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iv. the beatitudes — continued


















" Galilee of the Gentiles ; the people which sat in darkness
saw a great light ; and to them which sat in the region and
shadow of death light is sprung up." — Matt. iv. 15, 16.

Galilee was the cradle of the Gospel. " The
word which God sent unto the children of Israel,
preaching peace by Jesus Christ, began from
Galilee," spreading thence throughout all Judea.*
It was a fitting birth-place for the kingdom of
heaven. First of all it had been pointed out by
the voice of prophecy as the place of dawn for
a new era of Hope. The fact is duly recognised
by the Evangelist, and with spiritual tact he
cites the oracle as one finding its fulfilment in
the events he is about to record. The appro-
priateness of the citation is not to be denied,
though the circumstances contemplated by the
prophets were very different from those which
prevailed at the beginning of our Lord's public
ministry. The darkness which brooded over
the region to the west of the sea of Chinnereth,
in the days of Isaiah, was the desolation and

•Acts x. 36, 37.


misery caused by the devastating hosts of As-
syria. The people in that quarter of the Holy
Land felt the curse of war first, because along
the way which skirted the lake the Assyrian
oppressor marched to conquest. To them, by
way of compensation, was to come first, also,
the promised redemption. And that blessing,
when it came, was to consist in the breaking of
the oppressor's yoke, the emancipation of a
down-trodden people from the cruel sway of
the eastern tyrant, by the power of a Messianic
Prince sent by God to deliver His people. Then
the people that sat in darkness should see the
dawn of a better day for the chosen nation,
bringing to the conquered and spoiled the bles-
sings of liberty, peace, and prosperity.

Eight centuries later the position of Israel
was in many respects changed. Still she was
in bondage to a foreign yoke, but Assyria had
given place to Rome. And the yoke of Rome
was easy and her burthen light in comparison
with those of Assyria. Under her dominion a
submissive people, not restive under the symbols
of conquest, might enjoy the blessings of good
government, security for life and property, and
encouragement to industry. The deepest dark-
ness brooding over the land now was not politi-
cal, but moral and spiritual. The deliverance
most urgently called for was not emancipation
from a foreign yoke, but salvation from the


night of ignorance, and from the power of sin.
The need of Israel was not a political Messiah,
but one who could bring to her the light of
spiritual truth and the liberty of holiness. Such
a Messiah God gave to Israel in the person of
Jesus, who came to save His countrymen, not
from Rome, but from their prejudices and their
sins. He was the true Messiah to whom all
prophecy dimly pointed, in whom all prophetic
ideals found their highest fulfilment ; not less,
but all the more, the true Messiah, because His
role was spiritual, not political; for all true,
lasting redemption must begin in the spirit.
He began his beneficent work in Galilee, not
because Galilee's need was the sorest, for there
were other parts of the land where the darkness
in some respects was deeper. But Galilee's
need was great if not the greatest ; the shadow
of death which lay over the Lake of Tiberias
was deep if not the deepest. Jesus might as
well begin His work there as anywhere. And if
He did begin there it was natural that the
Evangelist should note the fact and signalise its
correspondence with the word of prophecy;
seeing therein a remarkable fitness, if not an
intentional fulfilment, a concurrence by no
means accidental, though its true reason might
lie below the surface.

But, apart from prophetic considerations,
there were other reasons which made it pecu-


liarly fit that the ministry of Jesus should com-
mence in Galilee, or, to speak more exactly, on
the shore of the Sea of Tiberias.

i. Among these a place ought to be assigned
to the physical beauty of tlie scene. This, in an-
cient times, for the aspect of nature is much
changed now, appears to have been very great.
The Jewish historian Josephus speaks of the
region in terms of glowing admiration ; repre-
senting it as the ambition of nature, as possess-
ing a climate adapted to the production of the
most diverse kinds of fruits, as bringing forth
all manner of fruits in greatest abundance, and
especially supplying the noblest of all, the grape
and the fig, during ten months of the year.*
Even yet, in spite of the desolation and the de-
population which have followed in the track of
the Moslem, travellers speak with rapture of
the blue lake lying d^ep in the hollow, the
horizon line, the shrubs, the flowers, conspicuous
among which are the pink-coloured oleanders —

All through the summer night
Those blossoms red and bright
Spread their soft breasts t

along the little promontories indenting the shore
line. The inhabitants of Quito, high up among

*De Bell., Jud. iii. x. 8.

t Keble, " Christian Year," quoted by Stanley, " Sinai and


the Andes, have a saying, " after Quito heaven,
and in heaven an opening to look down on
Quito." Somewhat similar seems to have been
the feeling of the ancient Jews with reference to
the region surrounding the Sea of Galilee ; and
even yet there is enough of beauty remaining
to bring the feeling within the reach of our sym-

That Jesus, who, from all His utterances, ap-
pears a lover of nature, should have felt drawn
to this region we can well understand. But
apart from personal liking, there was a congruity
between the scene and the Gospel He was about
to preach. That Gospel was emphatically a
Gospel of hope, and it was meet that it should
be cradled in a region of beauty and sunny bright-
ness. Conceive for a moment Christ commenc-
ing His ministry in the neighbourhood of the
Dead Sea ! How unsuitable that land of death,
and sterility, and desert desolation to be the
birth-place of a gospel which was to remove the
blight and curse brought on the world by sin.
Let John the Baptist commence his ministry
there, but not Jesus. The proper scene of His
work is the lake, not of death, but of loveliness.
In either case the place was well chosen, viewed
as an emblem of the spiritual characteristics of
the ministry carried on therein, and of the
temper of the agent. John's ministry was legal,
Christ's was evangelic ; John's temper was


**verc, gloomy, despairing, Christ's was genial,
kindly, hopeful. Let John then, by all means,
go to the Dead Sea, with its salt-encrusted shore
and its barren rocks, and there, amid the grim-
ness of nature, preach repentance and the near
approach of a Messiah whose coming, as he
represents it, is awful news rather than good
news. But let Jesus come to the bright, sunny,
beautiful Sea of Galilee, and on its shore preach
His Gospel of peace, and love, and hope, and
show Himself as the sympathetic Son of man,
and herald a kingdom of grace to whose bless-
ings even the most sinful and miserable are

And let us join Him there. "Ye are not
come to Mount Sinai, but to Mount Zion," said
the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews to his
countrymen, who stood in need of consolation,
and also of instruction in the true genius of
Christianity. In the same spirit, and with like
intent, we might say to Christians now, " Ye are
not come to the Dead Sea, but to the Sea
of Galilee." This is what we would say in
this sermon, and in this book. We desire to
bring you back to the Galilean lake, to the
haunts of Jesus and to the spirit of Jesus, to
the brightness and sunny summer richness, and
joy, and geniality, and freedom of the authentic
Gospel preached by Him in the dawn of the
era of grace. Some have not yet come to that


happy place ; many linger by the Dead Sea,
and are disciples of John, to their great loss.
For it is good to be with Jesus in Galilee. An
evangelic faith, and still more if possible an
evangelic temper, in sympathy with the Gali-
lean proclamation, is a grand desideratum. It
is what is needed to redeem the evangel from
the suspicion of exhaustion or impotence, and
to rescue the very term " evangelic " from the
reproach under which it lies in the thoughts of

2. A second point in the fitness of the locality
chosen by Jesus to be the scene of His ministry
was the vnxcd character of its population. This
was a feature of Galilee as a whole, as well as
of the parts immediately adjacent to the lake.
Hence the name " Galilee of the Gentiles," as
old as the prophet Isaiah. The northern part
of Palestine was a border country, and as such
was liable not only to experience in an unusual
degree the miseries of incessant warfare, but
also to have the purity of its blood, and of its
national manners, tainted by strangers taking
up their abode within it. Originally the name
seems to have been confined to the limited dis-
trict in which were situated the twenty towns
given by Solomon to Hiram, King of Tyre,
which would naturally become filled with
foreigners, and so come to be called the district
or circuit of the Gentiles. In course of time


the name was applied to the whole northern
territory, probably in consequence of the spread
of the foreign element among the inhabitants.
In the text Galilee stands as a synonym for
the northern tribes, and a Gentile mixture is
ascribed by implication to the whole region.
And what is indirectly asserted of Galilee in
general, is virtually affirmed of the crowded
populations along the shores of the lake. The
Evangelist means to emphasise the mixed
character of that population. He uses with
reference to it the expression Galilee of the
Gentiles, not merely because he finds it in
the prophetic oracle which he quotes, but be-
cause that point seems to him a very significant
feature in the prophecy. He would have us
note as characteristic that Jesus began His
ministry in a locality occupied not by a pure
Jewish race, but by a motley multitude of
people of various nationality, Jewish, Syrian,
and Greek. For he, too, though in a less degree
than Luke, knows, and rejoices in the know-
ledge, that the light which first shines in Judaea
is destined to lighten all the lands, and he finds
in the mixed character of the population on
which the rays of that light first fell, a prophetic
foreshadowing of the fact. If such was indeed
the Evangelist's thought, we must admit that it
was no mere idle fancy. We perceive it to be
fitting that Galilee of tlie Gentiles was selected


by Christ to be the cradle of a gospel destined
to universality. It was well that He who, ere
He left the world, said to His disciples, " Go
and teach all the nations," should commence
the work among a people amidst whom Jewish
isolation and exclusiveness appeared only in a
very mitigated degree. Not that He meant to
anticipate the time appointed for preaching the
Gospel to the outside world. He did not judge
it wise to do so, and He confined his own activity
strictly to the Jewish people, the exceptions
being such as proved the rule. Hence His avoid-
ance of Tiberias, at the south end of the lake,
which was in the whole style of its buildings
and manners, a Greek city. But while ever
acting as a minister of God to Israel, He did
not shun opportunities of hinting, as it were in
parable or symbol, that a time would come
when the word of the kingdom would overflow
the boundaries of the elect people. Such a hint
He gave in the choice of the district called
in the language of prophecy, Galilee of the
Gentiles, as the scene of His labours. The
choice meant : " though I personally be a
minister of the kingdom to Jesus, My Gospel
concerns Gentiles. It is My vocation now to
disperse the darkness that broods over Israel,
but I came to be eventually the light of the

3. A third feature recommending the environ-


ment of the lake to be the theatre of Christ's
ministry, was the density of its population. The
shores of the Sea of Galilee are now almost
wholly depopulated, only a few wretched villages
being thinly scattered along the coast. But in
our Lord's day these shores were crowded with
towns, inhabited by great multitudes of busy,
industrious people. Josephus writes: "The
cities here lie very thick, and the very numerous
villages are full of people on account of the good-
ness of the soil, insomuch that even the smallest
of them contains above 15,000 inhabitants."*
There may be exaggeration, even gross exag-
geration, in this statement, but no one in his
senses would make it, unless the region spoken
of were in a remarkable degree populous.

This populousness was an attraction to Jesus.
On one side of His nature He dearly loved soli-
tude, but on another He delighted to mix in the
busy haunts of men. He did not care for the
thing called popularity, but He loved human
beings. He had an intensely human heart, and
He liked to be in the crowd, observing men's
ways and work, gaining acquaintance at first
hand with real life ; and all in order to get close
to men for their good, and to the largest num-
ber possible. Some crowds, indeed, Jesus did
not care to be in, but avoided, the crowd, for
example, to be found in the city of Jerusalem ;
* B. J. iii. 3, 2.


the reason being that the people there were so
encased in self-conceit, and prejudice, and artifi-
ciality as to be inaccessible to any influence not
wholly conventional and traditional, a risk to
which all cities of culture are exposed, and a
very serious risk it is. But happily the crowds
in the cities of the lake were not in this case.
They were simple, natural, open, receptive,
partly from their occupations, the chief being
that of fishermen ; partly because they were a
mixed race mutually modifying each other ;
none, or at least few, being able to boast of pure
Jewish blood, and custom ; a great advantage,
for nothing hardens like pride of blood, and race,
and rite. Nothing but the pride of virtue, the
worst pride of all. From this also the Galileans
were comparatively free, for the simple reason
that they had probably not much virtue to boast
of. Mixing of races is apt to bring along with
it corruption or degeneracy of morals. Of the
prevalence of such corruption in Galilee we have
an indication in the question of Nathanael to
Philip, u Can there any good thing come out of
Nazareth?"* as also in the note appended to the
name of Mary of Magdala — " out of whom went
seven devils." -f*

4. Strange to say, this very corruption formed
a fourth element in the fitness and attractiveness
of the region by the lake, as the scene of Christ's

* John i. 46. tLuke viii. 2.


ministry. It was meet that Jesus should go
down to Capernaum, and make it the place of
His abode, just because it was down not physi-
cally merely — lying many feet below the level
of the Mediterranean in a great chasm, but
morally as well. That descent was the emblem
of a gospel which was to be distinguished by
the depth to which it could go in compassion
for human depravity, not less than by its world-
wide length and breadth of interest and range
of destination. Not only was it meet that Jesus
should go down there for that reason ; He was
attracted to that low-lying region for the same
reason. The corruption of those populations
on the margin of the lake drew Him down.
Why ? Because the greater their corruption, the
greater their need of Him. Not only so, but
the greater their corruption, the greater the
possibilities of good in them once brought to
repentance. They to whom much is forgiven
love much. One out of whom seven devils are
cast, is capable of a sevenfold devotion. The
last in depravity can become by grace the first
in sanctity. Jesus knew these things to be true,
— it is from Him we learn them ; therefore He
went down to the side of the lake in high hope
of making among the people dwelling there
signal gains for the Divine kingdom.

From the foregoing particulars, taken together,
we already know something concerning the


nature of the " Galilean Gospel." It is a gospel
of geniality and joy, smiling as the region in
which it is preached ; of world-wide sympathy
with all classes and races of men ; of tender
compassion and buoyant hope for the degraded
and depraved ; for publicans like Matthew, for
sinners like the Magdalene. It may be well,
however, that we try to form a somewhat more
definite idea of the Light that arose on the
people which sat in darkness.

The light was the whole ministry of Christ.
The Evangelist, thinking of all that Jesus said,
did, and was in Galilee, as about to be recorded
in his narrative, prefixes to the record this
reflection : The people that sat in darkness did
indeed see a great light. From the verse im-
mediately succeeding our text, in which it is
stated that "from that time Jesus began to
preach, and to say : repent for the kingdom of
heaven is at hand," we might be tempted to
narrow the light to the doctrine of repentance
and pardon. But in reality it embraces the
whole doctrine of the kingdom, as a kingdom of
grace; and besides that, and above all, the
person of the King — " the Prince of Peace."
More than all he said, Christ Himself was
the Light. For "in Him was life, and the life
was the light of men.'' The sun that rose on the
land of darkness, with healing in its wings, was
"the Son of Man," the man Christ Jesus. He


was a sun to Galilee, to Judaea, and ultimately
to the world, in all the varied aspects of His
character and work. In Him appeared such an
one as the world had never seen before, recog-
nisable by all who saw Him, and could appre-
ciate His worth and work, as a great Deliverer.

Jesus was as a sun to Galilee specially in
four respects : —

First, as a man of intense sympathy, whose
heart was touched with pity by all forms of
human suffering. The evidence and the out-
come of this pity were the healing miracles,
which might fitly be mentioned first in an
account of Christ's ministry because they would
be most readily appreciated by the people.
Matthew accordingly speaks of this aspect of
the ministry in the sequel of the chapter from
which our text is taken, telling how Jesus healed
all manner of sickness and all manner of
disease among the people. There were many
forms of disease to heal, some of a very aggra-
vated and peculiar character. The prevalence of
painful, loathsome, mortal disease was one phase
of the darkness that brooded over the land.
Jesus felt for the victims, and His sympathy
was a ray of the light that streamed from Him
as a sun. It was so intense that thereby, as the
Evangelist elsewhere remarks, He took on Him-
self men's infirmities and bore their sicknesses.
Of this sympathy Galilean sufferers got the


benefit, but not they alone ; it is a permanent
element in the light of Christ. It is an intima-
tion that disease and death are not to last for
ever, a prophecy of the redemption of the body,
a hint that the purpose of God's gracious love
embraces in its scope the whole man, not the
spirit only. As such it is worthy of all accepta-

A second element in the light of Christ was
the spirit of hopeful love with which He regarded
the most aggravated cases of moral depravity.
His yearning love for the sinful was wonderful ;
His hope for their recovery not less so. Both
were new, and came on those who witnessed
their manifestation as a surprise. The way of
the well-conducted in those days was to be at
once careless and hopeless respecting the bad ;
to shun their society, and to regard them as
finally given over to evil courses. Jesus did
neither of these things. He loved and He
hoped in connection with the lapsed ; loved and
therefore hoped ; hoped and therefore took
trouble to bring them to repentance ; having
fellowship with them, that by sympathy He
might restore them to goodness. And great
was the brightness with which this love and this
hope shone into the darkness. For nowhere
else did such lights appear. And the darkness
on which the love and hope of Jesus shone was
very deep. Sin was rampant in Galilee, as


well as disease ; sin especially in forms which
cause conscious misery and degradation. One
looking on the surface would say: Little hope
of reformation there. Jesus declined to say
that ; He dar ^d to hope for new life even amid
vice and profligacy. And this love that refused
to despair is another permanent element in the
light of Christ, telling us that sin is not, any
more than death, unconquerable, and that even
the chief of sinners are not beyond redemption.
A third element in the light that arose in
Galilee to which we simply refer, is the wisdom
of Jesus y revealed in all His words, and more
particularly in His parables of grace, and in
His doctrine of the kingdom. Nothing is more
remarkable in this connection than "the Beati-
tudes," forming the preface to the Sermon on the
Mount. Think of the kind of people who are
there pronounced happy : the poor, the hungry,
those that weep ! These are they whom the
world accounts miserable, and speaks of heart-
lessly as unfortunate. And they are unhappy
in a sense. But Jesus says they are not there-
fore necessarily wretched. Though unhappy they
may be blessed ; that is, partakers of a higher
kind of felicity, which he who has once tasted
it would not part with for all the happiness that
wealth, health, and friends can bestow. Com-
fortable doctrine for the children of sorrow !
Blessed light amidst forms of darkness in


which this earth in all places and in all ages
abounds ! Poverty, hunger, tears, are every-
where. But where they are Christian blessedness
may be, wealth of grace, abundance of right-
eousness and wisdom, joy in the Holy Ghost

Finally, another ray in the light of Christ was
what we may call His naturalness as a man and
as a teacher. In him appeared a man of free
untrammelled mind, totally exempt from the
spiritual fetters of the time. The appearance
of such a man is at all times a boon to be
welcomed ; but never was there greater need
for the light of moral originality than in the
days of our Lord. The want of that was the
darkest element in the darkness of the age.
The people of Galilee were afflicted with the
darkness of disease, and with the darkness of
sin ; but they were afflicted still more griev-
ously with the darkness produced by blind
guides. That darkness was densest over Jeru-
salem, but it was in Galilee too ; it was every-
where in the Holy Land. All over Palestine,
north, south, east, and west, were to be found
those dismal teachers of the law who multiplied
rules, and split casuistical hairs, and made life
miserable, conscience uneasy, and God's law
contemptible. Through their baleful influence
the light within, the moral sense, was darkened,
and the shadow of death spread over the whole
country. What a boon at such a time the ap-


pearance of a man of free creative mind, with
fresh moral intuitions, unsophisticated in con-
science, fearless in spirit, while averse from con-
troversy and desirous to live at peace with all
men. His appearance is a republication of the
moral law, a restoration of the light of day in

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Online LibraryAlexander Balmain BruceThe Galilean gospel → online text (page 1 of 14)