and doeth good, must not be prohibited, though there be some defect or irregularity in the manner of doing it. Casting out devils, and so destroying Satan’s kingdom, doing this in Christ’s name, and so owning him to be sent of God, and giving honour to him as the Fountain of grace, preaching down sin, and preaching up Christ, are good things, very good things, which ought not to be forbidden to any, merely because they follow not with us. If Christ be preached, Paul therein doth, and will rejoice, though he be eclipsed by it, Phil. 1:18. Two reasons Christ gives why such should not be forbidden. (1.) Because we cannot suppose that any man who makes use of Christ’s name in working miracles, should blaspheme his name, as the scribes and Pharisees did. There were those indeed that did in Christ’s name cast out devils, and yet in other respects were workers of iniquity; but they did not speak evil of Christ. (2.) Because those that differed in communion, while they agreed to fight against Satan under the banner of Christ, ought to look upon one another as on the same side, notwithstanding that difference. He that is not against us is on our part. As to the great controversy between Christ an Beelzebub, he had said, He that is not with me is against me, Matt. 12:30. He that will not own Christ, owns Satan. But as to those that own Christ, though not in the same circumstances, that follow him, though not with us, we must reckon that though these differ from us, they are not against us, and therefore are on our part, and we must not be any hindrance to their usefulness.