The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Johann Peter Lange

Edited by Rev. Marcus Dods







the healing of the lunatic

(Mat 17:14-21. Mar 9:14-29. Luk 9:37-45)

If, on the one hand, the most confidential disciples of Jesus on the mountain received a revelation from the realms of glory which should serve to strengthen them for the days that were to ensue, it was, on the other, allotted to the other disciples, that through a mighty experience of the power of the kingdom of darkness and of the superior power of their Master, they also should be animated to greater courage and watchfulness in their further following after Jesus.

When the Lord with the three disciples, ‘on the next day’ (i.e., on the day after the transfiguration), returned to the other disciples, who were waiting for Him at the foot of the hill, probably in an inhabited valley, He found ‘a great multitude about them,’ and even ‘scribes, who were around, disputing with them.’1 The group was evidently in a state of great excitement. But at the moment that they saw Jesus, ‘they were greatly amazed, and running to Him, saluted Him.’ The striking remark of the Evangelist Mark, that they were greatly amazed, will be explained presently. Jesus observed, probably with displeasure, that the doctors of the law, as adepts in disputation, had with their questions pressed His disciples hard up into a corner. He immediately steps up to them with the inquiry, ‘What are ye disputing with them about?’ They gave Him no answer,—a proof how much they were afraid of Him. We can easily understand that the more thinly scattered lawyers in those hills of Cesarea Philippi had not yet gone so far in bold hostility to Him as those in Galilee; but yet, without doubt, enmity to Him was already spread abroad even among them. But it is at present in the stage of timid lying in wait. Upon their silence, a man stepped forth from the crowd. He made his complaint, that he had been seeking for Him with a sick person (ἤνεγκα ὲπρός σε) who was his only son; that he was lunatic, and was in a very bad condition; that a dumb demon (such an one as made him speechless, and, as we may suppose, unconscious) had the mastery of him; that he often seized him suddenly (particularly about the time of the growing moon) cried aloud out of him, and convulsed him, so that he foamed and gnashed his teeth; that thus the patient was sore tormented by him, till at last the demon went out of him again, not, however, until he had once more convulsed his whole frame; that, under such circumstances, it could not fail that the patient must be continually pining away; that this sufferer (whose illness on its physical side was plainly epilepsy) he had brought to His disciples, not being able to find Jesus Himself, with the entreaty that they would cast out the demon, but that they had not been able to effect it.

We now understand the situation in which Jesus found His disciples. They had then endeavoured to heal the sick boy, but their attempt had failed. They had certainly received from Jesus authority to cast out demons; and we may surely assume that in His name they had sought to do so in this instance. Yet their treatment of the case had failed,—a proof that, in the undertaking, they had not stood in the power of full communion with Him. This circumstance is probably to be explained mainly by their present mood of feeling. A short while before, they had for the first time heard of the way leading to the cross, on which they were to follow Jesus, and they had in those days, no doubt, to contend with sore temptations to leave Him. Who knows in what measure the power of darkness might already be hovering round the spirit of a Judas, and how much his dissatisfaction might be weighing down and crippling the remaining disciples! And now, while in this mood, they were suddenly summoned to heal a sick person, whose malady had about it something shocking and awful. The unhappy result of their endeavour evinces the want of assurance with which it had been undertaken. In consequence, they were, without question, completely stricken down. This juncture hostile scribes turn to account for the purpose of disputing with them;—we can imagine in what sense. They would easily represent the matter so, that the rebuff of the disciples appeared to fall back upon their Master. We may therefore conjecture, that in the crowd which surrounded the disciples, helpless and pressed hard by the Rabbins, the spirit of malicious satisfaction and ridicule began to find expression in reference to Jesus and His work.

Thus, without question, this group was in a highly profane mood, and one by no means friendly to the cause of Jesus; but now He suddenly approached them in the well-known majesty of His being, which at present was also heightened by the effects which His transfiguration left behind it. His appearance, therefore, struck the conscience of the people like a sudden blow; and Mark has surely not expressed himself too strongly when he writes: ‘they were amazed.’ They sought to repair their fault by hastening to meet Him with acts of obeisance.

On hearing the complaint of the man, Christ exclaimed, ‘Oh faithless and perverse generation! How long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you?’ And forthwith He commanded the boy to be brought to Him.

That just at this hour, the world, in the gloom of its despair and corruption, should make the most painful impression upon Him, lies in the very nature of the case. Those who from very high hills come down to the level ground, pass through very great changes in physical respects. They come, perhaps, out of the region of eternal snow and of vegetable growth in its most miserable and stunted forms, and pass through a succession of zones, districts ever more and more warm and blooming, until in the warm vale they see themselves surrounded by the richest vegetation. This contrast presents itself in its full power to those who, out of the higher regions of Lebanon, descend into its warm and richly blessed valleys. But any such change was secondary, in the case of our Lord, to one of an opposite character of much greater significance. He came out of a warm zone, which was so near to the kingdom of eternal light! and was now come into a region in which the frosts of unbelief were blowing keen upon Him. There, the spirits of heaven were near Him; here, the spirits of the bottomless pit. Even artists have felt and sought to represent the wonderful contrast between the heavenly scene of the transfiguration and this scene of the bottomless pit, in which the demon of anguish seems to be triumphing over the whole human group which surrounds the wretched demoniac. But Jesus had good grounds for giving very strong utterance to the impression which this circle made upon Him. The mountain behind Him behoved to transform itself into a Sinai for this group; His voice behoved like a peal of thunder to terrify, and to cleanse the air from the spirits of frivolity (see above, vol. i. p. 443).

He here openly gave utterance to a mood which we may be sure frequently assailed Him, but which, as a rule, He did not express. In this case He could not but express it.2 But it is clear that He was rebuking the whole company; for they were all blended one with another in one and the same sentiment of unbelief.

As soon as the boy was brought to Him, ‘the demon began to convulse and shake him,’ and soon ‘he was lying on the ground, wallowing and foaming.’ The evil was very great, since even the influence of the personal presence of Jesus, which immediately in. itself was so wholesome, yet called it forth so strongly. But, however, this paroxysm was at the same time a proof that the power of Jesus had already begun to work upon the child. Perhaps the Lord considered it desirable to leave this first impression of His personal presence upon the patient to work itself in some measure off.3 With the most elevated calmness He asked the father of the patient ‘how long this had been on him.’ ‘From a child,’4 was his reply. And then he probably proceeded to relate to Him particular instances: how the demon had often suddenly fallen upon the boy and thrown him down; sometimes when near the fire, sometimes when near the water, so that the patient had then plunged into one or the other. He charged the evil spirit with the malignant purpose of mischievously destroying his son (ἵνα ἀπολέσῃ αὐτόν). This demon-power stood opposed to him like a sworn hereditary enemy, who meant in his only son to root out his very stock; and imploringly he begged Him: ‘If Thou canst do anything, save us! take pity upon us!’ In this cry there was a strong dash of the despair which threatened to overpower him, since it not only produced his excitement, but also led him to utter the senselessly rude word, ‘If Thou canst do anything!’

Jesus answered him with an enigmatical word, which we may suppose means this: If thou canst, is the word! Yes, ‘if thou canst—believe!5 All things are possible to him that believeth.’ This word wrought with a wonderful power upon the desponding man. He cried out aloud, with streaming eyes: ‘I believe! Help my unbelief!’ Through the noble honesty which the deepest anguish of soul was blessed to produce in him, this man gives us the opportunity of looking deep into the very birthplace of faith. We see how faith as a free and necessary act of heroic trust, on the path of earnest supplication, of calling upon Jesus, struggles her way upwards out of the dull, servile mood of unbelief.6 Here repentance and confession of sin follow upon faith or the confession of faith; so mighty in its operation is this strengthening, of the soul begotten out of the deepest distress through the promise of Christ. And now Christ had again prepared an open road for Himself to work upon the sick son—through the heart of the father, who felt the distress of his son as deeply as if he had himself been also convulsed by the demon. The father’s cry of anguish was observed to cause a fresh pressing in of the crowd. But the disturbing effect of this thronging of the press Jesus sought quickly to anticipate. Remarkable for its stern decision was the sentence of expulsion with which He accomplished the cure: ‘Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him!’ Forthwith the conflict of recovery set in: a wild outcry; convulsive spasms; and then the patient lay there perfectly still, free from the symptoms he had been suffering from hitherto, but as motionless as if he were dead. Many, in fact, said he was dead. ‘But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he stood up upon his feet: from that hour he was cured.’

Now there began to spread a great astonishment at the mighty power of God shown in the works of Jesus, in that same multitude which for a while had been so doubtful in its sentiments; many expressions of rapturous admiration of Him were heard. Jesus advised His disciples to keep in recollection these utterances of feeling. Not so much (we may be sure) for the reason that doing so might serve for the confirmation of their faith, as that they might thoroughly learn what men were. ‘For’ (He said) ‘the time was coming that the Son of man would be delivered into the hands of men.’ But the disciples were now once more as little disposed as possible implicitly to receive so sorrowful a prediction. Why, their Master has just now again shown that, under the most desperate circumstances, He could forthwith work deliverance; that He could coerce the worst demons; that He could change the most unfavourable sentiments in the minds of the people into the most favourable. Luke makes a point of expressing in the strongest manner that they were incapable of taking home Christ’s declaration. ‘They misunderstood’ or ‘ignored7 the word; and it was for them a closed riddle, so that they did not apprehend’ its proper meaning.8 But ‘they were also afraid to ask Him’ for more specific information. With reverence for His person there blended, no doubt, at the same time the dread of a more distinct and terrible announcement.

When the Lord was again alone with His disciples, they asked Him, ‘Why could not we cast him (the demon) out?’ Jesus declared to them in direct terms: ‘On account of your unbelief;’ and added, ‘Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard-seed, then say only to this mountain, Remove hence, and place thyself thither! and it shall remove thither; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.’

Faith cannot make it her concern, in a literal sense, to be removing mountains of the earth. But if it could be and ought to be its concern, then faith would be able really to remove mountains. For faith is the heart’s becoming one with, and being closely joined to, the omnipotence of God. The smallest, finest grain9 of this power of working in God can effect the most extraordinary operations, and, in actual fact, all things must be possible to it, because all things are possible to God. But on that very account also, faith is not dependent on human caprice, not self-willed, as human enthusiasm is. First of all, it is called by God to remove, to drive out from the soul, the inward corruptions and errors which lie like mountains between the soul and its happiness. Not till then is it called to remove the mountains of spiritual corruption in the life of others. After this, it can then also concern itself with removing the mountains of other people’s distress,—the task with which in the story before us the disciples essayed to concern themselves, without having given heed to the right order of things, without having first put aside the mountain of sadness and dissatisfaction in their own hearts, and then the mountain of weakness of faith in the mind of the sorrowing father. At length there come then, in the succession, the mountains of those earthly difficulties which in a thousand ways oppose themselves to the kingdom of God; and at last faith will also address herself to transfigure the earth, and with the earth to change the form of its mountains. And this last is not the most difficult, namely, that at last the mountains of the earth should be removed; but the first, namely, that the mountains of unbelief should be done away.10 But, however, the order which is by God appointed to man in the work of removing mountains man must not overleap; and if he, without faith, essays to remove mountains in any way, then that alone redounds to his reproach: as with the disciples it not merely redounded to their reproach that they could not heal the sick boy, but also most especially that they had sought to do it without faith. The first thing they should have set about, was to do away with the mountain of unbelief which had placed itself between them and the working of their divine Master’s power.

Most especially in this case, since they had to deal with a demoniac evil of especial magnitude. For, ‘This kind,’ said the Lord in conclusion, ‘goeth not out (is not cast out) except only by virtue of prayer and fasting.’ Prayer and fasting are evidently here regarded as the two opposed activities in the living exercise of operative faith. Out of the one energy of its self-exercise proceeds, on the one hand, prayer, the striving of the soul after union with God, and her confirmation in this oneness; on the other hand, fasting, the spontaneous abstinence and well calculated renunciation of the soul, in her earnest endeavour to get free from her old attachments to the world. Thus must a man shake his wings, if in faith he will do miracles. He must, in prayer, conjoin himself with the will of God, and in the same measure, in fasting, struggle himself free from the world; and then he is able, in God, being free, and standing in antagonism to the world, to remove the mountains which are in the world. But the greater the evil is which he will coerce, the greater must be his experience in both these points, and therefore in the life of faith. Possibly the disciples might have been able to control a lesser demoniac suffering with that weakened faith of theirs, which in the season of their conflict they had not sufficiently nourished by prayer and fasting; but if they would control this kind of demoniac suffering, this fearful bondage of a human being, who seemed to have been from a child given up to all pernicious influences, cosmical and ethical,—for such a work as that, they needed to be armed by a faith which was engaged in the liveliest energy, in full tension and exercise, between its two poles of life, which are praying and fasting.

By this incident not only had the disciples been humbled, raised up, and warned, and in consequence strengthened for their path of suffering in following after Jesus, but they had also gained from bitter experience a living consciousness of the chasm, which was opening ever wider and wider, between them and that spirit of their nation which was under the leading of the scribes. But that this contrast should be brought more and more home to their consciousness, was just the thing which they most pressingly needed.



The expression, remove mountains, root up mountains, was very current in the schools of the Rabbins, to express the doing away of great spiritual or intellectual difficulties. ‘Among the Jews an eloquent teacher is called עֺקֵר הָרִים, an uprooter of mountains.ʼ—Stier, ii. 355. Compare the quotations which Sepp, ii. p. 416, has adduced in evidence out of Jewish writings.



1) Neander observes that this circumstance, that here scribes are meeting Jesus, is more in favour of the transaction having taken place at a hill in Galilee than at Hermon, on the hills near Paneas. But surely we may suppose that scribes were to be found in the dominions of Philip, a Jewish prince.

2) See the beautiful observations of Stier, ii. 350.

3) Weisse is disposed (i. 522) to regard the interlocution between Jesus and the father of the possessed boy as an hors d'œurre. He missed the signification of this pause.

4) The hankering of Olshausen to explain demoniac sufferings by secret sins, through Which a defective conception of these eases appears in his Commentary, is especially confusing here, since it is expressly said of the boy, that he had had the affliction from childhood, ‘There is, further, nothing in the representation to lead us to refer, as others do, the disasters of the patient falling into the fire and into water to accesses of melancholy.

5) The expression, εἰ δύνασαι, Jesus seems with an intended double meaning to be giving back to the man as a riddle, in some such sense as this: τὸ εἰ δύνασαῖ-εἱ σὺ δύνασαι—πιστεῦσαι.

6) See Olshausen in loc.

7) We must not mistake the ethical element in the word ἀγνοέω. It lies in the word very much in the same way as it does in the word ignore.

8) The same judgment recurs in Luke xviii. 34.

9) Concerning the image of the grain of mustard-seed, see Stier, ii. 236.

10) See Slier, ii. 355, &c.