<< MATTHEW XIV: Spiritual Meaning >>
In the eleventh chapter we read of John, in prison, sending two of his disciples to Jesus, to ask him if he was the promised Saviour, or if they were to look for another. The cause of that eminent servant of the Lord being shut up in the prisoner’s cell, and the cause and manner of his violent death, are brought to light in the beginning of this chapter. Like many other teachers sent from God, he suffered for his faithfulness and integrity. Although it may seem inconsistent with an overruling providence that the just should suffer for their righteousness, it evinces at least that God does not show any partiality even in favour of those who serve him, but that it is the order of his government that events should take their natural course, uninterrupted by his special interference. So far on the circumstances relating to John the Baptist as historical facts. As part of the Divine Word, they contain a deeper sense, and convey a more instructive lesson, which we now come to consider.
1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus,
2 And said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.
3 For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife.
4 For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her.
5 And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet.
6 But when Herod’s birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod.
7 Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask.
8 And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger.
9 And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath’s sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her.
10 And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison.
11 And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother.
12 And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus.
13 When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities.
13-21. As the state of ignorance of truth in which the Gentiles were, is signified by a wilderness, and the desire of truth by hunger, and instruction from the Lord by feeding, therefore it came to pass that the Lord retired into a wilderness and there taught the multitude which sought Him, and afterwards fed them. E. 730.
1, 2. At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, and said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist: he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him. Herod, as the ruler of Galilee, represented the ruling principle in the unregenerate natural mind, and the natural man, of which Galilee was the symbol (ch. ii. 22). He heard of the fame of Jesus. Evil is no insuperable obstacle to men acquiring the knowledge of spiritual and divine things. But the effect is very different on them and on the good. With Herod the knowledge of the fame of Jesus revives in his mind the recollection of his crime against John; and superstition, which is the natural man’s religion, leads him to see in this new power the increased potency of an old and hated, and now dreaded enemy. This is no unfaithful representation of the case of the evil in the other life, where judgment follows crime. When they themselves are risen from the dead, the Word which, because of its testimony against their sins, they had destroyed in themselves, rises from the dead – with greater than its former power, – is a testimony against them. For the words which the Lord has spoken, and which he speaks in our conscience, though silenced, are not absolutely destroyed, but will rise against us even out of our own minds in the day of judgment. But, in regard to the regenerate, this circumstance has another aspect. With these, when in temptation, the truth is imprisoned in their own natural minds, among the evils and falses of the selfhood, and when the appearances of truth die, or are put off, the truth itself rises into new life in a higher region of the mind; and then it is no longer John, but Jesus – not the letter, but the spirit of truth. Herod did not keep his conviction of the identity of Jesus with John in his own heart, but expressed it to his servants. His servants signify the thoughts of the natural mind, and his telling them signifies the feelings of a corrupt and guilty will, finding utterance in the thoughts of a subservient understanding.
3 The evangelist then begins to relate the events which had given rise to this surmise of the guilty tetrarch. For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife. This aggravated crime of Herod represented the complete adulteration of good and truth in the church. Herod’s hostile conduct towards John describes the sinner’s determination to silence and repress the testimony of the Word against himself. And in the description of Herod’s acts the completeness of this activity is represented, for laying hold of John signifies opposition of the will to the divine truth, binding him signifies opposition of the understanding and putting him in prison signifies the ultimate effect of both in the life.
4 For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her. John’s noble testimony against Herod’s aggravated and unnatural crime represented the condemnation of sin, by the Word, as contrary to divine order and to human happiness. When the lusts of the flesh, or other natural concupiscences, tempt us to forbidden because debasing pleasures, we should listen to the voice of God’s truth, which ever speaks to us in the words of him who still comes to prepare in our minds the way of the Lord- “It is not lawful for thee to have her.”
5 in the disposition of Herod to put John to death, we see the effect of the Divine testimony on the hardened sinner, who desires not only to silence, but to destroy the truth. That there was some faint trace of conscience even in the mind of Herod, appears from the record of the evangelists; but the outward consideration was stronger then the inward dictate. And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude. The fear of man is not without its use: it prevents the perpetration of many crimes. Yet the fear of man only restrains; the fear of God constrains. Of this truth Herod is a striking example. Spiritually, the multitude are the affections and thoughts of the natural mind – those which have been brought under the influence of the principles of religion in early or in simpler states of life. Although the lessons of truth may not have taken root in the heart, they yet check us in our sinful career. Because they counted him as a prophet. The Word is still acknowledged as a teacher of truth and righteousness, whose authority is not to be entirely defied.
6 When the soul is progressing in sin, these suggestions of external truth are easily and effectually silenced by the influence of inward passion. The history of Herod’s crime against John, naturally and spiritually understood, teaches this. But when Herod’s birthday was kept. Birth signifies the coming into actual existence in the external of what has been purposed and deliberated in the internal – thus, the bringing an intention into act. Here, indeed, we have not a birth, but the celebration of a birthday; but we celebrate birthdays only because we rejoice in the birth, and our joy includes rejoicing in the continuance and progress of a life which was commenced on the day we keep in its honour. The rejoicing on a birthday denotes also a state of the delight of the affections, which disposes the mind to yield to the ruling tone of the person or principle born. The new state represented by that of Herod on his birthday is pregnant with warning. A crime, from which he had been restrained by the fear of the multitude, he is now led to commit through a promise to an unscrupulous woman. When the restraining influence of fear yields to the promptings of corrupt affection, We have entered on a new stage of sinful indulgence. The daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod. What is here rendered “before them” literally means in the midst of them; and this spiritually signifies what occupies the centre of the affections and thoughts, and exercises a commanding influence over them. Dancing has been employed in the most profane, as well as in the most sacred rites, acquiring a character from the object it is designed to promote. It signifies the pleasantries and joy of the affections, whether they be good or evil. The daughter of Herodias signifies the affection of evil in the will; and when this puts itself, so to speak, into the most graceful or alluring attitudes and exciting action, its influence on an already yielding intellect may easily be imagined.
7 The effect of her dancing upon Herod is most striking, and reads us a most useful lesson. He is first fascinated, and then blindly abandons himself to the dominion of his enchantress, even binding himself by an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask. And such is the progress of evil. The analogy with the spiritual life is easily seen. The principal point here is the promise upon oath. An oath signifies confirmation, either in good or evil, as the case may be. Confirmation belongs to the understanding. Consent is dangerous, but confirmation is fatal. And the understanding may be so influenced as to blindly give up the reins to passion, regardless of consequences. When the understanding says to the will, “Ask what thou wilt, and I will give it thee,” we may be sure the result will be sinful and disastrous.
8 And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger. The affection of evil, which is the daughter, acts under the direction, or from the prompting of the evil and depraved will, which is the mother. And what should such a will desire of the understanding? To give up to its power that truth which had reproved it, to deny and reject the Word itself, which is as a standing condemnation, to deprive it of all authority and rule in matters of life – this is to give the head of John the Baptist.
She desired it should be given in a charger. All vessels signify knowledges or scientifics. When truths are received into false scientifics, they themselves become falses, being falsified; so that even the highest and principal truths are turned into the lowest and deadliest of falsities.
9 And the king was sorry, nevertheless, for the oath’s sake, and them which, sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her. A new step in sin is seldom made without compunction. Nay, some never re-eat an old sin without awakening a feeling of remorse but the sin is repeated nevertheless. The intellect may see an act to be wrong, and yet consent to it, and lend itself to its commission. This weak and sinful compliance arises from the fact that the intellect has already bound itself as if with an oath to the corrupt will. Another consideration that swayed Herod’s mind was what the world calls honour, for them that sat at meat with him – those who are joined by the appropriation of a common good or evil. All the affections, therefore, that participated in the prevailing evil bound the mind still more firmly to its sinful promise. When Herod, bound by his oath and his honour, commanded that John’s head should be given to her, he acted as those he represented act, from both evil and falsity.
10 And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. This great crime, committed against the law of God and man, on one who was more than a prophet, because he had honestly reproved sin in the cause of holiness, and in love for the sinner, represented a crime still greater – the separation of the internal of the Word from its external, and the consequent destruction of both, which is the beheading, of him who represented the Word. This separation of the principles from the laws of truth reduces the divine laws to a dead letter, and makes righteousness either lifeless or hypocritical.
11 And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother. The purpose was the mother’s and, after its accomplishment through various agencies, it returns to her in its present horrid shape – such, one might suppose, as would cause the most obdurate sinner to tremble. Can it be supposed that any one not utterly abandoned could be guilty of such a crime? If under the law of Christ hatred is murder, and hatred of a person is hatred of his principles, there is the possibility of this crime being committed in another form, even by those who profess veneration for that Word which John represented. Practically to deny any of the great principles of the Word is spiritually to do as the wife of Herod did. When an evil, proceeding as an intention from the will, has been carried out into act, and obtains the approval of the will which purposed it, the circle has been completed which makes it completely our own. Evil has returned to its origin, and that which in this world gratifies the love of evil will in the next produce wretchedness and woe. We cannot think of the death of John the Baptist without reflecting on the seeming inscrutableness of Divine Providence. One who was devoted from his mother’s womb to be the messenger sent to prepare the way of the promised Saviour, and who went before him in the spirit and power of Elias, we see smitten down by an unprincipled ruler to gratify the personal revenge of a wicked woman. May we not say with David, in his lamentation over Saul, “How are the mighty fallen!” But if we lament, need we be astonished? Was not the fate of John also the fate of Jesus? And, no doubt, there is some analogy between the case of the messenger and that of the Lord whose way be came to prepare. John represented, and Jesus was, the Word. John represented the written Word, Jesus was the Word incarnate. The rejection, like the reception, of the written Word preceded, and always precedes, the rejection of the incarnate Word. John prepared the Lord’s way in his life; he prepared his way also in his death. There is some difference however. John fell a victim to the kingly power – Jesus to the priestly power. John was put to death in Galilee; Jesus in Judea. All these circumstances, representative as they were, point to the fact that the men of the church treat the Lord as they treat his Word. Those who deny the divinity of the Word deny also the divinity of the Lord. Those who behead John come also to crucify the Son of Man.
12 When Herod had put John to death, his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus. The disciples of John, taking up his body and burying it, represented the transfer of the church to others, when the former has been utterly perverted; and also the preservation of the Word, so as that its pure truths shall be capable of restoration in the interval between the end of a former church and the establishment of a new one. The body of John is the letter of the Word itself. Hence then, we are taught that, while the Word is utterly rejected in the minds of the corrupt members of a former church, it is nevertheless preserved and reinstated among a new body of people, who are willing to be disciples indeed. It has, however, a more particular application. In regard to the disciples of John, it is to be considered that John’s imprisonment was to them a trial, and their trial represented a temptation. The death of John, though it represented the extinction of the Word or the Divine truth in the minds of the evil, represented its exaltation in the minds of the good. And the exaltation represented is effected by the putting off of the letter, and the raising up of the spirit of the Word, as it is received and acknowledged in the mind. And whether we speak of putting off the letter of the Word, and raising it up in the spirit, or raising the Lord’s truth out of the natural mind into the spiritual it amounts to the same; for divine truth in the letter is adapted to our natural apprehension, and in the spirit to our spiritual apprehension; and its resurrection in us is its elevation into the perception of our spiritual mind. This elevation of the Word brings the mind into more immediate connection with the Lord as the divine good, indicated by John’s disciples coming and telling Jesus – this name being expressive of the Lord as to his divine love or goodness.
13 When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart. This retirement of Jesus into the solitude of the desert was, we learn from Mark and Luke, because of the multitudes which were “coming and going.” Yet why should the Lord himself propose (Mark vi. 31) to go with his disciples into a desert place apart, and rest awhile, when he knew that the multitudes would follow him, and even outgo him? Does not this teach us that the Lord had another purpose, and that his departure has another meaning? The Lord sometimes leaves us, that we may follow him. He withdraws into the desert solitudes of our own minds, that we may go with him there to behold the wonders of his power, and see a table spread for us even in the wilderness, that, where all natural and human resources fail, his power and goodness may become more conspicuous in our deliverance and support. This desert place also represents a lower or more external part of the mind; for it was on the east of the sea of Galilee, external to the land of Palestine itself, though on that side where the two tribes and a half had originally settled. And in descending into a more external part of the mind, his purpose is to bring his regenerating power and operation down into our lower affections and thoughts, and into the words and actions of our lives. It is in the ultimate degree of the mind also, that his power is most fully manifested. No doubt, also, the Lord’s departure was on account of the death of John, to represent that the rejection of his truth deprives the guilty mind of his presence. The Lord, therefore, when he went into a desert place, not only knew, but intended, that the multitude should follow him, as they eagerly did. To follow the Lord is to follow the teachings of his truth, and imitate his example; to go out of the cities on foot is to live a life of natural obedience from the doctrines of truth.
14 And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.
14, 35, 36. See Chapter IV., 23. A. 8364.
14. Those who follow the Lord will find the truth of the Divine promise, that if they draw near to him he will draw near to them. And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick. As these great multitudes represent the numerous affections and thoughts of the natural mind, which have sought to be elevated to a more interior communion and conjunction with the Lord, he whom the activity of evil had caused to retire inwards now comes forth to communicate the blessings desired and so much needed. When he saw the multitude he “was moved with compassion toward them.” Jesus, as the Divine Man, cannot be moved with compassion, for he is mercy itself His compassion is said to be moved when it moves us – when it works in us penitence and humility, a sense of our own inherent destitution, and a sincere desire to be replenished with the blessings of spiritual and eternal life. And here we may point out the reference to the two essential attributes of the Lord’s Divine nature. For “to come forth” refers to the activity of his love, while “to see” refers to the activity of his wisdom; and, again, to be “moved with compassion” has reference to the saving operation of his love, while “to heal their sick” has reference to the saving operation of his wisdom.
15 And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals.
16 But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat.
17 And they say unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes.
18 He said, Bring them hither to me.
19 And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.
20 And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full.
21 And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.
22 And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.
21 In these passages, there is an arcanum in each number. Remains are goods and truths stored up by the Lord in the inner man. In the Word remains are signified by ten, and hence also by five. Half and double in the Word involve the like with the number to which they are applied. A. 5291.
Ten signifies much, and five a little. R. 427.
By the Lord’s blessing the bread and wine, and the fishes which He gave to His disciples and to the people, was signified the communication of His Divine, and thus conjunction with them by goods and truths, which are signified by bread and wine and also by fishes. Bread and wine signify goods and truths in the spiritual man, and fishes goods and truths in the natural man. E. 340.
The five thousand men, besides women and children, signify all of the church who are in truths derived from ;good, the men those in truths and the women and children those in good. The loaves signify the goods and the fishes the truths of the natural man. By their eating -and being filled is signified spiritual nourishment from the Lord. The twelve baskets of fragments signify the knowledges of truth and good thence derived in all abundance and plenitude. E. 430.
It is said that they took up twelve baskets of the fragments which remained, by which is signified fulness, thus fulness of instruction, and also full benediction. E. 548.
This miracle was performed, because the Lord had before been teaching the people, and they received and appropriated to themselves His doctrine. This was what they spiritually ate, whence the. natural eating followed. E. 617.
19 When bread is broken and given to another it is communicated from one’s own, or when bread is broken among several, then the one loaf becomes a mutual possession, and consequently there is conjunction by charity. Bread is the good of love. A. 5405.
Conjunction was also represented by breaking of bread, to the Lord. A. 9416.
15 When the Lord had healed their sick, and when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals. The disciples did not yet understand or did not on the occasion reflect upon, the Lords infinite resources. But these circumstances were ordered, as they are recorded, to convey a spiritual lesson. The suggestion of the disciples describes the state of the regenerate while they are yet in an obscure perception of the truth, signified by evening, which leads them to think that man must acquire good by an external way, meant by going away into the villages, and by his own power, meant by buying themselves victuals. They are like Israel in the desert, – they turn to Egypt, instead of looking to heaven, for the supply of their wants.
16, 17. But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart. The disciples did not perceive the Lord’s meaning: their hearts were yet hardened. When the Lord said, give ye them to eat, they looked to themselves, and thought of their own small store, without reflecting on the Lord’s power and resources, and more especially on what he himself had just commanded them to do. And the say unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes. The bread and fish signify the spiritual food, consisting of good and truth, which sustains the soul. They here signify the remains of goodness and truth; and the miracle, with all the particulars connected with it, contains a most beautiful description of the way in which these are brought out, and increased, and appropriated, so as to make them the elements of the spiritual body – of the life and character. The disciples are here to be considered as sustaining a two-fold representation. On one side they represent the interior affections of the natural mind, where the remains of good and truth are stored up; while the multitude represent the exterior affections, among which the increase of these remains are distributed. The interior natural principle, where remains are stored up and preserved for future use, is more specifically pointed out in John’s account of the miracle, and is signified by the “lad,” who had the five loaves and two small fishes. On the other hand, the disciples represented the truths proceeding immediately from the Lord, as the Truth itself, and the fountain of all blessing.
18 When the disciples told the Lord of the scanty means they possessed – but live loaves and two fishes – He said, Bring them hither to me. This is the first, and in all-important condition of spiritual increase. Stored up during early life, good and truth remain in the mind as the means of commencing and forming the spiritual life in mature years; but they never enter into the life until, in obedience to his command, they are brought to the Lord, or until the things we have learned and imbibed relating to the Lord and to eternal life are turned to him as their Author, and are acknowledged to be his.
19 When remains, and, by their means, the mind that contains them, are turned to the Lord, and are thus consciously connected with him, he can bring into orderly arrangement the principles of the natural mind, represented by his commanding the multitude to sit down (or recline) on the grass. Grass signifies the lowest kind of knowledge, and the people sitting on the grass represent the arrangement of truths in knowledges. Another significant act follows. The loaves and fishes that had been brought to the Lord he now takes. The Lord’s taking the loaves and fishes signifies to adjoin to himself, as the essential Good and Truth, the good and truth of remains in the human mind. And then, looking up to heaven, he blessed, to represent the opening of the spiritual mind – the heaven of the inner man, and the descent through it, from the Lord’s Divine Love, which is the Father in heaven, of that mercy and peace which bless our acquired good and truth with spiritual life, and give them the power of supplying all our spiritual wants, and satisfying our highest desires. When the Lord had blessed, he brake the bread, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude. This breaking of bread is a beautifully significant act, and has descended from the earliest times, when every act had a distinct and understood meaning. In those times bread was broken, when given by one to another, symbolically to express the imparting of one’s own good to another or when one piece was broken among many, it expressed the communion of good; and in both cases it was given and received as a token of brotherly love and conjunction. And such was the meaning and the purpose of the breaking of bread in the early Christian church. When, therefore, our Lord brake the bread, he symbolically expressed his love for his people; while, by distributing the broken bread among the multitude, he expressed his desire that they should be conjoined to him, and also to each other, by their reception from him, and their partaking with each other, of a common good – the good of love to him and to one another. The Lord gave the loaves to the disciples to distribute to the multitude, to represent that his good is communicated through heaven and the church, by which it is accommodated to the different states of human reception, and, more abstractly considered, that his gifts descend by distinct degrees from himself to his creatures. In the particulars recorded in these two verses we may observe a circle, or an ascending and descending series, of operations. The loaves are brought by the disciples to the Lord. By him they are, as it were, raised from earth to heaven, whence they descend with the blessing of eternal love, to be given, thus enriched, to feed the hungering souls of those who occupy the sphere from whence they came.
20, 21. We now come to that part of the transaction which places it, in the list of miracles, as one of the greatest. And they did all eat, and were filled. Here was a mighty work. Ten thousand fed to fullness by a provision sufficient for a few persons! This miracle is no doubt of the same character as that of the manna, that for forty years daily fed the ten thousands of Israel in the desert. Nor is the miracle very difficult to explain. When we know that creation is an outbirth from God, that the order of creation is from spirit to matter, and that matter is but the natural form and covering of what is spiritual, we can see that material forms may it any time be instantaneously produced by an extraordinary influx of Divine Truth from the Lord through the spiritual into the natural world. We need not, however, suppose a creation of new matter, or of something out of nothing; for the spiritual principle descending into the sphere of nature clothes itself with the substances already existing, concreting which was previously abstract or diffused. This implies, of course, a creation, and therefore a divine power; and this our Lord possessed. What act could be more appropriate for the Lord Jesus Christ to do than to multiply the loaves and fishes? “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John i. 3). It is, however, with the spiritual meaning of the miracle that we have mainly to do. Spiritually regarded, it tells us of a work of divine goodness and wisdom not less wonderful, and still more interesting to us, than the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. It tells us that the remains of good and truth, small though they be, and inadequate, as the acquisitions of youth, to supply the wants of the full-grown man, are yet, when called forth into use, and brought under the influence of him by whose providence they were implanted, capable of immense and indefinite increase so as to be not only sufficient to supply the immediate demands of the soul, however great, but to leave a remnant greater than that from which the supply was produced. For they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full. The twelve baskets of fragments that remained signify fulness of instruction and appropriation. The quantity left indicates the abundance of the supply. Naturally, the abundance of the fragments of a feast is not of necessity a true index of the quantity consumed. Spiritually, however, the more that is taken the more there is left. The more we appropriate, the more fragments remain to be gathered up into the receptacles of the mind, that nothing that God has blessed and multiplied may be lost, but that all remains may be stored up in the affections of the will, of which the baskets are the types. Baskets denote things of the will, because they are vessels to contain meats, and because meats signify celestial and spiritual goods, and these are of the will. It is worthy of remark, that the multiplication of the loaves and fishes was not effected by a single act, so as to produce the necessary quantity at once, before the food was distributed, but was increased in the eating, to teach us the momentous truth, that spiritual good is multiplied in the using. It is like the cruse of oil and the barrel of meal: one continued to flow while there was a vessel to receive it; the other never failed while there was a use that required it. The extent of the demand but increases the supply, for the source is infinite. Of the few loaves and fishes, they that had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children. These signify all who are of the church in truths from good: men, those who are in truth; women and children, those who are in good.
22 After performing this miracle, straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. The circumstance which comes now to be considered is of a singularly interesting character. It manifests the Lord’s divinity in a most striking manner, and teaches us a lesson of humility that it is most important for us to learn. We need not dwell on the particulars that merely resemble those that have already been explained. The leading features of the narrative are the Lord’s walking on the sea and Peter’s unsuccessful attempt to imitate his Master’s example. The scene presented before us in this and the next verse is entirely different from that which we have just contemplated. Here we have the Lord alone upon a mountain, the disciples on the sea, and the multitude sent away to their own homes. This separation between those who were so near to each other is attended with results which are descriptive of the Christian’s experience in corresponding circumstances. Changes of state like the present, though painful, are beneficial. They are under the directing band of Providence. And so the Lord constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and go before him unto the other side. They were now passing over into Canaan, and were therefore progressing from a less to a more perfect state.
23 And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.
23 From the signification of a mountain it is evident why the Lord withdrew into the mountains. A. 2708.
That He (the Lord) prayed to the Father is evident. T. 104.
And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. The Lord’s sending the multitude away, as well as the disciples, while he himself went up into a mountain apart to pray, presents to our minds, if they are in any degree enlightened by his truth, a scene of solemn grandeur, which we may see shadowed in our own active duty and experience in corresponding circumstances, when all lower thoughts and feelings are dismissed, and we ascend into the holy mountain, to seek communion with God in contemplation and prayer. The Lord’s desire for this communion was inconceivably ardent; his prayers were inconceivably fervent, the union he sought with God was inconceivably intimate. When we reflect that the Divinity with whom he sought to be united was the Divinity that dwelt within him, how much more intense must all his human feelings have been than any that mere man ever experienced! Apart from its connection with the other particulars of the history, the scene here presented to our view is sublime and impressive. Jesus in the mountain, alone all night, and in prayer! As the Lord was truly man as well as truly God, the feelings that prompted him to withdraw from the world, and spend a night in solitude and prayer, were real human feelings; and his doing so is instructive to us as human creatures, who are to learn from his example. It teaches its that, however useful and innocent our life may be, we yet require occasionally to raise our minds above the cares and temporalities of the world, that we may be alone with God, and enter into solemn communion with him. These were among the means by which the humanity of the Lord progressed towards that perfect union with his Divinity, which is the origin and the pattern of the union of the external with the internal in ourselves, and our consequent conjunction with him; and a similar course is necessary for us, who have a corresponding work to perform. Nor is this lesson from the circumstance at all inconsistent with, or even separate from, the representative character of our Lord’s actions. The representative does not lessen, but greatly exalts the actual. While we understand that all these events are transacted spiritually in the human mind during regeneration, we see that if the Lord is really in our understandings and hearts as the Truth and the Life, his Spirit will constrain us to do as he has done, while passing through the very states which he underwent. Not that we are to imitate the Lord with a presumptuous literality, but to follow at that distance which our finite nature and our feeble powers enable us to do. To have these events realized in our experience is the object of the spiritual sense which they contain. To have the Lord’s saving truth exalted in our hearts – to have it there alone as our only ruling principle – alone from worldly, but not from that heavenly love which is its true life, and to which its aspirations ascend, – this is to realize in our experience the scene presented to our minds in the Lord’s going up into the mountain. There may, indeed, be obscurity in this state, for all prayer implies a desire for comfort and illumination; and in some cases it is the evening, to be followed by the night, through which we long for the morning.
24 But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.
25 And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.
24-33. The signification of ships, the knowledges of truth and good, as likewise doctrines. E. 514.
24 But while the Lord was on the mountain in solitude and prayer, his disciples were in the ship; and the ship was now in the midst of the sea tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. We have here a representative description of the lower region of the human mind, as subjected to the trial of temptation, when agitated by conflicting passions when the wind is contrary, and the sea is tossed with waves and sometimes even raised into a storm that threatens to shatter our frail bark, or swallow it up, with every living affection it contains. Temptation is a conflict between good and evil, thus between the good affections and evil passions excited into action by an influx from the kingdom of darkness, which, like the wind that raised the waves in the sea of Galilee, is contrary to our progress towards the holy land.
25 And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. The disciples had spent the night in tribulation, but the dawning of the day brings them relief. The Lord descends from the mountain, and comes to them walking on the sea. We may perceive in this beautiful and evidently symbolical incident a historical representation of a matter of Christian experience. The Christian disciple has sometimes the experience of a state at once of outward tribulation and inward peace. The Lord, with his divine truth, may be in the inward man, raising the affections and thoughts to heaven, while the spirits of darkness may be exciting the lusts and passions of the natural mind, and producing a feeling of apprehension almost amounting to despair. And this sorrow may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. This sense of danger arising from tribulation, and the tribulation itself, are the result of the difference and separation, or want of correspondence and conjunction, between the internal and external man, or the natural and the spiritual mind. But these tribulations are permitted for the purpose of producing the desired correspondence as the means of conjunction. It is when the tribulation has so far produced this effect that the morning dawns, and the Lord descends from the mountain of the inner man, walking upon the very element whose tempestuous heavings had caused the anger and alarm to give the troubled soul a sense of security and promise of deliverance. And the correspondence and connection between the spiritual and the natural is expressed by the fourth watch – a number which, like two, signifies conjunction.
26 And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.
27 But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
28 And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.
29 And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
30 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
26-31. They who are in truths from the good of love to the Lord, or in doctrine from those truths, were-represented by Peter, and they are those who instruct others, and who are instructed by the Lord, therefore Peter so often spake with the Lord, and was also instructed by Him. E. 820.
28-31. See Chapter VIII., 26. E. 815.
And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit: and they cried out for fear. The sphere of the Lord’s immediate presence sometimes troubles the mind and inspires fear. The feelings of the disciples arose, however, partly at least, from misapprehension. They saw, but perceived not. They saw the form but did not perceive that it was the Lord who had come to rescue them from their perilous situation. They supposed it to be a spirit or apparition. In spiritual danger arising from temptation, when the mind is in the dim twilight of intellectual perception, the truth is seen, but not understood and not only not understood, but misunderstood, and seen rather as a phantom to terrify, than a real being to comfort. Sometimes, too, conscience invests an object with a shape and character which are the coinage of its own apprehensions, the Nemesis of its own state. The disciples were in such extreme fear that they cried out; and, as the utterance of an oppressive feeling brings relief, so, when spiritual fear finds expression, the mind is prepared for deliverance. The extreme or ultimate of any state of spiritual trial opens the way to a state of tranquility. But while considering this circumstance in its spiritual sense, we must not pass it over as a literal fact.
27 But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer it is I; be not afraid. By a word, the deepest fear was turned at once into the highest joy. So do the Scriptures describe, as well as represent, the transition from one extreme to the other in the experience of the righteous. “Light shall arise in the darkness, your sorrow shall be turned into joy,” are among the promises to those who are plunged by spiritual tribulation into darkness and anguish of spirit. And this is but the reaping of a harvest which they have themselves prepared; for “light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.” The Lord’s night upon the mountain prepared for the deliverance he was now about to afford his suffering and terrified disciples; for it is when the truth has been exalted in the inner man, and more fully united with its own good, that it can descend into the outer man, and first walk in safety and majesty upon its turbulent waters, and then hush the wind into silence, and the waves into profound repose. How assuring and comforting in the midst of the storm must be the voice of one who has so often helped us hitherto, our confidence in whom has grown out of our experience! And even when the eye, as the emblem of the intellect, may be deceived, as was Mary Magdalene’s, yet the ear no sooner hears the familiar voice than recognition, with all its joy, ensues. “It is I: be not afraid,” is sufficient to cheer the heart in its deepest despondency, as must have been the experience of the disciples.
28 And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it he thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. Among the disciples there was one who, unlike the rest, was not satisfied with being restored to confidence from a state of alarm, and willing to wait till the Lord should come to them into the ship, but whose eagerness to meet his Divine Master prompted him to ask to be invited to come to him on the water. Peter represented faith, or that reception of the truth which makes the Lord the object of faith. When that disciple said, “If it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water,” he wished to do naturally what we, through faith, desire to do spiritually in corresponding circumstances. When the truth is revealed to us through the affection of truth, our intellectual zeal is excited to attempt what we are not always able, because not prepared, to perform – to come to the Lord on the water without reflecting sufficiently whether our faith is strong enough to support us on its troubled waves, and enable us to make our way to the Lord through the angry element that he, in his strength, is able to tread upon.
29, 30. Yet the Lord, in his providence, sometimes permits us to try our strength, that we may discover our weakness. Jesus indulged Peter’s impetuous temper by inviting him to come. Nor was there anything inconsistent with his love and truth in answering Peter according to the disciple’s love and faith. The Lord desires that all should come unto him, and the attempt on our part is often the only effectual means of teaching us the causes of our failure and the conditions of success. Peter’s attempt to walk upon the sea has left on record a lesson that will teach humility wherever the gospel is preached. When Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and, beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me! How strikingly does this represent a feature in our Christian conduct and experience! Peter in the ship was bold and confident; but when he came down from the ship, and planted his footsteps on the angry sea, he became timid and doubting, and then he began to sink. While we are in doctrine, and think and speak from it, we have great faith in ourselves, which assumes to us the appearance of faith in the Lord, and we suppose that in the strength of that faith we are able to do anything: But when we come down out of doctrine, and enter on the labours, and face the difficulties and trials of life, we soon find that doctrinal faith and practical faith are two different thing. This untried, and so far merely intellectual faith, may endure for awhile, as Peter’s did, for its first impulse carries us forward and upholds us for a time; but when we see the wind boisterous, the thoughts excited into turbulent commotion by the influence of the kingdom of darkness, fear seizes the mind, and we begin to fail. This experience of our weakness is the lesson the Lord intends to teach, by permitting us to make the trial. And it has the good effect of leading us to feel our need of the Saviour, and to call upon him to save us. When we can be brought by experience to such a sense of our feebleness as to cry out from the depth of broken and contrite hearts. “Lord, save me!” we have arrived at a state of mind far nearer to the kingdom of God than when we boldly, in self- confidence, confronted the danger.
31 We therefore find that when Peter cried out for the Lord to save him, immediately Jesus stretched forth, his hand, and caught him. That hand, able to save to the uttermost, is ever ready to be stretched out to take hold of the perishing sinner, or the self-confident disciple, when the Lord’s power is sincerely and humbly invoked. The divine power has been brought savingly near to us by the Lord’s assuming our nature; but before his power can be manifested and magnified in our salvation, it must have an humbled mind and contrite heart to act upon. The Lord’s power is always with us, but it can only be manifested in our weakness. It is through our sense of the need of his support that he stretches out his hand; and through our desire to be saved that he takes hold of us. When the Lord had saved Peter, he administered the loving and gentle reproof, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? The Lord’s words implicitly teach that, if Peter’s faith had been sufficiently strong, he might have walked upon the sea. The Lord’s reproof should remind us that failure in any attempt which has his sanction originates in want of faith, and in the doubts that arise in our hearts.
32 And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.
33 Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.
33 See Chapter III., 17. L. 19.
See Chapter IX., 18. L. 41.
See Chapter III., 16, 17. T. 342.
They who were in the ship worshipped Jesus saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God. D. P., Page 46.
32 When they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. In this second time of calming the storm, we see another instance of the Lord’s power over the elements of the outer world, and have another assurance of his power over those of the inner also, whose tribulation he can still, if we but admit him into our hearts through love, and into our minds through faith. But the wind ceased when Jesus and Peter came into the ship. When the Lord enters through faith into doctrine, or into our knowledge of his truth, the contrary influence of falsity ceases, and prosperity attends us in our religious life.
33 The miracle of making the wind cease had the happy effect of confirming the Lord’s disciples in the belief in his divinity. They that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth, thou art the Son of God. Whatever this worship and acknowledgment included in the minds of the disciples at the time, we are instructed by the divine record that deliverance by the Lord produces in the mind a conviction of his being the true Object of worship, and leads to the profound worship of him as such. But when can we, as disciples, say, “Of a truth thou art the Son of God”? When the power of his Divine humanity has been displayed in working the truly divine miracle of restoring tranquility to the mind, which the prince of the power of the air has been able seriously to disturb. But this title of the Son of God is also expressive of the principle of Divine Good in the Lord’s humanity; so that he is the Son of God to us experimentally, when the good of his love has been received in our will, and has thus become the ruling principle of our life. And we worship him as the Son of God, when our worship is not only directed to him as love and goodness, but when it springs from his love and goodness in our hearts. We can only worship the Lord, as he is in himself, from what he is in us – only as far as his love is in us can we worship him as Love.
34 And when they were gone over, they came into the land of Gennesaret.
35 And when the men of that place had knowledge of him, they sent out into all that country round about, and brought unto him all that were diseased;
36 And besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment: and as many as touched were made perfectly whole.
35, 36. See Chapter VIII., 3. E. 79.
See Chapter IX., 20, 22. A. 9917.
See Chapter VIII., 3. A. 10130.
34-36. And when they were gone over, they came into the land of Gennesaret. And when the men of that place had knowledge of him, they sent out into all that country round about, and brought unto him all that were diseased; and besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garments: and as many as touched were made perfectly whole. No sooner did the ship reach the western shore of the lake than the Lord’s work of mercy was renewed, in healing the multitudes of sick that were eagerly brought to him from all parts of the surrounding country. The scene of these cures is called the land of Gennesaret. The sea of Galilee, or of Tiberias, was named also the lake of Gennesareth. Gennesareth was in lower Galilee, and in it was Capernaum, the spot to which, according to John (vi. 17, 24, 59), Jesus and his disciples came. As lower or southern Galilee signifies the internal of the external man (ch. ii. 22), Gennesareth must signify a division of this region of the mind, the particular of which is meant by Capernaum. Gennesareth represents the natural affection of truth, but of truth connected with good, because called the land of Gennesareth, which may therefore be considered as representing the good of natural truth. This receives confirmation from Gennesareth, the ancient Chinnereth, having been part of the lot that fell to the tribe of Naphtali (Josh. xix. 35), which tribe represented the quality of temptation by which man overcomes, and by which, therefore, the internal is united to the external man. This multitude of particular miracles are such as have been already explained, with the virtue derived from the Lord through touching the hem of his garment. The cure of the diseased represented the removal of evils and errors, by which our faculties are restored to a healthy state, and enriched with goodness and truth; and touching the hem of the Lord’s garment signifies taking hold of him through the lowest truths of his Word. Virtue never fails to come forth thence to the humble and contrite heart: “as many as touched him were made whole.” This eagerness of the people of Gennesaret, and of all the country round, to collect all that were diseased, arose, no doubt, from the effect of his miracle of feeding the multitude; and shows the result of the inward reception of the Lord’s goodness and truth, in creating a desire to have outward evils removed, and producing that faith in the Lord the Saviour which is necessary to his working a cure.
AUTHOR: EMANUEL SWEDENBORG (COMPILED BY ROBERT S. FISCHER AND LOUIS G. HOECK 1906)
COMMENTARY AUTHOR: WILLIAM BRUCE (1866)
PICTURES: JAMES TISSOT Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum