Mark 1:1 Commentary - Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels(Mr. Ryle's Preface to this volume follows this exposition):
THE Gospel of Mark, which we now begin, is in some respects unlike the other three Gospels. It tells us nothing about the birth and early life of our Lord Jesus Christ. It contains comparatively few of His sayings and discourses. Of all the four inspired histories of our Lord's earthly ministry, this is by far the shortest.
But we must not allow these peculiarities to make us undervalue Mark's Gospel. It is a Gospel singularly full of precious facts about the Lord Jesus, narrated in a simple, terse, pithy, and condensed style. If it tells us few of our Lord's sayings, it is eminently rich in its catalogue of His doings. It often contains minute historical details of deep interest, which are wholly omitted in Matthew, Luke and John. In short, it is no mere abridged copy of Matthew, as some have rashly asserted, but the independent narrative of an independent witness, who was inspired to write a history of our Lord's works, rather than of His words. Let us read it with holy reverence. Like all the rest of Scripture, every word of Mark is "given by inspiration of God," and every word is "profitable." [Footnote: "Mark has the special gift of terse brevity, and of graphic painting in wonderful combination. While on every occasion he compresses the discourse, works, and history into the simplest possible kernel, he on the other hand, unfolds the scenes more clearly than Matthew does, who excels in the discourses. Not only do single incidents become in his hands complete pictures, but even when he is very brief, he often gives, with one pencil stroke, something new and peculiarly his own."- Stier's Words of the Lord Jesus.]
Let us observe, in these verses, what a full declaration we have of the dignity of our Lord Jesus Christ's person. The very first sentence speaks of Him as "the Son of God."
These words, "the Son of God," conveyed far more to Jewish minds than they do to ours. They were nothing less than an assertion of our Lord's divinity. They were a declaration that Jesus was Himself very God, and "equal with God." (Joh 5:18.)
There is a beautiful fitness in placing this truth in the very beginning of a Gospel. The divinity of Christ is the citadel and keep of Christianity. Here lies the infinite value of the satisfaction He made upon the cross. Here lies the peculiar merit of His atoning death for sinners. That death was not the death of a mere man, like ourselves, but of one who is "over all, God blessed for ever." (Rom 9:5.) We need not wonder that the sufferings of one person were a sufficient propitiation for the sin of a world, when we remember that He who suffered was the "Son of God."
Let believers cling to this doctrine with jealous watchfulness. With it, they stand upon a rock. Without it, they have nothing solid beneath their feet. Our hearts are weak. Our sins are many. We need a Redeemer who is able to save to the uttermost, and deliver from the wrath to come. We have such a Redeemer in Jesus Christ. He is "the mighty God." (Isa 9:6.)
Let us observe, in the second place, how the beginning of the Gospel was a fulfillment of Scripture. John the Baptist began his ministry, "as it is written in the prophets."
There was nothing unforeseen and suddenly contrived in the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. In the very beginning of Genesis we find it predicted that "the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head." (Gen 3:15.) All through the Old Testament we find the same event foretold with constantly increasing clearness. It was a promise often renewed to patriarchs, and repeated by prophets, that a Deliverer and Redeemer should one day come. His birth, His character, His life, His death, His resurrection, His forerunner, were all prophesied of, long before He came. Redemption was worked out and accomplished in every step, just "as it was written."
We should always read the Old Testament with a desire to find something in it about Jesus Christ. We study this portion of the Bible with little profit, if we can see in it nothing but Moses, and David, and Samuel, and the prophets. Let us search the books of the Old Testament more closely. It was said by Him whose words can never pass away, "These are they which testify of me." (Joh 5:39.)
Let us observe, in the third place, how great were the effects which the ministry of John the Baptist produced for a time on the Jewish nation. We are told that, ""there went out to him all the land of Judæa, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan."
The fact here recorded is one that is much overlooked. We are apt to lose sight of him who went before the face of our Lord, and to see nothing but the Lord Himself. We forget the morning star in the full blaze of the Sun. And yet it is clear that John's preaching arrested the attention of the whole Jewish people, and created an excitement all over Palestine. It aroused the nation from its slumbers, and prepared it for the ministry of our Lord, when He appeared. Jesus Himself says, "He was a burning and a shining light:-ye were willing to rejoice for a season in his light." (Joh 5:35.)
We ought to remark here how little dependence is to be placed on what is called "popularity." If ever there was one who was a popular minister for a season, John the Baptist was that man. Yet of all the crowds who came to his baptism, and heard his preaching, how few, it may be feared, were converted! Some, we may hope, like Andrew, were guided by John to Christ. But the vast majority, in all probability, died in their sins. Let us remember this whenever we see a crowded church. A great congregation no doubt is a pleasing sight. But the thought should often come across our minds, "How many of these people will reach heaven at last?" It is not enough to hear and admire popular preachers. It is no proof of our conversion that we always worship in a place where there is a crowd. Let us take care that we hear the voice of Christ Himself, and follow Him.
Let us observe, in the last place, what clear doctrine characterized John the Baptist's preaching. He exalted Christ: "There cometh one mightier than I after me." He spoke plainly of the Holy Ghost: "He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost."
These truths had never been so plainly proclaimed before by mortal man. More important truths than these are not to be found in the whole system of Christianity at this day. The principal work of every faithful minister of the Gospel, is to set the Lord Jesus fully before His people, and to show them His fullness and His power to save.-The next great work He has to do, is to set before them the work of the Holy Ghost, and the need of being born again, and inwardly baptized by His grace.-These two mighty truths appear to have been frequently on the lips of John the Baptist. It would be well for the church and the world, if there were more ministers like him.
Let us ask ourselves, as we leave the passage, "How much we know by practical experience of the truths which John preached?" What think we of Christ? Have we felt our need of Him, and fled to Him for peace? Is He king over our hearts, and all things to our souls?-What think we of the Holy Ghost? Has He wrought any work in our hearts? Has He renewed, and changed them? Has He made us partakers of the Divine nature? Life or death depend on our answer to these questions. "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his." (Rom 8:9.)
THE volume now in the reader's hands, is a continuation of a work already commenced by "Expository Thoughts on Matthew."
The nature of the work has been so fully explained in the preface to the volume on Matthew, that it seems unnecessary to say anything on the subject. It may be sufficient to repeat that the reader must not expect to find in these "Expository Thoughts," a learned critical commentary on the Gospels. If he expects this he will be disappointed. The work before him makes no pretense to being anything more than a continuous series of short practical Expositions.
The main difference between this volume and the one which has preceded it, will be found to consist in the occasional explanatory foot-notes. The subjects of these notes will generally prove to be difficult passages or expressions in the inspired text. I cannot pretend to say that I have thrown any new light on the difficulties in Mark. But I can honestly say that I have endeavored to put the reader in possession of all that can be said on each difficulty.
In composing these Expositions on Mark, I have tried to keep continually before me the three-fold object which I had in view, when I first commenced writing on the Gospels. I have endeavored to produce something which may be useful to heads of families in the conduct of family prayers-something which may assist those who visit the poor and desire to read to them-and something which may aid all readers of the Bible in the private study of God's word. In pursuance of this three-fold object, I have adhered steadily to the leading principles with which I began. I have dwelt principally on the things needful to salvation. I have purposely avoided all topics of minor importance. I have spoken plainly on all subjects, and have striven to say nothing which all may not understand.
I cannot expect that the work will satisfy all who want some book to read at family prayers. In fact I know, from communications which I have received, that some think the expositions too long. The views of the heads of families as to the length of their family prayers are so exceedingly various that it would be impossible to please one class without displeasing others. In some households the family prayers are so short and hurried, that I should despair of writing anything suitable to the master's wants. In such households a few verses of Scripture, read slowly and reverently, would probably be more useful than any commentary at all. As for those who find four pages too much to read at one time, and yet desire to read my Expository Thoughts, I can only suggest that they have an easy remedy in their own hands. They have only to leave out one or two divisions in each exposition, and they will find it as short as they please.
In preparing for publication this volume on Mark, I have looked through all those Commentaries mentioned in my preface to the volume on Matthew, which throw any light on Mark. [Footnote: It is needless to repeat their names.] After careful examination, I feel obliged to say, that, in my humble judgment, very few commentators, whether ancient or modern, seem to give this Gospel the attention it deserves. It has been too often treated as a mere abridgment of Matthew. This view of it I believe to be an entire mistake.
The only large separate Commentary on Mark, that I have been able to meet with, is a remarkable work consisting of 1666 folio pages, by George Petter, Vicar of Brede, in the county of Sussex, published in the year 1661. It is a work which from its scarcity, price, and size, is much less known than it deserves. The greater part of the impression is said to have perished in the great fire of London. Some account of this book may not be uninteresting to some readers.
Petter's Commentary was originally preached by him in the form of expository lectures to his own congregation. He began to preach on it, June 7th, 1618, and continued preaching on it most Sundays with very little intermission till May 28, 1643. The dates of each sermon are given on the margin.
The doctrine of this remarkable book is excellent-Protestant, evangelical, and spiritual. The learning of the author must also have been not inconsiderable, if we may Judge by the number and variety of his quotations. His faults of style and composition are the faults of the day in which he lived, and must therefore be charitably judged. But for laborious investigation of the meaning of every word, for patient discussion of every question bearing on the text, for fulness of matter, for real thoughtfulness, and for continual practical application, there is no work on Mark which, in my opinion, bears comparison with Petter's. Like Goliath's sword, "there is none like it."
I now send forth these "Expository Thoughts on Mark" with an earnest prayer that it may please God to use the volume for His glory. It has been written under the pressure of many public duties, and amidst many interruptions. No one is more conscious of its defects than myself. But I can honestly say, that my chief desire, if I know any thing of my heart, in this and all my writings, is to lead my readers to Christ and faith in Him, to repentance and holiness, to the Bible and to prayer.
If these are the results of this volume in any one case, the labor I have bestowed upon it will be more than repaid.
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Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels
Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels is the complete collection (originally 4 volumes) of the 19th century's pastors notes on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. A great reference for all Christians and others seeking to further their understanding of the gospels.
John Charles Ryle (1816 - 1900) was an English evangelical Anglican bishop. He was the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool.