Mark 9:38

The connection with what preceded is to be sought in John's keen sense of having transgressed the spirit of the beautiful words just uttered. Christ Would acknowledge all who professed his name; John had to confess that he had forbidden such a one from working. This leads to Christ's indicating -

I. MARKS OF HIS TRUE SERVANTS. The general link between the several classes is his "Name," i.e. conscious oneness and sympathy with him as the Son of God and Savior of the world. Accepting that as the test, he lays down:

1. A general principle of comprehension. (Ver. 40.) It is negative. If a man does not oppose him, he is to be considered as an ally and a friend. There is no neutrality in man's relations to Christ. This was especially the case in that age: the devil was too active in human nature to suffer any opposition to be undeveloped. The powers of darkness and of light were in deadly antagonism, and all who were aware of the conflict were certain to have their sympathies engaged for the one side or the other. This seems a dangerous principle, and apt to lead to entanglement or disaster. "Divinely dangerous." Yet is it the teaching of the Spirit of God, and beautifully harmonious with it.

2. That those are his servants who do mighty works in his Name. This mere statement suggests how profoundly the work of Christ was leavening the community. There were many besides his professed followers who were influenced by his spirit.

(1) That they should be able to do these works (which were of a miraculous nature) showed that they must already be in communion with his spirit. To cast forth devils could not be to further the cause of their prince, or to be aided by him. And so of the complementary work of awaking spiritual life in conversion, etc. Such work is manifestly of God, and these results prove his presence and approval.

(2) The honor and cause of Christ will be dear to such, even as to those more openly and professedly connected with him. Christ's servants do not work magically, by the mechanical force of dark formulas, but by sympathy and moral oneness with him.

3. That sympathy and help towards a disciple, as such, is itself a proof of discipleship.

(1) The slightest sign of this spirit is to be welcomed in faith and hope, as a firstfruits of greater things to come.

(2) But in itself it is already truly a great service, and as such will be certainly rewarded. It seems almost more precious, in its connection, than the "mighty works;" for these may sometimes incommode, and be mingled with much error and evil, but the merciful kindness is ever serviceable, and flows from no other fountain than the heart of God.

II. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH THESE ARE TO BE REGARDED. The child of grace is to be trustfully disposed, and ready to put a charitable construction upon the merely negative behavior of men. And, moreover, it is to be recollected that the principle is not one of judgment, but of policy. "Jesus would impress it upon his disciples that they must honor and protect the isolated beginnings or germs of faith to be found in the world" (Lange). Towards all who do not oppose Christ there is to be an attitude of hopeful and trustful encouragement (cf. Matthew 11:42).

1. Christian acknowledgment. "Forbid them not." Involving

(1) brotherly recognition - not mere toleration:

(2) fostering and protecting care;

(3) devout thankfulness and humility.

2. Remembering their retaliation to the same Master.

(1) He acknowledges them;

(2) he will afterwards reward them;

(3) we shall be sternly and awfully judged if we "cause them to stumble." The word for millstone indicates the larger stone-mill, in working which an ass was generally employed, as distinguished from the smaller hand-mill of Luke 17:35. The punishment was not recognized in the Jewish Law, but it was in occasional use among the Greeks (Diod. Sic., 16:35), and had been inflicted by Augustus (Sueton., 'Aug.,' 67.) in cases of special infamy. Jerome states (in a note on this passage) that it was practiced in Galilee, and it is not improbable that the Romans had inflicted it upon some of the ringleaders of the insurrection headed by Judas of Galilee. The infamy of offending one of the ' little ones' was as great as that of those whose crimes brought upon them this exceptional punishment. It was obviously a form of death less cruel in itself than many others, and its chief horror, both for Jews and heathen, was probably that it deprived the dead of all rites of burial (Plumptre, in 'New Test. Com.'). This punishment, such as it was, was but a shadow of the more terrible penalties of the spiritual state. - M.

And we forbade him
I. THAT POWER TO DO GOOD IS NOT MONOPOLIZED BY ONE CLASS OF BELIEVERS IN CHRIST. We can only conjecture, but there is strong reason for supposing, as many have done, that this man who was encountered in his work by our Lord's disciples, was a disciple of John Baptist. It is not unlikely that he may have been but partially enlightened as to the mission of our Lord; or have fully believed in Him as the Messiah, but have preferred an independent course of action for himself. We have seen, and we see today, similar deeds of helpful charity being performed by men not of our party, who do not worship at the church or chapel which we are accustomed to attend. The essentials of a good deed are alike in both cases. These neighbours of ours are engaged in casting out the demons of ignorance, vicious habits, vile passions, and despairing poverty. Some of them have confronted difficulties which we have not dared to face, and solved problems which we had pronounced impossible of solution. All Christian parties and all Christian men can bear testimony to the universal existence of this fact.

II. WE REMARK THAT THE CONDUCT OF THE DISCIPLES IS NOT SINGULAR FOR ITS INTOLERANCE. The clannish feeling was very strong amongst these men. There is something really good at the bottom of this feeling. It implies and involves a binding principle of fealty, which is one of the truest feelings of noble natures. But unless it is checked in some of its tendencies, and regulated by judicious reflections, it becomes exclusive and illiberal. We can hardly imagine the meek, gentle, and tender-spirited John joining in the exclusive conduct of this severe proceeding. It is difficult to conceive of the censure which he could pass upon a man who was doing good. But the meekest men become severe where privileges of a certain order are concerned.

III. WE OBSERVE THE TOLERANT SPIRIT OF CHRIST. "Forbid him not!" Let him alone; leave him to his work! "Forbid him not!" for two reasons: first, because "there is no man which shall do a miracle in My name that can lightly (or 'easily,' 'quickly,' 'readily') speak evil of Me." Secondly, "He that is not against us is on our part." He that cannot speak against me may be regarded as my friend. In a matter like this the absence of opposition may be accepted as a proof of support. Tacit approval of our work must be welcomed as next in importance, if no more, to definite cooperation. Do we not wait for men to join our ranks before we acknowledge them as followers of Christ? We have devoted too much of the energy and earnestness of our life to the little matters that absorb us as denominations rather than to the grander and mightier subjects that concern us as Christians. Between us and those from whom we stand aloof there may exist no real barrier to a happy and hearty recognition of our common interest in the same dear and blessed Lord. Everything which tends to rend away the veil that separates the follower of Jesus Christ from his brother is to be hailed with devout and fervent gratitude, and every spirit should yearn to join the prayer of that great heart while yet upon the earth, "That they all may be one."

(W. Dorling.)

I would remark —

I. THAT IT BECOMES US CAREFULLY TO OBSERVE THEIR SENTIMENTS, PROFESSIONS, CHARACTERS, AND CONDUCT. "They follow not with us;" therefore, says one, they must be wrong. Let them alone, says another. We have sufficient to do to mind our own concerns, replies a third. Am I my brother's keeper? observes a fourth. Truth and charity require that we should ascertain the sentiments and practices of those who follow not with us, before we forbid them; and that we should ascertain those sentiments from authorized and acknowledged statements and records, as far as we can obtain access to them.

II. Such inquires naturally lead to a second remark; namely, that where we have not opportunity of thus precisely ascertaining the sentiments and conduct of those who follow not with us; and where it is necessary, notwithstanding, to give some advice with respect to them, THAT ADVICE SHOULD BE GIVEN IN AS FAVOURABLE A MANNER AS THE CIRCUMSTANCES WITH WHICH WE ARE ACQUAINTED WILL ALLOW. They follow not with us; but are they casting out Satan in the name of Christ? — They follow not with us. Now, we are convinced of being right, and this affords a legitimate presumption that those who differ from us are in some respects wrong; but, at the same time, it is not a necessary conclusion. The presumption, therefore, of criminality being disposed of, the next inquiry is, Do they cast out Satan in the name of Christ? or, in plainer terms, Are they, on Christian principles, endeavouring to diminish the sum of crime and misery — to promote the cause of peace and purity, to lead men from sin to holiness? and if so, the answer must be — "Forbid them not." Observe — It must be in the name of Christ. Men come continually with this and that ingenious device and philosophical contrivance; the cant of liberalism, the virtues of universal suffrage, the abolition of the poor laws — this panacea for all that is wrong, and the patent for the production of all that is right. I say not, there is nothing in these things; I say not that politicians and legislators may not do well to consider such topics; but, as a Christian man and a Christian minister, I say — All these are mere trifles. The philosopher may say — With this machine, and this standing place, I will move the world. True, says his opponent; in the longest space of human life you will move the world some thousandth part of an inch — and what then? Such is the whole value of the labours of many. It must be in the name of Christ, the dignity of His character, the power, the mercy, the atonement, the intercession, the grace of Christ. All other means, brethren, of casting out devils, of overcoming sin, of producing holiness, are utterly in vain; the evil spirit will return. He will say — Jesus I know, and Paul I know — but who are ye? Even moral precepts, moral suasion, the terrors of the law, the solemnities of death, the eternal consequences of judgment, are found ineffectual to break the bondage of iniquity.

(T. Webster, M. A.)

I. THE DEGREE OF SERVICE. "He that is not against us is on our part." That man of whom St. John tells us in our text that he had east out devils in Jesus's name. was mightily stimulated by the appearance of Jesus and His wonderful works. He was no disciple, for how could he else have taken his own way, if in his heart he truly belonged to Jesus. His heart was far from Jesus, but his understanding perceived the importance of Jesus, and he believed in the power of His name which he had often experienced. Thus he was a servant, though not a child, of God; in Jesus's service, but not in His commission. The name of Jesus exercises an overwhelming authority even upon those who in heart are far from Him, even on the things of natural human life, law, science, art, etc. These are not Christianized in the proper sense of that word, and yet we call them Christian; they are in the service of the cause of Jesus. Christians ought not to disparage outward Christianity, or call it hypocrisy; it acknowledges the name of Christ and is serving His cause. When the point in question is our adoption and salvation, then we must be for Him. But he already serves Him who is not exactly against Him and His cause. That is the first degree, the degree of serving His cause. But saving His believing people has a higher value. "Whosoever shall give you a cup of cold water," etc. However, nobody has an eye for this hidden beauty, but he who in the spirit perceives the beauty of Jesus, and nobody has a hearty love for the poor saints of Jesus but he who in love has shut up the Lord Jesus in his heart. "For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in My name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward." The Lord does not speak of friendly services such as man renders to man from natural sympathy, but of the service rendered to His disciples, and rendered to them because they are His disciples. "Whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in My name, because ye belong to Christ." Such a serving of the saints is not without communion with Jesus in faith and love.

II. That is the other degree. THE DEGREE OF COMMUNION, OF COMMUNION OF HEART. For communion of the heart with Jesus is that, and that only, which constitutes the disciple of Jesus the Christian. My beloved brethren, there are many things which we find and win in Jesus — wisdom, holiness, glory — but what we have to seek in Him, in the first place, is the pardon of our sins; what we have to see in Him is the Lamb of God which takes away our sins. Then all other things will be added to us; that is the communion with Jesus, the following of Jesus, as St. John narrates it of himself, for our example and stimulation. That is his meaning when he tells Jesus of one "who followeth not us." But that is not all. That man of whom St. John speaks exercised an activity which had a certain resemblance to the working of the apostles. Thus St. John did not only recognize an imitation of Jesus Christ in faith and love, but also in good works, not only a communion of the heart, but also of the life. He thought of this not less when he spoke that word. And though we be no apostles, and though we are not all ministers of the gospel, we yet have all a share in the one great work of helping to build up and hasten the full glory of the kingdom of Christ. But our entering into that communion of working with Jesus is only effected by prayer, by His prayer and ours. In the communion of the love of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit begins every prayer, and we carry it out in the words of our lips. That prayer sends down upon us the fulness of the Spirit while our prayer plunges us into the depth of the Divine spiritual life, that we may emerge from it filled with the powers of a higher world. Therein the communion with Jesus Christ is finished.

(C. L. E. Luthardt.)

It is argued that as the apostles were not allowed to forbid this stranger, neither may the Church forbid strange preachers; that all have a right to preach, whether they follow the Church or no, so that they do but preach in the name of Jesus. Such is the objection, and I propose now to consider it.

1. First, then, this man was not preaching; he was casting out devils. This is a great difference — he was doing a miracle. "There is no man which shall do a miracle in My name," etc. Man cannot overcome the devil, Christ only overcomes him. If a man casts out a devil, he has power from Christ; and if he has power from Christ, he must have a commission from Christ; and who shall forbid one, to whom God gives commission to do miracles, from doing them? That would be fighting against God. But, on the other hand, many a man may preach without being sent from God and having power from Him; for Christ expressly warns us against false prophets.

2. But it may be said, "The effects of preaching are a miracle." A good preacher converts persons; he casts out devils from the hearts of those whom he changes from sin to holiness. This he could not do without power from God. But what seems good, is often not good.

3. But, again, even if sinners are converted upon such a one's preaching, this would net show that he did the work, or, at least, that he had more than a share in it. The miracle might after all belong to the Church, not to him. They are but the occasion of the miracle, not the instrument of it. Persons who take up with strange preachers often grant that they gained their first impressions in the Church. To proceed.(1) It should be observed, then, that if our Saviour says on this occasion, "He that is not against us is on our part"; yet elsewhere He says, "He that is not with Me is against Me." The truth is, while a system is making way against an existing state of things, help of any kind advances it; but when it is established, the same kind of professed help tells against it. It was at a time when there was no church; we have no warrant for saying that because men might work in Christ's name, without following the apostles, before He had built up His Church, and had made them the foundations of it, therefore such persons may do so lawfully since. He did not set up His Church till after the resurrection. Accordingly, when the Christians at Corinth went into parties, and set up forms of doctrine of their own, St. Paul forbade them. "What!" he said, "came the Word of God out from you?" (1 Corinthians 14:36). That Church made you what you are, as far as you are Christian, and has a right to bid you follow her. And for what we know, the very man in the text was one of St. John's disciples; who might lawfully remain as he was without joining the apostles till the apostles received the gift of the Holy Ghost, then he was bound to join them.(2) And here, too, we have light thrown upon an expression in the text, "In My name." Merely to use the name of Jesus is not enough; we must look for that name where He has lodged it. He has not lodged it in the world at large, but in a secure dwelling place, and we have that name engraven on us only when we are in that dwelling place (Exodus 23:20, 21). Thus the stranger in the text might use the name of Jesus without following the apostles, because they bad not yet had the name of Christ named upon them. Nothing can be inferred from the text in favour of those who set up against the Church, or who interfere with it. On the whole, then, I would say this; when strangers to the Church preach great Christian truths, and do not oppose the Church, then, though we may not follow them, though we may not join them, yet we are not allowed to forbid them; but in proportion as they preach what is in itself untrue, and do actively oppose God's great Ordinance, so far they are not like the man whom our Lord told His apostles not to forbid. But in all cases, whether they preach true doctrine or not, or whether they oppose us or not, so much we learn, viz., that we must overcome them, not so much by refuting them, as by preaching the truth. Let us be far more set upon alluring souls into the right way than on forbidding them the wrong. Let us be like racers in a course, who do not impede, but try to outstrip each other by love.

(J. H. Newman, B. D.)


1. On the introduction of a new dispensation the power of working miracles was necessary, in order to establish its Divine authority; and this power consequently attended the first ages of Christianity.

2. Some who profess a sacred regard for the name of Jesus, and the doctrines of the gospel, may nevertheless not follow Him in all things as we do, or as they themselves ought to do. This may arise from ignorance, indolence, and inadvertence.

3. In the conduct of the disciples we may see our own aptness to imagine that those do not follow Christ at all who do not follow Him with us.


1. An immoderate degree of self-love.

2. Bigotry and party spirit are another source of uncharitable judgment.

3. An idle and pragmatic temper is another of these causes.

4. A liberty taken to censure and condemn others, is often vindicated by the appearance of a similar disposition on the other side. Let us not judge of men's thoughts and intentions when there is nothing reprehensible in their conduct.

(B. Beddome, M. A.)

Note the "us." Although no exegetical emphasis is lying on it, yet it is well to read it with some doctrinal intonation. It is the point at which the principle of exclusiveness crops up — that spirit of intolerance which so easily develops itself into fagot and fire. It was rife in the Jewish nation. It had been rife among other peoples. And although it was nipped in the bud by the Saviour the moment it sprang up among His disciples, yet by and by it rose again within the circle of Christendom, and grew into a upas tree that spread its branches, and distilled its blight, almost as far as the name of Christ was named. The tree still stands, alas — though many a noble hatchet has been raised to cut it down. It stands; but the hatchets have not been plied in vain. It is moribund. And here and there some of its larger boughs have been lopped off, so that the sweet air of heaven is getting in upon hundreds of thousands of the more favoured of those who were sitting in the shadow of death.

(J. Morison, D. D.)

The complaint brought by the disciples against the man was, "he followeth not us," — us, the apostles; the complaint says nothing about following Christ. There was a spirit of envy and selfishness in this remark, which would have restrained Christ's favours to the persons of the apostles and their immediate adherents. But our Lord reminds the complainants that the man wrought miracles in their Master's name, as they themselves had owned; i.e., he wrought miracles in conformity to Christ's will, and for the promotion of Christ's glory — i.e., in union with Christ — and not for any private end; therefore the man was with Christ, though he did not personally follow in the company of the apostles, just as John Baptist was with Christ, though not in person; and as all the apostles preaching the gospel and administering the sacraments of Christ in Christ's name in all parts of the world were with one another and with Christ, after He had ascended into heaven. The man was not neuter in the cause, and therefore was not against them; and their Master had authorized him openly by enabling him to work in His name; and therefore the man was with Him, and consequently with His apostles, in heart and spirit, though not in person and presence, and was not to be forbidden or discouraged by them. Thus our Lord delivered a warning against that sectarian spirit which is eager for its own ends rather than for Christ's; and would limit Christ's graces to personal communion with itself, instead of inquiring whether those whom it would exclude from grace are not working in Christ's name — that is, in obedience to His laws, and for the promotion of His glory; and in the unity of His Church, and in the full and free administration of His Word and Sacraments, and so in communion with Him. Besides — even if the man was separated from their communion, and worked miracles in separation (which does not appear to have been the case, for he worked in the name of Christ), what they ought to have forbidden was the being in separation, and not the working miracles. If a man, separated from Christ and His Church, preaches Christ, then Christ approves His own Word, preached by one in separation; but He does not approve the separation itself, any more than God approved the sins of Balaam, Saul, and Caiaphas, and Judas, when He prophesied and preached by their mouths.

(Bishop Christopher Wordsworth.)

There lived in Berlin a shoemaker who had a habit of speaking harshly and uncharitably of all his neighbours who did not think quite as he did about religion. The old pastor of the parish in which the shoemaker lived heard of this, and felt that he must try to teach him a lesson of toleration. He did it in this way. Sending for the shoemaker one morning, he said to him, "John, take my measure for a pair of boots." "With pleasure, your reverence, replied the shoemaker, please take off your boot. The clergyman did so, and the shoemaker measured his foot from toe to heel, and over the instep, noted all down in his pocket book; and then prepared to leave the room. But, as he was putting up the measure, the pastor said to him, "John, my son also requires a pair of boots." "I will make them with pleasure, your reverence. Can I take the young gentleman's measure this morning?" "Oh, that is unnecessary," said the pastor; "the lad is fourteen, but you can make my boots and his from the same last." "Your reverence, that will never do," said the shoemaker, with a smile of surprise. "I tell you, John, to make my boots and those for my son, on the same last." "No, your reverence, I cannot do it." "It must be done — on the same last, remember." "But, your reverence, it is not possible, if the boots are to fit," said the shoemaker, thinking to himself that the old pastor's wits must be leaving him. "Ah, then, master shoemaker," said the clergyman, "every pair of boots must be made on their own last, if they are to fit, and yet you think that God is to form all Christians exactly according to your own last, of the same measure and growth in religion as yourself. That will not do, either." The shoemaker was abashed. Then he said, "I thank your reverence for this sermon, and I will try to remember it, and to judge my neighbours less harshly in the future."

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