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"Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water" ( Joh 5:2-3 ).
The porches spoken of in the text were once places of luxurious indulgence; rich, self-indulgent people were in the habit of using them for purposes of self-enjoyment. They lingered there, luxuriating in ease and quiet and pleasure. In process of time the porches became hospitals, and in these hospitals lay a great multitude of people who had lost their power power of sight, power of limb, power of brain, power of hearing some kind of power; and there they waited for the moving of the water. There are gathering places of human pain, and want, and sorrow. Say that all the pain in the world is scattered over the greatest possible surface, it is still there, and still a fact for the man who has mind enough to take in the fact that this pain, though widely diffused as to area, still exists. But there are gathering places, focuses of suffering. We do not see them in walking down the public highroads; we see nothing of them, but they are just off at one side a little. If you would turn down a back street and open some door, there you would see numbers, almost multitudes, of suffering, sorrowing, dying creatures. It does us good, now and then, just to look into one of those places; it makes us sober, it makes us thankful, it sometimes makes us sad. But think of sorrow focalised, of pain, suffering, distress brought to a head a throng of sufferers. Surely the place would be a place of weeping! Such a place is described in the text. The people were a great multitude. Sorrow has always been in the majority. There is hardly one healthy man on the face of the earth. I think I may go further, and declare that there is not a man in perfect health in existence. Pain has always been in the majority. It is a world of pain! Sometimes when we are inclined to be a little verbally poetic we say, "Surely no; it is not a vale of tears; it is a vale of light, of beauty, of song!" Thou didst speak in thy haste, my friend. It is, now that I have seen more of it, a vale of tears, and man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward!
A great multitude of folk represented a great multitude of diseases. Understand that the people referred to in this census of sorrow were not afflicted with one affliction. They were blind, halt, withered, and had "all the ills that flesh is heir to." Some painstaking student has counted some thousands of diseases to which the human frame is subject. I cannot undertake now, quoting from memory, to say how many thousands; but I give it you on good authority that diseases have been counted by the thousand. But let us say one thousand. Think of there being a thousand ways of taking a man to pieces; a thousand ways of whipping him to the grave. Think of God having a thousand scourges by which he can lay his hand of punishment and trial upon the sinner! It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God! Viewed in the light of this fact, health is a mystery, not disease. Think of a ship having to go over waters, where there are so many sunken rocks, or sandbanks, or whirlpools, or other impediments, difficulties, and dangers; the mystery is that it makes headway at all. Have you fire? I can run away from it. Water? I can escape inland. But who can wholly deliver himself from the hand of the Almighty? He can smite the head and the foot, the strong limb, the hearing ear, the seeing eye, the thinking brain; he can cover the skin with blotch and plague and death! Oh, who can escape the living One? My friend, hast thou health? It is a mystery; it is the beginning and the basis of true enjoyment. Without it life is a burden, and only by the highest ministries of divine grace can pain itself be said to be a discipline and a hope.
The world is an hospital, the whole earth is an asylum. Understand, that the man who is, popularly speaking, in the robustest health today may be smitten before the setting of the sun with a fatal disease. In the midst of life we are in death; our breath at best is in our nostrils. Man respires and cannot get his breath again, and he is gone we call him dead. Life is a perpetual crisis. We are always walking on the cobweb string; it is snapped at any moment. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." Blessed is that servant who shall be found when his Lord cometh, waiting and watching and working. Great God, we are all waiting, doing nothing! There they were waiting, groaning, sighing. That was a prayer meeting, if you please. A sigh was a prayer, a groan was an entreaty, a cry of distress was a supplication. All the people in the porches were waiting. Are we not all doing the same thing? The thing we want most seems not to have come yet it never does come. We shall have it to-morrow, and in the inspiration of this hope we are comparatively strong and joyful today. To-morrow comes, and the cry is repeated, "It will come to-morrow." Thus God trains us by hope and by expectation. "Man never is, but always to be blessed." We are waiting for help, waiting till we get a little round, waiting till the ship comes in, waiting for sympathy, waiting for a friend without whose presence there seems to be nobody on the face of the earth, waiting for light, waiting for relief. There are two methods of waiting: The method which means patience, hope, content, assurance that God will in his own due course and time redeem his promises and make the heart strong; the other method of waiting is a method of fretfulness, and vexation, and impatience, and distrust, and complaining, and that kind of thing wears the soul out.
"Waiting for the moving of the waters." Every life has some opportunity given to it. "There is a tide in the affairs of men." Every one of us has had a door opened, has seen the index-finger lifted, has beheld an angel beckoning. Hast thou not? Look, then, the finger is here now, the angel present today! We are always living in expectation. Expectation will save us from vulgarity and lift us from the dust; will mean heaven in promise, in reversion. We do not know who are suffering. There are people suffering who are not in the porches, not in public places; and there are people suffering who have a way of keeping in their breath, and saying nothing about it to anybody. It is a suffering world. Some suffer in fatness and plenty; others suffer in leanness and want. A minister came to me the other day and said, "I am laid aside; the physician says there is a poison being manufactured within me which is taking away my life." Another minister wrote to me, "The physicians have ordered me to Germany to drink waters which are efficacious for my disease." Physicians sometimes order a man into Germany who has not a penny in his pocket, who has several little children that call him father, and who, when he ceases to preach, must cease to eat! I have sometimes been grimly amused at doctors who order a man who has perhaps eighteen shillings a week to drink port wine thrice a day, and to take nourishing things, and in other ways to take care of himself. It is a sad world. There are not five porches in it. It is one porch, and there is nothing in it but death till the angel comes or the Son of God!
"For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had" ( Joh 5:4 ).
So troubled waters are sometimes healing waters. Not the little puddles you make with your own foot, but the troubles that God makes by his angels and by a thousand ministries, by which he interposes in the affairs of men. I thank God for some troubles in my life; they were the beginning of health and hope and joy. O aged one, when you look back you see now, do you not, that the trouble began it began your better life, made you mellow, chastened you, ripened you, took the rough tone out of your voice, and infused a new music into your expression? Listen! The favoured ones who were upon the mount of light, called Transfiguration Hill, feared as they entered into the cloud; and a voice came out of the cloud saying, "This is my beloved Son, hear ye him." What if thou hast heard a voice in the cloud? What if thou hast met God in the troubled deep or in the storm? Thou hast had interviews with God which could not have been held if everything had been in a state of hush and quietness, and the people miles away could have heard the tones of your respective voices. What if God has created collateral noises that he may the more quietly speak to thee; finding in publicity secrecy, in the very tumult of the tempest a little space of quietness and stillness, in which to talk his deepest things to thee? I do not deprecate trouble; I have known it. You may take hold of trouble by the wrong end; you may abuse trouble, or you may make a place of weeping a place of thought, religious review, Christian vow, and anticipation. So all have trouble? "No." It is indeed a very young person who says, "I have no troubles." Well, poor little child, we know that, but you may have them by-and-by; and we are now talking not about this little day only, but about all the days, for all the days are sometimes spoken of by wise men as thy day The day. As if life were only a flash, having one rising of the sun and one setting of the same.
"And a certain man was there which had an infirmity thirty and eight years" ( Joh 5:5 ).
In all classes of people there is a special man. I am groaning over something I have had ten years; and there is a man behind me that has had something for twenty-five years and never made half the noise about it. I have only one loaf in the house. Another man says he has not tasted bread for three days. There is always somebody worse off than you are. This is the beauty of pastoral visitation. If I were now addressing a consistory of preachers I should say: This is one of the blessings of pastoral visitation; when you are a little inclined towards grumbling and dissatisfaction and hypercriticism about domesticities say you go out for an afternoon into back slums, into dark, poor places, into hospitals, or infirmaries, or other asylums, and visit the poor in their houses, see what a tea you make when you come back! Oh, it has been medicine to me many a time! I have just got a little dissatisfied with things; this was not smooth enough, and that was not fine enough, and there was a little black upon the toast at one corner, and life was becoming such a pain to me. I have gone out for an hour, and come back without seeing the little black upon the toast. Ah, if you could have seen this man of eight-and-thirty years' experience in suffering, you would have felt that God teaches us by contrast, and shows that even extremes may have great social influences for good connected with themselves, Richard Baxter exclaimed, who had been an invalid more than half a century, "Thank God for fifty years' discipline!" Some of us are so coddled we cannot spell the word discipline, we have to ask somebody what it means: thirty-and-eight years, and he had not got used to it; he was still there, still wanting relief. We cannot get used to pain. The mystery is that we cannot get used to its cause. We cannot get so accustomed to pain as to care nothing for its presence, but we get accustomed to the sin that makes it. Without sin there is no pain. Sin opened the door, and death rushed in, and death will never go out again. He will be abolished, but he will never go out. So we shall have no controversy about the matter; because I should instantly step into the witness-box and settle the case, so far as one fact is concerned. Do we not all talk more about the effect than about the cause? We talk much of pain; do we ever talk of sin?
"When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?" (John 5:6 .)
When did Jesus ever say to a man, "Wilt thou be made sick?" The physician is not sent to those that be whole, but to those that are sick. "The Son of man came not to destroy men's lives, but to save them." Wherever Jesus went he sought the piece that was lost; he lighted a candle and searched the house diligently, and said, "I am seeking the lost piece," that he might put it in its place again. He is going up and down the earth today looking at us, his poor, broken-hearted, wounded, dying sinners, and saying to each of us, "Wilt thou be made whole?" and the very asking of the question has healing in it. Some people ask about our sicknesses and make us worse, and we are very sorry they ever came near us to make any inquiry. Other people ask how we are, and we seem to be almost better by the kind, gentle tone in which their inquiry is addressed to us. "Wilt thou be made whole?" is the inquiry of Jesus Christ to every one of us. Lord, heal me.
Let the man now speak for himself,
"Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me" ( Joh 5:7 ).
"Jesus said unto him, Rise, take up thy bed and walk" ( Joh 5:8 ).
Let us apply this whole thing to the matter of salvation. It was an angel that troubled the water. It is the Son of God that provides the fountain opened in the house of David for sin and for uncleanness. The water was moved at a certain time only. This atonement of the Son of God is open to our approaches night and day. Whosoever first stepped in was the case at Bethesda; but here the world may go in all at once. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world. Let us go to the fountain, and one thing we shall never find there, we shall never find at the fountain of God's grace one dead man!
Almighty God, thou art our Father, though Abraham know us not. We know that thou art near us because of the glow of love that is in our hearts. We live in the presence and under the blessing of our Lord and Saviour. He has gone away from our sight, but we are still within the range of his gracious vision; he beholds us from on high, he lives with us; he says, Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. We cannot see thee, thou ascended Christ, but we remember thy word, Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed. Lord, we believe; help thou our unbelief! May we never look for thee in wrong directions; may our eyes be unto the heavens and unto the hills whence cometh our help; and may we know that the kingdom of God cometh in God's own way and not in ours. Save us from ignorance, from impatience, from all vain conceits and imaginings, and give us the peaceful life, the life of holy rest, the sabbath of heaven whilst yet we are upon the earth. Lead us according to thine own way; leave us but for a small moment only, that we may be gathered with everlasting kindness and mercies. When we are left alone teach us the purpose of thy withdrawment, and leave with us thy blessing which shall make us rich. Thou, O holy, wounded, triumphant Christ, wast taken up ere thy blessing was fully uttered. Thou hast left us with a half-benediction; it is bread enough and to spare, we shall hear the rest to-morrow. Look upon us now, gathered as we are in the name of holy charity. Bless all these dear boys and girls: they are all thine; may they know it, and answer the grand appeal with simplicity of heart, and with growing love towards the Cross. We bless thee for the home in which they dwell, for the love which attends to their life, and we commend unto thee all who are interested in their education and in their prosperity. For all such exhibition of love we bless the Lord: this is the proof of the Cross, this is the evidence of the ascension of the Master: may we accept it as such, and live in peace and quietness for God. Open the way in life before all these little ones; may they find the key of every gate and open the lock, and pass on under the leadership of Christ; may the least be the most cared for, and may the blind be led every step until the threshold of heaven itself is touched. Now let thy blessing come upon our hearts, rest upon us, and give us peace. Teach us thy truth, help us to see its meaning, and to feel its force. Help us in all things to follow Jesus Christ through evil report and through good report, until we sit down with him on the throne which he has promised to the saints. And unto the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, whom we adore as one God, be the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, world without end. Amen.
A human being reduced to a state of helplessness! Take a man at his full estate, when his system is healthy, when his word is law to those who are about him, when a call will bring servants and friends, and one would regard it as impossible that such a man would be reduced to the state of helplessness described in the text. Yet look at the impoverishing and withering process. First of all, there is a blight upon his business, and his thousands are reduced to hundreds; then the great house is given up, and the proud head stoops under the humble roof. Presently, affliction strikes down wife and child, and the air becomes too cold even for the oldest friend. The next blow is at the man's own health; paralysis withers the limbs once so strong, and the hand which was once the sign of authority droops in pitiful weakness; the voice has now no meaning in it to anybody, its law and force are forgotten. There lies the man in pain, in weakness, quite alone, uncared for, lover and friend gone, and no counsellor at hand. There are hundreds of such men to be found in England today; or if there be any difference in the literal circumstances, there may be other considerations which still more deeply embitter the lot of wretchedness. A man without a man! A man left quite to himself. Such is the man in the text; he is alone in the crowd; the eye sees him, but has no pity for him; his unavailing struggles only add torture to his pain.
There is really a good deal of this kind of thing in society a good deal of loneliness, helplessness, unsuccessful effort, and blighted hope. Oh those unsuccessful efforts, how they tear the heart right open, or heap upon it burdens which are too heavy! The bravest will is battered down by them. A resolute and good-hearted girl, reading what some great women have done with their pens, sets secretly to work upon poem or song, the price of which is to give her a measure of independence, or is to relieve the pressure upon other members of the family; she writes till her ill-afforded candle expires, and writes again in the greyest light of the cold morning; the lines please her, her fancy sees many a beauty in them, and the aching of her heart pauses under the exhilaration of a proud and thankful hope. Then comes the day of trembling expectation; the manuscript is in the hands of a publisher, and all depends upon his criticism. The mornings come very slowly; she can hardly sleep, and, when she does sleep, her dreams are of her book. At last the answer comes; she hastens to some secret place to read it, and the scalding tears blind her when she reads that her manuscript is "declined with thanks"; while she was coming, another stepped down before her. At that moment the sun cannot give her light; she feels a strange darkness settling over her whole life. In various ways we have had similar experiences. There are young men known to me who have traversed our city streets, "Begging a brother of the earth To give them leave to toil," until they have fainted with weariness and hunger; mile on mile they have wandered, till they thought all men had conspired to slay them; at last they feel ashamed of being seen. They have feared to meet any one who would ask them of their success, for they had nothing but the old chilling answer. A poor creature came to me lately with a tale of bitterness. She had come to London to seek employment, but nothing came of all her labour. She seemed always to be too soon or too late; at all events, no door opened to admit her even to a chance of getting her daily bread. She said, "I have walked the streets for two nights, and where to go to I really don't know." There was no professional tone in her voice; she was not a trained beggar she was an honest, but poor and suffering creature, who gave a straightforward and veritable account of herself, which I had every means of testing. Lonely oh, so lonely! yet within sight of the healing pools! Most of us know what this means, for some form or other of the unhappy experience has befallen us in the working out of our life. We sometimes make merry with recollections of this sort now that we are strong, yet the gash upon the young heart is not quite overgrown; we can still find it, and happy are we when our very failures have disclosed to us the purposes of love which God was working out. Those failures strained us much at the time; they went far towards souring our temper for ever, but we were saved from that ill fate.
We have come to see how long waiting at the edge of the pool has wrought in us a lingering and hopeful patience towards other sufferers, and we have learned to be more clement in our judgment of those whose eager haste for self-recovery made them apparently cruel to feebler men. Many a time, just when we were upon the point of success, a rival has overmatched us, and left us to suffer and pine by the pool-side.
This reminds us, that according to the text there is not only much helplessness, but much selfishness in the world. Every man has a case of his own, which is right enough; the point of selfishness is, that many men having been cured, have forgotten that their cure binds them in God's law of love to see that other sufferers are aided in their attempts at recovery. Of all who had been cured at the pool not one remained to give this man the benefit of his strength. What a world this would be without social beneficence that is, without one man finding joy in helping another! Selfishness makes the world a very little place; a very cold, fruitless, gloomy corner. It may appear to be a very grand thing to write one's own name everywhere as owner and lord, but if the name be not written on recovered and thankful human hearts it will soon be rubbed out and forgotten. Love is the only ink which does not fade; love is the only memory which strengthens with time; love is the bond which never corrodes. We have only so much as we have given; by so much as we have helped other people we have laid up reserves of strength which will give us mastery and honour in time to come. I am thankful to be associated with benevolent people, and I gladly bear record how many poor sufferers some of you have helped to the healing pool; their names are all written, and so are yours, and there is coming a day of very glad memory. You have had part of the compensation already, and you know how sweet it is. When you have taken a child off the streets, and given it food and clothing, and shelter from the harsh wind, you did not want gold and silver as a reward. God put it into your hearts instantly, as if in haste to show his approval such a warmth of holy gladness as lifted you quite out of common worldly influences, and you wished you could be always giving. It will be a joy to my heart for ever that, as a boy, I was seldom allowed to sit down to my own Sunday dinner until I carried a portion to some sick man or poor woman; and that walk upon mercy's errand gave us all greater enjoyment of what was left, doubled it, made it sweeter to the taste, for it seemed as if Jesus himself broke the bread. No doubt it is a selfish world; yet, on the other hand, there is a good deal of genuine kindness among men, and it is well to think of this. There is very much benevolence among the rich, and there is also very much benevolence among the poor; to the poor many cups of cold water are given, and many a mite is secretly put into the empty hand. As a general rule the complaining man is not the most deserving man, nor is destitution always to be measured by outward signs of distress; there are some who cover their sorrow with laughter, and talk so hopefully that they are never suspected of want. And, on the other hand, there is a way of doing a kindness which looks as if no kindness had been done; a gentle and delicate way which adds preciousness to the gift. I have known some men do a kindness as if they were receiving it rather than giving it, so that the poor were not made to feel their poverty. This was Jesus Christ's method, and it will be ours as we approach his likeness. We need not look long for opportunities of helping suffering men into the pool of healing; every day is rich with such opportunities to the man whose eyes combine with the penetration of shrewdness the benignity of compassion.
This reminds us that Jesus Christ ever, as in the text, went about doing good; not waiting for the lost, but seeking them; not standing still, but going after them till they were found. Sometimes Jesus Christ's help was besought, sometimes it was offered; but whether this way or that, Jesus Christ spent no idle hours. The stream of his most merciful help poured from an inexhaustible fountain, and no poor, broken-hearted suppliant was ever excluded from the healing waters. This case illustrates his compassionate method. To whom does he address himself? To the loneliest and most helpless of men! Truly might that man say, "When there was no eye to pity, and when there was no arm to save, thine own eye pitied, and thine own arm brought salvation." The same field of philanthropic service lies before us all; what if we should all resolve that every day we should make a point of assisting one man towards the pool of healing? A boy said some time since, as he was writing in a diary which the fancy of a moment had led him to buy, "Keeping a diary might change a man's life;" and when we asked him how it could do so, he replied, "Because at night, when he came to write in it, he would say to himself, What have I done today? And if he had not done anything, he might go out and do something." It was a child's notion, but there is a man's wisdom in it. We may not keep diaries, but a diary is kept for each of us, and day by day entry is made according to our industry or idleness. How many blanks are there in the diary! Are there many entries of healing or few? The Christian method of service compels men to go out and seek opportunities of doing good; and to every man Jesus Christ says, "When thou art converted strengthen thy brethren;" being healed thyself, help others to the place of recovery. It is an infallible sign that a man has not undergone Christian healing if he has no care about healing others; it is only an external cure, some poor patchwork of morality which fear of the law may have wrought upon him, not the divinely vitalised energy which warms and stirs the heart with all the impulses of far-reaching charity. The philanthropy of morality goes at the bidding of conscience; but the philanthropy of the Cross goes at the bidding of love. You know the difference of the two biddings? Conscience never yet developed a grand nature; it has striven with much urgent importunity and many a pricking smart to keep men erect and honest, but it has never wrought in them any overflow of good nature, and fruitfulness of generous service. Christianity never lulls the conscience, yet never seems to expect much from it; its chief hope is in Christianised human love. Conscience has but a limited sway; love has empire over the whole man. Conscience will use its plumb and square, and with sharp-pointed compasses will describe the range of duty; but love will wreathe every straight line with flowers, and to the majesty of rectitude will add all the graces and delights of beauty. Conscience is as the watchman who travels round his beat at night time; enough for him that gates and doors are closed, and that bolts and bars are all in their places; but love is as the friend who watches by the sleepless pillow of sickness, and with many a kind touch smooths the hard way of the sufferer. Through all Christian service the same principle holds good; conscience may tell a man what to do, but by an almost omnipotent constraint love makes him do it. You will find love at the pool-side, offering to help the poorest sufferer step into the healing water; and long after conscience is satisfied love will add something to a day's work, which has far exceeded the twelve hours of the hireling. Oh those wretched calculating hirelings, who pinch their work up to the point of dishonesty! The men who make nothing but technical rules cannot be honest out-and-out, and they will never make life very successful. People who are so clever at making rules for saving themselves, generally, and most deservedly, make fools of themselves by their very cleverness. No; throughout life, in religion, business, government, and everything else, we cannot shut up human service within rules and bye-laws; there must be grace above law, else alas for the poor lone man who has no one to help him to the pool!
This brings me to say that the lost man's hope is in Jesus Christ. He who saves the sufferer at Bethesda must save all other dying men. It is the glory of Jesus Christ that he saves when others give up in despair. He seeks the lost. When a man feels that the last human hope has gone out, and left his sky without streak or glimmer of light, Jesus Christ will come through all the darkness, and make it glow with the brightness of morning. But not till then. So long as man puts his hope in men, Jesus Christ stands off; but as soon as the dying eye turns towards him all his heart opens in one great offering of life. This is the gospel which we have to preach; can you wonder that now and again we are carried away in a perfect ecstasy of joy? We have felt the sad loneliness and helplessness of sin, and none can tell what gladness was wrought in our hearts when Jesus Christ first spoke to us. There was a tone in his voice which was wanting in all others, a persuasive kindness which quite won us back to hope. Men could not help us; but this Man said he could find for us the piece that was lost, and could add all heaven to it. We remember how glad his word made us, how we rose, and walked, and leaped, and entered into the temple, praising him with a loud voice; and as the memory comes back, we can hardly keep down the song of love and blessing. It is this memory that will give us thorough congregational singing. When the heart is cold, when the old loving memories have died out of it, and we come up to the house of God merely in the performance of a decent ceremony, no wonder that we drone and mumble lest persons in the next pew should hear us. Such singing is horribly unnatural; it amounts to insult when regarded as an offering to God. But when the heart is alive, when we recollect what Jesus has done for us, when love tunes our lips, then we could drown the storms of the sea with our rapturous yet chastened and harmonious praise. There is no praise like that which is given to Jesus Christ; it comes from the innermost chords of the heart, and is lifted up by grateful, immortal love. Think what joy will fill that crushed and suffering heart of his when all whom he saved shall be gathered into one vast company! Innumerable throng! Every man of the infinite host having his own special reason for heightening the sublime ecstatic melody. Surely in that hour all the horrors of Gethsemane and all the anguish of Calvary will be forgotten in the splendour and security of a perfected redemption.
So the text has two sides one dark, the other bright. On the one side we see what sin would bring us to, what loneliness, helplessness, and extremity of suffering; on the other we see whence comes the light of hope and the hand of unfailing power. As the poor man at Bethesda was anxious for salvation, as Jesus spoke to that poor man, so he speaks to every one of us; and now is the solemn hour in which we may return answer to Christ's entreating love. Now are we without excuse. Jesus himself will testify against us if we complain of helplessness. His arm is our arm; his resources are ours; his divinity is our sun and shield. Do not throw from you this word of hope; hide it in your troubled hearts; listen to it when the world is gloomy and silent, and even though cast down you shall be saved by the One Saviour of helpless men. I charge you to hope in Christ!
A Solemn Word
Jesus went about doing good, that is to say, he did not ever stand in one place waiting for people to come to him, but he found out cases of need, and proposed to undertake their relief and cure. He did so in this case. The impotent man did not go to Jesus; Jesus went to the impotent man. Thus Jesus worked in both ways: he stood still that people might come to him, and he went about that he might find the weary and the lost. The great act of salvation is an act of approach on the part of God. "When there was no eye to pity," etc.; "God so loved the world," etc.; "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."
Sin no more. It is clear, then, that there is a connection between moral life and physical life. Jesus did not seek to change the mere habits of the sufferer. He did not give the man a scale of diet. Nothing is said as to sleep, exercise, ablution, or any other physical discipline. The exhortation is profoundly religious Sin no morel Where the spiritual is wrong, the physical cannot be right, even when it is outwardly prosperous it is so but for a moment: its prosperity is threatened by a sword already poised. On the other hand physical discipline has a religious side. Cleanliness is a religious duty. Moderation is a command of God. Early rising may be necessary to the completion of the whole idea of worship. In a word, all our life is to be religious: "Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."
Sin no more. It is possible, then, to leave the past, and to be good for the future. A solemn yet inspiring word is this! We may turn over a new leaf. We may bury our dead selves. In the face of this declaration made by the Son of God, what becomes of our excuses and pleas, such as "we cannot help it"; "circumstances are against us"; "the flesh is weak"? The first step to be taken is the formation of an earnest resolution. "Choose ye this day!" Then will come all the helps of study, companionship, healthful service in the cause of goodness, all conducted in a spirit of believing and hopeful prayer. But suppose we cannot reach the sinless state in this life? Let that be granted, still we may be moving in the right direction. "I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus." As it is possible to sin with the will, is it not also possible to sin against the will? God will judge the motive, and his mercy will triumph wherever triumph is possible.
Sin no more. Then it is possible to forget the greatest deliverances and blessings of life, and to go back to sin. The man had been healed. A mighty hand had lifted him out of the pit of despair and set him in the sweet light of hope; his youth had been renewed; his heart had gotten back all its best hopes; yet it was possible that all might be forgotten! The shipwrecked mariner may forget the agonies of the sea when his voice of prayer pierced the very storm, and forced itself into heaven. We say we shall never forget a mercy so great as this; yet behold in our prosperity we forget God! There is no spiritual eminence from which we cannot retire. There is a way back to hell even from the very threshold of heaven!
Lest a worse thing come unto thee. Then it is right to appeal to fear in speaking religiously to men. This is distinctly an appeal to fear. Some men are inaccessible except through the medium of terror, and they must be approached accordingly. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." To those who have rejected the gospel there is a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
Lest a worse thing come unto thee. Then how many must be the punishments which God can inflict! Looking at this case one would have thought that even the wrath of heaven had been exhausted. Recall the facts: (1) Long-continued suffering, "thirty and eight years": (2) friendlessness, "I have no man", (3) continuous disappointment, "another steppeth down before me"; yet in view of all this, Jesus speaks of the possibility of a "worse thing." Who can number the arrows of the Almighty? Who can tell the temperature of his indignation? Who hath sounded the pit of darkness so that he can surely tell the depth thereof? Cannot God go beyond our imagination in the infliction of penalty? After he has touched our skin with a loathsome disease, and made our bones tremble; after he has sent a chill to our marrow, and made our pulses stagger in their beat; after he has struck us blind so that we cannot see the sun, and stopped our ears so that the storm cannot be heard; after he has loosened our ankle joints, and taken the cunning from the hand of our power; after he has withdrawn the light from our eyes, and caused our brain to wither: is there more that he can do? Yea! No man can number all his weapons, or tell where the confines of hell are set.
Application: If we would sin no more, we must pray for a daily baptism of the Holy Ghost.
An Exhortation and an Argument
"He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light." Jesus Christ is not paying any compliment to John. The text is always regarded as if Jesus Christ were wonderfully struck by the magnificence of his forerunner. Jesus Christ is now speaking not eulogistically but contrastively. John was a burning and a shining lamp the best light you could have at the time. When do you put out the lamp? When there is a better light to see by; as soon as the sun comes the lamp is put out The lamp says, "He must increase, I must decrease." John was a burning and a shining lamp only until the dawn made the eastern sky white with young splendour, and promised the noonday. He was only burning and shining because the darkness was so dense round about him a lamp before the dawn, a little light to be going on with until the impartial sun filled all heaven with his glory. Thus Jesus Christ is not praising John, but indicating the utility of John the Baptist until the true Light came which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. You can light a house with a lamp, but not a city. The lamp is of necessity local and limited, but very useful; so every man that came before Jesus Christ, how great soever in prophetic genius and noble in prophetic function, was a lamp that was only waiting until the sun shone; then the lamp, as it conscious, would turn upon itself and withdraw, because its little usefulness was ended.
What, then, does Jesus Christ say of himself? He says, "I am the Light of the world." How arrogant, how intolerable, if he were but a man! The very contrast which he establishes is but an exhibition of infinite impertinence, if it be the contrast of man against man. The deity of Jesus Christ is not to be established by little grammatical discussions. So long as you have grammar as your demigod you will have wondrous controversies very skilful, word-fencing most agile and keen and wonder-striking. The deity of Christ runs through his whole spiritual action; every touch was the touch of God; every word had about it some glint of a light higher than the brightness of the sun. The deity of Jesus Christ may be established by this very instance. All other men are lamps, shining only until the dawn renders them useless; the moment Jesus Christ comes into the world all lamps disappear, and the glory is that of noontide, infinite and cloudless. We could not allow any man the use of such poetry; it is not poetry, it is blasphemy. He puts himself in a wrong relation to God, and sets himself in a wrong relation to us, if he be but talking blank verse. Do not find the deity of the Saviour in a Greek preposition, or the sudden turn of some verb in its mazy conjugation. Christ is God by his deeds, by his claims. Yet he does not hesitate to correct men's notions of God by declaring that he is only the Agent of the Father; at the same time, if you read his answer to the charge that he made himself equal with God, you will find the answer more mysterious than the original difficulty. He was correcting erroneous metaphysics, and erroneous theology, and in the very act of humbling himself he was leading men to worship him. This is the mystery of godliness.
The one witness which Jesus Christ had was the Father, and the Father displays his witness in two departments: first, the works; secondly, the word. And the works and the word were one, for God is one; the word is his work, his work is his gospel: he is evermore the same, unchanging, and yet never the same in any sense of monotony that tends to weariness. How is it then that the Jews did not see that this man Jesus Christ was the Messiah of the Old Testament and the very Son of God come into the world to save and deliver it? Hear what Jesus himself says: "Ye search the Scriptures." Change the grammar from the imperative to the indicative: instead of saying, "Search the Scriptures," as if it were an exhortation, read "Ye search the Scriptures," as if it were an act already engaged in. Now mark the argument. "Ye search the Scriptures, because ye think that in the Scriptures ye have, or shall find, eternal life: and yet ye will not come to me" lay the emphasis upon the "me," as filling up the whole meaning of everything that is in the Scriptures. Let us understand the position of these Jews. They had the right book. Observe that particularly. If they had mistaken the document, excuses would have been found for them, but they had absolutely the right book in their hands. Secondly, they took infinite pains with it, from their own point of view, and within the limits of their own purpose. They knew all about the structure of the book, the scribes lived to master the particulars of the book; thus they got their living, their eminence, their fame, their influence. And yet they missed the point. They could tell you how many books were in the Scripture; they could tell you how many words were in each division of the Scripture; they could point out the exact number of consonants and vowels in the literary composition of the Scripture; they knew all the details about the Scripture: and yet they had no revelation. That was the charge that Jesus Christ brought against them. Painstaking where could you find the equal of such painstaking as that of the scribes in the perusal of the Scriptures? What music will you get out of a wooden alphabet, perfectly correct in every letter and in the number of the whole, and turning them promiscuously upside down when will the music come? Yet it is the right alphabet, not a letter is wanting, and every letter is touched with a species of reverence, and all the letters are handled as if they contained eternal life; and yet they are so thrown about as to reveal no literature, no wisdom, no poetry, no hope. Precisely so did the scribes use the Bible, and precisely so are the scribes using it today. It is torn to pieces by grammarians, it is wrenched until it bleeds by all kinds of rough handling; yet there is no Christ in it. It is the right book, and it holds the right doctrine, but it is a murdered book.
How was it that the Jews did not find in it the Christ? Jesus gives the answer: "Ye have not his word abiding in you." A man must himself be a Bible before he can understand God's Bible. There was nothing in themselves to which the Bible could speak. They handled it manually, mechanically, daintily, with more or less indeed of superstitious reverence; but there being nothing in themselves to which the Bible could speak, there was no masonry between the thing written and the heart reading. So it must be all the world over through all time. You will get out of the Bible what you bring to it. If you want to find God's word in the Bible, you will find it. If the word be already in you in some dim, unconscious, but surely felt way, the book will talk to you, and you will talk to the book, and you will seem to have met one another in some other world, the mystery of kinship will arise between you, and the forthputting of your respective action will be sacramental and blessed evermore. No mere critic can understand the Bible; no word-chopper can preach the Bible; no murderous grammarian that thinks by taking off letter by letter he can get at the meaning will ever reach the genius of any revelation given from the heavens. Suppose a man were appointed by us to report the oratorio called the Messiah. We ask him to tell us what the oratorio is. He says, I have taken infinite pains with my analysis, and I can therefore tell you exactly what the oratorio is: it consists of two thousand words; musically, it consists of fifty breves, two hundred semibreves, and nearly eight hundred quavers; it has solos soprano, bass, tenor; its choruses require thousands of voices. This is the oratorio. That is a woodman's report; that is the oratorio by statistics. What could be more painstaking? Yet there are men who read the Bible just so, and boast that they read the whole book twice a year. What a man that must be who can get through the Bible twice in a year! I cannot myself get through it every verse an angel, every discourse a revelation, every history a tragedy; and yet there be some canterers that can gallop through the whole of it twice a year. That is not reading the Bible. What do you think of the oratorio from this business-like report? Could any man more industriously collect the facts? We are ruined by facts. He who can talk about oratorio and facts in the same breath does not understand either of the subjects on which he discourses. What would the oratorio be to such a statistician? Nothing. You might send him next into the woodhouse to tell you exactly how many bundles of firewood you have there: he would take the same notebook and the same pencil, and with the same hand that has not a soul in it would write down notes on bundles in one farrago. It is precisely the same through all time. We may have committed the whole Bible to memory, and yet know nothing about God's revelation. There are men who boast that they can give you chapter and verse for almost everything. That is a poor feat; it is not worth doing. A man says he got within ten feet of the top of the hill, and he wants you to praise him, and you would have praised him if you had not happened to see at the same time that there was a goat at the very top: the goat was higher than the man, the goat would not praise him. And so there be those who perform little mechanical feats with the Scriptures; they know how many chapters in each book, how many verses in each chapter, how many capital letters in each division of the book, how many verses in the hundred and nineteenth Psalm, and how many different representations of the Hebrew alphabet occur in the whole of the Psalter. All this may mean nothing. Ye search the Scriptures... and ye will not come. This is God's charge against us.
If we were Bible readers we would be Christ believers. In the whole course of this People's Bible we have insisted, with many a rebuking protest, that Jesus Christ is never read into the Old Testament, but is there, from "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." There are men who are ruining the ministry today by preventing their students doing anything but that which is literally grammatical. Read Christ into anything? The impertinence, the blasphemy of such a suggestion, that there is any place where Christ is not already before us! "By him all things consist." That is the reading that suits my soul better. Tell me that I may find him in every daisy in the meadow, in every little bird turned to song in the cloud, in every glint of light, that touches and evokes the music of my soul better than binding me down to mechanical alphabets. "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." What for? Who wanted them? Why this trouble? why this ruffling of the infinite tranquillity of the Eternal Essence? Why? Search the Scriptures, and you will know why. Heaven was arched that man might live under it and be saved, and pass through all the tragedy of this partial life into all the peace of immortality. The earth was made solid that it might bear Christ's Cross. For that Cross is needful to populate the realms of the blessed. Beware of those who suppose that you are introducing Christ into something; better follow the spiritualist who finds typology everywhere than follow the literalist who finds God but in small places set up for partial uses. "Ye will not come." Oh, sweet, sweet word "Come"! It means the toddle of a little child; it means the running of an eager servant; it means the hastening of one who is thirsty because he hears somewhere the plash of fountains. There is no dragging, no lashing; it is all "coming." "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." "If any man thirst, let him come unto me." "The Spirit and the bride say, Come." "Let him that is athirst come." Whosoever will, let him come." Wonder of wonders it must have been to the great heart of Christ that men should be reading about him and not recognise him. It is the curse of modern reading that we do not see the thing we are reading about, feel the genius about whom we have been perusing eloquent testimonies. "There standeth one among you, whom ye know not; he it is" that shall save your souls. We do not all come at the same point. Some come to Christ because they see his miracles "No man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Rabbi, thou art come from God."
Let children come; make way for all men following Nicodemus. Some came because he took little children in his arms and blessed them: the moment he did that all the mothers came in; they said, This is he of whom Moses and the prophets did write. He had a way of handling children that showed he was the Father of them all. Some came to him because he went to be a guest with a man that was a sinner. They said, "He can touch pitch, and not be defiled; this is the sunbeam that disinfects, but never contracts the contagion that is fatal." Some came to him because of his hatred of wrong; they love his righteous spirit; they say, He never patronised iniquity or looked with favour upon unfairness or unrighteousness or corruption; he never would allow the poor to be trampled upon without protest and indignation. He would never allow any man to force his way by violence to supremacies which belonged to righteousness. So there are a thousand ways to Christ. Come your own way but come. Infinite mockery to have the Bible but not the revelation; infinite mockery to have the shell but not the kernel; infinite mockery to have the garments of the body but not the passion of the soul. O ye Christians, falsely so-called, baptised by an evil genius into an evil faith, beware! you can do Christ more harm than any atheist can ever do. Drop your baptismal name, curse the God whom you profess to love, and you may do some good in the world; but to be standing there with a Bible without a revelation, with an altar but without a God, you are the fathers of infidels, you are the creators of unbelief. Infinite mockery to be near the organ and never to hear its music, as if the organ were the wooden part, the timber or the metal, and not that mysterious almost spirit that makes them quiver and thrill under the dominion of some magic spirit. Infinite mockery to be in the garden and not to see the flowers. Oh poor, poor, account to give, to say at last, Lord, we had thy book, but in it we never saw thy shape or heard thy voice; we had the Bible, we called it family Bible, but we never saw thyself in it. It was laid down with other books, it was not distinguished from them in any way, except that we worshipped it as a fetish; it was in the house, and we never said, Lo, God is here. Ye search the Scriptures, and ye have no Christ, simply because there is nothing Christly in you to evoke, to develop.
Almighty God, help thy servants to do the work which will bear witness of thee; help them to work while it is called day, so that at eventide they may have peaceful and grateful recollections. May we be jealous about our purity; may our life be a sacrifice; may our speech be a call to heaven. We mourn our inconstancy, our feebleness, our ignorance; but how great is thy mercy greater than the sea, greater than the firmament; truly it is past finding out! May our Christian name be a Christian reality, and our hope in thee a light that shall make our whole life glorious! How rich in heavenly graces might our life have been had we walked with God! We might have been princes in thy house, whereas we are but as slaves, whose eyes are ever towards the dust. Pardon us, blessed Father. Bind us to the Cross give us hope in thy dear Son. Amen.
Greater Witness Than John's
Men are often called upon to maintain their ground in society. Specially, if a man do anything very extraordinary, and so draw attention to the sphere of his operations, society will persistently raise the personal question; the man must give some account of himself who is he? what are his claims? on what foundation does he stand? It is not an insignificant circumstance that men take deep interest in unusual manifestations of life; it is rather a sign of their high origin and great capacity. Is there any man who would not gladly increase his power, extend the volume of his being, and carry to a higher intensity his influence for good? This is the meaning of all study, and the end of all prayer. All truly directed life is an effort after God. Men may not always have the fact present to their minds; yet, on reflection, they will acknowledge that in proportion as they make sound progress in life they work according to divine impulse and divine law. And, in proportion as they do so, they will occasion excitement and inquiry; perhaps, also, ungenerous criticism, and even malign action.
Strange as it may appear, this is even so. Men are not always satisfied with the instruments and methods which God adopts. They limit the Holy One of Israel; they appoint the chariots in which he shall make the circuit of the universe; and if, rejecting these human vehicles, he shall walk upon the wings of the wind, and make the clouds the dust of his feet if he pass by kings, and exalt mean men to his ministry; if he refuse the silver trumpet, and elect the ram's horn there will be wonder and disappointment among those who are the victims of their own blind and boastful conceit.
This method of criticism reached, of course, its highest application in the case of Jesus Christ. It is very instructive, as well as very humiliating, to study the discussions which prevailed about his personality, his authority, the seals and certificates of his ministry. The Jews were the very impersonation of the official mind. The first thing to be settled was descent or authority. Apart from this, all else was without value. Their intellectual operations, however exact in moving from cause to effect, seemed to be altogether unable to move from effect to cause. They saw a lame man leaping with new-gotten strength, yet they did not care to found an argument on the fact; they saw diseased men bloom with recovered health; yet, when they turned to the great Worker, their eyes were dimmed by a puzzled and even angry prejudice. That worker was only Mary's Son; he had a connection with Nazareth which vitiated his prophetic lineage; or there was some other flaw in his great claim to be heard and followed.
Is not the same kind of criticism active in our own day? Are we not all, more or less, tempted to try men by some merely technical standard? Do we not care more for the paper than the life, and believe a man to be good because the paper says so; or believe him to be bad, because he has no paper to show? If the life of Jesus Christ should have wrought one result above another upon merely literary readers, it should have exposed the insanity of denying a divine origin to divine works. Let those who please demand the credentials of the sun; but be it our wisdom to believe that no testimony can be so convincing as his own splendid and impartial light. This is a matter which I would urge as of great importance. If men be looking for technicality where they should be looking for life, they resemble thirsty travellers who will not drink of a well until they have read the faded inscription which tells how it come to be a well at all. What say you to such travellers? For many a day they have wandered along the dusty road; their lips are parched with thirst; yet, when they come to a well of water, they ask who dug it? Who enclosed it? What families have drunk of it? Through what districts the water flows, or through what strata it rises? The questions may not be altogether without importance, but life is more important to all, and dying nature ignore every one of them, until its burning thirst has been quenched. Now, Jesus Christ was as a well of living water, and the men who were around him were thirsty; yet those men put their small questions, and started their small objections, it being of more importance that their notions should be satisfied than that their lives should be saved; and, blame them as we may, they were not the only people who have sacrificed the living present on the altar of a dead routine, or rejected a spiritual Saviour because he was not also a temporal king.
Every man, then, it would appear, is asked for his testimonials. It was the custom of the world, and Jesus Christ must feel its influence. Large testimonials were supposed to be valuable, but in the progress of opinion it has been found that a man must be his own testimonial if he is to establish himself as a fact in the world. By this is meant that a man must not only say, but do; the earnest heart must express itself in the noble action, and the final appeal must be "Believe me for the very works' sake."
Jesus Christ said, "I have greater witness than that of John." Let us understand this point. Jesus Christ does not despise the testimony of good men, nor does he teach his servants to do so. "There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true..... He was a burning and a shining light." No man is at liberty to despise the opinion of good men. That opinion should be prized on every ground, but specially as a stimulant to a still higher life. The good man's word of encouragement helps us many a time to recover heart when going up the hills of hard duty, and is often to us as a word immediately from God. At the same time testimonials are also often as the preface to a book; the preface may be good, but the book must stand upon its own merits. When the preface written by a friendly patron is too highflown, the disadvantage accrues not to himself, but to the young author in whose interest it was mistakenly written. There are men in England today who would be rich for ever, if they could live upon testimonials. Their testimonials are their greatest hindrances. Modest men shrink from the very idea of assisting persons whose pedestal is so immense and imposing; consequently the great testimonial is but a millstone round the neck of its unfortunate possessor. Jesus Christ said, "I receive not testimony from man." Paul said, "It is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment." John said, "If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater." We should want to know what a man is, and not what is said about him; to see his work, and not to read his testimonial.
We are warranted in saying so by the words of the text, "The works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me that the Father hath sent me." This was not the only time that the same doctrine was laid down by Jesus Christ. "When John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them." My object in calling attention to this text is to enforce the doctrine that, both in personal and ecclesiastical life, the grand and final appeal as to authority is to works. The moral quality of the worker will be shown in his whole conduct and service among men. There may, in some instances, be crafty, and even successful simulation; the holy word may be spoken by the unclean tongue; the good deed may be attempted by the double-working hand; but all this rather confirms the doctrine than opposes it, for no man would make base coin but for the value of the true metal.
It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to insist for a moment that I am not maintaining the doctrine of salvation by works; there is no such salvation that I am aware of, any more than there is navigation in sand, or pedestrianism on the sea. I refuse to regard salvation by works other than as a contradiction in terms, and I put it in this strong way, that in a sentence I may have done with the suggestion once for all. A man's testimony, as a professed servant of God, is to be found in his works. Let a man prove his salvation by his holiness. If a man should say that God sent him, let him prove his mission by his life having heard his word, we await his works.
Take the case of a church. You profess to be divinely called, but what is the proof? Do not refer me to a long line of illustrious ministers, to a large and splendid sanctuary, or even to a dazzling subscription list. Are you felt in the neighbourhood to be a power for good? Do you visit the widow and the fatherless in their affliction? Are you eyes to the blind and feet to the lame? Do the poor bless you, and those who are ready to perish hold you in grateful reverence? I do not ask if the trust-deed be orthodox, if the music be scientific, if the seats be well let, if the congregation be genteel; I ask if Jesus Christ crucified be the inspiration of your labour, and Jesus Christ risen the source of your power?
If a man said he was eloquent, how would you judge him? By the number of books he had read, or by the number of schools he had attended? Certainly not. If he never moved you to tears, or compelled your consent to his reasoning, or excited you to enthusiasm, his pretension would be nothing but a barren name. On the other hand, there may be a man who has not read a book on eloquence, who could not give you a single canon in rhetoric; yet when he opens his mouth your attention is caught as by a spell; his strong, earnest, pathetic speech, though perhaps broken and inexact, carries everything before it. Do you hesitate to pronounce him an eloquent man? You judge by the "works," you believe him for the very works' sake; and you are unquestionably right. It would fail to convince you that he was an eloquent man if he merely repeated the rules of Quintilian and of Isocrates, or repeated from end to end the orations of Demosthenes and Cicero. You must hear the man speak. It is not enough that he pronounce keen criticisms on other speakers, showing what canons have been violated, and what vices have been set up; after all this, the man must show his power to convince the judgment and captivate the heart and the fancy before you can yield him homage as a master of speech. Specially is this the case with the Christian minister. He may be unlearned, yet the might of God may be in him; he may blunder and stumble, yet a mysterious dignity may invest his whole service. On the other hand, with spotless character, with innumerable testimonials, with a status conspicuous and influential, he may be brought to the lowest dust of humiliation, and to the distress of the most ignominious failure. Oh, ministers of Jesus Christ servants of the One Crown what manner of qualification should be ours! We must have seals of our apostleship, and these we cannot have but as we labour in our blessed Master's spirit. Applause we may win; a name we may make; but wood, hay, and stubble shall perish only the true gold will be of use to us at the last!
So there may be persons who question your standing as a Church; according to their notions, you are not a Church at all; your foundation is a swamp, your pedigree a broken chain. What do you answer? Prove your call by your works. Show that the love of Christ is the all-compelling power of your lives, and by holiness, patience, and charity set up a claim too strong to be overthrown, too lofty to be defied. In the days that are coming we shall have much controversy on Church questions. Rival ecclesiastical theories will be zealously and ably maintained. In view of this conflict, let me say that works will be the only satisfactory standard of appeal. Ecclesiastical mummeries must be crumbled and scattered to the winds. Artificialism must perish. Philanthropy alone will stand. The day will come when upholders of every church system will have to defend themselves by the argument of facts. What have our principles compelled us to do? Where are the proofs of our love? Where are the results of our voluntaryism? What light have we shed on the world? What sanctuaries have we built? Away with the theory that believes much and does nothing. Blessed are the men who are drawn towards self-sacrifice; the service that comes of love.
The appeal which Jesus Christ made on his own behalf is also the appeal which should be made on behalf of Christianity. There are two lights in which Christianity may be regarded: it may be looked at as classified in sectarian dogmas, and as upheld by any particular course of argument; in general terms, it may become a subject of criticism. Treated in this manner, it has been alike the object of ridicule and reverence. On the other hand, Christianity may be tested by its results as a practical religion. Its history is before the world. What has Christianity done? It has greater testimony than the commendation of its deep scholars and eloquent preachers. It has opened prison doors, broken down bad governments, aided all good causes, lifted up trampled honour and virtue; it has saved men's souls, given men's lives higher elevation, changed death into a beneficent liberator, and turned the grave into the last step towards heaven; it has made selfish men benevolent, harsh men gentle, timid men heroic, and sad men happy; it has blessed the cause of freedom, succoured the efforts of charity, upheld the claims of peace; it demands to be judged by its fruits, and its demand is reasonable and ought to be irresistible. We are called to maintain a practical testimony, to give the emphatic and convincing answer of noble living. We have had enough of literary testimonial; we have done enough in the matter of the evidences; we are thankful to every author who has spoken one good word for the truth; now let the truth speak for itself, let the Christian be the best defence of Christianity, let the life of the servant commend the doctrine of the Lord. "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." "The fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is." What if our testimonials, our diplomas, our certificates, be all burnt up, and we have nothing to show but the smouldering ashes of an artificial life?
The argument which applies to Christianity applies also, of course, with equal effect, to the Bible. If the Bible is to be judged by its works, there is, happily, an end of controversy. What is the best reply to attacks upon the Bible? Circulation. When men say the Bible is not inspired circulate it; when they charge upon it inability to address the spirit of the times circulate it; when they say it has outlived the circumstances which called for it circulate it! Circulation is the best argument. Let the Bible speak for itself; there is no eloquence like its own; let it reveal itself in its own pure glory, not in the artificial flare of our commendation. The Bible must be its own vindicator. Not because our fathers believed in it; not because it has a romantic history; not because of priestly exhortation; but because of its own proved power to enlighten the mind, to bless the heart, to elevate life, and destroy the power of death, must the Bible be held first in our love and highest in our veneration. "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit." "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil." What does the Bible bring forth? What of manhood? What of purity? What of hope? It must not be judged in detail; it must not have meanings forced upon it: it must be taken in its entirety; it must have free scope; it must be received into the heart then we abide by the verdict!
Almighty God, we have tasted and seen how good is the grace of the Lord who died for us. It was a wondrous grace. The Lord Christ spared not himself from the death that we might never die. May we understand somewhat of our own sin, then shall we understand somewhat of Christ's wondrous death. Enable us to look within with careful eyes; may we not spare ourselves in the scrutiny of our heart; may we try our own reins, and search our own motives, and penetrate to the recesses of our own spirits; then shall we be better able to approach with thoughtfulness, intelligence, and acceptance all the mercy and all the mystery of the Cross. Thou hast led us by a way that we knew not, and by paths that we had not known; thou hast led us well; thou hast brought us always from darkness to light, from bondage to liberty, from littleness towards greatness. Thou dost never call men downward; thine appeal to mankind is an appeal to rise, to advance, to grow: herein we know the truthfulness of thy word and the divinity of thy command, and herein we separate it from all human words; they do not address our inmost soul, they leave us without bread which bringeth everlasting life; but because thy Word calls us upward and onward, in ever-expanding liberty, we know it to be thine; may we accept it, live and glorify it. We pray that human life may be sanctified, divinely taught, comforted from on high by such assurances as the soul can grasp and realise and appropriate. Thou knowest how wondrous is this human life; what a tragedy, what agony, what heartache make up the history of everyday; thou knowest that our tears are often hotter and more in number than aught we can set beside them to counteract their influence. Thou knowest what clouds gather in our skies, how suddenly the light goes out, and how soon we are driven downwards towards dejection. Come to us according to the necessity and quality of our life, and command thy blessing from the Cross of Christ to rest upon it. Yet thou hast given us many joys, and we would be ungrateful not to remember them: life itself is joy, life is divine, life has in it the beginning of heaven; this is thy gift, thy mystery of love, thy mystery of purpose: may we enter into it gladly, until even life itself is a root out of which shall come heaven and immortality, through Jesus Christ the Head of the universe, the Saviour of the world. Set a light in dark places; make the poor rich in hope, in love of truth, and in aspiration after things divine; then shall they know nought of the poverty of time and earth and sense, but shall be glad in the Lord. Stop the bad man on his way; take from him the instrument with which he intends to do mischief, shut his eyes with blindness that he may utterly lose himself, until he begin to think and repent and pray. If any man is laying a plot for another man, spoil his net, or ensnare him in that which he meant for the feet of others; and if any are shedding tears that no human hand can touch, O Saviour of the world, thou who didst die for men, come, and with thine own grace turn the bitterness of grief into the beginning of the best joy. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on John 5". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany