The first words of this chapter oblige us to look back to the close of that which precedes it, where we find the Gadarenes so resenting the loss of their swine, that they were disgusted with Christ’s company, and besought him to depart out of their coasts. Now here it follows, He entered into a ship, and passed over. They bid him begone, and he took them at their word, and we never read that he came into their coasts again. Now here observe, 1. His justice—that he left them. Note, Christ will not tarry long where he is not welcome. In righteous judgment, he forsakes those places and persons that are weary of him, but abides with those that covet and court his stay. If the unbeliever will depart from Christ, let him depart; it is at his peril, 1 Cor. 7:15. 2. His patience—that he did not leave some destroying judgment behind him, to punish them, as they deserved, for their contempt and contumacy. How easily, how justly, might he have sent them after their swine, who were already so much under the devil’s power. The provocation, indeed, was very great: but he put it up, and passed it by; and, without any angry resentments or upbraidings, he entered into a ship, and passed over. This was the day of his patience; he came not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them; not to kill, but to cure. Spiritual judgments agree more with the constitution of gospel times; yet some observe, that in those bloody wars which the Romans made upon the Jews, which began not many years after this, they first besieged the town of Gadara, where these Gadarenes dwelt. Note, Those that drive Christ from them, draw all miseries upon them. Woe unto us, if God depart from us.
He came into his own city, Capernaum, the principal place of his residence at present (Mark 2:1), and therefore called his own city. He had himself testified, that a prophet it least honoured in his own country and city, yet thither he came; for he sought not his own honour; but, being in a state of humiliation, he was content to be despised of the people. At Capernaum all the circumstances recorded in this chapter happened, and are, therefore, put together here, though, in the harmony of the evangelists, other events intervened. When the Gadarenes desired Christ to depart, they of Capernaum received him. If Christ be affronted by some, there are others in whom he will be glorious; if one will not, another will.
Now the first occurrence, after Christ’s return to Capernaum, as recorded in Matt. 9:1-8, was the cure of the man sick of the palsy. In which we may observe,
I. The faith of his friends in bringing him to Christ. His distemper was such, that he could not come to Christ himself, but as he was carried. Note, Even the halt and the lame may be brought to Christ, and they shall not be rejected by him. If we do as well as we can, he will accept of us. Christ had an eye to their faith. Little children cannot go to Christ themselves, but he will have an eye to the faith of those that bring them, and it shall not be in vain. Jesus saw their faith, the faith of the paralytic himself, as well as of them that brought him; Jesus saw the habit of faith, though his distemper, perhaps, impaired his intellect, and obstructed the actings of it. Now their faith was, 1. A strong faith; they firmly believed that Jesus Christ both could and would heal him; else they would not have brought the sick man to him so publicly, and through so much difficulty. 2. A humble faith; though the sick man was unable to stir a step, they would not ask Christ to make him a visit, but brought him to attend on Christ. It is fitter than we should wait on Christ, than he on us. 3. An active faith: in the belief of Christ’s power and goodness, they brought the sick man to him, lying on a bed, which could not be done without a deal of pains. Note, A strong faith regards no obstacles in pressing after Christ.
II. The favour of Christ, in what he said to him; Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee. This was a sovereign cordial to a sick man, and was enough to make all his bed in his sickness; and to make it easy to him. We read not of any thing said to Christ; probably the poor sick man could not speak for himself, and they that brought him chose rather to speak by actions than words; they set him before Christ; that was enough. Note, It is not in vain to present ourselves and our friends to Christ, as the objects of his pity. Misery cries as well as sin, and mercy is no less quick of hearing than justice. Here is, in what Christ said, 1. A kind compellation; Son. Note, Exhortations and consolations to the afflicted speak to them as to sons, for afflictions are fatherly discipline, Heb. 12:5. 2. A gracious encouragement; “Be of good cheer. Have a good heart on it; cheer up thy spirits.” Probably the poor man, when let down among them all in his bed, was put out of countenance, was afraid of a rebuke for being brought in so rudely: but Christ does not stand upon ceremony; he bids him be of good cheer; all would be well, he should not be laid before Christ in vain. Christ bids him be of good cheer; and then cures him. He would have those to whom he deals his gifts, to be cheerful in seeking him, and in trusting in him; to be of good courage. 3. A good reason for that encouragement; Thy sins are forgiven thee. Now this may be considered, (1.) as an introduction to the cure of his bodily distemper; “Thy sins are pardoned, and therefore thou shalt be healed.” Note, As sin is the cause of sickness, so the remission of sin is the comfort of recovery from sickness; not but that sin may be pardoned, and yet the sickness not removed; not but that the sickness may be removed, and yet the sin not pardoned: but if we have the comfort of our reconciliation to God, with the comfort of our recovery from sickness, this makes it a mercy indeed to us, as to Hezekiah, Isa. 38:17. Or, (2.) As a reason of the command to be of good cheer, whether he were cured of his disease or not; “Though I should not heal thee, wilt thou not say thou hast not sought in vain, if I assure thee that thy sins are pardoned; and wilt thou not look upon that as a sufficient ground of comfort, though thou shouldst continue sick of the palsy?” Note, They who, through grace, have some evidence of the forgiveness of their sins, have reasons to be of good cheer, whatever outward troubles or afflictions they are under; see Isa. 33:24.
III. The cavil of the scribes at that which Christ said (Matt. 9:3); They said within themselves, in their hearts, among themselves, in their secret whisperings, This man blasphemeth. See how the greatest instance of heaven’s power and grace is branded with the blackest note of hell’s enmity; Christ’s pardoning sin is termed blasphemy; nor had it been less, if he had not had commission from God for it. They, therefore, are guilty of blasphemy, that have no such commission, and yet pretend to pardon sin.
IV. The conviction which Christ gave them of the unreasonableness of this cavil, before he proceeded.
1. He charged them with it. Though they did but say it within themselves, he knew their thoughts. Note, Our Lord Jesus has the perfect knowledge of all that we say within ourselves. Thoughts are secret and sudden, yet naked and open before Christ, the eternal Word (Heb. 4:12, 13), and he understands them afar off, Ps. 139:2. He could say to them (which no mere man could), Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? Note, There is a great deal of evil in sinful thoughts, which is very offensive to the Lord Jesus. He being the Sovereign of the heart, sinful thoughts invade his right, and disturb his possession; therefore he takes notice of them, and is much displeased with them. In them lies the root of bitterness, Gen. 6:5. The sins that begin and end in the heart, and go no further, are as dangerous as any other.
2. He argued them out of it, Matt. 9:5, 6. Where observe,
(1.) How he asserts his authority in the kingdom of grace. He undertakes to make out, that the Son of man, the Mediator, has power on earth to forgive sins; for therefore the Father has committed all judgment to the Son, and has given him this authority, because he is the Son of man, John 5:22, 27. If he has power to give eternal life, as he certainly has (John 17:2), he must have power to forgive sin; for guilt is a bar that must be removed, or we can never get to heaven. What an encouragement is this to poor sinners to repent, that the power of pardoning sin is put into the hands of the Son of man, who is bone of our bone! And if he had this power on earth, much more now that he is exalted to the Father’s right hand, to give repentance and remission of sins, and so to be both a Prince and a Saviour, Acts 5:31.
(2.) How he proves it, by his power in the kingdom of nature; his power to cure diseases. Isa. it not as easy to say, Thy sins are forgiven thee, as to say, Arise and walk? He that can cure the disease, whether declaratively as a Prophet, or authoritatively as God, can, in like manner, forgive the sin. Now, [1.] This is a general argument to prove that Christ had a divine mission. His miracles, especially his miraculous cures, confirm what he said of himself, that he was the Son of God; the power that appeared in his cures proved him sent of God; and the pity that appeared in them proved him sent of God to heal and save. The God of truth would not set his seal to a lie. [2.] It had a particular cogency in this case. The palsy was but a symptom of the disease of sin; now he made it to appear, that he could effectually cure the original disease, by the immediate removal of that symptom; so close a connection was there between the sin and the sickness. He that had power to remove the punishment, no doubt, had power to remit the sin. The scribes stood much upon a legal righteousness, and placed their confidence in that, and made no great matter of the forgiveness of sin, the doctrine upon which Christ hereby designed to put honour, and to show that his great errand to the world was to save his people from their sins.
V. The immediate cure of the sick man. Christ turned from disputing with them, and spake healing to him. The most necessary arguings must not divert us from doing the good that our hand finds to do. He saith to the sick of the palsy, Arise, take up thy bed, and go to thine house; and a healing, quickening, strengthening power accompanied this word (Matt. 9:7): he arose and departed to his house. Now, 1. Christ bid him take up his bed, to show that he was perfectly cured, and that not only he had no more occasion to be carried upon his bed, but that he had strength to carry it. 2. He sent him to his house, to be a blessing to his family, where he had been so long a burden; and did not take him along with him for a show, which those would do in such a case who seek the honour that comes from men.
VI. The impression which this made upon the multitude (Matt. 9:8); they marvelled, and glorified God. Note, All our wonder should help to enlarge our hearts in glorifying God, who alone does marvellous things. They glorified God for what he had done for this poor man. Note, Others’ mercies should be our praises, and we should give him thanks for them, for we are members one of another. Though few of this multitude were so convinced, as to be brought to believe in Christ, and to follow him, yet they admired him, not as God, or the Son of God, but as a man to whom God had given such power. Note, God must be glorified in all the power that is given to men to do good. For all power is originally his; it is in him, as the Fountain, in men, as the cisterns.
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