The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Johann Peter Lange

Edited by Rev. Marcus Dods







the danger of offences

(Mat 18:6-11. Mar 9:38-50. Luk 17:1-2)

After this discussion, John made to the Lord a disclosure, which we need only to view in connection with other features in order to gain a noteworthy insight into the posture of mind in which the beloved disciple is at this time found. John was probably led to make the communication by the remark of Jesus that we should receive the little in His name. We may suppose that the question arose to his mind, how far they were to go in recognizing the presence of His name in others besides the disciples. It thus became a matter of anxious desire with him that the Lord should give His judgment in reference to a case, in which he himself with his associates had applied the uttermost strictness to the principle of recognition; in which, that is, they had proceeded upon the assumption, that whoever did not openly attach himself to the Lord and follow Him had no title to His name. ‘Master,’ he said to Him, ‘we saw a man casting out devils in Thy name, and we forbade his doing it, because he does not with us follow Thee’ (has not attached himself to us).1 But Jesus proceeded to set His disciple right. ‘Forbid him not! For there is no man who can show the power to work a miracle in My name and forthwith again speak evil of Me.’ They are to understand that the outstreaming of the power to work in the name of Jesus cannot be greater than the inward recognition of that name; that therefore it would be hurtful to crush the tender shy beginnings of such a recognition by premature demands upon obedience. And that in this holy region of tender beginnings they may not break a single blade of His delicate growth, He turns His kingly watchword, ‘He that is not for Me is against Me,’ for them into the disciples’ watchword, ‘He who is not against us is on our part!2 Thus they are directed to see in all men, who have not declared themselves in opposition to them, furtherers of their cause, because not only all beginnings, but also all preparatives of faith, even the smallest, should likewise be accounted holy as component parts of Christ’s divine harvest; and further for this cause also, because those who are enemies of the disciples of Jesus are generally quick enough in making it known. And, once more, He inculcates this truth upon their minds with the word, ‘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.’

Hereupon Christ utters some very solemn words against all fanatical treatment of beginners in faith, the ‘little ones.’ It is very easy to occasion them hindrance by fanatical treatment, or, generally, by mistaken treatment, so that they go astray in respect to the truth itself through the fault of those who maintained it, and again lose their faith. It is therefore easy to put a stumblingblock in the way of their faith, over which they stumble, fall, and perish. This stumblingblock is what is properly called offence. Now the Lord foresees that thus in the future, in a thousand ways, the beginnings of His harvest would be spoilt by excited friends, by passionate friends, by gloomy-minded friends. Those, however, who thus offend the little in faith, and so occasion their ruin, He cannot help marking as themselves in the highest degree unblessed, by saying, ‘But whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in Me, it were better for him if’ (instead of his living to do this) ‘a mill-stone3 were hanged about his neck, and he were drowned in the depths of the sea.’ If Christ says that this frightful fate would to that man be a happiness if he thereby escaped the guilt of giving offence, He cannot express Himself more strongly in reference to the ruinous character of such a course of action. The giver of offence appears in this case as himself the lost one in the most especial sense, not only because out of the blessing of the Gospel he makes for the little ones a mere curse and savour of death, but also because he kindles in himself the flames of hell, whilst he deems that he is bringing to others the peace of heaven and that he can force that peace upon them (see Jas. 3.) As He glances forward at this class of sins, the soul of Jesus is so shaken, that He cannot help exclaiming, ‘Woe to the world because of offences!’ It is as if He would say, This is world’s last, highest woe! this will give the world its death-thrust! this will prepare the final judgment! In offences the world will sink into perdition. Truths will be converted into errors, guides into seducers, catechumens of the kingdom of heaven into misled ones or into embittered gainsayers, through the impure zeal and fire-spirit of many disciples, who will corrupt all these relations of a nascent heaven into incongruities of an unfolding hell. ‘No doubt,’ He says, calming His soul, ‘it must be so; the offences must come.’ But then it seems to Him as if He must, once more repeating the warning, fasten His eye upon an object of intensest interest, while He speaks the remarkable stern words, ‘Woe to the man through whom the offence’ (especially, no doubt, as the last highest compound of all offences) ‘cometh.’

But if a man will in this sense give no offence, he must be careful most particularly to remove out of his own life the unconscious hindrance, which would fain become an offence to himself. For no one will occasion another a real hindrance causing him to stumble, if he has not himself already stumbled over some hidden stumblingblock in his own inner life. Therefore Jesus adds a warning, which we may contemplate in its complete form as it is recorded by Mark. Again our Lord’s discourse turns upon an offence which a man may meet with in his own members; in particular, upon an offence which his hand or his eye may occasion him; just as above in the Sermon on the Mount (Mat 5:29-30). And yet the sense of the figurative words is here quite different, because the connection is altogether different. Moreover, He speaks of a third offence, through the foot. If in the interpretation of these figurative expressions we look back upon the occasion which introduced them, we must start from the thought, that John was in danger, through a mistaken, overstrained use of his hand, through a mistaken course of doing, under a mistaken impulse of his energy, of falling into sin. His hand, in holy fire of zeal, would fain exercise an over-severe church discipline, and with violent severity bid off from any claim upon the name of Jesus all of less decision of feeling than himself. For even if other disciples had made themselves partners in the fact which John communicated to Christ, yet we have, no doubt, to regard him in especial as standing foremost in this incident. It is true, the danger in which he then stood was removed again through his great openness towards the Lord. But if he had gone on without warning in his present cast of feeling, he might very easily, on this path of fiery action, have himself lost the high peace of God to which he was called, with all its blessedness, and also have prepared great unblessedness to the Church. Jesus counsels him, as He does every disciple whom John now represents, to ‘cut off his hand,’ if it threatens to ‘offend him;’ that is, to suppress in his bosom every diseased impulse, every false motive of action; adding, ‘It is better for thee to enter into life maimed, rather than, having two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, where their worm (the worm of those condemned ones4) ‘dies not, and the fire’ (which consumes them) ‘is not quenched.’ Such a disciple is not to imagine that the wrong character of his frame of mind is something transitional—that its erroneousness will neutralize itself. Rather it produces itself ever mightier; and therefore at last it brings a man down to hell,—into that field of corpses, in which a twofold principle of destruction is consuming the dead without ever completing its work—in which they are evermore sepultured in a twofold manner, through the worm of rotting and through the flame of the pyre, without yet ever dying. It is a region in which sins and punishments kindle one another illimitably; in which the flame kills the whole life sooner than it destroys the worm of corruption, which has called that flame into existence, and which, like a genuine salamander, is kindred with it, and finds it its own congenial element; in which this worm of destruction consumes the life from within yet worse than the flame does from without. Thus fanaticism even in this world begins to produce in the soul these two destructions, the worm of death’s coldness in the innermost being, and the fire of consuming passion.

But as to one disciple the hand may easily become an offence, so to another may the eye; the false, over-excited impulse to know and to teach. As the rule, it is the fact that heresies originate from zeal for teaching, indulged by just those spirits which should have felt themselves called upon to labour in the kingdom of God with hand and with foot much rather than with both eyes.5 But even in relation to the activity of the foot, to the work of Gospel missions,6 the disciple is liable to mistake his especial calling. It may be so, that under a false impulse he is fain to go forth with both feet to preach the Gospel to all the world, whilst he is in reality called to a different form of life’s development in the fellowship of Christ. And as the going astray of the hand may be ruinous, so also, and just as much, may the going astray of the eye and of the foot be ruinous. But in all cases Christ’s command again holds good, which is, that we fight against the false impulse which such a member denotes, and that we should rather, in positive one-sidedness, be purifying and cultivating the gift which we have received of the Lord in our own proper sphere, than that, in that excited all-sidedness which infallibly becomes a false one-sidedness, we should be turning, both for ourselves and for others, a blessing into a curse.7 It surely needs not to be said, that it is not here required that a man should destroy a true gift of God which may be in him. Only, the lesser gift he is bound to suppress, when that lesser gift seeks in false excitement to sport itself beyond due measure, and to draw away the higher gift of God, which he truly possesses, into its own perfected action. But that, in a right condition of the whole organism, every gift is intended to continue in being, is indicated by the intimation, that the man who cuts off the one hand is yet to keep the other; and so of the other members. Only, in the case of one man, the one remaining hand must engage in the service of the eyes; in the case of another, the one eye of true knowledge (as distinguished from the other eye, which is the overwrought impulse of a false desire for knowledge) must engage in the service of the hands. Moreover it is clear, that at particular junctures every Christian may find as well the one member as the other (every impulse of action) becoming a temptation: as also it is not to be overlooked, that even entire ages of the world’s history may in this relation have an especial calling marked in some one particular direction.

The account of this discourse given by Mark shows how important our Lord deemed it, that He should impress upon the minds of the disciples the necessity of putting away offences out of their own life. It seems as if He sought by a solemn adjuration to emancipate His Church from the three capital offences of the Hand, the Eye, and the Foot; that is, of fanatical hierarchism, of heretical Gnosticism, and of political proselytism. Nay, in the formal shape which this word of Christ wears in this Evangelist, it may be regarded as an ideally conceived direction, intended to impart to His Church the kind gentleness of Heaven in the Hand, the holy clearness of God’s Spirit in the Eye, the calm and loving step of the apostles in the Foot.

As solemn as is the threatening with which Jesus expresses the ruin of those who surrender themselves to a false bias in their discipleship to Him, so great is the promise given to every man who complies with the discipline of that one-sidedness which God has appointed him. His suppressed organs and impulses, according to their measure and destination, will live again in the development and consecration of the ruling motive of his life. And it is in this way that the true unfolding of the life will go on and prosper. The one disciple it will suit well, it will adorn him, if he enters into life maimed (one-handed). It is just this strictly drawn one-sidedness in the determination of his life that will bring out the entire clearness of his main character, and therewith the beauty which belongs to it. For example, the elevated beauty of a John is unfolded in that contemplative solemnity, poor in outward deeds, by which he is distinguished. So is it also with the other forms of personality. By this means are Christian characters to be freed from all obliteration of individuality and from all exaggeration, from the blurring effect of mistaken activity, from the caricaturings of unnatural excitement. Simple, great, and decided, they shall stand out in their grand features, exhibiting themselves as organs of the community of the kingdom; not disturbing and confusing one another by mutual onslaughts of wild and desolating encroachment, but by mutual co-operation in ‘joints and bands’ of most delicate organization, promoting each other’s good. Above all things, the hands of church discipline must not be burdensome and heavy, the eyes of teachers must not scan phantoms of self-delusion, the feet of the messengers of peace must not stumble, and in particular the more advanced disciples of Jesus must not corrupt those of lower standing.

Yet the disciples may not misunderstand the Lord, as if He would make zeal itself to be a sin to them. By all means, let them burn with ardour in His service; only not with that dark glow of passionate feeling which so easily enkindles into the fire of hell,—that is, with the fire of self-love. They shall wait till the Lord kindles the right fire, which will make their life to be a sacrifice for His honour. But they should prepare themselves beforehand, that they may be capable of being salted with this fire; alike with the inward fire of the Spirit and with the outward fire of affliction, which two call one another, and together constitute one flame of sacrifice. But how shall they be salted with fire? Salt preserves life; fire consumes life: it seems a contradiction—to be salted with fire. This seeming contradiction, however, forms the very salt and fire of this word of Christ’s. Fire and salt correspond to one another. In salt there is something sharp, biting, fire-like. Salt preserves by this, that, like a subtle glowing heat, it seems to kill what in the corruptible is the most corruptible, fixing and vivifying the stronger element therein. And, on the other hand, fire is a salt of a higher degree: destroying the perishable, it presents the incombustible in its purity, and therewith lays the basis for new and higher formations. This is altogether the case with that fire of sacrifice in which the disciples of Jesus must be plunged. So much is this fire the preservation and deliverance of our real life, that Christ is able explicitly to declare, that with this fire must the life of His people be ‘salted,’ i.e. (as we understand), made permanent and fresh in their life to all eternity. It is not enough for any Christian that he should be merely salted with salt; ‘every one must be salted’ with salt of the higher character, ‘with fire.’

And what means are they to adopt to prepare themselves beforehand, hereafter to go into this fire of sacrifice? They must recollect the ordinance, that ‘every sacrifice must be salted with salt’ (Lev 2:13). As there, in hell-fire, the undying worm in the corpse corresponds to the flame which is not quenched, so here the salt to the quickening flame which refines. Salt is the image of life-preserving, imperishable freshness; of life which is kindred to fire, and therefore capable of enduring fire; of eternal life. When therefore sacrifices were salted, there was represented thereby that eternal word and salvation of God, which lays hold of the mortal life of man in its innermost substance and consecrates it, and thereby makes it capable of becoming a genuine sacrifice in self-surrender to God; capable also of issuing forth from the refining and seemingly consuming flame with a solid form of life which never can perish. To this end they are now salted with the word of truth, the blessing of the name of Jesus, that they may hereafter blaze as the sacrificial fire of the commencing kingdom of heaven. But now Jesus impresses upon them the necessity of well preserving the good quality of this salt which is being entrusted to them. ‘Salt is an excellent thing,’ He says; ‘but if the salt becomes saltless, how would ye find for it again a salting medium?’ If the divine doctrine itself becomes numb in dead formula of man’s devising, and loses its life’s spirit; if the word gets transformed into stiff formulas, or even into fanaticisms, and does not continue to work as ‘spirit and life;’ how can this saltless salt be again quickened? Salt (it is true) in itself is indestructible; but salt in becoming blended with a man may spoil (as the Word as word cannot be carried away, but it surely may as seed fallen by the way-side). In what way, then, shall the disciples be warned to preserve the right quality of the salt? Christ answers, ‘Have salt in yourselves, and seek peace one with another.’ They are not to be in haste to be salting their brethren, while they let the word become stale and flat in their own selves; but in their own selves they are to preserve the salt as salt, and as such let it work, in order that among themselves they may show peace one with another. Certainly, they should not conduct themselves towards their neighbour saltless, without sharpness, or reproving influence; but yet, the matter should not be so, that they turn upon themselves the soft and soothing side of Christian doctrines, and upon their neighbour the keen and sharp one; upon themselves, the peace, and upon their neighbour the strife. Least of all should they turn their sharpness upon the little ones among the disciples, upon the beginners in the faith.8 On the contrary, they should let their own life be penetrated by the salt of the word, and so itself become salt to their neighbour, instead of doing as the fanatic does, who, treating the salt as a strange thing not belonging to human life, allows it no operation within himself, but only applies it as a thing without, in the case of his neighbour. This fidelity of the disciples will evidence itself by their continuing fresh within (through the salt), and having peace among each other without (through its quickening operation).

And now Jesus once more comes back to the point He began with, declaring how dearly the little ones (according to the whole connection, not merely children, but rather and principally beginners in the faith) are accounted of in His eyes. ‘Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones! For I say unto you that their angels in heaven do always behold the face of My Father in heaven.’ They have guardian spirits, high, near the throne of God; impersonal ones, in all the providences that befall them, and which come forth from the presence of God to visit them and prepare them for the skies; and personal ones, in all true spirits of blessing, which pray to God for them, whether in the heavenly or in the lower world. How can ye venture to despise those beings who stand under heavenly protection so elevated as this?

Hereupon follows the proof for the word respecting the guardian spirits so high in heaven, given in an utterance, the genuineness of which in this contest is doubtful.9 (‘For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.’ Is it true that the Son of God has descended from high heaven into the depth of human misery, in order to save what was lost? Then we may from this fact conceive in its entire magnitude the inward relation between the grace which is in heaven and the need of deliverance which is upon earth, and feel it less startling than before, that inferior spirits are standing by the throne of God as guardian angels for those who already are beginners in the faith.

The weakness of those who, in temporal life, are yet infants, is made up by a band of temporal guardian spirits which have been given them, in parents, teachers, tutors, in kind providences, and in angels of heaven. And the smaller the child, the larger and the more watchful is his mysterious body of patrons, the corps of his guardian spirits. Just so is it in the spiritual world. The little children of heaven are placed under a high band of heavenly watchers, and the superintendence of that band is exercised by the eye of God Himself. But its totality, wherein the guardian spirits of the little ones form one spirit of life, is that eternal light-form of ethereal essence which is constituted by its destination, as that form stands before God, and as it is descried in all the leadings and movements of its life.10

It is well deserving of our notice, that it was at the very time of the increase of dangers attending upon following Christ as His disciple that there developed itself in the heart of John an animated joyousness in such a course. Therein the fidelity and elevation of his character came out in noble grandeur. Nevertheless, in his exalted alacrity as disciple, there was a certain want of proper regulation which made our Lord anxious about him. The same decided devotion to his Master which glowed in his own bosom he seemed disposed to exact also of all others. In the circumstance which he reported to Jesus there appeared especially in him, if not in him exclusively, a stirring of fanatical zealotry, which subsequently expressed itself on yet another occasion (Luk 9:54). But, however, the word of Christ was becoming to him the supreme law of his life. He was bringing the one hand of false impulse to external activity as a sacrifice, and in the outward control of the Church was receding behind Peter, the right hand of the congregation, who had more vocation than he for the exercise of church discipline.11 The first of the Sons of Thunder subsequently, under the blessing of the consecrating word of Christ, moved through the Church with steps of spirit-like gentleness, and became himself also an angel-form and guardian spirit for the little ones in the kingdom of heaven. But when he did make the voice of his thunder heard in the congregation, then trembled not only the hearts of the little ones, but those of the great as well.12



1. Stier will not allow that the admonition of Jesus which we are now considering applied in any especial degree to John (iii. 401). He draws attention to the fact, that certainly John did not alone throw himself in the way of that unknown disciple; that, on the contrary, John before the others felt himself struck by what Jesus had previously been saying, and began in the name of all to confess, ‘What we then were doing was then, it should seem, not right!’ Certainly John’s openness hero shows itself in a most honourable manner; but nevertheless the affinity of what is now mentioned by himself with what is related in Luk 9:54 warrants us in assuming that, in this case also, he had been especially prominent.

2. Justly does Stier (iii. 415) observe, that it is made clear by this passage that Christ taught and authorized a typological interpretation of the Old Testament; to wit, in the way in which He applies the salting of the sacrifice appointed to a burnt-offering to the life of His disciples. But the typical signification of the sacrificial institute of the Old Testament follows from the whole nature of the Old Testament religion. That sacrificial institute would of necessity be judged heathenish, nay, more than heathenish—a senseless butchery of animals—if it were not typical. In fact, even heathen sacrifices are in their way typical, to say nothing of those of the Israelitish nation.

3. Strauss thinks Mar 9:50 a context kept together only by a word differently applied (‘lexicalischen Zusammenhang’). From what has been said, a real connection has surely been sufficiently evinced.

4. On the connection of the doctrine of guardian angels with Mat 18:10, comp. Olshausen, ii. 245 [and Alford’s very sensible note on the verse.—ED.]



1) [Dr Lange in his Bibelwerk on Mark (1861) renders it, because he followeth not us. The reading μεθ’ ὑμῶν, in fact, has only among uncial MSS. the support of D.—TR.]

2) See above, p. 268, and Stier, iii. 407.

3) The upper rotatory mill-stone, which was called runner, or also ass, or ass-stone if an ass were employed to set it in motion.

4) From Isa. Ixvi. 24.

5) Comp. Jas. iii. 1.

6) Isa. lii. 7; comp. Gal. ii. 2

7) See Olshausen, ii. 241.

8) See Olshausen, ii. 245.

9) Ver. 11 is wanting in many MSS. Lachmann rejects it.

10) Called by the heathen one's genius. ʻPossibly in these angels there may be sup posed some reference also to the pre-existing ideal of the man.ʼ—Olshausen, ii. 246.

11) See Acts viii. 14-24.

12) Thus, in particular, the Apocalypse has repeatedly proved a terrifying voice of thunder even to the greatest in the outward Church.