Christ's Appeal

John 5:6.---'Wilt thou be made whole?'

At Bethesda there was nothing supernatural until Jesus came there, nothing but an intermittent spring which, from time to time, burst up with gush and bubbling from below. Perhaps it had some medicinal value; in any case it owed its fame mainly to the healing power of expectation. a legend had attached itself to the spot, and the porches were never empty. It is no great violence to find in the sick and helpless people massed together there an image of many who, for a lifetime, have gathered in our churches. They do not profess that they have found health, but they like to feel that, all the time, they have been within the reach of healing, if it should be offered. What such vague seekers require is to be brought face to face with Him who can make the place supernatural. It is not to the Church we draw near, in which there could be no virtue, it is to Him; and to each one thus approaching He renews His question, 'What wilt thou that I should do to thee?'

The discontents of men do not all take the same direction; but, in one form or another, most people have discovered that the world is a home of great troubles, and that a smiling face often screens a very sad and anxious heart. The crushing sense of sin and fault, which has brought many to the feet of Christ, is by no means universal; but no one goes far without the experience of bereavement, or defeat, or the bitterness of ingratitude, and the memory of these may abide, gnawing at the heart and making it eager for some Divine redress. John Owen, the Puritan, speaks of the way in which men are driven to pray by sudden shocks of pain: 'There is a voice in human nature itself upon anything that is suddenly too hard for it, and it cries out immediately to the God of nature, so that men, on such occasions, are surprised into calling on the name of God.'

Whatever it may have been which first awakened their sense of need, when people assemble in the house of God, thoughts of the deeper cravings are seldom far away. When Adam, in the old story, was called to speak with his Maker, he went and hid himself, as if confessing that he did not dare to meet Him; and everywhere the suggestion of God's immediate presence has aroused in men the sense of ill deserving. We come together out of such commonplace activities; every day has been marked by slips and stumblings, for which we reproach ourselves---how, then, can we answer Him? On our way through life we judge as if we could not help it; men's acts and omissions strike in upon our sense, and, before we know, we have reckoned and estimated each, and are amused, or contemptuous, or indignant, or indulgent. We judge because we see; that is one part of human nature and of the life of the world---a setting up of standards and a marking of things as good or evil. And Jesus said, 'With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.' If in our very being there lies this instinct and necessity of judging, do we imagine that our own conduct can pass without review in that more authoritative court, where the sentences are eternal? As soon as the question is raised, the ancient confession of Adam---' went and hid myself'---becomes terrific; for it means that men cannot afford to have their life laid bare.

If the fact of our presence within God's house is a confession of need, it is also a declaration of belief that health can be recovered. So far as bodily health is concerned, the confidence or restoration is extraordinarily hard to kill. Here was a poor fellow who, for eight and thirty years, had lain as near the water's edge as he could, with sick eyes watching the heaving of the surface when the spring burst up in strength. He could not move a limb, and he had long outlived the patience of his friends, so that it was in the last degree improbable that he would ever know the virtues of the healing waters; and yet he liked to look. It kept him nearer life by one degree to feel that, if he had a friend, health might be his at any moment. To have retired to some dull cellar in Jerusalem, without the titillation of this vague possibility to stir him, would have been like death, so he clung to the mere shadow; for hope dies hard.

It is to be feared that, in the sickness of the soul, men are less obstinate in their hoping. They are content to be no worse than their neighbors, though that is far from good. But even here ambition is at times awakened. Under the spell of a preacher or at the provocation of a book, some of us climb, like prisoners, to a window from which we can gaze out over a land of progress and achievement; and still more we are helped by the example of our Lord. If failure and defeat were universal, then, perforce, we must submit to them; but in the dull monotony of shortcoming Jesus' life stands out as one gladdening exception. The common rule was broken there, and broken by One in whom every impulse and activity had reference beyond Himself. Nothing which He was or achieved seemed to touch Himself alone. If He had health, it was that others might share in it; 'because I live,' He said, 'ye shall live also.' Nothing he had was counted his own, and His personal character came under that general rule. He told His brethren how happy a thing it is to live with God as sons and daughters, and added that He had come to make that possible for every one. He saw that there is no necessity of nature compelling them to defeat, and that, it they only could be made to see, the shadow and the sickness would at once be gone. Thus all He said and was contained a promise of escape; and whenever Jesus and His work are presented, whether in word or in sacrament, the voice of hope to discouraged creatures still is heard.

One perpetual danger in the Church is that this hope should become formal. No doubt, if this man had searched his heart he would have confessed that he no longer expected to be healed. Thirty-eight years are a long stretch in any human existence, and though his conditions of life were pitiful he was now accustomed to them; so the thought of healing was little better than a plaything, with which, on occasion, he could entertain an hour. In the Book of Acts we read of a man at Lystra who had never walked; but Luke reports that when Paul gazed on him he 'perceived that the man had faith to be made whole.' His must have been a curiously stubborn sanguineness, which no calamity could crush; for after all those years his mind still prepared for possibilities, and when Paul said, 'Stand upon thy feet,' he was ready, at least, to try. In every Christian assembly one may reckon upon a certain vague belief that such a thing as health is possible, but there is little of this concentrated faith of the man at Lystra. If it were commoner we should not lack surprises in our worship, and men and women would be seen coming out into the liberty and the gladness of God's children. The fault is partly in the preaching, which seldom matches in its clearness the teaching of the Master. But surely nothing could be plainer than the declaration of the Lord's Supper, in which Jesus offers to men the whole variety of His gift---food to the hungry, strength to the flagging, joy to the sad---and offers it on the simplest of conditions, saying---I give thee: It is my Body and it is for you. All I am and have is at your disposal. And yet many who receive the Sacrament obstinately leave Him out who is the life of it. They take the husk and reject the kernel, they hear a word yet hear no voice of His; and thus in them is renewed the ancient experience, 'He can do no mighty works because of their unbelief.'

So in every case the final and determining question is that of the will: 'Are you willing to be made whole?'' asks Jesus, and a mass of people are not prepared at once to answer. They admit that they might easily be better men, they are ashamed of habits and infirmities which they indulge, but they would like a little time.

It is not the gospel of comforting hope that is needed in such circumstances. It is the gospel of stir and challenge. When Christ comes into the porches by the quiet waters of waiting it is that note He brings. 'Are you willing to be made whole?' and everything begins or ends with our response to His question. If we are ready to rise at His call He tells us to take up the bed of limitation on which we have lain for so long and to walk, and the very movement of resolve brings with it the Divine power to achieve. God's miracles are only the surprises of those who have had sufficient courage to discover the blessings which might belong to all. It is not that power and healing are given to some and withheld from others. it is that one man grasps the occasion and another waits for it. One rises up and another dreams. One says to himself, 'next time the waters move,' and another says, 'now' that is the simple gateway into the Kingdom of God, that Kingdom which today, as so often before, is taken by the violence of action.

What meets us in the gospels is not so much novelty of teaching in the sense of the announcement of truths unknown before, but newness of being, originality of character, a fresh outlook upon the world, and unexpected demand for action, a closer walk with God. 'Newness of being'---that is what Christ claims to give, a clean heart, a heart which hopes and which receives; and 'an unexpected demand for action'---He says to you who have lived for twenty years impotent and futile, Arise and walk.

If you want to live a Christian life, do not dally with your purpose; do not fancy that you will find it easier to win your way by degrees, and that by a gradual change you may attain the same end, with less pain, than you fear will be given by a sudden wrench. Nothing can be a greater mistake. Press into the enemy's citadel at once: do not wait outside till he has had time to shoot you down. In with your heart and soul.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha