Here, I. Christ promiseth a reward to all those that are any way kind to his disciples (Mark 9:41); “Whosoever shall give you a cup of water, when you need it, and will be a refreshment to you, because ye belong to Christ, and are of his family, he shall not lose his reward.” Note, 1. It is the honour and happiness of Christians, that they belong to Christ, they have joined themselves to him, and are owned by him; they wear his livery and retainers to his family; nay, they are more nearly related, they are members of his body. 2. They who belong to Christ, may sometimes be reduced to such straits as to be glad of a cup of cold water. 3. The relieving of Christ’s poor in their distresses, is a good deed, and will turn a good account; he accepts it, and will reward it. 4. What kindness is done to Christ’s poor, must be done them for his sake, and because they belong to him; for that is it that sanctifies the kindness, and puts a value upon it in the sight of God. 5. This is a reason why we must not discountenance and discourage those who are serving the interests of Christ’s kingdom, though they are not in every thing of our mind and way. It comes in here as a reason why those must not be hindered, that cast out devils in Christ’s name, though they did not follow him; for (as Dr. Hammond paraphrases it) “It is not only the great eminent performances which are done by you my constant attendants and disciples, that are accepted by me, but every the least degree of sincere faith and Christian performance, proportionable but to the expressing the least kindness, as giving a cup of water to a disciple of mine for being such, shall be accepted and rewarded.” If Christ reckons kindness to us services to him, we ought to reckon services to him kindnesses to us, and to encourage them, though done by those that follow not with us.
II. He threatens those that offend his little ones, that wilfully are the occasion of sin or trouble to them, Mark 9:42. Whosoever shall grieve any true Christians, though they be of the weakest, shall oppose their entrance into the ways of God, or discourage and obstruct their progress in those ways, shall either restrain them from doing good, or draw them in to commit sin, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea: his punishment will be very great, and the death and ruin of his soul more terrible than such a death and ruin of his body would be. See Matt. 18:6.
III. He warns all his followers to take heed of ruining their own souls. This charity must begin at home; if we must take heed of doing any thing to hinder others from good, and to occasion their sin, much more careful must we be to avoid every thing that will take us off from our duty, or lead us to sin; and that which doth so we must part with, though it be ever so dear to us. This we had twice in Matthew, Matt. 5:29, 30; 18:8, 9. It is here urged somewhat more largely and pressingly; certainly this requires our serious regard, which is so much insisted upon. Observe,
1. The case supposed, that our own hand, or eye, or foot, offend us; that the impure corruption we indulge is as dear to us as an eye or a hand, or that that which is to us as an eye or a hand, is become an invisible temptation to sin, or occasion of it. Suppose the beloved is become a sin, or the sin a beloved. Suppose we cannot keep that which is dear to us, but it will be a snare and a stumbling-block; suppose we must part with it, or part with Christ and a good conscience.
2. The duty prescribed in that case; Pluck out the eye, cut off the hand and foot, mortify the darling lust, kill it, crucify it, starve it, make no provision for it. Let the idols that have been delectable things, be cast away as detestable things; keep at a distance from that which is a temptation, though ever so pleasing. It is necessary that the part which is gangrened, should be taken off for the preservation of the whole. Immedicabile vulnus ense recidendum est, ne pars sincera trahatur—The part that is incurably wounded must be cut off, lest the parts that are sound be corrupted. We must put ourselves to pain, that we may not bring ourselves to ruin; self must be denied, that it may not be destroyed.
3. The necessity of doing this. The flesh must be mortified, that we may enter into life (Mark 9:43, 45), into the kingdom of God, Mark 9:47. Though, by abandoning sin, we may, for the present, feel ourselves as if we were halt and maimed (it may seem to be a force put upon ourselves, and may create us some uneasiness), yet it is for life; and all that men have, they will give for their lives: it is for a kingdom, the kingdom of God, which we cannot otherwise obtain; these halts and maims will be the marks of the Lord Jesus, will be in that kingdom scars of honour.
4. The danger of not doing this. The matter is brought to this issue, that either sin must die, or we must die. If we will lay this Delilah in our bosom, it will betray us; if we be ruled by sin, we shall inevitably be ruined by it; if we must keep our two hands, and two eyes, and two feet, we must with them be cast into hell. Our Saviour often pressed our duty upon us, from the consideration of the torments of hell, which we run ourselves into if we continue in sin. With what an emphasis of terror are those words repeated three times here, Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched! The words are quoted from Isa. 66:24. (1.) The reflections and reproaches of the sinner’s own conscience are the worm that dieth not; which will cleave to the damned soul as the worms do to the dead body, and prey upon it, and never leave it till it is quite devoured. Son, remember, will set this worm gnawing; and how terrible will it bite that word (Prov. 5:12, 23), How have I hated instruction! The soul that is food to this worm, dies not; and the worm is bred in it, and one with it, and therefore neither doth that die. Damned sinners will be to eternity accusing, condemning, and upbraiding, themselves with their own follies, which, how much soever they are now in love with them, will at the last bite like a serpent, and sting like an adder. (2.) The wrath of God fastening upon a guilty and polluted conscience, is the fire that is not quenched; for it is the wrath of the living God, the eternal God, into whose hands it is a fearful thing to fall. There are no operations of the Spirit of grace upon the souls of the damned sinners, and therefore there is nothing to alter the nature of the fuel, which must remain for ever combustible; nor is there any application of the merit of Christ to them, and therefore there is nothing to appease or quench the violence of the fire. Dr. Whitby shows that the eternity of the torments of hell was not only the constant faith of the Christian church, but had been so of the Jewish church. Josephus saith, The Pharisees held that the souls of the wicked were to be punished with perpetual punishment; and that there was appointed for them a perpetual prison. And Philo saith, The punishment of the wicked is to live for ever dying, and to be for ever in pains and griefs that never cease.
The Mark 9:49, 50 are somewhat difficult, and interpreters agree not in the sense of them; for every one in general, or rather every one of them that are cast into hell, shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Therefore have salt in yourselves. [1.] It was appointed by the law of Moses, that every sacrifice should be salted with salt, not to preserve it (for it was to be immediately consumed), but because it was the food of God’s table, and no flesh is eaten without salt; it was therefore particularly required in the meat-offerings, Lev. 2:13. [2.] The nature of man, being corrupt, and as such being called flesh (Gen. 6:3; Ps. 78:39), some way or other must be salted, in order to its being a sacrifice to God. The salting of fish (and I think of other things) they call the curing of it. [3.] Our chief concern is, to present ourselves living sacrifices to the grace of God (Rom. 12:1), and, in order to our acceptableness, we must be salted with salt, our corrupt affections must be subdued and mortified, and we must have in our souls a savour of grace. Thus the offering up or sacrificing of the Gentiles is said to be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, as the sacrifices were salted, Rom. 15:16. [4.] Those that have the salt of grace, must make it appear that they have it; that they have salt in themselves, a living principle of grace in their hearts, which works out all corrupt dispositions, and every thing in the soul that tends to putrefaction, and would offend our God, or our own consciences, as unsavoury meat doth. Our speech must be always with grace seasoned with this salt, that no corrupt communication may proceed out of our mouth, but we may loathe it as much as we would to put putrid meat into our mouths. [5.] As this gracious salt will keep our own consciences void of offence, so it will keep our conversation with others so, that we may not offend any of Christ’s little ones, but may be at peace one with another. [6.] We must not only have this salt of grace, but we must always retain the relish and savour of it; for if this salt lose its saltiness, if a Christian revolt from his Christianity, if he loses the savour of it, and be no longer under the power and influence of it, what can recover him, or wherewith will ye season him? This was said Matt. 5:13. [7.] Those that present not themselves living sacrifices to God’s grace, shall be made for ever dying sacrifices to his justice, and since they would not give honour to him, he will get him honour upon them; they would not be salted with the salt of divine grace, would not admit that to subdue their corrupt affections, no, they would not submit to the operation, could not bear the corrosives that were necessary to eat out the proud flesh, it was to them like cutting off a hand, or plucking out an eye; and therefore in hell they shall be salted with fire; coals of fire shall be scattered upon them (Ezek. 10:2), as salt upon the meat, and brimstone (Job 18:15), as fire and brimstone were rained on Sodom; the pleasures they have lived in, shall eat their flesh, as it were with fire, Jas. 5:3. The pain of mortifying the flesh now is no more to be compared with the punishment for not mortifying it, than salting with burning. And since he had said, that the fire of hell shall not be quenched, but it might be objected, that the fuel will not last always, he here intimates, that by the power of God it shall be made to last always; for those that are cast into hell, will find the fire to have not only the corroding quality of salt, but its preserving quality; whence it is used to signify that which is lasting: a covenant of salt is a perpetual covenant, and Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt, made her a remaining monument of divine vengeance. Now since this will certainly be the doom of those that do not crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts, let us, knowing this terror of the Lord, be persuaded to do it.